The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 14: Incantatio

After they had left Burntwood Forest, the group settled into a routine quite quickly, travelling by night, resting by day, and they made good progress. By the fourth day, the flat, dry, golden plains of Aurum had turned greener and more undulating as they journeyed on towards the western hills.

At dusk, from their campsite on the eastern side of the Hydra Pass, they had begun their journey into the land of Ferrum. Vega had chosen to travel through at an old, disused, border crossing between the lands of Aurum and Ferrum. He knew it to be generally unmanned, as it did indeed prove to be when the wagon had trundled through earlier in the evening.

They had seen few people since leaving the Burntwood Forest, and fewer still had noticed them. Most natives avoided Twocasts and when they couldn’t avoid them, they pretended not to see them, looking through them as if they did not exist. Vega and Lyra were used to it now, but when the others eventually witnessed it for themselves, they had been appalled.

They endeavoured to avoid most towns and villages along the road and when they could not, they travelled through them in the early hours while the streets were mostly deserted. That night, however, they drove through the Ferrish village of Geldholm late in the evening.

Geldholm was a bustling community, even after dark. As they passed the Old Woodcutter’s Inn, it was heaving, and the sound of fiddle music and cheerful singing spilled out onto the roadway. The smell of ale, spirits and roasted hog, hung in the air like an invitation to a feast. A crowd of Ferrish natives were singing loudly and drunkenly as they wove their way along the centre of the road. The taunting began as soon as they caught sight of Vega and the wagon.

“Hey, youse... Taycast!” one of them shouted, “What are yea daein’ out o’ the Ebony Forest?”

Vega took care not to make eye contact as he passed them, but this seemed to aggravate them even more.

“Get thee back there,” said another of them, “ afore yea infects us all with yer sickness, yea disease carryin’ vermin!”

The drunken native spat on the road as they drove by, and then he picked up a stone and hurled it at the wagon. It hit the canopy with a thud.

Another of the men joined in.

“Yeah, get thee gone from ‘ere, yea thievin’ Taycasts!”

He threw a stone and then another. Soon the whole group had joined in and were pelting the wagon with stones and clods of animal dung.

Rose, furious at what she was witnessing, opened the flap on the canopy.

“No!” Vega shouted at her. “Lady Rose, pay no heed to ’em. They must nay see you.”

Arjan firmly guided Rose gently back into her seat and re-tied the canopy flaps.

“I know Rose; I understand,” he said, “but this is not the time.”

Vega urged the horses on, and they responded quickly, leaving the men standing in the middle of the road, cursing loudly and holding tightly onto their clods of dung.

“I promise you this Vega,” said Rose, through clenched jaws, as they headed out of the village at speed, “If it is ever within my power. I promise that you, your children and your people will never again have to suffer this kind of abuse in our lands. You will have the respect you deserve. On this, you have my word.”

“Aye, me Lady,” said Vega as he smiled and shrugged. “One day, maybe.”

“Vega’s right Rose,” said Ash, “don’t get yourself all screwed up over them, they’re not so smart. Just look who is left holding the shite.”

Rose presented him with a begrudging smile at this, which seemed to please Ash immensely. He grinned happily at her until he saw her smile slip as her gaze moved, falling once more on El-on-ah, who sat opposite.

Rose constantly scrutinised El-on-ah. She had an intense and morbid fascination for the Blood ascendant, endlessly watching and waiting for the opportunity to take, what according to the prophecy, was meant to be hers. Rose had told no one of her discovery, afraid of putting them in danger too soon and unprepared.

They slept for the next six hours, lulled by the rhythmic rocking of the wagon on the sandy track and the rasping chirps of crickets. Dawn fast approached as they made their way, seemingly backwards, towards the ancient smuggler’s cave, where Vega had insisted that they would camp for the remainder of the day. It was the only cover between Geldholm and the Ebony Forest. He did not want to risk them being caught out in the open during daylight.

