The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 24: KNUCKERS

By late that afternoon, Rose’s head was throbbing, and she was convinced that each time they rested, someone had secretly stuffed stones into her haversack. Originally, she had intended to spend the journey time planning a safe strategy for obtaining Knucker’s spew. Instead, what she had done was listen to Auriel and Lee talk. Thankfully, as they reached the first of the Knucker Holes, they both quietened long enough to draw breath.

The small crater was like an inverted dome. Its lava-sculpted rim poked up from the surrounding ice, ejecting steam and bubbles like a cauldron of soup fit for a giant. Its sulphurous aroma was not so appetising. Rose held her breath in a predictably unsuccessful attempt at resisting her natural urge to breathe. It proved almost as futile as trying to avoid listening to Auriel recite every minuscule fact she had ever read about Knuckers, which unusually, turned out not to be a whole lot. Even more strangely, Lee proved to be somewhat more of an expert, having read just about every book in the oratory library that even mentioned the word dragon.

“They’ll be really overdue now,” he said suddenly, cringing in dismay. “I’ve never failed to return a book on time before.”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that,” Ash let his eyes flick to Auriel mischievously, “the whole library’s probably gone up in smoke by now anyway.”

“I don’t think that is something you should be joking about,” Auriel’s lips set into a tight, thin line. “If that’s true then all of our friends are probably gone as well.”

“I am sure that they’re not Auriel,” Ash’s smile faded. “I doubt that even Lord Ka and the Afreet can rid us of Lord Dux that effortlessly.”

The four of them perched on the edge of the Knucker hole, resting their feet and warming themselves on the heat from the rocks. Linden and Ro-eh-na sat opposite, on the other side of the rim. Linden’s arm encircled Ro-eh-na’s waist, supporting her securely as she dangled her feet over the hole and steeped them in the bubbling, steaming, and wonderfully warm water.

“They seem to be getting very friendly,” Ash tossed a suggestive wink towards Rose. “I thought fraternisation between casts was forbidden, let alone ascendant and native. Won’t they grow two heads or something?”

Rose studied the couple for a while; they looked so carefree as they kicked their feet in the water, playfully splashing one other. She felt her face relax into a smile. What must it be like to feel that way?

“That kind of bigoted belief system is in the past now,” the wistful smile dropped from her lips as she continued to watch them, “at least I hope it is.”

“You know,” A flash of insight brightened Auriel’s eyes. She leant over, dipping her hand into the briny blue liquid. Sheepishly she cast a glance in Rose’s direction. “I can’t remember the last time I had a bath...”

“Well, I did say we would rest when we got here.” Rose mirrored Auriel’s air of conspiracy, the thought of immersing herself in the warm salty liquid was extremely tempting, “and I can’t think of a better way to relax.”

Then, letting out loud whoops, they threw off their outer robes and leapt into the foaming, blue water. The brine sprang up like the glistening tails of a hundred tiny porpoises, splattering Lee and Ash’s astonished faces and transforming Sloley into a woolly pinecone, his fur clumping together in a collection of damp brown tufts.

Ash and Lee regarded each other with wide eyes as water dripped from their hair. Then, hooting with laughter, they discarded their wet clothing and dove into the water.

The briny water effortlessly supported Rose’s slight frame. She floated, gazing up into the cloudless sky and moaning with pleasure as thousands of tiny bubbles pummelled at her body. Steam rose around her. This feels so good, she thought, even if it does stink.

“This is absolute bliss,” Auriel smiled up at the pair sitting at the edge of the pool. “You should join us Ro-eh-na, it’s wonderfully warm, it would be so soothing for your...”

“No,” Ro-eh-na’s body tensed, her relaxed manner vanishing. She shook her head, drawing her cloak tightly around her, “I’m quite happy just warming my feet… thanks.”

No one spoke for a while then. Auriel seemed utterly dismayed. Rose could sympathise, they had both grown used to the scars on Ro-eh-na’s face but chosen to forget that her wounds did not stop there.

