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The White <= st1:City w:st=3D"on">Crystal of Calith= wain

Auditions melted, leaving Andrea back in the real worl= d of Calithwain.  Andrea reached up= to clasp the Forest Gem.  It was feeding her these memories; she felt sure of it.  Kreliss had said the jewel linked her to Earth.  Was this how it did so?  Through memories?&nbs= p; Andrea carefully knotted the laces that drew the top of the pack clo= sed, feeling less like a mystic champion than ever.  Ballet slippers and stagelights hardly made anyone a hero.  

   &nbs= p;        She heard the hawk-cry again, and looked up.&n= bsp; Four young women soared overhead, eagle wings supporting them on the air.  Golden hair streamed beh= ind them.  Like angels blessing her journey, they dipped close enough that Andrea could see their shining white smiles.  “How lovely,= 221; Andrea whispered, stretching her hands up toward them.

   &nbs= p;        “Get back!”  Kreliss shouted.   

   &nbs= p;        Andrea jumped.  “What are you t= alking about?  They’re like fai= ries from my play.  Can’t you= see how beautiful—”

   &nbs= p;        “Get back now!”  Kreliss ran up beside her, a wooden bow clutched in h= er hand.  She dropped a canvas ba= g at her feet.  “So you think= the sylvans are dead?” she shouted to the airy visitors.  “Some of us c= an fight.  Fly off while you stil= l have wings.”  Kreliss drew an arrow from the quiver on her back, and fitted it to the bow. 

   &nbs= p;        The angelic creatures kept coming, flapping their white wings harder.  Andrea gripped Kreliss’s shoulder.  “You wouldn’t!  They don̵= 7;t mean any harm.”

   &nbs= p;        “Harpies!”  Kreliss dragged Andrea to the ground.  The shock of the fall crashed up h= er knees.  Just over her head, ta= lons swiped the air and missed.  The winged woman rose into the air, hissing between her sparkling teeth, circli= ng. 

“= Now what?”  Andrea whispered.  She stared at the creatures.  The talons could h= ave killed her in an instant.  Kreliss’s strong arm still pinned her to the gr= ound.

   &nbs= p;        “We could turn back time and have you listen to my warning.”  Kreliss snapped.

   &nbs= p;        Andrea recognized the sarcasm, but she had to ask.  “Could we?”

   &nbs= p;        “Don’t be stupid.” 

A harpy dove toward Kreliss’s unprotected back.  Without thought, Andrea snatched a= sharp rock from the ground and hurled it at the creature, scaring it away.

Kreliss spun.  “You—”

Andrea didn’t have ti= me to analyze her reflexes.  “= How do we drive them off?”

“We need fire.”=

   &nbs= p;        “Well, I didn’t bring matches.”  Andrea felt a crease starting between her eyebrows.  Something in that memory, words of= the script…“Evil can’t abide its own face.  A mirror!̶= 1;

   &nbs= p;        “A mirror?”

   &nbs= p;        “Yes, please get one.”

   &nbs= p;        While the harpies hovered, several others plunged into the houses.  With birdlike screams, they dragged bedding outside and ripped thatch from the roofs.  They carried chairs and beds up in= to the air and dropped them, cackling at the echoes of each crash.

          &= nbsp; Andrea cringed when a breaking bed shook the ground.  “Even if the sylvans don’t value possessions, they won’t want to wake up to this.” 

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss hopped to her feet, quick as a sparrow.  “I think the seer had it last.  Stay here.”

   &nbs= p;        “Here?”  The harpies were swooping toward t= hem.

   &nbs= p;        “Or try to hide, but don’t go far.  I’ll need you.”  <= /span>Kreliss dashed off into one of the huts.  Left out in the open, with the cre= atures diving, Andrea scurried behind the closest house, hopefully out of sight.  As she watched, two harpies dove t= oward Lyral’s home, swooping toward the open doorway.=   Andrea’s breath caught.  “Hurry, Kreliss!”  She snatched another rock and hurl= ed it, but she lacked the strength to propel it far enough.  Kreliss!”

   &nbs= p;        “Here.”  Kreliss returned, both arms stretched around an enormous bronze mirror.  A loop of rope dangled from its back.  “Don’t scratch it; a seer-focus costs its weight in silver.”  Kreliss aimed the mirror at the harpies and they retreated, shrieking like knives scraping glass.

   &nbs= p;        Andrea hurried up to the other girl.  “It’s working!  It’s driving them back.”  The script had saved them. 

   &nbs= p;        “Help me lift it onto the meeting pole.”&n= bsp; Kreliss gestured toward the center of to= wn, where a weather-beaten wooden pole rose out of the central square.  Nearby stood b= locky ovens and a grassy fenced area.

