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CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

CRYSTAL



Brydon deflected Rakyn’s blade easily and danced aside to avoid his counterstrike. The swordplay lessons were becoming easier now that every movement did not induce pain. Rakyn stepped forward and Brydon rushed him with a complex move. The surprised prince countered his attack, but he slipped on a stone and went to one knee.

Brydon helped him up with a grin and then brought up a subject that had been puzzling him. “Do you know that Reed can disappear from one place and end up in another?”

Rakyn nodded and wiped sweat from his brow.

“How does he do it? Is that something we can do? Or is he unique?”

Rakyn stood and sheathed the sword he had used during their sparring practice. He brushed debris from his cream-colored leather breeches.

“That ability is not unique. But it's not... right, either.”

“What do you mean?” Brydon asked.

Rakyn pushed a hand through his hair. “Come. It will be easier to show you than try to explain.”

Brydon got stiffly to his feet and followed the prince back to the cave. He stopped in the main room to drink from the pitcher on the table while Rakyn continued into the other chamber. The prince returned a moment later carrying a small wooden cask, almost hidden by his hands. He set the thing on the table and seated himself. Brydon sat also and noted the box seemed rather plain to be in the possession of a prince. It was bound in dull metal and there were no gems, carvings, or any other ornamentation. He watched with interest as the prince flipped open the lid to disclose a small, milky, peach-colored crystal about the size of a pecan. It lay on a folded green cloth Rakyn lifted the edges of the cloth as if to avoid touching the crystal.

“What is it?” Brydon asked. He somehow felt awed even though he had seen similar stones hundreds of times. As a child, he had brought quartz home to his mother.

“The palace of Shaitan,” Rakyn murmured and Brydon shivered as a chill passed over him. Rakyn’s brown eyes twinkled. “That is only the legend, of course. An old tale says that when Shaitan was first cast down from heaven to earth, he raged at Adona for a long while. When he realized there were people here, he commanded his angels to build him a temple of crystal, raising it to the clouds and filling it with colors, that men might think him Adona and come to worship him. It worked quite well and he deceived men for many years, until Adona sent his prophet, Jacyn, to raise an army for him. They marched to Sheol, in Parmitta, and blew their trumpets, rotating groups of seven for seven weeks. They kept up a constant sound until the crystal palace shattered into countless bits. Have you never heard that tale?”

“There are many stories of Adona,” Brydon admitted. “That one I have not heard.”

Rakyn nodded. “It is popular in Silver. Legend has it that certain crystals are pieces of that palace, scattered across the face of the world. I am almost inclined to believe it.”

Brydon raised a brow at that, for Rakyn did not seem a particularly pious or superstitious man. Rakyn leaned back in his chair and looked at Brydon through half-closed eyes.

“Send a thought to the crystal,” Rakyn suggested. “Any thought.”

Brydon shrugged and thought of how prettily colored the crystal was, and then sent it. Instead of bouncing off the inert surface of the stone, as Brydon expected, it sank into the quartz and remained. Brydon recoiled. He could not really sense inanimate objects—they were always like blank surfaces, barely noticed while he quested for living things. But this stone had something akin to a presence. It was not normal.

“It... it...” He could not find words.

“It consumed your thought? Yes, it feeds on mental energy. Feeds until it is full, and then it does what you request of it.”

“The tale is true, then,” Brydon whispered, horrified and fascinated that a simple stone could possess such a quality. It seemed a perverted imitation of a living thing.

Rakyn shrugged. “It is really almost harmless.” He reached out and picked up the stone in his bare fingers. “See? It is cool, as you would expect, does not bite, change shape, or sink into the skin. Nothing would happen if I took a hammer and smashed it into dust. It is as harmless as any rock you would pick up out of a gully, but in the hands of one who knows how to use it, it can be very harmful indeed.”

“How? What does it do?” Brydon questioned, relieved, in spite of his assurances, when Rakyn put it down.

“It enhances powers such as ours and more, sometimes. Try it. Feed it thoughts until it is sated; you will know when, as it will stop taking them. Then picture an object sitting on the table.”

Brydon was reluctant, but he studied the crystal and opened his mind, giving it images of riding on a spring day, thinking of the trees, the flowers, and the weather, until his thoughts began to pour around the crystal and past it.

“Good. Now concentrate on the stone and think of an object,” Rakyn commented.

He did so and almost jumped out of his chair when the thing appeared on the table beside the quartz, a solid piece of wood with an iron headpiece.

“A hammer?” Rakyn laughed and picked it up. Brydon broke contact with the crystal, but the hammer remained in Rakyn’s hand for the space of four heartbeats before it faded.

