Idira woke in the middle of the night, sensing something had changed. Vanessa was gone. Warm and comfortable in her blanket, Idira assumed Vanessa had left to use the outhouse. She dozed for awhile, waiting for her niece to come back, but when she didn't, even after a long wait, Idira sat up, a twinge of worry catching at her heart.
She left the hammock, careful not to disturb Unambi and slipped out of the house. Maybe Vanessa was sick. She approached the outhouse, cautious. Its door drifted back and forth in the night air, unlatched. She knocked. No answer. She peeked inside. Empty. Alarmed, Idira turned, scanning the wide, open plains surrounding the farm. Nothing.
Maybe Vanessa wanted to be alone, to grieve, but Idira couldn't be sure, something felt off. Keeping quiet, she searched the yard and around the house and even went halfway down the cliff path. She took in the clefts, rock pools and grassy sand dunes spread across the beach, lit by the light of the rising moon. The boat still sat where they had left it. Nothing moved, apart from the sea grasses rippling in the ocean breeze. She went back up to the house, hoping she had somehow missed Vanessa, and her little niece had returned while Idira was on the cliff path. She reached the house and knelt to look under the porch, just to be thorough. Only rubble and weeds greeted her. She stood up, brushing the dust from her dress. She closed her eyes. Show me. She waited, hoping her Light would help her.
Her Light filled her, soothing and warm. She opened her eyes, pleased. She was getting good at this. The faint image of a man stood before her, stuttering and flickering, cast in the dim glow of her violet light. He reached his hand out to her, as though saying something. He turned and looked over its shoulder, then back to her urgent. He leaned forward, and the image shimmered, coming into focus, just for a heartbeat.
Idira bit back a cry. Khadgar.
He looked over his shoulder, abrupt. He pulled his staff free and turned to fight an invisible opponent.
She reached out to touch the image, her fingers trembling. She had never seen him outside of the dream state. Was he seeing her right now, like she saw him? Was this how he had seen her that night in her dream, flickering and dim, just on the edge of his vision? Her fingers brushed against his tunic, she could feel the wool. Blood splattered against her fingers, hot. She snatched her hand back with a cry.
He shouted something to her over his shoulder, though she could hear nothing. He turned back to face his enemy once more. He lifted his staff high. A bolt of violet light shot through him and he vanished.
Idira staggered backwards, blinking, temporarily blinded by the sudden burst of bright light.
She heard the creak of the front door. Footsteps crossed the porch.
'Vanessa?' she called, squinting into the shadows.
'What ya be doin' out here, in da dark?' Unambi asked, quiet.
She jumped, startled to hear his voice and not Vanessa's. She turned, shaking, to point at the place where Khadgar had just been, her vision returning slow and steady. 'Did you . . . did you see that?'
Unambi moved down the steps of the porch, eyeing the spot. 'Dere be nothin' Unambi be seein'.'
Idira blinked. Khadgar. She had touched him. She looked down at the blood on her hand. She held it up to Unambi. 'Then, can you see this?'
Unambi looked at her hand then back at her. 'What's Unambi meant ta be seein'?'
She touched the blood. It vanished as though it had never been, the skin on her hand pale and clean once more.
'It's gone,' she whispered. She looked up at Unambi, her eyes filling with tears. What if Khadgar was hurt? What if it had been his blood on her hand? She couldn't bear it. The Light was cruel, only showing her tiny fragments of him, and none of it making any sense.
'Da Light be gettin' stronga' in ya,' Unambi murmured, nodding. 'I been waitin' for dat. Don' ya be worryin' Unambi be helpin' ya to use it, he be knowin' a ting or two about da magic.'
Idira rubbed the back of her arm across her eyes, forcing her tears away, ashamed to be of thinking of Khadgar when Vanessa was missing.
'Vanessa's gone,' she whispered. 'I was trying to find her with my Light, instead I saw someone else.'
Unambi patted Idira's shoulder, gentle. 'Ya be savin' da Light for ya'self. It don' be for everyone. Unambi be a Gurubashi, he be da one ta be findin' Vanessa.' He held out his hand. 'Let's be goin'.'
'No,' Idira pulled back. 'I want to stay here and wait, in case she comes back.'
Unambi shifted, uneasy. 'I don' like ta be leavin' ya behind.'
Despite her inner turmoil, and her fear for Khadgar, Idira found a smile for Unambi. 'It's alright, this is my home, I know every nook and cranny. And I have the boat if I need it. Anyway, someone has to stay. If Vanessa comes back and we are both gone, she might leave again.'
Unambi looked down at his hands, he clenched them into fists, his unwillingness to leave Idira behind tangible. She touched his hand. 'I have the murloc, I am not alone. Please find her, you'll be faster alone.'
