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The Third Stone

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Two

 

Her hair was her vanity and with a few deft slices of a knife she had sacrificed it to the spirits of fire. She missed the feel of it on her shoulders, for she had lived as long as she could remember with the heavy, luxuriant waves of gold tumbling haphazardly down her back. For a moment, as she sat cross legged before the ritually prepared fire pit watching the strands curl and crisp into ash, tears had threatened, but valiantly and with determination Dharva had fought them back.

It was her first sacrifice after all. Her first step as a journeyman magician onto the road of becoming a true master of the arcane arts. A personal sacrifice was required to gain the good will of the spirits. The fire spirits were the easiest to pacify, being the greediest and the most fickle. Most journeymen began their practice in the art with the aide of those mischievous spirits. The spirits of earth, water and air would also require adequate offerings and each would be more demanding, require more skill and wisdom to control. Only the most powerful harnessed the power of all four of the elemental magics. Dharva was satisfied with her acceptance by the one.

She had only been able to glimpse the spirits before, even though, through years of study, she was as familiar with the ways of magic and the rituals as any journeyman. Uncountable hours of watching her master and mentor work his own magic and still all she had been able to perceive were the ghostly forms of the spirits as they flocked about a mortal that had garnered their power to himself. No more or less than any one else that happened to be watching as the old man practiced his trade.

But now she could see. Now a dozen tiny, fiery shapes danced about her in mindless glee, only too happy to soak up the stigma of her sacrifice. She watched, entranced by the miniature beings as they streaked in and out of her fire, chased the night insects that were attracted to the light or merely dove about her body, hesitantly touching her with spindly fingers. Almost she felt it, slight pinpricks of heat that were more impressions her mind made up upon seeing the contact than anything her body experienced.

She laughed, thinking how wonderful, how magically inspiring to be the center of such attention, alone in the middle of a Kavian jungle with nothing but fire spirits for company. Even the night birds had deserted the area sensing the unnatural afoot.

The master had said not to demand too much of them at first, so she had memorized a few minor spells to test the relationship. She held out her palm and thought words of incantation, which were, when one got right down to it, merely ritual. It was the direction of thought that really counted. The purity of the mental image that one delivered to the spirits, who were not all that well versed in translating human desire into magical action. Sometimes they got it wrong and a thing happened which a well meaning witch hadn't meant to happen. Dharva most certainly did not wish to sit the forest ablaze with a too quickly voiced request, so she took her time with the wording and the visualization of what she wanted.

The fire spirits hovered about her, attentive to her calling, tilting tiny heads as they concentrated on the image her mental voice sent them. A few of them darted to her hand, blending and fuzzing until they were no longer in their spirit form but now in a very physically visible ball of glowing, heatless flame that hovered over Dharva's palm. She couldn't help grinning, and with the orange light of the fire on her face and the unevenly shorn golden hair she hardly looked her twenty years. She looked more the boyish girl she had been at fourteen when she had come to study magic with the old master.

With a little shiver of delight, she withdrew her hand and the glowing orb remained fixed two feet in front of her. Her first magic. Her first real taste of the power the spirits had to give. She was no longer merely an apprentice studying in the hopes of achieving a greater goal, but a true journeyman magician. She could hardly wait to rush home and tell her master of her success.

In her personal pilgrimage she had traveled a great distance from the master's home. Fifty leagues from the shores of the sea. A week's walk through the untended Kavian wilderness to the great trade route that followed the western coast of Khell all the way from far away Astaza at the very northern tip of the continent to the cape of Chaze in southern Kava. She had been four weeks getting here, but her travel then had been full of self discovery and not prompted by any desire to reach any particular place.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow she would start home.

 

Dharva was a slight girl, lithe of form and slender of limb. Her mother was Kavian and her father from the less temperate region of Flamora. She had inherited her statue and skin coloring from the former, and her golden hair and blue eyes from her merchant father. Even though her youth was apparent, she did not project the naive vulnerability that a girl her age, traveling alone might portray. The travelers she passed, even the trappers and forest men, who were notorious for their lack of city bred manners, did not harass her overmuch. There was a confidence in her face and a steady health in her stride that said this was a girl best left alone. This was a girl that knew something, perhaps, that they did not.

