Mae's aura recovered so slowly. Mariea was certain if she had to wait another day, she would go crazy. Not to mention their limited supplies were fading fast, and she really didn't want to try and live off the land. Since their encounter with the dragon, and seeing the haunting remnants of the settlement, Mariea had decided the island was very disturbing. The sooner we can leave the better, she thought.
So, as soon as Mae felt she was up to traveling again, the group made their way back through town. To Mariea's frustration, once there, nothing seemed to trigger the visions again. They hovered around the little town for a few hours, trying to find more places Elinore had been, but nothing seemed to make a difference. They finally found themselves at the remnants of Densin's parent's place, their grand mansion reduced to nothing more than a pile of rubble and a burnt out courtyard.
Sighing, Mariea came to a stop near the front gate—which was nothing more than warped metal, bent at unnatural angles. "I don't understand. It always came so easy. I know there's more to the story, so why aren't the visions coming to me?" she wondered.
The group fell silent. She knew they didn't have answers any more than she did. Then, after a pause, Bracken stated, "Well, this is the first area we've lingered in for so long. Maybe it's something beyond the settlement?" he wondered.
"Hmm. There are a couple options we could try," Mariea thought, thinking of the lab first, and then Densin and Elinore's farm from the most recent dream. Settling on the second option of the two, she waved them forward.
Delving back into the jungle, the group wound their way through the thick undergrowth, following what looked like the remnants of a road again. This area was much more thickly overgrown, and the cobblestones disappeared, leaving only the faintly remaining dirt trail.
Several hours later, Mariea finally came to a halt near the remains of a wooden fence. It didn't look like it had suffered through a fire as the rest of the settlement had, and as she glanced up to the house beyond it, she discovered it still stood, though it was almost overgrown by the jungle. All the windows were shattered, vines snaking in and out of their openings, and through the front door. Part of the porch had collapsed, debris scattered around it, the stairs and at least three pillars missing. Through a hole in the roof, a huge tree grew. Mariea frowned, saddened by the sight.
"What is this place?" Owen wondered.
Mariea glanced at him, and then back to the sad remains of the house. "It was Elinore and Densin's home," she replied.
"You want to go inside?" Mae asked, sounding a little wary.
"If we can safely," Mariea confirmed, surprised by how drawn to it she felt. Moving to the gate, she pushed it open, its ancient hinges protesting. One gave out, and the gate hung precariously from its top hinge. Moving it out of their way, she rested it to one side, before the second one gave out and the gate fell to the earth with a thud.
"That bodes well for the condition of the house," Bracken said under his breath, his gaze on the gate as he stepped through, joining Mariea.
"Yeah, hopefully the floor doesn't give out on us like that," Mae muttered in agreement.
"We'll be careful," Mariea reassured them, unable to allow the bad omen to deter her. She was almost certain she would find something useful in the house. "If you want, you can wait out here, I'll go inside alone."
"No, it's fine, we'll come with you," Bracken reassured her, almost as if he didn't like the idea of her wandering around the dilapidated structure without him.
They reached the porch. Mariea approached the mostly in-tact side, pressing a foot against the boards and carefully shifting her weight onto them. They creaked horribly, sagging slightly, the thick mold weakening the boards, but they held. As she hoisted herself up fully onto the porch, she stepped forward cautiously, giving the others room to follow. The closer she got to the more sheltered part of the porch, the steadier it seemed. Glancing over her shoulder, she double checked her comrades were following, and then stepped through the doorway.
Beyond, the scent of rotting wood, dust, and plant life was so strong it made Mariea sneeze. Rubbing a hand at her nose, she glanced around, taking in the remnants of Elinore's home.
The front room's furniture was still present; a rocking chair in the more open part of the room, most of its back missing and one rail cracked in two. Some animal had made a nest in its seat at some point. A dark, barely recognizable rug spread between the rocking chair and the armchair. The armchair's upholstery was almost gone, rotting away slowly. The shattered remnants of a kerosene lamp sat among the remains of the collapsed side table near the armchair. Against the wall between the two seats was a large brick fireplace, rotting wood still in its center, the black of the fires that had burnt there not completely faded.
Beyond the room, Mariea could see the remnants of a simple kitchen, several of the cupboard doors resting in random places on the floor. The small stove's glass door was cracked, and there were more signs of nesting inside it. On the table, a small array of china signified someone had been setting it but had stopped mid-action for some reason. Another shattered plate could be seen on the floor next to it.
"It's like…whoever lived here just disappeared. Like their lives halted suddenly, leaving their home ready for them to still live here, but they never came back," Mae muttered, looking forlorn.
"It's pretty sad," Owen agreed, his eyes wide as he took in his surroundings.
Stepping past the rocking chair, Mariea headed into another room in the house, pushing open the rickety door. It stuck for a second, and then gave, several vines pulling away to allow her entrance. This was where the tree had taken root; somehow a gaping hole had been created in part of the roof and the far wall. The tree stood halfway in the house and out, its branches pushing more holes in the roof, its roots digging through the foundation to find the ground below. Remnants of a bed were seen against the trunk, some of the roots embedded in the mattress, the headboard gone, leaving the bed lopsided. Mariea glanced to one side, where a dresser had been knocked over. She moved to it, her feet crunching over the dusty, leaf covered floor.
Crouching next to the dresser, she found a photo, its glass surface shattered, the picture so faded Mariea couldn't make out who it was of. It looked like it had once been a painting. Next to it, a long, rectangular box caught her eye. She reached for it, delicately picking it from the ground. Part of the box crumbled away in her hand, and something glinted underneath it, a chain slipping from the new opening. Prying the lid off the box, Mariea was amazed to find the necklace Densin had made for Elinore, still in relatively good condition, the box protecting it from the decay that had claimed almost everything else in the little home. Mariea pulled it from the box, her fingers brushing over the small gems, a bittersweet smile crossing her face. It had meant so much to Elinore, and in turn, it warmed Mariea's heart thinking of it.
As her fingers wrapped around the chain, suddenly she was standing, and the dresser was upright, a jewelry box and the picture on top of it. It was a painting of Elinore and Densin from their wedding. They looked so happy, so carefree. The tree disappeared behind Mariea, and the charcoal gray of the peeling plaster was replaced by a fresh, deep blue, almost the color of Elinore's aura. Mariea stared down at the necklace, a sudden sorrow settling on her shoulders as her fingers trailed over the gems. A baby was heard giggling from the other room, and Mariea heard someone sigh. Elinore turned from Mariea's spot to check on the child, and the story unfolded around Mariea.
