The light was nearly gone when Mica came to the end of her trail. The rhododendron was covered in pink blooms that stood out in the twilight, and studying the ground around it had thrown up no clues as to where her quarry had gone. Puzzled, she rested for a moment, allowing herself a quick swig from a leather water bottle that she carried at her belt. Where should she look next? On an impulse, she crossed her legs and sank into a meditation, hoping that by tuning into the energies of her surroundings she might discover something useful. Just as she was beginning to merge with the forest, she heard noises from the direction of the path she had followed. The odd cracking of a twig and the swishing of undergrowth as someone pushed their way through was enough to tell Mica that she’d better get out of sight – and quickly. Silently, she rolled under the bush and pulled herself into its centre on her stomach. Relaxing her body allowed her to control her breathing, while letting her consciousness slip down to her store. If anyone happened to stumble across her, she would be ready.
At least three people were in the group that approached her hiding place. She deduced they were probably soldiers from their worried whispers at losing the trail. They circled the bush as she had, one on his hands and knees, but after a few minutes they gave up and moved off. Mica lay for a while longer before she decided she could safely leave the leafy confines. She attempted to push herself out backwards, the way she had come, but after twice getting caught on the same bit of branch, she gave up and pulled herself further into the darkness, looking for a lighter spot that might indicate a gap in the branches. Because she was looking up and not at the ground, she nearly fell into the hole and only just caught her balance, managing to push herself back away from its lip. Getting to her hands and knees, she peered down. Handholds lined one side, illuminated by a strange bluish light that came from somewhere below. She considered her options. This had to be where Karayana had gone, and it was only luck that had shown it to her. The trouble was, she would be going in blind. She wasn’t sure who the third companion was or if this was a tunnel that came out somewhere else, or just a bolthole. She might go down and find herself trapped. She lay back down on her stomach, her head in the hole, straining for a sound. Suddenly the air around her felt heavy, and her stomach involuntarily clenched in fear. She raised her head slightly, trying to swallow away the dryness in her throat.
“Ah, Mica. You are in a slight pickle again I see.”
The soft voice floated around her, making it impossible to pinpoint.
“Now, don’t do anything stupid here. You are in a lot of trouble, you know. Letting your captives escape after all the careful planning it took to get them in the first place was not a wise move. And I hate to tell you this, but your Master knows all about it.”
Mica shuddered. She had hoped to recapture Karayana before anyone could find out, but it was not to be. Had Dorien seen what had happened? She was unsure.
“Who are you?” she whispered harshly, trying to sound braver than she felt.
“A powerful ally or a terrible enemy. The choice is yours.”
“That’s what you said before.”
“Well perhaps you shouldn’t ask the same question. I have watched over you, little Mica, since the day you were born, and your potential has increased yearly.”
“What potential is that?” Mica spat. She wasn’t very happy with the little. It made her feel vulnerable.
“Your potential to do the job intended for you.”
Mica gave a derisive snort.
“You talk in riddles. If you have something to say, just say it. Then perhaps you will leave me to recapture Karayana and her boyfriend.”
“Ah, but I don’t want you to capture Karayana, and I am not sure that you could now. I want you to follow her. She is going to lead you to someone important. I am not certain who he is, but it is vital that I find out.”
Mica was starting to get angry, in spite of herself.
“I am afraid I don’t take orders from someone I can’t see,” she answered in a clipped tone.
The voice gave a chuckle.
“Your brain will not show you what it considers an impossibility.”
Mica stared around her in the murky light. She was finding it hard to stay calm now, and the anger was slowly being eaten by fear. She decided to try a different tack.
“I can only take orders from my Master. Perhaps you could go to him first.” She kept her voice low trying to hide the wobble she knew was lurking.
“I know what you are thinking, little one, but your Master cannot rid you of me. Listen and do as I say, and you will be rewarded. I can enhance your powers without years of training, but first you must complete this task for me.”
Mica pricked up her ears. Enhancing her powers sounded good. At least she wouldn’t be doing something for nothing this time. Perhaps this Master would actually be better than the current one. Life might get a bit more interesting at last.
“I want you to follow Karayana’s little group. Don’t reveal yourself, and don’t get yourself caught. You cannot underestimate Karayana. Now that she has used her power, she will grow in strength and confidence. Expect that she is at least as good as you. She is travelling to her teacher, a man I do not know, but he works for my enemy. If I can discover who he is, then I am a step closer to eliminating him. For now he is veiled from me, so let Karayana lead you to him, and then I need you to give me his name.”
