by Than Pence
Faybiss Cascade is going to retrieve his amulet. And he thinks a dragon is his best bet.
|List #1: crooked, gossamer, luminous, realm, talisman, Word Count: 4,998
Etching the outline of the dragon’s body into the monolith was painstaking. But it will be worth it.
Standing from an uncomfortable crouch, Faybiss Cascade stepped three meters away, turned, and admired his accomplishment.
After a long pause, Faybiss moved toward the large stone to continue. Pulling his hand to his lips, he whispered grohlla words into the sharpened volcanic rock. As the the spelling took hold, the rock warmed, making his lips tingle. He continued etching.
When he leaned forward to steady himself into a sitting position, muscle memory brought his hand to his breast. The Dygric amulet once rested there, bouncing on his chest if he moved briskly, dangling when he bent forward. But the charmed amulet was gone, and as the middle-aged man fully sat on the ground, his legs beneath his longcoat, he was reminded of why he was bringing a dragon back to life:
It would help him get his inheritance back.
Two decades prior, when Faybiss had been nearing the end of his years at Faranta’sa, the Spelling College of the East, the headmaster had died. Master Jokule was the original possessor of the Dygric amulet and he had never informed anyone of its magnificent powers.
At the reading of his last will and testament, Master Jokule had gifted the Dygric amulet to Faybiss Cascade. When the magic relic had revealed itself to the young apprentice, he wore it and instantly knew why Master Jokule had never told anyone what it did. The amulet let the wearer see every good or bad deed that a person had performed.
When worn, the bearer could look at another person and see small spheres orbiting their bodies. The content of the spheres dictated their color. White ones ordinarily showed selfless deeds being performed. Dark orbs constituted darker actions.
The effect of not only seeing the orbs but also being able to dip into the past for a few seconds and witness it firsthand was astounding to Faybiss. That is, until he saw the many dark spheres that orbited Bishop Quantic. The bishop, jealous of the Master Jokule, had desired the Dygric amulet and would do anything to retrieve it, even without knowing its power. When Faybiss Cascade found himself drawn into one of Quantic’s darker orbs, he saw that the man really was willing to do anything.
In a moment of terror and envy, Bishop Quantic had hidden inside Master Jokule’s dormitory quarters and murdered him when he least suspected using deadly flick venom. There was no evidence to incriminate the man and Faybiss had no means of proving the murder, not without revealing the ancient powers of the talisman.
As he continued etching lines into the Barker Stone, he thought of how he had woken three months ago and discovered the amulet missing. Being a prominent faculty member of the college gave him liberty to search everywhere for his inherited charm. But he never expected to find the amulet around Bishop Quantic’s neck.
Moreso, the bishop had performed terrible magic that made every person at the college think that Master Jokule had gifted the amulet to the bishop. Even worse, he made it so no one believed Faybiss Cascade was a respected teacher. The whole ordeal had soured him and he knew he need to fight fire with fire.
Patting the Barker Stone in the small forest clearing, he knew he’d have the perfect weapon soon enough. Once the dragon came to life, Faybiss would have more than enough to stop Bishop Quantic and regain his rightful place as Faranta’sa.
When he finally finished, he stood, his knees popping, and he leaned back to stretch his aching muscles. Though the Barker Stone was relatively close to the college, Faybiss knew that most people wouldn’t bother crossing Coroner's Field or dare to enter the Hoojka Wood. Local superstitions surrounding the stone kept locals in check.
It had been nearly a millennium since the world had seen a dragon. He was proud to break that drought.
Under light of the full moon, he chanted. Gholluja, gre to ka. Gholluja, dar fen ka. Gholluja, cren da fig’lanna!’ With the chant increasing in rhythm and speed, the mage found his cadence resonate with his work upon the large stone: the etched lines began to brighten.
Momentarily, the moonlight faded, obscured by a pertinent cloud. “Damn you, Proju’la!”
The Wise One of Mischief didn’t respond, but may have curled a smile toward Faybiss from her corner of existance. He snorted once thinking that might be true, but let such thoughts drift as the clouds dispersed and the moon’s light shone down on the Barker Stone and the lines adorning it.
After several minutes of soaking up the moonlight and Faybiss chanting, the lines started glowing again. His pulse quickening, Faybiss stepped forward, only to step back two paces, fearing his safety. A gust of night air told him how much he was sweating. The coolness sent a chill up his spine. Not having a fire was necessary on this important night: only the moon could brighten the lines.
