I wrote Vaejume as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge 2015
Here is a small sample of the second book of The Sirin Chronicles, with the full book now available on Amazon in both normal and large print.
Shadows stole across the eastern lands of Khallilja as frozen winds whispered from the great forest, then spiralled lazily through Tenalue and around the crowd that had gathered in plaza in the ethereal landscape as they waited patiently for the travellers to arrive among the sprawling darkness of the east. The old stone lanterns that guided the way through the small town were dwindling before the onset of the short day, and the light they gave off began to gutter wildly as the last of the oil was consumed, causing silhouettes of the stone guardians set upon the points danced across the walls around the village.
Finally, as the aromatic smell of patchouli rolled into frankincense and a muffled bell rang out higher up the town, the late sun burnt gold against the shadowed stone before finally reaching its zenith from the sentinel mountains. The soft pearlescent light cascaded from the towering dolomite through rising mists and transformed the ashen carpet of snow into a spectacle of colour below the indigo skies. Gauze clouds turned into ribbons of soft peach flame that forced the darkness back, while sunlight turned the ice crystals into fiery diamonds.
Aengal sat statuesque upon Vaenel's back, huddled deep within the folds of her thick woollen cloak as the bells continued to herald in the hour. To the one side of her were the amassed Eldars of Tenalue who were frowning in disapproval at her uncomely appearance; especially since she had riled them up further when moments before leaving the manse she had chosen to wear Katzatagyr in its newly finished crystal sheath across her back. As the minutes had slipped past, a noticeable gap between her and where they stood had grown as though they wanted to make it perfectly clear to their guests that they had nothing to do with the appearance of the young woman before them.
To her other side was Yasmakea, her quiet companion and teacher from the last few weeks. He was the elder she had met with first when she had just arrived in Tenalue after the events that had unfolded within Kata Jinja and the Unelmalin. Her world and entire existence had been transformed after regaining her old and faded soul from the lost village.
He had become invaluable to her as he helped to further tutor her in a bewildering array of subjects pertaining to the world she now lived in, and with the help of Vaenel she continued to rediscover who she had been. Whilst Yasmakea had sworn a vow of silence for the most part, there were exceptional circumstances that allowed him freedom of voice. He had taken great delight in teaching Aengal the methods of politics and subterfuge, passing on a greatly amassed knowledge mixed in with lighter conversations in between when they were secluded in the airy council chambers away from prying eyes and ears.
Yasmakea was sat upon a squat, placid pony that remained entirely oblivious to the world as it chewed contentedly at the stubs of snow ferns around where it stood, and Yasmakea had returned to total and unfathomable silence, as unreadable as Aengal hoped to be as three riders trotted into the market plaza of Tenalue. The blue dun coldbloods of the first two snorted great plumes of mist as they stood impressively tall and proud hardly an inch higher than Vaenel, their pale gold eyes glowing fiercely as they eyed the wolf up from across the circle. The third rider seemed entirely out of place as he struggled to bring a horse built for the hot southern sands to a halt whilst barely seated in the saddle. The small gathering of townsfolk that had gathered around watched like ghosts as a heavy silence spread out among them, wondering what necessity would drive three travellers to journey through the treacherous landscape of deepest talvae.
It had been Yasmakea’s idea to formally greet the northern men after a blood falcon had arrived in the fading light of the previous evening, alerting them of their intended arrival, and also his opinion that she be involved with the meeting. Though not one of them knew the proper procedure for such an impromptu assembly, he had pointed out that she had been given the task of managing diplomacy within Khalilja until a new Tsejsan had been found; her heart had sunk at the prospect of her fate catching up with her so soon.
With all his knowledge and calming demeanour, Aengal was entirely grateful to have Yasmakea by her side as the bitter faced men finally dismounted their horses and mumbled something of a greeting together as they searched through faces of everyone gathered before looking to the Eldars, and finally to Aengal who had lowered her hood to reveal her pearlescent white hair that shimmered beneath the sun and danced around her face in the gentle breeze that persisted around them.
She kept her face impassive as they finally turned their full attention to her, their grimaces turning into mingled expressions of curiosity and amusement as they each gauged her appearance. Their eyes travelled from the delicate silk of her formal dress to the brazenly slashed skirts that revealed her thick leggings and sun bleached boots that maintained a thin film of mud and dust and finally noting the bastard sword that crossed her back, the double hand grip of Katzatagyr protruding from the russet furs around her shoulders.
The two closest to her were completely unfazed by the presence of a vaejume or the unrefined appearance Aengal had presented herself with, much unlike their third companion farthest away who looked more like a weasel than a man and was looking aghast at her, seeming to find her entirely abhorrent as he picked at his nose.
