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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 47

Forced by circumstances, Storm and Lorelei had to tell Celeborn their stories. Like everyone else, he was fascinated with Elder Earth and had an endless series of questions about it. Storm finally had to put an end to them so he and Lorelei could continue. When they were done, Celeborn still had one question.

“So, how can you use her power?”

Storm shook his head. “I don’t know. I haven’t held a bow in ages, let alone tried to use one. The Bear Clan rarely uses them. We were more of the brute force persuasion. If something moves, beat it until it stops moving.” He gave the elf a crooked grin.

“But it’s not just one-way. I’ve used your power too,” Lorelei interjected.

He frowned. “Developing a sense of danger isn’t the same. I told you, I knew a lot of guys who –”

“– developed it island hopping through the Pacific,” she interrupted. “Yes, I know. You told me. But I used your healing power to heal you after you broke through the wall in the sewers.”

“I healed myself,” he argued.

“No, I used it. I could feel it,” she contended.


She took a breath to lay into him but Celeborn cut her off. “Then heal me if you’ve got his power.” He held out his wrists. The heavy iron manacles in the dungeons of the temple had left heavy dark bruises on them.

She hesitated. Storm shrugged. “You either can or you can’t. It’s an easy way of proving which.”

Goaded by his words, she reached out to touch the elf’s wrists. She cast back in her memory for the sensation she’d felt when she was forcing the healing power into Storm’s body. She bit her lip, trying to recreate the sensation. For a long moment nothing happened and Celeborn started to slump in disappointment.

Then . . .

She felt something give and power flowed through her into the tall elf. His wrists healed almost instantly, along with all the minor cuts and scratches he’d received in the dungeon and fighting the trolls. At the same moment, Storm let out an exclamation of surprise.

“Whoa!” He jerked upright. “I can feel healing power going out of me. You can use my healing power! But how?”

It was an excellent question, one that stayed with them, unanswered, the rest of the day. By the time they finished slogging their way through the marsh to the Lake Road, the only decision they’d come to was to call Aram and Gerald as soon as possible to see if either of them had any idea what was happening to them. They liked Celeborn and considered him prime material for joining the Army of Light if he was so inclined, but this was too close, too personal for them to share until they understood it.

They reached Harak’s Rest around noon. The innkeeper, Pagiel, a solid, no-nonsense man who looked like a retired warrior, was gratified to see them. “It’s been over a week since Tikvah sent your pegasi to us. I was beginning to wonder what happened to you.” Without going into details, they briefly recounted Fingers’ treachery and he nodded. “Tikvah tries to be tolerant but sometimes he goes too far for my taste.” He waved it away. “Oh well, what’s done is done.”

They would have liked to spend the night in comfortable surroundings for a change but Nahor was too close for comfort. There were too many people coming and going past the inn who could carry tales of their presence to one of Adrammelech’s Temples. Instead, they prevailed upon Pagiel to rent them a room for a couple of hours so they could have a hot bath and eat. They also paid for Celeborn’s room as a way of thanking him for his help, along with fresh clothing and a mount to return him to his people. Before leaving, they called Gerald on their mirror-phone, as Storm had started calling it, to introduce the elf to him and invite him to join the Army of Light. Celeborn promised to consider it and they parted company.

It had been several years since Storm had been to this part of Gaia and he’d forgotten how busy the Lake Road was. There were dozens and dozens of settlements, villages, and towns along the eastern shore of Namak Lake. Some had grown into full cities in their own right. The lake was so large it was practically an inland sea and the cool breezes coming off it gave the eastern shoreline a wonderful Mediterranean climate. It was also wine country. The soil near the lake was perfect for vineyards. All of it combined to make East Namak one of the more populous areas of Gaia.

Even though they’d be flying high above the road, they’d still be visible to anyone who looked up. Given the speed of their pegasi, it made sense for them to take the western route around the massive lake.

The contrast between the two sides of the lake was startling to the uninitiated.

The western shore was rough and rocky, full of scrub pine, tumble weeds, and hot breezes blowing out of the Akhu Plains. The prevailing winds blew north from the Midbar Desert to the south, then gradually turned east over the Akhu. The tip of the Sorgo Mountains, an off-shoot of the Rampart Mountains to the north, created a funnel effect, concentrating the winds between them and the isolated peaks in the southern Akhu, collectively known as Lake Mound. The total effect was to blast the western side of Namak Lake with hot, relentless winds that never ceased. As the winds crossed the mighty lake, they spread out and picked up moisture from the water. By the time they reached the eastern side, they were reduced to cool, gentle breezes.

