Against the Tide - Chapter 1 - Domestic_Ice (2024)

Chapter Text

Using a Mage Hand to unlock the door, Kir bustled into the room. The suite was bright and airy, with a tall window overlooking the grounds. There was a single bed against the wall, neatly made, a desk by the window, and a small table with two chairs. In the corner was a bookcase piled with tomes, scrolls, and even a few novels and games. A warm carpet softened the cold flagstones.

As Kir entered, the girl seated at the desk rose to her feet. She was impeccably dressed in flowing robes and had her hair done up in elaborate braids. A pair of simple satin slippers completed the ensemble.

“Good morning, Oracle,” Kir sing-songed.

“Good morning, Kir,” the girl replied politely.

Kir gestured her towards the table in the corner and the Oracle approached, taking her seat only after a nod from Kir.

“Now, we have a full itinerary lined up for the day. First, I have brought in a tutor for two hours of study on Fallinese history from the 730s-800s, followed by a review of the key political figures of the modern Court of Stars. After that—"

As she spoke, Unseen Servants entered with a breakfast tray and placed it on the table in front of the Oracle. Two poached eggs, a slice of waybread, and a small bowl of fruit glistened appetizingly in the morning light.

The girl ignored the meal with practiced ease and turned her attention to the schedule that Kir had slid to her.

Kir continued on with her schedule review. “And, presuming I receive a good report back from your tutors, you may have an hour of free time before bed.”

The Oracle dipped her head in thanks. “Thank you, Kir.”

“Any visions to report?”

The girl shook her head. “No, Kir.”

Kir cast a critical eye over the Oracle’s outfit, scanning for flaws or wrinkles as the tray of eggs slowly cooled and congealed. Finally, she nodded her approval. “Now then, go ahead and eat up. You have a busy day ahead of you.”

Immediately, the girl slid the tray closer and began to wolf down the food just a little faster than politeness would dictate. A pointed look from Kir saw the Oracle straighten up and slow to a pace and comportment that benefited her courtly station. Satisfied with the quick adjustment, Kir saw no reason to correct the girl any further.

It had been a long and tedious few months, but it was remarkable what a simple regime of consistent reinforcement could bring. In as little as a year or two, the Oracle would be fit to be presented to the Court of Stars and take up her rightful place and Kir would be lauded for her efforts.

*~*~*

Four Months Earlier

Adaine hummed to herself as she strolled along the path through the graveyard. The air was still crisp and cold, any earlier hint of good spring weather scared off by the gathering clouds promising rain. She was out for a walk in the early dawn light. She loved Mordred Manor and all its residents, but with no less than six teenagers and three adults under one roof, it could be more than a little chaotic sometimes.

Her and Aelwyn were tentatively rebuilding their relationship, but it was still a change to go from having her own room to sharing her space around the clock. By unspoken mutual decision, they had staggered their trancing times. Aelwyn still needed hours more rest than normal and Adaine had taken to rising early, around 4am, and slipping out for some fresh air.

It had only been a few weeks since they dragged themselves home from the Nightmare Forest and everyone was a little on edge. Half of them had died and they’d thrown themselves back into school like nothing had ever happened. Still, the routine of normalcy was a comfort.None of them were sleeping well. Somehow confronting all of their worst fears and inner demons in the form of drug-induced nightmares had put most of them off a healthy sleep pattern in the immediate aftermath.

Riz especially was twitchy, struggling to relax without a mystery after long months spent in feverous research.

Kristen was busy trying to establish the religion of Cassandra, spending almost as much time avoiding it as she did try to drum up followers. Meanwhile, her and Tracker circled each other, their relationship strained after their spring break adventure.

Fig seemed mostly unaffected, or at least she played it off that way. She had a whole domain in Hell to handle and it was keeping her busy. She’d taken to disappearing from the Manor at odd hours, seeking out Ayda at the Compass Points Library.

Gorgug had retreated to the Thistlespring household. He’d tentatively started working in the shop with his parents, the tinkerers thrilled that their son was expressing interest in Artifice.

Fabian was clearly shaken by their adventure, although he claimed otherwise. He’d thrown himself into hours of training, practicing sword forms with his mother from nearly dawn to dusk.

None of them had talked about what they had seen in the Forest.

