The ritual is completed, but without the desired results.
Before I saw anything, I could feel Valla’s aura grow stronger. She was beginning to gather strength for the spell. Her magic was so different from mine. My aura, and Storm’s aura, felt like shadows that boiled in resentment; hers felt like the warmth of a candle that somehow stayed burning strong through the fear that threatened it.
I watched as she extended her hands towards the sun and began to whisper. I couldn’t make out any words… she was speaking another language. One that I had never heard before. The soft syllables seemed to melt into each other, and then somehow melted into the runes around the circle. All of them were beginning to glow with Valla’s power. The one closest to the sun rose into the air in front of the circle, forming a shield between Valla and the sun.
Valla took uneven, unsteady steps towards the rune. The amount of magic she had raised… was enough to feel stifling against my aura. It was no wonder she was struggling to move. I glanced around, unable to keep looking in the direction of the sun--it was just too bright. Too bright… but there were few places my eyes could escape to. I closed my eyes and let my other senses tell me what was happening for a minute.
The magic grew stronger, and suddenly focused in on where Valla’s hands touched the rune. I felt the energy begin streaming out over the ocean, and I opened my eyes. Outside of the circle, I was surprised to see that the magic was invisible.
Then, Valla stopped talking in the language. Some of the magic faded quickly. Too quickly. As soon as it had happened, I felt a nervous surge in Valla’s energy. She gathered up as much remaining as she could, and started to chant a little louder, but her voice was shaking.
Was something wrong…?
She turned her face up towards the sky, and I felt the thread of magic she was holding spread through the circle, and move as if searching for something. She stopped talking. And then, after minutes of silence and waiting, she began to step backwards, leaning her head forward again and hanging it as if in shame. I walked forward, and met her at the center of the circle as the glow had faded from the runes, and they settled on the ground, and ceased to exist. The moment that the large one faded, I saw a shiver run through Valla’s body, and she collapsed into my arms.
I looked down at her face, and noticed… she had started crying. Something had gone wrong. That much was certain. I glanced around. Fayne, Nayila, and Safiena had turned around, and were approaching.
“That didn’t sound right,” Safiena said, kneeling in front of her. Valla shook her head, and lifted her hands to her face.
“...I need to talk to Harold,” she said. “Please… Get me… to the tents…”
I nodded, picking her up with little effort and holding her firmly. She leaned her head against my shoulder, still trying to hide her face from Fayne, Nayila, and Safiena. As I walked towards the tents, I glanced at Fayne, who looked as concerned as I was.
“We’ll clean up the ritual,” Fayne said when we made eye contact. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll come in as soon as it’s done.”
I nodded, and kept walking. Harold must have heard me approach, because when I neared the flap of the tent, he pulled it open and looked at us, smiling obliviously.
“How did it go?”
“I don’t know,” I said, narrowing my eyes at him, trying to warn him that something had gone wrong without saying it… or at least, convey to him that something was wrong…
Valla looked up at him, and he immediately stopped smiling. He looked down, and as I brought her in, he glanced down towards the beach. There was an area of the tent separated by hanging blankets, and in that area, there were more blankets and pillows laid out so that Valla would be able to rest. I lay her down so that her back and neck would be supported by them, and sat down next to her, letting myself hold her hand for a minute while nobody else was paying attention. Valla looked up at me.
“There’s a barrier…”
“What do you mean?” I leaned away from Valla the moment Harold spoke. She took a shaking breath.
“There’s a barrier. Around this whole area. Not a physical one. A magical one. It’s--It’s why the world seemed to change so suddenly. Why we could almost see a clear divide between this area and the outside world… why everything here is so concentrated…”
I looked up at Harold. Both of us were frowning. I immediately was thinking of Rune’s research. “Is there truly no dust outside of this area…?” I asked.
“No. None, whatsoever.” Harold said. “Like Valla said, when we were sailing in, we could see where the normal clouds stopped and the dust clouds began. Even the water seemed to have almost a clear line in it…”
“It kept my magic from leaving this area,” Valla said. “I couldn’t send anything through the barrier. It was too strong, and… I knew it. So I…” She stopped talking to breathe. She was getting noticeably exhausted, just from talking. “...I tried to feel along the barrier. Find any weak point. And I couldn’t find one, but… I might… have seen where the source of it is.”
“Where is it?” I asked. “If it’s keeping your magic in, we need to destroy it.”
Valla winced visibly, and looked up at me. “...It was… a ruined stone structure. A place deep in the mountains, covered in iron and glowing vines, that smelled like fire and blood...”
I felt my breath stop and my heart stop beating. I had been hunting in every place in our territory. There was only one place built out of stone and iron… smelling of iron and blood…
“The dungeon,” I said, and Valla immediately flinched visibly.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “That’s… That’s what I was afraid of…”
Harold knelt in front of her, bowing his head. “Gray… I’m afraid that us elves may have to go there. We have no choice. If Valla can’t even use her magic to tell her family that we’re alive here, it’ll stop us from being able to form an alliance.”
“Of course. Of fucking course,” I said, letting too much of a growl through my voice. I shook my head. “I’m not mad at you all. But we’re going to the village first, alright? I’m not letting you all go there alone.”
“Gray, if it’ll be too painful for you chimeras-”
“It’s not your fight, Harold,” I said, cutting him off. “We know that place too damn well to let you all walk in there without help.”
Harold bowed his head in acceptance… and thankfulness. “Gray… thank you. We will return to the village tomorrow, and explain what happened, and talk to Sentinel before we do anything rash.”
“...If the barrier is holding in magic… and it’s also holding in the dust…” Valla paused for a long second… long enough for me to wonder if she had drifted into sleep. “...if we break it… would the dust spread…?”
My stomach turned over at the thought. “Damn it, I hope not. I want to experience what it’s like to not have to worry about the dust. I can’t do that if it spreads.”
Valla smiled a little bit. “...One day,” she said. “One day…”
“We’ll talk about this later,” Harold said. “For now, I’m going to talk to the guards. Valla, get some rest. Gray… you too. And thank you.”
I nodded. Valla fell asleep within minutes, her hands clasped around mine. I stayed awake, and watched as the guards came in. Safiena only took a quick glance towards us, but it was enough for her to wrinkle her nose a little in disgust before claiming a bed where she couldn’t see us, and we couldn’t see her.