Martel spits out the mouthful of soup you had just fed him. "Are you insane?!" he demands. "You're going to ride Fas, the slowest horse in the history of her species in the wilds. Chased by a Seeker's Son. Alone."
You sit in silence.
"You've lost your mind," Martel says, the force gone from him now. He coughs. "You're not going."
"You're not in any state to stop me," you note wryly. "And you are right. We're out of time. We need to move, or the Seeker's Son will return. And I'm also right. If you move now, you will die."
"If you go out there alone, you will die."
You shrug. "Perhaps."
"No. Not perhaps. You cannot hope to fight that spectre alone. You can barely make it out alive with the rest of us with you."
"Then we're stuck. If I stay, the Seeker's Son will return and kill more people. If we all go together, you'll die. This is your quest. I'm really just tagging along."
Martel shakes his head, but is fading rapidly from consciousness. "You cannot go," he says again, before slumping back against the wall at the head of his bed.
You sigh, cover him over in blankets and stand.
"You cannot be serious," Eilir whispers from behind you.
You turn. "Martel can barely survive a conversation," you say. "And if I stay, hundreds will suffer. I have to go. When Martel is well, he can bring the sceptre piece "
Eilir frowns. "You are very good at rationalising stupidity," she notes. "Of course if you insist on going we cannot stop you. But I urge you to reconsider."
You smile sadly. "There really isn't another option." You look around. "I quite like your village, Eilir. I shall be sad to put it behind me."
"You mean to go now?"
You nod. "While Martel is still unconscious. It'll be easier without his protests hurting my ears."
Eilir simply stares at you in shock. You smile at her again. "Thank-you for your kind hospitality."
Nodding, Eilir remains silent as you turn and gather your things. You walk out of the large round house, Eilir trailing behind you. You find Oisin and Llei mock-fighting with wooden swords on the road. They stop and turn to you.
"Where are you going?" Oisin asks with a frown.
"Back," you reply. "Martel is too ill to move, and the Seeker's Son will be back for me soon. I have to leave."
"Are you insane?" Oisin demands. "You cannot go out there alone!"
"I can't stay here, either," you answer. "I might even get lucky. The Seeker's Son might not even show up."
"It will," Llei says quietly.
You look at him a moment. "And what will happen when he does?"
Llei concentrates, his gaze shifting into the unseeable. After a moment he shrugs. "I cannot see. I suppose that will depend on you, Sky Road walker."
"Wonderful," you mutter. "And if I stay?"
"It shall return."
"Right. So I'm going."
Oisin scowls. "And what of this new alliance?"
"When Martel is well enough, you can take the sceptre south with him."
You nod and head towards the paddock where the horses are kept. As if sensing your intent, Fas raises her head from grazing and trots over to you. She greets you with a snort.
"It looks like you and I are off," you say. Fas snorts again. You smile and head over to the small structure beside the paddock to retrieve Fas' tack. When you return to the paddock, you notice that you have gathered quite a crowd. Sullen-faced villagers stand near the paddock, watching you dress your horse.
Fas seems to have noticed the onlookers, and is particularly well-behaved, her expression and movements bordering on haughty. You can't help but smile to yourself at her performance.
"So," you say as you dress Fas. "I have it on excellent authority that we will meet a Seeker's Son on our way home."
Fas turns her wide head towards you.
"We can't stay here," you say. "The shade is coming for me either way, and if we stay, hundreds more will die. Is that what you want?"
Fas snorts and turns away again.
"That's my girl."
Once dressed, you lead Fas out of the paddock and mount. The sullen crowd watches your every move. Their eyes do not leave you as you walk Fas out to the gate. There, Oisin, Eilir and Llei stand, Sylpha leaning on a cane behind them.
"Take care, Sky Road walker," Oisin says. "Do not let this be the last time we speak."
"I will try my best. Thank-you, Chieftain, for your kind hospitality."
Oisin smiles and nods. You push Fas into a walk again, then stop and turn. The gate is now crowded, solemn faces peering out at you from every available vantage point. At the very fore stands the fire-touched child, the seer Llei.
"You speak with its voice," Llei says. "Use that."
Frowning, you nod, turn and trot away.
It's more of a prance, actually. Fas, keen to impress the crowd, does her best to look regal. Coming from a horse the width of a lounge, it looks less regal and more ridiculous, but this is Fas' moment and so you let her have it.
She drops the act the moment you're both certain you are well and truly out of sight. She shakes the stiffness that her prance had settled into her haunches and resumes a more manageable gait. You chuckle to yourself.
Knowing that a Seeker's Son may appear to you at any moment, you are keen to get as close to the headquarters as quickly as possible. Fas is not pleased about being out in the wilds with only you for company either, and she is much more skittish than usual. You cannot blame her.
You descend into a valley that looks vaguely familiar and you realise that this was where you had first met Oisin. It seemed an age ago. You keep a careful eye out as Fas picks her way down the steep slope. Going down now, you cannot help but marvel at the daring and skill of the charioteer who came tumbling over the edge all those weeks ago. It takes Fas a long time to make her way down.
Once on the valley floor, travelling gets easier. Pleased to have made it down without breaking anything, Fas moves into a trot. Even though you are feeling sick with fear and worry, knowing that sooner or later on this journey, you will face a Seeker's Son alone, you manage to smile.
Travel is fraught, though you are alone and nothing appears out of the ordinary. Nights are difficult. You fear to sleep in case the sound of rushing water goes unnoticed by your ears. Every noise in the night jerks you from rest until your mind can bear it no longer and you fall asleep. For day after day, the cycle continues.
You perk up as you spy the beginnings of the forest. Out of the norther territory and back within the bounds of the empire, you feel a little better. No Seeker's Son yet. You pause.
The forest seems to have three paths. You cannot remember which one you came up on. You scowl and Fas snorts, eager to keep moving. You look down each path. The appear almost identical - none of them particularly sinister or inviting, each headed in a vaguely southern direction.
"Were there always three paths?" you as Fas.
All you receive in response is an irritated flick of one of her ears. You sigh.
Which path do you take?
a) The left path.
b) The central path.
c) The right path.
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