Ginto emissaries—some of the remnant of their people—brought tidings that a fallen human god had joined the Ravaging Lord. Surely such news should have roused our people. After all, this brought the threat to our own continent, to Faerthale and the Roan Mountains and the plains. Yet in the moment they told us these tidings, I feared that it would not be enough to wake some among the council.
In this I was sadly correct. Only five out of nine voted to begin more serious preparations: myself, Isek Riverdusk, Naftali Oakweaver, Sharowsul Iskosia, and Lithlarie Fatefeather, who was then Mediator.
But five was enough to tip the balance. And so we began to gather our loose protective forces into something more resembling an army. And Isek, as I have written elsewhere, had already begun preparations of his own in secret.
As for myself, I began to wonder more fervently about this celestial boundary that keeps the gods from intervening in mortal affairs only when they could aid us—but does nothing when one of them finds a loophole and descends to harm us.
— from the journal of Kaolyen Greyborne, Faerthale, 486 I.H.
* * * * *
I saw a narrow bridge, too narrow for the races to walk without jostling one another. Yet many stood at the edge of the abyss and waited, unwilling to share their escape with strangers.
Many perished when the bridge fell into the abyss.
In the east a god walked, a hammer of rage and hate given form and purpose.
Redgrove branches stirred in an ashen wind as smoke from distant fires breathed over elven lands. From far away the sounds of people and beasts moving through the wood. Moving toward the Tree and the remnants of elven culture and people huddled in its embrace.
And in the woods, we moved quickly, leaping over rock and branch, away from the City and into the wilderness, along the mountains’ edge. Running from an end toward a beginning… or another end.
The scene darkened over the land as in the shadow of a darkening cloud, until I could no longer see my ancestors, could no longer hear their voices.
— from the known pages of the Oracle of Aovyn
* * * * *
Foothills of the Roan Mountains, 470 IH, late autumn
She shook him again, and finally Aovyn opened his eyes.
“What?” he said, and rubbed a hand across his eyes.
“You were shouting something,” said Crowdancer. “I couldn’t understand the words, but you were very agitated.”
He nodded, swallowed. “I saw… it was long ago or next year. Maybe it was Old S’iolaen, or maybe it is a warning. I don’t know what it means.”
He smiled glumly and nodded again. “I never know what dreams mean, but they keep showing themselves to me nonetheless.”
Aovyn ran a hand through his hair, cut shorter than most elves, until it stood on end. She sat down next to him and handed him a skin of water.
“I remember,” she said, “when you were… fourteen, I think it was… and you woke us all screaming about fire.”
He drank a long draught of water and lowered the water skin, then reached out and ran his fingers through the fur of his wolf that lay beside him. “Yes. And we’d already had the one fire, so everyone was scared and shouting at Kymeret. And at me.”
Crowdancer frowned. “I can’t remember, what were you dreaming about?”
“I think it was a fire from almost 100 years ago.”
“Umm. So nothing we should be concerned about.”
“The past is behind us.”
“The past has a surprisingly long reach. Ask any of the more studious Ashen Elves.”
“Last time I did that, he went on for quite a long time.”
“They do.” He hands back the water skin.
“It sounds difficult.”
“Why did you continue to walk a musical path if practicing was so difficult? You never stopped complaining.”
Crowdancer leaned back against a tree and stared up at the leaves. “How do you know when something is magic?”
Aovyn blinked. “What kind of a question is that? Everything is magic.”
“Is it?” She leaned forward and looked at him. “There are bards all over the City. But it’s just music.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Just music?”
“Fine, it is wonderful music. Bards who are technically better than I could ever be. Bards who can play ancient elven iskile without missing a note. I’ll never be that good. But when I play…” she waved a hand, trying to find words, “things happen.”
“I am not laughing. I’m listening.”
“The sounds I make… they affect people. Change things.”
He nodded slowly, eyes drifting to one side. “Do not be offended if I ask: Are you sure you are not imagining this… effect?”
