more of chapter 2 and chapter 3.
(Some of the formatting was lost when copying this from my computer)
The second day from Melodigone brought them to the lip of an enormous chasm. Stretching across the gorge, lay a suspension bridge.
“Do you think it’s safe?” asked Aidin. “These cords are old and look at that one over there. See how frayed it is.”
“Safe or no, it’s our only way now. Mizraim’s troops will be in sight any minute,” replied Myridon.
Aidin edged himself onto the first few wooden planks. Carefully, he walked across, steadying himself with both hands on the ropes that served as the sides of the bridge. The bridge teetered and tottered, but soon he was safely across.
Jorlath went next. He calmly walked across without making so much as a sound. Myridon followed with Malchius close behind. The wizard calmly stepped along plank to plank. Halfway across the two men heard a loud “snap!” Myridon whirled around and looked at Malchius and started to say something but Malchius had his finger over his mouth indicating silence.
“Did a rope snap?” asked Myridon.
“No. It was a branch broken just around the corner,” he whispered. “We must get across-now.”
Myridon and Malchius quickly scrambled to the other side.
“We must be off!” said Myridon. “Someone is coming around the turn.”
Myridon and Malchius paused for just a few seconds when Jorlath said, “Ahead. Look. There is a bit of rocky ground. There are some trees we can hide behind till whoever it is passes.”
The stand of fir trees grew so close together that they had little trouble finding suitable hiding places. It was also dark under their overhanging boughs so that whomever passed by would have trouble seeing them from the road. Malchius was the last to find a suitable hiding spot but he laid himself flat in a small trench just behind two great trees and just in time. For at that moment, around the bend and to the bridge, came marching a troop of Mizraim’s soldiers on horseback. A Gwawriddur came to the bridge, dismounted, and examined the bridge. After careful inspection he called out in a loud voice.
“Aye, captain. This bridge looks to be in bad condition. See how frayed these cords are. It’s odd. Seems as though the ground here is disturbed. Someone’s been through this way recently or my name ain’t Leb Gofin.”
“All right Leb,” the captain replied. “It’s probably one of these new merchants gotten lost, no doubt. He’s no account to us. We’ll return to the south road and take the north-west pass through Midgarton. We should have been closer to Pellinore by now or we’d follow these tracks. Quickly now, or we’ll catch it quick if we arrive late.”
And with that the Gwawriddurs turned and galloped away. The last rider just vanished behind the corner when Myridon stepped from behind the great fir tree he was hiding behind. He gazed keenly at the dusty road as if looking at something of great importance. Soon, he turned around and said.
“They’re gone. I wonder what brings Mizraim’s men out in the wilds. And I didn’t like what he said about these new merchants either. Some of them are thieves I hear. I should like to find out more about them.
”These traders may well be the wandering vagabonds we see walking through our lands,” said Aidin. “In the past, few men traveled in the wilds, but recently, they have become quite common.”
“They’re a sinister lot, always sneaking , as if they’re afraid of being watched. It makes one wonder what they’re hiding-or from.”
“Perhaps they are,” said Myridon in a far off voice. They continued on without further incident that day.
Before them rose an enormous hill covered with fir trees and short stubby junipers. The path led straight to the top of the Aglotor which couldn’t be seen for it was covered with mist.
“The Aglotor,” said Myridon. “The mountain that stands as lonely sentinel to the Kablam mountains. Say farewell to the foothills friends. You are enter the Kablam.”
“The Aglotor doesn’t look so big,” remarked Malchius.” “It is higher than anything I’ve seen in my life so far, but not by much.”
“Rash words, Malchius. But it’s better to tell you beforehand than to find out for yourself later. When you climb Aglotor you must go slowly, for the body cannot tolerate such drastic increases in altitude quickly. Drink plenty of water. If anyone feels nauseated tell me. I will give you a drink with willow root and fireweed. It is a potent brew and works quickly to clear the mind. Now, before we climb, we’ll rest a spell.”
