Sample Chapter from Wolf’s Search

Excerpt from WOLF’S SEARCH by Jane Lindskold.
Published by Obsidian Tiger Press in August, 2019. Copyright © 2019 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.

= I =
The stars were all wrong. That was the first thing Firekeeper noticed, even before she realized that the sky was night-dark. As she did, her right hand moved to where her Fang was sheathed. Her left drifted to rest in the thick fur of the enormous wolf standing beside her.

“What does your nose tell you, sweet hunter?”

“We are alone here but for the small wild things,” came Blind Seer’s reply. “Tell the others they may come forth, but to keep their lights low, lest they alert a potential threat. I will scout a little further and learn what I can.”

“I will tell them. You be careful.”

When the wolf ghosted away, Firekeeper did not turn her back on the alien darkness, but instead paced backward. At the same moment that her bare feet touched smooth tile rather than the roughness of the fieldstone pavement, her eyes became aware of a faint glow illuminating her surroundings and, with it, the scent of burning lamp oil. Although Firekeeper would have been the first to group herself with nose-dead humankind, she also detected two different human odors: one bright and anxious, the other wildly excited. But it was not to either of these humans that Firekeeper addressed her first words, but to a small falcon who perched nearby.

“Farborn, I cannot promise there are no owls or bats without. Even so, I would be grateful if you would go forth and take high watch in one of the nearby trees. Blind Seer is checking our surroundings, but he will not see all you could from above.”

A nearly noiseless unfolding of wings, a motion of air, gave her Farborn’s reply.

When the falcon had glided out through the door, Firekeeper addressed the humans. “Laria, Arasan, come forth, but keep your light low, only to guide your feet.”

“Anyone out there, Firekeeper?” Laria’s young voice was taut with tension. Nonetheless, her footsteps were steady as she moved to join the wolf-woman. In coloration, Laria was a lighter, more golden version of Firekeeper’s own brown on brown. Her skin’s hue, which she had inherited from her mother, was the color of ripe wheat. Her thick, straight hair was a light brown that bleached to a passable gold under summer sunlight. Now, with spring not even a moon old, it was definitely brown. Her eyes were a medium brown and often, as now, looked worried and frightened. At something like fourteen, Laria had not reached her full height, but it was doubtful she would be either tall or short. Firekeeper liked how Laria often braided colorful ribbons into her hair. Today’s were the dark purple of wet violets.

Firekeeper put a reassuring hand on the younger woman’s arm. “No one near, Laria, but for field mice and other such little night people. No scent of fires, old or new, nor of humans in company. Even so, we must take care that light not speak of us to those who may be far distant or upwind of what we could scent from the entrance to this place.”

“Very sensible,” came a second voice, male and dryly ironical. “That must have been Blind Seer’s idea.”

The speaker was a handsome man with thick, dark-brown hair, brown eyes, and skin that was naturally tanned. He was old enough that time had left lines between his heavy, dark brows, and probably around his mouth as well, although the close-cropped beard and mustache he wore effectively concealed these. Faint traces of grey in his beard provided their own indication of age. He possessed a strong, stocky build that contrasted oddly with his long-fingered, sensitive hands.

Knowing she was being goaded, Firekeeper didn’t bother replying. Another speaker, using the same man’s voice, although it somehow became more musical, spoke in her defense.

“Firekeeper is as wolf-sensible as Blind Seer. I, for one, would not have her otherwise. “

Six moonspans passing had been enough for Firekeeper to grow accustomed to the idea that two men lived in the one body. The Meddler—a spirit whose body was long dead—had been given a chance to live again by taking up residence within the body of the then-dying Arasan. The price had been that the Meddler use his particular magics to save the life of Arasan’s body. If the Meddler did so, then he would have a body in which he could reside, and Arasan would have a chance to continue living.

Initially, as far as anyone could tell, the Meddler alone had tenanted the body but then, some moonspans ago, Arasan had begun to make himself known. The fact that Arasan was able to do so was taken by many as verification of the Meddler’s claim that reinhabiting a physical body had greatly reduced his ability to tap what had once been formidable magical powers. Firekeeper reserved the right to doubt.

Despite the fact that she longed to run to Blind Seer’s side, Firekeeper kept her steps measured as she guided Laria and Arasan from the building into the night. The humans who paced behind her were soft-shod and, even in what for them was near darkness, they moved well. Firekeeper approved.

Once they were outside, light from a waning crescent moon augmented that of the alien stars. Firekeeper held up her left hand, signaling for the following humans to wait, and scanned the shadows. Eventually she found one that resolved into Farborn. The merlin was perched on a lower limb of a wind-twisted tree where his outline was obscured by the branches and trunk. Had she not known he might be there, Firekeeper could have missed him.

“Blind Seer?”

