Example Chapters of Time of the Stonechosen, Book Two of the Soulstone Prophecy
Chapter One: Daomount
The golden rays of the morning sun danced on the ocean as the griffon broke through one of the low lying puffs of clouds, its white tipped wings trailing faint lines of vapor. The warm southern winds played through the griffon’s leoline fur. A deep throated screech burst from its beak as it craned its feathered neck to look back at its rider.
The armored dwarf leaned forward in his saddle to pat the creature’s muscled side. “Yes, Safu. We are home.” Even though the words were lost in the wind, Safu seemed comforted.
Finngyr took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. The taste of the salt-tinged air only deepened his feeling of home. Far in the distance, across the blue waters of the Innersea, the capital city of Daomount gleamed.
The white washed walls of the uniform buildings reflected the sun and made the mountain city gleam. The many docks stretched out like fingers into the surrounding waters. The trade barges and fishing vessels spread about like pebbles being scattered before them.
Finngyr banked Safu into a low arching dive to allow him a better view of his city home. The Histories taught that Daomount was built atop the mountain which the god Daomur cast down upon the god Haurtu when they battled, trapping Haurtu beneath. The surrounding waters rushed in to fill his tomb, forming the Innersea, the largest isolated body of salt water yet discovered on Allwyn.
He looked out over the island city rising out of the water. Finngyr knew most thought this just a legend. But, not him. He knew it to be true. True as the god he communed with in his prayers. True as the danger which now threatened those who thought it just a legend and those who still held faith in their hearts.
Finngyr relaxed his grip, feeling the reins slide through his leather gloves. He was confident Safu knew their destination near the city’s summit, as well as he did. It only took her a moment to notice. With a screech from her large bill, the griffon dove, broad powerful wings beating as she adjusted their course.
As one of the holy orders of Daomur, the Temple of Justice was near the summit of Daomount. It shared the summit with the Temple of Art, where the Artificers praised Daomur through creation, building and enchantments, and the largest of the three, the Temple of Law, seat of the Ritualists, custodians of the Book of Hjurl, marshals of government, and interpreters of dwarven law.
Finngyr felt fierce pride for his sect. There was a time when the Temple of Justice was the largest of the sects. During the Great Purge, when the progeny of the Hungering God had to be eradicated from the face of Allwyn; The Knights of the Temple of Justice numbered in the tens of thousands. Now, only a thousand years later, they numbered in the hundreds. Where once they were armies, now they lead the armies of the Empire, under the Ritualists’ scrutiny and the benign neglect of the Artificers. The Knight Justices were now a relic of a bygone age.
The muscles in his neck and jaw were sore from clenching. He could feel his anger rising again and worked to fight it down. Like all dwarves, he had been taught from a young age to keep his emotions in check. The Lawgiver’s justice was best reflected on with a clear mind, free of emotion. But, even this homecoming would only distract him for a short time.
Finngyr had found a true vessel of Haurtu the Hungerer. Not just some human whelp who showed the potential of being a vessel, but one already possessed by a soulstone. He found one. Then, let it escape!
He tightened his knees in frustration and felt Safu bank in response. Finngyr forced himself to relax and looked out over the water. Taking deep breathes, he recited one of the many prayers to Daomur.
“Your word is law
I am your vessel.
I deliver your law.
Your word is justice.
I am your vessel.
I deliver your justice.
Your word is truth.
I am your vessel
I deliver your truth.
In Daomur’s judgment, we are preserved.”
He reached down and ran his hand along the metal shaft of his hammer. He normally held it when reciting that prayer. He wanted nothing more than to feel the comforting weight of the ancient relic at that moment. Even through his rough leather gloves, he could feel the intricate engravings along the shaft. These hammers were the most sacred relics of his sect. It was through these holy weapons a knight justice could identify those chosen by the Hungering God. When he felt divine presence emanating out of it, he knew his god had yet again appointed him to enact his divine mandate and Finngyr would sing Daomur’s praises as he culled the tainted human from the herd. Never was he more fulfilled than those brief moments when he was the blessed hand of his god on Allwyn.
The touch of his hammer and the prayer brought back the memory of the encounter with the Stonechosen. Finngyr cursed himself yet again for not being better prepared.
He and Safu had journeyed to the Cradle of the Gods, a backwater human containment on the very fringe of the empire. It was the first time he served outside the Nordlah Plains. He thought he was being banished for some unknown transgression when he found out. He thought it was going to be easy.
