Mother Aughra kept her distance. The two Gelfling didn't need her to connect them, that much was clear. Prophesies don't control destiny, after all, they merely see what will come, and intervention can cause more harm than good.
But this was complicated. This was the entire future of Thra.
When Aughra had first set her eye on the two - the young castaway Stonewood and the impish, headstrong Grottan - she could hardly believe it. Surely, the prophecy that the Gelfling to save Thra was of both Stonewood and Grottan stock was a mistake, she'd thought. Such a thing didn't happen. Stonewood and Vapra, perhaps, Drenchen and Dousan, not unlikely, but Stonewood and Grottan? Ha.
And yet, she sensed the pull between them. They sensed it too, though they hadn't yet admitted it. Not to each other, at least.
Rian's impulsiveness had not served him well as a paladin, but out in Thra, and with Deet, it showed itself as courage. He wasn't willing to let Deet, swallowed by darkness, walk away, no matter how dangerous.
Aughra only followed because the fate of Thra depended on it.
From her position on an old stump, shielded by a nettil tree, she watched as he approached her. He reached for her, but she didn't respond to his touch.
"Deet," he pleaded, "It's me. It's Rian."
She turned slowly. Minutes before, she'd had the wherewithal to warn him to stay away. Now, she was gone. Aughra had never seen a creature so taken and still have breath.
Hours passed. Maybe days. Aughra's sense of time was her own. Rian never allowed Deef - what was left of her - to stray more than a few meters from him.
After going too long without eating, Rian reached into his satchel for food. Nothing was left but a clump of moss from Grot.
Aughra knew the moss, of course. She knew all of Thra. When consumed, its creatures glowed. Sometimes just the one. Sometimes more, if they were connected.
Aughra expected to see Rian start to glow blue after he consumed the moss.
She didn't expect Deet to glow as well.
Aughra noticed it before Rian did. He turned toward her, expecting to see her as she'd been, consumed by the darkening, but she had changed. She glowed.
"Connected," Aughra whispered to herself in awe. "It's all true."
Rian was focused on Deet. She still wasn't lucid, but the dark purple veins on her skin seemed to be fading.
She faced him. He couldn't quite tell if she recognized him, until she opened her mouth and let out a single word.
"I'm here," he said, moving toward her.
She didn't move. Her mouth opened again, but this time it wasn't a word that escaped. Instead, a wisp of what looked like purple smoke escaped her lips.
The smoke became thicker, billowing out if her noth, her nose, her ears.
Rian could only watch as she was overcome.
"Deet, no," he pled, before his own breath hitched. He coughed. Looking at her, he felt his body's capability to breathe break down. His coughing turned to choking. As Deet became consumed by the smoke, Rian, unable to find air, collapsed beside her, both unconscious to Thra.
Thra had turned to mist. Rian looked around. Wherever this was, it wasn't That.
"Where am I?" he said aloud.
Deets ears perked up. She turned and saw nothing but mist, but she could feel him.
It didn't seem possible.
"Rian?" she called.
"Deet? Deet, is that you?"
Her heart swelled.
"I can't see you," she said. "I can't see me…"
She reached out the the direction of his voice. The mist swirled. Was that a shadow? Were her eyes (did she still have eyes?) playing tricks on her?
"Say something, Rian," she called out. "Please."
"I'm right here." His voice was like a salve on her battered soul. He was close now, she could feel it. She could feel everything - his fear, his relief, his embrace, which she returned with everything she had.
She couldn't feel him in a physical sense, but it was every bit as real as their embraces before. Maybe more real. She didn't wonder if she was imagining an affection that wasn't there. It was love.
Her feeling of bliss was interrupted by the memory of his face, the last thing she'd seen with her own eyes as the Darkening engulfed her.
"Wait," she said. "Rian, what did you do?"
There was a pause. "I don't… I don't know…"
"You're not supposed to be here," she said, in confusion. She didn't know if she was dead, but she suspected she - now they - existed in some kind of oblivion space.
"Are we dead?" he asked. There was no fear or sadness in the question.
"I don't know."
"Hm." Rian considered. "It's not so bad."
"What did you do?"
"What makes you so sure I did something?"
"I was following you in the forest," he said. "You were… gone. But you still wandered. I didn't want to let you out of my sight."
"What did you do?"
"I was hungry. All I had left was some of that moss from Grot."
"So you ate the moss."
"Yes. And I started to glow, just like you showed me."
"I've eaten that moss all my life. It's not poisonous. Even to a Stonewood."
"And then, I remember - then you started to glow."
"So you had given me some?"
"No, I didn't."
She paused. "Like the creatures that live in the trees," she said.
"They were connected."