“Running the perimeter of the hill. I overflew his trail first, but came back to tell you that he was going to make a second, slower pass. He wanted to learn if old scents would add to our knowledge.”

Trying to hide her relief at learning her partner was safe, Firekeeper repeated the gist of Farborn’s report to the two humans. Then she hunkered down, studied the skies, and composed herself to wait.


As he ran, Blind Seer swallowed a sharp pang of guilt, for he knew that what had brought them to this place where the stars were all wrong was him—him and his needs.

Over a year before, the blue-eyed wolf had been forced to accept that not only did he possess a magical talent, but that the force which rested within him was the ability to shape with his will what humans termed “mana” or “magical energy.” Humans usually used rotes and rituals to achieve this shaping, termed the art “spellcasting,” and considered the art one that set the user apart even within the already exclusive company of those who possessed an affinity for magic.

Speculation threatened to distract him, so Blind Seer shook his head as he might have done to dislodge a fly from his nose, then dropped his head to catch the fainter, older scents. He concentrated on the feel of the grass bending beneath his pads, reminded himself to be alert to his surroundings. Once he would have had no need to remind himself. Remaining alert to his surroundings was not only natural and ordinary—it would have been unthinkable to do otherwise. Literally, unthinkable. Blind Seer had not needed to think, to concentrate. He had been one with his surroundings as only a peak predator must be—alert because for most creatures he possessed fear’s form, and must slink beneath that until the moment came to howl forth and hunt.

But during the cycles of seasons since he had left his birthlands at Firekeeper’s side, Blind Seer had been changing. Initially, this change had been generated by the need to learn human languages: first Pellish, then New Kelvinese, then Liglimosh, since then bits and pieces of others. The Beasts shared one language, although that one had dialects that served the needs of each sort of Beast. What need had a raven to know the special terms elk and deer used for the plants they ate? What need had a land-bound creature to learn the specialized terms for flight?

Humans, though, oh, humans! Lacking one language, they struggled to use sounds augmented by a few gestures to convey information that the Beasts shared by use of sound and scent, by the cant of ears and tail, by how fur or feathers rose and fell, as well as through other postures, only a few of which humans seemed in the least aware of.

And with each collection of sounds they used, the humans reshaped their world. Even when words were considered equal—as in what the Liglimom called “junjal” and the Pellish called “water”—there were a host of extra meanings, small and large, that came with the word. When the sound sought to embrace a concept—such as “yari” or “wise”—then did the hunt for true understanding become tangled with complexities, so tangled that Blind Seer, fluent now in three human languages, able to comprehend at least key terms in several more—marveled that humans ever understood each other.

But languages and all they implied had only been the beginning of Blind Seer’s many changes. All these changes had seemed as nothing when he had accepted, then embraced, that he was not merely a magically talented hunter, perhaps with a gift for divining water or always finding his way home, but a spellcaster of great power. None other than the Meddler—a being who just might be what the humans of Liglim called a “god,” and who at the very least was a sorcerer of no little power—said that Blind Seer might be the greatest spellcaster alive in the world today.

This might well be true, although Blind Seer was the last of their company who would trust what the Meddler said, at least not without carefully sniffing about to find what the just-might-be-a-god’s motivations for saying such a thing might be. The Meddler had his own agenda, no matter how meek he had been of late. Of that the wolf was certain.

Blind Seer wondered whether the Meddler’s praise was as great as everyone seemed to think, since magical power had been choked off by the curse now commonly referred to as querinalo. For many years only talents had lingered, and these remained rare and few. Eventually, the curse had weakened, permitting the first generation of spellcasters since the coming of querinalo. Yet the ways that magical power was most commonly shaped by humans were unacceptable to Blind Seer. He dreaded that the use of blood magic might pervert his predator soul into something far more monstrous.

So Blind Seer—and his Firekeeper beside him—had been hunting since the conclusion of the war for the Nexus Islands for alternatives. Time and again they had been disappointed, but even those disappointments had not been useless. In rumor and story, they had sniffed out the faintest of trails. This faint trail was what had led them here to this place of strange stars. Would here they find what they sought or would once again they return, tail draggled down, hungry from the hunt?


Firekeeper heard Laria shift uneasily from one foot to the other. “Why is it night?” the young woman asked, the softness of her voice not hiding her tension. “It was morning when we left the Nexus Islands. Did the gate take us through time as well as through space?”

“In a fashion,” came the reply.

From the pacing of the words, more than from pitch or tone, Firekeeper knew the speaker was Arasan, not the Meddler. The Meddler would have enjoyed maintaining an aura of mystery, then being coaxed to yield his knowledge. By contrast, Arasan could be almost too chatty.

“Remember your lessons in geography?” Arasan asked, the melodious notes in his voice growing as he turned storyteller. “How the world is a great sphere turning in the void?”

