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The Godstone

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The Godstone

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Author: Violette Malan
Publisher: DAW Books, 2021
Series: The Godstone: Book 1

1. The Godstone

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin's Practitioner's vault. Arlyn can't ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can't allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.


Excerpt

One

Arlyn

The letter came on a low day. Bad timing. I set it aside on the table, next to the dirty breakfast dish. I wandered into my workshop, stared at the tools. All clean, neatly put away. No project on hand. Could have sharpened chisels. Chisels always need sharpening. Seemed like a lot of trouble. Could go down to the baths. Maybe later.

Usually I'd go to Fenra when I got this bad, but she'd been busy.

Might as well open the letter. It could be a commission, or maybe a payment. Impossible as it might seem at the moment, I could one day be interested in building something-or making money. A single sheet of parchment was folded into the sealed cover.

I had to read the letter over twice; I was too numb at first to take it in.

"Oh no. No, no, no." My stomach sank away, cold as the abyss, but my head was on fire. I spread out the cover and grabbed a piece of the dark chalk I use for marking pale wood. "On my way," I wrote. Refolded it, resealing it by warming and reapplying the original seals, one white, one red.

Before I could talk myself out of it I trotted down to the mill. The courier was long gone, but Ione Miller promised to hold my letter for him to pick up on his way back to the City in the evening. The Road doesn't go much farther from here. Used to, but not anymore. My answer would get to the City much faster than I could.

My burst of energy deserted me on the way back to my workshop. I stopped, rubbed my face with my hands. The thought of all I'd need to do smothered me, the planning, the details, the organizing, the execution, the decisions needing to be made, contingencies to consider-where would I even start? What if I didn't go? What was the worst that could happen?

A little girl came hopping down the path toward me, jumping from puddle to puddle in her bare feet, splashing dirt onto the embroidered hem of her tunic. She looked at me, concerned. I knew her name, couldn't think of it that moment. My smile must have been crooked, the smile she gave me back was tentative. Forced myself to smile better. Went down on one knee in the wet and clapped my hands, holding them up palms toward her, began to whistle.

Giggling now, she ran up to me and smacked her palms to mine. The clapping pattern was a little complicated for her, but we finally made our way to the end. She hugged my neck, kissed my cheek, skipped away, splashing into every single puddle as she went.

Felt a little better. Knew that later, once I'd been leveled, I'd be pleased I'd done this, that I hadn't hurt little Garta with my lowness.

Watched her until she turned off down the alley to her home. What was the worst that could happen, I'd asked myself. It had already happened to me. But Garta, and others like her-everywhere-they enjoyed their lives. If they knew what I knew, they'd want me to think of them. They'd want me to stop what was coming. Or at least try.

Ducked into my place, picked up the letter, left the door wedged open for the cat, set off back the way I came. If Fenra wasn't home, I had a pretty good idea of where I should look.

But she was home. As usual, except in the worst weather, her door stood propped open with an old chunk of marble. I saw light, movement within. Fenra glanced at me, half smiled, not really paying attention, turned back to what she was doing. A sudden flare of anger burnt through me. What? Too much trouble to look at me? I wanted to grab her arm, but Fenra isn't someone you can grab safely, despite her lameness. She spoke without looking up.

"Can I leave Terith with you?"

This was so completely unexpected that my surge of rage vanished. "What? Why?"

"I have to be away for a while."

That was when I noticed she'd been sorting her things into packs and bags and boxes.

"But why now? It's too late to do your fall rounds." Twice a year Fenra visited other towns and villages in the area. Now she stopped what she was doing, looked at me. I saw fatigue in her face, shadows, the remains of tears in her eyes.

"The Ullios' little girl died this afternoon."

I'd been with Fenra the day they'd brought her the girl. Sitting outside this very door on the wooden bench I'd made, enjoying the last warmth of the sun. The child-Jera? Jena?-had obviously been ill for days, vomiting, from the smell of her, incontinent as well. The parents had probably tried every other remedy before bringing her to a practitioner, someone they'd have to pay. By then it was too late. "Surely they don't blame you?"

"Not today, no. Today they cry in my arms and thank me, knowing I did everything I could. But in a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, their own guilt will have them looking for someone to blame. They will forget I promised nothing and asked no fee." She rubbed at her forehead, leaving a streak of dirt. "The easiest one to blame is the one whose practice failed them, so best I am not here for a while."

No argument there. In this Mode it's a short step from wise one to witch. The farther out the Mode, the shorter the step.

"You'll need the horse," is what I said to her.

"Not going that far." She shook her head, lips pressed together. She loved the horse.

"I can't keep him." I felt guilty but relieved to have an excuse. "I have to go to the City."

All this while she'd continued sorting through her spare clothing, her scrolls and tablets, her medicines and potions. Though she'd looked at me, she hadn't seen me. Now she stilled, looked me straight in the face. "You are low. Why did you wait so long?"

I shrugged. "Well, first you were busy with your friend from the City -"

"Medlyn Tierell was my mentor at the White Court, not just my 'friend.'"

"Whatever." If the man was just a mentor, why was he still coming to visit her so often? "Then the Ullio girl got sick..."

