The Stone Key – Chapter 20 – Part One

Chapter Twenty – Part One

Well that’s an anticlimax! The bells that Elspeth thought were alarm ones, well it was only a logical assumption after being told of The One’s murder by the shadows, are only bells signalling the beginning of the evening acolyte prayer meetings. The novice ones will be in an hour and Elkar will need to go to that, or I bet he’ll be in big trouble. After that, the outer-cadre priests have their prayers. Elspeth tries to find out more about the One and the shadows, but couldn’t connect with Geratty, the coercer who was there. There is no choice but to abandon their plans, and return to the One’s chamber.

Coming back to the secret stairs, Elkar returns to his master, and Elspeth tells Reuvan what has happened. Of course Cinda doesn’t see it as an issue, and suggests that they can just pretend the One is still alive if need be. The impact of the shadows KILLING the leader of the Faction doesn’t resonate with Cinda, she doesn’t care, and it is easy to understand that she has a right to feel that way. They meet Geratty, and he tells them that two shadows were supposed to be feeding the One, and took it upon themselves to blind the One with blunt knives, and then try to cut off his tongue. It was all set off because the One saw one of them without their hood, so he screamed for them to be killed by the Hedra. The good news is, that the One isn’t dead, but he isn’t exactly in prime condition. I guess it doesn’t matter whether he died or not, since he will soon enough with Ariel’s block collapsing.

Coercers arrive having come from Fallo themselves, and they have found the Per of Gelan, the village in Fallo where the shipmasters lived. Well, actually, the Hedra found him and were torturing him. The residents of Fallo fled after they saw a prisoner being taken off Stormdancer and Hevlar realised it was Elspeth and that time was precious before they were all taken. The Per couldn’t run because of his age, so the Hedra found him. Luckily they didn’t notice the coercers behind them, so they were easily knocked out. It was actually a good thing because they were able to use the attack as evidence they didn’t like the Faction so the Per trusted them. Even better is that the residents don’t hate Elspeth for making them evacuate, which is really good news.

The Per has a system of flags which he could hoist up to communicate with the others inside the swamp. So he was happy to raise a flag to signal that they return in haste, and when they do, he’ll tell them to go and repair the Stormdancer. Elspeth goes to the two shadows who attacked the One, and tries to assure them they won’t be harmed. But of course, after the life they’ve had, all they think is that when they do something bad they will get punished. Elspeth realises that she can’t use words to convince them what they did was wrong, she finally realises that these shadows were acting how they were treated, to those who abused them, whatever she could say, wouldn’t change that.

Elspeth ends up getting Cinda to tell the story of Elkar to her and the two shadows. He was a Norselander, and as such was taken away to become a novice. He resisted the training, but gave in once he saw the mines and the demonband works, and I can understand why. He was lucky because he was sent to the scribe house, where his master seemed to be one of the kinder Herders. He was soon taught to read and scribe, something that was forbidden. It was the reading that was forbidden, because the Herders want to control what information people can know, so when Elkar carries around messages, he shouldn’t be able to read them. In the scribe house, Elkar realised he could never accept the Herder’s Lud. He learnt that supposed messages from the One, sent by Lud, were altered and sometimes completely changed, to suit the Faction’s needs.

Elkar soon noticed that the shadows spoke to each other through finger speech, and began to study it. It is slightly alarming that he was able to notice them, but I guess very few Herders are that observant when it comes to the shadows. He then gave Cinda a huge fright by using what he thought was a greeting between Shadows to her one day. She was so confused and scared by what happened, but never forgot that he actually used the word friend. Eventually she could no longer avoid him, and he came up to her asking to be taught the speech. Cinda was afraid if Elkar would betray them so she pretended to show only very simple language, hoping he would get bored and think it was a simple language. Instead, he started showing her signs and asking what they were, other shadows suggested poisoning him (a favourite ploy obviously), but Cinda wanted to get to know him, and found out that he didn’t tell anyone, so he could be trusted. She found out that Elkar actually envied that they could talk freely when he couldn’t. Interesting that a novice would envy a shadow, but freedom is very powerful.

