"Are you sure we should be going west instead of north?" Riordan asked Cerys. Again.

The magician raked her hands through her once perfectly coiffed hair and pulled down in frustration. "Yes. Yes. I am telling you the lands directly north of Zere are all perfectly well-known. They could not possibly be the site of a lost kingdom!" she replied.

The three of us marched alongside each other through lush fields, west-wards from the small village of Zere. One of us may have been stomping at some points. The countryside was without roads. Instead it had only small foot-paths cut through the tall grass to connect the numerous cow pens spread throughout. Here and there you could spy bald patches of stamped earth that looked like the possible ghost of a road from long ago, but how and if they connected was lost in the sea of green surrounding them.

I smiled at the cows as we strode past, their black, beady eyes and blotchy monochromatic print reminding me of Lanugo. A small pang of something unfamiliar struck me then. Was it homesickness? No, I knew that feeling too well. But it was a similar sense of 'missing'. It hadn't dawned on me before, but Lanugo was the first pet I had ever had. I wondered if everyone felt this way when they had to leave their furry friends behind. Did he miss me too? A silly thought, but I couldn't help wondering.

Distracted only for a second, I found myself rushing to keep up with Cerys as she all but ran away from the young boy pestering her.

"I'm just saying, the crappy song Alta screeched at us said 'northward'-"

"-it was 'north-bound'" Cerys corrected.

"North, either way!" the boy exclaimed as if she had proven his point.

"It was 'Bird, north, birdgadoomward on.' actually." I said.

"Whatever!" they replied in tandem.

Cerys stopped and pointed towards the craggy, mountainous landscape ahead of us. "This is what I'm talking about. Beyond these rocks is the only nearby area that isn't a thoroughly documented settlement. And if you," she said, clutching Riordan's chin between her bejeweled fingers, "would care to look across the sea, you'd notice the mountains indeed curve northward."

Riordan's expression dropped. "Oh, yeah. My bad." he managed to mumble through her grip.

Cerys let the boy go with a small look of distaste.

He rubbed at the new indents in his chin absently as he surveyed the land. "I believe you, but how are we supposed to get there? None of us are really equipped for rock climbing if you'd care to notice." he said.

As the two of them frowned at each other in silence, I spotted something in the nearby distance. "There." I said, pointing north of us. "Do you see that? It's poison."

My companions squinted. "How can you even be sure?" Riordan asked.

"I don't see anything." Cerys said.

I jogged ahead of them anyway, sure of my sight, and the others slowly fell in behind me.

Near the coast there was a conspicuous puddle of purple, bubbling toxins. I stood in front of it proudly. "See? I told you. Poison."

My two companions stared at me blankly.

". . .Gross." Riordan said, his nose crinkled in disgust.

"Why in Almighty's name did you lead us to poison?" Cerys demanded.

I fought back a self-satisfied grin as I answered her. "Thank you for asking! I've come across this before. Saw lots of pools of this odious poison outside the entrance to a long since abandoned area. It's possible we might find a pathway somewhere nearby." I explained.

Riordan looked skeptical but for once didn't argue. Cerys paced around the edge of the poison a while, careful to keep the swishy edges of her fine robes out of the muck as she squat down and examined it carefully, tapping her lips in thought. "You. . . may be on to something, Altairis." she said finally. "This isn't naturally occurring, this is a miasma, a concentration of dark magic."

I thought back to the Hexagon and the things I had experienced there. "Yes, that makes sense. I got the impression something bad happened where I first encountered this, like there was a curse there. The sorts of monsters inhabiting the place were rather ghastly as well. Not typical fare for the area at all."

Cerys hastily scribbled something in that bloated leather-bound notebook of hers. "Curses, curses. Maybe?" she muttered softly as her eyes searched the sky, lost in her own head. "Yes, aberrant monsters would be created by such an energy. I think this miasma may be a symptom of a curse and not a curse in and of itself though. Something cataclysmic may have happened nearby and this is magical run-off. Like blood from a wound." she concluded.

Riordan's brows lifted. "A cataclysm like an entire kingdom vanishing from history you mean?" he asked.

"Definitely could be." I said. "Let's search the hillside around here and look for a path further in."

We nodded in agreement and fanned out around the nearby perimeter of the craggy mountainside. Once I was sufficiently far away from the others, I called out to Stella. With a flash of sparkling, pink light the fairy operator of the Starflight Express was floating before me.