“We would be wise to fill our water skins now,” said Aidin. “If I understand Myridon, this is the last stream before Velusia.”
“Correct,” replied the wizard. “We’ll replenish our water here. Tonight we will see the city in the mountains.”
The next half hour the four rested by the cold waters of the Greenhead river. After filling their water skins they packed their belongings and began the long trek up the Aglotor. The trail was well-marked but steep. At times, they were a mere inches from the edge.
“Watch your step,” warned Myridon. “One false move and a quick death will meet you.”
“I feel half-dead already,” panted an exhausted Jorlath.
Halfway up they rested. Malchius sat down on a lichen covered rock and unslung his pack. Aidin and Jorlath plopped down on the trail but Myridon simply leaned on his staff. Their sweat soaked through their shirts and now clung to the shoulders. Presently Aidin said.
“Say, have you noticed how cold it is. Just ten minutes ago it as stifling hot.”
“It’s the altitude. You’re not used to the elevation. Drink from this bottle. It will help you. Just a sip, for it is potent.”
Aidin took more than a sip but the wizard didn’t seem to notice. Myridon thought for a bit and decided everyone should add a few drops to their water bottles. The effect was startling. Everyone perked up and felt much better. Even the ever silent Jorlath started talking. Aidin remarked casually to Malchius that his brother hadn’t talked this much since the last Feast of the Eclipse, three years ago. “Jorlath,” he said, “was in charge of the wine. Apparently he tasted more than was good for him and the next morning was nowhere to be found. Later, he told me, he had an errand to run in a distant part of the wood.”
The group straggled up the last few hundred feet of the Aglotor. The top leveled out and there they took another rest. Soon they were off again. The trail led straight on through a maze of juniper and rhododendron. Gradually the trees grew sparser and the land became rockier. They could now see quite a ways into the forest. “Look!” cried Atma and pointed. Everyone turned and saw, off in the distance a few hundred feet away a long line of rocks piled into altars.
“Well, it looks as if we’ve arrived,” said Jorlath.
“Not quite,” replied the wizard. “Remember, we’ve still got one more valley to go thru and then a small hill after that.”
“Surely we’ll be there in a few hours. What’s one more hill after the Aglotor?” said Jorlath.
On they trekked to the stone altars. A few minutes later they approached being careful not to touch any of them and walking around their left side as was the custom in that land. They went a few feet further and sat down on the leeward side of a large rock. Aidin took off his pack and handed out a parcel of gimtels to everyone.
“Gimtels for breakfast, gimtels for lunch, gimtels for dinner. I’m sick of gimtels. Do they have anything good to eat in Velusia?” asked Malchius.
“They have niblets,” replied Myridon.
“What are niblets?”
“Oh,” he laughed. “It’s rather like gimtels.”
They made camp that night on a little promontory overlooking Velusia. According to Myridon, the distance from the stone altars to the promontory was a mere two miles. After a meager lunch of biscuits and travelers cakes they trudged along the path. The trail went downhill again. An hour later they arrived at their destination. They set up camp around an old campfire and rested. When they woke up, Myridon was nowhere in site.
“Now where could he be off to now,” muttered Malchius.
Probably looking at the trail ahead,” replied Jorlath who now had a terrific headache and was back to his silent self once again.
“There. I see him,” said Aidin. “ Up to your right Malchius. Do you see him? He’s halfway up the hill looking at something. Come. Let’s join him.”
They scrambled up the hill to meet Myridon. The wizard was leaning on his staff and gazing intently at a point below him. When Aidin, Jorlath, and Malchius arrived he didn’t look at them. He merely pointed his finger down below and said “look.”
Below them stood the city of Velusia.
