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~ Previous Chapter ~
I do believe this update contains a clue…
“THIS IS THE Seeing Stone, which we dragons call Askhan Zaher.” Deep inside the Archives, Reglian had led Lyrai, Mhysra and Dhori to a cave where glowing pebbles were scattered across the floor and walls. Reglian’s golden eyes shone as he touched the boulder in the centre of the chamber.
Somehow Mhysra’s hand had found its way into Lyrai’s, comforting him even as he squeezed it reassuringly, stepping between the green and blue pebbles on the floor. Dhori walked ahead, eyes shining silver as he pressed both hands against the stone.
“What does it see?” Mhysra asked, raising her free hand to trace the uneven surface.
Curious as to what it felt like, Lyrai copied her. A tingle shot through his palm, somehow feeling both cold and hot. It raced up his arm and neck, prickling along his cheekbones and forehead, until he had to close his eyes. An ache settled behind them, as though he’d read for too long by candlelight.
“Everything,” Reglian replied, voice echoing in the small chamber. “All that is in this moment, the Stone sees. All that was, it remembers.”
“And all that will be?” Lyrai asked, opening his eyes as the surface beneath his fingertips became nothing but rough, uneven stone. He blinked at the sight of his hand, colourless but perfectly visible though the chamber was as dark as before. Beside him, he could see every detail of Mhysra’s expression, her eyes widening in astonishment as she likely discovered the same amazing night-sight. Catching his wondering gaze, she smiled and turned back to the stone.
“Who knows what will be?” Dhori murmured, his fingers tracing tiny trails of light across the boulder’s surface. The specks of grey and green crawled like ants, small and faint, only visible to the most sensitive eyes. “While we possess independent will and the freedom to choose, the future remains uncertain.”
“Indeed,” Reglian agreed. “Many futures are already half-formed, but just the slightest difference in the present will see them change, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. There are too many variables for a clear future. Those who try to see what will be go mad. Life is choice. The only certain thing is the past, and even that can become clouded, distorted and misinterpreted according to one’s beliefs and personal agenda. So we stay mostly with the present, where action is always occurring and changing, leaving the consequences to be dealt with afterwards. If you would all step back now, the Stone knows what you wish to see.”
Blinking, Lyrai did as he was told, Dhori on one side, Mhysra on the other, unaware that he had communicated with the boulder at all.
“You think too hard, Lieutenant Prince Lyrai,” Reglian chided gently, as the antlike lights gathered on the stone, coalescing in the centre where Mhysra’s hand had rested moments before. “Sometimes it is best to simply be.”
As the lights merged, they grew larger and brighter, the colours swirling into purest white.
“Now you will see.”
Light flashed, and when the spots cleared Lyrai was back at Aquila.
Dressed in a tattered uniform that had definitely seen better days, Dean Marshall sat cross-legged on the bed, bent over the body of a boy whose head rested in his lap. He was rocking back and forth, his unwashed, overlong hair shadowing his expression. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the bars on his shoulder, Lyrai wouldn’t have recognised him.
A gasp distracted him and he looked at the boy the dean was holding. Beaten and bloodied, with a face swollen by bruises and pain, he was still familiar enough to name.
Mouse. Poor Mouse.
“Sweet Maegla,” the dean whispered, keeping a hand on Mouse’s chest as if to check he was still alive, while his other ghosted over the boy’s face, wanting to soothe, yet not daring to touch. “Sweet Maegla, how did it come to this? Who could do such a thing? Goddess, aid me. I’m not strong enough. I can’t hold. I cannot, I cannot.”
As a tear dropped onto his face, Mouse stirred, his swollen lips cracking. He turned his head to one side, then the other, searching. “Nehtl,” he whispered. “No… surrender.”
The dean lifted a cup and tipped it gently against the boy’s mouth. “No surrender,” he repeated. “You’re stronger than I, son.”
“Not monsters,” Mouse murmured, and relaxed back into sleep.
Dean Marshall put the water aside, smoothed the boy’s hair and resumed his watch in the dark Aquilan night.
The scene faded to black and the ground shifted beneath Lyrai’s feet. Light flashed.
“Four days,” a tall, young man with muddied skin and filthy grey hair growled. “How can there be no news? It’s been four whole days. They could be dead! Why aren’t we doing anything?”