Nice to see he feels at home here. Aengal whispered to Vaenel’s mind as she ran her fingers through Vaenel’s thick silken fur and took a deep breath to calm herself as the long silence continued to stretch on. How much do you reckon they know already? She studied the newcomers for anything she could glean of them and scrutinising their eyes in turn for any disguised emotion.
The north is rich with Spehirikin and lore of all forms, it would take quite a bit to surprise them. Vaenel responded as his ears twitched back and forth keenly and his fur bristled beneath her fingers.
It had been over a month since Raketselka had been chased into the heavens. Both Khafune and Elaeja had kept to their word and departed for Kisu the same evening after Aengal had revealed the manifestations that happened within Kata Jinja. Since then, savage weather had rushed in from the south west of Khalilja bringing howling winds and the deepest snows the country had seen in a long time. One of the Tenaluetans riding with her companions had chosen to turn back before the worst of the storms encompassed them so that he could return with the news of how the land had changed so dramatically since Sarasan left his mountainous confines.
Where once the Kharina Mountains had run down the centre of Khalilja like a towering wall, there was now a tumbling valley of almost thirty leagues. An ancient spring fed lake high within the Kharina mountains had been disturbed in the fallout, and now a river tumbled that down into a young lake which had spilled out across the plains and frozen treacherously. Deep pools of bitter water and jagged boulders that would ensnare the unwary traveller were hidden beneath the deceitful shallows and the land throughout the valley would start to tremble without warning and cause more boulders to crash from the remaining mountains.
The men now before Aengal had travelled down from Senelre and Sanues in the northernmost reaches of the country and were the first travellers to reach Tenalue. Their impressive heavy horses were born in snow and raised in the strong water meadows of Lake Melae and built for the harsh terrains; but even so it had taken them three weeks to make the journey having set out barely a day after the fierce battle between Raketselka and Sarasan had dominated the heavens. They had come to the ancient gateway of Kata Jinja for answers. This was a situation that suited Aengal for she would give them what answers she could spare and with luck exchange them for news of the north which would save herself two months of travelling before she too would journey to Kisu.
"Is that her?" The silence was finally broken as the small and weaselly man asked doubtfully and she wondered what it was he was referencing her against. He squinted up at her with an unsettling leer before turning his attention hungrily at Vaenel with envious intent as he fondled the folds of a silver wolfskin beneath his cloak that he flaunted unashamedly before them.
Yasmakea nodded his silent response and Aengal felt the slightest rumbling from Vaenel's belly as the direct insult riled him, his muscles tensing beneath her and she clutched at his fur while flames of anger licked at her cheeks in a blush. She nudged him into a walk and turned slowly away from the newcomers to lead the way up the magnificent stairs to the council chambers above.
"It is this way to the chambers if you'd like to follow me." She said icily before turning her back on them completely and took to biting her tongue to prevent herself saying exactly what she thought of the feeble looking man that seemed so out of place among them all.
I have a bad feeling about that one. She closed her eyes against the sunshine glancing into them and enjoyed the last fleeting moments of her freedom as they made their way to the Ascension Steps. Yet with each turn in the steps up towards the council chamber, another weight was added to her heart and a strange and unexplainable hollowness started to gnaw at her soul with black and hungry intent.
He could just be a proud hunter. Vaenel responded having regained his decorum halfway up the climb, though his words were hollow. His ears were still twitching in different directions as he listened to far more than she could ever hear, and she watched the stone archway to the chambers inch closer as the sun fell back down behind the mountains, the short reprieve of daylight already coming to a close.
No. He is from the citadel, not the North. And already full of deceit.
The sun had set entirely by the time they reached the mountain chamber and Aengal slipped quickly from Vaenel's back before the rest of the group could catch up to them. As he returned to his unelmun form she enjoyed the briefest touch of his fingers tracing the outline of her cheek and looked at him dubiously before the sounds of heavy footsteps and grumbling sounded from the ante chamber and they parted from each other again.
"Surely this meeting could have waited until tomorrow? The weather is hardly a contributing factor, so why the rush?" She whispered carefully, making sure that the two men from the north with their suspicious third member filing into the room couldn't read her lips as they loitered in the arch from the small adjoining room. The one she presumed to be from Kisu quickly scanned the room as he continued to caress his wolkskin and his eyes settled on Vaenel briefly with a blank expression before continuing to search the grand chamber for the giant wolf with a magnificent pewter coat that had entered before him and mysteriously vanished from his sight.
"It has always been impossible to understand how the Tenaluetans think, but perhaps there is something they too wish to find out before too long, and falcons can fly when we cannot walk." Vaenel muttered back as he took his seat next to where Yasmakea would head the table.