Malchius’ first view of Velusia was the enormous palace of Lord Khiron. The palace was laid out in the form of a large square. At each corner of the city, rose a tower of white stone with spiked towers. A long low wall with numerous doorways ran between the towers. In the middle of one wall, a brownish-red gate nearly seventy feet high led to an inner courtyard. He could see numerous small buildings of the same brown-red hue inside. This particular structure in turn had four towers as the outer wall, only smaller in height. From the middle of Khiron’s palace there arose four great bronze minarets. From the location of the sun, the central minarets cast a brilliant light on the courtyard. The outer spiked towers cast long shadows over the small stone houses and shops that surrounded it. In there shade rested what appeared to be people and a number of small shaggy beasts of burden.
Velusia was situated on a tall hill in the westernmost part of the Layam foothills. A walled city, the Velusians had never been taken by surprise. Some of the townsfolk wondered why such a great and grand wall was ever needed. The truth was that when the area was first discovered the place now known as Velusia was inhabited by many dangerous creatures. Dark and shadowy, these beasts cast fear into the hearts of all who met them. They were known to the early inhabitants as Nemotaurs. These great scaly creatures were created by some mad sorcerer to do his evil bidding. The sorcerer eventually left that part of the world and his name was forgotten and all the Nemotaurs had long since passed out of memory.
“What a beautiful city,” remarked Malchius. “It’s looks just like a golden crown.”
“Yes,” replied Myridon. “It is a sight.”
The four men gazed at the city of the mountain folk. The setting sun made the rooftops shimmer. Malchius could make out people moving on the streets far below.
Later that night the group was sitting around a small campfire they had built. The dinner of salted veal, cheese, and bread was eaten and all were waiting for Myridon to explain the plan for tomorrow.
“Velusia is a great city but dangerous,” he began. “Be on your guard. For though everyone and everything may appear safe it is a hangout for all sorts of hoodlums and outlaws. Upon entering the main gate, the Lord’s gate, you be accosted by beggars asking for money, trinkets, or anything. You must not give them anything. It merely encourages them and besides that they’ll follow you around for your entire stay. And that is what you don’t need.”
“You keep saying you, Myridon. Aren’t you going with us?” asked Malchius.
“No, too many people would recognize me. The less people know about this journey the better. I would only arouse suspicion.”
“How are we to know what this friend of yours looks like?” asked Jorlath.
“Look for a man wearing a green tunic and a scar on his left cheek. He knows of your coming and will be expecting you any day. You’ll meet him in the market square besides Khiron’s palace. I have instructed him to look for three travelers.
“After we meet this acquaintance of yours...”
“Atma is his name.”
“This Atma. What are we to do then?”
“He will take you to his house where you will spend the night. The next day we will meet on the other side of the city. There you’ll find a series of rock formations known as the cairns. We’ll meet in the grassy circle in the middle of those. From there our journey will resume.”
Malchius and the two Rodamines had more questions but Myridon waved them off.
“Enough for one night. You’ve plenty enough to go on for now. You’ll simply have to hold your questions for the cairns.”
And with that he laid down for the night. One by one the others fell asleep. Each dreaming of the adventure that lay before him.
The company rose bright and early. The sun had not yet risen but the sky had the orange glow that precedes a clear and sunny day. Quickly they ate breakfast. Half an hour later they were ready to leave. The wizard gave them last minute instructions and concluded his remarks by saying.
“And remember, don’t tell anyone of your journey!”
With that he turned and began his high climb above Velusia. Malchius and company headed down the path that led to the main gate. Forty-five minutes later they arrived.
On and on they marched. Always uphill toward the market square passing house after house that all looked alike. The homes were built of the same flat rocks that comprised the surrounding countryside. Children standing in doorways dressed in rags would shout Avelza!@ and then start giggling as their parents pulled them inside. Dogs lying down in the middle of the dirt streets would look up, yawn, and then close their eyes. Velusia was a very old city. No one could remember when it was first settled but it was believed that hundreds and hundreds of years ago two brothers had a heated argument and parted ways. One brother gave rise to the Velusian and the other to the Rodamines. Still, to this day, there is very little difference in the physical characteristics of the two races. It is not known to outsiders how the Rodamines have the almost supernatural ability of camouflaging themselves in the forest but the Velusians cannot do such a thing.
