Wolves at the Door (part 133)

By dawn, they were both exhausted. The training was no more strenuous than previous nights, but after almost a full night and day travelling, it felt that much more taxing. They both slept well and long, but it was still early afternoon when they woke. There was nothing Alfvin could do to help from here onward, so he stepped back through the invisible doorway to wait where the light would not hurt his eyes. Gil spent a couple of hours on drills before joining him. At this point, Gil was as strong as he was going to get, and training by himself was doing nothing to improve his reflexes.

When he stepped into shining mist between worlds, he could barely make out Alfvin’s outline ahead of him. It took Gil awhile to reach him, though he was no more than a dozen steps away. Stopping to catch his breath four or five times along the way, it seemed much farther than that. It did not help that the mist obscured anything that was not close enough to touch. When he finally joined Alfvin and turned around, he could barely make out the rectangle of forest that was the only sign of the world he had just left.

“Can you see back well enough? I don’t think I could tell from here if it’s day or night there.”

“I believe so. Right now the bright daylight blends in to the glow of the mist, but once night sets in there should be a more obvious contrast.”

Gil hoped that was true. If it was not, then at least there would be time to adjust, move back a few steps to where the mist was a little thinner. But the further they moved back, the longer their wait would be. Gil was not sure how long he would need to stay here – even these few steps from their own world should make the night come and go faster, but he could not guess by how much. Of course, once the night was over, he would be free to step back into the forest, stretch his legs, and do whatever seemed appropriate to the eve of a duel. For Alfvin, the short summer nights were the only time he could be comfortable in the forest.

“Will you go back when it gets dark?”

“There does not seem much point in doing so. I think I shall occupy myself here until your duel is concluded.”

“Reciting poetry in your head again?”

“Perhaps. But for now, there is something more productive I can do. You have spent two weeks training your body for the fight ahead. But a duel is also fought with the mind. While we wait, perhaps I can give you some tactical advice.”

While Alfvin did so, Gil barely noticed that the window into the forest had turned noticeably darker. He was still pondering tactics when Alfvin pointed out that it had begun to lighten again. Perhaps it was partly because his mind was occupied, but the night had passed much more quickly than Gil had expected. He needed more time to think things over, so he stepped back toward the patch of forest, framed by its invisible doorway.

Once he was back in his own world, he had all the time he needed, but for some reason it was hard to concentrate. The sun was barely peeping over the horizon, but the smells of the forest formed a rich contrast to the blandness of the misty realm between worlds. It smelled so much more interesting than he remembered. There would be plenty of time for tactics later. Right now, there was something small but delicious hiding in the bushes nearby. It had frozen when he had appeared from the doorway, but he could smell its fear. It was about to get a nasty surprise.

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