Heart Stone - (The Dagger of Dragon Rose Book 2)

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I’ve never seen it do that before.” - Na’el
The tension hung thick in the air, an invisible fog threatening choke those in the room. Blood dripped from the location on Na’el’s neck where Shaunna held the knife. Tiny pops echoed through the room as electricity occasionally arced between the strands of Tarea’s hair. Grathius stood at the back of the room holding Mark’s dark form.
“If you need my help so bad, why are you still pressing your blade into my neck?” Na’el’s calm was maddening.
“Because, if I move, I am not entirely sure that your house won’t be decorated by a new statue.” She flinched as the pop of electricity kept sounding behind her.
Tarea placed her hand on Shaunna’s shoulder. “I’m okay.”
Shaunna nodded, dropping her hand from his throat.
“What about Marrk?” Grathius’ voice whimpered slightly as he spoke.
Shaunna retrieved the small crystal cylinder from the ground where it had fallen from her hand. “Here.” She offered the object to Tarea.
“Uhh... That thing just killed you. We were lucky that Na’el, Saria and Hope were here, or you would still be dead.
“What do you mean?”
Na’el stepped forward. “Just a mixture of old fashioned know how and new fashioned magic.”
Shaunna shook her head at the thought. “Moving on.” She turned back to Tarea. “Taren used the blade often, and it didn’t affect him. There is no reason to believe that you wouldn’t be able to use it, being his sister.”
“Are you sure this will work?” Tarea eyed the crystal hesitantly.
“I am reasonably sure. You just need to pass Ethos through the sword quickly. That should give him enough energy that he can share it with Mark.”
“Interesting.” Na’el muttered quietly.
Tarea let out a deep sigh. “Okay, I’ll try.”
The purple color that infused the cylindrical object dissipated as soon as Tarea touched it. Her eyes went wide as words flashed across its surface.
Choose your color
“I don’t understand.”
“The sword determines whether you are good or evil based on the color you choose.” Na’el explained.
“You sure know a lot about things.” Hope accused.
“I’ve lived for several millennia, and I worked very closely with the man that knew more about anything crystal than any other creature I’ve met. So yes, I know a lot about a lot of things”
Tarea stared at the crystal in her hand for a long while. She marveled at how warm it was to the touch. It almost reminded her of the heart stones in her twin swords.
Choose your color. The words continued to scroll across the surface of the cylinder.
Tarea shrugged. “White.”
The crystal began to hum as new words flashed across it. You have chosen well.
White lightning shot from both ends as she wrapped her fingers around the smooth surface of the crystal. The electricity hummed as it wrapped around her hand, elongating into a sword. The sword was unlike anything that any of them had seen before. The electricity writhed and seethed against itself, adding a roughness to the blade that gave it a somewhat sinister edge.
“I’ve never seen it do that before.” Na’el whispered in awe.
Without emotion, Tarea lifted the bulky weight of Ethos’ and quickly passed the blade through the humming electricity.
Ethos’ blade pulsed with bright energy as it emerged from the bottom of the Star Fire Sword’s blade.
“Here.” Her hand shook as she offered the brightly glowing crystal blade to Shaunna.
Shaunna nodded as she accepted the proffered blade. Without ceremony, she crossed the blades of the two katanas. Ethos’ blade quickly dimmed as the energy was transferred into his brother, Mark.
Mark’s blade brightened, regaining its fiery glow. The large ruby that was his heart stone began its rhythmic pulse. He rose from the ground, causing Ethos to crash to the floor, the crystal of his blade ringing from the impact.
“Marrk?” Grathius asked tentatively.
The old wolf’s face brightened, and his shoulders straightened a bit as his bonded blade floated toward him.
The swish of cloth was the only warning as the knife sank harmlessly into the space where Grathius had been a mere moment earlier. Grunts and thuds filled the room as Hope and Shaunna wrestled Na’el to the ground, the dagger ringing sharply as it bounced off the hard floor.
“What are you doing?” Shaunna demanded, shoving his head into the packed dirt.
He was wild eyed, spittle frothing on his lips as he spat the answer. “The Guardians of the Balance must not reform. The Dark Lords demand that any prospective guardian be sacrificed.”
Saria laid her hand on Tarea’s arm, keeping her from advancing toward the maniac pinned to the floor before them. “Look at him, something is different.”
Na’el’s countenance had indeed shifted. It was harder, somehow, an underlying evil that had not been there before seemed to have emerged. He was attempting to wiggle and writhe like a serpent, trying to bite his attackers. Foam fell from his mouth, creating muddy patches on the dirt floor.
“Who are you?” Saria demanded as she strode toward him, Terra held before her.
Shaunna couldn’t hide her startled look. “What do you...?”
She was cut off by a harsh voice. “Na’el is weak. I let him take control long enough to lure you in. I waited beneath the surface, the real power, waiting for the optimal time to strike.”
Saria gripped the crystal staff with both hands, preparing to strike. “I won’t ask again, who are you?”
The others in the room stared at her, obvious incomprehension etched into their collective faces.
The half-elf began to laugh. “You are way too smart for your own good, little healer. My name is Ne’al. I am the other half.”
