“Justin, come away, unless you want to be spitted three ways from Soldain,” Brynne said.
He took a reluctant step back. The statues relaxed their guard, but did not stop watching him.
“Well, now we see what sidestepping the tests has cost us,” Justin said, crossing his arms as he stared down at Jasna.
“Brynne, Petra, come here,” the girl said, ignoring the young lord. “I want to try something.”
The four stones brightened as they grew closer, and Jasna was forced to squint.
“Silva!” Jasna called, and they all waited, holding their breath.
“Blood!” Petra said. “Red stones require blood to function.” She fumbled in her satchel, producing a long needle from a leather bundle. The girl pricked her finger, and touched the bead of blood to the stone about her neck. The glow flickered once, then brightened, taking on a warmer tone. Jasna did the same with her silvery knife, and the other two girls pricked their fingers on the blade as well.
There was a subtle shifting of the red-tinged shadows along the wall, as the swaying of the stones ebbed ever so slightly until the stones all swung in perfect union.
“Silva?” Jasna asked.
The light between the four girls thickened, as did the shadows, swirling and twisting until they formed the faintest of outlines. Lord Justin gasped, glancing over his shoulder at the face carved above the doorway, at the three sapphire-eyed ivory statues.
“Ah, so my Little Sisters have been reunited. For this, I am glad.”
Justin’s expression fell back into a scowl. “Still can’t speak a proper word of Thyatian,” he grumbled.
The hazy image’s shoulders wavered. “You may tell His Lordship that I know his words, even if I cannot make them. And I work with friend Thorn to correct this.”
“I know she’s talking about me,” the young lord said.
“She thinks you are handsome,” Jasna said.
“Aw, he’s blushing!” Brynne teased.
“I-- no, it’s the light!” he stammered. “All… red and--”
“Little Sisters, what is it you wish of me?”
“We’re sort of… trapped,” Petra said. “We sort of… skipped a few tests and now we can’t get through to the Sanctuary.”
The image blurred, and when it came back together, the face that peered back at the girls was similar, the hair noticeably longer.
“Hullo, Aurora,” Brynne said.
“What are you doing in Perrantin’s Tomb?”
“Just… sort of… looking around,” Petra said.
“Well, stop. That place is laced with deadly traps. Leave there, immediately, and do not go back. There is nothing you could possibly want there.”
“We want answers,” Petra said. “Men were set on killing each other to gain the information that led us here.”
“And we all know how sensible men are, don’t we?” Aurora asked.
“I heard that!” Justin said.
“You must leave that place,” Aurora insisted.
“I think it’s a bit too late for that,” Jasna said. “We’re stuck here.”
Silva’s face appeared, in profile, as she whispered something in her twin’s ear. Aurora’s eyes widened, and then she sighed.
“Do you know how long it took to balance the stones above that corridor just so?”
“A lot longer than it took for them to fall?” Jasna guessed.
“There is another doorway concealed behind Zirchev’s second test,” Aurora said. “It will take you to the priests’ living quarters. You can make your way back to the entrance from there.”
“But what of Halav’s sword and shield?” Justin asked. “We came all this way. We don’t want to take them, just look.”
“Absolutely not,” the shrike’s image said. “By not passing the tests, you have no doubt activated the Guardians. They will not allow you to pass. Turn around, go back to the Baron’s town, and do not return to that place.”
“They’re just statues,” Justin said. “How difficult can they be to get past? I bet a few good whacks will snap those stone swords in two.”
“They are relics not so easily defeated by muscle and steel.”
“So there is a way to defeat them?” Petra asked.
Aurora’s features blurred momentarily, sharpening again into another frown. “Yes,” she admitted. “But you do not possess the means to do so. They are not as my sister and I. You can not reason with them. They will not stop until the threat before them is eliminated, one way or another. Turn around. Go back. Do not under any circumstances provoke them. They do not know mercy. They will not accept a yield. They will kill you. Do you--”
The grating ring of steel on stone cut off the shrike’s warning.
“Oh, Hells,” Brynne groaned.
“Voketh’s teeth!” Aurora swore. “Save the boy if you can, but you must leave that room! There is no more time for talk.” The hazy reddish image vanished, the light from the girls’ dragonstones dimming to a faint glimmer of red and gold.
Justin barely ducked under one of the statue’s swords, catching another on his own blade, sending it skirling down the length in a shower of sparks.
“Well, at least I won’t need to worry abour dulling it!” he called.
“Idiot!” Jasna shouted. “We have to get out of here, stableboy!”
“I just wanted--” Justin danced back, a stone sword barely missing his belly, “-- to see the shield!” He braced his sword in both hands, wrenching another stone blade’s swing off to one side.
“Still think they’re ‘just statues?’” Petra said, suddenly beside the young man, deflecting another statue’s attack with both batons, gritting her teeth against the jarring impact.
“On your right!” Brynne called.
Too late, Justin turned for the block.
Jasna hit the boy just behind the knees, sending him to the floor. Swords whistled over his head.
One of the statues lifted its arm for another attack, but Petra caught the downswing with a swing of her own, the combined momentum nearly turning the statue completely around.
“Quickly, before they can surround us!” she called, and Jasna hauled at the straps of Justin’s pack.
He skittered back, like some mail-clad crab, just as the swords crashed to the floor, leaving deep grooves where he’d been moments before.
Petra gave a yelp, dancing away a fraction of a breath too late, red blooming from a gash in her sleeve.
Justin’s sword spat sparks as he deflected another attack, and the stone blade slashed across his thigh rather than his chest.
“Katarin!” Jasna called. “Can’t you do something? Hold them with air!”
“They are too many for that. Too strong!”
The small girl groaned as Justin collapsed against her, his leg unable to hold his weight.
“Leave the pack!” she wheezed, letting him stagger back as a statue’s sword whispered through the air just before the boy’s nose.
Brynne was not so lucky, flinching aside, clutching at her forehead. Blood gleamed between her fingers.
“Brynne!” Katarin shouted. She glanced about, helpless, then clenched her fist around the stone at her neck.
“We wish to retreat!” she called, to the statues, to the carving in the doorway behind them. “Why won’t you let us go?”
A spinning baton clipped the statue’s sword as it attacked Brynne again, and the tip grazed the girl’s shoulder rather than opening her throat.
“You will let us go!” Katarin shouted. Red-gold flames wreathed the girl’s hand, and she stabbed a finger towards the statue attacking Brynne. A bolt of golden flame burst from her fingertip, followed by a surge of red flames rushing along the path traced in gold.
It struck the statue full in the face, stone blistering and flying away in molten red-orange gobbets. The golden light pierced one of the emeraldine eyes, scattering as it entered the gemstone.
The stone, and the rest of the statue exploded with a thunderous roar, but rather than fading, the sound climbed in pitch, until it became a shrill whistling.
The girls huddled, hair and cloaks flapping first one direction with the blast, and then another as the explosion seemed to rush in upon itself amidst the howling wail of the wind. Their screams were torn to shreds in the whirling maelstrom of wind and stone and fire that filled the room.
There was a moment of intense brilliance, a flash of eldritch emerald amidst the flame and chaos, and then the world went dark and silent.