Farryn twirled her runes slowly around her, inspecting each one in turn. The Gweyir shield-rune looked as though it might give out at the least strain, which was not encouraging. She did what she could to patch it up. It would be better to return to the waking world and patch the actual written rune in the dirt, but what was the point of trying that? Blind as she was in that world, she might make the whole thing worse.
The Nardual rune was strong though, at least at close range. She raised it up through the haze of the Otherway again, searching for some sign of the higher stone path Kellam had walked. There was only mist and more mist. No sign of Kellam whatsoever.
How long should she wait? It was impossible to know how the seconds were measured between this realm and the physical reality. It may be no more than a few seconds since she entered the Otherway, or it could be hours had slipped away without her realizing it. And if Yhendorn had taken her over the borders into Fairyland as she suspected, what did that mean for her deadline? Did time pass at the same rate for the fae as it did for mortals?
“Either way, you better not lollygaggle about,” she muttered, unconsciously mimicking Mother Ulla. She cast another glance up, half hoping to see catch a glimpse of Kellam once more. Then, with a sigh and resolute clenching of her jaw, she turned on the pathway stone and sent the seeing-rune out before her, searching for the fae’s dream.
It wasn’t far off. The Nardual rune flitted ahead of her, illuminating three more floating pathway stones before coming to a stop. It flared a little brighter, burning away the mist, and Farryn, chasing swiftly after it, hopping from stone to stone, saw the golden forest of the fae’s mind spreading before her vision.
She halted, gripping her staff uneasily in front of her. It wasn’t as though she had a better plan than last time. Her Bitoris battle-rune hadn’t been much use at all against the monster—the Noswraith, as Kellam called it. Sure, she’d survived both encounters, but survival wasn’t much to boast about under the circumstances. She glanced around at her faded runes once more, desperately trying to think of something, anything she could try. Maybe . . .
“Oh, seven gods!” she gasped, either as a prayer or an expletive, she couldn’t tell in that moment. She whirled in place, sent her Nardual rune piercing up through the fog, and saw the pathway stones reappearing over her head.
Kellam crouched and peered over the edge of the stone, a candle held in his hand once more, lighting up his features. Farryn let out a gasp at the sight of him, but quickly steeled herself, determined not to let any relief show in her face.
“Took you long enough!” she snapped, glaring fiercely. “I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.” She almost added a bitter, “Wouldn’t be the first time,” but shut her mouth tight. Now was not the time to be dredging up old wounds. It’s not as though she cared that he’d forgotten to write to her all those years ago anyway. She’d moved on.
“Forgive me,” Kellam replied, his tone much too rushed to be truly contrite. “I did not intended to be away so long. But good news! I found—well, to be fair, your mistress found—the Noswraith’s spellbook.”
Farryn turned her head to one side and raised an eyebrow. “So?”
“So we have a chance!” Kellam’s eyes were bright and eager in the candle’s glow. “The Noswraith you’re dealing with is a Miphato’s spell . . . the creation of old Mage Wysamenor, actually. It’ll take Miphates magic to bind it back, but having seen the spell, I think I can do it. That is . . .”
He hesitated, leaning out a little further over the path stone so that Farryn half feared he would lose his balance and topple. That would not be a good move in this world of voids and darkness and empty endlessness.
“I cannot do the spell directly,” he said. “I cannot get into the dream with you, not from here, so I will not be able to work the binding. But I think I can form a connection to you. A soul-thread, as it were. And maybe I can funnel the spell to you for you to work on your end.”
“What?” Farryn snorted, and her heart lurched uneasily. “You want me to work Miphates magic?” The idea was unsettling to say the least. True, Mother Ulla had always said that her natural proclivities were better suited to Miphates spells than to the older, low-magic practiced by witches. But her training was entirely in witch workings. She’d never learned the languages of high magic, never learned the more exalted spellwriting techniques.
“You can do it,” Kellam persisted. The hand holding the candle shook slightly, causing the light on his face to waver. “You are a strong magic-user, one of the strongest I’ve seen. I know you can do this.”
And there he went again—rattling off the words so lightly, with no understanding of how they struck her, each one a blow. And each blow made her heart swell and warm in ways she absolutely could not allow, absolutely had no time for. It’s not as though he meant them, anyway. What was she to him other than a curiosity? And this whole situation was no more than an interesting problem he might solve.
“All right,” she said, her jaw tight. “How do we go about this connection then? Do you have a spell for it?”
“Yes. I’ve written one up.” His face disappeared from her view again. She could still just see the glow of the candle around the edges of the pathway stone, but the mist started closing in fast. She angled her seeing-rune, driving the mists back, but the space between was a strain on her magic.
Suddenly there was a little flash of blue. Farryn startled and pulled back her rune a little bit, uncertain what she saw or what to expect. The next moment, Kellam’s face reappeared. He leaned out over the edge of the paving stone, and she saw that he no longer held a candle. Instead, a long, shivering, jolting strand of magic looped in his hands. It crackled and spat like a bolt lightning made tangible, but did not seem to burn him.
“I’m going to pass this down to you,” he said. “Try to catch it with your staff, all right?”
“Sure.” Farryn nodded and braced herself, moving her own runes around behind her so that they would not interfere with the coming spell.
Kellam stood and swung the brilliant blue strands like a lasso. It flashed bright in the void, burning away the mist. He let go of the looped end, and it burned through the dark down toward her, almost too bright to bear looking at. Farryn lashed out with her staff, and the loop circled round the end of it and pulled tight.
