The ruins kept dragging on to the north. The land around them was flat and bare, so the only thing that stood between the travellers and a horizon here was a thin veil of dust raised by the chargas’ paws from the ground.
Kangassk noticed that at some point the ground began to slope in the direction of the Region’s centre. He soon understood why: the ground they walked on was in fact a bottom of a huge crater. The ruins there no longer looked like broken teeth sticking out of the ground, they were just piles of crushed stone and dust scattered along the way and formed a circular rampart by the crater’s centre. To climb it, Vlada and Kan had to dismount from their chargas and go on foot. The view from the top of the rampart was so alien it sent shivers down Kan’s back. In the former centre of the ancient catastrophic explosion stood a huge black cube, perfectly smooth, undamaged, and free from dust. A lonely man sat on the cube, his cloaked head bowed, his shoulders slouched. He leaned his heavily worn staff against one of the cube’s polished black walls. Silvered by the young moon, the staff shone through the night like a fantasy mage’s weapon would.
Vlada approached the man.
“Hello, Sereg,” she sighed. The sadness in her voice was so deep that even Kangassk who had no idea what it was about could feel it too.
“Hello, Vlada,” replied the man. He didn’t sound happy as well.
The man named Sereg removed his hood and stood up. He was so tall he towered above Vlada and Kan like a mountain but his physique didn’t match his height: Sereg was so thin he looked starved. Kan could not guess his age. The stranger’s hair was grey, either with age or with dust, there were dark shadows under his eyes as if he had been running or fighting for a long time. One moment his face seemed young yet but the next moment it didn’t, not after your eyes met his.
Now, when Vlada stood beside this strange man, she looked way older than her young face suggested as well.
Sereg had no sword on him, just the steel bound staff, no doubt as heavy as a solid rock. Kangassk, a smith’s apprentice, knew the very moment he saw that thing that it was no mere walking stick but a weapon as deadly as a sword in the right hands.
“I came through the Chasm,” said Sereg in a hollow voice.
“Why?!” exclaimed Vlada.
“I was in a hurry.” He bowed his head slightly. “Didn’t want to be late.”
Sereg and Vlada sat at the edge of the cube. They paid no attention to Kangassk at all, he just stood there, as still as a statue, his hands resting on the chargas’ necks.
Sereg took a deep breath.
“Vlada,” he said in a grave voice, “it’s not easy for me to say this... At first, after my journal had disappeared I didn’t think much of it. Yes, I put an incineration spell on the journal no thief would survive. But I remembered showing it to Orion and thought that maybe after I had removed the spell back then I just forgot to restore it...”
“What happened, Sereg?” asked Vlada quietly.
Sereg didn’t answer, not with words, at least. Instead, he removed something from his neck and showed it to Vlada. Kangassk could see it too. It was a silver pendant on a long chain, once beautiful, now brutally vandalized as if someone had torn a big jewel out of its delicate pattern.
“No one besides us could have survived touching this,” stated Sereg. “You know why.”
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