Following an intense battle to free her acolyte Jamyn from a malevolent entity, Kana finds herself in an unfamiliar situation with her student.
They can finally start moving forward.
True, there are a multitude of things to attend to first. Explanations must be given. Apologies must be made. Beyond that, however, they are free to start exploring their newborn relationship.
The past sometimes has other ideas.
When Kana suddenly vanishes, Jamyn is unable to help find her. His magic, still locked down after his recent escapades, will remain inactive per the wishes of the Inner Cabal to prevent him from interfering with the search.
With the life of his beloved mistress on the line, Jamyn will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking the promises he once made that continue to keep him alive.
A glowing gate opened beside the bar and Jamyn stepped through the lit doorway. His arms were immediately pinned to his sides and his entire body rendered immobile by a series of powerful holding spells.
Qa and Evrok stood before him, their outstretched hands aimed straight at his head.
Jamyn stared wide-eyed at his former master and the rail-thin barkeep.
"Explain yourself, Mister Siska," Qa said in a measured tone.
Kana stomped out of the gate and the spells holding Jamyn shattered.
"Some welcome," she said, shooting both of Jamyn's captors a withering glare. "Hold your fire, boys. Jamyn's back to being one of the good guys."
"Maintaining the Balance," Jamyn blurted before he could stop himself.
She turned back to him and frowned. "I think you can stop waving the company banner for a bit," she said in a low growl. "You're lucky not to be under the Sanctum with everything you've been up to lately."
He grimaced and bowed his head.
"Nevertheless, I believe some explanations are in order," Qa said without relaxing his stance.
"And you'll get 'em," Kana replied with an impatient wave of her hand. "How about giving us a second to get our bearings first?"
Neither of the men appeared to be moved by her words.
She sighed heavily. "Okay, fine. The kid didn't attack me. He had someone hitching a ride."
"Nah. Ever hear of an Aqiri?"
Qa finally relaxed his stance. "I have. A very rare and unique creature."
"A real pain in the butt, you mean," Kana said. She grabbed Jamyn's hand. "Let's sit down. This is probably gonna take a while."
Without waiting for a response, she pulled him right between Qa and Evrok to one of the large booths along the far wall. She sat down, then scooted over to make room for Jamyn.
He sat beside her but kept his gaze downcast.
Qa sat opposite them. Evrok, still regarding Jamyn warily, pulled a chair over to the table and sat down.
"Much more comfy," Kana said, settling into the cushioned seat. She looked back at Qa and cocked her head. "What were we talking about again?"
Qa smiled weakly. "As you are so fond of telling me, get on with it."
She grinned back at him. "Sucks, don't it?"
Jamyn spoke up, though his voice was now a ragged whisper. "Tell him."
"Right. Jamyn was under the influence of an Aqiri. The little bugger was using him to get free of a demon."
"An Aqiri attached to a demon?" Qa asked. "I've never heard of such."
"Yep. It was plenty pissed when it found out that it was stuck in the demon's realm forever. Dunno how it found Jamyn. Once it did, it realized that Jamyn could neutralize the demon's spirit enough for it to free itself."
"Neutralize it?" Evrok asked, speaking up at last.
Kana nodded. "Jamyn was bouncing around all over the place while you were busy napping. During one of the jumps, he ran across a lesser demon and was able to siphon away most of its aura. Nearly turned him human." She gave Jamyn a nudge. "He was able to finish the transformation himself, by the way. You made him and a young lady really happy."
His only reply was a brief nod.
"I recently talked to Locan about him," Qa said to her. "They're doing quite well, all things considered. Eddie's still incredibly protective of her. He's also getting much better at reining in his temper." Qa shook his head and chuckled.
"What?" Kana asked.
Kana laughed. "At least someone got the joke. It fell flat on him."
"So Jamyn was able to destroy this demon?" Evrok asked.
"Only part of him," Kana replied. "It's kind of like what he did to you when he siphoned off your aura."
Jamyn looked to Evrok. "I'm really sorry--"
"But a demon's aura is different," Evrok said, rudely cutting off Jamyn's apology. "You know of the duality, correct?"
