The old knight raised his hand in caution. “These wood elves are stranger than you have encountered — of all the descendents, they trace their lineage pure and fine back to the High Elves of old. Their sight is a dangerous thing — the future, the present, the past. All laid bare. Stay focused –be sure you are ready to receive their words.”
Quintus turned and eyeballed his hand on the lightning scarred tree. His right-ring cuticle needed some attention. A few minutes passed, and the duelist fought to stifle a yawn. A leaf fell spinning from a nearby tree, and landed lightly on his wrist.
A tidal wave. The hooves of deer, the wings of the bluejay, a song his lover sang in the autumn moonlight- black, white, then red. A snail crawled across a stone and a symphony of marigold frostbite. A green hand slid up the side of a gray castle like a creeping vine. A small girl played a trumpet in the fronds of a palm tree, a red haired youth strummed his lute beneath a pear tree. The earth crumbled beneath Quintus’ feet and he fell into darkness.
A slender hand curled around her wrist, a long face framed in silver and leaf-green. The wood elf kissed Quintus’ lips, his golden eyes wide and overflowing with tears.
Simon. Simon on an exhausted horse. Simon wearing a red scarf, ragged and trailing. Simon riding into the teeth of a storm, black and sure.
Mara’s knees gave way, falling into an ungainly crouch. The elf spoke, quiet as the lark before the hurricane.
“These words we have for you and no more. We cannot deny the river.”
The wood elf dashed the tears from his eyes.
“Your leader rides to his doom. If you do not save him, he will fall like all of his brothers. Ride, ride to Gilead if you be true companions. As for the cage of souls…”
He steepled his hands, then let them fall to his side.
“It is beyond our power. An unknown magic, an unknown craft — we wonder why you seek our knowledge of this device, when a servant of the Smith-God stands at your heels.”
Kelvin waved, uncertainly.
“Now — words for each of you.”
The golden eyes burned and he moved from one to one, whispering in each traveler’s ear. Quintus was close enough to the old knight, Linus, to see the hungry set of his jaw — but couldn’t make out a word, nor see the lips of the wood elf move as he whispered. The duelist’s eyes widened as the wood elf came close, and kept his face impassive as he heard the seer’s words.
The wood elf turned away from the group, and gave a weak smile. He seemed to consider his words, then shrugged ruefully.
Leaves fell on the travelers heads.
The Ghosts found themselves walking out of Seroholm forest, with the outskirts of Pennytown in view. None of them could remember the trip back from the tree, only the wood elf’s prophecy …and the secret words he had lodged in each heart. They walked silently back into town, and were surprised to find the town bustling with activity – amid the sounds of a hammer on metal.
Several dozen men and women were moving through the streets, bearing oddly wrought rods and flanges of adamantine and steel. A few called out to greet the travelers — Drover put down his load and waved them over. “Where have you been? — it’s been almost four days since you left us with that ticking time bomb. Good thing that other smith showed up yesterday, set right to work dismantling that monstrosity.”
Alarmed, the travelers hurried to the town square and the forge. The Gargantuan had been reduced to a third of its original size, legs and the bottom part of its torso. The Ghosts were relieved to see the chambers that had once gleamed with green soul energy lined up next to the forge, cold and empty. A tall, burly man was bent over the right ankle of the machine hammering away with his head down. As the travelers approached he stood up — a tightly cropped black beard shot through with silver and a blue bandanna to hold back the sweat. He was shirtless, old tattoos and scars running down the length of his chest. He took a long drag on the cigar stub he held clamped in his teeth, and grinned.
“Deus ex machina, baby.” he said.
“Master!” Kelvin cried with excitement and rushed forward to give his god a hug.