Time is distorted there. Its measure is meaningless within it. And yet, much as its authors strove to master eternity, there was still some correspondence to outside events.
It is time to return to Hibern of Roth Drael, slammed into Norsunder-Beyond by Ilerian early in the invasion, to be dealt with at his leisure, before Kessler warded Sartorias-deles from such transfers.
It seemed to her that she had been walking, and walking, and walking, until she consciously heaved a huge sigh.
The heavy air of Norsunder did not stir.
She seated herself on a featureless stone bar. Pressing her hands down hard against its rough sides, she subjected her surroundings to a kind of desperate, close scrutiny. Rising panic demanded some kind of touchstone to reality. She rubbed her fingers against the gritty cement, concentrating on every sensory detail. It was too uniform a gray to be granite, despite the feel. It was about three feet high, twenty or so paces long. No discernible purpose.
The ground beneath her sandals was compressed, slate-colored dust. Gritty dust. It stirred when she kicked at it, and hissed when she ran her feet over it. The dust seemed to hang in the air before settling. It left no prints. Yet it did not cling to the hem of her gown.
A chill tightened the flesh along her upper arms. The air around her was still, cool, and though she was wearing a light summer dress she had a feeling she would sense nothing different had she put on a heavy woolen winter gown before disaster overtook her. The chill was due to fear.
Her shoulder still ached, at five distinct points, where Ilerian had taken hold of her and thrust her—here, into Norsunder, the stronghold, for millennia, of the enemy.
She spoke out loud. “How long have I been here?” The sound of her own voice flattened, like the dust around her. She could almost see the distortion. She wondered if someone standing five paces away would have heard.
Very well then. She had tested the senses, all but taste, and…
She sniffed. There was no smell.
She bent, and sniffed the granite, expecting grit, or moss, or mildew, or dry rock: nothing.
She dropped her head into her hands, struggling to calm the frantic throb of her heart.
After a time she raised her head with a defiant jerk, and glared at the dull, dark horizon. “All right. If no one hears me, then why not speak aloud? I do not think much of your plans, Norsunder. In fact, I’m getting sick of your lack of direction. Sick of lack of air, lack of space, of perspective, of time—” Her voice trembled.
She got up and began walking again.
It seemed she had been walking for endless hours. She didn’t really ache physically, but she got so bored she thought she ought to, so when she spotted one of those stone bars, she would sit and rest. But sitting was not restful, so eventually she would get up again.
Her surroundings remained featureless gray, stretching out for a day’s journey—or a year’s. Or maybe she was walking in a circle. She felt constrained, yet in all her walking she had yet to reach any kind of boundary. The ‘sky’ curved eternally overhead, lightless and impossible to measure. Could she touch it if she jumped? Or was it limitless, like the sky above the world? There was no light source anywhere, yet she could see herself and a certain way ahead and around and behind.
No hunger, no thirst.
Panic-panic-panic. Again she forced the stale air into her lungs and slowed the heartbeat crowding her throat.
She began to walk faster.
On arrival she had seen people. In fact, she retained a confused image of buildings—or some kind of squarish obstructions—before she realized that Ilerian had unaccountably not come through the transfer, and she had run to escape before he appeared. Fear had given her the illusion of speed. She’d lost sight of those buildings, or whatever they’d been, almost immediately.
It would almost be a relief to see someone, she realized, though anyone she would find would be an enemy.
“What I must do,” she said out loud, “is to find a way out.”
Lengthening her strides, she watched the placement of each sandal, the passing of dusty ground beneath her feet. One, the other. One. The other.
LARKADHE, CAPITAL OF VISEGN – SUMMER 4759
Larkadhe, a pleasant city once fortified, not far from Lindeth Harbor, was where Imry Llyenthur, commander of the military side of the Norsundrian invasion, had unaccountably chosen to set up his headquarters.
Just after dawn Llyenthur arrived in the room he’d adopted as a study to find his aide Duin waiting complacently.
Llyenthur didn’t look at all like a Norsundrian commander. Impatient of appearances, he was dressed in his customary baggy tunic, the laces untied, loose long trousers, and soft-weave mocs instead of riding boots. He almost never wore weapons, at least not visibly. His hair grew in neglected sun-bleached light brown locks straggling down his back, but Duin and the rest of his staff had learned—the hard way, as everyone did in Norsunder—that he was stronger, faster, smarter, and much meaner than any of them. He was also moody, and his sense of humor and his temper were sometimes indistinguishable. Though they complained about him with creative invective behind his back, they respected his temper—and his ready fists—enough to follow his orders with care and exactitude.
He dropped into his chair and began sorting the pile of reports that lay on the desk.
“Two captures today,” Duin began.
“Only two?” Llyenthur murmured, eyes scanning rapidly down the second sheet of the report. Duin wouldn’t be so smug if the bags had been flunkies. “Who?”
“Couple of kings. Hier Alverian—”
“Good.” Llyenthur turned to the third sheet.
