Can stone call to blood? Can resonance be found in the lifeless stone that answers to the pulse inside one's heart?
— Gabirl na Hason, Land and Magic, The Unnatural Powers of the Northern Tribes
Linsan held her breath as she crept down the stairs. Her fingertips fluttered over the banister and caressed the wood but she didn't grip it in fear of causing it to creak. She kept her eyes scanning the dark rooms below.
It was three hours before sunrise, long before her parents were up but she was convinced they were still waiting for her. She kept her free hand inches from her face, ready to silence her if she slipped or gasped.
Years of dancing helped with the slow, steady movement down the noisy stairs. She pictured every step before she took it, reaching over the steps that would creak or click. Her travel boots—already well-padded for her constant trips to the family valley—were only a whisper of noise as she made her way to the bottom of the stairs.
Over the last day, she had secreted her travel supplies and placed them underneath the porch. Even though most of her trips were to the valley and back, she had a number of week-long camping trips at the ruins. She hoped with her gathered supplies and skills she had learned would help her on her trip.
In the back of her mind, her imagination started going through the possible failures. The biggest one that haunted her was the possibility that she couldn't hunt or scavenge enough food. If things went well, she would hitchhike to Stone Over Moon Waters, the most probably destination for the murderers, and either scavenge, hunt, or busk for food. Any of them could go horribly wrong and she would either end up injured in the wild, robbed, or imprisoned.
Linsan shook her head as she reached the bottom of the stairs. No, she couldn't worry about the worst case. She breathed deeply as she crept over toward the front door. She had left only one thing inside, her violin in its case. It was inside the coat closet, hanging in the back.
Cringing, she eased the door open and pushed her hand past the coats.
Her fingers brushed against the back wall. With a frown, she swept her hand around looking for the comforting feel of worn leather.
“Are you—” started her father surprisingly close to her.
Linsan jumped as all her muscles clenched painfully. Her shoulder thumped against the side of the wardrobe. With a whimper, she leaned against wood and cringed in preparation of being yelled at.
“Are you okay?” he asked in a softer tone.
“Linsan? Hold on.” There was a scrape of a candle and then light flooded the entry hall.
She looked over her shoulder to see both of her father sitting on the bench opposite of the wardrobe. He had on his sleeping gown but his eyes were dark-rimmed with exhaustion. He didn't look angry, just tired. Slowly, she turned around. “Sorry.”
He groaned as he stood up. “Dining room.”
As if waiting for his words, she heard her mother opening up the oven. The door creaked open as a loud hiss of the constantly burning fire rune was exposed to the air.
Siam held out his hand.
Gingerly, Linsan took it. Every muscle in her body ached and she hated the anticipation of yelling but she couldn't stop now. She fought tears in her eyes as she let her father draw her into the next room.
When she saw the table covered with supplies, including two violin cases, she stopped in shock. “W-What?”
Her mother came out. She had acquired her normal sense of style again, her presence filling the room as she favored Linsan with a smile. “I've started breakfast.”
Linsan clutched her arm tight to her side and remained still as she stared at the table. She had not seen one of the violin cases before, nor did she reorganize a roll of tools or the travel pack. “I-I don't understand. What is all this?”
Siam turned around. “You were leaving.”
Wincing, Linsan nodded.
“Were you going after the men who killed Duncan or the ones who stole Palisis?”
The question stunned her.
Her father cleared his throat. “There are many reasons why you decided to leave. Some can leave you… you….” He struggled with the words.
Tisin stepped up to take his hand. “You've been to most of my plays. There are decisions that leave someone poisoned to the world and others that leave it a brighter place. We want to make sure you going for the right reason, not the wrong.”
With sweat prickling her brow, Linsan looked at her parents. “You… aren't going to stop me?”
Siam shrugged. “Could we?”
“But you wouldn't really stop. Maybe today, but not tomorrow. We have raised a beautiful, strong, and very independent young woman. You decided to visit Duncan in the first place because you wanted to help.” He shook his head. “As soon as that guard said that the fires were started by the same person, I knew that you would do something like this.”
She blushed hotly. “I'm sorry.”
Siam stepped forward and pulled her into a hug.
Linsan held him tightly.
“It would have been nice if you told us though.”
“I thought you'd stop me.”
He stroked her hair, holding her tight. “I know. I've spent the last two days terrified that I would never see you again. That was the first thing I thought when you came home, about how close you were to dying in that fire and I would never be able to see my baby girl again.”
Linsan closed her eyes tightly and tears leaked out. She held him tighter. “I'm sorry, Daddy.”
Tisin joined in the embrace but said nothing.
Linsan didn't know what to think. She thought she was keeping it a secret, but knowing her parents were aware of it somehow made it better. She let herself smile and held tight.
No one said anything for a long time. It felt like hours but was probably only ten minutes. Finally, Siam slipped out of the embrace and gestured to the table. “D-Duncan's first check came in and we realized you are going to need it. So your mother got your bags from underneath the porch and we've added a few things.”
Linsan stared at the new violin case.
Siam chuckled. “That's last thing. It's the most important.”
He picked up two wallets. “This is some travel money. Keep them separate in case you get robbed. Each one has a few hundred cukdins in fives. There is also two hundred sewn into the lining of the backpack and another two hundred inside the lining of the violin.”
She stared in shock. “That's—”
He held up his hand. “One rule. You will not say no. Do you understand? We… we can't be there with you and…” His eyes shimmered with tears. He cleared his throat. “We…”
Linsan started to cry herself.
“We can't be there for you, so this is the best we can do. I know you will be safe, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to worry every day and every night until I see you again.”
