Prologue: 02

Pon walked westward and downhill, picking his way over the roots and frost heaves with the jerky over-compensated reactions of the increasingly terrified. He had not expected to take so long getting down the mountain. The sky was rapidly dimming, and he realized that he did not know exactly where he was.

Being lost was a new sensation for Pon. He had already traveled further in one direction today than he ever had before, but that direction was downhill and westward, so things could only improve.

The night air was cold, sliding through the needles of the pines overhead and carrying the scent of blood and ozone from the east. A small animal rustled through the undergrowth as Pon passed, and it was all he could do not to cry out. Was it a monster of the Storm, slipped between the guardian stones to torture and devour the Betweeners? A goblin, maybe, or an ogre? A wendigo? Something even more unspeakable?

“Get a hold of yourself!” Pon whispered as his heart pounded. “The village is up East now. You’re safer than everyone there.” Yes. East. That much closer to the Evil.

Pon concentrated on breathing deeply. The dark magic of the creatures beyond the mountain would grow weaker as he kept walking. Eventually, all the way down the mountain in The Rationalist Union, his own wheel-stone talisman—well, his father’s talisman—would fail as well, but then the magic mirror—well, the mayor’s magic mirror—would start working.

He just had to learn word-magic to use it.

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