“—and! Andri Elsarion of Enaeran.” Llyenthur glanced up from his reading as Duin went on triumphantly, “This one knows where the cap-list whites who were in Mearsies Heili are hiding, and what’s more, he’s got instantaneous communication with them.” Duin smiled in triumph as he laid down the report he’d been keeping to himself.
“While Elzhier was poking around the Enaeraneth capital, trying to pick up Elsarion’s scent, she stumbled on a loudmouthed brat, one of the inner members of his old gang. She cultivated him for a week, got him drunk, and he started bragging about this magic paper that Elsarion kept hidden in the city there. He’d come in every so often, write on it to Liere Fer Eider and the queen of Sartor, among others.”
“Detlev?” Llyenthur asked, fanning himself gently with Duin’s report, which he knew would go into exhaustive, and irrelevant, detail.
“Him, too. So said this brat. Anyway, she thought he was lying until she found out from an unrelated source that Elsarion showed up in town every week or so for some obscure purpose. Another drunken revel and the brat revealed where the paper was hidden at least part of the time. She set up a watch last night, got a patrol from me—not from Marsael—and when Elsarion showed up at dawn, they nailed him.”
“And the paper?”
“On him. No one has touched it.”
“Very prudent. And our friend Adon Marsael?”
“Knows nothing. She said when she commandeered my patrol that she had orders from you to act completely on her own.”
It was a question as well as an answer. “Yes,” Llyenthur said. “Where is she now?”
“Went to find Liere Fer Eider. That brat said she’s in Sles Adran organizing the resistance efforts there.”
Duin didn’t expect, or want praise. He wanted an edge on the other aides.
Llyenthur tapped his fingers meditatively on the pile of reports for a few heartbeats; he’d always expected the lighters to put together some kind of comms, but not so soon.
“Better have him up now. Other concerns will have to wait.” He picked up the reports, and began scanning them much more rapidly than before.
Duin went out at once.
His disappearance from the room removed him from Llyenthur’s attention. A very short time later, just as the reports had been separated into two stacks, the sound of scuffling outside the study heralded Andri Malcolin Elsarion’s appearance.
He was flanked by several big gray-tunicked guards who thrust him into the room and then at a sign from Llyenthur effaced themselves, shutting the door firmly behind them.
“Andri,” Llyenthur said, trying not to laugh. “Make yourself comfortable. As much as you can,” he amended, eyeing with increasing amusement Andri’s battered and tattered appearance. “Perhaps I ought to have asked Duin how my patrol fared.”
Andri grinned, slowly flexing the mangled left hand that Llyenthur’s resident medic had just finished wrapping up. “You can still use a couple of ‘em.”
“A couple of them,” Llyenthur repeated, miming the round eyes of someone Properly Impressed. “My, my. But here! Have a seat.” He indicated a nearby chair, and his amusement increased at the speculative expression in Andri’s face. “Please! You really would be better off not trying to prove the truth of your formidable rep just now.”
Unquestioning surrender was not part of Andri’s nature, but neither was he suicidal. He was in a tower with an unimpeded hundred-pace drop beyond the window. A squad of rather annoyed armed guards waited right outside the door. Andri had a broken hand and a skull that ached from the sword-hilt blow that had felled him earlier, ached so much that his eyes seemed to rattle in his head every time he blinked. And this Llyenthur character was lounging back in his chair, completely at ease—which Andri recognized as a warning. You didn’t even have to note the muscle definition where his sleeves pulled against his arms, or the obvious strength in those long, loosely clasped hands.
Andri sank into the chair, and stretched out his scruffy booted feet before him. “You’re more spindly than I thought,” he admitted.
“Spindly!” Llyenthur exclaimed, glancing down his own length as if in amazed discovery. “What? I’d say we’re much of a size, you and I. We’ll have to try a couple of falls when that heals up, if you like.” He indicated Andri’s broken hand. Then he paused, his green eyes going distant in focus. When he went on, the friendly expression was still there, but his tone flattened. “I’ve waited a long time for an opportunity to talk to you. What I’d really like to hear is your opinion of the organizational abilities of our mutual friend, Adon Marsael—”
Andri made no attempt to hide how unexpected he found this question, but just as he opened his mouth to answer a dark flicker in the air presaged transfer magic. A tall, sharp-faced young man dressed in black appeared, familiar to Andri from the bad old days as Efael of the Host.
Efael glanced at him, then turned his faint, unpleasant smile on Llyenthur. “I’ll let you know what I find.”
He gripped Andri’s arm and they transferred out.
Llyenthur went to the door, opened it. “Duin!”
The aide appeared a moment later, his eyes searching the room in mute question.
“Efael,” Llyenthur said, picking up the smaller of the two piles. “Find out if Alvar Zhendarei has a paper, or if he knows anything about them. And send word to the rest of the trackers.” He waved the papers in a gentle salute at Duin’s frustrated expression, made the transfer sign, and vanished.