Farant soaked the bandages around Elan’s shoulder with boiled water, then proceeded to carefully peel them away to reveal that there was absolutely no sign of any damage.
“How is this possible?” he demanded, shaking his head.
Elan looked back at him sheepishly and shrugged – in itself an unthinkable gesture for someone with a broken shoulder blade. The physician continued shaking his head.
“Nothing! No infection, no puncture wound, not even a scar!”
He looked almost affronted by this turn of events.
He touched the spot where the bolt had penetrated but Elan did not even flinch, allowing him to prod her shoulder blade to his heart’s content. In the end, he was forced to admit that it was hale.
“Could it be that it was not broken in the first place?” she asked in a small, tentative voice. A derisive snort was Farant’s response.
“Not in the world I live in, Daughter. The bone was shattered, I felt it myself.”
He turned to the rest of them with a resigned look.
“So you are all completely healed?”
“Not I.” Mist held up his bandaged hand. “Nor would I want you to prod me the way you just did her.”
Two others, Wind and Grifor, admitted to having suffered minor injuries in the attack; but like Mist’s, theirs were behaving much as wounds are expected to.
“So only the Chosen are healed. Perhaps there is more to you than meets the eye ... if I had not seen this for myself...”
He left the sentence unfinished, shook his head one last time, and took his leave.
A grim-faced Menphan Tarn arrived soon after, accompanied by a contingent of Blades who immediately posted themselves at the entrance.
“It is done,” the Wardmaster announced calmly. “The entire palace has been cleansed. Even as we speak, the warriors stationed at Saryam’s Gate are receiving the same treatment. It will not be long now before that bastion is clear as well.”
His eyes swept over them.
“You will soon be free to come and go as you please. However, I would advise you to restrict your wanderings to the palace and to maintain a constant...”
He faltered, clearly astonished at the sight of Elan sitting among them.
“What is she doing up?”
Azulya attempted to explain the unexplainable.
Illiom watched the Wardmaster closely. His look of surprise also held concern and suspicion.
“I do not understand this ... but it is a convenient development,” he finally stated, extending a nod in the priestess’ direction.
“Well and good. Whatever its cause, I am pleased that you are recovered.”
“As am I,” Elan agreed, returning the nod.
Menphan asked about the others’ injuries and listened thoughtfully as Argolan reported that only the Chosen had benefitted from the mysterious healing.
“Given that you were not battle-ready, you did well to protect the Chosen in this instance. Let this serve as a warning to remain watchful, especially when you feel safe, for that is when an ambush is most likely to succeed. If the Chosen are to survive, you must ensure that you never drop your guard.”
He turned back to the Chosen.
“It is too soon to say who was behind this attack. We do not yet even understand what was done to our men, except that they have been turned somehow. I suspect that in order to find the source of this taint, we will first have to extirpate its roots throughout the Keep. To this end our next priority, after Saryam’s Gate, will be to deal with the Wards stationed here upon Varadon’s Keep. Once they are cleared, we will have the manpower to oversee the cleansing of the whole city.”
His gaze was intense as he studied their faces.
“The Wards stationed outside Kuon exceed ten thousand soldiers, so to screen them all we will have to deal with one Shield at a time, and each Shield in turn will have to be broken down into smaller groups. What makes this an even lengthier process is the need to accomplish it discreetly; we must not raise the alarm amongst the tainted, lest we give them an opportunity to either flee or create complete mayhem.”
“How many have been found so far?” asked Argolan.
Menphan’s mien hardened.
“Seventy nine. Our biggest challenge is that those who survived capture are now taxing our resources. The dungeons were already close to overflowing with the madmen who had fallen to the lure of Moonwine. But even if they had been empty, we simply do not have the room to hold them all.”
“Those who survived...” Azulya repeated. “What happened to the ones who did not?”
Menphan nodded as if he had anticipated her question.
“The moment the tainted are exposed they abandon all vestiges of humanity and become worse than wild beasts. Despite our precautions, four of our own Blades were killed when the first group was exposed. We have since learnt to be better prepared.”
