Seeds of Rebellion (Page 104)

“I’m full of worms, naturally,” he announced. “I checked. But since I retained my sense of self, I decided I might still be of service. I chose to track you. I know I’m little more than a ghost. My real self is in the amar. But I thought I may as well do all I can to help ensure I get planted somewhere far from here.”

“Can you … smell us?” Nollin asked.

“Your blood? I can, yes. The walking dead apparently feasted on me. I was unconscious. They drained me, and the worms took whatever I had left before I woke. I awoke bloodless. I didn’t even have traces on my robes. Your smell made it easier to track you. I could hurry through the night without rest. So far I feel no fatigue. I figured you could give me a clean end when we reach the river.”

“You can control your appetite?” Farfalee asked. Her direct tone demanded honesty.

“I believe so,” Halco answered without pause. “Considering what I’ve become, it’s odd how unchanged my mind feels. I think I can regulate myself. I feel well inside of my limits. I don’t expect to be a threat. I might be a help, though.”

“Does it hurt?” Nollin asked hesitantly.

“No pain. My senses have changed. The sun bothers my eyes. My hearing has an irritating echo. While my sense of touch has been dulled, I’ve grown much more sensitive to smell. I’m still getting accustomed to it.”

“If a horse will carry you, please join us,” Farfalee invited. “But watch yourself. Keep your distance. No close proximity. It will be the token of your self-control.”

“I won’t disappoint you.”

The wild horses proved sturdy. With three or four mounted scouts roving, and everyone on horseback, the group made rapid progress. Following advice from the scouts, they took a zigzag route to keep well away from the mobs of zombies trying to close in on them. The horses proved much quicker than even the most eager zombies. The vast horde of walking dead to the south had no chance of heading them off once they had been spotted and a detour was devised.

Moving ambitiously during the day allowed the delegation to almost relax at night. Still, they remained vigilant, with a mounted sentry always in motion, and their weapons ready. Halco prowled the darkness on foot, a tireless fail-safe.

Within a few days Rachel could feel no lingering effects from her overexertion earlier in the week. She issued suggestions to the horses at her leisure without adverse reactions and maintained effortless telepathic conversations with Corinne. If anything, she felt more capable than before. Most of the herd had stopped following them, but five riderless stragglers persisted, even after Rachel had gently invited them to leave. In the end, she decided that a few spare mounts wouldn’t hurt anything.

The morning they sighted the Silver River glistening in the distance was the same morning Kerick galloped to the group and breathlessly reported a host of more than a hundred riders in hasty pursuit.

“Can we make it to the river?” Farfalee asked.

“Maybe,” Kerick answered. “They’re coming hard from the southeast. We’ll have to veer southwest to have a chance of reaching the water first.”

“Of course, crossing the river will be the problem,” Aram observed.

Rachel frowned. The Silver River was the main eastern outlet for runoff from the mountains. Farfalee had warned that it averaged more than half a mile across.

“To the southwest,” Farfalee urged.

They ran the horses hard for the first time. Until now, the greatest need had been to conserve energy. Rachel enjoyed the wind in her face, and she sent suggestions to the mounts to run quickly and steadily.

As they cantered across the top of a tall ridge, Rachel glanced back and glimpsed their pursuers for the first time, a galloping cavalry small with distance. Kerick had been right. There looked to be at least a hundred of them. A hundred reasoning undead warriors, armored and mounted. Rachel wondered how many of them she would set on fire before she fell. Then she wondered if she should even resist them. After all, they were just trying to keep the world safe from the ravages of a devastating plague. Hiding from the thought, she clung to the small hope that she and her friends might outrun them.

As the glittering expanse of the Silver River drew nearer, a pair of horsemen appeared up ahead, racing toward them. Of the four scouts, only Drake had failed to report back since the undead riders were sighted. One of the two riders was Drake. The other turned out to be Sakar, the emissary to the drinlings, whom Rachel had not seen since the Seven Vales.

“This way,” Sakar ordered without explanation.

They followed him west, directly away from the riders, paralleling the river rather than heading toward it. Farfalee rode beside Sakar, but Rachel could not overhear the conversation.

The delegation reached a mounting series of low ridges backed by sizable hills. Atop the first ridge, Sakar pulled his horse to a stop. The brush around him stirred, and several men and women stood up, wrapped in cloaks expertly designed to blend with the wild terrain. Rachel felt her horse prance nervously, and quietly spoke Edomic words of comfort.

“Meet Ul, son of Tha,” Sakar said gravely, “chief of the wild clan of drinlings.”

A stocky man with a broad nose and heavy jaw nodded curtly. His mouth was firm, but smile lines radiated from his attentive eyes. His golden brown skin had a different tint than any complexion Rachel had seen before, and his irises were coppery, like bright pennies. The coloring seemed shared by the other members of his party.

Ul turned to Sakar and spoke in an indecipherable burst of rapid, clipped syllables.

“He tells me we should fall back and try to keep out of sight,” Sakar translated. “He will confer with the sentinels of Ebera on our behalf.”

“Thank you,” Farfalee said, bowing her head in appreciation.

Ul gave a curt nod and waved her away.

Rachel and the others followed Sakar to a higher ridge. After securing the horses, Sakar led the group to a position where they could observe the plain below unobtrusively from behind a screen of tall brush. Rachel positioned herself near Farfalee and Sakar.

“The wild clan are drinlings?” Rachel asked quietly.

“Correct,” Farfalee said. “Evidently, the drinlings are the only race in Lyrian immune to the goma worms. In recent years they have played an increasingly pivotal role patrolling the Silver River.”

“I only recently learned this as I explained our need,” Sakar said. “The drinlings are divided into forty clans. The wild clan has historically provided many of the finest drinling warriors and has maintained close ties with the Amar Kabal.”

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