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In the circle of stones Glenna screamed. She fell writhing beside the fire even as her scream echoed across the Plain of Teeth. Farrel and Sontoral scrambled to her side and attempted to stop her struggling.

Finally she lay still, pallid and scarcely breathing.

A few moments before they had been sitting together, all three awake in the deepest part of night. A shared feeling had woken them, a sense of Valin's spirit pulling strongly at theirs. Farrel and Sontoral had begun to discuss it, but the feeling proved too urgent, demanding silent attention. The two men had watched in mounting dismay as Glenna slipped into trance, grunting with effort, then struggling, fighting the air.

Now, Farrel noticed, her fists were still clenched.

“What should we do?” Sontoral demanded.

“Perhaps some water.”

Leaving her in Sontoral's arms, Farrel fetched the waterskin from his gear. He poured some on a cloth and was about to wipe Glenna's face.

No!

The warning cried inside his brain—unmistakably Kerrawyn's voice. Sontoral gave a start and Farrel realized that the harper had heard it too.

I felt what happened. Kerrawyn spoke inside their minds. Valin is trapped in Balor, and part of Glenna is trapped with him. Any shock might force the rest of her spirit over the boundary.

“What can we do?” Farrel asked, staring into the darkness.

Keep her still and warm. I will try to reach Valin. Perhaps he can be freed. I will contact you again.

After several moments of silence, Sontoral said, “I heard Kerrawyn speaking to us, but I could not discern all the words.”

“I heard her clearly,” Farrel replied.

The instant Aidan entered the upstairs chamber she knew something had gone terribly wrong. She had woken from a restless sleep and decided to look in on Kerrawyn.

From the beginning, Aidan knew, Kerrawyn had been the one who animated the tiny figures. Aidan's own efforts amounted to a feeble echoing or less. She had tried to keep her interest in the work, but it had faded from the constant repetition and her feeling of uselessness. More than once, she had found herself wishing that something unexpected would happen.

Now it seemed something had, and Aidan's first thought was to regret her reckless wishing.

Kerrawyn sat before the table on which lay the map of the Wormwell Marsh. The sorceress' eyes were closed, her face lined with fear and worry that the disciplined meditation could not entirely erase. Looking closely at the table, Aihill gasped.

The figure of Valin was nowhere to be seen. That of Glenna had been sliced in half, and only half remained.

Kerrawyn opened her eyes. “Yes, little sister. Valin is trapped in the gray world, and part of Glenna with him.”

Aidan gripped the edge of the table, overwhelmed with dismay, realizing once more how deeply she had come to love these friends. “What can be done?”

Kerrawyn's eyes grew wet. But she clenched her mouth with decision and stood. “I must keep trying to communicate with Valin. This spell”—She waved her hand at the table.—”is useless now. But its emanations are distracting me.”

She started to the door. “I have been in touch with Farrel and Sontoral. Stay here and try to reach them with your mind. Your presence will be a comfort.” She kissed Aidan on the brow, as a mother would a child. “I will be in Farrel's study if you need me.”

Kerrawyn descended the stairs and crossed the darkened hall, her bare feet cold on the wooden floor. Entering Farrel's study, she felt a momentary comfort at seeing all the things he so loved. But even the familiar seemed tinged with eeriness on this evil night.

She took a bit of charred wood from the fireplace and drew a circle on the floor. Removing her shift, she sat down naked in the circle. After two deep breaths she began a chant to the tree-spirits.

This chant was a piece of druid lore, but Valin had not taught it to her. Kerrawyn had learned the verses as a young girl—among her first lessons in the witch's way.

A great surge of strength and calm washed over her as the spirits of the trees gathered. Kerrawyn bent her mind to their language and told them of the druid's plight. Of course Valin was well known to the trees of the area, and they willingly lent their awesome voices to the effort of calling him. Kerrawyn aimed her mind at Balor, directing the combined will of the trees to finding Valin's spirit and summoning it back to this world.

Suddenly a mighty presence cracked the protective barrier of her circle, disrupting her communion with thetrees. In a flash of vision, Kerrawyn saw that the Balorians were attacking over the bridge.

