Mona floated on a light breeze through a midnight sky. A silver cord attached to her navel stretched back behind her. She was aware that it was the way back to her body but the only time she had sleepily attempted to reel herself back along it she had failed. It was as if it had snagged on something and she couldn’t be bothered to find out what. There was no sound, which she was aware should have felt odd. In the distance there were bright lights, either stars or Knights of Isil-Ra, she couldn’t decide which, and it really didn’t matter. She could float on her back or roll over onto her stomach but the view never changed, it was eternal. Time was of no consequence to her. She was warm and comfortable and wherever the breeze took her, she would go, without a struggle.
A distant cluster of lights caught her attention. Watching them brought them nearer until they began to merge into one gigantic ball. The breeze blew her closer, and Mona realized that, within the light, shapes were beginning to emerge. Her mind let them converge and as she entered the light globe they turned into towers and buildings, which eventually became a breathtaking castle. She smiled and turned onto her back to gain a different view. The walls seemed to become more solid, but she could see no windows, or doors. It wasn’t a problem, nothing was, and there would be a way in. Then the breeze disappeared and she hung motionless. For a long time she let her imagination wander up and down the walls searching for the entrance, to no avail. Reaching towards the walls, she found that her body followed her hand until she touched the white stones. They were jelly like and smiling again she pushed her hand through and her body went too. There was only a slight resistance around her, and then she was on the other side in a round room, with no ceiling and no floor. Two chairs and a table hung in the centre of the room and asleep in one chair was a very, very old man. Mona reached towards the chair opposite him and sat down. The chair was made of the same jelly like substance, but, as her intention was to sit on it, and not go through it, she knew it would cause her no problems. The old man glowed like the crystal veins in Little Mountain at home in Den. He wore a robe that seemed to constantly swirl, and was made of so many colours that Mona could not distinguish one from the other. He opened his eyes and looked at her. His pupils were stars surrounded by the midnight black of the sky. He laughed, but there was no sound, and Mona knew she heard him with her heart, not her ears.
“Mona,” he said noiselessly, “Why are you here?”
The voice was gentler and more understanding than any voice that she could ever imagine and her heart surged with a great love.
“I don’t know,” she answered in heart speak. For the first time there was a problem and because of it her sleepiness began to fade.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
Mona tried hard to think, but she didn’t want to do it.
“I can’t remember.”
The old man smiled and nodded.
“You must stay here until you remember,” he said, “Rest now.” Then he was gone and Mona found that she was lying on a bed, staring at the midnight black sky, dotted with pinpricks of starlight. She reached out to the lights, but nothing happened. His intention was stronger than hers.
After a while he called her name, and she followed his voice to a library that seemed to stretch away from her in every direction. He smiled and pointed at a chair, and she sat.
“Do you remember now?” he asked.
A thought plucked at the fog surrounding her mind, and for a moment she felt uncomfortable, but then it faded away.
“This is not your time Mona. You must remember or stay here for all eternity.”
Mona smiled warmly.
“I will stay here for all eternity,” she mused.
“Azti will not pass his testing if you stay. He will die again.”
Mona’s heart gave a small jump in her chest.
“Azti?” she asked.
“Azti is the man who loves you. Love is all conquering.” His eyes blazed brightly and suddenly she remembered. She gasped with the intensity of feeling again.
“I love Azti,” she whispered, “But he cannot love me.”
Tears came unbidden, and ran warmly down her cheeks.
“He will always love you. Love is the purest emotion, and the strongest. It will conquer all.”
“But we can never consummate our love.” She was sobbing now. Her nerve endings seemed to be tingling with emotion.
“You must adjust your view on life.”
Mona had no idea what he meant. She was beginning to panic.
“If it is your intention to live and love again you must remember what happened.”
If life is my intention, of course, she thought. She willed herself out of the remains of the fog, and then screamed as she remembered vividly.
“A dragon had me, and then it fell,” she cried.
“Ah.” He nodded his head slowly, “You must rest again.”
He vanished and she was back on the bed. He intended her to rest, and so she did.