She carried a pack with her gear over one shoulder. Her shirt was of homespun, white cotton and covered with a hand embroidered vest belted about the waist and falling just below her hips. Slim legs were encased in softly tanned, hide pants and calf high boots of the same material. There was a knife at her waist and an unstrung bow at her back. She was an accomplished huntress and a tracker of no small talent, both skills learned during her years of study under the master. A worker of magic, he always said, needs be a well rounded person, well able to take care of their selves even without the benefit of the spirits.

She reached the fields beyond his house on the seventh morning after her sacrifice and found them well tilled and sprouting greenery. Boys from the nearby village would come to harvest the fields when the plants reached maturity. She had helped harvest them herself a long time ago, before she had come to study under the old man. Her memory of that was limited to the ever present caution they'd had to use to avoid the snakes that would come to rest under the shadow of the low growing plants. She'd seen a boy die from the bite of one of those vipers. After that, the master had used spells to drive the serpents away when the harvesters came. There had been no further problems. It had been that simple, so very useful spell that had began her dreams of becoming a sorceress herself. Four years she had pestered everyone around her with the notion, until that miraculous day that the master himself had come to the village, had come to her very house, saying that he had heard there was a willing pupil to be had. One had to assume that mother or auntie had gotten word to him, although it was nice to imagine that he had magically sensed that she was worthy and deserved his tutelage.

The memory of the first time she had entered his cottage still stood out vividly in her mind. Quaint little house, with a workshop spread out behind it, and a squat stone tower that the master retreated to when he wished to meditate. Crammed full of odds and ends. The things he had collected through out a long, full life. Some magic, some not. The most beautifully crafted objects were more often than not mundane in nature, collected only because they visually appealed to him, while the drabbest, ugliest paper weights on his shelves contained the captured essence of some spirit or another. His speciality was the imbuing of objects with the power that flowed forth from the spirits. His study of choice was of things ancient. A historian of the magics, he was considered the authority in the field by every other sorcerer or magician on the western coast of Khell.

Dharva found her interest in things past not so strong as her enthusiasm for discovering magics yet to come. The old man said that was the seed of youth and that she would one day outgrow it and find pleasure in things long gone.

The road beside the fields was a shallow track, faintly cut by the wheels of wagons. Water gathered in the gullies, and she kept to the high ground in the center to keep her boots from soaking through and through. There was the smell of smoke in the air, and she could well imagine a fire in the stone hearth, and perhaps a kettle of tea warming over it. She hurried her pace, impatience to tell of all her adventures bubbling over.

Past the fields and through the small grove of straight trunked trees which cast the yard and the house in shade. Her steps faltered as her eyes took in a vast wrongness. The house stood where it had always stood, but structurally it was altered and bent in ways it should not have been. The tower, constructed of great, round slabs of stone was no longer sturdily anchored to the cottage, but lay haphazardly across the roof, it's stone scattered, it's inner wall shattered and it's roof gone, leaving it's interior open to the rain. The thatch, of which a good deal of the cottage roof had been made of, was gone entirely, and the front wall of the house was missing great sections. The yard was littered with pieces of masonry and splintered wood. Objects were strewn about as if some giant child had had a tantrum with his toys and cast them about in a fit. The smoke she had scented earlier rose in thin, wavery streams from various points of the wreckage. How odd, a detached part of her brain observed, that something still smoldered despite the drizzle that blanketed everything.

The shock began to hit, as she stood at the edge of the yard surveying what had been her home for six years. Her hands started to shake, and she dropped her pack and bow to clutch them together nervously. She forced her feet to move, taking slow steps towards the ruin.

Spirits, Spirits, what could have happened? Where was the master?

With a wavery voice she called his name, hurrying her pace, stumbling over debris as she made her way to the shattered door. She crawled over splintered wood, cutting her palm in the process. She didn't feel the pain, or the blood running down her wrist. There was nothing but dread and fear of what she might find past the next obstacle. But, despite her search and her frantic calling, she found no body buried in the wreckage. No sign of her master.

And finally as she sat in the lee of the tower, on the verge of tears, there was the sound of movement. A stone turning as a foot trod upon it. A soft curse as an ankle twisted. She groped for her knife, terrified as she had not been terrified during all her solo journey through the Kavian jungle. She had not been so alone then in mind, as she was now.

She rose, crouched in the shadow of stones, and peered out into the yard. A hooded, cloaked man carefully picked his way through the litter. To tall and broad by far to be her old master. He stopped and stared at the cottage, hands twitching at his sides under the folds of cloak. He raised his voice and called out a name and Dharva was surprised to hear it was her own. It took a moment to recognize the voice, so long had it been since she had heard it.

