Citadel of Fire Sample


Before the Patriarch, all of Farhaven lay.
Standing high in the great keep, he could see the world beneath him, stretching out endlessly—waiting to be opened like a book beneath his hands. With his level of the spark, all of it was just beyond his fingertips.

To the east, past the turquoise waters of Cloudfell Lake and a town cast in perpetual low-lying fog, lay the now desolate Great Kingdom of Stone—destroyed during the great war of the Lieon. To the west, he saw the shadowy Narim Foothills, the Great Kingdom of Moon. Beside it lay its unlikely neighbor, the Great Kingdom of Flesh, a land of man and beast toiling beneath the harsh sun and its religion of the Mortal Being. And lastly, to the south, many miles away, past the vineyards of Sevia and lands with roving brigands, sat the deserts of the Great Kingdom of Fire.

But now the Patriarch sat in the Great Kingdom of Sun known as Vaster.

The breathtaking green landscape stretched below him. Upon the rolling hills far below the grand keep and in between the bleak cliffs of stone, the land was painted verdant with hardy bushes and evergreens strong enough to withstand the bite of the harsh winter and a brilliant sun, which now filled the air with the presence of their faint aroma.

Farhaven was a land of magic, of possibilities.
A dying land, the Patriarch knew.
A man cleared his throat, and the Patriarch turned to see a liveried

servant. He was a stooped, gray-haired man with a face like a prune. He was old enough to look as if he’d survived the Lieon. But with no real spark, the Patriarch knew the old man’s age was infantile com- pared to his own. This high in the fortress of Vaster, he was obviously a high servant of Lord Nolan. Faint beads of sweat formed upon the man’s temple as he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

The Patriarch raised a brow in question. “Yes?”

The man bowed to his waist, his gaze falling to the polished floor. “The great Steward of Vaster, Lord Nolan, will see you now, your eminence,” the servant said, croaking out the words.

The Patriarch dipped his head, and the servant led the way.

Together they maneuvered through halls with richly woven gold rugs, passing large, elegant rooms filled with priceless vases and other pointless material extravagances. On the walls, mosaic windows let in colored light, showing the varying kingdoms’ symbols and their corresponding colors: leaf, stone, water, sun, moon, flesh, metal, and fire. All nine save for wind, of course, the banished element. As always, the familiar copper flame symbol of the Great Kingdom of Fire was a comforting sight for his weary gaze, reminding him what he was fighting for.

In between the glass mosaics were ancient tapestries depicting battles from a millennium ago. The Lieon, the war that had nearly destroyed the world. Though over a thousand years ago, he remem- bered it still, like a dream within a dream.

Nearby, guards in silver and gold armor stood like figurines at the mouth to every hall and room, each bearing the Sun Kingdom’s mark on their resplendent plate mail.

At last, with the servant leading the way, they reached a grand double door of hammered gold. In its center was a huge insignia of the sun. Each door was the weight of twenty men and the worth of a city. The Patriarch sighed inwardly. Such needless things we mortals do to prove ourselves.

The old servant stopped before the doors, looking nervous again. “Shall I introduce you, my lord?” he asked.
The Patriarch touched the man’s arm, gently. “No need,” he said

and wove a thread of flesh, intricate but subtle, and the tension in the old man’s body seemed to visibly evaporate, and he breathed a sigh. “Be at ease, old friend.” With that, the Patriarch drew upon his spark again, issuing a thread of metal. But before the magic could work, the huge doors glided open as if weightless. Hinges fused with magic—artifacts from the Lieon, the Patriarch knew.

Inside, a man in brilliant plate and white silks stood staring out
the window. Upon his entrance, the man turned swiftly. Nolan,
Lord of the Sun Kingdom, was tall and broad shouldered, which
made him nearly equal to the Patriarch’s imposing height. He had a youthful face, which now wore a deep look of concern. His hair was
still brown and full, but parts were graying with age and the stress of his station no doubt.

Despite being a lord in title, Lord Nolan was only the steward of Vaster—the Kingdom of Sun had not had a king since the great war of the Lieon had disposed its last ruler. However, he wore sev- eral pieces of armor made for a king over his white robes—robes less brilliant than the Patriarch’s of course. Upon his shoulders sat golden epaulets crafted to look like eagles in flight. His wrists were clasped with gilded bracers depicting a bursting sun, and a golden belt cinched his waist. But for all his grandeur and surroundings, the difference between the two men was as clear as the distinction between dawn and dusk. Still, Nolan was a proud and allegedly vir- tuous man, a man full of light—a trait all inhabitants of the Sun Kingdom were said to possess. But standing before the Patriarch, the most powerful wielder of the spark in all time, Nolan was just a man.

