Chapter 10: Infected Vision
**Araatris:** The night elf sits on his restless hippogryph, watching the noonday sky as he leans forward, wrists crossed over the golden horn of his saddle.
**Rhoelyn:** “What do you see, partner? Another hunting party?” Kaerryn leans forward on her griffon to take a closer look at the fields below them.
**Araatris:** Rhese narrows his amber eyes on the small figures there. “Yeah. They’re trying to play bait. They have a pair of stealthed outriders.”
**Rhoelyn:** She grins broadly and pats her weapon. “We get to pounce and interrupt their plan, right? They’ve been quiet recently. I could use a stretch.”
**Araatris:** The druid snorts. “Of course we get to interrupt their plan, kiddo. What’s wrong with you?” He smirks over at her as he pulls his polearm free.
**Rhoelyn:** “What’s not wrong with me if you ask Morthis?” She pulls out her axes. “Let’s go already!” She kicks her gryph sending him leaping.
**Araatris:** Chuckling, he nudges his own mount and rushes after her. “It’s a good point.” Before long, he yanks his blade free of a nightfallen chest.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn wipes her blades on a troll’s kilt. She stares at the body in disappointment. “I really thought it’d last longer…” She huffs softly.
**Araatris:** Rhese shakes his head. “Either we’re getting sharper or they’re getting duller. But don’t worry. The day is young, yet. Leave these for the wolves.”
**Rhoelyn:** There’s a brief look that crosses his features after he mentions wolves and Kaerryn catches it. “Speaking of wolves, have you heard from them?”
**Araatris:** The druid wedges his polearm in its harness on his back, sighing softly. “Nysse called pretty late, this morning. She seemed tired but happy.”
**Rhoelyn:** “But…” The warrior prompts as she locks her own axes into place. She whistles for her gryphon to glide down to them and swings up on his back.
**Araatris:** Rhese’s hippogryph lands nearby, and he rests a hand on the creature’s neck. “But… Rhoe was sleeping, and my lady had that sound to her voice.”
**Araatris:** He ruffles a few of the bird’s dark feathers, frowning. “You know… that one she gets when she’s really hoping I won’t catch on to something.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Something is going on that you won’t like, but if she’s still happy it can’t be that bad. I’d worry more if she wasn’t.” Kaerryn stretches.
**Araatris:** The druid swings up to his saddle. “Yeah, at least she’s happy. … Maybe happy isn’t the right word. She sounded pleased with herself.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I’m starting to think that I know where Mirrase got it from now.” Kaerryn grins and teases, “Does that mean that you were the lazy one?”
**Araatris:** Rhese snorts. “No. That was Rhoelyn. She was the little bird who was content to lay around, considering new life and singing to herself.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn laughs. “Well, you’ll have to give him a little longer to start singing.” She looks around. “Where to next? I have an itch to scratch.”
**Araatris:** “East,” the druid says, turning his mount. “You wanted to play with cultists, today, I believe? And we’re supposed to scout Tide’s Crossing.”
**Rhoelyn:** Cheering, Kaerryn pumps her fist into the air, grinning wildly. “I always knew that I liked you best, fuzzbutt. You know just what to say.”
**Araatris:** He chuckles. “You’re so easy to please, Kaer. Let’s move.” At his whistle, the hippogryph leaps into motion with the warrior not far behind.
**Rhoelyn:** They land at a small barn in the region. The human dismounts. “I vote that we scout on the ground. We’ll learn more up close and personal.”
**Araatris:** The night elf beside her nods, giving his mount a silent command to wait. “Okay, but can you pretend you know a little bit about stealth, today?”
**Rhoelyn:** “I can pretend, yes. You do realize that it’s not likely to succeed though, right?” She gestures gradiosely to her armor with an amused grin.
**Araatris:** He glances around the corner of the building, checking their surroundings before he straightens back and mumbles, “Leather is great, you know.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn snorts. “For you, maybe, but I like a bit more between me and a blade. Come on. Let’s go. Maybe I can… fit in.” She shrugs nonchalantly.
