The forest diminished wholly into a great rolling plain as they journeyed northwest. Only sky and waving grass surrounded Dreibrand and Miranda, and the mountains loomed higher with every day. Miranda had never seen the world look so huge, and she despaired constantly, thinking about Elendra lost in this vast and desolate place.

After a week of pursuit, Miranda began to lose faith in Dreibrand’s theory that the crystal orb would guide them to Elendra. Miranda’s chest ached from the absence of her daughter and she saw her actions as futile.

She carried Esseldan herself now. Her arm had mended and caused her no pain, and she needed the comfort of her remaining child strapped to her back.

Although he never voiced his concern, even Dreibrand wondered if he had chosen the right course. It had seemed so clear to him at first, but when Elendra had been abducted, his mind had been desperate. Now he privately considered that the girl had to be dead, but he could not bring himself to suggest such a thing to Miranda.

When his doubts struck him the hardest, he would remove the crystal orb from his pocket and let the eerie glow reassure him. To his mind this crystal could not be a natural occurrence, and in his estimation their course had changed slightly. Several times each day he checked the brightness of the orb and carefully observed the point at which it gave the most light. Gradually they were being steered more to the north. The mountains were close in the west, and their course now went parallel to the snow-capped barrier.

Even after hard days in the saddle, they seemed to only crawl across the land. Sometimes Miranda convinced Dreibrand to press on into the night and to save more time Dreibrand hunted from the saddle. Abundant game dotted the plains, and they rode through herds of antelope and elk every day, but they veered around ornery cliques of hulking buffaloes. Dreibrand always chose small game though. At some point everyday, a rabbit or prairie chicken came close enough to be shot with an arrow when they needed some meat.

But their relentless riding began to take a toll. By the ninth day after Elendra’s disappearance, Dreibrand knew the horses needed rest. The health of their mounts could not be compromised, but he did not know how to tell Miranda that they must stop while Elendra was still lost.

Esseldan made the announcement.

Miranda sagged in her saddle. The sun had tanned her face, but she did not glow with health. Tossing nights riddled with stress and silent hopeless tears had left her dull and tired. Her son whimpered and cried the whole morning, squirming in the carrying sling, and by afternoon he erupted into a tantrum.

Miranda tried transferring him into Dreibrand’s care, but the baby only howled more. Starfield shook at his bit, annoyed by the screaming passenger.

Dreibrand halted the steed and suggested, “Perhaps the little man is telling us to rest. We are both exhausted, and the horses need a break.”

Miranda stared at the horizon and thought about her daughter. Except for the strange crystal, they had no sign of Elendra. Miranda would keep searching, but she could not kill her son to save her daughter.

“Yes, we can camp early,” she agreed tersely.

Making camp placated Esseldan, and he resumed his usual pleasant behavior. Dreibrand placed the boy on the black wolf hide and entertained him with the fluffy tail. Nearby the horses grazed eagerly, and Dreibrand stretched out his stiff legs.

But Miranda had no thoughts for rest. Atop a rise she had her sword out and practiced a form that Dreibrand had been teaching her. They had not taken time to practice with the weapons since Elendra’s abduction, and Dreibrand was surprised to see she had the energy for such things.

Tickling the boy one last time with the tail, Dreibrand stood and went to join Miranda. He drew his sword.

“It has been too long since your last lesson,” he remarked.

He decided a little impromptu sparring would help him judge her progress and he attacked without further words.

A new determination fired Miranda’s movements. Her fighting skills had improved nicely, but Dreibrand was still the teacher, and when he thought she had enjoyed enough success, he knocked the sword out of her hand.

Her face contorted with indignation at the loss of her weapon. When she moved toward the sword in the grass, Dreibrand scooped her up with his free arm. Thrilled to hold her tight, he laughed as she struggled and smacked him harmlessly on his armor.

“Put me down!” she ordered.

“Make me,” he teased.

