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“That’s quite a story,” Rune commented. “I don’t believe the half of it. What proof do you have?”

“Proof?” Camon asked.

“Proof. You know. Evidence that it actually happened. Something that gives credence to your otherwise deceitful tongue, because I for one don’t believe a word of it.”

“You know what happened here in Neuasut. The demon was after Ratana, and I know why now. Whoever is behind this was seeking to exploit her to raise up a demon lord. Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Because it is nonsense based on a myth that never happened. And you expect me to believe all this so you can save your little witch who has managed to get herself into trouble. So again, what proof do you have?”

“If you don’t believe me, ask her,” Camon said, pointing behind Rune.

Rune turned, “What is it, Ratana?”

“I’ve been listening to Camon’s story.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Everything he has said is true,” she said.

“And how would you know that?”

“Two reasons. One, there is no deceit in him. Second, because of Achara.”

“So you’re going to side with him on this?”

Ratana came all the way down the stairs. She was dressed in a long sleeping gown with her hair in a loose braid about her shoulder. She sat down on a chair next to Lamai and Somchai.

“Rune, this isn’t about taking sides. This is about the truth. Camon has done nothing to deserve this sort of treatment from you. He saved my life and our son’s life, and he went out of his way to see to it that we were restored. You owe him that much.”

“I owe him nothing,” Rune scorned.

“What is it you need to me to do?” Ratana asked.

“You’re not going to help him,” Rune said.

“Rune, you don’t own me. I’m not just helping Camon; I am helping Achara and the world that our son will grow up in. I understand you’re upset with him for not being forthright when we first met, but he’s telling the truth now. And it’s in your best interest to let him.”

“You’re all fools for believing him,” Rune said. “Have it your way, but don’t forget I didn’t warn you.” Rune stormed out of the house and slammed the door behind him, and it shook the entire house. Just then, they heard a baby crying.

“Mahn is awake now,” Ratana said. “I’ll be back down in a minute.” She ran up the stairs while Lamai refreshed their tea.

“He still hasn’t let that go, has he?” Camon said.

“Nevermind him. He needs some time to cool off,” Somchai said. “He’s headstrong and fiercely loyal. Once he feels betrayed, there’s no getting back into his good graces.”

“I see,” Camon said.

Ratana came back down a few minutes later, “Back to what I asked. What do I need to do?”

“I am not sure. The elf I told you about that brought me here is waiting for me to get him. He’s the one that knows what to do.”

“I’ve never met an elf before,” Somchai said. “I don’t know that there’s ever been an elf in Neuasut, either.”

“There’s a first time for everything. I’ll go fetch him and bring him back here.” Camon got up, grabbed his cloak, and left the residence and went back out of the northern gate towards the field in the north. He met Tachol, who was sitting under a tree with a tarp over his head.

“Staying dry, I see. I could use some of that fabric,” Camon said. “The folks I mentioned are ready to receive you. It was a bit dicey in there, so just a word of warning.”

“Understood. What’s the issue?”

“Ratana is the seer I mentioned that is connected to Achara. Her husband isn’t too fond of me because I wasn’t exactly forthcoming when we first met about who I was or what I was doing. He felt his trust was betrayed, I think, and he still holds that grudge.”

“I see. Well, I will try to stay as professional as possible,” Tachol said. He then flipped his cowl over his head, wrapped the tarp over his head and shoulders, and followed Camon back into Somchai and Lamai’s house. Camon knocked, and they went in. Camon removed his cloak and Tachol, his tarp and cowl.

Somchai got up and stuck his hand out to Tachol, “I’m Somchai,” he greeted.

Tachol took the hand and bowed his head to Somchai, “I am Tachol of the Rakahim, the ones you call the Sky Elves.”

“This is my wife Lamai and my daughter Ratana,” Somchai said.

“I’ve heard much about Ratana and her gift,” Tachol said. “It is through her that we can find Achara.”

“What do I need to do?” Ratana asked.

“Do you mind if we clear this table?” Tachol said, pointing to a coffee table amid the sitting chairs.

“By all means,” Lamai said. She collected the drinking cups and the knickknacks on the table and set them aside. Tachol produced a large piece of paper from the pouch at his side and then unfurled it on the table. It was a detailed map spanning the known world countries in the west, the Elven Realms of the south, the Empire, and a spattering of islands that dotted the sea to the east. It was marked in elven script, and Camon studied it with interest, able to read the elven names for many of the places on the map. Tachol then removed several stones from his pocket and placed them at various places on the map.

“The way this works is not unlike scrying that you may have heard of before. The difference here, though, is the connection is personal. It makes the process much harder to tune, but I think we have a good shot.”

“And not to mention this map is expansive!” Camon exclaimed.

“I need you, Ratana, to find Achara in your mind. See if you can reach out to her. We will try to trace her through your connection.”

“I will try. I’ve never been trained to do this. It just comes naturally to me. And Achara is a seer like me,” she said.

“Just relax. Try to clear your head of everything and just focus on reaching out to Achara.”

Ratana closed her eyes and breathed deeply and slowly. She repeated this for about a minute before she spoke. “I see her… She’s in pain… Lots of pain… Not saying anything…”

“Assure her we’re doing everything we can to get to her,” Camon said.

“Place your hands on the map,” Tachol said.

Ratana kept her focus but leaned forward, groping for the table, then she found the fringe of the map. She placed her hands on it and held them there.

“Good, now hold that for a moment. You will feel a burning sensation in your hands, but it will be brief. Try not to remove your hand from the map,” Tachol instructed.

