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Erin should not ramble around, trolling other people’s blogs like a zombie, making no sense whatsoever, at nine p.m. her time.

Erin should not ramble around, trolling other people’s blogs like a zombie, making no sense whatsoever, at nine p.m. her time.

Erin should not ramble around, trolling other people’s blogs like a zombie, making no sense whatsoever, at nine p.m. her time.

Whew, that’s done with! (I promised Sheikah last night after posting a VERY rambling comment about hoods, animation models, video games, and special effects. Yeah… that’s going to be an INTERESTING conversation… *wince*)

Once again, Erin is back with more Bound to the Flame! Rosalie: Please don’t worry. I am working on Battlefield of the Soul. Slowly but surely. I also have not given up on Shifting Tides in general. This is merely all the stuff for Bound to the Flame I had written already. It’s 30k long–and I haven’t even typed up everything yet!

Warnings: Some violence, emotional distress. It gets a bit intense, but hopefully not too bad.

Bound to the Flame

Chapter IV

Part I

                As he drew nearer to the ancient stone circle, this time Rowan could feel it drawing him in, seeking to ensnare him. This time, though, he was aware of it, and resisted its allure. To be of any help to Adyn, he had to remain conscious, aware. He could feel its power pulling at the edges of his mind, whispering a lisping siren song to all those who could hear it at all. Rowan threw off the cloying tendrils and moved faster.

Reality was warping now. Time bent and creased; might-have-beens played out in memory, flashing in and out of existence. His stomach twisted rebelliously at the vaguely unpleasant, unfamiliar sensation. His life played out, oddly different somehow.

Rowan snapped himself fiercely out of it and gasped softly at the synaptic snap of pain behind his temples and in his sinuses. If Adyn was experiencing this, he didn’t know what he could or should do. The boy was only half-trained!

Rowan moved faster. The strange currents carried him forward more rapidly, drawing him forward, murmuring to him. A pale mist rolled around the edges of his vision, but he had it under control. He wasn’t going to give in. He could feel the currents carrying him away, but he would break or be pulled under. This magic, though, felt strange—untouched, primal, raw, its breath far older—tangy, foreign—than anything Rowan had ever felt before. He shuddered as he felt it course through him. It was odd, and yet somehow familiar. He brushed the feeling off and focused himself, still wary of the curious energy, the strange raw surging of power. It murmured strange words to him, words with no meaning, words that still terrified him. It wanted him, though for what purpose he could not say. Cautiously, Rowan let it pull him towards its source, the nexus of its flow, faster and faster. All answers could be found within that curious ancient circle of standing stones.

Faster. Faster. Over the breast of this low knoll, leaping a stream, breathing steady. He did not grow tired. His leg did not pain him. The miles between him and his object were rapidly eaten up, in this strange dreamlike state where the elder energy bore him on. Speed did not bring exhaustion; movement was thought and done with nothing between the two. Indeed, it felt as if thought was motion. Long miles were not weariness. Time stretched out, and twisted confusingly. Rowan was glad for the fact that he was in control, not only because of his prior vision and the subsequent revelation, but because of the phantasms and wraiths that hovered on the edge of consciousness, waiting for the first slip to close in for the kill. The colorless mist rose slowly up again, clouding his eyes; Rowan fought it back down once more.

Then, suddenly, he was at the edge of the Cremlegged itself, with lightning cracking overhead, under a stormy sky.

Rowan jogged through the stones, weaving in and out between the huge monoliths and tall boulders. The stones pointed, ominous and threatening, toward the black sky. “Adyn? Adyn!” He dared not raise his voice above a low murmur. The stones whispered back, echoing, hollow, mocking. Adyn… Adyn… Adyn… The last dregs of the curious magic were slowly draining away, but as they lasted they bore him up, blocking any pain from his damaged leg. It felt almost euphoric, giddying, like a drug. Rowan did not particularly like—or trust—the feeling. To lose control was to unleash a storm on the world.

As he loped around the stones, their names echoed inside his mind. Courage. Honor. Hope. Premonition. Trial. Sacrifice. Dreaming. Waking. Service. Obedience. Command. Virgin dawn. Drawn-out nightfall. Pain. Freedom. Trust.

