Anchor Between Worlds
It would be here. The grey peaks loomed over them. Anchorat shuddered with the cold as an icy wind snarled through their company, leaving frozen manes on the horses and frigid fingers on the reins – even with the fur gloves they wore. White clouds emanated from their mouths. The cold, however, was merely an annoyance that they did not have time to consider. Any minute now they would turn a corner in the pass and see the clearing where they would be. It had taken years for Anchorat to finally come to the end of this menacing trail. Years, and many spies and fruitless missions – all to find this despicable group who at this moment were preparing to undo all the work his parents had accomplished. Not only Serelio, his own kingdom, but perhaps Amried, perhaps the world, was at stake. Cold was nothing.
The horses plodded forward soundlessly, the light snow underfoot muffling their heavy footfalls. Up ahead, Lesli suddenly came to a stop, raising a dark-robed arm in warning. His horse whickered softly. The company looked about warily. Anchorat’s sister removed her green hood and glanced back at him. He reached out with his mind.
Do you see them?
She winced and glared at him but replied after a moment.
Not yet. But this looks familiar.
He nodded and rested his hand on his sword hilt, loosing the leather strap that secured it to its sheath. If it looked familiar to her, they were getting close. She would probably recognize more from her visions as they got closer, though she might not tell him. She hated reminders of the visions. It was enough to know they were close. The fact that she would open her normally closed mind to his query proved that she was as ready to close this chapter as he was.
He turned. Melenia and Yenkar, the most vocal of the group, were silent and sober, staring back at him. He looked again to Lesli, their mute guide. He alone had nothing to gain from this quest but the satisfaction of doing what he was born to do: hunt down those who would use their arts to thwart nature and call upon the dead, those who would use necromancy to achieve their wicked ends. The Lesnier elf still sat, arm raised, hooded head facing forward into the trees. Very slowly, he gestured for them to continue forward, forking to the left. They did so. Anchorat suddenly found it difficult to breathe. They were this close then.
As they inched forward, they began to hear the sound of chanting through the moaning of the wind. Anchorat urged his horse forward, his heart pounding his ribs.
Then he saw them.
They came upon the clearing more suddenly than he expected, though he saw his sister’s eyes were dark with recognition. The wind whipped through the company, and her black hair struggled in its leather bonds. Her sword was already drawn.
The necromancers were in a valley and gave no sign of seeing the hunters’ approach. Anchorat’s group was down-wind and shielded by the tall evergreens that covered the land up to the cliffside that fell into the valley. Anchorat’s view, therefore, was unhindered.
The necromancers were disrobed, their torsos naked in the biting wind. Their long hair fell unfettered to their waists, and they held staffs aloft, chanting in piercing, cracking tones. Krizimir’s mark was etched into each of their chests over their hearts. Seeing them, Anchorat felt a wave of both revulsion and furious satisfaction. It was time. Finally, it was time.
It was always fall. One always felt the autumn breeze in the air, chill and promising of winter to come, but for now warm enough for a simple, light cloak. It had been this way since the Blast. Spring was no more, summer was a green thing of the past, and winter was always on the horizon. Newly grown leaves slowly withered and fell, and sometimes frost littered the ground in uneven patches, as if it didn’t know how to do the thing properly anymore. Most people didn’t know any differently. It had been 600 years after all. Kurdra had given up trying to remember, had given up trying to figure out why she had odd, disjointed pictures in her mind from a time long before she had been born. They couldn’t even be real – might be results of books she’d found…or maybe her dreams.
She trudged on, wrapping the thin, grey cloak more tightly about her torso and neck. That’s where the confused wind nipped her – right below her square jawline. The cloak hid her willowy figure in its masculine embrace. Male dren and dwarves didn’t want to take her seriously without the veiling of the cloak. Elves were different, their men being slimmer in nature as well, but them she had to impress in different ways - when she wanted to get through to them. Most of the time, she didn’t care.
Unfortunately, that was not a luxury she could afford today. She pushed open the door to the tavern just as the wind ripped by, causing the heaven oaken frame to groan and bang as it slammed against the worn, smoky wall. She winced inwardly, hating attention at all times, but especially now. Dren peered blearily over tankards at her, and a couple dwarves sniggered, but that didn’t bother her as much as the orange, attentive eye that slid her way from under a torn, black hood. The scaly hand gripped a goblet, its knobby blade pausing as the drinker looked her over. An itch of recognition pawed at her mind, but she ignored it and glared at the daemen. She moved to the counter and spoke in a low voice.
“I’m looking for a dren, a short kid. Rather obnoxious. Wears a red hood. Called Ærrün.” She shook her head suddenly. “Sorry,” she said quickly. “Calls himself Erro. Seen him?”
