Jay held fast to the twin bond. He needed to be with Ky in body and spirit, to lend her strength to fight the poison from the web. He sent waves of encouragement and tried to hold his fear at bay. His thoughts moved from orderly to chaos. So intent was he on his desire to keep his twin alive, he stumbled.
“Close the bond,” Bran shouted.
“I need to know she’s all right.”
Bran halted. “I know how you feel, but if we fall and are hurt, we’ll never be free of this place. Being trapped in darkness will be worse for Ky than the poison.”
Jay knew his brother’s words made sense, but he was so afraid he’d lose his twin. He’d been angry when Mama and Papa had said they would be separated. Ky was all the things he wanted to be. Quick and agile where he was slow. Daring when he was cautious. She gave him courage.
You ground me.
The words burst through the chaos of Ky’s thoughts. What did she mean? Did he hold her back?
Never! You keep me from flying away. You keep me safe, but let go. I feel your fear.
Reluctantly, he released the link. He turned to Bran. “It’s done.”
“Then let’s catch up with Ash,” Bran said. “I’ve nearly lost sight of the torch.”
“How would you feel if Ash were the one who’d been hurt?”
Bran shrugged. “Probably the same as you.”
“How do you think the Dom set the web in the tunnel? How did he make it re-grow?”
“Maybe with his affinities, using them in ways we can’t imagine.”
“I’d like to understand.”
They reached Ash. She laughed. “Jay, you’re always looking for explanations. Someday, you’ll understand.”
Jay nodded. “Have you scented intruders in the passage?”
“Just us and the animals who live here have left any kind of scent. Even Mama’s and Papa’s scents are gone.”
“How did the web grow on the rocks?” he asked.
“Does it matter? ‘Tis behind us.”
“What if it follows?”
“Jay, enough,” Bran said.
“Mama and Papa told me I have power over growing things. That wasn’t a spider’s web
or some plant grown wild. I want to know how that thing was made.”
Ash shook her head. “I don’t know, but think of the things Mama and Papa could do by blending the elements.”
Jay frowned. He knew Doms and Domas could blend the elements, but he’d thought they had to work together. “Is this Dom greater than Mama and Papa, or does he have others who stand with him?” That thought made him shiver. How could Mama and Papa survive?
“I don’t know anything more than you do about him.” Ash moved away. “Your questions make my head ache.”
Jay tightened his hold on Ky’s waist and moved forward in tandem with Bran. If they faced a group of Doms and Domas, why had Mama and Papa sent four children to fight these people? He shook his head. They weren’t to fight the Dom and, if he had them, his companions. They were to hide and learn.
The passage twisted and turned like a Z. Ash heaved a sigh. “I remember this part of the road. We’re nearly to the end.”
Jay saw light ahead and then the dome of a massive cavern. “What now?”
“There’s a path that leads down the slope to the camping place where we’ll find the things our parents left for us.”
Jay and Bran lowered Ky to the ground. While Bran coaxed her to drink from the scrying cup, Jay walked toward the cave’s mouth.
Ash turned. “Something’s very wrong.”
“The path is gone. There’s no way down.”
Jay paused beside her. “Could we have taken the wrong passage?”
She shook her head. “I remember this cavern. Look, I wrote my name on this rock.”
Jay stepped around her. He tapped the staff of living wood against the lip of the cave and slid it forward. He felt rock beneath the tip. He closed his eyes and stepped forward into what looked like nothingness. He tapped again, took a second step and a third.
“Jay, what are you doing?”
Ash’s shout startled him and he nearly dropped the staff. “The path is here. Something hides it.”
“An illusion. Someone has stirred the air. Come back. Let me see if I can clear the haze and reveal the way we must take.”
Jay felt the kiss of a breeze against his cheek. Instead of clearing, the fog became more dense. He felt a fine mist on his skin. “Ash, stop. You’re making it worse.”
“What can we do?”
“With the staff, I can find the path.”
“What about Ky?”
“You and Bran will have to carry her.” Jay walked to where Bran sat beside Ky. “Need to explain what we face,” Jay said. He explained the problem.
Bran frowned. “I can take her on my back.”
“I could, too,” Ash said.
“We’ll take turns,” Bran said.
Jay returned to the mouth of the cave. How had the Dom created this illusion? Why had Ash’s stirring of the air changed the mist? Did the haze extend along the entire path? What would the man Bran had seen in the scrying crystal gain if the henge were gone? Since he knew his questions would annoy his siblings, he kept them inside.
“We’re ready,” Bran called.
“How is she?” Jay asked.
“She drank from the cup. Her heart beats stronger, but she needs the herbs I hope are with the supplies.” Bran groaned. “We know so much and so little.”
“That’s so. While we’re traveling down the path, trust me and not your eyes.”
Bran nodded. “I’ll follow you and Ash will be behind me. Let’s get as far as we can before we change the order.”
Jay tapped the staff against the unseen rock. He took a breath and stepped into the mist.
The air seemed thicker. He felt as though he slogged through mud, the kind that sometimes swallowed entire animals. “Ash, what do you remember from when you and Mama were here? Is the path wide or narrow, straight or twisting?”
