A surprised Red-Fang watched us enter the runic hall at the base of the Spire. “Am impressed,” she barked, noting our battle-torn and bloody clothing. “Martial prowess good. But what proof of inner strength do you have?”

I can’t tell whose angry growl was louder, Verse or Barik’s.

“Win the challenge and become Stonestalkers, you said,” I replied flatly, trying – and ultimately failing – to keep my rage from entering my voice. “We have won your challenge, defeated your champions. They live, cowed and in submission.” I pointed with an accusatory finger to the challenge circle outside. “We faced your best.”

“Whelps prove their worth throughout their lives before being recognized,” Red-Fang sneered. “Physical challenges are the final test. You have only shown that you are strong, stubborn, and well-armed.” Our eyes narrowed as we glared at one another from across the hall. “You are no Stonestalker.”

“Give me your notebook,” I ordered Eb, without turning away from the impressively-sized Beastwoman leader. Eb had taken copious notes on the lore of the Spires, particularly as we traveled through the Oldwalls and looked into the ancient history of the Tiers. She had made many observations during our time in the Stone Sea, and often spent breaks from our travels composing in her journal some aspect of history or culture she found interesting or relevant. She handed it over without complaint.

Flipping through to spy the various charcoal rubbings she had made of historic runes and symbols we had found deep within the Stone Sea, I nodded to myself, handing the book back to her. I only hoped her notes were as good as she thought they were as I squared my shoulders and addressed not just Red-Fang but her elite guard as well.

“I have executed the will of Kyros across these lands. I have brought chaos and conflict to heel with my words. I have explored the Oldwalls and survived with my sanity intact. I have awakened the very Spires themselves, and bound their energies to my will. You wish to see ‘inner strength?’ Look no further.”

Striding to the far side of the runic hall, I began to touch the etched sigils in a complex pattern taken from Eb’s notes. They began to glow, faint lines of power building as the spell grew, until finally I stared directly at Red-Fang as I pressed my hand firmly against the last stone, the room exploding with blue light from the activated aural lines.

“I am master of this Spire, and I am a Stonestalker.”

It took a moment for me to realize that everyone in the room was looking up at me, and that the power of the Spire had me floating in the middle of the chamber, which now seemed to pulse and reverberate with a subsonic energy. “When we return, you will address us as kin.”

With a thought, I teleported my party to the Spire roof, its magic obeying my command more readily than the other towers had before. I could feel the structure’s energy mingling with the others inside me, building a more cohesive well of power from which I could pull. The ravaged Stone Sea spread out before us, far below, and as with the other towers, it felt like we could see forever.

“I feel unsteady,” Eb said, frowning. “Like the ground is shifting.”

“I feel it too,” the light-footed Verse agreed, “the Spire feels like it’s in pain.”

“It’s the Edict of Stone,” I surmised, as much to myself as to my companions. “Kyros’ magic infuses the very stones with malice towards its target, and Carin’s resistance has threatened to tear these lands apart.”

I don’t know how I knew these things, but I could feel the very essence of the truth in my bones. The Spire was straining, its internal magic the only reason it still stood. I knew that, now awakened alongside its peers across the peninsula, it would be able to draw more strength, but the root cause remained.

Turning to face my companions, I suggested we cleanse our wounds and take an hour or more to ourselves, to reflect and put the conflict below behind us. “We will return this land to normal soon enough,” I promised.