“You see what the crystal can do?” Rakyn asked. “And that is a small demonstration. It allows one to create a doorway between places that one can reach through—or step through.”

“But... it’s impossible!” Brydon blurted. He was aghast at the implications. “It is not natural!”

“Perhaps it is.” Rakyn smiled. “Take the crystal to a jeweler, or even an apothecary or alchemist. They will tell you the same thing. It is quartz. Nothing more. But those of us with the gift know better. It enhances our powers and is therefore very, very seductive.”

“But?” Brydon prodded.

“But what?” Rakyn asked with a bland expression.

“There has to be a drawback, or you would be using the thing and teaching me how!"

Rakyn laughed. “Now I know why I decided to bother with you." He looked sourly at the crystal. “I do not trust it. When I first found the crystal, it only required a single thought to feed it. After a time, it took two, then five, and so on. Nothing about the crystal has changed except, apparently, its appetite. You saw how long it took you to charge it.”

“You mean it’s alive?” Brydon was horrified anew.

“I don’t know. I do not know anything about its origin, but the fact remains that I do not trust it. I have the feeling that one day it will not be content with my thoughts and will suck the soul from me.” He seemed somewhat embarrassed to admit the last and cleared his throat sharply. Brydon was already certain he wanted nothing to do with the Shaitan-spawned crystal.

“Reed uses them for any number of things, including transporting himself from place to place,” Rakyn explained.

Brydon looked at the crystal again, wondering in spite of himself just how that feat was accomplished.

“Do not!” Rakyn said sharply, snapping Brydon out of his reverie. “I told you it is very seductive.”

“Not seductive enough,” Brydon replied grimly. “As far as I am concerned, that thing can go back inside a mountain where it belongs.”

Rakyn’s dark eyes searched Brydon’s for a long time before he nodded and placed the crystal back into the box. They practiced hacking at each other outside once more, but Brydon thought about the stone for a long time.


The next morning he woke early with the sensation that something was different. He sat up and massaged the wound on his leg. The stitches held strong, even through yesterday’s swordplay lesson, and he had to admire Nykar’s skill at doctoring. His leg did ache, however.

He leaned over and lit a candle, curious to have a look at his wound. It was not until his eyes adjusted to the dim light that he noticed Rakyn sleeping on a makeshift pallet on the floor. The prince rolled over fitfully and sat up, brushing his dark brown hair out of his eyes with a quick gesture. He glanced up at Brydon and blinked.

“It cannot possibly be morning,” he complained.

“I don’t know. Why are you here? I have seen your bed and know it has to be much more comfortable than this floor.”

“Assuredly so,” Rakyn acknowledged. “When one has female guests, the proper thing to do is to give one’s bed to the ladies.”

“Guests? Ladies?” Brydon questioned.

“Will you two shut up and let a body get some bloody sleep?” a gruff demanded said from Rakyn's side, nearly causing Brydon to leap out of bed in surprise. Before he could move, Nykar’s irritated face showed over Rakyn's shoulder.

“Nykar!”

“You think?” Nykar growled sarcastically and dropped his head.

“He has returned with friends,” Rakyn explained patiently. “They arrived quite late, so they should rest a while longer. Can you sleep?”

“I’ll try.” Brydon sighed. “If not, I will go out and try to hunt some breakfast.”

Rakyn’s reply was a yawn and he dropped back down to the blankets. Brydon blew out the candle and did the same. The pain in his leg refused to allow him additional sleep, however, so he left the bed and dressed quietly before limping out to the main chamber to fetch his bow. He glanced over at Rakyn’s bed. Two lumps lay beneath the blanket and a third stretched out next to the bed. Brydon quietly exited. He would learn their identities soon enough.

Even though he had not used it for a few weeks, Brydon’s skill with the bow had not diminished. He went out into the pre dawn stillness and sited a spotted buck heading up the mountainside. He trailed it a short distance to be sure of his kill, and then brought it down with one swift arrow. He gave thanks to Adona for the meat and his skill before gutting the animal and dragging the carcass slowly back to camp. It would be a welcome change from rabbit and mountain turkeys he and Prince Rakyn had been living on.

When he returned to camp the others were awake. Before he could register her presence, a girl was in his arms, crying his name. He hugged her for a moment and then held her at arm's length.

“Verana!” he exclaimed happily. He hugged her again and looked up to see Jace grinning at him. Davin and Alyn were behind him. He released Verana and clasped Jace’s shoulder, then Davin’s, and embraced Alyn.

“I wasn’t sure if I would ever see you again!” he said happily, looking at his three friends. It did not last long before the feeling of loss overwhelmed him. Toryn should be here with them. He shook it off. “What brings you here? Alyn, how did you escape Keev?”