The palace was in sight now. Just before reaching it, they turned left down a side alley to meet their contact. As they walked down the semi-deserted muddy street, somber aged men unkempt and wearing old rags stared silently at them. Many were covered with sores and blisters that looked nasty. Malchius tried not to stare at them but on one occasion he simply couldn=t help himself. He stared at one old sick beggar just a moment too long only to have him spit in his direction. Obviously, this was a part of town that strangers weren=t welcome. They hurried on and presently came to the large open square filled with people selling their wares. It was market day in Velusia and they had come in the middle of the day when it was most busy. They decided to divide and meet an hour later, this time on the other side of the market square. Malchius strolled past the hundreds of little tables and shops. He was greeted by a group of women and children sitting on the ground selling their goods on makeshift tables and blankets. Malchius was unaccustomed to such an atmosphere. It didn=t take much time at all for the Velusians to recognize him as a foreigner. As a result, he was mobbed by people trying to sell him anything from little copper colored dragons, fruits and vegetables, to wooden cups and bowls. He managed to get through the court without too much trouble but not after having purchased a couple of apples and a little leather pouch he thought would come in handy later.
An hour later, Malchius met up with Aidin and Jorlath. Aidin was standing beside a short, wiry, and extremely muscular man. Whether he was thirty or sixty was not to be seen. He was thinner than Malchius and the Rodamines and wore a green tunic with a green cape. The dark complexion and smooth skin gave him a regal look. Malchius immediately compared his gaze to that of an eagle. In his hand he carried a large sac filled with food purchased in the market.
AI want you to meet Atma. He is the man we are looking for."
Atma bowed before Jorlath and Malchius and said, AVelza, I and my people welcome you to Velusia. I trust that you have arrived without too much difficulty."
Malchius acknowledged the name of Myridon and replied, AWithout too much trouble. We had a small scare from a troop of Mizraim's soldiers, but they passed us by without noticing."
AYou are good to have such friends," said Atma to Malchius. AThe Rodamines are the best forest guides in this part of the world. However, where your going you'll need more than concealment. We'll talk about that later, but hurry, you must come to my place. It is not safe for travelers in the marketplace after dark. You can meet the rest of my family there."
They followed Atma along the dirty, twisted, and narrow corridors until they came to a typical Velusian house. In Velusian culture, families (typically very large) live together in the same house. The multistoried houses usually have a shop on the ground level. Every morning a thick wicker wall is drawn up and a table is set out containing goods and wares designed to lure people into the family store. The women generally mind the store during the day. The children are sent about the city on errands. Sometimes they carry a bag of goods and attempt to sell them to any who will buy. The men work outside the city gates and farm and hunt. At night, the wicker wall goes back down and the day is done. Only three sides of the house were showing, the fourth side was actually part of the village wall. Malchius peered over the wall. Off in the distance he could just make out the top of Mt.Danyabad far to the north. Its peak covered in snow even in the middle of summer.
A servant girl named Cara greeted them in the doorway.
"Velza, and welcome. We've been expecting you."
Aidin, Jorlath, and Malchius bowed and entered. As he did, Malchius saw a large fireplace. Many pots and pans were cooking on the fire and making all sorts of hissing and sizzling sounds. The smell of baked bread, and bacon, and eggs, and all sorts of other good things to eat made Malchius only that much more hungry. A group of ten people sitting cross-legged on the floor in a circle talked noisily. Upon viewing the strangers they became silent. Atma introduced the three to the group and they in turn introduced themselves. They were all close friends of Atma and Myridon and many already heard rumors of their plans.
An old wrinkled wizened man with a long scraggly white beard stood up, leaned on his staff, and greeted the newcomers. Damu, as he called himself, was an elder of the city and one of its most respected men. Whenever a serious dispute arose over a matter, he often was called upon to judge the matter. In his younger days he traveled the length and breadth of the Kablam mountains including the wastes of the Layam Desert. So, it was only natural that he be consulted for advice before the expedition left. Everyone waited for Damu to speak.
