Delilah brought out all four of her Feline Summons, cautioning them to be on high alert for the silver sphere. After beaming Alice in the forehead, it had vanished, but Delilah knew it would come flying at her soon enough.
Past the defensive perimeter of her Felines, Delilah puzzled over Marcus’ expression.
He’s enjoying this.
And he always seemed like such a gentle soul.
A flash of silver. Delilah ducked, and Felix and Nekoma tried to intercept. They just barely managed, the sphere pinging lightly as it deflected off the tip of Felix’s sword.
And the sphere vanished.
I need to try and heal Alice, but I don’t know that I can let my guard down, even with my Felines on alert.
No. That’s the wrong way to do this. I have to trust them, like I always do.
Delilah extended her focus to the unconscious Alice and began to work Healing Magic on her. Thin, glowing white ropes of light flew forward from Delilah’s keychain Talisman to touch Alice lightly on the bruise on her forehead.
Good. There’s no serious damage. Surprising, but that means I can heal her easily and quickly.
Healing her doesn’t guarantee she’ll wake up. And I’ve never tried waking up someone who’s been knocked unconscious. Can I do it? Should I even try?
I’m sure I’ve studied this before, even if I’ve never had to try it…
Delilah racked her memory. As she did, she heard the clear, crystalline ping of the sphere being narrowly deflected again.
Too narrowly. She felt a sharp gust of wind against her cheek as the sphere shot past her face, disappearing in a flash of light.
She’s healed. Do I keep pushing?
What did I read about it? Where did I learn about consciousness and Healing Magic?
As Delilah puzzled over her problem, she sent strong feelings of encouragement to her Felines.
You four are the very best! I know I can count on you!
In that moment, there was a flash of silver in front of her. Delilah flinched, but she didn’t have time to react properly.
A blur of blue light came dropping down in front of her. Reginald Feline Meowmont the Third was here, and his cane-whip lashed out. The sphere was stopped, sent flying to the side, vanishing once more.
Delilah smiled, heart surging with relief.
The very best.
And suddenly, her memory came through for her.
Right! Healing Magic can be used to sense the nature of bodily forms, so first I need to search for… that!
“That” was a difficult to define element within the human body, something only truly sensed by Magic. Apparently different Healers perceived it differently. For Delilah, it seemed like an amorphous bundle of warmth, and by discerning how soft it was, its temperature, and its movements, she could learn a number of things about Alice’s body. Right now, she only needed to know one thing.
It should be fine. Okay. Nice and easy. Then together we can solve the mystery of the sphere.
After several seconds, Alice’s eyes suddenly shot open, and she sat up in a start. As she did, a blur of silver light streaked towards her. Delilah cried out. Alice turned to look.
A wall of white light formed between Alice and the sphere, coalescing into the form of a lean, muscled, humanoid rabbit over seven feet tall. Rabanastre had arrived, and with a contemptuous backhand he sent the sphere careening towards the far wall.
“Ow,” Alice said, rubbing her forehead as she stood. “That stung a bit.” She looked at Delilah, grinning and flashing a thumbs-up. “We got this, right?”
Delilah flashed a thumbs-up back at her. “Yeah. We got this.”
“Figure out how to see the sphere, huh?” Alice asked, watching her surroundings warily. “That means it’s not actually vanishing, right?”
“Yeah,” Delilah said. “The question is how to see it.”
“Or actually…” Alice started, but trailed off as the sphere appeared again. She ducked, and Rabanastre and Felix worked together to narrowly deflect the sphere skyward. Alice glared at it as it disappeared. “Don’t interrupt me.” She nodded to Marcus. “Anyway, you said we just have to catch it, right?”
“That’s correct,” Marcus said, smiling.
“So who cares if we see it?” Alice asked with a shrug. “Instead of blocking it, let’s just go all-in on catching it. Makes it more fun that way. Like winning on the hardest difficulty.”
This isn’t a video game.
But Delilah couldn’t help smiling at the competitive glint in Alice’s eyes.
We have to catch it, but can use any means necessary. Then I’ve got some ideas.
Redmond, the green archer Feline, drew his bow several times. He fired arrows into the floor, the walls, and the domed ceiling, where they pulsed with faint green light and then vanished. Again and again he fired, even as the sphere appeared again, passing between Nekoma and Felix’s attempts to catch it and narrowly missing Delilah as she ducked.
“Whatcha doin’?” Alice asked, her nonchalance forcing a giggle out of Delilah.
“It’s a secret,” Delilah said.
“Ohhh, gotcha,” Alice said, nodding. “Can’t let the sphere in on our plans.”
Another giggle from Delilah. This challenge had gone from harrowing to entertaining in a heartbeat.
I’m glad I woke her up.