A small noise from Laria acknowledged that she did remember. Another sound might have been the Meddler trying to add a comment and being choked back.

Arasan continued. “When we left the Nexus Islands, it was morning. Further west, where the sun had still not yet reached, the day was yet younger. Therefore, if the gates brought us west, we moved to earlier in that same day. By contrast, to the east, the day was further along.”

“So, did we go east or west?” Laria asked.

“I really don’t know,” Arasan said, “judging such things can become complicated when great distances are involved.”

Firekeeper remembered when Arasan’s words would have been complete nonsense to her, but that was before she had traveled through many different gates and, between one step and the next, had gone to the Old World in the east, far across the ocean. There the sun came first, so the day was older. When she went back to the New World, the day would be younger, for these lands were west of the Old World, and the sun came there later. The Nexus Islands were surrounded by the oceans between the two lands, but were closer to the Old World than the New.

“What about the stars?” Firekeeper asked without hesitation. Unlike humans, wolves saw no advantage in ignorance. Stupidity was mocked, most surely, but nothing was considered more stupid than pretending knowledge when there was none. “Why are they wrong?”

This time the Meddler replied. “The void holds both fixed and moving stars. The fixed stars change depending on whether you stand on the top or bottom of the world sphere. Since the stars have changed, my conclusion is that we have moved so far in space that we have come to the bottom of the sphere. Therefore, the fixed stars are different.”

Firekeeper fought a completely irrational touch of vertigo at the idea of standing at the bottom of a sphere hanging in the void. What if she fell off? She banished the impulse with wolfish practicality. She was here, standing firmly on her own two feet, wasn’t she?

“So the gate carried us both far around the world and below,” she said. “Well, when one considers, that is not so odd. We already suspected that this particular gate did not serve either the New World or the Old.”

The wolf-woman sensed both the Meddler’s annoyance at having failed to impress her more, and that Laria shared some of Firekeeper’s own earlier, unreasoning panic. Firekeeper wondered how to offer comfort without insult, for young humans could be touchy. She was still considering what she might say to Laria when Blind Seer’s return took the moment from her. The wolf-woman flung her arms around the wolf’s neck in a quick, tight hug that spoke her dread that something could have happened to him out there in the unfamiliar land.

“Our pack seems to be alone here,” the wolf said, “yet this place has not been completely deserted—not as was the Burned Place or those ruins we explored on Misheemnekuru.”

 Firekeeper translated for the humans, for of them all only she spoke the language of the Beasts—although there were times she wondered about the Meddler’s claim he had forgotten what he had once known. It would be very convenient for him to be able to eavesdrop on her and Blind Seer in particular. The rivalry between the Meddler and Blind Seer had dulled but had by no means vanished.

When Firekeeper finished her translation, she clarified, “By the Burned Place, Blind Seer means the place where I was last a human—the colony west of the Iron Mountains, founded by Prince Barden of Hawk Haven. That place held scraps of humans and their things, but was deserted. He finds no trace of humans or Wise Beasts currently living here, but the humans, at least, have not forsaken it. There are signs they come here time to time.”

“And what of the Beasts?” asked Farborn.

Blind Seer replied, while Firekeeper translated both question and answer for the humans.

“The Beasts leave fewer signs of their comings and goings than do humans,” Blind Seer said, “but I found no scent or sight posts—nor did I find any awareness of the Wise Beasts among the few small Cousins I could convince to pause and speak with me.”

The blue-eyed wolf gaped his jaws and panted laughter. “Those who did were frozen in shock, so I do not think that wolves of my sort are known here.”

“This would be good territory for wolves,” Farborn commented, “as well as for the game you hunt, yet I saw no sign of either. Strange.”

“Although I found neither humans nor Wise Beasts,” Blind Seer continued, “I did sniff out what once must have been great roads, such as one finds in some parts of the Old World. These are much reduced, even overgrown, but I do not think completely unused. Someone has kept the saplings from pushing through the pavement and has cut back the grass. I discovered something else. What is the season?”

“Early spring,” Firekeeper answered automatically as soon as she had finished translating. Then she paused. The hill on which the gate had been situated was what a human might call “barren,” but was neatly landscaped with low shrubs, herbage, and even a few slender trees. She sniffed the air and looked at their surroundings more carefully. “Autumn?”

“That is what I smelled as well,” Blind Seer said. “Very strange.”

The Meddler spoke as soon as Firekeeper finished translating. “Remember what I told you about the stars being wrong because we are on the opposite side of the sphere? For the similar reasons, the seasons are reversed. I could explain…”

“Not now,” Firekeeper cut him off. “I will take what my senses tell me. It is autumn and it is night. The why does not matter now that we have some sense of where.”

