"It's just a rock."
"It's not just a rock."
"Would you two quit bickering and make yourselves useful?" Akabeko rifled through the tall stack of historical and cultural accounts of Dwarven culture she had borrowed from the Silvermoon library.
The "rock" in question lay quietly on the desk. Akabeko had assembled it after finding its three pieces in a digsite in Loch Modan. She had separated them from the general rubble when she discovered their curious power - that is, they imparted a fragment of emotion to her when touched. The first time her fingers had brushed a fragment, she abruptly found herself confused and angry without reason. The second shard had made her cold and bitterly lonely. Since then, the feelings had oscillated between white-hot rage and inconsolable sadness. Akabeko gently touched the stone now and was surprised by a quiet brooding.
"Let's get back to work," she finished, handing her two companions a book. Most had already been sorted into the 'useless' pile.
"I can't read Dwarvish," Maurene countered peevishly.
"Oh, fine," Akabeko sighed, hunting for a book in Common for the undead to peruse. She took the Dwarvish book herself and opened her dictionary. Iharu was already thumbing through a Thalassian-language account of Dwarvish history.
"So remember, it's a large-ish gray rock, no signs of paint or lacquer, found at an old homestead in Loch Modan. It has some sort of innate magic about it. It's possible it was used in some sort of magic ritual."
The room was silent but for the rustling of pages and distant bustle of the Drag. Akabeko was particularly careful with the Dwarvish book, as it was very old and made for hands much smaller. Maurene shut her book with a soft snap and reached for another, also in Common.
Akabeko jotted down some notes and set her book aside as well. "My Dwarvish isn't the best, and I know I'm missing some ideas, but generally, it seems that although dwarves revere earth and stone, they don't - or didn't - use ovular rocks in any notable ceremonies."
"I think you're right," Iharu said slowly, flipping a few pages. "Although they did use items made from rock - crowns, anvils, steins, and the like - raw, unsculpted stones were not used."
"So it's not a ritual item..." Akabeko murmured. "Perhaps a maverick spellcaster? Or a dwarf from a different region or culture, a traveler perhaps-"
"Did you know that hearthstones used to be actually chipped off the hearth?" Maurene interrupted, a finger holding her place in Myths of the Eastern Kingdoms. "Can you imagine lugging around a crumbly bit of the family furnace? A family with lots of children probably had no hearth left at all!" She chuckled hoarsely, hunched over the book.
Iharu was halfway through an impressive eyeroll when she remembered something. "I did find a curious tome in the library as well." She extracted a book titled The Big Book of Rocks from her pack and flipped eagerly to the table of contents. "The rock may not have been used in ritual, but it may be connected to some other form of magic!"
"Good point," Akabeko agreed. They each returned to their books. Akabeko mulled over the new information - were the rock some sort of connection to a location or even a person, the emotions it broadcasted could be a conduit for the feelings from or with regard to that place. A token of love, from family or lover, a token of loyalty, perhaps for a king or master. She was about to voice these ideas when Iharu spoke again.
"This book has a brief chapter on hearthstones, the first of which are attributed to the dwarves. Nowadays, they are mass-produced and spelled to connect the holder to the location, but before they used to be made and bestowed with considerable ceremony. Then, there's a 'whimsical origin myth' like it's just a story, but..." the paladin trailed off, eyes flicking to the stone.
"What does it say?" Akabeko prodded.
Iharu began, speaking haltingly as she translated into Orcish, "According to legend, Bryher Stonekeeper ran a prosperous tavern near Loch Modan. His daughter, Keelin, travelled far from home, eventually developing the kind of reputation that embarrassed her father. Bryher made a deal with a gnome warlock to keep his daughter close to home. The warlock turned Keelin into a hearthstone, so that she would always return to the inn."
She raised her eyes to Akabeko's, which were wide with shock. The druid remained silent, looked away, and swallowed.
Oblivious to the chilled silence, Maurene supplied, "They mean because she was sleeping around."
There was no response. Akabeko tugged uncomfortably on a braid.
"You know, like, having sex with a lot of people," Maurene continued helpfully.
"I don't understand," muttered Iharu, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Well, when a man and a woman love each other - although really, it's more like when they feel like it, even if they aren't even married-"
"No, I get that," Iharu interjected irritably. "I mean, I don't understand why that's grounds for death."
"Just like it says, she was having sex with lots of dwarves and it embarrassed her father!" Maurene summarized matter-of-factly.
"Why would her father even care about that?" Iharu cried. "If my father kept track of all my sexual exploits he wouldn't have time for anything else!"
Maurene laughed, a short, dry sound that was more like a bark. "You elves are so fond of your debauchery."
Iharu threw up her hands. "I'd worry about the crippling magic addiction before I'd condemn promiscuous sex!"
They began to argue loudly, but Akabeko remained quiet, gazing at the stone. She felt cold to the core, sick with the roiling combination of rage and sadness. A life, a complete being with thoughts and plans, subjugated by a controlling father, trapped inside an unmoving stone. An inanimate object that would never disobey or embarrass a father was more important than an independent daughter. Were dwarves really so barbaric?
The cacophony of her thoughts blended with the external argument, until she exclaimed, "What am I supposed to do with her-the rock?"
The pair stopped fighting. Maurene began, "We aren't even sure that this is the rock from the tale. It's just a myth, it says!"
"What else could it be?" Iharu countered, "Since when do perfectly ordinary rocks get angry?"
"If the dwarf woman is dead, then it's said and done. But the rock certainly has...unusual characteristics that suggest something of her still lingers. How could I in good conscience throw that away, or lock it up in a cupboard?"
"It's just a rock," repeated Maurene.
"It's not just a rock," Iharu retorted.
There was an expectant pause. Finally, Akabeko reached for the stone and slipped it in to her bag. She felt it hum with curiosity as she closed the small pocket.
"She may not be able to roam freely as she likes, but perhaps accompanying me on my travels may serve as a suitable alternative."