She made one of those noises that say you're exasperated, looked around the room with more purpose, finally waved me over to a four-legged stool I'd made her, moved the pile of parchment sheets that sat on it, set them on the floor. She knelt in front of me, took my hands. I made a half-hearted try at pulling them away; Fenra's strong when she wants to be.

"You're too tired." But I stayed where she put me.

"Never mind that now," she said. "Half the practice is learning what can and can't wait."

Her power flushed over me and through me, cold and bubbly and clean. My skin twitched and my ears buzzed. Plants must feel this way after a rain. The deep breath I took didn't release itself in a sigh, rather it filled me completely. I could feel it in my toes and my fingers, I swear even in my hair. Muscles I didn't know were tense relaxed, my mouth quirked into a smile.

I saw for the first time the toll of this year's fever season. Fenra's face was thin and drawn and she had a little tremble in her left eyelid. Her hair hadn't been brushed out for days, her braid hung half untwisted, and she'd kept the tangles off her face with combs shoved in any which way through the blue-black curls. Her normally dark skin was sallow, almost ashy, only her gray eyes the same color as usual-too light for the darkness of her skin and hair. I was ashamed that I'd taken her strength-but not so much that I wouldn't do it again.

Fenra sat cross-legged on the floor in front of me, agile despite being tired. "Best I can do for now," she said. "So tell me, why would you need to go to the City? In all the time I have known you, you have never gone anywhere. Your customers all come here to you, to the village."

"Here, read this." She took the letter from me, stood up in one move. As I said, agile. She crossed over to the lamp on her table, held it at an angle. I watched her eyes flick back and forth.

"I am sorry about your cousin. Were you close?" There must have been some change in my expression because she added, "Are you telling me you have no cousin?" Smiling, tilting her head, she held up the letter. "Is this some scheme to get you to pay for an inheritance that doesn't exist?"

"Oh no, Xandra is-was-definitely real. But there is no chance, none whatsoever, that he would have named me executor of his testament. In fact, I happen to know he left no testament at all."

She raised brows so perfect they could have been drawn on her face. "And so?" she said when I didn't continue.

"And so I'd better go and see what's really going on."

She nodded slowly, refolded the letter, tapping it on the palm of her hand. "Hence you cannot look after Terith."

My turn to nod. "Hence I can't."

Her hands stilled. "So what is it about your cousin's death that has you in such a swivet?"

I sat up straight, tilted my head back to look her in the eye. "I'm not so sure he's dead."

"Where is he then?"

"I think he just went walk-about. It's not so common now I hear, but practitioners used to-"

"Wait." She held up the letter like a baton. "He was a practitioner?"

"Didn't I say?"

"No, you did not. But that certainly explains why someone is so anxious to have the man declared dead. He left artifacts?"

I shrugged. "I imagine." A practitioner's properties and tools could carry quite a lot of power in them, to say nothing of their usefulness as already practiced objects.

"So they need you, someone of the same blood, to release any seals they find." She made a face. "I have never seen it done." She tilted her head to one side, narrowing her eyes. "What are you not saying?"

I rubbed at the back of my neck. "There's something in Xandra's vault, besides the ordinary artifacts. Something dangerous. That's why I know this testament is fake. He would never want the seal released."

She tilted her head, studied me with narrowed eyes. "Stay here then. Without blood kin they cannot break the seal."

I scratched at my elbow. "There are... others, cousins, somewhere, who don't know the full story." Fenra was the type to think of others. It'd seem a good reason to her. Still, she looked at me sideways. "And if I don't go, they'll just send for me again until I do. You know what the Red Court is like."

Tapping her lower lip with the folded letter, she looked at me through narrowed eyes. "Are you going to tell me what is this thing?"

I tasted the words on my tongue. If I told her she wouldn't believe me. No one would. Except perhaps whoever had sent the summons. If they knew, that is. If they weren't just curious and greedy.

While I hesitated Fenra had shut her eyes. She swayed a bit and I got to my feet, prepared to catch her if she fell.

"I have to go," I said. "Officially deny my permission to break the seal. In person." A thought struck me that wouldn't have when I was low. "You should come with me." I gently took the letter out of her fingers. She still looked at me sideways.

"Look, you think the Ullios are going to blame you, and if you rush off-out of season and within hours of the little one's death-Jera, wasn't it?-they'll think they have reason to. But if you leave because you need to accompany me to the City, no one will think twice. Everyone knows how much better I've been since you came." She couldn't argue with that.

"You were bad at first, that's true."

"If you leave with me, come back with me, everyone will accept it."

Her eyebrows rose. "You think you will come back?"

"I certainly intend to." And that was true.

She looked around her room as though seeing its contents with different eyes. She turned toward me, but she wasn't looking at me. "I have been happy here. I have been useful."

I made her sit while I gathered together the things needed to make tea. The heavy iron pot with the wooden handle I'd carved her, two clay cups glazed only on the inside, the larger clay jar with its wooden stopper where she kept tea, the smaller one where she kept honey. "And if you come with me, we can take your horse."

"Now there's a reason I cannot disagree with."

I was relieved. Fenra was the only person I'd ever met who could level me. I hadn't known it could be done. A remarkable gift considering her leg. Though come to think of it, healing others is always easier than healing yourself. Many practitioners have found that out.

Copyright © 2021 by Violette Malan


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