“As for our next move,” Arasan said, taking advantage of the Meddler’s chagrin to wrest back control of their shared vocal cords, “we humans and, to some extent, Farborn, will be more useful come daylight. I suggest we wait here until dawn. Perhaps those of us who do not see well in the dark should retreat into the building and discover if we can learn anything there.”

“Do that,” Firekeeper agreed. “Blind Seer and I will range farther, see what we can learn. Farborn can come for us if you find trouble.”


Upon hearing Firekeeper’s parting words, Laria felt distinctly annoyed.

No question that the pair of them might get into trouble, she thought, then almost immediately felt ashamed of herself.

Firekeeper and Blind Seer had been many places at least as unknown as this one. They’d also ventured into areas they knew by reputation were likely to be very dangerous. With Blind Seer’s nose to guide them, the pair were not likely to get lost. Even if something happened to wipe out the scent trail, they both were inhumanly alert. Look how Firekeeper had noticed that the pattern of the stars was off before she’d been out of the gate building more than a few minutes.

How long would it have taken me?

A light touch on her arm interrupted Laria’s brooding.

“Come back inside,” Arasan said. “We’ll close the door, then ask Farborn to check if any light leaks out. If it seems safe to do so, we’ll turn up the lanterns and do our own exploring.”

“Maybe”—even with only that one word spoken, Laria knew that this was the Meddler—“we’ll find something written. Firekeeper can’t best us there.”

Laria knew that this was true. Over the last few moonspans, Firekeeper’s reading skills had advanced, but she was the first to admit that Blind Seer read far better than she did. By contrast, both Laria and Arasan read several languages, a legacy of their lives on the Nexus Islands. The Meddler… Well, what he did and didn’t know remained something Laria was still trying to figure out. One thing was certain. If the languages in question were ancient, the Meddler would have an edge over both her and Arasan.

Laria followed the two men in one body back into the building, reflecting on how very many odd things she now took for granted. This, even though, according to what she was learning now that her world had expanded beyond the Nexus Islands, her childhood had not been precisely normal, both growing up as she had on those isolated yet not isolated islands, then coming of age during those brief but horrible wars… No!

Concentrate on the here and now, Laria repeated to herself as she had so many times before. Here and now. Here and now.

Shifting her attention to the present moment was easy enough once they were inside the building and the lantern’s side-shields had been pulled up so that the light shone evenly all around. Unlike on the Nexus Islands, where most of the gates were situated in the open to facilitate the movement of people and goods, this gateway had been built inside a structure that possessed no windows, and whose exit was blocked by a single solid door. The structure that held the gate was rounded, with a domed roof. Light-grey granite walls had been highly polished so that the stone shone like glass. In the middle of the structure stood the gate, an arch that—unless the proper rituals were observed—could be passed through without any extraordinary effects. But if those rituals were performed, stepping through the arch would carry one to the Nexus Islands.

When the five of them had arrived via the gate, the door to the outside world had been firmly locked. Where the domed roof met the walls, there were narrow ventilation openings covered with metal grills. Firekeeper had climbed up and removed one of the grills, enabling Farborn to scout. When the merlin had reported that they seemed to be alone, the Meddler had demonstrated that he was very good at picking even extremely difficult locks, and had let them out of the building.

“Over the course of my life,” he’d said breezily as he tried a variety of tools—and possibly muttered a spell or two—“I developed an aversion to being detained against my will.”

As with so much of what the Meddler said, this invited questions, but none of them were in the mood to play that game. Laria—like all the residents of the Nexus Islands—knew a few things about the Meddler, including how untrustworthy some legends said he could be. Still, he had saved Arasan’s life, and had been a good friend to Laria herself. Did the Meddler’s past actions mean he had deserved to die or to be restricted to existing only as a bodiless spirit?

Not for the first time, Laria remembered her father, the terrible wound in his side, his blood spilling over her as she held him, baptizing her with the terrific force of his struggle to live. Ollaris hadn’t wanted to die but, in the dark hours when she was awakened by nightmares, Laria wondered… Would her father have wanted to live if that meant sharing his body with another, especially if that other was as chancy an individual as the Meddler? Had Arasan known what he was letting himself in for? Was he regretting his being given this chance at life even now? At first Arasan had been so passive that it was easy to overlook that two spirits, not one, inhabited the body, but of late he had become more assertive. Was he only trying to have an equal voice in the partnership, or did he hope to dominate?

“I wonder,” Arasan said, holding up his lantern for a better look at the shining walls that surrounded them, “why the people who built this went to all this trouble? First they sealed the gate, draining all its magical energy down to just a fizz. Then they built this building around it. I’d swear the building was constructed later. Why didn’t they just destroy the gate? It wouldn’t be easy—breaking apart magically enhanced solid stone structures never is—but hardly impossible.”

