The leatherbound codex hit the wall with a sharp, hard thwack that pierced the silence of Fortemps manor.
The paladin whipped around as though slapped just as the book joined the full deck of divination cards scattered on the floor.
“Battlemages of the Nymean marine”, the scholar hissed, his miqo'te tail swishing back and forth, “Sharlayan astrology. Amdapori white magic. Eikon summoning of the Allagan thrice-damned empire.”
He collapsed onto the velvet divan like a tower that had lost all support, and she shifted closer to brush a thumb over his knuckles in a bid to stop him from clawing at the upholstery.
“Magickal traditions so great that even thousands of years later our civilization can't think of anything better than watered-down versions of them.”
He deflated. Rage could only carry him so far.
She let her head rest on his shoulder, and felt the tips of her ears brush his cold cheek.
As much as she wanted to assure him that everything will be alright, the facts were that things had already turned out decidedly not alright.
A precious life had been irretrievably lost at the Vault, and her husband – the healer she implicitly trusted with her life – had been unable to do a thing about it.
“All that knowledge, and yet?”, he continued, barely above a whisper. “What am I good for, anyway?”
The sensation of pumping those absurd amounts of aether into Haurchefant lingered still as a tingle in his fingertips – the flow of the current, the ozone taste of air cracking and straining under the sheer aetheric density.
But perhaps it was the nature of wounds inflicted by the purest of aether to refuse to be undone.
She squeezed his hand, gently, as if afraid to crush it.
He squeezed back.
“Do you”, he started, staring into the light of the chandelier above them, “remember when we were just mercenaries looking for odd jobs?”
She looked up to him, but was unable to read his expression.
“Just how did we get into this mess?”
And somewhere, in the deepest recesses of the paladin's mind, Fray stirred, slowly, like something buried and forgotten unfolding itself after a long slumber.