Part 8

The Wicked Heart of It
Ruadd carried Kuthaan over his shoulder. The wild man--though by no means small--was hardly a burden to the knight. Kalaena followed, sword drawn, and watched his back. Each time Ku's head bounced against the bronze plates, she ground her teeth a little harder.
"We should've made a litter," she said, not for the first time.
"The entity which made the chain sensed its breaking. It will send pawns to retaliate. Or perhaps come to investigate personally."
"Good. We could've destroyed it then and had done with it."
Inside his helmet, the Knight-Seeker sighed with regret. "I would like nothing better. But Kuthaan was exhausted and we don't know the enemy's powers. Better to regroup and strike from the shadows unseen."
How unseen can we be at a crashed airship? she wondered.
The trees were snapped for a good forty yards behind it and the earth was pushed up where it landed. If the enemy could fly--or even just climb a tall tree--the disturbance would be obvious, to say nothing of their fire and smoke.
Ruadd clearly had the same thought.
"Out the flames, lads," he called when they reached camp. "It's officially hostile territory."
The campfire winked out immediately, followed shortly after by the lantern.
One of the pages--the pimply one whose name Kalaena always forgot--appeared and saluted his master.
"What news, my lord?"
"A foul curse benights this place," he called back. "Fetch a cot for Master Ku."
"I have one prepared already--just over there." The squire helped carry the semi-conscious man to the airship. An awning was spread down from the gunwale, creating a makeshift tent. The specter of the extinguished fire rolled through in wisps of gray smoke.
With a final wary scan, the Swordsister sheathed her blade. "How are the repairs going?"
"Well, my lady. I am told we may be airborne by dawn."
"There is no dawn here," Kalaena pointed out.
The boy flushed in the darkness. "I mean to say--it will only be hours now. The damage was mostly to the strut I think. I'm no expert--"
"No need to apologize," Ruadd said. "Go now and help with the repairs. We will tend to Master Ku."
The squire bowed and was gone.
"Do you think the others are safe?" Kalaena asked, thinking of Daiza.
She turned and looked at him.
He stared back at her from within the darkness of his visor.
"I will fetch them." She started away.
"Tarry," Ruadd called. "Our wise man has something to say."
She glanced back and saw Kuthaan's hand in the air, beckoning. She was kneeling by his side in a heartbeat.
He coughed at the smoke. She waved it away from his face as best she could.
After a moment, he spoke: "The rot goes deep."
"Do you have a solution? A way to cut it out?" Ruadd demanded from behind Kalaena.
Kuthaan nodded weakly. "I could feel the tethers running deep into the island, like the roots of a malignant tumor. They meet in the center, at the very core of the island."
"Underground?" Kalaena asked softly. "How will we reach it?"
Ku's eyes went unfocused. "I saw towers--and a wall. A great castle, with a deep basalt foundation--and tunnels beneath it. Many tunnels, running down to the wicked heart of it."
"So if we find this castle..." Ruadd began.
Their friend blinked and looked up. "It is the lair of the chain-weaver, the core of its domain. There you will find the source and the solution."
"We will go then. Hopefully, he will have servants or slaves we can turn to our side. We will try to gather information now." He made a fist. "And if the opportunity arises, we shall strike."
Kuthaan nodded. "I will join you soon..."
Kalaena gave a vehement shake of her head, tossing her red-brown hair over her chin. "No. You need to rest."
"Use your best judgment, brother." Ruadd saluted the wild man. "I hope to see you again one day." He marched over to the horses.
Kalaena tucked the blanket around Ku as she might a child.
"I wish he was more circumspect," the tree-knower whispered.
"At least he's gathering intelligence this time instead of blundering in."
"You must go with him."
Kalaena said nothing. Her thoughts were on Daiza. It was foolish to send the three of them on that path without knowing where it led...
"You may find her if you go with Ruadd."
She looked at his face, unsurprised that he read her thoughts so well. "Maybe."
"Go. I'll rest. When I'm better, I will find you. And quickly, too."
She smiled. "I believe you. No one can travel like Ku. But only when you put your mind to it. The rest of the time, you're slow as a gimpy mule."
"Careful. I might just go there before you and fix it myself--"
"Don't you dare," she hissed. "No one's allowed to start a fight without me."
Ku nodded towards the horses. "Just don't dash headlong into a trap. This creature is cunning. It has to be, to forge such a curse as this."
She got to her feet.
"He has a good heart and a strong arm," Kuthaan allowed. "But I'd feel better if your brains were there to guide them." He closed his eyes and his face relaxed as if he were already asleep.
Pausing to envy his cot and his easy slumber, she turned and sought the Knight-Seeker.

©2015 Christopher Beats. All Rights Reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment