Saturday, September 3, 2016


Glass and Roses, Chapter 3

"Your move," Dror said. He shifted in his chair, his chin in his hand and his brow furrowed with concentration. Berit smirked and waved her hand over the game board on the table between them, teasing him while she pretended to think about her next maneuver. She let a finger land on one piece, but then her hand danced over to another, then another. Dror frowned. "You're doing this on purpose."

"You think so?" Berit chirped. "I just want to savor my victory."

"You haven't won yet."

Berit swiftly moved one of the wooden blocks forward to another space. She leaned back in her chair. "Three points for area control, and your ambassadors are locked in place. You have no possible response to cancel my lead, and so I claim victory."

Dror pounded the table with a meaty fist, sending the pieces clattering onto their sides, but a smile spread across his face. "Damn. I lasted longer that time, at least."

"You want a real challenge?" Berit said. "Val can beat me with his eyes closed. Val, come show Dror those fancy Negotiations strategies you know!"

Valdimer was pacing back and forth at the front of the tavern, peering out the windows. He glanced over at their table when he heard his name. "I haven't played that in years," he said. "We don't have time to waste on games anyway. We should be figuring out where we're going to go next. We're losing the trail."

"Come on, relax for a bit," Berit said. "It's been five years since we even thought about this business last, it can wait a few more days."

"Tell that to the people who died in Ravenhill," Valdimer said.

Dror crossed his arms. "I know you told me we're chasing down some sort of magical murderer," he said, "but I'm not blind. I know you held back something. When am I going to be filled in?"

Valdimer sighed. "I'm glad you've stuck with us this long, Dror, but you've still only been paid for a temporary contract. We don't want any unnecessary information about our affairs getting ahead of us if you decide to leave our service. Another reason we should be planning, not lazying about!"

Dror shrugged, and Berit stood up. "I don't know about you, but I can't keep wandering around without taking some time to relax. The stress is going to kill me!"

"We can't afford personal time!" Valdimer yelled. "Our funds are dwindling, the witness who saw seems to have been wrong, because nobody has seen anyone matching her description in this town, and there are four others that we need to visit in case she went to one of them. If we choose poorly, we could lose the trail entirely!"

"There are no choices," a voice said. Valdimer and Berit looked over at the bundled figure sitting alone at another table. Dror turned around in his seat to look as well. The young woman was wearing a heavy robe with a cloak over it, but the hood was down and her thin hands were lightly clutching a mug of water. She was gazing at the ripples in her drink. "There is one shrouded path disguised as many."

"Excuse me," Berit said. "We don't appreciate eavesdroppers."

“Understandable,” the woman said as she stood up and approached their table. “Yet I have information that can help you on your quest.”

“You do?” Valdimer said. He pushed Berit aside. “Tell us immediately!”

“There is a magical grove near this village, known for giving answers.” She paused. “Although it has not responded to any questions in many years. Perhaps it is no longer inhabited by anything.”

Valdimer sighed. “It's just a useless superstition.”

Berit put her hand on Valdimer's shoulder. “Maybe it is, but we have nothing to lose for trying. Why would she have mentioned that it hasn't been working if she only believed a superstition?”

“I suppose.” Valdimer stared back at the strange woman. “Take us there.”

“Please,” Berit added.

It wasn't long before the woman had guided them through the forest to a small pond at the edge of a short cliff. The sun was setting in the distance above the trees. The woman pulled her robes closer to her chalky skin, then stepped back, ceasing to speak. Valdimer and Berit approached the pool.

Dror stood next to the woman several paces back. “I'll let you two figure this out. I don't want to mess with superstitions.”

“The scrying pool is not dangerous,” the woman said, staring at the clear water. “Supposedly.”

Valdimer crouched at the edge of the water and examined it. “So...what are we supposed to do?”

“Ask it your question,” the woman said. “Then you must wait.”

Berit cleared her throat. “Where must we go next to find our mother?”

Dror shifted, startled not only that he had learned who they sought, but that they had said it in front of him. It was then silent as the twins stared into the water, wondering what they were waiting for. Minutes passed, and the sun sank below the horizon. Valdimer finally stood up.

“That's it, we're getting nowhere with this-”

It was then that the first star appeared in the sky.

Ripples spread across the surface of the pond, and shapes suddenly rose out of the water. There were trees moving, or being passed as if someone were riding a horse at top speed. Then the trees fell away, and there were people running. The shapes were precise enough that Berit could see looks of terror on their faces. One large, winged shape rose above the others, but then all fell back to the water, and they were replaced by lines. A map. Then more people rose, and they saw that it was the two of them. They both jumped when their own voices echoed out from the shapes.

“It could be our chance to get her back!” the watery Berit said.

“Not at this cost!” the shape of Valdimer shouted back. “It makes us no better than the demons!”

Then their clones moved, and were calm, and a third appeared, that of an old but healthy man. He smiled and said, “Welcome to Nangarth.”

Then the water was suddenly still again.

Valdimer turned back to the two standing farther from the pool. They were both wide-eyed. So it had been visible to them too. Berit was still staring open-mouthed at the pond. Valdimer tapped a hand on her shoulder. “Now we have a lead,” he said with a grin. He then turned to the robed woman. “Thank you for your help.”

“Take me with you,” she said.

Valdimer gaped for a moment, and Berit strode forward. “We're not looking for tag-alongs.”

“Your quest seems similar to my own,” the woman said. “And I have skills that you might find useful.” She waved her hands, and both began to glow with soft yellow light. “Any demons that we face would find my touch to be...disturbing.”

Valdimer and Berit exchanged a glance, and it was Valdimer who nodded first. He looked back at her. “What is your name?”

“Zhihao,” she replied.

Let's head back to town and get some rest,” Valdimer said. Berit snorted a laugh. He continued, “But we leave first thing in the morning. So make whatever preparations you need, Zhihao. It's going to be a long road to Nangarth.”

<< Chapter 2, Frostbite
Chapter 4, Possession >>

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