“Just don’t let Rabanastre out of the fun,” Alice said. The sphere appeared again, and Rabanastre leapt into a beautiful backflip, hands grasping for the sphere while he was upside-down in midair. It narrowly slipped through his fingers, and he landed on the floor with a frustrated glare. Or maybe that was just his usual face, Delilah couldn’t tell. He was a very grumpy-looking rabbit.
“Get it next time, big guy,” Alice said, raising a hand to bump her tiny knuckles against her Summon’s brawny fist. She looked over her shoulder at Delilah, grinning. “Can’t let that archer cat get the glory, can we?”
Delilah shook her head.
Despite what they’d said about only needing to catch the sphere, Delilah still found her attention drawn to how to see it. Marcus had mentioned them earning a Sub-Paladin ability: Trail Sight. Even though he said that all they had to do was catch the sphere, Delilah couldn’t shake the feeling that it was important to be able to see it clearly, no matter where it went or how quickly it moved.
Several of Redmond’s hidden traps on the ceiling suddenly sprang to life, revealing a blur of silver that just barely escaped a barrage of springing, verdant claws.
Don’t give it up, Redmond. Lay as many traps as you want. I’ll focus on seeing it.
Four more times the sphere came shooting for Alice or Delilah, and four more times the Felines and Rabanastre failed to catch it. Alice continued to make a game out of it, while Delilah became more and more quiet, her eyes narrowed in concentration, her trust placed in her Felines to handle things on their own.
“Oh, I get it,” Alice said, surprising Delilah. She stared at the confident grin on the girl’s face. Alice looked to Rabanastre, nodding once. “You’ve got it this time, right?”
The rabbit Summon nodded. A silver streak of light shot through the air…
Rabanastre’s hand shot out…
And the silver light faded.
Slowly, Rabanastre opened his hand. Pinched between thumb and forefinger was the silver sphere.
“You… you did it,” Delilah said, gaping.
“Yeah we did!” Alice said, high-fiving her Summon. “We’re the best!”
“Well done,” Marcus said. He held out his hand, and the sphere vanished from Rabanastre’s hand, appearing in his own. “Now, your next task is to change into warm clothes. When you’re ready, meet me at the harbor.”
With that, Marcus left. Alice instantly ran after him, and Delilah followed, but out in the corridor…
“He’s totally gone,” Alice said, pursing her lips. “How does he do that?”
Delilah had no answer. But as they walked back to their bedroom, Delilah found herself frustrated.
We were supposed to earn an ability called Trail Sight. So why did that challenge end so anticlimactically? Why didn’t he say anything about our new ability?
Is it something we have without realizing it? How do we make use of it? How can we even know if we do have it?
The two girls shared a room in the Bastion, a lavish bedroom big enough for dozens of king-sized beds and containing spacious, varied wardrobes with clothes just the right sizes for the girls. Neither of them went to the clothes they’d been wearing when they came to the Bastion with Marcus. Delilah hadn’t been dressed for extreme cold, and Alice…
Well, her clothes had been thrown away. With a gaping tear through the stomach area and a massive array of bloodstains, there wasn’t much point in trying to clean and mend them.
But thinking back on that, Delilah hesitantly spoke to Alice.
“Do you…” she started, cursing her own hesitation, “do you, um… well, what I mean to say is… how did you survive Kaohlad’s attack?”
Alice, to Delilah’s surprise, smirked. “I was wondering when you’d ask about it. You seemed kinda freaked out by it, so I let you take your time.” She stretched her arms overhead, arching her back like a cat. “This may sound strange, but I don’t one hundred percent understand my own powers. I don’t think Addie gets hers, either – people just explain it away with ‘Birthright Magic’ as if that’s good enough. So I guess others would say the same about mine, but…” She drifted off, staring at the ceiling. Her eyes, black as the night, softly transitioned to a pure white. “I just remember things. Maybe not even actual experiences, but, like, impressions, or something. No one really remembers being a baby, you know? But I sort of do, I think. I have this memory of being so tiny and helpless. And I just start falling. But I’m not falling, more like… sinking. But the water isn’t water, it’s pitch black, and I can’t see anything, I can’t move, and I can’t breathe, so the water, or whatever it is, comes flooding into my mouth and I’m drowning. And then… there’s this light. It’s really small at first, like a single star in a black sky. But it gets brighter and brighter, pure white, until it lights up everything, and I can’t see anything except pure white. And the water’s gone, and I’m not drowning anymore, but just curling up in the softest, warmest, safest place in the world.” She shrugged, going back to rifling through the wardrobe for clothes to wear. “That’s all I know, really. Rabanastre’s kind of linked to my powers, but kind of not. He’s a normal Summon, but every Summon gets their magic from their Summoner, so I guess that’s why he’s super strong and kind of freaks everyone out when they see his other side.” A grin spread across her face, and she pulled out a black coat with white sleeves. “Ooh, I like this a lot!”
