Rescue Ch. 16byJohnEvans©
Rescue is Book Two of the Pervikar series. Pervikar is the first book and Ritual will be the third. I wish to express my thanks to the readers who have sent me feedback and have voted for my stories. My special thanks goes to sweetmirazh, who does my editing, and mack_the_knife.
Helga shuddered as she watched Karina and Ivin spar. Karina used to fight with a short sword, but it was broken in a fight. Tenan had sent her a new set of armor and three magical weapons. Ivin was teaching Karina how to use the mace, Skeletonbane, and Octavia was teaching her to use the axe, Remarg.
It was not the new deadly weapons that made Helga shudder, though. It was the armor. Remade and reinforced by the god Vulcan, Karina's new armor fit her like a glove and Helga found the helmet to be the most disturbing part of it. She could barely look at the silvery mask, which had Karina's face on it. What made Helga want to scream in horror was the way the mask moved to duplicate Karina's every facial expression. The mouth opened when she talked, and it showed all of her feelings, like anger, astonishment, smiling....Helga shuddered at that one.
Helga sighed and went over to see how her charge, Nesbra, was doing. Nesbra had been poisoned in Woodhall and had been saved by Karina. The poison was one that infused itself into the bones and marrow of the victim. The poison had been nullified by a spell, but the healing would be long and protracted.
"How are you doing today?" Helga asked Nesbra as she approached the litter Nesbra was lying on.
"Okay, I guess," replied Nesbra, who then grimaced in a spasm of pain. "The pain isn't as often or as intense as it was. I still can't move around on my own. How far are we from Tectin?"
"We should arrive there tomorrow," said Helga. "Can I get you anything?"
"Just some water," said Nesbra.
"I'll get it for you," said a voice behind Helga.
Helga spun around and found herself staring at the silver face of Karina. Ivin and Octavia were now sparring in the field. Helga had not heard Karina's approach over that din. Helga began to shake as she stared at the mask.
"No, I'll get it," said Helga quickly and took off running.
The mask took on a look of bewilderment and hurt as Karina watched Helga run off. She undid the catches on the side of her helmet and lifted it off her head. Karina's ash-blond hair was plastered to her forehead and the hurt was still visible in her eyes.
"You seem to be in as much pain as I am," stated Nesbra.
"I don't understand why she keeps avoiding me," said Karina.
Nesbra shuddered as another jolt of pain lanced through her.
"Could it be that you are turning into someone she does not recognize?" asked Nesbra. "Have you talked to her about it?"
"How can I?" asked Karina sharply. "All she does is run away or she just stares at her feet and mumbles. It's been like that since we left Cific."
"She's scared of you for some reason," said Nesbra. "Talk to her. Pin her down somehow and talk. Oh, and leave the armor here."
"You really think it's the armor?" asked Karina rhetorically. "Thanks, I'll do that and have Gedda bring you some water."
Karina had started to walk away. She turned around and went back to Nesbra.
"You've saved my life twice," said Nesbra. "You've nursed me all the way back here without any assurance that I would take part in your ritual."
"It's not my ritual," corrected Karina. "I wouldn't leave you in Woodhall with Beckdom on the loose."
"Either way, I owe you," said Nesbra. "I'll fulfill my part of the ritual, but that makes us even. Deal?"
"Deal. Let's make another bargain. High Priest Bargan is holding property for me in Cific. I won't be able to use it, but you could. We'll split the profits fifty-fifty."
"Seventy-thirty since I have to do the work. What's the property?"
"Sixty-forty and you'll have to go to Cific to find out what the property is," answered Karina. "Don't worry. It is something that I think you'll like."
"Agreed, but if I don't like the setup this deal is void."
"Agreed," said Karina, knowing that Nesbra could not walk away when she saw the wagons and horses that the late Tonner and his gang used.
Karina left and after a quick stop to tell Gedda to bring some water to Nesbra, she changed out of her armor. Karina pulled on a smock and went looking for Helga. She found her sitting slumped down on a fallen log. Helga looked to see who was approaching and then jumped up to leave.
"Helga, wait, please," pleaded Karina before Helga ran away again. "Please sit down."
"Um...uh...Nesbra needs me," stammered Helga quickly.
"She sent me to find you," said Karina. "Please sit. We need to talk."
Helga wavered back and forth as if she could not make up her mind. She then sat down on the log. Karina sat down, but Helga did not look at her. She just stared straight ahead.
"Helga, have I become so ugly that you can't even look at me?" asked Karina softly.