"Anson?" she ventured, stepping out of her shadow, knife still in hand. "Anson." she cried as he turned her way and she could make out the face under the cowl. She bolted towards him, mindless of the obstacles in the yard. Into his arms she ran with enough impact to make him take half a step backwards. He hugged her close, warm and dry under a cloak that was suspiciously free of dampness. "I can't find him." she sobbed. "He's gone. Gone!"

"Dharva, calm down. What happened here? Where's Pyphin?"

"I don't know." she wailed. "I came back from my sacrifice and found this. I called and called, but he wouldn't answer. What could have happened?"

Strong hands disengaged her, holding her at arm's length while dark blue eyes studied her frantic face. He had a fine, strong face, covered with a closely shaven dark beard. He resembled her none at all, even though she called him brother. It was not a blood relationship, he being the step-son of her father, but it was a close one nonetheless.

"By the spirits, Dharva, what have you done to your hair?"

She half laughed at that, panicky, past mere fright. "It was my sacrifice, Anson. My first sacrifice to the spirits. They accepted it. There were so many of them. I hurried back to tell him and - - and found this."

He let out a breath, letting her go to take a step past her towards the ruined cottage. "Feel the air, Dharva. Look for the traces of spirits. There have been a great many of them here and recently. Not only Kurisar, but those of Kerisai as well." He turned back to her frowning. "There was a battle of magics here, do you feel it?"

She took a breath, straining to see and feel what her more accomplished step-brother did. She could make out the faint fiery traces of fire spirits, could feel the spent energy of a fair number of them, gone now. And yes, there was a difference between those of the Kurisar that followed the magic that she had been taught to practice and those altogether of a darker more destructive bent. Goose bumps popped up on her skin with that discovery and she turned confused, desperate eyes to Anson.

"Someone did this to master Pyphin? Who? Why?"

"You tell me, girl. I haven't been here in a year or more. The old man always kept enough to himself not to incur anyone's animosity, what might he have done to provoke this?"

"Nothing. Nothing that I know of. Was he taken? We've got to find him. Anson, tell me you can track him."

"Maybe." he murmured thoughtfully, concentrating, calling forth his own contingent of spirits. He was a far more skilled journeyman than she, having successfully wooed fire, earth and water. With each element mastered the scope of a magician's talents became more varied and powerful. The journeyman who mastered all four of the elements became a sorcerer in full.

"This happened within the last day. Perhaps only hours past. I think I can follow the path they took- - but it grows fainter by the moment. Dharva, quick, gather what things you have, for to dally is to loose the trail altogether."

Her pack was a scant few feet behind him, and she ran to snatch it up, eager and determined to follow her master's trail and confront the perpetrator of this destruction.

 

Dharva retrieved one abandoned artifact before they hurried to a follow a nonexistent trail through the dense woodland to the north of the master Pyphin's house. She scrambled through the shattered remains of the house and into his workshop to find it, and ran back out clutching it to her breast as her brother waited impatiently outside. Stuffing it into her pack, she found her bow and trotted after Anson, pushing past the low growth of bramble that bordered the wood beyond the yard. She could see the shimmering paths the spirits used as two or three of them coalesced about Anson. He used a combination of the elements under his control to devise his spell of tracking, and as never before Dharva perceived the flickering shapes of the fire spirit as it danced with it's brother elementals. She longed to summon some of her own, being still new enough to the talent to be enthralled by the mere sight of her spirits, but held back on the urge, afraid it might interfere in Anson's spell working. An insubstantial spell such as tracking the essence of a man, was by far more complex a working than a mere physical summoning of a fireball, or a surge of heat to fight off the chill of a rainy morning.

It became apparent after trudging through the forest all morning and late into the afternoon that the path master Pyphin had been taken lay due north. If it continued so in a few more leagues it would bisect the great trade route and run, in another forty leagues or so, into the territories of the Port of Kava.

Anson became more and more convinced that was the path taken as the shadows of afternoon lengthened. He had followed the trade route himself, coming from travels in the north and wondered if any of the travelers he had passed outside of the village might have been the culprits of Pyphin's abduction. He was too intent on his spell making to carry on much of a conversation and only mentioned these thoughts sporadically. Dharva took it all in, fright turning slowly to determination. She might have wished to travel all the night through, but her brother had to rest, exhausted by a day long control of spirits that were not always eager to be put to task.