With a glimmer, the etching brightened more with a rhythmic pulse. That pulse quickened to match Faybiss’ increased heartbeat. The race to match his internal rhythm excited the practitioner. This spell to bring a creature to life was difficult, but worth it.
As the pulsating light quickened, a high-pitched drone emitted from the stone. Wincing from the audible noise, he didn’t know if he could stop his chant, so he didn’t. The pitch rose and Faybiss tasted blood in his mouth. Wiping his face, he felt his bleeding nose. Still he chanted and the light grew.
An awe-inspiring crack sounded, deafening the mage. He stumbled back, tripped over his longcoat, and fell hard. His arm beneath him, needles of pain began shooting toward his chest.
Once the light started to dim and Faybiss could stand to stare at the stone, the pain in his arm and the blood in his mouth were forgotten.
Before him sat a dragon, curled up as if sleeping.
Sitting up, Faybiss stared. A dark aquamarine in color, there were darker scales on the top and a hint of lighter colored scales on the bottom. The neck was long, resting on the front limbs and turned toward him …
The dragon’s eyes opened, meeting the mage’s gaze with an amber gleam, forcing him to stop admiring the ancient, powerful body.
With the head stationary, the dragon never broke eye contact with Faybiss. The tail slithered away and disappeared around the other side of the creature. When ready, the dragon stood up on all four legs looking stiff in the clear moonlight.
Peeling away from the stone, the dragon reared up on hind legs, wings expanded to touch both edges of the clearing. The wing material, thin as gossamer, reminded Faybiss of an insect’s. He could see the moon through one as it touched the tree line. He frowned, having always assumed dragon wings were thicker, sturdier, capable of so much more.
When it came back down slowly to stand on all fours, Faybiss noticed what was left of the Barker Stone: it resembled an egg. As long as he was tall, the egg was narrower than a chicken egg would be at that size. He likened it to a reptile egg. The coloring resembled stone.
It’s presence surprised him, but the dragon immediately settled atop the egg, covering it completely while the wings stretched skyward.
After a pause, Faybiss brought his breathing under control and met the dragon’s eyes again. A sense of self sat behind those eyes that chilled Fabyiss. But he had a mission. “Dear dragon.” The dragon blinked once. He continued. “I require your assistance. I… I need y-your ancient powers. To stop an evil man.”
While speaking his practiced phrase, he felt foolish. He didn’t know if the dragon understood him. Legend stated both dragons and humans possessed the same quality of soul, but that didn’t necessarily mean they could speak the same language. I can’t understand what those farps from the Southern Isles are saying, can it?
Faybiss Cascade stood, dumbfounded that he’d been able to do it, and stupefied that he didn’t know what to do next. How to get the dragon to follow his orders.
* * *
As dawn neared, the dragon didn’t budge. Letting innate sexism take hold, Faybiss decided the dragon was a female since it was hosting an egg.
She hadn’t moved, had barely blinked while continuing to watch Faybiss’ every move. As he contemplated, he paced the clearing. The dragon, wary of him, didn’t let him walk behind her. Faybiss decided he was fine being told where he could and couldn’t pace.
As he moved and muttered, a lone hare hopped from the treeline, landing in the clearing. The movement drew the attention of the mage and he stopped. It also caught the dragon's eye: she focused on the inturder. Faybiss stood still. Thinking about the last time he’d had a decent meal, he realized the dragon was probably hungrier.
A scent started filling the area. It smelled like dirt-laden vegetables, reminding the mage of his time as a young man when he’d tend to the college’s garden. Before he knew it, Faybiss watched the hare hesitantly hop forward. The dragon, still on her egg, had already placed the tip of her tail near her front paws. The mage watched in amazement as the tail adopted an orange hue. The scent of a vegetable garden combined with what looked to be a giant carrot enticed even Faybiss Cascade.
In moments, the hare’s curiosity got the better of him: when within reach, the dragon quickly raised her paw and smashed the animal. The surprising action forced Faybiss to jump and emit a shriek. Tipping her snout forward, the dragon cooked the creature with a jet of steam. The scent of an earthen garden was replaced by that of steamed meat and a subtle hint of citrus.
