At the stone circle, Delrin and Elum (and Lux, who alighted on his shoulder) stood facing Andal, the captain of her father’s Best Men and appointed guardians over her, and Ayar, who was now weeping over the body of his fallen brother, Ayad.
“Cursed be the Betrayer,” spat Andal. “But blessings we should find you again.” He went to embrace Delrin, who also felt tears in her eyes welling up. “We thought we’d lost you forever.”
After a moment, Elum said softly, “Let us tarry not long here, friends. For the Betrayer is still at hand…”
Ayar protested loudly, “We will not leave my brother here, to be eaten by beasts of the forest!”
“Aye,” Andal agreed. “He lived and died honorably. And so shall he rest.”
Elum cast a warning glance at Delrin, but said nothing. She, of course, caught it, the two having become close traveling companions during these many… weeks? months? days? they’d spent together journeying up and down the Great Forest, visiting the Forest Peoples in their villages.
She shot a return glance to Elum, and addressing Ayar and Andal, said, “We must make haste our preparations. We’ve all seen the danger… Either we bury him here, or we make up a litter to carry his body home to Abdazon.”
“Either way,” Andal added. “We must return and warn the city — ”
As he said this, Lux let out a shrill cry and flew up, shooting high into the air. An acrid stench assaulted their noses, and from a few feet off, the burned and blackened form of the Betrayer appeared.
Andal and Ayar leapt after it with their swords, only for it to vanish as they closed in.
Then the apparition appeared likewise behind Elum, and Delrin, who turned to face it. Elum notched, but did not let fly a shaft.
The monstrous phantasm vanished, and reappeared again in a third position. Lux cried out, and dove down to attack it, claws out, and wings swooping down into empty space as the form disappeared again. And it was then Delrin and Elum realized they had lost sight of the Best Men, during the scuffle.
They ran off around the huge boulder to try to find them, when suddenly from where they had just departed, a deranged looking Ayar growled, leaping at Delrin, his short blade menacing. Elum jumped into the air, rebounded off the rock of Acho, and brought the heft of his bow down with a whomp on the head of Ayar, the tip of whose blade was nearly at Delrin’s throat.
“Elum!” she screamed.
“He’s not dead!” he replied. “But the Betrayer has hold of him.”
She looked around, panic rising. “And where is Andal?”
The two turned, scanning. Lux sped off toward the forest.
“There!” Elum pointed.
Through the outer trees, Delrin saw the shape of the captain running off into the wood.
“Where is he going?” she said. “Andal!” she screamed
“That is the way to Abdazon.” Elum said. “To your father’s city.”
“And is he… ?”
“Under the Betrayer’s hold? I cannot say. There is light still in his passing.”
“He wouldn’t just run off! He’s a brave man, my father’s Best!”
She turned then to the unconscious Ayar. As they watched, his body underwent violent convulsions. She went to comfort him, but Elum held her at bay.
“Do not touch him. We do not understand the risk.”
“We can’t just leave him here, and his brother’s body…”
“Lux will go find my people. They will come, and take what care they may. We must go now to find your father, before the Betrayer can.”
She didn’t want to leave them, but saw immediately the wisdom in his counsel. When Lux returned to him, Elum sent her on to find help among his people, and return to find him in Abdazon. And with that, Delrin and Elum set off after Andal, toward the Great Bridge, and Abdazon.