The Searchers

 

Chapter One - unedited and raw

 

The thermal loosened its hold and Adhamh began to drop through the sky. He pumped his wings in a large down sweep and felt himself lift up to altitude. Until he can find the next thermal he will have to use his own power to stay where he needed to be.

 

His eyes were carefully roaming the landscape below, constantly looking for any sign of what he was seeking. But something was drawing him towards the mountains. Something within him was leading him to Kalena.

 

Adhamh could feel the tickle of the Krytal crystal tingling where it was embedded just behind his right ear. Maybe it was calling out to the matched crystal that was embedded behind Kalena’s ear. Maybe the Krytal was what had been leading him into the Northern Mountains. Towards the stronghold of the Ice Tigers, and beyond the mountains lay Arran, a country that was not on a friendly footing with the Suene Empire.

 

Knowing my luck, Kalena is probably being held by the Arranians. Their SpellCrafters might have been able to knock him from the sky and take her...if they had enough of them to combine their power.

 

That was the only scenario that Adhamh could come up with that logically explained how he and Kalena could have been stuck from the sky that day. The Arranian SpellCrafters were the only ones able to do that, and even though they are not as powerful as they once were, a group of them working as one could theoretically do this. Another Hatar’le’margarten could do this as well, but Adhamh would have known the instant he was hit if it was a fellow Hatar.

 

No. It had to be the Arranians. That is why Adhamh was being lead north into the mountains, because beyond those mountains lie the kingdom of Arran and hopefully Kalena.

 

These were the thoughts running constantly through Adhamh’s mind since he awoke and found Kalena gone. Not just physically gone, but mentally as well. He had grown so used to their constant connection that when it was suddenly gone it felt as if he’d been gutted. The ache of her emptiness throbbed deep down in Adhamh’s head and chest. Because of this he had resolved to do anything to get her back. Anything.

 

This is why he had crept away during the night and was now flying steadily north.

 

Adhamh was up high. High enough that his blue feathered underbelly would merge into the blue expanse of the sky and would be missed by any causal glance. The sky ran blue before him as far as the eye could see, only marred by the sloppy remains of the cloud bank that had passed through yesterday and was now clinging stubbornly to the north.

 

He took note of the Suenese troop movements, most of which were heading to Fort Foxtern, but there were two small groups that had broken away from the main force and were now moving north into the mountains. On the spur of the moment Adhamh had decided to follow them as they were all going in the same direction. The Hatar was also curious about where they were heading. Maybe they were scouts or escorting one of the Emperor’s spies to the edge of Arranian territory.

 

He drifted lazily, enjoying the feel of the warm sun against his back feathers. It was nice to be able to fly wherever you want without being under orders. It was also nice to be actually doing something constructive to find Kalena.

 

If anything has happened to her…

 

Adhamh turned his thoughts away from that direction. If he found Kalena with more than a scratch on her, he would not stop until he had hunted down and took his revenge on every last member of the party that captured her.

 

He corrected his course to head a little more north as his instinct guided him and then let the steady beat of his wings lull him into boredom.

 

It was early afternoon when he reached the foothills of the Bhaligier ranges. The thermals and air currents had begun to change as he approached the mountains and his wings began to have to work harder to get him where he need to go.

 

Adhamh began to keep an eye out for a safe and hidden place to spend the night. A hard thing to find when you are the size of a small house. The best he could hope for is a small clearing in the trees that covered the skirts of the mountains. Or if he was lucky, a cave.

 

A cave would be ideal. He could stay hidden and warm and have the secure feeling of having something ‘heavy’ around him. A cave would also be easier to defend….or get trapped in…Adhamh thought on that a few moments more before deciding. Does not matter, I still prefer a cave. He began to skirt around the mountains, looking for promising rock outcrops and plateaus.

 

The sun was low in the west when the glint of stone flashed pink in the late afternoon light. Adhamh focused his attention on it and saw that it was a large stone plateau that jutted out over a stand of conifers. A perfect place to spend the night. The only things that could reach him there were other flying creatures or the mountain goats or bighorn sheep – and even they aren’t silly enough to get close to a Hatar’le’margarten that could swallow them in one bite.

 

The thought of sheep made Adhamh’s stomach grumble. It was too late to hunt tonight, so he would have to keep his eye out tomorrow for game and hopefully bag himself a couple of those sheep. That would keep him going for a couple more days.

 

Adhamh circled slowly down towards the grassy plateau, keeping a lazy eye on the scatter of birds that high tailed it away as fast as they could. He caught no sight of any large mammals hurrying away, which put paid to any thought of a quick and easy meal before bed.

 

He landed and made a quick inspection of the ground to make sure that all was safe and then went and curled up near the edge of the trees where they met the mountain face. Adhamh was utterly exhausted. Everything he had been though coupled with the days hard flying had drained him of what little energy reserves he had left in his tanks. He fell deeply asleep as the sky grew quickly into the midnight blue darkness of a moonless night, knowing that his black, feathered form would just merge into the mountain in the darkness.

***

Adhamh abruptly awoke to complete silence.

 

He tried to get up but found himself held down somehow by his legs and tail. Then silently out of the darkness came ropes and hooks being through over his back, securing his wings tightly against his body. Adhamh made another effort to free himself but found that each time he struggled the bonds that held him just got tighter and tighter. He relaxed and slumped to the ground, best to keep what energy he had left for when he really needed it.

 

As soon as he relaxed, men started to appear out of the starlit darkness, holding the ends of the ropes and chains that now bound him. He curled his lip at them, baring his long teeth and had a smug feeling of satisfaction when a few of the men took an involuntary step backwards. Behind these men stood a small figure whose dark shape stood out from the midnight blue of the night. He was quickly moving his arms and then suddenly noise rushed back into the void around Adhamh.

 

The man was a SpellCrafter.

 

Adhamh had found the Arranians – or rather, the Arranians had found him.