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Clouds Over Cogham: Part Seven


by theschizophrenicpunk

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      Storms in Meridell are common. They always have been. It's not a strange sight.

      In wintertime, and often in the surrounding autumn and spring, darkness will swallow the land, and the rainclouds will take over. It's never a bad thing, though. Even when the skies turn black and the fog grows blinding, it's a comforting embrace. Family dinners become accompanied by hot borovan and the crackling of fire pits. Crops bloom wilder from the rains and the townsfolk know that the coming summer will be full of feasts. In sleet and snow, the children play with joyous hearts. In thunder and rain, families tell spooky stories by candlelight and snuggle up tight for deep sleep.

      Yes, storms in Meridell are common.

      But these clouds are not.

     

~

          

          VII: Family Infamous

      “Ra, are you sure you’re doing alright?”

      Mer has been talking to his sister for almost half an hour now, just trying to figure out what in Fyora’s name is happening to the world.

      The clouds descended, and everything has been black ever since; black, except for a discomforting violet light that seems to be coming from the clouds themselves — a miserable, swirling vortex of hatred and despair, smothering and deadly, cruel and malevolent. If Mer wasn’t scared enough of the storm that has now swallowed the mountains of his home, the fact that the clouds have taken over so much else of the realm — even reaching Raptura’s home in Bogshot many miles away — makes the terror root itself even deeper in his gut.

      Raptura coughs and coughs into the crook of her arm, but still irately flips a hand at her brother, trying to fake some sort of confidence in the very obviously poor condition of her body. “I’m fi—” — she coughs again — “fine, Mer. I’m fine; just... I must be getting kikoughela, or something.” She sniffles loudly as she finally manages to stop wheezing, then wipes her eyes of the tears caused by her aggressive hacking with the palm of her hand. She sneezes once, twice, three times, then Mer gives her a serious look. She tries to ignore it for a while, but eventually realises she can’t. She rolls her eyes. “Fine, maybe I’m getting sneezles, too...”

      Mer whimpers melodramatically, throwing his head back, keeping his eyes closed shut so he doesn’t have to see the clouds outside with the motion. Despite her best efforts not to, Raptura then coughs again from in front of him, and Mer whips his head back down to give her a stern glare.

      This entire time, Raptura has had her nose buried in the same book she’d been reading when Mer had first summoned her, trying as best as she can to help him figure out what could be wrong with the Ixi Chieftain. Still, though she’s trying desperately hard to ignore the thought of it, she seems to be having her own problems at the moment, and that’s keeping her from working too hard...

      Still, she tries to fake strength. She pokes a clawed finger at one of the book’s pages as she sniffles again. “Okay, so, it says here that when a faerie chooses a host, they wi—”

      Her sentence is cut short as a horrifying screech comes from behind her, making some of the trinkets scattered about her shelves and tables tremble with the foreign resonance. She throws her hands over her ears — as she has done the past few dozen times this happened — groaning angrily and grinding her fanged teeth. “Ugh, I’m getting so sick of this!” Then she coughs loudly again.

      Mer, too, was forced to recoil at the awful sound. The monster’s agonizing screaming is still loud and shrill enough to make Mer’s skin crawl, even just through this weak conjuration spell. “Is that still the plague serpent?” he asks, trying to massage some of the ache from his fluffy ears.

      Raptura snorts angrily, breathing out a few small, furious flames as she does so. “Yeah, Kastraliss has been going completely insane since the clouds came,” she gripes, angling her head over her shoulder to look out her window towards the swamp, trying to see if the plague serpent has come any closer. She’s luckily alright for now; though, honestly, part of her was hoping that the serpent was within attack range so she could zap it...

      Mer gives a short sigh. “What do you think is causing that?” he asks.

      Raptura’s still got her teeth clenched as she turns back to face him, her nostrils smoking from her fiery Draik fury. “Who knows with that stupid, overgrown Wadjet,” she mumbles, shaking her head and looking back into her book. She snorts again. A few more sparks illuminate her book’s pages. “Great, now I’ve lost my place...”

      “Do you think that could also be dark magic?” Mer asks.

      Raptura clears her throat to suppress a cough before speaking, then looks back up towards her brother. “What, that’s making Mister Hissy Fit over there keep shouting?” she says angrily.