She opened her eyes to behold a tall, black stone leaning over her. She jumped to her feet, thinking in terror that the apparition must be a sending from Balor. But then the stone spoke, in a voice old and vastly wise that immediately quelled her panic.

“I am the Master of the Plain of Teeth, spirit-guide to Valin whom you seek. He is indeed trapped in the Gray World, past your helping now and mine. But the seed of his plan will pass to Farrel, and it will be for Farrel to plant the seed. You, little one, have a more urgent task. For as you rightly perceive, the shadow men have begun to attack.”

On another occasion Kerrawyn might have been intimidated by one of such power. But now she steadied her heart, knowing she had no time for awe.

“How can I thwart their attack?”

“At your present level, you cannot. But I can enter into you and enlarge your powers, if you are willing.”

Kerrawyn knew there could be many unforeseen results from accepting such an offer. But she could not afford to hesitate.

Straightening her back, she answered, “I am willing, O Master of the Plain of Teeth.”

The great stone leaned closer. Wings of darkness spread from its sides and curled down to embrace her. Kerrawyn shuddered, touched by a dank, abyssmal cold like that of stone in a benighted cave. But next moment the cold vanished and light like a breath of fire ignited her senses.

She never heard Aidan knock on the door.

Forlornly pacing the darkened feast hall, Aidan had heard the strange, deep voice coming from Farrel's study. Worried, she knocked several times and called Kerrawyn's name. Finally she gathered her courage and pushed the door open.

Inside she saw Kerrawyn standing unharmed within a wall of flame.

To Kerrawyn it seemed her spirit opened like a flower—each sense and faculty pulsing with newborn awareness. She might easily have pursued any one of these miraculous openings, losing herself along untasted paths of experience. But her sense of purpose and self-control had also been empowered. She knew exactly what she must do.

She turned her mind to the Wormwell Marsh and immediately could see what was happening there. Farrel's men were attacking the bridge—for its light had intensified enough to make it visible to their unaided eyes. Within the field of blue light a dozen black-robed creatures worked, assembling bulky apparatus of glass and stone. Balorian wizards—so Kerrawyn perceived them to be. From time to time the masked wizards looked up and gestured mockingly at the humans. For though the men of Tronwall hacked and thrust with sword and spear, the searing blue light repelled their strongest blows.

Kerrawyn sensed the explanation. The energy flowing along the bridge had been magnified and turned outward—making the bridge visible to earthly eyes and shielding those within its field from earthly attack. From what she and Valin had learned of the fashioning of the bridge, Kerrawyn realized that such an increase in power could only be temporary. That was why the Balorians had to build the bridge slowly, over many months—that, or find a way to send the light back from this world to its source.

Kerrawyn glanced again at the strange apparatus the gray men were constructing. Her throat tightened as she grasped their significance.

They were mirrors to reflect the light. Kerrawyn guessed that once the mirrors were arranged they would increase the energy of the bridge in rising degrees, finishing in perhaps hours the work that might otherwise take weeks.

The quickest way to foil the plan was to break the barrier that protected the gray wizards from Farrel's men. Kerrawyn probed with her mind, seeking to grasp the essence of the spell that moment to moment forged the bridge of light.

Were Valin here, he might have known a charm or trick to deflect the bridge's flow. But Kerrawyn, untutored in such arts, had only herself to use.

She shaped her mind into a shield and thrust it within the bridge of light. Her slim body shook as the vast, unearthly magic shuddered through her. Pain like fiery needles pricked inside her brain. But even in the midst of the agony she could feel the power of the bridge interrupted, blinking off. Then a fiercer jolt screamed through her mind and a blackness she thought must be death snuffed out all awareness.

When sensation returned Kerrawyn was lying on her back, staring into grayness. She sensed some passage of time, but knew not how much. With fearful care she checked through her body. Her head throbbed dully, but otherwise she seemed all right. Gingerly, she stood.

“Look, father. One of them is moving now.”

The voice sounded hushed yet vastly loud. Kerrawyn blinked in confusion and peered up at the giant who had spoken. A second colossus, equally huge, leaned toward her.

Dazzled and unnerved, Kerrawyn fell back onto soft, patterned cloth. She looked about madly, glimpsing clay dolls as large as herself, walls woven of giant wicker.