“The last few hunts. We were running, and I was giving us a rhythm. Didn’t you feel it?”
“I did. It stirred the heart and encouraged us to run faster.”
“It was more than that, wasn’t it?”
Aovyn took a breath and said, “If you are asking me if I can identify magic that you feel in your music, I cannot. It is not of the animus, or of fire, or of water. It is not that which I feel and see in the world, and I have not eyes to see magic that others see.”
Crowdancer looked down. “I know it’s there.”
“Then I believe you.”
“I want to prove it. I want to be useful.”
“You have a sword that you have been trained to use. You can draw your sword if music is not enough.”
She leaned back again and looked up at the shivering leaves. “I hope that it is enough.”
* * * * *
Isek Riverdusk walked the path between the councilors’ hall and the archive. The stone along the sides of the path was carved into shapes of roan lotus, with iris-shaped lanterns of dull silver rising here and there along the edges. In the branches of trees overhead, bells played soft music in the wind. On the side of the path was a bench with an elderly Ashen Elf reading from a book.
He loved this part of the City more than any other. All that he loved about elven culture seemed gathered along this walk—a love of beauty in natural shapes, a gift for stonework amidst trees, a reverence for the knowledge and history of their people. And halfway along his journey, another path branched off to the the right, toward the road that led to the enclave in the mountainside where the Lucent flourished and gave of its light to the people of Faerthale.
“Isek,” said someone behind him.
He turned. “Sharowsul. Have you been following me?”
“I but wandered in reverie, enjoying the music above. Then I realized,” he chuckled, “that it was no random elf who walked before me.”
“I see. And what clever thought consumed you so that you did not recognize me?”
Sharowsul stroked a fringe of beard along his chin and stared at one of the iris lamps, watching fluttermoths dance around it. “I am troubled. I believe you and others might have misconstrued my intentions in voting to empower our military.”
Isek stared at his fellow councillor. “You agreed that we should increase in readiness for war. You have acted to further invest in developing our military strength. You have agreed to act as military coordinator on the council. What are you trying to say?”
Sharowsul shook his head. “Of course I believe we need to increase our military readiness. We must protect our lands. But any thought of sending an army of elves to a distant land is out of the question.”
“And if the human demigod strikes from the plains? Should we allow the humans to fight him alone?”
“He is their god.”
Isek blinked and noticed Naftali and Kaolyen catching up to them. “You were one of the strongest voices on the council to help the humans survive their first two winters here. Your family arranged shipments of goods to help them survive. How is this different?”
“Builders, shipments of food and clothing, guides—these things are far different than sending an army of elves to fight and possibly die fighting a foreign god. Surely you agree, Naftali.”
Naftali looked troubled. “I have no wish to send elven soldiers far away. But Havensong is not far across the plain, and if the fallen god brings an army there, it is close enough to our doorstep that we might need to act.”
“I cannot believe this,” said Kaolyen. “I heard you, Sharowsul. A ravaging horde in our continent threatens us wherever it may gather. We must join with the humans in this war.”
“You as well,” said Sharowsul. “All we have is the word of the Ginto. We have received no emissaries from the humans about this god. Amensol has not begged us to join him in this fight. Show me this horde, Isek. Tell me their numbers. Then we can discuss moving elven troops.”
Isek sighed, and rubbed behind his glasses. “All I know,” he said, “is that Aellos and Dythiir are not with us now, to lead us to a new tree if the old one falls. We are on our own.”
“And you may trust,” said Sharowsul, “that the army will be ready for whatever our people need of it. In that your faith in my appointment to this position will be fulfilled.”
Sharowsul continued down the path, leaving Isek speechless.
“How comfortable we have become,” said Kaolyen, “as if the world we have known for centuries can never change again, though we know all the songs of our history before we are half grown.”
Naftali nodded. “I fear we are going to have to drag our people into moving even when the monsters are at our door.”
“I fear…” Isek breathed heavily, “more than that.”
