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

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Cera

“The darkness strives to regain dominance” - Shantar Fantis
“Taren, have you noticed that something seems a little off with Cera?” Ethos asked.
“Yes, she has not been completely herself since the battle.” Taren answered
They’d been watching the castle’s avatar for the past two days. Taren had noticed that she’d been a bit sluggish in her movements. He was concerned that the walls of the castle itself seemed to be getting darker. As did the lights that were Cera’s eyes?
“What do you think is happening to her?” Ethos asked.
Taren shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure, but I think that whomever sent Grathius back to us may have had a backup plan.” He theorized. “I don’t think that the darkness was completely destroyed.”
“What are we going to do?” The worry in the swords voice was tangible as he spoke.
“I don’t know.” The young elf answered. “For now we just continue to watch her, and keep our conversations hidden from the others. There is no need to alarm them.”
Taren felt the acceptance of the plan in his mind, but Ethos didn’t say anything.
The duo was partaking in one of their favorite tasks as they were discussing their plan. They were exploring the interior of the castle. Neither of them were really paying attention to what was happening around them, so they were not expecting to run into Morganna when they rounded a corner. As soon as he saw her, he knew what she was going to say.
“Taren, how did you defeat the shadow monster?” He couldn’t remember how many times she had asked him that question. “I know you expended a great amount of power.”
“How do you know that” He asked.
“All magic leaves an echo in the location where it is used. Usually the echo is so minimal, a mage has to know specifically what they are looking for to see it. When I went to the battle location, I didn’t even need to cast the seeking spell. The amount of power that was expended almost blinded me.” she explained. “I would really like to know. That much power should have destroyed you.”
“What say you, Ethos?” Taren asked.
The sword thought for a moment before answering. “I don’t think that we need to show them exactly what we did. There are other ways to simulate the effect.”
“What do you mean? Taren asked.
Taren carried Ethos to the center of the sparring ring from earlier. As he approached, a small dais with a peculiar impression appeared in front of him. Taren slid Ethos’ hilt into the impression with the sharp edge of the blade pointing towards the group, and turned o rejoin them.
“Erik, if you would be so kind to shoot me, please.”
Shaunna was surprised as Erik tried to rise from her without her bidding it. She grabbed the small crossbow, trying to keep him from floating away.
Taren smiled, his new ability to hear other Crystal Blades giving him a unique perspective on the situation.
“Shaunna, let him go. Ethos ask him to participate in the demonstration.
All of the others looked at him curiously. “What do you mean?” Shaunna asked.
He began to laugh. “I’m sorry, I forgot that you only heard half of the conversation. Ethos thinks he has a way to demonstrate what happened during the fight, but he needs Erik’s help.”
Several emotions passed over Shaunna’s face. It was clear that she was not keen on the idea. She hardly ever let Erik loose to work on his own. She had done so more often in the past few weeks out of sheer necessity.
“Shaunna, please.” Taren pleaded.
She stood rooted to the spot, her eyes staring at the small crossbow in her hand
“Shaunna, it will be okay. I am not going to leave you.” Erik assured her.
Slowly she opened her hand.
Erik rose, aiming for Ethos’ blade. Light began to coalesce into a bolt, brightening as it went. There was a sizzling sound as the light left the string. With unerring accuracy, the bolt struck the thin edge of the crystalline blade, and vanished.
Taren stared at the blade. “Ethos, what happened?”
The confusion in in the sword’s voice was palpable. “I don’t know. Erik try again, please.”
Several more bolts of light left the small hand held crossbow, each striking the blade with the same impeccable accuracy, each vanishing just as completely as the first.
“That’s... impressive.” Shaunna said
Morganna echoed Shaunna’s sentiment “I fail to see how you used this to defeat the dark cre...”
She and her two sisters gasped, grasping their left breast.
“Something is coming” They all said in unison.
“Worse than that, something is wrong” Ularen said, pointing towards the castle.
The face of the crystal castle had changed significantly. The crystal no longer shone with the brilliant light that it once did, now the walls were black. Sharp spikes extended from random places in the once smooth surface. The blackness was spreading from the base of the castle walls, threatening to overrun the entire crystal cavern.
A large black creature rose from the crystal floor between the group and the singular crystal sword in the crystal stone. This was clearly Cera, but she didn’t resemble the lovely form that he had admired before. Just as the castle, she no longer radiated the light that she had a short time ago. Her eyes glowed a black non-light that consumed the radiance around it. Short spikes extended from both knees, elbows and shoulders. Her once long flowing air was now short, sticking straight out from her scalp.
“Ethos!” Taren yelled. “We have to get him. If he is corrupted, it could corrupt the whole race.”
“What makes this broken sword so special?” Erik asked
Maxx answered. “Ethos’ ability to link Taren to all of the swords means he has a high telepathic ability, I would say second only to myself. If he were to be corrupted, his mental prowess would most certainly cause the darkness to spread through the mental link itself. I hate to say it, but Taren is correct, the unfinished brother could bring the doom of us all.”
Without realizing he was doing so, Taren drew, and activated the Star-Fire sword. The black creature hissed as the purple sword flared to life.
“Taren, please be careful.” Maxx pled. ”She is still my daughter.”
Taren nodded as he began to circle the creature. He had to draw her away from Ethos until he could make his way to retrieve his new sword.