Laria knew what had led Arasan’s thoughts in this direction. Ever since the current government had taken control of the Nexus Islands, a systematic effort had been made to learn where each and every gate went. The gate that had brought them here was the first they had found which had been sealed not only on the Nexus Islands’ side, but on this side as well. Not merely locked—that wasn’t uncommon—but sealed so as to make it all but useless. If they had really wanted to stop the gate from being used, it would have been smarter to break it.

“But,” Arasan continued, “if we hadn’t had not only the Nexus Islands’ library to draw on but also those of the allied Old World nations…”

“And myself and Virim to offer some inspired suggestions,” the Meddler interrupted.

“…we probably would not have made it through. Maybe the locals thought they were safe enough.”

Laria swallowed a sigh. “But we did force the seal and here we are,” she said firmly. “What I’m worried about is whose land we’re in and how whoever sealed this gate with such care is going to feel about our showing up. I wonder if we’ve triggered an alarm?”

From the corner of her eye, Laria saw Farborn hunch over and try to make himself smaller. She flushed at her thoughtlessness. Farborn—or so Firekeeper had warned them, and the wolf-woman had no reason to lie—still felt tremendous guilt for failing to alert the Nexus Islanders when they had been invaded via gates that he had been set to guard. Never mind that the merlin had been betrayed by his watch partner, Farborn was overly sensitive about anything that even hinted at the topic of alarms and incursions.

With dismay, Laria realized that Firekeeper probably had taken for granted that the gate or the building that housed it had been equipped with some sort of alarm. While Laria had been focusing on herself, the wolves were out there in unfamiliar territory, trying to detect from where an inspector or army or whatever else might be coming. But Firekeeper had managed to go seeking trouble without causing pain for Farborn.

And here I am, being more thoughtless than someone whose lack of tact is practically proverbial.

Determined to make up for her error, Laria held up her lantern to better inspect the nearest wall. Beneath the stronger light, she discovered that the wall was covered with many lines of stylized inscription.

“Farborn,” Laria said, raising her voice slightly, “I’ve found writing here. Why don’t you scout up there, along the ledge and the dome, and see if there’s more? Firekeeper’s always saying that humans never remember to look up.”

The falcon fluttered his wings, then began hopping slowly along the ledge where the domed ceiling met the wall.

“I’m not certain that’s necessary…” the Meddler began, waving his hand toward another section of inscription. “Ouch!”

He stopped in mid-phrase, his hand flying to his mouth as if he’d bitten his tongue. That, Laria realized with a flash of perverse delight, was precisely what he had done. Or rather, what Arasan had done to keep the Meddler from saying something that would add insult to the injury Laria’s comment had already done to Farborn’s feelings.

“Meddler, can you read any of this inscription?” Laria asked quickly. “It’s gibberish to me.”

The Meddler/Arasan lifted their lantern again, stepping back so as to better inspect the words incised into the walls. Laria’s first language was a variation of what the northern New Worlders called Liglimosh, which had been commonly used on the Nexus Islands even during the time when the Once Dead Spell Wielders had ruled. However, she was comfortable with Old World Pellish, as well as the languages of Alkya and Tavetch, since the Once Dead under whose rule the Islands had been until something like a year and a half ago had often given commands in their native languages. Woe to the servant, even if only a child, who didn’t understand.

Laria’s knowledge of written languages was more limited. The Once Dead had not precisely forbidden children to be taught to read, but there were no schools as such, only tutoring by whatever literate person had a moment to spare. Spare moments had been rare enough, especially for the literate. They were still rare since everyone was scrabbling to help the new government establish its hold and…

Laria realized she was woolgathering, and concentrated on the inscriptions. The style of lettering was familiar in some cases, completely alien in others. The Meddler/Arasan, in harmony now that they had a shared interest, were moving their lips as they sounded through a text. Arasan saw the puzzlement on Laria’s face—both men had long mastered the art of reading silently—and hastened to explain.

“These scripts are both ornate and of an ancient style. The spelling is also archaic. If not, we would suspect that the old-fashioned script might have been used for artistic effect. But seeing both together and…”—a sweeping gesture of one hand—“the older spelling being a constant in several unrelated languages leads us to believe that at the time these inscriptions were made this was the style of writing currently in use.”

Laria moved her lantern closer to the wall. Now that she knew the writing was stylized, she could pick out a word here, a phrase there, especially in Liglimosh.

“’Passage’?” she murmured, “followed by ’restricted to.’ Does that say ‘to those who would dance or sing or love rather than bleed’?”

“That’s how I read it,” Arasan agreed, “although after comparing the text to those in other languages, I would translate ‘bleed’ as meaning ‘to shed someone else’s blood.’ As in ‘to bleed a wound’ or to ‘bleed a carcass.’”

