Chapter 11: Leaving the Forest
“Daliana, it’s time.”
“Edya, I told you before, I need you here.”
“Domrar Cadrick is back with the Remnant. Daken, Aleishi, and Gelinia are all at this camp. Xari is in the forest. You don’t need me here anymore than Norrin needs me in Dishmo Kornara or my people need me in Alquendiro.” Daliana let out a long sigh. “I’m going with you, Daliana. It’s time to accept that.” It was then that El Darnen walked over to the fire pit the two women were sitting at. He had a large pack strapped to his back, and was carrying another. The second one, he gave to Edya.
“So, you want her to come too?”
“We’re going to need her.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?”
“Because whether I told you or not, you would have still tried to find a reason to stop her.”
“That isn’t true.”
El Darnen did not reply. He just looked at her and shook his head. “Either way, we have a bit of a hike. Kallin is meeting us with a Portaller at the northern border of the forest.” “Why doesn’t he just come here?”
It seemed by his reaction that El Darnen had not thought of Daliana’s solution, but Edya thought she could understand why El Darnen would come to the decision that he had. Portalling left distinct shards of magic behind which other magic users could read and follow. But the northern edge of the forest was wild and overgrown, uninhabited and not regularly patrolled by Rangers. Lurnax nested and hunted all along the northern border. It had always been Dothoro’s best defense against Noldoron. Leaving from the northern border would almost guarantee that they could not be followed. But whatever his reasons, he did nothing to dissuade Daliana from sending a bird to Kallin.
They sat for an hour before Kallin and his Portaller arrived.
“I thought we were meeting at the border.”
Daliana shook her head. “Too many Lurnax. This is their mating season. They need to eat every day, and five lightly armed, unarmoured Morschen would be a feast that more than one would be drawn to.” “It’s still dangerous to leave from here.”
“Whether it is or it isn’t, we must leave, and leave now. The longer we debate, the more time Guinira’s spies have of finding out what we are planning.” Daliana nodded in agreement with El Darnen. “Then, Portaller, take us to the mountains.” …
“Where are we, El Darnen?”
“About three leagues north of my old camp, if Kallin’s Portaller put us where he was supposed to. Gelida’s had Noldorin miners here digging new tunnels since she officially became Morschcoda ...” El Darnen stopped talking. “Something is wrong.” “What is it?”
“Do you hear anything?”
They listened for some time before Daliana realized that was the problem. “If we were anywhere near Gelida’s new mines, we should hear the workers.”
“Exactly.” El Darnen started to walk in a widening circle, looking for any signs of recent work or of people passing by. “There’s nothing here. No roads, no recent fires, no camps.” He stopped and looked back at them. “There’s nothing.” Kallin looked up, pleased to see sky and not a rock wall above him. “The stars are too dark to tell anything. We shouldn’t have waited for the Black Night.” “Can anyone place us?”
“That Portaller could. But we can’t do anything but wait.”
“Even if there were stars to see by, I don’t feel that even I could tell us anything by them.”
Edya groaned. “You are a stargazer and a Demosira! Isn’t it your job to know all the stars?”
“A Demosira has no ‘job’, merely tasks to which he or she commits him or herself with utter devotion. The stars never held my interest, except in passing. It is a good thing for you that I became Morschcoda when I did.” “And why is that, oh insufferable one?”
He answered unsarcastically, letting Edya’s comment pass without challenge. “I have devoted my life to studying the legends and histories from El Bendro Dakoia. I know more about the Seven Devils than any man alive today.” Daliana started to argue that that was of little help to them currently, and that they needed real help, not the speculation of their long dead ancestors, to find a weakness that could potentially kill any of the Seven. Kallin countered that there was often more wisdom in the ranting of a lunatic than in the mouths of ten Morschcoda. Daliana started to get angrier, and Kallin also started to shout. El Darnen had sat himself down and was watching the two with some interest, but Edya was not used to waiting to be told to act. She had always done what she felt needed to, like when she had taken the title of Morschcoda for herself. It had been necessary, or she never would have had anything to do with the Council.