Ansem seemed fine, so Elinore returned to her room, finding the box where she kept the necklace and returning it to its protecting embrace. Leaving the box on the dresser, she took one last look at the picture of her and Densin, her heart longing so much for him, and then left them both on the dresser.
She hadn't seen Densin in over a week now. Since the passing of their daughter almost six months ago, he had changed, slowly at first so Elinore hadn't noticed, but he became bitter, obsessed with finding the man who had killed her, and willing to do anything to see her death avenged. Elinore had watched, helpless, as grief had slowly consumed her husband a little bit at a time, leaving an angry, hollow shell. He refused to tell her what he was doing when he disappeared, and he refused to use his aura around her. She figured it was because he was ashamed of taking Amberlie's aura, but it almost seemed irrational just how much he kept it hidden.
She broke from her thoughts as she heard the front door open. Her eyes widening in surprise, she realized he had stepped through the door. She stared at him, frozen in place, taking in his appearance. He was dirty and ragged, a deep cut running along his check and what looked like a burn mark on his shoulder, but there was a smug triumph in his eyes. "Densin…what in the world happened to you?" she gasped.
He sighed, some of his triumphant demeanor fading slightly. "I found him, Elinore. I found the man that killed our daughter."
Elinore's breath caught in her throat, and she found she couldn't speak for a few moments, dreading the next question she would have to ask. "And…what happened? What did you do about it?"
"He's dead," he stated flatly, no remorse in his voice, but there wasn't any pride there either. He stated it like it was just a random fact, something irrelevant.
"Densin…" Elinore started, wanting to reprimand him for what he had done, but she was too afraid of how he would react to finish her sentence. When did that happen? When did I become afraid of him? She wondered.
He blinked and frowned slightly. "I would never hurt you. You don't have to be afraid of me," he stated softly, surprising her. She had kept that thought to herself, but their connection was so unpredictable lately, it was hard to guess what he would hear and what he wouldn't. It seemed to more favor him now, allowing him more access but leaving her in the dark. It frustrated her at times.
"I…" she started, trying to think of a good way to reply. To help him understand what she was feeling. "Why did you do it?" she finally managed.
"Isn't it obvious?" Densin stated, his eyes flashing with a deep hatred. "He was dangerous. She wasn't the only one he had killed. He had to pay for what he did. Nobody else would do anything about it, so I did it myself. He deserved to die."
Elinore let out a frustrated huff, sorrow clenching her heart tightly. "It wasn't your place," she muttered.
His anger increased, now directed at her, which was new. He had never been angry towards her. It made her pause and wonder if it was a good idea to push him. "I did it for you and Ansem, Elinore!" He snapped. "He could have come to finish off the rest of the family. I couldn't let that happen! I couldn't lose you." He paused, taking a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. "It's over now. You're safe, I've guaranteed that. And that monster will never be able to hurt anyone again."
She swallowed back her first response, wanting to point out how he wasn't any better than the murderer, but she knew it wouldn't get her anywhere. She sighed, searching for a better response, when suddenly Ansem tottered up to her. "Momma, up," he pleaded. There was fear in his little blue eyes, surprising her. She scooped him up into her arms. Around his small hands, thin wisps of his recently found indigo aura appeared, reacting to his fear. He buried his small head underneath her chin, curling up into a ball, trembling slightly.
"What got into him?" Densin wondered, sounding concerned. Glancing at him, she noticed something of the Densin she knew and loved shone from underneath the grime.
"I don't know," she replied, giving the small child a reassuring pat on the back.
Densin took a few steps forward, his eyes on their child as if he meant to comfort him. The minute Ansem noticed Densin approaching, he buried his face against Elinore's chest, whimpering quietly, his trembling increasing. Densin stopped in his tracks, clearly upset by the child's reaction, and then his shoulders slumped. "I guess I deserve this. I have been staying away quite a lot lately. He's probably forgotten who I am," he muttered.
"Or maybe he just doesn't recognize you; you're filthy," Elinore pointed out, her head ducked, watching Ansem.
Densin sighed. "Maybe," he muttered. "I'll go clean up." He disappeared into the washroom attached to their bedroom. Elinore heard the sound of water being poured into the wash basin as she moved to sit in the rocking chair. She cradled her son close, rocking gently, until he relaxed and dozed, his head resting lightly on her shoulder. As she trailed a hand over his back soothingly, she couldn't help but wonder just what about the child's father was more terrifying—how he looked, or what he was slowly becoming.
She placed the child in his crib, and then, as the sun set, she retired as well. It was a comfort having Densin close, and for a moment she allowed herself to forget all her troubled thoughts as she fell asleep.
She hadn't been asleep long when suddenly she was jerked awake by Ansem's terrified screams. She shot up, startled, and then realized it was just him. Densin woke as she did, looking surprised, thin wisps of his aura appearing around his hands, reacting to his fear for Ansem.
That's when she noticed the change. His aura was a deep, ugly green, so murky it was almost brown. She stared at it, knowing when his aura interacted with others, it would change colors, reacting to the graft that was still a part of it from so long ago. But never had the color stayed before, or become so dark.
Feeling his gaze on her, she glanced up to his face. He eyed her carefully, his expression guarded, but there was a hint of disappointment in his eyes. Then Ansem let out another pained cry. Silently, he stood and went to the boy, lifting him from his crib.
Ansem almost seemed to grow more upset, his screams becoming shriller. Elinore hurried to him, taking him from Densin, suddenly wondering if she knew what it was about him that terrified the boy so much. In her arms, the cries slowly subsided. Elinore paced, giving her an excuse to turn away from Densin so he couldn't see the anger in her eyes, but she knew he would sense it. Something so potent wasn't containable.
"What is it, Elinore? Why are you so upset?" he asked softly, as she expected he would. She could imagine his shoulders slumping, his gaze unfocused as he looked her way, searching for answers, but part of her refused to give them to him.
But she had to know. "Why is your aura different?" she snapped, harsher than she meant. Ansem whimpered and stirred in her arms.
