{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony decided to go to the wizards to try and track down Coriarkin. On the way, she met a strange creature called a Remling who introduced herself as Grelka}

Chapter 7: Kyho Twon

Ebony awoke to sun in her face and Grelka staring down at her.

“You know,” the Remling girl said casually, “I could have stabbed you in your sleep. I can’t believe you just trusted me like that.”

The light of day gave Ebony a better view of her, and she noticed she had fine pointy features and short cropped scruffy dark hair that stuck out at odd angles from her head. She was dressed in close-fitting leather-like garments that seemed almost like an extension of herself.

Ebony shook her head, half at the strange girl and half at what she had said, blinking the sleep from her eyes. “I knew you wouldn’t.”

Grelka glared at her, seeming annoyed by this blanket statement. “How?”

Ebony smiled and gave her age-old answer. “I just knew.”

This didn’t satisfy Grelka, though. “But how did you ‘just know’?” she pressed.

She sighed. “I can tell things like that, and I think I might be able to read minds. But I haven’t ever tried, or done it on purpose.”

Grelka crossed her arms and drew her wings around her like a cloak. “Okay, you got me there. I don’t have any special talents. That’s why I’m out here.”

“Why? You got kicked out of your home or something? That’s ridiculous!”

“No, no, no. I wasn’t kicked out. I left.” Her tone was very final, clearly saying that there would be no more discussion of the subject. “Didn’t catch your name last night, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Ebony Xin. I – what?”

Grelka whipped around to look at her and leaned close. “Did you say ‘Xin’?”

“Well, yes. What’s the problem?” Ebony stepped back, alarmed.

“Don’t say that name here again. Not unless you have a death wish. It’s not a happy name for many people, so just don’t.” She glanced quickly around, but they were alone. “Just… don’t,” she repeated, and refused to say anything else.

Ebony dropped the matter and changed the subject. “Can you take me to within sight of Kyho Twon? I mean, I could go myself, but I really don’t have time to get this wrong, and if you know…”

“If you walk in there, you know you’ll never walk out, right?” Grelka unfurled her wings and let them hang in the breeze.

“I think you’re exaggerating. Melchior said he just wanted to ask me some questions, and at the time he could very well have hurt me if he wanted to. Anyway, I don’t have much choice.”

Grelka shrugged. “Okay. Your funeral. Literally.”

“Thank you for the warning and for your help,” Ebony said, trying not to sound too sarcastic. She was thankful for the little creature’s help, but her warning made her own fears and the danger too clear.

The little Remling glared suspiciously at her, and then lifted off into the air, leaving the bridge, and another kingdom, behind.

Ebony groaned and rubbed her aching legs, struggling to keep up with her guide. Occasionally, Grelka would land and trot along, giving her a chance to catch up, then taking off and flying again, until Ebony thought she would go nuts if she had to hear one more of those leathery wingbeats. She sat down and dropped her head onto her knees, her whole body pulsing from the pace.

“I can’t – go much farther. I’m going to die soon.”

Grelka trotted back and poked her shoulder. “Nope. You’re not. Just feel like it. Or maybe wishing you could.” She turned and pointed ahead. “It’s not far; you can see it right there.”

Ebony looked up hopefully and squinted at the horizon. “Um… do I just have bad vision? I can’t see anything.”

“Right there,” Grelka said, sounding a little exasperated. She pointed very carefully at the hill ahead of them. “Even I can see it, and it’s not nighttime.”

“Okay,” she said, not wanting to argue, and not having the energy to bother anyway. Then a frightening thought occurred to her when she processed what Grelka had said. “Wait, can you even see in the daytime, or do you have good night vision but bad regular vision?”

“What’s that supposed to mean, ‘regular vision’?” Grelka demanded, incensed. “My vision is just fine, though it is much easier in the dark. I’m perfectly fine at seeing, and I did not lead you wrong.”

Okay, okay,” Ebony said, desperately holding up her hands in an appeasing gesture, trying to calm her suddenly defensive tone. “You just scared me a little with what you said. You obviously can see something I can’t which means you have better eyes than me, at least, if that’s any comfort to you. Now, why don’t you take me to this invisible Kyho Twon?” She stood up, trying in vain to stretch out the knots in her ice-burnt muscles.

Grelka glared at her for a minute, and then, seeming to reach some inner truce, her face calmed, and she turned and continued with renewed briskness toward the hill.

When they reached the foot of the hill, she pointed to a little round door set in the ground, woven out of bamboo. It had blended in well with the dying grass, and now that Ebony knew what to look for, she saw several more but smaller ones.

“There’s your main gate into Kyho Twon. Don’t expect them to be welcoming.” She looked as if she wanted to say something else and then frowned. She seemed to be angry at herself and turned abruptly away.

“Hey,” Ebony called after her, “thanks for bringing me.” She stomped on the little door in the ground and waited to see if anyone would open it.

Grelka looked back over her shoulder. She paused, taken a little off guard. “I’ve nothing better to do.”

“I’ll see you later,” Ebony said, and the door opened. She stepped down into darkness and the door shut behind her.

Grelka frowned at the door. “What makes you say that?” she asked the air. The air didn’t answer.

* * *

Ebony blinked rapidly, trying to get her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She hadn’t expected to drop so far, and the jolt still tingled painfully up her body. Someone, whoever had opened the door, uncovered a lantern and she was momentarily blinded by its sudden light. She dropped into a protective crouch.

“Who are you?” a voice asked from the darkness. Ebony opened her mouth but couldn’t manage anything for a second. “Wait, no, I know you! You’re that girl that came through the Gate, I saw you. And Lord Melchior told us to leave you alone. He said you would come. Is that why you’re here?”

