Everything felt so unreal: from the city and its huge herds of people, to what had happened at the temple … only now did she truly realize that she was in [Thurgau], the place that had seen her grandpa go through so much life experiences that he had wished for her to go there as well.
Luthais wasn’t with them at the moment, but the dragon girl was in the main house of the Dharnas family, which was going to be her home, maybe for a long time.
The pastries were delicious, and whenever the elvish girl wasn’t talking, one of the cakes would stealthily find itself in her hands.
Thankfully - and true to the half-elf's words - a young servant would show up when the stock of sweets was dangerously dwindling to refill it.
As she was about to grab yet another one, she heard the sound of a door snapping, and suspended her motion.
“Grandpa Galan, you’re here? I’m home.”
Unfamiliar with the voice, the group of women halted their conversation, waiting for the newcomer’s arrival.
The suspense was soon ended, as a young man - still almost a boy - seemingly around 14 or 15 years old entered the room.
Only to hastily bow and greet the strangers in the salon.
“I am sorry, I wasn’t aware we had guests. Do you perhaps want to speak to my father, the marshall Luthais? If so, I have the regret to inform you that he is currently away, conducting business on behalf of the Crown; you will have to come back another time.
In case your business with the Dharnas House is urgent, we have a very capable butler called Galan, I am sure he can arrange something with you for the time being, and your matter will be reexamined when the Duke comes back.”
According to the protocols and rules of etiquette Annabelle had drilled into her, the young man had impeccable manners.
But something had drawn Nisha’s attention, rendering her unable to pay any attention to his conduct and speech.
It can’t be. No, it’s not him … but he looks so much like him.
Indeed the Luthais’ son’s face and frame reminded her very much of her grandfather’s.
He wasn’t as tall as the man who had changed her life for the best, and his hair was showing no signs of turning white: it was golden, akin to captured sun rays; but his demeanor and his smile were enough for the dragon to recognize the man he would grow into; she had seen him every day, when returning from hunts, sitting in front of the fireplace, the same kind smile on his face.
Against all logic, for a moment, she forgot that her grandpa had passed away and a younger version of him was standing in front of the door.
She was paralyzed, tempted to drown herself in the pleasant fantasy forever.
Reality hit her hard; escaping the real word was not the solution, she was supposed to have already gone over her grandfather’s death.
Refusing to acknowledge that her grandfather had been about to pass away had already cost her the opportunity to spend his last precious moments by his side back then.
She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
Unfortunately, her daydream had prevented her from properly responding to the young Eldrin with a proper introduction of her group, so her sisters stepped up.
“My name is Lydia, these are my sisters Anna and Nisha, and the woman over there is Lance Corporal Hale. We are friends of your grandfather Eldrin; since we just returned to [Thurgau], your father invited us to stay for dinner.
Is your mother around, maybe? It might be better for us to talk to her first.”
When Lydia mentioned the old elf, a happy expression flashed on the boy’s face, however, the question about his mother distorted it into a more complicated one.
“Mother does live here, but she doesn’t come over for dinner anymore. She lives in the other building, we can eat without her.
But it’s great that father is back! His trip really came without warning this time. You said you know my grandfather? Is he doing well?”
Why does he look so strange when he talks about his mother? Why is she living but not eating here?
Prying too much into it would be tactless, though. Probably ?...
“I see. We have accompanied your grandfather here, but I really think we should wait until your father, your mother or Galan is back before saying anymore. Perhaps you can keep us company …”
She did not get to finish her sentence, as the young man’s expression finally stabilized, into one of sadness and grief.
Alarmed that her words might have caused his anguish, Lydia tried to speak up again, but she didn’t get to do so as he softly whispered.
“Grandfather is dead, isn’t he?”
It had been asked like a question, but there was no doubt to be found in his voice.
“Indeed and you have my condolences. I don’t know how you found out, though…. I would like to apologize for your loss. We can leave for the time being if you want to be alone.
Or is there anything we can do?”
