A few short minutes passed as the three ran lightly along the paths leading to the river that broke over the top of the fortress of Shadowfalls. Their footfalls silent as they passed like forest spirits. Occasionally seen, like the fleeting deer through the trees in the moonlight. Antrandis slowed the pace back to a walk as the river could be seen through the trees. Standing on the narrow roadway ahead was Winter, accompanied by a rider calming his horse.
‘Hail Antrandis, Sian.’ Winter said as she gestured for the rider to stay.
She walked a few steps to meet them.
‘Winter, it seems we have another eventful night on our hands. Are you well?’ said Antrandis as he reached her, watching her carefully.
Winter smiled knowingly, nodding in answer, ‘Before we discuss anything; you have an urgent message.’
She gestured to the rider, beckoning him to approach.
‘My Lord, well met. I have a missive to be delivered to your hands only.’ said the elven rider as he stopped in front of Antrandis and bowed.
‘Well met. Which outpost, courier?’
‘The Pass of Healdsmear, My Lord. I am the third rider.’ the rider said as he handed a rolled parchment to Antrandis.
‘Today, just after dawn, My Lord.’
Antrandis nodded as he broke the wax seal, ‘You have made good time. That is quite a distance.’
‘I was only the last leg, My Lord.’
Antrandis quickly read the letter, his eyes taking in the words by moonlight. ‘Thank you, courier. You are dismissed. Go down to the fortress stables and have your horse tended to, and dine in the barracks. You may return to your post in the morning.’
‘Thank you, My Lord.’ the rider said, bowing quickly, excusing himself and leading his horse along the road towards the fortress.
Antrandis handed the parchment to Sian, he looked at Winter, ‘You will be coming?’
Winter shifted uneasily in his gaze, ‘Lumos has granted approval, and requests that I be her eyes in this matter, I will fly out in the morning. There is no chance I can keep up with the two of you at night, and not in these conditions.’ Winter said in reply, her eyes wandering between Antrandis and Sian apprehensively.
He nodded, ‘We are going to have to run, the gates will be useless for another two or three days.’
Winter nodded as Sian finished with the letter, her face serious. Silias quickly read, her eyes scanning the missive, ‘My Lady, this. During daylight?’
‘As Antrandis said, trouble.’ said Winter, aware of Sian’s eyes on her.
‘The outpost reports observing the great silver traversing the valleys below Healdsmear this morning. There was also the sound of thunder and a golden flash of light in the forest during the eclipse, and another, in the moments before the dragon crashed into the valley. It crashed?’ asked Silias.
‘The eclipse, it disrupts all types of magic. The gates, your sister’s sight, a dragon’s vision. What interests me most is this golden flash that is mentioned, and how it took down the silver dragon. That in itself intrigues me and the goddess.’ said Winter.
Silias looked at Winter with a strange intensity at her callousness as Sian spoke, ‘Silvast sent a message, she needs our help.’
Winter’s eyebrows raised, ‘Ahh, she did, did she? The goddess was concerned that her pride would prove troublesome and she would balk at doing so and informed me, I am aware of her plight. I was on my way up to meet the two of you to discuss this. I will assist in the morning from the air. Antrandis, your thoughts?’
‘We find Silvast.’
Winter nodded slightly.
She looked to Sian, ‘Predictable, isn’t he? Your thoughts, My Lady?’
Sian frowned at the sudden forced formalities, ‘We will find her, Silvast is the priority. But, if you see something from above, search at your discretion.’
Winter nodded, ‘Thank you, My Lady.’ Winter turned, looking up at the night sky, the red star, the Forge of Souls bright in the heavens. Her wings tight against her back, dark in the moonlight as they appeared to absorb the light from above.
‘Start your search along the river that exits the mountain, the offside of Healdsmear. Near the ancient dwarven ruins.’
Antrandis nodded, taking the bag offered by Winter along with his and Sian’s swords.
‘I selected those without enchantments, considering the eclipse.’ she said as she watched both Sian and Antrandis prepare, ‘Not that either of you would need them.’
Antrandis and Sian shared a concerned look, he nodded.
‘Winter?’ he said as he walked off a little distance, the valkyrie followed and came to his side.
‘Winter, what has unsettled you?’
She looked at him, meeting his eyes in the darkness, fidgeting.
‘It is not the eclipse that has me on edge. Something happened last night, something that should not in this day and age. Something old world, from well before the collapse. The three are at a loss. Antrandis, surely you feel it? Prickling just under your skin, raising the hairs on you neck? Setting your teeth on edge? We must investigate this disturbance.’
‘You feel familiarity in this?’ he said.
She looked at him, her steel eyes just catching the moonlight, ‘Yes, somehow. Like a large dimensional rift had been torn open nearby. It feels familiar, from the old world when we rode as a group to join in battle, to recover the fallen warriors, guiding them home.’