"I tried to keep it from you. I didn't want you to worry," he sighed, avoiding her question.
She turned back to the crib, placing Ansem down now that he was fast asleep again. Then, she grabbed his hand, pulling him through the house and outside, far away from the boy so he could rest in peace, and she could be as angry as desired. "Not worry?" she snapped, turning on Densin. "How the heck did you expect me not to worry? You've basically disappeared, cutting me out of your life, and for what? So you could seek your revenge? I doubt that's what Amberlie would have wanted."
"She was four. She wouldn't understand," Densin deadpanned as he folded his arms against his chest, looking at her with a mix of disdain and frustration.
"I don't understand," she countered.
He sighed, running a hand through his hair, but didn't seem to have a response. Mimicking his sigh, she folded her arms against her chest. Then she locked gazes with him, daring him to turn away, to lie to her. She knew he would feel the challenge, and welcomed that thought. "You took that man's aura. The one who killed Amberlie."
His lips pressed into a thin line, but to her relief, he didn't turn away as she expected him to. "I did," he stated flatly, honestly, with the same dismissive tone he had used when he had first announced the murder he had committed.
"You promised you wouldn't do that," she stated, her voice equally devoid of emotion, but she wasn't about to dismiss the topic as he seemed to want to.
He shrugged. "Things change. Amberlie's death makes everything different. He had to suffer as I had, and that was the easiest way."
"You chose to allow it to change things. It didn't have to be this way," she argued. She couldn't believe what she was hearing, that he could possibly say such horrible things.
He let out an exasperated huff, breaking his carefully controlled profile. "Do you think I wanted this to happen? That I wanted Amberlie to die? I didn't choose this."
"That's not what I said," she corrected with a shake of her head. "Whatever you're feeling because of Amberlie's death, you shouldn't have used it as an excuse to give in to the temptation to abuse the power of your aura. It was meant for good. Now you've corrupted it."
"What do you know about it?" He growled, but then his anger faded. Suddenly he looked a thousand years older as he ran a tired hand through his hair. "You don't have to carry this burden. I've been trying, so hard. But I couldn't do it anymore. I lost everything when Amberlie died. My daughter was gone and with it my happiness. My control. Do you want to know why I stayed away? I didn't want to accidentally steal your aura like I came so close to doing so many times. You didn't even know it. Your aura, it's so strong…and now Ansem's aura is visible. He's probably afraid of me, probably can sense the danger that is my aura. So what do you expect me to do? I can't run from this anymore, Elinore."
Suddenly Elinore's anger faded. She could sense his weariness, a bone-deep exhaustion that weighed him down, shook his resolve and clouded his judgment. "I know this is hard…I couldn't possibly fully understand what it feels like," she stated, taking a half step closer.
"I'm sorry I let it get out of hand," he told her. It was almost if he was begging her to just move on. It was all she wanted, to have him back, to put the torment of the last six months behind them, and allow themselves to heal.
But she had to be sure of one more thing. "This road you're walking, you don't have to walk it alone," she started. "I lost Amberlie too. Let me help you bear this. We're stronger together. Please Densin, don't shut me out again."
He met her gaze, his eyes bright with emotion, and nodded. "I won't. I promise," he told her, reaching for her. The last of her anger faded, the walls she had built crumbling away, and she stepped into his embrace, feeling maybe she had gotten to him.
Time passed, and for a while, Densin was hers again. It felt almost as if he was finally letting his grief go. But there was always a hint of it, of what he had done, that followed him like a dark shadow, keeping Elinore on guard.
Just when she thought she could be comfortable in knowing everything was alright, things began to change. It started with rumors of murders, and mysterious victims with their aura gone. Elinore blocked out the rumors, becoming almost angry every time someone brought it up. She refused to acknowledge things were getting worse, or the blatant connection to Densin's kind.
Densin's aura never returned to the blue-gray color. When she asked about it, he would say he didn't know why it hadn't changed back. It would fade at times, or get darker, but it remained the annoying green-brown. It bothered her, as did how it felt when she could sense it—like something surprisingly unpleasant.
As winter came to an end, Elinore took advantage of the warmer weather and ventured into town. Because Densin was busy at work in the far fields behind their home, she left Ansem in the care of her parents on the farm they had moved to just beyond Elinore's home. As she walked back towards the town, she became lost in thought.
Suddenly she heard a scream, and paused. Another echoed through the air, followed by others. Rushing forward the remaining distance into the town, Elinore looked around, trying to figure out what had caused the scream.
What she found stopped her dead in her tracks. The town was in chaos, so much happening at once it was hard to follow it all. People rushed past Elinore, fear and desperation warping their expressions. It took a moment for her mind to process there were Auraes chasing those that feared for their lives. When she sensed the attacking group's warped auras, suddenly it all made sense; it was if all those that had received the graft had at once given in to the dark urges of their auras, causing the chaos before Elinore. She shook her head, not wanting to believe it, but when she opened her eyes again, nothing had changed. This can't be happening, she thought numbly. She stood frozen in place, her heart racing, trying to process it all and decide what to do. Her aura appeared in thin wisps around her hands, reacting to her fear.
A woman tripped in front of her, letting out a terrified squeal as she tried to scramble back to her feet, but she kept getting tangled in the fabric of her dress. Elinore stared down at her, dazed. Finally her body responded, and she moved to help the fallen woman. But it was too late; the rogue Aurae following her caught up to them, and in an instant and a flash of color, the woman's aura was consumed.
Then the murderer focused on Elinore, and suddenly she was running for her life as well. She charged through the streets, clutching her skirt in her hands, trying desperately to outrun her pursuer.
Suddenly someone pulled her roughly from her path, steadied her against the wall of the building, and then stepped around her to deal a deadly blow to her pursuer, a surge of his aura shooting forward. The other man disappeared in a flash and falling ashes.
Letting out a relieved sigh, she quickly thanked her benefactor, recognizing the uniform of the Sentinels. "What's happening?" she wondered.
"There's been an uprising," he replied, his gaze searching their surroundings warily. "Those that received the graft a few summers ago have been…hunting other Auraes. We're not sure all the details," he explained. Even though she had witnessed it with her own eyes, she couldn't accept what he was saying, couldn't believe it to be true.
He turned to her, obviously noticing her dazed expression. "You should head somewhere safe. I can escort you."
