Feb 28 2013 12:00pm
Check out the second book in Terry Brooks’ The Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy—Bloodfire Quest, out on March 12 from Del Rey:
The quest for the missing Elfstones has gone badly awry. The Druid Order has been decimated, and its surviving leader and her followers are trapped inside the Forbidding—the hellish dimension that imprisons the most dangerous creatures banished from the Four Lands. But now the powerful magic barrier that surrounds the Forbidding is crumbling, and an evil horde is poised to break free . . . unless one young Druid is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
In the hostile and blasted country of the Forbidding, the survivors of the search party for the missing Elfstones stared at the Ard Rhys in disbelief.
“What did you say?” Carrick was the first to break the silence, his stance aggressive. He glared at the Ard Rhys. “Tell me I misheard you.”
Khyber faced him squarely. She was not in the least intimidated, Redden thought as he stood off to one side, watching the confrontation unfold.
“We are inside the Forbidding,” she answered. “Just as Grianne Ohmsford was a hundred years ago. Trapped.”
Carrick shook his head. “That isn’t possible.”
“I’m afraid it is. The shimmer of light we passed through was a breach in the wall that had been deliberately altered to suggest it was something other than what it really is. Even my magic failed to detect it. As did your own, Carrick.”
“But you can’t be sure of this! How do you know?”
“The look of the land. The creatures that attacked us on our way in—things not of our world but very much of this one. Giant insects, Goblins. The dragon that attacked us and then took away Oriantha and Crace Coram—when there aren’t any Drachas left in the Four Lands. The way the opening was there one minute and gone the next. There’s no mistaking what we saw. Anyone who knows the history of the Four Lands and its Races would know the truth of it. We are inside the Forbidding.”
There was a stunned silence.
Then Pleysia, still on her knees, began to laugh hysterically. “How much worse can this get? We’ve lost half our number. A dragon has carried away my daughter and the Dwarf. We found our way in and can’t find our way out.” Her laughter died away into sobs. “All of us are caught out on the wrong side of a door we can’t even find, let alone open! Caught among creatures that will tear us to bits once they discover we’re here. It’s madness!”
Carrick whipped around to say something, and then stopped short. “Your daughter? That odd girl is your daughter? Why didn’t you tell us?”
Pleysia hauled herself to her feet, her eyes dark as they fixed on him. “Would it have made any difference to you? What do you care about me and mine, anyway?”
The Trolls were pressing forward as well, talking among themselves, lapsing into their own guttural language as they gestured at the bodies of Garroneck and the other dead. Redden took a step back in spite of himself, even though he wasn’t the one being threatened. If anything, he was being ignored. It was Khyber Elessedil who was bearing the brunt of everyone’s rage and fear.
“Stay calm,” she ordered, raising her voice only a little.
“Stay calm?” Carrick looked wild and dangerous. “We have to get out of here, Mistress. Right now!”
“I’m not leaving my daughter!” Pleysia screamed at him. “We don’t go anywhere until we find her!”
Redden looked around uneasily. They were standing out in the open, and the sound of their voices would carry a long way. If there was anything else out there hunting, anything as dangerous as that dragon, it would find them with no trouble.
“Come close,” the Ard Rhys ordered them, indicating both Druids and Trolls. She did not look at Redden, but he stepped toward her anyway. “Now listen to me,” she said, looking from face to face. “We can’t go back the way we came. The way we came is gone. Or if not gone, lost to us. But before we give up completely on finding it, we should use our magic to see if it can be revealed. Carrick? Pleysia? We should at least try.”
So they did, each one of them separately, conjuring Druid magic and sending it abroad, sweeping the countryside for a hint of where the door might be concealed. But even though they kept at it for long minutes, it showed them nothing.
I could try using the wishsong, Redden thought. But then something else occurred to him.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this,” he said suddenly. All heads turned. “Doesn’t the use of magic attract other magic? Especially here, where there is so much of it?”
“He is right,” Khyber Elessedil said.
“But we can’t stand here and do nothing!” Carrick insisted. “What does it matter if we use our magic or not? The things that hunt us in this monstrous land will find us sooner or later anyway. Our only chance to escape them is to discover a way out and take it!”
