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Forgotten Passage

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Too many years of too much combat training meant she didn't scream. Ava simply inhaled harshly through her nose, going still instead of starting as her eyes snapped open. Her gaze met the comforting colors of her favorite tapestry, simple geometric patterns covering the stone walls of her – their – bedroom.

Safe. Oh gods, it was just a dream. She slumped back on the bed with a tiny, relieved sigh, going still again as Eron snorted faintly and rolled over, draping a muscled, hairy arm over her.

Her normal response would be to sleepily call him a bed hog and shove him back over to his side, but tonight she snuggled closer instead.

Nightmares were not unusual – usually featuring those who had perished on the sharp end of her blade, those who hadn't, and the whole spectacular rogues' gallery of suck that had followed the Spellstorm.

She shivered anyways and cuddled closer still to Eron. It was Glimpy's twisted menagerie that had clearly influenced her latest dream, but it had been a far cry from the plunge through bodies up and down Donnell's tower. Instead she and the Mage had been hacking their way through a jungle, the air hot and dripping with water. She'd been able to smell the disgusting sludge that passed as local plant-life, and there had been the awful, dreamlike sense that they were being stalked.

Patasola. Ugh. Lightbringers were taught of as many of Lythia's dangers as they could retain, and she had run across the swamp dwelling spirits at some point in her youth. She had stared, horrorstricken, at the tome's image of a slender woman whose hair covered her face, and the horrible monster revealed from behind it when the thing attacked. It had hardly been the worst thing she'd seen, even then, but it had bothered her, haunted her in a way she'd never been able to explain to anyone. Weeks after finding the image, she'd still been watching any long-haired woman warily, waiting for the monster to show its true face.

The only person she'd talked to about it had been the Mage. One night over a campfire, he'd been describing one of his adventures for the Council, how a Sangur woman had contacted them for help. There were all sorts of nasty things, from Engorged to the Avatar of Heodan herself -

and Patasola. In particular, a Patasola who had attacked, and nearly killed the Mage. It would have succeeded – as Grim gleefully recounted – had the Sangur not taken a serious wound for him.

It had taken a boon from a god to heal her. Ava had listened with shivers crawling up and down her spine, reassured only by the fact that when she'd mentioned the monsters, the Mage had pulled a sour face and talked of how it was possible to not be consumed by one of the blasted things.

She still hadn't been able to sleep well for weeks afterwards, though. She was pretty sure the Mage hadn't realized it, at least.

Strange. Perhaps her nightmare had been influenced by that, too. They had been slogging their way through the swamp towards Heodan's Temple, chased and clearly in a hurry to get there, to free Eron -

Oh. That was the other reason it had been so horrid. He'd been taken by the monks – monks that the idiot had been trying to peacefully negotiate with – to be some sort of fantastic sacrifice to the blood goddess.

In the dream she'd been furiously worried. Here and now, she got him with the "limpet grip" that he either liked or feared, depending on the circumstances.

By the time they'd found the temple, there'd been such a feel of crazy magic in the air that Grim had been complaining non-stop, and she'd begun to hallucinate faintly (something Grim had said happened sometimes – especially to witches exposed to ethereal magic as if that somehow justified him being snotty – and to just ride it out). And they hadn't even been fun hallucinations. Watching her skin almost glow a faint honey color, feeling as if she was wearing the world's most awkward helm or hat or something, and seeing out of the corners of her eyes an aura of power – of magic – surrounding everything.

And always, always, that Patasola at their heels.

The front gates were a wonder of pointy boiling death, so they'd had to wander for what felt like forever to find a tree they could climb instead (it'd been a fascinating hallucination that she'd been wearing a casual tunic and leggings rather than her plate armor, but at least it seemed to make climbing the tree easier). Then, inside, her hallucinations made her light headed, confused, and it became incredibly hard to swing her sword with any skill at all. It'd finally come down to the Mage hauling her gently by the arm (there'd been something unbelievably surreal, even for a dream, about cultists and a map that she didn't clearly recall), leading her around though all sorts of back coridors until -

The Avatar.

