Chapter one

Sadavir rolled out of a deep sleep into a ready crouch in one fluid motion. He listened to the night, but everything was silent. He didn’t move, using the darkness as a hiding place. He had always felt very comfortable in the dark.

Still, he had no idea what he was listening for. Something had woken him up and he could sense, more than feel, the faint ripples of darkness on the surface of his Stone. His Stone only activated when he was in danger.

It could mean that he had found what he was looking for.


The past five years had been a booming time for the people of Surac. It had been rough in the beginning. The Creators and Destroyers had been separated for longer than anyone could remember. The fear and prejudices of generations didn’t fade overnight. Still, it’s hard to argue with success, especially success on such an astonishing scale.

The combined powers of the Stones had brought both peoples an era of prosperity none of them could have imagined. The ability to shape the elements at will when a Creator and a Destroyer worked together had led to an abundance for anyone and everyone willing to step into this new paradigm.

There were limits to the power of the Stones. For instance, how well the power worked was incredibly dependent on the two people working together. Physical proximity, unity of purpose, and even personal connection between the two people all had drastic effects on how accurately and powerfully the Stones could be wielded. 

For people who had spent their entire lives hating and fearing each other, there were many obstacles to a system that demanded deep cooperation. Luckily, there were examples to guide them. Leading the efforts were Aric, Sadavir’s father, and Andre, the man who had taken Sadavir in when he had been banished to the land of the Destroyers five years earlier. The two men acted like long-lost brothers, working in unison from the beginning. Their dark blue Stones let them take their imaginings and turn them into solid metal. It wasn’t long before other people were bringing new ideas for them to try out.

Aric had pouted for all of two days when the Destroyers had surpassed all of his cleverness in inventing. Their natural ingenuity had proven priceless and new machines and structures had been popping up all over the land, built perfectly and in shockingly little time, thanks to the constructive power of the Stones.

Used to being the smartest in the village before the Destroyers came, Aric now found that he had been a big fish in a little pond. Even the Destroyer children had been able to understand and even suggest improvements for his most advanced designs.

Still, the feeling of disappointment passed as soon as the Destroyers started bringing out their own designs. His boyish enthusiasm, so contagious and endearing, especially on a man of his immense bulk, had trumped all else and he spent most of his days talking over new ideas with Andre. By necessity, Aric’s wife, Lauria, and Andre’s wife, Nadya, had formed their own partnership. They didn’t have the same color Stones, but they had their own form of power that usually accomplished more than the glowing light of the Stones: influence. The two women formed a bridge between the two peoples. Lauria was warm and caring, the type of person people hate to disappoint. Nadya was direct and forceful, the type of person people hate to anger.

Between the two of them, they managed to direct the efforts of their husbands towards useful and practical endeavors, and then work among the people to get them to adopt the new innovations.

If both gentle and direct methods failed, Lauria didn’t mind invoking her son’s name to nudge a holdout toward a more enlightened way of thinking. What Sadavir had done while bringing the people together had been nothing short of legendary. However, even the fantastical truth couldn’t compare to how the story grew in the years after. 

Oddly enough, it was the fighters and belligerents of both sides that tended to exaggerate Sadavir’s abilities with each new telling of the story. At the end of the day, they couldn’t deny that Sadavir had beaten them. And if given the choice, a proud man would much rather believe that it took someone legendary to beat them.

So while the original battle had been a team effort with Sadavir as the point of the spear, everyone now chose to remember it as Sadavir dominating all who opposed him.

The people now looked to him as a kind of figurehead leader. He didn’t really pass or enforce laws, but everyone knew in their hearts that if Sadavir were to command something, they would obey. It was an amalgam of fear, respect, and awe.

Luckily, Sadavir had little interest in ruling, besides occasionally breaking up the fights that popped up here and there. So Lauria occasionally borrowed her son’s implied authority to help ease the transition.

In the last year, a project had started that had seemed innocent at first, so Lauria and Nadya had decided to let the thing alone to succeed or wilt on its own momentum. Some nameless Destroyer in a nearby settlement had invented a simple modular scaffolding. The design had spread and most people used it to build bigger houses.