Jace said, “Long stories, all. Nykar recognized Davin in the Black City and brought us here. What happened to you, Brydon? Nykar told us you were injured, but not how.”

Brydon could believe that. He was surprised the taciturn Nykar had bothered to tell them anything at all. He assured them he would give them the whole story over a hot meal.

Rakyn and Nykar cooked the venison while Verana placed exceedingly hot poultices on Brydon’s leg. He endured the pain, barely able to keep from yowling while he told them his story.

“...and that is all I remember until I woke up, here. Ouch! Are you trying to burn the flesh off of me, Verana? The rest you should know.”

“This will pull out the infection, Brydon,” Verana said sweetly. “Now sit still and allow me to finish.”

Brydon sighed and his face tightened. “So, Toryn is in Parmitta and Shevyn is in Ven-Kerrick with Reed.” He looked at Nykar, who nodded.

Jace grimaced. “We were detained in the City of Roses by Prince Merator. We were captured on the way to the city and Davin was drugged. There was a bounty placed on his head and Merator intended to hold Davin until his brother, Berikon, could retrieve him. Prince Merator unwisely kept me and Verana in guarded apartments, but we managed to escape and free Davin. We went immediately to Darkynhold.”

After combing the Black City looking for Brydon and the others, the party had been accosted by Nykar, who had recognized Davin as Brydon’s former companion. Nykar had told them of Alyn’s captivity, so they had ridden to Ruby to free her. Jace gave a brief account of Davin’s rescue of Alyn and Brydon was impressed at the tale.

“After that, Nykar led us here, though he was damned mysterious about it,” Jace grumbled.

Brydon smiled. “That is Nykar’s way,” he replied. “I want to go after Toryn.” He ran a hand through his blond hair. “But if Reed marries Shevyn—if he has not already done so—he will have a legitimate claim to the throne of Ven-Kerrick.” The thought was abhorrent enough without the additional thought of Reed’s vile hands caressing Shevyn’s flesh. He forced his mind away from it. “I feel responsible for Sheyvn. She would be safe now, if I had not taken her to Ven Kerrick.”

Nykar cleared his throat and Brydon looked at him sharply.

“There is news from Ven-Kerrick. Shevyn fell—or was pushed—and lay unconscious for several weeks. They say she is recovering, thanks to the attention of the Healers. The Concurrence Council met and argued over Reed's regency. He needs to marry her quickly to legitimize his claim to the Gauntlet Throne.”

Brydon looked at Davin. “I must to go to Ven-Kerrick and rescue Shevyn before that happens. Davin, I am begging you to go south. Please find Toryn and help him. I have it on good authority,” he said and glanced at Rakyn, “that Toryn is alive, but I cannot take the chance that he will remain so. For all I know, he could be rotting in a Parmittan dungeon, awaiting sacrifice. Will you find him?”

Davin looked uncertain. “You will take on Reed alone?”

“Not alone,” Jace corrected. “I am going with him.”

Davin, thankfully, did not mention that Reed had previously bested both of them, but the thought was clear upon his face.

Rakyn has taught me a few things during my stay here
, Brydon sent to Davin. I have a few surprises for Reed, not the least of which is the fact that I am still breathing. Please find Toryn for me. If anything happens to him... He had no need to go on; the emotion in his sending caused Davin to wince. Brydon withdrew.

“I will go,” Davin said.

“I will go with you,” Alyn said to Davin decisively. Brydon was silent, unable to think of a reason why she shouldn’t. She was far from home and had control of her own destiny.

“Thank you,” Brydon said.

“When Reed is taken care of, we go after the Gauntlet,” Jace added.

Brydon groaned. “That too. I had nearly forgotten the Gauntlet.”

“If it arrives in Sheol, we may not be allowed to forget it,” Jace said grimly.

Brydon’s head snapped up at the mention of Sheol. “Is that not the name of the palace of crystal built by Shaitan?” he demanded, recalling Rakyn’s tale.

Jace nodded. “Indeed. It has the same location, too, if one believes the old stories; and I do. The seat of evil, that is where the Gauntlet is heading.”

Brydon felt as if the world had suddenly been covered by clouds. “Can we stop it in time?” he asked through the chilled silence. To make matters worse, Jace did not reply. He merely got up and walked to the entrance of the cave, where he looked southward as if trying to see through the mountains and the jungle, all the way through the depths of Parmitta to where the Gauntlet sat.

They spent the rest of the day filling each other in on the details of their separation after Sar-Tela. Verana continued to ply Brydon with herbs, poultices, and teas, which made him feel quite a lot better. His leg stopped aching.

Rakyn took Verana on a tour of the surrounding countryside and Nykar was too grumpy from lack of sleep to be good company—not that he ever was—so Brydon and Jace took a walk to where the horses were kept.