Finngyr was more interested in showing the Overseer of the Cradle, Magister Obudar, and the others how a loyal citizen of the empire should treat humans than performing the Rite of Attrition. Even though the rite was the reason he was sent there in the first place.
Maybe if he had focused on his duties: performing the rite, selecting those humans who might be potential vessels of the Hungering God’s return, and culling them from the human herd, he would have captured the Stonechosen. Finngyr played the scene over in his head for the hundredth time.
He had walked into that cleared field just outside the town of Lakeside. His armor, engraved with the sigils of his sect was resplendent. In addition to the holy hammer in his hands, he wore side axes on his belt. He stood there looking out over the herds of humans, their faces flickering with the light from the immense bonfires.
Finngyr was born to deliver Daomur’s judgment on these creatures, but even as he exulted in serving his god, he felt the itch he always felt before battle. He served on the Nordlah Plains ever since taking the oaths. To him, the search for potential vessels of the Hungering God was a war. The barbarians of the Nordlah Plains fought to a man against Daomur’s judgement. Every inch taken was a struggle.
Here, in this so called Cradle of the Gods, the dirty humans lined up like lambs for the slaughter, nearby their cow eyed loved ones clung to each other, helpless and waiting.
Bile rose in Finngyr’s mouth as he marched passed the line of dwarf guards sent to oversee the rites. He had made sure their armor shone and their weapons held keen edges. For all the good it had done. Normally, he would have waded into the thick of battle, his brother Knight Justices at his side, ancient hammers meting out Daomur’s justice. This seemed an insult, this line of docile humans, these borderland guards.
Finngyr strode down the line, pausing only to hold the hammer before each human in turn. Most stared at their feet, some watched with bewildered faces and just for a moment, one looked as if it would reach out and touch the hammer.
Make that mistake, Finngyr thought.
As he suspected, the hammer was dormant in his grasp. These humans lacked the capacity to understand what they beheld. Finngyr held no love for them, but he would follow Daomur’s law. He was not allowed to cull any who the hammer did not mark as a vessel, but in self defense or against those who would stop him from performing his holy duty. In Daomur’s name he wished they would try to stop him.
The sensation caught Finngyr off guard at first. He stood before a tall lanky whelp. The human’s shoulders sagged and its thick dark curls partially hid its vacant eyes.
His god’s presence flowed into him.
What was happening?
The most Finngyr ever felt was a slight sensation, the tiniest presence of the divine. Some Knight Justices confided they were not always sure when they did feel it and would cull the human just to be safe. But this! He could feel Daomur’s presence flow out of the hammer in waves, hear a hum like a thousand trapped hornets about to burst forth.
The other humans in the line gazed open-mouthed when the hammer began to shake in his hands. Finngyr could only stare as a white light burst from it, the glare blinding. The human whelp was staring now, confusion and then dawning horror on his face.
This was no potential vessel of the Hungering God. This was a stonechosen, one already possessed. Finngyr knew what must be done.
“I cull thee!” Finngyr roared as he brought the hammer around his back and over in a downward stroke, all of his strength behind the blow.
He felt the impact, waited for the give of soft flesh and the familiar crunch of bone, but it never came. Instead, it felt as if he struck stone. A blinding flash of light and what felt like hot wind buffeted him, hurling him back, the hammer flying from his grasp.
Finngyr landed hard and tightened his muscles to keep the air from being knocked from him. Curling up as much as his armor would allow, he rolled with the momentum and rose in a crouch, his side axe already in hand.
Finngyr heard the sounds of screaming and could just make out indistinct shapes running past him . He couldn’t focus his eyes. The residual image of the flash still filled his vision. He had lost his hammer. What had he hit? Surely that blow killed the whelp?
“Dwarves! To me!” Finngyr roared. He made his way forward. Shadows danced before him. Something pushed into him, he removed it with a swipe of his axe and was rewarded with a satisfying scream.
“Do not stand before me! I walk in Daomur’s grace and all who oppose me die in his name!”
He heard the rhythmic sounds of plate armor sliding on chainmail. The guards were just reaching him, his vision clearing, when the bonfires exploded.
