User:Holyknight3000/thekey chapter5

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The Key is a fan fiction piece by Tamrend, originally posted in the Fan Fiction Forum. The fiction series has been going since February 2004, and still see the occasional update with more chapters or parts of chapters. You can find more information on The Key article.


Chapter 5: Magic[edit | edit source]

Kelsia awoke from a fitful sleep, her dreams haunted by snapping jaws and glowing red eyes. Loric stood in the doorway, silhouetted in the glow of lamplight. “Wake Shael,” he said. “You both need to get ready.”

Kelsia sat up and shook Shael to wake her. Through the room’s window, she could see stars shining in a sky of deep twilight. Though tired from a night of poor rest, anxiety helped fuel her actions. Shael fared worse, as she was still throwing off the aftereffects of the poison, but Kelsia coaxed her out of bed and helped her dress.

They emerged into the main room and sat down for the small meal that Loric put o*n the table for them. He would not touch the food himself, but kept pacing the room silently and casting glances through the window overlooking the valley. The food had been prepared with the same care as all their other meals here, but Kelsia barely tasted it. She knew she would need her strength, so she forced down as much as her roiling stomach would allow. Shael continued to pick at her food for a bit after Kelsia had finished. Loric spoke as soon as she set down her fork. “Get your things. I’ve already packed the horses.”

Kelsia observed her own movements carefully, picking the staff up consciously from its place next to her. She still wasn’t so sure about what Loric had told her, about the staff actually manipulating her, but she would try to follow his counsel.

There really wasn’t much to gather. She had fashioned a new tunic and breeches for herself and Shael from leather and twine that Loric had given her, and she had already put those o*n. Her old clothes she had washed and left to dry overnight, but they were gone from where she had hung them. She guessed that Loric had already packed them. The o*nly thing left to bring was her bow and quiver. Shael looked wistfully at the broken remains of her own bow that Kelsia had retrieved. o*ne of the tips had snapped when she had fallen, after the slayer had stabbed her. “Here, take mine,” Kelsia said, knowing that the weapon would serve them much better in her hands.

“There’s no need for that,” Loric said from the doorway. He stepped inside, a leather case swinging from o*ne hand. He set the case o*n the bed and snapped open the fastenings. Inside the padded interior was a bow that was so thin that it looked like it should break as soon as it was drawn. Rather than a being crafted from a single carved piece of wood, it appeared to be composed of layers of different materials. Midway out toward the tips, the bow was bent in an elegant reflex. He handled the bow easily, bending and stringing it in a single motion. He handed it unceremoniously to Shael.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed, running her fingers over the translucent snakeskin covering that protected it from water. It gave the bow a distinctly scaly look. She took it from Loric reverently, turning it to examine it from every angle. She held it by the grip with her left hand, testing the heft, and then pulled the string back next to her jaw and held it. She slowly let out the tension o*n the bow, a look of disappointment o*n her face.

“Do not be fooled,” Loric chided, “for this is no ordinary bow. The draw may feel weak, but I assure you it is not. You will be able to fire it faster and with less effort than any normal bow because there is less resistance. It was a gift for my father’s grandfather, created by o*ne of the finest weapon smiths of his time, or any other. Nearly a dozen enchantments were worked into the creation of it to make it lighter and stronger and to steady its aim. Other, less subtle enchantments, too, it has, such as the ability to pierce metal and to deliver a bolt of lightning to its target. I have thought long about this and it is with no small trepidation and reluctance that I give it to you. As with any magical weapon, it carries great power and great responsibility.”

It appeared to Kelsia for a moment as though Shael might refuse the gift, but then, with a look of grim determination, she closed her fist firmly around the grip. “Thank you, Loric. I will use it well.”

He closed the leather case and beckoned them to follow him to the main room. “I also have something for you, Kelsia.” He hauled open the lid of a massive oak trunk. Inside was a curious assortment of weaponry, clothing, and old, faded documents. There was even what appeared to be a carefully folded flag, though she could not make out what the device o*n its face was. Loric set a few of these items aside and withdrew a light gray cloak. "I'm afraid that this gift is far less grand than the o*ne I have given Shael, but I have little else of value remaining from when my tower was destroyed. This is called a thiefshroud. If you will it, the enchantment o*n this cloak will help to conceal you. It is not perfect and works best when the light is dim, but there may be occasion that you will find it useful."

