By midday, Cato, Kyros, Anica, and Pel were back on land. As much as Cato hated being on that raft, he had to admit that whatever magic Pel had been using to steer it had worked out well enough. The trouble, instead, came when they attempted to find a safe spot to come ashore.

Orincia’s southern coast had few actual beaches. It was mostly high, rock-covered cliffs right up against the ocean. Kyros mentioned that it looked like some giant beast had taken a bite out of the coastline and Cato couldn’t help but agree with his brother. With some of the stories they’d been told as children, in addition to the monsters they’d seen in the past day, Cato was willing to believe that might have actually happened in some far gone age.

It had taken hours to find a section of the coast that actually allowed for them to get their feet on solid ground, and then another hour of walking along a rocky shelf against the water before they were able to find a way up and onto what Cato considered actual land. It was surreal to climb the small slope of slate and rock to suddenly find himself looking out across rolling hills of tall grass. This was the land he was used to, but it felt like weeks since he’d actually been around it.

Anica had led the way, a pack over her shoulder and silent the entire time. There was a stern determination about her that Cato couldn’t help but admire. He’d never encountered someone who could adapt as quickly as her. They were four people alone in the vast stretch of Orincia’s mostly uninhabited southern edge, most likely pursued by horrible monsters from parts of the world unknown, with only a book that they could barely read to guide them, and no one to help at all. This didn’t seem to faze Anica at all as she quickly consulted with Pel to make sure they were heading in the right direction.

Kyros broke the current quiet by stretching his arms out and taking in a deep breath as loudly as possible, “Smells like home, doesn’t it?”

It did. Even if they’d grown up on a farm on the other end of Orincia, this was what home had been like. But Cato just nodded. It wasn’t worth thinking about all of that when they had so many problems directly in front of them.

“We can reach the cave in a day,” Anica called back to the two brothers, that usual cheer in her voice but a stern expression across her face, “Unless you boys need a break.”

Cato’s legs still ached from the running the day before. Sitting on the raft had given him time to relax just long enough for the pain to kick in. But walking felt good and he wasn’t about to give Anica something to hold over his head, “We’ll be fine.”

The words came out more sharply than he’d intended, and there was a brief flash of confusion across Anica’s features before she simply nodded and continued forward. Kyros, for once, didn’t miss an obvious thing and turned a raised eyebrow to his older brother, “What’s with you?”

“I don’t like all of this running around not knowing what we’re doing,” Cato answered and then shrugged, “Feels like chasing shadows.”

“Ah, but we are,” the response slipped in from Pel, now walking closer to the two of them as she pored over the massive tome that was their only source of information, “But a shadow is always cast by something. We simply hunt the source.”

In his life, Cato had not met many Elves. They were rare in Orincia, apparently disliking the heat and lack of abundant shade, and thus only more common in some of the northern cities. But if Pel was any indication, he was glad he’d not met many others. Something about the way she spoke bothered him, and it was at least partially due to the way she always sounded so damned sure of herself. And she was always glaring at everything around her as if the world had offended her and refused to apologize.

Before he could snap at her, though, Anica stepped in, “This is how we’ve always worked. The Dorae-Kos chase rumors and shadows. Usually it amounts to nothing at all.”

“Usually,” Cato repeated the word to himself before laughing, “You’re a tiny group of idealists out to save the world and barely ever have the chance. And now this.”

Anica shrugged off his comments with ease, “We do what we must. The world is full of dangers of all kinds and we do our best to help those threatened by them.”

That was not the best answer for Cato to hear in his current mood, “Forgive me if I’m unsure of how qualified you are to save the world.”

This time, at least, Pel’s glare felt deserved. That was some kind of victory, Cato figured. But somehow, Anica retained the air of calm determination that she had been the entire day. She didn’t seem to have any desire to argue, no matter how hard he tried to start. It was probably for the best, but Cato was far too used to how easy his brother was to bait that he ended up just getting frustrated with himself.

They continued on for the rest of the day without incident. Most of the local animals kept their distance, unsure of the four strange people walking through an area that usually was only the domain of small rodents and birds. Cato knew the wilds of Orincia were not the safest of places, but there were few animals in this area even half their size. It may be more dangerous at night, but there was still quite a lot of sun left and he assumed they would worry about that when the time came.

The sun was low in the sky ahead of them, making it difficult to see very far. Cato assumed that Pel had some kind of spell to counteract that or was just able to stare the sun down and win, because she was glaring right into it as they moved.

“Does anyone else see that?” Kyros just had to ask a stupid question in the most obvious way possible.

Sometimes Cato couldn’t help but wonder if they were truly related, “That’s called the sun.”

Kyros turned and hit Cato in the arm, “I’m talking about that red thing.”

“Again,” Cato motioned ahead of them to the red glow, “We call that the sun.”

“Not the sun!” Kyros pointed in front of them in a vague way that may as well have indicated the entire western half of the world, “Closer to the ground!”

Before Cato could remind his brother that the sun had a way of providing light so that things tended to glow a similar color, Pel spoke up, “I…actually see something.”

She sounded as surprised as Cato was, which began to turn his feelings about her around. Not being happy to agree with Kyros was almost always the first step to proving someone was intelligent. Still, though, he couldn’t see anything but the sun and the glowing horizon.

“I can’t make anything out,” Anica’s admittance to that was some assurance that Cato hadn’t suddenly gone blind, “Pel, take the lead and be careful.”

The Elf nodded, closed the book in her hands and shoved it into the satchel she carried. The massive tome only fit in halfway, but that seemed good enough for Pel, as she started forward at a brisk pace.

The other three followed closely, and it wasn’t long before they were back to the coastline. Below the cliff was a larger, sand-covered beach, but Cato only had a moment to take that in before his eyes found something much more important to focus on.

Just up the coastline, the rock ledge disappeared behind a softly glowing, red wall. It went up about thirty feet over the cliff itself, and looked to be some kind of dome encompassing an entire section of the beach and parts of the water. It looked exactly like the Great Wall far to the south; the magical wall that divided the world in two.

“Let me guess,” Cato looked to Pel and Anica, both already frantically digging through the tome again to find something specific, “The cave we’re looking for is inside that, isn’t it?”