“What happened? I thought you were supposed to be there for a week,” Ellyn had replied, staring pointedly at the packed bag her friend was carrying.
“Something,” at this point Ariana had hefted her pack higher on her shoulder, “has come up. I need to leave for a while. Can you finish out the week for me?”
Ellyn had only continued staring.
Ariana sighed. “I have a new assignment. From Ishkur. I don’t really know what or who is involved yet. Or how long I’ll be gone. Just that I have to go. Please cover for me?”
“Fine. Just take care of yourself; I’ll worry about the noble.”
She still remembered Ariana’s grin. The half-elf had always loved the prospect of adventure.
“Don’t I always?” responded Ariana. “I’ll see you when I get back.”
If only Ellyn had known that that would be the last time she would see her.
Ellyn wondered, for a while, if Ishkur truly had spoken to Ariana, or if this was merely another of her flights of fancy like her trips to that bard’s tavern – what was it? The Left Hook. She trusted her friend, of course, but she’d never heard of Ishkur speaking directly to anyone but the elders. Not to mention the rumors that even they hadn’t gotten a clear message from the god in years.
Then there were the riots in the lower wards, the disappearing nobles, not to mention whatever that was up at Aesterwall’s tower, and Ellyn began to wonder a bit less. And by the time the dust settled from the quake and feral elves were running rampant through the streets, Ellyn was thoroughly convinced that Ariana had been swept up into something big.
She drew her rapier and joined the fray, moving from group to group, sometimes fighting back-to-back with a patrol of beleagured guardsmen, other times ducking into a corner to offer a quick healing hand, only to then take up with a roving band of Tyr’s paladins on their quest for justice. She prayed to Ishkur a lot that night – for herself, for the citizens, for Ariana, wherever she was. The presence of Ishkur filled her, stronger than she has ever felt it in her life. But she could tell he was distracted – focused on her plane, certainly, though not precisely on her.
Then the ground shook, and a great void ripped through her. The ground must have shaken; Ellyn was suddenly aware that she lying on the street, as were the elves…yet over there was a small knot of guardsmen, standing with weapons drawn but looking confused. One guard decided to take advantage of the elves’ distraction, and he and his companions had finished them off by the time she was able to lever herself back up off the ground. Any remaining elves that they encountered simply fled before them, not displaying any of the powers or ferociousness they’d had before.
Walking through the city back to the temple was surreal. A heavy silence blanketed Two Rivers; the occasional sound would echo strangely. The silence was inside her, too. She stopped to help a woman who had been wounded by an elven sword while defending her shop. Ellyn murmured the prayer for healing to Ishkur, but nothing happened. She felt nothing.
One by one, the clerics of Ishkur returned home. One by one, each shared the same feeling of emptiness they experienced. And concern for what had actually happened that night grew.
As the weeks passed, the silence from Ishkur lengthened. Many came to the Circle for aid, but the elders raised the donation required. “After the losses we sustained during the attack, we can only help so many,” they said, but they did not mention that those losses included any sign from their god. Those few who were sent out said the prayers and performed the rituals, but the only healing they performed was mundane. The elders worked hard to maintain the illusion of normality to those outside the temple. Inside the temple, however, they could do nothing to quell the worry. The fields to the southwest of Two Rivers turned dry and brittle while the region to the east was rocked by violent storms. Pleas both for and against rain went unanswered. Slowly, the Circle of Ishkur began to drift apart as its members lost faith.
It was a few months after the attack that Ellyn herself finally resolved to leave. While she agreed that it was important to maintain the faith and hope of the people, she could no longer abide the facade that the elders put up or the lies they told to visitors in exchange for gifts. She couldn’t do any good at all just sitting in the temple. She sighed; now she was starting to sound like Ariana. Though considering Ariana had been personally chosen by Ishkur, maybe that was a good thing.
Ellyn shouldered her pack. Maybe she could find Ariana’s old bard friend and get in touch with him…Ariana had used to help people with him, she knew.
She checked her room one last time for any belongings she might have missed. As she opened the door to leave, a glow caught the corner of her eye. There in the hall, a small blob of blue light bobbed outside her room as if waiting for her. A wisp?
“What are you here for?” she asked the thing. In answer, maybe, it began to drift down the hall. Curious, Ellyn followed a few steps behind. It flitted through corridors and around corners, finally stopping just outside the doorway to one of the prayer rooms. She peeked in. The room was empty save for a dark-haired woman of about average height who kneeled down before an altar and lit a candle. The woman murmured something too low to hear, then cleared her throat and said, louder, “Ariana Stormborn, it’s your humble servant, Aurelia Leigh.”
Ellyn dropped her pack with an audible thud, and the woman spun around. There was no mistaking it; this was the newest council member. And she knew Ariana? Though Ishkur only knew why the woman was addressing her here. Ellyn glanced down at the wisp, but it was gone. She looked back towards the councilwoman, who was watching her with a curious but somewhat embarrassed expression. She’d never encountered a wisp before, but surely this must be a sign. It was no coincidence that the wisp had been lurking outside her door, just as she was about to abandon the temple, only to run into a woman who spoke the name of Ariana with reverence.
Ellyn Windrivver, almost-former cleric, stepped forward. “Ariana was my friend. Do you know what happened to her?” Her pack remained by the door.
In a far corner of the room, a small blue wisp bobbed up and down, then faded away, satisfied.