She guided Fenrir to a spot well outside the village and made her way on foot. She was met on the outskirts of the village by a dozen guards and their swords. She raised her hands over her head. "I mean no harm," she called. "I need to speak with Anja."
"Who are you?" the head guard demanded. She stifled an eye roll. She knew he knew damn well who she was.
"Ash the Peacekeeper," she replied calmly,
The head guard nodded to the guards on his right and they disappeared back into the village. Ash kept her arms raised until the guards returned with Anja.
Anja put her hands on her hips. "Ash the Peacekeeper?" she asked slyly.
"Yes, or at least I hope so."
Anja laughed. "What brings you here, old friend?"
Ash lowered her arms. "I need to ask you two questions, possibly more depending on the answers to those questions."
"What are your questions?"
"First, have you heard anything about Galgrim being taken from Queen Rosheen? Second, do you still have the stone I gave you years ago?"
The guards began to murmur and Anja raised her hand to silence them.
"Yes, to both, Ash the Peacekeeper. Come, let us talk in private."
The guards separated and half followed Anja into the village. The other half waited for Ash and followed her. This formation sent the message to the rest of the village, many of whom stopped what they were doing to watch the procession, that Ash was a guest and was to be given the utmost respect. When they reached Anja's hut, the guards bowed to both of them and left.
Ash followed Anja inside the cozy and sparsely furnished room. There was a fireplace in the center of the room, surrounded by two sitting chairs. A desk was in the far corner and a bed across from that. Bookshelves lined the rest of the walls. Anja motioned to the chairs and Ash sat. Anja poured two mugs of coffee and handed one to Ash and sat down. Ash took a sip of the strong, unsweetened coffee and sighed.
"I've missed this," she said with a smile.
Anja chuckled. "I knew you really just came for the coffee."
Ash laughed. "Next time I promise I will come just for the coffee."
"I will hold you to that. But this visit is more serious."
"Yes. Have you heard any news of Galgrim?"
"Rosheen said he was taken?"
Ash nodded as she took another sip.
Anja laughed. "She lied. She brought him here." Ash raised an eyebrow. "I wondered why. She told me she thought he would be happier in the colder climate. He seemed happy enough to be here, so I didn't question her on it."
"Then why would she say he had been taken?"
Ash nodded. "Obsi said she thought so, since Rosheen hinted that he'd been taken back to the Pits."
Anja snorted. "Well that's a red herring if I've ever heard one."
"But why?" Ash thought aloud.
Anja paused a moment before answering. "I'm not sure but something seemed...off...about her. It was subtle, but I know her well enough to have noticed. It was like...something was bothering her. And not much bothers a dwarf."
Anja took a sip of her coffee and shook her head. "Honestly, I have no idea."
Ash nodded. "That will require further investigation at a later time. Now, the other matter..."
"The one you asked me to hide and keep safe from everyone including you?"
Ash sighed. "Yes, but this threat is worse than Gustav." She explained what Obsi and Stormy saw in the woods and what Kharnyx and Krieger had found in the texts.
"So something is trying to get out of the Void? During at time that is not a Withermoon?"
"We think so, yes."
Anja drummed her fingers on the outside of her mug thoughtfully.
"Maybe...do you think...the Void is connected to somewhere else, too?"
Ash blew out a breath. "Like another dimension or something?"
"Well, the Void is another dimension, so it stands to reason that there are probably others."
Ash sighed. "It is definitely possible. But that needs to be set aside for now. It's too much just to deal with the Void itself, since we have no real idea what it is or what may be in there."
Anja nodded. "The only being that has been to the Void and returned is Lusian. But no one has been able to communicate with him since his transformation."
"It might be worth at try at least."
Anja rose and walked over to the desk. She opened a drawer and took out a pouch and threw it to Ash.
"That is the Dragon Stone. It is said that when the first Rider and Dragon were shot down in battle, their blood soaked into the ground and merged, forming the stone."
Ash took out the stone and held it in her palm. It was perfectly round, dark green with red splotches and flecks of lighter green and yellow. She put it back into the pouch and tied it to her belt. She rose and extended her hand to Anja. They grasped forearms.
"Thank you, my friend."
Anja smiled. "Of course, Ash the Peacekeeper. If you need my help, I am here."
"I will be in touch."
Ash walked out of the village and back to where Fenrir was sleeping.
"Wake up, boy?" she said as she patted his snout. "Next step is back at Dally's."