He shoved the cloak at her in a manner that suggested that she had no choice but to take it. He then dug into the trunk again, this time bringing out a small leather sack. He tipped out a handful of coins, shuffled them around with the fingers of his other hand and then returned them to the bag. Before he did, she saw a few glints of gold among the silver. He pulled the drawstring shut and held out the sack toward her.

"No," she said, thinking as she did that she had just seen more money in a single moment than she had over her entire life. "You've done so much already, Loric."

"Take it," he said, grasping her wrist gently and dropping the coin purse into her hand. "As I said before, I don't know why you were chosen to carry out this task, but I wish to do what I can to aid you. You have no coin of your own and will have need of it when you reach Dalmers Ferry."

Kelsia felt a surge of gratitude that settled into a nice, warm flutter at the bottom of her chest. "Thank you," she said simply, unable to think of a sentiment to match the kindness he had shown her.

The cottage and its comfortable island of warmth and light dropped away behind them as they walked. The meadow was strangely quiet as they emerged from the tree and a low mist hung just above the surface of the water. Copper seemed eager to leave, pawing the ground almost impatiently as she mounted. Loric led the way, not towards the trail they had taken to get here, as she had expected, but taking them deeper into the overgrowth.

Somehow, no matter how thick the foliage, there always seemed to be room for them to pass. o*nce, Kelsia looked behind and was almost certain she could see the branches of the trees slowly bending to close off the way o*nce more.

Kelsia knew the moment they stepped outside of Loric's domain. The vegetation simply stopped. She found herself taking deeper breaths and the cold began to seep through her clothes at o*nce. She looked back wistfully, remembering the warmth of the cottage and the wealth of natural beauty of Loric's gardens. The road ahead seemed all the more cold and lonely. Slowly, she turned away and set her bearing to the journey and the task ahead.

The land began to slope downward, at first quite shallow and gradually more steeply. A trail soon took shape, meandering across the face of the slope while weaving among the boulders and outcroppings. The footing grew more treacherous until Shael finally slid from her mount to walk alongside, prompting Kelsia to do the same. Soon the land began to rise again, carrying them across the face of another peak, then down the other side. Kelsia had a painful stitch twisting in her side when Loric called a rest.

Shael sat down heavily by the roadside and slumped forward, her elbows o*n knees and head down. "Are you alright?" Kelsia asked, taking a seat beside her.

Shael took a few deep, labored breaths. "I was feeling a little dizzy, but I'll be fine. I just need to rest."

Kelsia patted her shoulder. "Take your time." She reminded herself to keep a close watch o*n Shael and to call a rest the next time she began to look weary. Loric was paying them no heed. He paced and sniffed the air while they rested.

The next climb was longer and more sheer than the others, carrying them to the top of a wide, rocky ridge. The morning dragged o*n into afternoon, but Loric would not stop and besides, there was nowhere to rest o*n the vertical slope. Kelsia checked o*n Shael frequently and each time she looked worse. Finally, Kelsia decided she had to call for a halt. Each step Shael took seemed to pain her. She stared at the ground, her teeth gritted in concentration, while o*ne hand clutched the knife wound. Then, to her surprise, she realized that Loric had stopped, and moreover, they had come to the end of their climb. They looked down upon a great expanse of green stretching in all directions. The road was a tiny ribbon of brown snaking away into the distance.

Loric allowed them a short rest and a chance to appreciate the view, but they were off again all too quickly, hurrying to keep up with the massive strides he took descending to the plain. Scraggly grass began to appear among the rocks as the air warmed. By late afternoon, they had reached the foot of the mountain and were following a slender trail towards the road. Loric urged them to mount and press their horses to a trot. He ran alongside them at a brisk clip that should have tired him after o*nly a few minutes, but which he seemed to manage effortlessly.

Their trail soon joined the road going north. They travelled until nightfall and made camp near a tiny spring that Loric found for them not far from the road. While they cared for the horses, he brought out cooking implements and food from their stores. Soon a mix of appetizing smells--roasted duck, o*nions, and peppers among them--was calling them back to the fireside.

The food turned out to be a variety of vegetables and duck meat speared o*n thin sticks, seasoned, and roasted over the fire. It was like a stew without the broth. Loric ate the contents of o*ne of sticks quickly and then sat, legs crossed, looking south. Kelsia took time to enjoy what would probably be their last good meal for several days, at least. Loric had warned that, other than the occasional rabbit, there was little food to be found here. The rest of their supplies consisted of food that was meant to last the journey and longer if necessary and it was altogether rather bland.

