I ran until my lungs burned and moving my legs felt like pushing boulders uphill. The buildings on the outskirts of town had long since faded into the night. I wanted to stop, to fall to the ground, my chest heaving as it sucked in air with the urgency of a parched man lying on the bank of a mountain spring, but Pelban showed no signs of slowing as he led us toward the foothills of the Arunwol Mountains.
“Pelban…where…are we…going?” My gasping question reigned Pelban in until we both stood panting with our hands on our knees. The long grass of the open plain provided little cover, so Pelban got us moving as soon as we caught our breath, though at more sustainable pace this time.
“A rendezvous was designated, should something like tonight ever happen. That’s where we’re going.”
“How long have you been a part of this…group?” I asked.
“A while now.”
I frowned at his vague response, and wondered why he felt the need to hide his involvement from me. “Did you get the sword from them?”
“Hey, I’m a member now, remember?” I waved my silver pin at him. “I’d appreciate if you’d drop the whole ‘coy and mysterious’ act and fill me in on what’s going on.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry, Keldon. What would you like to know?” he asked as he looked over at me. His apology surprised me, and it took a few moments for me to come up with a question.
“Do you believe them?”
“It’s a just cause, Keldon. We should be standing up to the dragons and their minions, fighting back, not cowering in fear.”
“That’s not what I meant, Pelban. Do you believe what that man said tonight, about Jord raising a hero?”
“I…I don’t know. Does it matter? Something is needed to rally the people’s spirits. If it takes a story about a promised hero, that’s fine with me.” Pelban’s passion stunned me. I watched him from the corner of my eyes as we walked, but asked no further questions. Not that I didn’t want to. My brother’s attitude confounded me. I wondered how long he had harbored this desire to strike back at our oppressors, for I’d never got a hint of it before tonight.
The land began to rise beneath us, signaling our entrance into the hill country. We trudged on in silence, and my gaze wandered up to the starry sky. I knew the night waned, but had no clear notion of how much longer we had until dawn. My thoughts drifted with my gaze, and I began a prayer to Dwarvul, but stopped as the words of the man from the induction ceremony echoed in my head.
Like many of the durkar, I worshipped Dwarvul and believed in the tenets of the faith, going so far as to join the clergy. I fought in His name when the dragons invaded our homes and petitioned Him for protection when forced to flee. My prayers became fewer since, and though it was easy to blame the lack on the occupation and my subsequent removal from official service, doubt lurked in the back of my mind. Doubt that Dwarvul listened. That Dwarvul even existed. Would our salvation come from Jord instead?
We crested a ridge and Pelban motioned for a halt, breaking me from my meditation. I followed his pointing and saw the glow of a fire tucked between the hills before us. We crept down toward it, stopping behind some brush a few yards away.
“Why are we hiding,” I whispered. “I thought you knew these people.”
“Just being cautious,” he replied as he stared through the branches. A snap from behind drew our attention and we turned to see two aylar emerge from the darkness, the spears in their hands pointed at our faces.