Feasting on Dreams, Volume Four: Chapter Sixteen

The forest is only getting stranger, and Meri is hard pressed to cope with it. Not even the Joining prepared her for this.

 


The Dalish didn’t take long to see to Danyla. There was a lament—a chant, or words that had to be recited for the ears of Falon’Din, and a prayer to his brother Dirthamen, the Keeper of Secrets, that he would hold back his ravens, Fear and Deceit, and prevent them from beating their wings in the face of the dead.

It was solemn, but tinged with a tightly restrained anger that I saw burning in the hunters’ faces. I understood it… the outrage at the indignity and pain suffered by one who should never have had to bear it. I kept thinking of Athras and—if we made it back to the camp in one piece—whether I could tell him how we’d found his wife, or how she’d died.

We helped them bury her in a shallow trench in the gully’s damp floor, like we’d buried the dead from the ill-fated ambush that brought Zevran into our ranks. I remembered that with strange vividness as Aegan and Revasir rolled Danyla’s body into the earth. When a pyre wasn’t possible, burial was the next best thing to leaving someone to rot or be eaten by animals, but it still seemed undignified to me. Of course, I wasn’t certain the Dalish did burn their dead… they had specific burial rites we couldn’t perform for Danyla, but the hunters didn’t talk about them in detail and the whole procedure was, from my painful, outsider’s perspective, extremely awkward.

I thought of my mother, naturally, and her pauper’s funeral. Burned with strangers, the ashes interred in the sad, boggy field to the north of the city. The flames reflected in the tears on my father’s cheeks, the shifting pattern of light the only movement on his face as he turned so still and silent… silence that defined him for so long afterwards.

I wondered if, after Loghain had purged the alienage, there had been anyone left who cared enough to say words over the charred wreckage, and to do right by those who’d died. Would Mother Boann still go there with her sweet-smelling sisters, taking bread to the beggars and swapping lectures on loose morals for gifts of kindness? Perhaps. Perhaps, I reminded myself, some of my loved ones still lived. There was no way of knowing, but maybe I should have hoped for it.

Athras had hoped his wife lived, however… and Danyla had hoped to return to him somehow. I could see how that had turned out.

Zevran helped dig the hole, like he’d helped bury the people he’d paid to help him kill us. The Dalish didn’t seem offended by the gesture, though they didn’t seem to like our non-elven companions being close to the corpse. I’d all but given up trying to puzzle out their etiquette.

I took one last look at Danyla’s body before the earth started to go over her. Whatever evil the curse wrought, death did not end it—she was as grotesque and as changed dead as she had been alive—but, unmoving now, each malformation seemed more starkly obvious. Every twisted joint, every matted hank of fur through which strained, scarred skin showed, tendons taut and muscles stretched…. The agony of her changing seemed scribed into her body, and it frightened and sickened me.

Once the hasty burial was over, we needed to discuss which way we were heading, and what Danyla had tried to tell us might have meant.

I was grateful that things were at least ostensibly more civil than they had been, though the atmosphere could hardly have been worse without at least some of the party coming to blows.

“I’ll say one thing, though….” Alistair eyed the mound of fresh earth grimly, and glanced into the trees. “She can’t have got far in that state, and given we’re not exactly close to the camp anymore, she must have come from wherever the rest of them are holed up… or at least close to them.”

“A fair assessment,” Zevran agreed, albeit with circumspection in his voice.

“Perhaps,” Aegan chimed in, unusually deigning to participate in direct communication with—as he viewed it—‘the shems’. “But it gets us no further beyond the mist, does it?”

Alistair scowled at him, evidently losing patience. “It was an observation. I assumed you’d be able to track where she came from or something, or—”

Aegan kicked at the churned, bloody mud with the toe of his boot. “In this mess? Hmph. If you had not trampled everything, perhaps—”

Hamin!” Revasir snapped, prowling the edge of the brush, past the furrows and gouges the fight had made in the earth, to where a small bank fell away behind the trees. “I think… this way. There are signs she came through here, but the way is narrow, and the ground slopes hard.”

Maethor padded after him, wrinkled snout to the ground and stubby tail held as high and stiff as he could manage. He grumbled, low in his chest, and looked up at me, wagging his tail deliberately.

“All right,” I said doubtfully. “I suppose. If there’s no other way through. Maybe we should split into two groups? One scramble down there, the other take the gear and see if there’s an easier route?”

