9 Levels of Ascension - Wizards War

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 12, 2019

Reads: 95

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Submitted: June 12, 2019

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Nine Levels of Ascension—Wizards War


 

Chapter One—The Dwarf and The Nun


 

I said ‘GET OUT!’ We don’t serve your kind here,” says a rotund, bald man in a stained serving apron looming threateningly over a twin-braided, dark brown bearded dwarf. The left-handed dwarf jerks a dagger from under his chain mail at the right armpit, as the bartender draws his right arm back to strike a blow. The man checks his swing and takes a step back, glowering at the stout helmeted dwarf. A few of the watching pub patrons leave their seats to circle the two combatants standing in the open center of the wooden tavern. Two patrons behind the barkeep are knights dressed in fine, black armor with a blue lightning bolt outlined in white zigzagging down the breastplate.

Need a hand, Roland?” asks one of the knights. “I could go for a good dwarf throwing contest.”

The smaller warrior roars menacingly as he barrels into the barkeep with his head, shoving him into the two knights and the crowd behind them. The whole section tumbles backward landing upon each other as they hit the floor, pushing the wooden tables and chairs against the wall. A pair of scruffy-looking men behind the dwarf try to pin his arms, causing him to drop his dagger.

The dwarf roars again and with a tremendous use of force, knocks the two out as he brings his arms together causing them to crack their heads into one another. Four more men rush in from behind to grab the diminutive male as the two knights come at him from the front. The dwarf’s helmet rolls across the room as it is knocked from his head. The six men wrestle and punch the dwarf, trying to get him down on the ground. Just as they succeed in getting him onto the dirty hay littered wooden floor, a loud, sweet female voice is heard over the crowd’s shouting. “Let him go.”

The combatants hold the dwarf down as Roland tries to kick him, ignoring the words of the woman. The crowd parts and becomes silent as a sturdy, tall, gold and silver long-haired woman comes to the forefront and yells “LET HIM GO!”

The knights, four men and Roland release the dwarf only to have him swing out his feet and take two of them down while the rest back away. Before anyone can react, the dwarf springs up quickly belying his stout size and cumbersome look, and begins to run head first into the remaining fighters.

STOP!”

As if her word encloses him in an invisible cage, the dwarf stops mid-stride only a step from actually hitting the first man of the group. The woman seems to glow in her white traveling cloak, white linen shirt, white buckskin vest and britches.

She says in a quieter voice, “Everyone back to your seats. It is over.”

Slowly everyone goes back to their places, watching her and the scene closely, as they do not want to miss anything while setting chairs and tables back into their original positions. The woman directs her attention at the two knights as the dwarf picks up his helmet.

I don’t think your commanding officer would be happy about two of his men stopping at a tavern for a drink when they are still on duty, even if you are far from your realm. Perhaps you should return to your kingdom with whatever messages you carry.”

The fair looking woman turns her attention to the barkeep. “And, Roland, I believe all your patrons could use another drink … on the house.”

Roland looks surprised and is about to give a sharp retort, but as he looks at the stern-eyed woman, he meekly says, “Yes, Sister Grace” and heads back behind his counter. The two knights leave the tavern scowling at the dwarf. As Roland starts pouring ale for everyone, Sister Grace walks over to the bantam warrior who is collecting his dagger, adjusting his outfit and tucking his long braid back into the back of his chain mail.

The dwarf looks slightly up into her green eyes and scowls at her. “I did not need your help. I had every thing under control.”

Sister Grace glares back at the dwarf, then her face lightens up as she starts to laugh gently. “I know you didn’t need my help, but they did. The healer is out of town tonight and doesn’t need the extra work tomorrow when he gets back.”

The musical quality of her laugh disarms the dwarf and he half grins back at her. “Well, I would hate to put that much work on a healer who is already tired.”

Can I buy you a meal and another drink, friend?” asks Sister Grace

I am no one’s friend, but I am a bit parched,” replies the dwarf good-naturedly.