**Araatris:** “Your chances are better than mine,” he says. “How would you like to try some cloth, instead, and see what you can learn? A robe might suit you.”
**Rhoelyn:** The human raises an eyebrow. “You mean over the armor, right? I’d rather not have my squishy insides exposed if they decide not to like me.”
**Araatris:** Her companion considers that before a snort of laughter escapes him at the mental image. “You’ll look like a burly deck hand in a dress!”
**Rhoelyn:** Scowling, Kaerryn tugs at her armor. “Shoo. Go get that robe. You’re lucky I have tough skin.” She makes a shooing gesture at the druid.
**Araatris:** The druid’s form folds into an amused-looking silver saber before he slinks around the corner and works his way from bush to bush quietly.
**Rhoelyn:** Not far from him, a young woman focuses on an artifact. She adjusts it on a pedestal again and then circles around it a few times.
**Araatris:** As he sifts the wind and listens for others nearby, the night elf measures the human’s form against his friend’s. Yes, the robes will do.
**Rhoelyn:** He shifts, changing into a night elf as he gathers his magic. A green glow surrounds the woman and shortly she slumps to the ground, unmoving.
**Araatris:** Moving carefully, Rhese pulls the stranger into the shadows of the building by them and divests her of her robe and hood and boots. “Sleep well.”
**Rhoelyn:** The druid tucks the items away before becoming a sleek silver cat again. He darts between crates and around corners to reach his partner in crime.
**Araatris:** As he holds up the olive green and brown robe for her, Kaerryn’s nose wrinkles. “My armor won’t fit under that. And why does it smell like garlic?!”
**Rhoelyn:** “It’s to help you fit in. Take one for the team and put the armor in your gryphon’s saddlebags.” Rhese can’t help the grin tugging at his lips.
**Araatris:** The human spits a curse word at him that would turn Nysse crimson and snatches the clothing. “Don’t peek,” she growls, stepping into the barn.
**Rhoelyn:** “Now now. There might be children around!” Rhese teases from the doorway. He keeps his back to the wall, looking out for anyone that might pass by.
**Araatris:** When the chestnut-haired human finally emerges, armor in tow, his jaw drops. “This might only be the third time I’ve seen you without your armor.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerrin growls, “Shut it and wipe that look off your face. You owe me, fuzzbutt. Big time. Now do me a favor and look like a pet cat.”
**Araatris:** Rhese smiles. “Yes, mistress.” He dares to wink at her before his form folds back into the sleek, silver saber, and he settles in at her heel.
**Rhoelyn:** With one last glare for the druid, she saunters into the camp as if she belonged there. She smiles and waves as she passes someone else in robes.
**Araatris:** The cat peers around with a carefully cultivated look of feline disinterest, padding along like a pampered pet. His ears twitch at an odd sound.
**Rhoelyn:** “Now, fuzzbutt, I hope your training holds. We can’t have you scampering off after every field mouse…” Kaerryn’s suggestion is obvious.
**Araatris:** Her companion rumbles a complaint but follows obediently as she continues a walk around the small, co-opted compound, looking purposeful.
**Rhoelyn:** “You are new, are you not?” The human warrior pauses and turns to the elder man and inclines her head to him. “Yes, just this week in fact.”
**Araatris:** He sniffs and rubs at his nose. “Perfect. Come with me, then. I have a task for one such as you.” His wrinkled hand waves at her as he turns away.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn glances at the saber by her side, but follows. “Yes. What would you like me to do?” They follow the path around, Rhese sniffing the air.
**Araatris:** He answers her question with a question. “How far have you come in your studies, neophyte? What depths have you reached to for answers?”
**Rhoelyn:** The warrior grimaces. “I haven’t delved into my studies as I should, sir, but I’ll try to do better.” She attempts to look contrite, eyes downcast.
**Araatris:** His frown is stern under his white mustache. “Well. Yes, you must if you are to achieve ascendance, girl. This task will… inspire you, surely.”
