"If we are planning to honor the Overlord, we must get flowers from all the lands," said Minra. "It's quite an honor to be chosen to plan the festivities; I want this celebration to be the best in his memory."
"I didn't know the Overlord cared about flowers," replied Nived, shouldering a woven burlap bag. "Let's hurry, then. I hate being out of Freeport at nightfall."
"All we need is one of each type of flower," Minra said with a grin. "That shouldn't take us too long. We already have most of them. I left Nektulos for last, since they're easy enough to get."
The pair scrambled through the Forest, Minra guarding while Nived gathered the various blossoms. Minra examined each one Nived chose carefully, determined that the specimens be perfect; the Overlord's celebration deserved nothing less. As she scrutinized the pale red fayberry plants, Minra saw a shimmer at the corner of her eye. She turned quickly toward the faint wisps of light.
"Nived!" Minra whispered in awe, "What magic is this? I've never seen anything like this before in Nektulos."
Nived reached out toward the indistinct slivers of undulating light, his hand passing harmlessly through them. Minra and Nived stared at the gauzy curtain of light, entranced. "It is like the light in the sky seen over Everfrost," he said finally. "It's beautiful."
"It's not just beautiful; it's magical," rasped an unfamiliar voice. "The concentrated power is here…I need to make some calculations! Get back!"
Minra and Nived dropped the burlap sack to unsheath their weapons, spilling the carefully gathered flowers into a pool of pale yellow, pink and light green around their feet. "What are you talking about?" asked Minra, her eyes narrowing. "Who are you?"
"I am Inaill Icoryk, hunter of artifacts," An Iksar stepped out from behind the wide base of a twisted tree trunk, bowing. "What you see is none of your concern. You must leave these things to me."
"It happens in lands that belong to the Overlord; that makes it my concern," said Minra. Nived put a warning hand on her arm, but she shook it off impatiently. "I serve the Overlord and he would command you to answer."
"He may be your Overlord, but he is not mine," Inaill said, shrugging. "Still, if you must know, they are concentrations of power. The power concentrations are never constant. They ebb and flow like the tides. I hunt the concentrations and study them, learning how to focus and channel the energies."
Minra shook her head and said, "I don't believe you. Whatever that was, I've spent many years hunting in these woods and I've never seen anything like that before."
"They're gone!" Nived said suddenly. "The lights are gone!"
Inaill snapped, "You wasted my time with your foolish questions! Now I must search for another manifestation! I am close to finding all the artifacts I will need!"
"What do artifacts have to do with lights?" asked Nived. Minra stooped to gather the flowers before they were damaged, keeping a wary eye on the Iksar.
"The energies seem to be related to places that once held artifacts from long ago," replied Inaill. He turned away from them and murmured under his breath, his gaze drawn by something in the folds of his cloak. "No matter. We are not here to satisfy your curiosity. Since this manifestation has dissipated, I will be off."
"We…?" Minra had barely uttered the word when she fell to the ground, clutching the arrow that suddenly grew from the soft hollow at the base of her throat. Nived cried out, reaching toward her but he too fell, his chest pierced by a thick, green-tipped arrow.
"You talk too much, Inaill." A ratonga emerged from the deepening shadows, casually scratching his neck with long, graceful fingers. He carefully shouldered his bow, shaking his head at the Iksar.
"Finders keepers, Liets," Inaill snarled at the newcomer.
"If you spent as much time hunting as you do arguing, you wouldn't lose track of these things so easily." Liets glanced at the lifeless pair. "Now look what you made me do."
"You ratonga are so secretive, you do not want me to talk with anyone," Inaill hissed.
"We agreed to work together. I did not expect you to tell everyone you meet about the artifacts," Liets said softly. "We are not ready to discuss this with others. We must agree on the price to be paid for our years of research."
Inaill tapped Nived's body with his foot. "I'd say you found a price, but most would find it too high. I am ready to earn my living now, not some distant time in the future."
"We are not ready," argued Liets. "Give it time."
"I am ready now," said Inaill. "I claim Nektulos Forest for myself."
Liets studied the Iksar without blinking. Inaill stared back, the frill on his neck rising slightly. Finally, Liets shrugged and turned away.
"I don't advise this, Inaill, but so be it. I will find someplace else to continue my research. Will you agree to keep our research quiet for at least one more season?"
Inaill grinned and said, "They are not ready now anyway. So yes…at least one more season, this is only for you and me.
And then…we can sell the stones to those with enough coin."
"I only hope you have enough patience to wait till then. They will see the lights and will ask what to do."
"I give you my word. Besides, if anyone presses for details, I am sure you will take care of them, as you did these two. I can wait a season to unveil our life's work."
The former partners each headed into the trees, Inaill to the east and Liets to the west. As the sun continued to set, a gossamer rainbow of light fluttered upward from the ground, flickering over the bruised and scattered petals of pale yellow, pink and crimson.
-- Source:[Official Website]