“Ro-eh-na, you can still join them,” Linden whispered into her ear, giving her arm a reassuring squeeze. “I believe seals are quite at home in water.”

Rewarding him with a beautifully crooked smile Ro-eh-na’s striking almond eyes brimmed and glowed, instantly liquefying as they transformed into the limpid black eyes of a sleek grey seal. With smooth gracefulness, the animal slid from his arms and into the water.

Laughter rang out as Ro-eh-na cut through the water, effortlessly rolling and weaving between them.

“You too Linden,” Ash gestured for him to join them.

“Not right at this moment, thank you,” Linden held up his hands, shaking his head. “Maybe it would be prudent for at least one of us to remain dressed and on solid ground.”

Pulling on his boots, Linden gathered up his belongings and went to sit on a large boulder, which provided him with an expansive view of the tundra. Taking a strip of deer jerky from his pack, he chewed on it as he watched them, smiling with a relaxed air of contentment.

Rose tipped back in the warm water, her silver-white hair fanning out like an unruly halo. She closed her eyes, revelling in the sensations that pervaded her body as the effervescent, pulsating jets of bubbles kneaded and soothed her tired, aching muscles. There was something very gratifying about bathing amidst the snow and ice, the cold breeze sharp in your face as your body tingles with the caress of a thousand fizzing eddies.

Submerging herself entirely under the surface of the water Rose rubbed her face with her hands before emerging, pushing her wet hair out of her eyes and gazing out over the tundra. Seven stone boulders stood erect, like ancient monoliths, casting giant shadows as the mid-afternoon sun dropped ever lower in the azure sky. The cold air sent a sudden chill through her wet skin.

“Sorry everyone,” Rose said, hating that she had to drag everyone back to reality, “but we should eat and then get going. We need to be out of the Knucker Holes by nightfall, and we’ve yet to find a way inside.”

“Well, that shouldn’t be difficult should it,” Lee’s eyes shifted markedly to Sloley, who, snuggled amidst Lee’s discarded clothes, had begun preening himself meticulously. “After all, we do have one of the most expert foragers in all of the Afterlands with us.”

“Okay then,” Ash looked at the others as they bobbed in the water with only their faces exposed to the freezing cold air, “so who’s going to get out first?”

“I was first in, so I’ll get out and heat up a rock or two,” Rose swung herself up onto the edge of the crater.

Rose didn’t feel the effects of the cold as the others anyway. Grabbing her robes, she wrapped her cloak about her body and slipped on her pumps. Selecting the largest of the seven boulders, Rose placed her palm above its speckled granite-like surface.

Incendium.”

A fiery, silver light crackled and leapt from her ring, its pulsating glow enveloping the massive monolith. As the boulder warmed the snow melted rapidly around it. Rivulets of water trickled away, fleeing from the growing heat.

They sat, wrapped in their cloaks as they ate. Rose watched them, prodding and teasing each other, laughing through chattering teeth as they waited for their clothes to dry. I have all the warmth I need right here.

Once dressed, newly warmed and invigorated, the group were in high spirits and eager to begin the next stage of their journey. Lee and Sloley were on point, travelling due north, across the desolate, frozen tundra and out towards the southwestern peninsula of Knucker Bay.

Rose marvelled at their bond, they seemed so perfectly in tune with one another. Periodically, Sloley stretched out his short neck, nose twitching vigorously and his tongue tasting the air. This was the signal for Lee to pause, and concentrate on the tirade of seemingly incomprehensible chirping and chattering emanating from the tiny creature, before subtly, but decisively, readjusting his route.

Less than an hour later Sloley made a discovery. The little Loris grew extremely agitated, his muted chatters transforming into high pitched squeals as he leapt from one shoulder to the other, circling Lee’s head, spinning around it like a fur covered top.

“There are Knuckers ahead of us,” said Lee, “Sloley’s a little concerned about this though I don’t see why…”

“Yeah, we know,” Ash mimicked Lee’s dispassionate tone, “because they’re only dragons, and just like other animals they aren’t evil, we’ve no reason at all to be scared of dragons…”

Lee narrowed his eyes.

