A low fog descended upon the brown lands surrounding the Eglain stronghold of Ost Guruth. The clouds hung dark as coal as they covered the grounds, stifling torches not a few feet away to faint glows like fireflies across a field. From the red pools to the east, a crimson mist rose and the norbog screamed with excited chatter. The wargs retreated from the open fields and orc and goblin trembled in their camps.
The mist rose over the stone walls of Ost Guruth. With creeping fingers, it clawed its way over the cobblestone paths seeking. . . seeking the prone form half-wrapped in a bedroll with her head resting in the pillow of her lover’s arm. Creeping across ankles, slithering beneath the heavy fog, the mist found a bare foot. . . an ankle. . . a milky calf. . . a hand. . . a neck. . . two parted lips. . .
For a brief moment, it swirled about her mouth. Tendrils of blood-red dipped into her nose, seeking entrance. As she took a breath, the mist delved between the rosy lips and filled her lungs with its malice. Her very blood served as the conduit to the physical world. . .
One of my favorite artists as a teen was Jewel. She was fresh and innocent to the ear, though her lyrics spoke deeply about things my young heart was trying to figure out.
This song is classic Jewel. And it’s perfect for Anya’s feelings for Anric right now. Enjoy.
Near You Always by Jewel
please don’t say i love you
those words touch me much too deeply
and they make my core tremble
don’t think you realize the effect you have over me
and please don’t look at me like that
it just makes me want to make you near me always
and please don’t kiss me so sweet
makes me crave a thousand kisses to follow
and please don’t touch me like that
makes every other embrace seem pale and shallow
and please don’t come so close
it just makes me want to mnake you near me always
and please don’t bring me flowers
they only whisper the sweet things you’d say
and don’t try to understand me
your hands already know too much anyway
it makes me want to make you near me always
and when you look in my eyes
please know my heart is in your hands
it’s nothing that i understand
but when in your arms you have complete power over me
so be gentle if you please
cause your hands are in my hair
but my heart is in your teeth babe
and it makes me want to make you near me always
your hands are in my hair but
my heart is in your teeth babe
and it makes me want to make you near me always
wanna be near you always
wanna be near you always
wanna be near you always
Somewhere outside the bedroom, through the warm stone walls, Anya could hear birds calling to one another in the morning air. For a moment she thought she was in her bed back in Glaston and she smiled to hear the starlings greeting spring with their song. She stretched her arms above her head and felt the warm body lying next to her. Anricwulf. She was not in Glaston and she was not in her bed. The night’s pleasures came back to her and her body trembled at the mere memory of his touch. So kind, so attentive.
Opening her eyes, she turned her head to gaze at him as he slept. She had never experienced the surge of emotion that flowed through her when she thought of him. Looking at him made her heart flutter and her belly tighten. Her want for him grew with each passing day and each night seemed to open new realms in their level of intimacy. As she basked in the warmth radiating from his body, she couldn’t help but consider how he would feel not in her hand but in . . .
She blushed. Such thoughts he provoked. . . living with him made it easy for her to fall into his embrace. Trusting him came naturally. There had always been a subtle pressure with Canderas; as soon as she gave in, he left her wanting and alone. Anric, she felt, never let his desire for her lead his intentions. She knew in her heart that he put her first – didn’t he prove that last night when he said they would move back to Bree since she found Thorin’s halls so lonely? Her fear that he’d say good-bye when she answered yes to his gentle inquiry had been completely unfounded.
Slipping from beneath the covers, she shivered from her memories of the night and the cool morning air. She ran her hands over the gooseflesh of her arms and reached for her robes. She slid her arms into the soft fabric, fastened her belt, and tried to smooth her hair. Glancing back at Anric’s sleeping form, she smiled and tiptoed from the room. Her bare feet padded across the stone tiles to her room where she donned her hood and cloak. Forgoing shoes, she quietly passed through the front door into the yard.