The last stone was cleft in two, riven to its base. Its two faces faced two ways: Past and Future. It was more ancient than any of the others; its name, Time. Between the two pillars of the riven stone was an empty space, empty in more than one sense of the word, and yet reverberating with power, the eternal presence, the moment in which men were given to act. Its ordained power was a terrible one, more terrible even than the immutability of the past, more terrible still than the most horrifying, ominous premonition of the future, and Rowan found himself instinctively shying away from the hollow, yawning void in the break of the twin pillars.

At the center of the ring of standing stones was a single, low, flat stone, its top and upper edge polished and worn by passing ages, crusted with lichen, carved with runes, overgrown by grass and moss—and it was stained threateningly dark. It whispered strange words directly into Rowan’s mind. He fell back from it, resisting.

He stumbled against the ancient, moldering gray stone of Trial. His fingers slipped into deep-carven runes, scrabbling against the roughness of the rock. He clung to the stone for support, struggling against the storm. The world seemed to have lost all stability. Rowan felt unmoored, weightless. The thunderous, ominous sky roiled overhead in lightning and clouds. The wind picked up suddenly, reminding him of his nonexistent, illusory control. It was developing into a maelstrom.

Again came the vision of the same precipice, but this time he was not climbing those malevolent, looming rocks alone. Margery was with him. Even as he watched, her foot slipped and she tumbled over the edge, catching herself only in the nick of time by grabbing the edge of the path’s ledge with both hands, and his vision-self was reaching down a hand toward her, calling out words he could not catch. They were carried away by the rising wind. The scene shifted. Margery and he were fighting against overwhelming odds, trying to fend off their enemies’ attacks. Margery fell, injured, and he limped to her side, attempting to turn aside the flood of black crows that crowded in on them. The vision changed again. His father and mother, Rheadwyn, Fortaine, Taryn, and many others belonging to the Ertraian clans were under attack from monstrous black-furred wolves. The wolves piled in on them, bringing them under. Rowan cried out, his voice one with the storm, feeding the gale. A dim figure, its face clouded by mist and shadowed by a dark hood, turned away from Rowan’s reflection in the vision, shunning him. He saw a twisted labyrinth; everyone who touched him fell. Melilana—Halbryn—his two foster brothers—even Adyn and Margery fell as though dead. He heard himself, faintly, as though from a great distance, crying out in denial, screaming in horror. The vision twisted, wrenched, turned inside out. He saw ghostly figures moving through the Cremlegge—some dark cult performing their arcane rituals. A young child was brought forward; Rowan closed his eyes. A beast—or perhaps a man—cried out as it, or he, was struck down. Rowan could not so much as move to interfere. Whatever the creature was, its blood now stained the low, ill-portended stone in the center of the Cremlegge. Rowan reached out, half-entranced, to one of the figures, his hand passing straight through it. Oddly enough, the figure reacted to him as well, flinching away from his touch. The warping threads and currents of power twisted out again and Rowan couldn’t contain his scream. It was ripped from his throat like an animal cry of pain. Now, walking around the other ghosts, who were beginning to withdraw, new ones, faintly outlined in shadow, as transparent as the others had been. Three children, fleeing in terror. Instinctively, Rowan reached out to aid them, but he could do nothing. They were not real—they were not present. Only as present as a dream. The children’s pursuers were already upon them. The youngest—a small girl—screamed. Lightning flew from the turbulent clouds above and smote among their persecutors, striking them down. They faded slowly away. More faded shouts and cries. This time, it was a group of full-grown wizards who sought refuge in the ancient circle of standing stones. However, their attackers were among them, slaying many, smiting them down as if they were no more than beasts. Rowan choked on his tears. A flash of light, and then the Wielders’ tormentors were fleeing in terror, eyes wide with madness. The unseen power of the place twisted and writhed once more, and Rowan was caught in the middle. He gasped at the churning, disorienting motions of the universal fabric. He cried out again. His grip was slipping. He was losing control.