Elinore immediately thought of Densin, and couldn't help but wonder where he was in all of it. Then she considered what she knew about his aura, and subsequently all of them like him. Blinking away her confusion, she met his gaze. "No, I don't want to hide. I know a lot about these people. Let me help," she requested.
The Sentinel eyed her for a moment, obviously debating how wise it would be to allow her to act on her request. Then he sighed. "We need all the information we can get. I'll take you to headquarters. Amon will want to hear what you have to say." Recognizing the name of the head Sentinel, Elinore nodded, feeling slightly relieved he had agreed.
He motioned for her to follow, and they made their way through the streets. The rogue Auraes left them alone long enough Elinore was beginning to think they would make it to their destination unhindered, when from a dark alley one of them launched herself at Elinore's companion. They wrestled for a minute, before he managed to kick her away, and then sent a blast of energy after her. She danced away from it, moving faster than Elinore thought humanly possible. She watched, unsure how best to help, or if she should get involved at all.
Then, another snuck up behind the Sentinel, and, with a greed-filled grin, he started to steal the other man's aura aura. Realizing he had no defenses against it, Elinore called her aura to light in a split second decision and sent a blast of energy towards their enemy, breaking his hold on the other man. The Sentinel seemed too weak to fight back, so she took his place, battling the two back, relying on her knowledge of the elements.
As the two perished, she backed away, sick that she had been forced to kill them. Thankfully, their bodies had both disappeared the minute they died, turning to piles of ashes. It was a welcome surprise, leaving no reminders of what had happened.
Turning back to the Sentinel, she crouched before him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Are you alright?" she asked.
He nodded, grimacing. "I'll live." He stood carefully, Elinore staying close to steady him if needed. "You fought well. Thank you for your assistance."
She gave him a weak smile. "I did what I could."
He motioned for her to follow, and they made their way carefully through town, keeping to the backstreets to try and prevent drawing more attention to themselves. Her companion's aura was too weak to fight now, and she wasn't sure what she would do if she had to kill again.
Finally he stopped before a building near the town square; it bore the logo of the Sentinels, making Elinore realize they had reached their headquarters. Two guards stood near the door, dressed in full battle armor—a sight worth seeing. They were both intimidating and regal, a haunting mix that made Elinore glad they were on her side. They watched the pair from underneath their helmets carefully.
The Sentinel she was following pushed into the building to the large, open room beyond. People rushed past, but a few gazes turned to the pair. A woman rushed up, dressed in the same uniform as the man. "Al, what happened?" she gasped.
"Just ran into…one of them. I'll live, I'm just exhausted." After a pause, he added, "What are we calling them now?"
"The Doushidok," the woman replied as she approached. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Dou…" Elinore muttered, slowly translating the Shidokian word to English. "Tainted aura?"
The woman glanced to Elinore, seeming to notice her for the first time. "Basically," she confirmed with a small nod. Her gaze on Al again, she asked, "Who's she?"
"Actually, I never caught her name," Al admitted, looking a bit surprised. Their gazes turned to her.
"Elinore Remar," she supplied.
"Elinore. Nice to meet you. I'm Charlotte, and this is Alphonse." Glancing back to Alphonse, she asked, "I can't help but wonder, why did you bring her here? It's not safe."
Plopping down into the nearest chair, Alphonse sighed and ran a hand over his face. "She said she had information about the Doushidok. Something we could use."
Charlotte turned to Elinore, looking slightly surprised. "How did you come by this information?" she wondered.
"My husband…" she paused, unable to classify him in the same group as those attacking the colony, so she came up with a different explanation. "…has an aura like theirs. He told me some things," she informed her.
The woman nodded slowly, looking slightly sympathetic. "I'm sorry," she commented softly.
"Sorry about what?" Elinore asked, confused.
"If he is one of the Doushidok, he's no doubt involved in all of this," she explained regretfully. "None of them seem to be listening to reason."
Elinore's brow furrowed, and she had to fight the urge to scowl at the woman. "I assure you, he has no part in this," she stated, her voice cold. "He would never attack the innocent. I just spoke to him yesterday; he seemed perfectly normal."
"They all did, until this morning," Alphonse commented. Elinore glanced at him, and he shrugged dismissively. "Just saying."
Charlotte sighed. "Either way, we're grateful you're willing to help us. You should speak to Amon right away. I could show you to him," she offered.
Elinore nodded. "Lead the way then," she agreed.
The two women made their way deeper into the busy headquarters. Charlotte led her to a larger man with a thick, carefully trimmed beard and long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. He barked orders to those around him, organizing parties to counter attack, find those who could not defend themselves and evacuate them, and put out a fire that had started near the town square. He glanced over his shoulder as the two approached. "I thought I sensed an unfamiliar aura. Elinore, isn't it?"
"How did you…" Elinore muttered, taken off guard, but he was distracted again, listening to a man report the fire was getting worse.
Charlotte leaned closer as if letting her in on a well-guarded secret and muttered, "He can basically sense everything that goes on in this building and with any of the Sentinels. It's one of the many abilities of the head Sentinel."
"Oh," Elinore muttered. Amon turned back to her, giving her an expectant look, as if he had never turned away and was still waiting for her to answer his question. "Well yes, that's my name," she confirmed awkwardly.
"Good, good. Tell me what you know about the Doushidok. Do you know why they're attacking us? And how are they so strong? Does it have to do with why their auras feel so foul? Are they using some sort of dark spell?" His questions came so fast, it took Elinore a minute to process them all.
"They…their…how much do you know about the graft that modified their auras?" Elinore asked, deciding to start there.
"They were designed to allow them to access others' auras so they could repair and heal them of the plague," Amon answered.
"Right. And to do so, they were given the ability to basically hold someone's aura in theirs," Elinore added. "Since gaining this ability though, they've all been haunted…by this temptation." She frowned slightly, her gaze unfocused as she remembered the feelings Densin had shared with her, and the potency of the urge.
"Temptation? What could you possibly mean by that?" Amon wondered, his curiosity only growing.