   &nbs= p;        The harpies overhead kept their distance, shrieking in fury.         Andrea heaved a side of the heavy mirror and the girls dragged it into the center of town.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  “When we hang it on the pole= , it should rotate and protect the whole village, right?”

   &nbs= p;        “Yes.”  Kreliss didn’t even breathe heavily while carrying her half of the mirror.        =  

   &nbs= p;        Andrea hefted hers higher on her hip.  At least the rounded edges didn’t cut her.  “But when we leave, won̵= 7;t they come after us?” 

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss dragged the mirror faster, pulling Andrea along.  “After we hang t= he mirror, we each grab a backpack and run.&n= bsp; With luck, the flash of the mirror should distract them long enough = for us to reach the trees.”

   &nbs= p;        Andrea glanced at the pile of supplies.  “Run?  With heavy pots?”

   &nbs= p;        “Just to the woods.  Now, help me lift.”  Together they hoisted the mirror o= nto the pole.  It weighed Andrea’s arms down like a dumbbell, smoo= th and solid.  “Go!”

   &nbs= p;        And they raced into the forest.


Chapter 3:<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  Now Face Your Frayed Reflection

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss snatched both the larger pack and her canvas bag.  Just behind her, Andrea grabbed the second backpack and chased the other girl into the trees.  She sprinted as she never had in g= ym class.  K= reliss easily paced her, not even breathing hard.=   Branches spread over them in a shelter of rustling leaves, blocking = them from the harpies’ sight.

   &nbs= p;        Andrea bent over, arms on knees, panting in painful gasps.  “I thought harpies were shri= veled and ugly,” Andrea said when she had recovered enough to speak.

   &nbs= p;        “Inside, where it counts.  Only their f= aces are beautiful.”  Kreliss stood straight, not even winded.  She gazed out toward where the har= pies were vanishing into the clouds above the village.  “It’s started.”<= /p>

   &nbs= p;        Andrea leaned back against a tree.  S= he was confused enough without Kreliss’s riddles= .  “What?”

Krelis= s controlled her voice, but couldn’t mask the edge of frustration.  “I told you whatever drained= the White Crystal threw nature out of balance.  = The sylvans keep the west safe, and guard travelers again= st wyverns and harpies.  Now no o= ne stops the monsters from attacking.  We’re likely to encounter others.”  Kreliss hesitated, staring at her hands.  “You did well.”

   &nbs= p;        “Right.”

   &nbs= p;        “I mean it.  Unarmed and unprepar= ed, you won your first battle and saved me twice.  Perhaps— perhaps Sidaria chose rightly.”  Kreliss reached out and then hesitated, as if she weren’t sure what to do.  She dropped her hand awkwardly. 

   &nbs= p;        Andrea didn’t feel happy or proud.  Tremors raced through her when she realized how close those claws had come.  They could have sliced = her to pieces.  She felt her eyes sting.  No!  She had beaten the harpies and even impressed Kreliss.  Everything had gone perfectly.  Why did she feel so shaky?  “It wasn’t my idea,= 221; she babbled.  Sidaria sent that script to help me.  Just before the harpies attacked, = I had this really strong memory of the scene where we scared off the witch’= s ghostling.  I think, well, the Forest Gem flared and—”

   &nbs= p;        “It triggered the memory.  The For= est Gem provides spiritual guidance to its champion.”  Kreliss studied her for a moment, appraising.  “After we leave here, perhaps I can find you guidance of anoth= er sort.”  Kreliss upended the canvas bag to reveal a sparkling pile of weaponry.  The pale wooden bow slung over her shoulder, Kreliss rooted through the weapons for extra arrows, which she crammed into her quiver.  A leather-handled short sword slid= into a sheath down her left leg.  <= /p>

Andrea eyed the long knife = on the girl’s other leg and at least four suspicious lumps in her loose tunic.  “You must be exp= ecting trouble.”

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss drew her sword and held it to the light for a moment, plainly admiring the dappled sunlight sliding down the blade, like stained glass.  “I’= ;m a sylvan warrior, the youngest among my tribe.  I always stay ready for trouble.”  Kreliss seemed to sense Andrea’s scrutiny, so she turned to face her.  “What?”

   &nbs= p;        Would everything here defy her preconceptions?&n= bsp; Andrea eyed her new friend.  The girl certainly looked human.&nb= sp; “Nothing.  I- I j= ust assumed, I mean in the play and everything, the sylvan= s had pointed ears.  So did the = women in the hut.”

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss turned back to the weapons.  “I’m a sylvan warri= or, by training, not birth.  I was= born as human as you are.”  H= er tone suggested the subject was closed.&nbs= p; She straightened the deadly pile at her feet.  “Anything else we need?̶= 1;

If Jesse were here, he woul= d have complained that the quest sounded unrealistic, too dramatic to believe.  Yet An= drea had known from the moment she saw the sleeping sylvan-children that this wo= rld was real.  And that meant she = could get hurt.  “Weapons for me?”  Andrea didn’t know how to use them, but felt she should ask. 