The Ard Rhys shook her head. “Maybe nothing is hunting us. Except for the dragon, the creatures that inhabit the Forbidding might not even know we are here. Not yet, anyway. Remember how we got here. The blue Elfstones showed Aphenglow that this was the way to the missing Stones. Her vision was clear enough to get us this far, and everything we have done has followed that vision exactly. Even the shimmer of light was a part of what she was shown. We were not lured here. We came of our own free will at the direction of the seeking-Stones. Whoever created this trap didn’t know that we would be the ones to fall into it.”
“What difference does that make?” Carrick demanded. “We don’t have the blue Elfstones now. We can’t use them to find a way out.”
“No one is suggesting we can. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking we’re trapped by something that hunts us. We may yet find a way out. We mustn’t panic. We must stay calm and remain together. If we are judicious about it, we can still use our magic to find another doorway. If the Forbidding has eroded in one place, it has probably eroded in another.”
Redden wondered about that, but since he knew nothing specific about the way in which the Forbidding worked, he kept still about his doubts.
“Redden,” the Ard Rhys called to him, and he glanced over quickly. “Just to be certain that we overlook no possibility, will you try using the wishsong?”
He nodded and summoned the magic to seek out the shimmer of light through which they had passed, picturing it in his mind. Quickly enough the blue light flashed to a place perhaps a hundred feet away from where they stood, flaring out in a broad swath. But open countryside was all they saw. Nothing else was revealed.
Nevertheless, acting on the wishsong’s response, the three Druids went at once to the place where the magic had spun out, searching for anything that would suggest a doorway back through the Forbidding. But their efforts were in vain. No opening appeared, no sign of a way through the invisible wall that imprisoned them.
“I’ve had enough of this!” Pleysia snapped. “I’m going after my daughter. Those who want to come with me can. Otherwise, I’ll go alone.”
She stalked away from them, suddenly looking much stronger and more determined. Redden and the others watched her for long minutes before Carrick muttered, “We shouldn’t let her go off without us. Besides, there’s nothing for us here.”
Khyber Elessedil nodded. “Let’s stay with her, then. We can keep searching for a way out as we go.”
Which meant she had no better idea to offer and perhaps recognized that their situation was much more hopeless than she wanted to admit aloud.
They set off—the three Druids, the four Trolls, and Redden— heading in the direction that the dragon had flown. It felt futile to Redden, who would have preferred staying where they were. Maybe Seersha, who had been left behind with Railing and the others, would come looking for them and be able to guide them back again. Maybe the opening would reappear after a while.
But the decision wasn’t his to make, and he could feel the despondency and loss of hope that appeared to infect the others working its way through him, as well. He wished he had never agreed to come with the Ard Rhys but instead had remained behind with Railing. He wondered how Railing was. At least his brother wasn’t inside the Forbidding like he was, but matters might not be going so well on the other side of the wall, either. After all, those Goblins would still be hunting them, and possibly other things by now. They were still deep in the interior of the Fangs, and if Seersha didn’t get word to Mirai to come rescue them, it would be a long and dangerous trek back out again.
And Railing couldn’t walk with his broken leg. He would have to be carried. Helpless.
Redden walked in silence for a long time, watching Pleysia lead them—almost as if she knew where she was going. He tried to imagine Oriantha as the Elf Druid’s daughter and failed. They seemed nothing alike. Yet there was a clear connection between them, one that went beyond friendship. He shifted his gaze to Carrick and watched the tall Druid for a time, his aspect somber and detached. Then he glanced over at the Trolls, muttering among themselves as they lumbered along.
Finally he moved up alongside the Ard Rhys.
“Do you think one of the others might come looking for us?” he asked her quietly. “Maybe Seersha or Skint?”
“Maybe. If they do, the tag I left on the opening will alert me. If it’s Seersha, she will recognize it and know it for a warning to stay back until I return for her.” She glanced over. “Is that what you were wondering? If I made a mistake in deciding to leave and come along with Pleysia?”
He flushed. “It had crossed my mind.”
She smiled, the wrinkles in her face smoothing in a way that made her seem decidedly younger. “I thought so. I considered staying where we were. But we would have had to come looking for Oriantha and Crace Coram eventually. We couldn’t leave either of them behind.” She paused. “You have your wits about you, Redden Ohmsford. You’ll be fine.”
