Morgan shivered, hunching her shoulders against the freezing wind that blew through the darkened courtyard. Overhead stars twinkled in the moonless sky, the world around a sea black but for the the light streaming in from the open arch behind.
Across from her stood Inigo, clad in his travel clothes. Some distance behind waited Owain and Severa, likewise adorned for tracking through the countryside. The two each carried a leather pack ladened with supplies, with a third resting at their feet.
The wind howled, rustling the leafless branches overhead, the only sound in the cold, winter night.
"Why do you have to leave? Why now of all things?" Morgan asked, broaching the silence.
"I wish I could say but... We made a promise. We wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't important," Inigo answered sadly, shaking his head.
Silent fell over them one more, a minute passing before Morgan spoke up again.
"I suppose you can't even tell me where you are going then?"
Morgan gave a bitter laugh and shook her head. "Thought so." "You could have at least given me more warning. Why did this have to be so sudden?" She shot him a questioning look. For indeed, this had come out of nowhere. Both her boyfriend and the other two had only begun to act strangely early that morning. As Morgan had discovered, they'd been preparing in secret to depart, a fact that had been kept hidden from her until only an hour before.
"We didn't even know we were leaving before today. And we didn't want to make a show of this. Better to slip out quietly, he answered softly.
"You could have told me," Morgan countered, unable to keep to hurt from voice. "Don't you think I had the right to know?"
"We were afraid you would try to stop us or let it out what was happening. I trust you, but-"
"Doesn't sound like it," Morgan interrupted, perhaps a bit more harshly than she's intended. Or maybe it wasn't harsh enough given the circumstances. Trusting her meant letting her know these things, to have faith she would respect what he was going to do and keep his secrets. And he hadn't done any of that.
"Morgan, that's not fair. I do trust you. But it wasn't just my call to make," Inigo said, his eyes pleading with her.
"Then tell me why you have to go," Morgan told him
For a moment Inigo said nothing, guilt and indecision both shown in equal measure. Then he sighed sadly and lowered his gaze. "... I can't do that," he said softly, his words cutting Morgan as deeply as a knife could have.
Silence fell over the two, so that only the creaking of branches and the whistle of air passing over the castle walls could be heard. From inside the palace the flickering light of torches shone out from many windows and doorways, casting a faint, ever shifting glow over the scene. Shadows danced and fades, giving an almost ghostly unreality to the world
Morgan shivered as another icy gust swirled through the courtyard. She pulled her coat tighter, wishing desperately that she was inside, in her bed, and not here.
"Why can't you tell me?" she repeated, her voice barely above a whisper.
"It's... complicated. I want to tell you, but... we made a promise, to keep the reason a among those going," Inigo answered. Even in the dim light she could make out the pained, guilty look in his gray eyes.
"Then I can come with you. I can help, Morgan countered, speaking louder now.
"Morgan, no, you can't. I wish it was different but-"
"Why? Do you want to just leave me here? I bet that's it, you big, stupid, mean, philandering, stupid, lying, stupid,..." she trailed off, muttering the rest of her tirade. She crossed her arms and looked away, unable to bring herself to look at his big, dumb, jerk face.
"Morgan, you know why you can't..." Inigo said gently. Morgan felt a hand touch her arm, which she immediately jerked away from, giving her so-called boyfriend an indignant huff.
"Morgan, come on, look at me," Inigo asked, his voice softer now.
Morgan did not move, refusing to even acknowledge that she'd heard him.
"Please, Morgan," Inigo repeated, pleading with her now. He sounded almost... hopeless, resigned to the fact that what he was doing was painful, not yet to her but to himself as well.
Slowly Morgan looked up, meeting his gaze. For a long moment she said nothing and when at last her words came they were but a whisper. "Why can't I come?"
"Because you're needed here. You're already basically running the Shepherds at this point, and once your and Marc's younger selves are born you will be needed to take on more responsibilities your father had, remember?" Inigo replied.
