Elcha was walking down a dirty path leading to Water Mount, where the Noiser was pouring down from the western part taking its roaring streams to the city.
She was in a hurry as she had to reach the meadows by sunset – Dartor flowers would be opening then, and they had to be picked within the first half hour, before they lost their best power.
Actually, she had not had in mind any herb picking that day, planning to do it the day after as Mammy had loaded her up with a bunch of things long before. However, as for the day after, Elcha got an invitation from Selena who was throwing a birthday party, so she decided to have all Mammy’s errands complete in advance and then enjoy the following day’s afternoon.
Crickets were chasing one another in the grass, and twilight was hugging the mountains gradually. The path ran round another huge rock, and Elcha did not immediately notice two silhouettes standing a bit further away. Frightened, she quickly sat behind a stone, watching them intensely and trying to make sure there was no danger in approaching them. Judging by the shadows, they were a man and a woman discussing something quietly. As Elcha was about to leave her refuge and follow her way, bits of conversation reached her. It was the man talking, judging by the voice.
“You have to realize – she attacked once she will attack again! They have found us now! And there is less and less time left! Even if we do kill her, others will come, more of them… They know now that you are here.”
Elcha found the man’s voice somewhat familiar, as if she had already heard it before. However, as she was too far, and it was too dark already, she could not distinguish the face.
The woman replied something that Elcha failed to grasp. The man got indignant, “It’s not under control! How come they found you? You must be missing something. What if she attacks again? Should she do so all your cover-up is beaten! Literally! It was nothing short of a miracle we survived last time… She is no child now… That would be too much.”
The last words got drowned out by the infinite crackle of nocturnal cicadas so Elcha could get nothing again.
“Yes, he is teaching her! But I am afraid of…”
The woman’s low whisper sounded like a question, and the man’s exhausted answer came next, “He has torn it all apart. No lead… No clear sign or trace to catch at… I am not sure Arr has a hand in it… It’s proven all too much complicated…”
The woman answered something again, too quietly, and the man hissed, “We cannot return now... We’ll have to present some evidence. Right away, before everyone has time to know what is what...”
For another while they spoke too quietly for Elcha to get a word but at last the man raised his voice again, “Message came today. She was seen near the Azure Ridge and the Gray Hill. She moves really fast since she manages to reach different parts of the mountains. And you should be perfectly aware that she will not escape this time.”
“Doesn’t matter, actually. The valley is sealed,” the woman’s quiet voice came, yet again so softly that the voice itself could not be recognized.
“Then keep them here all year round. Not a single step out of here!” the man hissed again. “I’ll have the perimeter sealed, too. I really hope your plan will work!” the man raised his voice and was almost screaming. “No magic to be used here, just block it all!”
Then they went on whispering again, after which Elcha could get another bit. “As long as the first is alive, they don’t need the other one... the older blood is more important! Goodbye! See you in a year.”
Next moment it was only the woman standing there in her dark cloak, her head covered with the hood. Another moment… and the path was completely empty.
Elcha was still waiting as she did not want the two to see her eavesdropping.
Strange talk, she thought. I wonder who they were and who they were discussing. Besides, she got quite curious about the valley being sealed. It means that our valley got some guarding spell cast on. But why? And who against? I think I’ll have to tell Mammy or Ricka, she decided finally.
Elcha stepped out of her refuge and rushed up the hill. Just a bit more, and then Dartor would lose its power – too dark. As she ran out into the glade covered with flowers, she hurried to pick them to stuff up her bag, then lit a light on her palm so she could see the way, and went back.
That time, somewhere far and away up in the mountains, a triumphant inhuman howl could be heard, and two coal-black creatures darted between stones. One stopped and pulled the air with its nostrils, then chose a more accurate direction and rushed into the crevice between the rocks, as the second snarled and followed it.
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