“Forgive me, my liege,” Lord Nolan said sincerely, bowing almost as deeply as the old man had done. “As soon as I discovered it was you, I told my servants to bring you without hesitation. I assure you, your delay was completely unintended, though still inexcusable.

It's just... You must understand, no guest so prominent has ever arrived without an entourage in tow.” The sun lord scratched his graying temples and chuckled. “Honestly, I’ve had minor governors of my provinces arrive with a small fleet of guards, servants, and practically their whole house in tow, and you... a ruler of a great kingdom arrive alone, and unarmed.”

“Unnecessary heraldry,” he replied calmly. “And as you know, I do not need an army.”

“No, the Patriarch is an army unto himself, or so the stories say,” the man said, hiding a shiver and giving a sly smile. “Luckily, I am too young to remember a time when the world was not at peace.”

The Patriarch glanced around at the furnishings. He stood upon a floor of snowy marble. A sun was embedded in its center. The ceil- ing was tall, constructed of hundreds of glass facets, letting the sun stream in and fill the chamber with golden luminescence. None of it mattered to him. He was searching for something else.

He felt a presence lingering in the air.

A woman.

All other threads of the woman’s presence were masked. She’s powerful. Not nearly as much as him, but she’d had time to cover her tracks. My unintended delay, he reasoned, hiding a bemused smile. No matter. The petty perfidy of nobles and the squabbling of

kingdoms were of no import to him.
What mattered was the world, and it was dying.
“Bring in the rest of the nobles,” the Patriarch declared, looking

out the window. “I have ordered all of the Great Kingdoms here, if that is acceptable...” He spoke with the authority of his rank to make even the proud sun lord hesitate.

“All of the great kingdoms?” Lord Nolan gawked.
“My presence—” the Patriarch began, turning back. “I am here for a reason, Nolan. As we stand, the world is on the precipice of a

new age, one balancing between light and darkness.”
“You speak of the rumors...”
“We would be blind to ignore the truth. Whispers spread of a

darkness rising within the Deep Mines, the black caverns beneath Yronia.”

Nolan shook his head. “Yronia, the Great Kingdom of Metal, was destroyed in the great war. It is dead,” he said in a flat tone. “Walls bashed in by the enemy. Nothing lives in those dark halls anymore.” “Nothing but death,” the Patriarch answered.
Nolan’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Upon hearing the rumors of Yronia’s wakening, I sent some of

my best Reavers to investigate alongside several dozen Devari two weeks ago. They have not returned, and they never will,” he said plainly.

Nolan’s eyed widened. “You cannot mean...” His hand fluttered to his side, fingering his belt inlaid with scrolls of gold, as if seeking his sword that was not there.

A missing sword. Ironic, he thought, for a man of sun. “Whatever there is in those halls, it’s nothing of light. The darkness has spread beyond Yronia. Nodes are appearing in great numbers, trying to hold the deserts north of the Gates together, but magical beings are dy- ing,” he said. “Something is awakening...”

“You mean the ancient evil, don’t you? But they...” Nolan hesitat- ed, “those nine, they were destroyed in the Lieon, during the war—” “—No,” he interrupted smoothly, “that evil has been banished

and put to rest, for now at least. This darkness is something else entirely.”

“Something else?” Lord Nolan questioned.

“It is a prophecy of death,” he answered. “An insidious disease that masquerades itself as strength, but it is not. Even as we speak, it seeps into every home and every Great Kingdom under the guise of truth and light, eating away at us from the inside out.” The Patriarch lifted a hand and a tiny flame of fire formed, swelling into a molten orb. It floated in the air, suspended, burning proudly when its sur- face changed. Black veins forked across the fiery orb’s surface like a spreading poison. “It is not an army, not yet at least, but a mantra that corrupts, led by a singular purpose: to turn the world to shadow.” He waved his hand and the orb was consumed in roiling darkness.

Nolan swallowed and asked slowly, “How long do we have?”

“Not long,” he replied. “It grows quickly... and it will not be contained by anything, not the well-guarded borders of the elves, the might of my Reavers, or even the high walls of Vaster. If we do not stand together, by the time we turn to face it, it will already be too late.”

“Then what do you propose?

His hand made a fist and the black orb burst into flames, leaving only a strange smell in the air like fetid water and rotting flesh. “If we wish to save Farhaven, the time to act is now.”

At his words, a knock sounded.

Puzzled, Nolan’s silver brows drew together, but he called out without turning. “Enter!”

A woman servant entered, closing the door behind her as if she was being chased. Sweat poured down her face, dampening her liv- ery. She caught her breath, trying to gather herself before the two powerful men.

“My lord,” she said. “The kingdoms... they are here.” “How many?”
“All of them.”
The sun lord ́s jaw clenched.

The Patriarch turned grandly and reached out. With a flick of his finger, the huge double gold doors flung open, slamming against the walls and shaking the sun-lit chambers.

