Maeve awoke, grateful for a good night’s sleep. She scratched Gomruth on the back of his head. They basked in the morning sunlight. A peculiar energy wafted through the air, casting a chill like a shadow.
She ignored it. As they drew closer to Clarestone Enclave, her anticipation grew. Besides, a shrine should cast a strange pall.
Maeve hated surprises. Nothing good arrived unannounced or unexpected. Such a challenge required a clear and focused mind. She always turned into the wave so it didn't capsize her; if only Garland provided them more and better information about the crypt.
Maeve stumbled half-asleep out of her room. She shambled to the galley for a hot cup of ezaan to wake up.
Bas sat at the table with silver-white hair and mirror-like eyes. His formerly pale skin shimmered with a silver hue.
“What happened to you, Bas?” Maeve asked as she filled her cup.
“Please don’t call me that anymore,” he said in an emotionless tone that bordered on melancholy. “Call me Sebastian or Sev.”
“All right,” Maeve said, taking a sip of her ezaan. “Sev, what happened to you?”
“I,” he stared off blankly for a few moments before adding, “she made me a new person.”
Maeve set her cup down on the counter. "Who is she?"
"Last night," Sev said, his face lighting up and emotion returning to his voice. "She called me up into the heavens and named me her palatine to the argent throne."
A bemused smile pressed itself across Maeve’s face. "Say that again, please."
"If you don't believe me, ask Jade. He saw it happen. She called me up into the heavens, where a Moon maiden named me her Palatine, her champion in this world. Don't you see, it is the adventure I have always been waiting for."
"And how is this new grand adventure of yours going to affect the rest of us?"
Sev turned and looked at her. Though his skin was so crystalline pale, she recognized his face. His eyes were different. It was like someone else peered at her with Sev’s face.
"I will be able to do more than I could before."
He said it so matter-of-factly she didn't know how to argue with him.
"So you weren't coerced or forced into this in any way?"
Sev smiled. "I have always wanted to live a life worthy of legend and song. Now I finally have a chance to make that happen."
Maeve didn't have the words to respond. All she wanted was for her friend to be happy, but if that happiness meant she would lose him forever, she didn't know if she could bear to pay that price.
So close to their destination, Maeve didn’t have the time or energy to seed division among the crew, so she ignored Sev’s rash decision to accept a gift from a spirit without talking about it with the crew first.
She had never met a spirit. What pressures would she have experienced in his situation? Such an experience must be intoxicating.
She didn’t know how to address the issue with the crew.
Jade acted out the story of how Sev was taken and returned to the ship. He believed it was a good sign that one of them had attracted the blessing of a noble spirit.
Crane didn’t care. Many people he knew from home had gone on pilgrimage to Lightfell, where they returned with blessings from the Lieges.
Harley was far less accepting, but she agreed with Maeve that they needed to understand the ramifications of the deal Sev had made with the moon maiden before she could form an opinion.
Life on the Buttercup carried on relatively normally. The exception was Sev keeping to himself. He also switched to the night watch to learn more about the gifts he’d received.
On the third morning, Clarestone Enclave came into view on the horizon. Maeve set a course to come into a secluded cove to dock.
Maeve and Crane reconnoitered the island.
The Chapel of Oanh stood on the top of the hill. Its ancient gray stone weathered white from the relentless sea breeze. The lead in the stained-glass windows shown brilliantly, like polished silver against the frosted doll colors of the glass.
Hooded monks milled about the grounds in orangey-brown robes tied about the waist with black cords. Nothing they wore signaled what arcane arts they practiced if any at all. It was uncommon for a monastery not to teach at least one of the aetheric arts to its members, so they would have to be careful until they understood which ones.
The entrance to the crypt stirred a fair distance from the monastery compound itself. It may not have even been connected to the monks. Its proximity to the shrine made that unlikely.
They watched the entrance to see if anyone entered or left. The whole time they sat in the grass waiting, no patrols passed them. No guards were stationed anywhere near it.
After a couple of hours of observing nothing, they returned to the ship to make the last preparations for entering the crypt.
Maeve and Crane reported back about everything they saw.