There was an area of the large library that was hardly ever used, and Dorien headed there with his reports clutched desperately under his arm. He couldn’t return to his room, as Talia was likely still there, and he needed time to think, although the way his head felt he didn’t know if that would be at all possible. He rounded a book-encased wall, and found the dark corner unoccupied. A small lantern sat on the table, and a bright blue flame sprang into life with a wave of his finger. Half sitting half collapsing into the chair, he dropped the papers in an untidy heap and rested his head in his hands.
For five minutes he sat with closed eyes and thought of nothing. Sleep would have helped but he didn’t have time so even a small amount of meditation would be useful.
Easing himself upright, he stacked the reports and took the top one, placing it squarely on the table in front of him. And then he took problem number one and began to think.
The more information The Master held on him the more precarious his position became, and as he now knew more about Doriens life than ever before then he may not be in the safest of places right now. He had never divulged his attack on Liasna to anyone, it was something he had spent his whole life trying to put behind him, and it wasn’t until recently that he had even considered there might have been a child. Once he had begun to weigh everything up in his mind and come to what was now, he knew, the wrong conclusion, he had found a strange longing within, to be a father. He thought about how he had treated Mica, and realised that although she despised him, as she did everyone, he had tried to be fatherly without knowing it. Now to know his one child had died was a crushing blow and the weight of it lay heavy over his heart. Was this his punishment for the crime he had committed? He turned everything over again in his mind, and then shook his head. How many times had he wished he hadn’t done it? What would his life be like now? Years ago he had been bitter at the lack of understanding that he had received. No one had even noticed his immature impassioned feelings. But those thoughts had long been laid to rest; they didn’t out weigh the hurt he had caused. He was dwelling too long on the wrong thing here. What he needed to consider was how all this looked from the eyes of The Master. Was Dorien now a threat in any way, or at the least untrustworthy? Had he endangered Liasna because of his feelings for her? But then the information came from his father, who firmly believed that Dorien hated Liasna. Hopefully she was still safe. Anything else was only damaging to himself, and really only could be used as a way of knowing his mind better. With a sigh, he reshuffled the unread report.
So the next problem concerned his father. Was it better for The Master to keep him alive or was it really of no consequence to him? Did he have as much information as was needed? And what could he actually do anyway? How could he save his father from the Masters clutches? He could use a relocating stone, but he was quite sure The Master, being their creator, knew where each one was. He could think of nowhere that would be safe enough for Galron to not be retaken. And where did his loyalties really lie? With the person who had cast him out, disowned him at the age of fifteen, without a penny, made him struggle for long years, until as a mercenary he had been injured so badly that his mutilated body didn’t think it worth the effort to live? Or was it with the people who had healed him, given him back a life, with only a slight limp and occasional twinge to show anything had been wrong? A people who had asked no questions, but seen his potential as an adept and taught him how to utilise his skills and advance them, who had made him a master amongst them, who had fed, clothed and housed him for the past ten years. The Master may worship Deverous and not Isil-Ra, but both were Gods, and both looked after their followers. Deverous had shown him more mercy than Isil-Ra. The only nagging doubt he had was the one that expected that at some time a price would be extracted for all of the services he had been given, and that in all honesty, his life belonged now to the monastery. But he supposed his life had always belonged to something or someone, and that was something that must be lived with.
He shut his eyes again and allowed himself five more minutes of clear headedness, before turning to the task he was supposed to be doing, reading reports.
The one in his hand told him nothing he didn’t already know. The next was much the same, but with a tiny scrap of information that may have to be followed up concerning the misconduct of a dragon-rider.
The third reported the convoy headed for Torlund. He read this avidly, but found nothing he needed to follow up, apart from an order to stay in position. As he was putting it on to the pile he had read through, the light from the lamp showed an indentation at the bottom of the page. He examined it carefully. The paper had obviously been underneath a piece that had been written on, which was odd as all reports were brought straight to him from the machine that printed them. He held it closer to the light. The word ‘taken’ was definitely there as was ‘dragon’, and another that was harder to make out. He frowned and gave the report a pile of its own. He would look into that later.
It took another ten minutes of reading through mostly uninteresting findings to get to a report that grabbed his attention. This one must pertain to Karayana. Quickly scraping up the piles, he hurried back to his now empty room and left them in a mound on his desk. Then locking the door, he took out his stone and pictured the nearest place he knew to the southern edge of the Forest of Den.