Shael spoke around a mouthful of potato and o*nion. "Kelsia, what's going to happen o*nce we get to Dalmers Ferry and deliver that thing? Where are we going to go next?"

Kelsia sighed. "I hadn't really thought that far ahead. I suppose I would want to return to the village and find out what really happened."

Shael nodded. "That's what I was thinking. The sooner we find this Seith and give that staff to him, the sooner we can return. I keep worrying about everyone. I have to know that they're safe."

Kelsia had to admit that she would be glad to when she no longer the burden of carrying the staff. She felt like a child that had been entrusted with a task well beyond her years and ability to perform. She didn't understand magic, and though Loric had given her a newfound appreciation for the uses to which it could be put, she would just as soon be rid of it.

Loric woke them o*nce again in the morning, though this time he let them sleep until the sun had begun to creep above the horizon. “I must leave you now,” he said as they prepared for the day’s ride. “Dalmers Ferry is thirty leagues due north. Your enemies will be coming from the east, but will reach the road well south of here. I intend to mask your trail and try to draw them off. If you travel swiftly, you will reach your destination long before they realize that they have been diverted.”

Kelsia had known that Loric would not be with them all the way, but that did not lessen the impact that his leaving had o*n her, or her confidence. “Goodbye, Loric, and thank you for everything.”

He ruffled her hair with o*ne of his huge hands. "Remember everything I have taught you, wherever the road ahead may take you. Know that I have done all I can to ensure your safety, but you must brave the road ahead with steadfast hearts. Fare well, both of you."

“Fare well, Loric,” answered Shael. She touched her side at the place where she had been wounded. "Thank you for saving my life."

He nodded to her in a way that could have been a bow, then turned and started away down the road at a run. He had disappeared from view by the time they mounted and resumed their journey north.

With nothing but blue sky and an endless expanse of green in all directions, it soon began to seem as though they were making no progress at all. Kelsia tried o*nce to judge their progress by counting the horse’s steps, but had to stop at o*ne hundred, unsure of what came next. Listless boredom set in, but she still had peace of mind enough to scan the horizon from time to time.

The first time they stopped for rest, Shael decided to test her bow. She sighted a hollow place near the edge of the road up ahead. Kelsia judged that it was maybe eighty paces. She drew the arrow back, frowning o*nce more at how easily it pulled. Then her expression changed to o*ne of puzzlement. “Do you hear that?” she asked.

Kelsia listened carefully but there was nothing. Then she turned her head to look around and suddenly heard it. It was a very faint hum. “Yes! Where is that coming from?”

Shael released the tension o*n the string slowly and the hum disappeared. “Draw it back again,” Kelsia suggested. The hum came back, easily detectable now that she knew what to listen for. Shael gave her an unreadable glance, then tilted the bow up and released.

The bow gave a quiet twang and the arrow shot forward. The hum turned into a sizzling buzz, the arrows path marked by a faint white glow. Its arc carried it over Shael’s target and dropped it into the grass a fair distance beyond. There was a tiny flash and a moment later a sharp snap that made Copper and Cloud flinch.

“Amazing,” was all Shael said, flashing Kelsia a grin.

They began to walk down the road to retrieve the arrow. Suddenly, Shael began to run, and Kelsia saw the reason. A thin column of smoke rose up out of the grass. Shael reached the spot first and stamped furiously at the ground. Most of the glowing embers were out by the time Kelsia arrived, but they had burned out a spot of blackened earth around the spot where the arrow had landed. Shael pulled the arrow up out of the ground and held it up to inspect it. There were sooty patches here and there, but she pronounced it fit for at least another shot. Not surprisingly, Shael elected not to try another practice shot.

They pressed o*n through the day, intent o*n covering as much ground as possible before nightfall. They spent the night in the open air o*nce more and woke for an early start the next morning. As the sun neared its zenith, they came upon a red pole jutting out of the ground near the road. Pausing to investigate, they discovered that the pole marked the site of a well. A rope and bucket lay to the side, tied to the pole. After hauling up several buckets for the horses, they sat in the trampled area next to the well to rest.

Shael took a long draught right from the bucket and passed it to Kelsia. “How much farther is it, do you think?”

Kelsia shook her head. “I wish I knew. Thirty leagues, Loric said. I suppose we could travel that in three days. That would put us halfway there now.” She took a swallow of water.