Devouring the hare, the dragon’s color shifted from drab aquamarine to a heartier rust. Heat began emanating from the dragon’s body.
He recognized he'd been correct: the creature was hungry. “You're an excellent hunter,” he said, still unsure if she understood him. “I imagine if you didn't have that egg, you'd be a regular Vilessa.” Upon hearing the name of the fabled huntress, he saw her perk up and emit an even stronger citrus scent. “Is that a good name for you? Vilessa?” She thumped her tail. “That's a great name, then. Vilessa.” He smiled and then heard what could only be a growling stomach.
Faybiss decided he'd help the beautiful creature obtain what she currently desired.
* * * *
Wrapped in thick, mangey threads that would identify Faybiss as a vagabond, he moved swiftly through the forest. His adult life had been devoted to spelling and his hunting skills were in short supply. But his magic talents were honed and he knew he could procure some sweet meats from Corpa, the mason's village to the south. He didn't like leaving Vilessa alone but he couldn’t feed her with the meager starches in his rucksack.
At the southern edge of the Hoojka Wood, he stopped, looked west. The sun hadn’t risen properly yet and the college on the distant horizon was still shrouded in darkness. After a beat, Faybiss continued toward the village. Nervousness accompanied him. When travelling, mages were often targets of highwaymen. When he’d worn the Dygric amulet, the talisman would always show if someone was hiding nearby: their bright or dark orbs gave them away.
Once within Corpa, he sought the nearest vendor. The greasy, smiling man was bald and missing a pinkie, but his skinned rabbits and voles were substantial. As he introduced himself to the kind man, he shook his hand. Faybiss then subtly invoked a spell that simply made the vendor think he’d already been paid for the meat.
Faybiss hated being dishonest. The action would likely result in a dark pearl being created and set to orbit around his body for eternity. But I’ll never see it. While wearing the amulet, he had never been able to see his own spheres or dip into his own memories the way he could with everyone else.
But she needs this food. Deciding the end justified the means, Faybiss pushed through the immediate guilt and gathered up four skinned carcasses. He didn’t want to spend anymore time in Corpa than was necessary, so he turned to leave.
A niggle of a worry wormed into his mind, stopping him in the middle of the roadway. He ducked his head down and tried peeking beyond the dingy hood. Is someone watching… Faybiss Cascade knew younger mages liked to visit Corpa when they missed the “real world”, a desire that faded as magic knowledge grew. As such, if a mage had been nearby when he cast that spell, they were probably too inexperienced to discern what it was.
Choosing to ignore the sensation, he started walking again. His pace was quick and he arrived at the edge of the forest before the sun had risen too much. The Barker Stone - what had been the Barker Stone - was deep in the wood. Faybiss passed through darker thickets of quiet forest before the increasingly-familiar scent of citrus and cooked meat found him.
Breaking the treeline, he saw Villessa, chewing. He huffed a laugh and slung his dead animals around to set them on the ground. Vilessa perked up while swallowing her self-caught meal. “Well, you don’t really need me at all, do you, girl?” He sighed, feeling anxious about what he’d done here:
Not only had he selfishly brought a dragon back from the dead, but she was protecting an egg. He didn’t know if the egg was destined to hatch, but he did know that Vilessa hadn’t left it. And Vilessa’s wings - legendary as they were storied to be - were nowhere near as strong as they should’ve been. She still had them stretched skyward, but Faybiss noticed the translucence had subsided.
Still, she wasn’t ready to go to battle with the viscous bishop.
For the remainder of the day, he sat with Vilessa. He tried having serious conversations with her, but they always ended up one-sided. Near nightfall when it had been chilly before, the warmth Vilessa exuded was almost bearable. He settled on his pallet.
Without warning, she brought her wings down and folded them gingerly against her body. The sound was surprising in the din and when he jolted, she stared at him. In the dim clearing, he thought she was smiling.
Faybiss hadn't realized how much space had been occupied by her wings, how much anxiety they had induced. Now that they were tucked away, he felt like an unexpected weight had been lifted. He easily settled down to sleep, the sweet smell of citrus mixing with a subtle hint of nightshade. Though he worried his fears of the future might keep him awake, the aromas Vilessa produced ferried him into a deep sleep.
* * * * *
The vision had the quality of a nightmare, but the sensation produced in his gut told him otherwise. High-caliber mages were known to speak across distances using visions. Faybiss had never thought it necessary to talk to someone so far removed, so he’d never mastered the art.