It was those damned explosions and the resultant ash clouds which helped the stonechosen escape. He’d been sure at the time it was that fat sorcerer from Lakeside who caused those explosions. It was only later that he learned there was another sorcerer, Almoriz of Whispering Rock, in the human containment. Not only that, it was training up an apprentice. He didn’t understand why the empire suffered those tainted spellcasting humans to exist. Everything he’d been told about them made it sound like their abilities were benign, barely able to perform the most simple of enchantments, mere shadows of magic compared to the work of the Artificers. He had been lead to believe they were little more than tinkerers and entertainers. Well, that was obviously a mistake Finngyr would make clear in his report to his superiors.
Also, others must have been involved. The blow he struck should have at least wounded the stonechosen. It would have needed help to escape and hide. It was obvious once he learned the stonchosen was a whelp named Ghile and was from an outlying village. Razing the human’s village of Last Hamlet not only punished those who obviously helped him, but could have served as the impetus needed to anger the whelp and cause it to show itself and confront Finngyr. That is until Daomur’s hand intervened.
That pompous Magistar Obudar, more interested in lining his pockets than helping the empire, quoted a verse from the Book of Hjurl to him. How else could it be explain than direct intervention from his god?
“Now marked his chosen must gather
Where once his progeny thrived
His hunger compels them to journey
In his cities they survive.”
The stonechosen would be compelled to journey to one of the ancient human cities. Which one and for what purpose was exactly what Finngyr intended to find out. It was why he had given up the chase and set out for Daomount.
A screech from Safu shook Finngyr from his thoughts. The city of Daomur rose up before him. While he had been lost in thought, Safu descended and now skimmed just above the waves of the Innersea, the sound of their impact on the outer seawalls, protecting the ports, was deafening.
He took up Safu’s reins and pressed in with his knees. The griffon’s muscles bunched as she strengthened the beats of her wings to begin the long climb to the summit.
Many of the dwarven fisherman and tradesmen along the stone docks stopped mending their nets or their haggling over the morning’s catch to look up and mark the progress of the Knight Justice. It was only the Knight Justices, devoted servants of the Temple of Justice, who flew the majestic griffons.
Finngyr and Safu soared above one of the many cobbled streets, filled with citizens, going about their morning business. Safu’s shadow slid over the cobblestones and rooftops of the chaotic wharf and market districts, above the residential districts with their manicured gardens and libraries. Scattered throughout, like so many black dots, were the entrances to Undercity, where Finngyr had spent much of his youth. Only a quarter of all Daomount covered the surface of the peak, Overcity was reserved for trade and those who could afford the view. The rest was Undercity.
Apprentice and journeymen priests from the Temple of Artificers labored away on the statues and wall carvings that were so plentiful in Daomount. Most of his race paid homage to the Lawgiver through stonecraft or commerce. Finngyr’s was a different calling.
He passed one of the open markets, surrounding one of Daomount’s bastions, gatehouses to the Underways. Other than by ship, they were the only other way to leave the city. Unless you could fly.
Safu’s shadow glided over the Bastion and a caravan assembling at its entrance; the caravan’s laden wagons preparing for the underground journey to some far off place in the empire. Finngyr thought of the caravan as blood, the Underways veins and Daomount the Empire’s beating heart.
Finally they reached the summit, home to the judicial and temple districts. Safu descended in slow circles, setting down on a long precipice of stone jutting out from the side of the Temple of Justice like a waiting hand. She cantered along the expanse and into the griffon paddock proper, her still beating wings kicking up dust and straw.
Challenging Screeches came from a scattering of stalls on the stable’s many levels. Safu raised her head and straightened her feathers, answering in turn with her own challenge. If it were not for the powerful enchantments placed on the griffon tack and harness by the Artificers, the griffons’ natural territorial instincts would have them shredding each other with beak and claw.
From a third floor stable door, two pages scrambled out and descended a series of wooden ladders with practiced ease. Finngyr didn’t recognize either of them. But, as pages, they were the lowest members of the temple, so not surprising.
Reaching down from his saddle Finngyr patted Safu behind the wing where her golden tinged feathers gave way to sleek hair. The muscles controlling her wings went taut beneath his riding glove as she relaxed.
“His word is law,” Finngyr called to the pages. He disengaged the riding harness with a practiced slam of his fist. Safu lowered her head at the sound and in one movement Finngyr swung his leg over the saddle and slid down.
He was already removing his pack and hammer when the two pages, both barely old enough to deserve to be called beardlings, raced up behind him and bowed deeply at the waist.