"No!" blurted out Helga, turning to face Karina. She then Faltered. "I...uh...that is..."
"Have I hurt you somehow?" asked Karina. "You've been like a stranger to me these past days. If I've offended you somehow, please tell me what I did so I can make amends."
Helga's lower lip started to quiver and a tear ran down her cheek. With a loud sob, she threw herself into Karina's arms. Karina, totally baffled, held on to the crying girl until Helga managed to catch her breath between sobs.
"It's not you (sob)!" cried Helga. "It's me! I (sob) I found myself wanting to make love to Bargan. All of that year with Cedric came back to me afterwards (sob). Cedric was right! I wanted all those men!"
"Stop it!" said Karina intensely. "Do you really believe that you are responsible for Cedric's abuse? Helga, listen to me. Did Bargan give you a choice?"
Helga looked at Karina in confusion.
"Why did he give me a choice?" asked Helga to herself. "I...I suppose...I don't know why."
"You told me that you made love to Corporal Zutz in Woodhall because you wanted to," said Karina. "Didn't Bargan leave the decision up to you on whether you did or didn't?"
"Helga, think on this clearly, did Cedric ever leave the decision up to you?"
Helga stayed silently for awhile. She sighed, wiped her tears off her cheeks, and turned to Karina for a long hug.
"I've been a silly, little girl," said Helga. "All that guilt and shame came back to overpower me. I thought again that I was the one at fault and you...you were becoming larger than life."
"I've always been larger than life," said Karina, straight-faced. "Especially in the breast area."
Helga snorted, choked, and went into a coughing fit at Karina's statement about her mammoth tits. Karina thumped Helga gently on the back until she caught her breath again.
"Helga, believe me, I'm not larger than life," said Karina. "I'm just a person who has been sent on an insane quest by a lecherous ogre god. If I wasn't living it right now, I would never have believed it if someone had told me about it. All the rest...the armor, the weapons, the adventures...they are all superficial to who I am."
"Even armor made by a god?" asked Helga skeptically.
"Armor ordered by Tenan and modified by a god," corrected Karina. "It's just an outer shell and does not change the person inside. Aphrodite asked me if I loved Tenan and then asked me how I felt about all of you. She asked me before she took me to see Vulcan. I think that if I did not answer her questions the way I did, I would never have been taken to see him."
"How did you answer her questions?" asked Helga.
"I told her the truth. I said I love you all."
Helga broke out in a wide smile. She then leaned over to kiss Karina on the cheek.
"You are larger than life," stated Helga. "Are we going to the Capitol after we leave Nesbra at Tectin?"
"No, I'm not and yes, we are," said Karina. "I do have some good news. Nesbra told me that since I've saved her twice, she will take part in the ritual. Of course, she sees it as paying off a debt."
"That is good," said Helga, "but you're wrong. You've developed...uh..." Helga faltered as Karina looked down at her huge breasts. "Uh...blossomed...shit!...grew...oh, you know what I mean!"
"I know what you are trying to say," said Karina smiling. "The person who has changed the most, though, is you."
"Me?!?" scoffed Helga. "I look exactly the same as when we first left your castle."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you," explained Karina. "All of my changes have been spectacularly external. It's all on the outside. Yours..." and Karina touched Helga on the forehead, "have all been internal and more substantial than anything that has happened to the rest of us. Your emotions have been set free. You've made sacrifices for us and have selflessly nursed Nesbra during this trip. It is a far cry from the emotionless, bitter girl who came with me to the farm. Tell me, what do you see and hear?"
"Octavia and Ivin are laughing and carrying on. Cendri's exasperated at Gedda's grammar on her last letter. The wind is whistling through the brush. There are a thousand myriad colors streaming through the trees."
"Sounds to me like you're perfect, dearie," said a soft, feminine voice from behind them.
Both Karina and Helga gasped in fright and jumped up to see who was behind them. They both froze in amazement, staring in astonishment at the woman standing there. She was wearing a dark green dress with long sleeves and a cowl. What had amazed Karina and Helga was the fact that the woman was the spitting image of Ivin.
"Oh, dearie, dearie, dearie," sighed the bemused woman. "Your poor minds can not comprehend, can they? Well, come along, dearies."
The woman made a gesture with her hand and Karina felt a pleasant tug at her mind before it dissolved like smoke in a strong wind. Helga, however, started to take a couple of steps towards the woman with a smile on her face.
