I am Timothy du Shard. I was taught to be a matrix mechanic. My birth home is Castle Shard on Darkover. We are a lesser line of the Hastur clan. When I was fourteen I rode along with my cousin Rafael to learn how tiny star stone fragments were carefully fused to make larger ones. We gathered those tiny stones from the river which came down from the mountains in the spring run-off. Then we carefully matched them and, one by tedious one, linked them together. If we chose properly and aligned them just right, they fused. That is my calling. That is my gift. I can't mind-talk with people for spit but the horses like me--sometimes too much. The birds will flock near and I've seen the trailmen curiously watching me when I have been out searching for star stone fragments. I have never been bothered by the wild dog packs, even when playing in the forests as a child. (When I was much younger I was beaten several times for running away to the forests and sleeping there. The soldiers go in squads of eight and hate staying out at night.)
We don't live in a tower, like Nevarsin or Aldaran. We live in a castle made from blocks of dense mountain-stuff twelve or twenty four feet on a side. The work room is up high in the central tower to keep out the 'buzz' from others disturbing our work. We have great galleries carved deep in the castle foundation where we grow food, which makes us less vulnerable than most. We are a quiet house. We are like carpenters or masons. We don't shine like a beacon but we would be vexingly missed if we were gone.
My latest stone is my largest so far. It is the size of the last joint of my smallest finger and shines brilliantly. With it and five like it I believe, and the Grandmother agrees, we could easily shield the entire castle from attacks and draws its power from our sun. That is the purpose for which it has been built and a single child newly come to their powers could operate it. It took three years to complete and with it came my elevation in status to elder. Imagine, me only twenty-six, and an elder!
Our inventory was low. I took a horse, two pack animals and a squad of soldiers to the river to look for more crystal shards. It was past the time of the winds of madness and before the dry times when the great forests become so dangerous from risk of fire. I believed that we could stay out for several weeks, perhaps a month, without great risk.
The fragments are heavy and gather at the turns in the river. After the floods spent themselves I could wade out into the water, suitably secured by a rope, and shovel full boxes with the sand and silt that lay there. I must concentrate and stay calm, letting my hands be guided by whatever vision I possess. The soldiers must gently yet firmly pull back on the rope as I find myself pulled further upstream as the fragments call to me. I know that large deposits are there but the risk is too great for such a small party of us. I must settle for what I can after the river has passed over the huge waterfalls coming down from the back country. I leaned on my shovel brooding. One day I would walk that route. I could almost see it. Was it a vision or wishful thinking? Our abilities come with their own problems.
After several days we had loaded our boxes. I laid out a canvas and shook it out on the grass then spread a thin layer of the muck and sand over it to dry in the sunlight and thin, cool air. Here and there I spotted sparkles, deep blue sparkles that only the talented could see. When I did I withdrew a small silver box lined with soft leather from my vest, along with a pair of small wooden tongs. Each fragment was carefully placed within so that it did not touch the metal at any time which could shock me and any others with talents insensible. That sample showed it to be a productive load. I squatted down on the shore and scanned over the river once more before we left, hoping to find the larger fragment that still called to me. I knew that it was out there somewhere. After a while I sighed, disappointed. I seemed to have exhausted that deposit, until the renewing spring floods came. We had plenty of time to return to Shard. I convinced the sergeant at arms to take the riverside route back so that I might scan as we went. We were over two days from the castle and it was a well-patrolled, easy route.
Just before stopping for our last noon meal I found myself lunging from my horse and diving into the river; cloak, boots and all. It was all of no matter. I had felt something unlike any I had felt before. I dove deep into a cut within the fastest flow. I couldn't see but I didn't have to. My fingers were guided to a large water-logged root that had become firmly jammed between two boulders. I set my feet and heaved for all I was worth. One boulder gradually sucked free of the muck and shifted, freeing it captive. I stumbled back, grasping with my prize in my hands. When I surfaced I heard the captain wryly say, "This seems as good a place to stop as any other."