Laria was puzzled. “So is this an elaborate way of saying, ‘Come in peace’?”

Neither the Meddler or Arasan offered a reply, so Laria walked a few paces to where she could view a different portion of the text. Rather than write individual panels, each in one language, the inscribers had chosen the much more laborious course of writing a single line that extended around the circumference of the room.

Laria continued muttering her clumsy interpretation. “’Restricted to those who carve in stone or wax or wood, but never bone.’” Neither Arasan nor the Meddler corrected her, so Laria continued. “Write upon paper or stone or vellum, but on thinking skin use only that which you yourself have grown.’”

She’d almost come full circle, and her sense of apprehension was growing.

“What do they mean by ‘carving, writing, singing, dancing’?”

“I’d love to believe,” Arasan said, his expression wry, “that we have discovered a gate that will lead us to a community of peace-loving practitioners of the myriad arts and crafts. Maybe, in some sense, we have. But I think there is something being forbidden other than art supplies and the manner in which one may use them.”

“Blood magic,” said the Meddler bluntly, interrupting Arasan. “That’s what is being forbidden—along with those related fashions of magic that used bones, skin, and other—uh—things harvested from living creatures, especially intelligent living creatures.”

“Harvested?” Laria echoed. She heard her voice squeak, but one did not grow up beneath the rule of the Once Dead without knowing all too much about such practices. “Wait! Are you saying it’s possible to work spells without using blood—or was whoever wrote this saying that they had given up magic? No. That couldn’t be the case. How else would they work the gates?”

She knew she was babbling, but the strangeness was catching up with her: night instead of day; weird stars; peculiar inscriptions; the unease she sensed from her companions.

“Yes, it is possible,” the Meddler replied to her question, “to do spell-based magic without the use of blood, but it’s much more difficult and can drain those who practice it to the point that working even a simple spell makes them useless.”

Farborn made a sound somewhere between a squawk and a screech that managed to reflect just the mixture of dismay and fascination that Laria herself felt.

“Then, do all of these inscriptions repeat the same message?” she asked. “That people who use blood magic aren’t welcome here?”

“Close enough,” Arasan replied, “allowing for varied cultural biases. What bothers me is what these lines don’t say.”

“Namely,” the Meddler put in, “what happens to those who violate these restrictions. As you may recall, the gate was sealed on this side. That Virim managed to undo the seal doesn’t change that in using blood magic to activate the gate we have probably already broken these restrictions.”

“But surely the people who wrote this would be reasonable,” Laria argued. “I mean, how could you know you’d broken the rules before you knew those rules existed?”

“Possibly,” said a voice that was neither that of Arasan or the Meddler, being light, sweet, and definitely feminine, “because when those inscriptions were made, the writers did not know how long it would be before the seal would be broken. They intended those words as a proclamation of the local philosophy, a statement of all that the community stands for, of the values that it held—and still holds to this day.”

Laria swung about to find that a woman had appeared among them. Her age was impossible to determine, although she certainly possessed some years, for there were time-etched lines around her mouth and near her eyes. Her skin was a rich brown, her dark hair streaked with silver, her eyes a pale grey that showed flecks of color that seemed to change with the light. She wore a straight-lined, aesthetically pleasing gown in a silvery-white that complemented the streaks in her hair.

“I am Varelle, the Gatewatcher. Who are you? Have you come to Rhinadei by purpose or through chance?”

Thankfully, it was Arasan—not the Meddler—who spoke next.

“I am Arasan, called Two Lives. This is Laria, and this”—he held up a hand to indicate where the merlin anxiously sidled back and forth along the under-dome ledge­—“is Farborn.”

Varelle acknowledged these introductions with a polite inclination of her head.

Arasan continued, drawing on his considerable charm, “As for whether we came here—did you call this Rhinadei?—by purpose or by chance, the most honest reply is by both and by neither.”

Varelle’s full lips—they were ornamented by some cosmetic that gave them an opalescent shine—moved in an expression that was neither smile nor frown, but rather a request for clarification. Arasan obliged.

“We came through the gate by purpose, but without knowing where it would take us. Therefore, we did not know it would take us to Rhinadei.”

“Why did you come through the gate?”

“To find out where the gate led.”

“Even though it was locked and sealed?”

“Perhaps,” Arasan admitted disarmingly, “precisely because it was both locked and sealed. The only thing more unsettling than the unknown is the unknowable.”

“Hmm…” Varelle’s response was neither agreement or disagreement, merely acknowledgement.

Laria knew Arasan didn’t need her help. He was by far the best diplomat of their group, but she had to ask.

“Ma’am, did you come through the gate? This building’s door, it’s closed, you see, but I was looking right at the gate—at least I thought I was—and I didn’t see you arrive.”

