Camon laid on the ground for moments after flying back. The throbbing in his right shoulder had returned, but he got up anyway. He walked over towards Jorn. On the way, he picked up his sword that was lying halfway between the place where he had laid and where Jorn was lying. Camon went to Jorn’s side and examined him. He was still breathing, bumped, scraped, and bruised but otherwise in better condition than himself. Camon removed his healing stone and used it on himself first, along with the cuts in his leg where one of the demons had slashed him, making sure that he removed any corruption in the wound that he could detect through the magic. Next, he went to work on Jorn to stop bleeding and alleviate some of the swelling from where he had been trampled. Jorn’s hair was all but singed off, and he wreaked of smoke. He didn’t come around though after using the stone.
Camon went in search of the horses who had fled on the sight of the demon. He found them nearby in a creek bottom lapping up water. He guided them out of the bottom back to the caravansary and went back to Jorn’s side. He coaxed Tangmaw down and loaded Jorn onto the mare and then helped the horse back up. Camon then mounted Appon and led them away from the caravansary back towards Muangnoi.
It took the remainder of the day to reach Muangnoi at a steady trot, but Camon got Jorn into the city without anyone asking questions. Camon skipped past the inn and went straight towards the citadel, passed it, and to the church where he had been a few nights before. Camon removed the belt from Jorn and his sword and brought Jorn into the church. The priest, the portly man Camon had taken the robes and commission from, appeared shortly after that.
“What have we here?” the priest asked.
“He’s been hurt pretty badly. I was wondering if there’s anything you can do for him?”
“What happened to him? He smells of smoke and is pretty banged up.”
“He had an accident when we were clearing some land to the north…” Camon said.
“I see,” the man said. Bring him back. Camon carried Jorn back through the Church, and the man led him through the back of the sanctuary through the quarters and into an infirmary where there were three other patience lying in beds. A nurse attended to them.
“Lay him over here next to the table,” the priest said, pointing to an empty bed. Camon did as he was instructed, and the priest went right to work, adjusting stones on the table and then placing his hands on Jorn as the table pulsed lightly. The priest looked at Jorn and jauntily smiled, “I think he’s going to be okay. He needs some rest. And from the looks of it, you could use some too. You can come back in the morning. In case he wakes, can you tell me his name?”
“He’s Jorn. I’m Camon. I will stay at an inn nearby and be back in the morning.”
“Nice to meet you, Camon,” The priest said. He went right back to his work, humming a tune. Camon then left Jorn in the infirmary and left the church. He made his way back to the inn and put the horses back in the stable, unsaddling them, brushing them down, and giving them some feed. The horses brayed lowly, and Camon whispered a word of thanks to both of them and left them in the stable. He went to a nearby tavern where he had been nights before and got food and drink, which he ate wordlessly and went back to the inn. In his room, he used his stones to reach out to Achara. He probed deeper and harder for the better part of fifteen minutes and came up with nothing. He then sat on the bed and laid his head back and fell asleep almost instantly.
He woke the next day to light coming in his window, and he got up aching with sore muscles and a throbbing shoulder. Camon changed his clothes and washed in the washbasin in his room. He then left the inn and went back to the church and into the infirmary. Jorn had been moved to another bed and was awake as the nurse was serving him breakfast. At the sight of Camon, Jorn’s face went from smiling at the nurse to emotionless, almost remorseful.
“Where are my things?” he greeted.
“At the inn along with the horses and everything else,” Camon said. “I’m glad to see you’re awake.”
“Why did you bring me here?” Jorn asked.
“Because there was nothing I could have done for you. The priest here is to thank.”
“Do you ever give up on people like me?” Jorn asked.
“We’ll talk about it later once you’re out of here. It shouldn’t be long.”
“Then where to?”
“We’ll talk about that too,” Camon said. “Just rest.”
Camon stayed by Jorn for most of the day, and the priest came back in later on. “Seems you are good to go, Jorn. Your friend Camon was good to bring you in, although his story was different from yours.”
“What did you tell the good priest?” Camon said.
“I told him I got in a fight and was singed some by a fire,” Jorn said.
“Is that right? Why do we remember things differently?”
“Whatever happened really isn’t my concern,” the priest said. “But in any case, do be careful out there, yes?”
“Yes,” the two men said. Camon helped Jorn out of bed and into his shoes. The two both walked out of the church together.
After they had passed the citadel, Jorn asked, “So what did you tell him?”
“I told him we had an accident clearing land. I didn’t have a better cover story, so it was the best I could come up with on a whim. In any case, don’t worry about it.”