The cavern floor began to boil, as a jagged shape began to rise from it. In essence, the item reminded Taren of the staff that Cera had used in her battle with Grathius and Mark. However, there was something fundamentally wrong about the weapon. The handle was easily as tall as Cera herself. Jagged blades extended from each end, extending the length considerably. Black sparks shot from the shaft as Cera closed her once graceful hands around it.
“What are you going to do, son of Elloy.” Her voice sounded strange when she spoke. He could hear her crystal tones, but there was something else there. Something almost... evil.
The hair on the back of Taren’s neck stood on end. He dodged to the side as a bolt of black energy shot from Cera’s weapon. As he took stock of his situation, he was liking this less and less. Cera was a cunning warrior, he’d seen her battle prowess. Not to mention, the Star-Fire sword was not going to be strong enough to vanquish her, if the previous battle were any indication.
He was painfully aware that his attempts to circle around his the enemy to retrieve his sword were not working. Rather than circling each other, as Taren hoped would happen, Cera was circling the dais where Ethos was perched. Oh how he wished his father had been able to finish the sword.
The thought brought his mind away from the fight, so he was not prepared when Cera lunged. The blade of her weapon would have pierced his chest, had Hope not been there to parry the blow.
“Taren, get your sword. I will try to hold her off.” Hope instructed.
Cera screamed in rage, spinning to strike Ethos with her dark weapon.
“NO!” Taren yelled striking out at her with his fiery purple sword.
She screamed as the blade easily passed through her, leaving a red streak through her leg. She jumped away from Taren, giving him the opening that he needed to reach Ethos.
“Are you okay?” He asked
“I am not harmed.” The sword answered. “However, I think that may not have been the case had she touched me. I am afraid we will probably need to give your sister a demonstration to the answer of her question.”
Taren was sympathetic to the resignation in Ethos’ voice, but he knew that the sword was probably right. He was certain that it would be a bad idea to let Cera touch any part of Ethos’ blade. His certainty was confirmed by the crystal around him that was growing darker with every moment.
With a great sense of guilt, Taren lowered Ethos into the purple fire of his celestial sword. As before, the fire split into three beams as it shot forth from his blade. A sense of immense power flooded into Taren as Ethos channeled the unimaginable power. He began to shake as the memory of the last time felt such power returned to him. As if he had commanded, his hands changed color: one black, one white.
“I can’t do this.” Taren said as he uncrossed the blades.
Seeing a moment of weakness, Cera attacked. Her bladed crystal staff whistling through the air.
It only took an instant for Taren to parry the blow.
“TAREN NO!” Maxx screamed. “Don’t let them touch.”
The warning came too late. Ethos’ blade slid cleanly through the dark crystal of the staff.
Cera’s screams were heart breaking as a bright light spread through the staff into her body. She writhed on the floor as the darkness was driven from her body. The spikes shrank back into her as her hair lengthened to its former fullness.
Taren watched as Ethos’ blade began to darken.
“What have I done?” He asked himself.
He shook his head in disbelief. He was the one that had first recognized the danger of Ethos getting corrupted, and yet without thought he had used the sword to defend against the dark attack.
He jumped as Erik’s voice spoke to him. “Taren, pass Ethos through the sword of star-fire, and do it quickly.”
“Why?” He asked out loud?
“I’ll explain later. You must trust me.” Erik’s voice was urgent when he replied.
Taren quickly passed Ethos’ blade through the celestial sword. It was a quick gesture, but it seemed to be effective. The glow quickly returned to the crystal blade.
Cera’s screams still echoed through the crystal cavern for several moments after she stopped making any noise. The crystal directly beneath her began to lighten as she stood up.
Her voice was shaky as she spoke. “Father, what happened? How did I get here?”
“It’s a long story, dear. I will tell you on the way back to the castle.” Maxx answered as he herded his daughter’s avatar back to the lightening form of the crystal castle.
Shaunna was the one to ask the question that was on Taren’s mind. “Erik, how did you know how to help Ethos?”
There was a smile in his voice as he explained. “I figured out what his power is. I can see energy signatures better than most of our race. After Taren pulled him out of the Star-fire Sword, Ethos was painful to look at. He was storing an enormous amount of energy.
“After he touched Cera, the energy was gone.”
Taren and Shaunna stared at him, not comprehending what he was trying to say.
“Fine, let me spell it out for you two. Ethos has the ability to absorb and store enormous amounts of energy. The energy that he was storing was released into Cera, curing her of the darkness. Taren’s mistake may have just saved us all, but it almost cost him another sword.” He turned his explanation to Taren. ”Ethos is not like the rest of us. If he releases all of his energy at once, he may not be able to come back. You, as his wielder, must be aware of his energy levels, especially while he is learning to use his abilities. It will be your responsibility to make sure he doesn’t kill himself.”
Taren nodded as realization sunk in. The feeling of power that had so scared him had come from Ethos, not himself. He raised the hand that held his crystal sword. “It was you. You were the one that was projecting that feeling of absolute power. Why didn’t I feel that the first time?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm you. I haven’t figured out how to control it yet. This is all new to me.” Ethos’ was apologetic. “It takes time for the mental link to complete. The first time we used that attack we weren’t as in tune with each other as we are now.”
Taren shook his head. The explanation did little to assuage his fear. He knew what happened to a wielder when his crystal blade died. He didn’t ever want to experience anything like that again.

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