Aelwyn was also visibly unsettled, alternating between the charming mask that she put around adults, being unusually sappy, and her normal vitriolic banter. She was also still clearly exhausted, often retreating silently upstairs for a mid-day nap.

Adaine traced the scar on her chest where the unicorn had stabbed her. It had been one hell of an adventure and not one she was eager to repeat anytime soon. At least there had been a few upsides, she thought as she grasped the reassuring weight of the Sword of Sight in its leather holster.Fabian had offered to train her in fencing so she could learn to wield the weapon properly, but they hadn’t had time to do much more than review basic footwork. Over the summer, he had promised. She might even sign up a martial course in the fall; there was an elective for primary spellcasters who wanted to brush up on their weapon skills.

She sometimes wondered if she should feel more conflicted about killing her father. She could still feel the phantom feeling of his bones splintering under her arcane hand as he flew across the clearing. Something to talk about Jawbone with. Or maybe with a counsellor who wasn’t her adoptive father. Mostly all she felt was relief that he was gone. She snorted. Who knew that patricide could solve so many of her problems?

As the threatened raindrops began to fall, she hurried back to the manor. It was too soon for most of the residents to be up, and she didn’t want to disturb Aelwyn’s sleep bustling about the tower. She wasn’t in the mood for conversation yet anyways.

The morning mail had arrived when she was out and she flipped through the stack, sorting out bills and other important post for the adults. She tossed aside a thick envelope of creamy parchment embossed with the emblem of the Court of Stars; the third one in a week. She’d read the earlier ones, enticing her to return to Fallinel with promises of status and tutors and top-notch education and her duty to blah blah blah. She almost set it ablaze but held back. One of Jawbone and Sandra Lynn’s few household rules was no arson indoors.

Adaine tiptoed back upstairs quietly and packed quickly, strapping her components pouches to her leg and stepped through the transportation door to the Compass Point library. It was hours before the library would be open to the public, but Adaine had a standing invitation to visit and peruse the shelves whenever she wanted.

Slipping through the dark library to her favourite reading nook, she unpacked her bags. She pulled a cup of hot tea from her jacket as she settled in, slinging the denim over the back of the chair.

*~*~*

A couple hours later, it was late enough that she was ready to go home and have breakfast with her family.

Adaine’s ears pricked up as she heard the familiar rattle of Fig’s skateboard on cobblestones outside. Fig had been sneaking out to see Ayda at all hours of the day and night since they had returned from their spring break quest. She didn’t really need to sneak, given that there was a built-in teleportation door connecting Mordred and the Compass Points Library, but Fig enjoyed the chaos, concocting all manner of disguises and creating disturbances before slipping out in the commotion.

The rest of the house would rather that she just left the normal way, but Fig “liked to keep her skills sharp”.

The rattle escalated into shouts and swearing as the sound of a commotion building up. She heard Fig’s voice hollering indistinctly in the distance amid a loud strum of music from her bass.

One of the joys of visiting Leviathan was its air of absolute lawlessness. The city was rife with pickpockets, thieves, and more pirates that could be counted, and that did occasionally translate into scuffles. Nothing that her party couldn’t handle, but enough to keep the visits interesting. Adaine hurriedly stuffed her gear into her bag, resting her hand on the hilt of her sword as she stepped out onto the street, eyes sweeping for threats.

Fig—or the fight—was nowhere in sight, but the clatter of wheels and shouting continued. TRAP! her instincts screamed as she wheeled around back into the library.

Without conscious input, she threw a Dispel Magic over her shoulder at the source of the sound, a flash of divine insight guiding her movements. The illusory sound of skateboard wheels on cobblestones cut out, leaving the street in dead silence. Leviathan was never silent.

As she fled, she felt a Hold Person briefly ensnare her before she snapped out of it. She spun, lashing out with the Sword of Sight to guide her attack. She drove the sword towards her invisible attacker, slashing a gash into their upper chest before she even registered who had attacked her.

Dropping invisibility spells, six more wizards advanced. All were elves wearing nondescript robes. She upcast a Lightning Bolt, blasting a burst of energy into the cluster of wizards. As the elves scattered to evade, she Blinked into the Ethereal Plane and turned to flee towards the Compass Points.

If she got kidnapped again, she would never live it dorubbwn. Why wouldn’t they just leave her alone, damnit!

