Amates 21, 1277. Coming face to face with what I believe is true.
I took one look at that chunk of crystal in Odro’s claws and wanted to crawl up the side of a wall.
Instead, I stumbled to my feet, then staggered back a step. It was all pure instinct. A reaction to just seeing the thing. The fact it was lit up with magic didn’t help one bit.
It took a few breaths before I collected myself. My heart was hammering in my ears. The memories of what Baron Marius did were still raw. I focused on what was real, what was around me. The smells of hay, herbs, and what I swore were peppers roasting on a fire nearby.
Odro, at first, had flinched at my panic attack, but now he studied me with that physician’s expression on his face again. I watched his eyes flick between me and the glowing crystal in his hand. A brief frown crossed his face. Odro whispered a short phrase while he passed his free hand in the air above the crystal. Magic evaporated in a tiny shower of faint, glowing bits of light.
Stress bled out of my shoulders while I watched the magic fade out.
Without another word, Odro put the crystal in his lap. He held up his hands in a show of peace.
“The stone is just a tool. I don’t mean you any harm. In fact, I’ve been using it to heal the worst of your ailments. I can tell you were caught out in a strong magic storm. A bad one.” He lowered his hands. “I don’t know what happened before, but now? You’re a guest here. You helped my people. Let me help you before the magic-sickness kills you.”
A silence settled in the room between us, then dragged on for another few seconds. Two Tirak kobolds appeared at the doorway; Odro waved them away.
It took me another ten seconds before I found my words again.
Even then, I needed another slow breath to get my nerves to calm down. What happened in the tent between Baron Marius and myself was only what? Yesterday? Last night?
I nodded sharply.
“All right,” I said solemnly. “I’ve had a bad experience with an Automatic Crystal piece like that one.” After a second I added, “it’s where the magic storm came from.”
Odro looked puzzled at that. I settled back onto the thin, woven mattress while he picked up his crystal.
“This?” he asked. “One of these?”
I caught the faint note of concern in his voice.
“Yes. One of those,” I replied uneasily.
Odro looked thoughtful for a moment before he whispered an incantation in Belari-scal and waved his left hand over the crystal. A soft glow radiated around his scaled fingers before it descended on the stone. The crystal picked up light and amplified it, like a palm-sized lantern. Odro aimed the yellow-white glow at the scaled sections along my forearms.
It took every ounce of willpower I had to ignore the spike of fear that shot through me. Odro cleared his throat.
“I don’t mean to poke my snout in where it doesn’t belong, but… what happened?”
I fidgeted slightly and stayed quiet.
Odro glanced up at me from his work, and nodded.
“I shouldn’t have asked,” he blurted. “I’m very sorry.”
Odro had an easy manner of asking questions, much like Ki did. That didn’t help me put into words what happened. I wasn’t comfortable talking about that nightmare; wouldn’t be for some time. Instead of an answer, I tried to dodge the question.
“You hardly have any accent. Where did you learn to speak Planari?”
He chuckled. “Ishnanor. I worked as a Shield’s Mate aboard the Wavecrest for the Eastledge Merchant Company. We sailed along the Ishnanor-Belari trade route.”
My curiosity perked up. I squinted at him. “But you wound up here?”
“After a few years, yes.” He glanced at me sympathetic expression. “I really am very sorry for prying.”
That made me fidget again. This time I didn’t try to change the subject, instead I kept quiet. But the silence turned painful. I found what I wanted to say after that.
“There’s a man named Baron Marius who has one of those crystals. He wants enough of them to build a complete Automatic Crystal, I think. He’s hired the Crimson Company to help him. After he gets it built? I think he plans to use it like some sort of weapon.”
The memories of what Baron Marius put me through rushed at me. I winced.
“A very horrible weapon.”
Odro hesitated at the word ‘weapon’. The yellow-white magic running through the crystal sputtered as he lost concentration on the healing spell. He raised his brow ridge, which passed for ‘eyebrows’ on a kobold.
“A weapon?” he closed his left hand into a fist, which ended the failing healing magic. Odro leaned forward slightly while he examined my forearms. “I see. Is that why your people are looking for it?”
I didn’t fall off the cargo wagon yesterday. That hesitation in Odro’s reply? I almost missed it. He was testing me. Would he attack me if I gave him the wrong answer? I glanced at the chunk of crystal in his hand. A thousand different ideas about what Odro, a spell caster, could do with it came to mind. I didn’t like any of them.