“How will I contact you?”
“Shout out my name in your mind.”
“And what is your name?” she asked, exasperated.
Suddenly the air lightened around her and she knew he had gone. She managed to sit and look around, numb with shock as his name echoed around her head.
“But you are a God,” she gasped.
Morden hurried to the great hall. He had spent a sleepless night in Karayana’s empty rooms, going over and over everything that Liasna had told him. Suddenly, his wife was a stranger. The things she had hidden from him were the core to who she was. Her beliefs, that he thought she had left behind her when she left the Tors, were still there in her heart, shaping her thoughts and decisions. And the revelation of what had happened to her before he had even met her… He felt deeply hurt that he hadn’t been her first, when he had always believed otherwise, but at the same time he wanted to murder this Dorien for what he had done. Magic user or no, a sword through the heart would still kill a man. For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do next. How could you fight an enemy that didn’t reveal itself? How could you strategise if you had no idea why you were being attacked and from which direction? To make matters worse, he had just received a message to say that Matheas was a mile away and requested his immediate attention on arrival. This all felt like a weird dream, and he wished he could wake up and carry on with his normal life.
He had only just seated himself at the head of his debating table when Matheas entered unannounced. His riding cloak streamed out behind him as he strode up the hall. Before he had made it halfway to Morden, he began to speak.
“Morden, I need your help,” he boomed. “Portheas has been kidnapped.”
As he pulled up a chair, Morden noted the travel stains on his cloak and the weariness in his eyes.
“You have ridden hard to get here so quickly. Let me order some refreshments while we talk.”
Matheas ran a hand through his black wavy hair.
“That would be most welcome, friend.”
While Morden spoke to the servant, Matheas’s right hand man, Rolf, strolled in and seated himself at the table, followed soon after by Corli and Blakely. Introductions were made quickly, and then an uneasy silence followed while the servants brought food and drink. As soon as they had left, Morden took it upon himself to speak first.
“I am sorry to hear your news, Matheas. It worries me greatly. My daughter has also been abducted, and I fear for her life. My only hope is that they are together.”
Corli looked up at the suggestion of abduction.
“We are not looking for a runaway, then?” he asked.
“No. I don’t have very much to tell you, but what I do know, I will share. Last night, the son of my wife’s old tutor broke into her room. His name is Dorien and he is a magic user. He escaped by disappearing into thin air.”
Nobody was eating. Everyone gazed intently at Morden.
He explained quickly what Liasna had been told about Karayana, and then filled Matheas and Rolf in on everything that had happened in the last two days.
“So we have to hope that the friend Karayana is with is Portheas, and perhaps by now Marti, as well.”
Morden looked over at Corli. His friend was slowly sipping his wine, his gaze turned inward.
Matheas cleared his throat before speaking.
“I hope you are right, Morden, but what I don’t understand is why this Dorien divulged the information in the first place.”
“Dorien grew up with my wife. Let’s just say he felt he owed her this favour. I would not count on him doing it again. He is obviously the enemy, although I can’t figure out why. He gave no clues on that little problem.”
“Is this something to do with Portheas and Karayana’s engagement?” Rolf asked in a puzzled tone. “Would someone gain something from stopping it?”
“I have been thinking along the same lines, but I can think of nothing except that, eventually, Ebrocia and Araevia will be one much larger province,” answered Matheas. “My reason for wanting the marriage, apart from this, is one of trade. Ebrocia, as you all know, has sole access to the diamonds from Tor.”
“And Araevia has a large cosmopolitan port that would be invaluable to us for both buying and selling,” Morden added.
“It is a puzzle,” Matheas said, leaning back in his chair. “One that I find extremely disturbing. This enemy is very clever and, as we know, has the use of Magi. He took Portheas from our camp in the middle of the night. Nobody heard or saw anything. It makes me very nervous to know that Dorien can just disappear. I presume that also means that he can just appear when he likes, as well.”
“We do not know, my Lord. I have placed all my guards on full alert. Unfortunately, I have no Magi at my disposal.” Blakely spoke slowly, his mind going over the security of the palace.
“In recent years, there has seemed no need.” Matheas sighed. “I thought the Magi dead and gone, apart from those hidden away in the Tors. And they have never been interested in bothering the rest of us mere mortals. They are quite happy to keep their skills and their knowledge to themselves.”
Morden slowly nodded his head. That was a fact he knew only too well. He swallowed back the hurt.