“I came,” Varelle replied, “because your coming created a gate made from need. I would have arrived sooner but it has been very, very long since such as I was needed.” Her gaze shifted to Arasan. “Will you tell me from whence you and your comrades came?”

“The Nexus Islands,” Arasan said promptly. It had been decided before their departure that attempting to hide this would be foolish. “Would you have expected another answer?”

“The name of the place might have changed,” Varelle said, but something in her tone made Laria think that an evasion was hidden in the simple words. “It has been a long, long time since that gate was opened.”

“Rhinadei,” Arasan said. “I can’t say I’ve heard that name, but it is somehow familiar.”

In those words, Laria heard the careful phrasing that Arasan relied upon to keep from lying directly when he was drawing on the Meddler’s knowledge. Among the most commonly used magics were those that separated truth from falsehood. It was always wise to avoid direct lies unless absolutely necessary. Even some form of half-truth was better than an outright lie.

“Rhinadei is the name by which we call this”—Varelle paused to consider—“not so much ‘land’ as philosophy. Even were I to leave here, I would still be in Rhinadei as long as I maintained my principles.”

She paused, looking around the domed chamber as if seeking someone. “You two and the falcon, is this all your company?”

Laria spoke, knowing Arasan would have difficulty admitting to “you two” when two were more like three.

“Our company includes these you see, ma’am, and two others—a woman and a wolf, though the woman would say that they are two wolves. She’s very odd that way. I’ll admit, I’m worried about them. They haven’t come back and, well, I was wondering. Could another Gatewatcher like you have found them and gotten the wrong idea? The wolf is very, very large, so large he might be taken for a monster by those who didn’t know him.”

And even, she added silently to herself, at times by those who do.

“There is no other Gatewatcher,” Varelle replied cryptically, “but in the lands surrounding this building there are hazards even a wolf—or two—would have reason to fear.”


Blind Seer and Firekeeper felt the first tremors as they were completing their fifth round of the hill upon which stood the building holding the gate. Since neither Firekeeper’s visual scan nor Blind Seer’s olfactory survey had revealed much about their surroundings, the pair had decided to pursue a more systematic search of the area. Using the hill as a center point, they had spiraled out, each staying far enough apart that a trap would not be likely to capture or injure them both. In this way they had moved outward, gradually increasing the distance encompassed in their circles.

Their search had confirmed what they already believed—that the surrounding grasslands supported remarkably few larger creatures, either the grazers that should have been drawn to this well-watered region or the predators that would have followed them as faithfully as death does life. But of anything larger than a jackrabbit or a groundhog they found no trace. Yet the land was not ravaged as it should have been if nothing was keeping the gnawers and nibblers in check.

If the pair of scouts had been human, they would have mused aloud over possible explanations, but these two were wolves and, as with all wild creatures, the unknown was not a reason for speculation but for caution. So it was that Blind Seer and Firekeeper felt the uneasy throbbing of the ground beneath their feet well before a human would have done so.

A flock of grouse exploding from the thick grass a few paces away, the white-tailed flash of a rabbit’s rump confirmed that the sensation was not usual here. Had it been so, these prey animals would have remained frozen in the tall grass, hoping that stillness would hide them from the death that walked on four legs and two only paces away.

Firekeeper halted mid-step and knelt with her hand pressed to the ground, trying to judge from what direction the shaking came. In six moonspans since the war that had confirmed the right of the Nexus Islanders to control and administer the gates, she and Blind Seer had used both those gates and the reputation they had won in the war to see something of the lands usually lumped together as the “Old World” by those who lived in the “New.” There they had encountered creatures whose size and mass rivaled that of the elk they knew, creatures whose herd movements made the ground shake. Those creatures might be herbivores, but even wolves such as Blind Seer and Firekeeper quickly learned to respect them and get out of their way.

Blind Seer tested the vibrations against each paw in turn.

“The trembling is everywhere about us in equal measure,” he was beginning when the ground some ten paces in front of them cracked open. The next crevice opened even closer, and the two wolves backed hastily away. The shaking in the earth was growing in intensity. Firekeeper, inconvenienced by having only two legs, would have fallen had Blind Seer not slammed himself against her, giving her his own tall back to brace herself against. Her hand squeezed once in thanks, but there was no time for more.

Not content to shake and rupture, the earth began punching forth irregular slabs of rock at the two wolves. Their nostrils and mouths filled with grit, their ears with the crack and rumble of broken stone. Firekeeper jumped away from one of the broken earth’s punches. Blind Seer ducked beneath another.

“Run?” Blind Seer suggested, his fur rising in a prickling ridge from his hackles then along his back at the idea of turning tail on the unknown.

“Run,” Firekeeper agreed, “before its aim improves.”