The wagon turned onto the narrow, stony road that skirted the mountains to the East of Glynisfarne and the Ebony Forest. It bumped between the rivets cut into the rocky ground by the wheels of hundreds of wagons that had passed this way before. The misty air was still and damp, and smelled of earth, moss and wet leaves. The clipperty clop of the horse’s hooves on the hard ground, together with the jarring rumble of the wooden wheels, began to waken them from what had been an unusually restful sleep.

Rose, however, had not slept, she had remained wide awake, watching the pendant rising and falling on El-on-ah’s chest as she slept.

El-on-ah’s eyelids flickered open and immediately, sensing Roses eyes upon her, El-on-ah’s eyes met hers with a challenging look.

“Can I help you with anything?” she said, glowering.

“I was just wondering...,” said Rose pensively. “I’ve been watching you El-on-ah, and I see a strong woman, a woman who appears to generate much loyalty in her servants.”

She looked towards Che, who never seemed to leave El-on-ah’s side. Che raised his brows, glancing towards El-on-ah with an enigmatic smile, but El-on-ah’s expression did not alter, and her gaze remained steadily on Rose.

“It is obvious that they value you greatly,” said Rose. “I wish to understand. What was it about Lord Ka that made you want to follow where he led?”

El-on-ah pushed herself up onto one elbow and then sitting up she stretched the stiffness from her limbs.

“When I was at the Oratory,” she said wistfully, “I read his autobiographical manifesto ‘The Unification.’ Have you ever read it?”

“Yes, quite recently actually,” said Rose, recalling her last ‘specially tailored’ Cognito class. “I can see why you might sympathise, when he talks of the oppression of the Bloods and the inequality of the cast system, and even his aim to unify the Afterlands. I too can sympathise with these issues, but surely you must have seen how his egotism shone through. He may have preached egalitarianism, but his intentions could not have been clearer. It is so obvious that his intention was always to conquer and rule the Afterlands in their entirety, and by force.”

El-on-ah pulled up her hood and gathered her cloak around her, shivering. She rubbed her arms and as she spoke, her breath misting in the early morning air.

“Rose, I think that maybe you are beginning to see what I see and what Ka and the Ophites have been realising for centuries. We live in a world where everyone is valued and judged according to their cast. We Bloods are seen as cold and heartless and are not liked or trusted because we show little emotion, so we are permitted to inhabit only the most barren regions of these lands. Yet native Bloods die every day in the mines of Hydrargyrum, they die in their thousands whilst mining the ores and minerals destined for the foundries of Aurum. Muds have the most fertile lands, but they are looked down upon and ridiculed as muscle-bound imbeciles, labourers, and farmers. Yet it is they who put food on the plates of the High Councillors and foundry owners of Aurum. If you were us, Rose, how would you change things?”

“I don’t know,” said Rose, “but I would not sell my potens to the Djinn of Erebus in an attempt to reverse the situation. That’s not unification El-on-ah, but merely the exchange of one unjust system, for another.”

A soft rushing sound permeated the silence, intensifying into a hissing roar as they continued forwards. Then the roar became a deafening clatter that rained down on them, pelting the top of the canopy like a hailstorm.

Vega had driven the wagon under the arch of a small waterfall and into an enormous cavern hidden behind its tattered, watery curtain. The water roared and hissed as it fell from the rocky overhang into a deep flat pool below. Its vapour swirled around them, endowing the early morning air with a soft mist that in the diffuse morning light, gave the place an ethereal, magical quality.

Vega jumped from the wagon, unharnessed the horses and led them to the water’s edge. Lyra pulled back the canopy curtain and peeked inside, smiling as she saw the sleeping faces of her children. Lilly’s head rested on Ash’s shoulder, and Tau was curled up next to Lee, his arms tightly around Sloley, who licked Tau’s nose in an attempt to encourage the boy to relinquish his grip.