Though spring would be warming the rolling fields of Bree-land, the mountains had yet to shed the chill of winter. Her toes flexed in the frost tinged grass and she shivered again, pulling her cloak tighter around herself like a blanket. She turned her face up to the sky visible through the gap in the roof of the mountain. Fingers of pale rose and orange crept up the lightening canvas above. A deep breath invigorated her; she looked for the song birds with sparkling grey eyes that reflected the color of the sky.
An evergreen hung over Anric’s house and perched in the branches were two dark birds with flecks of blue and green on their feathers. They sang to greet the morning sun. A grin spread across her face as she watched them hop from branch to branch as if dancing. Fluttering around one another, they took to the air once the sky turned powder blue and disappeared from view, taking their sweet song with them.
Anya stood and stared after them for a long time. Her toes grew numb and damp from the melting dew, but she hardly noticed. A gruff voice greeting her from behind finally broke her from her reverie and she turned to greet the neighborhood watchman.
“Well met, Master Dwarf,” she replied to his call, bowing low.
“What are ye doin’ out so early, Mistress Anya? And in bare feet, no less!” Orn waved his thick hand at her and she saw his beard and mustache move in what she began to recognize as a Dwarven a smile.
She pointed toward the opening and said, “I heard birds this morning and came out to investigate. It was not a sound I expected to hear here.”
The Dwarf grinned and waved his hand dismissively. “There’s a lot to the mountains many find mysterious, when in truth things are rather like any other place in the land. Ye dunna think we Dwarves spring out full-grown from the bare stones, do ye?”
Grinning, she shook her head. “Of course not, Constable Orn. I’ve met Ragna down at the market.”
“Have ye now? Fine lass, she is, though a bit dodgy wantin’ to travel to the Glitterin’ Caves to start a trade business with our distant kin there. None of a female’s business, leavin’ the halls to go out and about the lands all willy nilly!”
Anya pursed her lips briefly though she held her tongue. She was certain Orn would not care to hear her opinion on a female’s abilities to leave home without being ‘willy nilly.’
“How’s the married life treating ye?” Orn continued nonplussed. Anya blanched and averted her eyes. Before she could recover, Orn grinned and said, “Ah. I see. No business of mine, Miss Anya.” Chuckling, he added, “Master Andreson is a mighty fine feller and I’m sure he does you honorably.”
Anya nearly choked on her own tongue. “‘Tisn’t like that, sir,” she stammered, “not at all. We’re decent folk and wouldn’t do that before marriage – ”
Orn guffawed, his deep voice booming off the stone walls of the cavern and out to the morning sky. “Indeed, I did not mean that, Miss Anya! Relax, I wouldn’ta told nobody any way it worked itself out. As I said,” he touched the side of his nose, “no business of mine. Though I might say, if’n I may beg yer pardon, that we are mighty glad ye joined our Man here in Thorin’s Hall.” He doffed his hat to her. “Now, I must continue my rounds, miss. Do take care of our Master Relic-finder, will ye?” He winked at her, causing the blush to rise in her cheeks.
“I will, I promise,” she said and gladly waved as he walked away from the gate.
Well, she thought as she looked back up at the sky, at least the Dwarves seem to approve of my being here. She saw another songbird light on the orb of the stone statue standing in the yard. A small smile crept across her face and she sighed, her heart light for the moment as she stood barefoot in the sparkling grass.
This is to nowhere, because I do not know if it will ever find you on your journey. I guess I could have written to Eirikr, but he’s so sullen and all too worried about Ninim to pay much mind to something as small as a rosebush. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Anric’s home is actually under the mountain. Luckily there is an opening above it so that I can still see the sky. I think that I would go mad there otherwise, being so cut off from the rest of the world. He loves it, though; he always jokes that he’s either half-Dwarf or half-goat. He seems perfectly at ease beneath the mountains in the vast caverns with their twists and turns. I still get lost going from his home, just off the square, to the gates of the neighborhood. He keeps encouraging me and telling me that I’ll find my way. He reminds me so much of Morty the way he nurtures me. He believes in me in a way no one else has, except maybe you.