      Mer can’t help but giggle lightly. “Nice pun,” he says, smiling brightly, but Raptura just rolls her eyes in response, then looks back down into her book. Mer continues on topic, “But yeah, because... I mean...”

      Raptura shakes her head as she continues to scan the page she’s flipped to. “That stupid beast has always had a temper,” she says, her tone almost as cruel as the clouds. “It’s just usually less vocal about it.”

      And, right on cue, another screech pierces the air.

      Raptura finally snaps at the sound. She lets out a fierce roar — much more fierce than even Mer would have expected her baby Draik lungs to be capable of — then throws her book to the ground. It lands with a thud strong enough to make almost everything in her home rattle. “That is it!” Raptura yells, though the forced volume only causes her to cough more. She jumps to her feet with a few flaps of her wings, then turns to grab at a sword that’s propped against a vanity to her left. “I am going to find that stupid worm, and I am going to skewer it!

      Mer cringes as Raptura gets another violent coughing fit, this time so aggressive that it forces her to double over and retch slightly. He reaches towards her illusion, as if to grab her arm and pull her back, but he knows he would only break the channel if he touched the smoke, so he forces himself to lace his hands in his lap instead. “Ra, you’re obviously way too sick to do anything right now...” he mutters worriedly.

      Despite her best efforts to fight it, Raptura is forced to sit back down when the fit of coughs makes her head start spinning and causes her stomach to grow sick. Mer balls his hands into fists and scoots back further away from the spellwindow, as if to give her space, despite the fact that he is actually on the complete opposite side of the realm. Raptura cradles her head in her hands as she tries to catch her breath, wheezing a bit. “Ugh, it’s just been going on for hours now,” she complains into her palms, her voice suddenly hoarse from the sickness’ outburst. “All of this atrocious noise is not helping with my headache...”

      Mer frowns as he inches closer once more. “Achy head, too?” he asks.

      Raptura rubs her temples. She’s in too much pain to try to hide or deny her obvious illness anymore. Still, all she says is, “Who knows?”

      Mer begins to tap his fingertips together nervously, looking down at his hands. “Ajani’s had a headache that won’t go away, too,” he says.

      Raptura slowly lifts her head again to turn her attention back to her brother, now looking equal parts frustrated and pained. “Did it also start after that storm a few days ago?” she asks.

      Mer nods uncomfortably. “I mean, that storm was probably related to these clouds, right?”

      Raptura rolls her eyes. “Obviously.”

      Mer isn’t hurt by the curtness of her comment. He’s far used to her attitude, and is also incredibly glad just to hear that she agrees. “Dark magic can cause storms, right?” he asks.

      Nod-nod. “All magic can cause storms if it’s powerful enough.”

      There is a long pause. Then, “Maybe the clouds have something to do with what’s possessing Chief and the serpent, yeah?” Mer asks.

      Raptura takes a few seconds to think, then sighs. “I think that’s obvious too, now, brother,” she mumbles tiredly.

      Mer can’t stand seeing his big sister this miserable. It makes his stomach churn just to think that these clouds are breaking down one of the strongest people he knows. Still, he tries to force his typical cheeriness in an attempt to lift her spirits. “Sorry,” he giggles, sounding mostly genuine, “I’m not as smart as you are.”

      Raptura gives Mer a halfhearted half-smile in response, but it doesn’t match her eyes. She truly is thankful that he’s trying so hard to solve her problems as well as his own, and doing so while still attempting to keep some semblance of optimism alive, but she’s too tired to really show it.

      Another screech breaks through the thick fog of the Bogshot Swamp, and Raptura cringes in pain, but it doesn’t seem to enrage her anymore. She doesn’t growl or breathe any smoke. She doesn’t cover her ears or reach for her weapons. She just looks defeated.

      Raptura has never been known to show any real emotions, positive or negative, under any circumstances whatsoever, so watching her grow so blindingly furious only a few minutes ago was already feeding Mer’s fears. Seeing her look so sad and hopeless now... it’s starting to make him feel sick. His big sister is one of the strongest, most fearless people he knows. If even she is beginning to crumble under the weight of whatever is taking over the realm, how is he supposed to deal with it?

      Is there even any point?