They had found the trade route an hour before dusk and followed it until the moon and stars shone faintly forth behind a thin veil of cloud cover. Reluctantly Dharva veered from the road, finding a clearing with a cold fire pit habitually used by travelers. She searched the surrounding wood for kindling and arranged the fuel in the pit to her liking. Then she sat before it and called forth a spark of flame. It came easily, sending a thrill through her body at even the small magic that she could now control. The twigs caught and the fire crackled to life. Oh wonderful fire. She stared at its dancing heart for a moment before adding larger limbs to the mix.

"I'm proud of you." Anson sat across from her, watching her watch the fire. His eyes were circled with blue smudges, his mouth a thin line of exhaustion. "Though I miss your beautiful hair."

She shrugged, absently shifting the fire with a stick. "It seemed appropriate at the time. It was a well received sacrifice." she cast a shy smile towards him. "I can grow it back."

He half returned the gesture, then the effort faded and he stared off into the darkness. "I'll not be able to keep the trail much longer. It fades quickly. Aided, I think by the desire of a sorcerer. Let us hope that the trail ends in Kava Port, otherwise we're lost."

"Maybe not." Dharva went for her pack, dragging it to her and pulling at the straps. She extracted the object she had gone back into the cottage for. It was a small, hand held mirror set in a simple, beaten bronze frame. One of the drab pieces her master had collected, but one imbued with strong magics. For as long as she could recall it had hung on the wall of his study and had the peculiar habit of retaining the reflections of those that passed it's surface. Like most magic items, it did not require the talents of a magician to invoke. Any one could use them.

She crawled around the fire so Anson could look into the polished surface too. Her fingers traced a circular pattern around the surface and the shadowed reflections of their own faces faded, replaced by the familiar environs of a cluttered work room and the brief passing of an old man. Again he passed, holding a book almost as large as he was. The mirror was only activated by the passing of a living being. They watched a fair amount of master Pyphin moving back and forth across the room. Dharva's eyes misted at the sight of the old man. One hundred and twenty-seven years, so he claimed. A life enhanced and lengthened by the practice of sorcery. He didn't look a day over seventy, although he went to no effort whatsoever to smooth over his appearance with the facade of youthful bounty. A good number of sorcerers spent a fair chunk of their time doing just that. She knew of two master sorcerers personally, colleges of Pyphin's, that were every bit as old and looked no more than thirty. Pyphin called them vain and wasters of precious magic and time. Dharva did not yet hold an opinion on the matter. Being of the ripe old age of twenty, she had little thought for the rigors of aging.

"How long a memory does it have?" Anson wanted to know as the master passed the mirror for the thirty or fortieth time.

"Weeks, at least." she admitted.

The old man passed again, and on the return trip he was not alone. Dharva fairly jabbed at the silver surface in excitement. Anson brushed her fingers away in his attempts to better view the all too brief glimpse of the stranger.

Again the old man, but this time he was hurrying, clutching his chest as though it pained him, his thinning white hair out of place, his face strained. Dharva drew a helpless breath and watched as the stranger passed the range of the mirror one last time. This time alone and this time almost pausing to glance at her reflection in the small mirror. Beautiful face. Cold, deadly eyes and a mouth drawn into the lines of an evil, satisfied smile.

The next face that loomed in the circle was Dharva's looking down, dirt smudged, reaching to pick it up. Then there were no more reflections, not even their own as they silently stared.

"Will it replay?" Ansonr asked quietly.

"No." Dharva answered. "But I'll remember her face. "

 

* * * * * *

 

The woman in the mirror had indeed been in the Port of Kava. She was a lady that left a distinct impression. Dharva and Anson were two days in the port city before they found the captain of a barques that she had bargained with for passage to Danar. From that grizzled man they discovered the identity of the ship she had eventually hired for the voyage. A day more and a good deal of gossip from the port dock workers, and they discovered what exporter had delivered cargo to said ship.

The woman who owned the company was closed mouthed and suspicious of them. It took twenty pieces of gold and a fair amount of convincing on their part that it was the passenger that concerned them and not the captain of the ship before the woman consented to divulge the exact port of call. With a bit of charm from Anson (the woman seemed to be hungry for flattery) they got the description of ship, captain and cargo.