Miranda did not appreciate his joke and gave him a dark ugly look. Dreibrand recognized that he had upset her too much and set her down. Moodily she stomped away and grabbed her lost weapon.

“Miranda, I am sorry,” he apologized. “I was only playing.”

Her expression softened, and Miranda looked down thoughtfully. She regretted becoming so mad, but being grabbed and feeling his superior strength had panicked her. Seven long years with Barlow would be slow to fade she realized.

“No. I am sorry,” she mumbled reluctantly. “You do not deserve my temper.”

“Do not worry about it,” he said breezily and sheathed his sword.

Now that his weapon was put away, Miranda raised hers with a threatening gesture.

Dreibrand smiled at her cunning and raised his hands in a mock surrender.

“Have you had enough already?” she asked.

“Yes. You win. I am your prisoner,” he said.

Miranda frowned and slid her sword into the crude sheath of animal skin she had made for it.

Putting his hands down, Dreibrand commented, “You are getting better with the sword.”

“When we find Elendra, I intend to win her back,” she said ominously.

“We will,” Dreibrand agreed in a whisper.

With a kinder tone, she added, “I appreciate you keeping your promise and teaching me to use weapons. You have been good to me.”

Dreibrand shrugged off the compliment. “I owe you my life. You were there when I needed you—twice.”

He moved closer, and Miranda eyed him warily. Softly, he said, “Miranda, is it so bad that I want to be near you?”

She leaned away from him slightly. He made her nervous but in a manner unfamiliar to her. Miranda was not afraid of him anymore. Dreibrand had proven himself kind and reliable, but she knew why he wanted to be near her.

“You are near me every day,” she stated defensively, as if his question were ridiculous.

“Exactly. And it would be so natural for a man and a woman, alone in this wild place to…” he trailed off suggestively and put a tentative hand on her shoulder. Miranda shrugged out of his hand, but then he caught her in both arms. Her body became rigid, but she did not really fight his embrace.

Dreibrand continued, “You do not have to suffer alone. Isn’t it better when I hold you? I care about you.”

Miranda put her hands on his chest and felt the sun-warmed metal of his armor. Shaking her head, she pushed and he reluctantly let her go. He saw the confusion in her eyes and knew that to restrain her would upset her.

Free of him, Miranda walked over to her son and picked him up. Dreibrand had not really wanted to let her go, especially when he could glimpse an inkling of willingness in her eyes, but he did not want to scare her.

It was hard to be patient Dreibrand realized. He had grown accustomed to female companionship when he wanted it. A soldier had to win a woman’s favor in an evening and march on the next day. He had been alone with Miranda for weeks now, and her remoteness perplexed him.

The next morning Miranda awoke to Dreibrand sitting by her. She focused on his soft yellow beard and the sunlight glinting in his wind blown hair. His blue eyes sparkled under his serious brow, and he tickled her nose with delicate sprigs of flowers. For a brief moment, Miranda felt lighthearted and enjoyed his attention, but she could not accept the luxury of such feelings.

“I thought these would cheer you. They smell quite nice,” he said.

Miranda sat up and took the flowers and sniffed the fancy blossoms.

“I wouldn’t think an Atrophane officer would pick flowers,” she teased awkwardly.

Encouraged by her genuinely positive reaction, he took her hand. “I was rude to bother you yesterday. I know because of Elendra, you could not have any thoughts for me, so let us go quickly and find your daughter,” he said. During his watch, Dreibrand had accepted that her worry for Elendra distracted her from him, and rightly so.

Miranda nodded, and although she was thankful for his understanding, she simply accepted his apology. Her feelings for him were confused, and she had no attention to give to sorting them out. Any thoughts for her own pleasure were crushed by the stress of losing Elendra.

For another week they rode north and the summer sun followed them with lengthening days. The lush plain had no shortage of game, and they did not lack for food. No beasts or storms troubled them, yet they constantly maintained their guard. Both of them had become too hardened by Nature, even in summer’s bounty, to be lulled into a sense of security in the Wilderness.