A stream of monarchs entered with airs that could knock a lesser man over from a dozen paces away. Clad in rich silks, ceremonial armor, and thick pauldrons, they jostled for rank and position. It was a tributary of gold and silver, all polished to gleam. His gaze passed over a few of the most notable men and women, listing off their names and titles.
King Darmin of Covai, the Great Kingdom of Flesh, had a soft face and ripe belly, his plump fingers laden with glittering rings—yet his eyes were deceivingly sharp. Dryan of Eldas, the new ruler of the Great Kingdom of Leaf, wore his lavish pale green armor, his Elvin features absent of all emotion as always. King Owen Garian of Medi- an, the rebuilt Great Kingdom of Water, High Elder Fari of Menalas, and Havas of Ester, and so forth. Though none were more powerful than the sovereigns of the Great Kingdoms each were kings, queens, or ambassadors of their own right, hailing from all over Farhaven. Together, they comprised the rulers of the world.

They cast sly looks to one another, and behind their gazes, the Patriarch saw plots of political maneuvering brewing, for each held feuds as old as the kingdoms themselves, steeped in blood. But today, they had promised to set their quarreling aside, if only for discussion.

“So, this is it?” said King Owen Garian, sovereign of the Great

Kingdom of Water, a mountain of a man with a long, blue-tinted beard as if he’d been born of the sea.

“It seems so,” said another, Havas, ruler of Ester, who seemed nothing more than a stooped old man, save for his cane that was made entirely of rare white gems from Ester and Menalas’ joint re- nowned mines. “The meeting to decide our fates.”

Lord Nolan rushed forward, addressing them all in grand tones.

Calmly, the Patriarch turned and looked out the gleaming win- dows back onto the land—they sat high above it all, looking down protectively upon the denizens of the world. And he knew the full circle quirk of fate. It was much like the meeting within Morrow that decided the future of the lands those thousands of years ago. His lips curved slightly, glad for it.

Last time, the council had failed, and the world had been plunged
into darkness. Of course, they had stopped the evil of the Kage and
their dark army, barely, upon Death’s Gate, only for the evil to return
and ultimately be banished by a young man with a powerful sword.
But the true evil wasn’t gone. The abyssal darkness of the Lieon still lingered and now it was returning. The council had failed, but this
time would be different.

This time the darkness would not be so easily quelled.

Hands clasped behind his back, the fading sun illuminated his face as he inhaled deeply, relishing that scent that was not a scent. Here, in the gleaming mirrored columns that shone with the fading sun—aside from the perfumed guests—there was no smell.

Absence, he thought curiously.

The room had grown quiet. A stillness settled that he felt to his ancient bones. Turning back, he saw the monarchs’ faces, hard or soft, impatient or serene, all proud, and all anticipating.

As the founder of this meeting, all were waiting for his word.

The Patriarch threaded bits of light and flesh into his voice so his words soared. “As the rulers of the lands, we are upholders of all that Farhaven stands for, but the peace and serenity we have treasured and even taken for granted these last many years is about to change. Evil is rising. A darkness takes its form, sinuous and pervasive, but still cloaked in shadows...”

He raised his hands and orbs of fire appeared in the air, and the hundreds of mirrors burst with light, banishing any trace of darkness in the golden room. “Now is the time of vigilance, for watchful eyes to turn to your own fair borders and beyond. Now is the time for unity. Scattered and broken from the Lieon, we are a family who has lost its brothers and sisters... Seria of Water, Narim of Moon, Lander of Stone, and Yronia of Metal... Their losses have made us as reclu- sive as a widow, sheltering ourselves behind our high walls, but we must see ourselves whole once more—for, broken, we will fall. That is why I have gathered you upon this day... a day that marks the tides of change and the eve of a new age,” he intoned grandly.

Each ruler hung on his every word.
And the Patriarch smiled, gamely. “It is time.”

Chapter One - Facing Death

Zane couldn’t cool the fire in his veins. Nor did he want to.
They had stolen everything from him, and he would take it back, piece by piece. The thought resounded in his head like a tolling bell, and he gripped the gold coin purse tighter as he tore through the desert back alleys, ignoring looks and pushing those who got in his way. He turned a corner and ran face to face with noise, color, and the crush of bodies.

A procession.

Perfect, the young thief thought. Sheathing his blade, Zane slipped into the folds of the crowds. Sweat and dust filled his nose. The heat of bodies was stifling, but he continued, moving past eager looking men, women, and children. They ignored him, oblivious to the danger he was in. They were all too busy watching the lavish affair in the main thoroughfare beyond. The people of Farbs loved such spectacles. Reavers, Devari, and their ilk, while greatly feared, were also respected like royalty. Royalty who could incinerate your body to ash for looking at them the wrong way.

All knew it was forbidden to enter a procession in progress.