“Really, why do you never give up on people like me? I don’t get it.”
“I told you before. I don’t believe people are beyond redemption. Even so, I’ve got blood on my hands yet again.”
“You killed one of those mages, didn’t you?” Jorn inferred.
“Yes. But not before the other one bested me and took Achara,” Camon said.
“By the way, what do they want with Achara?”
“If they are playing on the legend that I found back at the library, then I suspect that she is the one that they will use to kill the demon lord after he has used his demon army to destroy the human world.”
“Where is she?” Jorn asked.
“I have no idea. I don’t even know where to begin to look. The presence she detected at the tower was in the West Watch, here in the city, and the other I believe to be the demons we killed. Short of going to the West Watch again, I am at a loss. The trail has gone cold. They wanted us out of the way or dead and her alive. They got what they wanted.”
“Something will present itself,” Jorn assured. “But you were right about the magic. I was not in control of myself. I could only see what was happening, but something else was controlling me, and I could do nothing to stop it.”
“Yeah,” Camon agreed. “But whatever was in you saved us both. There is no way I could have beaten those demons alone.”
“And even at great risk to yourself, you still came after me after all that.”
“But I told you I wasn’t joking about it. I was trying to help you. What little good it did. But at least you’re still alive.”
“You did help me, though. I couldn’t have activated that magic alone. And this world now has three fewer demons in it because of it.”
“Yeah, but until we can get to the bottom of this, whoever is behind this will keep making more. There’s no end to the supply of what they are planning to unleash on the world. As I said, I think they really want a demon lord to command a demon army against humanity. And you can see how woefully unprepared we would be against an army like that. They would tear through us with ease. I witnessed one of those beasts take out an entire company of soldiers in Neuasut without a scratch. Conventional weapons are of little or no use against them, and they know it. And since the Church has all but banned magic, you can see why we don’t stand a chance.”
“If I ever doubted you before, then I have no reason to doubt you now. You have been right all along the way.”
“We all make mistakes,” Camon said.
“But not all mistakes should result in killing one of the most honorable men in the world,” Jorn said.
“Flattery doesn’t suit you, Jorn.”
“I mean it. You are. Now I see what Thirak sees in you. And Achara.”
“I appreciate your vote of approval. But back to the issue at hand, we need to figure out something and figure it out fast.”
“We could revisit the monastery,” Jorn suggested.
“That’s no use. I don’t know what Achara did to detect those things as she did.”
“Why not use it to look for just Achara then?” Jorn suggested
“We could try that, but I tried probing for magic earlier, specifically the belts like you are wearing, and I found nothing. I fear that she’s out of reach now.”
“Do you have any allies you can call on? Another seer, perhaps?”
“There’s one up in Neuasut that might help, but that’s months away,” Camon said. He thought pensively for a moment. “But I know of something that I could do. It’s desperate, and honestly, I don’t know that it will result in anything useful.”
“And what’s that?”
“Call on the elves. We’re fighting elven magic, so they would have to know something about it.”
“How do we contact elves? They live far to the south. The West Watch would be much closer.”
“Not all elves live in the elven domains to the south. There is one domain to the east. The Sky Elves.”
Jorn’s brow wrinkled, “Sky Elves? Never heard of them.”
“Well, technically, they are known as the Rakahim among elves. They take their name from the fact that their culture is based on flight using the Nasherim, a species of giant birds. Humans typically call them rocs, but that’s not entirely accurate. They used to inhabit the mountains north of Taanpuhkaw. They have long since abandoned their claim to the region, but they did leave something there – a beacon of sort – that a human could use to call on them. It’s high in the mountains, though, so I doubt anyone has made the trip in centuries, and it is probably forgotten.”
“Elves flying around on birds. How does that help us?”
“They can tell us at least what we are fighting against, and maybe even help give some insight into how to defeat it. Clearly, what we’re up against is far more powerful than I anticipated. Even our combined strengths were hardly enough to take out those demons. And I was lucky to take out one of the mages. The fight down at the outpost was also lucky.”
“What are we waiting for?” Jorn said.
“It will take us a few weeks to get there, but the road is good. I suspect this place will be swarming with Inquisitors in a few days anyway, wanting to know about all the activity they’ve seen. Every time I use my sword, they are alerted to my presence, and they can scry for it.
“Why don’t they just scry for you anyways?”
“Because they don’t have a dossier on me enough to be useful in the scrying towers or their other means of tracking. If they did, I’m sure they would. Are you in any condition to travel?”