As every day slipped by without trace of Elendra, Miranda withdrew into dark brooding. She blamed herself for the abduction of Elendra, inwardly criticizing her every decision over the past several weeks.

Dreibrand could see that she tormented herself, and he comforted her as well as he could.

After checking their course one afternoon, he said, “I think we must be getting closer. The orb feels warm today.”

Miranda did not look away from the ears of her horse. She seldom strained her eyes to scan the horizon anymore, and usually just stared listlessly at her horse while riding.

“You just think it is warmer because all of this is so hopeless,” she grumbled.

“No. I just noticed it. Here you take it,” Dreibrand suggested, offering her the crystal orb.

As always Miranda refused to touch it.

Placing the orb in his front pocket, Dreibrand insisted, “I tell you it feels warm today. It must mean that we are finally getting close.”

Although she was too discouraged to really feel any hope, his opinion finally intrigued her. She stayed more attentive that day.

The next morning was cloudy. No thunder rumbled, but they assumed a storm would start eventually. Cheerlessly they continued their trek north until midday when suddenly a dark form broke the northern horizon.

“What is that?” Dreibrand cried.

He and Miranda exchanged curious glances, but they were too far away to determine the exact shape or character of the object. Drawing out the crystal orb, Dreibrand could feel that it had increased in warmth again. It did not burn, but it was hot and he judged the glow to be greater as well.

“This must be something. Come on,” he ordered and urged Starfield ahead.

The object was a large narrow boulder sticking up out of the ground. Taller than a man, the blue rock showed no sign of design or symbol.

They halted to examine the monolith.

“This could be some kind of boundary marker,” Dreibrand exclaimed. He was so excited to have found something.

Miranda did not allow herself any excitement, and thought pessimistically that it was just a boulder. She wandered over a ridge and looked northward. The land sloped down and many more standing stones covered the land for as far as she could see. Some were lone monoliths, and others were arranged in circles or scattered in no particular pattern. The sizes did not vary much, but all of the standing stones were at least as large as a man. The presence of the weighty boulders defied reason.

The wind moaned in places where the stones stood close together, and Miranda felt a distinct foreboding. Esseldan squirmed on her back and began to cry.

She soothed the boy and turned her horse around. Freedom gladly obeyed. She returned to Dreibrand, who still studied the first enigmatic stone.

“There are many more boulders over that ridge. They cover the land completely,” Miranda said.

Dreibrand snapped out of his consideration of the monolith and quickly went to investigate. The forest of standing stones upon the lonely plain made a disquieting sight. Again he hoisted the crystal orb, and the blue light was undeniably stronger. However, when he tried to check their course, the orb gave the same brightness in every direction, dimming only in the direction they had come from.

Miranda witnessed this as she arrived alongside of him. “I do not like this place,” she announced.

“But this must be where this orb intended to lead us,” Dreibrand said.

Miranda scanned the land. There was nothing except the creepy stones, and she was reluctant to proceed.

“We should go back and try again. You have lost our bearing,” she decided.

“But the orb has consistently pointed north. You have seen me check many times. Going back will only waste time,” Dreibrand argued.

Miranda bit her lip. She definitely did not want to waste time, and going back would be counterproductive. There was nothing back there.

“This place is frightening,” she whispered.

Dreibrand agreed, “Yes. I can feel…I do not know.” Something impressed him on a subconscious level. Vaguely he thought of the stunned silence on a finished battlefield covered with dead.

“We should go around this place,” Miranda suggested.

Dreibrand looked at the multitude of stones stretching to the east and west. Despite the sudden loss of guidance from the crystal orb, he believed they needed to continue north.

“We should continue in the same direction. The orb has led us here and we need to keep going,” he reasoned.

