Maeve forced herself to stand up. The ritual burned strange shadows on the walls of the chapel and the aetheric pillars were gone. Sev's eyes flickered like large silver stars in their sockets.
"What the hells was that?" Jade asked as he stood up.
“Failure,” Sev said, shaking his head back and forth.
“Not ours,” Maeve said. “We were unaware and unprepared for whatever that was.”
“I wasn’t,” Sev said.
“Yes,” Maeve said sternly. “You were. That moon maiden may have invested you with her power, but she didn’t tell you how to use it or that this was even going on.”
“That is not an excuse.”
“We don’t have time for this right now,” Maeve said. “We need to get that ark back to the ship before that tugwattle tells someone we are here, and they send someone after us.”
Sev looked up. Glittering tears rolled down from his eyes. “Let’s go.”
Maeve helped him to his feet.
Jade retrieved the ark from the hidden passage.
With their light crystals in hand, they wended their way out of the crypt. There was no need for stealth anymore. That tugwattle knew they were here.
The tugwattle was nowhere to be seen when they exited the crypt into the starry night. None of the monks were outside the monastery walls.
Dream ran up to Jade and circled him with a joyfully bounding gate. At least one of them was happy.
They trudged through the terrain in silence. Not even the bells of the monastery interrupted the pained stillness, as if the world itself held its breath for what came next.
Maeve kept her eyes on the path. She didn’t want to look up and curse the moon for what she had done to her friend. Her soul was too thin to be angry.
On the shore, near the bow of the ship. Just for a moment, Maeve thought she saw the lady from her dreams weeping on the shore before melting away into the water as the waves pulled out.
Why would she be crying? Wasn’t she part of the grand conspiracy that brought them here? What did she have to cry about? She got what she wanted. They did her bidding without realizing her control over them.
Harley and Crane lowered the boarding ramp without a whistle.
As Jade carried the arc down into the hold, Maeve explained to Harley and Crane what happened in the crypt in simple terms.
They said they never saw a sign of the Vazra or the Tugwattle.
“So it was all a setup,” Harley said. “At least we got half the money upfront.”
“They will pay the rest, if not more,” Sev said.
“All of that will have to wait until we get back to Duskmere,” Maeve said. “We had such smooth sailing on the way here, I don’t know if we can expect the same for the voyage home. We might be more of a liability at this point.”
“We have the reliquary of a saint on board. By their grace, if nothing else, we will make it home.” Sev touched his forehead, either out of reverence or because he had a headache. It was hard to read his expression.
“Maybe we should light some candles to the saint to ensure their blessing,” Crane said.
“Dearest holy whatever your name is, please bless us so we can return you to your people in hopes that you will not be stolen again.” Harley rolled her eyes. “Who wouldn’t answer such a pious prayer?”
Maeve shook her head and masked her chuckling. “The real question is what do we do when we get back.”
“People need to know that the Daskensians are up to something,” Crane said.
“That is hardly news,” Harley said. “They are always up to something. First, we have to figure out what they did. Too bad we can’t ask a tugwattle.”
“Why not?” Crane said. “The tugwattles know everything.”
“They had a tugwattle with them, silly,” Harley said. “How would we know if the one we asked was on our side or not?”
“Good question,” Crane said.
Jade returned. “The cargo is secured, and based on the expressions on everyone’s faces, you filled them in about all that mess.” He motioned toward the crypt.
Maeve walked up to the quarterdeck, and then turned the key in the wheel. She shouted orders, and they pulled out of the cove.
Jade, Crane, and Harley joined her on the quarterdeck. Sev went below.
“What are we going to do about moon boy?” Harley asked.
“Don’t call him that,” Maeve said. “As mad as I am about the whole thing, he is going through a lot of things that we can’t even imagine. That doesn’t get him off the hook, but right now, he needs his space.”
“Where is he going?” Jade pointed aft.
An airship rose into the sky on the far side of the Chapel of Oanh. It turned, set a course to the north, and glided away from the island.