Speaking of Morty, I wrote him before we left to inform him of my absence (not that he cares) and to inquire about the rosebush (he took it back). When I first saw his reply, I admit that it crushed something delicate inside my heart. I never imagined he would take the bush back! I’m certain he just does not wish it to die, but I was coming back. I was going to take care of it.
I just wanted to know how often I needed to come back and tend it – it was my excuse to come back and tend it. Eruviel, I do not know how to read him now; he wrote as if I was going into the Dark Lord’s realm never to return. Anricwulf is being very understanding about all of it. He promised we could get a hearty bush to plant outside his home, but no matter what we get, it won’t be the Dalish Charm. It won’t be Morty’s own creation. I feel like I’ve betrayed him somehow: he left one of his children with me and I neglected it. But I am being foolish – it’s just a flower, right? It isn’t as if I was out shopping with Esthyr and lost track of the girl.
I wish you were here. I wish Eirikr was here and that this whole mess was behind us and everyone was safe from harm. Things here feel like they should be that way: trouble-free and happy. Anric is traveling a bit less, but we find things with which to occupy ourselves within Durin’s Hall. There’s always a bustle and the fires always burn. Snow fell yesterday – so much for spring! It was just a light dusting, though I could only imagine what it would have looked like on the burgundy petals of those rosebuds. Would a chill like that kill them? Can such a delicate thing survive the cold stone of the mountains?
Dwarves aren’t as interested in drawing and painting as Elves and Men. They prefer statues made of their heavy stones and metals. I’m just trying to fit in, really. You would think it wasn’t all that hard since the trade between Erebor and Dale had strong ties. Yet, I never really saw that part of things. I never dealt with not knowing what someone was saying as they laughed and stared at me. I never found myself a minority among a strange people with foreign customs. I always faced the selected Dwarves my father brought home to banquet. They were on Man’s turf, just as they were in Bree.
Now I am on their turf. And of all that I might have learned in my homeland, my little Dalish charm isn’t getting me very far.
I hope this letter finds you well. I have been concerned as I have not seen you lately, but I have also been traveling in the local lands quite a bit recently, so that is my fault as much as anything.
How are you?
I am well considering. Eirikr and Eruviel are going to be leaving for Dale any day now. Because I do not look forward to months of being alone and some things have been going on in Bree that makes Eruviel nervous, I will be moving to Ered Luin for some time. Anricwulf has offered his spare room to me, and even though it might not be the most proper thing to do, I have agreed. I am sure we will be visiting Bree frequently, but I am saddened at the thought of leaving the town. It has been my first real home and I love it.
The main reason I write is to inquire about the rose bush you gave me. I cannot imagine that another transplant would be good for it, so I am not taking it with me. However, I do not want it to die. How often should we come back to tend it? Should I get a neighbor to look in on it? I know you gave me those books, but I’ve not taken the time to read them yet. And besides, I wanted to write you.
How’s the wedding planning going? If Esthyr ever wants a woman’s assistance, let her know bargaining is in my blood.
Anyatka nods and manages a smile. “Yes. It is three. I tend to be rather demanding; I apologize.” She swallows at her mention of her appearance. “Sleep will come,” she says softly. “I will spread word of your flowers. Do take care, Esthyr. He loves you very much.” With that, she curtsies and turns to leave.
Eruviel nods to Anyatka. “Are you ready, oselle?”
Esthyr calls after her, “People tell me that, too. Tell them you aren’t demanding; you just know what you want!”
Anyatka looks ahead and nods to Eruviel. She smiles at Esthyr’s parting words and actually chuckles.