“We should be safe a while now,” said Lyra. “Let them sleep. I’ll make some tea.”

Later as the sun rose in the sky, the others awakened to the smell of wild rice, quails eggs and smoked fish cooking.

“Boy, I must be starving because that smells glorious.” Said Ash softly as he sat up, carefully trying not to disturb Lilly, who was still asleep with her head against his chest.

Gently lowering her to the seat, he placed her head on a rolled up piece of sacking and pulled the threadbare blanket up over her shoulders. Lee lifted the practically comatose Tau’s arm, releasing Sloley from the boy’s adoring confinement and was rewarded by a spattering of chirps and clicks from the little loris, who leapt happily onto his shoulder. The sound of fiddle music drifted into the wagon, its merry tune awakening the last of the sleeping group.

“Oh no… what is that noise?” said Tu-nek-ta pulling his hood up and holding his ears “I feel as if I haven’t slept in weeks.”

“I don’t know what it is,” said Ash, “but there’s a good chance that it might be a signal for breakfast, so if you’ll excuse me…”

He jumped down from the wagon, hesitating briefly when Lilly, woken by the music, tiredly rubbed at her eyes and petulantly demanded to be lifted down.

Vega was sitting on a boulder next to the fire playing an old Ferrish fiddle and singing, with a broad smile warming his face.

He winked brazenly at Arjan and Auriel as he sang the words.

The Golds, they’re so pretty, with hair like the sun,

Know the price o’ it all, but the cost of nay one.

So I’d rather be a Twocast, no mines, nor land, nor gold,

Aye... I’d rather be a Twocast, me home... the open road.

The Bloods, they’re nay witty an’ exceedingly glum,

They moan an’ they mutter, ’cause they’re always outdone.

So I’d rather be a Twocast, no mines, nor land, nor gold,

Aye... I’d rather be a Twocast, me home... the open road.

The Muds they’re so gritty, great hunters, are some,

An’ wrestling with bears, ’tis what they do for fun!

So I’d rather be a Twocast, no mines, nor land, nor gold,

Aye... I’d rather be a Twocast, me home... the open road. ”

Vega looked across at Rose, realising that he had no verse for the Whytes. He hesitated a moment before grinning impishly in her direction.

The Whytes had their city, of Magicians an’ Mages,

But nay one has seen them, for ages an’ ages.

So I’d rather be a Twocast, no mines, nor land, nor gold,

Aye... I’d rather be a Twocast, me home... the open road.”

A moment of uncomfortable stillness followed, everyone seemingly waiting for each other to react. Ash stood up, stony-faced, and walked over to the exit of the cave. Wistfully he looked out over the water into the misty, rainbow filled sunlight.

“I wonder if there are bears around here,” he said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am in real need of some FUN!”

One by one they dissolved into laughter.

At dusk, Rose and Auriel went to the tarn to fill the water bladders while the others packed the wagon ready to leave.

“Are you alright Rose?” asked Auriel, shaking the cold water from her hands as she lifted a bladder from the water. “You seem to have been very distracted they last few days. Is there something wrong?”

“You mean...” said Rose, with a quirky frown. “Something other than the fact that we are fleeing from the Djinn, about to venture into the Ebony Forest to join the Ferrum resistance and become involved in a full-scale war with a seemingly invincible enemy?”

“Yes,” she said, with a brief laugh, “but there is something else isn’t there? I’ve seen the way you’ve been watching El-on-ah, and I know you don’t trust her, but there’s something else, I’m sure. What is it that you are not telling us?”

Rose hesitated for a second, looking searchingly into Auriel’s eyes. Appearing to come to a decision, she turned and looked back towards the others, watching them warily as they loaded the wagon.

“Yes, you’re right Auriel, there is something else,” she said. “I discovered that El-on-ah has an item in her possession, although I don’t believe that she is aware of its significance. It is something that I have to take from her, but I don’t know how to do that without her discovering what it is. Auriel, El-on-ah carries the incantatio.”

