“Who is it?” came a gruff voice from beyond the stout wooden door.
Nilyn laughed. “Come now, Dreev, you have been scrying us for the last two leagues. You know full well who it is.”
A heavy bolt slid back, and the door cracked open. A gray skinned, wrinkled face peered out, set with night-black eyes and a craggy peak of a nose. I had never seen a goblin that venerable, and I marveled as it peered at Nilyn with a scowl.
“Oh, come in, then, before you just sit on the house and tear it down.” The creature turned away with a derisive snort and disappeared inside the dwelling, leaning heavily on a gnarled wooden staff as it walked.
“You heard him,” Nilyn said to Vall and I. “After you.”
Vall stepped in first, and I followed her with Nilyn behind me. Vall gasped as we entered a hall that was easily four times the size of the inn at home. The cabin was scarcely larger than my home from the outside. Inside, though, was a mansion such as I had never imagined, much less seen. The ceiling was impossibly high, and a huge structure of crystal, festooned with lights, hung from it on an ornate golden chain. The walls were wooden, and intricately carved with creatures I did not recognize.
Vall turned to me with an expression of amazement. “How is this possible?”
“Oh, come on!” Dreev stood at the top of an ornate staircase at the back of the impossible structure. “You have interrupted my dinner.” He turned on his heel and disappeared through a pair of huge wooden doors.
We mounted the stairs, which were made of a light colored stone, decorated with what looked like tiles cut into the base stone. We arrived at the doors and went inside. The dining room was built to the same scale as the front of the house, with a huge wooden table that could have seated my whole village with room to spare. Dreev sat in a carved chair at the far end of the table, where he was attended by three servants.
“Come and sit with me,” he commanded, pointing to the chairs at his hands. We complied; Vall and I sat at his left hand, with Nilyn across from us at his right hand. The servants were elven, though they had an odd, silvery sheen to their skin and eyes. The two men were handsome, and the woman was beautiful, in the same manner as Nilyn.
Nilyn smiled at the servants. “Is Dreev teaching you anything?”
“Yes, my lady,” one of the men answered. “He is a most skilled teacher.”
“Humph!” Dreev snorted. “Three more plates, you young hellions!”
“Yes, Master Dreev,” they chorused before they vanished through the doorway behind Dreev’s chair.
“They grow more impudent with every turning,” he groused. “Now,” he glared at Nilyn. “What trouble have you brought me this day?”
“I am sending them to find my book,” Nilyn said quietly.
Dreev looked contrite, and sighed. “I see. It pains me to admit that not even I have been able to find it, Nilyn.”
Nilyn nodded. “It wasn’t your fault, Master.”
“She fooled me, and there is no fool like an old fool.” He sighed and sat back, turning his gaze to Vall and I. “Half-bloods, both of them, and lovers, too. A wise choice. We may hope it is enough.”
“He is not my lover,” Vall snapped.
Dreev peered at her. “Oh, but he is, child. I’ve seen how you look at each other.” He waved a hand. “You will see, soon enough.”
The servants reappeared with plates in hand, and they set the table before us. The food smelled wonderful, and all four of us applied ourselves to the meal with little conversation. I was hungrier than I thought, and they had to bring me a second plate before I was satisfied.
After the meal, goblets of wine were brought, and then Dreev sat back with a sigh of repletion. “Thank you, children, that was a fine meal, as usual. Now, we must talk, so attend to your studies.” The servants vanished with the last of the dishes, and Dreev looked at each of us in turn.
“Our world is founded on magic,” he began without preamble, “and many of its denizens are birthed from it. As you might have guessed, I am a fair practitioner of the magical arts. This house is but one example of what a skilled wizard can do. There are far darker examples in the world, and so there is a constant struggle between those who use magic to destroy, rather than to build.”
“There was a time, though, when magic was unknown in the world. How it rose to prominence, well, no one knows. There were no writings from that time, many thousands of turnings ago. Or, so we thought. In her travels, young Nilyn here came across a book. In it were stories of wondrous things from the time before magic, the knowledge of a world where men could even fly without the use of magic. Even more than that, it spoke of a great repository of knowledge that had been hidden away. That knowledge is the key to our own future.”