**Rhoelyn:** “It will? What is it?” Kaerryn asks carefully, trying to gently pry their detour from their guide’s mouth. She pats the druid next to her.
**Araatris:** The stranger smiles with benevolence while he leads the way into a larger building and up the stairs. “I will let you witness my communion.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn blinks at that and mulls over the words. “Witness your communion. I’m not sure I understand. I thought that would be a… personal thing.”
**Araatris:** The cultist snorts. “Acolyte,” he scolds. “Discipline your unruly thoughts. I wish you to assist in the ritual, as I require your magic.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Oh! Magic, right. While I’m honored, I’m not sure that I have the talent to assist you yet.” Kaerryn grimaces again at the awkward feeling.
**Araatris:** The druid rubs his shoulder against her leg as they reach the upper floor, but he glances up to find the old cultist scowling. “You must be joking.”
**Rhoelyn:** The warrior tilts her head with a little frown. “What? Why would I be joking?” She crosses her arms over her chest, looking self-conscious.
**Araatris:** “Neophytes,” he says, suddenly grabbing hold of her wrist, “aren’t chosen without a basic aptitude. Now, come. Don’t be humble.” He pulls her.
**Rhoelyn:** She lets herself be drawn forward. “I’m not sure, but, as you said, perhaps it’ll inspire me.” Kaerryn leaves out what it may inspire her to do.
**Araatris:** Her withered old captor draws her through an archway at the end of the hall and into a space that is fouled with ritual symbols and a dark power.
**Rhoelyn:** The druid resists the urge to cover his nose and fights through the overwhelming corrupt power in the place. He stays by Kaerryn’s side.
**Araatris:** Once she’s been dragged to stand in a very particular place, the old man glares at her ‘pet’. “Girl, what is this thing following us around for?”
**Rhoelyn:** “He’s my pet guard cat, sir. I’ve had him since I was a young girl. They said it wouldn’t be a problem when I joined…” Kaerryn trails off.
**Araatris:** The elder pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’re from one of the fishing villages, aren’t you?” But he doesn’t let her answer. “Just shush.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn looks carefully at his feet, but stays quiet. Her eyes flicker to the large cat licking his paw next to her, hamming up his act.
**Araatris:** In the process of rubbing his ear, he gives her a little subtle nod and then lays down at her feet. The cultist hands her a glassy-eyed fish head.
**Rhoelyn:** “Ummm.” She takes it with a confused expression. The cultist sighs, “Just hold it for now, girl. I’ll tell you want to do when it’s time.”
**Araatris:** He goes to fetch a goblet full of slightly-shimmery mauve blood and hands that to her as well, grumbling, “If only you could scribe for me.”
**Rhoelyn:** The warrior takes it, looking sheepish. “I’ll work on my scribing, sir. I’m grateful that you allow me to take even a small part in this.”
**Araatris:** “See to it,” he grunts as he lowers his creaking body to the floor, “that you use this opportunity as motivation. You will never ascend by lazing.”
**Rhoelyn:** She hesitates, trying to stay in character, before asking, “Sir, are you close to ascending? I was wondering what it was like… to ascend.”
**Araatris:** The man looks up at her, holding his hand out for the cup of blood. “It is the ideal. To become one with the power of the seas. To be the deep.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn hands him the goblet. “It’s hard to imagine. We sail on them, fish, but… being one. It seems much too vast. And this is our gift?”
**Araatris:** The unnamed man nods, but then he snorts and shakes his head. “Depths, girl. Did you run here from the your village hovel without the first idea?”
**Rhoelyn:** “I… I didn’t have a hovel, sir…” The warrior kneels and pats the cat with her free hand. “It’s just me and Silverpaw here.” She smiles ruefully.
**Araatris:** Rhese can’t quite bring himself to pretend to purr, but he flicks his tail against her booted foot. “Watch and learn, then,” the cultist sighs.
