Above the Ogil Valley…
The steel blade invading his body launched a kind of focused chaos in the mind of Jeneyeru Nightwise, a vortex storm through which some things passed and others vanished. Thus, he noticed in passing the bizarre pouring of liquor on his trousers by Capt. Lafitte, but he failed to observe the airship La Danse Calinda lowering from above, plunging all into shadow. He felt hands pressing around the knife, pushing a tidal wave of pain through his mental fog, but he was not aware whose hands they were, nor did he feel the lashing rain that came with the Calinda.
Part of him was upset over the ruination of his suit. More of him was angry over this interruption in his quest to rescue his brother, Peino. All recollection of a dragon, however, was lost for the moment, though the question “What of Thimble and Lotye?” shouted itself over and over in his ears. And while this flotsam swirled and bumped and jammed about, the wizard’s trained instincts searched for a way to save him.
The Evocation of the Dread Lady’s Cloak of Night would let him fold himself into his own shadow, becoming incorporeal so that he might simply step away from this ill-delivered dagger, but he lacked the aura to cast it. The sacred words were mere grating sand in his brain. He was too burned even for a spell as basic as Webs of Blood, which would have let him weave a clot over the wound. So few options for healing were practiced in the Luminous Shadow Way.
Then he felt it — the warm touch of a healer. He groaned as a purifying elixir flooded the wound and someone said something like “We’ll have to take it out.”
“Lotye.” He grasped her hand, not sure even if his voice could be heard outside his own head or if the words would come out in order. “Lotye, my staff. It will give me strength. Where is Thimble?”
The effort to push the words out took too much from the effort to slow his bleeding. He could only pray to Myrddin and Scatha of the magical arts, and to Dian Cecht, god of healers, that Lotye would figure it out.
How ironic, some small, idle part of him thought, a Master of Shadows, Paladin of Caillech, one who has passed the Grave Gates to the Ghost Realm and returned, as mortal as anyone else with a knife in his gut. It just goes to show, doesn’t it?
So it was Lotye left more or less in charge, temporarily, of the Lord Magus’ affairs as the crew of the Calinda made ready to bring the injured and the rest of the party aboard. Poor thief, not only did she hold her employer’s life and staff in her hands, but she also had to contend with Thimble who came stumbling up, sprinkling himself liberally with revitalizing powder, only to cry out in despair and try to throw himself upon his stricken master. Further, there were the two Brownie captives. Slipping loose of bonds and spells, they sought to slip loose of Jeneyeru’s pockets as well, even as they were hoisted aloft with him.
— — —
In the Ogil Valley…
…[B]ut he did not get far before a hand reached out to grab him…
Ruili nimbly spun about, pulling his assailant with him out of the bushes, indeed out of the ground itself. The tall person, equally agile, caught his balance on the river bank. In a blink two daggers faced each other as two free hands reached for swords and two pairs of dark eyes met.
“Ru!” cried Peino Starhand.
“Pei!” cried Ruili Windwolf.
The two brothers embraced, then quickly hushed themselves and took cover within the undergrowth.
“Apologies, old sprat,” Peino whispered, “I thought you were a bandit.”
“I thought the same of you, old clam,” whispered Ruili in response, “but what are you doing here? Ceula said you were floating or some such mad thing up to Mt. Isolla.” His eyes fell on the familiar purple complexion of Y’lanna Sparti keeping low in the bushes, and his eyes lit up as they had upon recognizing his brother. “Milady Lavender,” he whispered again, “I’ve come to rescue you. I see you’ve met my lord brother.”
“Yes, indeed,” Peino cut off any premature revelations, “a charming meeting, to be sure, but let’s catch ourselves up later. For now we’ve got to plot a course out of this strait, as it were.”
“Right-ho. I’ve a boat, by the by.”
“Splendid. Let’s get a look at what we’ll be sailing through.”
After brief, whispered introductions to Priestess Moonrain and her faerie comrades, the group moved into the woods. Many of the faeries, with their shapeshifters’ feathers and leaves, took to the trees. The Selkies, being far to large to pass for birds and out of their element as well on the unmoving land, followed the Priestess in the tracks of deer through the brambles. As Ruili had suspected, the greater part of Baugl’s force was encamped on the far side of the Temple and they seemed to have made the forest into a village with their tents and cook-fires.
“A proper army,” Peino observed.
Quiet as could be, they hid themselves among some fallen trees at a vantage where they could watch a conference in progress.
Ruili signaled to Y’lanna. “Isn’t that your friend from the train?”
Indeed, it was Haug Handslayer standing before a gaggle of bandits, his massive form unmistakable among the lesser figures.
“The fat one is Baugl,” Priestess Moonrain pointed out.
“And I think I recognize the others with them,” said Peino, sizing up the other three gangsters, Ashcat, Elda, and Switchtail. He never had learned their names, but he’d seen them clearly enough in Sesus. “Why, ‘tis a reunion of old fellows. I feel as if we should join this party.” He glanced around the group, meeting Ruili’s eyes with a possibly dangerous grin. “How should we play this, friends?”