“Have you ever been to Dalmers Ferry?”

“No. But my da went there to trade a few times a year. o*nce he brought back sweets for Matias and me, little spice cakes with creamy white frosting. I can almost remember how they tasted. He also bought me a doll with a face made out of porcelain.” She smiled fondly. “Her name was Rosie. She was so beautiful. I was afraid of breaking her, so I almost never played with her. But what I remember is what I felt when he gave her to me, like I’d never been happier.”

Shael frowned. “Well, what happened to it? You never showed it to me.”

Kelsia drew in a deep breath and dropped her gaze. “My father got sick right after that. Seeing Rosie reminded me too much of him, so I put her away in a closet and tried to forget about it.” She felt as though she danced at the edge of a precipice, shielded from grief o*nly by a veil of numb disbelief. She remembered how much it had hurt to lose her father. How could she go through that all over again?

“We should get going,” Shael said, standing and helping Kelsia to her feet. Kelsia was grateful for the distraction from unhappy memories and focused her mind o*n the task of riding and watching the road.

Late in the afternoon, the sky began to darken, angry gray clouds rolling in from the west to blot out the sun. Rain began to fall, a quiet drizzle at first, but building quickly to a steady pouring. The thiefshroud seemed to repel the water quite well, but it was not long before Kelsia’s leggings became soaked through. She was cold, clammy, and miserably chafed after an hour of riding.

Kelsia reined in Copper and called to Shael to halt. Though it was not yet dusk, Kelsia knew that they needed to have shelter for the night. Loric had given them a tent, but they needed what light was left of the day to put it up. Shael dismounted and helped Kelsia drive the stakes and spread the sheets of cured hides. She seemed to have fared a bit worse for the cold and wet and was shivering the whole time. O*nce the tent was erected, they crawled in, stripped off their wet clothes and huddled together under a moist blanket for the night.

By morning the rain had stopped, but Shael woke with a ragged cough and a stuffy nose. She suffered through packing up their mud-drenched camp in wretched silence. The horses, likewise, milled about and watched their riders dejectedly, their manes beginning to dry in muddy clumps. It was nearly enough to make Kelsia feel guilty for having spent the night in relative dryness.

Though the sky had begun to clear, their boots sank in up to their ankles when they stepped out o*nto the road, each footstep emerging with a wet, sucking sound. The horses splashed through mud and puddles for the rest of the day at a pace barely above a walk. Kelsia had hoped that this would be the day they would reach their destination, but at the crawling pace they had made, it was hardly surprising that they were still trudging through the wilderness by nightfall.

If there was a positive side to their day, it was that the terrain was beginning to change, with oak trees now dotting the landscape from time to time. Scouting around at the bases of a few of them, they were able to gather enough dry wood for a fire. They made camp a stone's throw from the road, near an ashy pit where former travelers must have had occasion to build a fire. They shared a small meal from their stores while the horses munched oats in their nosebags.

Kelsia was just finishing up the last of her bread when a strange and powerful sense of fear and foreboding took hold of her.

“What’s wrong?” Shael asked, staring at her.

Kelsia shook her head to try to clear it. “I don’t know.” The fear was getting worse, a steady pulse of icy dread that clenched her insides with a pain that was very much physical. She looked down and saw the staff clutched in her fingers. She remembered Loric’s advice to her, to be aware of her own thoughts. She focused, struggling to make sense of the jumbled impressions that kept pushing her towards fear.

One thought, Run, came suddenly, clearly to the fore, followed by another, Danger.

“I think we should go,” Kelsia gasped. She stood, using the staff for support, and it seemed to bend and twist to aid her movement. But Shael’s painful grip o*n her arm stopped her. She looked to her left, where Shael was staring in rapt terror.

The wolf-druid bared its teeth when Kelsia laid eyes o*n it, slaver dripping from its jaws. It stood perhaps a dozen paces away, its single eye glinting in the light of the fire that stood between them. It glanced to its left where Shael had carelessly left her bow among their saddlebags and snarled. Were it not for the twisted, bestial features, the look might have resembled a smile.

“Go, run to the horses,” Shael whispered, staying perfectly still. “It’s your only chance.” Kelsia glanced at her friend’s earnest expression with an odd mix of guilt and reverence. Shael was ready to die for her. "Go," she repeated.

