Table of Contents
I rather liked this one.
Joras Timon paused in his gathering, rubbing his brow and wishing for some relief from the pounding heat. Further south, it might have seemed nothing; the air was cool, and Timon was still wearing his heavy leather jacket as he walked along the edge of the orchard looking for early-growing apples, but it was more than warm enough for him, and the air was still. As he mopped his brow, he noticed a cart approaching, loaded with strangers, and smiled in response to the burly driverâ€™s wave.
â€œExcuse me, farmer.â€ Khory smiled, pulling in the cart. â€œWeâ€™re trying to make our way to Harkenton. Iâ€™m given to understand itâ€™s on the edge of a lake somewhere nearby. Do you know it?â€
â€œHarkenton? Oh, sir, you canâ€™t go there.â€ Timon shrugged hopelessly. â€œThereâ€™s a summer flood, and itâ€™s washed out the bridge. Youâ€™ll have to wait until it gets fixed, or go somewhere else.â€
The people on the cart looked at one another. â€œHow long is that like to take?â€ Khory asked, with a faint frown.
â€œCould be a few weeks yet. Townâ€™s been tryinâ€™ to fix it over two months, now. No good.â€ Timon shrugged again. â€œThe riverâ€™s flowinâ€™ too fast. No way to anchor the bridge, or ford it, and we donâ€™t own any boats can handle the currents right now. Figure itâ€™ll die down by fall, as the waters freeze over.â€
â€œThank you, sir.â€ Khory continued the cart rolling, and Timon shook his head, returning to his picking.
As the wagon continued along, Khory turned to the others with a raised eyebrow. â€œNow, donâ€™t that sound suspicious.â€
â€œThat it does.â€ Elena rubbed her chin, looking northwards. â€œIt sounds like someone doesnâ€™t want the locals to know whatâ€™s happening up in Harkonton, doesnâ€™t it? Just like Grayhyssop.â€
â€œYeah.â€ Kieran smiled grimly. â€œSeven Winds Dancing is leading us right where we want to go.â€
As the wagon rumbled away, Timon continued to pick apples, sparing a few moments to wonder about those strange people and their cart. They hadnâ€™t seemed like the normal sort of travellers who came out here. Although, there had been bits of metal underneath the supplies in their wagon; perhaps they were peddlers. That seemed to make sense, and he returned to his work with a satisfied air.
â€œExcuse me, goodsirâ€¦â€
Timon paused, looking towards the road, and blinked. There were eleven people standing in the road, all afoot. Nine of them were armoured and helmeted, standing stock-still, and their motionlessness raised a shiver in Timonâ€™s heart. The others, however, were even stranger. The first was, he assumed, a woman, but her dress was made of hundreds of veils, rippling in the light, and he couldnâ€™t see an inch of skin showing. One of those Southerners, he supposed. The other was a cheerful-seeming blond man, with pale skin and a black cloak. For a moment, Timon could have sworn that the cloak was moving on its own, but it must have been the wind.
There wasnâ€™t any wind.
Pushing that rebellious thought aside, Timon forced a smile onto his face, and met the wave of the cloaked man with one of his own. The man wasnâ€™t armed, although the patrol that was with him certainly was. â€œCan I help you?â€
â€œI certainly hope so.â€ With a faint chuckle, the man waved at the road. â€œWeâ€™re trying to catch up with anâ€¦ old friend of ours. Have you seen a wagon go by? Would have been carrying four folk. Young man, young woman, mountain of a fellow, swordswoman. Canâ€™t miss them, really. I think they were heading forâ€¦â€
â€œHarkonton.â€ Timon nodded, feeling a bit more at ease, and tried not to think about the motionless soldiers. â€œUh, yes. I saw them about an hour ago, actually. Theyâ€™re heading north. But you canâ€™t get to Harkonton right now. The bridgeâ€™s out.â€
â€œWell, thatâ€™s alright, weâ€™re not going to Harkonton, weâ€™re going to them.â€ The man chuckled at his own comment, and gave a jaunty wave. â€œThank you kindly, sir. Good luck with your apples.â€ Timon shook his head as the man started strolling down the road. The woman raised one veiled arm, and the soldiers started move all at once, marching solemnly along in complete silence. It was the most eerie sight Timon had ever seen. He turned to pick an apple, only to find it rotten. Cursing, he dropped it on the ground and continued to work.