Before she could get far, a Forcecage snapped up around her, its range extending into the plane and locking her in place. She attempted to Misty Step through the invisible walls, but was unsuccessful, bouncing back on as the spell failed. Worry gripped her chest. Seven on one was not good odds. Cornered, she flickered back to the mortal plane and powered up a Chromatic Orb even as she shook off a Command spell. f*ck f*ck f*ck, she chanted inwardly.

She fought, dredging every last reserve to dodge the spells flying her way, trying to retreat to safety. Worryingly, every single spell was meant to trap, enchant, or control. Her attackers were taking great care to avoid so much as singeing her with spellfire.

Even as the attack sizzled and sent one of her attackers staggering, she saw a wizard raise his hands to prepare a teleportation spell. Teleports could only affect willing creatures, but there were loopholes.

Before she could flee, another attacker finally landed a Dominate Person spell on her that she wasn’t able to snap out of. Drop your weapon and accompany us, he commanded.

Adaine and the crowd of wizards vanished from sight, the Sword of Sight lying abandoned on the ground.

She landed in a crouch from the teleport spell, shaking off the Domination effect. She snapped off another Chromatic Orb towards the cluster of wizards to her left. One shielded while three more piled on counterspells.

She flung spell after spell only to have every last one counterspelled. Disarmed of her weapon and arcane focus, she had only her wits and her spells. Wizards were incredibly powerful combatants, capable of doing nearly anything with enough time or preparation. They could raise armies of elementals, travel between realms, and blast monsters to smithereens.

And none of it was worth a damn when she was outnumbered so badly. Eventually she slowed to a stop. It would be stupid to burn all her spell slots futilely when she wasn’t about to land a single blow.

Once she stopped attacking, one of the wizards raised his hand to cast a Sending and a young-looking elf dressed in crisp white robes entered. It was hard to tell age on an elf; she could have been anywhere from 50 to 300.

“Hello, Oracle.”

“Not you again,” Adaine groaned. “What do you want?” This was getting utterly ridiculous. Why did they need to have an Oracle so damn badly? It was Saturday morning and she had homework to do.

Kir tsked. “So impolite.”

“If you would just stop f*cking kidnapping me, maybe I’d be more polite,” snapped Adaine. “This is twice in a month, don’t you have better things to do?”

“We were very polite, Oracle. We sent letters and missives and emissaries of the Court. You didn’t reply to the letters, ignored the missives, and were very rude to the emissaries.” Kir sounded disappointed, like it was the height of bad manners for Adaine to not drop her entire life to return to a country that she hated.

“You tried this before,” Adaine reminded her. “As I recall, it ended with a wizard ripping the sun out of the sky and your tower flattened into rubble. What in the world makes you think this will go any better than last time?”

Kir smiled pleasantly. “For one, your principal is now banned from Fallinel for the next 300 years on the grounds of unilaterally nearly starting a war. For another, this place has been warded down to the subfloor against scrying and divination. Summon him all you like, it won’t make a difference. Do you have any idea where you are?”

Taking a moment to collect herself now that the barrage of spells had stopped, Adaine took in her surroundings. They were indoors, in a deserted windowless room with grey flagstone walls and floors. There were no fewer than 18 mages surrounding her, hands raised in a casting position, counterspells glowing at their fingertips.

Adaine eyed the mages with disdain. “A little overkill, don’t you think?”

Kir ignored the quip as she stepped forward. “I want the same thing I have always wanted, Oracle. To see you step up to your civic duty and take your place in the Court of Stars. The Elven Oracle is a crucial part of the Fallinese government, and we simply will not tolerate your defiance any further.” She stepped forward again, reaching her hand out to Adaine. “We can chalk the disarray of your first visit up to.… youthful exuberance and lack of cultural education after years overseas, but really, this must— ow!”

Adaine bit her. Her own damn fault for putting her fingers so close.

The elf sighed. “Well, this was expected.” She nodded to the head wizard. “Begin.”

Immediately, three of the wizards flung Command spells at Adaine.

Cast

Cast

Cast

She shook off the first two, but the third spell took. Helplessly, her hands raised to cast Ray of Sickness, only to have it Counterspelled by a different wizard before it could even form shape to do damage.

