Holding my sword high, I step deliberately (euphemism for slowly and with great fear) toward the front of the chapel. As I get there, the door opens before my very eyes. A wraithlike figure appears in the doorway. And then it emerges . . .
. . . out into the sun, where it turns into the Honorable Alesca Alencar, the oldest, palest member of the school’s faculty. Honorable Alencar’s hair is so white, her skin so pale, she has been mistaken for a ghost before, which makes me feel better.
I sheath my sword and bow. “I am happy to greet you, learned lady.”
She looks at me, dubiously. And then she recognizes me. “It’s little Tollon!”
Coming from someone who stands maybe four-foot-nine, this bites. Yes, I was even shorter back then. No, it is not true I participated in dwarf-tossing contests at school by taking the part of the dwarf. I try to swell up to my full height. “I’m not so little anymore.”
She laughs. Honorable Alencar laughs like a teenaged girl. She steps forward until we’re a comfortable distance from each other, looking me over all of the while. She says, “You have grown. You look better-fed, too. But what are you doing here?”
I look around, “I thought I was coming to visit my old school, but I haven’t gotten much of a greeting from anyone.”
“Of course not. They’re gone.”
Yeah, I figured that. So I reply, “That I surmised. But where and why?”
She looks about, and with a worried expression on her face, says, “Come into the chapel, and we’ll talk.”
So I follow her. No one else is visible in the chapel. She walks down all the way to the altar, takes the seat behind it on one side, and gestures for me to take the other. Once I’ve sat down, she says, “You honestly don’t know what happened here?”
Her lip curls in disappointment. “That’s too bad. It means no one got away. It was the vanishing sickness.” She sees my look of disbelief and shakes her head. “Really, Tollon. People would suddenly convulse, and then they were gone! I saw at least a score of them go. People immediately fled to town. I guess none of them got there.”
“They might have,” I admit. “I didn’t talk to anyone in town. But, learned lady, the vanishing sickness? Really? There hasn’t been a case of that for centuries.”
“Three-hundred-sixty-one years, to be precise.,” Honorable Alencar replies. “But I saw what I saw.”
“How is it you’re still here?”
She shrugs. “I decided to put myself under the protection of the god Thessar. So I came here and made a sacrifice.” She holds up her left hand. It is missing the little finger. “There was nothing else closer to hand.” She smiles. Honorable Alencar always did like a joke. “But you managed to come here. Been around the campus?”
“Then it might have stopped. Then again, it might have left you alive in hope that you’d take me some place where I’d be vulnerable.” She looks pensive.
“Well, I hope it is gone.”
She shakes her head. “Let us hope not. Otherwise there will be no way to retrieve everyone.”
I lean forward, putting my hands on top of hers which are in her lap. “Honorable Alencar, they are dead. The vanishing sickness takes them, and none has ever returned. You must know that.”
“Oh, Tollon, Tollon, if it were true, I’d leave with you now, no matter the risk. But there was Strunstur. After he disappeared, he managed to come back for a moment. He started to say something, and then he vanished again.”