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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
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
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
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
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
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.