Thinking of her daughter, Miranda gathered her courage. This strange place of standing stones was the only aberration in the rolling untouched landscape, and she could not ignore it because she was afraid. With the faintest tinge of hope, she wondered if Elendra might be close.

“Yes, you are right. Going around is foolish. They are only boulders,” Miranda said.

Silently they entered the area of monoliths. A lone vulture circled down from the overcast sky and landed atop a monolith very close to them. Dreibrand drew his sword and hacked at the bird with disgust. It flapped out of his reach and cackled at him boldly. Cold eyes without compassion glared out of its naked head.

Once Dreibrand finished frustrating himself with the nasty bird, they hurried onward. They did not discuss the implications of the vulture’s arrival.

Their spirits brightened when they saw the standing stones clear out up ahead.

“See. No need to ride around,” Dreibrand said, feeling vindicated.

Indeed, Miranda was glad that she had agreed with Dreibrand, and she looked forward to leaving the unsettling stones behind her.

But the clean plains ahead proved to be like a shimmering mirage in the desert. Almost as soon as they saw beyond the land of stones, a heavy mist began to consume the land. The mist seemed to rise out of nothing, and it covered the land as rapidly as a cloudbank moving onto land from a large body of water. An immediate chill slapped the air, and the mist swirled higher.

“Hurry!” Dreibrand urged, focusing on the fading grassland beyond.

The mist soon took all visibility beyond a few paces, and they could not gallop for fear of striking a monolith in the murk.

“Stay closer,” Dreibrand called when he looked back and only saw the dim outline of Miranda on her horse.

“Where are you?” she cried.

He had to let her catch up. When she entered the small sphere of visibility, Dreibrand saw the relief flood her eyes. The mist pressed close now, and they could only see the nearest blue stone monoliths lurking in the haze.

“We must ride side by side. We must not get separated in this,” Dreibrand decided and Miranda heartily agreed.

The cold shroud of mist obscured all sense of direction, and every time they rode around an obstacle, Dreibrand feared that their course became muddled. Before the sudden fog had blocked his view of the clear plains ahead, he had focused on the proper direction, but he no longer had any reference points.

“We should have come out by now,” Miranda observed nervously.

“I know,” Dreibrand admitted.

“We are lost,” Miranda said.

Dreibrand knew they were in trouble, but he would not accept defeat so easily. The edge of the standing stones might only be a few paces away in the seething fog.

“This mist is more magic. No natural mist could rise so quickly and so completely. We are being trapped,” Miranda concluded.

Dreibrand halted their slow blind progress and removed the crystal orb. It shone with a constant blue light in any direction. Bereft of guidance, he put the orb back in his pocket, and the blue glow faded from the pale mist. He had followed the crystal orb diligently, and now he wondered if he had been led to this place to die.

Shaking off the nasty thought, he had no choice but to continue plodding in blindness.

A leaning blue monolith leered out of the mist, and the horses snorted when they passed close to it. It was a larger stone than the others they had seen, reaching over their heads even on horseback. Many standing stones clustered near this great blue hulk, and Dreibrand worried that he had blundered deeper into the place of stones because they had become denser.

Esseldan coughed and whimpered against Miranda’s neck. Dreibrand looked over at them with concern and regretted his eagerness to enter the stones.

In a strained silence they tried to find the edge of the stones until the dim daylight receded.

“Dreibrand, I have to stop,” Miranda said.

“It will be dark soon. Let us keep going,” he pressed.

“I know, but I have to take care of the baby while I can still see. Then we can go,” she said.

He agreed and took a break from the saddle himself. Esseldan cried while his mother attended him, and the sobs sounded smothered by the cold mist.

A thick soupy darkness rose from the ground as the light of the distant day retreated. They had nothing to make a fire. Fuel was scarce on the grassland, but the lank turf growing between the standing stones had nothing to offer.

