Basal 71st, 1042

Alouette awoke in the healer’s center, and it took them a moment to reorient themself. The clock on the wall said it was well into nighttime, though the hazy pink color still persisted outside. The window had shades on it, of course. But Aspen was pressed against the window’s shade, making cracks of lights slip in past the sleeping prince. Why he was sleeping on the window was anyone’s guess. Alouette would have asked one of the others in the room, had Kuiper or Azaleon been awake.

They stood up quietly as they could, letting their wings take most their weight while they stretched. They wandered into the hallway, deciding a walk would do while they waited for their human friends to wake up. They’d slept so long they’d gotten uncomfortably stiff. River was in the small waiting room asleep on a couch, which seemed more sensible than the places Kuiper and Aspen had opted for. He considered waking her and offering her their bed now that they were up, but thought better of it. She needed sleep uninterrupted.

Where was Clover? Perhaps sleeping somewhere else, in another bed in the hospital. Maybe she was grabbing food, hungry in the middle of the night. They doubted she’d gone far.

“Help me! Let me out of here!” A scream, raw and angry, rang out. Alouette cringed. They’d heard that woman yelling since they’d flown in. It wouldn’t have surprised Alouette if Clover had taken a walk outside to escape the voice. Though, they found that when they exited the building they could still hear her.

Her voice was even louder outside. And raspy, as if made of the sand that covered the ground below. Glassview was a desert town, known for its export of rare glass and the production of stained glass that was popular in Fern Helion, hence ‘glass-view’ as a name. So perhaps the large stained glass depiction of Remedy, in her signature amber color on the outside of the healer’s center shouldn’t have startled them.

But it did– because it forced their still-sleepy brain to connect the dots between Remedy and the voice. It was her. They knew it with certainty. She was sealed somewhere very close. They had been half awake at the time, but hadn’t someone said something about a maze? Maybe she was there…

Alouette bit their lip.

Just a fly over, then right back, they resolved. That way River couldn’t say they went in alone, because they wouldn’t be going in. It wouldn’t take long to get there, if the volume of Remedy’s volume was anything to go by.

They’d let the humans get hurt by the Lunar God, just days ago. The idea that Remedy was also being hurt by the Lunar and Sol Gods so close– they simply had to go see her, see if there was anything they could do to help. They fished their flying goggles out of one of many pockets on their robe, then let their hand slide down the fabric, changing it from a skirt to trousers with their power. Trying to fly in a skirt sucked, even if it was their usual preference to wear one any other time.

They waited until they reached the edge of town to hop up into the sky, the wind circling them like a kind hand tossing them upwards. The wind was an old friend, as mist was Refuge’s, and sand Remedy’s, and so forth. They thought all of the Gods must have elemental friends and animal friends, too. Speaking of animal friends…they doubted anyone was awake at this hour, but birds didn’t abide by human schedules. They scoped out the top of the buildings, spotting a nest and soaring down towards it. An adorably small tan-colored bird sat in its nest, looking up at them with curious black eyes.

“There’s some sort of maze that I’m looking for. Would you be kind enough to direct me there?”

It shook its head.

“No? Well, why not? I can hold you, if distance is a problem. I won’t let your wings get tired. Or, you could simply point me in the right direction, and I’ll go myself.”

They reached a hand out, gentle as they pet its back, and they felt its emotions. It was afraid.

“There’s nothing for me to fear, little one. You know that; you can feel what I am.” They kept their hands steady. Images of dead birds all littered across the sand in front of a massive, half-buried structure flashed in their mind.

“She’s the God of Salubrity, that shouldn’t be happening,” they whispered. “They did something to her…your message is appreciated. I’ll put a stop to this.”

The little bird reached out, grabbing their sleeve in its beak. They let out a soft laugh.

“I’ll truly be alright. This body is only temporary, you know? Er, I suppose you don’t, but I guess that’s a big concept for one so small, so…thank you. I’ll bring you some seeds when I come back.” They yanked their sleeve free, ignoring the worried chirps and trills, taking off. The maze was something left from the Dark Age before Thauma; in the bird’s vision, it looked impossible to even get in. They guessed it was in the direction of the sand storm they could see to the east– the structure itself hidden by the cloud of sand.

“Remedy!” They called, cupping their hands over their mouth, “Can you hear me? It’s Ash!”

They didn’t get a reply. Maybe they were still too far out. They were glad they’d had the foresight to put on their goggles– the sand was ferocious and biting. They stopped mid air, trying to orient their direction. It had felt like they’d been spun around midair, and they were growing dizzy from it.

They saw a dot far below them. It was a person, trying to walk through the sandstorm.

Scratch that, it was Clover.

They shot down, landing in front of her. She was wearing her nightgown and was barefoot. She was looking somewhere past them, eyes unfocused, and for a frightening moment, Alouette was afraid the Lunar God had taken control of her. But–no, those other people had pitch-black eyes, and hers were the usual soft brown.

