The Master of Scarstone


Wynn crouched in the watchful silence. Her eyes saw nothing in any direction, but the peat scent cut into her mind. Beneath her, confusing patterns of spells and charms overlapped underground, layer upon layer, as far as her hands could see.

Trying not to make a sound, she stood. She held the Gaiagem close in her right hand and swept the gloom with her left, palm thrust outward. She asked what the vast dark obscured, and her hand answered. The ruined altar she had glimpsed earlier beneath the sheen of the barb was close by, murky as agate and the height of three men. Marring its center was a jagged line of darkness.

The flaw in the stone twitched.

Fear seared her belly. She called on the Gaiagem for concealment. The indigo aura surrounded her, but offered no comfort. Whether he saw her or not, Nathir knew she was close by; he had fetched her with the wind. Yet, something more had to happen for him to possess her, or he already would have claimed her.

Desperate to see more, she dropped to her knees again and pressed her free hand against the peat. Beneath it spread a circular tapestry of druidic magic, its faded traceries now tainted with evil. Here, a Sacred Pool had drained away leaving dry structures of power devoid of life.

Now her hand-sight delivered a vision of the altar before it had become Scarstone. It towered by the edge of the water as it once had, an astounding crystal the yellow of sunrise. Across the pool, where the timber-lined avenue led up from the Valley of the Dead, white-robed figures bearing torches entered the henge in pairs. Her palm and fingers showed how the druids separated into two processions that snaked around the pool, their ritual march reflected upside down on the black water. The lines of torches came together again and crossed: one line formed a half circle behind the altar, the other knelt before it. Light licked upward in the translucent stone like a bonfire ignited.

Suddenly the long ago vision of the stone warped. Its light constricted to a blood-red tongue of flame flickering toward her. Wynn snatched her hand from the ground.

Her attention was feeding something.

She whirled to her feet and peered around, as if she might see hooded figures advancing on her. But hazy stars revealed only the empty terrace and the rotted henge whose stumps encircled her like blackened teeth.

A stir of cold air brushed her back. She froze, hiding behind her shield of indigo; then moved, first her eyes, then her head. At the edge of vision she sensed a glow.

Moonrise! She turned, relieved. Ready to invoke Moon’s power.

But it was not Moon that glowed, it was Scarstone—rising above her a few spear lengths away, heavy with portent and laden with immense power. It had changed from what she had seen in her vision of the past. Less clear and no longer golden, it glowered with its own, clouded light. The sinewy scar contracted in the stone.

She flinched. A serpent shape. Real or illusion?

~ from Chapter 43 Scarstone ~

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