The night air was cool. The wind’s breath whispered around tree and bush as I crept towards one of our company’s sentinels. The guard glanced back at my approach, and then returned his gaze to the dim forest scenery. I stopped at his side and pulled my cloak about my body to ward off the chill.
“Seen anything?” I whispered.
“Nay, MacDonald. No sign o’ movement or pursuit. Really think they’ll come after us?”
I nodded and kept my attention outwards.
“No doubt about it. Set wouldn’t give up, not after the threat he made.”
The guard grunted in reply, and then fell silent, as did I.
“Prison can’t be much farther off, aye?” he said after an interval.
“If we start at dawn, we’ll be there by midmorning, or so says the scout we’ve followed.”
“Is the course true, then?” he asked, glancing at me. I nodded.
“So far, we’ve traveled aright.”
I glanced back over my shoulder. Kearney had left her spot by the tree, and I felt neither the desire for sleep or further conversation.
Quick look ahead wouldn’t hurt.
I pulled my hood up and took a few steps forward.
“I’ll be out looking ahead, shouldn’t take more than an hour at most. If I don’t return, keep following the scout forward.”
“Aye, MacDonald,” the guard murmured. He, like the others, knew me well enough neither to worry nor question the action.
I wound a path through the dim tree cover, occasional breaks in the foliage illuminated by moonlit radiance. The darkness and overall silence was soothing, and I paid little attention to my actual course, allowing my mind’s compass to guide me forward.
She could be right.
I pushed a branch aside and climbed a short rise, pausing a moment as I gained the summit.
There was never any list of who lived, and who died. No record of the battle’s details. What if…
Several pine trees grew from the hill’s face ahead of me, and I forced my way through the bramble of needles and branches. At the same time, I attempted to quell the thought. It echoed within my head’s confines.
There might yet be a chance. Maybe-
“No!” I spoke, rather than thought. “Every time I’ve tried to picture a solution, there’s been no path. In all the time I studied, searched, there hasn’t been a trace of a clue or hint. Why should I dare hope now, only to have it destroyed all too easily?”
The warring voice in my head offered no reply, but I did not feel at rest about the matter regardless. I focused my attention and moved onward to restrain any other stray thoughts. The ground beneath rose in an incline, and I moved upwards. What looked like a clearing lay at the top of the rise, and I made for it, thinking to gain a better view of the surrounding forest. I gained the summit, finding only a few stray trees here and there to block my view. Behind, I could see the forest stretch out of sight. I turned my gaze forward. Several miles beyond and below, I saw the glimmer of orange flames, tiny and steady, as well as a dark mass that looked different than the tree shadows around it. The sheer size of the mass was staggering, even larger in width than Campbell’s fortress.
The prison, I thought grimly to myself. I allowed my inner compass to weave its course before my eyes… and then stopped, confused. The prison wasn’t the destination. My gift urged the course onward, beyond the prison.
That can’t be right. My path is set on Kearney’s brothers, and this prison is the only bastion of Ross’s in this region.
I shifted my mind’s guide from Percy and Seph and focused on the Prison itself. Immediately, I felt a wave of revulsion and inner warning, so strong I could scarcely entertain the thought of moving forward, much less trying. Whatever lay within the prison, it would be to our death to attempt entrance now.
This can’t be. Her brothers lay within the prison, surely it would be our destination!
I probed once more, receiving the same response. I stepped back, and then turned away from the hill’s summit and made my way down the slope. Wherever our course lay, it was not at the prison. Not now, at least.
How am I supposed to explain this to Kearney?