She wasn't sure how long she sat in her room, "meditating" on the Nestor bone dagger she'd earned in her youth – at the end of her youth, really, when she'd stalked and killed one of the birds all on her own. She'd become an adult then, and taken its feathers for her bandolier and one of the breastbone spikes to be fashioned in her own, personal blade.
It was a wicked looking weapon, ivory base tapering into a coppery red tip – the Nestor chest spines absorbed the blood of the prey, and even if the bird was long dead, Sasha's knife victims still relinquished their lifeblood to her.
Gabriel's blood was there. She had felt it, when she killed him. The shock of impact and the shock on his face, that last bitter compliment even as his wound did not gush from his side to the world but instead into her blade.
The Orren swallowed hard and carefully set her blade down, watching as it rattled against the table.
Her hands hadn't shaken when she'd killed her brother. They hadn't as she and the Mage had escaped the freed demon prince, or any of the many times she had used it since to defend herself, feed herself, trim her hair or a prey's hide or -
She hadn't been able to really, truly stop shaking ever since -
Since I almost lost myself. Not death, death of soul and spirit and self and -
"Enough." She stood sharply, letting the chair skid back on wooden planks with a harsh screech. She'd made up her mind, she had just hoped that it would somehow settle her.
Clearly she was not having any luck. Sasha settled her wolf's head helm and padded out of her room and down the hall, knocking on one of the inn's door-frames. "Mage?"
"Hmm?" The human looked up from his scroll – another missive from the Council, poor bastard – and blinked at her.
"Might I borrow Grim for awhile?" The book, hearing its name, rifled its pages a little next to the Mage's elbow.
"Certainly. Is everything alright?" He looked genuinely concerned even as he traded scroll for book and held it out to her.
"Of course," she scoffed with a faint grin. "But if he was in the area in the time of my grandparents, or earlier, I was wondering if he had any interesting stories to share."
"None," Grim had to chime in, "None whatsoever-"
"Here." The Mage shoved his magic talking book into her hands. "Good luck."
She nodded her thanks and started back to her room, wondering faintly at Grim's uncharacteristic silence. It was only when her door closed behind her that the book spoke.
"You lie poorly."
She snorted. "I lied well enough to fool the Mage."
"Pfft. As if that's difficult. You know he's not the sharpest dagger in the armory."
Sasha had to fight a grin, then gave up the battle. "Nonetheless. I do wish to talk to you, and of ancient magics, and in privacy. All else... doesn't matter."
"It 'doesn't matter'." His pages rustled with strange movement that conveyed suspicion. "Now that doesn't sound ominous in the least."
She set the book down on the table next to her blade. "Not for you. You and the Mage are not just allies, but I think we consider each other friends."
"Well I am flattered. If you're looking for gifts to seal the deal, I happen to like-"
Interesting indeed how still an animate book could become. "What?" And how did he - a book! - sound a little shrill, rather uncertain? "No, I rather dislike that particular art, never really got a handle on it - "
"Virbane." He went even more still, as if frozen in ice. "Do not take me for a fool. I am Orren, I can feel the power you have, how witchery channels your Ethereal magic and turned it upon itself so you yourself feed some obscenely strong polymorph spell leaving you a book. Any Orren who took a few minutes to look at you – if they could avoid being blinded from all that Ethereal magic!- would know."
Grim's cover lowered slowly back down upon his pages. "And what are you planning on doing with this information?"
"To ask you a boon. Help me. I know of chronomancy, but nothing of the particulars. I wish to go back in time."
"Well obviously," he huffed, pages fanning out like an offended cat's fur bristling. "You don't strike me as the type to want to go forward and make good investments. Those are really the only two things anyone ever wants to do -"
"Virbane." This time, his name was more of a warning growl than flat statement. It worked surprisingly well at shutting him up. "Not a fool, remember?" She sighed and stood, pacing back and forth across the room. "I have spent some time pondering the Ulfrane problem. Your... brother, correct?"
Grim was again surprisingly silent before his pages fluttered in a long sigh. "Not all families are close. I hate them. Both of them. I -" There was another long, strange silence. "I would appreciate it if you did not inform the Mage of this complication."
"I have no intention of telling him. I am not blackmailing you. I merely want any help you are willing to give."
Poor former demon prince. He sounded genuinely baffled. She shrugged and sprawled back on the chair. "Life is complicated enough without holding old sins against proven friends. And why you? You have seen centuries. You are my best hope for illicit magics."
"Well when you put it like that – look, you do realize the main reason Chronomancy isn't studied by much more than historians and madmen is because it's useless for anything other than looking at what was and what might be? And that by looking at what might be, you usually change what will be?"
"Of course. You're also a demon prince, and probably know all sorts of unsavory twists and the unholy, mad approaches that might let someone change the past." She really was trying not to give him her more feral grin, but Nameless, it felt good to finally be trying to do something rather than just reacting!
His cover lifted and fell by tiny increments that might be breathing, or searching for words, or for all she knew searching through his pages or memory or whatever it was a magical book had for recollection. "You want to go back and stop Gabriel from summoning Ulfrane."
"Or to kill one. Or both. Preferably before Ulfrane is summoned."