Marti flicked through the small heap of coins in his palm. It wasn’t going to buy them very much at all. Closing his fingers over his small cache he scanned the market place. A stall in one quiet corner was selling travelers fare. He grimaced as he bought two cakes of wayfarer’s bread and four packs of dried fruit. Unfortunately flavour had to give way to practicality. At least there was plenty of game to hunt at this time of year. He pushed the meager rations into his pack and strolled on down the only street in the village. Portheas spotted him coming.
“You managed to get a sword I see,” Marti said, eyeing a tatty leather scabbard hanging from Portheas’s side.
“If that’s what you’d like to call it,” he scowled, “I’ve a feeling that my ring was worth slightly more.”
“We best be getting back to the girls,” he said, “We’ve been gone at least an hour.”
He went to set off walking again but Portheas grabbed his arm and quickly turned to look in the nearest shop window.
“I’ve just seen the man who was with Mica in the cell,” he whispered sharply.
“Are you sure?”
“Dead certain. Over your right shoulder at that stall selling the travelling gear. Brown riding cloak, black hair, walks with a limp.”
Marti went cold as he surreptitiously took a look. The man had his back to him, but he was talking to the trader who had just sold Marti provisions.
“We’ll double back through the market and out the other end of the village,” he said softly, eyeing the deserted direction in which they had been heading. Quickly they wended their way through the most crowded part of the street. At the other end of the village Marti took a fleeting glance behind them, but could see no sign of the man. Rounding the last house they set off at a jog for the cover of the woods. They had left the girls about a mile away, back in an area that was still thickly covered.
Karayana sensed them coming long before she heard them. She was sure from Mica’s face that she had done the same and suddenly realized how useful her new skills were becoming.
The two men arrived breathing heavily.
“What’s wrong?” Karayana asked grabbing Marti’s arm.
Portheas nodded at Mica. “We’ve just seen your friend with the limp.”
”Dorien.” Mica spat.
“The man who was with you in the cells?” Karayana said in alarm. “Who is he exactly?”
“An ex mercenary who now works for my order. He’ll be looking for all of us.”
“Did he see you?” Karayana’s face had paled and Marti squeezed her hand.
“It’s okay. He was talking to the man I bought the food from, but I don’t think he saw us. And we definitely weren’t followed.”
Mica made a derisive noise and Karayana glared at her. Mica laughed at the look.
“You three are the most naive adults I have ever known. He didn’t need to follow you. He will wait until he senses us leaving the forest and then follow us.”
“How will he know it’s us?” Karayana knew the answer as soon as she asked the question and was rewarded with a withering glare from Mica.
“He only has to be in contact with someone once to know their energy signature. Marti is the only one he doesn’t know.”
Every one looked at Marti, the same thought occurring instantaneously. He crouched down and began taking the food from his pack.
“How will I know this Ral?” he asked resignedly.
Karayana crouched next to him.
“He wears a plain home spun robe, his head is shaven. He is a little taller than me and he will smile when you see him.”
Portheas gave her his raised eyebrow look, but said nothing.
“You’ve just described a hell of a lot of people,” Marti said with a grin.
“I know. But he has a sort of aura about him. You will like him. Head southeast from this village. There is a road that eventually peters out in the foothills. He lives in a valley in a small wooden shepherds shack. There is a cultivated garden and a stream that skirts right around the house.” She raised her hands in the air. “That’s as much as I can think of.”
Marti had divided the food and put some back in his pack.
“Do you want to take the mare?” Portheas asked.
Marti gave the old horse a sympathetic look.
“It might be quicker if I don’t,” he said getting to his feet.
“Well no time like the present. If you have to move from here try and leave a sign.”
He shouldered the pack and belted his sword across his back. Then he turned to leave.
Karayana caught his arm and he turned back looking into her upturned face.
“Always.” He touched her cheek with his palm, intensely aware of Portheas’s gaze.
“I’ll be back in a day or so.”
Karayana watched him leave. She had the strongest feeling that she shouldn’t let him go.
“Shall I go hunt some supper or should we be sticking together?” Portheas enquired. Karayana noticed the question was directed more towards Mica than herself.
Mica was quick to hide her surprise. She thought for a minute before answering.
“I don’t think we should under estimate Dorien,” she narrowed her eyes slightly, “But how much help you would ultimately be against him I don’t know. So I think we could spare you to go off and hunt.”
