The sun was setting, but there was no color to it, and although it was late summer, the wind had a certain chill to it. The bonfire gave scant warmth, and even it could not seem to penetrate the bleak, pervading gray of that evening. Without thinking, the woman extended her hand into the fire, feeling its welcoming warmth. She withdrew her hand lingeringly, holding her hand in front of her face to lovingly watch the flames dancing between her unscathed fingers.
“You would do well, Daughter of Brigit, to listen!” the druid snapped peevishly at her. “Our numbers are too small. We cannot take on the cult of Krokpa!”
“They took Aedan from me,” she said numbly. “I care not about their numbers, and I do not ask you to come with me, Aodh.”
“You are too valuable to us, to your people!” Aodh insisted stubbornly, then took a breath. “Please understand, Ena, that this isle is one of our last strongholds. The new religion is taking over, and the cult of Krokpa has positioned themselves well in the new leadership. We barely have the numbers to survive, much less to go on the offensive. We need your protection!”
“And I need to avenge Aedan,” Ena said.
Aodh sighed in frustration. “Maybe when the Arch Druid returns, we'll discuss it with him,” he said. “Until then, keep your head down!”
Ena walked dejectedly through the woods. Aedan was the only thing she had in her life – the only person that seemed to want to understand her. She would give anything to again be enveloped in his warm red and violet aura.
Her peculiar bond with fire had earned her the title of “Daughter of Brigit” among the druids, but the title seemed largely meaningless to her – she did not know the goddess better, or feel any closer to her than any other person on the isle. Indeed, she had never felt further and more isolated from the goddess. Additionally, the title did not grant her any privileges. Instead, it seemed to tie her down with duties that seemed equally meaningless.
“You don't have to obey them, you know,” a soft, even timid, voice startled her. It was Dubheasa. Tendrils of her bright green aura crept their way into Ena's field of vision almost as timidly as Dubheasa's voice. Like Ena, Dubheasa had strange gifts. However, those of Dubheasa were more macabre and profoundly disturbing. She had timidly offered to re-animate Aedan when his lifeless body drifted in seemingly of its own will on a boat with the Krokpa shroud mockingly covering his face.
“What choice do I have?” Ena asked as Dubheasa stepped from the shadows, her blindfolded face looking eerie in the moonlight.
“You have the same choice anyone else does, Ena,” Dubheasa said simply. “Obey, or follow your own instincts.”
“It's not that simple,” Ena protested. “They need me.”
“If that's your belief, then why ask leave of them to begin with?” Dubheasa asked. “You knew what they would say. Do you take pleasure from running yourself into a wall?”
“Stop!” Ena pleaded.
“It is perhaps easier for me to imagine such disobedience,” Dubheasa said. “In old times, my people were highly revered for our gifts. But the old ways are fading, decaying... even from within. Even the druids are mere shadows of their former selves! And the once-revered understanding of the life-cycle has been dissected to only acknowledge the favorable parts, and my people, the People of the Dead, have been shunned to the outskirts of society. Among some, my mere presence is an act of disobedience.”
She was right, of course. The druids she knew in today's world in no way seemed to match up with druids from tales of the past. Were these truly the same druids who would have impressed the Tuatha de Danann with their magic and wisdom and received their gifts? No, the druids of today seemed more like place-holders. Even the old stories were changing, being watered down, and losing their meaning.
“The druids no longer understand the meaning of balance,” Dubheasa spat contemptuously. “That is why they grow feeble. That is why they can no longer achieve such greatness as they once did. And the Christians are no better! They believe in absolutes, and include themselves in those absolutes. They arrogantly believe they serve absolute good, and because of that, they are deceived - deceived by their own arrogance as well as by the Krokpa cult!”
“You're right,” Ena said numbly.
“Then you'll help me?” Dubheasa asked.
“No,” Ena said. “I cannot. I have responsibilities. You know I can't.”
“This is our responsibility!” Dubheasa hissed. “You and I are Children of the Tuatha. We can chase out this threat and restore balance!”