Edya put her ear to the ground and listened, despite the increasing loudness of the argument. El Darnen had gotten involved. His position was that both of them had their heads up each other’s ass, and that if they could not agree to cooperate, or at least to be civil, he would tie them together and make it rain on them until they could. Edya had to shout three times to make herself heard when she found what she was listening for. “I can hear water.” She closed her eyes and channeled through her Ring. One of her abilities was finding water. If she could sense it, she always knew how to get there. “It feels like it’s a mile north. Not more.” Daliana, still angry about El Darnen’s comment, turned to the Serpent. “Does that help you place us, El Darnen?”
He shook his head. “No. There are so many streams in these mountains that if you spent a night camped at each one, you wouldn’t leave the mountains for twenty years. Still, at least this stream gives us a direction to start.” “Why could we not just travel directly to the Gate?”
It was Kallin who answered. “The ethereal energies that the Gate doubtless uses to travel between the worlds of the living and the dead are likely to create a very strong, yet likely fractious, web of counter-enchantment and magical instability surrounding it and permeating and destabilizing the area where it sits. Any intruding magical signatures, even something so small as too powerful a being entering into its presence, might destabilize a complicated nexus of enchantment and counter-magic designed to keep the Gate both hidden and intact.” Kallin paused to wipe some dirt off of his glasses. “If The Kindler knew that such an artifact existed on this side of the ocean, he would have seen to its destruction before the end of the Eternal War, which would have made such measures necessary to ensure its survival.” Daliana and Edya looked at each other, and then at Kallin, who was staring at them as if what he’d said was the simplest thing in the world. Finally, Daliana coughed, which made Kallin realize he had reverted to his more scholarly manner of speech. Kallin and El Darnen started whispering together, after which El Darnen spoke.
“The simple answer, as far as I understand Kallin’s long-windedness, is that the Gate might be enchanted so that any outside magical influence, even something as small as just wearing a Morschledu Ring near it, or possibly even just being strong enough to use magic, might cause it to … defend itself. Portalling is a recent discovery by comparison to the Haunted Gate. During the Eternal War, only the Seven were strong enough to wield that kind of magic, so, if a portal opened right beside the Gate, it might think that one of the Seven Devils had found it. That could be why we ended up here, wherever here is. We tried to land too close to the Gate, so it sent us somewhere else.” “You make it sound as though this Gate has a personality.”
“The Morschledu Rings will not suffer themselves to be wielded by someone they dislike. The Forgers, according to legend, at least, also created the Haunted Gate, so it’s likely the same. It may not work unless it likes the one who is trying to use it.” Kallin finished by wiping his glasses on his robe again. He held them up for inspection, and placed them back onto his nose.
Edya groaned, frustrated at their situation, and at how weak she felt from using so little of her power. “So, what you are saying is that this could be a huge waste of time.” “No, I’m saying that while Kallin and I try to make the Gate work, you can train Daliana with the sword. That’s why you came in the first place.”
“While Kallin and you try to make the Gate work?” Edya’s emphasis on ‘you’ offended El Darnen.
“El Darnen isn’t my real name. It’s more … my title. There has always been a Serpent. Our duty has been to ensure the protection of the Haunted Gate, and other sacred artifacts that are similarly of a more … dangerous nature. Since before the Eternal War, we were entrusted by Lasheed with the knowledge and the spells necessary to make the Gate work. We were supposed to leave the mountains only to find a suitable heir to the title of El Darnen. But, with the Croba Harnesh Qrua, which really happened, the Captain of the Greshida, then known as the Four Hundred Heroes, died without choosing, and she didn’t pass on the knowledge. So, after that, the Serpents have been everywhere in Anaria, and many places outside of it. I’ve crossed the mountains. My predecessors have crossed the sea. We’ve raided monasteries, remote villages, the Great Library of Dorok-Baan, and even the Demosira’s Tower to try to piece together the spells of the Haunted Gate.” El Darnen’s eyes flicked downwards. “We’ve found nothing.” Kallin looked skeptical. “But the location of the Demosira’s Tower was lost to all outsiders thousands of years ago.”
“The Croba Harnesh Qrua was about was about ninety-seven thousand years ago. The Demosira’s Tower was one of the first places that the survivors of the Four Hundred Heroes looked. The Serpents of that time are actually the reason why there is no map with the tower’s location marked.” Daliana silently mouthed the words to the verse of the Croba Harnesh Qrua which El Darnen had spoken in Dothoro. “You said she.”
