Later that afternoon, the twins stumbled among the ancient trees and walked along animal trails. Moss and lichen hung from branches, the sunlight sending warming shafts of light through to the relatively clear forest floor. Occasionally leaves would flutter down as a light breeze rustled though the canopy. A hundred or so yards to their left was the dragon’s passage of ruin and wreckage through the forest. They were slowly ascending along the side of the ridge, towards the ruin that Hendosphyre had brought to their attention that morning.
After he had led the children back into the forest and along the valley floor, the gryphon had taken to the air and scouted for a safe campsite for the night. Immediately making for the ruins, he found them more than suitable and easily secured once entered. During the remainder of the morning he had carried the children to a point more than two thirds of the way before leaving them as they ate a meagre lunch of foraged nuts and berries. He had returned to the amulet to rest, his energy spent.
Tiffaniel tailed Groyven as he walked, his strength slowly returning despite his sickly pallor. They were walking a narrow trail that cut through the forest, the path worn smooth and clear over years of use by the animals of the region. He had been silent after lunch and as they walked. She noticed that he occasionally touched Sialin’s mark behind his ear, running a fingertip over it before becoming lost in thought.
‘Ven, couldn’t Hendosphyre fly us to the nearest town, inn or somewhere?’
Groyven turned his head slightly, ‘Have either of us flown on his back before?’
She considered his words, ‘It couldn’t be that hard, could it?’
She saw him shake his head, ‘I already asked and he refused.’
‘But, you could order him to.’
She heard him sigh before answering, ‘I will ask you a question Tiff. If we are up there flying, and we both fall from his back, who will he save?’
Groyven smiled as Tiffaniel dropped back into a contemplative silence.
‘It’s a shame that we couldn’t ride Hendosfyre.’ said Tiffaniel, stepping over a branch lying on the ground.
‘He had been watching over us for most of the night, he also needs his rest.’ he said.
‘I would prefer to walk now and have him guarding us tonight; we can still summon him in an emergency.’
‘I know, but does he have to go?’ said Tiffaniel.
Groyven thought for a moment, back to when their mother was teaching him about the gryphon.
‘He doesn’t have to return to the amulet, he can stay at our side. But he has to hunt, feed and sleep. The amulet has its own place, while he is there, he recovers his energy and when he sleeps it doesn’t take long for him to be fully rested.’ he turned his head slightly, ‘We can keep moving while he recovers.’
The sound of running water came from up ahead, the rapid gush of a waterfall. Groyven looked down to his left, the floor of the valley below and the slope turning gradually more severe and into a rocky outcropping. The path ahead was levelling out with a cliff dropping away to the left and a rocky wall rising to their right.
‘We must be close, I can hear the waterfall.’ he noted.
He heard Tiffaniel’s tired voice, ‘Good, I am so thirsty.’
‘You are not the only one.’ remarked Groyven under his breath, grudgingly admitting to himself that for his sister to create ice from thin air in such small quantities for them to melt and drink was a tiring pursuit.
‘What?’ said Tiffaniel.
‘I said, we can rest for a little while when we get to the waterfall. If we can hear it, then the ruins are above us, to the right.’
For a little while they walked in silence, the sound of the falls ahead growing louder and the cliff below getting taller as they rose above the valley.
‘Ven?’ he heard his sister.
‘Do you think Selera will be angry with me?’ he heard clearly, he frowned, stopping and waiting for Tiffaniel to catch up.
He looked at her quietly, strangely fascinated by his sister’s lack of understanding.
‘You need to stop thinking about what we can’t change.’
She looked at him, ‘Then what are you thinking about?’
‘What to do next. I am hoping that we see the lights of a town or at least an inn in the forest below us tonight after nightfall. I am hoping that the first people we cross are helpful, not bandits, or slavers.’
‘I am thinking that we need to practice our skills before sleeping tonight. So we can hunt and defend ourselves. We might be stuck in this forest for a while. Survival is what I am thinking about.’
Tiffaniel looked at him, ‘There is something else. I have seen you touching her mark.’
She met his eyes, ‘You said that…’
‘Don’t.’ Groyven interrupted.
Tiffaniel looked away, ‘Ven, do you think we will see Selera again?’
Groyven stood quietly for a few moments before continuing on the trail, keeping a few steps ahead of her, ‘I don’t know.’ he answered.
Tiffaniel watched his back as he strode away, frowning but choosing not to pursue it. She followed him, letting him walk in silence with his thoughts. He was right, their only concern was safety and making it from one day to the next. She thought about her abilities, and how that morning they had come readily and without much effort when she had attacked Hendosphyre. Something about the weather here made it easier. She continued to walk, the sound of water flowing getting louder. Before long she could see the late afternoon sun dancing off the trees around them as it reflected off the water ahead. She kept up with Groyven as he picked up his pace, the dead leaves and soil giving way to the interlocking, cracked stonework of a path.
