Lovers, part five

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A while later he felt rather than saw planted lines of trees. Apples or pears, he wasn't sure which, but the presence of something as ordinary as an orchard calmed him somewhat. The darkness must be something temporary then.

They had almost made it all the way through the orchard when Neritan suddenly appeared together with Trai and Escha. Harbend didn't need to ask by what means. Escha's smug smile was broad enough to be seen even in the darkness surrounding them. A sense of reassurance covered Harbend, and for once he was happy to be the target of whatever magic Neritan used.

"They are in the main building," she said.

Harbend squinted but couldn't make out any features revealing anything like a building.

"You'll see when we get there," she answered his unasked question.

He shot an irritated glance her way but refrained from saying anything.

They moved closer to wherever Neritan wanted them to go and before long a building appeared before them. At first he couldn't believe what he saw. There had been nothing telling him they were nearing a town, and now a castle soared up into the darkness far beyond his reach of sight.

"Almost like one of the towers," Neritan whispered beside him.

Harbend turned. "The towers of learning?"

"Yes, but this is not one of them. I would know."

Harbend didn't ask how. He merely forced his way over the thin layer of snow hoping his feet wouldn't get tangled by something on the ground. It wasn't right. The snow should have glistered white even in the night, but then this was hardly a natural darkness.

"Mage Trai, could you make us see our way here?" he asked wistfully.

"Of course, Lord Garak. A simple spell that will keep us warm as well."

"No lights, you fools!" Neritan hissed behind them. Nakora added a sigh of relief at the intervention.

"Why not?" he asked at the same moment he understood how stupid his question was.

"Why don't we all start singing as well. We wouldn't want any blind guards to fail noticing our coming, would we?"

"Sorry, I didn't think."

"That, Master Garak, hardly needs any confirmation."

Harbend groaned in response and returned to fumbling his way to the building. A fine example of a leader he was. But there is something in the air, something sinister, bringing out the fool in me.

The ground was slippery under his feet and hands as he crawled on, but he didn't dare walk here. The temperature had risen slightly and he was sure to slip and fall should he risk standing.

As they came closer he could see narrow windows letting out light, and at least a few of the lower lights had to be entrances. Now he only needed to pick one of them so they could go inside.

Then what?

"Where to?" he asked Nakora.

She was silent.

"Just go on. I'll tell you when we're close enough," Neritan answered instead.

He did as bidden, and a while later she asked him to turn right, and not long after that he found himself watching wide stairs climbing to a grand pair of doors. They were wide open, yellow light streaming out giving life to the stairs and a narrow strip of ground below them. The opening beckoned to him. A light promising refuge from the chilling darkness surrounding them, and he almost ran for it without thinking.

"No! Please be careful this time!" Nakora's voice held him back.

What did he think he was doing?

"Mistress Hwain, is he in there?" Once again Nakora using her mind before they headed further into the unknown.

"Yes, and he's close enough that I can keep track of him as long as he isn't jumped from here."

"I can lead if you give me directions, or can you sense him and yourself at the same time?"

Neritan's teeth showed white in a surprised grin. "You are a quick one, aren't you, Captain Weinak?"

"I was just guessing," Nakora answered with a mixture of embarrassment and pride in her voice. "I always send out my scouts in pairs if we are close to our target."

"Good for them," Neritan muttered, and Harbend could hear her laughing under her breath. Some joke the two women shared although he couldn't understand how they had had time to get to know each other well enough for that. Women! he thought grimly. They were a kind apart. Gring, Arthur's hairy companion, probably hid most of her strangeness in her womanhood rather than in her being Khraga.

"After you then," Neritan said.

"As long as you lead," Nakora answered.

"Of course. As long as we lead we should be able to find Arthur and our own feet at the same time."

Golden mage and beautiful captain started forward as one, and Harbend could swear he heard them giggling in unison.

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