“Let me go and speak with the way-watchers first, just to be sure things are as they seem,” I suggested, as we began to close upon the entrance to the encampment. Deverell agreed, so we steered the horses toward a grassy knoll upon which some trees grew nearby.
“I will not be long,” I said and, with a wave over my shoulder, I headed down the hill and toward the encampment.
But it seemed I had presumed too much. “Scout Kaleigh,” the watcher said, “you are free to enter here, but we do not know of your friend. She must remain outside.” I even showed him the scroll delivered to me from Halbarad, but to no avail.
I returned to Deverell. “They will not let you enter.” I said with a sigh, avoiding her eyes. “I will go and see what this is all about and return as soon as I am able. I am so sorry.”
She turned and went to see to the horses without a word. I felt so badly for her, and I was a bit steamed as well. But I could see both sides, for they did not know her as I did.
…before this is over, they will come to you, my friend. They will come to you, and take you by your hand, and bring you amongst them with great honor…
I left Deverell and walked into the encampment on my own.
…as I came into the western courtyard, my frustration with these wise and noble men eased. I stood, frozen in step, as memories of the time I had spent in this place swept over me. The days that I had wandered aimlessly after leaving Archet came to an end due to the way-watchers…
…I still wandered afterward, far and wide, but I did so with direction, and with purpose, and with a wisdom imparted to me that was far beyond my own…
…of late those things had forsaken me, chased away by a frozen darkness that I could neither pierce, nor shed… but from the days spent since I had received Halbarad’s letter, I knew I was on the right path…
“Kaleigh! Over here, lass!” I heard someone call.
I turned to see the ranger, Hithlim, beckoning to me from across the courtyard. I ran over to him and into his embrace.
“Ha! It’s good that you’ve come, Kaleigh!” he laughed, as I put my arm around him and held him close. “We could use some Scouts these days!”
I looked around at how sparse things were, both of people and the implements that those people should need.
“You could use more of everything by the look of it,” I said. “There are so few of you that remain.”
“Don’t fear for us, Kaleigh, nor should you grieve. We are safe here, and those who have gone, have gone to aid with endeavors in distant lands.” He gave me a reassuring squeeze about my shoulders, which helped put me at ease.
“Halbarad sent for you, did he?” he asked, after I had let him go once again. To my nod, he held out his hand and said, “Let me see.”
He looked over the scroll I handed him, and then looked at me silently for a few moments. Concern had passed from my visage to his.
“Go to the Library and fetch a map from the librarian. Show him this note, and he’ll give you what you will need,” he said at last. “Return with it to me, and I’ll tell you what must be done.”
I walked further into the encampment toward the central courtyard, where the Library was kept.
There were even fewer of the way-watchers in this courtyard, and my spirits fell a little as the hope of seeing old friends diminished.
I visited with a few old friends briefly at their campfire before continuing on to the Library.
When I handed my note to the librarian, he retrieved a map from a shelf in the hollow of the old bookstand behind him and spread it out on his table.
I looked at it briefly before taking it in hand. He handed me back the note from Halbarad, and I thanked him before leaving the Library.
“Show me your map,” Hithlim said upon my return. I unfurled it and held it out before us.
He began pointing to different places, “These sites that are marked are areas where we believe leaders and powerful minions of the Enemy lie in wait, either to join the coming war or to wreak havoc in places thought safe, as you will be doing. Places like this.”
He stopped to look at me for a moment. “I’m glad you’re one of us, Kaleigh, and not one of them.”
…my eyes brightened and my heart eased, the darkness enveloping it pierced for a moment…to know that you are needed can mean so much…
“See to these places, but also rely upon your skills and knowledge of the wilds. Listen to the whispers on the air, and see through what is near in order to view what is afar, putting them both within the whole of your vision. Act upon that vision, and you will serve us all.”
…my heart stirred, my spirit fought against an unseen tether, wishing to take flight…
“There is no greater evidence of how highly Halbarad thinks of you than the message you hold in your hand. We are counting on you. Go well, Watcher of Roads.”
…for a moment there was a glimmer in the darkness, a rift in the veil of frost and shadow… I reached for it with all speed…
…my hand came down upon the hand of darkness gripping my heart with great force…in an instant, my thumb leveraged its counterpart from its grip and held it away…it faded into nothingness, like a whispered word on a frigid breeze…
I hugged Hithlim to me for a moment, and then made to run to Deverell, that we might begin our journey straightaway.
Hithlim caught me by the wrist before I could get away. He gripped me forcefully, turning me to face him.
“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”
[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]
…my mind strayed into a dream…
…the hand of shadow writhed under my touch, its fingers clenching, its nails piercing, seeking to strengthen its hold upon my heart…we struggled to a draw, while still working to find a weakness in the other…
…the gauntlet had begun…
Wordlessly, I turned from Hithlim, slowly making my way out of the encampment, and to Deverell, that we might begin our journey.
The Spirit Gauntlet Saga
Also, the entire saga, with full-sized renderings, can be found here!
(The full renderings make for a completely different experience!)