      “Brother, I, uh...”

      Raptura seems hesitant to keep speaking once she’s started.

      Mer is afraid to look at her — afraid to see whatever emotions have now painted her once-vacant face. He doesn’t want to know how hurt she is. He’s already scared enough... but still, he prods, “You what?”

      Raptura clears her throat, breathes deep, then lets out a long, defeated sigh. She hugs her legs to her chest and rests her snout on her knees. “I, uh... I have no energy for anything right now,” she finally admits, wrapping her tail around her toes for comfort. “I have only been victim to the full force of this sickness for a few hours, but I already feel like useless garbage. I, uh... I think I just need some rest.” And she coughs again.

      Mer nods slowly, though the motion lacks any sort of feeling. It’s honestly just the only thing he can think to do in response. “Well... I don’t know how I’d get it to you, but if you need medicine, or something...”

      She cuts him off with a quick wave of her hand. “I, uh...” She pauses, then sighs again. Her wings droop beside her. “Brother, I don’t think this is just the common cold,” she says. “I’m, uh... I’m fairly certain that this sickness is being caused by the legendary Squamata plague.” She hears Mer breathe in sharply at the sound of her words, so she rushes to finish her thoughts before his panic has time to settle. “If I’m right about that, then I know how to cure it, and I will be absolutely fine,” she says sternly, though the confidence in her words is juxtaposed by another aggressive cough. She forces herself to finish speaking. “I just need to rest up a bit to gain some energy, and then go harvest bogberries for the cure.”

      Mer pouts, though this time it’s earnest — not just to be melodramatic. “That’s... an incredibly arduous task,” he says.

      She rolls her eyes again. She hates that he’s implying that she’s not strong enough to complete the chore. What’s worse? She hates that he’s probably right... “It’s... fine, brother,” she says soberly. “I’ll live.”

      She doesn’t sound convinced.

      Mer is about to retort, unnerved by her sudden admittance of weakness, but she starts talking again before he can. “You said you know another dark sorcerer, right?” she asks, looking up to him with pained red eyes. “Hopefully someone who knows more than just how to read a book and perform some cheap conjuration spells?” She says this as she plays a bit with the smoke before her.

      Mer purses his lips before speaking. “Yeah, I know someone,” he eventually says, though his tone is beyond unenthusiastic. “He knows practically everything there is to know about dark magic. He’s, like, an actual genius.”

      Raptura gives Mer a sarcastic sideways glance. “Then why didn’t you contact him first?” she asks, her frustration half-returning. “You know that I’m still learning...”

      Mer huffs, then crosses his arms. “You’d understand if you knew him,” he mutters, sounding equal parts annoyed and nervous. “He’s... always busy... and super grouchy...”

      Raptura shrugs, rolling her eyes, then looks back down towards her feet, still hugging her knees to her chest. “Well, it’s worth a shot,” she says. “Desperate times, right?” Mer doesn’t respond. Raptura coughs again. “Just, uh... do me a favour, would you?”

      Mer looks up with worried eyes. Raptura asking for help is never a good thing...

      But she was being metaphorical in her request, apparently, though that still doesn’t really make Mer feel any better. “Please stay safe,” Raptura says, looking up to him with an almost motherly concern. “I, uh... I don’t want to see anything happen to you. If... if this really is dark magic, and your chief is really possessed by a spirit or faerie, that, uh... that kind of power is incredibly dangerous.” Another cough. “I don’t know much about this stuff, but I do know that it can be devastating. Even for, uh... third parties, for lack of a better term. I just... I don’t want you getting hurt. Okay?”

      Mer has looked back into his hands, seeming almost embarrassed, though he honestly is incredibly grateful to hear his sister actually voicing concern for once. Still, his entire chest aches with fear, and his throat is cinched shut by the noose of his own nerves. He doesn’t know what to do. All he manages to say is, “Okay.”

      Nod-nod. “Hey, uh... Tell your friend to bring me bogberries,” Raptura tries to joke.

      Raptura attempting a joke is like King Skarl attempting to complete a triathlon; but, luckily, Mer laughs at almost everything. His radiant smile returns, if only for a second, and his comforting bassy giggle fills the room. “I’ll try,” he says, meeting eyes with his sister once more.