Only once had he seen a man take a step into the streets, and a Devari, emotionless, had cut him down faster than a cutpurse reach- ing for a coin. Zane had seen death, but this was different. Had it been out of rage or even greed, he’d have understood at least—for both emotions he’d seen in men for as long as he could remember. That moment however... It was the coldest thing he’d ever seen, as if the Devari were cutting a dead branch. A man no more flesh and blood than a hunk of stubborn wood born for kindling. The proces- sion had ambled on as if nothing had happened, the dirt street soak- ing up the man’s blood like a thirsty patron.

All in all, Zane didn’t care for the spectacle one bit. He caught glimpses of camels, horses, and bare-chested, muscled men carrying a lecarta among other impressive sights—none of it mattered. He cut a path through the crowd, spotting an alley just as the masses began to stir. Looking back, he saw movement behind him.

Grom was pushing a fat merchant out of the way while Salaman- der stalked behind him. Zane saw his eyes. An unquenchable fury roiled in that dark gaze. Immediately, Zane ducked, but he knew it was too late—Salamander had seen him. Blood and dust, how is the man not dead? He cursed. He can thread, he reminded himself—a fact that meant his death if the foul man caught up with him again. Zane thrust himself through the sweaty mess of bodies. Staying in

a half-crouch, as fast as he could, he scurried, hoping not to stir the crowds and give away his position.

For a brief moment, Zane rose to gather his bearings, and saw movement from the opposite direction. More of Darkeye’s men, he knew. He felt it in his gut. They were like arrows flying from all di- rections, and he was the haystack. Behind him, he saw the bustling procession. Red cloth ribbons waved in the dry air. A band of musi- cians played flutes, drums, zirods, shambles, and tarzas, ushering the display forward.

He took a heavy breath, eyeing the rumbling ground beneath him. A calm came over him, clashing with his always-thundering heart. They will capture and kill me, he realized.
If it were just him, he’d risk it. But he had to think about Hannah.

They’d come for her too. They’d been pilfering from Darkeye’s Clan for months. They will want blood, and they won’t stop with me. But he was cornered with no way out. Worse yet, if he moved into the thoroughfare, he would be cut down. The crowds crashed around him, and he could see Salamander’s snide, wrathful face bobbing over the heads, nearing with the others at his back.

Something rough grabbed his arm. He turned to see Snaggle, another one of Darkeye’s lackeys. The man’s foul tooth stuck out over his bottom lip. He wore ragged strips of cloth. They hung loose on his bony frame while a tight cap hugged his skull, wisps of hair sticking out from underneath. Zane held the man’s eyes and slyly reached for his blade.

“Ah-ah, I wouldn’t,” Snaggle said, showing off his awful grin as he flashed a glimpse of his long, rusty dagger—curved like his tooth— from within the pockets of his clothes. The man was hideous, but he wasn’t slow. He’d cut Zane to ribbons before his hand would touch his blade, and then he’d leave him bleeding out on the dry desert street. “Where’s the money you stole, you little rat?”

Zane’s fist clenched tighter around the coin purse. “It goes to the people. To those who need it. The real lost souls of this city.”

“Fool,” Snaggle said with a disgusted sneer. “Don’t you know? You fight or you die. It’s that simple. What you’re doing, protecting and suckling those sad men and women, is wrong. It goes against the code of the street. They don’t deserve life.” He scoffed. “You of all people should know that, little rat. It’s the code of the thief.”

Zane ignored the man, glancing back. Salamander was drawing closer. Zane felt the noose closing around his neck. His heart was
now thundering. There was nothing he could do. It was all over.
Die here, or be taken back and let Hannah suffer Salamander’s awful

wrath. There was no other option now, and with his back pressed to the procession, there was nowhere to run. He felt true despair rise in the pit of his stomach, overwhelming the roar of the crowds.

Unless... He glanced at the long train.

Suddenly, he had an idea. He visibly slumped, letting go of the rage that always boiled inside him. His head lowered.

“Ah, we’ve finally broken you! I didn’t think it was possible... It seems in the end, you were nothing but a scared rat that needed to be flushed. Salamander will be glad to see the smug fire wiped...”

Zane stopped listening as Snaggle’s grip loosened in victory. He smiled as Salamander pushed through the last of the crowds. Zane looked up. He felt fire and pride rush inside him. Snaggle choked on whatever words he was saying upon seeing his eyes. Zane pulled his arm from the man’s now-loosened grip and leapt into the street.

To his death.

Zane jumped before the caravan.

A collective rush of gasps, like a gust of wind, sounded from the crowds as the giant procession came to a screeching halt. Zane could only hear the pounding of his heart in his ears, but beneath that, he sensed the silence.

The musicians had halted their playing, the dancers no longer danced, and the crowds watched in frozen horror.