“What do you—” Vaenel looked at her with a sudden cautious intensity that silenced her with his expression before she could find out what he meant. She sighed and instead watched as the rest of the council spilled into the room as she sat opposite Vaenel. Her feelings of unease grew and squirmed in her stomach as a dull droning sound filled her ears. She hoped that this wasn't a sign of things to come between them from now on as servants began bringing out bowls of steaming broths with chunks of crusty bread for the travellers and several pitchers of wine for the entire company.
No one said a word for too long, even once everyone had taken their seats and the atmosphere became leaden as the newcomers slowly chewed on the food before them. All that could be heard was the wind rushing down from the mountains and howling through the naked trees and empty streets. Flames from the braziers licked at the green pine logs and crackled merrily as the darkness edged back around them in the increasingly short days.
"What news do you bring?" Aengal asked cordially, her voice sounding husky to her ears as the silence became too much for her and, "How is the weather in the west?" Vaenel asked at exactly the same time partially drowning her own words out and it took all her willpower not to laugh at his question; she presumed the weather was the same everywhere at the moment with talvae being all around them and worse than ever before with even the birdsong absent from the land.
"The snows that covered the Agshun desert are melting rapidly, though for once the waters have remained on the plains and there is a chance yet that the Agshun desert may recede. The north is still a complete whiteout with snows that have come thicker and colder than ever before. It is unlikely we will make the return journey now until mejra." The elder northern man to Aengal's right spoke with a broad accent that made him difficult to understand as he continued to talk about the weather in far more detail than she would ever have imagined possible. She groaned inwardly wondering and tried to suppress a frown of disdain as she puzzled how men could spend so much time gossiping over the weather and glanced at Yasmakea who was supposedly taking down notes of the meeting, but instead was engrossed with illuminating the word 'snow' in increasing detail.
“That’s Endhui,” Yasmakea spoke in an undertone when he realised she was watching him doodle. “He’s the Jakira in charge of Sanues. His companion is Kylytz, the grandson of Senelre’s Jakira.” The one Yasmakea had referred to as Kylytz was tapping his fingers on the stone table impatiently as Endhui continued to babble on.
“I’m afraid from the North, there isn’t much news to bring.” The young northerner next to Vaenel finally interrupted his companions ramblings and brought the conversation back to the purpose of the meeting. “We saw the shadows of two colossal ajukaras wrestling in the skies before they melted in to the night. It was decided the next day that we would start here for answers if Kata Jinja had been unsealed once more.” As the youth finished, Aengal sensed there were still things that remained unspoken from him and she eyed him curiously across the table as she casually rested her chin on her fingers.
What makes them so certain that there would be answers in Tenalue? And what does he mean ‘if Kata Jinja has been unsealed’? Her brow furrowed as she slowly studied the expressions and reactions of everyone in the meeting.
I’m not sure, but you need to quieten your mind. It feels like someone is listening to our internal conversation. His thoughts jolted her as she caught the weaselly man’s eye and shivered as ice spread through her body. She was still waiting to find out his name and what business had brought him this way. Both Endhui and Kylytz had kept a wide berth between them and him all the way through the town which made her even more suspicious of him as he leered back at her and she had to suppress a shudder.
“What has happened? Where did those beasts come from?” Endhui asked the room eventually as Aengal knew would happen and had been trying to prepare an adequate answer for them in advance. The Eldars of Tenalue who had all maintained a stoic silence turned their eyes to Aengal and Vaenel to speak and she wondered why they had even bothered to attend the meeting if all they were going to do was ogle one another.
“They came from the mountains. Well, one of them was a part of the mountains…” Aengal said tentatively as she contemplated how much to tell them. She looked at Vaenel for help. “Call it prophecy if you will, it seems there’s a longstanding score that needs to be settled between myself and one of the ajukaras. So long as my soul and hers exist, she will continue her mission to use me to destroy all of Sirin. Somehow I need to find a way to banish her entirely before she can consume me. Destiny led me to Kata Jinja where the binds of time were unleashed and the events of a thousand years ago resumed, only this time in reversal.”
“You released that infernal beast?” The third newcomer whose name she still hadn’t picked up accused her.
“No. That infernal beast is Raketselka and she has never been bound, only exiled for a time. She has been here on Sirin for quite a while spreading her poison into the land everywhere.” Aengal took several breaths to steady herself before looking vaguely at everyone. “I’m afraid that is all there is to say from here. I had hoped to hear from the citadel as they have all the histories archived; but unfortunately they have been remiss in their council.” Kylytz smiled ever so slightly as he caught her rebuke to the third stranger and as his bright hazel eyes looked intently at her. Though she could see he was unelmun immediately, he seemed have some heightened sense about him and though he kept his questions to himself she was aware he knew far more than he gave out even to his fellow traveller.