Weeks in the Wilderness had made Dreibrand and Miranda accustomed to the true dark of the night, but nothing could harden them for being lost among the stones clogged with fog. An unsettling silence oppressed the land, and no nocturnal insect sang at all.

“We cannot make any progress in this. We will rest here,” Dreibrand decided.

“Must we stop? I want to keep going,” Miranda insisted tiredly.

“I would, Miranda, but in this dark we could find our way out and wander back in, before we knew we left. I don’t like it here either, but it is best to wait for light,” he reasoned.

Out of weariness she relented. Dreibrand took out the blue orb because it was their only means of light. Normally, Miranda disliked the inexplicable glow from the crystal, but tonight in the thick dark, she found some comfort in the light. She sat down on her blanket and nestled Esseldan in her lap. Right in front of her Dreibrand settled down on his own blanket, and the horses stood abnormally close to him. Starfield occasionally muzzled the top of his head, and he patted the intrusive nose.

“Maybe the fog will lift in the morning,” Dreibrand said.

Miranda looked at him doubtfully. She shivered inside her jacket and tucked the wrappings around Esseldan. The night grew colder and the damp was relentless. Even her hair was wet.

Feeling the need to be distracted by idle conversation, she said, “Tell me about Atrophane.”

His nervous mind needed distraction as well, and her suggestion pleased him. But thoughts of his homeland came hard to him. Already that life seemed to belong to a different man.

Dreibrand let his mind float back eastward over the many lands he had traveled and subdued. Finally he saw once again the Lasocosta Sea, whose surf played on the eastern Atrophane coast, and his heart suddenly ached to ride the waves as he had in his adolescence.

Dreibrand shared his memories with Miranda, describing the wide delta of the Phol River that was supposed to be the hand of the Goddess Simosha, who held Atrophane’s most bountiful fields. He told her next of the Outer Coast region where he was from. Splendid pastures filled with prize stock stretched between orchards that overlooked cliffs and sandy beaches.

Miranda had trouble picturing the great palace cities and lavish country estates he described, but she believed that they must be marvelous.

Then Dreibrand told her of darker things, and she had less trouble seeing these aspects of Atrophane. He spoke of slums where criminals of every creed and philosophy plied their trades in the shadows of gorgeous palaces. He spoke of the mines in the Vartrane Mountains where many unfortunate slaves labored in grim conditions.

“The land of my birth is forever behind me,” he concluded quietly. He cast his blue eyes down with sadness. He had not thought so much of home for a long time.

“Dreibrand!” Miranda hissed.

Instantly his mind snapped back to his immediate reality. The Wilderness had made his senses sharp, and he was on his feet even as the horses squealed. Miranda had seen it first and he only had to raise his eyes to notice.

A cold white light expanded out of the black mist. Miranda stood now and pulled out her sword while clutching Esseldan fiercely to her chest. Spectral forms gathered in the light revealing the skeletal detail of humans. Horrifying fleshless bone coalesced in the glowing mist. The ghosts brandished the remembered spirits of their weapons, which had an ethereal glow. Red eyes flared in vaporous skulls, and Miranda saw the point of her sword shaking in the haunting glow.

Three distinct ghosts formed quickly, and the swirling light promised to make more. These three glided toward Dreibrand and Miranda. One wielded a smoky warhammer and the other two held pikes.

Dreibrand raised his sword, hoping it could fend off the spirits, but when the ghosts seemed about to attack, they shifted directions and drifted by.

“They, they…aren’t attacking,” Miranda stammered.

More spirits developed across the haunted land, casting crazy lights on the standing stones. A frigid wind swept around Dreibrand and Miranda’s ankles and crept up their legs, making them ache and their flesh crawl.

“I don’t understand,” Dreibrand mumbled while watching a tall ghost with long delicate bones drift by.

An ancient long dead army now stalked across the land. Sometimes a spirit would flare brightly or simply fade back into the dark mist. A few more ghosts gathered around the living creatures and circled close, but the specters always moved on.

