By Zentara Shadowsoul
I left before dawn without a word to anyone. It was a desire for self-preservation and a need to escape that drove me to ride Ghost away from the temple compound and along the old road that led through the forest toward Skarlton. I knew that to leave without explaining my actions or at least thanking the priestesses for their hospitality was verging on the cruel as well as being impolite and not in keeping with my normal morals or manners. But I could imagine only too well how Yasmina would twist my words and persuade me to use the key against my own will and better judgement. When I’d woken after another three hours of restless sleep the Ekchuan pendant had still been warm as if warning me of danger and it suddenly occurred to me that I had been under Yasmina’s Power. Despite her outward frailty, her inner power was strong and she had been using her Shay senses to convince me to go along with her plans. Only my own anger had broken that spell. And now I was determined not to fall beneath the priestess’s bewitchment again.
Ghost seemed as eager as I was to escape the temple and he galloped out of An Reviniba and along the old road. We were several miles away before we slowed down although Ghost seemed determined to keep up a fast trot and we made good time. Not once did I even consider turning back. I regretted not saying something to Thorne – of all the people in the temple he had seemed reasonable and likeable. Although I did wonder why he stayed. Any normal young man would have long left the confines of a place largely dominated by aging women long ago. Was he, too, under Yasmina’s spell? I shuddered at the thought. The urge to see and talk to Grunthrin grew within me as I rode. His advice and knowledge was something I valued. He was, after all, my mentor and thus someone I could trust implicitly.
Keeping my senses attuned to the forest and awake for any danger I realised that the pendant became cooler as we rode. Somehow it was aware that I hadn’t been safe and had tried to warn me. Did the Zigandi have a magic of their own? In future I knew that I’d take more notice of it. For now my thoughts returned to the last few days. How much of what I’d been told was truth? Some, certainly. The general history of what had happened between Shay and Targ rang true, as did the loss of knowledge being blamed on the Bwekhirazii. But I had doubts as to Yasmina’s reasons for Ferantu not coming to An Reviniba. Yes, I could see that his longevity was attributable to Anshiana-kuftir and that there was a limit to her ability to protect him. Certainly he did keep close to her, and that was no doubt one reason. But his dislike of the ruins had been clear and now I thought about it, I realised that he had feared going there. Because of Yasmina?
He had to know of the priestesses, for surely Anshey du Khull could transmit knowledge to Anshiana-kuftir. And vice-versa. The priestesses had known I was in the forest. Had known that I would meet them. Perhaps had even engineered it. And Ferantu must have been aware of it too. Which left me wondering how much I could trust him as well. He was Shay – pure Shay. As was Yasmina. Their abilities were far more powerful than my own. Both seemed to have an inbuilt deceit and were both calculating and cunning. Were both using me? Telling me only what they wanted me to know rather than what I actually needed to know? Distorting truths for their own ends? Were they, in fact, in collusion? Along with the Ancient Beings of the Forest?
That, I concluded, was a strong possibility. The Ancients were afraid, of that I was certain. Afraid that they would be deserted, left alone in a world that knew nothing of them and could destroy them. Anshey du Khull hadn’t shown me anything that she didn’t wish me to see. In fact, I was sure that her only thought was her own preservation. But was she using the priestesses? Or were they using her?
As for Anshiana-kuftir, I had sensed that need in her on our first meeting. And it was she who had decided when it was time for me to leave, I was sure of it. Not Ferantu. He was obeying orders. And An Feppia? I couldn’t be sure. Her future was linked to that of Anshiana-kuftir, to the forest. Shuddering, I turned my thoughts back to the road and the difficulties of negotiating the growing brambles and upturned cobbles. It was safer. And far less worrying. My questions could best be put to my mentor so that, together, we could work out what had been happening and whether or not my fears were justified.