Kana cast a concerned look at Jamyn before replying. "Yeah, I know all about it. Demons don't have auras like ours. Theirs are separate and distinct entities. If one could wipe out a demon's aura, its physical body would become mortal."
"And no longer part of the demonic chain," Evrok added. "The body would lose the powers but also the inherent restrictions."
"Which is exactly what that dopey Aqiri was after. When Jamyn nuked Eddie's aura, the Aqiri realized that it could do the same to itself and get free from the chain."
"But then why did it attack you?" Qa asked.
At this, Jamyn slumped even further where he sat. He stared down at his lap until Kana cupped his chin and turned his head to face her.
"Stop beating yourself up," she said quietly but with authority. "That's my job."
She slid one finger up to cover his lips. "Not another word about it," she said, all the while trying to keep her expression neutral despite his forlorn visage. She looked directly into his eyes. "We good?"
He nodded once and briefly puckered his lips against her fingertip.
She gave his chin a playful shake. "Troublemaker."
She released him and turned back to Qa. "Evidently Jamyn was somehow still giving the Aqiri grief once it took over. It figured that allowing Jamyn to see it attack me would crush his spirit once and for all."
"And did it?" Evrok asked Jamyn directly.
Jamyn drew his arms in closer as if he was trying to disappear within himself.
Kana glared at Evrok. "Back off, Squeaky. He's been through a ton of shit already and--"
Jamyn interrupted her. "No. I'll answer him." He raised his head and looked straight into Evrok's sunken eyes. He clenched his teeth and his lip quivered in rage. "Yes, seeing myself tear Kana apart like that and not being able to stop it nearly killed me. When I got free and saw that she was still alive, I was able to repay it properly."
The sheer hatred in his soft voice sent a shiver through Kana.
"And the manner of its repayment?" Evrok asked, apparently unfazed by the young man's anger.
"I stripped every bit of magical energy from its body and then destroyed what was left."
"That girl I sent here," Kana said to Qa. "Shamara. She has an ability--"
"That she calls the push," Qa said for her. "Yes, Lob has told me all about it. He's thoroughly fascinated by it."
Kana smiled briefly. "Figured. Jamyn learned how to do it too and stomped the Aqiri with it. Actually encased its body in the ground while it was still alive."
Evrok sniffed. "Sounds like something Donta would do."
At the sound of the name, Jamyn's body stiffened.
Kana noticed his discomfort and resisted the urge to embrace him. "Hey, don't rag on Donta. He actually helped Tiris put me back together."
"It was him?" Qa asked in surprise.
Qa's gaze went thoughtful. "That would make sense. Tiris reported seeing a large black entity strip away a smaller one from your body. She said the small one actively prevented her from healing you."
"A favorite tactic of some demons," Evrok said. "Leave a shred of essence behind to ensure the victim will die before anyone can help them."
Kana frowned. "Nice. That would explain where Donta got the essence he used to track down where the Aqiri went."
"Which was..." Qa asked.
"Didn't get the exact address. One of the lesser infernal realms would be my guess."
Qa and Evrok shared a quick glance. "He didn't enter with you, did he?"
"Nope. Got the info we needed near the entrance and then he sent me in after Jamyn. I'm guessing he came back here after that."
Qa released his held breath in a soft sigh. "Then he didn't enter."
"We would know if he had," Evrok said.
Kana looked at them both. "Okay, what's the problem?" she asked, her senses now on high alert.
"Nothing you need concern yourself with," Qa replied, his tone lightening. "I trust your abilities are fully intact again," he said, deftly changing the subject.
Before Jamyn could slump down any further, Kana wrapped an arm behind him and hauled him upright. "You duck down any more and you'll be on the floor," she said. "I told Qa what you did."
"What he did?" Evrok asked.
After another firm squeeze from Kana, Jamyn nodded. "When I retrieved her soul back on Letron 12-B, I unintentionally added part of mine to it. Whenever she tried to use magic, it reacted and cut her off."
"A soul-based variant of the anchor spell?" Evrok turned his gaze to Kana. "You of all people should know how dangerous something like that could be."
