In the inner sanctum of his granite tower, Anazeer Sikhar awoke with a start. The song of the orb filled the air. He hurried to the altar, his bedgown trailing after him. The water was agitated, churning gently. Outside he could hear the waves licking the cliffs in slow sensuous strokes. They had found the orb… Someone had roused it from its sleep again.
He closed his eyes, raised his arms over his head, and uttered a traveling spell imploring the dark powers to carry him on the air this night. The sleeves of his gown puddled around his shoulders as he closed his eyes and gave himself to the incantation. In his mind’s eye his vision began to fade from dark to light until suddenly he was there. He could see them. There were three standing around the table, bracing themselves against the wind. And there between them sat the chest with the orb. Despite the fire the room was chill. These spells were taking more and more out of him. His old bones ached with the cold and his apparition drifted closer to the hearth in search of warmth. He reached out with his spirit and caressed the golden orb on the table as the weyfs kept guard at each end.
In the back of his mind he could see his rider approaching the top of the mountain pass from the east. No! he roared in frustration. Where has he been all this time? It will take too long! He will be too late. Fool I am! Reckless fool! My greed has stolen all caution. I cannot sustain this spell. I should have bided until he was nearer.
The weyfs shivered in fear at his irritation. They cowered low on the table, not wishing to draw attention to themselves. He was still angry at them for leaving the dagger behind on the mountain.
No! It was not too late, he realized. They had not yet seen his specter standing there by the fire. He would simply wait for a more favorable moment after the rider had arrived. In his granite fortress his body began to grow weary. He could feel his strength ebbing.
With the sound of the rushing wind filling their ears, no one heard the clomp of the heavy shoes on the porch, nor the call of “What’s this then?” as the girl saw the darkened cottage with the wooden door thrown open to the night. On the threshold she stopped. There against the glow of the hearth fire she could see a shimmering outline of an old man, arms raised as if in petition. She began to scream.
In the tower, Anazeer’s attention wavered at Anya’s shriek. The wind began to die down. The cups and saucers, the cookies and teapot dropped where they were. Grace could hear them shatter as they hit the table and the floor. As one, the three turned to stare at Anya then followed her gaze to the hearth. They saw him. And he saw Anya. At the sight of her his focus deserted him. He began to lose his fragile grasp on the spell.
He would have known her anywhere. There was no mistaking the likeness to her mother. She was beautiful, with Linee’s long flowing black hair, pale skin, and ice-blue eyes. His pulse raced, his mind lept to long dismissed possibilities. And so, he thought, in one fell swoop I have found both my heart’s desires! But for now his coupling with the spell was nearly broken. A glimpse of her was all he had to warm the stone-cold depths of his heart. Already she was fading from his sight.
Anya felt his gaze upon her, steady and searing. She recoiled in dread as his lifeless black eyes seemed to look through her to her very soul. She screamed again.
As the wind ceased, Fergus slammed the lid of the chest shut on the orb and threw himself atop it. Grace rushed to Anya, pulling her inside away from the door. Will drew his shortsword, and ran at the vision demanding to know who he was. “What is your business here?” he cried. But he was too late. Already the specter was growing dimmer.
At the top of the world Anazeer’s arms began to drop, his communion with the dark powers lessening. With fleeting words to the weyfs who had managed to avoid his temper, the apparition vanished leaving Will disgruntled and vexed.
On the table, the shadows did as they were bidden, then skulked across the floor and out the door.
Will took a reed from the tinder box on the mantel and lit a lamp. He crossed quickly to the table and lifted the lid of the chest to make sure the orb was still there. It was. But the dagger was gone.
Anya trembled in the circle of her mother’s arms. “I saw him! He looked right through me as if he could see into my heart, his mind sifting through my thoughts and memories as if he searched for something. I feel defiled.”
Grace held her tightly to her. Laying her hand atop Anya’s head as if to give a blessing, she closed her eyes and quietly recited a spell of unmindfulness. As the charm took hold, her daughter began to calm. Grace knew she would never forget the touch of evil in the old man’s look, but for now Anya’s mind would be numbed to the shock of his violation.
Grace’s thoughts raced as she tried to recall just what she had seen in those few moments before the spectre disappeared. Without doubt the apparition was an old man. His hair was gray as was his long beard. His hands veined as he held them above his head. His eyes, however, were sharp and eager. Of his attire she remembered little except that around his neck was an amulet with a likeness of a sea dragon, the same as the one on the locket. But it was the dawn of recognition in his eyes when he saw Anya that scared Grace. Though he was unknown to them, he most assuredly knew who Anya was. And somewhere inside her Grace knew her worst fears were true. Someone would be coming for her daughter.
“Wha’ the bloody hell WAS that thing? Fergus righted a chair and thumped himself down heavily, one end of his rusty-red mustache blown right up his nose. He sneezed and slicked the wiry hair back down with a spit-moistened thumb
“An apparition, a vision, who knows…” Will was sorely troubled. Magic was no longer commonly known or used on the mainland. And whoever this sorcerer was, they were poorly equipped to deal with him. He wondered about Grace’s friend Sylvanus. Perhaps a journey to see the old mage was in order.
Anya untangled herself from her mother’s arms. Her dark hair hung disheveled and snarled as it fell in disarray over her shoulders. Cautiously she went to the table and looked in the chest. Inside her she could feel something. It had started as a slight vibration when she stood at the door. The closer she had gotten to the chest, the stronger it had become. Now she felt as if a cat was purring beneath her rib cage.
The others watched as she reached out slowly and touched it. Her eyes grew wide. She stood quietly for some moments. Then turning to her mother she said, “I can hear it. It’s singing.”
Grace stifled a moan with the back of her hand. Will glanced at Fergus who clearly feared what all this meant.
Anya turned her full attention to her mother. “What is this?” she asked, a bit more sharply than she intended.
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