In front of him, slumped on a crude chair, a familiar man stared at the floor. Lieutenant Imaino, gaunt and drawn but unmistakable. “What, Silveo? What can we do? We don’t know where they are. We don’t even know if they’re alive.”
“They are,” said another voice, another student, smaller and stockier, but with familiar eyes and the same stubborn jaw: Stirla’s nephew, Greig. “I know it. Neither would have run. They have to have been taken.”
Imaino looked up, eyes narrowed, mouth pulled in a tight grimace. “Four days and not a word, not a whisper. I’ve searched the cellars and lower levels twice over, and nothing. I never should have left them so poorly defended. I never should have raided. If it weren’t for that, if I hadn’t been so careless, they would never have known we were out here.”
“Nehtl would have fought,” Rider Mallow said, another man Lyrai knew from his years training with Captain Myran. “Mouse too. Just because they didn’t want to, didn’t mean they couldn’t.”
“Someone found us,” Silveo said, bending to stroke the nakhound by his feet. Her ribs and head were heavily bandaged, but Lyrai still recognised the black and white pup that had befriended him when he fought on the Heights. “But we don’t know how. It might have been an accident or they might have been tracking us for months. No one knows, but if they were taken, they’d be kept alive for questioning.”
“And since we’ve yet to be invaded by slavering kaz-naghkt, we can assume their silence holds,” Mallow added, shaking Imaino’s shoulder with rough affection. “Wailing and gnashing our teeth won’t help them, sir, but searching will.”
“Searching will,” Imaino agreed, his head rising sharply. “We need -”
Darkness surged in as the scene was wrenched abruptly loose and dragged upwards. Lyrai’s stomach heaved and he stumbled sideways, colliding with the others.
Then stopped with a jolt that threw him to his knees.
The chamber was unfamiliar, dark and grey, hewn from rock, with no softness except the clouds beyond the window. Lightning flashed and Lyrai flinched as strong fingers gripped his jaw, forcing his face upwards.
“Can it be?” the tall woman whispered, her voice throbbing in the heavy air, calling forth thunder from the skies. Her skin was luminous, a gold-dusted brown that shone in the lightning. Her eyes were deep pools of stormy silver glowing in the gloom. Her hair was a mass of tumbled black curls that stirred in an unfelt breeze.
“I thought you lost,” she said, bringing rain to dance on the windowpane. “Auriaen, my Auriaen.” Her touch, which had turned soft and caressing, tightened once more. Her eyes blazed with anger as her voice deepened, bringing the storm inside. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”
Light exploded, kicking Lyrai hard in the chest and his back hit the floor with enough force to knock the breath clean out of him. Beside him, Mhysra and Dhori landed with equal force. He could still feel the implacable grip of the woman’s hand on his jaw, but when he touched his neck he felt nothing. On his left, Mhysra’s fingers were making the same explorations, though there wasn’t a mark on her either.
On his right, Dhori sat with his arms braced on his knees, head hanging as he gasped for breath. Four fierce welts seared his neck, as though he’d ripped himself from a burning grip.
“What was that?” Lyrai asked, wincing as he sat up.
“You saw your friends,” Reglian replied with unruffled calm, as if the stone sucked people in and spat them out every day. Perhaps it did. “The Stone showed you what you wanted to see.”
“Mouse,” Mhysra whispered, rubbing her neck as she sat up, eyes fixed on Dhori. “He’s been hurt.”
“Tortured,” Dhori croaked, voice broken and breathless. “He was tortured.”
“Imaino and the others will rescue him,” Lyrai said confidently. The future might be ever-changing, according to the dragons, but that was one thing Lyrai knew was true. Imaino wouldn’t leave anyone behind. Rift Riders didn’t do that.
“But then -” Mhysra began, and stopped.
Lyrai didn’t blame her. He had no words to describe what had happened next either. That woman, those words, that storm. He knew that face from paintings and statues. He’d never expected to see it in truth.
“There are some who are stronger than the Stone,” Reglian murmured. “Sometimes they can reach in from afar and twist everything around in order to see the seer. Even if they might not wish to be seen.” His golden eyes glowed as he stared at Dhori’s lowered head.
As Lyrai watched, the student regained control of his breathing and the welts on his neck healed as if they’d never been.
“What was that?” Mhysra asked, repeating Lyrai’s earlier question.
Dhori raised his head, turned his glowing eyes towards them and gave a crooked smile. “Maegla is unhappy with me.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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