They were shown into the main room where people were hard at work limning pages in an extravagant color palette. Ruya gazed in awe at the stark contrast between the lugubrious exterior and the warm wood galleries and whitewashed stone interior. Many of the walls were lined with shelves full of books and scrolls.
“Ah, I thought I would see you here,” a languorous voice said.
They turned to see a stooped old man coming toward them. Despite his age, he had a lissome gait and merry eyes.
Nándor and Garrick bowed as the man approached. “Master Alim.”
Laughing, his hand raised. “It’s just Alim now.” He studied the young men before him. “You’ve come because of Ahriman.”
“Yes. How did you know?”
The wrinkles on the old man deepened. “Your brother was here with the stone.”
Ruya made a startled sound. “Brother!”
Nándor shot a hard glance at Alim before addressing her. “Yes. Ahriman is my brother.” He would not meet her eyes. “I thought you would have known that along with everything else.”
She could understand why he had thought that, but it was not true. Those of the Aerie did have limitations. “No, I did not.”
He said nothing, turning to Alim. “What did he want?”
“The same as you. He wanted information about the stone and directions.”
Nándor cursed. “How long ago?”
“Three days.” He motioned them to follow. “Come I will show you the lapidary he perused.”
They entered into a smaller room. Stuffed to the rafters with rolled papers and old books, it smelled of dust and closed in on a person. Unrolled maps had been stacked haphazardly on one side of the long table. A book encrusted with small gems was on a stand on the other end.
“This room has not been touched since he came,” Alim told them. “When I realized he had stolen the sacred object, I hoped someone would come.”
As the talk turned from Ahriman to their route, Ruya moved toward the tapestry map handing on the wall. The precise detailing accurately portrayed the current borders and cities in lustrous silk threads. She half listened to Nándor and Garrick as they debated on the best course to Enmyrnis as she reached out to touch the heavy velvet.
Without warning, she was ripped from the library and shot into a vortex of streaking light and muffled sound. Ruya cried out when she flew back into the real world, stumbling into thick mud.
She stood on the littoral swamp lake. The white murky water lapped the land lazily, stirring the sea of reeds. Ruya gaped as she gazed across the water. In the distance, a spire shot up from the misty air.
The vortex swallowed her again. Tumbling to the ground, she found herself surrounded by a red landscape of barren sand. The only thing that grew was jagged black and rust stone. Gritty wind levigated the craggy stones as it swooped over the terrain.
Taken again, she flew into the light and out onto a plateau. Ruins of a once great city spread out to the edge of the valley, where white granite hills stood sentinel.
In her mind, the pounding heartbeat drew closer to the city. It was calling out. It was calling to her.
It whispered to her as she stood on the precipice.
The moon peeked out as it rose in its full glory. The mountains glowed in the lambent light, and the city became a chiaroscuro web.
To me, Ruya.
In the distance a shadow stretched and moved. Ahriman.
The heartbeat raced in anticipation, making her cry out in pain.