Krelis= s gestured toward the pile.  = 220;Go ahead.  Can you draw a bow?= 221;

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss had to be joking.  Her straightforward tone made Andr= ea feel even more uneasy.  “= ;I guess not.”  Andrea eyed= the tangled arsenal.  Did she have= any skills Kreliss would appreciate?

   &nbs= p;        “Swordplay?  Knife throwing?  I brought blades, though we mostly= hunt with arrows.”  A faint s= mile crossed Kreliss’s face at Andrea’s helpless shrug.  “Clangi= ng someone over the head with a stewpot?”

   &nbs= p;        “That I could probably manage,” Andrea said.  She saw Kreli= ss’s smirk and felt her own mouth bending upwards.  For a moment, the girls looked at = each other in complete understanding.

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss seemed much friendlier when she relaxed.  “Well, I’m just as gla= d we packed one.  Take these.”= ;

   &nbs= p;        Andrea gingerly accepted the sling and a dagger.&= nbsp; How was she supposed to use the sling, a single leather loop?  The solid dagger weighed down her = hand, far denser than a kitchen knife.  Its black stone blade sparkled in the sun, and it looked needle-sharp.  The dagger seem= ed unnatural, out-of place compared with the bark-covered houses and leather clothing. 

Krelis= s kicked leaves and brush over the piled weapons.  “Our path lies this way.”  Kreliss marched quickly, fast enough that Andrea had trouble keeping her breath.

“It feels like weR= 17;re in a story now.  A sorceress need= ing rescue, sylvans and harpies battling, a warrior= and a storyteller on a quest.”  Andrea sighed.  “I wonder who gets to read it.”

“A tale with no promi= se of a happy ending.”  Kreliss’s chin drooped. 

   &nbs= p;        Andrea had felt a momentary closeness to Kreliss, but = now it was slipping away.  “Wha= t does Sidaria look like?”

   &nbs= p;        A glow filled Kreliss’s face.  “She looks like—light.”

   &nbs= p;        “We’ll save her, Kreliss.  We have to.”  Andrea put all of her conviction i= nto the words.  Surely, they would= save the sylvans before the worst happened.  The universe couldn’t allow anything else.

Krelis= s still watched her, eyes thoughtful.  “Come.”  She turned and walked into the forest.  <= /span>

   &nbs= p;        Andrea hurried to catch up.  “Where’re we going?”

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss didn’t pause.  “I’m not leaving myself indebted to you.”

   &nbs= p;        “For the harpies and before?  What’ll you do, save my life?”

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss didn’t answer.

Andrea followed, scrambling= over cracking branches and three squelchy patches of mud.  The strong scents of pine and fore= st dust filled the air, thick and clean.

   &nbs= p;        “Here.”  Kreliss pushed a branch aside to reveal a large pool reflecting leaves, glinting like an emerald.  Draping branches completely sheltered the water, shading it from the sun’s light.  The still water smelled of lilies.=   “Lovely,” Andrea murmu= red.

   &nbs= p;        “Carry the Forest Gem into the water,” Kreliss ordered.

   &nbs= p;        The clear water enticed her, but Andrea wasn’t sure she wanted just to di= ve in, in a world that followed such incomprehensible rules.  “What’ll that do?” 

   &nbs= p;        As green light filtered through branches to highlight Kre= liss, she looked like a tree herself, tall and proud.  “As you accepted Calithwain, Calithwain must accept you.  I= have friends here, friends who’ve remained quiet for far too long.  If you enter the water; I hope they’ll help you.”

   &nbs= p;        “Okay.”  Andrea peeled off her clothes, dow= n to her underwear, and dropped them on the bank.  The water certainly looked more beautiful then any swimming pool Andrea had ever visited.  She stepped into the water, lettin= g the ripples lap over her foot up to the ankle.=   It was soothingly cool, a perfect bath without all the smelly soap a= nd hot faucets.  Andrea stepped d= eeper, sliding a little on the pebbles.  The soft water slipped to her hips, then her waist.  At last, it was deep enough to let= go of the lake’s floor and swim, trusting her entire body to the reflecting water.  Slow, easy strokes bro= ught her to the pool’s center.  Andrea breathed deeply and plunged toward the lake floor.

   &nbs= p;        Underwater, everything glowed green.  Soft-fingered fronds and tiny silver fish tickled Andrea’s skin.  Andrea felt her heartbe= at slowing, preparing for a night’s sleep.         

