Kui hurried into the wizard's camp at the edge of Rosa, frowning at the surprising amount of activity this late in the night. He evaded one man who was rushing to and fro with a load of bags.
"Who are you, and can I help you?" a young woman asked him as he wandered his way deeper in. Kui decided then and there that he didn't like her, even if he wasn't sure why.
"I'm looking for a Belthor," he said. "Son of Morse?"
"Oh. He's in that tent, over there." The lady pointed. "Might want to come back later, though, stranger. Master Kulkas has called everyone together for the ceremony."
"Ceremony?" Kui blinked, but then the lady was gone, practically skipping through the chaos with a smug little grin on her face. Okay, this was either a very cheerful lady by nature who was nice as could be, or she was someone who needed a chair to the face at high velocity.
"Belthor?" he asked, approaching the tent and looking for something to knock on. He saw nothing solid for a long moment - and then a head appeared through the flap.
"Oh, Mister Ku'uaki-"
"It's Kui," Kui said. "I need to talk to you."
"Will it be quick?" Belthor asked.
"No," Kui replied, as he pushed past the boy into his tent. He glanced around at a surprisingly orderly living space for a fifteen-year-old. "You seem awfully organized."
"I'm packed," Belthor replied, voice moody. "Master Kulkas announced Vivian as his pick this evening. They're getting ready to start the official ceremony now."
"Ten minutes?" the boy guessed. "I'm supposed to stand there and sing Vivian's praises and wish her good fortune and all of that. She's earned it. She got the Garredins' patronage, after all. I didn't get anyone's."
"The glass," Kui said. "Tell me you figured it out."
"What?" Belthor blinked. "Oh, yes. I managed to figure out a way to show it to Master Kulkas without him getting suspicious. He said he knew a ritual to...sort of reset it. So I asked him to." The boy pulled out the shard. "I was going to drop it off tomorrow morning once all this shook out and I needed to beg for a job from Princess Estelle again." He paused. "Is this about her?"
"I think she's in trouble," Kui said. He extended his hand. "Tell me how to work this thing."
"It's, uh," Belthor said. "Well, Master Kulkas let me choose the activation word, and I kind of chose...um..."
"What?" Kui asked.
"Spellweaver," Belthor finally muttered. "Princess Estelle told me to own it, so..."
"And then?" Kui asked.
"Tell it who or what you want to see," Belthor supplied. Kui breathed in.
"Spellweaver," he said, feeling stupid but at a loss for other options, "show me Estelle Marona."
The glass rippled, like it was water. A moment later, it changed...to a view of Estelle's own room, while she talked with what looked like her mother.
"Oh, gods," Kui whispered. "I'm such an idiot. She came home since I left." He wished he could hear what was being said.
"Is that all?" Belthor asked. "I think they're calling me-"
Kui's breath caught as he saw Andromeda produce a gun and shoot Estelle, twice. He couldn't move as he watched her fall to her knees, clutching at her mother's dress...
"We have to go," he told Belthor. "She's in danger."
"But they're calling me-"
"Look at that!" Kui ordered. He practically shoved the glass in front of the boy's face. "She's been shot. She's dying. I haven't a clue if we'll get there in time as it is - the only one who can save her, Belthor, is you."
The young man hesitated. He glanced out the tent at the sound of trumpets and drums, then back to Estelle, lying in her own blood while her mother plucked something off the bed.
"Oh, forget it," Belthor finally said. He handed the glass back to Kui. "I lost the competition anyway. And I'll be a cold, dead corpse before I praise that smug witch to her face."
Estelle crawled for the door. She was weak, so weak...her thoughts were disjointed and...and muggy, that's what they were. They didn't make any sense.
She clutched cold, wet sand between her fingers. Her hands stretched out and she caught rocks slick with spray from the wild seas. Estelle dragged herself hand over hand across the beach out of the surf, her face a split mask of concentration. She clutched at her ribs, fighting panic and pain with patience and will...
She reached up and grabbed for the door handle. It was locked, and the mechanism was too intricate for her shaking, nerveless fingers to work. Her strength failed and Estelle collapsed on the carpet, coughing up more blood.
She lay in the sand as waves thundered around her on all sides. The waters would rise, soon. If she didn't have the strength to go on, she could lie here and let herself be swept out to sea again...let herself drown.
What did she have to live for, anyway?
"Help," she whispered into the crack below the door, so low no one would hear her if she were lying at their feet. Up came one of her hands, and feebly she beat on the wood, as if that would make some difference in the world. "Please, help me."
There was no one to help her. Estelle rolled on her back in the sand, coughing up seawater and mud, wiping at her face with the back of her hand.
"Callan," she whispered in her memory. Was it memory? What was real, and what was her fantasy?
Everything that had happened since she'd been cast away on the island was a fantasy. That was the only explanation. She was dehydrated, demoralized, dispirited...she was lying on the hot beach, malnourished and suffering from heatstroke. Jason wasn't real. Vaneer wasn't real. There was no Guiding Light, she'd never returned home...
None of it was real. The only thing that was real...was the looming angel of death over her head...
The door opened. The door to what? The other side? Estelle blinked, trying to bring herself to reality - whatever that was.
"Can you hear me?" someone asked. Estelle frowned.
"Kui?" she whispered. Her hand twitched as she tried to raise it, and very faintly, she felt someone holding onto it.
"I'm here," the Islander said, voice faint. "Stay with me. Estelle, stay with me."
"I can't," she whispered. Someone else was ripping her shirt open, and Estelle couldn't care less. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
Something mattered. Someone. She had to remember...it was...
Estelle jerked, convulsively, as that one name shattered all her delirium. Luna.
"Luna," she gasped aloud, making out the fuzzy outline of Kui's face, and someone else...someone... "Bel?"
"It's okay," Belthor said, his voice tinny. "It's okay. Breathe. Close your eyes."
"Close them." He sounded firmer than he ever had before. Estelle took a breath and her lids slid closed. Darkness enveloped her world, and she grunted as Belthor put his fingers on the first of her bullet wounds.
Her vision turned white, even with her eyes closed. She felt Kui squeeze her hand, and the world seemed to tilt this way and that...Belthor's fingers moved upward to her chest, and he touched her second wound.
More white. More disorientation. Estelle whirled and spun in circles, unsure of what was happening or why, distracted by everything...
"Nerien!" What Belthor was casting on now, she didn't know, nor did she care. More white, and Estelle endured...
It was over. She lay on the carpet, gasping for breath, and to her amazement, she found she could move her arm. Estelle swallowed, and though her mouth and throat tasted like blood, no more came up.
"Estelle!" Kui wrapped his arms around her. "You're-"
"I'm alive." She hugged him back for a moment. Then... "Help me up."
"You should rest," Belthor urged. "I recommend sleep and-"
She turned to meet his eyes. She blinked once.
"That's not going to happen," she finally said.