      There’s a long moment of silence as neither of them want to be the first to cease the communication spell. A roll of distant thunder echoes from somewhere over Meri Acres, loud enough to be heard all the way from Cogham to Bogshot. Another pained screech comes from somewhere behind Raptura, but she doesn’t respond to the sound at all this time. She’s just too defeated. “Well, nap time,” Raptura eventually says, standing up slowly, trying to keep her dizziness decently reined in so she doesn’t collapse to the floor on the way to her bed. “Goodbye for now, brother.”

      Mer’s smile turns halfhearted, though it’s still thankfully there. “Bye, Ra.”

      Raptura begins to toy with the smoke from the spell, preparing to sever the connection. “Let me know what you find out if you get the chance, okay?” she says, giving her brother one last concerned glance.

      Mer nods. “Okay,” he says softly.

      Then the channel is broken.

      And Mer is left alone in the darkness of his room.

      The muted sounds from outside suddenly seem all the more aggressive now that there’s nobody for Mer to talk to. He didn’t really realise it until just now, but there’s a strange sort of humming coming from above, like the clouds themselves are a swarm of buzzing Moquots — a wall of white noise, blackened by the thickness of its own solid entity. Down in the valley below, terrifying monsters roam about freely, screaming and howling, baring claws and fangs, cursing any and all who dare cross their paths. Rolling thunder can still be heard over the oceans and valleys, seemingly independent, lacking the glow of lightning — or, perhaps, even that light is being swallowed by the droning darkness above.

      What on Neopia is happening to the world?

      Mer can’t stand the silence anymore. It’s only making everything around him seem more terrifying. “Emmy, should I call him?” he asks his Carma, craving some likeness of conversation.

      Emmy doesn’t have any snarky petpet-talk remark. Even she has started growing weary from the clouds’ pressure. She drifts lazily towards the bottom of her tank, unmoving.

      Mer just keeps talking, hoping she will eventually respond. “He might get really angry is all,” He says. “You know how he gets.”

      Silence.

      “But I suppose there’s really no other choice, right?”

      Silence.

      “He needs me too much to get too mad, don’t you agree?”

      Emmy finally swims to the top of her tank and slaps her tail gently on the water’s surface, using up her last remaining bits of energy to try to calm her beyond-worried owner.

      Mer sighs in relief, glad that she’s still got some sass left to give. “Alright, you’ve convinced me,” he mumbles, honestly more to himself than to Emmy, then readjusts his position on the floor to begin casting the conjuration spell again. “Please don’t be mad at me...”

      Mer’s getting used to performing the spell now, thankfully, and it takes barely any time before his palms alight with his familiar green earth magic, finally bringing some semblance of serenity to the room around him. In the half-minute between ending his conversation with his sister and beginning to channel the conjuration spell’s energy again, he’d already forgotten what brightness looked like. The glow from his magic is the closest thing to sunlight he worries he may ever see again.

      He tries to not let that thought bother him.

      Five, six, seven seconds more of concentrating the spell, steadying his breathing, focusing on the spellcasting, then Mer clutches the old faerie globe once again, sending a surge of power through it.

      For a few more seconds, painful nothingness.

      Then, thank Fyora, another plume of magical smoke rises into the air.

      Mer smiles a bit, sighing in relief — and, honestly, a bit of pride — at seeing he was able to perform the spell again, but the pleasant feelings are all torn from his mind when the smoke remains just that: empty smoke. A glorious green cloud, glowing bright, solidified with mystic power... but still empty.

      I knew he’d be mad... “Hello?” Mer calls into the nothingness before him, unsure if anyone but his Carma is even able to hear his voice. “Hellooo? Can you hear me? Did I do this spell right...?”

      Nothing.

      But then, the cloud of smoke finally expands into another foggy picture, only now painting a spectral image of the lush forests surrounding Brightvale castle.

      Everything within the spellwindow looks almost painfully serene, especially when contrasted by the devastating darkness of where Mer now sits in his mountain home. There are leafy trees dancing gently in autumn breezes; the sound of Whinnies giving gleeful cries, feathery petpets rustling in the branches above, and waves crashing down upon the shores of the Brightvale coast. Brightvale castle can be seen not too far in the distance, regal and radiant — a beacon of hope shining bright.