He paused momentarily, as though uncertain how best to expound.
“Keeping them alive after capture is proving not only difficult but almost impossible; already half of those captured are dead. At first, we threw them all together into the same holding cells, only to find that they turned against each other. Those who survived then proceeded to dash their own brains out against the cell walls. So you can see that the only way to keep them alive is to separate them and restrain them. But even that is not enough. The survivors, apart from snarling at anyone who comes near them, show no interest in food or water, nor do they respond to questions or threats – in fact they seem to have lost the ability to speak or communicate in any way.”
“That is terrible.” Azulya’s eyes held a look of horror. “What can we do?”
“There is nothing we can do. What is more, we simply cannot go on like this. As it is, our resources are stretched to the limit…”
He paused for a moment, his expression now hard.
“Therefore, I have ordered that no more prisoners be taken. From now on, as each tainted one is discovered, they will be killed on the spot.”
“Killed? But that is monstrous!” protested Elan.
Azulya made a half-strangled sound.
The Wardmaster gave them a look that was devoid of sympathy.
“No other course is open to us. There is not even the hope that their condition might be reversed; how can a missing heart be mended?”
He shook his head.
“The moment they are exposed, their doom is sealed. The only question that remains is how they are going to die and when: so better a swift, clean death than a prolonged agony.”
He dropped his gaze to the floor, but there was no apology in the gesture.
“So far the taint seems to be mostly restricted to the Wards; we have found no cases among the nobles, and only a few among palace officials and servants. If there is one good thing in all of this, it is that we seem to have caught this taint in time to prevent its spread far and wide. If it had gone unchecked for much longer, it would have completely overwhelmed us.”
He paced a few steps, still looking at the floor.
“I believe this attack upon you was ill-conceived: a strategic mistake on the part of whoever orchestrated it, for they have betrayed themselves to us prematurely. We now know of their existence and will prepare against them.”
He stopped pacing, his expression thoughtful.
“Had you not been here, had there been no attack upon you, thus exposing them, we would all have become lost.”
A wry smile softened his features for a moment.
“I say this because, even though most of you have reservations about your role as Chosen, this is one thing that you have, even if inadvertently, already brought to light.”
“Even so, we still do not know who is behind this, or how they managed to ... to turn your Blades,” Scald countered.
Menphan levelled a serious look at the Chosen.
“No, we do not. Yet several things are becoming apparent. As we scoured the palace we found that some key people were not accounted for, the most significant among them being Crelor, the Queen’s brother. He could conceivably be out on the Keep with his Ward ... but too many things are pointing towards him as someone pivotal to this whole mess, and to Kroen as the source of many of our troubles.”
Menphan began to pace around the table, counting a list on his fingers.
“First of all, Crelor’s disposition towards his sister underwent a dramatic and inexplicable change earlier this year, the changes coinciding with his return from Kroen. Second, all his men within the confines of the palace were found to be tainted. Last, but not least, the Queen’s first signs of illness were reported on the very night of Crelor’s homecoming celebration. There is no hard evidence, yet my instinct tells me that the Queen’s illness and the taint are related. Something happened in Kroen, something far more sinister than the reported tavern brawl…”
“What about us?” asked Scald. “I mean, we do not even know if any of us is tainted, or our Riders for that matter.”
This comment attracted a number of frowns but Menphan nodded in agreement.
“Indeed,” he replied.
A gesture from the Wardmaster, and the Blades who accompanied him left their posts by the wall, marching up in pairs to face either a Chosen or a Rider.
“Seize them,” he instructed calmly.
At this command the Chosen and their Riders found themselves restrained, each with a knife held at their throat.
“My apologies for this unfortunate precaution,” Menphan said, his voice even. “As I have already said, we have had to learn fast. But do not fear, if you are not tainted no harm will come to you.”
He moved towards the door.
“You are to be screened ... this will not take long.”