She looked bored.

"I take it you could use some of my stupendous support, then?" she asked as she absentmindedly checked her nails, each polished and manicured to glossy perfection.

"Would asking nicely get this done any faster? I'm afraid of Cerys finding out about you." I admitted. "She certainly senses something about me, I'm sure she could sense you too."

Stella sighed as she stretched her arms overhead. "Don't worry, I'm being careful and I've been listening." she drawled, like a young teen in their shallow attempt to reassure a parent. "You want me to take a peek at the landscape from above for you, right? I'll be back in a flap." she said as she flew upward, faster than her fragile wings would have you assume. It was less than a minute before she returned.

"Remind me when we get back to the Observatory to tell the Almighty I'll need a raise for how much I'm helping you lot out with." she said with a smug smile upon her descent.

I shuddered to think of 'telling' the Almighty anything, but I knew not to put such an act past Stella, a being who began her prayers with 'Oi, you!'.

"You haven't helped us yet. What did you see?" I asked.

The fairy tossed her golden blonde locks back from her tanned shoulders with a flourish. "Less than a quarter of a mile or so north of where you stand you'll come across some boulders covered in overgrowth and surrounded by thick brush. Through there you will find a path upwards and innards." she paused with a frown. "Inwards? I always get those confused."

"Quarter of a mile 'or so'? Aren't you an ace navigator?" I asked. "Shouldn't you be a bit more. . . exact?"

Stella's expression withered. She did not answer or rebuke me as I expected, only crossed her twiggy arms across her chest and glared. It was as if I were in the presence of Master Aquila again, only made ten times as waifish and put in a silly dress. It was surprisingly intimidating.

"Ah. . . I mean. . ." I nodded my head graciously, and deeply. "Thank you, Stella. Quarter mile, boulders and brush, got it. Any advice for what lies beyond?" I asked.

Her posture relaxed as she pursed her lips a moment. "The longest way 'round is the shortest way home, as they say. You'd all be better off hugging the coastline than cutting straight through." she yawned. "If you're done being ungrateful, I think my work here is done. Try to keep the others quiet while I nap." she said before returning to my mind, filling it with that all too familiar weight of her spirit.

I grimaced. "One impossible task at a time, thanks."

I followed Stella's directions and soon came upon a set of three conspicuous boulders, each blanketed with moss and vines with dark brush grown between them. If she was correct, they were old remnants of a path being chiseled through the rocky landscape, long since cast from mortal memory. I called to my partners and within a few minutes, the three of us assembled just as night began to fall.

"You think there's a way up through all this?" Riordan asked, casually hacking away branches.

"It seemed pretty suspicious looking to me, thought it was worth a look." I explained. I put my hand on his shoulder signaling him to stop his butchery for a moment. "I also think Cerys would be better at handling this than either of us."

Riordan's faced scrunched up. "Her? She's got bread for arms, what's she-"

Cerys smacked the back of the boys curly head as she strode past us, wand raised. Something angry slipped past her lips, and a moment later a ball of flame burst into life at the tip of her weapon. With a practiced flick of her wand the tiny sun shot forward and slammed into the thick brush like a miniature comet. The fire immediately claimed the foliage for it's own and quickly began eating it's way through everything it could touch.

It wasn't long until the last of the leaves were eaten up and the fire dimmed, only small patches of flame left to lick at the stone around it.

"Better safe than sorry. Altairis, would you assist me with a little ice?" Cerys asked.

I nodded and dug deep inside the center of my chest for that well of magic energy. I couldn't cast as effectively as someone of Cerys' caliber, but within a few moments I was able to find the inner words for the frost I needed.

For me, ice was the cold certainty of death that I felt back in the Hexagon, made into a razor sharp shard of magic. My thin line between doom and survival. I didn't know where Cerys' ice came from, but together we brought down a small iceberg of magic onto the smoldering path before us. Magical hot and cold fought against each other briefly until all that remained was steam.

Riordan huffed. "Show-offs. It's great you've made the ground all soggy instead of on-fire, but it's dark out now. Can your magic do anything about that?" he challenged.

I hadn't thought about it, but he was right. My Celestrian sight was a mighty boon for night-travel that the others didn't have, and I hadn't come prepared for it.

Cerys tilted her head back in horror. "You're really telling me you aren't at least carrying a torch with you on your travels?" she asked, looking back and forth between the boy and I.

Neither of us came up with a satisfactory response.

