The human had agreed to help her. Ki-Kala allowed herself to indulge in a brief moment of relief. She had not been certain what he would ultimately decide to do, especially after their conversation had turned to the bloody conflict that her people called the Sundering. As valid as her position was, her response to his comments had perhaps been overly harsh, and she had feared that she had lost him. The old wounds of that ancient war still ran deep, on both sides. In truth, she had not been entirely honest when she had said that her people bore no ill will toward the humans. There were still some in Vin Tiraseya who would like nothing more than to see the mortals purged from the world.
In the end, however, the man called Kelven had agreed to help her—or perhaps to accept her help in his own quest to find his sister. The specifics did not matter. She had established her first ally. Silently, she prayed to the Great One that, somehow, she would be able to find more, even as she chided herself for not maintaining a stronger contact with the Homeland. She had very little knowledge of who else among her people still lived north of the Vanarch’s Line—that which the humans called the Shimmering. Was there anyone that she could call on for help?
Of course, she might find allies among the humans too. She already had one, after all. Perhaps others might be persuaded to join his cause. It was difficult to know. The politics and motivations behind human relationships had always been strange and foreign to her. If only she had a nymph or a dryad to talk to. The water and forest spirits had a much more innate understanding of the mortals.
Ki-Kala did remember one thing, however, a truth gleaned during the dark days of the Sundering. For reasons she could not even begin to understand, there were many among mortals who seemed to have an overwhelming attraction to certain rare metals and gemstones. She had found gold to be a particular favourite—especially when formed into crude discs they called coins. If she could not acquire allies in any other way, then perhaps they could be bought.
But that was a thought for another time. She turned her attention back upon the human.
“The first thing you’re going to do,” she said in response to his lingering question, “is to get some more rest. You’re still ill, and in no shape do be doing much of anything yet.”
“But what about Tyra?” the human protested.
“I don’t expect she’s in any immediate danger. While you were sleeping…Crayven appeared…just outside of my den.”
“He was here?”
“Yes. We were…acquainted, once. He sought to sway me to his purposes. To no avail, I assure you. From the way he spoke, though, I believe he did not return to whatever secret place your sister is being held. That in itself gives us reason to hope. I doubt that anything will happen to her without him present. We have time.”
“Then let’s get moving! If he’s not there, we could take her and leave before he returns.”
“Don’t be foolish,” Ki-Kala chided, bringing a deeper flush to the man’s already reddened cheeks. “We don’t even know where she is being held. If we just start walking blindly, we could go a thousand miles in the wrong direction without knowing. Besides, Crayven was also bold enough to warn me that she’s being protected and that her guardians have been specifically instructed to watch for me. Finding her won’t be easy, and freeing her even less so.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
Ki-Kala had been struggling to answer that question from the very moment of Crayven’s departure. She could ride to the winds and perform a methodical search of the surrounding area, but she had no idea how far away the Apostate may have taken the girl. She was certain that the distance could not be all that great, but she did not want to run the risk of stumbling, unknowingly, upon the place of the girl’s imprisonment—and alerting the guardians to her presence. Another option might to travel with Kelven to one of the closest human settlements. If he could somehow acquire a map, it was possible that some name or landmark might stand out to her, or give some clue as to where Crayven may have taken his prize.
Possible did not mean probable, however, and Ki-Kala estimated the chances of success in such an endeavour to be lower than low. That left her with only one truly viable option. They would need to speak with a seer.
She could not stand dealing with their kind.
“We’re going to visit someone I knew a long time ago,” she said. “Someone I believe might be able to help us. His name is Aum and he is very wise.” And very likely one of the most self-absorbed, narcissistic creatures I’ve ever had the misfortune of coming to know, thought Ki-Kala. “He may be able to assist us in discovering where Crayven has taken your sister.”
“Her name is Tyra,” said Kelven.
“Tyra, then. The last I’d heard of Aum, he was living in the Miraquan Mountains, high on the cliffs that look out over Beryl’s Tears. It seems unlikely that he would have moved. His kind rarely do.”
“I’ve never heard of any such mountains. Where are they?”
“Directly north of the Fellwood.”
“You mean the Ironspine?”
“If that’s what you humans call it. It seems a sensible enough name. I’ve heard that there are thick veins running through the stone there.”
“And I’ve heard that the entire range is haunted by the vengeful spirits of miners that have died there over the years.”
Ki-Kala arched one eyebrow. She remembered the mountains as an unfriendly sort of place, to be sure, with their cold, barren stone and sparse vegetation. Even the winds that blew between the jagged peaks always felt strangely hard, as though they had somehow absorbed some quality of the iron rich stone. Still, while it was not the sort of place that she enjoyed visiting, Ki-Kala could not remember having sensed anything malevolent in those winds. Of course, many years had passed since she had last been outside of the Fellwood. Perhaps things had changed, or perhaps there was some darkness within the very mountains themselves. As a creature of the air, she had little insight into the workings of stone and earth.
A raayl would have a better understanding, but there was not a stone spirit within a hundred miles of the Fellwood. They could not endure the forest. The very earth, they said, had been tainted by the Urophex. Could something similar have happened in the Miraquan Mountains?
“What do you believe?” she asked after a moment.
“After the past several days, I’m not sure what to believe,” Kelven admitted. “I suppose you’ll tell me that the ghosts are just more Iria.”
“Not that I know of. But don’t let it concern you. If anything does haunt the mountains, we’ll deal with it when we get there. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to speed the journey on. Still, I expect it will take the better part of a week, so you should get some more rest. There are still several hours left of darkness. If you have the strength, we’ll plan to depart around noon. Fair enough?”
“I suppose,” the human muttered in response. He laid his head back and closed his eyes. “I just hope that this friend of yours is able to help.”
“I never said he was a friend,” Ki-Kala responded quietly, but Kelven had already fallen back into the depths of sleep’s embrace.