Asami had also seen Kelei, but only in the background of her vision. Her attention had been focused on the ancient guardian spirit of the World Tree,
and on the other creature that had briefly appeared to her. It had emerged from the uncountable leaves of the Tree, a creature made of branch and leaf and root but wearing a skull-like mask where a humanoid face would be. This creature had wielded a sword of wood, its blade perforated by whorled shapes.
It had pointed its sword at her, then turned to look back at the Tree and vanished among the leaves. Then two leaves had shimmered and blown from the Tree, transforming into the figures of Asami's parents. They hugged her and silently returned to the Tree, after which a branch stretched out and touched her forehead where the Golden Flame tattoo rested on her brow. Her mind was suffused with knowledge of demons and how to combat them. Then the branch touched her wooden sword, which her dream-self held, and she knew somehow that she could reshape her wooden sword into other forms with her thoughts and even use it as a weapon, something that had been impossible for her in the past. The myriad leaves shivered in a breeze and the vision came to an end.
While she sat with her companions discussing these visions, Zosta looked at her oddly, and Jiro commented that her hair, which normally had a violet undertone, now appeared to be green. Then Zosta asked her if she was turning into a tree, which she found most confusing. Runa then explained that they could all see swirls and lines on her skin, very faint, like the pattern of wood grain. But when Asami looked at her own hand she saw nothing, nor could she perceive the green tone in her hair.
Jiro took Bohgong out into the garden for his daily meditation. Though his friends weren't aware of it, he had a serious conversation with the white monkey, who kept his ability to speak a secret from the others though Runa had overheard him once. Bohgong warned Jiro not to be too pleased about his new abilities, for the stronger he became the more dangerous the world would become. Jiro then experienced a vision from the spirit animal's memory when it was Jiro's ancestor, a mighty warrior. He watched as his uncle destroyed innumerable oni, but when his uncle turned to look back at his comrades, all of them had fallen.
While Jiro was outside and Asami was still contemplating her vsion, a commotion could be heard from the corridor outside their sleeping room, Runa,and Zosta went out to see what was happening. Asami remained in the room. Her friends struggled to get through a crush of people clogging the hallway, until someone exclaimed that "It's a miracle!" Runa asked what was going on, then began trying to push her way through the crowd. She heard someone say that Irabeth might be alive! Runa immediately began to sing a song of praise to Iomedae.
Amid all this chaos, Zosta also overheard that it seemed
Once the celebration of Irabeth's miraculous resurrection had died down a bit, everyone met in the hall of Defender's Heart for a celebratory breakfast. Spirits were so high that Jiro felt it necessary to remind everyone not to speak of the destruction of the Wardstones in the presence of others. While they were eating they heard the news that the queen of Mendev was on her way to Kenabres and was expected to arrive the following day. They also heard that Irabeth's survival had been due to the sword Radiance that she carried, which had stored her soul and prevented it from being permanently separated from her body. Though she had survived she was very weak, a state that was familiar to Aegronius and Runa.
Their breakfast was interrupted by a second disturbance outside. Then a huge red-skinned, horned demon covered in tattooed runes burst into the hall. The companions were not entirely surprised to see him, but his arrival caused consternation among the other people present. He strode across to their table, bellowing, "Little Sister!" and swept Zosta up in a crushing bear-hug. As Asami observed Rhino she realized that the demon had acquired more tattoos since the last time she had seen him. Rhino then sat down at the table and demanded that they tell him the details of what had happened to them. They carefully avoided mentioning the Wardstones or the demons that had survived. In the course of the conversation Rhino also revealed that he was distantly related to Areelu Vorlesh, which Asami realized meant that among the demons he must be a kind of royalty. Rhino was very impressed at how the group had been able to deal with ten babau.
When the conversation waned, a large crowd of listeners had gathered around the table. Zosta and Rhino then decided to go outside to meet Zosta's parents, who were just arriving at Defender's Heart. Darra went with them, but they found that Zosta's parents were with Qednys and could not be disturbed at that moment. Zosta then watched Darra spar with Rhino, who was eager to test out her skills. When Zosta joined in and was able to trip the demon and stomp on him, giving Darra room to make an attack of her own, Rhino was delighted and burst out in a hearty belly laugh.
A little later the whole group were invited to join Qednys, Kimroth, Cennami, and Zosta's parents in the War Room, where they found a weak Irabeth sitting in a comfortable chair. Qednys confirmed that as they had heard, the Queen was coming to meet the heroes of the defense of Kenabres. Qednys suspected that the Queen would ask them to complete another dangerous mission on behalf of the Crusade: to seek out the Sword of Valor, the banner once wielded by Iomedae herself, which was believed to be held in the fortress of Drezen, which had fallen to the demons. He also revealed that scouts had reported demons were massing all along the Worldwound, preparing for an attack on the cities to the south, including the capital. Irabeth added that rumor held Staunton Vhane, the betrayer, could be found in Drezen. She was determined that he should be dealt with once and for all.
After these topics had been discussed, Qednys told them that he had spent the night examining the Wardstone fragment they had given him. He had determined that by rubbing it on a weapon or suit of armor, it would impart special abilities to them geared toward combating demons and evil creatures from other planes. These benefits would last for only a day, after which the stones would become inert. Qednys offered to return the stone he had been examining, but Jiro immediately responded that it should go to Irabeth.
When the discussion was completed, the members of the group separated. Asami went to find some apparel appropriate for meeting royalty, and afterward made her way to Blackwing to see Aravashniel. He was already aware of what had happened to the Wardstones. To give him further detail of what had taken place, Asami agreed to allow him to cast a spell to share her memories, as this was now the only way for him to truly see anything. Afterward she left him to return to his researches on ways to guard the Worldwound without the Wardstones. She returned to Defender's Heart and sought to purchase a wand containing a spell to protect a person from evil, which she was able to acquire at a discount as it was not fully charged.
While Asami was with Aravashniel, Jiro had arranged to sell some of the items the comrades had acquired from their battles in the Gray Garrison, and he distributed over a thousand gold pieces to each member of the group. Thus equipped with extra funds, new magic items, and in some cases new clothing, they prepared for their royal audience the following day.
Next: Part 19, A Royal Request