Gods. That, at least, had been incredibly vivid. It probably didn't hurt that Glimpy had brought one to Donnell's tower, or was at least close enough to one that Grim had complained for weeks after the fact about blood drips on his cover. A huge woman, blue and covered with tusk or horn or maybe it was growing out of her instead, it was impossible to tell. And blood, blood everywhere, dripping -

and so much of it had been dripping onto Eron, strapped down and wounded on what was clearly an alter. The Mage had shouted at her to free the Paladin, even as his hands were swirling in a blaze of magic and summoning.

Yes, she'd been sluggish and hallucinating. That would never mean she was helpless. She'd even managed to get in a solid swat or two at the Avatar after getting Eron free (and of course the dolt had had to join in as well), and that had given the Mage a moment or two extra to breathe.

They had been gloriously victorious, and the Mage had won accolades and boons and even a brand new two-horse-cart -

But. They had been leaving. The monks and sangur who had been fighting outside had disappeared entirely, giving the whole temple complex a chillingly empty feel. She'd glanced back, suspicious that something wrong was going on, only to find the Avatar gone, leaving behind just lots and lots of blood. Shivering, she'd turned back, glancing over at Eron with the intent to make a quip about his ability to take care of himself.

Thu-unk. Ava stopped in her tracks, the hallucinogenic soft blur around the world halting at the sound of arrows slamming into a side of beef. The Mage was just gone, as if he never existed. Eron had gone still, eyes wide and face horrifically white underneath all the gore.

He looked like death, dead man walking, but not walking any more because a Patasola stood in front of them, one claw buried in his belly, one in hers. The beast had cackled and pulled its not-quite-hands away with a meaty squelch, and Eron had collapsed, just a corpse on the ground.

She had been too hurt, too outraged to want to scream. She had staggered a step forward, fumbling for her sword, but her hands would not obey her. They reached out instead, shaking as they transformed into the same hideous warty talons that the Patasola had. She had felt it, not so much the physical transformation which was taking control of her body, making her reach for Eron with brutal intent. No, far worse was the feeling inside, of her soul, her innermost being fragmenting, flying apart in a way horrifically, impossibly familiar yet twisted and wrong and -

That was when she had almost screamed.

Ava shivered again and decided the time honored cure for nightmares was called for. "Eron." Her voice cracked a little, turning what she really, truly was trying to make sultry and coaxing into something somewhat waspish. She poked the Paladin.

"Grmphl?" he mumbled, blearily lifting his head to look at her.

"Eron, I'm cold." There. Much better this time.

He looked at her blankly for a moment, then lifted their shared blanket and shoved it a few inches vaguely in her direction.

Oh for-! "Eron," she growled this time, leaning in close to glare him in the eyes. "I'm. Cold." She shifted her grip on him, and then the man's eyes opened.

Her Paladin could be incredibly slow sometimes, but never let it be said the man couldn't learn.

By the time the two of then were cuddled together again, Ava hadn't forgotten the night horrors, she'd simply decided to move past them. It had been a dream, and reality – warm, vibrant, laughing, ridiculous Eron – was far and away from those phantasms.

Perhaps – now that he was awake, though both were starting to fall asleep again – sensing something was wrong, Eron wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, murmuring more nonsense to her. She just smiled and snuggled back, letting the last shreds of nightmare fade away. The only Patasola she'd run into, the Mage had quite permanently dealt with. There were no swamps nearby, and Eron was – ahem, quite fine. She'd checked.

And flying apart, losing herself? Bah. She was a Lightbringer, demonspawn if you really were going to be rude about it, and quite whole. She knew exactly who she was, and she was where she wanted to be. Nothing complicated about it, anymore.

By the time morning came, she was rested and ready for the day, even feeling frisky enough to take her Paladin by the hand and drag him to breakfast, laughing the entire way.