Again and again, the wizards volleyed Command spells at her. She fought back, struggling. Every spell attempted was immediately countered, arcane energy snuffed out before it could even form shape. Frustrated, she hurled herself at the nearest wizard with an unarmed strike, only to be caught in a Hold Person spell.At last, she was completely drained. Each Command produced only cantrips. One of the wizards stepped forward and unbuckled her components pouch while she was held motionless.

The translucent bubble of a prison orb sprang up around her and Adaine felt the sudden uncomfortable feeling of a stranger rifling through her thoughts. Childishly, she immediately began to picture one of Kristen’s most disgusting moldy bottles of protein shake left on the counter in a futile attempt to throw off the mental invasion.

Kir withdrew. “As expected, you have no true intentions of cooperating. Yet. No matter, I have accounted for this silly bit of childish rebellion into my project timeline. We’ll give you a few weeks to cool your heels, then reassess. Enjoy your stay, Oracle.” Kir spun on her heel and walked out without so much as a backwards glance, the rest of the wizards trailing out after her.

*~*~*

After waiting a few minutes to be sure that she was alone, she resummoned Boggy from his pocket dimension. His soft roundness and calming croaks soothed her even as she trudged in place.She wasn’t afraid. She was infuriated and annoyed, but not afraid. Last time this had happened, her friends had broken her out in less than a day and they would probably beat that record the second time around.Cradling the frog close, she plotted furiously. She had no weapons, no arcane focus, and no spell components. Three material-less cantrips: Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, and Ray of Frost. Think, think, think. She rattled through a half dozen plans, discarding each one in turn.

What felt like hours later, she heard a Sending spell. Fig’s voice sounded in her ear: “Adaine, you okay? You’re not picking up your crystal. Everything good?”

Adaine signed in relief. It’s not that she had been worried, of course, but it was good to hear from Fig. Learning Sending from Ayda had been the best 150gp she had ever spent. Now that she had made contact, her party would get her out of this and then they could start razing this place to the ground. She counted her words out on her fingers:

“Went to Compass Points. f*cking bastard Elvish wizards kidnapped me and stuck me in orb. Drained of spells. Don’t know location, Fallinel? Come rescue, help kill them?” Helpfully, the pirate variant on Sending allowed for unlimited curse words, stretching the spell beyond its normal 25 word limit.

Fig’s voice rang incredulously in her ears: Again? You’d think the dumbasses would have learned. I’ll get everyone together and Ayda can teleport us. We’ll have you home for dinner before you know—

The sending cut off. Fig had never been good at keeping track of the spell word limit.

Adaine sent back: Good plan. Can you read my location? I was teleported straight inside, no windows

There was a long pause. Adaine paced in her cage, waiting impatiently for several long minutes. Eventually another Sending came.

“We can’t get a read on your location, must be blocked. Will get Ayda to do her div wizard thing to scry. Are you hurt?”

“No injuries, going to kill those bastards. Left my sword and jacket in Leviathan. Can you scry on Kir?

Not having her location scryable was a little concerning, but nothing to worry about. Ayda was an excellent divination wizard and between her and Aelwyn, they’d find her in no time flat. Adaine counted back her words and added: “Love you.”

*~*~*

Sandra Lynn rubbed her eyes as she walked into the kitchen. Jawbone was already there, flipping pancakes. He handed her a steaming mug of tea and she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek in thanks.

Fig was sat at the table, barely awake as she nursed a cup of coffee. Beside her, Lydia sliced grapes for fruit salad.Ragh and Tracker were both away for the day, out preparing for their upcoming road trip, but the large house seemed as full as ever. Some days it felt like feeding a horde of teenagers was a full-time job.

Aelwyn joined them, stifling a yawn. Their latest addition was barely settled, tiptoeing around the house. She had yet to recover from her long year in Fallinel and her face was still creased with deep eyebags. Jawbone had sourced a walking cane for her, but she barely used it, preferring to brace herself on the nearest surface if it meant not showing weakness in front of strangers.

Kristen was hitting her with a Greater Restoration at least once a week, Fabian slipping diamonds into her equipment pouch to cover the cost.Speaking of, Kristen came pelting down the stairs, still buttoning her shirt, drawn out by the smell of food just as Jawbone started plating up the pancakes.

“Anyone seen Adaine yet?” he asked as he juggled plates, pancakes, and spatula.

Fig passed over the note on the table. “She said she was going to go read at the Compass Points for a few hours before everyone else woke up. I’ll get her.” She got up immediately and started towards the stairs.