“I'm sorry, Dubheasa, but no,” Ena said as she turned and walked back to the village as Dubheasa stared after her in frustration.
Ena jumped to alertness from her sleep. She could not guess at what woke her, or what hour it was, but all outside of her hut was still and quiet. She realized then that she felt a strong sense of being watched. Without thinking of it, all her muscles locked her into something resembling paralysis. Afraid to so much as twitch a finger, she listened for the faintest sound, watched for the faintest movement, and braced against the faintest touch.
She lay like this for what seemed an eternity. Then her nostrils began to fill with the reek of a charnel house. Slowly, the hut filled with a faint green phosphorescent mist.
Ena was terrified, using all her strength and willpower to remain perfectly still and to not let out a scream.
She then heard a scream that at once seemed distant and very close. Then silence. Then another scream, closer this time. Was the isle being invaded, and were those the screams of her friends, those she was supposed to protect, being slaughtered? She felt a desperate shame at the thought, but still could not will herself to move a single muscle.
Another agonized scream, this one sounding as though it were only feet away from her.
“Ena...” she heard a weak, but familiar voice. “Help me, Ena.”
“Aedan!” Ena cried. “Where are you?”
Another scream, this one undeniably his own. “Please, help me...”
“Aedan!” she cried again. “I'm here, come to me!”
But Aedan was gone. As was the mist. As was the charnel house reek. Desperately, Ena scanned the room. She then saw a pale shape in the shadows near the door.
“Dubheasa!” she screamed in rage. A fiery wraith appeared and seemed to materialize into the shape of a dog.
“Ena,” Dubheasa said apprehensively. “Call off your hound.”
“Give me one reason I should,” Ena challenged her.
“Don't be a fool!” Dubheasa hissed. “What I showed you may have been illusion, but it was truth!”
“Sounds like a sick joke to me,” Ena said. The hound snarled, flames dripping from its mouth as it stepped closer to Dubheasa.
“Where do you think the Krokpa cult gets their power?” Dubheasa said quickly.
“What do you mean?” Ena said, still not making any move to call her hound off.
“We Children of the Tuatha are few in number,” she said. “The cult of Krokpa is very large, though. Yet, it seems as though they all have powers, do they not?”
“What are you getting at?”
Dubheasa stepped closer to Ena, ignoring for a moment the confused, but still snarling hound. “They obtain their power from enslaving the dead!” she spat.
“No!” Ena exclaimed at the thought of Aedan's spirit being forced to serve that cult. The hound let out a vaguely disappointed whine while glancing to her, then evaporated into a brief burst of flames.
Ena had regained some of her composure. Dubheasa's illusion had all seemed so real, and Dubheasa insisted that it was truth, even if only an illusion to Ena.
“The dead have been restless as of late,” Dubheasa said as she paced restlessly in the hut. “At first, their whispers were difficult to hear. One might mistake it as a zephyr creeping through the leaves. The restless whispering continued though, and gave me a name: Krokpa.”
“Who is Krokpa?” Ena asked.
“A fading memory,” Dubheasa said shortly. “Gods are not invincible. If they are forgotten, they fade, and will cease to exist. Sometimes, though... sometimes they whisper into the ears of those who would listen. Lunatics, mostly. They whisper and whisper and whisper, persistent and impossible to entirely ignore, like the buzzing of a fly in one's ear. Then it begins to make sense to the lunatic. The lunatic must do as the whispers command.”
“Just as the dead whisper into your ears,” Ena said, somewhat snidely. “Does that mean you are a lunatic?”
Dubheasa laughed shortly. “I make no claim of sanity, Daughter of Brigit. I've often myself questioned it. I do not, however, question my lucidity. When I first bound my eyes with this cloth, it was in hopes of not seeing the shades that at all times surrounded me. They persisted, though – told me things that no living person could know, and most living people would not even want to know. Yet now, I wear this blindfold not in hopes of blinding myself to those shades that once frightened me, but to give myself better clarity and to block the distracting mundane light. And, I guarantee you that I can separate the whisper of a human spirit from that of a dying god.”