"They… they could absorb the aura they hold in the blink of an eye, making their aura stronger," Elinore continued. "But to do so would kill the person. The urge is always there, and nothing really satisfies it. They…so they're attacking people for their auras." For some reason it was surprisingly hard for Elinore to admit that was what was happening, which surprised her. Maybe it was because she had known it was a problem all along, and hadn't done anything about it before it became out of hand. Or maybe it was because she had watched the darkness consume her husband, and she couldn't help but fear it would return. The idea of all of them consumed by the anger and pain she had felt in Densin made her sick.
"Which would explain the deaths we've noticed, of people whose auras have suddenly disappeared," Amon mused, breaking Elinore from her thoughts.
"Yes, that's probably what happened," Elinore agreed as she forced away her dark thoughts.
"We have to stop them before they become too powerful. Who knows what they'll do if they get off the island?" Charlotte stated, her words sending shivers down Elinore's spine.
Amon nodded in agreement. "So how do we go about doing that?" he wondered.
"They may be faster, but we're the superior fighters. If we could just defend against their auras, we would stand a chance," Charlotte considered.
Amon glanced at his fellow Sentinel, and then back to Elinore. "Do you have any idea how to go about doing that?" he asked.
"I…" Elinore murmured. "I've never had to think about it before, but…I bet if we could learn more about the Magics imbedded in the graft that allowed them to manipulate others' auras in the first place, we might be able to learn more about how to defend against it."
"Sounds like a good start," Amon agreed. Turning to the other Sentinel, he instructed, "Charlotte, round up a team. I need you to find and bring back safely Joseph Redro, Sariah Ashcroft, and Andrew Griesenbeck. They're the Medics that worked on this program, so we need them here alive."
"Especially Sariah. She basically built the grafts," Elinore added, feeling the need to emphasize that little detail.
Charlotte nodded. "Find them, bring them back in one piece. Got it," she told Amon, giving a small salute as she hurried away.
Amon turned back to Elinore. "I overheard you talking about your husband being one of them. This must be hard for you. Thank you for being willing to help despite that fact," he complimented, the same look of sympathy in his gaze that she had seen in Charlotte's moments before.
"He may have an aura like theirs, but he hasn't turned. He's a good man," Elinore protested, stubbornly defensive of her husband.
"For his sake, I hope you're right," Amon stated, placing a hand on her shoulder before pushing past her. Elinore watched him go, and then sought out a quiet spot in the building. Once she was alone, she turned her attention inward, reaching for Densin through their connection, but was met only by silence as she had so many times before. A dark feeling settled in the pit of her stomach, making her feel sick. Where are you Densin? She wondered.
A few hours later, Amon received a message from Charlotte. He invited Elinore to join him as he listened to it. Elinore watched the small violet orb curiously as Amon stepped up to it and tapped the smooth surface. The orb expanded, and suddenly an image of Charlotte dyed in the same purple tint appeared before them. "How goes the mission?" Amon asked.
"Somewhat good," Charlotte replied cautiously, and then flinched as what sounded distinctively like an explosion echoed through the background. "We found Sariah and Andrew, but Andrew is badly injured. Joseph's dead; we found his body. His aura was consumed. Sariah's working on getting Andrew back on his feet, but his injuries are complicated at best. Plus, we're surrounded inside a barn on the edge of town. I think these things know these Medics have information we need. They're trying their hardest to take them out." Another explosion shook the building, and Elinore caught bits of yelled warnings. Looking desperate, Charlotte cursed under her breath. "Reinforcements would be nice. Got to go!" With that, the image blinked from existence.
"Wait, Charlotte!" Amon protested, reaching a hand out for her even as she disappeared. He scowled, resting his bearded chin in his hand. "Hmm. We'll have to go help," he muttered after a moment. Then, glancing over his shoulder at her, he added, "And I want you to come with me."
"Me?" Elinore gasped. "I'm no Sentinel," she pointed out. The very thought of venturing out into the battle torn streets made her stomach twist into sickening knots.
He nodded. "That may be true, but you know what these creatures are capable of, and you fought like a Sentinel against those beasts earlier. We're way outmatched as it is. We need people like you."
Elinore sighed. As much as she dreaded the fighting, she knew he was right, and couldn't push away his call for help. Maybe while I'm out there I can find Densin, she thought, trying to give herself something positive to cling to. "Fine. I'll come with you. But I can't promise I'll be of any help in this situation. I'm not used to fighting," she warned.
"We're all fighters now by circumstance. Whatever you can manage will be enough," Amon reassured her. He hurried away, calling over his shoulder for her to wait by the door. Elinore grumbled her annoyance under her breath but made her way to where she had been told to wait.
As she stood in silence for him to return, she couldn't help but think of a similar situation where someone had asked something of her she thought she couldn't do; once, she had watched while Andrew had grafted the cure to Densin's aura, the moment where everything about their lives had changed. Suddenly she regretted it all. If we had known this is what it would lead to, would we have gone through with the grafts? She wondered. At the time, it had been their only solution, and things had been desperate enough, she wondered if they would have had time to find another option before they would have all perished from the plague. It's almost as if we were doomed no matter what we did.
Amon reappeared, followed by three other Sentinels, so Elinore forced herself to focus on the present, pushing her regrets away. They were all dressed in heavy armor, ready for a fight. Pointing to them, Amon introduced, "This is Gideon, Benedict, and Jessamine."
She nodded a brief greeting to them, and then turned back to him. "This is all you're bringing?"
"It's all we can spare. We're going to have to take them from the guard of headquarters, and if this place falls, we lose the Magics that unites us. We would lose the battle if we allow that to happen." Elinore nodded, understanding his hesitation.
"Is she going with us?" Jessamine asked, looking doubtful. Amon nodded, seeming slightly confused she was questioning the idea. "If she goes out dressed like that, it'll paint a target on her back. She looks like a normal civilian," Jessamine pointed out.
"Hmm. I didn't think of that," Amon muttered, glancing towards Elinore, his eyes taking in her dirty dress and frizzy hair. Suddenly she was self-conscious under his gaze. Then he waved his hands, and a Sentinel uniform appeared in one, neatly folded, a pair of boots in his other hand. He handed them to her. "Here. We don't have time to teach you the Magics to create armor, but this'll at least protect you better than a dress, and deflect extra unwanted attention." She took the uniform in her hands, hoping she didn't look as surprised and excited as she felt. Amon jerked a thumb over his shoulder as he added, "There's a closet right there. Change quickly."
