3 - Emerald Haze

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Nobody spoke.

We were huddled in the dark, unwilling to risk a fire. The warmth would've been welcome, but we knew it wasn't a good idea. The smoke and light were too easy to spot as the evening faded to night, and we didn't have a clue who was out there watching.

Andrin glanced between Lylisia and me, wringing his hands, while I fidgeted back and forth on my bedroll. Koren's tapping was starting to sound like it was on the inside of my skull.

Tap tap tap tap.

"So... Sed noticed something weird about the soldiers' armor."

When she got no answer, Lylisia rolled her eyes.

"C'mon, let's move on. What happened, happened."

Andrin looked at Koren, who raised an eyebrow, then stopped his tapping.


I bit my lip. "Fine." I still hadn't made up my mind how I felt about it all. But she's right, let's move on with it.

"So the armor? What did you see? New forging?" The words came tumbling out of Andrin's mouth.

I sighed. "Can we have a little light at least? I need to see you guys." With the help of my Animaré senses I could see them in the dim light, so I wasn't quite sure what I meant. Maybe I just wanted to look in Koren's eyes, remember that he had some feeling under that cold exterior.

Koren's palm blossomed into ghostly green flame, the sudden glow reflecting in his eyes. The Torch nestled comfortably in his palm, an effortless light source for magic wielders of his strength. When he spoke, it was almost a whisper, as if the emerald blaze softened his tone.

"Something new?"

I couldn't quite place it, but something tempered the hard edge of my own mood. "Yes, something new... not in a good way. Their armor was made of some metal I've never seen before. Gray mixed with brown, and not shiny, almost like it was carved straight from stone. Ever heard of anything like that in Corvelen?"

Andrin's gray skin grew a shade paler. "Baldük metal?"

"Since when does Baldük-kre dole out resources to Corvelen?" said Lylisia.

"Only when—"

"—the Ska'al are involved." Koren calmly finished Andrin's shaky sentence. "This is not good news."

The Ska'al. Elite warriors of Baldük-kre, the fiercest fighters, ruthless, devoted to their cause until death. "Ska'al" was the name whispered in the dark by Corvel children, feared and respected at once by all. They were designated "Keepers of the Peace" in Baldük-kre and were heavily trained in combat. If the Ska'al wanted to find you, there was no escaping them.

"They can't be looking for us, right? What did we ever do? How do they even know about us!"

"They can't be after us Andrin, I don't think that's what Koren means."

"No... but I don't know what it means yet."

"The guards were equipped to fight Animaré, but didn't have an ounce of training to do it. Why outfit them without giving them a clue what to do?" Lylisia spun her knife point down in the log she was sitting on. I could practically see the cogs turning in her mind.

Koren was already shaking his head. "They couldn't have been after Animaré, let alone expecting to find anyone in this forest. Reill must think something is about to happen, or someone. And that brings us to the Ska'al."

"The Ska'al won't give up until they've found their prey." Andrin had shrunk to half his usual height, hunched over a mixing bowl. He almost automatically began to grind Lithis root. "I don't know what they'd even want with us."

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