Banhorn inspected his handiwork. The entire stone was uneven–thicker at the top, more curved along the bottom. Sharp edges yearned to snag fabric or slice flesh. Wobbly strokes and failed attempts to conceal chips distorted the tengwar cut into its face. No amount of polishing and plastering could hide the crack running half the stone’s length.

“Let me see how you have done.” Haerandir reached out for it.

Banhorn cringed before offering up the misshapen thing to his instructor. They had become close friends in his short time at Edhelion; just talking to another with Sight was a comfort. Many here mirrored the severity and timelessness of the vast snow-covered mountains encircling the refuge, but not Haerandir. He was only a few years older than Banhorn. Centuries of suffering and loss hadn’t the time to write themselves across his heart, nor would they.

Now Banhorn’s first test was at hand, and surrendering this physical incarnation of failure sent the icy north wind racing right up his spine. Haerandir turned the stone over a few times, then gently traced the runes while murmuring softy; tiny blue sparks played across the stone’s surface and licked at his finger. He nodded approvingly, then mimicked Master Talagan’s imperious tone: “I suppose it is adequate, my young apprentice. Let us review the improvements I expect to see finished before tomorrow’s sunrise.”

The joke was lost on Banhorn who failed anything more eloquent than choking and gasping in response. Haerandir couldn’t conceal a smile at catching his student off guard any longer. Crimson burned across Banhorn’s face as the choking and gasping sounds escalated.

“No, mellon, it is fine. Truly. It is a masterpiece compared to my first attempt. My teacher said he’d seen more legible marks on trees clawed by rabid bears! Then it blew up in his hand. From my bad crafting or the sheer spite that possessed the stone? I cannot say. Your next will be better, but this one will not …”

Haerandir words trailed off as the vision took him. The far-away look, the gasp of surprise and pain, the overwhelming sadness afterwards–it came more often lately. He refused to discuss it. Banhorn reached out to steady him, grasping Haerandir’s shoulder. Sparks erupted from the rune stone and clawed across Haerandir’s arm to ground themselves in Banhorn’s hand.

He cried out as his arm went numb and his knees buckled. For a moment Banhorn saw the workshop in ruins. Years of ice covered the rotten remains of workbenches. Soot caked crumbling walls. Snow swirled in through the collapsed half of the ceiling. He struggled to soak up details before the vision passed. There was also a sound–maybe picks clanging against stone in the distance–before reality reasserted itself. The smoking stone fell to the floor with a sickening organic thud.

A watcher’s horn sounded from the courtyard.

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