“Just text her,” Sandra Lynn called after Fig. “If we send you to the Compass Points after Adaine, we’ll never get you back before dinner.”

Fig grinned unrepentantly as she sat back down, her plan to see Ayda foiled for the minute. She reached into her pocket for her crystal instead.

hey kristen is gonna eat all the pancakes if you don’t drag your head out of a book and come home

A minute later, she added:

ask ayda if she wants to come too

Jawbone set aside a plate for Adaine as the rest of the table started passing food around.A few minutes later, Fig gave up and called Adaine, only to go straight through to crystalmail.

As they finished eating, Jawbone looked down at his watch. “I hate to be a worrywart, but one of you kids mind shooting off a Sending?”

Fig cast the spell, then listened, her expression morphing into a thunderous scowl. “Those high elf bastards took her. Again.”

Everyone’s heads whipped to Fig as she broke the news.

Aelwyn looked furious. “They did what,” she said flatly.

Fig tilted her head as she listened. “Right off the streets of Leviathan. She’s not hurt, but she’s out of spells and they’ve stuck her in an orb.”

“I will bloody murder them,” Aelwyn fumed. “I will burn their stupid little tower to the ground and melt their spellbooks into slag. Who do they think they are—”

The kids had already leapt into action. Kristen was calling the group thread to marshal up Riz, Gorgug, and Fabian. Fig had rushed upstairs to throw together a pile of gear, returning with a mishmash of bags and weapons and snacks.

Aelwyn stood to join them, only to sit back down again quickly, poorly concealing a dizzy spell.

Over Aelwyn’s head, Jawbone and Sandra-Lynn exchanged a worried glance. Sandra-Lynn laid her hand over Aelwyn’s reassuringly. “We’ll get her back,” she promised.

*~*~*

Time passed. Adaine got a Sending spell every morning and night. These messages were her only way of tracking time and she cherished every second of them. In the long hours between, she seethed and plotted. She couldn’t help but compare to the last time she was in this situation. Her friends had burst in to rescue before she had even been gone for a day.

It seemed that the Court of Stars had planned better this time around. Wherever she was being kept, it clearly wasn’t a well-known location like Calethriel Tower. Even worse, it had been shielded from scrying. Not even Ayda could trace her whereabouts, apparently. Fig had looped the divination wizard in immediately and they had spent hours pouring over ritual spells to triangulate her. Without a fix on her location, they’d be stuck searching the entire nation.

There were nearly as many methods for blocking scrying as there were divination methods. Wizardry class went over them in detail: Nondetection spells, amulets to prevent location scrying, even Private Sanctums. She’d written an essay in history class about the formation of Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum for his Circle of Eight, blocking all forms of scrying and external communication to his castle.

Despite the regular messages, she could feel herself getting more incoherent as the days slipped past. Her plans for escape, already vague and untenable, began to lose focus. Her tongue felt thick and dry in her mouth. She knew the spells on the orb prevented her from dying of dehydration or fatigue, but her throat burned with thirst. The Sendings turned more worried, her friends growing increasingly frantic as they searched for her.

Aelwyn’s voice sounded in her head: “We’ll find you, I swear. We’ll burn that f*cking country to the ground if that’s what it takes.

*~*~*

Exactly seven days (14 Sending spells) after her kidnapping, Kir visited. Adaine forced her blurry vision to focus, quickly dismissing Boggy at the sound of footsteps.

“Well, Oracle, how are you finding your accommodations?”

The elf was alone, no longer surrounded by mages ready to counterspell at a moment’s notice. She’s a lot braver now that I’m out of spell slots. Adaine bet she could take her in a fight. Kir might be a more experienced wizard than Adaine was, but Adaine knew she was a better fighter. Research wizards seldomly made good combatants. Bet you Kir didn’t kill a dragon when she was fifteen, she thought snidely.

“f*ck off.” Adaine stumbled as she spoke, but caught herself before she fell. She’d managed to stay on her feet all this time, she wasn’t going to f*cking crawl in front of Kir of all people.

She scraped together her energy, trying to appear unaffected by her slip. Fumbling for a distraction, she said, “You said earlier that it would be a diplomatic incident if Arthur Aguefort came back to Fallinel. You don’t think it’s a diplomatic incident to kidnap a Solisian minor?”