“Daddy.” Linsan hugged him tightly and then moved to her mother.
He had to clear his throat twice. “Also, you need to remember this phrase: In the valley where it burned. Also remember 932.”
“In the valley where it burned?”
“Your mother went into town and set up an account with the Ralonix Network. That's Duncan's network. He used to do money transfers with that before he started his bank. With that, we can send messages back and forth. If you need more money, we can send it that way. You should always be near a bank that can help.”
Tisin pointed. “At least once a week, I want a letter. It doesn't have to be long, but us where you are and if you are safe.”
Linsan stared. “And the phrase?”
“That's how they know you are you. Give your name but don't ever say the phrase. They'll ask you to write ITVWIB 932 on the paper they give you. Show it to them but do not let them take the paper. You destroy it once they use it.”
Linsan repeated the phrase and number to herself. She nodded, already feeling overwhelmed but at the same time buoyed by their love.
Tisin smiled before she headed into the kitchen.
Her father gestured to the table. “Almost everything else is just travel supplies, food, clothes better for travel. The bag has an enchantment to be stronger than normal and also lessen weight. It is a stable resonance, so it shouldn't cause problems and it won't burn unless you get into a magic battle.”
At the suggestion of battle, she found herself looking at the strange violin again. The case itself looked different than anything she had seen before, the opening was on the side and it had a large latch that looked flat but also secure.
He pulled her into a hug. “I'm going to miss you.”
Linsan embraced him tightly.
Her mother came up. “Lin, take this.”
Linsan broke free of the embrace to take a hair pin from her mother's hands. It was relatively plain looking but heavy. The tip had an intricate flower and a name engraved along the side along with a year. She stared at it a moment and then looked up. “This is your award for Strangers in the Gale!”
Siam smiled and plucked it from Linsan's palm before reaching up and setting it in place in her daughter's hair. “There are some things money can't buy. I can't offer much, but you might find some solace from the plays and shows that travel around. Bring them this. Almost anyone will recognize it.”
Tisin was holding onto her emotions better than Siam, but Linsan could tell she was also on the edge of breaking down. Her fingers were shaking as she pushed the tins in place and pulled back.
“They may ask you to repeat a line but you know my plays almost as well as I do. I don't know if it would help but it can't hurt.”
“T-Thank you,” Linsan whispered. She sobbed. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you.”
Tisin smiled broadly and gestured to the house. “We are actors, all of us. Dramatic and independent. You wouldn't be my daughter if you sat still nor would you be our child if you didn't try to help. I'm proud of you in more ways than I can describe but I can tell you one thing, I'm—”
Linsan grinned. “—honored to be the one to sire you, my lord king?”
Tisin's eyes sparkled. “Okay, I stole the line.”
Linsan laughed and sobbed at the same time. “It's a good line. I always liked it.”
Siam returned from the kitchen. “The food is cooling,” he announced before picking up the case that drew Linsan's attention. Bringing it around, he held it up to her.
Hands shaking, Linsan reached out and fumbled with the lock. It took her a moment to puzzle through it, it required using her thumb to push down and then her fingers to rotate it but then it easily popped off. Inside, she could see the delicate curve of a violin she had never seen before. The smells of the wood brought back instant memories of her childhood, of endless hours in the workshop and the scent of the valley.
She looked up with a gasp. “It's a Sterlig!?”
Siam was crying. “My daddy made this when I was young. It won't ever be a famous violin, but if my daughter is going to go out in the world, I want her to be playing a Sterlig.”
Linsan couldn't help but cry as she reached in and pulled it out. The wood was warm underneath her palm but it was already pulling emotions up. It felt more comforting than anything she had ever played before, anything besides Palisis. Her breath came in shudders as she pulled it out and held it up to the light.
It was beautiful despite being designed to be functional. She could see her grandfather's hand in the scroll and the little scratches of an instrument that had been used and loved.
“I-I thought we didn't have any left.”
Tisin leaned into her husband. “We borrowed it from Tabil.”
“Tabil? I thought he… I thought you wouldn't work with him. He just left his wife and he's going to push you to cheat on daddy.”
Her mother shook her head. She looked at Siam before leaning on his shoulder. “Don't worry about that. You need the Sterlig more than I need to avoid a pervert. He has a part that I more than capable of fulfilling. It's a grandmother piece and only for a single act, but he wants my name on his bill and he had the Sterlig.”
Linsan looked down at her namesake violin. Was this how they were going to keep her from going too far? “When do I need to bring it back?”
They shook their heads.
Siam reached out and rested his hand on hers. “When the time comes. If it is a week, a month, or a lifetime. You were born into these instruments. Your powers? I have no doubt they will be stronger and clearer with this in your hand. Beyond all the money, favors, and supplies, this is probably the best thing we can give you before sending you out in the world.”
Linsan looked at the case for a moment. Then she set the instrument carefully on the table. With a soft cry, she held her parents tightly. “I love you two so much!”
When they broke, all three of them had to wipe the tears from their faces.
Her mother gestured to the violin and her father cleared her throat. “Before you leave, I am going to play a song with you and your mother is going to dance. You are going to do both.”
With shaking hand, Linsan picked up the violin and followed her parents into the living room. It took only a few moments to push the chairs aside. Her father picked up his violin and her mother kicked off her shoes.
Linsan held her breath as she set the bow on the string. It felt different playing already, as if it was made for her. She closed her eyes and drew the bow.
The single clear note felt like it was being drawn from her heart. The air shimmered around her, warping and sparkling as she felt the energy gathering. With a smooth twist of her wrist, she drew it up and started into a jig that set the room alight with magic and her feet kicking.