The Shattered Prism (The Star Circle Trilogy Book 1)

By: Rebecca L. Frencl

Book One of The Star Circle Trilogy





CHAPTER ONE





Aerin tensed. Awake in the darkness. In spite of the fatigue of travel, despite slogging into Crystalmer earlier that evening, drenched to the skin and numbed to the bone, she couldn’t settle. Every nerve thrummed—aware. Body braced. Ears strained. She heard nothing but the usual shouts and laughter from the tavern below. She saw nothing but the faint light that seeped under the ill-fitting door and through the thin walls from the hall.

The flickering light made the shadows of table and stool sinister in the gloom. More than once in the last several weeks she’d jumped at a mysterious shadow seen out of the corner of her eyes.

Nightmares.

Fresh nightmares brought on by her current search and old nightmares of the last Circle convergence kept her from sleep. Aerin wondered if she’d always jump at shadows.

She fumbled at the lacings of her shirt and pulled out her amulet.

Running fingers over the disk, she could feel the eight-pointed star etched into the silver. It felt warm to the touch now—not the eldritch cold it had been during the long muddy trip up from Natoon. It had pushed her, driven her as oxen before the yoke to move, search, and seek; without ever telling her for whom she hunted.

Twice now she’d been compelled by the Circle, enslaved by this obscure power of the universe to hunt for others to stand with her and save the world. It spoke to her through the amulet, odd tugs and pulls, urgings and yearnings. Not for the first time she wished it would just speak to her. No matter that Robyn had told her the Circle couldn’t take such obvious form that the power created from that would rip the very fabric of reality itself; Aerin still wished it would just send her a map.

The Circle’s tugging had been insistent. It had driven her out of a comfortable bed two nights ago just two bells after the witching hour. She’d arrived in Felbar ahead of a nasty storm, still two days away from the port city of Crystalmer. Having lived in the south for the last few years, she knew better than to wander through a wicked fall blast, but the amulet and the thrice be-damned Circle wouldn’t let her alone. She’d planned to ride out the storm, cozy in the little inn she’d found just off the main street of Felbar, close enough to the market to make resupplying for the rest of her journey to Crystalmer a pleasure, but quiet enough to not attract the more raucous of patrons.

The Circle’s call had begun this time around as that vague restless feeling that takes a person once in a while; when she feels itchy, as though her skin were two sizes too small, then became a pins and needles feeling of searing cold dancing up her spine. It had been followed by the dreams – memories of the last Circle. Faces burned into her mind, names scored into her soul. Painful reminders that only four of them had walked away from the last convergence. The other five lay buried beneath the star carved into the stones or as nothing more than ashes scattered on the winds. She’d dreamed of cities in ruins, of the chaos that would spin storms in the seas, tear down mountains and rake civilizations into great gaping chasms as the earth itself opened if the Darkness won the next battle.

Unable to sleep, aching from wounds long since healed, but still shooting with phantom pain, she’d risen, packed her bag, grabbed her father’s sword and left that little inn in Felbar hours before dawn to head for the coast. Crystalmer tugged at her and she could not rest until she’d found out what the Circle needed from her there. Rain sluiced down her face, soaked her boots and made her wish she understood why the Circle was being so vague this time.

Years before, when she’d first been called to stand on a point in the Star Circle, it had all seemed so clear! She and Robyn knew deep down in their bones what they needed to do. The Chosen of the Circle had seemed to glow like beacons in the night, drawing them like metal to a lodestone. This time it was all odd itches, vague tugs and pulls. It wouldn’t let her rest, but it wouldn’t give her any insight. She’d screamed in frustration a few times on the wet, cold two-day slog from Felbar. It hadn’t made her feel any better.

Now, though, she was finally in the city of Crystalmer, the star gave no more direction. She’d collapsed exhausted on the low-slung bed, pausing long enough to just tug off her boots and prop her sword against the bed near at hand. She’d dropped like a stone into sleep only to surface in the middle of the night, wide awake. Aerin wondered if she’d been so used to the hyper-alertness of the Circle, the fact that it hadn’t let her have a dreamless sleep for the last week or two, that her body just didn’t know how to relax.

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