“You know,” Lee’s lips twisted into something vaguely resembling a smile, “I find it really encouraging that you are learning so much from me. Keep it up, and one day you may just make a C in Cognito after all.”

He lifted Sloley from his shoulder and giving him a reassuring pat, he stuffed him safely away inside his backpack.

“If Sloley is correct,” Lee waved his arm towards a small rise up ahead of them, “then that hill is not a hill at all, but the walls of a massive Knucker crater with an entrance to the Knucker holes.”

“However can he know that?” Linden’s brow furrowed as he looked at the nondescript, snow covered mound ahead of them.

“Well,” Ash, slapped a hand on Linden’s shoulder. “Let’s just say that Sloely makes up for his lack of taste in best buddies by having the capability to locate a grape, wrapped in garlic, encased in a lead box, buried in a sack of compost and hidden at the bottom of the deepest mine in Hydrargyrum. All with a few twitches of that tiny snout.”

The top of the mound did indeed turn out to be the edge of large Knucker hole. Linden eyed it with a look of trepidation.

The rim of the crater was narrow, about a foot’s width of fresh snow rested on inch thick ice. Its sides were steep and smooth, like a giant china breakfast bowl and there, about fifty feet below them at its centre was a dark, rounded fissure.

“That can’t be the entrance,” Linden’s brows furrowed, “I doubt that even I could fit through there, let alone a full grown Knucker. Anyway, we’d be crazy to try and climb down; it’s pretty much sheer ice.”

“I agree,” Lee’s body tensed, his feet slipping on the uneven ground. “It’s difficult enough trying to keep upright here, particularly when you’ve got a crazy animal jiggling about on your shoulder.”

Sloley was now perched precariously on the back of his neck. His tiny paws gripped Lee’s hair, yanking back his head.

“For goodness sake, Sloley,” Lee flung out his arms, flailing them about like a windmill, “keep still you’ll have us both off...”

Lees attempt at counterbalancing exacerbated the situation drastically, his feet slipped from under him, and the pair toppled over the edge of the rim.

“Noooooo... ” Lee’s cries echoed around the giant amphitheatre.

“Well that’s one way of getting down there I suppose,” said Ash, with a grin as he watched them slide down the side of the crater towards the black crevice at its centre, “you can always count on Lee to find a novel solution to our problems. Shall we join them?”

Rose’s eyes widened, travelling from Ash’s amused expression, down the grooves on the side of the basin and to the wailing figure now fast disappearing into the hole at the centre of the crater.

“You have to admit it Rose, that looks unbelievably good fun,” Ash lowered himself eagerly onto the edge of the crater, “last one down’s a stink hole…”

Not waiting for Rose’s approval he pushed himself off, raising his arms above his head as he slid rapidly down the incline.

“Whooo... Guys… you’ve… got... to… try… this… it’s… bloody… AWE… SOME….”

“Shall we?” Rose’s lips hitched in a wry smile as she tossed a glance at Auriel, offering her hand.

“I can’t believe we are doing this,” Auriel hesitated, then shrugged, grabbing Rose’s wrist she pulled her off her feet.

Rose shrieked as the pair slipped into a natural furrow in the ice and hurtled down the sides of the slope. As they neared the opening of the Knucker hole, they let out a stream of nervous laughter.

“This is just madness,” Linden shook his head as he watched their descent, “there’s no way…”

“Surely you are not afraid Commander Linden?” Ro-eh-na teased, “you’ll fit through fine, the opening is much bigger than it looks from up here.”

“We have no idea what is at the bottom,” said Linden, “we could be sliding into the open mouth of a dragon for all we know.”

“You’re worried about been eaten by Knuckers?” Ro-eh-na laughed, “The fall will probably kill us!”

She nudged Linden playfully in the back. Instinctively he stuck out his arms, overbalancing. Then he tipped forward and plunged headfirst down the icy bank. Chuckling, Ro-eh-na crouched at the edge of the crater, before transforming once more into the guise of a snow leopard. The huge cat sidled forward, then followed him down, with its four giant paws spread out like a gawky fawn and its tail held erect, waving about like the rudder of a ghost ship.