“It would be foolish to divide our strength,” Sten said, looking at me as if I’d suggested smothering ourselves in honey and kicking over a beehive.

“I agree,” Leliana said, and the kindly tone of her voice told me she both understood what I’d been trying to offer, and politely declined it. “We should stick together.”

She glanced meaningfully at Wynne, who nodded.

“Hmm? Oh… yes. Besides, I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I’m not decrepit yet.”

I smiled wearily. Wynne might have been indestructible, but I certainly didn’t feel nearly as spry. Still, there was no other option. We let the hunters take point, and set to scrambling down the bank, whipped by branches and scratched by thorns. The forest grew thicker here, old roots and ancient wood decaying in on itself, leavening the ground soft and damp with mouldering leaves, and treacherous underfoot.

For all my concerns about the wounded and elderly members of our party, I was the first to fall over, skidding in an undignified—and rather painful manner—on my backside until a sturdy tree trunk halted my progress.

“Ow! Bugger!”

“Are you all right?” Alistair asked, lending a hand to haul me up.

I nodded as he helped me to my feet, but the words I’d meant to say didn’t come out, and I was left to mumble brusquely, aware of the mud on my face and the bits of twig in my hair. He smiled—brief but warm, eyes brightening as he found humour in the state of me—and it was hard not to notice the ruddy glow of his skin, even past the streaks of mud and lichen smears.

In that moment, I missed him so badly, inasmuch as I’d ever had him, and yet there was no opportunity to dwell on it.

~o~O~o~

We got to the bottom of the bank without too much incident. Leliana fell like I had, which meant stopping for Wynne to check her wounds and adjust the dressings, but no great damage was done. We found ourselves in a sparse, dimmer stretch of the forest, where the trees grew tall and strong… perhaps too evenly. My city eyes had no great feel for the cultivation of plants, but it seemed like a grove, as if ancient ranks of trees had been ordered here and then left to run wild, and nature had grown up through them, pulling them back to herself. Maybe this was an extension of the ruin Danyla had mentioned? An ancient garden or orchard, left to grow untamed?

I was quite pleased with my reasoning, but then I heard Revasir curse beside me.

“What?”

“Sylvans,” he said quietly, and spat on the ground, his gaze darting over the trees that surrounded us. “Here. Be on your guard. This… this is bad. Death is here. Do you not smell the breath of the Dread Wolf?”

“Death?” I echoed, as Maethor pressed himself against my leg, his head lowered and his spine tense. “You mean, from the wars? The Imperium and the barbarians, and—”

“Older than that, maybe,” Wynne whispered, cutting across before Revasir could answer, something faintly reverential in her tone. “There is ancient power here. I feel it… and the creatures that feed on it. I doubt we will escape their notice.”

She was right. We had barely moved a few feet into the grove before the trees rustled—dead leaves whispering like curses on the lips of madmen—and the first sylvan attacked.

We had the advantage of experience—we’d fought the things before, and the Dalish were more than familiar with their dangers—but that didn’t seem to count for much. In real and practical terms, it’s hard to describe the extent of terror that suffuses everything when the trees themselves are turning on you. The whole grove seemed alive; far greater numbers than we’d faced before.  I didn’t dare contemplate how many must have died in this place to render the Veil so thin and the trees so full of unquiet spirits and blinded demons.

The dank air was full of wood chippings, the sounds of yells and of splintering boughs, leaves cascading and dirt flying as we exploded into chaos. There was no room, our ragtag band struggling to keep from the sylvans’ reach yet trying to find space to strike, and the evenly spaced woodland seemed to give way to a living, writhing thicket, gnarled and twisted with hatred.

I drew my sword and hacked at whatever came close, flinging up an arm to protect myself as, ahead of me, Sten sent a huge branch crashing to the ground, amid a cascade of leaves and splinters. Alistair shouted a command—pushing on for the end of the grove, outrunning instead of outfighting the trees—and that seemed sensible. I was heading after him when a mobile branch caught me in the side and threw me a clear few feet across the earth, cannoning me into Aegan and Farriel. It felt like being hit by a tree trunk wrapped in thorns, and it occurred to me—as the world blurred together and my teeth rattled in my skull—that was effectively exactly what it was.

One of Wynne’s petrification spells whizzed over our heads, the impact of rock on wood sending a scatter of pebbles, debris and leaves raining down on us, and I was fairly sure I heard Farriel curse my ineptitude in surprisingly fluent Common.

Scowling, I got to my feet and did the best I could to run for the far end of the grove without getting myself killed. Heroes were for another time.

