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

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Resuming the Quest

“We’ve had enough excitement, it’s time to get back to the quest” - Taren Elloy
Taren marveled in the majesty of the crystal caverns. He doubted he could ever grow tired of being here. The last vestiges of the dark taint that seeped into the crystal during Cera’s darkening were fading with every moment. The castle itself was shining with a glamorous light, as if trying to burn the memory of the darkness from the very crystal around it.
He meandered through the vast expanse of the cave as his thoughts wandered through the events of the past few days. The attacks showed that those who were trying to stop him were growing desperate.
He felt fortunate to have Ethos. The sword was smart, and he was powerful. Yet he was also fragile in ways that the others weren’t.
He cut his thoughts short as the crystalline figure of Cera approached. As she drew closer he looked at her once again. A dark streak discolored the smooth crystal of her left leg where he had struck here with the sword of star-fire. A limp marred her once graceful movements, indicating that the mark on her leg was far more damaging than first glance might suggest. Her once proud shoulders slumped with shame. The lights of her eyes no longer glowed the pale blue that they once did. They now shone the same color as his celestial blade. It was clear that she was not left unmarked by her experience with the darkness.
“Taren, father wants to meet with you in the castle.” She refused to look at him as she spoke.
“Why doesn’t he just contact me directly?” Taren asked.
Cera just shrugged.
Taren offered his hand to her. “Will you walk back with me?”
Cera’s hand trembled as she placed it in his.
“It wasn’t your fault.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly as he spoke
Her voice was quiet as she answered. “I could see what I was doing, but I couldn’t stop it.”
Taren nodded. “Is your leg okay?”
“I don’t know, nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes, the pain is tremendous. It is punishment for what I did to you, and for what I almost did to Ethos.”
His heart sank when he heard her answer. He quickly stepped in front of her, wrapping his arms around her.
“I hold no malice towards you, neither does Ethos. We both know that you were not in control of your actions.” They stood there as his hand stroked the smooth crystal of her hair. “I am sorry for injuring your leg. You should have Saria or Hope look at it.”
She shook her head. “They have expended much of their energies over the past few days. I won’t have them tiring themselves out trying to heal me. Not to mention, it may not even work. My personal physiology may not be affected by their power.”
She gently pushed him away. “I am not going ask them to look at me, and you are not going to suggest it, are we clear?”
He didn’t understand why she was being so obstinate, but he reluctantly nodded anyway.
No words passed between them during the time it took them to traverse the rest of the distance to the castle. Cera slid quickly into the castle floor as soon as they crossed the threshold, causing Taren to stumble and fall.
Picking himself up, he continued to the throne room to see Maxx.
The throne room was a simple affair. There were no pictures on the walls. Different colored points of light raced through the flat surfaces. A dim red light streamed from the door to directly in front of the throne.
The throne itself glittered brightly on the dais where it stood. A kaleidoscope of color swirled through the crystal of the chair. The back, and seat, had a matte finish making them look almost soft. Taren thought it peculiar that the light that infused the structure did not illuminate the area around it.
Maxx hovered over the throne.
“Will you please sit?” Maxx asked.
Without a word, Taren climbed into the seat.
He started as he sank into the soft chair. The crystal cushions really were as soft as they looked.
Maxx hovered in front of him, lying parallel to the floor. “Taren Elloy, no matter the outcome of your quest, I claim you as my king. I vow to accompany and protect you to the best of my ability.
Taren didn’t know what to say. He knew that some of the other blades would not agree with Maxx, but he also knew that he felt much safer with the Father-blade watching over him.
Maxx rose up and touched both of Taren’s shoulders, first the right and then the left, with the flat of his blade. When he had finished, he regained the horizontal position in front of the throne.
Rising, Taren placed his hands under the floating sword, to signify his acceptance of the blade. “I accept your offer of service, Sir Crystalblade.”
“What is our next order of business?” Shaunna asked.
Taren looked up to see the others entering the room.
“Well, we’ve had enough excitement, it’s time to get back to the quest.” Taren answered, noticeably lightening the mood in the room.
She shrugged, “I thought we were at a dead end.”
He shook his head, smiling sadly as he glanced at Parel. He’d noticed that she had been keeping her distance from both Shaunna and himself since their return from the bard’s inn. He wondered, yet again, what had happened to her in her absence.
“Parel was not the only thing I brought back with me from the Dragon Storm’s Refuge. While I was there, the bard told me of another that might know the secret that we are looking for. Apparently, my father had an apprentice. Last he was heard of he was living in the forests just east of the Sea of Skies.”
“Taren, you’ve been back for two weeks, why haven’t you told this to any of us before?” Shaunna asked.
“With everything else going on, the organizing of the crystal blades and deciding on a rendezvous spot, it didn’t seem important.”
“I think that is pretty important. So, our nest destination is the Sea of skies then?”
Taren nodded, “Yes, I think that would be a good place to start. How much time do we need to prepare for our journey”
Shaunna, Grathius, and Hope conversed for a moment. “We can be ready in the morning.”
Taren turned to Parel. “How about you?”
She was startled by his sudden attention to her. “I... I can be ready at any time.”
“Then we leave in the morning.” He wished he had a gavel or something that he could hit to make a loud noise, like he’d seen judges use in Bright Bay. He thought it might make things feel more official.
The group quickly dispersed to make preparations for the next morning’s departure.