Menphan’s Blades escorted them separately to nearby rooms where each was asked to prove that they were not tainted. The scrutiny was accomplished sensitively, with men and women inspected by members of their own gender. Even so, Illiom found her heart pounding – in itself a reassuring thing – when it was her turn to show that no black stone nestled between her breasts.
“Get used to it,” warned Menphan once it was over and they had all returned to the hall unharmed. “You will find all entrances to the palace heavily guarded. Everyone who enters must submit to this scrutiny. No one is exempt, regardless of status or rank, even patrols that go out must submit when they return. Of course, word of this practice will eventually spread and the remaining tainted will be forewarned – a regrettable but inevitable development, I am afraid.”
He took a few steps towards the door but stopped on the threshold and turned to look at them.
“Oh, and the Iolan you have been expecting – she has arrived and is waiting to meet you. To save you time I have already arranged for her to meet both Talamus and Metmus; she has been briefed about you, and about all that has happened so far. When you are ready to meet her just send word to me. I will have someone take care of the details.”
Azulya glanced at the others.
“I believe we are ready to meet her now,” she said.
“Good, I will arrange it and send a runner once everything is in place.”
With that, Menphan Tarn departed.
Free to roam the palace again, the party voted to put in an appearance at the Great Hall. They had not yet eaten and it was already proving to be an eventful and taxing day.
As they wended their way towards the Hall, it was impossible not to mark the increased presence of the Ward: Blades in battle readiness were stationed at every major junction, and patrolled the hallways with focused purpose.
Animated discussion punctuated the group’s breakfast.
They speculated about the mysterious healing and its possible source. Some thought it must have something to do with Azulya’s Key; others, Sereth in particular, proposed that it might have been brought about by the Seeking Stones. They talked about the cleanse, and possible causes of the taint. No one had been surprised to hear of Crelor’s absence: the possibility that the man was tainted went a long way towards explaining his disturbing behaviour.
For Illiom, however, this had been a welcome revelation.
“When I met Crelor in the Wardmaster’s office I recognised in him the same man who had tried to kill me soon after Tarmel found me. I knew that was impossible, but there was no mistaking that look; now I understand ... if both were tainted...”
Secretly, Illiom mourned the loss of privacy that circumstances had forced upon them. When would she be able to speak with Tarmel, alone?
The Rider seemed once again withdrawn – amicable, but contained. Illiom yearned to know what was going through his mind.
In the end she resolved that if no opportunity presented itself, she would have to create one. She was preparing to do just that when the runner that Menphan had promised interrupted her plans by announcing that the descrier was waiting for them in the lobby, directly across from the main entrance.
They quickly finished their meal and set off to meet her.
On their way, Illiom chanced to glance out of a north facing window into the brilliant dazzle of yet another hot day. The sky was an intense cobalt blue, except along the horizon where the storm she had seen gathering a few days earlier lingered, even more swollen and menacing.
“I wish some of that rain would come to us,” she lamented. Despite the altitude, she still found the heat of the days oppressive.
Beside her, Elan followed her gaze.
“Before long you will wonder what possessed you to ask for such a thing. When the rains do finally fall on the Keep, they do so in no half-measure.”
They entered the vastness of the lobby and made their way through the forest of painted pillars. When Illiom spotted a woman seated alone within a circle of comfortable chairs, she knew without any hesitation that she was the Iolan.
Upon their approach, she rose gracefully to her feet.
Like Azulya, the descrier would be easy to mark, even in a crowded space.
She stood tall and was exotically handsome, with a tanned and lustrous skin that glowed like burnished copper. She was slim and elegant, and her clothes were extravagantly flamboyant.
A pearl-white bodice defined her beautifully proportioned upper body, and the skin-hugging sleeves of bright silk were edged with tassels that rippled like iridescent dragonfly wings at her every movement.
Illiom found herself gazing into eyes that shone like jewels: they were a deep brown, rimmed with green and speckled with amber light. The pupils themselves looked like black pearls.
“I am Kassargan, descrier to Draca Provan of Calestor.”
Argolan stepped forward.