Sister Grace laughs lightly again, looking around the crowded tavern. The building is less than attractive, built sturdy and for the general traveler’s needs more than for the more affluent. Three walls are bare with six tables and chairs laid out two deep along each. The door of the tavern is on the fourth wall where six stools line the bar behind which is a kitchen and back room. At the end of the wall is a stairwell leading up to the bedrooms for hire. The woman gestures to an empty table across the room and the dwarf follows her over. As they are walking, a man in a hunter-green hooded linen cloak, black shirt and leather pants steps in front of them, blocking their way. His hood is down, showing his light brown hair. A leather strap crosses his chest leading to a bow and quiver on his back.

Step aside. The fight is over.”

Sorry, Sister, but as Roland said, his kind is not welcome.”

Why is that? What have you against the dwarven folk?”

Their kind lives unnaturally, under the earth, away from nature. They are no better than filthy rodents.”

Perhaps it is we who live unnaturally upon Gaia’s skin like fleas. The dwarfs live in the heart of the earth, appreciating the beauty that is beneath her surface.”

They are violent people and wish to push their ways upon the rest of us. Have you forgotten the Sulfuric wars?”

That was not a war and it was centuries ago. One southern rogue dwarven clan that mistakenly delved too deeply into a dormant volcano reactivated it. When they inhaled the sulfuric fumes, it caused them to go mad and attack. They were not in their right minds, and they did not go out seeking warfare. They merely defended their home against the horde of barbarians seeking to punish them for awakening the volcano. When the volcano erupted, it extinguished their lives. None of those dwarves survived. Since that time, people have believed the fallacies against the rest of the dwarven people.”

We will not allow him or his kin in these parts. Let him go back to the mountains and stay there.”

He is my guest and is welcome wherever I am.”

Not on my watch!’

The ranger pulls out a short sword, but before he takes one step, his sword is clattering on the floor at the same time he falls unconscious beside it. The astonished dwarf slowly registers what he has seen. Sister Grace had done a little hop, bringing her right foot up and kicking the man’s chin with tremendous force in less than a heartbeat. The short warrior beside her looks at Sister Grace thoughtfully and with great respect.

Sister Grace smooths her cloak, steps around the man on the floor and sits down at the table. The dwarf grunts (which sounds almost like a chuckle) and joins Grace at the table taking off his scabbard and sword, placing it alongside the helmet on the burnished wooden bench. The ranger wakes up and stumbles out of the tavern, throwing a menacing glare over his shoulder towards Grace and Mason as he leaves.

Roland, two ales.”

Coming, Sister.”

So friend, what brings you to this backward, dwarf-prejudice country?”

I am not your friend and it is none of your business, Sister.”

Please, call me Grace, and I would call you by your name if I knew it.”

Mason Feldspar, Sister Grace.” Mason tilts his head slightly.

Just Grace.”

I cannot call the ‘Holy Warrior’ just Grace.”

Ah, so my reputation has reached all the way to the dwarves in the High Crags.”

Not yet, Sister. I have heard about the Holy Warrior on my travels over the past few years. How did you know I was from the High Crags?”

I have heard of the Feldspar mines and am guessing you are part of them?”

You have reasoned correctly.”

Well, Mason, since you say it is none of my business as to why you are here, can you enlighten me about your family mines. Or perhaps a few other tales for a fellow traveler over drinks and a meal?”

Roland brings over two ales and places them on the table. After Sister Grace asks for two bowls of stew with bread, he leaves.

So, tell me of one of your most recent adventures? I would enjoy hearing about a good fight or two.” Grace’s eyes twinkle with mischief.

Ah, now that is something which I would not mind sharing, but please, I wish to hear more about the ‘Holy Warrior’ and her journeys. I have listened to many stories about you wondering how many are true. It seems to be the stuff of legends, yet you are so young to have so many songs sung about you and your battles.”

I may be young in years, Mason, but I am old in my soul. I do not like speaking of myself, but I can see you won’t open up about yourself until you know more about me.”

Grace pauses as Roland places two bowls of stew and a few chunks of bread in front of them. Grace waits for Roland to leave and then begins speaking.

I will give you a brief history of how I became the ‘Holy Warrior’ as everyone now calls me.” Grace pauses to eat some of the bread, washing it down with the ale. “What exactly have you heard about the Holy Warrior?”