      It’s the only place in the realm that’s yet to be tainted.

      But none of that really matters. What does matters is the person standing in the midst of it all. “Meretseger? What in Darigan’s name are you doing summoning me?!”

      The grey Gelert assassin whose ghost now stands before Mer looks, strangely enough, almost frightened, as if the spell had startled him. He’s keeping his voice hushed and looking all around him, seeming equal parts anxious and irritated.

      Mer doesn’t care about his odd demeanour, though. “Simeon! It worked!” he cries happily as he claps his hands together.

      Now the assassin just looks livid — which, in his case, is just normal. “What did I tell you about using my alias in public?” he snaps, whipping his head around and gritting his crooked teeth.

      Mer is still too proud and excited to be hurt by his threat. “I’m... not in public,” he says, his tone a little too cheeky for the assassin’s tastes.

      The Gelert Assassin — who has given Mer permission to refer to him as Simeon, though Mer’s pretty sure that the name is just a pseudonym — motions all around him with sarcastic arms outstretched. “Well I am,” he says angrily, giving Mer a nasty snarl. “And I swear to Fyora, Meretseger, if you end up blowing this contract for me...”

      Mer cuts him off — which, honestly, is a really bad idea. “Hold on, listen, I really need your help.”

      Yeah, bad idea... “You dare interrupt me?” The assassin’s expression alone is a vicious threat.

      Mer is too panicked to care. “Look, I’m sorry, but... this is important... I think...”

      Simeon has been buying his potions and poisons from Mer since the sorcerer first joined the Raiders’ tribe several years ago. The odd apothecary is the only person in the realm the assassin has met who doesn’t question his intentions with the deadly brews he requests... and also gives a “friend discount.” Simeon is far used to Mer’s typical loudness and giddiness by this point, despite how frustrated the idea of happiness tends to make him, but... Mer looks actually concerned for once. Terrified, even. Which is... odd... to say the least...

      Still, Simeon’s frustration with the young sorcerer keeps him snarling. “I keep this channel of communication open so that I can contact you,” he says, “not the other way around...”

      Mer starts frantically waving his hands in front of him, like he’s trying to bat Simeon’s furious words away. “I know, I know, I know, but...” Mer lowers his arms, then looks all around him, as if to make sure that nobody is eavesdropping in on their conversation. “Listen, I’m sorry, and I’m sure you’re super busy like always, but something really bad is happening around here, and I really need your advice...”

      Again, Mer’s worried tone helps to quell some of Simeon’s anger. He cocks an eyebrow, searching the Ixi’s face for any signs of duplicity, then crosses his arms with a huff, leaning back against the tree behind him. “Advice.” He’s clearly asking for clarification, though his aggressiveness makes the word come out as more of a blunt statement.

      Mer is far used to his attitude, though. He doesn’t let it deter him. He nods frantically. “Yeah, advice.”

      “You want advice... from an assassin...” Again, asking for clarification through a statement.

      Mer nods frantically again, pauses to think, then slowly changes his motions to shake his head. “Well, no, actually,” he says. “I don’t want advice from an assassin; I want advice from a dark sorcerer.”

      Now Simeon just looks purely puzzled. “Since when do you dabble in dark magic?” he asks with a rude, scoff-like laugh, sounding far beyond haughty — as if someone as weak as this little apothecary could master such a difficult element...

      Mer shakes his head again, more animatedly this time. “Nonono, I’m not dabbling in anything,” he says. “I just... I think there’s something going on around here that has to do with dark magic, and my sister didn’t know what was up, and you’re the only other dark sorcerer I know who isn’t, you know... a total jerk to me.”

      Simeon rolls his eyes in annoyance, though he knows that that’s probably true. Most sorcerers who specialise in darkness wouldn’t be caught dead dealing with someone as excitable as Mer. Honestly, Simeon doesn’t really even know how he himself puts up with it. True, the sorcerer’s endless energy is beyond obnoxious most of the time, but... also somewhat charming, he supposes. Under the right circumstances, of course. Simeon shakes his head, angry with himself for even thinking of humouring the Ixi, but... “I am very busy right now, Meretseger,” he eventually says, casting a quick spell to check his surroundings for any signs of movement — and, more importantly, his targets. “You’d better make this quick...”

