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

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“He’s Perfect.” - Paron Elloy
Taren watched Shaunna follow after his sister. He had an idea of what the problem was, and it made him feel bad that he had angered her so. He was still sore from their sparring match, even after the ministrations of Saria, so he did not feel too bad for her. Even so, he had said what he had in jest. It was part of the sparring match.
His thoughts were interrupted by the transparent form of Cera rising from the floor in front of him, the blue glow of her eyes blazing intently,
“Taren, there is an intruder in the cave.” She said quietly. “They entered during your practice session with Tarea. Dad has told me that their intentions are not friendly.”
Taren shook his head. Cera’s father, Maxximillian Crystalblade, was a powerful telepath. He would know the intentions of anyone within the range of his power. “I don’t have a weapon that I can use. I am not about to reveal to an unknown entity that I can wield the Star-fire Sword.”
Cera seemed to consider for a moment. “I think there is a way that I can help you with that. Follow me.” She turned and began to walk towards the main structure of the crystal castle. He watched her as he followed behind her. The grace with which she moved was amazing, given that her body was purely constructed of crystal. It was a little unnerving being able to see through her as if he were looking through a window of warped glass. He had to look away several times as feelings of vertigo threatened to overwhelm him.
“She is lovely, is she not?” The unmistakable voice of Maxx sounded in his head.
“You are a master craftsman, err crafts-sword.” Taren thought. He was rewarded with an understanding of gratitude the likes of which he had never felt before.
He continued to follow her as they traversed the expanse of the cavern. He didn’t worry about the intruder much, as he knew that the other Crystal Blades were keeping an eye out and would notify him as soon as any danger became apparent. He watched the graceful sway of her hips, and marveled at the fact that he could not see the glow of her eyes from behind her. He thought that, even if she were not made out of crystal, her beauty would have rivaled that of Shaunna.
As they passed the threshold of the castle proper, he turned his attention to his surroundings. He always liked to know what was going on around him, that was one of the attributes that had made him such a good thief, and they were traveling through a previously unexplored section of the castle.
Cera stopped on front of a door and turned to face him. “Your father had this workshop here after I was built. It gave him direct access to the crystal of the cave and it gave him a willing assistant. He was making a series of presents for his children before he was killed. He finished the staves for Saria and Morganna, the swords for Tarea, but he did not get yours finished. My brother is incomplete, but maybe he will be of some use to you.”
The door did not open as Taren would have though it should have. Instead of swinging into the room, it melted into the floor to reveal a rows of equipment and devices made out of crystal. On the far side of the room lay a sword that looked very much like Cyan had, but the blade glowed with a pale blue-green light. In the gold hilt several small aquamarine gems sat stationary around a larger gem that pulsed with a steady rhythm.
“He is alive, like the rest of us, but he has no special abilities. He cannot even fight on his own.” Cera explained, a note of sadness in her voice.
Taren walked over and picked up the Katana from where it lay on the table. The sword was heavy and felt awkward in his hands. He stood there for several minutes holding the sword willing something, anything, to happen. He was just about to put the sword back on the table when a warmth began to creep up his arm. His hand tightened around the sword’s hilt without him willing it too. He recognized the sensation from the first time that he had picked up Cyan, so he calmed himself and allowed the connection to be made.
As the warmth rose up his arm the sword began to feel less foreign in his hand. The sword seemed to grow lighter and began to feel like an extension of his arm. He was more aware of what was going on this time, so he recognized the second consciousness that melded itself into his. The mind felt a bit strange. It was definitely different than Cyan’s had been. It was younger somehow, almost new.
“Unit designation 45765 is on-line. How shall I be addressed?” A pleasant tenor voice spoke in his head.
“I don’t understand.” Taren said feeling very confused.
It was Maxx that answered “He needs a name. He is asking you to give it to him.”
Taren thought for a few moments. He had never had to name anything before. He was worried about the sword not approving of the name that he came up with.
“I am not worried about what you choose, Taren, I am flawed any way. I do not have any special powers, I cannot even support myself as the others can.”
Taren smiled. “Is your blade as sharp as the others? Do I have to worry about it breaking?”
“My blade is as strong as my brothers and sisters, and it will never dull.” The sword answered.
“Can you keep me in touch with the others through the racial mind link that you share?” Taren asked.
“Yes, I am able to do that.” The sword answered.
“Then you are the perfect sword. Much better than any other sword that I’ve had, with a singular exception.” He answered.
The sword stayed silent, but Taren felt the confusion that it was feeling. It didn’t understand how Taren could think it was perfect, when it was so flawed by the standards of its race.
“I think I will name you Ethos, Ethos Eversharp.” Taren was met with a sense of approval from both Ethos and Maxx.
“That is a good name, I will bear it well.” Ethos answered.
“Well Ethos, we have a hostile intruder in the cavern, and we need to go investigate.” Taren explained.
“Why did you come here first? Why did you not deal with the intruder?” Ethos asked.