Of course. She saw what had happened. When her mind went blank her spirit had flown home—not to her true body, which lay miles away in Farrel's house, but to the clay figure that contained a part of her essence. The two giants were Lecan and his son.

Kerrawyn stood again, assuming an air of command despite her tiny stature. “Good Lecan, though I appear to you in this tiny form, I speak with the voice of Kerrawyn, who is leman to your lord.”

The overseer looked at his son, then swallowed visibly. He had grown accustomed to the small figures moving, but this was the first time one had spoken.

“Lady,” he bowed clumsily. “At your service.”

“Is the battle concluded?” Kerrawyn asked.

“Scarce battle it was,” Lecan replied, “though dreadfully strange were the foes.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“In the middle of the night,” Lecan said, “Garan here was keeping the watch. He saw a blue light come up, stretching into the sky.”

“Like a light in a dream,” Garan added. “And there were goblins inside, or some such—lean creatures, masked and strangely dressed.”

“Garan roused the camp,” Lecan continued. “We took our weapons and attacked as Lord Farrel bade us do. But the blue light formed a magic barrier we could not break. Our strongest blows only stung our hands and shook our bones. Meantime the goblins were putting together engines of some sort. Then suddenly the blue light started blinking off, and this seemed to worry the goblins. After blinking a bit the light disappeared altogether—and so did the goblins, all but two of them who must have been unable. With the barrier gone we made short work of them, I can tell you.”

“But their bodies.” Garan winced. “After we slew them, their bodies curled up like dead leaves in a fire, then crumbled into dust.”

“And the engines?” Kerrawyn asked. “Did they also vanish?”

“They remain,” the overseer answered. “We have not touched them.”

“Destroy them,” Kerrawyn told him. “Smash them to bits. Or if you cannot, then dismantle them as best you can and scatter the pieces beyond the edges of the marsh.”

“It shall be done.” Lecan bowed his head to her.

“Well spoken, good freeman,” Kerrawyn said. “Lord Farrel did well to entrust the guardianship to you. But what you have won tonight may be only the first skirmish. Remain vigilant. I will visit you in my true body and bring what assistance I can. Till then, the blessings of the Goddess be upon you.”

“And you, lady.”

Kerrawyn lay down and folded her hands over her heart.

She had not traveled thus before, but she sensed that she could return to her own body simply by willing it. She relaxed completely and felt her spirit loosen itself from the clay shell.

For a moment there was darkness and oblivion. Then came a feeling of her life-energy rushing together from all directions.

Kerrawyn opened her eyes and saw Aidan with tears on her face. Aidan was kneeling on the floor of Farrel's study, holding Kerrawyn in her arms.

“Oh, Kerrawyn.” Aidan kissed her cheek and forehead. “I was so worried about you, dear Kerrawyn.”

Samhain Eve dawned bleakly on the Plain of Teeth. Now and then the sun poked wanly through gray clouds—ashen sunlight casting a maze of dim shadows over the haunted ground. Glenna still lay unconscious, her head in Sontoral's lap. Farrel hovered nearby.

A faint strip of sunlight fell across Glenna's eyelids and they moved. She gave a soft moan and shifted, like one asleep. Pink color seeped gradually back into her complexion. Finally, she opened her eyes.

She stared at Farrel as though at a stranger. Then she frowned, blinking, as her memory returned. A ghastly look of fear contorted her face, and she tried to rise.

“Steady,” Sontoral warned. “Move slowly, dear Glenna. We thought we had lost you.”

She sat up with his help. Weakly, she wiped a hand over her brow, then spoke in a hoarse whisper. “I am all right now. I was caught there, for a moment, in the Gray World.”

“A moment?” Sontoral echoed. “Rather half the night.”

“Was it really?” Glenna pondered. “Time is different in that world. My friends, it is good to feel the Earth again, to breathe the earthly air. Except ... Valin is lost to us. He cannot return..” Her voice faltered and she trembled, struggling not to cry. She sniffed, glanced down and opened her hand.

In her palm lay a green-black stone, in size and shape like a bean.

“Valin passed this to me before he was lost. It is the means of destroying the bridge of light. Farrel is to have it.”

The young chieftain was taken aback. “Why me?”