He walked away toward the archive, leaving the other two upon the path.
* * * * *
They ran through scattered trees between arms of the mountains. Nearly out of breath, but they had not yet given up. The slope was steep, and her legs burned with the steady climb.
Crowdancer rapped a rhythm along the edges of her drum, a rhythm that she heard in dreams. She felt the rhythm in her feet and in her heart, and the very trees themselves appeared to wish that they could hasten from the ground.
I remember this ridge, she thought. I think I know them all by now, and the valleys in between.
Alongside her, the others kept their pace as well: Aovyn with his wolf, Slumber, and Yonai who led them.
When they reached a crest bereft of trees, they turned and drew weapons to face their pursuers.
Yonai stopped and stared. The other four were far, far down the hill. She watched them slow and stop, staring up at the group they had been chasing. Arebon bent with hands on knees, breathing heavily.
“…in the Murk just happened,” finished Yonai. “How did we pull so far ahead?”
“I think,” said Aovyn, “that Crowdancer has found some magic after all.”
* * * * *
Rhydian sat with one leg thrown over the arm of a chair and stared at his visitor. “I respect,” he began in a voice that suggested he did not, in fact, respect at all, “that you are a priest and emissary. But you have to understand where I’m coming from.”
“Where you are coming from,” said Carathost, and nodded. “I know exactly where you are coming from. And you don’t like taking orders.”
“If I did, I would’ve stayed in Havensong, where people love giving orders. Priests and so-called nobles and their so-called king. And people who love taking orders eat it up.”
“What would you rather… eat up, Rhydian?”
Rhydian leaned forward and brought both boots heavily down onto the floor. “Power. I find it delicious. Almost as sweet as killing people I don’t like.”
Carathost laughed. “You sound like a villain from an old tale.”
“I wouldn’t know, since I’ve been living in this literally god-forsaken world for eleven years, and we’ve been too busy surviving to waste time with bards and talesingers.”
“Then let me tell you a tale.” Carathost settled into a chair facing him, then raised one leg onto an arm of the chair in apparent mockery. “There is nothing wrong with killing people you don’t like. You know well the joy, the ecstasy of the hunt, of chasing people who run in fear until you put them down like a dog. But then they deserved it, did they not?”
“That’s for me to decide.”
Carathost held out a hand, palm open. “And our Lord approves. But,” he raised his hand and touched his forehead, “the bigger picture.”
“Does the bigger picture involve a priest telling me what to do? Because I’ve lived in that picture before. I burned it.”
“Let me ask you one question, my friend. Do you want to be killed by angry elves and nailed to the side of one of their monuments, or do you want to be there when we burn it all down?”
Rhydian chuckled and looked down at the floor. Then up again to the priest. “You know the answer to that.”
“Then patience. People who get themselves killed before the hunt begins, well, they could very well miss out. By the way, I noticed that you are wearing the gift.”
Rhydian glanced at the ring on his right hand. “Makes me feel stronger.”
“Yes, it does that.”
“Rhydian.” Ercwys stuck his head in the door. “The guest you invited is here.”
“This should be interesting,” said Carathost with a smile. “Well then, I should leave.”
Rhydian rose from his chair. “It’s been a pleasure, priest, but I have to entertain a guest now. You know how it is.”
Carathost nodded. Just before Rhydian reached the door, he looked back to add one thing more—but the priest was gone.
* * * * *
The hunters and trappers of Quelnarrin lived scattered through clearings and brookside fields, so one could never see the whole village at once. Their homes were ensconced in glades and clearings, so that one might almost think this was one house alone in all the world, though their neighbors were never far.
Arebon’s team frequented the local inn, especially when their hunts and war games led them over the ridge north of town. They would walk in covered in grime and sweat like the local hunters, lay their weapons along the rack near the door with various swords and bows, knives and axes, then order food and wine and make conversation with those around them.
On the day of their last visit to Quelnarrin, they found a quiet unease, a waiting.
“Is something wrong here?” asked Arebon.
