Darr’s eyes focused, and his physical body closed around him. The Currents still buzzed in his ears, awash with the incessant ramblings of the spirits, but Darr didn’t have attention to give them. A wave of sickness washed through him, disorienting him. He tried to stand and found his legs gave out.
“Do not strain yourself, young Summoner,” Racall soothed from right behind him. Gently, the Archon lifted him to his feet, holding him by the back of his shirt.
“What’s wrong with me?” Darr asked, his words slurring together.
“Your body and mind are adjusting to the shift between worlds. You need rest, but now is not an option. Come. I have your pack.”
Racall nudged him forward, and Darr’s legs worked mechanically. The air and darkness of the night closed around him as Racall prodded him out into the pass. With it, came a deadening cold, but Darr didn’t feel it from the elements. This cold came from inside him, radiating outward from the marrow of his bones. The night itself appeared normal and calm, but some threat lurked close by. Perhaps a predator cindercat was on the hunt, but that didn’t feel right. Whatever was out there didn’t feel natural.
Nothing could be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears.
Darr’s thoughts grew jumbled again and he fell to the ground. Racall had him on his feet in moments, nudging him onward, his voice a whisper of reassurance. “Not far now, young Reintol.”
The Summoner let himself be propelled forward. His body moved fine on its own, as long as he didn’t try to dwell on whatever went on around him. He and Racall had left the main pass now, and his legs worked harder as they started up an incline. Long grasses whipped at his arms and face, but these were minor annoyances. When at last they stopped, they were on a broad ledge above a canyon, but the shadow and starlight gave no real definition.
Exhausted at last, Darr collapsed to his knees and Racall bent down over him. “I am going to leave you now, but you must stay quiet and still. Sleep if you can, but do not exert any more energy than necessary. Do you understand?”
Darr nodded, and he sprawled out on his stomach with his chin resting on his hands. Confusion persisted as to why they were running, but he no longer cared. The prospect of sleep appealed far too much. He closed his eyes and his spinning thoughts stopped. His body relaxed and peace settled in.
Time had passed. Darr wasn’t sure how much. His eyes fluttered open, and through the screen of grass, the starlit canyon spread out below him. There wasn’t much to see except the opposite cliff wall and a scattering of boulders. A willow grew across the way, its gnarled trunk and drooping limbs growing out of the rocky cliff. Strange. He’d never seen a willow grow out of a cliff before, but with the Sephirs unbalanced, he supposed anything could happen.
Darr tilted his head to look up for the Archon. He hadn’t heard from him in a while now. Out of the corner of his eye, something darker than the shadow around him caught his attention. His breath caught in his throat. His heart stopped, and he lay still.
The dark shapes worked their way west through the canyon, their movements fluid and black. The cold returned, stronger and more debilitating than before. He froze from the inside out, his being reduced to something so small he could barely perceive it. He knew what caused it.
The Soul Seekers.
They slid out into the starlight below him, shadows come to life, cloaked and hooded from head to toe in tattered robes. There were four or five of them. If there were more, he couldn’t see them. Silver tipped claws dangled at their sides, shining and inert and anything but useless. Like specters, they floated above the ground on invisible legs, silent and stealthy embodiments of death.
Darr took in a short breath. The Soul Seekers stopped and stood motionless in the canyon between him and the willow. Their empty hoods still faced west. The Summoner’s lungs froze, and a shiver of dread spun down his spine, uncontrollable.
As if sensing the movement, the Seekers turned as one, the black hoods peering up the rock wall of the canyon. They were looking right at him. They knew where he hid. They intended to destroy him, to rip him asunder like the Dwarf hunter in Tyfor had described.
Flee! Run away!
The words screamed in his mind, but Darr’s body wouldn’t work. With the incarnations of death standing before him, his bones and blood had turned to ice, his muscles had atrophied, and his only thoughts were of regret. The Seekers would come for him, and he would die.
The Seekers shifted their bodies in his direction, gliding towards him to finish him off. A breeze blew through the air, and Darr dipped his head, waiting for death. No, it wasn’t a breeze. The air itself was still, and he lifted his head to see the willow across from him swaying, its limbs and branches shifting.
Sound exploded across the canyon, and the willow came to life, its slender branches stretching out for the Seekers, wrapping about their robes like dozens of clinging tendrils. The tree shuddered, and the branches flung outward, tearing the Soul Seekers to pieces in the process, their robes shredded and scattered into the night. Their bodies, if they had any, were torn apart and lost to the darkness.
The entire spectacle ended in seconds. Darr blinked. The tree shook itself once before letting its branches hang limply once more. Darr blinked a second time, thinking he’d been mistaken, and the death the Soul Seekers would bring him still approached.
The Seekers were gone. Calm had returned, and the night no longer threatened. Darr let the breath he held in his lungs go and a smattering of bright spots crossed his vision. He felt sleepy and dizzy, and he shut his eyes to regain his composure.