Annabelle was quick to regain control of her emotions and spoke on behalf of her companions - including Hale who hadn’t said anything yet, and Lydia who had still not recovered from the shock of seeing a young man figuring the situation out by himself with so little hints, after all she had only asked for his mother or a relative when they could no longer conceal the bad news.
Nisha herself was swept in a wave of dread, she felt as if an iron cage was holding up her tongue, cutting off all sounds she might have made.
“No, please stay. I don’t want to be alone right now.
It’s your choice of words that gave it away, grandfather died.
When I was a kid, I used to go on a trip with my father once a year, to visit grandfather, we were staying around a moon each time. He was kind to me and thus I liked him very much. When I was eight years old I asked my mother if grandfather would ever come back to live with us here.
Her response at the time -I still know the exact words- was: ‘The next time that man will come here will be to be buried.’
Harsh words, but nonetheless true and over the years I learned to accept them. You said you were accompanying him, but I can’t see him anywhere and considering your choice of words, it couldn’t be anything but that.”
Despite the sorrow in his voice, the youth remained levelheaded and calmly reached his conclusion, his strong will showing through his composure.
The dread Nisha had felt earlier turned into despair at this display, a thousand needles were ruthlessly stabbing her heart at once.
This is my fault. I might have not directly killed grandpa, but his pain is something I am to blame for.
It was completely irrational to blame herself, Nisha knew that and had thought she had already made peace with herself, but she lost all common sense upon seeing what she considered as the immediate results of her bad decisions.
While Annabelle and Lydia were talking about small episodes and stories involving Eldrin, the dragon was trying her best to sit and absolutely not start crying all of a sudden.
Hale actively took part in the exchange, even laughing lightly upon hearing an especially funny story.
The young man also found some relief in the conversation about his favourite grandparent, although no smile could be seen on his face.
Hearing all of these happy memories and reliving them finally pushed Nisha over the edge. A tear silently escaped her eyes, rolling down her cheek.
“I am sorry.”
The small voice in which she apologized to the youth was almost too light to be heard, but her sisters caught it, looking quite alarmed as they turned around to realize she was crying.
And once she had started, there was no holding back anymore.
Why does it hurt so much? I didn’t want to weep like this, I’m supposed to be stronger than that... But it’s too much…
“I am so sorry.”
Unable to say anything else to the one to whom she thought she had stolen a grandfather, Nisha lost all control over herself and buried her head in her hands, hiding her shameful tears.
The boy looked incredibly flustered, having no idea how to react to a little girl suddenly breaking down in tears.
She didn’t know how, but somehow she ended up on Hale’s lap, and the lance corporal was gently wiping away the salty water from her face every now and then.
Incredibly exhausted by her outbreak of sorrow, her last thought before closing her eyes and falling into a deep slumber was for Bael and Gabriel, because she had promised to pray from time to time but today she had prayed to another deity and forgotten them.
I’d like to apologize to them, too …
Then darkness claimed her vision and consciousness and she fell asleep in Hale’s embrace.
Opening her eyes, the dragon found herself in a familiar place.
Lying on the side of a creek, the flush green grass, and the pleasant summer smell gave away her current location: she was inside her space, not far from the spot where she had bundled up all her treasures.
Confused by the sudden location change, Nisha couldn’t figure out how she had ended up there, she didn’t consciously enter her space after all.
I must have fallen asleep and accidentally entered my [Soul Space]. It’s a good opportunity to correct today’s mistake, though.
Feeling guilty because she had forgotten her two saviors, Nisha obediently sat down and pressed her hands together, something she had seen other believers do in the temple earlier, and it felt right to pray this way.
Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for helping me go through a tough time in life. Thank you for being such good friends no matter what I did, but most of all, thank you for being you.
Her prayer was short but everything that needed to be said was clearly said.
Just as she was preparing to lay down in her space to rest a while, a strange resonance, a ripple warned her that something was about to happen.
Following an unspeakable instinct, Nisha raised her hand and grabbed the empty space in front of her, holding onto … something.
The emptiness parted, and a pitch-black hole appeared, hovering slightly above the ground.
Usually such an obscure and dangerous looking thing would make the elvish girl suspicious, but this time, she had a vague hunch on where the passage would lead her.
