Asa and Willow were reading together when Yuri walked into the room. He was surprised to see them both here already. He had not realized how late he had worked, but he knew he must have lost track of time over the course of all his meetings since Asa was here before him.
He only just started to scratch the surface of his duties as Duke and he already found himself missing the days when people would tear him away from his work and encourage him to duck out early. Now long hours were not only expected, but no one felt like they had the authority to pull him away. He hoped he could impress upon both of them that he would not mind being pulled away by either of them and actually make an escape from the tedium from time to time.
The last thing he wanted to do was interrupt them, but he was curious to know what they were reading that took up so much of their attention. Neither of them so much as lifted their gaze to acknowledge his arrival. He crossed the room and took a look over their shoulders to see what captured their attention so intensely.
The book was opened to a yellowed page covered in arcane lore trying to justify a theory regarding the existence of other worlds. After just one sentence he felt his mind start to spin. This was dense, complicated material which only made him wonder even more what they were doing reading such a book together.
He cleared his throat to get their attention, hopefully without startling them too badly. Willow visibly jumped but Asa appeared unaffected.
“You’re late today,” Asa said with a teasing twinkle in his eyes.
“I didn’t realize how long I’d been working until I left,” he explained with a shrug. He leaned in to get a better look at the book and changed the subject, “What are you doing with this sort of book?”
“Research,” Willow said as though it was not only obvious but also a complete explanation.
Yuri had more than a few questions at this point. He took a moment to bring another chair around to their side of the table and think about exactly where to begin with the questions he had. Once he was sitting next to Willow, he knew he had taken more than enough time and needed to ask now or the moment would be lost.
“Where did you even find such a book? I imagine they’re mostly stored in that temple in the city.”
“The guards found it weeks ago,” Asa explained. “No one is quite sure who left it here or how it came to be in the palace in the first place, but I think it was most likely one of High Lord Erramun’s creatures that left it behind.”
“Lucky for us,” Yuri muttered under his breath.
“I’m not sure how much use they could have gotten out of it,” Willow said with a sigh. “It’s ridiculously difficult to figure out what they’re trying to say.”
“It’s a lore book, probably intended only for the eyes of priests that spend their whole lives thinking and reading on matters of this sort,” Yuri explained. “Why are you trying to research this? There are priests coming to take care of this sort of thing.”
Willow sighed. “I know, but I feel like I need to know everything I can about the paths back to my home. I might need to know it in the future… if I need to do the ritual to come back someday.”
Yuri’s heart skipped a beat. He could not help the sensation of anxious jubilation he felt whenever Willow mentioned coming back. He still had his worries that she would take the portal home and never give any of them on this side another thought. The logic made little sense under even the lightest scrutiny, but the black speck of worry still remained.
“Do you really think you’ll be able to open a portal from your side on your own?”
The last thing Yuri wanted to do was discourage her from trying, but he also wanted her to be realistic. If they were able to force open a portal from this side, maybe he could convince her to have the priests do it again in a month. Then he would know when to expect her back and he could know whether she really intended to return.
“I think I could do it if I knew what to do.”
She sounded so optimistic he found it hard to doubt her. He had seen her do some amazing things with her power. It was unlike what most people in this world could ever hope to possess even with a lifetime of dedication, but as far as Yuri could tell, her abilities were more than a little unpredictable. While her power never failed her in a moment of crisis, he never saw her use it on a whim. Her real strength, the sort that seemed unbeatable even in this world where magic was more common, only manifested when she was in a dire or extremely emotional situation. He knew she was strong, but he was less sure she knew how to utilize the full extent of her power on demand.
Willow flashed a reassuring grin in Yuri’s direction. “I won’t have to do it all on my own, you know. If I’m desperate, I can always ask my family for help.”
Yuri had some doubts about Willow’s confidence in her family’s ability to assist her in a task she was just beginning to understand herself. He was not sure she would even be willing to tell her family the truth about where she had been. She hid his origin from them while he was staying with her. She experience had changed her perspective somewhat since then, but old habits died hard. Yuri felt that sentiment intensely now that he was trying to adjust to a new life and a new routine in the place he called home for most of his life. Willow might face similar difficulties upon returning home after changing so much.
He tried not to let his skepticism show. Willow was trying and he would not discourage her from that. He wanted to celebrate the fact that she was talking, even in the hypothetical, about coming back again.
“Do you think it’s possible?” he asked.
“If we figure it out I think there’s a chance Willow can pull it off,” Asa chimed in.
Yuri nodded. Her determination was more than adequate for the challenge, but figuring out how to perform the ritual was still a huge roadblock. He looked down at the book sitting in front of Willow and tried to read the page. The words were legible but he had no idea how to practically apply the concepts being described. Priests spent years studying to learn how to perform rituals of all kinds, and many of them never moved beyond the basic rituals needed to turn elemental ores into the stones that could be used by the general population. Jumping from no knowledge and experience in the field to an extremely complex ritual put them at a serious disadvantage.
He shook his head. “I can’t make any sense of this.”
Willow laughed. “It’s not making much sense to me either.”
Yuri was more than ready to give up, but Willow kept studying the book. She stared at the book, her eyes scanning the page several times before she looked away and started to quickly jot down some notes in her minute handwriting.
Based on her determined frown, he did not think that she would give up any time soon. If she was feeling particularly stubborn she could keep working toward her goal for hours. Yuri was positive of that, but he did not share her zeal for the task. Asa seemed to be a willing and capable assistant for her this evening, which left him free to find some other means to occupy himself.
None of the available options appealed to him. He made a point of making time in the evening to spend with Willow and Asa, but tonight it seemed to be a futile effort. They were preoccupied with their task and there just was not enough room for Yuri to join in tonight.
He paced around the room a few times, hoping to discover something he had missed before. In the end, he settled in with a book of his own just so he would not be in the way of the real work being done.