He shook his head, reluctant. 'I don' be likin' dis.' He looked out over the horizon, then back at Idira, fierce. 'I won' be long. Don' make me regret dis.'
'Go,' Idira urged him, thinking of how much time had already passed and the hyenas that roamed the fields. 'Bring her home.'
He went into the house and came back out wearing his armour, his daggers at his hips. He moved across the yard, back and forth, seeking Vanessa's trail, he stopped and crouched down. He grunted and got up, loping away across the fields, following Vanessa's footsteps. His silhouette moved over a low hill and merged with the horizon. Idira turned back to the spot where Khadgar has stood. Show me. She whispered.
Nothing happened. She wondered what had changed. Maybe she needed to be frightened? She tried to be afraid and asked again. Nothing happened. She went to the porch and sat down on the steps, the night's breeze warm against her skin, blowing tendrils of her hair across her face. She tucked them behind her ears, trying to puzzle out what had changed.
She looked up at the stars again and found the one she hoped belonged to Khadgar. It had transited across the sky and now lay low on the horizon. Soon it would be gone. She felt her heart clench. Don't go.
A thought struck her. She sat up straight, chills running down her spine. What if it only worked when they were both under the influence of the Light at the same time? When she had dreamed of him, he had been thinking of her, or at least of her Light. Tonight, something must have been happening in his world and he needed answers, and he had called to her Light at the same time she had asked the Light for help.
She sat back, leaning against the top step of the porch and scoffed, bitter. What was she supposed to do, use the Light all the time waiting for the chance to see Khadgar's shadow and him to see hers? She scuffed her shoe in the dust. None of it made any sense. Was she able to use her Light or was the Light using her? She turned her attention back up to the star, watching as it lowered into the distant horizon.
'I don't know what I am,' she whispered, her fingers moving to her hand where the blood had landed. 'But if my Light can do anything, please just protect him and keep him safe.'
A tingling shot through her, fading as fast as it arrived. She sighed. She had no idea what had just happened. Perhaps she had helped him. She hoped so, but she would never know.
Unambi returned alone, just as the sky shifted from a deep shade of pink to orange, heralding the dawn of a new day.
Idira stood up, never having left her spot, having waited, hoping her niece would return, safe. Unambi went to the well without saying a word and drew a bucket of water. He drank deep before coming to her. He settled into his crouch. She waited.
He told her, grim, how he had found Vanessa just in time to see her knocking on the door of a ramshackle farmhouse, two hours' walk distant. The door opened and an old man and woman had looked out, wary. She'd said something and they'd stared at her, astonished, before bundling her inside. He couldn't hear what she'd said, even with his enhanced hearing. He'd had to stay far back, behind a hill, using the only cover he could find.
'I don't understand,' Idira said. 'Why would she run to strangers when she had us? And what could she tell them to make them want to help her? She's the daughter of VanCleef, a man hated by anyone not in the Brotherhood.' She eyed Unambi. 'Or do you think they were in the Brotherhood?'
Unambi scoffed and looked away. 'Dey too old ta be anyting. She be a child. She only be seein' in black an' white.' He picked up a stone, and tossed it across the yard. 'I neva' tried ta help VanCleef. She be knowin' dat.'
Idira stared at him. 'What are you saying?' she asked. 'That despite her grief, a six-year-old had the presence of mind to use you to get away from the ship, with the intention to leave us as soon as she had the chance? For what reason?'
Unambi sniffed and looked back at Idira, his eyes cold. 'We don' be on da same side, her and me. I be seein' it in her eyes all da time I be rowin' dat boat. She couldn't stand da sight o' me. She be needin' someone ta blame for her father's downfall. Dat one seems ta be me, for now.'
'Do you think she will tell those people about us?' Idira felt her hands clench into fists, a slash of resentment shooting through her. She'd had one day of happiness. One.
Unambi grunted. 'We be findin' out soon enough, but I don' tink so. If I be guessin' I don' tink she be tellin' dem da truth, she's got a plan, dat one. She be pointin' in da opposite direction o' us, ta Jac's camps.'
Idira said nothing. What was there to say? What could she do? Tears gathered in her eyes. Even dead, VanCleef still managed to cause misery. Her last connection to her sister, gone, because of him. She had believed with his death and their liberation the pain was over and she could begin to heal, but no, it was going to take a little while longer yet. She turned away, went back into the house and climbed into the hammock. She closed her eyes, exhausted and slept, dreaming of Myra, of Benny, of Vanessa, of VanCleef, and finally of Khadgar and the balcony on the floating city. He smiled at her and conjured a little bird into his hand. She touched its soft breast before it flew away into the gardens of the city.
When she woke a few hours later, she thought of the bird and realised her heart ached just a little bit less.