It was a start. Dharva was all for hiring a ship to make the sea passage herself. Anson, the more practical of the two reminded her that their funds were limited. Contracting a ship for the express purpose of their transport to the Darklands was out of the question. It would be all they could manage to buy passage on a cargo ship already headed for that port.

The Furazol was their ship. It was due out of Kava Port in two days time with a cargo full of raw sugar and the fine, flexible wood of the tanayan tree that only grew in the southern forests of Khell. Dharva was incensed at the delay and stormed about the small sea side room they had hired in a dark mood. Anson, having fifteen years of study and maturity over her, took the helpless wait in a more tractable frame of mind. He meditated, and when she was of a notion to talk, told of his journeys across Khell. Of the northern deserts, of the Astaza snowfields, of the wild eastern coasts of Uvar and Khahar where no civilized merchant ventured, but brigands and pirates abounded. His stories of the great court of King Zoliran in the golden city of Perth drew her mind from the misery of her master's kidnapping and she sat enthralled as he told of wonderful balls, competition in the Perthian arena for the hand of a desired lady, of the fabled harem of wives that Zoliran was renowned for collecting.

He told her of the hundreds of men he had seen swallowed whole by the earth not two moons past, when the earth spirits had become enraged by some wrong doing, the nature of which he had no notion. Dharva half remembered feeling the earth tremble beneath her at the time he spoke of just after she had started her own pilgrimage of self discovery and sacrifice. How amazing that Anson had felt the same all the way up at Perth.

She sat with her knees pulled against her chest, trying to think of those things rather than of the old man who had been more of a father to her than her own, hurt or dead maybe, for reasons she could not begin to comprehend.

The smell of the brine in the air, the sound of the docks, even in the midst of night, the creaking of a dozen massive ships as they swayed in their burths, all of this she could sense through the thin walls of the apartment. It scared her, the thought of going to sea, for she had never been afloat on it before. Her father had been a sailor on a merchant vessel, so according to her mother the sea was in her veins, but Dharva had never felt it. She did not look forward to going out on the morrow and throwing herself on the mercy of the sea spirits. Of all the elements, the spirits of water were most counter to the spirits of fire that she had mastered. She would be powerless, cast adrift in a sea that she had never bothered to learn about.

"Dharva?" Anson was looking at her expectantly. Had he asked a question of her? She had been so far away she hadn't noticed. The ache in her soul was so powerful that it was hard to summon even the ghost of a smile.

"I'm sorry. My mind is far away."

"Out to sea, perhaps? Or back in the forests where you gained the benevolence of the spirits?"

"The first." The admission was shy. Dharva had never been one to show her faults. Always the strong one. Always the one that hid her tears and her terrors. "I remember, when I was little, father visiting and telling tales of his voyages. I don't think I ever much liked the sea. The trade. It kept him from us, I suppose. I was more jealous of it than mother ever was. She always had a more pragmatic view of the world than I. "

"That's why she's a weaver and you're on your way to becoming a sorceress. When it came right down to it, Father had the same notions she did. The sea was a trade, a path to wealth. He had two families to support, yours and mine. A man with that responsibility could hardly afford to stay too long in one place. Placidity is the enemy of profit, he used to say."

A smile found its way to Dharva's lips. She remembered that saying. She only vaguely recalled the man who had sired her. She glanced to Anson fondly, where he sat against the plank headboard of the bed. She had known more of him, a brother that was not even truly of her blood, than she had of her father.

"You've blossomed." he said. "Even with your locks gone, you've become a lovely young woman."

She blushed, hating the flattery. Hating the notion that she was something that at heart she was most certainly not. A lovely young woman might be expected to act the part, to put away her boy's clothing and her wild ways and take to more womanly pursuits. Even sorceress's were expected a modicum of decorum.

"I don't know if I'll ever be that. I mean a real woman. Mother always says that a girl can't know what it's like to truly be a woman until she's married and experienced children of her own. With my studies and all, I don't know if I'll ever find the time."

He just looked at her, with that wry look than Anson sometimes got, as if he knew something no one else did. "Sleep, Dharva." he finally suggested. "Your nerves are in enough of a frazzle about this voyage. Don't board the ship tomorrow on no sleep as well."

She nodded, because she was tired of talking, tired of dredging up old memories when she'd always been so good at submerging them. She curled up in her nest of blankets and pillows and shut her eyes, but she knew, as he probably did, that she would get to rest tonight.