“So, I guess we let the others know we're going in the morning,” Ena said.
“No,” Dubheasa said firmly. “We leave tonight!”
“But...” Ena began to object.
“There is no time to argue,” Dubheasa said bluntly. “And they would only try to stop us. Things could get... messy at that point.”
Despite Dubheasa's objections, Ena did leave a note for the Arch Druid, simply reading, “we have gone to stop the Krokpa cult. Join us if you will... if not, we're going just the same.”
Although the boats were guarded, Dubheasa somehow influenced the guard to take no notice of them as they took a small boat and quietly left the isle.
As they went, it slowly dawned on Ena that something wasn't quite right. This was, by far, the quietest boat ride she had ever been on. The motion was too smooth and constant. The sail billowed outward, but did not flap or boom in the wind. Indeed, the only wind she felt was that which they were going into, and the only sound she heard was the small boat's prow knifing through the water. The boat seemed almost to glide.
Behind her, Dubheasa wore a serene smile. “Fear not, Daughter of Brigit, we are in good hands.”
“I think I'm starting to understand why people are afraid of your kind,” Ena said with a shudder.
“Fear of the unknown is for the simple of mind,” Dubheasa sniffed.
Ena tried to relax, leaning back and looking into the night sky. She had met a few others like herself and Dubheasa in the past – people with control over a given element. She had never met one quite like Dubheasa, though. Even among the few People of the Dead, she stood out. None of the others had quite the casual and seemingly absolute control over an element as did she. While the People of the Dead were in fact mages of the element of earth, there seemed to be among them an agreement to not exercise direct power over their element, as it would cause too much destruction. Instead, they focused their powers in the direction of the life cycle. Arguably, the People of the Dead had become the most powerful among the Children of the Tuatha. For this fact, there had always been a wary sort of respect for them. But, there is often a thin line between respect and fear, and with the changes that had been taking place in the hearts and minds of the people, respect was dangerously losing ground to fear.
As they came nearer to shore, Dubheasa's mood changed. She no longer laughed or even smiled, but instead wore a countenance of anger and horror. She said nothing, and the silence seemed somehow in itself oppressive.
Their boat quietly ran aground. The two stepped out on the beach.
“May the shite of Balor himself fill their accursed mouths!” Dubheasa swore suddenly. “I will see to it myself that their leader hangs by his own entrails.”
“What is it?” Ena asked fearfully. Such an outburst was contrary to Dubheasa's nature.
“They hunt the Children of the Tuatha now,” she spat. “Aedan's death was meant to lure us out. You, most specifically!”
“Are you certain?” Ena demanded.
“Yes, Daughter of Brigit,” she said as she seemed to frantically scan the area. Her behavior was as though she were hearing hundreds of urgent voices all at once.
“But why me?” Ena asked desperately. She now felt as though the blood of her beloved was on her own hands.
“You, Daughter of Brigit, control the most primal force of all – fire!” Dubheasa answered. “They intend to enslave your soul and to take that power from you.”
“We have to go back!” Ena exclaimed. “We walked into a trap!”
“Do you not care about their murdering Aedan?” Dubheasa accused. “Or of your fellow Children of the Tuatha?”
“I'm just saying that we should go back and get help,” Ena said desperately. She was in a state of total confusion. With her being held in honor as a Daughter of Brigit, she had lived a very sheltered life. She knew of her powers at least on an intellectual level, but not often in practice other than in ceremonial functions.
“And what do you suppose they'll do?” Dubheasa hissed contemptuously. “Remember that they forbade you from doing exactly what you were in the process of doing?”
“But they didn't know about this!” Ena screamed at her.
“Oh?” Dubheasa questioned in a mocking tone.
“What is it that you know?” Ena asked warily.
“It is nothing,” Dubheasa said dismissively as she starting walking further inland.
“Dubheasa!” Ena screamed, a wall of flame erupting in front of Dubheasa.
Dubheasa turned and looked at Ena straight in the face. “Now is not the time for such childishness, Daughter of Brigit,” she said coldly.
“With due respect, I am not the one withholding information,” Ena said.