She thought for a moment, ‘From the spirit to the mortal realms.’ she looked at him sidelong, ‘Antrandis, I hate to mention it. The gate when the lower denizens encroached on this world. That massive tear that they poured through. To me, it feels similar, but controlled or harnessed, just for a moment. You felt it, Antrandis. It has been eating at the back of your mind, that something was amiss. It is like someone or thing has harnessed what would normally be uncontrollable.’
She looked back to the night sky, focusing on the red star, the Forge of Souls, resettling her wings, ‘What concerns me the most, I do not recognise it. I have existed for so long, that it can not be counted in years. The disturbance is familiar, but not. It concerns me… It is not from here, but it is. It was controlled and precise.’ she said as she watched his face, her brow furrowed.
She placed a hand on his shoulder, aware of the texture of his shirt under her fingertips, ‘Our Lady’s sister, Silvan Darneltar, balance of the Three, she arrived in the temple for a few scarce moments. She was pacing around the floor, talking to herself, drawing in the air with her fingers, something with complex calculations that I could not make sense of. Then she stood there, and brought four stars of light into existence and started scrutinising them, two larger. When she noticed us, she told us of Silvast and departed. It was like she was waiting for Summer or I to approach her. She was as cryptic as always.’
‘Silvan was here? Just to deliver a message?’ Antrandis asked quietly, a small smile on his face.
‘This is not some humorous event, Antrandis. She wants you to…’ Winter looked at him, her eyes starting to glow slightly in frustration, struggling to focus her thoughts, ‘I am unsure if I should kiss you, or attempt to beat that smile off your face. Or both.’
He chuckled, though his eyes were serious, ‘Silvan went so far as to appear in her sister’s temple. That is concerning. Tomorrow morning, I would like you to search for the origin of the rift. Search for anything of interest, while we search for Silvast.’ he looked at Sian as she spoke to Silias, feeling her in his mind.
He moved to walk back, Winter grasped his arm, holding him in place, ‘Antrandis, we need to know if this is an accidental event, or if it is the beginning of an invasion.’
He looked at her hand and she quickly released him, he met her eyes, his starting to match her glow, ‘Winter?’
‘My Lord, I.’
‘What do you expect me to do, Winter? Do not misconstrue my smiles and laughter as a lack of seriousness. I smile because I am happy to see you, Winter. You have not shown yourself in so long.’ he looked into her eyes, speaking quietly, ‘Silvan came here, Winter. She told you of Silvast, she is the priority. But, she also showed you that four souls came through the rift and are in the forest. She is not concerned about them, but she is curious, in her own way. Lady Lumos, nor Auryl were in attendance. Silvan is personally requesting that I investigate this matter after making Silvast, her chosen champion, safe.’
‘Four souls?’ Winter whispered.
He nodded sharply, noticing her hand shaking slightly, he took it in his own, his demeanor suddenly shifting, ‘Winter, what is the matter?’
She stood, avoiding his eyes, taking her hand back, ‘My Lord, you must go. We will talk about this another time, soon. It is part of my punishment.’
Antrandis looked at her sadly, suddenly understanding, ‘Winter, in the morning, you meet with us first, if anything were to happen you get into the air. You will be our eyes from above, nothing more. You will not be put in danger, I assure you.’
‘Thank you.’ she said with a small forced smile, avoiding Sian’s gaze as she approached.
‘Silias, accompany Winter back to the temple. Once you have delivered my orders to the Steward’s Attendant and the General I want you to assemble a team of eight from the Elite Guard. You are to leave before sunrise for the Valley of Tears. Bring enough provisions for five days.’
‘Understood, My Lord. ’ Silias responded with a nod.
‘Get some sleep, rise fresh and make for the valley.’ said Sian as she patted Silias’s shoulder.
She looked to Winter as the valkyrie stood a few steps off, her eyes averted, ‘Winter?’
Sian looked at her with a sad smile, ‘Take care; from mid-morning I will keep one eye on the skies.’
Winter nodded and turned away, her energy diminished as she walked away and back towards the path to the river. Silias watched in confusion, looking back to Antrandis and Sian as they exchanged glances.
‘Antrandis, is Winter, is she unwell?’ asked Silias.
Antrandis shook his head slowly, ‘She will be fine, she is just nervous. Something is unsettling her about these events. Do not concern yourself.’
Silias nodded and took her leave, quickly moving off and running to catch up to the valkyrie, falling in step beside her and matching her pace.
‘Winter, I could not help overhear, but what is this punishment you mention on occasion?’
Winter glanced across at Silias, considering the question for a few moments, ‘It is my shame. As you know, I was once the exalted High Commander of the Valkyries, the strongest of us. After the breaking of the world, the Goddess Lumos restored my sisters and I to power as her handmaidens.’
Silias nodded quietly, looking across at Winter, noticing her bitter smile.
‘She trusted me with her greatest treasure. I saw an opportunity and betrayed that trust. I was such a fool.’ said Winter, her words admonishing herself.
Silias stared at her as they walked quietly, ‘Winter, what did you do?’