Then, Vova, Sadavir’s friend and music tutor, had suggested that the scaffolding could be used to scale the cliffs far to the north.

The cliffs had stood as an absolute barrier for all of their recorded history. Some monumental geologic force had sheared the land like a loaf of bread being torn in half, driving one land mass far above the other at a sharp angle.

If it had been softer stone, the cliffs would have degraded over time and maybe small pathways could have been discovered. As it was, the bedrock had been a granite that held its form remarkably well, so the towering cliffs remained impassable.

In this new age of power however, everything that had once been impossible was now being explored. Teams got together to build the structure. It was the largest single project the people had started on since the hated wall that had split their land for countless generations.

Skill and unity improved as two person teams worked to shape metal and rock. Strong iron molded into place by those with dark blue Stones. Then the rock itself was formed over the metal under the pale blue light that exerted power over the rock.

Day after day the scaffolding grew up the side of the cliff like iron ivy. Construction slowed toward the end, as many of the teams quit, being too afraid of working on the heights. The workers had grown up on plains on the Creators’ side of the wall and forest and hills on the Destroyers’ side. Even the trees weren’t especially tall. So no one had ever been this high off the ground before.

It was deeply unnerving.

Still, a few dauntless souls persevered until finally steel cleared stone and there was a passage that led to this highest land of their small continent.

Oddly, it had taken longer to gather explorers for the new land together than it had to build the scaffolding itself. The daily demands in their own places hadn’t slowed, and many, especially among the Creators, did not understand why they should be sending good men off into the unknown to explore lands that hadn’t ever mattered to them.

Still, Vova had taken ownership of the project and kept pressing until a couple teams had formed. Most of them had been Destroyers, but there were a few of the braver Creators who went along, mostly young men looking to prove themselves.

It was a common impulse among the young men now. Most Creators had grown up only doing light farm work and having plenty to eat. Now that the Destroyers roamed freely among them, many of the young Creator women took more than a second look at the tanned, toned, and rugged Destroyers.

Consequently, the Creator boys had taken a greater interest in the outdoors, trying more things and taking greater risks to stand out from the crowd.

So two exploring parties had climbed the scaffolding, parted ways at the top, and took off in opposing directions, agreeing to come back and report at the end of the week.

They were now three days late.

Chapter Two

If only one party had been late, it might have been dismissed, but both parties being late had ignited paranoia in the people. This was completely new territory for them, after all. Who knew what dangers might be lurking?

The cry went up immediately for rescue parties. Unfortunately, very few answered the call. Those brave or foolhardy enough to make the attempt had been in the first parties. Now that those people had gone missing, few felt like venturing after them.

So only those personally tied to the missing explorers stepped forward, families and dear friends. However, love is no safe substitute for ability, and many of the willing crowd were too old, too young, or just too civilized to make the climb up the scaffolding and push into uncharted wilderness.

Still, they had been brave enough to gather a few supplies and come to Sadavir, offering themselves as rescuers.

Sadavir had scanned the assembled people with a heavy heart. There was no use in sending these willing souls after the lost people. It would only create three lost parties instead of two. The solution had been immediately clear. He told the people to go back to their homes.

He would go after the missing parties himself.

Most of the would-be heroes dispersed willingly, many of them with grateful tears in their eyes. Only a few stayed behind to offer their help. Sadavir denied them as well. He would go alone.

Without anyone else to watch over, he could move faster and farther. Also, if a threat had incapacitated the parties, he was the best suited to deal with it. And he fought best when he didn’t have to worry about who else might be getting hurt.

There were light protests, but even those last few accepted Sadavir’s decision and turned their feet toward home. Sadavir drew a deep sigh watching them go. He knew that they had been the easy ones to convince.

His next hurdle had presented itself immediately. Aric and Lauria pounced as soon as the last people had turned their backs. They informed their son that he simply wasn’t allowed to go. It was too dangerous, people needed him, Olya needed him, and so on.

Sadavir knew his parents all too well and was ready with a single counterargument to match all of theirs.

“So we let them die? Who else do we send?”

Sadavir’s life was defined and driven by a fierce morality. As a small child, he had chosen to put his life on the line to protect the lives of others. This unbend-able standard had been taught, trained, and drilled into him by his parents. He now used it against them.