"Ivin!" screamed Karina, pulling out the only weapon she had, which was the end of the unicorn's horn. "Octavia!"
"Ivin? Here?" asked the woman, looking around as the four other companions ran towards Karina and Helga.
"Lorilei!" said Ivin when she caught sight of the other woman with a little hint of disgust in her voice. "Why are you here?"
"I'm here because of the dear, sweet child," said Lorilei, touching Helga's cheek.
"Release her or..." threatened Karina, brandishing the six-inch long, needle-sharp horn.
"Ah, a unicorn's horn," stated Lorilei, "and one freely given to be potent enough to make you immune to my spell."
Lorilei waved her fingers in a gesture of dismissal and Helga's face regained its normal animation. Helga then realized how close she was to Lorilei and stumbled back to get away. Only Cendri's hand prevented her from falling over.
"Who is this woman, Ivin?" asked Octavia, her spear ready to thrust at the slightest menacing movement for Lorilei.
"Can't you guess?" asked Lorilei in mock surprise. "I'm her twin sister, but whereas Ivin believes in the innate goodness of man, I believe in following the letter of the law."
"Especially if the law is to your benefit," added Ivin.
Lorilei arched an eyebrow and said, "Is there any other kind of law?"
"Lorilei, what are you doing here?" asked Ivin again, relaxing her stance.
"I said the girl brought me here," said Lorilei, who looked around at the uncomprehending faces before her. "You can't feel it! Oh, this is so rich! Well, dearies, she's a witch! She's been trooping along with all of you, oozing out huge emanations of sympathetic magic and none of you noticed. When I caught her scent, I decided she might make a good apprentice. So I came to fetch her."
"An apprentice?" scoffed Ivin. "Why? So she can be burned at the stake like you almost were?"
"A slight miscalculation," conceded Lorilei. She then turned serious. "She needs to be taught. Uncontrolled, her sympathetic magic will attract others and there are others who are far worse than me."
"I'm not leaving," said Helga with determination. "I'm staying with Karina."
"Nonsense, child," said Lorilei abruptly. "You have to be trained."
"I'm not a child, either," stated Helga snippily. "You are as far as your powers are concerned," pointed out Lorilei.
"Then they will have to wait," said Helga. "I will go with Karina to finish this quest."
Lorilei opened her mouth to retort, but closed it again when she saw the steel in Helga's eyes. Lorilei's face turned ugly for a second before it relaxed and she began to laugh.
"Have it your way, dearie. I'll just have to accompany you."
"Shit!" hissed Gedda as Octavia, Cendri, and Karina all shouted, "No!"
Ivin remained silent, staring at her twin sister. Helga recoiled as if Lorilei had just handed her a snake.
"Quiet! Quiet!" shouted Karina, hushing up the outraged and angry mutterings. She looked over at Lorilei, who just stood there waiting, and said, "We need to discuss this. Please, come into our camp."
"This is her decision, not yours," said Lorilei.
"If it interferes with what I am doing, then it becomes my business," replied Karina.
Lorilei nodded and said, "I need to get some things. This will give Ivin a chance to tell you all about my sordid past. I'll be back within one hour."
Lorilei raised her arms up high and disappeared into a billowing cloud of green smoke. Ivin sighed, shook her head, and turned to head back to the camp.
"She always did go for the dramatic and flashy," she said in a tired voice. "I have not heard or seen my sister in ten years. When Lorilei was sixteen, she fell head over heels in love with a nobleman's son. He treated her like a whore. When he finally got tired of her and dumped her, Lorilei was devastated. She secluded herself away from everyone and that, we believe, was when she learned witchcraft. The nobleman and his entire family died of a strange disease that could not be cured by medicine or magic. Lorilei was blamed and she fled just before the mob burned her at a stake."
"How good is she?" asked Cendri.
"I don't know, but offhand, I'd say she's equal to me. When we were growing up, neither one of us could excel over the other. Since I am High Priestess at Aphrodite's Temple with numerous spells I can use, I am sure Lorilei is an equally powerful witch."
"Is what she said about me true?" asked Helga.
"True enough for her to try and kidnap you, and when she couldn't do that, she decided to accompany you," said Ivin.
Everyone went over to where Karina had laid out her armor. Karina started to put it back on with Octavia's help.
"Helga, this is going to sound strange, but how do you...feel...about Lorilei?" asked Karina.
"She gives part of me the willies, like she's a cat and I'm just a mouse," replied Helga. "Another part of me seems to lean towards her. Funny, isn't it?"