“I needed a weapon and Cera brought me to you. I think it was worth the detour.” Taren knew that if the sword had a face he would have been smiling. Let’s go see how we fair together, shall we?”
Without another word Taren, holding Ethos comfortably in his hand, followed Cera from the room.
Now that Taren was armed, they moved quickly to the location as Maxx directed. They listened as the Father Sword told them what he had been able to glean from the intruder about their intentions. Whomever it was not entirely sure why they were there. They had been sent by an unknown entity that had instructed them to kill anyone that they found in the cave.
“Do we know who we are up against?” Taren asked.
“We don’t even know what we are up against. The creature has no memory before being given its instructions.” Maxx replied. “The creature is powerful, this is not going to be an easy confrontation.”
Maxx’s comment did nothing to put Taren at ease, so he fell back on his old past time of taking stock of his surroundings in order to try and help himself feel better. He had been in the cavern for two weeks, but had not gotten a chance to look around much. He’d been too busy helping coordinate the Crystal Blades’ departure into the world to locate suitable wielders. Thus, despite his nervousness at the upcoming battle he was excited to observe the spectacular sights that surrounded him.
The cavern walls, floor, and ceiling were made of the same crystal that the castle was. Light naturally shone from every surface. Crystal stalactites hung from the ceiling. The floor was smooth. No stalagmites marred the congruous surface. The many stone huts that had housed the crystal weapons were no longer present. Cera had cleared out the unattractive piles of rock as quickly as she could as her brothers and sisters had taken their leave. The circle of light where he had sparred with his sister was no longer present. At the far side of the cavern was a dark section where the light from the crystal could not penetrate. It was toward this darkness that they were headed.
They could hear the creature long before they could see it. Sounds of large feet scuffing the ground, and an occasional snarl, echoed through the cave as the creature moved in the darkness.
Hope was grim faced as he joined the procession.
Taren and Hope approached the dark patch slowly, with weapons in hand. Taren held Ethos loosely and Hope had his golden sword in his hand while Maxx floated next to him protectively.
They stopped as an enormous black creature moved from the shadows of the dark place. The light seemed to dim as the blackness that stuck to the creature lashed out against it. The creature awkwardly walked on its hind legs. In its hand it carried a large wicked looking sword. It was impossible to tell what the creature was through the swirling black mists that surrounded it. For some reason it brought to mind the collar that Narissa had worn when she had attacked Taren.
The creature’s snarls and howls echoed off the crystal of the cavern, causing it to resonate slightly. The sound caused Taren’s head to ache.
“We need to stop it.” Ethos said.
Taren didn’t need to be told twice. Gripping the crystal bladed sword in both hands, he charged the large black beast.
The creature snarled savagely, swinging the large black sword with impossible speed.
Taren threw himself to the floor just as the blade whistled through the air where his head had been a split second before. He quickly tucked himself into a ball and rolled to his feet, swinging at the enemy that was now behind him. A clear crystal note rang out as Ethos’ blade connected with the dark blade of the creature’s sword. The vibrations from the blow swiftly traveled up down the swords, and up the arms of the two combatants causing Taren to almost drop his sword.
As the two blades separated, darkness clung to Ethos’ blade. Taren’s mind suddenly felt sluggish and dull, and his body followed suit. His limbs suddenly felt as if they were filled with lead.
He found himself unable to dodge the creature’s next blow. Stars exploded behind his eyes as the flat of the dark sword’s blade struck the side of his head. He hardly noticed the flash of movement that rushed past him as he fought to keep himself from falling to the ground.
“Taren,” Cera’s voice rang out. “It’s Mark, use the sword!”
Taren turned in time to see the strange crystal woman leap into the air, a pure crystal spear held high above her head. She came down on the creature’s back, locking the spear against the beast’s throat,
“Hurry...!” She shouted “I won’t be able to hold him for long.”
It took the young elf a moment to realize what she meant. He watched in horror as the darkness began to creep up Cera’s legs and arms. He couldn’t think, the message that she had shouted made no sense. What sword was she...
The image of a large white tiger and a purple light that had battled the darkness that had held her confined sprang to his mind. As fast as he was able, he switched the hand that held Ethos, and forced his hand to move to the hidden pocket where he kept the strange crystal cylinder. The sounds of the battle between Cera and the dark monster seemed like they were coming from a great distance as he pushed ever harder to get his hand to the weapon that he knew would be able to drive back the darkness and free whomever... Then it hit him. Cera had said it was Mark. That meant that this attacker had to be Grathius Wolftracker.
“TAREN, HURRY!” Cera screamed.
The knowledge of the attacker’s identity, along with Cera’s entreat, gave him the strength that he needed to push through the murk. He felt reassured as he wrapped his fingers around the crystal surface. Drawing it from its hiding place, he activated the star-fire sword. Purple fire shot out of both ends, wrapping itself around his hand and growing into a magnificent amethyst colored sword. As the fire grew, the veil of darkness was cast off of Taren’s mind and Ethos’ blade brightened.