AThese three men, Aidin, Jorlath, and Malchius will be leaving on a journey which must at all costs succeed. They are endeavoring to go to Sagarlugma, the forbidden mountain, what they call Danyabad.@
But the Velusians only reply was "you are looking for the gold of our ancestors."
As wild as some of the tales he heard that night, Malchius knew that they contained a kernel of truth. He had never met a man who had an original idea in his life. All stories were merely retellings of ancient tales. He had been taught that by Myridon. One tale interested him more than the others. Another man related the story about Danyabad being the abode of the Spirit of Xon. He has vast repositories of gold, silver, and precious jewels. It was also said that the food on his table will sustain a man for a lifetime. Could it be that this was a copy of the Sephirotic Tree? When pressed for more information, the old man could tell him nothing more of Xon's Table in the mountains.
Several voices gasped and some were silent. Yet all thought the thing extraordinarily brave, if not dangerous. Danyabad was the one place where no man was known to have walked. Any who placed so much as a foot upon her sacred flanks were rumored to die a slow and painful death. A shadow seemed to lie upon the mountain and at times, a red glow in the clouds surrounding her peaks could be seen.
"The goal of their quest is to obtain the leaves of the one tree. Now they will have need of three things; speed, stealth, and fortune. Atma and one other will guide them through the mountains. For though the paths are well-marked, danger lurks around every bend."
"Wait," said Aidin's voice. "I've got one question before we begin."
Damu nodded and Atma said "speak."
"I don't mean any disrespect to Lord Khiron you understand, but why do we need to hold this meeting in secrecy. I mean, after all, we're out of Mizraim's dominion now aren't we?"
"To be sure, my son, to be sure, said Damu. "The reason for all this secrecy is this. If Lord Khiron hears of this expedition of yours, he won't let you out of the gates."
"Why not," Aidin continued. "It's no business of his what we're doing. Why meddle in our affairs?"
"Khiron has issued a decree that severely limits travel east of Velusia. In recent years many shepherds and livestock have mysteriously disappeared in regions east of Velusia. That in itself wouldn't be extraordinary. These have disappeared without a trace. No bones, tracks, or other clues have been found. Perhaps they were kidnaped. Others say a dragon from the wilds has returned. The most likely explanation is some new group of vagabonds."
"But surely he'd let us go," said Malchius. AI mean, after all, our journey is pretty important."
"Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't," said a short man hunched up in a corner. "But it's better not to take that chance."
"Very well," said Malchius. "Nevertheless, it's a chance we'll have to take. He'll or his guards will see us leaving and are certain to ask us questions."
"Certainly so," said Damu. If you leave during the day which is certainly not wise. You must begin your journey at night. Tonight that is."
"How are we to get outside the village after night?" said Aidin. "The town gates are locked and heavily guarded once night arrives are they not?"
Damu peered curiously at Malchius, Aidin, and Jorlath and smiled. "That is correct. Yet there are more ways to leave a city than gates. Tonight you will be lowered over the city walls in baskets. Are you afraid of heights?"
The three nodded their heads, Malchius only after seeing the two Rodamine brothers do so.
"Good, then it's settled. Tonight you will leave our fair city. Atma and Basnu will accompany you on your journey through the mountains. They are the youngest among us and have the keenest sight. Atma you=ve met. Basnu you have not."
A stern dark-eyed man sitting by himself stood and bowed. He was dressed in a dark blue tunic and cape as Atma. At his side was an exquisitely carved bow and about his shoulders there hung a quiver of arrows. His gaze was stern and his manners courtly.
"Rumors of your journey came quick to my ears," he said. AI was the first to volunteer to be one of your guides."
"Basnu and Atma are brothers," Damu continued. "You will have the greatest possibility of success with them. But let us make haste, for the time of your departure is at hand."
As skeptical as the Velusians were they were more than willing to give advice and aid. The next three hours were spent packing equipment for their mountain trek. Atma and Basnu seemed to think that Malchius and the Rodamines had entirely too much extra gear, so more time was spent lightening their packs than actually packing for Atma and Basnu.
