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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
“Night, Mordred.” I didn’t really expect an answer, but was surprised when a soft “Night, Camille” came in return. Settling down again, I closed my eyes and fell into deep sleep for the last two hours, and thankfully, my dreams were so deep and distant, that I didn’t remember them when I woke.
* * *
By the time we woke, it was very early morning. The storm was still blowing outside, and the snow was about a foot deep on the path. Our journey back to the portal would be more problematic, but if we managed to get back on the road by afternoon, we should be okay.
We’d be out of food by tonight but that wouldn’t be an issue unless this trip dragged on for another day. As I slipped outside to take care of personal business—a dauntingly cold but necessary duty—I whispered a brief prayer to the Moon Mother that we find the Merlin, wake him up, and be done with it.
We finished a skimpy breakfast and then Morgaine led Morio, Tanne, and me over to examine the crystals. They were in perfect alignment and that right there told us they weren’t natural. Nature didn’t usually create straight lines. We stopped about two yards away. I closed my eyes, as did Morgaine.
At first, I heard nothing out of the ordinary but then, I could sense it. A deep vibration running the length of the chamber. I slowly let out my breath and tried to lower myself into the energy. At first, it resisted, but then, as I probed gently at it, it opened up and I found myself sinking into the brilliant neon glow.
A swirl of lights swarmed up, but they weren’t like the will-o’-the-wisps, nor were they like eye catchers. I had never really encountered anything like them before. They did have a sentience—there was intelligence there, and cunning, but it felt alien and without malice or good will. I reached out to touch one and the shock reverberated through my body.
“What the f**k?” I shook myself out of my trance and glanced at my fingers. They were singed, and several small blisters began to raise on my index finger. “But I was in trance—I wasn’t on the astral.” I told them what I’d seen.
Morgaine cocked her head. “I don’t know. I don’t like this. I saw the same thing but I didn’t try to touch it.” She gave me a little smirk and the Morgaine I knew suddenly returned.
I rolled my eyes. “Of course you didn’t. And of course, I did. But that’s just who I am. So what do we do with this? It’s a border. You said last night the crystals are masking a hidden entrance? Do we just step over them?” I gazed warily at the crystalline sculptures. Now that I knew they could bite, so to speak, they didn’t seem quite so pretty.
Tanne cleared his throat. “I think it’s best to try to dispel the illusion first.”
“Well, Morio can do that. Can’t you, love?” One of Morio’s abilities—one he didn’t get a chance to use very often—was the ability to dispel some illusions. Iris had the same power, but she was a long, long way away.
Morio nodded, kneeling down to get a closer look at the crystals. He held his hand close, without actually touching them. “I’ll give it a try, but without knowing exactly what they are, I’m not sure how well this will work. I suggest the rest of you move back.”
“How far?” Tanne grinned at him. “There’s only so much space in this cavern.”
Morio returned the smile, chuckling. “True, but I’d still feel better if you guys weren’t within spitting distance.”
As we stepped back, the blisters on my thumb were stinging. It felt like I’d been burned. I didn’t trust the lights—whatever they were.
The others were watching us closely as Morio stood. He brought his hands out in front of him, palms aimed toward the crystal statues. As he lowered his head, whispering an incantation, a prickle of energy raced through the air. Morgaine shivered and so did I—my body responding to Morio. We’d worked magic together so much and for so long now, that it felt odd not to be at his side, not to be part of what he was doing.
A shimmer raced along the row of crystals, and the faintest of movements caught my eye as the air rippled behind them. A wall of rock began to materialize. But the movement wasn’t limited to the dissolving illusion. The crystals themselves began to shift. I realized that they’d looked all too much like scorpions the night before because they were just that.
With legs and pincers formed from crystal spikes, and a central faceted body, the sculptures came to life, standing and turning our way. A massive crystal tail curved over their back, with an angular stinger. They turned, at attention, with front pincers aimed toward us. The ends were sharp and glinted with a dangerous edge.