Before Kelsia could form her next thought, a vicious growl sounded, but not from the druid. The white wolf was a blur of motion as it raced to out of the darkness, leaping high in the air to pass right over her head. The werewolf came o*n, charging towards Kelsia with single-minded intent, but the spirit wolf was faster, its leap bringing it down nearly o*n top of the other. They met in a flurry of snarling and flashing teeth.

“Run!” Kelsia shouted, grabbing Shael out of listless shock and dragging her toward the horses. Two steps, though, and Shael wrenched free, turning and dashing back before Kelsia could think to stop her. The druid and the spirit wolf were locked together in a deadly embrace. The white wolf’s jaws clamped tightly o*n the throat of the other, but its underbelly was being ripped open by the raking of the werewolf’s claws. Shael dodged well to the side of them and snatched up her bow and quiver, then turned and ran back to Kelsia and the horses.

Kelsia looped a leather strap to the staff, tying it down to the saddle, then vaulted o*nto Copper, her feet finding the stirrups easily from days of experience. Shael's mounting was slower, as she was encumbered by her bow, but after a few moments they were moving quickly towards the road, picking up speed towards an all-out gallop.

"What about the mud?" Shael cried suddenly.

She was right. They would never make good speed o*n the road. "Let's go overland," Kelsia said grimly and turned Copper o*n a path to run parallel to the road. The spongy grass was not the best terrain for riding, but it was far better footing than the soupy road surface. The danger in that was that, in the dark and traveling at a near gallop, o*ne of their horses could put its foot in a rabbit hole and break a leg at any moment.

The camp had nearly passed from sight behind them when a mournful howl sounded and was cut short. Kelsia guessed that the fight between the werewolf and Loric's spirit wolf had ended. She had little doubt as to the result of that encounter, but the battle had bought them valuable time. Kelsia kept her eyes forward, praying from moment to moment that the horses' footing would remain firm.

They fled over the silent gray plain with the rush of the wind in their ears and fear in their hearts. Kelsia wasn't sure whether it had been just moments or hours when she heard a rustling and the pounding of feet behind her. She turned her head to look, already knowing what she would see. The druid ran on all fours, edging closer with each great, loping stride. It had already closed to less than twenty paces away. With a cry, Kelsia slapped the reins and dug her heels into Copper's side, getting from him a surge of speed that began to open the distance o*nce more between her and the werewolf.

Shael saw what was happening and matched Kelsia's speed, but drew Cloud away to the right. Gripping her mount hard with her knees, she let go of the reins and unslung the bow from her shoulder. She fumbled with an arrow several times before she could notch it to the string, then she drew back the shaft and held it. Kelsia could see her brow furrowed in concentration as her bow bounced up and down to the beat of Cloud's gallop. She released, but Kelsia could hear her curse and whipped a glance over her opposite shoulder to see the arrow glowing with bluish light as it arced too high and plummeted into the grass to the left and behind her.

And still the wolf came o*n, grunting with effort now as it ran harder, o*nce more closing the distance between them. Kelsia slapped the reins o*nce more, but Copper had nothing more to give.

Shael loosed another arrow, this o*ne sizzling past Kelsia so close that its magic made the skin of her back and the top of her head tingle. She flashed a look at Shael, who had frozen for a moment with a look of horror at where her shot had almost landed. Suddenly, Shael gave a cry of alarm, pointing.

White fangs and the single, baleful eye gleamed in the moonlight less than a pace from where Copper's hooves kicked up and back. The rippling muscles of the wolf's shoulders bunched taut and then released, throwing it upward and forward. Kelsia flung herself sideways in a desperate attempt to dodge, felt herself teeter over some unseen edge, her feet coming out of the stirrups. She heard Copper scream.

There was an instant when she looked upward at the stars and then she struck the ground and her wind left her. She rolled over a few times, the sky and ground seen in quick flashes. Then she lay still. Her thoughts were muddy and slow, her vision a doubtful haze. Pain began to throb all over her body. Meaningless words chanted in her head. A shadow moved over her, blocking out the light of the stars.

Say the words.

Kelsia's vision drew suddenly into focus. Somehow, impossibly, she held the staff in her hands. The werewolf stood over her, hunger in its feral eyes. It pounced, its jaws driving for her neck. She screamed as she felt the jaws fasten o*nto her, driving jagged teeth into her body.

Say them!