"What?" Elinore replied weakly, before letting out a defeated huff. She was done trying to argue. She hurried past them and slipped into the closet. Changing quickly in the dark proved difficult, but she managed. She pulled the uniform on, which surprisingly fit her perfectly. The pants were tight but flexible, far from what she was used to, and the top had a high collar and square shoulders. Both were armored, giving her a sense of protection, even if it was just basic. She could sense the magic in it though, and knew it would absorb more power than it looked capable of taking. She pulled her feet into the boots, quickly tied her hair back into a bun to keep it out of her way, and then threw the long coat on, finishing the look. Without a mirror, she could only guess how she looked, but she hoped it made her look more powerful than she felt.
Stepping from the closet, she rejoined the group. "There, that's better," Jessamine commented with a small smile.
"Alright, our goal is to keep her alive, but don't baby her. She can fight. We need to get to our forces and make a quick evac. The two Medics with them are top priority," Amon explained quickly, and then with a wave of his hand, they started out.
The streets were as much of a mess as Elinore remembered, but now a thick fog had rolled in from the ocean, shrouding everything in shadows. For a while, they passed through the town unhindered, and Elinore was given a moment to take in the carnage; several buildings were on fire, and bodies littered the streets, more than Elinore was willing to or could ever count. A cold silence fell over them, the horror of their surroundings hushing any sort of conversation that may have passed between them. Elinore let out a pained sigh, hating to see her home in such a condition.
As they neared the barn, they met with resistance. The little group was almost overwhelmed, but the Sentinels fought with such strength and determination, Elinore took courage, and did what she could to help. Finally, they pushed their way into the structure. They found the remaining Sentinels from Charlotte's team crowded in the back of the barn, surrounding Sariah.
"No…" Amon muttered under his breath, his gaze glued on a body near the edge of the protective ring. He hurried to it, and as he did, Elinore realized it was Charlotte. He pulled her to him, cradling her close for a few moments. Elinore frowned, hating to see the pain in his gaze as he studied her. Obviously she had meant something to him, but now she was gone.
Turning away, Elinore focused on the Medic, hurrying to Sariah's side. She seemed worn and full of sorrow, something that was becoming a common element in Elinore's life. Kneeling next to the other woman, she told her, "We're here to help."
"Elinore," Sariah greeted, surprising her that she remembered her. "It's good to see a familiar face. I didn't know you joined the Sentinels."
It took Elinore a split second to follow her comment, until she remembered the uniform she was wearing. "It's…sort of unofficial," she replied sheepishly.
Sariah managed a weary half smile. "Well, the uniform looks good on you," she decided.
Elinore returned her smile, grateful for her support. "How's Andrew?" she asked, turning back to the task at hand.
The Medic's smile faded, and she glanced to the ground. "I couldn't save him. His injuries were too severe, even for me. He was practically already gone when we found him. I did what I could to ease his passing, but…" She sighed heavily.
Resting a hand on Sariah's shoulder, Elinore muttered, "We'll fix this. His death won't be in vain."
"He died thinking he was responsible for all this. We both were. We made these creatures," she griped, the self-loathing thick in her words.
"No," Elinore argued. "Don't blame yourself. You did what you had to in order to save those you loved."
Sariah shrugged wearily, unable to be comforted. "But at what cost?" she asked as she met Elinore's gaze.
"We need to get out of here," Jessamine interrupted. "The wounded have been identified. Sariah, can you help them?"
"I'll try," the Medic promised, standing.
"We'll hold the enemy back until you finish," Jessamine promised. The Medic got to work, even as the Sentinels continued to battle the Doushidok. As she finished doing all she could for those that had been injured, the group prepared to head out.
They poured from the barn, the Sentinels surrounding Sariah. The older woman flinched away from the carnage, and Elinore couldn't help but feel the same way; outside was crowded by many desperate people, magic flashing everywhere as they clashed, the smell of fire and the screams of the injured filling the air. Unfazed, the Sentinels jumped into the battle, pushing back the remaining Doushidok that clambered at the barn. As their enemies fell, they turned towards the town center, ready to start back.
They hadn't traveled more than a block when suddenly Amon halted, raising a hand for everyone to pause. Elinore followed his gaze, wondering what had caused him to stop. A lone figure approached through the fog, and though she couldn't yet see him entirely, she could sense his amazing power, wanting to shrink away from it. Then he stepped through the thickest of the fog, suddenly becoming clearer. Elinore's gaze widened as she met a pair of familiar gray eyes, feeling as though someone had slammed her to the ground, knocking the air out of her and leaving her dazed and in pain.
The Sentinels tensed, watching him approach carefully. He eyed them with a level of contempt and disgust Elinore had never seen him. His aura swirled him, but it was unrecognizable; the familiar blue-gray was gone, darkness surrounding him instead, as if his aura now absorbed light instead of reflected it. It cast his features in a dark light, sharpening the angels and adding a cruel glint to his eyes.
"Running away so soon?" he called to the Sentinels, the faintest smile curling the corner of his lips, sending shivers down Elinore's spine.
"That's their leader," one Sentinel hissed, surprising Elinore. The group reacted immediately, their auras appearing around them, ready to defend themselves from Densin, but before they could attack, she raised an arm, stepping forward a bit.
"Wait," she ordered, grateful her voice didn't give out on her despite how it felt her throat was being squeezed shut. "I know him. Let me handle this." She met Amon's gaze, and suddenly he seemed to understand.
With a half nod, he commanded, "Let her take this one."
Elinore stepped forward, moving towards Densin. He watched her, his gaze devoid of emotion, feeling nothing for her. She paused, staring at him through the fog, the battle fading from her attention.
"You know, I could kill that entire group with a simple wave of my hand," Densin informed her casually.
"I don't doubt that you could," Elinore admitted. "Your aura has become quite powerful."
He flashed her a malicious grin. "I'm glad you noticed."
"You promised you wouldn't do this, Densin," She reminded him, trying hard not to sound like she was pleading. "What happened?"
His grin faded, and she saw a brief shadow of the man she had married, like a silhouette hidden under the surface of the monster before her. "I did it because I had to. You would never understand; you were too blind to see it. To see what needed to happen."
"I thought you gave it up after we talked," she admitted reluctantly, wondering what she had missed.