 

* * * * *

 

The shattering of glass woke Dharva out of a sound sleep. The sudden, spreading wave of flame, accompanied by the smell of cheap whiskey brought her senses to muddled, disoriented awareness. Her feet were burning, or the blankets over them were, soaked with liquid and flaring wildly with flame. She kicked frantically out from under the cover, feeling the searing heat on her feet and legs. Hands grasped her upper arms yanking her forcefully back, pulling her up and away.

Anson propelled her towards the door and she hadn't even the presence of mind to make a grab for her boots, so she stumbled out into the mist shrouded morning in bare feet. It still didn't occur to her, even as she stood outside the row of rooms for rent on a narrow street on the sea side of Kava Port that someone had torched her room. It was an inconceivable notion, that anyone might direct such harm towards her. In all her life, aside from the very recent violence of master Pyphin's abduction, Dharva had experienced nothing of man's violence towards man. That someone would toss a burning bottle of whiskey on her while she slept was unthinkable.

"C'mon." Anson took her arm.

"Our things." she cried. "Can't you put it out?"

"Do you think whoever tossed it in will wait while I collect myself enough to create a dousing spell?"

She opened her mouth, but he yanked her along behind him before she could think of a reply. The cobbles hurt her feet and there was a distinct chill to the moist, morning air. Her cloak was back there furnishing fuel for the fire.

"Who. . .?"

"I don't know." he snapped, hesitating at an intersection then choosing the west road leading to the sea.

Through the mists stepped the forms of several men. Anson slowed, fingers tightening on Dharva's arm. One of them tossed something. Dharva's eyes were just quick enough to distinguish a round glass orb before it struck the cobblestones and shattered. There was no fire this time, but something more ominous. A wavering, black form arose, it's shrieking so high pitched that dogs all over the dock begin wailing in response. It was just transparent enough that the figures behind it could be seen. They stood their ground, not advancing, not retreating, merely watching to see what this dark spirit would do. The black vessel had been a orb of bondage. She'd never seen one, for Pyphin did not deal in such dark magics. He did not believe in the binding of spirits, which was exactly what had been done to this very angry, very mournful entity.

Even though her experience with spirits was limited, Dharva knew this was not a being of the Kurisar. Not of the light, this thing that hovered above it's broken prison and fixated on the humans that were before it. A Kerisai spirit. One of the dark ones. She was amazed at how solid it was, how malevolent in it's very essence.

Anson thrust her back so hard she stumbled and fell. She gained her feet and flattened herself against the nearest wall, frantically dredging her memory for some spell in all the seemingly useless one's she'd memorized that might be of use against an angry and vengeful spirit. She needn't have worried, for Anson whose repertoire of magic was so much broader than her own stood blocking the spirit's path to her, dozens of faint elementals swarming around him. She'd never seen the indication of so many, and so apparently agitated in their movement about the sorcerer.

The Kerisai spirit expanded and shot at him. Anson lifted his hands and a sheet of pure luminescence rose before him. The darkness was rebuffed, it's wailing increasing as it hovered mere feet from Anson, it's form swelling and shrinking as if in the rhythm of breaths taken. It came again at Anson, determined to break the shield he had erected. Again it was thrown off, and again it tried. This time the bright shield curled about the wispy dark form as contact was made, capturing it within it's folds.

Dharva could just make out the group of elementals that surrounded Anson begin a concentric swirling movement that centered about the shield and it's captive spirit. Like a whirlwind they spun faster and faster and then they were not there at all. Sucked up into thin air.

Anson staggered, caught his balance, then called her name.

"Here." Dharva came up behind him, caught his hand and felt the tremor in it. It had taken a great deal out of him, that apparently simple battle.

"Get to the ship." he told her without taking his eyes from the figures of men that advanced through the fog. "You'll be safe there. Don't wait for me."

"Are you out of your mind?" she was not in the mood for chivalry. She was in the mood to summon a tongue of flame and sear those threatening forms in the mist to crispy flesh.

"That was not a ineffectual spirit. These people are very serious."

"I'm not leaving you."

"You distract me, Dharva and you're not good enough yet to be of a help."

"No."

"Just do it. Think of Pyphin. I'll meet you there."

He squeezed her hand then shoved her away from him. A knife came out of the haze. Metal glinted and sparked as it hit a shield that Anson obviously still had up about his person. Dharva had no such shield or the skill to erect one. He was right, he could not protect her and himself at the same time.

