The Crystal Bridge

Chapter 15 - A Knife for a Life

In the near perpetual darkness of the northern reaches of Ealdar, deep within the canyons of ice and rock, slave gangs of Dwaros dug into the frozen earth. Their dark purple fellstone chains rattled and clanked as they clawed like wild animals at the ground, singing without ceasing as they did.

Diresh had left her throne of ice behind for the evening to watch them dig. Their Song was powerful magic and she respected them in a way for this. It aided their digging and sent out waves of images and sensations.

Diresh licked her lips. She could taste their sorrow and despair as they sang, their only hope finding the point of darkness below that called to their masters. As much as she detested the little beasts, she enjoyed watching them work. There was a desperate rhythm to it, and they so longed for death. Delicious. After generations had died in these pits, the Dwaro had become very much like their Tyninian masters.

We all long for oblivion, do we not? To be embraced by the darkness and absorbed into Rho. To cease to exist and be one with a god. Diresh shivered with the ecstasy of the thought.

She whispered a word of power and sent a bolt of electricity into one of the Dwaros who had slowed, knowing it would pass through the chains to the others. Their song stopped for a moment, but then picked up again even fuller of longing for freedom and death.

“Don’t worry, my little pets. You are very close to finding what I want, what I need, and then you will all be freed in one form or another.”

They sped their pace at this, their song almost jovial at the prospect of an end to the suffering they had inherited from their ancestors so long ago.

Diresh closed her eyes and could feel the pulsating rift in space that sat beneath them. It defied reason and magic. She had no idea if it was several hundred feet below or just a matter of inches, but she knew it called to her and each swipe of a Dwaro claw brought it closer.

It had called to her grandmother and then her mother for hundreds of years. It had brought the Tyninians to the North a thousand years ago. Patience was a part of being Sidra, but Diresh’s patience had withered. She would be the one to uncover it if she had to work every last Dwaro she had left to death in the process.

One of the Dwaros cried out as the stone beneath it gave way and it tumbled into a dark chasm. The scream cut short. The other Dwaro pulled up on the chain only to find it had broken.

“Impossible!” Diresh stepped forward and allowed her staff to glow slightly. She didn’t need much light and she didn’t like using the light globe often. The Dwaros looked down as the light came near. The chain had been singed where it broke, blackened.

Diresh raised an eyebrow and approached where the slave had fallen. She could see nothing even with her light. She plucked the globe from her staff and dropped it in the hole. It fell, lighting up a small cavern of crystal, ice, and blue stone as it fell. It had fallen only a few feet before it vanished, swallowed into nothingness like it had never existed.

Diresh grinned at the Dwaro who cowered away from her. “You will be free sooner than I thought.” She turned to her soldier who had been watching the Dwaros before she’d arrived. “Go, get the other slaves. We must uncover this cavern fully. We must make it grand. We have found our god once more.” Finally.


Evandrel felt the communication between the Dwaro and the human. He could taste the foul King’s English in the air, a coarse language that lacked the depth and beauty of his own. He had never understood why the Elders required him to learn it. Because they are wise. There is always a reason. Now may be the first time any Sidra has spoken with a human in generations.

Evandrel let his words of power slow his speed. He bled the excess heat from friction away, channeling it into the air around him to be dissipated by the wind as he slipped into the clearing.

Evandrel glimpsed the Dwaro first, amazed at how much life could be packed into such a small frame. The song that flowed from the being was unlike anything Evandrel had ever experienced. His heightened senses took in the full depth of the harmony, thousands of minute counterparts cutting in and out in perfect balance.

This rivals even the Song of the Grove, as though the universe itself sang with all the voices within its great scope. The Dwaro reminded Evandrel of life itself, a complex interweaving of subtle powers moving in balance and precision. The tears he saw wet on the human’s face when he looked upon her didn’t surprise him.

The splendor of the Dwaro’s song failed to keep Evandrel from filling with hatred when he saw the human female. Hate for the humans who had murdered his ancestors, for their arrogance, for the way they filled the earth like a fungus taken root in an old tree. Never stopping, filthy, diseased things.