“What!” Auriel shrieked, quickly lowering her voice and glancing towards the others. “Are you sure? Have you seen it?”

“Yes and yes again,” said Rose, “ she wears a pendant around her neck, a crescent moon shaped stone. It has a faint green glow that intensifies whenever I approach.”

“I haven’t noticed it. Why don’t you just ask her for it? She is supposed to be allied with us now, isn’t she?”

Rose shook her head, and her brow puckered.

“I just don’t believe that she is Auriel and you’re right, I don’t trust her at all. We can’t risk her knowing. If El-on-ah finds out that she carries something that could play a part in defeating Lord Ka, then we could lose the chance of ever being able to use it. The war would be lost. The Afterlands would be lost. Everything would be for nothing.”

“Then we have no choice,” said Auriel “We have to take it from her, and we have to make sure that she does not betray us to Lord Ka.”

“I know,” said Rose despondently, as she secured the stopper to the top of a water bladder. “I came to the same conclusion, which is why I may have seemed so distant. I may not trust El-on-ah, but I do kind of respect her, which is why I don’t want to harm her. I’ve been trying for ages to think of a way to take it without her knowing, but I also wanted to be absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do. I could be very wrong about her.”

“You could,” said Auriel. “So perhaps you’re right, we should try to get it off her without her noticing, maybe when she’s asleep?”

“I did think about that,” said Rose, “but Che hardly ever takes his eyes off her, which makes it very difficult. I think that maybe the only way we can do this safely is to involve the others. I need to get El-on-ah on her own, well away from everyone else. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt when we do this.”

Rose pondered for a second as she picked up the bladders and got to her feet. Auriel stood up beside her. They looked over towards the wagon, watching the others as they busied themselves loading the utensils and blankets.

“Perhaps,” said Rose, “ I can persuade El-on-ah to go off alone with me when we stop to water the horses tonight. I’ll talk to Ash and Lee, and you speak to Arjan. If Lee and Ash can keep everyone close to the wagon and then you and Arjan can follow me at a safe distance. What do you think?”

“I think,” said Auriel, biting her lip, “that we really don’t have much choice. I’ll speak to Arjan as soon as we get back on the road.”

They were both subdued as they returned to the wagon. Arjan became aware of this immediately. As he helped them into the cart, he pulled Rose close to him.

“Is everything alright?” he asked, with a note of concern.

“Yes,” said Rose “Everything’s fine,” but she gripped his hand hard, and her eyes communicated a different message, one that instantly put him on the alert.

“When you get a chance,” she said, softly. “Auriel has something she would like to ask you.”

Quickly they settled into their places.

“If all goes well,” said Vega, urging the horses forward with a slap of the reins. “We’ll be at the edge o’ the Ebony Forest by first light.”

As they drove out, through the water and onto the road, Tau and Lilly giggled as they tossed fruit over the head of Sloley, who then began to scurry manically backwards and forwards between them. The children appeared oblivious to Sloley’s angry spits and clicks as he became more and more frustrated when he consistently failed to catch each tasty morsel.

The wagon lurched into its now familiar, rhythmical clatter and rocking as it descended into the valley and onto the byroad. Auriel reclined with her head resting sleepily on Arjan’s shoulder as she whispered softly to him under her breath, a contented smile on her face.

Che nodded his head towards them.

“My Lady,” he said, with an impish curl of the lips and a wink in El-on-ah’s direction. “My shoulder is vacant.”

The look El-on-ah gave him could have frozen lava. Che grinned, and then laughed.

Tu-nek-ta glanced from one to the other shaking his head.

“Che,” he said, with an exasperated glance towards his friend. “One of these days you will go too far.”

After they had travelled for about an hour, Rose moved to sit next to Ash. Bending forward, she kissed him lightly on the cheek. His face flushed with a fleeting look of surprise, he listened attentively as she whispered into his ear.

