Read Aster Wood and the Blackburn Son Online

Authors: J B Cantwell

Tags: #Children's Books, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy & Magic, #Science Fiction, #Children's eBooks, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories, #Coming of Age, #Scary Stories

Aster Wood and the Blackburn Son (8 page)

BOOK: Aster Wood and the Blackburn Son
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“You’re lying,” I said. “You can’t follow someone into a jump. You weren’t there. You weren’t touching her.”
 

Something about Owyn’s demeanor was troublesome to me. He seemed too happy, too carefree. He was not the severe man I had met and freed in the dungeons, though the face beneath his tasteless smile was the same. What had happened to the great leader I had met so many months ago? To the man who had once, himself, followed Almara on his original quest?

“You
can
follow someone into a jump,” he said, “only that is a relatively new discovery.”

Kiron stepped forward, standing between us, and spoke.

“When you left Stonemore,” he said, “and after Cadoc was done away with for good, Owyn and I found a cache of gold under the treasure hold. It’s barely enough to use at all, maybe not even enough to make a single link. But none of us had ever had the chance to
study
gold. We spent weeks examining it, hoping that if we were able to learn more about its properties, we might also learn where to find more. We also found this.”
 

He held out his hand to Owyn, who fumbled in a pocket and produced a glass ball the size of his fist. He held it out to me, dropping it heavily into my hand. I turned it in the fading light, and saw that inside a fine ribbon of gold was suspended, like colored glass within a marble.

“We call this a
chaser
,” he went on. “We knew it was a link when we found it, and powerful with the gold inside, but we didn’t know the command or where it went. Cadoc had kept it all those years, the fool, and never knew what he had. One day we brought it out of the city, to a place not far from here, to experiment with it, hopin’ it would prove valuable. And that it did.”

“At first we used all the common commands,” Owyn said, stepping around. “Known words of power. But they got us nowhere. The thing would vibrate a little when we happened upon a command that spoke to it in some way, but we never went anywhere. Then, one afternoon, Kiron sent me on an errand using one of those trinkets he wears around his neck.” He flashed a smile towards him.

Kiron’s stern face broke a little, and he chuckled.
 

“And I ended up sucked into the jump right behind him,” he said.
 

“But how?” I asked.

“Dunno,” he said. “But when we both ended up in the same clearing miles from here, we knew we had found somethin’ more valuable than we could’ve dreamed. Aside from more gold, of course.”

“Soon,” Owyn continued, “we discovered its secret. It could follow the trail of other jumps, like an echo sounding along the original path. That first time we had been standing right next to each other. The power of the jump had been enough that no command had been required.”

“But we still wondered why it vibrated when we gave certain commands,” Kiron interrupted. He looked excited. “Then we realized, it was sensing other jumps from other times, but was too far from where they had originated to take us anywhere. If we had been standing in the spot where a traveler had departed, and had
then
given it the command, we would have followed the path of that original jump, even though the power of the first jump may have faded over time. The combination of the right location and the command is what makes this sucker work. That’s how we use it now. If we can pinpoint an area where a traveler has left from, no matter how long ago the jump was made, we can unite the vestige of magic from that first jump, the power of the command, and the inherent magic in this link. And follow.” He pointed to the glass, rolling around now between my palms.
 

“Unlike a regular link, you need all three, you see,” Owyn said. “But what’s more is that once you use the chaser in that way, the path remains open. We don’t know for how long yet, but so far none of the jumps we’ve followed using it have closed. And it goes in two directions, not one.”

“You mean, you can go back and forth?”

“Exactly,” Kiron said, gazing at the chaser. “If Almara had carried this from the start, things might be different now. It’s a powerful discovery.”