“And I am Argolan, Shieldarm of the Black Ward; welcome to Kuon, descrier.”
Even the tall Shieldarm was dwarfed by the Iolan’s height. Of all present, only Azulya stood slightly taller. Argolan turned and introduced the Chosen to Kassargan, who bowed to each in turn.
“I am deeply honoured,” she said once the Shieldarm had completed her introductions.
It was a formal response but one that nevertheless shone from her eyes and rang with sincerity.
“My Lord, Draca Provan, has spoken of you. He has asked me to impress upon you his hope that you will visit him in Calestor.”
Scald looked confused.
“Draca Provan spoke to you of us? But what could he say? He has not even met us.”
“He said that you herald the next change,” Kassargan answered, a dazzling smile playing on her lips.
“That yours is the task of the age and that all assistance should be extended to you. So I am here to assist you in whichever way I can.”
Illiom could not tell whether Scald was satisfied with her answer or merely intoxicated by the beautiful woman’s charm. Either way he did not press for more.
The descrier turned to face Elan.
“Daughter, I am truly relieved to see you healed so swiftly after your terrible injury. What an extraordinary thing it was: the healing light danced and spiralled around you with such power, such exquisite grace. It was truly a spectacle to behold.”
Illiom frowned. No one other than the Chosen and the Riders had witnessed the priestess’ healing, yet the descrier spoke of it as if she had seen it with her own eyes.
Curious, Illiom asked, “Kassargan, who told you about the lights in Elan’s healing? I cannot remember any of us describing it to anyone in such detail.”
“No one,” the Iolan replied with candour. “Your Wardmaster, Menphan Tarn, told me about the healing, but without embellishment. I simply scried for myself; and later I scried the attack as well, and saw exactly how both had unfolded. As terrible and frightening as the attack was, the healing was beautiful and miraculous.”
Sereth pressed forward between Scald and Malco.
“Kassargan, forgive my impertinence for asking you this so soon after meeting you, but ... how does scrying work?”
Kassargan raised her head and laughed.
“That is such a big question! You might as well be asking me about the true nature of reality. Even Provan would be challenged to answer that.”
She paused, thoughtful for a moment.
“To understand how scrying works, you need to understand how closely everything is connected. Have you ever seen a flock of starlings cartwheel across the sky? The starlings fly fast and with synchronised precision. The question that many have asked is how does the individual bird know when the flock is about to suddenly turn? Is it observation or is it communication? Or perhaps an instinct?”
She paused for a span before continuing, her expression growing introspective.
“The sages say that there is much more to it than any of these things. The birds, they say, are able to fly as one only because they relinquish their individuality.”
Kassargan smiled, amused by their perplexed expressions.
“The individual bird cannot know what the flock will do while it retains its separateness, for its uniqueness is like a noise that interferes with the sound of the whole. But when the individual’s ‘noise’ is silenced, the bird can suddenly hear the song of the whole. In such a flock each bird knows exactly when to veer and in which direction because – in some way – it no longer exists, it is no longer an individual.”
“Because each bird has become the flock,” added Sereth with a broad grin.
“Precisely; and in a similar way scrying is possible because the descrier enters into a trance where she literally ceases to be. Just like the starling, her noise is suspended and she can hear and see the whole. Not in its entirety of course – that would be far too much for a small mind to contain – only what she chooses to focus upon. This is why the art of scrying relies heavily on learning to hone and master one’s ability to focus.”
“It sounds complicated,” Scald conceded.
“Scrying is both complex and simple. Complex whilst learning to let go of one’s individuality and simple when that lesson is mastered.”
Scald looked sceptical.
“You said ‘she’. Why is it that only women can scry?”
“Ah, that is one of the great mysteries. No one really knows, although there is one popular belief that it is due to women’s focus being much more internal than men’s. The descrier scries by internalising her focus to such a degree that she connects to the Plane of Source. This is a highly expanded ecstatic state, where the descrier experiences herself as being simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.”
