That sun swept afternoon was the hottest they had endured, Haylie and Ringmore were struggling to concentrate on their training and every so often they would have to move to a shadier spot in which to practice, so as not to get too hot. Elera had spent the entire afternoon in the shade of a large old oak tree, writing and making copies of her mystical map, never allowing any of the others near her, even when Killga prepared lunch she refused to move from her work, the reason behind her secretive activities became clear when they all sat around the fire that evening, even though it was still warm the heat of the fire was comforting to all of them.
“I’ll expect you’re wondering what I have been doing all afternoon” Elera asked
“Of course, I mean usually your practicing some kind of sorcery or planning our next destination with us” Haylie replied
“So what is it you have been doing all day? We were starting to worry” Ringmore asked impatiently
“Well," she began, "I had begun to realise that we were getting nowhere quickly travelling the way we are, so I decided we would cover more ground quicker if we split up into three groups. Killga and Ebah will travel north-west together to Andromeda: it’s a place where they say things that are lost return to those who grieve for them beneath the sacred tree. I have already drawn out your route for you, if you stick to it you should be invisible to Merdock’s all Seeing Eye. The same goes for you Ringmore and Haylie, if you stick to your path you should be undetectable.” She handed both pairs a large piece of parchment with a clear swirly blue line heading in their plotted direction, “you two,” she continued, “are to travel to Palistare, and you will arrive there, unless you are unfortunately detained, in just more than a day’s time if you ride all night, no stops. Are there any questions so far or should I carry on?”
"Did you say no stops?" Haylie asked concerned.
“So why are we going our separate ways?” Ringmore asked, slightly puzzled.
"Seriously no stops?"
“Merdock’s eye is ever watchful and it will be harder for him to pinpoint our movements if we travel in three different directions.” Elera explained. That seemed to be the only pressing question, besides Haylie's persistent issue with travelling for thirty-eight hours straight, but before she could continue a sensible question came to Haylie who interrupted and asked.
“What are Ringmore and I supposed to be doing in, where was it? Palistare?”
“I am sending you two north to Palistare in an attempt to convince Prince Fredrich Valman to bring his army to Esiris the last city before the border, because five against fifteen thousand doesn’t sound like very good odds to me personally and I’m not exactly sure how many vile and disgusting dark creatures Merdock has begun recruiting to aid his soldiers, so we need to be prepared. One thing I do know is that he has no powers what so ever over any dragons.” As she finished Elera gave a split second glance in Ringmore’s direction.
“So what will you be doing while we are running up and around Lardinia like headless chickens, Elera?” Haylie asked
"What have headless chickens got to do with this?" Ringmore asked bemused by Haylie's statement.
"You know, the saying, headless chickens?" Haylie attempted to explain but stopped when she saw the blank expressions on her friends faces.
“Anyway," Elera continued, pretending not to have heard Haylie, "I will be attending a meeting with the Lardinia elders, they have hidden themselves away since Merdock began to tighten his grip and started to move out of mount Morgant, but now they will come together to discus ways of defeating Merdock’s black armies and forcing him back into the fiery pit he crawled out from, what ever damp and disgusting place that may be, journey time included I estimate we have around four days to meet in Esiris” She informed them.
“Well no pressure then” Haylie joked, once again with no response from her companions. Once Elera and the others had finished discussing details of locations and timing days so they all collided with each other, so if all went to plan they would meet in Esiris on the same day; Elera had one more thing to say before they could all turn in for the night.
“Once we have all arrived at our separate destinations and accomplished what ever our task may be, we will all be heading to the city of Esiris, there we will bring together our forces; those who are loyal to the resistance, and there we will begin discussing battle strategies; I will try and get all the information I can on the confusing inertia of Merdocks black iron palace. Then we will begin our attack on the forbidden lands.” As they rose from their seats to return to their tents Elera said, “See you in Esiris then friends!”
Next morning the sun had woken up just as bright and sandy as the day before, after everyone had packed up their belongings Haylie, Ringmore, Killga and Ebah mounted their horses; Ebah riding with Killga.
“Well this is it for a while” Haylie said rather sadly.
