Grey light had just begun to line the edges of the bedroom curtains when Myra's door opened. Idira sat up, afraid it might be VanCleef coming to pester her sister again, but it was only Lanira. In the half-light, her minder looked tired. Lanira glanced at the bed and held out her hand.
'I thought you might be in here,' she said. 'Come, let's get you dressed.'
Idira left the warm cocoon of blankets and took her minder's hand but hung back, her gaze fixed on her sister.
'Come, child,' Lanira said, although she lacked her usual ferocity, 'I don't have the energy for your antics today.'
Idira pointed at the huddled shape on the bed. 'Myra didn' move all night. I think somethin's wrong with her.'
Alarmed, Lanira let go of Idira and hurried to the bed. She turned Myra from her side onto her back and looked her over. 'How long has she been like this?' she demanded, sharp.
'Since I came here.'
'How long?' Lanira repeated, impatient.
Idira shrugged. 'Maybe two hours?'
Lanira pressed her fingers to Myra's neck. A long time passed. Lanira's breathing turned shallow.
'They're too far apart,' she murmured, frantic. She strode back across the room and grasped Idira's hand, yanking her, rough, out of the bedroom. Her hands shaking, Lanira pulled the door closed, her eyes darting up and down the hall, nervous. Idira looked around to see who Lanira was looking for, but the hall lay deserted. Her minder took a deep breath, calming herself.
'Go to your room,' she said, giving Idira a little push. 'And stay there!' she bossed over her shoulder as she hurried away.
Idira dawdled after Lanira, waiting until her minder disappeared down the staircase. On the first-floor landing overlooking the entrance hall with its black and white chequered floor, Idira dallied as she walked towards the stairs on the opposite side, occupying herself with trailing her fingers along the banister's carved wooden railings. Lanira reappeared from the back of the house, throwing a cloak over her shoulders, followed by two menservants. With a flourish of her gown, she swept out the front door.
Idira decided to wait. She could always run upstairs when Lanira came back. Her minder would never know. Idira sat down and pushed her legs through the railings, revelling in the feeling of her feet dangling in the air. She kicked her legs as the household staff hurried from one part of the house to another—the women dressed in smart black dresses and crisp white aprons, the men in black breeches, white shirts, and half aprons. They looked very elegant in their clothes, far too well-dressed to be scrubbing the floor. Yet there they were, a man and woman working together in silence, their movements across the marbled surface precise and rhythmic. It was like watching a dance. Idira began to feel a little sleepy. She leaned her head against the railings and closed her eyes.
She woke with a start. The hall lay deserted. Voices drifted from the back of the house. Someone laughed. A maid came into view carrying a glass vase containing a large arrangement of flowers. She set it onto the round table in the middle of the entrance hall, turning the vase this way and that until she was satisfied. Idira stood up, thinking about going back to Myra's room, to see if she had missed anything.
'And so we meet again, little one.'
Idira turned around. VanCleef stood in front of her, a small smile on his lips. He wore a pair of dark leather breeches, matching boots, a fitted white shirt, and a long black jacket, the edges of its lapels embroidered with golden thread. He pushed the sides of his jacket back and rested his hands on the grips of two daggers, one on each hip.
He glanced around the empty landing. 'Where is your minder?' he asked.
Idira pointed at the front door. VanCleef leaned over the banister to see. He raised a brow.
Idira nodded. 'I think she thinks Myra's sick.'
His hands left the dagger grips. He half-turned towards Myra's room. 'What do you mean 'sick'?'
Idira shrugged. 'I had a bad dream, so I went ta her bed, but she didn' move. She never moved all night.'
His face drained of colour. 'No,' he whispered. He bolted down the hall. Idira ran after him, catching up to him as he burst into Myra's room.
'Myra!' he called as he covered the distance to her bed in two strides. She didn't move or make a sound. Frantic, he tore away the blankets and pulled her naked body upright. Her head lolled, and a little blood came out of her mouth.
'No, no, no,' he murmured as he lay her back down onto the bed and felt her neck, just like Lanira had done. 'This isn't happening. I won't lose you, I won't.'
He crossed the room, his face hard and desperate all at the same time. He opened the door and almost collided with Lanira and an elegant woman Idira had never seen before, dressed head-to-toe in white. An elaborate headpiece with long beaded tassels concealed her face.
He roared a curse. Idira covered her mouth. That was a very, very bad word, even Papa hardly ever used it. Lanira and the new woman backed away, their heads bowed.
He grabbed hold of the woman in white's forearm and dragged her, stumbling behind him over to Myra. He let her go with so much force she slammed against the side of the bed.
'Save her,' he panted, 'or by the Light you will never see the ones you love again.' He pulled one side of his jacket back and let her see the dagger concealed there. Her eyes slid to the weapon. She swallowed and nodded.
He moved to the other side of the bed and took Myra's hand, his eyes on the woman in white, fierce, as if he dared her to fail. Idira crept to the end of the bed and wrapped her fingers around the top of the footboard.
'Is she going ta die?' she asked, feeling very frightened and alone all of a sudden.
'No,' VanCleef answered, sharp. 'Not today.'
Murmurs from the hall drifted in. Several maids clustered outside, nosy, trying to see in. At a dark look from VanCleef, Lanira hurried to close the door. She came back to help Arinna as she worked to remove her enormous headpiece.
'The Priestess Arinna trained in Stormwind's Cathedral, and is the most powerful healer in all of Westfall,' Lanira said to Idira, as she set the cumbersome thing aside. 'She will save your sister, you must believe it.'
Arinna took a deep breath and held her hands palm down over Myra's abdomen. Silence fell.
Idira closed her eyes and believed as hard as she could. She imagined Myra wearing one of her pretty dresses, her hair curled by the hot tongs and eating fine food at the grand table downstairs. Idira didn't know how to pray or the right words to say, so she mouthed the same words over and over, willing her sister to live.
Please, Myra, please don't go.
A glow of white light breached Idira's closed eyes. Something was happening. Idira cracked her eyes open a little to peek. The priestess's hands glowed pure white. Light, like liquid fire, poured out of them into Myra's torso. Arinna murmured strange words, her voice growing stronger, gaining power. The light intensified. Her gown began to shift, moving in invisible currents, like a living thing.
Still unconscious, Myra's back arched, her torso lifting toward the priestess's hands. Tendrils of darkness slithered from Myra's extremities to her torso, they gathered there, churning, malevolent. Idira gaped, there was so much, maybe one healer wouldn't be enough.
Arinna weaved her hands in the air, drawing the darkness to her. One, then another of the dozens of tendrils clinging to Myra slid up into the priestess's hands, her light cleansing the foul, viscous things, tendril by tendril, as soon as one disappeared, ten more slithered up from deep within Myra to join the mass coiling in her torso. A long time passed.
Idira's legs began to cramp from standing for so long. She forced herself to hold still, biting her lip as she rode out deep spasms of pain, unwilling to do anything that might break Arinna's concentration.
The priestess's voice wavered. She staggered, catching herself against the side of the bed. Lanira took hold of the priestess's shoulders, supporting her, her head bowed, her expression taut, willing Arinna to have the strength to go on.