He shrugged. "I did, for a time. A brief time, long enough to convince you nothing was happening. I had to make you think everything would be okay, so you would play along. But I didn't realize my rouse had been so powerful."
Elinore's shoulders slumped, shocked by how blind she had been. "When I learned of what was happening here, I had hoped you weren't involved. I had even defended you. What happened to everything we had? To how much you said you loved me? Does none of that mean anything to you anymore?" she wondered.
For the briefest second, he looked conflicted, but then his expression hardened into a cold mask, his eyes glinting dangerously. "I still love you, but if you stand in my way, I will do what I must," he warned.
She swallowed hard, fighting the tears that threatened to fall. If he had dealt her a physical blow, she guessed it would hurt less than the pain that erupted in her heart. Her whole body stiffened, her hands clenched into fists; she knew what would happen next. "Then…so will I," she whispered, unable to find the strength to say it louder, but his frown twisted into a scowl, anger darkening his eyes. Obviously, he had heard, despite the distance and how quietly she had spoken.
When he attacked, he sent a wave of power towards them, stronger than she could ever imagine, more than anyone could defend against. She felt the magic in her armor react to shield her, and her aura did as well, but to her surprise, the darkness bent to avoid her, rippling instead towards those behind her. She heard their screams as if they were far away, everything moving in slow motion. Slowly, she turned, taking in their fallen forms, in how still they were. Are they all…dead? She wondered.
Realizing she had left herself vulnerable, Elinore quickly turned back to Densin, but she was surprised to find he was gone. She looked around for where he had went to, finding no traces of him, but part of her knew where he was going. Uncertain of what he intended to find there, she knew where she needed to go.
Behind her, she heard a pained grunt. Looking back, she realized one of the Sentinels were still alive; Gideon sat up carefully, wincing as he aggravated obvious wounds. Amon stirred as well, but didn't rise from the ground, letting out a pained moan. Relief flooded Elinore, even as she took in the rest of the fallen. Then Sariah pushed herself free from underneath Jessamine's smoking form, standing carefully. Elinore quickly realized Jessamine had sacrificed herself to protect Sariah, giving them one last chance to win.
Elinore hurried to her. "Are you alright?" she asked. Sariah nodded numbly, her gaze on Jessamine's body, her eyes wide.
Another pained grunt sounded from behind, and Gideon limped to the two women. "We need to move, quickly."
"Amon's hurt bad," Sariah whispered, sensing what neither of them could see. "Let me help him first."
"There's no time," Gideon replied, though he sounded reluctant to leave behind his commander.
"Please. We need all the help we can get," Sariah responded.
"Tell us how we can stop these things first, then you can heal all the wounded that you can manage," Elinore promised.
Sariah glanced between the two, then to the ground. "When the idea for the graft…first came to me, I knew there was something wrong about it. I could sense it. But I was so desperate for answers, I ignored it. Luckily, I thought to design a failsafe; it's a prison of sorts, tied to their auras and powerful enough to hold them for centuries. All that needs to be done is say the final spells to enclose them, and they'll be trapped for as long as the Magics will last. But the one problem is…these spells are so strong, no aura could survive creating them. They would exhaust it."
Feeling something of a sense of relief settling over her, Elinore immediately volunteered, "I'll do it. If I perish, so be it."
Sariah studied her carefully, and then nodded. Carefully, in as much detail as she could manage, she carefully explained the magic needed. Elinore listened, acceptance of her fate settling over her, and then she stood and started the long walk home. She knew what she needed to do.
Approaching her home was surprisingly hard. Slowly, she walked up the path, the burden of what she was about to do weighing on her shoulders so heavily it was almost too much to carry. She knew he was there waiting for her. She wasn't sure what had possessed him to wait, but she was grateful for it.
Stepping into the home, she scanned the living room, attempting not to see the home she loved, but there was no escaping the memories that flooded her mind. It filled her with nostalgia as she longed for the days when it had been a happy home, but they were gone, and she was resigned to that fact. Nothing could bring them back, or stop the aching in her heart.
Then her gaze found Densin in the kitchen, setting the dinner table calmly, the scene almost comical. He didn't look up from his work, but he commented, "I knew you would come." It didn't surprise her to know that he knew; just as she had sensed his whereabouts, she figured he had sensed hers.
"I had to," she replied.
"Did you come to kill me?" he asked, meeting her gaze. Even if she had a reply, Elinore found it impossible to speak, the cold realization of what she had come to do hitting her like a slap to the face.
He smiled softly, turning to his work again briefly. Suddenly he dropped the plate in his hand, and it shattered on the wood floor, making her jump. "Let's get on with it then." He turned to her, his dark aura appearing around him, sending shivers down her spine.
"Densin, no, I didn't come to kill you. I came to help you," she blurted out, suddenly finding her voice again. He froze, surprised. "I love you. I don't care about anything else. As long as we're safe, and together, nothing else matters to me."
He blinked, and then his aura disappeared as he dropped his guard. He stepped closer, and she closed the gap between them, embracing him, her heart aching. Then he kissed her, and she allowed him to, responding to his touch with a bittersweet passion she couldn't control, as she knew it was the last time she would feel him close, the last time he would love her. Then she pulled away slightly, just enough that she could whisper, "I love you."
"I…" he started, but then she began the spells. They caught him so quickly, he couldn't escape even if he wanted to, his aura wrapped in her power. He stumbled away, collapsing to his knees and clutching at his chest as if she had stabbed him. It surprised her, but it was a welcome relief; there was no way she could have brought herself to fight him if he had resisted. The pain of betrayal filled his eyes as he watched her crafting the spells, using every last drop of her strength. Her aura strained to keep up with her demands, but she pushed onward, refusing to allow her own weakness to get in the way of her task.
As the spells continued, her aura expanded around her with a blast, rippling through the small room, causing slight damage. She could feel the spells reaching out, finding Densin's kind one at a time, slowly catching them as it had Densin.
"Elinore, stop!" Densin growled, infuriated, but he couldn't harm her, she knew that.
Meeting his gaze, she paused, knowing she had precious moments before her aura was exhausted and she perished. "I'm sorry," she whispered, tears streaming down her face now. She muttered the last few words and the spells finished, clicking into place with such power and finality she almost heard it.