Before the twins was a river, its banks shored and cut of stone. It exited the mountainside from the ruins above and fell down the sixteen yards to a pool where they stood, before being channelled over the edge to the longer drop to the valley below. They both walked to the edge of the crystal clear water. Tiffaniel immediately dropped to her knees and drank deeply, unconcerned as Groyven walked to their right, following the path along the water’s edge to the pool.
He looked around, the water in the air as a mist from the fall. The pool was formed into a cut out, he was relieved to see the path continued at the edge of the pool, against the wall, badly worn but still serviceable. Looking up, he could just make out the edges of the abutment for the ruined fortifications above them. Stopping beside the water, he crouched and looked at his rippling reflection. Dipping a hand in, he splashed it over his face, faint tendrils of dissolving blood left tracks down his face and dripped down into the pool. Taking a sip of water he tasted its purity, a certain crisp and cold sweetness of the water off the mountains. With barely a thought he drank until he had his fill. Dousing his face again, he rinsed it and stood.
He looked at Tiffaniel as she stood a little way off, looking at the sun as it cast its rays sidelong across the landscape. She stood quietly, her face aglow, the air shimmering around her. She closed her eyes, the air became crystal-like, compressing itself. He shook his head, suddenly understanding what she was attempting. Her eyes opened, even from his viewpoint he could see their blue glow. He smiled to himself as snow started to fall in a circle around her.
He approached, ‘Is it easier?’
She nodded as she concentrated.
‘I have something to tell you, it will change everything about the way you view your skills.’ he teased.
‘Tell me now.’ she said, staring at him.
‘Once we have settled our camp, we only have an hour at the most before the light starts to fail us. I don’t feel like getting into the ruins when it is already dark.’
He set off towards the end of the pool, to the broken pathway, calling back over his shoulder, ‘Come on, Tiff!’
She looked at him, a small smile coming to her face. She dropped the remaining snow and quickly scooped up a handful and threw it at him. The ball clipping his shoulder and fragmenting. He turned quickly, another hitting him in the side.
‘Tiff, come on.’ he said, unable to control his smile.
She smiled at him and sheepishly dropped the one in her hand, ‘Alright, alright, but you tell me once we have made camp. It is just so easy to use my skills here.’ she said as she came alongside him.
They both made their way around the back of the pool, warily crossing the cracks in the worn path and following it towards the broad broken stairway up to the fortification. It was cut into the side of the cliff, many of its stone steps shattered and powdered. They slowly ascended, taking care of their footholds, on occasion narrowly escaping a slide and fall as a step would give way. Finally, as the sun was coming close to the horizon they reached the top and entered the walls of the abandoned and derelict outpost. Along with some new scrapes and bruises, came a sense of achievement.
Both Groyven and Tiffaniel quickly took stock of the ruins. Both finding out in short order that they stood in the remains of a defensive tower that overlooked the valley below. It was once part of a bigger fortification that stretched underground and further up the mountain in more ancient times. The flow of water escaping the collapsed tunnel, had connected this tower with the rest of the ruined fort.
‘Hendosphyre was right. It is a good spot.’ said Tiffaniel as she saw Groyven cross over to other side of the wall.
‘It looks like it might have been a lookout over the valley and mountains. Definitely dwarven, I found dwarvish runes carved into the stonework. Every joint in the walls is too accurate to be anyone but them.’ she finished.
Groyven met up with her as he came around and back up another short set of steps, the sun casting the fiery orange light of sunset over the walls and surrounding landscape as it touched the horizon.
‘Tiff, there is another small pool off the main flow of the water, and the only entrance is the,’ Groyven glanced about curiously, the sunset suddenly grew dark, ‘The way we came up.’ he finished.
Tiffaniel looked to the horizon over her brother’s shoulder, at the setting sun. Eyes wide, she reached out and tugged at Groyven’s sleeve and pointed. He turned and followed her stare. Both the sun and the moon were in the sky, the moon sliding slowly across the sun as it started to set. He quickly moved to get a better view. Standing beside each other, they watched in wrapped silence as a partial eclipse presented itself. One quarter of the sun below the horizon and the other three quarters blotted by the moon crossing in front of it. As the sun was fully covered a halo of red light shone around the blacked out moon, making it seem like the moon were aflame as it slowly descended below the distant mountains on the horizon. A faint scream echoed through the valley, a singular voice raised, lifting the hair on Groyven’s neck and arms. Almost immediately, the cry of a wolf tore through the air in response, breaking the stillness as the sun was setting. A partial eclipse now blanketed the land in an early darkness. The twins stood, staring in silence at the eclipse, as the sun, hidden behind the moon, disappeared below the horizon. The moon, a growing sliver of silver coin in the night sky slowly started its long journey across the heavens.