He stood like a statue—head high and hand far from his blade.

Before him was the largest, most opulent lecarta he’d ever seen. In shape it was little more than a box on poles, but its sides were inlaid with thick gold while silver curled from its four corners like thorns. Anything that wasn’t covered in gold was draped in dark red cloth, the foreboding color of the Citadel. The cloth was a thick, rich weave, which made his own clothes feel like rags hanging from his frame.

Carrying the lecarta were nine shirtless, heavily muscled men who wore baggy red pants—their dark skin was oiled and glistened in the light of the burning midday sun. Zane was no slouch, but each

man’s arm was the size of his thigh. But that was not his fear... Closer still, were two men wearing nondescript clothes of brown and tan to blend in with their surroundings. Unlike normal guards, they needed no armor. Upon their backs were cloaks depicting two crossed swords.

The cloak of a Devari.
The two men held strange postures, heads down with knees heavily bent, and shoulders turned. Fighting stances, his street-wise mind told him—the one that had kept him alive. It always warned him before imminent death. The Devari eyed his dagger. Without hesi- tation, he reached to throw it away. As his hand touched the handle, he felt steel before his throat. He looked up into the coldest eyes he’d ever seen—frozen blue orbs.

“One fool move upon another,” the man whispered.

Somehow the Devari had crossed the span of twenty paces faster than he could blink. Zane closed his eyes, realizing what a hair- brained move that had been. He remained still, aside from slowly retracting his hand. “I was only trying to toss it...”

“A foolish move before a Devari. Your hand would never touch the blade.”

He swallowed. It caused the blade to bite deeper, slightly cutting his throat. He spoke softly but urgently, “I mean no harm.”

The Devari’s hard angled face seemed to judge him. That long
nose, slanted eyes, and sharp jaw tilted, as if seeing into him. Zane
felt a strange chill, and the hair on his arms stood on end. Thread-
ing? he wondered. But how? Devari didn’t have the spark, not like Reavers and Arbiters at least—those who could manifest the innate 13 spark in all life and then thread to extract elements from the world, anything from fire to flesh, and wield them as powerful weapons. To
some it was simply called magic. But he had heard of something
called the ki, a power of the Devari to sense another’s emotions.

The chill left Zane, like icy fingers gripping his heart only to pull away. It was unnerving, but he didn’t resist.

The Devari spoke at last. “You speak truth. I sense your fear. Cu- rious... One would never know looking at the fire in those strange eyes of yours.” He sheathed his blade, backing away.

Zane remembered the crowds. They all held their breath, watch- ing as if they had just witnessed a miracle.

“Go now before I change my mind,” the Devari said.

Nodding his silent thanks, Zane moved when there was a com- motion. He didn’t waste time second-guessing his dumb luck. Sud- denly, he felt his limbs stiffen, a frigid chill entering his bones, his blood cooling. He stumbled and fell, his face hitting the dry desert ground. He sucked in dust, trying to rise, but it hurt to move. Every muscle felt aflame, as if being prodded with a thousand needles.

Still, he cocked his head, peering over his shoulder, and he saw a fearsome sight.

Six women and six men on horseback approached. They wore scarlet robes. The robes of a Reaver. At their head was a man dressed in black trousers and a vest so deep a blue it appeared black as well, and over that, he wore an oiled, dark coat that draped over the sides of his huge stallion.

The leader came to a halt just before the lecarta. He was stooped and his eyes glinted from within his hood like black gems, but his face was hard to see. “What is going on here?” Silence. “Someone speak before I lose my temper...” For the first time in ages, aside from Darkeye’s men, Zane felt an instant hatred. Everything about that oiled tone was filled with righteous self-importance.

The Devari spoke. “He meant no harm, Sithel.”
Sithel snorted. “I will be the judge of that, Devari.”
Who was this man who led Reavers and commanded Devari? “Rise,” Sithel ordered. A Reaver at his side with three stripes on

his cuffs lifted a hand. Like a puppet, Zane was lifted into the air

to stand upon his feet. Yet his limbs were not his own—he felt as if a steel thread ran through his body, holding him in place. It was terrifying, and he hated not having control. Let me go... his body raged, but he bit his tongue, knowing one wrong word could mean

his death.
“What’s your name, criminal?” Sithel asked.
He held the man’s terrifying gaze. “Zane—” he hesitated “—and

I am no criminal.”
“Then why do you interrupt my procession, Zane?” Sithel asked,

moving closer, his horse looming above Zane. Zane could smell sweat and a rank darkness emanating from the man. “It is, by law of Farbs, illegal to interfere with Citadel affairs. Does this not look like Citadel affairs?”