The slim bartender studied her for a moment. “He supposed to be in town?” he asked. She nodded. He scratched his cheek slowly. “Scar on his left hand? Drinks noisily?” She rolled her eyes and nodded again.
“Nah,” the bartender said, deftly rescuing a dirty glass that a belching dren dropped when his head hit the counter. He grabbed a rag and wiped the remnants of the liquid that had spilled without giving the unconscious dren a glance. He pointed out the door. “He went out. Toward the tannery.”
“Thanks,” she grunted and swung around to leave.
“Fought recently?” the orange-eyed figure spoke suddenly as she headed for the door. His hunched wings misted irritably as he turned his torso to look at her.
She regarded him with warmed-over hatred in her piercing green eyes. “Always.”
His mouth flashed red as his forked tongue darted out in amusement.
“Feel like it now?” he asked, eyes glowing a lighter orange.
“No.” Her answer was curt. She turned and left the tavern, pausing to spit in the ashes piled by the door.
Squinting in the hazy sun, she looked for the tannery sign down the road. Not seeing anything, she debated a moment in her mind, then turned left and started walking down the cobbled road.
You’d never know this is the Stratsora that once was, she thought, glancing down at the holes in the road, the burnt piles of rubbish at corners, and the abandoned buildings. Images of imposing dren architecture and the bustle of a busy coastal trading city flashed through her mind. Not pictures from books – must be the dreams then. She frowned and pushed the images from her mind.
She hated arena towns. Daemen and humans (usually dren) lived among one another. Her kind fought in the arena to gain power given by daemen – it revolted her. She felt stifled and dirty being here, but their errand was necessary. Get in, get out, she thought, glancing about for her errant companion.
Just as the tannery sign came into view, swinging lopsidedly on one creaking chain, Kurdra saw him. He waved a skinny arm.
“Over here!” he called.
She crossed the cobblestones, avoiding the horse dung that littered the road, and joined him on the other side. Erro grinned.
“You find him?” Kurdra asked.
“Yep!” he pushed his blonde hair out of his face excitedly. “But Kurdra, he doesn’t talk.”
A hooded face flashed through her mind. She shook her head.
“Doesn’t matter. How’s his staff?”
“Just like we heard. Powerful. I think he’ll be perfect.” He glanced back from where she came. “Where were you?”
“Looking for you. Where’s the mage?”
“I told you I’d find you. You didn’t think I could do it, did you?”
She made an impatient movement.
“He’s headed for the inn. I told him I’d introduce him to everyone.”
Kurdra snorted. “Not at the inn, Erro. Too many listeners.”
Erro looked defensive. “It’s the easiest place to find in town. I figured we could spread the word faster.”
She started walking down the road. “We don’t need to. Kalux and Reinin know where to meet us.”
“But what about the mage?” Erro called, jogging to catch up and looking petulant.
“Go back and tell him to wait an hour, then walk to the northern woods.”
“But he doesn’t know where we’ll be!”
Kurdra turned at the fork in the road to head out of town. “Treflor will signal him once we meet up.”
Kurdra rubbed her forehead in aggravation. “You’re giving me a pain in the head. Just do it and catch up.”
With the expected sputters of indignation, Erro paused and then darted off.
Kurdra walked to the edge of town and waited. After several minutes, Erro came into view again. She turned back to the woods and continued. Erro clomped after her, muttering under his breath. Kurdra sighed. Sometimes she forgot what a child he still was. It was times like this that she almost wished that she worked alone. Almost.
At the edges of the withered forest, Kurdra gave a piercing whistle. When an answering whistle came, they followed it to its source.
“There you are,” Kalux grunted, placing his sharpening stone back in his pack and blowing on his axe. He ran his calloused finger along the edge and then stood, hooking the curved weapon on his worn belt.
“We’ve been waiting almost all day,” Reinin said reprovingly. She jumped out of the tree where she’d stood lookout and whistled for them earlier. Her deep blue skin, greenish brown hair, and golden eyes signaled her descent from the Eastern C’houri elves. Thick leather and metal bracelets lined her lithe arms.
Kurdra shrugged, but Erro spoke up eagerly.
“It was worth the wait, I promise! We found him! I found him!”
Reinin raised her eyebrows, but Kalux gave him a broad smile.
“Excellent,” he said. “Where is he?”
“Waiting at the inn,” Erro said, then gave Kurdra a disgusted look. “She said we would signal him and he’d come here – instead of us going to the inn like civilized folk.”
“We’re not civilized folk,” Reinin said severely.
“Kurdra was right,” Kalux said, still smiling. “Treflor will signal him when he gets back. How’s his staff?”
“I should hope so,” Reinin muttered. “He comes highly recommended. Mornya knows we need power, what with this crazed notion you two have in your minds now.”