Anya sat astride her horse – her horse, not a rental – and took a deep breath. They rode at a leisurely pace, which suited her just well. She suppressed the feeling that she would never see Bree again as they passed the Yellow Tree and she could not help looking back.
Eruviel rode slightly behind her and caught her backward glance. She offered her friend a small smile and turned to face forward again. One hand gripped the reins and the other held the stems of the five lily-of-the-valleys she bought from Esthyr Mossfoot. She spent the three silver on the five blossoms mere moments before she left the Pony, sneaking out through the kitchens as if to avoid anyone she might know. She had asked Miss Esthyr to take care of herself. She told her she wanted to get to know her better. She asked if she would say hello to her father for her.
Because I may never be able to again.
She pushed the thought from her mind. Focus and determination, Eirikr had said. Instead of a pretty young girl with pure white flowers contrasting her dark attire, she pictured her brother as they rode away from the familiar lands surrounding Bree. He walked them to the edge of the homesteads, his arm in a sling. When they reached the gate, he had looked down on her for the longest time just holding her shoulders as if to keep her there. She had looked down. Still she felt his gaze on her and finally he pulled her into a tight embrace.
“I love you, Anyakta. You are in good hands. Eruviel will bring you home.”
Turning in her saddle, she looked back at Eruviel again. Her “sister,” to whom she owed so much. Who, despite injuries that plagued her far worse than she let on, still rode into certain battle with Anya. Her gaze shifted to Anricwulf. The Bardian was more than welcome in her small company. She couldn’t help but think about the danger each was willing to put themselves in just to try to save her.
Her thoughts drifted north to where Canderas had been called back to duty. Their parting had been bittersweet and brief. He took his duty seriously though he swore he wished he could accompany her to the Circle of Blood. Torlach, despite his promise to see things through to the end, had declined accompanying them. Anya struggled with her thoughts and feelings about his decision. His wife demanded his attentions and family first, and Anya knew that it was the way it should be. Still, she felt a cold fear without him by her side. He had been there from the start, from the first glimpse he had of the bracelet to the release of Aeron at Fornost. They should have pushed back their journey until he could have gone. Without him, would they survive?
Anricwulf rode slightly behind as they left the shelter of the Southern Chetwood. As the road passed through the southernmost tips of the Midgewater Marshes, he said, “Do we have a more straightforward plan this time? Or simply go inside and see what happens?”
Anya sighed. “I hope to learn more as we go.”
However, beside him, Eruviel smirked slightly. “We do, thank the Valar. But I feel it safer not to elaborate till we get there . . . For Anya’s sake more than ours.”
Anricwulf said, “Very well.” He took his spear and began to sharpen it.
Anya turned in the saddle to look back at them. “Eruviel, what?”
Eruviel thought for a moment, then asked, “How well have you been managing her– the spirit?”
Anya ran the tip of her tongue over her lip. “While at the house…it was almost as if she wasn’t there. Eirikr and I spent most of our time catching up, drawing. That sort of thing. But since leaving…” her voice was strained.
Anricwulf spoke up. “Garth Agarwen…that’s where we’re headed, is it not?”
Eruviel looked back to him. “Yes, that is whre we are headed.” She then nodded, as if Anya answered her own question. “I keep that house in the state of an elf haven. I should not be too surprised that she did not emerge there. But I do not want to risk her taking control of you so early in our journey.”
Anya looked down the road. “We should make haste through the Lone-lands,” she says quietly.
Anricwulf fell silent again, still sharpening his spear. After a pause, he said, “I’ve been in those ruins many times…And I agree.”
She knew full well what would happen if Faethril heard the intentions of the party. So far, she had been able to keep things separate and shut her out of her private thoughts. But as they drew closer to Faethril’s homelands, Anya began to feel her presence growing like a shadow in her mind. It was a relief when they passed the Forsaken Inn and broke into a hard gallop because she had to concentrate on staying in the saddle. As she focused on the rhythm of the hoof beats, she could not feel the shadow swallow her whole.