He nodded, not so sure about that. “So you think the Elfstones are really in here somewhere? Like Aphenglow was shown by the vision?”
She nodded. “It would explain why they couldn’t be found for so long. Aleia Omarosian’s Darkling boy must have had the missing Elfstones in his possession when the Forbidding went up. The magic took all the dark creatures and whatever possessions they had on them and locked them away. Others trying to find the Stones after that wouldn’t have been looking in the right place—not even in the right world. And the seeking-Stones wouldn’t have been able to penetrate the wall of the Forbidding until now, when it’s begun to fail. The blue Stones found a chink in the armor. Too bad we didn’t recognize it for what it was.”
“But at least now we know where they are, and we have a chance of finding them.”
“Maybe we know. Maybe we have a chance. But finding the missing Elfstones isn’t necessarily what we need to do at this point. Even if we found them, we couldn’t be sure they would help us get out of this mess. With the Forbidding crumbling, our priorities have changed. If the wall goes down, everyone in the Four Lands is at risk. We need to escape and give warning of the danger. We need to find out why this is happening.”
She shook her head, as if to emphasize the dilemma. “I would like nothing better than to complete our search. But to find the Stones now, we would need time to search them out—and that’s time we don’t have. Even then, I wonder if it would be worth it. I wonder if any of this has been worth it.”
There was more than a hint of discouragement and frustration in her voice. He walked on with her for a few minutes more and then dropped away, leaving her to her own thoughts, thinking how hard it must be for her to know she had been seduced and deceived by the vision. Lives had been lost because of it, and more still might be lost before this was over.
His own among them.
The trek continued through the remainder of the day, but there was no sign of the dragon or their missing companions. They came down from the mountains to the plains of the south, moving in the general direction the dragon had taken. The terrain was barren and empty, a mixture of rutted earth dotted with scrub and rock, and forests in which leaves and grasses had turned gray and the trees had a skeletal look. There was no sign of water. There was no movement on the ground or in the air. The land looked dead and broken.
Every so often, the Ard Rhys or one of the other Druids would use magic to search the countryside ahead, but each time the effort failed. Once, they caught sight of something huge in the distance, a massive creature lumbering across the plains toward the mountains beyond. The Ard Rhys had them stop and hold their positions until it was safely past before allowing them to continue on. More than once, they came across piles of bones, sometimes acres of them. It was hard even to guess at their identity from what remained, and they skirted these killing grounds warily.
By nightfall, they were confronted by an impassable wilderness of swamp and saw grasses, and they were forced to turn west to seek a way around. After walking awhile longer, the Druids agreed they should make camp before it got too dark to see. The Ard Rhys chose a patch of desiccated spruce that offered cover and at least marginal protection from the things that might be hunting them. No one felt comfortable spending the night in such an exposed position, but there was nothing better anywhere close at hand. The Ard Rhys strung a warding chain around their sleeping ground that would sound an audible alert should anything try to attack. The company agreed to set a watch that would work through the night in two-hour shifts.
They arranged themselves in a circle so that the ravaged spruce trees provided a wall around them. The trees were almost completely stripped of needles, and their twisted limbs cast crosshatched shadows over the little party like a cage. Redden was so uncomfortable and on edge that he offered to sit the first watch, hoping that by the time it ended he might be tired enough to sleep.
They ate their meal cold, aware that their supplies were meager and would not last more than another day or so. They might be able to replenish their food, but water would become a problem quickly. How could they know what was safe to drink in this world? Sitting together and speaking quietly, aware of the darkness deepening as night closed in about them, they tried not to talk about it.
We don’t belong here, Redden kept repeating.
He was dirty and hot, and his skin itched. He found a pool of stagnant water while it was still light and took a quick look at his reflection. Same red hair, blue eyes, and sunburned face that he remembered, but all three looked leached of color and the rest of him resembled a scarecrow set free of its pole. He brushed at himself for a moment and then gave up. Nothing he did would make any difference.