"Aejan, you're from Kisu aren’t you?” Kylytz suddenly asked still smiling slightly as he took Aengal’s rebuff against the citadel further, though a shiver rushed down her spine at the realisation of how similar her name was to the interloper; her dislike towards him increasing as he sniffed arrogantly at everyone and looked through his yellowish greasy hair at her. “Surely you must have more news than us droll northern farmers, perhaps news on what the hold up is with the citadel?”
"A vast swathe of Navinis and Kesimasu has been destroyed primarily from the fires of that unworldly beast, and now by earthquakes. There is also a huge amount of disquiet around the citadel as well from those who still believe the Spehirikin are behind it all." Aejan said, his voice dripping with silken venom. She was quite certain he was one of those in Kisu that thought the Spehirikin were responsible; even as she held his gaze she couldn't fathom anything about him, all she could see in her mind was the fluttering of white wings accompanied by a faint humming sound. "I passed your companions just south of Suiren, you're a fool to send that girl back after that business with Ranavae." The room fell back into silence at his words that were somewhere vaguely between warning and threat but no less awkward.
“Really? And why is that so?” Aengal asked him quietly as she forced her voice to remain steady. “Elaeja is a member of the council, and a fantastic ambassador, is she not?”
“I’m not disputing her qualities. Merely the tainted blood and tarnished reputation she has garnered as sister to the brutally murdered Tsejsan.” He sneered back at her and she wondered how much of a loyalist Aejan had been to Ranavae, how much he knew of what happened within his chambers and her part in all of it.
“If you’re suggesting she may be vulnerable to whoever it is causing trouble in the south, I can reassure she is well protected. If you’re worried people will take umbrage to her presence back in the capital because of her relations, you’re mistaken; she is nothing like her brother. Surely if you were from Kisu you would not be speaking of her as a stranger?” To that Aejan fell silent and looked away from her at last. Her heart was pounding furiously in her chest and she desperately wanted to escape to the fresh night air. Her fingers lightly rested on the wolf pendant as she sat uncomfortably caught in a fever.
She wasn't sure what the Tenaluetans might have been trying to find out as Vaenel had suggested before the meeting. All she knew now was that the terrain had transformed significantly and that there was still the discontent between Spehirikin and unelmuns from before. Only now an unknown element was forcing the fissure to widen into a chasm that was soon to be irreparable, and somehow she had to find a way to bring unity back whilst also trying to find and defeat a member of the Sykajume and somehow keep herself together. Her head was spinning at the madness of what she had to deal with and she chanced a look at Vaenel who seemed to be following her frantic thoughts with a raised eyebrow.
“We have full faith that Elaeja will be a valuable asset within Kisu and will help preparations for Aengal’s arrival. It was a direct request from the citadel; I’m curious to know…” The elder nearest Vaenel finally added his piece into the meeting seeming to have just woken from a nap as he blinked rapidly at everyone around the table as though uncertain about his actions before continuing. “…You are supposedly a part of the council of Kisu, and you’ve appeared to us now as we had expected a member to. How is it you seem unaware of these demands from the citadel?” Aengal looked at the Eldar in barely concealed shock. They barely contributed anything and usually hindered her in everything she did; she didn’t even know any of their names apart from Yasmakea’s and yet one seemed to have forgotten his formality and spoken out of turn. Even the other three Eldars present at the table were looking at him with mingled expressions.
“I was travelling when that meeting took place. I received word whilst I was in residence in Elmadel that I was to make my way here.” Aejan answered smoothly as he took a final swig of his wine and seemed entirely oblivious to the multitude of varying looks being thrown around the table. The meeting fell back into silence for what seemed to be a final time and signal of closure as one by one the Eldars and the guests departed the room. Aejan loitering in the archway until Yasmakea chivvied him out and left Aengal alone with Vaenel.
“So, what did you learn from that? Hopefully more than I managed.” Aengal said glumly, folding over her arms on the table and feeling the cool of the stone against her forehead.
“After the response was sent to the citadel, it was expected that someone would appear from Kisu before we arrived there so they could snoop about,” he replied softly moving to her side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Now we know what sort of chaos we’re working with and what to guard ourselves against. Though sending Aejan is an interesting choice on their part.”
“I wonder what he was up to whilst not being a part of the council meetings.” Aengal muttered, her forehead still resting on the cool surface of the table. She had been plunged into a life she didn’t understand, and her first day within it had left her entirely confused and exhausted.
“I wouldn’t like to guess right now. He is not what he seems, nor is he what we’d expect.” Aengal frowned up at Vaenel wishing he would just answer her simply. “And whatever it is that is prying on our thoughts seems to have arrived with our guests.” Vaenel said dryly with a sigh as an owl hooted forlornly from the forest around them.
