A Wish for Hope

Chapter Twenty-Five
(Jelnaya)

Esgalia had continued to stay quiet, although that had me notice how talkative the two lads had become.  With me detailing the mission against the Privileged, Abreyon and Nerbink felt they could now provide commentary about our present situation.  I actually did not mind the chatter, although I found myself wondering about Esgalia.

As we re-entered the church the young men however were speaking on a topic I did not find that entertaining, even as Abreyon tried to include me.  “Honored Duchess, are all female angels so lovely?”

I replied, “They are healthy, which is generally considered attractive.  Also, things divine should be something you, I’m talking about your soul, finds desirable.  Put the two together, and you should find any divine lady to be lovely.”

Nerbink asked, “So, you did find the men attractive?”

“Extremely handsome, yes.  Attractive, no.  I consider attraction to include fun to be around, and I did not consider the angels to fall into that category.”

“Well, the ladies could cook.”

I mumbled, “Solves one problem.”

Abreyon declared his understanding of what I said by saying, “You are however fun to be around, Honored Duchess.  Now, I believe we were told the portal is where the altar is.”

“That’s not where the altar goes.”

I corrected him not just by pointing where the altar should have been placed, but heading on the dais in front of the sanctuary as well.  What I saw looking through the portal however disturbed me.  I thought of the story I heard concerning the drahaberd I gained from my Aunt Neselle’s Goddess.  The original method of carrying the weapon had been by a fox.  Seeing a number of fox people in the room beyond, I looked to Esgalia.  Seeing him lift his eyes to me, I pointed to the portal while seeking some information on what we could be facing in leaving the sanctuary.

“Esgalia, why did you become a fox person?”

For a moment I thought he would not answer, but he spoke as if just taking time to consider what I asked.  “Why?  I did not ask to become a fox person.”

“I can understand that, but things still tend to happen for a reason.”  Not wanting to stall, I went ahead and spoke of what I saw.  “Listen, there are a number of fox people in the room beyond.  There are others like those we have seen, and I will start by attacking them.  I however cannot tell you if the fox people are your people, or others, but I will say that I will not start out by attacking them.”

The lads did ask about what I said.  I explained the room, and took time to discuss tactics.  Once the men and I agreed with what we would do, I asked them if they were ready and opened the portal when the lads said they were.

I rushed to the next world expecting the fight to escalate.  While the room had some size, and a number of scaly humanoid-like creatures could be seen, I began my attack attempting to stay alert to a more experienced or powerful demon entering the room.  There was also a concern for the fox people to begin attacking, as I could not have assured who or what they truly were looking through the portal.  I however felt that there would be a completely different fight going on when I heard some mention with joy recognizing Esgalia while others claimed his arrival to only be a trick.

What really concerned me was hearing Vulge exclaim, “Hey!  Whoa!” before hearing a couple of sounds of weapons meeting.

As I dropped one reptilian lady, I asked, “Do you have it, Vulge?”

“Don’t know, Princess.  I might have to kill a fox person or two.”

“Not our concern.  Esgalia?”

I heard our fox person say, “Please don’t.”  He then turned to the fox people to say, “Don’t challenge those people, because they are trying to help.”

A male voice asked, “Princess?  Is she a princess?”

“No.  I mean, yes.”

“What is it?”

“She is a princess where this man is from, but she is really a duchess.”

Vulge supported the explanation by saying, “What Esgalia said.  Jelnaya is a princess –“

A number of voices exclaimed, “JELNAYA!”

Surprised at not being beset with more opponents, I turned back as a male fox person whose voice I had heard earlier asked, “Is that really Jelnaya?”

It was Abreyon who asked, “Why does it matter?  We’re here to save you.”

Esgalia shot back, “We’re not saved until we are restored to being human.”

“Honored Duchess?”

I replied, “They have the right to set their own expectations.  That however does not mean I have to live up to them.”  I then asked the question I considered important.  “Why are there so many of you, and why aren’t there more of those other things?”

One of the females answered, “We taste bad to them, so the others went out to hunt.”

It was Esgalia who asked, “We taste bad?”

“Yes, Esgalia.  Those who ate us got sick.”

“Damn,” I muttered while attempting to make a quick decision.  “Listen, I’m going to open a portal and I want you to flee through it.  Plead to the goddess Tithony for safety.”

The fox male who was being obnoxious exclaimed, “I’m not going to plead to any goddess.”

“I don’t care.  Stay here.  I’m going on.”

One voice I had not heard up to now asked, “You won’t take us back?”

“Back to where?  Listen, I’m not here for you.  This thing, whatever this is, will get shut down.  Esgalia is here to hopefully assure his own goals.  I’m glad we found you alive, but that is not my reason for being here.  I shut down the Privileged, and I am going to shut this down.”

Esgalia said, “Listen to her.”

The obnoxious male demanded, “How did you find Jelnaya?”

“I didn’t.  We found ourselves at her parents’ house.”

“Her parents?”

“And Vulge showed up, then an angel –“

“AN ANGEL?”