Swinging the sword in a high arc, he concentrated every fiber of his being on the single purpose of freeing his friend from the darkness. Before the sword ever hit its opponent, the purple fire streaked forth, meeting the opposing blast of darkness that leapt from the howling form of his friend.
This power was much stronger that the one that had bound Narissa had been. The light and darkness danced back and forth, as if they were both sentient. Opposing intelligences that were each endeavoring to gain the upper hand on the other. Taren watched helplessly as the blackness drove the purple light back towards him.
“Taren, I have an idea.” Ethos said quietly. “Stick my blade into the fire.”
Without question, the young Sword Master, crossed is blades. Ethos’ blade sunk into the purple fire that made up the blade of the celestial sword, cutting edge facing backwards, and split the light into three beams.
The three light beams whirled and fought back against the darkness. The evil non-light fought back against the bright light of the star-fire sword. For several moments the light and blackness fought against each other, a lethal dance that was dizzying to watch.
Slowly, the light began to force the dark back towards its source. As the two combative forces approached the creature, Taren looked up at Cera. Her body was now completely covered in blackness. He could still see through her, but the dark and twisted images that he saw in the once pure body nauseated him. Her head had not yet succumbed to the evil power, and her shining blue eyes seemed to stare straight at him. He knew that if he failed, Cera, Maxx, and possibly Amber would hate him for as long as they lived. Crystal Blades lived for a really long time
He returned his focus to the task at hand. More than one of his friends’ lives hung in the balance.
The purple light had begun to wrap itself around the large, black form growing in intensity to the point that all present had to shield their eyes from the brightness. The howls of anger and rage that had once come from the attacker, had now turned into screams of pain, begging for mercy that steadily grew into the more recognizable voice of Grathius.
Suddenly, the light that filled the entire crystal cavern ceased to exist, and Taren found himself sprawled on the floor as the force that he had been pushing so hard against vanished. He was battered, bruised, and his head hurt where he had been hit in the fight, so it took him a few moments to begin to drag himself to his feet. Directly in front of him lay the still forms of Grathius Wolftracker and Mark Flameblade. Cera stood next to the bracing herself on the crystal staff.
“Hope!” Taren called, but the healer had already begun to move towards their fallen companion.
“I will not be able to do this alo...” Before he could finish he, and both of their friends that had just been freed, vanished.
“What...?” Taren began, but Cera silenced him with a small gesture.
“I sent them to Saria. She and Terra should be able to help.” Cera explained.
“How did you know that was Mark” Taren asked.
Her beautiful crystal lips curved into a smile. “Perhaps our unfinished brother does have a few talents after all.” She gestured towards Ethos as she spoke. “It was when you had attacked them, and Grathius had blocked. As soon as their blades met, Mark was able to get a message to us. I know you didn’t want to reveal to whomever that was that you have a mastery of the Star-fire Sword, but I didn’t think you would mind if you knew that it was one that already knew.
Taren nodded. “Are you all right?” He asked “Did the darkness damage you?
Cera shrugged “I don’t think any permanent damage was done. I may need some help back to my castle, however.
A voice that Taren had never heard broke into the conversation. “Cera, what’s going on?”
“You should probably ask Ethos, Erik” She answered.
“Who?” The voice that was Erik sounded very confused.
It was Ethos that answered. “I was the unfinished brother. I am now bonded to Taren Elloy in a wielder pact.”
A sense of awe came through the link that the swords had with each other. Taren had never experienced anything like that before.
“Erik? Erik Lightbow?” Taren asked.
“Who is that?” Erik asked.
“It is Taren”
Stunned silence filled Taren’s head for several seconds before Erik replied. “We are not supposed to be able to hear other blades’ wielders. How is it that we can communicate?”
“I am not entirely sure.” Taren answered. “I think this is one of Ethos’ abilities. Ever since we bonded I have kind of heard you and the others in the background. I just didn’t put it all together until you contacted Ethos directly.”
“We need to help Cera.” Ethos chimed in. “We can figure all of this out later.”
Taren thought that Ethos sounded tired as he spoke. He imagined that the amount of power that had just flowed through the young sword must have been a bit overwhelming. He placed Ethos in the scabbard that the blue katana that his human father had made once used, and put the crystal cylinder back into its hidden pocket. He didn’t realize how much he hurt until he took the first step towards Cera. He slowly moved over to her and lifted her into his arms with no effort. He was amazed at how light she was.
“Ethos, how did you know that would work?” He asked, slowly putting one foot in front of the other as he moved towards the castle.
“I didn’t,” Ethos answered “I just figured that the Star-fire sword is made of light, and I am made of crystal. It just made sense to me that I might have been able to refract the light in such a way that it might help.”
“Well, you guessed correctly. We may be able to use this to our advantage in the future.” Taren beamed.
The smile in Ethos’ voice was noticeable as he answered. “Great, but we should probably save that as a last resort. I am not sure I can handle that much power on a regular basis.”

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