Below and Above
At the end of it all, two of the Sisters had fallen, and as they crumbled a strange mote of light glowed where once they stood. The other Guardians warned us from touching them, explaining that they were the secrets that the Sisters had held. Secrets strong enough to bring down nations, start wars, end dynasties. Dangerous to hold, but more dangerous for us to leave unprotected.

Kaela and Jokulla each agreed to take one (somewhat to my relief - I feel as though I have enough secrets and problems as it is, even if they are perhaps smaller ones at least individually.). As they received them, they both seemed to ponder something deeply, but neither felt the need to share what they had learned.

Below our feet was a great seal, perhaps twelve feet across, strangely unmarked by the passage of time. It depicted scenes of aquatic creatures and of night skies, and parts of it looked like they could be manipulated. It was trapped, certainly, but I set to the task of opening it.

Partway through the complex puzzle two spectral eels emerged from the seal. Before I could react they struck at me, snapping at my eyes.

I screamed. Somewhere I could hear Ser Jarrad ask if I was alright, but nothing but more anguished screams passed my lips. I felt someone, Cabhan I think, pull my hands away from my eyes so that another (presumably Kaela) could examine them. All I felt was a piercing pain, and I could see nothing but blackness as my hands were held away from my eyes. A potion was pushed to my lips, which I drank without thinking. Thankfully, within moments the blindness and the pain faded.

I took a moment to collect myself, but I knew I had the best chance of opening the seal, and so I steeled myself to continue. The creatures in the image seemed more like the merfolk, now, and the night sky had changed somehow. More panels shifted, rotated, flipped. Below my feet was a mechanical shifting sound and the sea floor vibrated.

More spectral creatures struck, this time resembling the brides. This time, ready for them, I dodged their attack.

The seal had changed further, showing hybrid peoples, half man, half sea creature. They reminded me of the people we had seen in the court of Queen Marianas.

I began a near-feverish search for the last few pieces of the puzzle. I could sense I was close, and having come this far I was determined to see it through. As the last part slid into place, the seal lurched below me. It contracted, then opened into a graceful stair, spiraling into the further depths.

Down we went, stairwell opening into the intersection of a corridor. Most of the paths were choked with debris, the last remaining hall leading straight as an arrow to a grand, round chamber. 100’ across, at least, with a ceiling of glass (though currently covered with thick silt and muck). All that seemed to be within the chamber was a single statue standing on a low plinth. Plunged into the dark stone of the statue was a bone-white dagger, carved with symbols of Ancar.

Padraig pulled the dagger out, though it took some amount of force. The stature straightened itself, and in our minds (In Zolosian) said “Thank you.” And as she did so, the chamber, and presumably the structure beyond, began to rise through the water.

She introduced herself only as The Scion, and said that she sensed the air of Ancar around us, and that we should go and count ourselves lucky to have our lives. I shifted to a more aggressive posture and Padraig ordered Avalos to strike. She sighed and with a slight raise of her eyebrow he was gone in a flash of light.

She continued speaking to us, “It is possible you are a part of Her plan. I feel traces of Her in you. Rather than risk wasting the resources I will depart.”

The chamber continued to rise as Cabhan circled behind her. She lashed out at him, and with a sickening crack of his ribs he was pushed across the room. My heart caught in my throat, but I snarled and launched my own attack at her, managing just barely to use my art to dodge her returned blow. We began to see tendrils, countless numbers of them, reaching from her through the waters to somewhere beyond.

Each of us in turn tried, ending with Kaela raising her symbol. The Scion reared back in reaction, and exclaimed in disgust “I may not be able to see you, but I will remember you. I go to confer with my Mistress and then I will return to deal with you!” With that, she was gone, and we were left to pick ourselves and each other up.

WIth another lurch, the chamber crested above the surface. There was sky above, and the water began to drain out. From behind us, there was a sound of one person clapping, and Queen Marianas made her appearance.

She told us that this was once the capital of Ancient Zolos, sunk below the sea during the final conflict of the forces of Ancar and Zolos. She noted Avalos’s absence, and said that she would restore him shortly. After chiding Padraig for not even saying “Hello, Grandmother”, she told us that the entire city had re-emerged from the depths. The Gyre was no more. And she murmured something about making this a summer palace.

Turning to Cabhan and me, she offered her felicitations, and said that she would have brought a gift, but was sure we would not have accepted it anyway. In her way, she continued “The Handmaid is Handfasted, and the Marionette has had his strings cut. How very interesting.”

After some further words for her grandson, she restored Avalos, with a firm warning that he Not Fail Padraig again, and with that she turned and strode away, heels clicking on the stone.

In the new silence we could hear several Sylvan voices, and with growing horror we quickly realized that it was a chorus of water Fae, once trapped in the sconces, now trapped hanging in the air. With haste we poured them back into the sea, accepting their thanks and hoping they would be well.

Then it was time - well past time - to turn our attention to our next task. Though Ser Jarrad was obviously reluctant, it was obvious we had to go to his home island. I argued that we had made a promise to try to persuade his people on behalf of our own, and that this was not the time to break a vow. The others, Jarrad especially, seemed to agree with the sentiment.

Still, the land we stood on now, touching the surface for the first time in ages, was not healthful or safe. None of us had any desire to try to rest here, or to summon Kabu-Ra. We hailed the ‘Stalker, and began a few day’s sail.

Some of the tendrils we had seen near The Scion seemed to be rooted in a few of our crew, though they were outwardly the same and there was no magic about them. As we sailed they did not change, the same tendrils drifting up into the sky. Kaela, communing with her God, came to the conclusion that the tendrils were the hooks that Zolos was getting into people everywhere. The most curious part was that we now had the ability to see them, and indeed upon inspection she could see that our eyes had changed.

After those few days, it was time to continue our tasks. I summoned Kabu-Ra, and asked Ser Jarrad to direct him where best to go. Curiously, Kabu-Ra seemed very hesitant to go to that island, stating that he did not wish to offend The Tree. It took Ser Jarrad’s explicit permission, given as an Acolyte of The Scarlet Oak, and his statement that he would bear the price for any transgression, before the Djinn would agree to take us there.

As before, I handed him the letter from the beloved he was held apart from, and he read it with the same fervor of a starving man given bread. He asked if I would bear a letter back, and I of course I agreed. I am finding, especially now - having been able to affirm my own love with Cabhan - that I am taking more and more delight in being their messenger. I hope someday to be able to offer them the same congratulations which Kabu-Ra gave to me. I beamed as he wrote his message, even going so far as to scent the paper, and carefully tucked it away for the next time I activated the ring.

Soon, we were across the sea, feet on the secret and sacred island of The Scarlet Oak, outside the Town of Cala Tuath. Kabu-Ra was thanked and dismissed, and in the quiet, Ser Jarrad prepared himself to greet his home.
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Epic!