“Oh!” Farryn gasped, nearly joking surprise. A jolt of power shot through her staff, through her fingers, up her arms, and burst in her head—not just here in the Otherway, but all the way back in the dark cell where her physical body sat. She felt it wrapping around her heart, energizing her bones, linking her across the many miles, across the borders of realities, to the man at the other end of the spell.
“It worked!” she cried, pulling her awareness back to the Otherway. She looked up at Kellam, gazing along the brilliant strand of magic attached to her staff’s end. “I feel it! We’re linked.”
Kellam nodded. Obviously he must feel it too, being on the other end of the spell. “I’m going to try to send you something,” he said. “I want to make certain the connection works properly before I try to send the Noswraith binding-spell. Mother Ulla gave me a rune to give to you.”
“What?” Farryn couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d told her Mother Ulla had given him a kiss. Actually, she would have been much less surprised. The old witch was painfully reluctant to share her runes. It had taken Farryn the better part of four years to pry each of the runes making up her circle out Ulla’s steel trap of a brain. “She gave you a rune? You?”
He shrugged, one side of his mouth twisting in a rueful grin. “I . . . was persuasive.”
“Uh huh.” Probably best not to question that statement. “Fine. Send it to me then.”
After the fact, Farryn couldn’t remember exactly how she had “gotten ready,” as it were. She’d certainly never received knowledge in this fashion before. But really, was it so very different from the ordinary ways of learning? The transference of knowledge from mind to mind is always a little bit miraculous, though this was perhaps a little more straightforward than the norm.
One moment, there was a patch of emptiness in Farryn’s mind that she didn’t realize was there. The next moment, the shining lightning-thread blazed bright, and something rippled down its length, vibrated through her staff, up her arm, and burst inside her head. She felt the rune, felt and understood its shape, even without actually seeing it written out before her. It was simply there in the formless space of her head, hers to claim.
She staggered a little, coming dangerously close to the edge of the pathway stone before reclaiming her balance. Her mind buzzed, and back in the dark cell, her kneeling body shook violently. Farryn drove her staff down hard and caught her balance, struggling to breathe.
“Farryn? Farryn, are you all right?”
“Yes.” She coughed a little, shook her head, then turned blinking eyes up to the pathway overhead. “Yes, I’m all right. I’ve got it.”
She nodded. It was a powerful rune . . . more powerful even than the Bitoris battle-rune, which she had always thought the strongest of her little collection. A rune like this ought to be of some use at least against the monster.
She realized, with a flush of embarrassment, that Mother Ulla was a much stronger magic-user than she had ever realized. She’d always seen her as a frustratingly obtuse old woman, which was true. But she was a frustratingly obtuse old woman with a wealth of secrets hidden behind her wrinkled face.
“Can you try the rune? Make certain it works?” Kellam called down to her.
Farryn touched at the knowledge in her head tentatively, like a kitten daintily pawing at a flickering candle flame. “Better not,” she said. “It’s a strong one. I don’t think I can sustain it long. Best to wait until I need it and use it all at once.”
Kellam looked as though he wanted to protest, but at a glance from Farryn, shut his mouth and nodded. “Now that the connection is established, you should be able to receive the binding spell from me,” he said. “But I’ll have to send it in small pieces, for it is big magic. To give you time to work it, you’ll need to stun the Noswraith first. That new rune should serve the purpose.”
Farryn nodded. If any low-magic could work against that monster, this new rune was it. If she could only work it properly in the moment . . .
“Right,” she said, twisting her staff and wrapping the connecting spell-thread a little more tightly around the end. “Nothing for it then.” She looked up at Kellam, frowned, then, feeling foolish, offered a little wave with one hand. She regretted it at once, knowing it must make her look like a child to him from his lofty perspective. With a muttered curse and a growl, she turned away, facing into the fae dream-forest again.
She paused, glanced back up over her shoulder and raised both eyebrows. Kellam crouched on the pathway stone again, one hand holding the connecting spellthread, the other gripping the edge of the stone. His eyes seemed very bright, reflected in the light of the spell.
“Farryn, I . . . I know it’s not the right time or anything, but . . . I wanted a chance to tell you . . . to apologize for . . . I wanted to—”
Farryn’s heart thudded in her throat, striking against a painful lump. She shook her head quickly and pulled her brow into a stern glare. “You’re right, Mage Leocan,” she said. “Now is not the right time.”
The last thing she needed was to dredge up the past now, to let her head be filled with whatever paltry excuses he wanted to toss her way, to appease her after all this time. None of that mattered. It had ceased to matter years ago. In fact, she was halfway convinced it never really had mattered, at least not so very much.
She squared off before the spreading dreamscape, drawing a deep, steadying breath. Her physical body back in the cell drew a breath as well, fingers tightening around her staff. She felt the spellthread vibrating from the end of the staff, through her spirit, and took a moment to send up a quick prayer that the connection would hold.
Then she stepped over the boundary into the golden forest.
“Ah. You’ve returned.”
Farryn yelped and whirled in place. The Otherway was gone, the forest closed in all around her once more. A tall, muscular figure with a long curtain of dark green hair spread across broad, square shoulders stepped out from behind a tree and smiled at her.
“Welcome back, mortal,” Yhendorn said. “I’d begun to think you’d given up entirely.”