“Azius has something. Come quickly.” Xylar’s comment causes a flurry of movement from the resting mages. All six shove books back into bags as they get to their feet. They follow after Xylar, bodies tense. They find Azius sitting cross-lgged in the center of a rune drawn in the dirt of the forest floor. His eyes are closed, his breathing regular. Xylar settles nearby, pulling a book from the sleeve of her robe. A pen appears from the same place.
“Wait.” Azius lifts a hand. Xylar chuckles faintly as six faces fall, shoulders slumping. “Please, sit.” He gestures, then lets his hand fall. “Thank you.” He goes silent once more.
“Do we have to also be quiet?” Broxim mutters.
“Why?” Hope asks.
“Ixor and I still have things to discuss.”
“STILL?” Hope stares, her eyebrows lifting high, her mouth opening.
“Minor changes, really. Nothing to be worried over.”
“What he means is… he doesn’t like that I’ve been so specific and wants to change it so the ritual is shorter,” Ixor responds.
“No, you are being repetitive. That’s different.”
“No, I’m being specific. I want this to work. And I want it to last. Don’t leave loopholes, Broxim.” Ixor clucks her tongue at him.
“Mages…” Xylar sighs. “Do I need to separate you? Like children?”
“No.” Broxim and Ixor respond in chorus. They look at one another, then to Azius.
“Impatience will get you nowhere,” Azius says.
“Xylar said we should come quickly, so here we are. But, not we’re waiting.” Araedni looks at Xylar.
“Azius said he was ready.”
“So I did. And I was. And now I am.” He opens his eyes and gets to his feet. He stretches his body out, trying to shake out the long hours of sitting in one place while his mind searched.
“Xylar, please.” Azius groans.
“I’m not kidding.”
“I asked you to assemble our council and now you tell me to eat?”
“You can eat an apple or bread and talk to them.” She crosses her arms over her chest.
“Best not cross her,” Broxim comments. “You won’t win. Not even close.”
“I could win.” Azius frowns.
“You would certainly try, yes,” Broxim agrees. “However, you would not actually win.”
“Don’t sulk.” Menethi hands Azius an apple, dug from the depths of his bag. “No one wins the food argument with Xylar. You know this.”
“Fine.” He snorts, taking the apple from Menethi. He chomps into it, giving Xylar the evil eye. She merely smiles in return. “The quarry…” He stops, taking several more bites out of the apple. “Why the hell am I suddenly so hungry.”
“It’s been five hours since lunch, that’s why. And you were expending a great deal of energy,” Xylar responds.
“Oh.” He blinks several times.
“You are forgiven.”
“Mmmm.” Azius finishes the apple. He looks to the side, then throws it into the underbrush near them. “Apologies. Dinner soon?”
“Yes. Ixor has concocted quite a delicious smelling stew. That she wouldn’t let any of us taste.” Araedni sighs, looking mournful.
“I had to make sure it was right. It is now.”
“Our quarry…” Azius interrupts. “…can be found less than a league from here.” He pauses, hearing the gasps from those around him. “In fact, I would judge the …” He frowns.
“What? Is something wrong?” Xylar looks around, getting to her feet.
“No. Just. What are we calling this thing? The unending abyss? The ceaseless dark? The hungering god who will not stop?” He tips his head to the side as the others stare at him. “Why do you stare at me in such a fashion.”
“That’s what is hanging you up? Figuring out what to call the being attempting to destroy us all?” Broxim shakes his head. “We have more pressing matters, like stopping it.”
“The destroyer. I like that.”
“Oh. WELL.” Araedni snorts.
“The distance is most likely so little as to put us at a disadvantage.” He sighs.
“Why?” Silme asks.
“It will not be alone. And we need to somehow distract the army and its personal guard long enough to cast this ritual. I don’t know…” He exhales slowly. “We need help. And we did not plan for this. And we should have planned for this.”
“You did not plan for this.” Silme snorts. “Menethi has been in contact with King Mekak. Now that you have the location, we can contact them for their help. I believe they have managed to work it so we get at least one squadron.”
“I hope it is enough.” Azius sighs. “I will have to try again after dinner to see if I can get a better idea on how many it has in that location.”
“I will go see about contacting Mekak, my friend. We will need to wait for the warriors to come to us, in any event.” Silme gets to her feet, moving away from the group.
“I can only pray it will not take too long.”
“So, Ixor and I can get back to the ritual?”
“Broxim! It is finished! Will you stop this! I am not changing it for you! Not even a little bit.”
“No. It is not repetitive. Please.”
“Broxim, if Ixor is satisfied with it, then we will use what she has decided is necessary. Just as we left the research and specifics of the creation of the crystal to you, so have we left the research and specifics of this ritual to her.”
“Mmm. As you say.” He nods, though huffs out a breath.
“For now, I would say… rest.” Menethi says to the group. “We have much to do in the coming days and I fear that soon our rest will be more along the lines of naps, grabbed when possible.
“I still have to…” Azius stops, meeting Xylar’s eyes. “I mean. I suppose I could take some down time.”
“Good. I will take the first watch, my friends. Disperse and rest well.” Menethi watches as they all rise and meander away. He sighs softly, turning his eyes to the skies. Hope is running thin. Let us finish this before it is too late.