Blakely made to leave.
“I think I am of more use to you, Sire, in my own headquarters than here. I will take my leave and keep you advised on any new information. Two squadrons left at first light to comb the forest again, and another is searching the catacomb of tunnels we have discovered.”
“Wait.” Matheas said. “This prison cell where you think they held Karayana – can I see it? I know it’s highly unlikely that Portheas was there, but if they are using magic then distance is of no object. I might see something you have missed.”
“That is a good idea. I will join you,” Morden said, standing.
There was a scraping of chairs on the stone floor as everyone made for the door. Morden pulled Corli to one side.
“Can you check in on Liasna for me and fill her in on what’s going on?”
“Yes, of course.” Corli sounded slightly surprised.
“Tell her I will call on her at lunch.”
Corli nodded and watched Morden hurry after Matheas and Rolf.
Liasna had awoken feeling drained and lifeless. A heaviness lay on her heart that she didn’t know if she would ever alleviate. She spent a long time staring at the ornate ceiling above the bed that she normally shared with Morden. She didn’t know where he had slept, if at all. It was the first time in nineteen years of marriage that they had slept apart for a reason other than state business.
Suddenly, Liasna felt homesick. Her heart needed peace, tranquillity. She needed the mountain air in her lungs, the uplifting energy in her bones. Perhaps if she returned home, she could persuade her father to help them. The Torlunders were notorious for keeping themselves to themselves. The Tors were rich with diamonds, which had meant that the peaceful people had been attacked countless times in their history. One of the reasons for Liasna’s marriage to Morden had been to secure the western borders. The more she considered it, the more it seemed that this would be one way to help Karayana. The mountains were also the home of the ancient race of Magi. As far as she knew, there were five left at the very most. They lived on the highest mountain in the range, Jargsburg, where the air was so thin that very few people visited. It was said that the Magi could exist there, as they had become beings of energy and so their bodies hardly needed air to survive. If they could be persuaded to help, then Liasna could find room for hope again. The heavy feeling lifted slightly. Now she was beginning to feel better. At last she could be of use and not sit around worrying.
She had just finished dressing herself in a simple cream dress when Corli was announced. She found him seated in her day room, in the chair that the day before had held a much darker occupant. Shuddering slightly at that thought, she smiled at Corli.
“Good morning, Liasna,” he said trying not to show concern for his friend’s wife. She was extremely pale.
“I have come with a message from Morden. He is with Matheas, who arrived in the early hours.”
“Matheas is here?” she said with surprise. “He has ridden quickly to make it in this time.”
“Yes, and I’m afraid the news he brought was not good. Portheas has also been abducted. Morden wonders if he might be with Karayana.”
“Perhaps,” Liasna whispered, staring down at her hands.
“Morden has gone down to the cells you found, with Matheas, to see if they can find any clues as to who was actually there. He said he will call on you at lunch.”
Liasna gave a long sigh.
“Thank you, Corli. That gives me time to sort out my own affairs.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Not as yet.” Liasna smiled wearily at him. She would not volunteer her plans until she had formed them properly herself.
“Well then, I will be on my way. Call me if you need me, Liasna.”
Corli gave her a worried glance as he made for the door.
“I will be fine, Corli, but thank you anyway.”
He left, looking like he hadn’t believed a word she’d said.
Liasna ate a light breakfast and then called for Maria. The maid hid her surprise well when asked to pack warm clothes for them both, and everything else that was essential for the journey. She then went to find Mona. Guiltily, she realized that she had hardly spoken to her second daughter in the last couple of days, and bless her, she hadn’t once come and pestered for information. Now she must change that. Mona was old enough to know the truth, and Liasna found herself longing to tell her of her hidden heritage. She planned to disguise this trip by taking her children to visit their Grandfather. It would only be the third time that Mona had met him, and the second for Briyden, who wouldn’t even remember the first. There would be plenty of time on their journey to make it up to her children. She could even begin to teach them meditations and Mat-Su breathing exercises. Her steps grew lighter at the thought, as did her heart.