“Tell Lee,” she said, in a voice that was barely audible even to Ash. “Tell him that I need for you and him to keep everyone close to the wagon tonight when we water the horses. I need to speak to El-on-ah alone. This is vital Ash.”

Kissing him again, lightly on the other cheek and with a lingering smile on her lips, she returned to her seat, next to El-on-ah. Che, who had watched their exchange with interest, pouted, crossed his arms and then looking over to El-on-ah he let out a pointedly long sigh.

“You know El-on-ah,” said Rose, “ it may turn out that we are not so very different from each other after all. Can I speak to you privately when we take a break? There’s something I’d like to ask you.”

El-on-ah looked intrigued, as Rose had expected, but Rose also saw something else in her expression... eagerness. El-on-ah wanted to be alone with her.

Shortly after midnight Vega drove the wagon into a copse of trees and pulled up beside a small brook about half a mile off the byroad. Tu-nek-ta and the children were fast asleep. The others moved quietly as they left the wagon, so as not to wake them.

“I’ll do the horses,” said Che quietly, moving to release their harnesses.

Vega bowed in thanks, before turning to Lyra.

“Tea?” He said.

She nodded and lifted the battered, long handled brewing can, off its hook on the frame of the wagon.

Che walked the horses to the brook, their hooves pattering into the shallow pool. He watched as they plunged their muzzles into the water, sucking hard as they gulped down the cold, clear liquid. Glancing up he caught sight of El-on-ah and Rose walking off into the trees alone. A prickle of fear ran down his neck. Dropping the reins, he ran towards them splashing through the rippling water. Ash was swift to move, leaping in front of him and barring his way.

“Hey, Che,” he said, smiling as he emphasised the alliteration, “what’s your hurry?”

Che attempted to push him away.

“Get out of my way!” he said.

Ash wrapped his arms around him like a bear and lifted him off his feet. Almost a half a foot taller and twice as powerful, Ash made easy work of securing the young Blood.

“Please don’t hurt her” pleaded Che, his voice full of dread. “She isn’t all bad, really, she...”

Lee ran from behind them and quickly stuffed a gag into Che’s mouth. Between them, they dragged him back towards the wagon where Vega and Lyra were bent over a small campfire, holding steaming hot flagons of tea.

“Problem?” said Vega, lifting one substantial eyebrow as he motioned for Lyra to check on the children.

“No, don’t wake them,” said Ash, pushing Che down and securing him to the wagon with a large piece of hemp rope. “Just keep an eye on him.”

Ash’s voice was hushed as he pointed urgently at the cart.

“Lee… with me.” He said, putting a finger to his lips.

Lee grabbed an empty sack off the side as they stealthily climbed up into the wagon, taking great care not to wake Tu-nek-ta and the children. Seconds later they re-appeared carrying Tu-nek-ta, now hooded, gagged, and bound. Vega came to the side of the wagon and helped them lift him down.

“D’ya thinks you might tell me what’s goin’ on?” he said as he secured Tu-nek-ta to the wheel of the wagon next to Che.

“No time,” said Ash. “We’ll explain later… Rose may be in danger.”

With his heart pounding frantically in his chest, Ash ran off into the trees with Lee following closely behind.

El-on-ah and Rose stood facing each other in a small clearing at the intersection of three paths. El-on-ah let out a curt laugh of incredulity.

“So, let me get this right,” El-on-ah said in disbelief. “You brought me out here alone, to ask me to spy for you?”

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that,” said Rose. “I wouldn’t ask you to do it for me, but for yourself, for your people, for the reasons you spoke about the other day.”

“So, in that case,” said El-on-ah, “all you are asking is that I return to Cynnabar and allow myself to be assimilated by the Djinn to help you destroy Lord Ka. If that truly is what you are asking me to do, then you are no better than he is!”

El-on-ah stepped back and looked directly into Rose’s eyes. Rose’s unfathomable expression and calm demeanour made El-on-ah instantly uneasy.