"You. . . simpletons! How is it that you've managed to survive this long!?" she asked.

The boy crossed his arms defensively. "I don't typically go wandering out at night! Some of us prefer to sleep, big surprise."

Cerys' eyes narrowed to splinters. "I think you mean your kind prefers to skulk about in the shadows, yes? Too much light gives away your intentions little thief."

"To his credit, he robbed me in broad daylight." I chimed.

"Yeah! Exactly, I- wait, no." the boy stammered and shook his head. "Look, point is I don't go wandering out into the monster infested countryside on the regular if I can help it."

The mage shook her head sadly. "And what about your adult supervision? How could you be this irresponsible?" she asked me, her voice hardened.

I swallowed. "Uh. Would you believe I recently found out I have terrific night vision compared to other people so it just slipped my mind?" I asked, hoping the truth would be my redemption.

Cerys' beautiful features twisted around in annoyance before relenting. "Actually I would, you're an odd little thing and I can feel it." she then produced a small lantern from her bag and held it in front of her. "Shall I continue to solve all our problems, then?"

With no answer necessary she lit the small candle inside with ease, causing the world around us to get a little brighter.

I mustered up my best smile. "Thank you, Cerys. Let's not waste any more time."

"Too right." she agreed, shoving the lantern into my hands and delivering a deep curtsy, ushering me ahead of her and Riordan. "May your superior eyes guide us."

I could have been wrong, but I swore she gave me a wink as I trudged past, upwards into the craggy pass.

The area before us was hard packed earth in every direction. Trees could be spotted in clusters around the coastline I had been advised to go, where as the geography nearby leveled out into an even, wide, and very open way forward. All the same, I trusted Stella's advise and began leading the group towards the sound of the waves crashing below.

"What are you doing?" Cerys asked. "You really aren't one for travel, are you? Shouldn't we be sticking to what's ahead of us?"

Riordan nodded in agreement. "Yeah and who knows what'll be hiding in those forests. I'd hate to be caught off guard between dense woods and the cliff-side. We should just go on straight, Alta." he explained.

They were both so reasonable, and my possible explanation of 'a fairy in my head told me to' probably wouldn't go over too well. All the same, I tried.

"I get it, but. . . I just have a very good feeling about hugging the coastline. It uh, feels like the right thing to do?" I offered.

Riordan blew me off immediately. But Cerys hesitated.

"I'm sure it does, but I can't very well know if your feelings hold weight unless I see for myself what lies ahead first, can I? So let us put your 'feelings' to the test, shall we?" she said as she snatched the light from my hand and raced forward with Riordan hastily following behind.

I grumbled but had little choice but to capitulate. I didn't know for certain what was ahead myself, if it were truly anything at all. I kept quiet and followed, quick to use my keen sight to watch out for any monsters on our travels.

Unfortunately what Stella had tried to have us avoid was nothing as surmountable as a monster. It took us awhile but eventually we found the remains of a very old road. It lead further up into the craggy mountainside, and potentially Brigadoom itself. But instead of celebrating this good fortune, we were quickly impeded by an enormous lake of poison, the miasma Cerys spoke of. If the spot we saw before were a puddle, this one was practically an ocean of roiling, searingly bright, violet goop. It bubbled and trembled with dark magic, its vapors so dense they felt like tendrils meant to drag the helpless into its mass. It had all the dread and fear and despair as a battlefield, and gazing across its writhing surface made me feel those things more deeply than I thought possible for someone not human.

"Ah." Cerys said as we looked out over the festering pool.

"I guess it tracks that we'd find more of these 'symptoms' or whatever, the closer to the cursed place we get, right?" Riordan asked, looking to Cerys.

She nodded. "Indeed. I hadn't expected it to cut off our route like this though. Honestly hadn't thought it would manifest this largely at all. What happened here must have been. . ." she trailed off softly.

We stood around in silence, thinking of the implications but too unwilling to put it to words.

I cleared my throat. "We shouldn't be hanging around here. Let's double-back and keep to the cliff edge. Riordan was right, there will probably be monsters waiting to ambush any passers-by near the forest. So we keep our guard up and deal with it." I said, glad to get away from this place. The pace at which my companions followed suggested they felt the same.

I could hear Cerys gently chuckling to herself as we made our way back from where we came and move along the thin bit of earth between the sheer drop off into the water below, and pockets of forest. Maybe she was pleased to know my 'hunch' had been right, maybe she simply found hiking more amusing than most people, I didn't get the chance to ask. Even in our shuffling haste I saw them, a small group of monsters right at the edge of the road and forest beside us.

