Lowen and Alik trotted across Grinwallin’s immense plain as the sun rose on a new day.
Early mist meandered low at hoof level and the grass was still wet with night’s dew. Teighlar would hate it; both women had already remarked on it.
Their mounts were docile, two mares from the stables Grinwallin maintained for visitors. Neither had a wish for temperamental horses and the resultant action riding them would bring. Neither had slept much.
Alik was markedly quieter. During the night, through revelation after revelation, she had asked questions and frequently offered insights, drawing conclusions Lowen had not previously considered. Now it was as if she had lost her voice.
“Are you all right?” Lowen asked as they turned their mounts for the switchback path that led to the valley below the precipice.
“Quite a bit to take in.”
They spoke no more, the path requiring too much attention. At the foot of the precipice they allowed the horses to choose both direction and pace. The pace remained unhurried.
Soon they were under trees, a leafy lane filled with birdsong. Wisps of moisture meandered with them and, far away, the faint clink, clink of a hammer on metal. They rounded a bend and the path opened up. To either side there were green fields; wildflowers peeked out shyly along the borders. Further in, lone trees dotted the horizon. All was still.
The path dipped and thereafter flattened noticeably … and Lowen drew her horse to an abrupt halt. Ashen, she stared ahead and then moved her head right and left, repeatedly.
“Lowen?” Alik asked, coming to a halt beside her.
The Xenian shifted in the saddle to stare back the way they had come. Hands gripped the reins as if they were a lifeline.
“Alik,” she whispered, “this is somewhere else.”
Frowning, Alik looked back also, and drew a slow breath.
The path had vanished. Dark vapour had lowered to obscure what had been there, vapour with every appearance of being as solid as the damp earth their horses pawed. The vaporous substance enclosed gradually on both sides, an insidious manipulation.
One by one the lone trees snuffed from view.
“What is this?” Alik breathed on the edge of hearing.
Lowen gulped air down. “I don’t know how, but this path is one I walked in a vision with Torrullin and Elianas.”
“Am I caught in a vision with you?”
Lowen snorted a laugh, as incongruous as that was in their situation. “Funny how you know that can happen, but no, this isn’t a vision. This is …” and Lowen shrugged.
“You do not know?”
“Just don’t get off your horse.” Lowen edged her mount ahead, still clinging to the reins as if for sanity.
“We should turn around.”
“No,” Lowen said. She stared fixedly ahead.
“What was at the end of this path in your vision?” Alik asked, nudging her horse to keep pace.
“A dead city.”
Then it lay before them.