The Holy Warrior is an Avenging Angel who was murdered and came back to life seeking revenge. She sometimes appears when she is most needed or prayed for. She is to be feared and respected at the same time. That a touch of her hand can either kill a person, save a soul or condemn it. The Holy Warrior has leveled many evil temples and villages. She is blessed with great magic and power. She sings a siren’s song and you are bewitched by it. Once you have heard her song, you cannot do a thing except her bidding. Many men have died because of her and some have gone joyfully into the slaughter.” Mason clears his throat. “I have not believed a word of it until tonight. By my own ears, I have heard and responded to the magic in her voice.”

You only responded to my voice because you truly did not want to fight, but was forced into it. Had you been focused completely on the fight or violence, I could not have changed your mind. The others stopped because they feared me, or rather, what they have heard about the Holy Warrior. My voice has no lasting power over those who serve their own darkness.”

And what about the many men you have slain? Or the rescuer of the downtrodden?”

In order to answer you, I must tell you of my past. It is not a pretty tale and very few know the real story. I do not share this with just anyone, however, I know that your path and mine are linked. It was foretold that we would meet at this place and time, whether you believe it or not. Two paths can be walked tonight depending on what you decide once you have heard my story. Are you sure you wish to hear it, for once it is told, there is no going back.”

Mason scoffs “I do not believe in fortune telling and all that shale. I do believe in magic and wizards, but seeing into the future and predicting what will happen is nothing but boulderdash. I do not feel that we are linked beyond this meal and I will be on my separate way after it is done.”

Grace is about to speak when she is interrupted by Roland coming to the table to refill their ale. Only after he has left does Grace speak.

You have the right to choose your own path and if after hearing what I have to say, perhaps you will change your mind. But first, let us have a good meal and light conversation.”

Mason agrees and begins to eat and drink heartily as Grace eats at a more normal pace. “Nothing like a fight to work up an appetite. It has been weeks since I have had a chance to hone my skills. I wish you had let me ‘train’ some more. I am getting a bit rusty.”

Sounds like you do quite a bit of ‘training.’ I see you have a dagger and the short sword on your back, but no axe?”

Not every dwarf carries an axe.” Mason scowls at her.

I mean no harm, I just know that it is the preferred weapon of most dwarves. You must have very good balance and agility as you use a short sword. That is commendable.”

Mason relaxes and eats five heaping spoonfuls of the stew to Grace’s one. He takes a large swig of his ale and lets out a belch that echoes through the tavern causing the other patrons to look directly at him instead of stealing glances as they had been doing.

I do not see you carrying any weapons, Sister.”

No, I do not have any weapons. The only knife I carry in my pack is for cutting food or branches.”

Mason thinks about licking out the bowl of stew, but changes his mind, using the rest of his bread to soak up the liquid. He looks at Sister Grace’s bowl of stew that is still half full and the rest of her bread. Noticing his interest, Sister Grace pushes the bowl and bread over to Mason.

Eat up for we have a bit of a journey ahead of us.”

I believe we will be heading in different directions, but please, tell me why you think I would travel with you.”

I know why you are here.”

For a quick bite and rest before moving on.”

No, Mason. I know the REAL reason. I know what quest has caused you to be away from your kin for five years.”

Pyrite. There is no quest. I have been traveling to see the world. I am the youngest son of a large family who has no ties to stop him.”

Grace looks Mason in the eye and quietly says, “Amethyst.”

Mason’s jaw drops, but he recovers quickly pretending to eat more stew.

That gemstone is of little value to me. We have plenty in our mines. We also have rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and plenty of pyrite, too.”

Do not doubt that I know more than you are willing to tell. I understand why you may not want to let others know what you seek, but I know the treasure which is closest to your heart.”

Boulderdash. I do not know what tales you have heard, but I can assure you that I seek no treasure. I am merely seeking adventure beyond the mountains. Thank you for the stew and ale. I will be on my way. Good night, Sister Grace.”

Mason rises from his seat, picking up the stew and ale to move to another table.

Amethyst is your missing sister. I have knowledge of her,” Grace whispers.

Mason falls back into his seat, spilling a little of his ale on his hands. He wipes them off as he spouts “How do you know this? Are you the one who has taken her? Show me to her, NOW!”

Mason gets angry and reaches for his dagger. Grace puts her hand on his to calm him down. Mason jumps as if he has been burned, pulling his hand away.