“And the Croba Harnesh Qrua calls the Captain of the Four Hundred a he, yes I know. I didn’t write the song. Don’t blame me for knowing my own history.” Daliana was taken aback by El Darnen’s sudden openness about himself and things she doubted he had ever told anyone. “Well, we have to get to the Gate first, and this stream that Edya found is as good a place as any to start, so we should go.” The stream was harder to get to than any of the four could have guessed. When they got there, they knew that they were in trouble.
“It’s flowing west.”
“But, that means …”
“We’re on the far side of the Garuthen Mountains. We are …”
It was Edya who finished. “Outside of Anaria.”
El Darnen didn’t seem to be upset by the news. “Well then, we have some work to do. We know where we are, sort of. The mountains are right there. We go into them.” “But not right now. We wait for morning.”
Edya and Daliana sat around their small campfire, listening to the emptiness around them. It was beyond different when compared to the night sounds that they were both used to. “Does anyone live outside of Anaria?” Kallin rolled over and propped himself up on an elbow to answer. “My father abdicated the Morschcodal Throne to find out. He found small bands of Garnothrim, but that was it, and they were far away. It seems that the savages are scared of Anarians, but there are only four of us, so if a hunting party saw us, we could be dead.” El Darnen, who had taken the night watch for himself, walked over to the fire. “Garnothen hunters don’t range this far east.”
“Much has changed these last two years, El Darnen. Maybe they have as well.”
El Darnen looked into the fire, but Daliana saw a different light it his eyes. He was remembering something long past. She was about to ask him when he spoke. “I once walked among the Garnothrim as an outsider. They clearly mistrusted me, and their fear was blatant, but they wouldn’t attack me without reason. They weren’t peaceful, but they wouldn’t go out of their way to harm us. The fire may make some curious, if they’re here at all, but they won’t fight us.” …
Several hours later, Daliana, who was on watch, felt something. She could see nothing beyond the light of the fire, as the Black Night after the Silver Moon, there was no moon and no star shone, but she knew that there was something outside of the circle of firelight, watching them. Edya was closest to her, so, not wanting to move too much or too quickly and possibly provoke whatever it was, she picked up a long branch from their small pile of wood and poked Edya with it. Fortunately, Edya woke up with nothing more than a groan.
“It’s not morning yet, and I’ve already watched.”
Daliana kept her voice low. “There’s something out there.”
That got Edya to wake up. Fortunately again, she too moved little and spoke quietly. “Garnothen hunters?”
“Some kind of animal, I think. Maybe more than one. Wake up El Darnen.”
“I’ve been awake all night,” the Serpent spat out quietly as he rolled over. “What’s the matter now?”
“Something big is out there, beyond the firelight.”
His voice changed, taking a softer, gentler tone. “How big?”
Daliana stretched out with her mind. “About the size of a Deshik warrior, but different. Its mind is less structured, more focused on smell and hearing than sight.” He started to push himself up, but thought better of it. “Tomorrow, we go straight back into the mountains and try and find a way through to the Garuthen Trade Route.” Kallin had woken up when Daliana said ‘Deshik warrior.’ Now he whispered at El Darnen. “You know what it is that’s out there?”
“I have my suspicions, and if I am right, then the one that Daliana senses is just a scout for a hunting party of something much more dangerous than Garnothrim.” “What are they El Darnen? If we need to run, we need to know what we’re running from.”
“As soon as it starts to get light, we leave. We need to be gone before hunters get here. There’s a reason no one lives on this side of the mountains. The plains between here and the wastelands are patrolled by hunting parties of giant animals. Rumors reached me in my old stronghold that they sometimes walk on two feet like a man does, but that they can run faster than a horse. I’ve never seen one myself, not this close to the mountains at least, but I have seen the remains of those who got too close to one. It’s not pretty.” “Then we should move now.”
“No. In the dark they would catch us far easier. In the light, we can at least see them.”
“But there’s one right there.”
“And there would not be only one if there was a pack close enough to us for them to be hunting us, Edya.”
“The creature, whatever it is. I can’t feel it anymore.”
“It’s gone back to its Pride to get hunters. You’re right Edya, we run now.”