“Oh, f**k.” Morio leaped back as the nearest one scuttled forward, moving with a soft clinking sound.
Not sure how these creatures defended themselves, or if they were able to use magic, I quickly ran through the possibilities. Crystals could amplify electricity, and when I thought about calling down the lightning, something inside whispered, Don’t do it—they’ll be able to feed on it.
I grasped my staff firmly as the entire line of creatures began to edge forward. Delilah and the others readied their weapons.
“Does anybody know what the f**k these are?” It would help to know what it was we were fighting.
“Not a clue.” Mordred’s voice was actually a little shaky and for once he didn’t seem quite so cocky.
“No idea.” Bran had less to worry about, but even he sounded cautious. The Elementals and their children were true Immortals. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t suffer pain or damage.
Morgaine and Delilah moved to flank my sides. Delilah was staring at the crystal creatures with a puzzled look, while Morgaine just looked pissed.
“I don’t think it matters whether we know what they are, the only thing we have to figure out is how to fight them.” Tanne glanced back at me. He’d moved up to Morio’s side and had his sword out. “I can tell you my Spell of Unraveling isn’t going to work on these—they’re actual creatures. They may have been in stasis, but they aren’t golems. That much I can tell.”
“Lovely, which is probably why Morio’s spell to dispel illusion brought them out from their frozen state. The trap was a spell that kept the wall invisible, and kept them at a standstill. The spell’s gone and so is their immobility.” I groaned. “The Fae Lords really had it all planned out, didn’t they?”
“Clever, very clever.” Morgaine cocked her head, eyeing the creatures. “They didn’t do anything by halves, did they?”
“Well, the creatures are made of rock—crystal, but still . . . rock. What can destroy rock?”
“Paper covers rock.” Delilah tried for a joke but it fell flat, even in her voice.
I thought for a moment, then realized that I did have one weapon that could disrupt them. And if we needed it, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it. But first I wanted to see if we could put a stop to them without me dragging out the horn.
I glanced around. There wasn’t that much room in which to back up now, and as I sucked in a deep breath, the storm broke, and they scuttled forward again, and this time, the fight was on.
“Incoming!” Delilah called out. She held out Lysanthra, her dagger. But the look on her face indicated that she knew just how ineffective a long knife was going to be against a creature made of stone and crystal.
I quickly counted the number of our opponents. Thirteen. There was no way we could take them on and, even if they just used their tails to stab at us—even barring any venom—they constituted a deadly force. Fuck it. We needed to be in top form for whatever waited in the passage beyond them.
Reaching into my pocket, I tugged at the zipper and fumbled for the horn. As I pulled it out, both Bran and Morgaine gasped and I realized that neither had seen me wield it before now. Or, at least I didn’t think so. Bran—definitely not. Morgaine? Shaking my head—it didn’t matter right now who the f**k had seen me with it—I thrust it into the air and held it tightly as I closed my eyes, thrusting my consciousness inside the horn.
Time stopped—or rather, I stepped outside of time. I was inside the horn, standing in the middle of a room flanked by four giant mirrors that were a lot like display windows. A simple table and two chairs were centered in the small room, and a man sat in one of the chairs. He was seven feet tall, at least this time, with olive skin and long dark hair caught back in a ponytail.
“Eriskel, thank gods you’re here.” I was relieved to see him. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but he rose immediately.
Eriskel was the guardian of the horn. He was a jindasel, spun off from the soul of the Black Unicorn and yet a separate entity in his own right. Eriskel was quite capable of destroying anybody who attempted to use the horn if he decided they weren’t worthy. Which was the one saving grace if it should ever be stolen, except that I’d probably end up dead either way. Thieves after major artifacts didn’t tend to have much in the way of consciences.
“Camille—what do you need?” He wasn’t one for small talk.
“I need the Lady of the Land. We’re facing some sort of crystal creatures and I don’t think we have the means to fight them. We don’t even know what they are.” I glanced anxiously at the mirrors and they began to shimmer, the reflective surfaces fading.