He was surprised by the girl’s beauty. The stories never spoke of humanity and beauty together. Even these things are children of the Goddess, after all, though we would like to forget it. Shorter than I imagined, but taller than the Dwaro. Hair the color of sunlit bark. Her eyes were visibly interesting even from a distance. Gray blue and green storm clouds full of life and valor. Unexpected.

Her left eye reminded Evandrel of a hurricane, the gray and blue of swirled storm clouds. Her right eye held another storm, the gray-green of a tornado. Also the same colors as the Goddess’ Eyes of Heaven, the dual moons. Interesting.

Evandrel hadn’t anticipated seeing anything of merit in the creature. He had also felt the fear ebb away from her as the Dwaro sang, replaced with understanding, love, and warmth. It felt strange to discover that humans were not just the filthy, eating, breeding, soulless creatures out of myth and legend. This didn’t sway his hatred though. He marched on the beautiful girl and fed that hatred, letting it burn and build as he drew nearer.


Aren reacted without thought. She stepped away from the desk and behind her small friend with a squeak. The Dwaro turned and looked with wonder at the tall green-haired man. His wonder did not last, nostrils flared and teeth bared in a snarl as he caught the scent of malice and danger.

Aren stepped back as the two men regarded one another. Complete opposites in size and appearance, but similar in many ways too. Her gift told her that the tall man would win in a fight, though at great cost. Hopefully my small friend can keep me safe.

Her friend spoke in his sing song language. The tall man froze and squinted down with a hint of marvel. He replied in kind, but it didn’t carry with it all the images and sensations Aren had experienced from the smaller man.

The exchange went back and forth for several moments and then the tall man reached a hand out toward Aren. She shivered. Her friend snarled again and drew the blade from his back. Aren realized it was not a sword, but a large knife.

The metal glistened and hummed as though alive. Symbols swam across the blade. Instead of slashing at the taller man, he held the knife out, handle toward Evandrel. Aren didn’t need to understand what he said next to know that he offered the beautiful weapon in ex­change for her safety. The green-haired man looked at the blade and back at the furry face of the Dwaro.

Aren watched the hate pull back. It didn’t disappear. Aren could see it there, waiting in the depths of the almond eyes, but he kept it in check. The two creatures made the exchange, and the tall man slipped away into the trees.

Aren let out the breath she’d been holding. “Thank you.”

As Dveldor turned, Aren saw the loss in his eyes. She couldn’t understand the sensation, but she felt certain the small man had given up more than a knife. He saw the weapon as a part of himself, more like a child, something precious.

“I’m so sorry, my little friend.”

He nodded. “Dveldor. Not little. Dveldor Dho Shaun Dwarden”

“Thank you again, Dveldor. I’m Aren. Aren Call.” She thought about shaking his hand, but the claws still frightened her. Don’t know if it’s his custom anyway.

Dveldor’s English was atrocious. He put way too much accent on the “A” turning it from Aren to Aaayren.

This didn’t bother her much, endeared him to her in a way, and she knew she murdered his name. “Dveldor Dho Shaun Dwarden.” The words felt rough in her mouth and failed to come close to the song-like sounds he’d used.

“Aayren. We moust gou now.”

Aren shook her head. “No. I must wait for Kaden.”

“Sorry, Aayren.” He pointed to the forest where the tall man had disappeared. “Dangeer. Not sayfe. Gift nout protect after Dveldor gou. Aayren must come with.”

Aren shivered as she thought of the hateful green-haired man stepping from the trees once Dveldor had returned to his tunnel and left her alone. “I can’t leave without Kaden. How will he find me? You don’t under­stand. I don’t even understand.” She slipped back into the desk and peered out at the forest. “He should be back by now.”

Aren had seen into the Dwaro’s soul. She knew his fierce loyalty. She knew he’d given away a precious gift to keep her safe and he would con­tinue to guard her life without thought for himself. She should’ve known to what lengths he would go to protect her. She should’ve seen it coming, but she was looking for Kaden when the dense metal of the lantern made contact with her skull.

“I sou sorry, Aayren.”


Aren woke to a vague feeling of movement. Darkness enveloped her on all sides. I’m on my way home. Kaden? She floated on a slow moving cloud as song filled her with warmth and comfort, unknotting her muscles and deadening the pain in her head. Wait. There wasn’t any song the first trip, was there?

“Dveldor?” The music ended.