“His word his law, Knight Justice,” they intoned in unison.
“See to Safu. Her nest is at the top.” Finngyr pointed to the fourth level. He heard a groan at his announcement. The exercise pages received from climbing up and down the numerous ladders in the stable was just as much a part of their training as learning to handle the order’s steeds. That sort of dissension would’ve never been tolerated when he was a page.
Finngyr turned and stared at them, but could not determine which one made his disappointment known.
“She will need to have her talons cut as well,” he added, eyeing each of them for any further signs of discontent.
The pages bowed in unison.
Satisfied, he walked past them. One of the most difficult and dangerous jobs involving the griffons was cutting back the talons on their front claws. Behind him Finngyr heard a satisfying thump as the innocent page repaid his partner, who stifled the resulting moan.
It was good to be home. Finngyr needed to pray, to give thanks for his safe arrival. Then, he would report to his superiors and consult the Book of Hjurl concerning the prophecies of the vessels. They needed to know he encountered a true stonechosen and not just a potential vessel. He needed to discover which city the stonechosen now journeyed towards. Then he would know where to hunt.
He would find Ghile of Last Hamlet. He would find him and cull him.
Chapter Two: Ghost Fens
This time I’m going to win, Ghile thought.
Ghile produced his force shield just in time to parry the downward strike of the huge stone axe. The weight behind Two Elks’ swing jarred Ghile’s arm, sending white-hot pain racing up and into his shoulder. Ghile doubted he could lift that axe, let alone swing it with such force.
“Good. Use your magic,” Two Elks said.
Two Elks followed his first deflected strike with another and then another. Each one drove Ghile further down, buckling his knees.
Ghile tightened his grip on Uncle Toren’s knife. No, my knife, he thought. He waited for the next blow to land and then followed it with a quick lunge around the side of his force shield.
Two Elks anticipated the move. He released his two handed grip on the axe and struck the back of Ghile’s knife wielding hand with a sharp slap of his own. Ghile’s blade broke free of his hand and spun across the clearing to thud into the ground next to where Riff was lounging.
“Hey!” Riff shouted, giving Ghile a withering stare.
Ghile shrugged at Riff and offered a weak smile. Something slammed into his calves. The sodden ground rushed up to greet him in its wet embrace of reeds and moss. Even though the spot they chose to rest for the day was on high ground, the damp of the Ghost Fens still leached up into the soil. Ghile thanked the All Mother for the soft landing as he lay flat on his back and stared into the bluish mists above him.
“Hand too strong on knife,” Two Elks said.
He was still in a crouch from the move he used to sweep Ghile’s legs. He finished his sentence by bringing his axe over his head in a killing blow and stopping it just short of separating Ghile’s head from his shoulders.
“Look at enemy, watch eyes.” Two Elks gestured towards his own eyes and then proffered a hand to Ghile.
Of his companions, Two Elks was the oldest, having seen maybe thirty years. He was also difficult for Ghile to understand. Ghile didn’t know if this was due to Two Elks’ weak grasp of their language and he just couldn’t find the words to express himself or if he was naturally just a quiet person.
He was the first Nordlah Plains barbarian Ghile had ever met. They might all be a stoic culture for all he knew. The vast plains Two Elks called home lay well to the west of the Cradle of the Gods, beyond the Redwood. If they were all like Two Elks, they were a tall and hardy people.
“You think too much before you do,” Two Elks said.
Ghile nodded and exhaled a deep breath, hoping the pain in his back and shoulders would exit with the air. This was the seventh fighting lesson in as many days. They trained with both blade and spear. Two Elks apparently took his promise to train Ghile to use the fangblade to heart.
He still found it hard to believe Uncle Toren gave up the fangblade. Only Fangs, guardians of the Cradle, were presented these enchanted dwarf forged blades. No human was allowed to craft metal, by dwarven law. Metal blades were coveted and only owned by those humans who could afford them. A human, other than a Fang, found in possession of an enchanted blade risked death at the hands of the dwarves.
Ghile looked to where the fangblade landed. The deer antler handle struck a sharp contrast to the surrounding moss, only a portion of its shining steel above the ground.
Two Elks shook his offered hand over Ghile. “Up. We go again.”
The blade pulled Ghile’s thoughts to his uncle and his family. How he missed them.