The pair turned as one and stretched out their legs, dodging about the wider crevices, leaping long-limbed over the narrower. They were doing very well. Then as Blind Seer launched himself over a widening fissure, the soil beneath his hind legs crumbled, robbing his leap of power. Instead of landing solidly on the other side, only his forepaws touched, slipping as he scrambled for solid purchase on the broken grass. Knowing himself lost, Blind Seer did not scream or call for help as a human would have done, but composed himself to manage the fall as best he might.

But though Firekeeper might be a wolf in heart and soul, in body she was a human—and her human body had been toned and honed by challenges few humans ever met. Sensing that something untoward had happened to her partner, the wolf-woman glanced over in time to see Blind Seer fail to make his landing and begin to slide into the gaping crevice.

Firekeeper was wolf enough not to waste breath in scream or howl. Instead, she pivoted in midair, turning even as her bare feet touched the shaking ground. Flinging herself down on her belly, she shot out her left hand to grab the gigantic wolf by his scruff and stay his fall. With her right hand, she jerked her Fang from its sheath and thrust the long blade deeply into the thick grassland sod.

So anchored, the wolf-woman hauled with all her considerable strength to raise the wolf closer to the edge. Blind Seer did not struggle, only tossed back his head so that he would see when Firekeeper had pulled him close to the upper edge. As soon as he was, he put out one enormous paw, then the other in an attempt to lever himself up so as to at least take some of his weight off of Firekeeper’s left arm.

Wolves are far better climbers than most humans would be comfortable knowing, but they are neither cats nor bears, who have paws made for gripping. Moreover, Blind Seer was a very large wolf, a factor that usually served both him and Firekeeper quite well. In this circumstance, however, when his paws came to rest on the crevice’s edge, the crumbling soil broke beneath his weight, causing him to drop deeper. He heard the huff of Firekeeper’s breath as he slid, but her firm grip on the loose skin of his scruff only tightened.

Again, a human might have said something like, “Let me fall! Save yourself!” but Blind Seer knew his Firekeeper. He could smell the determination in her sweat and knew that she would fall and take her chances with him rather than deliberately letting go. She held him until the worst of the earth’s shaking abated, then shifted her center of balance.

“I am going to pull myself to my knees,” she said, “so as to raise you over the edge. Do not unbalance me by pawing at the ground. Wait until you are clear and then…”

She was moving as she spoke, her actions part of the explanation. Blind Seer forced himself to hang limp, though he longed to do anything but. Inch by tortuous inch, the wolf-woman moved from her prone position. She must move slowly, for she could not risk unbalancing and so pitching both herself and her precious charge into the depths. With trust beyond that of either human or wolf, Blind Seer waited motionless and watchful. His head had risen above the crevice’s edge when he felt Firekeeper shift her grip so that she could use both hands to hold his scruff. Again, she rebalanced, then, with one powerful thrust from two legs that were muscled from hours of running at a wolf’s mile-eating jog, she was upright, hauling up with her most of Blind Seer’s upper body. However, his legs still remained beneath the fissure’s edge, effectively useless.

Rather than attempting to raise Blind Seer higher than her head, Firekeeper staggered back, then deliberately fell so that their combined weight carried them to land in a graceless heap on the torn sod. Only then, as if it had been holding its breath and watching the struggle, did the earth resume its violent shaking.

Firekeeper roughly hugged Blind Seer, then rolled to retrieve her Fang from where it was buried blade deep in the turf. She dragged herself back to Blind Seer’s side.

“I would not do that again,” she said. “Were it any but you at risk, sweet hunter, I could not. Ah, my poor fingers and shoulders!”

Again, she did not so much speak as show in the rotating of shoulders and stretching of strained muscles how she felt. Blind Seer gave her a sloppy lick by way of thanks, but his gaze was occupied studying the land surrounding them.

“The ground is more severely broken out where we began our run. Only there does the earth stab forth those stony tusks.”

“As if warning us back,” Firekeeper replied. “I am minded of a herd with horns bent against us. Shall we see if the earth’s horned head pursues us if we meekly retreat back up the hill? We need to check on Arasan and Laria in any case—although I trust that Farborn would have come to tell us if any great danger threatened them.”

“If he could,” Blind Seer reminded, agreeing with her choice of destination by turning his feet that way. “If the ceiling of that round building shed pieces down inside, he might have been trapped or squashed.”

“We will hurry,” Firekeeper agreed, sparing a hand to stroke along the wolf’s back, reassuring herself that he was indeed safely beside her. “They may have felt the earth shake and be worried for us.”

Unspoken between them was their shared fear that something worse than the shaking earth might have attacked their friends.

Excerpt from WOLF’S SEARCH by Jane Lindskold.
Published by Obsidian Tiger Press in August, 2019. Copyright © 2019 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.

Copyright © 2019 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved.