A Waylaid Message

Posted on August 23, 2010

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This story is Part 17 of the Fire and Water series. It follows Finding the Music. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

With their supplies replenished, well-rested and in high spirits because of Griel’s return, they set out toward the edge of Sulinor’s prison. It was still many days ahead of them, but the barren spots increased in size and number as they drew closer. There were fewer groves of trees for them to camp in, and in those they found, the trees were thin and gnarled, barely alive.

As they approached what seemed to be the last forlorn grove, they startled a horse. He screamed in fear and bolted southward.

“What’s he so afraid of?” Coanh asked, watching him gallop away.

“He’s a Varzil horse, from the blanket he wears,” Zaghran observed. “Those horses don’t fear anyone or anything. Something must be wrong.”

Aurmid flew after the horse, high in the air so as not to frighten him further. In a few moments she returned.

“You must come,” she said grimly, and swerved to fly in the horse’s direction again. They followed her.

The horse had not gone far. He stood nervously, pawing the earth, grunting. They could see the white rings around his eyes even before they got close to him. He stood beside a heap on the ground.

“Easy there, good fellow,” Coanh said gently. The horse bobbed his head and whinnied, but he let Coanh approach him. “That’s right, we mean you no harm. We’ll help you if we can.” He walked slowly up to the horse and reached out his hand for the animal to smell. In a moment, Coanh was rubbing his nose, then his neck, and the horse quieted. He looked at the heap beside the horse.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “Here’s another dead man. If this one gets up from the dead…”

Zaghran came and knelt beside the fallen man. He examined him a moment and stood up.

“He’s Varzil, as I suspected,” he said. “There’s a strange mark on the back of his head, like a burn.”

Griel landed on the other side of the body, sniffing him.

“This man’s death was the Nurain’s work,” he said. “I can smell them. But how they inflicted the wound he bears, I cannot say. No doubt it is some new weapon they brought with them.”

By this time they were all gathered around the body. Coanh kept the horse at a short distance to keep him calm. Findol gazed down at the man’s body and opened his senses to him.

“He was coming to find us.” He knew it was true as he said it. “He had a message… from Peldanir.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes.

“What message would Peldanir need to send us?” Varala said. “And why us? We never even told him our names.”

“He wanted to warn us that the Nurain were close,” Findol said. “He must have guessed who we are and what we’re doing.” He looked at the dead man again. “Perhaps he sent this poor man in his place because he was being watched.”

Aurmid growled, and Griel snorted.

“Well, this man lying dead at our feet is warning enough,” Varala said. “The Nurain did Peldanir’s work for him. They’re fools. If they wanted to overtake us by stealth, they should have destroyed the man’s corpse, and his horse as well.”

Findol drew in a sharp breath at the same moment that Zaghran shed his human form.

“No, they’re not fools,” Findol said.

“They used Peldanir to find us,” Zaghran said. “They knew he would try to warn us. This is a trap.”

The world went silent and still. They searched the horizon and the sky, looking for the Nurain to descend. They drew close together, and Griel and Aurmid flanked them. Coanh came running, leading the horse.

“Whatever happens, remember what you are,” Griel told them. “Do not allow them to make you doubt what you know to be true.”

“Remember the music that freed Griel,” Findol said. “Don’t let it slip away.”

Before them, a large white sphere materialized out of the air. It hovered soundlessly just above the ground.

The silence was maddening. It bore down on them, its weight threatening to paralyze their thoughts. Findol clenched his teeth and shook his head. It took all his strength to remember his own name, let alone the magic he needed to protect, or who they were looking for…

A loud thump broke the silence, and then another. Findol’s head cleared slightly, and he remembered that he should be thinking of music. The pounding continued, and Findol’s vision retreated from the white sphere. He saw Coanh standing between them and the sphere: he was stomping his feet, of all things. His footfalls were loud as thunder, making a drum of the earth. The more he drummed, the more he shook them awake, weakening the silence.

Griel roared, and then Aurmid breathed a stream of fire that engulfed the sphere. The Varzil horse reared, screaming. Varala had slipped into her cat form, and she was howling with her entire body. Zaghran seemed to be everywhere at once, wrapping them in a cloud of silvery fog that amplified their voices. Findol felt sweat pouring from him, and felt the deep magic coursing through him, up out of the earth, condensing from the air around him. He gazed at the sphere again as Aurmid continued to blast it, and willed the energy toward it. He felt it break over the sphere like a great wave.

The sphere shuddered in the air under the pressure of their onslaught. They heard a shrill whine; the sphere jerked and bobbed, and then vanished.

They heard the sounds of the world again. They stood blinking at the spot where the sphere had been. Findol and Coanh looked at each other, and Coanh’s face went red.

“What made you think to do that?” Findol asked him, and he shrugged.

“I just stamped my feet to take my mind off that sphere,” he said. “It made everything too quiet.”

Griel nudged Coanh with his snout.

“You have saved us all,” he said. “You shall be known henceforth to dragonkind as Coanh Thunder, because the earth answers when you call to it.”

“Coanh Thunder,” Coanh mused. “I like it.”

Findol laughed, and Coanh grinned. The horse sidled up to him, nickering, and nudged him with his nose.

Zaghran and Varala resumed their human forms, but their eyes scanned the plains even as they smiled.

“Thanks to Coanh, we were able to repel them for now,” Zaghran said, “but they will return. We must make all haste to be ready. What we did here will not go unanswered for long.”

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