Although Storm hated the dry heat and incessant winds, the western side was virtually uninhabited which meant no prying eyes to give them away. Lorelei agreed and they turned their mounts toward to the west. They flew low out over the southern end of the lake, out past the fishing boats that plied the waters. They laid flat on their mounts, hoping that any with eyes sharp enough to see their pegasi, wouldn’t notice them clinging to their backs and sides. Storm remembered pilots on Earth talking about flying below the radar. He didn’t know if the same principle applied here but it was worth a try.

After several hours, Nahor had vanished behind them and they urged their mounts higher where they could fly faster. They rounded the southern edge of the lake and turned north. The hot dry winds made themselves felt soon after.

“Whew!” Lorelei undid several fastenings on her shirt. “I never did like these winds.”

“This side of Namak is a mess,” Storm agreed, unlacing his vest to let it flap in the breeze. “A caravan I was on once had to meet up with another caravan coming from Lake Mound one time. We waited for them for two weeks out here in the heat. The men were ready to mutiny by time the other caravan finally arrived. Then, we still had to drop off a shipment of spice in Sairaw. I was never so glad to get out of anywhere in my life. I don’t know how the desert tribes put up with it.”

They flew as high as they could to take advantage of the cooler temperatures at the high elevations but when night came, they had to land and bear the full brunt of the scorching winds. They made camp on the leeward side of a pile of boulders but it was still savagely hot and dry. The wind that slipped around the sides of the boulders, whipped the flames and smoke from their fire, scattering sparks hither and yon, threatening to start a ground fire, and the smoke sought them out regardless of which side of their campfire they moved to. As soon as their food was ready, Storm put it out.

He set the wards around them and they stretched out on their blankets, unable to cuddle without baking and drowning in perspiration from the suffocating heat. As Storm lay watching the sky, a thought occurred to him. He turned his head toward Lorelei.

“Remember that Earth book I found in Niran’s throne room?”

She had stripped off her clothes but still needed to fan herself with a plate to keep cool. “The one with the funny name?

“Yeah, Mein Kampf.”

“You burned it a few days after we reached Zered, didn’t you?”

He nodded. He had indeed. “The ideas in that book caused enough problems on Earth without bringing them here.”

She turned her head to look at him. “So? What about it?”

He propped himself up on one elbow. “So, how did it get here?”

She closed her eyes. “The same way you did probably, it fell through one of the gates between the worlds or somebody was carrying it when they fell through.”

“And then it wound up in Niran’s possession? Along with a magic magnifying glass that translates things into whatever language the reader understands? That’s too much of a coincidence even for me.”

Lorelei sighed and opened her eyes again. “Where is all this coming from? This isn’t like you.”

He gave her a crooked grin. “Actually, it is. We’re not doing anything and it’s giving me time to think, and when I think, I think like an old man, remember?”

She gave up trying to get to sleep and propped herself up to face him. “Alright, old man, what are you thinking?”

He sat all the way up. “I’m thinking Adrammelech and Ashima gave Niran that book and the magnifying glass just like they gave him the bloodstone gem. But why?”

She sighed in frustration and sat up with him. “Storm, they’re gods. Who knows why they do anything?”

He laughed harshly. “They’re a lot of things but gods isn’t one of them. And,” he held up a hand to forestall the explosion he saw coming, “because I’m not conditioned to see them the way people on Gaia are, I can see them for what they really are.”

Lorelei was too hot and tired to argue. She laid back down. “Which is what?”

“Fallible power-mad tyrants like the man who wrote Mein Kampf.” He pounded the ground softly.

She stretched out a gentle hand to push him back down to his blankets. “I believe you, but right now there’s nothing you can do about it. Leave your questions for later and try to get some sleep, old man.”

He chuckled and closed his eyes but the heat was against them. They tossed and turned for seemed an eternity but eventually he dropped into an uneasy sleep. All night, he dreamed he was searching for the air conditioning thermostat but he couldn’t find it anywhere in the enormous tent he and Lorelei had built.

* * * * *

They were up and moving early in the morning. It was before sunrise and the heat was bearable, although the wind still blew as fiercely as ever. They ate a cold breakfast of trail rations and mounted into the sky searching for cooler temperatures.

They had a perfect vantage point to watch the sun come up. Lorelei had never seen a sunrise from such a height and exclaimed over it in wonder. The Bear Clan had lived high in the Ramparts during the summer and such views were common to them. He’d seen plenty of such sunrises on Earth during his “old hippie” days as well, but still, it was a sight he never tired of. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Lorelei’s smile rivaled the sun. “It’s gorgeous! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

He patted Specter’s neck. “With these, we’ll get to see a lot more of them if you’d like.”

