I walked away with no destination in mind. I felt as if my whole life was a nasty prank pulled by the indifferent weather gods. I walked in the middle of the streets between the dead buildings, no longer worrying about copying the Loyalists’ implied edict of staying out of sight. Let them see me, whomever they were. The gods? The agents of the Grand Council.
I walked for an hour and did not reach the end of the ruins. What a city this must have been. If each multistory building had been only half dedicated to living quarters, the population must have been in the hundreds of thousands. That many people in one spot seemed completely impossible. Crown City was the most populous city in Adnor and it had
nearly 100 thousand persons living it it.
Or maybe it didn’t. The plains below the city, where this ruined city lay, had had many prosperous farms and orchards. I kicked up a cloud of dust and looked back at my obvious footprints going down the middle of the street. If anyone wanted to follow me – and of course someone would eventually look for me – leaving them a trail didn’t seem wise. I picked a mostly intact building and went inside. The dusty ground floor had no foot prints or markings. I paused on the threshold and considered. Could I cross it without leaving a trace. My killer uncle seemed to have that ability. Maybe he used magic.
I could use magic. Sort of. The wind might help me. I tried to relax, taking a deep breath in through my nose and letting it trickle out through my open mouth. I imagined the wind lifting me, just barely, up from the ground so that I could walk with the lightest of touches of my toes on the ground. A breeze blew in, and I felt encouraged. I took a step, on my toes, trying to be light. The breeze increased and I lifted off of the ground. The breeze grew even stronger and a dust cloud billowed up around me.
I grunted with frustration and walked through the whirlwind. At least my footprints would not be visible after the dust settled.
I found a stairway and ascended. Each step up, I felt my anger ebb – along with the daylight – and my curiosity emerge. Zat left my shoulder and floated above my head, giving me helpful light. The walls of the building were of that brick material, smoothed and cold to the touch. The stairway had a metal railing and my footfalls echoed. Many of the landings still had metal doors with little windows in them, but most were stuck closed and the windows obscured with grime. I found one that opened after a while, helpfully labeled with a symbol I almost recognized. Zat settled on my shoulder, and with his light, the symbol resolved itself into a 12. Which reminded me of the letter I’d lost. Would that person have been able to tell me of my past?
I pushed through the door and almost stepped into the open air. I windmilled my arms for a moment and, using my recent training, found my balance. A not-so-helpful breeze tugged at my hair. I moved to my left and found a thin spit of building to sit on.
I looked down. Way down, and surprised myself by not becoming dizzy, just a little anxious. The view provided from this height answered many questions.
The purple-pink lightning dome, clearly visible in the daylight, still glowed in the distance. The once fertile valley that lead up to it looked like a sandy desert, lifeless. The ribbon of water, which I assumed used to be the great Lybar, reflected sunlight off to my left. Closer, the ruined city stretched to the north and faded into the sands. I heard a noise and looked down.
Stealthy black dots scurried from building edge to building edge, shadow to shadow. Looking for me?
Some other movement caught my eye and I looked down to see sand colored dots moving toward the black dots. They came together, clashed. I could almost hear the cries and some of the dots of both colors became still and changed either from black to darker black or from tan to red.
So, the Loyalists’ hideout was not secret and the Grand Council – I assumed – knew of its opposition.
I heard a bird whistle almost in my ear and I nearly fell off my perch.
The Owl stood in the doorway. My stomach tightened. I wondered if I could catch myself if I feel from this height.
“I brought you something,” he said, handing me a canvas bag.
I took the bag carefully. He made no further move toward me.
I peeked inside and found my map, the letter, and the shards of the vase.
“I didn’t want the sentinels to get the map,” he said, and leaned casually over the edge to look down that the fight below.
“You stole it.” An obvious statement, but I didn’t know how else to express my annoyance and not pick a fight that I’d probably lose.
I snorted. “Thanks. I guess.”
“The sentinels may not know how to read the map, but the Dvergr do. And since the Dvergr are entrenched with the leadership of Adnor, I couldn’t let it fall into their hands.”
I pulled out the map and unfolded it. It seemed like blue and green squiggly lines until Zat settled on my shoulder. By its light, it became a proper map.
“What’s so special about it?”
For a moment I thought he wouldn’t answer and a gust of wind almost tore the map from my hands. I took a breath and tried to calm down, folding the map quickly and tucking it back into the bag.
“It shows the natural resources of Adnor, including water and minerals. It also shows all of the ancient ruins.”
“Why would the Dvergr want that?” I asked, interrupting.
“Everyone wants that information, so you should guard it a little better.”
“If I’d known, I would have,” I made an angry gesture with my hand and the wind blew him back against the wall. “Just answer the question.”
He held up a hand in resignation.
“It also shows the soul of the land – something the Adnorians cannot perceive but the Nord can. Attacks on the soul of the land has caused this widespread drought.”
I pulled out the map again and looked.
The Owl moved over and pointed a finger at the green lines. One ran right through Oakvale.
“So Tiria didn’t actually move to the middle of no where without cause,” I said, pondering aloud.
“She had plenty of cause – but no, Oakvale wasn’t a random choice. She nurtured the soul there – as only one of the elite of the Nord can do.”
“How did she die?” I hadn’t wanted to discuss this with him, as he seemed so unfeeling about death, but the question popped out anyway.
“I hoped you could tell me.”
I shrugged. “Som found her body next to her well. She hadn’t a mark on her. The village assumed she’d died of old age.” I paused, hearing Wulfgit’s voice say “She weren’t that old,” in my head.
“The drought showed up after and all of her things turned to ash. Is that normal?”
The Owl shook his head.
Another bird cry made The Owl look up and over. I spotted figure in a window in a building near us. It waved once and disappeared into the shadows. I looked down. All evidence of conflict had been cleared away. The ruins seemed empty.
“Come, Angestirian. If you want. I promise no more games. I will teach you to defend yourself and to master your magic. You will need it.”