“Ah. You wayke.”

“What happened? Where am I?” She tried to rise, lost her bal­ance, and toppled off her cloud. She had a moment’s thought of falling for miles in the darkness, but she fell only a couple feet. The fall still sent the air out of her in a huff and she banged an elbow on something hard as stone. “Ouch.” She touched the elbow and felt something warm and sticky. “I think I’m bleeding. Dveldor?”

A tiny light blossomed in the darkness. Aren welcomed the warm light. She’d felt starved for it even though she’d been awake for only moments. She checked her elbow, expecting a fountain of blood, but she’d only skinned it.

“Better, Ayrren?”

“Yes, much. Now, what happened? I was sitting in the desk and then…”

Dveldor shrank back and looked down. “I proutekt you.”

Aren touched the back of her head. “You hit me!” She stood and hit her head again on the low ceiling. “Ouch, ouch, ouch!” She kicked at the cart. The thing was more solid than it looked. Her stubbed toe stung, but she tried not to show it this time.

“Be caulmm, Aayren. Sayfe now. Boy no khome backa. Dveldor tayke you houme.” Dveldor smiled and Aren was surprised at how white his teeth were in the dim light.

She could feel the sincerity in Dveldor. All her anger went out of her, but a cold dread rose up in her chest to replace it. “You’re wrong, Dveldor. I may never make it home now.”


The alien images, ideas, and concepts that bombarded Aren whenever the Dwaro spoke began to make some sense with the help of her gift. He also wanted more answers about the mysterious plastic she and Kaden had brought into his world. She, not being a scientist, offered few answers, but shared what she knew.

Aren sighed as they walked the dark tunnels. She’d been gone from the clearing for hours now, not counting however long she’d been out. She ran a hand over the tender knot on the back of her head.

How does time work between dimensionsKaden could’ve re­turned, just a month too early. I don’t know. Or perhaps he appeared in another part of the world entirely and he has to walk back. How would he even know what direction to head?

Her glimpse of the swirling arms around Kaden that led from one reality to another had been brief. She didn’t even have her usual insights into what Kaden might be doing right now, how he would react. She’d thought him a welcome mystery, but it now left her lost, alone, and blind.

“He will come back. He has to.”

“I leefing gnote for ween boy come baack.” Dveldor responded.

“What? Oh. I said that last bit out loud, didn’t I? You left a note? You can write in English?”

“Not weell. Tell him not safe.”

Aren couldn’t help but laugh. She could feel a touch of hysteria in it and clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling longer. “That’s going to be real helpful.”

The Dwaro puffed up with pride. He didn’t appear to understand sar­casm. “Yes.”

“Did you tell him to follow us?”

He looked at her and raised one furry eyebrow. “Follow. No. Not safe. Human alone dead. You with Dveldor safe. Trust.”

“Oh, trust the little man who hit me on the head? Yes, that seems smart.”

“Only to help. Sidra A’Keitane very wise, but not love hu­mans.”

“And the Dwaro’s do?”

Dveldor stopped and looked up at her with wide dark eyes. “No, but not hate like that Sidra.”

“That seems true enough.” Aren glanced back down the dark tunnel they’d come down. “My friend will come back for me.”

“Your friend, he poof, he gone. Left note. Hope smart. We come back ammorrow.”

In the quiet tunnel, her stomach growled loudly. How long ago was lunch? How long ago was Earth?

“You promise we’ll come back tomorrow?” She whispered.

“We rest and eat. Come back tt-amorrow.” He’d begun imitat­ing her use of words the second she used one. She had little difficulty understanding him now.

Dveldor took her hand, and they continued their descent into the darkness together. She couldn’t explain the sensation that traveled up her arm from his hand.

The warmth of his grasp comforted her de­spite a tickling movement that swam beneath her palm. So strange how real he feels. She’d expected his grip to feel like an animal’s paw, but it was the most human thing in the world to her as she walked deep under an unknown planet in a universe that no longer played by the rules she knew.


Kaden opened his eyes with a groan and took in the view of the hospital room with a distinct feeling of déjà vu. He’d been here just a few days ago to visit Aren. He’d also been in another hospital not too long ago after his accident. Gotta stop ending up in the stupid hospital.

“Aren!” He bolted upright in the bed.