She forced her eyes open. The staff! It was the staff that the wolf had bitten. She had shielded herself with it. Realizing its mistake, the wolf released its hold. Kelsia focused o*n the words that kept repeating themselves in her head. They burst from her mouth on the wake of a scream. The wolf's jaws opened as they descended, this time going for her face.

A wash of heat passed through her, from her center, out to her arms, into the staff. There was a rushing in her ears loud enought to be painful. Something connected, shot through her and out, hitting her attacker with incredible force. The werewolf was thrown completely off of her and landed with a sickening crunch some distance away.

Kelsia sat up, fighting a wave of nausea, and pushed herself backwards from her foe. The words in her head had o*nce more faded to incoherence. Whatever she had touched was out of reach again. The wolf sprang to its feet once more, cradling one of its paws while it clenched and unclenched the fingers. It eyed her carefully, but the hatred burning in its eye blotted out all semblance of reason. It lunged toward her once more.

Something white-hot sizzled past Kelsia's ear and buried itself deeply in the werewolf’s throat. An instant later, there was a flash of light and a snap as a tiny bolt of lightning formed out of thin air and arced into the wolf. It fell, limbs convulsing and smoke rising from the wound.

Shael, astride Cloud less than a dozen paces behind Kelsia, snatched another arrow from her back and fitted it to string. As the werewolf rose unsteadily to its feet o*nce more, she released. The arrow flew true, striking the beast this time in the chest. It took o*nly a single step before the lightning struck it. It fell to the ground o*nce more and this time, it did not rise.

Shael leapt down from her mount and helped her to her feet. She gripped her hand so tight it hurt, but Kelsia could also feel her trembling. Her voice, too, was unsteady as she spoke. "When I saw that beast stooped over you, I thought you were dead. I couldn't move. I thought it had killed you."

"It's alright, Shael," Kelsia said, sounding more calm than she felt. The scent of scorched meat and hair combined with fear made her want to retch. "I'm fine, just a little bruised and scraped. Tell me what you saw."

"I heard you scream something, some words that I couldn't understand. There was a flash of something I felt rather than saw, and then that thing was lying o*n the ground away from you, and you were still alive. It was then I noticed that I already had an arrow notched."

"You did good, Shael," Kelsia said, hugging her close. "You saved my life."

They approached the felled beast warily, Shael with her bow still at the ready. A limb twitched as they came within its sight, but it was a feeble movement. Its head rose from the ground and oriented o*n them, sniffing the air to get their scent. Its lips and mouth began to move awkwardly and it made gurgling noises. It was trying to speak.

“Fay-ol,” it said, “Fay-old.”

Kelsia moved closer. “Failed?” she said.

“Staff.” Its tongue lolled from its mouth, blood dripping from the tip.

“You failed to take it,” Kelsia prompted.

“Fay-old,” it agreed, nodding slowly. Its single eye gazed at her and something seemed to change. Madness faded from its depths, like the flame of a candle burnig low. “Others will come.” It reached out a clawed hand toward her, grasping, then went limp. Its eyes stared past her. No breath rose in its chest.

“Come o*n,” Shael said, pulling Kelsia away.

Copper had wandered, but not far. Blood spilled freely down his flanks where the wolf’s claws had scratched him. He danced away skittishly when Kelsia approached, but she talked to him in soothing tones until he let her get close enough to examine him. She looked over the long, jagged furrows anxiously, but she could see that the cuts were not deep. “That’s a brave boy,” she said, scratching the top of his head.

They led the horses back to the camp at a walk, giving them a chance to rest from their wild ride across the plain. Shael turned to Kelsia suddenly. “What really happened back there, Kelsy? Those words you said. I saw that thing get thrown right off of you. We both know that’s impossible.”

Kelsia tried to remember it as it happened, to put into words what it had felt like. “I’m sorry, Shael. I really don’t know.”

Shael reached over and tugged Copper’s bridle, bringing him to a halt. Kelsia was astonished to see that the look Shael gave her was o*ne of fear. “That was magic, Kelsia. Nothing else could have done that.”

“I heard a voice,” she said, sighing. “It kept telling me words and told me I had to say them.”

“A voice,” Shael repeated, starting forward again. “A voice told you and you made it happen.” She glanced at the staff Kelsia hefted in her hand. There was no mark to show where it had been bitten. “I don’t know which frightens me more, thinking you may've gone mad or knowing you haven’t and that the truth is what's worst of all.”

"I'm not crazy," Kelsia said. No, it was the whole world that was turning mad.

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