17

The column of four coaches approached the ruins of Nelmias, the citadel ablaze.

"Tell the other carriages to continue onwards."

"No! We need to check for survivors! We need to find out what happened, Fyryth."

A vicious gleam in his eyes, Fyryth glanced out the window, the moment's vision causing bile to rise within his throat. He tore his eyes away, and realised that he wasn't the only one with tears streaking down his face.

Nish shook his head. "Leoni…I don't sense any living organisms out there. There isn't even a single insect."

"The surrounding trees have no life in them either," Fyryth commented, and all peered outside to find all plant life stripped of flowers, bark and leaves. Through the eerie mist, the white silhouettes of several oaks stood in desolation. "The Torei within the citadel would have foreseen this calamity. They must have escaped!"

Leoni, the wise scout, nodded. "Well if there aren't insects, there aren't flies, so therefore there aren't any carcasses. Either the Torei fled, or they were all captured. I'll wager that the Sirrel perpetrated this destruction. In fact, I'd stake my life on it. Nelmias is too immense for a band of idiot brigands to assault successfully."

"Then why are we lingering here?" Shaina asked of no one in particular. "As Fyryth advised, we need to continue onwards!"

-

The procession pressed on directly east, along the northern border of the summer region, stopping soon after dusk to make camp. All who had seen the Torei citadel wished to be rid of the memory, and all had an early night's sleep.

Fyryth lay on the thin mattress that was his bedroll, his body contorting and twisting as he was overcome with spasms. He was unaware of this, however, as his mind was experiencing a peculiar dream.

Seated upon a grassy knoll, Fyryth gazed into the sky above. The gleaming stars strewn across the indigo canvas altered their positions in one swift motion, forming the face of a Merrah woman. She smiled at the young Aldar, and a surge of omnipotence radiated from within her. She hummed a melody Fyryth couldn't name, but he recognised it as though he'd heard it every day of his life. Seconds later, the star-woman added verse to the tune.

"Exiled in Sin,

Though they may be,

Still have a part in history.

Thought they were gone forevermore,

Soon shall they be at nature's door.

One of four is tainted now,

Its distorted aura flickers out,

All life in the expanse nearby.

Vengeance would have Merranor die."

Fyryth regained consciousness, gasping for breath. He rolled over in an effort to return to slumber, but surrendered all hopes of sleep when he realised the peculiar melody was still ringing in his ears, flowing throughout his mind. What a disturbing dream that was. I have also seen that face before, but where? The melody calmed down as to be nearly silent, allowing Fyryth to sleep peacefully.

-

"What are you humming, Fyryth? It sounds familiar."

Fyryth stared at Leoni, wondering how she could have known the tune as well. "I heard it in a dream last night. I can't place the name." He pondered for a moment, and then left Leoni to finish inspecting the horses' hooves. Approaching the campfire which Shaina had doused only moments before, Fyryth began humming the strange melody again. As he had inferred, Elita, Shaina and Nish recognised the music immediately.

Seated comfortably within the hickory carriage, the five companions shared their thoughts regarding the mysterious music and its portents.

"How is it that all five of us experienced the same dream last night?" Leoni asked, not actually expecting an answer of worth. "This reeks of magic, and I am uncomfortable around too much magic…no offence intended, Nish." She patted Nish on the shoulder reassuringly.

"None taken, dear Leoni." Nish giggled and his laughter rang out into the dreary mist surrounding the carriages.

Elita rolled her eyes. Although she and Nish had become better friends, she was still irritated by his infectious and spontaneous laughter. "Assuming we journey far enough today…although how can you tell out here is anybody's guess…we'll be heading south to Neldelan tomorrow."

"Isn't Neldelan a fishing village?" Shaina enquired.

Fyryth nodded. "It was originally a largely populated Merrah settlement, as is suggested by the prefix 'Nel' at the beginning of the name, but Merrah don't eat seafood, so the human colonists moved in. Although, there is still a section of the town where Merrah congregate."