And then he was gone. She knew the rest of his kind went with him, locked in the prison she had created. Silence filled the house, interrupted only by her silent sobs and the racing of her heart as it fought to keep up with the demands she had placed upon her body. Her aura sparked and fizzled around her, barely still in existence. As her legs gave out, she crashed to the ground, numbly aware of the pain in her knees. The world was darkening around the edges, and she knew she would pass out. Whether or not she awoke again, she wasn't sure, nor did she care.
But there was one last thing she had to do before she could allow herself to collapse into the all too welcome darkness. Though the spells would hold Densin and his kind for many years to come, she wasn't sure if there were any survivors on the island. She had to guarantee someone would know of the prison, and could be ready to rebuild it before the spells collapsed and allowed the evil it contained to enter the world again.
Bringing her fading aura to light once more, she added another spell. With it went the last of her strength, but she refused to let go until it was finished. She was too weak to create a proper message, but the images and the emotion she poured into it would suffice. She had to believe that. As the spell came to a completion, she thought of who to send it to, how to guarantee it would actually reach someone. Suddenly she thought of Ansem, and felt a pang of regret that she wouldn't be there to raise him. Deciding it was the only sure way she could guarantee her message would make it safely, she linked it to her bloodline, hoping the boy had survived the nonsense of the day.
Finally, as her aura blinked from life and she was engulfed in the most unholy pain she had ever felt, she allowed herself to sink into the darkness.
Mariea stood over the island settlement. She watched the few survivors gather, and then leave the island behind. On a second, familiar island, they found refuge with another colony of Auraes. Then, deep in the forests of that island, Mariea saw a simple door frame appear, mist the color of Elinore's aura blinking around it before disappearing quickly. Mariea could sense that beyond the doorway—which would be invisible to the naked eye—laid the prison Elinore had created.
Time continued forward. Years upon years, passing faster now, and Mariea watched the prison. It was so subtle at first, but suddenly she realized the spells were starting to deteriorate. When she saw the first of the Tarapor, and soon after that the distinctively clad members of the Brotherhood, Mariea realized time was nearing the present. Things continued forward. After a while, she saw glimpses of people she knew.
Then she found herself approaching the door, an ominous feeling settling over her. She was drawn to the doorway uncontrollably, her feet taking steps she wished they wouldn't. As she paused before it, she studied its rippling surface, sensing just beyond a growing darkness that was much stronger than it had been when the prison had first been formed, terrifying Mariea with its presence.
Suddenly a hand shot forward from the doorway, grasping at her with clawed fingers. She stumbled backwards, surprise making her heart skip a beat. The hand disappeared, replaced seconds later by a being with the aura of a Doushidok. He dragged himself free of the spells' control, dark energy crackling over his pale skin as the spells tried one last time to hold him and his kind in place. Mariea stumbled away, fearing the creature, but then she turned to her aura, ready to defend herself. To her dismay, her aura refused to come to light, leaving her helpless. She ran, instinct kicking in to keep her alive. She ran for her home, hunting for its safety, but as she neared the edge of the city, she stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes widening in fear.
Before her, Raidenya burned, and those she loved perished as the darkness clawed its way through everything she knew. She heard their screams and the crackling of fire, the acrid smoke rising from the buildings burning her lungs and stinging her eyes. But what was worse was watching their suffering with no way to help. She tried to hide from it, to turn away, but couldn't get her body to respond. A cold sweat broke out over her skin, and she thought she would cry, but instead she felt herself go numb with shock, her mind unable to process what she was seeing, to accept it as reality.
Then a cold hand wrapped around her shoulder and turned her around slowly. The man before her wasn't much more than a shadow with a grin. She tried to struggle away, to escape, her heart racing in her chest, her eyes wide in horror. But it wouldn't let go, its grip on her like steal. She was engulfed in pain as the shadows pierced her and she plunged into darkness.
Snapping upright, Mariea stumbled away from the dresser's remains, letting out a shrill scream. She looked around, panting, realizing she was back in the remains of Elinore's home, but her body refused to acknowledge that the horrors were gone. She sunk to a crouch, resting her head in her hands, trying to steady her breathing and racing heart. Tears threatened to spill over, the residual emotions from the vision so potent it was as if she had actually watched her home burn.
Bracken rushed into the room. "Mariea, are you alright?" he asked, hurrying to her.
She sighed. "I…I just…that one was…it shook me up a bit," she stumbled, attempting to explain, her voice shaking from fear and unshed tears.
He pulled her to him, and she allowed herself to attempt to hide from the nightmarish images, but she couldn't stop running them over and over again in her mind. Suddenly, it dawned on her that she had been the one to receive Elinore's warning. The prison must be ready to open.
She quickly climbed to her feet, and Bracken stood with her, looking concerned. "I need to get a message to Ila immediately," she told him.
"That's quite a distance. It might be easier if we go back to the beach," Bracken debated.
"There's no time for that," Mariea told him with a shake of her head. "She needs to get it, now." She rushed out of the room, and then out of the house, Bracken following a few steps behind him.
"What's going on?" Owen asked as he watched them rush past.
"Not sure. Mariea's got to get a message to Ila," Bracken responded hastily, motioning for the siblings to follow.
The group poured out of the dilapidated home, into the overgrown yard, where the jungle hadn't quite won over the tenacious grass, giving them a view of the sun far above. Mariea paused in the opening, and her aura came to light as she quickly crafted a messenger spell, pouring all the knowledge she had learned into it, her haste and anxiety deepening the color of the spell. Mariea knew Ila would sense it and may be bothered by it, but decided it was a good thing. The quicker the other Aurae acted, the better.
As she finished, Bracken stepped up next to her. "So…you want to explain what's happening?" he requested gently.
She turned to him, her blue eyes wide with fear and her aura still surrounding her. Briefly, she explained of the prison, what it contained, and how the spells were weakening. "When that thing opens, the Doushidok will be released on the island. On our home. They could kill everyone. I watched them do it. Bracken, we're on the brink of a war we're far from prepared for. We have to get back, now. It may already be too late." His eyes widened as she explained, but he didn't have a chance to respond before she started down the path again, moving at almost a sprint. They followed, rushing through the burnt out little town, Mariea's heart racing from the pace and from her fear. She had to get back. She was haunted by images of Elinore's home in flames, and her own home, mimicking the past.
I can't let that happen again.