Chapter 22: On the Trail

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Amber gazed into the hazy sky, scanning the region, but in truth she barely saw anything in sight. For her true vision, her seeker sight, saw beyond the corporeal world and into the archon realm. The cool air caressed her skin, causing her to shudder, though she barely noticed. Something odd occurred in the mountain range not too long ago, which captured her attention far more than anything immediately around her.

The region was desolate, harsh and forbidding, not a place meant for human life. Yet their goal lay within the rocky expanse of the stark mountainside. It loomed on the horizon. Serra do Imeri.

"Do you see it?" she asked the man beside her.

"How could I not?" Bryce said.

In the distance, through the airy fog and clouds, they saw the lights still roiling from an archonic cataclysm that must have happened days ago. An intense aura lingered, clear for them, and them alone, to see. Vibrant wisps of mana drifted among the clouds – orange, green, red, and deep black. Amber focused her vision, straining to cross the distance and view the source. She could see a boiling pot of archonic mana deep in the mountain, but no clear details.

"No channeler did this. It was the archon, itself. It engaged at odds against the black archon. There can be no other consequence for something of this magnitude, and the mountain paid the price," Amber said.

"And everyone around, if your memory of this Duarte's fortress is accurate," Bryce said.

"It has to be. There couldn't be anything else up here. No one would come here unless they wanted to climb the mountain – or hide. Nothing else that would draw a powerful archon to the region, anyway."

"Well, it seems your instincts were correct. They were here, and now they are gone, along with Donald and the girl. It would be valuable to investigate, but to do so will set us farther back on their trail."

Liam and Courtney walked up to them, and Courtney wrapped her arms around her wife from behind.

"You're cold, Amber. You should have brought a heavier coat."

"I like the cold, and Teijurzi protects me from that too."

"Well, what now?" Liam asked.

"We need to get a little closer to investigate and pick up the trail, and we need to move fast before it gets too old to follow," Amber said. "Come on, let's go."

"I have a better idea," Liam said. "We can use the drones to scout it out without getting too close."

Amber nodded her head. "That's a good idea. Okay, you guys can stay here, but I need to get closer and see it for myself."

"Amber, no!" Courtney said and squeezed her tight, "You're not going alone! I won't lose you, too."

Amber brought Courtney's hand up to her lips and kissed it, and then pulled away so she could turn and look at her wife. "I'll be fine. You know I work well alone in the wild, and I can move quieter and faster than any of you. I'll be careful, I promise, but I have to go, Court."

Courtney stared at her for a long moment. "You run if you see anything. Don't get stupid."

"I will, and I'll only get as close as I need to. You can follow me with the drone if you want. Look out for me."

"I can put a gun on the drone if you want," Liam said.

Courtney nodded, still staring at Amber.

Amber made her preparations and was ready to go in minutes. She gave them some final instructions before giving Courtney and Liam final hugs and setting out. Courtney and Liam used the drones to scout the area and look for any signs of activity, pointing out potential hot spots for Bryce to investigate with his seeker sight.

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