      Mer gives an excited little bounce as he repositions himself on the floor again, adjusting his front legs so his knees aren’t bent as awkwardly as they were before. “Okay, what do you know about possession?” he asks with his hands balled into fists in front of him.

      Simeon gives Mer a ridiculously nasty glance. Again, he asks for clarification through a statement: “What do I know about possession.”

      Mer’s confidence still remains infallible. He knows that Simeon is just trying to be stubborn and difficult — as usual. “Yeah, like... like magical possession,” he says.

      Honestly, though, Simeon had thought he’d misheard the sorcerer. Since when does Mer deal with something as cruel as that? His bitter expression turns condescending. “What, do you mean pure magic? Wraiths? Faeries? Familiars? Hexes?”

      Mer lowers his head a bit out of embarrassment of his not knowing, then gives a light shrug. “I’m... trying to figure that out myself,” he admits. “Are there differences between all of them?”

      Simeon is incredibly frustrated that Mer is requesting his help for something that he apparently knows nothing about — how is he supposed to help if he doesn’t even know what he’s being asked to do? — but still, he nods. “Slight, but, yes,” Simeon says, again casting a detection spell and looking all around him. After he’s confident that the coast is still clear, a sudden realisation hits him, and his eyes widen in a bit of shock. “Why are you asking me this?” he asks abruptly, looking equal parts worried and irritated. His tone then turns nagging as he readjusts his position to look down at Mer like a father scolding his child, wagging a finger in the sorcerer’s spectre’s face. “Are you trying to marionette someone? Because you had better not be. That is incredibly cruel magic, Mer — I don’t even deal with that sort of stuff...”

      “What?! No, of course not!” Mer looks genuinely offended, throwing a hand over his heart as if to keep it from breaking in half. “I would never do that! But... but I think...” His face immediately falls into worry again as the memories begin to catch up to him once more. He sighs. “I, uh... I think something might have a hold on Chief,” he says.

      Finally, a hint of genuine concern shows itself on the assassin’s face. He tilts his head slightly, his ears perking up; but still, he responds with only another stated request for clarification: “Something’s possessing your chieftain.”

      Mer nods slowly. “I think so,” he says. “And Onika agreed that it felt like foreign dark magic, and my sister said that it sounded like some sort of possession, and, well...”

      “What are the symptoms?” The Gelert’s voice is ice.

      “Um...” Mer begins to untangle his hair, then braid it out of nervousness — just keeping his hands busy to lessen his stress. He looks towards the blackness to his right as he answers. “He got really mean and violent, and his eye was all purple and glowy, and he had this really dark magical aura, and he just... gained these magical abilities randomly, and then he said he couldn’t remember any of it when he snapped out of it.” A short pause. He turns his head to look down towards the floor. “And now it seems to be back,” he says. “He’s all mean and purple again.”

      Silence.

      Then, “Hmph.”

      It’s the only response Mer gets for a while.

      When the hush persists, Mer looks back up to the Gelert with pleading eyes, only to see that Simeon has looked away towards the Brightvale coast contemplatively — towards the neighbouring shore of Meridell, now tainted black and violet by the clouds. After a few more seconds of thought, Simeon makes a frustrated face. “Well, I was noticing a lot of people started developing dark auras and strange violet eyes once that faerie’s clouds descended, bu—”

      Mer gasps, his eyes widening, then throws his hands up, flailing a bit to cut Simeon off. “Woah woah woah, wait, back up.”

      Simeon whips his head back around and snarls again. “Stop interrupting me.”

      Mer is unmoved. “Back up, though.”

      “Mer...”

      “Sorry, but back up.”

      The Gelert uncrosses his arms, flexing his fingers as if to cease the communication spell out of frustration, but then — thankfully — does nothing more than shift his position to a more aggressive stance, then cross his arms again. The forebodingness in his golden eyes alone would be enough to make anyone’s blood run cold, but Mer doesn’t let it bother him. He just asks his simple question: “What faerie?”

      Simeon spends a few achingly long seconds glaring daggers at Mer, beyond sick of his impudence, but... he eventually decides no harm done. The sorcerer is clearly just in a panic, and that fact is still a bit worrisome. He casts his detection spell again, then answers with a half-shrug and a few frustrated shakes of his head. “I don’t know who she is,” he says. “Just that she wants to take over the world, or something cliché like that.”

