“Well, that does it.” Nepech straightened and held up a sheaf of thick parchment, the leather cover open and several obvious scouting reports sticking out at odd angles, though the script was foreign and unreadable to my eyes. He tucked them into the chest of his robe quickly thinking I had not seen and I allowed him the illusion. We had been back at the core for most of the day, killing Balaur and taking down a stray Asmodian ranger and chanter that cross our path. The day was nearly done and for that I was grateful. Nepech looked me over and finally nodded.
“You did well. I’m going to recommend you be returned to field duty.” My heart leapt, but I quickly quelled my excitement when he pointed at me. “You gotta get those dreams under control baby girl. I’m telling you right now, no night assignments that have you sleeping out in the field. Your unit would be a sitting duck. You swear to me that you haven’t had any flashbacks?”
“I swear to you Nepech, no flashbacks, no hallucinations, and no waking dreams of any kind, just the night terrors.” I held up my hand in Aion’s oath and he nodded, satisfied.
“I’m putting up a portal.” He stepped back and made the incantation, the arcane energy forming a ring, then a vertical pool that rippled before clearing to a view of Sanctum’s proper. I smiled appreciatively and stepped through, Nepech right behind me. I breathed deep the scents of home and turned to Nepech a querying look. He nodded and said “Dismissed.” And I smiled and started for home.
Aalairius met me at the door, and grimaced as he caught a whiff of me. I laughed, kissed him and took his hand, heading for the bath house. It was good to be home, and even better knowing I would return to my unit the next day.
“Where did they have you go?” he asked as we walked.
“The Eye of Reshanta.” I answered, with no further elaboration. He nodded sagely and did not ask anything further. Instead he held out his hand to me, which I took and we walked up the lane together in a comfortable silence. We chose our usual bathhouse, and as we rounded the corner I looked for the familiar shop shingle with the Mikaron’s memento carved into it, richly inlaid with gold leaf along the scalloped edges of the shell to make it stand out.
Aalairius and I stepped into the greeting area of the small bath house and we were quickly greeted by Miriamonyerk, the regular Shugo on duty, the small silver bells she was fond of wearing on bracelets around her ankles chiming softly with ever small step. I liked Miriamonyerk and she held a particular fondness for me for when Elysea had undergone its last bout of the sweating sickness, I and a very few other Clerics had done our best to tend to the Shugo population that had succumbed to the illness. I had saved Miriamonyerk’s little brother, and just barely at that. It was something for which the Shugo mistress of Soothing Sea’s bath house was grateful and truth be told, her expressions of gratitude had begun to make me uncomfortable though I did not ask her to stop them. Though overt, it still gladdened my heart to hear how well her little brother fared, for we had nearly lost him.
She chattered her tiny laugh and waved a paw for us to follow quickly when she smelled the Balaur reek emanating from my armor. I did not blame her, I despised the smell myself. We slipped down a short hall and through the door way leading to the small antechamber for changing.
“Nyerk, mistress Sirona, leave your armor. I will have it cleaned for you.” The little Shugo said. I was fond of cleaning my own armor as a way to bring myself out of the field and back to regular life, but this time I acquiesced, nodding to Miriamonyerk. Aalairius, whose hands rested on my shoulders, gave them a reassuring squeeze. He had been after me for what seemed like an age to relax more and accept these small kindness’ I smiled to myself and as Miriamonyerk closed the door behind her, sighed, suddenly tired and grateful to be alone with my lover. Aal chuckled and tipped my chin up so that he may look at me. He searched my face with his gray eyes, the silver of clouds just before a rain, and I smiled at him. His look turned serious.
“You look tired.” He said, his strong fingers working the leather straps and buckles just behind my shoulders to loosen my hauberk.
“I feel tired love. Nepech is relentless out there.” I said it as he slid me out of the chainmail lifting the web of rings over my head easily, for which I was grateful. I didn’t think my aching spine would take it if I’d had to bend forward and shuck it off the traditional way. We eked me out of the rest of my chain and Aal out of his comfortable sobi pants and shirt and slid into the heated pool. I sank to my shoulders in the soothing waters and leaned back against my beloved who cradled me against him.
“I love you.” He growled against the side of my neck, trailing a line of kisses, barely more than a soft touch of lips to my skin, down the side of my neck along my collarbone before planting a final errant kiss on my shoulder. I sighed and closed my eyes tension leaking out of me. He turned me around to face him and claimed my mouth with his in a lingering kiss. I smiled up at him as he drew back and he smiled down at me, reaching for the pitcher at the edge of the pool.
“Head back.” He murmured and I complied, the warm water slicking my hair back from my face and trailing down my spine, the water in the pool suddenly tinged with a combination of the rusty color of dried Balaur blood and the copper dirt from the core. Aal drew me back against his chest as he reached for a vial of soap and unstopped the top tipping the viscous liquid into my hair. A scent rich with herbs and vaguely spicy filled my nose as Aalairius massaged my scalp, my hair engulfed in a frothing mass as the soap went to work on the grit and grime of battle. I relaxed and let my lover spoil me, enjoying his nearness and the feel of his arms around me.
He rinsed my hair and we finished our bath at a leisurely pace, finally lounging at the edge of the pool on the low stone bench beneath the surface. I rested in my beloved’s lap lightly dozing when his voice came, low and soothing to my ear.
“Who is Elethor?” he asked me, and I stiffened, jolting in the water, his arms going around me and locking me to him, steadying me.
“I, why do you ask?” I looked up at him and he gazed down at me, eyes searching my face.
“Who is he?” he demanded, and I swallowed hard and spoke the truth to him.
“Do you remember, a few months ago, when I came back from the skirmish at the Eastern Shard, rattled?” I asked him. He nodded. “And do you remember the night before, the dream I had?” I asked. He drew me against his chest tucking my head beneath his chin.
“The sorcerer. The friend of yours before the cataclysm.” He said a dawning of understanding in his voice.
“Yes.” I replied, lips numb. “Why would you ask about him?” I asked.
“You said his name. In your sleep the night before you left.” He kissed my forehead. “Were you dreaming again? About before?” he asked. I settled against him, suddenly uncomfortable in my own skin.
“I don’t know.” I murmured, and it was the truth. I didn’t know if it had been a dream of before the cataclysm, though I suspect it had not been that I had been dreaming of a land of darkness and ice, which the piece of my heart I had left in Asmodae had made its absence known. I rested against my lover and tried to force my lost love from my mind. We did not have to worry about any new assignments until mid morning, and though declared fit for duty, I was well aware that the duty my unit would be receiving, on a more likely than not basis, would be of a simpler kind than what we had done prior to my abduction.
My armor was clean and mended when we returned to it, and I was appreciative of the fine work and caring that had gone into it. I took my lover’s hand and we made for home, that night he would erase my fears beneath a cloud of tender caresses and whispered endearments until finally I drifted off to sleep, close in his arms and for once, in a very long time, without any doubts or worries, not because they were not there, but simply because I was too exhausted to have any.