“I can’t understand it.” Solflame says, leaning close and inspecting Xyrella’s body. “The dress is still here, but I can’t remove it and I can’t figure out what was making it like flame.”
“I’m not worried about the damn dress.” She snaps, “Why am I mortal?”
He takes a step back and looks at her. She is closing the thick woolen robe back around her body and the faint outline of smoke or cinders that used to be a wonderful dress of Ethereal fire. Mortal she may be, but she was still amazingly beautiful.
Hair that had once appeared to be spun gold now was merely blonde. Eyes that had been solid violet were now sky irises with whites, like normal human eyes. Although they were covered now, the long gashes on her back where her wings of fire and light had once sprouted were troubling in that they refused to heal completely. Her shadow was a normal looking shadow, not moving on its own and her clothes no longer seemed to move in an unseen wind.
“I don’t know that either.” He says, “Tiamet must have somehow distilled the Celestial qualities from your blood and removed them or contained them somehow.”
The room was hot enough that Solflame had needed to sheath himself in magic to keep his skin from blistering. Xyrella, on the other hand, had donned a silk shift and was wrapping herself in wool but still shivering. “Are mortals always this cold?” She said, teeth chattering.
“My dear Lady Xy, it is hot enough in here to cook meat. The fact that your skin isn’t blistering and that you are instead cold is as puzzling to me as the rest of this mystery.” He replied, “Perhaps Jolokar will be able to tell more when he arrives.”
At this she brightened visibly, “Jolokar is coming? I’ve missed him… much more than I anticipated if truth be known.”
“Would you miss me if I was gone?” Solflame said, half-jokingly and she smiled at him.
“Of course I’ll miss you once you’re gone.” She said, smiling sadly. “I miss all my mortal friends after they die.”
Solflame opened and closed his mouth a time or two, not having an immediate response, but Xyrella was already curling back under the thick blankets on her bed. The translucent magic of the wall showed the lava flow that surrounded the chamber she had chosen to be her room.
“I can be immortal as well.” He said softly to himself as he climbed the ladder. “I know Orestain had found the means to extend his life long enough that he was as near as immortal as makes no difference. There must be something in the library.”
Jolokar approached the Burning Keep on the wing, circling once and sending a short Arcane message to the guards to avoid any unpleasantness as he landed at the front gate in a rush of wind. Xyrella’s magical protections slid over his skin like a lover’s caress as he walked into the front gate.
She had created layers of protection on the Keep, especially at the front entrance, that would greatly discourage anyone who was evil or attempting to deceive the Keep or its denizens with magic. Feeling them touch him was like a welcoming embrace.
Gorblam was waiting for him when he entered the Keep proper. “Jolokar. I need ta speak with ya.”
“Certainly Gorblam.” Jolokar said, “I will be happy to meet with you as soon as I’ve had the chance to check in on how Lady Xyrella Kra’alin is recovering.”
The Azer nodded curtly, “She’s in tha Lava Research room.” He said before going back to his beloved forest of brass trees and the forges of the Keep. Jolokar made his way to where Xyrella rested, activating his heat resistance aura as he crossed the thin catwalk of stone and descended the ladder into the chamber.
Xy was sleeping and he took a moment to look at her. She looked terrible. Her cheeks were sunken and she had dark circles beneath her eyes. Well, that and she was still mortal. The dishwater blonde hair and pink skin wasn’t unattractive, but it was a far cry from the flawless alabaster and metallic gold her Celestial blood had granted her.
In spite of the magic protecting him, Jolokar still felt the heat. Xyrella shivered beneath plies of wool blankets. He leaned forward to put a hand on her forehead and was shocked to find it cold. Her eyes opened and she stared up at him.
“Oh!” She said, surprise and happiness in her voice, “Jolokar, it’s wonderful to see you. I’m sorry you have to find me like this…”
“You feel chilled to the bone.” He said, looking at her in concern, “How can you be this cold?” Jolokar felt the unaccustomed grip of fear in his chest. He knew this woman as the Righteous Flame of the Dragon Lord personified on the Prime Material Plane, and now she was as cold as ice. Even in this fortress, with its direct connection to the elemental plain of Lava she shivered.
“I do not know why.” Xyrella said through chattering teeth, “I just can’t get warm.”
Jolokar used his divine power to feel her body and her spirit. The moment it touched her, he felt the power drain from him as though being devoured by a ravenous beast. By the time he was able to pull away he staggered and almost fell from exhaustion. His Auras were even depleted and the intense heat of the room made him dizzy.
“Fang and Scale!” He gasped, “What was that?”
Xy was shaking uncontrollably now, convulsing with cold. Frost formed on her eyelashes and her breath was ice crystals. Jolokar nearly lost himself to panic, but mastered his fear with pure force of will.
“I’m going to get Solflame and Raddinal.” He rasped, “This is beyond me.” He was barely able to drag himself up the ladder. When he reached the top he saw Solflame already hurrying toward him.
“I felt something… what was that?” The mage asked, his thread of gold embroidered robes billowing as he hurried up, “Whatever it was, I think it was… hostile! How can something hostile have gotten into the Keep without my knowledge?”
“It was Xy.” Jolokar said, still shaking from exhaustion. “She almost killed me.”
“She… WHAT?” Solflame exclaimed, “What did you do to provoke her?”
Jolokar began walking toward the rooms he had claimed on the other side of the lava flow. “I tried to delve her with healing magic. To see what was wrong. Something inside her tried to take my energy. All of it.”
