The Bright Children: Chapter 6-1 “Dark Paths”

A scraping, at a rhythmic cadence. Sparks, burning red-purple streaks into open eyes. A pause, and then a light, unfamiliar and chaotic. A groan.

“Ah, you’ve come to. Good.” The pale outline of Frey’s face turned toward Aphella, lines looking strangely deep in the pale, orange light. “I feel I must apologize. I had little time to weave that spell, and so could not exclude you. I hope you will be able to forgive me.”

Aphella rolled onto her side and pushed herself up, a tingling marking a sudden return of feeling to her extremities. She looked around, and saw rocks and moss encircling a wide, barren basin. Shadowy figures walked above them, lit by their own pale light. Dim eyes looked over occasionally.

“Fire.” Aphella turned to see Shaenyll, sitting on her haunches with her arms wrapped around her knees, the cloth of her long skirt bundled around her shins.

“Yes. Fire, an old skill, to be sure. Absolutely necessary for the dim and dun alike,” Frey said, in his usual calm and casual tone. “I have found myself a bit tired since that last great weaving, so I must use the skills of my less-endowed brethren. This moss works well enough for fuel.” He tore up a piece of dried, yellowed moss and tossed it onto the light. Small sparks leapt up and the light grew slightly brighter and, Aphella realized quickly, warmer.

“Shaenyll?” Aphella said, trying to discern her teacher’s expression behind her tucked knees. Cold eyes gazed back.

“Yes,” Frey continued. “She’s been awake for some time.”

“Waiting for you,” Shaenyll said, her inflection flat.

“She’s surprisingly resistant to magic. A bit too strong for my magic.”

“Not too strong, or I wouldn’t be here,” Shaenyll said.

“Too beautiful, then.” Frey smiled and laughed. “No matter. You will still need to recover. Both of you. Try to sit before you try to stand.”

“What’s this tingling?” Aphella said, leaning up on her elbow.

“Life returning. It’s all very complicated.” Frey gave a false sigh and sat down. He produced a jug from the shadows and put it on the fire. The light dimmed and began to flicker up over the sides of the jug. “I’m sure you will discover all the particulars for yourself one day.”

“It was time magic, what he cast on us and, I assume the other elders.” Shaenyll said. “We were dead, in a way.” Frey raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“Time magic?” Aphella said. Frey shrugged.

“As sure as a snuffler smells moss, it was time magic. That’s what he used to mend your focus.” Shaenyll pushed her legs out straight and stiff. “I should have recognized it before. This man is a much more powerful lightweaver than he let on. Dangerous, even”

“You are master of the chronolathe. You would know about both time and danger, yes?” Frey said. He smiled and pushed the jug deeper into the fire. “Would it surprise you to know that timeweaving was banned before it was forgotten? I suppose it wouldn’t, at that.” He picked up the jug from the fire, now emanating steam, and poured its contents into three cups. He picked up two of them and shuffled over toward Aphella and Shaenyll, stooping in the dim light. “Here, some tea. It is sweet, but sustaining. It will help with the tingling which, I assure you, is both temporary and harmless.”

“Where are we?” Aphella asked. Frey did not answer, but instead held forward the tea.

Aphella looked at the steaming cup with suspicion, then took it, though she did not drink. Shaenyll refused, holding up her hands defensively, and Frey shrugged, sipped the cup instead, and settled into a cross-legged seat beside the fire.

“You know,” Frey said. He took a deep drought of the brew.

“I know many things,” Shaenyll said, filling the silence.

Frey smiled and went on. “Once you did not need a chronolathe to tell time. The sun and the moon told it for you. More than that, they told you which direction you were going, and the stars told you where you were. The chronolathe was once only a toy. A curiosity, or an easily replaced tool.”

“Do not speak to me as if I was a child,” Shaenyll said.

“But only a child really knows the stories of the mythic age to be true. Faith is something far too-often discarded as we grow older, wouldn’t you agree?”

Shaenyll grunted. “You never answered the girl.”

“You’re right.” He turned toward Aphella. “We are west of Twillanya, in what was once called the dry gullies. Before that, this was a wide riverbed, but I doubt any of your people have been here it since the water ran here and did not boil through the hotsprings.”

“How far west?” Shaenyll said. “Zyteus will surely have arranged for a hunting party to search and, knowing him, kill you. I cannot say I blame him, now.”

“He will search for you too.” Frey raised his eyebrows. Shaenyll grunted again in reply. “We are about sixty miles west. Perhaps two days ahead of any expedition by foot, if your council head knew which direction we struck out in, which he does not. We are far from the common roads.”

“Two days!” Aphella said. “I’ve been unconscious for two days?”

“No, you’ve been unconsious for only a few minutes.” Frey chuckled.

“Time magic,” Shaenyll said. “You were caught in a single moment.” She looked at Frey with a harsh stare. “Zyteus is a fool, but Hamon and Arda will have no difficulty following our trail. They might be arriving with others soon, with any luck.”

“There is none of that luck, luckily for you. Ha!” Frey said, and slapped his knee. “Your village will only now be falling back into the regular passage of time.”

“The entire village?” Aphella said.

Frey went on. “They will wonder where I have vanished, not realizing that time has slipped by without them. I wonder, Shaenyll, if any of your people will know how to interpret the flows of the chronolathe to know what they have lost.”

Aphella pushed herself up. “You’ve kidnapped us? Why?” She looked quickly to Shaenyll. “Let’s get out of here. He said his powers were drained..”

“To where?” Shaenyll said, frowning. “We don’t even know which direction the village lies in.”

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