      This time, Mer is the one who scowls. “And you’re okay with this?”

      Simeon doesn’t shift his gaze away from the path to Brightvale. He just shrugs again in response.

      Mer huffs. “Well, how do you know this?”

      Another anxious detection spell. Then, “I actually just spoke to her,” Simeon says. “She’s hired me to take out some knight and sorceress duo. I didn’t ask who or why.” He then turns his spiteful scowl back to Mer, further narrowing his amber eyes. “And that is what I am trying to do right now, and why I am busy, so please hurry this up...”

      “But she’s definitely the one who has control over the clouds, yeah?” Mer asks, his energy still raised and his heart fluttering visibly within his chest.

      Simeon gives a short nod, now beginning to drum his fingers against his arm agitatedly.

      “Then... maybe she’s the one controlling Chief, yeah?” Mer asks.

      Simeon snorts, his glower again turning snide. “And why in Darigan’s name would she do that?” he says with a mocking laugh. “No offense, Meretseger, but your tribe doesn’t exactly play the biggest role in the scheme of the world,” he mutters sarcastically.

      Mer gives a forced pout for a few seconds, but then returns to his questioning. “But... it would make sense, though, right?” he asks. “I mean, could power like that have those effects on someone?”

      Simeon ponders the idea for a few seconds, looking towards the ground, then makes a face and gives a still-sardonic nod. “Sure it could,” he says with a flippant wave of his hand, turning to look back towards the road to Brightvale. “But I still don’t see why she would do that. It makes no sense. Direct possession requires too much time and energy to be done casually, even by a faerie of her strength.”

      Mer then gets a sudden epiphany, realising he’d forgotten something very important... His volume increases a little too much. “What about the Cloak of Heroes?” he asks, inching closer to the spellwindow, his words rushed and desperate.

      Simeon whips his head around aggressively, his eyes suddenly wide with shock. “Where did you hear about that?”

      Mer’s heart starts to flutter harder when he sees that Simeon is now taking his words more seriously. He still speaks rushed. “Chief kept sending Ajani and the others down into Cogham trying to find the Cloak of Heroes,” he says. “They were all really confused by it. Oh, uh, and this all started at the same time as Chief’s other symptoms, too.”

      Simeon frowns frustratedly, though it’s at the context of the sentence rather than Mer this time. “The cloak has been lost to time,” he says with an angry snort. “There’s no way Cogham would have it.”

      “I’m not saying that they do,” Mer responds, “I’m just saying what Chief said.”

      Silence.

      Another detection spell.

      Then, Mer continues. “What, uh... what is the Cloak of Heroes, anyway?” he asks, his tone finally falling back into a shy speaking colour. “It sounds really important...”

      Simeon exhales loudly — irritated. “It’s... a very sacred relic that once belonged to the founders of your tribe,” he says, beginning to drum his fingers on his arm again. “It offers protection from monsters and darkness. It can hide whoever wears it from forces of evil, making them all but invisible.”

      And this is when everything starts to click in Mer’s head. His eyes alight once more. “Wait, so... if this dark faerie you’re talking about really wants to take over the world, then the cloak would be a real threat to her, right? Because it would allow someone the ability to hide from her hold... right?”

      Simeon’s eyes widen a bit again as he realises... Mer’s actually on to something. “Hmm...” It’s actually a genuine hum of contemplation this time rather than a snarky snipe in disguise. He casts another quick spell; then, “That... does make sense, I suppose,” he says, though he sounds hesitant to admit it. “She seems very intent on not doing her own dirty work and instead occupying her time lounging around, which is why she sent me to take care of her little pest problem, so...” He huffs. “Yes, I suppose I can imagine her using a marionette to seek out something like that rather than doing it herself.”

      Mer is glad that Simeon was able to piece together the rest of the puzzle, but still, the question remains... “Well, how do we stop it?”

      Simeon scoffs, giving Mer a callous sideways glance. “ ‘We?’ ”

      Mer’s brow furrows. “I don’t know anything about this stuff,” he says, irritated. “But you do, and you’re our ally, so...”