Portheas hid his hurt well. Turning his back on her, he took up the bow and stalked off.
Karayana gave Mica a look filled with disdain.
“Perhaps I should go with him and leave you as bait,” she said trying to match Mica’s menacing tone, “You could do little to save yourself trussed up as you are. Relying on me to save you is not a good idea.”
“You are no match for Dorien. A Kranz maybe,” she conceded, “But he has ways to augment his power that you know nothing of. We would have to work together to stave off any attack.”
Karayana crossed her arms and stared down at the trussed up girl at her feet.
“That will never happen,” she responded calmly.
Mica just smiled.
As luck would have it, Dorien had managed to choose not only the right place but also the right time, to arrive in the tiny village of Barkston. As he left the dirty alleyway where he had appeared he caught sight of Portheas leaving a shop opposite. Back to the wall, he watched him join another man further up the street. Karayana was nowhere in sight, but surely they were still together. He quickly formulated a plan, and walked out into the open market square, browsing stalls while watching his target. Using his energy he took note of both signatures and then stood in such a position that Portheas could not fail to see him. The plan worked and he soon lost sight of them in the crowd.
“Now lets see where you’re hiding.”
Setting a leisurely pace he left the village from the opposite end and circled its edges until he found where the two energy patterns had entered the trees. Cautiously he scanned the area. He didn’t know if Mica was close, and what her own plans were, and he didn’t want her running back to the Master with tales of any suspicious behaviour from him. Right now he needed information, needed to know why Karayana was so important to Deverous and The Master. Before he decided whether or not to hand her over, there were a few questions of his own to ask.
Satisfied at last that Mica was not in the immediate vicinity, he set off into the forest. A mile from the camp he sensed the familiar energy he was looking for.
He gave a quiet laugh, “I knew you’d be close,” then he focused harder, “but not that close.”
Mica was either sitting right above them in a tree, or she was actually within the camp, probably executing her own plan.
Dorien set off at a jog; he needed to stop her from taking Karayana. As he neared the clearing he threw up a shield. He was sure that both girls would know someone approached and he needed to see what was going on before they found out he was there.
The man who had been with Portheas in the village appeared abruptly in front of him and Dorien reacted instantly; flattening into the undergrowth until he was sure he was gone. Bent double now he edged closer to the hideout until he reached a point where he could hear voices. Making himself comfortable he listened with interest.
Marti set himself a soldiers pace. If it were only a day to Ral’s house then at this rate he would make it by nightfall. He took a different route out of the forest to the way they had come in, just in case anyone was watching, and made straight for the road leaving the village. As the directions were pretty simple he let his mind run over the last couple of days. Karayana seemed to be favouring him and he was not ashamed to feel slightly triumphant that she was choosing him over the tall dark handsome Prince. Not that he disliked Portheas. The more he got to know him the friendlier they were. He just wished that Karayana were not an issue between them. Even though they had come to an understanding it was always there in glances and quickly veiled looks. Portheas seemed to have decided that Karayana was entitled to make her own decision on the matter of who she fell in love with, but it didn’t stop the feelings. Then Marti had a thought that almost disrupted his pace. Did Portheas believe that once this strange episode in their lives was over that the betrothal would take precedence again, and that all he need do was wait? The power of the anger that ripped through his stomach almost made him turn round and confront the man. But no. They were relying on him now. And anyway he could be totally wrong. He could also count on Karayana to fight tooth and nail against something that she didn’t want. That was partly why they were here in the first place. He smiled to himself.
The road was beginning to wind up onto hillier ground and the cover was thinning to the odd gorse bush and a few sheep that ambled away from him as he approached. The road seemed clear though, so he took to it. Running on uneven ground was slowing him up, and the quicker he found Ral, the quicker he would get back to Karayana. He was looking forward to meeting this legendary character and dispelling any slight jealousies he held. It was funny but before Karayana had reappeared he had not thought himself the jealous type. He smiled again thinking of all the other emotions she brought out in him that he had never realised existed. He let his heart soar with them, and tried to ignore the little tendril of doubt concerning Portheas that somehow kept worming its way in.