Slowly their friendship blossomed, as they began to trust each other. Elkar taught her how to read and scribe, which sealed the deal, as that was forbidden. I do wonder how they were able to meet each other in secret, because surely novices aren’t supposed to spend time around a shadow. It became more than firneship when Elkar wrote and spoke Cinda’s name for the first time, something she had not heard for years. Elkar grew determined to help the shadows, but he could not figure out how. Eventually he became useful in scribing notes to request shadows be moved from one sector to another. Slowly Elkar found other novices, acolytes and even a ranked priest, who all felt like he did, and some of them had formed relationships with other shadows. The group began to pass messages and books between each other, which was very dangerous. But the books showed the Beforetime as something totally different from what the Faction preached. And this is something we’ve found to be true time and time again, what the Faction preach is what they want to tell people, not what really happened. And clearly they are using Beforetime knowledge, which they say is ‘taboo’ and sacrilegious, to further their power, since they are keeping Beforetime books when everyone else has had to burn them.

The group were very brave in their secret missions, they changed scribs and gave food to punished novices. And I laugh that the priests never even considered people would disobey them that they weren’t concerned with checking if their punishments and orders were handed out. Even Ariel seemed to disregard the shadows, or at least wasn’t concerned with these goings on. Yarrow interrupted to tell Elspeth that the healer had tended to The One, but his mind had now collapsed under the block and the trauma, and so his brain is broken. He suggests that Ariel never intended to come back to the Compound, which for some reason shocks Elspeth, after all it makes sense. If he did plan on coming back, the One would have been insane or dead already. Elspeth seems to think that he wanted to promote one of the Threes, since they would be more useful with a more capable mind, but I disagree as does Yarrow. He thinks that Ariel has always managed to slip away when things are unravelling, just like now. We can’t imagine what Ariel was thinking, but it seems he knew of the downfall, and decided it was time to ditch the Faction. Elspeth finally comes around to the idea and imagines Ariel heading to the Red Queen’s Land.

Yarrow continues talking about his residence on Norseland, where it is rumoured he found more than just plague seeds, but also Beforetime weapons, which he could use if need be, but he doesn’t seem the type for full frontal attack, just manipulation. There is only one good question, why would Ariel tell everyone to leave interrogation of Elspeth until he returned? Now that puts a stop to this notion, why would he do that, and if he is the Destroyer, he would want Elspeth. Elspeth seems to think that this was only said to stop the Faction murdering Elspeth or injuring her, so she could continue her role as the Seeker. If he foresaw the downfall of the Faction, he would have seen the coercer-knights, which could be why he ordered the other ship to be destroyed, so that Elspeth has a better chance of escaping. A lot of guessing, but what else can you do with Ariel. Elspeth thinks into the future, what would he do to get to the weaponmachines, would he follow her, or force her to show him the way? Now that is a huge amount of guesswork, and it is best left until we know a whole lot more.

That’s enough of thinking about Ariel, Colwyn and Hilder are now trapped with the Hedra, probably in some sort of exercise, so Harwood wants them to bring Zuria and Mendi, so they can get them out. They meet Harwood at the dye-works, where he has taken over the place and tied up the priests, but they are not coerced, since that would be a waste of energy. It seems the shadows are starting to take matters into their own hands, as they locked a Hedra in a cellar after he was beating them, so the coercers were called to help. Colwyn was waiting for a chance to get to the armoury, but it was proving difficult to get across the training yards. A Hedra captain spotted Colwyn and Hilder and forced them into evening exercises. Of course in the group, their minds were inaccessible, and they were probably making sure they didn’t expose themselves as frauds so linked in with the group mind. Harwood has brought them all here because he wants to gain control of the armoury tonight, and they need everyone to try and break the group mind, if the Hedra try to attack them.

It’s starting to get serious! They will wait to see if the two coercers are released after training, and then Harwood will send them to the armoury telling them that Zuria and Mendi want to make an inspection. Then they can arrive with the Threes and make their inspection, and coerce anyone that they meet. If they need to, they can try to merge to break the group mind, which, without a leader is tricky. Harwood thinks that they focus on their Lud, since after all, it is their form of praying. They have little time, with the exercises to end in an hour. For now they needed to deal with these prisoners from the dye-works, since they can’t be left there, and coercion will waste too much energy. So Elspeth left it to the others, and slept.

With a huge scene coming up, now is probably a good time to rest ourselves. The next scene is going to be tense, and who knows what’s going to happen!


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