Arianwen sat in a chair by the bed, delicately leafing through the yellowed pages of and old, black book. The book was a dogeared but handsome thing, trimmed in silver that twinkled in the bright sunlight that streamed in through the tall windows of the ward.
On the bed beside her, Jeremi stirred. Arianwen hastily slipped the book beneath her cloak and turned to face her friend, beaming.
"About time," she said.
Jeremi turned, blinking sleep from her eyes. "Good morning to you too," she yawned. She looked around the room in confusion. "Where am I anyway?" she asked.
"The sick ward," said Arianwen. "You were in pretty bad shape. Gwydion put you into a magical sleep so that he could heal you. But I daresay he fixed you up all right."
Jeremi flexed her fingers as though making sure she really was alright.
"Who was that?" she asked. "The one that started the fire, I mean. Did they catch her?"
Arianwen shook her head, frowning. "I never saw anybody," she said.
Jeremi closed her eyes and rested her head back into the pillows. It looked as though she might be going back to sleep, but after a moment she spoke.
"And the scepter's really gone? Someone took it?"
"Yes," sighed Arianwen unhappily.
Silence settled in for a moment, both girls lost in their own thoughts. The sound of birdsong wafted through the window and a black bird flitted around the windowsill pecking at invisible crumbs.
"So am I free to go, then?" asked Jeremi, pushing herself upright.
"Yes," said Arianwen slowly. "But while we're here alone, I need to show you something." She drew the book out once more and placed it on the fluffy, white blankets of Jeremi's bed.
"While you were sleeping I've been doing a bit of reading," she said, opening the volume where a ribbon had marked a page. "I found this in the ruins of Vollomeer's house. It was practically the only thing in it that wasn't burned -- I think it must have been enchanted. Anyway, it's Vollomeer's journal. Take a look at this entry."
Jeremi lifted the book onto her lap. While she read, Arianwen explained.
"It says where the portal out of Winterealm is. I think Vollomeer must have used it when he left. If he's with Wolfram, we'll only be a few days behind."
Jeremi raised her eyebrows, then handed the journal back to Arianwen. "Are you sure you still want to do this, Ari? We haven't even left Winterealm yet and we've already been attacked twice. I'm sure if you went to Gwydion and told him you didn't want to go. . ."
"Jeremi!" exclaimed Arianwen. "You're the one who suggested me for this mission in the first place! I can't back out now, Winterealm is counting on me. The whole world may be counting on me! If you don't want to go anymore, I'd totally understand, though --"
"Don't be silly,"Jeremi snapped. "I'm with you till the end. I just didn't know it would be this dangerous. . ."
* * *
Deep in the forest, Karena Millerson stood in a clearing ankle-deep in snow, a look of triumph on her face. She lifted the scepter before her face, admiring how the sun shone with fiery brightness through the diamond at its tip. It felt warm in her hands, though the air was bitterly cold, and she could feel its power against her skin like a living thing.
"Why did you leave me, Vollomeer, dear?" she whispered. Her eyes glinted red as the setting sun, and she smiled madly to herself. "But I will find you again."