“Did it warm her up at all?” Solflame asked, not even seeming to notice Jolokar’s enfeebled state, “She’s so cold no matter what I do…”
“No.” Jolokar said, his voice harsh with worry and fatigue. “It made her colder. Much colder.”
“Maybe because you have ice powers. Maybe she stole your ice powers and it only increased whatever’s building inside her.” Solflame mused, “Damn, I need a priest with the power of flame to test… Of course! I’ll go and get Gorblam!”
“Be careful.” Jolokar warned, “She was shaking so hard I was afraid she was going to hurt herself. If he makes it worse…”
“I’ll make sure to have him be very delicate, ready to break free at the first sign of a problem.” Solflame assured him, “Now you get some rest, you look like shit.”
Jolokar took a deep breath, sending a prayer to Bahamut and felt his trembling cease as the strength of his God support him. “I’ll be fine. The Dragon Lord has work for me yet this day. I would be with her when we try this experiment. I do not know if I can help if anything goes wrong but…” He trailed off, not knowing how to express the dread that threatened him when he thought of Xyrella dying.
“Yeah, sure.” Solflame said, his mind already trying to unravel the puzzle. “You go back to her and I’ll bring Gorblam.”
Jolokar returned to find the room where Xyrella was huddled foggy and strange. He couldn’t see all the way to the bed where she lay. He beat his wings twice, the motion of the air circulating clearing most of the fog and he saw Xy’s bed was covered in rapidly evaporating ice.
Running to her side, he pulled the blankets from her, sending a shower of ice to splatter against the walls with a hiss of steam. Jolokar picked up the freezing form with a cry, lifting her so that he could hold her close to the wall of lava and the waves of heat that emanated from it.
Gradually, the heat from the lava seemed to begin to thaw her. In spite of his immunities and protections, Jolokar could feel the frostbite on his arms and chest where he cradled her as well as the blistering on his skin where the heat was burning him. He didn’t care.
“You can’t die on me. Not like this.” He said, voice shaking. “Not after all we’ve been through. We won damn it. We defeated the Dragon Queen and it was you that banished her soul back to the pit where it belongs. You can’t….”
“Easy laddie.” Gorblam’s rough voice was surprisingly gentle, “Lemme have a look here. Put tha Lady on tha bed over here.”
The intense heat of the room had cleared the bed of all ice; not even water remained. The Azer looked around, a slight frown on his face, “Why’s it so damn hot in here? This ain’t right. Not right at all. Solflame I thought ya said she was cold!”
“She’s freezing.” Jolokar said, “The heat in here is too much even for me and yet she’s freezing.” He set her on the bed, thankful that some of the deathly pallor seemed to have faded from her skin. Her lips were still blue and her short, shallow breaths still had puffs of ice crystals in them.
Gorblam lay his hand on Xyrella’s forehead and drew it back almost instantly with a hiss of alarm. “This is bad. Very very bad. Solflame, I want you to look with your truesight and tell me what you see.”
“My what?” Solflame asked, raising an eyebrow.
“The spell you have that allows you to see all things as they are.” Gorblam said impatiently.
“I have done so already, it didn’t reveal anything to me.” He said, but Gorblam gestured impatiently and the mage incanted the spell. His eyes began to glow with a dull red fire. When he looked at Xy he gasped aloud, “It’s consuming the power… I must not have been able to see it before because it was so small…”
“What is it?” Jolokar asked, looking at the other two. “What’s eating the power? What power is it eating?”
“I’m not sure what it is, but it’s feeding off the power of the Burning Keep.” Solflame said, “It uses that arcane energy to convert her power over fire into cold somehow.”
“We need to fly then.” Said Jolokar, “The power of this place only extends so far. Once we are outside its influence perhaps this evil inside of her will die.”
“Or perhaps it will begin to do worse.” Solflame warned, “I haven’t ever seen anything like this before. Raddinal and I will do research. I will make sure to contact you if I find anything. Make sure you watch her carefully for signs of worsening.”
Xyrella’s eyes fluttered open and she stared around the room in bewilderment before settling on Jolokar. “You’re not leaving are you?” The note of uncertainty and fear in her voice was almost as unnerving as her condition.
“This can’t be the same woman I saw threaten Tiamet herself with banishment and then dismiss her like a petulant child.” He said, managing to make himself sound confident and sure, “I’m leaving and you’re coming with. Think of it as a well-earned vacation.”
She smiled, looking more like her old self and sat up. He took a small Sandalwood box from his belt pouch, offering it to her with a flourish.
“What’s this?” She asked, looking suspiciously at him.
“It’s not a replacement, but… it’s something.” He said with a smile.
She withdrew a dress of jet black material that flowed like woven water and sparkled as though it had diamonds woven into it. She laughed in delight, “Jolokar, it’s beautiful! It will be like wearing the starry night sky. Thank you.”
Without any hint of modesty, she took off the thick wool robe and silk shift which fell to the floor with the tinkle of breaking ice. The dress fit her like second skin, and for the first time since the Battle of the Adder Peaks, she almost looked like herself again.
“Thank you for all you’ve done Solflame. Take care of the place with him Gorblam.” She said, and turned to smile up at Jolokar, “Lets go. I’m ready.”
Gorblam watched the two of them leave and then glanced at Solflame. The wizard had a strange, troubled look on his face. It was a mixture of regret, hope and a twinge of jealousy.
“Well. I have some research to do.” Solflame said, with a decisive shake of his head. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be in the library.”