They still couldn’t agree with his decision, but they also couldn’t come up with any arguments that wouldn’t be risking the lives of the lost explorers. So, they accepted their defeat and left the battle to the one with the worthiest claim: Olya, Sadavir’s wife.

She, however, had already considered the risks and costs and had come up with her own solution.

She had put on her most determined face, the one that Sadavir knew he would be a fool to argue with. She sat him down and held his gaze for a full count of ten before speaking, just so he would know how serious she was.

“I’m coming with you.” She laid all of her feminine will into it, her full force of personality. Such a perfect storm of conviction would win the day for her as it had so many times before.

Sadavir laughed, full and loud, a heritage from his father. Olya tried to keep on her brave face, to try and salvage the argument, but her perfect storm had no more force than a summer breeze.

She had tried her best, but couldn’t blame her husband. Like his parents, she found herself at the mercy of her own prior argument. Naturally, Sadavir had wanted to go with the explorers in the first place. He had hungered for the adventure. She had shut that down easily with the brutal efficiency of a single reason:

She was seven months pregnant with their first child.

At least, she thought it was just one child. The women of the village clucked and muttered every time they saw her belly. At seven months, she was already as big as most women were at nine. Rumors abounded about twins. Olya had blanched when she had seen one woman, talking to her husband and motioning towards Olya’s belly, hold up three fingers.

That turgid belly that had held Sadavir close to home now held Olya just as fast. She also knew she couldn’t ask him to let people die just for her. He might just do it.

Still, she still couldn’t come to grips with him leaving. They did everything together. That’s how it had to be. They complemented each other far more than just their Stones. Every weakness and strength of one was compensated for or enhanced by the abilities of the other. She couldn’t imagine being away from him.

So she decided that she was offended at his laughter. She stood up and stormed off as best as she could.

She didn’t plan any particular route, storming away doesn’t work that way. Still, somehow, she found herself seeking out Lauria. Olya had been raised as an orphan, so Lauria was the closest thing she had to a mother. She found her leaving Nadya’s house. Bloodshot eyes made it plain that she had been crying. Olya rushed to her and the two comforted each other a moment before Olya could speak.

“How can he go like this?” Olya demanded.

“I blame his father.” Lauria quipped. The light joke softened Olya’s anger and Lauria continued to share what consolation she had been able to find herself or borrow from Nadya.

“I had to watch him leave, too. People keep saying that he was banished, but I was there. He chose to leave himself. I knew why he was doing it, but it still hurt.”

“It’s good you had Aric.” Olya offered, feeling an added measure of camaraderie with her mother-in-law. Lauria snorted.

“He wasn’t much use. It’s hard for a mother to admit that anyone could love her boy as much as she does, but I have to admit I never thought a father could be that devoted to his son. Sadavir leaving broke him up in a big way. Do you know where he was the whole night before Sadavir left?”


“Out in his shed, making Sadavir a new pair of armbands. Can you imagine how much I needed my husband that night? I was angry with him for a week after that.”

In spite of the sadness of the story, Lauria smiled at the memory.

“Now that everything has passed, I understand why. Don’t you ever tell him this, but he was right. I wanted to protect my child, to keep him safe. I did everything I could to keep the bad parts of the world away. Sometimes it even felt like I needed to protect Sadavir from Aric and his crazy training and inventions.

“It wasn’t until later that I realized that Aric was also trying to protect Sadavir. The difference was that he protected our son by making him equal to anything the world could throw at him. When everything fell apart, my protection failed, Aric’s succeeded.”

“Do you think he can still protect him now?” Tears were in Olya’s eyes. She was getting very near to the question her mind had been avoiding. Lauria made her face it.

“You mean do I think that Sadavir will make it back safe again.” Lauria said it with the certainty of someone who was going down the same path. Olya nodded.

“Nadya just helped me with that, in her own way.” Lauria began, nodding her head towards the closed door behind her. “She told me to list everything that I thought could kill Sadavir.”

Chapter Three

Olya gasped, more than a little outraged. Prompting a worried mother to picture ways that her son might die sounded outrageously cruel.

“That’s horrible!”

Lauria nodded, but her eyes remained dry.