Ro-eh-na had been right, the fissure was much larger than it had appeared from above, and it was far from the end of their descent. Once inside, they found themselves whooshing along an extended tube-like tunnel, its walls packed with thick, glassy ice.

Slowing a little as the incline decreased, they continued to descend deep underground. Twisting and turning, coiling and spinning, the tunnel echoed with cries of uneasy laughter, playful excitement and intermittent terror.

Eventually, the chute came to an abrupt end, suspended about six feet above the floor of an immense, underground cavern. They tumbled out one by one, landing in a heap onto a mound of powdery snow.

Prisms of ice, like giant shards of glass, spiked from the ceilings and walls, scattering the available light into hundreds of rainbow-coloured beams that sparkled and bounced around the cave.

“Move… quickly!” yelled Ash, pulling Lee out from under him, “Linden’s on his way down.”

“And... you’re afraid that he may land on top of me like you just did?” Lee huffed, getting to his feet, brushing snow from his robe and patting at his hood.

“Oh no...” Lee’s eyes frantically scoured the mound of disturbed snow.

“What’s up?” asked Ash.

Screams of excitement, growing rapidly in volume, drifted down from the chute above.

“Sloley is missing. I can’t see him anywhere, can you?” Lee’s voice trembled.

Just then, Rose and Auriel dropped out of the chute, falling just in front of him, laughing hysterically, their faces flushed.

Ash grabbed their arms, pulling them clear barely a second before Linden came crashing down, followed by the wettest most bedraggled looking cat imaginable.

Ro-eh-na landed heavily on Linden’s upper body, winding him badly. Righting herself, she shook her coat, splattering all of them with foul, leopard-scented drool.

Their protests were stifled by Lee’s urgent voice.

“Ro-eh-na, we can’t find Sloley. Can you help?”

The cat’s dark eyes blinked in response as she raised her nose into the air. Instantly she caught a scent, spinning around she bounded over Linden’s prone body. Four massive paws padded soundlessly towards a small pile of snow thrown up by their arrival. The cat buried her muzzle deep into its powdery mass until the icy granules invaded its nostrils prompting an enormous sneeze, which blew away the snow and revealed a wet, shivering, bundle of fur.

“Sloley,” Lee fell to his knees beside the tiny animal, “are you okay?”

The trembling bundle unfurled. Two enormous, saucer-like eyes narrowed, fixing accusingly on the young Alchemist.

“Oh, come on Sloley,” Ash rested a hand on Lee’s shoulder, “don’t give Lee such a hard time, things could have been so much worse... the cat could have landed on you.”

“Or even worse than that,” Ro-eh-na had transformed back into her Ascendant form, her lips slanted in a quirky smile, “it could have been Linden.”

“Oh, I’m not sure that would have been worse,” Linden spluttered, slapping his chest as he attempted to get to his feet. He leant forward briefly with his hands on his knees, taking a long breath before finally pulling himself up to his full height. He quickly discovered that this was a mistake, as he cracked his head on a gigantic stalactite hanging from the roof of the cavern.

“It’s just not your day, is it?” quipped Ash

“This place...” Auriel’s jaw dropped, “it’s like a cluster of rainbows trapped in a crystal ball.”

“Yes, it is... unbelievably beautiful,” but Rose wasn’t looking at the cave, she was watching Lee, tenderly lifting the tiny Loris and carefully checking each of his fragile limbs before wrapping him gently in his cloak.

“Don’t scare us like that again will you,” Lee moved his lips, brushing Sloley’s ear, “I’ve grown to kind of... rely on you now, and besides Rose needs you. You’re a valuable member of our team you know, so... where to next? ”

Sloley nudged his head towards an opening at the far side of the cavern, making three small clicks with his tongue before burying his face in the crook of Lee’s arm.

