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.He whirled, looking around, only to see a second landscape shimmering into view, overlying the world around him.It was a landscape of dead brown grass and leafless trees, roofed by a lightless sky.To the west, the last sliver of the sun's orb was vanishing behind the gray hilltops.A cold wind began to blow contrary to the brisk salt breeze from the sea, making his cloak flutter and twist against the wind as bit by bit he discorporated on the border of night."Help me!" he screamed, his thin voice wailing on the shadow wind.No one answered.I'm being dragged through the veil, he thought, trying to master his panic.With each moment, his hold on the real world grew more tenuous, and he could feel tendrils of ebon substance reaching out to seize him, to hold him within the darkness.Mustering all his willpower, he concentrated on restoring his tattered frame, anchoring himself to the wet grass and clean rock of the hillside in Turmish.Somehow it worked.The sky brightened, the winds failed, and he grew heavier and more substantial until he felt his heart lurch into motion again, moving blood that had begun to freeze.The darkness retreated, and with a weary sigh, he collapsed outside the cottage, staring up into the twilight.* * * * *Aeron walked from dawn to dusk for the next month or more, turning his footsteps toward home.He traveled south and west along the coast until he reached the bustling port of Hlondeth, but he had no money for passage to Cimbar.He also feared what would happen if the wind between the worlds came upon him while he was dozens or hundreds of miles out to sea.He resigned himself to a long walk and resolved to endure it as best he could.He followed the shore of the Vilhon Reach west from Hlondeth, passing through the rugged hill lands of the Cloven Mountains and then into the green eaves of the Winterwood.From the old city of Ormpetarr, he followed the river Arran into the mighty Chondalwood, striking southeast through the forests mantling the western flanks of the Akanapeaks.The great greenwood reminded him of the Maerchwood and home, although it was darker and wilder than the golden glades of his youth.On several occasions, he fell in with fellow travelers, pilgrims and merchants who shared his road for a time, but Aeron learned that he could not keep the same company night after night; when the sun set, he began to fade, wraithlike, into the shadows until the bitter winds of the crossing buried their icy talons in his bones and the deathly cold covered him in sparkling frost.Nothing he could do prevented form and substance from slipping away, and more than one erstwhile companion fled, screaming, at Aeron's unnatural disappearance.As Ches gave way to Tarsakh, he joined a party of pilgrims braving the old road through the Chondal Gap and climbed into the high vales of the Adder Peaks before winding back down into the sheer foothills in the southwestern corner of Chessenta.In the dense pine forests south of Oslin, he picked up the headwaters of the Winding River and followed it east as it wound through the wild and deserted lands in the southern marches of Chessenta.The land grew gentler and more open as he wandered into the old heartland of Chessenta, checkered with prosperous farmlands and crisscrossed by well-traveled roads.As the miles passed behind him, Aeron gained a stronger command of his mind and spirit, healing from the foul touch of the Shadow Stone.The chaos and corruption that had nearly driven him mad faded, and he discovered an amazing clarity of thought, a pure and lucid apprehension that illuminated every recess of his mind.But even as his spirit strengthened in the face of the journey, his body weakened.Each night a little less of his substance returned from the shadow crossing.He was slowly starving, not from want of food, but from want of solidity.Two nights before Midsummer, he crossed completely over, despite every effort to keep a tenuous hold on the world around him.For long hours, he pushed himself along a dark road beneath a barren sky, convinced in his heart that if he gave up and stopped moving, he would never see the dawn again.Finally, near morning, the shadow dissipated, leaving him standing alone on an empty road, hollow as a piece of weathered bone.Somehow he found the strength to continue.In the rugged hill country of Villon, only six or seven days from his home, Aeron lost the struggle.He had already walked most of the afternoon in the same tireless pace he'd used for weeks, his feet barely seeming to touch the ground.He came to an empty crossroads beside a burned-out, abandoned inn, and paused to consider his way.It was raining steadily, and the road was churned into thick black mud.To his left, an old signpost stood, its markings blurred.Aeron stepped closer and brushed his hand over the wood, trying to make it out.Something struck him low in his back, a handspan left of his spine, driving a red-hot wedge of pain into his torso.He clapped his hand to the source of the pain, twisting about, and felt something hard sticking into his back.Wincing, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the dark fletchings of an arrow quivering in the air.He drew his hand back and was surprised to see bright red blood running through his fingers."Damn, Rolf, what're you waitin' for? Shoot him again!" a coarse voice hissed in the middle distance, behind him."The damned bowstring broke.Besides, I got him.He ain't going anywhere." A second voice, deeper and slower.Aeron felt his legs beginning to give out and leaned against the wooden post for support.In dull shock, he turned to look back at the ruined inn.Several men were rising from the wreckage, tattered ruffians with hollow cheeks and burning, feverish eyes.One of them, a big stoop-shouldered man with long, strong arms, held a longbow in his hand.He scowled at the weapon and then looked at Aeron."Horse dung.He's just a small fellow.I didn't need to break my string for him.""He's still standin', Rolf," one of the men in the back observed."You can't have got him too square.""It was the bowstring," Rolf complained."If it hadn't broke, I'd have put the arrow clean through the bastard." He tossed the bow to the ground and sauntered toward Aeron, drawing a heavy knife from his belt.Aeron could feel warm, wet blood trickling down his back, and the arrowhead burned with a white-hot fire just under the last rib.He could feel metal scraping on bone when he gasped for breath.He pushed himself away from the signpost and staggered away down the road, one hand holding the arrow in his lower back."Hey, don't you run off with my arrow, you sorry bastard!" Rolf called, to the harsh laughter of his fellows.Aeron ignored them, trying to get away, but when he looked up again, he saw that the highwaymen were easily pacing him, moving up to surround him.He reeled to a halt, turning to watch them move closer."I don't want any trouble," he gasped."Just let me go.""Doesn't matter what you want," the first highwayman said."Trouble's what you got." He leaned closer, scrutinizing Aeron."Say, what kind of man are you? You don't look right to me.""Those're elf ears," Rolf announced."We've found a half-breed, lads.Now, what'll we do with him?""Whatever it is, better make it quick," the last bandit observed."This fellow's bleeding like a stuck pig, Rolf.You might've got him after all."Aeron felt his knees buckle and he sagged to all fours, fighting to remain conscious.He felt nauseous, and his vision swam drunkenly.I'm going to die, he realized [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]