Zane’s body began to shake, suffocating beneath his bonds.
“Are you both blind and deaf? Speak!” Sithel barked.
The fire within Zane raged. Release me, it begged. Meanwhile,

Zane tried to find words through his rising fear and frustration, forc- ing them out. “It was not my intention. I... was forced to...” He tried to move, but his bonds held him tighter than the noose around a murderer’s neck. He choked, feeling as if his whole body was slowly dying. He could not be caged, and every fiber of his being railed against it. He needed to move or he would explode.

“Intention or not, you are here. Speak straight, for I am losing patience...”

“First, let me go,” he sputtered. “I swear, I will not run or fight.”

“Is it that unbearable?” Sithel sneered. “Sad. You seemed stron- ger than that.”

His eyes bulged and his body shuddered as his eyes rolled to the back of his head, losing consciousness. “Release ... me...”

Distantly, he saw Sithel flick his hand in annoyance. The bonds fell and Zane sagged, falling to the earth, vomiting as if a darkness was purged from his body.

Sithel spoke, “Your next words will be your death or salvation. Choose them wisely.”

Still breathing ragged breaths, Zane realized he was in a corner. If he admitted stealing, even if it was from Darkeye, he would be jailed or even killed. In Farbs, stealing was a crime often met with death. He breathed in the dry dust, staring at the tan ground before him, desperately trying to buy himself time.

“Answer!” Sithel bellowed, spittle flying from his mouth. “Enough stalling!”

In the corner of his vision, between the heads of the crowd, he saw a glimpse of Salamander. The thief smiled—a sinister grin. He knew Zane was stuck. A lie was as good as death, and so was the truth. I should have fought and fell to Snaggle and the others. At least, there he would have had a chance. A slim chance, but at least a chance. Against twelve Reavers, two Devari, and this man? There was no hope.

He gritted his teeth but suppressed his fear and rage and rose, standing tall. He took a deep breath and summoned his voice, “I—” “—Let him go,” the Devari interrupted. It was the same one who spoke earlier, with the fearsome features—long nose and sharp jaw.

“This is not our way.”
Sithel looked confused and curious but, before he could respond,

the Reaver at his side with three stripes whispered in Sithel’s ear. Zane thought he heard the word orphan. He didn’t know what the stripes meant exactly, but he figured it denoted rank. The others all had two or less. A light entered Sithel’s eyes, and his steed danced beneath him, feeding off its rider’s excitement. “It is decided. The boy will come back to the Citadel for questioning. It is the Patri- arch’s will. Now take him.”

The bare-chested servants moved forward.

Zane felt his heart drop. Death. That was what questioning meant. It was a mounting rumor that had only taken hold in the last few months that boys and young men were taken to the Citadel for “questioning” and never returned. Always, it was orphans, those without family.

The Devari stepped forward, countering the muscled servants. “I’ve read his mind and his intentions. The ki tells me he is no threat.”

Sithel raised a single brow. “What are you trying to say?”
“That I will not let you take him.”
“This is the Patriarch’s will, Devari. Question it again and risk

The two Devari pressed together, looking like cornered lions, and

their hands went to their blades. “This is not the Patriarch’s will. This is Arbiter Fera’s will,” he said.

Sithel quaked with anger. “You dare to speak Citadel politics in front of these heathens?”

“I do what I must. You will not take this boy or any other boy back to her.”

“Stand down,” Sithel hissed. It was whispered, but it couldn’t have been harsher if he had bellowed it.

Both Devari unsheathed their blades.
The crowds gasped.
The quiet Devari leapt.
Sithel’s dark eyes flashed dangerously as he nodded. The man

fell to a pile of ash. The first Devari, Zane’s defender, cried out and lunged for Sithel. The Reaver at Sithel’s side waved a hand, smirk- ing. The Devari suddenly gasped as flames sprung from his clothes. He tore his tunic and shirt from his burning body with one hand, still running. With his other hand, he tossed a dagger. It flew, lodging itself in the three-stripe Reaver’s throat. The man gurgled blood and fell from his horse, dead. Abruptly, a roaring ball of fire seared the air to collide with the charging warrior. The Devari cried out as the fire consumed, eating away at the screams. Zane watched, unable to look away, feeling sick. At last, Sithel waved his hand. The fire vanquished. In its place was a body blackened like burnt meat, his smoldering clothes clung to his charred flesh. Zane gagged as the awful smell hit him.

Silence, like the pall of death, hung in the air. It had all happened so quickly. Zane slowly backed away, knowing that if there was a time to run and honor the Devari’s sacrifice, it was now or never.

Sithel sniffed the air like a rat as his head swiveled, turning to Zane. “Where do you think you’re going?”

The Reaver at his side snapped his fingers and nerves pinched in the back of Zane’s legs, wincing in pain as he collapsed to the ground. He knew they were controlling them by threading the el- ement of flesh. He snarled in rebellion, but there was nothing he could do.