There was no reason to let them get the jump on us. I signaled to my friends to ready themselves, and lead us straight to them instead, aggressive and head-on. The surprise caught them off guard for only a moment, but that was more then enough time for a Crack spell to go sailing past my head and into the skull of one of the Ramriders in front of us with a sharp whistling thwack.

True to their names, Ramriders charge forward hard and fast at all threats, using their thick spiraled horns to both batter and pierce anything that gets in the way. They were small fry in the horn department after having fought and survived the Octagoon, but they would merrily wreck havoc on you if you didn't take them seriously. Thanks to Cerys' frightening precision, there was one less to deal with.

Between the two beasts was a Skeleton. They were the spirits of a monsters transformed by the death and suffering of humans, influenced by the dark magic that permeated the land here. They were undead, but not in the sense that they were human themselves once, but rather shaped by the memory of human pain so strongly it etched itself into the soil. A stain on life itself.

The creature bore an old, rusty broadsword and swung it over-head towards me, as if I were a bit of wood it would cleave in two. It was little trouble to side step such a blow, once I did, Riordan took the opening and sped out from behind me striking the monster between it's ribs with his knife – a knife that had been sold to us on the basis of its effectiveness against the undead. The skeletal monster shook and clattered unnaturally in obvious discomfort as the tip of the boys blade glowed inside it. Soon the Skeleton fell to pieces, the dark enchantment holding it together failing against the power of the blessed knife.

Riordan beamed up at me in surprise and excitement. I felt a smile begin to form until I noticed where the other Ramrider was heading. "Riordan, move!" I shouted, gesturing him towards me.

Fast as he was, he wasn't fast enough. The wide-set horns of the beast clipped his side regardless and sent him spiraling to the hard packed earth in a light thud.

I growled in anger as I steadied my sword, placing myself just outside the Ramrider's trajectory. As it sped past, I used its momentum against it, slicing my way deep through its side. A thin waterfall of blood gushed from the long wound as it drunkenly veered away, wounded and alone.

"Going somewhere?" Cerys held her wand aloft, her silver eyes shining like pools of liquid metal in the dim light of her lantern. As she swung down hard in the direction of the fleeing monster, a thick lance of solid ice crashed through the monsters back and out from its belly, pinning its corpse to the ground before they both melted away into nothing.

Riordan grimaced as he sat up on the hard ground. "Absolutely brutal, Cerys. Cheers." he said as he lifted his shirt with a hiss, exposing the deep bruising across his ribs. "Oh great."

"You okay?" I asked, fishing a medical leaf from my bag.

"Yeah I think I'm-" the boy winced and shuddered as his finger tips hit the center of impact. "Ugh, think I'm not so good, actually."

I held the herb out to him, Cerys brushed my arm away. "No need for that. I think the little thief can handle it on his own." she said staring down at him.

"Excuse me?" I asked, anger immediately flaring in my chest.

"Yeah, excuse me, but what?" Riordan asked through clenched teeth, his young face pale and tight with pain.

Cerys held up one long, ring stacked finger and wagged it at the both of us. "Now, now, I'm not being cruel, I just think this would be a brilliant opportunity for the child to learn some useful bit of magic." she said.

I could only assume the shock on my face mirrored Riordan's own. "Magic? That's not really his speed. . ." I said. I thought back to Stella's past comments on how inept he was in regards to all things magical. Cerys was brilliant, but what could she possibly do to teach magic to someone like that?

The boy nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I've never been handy with that sort of thing. Besides, it's a little hard to concentrate like this." he said, his breath short and shallow.

Cerys shook her head and knelt down next to the boy. She thumbed through her traveling pouch a moment before sliding a small vial of some shimmering liquid out of a small compartment and placing it in one of his shaky hands.

"Bottoms up." she said, helpfully uncapping it for him.

Riordan threw back the potion in a quick gulp and sat still a moment before distress crept back into his features anew. "What was that? I still feel awful." he complained.

The mage nodded, tucking the empty tube back into it place. "Yes, it wasn't a cure, but an enhancer of sorts. See, everyone has the ability to do anything. As a race we are defined by our flexibility, down to the most fundamental level of our being." she explained, placing a hand gently against the boys chest. "The capability to work with magic is innate to all of us, you only need to understand the place it comes from better. Do you feel anything different?" she asked.