**Rhoelyn:** “Yes, sir.” Kaerryn stands and watches as the man finishes his scribing. He stares at it with a critical eye, then hands the cup back to her.
**Araatris:** “Now,” he says, turning away, “You drink that to attune your energies to the ritual.” Kaerryn winces and looks at Rhese, offering him the cup.
**Rhoelyn:** He glares, but laps at it. Kaerryn quickly brings it up to her face when the old man turns back around. “Do I need to drink it all, sir…?”
**Araatris:** The cultist nods, giving her a stern look and a wagging finger. “Every drop, neophyte! The sea wastes no water, wants for none. Drink.”
**Rhoelyn:** When the cultist continues to watch her, Kaerryn tosses back the last few drops. She fights back the urge to gag, but still grimaces in disgust.
**Araatris:** He snorts a laugh as he turns away, again. “The foul flavor is only a sign of its power, I’m told. Relax your body, now, and let the ritual proceed.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn relaxes, and he takes the goblet and sets it on the table. Then, he takes the fish. “Now close your eyes. Focus on the flow of the power.”
**Araatris:** The human does that… for about half a second before she peeps one eye open and looks down at the cat by her feet. He huffs and lays his head down.
**Rhoelyn:** The cultist turns back around, taking care of something with the fish head. Magic slowly washes over them, the air thickening with power.
**Araatris:** Chanting softly under his breath, the old man sprinkles chunks of scaled flesh at Kaerryn’s feet. She gulps as dark water wets her boots.
**Rhoelyn:** One or two small pieces hit Rhese’s paws and he sniffs them. Huffing softly, he turns his nose away. Kaer murmurs, “Yeah, you don’t want these…”
**Araatris:** With the magic growing thicker and heavier around them, the sensitive druid’s eyelids get heavy, and his partner watches him droop with a frown.
**Rhoelyn:** She lowers to her knees as if she was getting tired, too, laying one hand on his back to check on him. The elder continues chanting, voice raising.
**Araatris:** Dim awareness lets Rhese feel the pressure of her palm, and he rumbles something small in the back of his throat, a complaint. His reality twists.
**Rhoelyn:** Swirling into momentary blackness, a gasping voice reaches his ears first. “Did you think that you could avoid us forever? How foolish!”
**Araatris:** The cat startles awake, confusion greeting him as he finds himself in shadowed Darkshore. Nysse kneels beside him, blood dripping from her lips.
**Rhoelyn:** Chains rattle as she spits blood from her mouth. “I have done my duty, undead. There is no shame in that. I have protected those I love.”
**Araatris:** At a dry chuckle, the cat turns his head to see a hooded Forsaken in a bloody apron stepping toward her. He rasps, “So you thought, elf.”
**Rhoelyn:** The huntress raises her head, revealing midnight eyes. “A trick. You haven’t found the others or else you wouldn’t bother keeping me alive.”
**Araatris:** “Oh, how little you living understand…” His hand curls into a claw, dark magic flaring around it, and Nysse jerks, blood spattering with her cry.
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese snarls, but finds he can’t move, as if his paws were locked to the dirt below them. The young woman gasps for air, chains rattling.
**Araatris:** Her suffering doesn’t stop until she greys out, drooping to the ground on her knees. Then the enemy steps forward and rasps by her ear, (c)
**Araatris:** “You live to suffer. But the priestess… ” He chuckles darkly. “I have such plans for that one. I hope you last long enough to hear her screams.”
**Rhoelyn:** She weaves, weakly tugging at her cuffs. “I… I won’t let you touch her, you piece… of rot.” Her words contain none of the force of earlier.
**Araatris:** His smile is fetid and cruel as he steps back, rheumy eyes drinking in her pain. Rhese strains, his claws flexing with the need to defend her.
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse coughs violently, her body jerking as more blood splatters the ground. “And… I will not die.” She opens her mouth wide as if to howl.
**Araatris:** Her captor clamps a hand over her mouth, wrapping the other around her throat. “Not for long, no… You will not die for long, Nyssera.”