But, there was nothing for it now. He was Stonechosen and he was going to have to learn to fight. Even if it killed him. Well, even if Two Elks killed him.
Ghile cleared his thoughts and reached into himself. It was almost second nature to find the inner force and focus it with his will. He was aware of every sound around him. The Ghost Fens were alive with croaking frogs and chirping crickets. The hum of hovering nidges, hunting for exposed skin, fought for his attention. He let their droning fall away and looked inward.
He pushed out with his force shield, forcing it against the ground beneath him, using it to propel his body. He flew forward towards Riff, using the momentum, he curled into a roll and came up into the defensive fighting stance Two Elks taught him only days before; his body turned slightly, presenting a smaller target to his opponent. The fangblade now in his hands, held before him.
Two Elks nodded. “Good.”
“That’s enough, Two Elks,” Gaidel said. There was a tone of command in her voice, young though she was, which left little doubt Ghile’s lesson was now done.
She leaned against a nearby tree from where she’d been watching. Tree might have been too generous a word. Her slight weight was enough to cause it to lean, threatening to pull free and fall into the glowing water a short distance below.
The Ghost Fens were named from the cold bluish glow found in any water that pooled and stagnated long enough. That and the heat robbing mist that hung low over it like a damp woolen blanket left out overnight.
“He needs to rest. It will be dark in another couple hours,” Gaidel said.
“Explain to me again, Revered Daughter, why we are traveling by night?” Riff asked.
Ghile frowned at the way Riff drew out Revered Daughter. Riff questioned every decision the druid made since leaving the Cradle, determined to chip away at any authority she tried to instill over the group.
Gaidel was only a couple of years older than Ghile’s fifteen, but even so, she had this way of carrying herself, the way she stood and spoke that made Ghile naturally defer to her.
Her long red hair was pulled back in a tight braid, further accentuating her bare scalp, the mark of a Redwood Druid, the entire front half of her head, from ear to ear, bare. The strange blue tattoos, which marked her as a Redwood Druid, covered her skin in place of hair.
Of all people, druids, were respected by people of the Cradle. It was the druids who saved the human race from extinction back during the Great Purge. Ghile now knew they had once been priestesses of the Hungering God, or Haurtu, the God of Learning and Wisdom as he was known back then.
But, it was their prayers to the All Mother that awoke her and resulted in her stopping the decimation of his race over a thousand years before. No small wonder they were known as the Daughters of the All Mother and treated with such reverence. Ghile eyed Riff.
Well, by most anyway.
“It will be easier for the Cullers to spot us if we move by day,” Gaidel said.
Riff nodded at her answer before she even finished speaking. It was the same answer she gave each time he asked the question. Riff plucked another pinkish mushroom from a clump near where he was lounging and squeezed it between his fingers.
Riff discovered that particular variety of mushroom on their second day in the fens. When squeezed they emitted a wet flatulent sound that still made Ghile snicker, despite the disapproving stares this drew from Gaidel.
She closed her eyes and took a deep steadying breath, waiting for Riff’s deliberate long pause to end. Riff watched her like a cat pawing a mouse.
“I understand that,” Riff finally said. “But I don’t see how anything could see us through this thrice damned mist, day or night.”
Ghile watched Two Elks, who already found his fur blankets and began laying them out across a patch of somewhat dry reeds and thick spongy grass, having grown accustomed to this type of banter between Gaidel and Riff. His guardianship of Gaidel did not seem to extend to protecting her from being teased. Not that Ghile felt she needed it. She more than held her own against Riff’s taunts.
“It is not up for debate, sorcerer’s apprentice,” Gaidel said. She didn’t draw out Riff’s title, not willing to be baited this time.
Riff leaned back, shaking his head. He fished for another mushroom.
Ghile cleaned the fangblade on his leggings and took care sliding it into its sheath. He sat down near Riff. They had both gathered reeds and piled them into bedding when they made camp earlier this morning. Ghile had plenty of sleep already and didn’t understand why Gaidel felt he needed more. Over the past days she often asked him how he felt or if he was in need of a rest. Ghile didn’t think she gifted the other two with the same attention. He pondered over this more than once.
Ghile watched Daughter Gaidel as she spoke to Two Elks in hushed tones, idly rubbing the fur of Ast, one of his two valehounds, who lay resting near her. The two valehounds, Ast and Cuz, were his father’s hounds. They were his now. Where they never listened to any of his commands before, the power of the soulstones embedded in his chest allowed him to feel their thoughts and touch their minds. He focused and the two hounds raised their heads, eyes watching him.