"Speed is the key," said Basnu. "When we go through the Layam Desert, it may be necessary to outrun a dragon or two."
Malchius wondered how anybody could outrun a dragon but he kept this thought to himself. When the time came to depart, the original three travelers left behind four sets of clothing and half a bag of assorted odds and ends that the Velusians were more than happy to take care of in their absence. Aidin was sorry to have to leave behind a favorite pair of boots. "But," said Damu, "One set of boots is enough for one man. Why go through all the trouble to carry another?" He couldn't help but notice that his extra boots fit the elder Velusians quite nicely. Eventually everything was ready so up to the roof they went. They looked around them to see if any night watchmen were around. No guards were in sight so the other Velusians, directed by Damu, helped the company into the baskets. Slowly but surely they were let down over the wall. Once on the ground they climbed out, unloaded their gear, and waved to their companions. They waved back and hauled the baskets back up, and just in time to. For only a minute later a watchman came strolling down towards them on top of the wall, whistling an old merry tune and carrying a torch. The company crouched down in some nearby bushes till he passed. Atma then turned and said "Follow me," in a loud whisper. On he led them. Across a small bubbling stream and through a mass of twisted and gnarled trees. How he ever found his way through to the cairns in the dark was a mystery to the others. Nevertheless, he led them, always uphill. Around the middle of the night they caught site of the cairns in the moonlight. The tall piles of rocks resembled huge skulls in the moonlight. As they approached, a sense of dread seemed to come upon everyone. They marched directly towards the cairns huddled close together.
Unbeknownst to Malchius and company, Myridon was already at the cairns. They were not expecting him until sometime the next morning so as you may well expect they weren=t a little surprised at seeing him. As Myridon saw them approaching in the twilight an ornery thought came to his mind. Stealthily he climbed atop a medium-sized cairn that overlooked the center. A few moments later Malchius and company arrived. The wizard watched them set up camp and amusedly listened to their conversation.
"This is for sure one of the evilest-looking places to make camp," said one.
"And to not have a light makes it even worse," said another.
"It makes my blood run chill," said a third.
"Can't we risk just a little light?"
"No!" said Malchius. ARemember Myridon's words. Were not to have any lights here. Too close to Velusia. If we were to be found out the Lord Khiron would never let us out of his sight again.@
Thus they all sat, glumly looking over the twinkling lights of the village below and talking.
About ten minutes later Jorlath said "Hush!" and put his finger over his mouth.
The others listened intently but heard nothing. Presently they began talking again when a few minutes later click...click...click...click...was heard somewhere overhead.
"There it is again. Do you hear it?"
The others nodded in agreement and all ears were perked up. But nothing more of the clicking sound was heard. Again conversation resumed and again a click...click...click...click....was heard. This time everyone froze still and waited for a full five minutes but again nothing was heard. Everyone was by this time quite jittery. So it was no surprise when Myridon made the clicking sound for the fourth and final time, let out a tremendous cackle, and leaped down into their midst Basnu had a small accident of sorts. By then the wizard had revealed himself as the phantom cackler and the others thought the jest uproariously funny. However, it was to be a few more days before Basnu saw any humor in the situation.
Myridon agreed to take the first watch that night. The others, huddled together, fell asleep one by one. The next morning was bleak and dreary. The grass which they were sleeping on was covered with dew. A fog lay over Velusia so the only the tops of Khiron's palace were visible. Quickly, Myridon roused them from their sleep.
"Quick, quick, we must be off soon. We want to put as much room between us and Velusia as possible."
"Why? What's the big hurry?" queried Jorlath.
"I don't want anyone snooping around after us, that's why," he replied crossly. "If we hurry we can reach the Gates of Layam by tomorrow night."
