After a few long hours of walking, they had finally caught a glimpse of the sea. It stood there in all its shimmering glory, giving hope to the weary travellers. It was vast, its expanse dwarfing them. But it also signalled the end of Caila’s journey. Kren was on the very edge of the coast. It was a substantial village, almost a town. Before long, they would find the paths taken by traders who came for the famous Kren fish. Perhaps someone would be there and Katherien could get rid of Caila quicker.
The night had improved Caila’s strength but Katherien feared for her mind. She had grown quieter. She needed to be with her family now.
Watching the sea, Katherien closed her eyes and breathed in the air. It tasted salty to her, even this far back. She was reminded of times spent near the sea. Of the joy it had always brought her. But there would be no time for her to enjoy it. She had to lead the whisperers off her trail and then make a huge round trip to home.
They were never far away. It annoyed her that she hadn’t shrugged them off. She was hampered with a slow human child but that should not have stopped her. Their numbers were larger than usual but still small. At least, that’s what she thought.
The sun was high in the sky. Caila was getting slower as she usually did when she wanted to break. Katherien sighed.
“Come on, we’re nearly there.” She tried to encourage Caila. To keep her going just a little longer. Katherien felt more comfortable close to a big civilisation. The whisperers and bisch never dared approach them. They had too small numbers.
However, Caila just sat down. Katherien stopped, sighed and turned back. She sat down beside Caila.
“Do you want some food?” Katherien asked her.
But Caila wasn’t looking at her. She was looking up and mouthing speechlessly at the sky. Katherien followed her gaze.
A huge cloud of black objects had filled the sky. Flying towards them at a terrific speed was a flock of bisch.
Caila started to scream. Katherien stood up but could only gaze in amazement. Her last alert thoughts were ‘there can’t possibly be so many.’ Suddenly the penetrating mind waves of the skeletal birds hit her, attacking her every defence. They consumed most of her mind immediately. She stood still, forgetting where she was.
Then she felt a conscious presence. It moved into her mind. She became aware that she did not want that presence in her mind.
"Give up," said a voice in her mind. It was harsh and sounded as though it wasn't used often. "Your quest is hopeless.” Then more forcefully, “Give up."
"No.” The presence pushed her more forcefully. Katherien knew who it was. The whisperers were getting into her thoughts. She formed a barrier around her and Caila's mind but it wasn't enough. The bisch were breaking down her defences as if they had never been there.
"Give up Lamentka" said the voice. "Give up and surrender your life."
Katherien couldn’t remember why she was holding up a mind shield. As the bisch came closer, she took down her defences. The bisch attack hit her forcibly but she’d already forgotten pain. She felt someone collapse beside her but couldn’t remember who it was.
Then the shriek came.
It was a bisch shriek. She seemed to remember that. As Katherien looked up, she saw blazing arrows tearing through the formations of bisch. The skeleton birds scattered and the voice in Katherien's mind disappeared. It was all over in a few minutes.
Katherien fell to the ground for a minute, overcome by the headache the bisch had left behind. She was lucky none of her memory had been lost. She turned to the stranger by her side. A glimpse of her face made Katherien remember. Caila, the fire, the journey up till now. Thanking Orn that she could still remember, she laughed in a moment of blind happiness.
The young girl turned bewildered to Katherien "But who..."
Katherien looked up among the hills. Then she glimpsed the people she’d hoped to see. She smiled. "Them."
Coming down the hill opposite were several tall figures wearing long grey cloaks. They had sharp swords at their sides and decorated bows upon their backs. Their faces were hidden. They all walked with a confident stride, fully aware of their skill. Katherien stood up to greet them.
The first one took its hood down. Underneath there was the smiling face of a young woman.
"Hello, Katherien," she said. "We've been waiting for you."