It took some insistence to get Morena to rest awhile, Broga all but ordering her. Parla had packed her wounds with an herbal clay, to stop the bleeding as well as to prevent infection. Nolan also suspected that Parla may have given her a sedative, as well.
“What was that?” Nolan asked Broga when the door to the bed-chamber had closed behind them.
“A member of the Dragon Kin.” Broga replied, voice deep and gravelly. “Most certainly a half-breed.”
“I thought that the Dragons left this plane.”
“Some still exist here in this plane, keeping to themselves at the far reaches. Most of the Dragon Kin are half-breeds or descendants in some way. Most of which are a friend of Elf and Man. There are a few, like that one, with blackened souls. But they are few and far between”
Nolan mulled that over in his mind for a bit. “So what could we expect to face?” he asked, afraid that Broga wouldn’t have an answer.
“It varies somewhat. Psychic abilities, usually. Half-breeds have limited shape-shifting capabilities. Increases in strength, self-healing. And scale armor as tough as stone.”
Nolan remembered the splintered arrow and knew what could have happened to his arm.
Broga stopped walking, his face an expression of utter seriousness. “Even if you find her, you cannot hope to defeat her by yourself. It will take one of the Dragon Kin.”
The way was not treacherous, but it was still slow going. They had to walk along and over large rocks that were often slippery with spray from the river. The walls of the cliffs rose ever higher as they progressed, white walls that already began to block the light.
The scouts had done what they could to shore up the loose stones, but still they had to pause from time to time to regain balance when one of the rocks wobbled under their feet. Hearing a keening wail, Erinael had looked up at the falls just in time to see something large plummet over the edge. It struck the rocks below with a sickening thud before the current took it away.
Tanis took her by the arm then, saving her from becoming the river’s next victim. “Mind your feet.” he hissed. “The river is always hungry.”
“What was that?” she asked, meaning the creature taken by the river.
“Something that is now in a much better place.”
They reached the base of the waterfall by late morning. “There is the stair,” Tanis said, pointing to the other side of the falls.
To Erinael it looked just like a winding path up the side of the cliff. It was not going to be easy, however, as that the cliff was over one thousand feet high. The path up the near side of the falls was no better. It would have been an upward climb on an almost sheer rock face.
“So how will we get across?” Erinael asked, their makeshift path having ended at the falls.
Tanis said nothing, merely leading the way toward the bottom of the water fall. There were a pair of large boulders that they were required to scramble over. They were slippery with spray and cold.
Sliding down the other side of the boulder, Erinael splashed into a pool of water that came halfway up to her knees. The water was cold and seeped into her boots, but leading away from the pool toward the back of the waterfall was a path.
Taking her by the wrist, Tanis led her forward, up a set of makeshift steps to the back of the crashing water. Erinael was soaked in a mater of moments, the water numbing cold despite it being the height of summer. When they finally came out the other side, her teeth were chattering.
“The water comes from just beneath the Frozen Mountains and the roots of Igdrasil broke into the cavern.” Tanis explained, indicating to a patch of sun. “Stay close, and keep quiet.”
Erinael first nodded absent-mindedly, more concerned with sodden clothes and flooded boots, before realizing that Tanis intended to leave her alone on this side. She could only watch wistfully as he disappeared into the white wall of mist.
The water of the falls roared in her ears, the only sound that she could hear. She was looking around, a sense of hyper-vigilance taking over. The forest pressed against the rocky shore of the river, the trees a twisted and gnarled darkness. There didn’t appear to be any wind, yet the limbs seemed to whisper and shift about.
It was the longest moments of her life.
Just then, a small stone whizzed past the boulder she had been sitting on and skittered across the rocks. Turning to look up the path, relief flooded through her when she saw the black figure of a Dead Hunter watching her from a ledge midway up the stair. Not long after, Tanis and the others began to file through the waterfall.
All of them were soaked, except for Idriss. They had strapped all of the packs around him on the stretcher and covered him with canvas from a tent. “He’s a sound sleeper.” The Mender said with a small chuckle as she checked on him. He could be heard making soft, snoring sounds.
“He’s a little big to be cute…” Erinael muttered, feeling out of sorts because she was cold and wet. The Mender only handed her a dry cloak before shouldering her pack.
Over an hour later, they met up with the Dead Hunter on the ledge. He nodded a greeting to the Mender and Erinael before pulling Tanis aside, the two engaged in a heated discussion with hushed whispers.
The ledge had obviously been intended as a rest stop for those traveling the stair. There was a crudely built little stone wall around the edge, and several stone slabs of convenient height and arrangement for sitting. There were also the remnants of a fire pit, but as Tanis had informed her days before, fires were not allowed. It made them too easy to track and drew the attention of things best left alone.
Erinael sat down with a grateful sigh. The stair consisted of steps that were made out of rocks and tree roots, and they were steep, the altitude increasing swiftly. She had hiked plenty of times in the mountains, but even this exercise left her winded with her heart pounding in her ears.
“What?” she demanded, finally taking note of the looks that Tanis and the scout kept giving her. “What happened? You must tell me!”
The scout bowed his head and stepped back, leaving it to Tanis to tell her the news.
“We have received word that the Lord-King Andraes is dead.”
Erinael could not believe it. He could not be dead. This could not be real.
Tanis gave her a moment to process the news before continuing. “The body has also been stolen.”
His voice seemed to come from so far away and she could not get her eyes to focus, everything around her was spinning and it made her feel sick. She could only shake her head in denial as she worried her cloak about in her hands. “No, it’s a lie.” she whispered. “I don’t know how, or why, but it’s a lie.”
They closed in on her, the Mender holding her tightly and making shushing noises in her ear. She was beginning to get loud and they were afraid that it may draw unwanted attention to them.
It all spun faster and faster still until it all went black.