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Tal and Milla are on a quest in the dream world of Aenir, where impossible things happen all the time, and danger haunts every moment.

Tal must find the one thing that can save his family and his world – but to do so he might have to pay an unthinkable price.

The mountain appeared to be one gigantic mass of gray stone looming over the green river valley. But it was not really a mountain. It was a creature of stone. Old and cold and enormous, it liked to lie in one place for thousands of years, sleeping and dreaming of the time it was born from the fiery depths of the earth. Since it had sat in one place for so long, most travelers thought it was a fixed and permanent part of the terrain.

Unlike the rest of Aenir, where forests walked and hills wrestled and rivers changed their courses whenever they felt like it.

The Chosen of the Castle called the great hulk of rock Cold Stone Mountain on their maps. Every year they came from another world to Aenir and spent many weeks trapping and enslaving the local creatures, to take back to their own place to serve as Spiritshadows.

But some of the Chosen knew that Cold Stone Mountain was not a mountain at all. One particular Chosen had even found out how to make the mountain move.

One day, he had made Cold Stone Mountain stretch and rumble and lift itself out of the bed of lesser rock that formed the valley floor.

While the mountain creature arched its back, two other Chosen--companions of the first--scuttled in, right under the massive belly of gold-flecked granite, and put something in one of the many holes and caverns that pockmarked Cold Stone Mountain’s underside.

Unfortunately for those two chosen, their master could not maintain the magic that made the mountain move. It settled back a little earlier than expected and the two men were crushed to death. The object they had put in the crevasse survived, locked away in darkness under six hundred stretches of solid rock.

The object was almost indestructible. A single crystal that had been grown into a rectangular shape, it was about as high as a tall Chosen, three times as wide, and only a hand-span thick. Even without light, its surface shone like water reflecting the moon, a mysterious silver luminosity.

Occasionally the light would ripple in a rainbow effect, and there would be pictures, absolutely lifelike pictures, that moved on its strange surface. Or there might be writing, in the elegant and complete script used by the Chosen, or the blocky runes of the Icecarls.

The strange, shining object was the Codex of the Chosen, and its rightful place was in the Castle, atop the Mountain of Light in the Dark World. It did not belong in Aenir and should never have been brought there.

The Codex had many powers, but none that would help it burrow through the stone or make the mountain creature move. All of its power lay in knowledge--gathering knowledge and giving knowledge. Down in the deep dark of its rocky prison, the Codex could only use one of its many powers. It could see and hear through the minds of animals, using them as its eyes and ears.

It started to seek out those minds as soon as the mountain that imprisoned it settled down. In the first year, the Codex found eyeless, deaf worms.

In the second year, it found blind crickets that scuttled through the many cracks and fissures of the mountain.

In the third year, the Codex found lumps of semi-intelligent mold, which had no senses at all that the magical artifact could understand.

For several years after that, the Codex continued to send out its questing mental tendrils, only to encounter useless creatures...or nothing at all.

It was not in the Codex’s nature to give up. It would keep trying for a hundred years, or a thousand.

Fortunately it did not have to. A mere twenty-two years after it was stolen from the Castle and placed under the mountain, it found a Grugel. The Codex had not personally encountered a Grugel before, but it knew exactly what one was when it felt the mind of the small armor-plated rodent. The Grugel had come down from outside to eat the blind crickets, and now it was returning. It crossed the Codex’s cave on its way to climb up a very narrow chimney, using the hooks on its legs and throwing its equally hooked tail head like a climbing rope.

The Codex entered the mind of the Grugel and went with it to the outside world. It could enter the minds of several thousand animal-level intelligences at once, or a single Aeniran creature of human intelligence, though this was very difficult. It could not enter the minds of actual humans. Its makers had prohibited that.

But the codex had to be close to its first target, or be able to see out of one of its helper’s eyes.

From the Grugel, it entered the minds of a roving pair of Lipits, and then a whole swarm of Frox. After that it kept adding eyes and ears from all sorts of creatures. Slowly, the Codex’s perception ranged over almost the whole of Aenir.

It was not a constant presence, though. Sometimes creatures died or the Codex simply lost touch with them, as happened when they strayed too far from another one of the Codex’s eyes and ears. The Codex had to constantly work at keeping the many thousands of minds in its unique spy network linked back to its dark prison.

Always the Codex hoped to see or hear someone ask the question it desperately wanted to answer: "Where is the Codex of the Chosen?" or "How can I find the Codex?"

Once the question was asked, the Codex could use one of the animals it controlled to guide the questioner, or communicate with them.

But it was the nature of the Codex that it could only answer questions. It could not act of its own accord.

So the Codex brooded in its prison, watching the life of Aenir through the eyes of its many agents and listening through their many ears.

It most closely watched the Chosen, for they were its people. On the Day of Ascension it would send hundreds of creatures running, jumping, flying, and burrowing toward the Chosen Enclave, waiting for the people of the Castle to appear from the Dark World, as they did every year.

The Codex knew that the chosen were forbidden to come to Aenir before the Day of Ascension, but still some came. It watched these people with particular care. It had been brought to Aenir by Chosen who had crossed over before the Day.

The Codex didn't really feel human emotions--or so it told itself. But something very like excitement and wonder did ripple across its surface one rainy afternoon when one of its eyes, a flipper-footed, furry lozenge known as a Vabe, crawled out of a newly formed lake and up a hill. Through the Vabe’s eyes, the Codex saw something that it did not expect. It was still two weeks until the Day of Ascension, but there were two Dark Worlders on the hill. A boy and a girl. Even stranger, the boy was a Chosen and the girl one of the Ship Folk, who now called themselves Icecarls.

Acting on instructions from the Codex, the Vabe crawled closer. It didn't want to, because there was a lot of thunder and lightning about. But the Codex drove it on.

Soon the Codex learned that the boy’s name was Tal. The girl was Milla.

It watched as they performed some ceremony that they obviously thought was important. Half-way through, as they offered drops of blood to the storm above them, the Codex realized what was going to happen.

Most places in Aenir were layered with magic and old traditions bound to the land. This was one of them. Blood given on Hrigga Hill would call the Storm Shepherds to a gathering, and they would perform a service for a price--a price that was always the same. A life.

Sure enough, there in the black clouds above were two Storm Shepherds. They would be forced to answer the call of blood, even if it was offered in ignorance.

It was too late to interfere. Besides, what could the Codex do with a single Vabe? It was only as big as the boy’s foot, and couldn't even bite. Vabes chewed weeds. Very slowly. The Storm Shepherds came down, giant human-like figures made of dark cloud and lightning. The Codex listened as they demanded the life that the Chosen and Icecarl had unknowingly promised them. It would have liked to enter the mind of the larger Storm Shepherd, but its link with the Vabe was too tenuous, and the Codex knew it would not be able to make the connection. It would simply lose the Vabe.

All it could do was listen.

The Chosen and the Icecarl refused.

The Storm Shepherds raised their storm-cloud fists and began to grow there, small sparks growing longer and longer. In a few seconds the Storm Shepherds would unleash the lighting bolts and blast the boy and girl off the hill.

A pang of hunger rippled through the Vabe. It hadn't eaten for an hour. The Codex tried to suppress the instinct to eat, to keep the animal focused on the Chosen boy and the Icecarl girl. The Vabe’s hunger grew stronger. The link wavered. The Codex’s vision through the little animal blurred.

Then everything went black.



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