The server glanced over at the innkeeper, who nodded and walked over. The man sat down at their table and leaned forward.
“Humans rented a house in a glade east of Leafbrook Hill. Humans.”
“Have they brought trouble with them?”
“It is hard to say. Two young people have disappeared in the last four days. A couple of local hunters went to knock on the humans’ door to ask if they had heard anything. The first found his knocks unanswered, though he could hear laughter inside. The second found smiles and a man repeating ‘We are fine’ in broken Elvish. If they come here, why not learn our language? Why not go to Faerthale City and meet the Council, or merchants? What is their purpose here?”
“This does indeed sound disturbing,” said Aovyn.
“I wonder,” said Sairi, “if these are the same humans we met in Valehawk Forge.”
The innkeeper looked around the table. “You are from out of town,” he said.
Arebon nodded slowly. “You would not be offended if we paid the humans a visit and had a look for ourselves.”
“I don’t believe anyone in Quelnarrin would be offended.”
Arebon looked around at his people. “I wondered if we would cross paths with those humans again. Today is as good a day as any.”
The innkeeper smiled. “It is a good day for a free round of drinks.”
* * * * *
Melaryon looked around the place with an expression of obvious distaste.
Bastard doesn’t like visiting the gutter, thought Rhydian.
The elf turned and saw Rhydian, smiled slightly and “I received your invitation,” he said. “I was most intrigued.”
Rhydian waved at the best chair in the room. “Have a seat, lord elf.”
At least the elf didn’t sniff the chair, or lower a dainty handkerchief onto the seat before he took it.
“Your Human is quite good,” said Rhydian. “How did you learn?”
“You probably know that my family—Iskosia—brought caravans of assistance to humans in your first winter here.”
Rhydian shrugged. “I knew it was elves.”
Melaryon showed no expression, except perhaps a slight shift around his eyes. “I spent some time in your camps, brought in stone to help you begin building Havensong. Though mostly I interacted with nobility.”
“Not the likes of me. Of course.”
“But you are here now. You have come to Faerthale, and I have so much to ask. When I was among your people before, all the talk was of survival, of healing the wounded and feeding the hungry. I learned so little of your people, your culture. The culture of…” an embarrassed smile found his face for a moment, “those who are not nobles and warriors.”
Rhydian smiled broadly. “People like us.”
“Yes. If I may ask… When last we spoke, you suggested that you brought secrets from Havensong. News of cults and dark rituals.”
“Yes, it is said that the son of Iskosia has an interest in—what should I say?—the occult. The darkness into which mortals fall.”
Now the young elf smiled freely. “I do indeed.”
First Rhydian pulled a small leather bag from the stand next to his chair and withdrew the dried leaves of some plant. These he laid along a small piece of paper, which he began to roll.
“Have you heard of kesserin? Ratkin traders sell it. Grows in the plains far to the east, or so I hear.”
“I understand that its effect on elves can be… unpredictable.”
“With humans it wakes us up a bit. Makes me feel a little more alive, like drinking sornish on Vas Demith used to.”
The elf smiled. “A memory of home.”
After lighting the end of the paper, Rhydian glanced at his people, then spoke to the elf in a low voice. “There is a new cult in Havensong. The cult of Ossari.”
“I was under the impression,” said Melaryon, “that Ossari was one among many human gods. Wouldn’t his followers be called—what is your word?—a religion, rather than a cult?”
“When he was a god, perhaps. Now he’s a demigod. Now his priests spread darkness in the human heart. Some have fallen under his sway.”
“Fascinating. And how widespread is this cult?”
Rhydian shook his head. “Not very much. Only among people who crave what he offers.”
“And what is that?”
After a long puff of kesserin, Rhydian said, “Do you know any elves who burn and ache with unfinished grievances? Who despise their neighbors, yet can do nothing in a polite society?”
“Would it surprise you if I said yes?”