It was Vulge who replied, “Listen, ass-wipe, we are not going to take the time right now to explain all this to you.”

I took over speaking, “Listen, the portal I am opening is to a church where there is an opening to – you probably should stay in the church.  There is, well, something I would not want you to face without directions.  You will then come out in the sewers beneath a church in my realm, and that is not a pleasant place to be either.  I can however assure you that I will come for you.  Tithony might be nice enough to grant you some grace to ease the period you will have to wait.”

Suddenly, the portal opened and one of the male angels said, “Yes, Honored Jelnaya.  If they will come, we will provide some comfort until you return to escort them to your world.”

“Thank you.”  I curtsied to the angel as I said that, but then turned with a stern expression as I spoke to the others.  “There is your invitation.  Take it or not.”

The one who had been obnoxious up to now looked to Esgalia and asked with a more subdued voice, “That is really Jelnaya?”

Esgalia replied, “It is.  It is not a simple story, however, so just go.”  I was glad to hear him then ask a question in return.  “What do you know of our gods?”

A lady that had not yet spoken replied, “They gave us up.”

“No.  They didn’t.  We did something.  Keleaf remembered Unnorry, but blames her for killing our child.  I however remember my wife not caring about the baby.  We’re not remembering.”

I saw the lady fall to her knees.  The anguish on her face I recognized as what would show in Esgalia’s features when he worked his mind.  Finally, with tears in her eyes she said what she could.

“The Privileged did not change us.  These people did.  When the Privileged didn’t come, these people did.  They changed us.  Some of us however were looking for other answers.  We did contact the gods, especially Unnorry, but… but… but that is all I can remember.”

Esgalia moved to help her back to her feet while saying, “It’s all right, Senneda.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya is correct.  We need to stop these people.  If I can find a way to restore us, I will.  If not, we will all need to see if we can remember.”

“You ran, Esgalia.  You took your wife with you, but left us.”

“You were being eaten.  I did not want to be eaten.”

I watched as the two hugged while crying.  Others came up to release emotions or simply assure some connection.  The one who had been obnoxious did not join, and while he stayed quiet for a time he spoke again as he watched the group attempt to wipe their eyes from crying.

“Well, tell me, Esgalia, is where we are going safe?”

I was proud of Esgalia when he replied, “I was not running to somewhere safe, but to Jelnaya.  Yes, I was scared of what we were facing, and definitely did not want to be eaten, but I wanted it to end.  Living a life of fear was not what I wanted for any of us.”

“How did you know where to go?”

“I was –“  I saw the anguish on his face of forcing his mind to remember things, and he dropped to a kneeling position before forcing out, “It was not a Privileged, but he was like a snake.  Not like these, more tubular, but limber – I thought of him as a snake-person.  He said… he said…”  Esgalia looked at me as he admitted, “The creature said that he would lead me to Jelnaya, because he wanted me to see her die.”

I said, “Sounds like he did not know who I was.  I will gladly face whatever fight he thinks will challenge me.”

Esgalia looked at me with a puzzled expression, then rose to look to the other fox-people.  “I don’t believe he did know.  When I found us facing Jelnaya’s father, Prince Venicht, there was a strength and confidence in him.”  Esgalia pointed at Vulge while saying, “When he arrived, Prince Venicht told him that things were complications, not coincidences.”

Vulge spoke to support those words.  “Yes, while he did not know who was coming, he knew someone would.  That means Jelnaya facing her problems, and even us meeting these people, was not just chance.  While nothing is assured, to think it was not coordinated is wrong.”

“That is a real angel,” Esgalia pointed to the one at the portal as he said that.  “This is really Jelnaya.  Please, pray for us.”

The obnoxious one asked, “If that is really an angel, why do we need to pray?”

“BECAUSE IT IS NOT TO ONE OF OUR GODS!  We need to know who to hold responsible.  It might be us, but we need to be restored.  That means we need to remember.”

“The Privileged changed us.”

“No, they didn’t.  Jelnaya removed the privilege.  What came for us was something that moved in after the Privilege.  We need to remember.”

A woman stepped up to the obnoxious one, and I was glad to hear her use the man’s name.  “Lernyrt, let us have these arguments after we are restored.”

He did not act to accept those words, but strode to point a finger in Esgalia’s face while saying, “You told us to accept the change.  That is why the Privileged, or whoever these beings are, let you escape.  It felt you would fall for their scheme as well.”

Esgalia replied, “Then it really did not know about Honored Duchess Jelnaya.  Still, if I am at fault, I will apologize.”

Before more could be said, the lady that had approached the obnoxious one said, “And Esgalia is with Jelnaya going to face the ones responsible for our fate.  Unless you are going to go with him, let’s go.”

Lernyrt stated, “I hope you die.”

Vulge replied, “No.  As one who is immortal, let me say that him living is probably the worse fate.”

Esgalia said, “Yes, but I promise that I will apologize.  I will be sorry, but I honestly don’t believe there is a simple answer.”

The lady admitted, “I don’t either.  Stay strong, Esgalia.  Lernyrt, come on.”

Esgalia has to continue to deal with the matters of his situation.