I am not the one who took her, but may know who can help us find her. I know you do not believe me, but you must listen to what I have to say if you want to find your sister and save her. You must trust me and I fear the only way you are going to do that is if I tell you about myself and how I know about your sister. Please just hear me out.”

Very well, I will listen to your tale, but know I will kill you later if you have anything to do with my sister’s disappearance.”

Grace’s mood turns somber and her eyes become dull as clouds building up to rain on a sunny day. As she begins to tell Mason about her past, the proud warrior sitting before him seems to be replaced by a sad, meek young girl whose spirit is broken by all she has experienced. Grace begins her tale in a much quieter and subdued voice. She only pauses in her story when it gets too hard to talk, then she takes a drink of her ale before continuing.

My family was so proud when I become a nun. My whole life, I was groomed to be in service to The Creator and to be a handmaiden of Daruga, the Eagle God. I was the youngest of my family and the fourth girl of five children. My father was thought to be poor because he had only one son and so many daughters. In my village, even if you were the wealthiest person, you were thought of as poor if you did not have more sons than daughters. The only value daughters had were to be married off for breeding purposes, or made into nuns who could heal and aid those less fortunate. I found out many years later, that in other poorer towns, if there was only one son, you could only have one daughter. Any daughters born after the first were seen as worthless and killed at birth or sold to the Nomadic Stags. Our village was one of the few that had a temple and houses for the clerics, so any extra daughters were not put to death. These girls were raised to be in servitude to the temple. That is the only reason myself and two others sisters are alive. My brother, Tyrone, inherited my family’s farm and my oldest sister, Marieden, was married off to a foreign magician.” Grace pauses to sip some ale.

The moment a girl has her first menstruation, she is then considered a woman and is either auctioned off for marriage or sent to the temple, no matter her lineal age. Marieden was fifteen when she was married and that same year, when I was ten, I was given to the temple. I would not see another member of my family for over four years. That is when my two older twin sisters, Sharlay and Mickalay, turned fifteen and were given to the temple.

The first day I entered the temple, I was so happy and proud to be going to help others in the name of The Creator. Being so young, I didn’t realize how I could be so naive. I was raised to believe that Daruga was our savior. That he had turned himself into an eagle to fly messages to The Creator for his people. He made so many trips carrying prayers that his wings became weary. When he tried to turn himself back into a man to rest, he failed. The legend says he died with the head of an eagle and body of a man. Our ancestors honored him because had sacrificed himself for the betterment of his people and in service to The Creator.

My family had raised me to help others, be kind, pray for everyone and to do the Will of Creator by following the example of Daruga’s sacrifice. By the end of the first day in the Temple, I was begging The Creator to take my life. The grounds behind the temple were behind a high stone wall. Most of the villagers believed that the stone wall was there to protect the privacy and sacred ground for prayers, healing and piety of the clerics. In reality, it was to hide the truth of what really went on. All the women were slaves. They were raped, beaten into submission, told not to speak and taught they had no value beyond what was given to them by the clerics. These clerics were supposed to be holy men who took vows of Light and practice celibacy, but that was not the case. We had been told a lie about Daruga. The true story of Daruga is that he is a spirit of the darkness who has the head and wings of an eagle, the body of a man and is the leader of the Giant Eagle clan. He was a dark wizard who transformed himself to twist the minds of good people into servitude. He found that people were easily fooled and ruled. He built temples for himself and his followers grew. The so-called religion became a base of business for pirates, thieves and despots. Many years ago, Daruga was hit by lightning while transformed and it is said he cannot change back into a man nor does he wield magic.

In the temples, if a woman became pregnant, she was put in a prison cell in her last trimester so nothing would happen to the child. If the child was a boy, he was taken to be raised by the clerics and a few older nuns who were considered to be useless except to raise boys until puberty. These nuns were executed when thought to be too old, too ugly or useless. If the woman birthed a girl, the girl was killed and the mother was branded with a bar. Each time the woman gave birth to a girl, she would be branded. If she birthed 3 girls, she was executed.

Four years passed and this was my life. I had given birth to a boy my second year in servitude and was pregnant with another child at fourteen when my twin sisters were brought into the temple. Twins were thought to be a sacred thing, so my sisters were not put through the same treatment as the rest of the women. They were to be sent to another temple where they would enter into training to be real Nuns. These Nuns would travel and spread the word of Daruga and of his false religion.