By mid afternoon the road had petered out to nothing more than a shepherd’s trail that traversed tiny streams, making their way down rocky cracks in the landscape. The hills were getting gradually steeper, and he knew he would need to stop and rest soon. He had allowed himself one stop for lunch, if that’s what you could call it, and would have preferred to keep up the pace until nightfall, hoping to find Ral’s house before darkness descended. He set himself a target, up this hillside and down into the next valley. If there were no sign of a house he would rest. Halfway up he had to slow his pace, as instead of running, a little scrambling was needed to gain ground on the increasingly rocky terrain. The grass was sparse now, replaced by tough stems of heather. The sheep seemed not to mind and Marti marvelled at the extreme angles that they could graze on.
As he at last stood wearily on the top of the high peak the sun was already beginning to sink behind the hills opposite, bathing the valley below him in a golden veil of light and long shadows. Set off to one side, seated about a quarter of the way up an arm of his hill, was a small wooden hut, the light glinting off the water surrounding it. With a sigh of relief he sat for a moment to rest his aching calf muscles and drink in the beautiful view. In this shade of semi-darkness the hills looked as if they were draped in a purple velvet blanket that fell in folds down the steep shoulders to the valley floor where a ribbon of twinkling silver meandered.
A faint acrid smell drifted his way and he took a long sniff to ascertain its odour. Smoke. The old man must have lit his fire. A small shiver told him the air was beginning to chill and with a groan he made his legs start the last bit of the journey. The ground was covered in purple shale and his descent was a mixture of careful climbing and sliding dangerously fast. He cursed as he twice sliced his hand on the sharp edges of the slate. Increasingly the coarse hill grass was beginning to show through the shale until, at last he was on an easier footing once again. He looked up, making sure of his direction in the shadows and spotting a light in the direction of the hut. Walking again now, he hurried towards what must have been an open door with a fire within. Another tendril of smoke drifted his way, and the fire suddenly doubled in size as if springing to life. He stopped, trying to make sense of the scene. Smoke filled the air now, and his brain at last understood what his eyes were showing him. The hut was alight. He scurried as fast as he could down the slope his heart hammering in his chest. Surely this almost magical man that he had heard all about could cope with fire. But a tremendous roar filled him with foreboding, and he belatedly realized that something huge was silhouetted against the hillside behind Ral’s house. He back trod to stop himself from getting any nearer. The heat of the flames that now must surely engulf the whole dwelling, reached him along with another giant roar that almost flattened him to the ground. Without warning a gust of heat and smoke blew his way and amid the choking he watched a large shape spring from the hillside, fanning the flames with wings twice its body size. The thing gave one last roar before heading away across the valley. As it passed in front of the setting sun Marti recognized the shape of a dragon.
Feeling sorry for another person was a foreign concept to Mica but Portheas’s expression of hurt after her taunt had left her feeling ashamed of her words. She sat with her back to a tree, where Karayana had tied her, and tried to coldly assess herself. She knew Portheas was an attractive man, she liked attractive men, and had never found it hard to make them like her, but this was different. She was hurt that she hadn’t made the impact on him that she had expected. Of course she knew what the problem was. She sat with her back to Mica meditating.
A sudden malicious little thought sprang into her head. Making herself as comfortable as possible she settled quickly into a trance like state, instantly finding Karayana’s energy in front of her. She reached forward with her mind looking for the opening she had used before. Nothing.
“I know what you are doing?”
She jumped slightly, and brought herself back. Karayana still sat quietly.
“You taught me to be on guard. I shut that door after I pushed you out last time,” she said not moving.
“It was worth a try,” said Mica, trying to hide the discomfort she felt at so easily being discovered.
“It proved to me that my guard has worked. Thank you.”
Karayana rose gracefully to her feet.
“It only proved it works against me. I am not the strongest person in my order. And it may be that strength is not what stopped me, but just simple recognition.”
She smiled at the flicker of concern that crossed Karayana’s face. Bending to pick up a heap of sticks they had stripped for use as arrows, she asked,
“Who are this ‘order’ you speak of?”
“Monks.” Mica replied tonelessly.
“How can they be Monks? They are evil.” Karayana said adding a derisive little laugh to the end of her sentence.
“How do you know?”
Karayana straightened and stared hard at her counterpart, and then she seated herself opposite Mica and began to sharpen the ends of the sticks.
“Why would they kidnap myself and Portheas if they were good?” she asked.