Bishop Quantic had.
Using a Bhoula tunnel, the great and terrible man told Faybiss to cross Coroner’s Field and meet him after dawn. The villain wanted to end their feud.
Waking in a cold sweat, Faybiss Cascade appreciated the warmth Vilessa produced. Looking up, he saw the moon was still high. If I go, he won’t… but he let sour thought fizzle. He couldn’t leave Vilessa. He noticed only the subtle hint of citrus filled the area. Dread now embracing him, he knew he was awake for the night.
Weighing his options that involved confronting Quantic, he knew he’d have to do whatever he could to protect Vilessa and make sure he didn’t know she was here.
It wasn’t long before the reddish hue of dawn started coloring the sky, dredging up worry. After packing, he looked at the dragon. “Vilessa, girl. I… I’m gonna miss you.” She stared. “And I’m going to miss our banter, too.”
Slumping his shoulders, he realized he'd never embraced her. With resolve - and knowing he might die soon anyway - Faybiss Cascade stepped toward the dragon in three quick strides, draped his arms around her neck, and hugged her.
Throughout his body, he felt the heat she produced. He also felt her shake once, as if his movement caught her by surprise. He squeezed firmly and then started to cry. After a spattering of sobs, he stopped, wiped his face on his sleeve, and turned to go. Before leaving the clearing, he stopped and looked at the dragon, hoping something would come out.
No words. The dragon and the mage shared a long moment of eye contact: his welled up again, hers were amber stones.
Faybiss left Vilessa, heading in the direction of Coroner's Fields and Faranta’sa beyond.
* * * * * *
Crossing the field was simple enough with the rising sun at his back. It was seeing the bishop against the murky horizon that unnerved Faybiss. While loping through tall weeds, Faybiss sent his gaze south toward Corpa. Someone definitely saw me.
Bishop Quantic, from roughly fifty meters away, shouted, “You gave yourself away!”
“Continue, Cascade! We’ll finish this before long!” His shout rolled like the wind across the field.
Minutes later, the pair stood at the field’s edge, alone.
“Master Cascade,” sneered the bishop. His falsely-black hair and thin, limp beard made him look even older than he was pretending to hide. Beneath the beard, behind Quantic’s robe, Faybiss could see the once familiar chain.
“No, sir. My amulet.”
Flinching, Faybiss asked, “How?”
Quantic smiled, stained yellow teeth framed by thin, cracked lips. “You never learned how to manage your Bhoula tunnel, good sir.”
Faybiss grimaced: he had forgotten the tunnel break. Vilessa had preoccupied him.
“So,” continued the dark-robed man. “Where’s the dragon?”
Without reacting, Faybiss thought back to how Bhoula tunnels worked. He shouldn’t have been able to listen to him physically say anything to the dragon, or see his surroundings.
“I know what you’re thinking, Cascade. Or rather, overthinking.” Slowing raising his hand, palm up, the bishop gestured toward the Hoojka Wood. “From the towers of Faranta’sa, I could see the dragon wings in that clearing. Clear as day!”
The subconscious anxiety Faybiss hadn’t realized he’d harbored until Vilessa folded her wings now made sense.
“That combined with all those annoying, bright pearls of goodness that orbit your body.” He snorted, rolling his shoulders. “It’s like you’re a beacon to any who know how to look. Good sir! You are too good.” His ugly smile widened. “Good... to a fault.”
Feeling a flash of anger, Faybiss watched Quantic reach his hand toward the amulet, toward his talisman. Turning to look back at the forest, hoping Vilessa would be safe, he hoped…
He heard a blade unsheathe, felt a sting on his wrist. The sting quickly turned to a pain that felt like water boiling inside him. Looking to the villainous man, he saw the same blade Bishop Quantic had used to murder Master Jokule twenty years prior.
The same blade and the same flick venom: a poison that had no known cure. Faybiss fell to his knees before the bishop.
Cackling, the bishop cursed. “You never deserved this amulet, Cascade. And you will never get it back!”
On the gentle stirrings of the wind, he smelled a hint of citrus. With tears welling up, Faybiss turned to scan the area and felt his heart skip. Thumping across Coroner's Field, Vilessa made great strides, reminding the mage of a giant canine moving through grass.