“She can’t get enough of me,” Riff said, punctuating his statement with another squished mushroom.
Ghile rolled his eyes and laughed. “Obviously.”
“You are getting better, Sheepherder. You almost had him that time,” Riff said.
“Really?” Ghile asked. He thought he was getting better. The fangblade didn’t feel as awkward in his hand anymore.
Riff laughed and rolled his eyes in imitation of Ghile. “No.”
Ghile picked up a clump of moss and threw it at him.
“Be careful, do you not see my feet are bare?” Riff said.
Ghile sat down beside Riff. He wasn’t tired, but if he didn’t make an effort of at least appearing to rest, he knew he would draw Gaidel’s ire. He shook his head at Riff’s comment.
“Do you threaten me with your stench, Sorcerer?”
Riff smirked and rolled over to lean toward Ghile. “A sorcerer does not only hold a source in his hands. He but needs it to touch some part of him to use it to cast. So be warned.”
Ghile smiled at the mock seriousness in Riff’s tone. He knew Riff could hurl fire and control water, but knew he could control earth and metal, too. Riff even said a strong sorcerer could control air. Though, Ghile had never seen Master Almoriz, Riff’s mentor, even do that.
“I will take your words to heart, great sorcerer,” Ghile said with the same mock seriousness. He bowed his head and held his palms out and turned upwards toward the sky in a show of respect.
“See that you do,” Riff said. He leaned back and crossed his arms behind his head. He closed his eyes and sighed. It seemed to Ghile that both he and Riff were enjoying themselves. They joked often and neither the wet of the fen or the annoying insects it held in droves could dampen their spirits.
This was the first time Ghile had left the Cradle. True, he’d not seen much yet, still had not reached the bottom of the many tiered levels of the Ghost Fens, but he was out of the Cradle and the bleak future he feared as a sheepherder in Upper Vale.
The Ghost Fens were not the way his people chose to leave their valley home. Normally, they would have gone down past Laketown on the shores of Crystal Lake and into the Redwood. Its trees covered the lowlands of the mountain valley. Down they would have went past Redwood Village, where Riff and Gaidel where from, and then down past the falls and into that portion of the Redwood his people called, The Drops.
Not that many would dare make the journey. He heard tales of those places around the hearth fire, having never ventured much further than Lakeside himself. Very few would have traveled much further than the Drops. Dwarven law restricted humans from open travel. Only the druids could journey between the settlements. Any other humans found outside a settlement were not protected by dwarven law.
Not even the dwarves took that route. They used the Underways, tunnels of their own making that reached throughout the empire. Ghile had never seen it, but knew one opened up under the stone Bastion in Laketown. The Underways were the domain of the dwarves.
Ghile’s path lead in a different direction. The Ghost Fens were a more direct route, which gave them the added bonus of secrecy. No one traveled through the Ghost Fens to leave the Cradle and for good reason. There were no real trails to speak of and the fens were broken into tiers, much like giant steps, with treacherous cliffs separating each level. The waters from Crystal Lake flowed down onto each level where it gathered before spilling over to the lower level.
They had been wading through thick swamp grass and reeds pushed up against pools of water for over a week now. During the day, they sheltered in the many copses of willow and alder that found purchase on the infrequent levels of higher ground. Each time they came to another one of the waterfall covered cliffs that divided the tiers, they had to use rope to lower themselves down.
Ghile had been afraid the fens got their names from the ghosts of all the souls who become lost and drowned. But the answer was revealed to them on the first night when the sun set and the waters began to glow with the same soft blue of the waters of Crystal Lake. This combined with the perpetual mist that clung stubbornly to the fens both day and night. Ghile could see how legends of ghosts began.
The group broke their fast that evening with hard bread and cheese. Riff moved between them and with a touch and low mumbling, removed all the damp from their clothes. It never lasted long, but it was like having a dry change of clothes each day. Between Riff’s ability and Gaidel’s healing touch, Ghile knew the natural dangers of the fens would not stop them.
They had only been trudging through the blue mists a short time before they reached the edge of their current tier.
“Don’t drop me!” Riff called from below.