“And what is it you would do with any information I would give you?” Dubheasa said. “Run and tell someone you see as an authority and let it be off your hands and mind? You truly are a child!”
“I am no child!” Ena snapped. “You are no older than I.”
“In your mind, you are a child,” Dubheasa continued coldly. “You trust those who claim authority as a child trusts their parents.”
“I'm questioning you, am I not?” Ena pointed out.
“Because you see me as an equal... or less, I suspect,” Dubheasa pointed out. “That is bullying, not questioning... and you do so only because you know that few, if any, would defend me. The interesting thing about my position however is that one learns to survive!” She seemed to concentrate for a moment, and where she had been standing was now a black dust settling to the ground that seemed to still faintly carry some of her features.
“I'm going to do this, Daughter of Brigit,” came Dubheasa's voice from the other side of the wall of flame. “With or without your help.” She then turned and continued on.
“Dubheasa!” Ena shouted as her flames died down. But Dubheasa had already disappeared into the woods and wasn't looking back. Ena looked around her, agonized with indecision. Part of her wanted to take the boat back to the island and forget that this ever happened. But, she wasn't sure she could navigate her way back, and Dubheasa obviously knew something that she wasn't going to tell her. The thought of what could be waiting for her at the island gave her the chills, and standing alone in this cove certainly wasn't any safer. Gritting her teeth and swallowing her pride, she decided the safest place to be was with Dubheasa.
The two had been quiet when Ena rejoined Dubheasa, Dubheasa barely acknowledging her presence. Ena had no idea as to where they might be going, and she did not dare break the uncomfortable silence between Dubheasa and herself by asking. But, Dubheasa seemed to know where she was going, and Ena made herself accept that for the time being.
As they walked, she thought about what Dubheasa had told her. Did she truly think of Dubheasa as being inferior as Dubheasa had accused? She considered the way she spoke to the other as well as her actions. In truth, aside from a time when a group of Roman soldiers had attempted to rape her as she was trying to flee her village, she had never used her powers against another person aside from Dubheasa. And Dubheasa was not the only person who had upset her, but she was more accustomed to the other acting timid, and even meek.
Now Dubheasa seemed to be in her element. Maybe it was the lack of other people – she had been shunned to the outskirts of their society, even as it deteriorated. The druids were never quite openly hostile toward her, but obviously were uncomfortable, and Ena could not recall any specific reason why Dubheasa should be treated so. She had always seemed kind, if more than a little strange.
Ena, for her own part, had always felt powerless despite her control over the element of fire. The druids were always protective of her, and even more so when her parents were killed by Romans. She carried a title which in theory gave her great power and respect, but she felt more like a decoration, and was always overruled when she tried to assert herself.
In truth, Dubheasa's timid demeanor had made Ena feel like she was the only one that she could order around. Yet now, Dubheasa had openly defied her without a second thought, and in doing so had demonstrated that she is every bit as powerful as Ena, and much wiser and more resourceful.
“Dubheasa – wait,” Ena said just before Dubheasa stepped into a clearing.
Dubheasa turned and regarded her silently from the edge of the woods.
“I... I realize I've been unfair to you,” Ena admitted. “It's just... I'm scared. I think I always have been. I'm always told that I'm a savior to the people, but in truth, I don't feel it. The people are fading, and I don't know how to stop it – no one has told me how I can stop it, and I just keep getting overruled when I suggest anything.”
“Thank you,” Dubheasa said warmly. Ena realized it was the first time she could remember seeing an actual smile on Dubheasa's lips. “My apologies if I've been overly harsh to you. In truth, I envy you – you are loved whereas I am feared, and only a madman would believe the two to be in any sense interchangeable. Even my family was quick to abandon me.”
“Well... I can be your family, if you want,” Ena suggested with a shy shrug.
“Sisters, then,” Dubheasa said with a smile. Although the body language was subtle, Dubheasa seemed as though a large weight had been lifted from her. Ena felt a pang in suddenly realizing how lonely Dubheasa must have truly been.
