Lais was the first to regain consciousness. She checked over everyone in turn and smiled gently at Inés. “They’ll be fine,” she reported. “They’ll need time to rest and to take it easy, but there won’t be any permanent damage.”
“Thank the Gods,” Inés muttered. She turned to Illyana. “How did you ladies manage to get here so quickly?”
Illyana produced a familiar statue. It was the same they’d found in the strange structure on the cliff.
“I used this,” Illyana said. “It’s magically attuned to a… ruin, I guess. It brought us really close to you. Athena gave it to me.”
“So that’s why one was missing,” Inés said. “So, Athena identified herself to you?”
“Well, no,” Illyana said. “I just heard a voice when I was alone in my room. I also felt the power behind it, though, and she talked about you three. So, I figured it was Athena.”
“Colour me curious,” Inés said. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?”
“I was alone in my room,” Illyana said. “I’d just gone to claim a familiar, a bat. I was feeding him some cow blood when I heard a voice. ‘Illyana,’ she said. ‘Sylvie and her companions are in danger. You must go to your friend, Enya and your aunt. With them by your side, go to the city with them. Tell them to seek out a visiting girl from Malachi with an eye patch. She’ll be claiming to be a merchant. Tell the three of them that Inés needs them. And then, use this to take you to them.’ And then she gave me the statue and told me to return it to its proper place.”
“Strange coincidence, both Lais and Ashley visiting Wicadia at once,” Inés said. She smiled at Lais. “Or were you sent there?”
“It was no coincidence,” Lais confirmed. “A week ago I heard a powerful voice telling me to visit my sister. I found that I couldn’t ignore it. Ashley claims to have had a similar experience telling her to go to Wicadia.”
“I guess Athena foresaw this battle and took steps in advance,” Inés said. “I wish I had those planning skills.”
Shortly after, the rest of the group began waking. Sylvie was the last to regain her senses. She found her head cradled gently in Illyana’s lap.
“Illyana,” Sylvie said. “When I saw Lais’ look, I somehow knew they’d brought you here.”
“It’s kind of the opposite,” Illyana said. “I brought them. Sylvie, do you feel okay?”
“Got a nasty head ache and I doubt I’ll be able to move normally for a while,” Sylvie said. “Aside from that, I’m in perfect shape.”
“Aunt Lais says you’ll recover completely,” Illyana reassured her. “So, your pilgrimage went well?”
“There were unexpected problems,” Sylvie said. “But, all things considered, I’d say so.”
“Great!” Illyana declared. “Then you can give me the message you wanted.” She waited for a moment in silence. “You said you had something to tell me after you finished your pilgrimage.”
“I remember,” Sylvie said. “Let’s go somewhere private.” She reluctantly got back on her feet and she walked with Illyana away from the others.
Inés gave her a thumbs up as she went.
Illyana tilted her head. “I don’t hear anyone here. I think we’re alone. So…”
Sylvie took a deep breath and gathered her courage. It was too late to falter. Besides, she’d promised. “Illyana, I love you! I’ve been in love with you since my last years studying magic at the Academy. I don’t know if you could ever return my feelings, but I wanted to let you know.”
There was silence for a moment. “You love me?” Illyana asked. “As in… romantically?”
“Yes!” Sylvie declared.
“Even though I can’t see? Even though I get tired quickly and can’t do much besides magic?”
“Absolutely!” Sylvie confirmed.
There was another awkward silence. “Two years,” Illyana said. “If… if you can tell me again… just as earnestly in two years… at that time I’ll become your bride.”
“I’ll remember that,” Sylvie said. “Will I… Will I be allowed to visit you in the mean time?”
“Well… we are kind of, in a way, engaged,” Illyana said. “I think visits are proper.”
Sylvie walked over and hugged Illyana close to her. “You’ll never know how happy you’ve made me today,” she whispered.
“I should be saying that,” Illyana said.
Before leaving, Illyana placed the statue in the empty pedestal. For a time, the priestesses travelled with Ashley, Lais, Enya and Illyana. Ashley took her leave in Malachi. Lais returned as they went back through Het Wald. Finally, Illyana and Enya returned home in Wicadia.
The three priestesses found the trip back much easier than the trip there. Not just because their pegasi enabled them to move faster and more easily, but because they barely encountered trouble. Just some bandits who mistook them for an easy mark.
Finally, they returned to the Temple.
Their Demure, Blitz & Dusk were quickly stabled and they were assured that they would be waiting the next time any of them took a journey.
Diana called them to her office, having them come in one at a time. Sylvie found herself in there first.
“Naturally, I’ll expect a full report later,” Diana said. “For the moment I just want you to tell me, truthfully, how Inés and Serena fared during the journey.”
“I had some… disagreements with Inés,” Sylvie said. “But I can’t deny that she was skilled, commanding and stronger than any other priestess I’ve met. I was impressed by her dedication and nobility. as for Serena, she’s inexperienced, but I have no doubt that she’ll make an excellent priestess.”
“Sylvie and Serena?” Inés asked. “Well, Sylvie can be a bit uptight, but she’s also really smart, super skilled and loyal. I’d gladly entrust my life to her again. Serena may be the best initiate starting out I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I almost forgot that she wasn’t technically one of my peers. And I’m not saying that because we were sleeping together.”
“They were incredible,” Serena answered. “Strong, confident, amazingly skilled. I just hope that I can become a warrior priestess half as good as they are.”
It took several days for Sylvie to finish her report. Inés finished hers in a couple hours but hers was a basic list of where they went and what obstacles they dealt with while Sylvie’s was a long, detailed report of everything she found important. Which was a lot.
A week after the reports had been submitted, Inés and Sylvie were summoned to Diana’s office.
“I’m astounded,” Diana said. “You two went through a lot. I’m also pleasantly surprised to hear that you got past your differences. Inés, Sylvie Fortunio, in completing this trial safely and in conducting yourselves honourably, you have earned positions as full-fledged warrior priestesses. With all rights and privileges that the position entails. Congratulations.”
Inés watched Jack’s eyes grow wide.
“All of that happened?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” Inés said. “There’s some more too, but I’ll tell it to you later. For now, I’ve gotta get back to the temple. I promised Julia and Flora I’d share their bed tonight.”
“I’ll look forward to hearing the rest,” Jack said. “I just know it’ll make an impressive set of ballads.”
Inés waved. She was on her way out of the pub when she had to stop. A familiar looking grey-eyed woman had two attractive women in her arms and seemed to be having a good time. Inés smiled and headed out. Thinking that she may very well have the perfect disposition for her work. Which was good, since she’d be doing it for a very long time.