It sure was. Up until this point only three types of links had been known. Interstellar links, all of which required gold to create, could only be used once. They were one-way tickets across the cosmos, requiring careful plotting using a complicated magical process and a frame, a sort of three dimensional map of the universe. Then there were links like the ones Kiron wore on the chain around his neck, roughly made but useful, pulling their power from the stones they were made from. They could transport you a set distance in any direction they were pointed in. They could be used again and again, but they would only work for travel on the planet you were on. And finally, the Kinstone. The magical rock passed down generation after generation for thousands of years. It was the most powerful of any of the links, allowing the user to jump anywhere without the use of a frame. It was a free pass, an instrument so mighty that its user could travel freely, endlessly, to any desired corner of the universe. The Kinstone belonged to Jade now. Only the next in the family line could use it, and until the day she died, the stone would be hers.

But
this
, this
chaser
was something new entirely.

“As long as this is used, the door to return back to the starting point remains open,” Owyn continued. “That is how I returned once I—once I met
her
.”

We stared at each other, but neither of us spoke. So he had caught up with Jade, or whatever remained of her. He waited for a moment, seeming to give me the chance to ask questions, but I stayed silent. He turned to the men.

“The girl is…not right,” he said. “And though she could not be swayed by my efforts to bring her back, I am hoping that another of our number can reach her where I could not.” He looked pointedly at me. I shrank beneath his silent request.
 

He turned to Finian. “You are mistaken, my friend,” he said. “Some gold remains in the Fold. I have seen it with my own eyes.”

A murmur went through the crowd of men.

“Where?” I asked.

“In the great castle of Riverstone, within the old quarters of Almara, himself.”

“But that’s not possible,” I argued over the noise of the men, many of whom were talking to each other now, though nobody seemed to be listening to anyone else. “I was there, myself. They don’t have gold.”

“Perhaps they didn’t before,” he said. “But
she
does now.”

My stomach sank as I considered this. If Jade had gold, real gold, I doubted I would ever be able to reach her. The power it would have over her mind, already tuned to the magic of stone, would be unbreakable.
 

“How do you know?” I asked, my voice almost too quiet to be heard.
 

Kiron raised his hand and the men slowly quieted.

“When I landed after Jade, I realized quickly where I was. I had been to Aria before, you see, back when Almara and I were younger. I realized at once who she must be, and I followed her to the castle. But something wasn’t right. I couldn’t understand why she had left you. I waited beyond the city gates, trying to decide what to do next, when they began to appear.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Giants,” he said. “The great Solitaries of Aria came then, carrying with them large crates, the contents of which I could not see from afar. I waited for a time, just outside the stone gates, until my chance arrived. I had the good fortune to slip in behind one, a little smaller than the rest, unnoticed.
 

“But my good fortune did not last. As I was just rounding the last turn to the point where I might be able to view the castle unseen, I was discovered. They took me, and they locked me in the dungeons below Riverstone.”

“Dungeons?” I asked. “There are no dungeons below Riverstone.” But as I spoke these words, I realized that I didn’t know for sure. We had only seen the upper floors of the castle when we had discovered Almara.
 

“Ah, but there are,” he said. “And when the princess came for me, I learned what had been in those crates.”

The entire group was silent, hanging on every word Owyn spoke.

“She took me up into the great chambers above. As we walked from room to room, she told me of her family, small tales of her life there when she had been a young child. The rooms were all empty; not a stick of furniture remained in any of them, even my master’s old study. But in one,” he paused, his expression distant for a moment. “In one, the crates I had seen traveling to the castle were laid out all over the floor. Their lids were ajar, and their contents spilled out as if the princess had been rifling through them for hours, days. Rocks. Every kind of rock you can imagine, in every color ever forged. And in the center of the room, on a tall platform, stood the prize of them all.”

I remembered that platform, the tall, round table that had stood empty when I had been in Riverstone. And I remembered the way Jade craved closeness to every kind of rock. Each different variety of stone allowed her a different sort of power. And one, we all knew, would bring more power than any other sort.
 

“Gold,” I breathed.

“Gold,” he confirmed, raising his hand in the air. “The most I, or anyone I have ever heard of, has ever seen. A piece as large as a man’s fist.”

“But, it’s not possible!” Chapman, for the first time since landing, raised his voice loud enough for us to hear. “Where could she have found such treasure?”