Kassargan blinked and it seemed to Illiom that just talking about the process was affecting the Iolan deeply. She looked drowsy and a little distant.
Scald, immune as ever to another’s internal state, barged in with another question.
“If that is so, how could Prince Vardail, obviously a male, use one of your shields to scry?”
Slowly and with some effort, Kassargan marshalled herself to answer his question.
“It is a little known fact that a scrying shield can also be used quite successfully by anyone in possession of a Lumen Stone.”
“Yes, luckily it is quite rare ... legend says that the Seer Lumen produced it for her daughter, who was not endowed with the gift of Seeing. Lumen developed an obsession for finding ways of counteracting what she perceived as a mere disability. In the end, using her knowledge of Alchemistry, she produced a scrying stone which – she told herself – restored the gift of Seeing to those who had lost it. In fact the stone does no such thing: it is merely imbued with Lumen’s own considerable power so that anyone can use it, even someone completely devoid of any scrying ability.”
Illiom could not take her eyes away from the descrier’s. As the Iolan spoke, her eyes seemed to convey as much information as her words did, if not more.
“Through the use of this stone her daughter took part in our Varagan Draal, our Trial of Mastery, but the ruse was discovered and the girl was exposed as an impostor before the judges and therefore disqualified. No one knows for sure if this is how things really happened, but legend has it that Lumen, enraged by this outcome, threw the stone from her tower window. The stone fell and upon impact shattered into numerous fragments, each fragment regrettably endowed with the same power. I suspect that your Prince, clearly a very resourceful young man, must have caught wind of this tale and somehow procured a fragment of the stone. As I said, it is rare and difficult to obtain. I wonder how much he paid for it.”
“It sounds as though you do not approve of the stone’s existence or of it being used to scry by ordinary folk. Why is that?”
Kassargan smiled and nodded at Scald’s comment.
“A good question and yes, you are right, I do not approve. Scrying is a power and like any power there is the possibility of misuse. Before Lumen’s unfortunate creation there was a natural failsafe in place: one could only scry by surrendering their limited self to the greater whole, which is tantamount to saying that they expanded their consciousness. An expanded consciousness is incapable of even contemplating, let alone implementing, a misuse of power. That is only possible with a limited consciousness, like that present in any self-serving individual. So, what Lumen achieved was to bring scrying within the reach of anyone with enough gold to purchase a fragment of her stone. Do you see the implications? Unscrupulous scrying is nothing short of terrifying. This is why our Order is always seeking fragments of the Lumen Stone, with the sole intent of destroying them before they can fall into the wrong hands...”
“If it has been done once, it can be done again,” Scald interjected. “What is to stop a descrier from doing the same as this Lumen woman and producing more stones like these?”
“Our training,” Kassargan answered. “There was no training prior to Lumen, but we have learnt from the mistakes of the past. We have recognised the steps we must take to prevent the same thing from happening again. Lumen was a regrettable aberration, one that may never happen again; but if it ever does, the stringent training that we now impose on potential descriers will protect the world from such a reoccurrence.”
Scald looked dubious, but Malco pre-empted his response.
“So this is what Vardail used in his scrying. Good, that is one thing out of the way. Now all we need to do is figure out what he was scrying for and why the shield still shows Lodeh even though the Prince is long gone…”
“Why not take Kassargan to the Prince’s rooms right now?” Sereth piped in. “That is, if you have nothing more pressing to do.”
“Nothing would please me more ... this shield intrigues me. Unfortunately, I have requested an audience with Her Majesty and am waiting to hear if she will see me, so perhaps we can go there together, after I receive her response?”
Her suggestion having met with agreement, Kassargan asked to hear again of the events that had led up to the summoning. She was interested in their individual accounts of what had happened to them from the moment the Seeking Stones had singled them out.
A runner interrupted them to inform the descrier that Queen Eranel was waiting to see her. Kassargan stood and took her leave, but not before she promised to meet them after her business with the Queen was done.
