p class="MsoQuote"emScience may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. Helen Keller/em/p
p class="MsoNormal" /p
p class="MsoNormal""If you came to find Lord Pestilence, he went on holiday about two months ago," a child's voice called to us from the shadows. A young boy, no more than ten years of age, came from the alleyway and finished his thought, "No one knows when he'll be back."/p
p class="MsoNormal""What's your name?" Elaira enquired softly./p
p class="MsoNormal"The boy looked sickly, his skin pale and glassy with fever, malnourished and bony. He wore a threadbare tunic covered in brownish smudges, some patches yellowed and some greyish. His pants were torn off, like they'd been hand-me-downs from someone taller, hacked away with a blunt knife. Around his ankles were tiny bug bites. He had blonde hair, tattered with oil. Around his neck was a small wooden cross, the same I already saw on so many other denizens within Nantarace./p
p class="MsoNormal"The boy shrugged shyly, "span style="mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-fareast-language: EN-CA;"Eyjnna." /span/p
p class="MsoNormal"Elaira smiled and extended her hand to Eyjnna. "Come with us," she offered. "We could really use your help."/p
p class="MsoNormal"Bin leaned in close to my ear, "What's she thinking? Why do we need a kid? He's only going to slow us down, get in the way."/p
p class="MsoNormal"He was sciolistic, seeing only the darkened illusion caused by Nantarace. A faint glint of recognition came into the child's eyes as he saw Elaira's otherworldly charm. Something about Eyjnna felt peculiar, almost like the stars were aligning for us to find him. "She's looking for hope," was all I could think to answer his question, not entirely sure myself what the situation with this boy meant. Elaira would probably tell us when it was right, or I'd unravel the mystery./p
p class="MsoNormal"And I had a strange feeling there was more to Eyjnna than Elaira would be willing to share./p
p class="MsoNormal""You're not going to make me go into the castle, are you?" the child pressed. "That's where they took all my friends. Bad things happen in the castle."/p
p class="MsoNormal""Do you want to get your friends back?"/p
p class="MsoNormal"It was so slight I almost missed it, but the boy bowed his head slightly. "No one comes back from the castle."/p
p class="MsoNormal"The words were pessimistic, but I knew how defeated he must have felt. Hope was in short supply, here as much as in the desert. "That's not what I asked, Eyjnna," she chastised lightly. "Fate's going to be on your side here if you let it. Do you want to get your friends back?"/p
p class="MsoNormal"Eyjnna's head tilted to face her, and he seemed to search for his answer. After a moment of quiet staring, his glance passed over each of us. His eyes lingered on me the most, and I realized I must have been the most mundane of our group. Instead of holding his gaze, my vision fell to the flagstone patterns on the ground. I was scarcely more than useless to this group, except for the fact that Tanner seemed to think I was something to do with his story./p
p class="MsoNormal""Sovae," the boy whispered, "Why did you bring her here? You want to take me away," there was a hitch in his voice, his emotions verging on hysterics. "I repent my sins, Sovae. Please, I don't want to go, please don't make me go."/p
p class="MsoNormal"I shook my head and crouched down. "Eyjnna, I might look like this Sovae you're thinking of, but I'm not the same. I come from the desert, not the shadows. And I won't take you anywhere you don't want to go. If I did, you'd only hinder my intentions."/p
p class="MsoNormal""And those are?" The boy inquired. Everyone's eyes were on me now, because it was more than just Eyjnna who I hadn't been entirely forthcoming to./p
p class="MsoNormal"I shrugged and answered as truthfully as I could muster, "To find the truth. I'll figure out the rest later."/p
p class="MsoNormal"For a moment, I thought he saw my words for more than they were. I turned away and retold the whole scene to Ren while we waited for Eyjnna to deliberate his answer. This wouldn't be something Elaira would easily let go of. Ren looked at the boy and nodded. Gem style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"ood boy, but strange,/em he responded to my transcription. em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"Trust him?/em/p
p class="MsoNormal"I responded positively, because the question wasn't so much of if I trusted him, but rather if he trusted me or not./p
p class="MsoNormal""I don't think you can bring them back," he finally decided, "But who wouldn't want their friends back?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" /p
p class="MsoNormal"We didn't exactly blend in with the locals here, and if there was one thing I knew about places already meddling in squalor was that outsiders often found the wrong end of a spell or a sharp blade. Of the merry band, I seemed most akin to Nantarace, but my face was too noticeable and the women scarcely wore anything that would cover such an issue. We also had to find a shirt that'd fit Bin, and I doubted a deaf person would be highly welcome here. Talli's outfit was too fitted and revealing next to the tunics popular here. In essence, the only members of us that melded here were Elaira and Tanner, the latter possibly from his familiarity./p