“Better than you,” Jorn said.
“You have a point there. But that aside, we’d better get moving.”
Camon and Jorn went back to the inn and packed their gear. Camon gathered up Achara’s things from her room and packed them in a bag. He then went down and paid the innkeeper, and they loaded their bags onto Soam after saddling the other two horses. Camon and Jorn then road back out of the city towards the monastery, which they reached by nightfall. Camon removed a notebook of Achara’s from her things. They left their horses some distance off the road from the monastery in the cover of darkness. Camon and Jorn snuck towards the monastery and hopped the low wall crouching near it on the other side. They looked about from where they were and did not see anyone moving about, so they went straight for the scrying tower. Once they got there, they snuck around to the door they had entered a few days before. Camon looked about, then removed his sword and took a swipe at the lock, which broke and fell to the ground. Camon picked up the broken lock, and he and Jorn both quickly entered the room and closed the door behind them.
They groped their way down the hallway to the scrying tower entrance and opened the door and entered. The room was dark, but the light from the moons streamed in from the windows at the top of the tower offering just enough light to see the pool, catwalk, and table. Camon quickly went up the stairs and grabbed the kettle from its stand, went back down, filled it, and replaced it back up on the catwalk. He then went to the table and placed Achara’s notebook on the trough on the table and pulled the lever on the scrying station to start the dripping of water on the pool’s surface. Camon then started humming, and he placed his hands palms down on the table, and its runes started to glow. His humming grew louder, and then he looked intently at the pool. The drops dripped steadily in the center of the pool, then started to move to the southeast. He watched the drops go further until they were no longer landing on the pool, rather outside of its boundaries and splashing on the floor. Camon relinquished his magic, and the drops went back to falling in the middle of the pool.
“What’s that mean?” Jorn asked.
Camon bit his bottom lip, then said, “I believe it means that she’s beyond the reach of what this thing can detect. It’s a dead end. We will need to break for The Pass to find the elves first thing.”
As quickly as they had entered, they left the room and went back out down the dank and dirty hallway. Camon glanced out one of the windows and did not see anyone about the monastery, so they exited. Camon replaced the busted lock on the door, and the two quickly made their way back to the wall and went over it. They stopped on the other side and listened for anyone following them, and they heard nothing. They got up, went back to their horses, walked a way down the road to the village, checked into the inn there, and spent the night.
Early the next morning, they got up, ate a quick breakfast, and were mounted and on their way back to Muangnoi. Once back in the city, they carefully selected roads and passed down towards the river. They passed north of the docks and onto a high, arching bridge that let ships pass underneath, and they rode across the bridge. At the other end, they were stopped by some Imperials.
“Where are you gentlemen headed?” a soldier asked.
“To Taanpuhkaw then into the mountains beyond towards Rhatsaan in the east,” Camon said.
“What for?” the soldier asked again.
“We’re taking a pilgrimage that way,” he said. “We want to see the cathedral and sites along the way.”
“Armed like that, traveling as pilgrims. Seems a bit much.”
“With all the attacks along the roads these days targeting pilgrims, we thought it best not to travel visibly as pilgrims.”
“Good point,” the soldier said. “But without a priest, you still have to pay the toll to use the bridge.”
Camon gave the man a coin, and he waved them on. The road turned north towards Taanpuhkaw.
“Do you think they suspect anything?” Jorn asked.
“Not likely. They are keeping their eyes open for suspicious persons, no doubt. But they are more there to enforce the toll on the bridge and do the occasional shakedown to remind everyone who is in charge. If the Inquisitors were here, they would be interrogating anyone and everyone who came across that bridge, coming and going.”
“Another good reason to be on the move.”
“Yes. Achara, wherever she is, is not in the city, so staying there is of no use anyway. We are likely to pass some Inquisitors on the road north, though. They may come down from Taanpuhkaw, as I know there is a large contingent there guarding the pass and providing escorts to dignitaries and pilgrims along the Pilgrim’s Way. We shouldn’t have any run-ins with Inquisitors, though. We really have no reason to go into Taanpuhkaw. Have you ever been to Rhatsaan?”
“Me? No. I’ve only been to the west and never much east of the West Watch. This is my first time ever back in the woodlands. It’s definitely different here.”
“You could say that again,” Camon said. “But, let’s get a move on.”
They rode steadily for the remainder of the day, not stopping for as much as a break. They stopped at an inn in a village along the way and continued this pattern making significant gains as they went north along the road to Taanpuhkaw.