“I keep dreaming of ceaseless storms, devastation and consuming dark while shadows chase me through an ever changing maze; and my heart is ripped from my chest by the faded ghost of someone I know while wolves howl in the distance. There’s haunting laughter full of pure malice all through the darkness and I’m stood looking at a hollow reflection of myself with my heart carved out and there’s blood all around me and on my hands, but it isn’t my blood,” Aengal whispered after some time when the last sounds of their former company had faded entirely and she knew they were alone. Foreboding continued to gnaw away at her as she admitted to the dream that had taken to haunting her every night for the last two weeks. “I wish I had never left Suiren. I don’t have the strength for any of this.”
“It’s just a dream.” Vaenel replied softly as his eyes watched the world outside. “Suiren would have destroyed you, and you have me by your side, remember?”
After the meeting had concluded, Aengal had made her way back down the Ascension Steps with Vaenel hoping for a quiet evening away from the newcomers, only to find Yasmakea crouching on his toes waiting for them with a grim expression; a nod of his head signalled them back to one of the lesser meeting halls where the elders had regathered; and to her indignation, Aejan was also sat among them.
While she had been discussing the meeting with Vaenel and attempting to work out the meaning of things said or unsaid, they too had held a secondary meeting and decided that the cool stillness of the long twilight was a favourable omen. They would depart before the end of day, before the winds rose back up and ensconced them once more in freezing cloud.
Endhui and Kylytz had decided to remain in Tenalue until the Mejran rains, though Aengal felt certain it was the lure of Kata Jinja that had called them to the small town and mixed with business they hadn’t wanted to share with Aejan and possibly herself.
The howling winds and snows held off for several days after Aengal had begun her return journey back across Khalilja. They had left in silence as was considered normal in Tenalue where half the citizens never spoke, and yet even as Yasmakea nodded his head to the Eldars having chosen to join them, the air seemed heavy and foreboding to her. Somehow being around Aejan reminded her of her encounters with Raketselka though she couldn’t put her finger on the reason why.
Though she was certain Aejan both knew and was hiding something from them all, Vaenel wasn’t convinced by Aengal’s speculations and suggested how it may be down to paranoia; a thought that rankled with her so she stopped asking his opinion and kept her thoughts silent. Aejan had to the surface at least remained a humble though blithering servant of the citadel. His sickly green eyes and glassy expression were unsettling as he looked on the world, as though his vagueness was the mask.
They had been travelling for just over a week through deep snows that masked the uneven terrain below. Nothing much had been discussed besides that which they already knew and occasionally broken up by the monotonous talk of weather. The discussions circled round and around until even Aengal had fallen into brooding silence which made for an even more trying journey.
The progress had been painfully slow and tedious with them fortunate if they managed ten leagues in a day. The weather had turned on them by the first morning away from Tenalue and pursued them until on the fourth day of travelling it had become so bad they had to turn off the road and head towards the mountain to shelter in one of the many caves the Kharina offered. Even finding a cave had become a hair raising challenge as their view dwindled to barely a foot around them.
The cave had provided them with scant refuge as an abominable blizzard shrieked in at them and almost entirely covered their shelters. Even huddled tight against Vaenel with his thick fur and hot breath the cold had entered Aengal, her skin and lips turning a dangerous shade of blue and her consciousness barely holding on as a pathetic fire burnt in the centre of the tree tents.
She wanted more than anything to reach Elmadel in less than a month. Her clothes were soaked through, her skin tinged with blue and her joints aching savagely which caused her irritation to be intolerable with the wool of her leggings scratching day and night until she wanted to scream and claw her skin away.
Even at night when she finally got to relax slightly and rest against Vaenel with the oiled hides of their shelter buffering them from the raging weather outside and Aejan’s persistence, her darkened mood lingered and of late her tension and mood brought about a stifling atmosphere between them. They had barely spoken, a first for them in all their time together.
Constant flurries of snow and frozen rain had remained with them for three days until late sundawn of their eighth day and the horses staggered blindly forwards through deep drifts and against the southern winds, their riders wrapped in every item of clothing they had brought with them as they pushed forwards to where a chink in the clouds allowed the sun down on them.
As she rode across the snows with Vaenel padding over the ice beneath the determined sun, her face scrunched up in frustration as she mulled over their journey so far. The infuriating person she was now encumbered with and at the complexities of everything going on around her, even in the growing distance behind her she could hear Aejan’s affronted voice continually barraging Yasmakea with questions in the hopes the Eldar would break his silence and speak. Yasmakea unfailingly kept to his vow, though she noticed he did seem to be taking it to a new level of persistence.
The two were both slowly falling behind her and Vaenel again. Unlike Vaenel who could for the most part run and glide across the snows with awesome speed and grace if he so chose to, they were riding the stout water horses from Senelre and the deep snows made for a lumbering pace. The horses were already tiring and having to pick their way carefully to avoid falling on hidden boulders and breaking a leg or throwing their rider off; and whilst Aengal was enjoying the moments of getting away from Aejan and his nauseating presence, she still brought herself to pause fora while and allow them to catch up.
