Ma′ikel stood on the roof of the palace, one hand holding a payara bird and the other holding the tiny cylinder with his response to Manali's latest news. He frowned, and his eyes blazed brightly in the night′s darkness as he thought of the paper he had turned to ash before composing this answer. Manali had let him know of her dreams before, but this latest concerned Ga′briyel. Her words would be forever burned into his memory.
The Sainika must reach Hela Era Larai no later than the first of winter at last light, less than three sennights from now. If he does not, a greater evil than Duniya has ever known will be released, and even he might not be able to stop it. So says Yisu. Where is this place, Ma′ikel? I have not heard of it.
He had never heard of it, either, and he spent four days researching her question. He had finally found the city on a map that had to be at least five hundred years old. Hela Era Larai was an ancient city deep in the Parbata Mountains. As far as he could tell, no one had lived there for more than a thousand years, and no human had set eyes on it in more than eight hundred. Even on that old map it was described as the Hela Era Larai ruins, and Ma′ikel had meticulously copied the map down on the tiny piece of paper that the payara would take back to Manali. And now he was here, on the roof of the palace, buffeted by the cold winds, hoping the bird did not freeze on its journey over the mountains.
He attached the clay cylinder in which he had placed the map onto the payara′s leg and released it into the sky. It winged its way west over Torkeln′s red slate rooftops, around chimneys and towers and disappeared over the forest surrounding the city. It would take at least a sennight for the bird to arrive at the village of Mirstone, and Ma′ikel could only hope that it would be in time to help Ga′briyel and the others.
“Was that message about Ga′briyel?”
Startled, Ma′ikel spun on his heel at Jarda′s voice behind him. It was at times like this he wished he had Ga′briyel′s ability to feel people coming. The General of the Guard was standing by the trapdoor in the roof, his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face. The icy wind whipped his dark hair about his face and his coat about his thighs, but he did not seem to notice. Ma′ikel quickly composed his own expression into one of calm disinterest.
“Perhaps, Jarda, but my business is my own.”
Jarda′s hands fisted under his arms as he took a step toward his friend. “Not when your business concerns my son, Anmah,” he snarled as his eyes narrowed. “Tell me what is going on.”
“No?” Jarda took another step toward Ma′ikel, and his fists came out from underneath his arms. “No? How dare you keep this from me, Ma′ikel? He is my son!”
Ma′ikel just stared out into the darkness in the direction the bird had gone. “There is nothing you can do, Jarda,” he said softly. ”Ga′briyel is on his own. Perhaps Yisu will send him more help than Dinton and Tero, but I do not know. No one seems to know much of anything, General. We are all flying blind in this.” He turned around to face Jarda.
“Help him in what, Anmah?” Jarda′s fists tightened briefly, then he sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Please, my friend, please tell me something. It has been moons since he left. Can you at least tell me if he is still alive?”
“Still alive? I would assume so. He is Anmah, after all. The others? I have no idea. I am hopeful that I will know within a moon, however. My contact in Mirstone will let me know immediately if Ga′briyel and the others pass through there.”
“Mirstone? Why would they go there? That is practically in the mountains, and winter is coming fast. They would be fools to enter the mountains in winter.”
Ma′ikel caught himself before he revealed anything more. Yes, only fools entered the Parbatas in winter, but he knew Ga'briyel would have no choice if he was going to stop whatever great evil Sayatan planned to release.
Ma′ikel had spent the moons since the boy had left researching Sainika, and what he had found he had kept to himself. There was no reason to give Jarda and Elise more worry than they already had. The Anmah had read in the ancient books and scrolls about Daitya and Azazil and Mandae and Sarpa and Takosa and a dozen other types of demons that served the Evil One. He now knew that Daitya could kill Anmah, which had surprised him, and that Azazil possessed people and forced them to do unspeakably evil acts. Mandae were imps who tormented their victims with visions of whatever their worst fear was, Sarpa were giant serpents, more than five paces long, whose venom could melt stone, and Takosa drank human blood, draining their victims of life within minutes. Other evils he had found were beast and spirit, some made flesh and some not. He had not a clue how Ga′briyel was supposed to fight spirits, but Yisu knew best, and He would protect His champion and give him the necessary skills.
"Ma′ikel? Talk to me, please.”
The Anmah′s head snapped up from where he had been studying the marble roof of the palace. He stared at his friend for a long moment, and then he closed the door to the payara′s cage, took Jarda′s arm, and guided him to the trapdoor.
“I will tell you what I can when I can, Jarda, I promise you, but right now, there is nothing I can tell you. Give me a moon, my friend, and I should know something. I hope I know something by then.”
“Fine. A moon, Ma′ikel, and no longer. If you do not tell me what is going on within a moon, I may have to resort to violence.”
The two men reentered the palace through the trapdoor. As Jarda climbed down the ladder after the Anmah, he pictured his son in his mind and sent out a prayer to Yisu to keep him and the others safe.