Secret Garden

(1 Eorgean 5115, Ta’Illistim)

The ghostly blue glow of the ancient glowbark tree spilled onto the dark ground where a lot of the beautiful, keening sirenflowers were withering and turning black or blood-red, petal by petal, flower by flower.

She noticed it first in the change of their song, less than an hour before….

In the heart of the Veythorne Manor’s garden is one of their favorite places, under the ancient glowbark tree. The tree was surrounded by many of the sirenflowers of legend. During the night, the tree kept the area bathed in an eerie bluish glow that was bright enough to read by. The sirenflowers cooed and stirred restlessly in every breeze, their song mysterious, sometimes sad; but the bardess felt that they were still heart-felt songs. Yes, even for flowers.

Was it the right thing to do? Maybe not, but it was the only thing she could do at the moment.

Aetheri excused himself briefly to help a student. As she was contemplating the arrangement for one of the songs Aetheri found in Siralina’s things, she felt as if someone was watching her, briefly. She glanced up, but there was nobody there.

Ordinary location spells are troubling enough, but this was not like a location spell. This felt like someone was actually … watching her. The hairs on her neck stood up and she became very alert … she was already scared.

Then the sirenflowers sang an eerie song out, one she had never heard them sing – she knew their every whisper, murmur, their every song. But not this one. Their song hung on the breeze, and she briefly held her breath, listening for … what? She did not even know.

She reached out to the nearest flower, in beautiful multicolored splendor, asking in a flowing Elven voice, “Oh, flowers! Are you all right?”

They responded immediately to her with voices she recognized. But she was not comforted.

“I know, it is really chilly tonight. Maybe …” she got no further with that sentence. A traditional location spell surrounded the area. In another time, she would have fled, yet she choked on her words and steeled herself for what might come next.

Cruxophim walked into the garden; she was so relieved to see a familiar face. He seemed a little surprised to see her, and so he clearly was not here to see her, but Aetheri.

Cruxophim spoke bemusedly to her, “Well, hullo.”

“You just gave me a fright Mister Crux,” she told him.

“I’m good at that,” Cruxophim told her wryly.

She explained that Aetheri would return shortly, and then started to explain that something seemed …different… with the flowers.

“The flowers are restless, and vocalizing a song I have never heard before. I am concerned, Mister Crux,” she told him.

“But I digress, what brings you to the Shining City tonight?” She was looking for a way to fill the time until Aetheri returned.

Cruxophim grimly reports, “A matter of some urgency, I’m afraid.”

She was nervous about what he said, but it was not her business so she made conversation. The Aelotoi made spells of protection around her, as he usually does when they happened to meet somewhere. And they waited for Aetheri to return.

“Do tell, what sort of strange visions might the wind bring?” Cruxophim wondered, speaking gently to her, as he sat next to her to listen.

“The flowers see what the flowers see,” she told him. “As long as there is a breeze when they stir and call out, all is well. I do not know whether they protect the tree, or vice versa. I should love to speak to the Garden’s Caretaker about that one day.”

“And if they begin to call out with no breeze? Should it be time to worry?” Cruxophim asked, sounding amused.

“Yes, Mister Crux,” she explained in all seriousness. This was not some tale she was making up. “These flowers were used by Ashrim ships to warn of the presence of demons.”

Cruxophim subtly noted, “…interesting.” and chortled softly as if at some secret joke.

Aetheri returned in the middle of her explanation. “I’m sorry about that, I had to take care of something. What’s going on?”

“How do you do? I’m Crux, a friend of m’lady Luxelle,” Cruxophim greeted him directly.

The bardess was confused, and suddenly flustered. She thought they would have known each other. Before she could see to the rest of the introductions properly, the two guys finished their own introductions. Alas.

The flowers stirred at that very moment from along the stream, their haunting melody sounded different to her again.

“The flowers are very restless, Aetheri. Suddenly. It feels wrong.” she glanced at the mage with no small concern.

“I see that too,” he noticed.

She was still concerned about the flowers, and did not know if she should excuse herself from the gentlemen’s discussion. She offered to run her errands, but Cruxophim assured her she was welcome to stay.

Cruxophim said speaking to Aetheri, “I have a bit of… an usual request.”

Aetheri asked Cruxophim, “Okay, what is it?”

“In my studies, I find myself in need of strange materials, from time to time,” Cruxophim told Aetheri.

“If you would be so willing, and so kind, I would love a sample of some potent magical blood for my studies. Just a bit, really, barely noticeable — and only if you would be willing to volunteer,” Cruxophim spoke thoughtfully as he addressed Aetheri.

The bardess felt a panic, but said nothing.

“Blood of an archmage, or blood from an Ashrim?” Aetheri asked him, sounding skeptical.

“The rare combination of both would be ~ever so delightful,” Cruxophim murmured.

The bardess knelt beside some of the beautiful multi-hued sirenflowers and gazed at them in worry as the guys talked. She decided to speak to Aetheri later about voicing her concern in the middle of a conversation.

“You may sample my blood if you wish…” Aetheri told Cruxophim.

She rose to her feet and felt a chill draft of wind whistle by which evoked a cascade of soft, somber wails from the sirenflowers.

She shifted her weight a little uneasily as Cruxophim pulled out a bloodstained carved bone syringe, and then looked away. She was not normally squeamish, but the syringe, that was more than she wanted to see right then.