“Through there,” Lee deposited Sloley gently into his hood, arranging the thick black material carefully around him. “If you are still intent on locating Knuckers, you will need to take that passageway.”

Luceat Lux,” Rose spoke the illumination incantation quickly as she made her way over to the tunnel entrance, the others following closely behind.

The crystal in her potens ring shone brightly, illuminating the passage as they ventured inside. The walls of the passage were coated with a thick vivid blue substance. Rose brushed the tips of her fingers over it and gathered a layer of sticky blue slime.

“That looks gross… it smells gross too,” said Ash, adding hesitantly, “Rose, don’t you think that maybe it’s time you told us what we’re looking for? If you let us help you, we’ll have a much better chance of finding it.”

Pausing, Rose brought their procession to a brief halt. Rose knew he was right, but they had trusted Lord Baroque and had even let El-on-ah into their circle, with disastrous results. Can she risk being wrong again?

“Okay,” Rose bit down on her lip as she turned to face them. “Ash is right, we’re a team and if we cannot rely on each other, what are we fighting for anyway? So, here it is. When the Incantatio spoke, it urged me to seek out ‘Ice that stays the heat of fyre’ which apparently, I should then store in Knucker’s spew. I’ve no idea what that means, but I knew we’d need to find Knuckers, so here we are. Any ideas?”

“Really... You don’t know what Knucker’s spew is... None of you?” Lee shot a questioning look at Auriel’s blank expression and let out an exaggerated gasp of exasperation. “Well, whatever do they teach you Memorix in Cognito classes these days? Knucker’s spew is the breath of an ice dragon of course. Fyre dragons breathe out fyre, and ice dragons breathe out…”

“Ice?” ventured Ash.

“Oh really,” said Lee, with sigh “Spew of course! It has the properties of both liquid and gas. It freezes whatever it touches instantly, preserving it forever, or until it is disturbed. It makes matter so fragile that the slightest amount of pressure will cause it to splinter into millions of tiny pieces.”

“So the Incantatio instructed Rose to preserve ice inside something that turns everything into ice?” Ash shrugged. “That just doesn’t make sense at all, or am I missing something?”

“Invariably,” said Lee, his lips twitching involuntarily.

“Okay Lee, I don’t think any of us would argue that you are smart. You know everything there is to know about dragons,” Auriel’s tone was smug, “but how is it that you, an Alchemist, appear to have never heard of the one substance capable of ‘staying the heat of fyre’?”

“Oh, this just gets better and better,” said Ash, “I take it from that Auriel, that you do know the name of this elusive substance?”

“I do... It is known as diamond dust.” Auriel’s eyes glinted in amusement as Lee’s chin jutted out so far she could have hung a kettle from it. “Whatever do they teach you in Alchemy classes these days?”

“Touché...” Ash touched his forehead in mock salute. “So what is it and how do we find it?”

“It’s a vapour, a foggy mist formed in bright, clear skies at very low temperatures. It’s made up from tiny ice crystals, and its beauty is said to astound you. Though goodness knows how we are going to collect it.”

“So that must be why we need the Knucker’s spew, to preserve the particles of diamond dust and keep them separated.” Said Rose, “That means we’ll need to collect the spew first. So now, all we need to do is find a Knucker.”

“You do know, despite what Lee says, those things are extremely dangerous,” said Ash, “I mean seriously how…”

“Hold on,” Linden’s hushed voice boomed in the small tunnel. “I think I may know where we can find the diamond dust.”

“You do?” Lee’s brows arched dramatically, “then maybe you should major in Cognito instead of Auriel…”

“Shush,” said Auriel, “maybe you should major in bad manners! Go on Linden.”

“When we first encountered the Fae on the tundra,” he hesitated, “I may be wrong but weren’t they surrounded by a fog just like that.”

“Yes, they were...” Rose recalled the wraith-like figures floating in a thick bright mist, speckled with a million tiny shards of light, “you are right Linden, it was exactly like that. I can summon the Fae when we have the spew.”

“You know how to do that?“Ash raised his brows as Rose nodded. “So what do you do, did they give you a horn to blow or something?”