They rode into Ost Guruth three abreast.
“Our goal,” said Eruviel as they surveyed the Eglain that lived so beset on all sides by foe, “I will now tell you, is to clear the land past the Rest Pass of the fell spirits. Once the land has been cleansed, Fae should be expelled from Anya.”
Anricwulf scoffed. “All the spirits? For good?”
Eruviel looked to Anya. “If we can,” she said softly.
Anricwulf said, “Then you are a fool. Those lands are as dark as a moonless night. We may drive some of the spirits away for a time, but there is nothing that can cleanse those lands of all the evil.”
Anya suddenly stiffened, her eyes rolling up. She slumped forward a moment over the horse’s muscular neck and and her fists tightened around the reins. “No…” she groaned through clenched teeth She sat up, eyes shooting open and jet black. “No!” Her steed cried out and reared, throwing her backwards. She landed on her back but sprung to her hands and knees.
Anricwulf looked to Anya, unsure of what was going on.
Eruviel shot him a cold look. “We will do what we can . . . and what we must.” Seeing Anya fall she pulled a decent amount of elvish rope from her saddle bag. “Oselle?”
Anya pushed up into a low crouch and took a step back. Her voice hissed out high and clear. “Give it to him – he needs it!”
Eruviel opened her mouth to respond, shut it, then sat up straight. “Aeron is gone, broken one. He has passed to an eternity of peace you deprived him of.” Her expression softened. “You can still join him, Faethril, if you let us help you.”
Anyatka hissed and an inhuman scream came from her. “You lie!” She turned toward the entrance to make a break for it.
Anricwulf rode after her, taking his blunt end of his spear and aiming for a knockout blow.
Eruviel jumped off her horse, pulling the small pouch out from her armour. “You want this?! It is broken, Faethril. We were in Fornost a week ago and set him free. Do you not love him any more? He hopes for your redemption!”
Anyatka screamed loudly and lunged for Eruviel. Unfortunately – or fortunately – Anricwulf landed his blow. She fell forward in a heap.
Anricwulf slid off Fjall. “This should keep her calm until we get to the ruins. I suggest you help me get her onto my goat; I’d like to be inside before she comes to.”
Eruviel sucked in a deep breath, stuffing the pouch back into its hiding place and giving Anric a sad but thankful smile. “That would be ideal.” She moved to take one of Anya’s arms, grimacing slightly as she stooped low.
Anricwulf took Anya’s other arm, and lifted to drape the lass across Fjall’s saddle in the back. Anya was just a sack of unconscious potatoes.
Eruviel took her rope and offered it to Anric. “If you think this would help . . .”
Anricwulf said, “If you wish to restrain her arms and legs you are welcome to. I’ve no intention of lashing anyone to Fjall. She’s a sturdy goat; no fear of her falling off.”
Eruviel noded slightly, her eyes moistening slightly as she bound Anya’s arms and then her feet together.
Keeping a hand on Anya for extra stability, Anricwulf said, “Let’s be off.”
Together, the two started for the Red Pass to put an end to it, once and for all. Anya regained consciousness shortly after entering Garth Agarwen; they loosed her feet but kept her hands tied as her eyes flashed with Faethril’s darkness. They fought their way through the outlying Créoth camps, Anric leading the way. His time spent in the Lone-lands served them well. They searched the ruins and red pools until they found it: the remnants of an alter and a secret ritual still carried out by the evil men.
The battle for the sacred site raged epically until the corruption was put to a stop. When the last Créoth fell, Eruviel gasped for breath, looking to ensure Anya was whole. She saw Anya fall into the darkened water, submerged. Her body flailed for a moment and then stilled. Anricwulf knelt before Anya, checking for vitals, as Eruviel dropped to her knees, pulling Anya’s head above the surface.
She looked up to Anric. “Is she . . . .”‘
Below the water, the bracelet around Anya’s wrist glowed hotly.