“Clover! What in the world are you doing out here alone?!” They snapped a finger in front of her face, and she didn’t respond. “Clover?! I’m going to take you back to town, you shouldn't be out here!” They yanked their goggles off and slipped them over her eyes, careful not to catch her hair in the straps. “Is that a little better?”

She still didn’t respond. They hated picking her up without her okaying it first, but she wasn’t responding to anything they said…a healer was probably what she needed. Maybe this was some kind of human sickness, becoming despondent and walking aimlessly?

Before they could grab her, they heard Remedy again, loud and agonized.

“Just a little closer, come to me!”

Clover pushed past Alouette and tried walking east. Alouette let out a frustrated whine, grabbing her wrist.

“No, Remedy, this one is mortal; she’ll die if she comes to you! Release whatever hold you’ve got on her, and I’ll come to you once she’s safe! I can help you!”

“Ash?” Remedy asked, the sands around them hissing with anger. “The nerve you must have to come here after so long. They all die. They all die, and I warn them off, but they die trying…”

“Remedy, this is the first time I’ve seen you in this realm,” they tried. “You’re not well. Which is ironic, considering…” Considering her domain was healing.

“She’s been crying. She sounds like my mother did.” Clover murmured, the first words she’d spoken.

“Clover, you’re going to die if you go in there,” Alouette tried desperately holding her wrist still. They didn’t want to hurt her or dislocate her wrist, and she was tugging desperately. “Remedy, please, please let her mind go.”

“No, she won’t die, she’s the first I’ve seen that won’t. She was so close, her and that boy,” Remedy whispered through the sand swirling around them, “They could hear me. I can see it. She’s Sol’s favored, isn’t she?”

“She’s not! You’re seeing that her bloodline was marked by Sol, her brother is the Quasar! Not her!”

“Quasar?” Remedy asked; of course, the others didn’t know about the Quasar Ceremony, it was the thing keeping them locked in. It hadn’t been established by the Sol and Lunar Gods until after she was put away. “You’re going to have to turn back, Ash. That vessel won’t hold up,” Remedy advised. “But let the girl come to me.”

What was she talking about? She really had lost her mind. They couldn’t die. Yet the closer they got to the maze, the worse they felt. Something warm was dripping on their face, and they raised a hand. Their nose was leaking blood. Ugh, it was the second time in weeks it’d done that, the first time being when Azaleon had smacked them with that staff of his.

“It’s alarming how far you’d go to be here. Then again, considering your track record, maybe not,” Remedy said. They wiped the blood away stubbornly.

“I could have left at any time. But then, I didn’t want to hurt them, the humans. I’ve dreamed of the day we would all meet again, most of all, when I would see you again, Ash,” Remedy hissed, and they startled. Her favored animals, snakes, were gathering in front of them, blocking them from Clover. She’d jerked out of their grasp, still walking forward. The snakes parted like a sea for her, almost beckoning.

“I’m not going to argue with you, you’re clearly upset about something they made you believe,” Alouette huffed, flying upwards then diving back down to bypass the snakes and grab Clover. Clover let herself be picked up for all of two seconds before shoving her Wonderworking Wand in their face, smacking them with it. They were so startled they dropped her in the sand. She’d hit hard!

“I am not going to fight you, Clover, come here!” They begged, landing in front of her again.

“No. She’s been crying. I can help her,” Clover said, her gaze still unfocused. Remedy was tapping into her subconscious. She was practically sleep-walking, anything she did right now wasn’t her fault. They gripped her forehead, hand shaking.

“Remedy, you lift your hold on her or I will.” And it would hurt Clover, in all likelihood.

“You won’t. Your power isn’t made to affect minds, and you won’t risk hurting her. You always loved mortals more than us.”

“We all love them. Which is why I don’t understand why you’re drawing her closer.”

“Being confined in that thing is blinding you. Look closer at her, Ash,” Remedy urged. “Or just let her come to the edge of my maze and see for yourself. She won’t die. You may, but not her.”

“If this is a lie, then I’ll free everyone but you. I’ll leave you here, and I’ll never forgive you.” Alouette said under their breath. They had never been the vindictive type, but the words came easily in this situation.

“I’m not the liar here. Let her go.”

They released their hold on Clover’s face, letting their hands drop to their side, and she walked around them. They did their best to shield her from the harsh swirling sand with their wings, all the way up the half-buried maze steps.

They felt worse and worse the closer they got. Like they were going to throw up and their head was killing them, splitting in two–

“This is how it feels for all of them. Any creature that dares close to me,” Remedy said. He could see her serpentine eyes, glowing amber from the cracks in the wall.

“You won’t be lonely anymore.” Clover said so sweetly that Alouette wanted to cry. It was awful– how long had Remedy been here, all alone? Unintentionally killing mortals, with her power that was supposed to aid them, as all of theirs was supposed to. Of course she’d lost her mind a bit. “Tell me what to do.”

Then, almost violently, her body jerked, sending her stumbling back. Her eyes were blown wide, and she lifted up the goggles Alouette had forced on her face.

“Alouette? Where are we…?”

“We’ve found Remedy. She’s cursed,” they said, looking up into the maze. “And we’re going to remove it and free her.”

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