1- Fevered Dreams

He stroked her forehead gently. "How are you feeling this morning, angel?"

Elina furrowed her brow and shivered beneath the covers. She spoke weakly. "I'm so cold, father."

"It's no wonder," he said.

"You've left the window open again." Terek walked over and pulled the shutters closed. He was certain he'd locked them the night before.

"I had such dreams, father. The shadows came alive and whispered things to me. Such terrible, frightening things." She shuddered and closed her eyes.

He tried to sound comforting. "Rest now, Elina. You need to get better soon. You've a wedding in a month, and I'm sure that young man of yours won't want to postpone it."

"The shadows," she murmured. "The whispers..."

Terek frowned as he watched her drift in an out of a restless sleep. It had been days since she fell ill, and she showed no signs of improving.

He quietly left her room and walked down to the kitchen where his wife was preparing breakfast. She turned as she heard him approach.

"Any better?" she asked.

"No," he said softly.

"We should seek out a healer. After breakfast, I will go find one, or buy a potion that will help her."

"It won't do any good," he told her. "Others around Freeport have the same illness, and no healer or alchemist has cured them. At the harbor yesterday I heard a ship captain say that this affliction has reached as far as Qeynos. There is no cure, Attala."

She looked at her husband gravely. "Tell me the truth, Terek. How many have died from this?"

He shook his head. "I honestly don't know. I've not heard of a single body being found, but..."

"But what? Tell me."

"Some of the afflicted have gone missing. Jorrath from down the road became ill last week. One morning he was simply gone. I heard rumors that he was seen in Nektulos Forest, but no one can trust their eyes in that dark place."

A sharp knocking sound caused them both to jump. Terek composed himself and walked to the door.

He opened it and smiled faintly at the young man before him. "Come in, Ageth."

He looked worried. "How is she?"

"The same," Terek told him. Attala sobbed.

"I need to see her," Ageth said. Terek nodded and led him upstairs.

She was tossing and turning under the covers. Terek frowned when he saw the shutters were open again; he walked over to close them. He noticed something small and metallic on the table next to her window.

Ageth took hold of Elina's hand. "Hello, love. How are you feeling?"

"Cold," she mumbled. "So far below... shadows all around... they whisper..."

"She's worse today," Ageth said sadly. "I can't lose her. I can't."

Terek stood next to the bed. "Ageth," he said, holding out his hand, "did you give her this?"

The young man took the ring Terek was holding and examined it. "No," he replied, "I've never seen it before." He gave it back to her father.

Terek lit a candle on the nightstand and peered at the ring. It felt like ice in his hand. A single word was etched on the inside of the band.

"D'Morte," he said aloud, and his daughter writhed for a moment. He and Ageth looked at each other, then back at her.

"The shadows," she hissed. "They're coming for me. They're coming for us all."