The trip to Witch's Rock is far from easy. It would have been hard enough just carrying Liliana, but Amelia's sudden collapse made it even worse. Olivia is left to carry the brunt of the Eeee (thankfully she's light), and Djivan carried the short and dense Amelia. The walk back takes the better part of three hours and by the time they reach the Gnarly Tree, both Isolde and Natasha are waiting outside. They don't demand any answers … yet, but instead usher them deep into the ancestral home of the town witches.
This hemispheric room is somewhere within Witch's Rock, since the walls are of raw stone. The air is thick with incense smoke, which doesn't seem to have a means of escape. Even the light from the innumerable candles is somewhat muddy as a result, but still manages to illuminate the various and colorful symbols painted on the floors and walls. A small cauldron rests in the center of the chamber, kept hot by a clay pot full of glowing coals beneath it. There is also something not quite right about the acoustics.
"Lay Liliana near the fire, please, as she looks the worst of the two," Natasha instructs as she unhooks her heavier outer cloak and drops it to the floor. "And I apologize for overstepping my bounds, Witch Isolde," she adds, "But there doesn't seem to be a lot of time to work in formalities given the state of these two. I also think that Olivia and Djivan owe us an explanation on exactly what happened."
For once, Isolde's frown isn't turned on Olivia. Well, not entirely on Olivia. The unconscious Amelia is getting the brunt of it. "Another of those Spirit Drain attacks?" she asks Natasha.
"Er," Djivan says as he hefts Amelia a bit more. He carries her to another part of the chamber and sets her down. "She babbled abou' bein' Amelia Bloodfur, then fell over," he tries to explain.
"Mmm," is all Isolde says to that. "I had hoped to postpone that for a few more years."
Olivia slowly and wearily carries the Eeee near the fire as instructed and lowers her to the ground. "You're gonna be okay, Lili," she whispers, knowing the gypsy can hear her with those large ears of hers. "Natasha's going to help you now."
If Liliana can hear Olivia there is little sign, unfortunately. The bat is now unconscious and her breathing has grown shallow.
"I don't think so. The feeling is … different. A drain is usually just the pull of energy from a spirit," Natasha says as she heads to Liliana's side where she crouches down. Gently, she eases back one of Liliana's eyelids and peers into the pale blue iris. "This is … much more violent," she adds as she releases her eyelid and slides her hands down to inspect the scorch-mark on the Eeee's chest.
Olivia sighs and backs away from Liliana, towards the others. Her gaze wanders between the two unconscious women as she explains how Amelia and Djivan came looking for her once they found the bloody scrap of Liliana's clothing, then everything that followed after. "Before she passed out, Amy said that Lili's spirit had been torn," Olivia finishes, still gazing at the two in worry. "What does that mean?"
"It means just what it sounds like, if Amelia sensed true," Isolde notes, frowning even deeper now. "Do you know how long ago Liliana was attacked?"
Olivia just shakes her head. "Amelia might, since she found her first. If… " She takes a deep breath and tries again. "When you wake her up, you should ask her."
"The why and how have never been fully documented, but some people are born with, or develop, links to powerful spirit creatures. It's most common in Eeee and evidenced by the glowing eyes of the vampiric lines. Generally they're just dormant spirits and of little concern or hazard to the safety of others. It can even be beneficial in some cases, as it was when Isolde borrowed Liliana's link to help Miranda. A strong link will hold up far better to being temporarily moved and it will always find its way back to its host," Natasha explains in a distracted and distant tone. "For some, the link is so strong it's hard to tell the difference between the two. They aren't two different entities and they sustain each other. It's a symbiotic relationship."
"Who would want to steal such a spirit though?" Isolde asks. "Certainly not witches. And Mages can conjure them up. Sorcerers?"
"So that's what Liliana had, a link to a creature of spirit?" Olivia asks. "I had no idea."
"Such spirits are not always obvious, even to those who harbor them," Isolde notes, and clicks her teeth together in thought as she watches Natasha and Liliana. "The burn mark does not bode well."
