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T here may have been thousands of stairs. It was conceivable. The Hall lay a

considerable distance below the level of Revelstones gates, and her rooms were high in the Keeps south-facing wall. By the time she and Stave gained the corridor outside her quarters, her legs were trembling with strain, and she had to pant for breath. Only the coolness of the air spared her from sweating through her shirt.

Outside her door, Liand, the Ramen, and Anele awaited her. With the exception of Anele, they radiated varying degrees of anxiety and frustration. On the floor around their feet lay a number of bedrolls, bundles, and sacks: supplies for an unpredictable journey. Whatever the Masters may have decided, the servants of Revelstone had been generous.

In spite of his scrapes and bruises, Galt guarded her door. Clearly he had refused admittance to Lindens companions. His stance may have been intended as courtesy toward her. Or it may have been a foretaste of the Masters attitude.

Liand greeted her with a gust of relief. Linden!

Ringthane. Mahrtiir was less easily reassured. This Master, he snorted, slapping a gesture at Galt, grants nothing. He has refused to reveal your whereabouts. He will say only that in your absence we may not enter your chambers. Yet it is manifest that he has seen combat. Events of import have transpired while we are kept in ignorance, confined by stone.

Does some new threat confront this harsh Keep?

Bhapa shared the Manethralls ire. Pahni stood beside Liand, holding his arm as if she were determined not to let him go. Under his breath, Anele mumbled his distrust of the Masters and imprisonment.

Linden held up her hands to quiet Mahrtiirs vexation. Still panting, she said, Im sorry. Were all right. You can see that. There were a couple of things that I needed to do while you were getting ready. Stave will tell you about them when he gets a chance. Right nowshe tasted the air and found that daybreak was nearwe should head down to the gates. We have a long way to go, and I dont think that any of it will be easy.

She had left nothing of hers in her rooms.

Linden Avery, Galt began firmly, the Masters

She cut him off. Dont say it. I already know. And she was not yet sure what form her response might take. If Im wrong, Handir wont hesitate to set me straight.

The Humbled raised an eyebrow in apparent disapproval. But he did not insist on speaking.

Mahrtiir flashed a fierce grin at Galt; at Linden. Linden did not know what the Manethrall saw in heror in the Humbledbut he was eager for its outcome.

Bhapa and Pahni said nothing: they would not when their Manethrall was silent. But Linden expected a flood of questions from Liand. She braced herself to fend them off.

He surprised her, however. With unfamiliar ease, he dammed his baffled concerns. Studying him, she guessed that Pahni had relieved much of his ignorance. But the change in him had another source as well: she could see it. On a visceral and perhaps unconscious level, the focus of his attention had shifted. It was now concentrated on Pahni. He was Lindens friend: he would always be her friend. He would stand by her with the same steadfastness that she had known in Sunder. But she no longer consumed his thoughts, or his heart.

His alteration gave her a touch of relief, which she attempted to conceal for his sake. It freed her to focus more closely on her own intentions.

Even when her thoughts were elsewhere, everything that she felt and did revolved around Jeremiah.

Stave faced her with inquiry in his eye. He may have wanted to know how she would reply to the Masters. When she said nothing, however, he gave another small shrug and went to help the Ramen and Liand carry their burdens.

As soon as her companions had shouldered their bedrolls and supplies, Mahrtiir nodded sharply. With Stave beside her to lead the way, Linden headed back down the many stairs and passages toward the forehall. Her companions came after her; and Galt followed behind them as if to ensure that they did not change their minds.

After a short distance, Linden asked Liand to walk with her. In spite of her relief, she needed to talk to him. Through Anele, Covenant had promised the Stonedownor an obscure and difficult burden. And Liand had given her more generosity and consideration than she could measure. She wanted to contribute to his sense of discovered purpose. She owed him that much.

He left Pahni and Anele to join her. For a moment, she studied him sidelong, observing the ease with which his sturdy frame bore two bedrolls and a bulging sack; measuring the extent of his new anticipation. Then, trying to sound casual, she said, I promised you some answers. Pahni has told you what she can. Stave will fill in a few of the gaps. But you and I She paused briefly to consider what she could offer him. Not for the first time, she regretted that he was not safe in Mithil Stonedown. I wish I could spare you. But there was no safety anywhere: not now. We should talk about orcrest.

His eyes widened. Linden? He could not mask his excitement.

It suits you, she said. That kind of Earthpower It feels right. He had inherited it across scores of generations. But I wonder if youve had time to explore what it can do.

I have seen that it gives light at need, Liand replied with a mixture of awe, appreciation, and doubt. It is puissant to reunite the fragments of Aneles thoughts. And Stave has spoken of the test of truth. But I have gained no other knowledge.

Carefully Linden probed with her health-sense at the pouch hanging from his belt, studying the strange textures of the Sunstone; tasting its unique savor. The impression of absence which it conveyed to ordinary sight was belied on other planes of perception.

I think that theres more. Wonder as gentle as a breeze curled through Linden. If Im not mistaken, it can counter the effects of Kevins Dirt. And not just for you. You should be able to help the rest of us. You wont need me, or Glimmermere, to fend off that kind of blindness.

In fact, you might be able to go further. I get the impression that orcrest can do some healing. Not physical. Spiritual. With the Sunstone, Liand might be able to redress afflictions of wrongness. And thats not all.

Then she snatched herself back, startled by what she felt. My God, Liand, she breathed; but she should not have been surprised. Over and over again, the Land had demonstrated its provident richness. I think that you can affect the weather.

With enough practiceand enough courage

Liand stared at her. Surely that cannot be done.

Linden tried to meet his disbelief; but before she found a reply, Stave said impassively, The Haruchai remember it. During the ages of the Bloodguard and the Lords, masters of the rhadhamaerl lore betimes performed such deeds with orcrest. In that

use, however, the stone was destroyed. Therefore orcrest was seldom thus expended, for

all Stonedownors loved the Lands rock.

He may have been cautioning Liand.

Watching the young mans gaze grow lambent with excitement, while behind him shadows filled Pahnis eyes, Linden murmured, I cant be sure. And I dont know how much lore is involved. Im not even sure that I know what lore means. But its obvious that you have your own power now.

She intended what she said as an affirmation, and in that she succeeded. Light and promises seemed to illumine Liand like a sunrise. But for Linden his reaction was eclipsed by Pahnis troubled pride and dread. Power imperiled its wielder, as Linden had learned repeatedly. The young Cord was afraid for him.

Sighing to herself, Linden walked toward her confrontation with the Masters. Hell, I wish any of us could spare you. She could afford to spare none of her companions. Not now: not after everything that she had learned and endured under Melenkurion Skyweir. And the Mahdoubts fate had demonstrated that Linden did not suffice to make their choices for them.

Her friends would live longer if they did not rely on her to protect them.

5. Departure from Revelstone | Fatal Revenant | c