Kurdra and Kalux glanced at each other.
“It’s the right step,” Kalux started earnestly. Kurdra started off in search of Treflor. Reinin complained just to hear herself talk. She wouldn’t still be with them if she didn’t think their quest was the best idea they had at the moment. Kalux knew that, but he still made efforts to smooth her feathers. Kurdra didn’t see the point.
She was more concerned about how this new mage would fit in. Would he be uncertain, as Entra had been – the uncertainty that cost him his life? Her brow darkened. She still went over his death in her head several times a day, trying to decide what she could have done to prevent it. Kalux dealt with it in other ways, coddling Erro, for one. Reinin just got grumpier, and Erro more impulsive. Kalux worried about how they were doing internally, but Kurdra knew from experience that time was the best balm. What she worried about was the future – how could they avoid losing someone else? Would this dren make them stronger – or weaker?
As she walked, she looked up through the tree branches. Sure enough, after a few more minutes, she caught sight of Treflor. His quick eyes spotted her, too, and he swung down.
“You’re sure there’s no elven blood in you?” Kurdra asked, turning back towards camp. “You spend as much time in the trees as Reinin.”
He grinned sheepishly and followed her, using his short staff to push aside the branches in his way. “Couldn’t have been a mage as an elf. Where would you be then?”
“Reinin does just fine,” Kurdra said nonchalantly. “I’m sure alkemy could have done the trick for you, too.”
“Nah,” he returned, jauntily swinging his arms as they walked. “I can’t draw glyphs to save my life. You have to have good penmanship to be an alkemist.”
Kurdra gave him a dry look.
“Don’t believe me?”
Kurdra shook her head. “Not all alkemists use glyphs. I doubt penmanship makes much difference.”
“Sure it does! You wouldn’t want the daemen you’re fighting to be thrown toward you when you meant to throw him back, would you? Accurate glyphs are-” He stopped in surprise as the first thing she said registered. “They don’t all use glyphs? Do they have staffs? How do you know?”
She shrugged. “There was an elf queen a long time ago. No runes – just speech.”
He laughed. “That’s a myth. Where’d you hear it?”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t like talking about her visions.
“Well, it’s easier for me to use spoken spells, too - like your mythical elf queen. I’m better at talking than drawing.” He grinned at her.
She rolled her eyes.
Treflor was high spirited, which was good for them, she’d decided a long time ago – but she would never tell him that.
When they reached the others, he looked around. “Where’s the new mage?”
“You need to signal him,” Erro said, flapping his hands at him. “So…so…signal him!”
Treflor rolled his eyes. “Sure, kid.” He turned to the others. “What’s he babbling about?”
Erro huffed, offended, but Reinin answered.
“They want you to send him a signal.”
Treflor sighed. “I’m a mage, not a fire pillar. I can’t do that.”
“I know,” Reinin shrugged. “Take it up with Kurdra.”
Kalux opened his mouth, but Kurdra put up her hand. “He’ll be headed this way soon. Can you feel his presence and then draw him in?”
Treflor rubbed his forehead in mock consternation. “Sure. What else is a psychic mage for? I’ll go over that way,” he waved vaguely behind them, “and take the kid. Come on, Erro.”
Erro jumped up enthusiastically. “What am I going to do?”
“Identify him. Hurry up.”
Erro grabbed his short sword and bounded after Treflor.
Reinin watched them disappear into the trees and sighed lustily, looking bored.
“There won’t be too much more waiting,” Kalux promised. “We’ll be on the road as soon as we test this mage.”
“Whether or not he’s as strong as Erro says?” she questioned, eyes narrowed.
Kalux nodded and pulled at his axe. “We don’t have time to linger. We’ll pick up a different mage farther along if this one doesn’t pass the test.”
Reinin sighed again and went to check on the horses.
Kalux looked after her with concern in his brown eyes. “She isn’t convinced yet.”
Kurdra shrugged. “She’ll come ‘round.”
He started pacing, fingering the axe in his belt. “It is a bit of a suicide mission.”
Kurdra folded her arms and leaned against a nearby oak. “Do we have another choice?”
He sighed and scratched at the tight curls that covered his head. “If we truly want to push the daemen back for good, I don’t believe we have a choice, no. We’ve got to take back Miloriel. If we’re the only ones crazy enough to do it, then we’re beholden to do it.”
Kurdra nodded. They’d had this conversation before, but she let him go through it again to reassure him. Kalux kept them all together. He needed to have the conviction of their journey in his center if they were to continue.
“It’s the right decision,” she said firmly. “Reinin knows that. This…” she gestured generally around them, “has to end eventually.”
