The castle is sick. I can feel it in my head like a toothache, and in my stomach like nausea. Those are inadequate descriptions, but that is the best I can do. I do not know how to convey the sensations as the castle feels them, only how they map to the senses I know. It is a corruption, a curse, and it comes from the Morning Star himself. From what Maric had conveyed to me, it had been cast on the portal mirror, and was affecting the castle and Vedis. Maric is doing his best to combat it, but I fear that it is spreading, and I do not know what I can do to help. So far, the only hope I have is from an unlikely source. Dyisi, my lady satyr friend, knows of a spell or ritual that could help, but I will need to discuss it first with Maric, when he has some time.
I was working in my chambers for once. Selfishly, I had retreated from my office, seeking a little extra peace from all the comings and goings. I have every member of the guard and staff, plus volunteers from the village working as hard as they can to get all of our supplies out of the vaults and into temporary storage – in the tavern, in the shops, in the attic of the castle, what space we can find in the cottages and the smithy etc. I had even sent a message to Valene via Royce to see if we could store the more perishable goods in the Roads, where the chill might help preserve them.
One of the staff came to let me know that somebody called Dyisi wanted to see me, so I had them send her up. After all the frantic activity of the day and the worries about the corruption, I could do with some pleasant company. I allowed myself a small moment of amusement by using the castle sense to let me call out “come in” a fraction before she knocked.
We sat down, I offered wine, which she refused, but I took some myself anyway. I did not yet know if this was a social visit or if she had some business, but I appreciated her company anyway. I apologised for receiving her in my chambers if she wished to talk business, but she was not concerned, she had talked business in worse places. Besides, she said, it was more of an excuse to visit.
She asked me then, what it was that hung over my head, what it was that worried me so. That confirmed some suspicions of mine. I had noticed before that she appeared to be able to project some level of emotion or feeling, usually, a calm, and often amusement. It made sense that she might be empathic too. I took a chance, feeling I could trust her, and told her that things were not well in the demon realms and that because of the connection to the cellars, it was affecting the castle, that I could feel its pain. I also told her of my concern for Maric, who was still down there, and my frustration that he had forbidden me to go there to help. It griped me, I told her, even though I knew he was right. As his second in command, I could not leave the village to its own devices.
She agreed that I should not be leaving the village and asked why we were linked to the demon realms if it was going to cause problems. She said she had some experience of demons, more than she cared for. Why, she asked, did we not sever the link with the demon realms?
I gave her a little more background as to why we were allied with some demons that I trusted, and why we maintained the portal. I explained how the move from the Shadow Roads to Faerie had somehow twisted the dimensions somewhat, causing some parts of the vaults to be out of phase with the rest. I said that I did not even know if it was possible to unlink them now, much less how. She acknowledged that there were some demons whose nature was not twisted, and was glad I had found ones that I could trust. She was talking about possible ways of fixing dimensional problems and possible solutions when I picked up something from the castle sense. Movement, egress from the vaults. I could not be sure, but it seemed that it might be Vedis. I excused myself and headed outside, just as one of the staff came to summon me, saying that Vedis wished to speak with me.
I found her outside, barely recognisable, shrouded in clothing from head to toe, with just her eyes peeking out over a veil. She looked like something from the 1001 Nights stories. Several guards ringed her and one warned me to not get too close. I told him I understood and asked that they would give us some privacy. Vedis said that she needed to speak with me. She sounded hoarse, breathless as though she had been running. I suggested that we sit under the tree to talk, while the guards remained at a discreet distance.
She asked me what Maric had told me so far and I explained what I knew; that the mission had failed because of the Morning Star intervening, that he had cast some curse, that Kitori had been working under cover all this time. She agreed with all that and said that the curse had been from the Morning Star’s own blood, that it had poisoned her, was corrupting her, and because the curse had been aimed at the mirror, it had spread to the castle fabric. His anger had been directed only at her but Galyanna and Kitori had also offended him. They were unharmed, but were now unlikely to be able to return. She too had been surprised that Kitori had been working on our side after all.
She was mostly concerned about the spread of the corruption. Thus far, it had not affected our supplies, but she said we should get them out of there just in case. That much we were already doing, I said. The corruption was also eating away at her. I asked if my blood would help her. She said it probably would, but it was too risky, for the Morning Star might be able to use it through her to hurt me. It occurred to me that Dyisi had mentioned having considerable knowledge of demons, so I thought that maybe she could help. I told Vedis that I knew somebody who might be able to help.
She struggled to get up, saying that she wanted to talk some more, but she needed to rest. She bade me take care of the children before heading off, with her guards, presumably back to the vaults. The children were always in my care, I said, as she departed, but I wasn’t sure she heard me.
Back in my chambers, Dyisi asked what further was bothering me. I explained what had happened and then asked if she knew of any ways to combat demonic corruption. It seemed to take her a moment to recognise what I meant by the Morning Star, but then she worked it out. She thought for a moment and then said that she did know a ritual, a spell to do that very thing, and she even had the materials necessary, because she was planning on using said ritual elsewhere, in some other strand. Could she have meant Esterwell? Whatever her other plans, she said that she was willing to try it here. It was, however, tricky, and came with a cost.
It was all outside my experience, I told her. I had not the knowledge or the magic to deal with such a thing. If there was a cost, there was a cost, and it would be paid, unless, I joked, it was the sacrifice of my first-born or something. There was a sacrifice, she said. Once, it would have been a soul, of somebody brave and innocent, but now she had refined the ritual to take some soul from the caster, which would have to be her. I was not so sure about that idea, but she did not appear to be bothered. It was quite all right, she said. Perhaps souls mean something different when you are an ancient satyr. I told her I would have to speak with Maric, since he was dealing with the corruption problem and I wasn’t sure he would even allow me down in the vaults. She had to go then, but again repeated her offer that she was willing to help. I thanked her for that, and for being a friend. I think, more than anything this night, that was what I needed, somebody I could talk to. That’s not something that happens very often. I guess that’s one of the burdens of leadership.