“Really now,” Sithel said, pulling back his hood to expose his fea-
tures to the light of day, and Zane balked. With black eyes, sunken cheeks, and sallow skin, the man looked as if he’d been born in a dark
pit, more creature of night than human. His long ebony hair sucked
in the light and seemed to move about his face like writhing snakes.
By contrast, it made his pale skin appear almost translucent. He picked his filed teeth with a long, black fingernail and spoke again. “We’ve made far more of a spectacle out of this than necessary. Now
I’ll ask only once. Come with us quietly, won’t you?”

Zane seethed, his blood rising again. “You mean do I care to die quietly?” He was no longer afraid. Instead, seeing the Devari die had filled him with a mounting rage.

Sithel shrugged. “Choose what words you will.”

He made a gesture, and men moved forward to grab Zane. His fear spiked.

“I...” Zane thought of the most outrageous lie he could. “I’m not an orphan.”

Raising his hairless brow, Sithel laughed. “Is that so?” He sound- ed amused and doubtful, yet the large, approaching men hesitated, if only for a moment. “Well, where is your precious family then?”

“My family...”

“Lad!” A voice called, sounding over his thudding heart, coming from the crowds. All turned to the sound, including Sithel and the other Reavers. The throng parted, revealing an old man with gray hair, a beak nose, drooping cheeks like soggy bread, and a hunched back. He leaned heavily on what looked like the gnarled root of a Sansa tree made into a staff. “Boy, light and flesh, there you are! I should have known if I let you wander off on your own, you’d have the whole Citadel crashing down on your head!”

“Who are you, old man?” Sithel questioned.

The old man hobbled to Zane’s side, seemingly oblivious to the danger. The crowds seemed equally perplexed. “Who am I? Isn’t it obvious? I’m his father!”

Zane’s mouth parted.

Sithel looked to him, and he swiftly wiped the look from his face and nodded as confidently as he could. “This ... is your son?” Sithel asked, looking suspicious but not entirely disbelieving.

“Are you hard of hearing, young man?” the old man questioned and chuckled to himself, eyeing Zane. “Well, I suppose the resem- blance isn’t easy to see. He’s got his mother’s looks mostly, and her knack for finding trouble. But that nose, sure as sugar, is mine!” Zane eyed the man’s large nose and realized it was much like his own bold nose—in fact, it looked almost identical, albeit bigger. Old men’s noses always did seem to grow with age. Coincidence, he told himself... And yet... Could the old man really be my father? Zane shook his head. No, it couldn’t be. But the man was saving his hide. Zane realized he’d better fall in line and quick.

“Sorry, da’. I know you told me to get a new bridle for Jess, but this procession was in the way, and the only way through was ... well, straight through.”

The old man, his back turned to the others, flashed Zane a wink of approval. Then he turned back to let Sithel see his disappoint- ment as he wagged an admonishing finger. “See? How many times have I told you? You have a good head on you, if only you’d actually use it. Now, apologize to this man quickly, and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’m afraid not,” Sithel sighed. “This is Citadel business now, old man, and your boy is caught up in it. He is coming with us.”

The old man rubbed his chin. Again, he wondered who the old man was... Didn’t he know whom he was talking? “Oh, really? Tak- ing my own boy from me in front of all these people? Is that truly the will of the Patriarch? Is that what the mighty Citadel has come to now? Noble Reavers stealing boys from the street and killing their own Devari?”
“Silence!” a Reaver with two stripes shouted with a snarl. Zane

saw the old man’s words sink beneath their skin, and he hid a grin. He plays a dangerous game. It reminded him of Terus, a street game where one lived or died by the flip of a dagger. “You stand before Reavers, men and women who can peel the skin from your bones. Show some respect!” The ground rumbled, and the lecarta’s red drapes wavered.

In that moment, Zane saw something behind the drapes—a bril- liant flash of blue. It was so bright and mesmerizing that he took a step towards it, wanting to touch the miniature, azure sun. A chill flashed through him. He took another step, passing the old man pretending to be his father. His blood felt on fire and yet frozen all at the same time. Zane reached out just as the drapes settled but, at once, the image was gone. Shaking his head, he wondered: What was that?

“Mighty powerful words...” the old man said softly, and a danger-
ous note entered his voice. “Powerful and foolish, seeing as the word Reaver means ‘protector of the people’, but I suppose you’ve forgot-
ten that...”

The Reaver who spoke bristled, then raised a hand as if to thread. “Enough!” Sithel spat. “You forget your place, Calid.”
Why did the man stop? But as Zane looked around, he saw all

the crowds wore vigilant looks and realized it was clear Sithel and his minion were treading too far. Taking a boy from his own father before a crowd of witnesses was something that Zane suspected even the Patriarch would hear of. The Citadel, while growing darker, still heeded to the voice of the citizens.