Anricwulf said, “No…her pulse is weak, but it’s still there…” He noticed the bracelet and lifted Anya’s arm out of the water to have a closer look.
Eruviel swallowed, her eye catching the glint of the bracelet. “Will you hold her up? I will attempt to remove it.”
Anricwulf nodded, sat in the water and hoisted Anya’s body onto his lap.
The bracelet burned brightly, the little blue jewel darkening to black. Anya’s wrist, which never was burned before, started to redden around its edges.
Eruviel reached over, bracing herself, and attempted to undo the clasp. As she tried, Anricwulf took handfuls of water and poured it over Anya’s wrist, trying to cool the bracelet and the burn on her wrist. It didn’t budge; it was if there was no end nor beginning: the bracelet was whole and seamless, grown tightly around Anya’s limb as Faethril had grown in power. The water seemed to help ease the burn though she remained unconscious.
A voice on the wind could barely be heard, masculine and deep. “Ost Guruth…take her home…”
Anricwulf blinked. “I’m not the only one who heard that, right?”
Eruviel pulled back and rose to her feet. “Anric, would you mind carrying her as we leave this place?”
He nodded. “If you’ll help her onto my back.” He knelt down to make it easier to get Anya onto his back.
Eruviel bobbed her head, lifting the soaked woman and placing her arms over Anric’s shoulders. “I will pave the way back.”
Back in Ost Guruth, they took Anya to the metalsmith. He loaned them some sheers and Anric dug out his jeweler’s tools. As they examined the cooled bracelet, they noticed it had loosened: it would turn around her wrist but they were still unable to slip it over her hand.
Anricwulf took out a hand clamp, seeing if he can fit it between the bracelet and her wrist. Suddenly, Anya jerked as if her body was trying to get away from the clamp. Eruviel sat by Anya and pulled the woman onto her lap to better hold her still. Anricwulf fiddled his hand clamp between Anya’s wrist and the bracelet. He gave the clamp a squeeze, trying to work the spot on the bracelet thinner so the shears had less metal to cut through. Once he was satisfied with the thinning process, he worked the shears under the bracelet and squeezed to cut the bracelet off. Eruviel watched the man work, holding Anya down to prevent her from getting hurt.
Anyatka started to thrash and jerk as if the bracelet knew its time had come. A scream was rent from her as Eruviel held her still as best she could. The Elf struggled to hold Anya down, setting her jaw and whispering encouragements in Anya’s ear.
Anricwulf squeezed harder, forcing the shear blades through the metal with brute force. As the bracelet is destroyed, her scream echoed off the broken stone walls. A cold wind rushed through the compound and a figure emerged.
Eruviel’s eyes darted to Anric, then up to the figure suddenly standing beside them.
Anricwulf looked up at the figure, dropping the shears and reaching for his spear.
Faethril shimmered near Anya’s prone form. She stared at them for a minute, her cool blue eyes wondering.
Eruviel reached out her hand to Anric. “Who . . . Is it you?” she asked, frowning up at the female spectre.
Faethril turned her head to look at Eruviel. “You? Who?”
Anricwulf lowered his spear in order to avoid provoking whomever it is that has appeared in front of them.
Eruviel swallowed a little. “You must be Faethril. I am Eruviel. We’ve — spoken before.”
Anyatka moaned softly.
Faethril nodded. “I am Faethril. We have spoken? Who are you?” Her eyes roamed to each of them.
Eruviel brushed her hand softly over Anya’s forehead that still rested in her lap. “I am the elf Eruviel Aranduin. The gentleman is Anricwulf, and the lady you just emerged from is Anyatka Tenorbrook.” She hesitated before continuing. “We were friends of your husband’s. He sent us to see to your well-being.” She watched Faethril carefully.
Faethril looked around. “You know Aeron? Howso…did you serve at Fornost with him?” She noted Anya’s condition. “Is she all right?”