“You think the tugwattle is on that ship?” Maeve asked.
“Who else could afford an airship?” Harley said.
“He got what he wanted from us,” Jade said. “I just wish I knew what he wanted it for.”
Maeve kept the others as busy as she could, so they wouldn’t have time to bother Sev. She also distracted herself with as many mundane tasks as she could for the same reason. She swabbed the deck, polished the railings, and even patched the nets in case they needed to catch some fish on the voyage.
For his part, Sev spent most of his time in his room. When she brought him his meals, he just sat on his bed with his arms wrapped around his knees, muttering.
Once in a while, she saw him on deck whispering at the moon, but he never paid anyone any attention.
Maeve struggled not to intervene. She didn’t have any words to soothe him, and he didn’t talk to her. Every day, she made sure she was available to talk to him if he wanted to, but she didn’t force her presence upon him.
Every time she walked past the ship’s hold, she fought the urge to go down and open the ark to see what was so important. She wasn’t sure if it would violate the contract or not, but most reliquaries were sealed. Regardless, opening a reliquary would be a sacrilege often punished by a curse on the artifact for anyone who violates its sanctity.
When had the possibility of having a cursed artifact on their ship become the least of her concerns? She didn’t bring it up to the crew—they focused more on what they wanted to spend the rest of the money on.
Maeve wasn’t sure if they were even going to get the full payment. Garland may have been an unwitting pawn in all of this too, but she wouldn’t know until they finished the contract.
A couple of days into the voyage home, Maeve changed her watch to the night so she could monitor Sev, who left his room every night to wander about the deck muttering to the moon.
She never seemed to respond to him, as he grew increasingly morose throughout the night before slinking back to his room before the sunrise.
The moon reflected in the glassy sea as the preternatural influence protected them as they sailed.
Maeve would have relaxed more if they had some difficulty on the voyage. Were they rewarding them for helping them in the ritual, or had they yet to finish their work?
Sev continued to pace in a circle on the deck, chanting, "we can fix this."
One night, Maeve approached him carefully. He didn’t acknowledge her presence at all.
His insistent chant grew more rapid each time he said it. The desperation in his voice writing itself over his face.
Maeve asked, “what can we fix?”
Sev stopped and turned to her. “I failed my mission. We failed to save the world, but there has to be a way we can fix this.”
“What if it isn’t for us to fix?”
“Then who will?”
Except for that one conversation, Sev didn’t talk to Maeve for the entire journey home.
The rest of the crew discussed the strange ritual they witnessed and accidentally took part in.
Many theories rose and fell in popularity among them, but all their speculation centered on the part they played within it.
“Isn’t it obvious,” Crane said, “the final blow had to be struck by an innocent untainted by the magic of the ritual itself.”
“That feels like a lot of work to go through,” Harley said. “After all, they could have just hired someone or tricked someone into taking the desired action. Every ritual component needs to be prepared for use.”
“Do you think the moon maiden was involved?” Maeve asked.
“If she was, they tricked her too,” Harley said. “The compassion of the argent throne is well known. It would be odd to perpetuate such a long con, but it is possible they set her up to decide. I can buy that. If she knew we were set up to be sacrificed, she may have intervened in a vain attempt to either save us or stop them.”
“It’s obvious,” Jade said. “The final blow had to be an act of revenge. Sev isn’t special. Lost Soul killed all but one person on every one of those ships to seed the world with people who could be used in the final ritual. All of those stolen treasures we saw were bait in the trap to lure the blade to the altar. Sev might not have even been the only person used like this.”
“You have a point,” Harley said. “What do we actually know about the Vazra? We don’t know that they are dead. They might be like the sadath and only have to return from the reverie.”
Maeve hadn’t realized how relieved she was that Lost Soul was dead until Harley brought up the possibility he might return.
They continued to discuss possibilities as they sailed on.
As they approached Duskmere’s harbor, the sky turned black, and the moon turned to blood.
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