"Sorcerers and hunters come to mind. Though you can't count out those with sadistic tendencies and there is no shortage of those in the world. The tighter the link, the more it hurts to sever it," Natasha comments quietly as she closes her eyes and holds her hands out over the Eeee. "Spirit creatures can also fuel rituals and make up for the lack of assistance by other practitioners. Remember that much from Valicross and his … collection." There's a pause at Isolde's comment, then the Khatta nods, "No, it does not."
"If her spirit is trapped and cannot return to her… " Isolde says, trailing off. "The wound needs to be patched, and she may need a transfusion of spirit."
"I dun understand anyt'ing dey be saying," Djivan whispers to Olivia. "Other den 'tis is bad'"
Olivia's eyes move to the mark on Liliana's fur. "Does this mean she won't get her spirit back?" she asks now, sounding small and frightened. "And what about Amelia? When she was blathering on about Bloodfurs whatever those are she said something about not being able to claim her birthright because of wards."
"Amelia is the same as Liliana," Isolde notes. "It is why she could not become a witch, because a witch is linked to the spirit of the land - and Amelia was already linked to something else."
"To Bloodfurs," Olivia says, as if trying to work this all out aloud. "What are they, exactly? Will you tell me?"
Natasha doesn't say anything further to the others; now she's speaking softly to the Eeee before her. Olivia recognizes the tone, if not the language; the one she always uses when she's working some sort of spell. Her hands and fingers roll gently, as it trying to caress something from the air. Slowly the air around Liliana shimmers as a faint echo, an image of the Eeee seems to separate and float a few inches above Liliana. It's no more than an outline, a series of glowing threads all trying together to form her shape. The 'fabric' is torn apart in the center of her chest, a gaping wound in the image … and it seems to be spreading slowly outward. The thin threads are unraveling and worse, the decay is spreading outward.
"Nobody teaches children of our history anymore," Isolde laments, and then gives Olivia one of her looks. "Or else children do not pay attention when they should. In any case, the Bloodfurs were the Kadie warriors of long ago, back in Tursdi. Amelia Bloodfur the original one was the strongest; she was thought of as a demon given flesh. It was she who heard the call of this land, and led the Kadies and Lapis here to free the Skeeks. In doing so, there was a certain amount of collateral damage done to Sylvania that not all have forgotten."
Olivia doesn't wither under the witch's look; she merely seems sad. "My mother was too busy screaming at me to leave her alone and my father was too busy shielding me from her to teach me any history, Isolde," she explains in a low voice. "So I'll just have to learn it now. Next questions: what did the Skeeks need to be freed from? And what was the damage done to Sylvania in the process?" As she speaks, her gaze moves over the "thread-image" of Liliana and her look of sadness deepens.
Djivan has slipped quietly over to kneel by Liliana's side as Natasha works. He rolls his hands together nervously as he watches, the Skreek frowning more and more. "Uhm, dat doesn't look good. But dey always look worse dan dey are, righ?" he asks, the tone hinting of fragile hope. "I mean, it jus' magic and spirit damage. 'er body isn't hurt too bad, so she'll be okay?"
Natasha's eyes open and the black Khatta turns her head to look at the Skreek. "Vash," she begins, "Djivan… "
"The Skreeks and Khattas that held them enslaved," Isolde notes, sounding distracted as she watches Lili. "As for damage… well, the original Bloodfurs more or less hacked their way across half of Sylvania as a barbarian horde. In a sense, they are the only group to ever successfully invade Sylvania and set down roots."
"She'll be alrigh?" Djivan repeats more forcefully this time. His hands clench.
"She gots t' be," the Skreek adds, "I mean … she Lili! Always gots a grin for the world an ready t' put it on its 'ead."
"So they were our salvation and our damnation, all at once," Olivia murmurs, giving the witch an ironic half-smile. "And of course, the spirit of the land never forgets." Then her eyes turn back to Natasha. "How bad is it? Will this spirit transfusion you spoke of help her at all?"