By now the horses sweated nervously, but the steeds stayed close to their masters. Sometimes Starfield or Freedom would jump with the intention of bolting when a spirit passed too close, but both horses stayed put as if they were tied down.

Slowly, Dreibrand and Miranda lowered their swords and watched the unholy spectacle of the walking dead. Esseldan cried softly against his mother’s chest, too afraid to shriek loudly. Dreibrand put an arm around Miranda as much to steady himself as to comfort her.

It was impossible to judge how long they stared at the multitude of ghosts. Their minds did not think of time when confronted with such an astounding mystery. Gradually, Dreibrand began to imagine the fallen army and guess that the standing stones were extraordinary grave markers. Before the mist, he had seen the stones stretching across the plains, and he calculated that the army must have been a sprawling host, greater than the Horde.

Remembering the tales of Gods making war that he had heard in the east, Dreibrand finally made some sense of the legends.

A mighty civilization was here. Or maybe still is, he thought. Tearing his wide eyes from the unsettling ghosts, he looked down at the crystal orb on his blanket.

“I am going to test a theory,” he announced.

Cautiously he approached the edge of the ghost activity, holding his sword defensively.

“What are you doing?” Miranda cried. “Come back here!”

Dreibrand ignored her and left the circle of safety around their camp. Ghosts glided toward him and did not change their course. A daunting spirit lord, with a translucent band of gold around his gleaming skull, flew ahead of his damned brethren and struck at Dreibrand with a misty blade. The mortal sword of Dreibrand parried the blow without effect. The spirit’s blade simply passed through the Atrophaney steel and clipped Dreibrand’s forearm.

An icy explosion of pain crippled his arm, and he had to seize his sword with his other hand before it fell to the ground. The spirit raised the weapon for another blow, and his musty men-at-arms gathered behind him excited for the victim.

It took all of Dreibrand’s courage to run away and not to be paralyzed with terror.  He stumbled back to Miranda and the ghosts thankfully did not pursue. Dreibrand crumpled to the ground and gave into his agony for a moment, clutching his arm. Visibly shaken by his rash actions, Miranda kneeled beside him.

“The crystal orb protects us from these spirits,” he gasped. “If you are not close to it, they attack.”

“Let me see,” Miranda said, trying to pry his good hand away from his injury. The haunted glow from the spirits provided some light, but she saw no visible wound. She touched his stiff cold hand, and he could not contain a cry of pain. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead, and he trembled as he tried to tolerate the pain.

In a desperate flash of reasoning, Miranda guessed that the crystal orb might help him if it was their only protection from the ghosts as he said. She scrambled to the orb, but her hand hesitated above the crystal. She was loath to touch the magical item, and the weird light swirling within reminded her vividly of the power behind the white wolf.

Dreibrand moaned and sucked air between his clenched teeth. She grabbed the orb and pressed it into his lifeless hand. He felt an almost instant relief and relaxed.

“That’s better,” he whispered.

With his pain eased, Miranda scolded him. “Dreibrand, you should not take such risks. I was so scared.”

“It was not one of my smarter ideas,” he agreed with a painful chuckle. “But now I know for certain why the ghosts did not attack us.”

Miranda looked around fearfully. “What is this terrible place? How will we ever get out?” She did not voice her worry that little Elendra was held somewhere in the horrible realm.

Dreibrand considered her questions rhetorical and lay in quiet pain, hoping his arm was not crippled. The pins and needles of life crept down his fingers until he could eventually grasp Miranda’s hand that held the orb against his palm. With a tortuous slowness warmth spread up his wrist and forearm, easing the pain.

Grimly he realized he could have just been killed. As a warrior he could face his mortality, but the thought of his eternal spirit trapped among the haunted stones terrified him.

“We will get out of here, Miranda,” he promised.