They did not hear from Kassargan again until after dinner, and then it was only in the form of a message, informing them that she was too exhausted to meet with them and needed some time to replenish her energy. She would meet them the following day.
Even so, it was late the next afternoon when the striking descrier arrived at their door.
Angar let her in. She beamed at him as she entered and he smiled boyishly back at her. She cast a glance at the camp beds arranged along the walls and the racks of weapons set up near the entrance.
“Forgive me for not coming down yesterday, but scrying for your Queen took more out of me than I anticipated.”
Mist gestured towards a free chair but Kassargan declined the offer with a smile.
“Your Wardmaster was right to assume that the Queen’s illness was not natural,” she continued, her expression turning serious. “He had assumed poison, but it is not. It is something much worse than poison. It is a Spirit Knife. I have not come across one before, thank the Gods, but I remember it from my days at Calestor’s College.”
When no one spoke, Kassargan continued.
“It is a horrific abuse of power. It was used in Iol for a time during the darkest turmoil of Dur Egon, until Provan intervened and condemned it, forbidding its use, even before the inception of the Common Weal. All that remains of it is a written record and I had always assumed that all knowledge of its shaping and uses had been obliterated.”
“So someone in Iol has found a way of resurrecting this thing and they are now using it against our Queen?” Scald’s words were swollen with outrage. His vehemence seemed to be directed at the descrier, as though she was the one responsible for the Queen’s illness.
Sereth stood up before Kassargan could respond, drawing the room’s attention onto himself.
“Please forgive Scald, Kassargan; his tongue occasionally wags before his mind can inform it adequately.”
Scald leapt to his feet.
“You insipid little imp,” he spat. “Just because you do not have the balls or the sense to see what is directly before your face...”
The command cut through Scald’s outburst like a sword. It carried so much power that the outspoken Chosen was struck dumb. Everyone else in the room turned to look at Azulya with stunned surprise. The echo of that one word hung in the air and wove around the pillars, shaping an impenetrable silence.
Even Kassargan looked at the Kroeni with awe.
“Bickering amongst ourselves, being disrespectful to those who aid us; these things can only serve our enemies, not us. Nor our Queen.”
Azulya’s words continued to carry authority, although the power she had unleashed with that single command was no longer present. Yet its echo lingered in the air, lending strength to the words that followed it.
The descrier took a deep breath and nodded towards Azulya.
“Thank you,” she said, and turned to address Scald directly. “As I was saying, the Spirit Knife is no longer used in Iol. It has not been used in over twelve hundred years, and yet its markings are unmistakable. The pattern on the Queen’s chest indicates how advanced her condition is, and the healers are right to fear for her life. If the blade is not stopped she will surely be dead by year’s end.”
“Can it be stopped?” asked Elan, the pools of her eyes swamped with sadness.
Kassargan sighed before answering.
“It can only be stopped by finding its source and confronting the will that created it…”
“The will that created it?” Scald pressed. “And where in Theregon might we find this will if not in Iol, the very place where this thing was conceived?”
He cast a nervous glance at Azulya, but the Kroeni did not look at him.
“What is the point of allocating blame before a trail is even found and followed? In my scrying for the Queen I was unable to find the source of her wounding. It is as though some precaution has been set in place against discovery: the pathway was blocked and I have not been able to verify where it leads.”
The Iolan hesitated for a hair’s breadth.
“I confess that I am puzzled. I will scry again, of course, but for now let us turn our focus to the Prince’s shield. Who knows, maybe it will yield some answers.”
It was dusk by the time they reached Vardail’s rooms.
The Blades on watch let them in without challenge and the party made directly for the study. When they entered, Kassargan walked to where the shield still sat, perched on the table where Illiom had seen it last. The descrier bent over it and studied it quietly for a time.
“This is really odd,” she said at last with a worried frown. She ran her fingers along the shield’s rim then spoke in a barely audible whisper. “Hearing about it was one thing, but seeing it...”
She looked up at them then, her expression laced with concern.