"Djivan," Natasha repeats, slowly, "I need you to listen to me. I need you to understand. Liliana is rare; she was conceived amongst great spirits and magic. They are as much a part of her as breathing is to you. Whoever did this tore her apart from the inside out; it was not gentle. Her body is in shock. She may have only minor physical injuries, but without … her symbiont that she had her entire life, her body is giving up. She's dying. I'm sorry." She takes a breath, then shifts a bit more so that she can now look to Olivia. "It would buy her more time, but I do not know if it could save her."
"Buy her the time," Amelia moans, finally starting to stir. "I'll get her spirit back… "
"Amelia!" the Skeek cries, hurrying over to kneel by her friend. "All you gonna be all right? You had me so worried, just keeling over like that!"
"Please don't yell," Amelia murmurs, sitting up and rubbing at her temples.
"I'm disappointed, Amelia," Isolde chides. "You should have known better than to try what you did where you did. Have you forgotten how to think like a witch?"
"Sorry, Isolde," Amy mutters contritely.
"She's no going t' die," Djivan says with unusual seriousness and finality. "You jus' keep her stable an we'll find 'er spirit," he says and nods towards Amelia and Olivia.
The Skeek pulls back a little, now afraid to touch Amelia if she's still feeling so sketchy. "Sorry," she replies, in a lower tone and looking embarrassed. Then she turns back to Natasha. "How does a spirit transfusion work?"
To Dijvan, Natasha nods once. "How did you find her, Amelia," Natasha asks, "Leave no detail out. Even the smallest fragment may be the clue to what we're facing."
"Bound to a cross-beam, in a heavily warded hole. Earthen cave, maybe dug out," Amelia says. "In the forest, there were signs of an attack. A net infused with… some sort of herbal concoction that affects demons. They also were able to send out a lure. Humans, she said. We found bootprints. They used some sort of crystal on her."
"A spirit transfusion is a fairly simple ritual at its core. It's the act of taking a willing and unbound spirit and combining it with another. Think of it like mixing the ingredients to make a whole. Even unwilling spirits can be used, but … it gets harder. It can even be the linking of two people together, where one helps bolster the other. There is risk though, to link two people together. Things tend to bleed across the link," Natasha tries to explain.
"I think the wards were specifically to prevent transformations, but I could be wrong," Amy mutters.
Isolde clears her throat, and whispers to Natasha, "Wouldn't we need a whole spirit in this case? Isn't there someone who is indebted to you that may be able to provide one?"
"Crystals … that means they wanted to imprison a spirit, not outright destroy it. Crystals often make great prisons, if crafted properly. A difficult skill, but not beyond that of anyone who has practiced for a number of years, Natasha comments.
"Or someone who got lucky and found one left over from the Wars," Amelia notes.
"And knew how to properly use it? Instructions aren't often crafted upon them," Natasha notes to Amelia as she listens to Isolde. She looks thoughtful for a moment, then nods. "It may be possible, yes. Though … summoning her out might catch the attention of who did this."
"We want their attention," Amy says. "How did they even know about Lili? She may not have been their target, unless they were just… fishing blind."
"This chamber is well protected," Isolde notes. "And we have little time."
Olivia seems to be thinking furiously about what Natasha's just said about the spirit transfusions. "If your idea turns out not to be possible, I have another. We'd, uh, have to ask Buffy about it, though. And get permission from the spirit, of course. And if both of these don't work, we could link Lili to me."
Natasha's brow goes up. "Buffy was a thought, yes, and as Isolde says … we have little time," the Khatta agrees as she pushes herself back to her feet. She reaches into her inner pocket and draws out a fragment of the chalk that Buffy had given them at last meeting. And somehow managing to show off in the way only a mage can … she draws the outline of a chalk doorway in the air.
The door fills in with pale light, and a glimpse of… a vineyard? "Natasha," comes a soft voice through the portal. "What can I do for you?"
"Whoa, I didn't know you could that with chalk," Amy whispers.