“It would have shocked me if you’d said no. Now imagine a god whose message is: ‘Good. Good. What is stopping you’? He tells his followers that it’s good to burn with resentment and rage. That there’s nothing but the chains of polite society that keep you from giving the world what it deserves.”
The elf wore a curious expression now. “And what does the world deserve?”
“Well,” Rhydian shrugged, “according to these cultists, the world deserves fire. To be swept clean and all accounts paid in full. Some would call it the madness of chaos, of the horde, of mindless destruction. But others might see it not as madness, but sanity. A clarity of thought and purpose. A glimpse of the truth behind the lies we have been fed all our lives. Take it, they say,” Rhydian holds out a hand, beckoning, “take it and be free. Take the blinders from your eyes and grasp a torch in one hand, a sword in the other, and burn it all down.”
Melaryon shook his head. “Why would they believe such things?”
Rhydian inhaled another puff of kesserin. The smoke joined a gathering cloud near the ceiling. “You elves don’t remember. You’ve had centuries to settle down and build. Maybe you’ve forgotten what it was like.”
“We remember better than you can imagine.” The elf chuckled. “Better than we should, I sometimes think.”
“We were plucked away from… well, you don’t want to know what, but suddenly we were here and even while we were trying to survive, everybody kept pretending the old things still mattered. They all called Amensol king, warriors in armor bowed down to him, people did what they were told. The structure of our lives, our civilization—all gone like mist. But everybody pretended that the scaffolding, the foundation was still there.
“Some people realized the truth: None of it was real. Amensol is only king because people call him that, follow his word. Laws are only laws because enough people believe in them. Some realized that this brave new world was given to us with no rules, no borders, nothing to stop the strong from taking from the weak.”
“But there are already people here,” Melaryon pointed out. “These humans you describe can’t just do anything.”
“Can’t they?” Rhydian leaned forward. “They have a god backing them up now, my good elf. And that means that all civilized people of this world should fear.”
The elf coughed as a cloud of smoke passed him. “And what do you think of this… cult?”
Rhydian leaned back and spread his hands. “I don’t know. But I do sometimes feel that society isn’t a home, but a cage, a set of chains that keep you being good and doing your chores and respecting people above you… you know?
An expression of distaste flew across the elf’s eyes. “They sound a bit like splinterfolk.”
“People like that,” said Rhydian thoughtfully, “you never know what they might do.”
"Rhydian," said someone. "Visitors."
Rhydian glanced through the closed shutters. “Remember those elves we met in the smithy town?”
“I remember them,” said Ercwys grimly.
Rhydian turned. “They’ve come to pay us a visit.”
“Which elves are these?” asked the elf.
“Ruffians and troublemakers,” said Rhydian. “They caused an incident. Because we are humans in their fair land, and they thought us easy prey.”
The elf frowned. “Splinterfolk perhaps. Even among elves, there are those with no moral compass, like those cultists you describe. You should be wary of them.”
“I am, my lord elf. And we should prepare to defend ourselves.”
* * * * *
No one answered the quiet knock. No sound from within. Arebon knocked again, louder, but there was still no sound.
Kymeret stepped forward with a small fire arcamental in his left hand and knocked with his right. When there was no answer, he said loudly, “You don’t suppose something horrible happened to them, do you? We must check on them, for they are visitors to our fair realm!”
And then he stepped aside as a large boulder with eyes smashed into the door, knocking it open.
“Oh dear,” Kymeret said. “That happened.”
Arebon said, “Is anyone here?”
Shutters flew open on either side of the door, and men jumped out of the windows. Footsteps sounded on the roof above.
“Back off!” shouted Arebon, and his team scattered.
The humans wielded straight swords and seemed to know what they were doing.
Arebon didn’t have time to think. Moves taught by his swordmaster flowed from muscles that remembered. But in the back of his mind was the thought: I have never had a real fight.
Seeing a man with murder in his eyes bearing down on her, Crowdancer raised her duduk to her lips and played a flutter from dreams, a light sound, a question, a moment draped in air. The man stopped and stared at her with wide eyes, trapped in that moment, in the sound.