A grumble or two later with some quick packing and they were off. Led by Atma and Basnu, they made their way up and down the mountain paths. At places, the path was destroyed by rockslides and they had to climb up above to look for a way to the other side. Malchius had never been so high in his life and thoroughly enjoyed the views offered by the heights. At noon the company stopped and had lunch.
Towards three in the afternoon they approached an area of large unweathered rocks. Carefully they picked their way through. At times they had to lead across the stones over crevices that were many feet deep. The rocky area soon became a smooth path that ended almost as abruptly as it began. Half a mile further they came to a slight bend in the road that looped around a small hill. Here they discovered a large field surrounded by the remnants of a stone wall. Basnu walked over to a pile of rubble lying nearly in the center of the area and pulled a few stones loose. The others walked around for a minute before sitting down. A minute later Basnu walked over to the others carrying something in his hand.
"Look at this necklace I've found," he began. In his hand he held up the rather large gaudy piece of jewelry. It was made up of some very heavy red rocklike structures that weighed heavily in the hand. "I found this lying under some of those black stones," he pointed back to where he had just returned. "Seems to me that I'm in good fortune. To find a treasure is to have the good grace of the gods."
Myridon closely examined the beads. His expression grew stern and grave. "This is a trinket from Maligmia," he said at last. "The beads are not beads at all. They belong to some great serpent. Handle it as little as you may! Even better, return it to the ground from where it came. Perhaps it was placed there in hopes of being easily found by some unwary traveler."
"Truly, Myridon," began Basnu. "only a harmless toy. What evil can come of it?"
"The enemy has many devices by which it spreads its poison. I've spent many a long year studying its arts of dark magic. Oftentimes, a token is planted or given to a man, perhaps as a gift, and sooner or later evil befalls him. "
Malchius recalled the incident with Graul of Ettrune. He wondered if he was from Maligmia. He was about to mention the incident when Aidin began.
"The hour's getting late. I say this is as good a place to make camp as anywhere. No ones been here for years. And I can't possibly walk one more mile today."
"Yes, we'll stay here tonight," replied Myridon. Basnu walked back to the rubble pile. During the night a tremendous thunderstorm broke out. It was not a very windy storm but had many flashes of lightning and thunder. For a full three hours the giants of the air illuminated the night sky in a brilliant display of lights and noise. Later, a steady rain fell and by morning, just ere dawn, a great fog enveloped the entire land.
Walking along slowly in the rear, Basnu noticed a flash of light on a distant hill to his left. He stopped, turned, and saw it again. A moment later another flash appeared on the hill just beside them. He whistled to the others to stop.
"What is it, Basnu?" asked Myridon.
"Signals. And from the looks of things someone knows we left Velusia without the consent of Khiron."
The whole group was now looking at the surrounding hillsides. Another flash of light appeared.
"What are they saying?@ asked Malchius.
"Something about ...lost persons...foreigners...and quickly. I=m not really certain. Atma, do you know?@
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm unable to make any sense of it either. They don't seem to be using the common signals. Which means...@
"They know we left,@ interjected Myridon. AWhich is all the more reason to make haste. Tighten your belts, for we won't rest for a while. Certainly not while so near Velusia. Atma and Basnu, are there any shortcuts you know of?@
Atma and Basnu looked at each other and quickly talked about any possible ways.
"No,@ Atma replied. AThe road we=re on now is really the fastest way. We could take one of the high roads.@ He gestured towards the upper slopes. "But that would slow us down considerably. The high roads are not often used and are in disarray. We could find ourselves lost in a hurry.@
"That's a risk we'll have to take then,@ said the wizard. "We simply cannot afford to have Khiron's sweep patrols disturbing our plans.@
The group began to scramble up the hillsides to find the nearest high road. Up and up they climbed, stopping every few minutes to catch their breaths. Pretty soon Basnu gave a shout. He had found one of the dry, dusty paths that skirted the upper sides of the mountain. Malchius, right behind him, looked down and saw their former path hundreds of feet below. They rested once more before continuing on their new road.