‘An eclipse. Ven, I have heard of them, isn’t it beautiful?’
Groyven nodded as the water of the river rushed past them, the faint glow of the remainder of sunset returning.
‘A dark moon wreathed in flame.’ he said with a whisper.
‘A dark moon wreathed in flame. A solar eclipse. It is a partial eclipse, then last night might have been a full eclipse. The device, Tiff. The back is a black moon with gold flames around it.’
Tiffaniel nodded slowly, ‘An eclipse. We did not just shift to a different dimension, did we?’
Groyven shook his head, ‘I am not sure. I don’t want to think of the possibility if time is involved. But the dragons, the unmoving red star in the sky are here. Maybe there was a solar eclipse in the mountains when you activated it, just not over the coast. Or we might have jumped to a dimension that had an eclipse at the same time.’
She looked at the moon and then the red star in the night sky, ‘Ven, it just got a lot harder, didn’t it?’
He nodded slowly, ‘Infinitely.’
‘Selera is not going to find us, is she?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I am sorry, Ven. I am so sorry.’ Tiffaniel slowly dropped to her knees as she started to cry.
‘Tiff, if Selera takes the notes and the designs on that key to the Academy of Spires, they might be able to work it out. But it will take time.’
‘Ven, they may never find us.’ she said through tears.
A sudden chill built around the ruins, the air rapidly becoming frosty. Groyven looked at her as his breath started to leave white clouds of steam.
He knelt beside her and wrapped his arms around her, speaking into her ear, ‘Tiff, we are alive. Maybe, if the fates allow, we will see them again. But one thing we do have, is us.’
‘Are you still angry with me? It is alright if you are, but.’ she asked through sobs.
‘A little, but not enough to stop me from forgiving you.’
‘You forgive me?’ asked Tiffaniel.
He nodded. Feeling his movement, she returned the hug, pressing her face into his shoulder. The chill slowly dispersed, the warmer air of evening flooding back into the ruins.
‘Thank you, Ven.’
They knelt there for a long moment in the still of the night, before Groyven spoke, ‘Tiff, I think it is best to assume that we might never see them again.’ he looked up at the red star in the night sky, feeling her nodding into his shoulder, ‘I know it is hard, but our survival depends on us not expecting to be saved. We have to save ourselves.’
Tiffaniel spoke, ‘I understand why Lera gave you Hendosphyre’s amulet early.’
Groyven stood, holding out a hand to his sister, helping her to her feet.
‘It was not hers to give, Tiff.’
Tiffaniel looked at him as she wiped at her face, clearing her tears, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Mother entrusted Sialin to be the caretaker of Hendosphyre.’
He looked at the shock on his sister’s face and explained what Sialin had told him of her encounter with Hendosphyre. She watched him carefully in the light of the moon as he spoke of how they both used to play with Sialin as younglings, how she used to take care of them and how their parents had taken her in as their own. As night settled in over the land they shared their memories, much of the time Groyven recollected his sparse memories of their home in the mountains. They gathered branches that were scattered around the ruins and built a small fire as they talked.
‘I keep remembering this big man, he had lightning in his eyes and hands. He used to laugh loudly after making fun of Selera. I keep seeing him, sitting at a fire with Selera’s hand on his knee. Singing, while Sialin played some type of instrument.’
Groyven laughed as he placed another piece of wood on the fire, ‘The Captain.’
Tiffaniel stared at him, ‘The Captain?’
Groyven nodded, ‘He is Selera’s husband.’
Tiffaniel shook her head, ‘But?’
‘No buts. They have been married since before we could walk or talk.’
She looked at him, her face red in embarrassment, ‘I really have been terrible, haven’t I?’
‘Yes, you would fight with anyone.’ he said bluntly, pulling the bag over and starting to empty it out.
She stared at him as he continued, ‘But, that has come to a close. Now I need my sister, my gifted and inquisitive sister, who has been hiding behind a wall of thorns. You were always faster and more instinctive with working out your skills and using them to the utmost.’
‘But you were always more analytical, you could really,’ she stopped and watched him, ‘You changed the topic.’
He nodded without looking up as he sorted through their possessions.
‘We are twins, Tiff. We used to share everything, we used to rely on each other. We need to put the past year to rest and go back to being two parts of a whole again. I need my sister. We need each other.’
He looked up to see Tiffaniel’s eyes on him, glowering in the light of the fire.
‘Tell me what Sialin taught you, about controlling your power. How to make everything easier.’
He smiled to himself, putting the bag aside.