Tachol reached in his pouch and pulled out some small stones. He placed one at Neuasut on the map along with others across its surface, then he took a small bag of metal shavings from his pouch and sprinkled them over the surface of the map. He placed his own hands on the map and looked intently at the smaller stone on Neuasut, which started glowing. The other stones he had placed on the map started glowing too. Ratana’s hand quivered, and her disposition went from relaxed to pain, but she quickly regained her composure.

“Is everything okay?” Tachol asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Good, now I am going to perform the trace. It should cause the filings to align to your connection with Achara. You will feel a tingling sensation in your body, but it will not hurt you.”

Tachol then looked at the map intently again, then moved his fingers along the fringes with each of the stones glowing in slightly different hues as he did. The map itself began to flutter slightly on the table, and the filings shifted. Ratana’s mouth opened, and she raised her head slightly.

“I feel it,” she said.

“Good. You’re doing great,” Tachol said. After about thirty seconds, the filings arranged themselves in an arc that went across the map to a point southeast of Rhatsaan in the sea. Tachol then relaxed his fingers, and the stones stopped glowing.

“You may relax now,” Tachol said. Ratana lifted her hands off the map and then exhaled deeply before opening her eyes.

“Why would she be in the middle of the sea?” Camon asked.

“She could be on a ship,” Somchai noted.

“No, she’s in a room somewhere made of stone,” Ratana said. “It’s not a ship.”

“An uncharted island, perhaps,” Tachol said. “That part of the sea is not on a shipping lane between the Eastern Colonies or the island chains to the North. I’ve never flown over it before.”

“Could you take me there?” Camon asked.

“It would be risky because my precision is generally good, but if there’s nothing there, then it would spell certain doom for me, Ahavah, and anyone else. She strong, but she can’t fly there and back again without a break. The only way there is by ship.”

“I could probably arrange one from Rhatsaan, but it won’t be cheap,” Camon said.

“We should get going then. We don’t know if she will be there.”

“She’s been there for days now. I don’t think they are moving her,” Ratana said.

“Let’s hope they don’t. Thank you for helping us, Ratana,” Camon said.

“I’m glad to in any way I can, big or small,” she said.

“One more thing,” Camon said. He removed a book from his waistband. “Achara has been studying this book. It’s taught her a lot about being a seer. If you could read her the last chapter of the book, I would appreciate it. I think it will help her.”

“I will, and good luck,” she said, taking the book from Camon.

“Same to you,” Camon said. “And to you for your gracious hospitality,” he said to Somchai and Lamai. He collected his cloak. Tachol put the filings back in their pouch, collected his stones, folded his map, and put them all away in his pouch. He, too, collected his tarp and went towards the door.

Just as they were about to leave, the door burst open. Rune entered boldly, drew a sword at his waist, pointed it at Camon, and then looked at Tachol, “What is this? Another one of your accomplices?” Tachol retreated behind Camon.

“He’s Tachol of the Sky Elves,” Camon said.

“Elf? I suppose he can answer for his crimes for abetting you. You’re under arrest, Camon,” Rune announced.

Camon glanced at Ratana, who slipped the book under her clothes. Lamai went to Somchai, who embraced her.

“Rune, what is the meaning of this?” Somchai demanded.

“The Inquisitors are here, and they’ve been here for some time. They knew you would return eventually, and now they are here to take you in. There’s a squad of them outside waiting.”

“You used me as bait,” Ratana scorned.

“Stay out of this, and you will not suffer his fate,” Rune said.

“I will not,” she rebuked.

“Ratana,” Camon said. “The time to fight is not now. Think of your son. I will surrender to the Inquisitors. It’s the right thing to do…”

Camon removed his sword and laid it on the ground, then kicked it to Rune. Rune picked it up, and Camon walked out, and Tachol followed. Rune walked behind him to the street, and there standing with weapons drawn were six Inquisitors. One stepped forward and spoke, “At last, after all these long months, we finally have you, Paladin.”

“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting,” Camon said.

“I’m Captain Jaawnat of the Inquisitors,” he said. “You have managed to evade us popping up in the west, then in the south, and most recently around Muangnoi. You’ve been busy. And given that you’re traveling with a Sky Elf, that explains how you got here so quickly. You’ve managed to create a wake of destruction in your path, to be sure.” Somchai, Lamai, and Ratana came to the door.

“We have no quarrel with you, elf,” Jaawnat said.

“I have none with you either,” Tachol said. “But, shouldn’t you hear the Paladin out first?”

“Whatever lies he’s told you have convinced you to act in accordance with his schemes. He’s not to be trusted. We can overlook this if you leave peaceably and return to your people.”

Tachol came alongside Camon and looked at him and said in a whisper, “I believe you.”

Camon looked back and said, “They will take me south to Rahtneua. Help Jorn.” Then Camon walked forward into the circle of the Inquisitors, and they bound his feet and hands. Camon looked back at Ratana, who nodded at him. Lamai wept, and Somchai put his arm around her. Rune smiled with satisfaction as they led Camon away. Tachol waited for a moment then ran off into the night, leaving Rune with Jaawnat.

“It seems your plan worked,” Rune said.

“Yes, indeed. The Paladins are many things, but strategists they are not. He didn’t see it coming.”

“He’s desperate,” Rune said.

“Maybe so, but soon enough, he will be hanging from the gallows in Rahtneua for all the world to see what happens when you defy the Light.”

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