Excerpt: The Rising Stones
Strange magic touched at the edge of Heln’s senses.
“Bel, we’re going to get in trouble.” Heln knew the Grove was technically not off limits, but the shrine at its heart was the most sacred place in all of Ihale City and neither of them were supposed to be there.
An array of colored lights exploded against the dark backdrop of the sky, blue and green washing over the forest and turning the nearly skeletal trees behind him into silhouettes. He squinted up between the branches. When the light turned gold and white he knew it would be a lifelike, enormous picture of Eleti, Bringer of Magic. Even with most of the leaves gone, the canopy was too thick to really see it and they were too far away to hear the fanfare of trumpets, but Heln had been to every single Faire since he was born. He had the light show memorized.
“Oh, relax.” The grin that his half-sister threw over her shoulder did absolutely nothing to relax him. Her promised ‘shortcut’ supposedly didn’t go anywhere near the center of the Grove, but Heln was beginning to have his doubts. The trees were taller than he’d ever seen and strange magic pinged in the air around them that had nothing to do with the light show. “It’s perfectly safe.”
The sky above them became white, filtering down in filigrees through the leaves and twigs. “Sure it is. Look, we’re missing the whole thing. Madam DoVan is going to be really upset.”
Bel scoffed and waved a hand at him. “Your extreme lack of adventure and fun is not going to make me turn around, I hope you know that. Just call her grandma, Heln, she won’t rip your head off.”
“Maybe.” But Heln wasn’t certain. Madam DoVan was a terrifying figure. She had been the leader of the Ihale City Enforcers for longer than Heln and Bel had been alive combined and still struck a terrifying figure in her advanced age. “Weren’t you supposed to help with the light show this year? Is that why we had to go home?”
Every year, the Festival of Eleti rose on the other side of the Grove. Every year, stones as tall as their house slid from the ground like old bones on the day that Eleti brought Magic and ended the war. Their surfaces were riddled with the script that made up the basis of all magic and they drew in any citizen of Ihale City that had the smallest ability to pay tribute.
Which had drawn the tents that sold everything from food to amulets. Each year the Festival grew until it was a spectacle of magic and mystery that shimmered on the very air, ringing down in Heln’s bones.
Their grandmother never let them forget what a travesty this was, the Rising of the Stones used to be a sacred ritual, but according to Bel that didn’t stop her from attending with their family every single year. The festival was a revival, a time to remember when magic became plentiful and the land that the City was sprawled upon was taken from invaders. It was a transition from war to peace that resonated with the seasons changing from summer to fall.
Heln enjoyed the festival, but it was Bel who was supposed to be helping with the performances. The year before, she had outshone all of the other students like a blazing star. That was the way it had always been. Bel glowed and everyone was drawn into it, even if they knew that they were going to get burned.
Heln was the opposite.
“No, no, I’m helping highlight constellations tomorrow night.” Bel reassured him. At sixteen this was the first year she was allowed to help with the real entertainment, not just sparkling lights for the little children like the year before. “Now, see? Lights. We’re almost to the road.”
Heln wished they’d taken the road to begin with. At least it would have been better than this formless track lit only by the illumination bubble above Bel’s hand and intermittent bursts from the sky. The actual road was lined with streams of color and fairy lights that darted in and out of trees that were thick with out of season blossoms.
The magic he had felt before brushed against his senses again, cobwebs in the dark. He thought it was the temple for a moment, but he’d been told that it was protected from sensing magic.
The stones rose where Eleti had brought magic to the world, but the temple was in the heart of the Grove. It was where any important magic was done, though Heln would never see it himself, being a low Ihalin.
The temple would feel like powerful, old magic. He always thought it would feel like a deep vibration that hummed down in his bones, a lot like how the stones felt to him when he got too close.
He had stopped walking and Bel was waving a hand in front of his face.
“There he is.” Bel’s smile was slightly uneasy. “Where’d you go? I thought you didn’t like this path.”
“I don’t.” Heln blinked at her.
Bel’s long, dark hair was temporarily highlighted pink. “Well then, let’s move, unless you’re communing with the trees. That’s not a thing you can do, right?”