That night was spent by a huge bonfire, with the lot of them sipping from a batch of shimmer wine that Markhon had graciously offered to share. It hadn’t taken long for Khor to doze off, leaving Lithia, Markhon and Tisiphone to talk amongst themselves, and though the conversation had started off in the best of spirits, it was clear there was a rift between Lithia’s idea of healing, and Markhon’s.
Tisiphone shook her head and stared into the fire, wondering if Elves were hiding in the branches above. Gil’s story had pointed out how easy it was for them to maneuver up there, nothing but the sound of the leaves, rustling in the wind; but they were far from the Forests of Aclara. It would take weeks to reach the Elven city of Almaren on foot, and Ghost Mountain…
“What do you see in the flames?” Lithia asked as she sat down next to Tisiphone and wrapped her dark cloak about her shoulders.
“Flames!” Tisiphone replied with a yawn, scanning the small encampment.
Khor was sound asleep, nestled against a log, and Markhon had slipped inside his silver sleeping-bag and was facing away from them. She had to wonder what had been said before Lithia came to sit with her, and how much of a mood he’d be in when he awoke in a few hours. The Vampire was easily annoyed and bruising his ego was as bad as drawing blood.
“Do they dance for you?” Lithia asked and Tisiphone watched as she lifted a cup of shimmer wine before her, whispering over it before bringing it to her lips.
“Uh, you could call it dancing, but there is no music.” Her eyes returned to the fire.
“The flames sing their own song.” Lithia laughed. “Listen carefully.” She paused a moment, eyeing the fire herself. “Do you hear it?”
Tisiphone leaned in and listened for the song, but what she heard was nothing more than the snapping of wood as it broke beneath the mighty heat. Then came the sizzle, when the sweet, sticky sap escaped from within, filling their little camp with an intoxicating aroma.
“I hear wood, burning.” She sighed, rubbing at her eyes.
“Relax, and listen, closer!” Lithia urged her on. “It is quite safe, I assure you.”
Tisiphone closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, which she held as long as she could. Releasing it slowly, she opened her eyes and gazed at the flames, determined to see the fire dance and hear its song. Once more, there was a snap, followed by the sizzle as more sap boiled away, but this time it echoed through her mind as another snapped and sizzled, then another. There was a short pause, then a whistle as the bark peeled back and a nugget of red-hot wood flew from the flames, landing only a few inches from her blanket.
It hissed at her, the embers pulsing with an eerie glow as it consumed the nutrients needed to sustain itself. More of those tiny nuggets lay hidden in the ash and as the calm wind blew in and rustled the leaves nearby, those embers grew brighter and the melody began again.
It wasn’t a single flame, or branch, but the combination of them all crackling before her that allowed her to hear the symphony the flames danced to. It was rather hypnotic, sending shivers down her spine. The tendrils sway back and forth, bending and flowing with one another like a pair of lovers locked in a sinful embrace; and for a moment, she swore she could see their faces.
A male and his female, one arm about her waist and the other guiding their steps as they traipsed across the fiery dancefloor. A few paces, then a dip, the oranges, yellows and reds of the two figures, blending to become a single dancer who spun in circles on the tips of her toes. Tisiphone gasped as the female in the flames leapt into the air, the flames themselves rising higher to accommodate her; and for her grand finale, a show of sparks as another burning nugget sprung from within. Tisiphone swore that nugget had been the female dancing, her soul set free as the rhythm carried her away…
“You have quite the mind, Tisiphone!” Lithia grinned, though never took her eyes off the flames. “What else, do you see?”
Tisiphone looked harder, though the sudden sound of howling in the distance threw her off. “It’s no use.” She sighed and rubbed at her eyes again.
“You did well for your first encounter. I have known many, burned by the madness within the flames.”
“That didn’t look like madness.” Tisiphone pointed out, “That, was beautiful.” She laughed, then let out a yawn.
“The fire sings, the flames speak, but the mind must interpret the words. Your mind is strong, Tisiphone, but it is also young. It has yet to learn the true nature of the beast within.”
“I’m learning, it’s why…” She yawned again. “…I’m here!” She finished, nestling in close to her pack and pulling her cloak up to her chin. “Perhaps, you could show me more, tomorrow?”
“Perhaps!” Lithia chuckled, rising to her feet.
If Tisiphone had to learn it on her own, she would, whether it took ten days or ten-thousand years. She preferred days, but determination would see her through the years if need be. She wasn’t about to give up.
“Goodnight, Tisiphone!” Lithia called to her as set herself down to watch over Khor.
“Night!” She mumbled, already entranced by the flames again.
What she wouldn’t give to be able to control them, like the fire-mage in the story. Gods, it had been so long since she’d last watched her stories in the mirror, she forgotten the female’s name. How would she ever find out what happened at Ghost Mountain?
Her mind began to fill with images of past scenes. The trek to Almaren, the Queen and Princess in the courtyard, helping to heal all the wounded, the Dragon.
He’d come here, hoping to clear his mind and focus on the task at hand. It was quiet, it was peaceful and it seemed to harbor everything he needed; save for a plan. Standing tall, he ran his hands through his dirty- blonde hair and noted how long in was getting.
“Blasted!” He grumbled, shaking his head as his mind turned to the beard he now bore on cheeks and chin.
He stood in the study with books covering the desk, tables, chairs and floor. He was supposed to be doing a little recon of Ghost Mountain. He wanted to know how to infiltrate it, what he’d find once they were inside; and most importantly, how’d they’d get there. Things like his hair and beard were miniscule tasks that his mind had set out to distract him.