The damp tunnel sloped gradually upwards, meaning that they could cover the first mile of their journey underground. Karayana could hear Portheas behind her. Through necessity, they travelled close, the light in the tunnel coming from one tendril of crystal cutting through the rock on one side. There were at least two intersections ahead that Marti and Karayana had never explored, and if one of them took a wrong turn, a great deal of time would be wasted getting back to the pathway out. Karayana was looking forward to the journey ahead. She expected it to take about a week to get to Ral, as long as she could keep her bearings. There were landmarks that she had noted on her journey home, and on a clear night she could check their progress with the stars. They walked in silence, trudging through the sandy bottom of the tunnel. She wondered how long her slippers would last before falling to pieces. At least the awful dress was gone, replaced by Marti’s spare clothing. Although a little big, she had managed, with some imagination, to make things fit, much to Portheas’ disgust. He had not uttered a word on the matter and had remained tight-lipped ever since.
It didn’t take long to reach the small overhang of rock that hid the entrance to the tunnel, however squeezing out was a lot harder now than it had been as children. Eventually, after a lot of squirming and cursing, they were through and lying flat in a dry streambed. Marti signalled for them to stay low while he peered up over the overhanging grasses. After a tense couple of minutes, he gave them the all clear.
“Stay quiet and head straight for the hawthorn on your right,” he whispered. Karayana and Portheas ran lightly to the cover of the hawthorn, but Marti didn’t follow.
“What’s he doing?” Portheas murmured.
Karayana shrugged, puzzled, and kept her eyes on the long grass through which they had just come. At last, he appeared, and ran doubled over to join them.
“What were you doing?” Portheas asked quietly.
“Covering our tracks. I’d rather keep this place a secret. We may need it again someday.”
Portheas nodded a grim approval.
“Can you hear something?” Karayana asked. They all fell quiet, straining for a sound that was abnormal to the woodland.
“Horses.” Portheas said suddenly. “Lie flat.”
Instantly, they fell face down to the forest floor. Karayana could feel the beat of hooves now. The horsemen were travelling fast from the south. Within two minutes, she saw the first one flash past their hiding place – a knight, dressed in full armour that shone in patches of sunlight. His grey mount jumped the streambed and galloped on. A second knight appeared and followed his companion across the stream, but pulled his mount up short on the other side. The horse paced restlessly, snorting, as the knight pushed up his visor and looked directly at the bush under which they lay. Karayana shut her eyes and breathed deeply. Without realising what she was doing, she began to build up energy. She felt it tingling in her back and shoulders and warming her stomach. When she opened her eyes, the knight had gone and Marti and Portheas exchanged a puzzled look.
“He saluted us,” Portheas stated.
“So it seemed, “ said Marti, frowning.
“How did he know we were here?” Karayana asked trying to focus on the conversation. Each time she reached for her energy all her senses heightened that bit more, making her surroundings more intense, more beautiful.
Marti and Portheas didn’t notice the trance-like state she was in.
“Do you know who they were?” Marti asked quietly, staring at the path the knights had taken towards the Palace of Den.
“No. Should I?”
“Did you not see the mark on the saddle cloths?”
Portheas shook his head.
“It was a pyramid, topped by an eye.”
Marti still stared away into the distance, as Portheas suddenly understood what they had seen.
“But I thought they were just a legend. Are you sure that’s what you saw?”
Marti rose to his feet. He looked down at Portheas with wide, staring eyes.
“Positive. The Knights of Isil-Ra. Perhaps we should move on.” He walked off, deep in thought.
Portheas frowned and jumped to follow. Marti was not usually so oblivious to his companions.
“Are you coming, Karayana?” he asked a touch derisively.
“Oh yes.” She smiled at him vaguely and got gracefully to her feet, walking off lightly after Marti.
Portheas watched them for a moment, and then shaking his head, he took up the rear.
“There must be something in the water round here,” he muttered.
They walked for the best part of an hour in silence, following a woodcutter’s trail. Karayana floated along, touching multicoloured auras, breathing in an earthy vitality that she desperately wanted to immerse herself in. It was as if she had been blind and now could see. Her whole perspective on life was changing. Gradually, Marti and Portheas slid back into her world. They had been there on the edges all along, but she didn’t want to acknowledge them until she had savoured everything else. Their energies were complex, and after the simplicity around her, they made her head hurt. But they were part of her world too, and so step-by-step, she layered them on to her new reality. She became aware of Marti ahead, marching swiftly on. His head was up, his back tense. He seemed to be unaware of his surroundings, looking inwards. She frowned. That wasn’t normal. She tuned into Portheas behind her, finding this harder. He felt confident. Arrogantly so. She smiled. That was normal. She trotted forward and fell into stride alongside Marti.
“You alright?” she asked quietly.
He swallowed and didn’t look at her.
“Those were Knights of Isil-Ra.”
“Oh. Well that’s good isn’t it? Don’t the legends speak of them saving the good and killing the bad?”