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese roars and fights against the force holding him still. Her hands reach up to pull at the hand on her throat, struggling to breathe.
**Araatris:** “…ese. Rhese?!” As the druid watches his mate choking, helpless and desperate and wild, a sound reaches him from far away. “Rhese!”
**Rhoelyn:** He blinks and suddenly finds himself in a dark room; a wave of dizziness washes over him. His furred head tries to find the voice’s owner.
**Araatris:** “Please…” Rhese growls as he recognizes that plea, the little choked tears in its sound. “Give her another dose,” comes a stranger’s rumble.
**Rhoelyn:** Rhoelyn sobs. “Please… no more. Rhese!” She cries out desperately. A shadow approaches her and leans down. “Silence. He’s not coming.”
**Araatris:** The crude syringe in the woman’s hand winks in the brazier light before she slips the needle into the priestess’ arm and injects more yellow liquid.
**Rhoelyn:** He roars, attempting to lunge forward. Yet, again, he was locked in place. His sister thrashes frantically as the woman retreats again. “RHESE!”
**Araatris:** “Stop fighting it,” the rotting scientist says with surprising gentleness. “Stop fighting and let the power free. Tell me what you see as you burn.”
**Rhoelyn:** The priestess shakes her head. “N-no!” But slowly, her gaze locks on the druid as if she can see him. Then she shrieks, arching her back.
**Araatris:** Her eyes glow blindingly, tears of liquid gold power dripping down her cheeks when she settles, gasping out over and over, “It’s only one path.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Tell me the path you see. Let it free. It’ll be easier.” The voice cajoles her in a gentle rumble. “Once you do, this will all be over.”
**Araatris:** Rhoelyn keens, straining, her gaze fixed on somewhen else. “The dead are everywhere,” she whispers. “One hope… one heartbeat left…”
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese’s claws dig into the dirt as he yowls. Hoping beyond hopes that somehow his sister could hear him. A golden glow wavers around her.
**Araatris:** “Whose…” her tormentor hisses by her ear. “Who stands in the way of our victory?” Rhoelyn whimpers and shakes her head, shuddering. “N-no…”
**Rhoelyn:** The woman grabs Rhoelyn’s arm and looks into the shadows. “Shall I administer more serum?” He shakes his head. “Not yet. We need her alive.”
**Araatris:** With a disappointed tsk, the undead woman settles down by his sister’s ear, cajoling instead while the druid strains, yowling viciously.
**Rhoelyn:** The priestess just chants her sister and brother’s names over and over. Her eyes are glazed and dark, staring blankly past her interrogator.
**Araatris:** Her brother watches helplessly, a pain intruding with growing intensity by his furred shoulder blade. “-utt…. Rhese! You rotting, stupid idiot f-”
**Rhoelyn:** The druid shakes his furred head and blinks owlishly at Kaerryn. She’s clutching a dagger and looking something between anxious and angry.
**Araatris:** Not far away, the old cultist lays in a growing pool of blood, and the room around them is the magic-thick ritual room. Rhese shifts, staggering.
**Rhoelyn:** “What… what happened?” The druid coughs. Kaerryn grabs his arm to steady him. “You started shaking and wouldn’t wake, so I fixed the problem.”
**Araatris:** Pressing a hand against his temple, her partner fights through his muddled head. He suddenly snags her arm, squeezing. “I s-saw them. I was there!”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn presses her lips into a thin line. “And you can tell me all about it… after we’re out of here. Now kitty on up. We’re done here.”
**Araatris:** As if he only just remembered their surroundings, he blinks amber eyes at her before glancing around and nodding. His form folds into the saber.
**Rhoelyn:** She keeps a hand on him and strides out of the room, shutting the door behind her. They head back out into the open air, aiming for the barn.
**Araatris:** The human grumbles irritably when her companion darts away the moment they clear the door. “Fuzzbutt!” she snaps. “Heel! Fellin’ come. Bad cat!”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn bolts after him. “You’re not going to get any treats!” She ducks past a cultist who barely gives her more than an annoyed glance.