"Not really," said Ivin. "Clerical spells are given to the recipient through prayer and devotion. Wizards and Sorcerers spend decades in studying to prefect their spells. Witchcraft is more elemental, as I understand it. It is part of the person. If you do have the power, it may call to its own."
"If it's a part of me, why do I need a teacher?" asked Helga.
"Helga, I don't know," admitted Ivin. "I suppose it is to learn how to tap into your power and use it safely. The people who practice witchcraft are very secretive. Very little is known about it."
"What do you want to do, Helga?" asked Cendri.
"I don't know," replied Helga. "I'm sort of divided and that scares me because I just met this woman. I will stay with all of you, though, no matter what. Karina, what do you think?"
Karina sighed, both in relief that Helga decided to stay with them, but also in anxiety because she did not have an answer for Helga. Karina knew her initial reaction was to distrust Lorilei.
"Helga, I really don't know what to say," replied Karina.
"Tell her to trust her feelings," came a weak cry from the litter.
Everyone started in surprise and then broke out in nervous laughter. They walked over to where Nesbra was.
"Why?" asked Karina.
"She's a smart girl and cautious enough to know what is best for her," stated Nesbra.
"Sounds like the best idea so far," said Karina. "What are your feelings about this, Helga?"
Helga remained silent for a moment and then said, "I have to go with you. It's more than an obligation, but at the same time, something inside is telling me I need to learn from Lorilei."
"Helga, I don't want to stand in the way of something you're supposed to be, but I must complete Per's ritual," said Karina. "As long as Lorilei does not hinder me in that aspect, I have no objection to her coming along. I can't answer for the others, though."
Cendri and Gedda both looked at each other and then shrugged their shoulders.
"I don't think we're thrilled with the idea, but we'll go with your decision, Helga," stated Cendri.
"Ivin?" asked Helga.
"I have to abstain," said Ivin. "My past and Lorilei's are too intertwined for me to give you any sort of sound answer. If she comes or if she goes is your decision and I'll abide with it."
Helga turned with some trepidation to face the last person in their group. Octavia stood there, lost in thought, for several moments.
"This is bad news...really bad," Octavia finally said. "This may be worse than Karlto's idea to go visit the castle on the crag. That idea nearly killed all of us. Helga, I'm sorry, but if you're determined to do this...okay."
Helga stood still for a moment until Octavia's final word registered. With a laugh, she flung her arms around Octavia to hug her tightly.
"Easy! Easy!" said a discomforted Octavia as Helga hugged her tightly.
The group broke up to go do their individual chores. Karina and Ivin stayed with Nesbra until the others were out of earshot.
"Nesbra, you didn't state your opinion," said Karina.
"I'm not really part of your company," stated Nesbra. "I'll be leaving you soon. I will give you some..." Nesbra stopped as she grimaced in pain. "...some advice. Don't let Helga get isolated from you."
"I don't intend for that to happen," replied Ivin.
"Neither do I," agreed Karina.
Ivin suddenly stiffened and she began to look around.
"How can you tell?" asked Karina, picking up her helmet. "Sisterly bond?"
"No," said Ivin with a sharp touch of pain in her voice. "I cast a spell to detect evil."
"I'm sorry," apologized Karina.
"So am I."
Lorilei appeared walking through the woods and leading two ponies. One pony had a saddle on it, while the other had a pack harness. The pack harness had the usual items strapped to it, tent, canteen, blankets, etcetera. What raised Karina's eyebrows was the twig broom carefully lashed to the side of the pack.
"Well, dear sister, what is the consensus?" asked Lorilei after she tied her ponies to a bush.
"You have to ask Karina," said Ivin, pointing at Karina. "She's in charge."
"You're not the boss?" asked Lorilei in mock horror. "Tsk, Tsk, Tsk, what is the world coming to?" Lorilei looked Karina up and down, taking in her armor. "Ooo, nice outfit, very butch. Well, Karina, what's the word?"
Karina kept her face bland as she said, "Lorilei, you can come with us and teach Helga what she needs to know. I have less than a year to find certain people to participate in a ritual for my son. If you interfere or delay me, I'll simply lop off your head because I don't have the time to waste."
"I understand," said Lorilei with a little smirk. "I care nothing for your mission, only Helga's training. Do you understand that?"
Karina put on her helmet and fastened it down. Lorilei's face lost its smirk and turned white as the mask animated and became Karina's face frowning at her. She took two steps back in fright.