She is learning, Mica thought. Answering a question with a question was a good way of trying to find out what the other person knew without giving too much away yourself.
“Why does anyone use a kidnapping? To gain an advantage.”
“Your kingdom used just such a ploy in your Grandfathers time to stop a war. Was that evil?”
Karayana went on the defensive.
“Count Drusden was treated as a guest while he was held hostage, not put in a dark cold cell. And not whacked over the head.”
Mica laughed and shook her head.
“A castle has cells for a purpose. You are either extremely naïve or very stupid to think that Count Drusden would have been kept as a guest in your palace, allowing for easy escape or rescue. The history books I have read say that his people did not know where he was kept.”
Mica could feel Karayana’s anger now.
“So,” Karayana fired back, fiercely trying to control the hatred she felt, “You don’t think your order are evil.”
“No. Would evil people take in a baby and rescue it from certain death, feeding and educating it? Empowering rather than enslaving it?”
“You?” Karayana looked shocked.
“So why was I kidnapped?”
“No idea. Although I expect your power interests them. Portheas is a bit of a puzzle though. I am certain this Ral will be high on their list of important people to trace. My order is similar to that of the Tors. Dorien is a Torlunder himself. Apparently the energy is naturally strong in those people.”
“My mother is a Torlunder.” Karayana said in wonder. “How old is Dorien?”
“I’d say late Thirties,” Mica said slightly puzzled at the question.
“Then I’m sure she would know him, or his family. It makes me wonder if this has something to do with the Tors.”
“Why?” Mica pushed.
“Because I have Tor blood, but where does that leave Portheas?”
She thought for a moment longer before shrugging, “I may be wrong. Why then,” she continued with her previous topic, “if they rescued and empowered you, do these monks try to kill you?”
Mica kept her face devoid of emotion.
“I have not been a good girl.”
“Sending you to your room is not enough?” Karayana taunted.
“My upbringing was slightly stricter than yours,” Mica sneered.
“So what did you do that was so wrong?”
“I managed to let you escape, for one thing. Then I hid my self from them and teamed up with another.”
“Is this other their enemy?”
“No.” She would have liked to have said, ‘He is their God’ just to see the look on Karayana’s face, but she pushed that temptation aside and said, “His agenda is the same, but my rewards are better.”
“So you risk death for greed?”
“No. For power.”
“One and the same,” Karayana stated, putting the finished arrows to one side. “Is he my enemy?”
Karayana stood and stared Mica in the eye.
“That is a question I would very much like to know the answer to.”
Both girls froze and Karayana saw a look of panic fleetingly cross Mica’s face. She summoned her energy and flung it in the direction of the voice as she turned. Instantly it was returned to her with a force that knocked her off her feet.
A man in a long hooded robe strode towards them.
“Mica I never expected to find you trussed up like a chicken.”
He smiled, studying them both as he approached. Mica’s eyes now held nothing but contempt. Dorien knelt besides her, regarding the bandaged leg with raised eyebrows.
“They managed to wound you first.” He nodded to himself and glanced back at Karayana still sitting on the floor. “Impressive.”
“She didn’t wound me,” Mica spat, “It was those damned Kranz the Master sent to kill me. Well you can tell him it didn’t work and they are all dead. And by the way, your not taking me back.”
Dorien stood and paced thoughtfully, logging the new information. He had known nothing of the Kranz attack.
“So who is your new friend? And why hasn’t he helped you in your present predicament?”
Mica wanted to wipe his amusement from his face, but she clamped her mouth shut before some sarcastic comment revealed the truth to him. She had to think fast. If she added her energy to Karayana’s could they override the talisman that doubled his power, could they even take the talisman from him? Mica was unsure if she could use it herself, but it would at least weaken him.
“You have managed to anger our Master greatly,” Dorien said lightly, secretly wondering what she knew about him, “but I am pleased those Kranz didn’t kill you. I think they were a result of his initial irritation with you. You know how he can be.”
Mica said nothing. She watched Karayana come to her senses and warily glance over at Dorien. Unsteadily she got to her feet and scanned the surrounding trees looking like a young deer about to bolt away. Having your power flung back in your face had a way of making you feel extremely uncertain of yourself. Dorien seemed lost in his own thoughts.