To confirm her guess, she simply stepped in the gate.
Behind the menacing darkness laid a steep cliff. A rock tumbled nearby and fell into a bottomless pit, an echoing clanking accompanying its fall.
She was standing on a stone platform next to a narrow crevice. Traces of a path running down the mountain could be seen, and the entrance had obviously been carved using tools.
Curious as to where the crevice was leading, Nisha swiftly sneaked into the dark fissure.
Not far from weathered stones forming a majestic arch, the crevice ended, in a gentle downwards path finishing into a hole in the ground.
There was nothing interesting on the barren walls, therefore, the little dragon got on her knees and curiously looked down, at the pit.
It wasn’t particularly deep, but two things caught her eye.
At the bottom of the pit was a mirror of black liquid, firefly-like lights dancing beneath the surface; it’s eerie beauty touched Nisha deeply, in a way that made her fear for her very life.
The other thing was a plant, growing from a crack in the stone, its leaves brushing dangerously the surface of the liquid.
It was a bush, whose trunk had apparently been separated in two. One half was sporting black leaves while the other was clad in white leaves, all slightly swaying together in a nonexistent wind.
Feeling something familiar coming from the underdeveloped tree, Nisha was about to carefully climb down into the well, when a hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“You shouldn’t go down there. It would be dangerous if you were to fall.”
Recognizing the voice, Nisha got up on her feet to tightly embrace the person who had spoken.
“Bael! It’s so good to see you again! Where are we? What’s that little tree? I really like it, strong and weak at the same time!”
Assaulted by a barrage of questions, Bael happily whirled Nisha in the air, she laughed for a second before putting her down.
“You remembered to give us a quick thought every now and then after all.
I’m glad you like that tree! There is actually a story associated with it… Care to hear it?”
With a quick nod, Nisha said yes.
“A long time ago, there was a small tribe. This tribe had a particular stroke of luck and it managed to open a portal to the underworld, and started worshipping the dead, building a shrine around the portal.
Eventually, the tribe was extinguished in a war with one of the countless other clans in this mountain range, and the secret of the shrine died with the tribesmen.
But a small seedling, that had been carried to the shrine during its construction, began to grow roots in this unfriendly environment, soaking in the morning dew every day when the sun rose.
Over the course of the years, the sapling grew into the plant you see down there, although some events altered it.
You see, since it was soaking every day in the flow of life and death seeping through the gate below, some changes were bound to happen, some positive, some negative.
The spiritual energies did nourish the plant, but in a place where there was no other nourishment, the brush was unable to bear the conflicting forces.
What do you think happened at that moment?”
Nisha contemplated on the question for a while but ultimately had to yield and admit defeat.
The frown of frustration painted on her face as she conceded her inability to solve the riddle must have been very amusing since Bael started to laugh.
“It’s simple. Two energies for one body was too much, so it split itself into two bodies with one energy each.
Then both bodies grew legs and walked away.”
It was probably meant as a joke, as there was no seriousness in the goddess’ voice, yet the earlier familiar feeling coupled with the odd story allowed Nisha to see the true thoughts hidden behind her words.
“This is the place where you were born?”
Staring at her wide-eyed, Nisha couldn’t comprehend how the small bush down there had managed to transform into the two beautiful women she knew as Bael and Gabriel.
I am in no place to talk, though. Once a dragon, and now …
“You are as sharp as usual. But the details are a story for another day. When you come to our garden, Gabriel can tell you the rest of the tale.
I’m really happy you visited.
Let’s see … from where did you come in.”
Looking at empty space for a second, she seemed to search something. Then, letting her hand slip between realities, she drew out Nisha’s gate - a completely crimson and gold one.
“That’s one well-crafted gate. Well done, Nisha.
Feel free to drop by again in the future, I have a matter to attend right now, but it was really nice to see you.”
Almost pushed into the hole, the dragon turned around and hastily spoke up.
“Greet Gabriel for me please, and tell her I was here.”
With a crooked smile, Bael gave her the last push.
“Don’t worry, she already knows.”