“Run!” Alistair bellowed, standing to the far edge of the trees, his shield held high to deflect debris as he counted us through the end of the grove.

For once, no one was arguing with him. We took prudence as the better part of valour and made a mad dash for safety, Sten and Morrigan bringing up the rear with a few last parting shots at the clawing boughs.

We pushed through the brush, and found ourselves in another dingy, pathless piece of forest, surrounded by trees and the constant crawl of ivy.

The roaring of the sylvans’ outrage quieted, the creaks and rustles of the trees fading away as they became still and dormant once more, and a thick silence settled over the forest. I would never, ever look at a tree again without thinking it had the capacity to come to life; it added a whole new terror to the outdoors for me.

I was bent over, still trying to catch my breath, and when I straightened up I glanced around at the others, making sure we were all unhurt. No one seemed too much the worse for wear, excepting a few cuts and scrapes… but Wynne was standing perfectly still, staring ahead of her, and I could see Morrigan following her gaze.

Both mages were staring at a vast oak tree that rose ahead of us—taller and older-looking than most of the other trees, wreathed with shaggy ropes of climbing plants and with bulging knots in its bark.

“What’s the—?” I began, barely able to form my question before a disconcerting creaking sound eased through the air, and the immense tree began to move.

Dead leaves shook from its twisted branches, falling around us like confetti. My stomach dropped, and I heard Alistair swear. This couldn’t possibly be good. I looked desperately to either side of us, hoping to find an escape route—even running blindly through the trees was better than being caught between the grove at our backs and this monster—but it was hard to see anywhere that might offer a chance.

I drew my sword… and the tree spoke.

Nothing could have prepared me for that. No matter the impossibilities, horrors and outright insanities I had seen since my Joining—the nightmares, the demons, the darkspawn, the terrible things that magic could do when it was wielded for ill—I’d never encountered anything like this.

The voice was deep, slow; each word formed like the movement of some natural fall of rock or earth, shifting the way forest itself did. It seemed to come from all around us, a great throbbing, creaking, sawing sound that hummed through the air and the dirt and the trees. I felt it more than heard it… felt it swell up in my arms and legs, burning under my skin and pounding in my head.

“Hmmmm….”

The great oak tree’s branches swayed above us, swooping down in a slow arc, almost as if it was making a bow. My heart beat fast and hard. If the sylvans we’d fought before were demons, what manner of demon was this? Surely one of even greater power… and that was a monster I feared we couldn’t defeat.

“…what manner of beast be thee, that comes before this elder tree?”

I looked frantically towards Wynne, Morrigan, and even the Dalish, as if any of them might have answers, or some idea what we should do. We couldn’t go back, and passing by this creature didn’t look possible, so what were we supposed to do… engage it in conversation?

None of them gave me a hint. The hunters were readying themselves, dropping to fighting stances with their hands on their blades, and Morrigan had her staff clutched tightly in front of her. Wynne looked back at me, a curious blend of wonder and uncertain fear on her face.

I mugged at her, wanting someone to tell me what I should do, but before she could answer me the tree let out another long sigh that crooned through the forest floor, its branches rustling softly. Great braids of moss hung from it, plaques of lichen scaling its bark. The air smelled strongly of leaf mould and stagnant decay, but also the sweet richness of earth and, as my feet seemed to sink into the mud and brush, I don’t think I’d ever missed the city so much in my life.

“Elf,” I said, perhaps a little querulously, forcing myself to step forwards and bending slightly to see if the creature had any kind of feature to it.

I don’t know what I expected: some hideous, twisted face, like the burned-out marks of agony on a rage demon, or knots and wheals in the tree’s bark that I could make-believe were eyes and a mouth.

I saw nothing. Just the vastness of the tree, which seemed to spread its bulk all around the clearing.

“I-I’m an elf,” I repeated when there was no response, moving carefully foot-over-foot to see where the way past this thing might lie. “So are some of my friends, and—”

The sound erupted again, a long sighing groan followed by that strange voice that seemed to swell out of the ground… out of the air itself.

“Hmmmm… ah, yes, I remember thee. Long ago, the elves roamed free, their numbers few and passing fast, until one eve we saw their last.”

A branch moved slowly but forcefully in front of me, cutting off my path. I stopped, surprised that neither the tree’s motion nor its voice seemed to hold any real threat.

It hadn’t attacked us blindly like the other sylvans, and if anything it seemed somehow… gentle. The madness of that was perfectly apparent to me, and I stared blankly at the twisted, weathered branch in front of my face.