“Valin was clear in his command. You are to lead us now. It is up to you to destroy the bridge, if you can.”

“But—” Farrel spread his hands in a gesture of bewilderment. “But Valin said, if he did not return, we should seek Kerrawyn's counsel.”

“Then I suggest you seek it at the first opportunity,” Glenna replied, holding out the stone for him to take.

“But I have no power, no talent for calling spirits or making spells.”

“You are also to have his wand,” Glenna said.

The words of the old woman's riddle spun through Farrel's mind: You who would follow, a leader will be, and yet not lead.

Scowling, the young lord of Tronwall met Glenna's eyes, full of grave certainty, and Sontoral's, alight with grim humor. Reluctantly, Farrel held out his hand.

The stone's dropping into his palm made him think of a pebble's fall into a pond—ripples spreading out to all shores, results that could not be imagined. On the surface it seemed like an ordinary polished stone. But Farrel vaguely sensed deep inside it a charge, a spark of untold potential.

“We must leave this place,” Glenna was saying. “Go and pick up Valin's wand. Sontoral and I will put out the fire.”

Farrel held back the protest that sprang to his mind. Instead he thrust the stone into a pocket and walked to the edge of the circle. Valin's oak wand lay there, its silver bands glinting in the sun. Farrel bent over and picked it up.

He held the wand dubiously, weighing it in his hand. On an impulse he touched the wand to one of the stones that formed the circle. To his surprise, Farrel faintly sensed a protective force leaving the stones, flowing up through the wand and into the air. He held the oak wand in place until feeling all the power dispersed.

Looking up, he saw that Glenna and Sontoral were watching him.

“Now the stones must be scattered,” he said.

The harper smiled at him wryly and Farrel shrugged. “It seems the thing to do.”

“Quite right.” Sontoral stepped forward to begin.

The three of them set to work, tossing aside the smaller stones, carrying the larger ones away. As Farrel was bending to lift one stone, he heard a whisper in his head.

Farrel, my love. I could not reach Valin, though I tried. He is trapped in the Gray World, perhaps dead.

“I know.” Farrel moved his lips, whispering. “But Glenna has returned to us, and brought back the means of carrying out Valin's plan. The task has fallen to me, it seems.”

Yes. I spoke with the Master of the Plain of Teeth, and he told me this would be so. Kerrawyn explained to him about the attack at the marsh, and how it had been thwarted.

“We have both of us been empowered,” Farrel observed. “But what are we to do now? Where should we go? I have no idea.”

Valin's spirit guide has helped us as much as he is able, Kerrawyn said. But I also have a mentor who may be of help. Ride south to Pemminwood. Enter the forest at the Renglaven ford. Now close your eyes and I will send visions of the path you must take.

Farrel obeyed. He saw in his mind a succession of pictures—deer paths winding through wooded hills, a deep gully and a rushing stream, finally a pond with a beautiful cottage on its shore.

This is the house of Lady Bremmen, Kerrawyn told him. Aidan and I will meet you there, as soon as we are able.

“Be careful, Kerrawyn.”

And you, love. I see perils across both our paths.

Lord Farrel opened his eyes to find Glenna and Sontoral standing nearby, waiting. He cleared his throat with a grunt.

“I have spoken with Kerrawyn. She has told me where we shall meet.”

When all the stones had been scattered, the three companions gathered their gear and marched back across the headland. A brisk wind blew from the sea, driving dingy clouds across the morning sky, hurrying the travelers’ steps. By the time they reached the meadow and collected their horses, light, chill rain had begun to fall.

They mounted and rode south through the hills, using Valin's horse as a pack animal. They spoke little, each one preoccupied with a personal attempt to absorb all that had happened these past three days.

By nightfall they had reached the lowlands. Rain fell steadily, but the travelers did not seek a roof and a fire. Instead, they pushed on across the benighted countryside, spurred by sorrow over what had befallen and fear of what might come. With such grim haste and dour aspect did they ride, that anyone abroad that Samhain Night might have taken them for riders from the Kingdom of the Dead.

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About the author

CorbinJay

Bio: Wandering scribe washed ashore in this strange and wondrous land.
Published in other places under the name "Jack Massa."

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