“I would. I most certainly would.”

They continued flying for another two hours after sunrise without seeing anything of interest until around mid-morning when a sharp exclamation from Lorelei drew his attention to something high above them. Storm followed her finger up into the sky and sucked in his breath at the sight that met his eyes.

A strange, misshapen object was falling, tumbling end-over-end as it grew closer. There were tiny specks crawling across it. Then, abruptly the object split in half. The larger half continued turning as it fell but the other, smaller part straightened out and pulled up over the first piece.

“What is that?”

Storm shook his head. “I don’t know.” Then suddenly he did but it was impossible. He saw masts and sails on the larger piece. His perspective changed and he found himself looking at a two-masted galleon falling through the sky. The other piece above it, was a ship too, although far different in design. It almost looked like an over-sized bird of some kind. There were sparks and weird glowing lights coming from the “eyes” of the bird-ship. The specks crawling over the ships began to become visible as people.

“Storm! There are people up there!”

He nodded. “I see them.” He switched on his Sight and was staggered at the magic weave that covered the two ships. “There’s tons of magic on those ships too.”

The magic around the galleon exploded into action and the ship suddenly slowed it’s suicidal plunge. Unbelievably though, the crew began frantically taking in the sails as the pilot pushed the nose over into a dive. Simultaneously, above it, the smaller bird-ship abruptly lost power and began tumbling through the sky again. As soon as it drew even with the galleon, the power on the galleon went off and it joined its smaller companion in a headlong dive toward the ground.

“Are they crazy?” he shouted. “What are they doing?”

The ships were now close enough he could see people on the galleon aiming a ballista at the bird-ship. The great bolt struck near three people on the smaller ship. Two of them crawled over to it, dragging the third and began frantically making tying motions.

“It’s a rescue!” Lorelei cried. “There’s a rope!”

As the two ships drew closer he could see it too. One of the people, a man, waved at the galleon and the magic around it suddenly came back on and it pulled out of it’s plunge, slowing to a stop only a few hundred cubits from Lorelei and Storm.

The bird-ship, clearly mortally wounded, continued falling, trailing broken timbers and tattered sailcloth. The bow continued to radiate sickening pulses of power, sparking and flickering. It hit the ground with an explosion like nothing they’d ever seen or heard. Blinding light dueled with the sun for supremacy. A giant shock wave slammed into them with bruising force, hurling them and the galleon across the sky. A vast, evil-looking cloud, shot through with unhealthy reds and oranges hung in the sky, slowly expanding.

Storm blinked his eyes. His ears were ringing painfully and searing afterimages floated before him. He looked at Lorelei and saw from her expression she felt the same as he did. “Like a nuke,” he muttered.

Lorelei shook her head. “A what?”

“Remember those weapons I told you about that could destroy a whole city?”

She nodded.

He pointed at the expanding mushroom cloud. “Like that, only bigger.”

She shuddered and turned to the galleon. The crew was pulling in the survivors they’d rescued. The name painted on the bow said, Sky Hawk. “I want to take a look at it.”

He nodded. “It must be one of those sky ships, Aram told us about.” He turned Specter toward the strange vessel, fascinated by the shimmering sails and the magic weave covering them. As they approached, a man on the aft deck spotted them. Storm waved at him and shouted across the sky, “Are you alright?”

The rest of the crew spotted them and began pointing at their pegasi and exclaiming among themselves. Although the group on the rear deck seemed to be charge, Storm couldn’t see a face among them that was a day over 19, yet they had the look of having done a lot of maturing recently. He’d seen the same look on the faces of young men during World War I and II after their first time in combat.

“Yeah,” the first man called back. “We just finished a bit of a rescue mission. Sorry if it got a little messy.”

Lorelei laughed, remembering some of their own exploits. Storm knew what she was thinking and grinned along with her. “Been there, done that.” He looked at the Sky Hawk. “Interesting ship you’ve got there. I’ve heard about them. Where’d you get it?” He had a good feeling about this bunch. They might be young but something told him they were trustworthy.

“I was about to ask you the same question about the pegasi,” one of the women interrupted. “They’re beautiful!”

Lorelei smiled at her. “They’re fun to ride too.”

The first man, obviously a cleric, nodded as if he’d come to a decision. “We’re the Knights of Gaia, out of Thorginbelt in Fleyniria.”

Storm nodded back. “A pleasure. We’re recently out of Zered. If you ever make it there, look up our friends in the Army of Light. Tell them Storm and Lorelei sent you.”

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