The last time she had done this journey, it was the other way and by passing through the unelmalin she had crossed the distance in roughly one hour, whilst Khafune and Elaeja who were following in the world of the waking were two days behind her travelling by sea and fair weather. Having been so far from any bells and unable to use her incense clock, time had ceased to exist to her. Day and night had rolled into one another with barely a change in the darkness to signify which was which.
The whole journey from Ajae Javi had been a whirlwind existence and she had been oblivious to the world around her. Now she could see the dramatic landscape of Khalilja harshly silhouetted against the grey world. Mountains rose like a wall to glow in peach snow capped tips, guarded by a thin band of mighty oaks and khali trees that had grown down from the great Rannan Forest. Ahead of them, the trees had been uprooted when the earth had moved. The most welcome sight of the journey waited for them as Aengal and Vaenel continued slowly forwards, captivated by the view.
The chink of sunlight that had tempted them from the cave had grown and she could now see where the Kharina mountains parted company. The sun was shining down on the newly formed valley and across the blanketed landscape, marking their passage west through a surreal and stoney gateway. Both halves of the Kharina mountains had sheer cliffs plunging steeply into the ground glowing in a soft blush as they moved from the shadow of the east to be greeted by a large sun hovering right before them in its zenith.
“We’re halfway at last…” Aengal whispered. Her voice was dry from lack of use and tickled at her throat whenever she said anything. “I wonder what the mountains are like now? It’s hard to imagine how Sarasan was lying before he left the mountains.”
“It’s also midday.” Vaenel replied, his stomach grumbling in protest. Having brought enough supplies to cover their journey to Elmadel, they had eaten a considerable amount of their supplies in the three days they had been held up in the cave.
“If we drop down into the valley more, it wouldn’t be so bad a place to stop for a while and rest. We can push on and make for the south oasis of Agshun if it’s still there before nightfall. We’ll be less than a day’s ride from Elmadel then.” She pointed out, shading her eyes with one hand to look across the sun kissed valley that looked enchanted and crystalline.
She knew that the lake must be somewhere to her right as she looked across the tumbling landscape; but as the report had said, the water hadn’t been contained at all and had flooded the lowest levels of the valley. Even so, Aengal felt the briefest moment of pleasure as birds swooped and dived around the mountain cliffs and their song filled the air.
“Don’t get too excited. If we can pass through, so can the storm if it circles back around.” Vaenel had come to a stop again, his head turned slightly back as they waited again for Aejan and Yasmakea to catch up properly. As she watched them return back into sight from behind the maze of fantastical boulders, the unease returned in force as she watched Aejan tilting violently in his saddle and the mysterious white feathers fluttered across her mind. Their eyes met for barely a heartbeat, enough to marr the beauty of the day as the white noise returned to Aengal's mind.
"Oh Vaenel, how did we end up tangled up in this mess?" She whispered somewhat forlornly as she glimpsed Suiren in the distance still veiled in its cursed mists that blotted the purity of the view. Memories of her old dreams and the kindly world filled with rich colours and sweet geraniums rushed over her, memories of a world so far apart from the one she had always lived in that seemed a never ending cycle of pain, destruction and a constant spectrum of greys.
She wasn't sad to be straying past Suiren with its spectral atmosphere and dark memories. Whilst holed up in the cave she had spent countless hours arguing her case with Aejan as to the futility of visiting Suiren with the remaining shades more likely to try and dispose of them for their livelihoods. She was grateful for the flooding that would force them to keep much farther south.
Ever since being in Kata Jinja, the world suddenly seemed overflowing with life and essence that assailed her senses constantly. So much so, she wondered how she had never noticed its beauty and wonder, even in its brutal nakedness and stark contesting talvaen colours; though she barely had chance to take it in now as her nose wrinkled at the fusty smell that meant Aejan had appeared at her shoulder and she suddenly wished she had remained senseless.
"Are we stopping here for brunch?" He asked optimistically as his horse curled its lip at Vaenel and stamped its hoof on the ground, still unsure about being right next to the wolf's overwhelming size and curious, ancient scent.
"No. We can eat as we ride." With that she nudged Vaenel on once more, sparing Yasmakea an apologetic glance before putting space between her and them again.
“You know, if we were to make straight for Suiren; we could have a proper bed and a hot meal.” Aejan called out loudly from behind.
“Go there if you like. And good luck finding even a roof to sleep under.” She threw back at him. I hope he does, then my old neighbours can give him a proper Suiren introduction. Her thoughts hissed savagely against the humming of her mind. How can you still trust him Vaenel?