She could see the others fighting heavily, and some of her companions were doing better than others. Kymeret’s pet ball of fire spread from his palm into a flaming cloak about his shoulders, rising up over his head to threaten any who came near him. Bright blue magic blazed in Aovyn’s hand as he healed. Yonai was a whirling dance of twin blades.
Crowdancer felt it when the human before her shook off the music. He drew a knife and moved.
Suddenly Isonis was in front of her shouting, “Get out of the way!”
He held both swords up in a way she had seen him do many times, then brought his right arm down and back. When the human moved, Isonis blocked with his left blade and swung the right around, sweeping up to catch the human beneath the rib cage.
An elf ran out of the doorway with sword in hand and shouted, “Stop!” —not to the humans, but to the elves before him. “Stop this, ruffians!”
“We were attacked without reason!” shouted Arebon to him.
“You are trespassing here! You could be thieves.”
“Thieves!” said one of the humans. “Defend yourselves!”
Two of their attackers saw Aovyn healing Sairi. One said “Healer,” and they both ran toward him. A cloud of rocks and pebbles flew into their path, then assembled into a large stone that blocked them from reaching Aovyn.
The elf who had sided with the humans drew a sword and bore down upon Sairi, who held him off until Arebon joined her.
It was over quickly—though time moved strangely during the fight, so Crowdancer couldn’t be sure.
The humans were all down, but none of them were dead. One of the humans crawled forward, scowling.
Arebon looked down at the elf, who was breathing heavily and holding an arm to his shoulder, trying to stem the flow of blood. He looked up at Arebon, who had wounded his sword arm.
“You…” the elf coughed.
Arebon’s gaze fell to his own hand, to the blade of his sword. So much blood. “Can we heal them?” he asked.
Aovyn said, “I cannot. I’ve kept you all alive through this. I don’t have much left. I could maybe heal one.”
“Heal the elf.” Arebon looked up at the elf, who only stared at him through rage-filled eyes. A nearby human crawled over and looked into Arebon’s eyes. Smiled. Raised his dagger.
“No!” Arebon tried to move, but he was too late. The human sliced a blade across the elf’s neck, killing him.
Another human on the ground gave a choking laugh.
Arebon took a breath. Another. Then he said: “Kill them all.”
* * * * *
At the inquest, several elves from the council sat at a long rounded desk, and guards stood at both doorways, and beside the desk. Arebon’s team had been relieved of their weapons before being allowed to enter.
“You have been summoned,” began the Mediator, “to give us more details on the events that took place in the town of Quelnarrin yesterday evening.”
Arebon glanced over at Isek, who sat expressionless on the Mediator’s left.
“Please proceed,” continued the Mediator.
Arebon swallowed and said, “We visited an inn in Quelnarrin after some training on a nearby ridge. We’ve been there many times, and they… they know us there. The innkeeper himself—I mentioned this last night—he asked if we might stop by a house on the edge of town. Human ruffians, he said, and there had been a couple of disappearances.
“So we agreed to just… have a look, meet these humans, and ask their business in Faerthale.”
“You were, of course, polite,” said another councillor.
“We didn’t have time to be polite.” Arebon described the scene, the sudden attack, the presence of an elf among the humans. He did not mention Kymeret smashing the door open with an arcamental.
“We were just trying to defend ourselves.”
One of the councillors, a tall man with rich robes and a fringe of beard, said, “Did you need to kill them? Could you not have incapacitated them?”
“We tried,” said Isonis. Arebon glanced at him in alarm. Isonis continued, “We tried to incapacitate them, to reason with them even as we defended ourselves. But to no avail. They were ruthless. They killed the elf who was among them. After that, we had little choice but to fight even harder to survive.”
Arebon felt the air leave him. That is… not exactly how it happened—
Isonis went on. “They were holding one of our people captive. They killed him before our eyes!” He made a motion. “A knife across the throat. These are my friends, my comrades, my family. If savages try to kill them, I must defend them, and avenge the fallen elf.”
