Callindra was still on edge, their escape had been narrow, but that wasn’t all that was bothering her. It was as though she could always hear someone talking to her, whispering just barely beyond the limit of where she could understand the words. It had made her jumpy and irritable, to the point where even Tryst was giving her space.
“Great, I’m sure they’ll be happy to work for their keep.” Callindra said, giving the refugees a significant look. None of them protested.
“Relax sister.” Cronos said, giving her a good natured punch on the arm, “You don’t need to glare them to death after we did all the work getting them here safely.”
She sighed, “I’m sorry, I just have this weird feeling that something’s not right.”
“I trust your intuition.” Tryst said, “But this place seems like a good, safe place for these folk. At any rate they won’t go hungry and it’s certainly safer than if they traveled with us.”
Callindra looked around the farm with its busy people and green fields. The sun was setting red on the horizon; a color like drying blood and she shivered.
“That’s just th smoke from th forest fire.” The farmer said, leaning on the fence rail. “Been burning for a couple days now.”
They all turned, following his gaze toward the mass of the High Forest with the towering form of the Grandfather Tree rising beyond it. The haze of smoke was clear against the backdrop of the setting sun. Callindra felt the dread inside her build.
“No. The High Forest is burning.” She whispered, “We did this.”
“What?” Cronos said, giving her an incredulous look. “We didn’t set any fires there. Besides, don’t you think Jorda could take care of a little fire?”
“Yes, I would think that Jorda would have the ability to put out a fire you idiot.” She said, losing her patience. “Why do you think I’m so worried?” Wind gusted and swirled around her, loosening the tie holding her waist long, wrist thick braid so that hair fanned out around her head.
“Be easy sister.” Vilhylm said, putting a calming hand on her shoulder. “No need to get upset. We’ll head that direction at first light.”
“The Hand seems to be pointing back in that general direction as well.” Tryst said, “If we’re going to find the rest of the pieces we need to keep following it toward the closest one.”
Callindra forced herself to relax, focusing on the first Korumn. Inhale. Exhale. “I’m still not sure I’m OK with you calling me your sister.” She said, giving Vilhylm a quizzical look.
“Well you’re as close to blood kin as we can have without sharing parents.” Cronos said with a grin, “You’re even my big sister.”
“I’m only a year older than you Cronos.” She said, allowing their playful banter to soothe away her worries for the moment. “Tryst is older than I am and Vilhylm has got to have at least ten years on me.”
“Hey now, there’s no need to rub it in.” Vilhylm said with a hearty chuckle. “Come on, let’s see what kind of accommodations master Gild can give us for the night.”
“Oh not but th best hayloft for certain!” Tom said with a hearty chuckle. “And there’s a damn fine stew on.”
“Sounds wonderful compared to the burned meat and hard ground we’ve been enduring.” Callindra said, grinning in spite of her mood, “Anything’s better than my cooking.”
Pressing hard, they had arrived at the High Forest in two days. The smoke had been getting steadily thicker and now a choking wall of it obscured their view of the roaring flames ahead. All Callindra could do is stare in horror.
“Gods and Demons, what did we do?” She breathed, the winds curling around her, blowing the smoke away from her face.
“This wasn’t us.” Cronos said, “We didn’t start any fires damn it.”
Even as they watched, the fire grew, seeming to actively try to surround them. With a cry of fear, Callindra lashed out with magic and the winds that were curling protectively around her burst forth, blasting a path through the flames.
“Stop it sister, you’re making the fire stronger!” Tryst shouted over the increasing angry rumble and crackle of the flames.
Vilhylm had put a mask on, his body beginning to drip with mud and flung great handfuls of wet muck at the fire but the heat baked them to brick before they could do anything to smother the blaze. Tryst stared at the wall of flames, spinning in a circle.
“We have to get out before it’s too late!” Tryst yelled, looking around them at the shrinking gap.
“How did it get around us?” Cronos said, breaking into a run.
“I think it’s alive.” Callindra said, “Somehow it senses us.” It was then that she saw the motes of pure emerald rippling through the smoke above their heads.
“It’s the Abyss!” Tryst shouted, “We need to move!”
“To move where?” Vilhylm asked, “It has surrounded us!”
With a supreme effort of will, Callindra drew in as much power as she could, spinning in circle with a gradual increase in speed until she was balanced on the ball of her right foot. She released the power and the winds swirled in response, becoming a small whirlwind and keeping the raging flames at bay.
A roaring sound only barely audible over the flames made everyone look up. Above them, a shape with a span of flapping wings too impossibly large to be anything but a dragon blocked out the sky as it hovered. It took Callindra a moment to realize that she was looking at the wooden planks and decking of a sailing vessel. When a rope ladder fell over the side, stopping a few feet from the ground she stopped caring how it was managing to float there.
“Get on!” She shouted, sweat pouring down her face as she desperately concentrated. “I can’t hold this wind forever!”
Cronos was the first to grab the ladder and begin to climb, closely followed by Vilhylm. Tryst looked at her as though he might object, but the ship above them began to rock and sway, its massive wings flapping in an irregular beat to keep itself steady. The torrent of air she was maintaining made the ladder begin to slide sideways toward the wall of flame Callindra was only barely keeping at bay.
As the priest in his gleaming maile ascended the ladder, the ship lurched and abruptly bobbed five feet higher off the ground. The ladder was out of reach. Desperately, Callindra brought the swirling torrent of air back in and beneath her in a rush. It shot her into the air with a surprised scream. Her clumsy attempt to merely raise up a few feet turned into a catapult shot and she flew a dozen feet past the rail of the ship, tumbling to the deck in a barely controlled roll.
“Do get that ladder up and us out of this bedamed torrent!” A gruff voice sounded behind her.
“Aye Skip!” Another voice responded.
The scent of Karalan Imperalius wafted into Callindra’s nostrils. Her head was woozy from the impact and the massive expenditure of arcane energies. She tried to focus her eyes on the figure standing above her.
“Yer a bedamed fool girl.” It said in a basso rumble. “Ya cut yerself up on that blade. Pretty bad. Yer bleedin all over Grungie’s deck, holdin onta that thing like it’s a baby or somethin.”
She looked down, and the last thing she saw before succumbing to unconsciousness was Brightfang’s hilt clutched in her hands, his blade buried in her thigh.