I saw the twins briefly as they entered the grounds, but they did not see me. When they asked about me, the clerics told them that I had been transferred to another temple. They asked about the women in the courtyard and were informed that we were all sinners, we were being punished for our sins. My sisters said they would pray for our souls. A few days later I was able to escape my cell at night. I silently entered my sisters’ room to warn them, but they didn’t recognize me, nor did they believe I was their sister. They looked past me and my pregnant body with contempt as they shouted for the clerics. They said they would pray for my soul and salvation. I was so hurt when two jailers took me away. I had waited for my sisters to appear in order to save them and myself, but now it was pointless. I would have to escape on my own with my child after its birth.

My jailers beat me mercilessly that night, breaking one of my legs and a few ribs, however they were careful not to hurt the baby. Eleven weeks later, I gave birth to my daughter. There are no clerics around at births, deeming it beneath them, so it is the one time women can be alone together and talk. The guards are not allowed in the rooms. When the child is born, a woman will go and get a cleric. If it is a girl, the women will band together, allow the mother to hold her child and sing a lullaby to it before reporting to a guard. They say prayers over the child and bless it for being able to go back to the Light.

Sometimes a woman will die after losing their girl child because her spirit and body is so broken, she can’t go on. I had tried to escape three weeks before the birth but I was caught. My body was still healing from the beating I received, so I was unable to escape again to save my child. I gave birth to a girl. I was frantic knowing my daughter was going to die. I prayed that my daughter would be spared. When the guards came, I fought them, but to no avail as I was too weak. My heart broke as she was executed in front of me in punishment for trying to escape. I was so lost, I didn’t even feel the skin on my shoulder blade being branded. My faith in men died that day. Knowing my son was being raised just like these clerics, I cut off my feelings for him and extinguished the hope that one day I would be able to save him.

My spirit was broken, but my belief in The Creator was not. I prayed long and hard while I was recovering. I believed in the goodness of The Creator. I knew that my situation was due to the failings of mankind and not because of the Divine. I wanted to die, but my prayers strengthened me. I believed I had to find a way to save the women around me, to stop the killing and coercion of innocent babies.

Once I was stronger, I chose to fight my captors. They had always taken care not to beat a woman’s face because someone from outside the walls might see her. Plus they wanted to preserve her beauty to aid their sexual arousal and fantasies. One night I awoke to find a cleric on top of me. All of my rage and hatred came to the surface. I started hitting and kicking back. I was like a wild animal that could no longer be caged. The clerics beat me from head to toe, then took me outside the walls in a potato sack. I was thrown into the back of a wagon and taken many miles away. I was in so much pain. I was in and out of the darkness not knowing, nor caring, where they were taking me.

Finally, they stopped, threw the sack I was in out of the wagon, leaving me to die. I passed out from the pain until the morning sun woke me as it shone through the burlap. I was unable to move my arms or legs as they were broken. Even though I was in agony, I thanked The Creator for allowing me to be free before I died. I said some prayers for the women still in captivity, sang a song I remembered from my childhood, then got ready to die.

I must have passed out for when I came to, I was free of the potato sack and was being carried. I tried to crane my neck to see who it was that had rescued me, but was in so much pain, the light so bright, that I was blinded and passed out again. When I awoke the next time, I was in a cave with a small fire. My wounds had been cleaned, bandaged, my limbs set in splints and my body was in a pile of loose hay. Feeling peace for the first time in a long time, I said a prayer of gratitude to The Creator and went to sleep knowing I was safe as I was no longer living a nightmare.

Mason sat quietly through her story, at times looking away, or staring at the table or into his empty bowl, not able to look at her. “I am sorry for all that you have been through, no one should be treated that way.”

Mason shakes his head gently as if to wake himself up. “But, pray tell, what has that to do with my sister. This sounds like you are just trying to keep me here long enough for me to fall under your spell. Well, it will not work. Tell me where my sister is.”

There is no spell, I assure you. I need you to understand and trust me so that you will trust all that I have to say to you. To comprehend why our paths are intertwined. Please be patient and listen a little bit longer.”

Only if I have more ale.”