   &nbs= p;        Voices drifted through water, soft and trembling as the last note of a violin.  “You swore to keep secret our dwelling, Kreliss-child.”

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss’s voice vibrated through the water, gen= tler than Andrea had ever heard it.  “You said I could bring one other here in my lifetime, one even more separate from Calithwain than I am.&n= bsp; This is Andrea.  She sa= ved my life, just as I pray she can save the woodfolk.= ”

   &nbs= p;        Sadness filled the echoing voice.  = 220;Kreliss-child, we cannot change the present.  We are spirits now, dwindling into= the pale shadows of years.”        =   

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss’s proud voice broke through the spirits’ murmurs.  ̶= 0;We only need a little wisdom.  Who’s done this?”

   &nbs= p;        “One banished years ago, who cloaks herself in shadows.  She is entering our world again, i= n an abandoned castle to the west.  We can do nothing to thwart her.”

“You were once sylvans.  I ask no more than you can give, no more than you once gave me.”

   &nbs= p;        “We protected you once from the voice of evil.=   We cannot guard you both.”&nb= sp; Now the voices turned stern, warning Kreliss.

   &nbs= p;        Even underwater, Andrea could hear Kreliss take a de= ep breath.  “She needs prot= ection far more than I.  Please, give= her everything you can.”

   &nbs= p;        “Into the Forest Gem, as long as she holds it.”  The words were a promise.

   &nbs= p;        A strange rushing filled Andrea’s ears.  Her skin warmed.  A light shone from her forehead, brighter and brighter until she needed to close her eyes.  Against her eyelids, the light sti= ll burned like red fire.  The wor= ld died around her, leaving only the cocoon of pressing water.  Slowly, the rushing diminished unt= il Andrea could hear her own heart beating, slow and steady.  She realized suddenly that her lun= gs burned for air.  She dragged h= erself through the warm swirling water, swimming upwards with all her strength.  Just before her head could burst t= hrough the surface, she heard the voice echo one last time.  “It is done.  We can give you a gift, though small.  Fight well, Kreliss-child.”    

   &nbs= p;        Andrea gasped cool air into her lungs.  Each breath tore through her, pressing out the water in shaking coughs.  She opened her eyes t= o find herself floating in a single ray of sunlight that had somehow penetrated the forest canopy.  Whatever light= had come from the Forest Gem had vanished.&nbs= p; Kreliss?”

   &nbs= p;        “Here.”  Kreliss knelt on the bark-strewn earth beside the pool.&= nbsp; “You’d better come out.”

   &nbs= p;        Andrea swam toward the shore, feeling a new strength easing through her muscles, a= s if she were using them for the first time.&nb= sp; At last, smooth stones greeted her feet under the water.  “What happened?” she a= sked, stepping onto the bank. 

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss tossed her a blanket, the soft one, Andrea noticed.  “They granted = my wish.  The spirits have a litt= le power—not true magic, but hidden gifts of blessing and truth.”<= /p>

   &nbs= p;        Andrea toweled off.  She reached up to stroke the Forest Gem with a fingertip.&nb= sp; It felt just as it always had.  Andrea pulled on her sun-warmed clothes. 

   &nbs= p;        Kreliss took the damp blanket and hung it on the back= of Andrea’s pack.  Her face looked surprisingly peaceful, given the sacrifice she had offered.  She held out her hand.  “And they gave me this.̶= 1;

   &nbs= p;        A tiny snake was coiled in her hand.  Staring, Andrea realized it was carved from stone, though it seemed lifelike enough to slither.

“A snake?”

Krelis= s swallowed, staring at her hand.  “An amolir.  It’s very precious, since fe= w are left.”  She slid it into= her pocket.  “We can draw on= it three times.  When the amolir bites, it will drain any victim of magic and l= ife force, leaving him near death.”

“That’s horrible!”

Krelis= s raised an eyebrow.  “Wor= se than a knife?  The spirit sylvans must see we’ll need it.”

Andrea felt too peaceful and disoriented to argue.  “= Who were they?”  Andrea pull= ed on one boot, and saw something twitch inside the other.  She upended it, shaking it until a= fat beetle fell out.  Apparently, = a few animals remained active.

   &nbs= p;        “Once they were sylvans.  Andrea—” Kreliss squeezed Andrea’s hand, a surprising urgency in her eyes.  “Andrea, this is a secret pl= ace, a place not even living sylvans know.”

   &nbs= p;        Andrea smiled at her friend.  “I’ll keep it that way.”  Around her, she could hear the sig= hing of trees, like the whispers of Calithwain itself.  The forest looked like a home of s= atyrs, with panpipe reeds gleaming along the lake’s edge.  Andrea stretched, suddenly feeling= a kinship with this place, a sense it reached out to her.  She reached out in turn, and felt a memory surface.        =        

 

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