It took less than half an hour to make the descent down to the water’s edge that sat deathly tranquil and secretive. They had reached the northern drop of the southern Kharina Mountains that curved steeply around them, as though a giant had carved the stone to make an impassible and impossibly smooth wall that would continue to guard the secrets of Elmadel and their mines. Aengal had hoped that if they went further south they might be able to pass around the flood entirely, and had been disheartened to find that where stone had once blocked passage across Khalilja, now water had taken its place as waterfalls cascaded from both halves of the mountain range with nowhere to go, and they had no choice but to step into the water.
A flock of geese flew over in a perfect vee honking clamorously as they too fled towards the west and away from the worst of the weather, fading back into silence as Vaenel pawed at the water’s edge and whined briefly as he turned his head to look at her with deploring amber eyes and his ears pressing down.
"We have to go this way, our only other option is to go entirely south and back through Mijavae which is one hundred and thirty leagues more in the company of that old git,” she whispered, scratching at his ears. "Come now, it won't be that cold, this water is resting on a desert..." As Vaenel stepped grudgingly into the water she tucked her heels right beneath her, laughing slightly as she recalled the way Khafune had looked at her strangely when she had ridden a horse in the same manner.
The humour was short lived as within moments even their speed was checked by the water dragging at Vaenel's thick fur. As the water coursed over his back and soaked straight through her leggings, she realised how wrong she had been about the water. Aengal bit her lip to stop herself from crying out as the cold of the waters chilled her skin and coursed like fire right into her bones. She knew that Aejan was close behind once again and waiting for her to err.
"You were saying about the water?” Vaenel grumbled as he tried choosing a different path through the ultramarine waters. “I think we found the remains of a caldera that was displaced.” He lurched forwards violently as the ground suddenly collapsed away from them and they plummeted into a black pit that sucked them further down into the swirling depths while conspiring eddies pulled Aengal away from Vaenel.
Mucilaginous weeds coiled around her wrists and ankles holding her captive while the cold gnawed away at her as she wrestled to get free, but as soon as she'd spiralled in her frenzy in the dark she'd lost her way to the surface with flecks of light being both above and below her; her head spinning as the air in her lungs ran short.
Forcing herself to calm, she closed her eyes and felt around her senses for the unelmalin, freeing herself from the physical constraints of her body and the world as it turned into an insubstantial blur of many colours as confusing as the watery grave she was almost ensnared in.
Once she found her equilibrium within the fluid world she could just make out where Vaenel was and pulled herself up the rocklike surface towards him, collapsing on the ground and gasping in the fresh air, she rolled into his arms almost paralysed and totally numb. Her skin was rapidly transforming into purplish blue marble and her teeth chattered incessantly.
"First a scorched wasteland, and now a treacherous lake of ice. Your beasts leave death wherever they go." Aejan muttered as he and Yasmakea brought their horses to a stop next to the boulder they were resting on. She glared up at him despising him in every which way in that moment and wondered how he could possibly hold her accountable for this level of destruction or see her as a powerful enough entity to control the actions of even a Sirin bound ajukara.
"Never mind that now." Vaenel snapped, lifting Aengal up in his arms with ease. "We'll meet you in Elmadel." He nodded to Yasmakea and turned his back on Aejan. You know what do. He breathed deeply and she forced her body to do the same, and a moment later the world became liquid and blurred around her once more as she battled to stay conscious whilst her body screamed in agony to her. If she passed out now she'd be forced from the unelmalin to who knew where and she had a feeling Vaenel was headed towards the jagged and violent mountain maze that still stood around Elmadel.
"I wonder what he thought to that.” She whispered weakly as she nestled into Vaenel's chest for the warmth he radiated out. She hadn't had chance to catch Aejan's face as they slipped from one world into another, but she could easily see his thin eyebrows disappearing into his greasy yellowing hair as his jaw dropped dumbly to reveal his chipped teeth.
"I feel sorry for Yasmakea. He has to try and explain what just happened to him. And still travel the rest of the way to Elmadel with him." His voice was cold as iron as though he held her responsible for what just happened in the ice planes. It wounded her deeply that her oldest companion and confidant was no longer seeing eye to eye with her.
"Then maybe we should have dragged them both through here as well." She said moodily. "Or maybe you should have just left me to freeze and save yourself from whatever it is you're feeling." Vaenel stopped moving and she knew she had hit a nerve of some sorts.
She was quietly glad that they would be in Elmadel in no time at all; it would mean dry clothes, warm food and a good few nights sleeping in proper beds again. Though it would be a short reprieve; sooner or later they would have to continue on this journey with moods becoming even more bleak than the weather. Still, in Elmadel she would be able to track down Gathor and Meliae in their wonderful little hideaway in the depths of the mountain town and find out something useful about Khalilja again.