**Araatris:** She rounds the corner and skids to the back of the barn only to find the night elf reaching for his hippogryph’s reins. “Hurry up! I have to go.”
**Rhoelyn:** “We have to go and you need to explain what the fel is going on with you!” She swings on her mount in the robe, revealing pants underneath.
**Araatris:** He throws himself on the bird, earning a peck of irritation. “I was in Darkshore. They’re in danger!” Kaerryn leans over and grabs his reins.
**Rhoelyn:** The human snaps, “You were never in Darkshore, Rhese. You were here. Let’s not go randomly running after a drug vision from a strange cultist.”
**Araatris:** He glares at her and tugs. When she doesn’t let go, it turns into a tug-of-war until the irritated bird pecks at them, again. “The Forsaken h-!”
**Rhoelyn:** “You don’t know that. He could have given you a vision of your worst fears. You just talked to her this morning.” Kaerryn holds her ground.
**Araatris:** “Kaer-” “Shut it,” she grouches, reaching for his pack. “We’re riding over to that hill. Away from the crazy magic stuff. Then you call them.”
**Rhoelyn:** The warrior grabs his pack and sets it on her lap. “To the hill. Nowhere else. You hear me, fuzzbutt. I’m not telling them I lost you.”
**Araatris:** He growls at her and yanks the reins out of her grip, whipping his mount’s neck around. “Fine,” Rhese bites out. “Just move, already!”
**Rhoelyn:** The hippogryph turns to peck at him, but he kicks the bird into motion. Kaerryn follows right behind, unwilling to let him leave her sight.
**Araatris:** At the next hill, he’s holding out his hand before her gryphon stops moving. She plops the pack into it, and he has his hearthstone out in a blink.
**Rhoelyn:** Brushing his hand over the rune, it pulses, reaching out to Nysse’s across the ocean. Kaerryn crosses her arms, waiting to see what happens.
**Araatris:** The blue magic settles into a steady light and a sleepy, familiar voice answers, “Rhese?” Nysse yawns. “It’s the middle of the day. What’s wrong?”
**Rhoelyn:** “I… needed to hear your voice. How are you and Rhoe doing? Is everything okay?” Rhese glares at the smug smirk on Kaerryn’s face.
**Araatris:** He can hear the huntress lay her head back down at that, and she yawns again. “She’s sleeping, surfal. But… we’re fine. Just tired.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I love you. Can we call you back in the evening? I’m sure that Rhoelyn will be awake by then and she’d love to hear from you.” Nysse offers.
**Araatris:** The druid takes a deep, relieved breath and presses the hearthstone to his forehead, closing his eyes. “Of course, my lovely. Sleep well.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nysse chuckles softly. “I miss you and the children very much. I’ll sleep better for having heard your voice, dalah’surfal. Thank you.”
**Araatris:** He smiles and nods, not that she can see. “I love you, Nysse. We all miss you both. I’m sorry I woke you, but I’m… better for hearing your voice.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I’m glad. Kiss the children for me.” Nysse yawns audibly. “I will. Rest well. I’ll talk to you tonight, lovely.” Rhese lets the stone go dark.
**Araatris:** Kaerryn is surprisingly patient as he sits there with the stone against his head, eyes closed, still. She says gently, “Do you feel better?”
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese nods slowly, lowering the stone. “I do, but… I still feel like there’s a bad wind coming. I’d rather not disregard those visions, Kaer.”
**Araatris:** Her pert little nose wrinkles. “Fel. Look, it’s not too early for dinner. Let’s go back to Brennadam, and you fill me in over food and drink.”
**Rhoelyn:** The druid only hesitates a moment, then nods again. “I do have some time to kill before they call. I could definitely use a drink or three.”
**Araatris:** With a sudden smile, the warrior cheers. “Great!” Gleeful, she turns her mount. “We’ll race. The loser buys!” Rhese sighs as she dashes off.