Happy New Year! I can't believe the last time I updated this was a month ago!! I do apologize for the delay- I know how irritating and frustrating it can be. I'm glad that people are still interesting in this story. (It has kind of been put on the back burner while I write Denouement- I learned the lesson of writing too many stories at once)

I will ask you to review as always. I love writing for pleasure, but I only update if people enjoy the story. So, if you want this to remain active, please do me this honor. I will probably update once a week now, or if I get a lot of reviews! *hint hint* =)

Review goal: at least 7 before I post again

The luminous glow of the moon seeped through Maerad's eyelids, a blinding light against the otherwise pitch-black terrain that nudged her from unconsciousness. A pungent odor similar to that of Den Raven filled the heavy air, the only relief a slight breeze that caressed her marred skin. She coughed and opened her eyes to view a mountain range stretched along the distant horizon. Despite her confusion, she guessed them to be the high peaks of Osidh Annova, for behind her a dense forest of lumbering pines and thick oaks groaned an eerie welcome. The ghostlike birches that arched above her in a tangle of braches became recognizable as those of the Weywood, a place she had once traveled through with Cadvan and first met the Elidhu Ardina.

Maerad's head throbbed with anxiety and her body shivered with chills that ran along her spine as she adjusted to her surroundings. Her chest constricted as she visualized the iniquitous beasts that had attacked them. Her body still wept blood from the encounter and it certainly didn't help that her period had begun. The stench of it circled around her and made her stomach lurch against its sour smell. She shuddered involuntarily at what mighthave happened if Cadvan had faltered. "Cadvan," she called his name with caked lips of blood and dirt.

She managed to sit up and find that he lay unmoving on the ground next to her. "Cadvan," she repeated, placing a hand on his shoulder. When he did not respond, she felt hot tears slide down her cheeks. "Perhaps Cadvan's blood also soaks the earth," she thought morbidly as she gently turned him onto his back. His face contorted into a grimace but he remained still. An overwhelming sadness crept across her heart- she didn't know what to do. In spite of all her training and days spent in the wilderness, nothing had prepared her for being in this situation. And now that Cadvan lay hurt and unable to pacify her growing fear, her outlook dimmed immediately. All Maerad could do was stay conscious and alert.

She sent out her hearing and heard nothing save tree branches snapping against each other and the cries of night wrens. Whatever attacked them had run off or died; Maerad hoped it to be the latter. She thanked the light for the small mercy and glanced back at Cadvan. His condition mirrored hers, but his suffering seemed substantially deeper, lurking a place Maerad didn't dare delve into. In this revelation, Maerad knew she had to find a Bardhome and bring him there, however impossible the idea. The woods were dangerous, filled with ancient creatures that had roamed under its canopies for ages. Maerad didn't need to be reminded of her experience with the goromant in this very forest to know that true safety was a falsehood.

Cadvan groaned and Maerad reacted instinctively, pressing her hand hard over his forehead and the pained expression lifted somewhat. She then anointed her own wounds with a sweet-smelling balm she withdrew from her pack. It stung on contact, but cooled the burning long enough so she could focus on moving the man before her. It was a long, taxing process, but Maerad eventually dragged him into an opening in the brush. Against all her knowing, Maerad then built a fire to guard against the cold.

"You have refused to visit me," a voice stated flatly. "I have felt your struggles, bard. Surely you are in need of aid."

Cadvan did not respond; he did not possess the energy or will to banter with an ageless Elidhu, especially one who wished him dead.

"I shall make a deal with you, Bard; I know of the struggles the Fire Lily experienced in freeing the treesong. It is a small token, one that you stole from me long ago and I want it back."

Cadvan's resolute faltered. "And what is that?"

The booming laughter sickened him and he felt fire consume his innards. "Do not play games with me, Cadvan."

The instant he awoke, Cadvan believed to be captive and that his life would soon come to a screeching halt. There had been too many to ward off and he hadn't been strong enough to withstand their onslaught. Yet he had so much passion for life, knowing that Maerad needed him, that it drove him to open his eyes against the pain, against the reality he might face. "Maerad..." he whispered. Through his hazy vision, he was able to tell that she was kneeling before him and he sighed with relief.

"Shh," she scolded quietly. "If you must talk, use mindspeech."


"In a bardhome, just inside the Weywood forest."

"Where's Darsor?"

Maerad paused and spoke aloud. "I'm not sure. When I awoke a few hours ago, there was nothing around, save you and a growing puddle of blood."

Cadvan slammed his eyes shut as a jolt of pain shot up his leg. He hoped Darsor had managed to survive the encounter. Without a mount, they had little chance of making it out of the woods alive. "You are hurt then."

"My arm burns," she admitted, staring into the fire. "But it is nothing."

Sitting up slowly, he brushed the hair from his face. "Let me see," he muttered.

"You aren't-" she started.

Cadvan ignored her protest and felt the ragged edge of the scrape that ran up her arm. He said nothing as he studied it. Finally, he rested his head in his hands. He felt like throwing up. "This bodes ill."

"What do you mean?" she asked, looking at her injury. It felt horrible but it certainly didn't look it.

"It's poison," Cadvan mumbled, his words caught in his throat as another fit of coughing began. "I think we both have it running through our systems."

Maerad's eyes darted to his weary face. "From what?"

"Those things," he explained. "We should keep moving."

"We barely made it out of the Innail Fesse, Cadvan," Maerad retorted. "Whatever those creatures are, they will still be looking for us. And neither one of us can travel."

Cadvan nodded in agreement and met her gaze. Why have I put this burden on her shoulders? Even more guilt flooded through his system leaving Maerad completely ignorant of what was chasing them. "Forgive me for bringing you into this danger."

Maerad smiled half-heartedly; she was thankful she could still draw oxygen into her lungs and feel the cooling sensation it brought into her system. After such an attack, Maerad was simply grateful to be alive. "There is nothing to forgive," she replied. "Now sleep! I'll keep watch and wake you if I hear anything."

Cadvan obligued and lay back down. Maerad took a deep breath in and prepared herself for a long night.

To be continued.....

I know it's not a long chapter but here are some things to contemplate until I post again:

*The poison's attributes are going to be similar to that found in Methylmercury, save for one symptom which I won't explain because it would give too much away. For those of you who don't know what this is, you might gain a hint by looking it up.

*I hoped to portray Cadvan as being worse off than Maerad, so his lack of rebuttal to her words is due to his afflictions.

*I know I haven't said what is chasing them, but I will. Just have patience and I will reveal it. =)

-Queen of cliffhangers Kiaga (sounds kinda catchy!) xD