Damsel & the last berserker: Soulstone by Nathan Summersby

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SUMMARY: Prologue & chapter 1. An exiled Norskan barbarian & his sword-wench companion shelter up in a tavern. All he wants is a drink, all she wants is a soft bed. . .

Damsel & the Last Berserker: Soulstone.

Prologue.

The Arch Magus leant back in his great wooden throne of a chair, rubbing wearily at sore eyes in an unsuccessful attempt to ease the ache behind them. A golden scrying disc set before him upon his desk glimmered softly before once more dimming back to the mundane lustre of mere metal.
Shutting his eyes for the umpteenth time that evening he stilled himself & reached out to feel the web of magic about him, the life force that ran through all things. He could sense its energy running through the very stones of the fifth & final remaining tower of the magi, purring gently all around him, but as with every time before there was something amiss, an uneasy sense of warning.
The Arch Magus opened his eyes with another deep sigh & rubbed them wearily once more. He could sense some dire threat in the weave of energy about him. A man didn't become Arch Magus, & remain so for as long as he had, without being able to discern certain changes in the natural world. As for what this intangible threat was, however, the Arch Magus could not tell.
He stood, pushing himself from his high-backed chair to pace his comfortable apartment at the tower's peak, slender fingers stroking his clean-shaven chin in consternation. The hem of his dark robes brushed the swept stone floor as he marched between the expensive & colourful rugs that lay there. As a trim man of barely fifty summers his steps were still firm & sure, his mind as agile as it had ever been, yet for all his power & wisdom he could not foresee the shape of this menace, & it not merely worried but rankled him also, pricking at his pride. He had tried every means at his disposal yet had nothing to show for his efforts.
His gaze fell on a solid & dusty chest tucked away in the shadows of a bookshelf to one side of his room. It was built almost exclusively of solid iron, an undecorated & utilitarian item with four strong locks holding down its lid. He turned his back upon it, taking several swift steps away, before turning to face it once more with a calculating stare.
He had long put that box & its contents from his mind, its secrets kept from all but the noblest of the magi. It should have been locked securely in the vault, but the Arch Magus did not trust it out of his sight. He was suddenly aware of the weight of the four keys hanging about his neck beneath his robe. They, too, should have been separated, spread amongst the members of the magi council; of course, there hadn't been a council in decades, not since the third tower had been lost, & so that responsibility, like so many others, had also fallen upon his shoulders. So many duties left to so few, the Arch Magus reflected sadly as his eyes traced the harsh contours of the chest almost greedily.
The forbidden lore contained within that box, however, could give him the answers he sought. He could save lives, prove that the magi were still a force to be reckoned with rather than a fading remnant of their former glory. The question was, dare he? The last time such knowledge had been utilized it had brought with it a steep cost.
Fingering the keys on their chain the Arch Magus deliberated for several heartbeats, before stepping resolvedly towards the box.

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