They sat through the night with no possibility of sleep. The ghosts stalked between the stones, and the fear they inspired nearly maddened the living creatures trapped inside the seething mass of death. An immense cattle market of damned souls surrounded Dreibrand and Miranda, who endured the horror bravely.

After a timeless torment Dreibrand rose painfully to his feet, still holding the crystal orb. “Let us get ready,” he said.

“For what?” Miranda asked miserably.

“It will be dawn soon,” he answered while fumbling to gather his gear. “When the sun breaks in the east, I will get my bearings and know which way is north.”

They climbed into the saddles of their drooping mounts. The horses were exhausted by fear.  With a painful slowness the ghosts gradually dissipated, and the inky dark of night returned. Dreibrand waited alertly for the dawn. With every breath he could feel the cold mist, and he knew it would obscure the dawn and dilute the sun. But in the first minutes of daybreak, he would have a chance to detect the east.

When his chance came, he did not miss it. The vermilion glare at the day’s birth cut through the mist, and Dreibrand saw the east. He was appalled how much he had become turned around, and he guessed that his disorientation had not been natural.

“Now!” he said, facing north and urging his tired warhorse.

He pressed on quickly in the mist that had actually become thicker in the night. Leaning out from his saddle, he grabbed the bridle of Miranda’s horse to prevent losing her in his rush. While the sun burned clearly in the east, he pushed on recklessly, trusting Starfield to avoid obstacles as best a beast could. When the land started to rise, his heart thudded with hope.

The mist thinned ahead and he could see green grass unmarked by stones. He pushed Starfield into a feeble gallop. Both horses climbed the slope eagerly now despite their weariness, until they finally emerged above the mist. The sun bathed Dreibrand and Miranda with warmth and the clean high plains unfolded before them. On a higher hill in front of them stood another mighty monolith as a guardian over the haunted land.

It was Miranda’s inclination to give it a wide berth, and Dreibrand would have agreed except that this monolith was of a different character. Its edges were sharper and straighter as if it might have once had a stonecutter’s attention.

They approached it cautiously, and Miranda trailed in the rear. She kept an eye on the mist in the lower lands in case it rose to follow them.

“I see writing!” Dreibrand gasped and jumped from his saddle.

He stood before the blue stone and the rising sun illuminated the ancient script carved in the surface. Time had made once sharp letters smooth and round, but a lengthy paragraph still stood out from the stone. Unfortunately, Dreibrand could not read it at all.

As if waiting for divine intervention to show him the meaning of the words, he stared at the writing.

“Do you know what it says?” Miranda finally asked. She certainly knew she could not read it.

Vaguely he shook his head, too overwhelmed to answer. Removing the crystal orb from his pocket, Dreibrand checked to see if it would guide him again. Like before, the orb flared brightest in a particular direction, but this time it was not north but west.

Dreibrand looked across the plains that rose into foothills, and his eyes climbed the mountains. One deep gap between peaks appeared in the snow-capped barrier, and he wondered if it might be a pass.

They rode a good distance away from the mist shrouded land of standing stones before turning west as the orb directed them. By noon they had to stop. They ate the last of their food, but after their ordeal neither had the energy to search for food. Spreading their bedrolls, both lay down to sleep.

“The orb is guiding us again, and I think we shall be with whoever took Elendra soon. They probably live in the mountains,” Dreibrand said.

Miranda heard his words and was glad that he was encouraged. “We are never going back are we?” she said.

Dreibrand rolled across the grass to lie beside her. They had crossed too many elti not to be honest with each other. He answered, “No. I don’t think so. Miranda, I am sorry. I never thought anything like this would happen.”

“Do not apologize. You offered to turn back and I declined. But I think then that my mind was not my own. Some kind of magic drew me farther west until Elendra was taken. I wish I could have listened to you,” Miranda sighed.

“I should have turned back anyway,” he lamented.

“But I did not really want to go,” Miranda recalled. “If I never see the east again, I do not care. I just want to see Elendra again.”