Hack pushed his way through the legs of the elfin that assembled outside the castle. He was so busy with the next edition of his newspaper; he had not heard about the old woman’s arrival. It was when the streets emptied and he realised how quiet it had grown, that he stepped outside his house.
There was no one about, so he went inside and got his notebook. Something was happening and he did not want to miss it. He ran as fast as his legs would allow. It was obvious from the crowd standing around the castle that something momentous had occurred.
“What is happening?” He looked up at the nearest elf. “Why are you all here?”
“We are waiting for news about the new sport.” everyone had grown tired of Hack’s interfering, and no one wanted to answer any of his questions.
“What sport?” Hack flipped open his notebook.
“The day of the flying dwarf.”
“What, I do not understand,” Hack frowned.
“It is like this,” the elf bent down so they were almost nose to nose. “If a dwarf asked too many stupid questions, then we pick him up and throw him from the castle battlements to see how far he can fly. Would you like to be the first?”
“Fine,” Hack’s plump cheeks turned red. “I will find out what is going on one way or the other.”
“You do that,” the elf turned away.
No one would tell him anything, so he went home. He was thinking how unfair it was and how freedom of the press meant nothing. The note pinned to his door stopped his grumbling.
“What’s this now?” He pulled the paper free of the pin and opened it.
If you want to find out what is going on meet me by the crossover now. There is a lot being hidden from you, and I admire the way you seek out the truth. What I have learned will make everyone in The Hidden World realise what a wonderful reporter you are.
At last, Hack smiled, someone who appreciates my work. Then he felt the first prickles of fear running down his back. The crossover was the border between Claradon and the Ereban forest. No one ever went there. No, Hack shook his doubt away. He was a daring reporter and his job required that he should place himself in danger.
Perius, the leader of the Erebans, sat on his throne and looked at those assembled. The only light came from a few candles scattered around the huge hall. These were for the hags, who cannot see in the dark. The Ereban world is a place of infinite darkness. The great hall hung with spider webs, their silvery gossamer the only relief against the shadowy walls. Perius liked to watch the spiders are work, it appealed to his sense of the macabre, to watch their occupants decided the death of their prey. The spiders are cruel killers, paralysing each captive until the time is right and then sucking out the blood. He sneered, noting the dead husks in the webs.
“What have you learned?” He turned his dark eyes on the hags.
“We have seen much, sire,” Lora, the eldest of the hags answered. “Even now one draws close who will tell us more.”
The Ereban hags see things in the same way that Galten does, but to do so they must use blood. The most powerful blood is that of the innocent, and they harvest it by sneaking into the rooms of sleeping children and pricking their fingers. A pin prick is such a small wound. Should an elfin or dwarf child wake complaining of such, it was easily waved away as a splinter or scratch from a thorn by their parents.
“We are closer now to learning the truth,” the hag said, hoping to appease him. “The elfin are powerful and hide their secrets well.”
“They are not so powerful that they cannot be killed,” Perius sneered. “Already they tremble with fear because of one mortal, and he alone is doing more to aid my cause than any of you.”
“But, sire,” the hag wrung her hands. “There is someone on the way that should tell us all we need to know. He is a dwarf, and he will be with us shortly.”
“A dwarf,” Perius roared with laughter. “A dwarf, why not a fairy or a little bird?”
“He is not like the other dwarfs,” the hag said. “He knows most of the elfin secrets.”
“There is only one secret I care about,” Perius said. “And if I had the ability to walk the land during daylight hours, I would find the answer for myself. I am surrounded by fools,” he glared at each one in turn.
“No, sire,” Lora begged. “We will soon have the answer for you. We will learn everything you wish to know about the children and even…” she paused for effect. “The reason there is a mortal woman in the castle at Bargamore as we speak.”
“A mortal, here in the hidden world?”
“Yes, sire, a mortal woman who was summoned to speak to the king.”
Perius smiled, drawing his lips over his shape teeth.
“Then it is as I suspected. The elfin grow weaker; the power of their magic is fading.”