Shaunna’s room was full. She’d been going through things trying to decide what would be worth taking on the next leg of their journey. It was difficult to decide what she might need in an emergency. That was the only reason she needed to have anything on her person. Her pouch was a direct path to this very room. She had access to everything that she owned through the small cloth bag.
This was the closest thing she’d had to a home through the past twelve years. Cera had allowed her the use of the room, given her the bag, and provided her with a crystal so it would be easier to find, and move, her. The castle’s avatar was the closest thing to a friend she had. Especially since Narissa had sacrificed herself. A tear slid down her cheek, falling to the crystal below.
“What’s that for?” Cera asked as her humanoid body rose out of the floor. “I haven’t seen you cry in a long time. Why the sudden tears?”
Shaunna smiled sadly. “I don’t know. I just feel sad leaving you like this. Especially after everything that’s happened over the past few days.”
Shaunna ran her hand over the smooth crystal of Cera’s leg near the red slash where Taren’s sword had struck her. She snatched her hand away as the crystal woman winced in pain.
“That hurts” Cera said through measured breaths.
“Do you think you will be okay?’
“I think the wound will heal, but I am not sure the scar will ever go away. I’m not sure it should go away. I did try to kill all of you.”
Shaunna took Cera by the hand. “Don’t even think that. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I keep telling myself that, but I am reminded every time I look at myself.”
Shaunna stepped back to inspect her friend. It was true that Cera had not been left unmarked by her encounter with the darkness. Beside the red scar on her leg, her eyes now shone the same purple as the star-fire sword. Her once graceful movement was now marred with a limp. Most noticeably, her once unshakable self-confidence was nearly gone.
“You listen to me, sweet-heart. None of us blame you for what happened. You were not yourself. Not to mention, everything worked out in the end. You even helped us learn what Ethos’ special ability is. That is a very important discovery. You, most of all, were a victim. You beat the dark lords, and you are now more powerful because of it.”
A small tear shaped crystal fell from the corner of Cera’s eye, landing on Shaunna’s hand.
“Hey now, we don’t need you crying too.” Shaunna said as she tucked Cera’s tear into her belt.
Stepping forward, Cera pulled Shaunna into a tight embrace.
“You are my only friend, Shaunna. Please be safe”
A knock sounded on at the door, causing the two friends to release the embrace.
“It’s Parel, would you like me to stay?”
Shaunna shook her head. “No, I can handle her.”
Cera slid into the floor as Shaunna opened her door.
A very small, humble looking Parel stood before her.
“Can I come in?”
Shaunna stepped aside allowing the other woman into her room. She didn’t know what to expect. Parel had been avoiding her since her return with Taren. The last time they’d spoken privately, it had almost come to blows. She knew that the human girl did not like her much, and she knew why. Most people tried to kill her when they learned about her lineage.
Parel’s voice was very quiet when she spoke. “I’m sorry.”
Shaunna was taken aback. An apology was the last thing she was expecting. She opened her mouth to speak, but Parel raised her hand.
“I understand what you meant by he’s not mine to have. I also understand what you meant by it being bigger than us.” Her gaze dropped to the floor. “Thank you for everything your family has done for us. I’m sorry for the way I acted before.”
Shaunna smiled warmly. ”I am also sorry for what happened. I should not have threatened you. What happened while you were gone?”
“I would rather not talk about it”
Shaunna just nodded.
Parel offered her hand to the taller elven woman. “Friends?”
Shaunna accepted the offered hand. “Let’s start with allies, and see where that takes us.”
“Thank you for letting me speak with you. I think I need to go finish getting ready to leave.” Releasing Shaunna’s hand, Parel turned and left the room.

Taren was finished packing, so he decided to take one more stroll through the crystal cavern before they left. He liked it here. He felt he understood his father a bit more here than he did anywhere else. It was almost as if the crystal called to him, like he could hear the song that it sung more than anyone else. He could see shapes in the contours of the walls and floor. Shapes that seemed to be trying to find a way out of the crystal and into the world.
As he approached the stream where his sister spent much of her time, a figure approached him.
“Tarrren, may I speak with you?” Grathius asked.
“Of course, what can I do for you?”
The wolf-man was awkward as he approached on his hind legs.”Yourrr majesty, I wish to rrrequest to rrreturn to my home. I do not know how much help I will be on yourrr jourrrney. I no longerrr wield a functional crrrystal blade.”
Taren looked at his friend incredulously. “Are you really asking me to excuse you?”
Grathius’ gaze fell, and he nodded.
“No, I need you. I am sure that your knowledge of the spirit world will come in handy before our travels are completed. Not to mention, we need you with us in order to find a way to help Mark.”
Tears began to fall from the canine eyes.
“Go get packed, we leave in a few hours.”
Taren watched Grathius disappear into the castle, before returning to his own affairs.

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