“I have never seen a shield retain a scrying scene after the scrier has left ... even with a Lumen stone present, it is the awareness of the one scrying that sustains the link. The image always dissolves and the scrying ends as soon as physical contact is lost.”
Kassargan shook her head and walked around the shield to study it from a different angle. “Not so in this instance, apparently.”
“It does not look like any shield I have ever seen,” Pell commented, staring at it with obvious distaste.
The descrier looked up at him blankly for a moment before registering the Rider’s meaning.
“That is because this is not a warrior’s shield. Maybe the first ones were, back in the dim mists of time when the Art was first discovered. These days scrying shields are never made for battle; they are made from a league of pure metals that augment the scrying, and can only be forged by a master smith who has mastered the Art and is a descrier herself. Each shield has a hidden chamber in the very centre of its concave side, right here, beneath the scrying waters.”
She indicated the location for them. Illiom tried to peer past the image on the water but saw nothing.
“Within this chamber, one can place small objects relevant to the scrying. If one was to use a Lumen Stone this is where it would be placed. I will not disturb it now for it would surely destroy the present connection ... whatever that turns out to be. I will just align myself with the image in the water now, and work backwards from there to try and piece together what the Prince may have been seeking in this scry.”
She spread her arms around the shield, delineating a space around it.
“Please stand back. Too many gazers can disturb the impressions left by the Prince, and I could lose the thread.”
They backed away from the contraption, Pell, for one, only too glad to comply.
Kassargan took up a position before the instrument and gazed quietly into the still pool. The silence in the room grew, swallowing up even the smallest sounds and Illiom, fearful of disrupting the descrier’s concentration, found herself holding her breath.
Kassargan began to chant; softly, using no words, just rounded sounds that merged and fused into one another.
After a few moments, Illiom felt the temperature in the room drop. She looked around to see if a window had been left open, but all the windows were hidden behind heavy drapes.
She shivered and hugged herself for warmth.
The descrier leaned in towards the shield.
“There seems to be someone holding on to this image from the other end ... how extraordinary! I have never ... let me see if I can find out who it is.”
Illiom suddenly felt a chill deep in her belly and began to feel apprehensive.
“Ah ... and what is this?” Kassargan whispered, so absorbed in the image in the waters that she had become oblivious to the room and everyone in it.
“Why are you hiding? Do not worry, I will not hurt you.” A frown suddenly claimed her expression.
Suddenly the descrier’s chest heaved and her mouth worked as if she was struggling to take in air.
“What ... no!” she said, her voice no louder than a whisper.
“Please, no, no ... please...”
If fear itself had a face, it was now Kassargan’s.
Illiom was watching Kassargan when the change came over her. The descrier’s expression became one of abject terror. The exquisite lines of the Iolan’s face twisted hideously. Her lips parted in a soundless scream.
Then she did scream and it was the most terrified and terrifying sound that Illiom had ever heard. She was unable to think or move.
“Kassargan!” a voice shouted.
As if this was a signal, several Riders leapt towards the Iolan.
Grifor and Malco took hold of her arms and tried to wrest her away from the shield. Likewise, Argolan gripped the descrier’s face in her hands and tried to avert her gaze from the scrying, but the Iolan could not be budged.
Kassargan’s scream was severed suddenly. She struggled to breathe, her neck muscles taut with the effort.
All she managed was a few strangled gasps.
Illiom then saw two depressions form on the Iolan’s perfect throat, one on either side of her larynx. Something unseen was intent on crushing her throat. Tears streamed down Kassargan’s face: tears of blood.
With a swiftness that defied comprehension, Tarmel leapt onto the table. With two strides he reached the shield. He kicked it with so much power that the instrument became airborne and flew across the study to crash with a clamour against the far wall.
A disembodied roar of frustration shattered the silence as the scrying waters sprayed into the air, forming thousands of droplets that seemed to cascade around the gathering like languid rain.
Illiom recoiled from the water’s touch as though it were acid.
As the water splashed harmlessly around their feet, a devastating silence rushed in and Kassargan’s body crumpled lifelessly to the floor.