“I’ve come to speak with him, but I’m not sure how much time I can spare.” Ebony’s heart was thudding in her chest, and she was nervous to say the least of going any deeper into Kyho Twon, if this was really it. It was a beast, and she stood in its mouth. If she went any further, she would be swallowed. Can’t say I wasn’t warned, she thought grimly, but this thought did not particularly help her in the present moment.

“Well,” the lantern-bearer said thoughtfully, “I’ll take you to where you can meet with him. If he won’t be available soon enough for you, I can take you back out.” He lowered the lantern a little, revealing a shadowy brown-robed figure. “Follow me, if you please. Stick close; it gets confusing down here if you don’t know your way around.”

“Uh huh,” Ebony said, rubbing her arms nervously as she moved after him.

“The unguided get lost in here. It’s a kind of protection, you know, with the war and everything.”

“Uh huh.”

“We started off living underground because the Essence is stronger down here, don’t know why but it is, and it strengthened our practices of the Arts, at least when we’re down here,” he rambled on.

“Uh huh.”

Ebony wasn’t really paying attention. She couldn’t focus on anything but the beast’s mouth swallowing her. Torches hung on the walls and lit the earthen passageways, and everything looked exactly the same. They occasionally passed other brown-robed wizards, but no one so much as glanced at them. She had already lost her sense of direction and knew that in here, she would be completely helpless on her own. Power play, she thought, then corrected herself. Okay well, Ebony, that’s not being very fair to them. You don’t know much about them yet.

The wizard with the lantern stopped beside a rough wooden door and opened it, gesturing her in.

“Is this where I’ll be meeting with Melchior?” Ebony asked, reluctant to go in. She had the uncomfortable feeling that as soon as she was in, he would slam and lock the door on her.

“If you’ll wait here, I’ll go see if he is available to meet with you. If he is, then yes. If not, I will return and speak with you.”

Ebony shrugged to herself. She had already gone farther than she could withdraw by coming into Kyho Twon at all. If this man intended to lock her up, he wouldn’t need to trick her to do it. She stepped in and found a long wooden table, smooth and polished, and with at least twenty chairs positioned around it. All were empty. Torches burned in brackets on the walls and a line of candles stood like sentries down the table. Cautiously, she took a seat next to one of the ends and waited. The wizard who had brought her was gone, and there was nothing to look at and only the thundering of her own heart to listen to. Already Ebony felt oppressed by all the earth and dark, with little fresh air and no sky and open landscape.

Minutes dragged by. Ebony held off her fear as well as she could. Stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm! She breathed slow and deep, focusing on keeping it full and easy. Concentrating on her breathing kept her mind from thinking about other things, and calmed her. The door crashed open and the tall wizard who had spoken to her at the Gate stalked in. He smiled at her, a little distractedly Ebony thought, and took a chair near hers at the head of the table.

“So you came. If you come in peace, I can offer you all the help my wizards and I can provide.” He chuckled a little, spinning the candle in front of him playfully. “Having visited Karliah already, though, I am sure you have little trust of me. It probably would’ve been the same story the other way around.”

“Yeah, I guess I came in peace. I had some questions that only you, so far as I can find, will know the answer to. It’s very important and I don’t have much time.”

“Let us strike a bargain,” Melchior said, leaning back in his chair. “I will answer all your questions and give you all the help that is in my means to provide. In exchange, you will answer my questions – they’re simple enough and mostly just curiosity – and we will see what must be done from there. Fair enough?”

Ebony hesitated. It seemed almost too simple, but as yet she didn’t have the prickling that he meant her any harm, nor any reason he would want to. And she didn’t have anything to hide that she could think of. “Fair enough,” she said.

“Alright, fire ahead. What do I know that you want to know?” Melchior glanced up at her before returning to his candle spinning.

“Where is Coriarkin? How can I find him?” Ebony bit her lip, hoping desperately that this would not be another dead end.

“You know they say he’s half out of his senses, right? He lives alone in a cave on the Forbidden Pass, and no one can find him unless he lets them. I spoke with him, once. Many years ago. I haven’t returned since. The poor fellow wasn’t in the best state for offering help to visitors.”

Ebony’s heart dropped. But he’s not dead, and that’s something. I have a lead, and a location. If only he has enough of his wits left to help me get home…

“Why did you pull me through the Gate from my world? What earthly purpose can you have for me?”

Melchior looked surprised, and paused momentarily in his spinning. “Pull you through? We never dreamt of pulling you through. In fact, it would be about the last thing we wanted. We thought you had forced your way through the Gate on purpose to get to our world.”

“No!” Ebony was shocked. “I wouldn’t even know how! No one in my world would. And for the record, you might think you can march in and take over my world, but it would be a death sentence to try.”

“Miss,” Melchior propped his elbows on the table and leaned toward her. “I don’t know where you got these ideas, but they are a mangling of the truth. Firstly, we only mean to settle in amongst your world. Second, it was Karliah’s idea that we try, and that’s why she lets us onto her land. I agreed to try because this world is dying.” He swept his arm around as if gesturing to the world. “You’ve seen it yourself. The Dragon Stone is missing, and so the world is shriveling. It has become too dependent on the strength of the Dragon Stone and now that it is gone, the Essence cannot feed itself. The world dies. We must either die with it or leave. The Apocalypse has come upon us.”

Author’s Commentary: Be prepared for another almighty highly critical information dump. Also be prepared for an almightily confusing web of positions. The whole Covenant/Dominion Melchior/Karliah thing makes my head spin when I try to keep track of everything and everyone’s true vs. alleged positions.

{Read Chapter 8: The Dragonborn Comes}