A messenger entered the room and handed a scroll to the Mediator. She read quietly, then set it down upon the table.
“We have received word of the preliminary investigation,” she said. “Five humans outside the house, all slain. And an elf with his throat cut.”
“Five?” Arebon said without thinking. “Wait, five humans?”
Arebon looked at Isonis, who shook his head. Then Arebon turned back to the councilors. “There were six humans. Six humans attacked us, six dead on the ground when we left to inform the town elder.”
“Are you certain?” asked Isek. It was the first time he had spoken.
“Yes,” said Arebon, Isonis, and Yonai at once.
Another messenger entered the room and said, “We have identified the elf.” He looked over at one of the councilors and paused.
“Speak,” said the Mediator.
“The young man has been recognized as Melaryon Iskosia, son of Councilor Sharowsul Iskosia.”
The bearded elf stood up suddenly in shock, stared at the messenger. Then his eyes slowly moved over to fix upon Arebon and the others.
* * * * *
Once inside his study, Sharowsul lit several candles. He removed his cloak and let it fall to the floor as he stared at a statue of an elven hero carved in jade. The figure met his gaze with merciless jade eyes.
His wife, Lamuris, had already locked herself into a room to grieve over the loss of her son. But Sharowsul felt no tears. Instead there was a hollow, a stillness inside him where there should be storm.
For a long time, he did not move. A waft of cool night air found him from the window, brittle with the scent of coming winter. All around his study stood bookshelves filled with elvish learning and debate, questions and the search for answers, fragments of truth and oceans of distraction.
But this night, all of them were as blank pages, windows opening into nothing.
He lifted his left hand, which held a sword belt, and slowly pulled it around his waist. This, now, this weight… this reassured him. His right hand gripped the hilt, rich wood etched in silver tracery. The blade and scabbard curved slightly along the length.
“Nothing,” he said quietly. “Nothing.”
“You have every right to feel angry.”
Sharowsul whirled around and saw a stranger in his study. The man stood near the window, dressed in robes the colors of wine and rust, and a hood was pulled down over his eyes.
“Who are you?” said Sharowsul. “How did you get in here?”
“I am Carathost,” said the hooded man. “I am what you might call a priest. And I have wanted to meet you.”
“Even with that hood, I can see you for a human. You still have not answered—“
“How I got in here.” A smile appeared beneath the hood. “I have learned some tricks and spells from my God.”
“There are no gods in this world.”
“Oh, but there are, my friend. There are indeed. And one, I know, has felt your loss. Your pain.”
“What does a fallen god know of my loss?”
“More than you can imagine.” The priest lowered his hood, revealing lank hair draped around his head and a cutting look in his eyes.
“Your Elvish is perfect.”
The man smiled and held up a ring-festooned hand, wagged a finger on which a light blue gem shone. “A gift.”
“From your god.”
“I suspect I know the name of your god. He joined with the Ravaging Lord, did he not?”
“Did it ever occur to you,” and Carathost placed a finger on his lips, “that Ittero might have reason to go to war in Reignfall?”
“What reason could there be? The Ginto have only been in this world twenty years.”
“And who are their neighbors? Ogres and fish people, the unfriendly folk of the deserts and werewolves. War and war and war.”
Sharowsul shook his head. “But… the remnant Ginto came to us…”
“Outcasts,” said Carathost grimly. “People who have left the fold and harbor a grudge against their own people. Which reminds me of your friend Isek.”
“What about Isek?”
“Is he not building his own private army out of orphans, malcontents, troublemakers and splinterfolk?”
Sharowsul scowled and gritted his teeth. “Hardly an army, I would think. A rabble.”
Carathost sighed. “Nothing is as it should be, is it my friend?”
“What can I do? My son is dead, war is coming, and I don’t know what to do.”
“You know what they say,” said Carathost, and spread his arms. “When all else fails, burn it all down.”