"Some of us should stay on the ship in case it's spotted by a Daskensian raider while the rest of us retrieve the ark from the crypt."
Sev stared off toward the crypt, "I'm going with you."
Maeve smiled and nodded. She resisted saying something she would regret at the beginning of such a potentially dangerous mission. With any luck, whatever gifts the moon maiden had given him would help and not hinder.
Jade also volunteered to come. He was an adept of the crooked hand. He was necessary to the success of the mission.
Crane and Harley remained on the ship.
Maeve, Sev, Jade, and his familiar Dream disembarked.
The sharkhound ran ahead of them to scout the path. His small stature made him the least likely to be seen, and he could run back to warn them of dangers ahead.
The monks moved in dotted lines, chanting their prayers in Daskensian to Oanh. Jade wanted to fight their way in, but since they would have to fight their way out, Maeve wanted to keep their presence a secret for as long as they could.
A bell chimed from the chapel. With each tone, Sev's eyes flickered like a flint struck to build a fire.
He closed his eyes and covered them with his hands, but not to obscure the light. With each toll of the bell, he winced in pain.
Maeve took him by the arm. “Do you need to go back to the ship?” she whispered.
He shook his head while keeping his mouth clamped shut to keep a scream from escaping.
Maeve held him as he quivered with pain. The bell must have been enchanted. Not against thieves, or they all would have suffered like Sev. What had the moon maiden done to him? Why was he vulnerable to the bell’s tolling? Was it enchanted specifically to harm those touched by the spirits and if so, why? Wouldn’t that prevent the monks themselves from receiving Oanh’s blessings?
As the last tone of the bell reverberated to the windswept silence of the hills, Sev collapsed to his knees.
“Are you sure you don’t need to return to the ship?” Maeve asked.
“I will be fine,” Sev said. “I saw the faces of monsters at the bell's sound. I felt their violent claws tearing into me and knew they wanted me dead.” He stood back up. “We need to be swift. Something isn’t right about this.”
As the last toll faded away, Maeve helped Sev back to his feet.
“What does that mean?” Jade asked in a low rumble.
“I think it was a warning, but I can’t make sense of the images that flooded my mind. They came too fast, and I didn’t recognize any of them.” He blinked his eyes and shook his head like he tried to get water out of his ears. “It was like an icy hand grabbed me by the heart and tried to crush the life out of me.”
Maeve refused to call him out for leaping into the role of a palatine without thinking it through. Now wasn’t the time. She forced an understanding smile onto her face.
Once Sev shook off his experience, they made their way to the entrance of the crypt. Since the monks went into the chapel, they encountered no one on the path.
Sev reached out to the door without touching it. “It is glowing.”
Jade waved his hands in front of the door. “He’s right. The door is warded.”
“Garland should have known about the ward and warned us about it. Do you have what you need to open it?”
Jade hit the barrier with his fist and watched the light ripple around it. “This isn’t like any ward I have seen before,” he said. “Give me some time and I should be able to crack it.”
“I can see the incantation written into the barrier,” Sev said.
“Can you read it?” Maeve asked.
Sev shook his head slowly. “I feel like I understand it.”
Jade shrugged. “I didn’t see an incantation or a ward. Maybe the moon maiden blessed him so we could get in.”
Maeve sighed. She hated the notion of their fate being dictated by creatures beyond her understanding. “I don’t care which of you unseals the door as long as we get in.”
Sev sat next to the barrier with his hand on it. Light rippled in sharp rings from it as if he tapped on the surface of a limpid pond.
Maeve monitored his interactions with it as closely as her abilities allowed. It wasn’t an aspect of the windjammer’s art. She never learned to see the subtleties of aether as it flowed through the world.
Sev studied the same arts as she did. He shouldn’t be able to see the aether either. That he could apparently see it now showed how much the moon maiden changed him.
It took years of study to learn how to see the aether, and she gifted this ability to him with none of that effort. Power gained so quickly easily corrupted those who received it. When this was over, she needed to set him free.
The door flashed, and the light crumbled to dust as the seal broke.
Sev grinned like he inhaled a fast-acting intoxicant.
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