â€œThere, you see, Jasmine? I can, in fact, be subtle.â€ Twice-Forged Steel stuck out his tongue as the Abyssals continued along. â€œIâ€™ll bet he never realized that anything was the least bit odd about us.â€
â€œThat comment does not deserve the dignity of a response.â€ Jasmine shook her head, her veils shaking. â€œNo matter. We are almost to our goal, and that is what is important. I only hope that we reach those fools before they get it destroyed.â€
â€œMm, yes, that would be a bit of a disaster, wouldnâ€™t it? No matter, Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll be quite well.â€
Back in his orchard, Timon was becoming annoyed. An unpleasant number of apples seemed to have gone bad, and he was beginnning to worry that he had displeased some god somewhere. After an hour of picking, he wanted more than one basket to show for it.
â€œYou!â€ The word was barely recognizable, and Timon opened his mouth to snort a reply as he turned from the tree again. The words caught in his mouth as he beheld the force before him.
The man who had yelled was clad from head to toe in crimson armour, marked in the symbols of the Immaculate Order, and was seated on a beautiful charger. Beside him was another monk, this one in flowing green robes, with a powerbow slung across his back, and another woman in blue jade armour was behind them, with a fourth man wearing white and black articulated plate, with a strange device over one eye. All were clearly Dragon-Blooded, and they were accompanied by twenty-five soldiers on barded horses. Timonâ€™s mouth worked for a moment, and then he managed a â€œyes?â€
The woman in blue smiled faintly. â€œWe are looking for a wagon, with four people. It is of the utmost urgency â€“ one of them is Anathema.â€
â€œA-Anathema??â€ Timon gasped. â€œThey were here two hours ago, milady! And, um, you arenâ€™t the first to follow them!â€
â€œWhat?â€ The woman looked to her companions, who looked at each other in shock. After a moment, the last man spoke, his voice flat.
â€œWe must hurry. The Anathema must be nearing his goal. Double march, men!â€ He turned his horse, and the troop surged into motion once again. Timon watched in awe as they thundered down the road.
As the troop moved, Peleps Seregard shook his head, looking forwards. â€œI canâ€™t imagine how fortunate it was that we encountered you, Lodaris. There is no doubt that this Anathema seeks nothing less than control over every spirit in the North. I wish that we had had time to gather more forces, thoughâ€¦â€
â€œHe is not that dangerous. The four of us, with our men, should be sufficient to stop him â€“ as long as we keep our wits about us.â€ Lodaris frowned. â€œIâ€™m more concerned about who else might be pursuing him. Allies, or enemies, do you think?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll know soon enough.â€ Vâ€™Neef Sarrah tapped her powerbow. â€œEither way, we will be prepared.â€
A few minutes later, as Timon shook himself together and turned back towards the tree, he saw a lone soldier hurrying down the road, panting softly. The soldier paused. â€œUh, excuse me, sir. This will sound a bit silly, but Iâ€™veâ€¦ well, my unit stopped at an inn, and I paused to, uh, relieve myself, and uhâ€¦ well, they seem to have left without realizing I wasnâ€™t back. They were in a dreadful hurry, it makes sense, but if I donâ€™t catch themâ€¦â€
Timon pointed down the road. â€œYouâ€™re only a few minutes behind, sir. But youâ€™d better hurry; theyâ€™re moving double-time.â€
â€œOh, dragons.â€ The man nodded glumly, and started jogging down the road, silver hair flashing in the sunlight as he mopped his brow, trying to keep up. Timon spared him a sympathetic glance before returning to his apple-picking.
Out of sight of the man, Sirrim cursed savagely. Too late. The Hunt was already on the move, and he was still tired from his fight and travel. Not much chance of overtaking them without flight, and he couldnâ€™t risk the Essence. Stupid. His only chance was to travel by wolf, and be prepared to act. His form flowed as he moved, and a gray wolf loped into the woods.
Timon was so busy picking apples that he didnâ€™t even notice the last man. Limping along, pausing frequently for breath, Nash was in a truly foul mood. Bloody Lunars. Bloody stupid Lunars. Bloody stupid Luna and her bloody stupid Lunars. He was never going to catch the Hunt now. Muttering, his thoughts focused on himself, he continued to stumble down the road towards Harkonton.