When they stepped into the clearing, Ena saw a number of mounds and immediately knew that Dubheasa had led her to a graveyard. She was trying to trust her friend, but this was difficult – it had always been ground into her that she should never enter a graveyard with one of the People of the Dead, and that particular rule had always seemed to make sense to her. It did not help that she was now watching as Dubheasa danced with a skeleton she had just raised from one of the mounds.
“Um, I'm trying to trust you, but what are we doing here?” Ena asked apprehensively.
“We are very close to the Krokpa cult's temple, if you want to call it that,” Dubheasa sniffed. She seemed in almost a giddy mood. “We need a messenger for the Christians, and they're used to following a dead man,” she continued. Then she turned and bowed to the skeleton, who bowed in turn. “You dance marvelously,” she said in a playfully exaggerated tone.
“We're bringing the dead into this?” Ena exclaimed in horror.
Dubheasa shrugged. “Why not?” She then looked at the skeleton. “You don't mind, do you?” The skeleton then shrugged its approval.
“Okay...” Ena said helplessly as she stared at the skeleton. “Let's just get this done with.”
Dubheasa gestured to the skeleton, who then took off running at an inhuman speed. Ena thought she could hear a dusty cackle of a laugh coming back on the wind as it went.
The Krokpa temple was crudely dug into the ground between two hills and mostly in ruins, appearing to have originally belonged to the Mithras cult the Romans had brought with them. Dubheasa and Ena both wore cloaks in a dark blue color to camoflauge themselves into the night and moved silently toward the temple, coming at it from the side. As they got closer, Dubheasa suddenly gasped and doubled over, throwing a hand to the ground to steady herself.
“Are you okay?” Ena said in a startled whisper.
Dubheasa held one arm across her chest as though she'd been sliced open. She stood a little unsteadily. “I'm fine,” she answered a little weakly. “Ena, I don't think you want to see what's in there. You don't need to continue with me.” It was very rare that Dubheasa addressed her by her name rather than title.
“I came this far with you, I'm helping you,” Ena said.
“It really is not necessary that you see the temple,” Dubheasa almost pleaded. “You can help from back here.”
Even with her blindfold, Dubheasa's horror was plainly apparent on her face. Something horrible had happened. Without another word, Ena continued toward the hill that made one side of the temple.
“Ena!” Dubheasa's hoarse whisper entreated her, but Ena barely heard it as she continued toward the temple. Stealthly, she climbed the hill with Dubheasa close behind her, crouching behind the remnants of a wall.
From inside the temple, Ena could hear a familiar-sounding voice orating. “The Tuatha have left us,” the familiar voice said to those in temple. “When the Romans came, we cried out for their help. But one tribe after another fell under their crimson tide. But, do not despair! In our time of need, Krokpa has called to us!”
“Hail Krokpa!” the others shouted in unison.
“Krokpa gives us strength where others gave empty promises!” the voice continued. “He is the true god! He will drive out the non-believers.”
“Hail Krokpa, the true god and devourer of souls,” the others intoned.
“Who is that speaking?” Ena asked Dubheasa. But Dubheasa didn't answer. Her face was pale. Ena risked a look around the remnants of the wall into the pit that formed the temple. She was shocked to find that most of those in attendance were druids, including the cult leader – who she recognized as being Kynthelig, the Arch Druid.
Dubheasa had been right – she had been naïve. Those she had trusted with her life and those of the people she cared about were the very ones she needed protection from. She felt a seething anger building inside of her.
“Ena, get back!” Dubheasa hissed in a whisper that sounded almost pleading.
But, it was too late. In the back of the temple, she saw a child, barely into his teens hanging by his ankles. His throat had been cut, and a gaping hole in his chest suggested his heart had been removed. It had happened very recently, for his bright blue aura had not completely faded. It was Llyr of the Water People. Ena knew him well – his parents had been friends of her parents, and Llyr as a boy had fallen in love with Ena, his older friend. She would always smile and encourage him when he would bring her little gifts – usually wildflowers. As he had grown older, he showed remarkable intelligence and had come into his powers earlier than most. Although he had stopped pursuing her as a lover as he grew older, they always shared a special bond. Ena thought of herself as a sort of older sister to him.