Kalux nodded, confident again. “We’ll continue on to Lesthiel and then Miloriel. Perhaps others will be crazy enough to join us – maybe even this mage?” he grinned at her and tightened his axe securely on his belt.
A short time later, they heard a whistle, and Reinin stood, placing her fingers in her mouth to return the signal. Erro emerged first, grinning proudly, and Treflor and the other mage followed. He had a tall, white staff, the top of which trailed what looked like sand falling continuously in strings. He was average height for a dren but seemed to look down as if he were much taller. Treflor’s easy-going, long gait was a stark contrast to the other mage’s quick, decided steps. Kurdra’s eyes narrowed.
Kalux strode forward with his hand outstretched.
The mage looked him over keenly. Then the white sand from his staff rose and formed words in the air: “You’re the leader of this band?” The mage eyed the axe with surprise.
Kalux nodded with a ghost of a smile. “When they’ll follow. We’ve heard impressive things about you.”
The mage lifted his chin. More words formed. “And I you. Though I was unaware…” he paused, taking in Reinin’s clear elven heritage and looking again at Kalux’s broad frame and short stature.
“That we are not all dren?” Kurdra said, unfolding her arms and coming forward. The newcomer jumped, seeming not to have noticed her, and frowned, scanning her stoic form.
“And you are…?” the sand swirled uncertainly.
“Kurdra,” she said shortly.
“We’re not sure what exactly she is,” Kalux conceded. “But this is Reinin, our alkemist,” (Reinin inclined her head slowly), “I’m Kalux, and you’ve met Treflor, our psychic mage, and Erro, another of your race, who doesn’t look like much,” he grinned as Erro opened his mouth to protest, “but fights like a champion with any weapon you hand him.” Erro subsided, looking smug.
“Taemir.” The mage drew his staff closer and lifted his chin.
“Well, Taemir, you have a reputation for strong spatial magik. I don’t know anything about it, so…Treflor?” Kalux nodded to him.
Treflor stepped forward smiling. “I’m sure you won’t mind a test.”
Taemir grasped his staff impatiently.
Treflor bent down and, retrieving a small stone, tossed it lightly at Taemir’s face. With a slight flinch, Taemir made a sign too quickly to follow and dodged. The stone dropped straight down just before the spot his nose had inhabited a moment before. He turned and peered down at the stone, then inscribed a symbol in the air with his staff. Treflor followed his invisible lettering with a practiced eye. The stone rose slowly into the air until it was Taemir’s waist height and then shot forward suddenly as he finished the swoop of the symbol. Before it hit her, Reinin touched the engraved glyph etched into one of her many bracelets, and another stone met it in midair; with a small clack, they fell to the ground. When Kurdra looked back at Taemir, his eyes were closed, and his staff was tracing a new symbol in the air, more slowly this time, as if it were moving through mud. She felt the creak and groan as two large oaks shuddered and were pulled sluggishly toward one another, their roots rupturing with sharp cracks like bones breaking. She winced.
“We’re not on the battlefield,” Reinin said sharply. “That’s unnecessary.” The trees halted in their involuntary movement with a prolonged groan. Kalux and Erro clapped. Reinin rubbed her forehead. Treflor smiled but said, “One more test is needed.” He pointed to the west. “Imagine there is a daemen coming from that direction. We need a shield. Now.”
Without hesitation, Taemir threw both hands in the air, the staff twirling, the sand-like strands tracing invisible script this time. A rush of clacking sounds filled the air, and they looked to the west to see a formation of stones and branches blocking their sight of the forest. Treflor drew his bow and shot an arrow at the wall of debris. The arrow hit and bounced off. He nodded to Erro, who rushed it with his sword. With a small grunt, Taemir pulled his staff in, and the wall came to meet Erro, who hit it face on and fell backwards, sputtering.
Treflor nodded in satisfaction and replaced his bow. “I believe you will do. Have you fought daemen before?”
Taemir’s face darkened. The sand’s message was stark. “Yes.”
“Caught any?” Kalux asked.
Taemir shook his head. It was clear from his fiery eyes that he hadn’t considered such leniency.
“We understand,” Kalux said, “But we have the future in mind. We have compiled this-” he motioned to Treflor, who drew a thin book from the inside pocket of his cloak. “It lists the names and lineage of each daemen that we have found – and some that we haven’t – because we take the time and energy to catch daemen, not just kill them. We need this information to know how to defeat the Great Ones and take back Amried.”
“The Great Ones cannot be defeated,” the sand spelled out slowly.
“Our information says otherwise. Will you join us?” Kalux extended a brown, calloused hand in invitation.
Taemir looked at him intently, then at each of the others. He took Kalux’s hand; Kalux smiled broadly and shook it.
“May we leave now?” Reinin asked.