141 7 5

It wasn't long before I was shaken awake once more, and soon Maeldok and I were hiking through the dim morning light.

I was exhausted. The few days since Koren, Andrin and I split up had been grueling, and I was sorely in need of some rest. As the inky sky gave way to brilliant pink, however, I began to feel some strength returning to my limbs. The sun warmed my face and I grinned. We were getting so close.

My mission was a success. I had found the medicine Andrin needed, even learned that he needed the Y'ririn Counter and found that too. Maeldok would teach me Solace magic, and as long as the Animaré had reached our meeting place on time, we'd be reunited before long. The group would never feel the same without my own Animaré with me, but the sky seemed brighter at the thought of seeing my friends again.

The trees grew thinner as we came alongside the great western road that snaked back behind us, leading eventually into the Corvelen Lowlands from which we had come. The road met three others ahead of us at the Crossroads, aptly named such. Andrin had always said the Corvel weren't the most creative bunch.

We stuck mainly to the tree line, trying to stay out of sight of the road even as we followed it. This early in the morning there might not be so much traffic, being relatively far from a major town or city, but one could never be too careful. The Ska'al couldn't possibly travel this deep in Corvelen in broad daylight, but we didn't want a run-in with Corvel guards either.

Unfortunately as we neared our destination, a hill rose up on our right side, and soon the western road closed in on our left, hugging the steep incline. It wasn't long that we walked on the dusty road before a wide clearing opened up ahead.

"The Crossroads," I breathed, letting out a deep sigh. "Our meeting place isn't far now, just down the southeastern branch and into a clearing near the river."

I made to set off immediately for the spot, itching to see if Andrin and Koren had arrived, but Maeldok stopped me.

"Solace, I'm afraid I must leave you for a short time." He glanced furtively at his Grezeor. "I have business to attend to in Yeandol, but I will wait for you there. It's not far out of your way to Aelridia."

My face fell. Just when I felt like I would finally learn something from him. "Disappearing again then?"

"My deepest apologies, but I have no doubt you will join me again shortly." He bowed. "I have vowed to train you, and train you I will."

I bit back a retort. He was right, Yeandol was a small town on the way to Aelridia. It wouldn't be far. We could make it there by the end of the day even. "Fine, but you'd better be there when we arrive. If not, you'll just have to catch up with us on our way to Aelridia."

We agreed on a meeting place and went our separate ways, him with his cloak swishing up the northwest path and me trying refocus on the southeast one.

It was only a few minutes before I became aware of two things at once. At first my heart leapt for joy. A strange rock formation rose on my right—the first landmark to guide me to our meeting spot. At the same time, a sudden queasy feeling stole over me. It was distinct and strange, like my stomach was abruptly empty and the breath I took was instantly gone.

They were both familiar feelings.

I hurried to the rock outcropping and vaulted nimbly to the top. My heart beat faster in my chest and I took a deep breath. Eyes raking the empty forest, I foraged ahead faster.

My boots hit the ground hard and I stumbled. No time to steady myself.

The clearing can't be far now.

I pushed further and took a right at a certain gnarled tree. The old path was thick with greenery grasping at my cloak, but I tore through it with shaking fingers.

Solace Curse: Part IWhere stories live. Discover now