Grace signals to Roland for more ale. Grace and Mason sit in silence until the barkeep delivers the ale and has left. Mason takes a large swallow of ale, wipes his mouth and says, “Please, continue.”

I couldn’t see very well over the next couple of days as my eyelids had swollen, blocking my vision. I only knew there was a man in the cave who was taking care of me, helping me to heal. I could not see him, but by his gentleness of touch and calm voice, I knew he was not going to hurt me. He spoke to me about The Creator and how I was blessed to be alive. He told me I had many important things to do in my life before I crossed over. I asked what he meant, but he only said that it was time to heal in the present, not to talk about the future. As the weeks passed, I began to heal. My sight returned and I was amazed at who was my companion, my caretaker. Here was a huge man, a barbarian, with the lightest of touches, softest of voices and most gentle spirit. His name is, Havgar. He is a healing monk.”

A barbarian monk, that is preposterous. Girl, you need to get your head examined!”

The little girl lost and broken is instantly replaced by the Holy Warrior. Sister Grace partially stands and puts her face in front of Mason’s, noses practically touching. The tavern becomes still. She speaks in a low, forceful voice.

Do not insult me, Mason Feldspar. You have had many adventures and still are nothing but a boy playing at being a man. I have seen and done things that would make you run as if you are being chased by a horde of dark spirits. Many of the rumors you have heard about me are true and I am not a person you wish to cross.”

Grace glaces around the tavern at the people avoid her stare. As they resume their conversations, Grace looks back at Mason as she retakes her seat.

I am not your enemy, but by your own admission, we are not friends. My telling you about Havgar may have put him in great danger and I do not do so lightly. He is a good friend, a valuable ally and a gifted seer. It is he that told me you would be here and about our connected future. It is he who brought through information about your sister. It is Havgar and his gift that you need to respect if you are to save your sister and many others from a very dark force.”

Grace stands up, throws a few coins on the table, saying before she walks away, “Do not speak of this conversation to anyone. Very few know about my story, I wish to keep it that way.”

Mason stands up. “What are you going to do, kill me? I do not take being threatened lightly, GIRL. No one, especially a human girl can beat a dwarf!”

Grace stops in mid-stride and turns back to face Mason. The tavern becomes so quiet that they can hear their own heartbeats. People who were near Sister Grace step back away from her.

In a soft, flat-toned voice she says, “There are far worse things than death, Dwarf. I do not have to kill you to stop you from speaking, just ask any man who survived the Darugadian temple’s destruction in Barstow.”

A few in the crowd gasp.

Mason stares open-eyed at Sister Grace. A shiver of something he has never felt before trickles down his spine. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wonders if this is called fear. Grace registers his reaction, a defeated sigh escapes her lips as the thunder in her eyes fades. She steps back to speak with Mason so no one else can hear. The crowd, afraid of what she may have to say, turns away from her, pretending to be in serious conversation with those around them.

If you wish to find your sister, meet me on the road at the eastern edge of the forest at sunrise. If you are not there, then good luck on your continued wild goose chase. If you can put aside your own prejudice, trust in something you don’t understand and have faith in The Creator, then I will see you in the morning.”

Grace walks away with everyone in the tavern moving aside to let her pass. She stops briefly to talk to Roland, hands him some coins, then heads out into the night pulling up her hood. As the darkness begins to envelope her, her cloak shines as moonlight and it looks as if there is a halo above her head.


 

Mason awakes to a snort in his ear. He jumps up, gently pushing back the horse that is nuzzling him.

Filthy beast, back off.”

The brown and white splotched horse snorts, pushing closer to Mason.

I do not have any more sugar for you, you long-legged bag of bones. Now get lost.”

As the horse slowly ambles away. Mason picks up his weapons, puts on his chain mail and grabs his pack.

As he leaves the stable, Roland is coming out the back of the tavern. “I see you are already awake. The sun will be up shortly. I take it you are satisfied with your supplies? Is there anything else you need? Sister Grace told me to make sure you were taken care of.”

Mason growls, “I have everything I need. Now begone.” Roland shrugs his shoulders and goes back into the tavern. As Mason leaves the stables in the early morning darkness, he walks around the front of the building to the road. He looks up at the sign hanging over the door lit by a single lantern and spits on the ground. ‘Last Chance Tavern.’ Mason mumbles to himself ‘that is the truth’ and heads east on the dirt road cutting through the forest.