“Why?” I blurted. “Magic works just fine, doesn’t it?”
“For now, yes.” Dreev sighed. “There are changes coming, Ornthalas and Vall. To put it simply, magic is dying. With it, all who depend on that magic will also die. The elves are one of the races who will suffer the most.”
“They’re going to die?” I tried to keep my voice steady.
“This is something that will happen over many, many turnings,” Dreev said gently. “It won’t be here until long after your life is done.”
“Why can’t you send one of your servants, or her,” Vall pointed to Nilyn, “after this book?”
“They are known to those who stole the book, child. You are not. You also possess the skills needed to take the book.”
Vall sighed. “How do we find it, then?”
Dreev reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a small object, and set it on the table. “This will lead you to the book when you get close enough.”
I picked it up to examine it. The object was a little larger than my palm, and was about the thickness of a pancake. The shape was somewhat like a rounded box, and it was made of some black material I had never seen. “What is this?” I handed it to Vall for her to examine.
“I don’t know,” Dreev said. “When the book is near, an arrow-shaped rune will become visible, and point to it. Otherwise, it does nothing.”
“How far do we have to be from the book before it works?” Vall asked, holding it up in her fingers.
“It could find the book within this house. Otherwise, I don’t know. It didn’t work after I discovered the book had been stolen, though.”
“You said earlier that it was good we were half-bloods. Why is that?” I asked.
“There is magic you can use that others cannot,” Dreev explained. “As for being lovers, you will see each other through this.”
Vall glanced at me with a frown, and turned back to Dreev. “What magic?”
“I almost forgot. For you, child.” The goblin extracted a small book from his pocket and slid it to her. “There are spells there that only one such as you can use. And, for your hunter,” he extended his hand to me. I reached out with my hand, and he dropped a pair of clear gemstones about the size of my fingertip in my palm. “Press one into your bow, and the other into your sword,” he instructed.
“What do they do?” Vall placed the spell book in her cloak pocket, along with the strange box.
“You will see,” he said cryptically.
I nodded. “Thank you.” I placed the gems in one of my belt pouches.
“Now, not to be an ungracious host, but you must be on your way. Time is not our friend in this matter.”
“Now?” I questioned. “It will be dark soon, and we’ll have to camp for the night.”
“There is a place about a league away where you will be safe. Follow the Evening Star, and you will see a grove of trees. That is where you may take your rest.” Dreev pushed his chair back and stood. “I have had my servants prepare food and drink for your journey.”
Vall and I stood, and turned to see the servants holding some packages and two wrapped bottles for us. We put the items in our packs, and turned to Nilyn. “Are you taking some, as well?”
“This is as far as I go,” Nilyn said. “You two will have to travel on without me.”
I had suspected as much, so I looked at Vall. “Are you ready?”
“Do I have a choice?” She sighed. “Yes, let’s be on our way.”
“We will meet again, I hope?” I asked Nilyn.
“Yes. Safe travels to you both.” Nilyn smiled at us with a tinge of sadness. “It will take you both to do this, so you must trust each other.”
We retraced our steps to the great house’s door, and we once again found ourselves standing outside of an ordinary farmer’s cottage. It was late in the day, and I turned to the west. The Evening Star was just visible above the distant mountains, and I led off toward it. Vall walked beside me, and we walked along the lane between two fenced fields.
The last light was fading in the west when we spied the grove of trees Dreev had told us about. They stood on a small rise with a small stream at the base. A short while later, we crossed the stream and climbed the hill. The area between the trees was protected from the wind, and there was even a circle of rocks to be used for a campfire.
We laid out our bed on an area of soft grass, and ate of the food and drink we’d been given. The night was warm enough, and we could see well enough in the starlight, so I did not build a fire. As was our habit by then, we both stripped off our clothing and lay down together.