“Yes.” Marti looked at her. “But the legends also say that the Knights only appear to fight the evil hordes of Deverous.”
Karayana felt a slight ripple of fear emanate from him. She found it was contagious.
“What do you mean?”
“He means that what we are in the middle of is ten times worse than we had thought,” stated Portheas, catching them up.
“And the second Knight stopped. He looked straight at our bush and saluted. He knew we were there.” Marti looked fearfully at Karayana, and she felt there was something else bothering him.
“Perhaps we should all try and recall what we have heard or read of these Knights.” Portheas said.
Marti nodded and Karayana walked on at his side, trying to stop his fears invading her thoughts.
“Is there something else?” she whispered eventually.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it feels like you are hiding something from me.”
He glanced down at her, but hurriedly looked away.
“It was strange,” he muttered half to himself. “I’m not even sure if it happened.”
She waited impatiently for him to continue.
“It’s as if he spoke to me,” he whispered at last.
“I didn’t hear him say anything.”
“No. It was in my head.” He tapped his forehead trying to make sense of his own words.
She pursed her lips thoughtfully.
“He said…he said, ‘Greetings, brother’.”
They wandered on in troubled silence, each trying to find meaning behind the knight’s words. She wondered briefly if he had imagined it, but for him to have told her, he would have to be pretty sure.
“Do either of you know where we are going?”
Portheas snapped her out of her reverie.
“As long as the mountains stay to the east, we will find the foothills at the southern forest edge,” she said quietly.
“We can’t see the mountains,” Portheas pointed out sarcastically.
Annoyed at his persistence, she explained in a clipped tone,
“There is a rise a little way on where you can see above the trees. I have taken this route before, you know.
He raised his eyebrows at her and she smiled sweetly back, keeping her temper in check.
“You will just have to trust me,” she said.
She could feel his controlled anger buzzing around her like a fly. In fact, now she thought about it, emotions were just another one of the energies that enveloped her. All she had to do was figure out which colour belonged to which person. Life was becoming more complicated all the time. She walked tall, feeling like a figurehead floating gracefully through a great ocean of swirling energies, yet knowing that at last, she was beginning to find the way.
“But Mother, I really think I would be of more help to Father than to you. And what will Loemo do without me?”
Liasna sighed. She had expected problems persuading Mona to accompany her, but she had thought Briyden would relish the adventure. She looked to Morden for help, but he would not meet her eyes. In fact he hadn’t looked her in the eye all morning. She wondered how he viewed her now, knowing that she had kept so much from him for so long. Had his feelings for her changed? She forced a smile.
“So no one but me thinks this is a good idea, then,” she said finally. Morden stood and walked over to his study window.
“I don’t like the idea of you all traipsing around where I cannot protect you,” he said quietly.
Liasna felt exasperated. She knew of no other way to get help in finding her daughter. Annoyed with her husband, she spoke without thinking.
“I think we will be at least as safe away from here as we are within these walls.’
Morden looked round quickly, shock and anger showing plainly in his eyes.
“You really believe that, after all that has happened?”
“Yes. I think the risk is as great here as elsewhere. The Tors will be a safe place for now. And I want to enlist the help of Father.”
Liasna looked from one to the other of her children.
“I know this trip will be good for both of you, and I am also sure that I can find help with my people for your sister. I am not trying to place any one of us in danger. But I can’t leave you both behind, it will tear me apart.”
“And all of us leaving will tear Father apart,” Mona burst out. “I can’t leave him alone here, Mother. I love you both, but Father is not as strong as you. He needs us.”
Morden placed a hand on his daughter’s shoulder and she turned quickly to hug him, tears flowing freely down her face.
“I’m scared, fFther,” she whimpered.
“I will make sure no harm comes to you,” he said, stroking her hair lightly.
Briyden shuffled in his chair, not knowing quite what to do. Liasna knelt beside him and scooped him onto her knee.
“I’m not scared, Mother,” he whispered, “I just don’t want to leave Father.”
She smiled into his curls and sighed deeply.
“I don’t want to leave him either.”
“Then don’t go!” Mona cried. “Just send a messenger.”
Liasna shook her head. She needed to go, but they wouldn’t understand the reasons why.
“I am much more likely to get their co-operation if I go in person. I will leave in the morning.”
Hearing the finality in her voice, Morden at last looked her in the eye. He nodded once. For the first time she could remember, she had no idea what thoughts played out behind those eyes.
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