“Kaden, oh Kaden. How are you? You okay?” Tracy sat up in a chair. She had a small bandage on her forehead and her eyes were puffy.

“Tracy? What happened? Where’s Aren?” He looked around the room unsure why he might expect to see her there.

Tracy took his hand and her face turned pale. The words rushed out of her. “There was an ex­plosion at the school. In the middle of class. Six or seven kids were pretty badly hurt, including you. They haven’t found Aren yet. I’ve been asking a lot. Are you okay? Anything you remember? The police are asking lots of questions. Your dad is out there talking to them now. Oh, Kaden, I’m so glad you’re okay.” She squeezed his hand harder.

“I’m okay, but you’re hurting my hand.” His laugh felt shaky. “Please, Tracy, go tell them I’m awake and ask if Aren’s been found again.”

She squared her shoulder and sniffed. “I can do that.” Tracy stood and took a deep breath before going out to seek more answers for him.

Kaden sat in the tiny bed and fiddled with the sheets as he realigned his memories. He knew what news Tracy would come back with. Aren’s not going to be found among the other in­jured. She’s not safe at home either. The return trip came back to him. For the briefest mo­ment, before the world had imploded on his head, he had stood alone in the center of the room.

He shivered even though he was very warm with the late sun coming through the window. I left her.

Hope flickered inside his heart. Maybe she could’ve been transported some­where else. That thought made him uncomfortable too. Yeah, into a wall, the middle of Australia, or two thousand feet above the school?

He’d only had a few chances to test his abilities and none of those had included dragging anything along, let alone another person. Aren changed everything. His eyes followed the second hand on a wall clock. If she hasn’t made it back, I have to move quickly.

Tracy entered the tiny room once more, trailed by his dad and two policemen. Tracy’s face told him everything.

The police spoke up before Tracy could launch into one of her usual breathless rants. “Son, did you see anyone strange or out of place at school today?”

Kaden laughed. “Yeah, me. I’m the new kid.”

His dad frowned at him. “Kaden.”

The first policeman spoke up again. “This isn’t a joke, young man. We believe someone set off an explosive at your school. You were caught in the middle.”

The other one stepped in. “How well do you know Aren?”

Kaden raised an eyebrow. “Well enough to know she had nothing to do with this.”

“She’s the only one missing, which makes her either a suspect or…” He trailed off.

“Or what?” Kaden didn’t like the tone they’d taken.

“Or the target, son.”

“I’m not your son,” Kaden almost snarled. “I’m barely his.” He jerked a thumb at his dad.

Before his dad could say anything, Kaden stopped him. “Dad, this is important, how long have I been here?”

His face was red and he was looking back and forth from his son and the police. “What? You were in and out for a while. We thought you might have…well, you were delirious. Kept saying strange things. That was yesterday afternoon. The doctors are going to have to run some tests before you go home. And these men will have more questions. Bomb in a school. Such a small town. Why did I drag us here?”

Tracy chose that moment to jump back in. “They’re practically accusing everyone, Kaden. Jerks!” She nodded at the cops who gave her a dirty look. “Yeah, I mean you. Don’t act all surprised. You grilled me like I’d cobbled together some C4 in my easy bake oven. Ridiculous if you ask me, which you did.”

“It’s fine, Tracy, everything will be just fine.” He patted her hand even as his mind raced with the details. Aren’s been alone since yester­day.

“I have to go! It’s been way too long already. I don’t even really know how it works once I’ve come back, time wise that is. Does it keep running?”

His dad put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from getting out of bed. “What? No, son, they have more tests to run and more questions before we can leave.”

Kaden pushed his dad’s arm away. “You can’t be touching me when I go.” He pulled open his Egg, waving images around the interior. He wasn’t sure what he would find. Can I arrive when and where I left?

“I think he’s still delusional.” Kaden didn’t know who had said it. He didn’t care.

So many things were unsure to him even as the image of a clearing solidified in his head. He reached out and felt the warm, al­most familiar tingle flow through him as he allowed his mind to surge away from this place and this moment into the terrifying darkness be­tween realities. The sense of incompleteness and lack of body overtook him, banishing all fear, all emotion.