Anricwulf looked to the elf, wondering how much they should speak of, and how much of the truth they should bring up.
Eruviel sighed sadly. “I did not, though I suppose my brother did.” She paused before continuing on more confidently. “You were within her, Faethril. This year is far past your time. The last time I saw Aeron, he was a shade as you are, rising from Anya, telling us how to . . . how to save the two of you.” She shrugged her shoulders at Anric. She added, “He wanted us to save you so that you could join him, my friend.”
Anricwulf nodded enthusiastically, deciding not to speak to avoid saying the wrong thing.
Faethril ‘s eyes widened and she looked around her again as if seeing for the first time. “Sa-save me…join him…he…he’s dead?” She shade began to solidify and her blue eyes started to blacken. “No…no, it cannot be…”
Eruviel carefully set Anya’s head down to the ground and stood, offering a kind hand and sad look to the woman. “Why are you so filled with fear and anger? He was . . and is a brave man who wants the best for you. My friend, there is a far better place beyond us where you will never be parted. You need only accept that beautiful truth. Even I envy men their eternity with Iluvatar.”
Faethril shook her head as she backs away from Eruviel. “No…those are lies…no one knows…where is it…it will save him…” Her voice took on a feral tone and her hands clenched into claws. “No…he needs it…”
Anricwulf said, “Faethril…do not believe the darkness. Your beloved has found peace, and wishes for you to find the same peace. Let the sadness leave you, and he will guide you to happiness…”
Eruviel turned her head so that Faethril can see the still-red claw marks that showed along her jaw. “You are better than this, mellon. You are stronger than to give into despair.”
Faethril continued to shake her head. She doubled upon herself, holding her head. “No! The necklace will save him! It will unite with the bangle and save him!” She reached for her wrist and screamed when the bracelet was not there. “Where is it?!”
Anricwulf looked to Eruviel, unsure of what necklace she speaks of.
Eruviel turned and nodded to Anric, mouthing “the bracelet” to him as she reached a hand beneath her armour to once again pull out the pouch, undoing the leather ties. At her feet, Anyatka looked pale in the moonlight.
Anricwulf slipped Eruviel the bracelet as stealthy as he could manage.
Eruviel looked up in attempt to meet Faethril’s eyes. “Did you love him so little as to think binding him to darkness would help? You should have trusted Aeron, my lost friend.” She carefully dropped the broken necklace into her other palm.
Faethril turned to Eruviel. “YOU!” More corporeal now than ghost, she lunged toward Eruviel to reclaim her tokens. Eruviel braced herself, a ruined token in each hand. Anricwulf moved forward, shield up to try and keep the spectre away from Eruviel. The dead woman lashed out at Anricwulf with her right hand to knock him away.
Anricwulf took the hit with his shield, but was ultimately knocked to the ground.
Eruviel ‘s eyes darted to the molten metal by the forge. “Faethril, please, stop this!”
Faethril leaped to land on Anric as her focus was taken by his block attempt.
Anricwulf groaned, still stunned by the power the spectre had behind her attacks, unable to defend himself.
Eruviel lunged forward, knocking Faethril off of Anric. Faethril was thrown backward from the impact. She landed hard on the ground with an oof. Raising her fist, she brought it up toward Eruviel’s head. Eruviel took the punch across the face, stumbling back but able to keep her footing.
Anyatka slowly rolled to her side, moaning.
Faethril lept to her feet and moved to rugby tackle the Elf. “Give them to me!”
Anricwulf staggered to his feet, trying to determine if attacking is a good idea.
Eruviel smoothly dodged to the side, tripping Faethril. Dodging away she stopped beside the vat of molten metal. “Faethril, they are both broken! You are a hundred years too late!”
Anyatka pushed herself to her feet, groaning. “What is happening?” she muttered.
Eruviel extended an arm to Anya, the broken end of the bracelet peeking out of her fist. “Oselle, stay back!”