Bishop Quantic noticed the incredible creature. “Is that your dragon, Cascade?” A guttural laugh escaped “It looks more like a giant dog or horse. Good. Sir.” The way he bit his words make Faybiss’ skin crawl.
On the ground, he started to convulse. Flick venom was said to debilitate a person’s motor functions first, forcing the victim to feel death fully before actually dying. Amusement drew the bishop beyond Faybiss’ weakened body. He stepped toward Vilessa as she slowed and came around to stand closer to the younger mage, Faranta’sa at their backs.
With only a gutteral sound as warning, the dragon sent flames toward the bishop. The heat was great. He watched as it engulfed the wicked man, licked the field around him. When she stopped, the field before them was scorched...
...except where Bishop Quantic stood, standing like a crooked statue, a protection charm raised before him.
The bishop straightened, he saw, when it appeared that Vilessa had not more flames to spout. “Sweet dragon,” he began. “Sweet, sweet dragon.” He took a step forward. Faybiss’ heart fluttered thinking what Bishop Quantic was going to do.
“N-no….” was all he could muster before convulsing once more.
Vilessa stared at the bishop, confused. Then she reared her head and spewed a steady stream of liquid fire at the villain again. The flames licked the air around the bishop without touching him. And he moved closer to the dragon, confident that she couldn’t see him through the fire.
The bishop took another step toward Vilessa. In a quick motion, Faybiss could see Quantic lunged forward, his fine knife in his other hand. The movement was aimed at her long neck. The action caused Vilessa to rear back with a whelp, spreading her wings wide and releasing a bellow like Faybiss had never heard.
It tore the mage’s heart in two and he released a spittled cry.
The citrus scent was completely gone, replaced by a sour stench that could only be compared to spoiled pheasant. She came back down on all fours, keeping her fragile wings half-spread. Shaking her head as if dazed, Faybiss knew she was doomed. The same venom that was burning through his veins had also been inflicted on her.
* * * * * * *
Feeling sickened by the treacherous event, he allowed sheer will and determination to flood his veins. Faybiss rolled onto his stomach and heaved himself to his feet. After a pause in which he thought he might vomit, he lunged himself at Quantic. The bishop, distracted by the awesome beast, fell with a grunt.
The mage wrestled the bishop enough to loosen his robes and slapped his hand around the sacred talisman, and was immediately surrounded by both luminous and desolate orbs.
“Unhand me, you wretch!”
Seeing the points of light and dark reminded Faybiss of the first time he’d worn the Dygric amulet. With a tight grimace, he focused on the darkest bead …
Their environment shifted and the pair were inside a dormitory room. At a glance, it was a teacher’s quarters and Faybiss recognized it, having seen it briefly once before. The actions taken in this moment of the past haunted him after only a brief exposure.
Bishop Quantic also recognized the surroundings. “What… What have you done? We’re…?”
As he spoke, they both watched Master Jokule step through the door. With a shriek, the bishop stumbled backward, falling from Faybiss’ grasp. The younger mage slipped away from the memory, becoming aware of the quiet surroundings of the present: Velissa’s new, sour odor, the stillness of the college, the woods in the east. He fell to the ground at the old man’s feet.
The look on the bishop’s face - the telltale sign he was transfixed by a memory - called to mind the kinder days when Master Jokule had been alive. Back before Bishop Quantic had murdered him in the very memory he was now reliving. He would be coming out of the memory soon. The brutality of it was brief.
Gritting, he saw Quantic’s knife at his side. Taking a breath, he pulled the weapon free. With a sickening slash that he felt throughout his hand and arm, Faybiss drew the blade across the bishop’s heels, cutting through boot leather and human flesh in two strong slashes.
A sharp, agonized cry escaped the bishop as he collapsed on the charred ground. Faybiss pulled himself up to stare down at the man. Fear and shame haunted his eyes. “You can’t escape your past. Sir.”
His lips trembling, Bishop Quantic only sobbed as Faybiss Cascade diligently removed the Dygric amulet from the sorceric thief and bodily forced the knife into Quantic’s heart. While holding the amulet, he noticed the dark orbs: they slowly winked out. He wondered if his own were doing the same. I’ll never know.
Faybiss pulled himself across the smoldered ground toward Vilessa. Soot and ash from the burned field made it hard to breath. But he wanted to comfort the dragon, his friend. He aimed to console her until one of them slipped beyond the Veil. It wouldn't be long.
