Aurora reached out, but Silva slapped her sister’s hand away from the stones in the halfling’s palm.
“Nieah!” she said. “They are Holding. But…” She leaned closer, tilting her head to watch the firelight reflect off the facets of the dark dragonstones. “The Sealing. How is this done?”
“They are brought to the Reclaimant, who holds it before a tone generator,” Pyrklist explained. His offhand reply made it seem as if this was something everybody should know.
Silva frowned, glancing over to Aurora, who also frowned, but her expression was not of bewilderment, but concerned surprise.
“What is gen-“ Silva began.
“‘Generator,’” Aurora said, her voice flat. “Describe it for my sister.”
“This one does not know the workings—“
“I know of its workings,” Aurora snapped. “If it is what I think it is.”
“There is a… a box. Of dark wood. A crystal such as that,” Pyrklist extended a finger to point towards one of the red dragonstones in Aurora’s bracer. “It is bound in copper, and a place for one such as this beside it.” He wiggled his fingers beneath the rag, and the black dragonstone wobbled back and forth. “There is a crank to one side. The Reclaimant gives it turns and the red stone glows and sings, making the other go dark.” He shrugged. “As this one said, how it works is not known, but—“
Silva plucked one of the black stones from the halfling’s collection, and held it up before her. “It is not right," she murmured, turning the stone this way and that. "There are holes. Spaces, like the cracks in a wall. A weakened prison will soon break."
She sang a note, and the red dragonstone at her wrist flickered to life. It gave another pulse of light, and then the note she’d just sung filled the night air, while she herself sang another note.
It was the pair of notes we’d heard in the orrery at Koriszegy’s Keep.
A third note filled the air, and I turned, to see that Ana had brought forth her scythe, and given the silver blade a hard rap with her knuckle.
Uneven flickers of light burst along the veinwork within the gem. The notes for the briefest of moments swam, as if through a thick miasma, the pitch bending and warping, but then rang pure again as the black dragonstone went dark.
“Yes, that is what it sounds like, very nearly!” Pyrklist said, smiling. “The Voice spoke true, in telling this one to seek the strangers.”
“Voices?” Ana asked. “From within the black stone?” Her hand strayed to the amulet at her throat, her thumb rubbing along the engraving of the symbol of the Flame.
Pyrklist shook his head, gemlike eyes widening. “Oh, no, mistress. This one is called, to wrap such stones in shadows and silence before lifting from their cradle in the mountain. It is forbidden to touch the stones with bare flesh.“
Aurora looked down at the kneeling halfling, chewing at her lower lip, her golden eyes distant. Pyrklist glanced from one twin to the other, first at their feet. Had the fire not suddenly dimmed, the flames stuttering, I would not have heard his sharp intake of breath. His eyes slowly moved up, drifting left and right. He studied the gauntlets, and again, his breath caught.
“Is… is this one’s payment not enough?” he asked. “They are paltry, compared to those you already wear,” he said, “but Pyrklist can promise you more.”
“How many more?” Aurora asked. “A dozen?”
The halfling nodded, eagerly. “Yes, yes there would be at least that many beneath the cave in. And more, in the kuldshurgon.”
“More… than a dozen?” Aurora asked, her voice suddenly gone tight.
“Oh, yes, mistress. Pyrlkist hears the Tarsfotar Collectors speak of them.”
“There are dwarves collecting them?” Aurora’s hands clenched into fists. The two red dragonstones glimmered, the firelight reflected on the facets of the gems adorning her gauntlets giving way to a shimmer and rippling of golden light within.
Silva placed her fingertips on the golden metal tracery of the shrike’s lower arm. “Anujah,” she warned.
“No, no, mistress! Pyrklist misspeaks. No dwarf is allowed to keep such treasures. They belong to the Karrnath. And his Realm.” The halfling drew a shuddering breath. “This one will lose his hands, if the Reclaimants should find him with such treasures.”
Silva plucked the cloth from the halfling’s hands, emptying the contents into her belt pouch. She folded the ragged square twice, and handed it back to Pyrklist.
“You will help, then?”
“Of course we will.”
I had to blink, and rub my eyes to make sure the lack of sleep hadn’t muddled my senses. It was Aurora who spoke.
Pyrklist bowed. From his kneeling position, he pressed his forehead to the ground at Aurora’s feet. “Many thanks, mistress. This one— Pyrklist— will ensure you are rewarded well beyond those meager kurgonklist. He—“ The halfling’s voice trailed off.
“Feet, unclad that walk the stone and water beneath the iron skies,” he murmured, the cadence suggesting something oft-repeated, but just now making sense.
Aurora took a step backward. “Enough,” she said. “We will leave at first light.”
But Pyrklist was already asleep.