Towards dawn a bank of clouds settled low over the city. Kimberly Ford stirred, surfaced almost to wakefulness, then slipped back down into a light sleep, and a dream unlike any she’d known before.
There was a place of massive jumbled stones. A wind was blowing over wide grasslands. It was dusk. She almost knew the place, was so close to naming it that her inability tasted bitter in her mouth. The wind made a chill, keening sound as it blew between the stones. She had come to find one who was needed, but she knew he was not there. A ring was on her finger, with a stone that gleamed a dull red in the twilight, and this was her power and her burden both. The gathered stones demanded an invocation from her; the wind threatened to tear it from her mouth. She knew what she was there to say, and was brokenhearted, beyond all grief she’d ever known, at the price her speaking would exact from the man she’d come to summon. In the dream, she opened her mouth to say the words.
She woke then, and was very still a long time. When she rose, it was to move to the window, where she drew the curtain back.
The clouds were breaking up. Venus, rising in the east before the sun, shone silver-white and dazzling, like hope. The ring on her finger in the dream had shone as well: deep red and masterful, like Mars.
The Dwarf dropped into a crouch, hands loosely clasped in front of him. They were all there; Kevin with his guitar, Dave Martyniuk defiantly clutching the promised Evidence notes. Loren remained out of sight in the bedroom. “Preparing,” the Dwarf had said. And now, without preamble, Matt S"oren said more.
“Ailell reins in Brennin, the High Kingdom. Fifty years now, as you have heard. He is very old, much reduced. Metran heads the Council of the Mages, and Gorlaes, the Chancellor, is first of all advisers. You will meet them both. Ailell had two sons only, very late in life. The name of the elder—,” Matt hesitated, “—is not to be spoken. The younger is Diarmuid, now heir to the throne.”
Too many mysteries, Kevin Laine thought. He was nervous, and angry with himself for that. Beside him, Kim was concentrating fiercely, a single vertical line furrowing her forehead.
“South of us,” the Dwarf continued, “the Saeren flows through its ravine, and beyond the river is Cathal, the Garden Country. There has been war with Shal-hassan’s people in my lifetime. The river is patrolled on both sides. North of Brennin is the Plain where the Dalrei dwell, the Riders. The tribes follow the eltor herds as the seasons change. You are unlikely to see any of the Dalrei. They dislike walls and cities.” Kim’s frown, Kevin saw, had deepened. “Over the mountains, eastward, the land grows wilder and very beautiful. That country is called Eridu now, though it had another name long ago. It breeds a people once brutal, though quiet of late. Little is known of doings in Eridu, for the mountains are a stern barrier.” Matt S"oren’s voice roughened. “Among the Eriduns dwell the Dwarves, unseen for the most part, in their chambers and halls under the mountains of Banir Lok and Banir Tal, beside Calor Diman, the Crystal Lake. A place more fair than any in all the worlds.”
Kevin had questions again, but withheld them. He could see there was an old pain at work here.
“North and west of Brennin is Pendaran Wood. It runs for miles to the north, between the Plain and the Sea. Beyond the forest is Daniloth, the Shadowland.” The Dwarf stopped, as abruptly as he’d begun, and turned to adjust his pack and gear. There was a silence.
“Matt?” It was Kimberly. The Dwarf turned. “What about the mountain north of the Plain?”
Matt made a swift, convulsive gesture with one hand, and stared at the slight, brown-haired girl.
“So you were right, my friend, from the very first.”
Kevin wheeled. In the doorway leading from the bedroom stood the tall figure of Loren, in a long robe of shifting silver hues.
“What have you seen?” the mage asked Kim, very gently.
She, too, had twisted to face him. The grey eyes were strange—inward and troubled. She shook her head, as if to clear it. “Nothing, really. Just… that I do see a mountain.”
“And?” Loren pressed.
“And…” she closed her eyes. “A hunger. Inside, somehow… I can’t explain it.”
“It is written,” said Loren after a moment, “in our books of wisdom, that in each of the worlds there are those who have dreams or visions—one sage called them memories—of Fionavar, which is the First. Matt, who has gifts of his own, named you as one such yesterday.” He paused; Kim didn’t move. “It is known,” Loren went on, “that to bring people back in a crossing, such a person must be found to stand at the heart of the circle.”
“So that’s why you wanted us? Because of Kim?” It was Paul Schafer; the first words he’d spoken since arriving.
“Yes,” said the mage, simply.
“Damn!” tried Kevin softly. “And I thought it was my charm.”
No one laughed. Kim stared at Loren, as if seeking answers in the lines of his face, or the shifting patterns of his robe.
Finally she asked, “And the mountain?”
Loren’s voice was almost matter-of-fact. “One thousand years ago someone was imprisoned there. At the deepest root of Rangat, which is the mountain you have seen.”
Kim nodded, hesitated. “Someone… evil?” The word came awkwardly to her tongue.
They might have been alone in the room. “Yes,” said the mage.
“One thousand years ago?”
He nodded again.. In this moment of misdirection, of deceit, when everything stood in danger of falling apart, his eyes were more calm and compassionate than they had ever been.
With one hand Kim tugged at a strand of brown hair. She drew a breath. “All right,” she said. “All right, then. How do I help you cross?”
Dave was struggling to absorb all this when things began to move too quickly. He found himself part of a circle around Kim and the mage. He linked hands with Jennifer and Matt on either side. The Dwarf seemed to be concentrating very hard; his legs were wide apart, braced. Then Loren began to speak words in a tongue Dave didn’t know, his voice growing in power and resonance.
And was interrupted by Paul Schafer.
“Loren—is the person under that mountain dead?”
The mage gazed at the slim figure who’d asked the question he feared. “You, too?” he whispered. Then, “No,” he answered, telling the truth. “No, he isn’t.”
And resumed speaking in his strange language.
Dave wrestled with the refusal to seem afraid that had, in large part, brought him here, and with the genuine panic that was building within him. Paul had nodded once at Loren’s answer, but that was all. The mage’s words had become a complex rising chant. The aura of power began to shimmer visibly in the room. A low-pitched humming sound began.
“Hey!” Dave burst out. “I need a promise I’ll be back!” There was no reply. Matt S"oren’s eyes were closed now. His grip on Dave’s wrist was firm.
The shimmer in the air increased, and then the humming began to rise in volume.
“No!” Dave shouted again. “No! I need a promise!” And on the words he violently pulled his hands free from those of Jennifer and the Dwarf.
Kimberly Ford screamed.
And in mat moment the room began to dissolve on them. Kevin, frozen, disbelieving, saw Kim reach out then, wildly, to clutch Dave’s arm and take Jen’s free hand even as he heard the cry torn from her throat.
Then the cold of the crossing and the darkness of the space between worlds came down and Kevin saw nothing more. In his mind, though, whether for an instant or an age, he thought he heard the sound of mocking laughter. There was a taste in his mouth, like ashes of grief. Dave, he thought, oh, Martyniuk, what have you done?