At last he spoke again. “I’m afraid you must return with me.”
It was then that Karayana bolted. Mica instantly made a grab for a piece of flint she had managed to acquire the day before, sawing rapidly at her bonds, adding her energy to the flint until it burned hot enough to slice through. Her hands free, she worked quickly at her legs, watching as Dorien vanished then appeared suddenly in front of a bewildered Karayana.
“He has the stone,” Mica whispered. If only she could get her hands on that.
Karayana went into reflex mode. She side kicked low, hoping to catch the back of Dorien’s knee and bring him down. Mica cringed as the foot missed by an inch, and watched the man easily fling her to the floor. Karayana sprung back up and leapt in the air, punching down at the point between neck and shoulder. A good move, thought Mica, but her aim again was just off the mark and didn’t have the paralysing effect it should have. This time she hit the ground with a lot more force, and it took her a minute to get up again. Mica got to her side first and grabbed her arm.
“Use the energy,” she whispered.
“But,” Karayana looked dazed.
“Just do it,” Mica interrupted, “ Now.”
And Karayana unleashed a bolt at Dorien’s chest. Immediately Mica placed a hand on her shoulder and pushed her own energy through Karayana straight at him. He staggered back, before managing to steady himself and retaliate. Mica removed her hand just in time and Karayana took the force of both lots of returned energy. She flew through the air and landed in a heap twenty yards away.
Now Mica stood alone, unsure of her next move. She watched Dorien approach.
“Nice idea,” he said angrily as he gripped her arm and pulled her towards Karayana’s inert body. Reaching into a pocket inside his robe with the other hand he pulled out a glowing blue orb that fit snugly in his palm. Mica was beginning to panic. She couldn’t go back with him. She couldn’t lose all that she had gained.
“Deverous,” she screamed aloud.
Dorien paused and eyed her cautiously.
“Surely you don’t expect his help.”
Suddenly a bright light appeared from behind the trunk of a tree. Mica squinted trying to make out the figure standing within it. Dorien decided it was unwise to wait and find out. He quickened his pace attempting to reach Karayana before that light reached him, but Mica suddenly became a dead weight. Unrelenting, he reached down and grabbed her by the hair. The pain was excruciating, and she gasped out loud, tears filling her eyes. But she had given the figure within the light time to reach Karayana and pick her up. Dorien, realising his danger, began to chant. Mica leapt up and kicked the hand holding the orb. Shock registered on his face as he watched the blue stone career into the air, followed by pain as Mica’s elbow contacted his eye. He let go of her hair, and using his shoulder for leverage she grabbed the orb. Just as she spoke the last word that would activate it, and pictured fervently the place she wanted it to take her, she felt a hand seize her cloak. Unfortunately the cloudlike blanket that the orb enveloped her in made it impossible to see who it was that accompanied her.
With two rabbits and a pheasant slung over his shoulder Portheas made his way back to the camp feeling pleased with himself. He had managed to turn his thoughts away from females for a couple of hours, and he felt all the better for it. Sometimes, trying to figure out what they were thinking was enough to make him want to scream. He walked silently, aware that the woods were still a dangerous place to be.
He soon reached the campsite. It took a moment to register that the girls were gone. Mica’s bonds were lying at the base of the tree, cut. Their belongings were stacked next to the remains of last nights fire, along with the neat pile of sharpened sticks. Puzzled he walked the woods nearest to the camp, but found no clues as to their whereabouts. The mare was missing too. She had to have left prints somewhere. Not being a tracker, he found it hard to read the pine needles that thickly carpeted the ground. They effectively hid footprints. He traced out a little further, widening his circle and eventually found a fresh pile of droppings. But why would they go and leave everything behind. Surely if they had thought themselves discovered they would at least have taken some food. Baffled by the many questions he made his way back to the camp, but found nothing there that helped him. All he could do was sit and wait. If they didn’t return, then hopefully this man Ral would know how to find them, and Marti at least was good at tracking. Deciding that there was no danger in lighting a small fire he proceeded to gut the rabbits and prepare them for cooking. The pheasant, he hung from a tree. If they were in hiding somewhere perhaps the smell of food would draw them out.
This proved not to be the case and by nightfall Portheas was eaten with worry. He paced up and down, unable to sleep and silently he cursed women.
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