Papashan seemed relieved when I returned to him to let him know the pretzels were delivered. However, like Momodi, I could tell there was something else he really wanted. Was that all just some sort of test to see if I would follow through on even the most menial of tasks?
He quickly explained, “A young noblewoman from a very prestigious family has run away from home, and I have been ordered to see to her safe return.”
The guards, the Sultansworn as he called them, that I met earlier were actually out there searching for her, but they’d had no luck. He was quite frantic as he asked if I would lend my aid to the search.
How could I tell this no?
He suggested that I search an area called the Sultantree, which I traveled to straight away. Sure enough, as I drew near, I heart the sound of a soft voice in what I took to be some kind of prayer.
“O Sultantree… O Sultantree, hallowed spirit of my line, forgive my weakness. My failings have cost us dear…”
A young lalafell girl knelt there, her fragile frame bearing a weight of worry greater than she looked to be able to carry.
Quickly, she was aware that she wasn’t alone, turning and demanding, “Show yourself!”
At first, I thought she was speaking to me. But I was standing in plain sight. She was looking beyond me.
That’s when another man appeared from nowhere, taking me by surprise. I’d not realized anyone else was there.
He approached us, speaking in a nonchalant way, “As you command, O Lilira. Forgive my selfish desire to assure your welfare.”
The girl, Lilira, was familiar with him, which allowed me to put my own guard down. She didn’t respond to this stranger as a threat. Instead, she scolded him for following her without her knowledge or permission.
The girl has spunk.
It would have been an amusing encounter, if the man’s response wasn’t so somber, “It isn’t safe for you here alone. It isn’t safe for anyone—not with this aetheric disturbance… It’s as though the dead are watching us…”
This left a prickle on my skin.
I don’t like the sound of that at all.
For the first time, the man turned to acknowledge me. He told me that Papashan had mentioned me to him, and offhandedly congratulated me for finding Lilira.
Word sure does get around.
Just as we were setting off to return to the station yard, I felt the presence of something foreboding. The stranger was quick to pick up on it, too, moving to defend the girl as the threat materialized.
I didn’t know what the creature was, but it was certain that it meant to attack. The stranger called to me as he rushed to intercept, and I found myself following him into an unexpected battle.