She awoke bathed in sweat, praying that Ceridith wouldn't notice. He'd fought so hard today, though, that he was dead to the world. Only his rhythmic breathing and the gentle rise and fall of the sheets let her know he was there. She squeezed her eyes shut against the greenish glow, feeling the tug of power calling to her. She'd buried the damned thing; hadn't that been enough?
She slipped from between the sheets, her bare feet treading softly over the floorboards. She escaped out into the night, completely nude, letting the moonlight bask her skin in its glow. With a whispered word her form began to lengthen, stretching fluidly from humanoid to feline, building thick, agile muscles beneath soft, silky fur. She raced to the hidden place, furiously clawing at the bare earth.
She had buried it deeply. As she neared her prize, the source of her turmoil, she began to fight overwhelming instincts to injure something, to maim someone. Images of gruesome carnage flashed through her mind, spurring her onward. Earth flew behind her in great chunks.
[i]Locked![/i] She lamented upon seeing the padlock she had affixed to the box's lid. [i]Where, where, where...[/i] She remembered suddenly. She'd given the key to Ceridith and told him to get rid of it. [i]No![/i] Desperately she clawed at the lid, her eyes a bright fel green shining with the edge of insanity.
[i]I have to find out where he put it.[/i] Rational thought returned. She filled the hole, tamping down the earth with her front paws when she was finished. She ran back to the house, shifted smoothly into humanoid form, and eased her way back into bed, forgetting that her limbs and hands were caked in dirt.
Dreams of the statuette seemed to subside for the rest of the night. Beneath her lids, her eyes held only a faint trace of the fel green glow.
Ceridith paced the waiting area, his long ears growing red with his impatience. Nazumai guarded the doorway, arms crossed over her slight frame with a stern, motherly expression written on her face. Aceriel and Katanya were seated next to one another on a bench, each holding a rotund identical toddler in their lap. The toddlers wore matching bemused expressions, turquoise curls framing their cherubic faces.
�Once I roused some help, I went to talk to Cilandra. She told us that a ritual would have to be done to help break Mom from the corruption. She told us that she sent a note to an Agency priest who could do it. We went into Stratholme and found an orb and some holy water and Director Davnika took it with her to the priest. Then Kat and I came home like you asked� but I would have liked to seen where they went, Daddy.� Aceriel tossed her long silver hair over her shoulder, out of reach of ten chubby little fingers.
�I told you, it was too dangerous. Cilandra felt the corruption would use us against your mother, and it would make it more difficult for her to be rescued, and possibly put us in peril.� Ceridith raked a hand through his hair. �But now that she�s back, I don�t see why we can�t see her.� He threw Nazumai a disgruntled glare.
�As I told you, Ceridith, Tamika is cleaning her up and tending to her care. She needs her rest for a full recovery, and seeing you all will bring up feelings of shame over her susceptibility to corruption � feelings that in her current state, she is not prepared to deal with. We do not want anything impeding her recovery, do we?� Mai sighed, having said all this before. �I promise that I will let you know as soon as she is ready, Ceridith. Take your family home to rest. Today was a victory, but there will be a more difficult road ahead.�
A young, dark-haired human woman suddenly emerged from the closed door, shutting it silently behind her. Pale blue eyes caught Ceridith�s as he hastily turned his attention to her.
�She is doing well and sleeping now. I gave her a draught of Dreamless Sleep to ward off nightmares. I would like to speak with you a moment, Ceridith.� The small woman pulled him aside, lowering her voice so that his children could not make out what she was saying.
�What was done to her? When can I see her? When will she recover? Is it really all over?� Ceridith pelted the woman with questions, urgency and concern evident in his voice.