Now he was dead, his blood drained, his aura fading into nothingness.
Dubheasa had moved herself somewhat further back from Ena, her face apprehensive. Perhaps Ena didn't notice it, but her entire body was now covered in a seething red fire. Without thinking, she descended into the temple, making no attempts to hide herself. Indeed, she would have been impossible to ignore.
“Kynthelig!” she screamed. “Traitor! Oath-breaker! Murderer!”
He obviously was shocked, but quickly regained his composure. “Daughter of Brigit,” he greeted Ena. “I'm truly sorry you had to see this.”
“You apologize that I had to see it, but not for what you've done?” she accused incredulously.
“It was necessary for the survival of our people,” Kynthelig explained. “Please calm yourself! I'd like to explain if you'll allow me.”
“I have no interest in your explanations,” Ena said, then hurling a single fireball at Kynthelig. Her only regret in doing so was not giving herself time to kill him in a slower, much more painful way.
To her surprise however, bright blue aura flashed around Kynthelig's arm, and he casually deflected the fireball. “We really do not have time for this, Daughter of Brigit,” he said. “We need you. We need your power if you would save your people!”
“My power is my own,” she said. “And you are no longer of my people!” She sent a barrage of fire at him, which he deflected again. She continued sending wave after wave of fire at him until a sharp rap on the head knocked her out.
She was only dimly aware of her surroundings when she hit the ground. All the people and the voices seemed distant and abstract.
“Quickly, bind her!” Kynthelig commanded. “We have no time to lose, she may have others with her.”
She felt her wrists and ankles being roughly tied, and she felt herself being dragged to where Llyr's body still hung by its ankles.
Quite suddenly, the air in the temple seemed to change profoundly. The air was filled with a sickly green luminescense, and while it was not cold, she felt a distinct chill.
“It's the witch-woman!” she heard someone exclaim fearfully.
There was a deep groan as though it were of countless restless spirits that seemed to resonate in the very stones around them.
“Fools,” she heard Dubheasa say in a deadly quiet voice. “Your slaves are discontent, it would seem. Did you truly believe that you could gain power through enslaving the dead?”
“Stay back, or we kill the Daughter of Brigit!” Kynthelig threatened. Ena was dimly aware of a dagger at her throat.
Dubheasa threw her head back and laughed. “Alive? Dead? What difference should that make? I'm a necromancer, you idiot! The only thing that ends in death is one's heartbeat... and I have allies on the other side to ensure that things don't end there for those who cross me.”
The green phosphorescence seemed to intensify, and Ena was slowly regaining her senses, but found herself afraid to move. This temple was feeling too far from the world of the living and a little too close to the realm of death. Things were moving in there that had no business doing so. Old, dusty bones were rattling, tattered scraps of unidentifiable flesh were twitching and writhing grotesquely, as though attempting to seek each other out. The room was filled with the now-familiar smell of decay.
Ena heard a rope creaking near her. She shifted her gaze to see Llyr's corpse moving, seeming to try to get loose from its bonds. Then its eyes opened, fixing a milky white gaze on Kynthelig. “I trusted you,” it said in a rattling whisper.
Kynthelig stumbled backward, a wild look of desperate fear in his eyes. “Stop them!” he cried. “Kill the witches!”
The others had their own concerns, however. The ways out of the temple had been blocked with strange vines that did not belong in the living world. Some of the pieces of tattered flesh and the bones had begun to reassemble themselves, the others having no choice but to watch in dreadful anticipation.
Kynthelig seemed to regain some of his composure, and was now glaring at Dubheasa in such a way that his murderous intentions were clear. He then lunged at Dubheasa with a scream, dagger in hand. Dubheasa seemed to meet his glare, but made no move to stop him.
“No!” Ena shouted. Reflexively, she released a bolt of white-hot fire. At the last intstant, Kynthelig tried to stop it, but he either was not strong enough, or was too late. The fire consumed him.
