I must begin by apoligizing profusely for my ridiculously long hiatus from updating. It is a heinous crime to write a long story, get to the good part, and then abandon it for 8 months, leaving reades hanging on what is going to happen to their favorite characters, and I am quite ashamed of myself for being so guilty of just that. So I will do my best to redeem myself by updating now, and just in case you've forgotten what's happened in the last 8 months, I'll provide a (hopefully) brief summary of the story so far.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed. You are truthfully the reason why this chapter is even up. I do it all for you readers.
And a special thanks to my wonderful (and insanely speedy--seriously, she got my chapter back to me about an hour after I'd e-mailed it) beta, Lady Knight 1512. You're the best!
Disclaimer: Characters, places, etc. belong to Tamora Pierce. As much as I wish Neal was mine... sigh...
A summary of previous events:
A catastrophe strikes Tortall shortly after Raoul and Buri's wedding (and the dramatic celebrations that ensue) in the form of disembodied spirit warriors attacking Fort Steadfast and killing many, including Neal's betrothed, Yuki. Kel and Neal travel to the fort where they encounter the Great Gods who inform them that Kel has been chosen to challenge Raydon, the Gallan mage who is controlling the spirits. The two knights journey to Galla, nearly being defeated in a skirmish, the aftermath in which Neal loses his life saving Kel from fatal injury. Kel realizes that she can't live without him and persuades the gods to return his spirit, on the condition that the remainder of his life depends on the success of Kel's mission. Neal revives and he and Kel enjoy a romantic reunion in which they finally admit their love for each other. They continue on to Cría, where Neal is captured upon entering the city by soldiers with orders to take him to Raydon. Kel meets an unexpected friend (George Cooper) and the two devise a plan to follow Neal's abductors north to Raydon's headquarters where they hope to rescue Neal and end the mage's deadly deeds for good.
The Lady Knight and the Spy Master escaped the city with surprisingly little trouble, though Kel suspected that it was George's doing. The guards at the gate had seemed to be familiar with him, though the ex-thief adamantly denied it with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
George seemed to know exactly where they were going, and although Kel hated for another of her friends to be risking his life in such a ridiculous mission, she was secretly grateful for his presence. If Kel had been expecting the journey north to be solemn and arduous, it was anything but. Not only was George extremely helpful, but his cheerful manner and easy humor soothed Kel's worries and brought back some of the "pain-in-the-bum" optimism that Neal had often accused her of having back in their page years. She began to see how the Lioness could have fallen so deeply in love with him, even if he wasn't as handsome as Neal, in Kel's opinion.
The first few days were easy. The soldiers were in a hurry to deliver Neal to Raydon, and left a sloppy trail that was easy for Kel and George to follow safely. Kel's hopes were lifted as she dared to believe that her seemingly impossible goal was within reach, despite Wyldon's nagging voice in the back of her head, telling her not to get complacent. However, as they entered the far eastern reaches of the Grimhold mountains, Kel realized that she was horribly wrong. As the dirt road was replaced by rock, she wondered how they were to follow the soldiers now. She said as much to George.
He merely chuckled and said, "Now we look for the signs from Queenscove."
Kel remembered the reason why George had gone to Neal before their departure from Cría. "What kind of a sign is he leaving?" she asked, careful not to say Neal's name. She didn't trust her voice with the work, since every time she even thought it, a jolt of pain went through her heart. Despite George's constant efforts to keep Kel upbeat, he couldn't keep away the overwhelming emotions that gripped her whenever she thought of Neal. Guilt mixed with anxiety and love continually plagued her, and the image of his face was ever-present in her mind's eye. Still, Kel didn't let any of this hinder her, but rather remained like stone and let it fuel her resolve to rescue Neal and Tortall, as George had instructed.
"We're looking for mage-marks," George explained to her, peering about. "Traces of his magic that he attached to objects as they passed by."
"But how can we see the traces of his magic?" Kel asked, confused. "It will have faded by now."
George grinned like a child who was revealing an exciting secret. "Ah, but you forget, lass, that I have the Sight!"
Kel nodded, understanding, but she couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. She wished there was someway she could help; she felt useless and yearned for a way to help Neal.
George seemed to sense her dismay because he explained, "I'm sorry, lass, but it had to be something the soldiers wouldn't pick up on."
Kel nodded again, but only felt the slightest bit better. She contented herself with looking for regular tracks as George searched for magical ones.
Scarcely a minute passed before George exclaimed, "Ah! Found it. Clever lad, that Queenscove. He managed to magic a tree branch pointing in the right direction."
As he swung up onto his horse with the grace of a large cat, Kel wished she could see the shimmering green magic that would make her feel closer to Neal, but she was glad that they had a trail to follow once more, whether she could see it or not.
That night as they ate a cold supper, not daring to risk a fire, Kel voiced to George a thought that had been troubling her all afternoon. "George, these men... the ones who are serving Raydon... who are they? How can they live with themselves, knowing who they're serving and the terrible deeds they're helping him accomplish?"
George shook his head and sighed. "People will do anythin' when they're desperate. Desperate for power, desperate for wealth... or just desperate for survival. Monsters like this Raydon, they get their power by feedin' on the fears of these desperate people. These men we're following... maybe they're not really bad men. Of course, some of them could be; there are always bad people in every bunch. But most of them were probably just desperate to feed their families, or just to get by. Raydon most likely found any poor Scanrans or Gallans who needed some hope and fed them lies, tellin' 'em that he could save them, if they helped him. It's a terrible way to gain power... but it works."
Kel clenched her fists. "I wish I could stop that. Those men are giving up their lives for lies."
George handed her a cold sweet pastry. "Well, as hard as anyone tries, there's no one who can right all the wrongs in the world. But we're well on our way to fixin' one of 'em."
I apologize for the short length and Kel's lack of in-characterness. One of the horrible effects of long breaks is that you forget how characters act...
But I would appreciate it ever so much if you would reward my efforts at a comeback with a review!