Sunslayn trudged into the guild hall, dog-tired and footsore. The echoing song of hyenas welcomed him home. Wind whipping through the canyon blew sand into his eyes. Better than snow. He was sick of snow. Three weeks in the Shiverpeaks hunting ectoplasm and not a damn thing to show for it but blisters on his toes, a chill in his bones, and a rekindled dislike for dredge.
He ducked under a striped awning and slumped down at the bar.
Without a word, the Norn behind the counter turned on the tap and filled a mug. Nathan liked his ale, and he knew what everybody else liked too. The scent of citrus rose from the mug. Sunslayn smiled. Bloodstone Orange Summer Ale tasted of fire-roasted fruit with a hint of sunlight.
“Rough time?” The question came from his right. A woman slid onto the stool beside him. “Same for me, Nathan.”
“You have no idea,” Sunslayn said.
A second mug slid into a pale, slender hand. Ravenyth sipped. Her lavender eyes peered over the rim, worried. She dabbed a hint of foam from her upper lip. “Don’t tell me you were captured too.”
Sunslayn sat up straighter. “Captured? Who was captured?”
She grinned, suppressing laughter. “Tryn and Soffi. Inquest. They made it back all right. Mad as dragons and avoiding each other. But they made one hell of a haul.” The guild hall needed ectoplasm, and LegendFire had deployed teams of members all over Tyria to rustle up the magical substance. Sunslayn had insisted he go alone. He liked to work alone these days.
He lowered his nose over his mug. “I got nothing. Sorry, Commander. Who else is still out?”
“Aiven and Alesha, Jib and Saptah, Annilya and Sorel.”
Maybe they would have better luck.
Ravenyth tried to lift his spirits by recapping him on all the improvements they had made to the hall in his absence. He only half-listened.
“Incidentally,” he interrupted, “how long since you’ve heard from Lirrah?”
Ravenyth glanced down at the bar, absently dusted sand from under her mug. “About three months.”
Sunslayn slammed his mug down. “Three months?”
“Where have you been?”
He glared. “Besides rooting around for ectoplasm in gods-forsaken mining tunnels? Besides fighting evil minions of one dragon or another?”
Ravenyth winced. “Sorry. We’ve all been stretched thin lately. I know you were sweet on Lirrah once.”
“It’s not that,” he insisted. “When you recruited me, she was the first person you assigned me to work with.” The sylvari ranger and her fern hound, Thorn, had been gleeful to take the new recruit into the wilderness. The Bloodtide Coast had been full of pirates, undead, and massive bloodsucking insects, but Lirrah had shown admirable courage and contagious curiosity. Sunslayn had merely been horrified. Which had amused Lirrah to no end.
“Where was she last, do you know?” he asked.
“Somewhere in Auric Basin, I think. Her report was … almost incoherent.”
“I want to see it.”
Ravenyth eased off the barstool and led him to a room mostly free of sand. Ancient mosaics patterned the wall like glimpses of memory. She rustled around in a trunk and fished out a folded piece of paper. It was curled from having been rolled around a bird’s skinny leg. She handed it to him.
Can’t silence it. The voice. Fighting. So many lost. Stay away. Jungle will lose me. Or I will lose it. Stay away. Goodbye.
Sunslayn cast the commander a pleading look. “I didn’t think it was this bad. You told me the sylvari were changing, but…” He dropped the letter and leaned heavily on a windowsill. Far below, water rippled between red sandstone walls. “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, the most miraculous. It’s a nightmare to think of her being transformed into something … something I’ll have to kill. I don’t think I could do it.”
Ravenyth’s hand settled on his shoulder. “Of course you could. She would want you to. We told you what happened with Aiven?”
He nodded. A near thing. Only being knocked unconscious had brought Aiven back from the brink. Mordremoth was calling to his own.
Had Lirrah given in to the Elder Dragon? Was she already lost to her friends? Sunslayn turned from the window. “I have to know. We have to find her.”
The commander frowned, calculating options. “Then you’re headed into the heart of the jungle. Don’t go alone this time. Take Arexa with you. You may need a healer.”
(continued, Part 2)