Behind me, Zevran breathed a soft curse in Antivan. I could hear Aegan and Revasir both murmuring what sounded like prayers to the gods, and I wished I had their faith. The comfort of the Chant seemed suddenly very distant to me… and what was that about elves? I turned, looking up at the immense breath of the tree, as its voice hummed through me once more.

“Allow me a moment to welcome thee. I am called the Grand Oak, sometimes the Elder Tree.”

It was… welcoming us. Well, that was unexpected. And it gave itself a name, an identity. I turned back to the others, shaking my head in confusion. The Dalish were still tense, ready to draw their blades… except for Farriel; Zevran had placed a hand on his arm, his amber gaze fixed on the tree, alert but still. Morrigan seemed to have relaxed a little, and Wynne was staring up in wonder at the tree.

“The world is certainly full of marvellous, unexpected creations,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “Each day we see something that we never thought possible!”

She said that as if she thought it was a good thing.

Alistair looked at me with his brows raised, and shrugged, indicating that—as long as this thing wasn’t actively trying to kill us—we should probably play along. Behind him, Sten was a massive and immovable block of barely concealed disgust. His face was thunderous, white brows drawn low over his glimmering eyes in open disapproval of yet more magic.

Leliana was just looking at the thing as if it was the best story she had to yet to tell, though she was painfully pale, a sheen of sweat glistening on her forehead. Danyla’s words ran through my head—the tree… her enchantment begins there—and I hoped fervently that, whatever this so-called Grand Oak was, it might be our key to finding out how to find the wolves’ lair, though Maker alone knew how, or why… or whether we could trust it.

Morrigan stabbed her iron staff into the dirt, rustling the dead leaves. “I am no elf, spirit, but I would know what you are.”

Her voice rang out clear and strong, reminding me of the haughty, mysterious woman I’d first met in the Wilds. Now, I knew her—if not well—then at least enough to know that much of the hardness and arrogance in her tone was there to cloak uncertainty and, in this instance, a hungry curiosity.

I should have known how deeply she was drawn to power.

The tree’s voice rumbled through the earth, spilling up in a great long groan.

“Hmmm… I am an elder oak and nothing more, though once I dreamt of a time before, when I roamed the world and howled with pain, not of this world, but twixt and twain.

“Perhaps I was a spirit then? A wandering thing drawn to this glen? But then that spirit joined with a tree; since then, a tree is all I be.”

“Oh?” The witch snorted, as if this answer merely amused her. “Merely a tree? That, I doubt. You are not like the others of your kind.”

“Hmmmm… There are many just as I, but mad they are, I shall not lie. A spirit trapped within a tree, no mouth to scream or eyes to see. A cage of bark, a prison wood… a thing of rage where nature stood. So twisted sylvan they become, but I am not the same as some. I accept my fated oaken home, I feel no need to rage and roam.”

“Hmph,” Morrigan muttered, eyeing the Grand Oak with a look somewhere between suspicion and greed.

Beside me, Maethor was stock-still and silent, his body tense and his head lowered, his wrinkled snout twitching busily. I wondered what he could smell… whether demons had a scent to them, or if that was what this creature was at all. The line between demon and spirit had become so far blurred for me that—without the education of the Circle, or the warnings of the Chantry ringing in my ears—I was starting to wonder whether anything but an amorphous mass of twisted life lay beyond the Veil, threshing in a pit of untrammelled energy not unlike the seething masses of darkspawn that haunted my dreams.

Alistair leaned forwards, trying to attract Morrigan’s attention with a too-loud whisper. “Psst… Why is it speaking in rhymes?”

She ignored him, but the Grand Oak did not.

“Hmmm… I do not know. Why doest thou not? Thy words seem plain, a mundane lot. Perhaps a poet’s soul’s in me… dost that make me a poet tree?”

Maker’s breath. I’d never heard of a demon with a sense of humour before. Zevran groaned quietly, as if physically pained, and I heard Alistair give an amused snort.

“Poet tree…. Hah! I get it. Heh, that’s good….”

The branches around us creaked again, and a sigh seemed to rustle through the leaves, almost as if the Grand Oak was pleased, basking in approval. I shook my head incredulously, slightly dizzied by the turn our endless trek through the forest had taken.

“Hmmmm… It was but a simple jest, a jibe to entertain my guest.”