Calid’s mouth worked soundlessly. At last, the two-stripe Reaver lowered his head. “Apologies, my lord.”

Sithel turned his horse and spoke over his shoulder. “Take your son and go, but, if we meet again, know my mercy has its limits.”

With that, he rode off, back to the head of the procession.

The old man ushered Zane towards the crowd. But Zane stopped for a moment. He eyed the ash pile that was once a Devari then the broken, burnt body of the blue-eyed Devari. Several muscled men grabbed him, putting him on their shoulders and carrying him away. Is he dead? Zane wondered. The man had saved him, sacrificing himself. Why? I hadn’t asked it... He hated owing anyone anything, and now his life was indebted to a man who was likely dead. The old man tugged Zane’s arm, and he let himself be taken. Whispers sifted through the crowds, following them. Men and women, merchants, beggars, mothers, fathers, all stared at him as if he were a leper and a Reaver combined—looks of fear and respect.

Behind them, music filled the air as musicians took up their instru- ments, and the procession carried on as if it had never been stopped. He followed the old man through the thicket of people like he was pressing through a field of wheat. The old man hobbled, using his gnarled staff to gently push the crowds out of their way. Most parted for them easily though, trying to glimpse the one who had been at the center of it all. As they moved, Zane couldn’t help thinking about Hannah, about that strange man, about the guilt of the Devari

and his death, but strangely, most of all about that blue orb.
At last, they broke through the last stand of people as if parting the clouds. Zane breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t realized how much

he hated being around so many people.
He took in his surroundings.
The alley was bright but empty. They were in a nicer part of town,

one closer to the Citadel. He could see those tall, black towers above the adobe walls that crowded them from either side.

He turned to his savior.

The old man appeared taller and less hunched. Zane shook his head. Was he seeing things? Suddenly, the air rippled like heat waves and he gawked. The old man faded as if just a mirage, and in his place was a tall, regal looking man with broad shoulders. He was still wizened in years, but his face was smoother, almost handsome. The drooping white brows became thick and dark. His eyes—those eyes... No longer were they dull and glazed with the film of age, but penetrating and brimming with great wisdom and mystery. This was no mere man, Zane knew. Authority and power resonated from him the way the sun radiated heat. He wanted to avert his gaze, but there was something kind and settling about the man’s face.

“That was closer than I intended. Far too close.” His voice too had changed, deeper and full of control—but still it bore the fearless undertone. “I had not thought this day would come so soon...”

Zane narrowed his gaze. “Who or what are you?

The man smiled, giving a grandfatherly look. “You do not look like I was expecting. You’re taller, and blonde ... but you have his eyes.” Zane shook his head. Is the man mad? Is that the danger I sensed? But he was curious too. The mysterious man spoke again, “We were lucky this time. In the future, you must avoid that man you just met and the one called Darkeye. Both are dangerous, more so than you could possibly imagine.”

Despite himself, Zane chuckled. “Is that so? I’m not sure if you know this, but I didn’t exactly intend on running into that man, and everyone knows to avoid Darkeye. I’m a fan of danger as much as any man, which is not at all.” As he said the words, they sounded like a lie. Stealing from Darkeye? Is that how I avoid danger?

“It will not be easy. You will be pulled towards Darkeye like a string drawn by a loom.”

The younger man put a hand to his head. “How do you know this? And who are you?”

“Someone you can trust,” his savior answered.

“No offense,” Zane remarked, “but I only trust two people in this world, and you aren’t one of them.”

“Beware that sentiment,” the man said. “For a heart does not open easily once it is closed.” The man’s eyes flashed in pain and anger,
but then the image was gone, as if never there.

Whatever this man is, Zane realized, above all, he is dangerous. He shifted his stance, reassuring himself with the dagger at his hip and said, “Listen, thank you for saving me. I owe you, and you should know that I always repay my debts. But... Whatever it is you’re offer- ing, I don’t want any part of it.”

The man sighed, looking distant, lost in memory. “I remember a look much like that from a young man very close to your age. It is sad when such mantles of power and duty are placed upon those so young.” What is he talking about? “For now, Zane, I simply come with words of caution and a gift. Take this, and don’t lose it.” He pressed something cold and metallic into Zane’s palm—a silver figu- rine of a squat man, a sword resting across his lap. Zane held it, puzzled. “One last thing: when the time comes, you can trust the man who speaks with the winds.”

Speaks with the winds...? The man talked in riddles. But before he could say anything, the mysterious old man turned and walked away. Beyond the alley, the flow of traffic returned to the city—the procession long passed. Zane called to him. “Wait! I don’t even know who you are! At the least, tell me your name...”

The man paused and looked over his shoulder. Backlit by the sun, Zane saw the wisp of a smile. “Ezrah,” he replied.

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