“’Tis twisty. Most of the time, there are stone walls on either side. In one place, just one side has a barrier.”
“Which side has the wall?”
“The left, I think. The trail was narrow there.”
As they continued their snail’s pace, Jay wished there was some way to move quicker. He felt as though the mist sucked his essence. How long had they been on the trail? Since the sun was hidden by fog, there was no way to tell.
He tapped ahead. When there was no click of the staff against stone, he jumped back and nearly lost the staff. His body shook with tension and exhaustion. “I need to eat and rest.”
“Me, too,” Bran said.
“We’ve reached the place where the wall is gone,” Jay said. “Move slowly to the left.”
“When we start again, I’ll carry Ky,” Ash said.
To Jay’s relief, he soon reached the barrier. He sank to the ground and placed the staff in front of him. Enough of the mist cleared so his siblings could sit beside him.
He opened his packet of journey food. Enough for a scant meal remained, some dried fruit, a bit of cheese and a hard round of flatbread.
Bran handed Jay Ky’s packet. “Eat what’s left of hers. You need the energy.” He filled the scrying cup from Ky’s flask and lifted her head so she could drink. Then he finished the rest. “Ash, empty your flask into the cup. You and Jay can share.”
“Why?” Jay asked.
“The water from the cup made Ky stronger. Gave me energy.”
“Then I’ll drink mine from the cup,” Jay said.
“Save yours in case we need more. Drink, then let’s go. The longer we’re in this mist, the weaker we’ll grow.”
Ash emptied her flask, drank, then offered the cup to Jay. He was sure she’d left the major portion for him. When he started to protest, she touched his hand. “’Tis you who’s working the hardest.”
Jay waited until Ash had Ky on her back before he rose and began to tap the way along the path. His thoughts drifted to his parents. Surely by working together, they were stronger than the Dom who walked the road to darkness. What was happening at the henge? Bran had seen the first wall fall. Had the other walls been breached? Would they see Mama and Papa again? They’d said so and he would hold onto that promise.
Just beyond him, there seemed to be a wall. He tapped the tip of the staff against the blockage. Inch by inch, he moved through the dense fog. Suddenly, the light of the sun blinded him.
“Jay, where are you,” Ash and Bran called.
“I’m out of the illusion.” He turned and thrust his staff into the mist. “Grab the end.” He felt a tug on the staff. He walked backwards. Like corks being drawn from a bottle, his siblings appeared. He slumped against the stones.
Ash moved past him. “Up, Jay. ‘Tis not far now.” She paused. “I smell smoke, men and beasts.”
“On the grasslands beyond the mesa wall.”
“Can they see us?” Bran pulled Jay to his feet. “Have they found the ponies and the supplies?”
“Let’s find out.” After letting Bran and Jay take her sister, she picked her way around the rocks to an opening in the palisade.
They emerged into a box canyon. Jay looked around with interest. A group of ponies
grazed on the browning grass. At the far end, water tumbled over rocks into a stone basin. He noticed a fire circle. Where were the promised supplies? He lowered Ky to the ground.
“Where are the things they said would be here?” Jay asked. “Ky’s like ice.”
Ash turned. “This way.”
Bran caught her hand. “Let’s fetch them. You can scent which packs we should open.”
Jay reached for the twin bond. Ky wandered in a nightmare of being lost in the dark. He sent her images of the bright meadow. Slowly, her dreams changed and she slipped into normal sleep patterns.
Bran turned. “We’ll need a fire. Sure wish Ky could start one.”
“There should be a starter in one of the packs,” Ash said. “Jay, fill our water flasks.”
Though he didn’t want to leave Ky, he rose and carried the four flasks to the pool. Then he gathered wood. Once Bran and Ash returned with two packs, one containing a fire started, Bran set the wood ablaze.
Bran heated water in a pan. He poured it into the scrying cup and mixed an assortment of herbs in the water. “Ash, let me try this on your hand.”
The mark on the back of her hand had remained scarlet and hadn’t shrunk. Bran applied some of the solution.
“Hey, it’s gone,” Jay said. “Will it work like that for Ky?”
“Hope so, but hers is larger and I think deeper.”
Jay unwound the cloth. Bran dipped it in the solution and wrapped the bandage around the red bracelet. “What now?” Jay asked.
“We’ll let it dry and then apply the potion again,” Bran said.
Ash pulled two pans from the pack. “They thought of everything. You should see how many supplies they left us.”
“How long will it take us to reach Cedris?” Jay asked.
“Maybe a seven day. Depends on how quickly Ky responds to the treatment.”
Jay mixed dried meat and vegetables in one of the pans. “Hot food will taste good. Will we leave as soon as we eat?”
Ash frowned. “Not until dark. We don’t want those soldiers to see us.”
“How do you know they’re soldiers?” Jay asked.
“I caught the scent of war steeds. No one else ever uses that kind of mount.”
Jay nodded. He stirred the stew. Even though he didn’t have an affinity with air, the food smelled great.