Her hands clenched into fists and she glared at her dagger. "A traitor not just to me, or my race, but the whole world. Perhaps he could be redeemed if I go back far enough. Impossible to tell. I suppose I could try that as well."
"Sasha – Even if I did know magic that would let you travel back in time like that, and I'm not saying I do, it's unlikely that you'd be what you are. Magic that potent... It twists the world – could twist, I mean – and warp it possibly past recognition. It's doubtful you would even know what you do know, remember who you are and what you were and why you had done such a thing." He hesitated. "It would unmake you."
She didn't try to hide her fear – nor her satisfaction. "I know. I've studied what I could find. Before today – I couldn't even begin to face the possibility, before today." She forced herself to breathe deep. "I can do this, now. For myself, and Gabriel, and even the Mage and you. All of us." She was surprised to find a laugh bubbling up. "Not the world, so much. I'm not really the altruistic type. It's for us."
His surprised laughter rustled like fresh autumn leaves caught underfoot. "Well. That I can appreciate. Still... I'm not sure we can do this. Yes, I know a spell." He snickered rudely. "Learned it from a witch who was "involuntarily visiting" The Citadel, actually. Much more insane than the usual run of the mill witch, and she was wandering around the library looking for vials of demon prince blood." Grim sobered surprisingly quickly. "I suppose I should be glad she wasn't Orren. Still. The requirements will take a blasted long time to gather. My blood, for the Ethereal ability to remake, Ulfrane's blood, because reweaving the world's tapestry is absolutely Abyssal..."
He trailed off as Sasha reached out and presented her dagger to him. "Nestor bone dagger. Do books bleed?"
After a painfully long moment, the front cover flipped open and the corner of the inner lining peeled away about an inch. "There," Grim declared softly. "Something else I'd appreciate if you didn't pass on."
She nodded gravely and delicately, lightly stabbed the curving point into the pale substance that was solid yet clearly not wood, watching closely as the blade almost seemed to pulse. The crimson staining the blade nudged a little bit closer to the hilt and she quickly pulled it free. Only then did Grim hiss and his front cover slammed shut, leaving him looking almost vulnerable, not quite curling in on himself. "Stormsblood, I hate that."
For a moment, the Orren was tempted to tease him, but what they were doing was too big, too awe-inspiring for that. "I thank you. Need we anything else?"
"You have Gabriel's blood – do you have the Mage's? He's wrapped up in this too."
"Yes. From our first encounter. I only scratched him, but his blood is here as well."
"Ha! I'd forgotten that!"
She braced herself. "I presume we need mine?"
"For the end of the ritual. I do a little chant, you draw some blood, mingle yours with everyone else's-"
She listened to the magical book, though it was strangely hard given how her head was buzzing with joy, excitement, and more than a little terror at the sheer audacity of what they were doing. Not unmaking, but remaking, reshaping. It was a wonderful feeling, like the greatest hunts of her life but doubled or tripled or more. That strange joy burbled through her as she used her dagger to carve protective patterns on the floor on Grim's command, setting him down in the midst of her design and then stepping back.
As his chant started to ring through the room, making the corners bend at strange, impossible angles, she sank down cross-legged into her position in the pattern. She stretched her offhand out, palm down into the center of the magical diagram. When Grim's chant hit the strange, toe-curling crescendo, she stabbed down, biting back a snarl into a deep inhalation. Nameless, it hurt, the Nestor bone slamming into her hand and drinking her blood until Grim's cover flipped wide. At his signal, she pulled the blade free and moved her injured hand aside. Another lunge – an abbreviated collapse, really – had the dagger back in position, jutting out of a floorboard. She grasped the blade in her good hand and let her magic pulse, a fast, powerful flare of honey-gold power.
The blade shattered, bone shards flying away across the room. The blood contained within gushed forth over her hand, coating it with sticky, warm fluid that she brought up. Her body was shaking – from the magic use, from the pain, from the tension of all the power they had collected in the room – but her hand was as steady as she had ever needed it to be. She placed her palm over her face once, solidly, feeling the blood leave a mark that went beyond the skin, down into her soul. There was a snap of magic flexing into place and she collapsed, feeling groggy as if from blood loss yet somehow... lighter.
"Am I... dying?"
"No." Grim sounded sad, and increasingly distant. "You're slipping away – it worked."
"Good." She thought she smiled, but she wasn't sure if she really was, or if she just wanted to. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. You reek of witches, by the way."
"Ha. Between that and the handprint, you're surely recognize me when you see me."
"I... hope so. You have been... a good friend. I will miss you, if we do not meet again."
"We will." She wasn't certain why she felt so sure, only that she did. "We brought Ulfrane back to the world together, we were there for battles against... so many things... not meeting again would be impossible."
For a little while – a long while? - she lay there, thinking perhaps it had worked but not fully yet somehow because Grim was never this quiet -
"I will know you, somehow. You carry my blood now as well." He sounded so far away, and getting even further with every word. "Fare well, Sasha of the Orren. Even if I forget you, I will look forward to meeting you again. We'll kick Ulfane in the teeth together."
And so even as she was flying apart, stretching until she was fragments flying back through time looking for a place, a home, a brother and friends and redemption and revenge and a good fight -