Riordan squinted and frowned before turning to face the woman. "Y-yeah, like a small weight deep inside my chest, right where your hand is."

Cerys gave him a ravishing smile. "You won't notice it forever, the drink I gave you helps to isolate the location you need to focus on in order to apply magic effectively. Think of it like a muscle only. . . not." she laughed. "Now, I'm going to remove my hand and you will close your eyes and focus on that small pit in your chest, understood?"

Riordan gave a quick nod, and closed his eyes.

Cerys lifted her palm away from the boy slowly, then began to speak. "Good, focus on that feeling. Focus and think of what it means to feel better, to feel whole." she instructed, her voice low and soft.

I stood breathlessly as I watched Riordan's pale face twitch and struggle. A second later his big blue eyes snapped open, staring at nothing. He clenched his teeth and pressed his hand into his wounded side, taking a sharp breath in. He paused at the top of his inhale for a heartbeat before he let it go in a great sigh of relief, slumped backward, and let his limbs flop beside him.

"Feeling better?" Cerys asked with a wry grin.

Riordan's laugh was equal parts triumphant and painfully boyish in its exuberance. "I feel amazing!" he cried. "That was actual magic, huh? It's not so hard, is it? I never thought I'd be able to do that on my own. Golly that would have come in handy before." he exclaimed, sitting up and twisting about in astonishment. "It doesn't hurt at all!"

I pressed my palm to my forehead in disbelief. "Almighty, Cerys. That's another hell of a tincture you've got. . ." I said as my thoughts spun. Would this mean Riordan could see especially powerful spirits like Stella now? Could this potentially restore my own powers to their original fullness?

Cerys stood and causally flipped a section of her curly lavender hair from her shoulder. "It's not a matter of 'power' really, but precision. I didn't boost his magical ability or depth, just his perception. His ability to engage with what little he already had. It's up to him to use it and help it grow. But a simple healing spell is easy enough for most and a strategically sound starting point, don't you think?"

"Yes!" Riordan exclaimed as he sprung up. "You're incredible, Cerys! Whatever made you think of something like that?" he asked, eyes wide as saucers.

"And more importantly, how?" I chimed in.

Cerys grinned, lapping up the boys adoration and interest in her work graciously. "Ah, the how is a bit of a trade secret I'm afraid. For now I can only say I have an. . . assistant of sorts that without whom it would not be possible. The why however is incredibly simple: I wish to have the transformative power of a Sage, by any means possible."

"Sage? You mean to have mastery in all forms of magic?" I asked.

Cerys shrugged. "Well yes, that too, but that isn't the true potential of sagacity. I'm talking about becoming the heir to the only true living sage left, Abbot Jack of Alltrades." she declared.

"Oooooh, I've heard of him, actually. Any who visit him can be blessed and change their lot in life, or so I've heard." Riordan replied excitedly.

Cerys arched an eyebrow up at him and chuckled. "Well you're more learned than I thought. Not something I'd expect a child to know."

The boys expression dropped. "Hey, I'm thirteen, I'm no child, thank you very much. I just heard about it from a, uh, mentor." he said, his eyes darting away from her. "He suggested I go see Jack at some point. Haven't quite gotten 'round to that." he mumbled.

Cerys tapped her fingers against her chin. "Mentor? An expert in skullduggery then? Do they teach classes? Are they certified in the art of petty thievery?" the woman giggled.

Riordan scowled fiercely. "Nothing of the sort, you venomous toad." he seethed.

To my surprise, Cerys' expression hardly changed. She simply regarded the boy with cold observation and chuckled.

"Uhm, but Cerys, what does any of that have to do with what you just did?" I asked, genuinely curious as to her motives.

Just like that, something clicked back to life in her face as she answered. "Right! Well, what the common man doesn't realize it that Abbot Jack's blessing is a form of ancient magic, not some mystical force only he can possibly wield. There's a. . . slight complication however."

Riordan's face was still scrunched up in anger as he listened. "Why? Because Jack doesn't want to teach a jerk?"

Cerys fluttered her long eyelashes and sighed theatrically, "You wound me." she said. "But no, in fact he was thrilled with the idea of passing down the finer arts of sagacity to me. The problem is the ancient text which he had studied and the abbot before he had studied and so forth, was stolen years ago. It is a complicated thing, this magic. One cannot simply teach it, it must be studied with vigor to truly grasp." she explained.