Delilah set to work finding clothes for herself as well, pondering Alice’s strange explanation in silence. Alice picked out clothes that were only ever white, black, or both. When Delilah finished changing, happy to be out of the spare initiate’s clothing and into proper winter wear, she raised her hat a little - no need to wear it so snugly until it got cold. She looked at Alice and eyed her, puzzled. “Aren’t you worried about your ears getting cold?” she asked.
Alice shook her head, her free hair waving back and forth. “Nope,” she said, grinning. “I’m not actually all that bothered by extreme temperatures.”
“But you were complaining a while back about your toes getting cold on the stone floors,” Delilah said.
Alice gave her a look like the explanation was obvious. “Yeah, because those are my toes. Toes are super vulnerable, you know? It’s important to protect them. I think Marcus is the freakiest one for going barefoot everywhere.”
“Hey,” Delilah said as they started to leave the room. “Does it… bother you? Not understanding your powers?”
Alice looked back at her with a grin, not missing a beat. “No way! I think it’s awesome. It means I’m always learning new things about myself. And it’s a way cool set of powers, at least from what I know so far. Who cares how they work or where they come from?”
And with that, they were off, heading to the harbor. That was the name they’d discovered for the giant open space where Solla and Lunos flew in and out of the Moon’s Bastion. Delilah hadn’t realized just how big the place was in her whirlwind adventure of coming and going to and from the Bastion, but now that she’d been here with less of a sense of urgency for a while, she’d been able to watch the two mysterious, gigantic Summons on multiple occasions. The harbor wasn’t just a port of call, but a relaxing, wonderful place for the two. Though they were each hundreds upon hundreds of feet in length, they had enough space here to dance with each other, singing their songs as they swirled through the air. It was beautiful, and Delilah often came just to watch them dance.
But this time she was here with the others to depart for some strange new place. Solla and Lunos looked as if they knew that, hovering in place, ready for their passengers.
“We’re ready,” Alice said, finding Marcus at the end of a walkway leading to Solla. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there,” Marcus said, a twinkle in his eye.
“Not even a name or a hint?” Alice asked.
“You know all that you need to,” Marcus said. He leapt aboard Solla and motioned for the girls to follow.
“Honestly, this guy…” Alice said under her breath, shaking her head. She brought out Rabanastre, who leapt aboard with Alice in his arms. Delilah followed, flying up on her Mobility Disc platform, leaping off as she boarded and dismissing the platform behind her.
Marcus knelt, placing a hand against Solla’s back. “We’re ready when you are, dear friend,” he said softly.
Delilah sat and placed her hands against the White Whale, so she could effectively listen to and feel her songs. Solla seemed delighted to bear her passengers on a new adventure. Soon she was speeding away, out into the great vastness of space. As before, a protective, transparent dome formed over the passengers.
“Be prepared for the trek ahead,” Marcus said. “As with everything else, this is also part of your training. It will not be easy, and may even be confusing or disorienting. But know that success is never outside your grasp.”
“You’re not gonna bail on us the second we get there, are you?” Alice asked.
Marcus chuckled. “No, I’ll be with you every step of the way,” he said. He looked ahead, nodding. “Here we go.”
A gleaming blue portal burst into existence in the starry void. Solla sang with joy and sped through it.
On the other side…
That was the first thing Delilah noticed. Though it should be frigid out in the void of space, Solla’s protective dome protected them from that. But now, though the dome still remained, cold had seeped in, and Delilah instinctively hugged her arms close to herself, drawing her coat in tight. She risked reaching up, just for a moment, so she could tug her hat down over her ears.
Soon the light of the transportation faded, and Delilah could see where they were. It was, indeed, a snowy land. White beauty stretched on for miles upon miles.
It was also a very strange land. Delilah found herself staring so intently that she barely noticed as Solla landed and Marcus and Alice helped usher Delilah off of the White Whale and onto the snowy path.
She had imagined a mountain; some solitary, colossal obstacle to climb. But this landscape was dotted with numerous sloping spires of rock, arching here, shooting straight up there. All were covered in snow, glittered with ice. Between different spires, at different heights, were narrow bridges hung by cables that swayed precipitously in the biting wind.
All around, above, and below was desolate. Delilah saw no signs of life anywhere, nor any sort of proper trail. She was nearly knee-deep in snow, and snow was all there was.
“We begin our climb,” Marcus said, not looking the least bit bothered by the frozen weather. “This place is one of the Lost Locations of the Enchanted Dominion, and at its summit, we will find a Daylight Bastion.”
“Lost Locations?” Alice asked.
“All will be made clear in time,” Marcus said with a smile. “For now, focus on the climb. And let this land’s name be carved onto your hearts. This great wild expanse is known as the Howling Abyss.”