Most of the group stared at each other, not really understanding what was going on.
Shaunna gasped loudly as the significance of the situation sank in. Releasing the writhing man, she pulled a length of rope from her pouch. Tossing it to Hope, she commanded him to tie the prisoner to a nearby chair.
“How did you know?”
Saria shrugged slightly. “I’ve seen madness such as this before.” She turned to her sister. “Na’el did not kill dad, Ne’al did.” She raised her hand to stop their questions. “I assure you that they are very different people.”
“I know what you need and I will not help you.” Ne’al began to laugh. “Not only that, but I won’t let the other help you. This puts us in the position that we need. Without that accursed sword, there can be no victory, and the darkness will fall, engulfing the world in forever night.” His madness was cast into the foreground as he dissolved into a fit of giggles.
Shaunna stepped in front of Tarea as she advanced. “Move!” Tarea commanded.
Shaunna held her ground. “Tarea, we still need him. It wouldn’t do for them to come to harm.”
“Yes, them. While I was speaking to Paron, he told me that his apprentice was the one that had killed him. However, I would need the apprentice’s help. As I was leaving, he told me Ne’al could not be trusted. In my distraction of, literally, being pulled back to the living world, I didn’t give it much thought until our friend here introduced himself.”
Tarea pressed her hand to her forehead. “This is giving me a headache.”
Shaunna smiled warmly, before turning to face Ne’al. “What can we do to get Na’el back?”
Ne’al bared his teeth, a savage grimace spreading across his lips. “You can’t. I have him tightly tucked away. I’ll never let him out again. I will remain in control until the day we die.”
Morganna stepped forward. “There may be a way. There was a procedure that I was able to perform on the world, where I grew up, that may be useful here. My powers seem to work in a similar manner here as they did there, so it might work.”
“How does it work?” Shaunna asked, her interest piqued.
Morganna pulled some chalk out of the bag at her waist. “You really don’t want to know.”
She set about the preparations, quickly drawing two large circles in the middle of the room. The circles touched each other at a single point, not intersecting at all. A smaller circle was drawn at the point where the two circles touched with the union at its center.
“Tarea and Hope, I’m going to need your help.” Without waiting for a response she continued. “Remove him from the chair. I need you to hold him in that smaller circle. When he starts to glow, you will need to pull against each other. Keep pulling until they are only connected by the hand. Do not pull them completely apart, if they become completely separated, they will both die. Also, do not break the circles. That is paramount.”
Her sister and friend looked back at her in consternation, and just nodded.
Morganna held out her hand to catch the straight crystal staff that floated up to her. “I know, but this is necessary.” She nodded and sat facing the circles, crossing her legs and resting her feet on top of her thighs, her staff resting lightly on her lap.
She listened, with her eyes closed, until the sounds of the struggle sounded directly in front of her. The circles flared with power as she began to whisper under her breath. The edges of the larger circled burned brightly, while the smaller circle was filled with light, engulfing the prisoner in dazzling brilliance. A tirade of swear words erupted from the light as he began to float a few inches off the ground. The stream of foul language quickly evolved into screams of agony as the light surrounding him began to infuse itself into his body and all sound from him ceased.
Each holding an arm, Hope and Tarea began to pull in opposite directions as soon as the light had entirely moved into Ne’al’s body. As the opposing pressure increased. Ne’al began to stretch at his middle. It was most obvious as his nose began to widen, and then split into two. His mouth grew wide around his silent screams. Most interesting to those watching was the phenomenon that seemed to be happening to the eyes. His eyes became slightly blurred as they slid across each other. For several moments at seemed as there were three eyes on the grotesquely widening face, until the middle eye split into two with an audible pop. A sickening, wet, ripping noise filled the room as his skull reached its stretching point. The hair hung between the twin heads as they moved further apart, his torso continuing to stretch and split.
Hope and Tarea had to increase the pressure of their constant tugging as the torso reached its splitting point. Again the wet ripping sound filled the room as the body itself separated into two, connected only by the arm in between the twin men moving closer to the center of each larger circle.
The stretching continued until the two were only connected by a hand; the left of one and the right of the other. Once all was accomplished, the light flared again in the smaller circle, binding the hand within.
“My goodness.” Na’el was startled to see his darker side so spectacularly displayed. “You are just full of surprises.”
Ne’al just stood there in stunned silence.
Hope and Tarea released the two arms, carefully stepping out of the warding circles.
The light in the room dimmed slightly as Morganna settled to the floor, still grasping the smooth surface of her staff. Tears streamed from her eyes as she stared at the staff, grief stricken.
“I hurt her. She’s bleeding.” She managed between sobs.
“How...” Hope began, but Saria stopped him.
“Yes, they can bleed. A similar phenomenon afflicted Cera when she was making the crystals we all now wear.” She looked at Hope. “Heal her.”
He looked at Saria, the question burning in his eyes.
“The light does affect them. I was able to heal Cera, at least.” She laid here hand on his arm. “Fair warning, there will probably be some feedback.”
Saria just smiled and went to check on her sister.

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