Ghile leaned out over the edge to get a better view. Riff hung from the end of the rope about half way between Ghile and Two Elks above, and a waiting Gaidel below. Ast and Cuz sniffed the ground near her, still wearing the patchwork leather harnesses Two Elks had hastily fashioned to help lower them down.
“Stop complaining, Riff. Two Elks isn’t even straining,” Ghile said. It was true, the barbarian slowly lowered out sections of the thick rope hand over hand. His large corded muscles were taut, but his expression was relaxed.
“The sorcerer is light Daughter Gaidel was heavier,” Two Elks said.
Ghile laughed even though he wasn’t sure Two Elks meant it as a joke.
“I’m down,” Riff called from below. Two Elks took the now slack rope and tied it to a nearby jut of rock.
“I lower you, Stonechosen, then climb down. I no need rope,” Two Elks said. He gave the rope a few tugs to test his handiwork.
Ghile shook his head. “We have been over this, Two Elks. We need the rope and there is no need for you to risk yourself.”
Two Elks shrugged and shouldered his large kite shield. He backed over the edge, looking behind him as he descended.
It took Two Elks half the time to make the climb than it took to lower Riff. Ghile heard the call from below and began untying the rope.
At first, Riff accused Ghile of just showing off, but Ghile knew it was more for practice. The more he used his new powers gifted to him by the soulstones, the more control he had over them. Ghile called and then dropped the rope over the edge, knowing Two Elks was already gathering it on the other end.
Ghile retrieved his spear leaning on the rock face next to him and stepped out over the edge.
The wind swept past him as he gained momentum. He plummeted towards the upturned faces of his companions. Before his new powers he would have been terrified, flailing his arms and screaming all the way down, but now he just watched the ground approach, using his arms to keep himself upright.
With only moments to spare, Ghile pushed with his mind and felt the invisible force extend from the bottoms of his feet. In his mind, it was like a billowing cloud spreading out thick below him. He felt the force as it reached the ground. He allowed it to slowly give way under the pressure. He quickly slowed and bent his knees into a crouch to absorb some of the fall. He concentrated on the force until the strain was too great and he was only a couple of feet above the reeds before releasing it. He dropped the remainder of the distance and landed on the soft ground with a muffled squish.
“Even though you are stonechosen, Ghile, you still feel pain and can be hurt. Broken legs are going to leave you in agony. I cannot heal you and it will slow us while we wait for your powers to mend you,” Gaidel said.
The two valehounds bounded up to greet Ghile.
“I’m fine,” Ghile said. He reached down and gave both Ast and Cuz a good scratch in turn.
“That is not the point,” Gaidel said crossing her arms for emphasis, ”there is no point in protecting you if you take every opportunity to risk yourself.”
Ghile started to respond, a lopsided smile on his face. He looked to Riff and Two Elks for support. Both were staring at him in silence. Ghile could feel the weight, like dwarven stone, behind those stares. He would not get reinforcements from either of them. His smile dissolved along with his rebuttal.
“Alright, I’ll be more careful. But try to understand Adon said I have to use my powers if they are to improve.”
Ghile saw the uncomfortable look come over Riff’s visage at the mention of Ghile’s older brother. Adon was culled by the dwarves many years ago back in the Cradle. Adon was also Riff’s good friend. Adon now appeared in Ghile’s dreams and taught him how to use the powers the soulstones now granted him. It all sounded ridiculous to Ghile if he truly thought about it.
“Well, try to practice your powers when you have both feet planted on the ground,” Gaidel said.
“We should continue.” She motioned for Two Elks to lead the way. She didn’t wait to see if the others followed and struck out behind the barbarian, eyes scanning the mist filled sky.
“Well, we better go, her greatness has spoken,” Riff said with a wink.
Normally he would have smiled and winked back, but he only nodded. The idea that they were protecting him didn’t sit well with him. He was the youngest of them. He wouldn’t hesitate to admit they were all more capable of defending themselves. But, Ghile thought of them more as his companions and guides on this journey, not his protectors. Apparently, he was the only one who saw things that way.
“Come on, boys.” Ghile motioned and Ast and Cuz splashed through the reeds in great bounds, with little care for the amount of mud they sent flying with each leap.
Riff gave a half-hearted kick after them as they passed before he followed. The two valehounds paid him little heed. Their once white coats were covered in mud, their shaggy fur hanging limp from their thick frames. Ghile trudged into the fens after them, his mood now as damp as the rest of him.