The boys expression softened. "Stolen. That's terrible." he muttered.

Cerys snorted. "Oh please, the vagrants were caught shortly after of course. The text was destroyed in the struggle to arrest them. Lost to the sea, to be exact." she sighed.

I felt myself cringe in sympathy. "I suppose not even an ancient book of rare power could be waterproof." I said. "So, is that why you make these concoctions of yours? You're researching a way to emulate what the abbot does?"

"Altairis! It's like you know me so well already!" the woman gushed. "That is the idea, yes. See, what Abbot Jack's magic is really doing is changing the person's essence to line up to their desires. Say a poor, scrappy, young lad with little more but quick feet and sticky fingers asks the abbot to give him a better life. Well, Jack just might use his magic to take the natural talent the boy has and use it to increase his stature and strength instead. As he grows, his speed and dexterity won't be anything special anymore, but he'll be lean and tall and start packing on the muscle. A strapping lad like that is a natural pick for any number of gainful employ. What a better life." she explained.

I shook my head. "I can't really believe such a thing. You mean to tell me this power allows him to shape a person on such a fundamental level?"

Cerys replied excitedly, "I told you, the human body is a triumph in flexibility to the very core. But there's only so much there to work with. So to be strong and fast might turn you into someone magically inept. To be wise may make you frail. And no one can ever be any greater than they already are – only better predisposed to what they desire."

I closed my eyes and thought about what she was saying. "So you found a way to amplify someone's magical perception through alternative means. Do you mean to create a tincture for every possible desire?" I asked, my mind beginning to turn slowly as I contemplated the possibilities.

Cerys' shoulders drooped, and for the first time I saw a hint of genuine frustration cross her features. "Alas, my research has hit a bit of a wall lately. My magic, my alchemy, it can't shape the essence of a person the way his magic does. I've tried a lot of different things – alone, together – it doesn't matter. I can only seem to give people a slight nudge towards the magical presence already in them, no more, no less. It is a far cry from what a Sage can truly do. So I've been working on my plan B lately."

"What's that then?" Riordan asked.

Cerys laughed and drug her hand down her face in exhaustion. "Find another copy of the text, of course."

Riordan burst into a bout of childish giggles. "Yeah, good luck then! And here I thought you were some kind of smarty."

I snorted. "I imagine this is why you're traveling then?"

"And chasing down every whiff of magic I come across, precisely." Cerys said with a soft sigh. "It's about more than just my own ambitions, of course, though those are my priority. But what happens when the abbot dies? This profound magic dies with him. I'm not content to let mankind take a step back like that." she said, her voice resolute.

"So do you really think Brigadoom might house a copy of the tome you need, then?" I asked.

A smile tugged at the woman's face a moment before she answered. "I'm more interested in following you, remember? I felt something. . . old, something profound about your magical energy. And these neat little hunches of yours are making me feel as if you could be a very useful tool for finding what I seek, if we're putting all cards on the table." she said, palms facing outward.

I had to admit to myself that I felt captivated by her story, and my natural inclination to service those in the Protectorate screamed at me to accompany her and see her quest to fruition. But I could also feel the weight of Stella's spirit in my head, the heavy reminder that I was already a part of a much bigger quest to see her and myself back home. As easy as it had become to push thoughts of the Observatory from my mind and focus on the mortals and their problems laid before me – endless fountains of need as they were – it didn't change my reality.

I shook my head. "Unfortunately, I think you've got the wrong idea about me." I said.

"Yeah, she may be kinda old but she's not profound." Riordan chirped.

Cerys' eyes were heavy lidded and steady in the low light as she studied me for a moment. Or perhaps it was my 'magical energy' she was looking at again. Either way, she simply smiled at me and said, "If I'm wrong about you it will be only the second time in my life that would have happened. I'm willing to stake my life that I'm not."

She brushed past me and further down the snaking pathway along the cliff. "Come now, my completely ordinary friend, we have a lost kingdom to find, a witch to kill, and a soul to save. Mustn't keep them all waiting!"

Cerys was right, of course. Future plans aside, we were together in our aim here. The three of us followed the road further upwards and inwards just as Stella had said. Soon enough we found ourselves on the other side of the poisonous bog that had stopped us before. We each shared a knowing glance with one another and headed due north from there. Overhead a bird cried out across the starless skies above us.

'Bird, north, birdgadoomward on.' we went.