To the east, I now saw rocky crags, high in the air, and clouds swirled around the peaks. A man dressed in pale leather flew in on a gust of air, flaxen-haired and tall, carrying a sword polished to a high sheen. Lightning crackled around him. He landed on the rock and bowed to me. I nodded back. The Master of Winds.
Turning to the south, I recognized the Mistress of Flames as she emerged from a rolling river of lava. Her hair, the jet black of hardened obsidian, flowed into the current of molten rock that formed her dress. Her eyes flashed neon white, surrounded by an orange ring of flame. She knelt in the billowing torrent that spewed from the center of the world, a feral smile crossing her face.
Again, I nodded.
To the west, the Lord of the Depths rose out of a rippling sea. His skin glimmered with an azure tint against a fading sunset, and he carried a bronze trident. He rose up so that I could see his torso. His scaled tail remained hidden beneath the waves. He laughed when he saw me and hoisted the trident overhead in greeting.
Once more, I acknowledged his presence, then turned to the north. Here would be the help I sought.
A woman with skin as dark as the soil sat on a rock amidst a verdant grove. Her hair was the yellow of fresh corn, and her eyes mirrored the same color. She wore a gown formed from leaves and vines, and carried an intricately carved wand. The protective energy of the oak spread through the mirror to surround me with a stable and secure feeling.
“Lady of the Land, I come seeking your help. I need you.” I didn’t have to say another word. She stood and raised her wand.
Behind me, Eriskel whispered, “Don’t use all of the horn’s energy on this. There’s no need for a maul when a tack hammer will do.”
And with that, I was back, holding the horn aloft, and I thrust it forward toward the advancing line of crystal creatures. A rumble sounded, beginning in the horn but rippling out to shake the cavern. Another moment and the vibration increased, setting the teeth in my head to hurting.
The others groaned. At least I was somewhat protected because I was wielding the horn. As the frequency shot up another notch, Delilah dropped to her knees, covering her ears, and so did the others, except for Bran, who was staring at me with a mixture of envy and fear.
“Shatter!” The word came ripping out of my throat, and it hung for a second, echoing before it swept in a rolling wave across the floor of the cavern, turning it into an ocean of rock and soil as it enveloped the crystal scorpions. They began to vibrate, darting back and forth.
The tremors crescendoed at an almost unbearable pitch, and the scorpions began to shatter, bursting apart in a flurry of powered quartz. The shards flew wild, but even as the others dove for cover, I held my ground. It was imperative I keep the momentum going, or it would end too soon and the energy would run wild, causing who knew what sort of damage.
Fragments of the breaking crystal pelted me, a number of the shards impaling my skin, but I forced myself to stay put. Fuck, though, the needle sting of the glass hurt. Last time I’d been through this, our opponent—a nasty-tempered sorcerer—had rolled me over a pile of broken glass. This was just a lovely reminder of what it felt like to be a pincushion.
At last, the shaking slowed, and the energy of the horn began to recede. I whispered a soft thank you to the Lady of the Land and slid the horn back in its secret pocket, zipping it up. I had used probably a third of the horn’s force, so we still had a powerful weapon if needed. But I felt wrung out, desperately wanting to nose-dive onto a sofa and rest.
Morio scrambled to his feet, but Bran was quicker to reach me. He eyed me up and down. “You okay?”
I glanced down. My cloak had deflected a number of the shards, but some had made it through. I gingerly unfastened the brooch as Delilah and Morio descended on me. She silently took my cloak over to one side and began to shake the glass off of it, while Morio examined me. I held out my arms. My hands—especially the one that had been holding the horn—were bleeding like a stuck pig. At least a dozen needles of glass were stuck in the skin.
A drop of blood dripped into my eye, startling me. As I blinked it away, I realized that my hair was filled with shards, too. And judging by the sting, several had landed on my cheeks and forehead.
“I could use some help.” I spoke cautiously, uncertain whether any glass had landed on my lips. The last thing I needed was to swallow something sharp.