“Let her go!” Ysareline thrust the head of her staff forward and pulled at the shadow haze with her mind. It swirled tight and quick from the mess of vines and plant debris toward the center of the room. Traveling the path of power, it formed a black cloud around the crescent moon of her staff. Crawling tendrils of excess crept up her arms and settled about her shoulders like a mantle.
The inky blackness chilled her skin and infected her aura. She’s dead… and it’s your fault.
“My fault…” She heard a whisper escape her own lips.
Images of her mother, stern but protective, her sweet sister, and the smiling visage of her father flooded her mind. All your fault. An ethereal version of Lesara joined them, her robe tapering into mist rather than feet. Her husband joined as well, a blackened spirit. The dead narrowed their gaze on her, eyes alight with cold blue fury. Your fault!
“Lady!” Someone shouted and the spirits raged at her, charging forward.
Join us, Ysareline!
“NO!” This shadow was something sinister, nothing like Elune’s. A lie. “A lie!” Ysareline pulled hard at the remaining shadow until her core froze. The mist-figures dispersed and the vines ceased crawling. She stalked forward, wielding the shadow like an army of whips. You can’t have them! Chunks of vine scattered and fell away.
From the corner of her eye she noticed more shadow leaking across the vines closest to her husband. She funneled it immediately to her staff and renewed the lashing arms. Precision and control, sharp and focused, fought back the vines without lacerating their captives. Too slow…too late. The alien shadow whispered, poking icy fingers in her head.
Lesara’s cry for help was so long ago now, painful, even from the ceremonial grove across the grounds. She saw the failed attempts at placing the wakening relic. Worse, she felt her daughter fading and then let go. She let go…she’s gone…join her…
“Eshala’fuk Ana!” Ysareline growled. She pulled the shadow sharply within, whips funneling back, stabbing into her core like raining shards of ice. Feeling numbed before Ysareline directed all shadow away in a violent burst into every remaining vine. Hollowed out in seconds, she pushed it through the vines, increasing speed. The pattern felt like controlling blood flow through a deformed body, pumping the heart ever faster.
She clenched her fists and muttered an incantation over the panicked whispers in her head. In the eerie quiet following her final words she splayed all her fingers, mentally sending the shadow outwards in all directions.
A quick succession of splooshy pops echoed all over the room. Heated vine juice splattered her cheek and robes before Ysareline opened her eyes and saw Lesara falling from the wall with exploded bits of vine. She flung the remaining power as a tangible cloud of shadow.
The lighter coloured, smoky-grey cloud cushioned Lesara long enough for Ysareline to rush forward and gather her protectively. They sunk to the floor together, Ysareline cradling Lesara’s upper body. Long-dried, green liquid seeped like blood from the corners of Lesara’s mouth. Beneath more green splatters, the few visible patches of skin were colourless. Wake up! Come back! Ysareline shouted into an unresponsive mind. She heard someone behind her struggling through the mess before the click of the last wakening stone.
She glared up at the closed ceiling, eyes accusing. You take too many, Lady. Give her back! Tears steamed through the cooled and sticky liquid on her face. She clutched Lesara close, nuzzling into the vine soaked and tangled hair at her daughter’s shoulder. “Give her back now!”
“Ysare–” Her husband’s groggy voice from behind. “No–Ta’ele!” A clatter before arms enveloped them both from behind.
Ysareline pulled greedily at his already exhausted strength. A long fight with shadow…his fault! She envisioned the full moon above, funneling the warmth through them both, and into Lesara. Words of Elune’s light long unspoken, but memorized. She saw her daughter transposed before the moon, turning. Come back! She reached with both arms in the vision. A peculiar look crossed Lesara’s features, brows knitting together, frowning, before she turned back to the full moon, conversing with words swallowed in the gap between.
No! GIVE HER BACK! Lesara’s shoulders sloped forward, her head bowed before she nodded and walked down from the moon.
A shuddering gasp called Ysareline from the vision and sobs strangled her throat as she smoothed Lesara’s hair repeatedly. She released her only when Lesara pushed away and spat the end of a vine from her mouth, coughing.
Thank you, Goddess! Ysareline’s tears leaked salt into her open grin.
“Mother?” Lesara swayed a bit, eyelids heavy, the word slurred. She reached and traced the path of tears on Ysareline’s cheek, then stared as though piecing together a vexing puzzle. “Papa…? You’re okay.” She smiled then.
Ysareline heard her husband choking up over her shoulder. “Thanks to you, yes.”
“Adriala!” Lesara’s eyes widened and she scrambled in the slippery mess of vine debris beneath them.
Her mother’s guard snapped a salute near the chamber door, heels clicking loudly enough to grab their attention. “After coming to, Glaive Adriala finished the wakening here. She then led a few priests and glaives to check and waken the other druids, starting with Master Kalshen.”
Her daughter sighed and smiled but Ysareline frowned. “She left her post?”
“And my brother?” Lesara interrupted.
Shestelle hesitated at both questions before catching Ysareline’s eyes.
“I ordered her to. My brother?”
Ysareline nodded toward her daughter.
Shestelle nodded back. “This is the only chamber infected. Master Kalshen is–”
“Ta!” Kalshen barreled into the glaive from behind and rolled around the doorway, nearly slipping on the sticky green mess before landing on his knees in front of Lesara. “Goddess, you’re okay…when she…” He trailed off and cupped Lesara’s face in both hands before wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her close. “You’re okay.” He whispered again before opening his eyes and staring directly at Ysareline.
She expected the usual defiance in his eyes and hardened herself against it. The expression she met, however, was brief confusion, focused on her cheeks first, then her eyes. His features softened. “Thank you.” His eyes flicked toward Ethan’y’len behind her and he stretched one arm out behind Lesara toward them both. Ysareline smiled back and leaned into the hug, wrapping her arms around Lesara’s waist. Her husband folded in from behind, one arm draped on her shoulders, the other on Kalshen’s.
Ysareline pulled more light in, wrapping her family in a healing warmth. “Thank the goddess,” she whispered. Despite the warmth, a tiny spot of cold squirmed deep in her core, whispering back death and blame. She pulled Lesara closer, pressing an ear to her back until all she heard was the now-steady heartbeat.