The night was tense and uncomfortable. Neither the creatures nor their red-robed followers reappeared, but that seemed to only make things worse. Anything that could tear a whole in the world and simply walk through to anywhere would not be dissuaded for long. It would only be a matter of time before they came for the books again.

Cato was not alone in thinking this, as none of the others even attempted to sleep during the night. They had a simple, magically-created shelter thanks to Pel, and a small amount of food that Anica had brought with her from Oriona, but little else. Kyros sat against a tree that formed one root to the vaguely translucent magical roof above their heads. The walls were of similar ‘construction’, allowing for the four of them to see out but which, according to Pel, rendered them invisible to anything looking from the outside.

It took all of the self control he had left for Cato not to ask why they hadn’t just used this spell when things were trying to kill them. The last thing they needed was another argument, and that was if Pel even bothered to answer. The Elf woman was poring over the books she’d taken again, trying to find some clue to why they were so important to those black-skinned creatures.

Morning came quietly. They were well away from the rocky-beach, further inland and surrounded by grass that was clearly overpopulated by various small animals and little else. As nice as that was, Cato still watched each tiny movement his eyes caught very carefully. The silence among the four of them did nothing to help the tension, but what was there to say?

“None of this makes any sense!” Pel snapped, speaking some very appropriate words in Cato’s mind, “The words change each time I read them! I’ve tried every spell I know and nothing works!”

Cato, Kyros, and Anica all turned to look to Pel, where she was now sitting up and glaring at them all rather than the large tomes in front of her. A thousand questions crossed all of their minds at once.

“What about all that you read earlier?” Kyros got to his first, and it was exactly the question Cato was going to ask. It was always nice to hear his brother ask something intelligent.

Like an angry child, Pel kicked one of the tomes at Kyros, “The records say nothing we don’t already know! But this is clearly the text they did not want destroyed and the words are never the same twice!”

Kyros caught the tome that had been kicked his way, holding it away from him as if he’d never seen a book in his life. Cato just shook his head and turned back to Pel, “If you can’t read it, what are we supposed to do?”

“Find someone that can,” Anica, off to the side, answered the question.

Pel actually nodded at that, and her usual glare lightened somewhat, “I know of few that could decipher such a strong spell.”

“Too bad all of those priests and mages in Oriona are out to kill us,” Cato looked up at the sky above, shielded by magic that was just as alien to him as whatever spell protected the book, “This is right up their alley.”

When he looked back down, both Anica and Pel were glaring at him. Apparently this was not the time for even mild sarcasm, so Cato raised his hands in defense, “Right. Sorry. Stupid thing to say.”

Kyros, having now placed the book on the ground in front of him, decided that now was the time to return to being his usual self, “Well, who else is there?”

The glares turned, but after a few moments faded away. It was a fair question. They were in the southern reaches of the continent, where few people lived and far from any real city beyond one populated by a large group that wanted all of them dead. Where were they to find someone that had greater skill in magic than Pel out here?

“The Citadel,” Anica spoke the two words with meaning and weight that was completely lost on Cato.

Pel seemed to understand, however, “They are a very long way from here.”

Anica shrugged, starting to stand up and stretch, “It is that or to the east.”

“Better the demon we know,” Pel, too, stood up and began to gather the tomes up. Around them, the air shimmered for a moment, then the world around them became just slightly more clear. The magical shelter was gone.

Kyros and Cato looked to one another, neither of the brothers needing to say what they were both thinking. Was it worth going on with these two crazy women that were clearly happy to run straight at death as fast as possible? Wasn’t this the perfect time to go their separate ways and get back to normal life? Probably. But neither of the brothers were foolish enough to think those creatures would leave them be just for walking away.

No. No, they were in this for the long haul now. And that was probably alright, in Cato’s mind. Ancient, horrible creatures like the ones they’d gotten the attention of never had good plans for the world. Might as well work to stop that ahead of time rather than wandering off and just hoping all would be fine.

Cato stretched some, adjusting his belt so that his scabbard no longer dug into his side, and looked to Anica, “Lead on.”

From far away, something watched.