"It isn't me," Natasha says as she steps to the side so that Liliana's limp body can be seen, "But another that needs help. You know of her … condition. Someone tore out that part of her violently. She's … dying. We need to replace the spirit she lost to keep her body from failing completely. We need to buy her time. Can you help? I cannot craft something strong enough fast enough."
"WHAT?!" the voice demands, and then Buffy is there in the chamber, looking around. She looks past Liliana twice before seeing her, and gasps! "She's… like a ghost!" the Lapi says, and then turns back to the doorway and calls, "Claire! Come here."
Olivia starts as Buffy calls through the doorway. Then she smiles a little and murmurs, "Ah, I see we had the same idea. Very good."
A moment later, an Eeee girl is there, clutching Buffy's hand and hiding behind her skirts while giving nervous looks to the intimidating looking adults. "This is Claire," the Lapi says by way of introduction. "She's eight years old and wants to be a dancer when she grows up. Isn't that right, Claire?" The little Eeee nods in reply.
Natasha looks at the little girl for a moment before she asks, "Is she … is. Was she one of Valicross' victims?" The question seems oddly timid for someone so normally imposing.
Kneeling down, Buffy nods to Natasha, and tells the little girl, "We need your help, Claire. Our friend is hurt. She's a pretty dancer though, just like you. I'd like you to go inside of her. It will be like dreaming, and when it's time to wake up again you might remember things you didn't know before. Will you help us?"
The little Eeee chews on her lip. She has gray eyes, without any of the vampiric glow to them, so is probably the spirit of a normal Eeee. "Okay," she says.
"I'll give you whatever energy you need," Buffy tells Natasha and Isolde. "I don't know if it will help or not, but it's mine to give."
Natasha offers her hand to the small Eeee as she nods to Buffy. "That will help, it will shorten the build time to do this," she says. "Olivia, I also wish your help. Please go to Liliana's side."
The spirit-girl takes Natasha's hand, and smiles. "You're uncle Qing's sister, aren't you?" she asks.
Olivia smiles at the spirit of Claire and says, "Thank you. We're very glad you'll do this for our friend. Who knows, you might even learn some new dances once you're finished helping her." Then she nods to Natasha and does as instructed.
" … not exactly," Natasha has to admit as he guides the small Eeee over to Liliana. She looks even worse than she did a few minutes ago. "Olivia, I need you to talk to Liliana. Remind her why she wants to live and that people care for her," she says quietly, "I can't ask Djivan because … well, he is too angry right now. Can you help?"
Olivia nods immediately and asks, "Can I hold her hand or will that disrupt the spell? I was just thinking the touch would help her to focus more on me."
"Go ahead, it will not disrupt anything," Natasha says and nods. To Claire, she adds, "I need you to touch her too. It will feel funny, but it won't hurt you. Think of it like … like putting on a new nightgown just before bed. Comfortable and safe."
Olivia takes one of Liliana's limp hands in both of hers and holds it tightly. "Just tell me when you want me to start, Natasha."
The little ghost takes Lili's other hand. "She's really big for a nightgown! More like a bed."
"Well, she moves like a gown," Natasha says with a hint of a smile, "Beds just lay there." To Olivia, the Khatta says, "Go ahead and start. I will work on my end," she adds and motions Buffy over.
The dark Lapi moves next to Natasha. She finally seems to notice Djivan, and gives him a little smile and nod.
"Can you slightly link to me?" Natasha asks the Lapi, "Just enough to establish the flow. I will guide its actions. Isolde, I want you to do something as well. Listen. As we do this, whomever harmed her may be looking for others. He may sense this and provide a clue as to where he … or she, is."
"You listen as well, Amelia," Isolde notes. "You might be able to hear better in this case."
Olivia flicks an uncertain glance at the Khatta and takes a deep breath. Then she begins by saying, "Liliana… I don't know if you can hear me yet or not but I have to ask you to wake up. I know you're hurt and I know you're tired but you can't leave us now. I mean… in the first place, who would look after your dancers if you left? You know they'd be lost without you to teach them."
