Chapter Sixty-Three

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"Well, that's jus' a basket o'puddin' drops, ain't it?" the male Delver muttered. There was a thunk as he drove his ax into the parched ground. "We've lost 'em."

There was a shuffling of feet, then the half-witch snapped "I've circled the sky over a three mile radius. Wherever they have gone, I cannot see them."

Though her voice sounded more irritated than afraid, the thin veneer of bluster was obviously about to crack.

Inside his prison, Thesul smiled. 

"If we can'nae follow, we must wait fer 'em t'return," the female Delver said. "No sense in rushin' aboot when we can'nae even decide where t'rush too."

"An' if they don't come back, then what, Mog?" her mate retorted. "We're fair firkleflumped, that's what!"

"We'll wait." The calm, steady voice belonged to Zilia. "Mrs. Ironsong is right. No sense chasing shadows."

Even grown old and gravely, her words still had that musical note Thesul remembered.

Wriggling his fingers in the small space allowed by his form-fitting cage of wire, Thesul recalled how he'd loved making her whimper and moan. Such a delicious little thing she'd been. One of the few playthings who'd ever bitten back.

Pity, about the eye. Had he eaten it? He couldn't quite recall.

Thesul wriggled down still further. Somehow, the wire seemed to be loosening, bit by infinitesimal bit.

"What was that girl, anyway?" the boy asked. "She spoke oddlike. And her clothes were strange."

"Guin seemed to know something about it," Zilia observed. "Wouldn't mind askin' about it, when they come back."

"If they come back," grumbled the male Delver.

There was a scuff of feet and a soft groan as someone settled onto a log.

Thesul flexed his elbows. The wire gave slightly. He began to apply slow, steady pressure.

As he'd hoped, his prison was weakening. Thesul didn't know if this was because the Reader was no longer attentive to keeping him contained, or because she had wandered too far away to maintain her hold.

It didn't matter. All he cared about in that moment was that the wires continued to bend, loosen and warp. And, to his unmitigated delight, they did. The The process seemed to be accelerating. He could lift his arms now, fold them across his chest. When he gave his knees an experimental lift, they bent easily to his command.

"She smelled off, whatever she was," the half witch grumbled. "Not like any child I've ever met."

Thesul arched his back and rolled his shoulders. Were the wires slipping? He thought they were...

The boy began to say something in agreement, but was cut short by a far off cry. The sound carried eerily through the dead forest, hollowed by echoes and distance.

The group went very quiet, and very still. Thesul heard them breathing.

The cry came again, only fainter, further off.

It was then that the wires slid off of Thesul's body and fell to the ground like a coil of dead eels.

_____


Shel caught the sound of distant screaming like a scrap of colored cloth on the wind. She spun, wings slicing through the still air, and listened. She heard it again, faded by distance, but unmistakable--a cry of pain and anguish. 

It was coming from the direction of Diavarda.

_____


Igren paused on the crest of the steep hill overlooking the charred wasteland of Diavarda. Beside her, the small band of scouts and soldiers fidgeted uneasily in their saddles.

"Did you hear that?" one man asked, glancing sideways at his fellows. "Thought I heard a shout, or th'like."

Several of the group nodded.

Igren adjusted her grip on the reins of her horse. The mare shifted beneath her and let out a low, nervous huff.

"I heard it," Igren said softly, her eyes fixed on the ruin of the old fortress, and, far beyond that, the wall of blank, swirling nothingness. "It was a scream."

The man who had spoken cleared his throat. "Err, Emissary..."

She turned to look at him. "Yes, Gireld?"

He hesitated, then continued, "I wonder, is this wise? We don't..."

"If you have any objection to this scouting mission, Gireld, you are welcome to return to the march," Igren replied quietly.

Without another word, she spurred her reluctant mount into a trot and started down the hill. After a long pause, the men followed.

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