He jumped as an ear-splitting blast, something between a roar, a howl and a scream sounded from deep inside the tunnel.

“Now that... is a Knucker,” Lee’s eyes widened, “magnificent isn’t it?”

“Man, if you think that sounds like something good,” Ash shook his head, “then being a nerd is the least of your problems.”

“Lee, as our resident expert on Knuckers,” Rose ignored the twinkle of amusement in Ash’s eyes. She cleared her throat, “have you any idea how we might harvest their spew?”

Lee unclipped the clasp on his occultus, rummaged inside and brought out a glass specimen jar with a large cork bung in the top.

“This should be quite adequate for what we need.”

“Of course,” said Ash, “I see your intention now. We just have to encourage the Knucker to spit in the jar... why didn’t I think of that? Oh, I know because it’s a stupid plan that’s why.”

“Evidently,” said Lee, “that is why you thought of it. No, we’ll need to use magic, and there is only one of us here who has the skill.”

“I would have to cast a block and a holding spell simultaneously, wouldn’t I?” Rose felt their eyes resting on her like lead weights. “I’ve not done that before...”

“It won’t be safe, Rose. There isn’t enough room in these tunnels; it wouldn’t give you enough time. Unless...” Ash turned to Lee, “Everything fears something, right? So what do Knuckers fear?”

“The adults have no natural predators if that’s what you mean,” Lee’s eyes flashed with sudden insight, “but, they absolutely detest snow foxes. It’s on account of them being rather partial to Knucker eggs. Are you thinking of offering yourself up as bait?”

“I think that if you all returned to the cavern, I could transform into a snow fox, locate the beast and lure it out. Rose, you can wait in the cavern at the tunnel entrance. It will give you an element of surprise, and you’ll have all the space and time you’ll need. I think it could work, all I’d have to do is annoy the Knucker enough to get it to chase me.”

“Even though, being an Ascendant, the animal’s poison won’t harm you,” said Lee, “and annoying the beast should be absolutely no problem, especially for you. Knuckers are extremely fast, and if its spew hits you, you will literally be iced.”

“Literally?” said Ash.

“Literally,” Lee’s expression did not alter, “then, even the slightest amount of pressure will cause fractures. Even if we found a way to thaw you out, I’m not sure you’d be able to morph yourself back from that without at least missing one significant body part.”

“He’d stand a better chance if I went along as well,” said Ro-eh-na, “two of us should be able to entice the beast while at the same time confusing it enough to stop either of us becoming permafrost.”

“You are assuming that there is only one of them, what if there are more,” Linden grasped Ro-eh-na’s wrist, jerking her towards him. “Is it not enough that you almost burned to death, now you want to risk being frozen for eternity?”

“I would risk that, and more,” Ro-eh-na’s eyes flashed boldly, “much more if it means defeating Ka and the scum he freed from Erebus, and so would you Commander.”

They all knew that she was right and Linden did not argue.

“It’s a viable plan, and we have little else,” Rose threw a cautious glance towards Ash, “but please take care, we are few as it is, and I do not think I could cope with losing any more of my friends.”

The Knucker roared once more. This time, it was much closer and moving towards them.

“It’s caught our scent,” said Lee, “If we’re going, we need to go now.”

“Ready?” Ash turned to Ro-eh-na taking her hand.

Instantly their bodies dissolved into shimmering, elastic figures that warped and constricted, reforming into small, white foxes. Racing ahead, they quickly disappeared into the darkness.

The others returned to the cavern and Rose took up a position at its centre and directly opposite the entrance to the passageway.

“You will need to remain behind me,” as she spoke, Rose’s gaze never wavered from the tunnels craggy entrance. “It’s the only way I can protect you.”

As if challenging those words, a monstrous roar filled the cavern and the thundering of massive limbs shook the ground beneath their feet.

“Behind me, NOW.” Rose, spread her arms protectively.