He emerged from the dark tunnel into the clearing at night, lit only by the two moons and the dim swirl of red nebula, shrouded by leaves. He caught sight of the desk and a litter of miscellaneous junk from the classroom strewn around it.

He stared for a moment before his brain caught up with what he saw. Good. If that’s here, Aren must be too. But she was nowhere to be seen. She wouldn’t go into the creepy forest, would she?

He glanced around at the deep dark between the trees. She would have to be crazy to go in there. Unless she had no choice. A cool breeze ran through the leaves, lifting a few papers off the tall grass.

Kaden shivered and looked down. “Really? Naked again?”

Whatever magic Aren had managed last trip didn’t work this time. How had she done it?

“Aren and clothes.” He knew which one he wanted to find first, but he felt ashamed for it. Clothes, if possible, and then Aren. He looked around for his most likely direction to find one or the other, seeing nothing but trees.

A figure separated itself from the darkened woods and stepped into the moonlight. Kaden blinked, instinctively covered himself with his hands, and calling out. “Aren?”

The voice that returned to him was not the girl’s. It was masculine, though light and airy, with an accent that sounded similar to an Irish lilt though filled with malice. Inhuman eyes glimmered in the darkness, brimming with hateful mirth. “No, the human girl is gone. You will deal with me.”


Evandrel reluctantly let the human girl descend into the realm below where he could not follow without invitation. The Dwaros and the Keitane had long been friends, but that friendship did not allow for trespass.

The human girl also did not seem to have the power to flit to and from like the human male. Evandrel knew he was better off letting her go and waiting for the boy to return. It still irked him that he had not been allowed more time to study her. She had appeared an interesting specimen.

He examined the knife to take his mind from her slow escape. A gift from a Dwaro is not something I ever expected to hold in my possession. It hummed and sang with a fierce intelli­gence of its own. Light coursed through the etched patterns like blood through veins. Evandrel didn’t need to lean on his gift to know that much power had been poured into the blade.

He made a couple quick passes through the air. The knife whistled as it sliced the wind. “Not a bad trade. A living Dwaro blade in exchange for a skinny human girl. Even better if the boy shows up without that Dwaro to interfere.”

He laid the knife on a stone and the blade sank down into the gray rock. Evandrel thought for a moment that the Dwaro must have tricked him with a falsehood. “That treacherous little creature!” Evandrel snatched at the handle. The blade came up and the stone split in two. “Ah. I should not have doubted the Dwaro.”

Evandrel picked several long strips of bark from the ground and shoved them in his mouth; the easiest way to alter something not of himself was to make them of himself in some way. Speaking words of power in his head as the sun set, Evandrel could feel the bark bend and twist in his mouth.

Evandrel had thought the process disgusting once, when Hasla had spat out a glimmering jewel, still slick with saliva, but now it felt natural, right. As darkness fell over the clearing he pulled a supple sheath from his mouth that would contain the blade and keep it from sinking into the depths of Ealdar. He slipped the knife into the new sheath and strapped it across his chest where the blade sang to him of peace, soli­darity, and the long patience of stone.

Evandrel closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and allowed the song to sooth him. If the boy returns, I will have my answers. The Keitane sent his senses out as a net throughout the clearing. I will be more prepared this time. He waited long hours, aided by the long patience of the blade.

Evandrel didn’t sleep, but his mind drifted just above the edge of unconsciousness. When he felt a tugging at his net, he sprang to his feet, alert. The tiniest of particles that made up the universe began to vibrate in the clearing. Strange.

He focused all his senses on the anomaly. The air and dust in the clearing shifted on the minutest level, swimming with purpose toward the center of the clearing. They moved quicker and quicker un­til they were too fast for even Evandrel’s highly tuned senses. Particles spun in space and then slammed together in a blaze of light that forced Evandrel to withdraw his heightened senses for fear of burning his mind.

He layered barriers and filters to protect his senses and looked back to see a form coalesce in the middle of the madness. The light, heat, and power were swallowed up in the process of creation. Elements blinked in and then out of existence and the human boy, Kaden, stood in their place.

Evandrel stared in shock. This felt different than the last time the human had appeared, but still completely alien and more powerful than any magic he knew. The arrogance of this human! Evandrel stepped into the clearing, his anger warring with the song of patience that the blade continued to sing.

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