Kana snapped at him. "Piss off. I didn't teach him that. He figured it out himself."
"Ah. It's the Voice, then."
Jamyn looked back at him in alarm.
Qa chuckled softly. "How long have you known?"
"Long enough, no doubt," Kana said before Evrok could reply. "He's evidently had me pegged from the moment I walked through his door. I'm guessing it didn't take too much longer with Jamyn."
"Between the succubine and nearly obliterating Second Heirophant Keller, he wasn't really doing much to hide it," Evrok said. "Has he gained any control of it yet?"
"Hard to say," Kana replied. "Most of the times he's used it so far have been accidental."
Evrok frowned at Qa. "So, this is your latest."
Qa arched an eyebrow in question.
"Another of your pet projects that could destroy us all."
"Another?" Qa asked innocently.
"Indeed. Sitting right beside your first."
Kana scowled at him while Qa smiled. "You are incorrect, old friend. Kana was far from my first. If memory serves, I believe you yourself hold that honor."
Evrok nearly cracked a thin smile. "I stand corrected." Turning his attention back to Jamyn, he asked, "So how do we ensure you will stop having accidents?"
"Look," Jamyn said in a rush. "I'm sorry, all right? I freaked out after the anchoring because of the Aqiri trying to possess me."
"Which led you to absorb my aura to fashion a crude gate through which you could escape," Evrok said, as if it was common knowledge. "I am not worried about the past. I am concerned about your potential for future episodes."
"That concerns all of us," Qa said. "I still believe that with the proper training and discipline, Jamyn will be just fine and the Sanctum will be all the stronger for it." He gestured to Kana. "You have no better proof than Kana here."
"Not exactly a shining example, but I must agree."
Kana frowned. "So glad you approve."
"I did not say I approved. Merely that I agreed." Before Kana could fire back a scathing reply, Evrok stood up. "Qa, I require your assistance."
"A matter of some importance that I have neglected until now."
Qa shrugged at Kana's inquiring glance and stood up. Together he and Evrok walked over to the bar and then slipped into the back room.
Kana watched them go and then turned her attention back to Jamyn. His expression was still clouded in gloom and she shook her head. "Will you just snap out of it already? What the hell has got your ass dragging now?"
"I should just go home," Jamyn muttered, staring at the table.
"They're right," he said, waving a hand to where Qa and Evrok had been sitting. "I'm a disaster waiting to happen."
"That's why we're not waiting," she replied firmly. "You heard Qa. We're gonna train you and get your mind on straight so that you'll never have to have another accident again." She gave him a firm shove. "What? You think I'm not up to it?"
"Am being a royal pain in the ass and feeling way too sorry for yourself," she said for him. "You fucked up. Big deal. You said you read about every mission I've ever been on. How many times have I screwed up? If I got my shit under control, I'm pretty sure we can whip your ass into shape. Right?"
He forced a shrug. "I guess."
"You guess?" she asked incredulously. She jabbed a thumb into his side and then grinned fiercely when he turned to face her. "Who the hell do you think you're dealing with here? I'm not some little sissy like Donta. I am Kana-friggin'-Morel, the scourge of the Sanctum. If I say I can train you, you will be trained!"
He couldn't help smiling at her theatrics. "C'mon, Kana. Cut it out. You know what I mean."
"No, I'm pretty sure I don't. You think your fragile little mind is gonna snap and you'll be off terrorizing the villagers again. You forget that you stopped yourself this last time?"
She fixed him with a wild-eyed glare. "How the hell do you think you got free of the Aqiri?"
Confusion overran his face. "I...I don't remember," he stammered. "I was just suddenly free of him. I figured that you did it."
"You did it, dumbass," she said, poking him in the chest. "Path somehow came out and knocked you away from the Aqiri with a wicked right hook to the chest."
He gasped. "Path? But how did she--"
"Ask her yourself, genius," Kana replied, gesturing to the seat across from Jamyn.
He turned and saw Path sitting there and grinning back at him.
"Path! Why are you here?"
Path nodded to Kana and her grin turned into a genuine smile.
Jamyn faced Kana. "You called her out?"
In reply, Path kicked his shin under the table.