“No, in truth,” said Rose with a faint smile. “I’m not really asking you to do that El-on-ah, I am not Lord Ka, but I did rather enjoy watching your reaction. You see, El-on-ah, I don’t trust you. I think that you’ve been sent here by Ka, to accomplish what Lord Baroque failed to. I wanted to give you the opportunity to prove otherwise.”

“Surely you cannot be serious?” said El-on-ah, sceptically. “If I really wanted to kill you, I could have done so already, or I could do it now...”

“Exactly,” said Rose, “You could. You wanted to be alone with me El-on-ah, why exactly was that? There is only you and me here now. So what’s stopping you?”

“Maybe I do not want your death or the consequent fall of the Afterlands on my hands.” said El-on-ah unconvincingly.

She turned away and looked back through the trees, the sound of her heartbeat pounding in her ears. Fallen leaves twirled and danced like impish spirits along the path, blown along by the night breeze. Then she heard footsteps approaching, crashing through the undergrowth at speed, and at that moment El-on-ah knew that she had fallen into a trap. Spinning around, she flung out her potens.

Interficio!” She yelled, casting the descent spell, the killing spell, but Rose was ready for her.

Obsepio!” Rose’s powerful block sent El-on-ah flying across the clearing and crashing into the trunk of a large oak tree.

A shower of acorns hailed down on them as El-on-ah crumpled to the ground. Stunned, El-on-ah was barely aware of Auriel and Arjan stepping out from behind the tree. Arjan ripped the pendant from her, and El-on-ah felt the sharp sting as its lace bit deep into her neck. After tossing the pendant to Rose, Arjan bound El-on-ah’s hands tightly behind her.

“Be still,” said Auriel softly. “We’ll not harm you further, but we cannot free you.”

El-on-ah’s eyes flashed defiantly at them, as Ash and Lee ran into the clearing.

“Are you okay?” said Ash rushing over to Rose, his breaths coming quickly between his words “did you get it?”

He quietened as he caught sight of the glowing adder stone in Roses’s hand. Its pulsating light had grown so bright that he almost had to avert his eyes. He squinted uncomfortably to examine it.

El-on-ah stared transfixed at the pendant that she had been wearing around her neck for weeks. She let out a deep, primal howl as the sudden, terrible realisation hit her. She had carried the incantatio to Rose. She was to be the one who had supplied Rose with the instrument of Ka’s destruction. She had failed Lord Ka. Her descent would be her only sanctuary now.

As this thought invaded her consciousness, she became aware of a faint tugging and a rasping tickle against her bound wrist. Her bindings loosened and fell away. ‘Puk’ she thought feeling a surge of hope, ‘maybe, I have one, final opportunity for redemption.’

In one swift movement, El-on-ah reached out and grabbed Auriel, shoving her to the ground. Raising her hand and with all the potens she could muster, she cast the descent incantation once more.

Interficio!”

A fiery stream of red light shot out from her ring and hurtled towards Rose, who was deeply engrossed in examining the adder stone. Arjan, a few feet from her, did not hesitate. Bounding forwards he threw himself in front of Rose, absorbing the full force of the spell as it hit him squarely in the chest.

Auriel screamed, her hands clawing at the sides of her face in horror, as Arjan’s body was thrust into the air in an explosion of energy. Burning red and then white hot, the flesh melted from his bones.

Rose shrieked, “Arjan!” She rushed forward, her eyes widening in shock.

Arjan’s face contorted in pain as he mouthed her name, his eyes briefly registering the knowledge of his fate before they dissolved, along with his body, into a cloud of vapour. Golden honey-scented wisps floated upwards on the breeze until they vanished like smoke into the night sky, leaving his robes to flutter to the ground like winnowed husks, ripped from their core.

Time seemed to stand still. Seconds passed like hours, but in reality, there was barely time to blink an eye before everyone, except Rose, had reacted. Ash transformed himself into a giant snow tiger and leapt towards El-on-ah, with fangs and claws bared.

