Karl was awakened by the dawn light streaming through his closed eyelids. He grunted and rolled over, “It feels like I only just handed the watch over to Aengus, another 5 minutes…” He was just settling down to grab that quick final doze when the deeper instincts which have always done so well to keep him intact nudged him “You have just handed over the watch to Aengus, and you were facing west!”
He cautiously open his eyes, but having rolled over, he was no longer facing the illumination. Even so, the spill from the light was visible even from this angle. He then realised that he had been facing Aengus. Nonchalantly making a yawning sound he rolled back toward him, his hand casually covering his face hiding his open eyes while his other hand discretely reached for one of the many blades hidden about his person.
Aengus was glowing – brightly. The Eladrin was sitting cross legged in the normal pose he adopted for his meditative watches but the serene expression he normally wore had been replaced by a fierce concentration. His left hand was over his breast, and the ring he always bore upon it, his deceased mother’s wedding band, shone piercingly bright. Adding to the illumination where the green flames flickering around the clenched fist of his other hand, almost in anticipation of one the Eldritch Spears he flung around.
Karl looked around for Thunder to find him regarding the Eladrin in contemplation.
“Err, did I miss the invite to the firework display?” Karl asked. “How long has he been glowing like this, and shouldn’t we wake him?” he said as he moved over to Aengus and tentatively reached out to him. The light from the ring generated no heat, though the ground was charred beneath the green flames coiling around his clenched fist.
Karl gently shook Aengus and called his name, but got no response. He saw his lips were moving and stooped closer. It was some ancient Eladrin form, full of arcane mutterings that were lost to him but he caught one word clearly and bounded away immediately “Hel”.
“He appears to be in communication with his patron” Thunder explained. “Our faith’s are very different of course but we share enough common understanding for me to be able to perceive that this is a religious communion and he is not in direct danger – at least none he is not fully aware of and walking directly into.”
“He might not be in direct danger but glowing like that is going to draw a lot more than moths to us!” muttered Karl as he vainly tried to gather some branches to obscure the light spilling from Aengus’ ring.
Thunder shrugged, “Then we will warmly welcome any who are drawn thus.”
Karl cocked an eyebrow “Welcome?”
“One way or another!” Thunder clarified raising his own eyebrows.
Karl smiled and continued his unsuccessful attempts to hide his glowing friend.
…Aengus awoke, which was strange as he’d only just settled down to meditate. Karl and the others were curled in their cloaks a few yards in front while Thunder sat, eyes closed, his back against a nearby tree.
Something was not quite right here.
Several river salmon Karl had tickled earlier were smoking over the embers of the small fire they had lit. One wriggled on its hook, arching up to look Aengus directly in the eye and whispered “She comes!” before flopping back lifeless.
Aengus immediately stood and alerted the others “Awaken! We have company!” but his companions stirred not. He reached over to shake Karl but his hand passed right though his friend.
“Hmm, insubstantial, one of us is not actually here… perhaps I have yet to awaken after all” Aengus pondered.
Aengus turned to a rustling sound behind him to find the plant life writhing to take the form of their recent acquaintance Hel, his many times removed grandmother. His fist clenched unconsciously and green fire formed around his arm – not that it would amount to much in any real confrontation but he couldn’t help himself. His feelings regarding this dangerous ally were very confused. To what extent she was involved in his mother’s demise he remained unsure but she was certainly using the situation to gain the support of his father. Still, they had little choice in the matter given the circumstances they were facing.
He forced himself to relax and bowed to the ancient Fey now fully formed in front of him.
“It is unlike you to reveal yourself directly so far from home?” he queried.
“Needs must child,” she replied. “and it costs me much to do so in a fashion that will not scream my presence across the mountains. You have done well since we last met but the challenges ahead will only get greater, and I fear you are not yet strong enough.”
“Perhaps,” Aengus replied “but strength is not my remit, we have other companions whose purview it is to stand front and centre and draw the ire of our foes. When I strike, my foes are left grasping at shadows.”
“All need to be strong or all will be lost!” Hel hissed. “Besides, I sense that your company will soon be sundered, you may not always be able to rely on the strength of others.”
Aengus frowned, “What do you mean? Thunder would no more leave us than float in water and Oelorn has proven a more that reliable ally. Karl is capabale of…”
“Hush child” she interrupted “I have seen what I have seen. All is cloudy and I do not for certain know what will pass, I only sense that greater strength you will need.”
Aengus bowed again in apology “What would you have me do then exactly, bench press Karl? I couldn’t even pick up Oelorn’s sword and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
Hel, smiled briefly, “I would like to see that. Never a more deadly member of the instrumentality have I encountered. But no, strength takes many forms.
She paused to regard Aengus “Your mother was an accomplished sword mage, but you did not complete your studies under her…”
Aengus exploded “You dare mock me about such things?”
Hel’s form began to waver “We have no time for your outrage child, listen to me now or risk losing all. It is not my part to elevate or lower my children, all of us have rules to follow, the greater as well the lesser, but I can channel that passion and teach you a little of what your mother would have passed on. “
Aengus glared, “And the sacrifice for this… gift?”
Hel smiled sadly “You know me well child, but as I said, we all have rules to follow. The sacrifice is yours to make, but decide quickly, I am almost spent.”
Aengus sighed and looked around. He saw his lyre leaning against his pack, he gestured and it flew toward him. “Take my voice then, I shall sing no more till my family is reunited. I hope your gift is worthy of such a trade” and he broke the lyre, his mother’s, over his knee and keened loudly in anger, frustration and loss.
Hel reformed briefly to tower over Aengus, and bent over to deliver a single burning kiss to his forehead “It may seem otherwise child but I love you as I do all my children. I feel your pain as I do theirs. I think you will find my gift worthy of your sacrifice.”
Aengus collapsed to his knees, overwrought by grief, and dazed by the burning kiss left on his forehead. But then the leaves which had embraced him fell away to be replaced by arms of flesh, and the kiss on his forehead from lips not briars. He opened his eyes to find his mother embracing him, smiling but tearful. She put a finger to his lips before he could speak.“We have little time my son and much I must teach before the dawn touches the sky. Listen and learn the lessons I could not pass on before I was stolen from you.”
Aengus closed his eyes, breathed deeply and open them again to calmly gaze at his mothers face. “Teach, and I will learn…”
. . . Aengus woke to find the night still dark, and heavy, literally. Then he realised that he appeared to be buried under a small mountain of leaves and branches. He cursed and teleported out from beneath the detritus, appearing suddenly in front of Karl who was approaching the now sagging pile with another bunch of leaves in his arms.
“Finally awake then?” he said dropping the leaves and brushing his hands.
“Err, was there a reason for making a bivouac with me inside? I thought the normal idea was to rest on top?” Aengus enquired.
“You were glowing,” Karl explained “a lot!” and pointed to a small pile of enemy bodies that had been lain along the side of the campsite, Thunder stood over them arm raised in benediction.
“You were your usual gung ho self I see.” Aengus said referring to a gash across Karl’s forehead.
Karl frowned, “No actually, that was you, or at least I assume so…”
Aengus frowned in puzzlement till Karl gestured toward the fragments of his Lyre scattered amongst the mound of leaves. He coughed, “Ah, yes, sorry about that”.
Thunder finished and turned to face Aengus “A satisfactory communion?”
Aengus’ face flitted through many expressions before settling on a sad smile “Yes, very satisfactory.” He sat down by the remains of the fire and reached, tentatively, for the last of the fish. It did not talk, nor flinch and Aengus broke his fast with relish.