The dwarf ponders on how this is his last chance to find his sister. There have been many false leads, dead ends, lost hopes in the last five years. He thinks back on his family before Amethyst came into their lives and how lonely he was. Mason understands how Sister Grace felt when she said she had no value, as he was the eighth son in the family.

Seven sons is the perfect number in a family mine because each has a purpose or position to fill Each of his brothers are the masters of their craft. Flint is the decision maker and artist, Ashlar is a surveyor/engineer, Galen is a carpenter, Rock is a deep miner, the twins Ledge and Ridge carve roads, support beams, tunnels and walls, and Mallet is the blacksmith. The Feldspar mine is the best in the Crags as it runs smoothly due to the talents and foresight of Mason’s father, Mica. Many of the dwarf women help with making tools, chain mail and weapons, as well as train as warriors. Few women choose to work in the mines.

Dwarven cousins, uncles, aunts and wives were already in place in the mine by the time Mason was old enough to work. Mason always felt like he was just a spare, in case something happened to one of the others. He learned each craft and trade only briefly before moving on. The only job left was to be on the clean up crew or a messenger as the apprenticeships were full, some three dwarves deep.

Emerald, his mother, was sympathetic to Mason’s feelings and always told him he was special, that one day he would find where he belonged.

Mason snorts in derision at the memory, muttering under his breath “Boulderdash.”

Mason’s mind centers on his mother for a few moments. He remembers the day that his mother came walking back from visiting her family and their mine in the southern Crags. She was holding the hand of a three-year old human girl, who seemed to be sleepwalking. She looked so frail, like a strong wind would blow her away. What a pretty thing she was, for a human. Once her long brown hair was clean and free of tangles, it fell gently against her pale skin in soft curls.

For almost two years, she never talked, barely ate and followed Emerald around like a trained dog. She did whatever she was told, helped out without being asked and watched everything that was happening with her startling lavender eyes. Mason was the one who named her because her eyes reminded him of an amethyst gemstone. It became even more true of a name as Amethyst began to interact with the family, coming out of her traumatized state. When she could laugh and joke again, her eyes would sparkle like the jewel she was named after. Despite not being a dwarf, everyone in the Crags came to know and love her. She is as precious to the Feldspars as their mine.

Mason remembers the first word Amethyst spoke, it was his name. His mother had just taken fresh bread out of the oven and put it on the table. When she turned her back, Mason tried to break off a piece of the bread, Amethyst said his name in warning. Mason smiles at the memory and his stomach growls thinking of the hot bread.

A loud thunk startles Mason out of his reverie. Swiftly scanning the area, he sees it was only a gray squirrel falling out of a nearby tree. Sensing something is not right, he takes out his dagger as he advances upon the downed squirrel. The squirrel leaps up as the dwarf gets closer and scrambles up the tree it just fell out of. Assessing the area, Mason sees no threat, but cannot get away from the feeling that something is not quite right. As he bends down to examine the ground, he feels a sting in the back of the neck. Slapping his hand to his neck, he grabs a small hard object. Bringing it forward to examine it, he sees it is an acorn. Irritated, Mason looks up at the squirrel in the tree and as he does so, another acorn strikes him in the middle of his forehead.

NOW CUT THAT OUT!” he bellows. Realizing the sky is getting light and it is almost sunrise, Mason gets back onto the road stepping up his pace to get to the edge of the forest on time. The squirrel sends an unending stream of chatter after the dwarf.

Looking back at the squirrel, Mason notices a shadow at the bottom of the tree, but it is gone before he can identify what it is. Again, Mason gets the feeling something is not quite right, but shakes it off as he hurries to meet Sister Grace.

His thoughts turn to Sister Grace and he recalls the shiver he felt the night before. Darugadian temple in Barstow. He had heard the stories. Not one prone to fear and always rushing into danger, Mason had thought long and hard before falling asleep last night. After five years, he knew that it was his last opportunity to find Amethyst. He had vowed to his mother that he would bring Amethyst back to the family or would die trying. Or perhaps experience something worse than death as Sister Grace had threatened, his mind warns.


© Copyright 2019 Karen Wood. All rights reserved.

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