Kir hummed thoughtfully. “Out of Solace, maybe. From Leviathan? That lawless pile of rubble? Not likely. More importantly, Oracle, you are not a Solisian citizen. You are the daughter of Angwyn and Arianwen Abernant, two disgraced high-ranking diplomats in the Fallinel public service. With your parents...” Kir trailed off as she considered her words, “unavailable at the moment, there are grounds for you to be considered a ward of the state. Repatriating a lost daughter of Fallinel is hardly going to draw the ire of the Council of Chosen. Furthermore, the Elven Oracle is essential to the functioning of the nation. It is because of their vision and prophecy that the nation has stood for thousands of years.”

Adaine nodded, faux politeness suffusing her features. “I do see how that would be difficult. Have you considered developing a method of running your country that doesn’t require the divinatory input of a sixteen-year-old?”

Kir didn’t dignify that with an answer.

Adaine stayed silent for a minute, gathering her strength. As much bravado as she’d put on, she was fully aware that a week without rest had tanked her cognitive skills. Her thoughts felt sluggish even as she struggled to appear unaffected.

“This is pointless, you know,” she spoke up at last. “I’m not going to roll over and just do what you want. You may as well let me out and maybe I’ll consider a remote work arrangement and send you an annual prophecy report.” Even making that concession burned a little, but she pushed it aside.

Kir shook her head. “No, I’m afraid that won’t be good enough. It is perfectly clear from your comportment during your last visit that you are lacking in proper education and have been left to run wild on your own devices. You are the Elven Oracle; you belong in Fallinel, not off galivanting unsupervised in some heathen country getting up to adventures.” She said the word “adventures” like it was a dirty word.

Adaine was exhausted. She ached, muscles trembling with fatigue. It had been a week since she had been taken and a little seed of dread was starting to form in her gut. No. She could do this. She hadn’t given in to her father and she wasn’t about to give in to Kir. She looked defiantly away even as Kir prattled on about her poor upbringing overseas.

After a few minutes with no response, Kir dusted her hands on the front of her robes. “Well, I see you haven’t changed your temperament. Foolish of you, really. Let me be blunt, Oracle. Elves are long-lived and we have a deep well of patience. What is a year or five to an elf? I have no qualms about leaving you here to consider your options until you come to your senses. We don’t need our Oracle to be sane. I’d like it, of course. I believe strongly that the Oracle is an essential part of the Court of Stars and that your true cooperation could usher in a golden age for Fallinel. But I have patience. We can wait.”

Adaine wanted to punch her smug stupid face. She felt her hand curl into a fist as Kir walked out of the room and Adaine was alone once again. With no one to put a mask on for, Adaine slumped with fatigue.

She rested her forehead against the cool glass of her orb for a few seconds before it spun out of reach.

*~*~*

Three days (six Sendings) later, Adaine stumbled and tripped, jarring her wrist as she landed.

We’ll find you

We love you

Jawbone sends his love

Her wrist throbbed.

*~*~*

The entire drawing room at Mordred Manor had been turned into a war room.Books on tracking and scrying were stacked haphazardly on side tables and empty mugs of coffee dotted every surface. Across the main table, a detailed map of Fallinel was laid out.In the corner, Riz’s conspiracy board took up an entire wall, push pins and red string connecting every possible clue. He and Fabian were constructing a grid system, trying to pinpoint a list of searchable locations.

Technically, they all still had final exams and essays to write, but everyone, even Riz, had tossed that by the wayside. Fig hadn’t so much as stepped foot in the school since the minute Adaine was kidnapped. Ayda had left Rawlins in charge of her library and had dedicated herself to searching for her friend.

The adults were trying for the diplomatic approach. Adaine had clearly been taken by agents of the Court of Stars in a politically-motivated attack. Sklonda had driven down to Bastion City to seek an audience with the Council of Chosen. The last time elves had invaded Solace and seized a minor from Solisian custody, the two nations had nearly gone to war. The circ*mstances were a little different, but Sklonda was hopeful that she could get some traction the legal way.

Riz ran his fingers through his hair.There was a sense of urgency underpinning everyone’s actions. When this had happened last time— what did this say about them that this was their second time orchestrating a kidnapping rescue in two months? Riz thought wryly. Last time, they had pinpointed Adaine’s location, broken her out, and levelled the building in the span of 36 hours.Now, they had been searching for days and didn’t even have so much as a bead on her location.