When the others went to sleep, Redden kept the first watch in the company of one of the Trolls, sitting back to back with him at the edge of the circle of sleepers. Time dragged like an anchor, and to ease its weight he summoned his best memories of Railing and himself flying Sprints through the tangle of the Shredder and out over the flat blue surface of Rainbow Lake. It was as good a way as any to distract himself, replaying the twists and turns of the courses they had flown, remembering the rough spots and the wild dips and leaps, and even letting himself recall what he had felt on seeing Railing crash on their last flight before leaving for Bakrabru and the start of this journey.
Eyes sifting through the layered shadows in the darkness, ears sorting out sounds that he recognized from those that were new, he kept himself alert and wide awake. But when his watch was finished and he rolled himself into his blanket and closed his eyes, he was asleep in moments.
And then awake again faster still.
Something was wrong.
He forced himself to remain perfectly still while he scanned the darkness, trying to determine what had woken him. It took him only a moment.
Carrick and another of the Trolls had taken the second watch. Redden saw the body of the latter sprawled on the ground close to where he had been sitting when the boy fell asleep. It was clear from the twisted position of his limbs and the way his head was thrown back that he was dead and had died hard.
There was no sign of Carrick.
Redden sat up slowly, looking around in all directions, finding nothing but the still forms of the other sleepers and the dead Troll.
Then he looked up.
Carrick was hanging head-down about twenty feet above him, firmly grasped in the jaws of something that resembled a giant insect. His eyes were open and rolling wildly, but he hung limp and unmoving as he was hauled upward through the skeletal branches. His eyes found Redden’s and his mouth worked in silent anguish.
Then a second of the insect creatures appeared from out of the trees to seize the body of the Troll and begin to lift it away.
In the shadows, just visible as bits of movement in the gloom, more of the creatures were advancing.
Redden threw off his blanket, scrambled to his feet, and summoned the wishsong. He reacted instinctively—not out of bravery or daring, but out of fear. The magic surfaced in an explosion of brightness that lit up the whole sleeping area, brought all of the sleepers awake instantly, and caused the insects to hesitate. Fighting to keep it under control, Redden concentrated the magic in the cradle of his hands and turned it on the creature that had hold of Carrick. The wishsong flared upward in a burst of power that exploded into the monster with such force that it was cut in half. Down came the beast and Carrick both, the severed pieces of the former thrashing as if still alive, the latter a limp rag doll unable to do anything to help himself.
Redden threw himself aside as the head of the insect slammed into the ground only feet from where he was standing, mandibles snapping wildly.
By now Khyber Elessedil and Pleysia were striking out at the other insect creatures, using their Druid magic to drive their attackers away from the camp. The Trolls were clustered next to them, weapons extended in a circle of sharp steel. But the insects kept attacking, trying to find a way past the fire and sharp blades. One or two would hang back while the others tried to distract the defenders and then rush in suddenly, hoping to catch someone unprepared.
But Redden had regained control of the wishsong and quickly joined the battle, sending a wall of sound from his magic into the largest cluster of the giant insects, throwing them back, slamming them into trees and rocks. Overmatched, the advantage of surprise lost, the insects wheeled about and skittered back into the darkness and were gone.
Redden was suddenly drained. He slumped to one knee and was surprised to find Pleysia next to him, holding him. “Are you all right, boy?” she asked, leaning close. He nodded. “Good. I don’t think we can afford to lose you. That was quick thinking.”
A few feet away, the Ard Rhys had gone to Carrick, carefully turned him over, and laid him on the ground with his head cradled in her lap. The Druid’s eyes had stopped rolling and his gaze had steadied, but he was bleeding from his nose and ears, and his face was as white as chalk. Khyber was murmuring quietly, her hands making small gestures as she fought to hold back the death that was already claiming him.
“They came right over the top of my wards,” she muttered to herself.
“They knew they were there!” Pleysia snapped. “The wards drew them!”
“Steady, Carrick,” Khyber soothed. She leaned close so that he could see her. “Don’t give up.”
His eyes shifted to find her. “So quick . . . no chance . . . to do . . .”
He shuddered and went still, dead in her arms.
Pleysia released her hold on Redden and stood next to him. “We’re all going that way before this is done,” she whispered. “All of us.”
Then she turned her back on them and walked off.
Excerpted from Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks. Copyright © 2013 by Terry Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.