Some time later, we were washed and clean and in the outer dressing room. Several bulky paper wrapped packages rested on a low bench, each with my name on them, each in a different hand. I turned to Aalairius.
“What is this?” I asked.
“By the time I got back to the village you were gone. Your chain too… so everyone pitched in and either made you something or bought you something to replace it.” He rested his large hands on my shoulders and I looked at him in disbelief.
“They…” I began but I did not finish, I was speechless.
“Your Legion loves you Sirona, I love you. Now get dressed, we have some place to be.” He swatted my backside and sauntered over to where his gear lay and began suiting up.
I picked up the first package and undid it. A beautiful set of blue chain gloves… My Legion had spared no expense, after the gloves there were boots, greaves, a pair of shoulders, a hauberk all of them a beautiful shade of blue set off by the color of Ervio petals, I finally reached the last two packages, and I sat there dressed in my new chain, earrings and necklace also in place, new rings on my fingers and unwrapped the largest package with shaking fingers. A beautifully worked shield with Destiny’s Legion crest sat among the discarded paper and tears sprang to my eyes and rolled down my cheeks.
“Sin had that made especially for you.” Aalairius said gently as he knelt beside me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and cried into his shoulder, over whelmed. He laughed softly into my hair and said “You haven’t even opened the last one.”
I hefted the bulky wrapped package and tore the paper. A mace lay within, the head the shape of a skull in a plate helm. I looked at Aalairius… the weight was exquisite and it swung with beautiful follow through, the shape… the shape left much to be desired which meant only one thing.
“Let me guess…” I said. “Toxemia?” He laughed and nodded at me. The thing was garish, but there was no denying the amazing craftsmanship that had gone into it. I finished suiting up and took my lovers hand.
“Where do we need to be?” I asked.
“We’re a little late all ready.” Aal said ushering me out into the bright evening sun. I squinted and rushed to keep pace beside my lover as we made our way through Sanctum, the streets we followed leading us to the airship dock.
“Outer dock?” I mused more to myself than anything as we took our place in line for the airship.
“Yes.” He answered absently, his hands rested on my shoulders towards my neck, gently kneading where the new armor would allow. I leaned back against his plate with a soft click of metal on metal and closed my eyes. I still tired easily, though I wasn’t about to admit it. I wished to return to active duty, and soon. Though I did not know when that may occur.
The airship docked and we boarded, I loved these vessels. Such an amazing feat of creativity… I smiled and looked toward the bow toward our destination and soaked in the sun despite my watering eyes. Aalairius retreated to speak with one of the merchants from his family’s trade dynasty briefly when he spotted them, leaving me to myself for a moment, all though he never really stopped watching me.
The ship docked and I stepped lightly onto the gleaming stone of outer dock, lacing the fingers of my free hand through Aalairius’ he drew me toward the Dionysia Tavern and as he stepped into the dimly lit interior I paused to let my eyes readjust. Before they could I heard the applause, whistles and cheers, and my Legion surged forward, many welcoming me home.
My breath caught and my eyes misted. So many familiar faces greeted me and some very new. Tox came forward and pointed at me leaning forward until he poked my nose before giving me a silly grin and hugging me. He wore an eye patch and I frowned.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“No.” he said.
“Then why do you wear it?” I asked.
He put an arm around my shoulders and led me to the bar and said, “ ‘cause I like it,” he said it in such a way that I laughed, mollified. As we reached the counter I let him order me a drink. Aalairius came up to us and kissed me deeply.
“Hands off my woman.” He said and punched Tox in the arm lightly.
“Didn’t you know? Sirona’s mine now…”
I snickered as they bantered back and forth, though the subject of their play allowed my thoughts to creep back to darker places covered in snow and ice bringing with it the scent of herbs and earth, parchment and ink…
I turned to the back of the tavern and where the call had come from and left Aalairius and Tox to their conversation which had diverted to tactics or some such, I followed the sound of my name and I found our Brigade General Sin and her lover Boa along with Nepech and Astat at a table, ensconced in a private corner. Nepech stood and offered me his seat, choosing instead to sit in Astat’s lap. I smiled and sat gratefully, my feet all ready beginning to ache from standing.
Boa spoke first. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m all right.” I answered. I smiled at her, and she smiled back her large dark eyes coming to life with warmth.
Sin leaned forward the charms on the hilts of her swords chiming softly.
“We have questions Sirona…” at a look from Boa she changed her wording, “I have questions, what were they after can you tell us?” She stared at my face intently, trying to read my expression. I tried very hard to school my features into a neutral mask, for I knew what questions like these would lead to.
“They wanted the location of our Legion’s goings on in Heiron.” I answered honestly. “I gave them nothing Sin, I swear it, by Aion’s light I swear it… I don’t know what they wanted beyond that, they never got passed that question.” I leaned back on the low stool, the shield on my back clicking against plate. Aalairius’ hands descended upon my shoulders as I started, jumping in my seat, with the sudden bitter copper taste of fear on my tongue. I hadn’t heard him come up behind me, so intent had I been on our Brigade General. Sin frowned at my beloved and leaned back, placing her hands on the scarred wooden table, nails tapping a staccato of irritation on the boards.
“What of the three? The masked ones Nepech, Toxemia and Aalairius saw?” I gave my best blank look and Sin looked exasperated. “The Asmodians, Sirona. The three Asmodians that returned you to us.” Sin’s nails tapped a rhythm on the table. I had been dreading this question for the last two days, since I woke… and I swallowed hard and thought furiously on what I could say that would satisfy her, yet keep them safe.
“I…” I didn’t know what to say. I was saved by an unlikely ally.
“She’s home Sin, and this is supposed to be a celebration. Not an interrogation.” Astat chided. I looked over to the large man, Nepech perched on his thigh. Astat held his beloved around the waist and gave me an encouraging smile. Nepech looked lost in though, his brow furrowed, features dark with anger. We all remained silent for several passing moments, laughter and the clinking of glasses, cheering and music permeated the air, yet our table was still locked under a pall of tension. Boa broke first, her small quiet voice drawing all of us to look at her, which was very unusual for the tiny woman.
“None of this can be, or should be settled here. Sirona will you submit a full written report of your time…” she paused searching for the right word finally settling on “away, by evening tomorrow?” I nodded, agreeably.
“Good. Bring it to the Legion house here in Sanctum, we will review it, ask any questions and give you your returning assignment. You’ll be placed on active duty as soon as may be.” Sin rapped her knuckles on the table and smiled her grin wolfish. “You’re one of our best Clerics, I want you back in the field, and soon.” Though her words kind, the tension at our table had not abated which is why when we heard the crash and the tinkling of broken glass, most of our table went to their feet, and turned toward the sound, some with glimmering fingertips others with weapons half drawn… my own shield rested on my arm and out before me. Sudden noises in a room full of jumpy soldiers used to the front lines in the abyss made for interesting reactions. We all laughed nervously and put our equipment away. A shout and a cheer rose from the bar, several of the Legion’s women whistled and called. Toxemia was on the bar, stripped to his under things and dancing.
“Someone had better stop him, before he does something regrettable.” Boa said, but it was all but lost under all our laughter. Aalairius bent double his plate shivering on his muscled frame as he laughed so hard he found it hard to breathe. I laughed as well… so that tears sprang to my eyes.
When the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife, leave it to Toxemia to bring his swords.