For some reason or other, the flashes of light could no longer be seen. Atma and Basnu talked about it and decided that it wasn't worth the trouble for the sweep patrols to continue. As it was, however, they were still wary of being seen. They could be spotted easier on the high roads but then they would probably not even be looked for up there.
Gradually the wind grew stronger and stronger. Soon it began to snow. Myridon pulled his great hood over his white hair and beard and Malchius tightened his cloak. Atma and Basnu apparently loved this kind of weather for they were trotting merrily along and talking incessantly. The two Rodamine brothers listened and watched the surrounding hills. They continued on. During the next several hours the snow had turned to a light rain then finally stopped. A dense fog began rolling in and grew denser and denser. It blanketed the whole mountainside so that they could only see a few feet in front of them. Myridon had already ordered everyone to stay together as he was well aware of the dangers of getting lost in such circumstances.
Not only was the fog dense it was also wet. Their clothing became so damp they had to stop and change clothes. The rest of the day went pretty much the same- tramping through the everlasting clouds. At dusk they halted and made camp. A little higher up above the path for in the very rare chance somebody or something happened along on it.
Next morning at sunrise they were off. The same thick mist still covered everything in sight.
"Drat this infernal fog,@ muttered Myridon as he stumbled and fell on some slippery rocks.
Malchius reached down to help. Seconds later the wizard was up again and they quickly hurried to catch up to the other four who had forgotten his previous days instruction to stay together. They soon caught up with them and after a brief scolding they sat down together on the road.
"We simply must get down to the lower road,@ said Aidin after hearing of Myridon's accident.
"Yes,@ said Atma. AIt is not good for us to be here. I feel something amiss within me.
Something unfortunate may happen if we don't descend.@
"Hmm, I wonder now,@ said Myridon. AWould anyone else be down there?@
Basnu cleared his throat and began.
"Probably not. Not that we can say for certain you understand. But I think it's safe. You'd be wise to trust my brothers intuition also--for he is seldom wrong.@
"Look" Jorlath said and pointed to the sky. The others looked but could see nothing.
"What is it?@ asked Aidin.
"A large storm is coming. Do you not see the dark clouds?@
They looked a second time. Far away they saw dark storm clouds. From where they were the clouds appeared small but they were rapidly coming nearer.
"Soon, perhaps in two hours time, the storm will hit us,@ Jorlath said. "And I'm not going to be stuck up here. Patrols or no patrols, I'm going down. Myridon, what do you say?@
"I'm surprised I didn't see them earlier. Yes. We must get down from here. Besides we'll see better without all this fog.@
So down the mountain they went. Atma and Basnu led the way through the short woody plants and lichen covered boulders. For half an hour they continued at a steady rate.
"We should be seeing the main road anytime soon,@ said Basnu. "So keep watching. We don't want to miss it.@
"It seems to me that we should already be there,@ exclaimed Jorlath. "We=re not going downhill anymore.@
"It's quite possible to be anywhere. If this evil fog would simply go away we'd be better able to see. It=s as if we=re destined not to find it.@ said Malchius.
Myridon put up his hand for everyone to halt.
"Perhaps you're right.@
"Oh come on, you can't be serious,@ said Malchius.
The wizard looked at the Velusians.
"Perhaps you two know. Is weather like this common in these parts?@
Atma gazed up and looked around.
"Never in my life has there been anything like this. This is the work of evil. I feel it in my bones."
"Hmm... Your words trouble me my friend. Nevertheless, the path must be found and found quick. I've wandered little in this part of the world yet I know of many dangers that may beset hungry, weary, and lost travelers.@
For five minutes more they walked. Basnu thought he found the path but he wasn't certain. Over the years, torrential rains had eroded the countryside and great gullies had formed to change the look and lay of the land. Myridon walking slowly in the rear let out a long low whistle.
AIt seems to me that there weren't nearly as many pine trees on the path as now."
The others kept silent. Myridon knew that they were lost yet he didn't tell the others. The pine trees grew closer and closer together. Soon they were surrounded by them on all sides.
Velusian word for 'good-day'