But I never saw anyone use this crystal during the fight against the invading kobolds. There was something going on here I didn’t understand.
I realized how sharp I said that the instant the word left my mouth. A deep breath later, I tried again, but in a softer tone.
“No,” I said. “I’m a Windtracer. We don’t do that. Learn about it? Study it? Yes. If we’re lucky, it’ll have some clue why the Great Collapse happened to the Ancient Order. Maybe it’ll just open up new ways for life to get better. But a weapon? No.”
Odro’s posture relaxed slightly. It was subtle, but I saw it.
“I’ve heard that about the Windtracers.”
He looked lost in thought.
“Yes, good.” Odro lifted the crystal over my arms before he resumed the healing spell. “I was worried that I made a bad choice in welcoming you to our clutch-clan.”
Odro directed another few seconds of healing light through the crystal and onto my forearms.
“But this means there’s a lot for you to learn before the runners return with your people.”
Shock replaced the warm comfort I felt from Odro’s healing spell.
“What?” I tried not to shout, but did it anyway. I blurted out, “you know where my crew is at?”
“For about a day. We understood you weren’t working with the mercenaries. Nothing good comes from dealing with the Crimson Company, so we avoid them. We Tirak have enough problems.”
Odro held up a clawed finger before I could reply.
“Despite that, we should get started.”
This was all moving faster than I could follow. A dozen aches, some imaginary, others not, jabbed at me; mostly along my back. That made understanding this much more difficult.
“Wait. Just wait.” I waved my hands to hold off anything more from Odro. “Get started? How do you know so much about that crystal?” I shook my head. “Better still, where did you get it?”
“It’s been among my people for generations. Stories tell that we got it from an old ruin along the Great Chasm. Where? I can’t say. The stories weren’t about that.”
I frowned. There were lots of small ruins along, and in the Great Chasm. Some large, like Long Deep, others nothing more than a ruined watchtower. I scowled at Odro.
Odro gave me a quizzical look, as if I asked if water was wet.
“Why teach me anything about that crystal? I saw how you reacted when I explained…,” the words caught in my throat. They tasted bitter, but I got them out. “What happened to me.”
Odro looked down at the crystal in his hands. For a long few seconds, he just sat quietly. I was about to stumble my way through an apology for being pushy when he spoke up.
“I’ve dealt with the Crimson Company before. It was at a small place near Osidore, south of the Belari river. It isn’t standing now, but once it was a lovely river town. Mostly kobolds lived there.” He looked at me with a sad smile. “I spent many summers there visiting friends between my trips aboard the Wavecrest.”
I had a sense of where this was going, but I didn’t interrupt. It looked like Odro needed to say this, so I just nodded for him to go on.
Odro replied in kind before he continued.
“I never really found out why they did it. Money? Land? Who knows? The result was the same. Someone hired the Crimson Company to drive my friends away from their land. Some went, but not all of them. Words were exchanged. Heated words. In a tense moment, someone threw a rock and hit the Crimson Company’s leader. It didn’t hurt him, but tempers flared; weapons came out.”
I pictured Vargas, in all his pompous glory, getting smacked by an irate kobold with a rock. It wasn’t hard for me to imagine the man’s temper exploding.
He shook his head.
“I arrived there just after the massacre. The mercenaries weren’t very particular who they attacked by then, and to them, I was just another kobold.”
Odro sighed. “To me, anyone that hires or works with the Crimson Company is probably as vile as they are. So, if they are looking for the pieces of an Automatic Crystal, you need to find them first. Which means you need to know how it truly works.”
“Everything my crew and I have read suggests it’s a lens. It can focus light,” I gestured to the one in his hand, “magic, even enhance magic.”
A sly smile crept over Odro’s reptilian face.
“That is what most know, yes.”
Odro held up the crystal between us. Lantern light sparkled off the facets.
“It is a lens. But it’s more than that. It’s also a mirror. The crystal can reflect, and magnify, what is inside the person holding it; light or darkness. The crystal reacts to the person, and in a way, the person reacts to the crystal.”
He released the crystal, but it didn’t move. The stone remained where it was, suspended in the air.
A faint, gossamer glitter of snow-white light surrounded the stone. Odro moved his hand in slow circles through the air. The crystal obediently followed.
I just stared, open-mouthed, at the entire display.
Odro held out his hand, and the piece of the Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse landed in his palm.
“This is where we’ll start.”