She looked like she was in a deep slumber, save her labored breathing. Faybiss put his sooty arm over her outstretched neck and pressed his ear to her. Her heartbeat sounded like a drum losing tempo. Tears escaped his eyes and he snorted. “I’m so sorry, girl.” He sniffled “I’m sorry I got you mixed up… in this.”
Looking around, he wondered truly what it had all been for. To stop Bishop Quantic and get back the amulet? He had managed to do that alone. Vilessa had been helpful as a distraction, be he now realized that the price for that had been too great. She was the only dragon in all the realm and here they both were, dying.
He continued slowly stroking her skin and cooing words of comfort toward her ear. Shudders of pain rippled through her body and whimpers of discomfort made Faybiss feel even worse.
A glimmer appeared at his periphery, making him raise his head. It was more than a glimmer:
It was a white, floating pearl.
Faybiss knew it wasn’t his own: he’d only ever seen them briefly when Bishop Quantic wore the amulet and Faybiss had touched the relic. He accepted the orb belonged to Velissa. Startled at the realization, he began twisting his body to see down the length of hers. Did she have more, or were they fading as he’d seen them wink out around Quantic?
When he didn’t see more, he decided that privacy wasn’t a luxury either of them could have at the moment: he peered deeper into the floating orb.
Inside the familiar forest clearing that hosted the Barker Stone, Faybiss found himself, alarmed. Velissa was perched on her egg, but her attention was directed toward what he knew to be Coroner's Field.
And her thoughts were as clear as if she were speaking.
That silly human is going to get himself killed, and for what? He harnesses such great power but doesn’t know what to do with it.
The realization made him chuckle, then wheeze in agony.
In the memory, Velissa inhaled deeply. And I smell vormool on the wind. That silly human doesn’t know how dangerous it is, I bet. Faybiss assumed she was talking about the flick venom that was killing them both.
And I bet he doesn’t know how to treat it.
Sitting straight up, he winced and said, “What?!”
* * * * * * * *
In doing so, he stopped leaning on Velissa’s neck, causing her to leave the memory. Staying in the ord, he saw that once Valissa chose to come to Faybiss’ aid, the memory ended.
“How do I treat this, Vilessa?” he said, indicating the venomous slash. “How can I save us both?”
Her eyes fluttering, the dragon met the mage’s gaze once more. A shudder rippled through her body and a look of sorrow crossed her face. Finally, with a surprising and terrifying lunge, she snatched his arm with her jaw. Faybiss cried out, but quieted when he realized the pressure she applied was forceful, but only enough to keep him from withdrawing.
And she began to suckle his arm.
The sensation was strange but Faybiss couldn’t deny the positive feeling: his strength returned as Vilessa encased his arm. While the dragon worked her mouth, he began to understand how a single dragon might not be able to fend off the venom; the amount of salvia she displaced was considerable.
In his mind's eye, he imagined dragons covering wounds with their mouths, hoping to neutralize the toxin. Where Quantic had inflicted his knife, only another dragon would be able to provide medicinal assistance. The realization hit home: Velissa was about to die and there wasn’t anything he could do but thank her for saving his life.
After an agonizing amount of time, Vilessa’s mouth slowed. Then it stopped. The scent she’d been producing abruptly ended, and Faybiss knew it was over. Her jaw slack, he withdrew his arm. The pain from the venom was virtually gone, but the pain in his chest made him heave.
Placing his forehead to hers for the first time, he sobbed. His tears splashed on her face, smearing the ash he'd inadvertently put there.
But passing just between his blurred, crying eyes and the lifeless body of the dragon was the singular white, floating pearl. Faybiss stopped himself and focused on the pearl. He didn’t fall into the memory, but he did watch as it moved down the length of the body and then beyond.
Toward Hoojka Wood.
Toward the dragon egg.
Quickly finding his strength, he followed the orb without hesitation. Most of them winked out when the person died. This was the first that he’d seen travel somewhere else.
In the forest, he was lost sight of the tiny guide but he had a feeling he knew where it was going. And when he entered what used to host the Barker Stone, he saw the tiny pearl orbiting the giant egg.
And before he knew it, a crack appeared on the shell, forcing Faybiss Cascade to crack a wide smile.