      “That doesn’t mean I have to solve all of your problems,” Simeon snipes.

      “I’m not asking you to ‘solve our problems,’ ” — Mer mocks the Gelert’s dark tone — “I’m asking for your help.”

      Simeon snarls again. “You’re really pushing your luck, here, Mer...”

      “Please.

      The command is too stern to be just casually frustrated. It’s rooted in something much, much deeper.

      And, as much as Simeon hates to admit it... it worries him. Still, he’s too irritated to just give in so easily. He glares straight into Mer’s black and hazel eyes, his gaze piercing and malevolent, long enough so that the sorcerer’s wave of confidence is completely snuffed and he lowers his head shamefully. Then, Simeon huffs again, shaking his head, looking away and casting his detection spell once more.

      Mer speaks up when the hush persists, trying to explain himself. “I’m... really scared,” he sheepishly admits. “I don’t know what’s happening to Chief, and I don’t know what’s happening to the world, or the rest of us, or... anything really.” He sighs. “And I wish I could do more, but... I don’t know anything about this stuff. There’s nothing I can do to stop this. I’m... useless on my own...”

      Simeon has ceased his scowling and has turned his attention back towards the ground, his temper slowly but surely being pacified by the pained honesty in Mer’s deep bass.

      Mer continues again. “Please, just... could you, maybe...” He doesn’t actually know what he needs. He just knows that he needs something. “Just... I don’t know...”

      “The most important thing to figure out right now is if it is really her controlling him or not,” Simeon says, his tone still agitated, though it seems misplaced now. “If it is her, the next step would be figuring out if she is controlling him directly or through a familiar. If it’s a familiar — meaning, for example, one of her minions, or a tainted petpetpet, or something along those lines — it will be more difficult to free your chief, as they tend to control the host directly through contact — possessing them from the inside out, like a parasite.” Mer cringes at the thought. “If it is her directly, though, then...” Simeon huffs for what seems like the hundredth time now. “If it’s her directly, we might have a chance, because the magic’s hold will be weaker due to distance, and can be severed without harming the host,” he finally concludes.

      Mer is relieved to hear him acknowledge the ‘we’ in his sentence. His hope is returning. Somewhat. “How do I figure out which one it is?” he asks.

      Simeon shakes his head, annoyed. “You can’t,” he says. “It would need to be done by a dark sorcerer.”

      And he looks over to Mer.

      And Mer gives him an incredibly forced pout and Puppyblew eyes.

      Simeon groans lightly, throwing his head back, then runs a hand down his face. “Fine, I’ll do it...”

      “Yay, you’re the best!” Mer shouts excitedly, clapping his hands together and bouncing on his knees.

      Simeon’s noisy exhaling turns theatrical. “Yes, yes, I know I am,” he says, keeping his nose turned upwards and pantomiming sassily throwing long hair over his shoulder. Mer giggles brightly as the Gelert continues. “But I will have to get to it later, because I still need to complete her contract,” he says. “Destructive intents or not, her down payment alone is enough to buy a year’s worth of food for me and my Gallion, and I wouldn’t be much of a professional if I didn’t fulfil my end of the contract.”

      Mer doesn’t morally agree in the slightest, but he knows full well that trying to argue with the Gelert about this particular topic would be like arguing with a brick wall... a stubborn, cocky, violent brick wall... “Alrighty then,” he says, his laughter slowly fading, though he’s still smiling with a radiant gratefulness.

      Simeon casts his detection spell again. Then, “Speaking of... perfect timing, because I think that’s them.” He finally stops leaning against the tree behind him and stands up straight, stretching his arms and flexing his fingers to prepare for a battle — or execution, rather. “I will speak to you again once I have the time to meet with your chieftain and see what’s going on, alright, Mer?”

      Mer nods, though he knows Simeon isn’t looking. “Thanks, Simmy.”

      The Gelert’s expression suddenly contorts into one of an almost offended shock as he gets a better look down the road to Brightvale. He leans back in disgust. “Children...?” he muses aloud, his tone sounding genuinely appalled. “She sends me up against... children...?

      Then the channel is broken.

      To be continued…

 
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Other Episodes


» Clouds Over Cogham: Part One
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Two
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Three
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Four
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Five
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Six



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