The voice was Ingdols. Gwenich could recognize it, though she could not see its source. He sounded far away, as if he were yelling through a wall. Her eyes were full of ghost images of the forest: vague outlines of trees and brush, a grey smudge where the cave had been. It was all fading slowly to black, leaving her field of vision a dark impenetrable curtain.
“Gwenich! Yarlloth fight me, girl. Can you hear me?”
He was closer now, his voice more clear as the ringing in her ears faded. Suddenly, Gwenich was being shaken by her shoulders, her head tossing about. She tried to open her eyes before realizing that they were indeed already open. Reality suddenly set in, cold and hard as an axe blade in winter.
“Ingdols! Ingdols! I can’t see! I’m blind!”
His arms closed around her, gripping her tight to his wiry body. He smelled of moss and wood smoke, the aroma being more prevalent to Gwenich than ever before. His leather armor creaked, releasing the scent of oil and sweat. The girl searched her mind, trying to figure out what she could do to make this better. She tried again to open he eyes, hoping against hope that she had just forgotten how to do so.
“You know he did this, Ingdols. Cut off his lil’ pointy ears and run ‘im through. That damn elf will be the death of us all. He’s stole sight from your girl already.”
Gwenich dropped as Ingdols suddenly released her. She heard the sound of steel sliding form its scabbard, a distinctive noise she’d heard a thousand times before. There was the jingle of metal rings clanking against each other. That was the long curved dagger from Ingdols sheath he wore in the small of his back. She’d seen what he could do with such a small blade.
The dagger was to Vanlaug’s neck within seconds. The cold metal of it pushed against his artery, biting ever so slightly into his skin. The warrior had managed to get his hand on the pommel of his sword and unsheathe five inches of it before the dagger stopped him dead in his tracks. His lips curled into a smirk as he stared at Ingdols, though the ranger could see the fear he tried to hide in his eyes.
“Yarlloth damn you, Vanlaug. If you ever tell me what to do again, his grace will move my blade to send you to hell. You try to play my heart like a Lyre. I promise you, you won’t much like the tune it sings.”
Ingdols slowly moved the knife away, not bothered about his sudden lack of control. He’d tolerated Vanlaug for a long time, but he would not tolerate his attempt at giving orders, especially now.
“I don’t command, Ingdols. The storm blinded her. You can draw your own conclusions.”
Vanlaug glanced back toward the cave opening where Qua’Jon still stood, restrained by Melin. He dared not say another word, knowing better than to push. Instead, he slowly backed away, hands upheld in a gesture of peace.
“Bring him to me, Vanlaug. Bring him to Gwenich.”
He bent back over the girl as Vanlaug hurried to the cave. In a display of gentleness that Gwenich was unaccustomed to, the man softly cradled her head, smoothing her hair as he gazed into her blank eyes. The man had never been one for displays of fatherly affection. She found it calming, the panic she had been feeling somehow abating.
Ingdols stopped for a moment to wave his free hand in front of her face. She made no physical reaction. “Can you see that, Gwenich? Can you see anything at all?”
She couldn’t. Whatever it was he was talking about, she could not see it. Everything was blank. “Ingdols, it’s all black. It’s like night had…”
She trailed off. An image suddenly appeared before her, yet she knew somehow that it wasn’t her eyes that saw it. She blinked them a few times but the image persisted uninterrupted. She was starting to understand now. This was all part of the storm.
“There… there are travelers. They’re from far away, Ingdols. I can see them. They’re lost and confused and… there is a badger?”
“One thousand hells. You must be feverish, girl. There must be some hoof root somewhere in the woods. I’ll find…”
“No, Ingdols. I really do see them! They caused the storm! One looks wild, as if they were part of the wood itself. They wear a wooden mask and carry a great spear. Another is a child, a good few years younger than myself. There are more, Ingdols! I can’t explain this.
“They rode the storm here. Yes, yes. The cosmos twisted and burnt, spilling them into the wild. It was their will! I understand now!”
Ingdols looked up from the girl to see Qua’Jon standing over them. Beads of sweat formed on the elves brow from nervous excitement. His clothing was soaked from the storm, but he seemed not to notice. His gaze was solely on Gwenich, unfaltering and filled with awe.
Vanlaug, Melin, and Eernon accompanied him. Vanlaug stayed a few paced behind, still not wanting to tempt Ingdols. The man’s face still displayed its telltale smirk, however. His hand rested on his hip, close to the hilt of his sword. Ingdols could actually see the nervous tension in his body.
Melin still restrained the elf while Eernon stood near by, silent with arms folded. She looked at Ingdols, giving a slight nod of her head. It was her silent blessing. The ranger could do what was needed and she would not interfere.
He stood to his full height, standing a half head above the elf. Ingdols expression was stern yet betrayed nothing of what he thought. He locked his eyes with Qua’Jon’s, standing there silent for a few moments as he sized him up.
“Did you do this, Elf?”
His voice was even and quiet enough that Vanlaug had to strain to hear him. It was soft, showing no hint of anger.
“The storm is not mine. It raged before I was taken in the woods. There are gods and other beings that make my magic look like a foolish plaything, and maybe it is just that. Killing me will not turn back time, oh no. I can not tell you whose storm it was, but it was not mine. “
“I know them,” muttered Gwenich softly, though all attention was on the Ranger and the Elf. They ignored the girl and she quickly fell back silent. More moments passed as the two men stared at each other, neither reacting.
“Can you fix her eyes, elf? Can your magic heal them?”
“Only the magic of the gods can do that. My power comes from the world itself. I am sorry for her, Ingdols, but I can not help her.”
The ranger turned away from him then, his hand returning to the hilt of his dagger. There was an almost imperceptible waver in his voice when next he spoke.
“The city is only a few days from here, Eernon. The storm has ended. We should set out in the morning.”
“So we shall, friend,” she replied, softly. “You may take your anger out on any we come across along the way.”
Ingdols helped Gwenich to her feet, putting the girls arm around his shoulders. Without another word, they made their way back to the cave.