“What's going on here?” She heard an authoritative voice demand from the doorway as the white fire still consumed the disgraced Arch Druid.
“I have to go!” Dubheasa said quickly to Ena and lunged out of sight. Things quickly returned to normal in the temple, if indeed anything in a temple of Krokpa can be called such. Ena looked to the doorway where she saw Christian warriors hacking away at the vines that blocked entry. The vines oozed something that looked disturbingly similar to blood.
The next few hours passed by in something of a haze to Ena. She later wished she was able to disappear the same as had Dubheasa. The Christians had been led back to the temple by the skeleton “demon” that Dubheasa had raised. Apparently, it had terrorized their camp, and having been led back to the Krokpa temple by the skeleton, they leapt to the conclusion that it indeed had been raised by the cult. In seeing the unholy happenings in the temple combined with the undeniable proof of human sacrifice, the Krokpa cultists which they once saw as allies were now more appropriately viewed as the dangerous cult that they truly were. Their leader who aspired to become king issued a proclamation on the spot that anyone who has claimed allegiance to Krokpa were in league with the devil Himself, and were henceforth exiled on pain of death.
On the other hand, the Christians were impressed by her “holy fire,” and believed her to be a messenger of God. During the confusion, Aodh and some of the other druids from her isle of refuge came. She would have expected him to be angry. Instead, he seemed puzzled and confused, even haunted. He also didn't seem to be expecting to see her.
The Christians seemed curious to talk to the druids and to learn more about the Krokpa cult, and as they talked, Ena quietly made her own getaway. She was emotionally and physically exhausted, and wanted to be alone. As she came back into the tree line, a hand caught her arm, and she saw the tell-tale green tendrils of Dubheasa's aura.
“What happened?” Dubheasa asked.
“Why didn't you stay around and find out?” Ena asked a little bitterly.
“They would have me burned,” Dubheasa said. “I somehow don't think the druids would raise too many objections to it, either.”
“We're all on the same side,” Ena objected. “They wouldn't let that happen to you.”
“Do you still believe that?” Dubheasa said, a tone of sadness or pity in her voice.
“Anyway, to make it short, your 'demon' terrorized their camp, they chased it back to the temple, and blamed it all on the cult,” Ena said.
“Everything's a demon to them,” Dubheasa sniffed.
“So, what now?” Ena asked.
“Same thing as always,” Dubheasa shrugged. “Some shows of unity and peace that typically come with having a common enemy, then they start pointing at the other side and claiming them to be in league with the enemy, then all allegiances and friendships are forgotten.”
Dubheasa had said the last part with a slight catch in her voice. “I haven't forgotten anything, my sister,” Ena said.
Dubheasa stared at her for a moment, then hugged her tightly. “Thank you,” she said simply, then sat on a rock. “You have someone waiting for you.”
In her peripheral, Ena saw a faint green glow, similar to that in the temple when the dead were coming back. Instead of communicating death, this glow seemed somehow to communicate life. Curiously, Ena ventured followed her eyes to the source of the glow.
“Aedan!” she screamed in delight, rushing to embrace him, their auras combining once more.
“I can't stay,” Aedan said. “This is taking a lot out of Dubheasa. I wanted to hold you one last time, though.”
“I've missed you so much,” Ena said, her tears flowing as she pressed her face into his shoulder.
“I've missed you, too,” Aedan said. “We'll be together again some day. You have to be careful, though – things, and people aren't what they seem!”
“What do you mean?” Ena asked.
“Your life is still in danger,” Aedan said, then he quite suddenly began to fade. “Don't be quick to trust anyone! I'll always love you!” Then, he was gone.
In the past, Ena had always been obedient and a relative innocent. In one night, Dubheasa had showed her another world – one full of mystery, intrigue, and deceit. She saw things she would never have believed existed in the living world. Cruelty beyond her imagination disguised as good, and deceit and disobedience done for the truer good. She felt much as she did when she stood on the beach after Dubheasa had left to do the mission on her own – to go back was death, to stay was death. She could only go forward with the only friend left that she trusted.