Kwik had a plan, and from Darr’s point of view, a simple but dangerous one.
They needed to get a closer look at the mist, and the easiest way to do so would be in a straightforward manner. They would climb down the hills of the Norstag Plume to investigate. If the Seekers were present in the mists, Kwik believed he could get everyone clear before they noticed. If the Seekers found them first, it’d be up to Darr to come up with some sort of defense. Either way, the operation would be quick and stealthy.
They left behind everything except their weapons, stashing their gear with the horses. The little outcropping would be easy to find in the dark, but even as they moved their supplies, the overcast skies began to lift. When they started down the hill out of the Norstag Plume, the white wash of stars and moon gave them ample working light.
Below them, where the passage began its slothful journey north, the strange mist swirled in large clumps across the field like scum floating on the surface of a pond. Darr kept his senses sharp, and his ear to the Currents, ready to act at the first sign of danger.
Stepping into the passage, the topography changed suddenly. The grasses, knee-high in the Norstag Plume, came as high as Darr’s shoulders in the passage. Seeing more than a few yards ahead became impossible. His boots sunk into the soil beneath him, reminding him of the swamps around the Lowlands of Deron, especially with the swirling mists all around them.
“Creepy,” Jinn whispered in his ear, her words mirroring his thoughts.
Kwik silenced them with a hand gesture, his sharp features taut with concentration. He didn’t walk, he crept, his body coiled and prepared to move appropriately to whatever threatened. They walked for another few minutes through the long grasses, their movements fluid and quick.
Kwik brought them to a halt beneath a solitary oak, its massive trunk twisted, its limbs stretching to the sky. For several long minutes, the three stood beneath the tree. As one, they watched the darkness.
Nothing presented itself.
Kwik flicked two fingers beside his eye, signaling to Darr, asking if he detected anything. The Summoner shook his head, but worry caused his insides to freeze. The Currents remained unchanged, but his natural instincts screamed at him. Something was out of place. But how can that be? Whatever caused him anxiety in the physical world should carry to the spirit realm. The two worlds bound one to the other like images in a mirror, but he didn’t feel like he looked into a mirror.
No, this was like looking into a painting.
“It’s a trap,” Darr said. Jinn whipped her head around, as did Kwik. Their eyes reflected shock and doubt, but Darr cast it aside. Hesitation would be the end of them if they didn’t do something quickly. “We have to move. Kwik, go now.”
Kwik bolted into the tall grass, sprinting between the broken blades that marked their path in. Darr pushed Jinn in front of him, and together, they sprinted for the safety of the hills, running like frightened animals.
Something stalked them.
Something had found them.
All around them, a hiss began to permeate the air, like wind blowing through tree branches, slow and steady. The hissing came from every direction making it impossible to find its source. Darr quickened his pace and focused on getting away. Whatever stalked them nearly had them back at the trees. It wasn’t about to let them get away easily.
The swirling mists rose up in the distance to their right and left, rapidly closing on their flanks. Darr risked a glance backwards. Behind him, the mist rose up above the tall grass, closing on them like some bloodthirsty predator.
Jinn cried out, and Kwik leapt back beside her. His blade slid free from its sheath, and moonlight tinted steel flashed in the night. In the brief instant that he paused, Darr caught something moving in the closing mist. An icy shiver thrust its way into his body, blasting into the Currents far too late. In an explosion of desperation, the voices of the spirits came screaming into Darr’s head, the ruse no longer necessary.
They were already trapped.
Kwik lunged into the grass, whipping his blade upward. Ash blew across the Elf’s face and into Darr’s nostrils. Kwik lifted his head, meeting Darr’s gaze. “Seekers.” As if any doubt existed.
“Get to the hills. Go ahead of me,” Darr screamed.
They began running again in unison. Darr sprinted behind them, his thoughts focusing on the Currents, seeking help there in whatever form he could find. The spirit realm had become a radiating whirl of fear, anger, and confusion. Nothing had been what it seemed. The healing in the Currents over the last few days was a lie. Balance wasn’t returning to the Sephirs. If anything, they faced more danger than ever before.
Darr grit his teeth and powered on. The Devoid was close to finding its escape.
At the fringes of his vision, where the mists thickened, the Soul Seekers began to emerge. Their claws reached out to grab anything they could find, but Kwik and Jinn slipped past them easily. Darr charged ahead, balancing his attention between the world around him and the world in which he must stand and fight. The tall grasses whipped at his face, burning for mere seconds before he forgot about them.
The time had come. Darr stopped and wheeled about. His body merged with the Currents, letting the spirits pass through him. The white fire of the Light burned inside him. The mists closed in around him and dozens of Seekers sprang forward, their black-robed bodies stretching up into the night. Darr let them come, let them forget about Jinn and Kwik. The silver claws reached out for him, but Darr closed his eyes and shut them away.
The air crackled and radiant white erupted from the Summoner’s hands, miniature orbs dancing on each individual finger. Darr brought his hands to his chest. His instincts would guide the Light where it needed to go.
His eyes snapped open and he thrust one hand forward, the other back. The Light burned into the mass of Seekers closest to him, scattering their black forms and the mists that carried them. More Seekers attacked at his sides. Darr pushed them away with a shift of his arms. The Seekers exploded into the darkness, separating and dissolving their mists with them. He sent the white fire after his friends, covering their escape. Behind them, the Seeker mists reformed.
Darr pulled the Light back, steadying himself as a wave of dizziness overtook him. The Seeker mists continued towards him, far away for now, but they’d be on him again quickly.
He took a moment to catch his breath, to let the magic burn back into the Currents. The whirling in his head began to slow, energizing him as it did. His summonings came more easily now, more natural. Would Nidic Waq be proud?
Cold tightened within him. The mists gathered anew, quicker than he thought, their desperation to crush him tangible. He must be quick to reach the hills. The spirits confirmed they’d be safe enough. The Devoid grew desperate, not stronger. It could summon the Seekers, even hide them in the Currents, but it couldn’t stretch its creatures beyond the shelter of the Murmackding Passage. Darr ran, following the path left by Jinn and Kwik.
But the Devoid knew we’d come this way. It knew.
How could they journey ahead when the Devoid knew the moves they would make?
Kwik will know the way. Caeranol had promised when he told him Kwik’s place among the Chosen. Trust in him, Caeranol had told him. Let him lead, he will know. At the time, Caeranol was explaining how to find the Vedin Kael, but perhaps escaping the Seekers and finding the Vedin Kael were the same task.
Darr Reintol raised his head and smiled, not out of humor or happiness, but out of certainty. Without another thought, he fled into the night.