A small white fox shot from the tunnel entrance, darting sideways and just avoiding a jet of cobalt coloured liquid and vapour. It hit the wall of the cavern, freezing instantly into a layer of thick blue ice. Losing its footing the fox slid sideways into a large boulder beside Rose. Instinctively, she ran forward towards the gigantic, blue scaled beast as it burst through the too small opening, scattering rock and ice before it. The walls rumbled and shook around them.

Piercing yellow eyes fixed on Rose as the animal drew back its head, opened its jaws and ejected a thick stream of spew towards her.

Obsepio,” Rose cast the blocking spell, moving instantly into a blocking action and sending a wall of white energy flying towards the spew and obstructing its path. “Tenere,” Without a second’s hesitation she screamed the holding command.

Time stilled. The dragon and its stream of icy blue spew hung motionless in the air.

Lee moved forward tentatively, lifting the specimen jar, he scooped up a large globule of spew and carefully replaced the lid.

Linden rushed to the side of the fox as it began to transform.

“Hey Linden,” Ash greeted him with a wry smile, “I didn’t know you cared...”

“Where’s Ro-eh-na?” Linden did not attempt to hide his concern.

“Yeah,” said Ash, rubbing his head, “I’d rather like to know the answer to that question myself, as she just upped and left me to it.”

“She’d never do that,” Linden’s face reddened.

“Well, she did. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you ask her yourself?” Ash jerked his head towards the small white fox as it ran out of the passage and towards Rose.

Between its jaws, it carried a smooth oval object emitting a soft green glow. Ro-eh-na dropped it at Rose’s feet as she rematerialized.

“I think it’s part of the incantatio,” Ro-eh-na said, catching her breath. “It’s a fossilised Knucker’s egg. I found it in a small chamber off one of the passageways. I’m sorry I left you Ash, but if you had not distracted the Knucker, I would never have been able to take it.”

“It is the incantatio,” Rose lifted the egg from the ground, it blazed like a captured star, “and I think you have all earned the right to see its magic revealed. Stand back everyone.”

Placing her ringed hand over the stone Rose spoke the incantation.

incantatio secretum tuum,”

The rock exploded in a blaze of emerald light, bursting open like a fiery puffball. Shimmering, molten silver letters floated in the air, aligning to form a quivering script that danced before them.

An icy curtain holds the key,

Spectra trapped for eternity,

Break one finger of silver hue,

And lay this down in Knuckers spew.

The charms requirements,

One half met,

Complete in one final piece.

Should you dare to collect.

“It’s telling us where we need to go next,” said Auriel, “the icy curtain. It can only mean the frozen falls, and they are right between here and Isingwilde.”

“It also tells us what we need to collect,” Lee would not be outdone, “the finger of silver hue has to be antimony, it’s a rare silver grey mineral, the grains get washed down from the mountains and become trapped in the ice. It makes sense that you’d need antimony for your charm, it has the property of repelling fyre.”

“Lord Eldwyn has planned this all so meticulously,” Auriel shook her head. “All those thousands of years ago, how could he predict all this, our arrival, our every move?”

“The incredible power of magic,” Rose felt the strength of the potens ebbing and flowing within her. A tidal wave of energy, primed and ready to be channelled. “It is such an amazing gift. Don’t you see how it connects us all, those that have gone before and those yet to come? It draws us to our destiny and provides us with the power to realise it.”

“You talk as if it’s alive,” said Ash.

“It’s more alive than we are. We are merely its vessels. Take away our physical bodies and we are all Fae. Each one of us afloat on a sea of magical energy, drawing our power from the one timeless, omniscient conduit, even Lord Ka.”

“That’s a scary thought,” said Ash, “I don’t fancy being in the same boat as him, not with Lord Eldwyn plotting the course. The incantatio may have provided us with clues, but it held a warning too, or was I the only one to notice?”

“Oh, I think we all noticed,” said Lee.

“Well, unless we get out of here soon, we won’t have to worry about that,” said Auriel, casting her eyes back towards the dragon, “magic is notoriously short-lived when it’s used against Knuckers.”

A yellow eye swivelled in its socket, following them out as they left.


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