“Darkling, Fang, and Fireling!” Jace exclaimed. “After your tale, I was certain that Keev had taken them.”

“So was I.” Brydon smiled and gave Darkling a handful of sugar he had brought for the stallion. As the wet tongue slopped across his palm, leaving a sticky slobber trail, he decided that he would not do that again soon.

“Apparently, no one found them until Nykar stumbled upon them and brought them here.” That was not the complete truth. Rakyn had sensed them and sent Nykar to bring them in, but Brydon was not willing divulge Rakyn’s secret to Jace. Davin had most likely already sensed Rakyn's power. Brydon wiped his sticky palm on his pants and immediately regretted it, remembering the clothing belonged to Rakyn. One did not go around messing up the garments of princes.

He looked at Jace. “I should have protected her.”

Jace put a hand on Brydon’s shoulder. “You did all you could. Your wounds prove that, if nothing else does.”

Brydon flexed his left shoulder, still tightly bandaged. It was sore, but not as bad as it had been. “If only she could have said something. Why doesn't she speak?” Brydon asked quietly. “Has she always been silent?”

Jace shook his head. “She used to be quite vivacious and talkative. She was that way when I arrived in Ven-Kerrick.”

“But that was scarcely three months ago, was it not?”

“Yes. And then Reed arrived and Shevyn’s family mysteriously died. Since that day, it seems almost as if Shevyn died herself and was replaced by a vengeful shadow that refuses to utter a word. Perhaps she saw something that horrified her and caused her to lock up the memory. I have heard tales of such happenings.”

Brydon stroked Darkling’s neck, feeling Shevyn’s pain, and a new resolve to destroy Reed filled him. “Why does he want Ven Kerrick?"

“Isn’t it obvious? If the Dark Master has the Gauntlet and Reed has Ven-Kerrick, they will have a perfectly located base from which to launch an attack. From there, the Dark Master can conquer Penkangum, Tar-Tan, Bodor, and probably Silver, especially if he incites the brothers to fight amongst themselves, which should not be difficult.” Brydon was chilled to hear Rakyn’s very words spoken again. “After that, taking the rest of the world will be no problem, using Silver’s fleets to transport his troops. Reed has murdered the only men who could have wielded the power to stand against him—the male Kerricks.”

Brydon realized he had never considered the Gauntlet actually falling into the wrong hands. He had always confidently assumed he would be able to acquire the thing and take it back to Falara. Foolish assumption, now that the Gauntlet grew closer and closer to Sheol each day—and perhaps it was already there.

“What can we do to stop it?” he whispered.

Jace heard him. “We will go to Ven-Kerrick and take the castle back for Shevyn. Reed must not rule in Ven-Kerrick.”

Brydon nodded solemnly, not much heartened. He did not even ask how they were going to take Ven-Kerrick alone against Reed and his forces. “Who is the Dark Master?”

Jace shrugged. “I don’t know. An evil man with plans of conquest. It doesn’t matter. He has to be stopped.”

“In other words, it’s up to us,” Brydon said wryly.

“It’s up to you, Brydon. I think it always has been,” Jace said cryptically and strolled away. His black cloak swirled in his wake. Brydon sighed and avoided the nip Darkling threw in his direction, reflecting that he hated it when Jace acted prophetic.

In bed that night, he mentally latched on to the silver chain that led to Toryn and sent his thoughts along it as far as he could. As usual, he was not strong enough to reach him, but he thought perhaps he had gone a bit farther than before.

Davin and Alyn departed the next day for Parmitta. Brydon watched them go and tried to shake off his foreboding. He wondered if he would ever see them again.

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

Date: 2009-02-23 12:32 pm (UTC)
ext_90239: (Default)
From: [identity profile] faithwood.livejournal.com
*cries* You lie. They won't meet soon!

Lovely chapter, though. I like this crystal tale.

“Good. Now concentrate on the stone and think of an object,” Rakyn commented.

He did so and almost jumped out of his chair when the thing appeared on the table beside the quartz, a solid piece of wood with an iron headpiece.

“A hammer?” Rakyn laughed and picked it up. Brydon broke contact with the crystal, but the hammer remained in Rakyn’s hand for the space of four heartbeats before it faded.


A hammer? You should have tried to summon Toryn. LOL!

“Reed uses them for any number of things, including transporting himself from place to place,” Rakyn explained.

Ah. So that's part of a reason he's such a dick.

In bed that night, he mentally latched on to the silver chain that led to Toryn and sent his thoughts along it as far as he could. As usual, he was not strong enough to reach him, but he thought perhaps he had gone a bit farther than before.

*sniff*

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