Buffy reaches out to take Natasha's hand, her eyes flaring a brighter red at the touch.
Liliana remains laying there, breathing shallow and light. If she hears Olivia, there's no sign yet.
"And then there's Djivan, who'd be worse than lost if you left," the Skeek continues, smiling at him briefly. "He'd be in constant trouble! And I can't look out for him every minute of the day, you know. He needs you to keep him straight."
Amelia looks to Djivan, to see how he's holding up so far.
"Good, thank you," Natasha says, her voice taking on an odd echo; Buffy's voice. The Khatta's attention returns to the fallen girl before her and she begins. Her hands glide and cut the air before her, leaving a crimson trail in their wake. Her words … the language is foreign to those present, but the stranger part is, it sounds like both Natasha and Buffy are speaking them in unison. The air around everyone feels like a storm is coming; all tingly and charged. The unraveling threads of Liliana slow briefly, then speed up! Only this time as they unravel around each other, they weave around Claire's hand and snake up along her arm. They begin to knit back together, crafting the sleeve of a beautiful gown.
Djivan … he has an air of seriousness about him that Amelia has probably never seen. He somehow looks mad and helpless all at the same time. His hands are clenches right and his jaw is so tight the muscles of his neck and cheek visibly twitch under his fur.
"Oh!" Claire says, as she settles into the 'gown' that Liliana has become, wrapping it around herself.
"We'll get them, Djivan," Amy whispers to the Skreek. "We're very good at hunting monsters here."
"Your mother would be really sad to lose you, too, I know," Olivia goes on, sounding sad now herself. "It's… really, really hard for a parent to lose a child. Because the parent always expects to go first and when it's the other way around, it's so hard to bear."
To Claire, it really is like dressing for bedtime. Everything around her grows heavier, sleepy. Another minute and she feels like she's falling towards a fluffy pillow. For the small spirit, everything goes light and dreamy in a swirl of memories. Dancing, laughter, playful chaos. Memories of impish games Claire never had the chance to play flit through her mind as everything seems to feel so … timeless. A lifetime denied to the girl opens up, even if only for the time she will be a part of Liliana.
"Vant 'em to hurt," Djivan says through gritted teeth, "Like dey made her hurt."
"They will," Amelia says calmly.
Isolde glances at Amelia's too-calm demeanor, but only briefly.
"Augh!" Amy suddenly yelps, going wide eyed and covering her ears.
If only covering her ears would make it go away!
Isolde reaches over and gives Amelia a smack on the back of the head. "If you hear something, focus on direction!" she snaps. This causes Amelia to wince and let go of her ears, doing as told and trying to ignore the screams of torment to focus on where they might be.
"And then there's me," Olivia finishes softly, her hands tightening around Lili's even more. "Who am I going to ask for advice on romance if you're not around? Who's going to loan me pretty rings to wear in my ears, so that I'm not always using the same old ones? And… and… and you haven't even kissed me yet! Are you just going to let go without trying to sneak-attack-snog me at least a hundred more times?"
A concussive feeling rolls outward from Liliana as Natasha holds her arms wide. Everything in the room seems to stop, even sound. Motes of dust even hover in still life around them. How long this lasts is anyone's guess … but the first person to notice when it ends is Olivia; she feels the fingers of Liliana's hand tighten around hers. Sound soon follows, a soft sobbing as the Eeee begins to cry. Her eyes open slow. They still lack their red glow; but now instead of being pale blue, they are more of a silvery-gray blue. Voice choking and whispery, Lili says, "Dat mean at one-hundre'-one, I finally get yas?" She blinks away tears and smiles, "T'anks for coming for me, all of vou. Never lost hop' me family voul' come. Never."
"I'll hold her down for you," Buffy offers.
Olivia gasps out a sob of her own and holds Lili's hand against her chest, not even realizing that she was crying, too. "I dunno," she replies. "I guess it all depends on how quick you are that day." Then she smiles at Buffy and says, "It's okay. I don't think she's up to doing anything just yet. I think."