Shaking his head again, he set out to figure out how to get everyone there. It would take months to march an army across the lands and that was time the dark heathen could use to lay her traps. They couldn’t blink into position, not without alerting her troops and there was no access to the gateway that was thought to be beneath the keep. They could, cover half the distance by using other gateways, but they’d still spend weeks marching towards the mountain.
“Bloody hell!” He muttered, scratching behind his ear as he tried to make sense of it all.
They needed something fast, and big enough to carry a handful of men and their gear. He’d had, one, sort of crazy idea, but it would all depend on how much weight a certain Dragon could carry.
Cybelle didn’t exactly look like an assault chopper, but she certainly had the firepower of one. At the very least, she could provide cover from above; but they’d need to shield her somehow. Shaking his head for the hundredth time, he paced back and forth before the large hearth, then settled into one of the chairs at the massive, wooden desk.
He was so consumed by the task at hand that he barely noticed Mist waltzing into the study, until her arms were sliding around his shoulders from behind.
Still dressed in her sheer, pink nightgown that fell to her knees, the dark-haired beauty held him close and kissed the top of his head. “You never came to bed.” She whispered into his ear. “Have you been up all night?” She added, sliding around front of him to sit in his lap.
The feel of her smooth skin, his hands running up and down her thigh, and the way she giggled when he tickled the back of her calf had more than his mind rousing to attention. Too bad the chaos and timing were complete shit, for no sooner had he felt himself harden, an image of Ghost Mountain popped into his head.
“You work too hard!” She smiled and ran a finger across his lips.
“Yes, I do, but we need to strike as soon as we can. Orin’s men are almost done with the staircase and have assured me that Malice won’t have anyone watching it yet.” He chuckled and closed his eyes as she kissed him on his forehead, vanquishing the vision of the Dwarf from thought.
It lasted for only a moment, for the second she withdrew her lips from his skin, she found another obstacle in her way. From Ghost Mountain to the Drawf, and now the Dragon; his mind would not rest until he’d sorted it out.
“And the Dragon?” She inquired, moving lower to kiss the tip of his nose.
“Well, I was kind of hoping she could, maybe, sort of, deliver the assault team? They could go in first and secure the area, report back on possible troop movements.” He grinned as she ran her slender fingers through his sandy-blonde hair. “But can she carry a dozen men and their gear? They’d see her coming, but we could wrap her in a cloak? Cast a spell of invisibility? Dammit…” He muttered as her lips landed on his. “…I am trying, to work here, woman!” He managed to get out.
Mist giggled and relinquished herself to helping him. “There are other options, silly man.” She slid from his lap and pulled him from the chair towards the balcony. “Pegasus’ and Unicorns are much faster than Dragons and able to cloak themselves from any enemy.” She grinned at him and opened the balcony doors.
“Where are we going to get enough Unicorns for an army?” He shook his head, yet followed her out into the morning sun.
“Alura’s son has a herd of Unicorns in his stables.” She laughed. “As for the other...” She stuck her fingers behind her teeth, and gave a shrill whistle that echoed in the vast empty space surrounded by trees.
Gil waited for the punch line, for she had to be joking, but before he could speak up, the air came alive with the flapping of wings. He spun to look out over the courtyard and found it coming out of the morning light; the most magnificent creature that Gil had ever seen. Wings, made of an incandescent web and skin like shadows brought to life, a fog of wonder encased in a glass shell. It was massive, at least twenty hands high at the shoulder, and a mane of silver and copper sparkled in the sun’s rays; leaving Gil in a state of disbelief.
‘You called, Mistress?’ It spoke in a resonant male voice.
Gil was speechless as the animal turned its eyes, burning coals in a fire as they gazed upon him.
‘Shadow Weaver, this is Gil Swanson. The mortal I went to find.’
‘Greetings, Lord Swanson.’ The beast’s voice grew louder in his mind and Gil damn near shit his pants.
“Uh, hi?” He mumbled, not quite believing that this magnificent, mythical being, was in fact quite real.
“Wow! I have seen pictures of Valkyries riding Pegasus’ and Wolves, but I thought them to be…”
‘Exaggerated?’ Shadow Weaver shook his head and that mane sparkled even brighter than before.
“Well, yeah!” Gil blurted out, still captivated by the way day turned to night before his eyes, like a veil draping down the creature’s back.
“I can turn into a Wolf if it would please you, Gil?” Mist responded as if she was serious.
“S.S Pardon?” He spat out. “You can…? No wait, of course, you can.” He sighed and shook his head. “You better watch out, for I can only take so many miracles one at a time. It’s all my poor heart can stand.”
“Have we angered you?”
“Angered me? How the hell could you anger me?” He laughed and pulled her close. “He’s massive. He’s stealthy. He’s bloody amazing!” Gil was grinning from ear to ear as reality sunk in.
The Pegasus was clearly pleased with Gil’s praise, bowing his head at the couple. Mist looked at the two of them and burst out into a roaring laughter.
“Just wait, you haven’t seen the best part!” She giggled and nodded to the Pegasus.
At her command, the Pegasus disappeared completely. There was nothing to speak that he was even there in the growing light of the courtyard; not even a shadow.
“Oh, wow, you can’t even see him.” He chuckled and clapped his hands together.
“That’s the whole idea. You’re also invisible when you ride him, or any of his brethren; which is why the Valkyrie chose to create a bond with his kind.” She smiled and let out a short yawn. “Now, can we go to bed?”
“Gods, he’s perfect.” Gil admired the elegance of the creature as it revealed itself once more. “Absolutely brilliant!”
‘You are most kind, Lord Swanson!’ The beast bowed again and took to the skies.
“Thank you!” Gil called out after it, then felt the beast in his mind with a voice sounding like the wind.
‘Dream softly and awaken full of courage.’