I glanced at my companions. Alistair had relaxed considerably—apparently he was of the opinion that anything that cracked awful jokes couldn’t be all bad—though Morrigan looked stony faced, and the Dalish remained tense, even in the face of the rhyming.

My head ached. For days—or had it been weeks now? Maybe longer?—I’d felt so lost in the seas of green and brown, the repetitive swathes of mud and leaf mould, the wet that dripped from the pine needles, and the unbroken lattice of the canopy above us. Everything had been pressing in upon me, crushing the thoughts out of my head and the life out of my chest, and now I wasn’t sure I was still sane.

Sentient trees that made terrible puns weren’t helping.

Aegan and Revasir had started conversing urgently in hushed Elvish. After a moment, Aegan pushed Revasir forward, nudging his elbow into his back. Revasir glared at him, but then squared his shoulders and began to address the tree, partly in Elvish, and partly in his halting, accented Common.

Atish’an, adahlen’ahren.” He bowed stiffly, his wild hair falling against his shoulders, and looked up cautiously at the tree. “We are elvhen, Clan Vareth’in. We seek to know of this place.”

The trees’ branches creaked, and a few dry leaves twirled to the soft ground.

“Hmmm… I can only speak to what a tree may see. It may not help you, but it is enough for me.”

Revasir looked uncertain—not that it was easy to see beneath the dark lines of his vallaslin—but he pushed on.

Adahlen’ahren… You spoke of elves that lived here. Long ago. Is this true?”

I watched carefully, and listened harder, holding my breath. It must have meant Dalish, surely. There had been Dalish in these woods for years, but… back then? The possibilities—the stories of Arlathan and the old ways—seemed unreal.

“Hmmm… It was the elves who planted the seeds, raised the forest, saw to its needs. But that was all… so long ago. That they are dead is all I know.”

“The war?” Revasir demanded, for a moment forgetting that stiff Dalish language of respect. “The shemlen?”

A breeze seemed to move through the tree, stirring its twigs and leaves. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have said it was sighing.

“Hmmmm… A great war perhaps. I cannot tell. I was not here when it befell. But many deaths here, all the same, and with the deaths the spirits came. The spirits entered corpse and tree and most went mad, as thou canst see.

“The forest had a spirit of its own, from back when its first seeds were sown. Perhaps she died of grief that day, or perhaps she simply went away. Or perhaps the were are the ones to blame, for the day she left is the day they came.”

The hunter looked to his kin, and they muttered among themselves. I frowned, caught on those words of spirits. The forest’s spirit? Was that the ‘she’ the tree meant? The ‘she’ Danyla had spoken of? Then, the werewolves had somehow unbalanced the place… they were driving this rot and corruption. Maybe their curse was tied to the old Tevinter magic, or the thinning of the Veil that drove the sylvans’ spirits mad.

I had the horrible feeling that, whatever was wrong with this place, it would affect everything that stayed here too long, and I was sure it was only a matter of time before we were all tarnished by it.

There was nothing else for it; we had to find Witherfang, and get out of here.

“Please,” I began, finding my voice, even though I knew how uncertain I sounded. “Please, Elder… Tree…?” Even saying the words didn’t make them feel real; I didn’t know where to look when I addressed the damn thing, either. Its presence, if that was what I could feel prickling at me in this place, was everywhere. “We need help. We’re trying to get to the centre of the forest, but we can’t find the way.”

I wasn’t sure whether it was wise to mention why we needed to get there. If the same enchantments or old magics that gave the trees this strange, second-hand life were what the werewolves depended on for their secrecy, we shouldn’t give away our intent. Not to mention that, whatever power or old rites fed into the wellspring of power the forest had, I didn’t trust it at all.

The tree appeared to think for a moment… or such was the only way I could describe it. Heavy quiet, filled with stagnancy and the rustle of leaves.

“Hmmm… Most of what was is overgrown, leaving only broken stone. Perhaps some ruins remain free of rot. I know not where: I see them not. Yet in the forest’s centre the weres do dwell, or so go the tales my fellows tell. But they cannot be followed there; the forest doth protect the weres.”

I grimaced. This didn’t sound promising.

“Great,” Alistair muttered. “So, the forest is alive… but it’s not on our side.”

Leliana shushed him, still looking at the tree as if it was a miraculous example of the Maker’s will. Perhaps it was, although if that was the case, I suspected He had a deeply unkind sense of humour.

“Is there any way we can reach the centre of the forest?” I asked, appealing to the array of branches that surrounded us. “Can’t we—I don’t know—fool the trees somehow, or…?”