“Yeah, hay but it’s not like its forever and if we are going to get rid of lord Merdock any time soon we need to act and gather our full strength” Elera replied reassuringly. When the three groups had finished their last goodbyes Killga and Ebah headed off west to Andromeda to see what they might find there; Ringmore and Haylie rode off north towards the marvellous city of Palistare to see how hard it would be to convince Prince Valman to rally his troops from all over his lands. Dracon flew off to Esiris to see it’s king and request use of his magnificent war machines for the battle and also his armies to come and fight; and Elera disappeared in a loud flash of sparks as she transported herself to the palace of the elders to seek their help in finding a weak spot in the Black Castle’s impenetrable defences.
After only a few hours Haylie had begun to question the logic behind this plan of Elera’s but Ringmore reassured her faith in their friend.
“Don’t worry Ell knows what she’s doing, so don’t worry besides we can take care of ourselves and we’ve proved that point” they both laughed at the ease at which they had killed the soldiers in the camp.
“Yes, but I can’t help thinking about Killga and Ebah.”
“Why?” he asked slightly puzzled
“Because if they run into trouble I don’t know if they could handle it themselves; because well Killga can hold her own but Ebah can’t lift a regular sized sword, let alone fight, I’m just concerned about them.”
“Hay look don’t be Elera has put plenty of protective charms around all of us to stop us being detected as we move, and speaking of which we could be doing it a bit faster.” They urged their horses on and flew across the ground.
They rode on and on until it was nearly dark at which point they unsaddled the horses and set up a quick stop camp. The horses they had acquired in Higbridge had become good friends to Haylie’s mind, they had travelled hundreds of miles with them, with as much rest as them; the two horses were named Basuto and Garrano. Basuto was a thirteen hand horse with dappled chestnut hair and coal black main and tail and he was Ringmore’s companion, Garrano on the other hand was, also, a thirteen hand horse bur her hair was silvery and looked blue-grey in the sunlight, she had dark grey almost black knees, white socks and very light yellow main and tail with black tips and she was Haylie’s companion. Just a few bites to eat and some water and they were all off again headed north to Palistare.
Meanwhile several miles west Killga and Ebah were also riding through the night, along the carefully drawn out path Elera had provided for them to follow over the next few days. Killga, like Haylie was also beginning to have her doubts,
“So what exactly does she expect us to find when we reach Andromeda then, another weapon to help fight Merdock?”
“Me no knows” Ebah replied, bouncing up and down in front of Killga on the saddle.
“Hmm, well I suppose we will have to find out what she wants us to find when we get there, if that makes sense?!”
“Don’t woory Elera’s knowing what she is does”
“I suppose so, come on lets have some faith that she knows what she’s doing.”
The new dawn brought new hope for Killga: that night while they stopped and slept for a couple of hours before dawn Elera called to her in a dream and reassured her confidence in the plan and why she sent them to Andromeda.
“Ok new day new challenges Ebah”
“Mesa thinking you is happy nows?”
“Oh yes Ebah, very happy nows! Now let’s get a move on.”
Killga and Ebah rode out until I was midday and their shadows had disappeared beneath them. But as they reached the brow of the next hill they saw their destination laid out before them, Andromeda. Nestled in a large bowl shaped valley with low sloping sides and at the bottom of the bank all the way round the bowl was a ten foot wall surrounding a small hill in the centre and sprouting from the top of the grassy mound was a tall slender tree with long trailing branches that grazed the ground below. The Andromeda tree is nothing like any tree anywhere else; as far as anyone knows it is the only one in existence and it is centuries old. The trunk resembles that of a proud and majestic oak, the branches that reach and almost burrow into the ground are like those of a willow and it leaves are of a similar shape to that of a sycamore but they are a cherry pink colour.
“Well there it is the place where lost souls return to those who grieve for them. Now I understand why Elera wanted us to come here, although now that we are, how do we get in? There is no door or gateway in” she was right to be concerned and correct, there was in fact no visible way into the walled sanctuary, only one and a half miles of metre thick impenetrable stone wall.
“Mesa thinking this is gonna be a tricksy one”
“I think you’re right Ebah, there has to be a way in or no one would ever come here”
“Right and they don’t leafs empty handeds does they?”
“No, remember what Elera said about grieving for someone, so maybe we need to let the walls know just how much we need Grungen back with us, from where ever he may be?”