Morgan nodded but otherwise again nothing
"Besides, you don't want to be gone when they're born right? It's not every day you get to see yourself as an infant," he continued, giving her a small, sad smile. "I don't want to be the one to drag you away when your family needs you here."
"But you're-" Morgan started to retort only to cut herself short, unable to bring herself to utter those words. ...basically family at this point, she finished silently. Even thinking them was too painful, knowing in her heart that nothing she could say or do would change the fact that he was leaving.
"I... I understand. You're right, I can't just leave everyone now," Morgan said at length. She sniffed, though if it was from sadness or merely the cold she did not know.
"It won't be too long, I promise. We'll be back as soon as you know it," Inigo assured her. He places his hand on her arm again. This time Morgan did not pull away.
For a long while the two stood there, the wind whistling around them. Then Inigo half turned, looking to where the others were waiting. "Well we better be off, before anyone else notices us. I don't want to turn this into a bigger ordeal for everyone."
Morgan nodded, placing her hand on top of his. The she let it slip away, her arm falling to her side and she looked away. Part of her wanted to say more, but... what was there really left to say?
"Goodbye," Inigo told her. He opened his mouth as if to say something more, then closed it again. He lingered there for another moment, as if waiting for something. Then, when it was clear no response was forthcoming, he turned away.
At once guilt welled up in Morgan's heart, a voice urging her to call out to him. To say something, anything. Yet try as she might she could not bring herself to do it. For if she did she would have to admit to herself how much she cared about him and how much she hurt. To say goodbye would mean admitting he was really leaving. That this wasn't just a bad dream she'd wake up from.
Inigo reached the spot Owain and Severa waited out of earshot. Slinging his bag over his shoulder he looked back over his shoulder. For a moment he just stood there, looking sadly back at her. Then he turned away and together the three slipped out into the night.
Another gust of wind tore through the courtyard, the branches of the bare trees creaking in the wind. Yet Morgan felt nothing, the cold no longer seeming as preset or real as it once had.
"Goodbye," Morgan whispered, the words coming far too late for anyone but herself to hear them.
So she stood there in the cold, dead night. Even the stars overhead seemed further than they once had, their crystalline light made of ice. Cold and distant... a fitting backdrop to her own heart. The wind rushed by her, rippling her coat before passing into the dark, lonely night, bringing with it what felt like a little peace of her happiness.
. . . . .
Slowly the scene in the courtyard grew hazy, the image contained in the smoky sphere of water pulling back as it faded completely.
A translucent hand ringed in devouring shadow passed through the liquid orb, scattering it into a thousand droplets. They hissed and turned to mist, lingering in a shifting veil of vapor. The hand appeared again, stirring the cloud of fog. It swirled, pulling into an ever tighter vortex before finally coalescing into water once more. The inky liquid shone a cold, dark violet, turning clear as the light faded.
From inside an image of a colossal tree, it's roots spreading out for a mile under its vast trunk...
... The three travelers scrambled up the great roots. Neither awe nor wonder graced their features as they looked up at the high canopy above. They'd been there before.
A voice spoke, its words soft and gentle. It asked if they were ready.
A figure, clothed in robes of white and sky gray appeared before them. He did not visibly warp or otherwise arrive there: merely it seemed he had always been there, unnoticed by the three.
Questions were asked and answers were given. A world in peril, one they could help save.
The choice was their' she said. Well, there was really no choice. They would not turn their backs on those in need...
...the shadowed hand shot out towards the orb, stopping an inch from it's surface. The liquid rippled, deformed by an unseen force. When it stilled the vision had changed, revealing the flash of steel and tumult of battle. Orange flames burned on the tree's roots, smoke rising into the sky...
...The trio stood back to back, swords in their hands as they battled against a horde of foes who could not be seen as those who walk the living world. Distortion a they seemed, blurs and ripples on the air taken human shape and cloaked in a flame that seemed to suck the surrounding light into its void.
Yet even these foes could not hope to stand against the three. They've been through worse, survived in a future of terrors beyond these phantoms. That's why they were here, was is not? Why their help had been sought.
