Jean sat in the back of the skiff, resting. The little boat was floating down the Murkenmere quite freely now, and she was tired. She’d done all she could do--more than even she thought she could do. Now, she could only hope that her message had reached the Cthoniques.
“I can stand watch you know,” said Julia quietly.
Jean blinked. “Umm… That’s nice, but really…”
“You’ve been up for this entire time,” said Julia. “And probably for hours before that. As the Seven say, ‘It is the duty of all to lighten the burden of their fellows’.”
Jean looked at the young nun for a moment, then slumped down. “Sure. Thanks.”
Julia stepped up towards the front of the skiff. “So--what am I looking for?”
“Some sign of the Cthoniques,” said Jean.
Julia raised an eyebrow. “And--what would that look like?”
Jean shut her eyes. “You’ll know it when you see it.”
Julia bit her lip. “So--I am looking for something, and the best description you can give me is that I’ll know it when I see it?”
“Hey,” said Jean with a shrug, “you’re the one who talked about sharing burdens.”
“The Seven talked about it through Blessed Saint Julian,” said Julia. “I merely try to live by their edicts.”
Jean merely nodded. There was a long silence. “I don’t get it, you know,” said Jean suddenly. “How the same damn church can produce you, and your sister, and yes, even Justinian, and then produce the freaking Eremites.”
“The Seven are many, and many are the ways to serve them,” answered Julia. “Some choose to serve them in ways that I suspect the Seven don’t appreciate. But that is their choice. In the end, all shall be revealed in the Holy Light.”
Jean shut her eyes. “I really wouldn’t talk like that too much when make it over to the other side of the River. It’s really not very popular over there.”
“It’s not very popular on the other side of the Murkenmere either,” said Julia. “Mercy, love and compassion are a hard path to heaven. Brutally slaughtering Nightfolk is easy.” She shrugged. “Or at least, it’s supposed to be. We had a few veterans in the hostel who suggested you don’t all conveniently line up to get killed when you fight with us.” She paused for a moment. “That thing? That I was supposed to know when I saw?”
“Yes?” said Jean, rising slightly.
Julia pointed ahead in the water. “Is that it?” A mammoth barge floated in the water, its deck teeming with people. A flag flew from its mast, depicting a young woman shattering a chain.
Jean readied her oar. “It most certainly is.” The little boat began to speed toward the larger one. “Hoy!” shouted Jean. “Hoy! Cthoniques! Cthoniques!”
A small head clad a large pointy helmet appeared. “Jean? Holy shit! It’s you!” Morgaine Cthonique smiled broadly. “This is almost worth the twenty marks I now owe Nissy!” She ducked back briefly, then suddenly leaned forward again. “Wait right there. We’ll get you up here in a jiffy!”
Julia looked at Jean as Morgaine vanished from view again. “Who was…?”
“Morgaine Cthonique,” said Jean. “You’ll like her. Eventually. Now, come on, help me get everyone else up.” Julia nodded, and began to shake her siblings awake. Jean lightly tossled Malina. “Time to get up, Princess…”
“Mmm not sleepy,” drawled Malina. “Mmm just fine…” She yawned, blinked, and looked around. “Oh, wow!” She pointed to the barge. “Her Ladyship! That’s Her Ladyship!” She leaned towards Jean. “Uncle Nissy named it.”
Jean winced. “Yeah. I can tell.”
“Yay! We’re safe!” said Malina, clapping her hands. “I’ll go say ‘hi’ to them!” She blinked then vanished with a pop.
“I wonder how the rest of us are getting on board,” muttered Julia.
At that moment, a pair of long hooked sticks appeared from the sides of the barge. “All right, everybody!” came a voice that Jean recognized as Serjeant Greedigutt’s. “Heave! Ho!” Jean watched in quiet alarm as the sticks landed in the water with a splash. The white-haired head of Nisrioch Cthonique appeared.
“Hello, apprentice!” he said, smiling. “Knew you’d make it!”
Jean found herself torn beneath conflicting impulses to smile and frown at the wizard. She finally settled on a sigh. “Could you save the conversation until we’re onboard?”
“Of course,” answered Nisrioch with a thumb’s up. “Though I must recommend you hold on tightly to the side of your little boat.” Jean’s hands began to clench on the wood. “But don’t get too worried,” he noted. “We are experts at this.”
At that moment, the little skiff was lifted up swiftly into the air. To Jean’s surprise, it was resting on the deck of the barge a moment later. Jean looked around at the small crowd of people there--Serjeant Greedigutt, and a few other members of the Cthonique Guards, Nisrioch, and to the side, Morgaine, who was busily hugging Malina.
“Look at you!” said Morgaine cheerily. “It won’t be long until I’m looking up at you, kid!”
Julia Upsilon stared at the pair. “So… CUTE!” she yelled, and dove in, embracing the pair. “They’re like little dolls!” she said to her sister.
Justinian Sigma rose unsteadily and coughed. “You… might want to stop that.”
Morgaine beamed at the Sacristan. “Oh, trust me, she can do this as long as she wants.”
“Elaine!” yelled Viviane as she rushed up. Mansemat Cthonique followed her. “I… where’s Elaine? Where?”
Jean took a deep breath and walked towards the Badb. “Elaine… chose to stay behind.”
Viviane turned to the young sorceress, and glared at her. “What?”
“I… during the escape the Prince’s Men came after us,” said Jean quietly. “Elaine--said they wanted her, and… distracted them… I…”
Viviane stared at Jean, her expression devastated. “She… what?” The Badb gulped. “The… Prince’s Men? Amfortas’ men? That… MONSTER has Elaine…” Jean tried to say something, but in the end, could only nod. Viviane’s face tightened, as she tried to hold back the tears. “No. No. No…”
“I… we’ll get her back,” said Jean. “I promise you that…”
Viviane glared at her. “Are you trying to make me FEEL BETTER?” She took a deep breath, exhaling through her nostrils. “Do you KNOW what that… THING is capable of? DO YOU? And now… now he has Elaine!” Viviane grabbed Jean by the shoulders. “Amfortas is Elaine’s father!” she hissed.
Jean blinked. “He… what? But… that’s…” She gulped nervously. “How?”
Viviane shut her eyes. “How do you think?” she said lowly.
Jean stood there for a moment. “Unholy Darkness…” she muttered, eventually.