El-on-ah called out to Puk and reached upwards, a hand stretched out towards the sky. The pukis came from nowhere, skirting the ground like a hurricane, Puk swooped up, soaring above her head. Grabbing him by the tail, El-on-ah was lifted high into the air.

Revincio!” Auriel cast the binding spell. Golden thongs of energy lashed out from her ring, but her magic was not powerful enough, and the bindings fell short of El-on-ah’s quickly rising feet. Before she could cast again, El-on-ah was gone.

Auriel gasped, her cheeks streaked with tears. She ran over to Rose, who was kneeling in the dirt, cradling what remained of Arjan’s robes in her arms, her face expressionless but for two brimful, unblinking eyes. Lee, who had remained by her side, stood over her, gently resting his hands on her shoulders.

“Technically he’s not dead Rose, he merely descended,” Lee said, in an awkward attempt to console her. “He will ascend again in time. It serves no logical purpose for you to grieve for him.”

Auriel frowned at him, sighing and shaking her head in sorrowful acceptance of her friend’s insensitivity. She crouched down beside Rose, taking her hand tenderly in her own.

“I know that it won’t seem like this now, Rose,” she said, “and I can’t believe that I am going to say this... but Lee is right. Arjan did the only thing he could do. He did what any of us would have done. If he had not. Then we would have lost you, and then we would all lose. Arjan would want you to be strong Rose, to go on and fulfil your destiny.”

“I understand all of that,” said Rose her voice hoarse, “ but Arjan was my friend, I have lost my friend, and he died because of me.”

A tear forged a glistening path down one ashen cheek. Getting to her feet, Rose unfurled her left hand, in which she had gripped the adder stone so tightly, that it had left a deep impression in the centre of her palm. Its pulsating light had grown even more intense, and now it hummed with magical energy, primed for release.

Rose took a long breath. “We have to leave immediately,” she said, her voice emotionless. “El-on-ah will provide Ka with our location. We may not have told her where we were going, but she knows we travel with Twocasts and she knows we are in Ferrum. It will not be difficult for them to work out our destination. We have to warn the Twocasts and the resistance right away.”

Glancing down at Arjan’s blackened apis pin, she rubbed it between her fingers to remove the soot, and then attached it to her robe, beside her vaulknut.

“I will carry you with me... always,” she said softly, before turning to the others. “Tell Vega what has happened and ask him to make ready to leave. I’ll join you presently.”

Lee nodded and started to make his way back along the path, but Ash and Auriel hesitated.

“I have to do this alone.” Said Rose, “ I’ll be fine now, she’ll not be back....... Go!”

When finally they left, Rose took the adder stone and held it out in front of her, its green glow revealing her face, in all of its mournful contemplation. Concentrating she spoke the incantation that Lord Dux had taught her only a few days before.

“Incantatio secretum tuum”.... reveal to me your secret incantatio.

The stone burst open like a fiery puffball, expelling hundreds of shimmering silver letters into the air. Like liquid silver, the letters flowed into each other, joining together and forming words and finally a quivering script that danced before her as she read.

From knucker holes, thou must acquire,

Ice that stays the heat of fyre,

Keep it well in knucker’s spew,

Until again, I heed to you.

This charm begins,

Though there are more,

Three to fashion that...

Which is cast, on four.’

The words quivered and then all at once, they faded into nothing, the magic spent.

Rose placed the adder stone on the ground and stood back, her potens hand outstretched.

Occillo!” she spoke softly as she cast the destruction spell.

A searing bolt of white light shot from her potens ring, hitting the adder stone with a thunderous crack and fracturing it into thousands of tiny pieces.

Rose kicked at them, scattering the small grains of stone into the dirt. When she finally turned and walked back through the trees, there was nothing left to see, but fallen leaves, sandy soil and a few fragments of fine, green tinged grit.


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