"Be there." she cried, and darted away from him. She heard a man cry out from behind her, a warning to someone else that she didn't comprehend until a man rushing out into her path, arms spread wide, knife in his hand. The broad, dark face told that he was a native. The black eyes were cold and merciless. But she thought, also disdainful of the fact that she was a woman. Not the threat that a man might pose.

Fool. She didn't even need to stop running to create the first and simplest of spells she had learned. He brought up the knife and she brought up a hand full of fire, smashing towards his face. There was nothing he could do but instinctively cower back, fling up his arms in protection, even though the ball of flame she'd created held relatively little searing heat. It was enough to her slip past and pelt down the narrow road. Their room was spilling forth flame when she passed, and people had gathered outside it, hazy forms in the smoke. She worked her way into the crowd and through it, down another side street that she thought might lead to yet another avenue running towards the sea.

People were beginning to stir. Fishermen and dock workers on their way to the docks to begin their morning work. Vendors pulling their stalls to whatever market they frequented. The smell of breakfast in the air. Fresh bread, fragrant ham, porridge were all scents that teased her as she hurried past the taverns and inns of Kava Port.

She was lost. Miserably lost and afraid for Anson. Who had done this? Who would want them dead? Not only dead by mundane efforts but by very expensive and very difficult to procure magical means. The practice of Kerisai magic was frowned upon generally, but the enslavement of elementals was downright illegal in Khell. An orb of bondage was not an easy thing to find.

They had not been circumspect in their inquiries about master Pyphin's abductress. Did that red haired villain have cohorts still in Kava?

She stopped a young woman on her way to market, an empty basket on her arm and asked the way to the docks. Down two blocks, then a turn to the right. Another four blocks and she'd find dock street. Fine, easy enough to remember. The closer she got to the docks the more wary she became, figuring that if anyone was on the prowl for her, they would know she was heading for the docks. She scanned every door way and alley she passed, every shadow where the forms of Kava Port's less than fortunate lay or sat, staring dead eyed out at passer by who had a purpose in life.

The sea was strong in the air now. She could hear the constant thrum of waves against the docks, could see the masts of tall ships over the last row of buildings before the sea itself. The last intersection and she found herself facing a seemingly unending row of vessels. So many. And they all looked very much alike in her estimation. She could not recall where the ship they had hired was burthed. The Furazol. How could she find it amidst this collection of like vessels? She stopped a boy and asked, but he had no more clue than she. She chose a direction and walked, staring at the massive, sea faring creations in subdued awe. More questions of men on the dock and eventually she was directed twenty burths down. And there it sat, gently bobbing on the morning tide.

From the vantage of an inn doorway, she watched the area around it, watching the activity of a crew preparing their ship to set sail. Where was Anson? She had wasted a good deal of time finding her way here, perhaps he was already aboard. Perhaps not.

She squeezed her eyes shut, cursing her own indecision. Just walk out there and find out. Just do it. She cursed herself one final time, then stepped out into the gray morning.

A hundred feet across the dock. She wove her way between people, watchful for enemies lying in wait. Her bruised, bare feet touched the wood planking of the pier. Someone shouted. Not a name, just an articulate sound to gain attention. She turned and saw a man running towards her. Not Anson. Not a man she wished to stop and chat with. She turned her back and hurried down the pier towards the Furazol. She could hear his feet as he pounded down the pier in her wake.

There were two sailers at the bottom end of the gang plank leading up to the Furazol's deck. She didn't recognize them. Spirits, she didn't even know what the captain looked like, she'd been paying so little attention when Anson bought their passage.

The sailers watched her approach, a woman on the docks no doubt a peculiar thing. She didn't look back. She couldn't.

"Good day, lass." the older of the two started to incline his head towards her, then frowned, his gaze drawn over her shoulder at something. An impact hit her back. She gasped, stumbling forward, into the arms of the sailer who'd greeted her. There wasn't pain at first, merely numbness that spread across her shoulder and back. She heard the sailer curse and the other one ran past her, crying for help from the ship. Other men appeared at the side, looking over the rail.

"By the Sea King." Someone exclaimed. "She's a knife in her back." And "Get the black hearted bastard."

She lost track of whether they did or not, her world was fading and she could not even gain the breath to ask whether Anson had boarded the ship or not.

 

 

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