Together the broke the enemy line, striking then down to the last. Soon they and the robes figure were alone amongst the smoldering embers of the extinguished flames.
The man spoke again, pleading once more for their aid and making promises of his own. Could he really do it? Could he really right the desolation of their true home?
And what would they do now, when all was done? Could they bare to return there now, even if it meant leaving them all behind?
But for now they were beckoned on, to go with the robed man to where the truth could be laid bare...
Again the water was scattered, reshaping to reveal a new scene of broken islands in a hazy brown sky.
...The three travelers from another world stood together, cutting down of the ghostly soldiers who dared approach. They were clad in new clothes, more in the style of the western kingdoms of world they'd come to rather than of their own land.
Yet even as they fought and won it could be seen that a toll was being taken. Their movements began to slow, their attacks less precise. With it their defenses dropped, their foes managing to score minor wounds.
Though still they fought, even as more came on...
... The scene ripped and shifted, showing them some time later, ragged and gasping for air...
...They raised their weapons to face the gathering horde phantom foes. Yet even as they stood there defiant they did so with slumped shoulders and bent backs, hands trembling from exhaustion.
The robed man stood before then, telling them to abandon the fight, that he had a new task for them. With reluctance they accepted, vanishing in a twinkle of light as the man turned to face the invisible army alone...
...The image followed the three as they appeared in the middle of a craggy plain under a starlit sky. In the distance a city of black stone flowed orange-red, like a void against the night sky.
Starting over the shadowed figure replayed the scenes again and again, watching intently as the events played out.
Why was it that these three were chosen above all others? Skill and experience they had indeed, but those traits could be found in others, even from their companions from the world they came. Was it the hand they played in Grima's destruction? No, even then there was nothing to set them apart from the others.
Or was it perhaps that they did not matter? That their world would not miss them if they never returned?
With a wave of a hand the water went clear, losing it's shape as it sunk down into the murky pool that stood at the figure's feet.
Turning away he crossed the cavernous chamber, his footfalls making not even a sound on the stone floor.
A chuckle echoed through the darkness, an unseen smile spreading across the figure's shrouded face. As much of an disruption as the three had caused, they had done little but to destroy the physical forms of the some spirits under his dominion, which he could replace with trivial effort. Through his puppet he would ensure his other half's champions would remain isolated from the one they were tasked to protect, and with his curse in place they would not be able to interfere with his plans or warn those who might stand against him.
Even his daughter's betrayal did not matter, not when it had brought the final destruction of his meddling counterpart. This had all be a mere destruction in the end, nothing more. Useless. Utterly useless, just like all other attempts to defy him...
He found his mind drawn back to the world the meddler had visited, the one of its timelines in a sea of what if's that had been spared from the Fell Dragon's shadow. Mere annoyances as they had been, the three warriors had proven far more formidable than he would have expected. What then of the others of their world? What of the ruler wielding the awakened Falchion, the time traveling princess of exalted blood, the tactician who once was Grima's vessel, or even the daughter of Naga? They as well as others could prove far more hindersome should they get involved.
And even if their world would not miss the three warriors, was it possible that they would still go looking for their absent friends?
This was a possibility he could not ignore. Nor could he ignore how it would serve as a fitting punishment for his counterpart's champions. For their interference he would see that their world was put to the flame.
Raising his hand the figure summoned up an orb of water from across the chamber. It glowed with a pale light, revealing a castle rising over a white city, gleaming in the sun.
Laughter filled the chamber as the light was blotted out, plunging it into darkness
Author's Note: And so it begins, the new storyline I have been teasing for a long time. This had been in the works since last June, well before I even started to tease it out. I was so anxious to get this out there that I ended up posting it a week earlier than I said I would, so let's get this party started
As always please take the time to leave a review. Your feedback is how I become a better writer, plus hearing your guys thoughts, comments, and predictions always makes my day.
Anyhow, that's all for now. Expect the next chapter some time in the next two week. Until then, I hope you enjoyed the story so far and would like to wish everyone has a wonderful day.