"Why would I leave you to freeze?" His voice was quiet and impassive as he started moving forwards again. She refused to answer him, clenching her jaw and watched the vague scenery pass them by, noticing that only the world immediately around them was solid. It had formed into a narrow gorge that wound through high walls of steely granite, bathed in the golden glow of the unelmalin as silver veins of quartz meandered through the rock. "Why aren't you talking to me anymore?" He asked, his voice softening ever so slightly.
Why weren't they speaking anymore? She hardly knew the reason herself, let alone enough to answer it. All she did know was that at some point since the riders had arrived in Tenalue something between them had changed, and the further they travelled the more distant she felt from him. She continued to hold her silence and thought instead of getting back to Elmadel.
Perhaps if there was time enough before Yasmakea and Aejan arrived, she could pick up some of the Oraman tongue from Meliae as she enjoyed the sweet and spiced foods. She could already smell the cakes dripping with honey and cinnamon, the rich black coffee with velvety foam and the soft cheeses rolled in nettle leaves. There was the smell of sausages mixed with paprika smoked to perfection, and the richly peppered pork that was so succulent, her mouth filled with anticipating saliva and her stomach rumbled with desire as she found herself ravenous for anything that wasn't made from rolled oats or the bland cured meats that only tasted of the salt they were treated with. She could hear Vaenel's stomach grumbling and realised he had been following her thoughts about food and she came back to her senses and the twilight world before it cast her out for her distraction.
"You know it's the middle of the night? And you're still not answering my questions." He said sulkily, stopping entirely and sitting Aengal down on a rock and stood between her legs so he could look straight at her without her escaping his clutch. His normally lustrous curls of thick hair tumbled down against his jaw still sodden as beadlets of water traced their way down from his cheeks.
"How? I thought this way was quicker?" She looked up at him in confusion after checking around her, at the mountains that were still rearing up around them in a dreamlike haze and the awesome lake that glistened like blue topaz to her left. They had been in the unelmalin barely half an hour, though the constant half-light made it impossible to track time without a clock. It made no sense to her, the few times she had passed through the unelmalin, she had travelled quicker than anything possible and yet…
"Sometimes… and sometimes not. When you were in Kata Jinja, to you, it was only a matter of hours when in truth you were there for just over two days. You're in the world of dreams, and time doesn't exist here. Though we have been travelling for a few minutes the world is already a day ahead of us." His explanation didn't really solve anything for her, she felt more confused than before and decided to leave the subject alone. "So I'm afraid there's every chance you dear friend Aejan will be oiling his hair as he waits for you. Now, will you please answer my question?”
"I…" There were no words to explain something that wasn’t, and she looked at the floor, following the fine network of energy that formulated the world and gave it substance and shape. "It feels like you're drifting away from me, and I need you now more than ever." She whispered finally keeping her eyes downcast.
"What? Is that what you've been thinking all this way?" His words were filled with the incredulousness he felt, shocked, and somehow timid. "Aengal... you must know that's not true." His palm cupped beneath her jaw and tilted her eyes up to meet his, the complexities of both their unspoken feelings passing to and fro between them as she searched his ebony eyes with gold flickering like fire within them.
“Can’t we just stop here a while?” She cried out, she didn't want thoughts of Aejan or anything else diminishing the beauty of the unelmalin and the solace of the place. A sudden burning desire rushed through her, a madness that made her swoon even as she raised herself from the rock and pushed Vaenel roughly against the ethereal wall of stone behind. "If time is warped here, then let's steal some of it." She whispered, her lips brushing against the hot skin of his neck as her fingers coiled through the thick chestnut curls.
The cold was rapidly leaving her body in this world they ruled, the pain almost too much to bear still and yet it only served to remind her how little time they had together like this, and how unlikely it was that they'd be alone again for a long time. Her heart fluttered excitedly as her senses alighted, her fingers brushing at his smooth chest and her lips so close to his, lips so tempting. "Vaenel…"
"Because…" She braved looking back into his eyes and saw the gold mottled ebony of his eyes turning into a tortured storm. There was the desire she felt burning vibrantly in the depths swirling with some other fear, something haunted… she couldn't work it out so she pulled away and begun to turn from him, feeling violently snuffed out as she contemplated her hands that were still blue and mottled. Was he put off by her looking almost dead?
"Aengal, we can't. We have too far to go, it’s too risky." She turned back wide eyed and speechless, her mouth opening and trying vainly to form words that wouldn't come to her. He smiled his heart-melting sheepish smile at her before kissing her quickly and picking her dumbfounded form back up.
"What if this takes years. Will you really make me wait forever?"
“Well, I’ve waited over a thousand years so far." She looked up at him deviously, curiously, and said no more but contented herself instead with being carried again whilst her mind rushed through the cyclonic thoughts so brief they were everything and nothing to her as the world around them started to fade out and solidify into the familiar existence of Elmadel.