Barak shrugged off his armor and sat down wearily. He was surprised at the depth of his exhaustion. Usually, he was really pumped after a battle—and the battle with the Orotheans had been rousing indeed, especially since the Calders had returned with their reclaimed relic in hand.
What’s the matter with me? Barak sank deeper into his chair, his deep-set eyes almost covered by his frowning brow. His eyes darted toward the crumpled paper on the table before him.
Women! He raged silently at the mute note. Just a few simple lines, and yet?
Slowly, almost reluctantly, Barak’s hand reached toward the note. His thick fingers picked up the paper with great care. Leaning forward, frown still in place, he gently smoothed away the wrinkles and creases, revealing the hastily scrawled words:
You take care of your business,
And I’ll take care of mine.
Had anyone been observing—which none dared to do when the great Warlord of Cald was in his private chambers—they would have seen a most remarkable thing indeed. A single tiny drop of moisture, the tiniest of tears, escaped the confines of Barak’s eye and slid down one cheek before evaporating upon the heat of his skin.
“Send word when you get home, alright? Trouble for Naroom usually means trouble for the rest of the Moonlands as well.?Nara hugged Tryn tightly as they stood on the bridge leading across the last river of fire before the crossroads. Soon, Tryn would be back in the cooler air of the river valley and could begin the long journey back to Naroom.
“I’m sure everything will be fine,?replied Tryn, pulling away and hauling her travel pack higher on her shoulder. “How much trouble can there really be? Tony kicked Agram’s butt and we haven’t heard a peep out of him since!?The tiny worry lines now etching her pretty face betrayed her smile.
Nara eyed her Naroom friend speculatively. “Are you sure you’re gonna be alright??she asked softly. Tryn’s smile slipped ever so slightly. “Barak can be a flaming pain sometimes—but he does have real feelings down in there somewhere. He just doesn’t know what to do with ‘em.?/div>
Tryn renewed her smile, more false than ever. “Ah—who needs him! Vash Naroom has dozens of cute fellas who know exactly the right thing to say to a girl!?Tryn turned to head down the path. “I can’t wait to get back home among normal people!?/div>
Nara smiled at Tryn’s bravado and waved a silent last farewell as Tryn reached the bend in the road and disappeared behind a rocky outcropping.
Tryn left the smoky air of Cald behind her with a heavy heart. She had spent the better part of a year amid the steaming calderas and bubbling fumaroles of the volcano region. Her adventures in the shadow geyser had left her filled with questions—questions which she had hoped to find answers for in her prolonged visit to the land of fire.
When the rumors of new troubles in Naroom began to reach Aragonar, however, Tryn knew that her time there was over. She had a life to resume back in the forests of Naroom, and she hoped the rumors of trouble had been exaggerated.
Ignoring the small tugs at her heart, Tryn increased her pace and was soon walking between sheer granite walls. Cald was behind her now. Her future lay ahead.
The path before her opened into a wide plaza, the Crossroads. From this spot, travelers could choose roads leading up into the mountains of Kybar’s Teeth, down into the caverns of the Underneath, west into Cald and even dive beneath the Great Waterfall just to the north to visit the underwater region of Orothe. Tryn’s destination was none of these. She crossed the stony floor of the Crossroads, heading for the eastern dock along the river—hoping a boat would be there to take her downriver.
She had no more than crossed half of the distance to the dock, however, when she was startled by a strange movement of the air before her. A wave of dizziness passed over her as she fumbled for a ring. The air shimmered and sparkled—much the way it did when a wild dream creature attacked—but this was different somehow. Tryn found her ring at last and slipped it on. Concentrating, she began to magine forth the new flame rudwot she had acquired while hunting in the wilds of Cald with Magam and Nara. To her astonishment, nothing happened! She tried again—focusing her mind’s eye on envisioning the flame rudwot’s lithe six-limbed body and sleek fiery skin. Her ring fizzled and popped and a single orange spark sputtered from the animite stone—but still no creature.
Before she had time to wonder at the unprecedented occurrence—the shimmering cloud before her coalesced into a curtain of glowing light. Tryn’s eyes grew in wonder at the sight. She had never before seen a dream creature manifest itself in quite this way! She began to back up as another wave of dizziness washed over her. The curtain of light began to ripple with color, and the wind began to stir around her, whipping Tryn’s long chestnut hair across her eyes.
The first twinge of real fear began to make itself known to the young Naroomi, as the curtain began to slide across the stone toward her. Tryn turned to run, but the dizziness hit her once more, knocking her to the ground. Before she knew it—the light washed over her and then there was nothing but light and color and wind and…and…and then…nothing. Nothing at all.
Clouds gathered above the Crossroads. Rain began to fall in fat drops, washing away the accumulated dirt of a long dry season. Water formed into puddles, the puddles formed small rivulets, which soon discovered others of their kind. Within minutes, the stone was awash with a fine network of tiny streams, coursing their way across the thirsty stone to slosh unheeded into the swelling river. Amid the downpour, the scheduled boat came to the dock and left again, empty of passengers. Of Tryn there was no sign, but for a single ring lying upon the ground, raindrops spattering carelessly from its dimly glowing stone.
What happens next? Read Part 5 "Her Wildest Dreams"
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