“I thought so as well, but you go ahead and try it.”

“How…” Olya’s tears, which had dried for a short moment of outrage, were now flowing as she faced the fear that haunted her. “There’s so many! He could… What if he… Or…”

Lauria waited while Olya’s terrified eyes flickered and she stammered through a list of thoughts, each one fizzling out before she could speak it. Finally, the torrent slowed and Olya’s hands stopped shaking.

“Most of them aren’t very realistic once you think about them directly.” Lauria observed. “You know as well as I do that he can’t be surprised, even when sleeping. There’s nobody who can match him in any physical contest. His instincts were superb even before they were enhanced by his Stone. Do you imagine that he’s going to trip and fall off a cliff?”

In spite of herself, Olya laughed. It was ludicrous to imagine Sadavir bumbling to his death.

“Did you come up with any?” Olya asked. It seemed less scary now to talk about it.

“Landslide.” Lauria winked and the two women hugged again. “I’m as worried as you are, but if there’s one force in this world that could plunge into the unknown and bring everyone back safely, it’s our Sadavir.”

That night, after a quiet dinner, Olya walked back to their room and emerged with a heavy wooden box. It was secured with an intricate iron lock, Aric’s distinctive handiwork.

Olya wore the key around her neck like other women would wear jewels. She pulled it over her head and fitted it into the lock. It came free with an easy click and she lifted the lid. The steel armbands stared back at her from inside and she found she was crying again.

Sadavir hadn’t worn them since that day, the day when the peoples had united. The day Uncle left. There had been little fights, of course, but Sadavir’s natural abilities and his reputation had made them very short-lived skirmishes. There had been no looming danger that required the protection of the armbands. The armbands were only necessary if something had the potential to kill him.

Now that she saw them, she felt all the old fears flood back at once. Somehow they were made even sharper for the fact that she hadn’t needed to worry for so long.

Sadavir had sensed the moment of ceremony and offered her his arms, palms up. There was no use in telling her not to worry, or to assure her that everything would be fine. She was far too smart for that. If it had been an easy task, he would have sent someone else.

She pulled the first armband from the box, the one marked, “Honor.” She grit her teeth, taking some small comfort in the feel of the cold steel. It was some of Aric’s finest work. The power of the combined Stones could have made armbands in about a minute, but they would be crude things, solidly shaped, but lacking the master’s touch.

Metal crafted by the Stones acted like new steel. Aric had taught her that steel needed to be stressed to become strong. There were hundreds of little secrets. The steel was heated, pounded, folded, and cooled, often many times over.

The process made the steel stronger, Aric had explained. As long as the steel was good, it would make it far more resilient than steel that had been smelted or crafted by the power of the Stones. Aric had glanced at Sadavir as he explained.

Olya had understood immediately. Aric’s son was the steel, and he had put him through enough stress to strengthen and test him a hundred times over. Lesser steel would have broken. Aric had confided in Olya that he had always expected there to come a point when Sadavir rebelled against him, or tried to quit his training. But the steel in the boy had come back stronger from every plunge into the fire, every stroke of the hammer, and every dousing in disappointment.

These thoughts flowed through Olya’s mind like an elixir as she strapped the armband on to Sadavir’s left arm. They reassured her, made her feel stronger. Sadavir was more than his training or his Stone. He was the good steel. Surely he might face terrible trouble on this excursion, but he would always bounce back. Wouldn’t he?

Her courage grew even more as she reached for the second armband, the one marked “Love.” She knew that, at the time, Aric had carved the word into the band to remind Sadavir that his parents loved him as he crossed over the wall. It had been meant to keep him from turning bitter at the injustice of his situation.

Now, the word brought to her mind the words of Uncle, spoken from the darkness on that darkest of nights for her. He told her about the voice that people in love hear, the one that tells them that their beloved can do anything. He had advised her to listen to that voice, even if it was foolish.

She listened now as she strapped the armband firmly in place on his right arm. Sadavir would be all right. She knew that because her heart simply couldn’t imagine a world without him in it. Everything would be all right.

With all of these comforting thoughts buoying up her spirits, she couldn’t quite understand why the armbands had so many of her tears on them.


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