p class="MsoNormal""My world was much similar to this in age – we were the age where magic and science fit the same description," Elaira shrugged it away lightly. "It wasn't as heartless as this place, but nonetheless," she removed her headdress to reveal brownish-red ringlets that sprung gently around her face. "My beliefs have no place in Nantarace," she explained as she rung her fingers to loosen the tension./p
p class="MsoNormal"If science was magic in this era, what place did doctors have except for giving placebos as medicine for the dying? These people were truly ill – the pallid complexions and gleans of sweat were clear, even though I was no doctor. If people actually got better, what would they do to the 'doctor'?/p
p class="MsoNormal"Ren handed me a doctor's costume and patted my head with a little smile. em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"Best disguise./em/p
p class="MsoNormal"I really just hoped no one would expect me to help them, because other than taking a swig of amber, I really never did much of anything to tend to my ailments. The mask was quite large for my face, and I stuffed at the largest parts with wads of scrap fabric./p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"Talli, I should mention… if you're caught using magic, they'll just take your soul out of your body and eat it instead," Tanner chimed in as she was spinning new clothes. "You've got to do things the boring way, sorry."/p
p class="MsoNormal"She pouted and looked at the rest of us, "You're tying my hands behind my back, Tan. Besides, I don't think it'll be me you'll have to worry about."/p
p class="MsoNormal" /p
p class="MsoNormal"Eyjnna took us to the small alcove he managed into a home. "Orphans don't have much," he explained./p
p class="MsoNormal""Thank you anyways," I smiled. "I'm just going to wash…"/p
p class="MsoNormal"Tanner blanched at the idea, "I wouldn't trust the well water here. Plague and all…"/p
p class="MsoNormal""Well then, let's go find something to eat," I gritted, knowing the space was cramped enough without six fully grown guests invading./p
p class="MsoNormal" /p
p class="MsoNormal"From the corner of my eye, I saw Eyjnna with Elaira head to the nearby dry fountain. She sat next to him, their backs both pressed against the small ledge that once kept the water in. "You know it doesn't have to be like this, Eyjnna. This world isn't the only one out there, you could come with us."/p
p class="MsoNormal""God will come back for us, it's just a test," he spoke softly, poking at the nodules in his neck. Whatever disease was going on here, the child was infected. "He's testing us."/p
p class="MsoNormal"Elaira patted him on the head, "He's not testing you. He needs your help, and that isn't to just sit here and die. I'm going to help God, that's where my friends and I are going. We could use a little rascal like you," she held out her hand in offering./p
p class="MsoNormal""How do I know you're not working for the Sovae?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""Nothing I say or do will convince you if you do not wish to be convinced. But, Eyjnna, I live with honor and that is all I can offer as hope," her hand fell infinitesimally. "Fate will be on your side, I can promise you that much."/p
p class="MsoNormal"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanWith hesitation, the boy took her hand. She raised their clasped grasp to her lips and kissed the back of his. "Welcome back, Fate," she whispered into their fingers./p
p class="MsoNormal""It's been a long time, Honor."/p
p class="MsoNormal"Elaira shook her head at Eyjnna. "I don't go by that name here; it's a different world, after all."/p
p class="MsoNormal"The boyish demeanor within Eyjnna disappeared into an ancient conscience, wise beyond the years his figure portrayed. "Are you the only one left?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""You're the first I've seen, and I fear the others are under the same trance."/p
p class="MsoNormal""How could you tell it was me, this body hardly is one I'd take by will," Eyjnna looked down at his small form in utter disgust, a grimace plainly plastered on his petite face. He tried to wipe away the smudges of grime on his hands into his tunic, but the filth only darkened. "Where are we, Elaira?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""The short answer would be hell," her words were slight as she glanced into the distance, "We're in a world without the writer, without the Essences. This is the realm of forsaken dreams."/p
p class="MsoNormal""Of course it is. It wouldn't be a story worth adventuring any other way, would it?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""This time will be different. We've got more than just you on our side."/p
p class="MsoNormal"I turned away then, not wanting to eavesdrop any more. It was a habit I should really have tried to break, all things considered of where the last few times landed me./p