�I performed a ritual cleansing to remove a good portion of the demonic corruption � at least enough to remove her from the Karazhan Crypts where she was found without putting her in mortal danger. The search party then transported her back to Shattrath and here to the Aid Station. I�m afraid the entire experience has left her very drained, and it is essential that she regain her strength. I�m afraid that she is also in a precarious mental state due to the extensiveness of the corruption, and so Nazumai will be the first to speak with her when she is strong enough to determine when she is ready to have visitors, and ultimately to return to her duties.�
�However, this is not the end of her corruption. As long as Prince Melchazzar � the force behind her fel taint � continues to survive, she will always be tied to him in some way. There is no other way to ensure she will not succumb to his calling again, except to eliminate the source.�
Ceridith gritted his teeth, muscles flexing. �So this Prince is the source of her corruption? I am familiar with him��
Tamika nodded. �Until he is dead, it will never be over, I am afraid. She will always require careful guardianship.�
�Then it is time to remove the Prince from his castle��
She awoke, seeing the face of her husband dozing in an armchair next to the bed. He loosely clutched something in his large fist, slim silver chain spilling out between his fingers. She gently slipped her hand over his, letting her eyes wander over the worry lines etched into his face.
A candle by the bedside burned low, choked by a pool of molten wax, flickering and casting dancing shadows across the room. For a moment she thought she caught sight of a chilling and familiar silhouette, large and formidable with bulging muscles and wickedly curved horns. She screamed, waking her husband with a start. He dropped Davnika's necklace to the floor and wrapped his arms around Nikajah protectively.
"You... you're awake. What is it, love? A nightmare?" He smoothed her hair and kissed the top of her head, trying to soothe her.
"I... yes, it must have been..." She suddenly looked at him, feeling the shame filling her face. "You must be very angry with me."
"No, my love, I'm just glad to have you back. We've been so worried. The girls and I... we love you very much." He pressed his lips against her forehead and cheeks, holding her close, his voice choked by emotion.
After a few moments he remembered the protective amulet Davnika had given him. He plucked it from the floor and held it out to Nikajah. "Davnika wanted you to have this, to protect you from evil."
She examined the onyx orb, fascinated by its polished surface. "That was nice of her." Ceridith placed the chain around her neck and tucked the orb inside her nightclothing.
"Tamika said that you are probably well enough to visit now, but that you shouldn't work for awhile. And she requires you to have a regular escort." At this, Nikajah wrinkled her nose. "For your protection, and just in case..." He trailed off. She knew what he was about to say. In case she was tempted again...
But the pain of shame was dulled by her suddenly overwhelming urge to sleep. She drifted back down to the bed, curling up tightly, and let sleep take over her weary mind.
She knew it had happened at the very moment of the Prince�s death. She was with her girls, Lynissa always near, just in case... just in case something would dare happen to go wrong. She played with the soft turquoise curls that framed their tapered ears, smiling at the endlessly happy cherubic faces. She had put them to bed and decided, numbly, to try to rest in her own. Pulling a book from their library, she was nestled under the covers lost in worlds of fable and myth.
And then it happened.
The book dropped to the wooden floors with a loud thunk. She convulsed and her eyes rolled up, their luminescence dimmed by the back of her eyelids. A howl ripped through her lungs that sounded more animal than humanoid. Lynissa appeared suddenly from nowhere, blinking into the room. Her mouth dropped open and she conjured water into her hands.
It was as if a dam had broken. Anger and sadness and misery leeched out, poured out, and dissolved, leaving Nikajah exhausted but feeling as fresh and new as if she�d had a long bath. Lynissa dappled water on her head, but Nikajah gently took the bottle and drank from it. A pleasing coolness tingled down her throat. The water was sweet and cool and wonderful.
Nikajah held a palm to Lynissa�s cheek, looking at her affectionately. It was as if blinders had been lifted, and she could see true beauty once again in the world. She kissed Lynissa�s cheek, causing a rising blush to color the apples of the girl�s cheeks.
Without a word, Nikajah rolled over and immediately let sleep take her, curling up like a newborn lamb. It was a sleep filled with soft, gentle, pleasant dreams. Lynissa tucked the bedclothes around her with care, then crept out of the room to check and see that the twins were still asleep.
Only the soft sound of Nikajah�s easy breathing filled the room. It was a joyful sound, and one that had not filled the room in what seemed like a very, very long time.