First Waxing Crescent Moon (on or about Nuwmont 4, 998AC)
Every rustle and skitter and flap of night bird wings brought me instantly awake and alert, half expecting to have to somehow channel dragonflame into the earth and away from where it could do me or my companions any harm. It would have been a fool’s errand, anyway, since a dragon such as Ulghfriss would have made the infernos of Verge look like mere candle-flames in comparison to his mighty breath.
Judging by the surly moods and lack of much conversation around the morning’s breakfast, I was not the only one to spend the night tossing and turning. The twins sat on different sides of the campfire, each studiously ignoring the other.
Things did not improve as the day wore on. Another rock slide blocked the trail, and the vardo sank up to its axels in the boggy mush of half-thawed mud. We had to make use of magic, Sera driving wedges of air beneath the wheels, and levering the vardo up with another, larger wedge; the twins kindled their dragonstones to light, in turns softening and then hardening the muck along the trail. The rest of us pushed, pulled, and coaxed the horses along. Aurora’s insistence that we work faster at every heave of the vardo did not endear her to any of us.
Lunch was a cold affair of trail bread and jerky. We wanted to be underway as quickly as possible, and out from under the shadow of Ulghfriss’ lair. Aurora kept her golden eyes trained to the north, scanning the mountain peaks for any signs of the great red.
Another hour along the trail saw fine white flakes drifting from the leaden clouds overhead.
Gilliam pulled his hood down further. “A fine day this is turning out to be,” he snarled. “What else could possibly brighten it?”
His answer came as a huge granite boulder, missing the vardo by less than an arm’s length. Another followed it, crashing along the trail between Gilliam and the pack mules.
“That’s no rockslide!” Varis shouted. “Scatter!”
“Where are you going, puny manlings? Our master bids you stay and play a few rounds of catch!”
Another boulder careened from the mountains above, peppering us with chips of stone as it sailed overhead.
Laughter followed another volley of stones. We had little choice but to keep spurring our mounts this way and that — there was no cover atop the stony hills, the spurs of rock not even large enough for either of the twins to shelter behind.
An icy surge climbed up my spine, and one of the stones glanced off the air slightly above the vardo.
“The giants in the Wendarians would play at similar games with the shepherds of my village,” Sera said. “This was one of the first things I did when I came into my Power.”
She raised her hands again, and another boulder spun away from Gilliam as he flinched. He turned, giving the weaver a broad grin. He spurred his mount next to mine.
“I see one of them, up there, but he is well out of range of my bow. I wonder if you might be able to fix that.”
“No!” Ana shouted. “Your shoulder needs another day of rest.”
Sera’s fingers twitched, and another boulder sailed away from the vardo. A bead of sweat slid down the weaver’s face. “Usually they give up by now.”
“Could you reflect the next one?” Aurora asked.
“You mean catch it and throw it back?” Sera took a few deep breaths. “Maybe twice.”
“Once should be all you need,” the shrike said, flexing her fingers. She turned her hands palms upwards, the red-gold glow of the dragonstones painting the ground at her feet.
The next chunk of granite slowed, as if thrown through molasses. The surging tingle grew to a nearly unbearable itch along the nape of my neck. Sera’s features grew strained, and her hands shook as her fingers worked at the threads of Thought surrounding the boulder. It began to pick up speed, returning along the path it had followed, arcing up towards the ridge where it seemed the giants perched.
As the stone hurtled upwards, it began to glow, first a soft red, with yellowish streaks. When it topped out on its trajectory, the stone burst into flames, and the giants’ roars were drowned out by the thunderous clap as the stone exploded in a shower of molten rock.
“Had I known it possible to heat the stones, I think the giants would never have bothered my village again,” Sera breathed. “But it would take… days to build up that amount of heat!”
“Not even Druid’s fire burns that hot,” I said.
“They do not call these ‘dragonstones’ by accident,” Aurora said, the red gems’ lights flickering out.
We hurried on as quickly as Demarra’s route allowed, as none of us wished to tangle with an enraged frost giant, much less a pair or trio of them. I could feel Sera’s exhaustion tugging at me, though she presented a brave face to our companions.
“It is very wearying,” she said. “My strengths lie with Energy and Matter, fire and stone. Saoirse, though, works winds and water much better than I.”
“It was enough,” I said, glancing over my shoulder, where the smoke still lingered from Aurora’s rain of flaming rock.
“I could not do it again,” she said, “not without a night’s rest, at least.”
Fortunately, the remainder of the day proved uneventful. With Gilliam’s shoulder still healing, we made do with a supper of boiled beans with a spiced dumpling of Demarra’s making. There was no singing after the meal, and the watches were doubled. Though the grating howl of rock wolves was heard a few times, the packs were quite distant, and nothing tripped the wards Sera laid down before she retired to the vardo.