The papery petals of the sirenflowers stirred, their haunting melody rose up from the edge of a stream.

The flowers were still uneasy, still exhibiting unusual behavior and noises.

Cruxophim spoke gently to Aetheri, “I will endeavor to make sure that this does not hurt, although I’m sure you can more than handle it.”

The bardess, still quiet, knelt again at the sirenflowers, cooing in their direction as Crux took the blood sample from her husband.

Then a petal from a sirenflower broke off, drifting down into a nearby stream, its vivid multi-hued surface nearly black in the shadow of the area.

Cruxophim stored the blood in a small vial, and then observed the area. Luxelle stood up, the restlessness of the flowers just added to her growing concern.

Cruxophim wistfully observes, “Brings back memories.”

Atheri glanced around nervously.

“The tree, Mister Crux?” she asked him.

Cruxophim agreed, speaking thoughtfully her, “Curious.”

“Oh, now you make me curious. What is curious?” She asked of Cruxophim. “I love stories, you know.”

“Oh, just… memories,” Cruxophim murmured, speaking wistfully to the bardess as he swayed back and forth, then turned his attention back to the vial where the dark red blood shifted a bit.

“My, this IS potent blood,” Cruxophim observed as he spoke approvingly to Aetheri.

Aetheri leaned over and whispered quietly to her, “This whole endeavor is making me nervous.”

“Can I sing for you tonight, Mister Crux?” the bardess asked, handing him a parchment. “This is my current repertoire. Please, pick a song.”

Cruxophim coos, “Ooooh,” as he glanced over the list in his hand.

“May I ask what you exactly needed my blood for?” Aetheri asked Crux.

Cruxophim spoke sagely to Aetheri, “Experiments.” Cruxophim looked a bit smug and slowly tapped his index finger against his temple as a knowing expression spread across his face.

“I…see,” Aetheri replied. She was pretty sure Aetheri did not see – at all.

Aetheri told Cruxophim, “I’m just trying to make sure nothing nefarious is going to happen, like you use it to summon some demon lord that I’d have to slay.”

Cruxophim whimsically noted to the bardess, “So many songs sound promising.  The Dark Knight, perhaps?”

She thought Mister Crux had heard it before, but maybe that was part of his … lost memory issues.

There was a particularly eerie dirge echoing faintly from a bed of sirenflowers that clung to the edge of a bending stream.  One of the sirenflowers suddenly darkened, its multi-hued shades deepening to the color of blood and it fell loose, dropping to the ground.

Aetheri looked like he was making ready for anything that might happen next as he summoned a torrent of elemental upon himself within the space of one breath. Crux picked up one of the now blood red sirenflowers.

“Well, I suspect if I ~did manage to somehow summon a demon lord for you to slay, we should both be entertained,” Cruxophim quipped with some amusement to Aetheri.

Aetheri told Cruxophim, “…right.” He began to pace back and forth.

“Odd… do these occurrences happen often here?” Cruxophim asked of Aetheri.

“I’ve never seen these sirenflowers behave like this. That’s why I’m so on edge,” Aetheri answered him directly. “I’ve heard…stories.”

“Well, maybe some music will perk up the flowers, too,” The bardess offered. She was even more nervous now. Maybe music would soothe the tension in the area. And so she started to sing. She was not sure it was the right thing to do, but … it was her thing, and she clung to it.

It was between the 3rd and 4th beat of the turn-around from a middle chorus that led back to the last verse when she saw more sirenflowers, one by one, like tears of blood, darken and fall to the ground near the base of the glowbark tree.

She wanted to freeze, stop the song, and give in to the the fear she was feeling. But her bardic training took over, “Because the show must go on,” an instructor had hammered into her, time and time again. She lived by that, and took comfort in the now surreal nod to normalcy that finishing the song suddenly had become. Was it the right thing to do? Maybe not, but it was the only thing she could do at the moment.

During the last chorus, Aetheri whispered to her, “Careful, Sweetie, there’s a demon nearby. I’ve seen flowers crumple like this before.”

She finished the song, somehow, and she glanced apprehensively around the area. She knelt before one of the changed flowers on the ground and touched it gingerly. Truth be known, she wanted to cry, she was that distressed.

“We’ve been blessed by something, it seems,” Cruxophim slyly noted.

“I am not sure these look like blessings Mister Crux,” she told him.

“I’ve seen flowers crumple and wither like this before…” Aetheri started.

“Oh?” Cruxophim ventured, speaking softly to Aetheri.

“When a sorcerer lost control of his portal, during the Battle of Ta’Ashrim on Langmar Isle…” Aetheri continued, “He was killed, and demons poured through the portal. Abyran’ra, Oculoths, Vathors.”

Cruxophim gazed with interest at the blood red sirenflower in his hand and hopefully asked, “Do you think there will be demons?”

“I should hope not. They’re notoriously hard to kill,” Aetheri responded quickly. He remained hyper-vigilant, in spite of no recent activity.

Small talk ensued. The flowers seemed to sing their usual keening melodies, and no more of them collapsed and turned red. Cruxophim bade them farewell.

She thought it was over.

She would turn out to be wrong about that. But being wrong about something was not all that unusual for her this year.

Author: GSBardess

A young bardess named Luxelle is currently learning her trade and hoping to one day make a name for her songs in GemStone IV. Follow along with her adventures in life and song.

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