I had no idea what I was asking. If the Grand Oak could have laughed at me, I was sure it probably would have done.

Instead, the tree was silent for a few moments, as if deep in thought. I cast uncertain looks at my companions but, finally, the Oak’s voice rumbled through the clearing once more, humming in my head like the grumble of thunder preceding a storm.

“Hmmm… Perform the boon as I ask, and I shall reward thee for the task.”

“You’re saying you’ll help us?”

I could barely believe it, though Alistair shot me a wary glance, warning against being too eager.

“Hey. Shouldn’t we ask what it wants before we agree to anything?”

The tree rumbled again. This time, it really did sound almost like laughter.

“Hmmm… I have but one desire, to solve a matter very dire. As I slept one early morn, a thief did come and steal an acorn.”

“An acorn?” I repeated, nonplussed. A tree the size of this, and it was worried about a single acorn?

Morrigan heaved a theatrical sigh. “Hmph. And you want it back, I take it? Predictable.”

A long branch fringed with the curled husks of dry leaves arced slowly through the air beside the witch, almost as if the tree was trying to make some gesture to her. Its vast, gnarled trunk never seemed to bend much, but the upper reaches of the tree did, nodding as if there was a strong wind.

“Hmmmm… All I have is my being, my seed. Without it I am alone indeed. I cannot go and seek it out; yet I shall die if left without.”

Morrigan looked at me. I wasn’t used to that: she didn’t usually need or want me to contribute anything to her decisions except silence, but her expression said we had little choice here. I nodded, glancing at the others. If anyone had a problem, they didn’t speak up.

“Very well,” I said, wishing I could remember the Elvish word that Revasir had used to address the tree. It had sounded a bit like ‘hahren’, but I’d been too forcefully reminded of my lack of ability with the language to make any guesses. “We’ll help you.”

The tree lowered its branches gracefully, and made a long, low creaking hum of a sound. “Hmmmmm…. Go to the east and find this man. I shall await… do what thou can.”

Right. I wasn’t sure which way was east anymore, but the Dalish seemed to have that covered. Aegan laid his palm against the nearest branch and said something in Elvish—some prayer or blessing in respect, I supposed—and then they rose and began to scramble through the brush behind the tree and to the right.

It allowed us to pass it, and—taking our leave of the ancient and improbable talking tree—we filed by, heading into yet another darker, closer part of the forest, where the smell of old, damp earth and deep wood crowded on the air.

“Amazing,” Wynne breathed, shaking her head and apparently still caught up in how wonderful it was that we encountered such things.

I supposed, after a life spent in the confines of the Circle—where she’d no doubt read about arcane things stranger than any nightmare I’d ever had as a child—this probably did seem like a beautiful opportunity to her. Magic held familiarity for her. Strange probably seemed normal, and she most likely revelled in all the things that were frightening the life out of me.

At that point, I felt the strongest kinship with Sten, who crashed doggedly through the brush, still weighted down with the lion’s share of our gear, his utter disgust and hatred for magic, spirits, and Ferelden’s cold, wet climate written large on his scowling face. He grumbled something under his breath and, though the word was unintelligible to me, it did tell me that Qunari was probably a marvellously satisfying language to swear in.

“This is insane,” Alistair muttered, bringing up the rear behind me.

“You don’t have to tell me that,” I said, a little snappishly for someone who was just glad he was talking to her again. “We’re looking for an acorn thief. At least it said it was a man, or I’d think we were looking for a squirrel. Who in the Maker’s name—?”

Alistair gave me one of those incredulous looks of his, clear hazel eyes wide behind the mud-streaked, weary and embittered mask of his face. “You haven’t thought about it, have you?”

I frowned, confused, and he lowered his voice, his gaze flicking to the back of Morrigan’s black-feathered robes as she picked her way through the thicket ahead of us.

“This place is full of ancient power. Crawling with spirits. It’s impenetrable, easy to get lost… hard to be found.”

I still wasn’t following, and he sighed tersely.

“Maleficarum,” Alistair whispered. “They like hiding where the terrain gives them an advantage. I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t whole cabals in here somewhere.”

He sounded very like a templar then. My frown deepened further.

“We haven’t seen any.”

Alistair snorted. “No. We haven’t seen the way out, either. Come on. Let’s keep moving.”

I hoisted my pack and trudged after the others, trying not to think about what he’d said.


Volume 4: Chapter Seventeen


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