Taking in turns, Ayda, Fig, Aelwyn, or Kristen sent Sending spells every morning and evening, checking in with Adaine. The wizard had precious little information to share. She seemed in good spirits, if incandescently angry. As the days slipped past, Adaine becoming loss coherent, long pauses between the message and the reply.

One time, Adaine hadn’t responded at all, immediately triggering panic in everyone as she was barraged in Sending spells until she replied.

Riz forced himself to turn back to the map. As tired as he felt, it wasn’t a fraction as tired as he knew Adaine must be. He sipped his coffee, eyes flickering between the dozens of flagged locations on the map.

If she’s even in Fallinel at all.

For the third time that day, Ayda sat down to try and divine Adaine’s location. Divinatory insight gathered and built under her hands as she drew power. The spell surged forward— and then sputtered out. Blocked, again. She’d tried with photos, hair, and even a bit of blood that Kristen had scrounged from an old bandaid. They’d tried around the clock, hoping to strike gold in the cracks between recastings of whatever protective magic must be blocking their insight.

She had scried on the scene at Leviathan a dozen times, reaching into the past with elaborate clairvoyance rituals, taking detailed notes from every angle. There had been over two dozen wizards wearing plain robes with no markings or affiliations. The thought that her friend had been taken from right under her nose rankled her. Ayda prided herself on her excellent security methods and that should extend to the territory outside her library.

They hadn’t bothered to hide their faces and that would be their undoing. One by one, Ayda fixed their faces in her mind, using them as the basis to hunt down their locales. Most came back with the same static [redacted] results that plagued her search for Adaine, but a few had moved on. Some were clustered at the capital, Stellemere, and a handful of others were placed in scattered locations across Fallinel.

The information she had gleaned was quickly proving to be the formation of the next stage of their plan: Hunt down those people and interrogate them to find out where they had taken her friend. No stone would be left unturned.

Her wings rustled in fury. They had dared to take her friend from her library and she would obliterate them.

*~*~*

Seven days and fourteen Sending spells later, Kir returned. Too late, Adaine was unable to dismiss Boggy before Kir saw him. With a casual flick of her fingers, Kir cast a Witchbolt straight at Boggy, dematerializing him in an instant. Adaine’s rage flared even as she cried out at the loss of her companion.

f*ck. f*ckf*ckf*ck. She had no spell slot to resummon him, let alone any of the components. Boggy’s presence had been invaluable the past two weeks, his comforting croaks helping her keep it together even as her steps faltered after weeks of movement.

“Good day Oracle, and how are we feeling?” Kir asked politely, as if she hadn’t just dispelled her familiar and shattered one of her last beacons of hope in this stupid godsforsaken place.

Adaine took a deep breath. As much as she wanted to yell and rage, she quelled the instinct. She was on her own for now. If she wanted to get home, she would need to do it herself and there was no way of doing it inside the orb. Just play along.

“What do you want?"

Kir started blathering on about the important nature of the Elven Oracle before Adaine interrupted her with a wave of her hand: “No, I know all of that. What do you want?”

Kir folded her hands neatly in front of her robes. “I want you to be capable of holding a civil conversation without trying to blow my head off or throwing a childish fit.”

Adaine stomped down her base instincts. She could play along with Kir’s little games if it meant getting out of here. She braced herself, putting every trace of emotion away so she could go along with this farce. Folding up anger and rage and desperation and even a thin streak of fear. The attempt at deceit was made ten times harder by the crippling fatigue weighing down her limbs and clouding her thoughts.

“Fine,” she ground out. “I’ll be ‘civil’.”

The last time she had been captured, she had spat in her father's face and told them that they may as well kill her because she would never ever do what they wanted. Two weeks into their second attempt, she was vividly reminded of the state Aelwyn was after her rescue. The bags under her eyes, the tremours in her hands, and how she couldn't hold so much as a basic conversation without looping, her ability to form memories shattered.

The words tasted like ash on her tongue. She felt like a coward for giving in, but she didn't want to see how long it would take for the orb to break her mind too.

