First Rider's Call

Page 60

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I hope that wasn’t an omen of some kind.

She burst into a run, wanting to reach the castle entrance before the next flash of lightning.

Karigan’s greatcoat dripped all the way down the corridor to the administrative wing. The dark and damp pervaded every corner of the castle. In the main passageways, all who she encountered were subdued in tone and mood, as though the weather dampened even their spirits.

On her way to the records room, she paused at the entrance of the abandoned corridor where she had seen the disappearing footprints. She peered into the darkness, but nothing stirred. She shivered, but whether from the damp or thoughts of apparitions, she wasn’t sure.

She entered the records room clearing her throat so she wouldn’t startle Dakrias Brown. She found him picking up papers scattered all over the floor, but he straightened and set them aside to come greet her.

“Hello,” he said, his voice pitched just a notch too high. “What can I do for you, Rider?”

“Hello.” Karigan may not have startled him this time around, but he plucked nervously at his sleeve and looked pale. His hair was mussed as though he’d been caught in a whirlwind. “I have papers—”

From somewhere deep within the chamber came the sound of copious amounts of paper falling to the floor. Dakrias closed his eyes and moaned.

“Is everything all right?” Karigan asked.

Dakrias absently set her bundle of reports aside on a table. “It’s been—” Suddenly he cocked his head, listening.

Karigan discerned a grating, scuffing sound, as of something very heavy being shifted.

“N-no! Not again!” Dakrias tore off toward the back of the room, his robes fluttering behind him. “No!” he shouted from somewhere behind shelving. “Not that crate of—!”

There was a great crashing sound and Dakrias emitted a strangled cry.

Alarmed, Karigan dashed after him, pausing to peer down aisles of shelving to find him. She soon located him in the far back, standing amid flurrying papers. Next to him, files spilled out of a smashed wooden crate.

“What happened?” she asked. “How did that crate fall?”

“Didn’t fall,” he said with a quaver in his voice. “It was pushed.”

“Pushed? By who?” There wasn’t anyone else here.

“Not who,” Dakrias said, “what.”

“What?”

“What.” He nodded emphatically. “The apparitions—something has stirred them up.”

“Something has . . .” Karigan trailed off in disbelief. “You’ve seen them?”

“Not exactly, but this—” He gestured at the smashed crate. “It’s been happening over the past few days. I—” He swallowed hard. “I don’t know how much more I can take.”

Karigan suddenly had the amusing notion of dozens of mischievous ghosts leering down at them from atop the shelving and laughing at their little joke. Dakrias was genuinely upset, however, and she couldn’t offer him any other explanation as to how large crates kept falling from the shelves of their own volition. Considering her own past record with ghosts, she should be the last person to doubt him.

“Maybe you ought to take a break from here, get away for a while.”

Dakrias sighed mournfully. “I’ve got to clean this up, or Spurlock will kill me. It’ll take years to refile this mess.”

It was curious, Karigan thought, that as much as the apparitions were driving Dakrias to breaking point, he was more rattled by fear of his superior. She offered to help him, but he waved her off.

“You’d be in my way,” he said. “I know where everything goes.”

Since he refused her help, Karigan could only wish him luck and leave, adding his haunted records room to her growing list of strange occurrences.

Thunder rumbled, muffled by thick castle walls, as she stepped out into the corridor. She hadn’t gone far when she thought she heard the stirring of notes, like a horn being sounded in the distance. She paused and listened, and recognized the notes of the Rider call. Her brooch blossomed with warmth and hoofbeats pulsed in her blood.

“Hunh—?”

The call compelled her forward step by step, until she reached the entrance to the abandoned corridor.

Galadheon . . . It was a whisper close to her ear.

Standing in the entrance to the abandoned corridor was a figure in green. It was not quite . . . substantial. Its features swam in her eyes.

“Who are you?”

The figure threw back its head in silent laughter, and darted into the abandoned corridor. Karigan followed, halting just inside the dark passage.

Another figure in green stood there, where the light melted away to the dark, peering down the corridor. She was not as much of an apparition, but was more solid, her details discernible. She carried a bundle of papers, her arm in a sling. The Rider had brown hair and an intimately familiar stance and body shape.

Dear gods.

Karigan G’ladheon looked upon herself.

But she did not have even a moment to wonder about it. The corridor reeled. The other Karigan smeared in her vision and a glow of light appeared far down the corridor. Funny, she hadn’t seen it last time she was here. Then.

Galadheon . . .

Hoofbeats thundered within her and she charged down the corridor after the light, leaving behind wet footprints and a trail of raindrops on the dusty floor.

It felt like she pursued the tiny bobbing light through a passage of the ages rather than through a corridor of stone. Her footsteps fell muted on the floor. No matter how fast she ran, the light stayed out of reach. She thought she ought to return the way she came, but the hoofbeats drove her on; the light drew her.

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