Faethril fell into a heap, dust flying up all around her. She looked up at Eruviel and screamed incoherently, an unnatural sound, as she reached in vain for the jewelry.
Anyatka stepped back, still unfocused and looking startled.
Eruviel jerked her head, motioning for Anric to take the jewelry. “If she does not stop, drop them both into the vat.” She handed him the tokens and began to step towards Faethril.
Anricwulf nodded, took the jewelry and stood by the vat of molten metal.
Faethril shouted, “No!” and attempted to climb to her feet again. She would not stop unless they are joined or destroyed.
Anricwulf noticed the movement and went to drop the jewelry into the vat.
Faethril gained her feet and launched herself toward Anricwulf. She slammed into him, knocking the gems from his hand. He lost his grip on the pieces of jewelry and Faethril snatched the gems as they tumbled toward the vat.
Anya called out, “Anric!”
Anricwulf stumbled back. Acting quickly, he screamed ”MOVE!” and kicked the vat of molten metal at Faethril.
Eruviel whirled around and lept away just in time.
Faethril screamed, this time in pain, as the magma and miasma of the molten metal covered her. The jewelry was coated in the hot plasma. They were destroyed, melting beneath the heat, and Faethril lost substance. As the gems in each piece burst, her face took on a serenity and then, she was gone. In that moment, Anya fell to her knees as if struck.
Anricwulf scampered to his feet to avoid any of the molten metal he just splashed at the spectre. Regaining his composure and dusting himself off, he nodded satisfied at the results.
Eruviel turned to shield Anya in case there were to be any sparks or metal flung their way. “Anya!” She cried out before glancing back to make sure Anric was alright.
Anricwulf said, “Well, that worked out well.”
Anyatka had fallen forward to her hands and stared at the dirt. “They’re…she’s gone.”
Eruviel nodded to the man, “That was quick thinking on your part, mellon. I am in your debt.” She then placed a hand softly on Anya’s back. “How do you feel, oselle?”
Anyatka looked up at her. Her gaze slowly shifted to Anricwulf. “I…I feel so light.” She curled her legs beneath herself to sit. Rubbing her hands to dust them off, she addded, “Are you two all right?”
Anricwulf cracked his neck. “I may be a lousy shot with a bow, but I can throw or kick anything towards a target.”
Eruviel let out a sigh of relief. “That was an expert kick, Anric.” Smiling down at Anya, she shook her head. “I am unscathed, Anyatka.”
Anricwulf said, “Always happy to help.”
Anyatka nodded in relief. She, on the other hand, felt a sharp pain down her back and her cloak was ripped. She winced and slowly climbed to her feet, mud clinging to her clothes.
Anricwulf said, “So…I suppose our quest is done then?” He moved towards the group, the metal sufficiently cooled to walk over.
Eruviel nodded to the man. “I do believe so . . .” her voice trails off as she sees Anya wince. “What is it?”
Anyatka nodded to Anric. “I think so…” She looked at Eruviel and shook her head. “It’s nothing. A blade caught me, but I am fine.”
Eruviel frowned rather darkly. “What blade — where are you hurt.” She then smirked. “You do not let me off the hook so easily when I am injured.”
Anricwulf said, “I’ll go get some help.” He headed toward the infirmary to seek a healer.
Anyatka nodded and said, “One of the men…I shall be fine.”
Eruviel did not look convinced. “We will find you a healer. And I want to know when you got the wound. Was it when we were beyond the Red Pass?”
Anyatka nodded. “I didn’t see it coming and it just caught my back.”
As the healers of Ost Guruth worked to sew Anya’s back shut, Eruviel sat beside her, holding her hand. Anric stood watch with the guard for a long time that night, and for the first time in an age, Anya slept peacefully. In her bag, the delicate bell flowers waited. Despite their delicateness, their tiny blossoms survived.