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“Antiquity’s Scion” is copyright Zoe Miller, all rights reserved.

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‘Knighthood befits a Lady as much as scrubbing pots and pans’ my father is fond of saying. We’ll see if he’s still the taste for that adage after I secure the Proof and, with it, restore the honor of his very house.

Before us stands the Scion’s Hurst, a largely forgotten burial mound of some once-great civilization. Though it hardly cuts an imposing silhouette in the moonlight, my servant, Arto, rather quakes upon his horse. The mound, as it stands, is only the height of two men, much shorter than my family’s mausoleum. Overgrown with patchy grass, the stones of its entrance arch cracked and crumbling, this hardly seems the sort of place worthy of the ancient, essential ritual of The Scion of Antiquity.

The sound of thunder rumbles in the distance, sending a cautious shiver and whiny through our horses.

“This is some ill omen,” says Arto.

“You presume the gods have nothing better to do than watch one pitiful hill in the dead of this miserable night.” The sheath of my rapier pats listlessly against my leg as I pull myself out of my saddle. “Take comfort,” I say, watching as Arto hesitantly dismounts his horse. “Hardly some barrow den of ancient evil long forgotten, this; it’s only a burial mound, and barely one at that.”

Again a clap of thunder peals through the trees around us, and this time it brings the storm in its wake. Furious rain patters down upon the brim of my hat. So be it; a blusterous downpour suits the ill mood brought on by the long ride with nothing to listen to but Arto’s incessant complaining.

Over the sounds of the flash torrent Arto shouts, “Young Lady Merlotte, here—” Turning to his saddlebag, he tries, without much success, to free the thick cloak that’s become ensnared with the other baggage. Gesturing with the part he does manage to pull free, Arto exclaims. “Before you’re soaked through!”

I jerk down the stitched finery of my red doublet, sending a soft flutter through the ruffled white cravat at my neck. “Leave off with that, it’s not necessary.” I draw what strands of my hair the long ride has pulled loose back into their makeshift ponytail, adjust my tricorn against the rain, and make for the Hurst.

The stone arch of the entrance creates a slight lee from the wind and rain. Standing beneath it, I open the satchel at my side and retrieve the leather scroll case from within it. I lob the satchel back to Arto behind me, work my fingers against the wax plug and upend the opened tube, tapping the old vellum scroll into my palm.

Months ago I found this time-lost scroll, the tangled skein of a puzzle I spent the better part of three seasons unwinding. What little I knew of history, and what little I understood of the scroll’s complicated script, suggested the existence of a method to restore the honor of a failing house—an old ritual, a knight’s errand. The Scion of Antiquity, a holy knight, and the Proof.

Over the course of weeks, I asked innocuous questions of my tutors about my family’s purview and the surrounding regions. Thrilled by my heretofore unknown interest in geography, they were only too happy to answer the occasional, inconspicuous inquiry about sites of ancient power between my many banal inquiries about trade routes, duchies, tax levies and the like. That is how I came to know of the Scion’s Hurst.

Fat raindrops patter down upon me; the protruding archway provides meager shelter. The weathered scroll soaks the rain hungrily, as if parched, but I know it will take more than water to damage this thing… though the mottled splotches amid the careworn beige color of the vellum degrade its legibility somewhat. No matter, I’ve memorized these words. I know them better than my own name.

“Hrispex, Caltus, Ferroarmat.”

I’m unsure what I expected, for the earth to shake, for thunder to peal, for sparks to fly, and for the very heavens above to sunder themselves, but my words provoke no response from any of them, to say nothing of the closed door before me. Raising my voice above the rain, I say again:

“Hrispex, Caltus, Ferroarmat.”

But again, no response.

Did I make some mistake? Perhaps my method was wrong. It could be that these words are pronounced differently in combination, or that this is only one part of a longer incantation…

Arto clasps his hands in futile agitation behind me. “If we press our horses, we may still return to the castle before daybreak…”

I look up at the jagged seam in the rock, the only sign that this entrance is an entrance at all. I notice some graven symbol in the stone, worn down to all but nothing with age. Extending my hand, I trace my finger through its cylindrical curves and, immediately, the idea of what needs doing springs unasked into my head. I remove my left glove, draw an inch of my rapier from its sheath, and pull the meat of my forefinger against the blade.

It’s hard to tell who gasps the loudest, Arto or I, but it’s he who shouts.

“Lady Merlotte!”

“Be quiet,” I say, balling my fingers against the sharp pain of the cut. After a breath, I place my hand against the cold, wet stone. I raise my head and invoke the words. “Hrispex, Caltus, Ferroarmat!”

This time, the rock bends to my will. With a rumble, the stone face wakens from its slumber and a rush of warm, stale air washes over my face. Shifting on some unseen mechanism, the doorway parts in full, revealing a great darkness beyond. I ‘hmph’ in satisfaction, adjust my clothing, and, subtly nursing my cut finger, look over my shoulder to Arto. “Get the torch lit.”

While he busies himself with tinderbox I take a step forward, across the threshold. A musty, but inoffensive, smell greets my nose. Though this is clearly a tomb, there’s no stench of rot or human decay. Having expended its energy to greet me in the cold night, the air inside is still.

I place my hand atop my sword. The texts were not clear on the exact composition of the trial before me… only that the Scion of Antiquity, once bested, would bequeath the Proof to the worthy knight—but I’ve no idea if the Scion is some ethereal arbiter or a lurking beast, so it’s prudent to keep my guard up.

A burst of color flares in the night. Arto hands me the torch then turns to tie the horses. I step further into the Hurst.

For a place abandoned over many centuries, as I understand it, the Hurst is remarkably well preserved. The barrow is constructed in a cyclopean fashion—smooth, oblong rocks of various shapes slotted together without mortar. Strangely intact, the walls show no protruding roots or other evidence of nature’s reclamation.

Even just a step inside, the world outside is muted, distant. For a moment, I can hardly hear the sound of the rain. I squint, my eyes still adjusting to the light. The chamber is not large, only ten or twelve feet in diameter—yet somehow, this place seems larger from within. Though I know its roof must be but feet above me, the flickering torch illuminates little of the inky blackness above my head.

The loudest crack of thunder yet peals through the air, setting the horses to screaming. Exhausted from our long ride, it seems they finally break. Distantly, as if my ears were clogged with cotton, I hear Arto shouting—to me or the animals, I do not know—and the hasty squelch of his boots he plods through the mud to try and steady them.

My finger begins to throb. I look down, examining the self-inflicted wound. It’s shallow and not all that painful. It’s a clean, simple cut, better than if I’d done it with a knife—I’ve a good rapier and I keep it sharp. The blood has smeared itself into the folds of my palm. I utter a thoughtless curse. I should return, help Arto with the horses, then get a handkerchief from the baggage.

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