TKC 171 and 172
By evening Manuel has his list of tasks prepared and Mirlin has announced the intention to create work teams. Many groan, but none speak against it. All understand the need to get matters organised.
Hunkering beside Mirlin’s fire again, I watch Manuel. He moves about the rocky space with a smile and never seems frustrated. Clearly he possesses a positive attitude to life. I like the man, which makes it all the harder to accept him as an enemy.
Kay has not again put in an appearance. I wonder if it concerns Manuel; after Mirlin left the west for the plateau, Kay and Manuel were ever together and they led the westerners across the plains as a team.
The man is not stupid either and that is borne out when he suddenly swings around to catch me watching him.
“Why have you not attempted to cross back into Massin?” he demands.
My eyebrows hike up. Manuel has a point. Why have I not? Are we so certain the barrier is there that we simply accept its presence? Staring at him, I say, “I guess fear has held me back.”
Manuel nodded. “It holds all in check, but we should test this invisible shield.”
“I agree.” Abruptly I am impatient. Standing, I gaze at the man. “Care to try with me?”
“Darkness will hide our failure, if that is the way of it.”
Manuel grins. “Let’s do it.” He grabs water and two of the flat breads delivered to the cave earlier and shoves the haul into a knapsack. Lifting his weapon – an ornate dagger – he hooks it to his belt. “Shall we?’
Admiring the man’s sense of adventure, I laugh and precede him out into the night.
Half an hour later we are at the point where the ascent flattens to a level area. This is where we entered Arc. Both of us regard the well-trodden path dubiously. We are out of breath from the climb, and now bravado reveals itself. We are not as prepared to test the barrier as we thought.
A whistle off to the side startles us. Weapons are instantly to hand.
Kay emerges from behind a jumble of rocks and stands arms akimbo to eye us. “One can floor the two of you merely with sound, it seems.”
Manuel splutters into laughter. “Bugger off. Why are you here?”
“Same reason as you, I suspect, but I chickened out.” Kay shrugs. “Thought I’d wait until someone else arrives.”
His features remain in darkness and perhaps that is for the best. Manuel cannot read his friend’s expressions. I step forward …
“No, Horin,” Kay murmurs. “Do not quest for the barrier using your body. Establish its presence first.”
Use the orb, is what he means, and he is on the mark. Bravado is making me stupid. Taking a breath, I flex my fingers and swiftly the green sphere dances on my palm. Exhaling and inhaling again, I calm myself and tell it what it is I seek from it.
The orb lifts and bobs forward, following the path to the rim.
We follow, every set of eyes fixated and fascinated.
After about ten steps, it halts and we do as well. The glowing ball goes up, then down, and back to eye level. From there it moves left, then to the right before returning to its stationary position.
We do not move even an eyelid.
Abruptly the orb elongates to become a spike. It retreats from position, halts again, and then hurtles forward as if to pierce something at great speed.
“Sands,” Kay mutters.
Manuel is dead quiet, his jaw gaping.
A hiss of sound has us grabbing our ears. And then the heavens over Arc are no longer star-filled. A scarlet dome shudders into being.