Chapter Seventy-Four

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Terin stood on the edge of Ardur's border and gazed out over the sloping hills toward the city. The sun was setting, casting long shadows across the land. Alavard's gleaming ivory and gold spires sparked in the twilight, making the city seem almost jewel-like.

Terin shifted uneasily. Behind him, concealed beneath the shadows of the Wyrwood, the soldiers were readying for their ambush on the golden city's wall. The time was approaching for them to move out, and Igren had yet to return.

He watched the sun dip below the horizon in a blaze of color. The vibrant hues lasted only a moment before fading to gray. Terin could already make out the stars, faint pinpricks of light in the gloaming.

A shout from the camp made him turn sharply. A scout was weaving through the ranks, her expression a mixture of confusion and worry. Terin waited for her to reach him before asking, "Is it the Emissary?"

Breathless from running, the scout nodded, then shook her head.

Terin couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. "Care to tell me which it is, Nira?"

After gulping down a few hasty breathes, Nira straightened and replied, "Both. The emissary's scouting party has returned, but she is not with them. There are others. Two of them are badly wounded. They claim to be members of the High prince's search party. One says he has a message for you, from the emissary."

Terin took a moment to digest the young woman's rushed speech. Then, he said, "The one with a message--bring me to him."

Nira nodded and motioned for him to follow her. The light was fading fast, casting the forest into shadow, but no lanterns were lit. Darkness would be their cover, their cloak; a second set of armor. Moonlight would provide illumination enough.

They moved briskly through the camp until Terin spotted a cluster of figures near the healers' tents. Here, a modest light had been lit to facilitate medical examination of the newcomers. By its gentle glow, Terin saw three people had been laid out on the ground while their injuries were examined. The first, a silver-haired woman missing an eye, lay motionless as a corpse. A gangly boy knelt beside her. The second was a Delver. A short, plump woman Terin took to be his mate hovered over him, watching as a healer examined the gaping wound in his side. The third inert form Terin instantly recognized as Captain Alzra Talon. By the look of things, both her wrists had been broken.

"Stars," he breathed. The sight made his stomach turn over. Something had torn through this group of experienced fighters like a knife through paper.

Dropping to one knee beside the captain, he glanced across at the man assessing her injuries and asked, "Will they live?"

The man's lean face wore a grim expression. "This one will, though she won't be doing much of anything for a long time, if ever. These bones are badly damaged. She has several cracked ribs as well. Those two--" he gestured over his shoulder with a tilt of his jaw. "The woman was stabbed multiple times. The Delver got a nasty gash in his side. We can't say yet if either will live to see tomorrow."

"Stars," Terin repeated. "Do we know what did it?"

The healer sat back on his haunches and scowled. "Scouts said something about an Alavardian. They don't know for certain. Boy's tight-lipped and the she-Delver is practically senseless. Can't get a straight word out of either." He nodded toward the dark-haired boy. "He claims the emissary gave him a message for you."

Terin nodded, thanked the man and stood. He crossed the small clearing in a few strides and stood over the boy and the pale, silver-haired woman. "What's your name, lad?"

The boy chewed his lip for a moment before answering. "Selkip, sir." He looked Terin up and down, then asked, "Are you General Terin?"

"I am."

Selkip nodded. "I've got a message from you. From Emissary Igren."

Terin hunkered down until he was eye to eye with the boy's tear-streaked face. "Go on then, Selkip. I'm listenin'."

____

The spell was nearly complete. Silnä felt her net of power drawing tighter about the fountain, the corrosion of her words eating away at its protective magic like acid. It felt good to wield magic like this again; to shape the living world, and not simply dwell in darkness and confinement, snatching at the scant scraps her daughters were able to offer.

Silnä had not felt so alive in an age.

She scraped a final sigil into the door, then drifted back to regard her work. The looping scrawl was as graceful and deadly as she. A language of her own making. Lyrics to a song only she knew.

Silnä's lips parted and she began to to sing. Words poured forth, ethereal, tantalizing; soft, deep, and dangerous. They dripped from her lips like honey, a delicious poison seeping into Alavard's foundations, weakening it, wearing down its defenses...

The song was almost finished when Silnä felt a tug in her chest. The song faltered, then died on her tongue as the tug came again, stronger this time. She was being pulled--summoned.

Her daughters were calling.

Silnä hesitated, drawn to the call yet reluctant to leave her spell incomplete. The spell had already begun, the seeds were sown--the doors would fall whether she was there to sing the last words or not. The only difference would be a delay.

The pull came again, nearly wrenching the heart from her chest.

Silnä closed her eyes. There was no use resisting. She had to heed the summons. It was time. She only regret that she would not be there to witness the fountain's glorious destruction.

With a sigh, Silnä opened herself up to the call and allowed the water to carry her home.  

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