I must have appeared a fright, standing there in drenched leathers, dripping freezing water with a gnarled water-logged cudgel in my hands, grinning like a lunatic. I sank to my knees where I twisted, bent and otherwise stressed that stick as if I were trying to wring the water out of it. It gradually shredded in my hands, revealing a brilliant blue stone that it had grown around. I stopped when I saw that. I had succeeded. I thereafter carefully rubbed and scraped away with my fingertips and nails at that ancient root until I managed to pop it free. It was an oval star stone the size of a goose egg. It was large enough to be the central stone for a level five or six matrix. I could feel it hum in my mind as it slowly charged in the sunlight. "Quickly, someone give me a silk handkerchief!" We would be in grave danger once it charged. That was how the wild matrices formed, the world-shakers. Once it was covered I sighed in relief and looked over to the captain. He looked in wonder at what was covered in my hands. "Did I just see you find a war stone?"
I shook my head. "It's un keyed--natural. It's been in that tree root for who knows how long. Had it charged in the sunlight we'd be drooling and twitching on the ground by now and the trailmen would be coming by the thousands."
He looked quite alarmed. "Quickly. We mount and ride."
It was a fast, uncomfortable trip back to the castle, but he was right. The trailmen would have heard its call in the short time it was exposed. If they came nobody could predict what would happen. I rode with that thing wrapped in silk, tied by a leather strip and strung around my neck, protected by my jerkin and vest.
I didn't even think to change into dry clothes. I pounded up the steps to The Grandmother's domain. She was pacing back and forth, clearly agitated. When she saw me she quickly strode over. "What happened? I felt the shock from here, and doubtless every tower for five hundred miles did as well."
There was too much daylight in that room. I motioned her to follow and walked up to the next level, the master work room, which was illuminated only by lanterns or controlled light stones. It was nearly dark at the time. I lit a candelabra then withdrew my prize to show my most impatient Grandmother. I felt it crackle against my skin, even through the silk. No doubt I should not have kept it against my body but that was the only way I could think of to keep it quiescent on the way back. It glowed softly in the room, showing twists and paths deep within it that the eye tried to follow but failed. It was truly a sixth level stone. She quickly sat down as her legs failed from beneath her. She slowly looked at me. "We're in for some interesting times. You, I fear, even more so. It seems to have bonded with you." She shook her head. "Young man, there is no way around it. You are going to have to spend some time at Hali learning how to control both yourself and that, that--thing."
I mused, "It's natural, you know. I can feel the slow growth of the tree that it was buried in. Before that, a mountainside shifted, freeing it from its matrix, probably during the chaos wars when the ground shook. Before that..." I stood there swaying, reading deeper into the history of the thing. She slapped me hard!
"That's what I meant by training! Natural or no, it's so powerful that you could easily fall into it, and even pull your body along! Some of the histories talk of marooned travellers, lost in time and space, diverted by un-keyed stones, appearing from nowhere speaking languages that none could understand. Any stone of that size can act as a transport terminal. If you unknowingly activate it without a specific destination in mind you will become a wanderer, indeed. Now, put that thing away and go change clothes. You're dripping on my good carpets."
I came down to dinner to a light atmosphere. I heard a trooper tell the story of my diving into the river like a dog catching a fish. I couldn't help but laugh along with them. I had the last laugh though, as I touched the lump I wore over my heart.
The Grandmother had me in advanced lessons for two hours per day, or as long I could keep my focus. Much of what I learned was on deep concentration and shielding. Afterwards I returned to my work bench and found the star stone fragments nearly flying together as the new matrix stone enhanced my working Laran tremendously. I completed a second, then a third shield stone within the month. The energies which I delt with daily were lightening my hair and eyes. Soon I was sent on the month-long trip through the hills and across the river to the great tower of Hali where the communication webs which spanned our world called home. I was shocked to be greeted as a lord by a catman servant when I entered the keep.
.... There is more of this story ...