Kir smiled. “I’m glad to hear that, Oracle. It seems some reflection time has served you well. I have a room prepared for you. Not quite as nice as what we offered you when you stayed at Calethriel Tower – you’ll need to prove your cooperation before you earn more – but it’s a sight better than your current accommodations.

"I will of course need you to agree to some basic ground rules first. Please, be civilized and refrain from attacking me or any of our esteemed guests. Do not try to leave or there will be consequences. Lastly, I would ask you to mind your tongue and be polite, but I can see that is a fruitless endeavour. No matter, we’ll have plenty of time to work on that.”

The other woman’s grating smug voice made Adaine almost want to change her mind and go back to slinging insults. She bit her tongue. It wouldn’t be long until her friends were coming and she would be more help if she was rested and not a liability in the fight.

“Fine,” she repeated through gritted teeth.

The orb slowed to a stop and then dispelled. Adaine fell two feet to the ground and immediately staggered, too exhausted to stand. She felt the weight of two weeks without food, water, or rest press down upon her. She knew cognitively that she would have been dead days ago if not for the life-preserving magic of the orb.

Kir held a simple metal ring up to her face. It was thin polished silvery metal, with a smaller ring affixed to the front and two wicked-looking prongs protruding from the back. A collar. Adaine pushed down her instinct to fight. All she had left were a handful of cantrips and weak as she was, it would not go well.

“You have got to be f*cking kidding me.” Adaine said flatly. “Abso-f*cking-lutely not.”

Kir smiled cheerfully. “I’m sure you understand that we need some assurance of your good behaviour. We can’t simply allow you to regain your spells and run around causing a ruckus, now can we?”

Adaine glared at her. Yes, heaven forbid she cause a ruckus after being kidnapped. Her mind, ever-spinning, flipped through the dozens of negative spell effects, compulsions, and other “incentives for good behaviour” that could be imbued into a “willing” subject. Never mind the sheer burning indignity. How f*cking dare she. Who the f*ck did Kir think she was—

Adaine cut her thoughts off before she could spin herself up even further.

There were three facts:

  • Her friends hadn’t come
  • She needed to get out of this orb
  • She needed to get her spells back and escape

Adaine made herself to unclench her fists. If there was a single goddamn thing she could do to fight this, she would have done it already and gotten out of here. Helpless fury curled bitterly in her throat.

She let her shoulders slump in defeat. It went against every base instinct she had, but better to let Kir think that she was cowed then spend weeks deteriorating further in an orb. Adaine closed her eyes. She stuffed every last wisp of pride into a box deep in the back of her mind and ran over the plan in her head. This had better be worth it. Get rested, get spells, get home. Optional: burn this place into the ground and dance on the ashes. Whatever it was enchanted in that metal, she was sure Ayda or Aelwyn or even Gorgug would be able to sort it out. Soon.

Kir placed the ring around her neck, lining the two prongs against the top of her spine. Brave of Kir to put her fingers back in biting distance, she thought with a flash of dark amusem*nt before the ring shrunk to fit.

Adaine screamed as the prongs embedded themselves into the back of her neck, knees buckling as jolts of pain flaring down her spine, all the way out to her fingers and toes. As quickly as it began, the pain stopped, leaving her panting for breath as she forced herself back on her feet. The ring wasn’t actively uncomfortable, but it felt strange and unnatural. The metal was cold but began to warm slowly as it rested on her skin.

Kir’s eyes gleamed with triumph. “Now then, shall we go for a walk and I will show you to your new accommodations, Oracle?”

Adaine followed, barely conscious, after Kir. Eventually they came to a bleak-looking room. It held a hard, narrow cot with a threadbare blanket, a toilet and sink behind a half-wall for privacy, a chair and a tiny desk, and nothing else. The room was cold and she shivered in the chill air.

The door clanged behind her and Adaine heard the lock bolt shut.

In some ways, she knew she had entered the most dangerous part of the game. Her fingers traced the cold metal around her neck. The orb had been physically taxing but it had nothing on the slew of mind tricks and challenges yet to come. This room was where the battle would be fought. Just until her friends came. Not long now.

Alone in the room, she lurched to the faucet and drank several gulps of water from her cupped hands. The water tasted strangely salty, like the sports drinks handed out at Aguefort after physical activity. Too tired to devote any more thought to it, she staggered to the bed and passed out.

Against the Tide - Chapter 1 - Domestic_Ice (2024)
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