“I do not believe that she found it,” Owyn continued. “I believe it was gifted to her.”

“By whom?” Chapman asked.

I looked at Kiron over the heads of the men, and I knew we both had the same thought. When I looked back at Owyn again, his face confirmed my fears.
 

“The Corentin,” he said.
 

A sharp intake of breath swept around the crowd, and nobody spoke.
 

My insides twisted with disgust.

“He’s using her,” I said, gritting my teeth.
 

“Indeed,” Owyn said. “Though she seems quite happy to be used.”

“She’s not!” I spat. “She doesn’t want this. You don’t know her.”

“No,” he said. “But I know
him
. There is some other, larger plan at work here. Some role Jade has to play that we do not yet understand.”

I remembered the last time I had seen Jade, her face contorted with malice until it had become nearly unrecognizable. My fingers bunched into fists as I remembered the feeling of hanging from that ledge inside the Fire Mountains. She had left me there to die as she ran from the mountain to her new master.
 

Yes, there was definitely a plan for her.
 

It’s not her fault.
 

The voice was quiet in my mind, still weak, still hurt by her betrayal. But it was sure.
 

I remembered Rhainn and Cait, slaves against their will, unable to stand up to the monster who controlled their fates. I pushed the image of the chasm inside the mountain away, replacing it with the face of the demon who had nearly taken my life just yesterday.
 

It’s not her fault.

“The fact remains,” Owyn continued, “that no other gold remains in the Fold that we are aware of. If there is any, it is not nearly so much as Aster will need. We must take the gold from Jade.”

I snorted, unable to stop the laugh from escaping my throat.
 

“That’s insane,” I said. “If you think you can take so much as a pebble from someone as powerful as Jade, you’re delirious.”

“That matters not,” he said. “I know what you need.”

“And how would you know? I haven’t even told them yet.” I gestured around at the crowd.

“You forget that I once walked in step with the one who first raised this alarm. That I was once of the Eight. I know what is needed to balance the Fold, and I am guessing it is more than your medallion can provide for.”

The feeling of mistrust I had felt before flared again. Owyn had nearly as much information as I did. How?

“Well, none of that matters, because it’s impossible,” I said. “She would never give you or anyone else the gold. We need to find another way.”

“Do you truly believe she is too far gone to give her prize to the boy who rescued her from her dungeon?” He raised his eyebrows.

“How do you—”

“She told me about the mountain. Though she seems not to associate it at all with the Corentin who now rules her.” His hand brushed absently across one of the wounds on his cheek. “Though his power over her and all who reside in that mountain cannot be denied.”

“She won’t give it to me,” I said. “There’s no way.”

“You must find a way,” Kiron said, stepping forward. “You must fight her, if necessary. If it is, in fact, real gold that sits at Riverstone, that is the best start we could possibly imagine.”

“And we haven’t much time,” Owyn said. “I have also seen the army amassing in the east.”

Silence fell over all of us. I chewed on the insides of my cheeks, thinking. So many problems, and I felt at the center of each one.
 

The last time I had seen Jade she had all but outright threatened to kill me. She almost had, in fact. There seemed to be little chance of reaching her now.

And yet, Owyn had said that she still remembered. Somewhere inside, she knew that I had been the one to save her from Cadoc’s prison.

Owyn walked up to me, his face softer, as if he could hear the thoughts inside my head struggling to find reason.
 

“You are no ordinary child,” he said quietly. “Many more would have left us beneath Stonemore to rot. You went against the wishes of your friends to not release us. And you, not Almara, not Jade, not Kiron nor I, were the one to take the Book. Do you understand me? In ten thousand years, no one else could perform such feats.” He placed one hand on my shoulder. “There is a way.”

“She’ll kill me,” I said. Gold, a treasure back on Earth, was of immeasurable value in the Triaden. It was a force so great that its possession would make the weak wizard a mighty sorcerer. It launched people from point to point across an entire universe. And it would make my friend, already filled with so much raw stone talent, more powerful than them all.
 

BOOK: Aster Wood and the Blackburn Son
7.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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