/* PCD change http to https for CSRF JUL 2017 */ The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Twenty-Seven | KidPub Press //
The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Twenty-Seven

The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Twenty-Seven

Posted April 14th, 2018 by maxi

by Max
in Erissa, Erilea, Westeros, The New York Institute, Roshar, Scadrial, New Chicago, Eye of the World, Metallica and Questeria

A/N: You might notice something different that I have changed about Althulor's name. There's an accent above the 'o'. While I had originally never intended to do this, I thought it was a good idea so that I could differentiate his species from the druids to that of the humans. The druids will most likely have accented names and some of them will be explored in further detail throughout the series. Mostly in the next book, which is also the finale of TDW. It's not a major change but it's just something that came into my mind a bit ago.

I'm currently sitting on 165,000 words, which I'm really impressed with! My hope is that I finish this book before chapter 50, but I'm going to see how that goes. For the next book, I might have shorter chapters to keep readers more interested. We'll see. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zarael treaded through the labyrinthine hallways of the kingdom. The ceiling stretched high above him, murals of ascending angels and gods watching him like guardians in the sky. His footsteps didn’t echo nor make any blustery noise but for the mere chinks in the silence that smothered him. Amid his stride, clusters of soldiers, servants, maids and the like made their way through the kingdom, following the orders of their God-King.

            Zarael hadn’t seen Althulôr in his true form since being appointed as the King’s own handyman. The person who would do all his dirty work—even if legends claimed Althulôr could exist in two different locations at once.

            The assassin highly doubted this. However, two years ago, he highly doubted any mythical creatures reigned in any of the Ten Realms. And yet, here he was, standing in the Tower of Nightmares, the complex in which lived too many creatures made flesh.

            He gazed forward, his sight purely affixed on the lengthy, wide windows beyond. Outside a dark storm was roiling, churning thunderheads forming up ahead. The sky, as black as midnight, stretched across the expanse of the land before morphing into the blue that reigned over the other domains beyond the Darklands.

            He sighed inwardly, a hand on the dagger at his side. The assassin donned leather-plated armour—the colour of a raven, a navy black—shoulder-pads that extended outward like some knight on the battlefield and tight pants that exemplified his strong leg muscles. After much skulking around empires, lowlife alleyways and deserts, the assassin had been made fit for whatever came his way.

            Beside him Paltuwae, the mistress who’d shown him to his rooms, walked hand-by-hand with Zarael.

            She’d been appointed to see to his needs since Althulôr had met with Zarael. The assassin of the Darklands Kingdom wasn’t quite sure why this was, neither was he aware of the specifics. But it came to be, nonetheless.

            Every day, the woman had trailed him around, coming with him to meetings, discussions on where his next post should be. The locations of such had, thankfully, not been told to anyone but those who were in the room. Perhaps Althulôr wanted to set an example that he always had eyes and ears on Zarael.

            He shook his head, a tight knot forming in his throat.

            “Where are we headed?” Paltuwae asked, the question hesitant on her tongue.

            We. Only that part of her speech irritated him, its sorrow echoing right down to his once-saccharine bones.

            “The library,” he said, his voice deep. “I need as much information on the Drowned Coast as I possibly can. I know next to nothing of it and Althulôr has set it as my next mission. He wants me to assassinate the son of some lord.”

            Before he could say anymore, Paltuwae blanched. Her face went pure white as if she’d seen into the spirit realm. A brief flash of sadness passed over her face before she slumped into her own form.

            “I’m deeply… deeply sorry, assassin,” the woman said, a tear falling down her cheek. “I—I cannot come with you to the library. Please excuse my manners.”

            And then, as if in a current of motion, Paltuwae fled from the hallway, her gown trailing behind her like rippling purple waves.

            Zarael paid her no attention as he himself escaped from the hallway, turning a corner and then another.

            If he didn’t find the library, it wouldn’t be too soon.

 

The first thing Rissa Kalak tended to each and every day were her notes.

            After slipping them out from beneath a wedge of thin wood in her drawers, she’d fled to the library and began investigating.

            She ran through thorough examinations of texts, volumes, scrolls and genealogical histories. She passed fingers over anything important, anything relevant to Braesim and its foundations. Its origins. When nothing came of great importance, she merely went back to her chambers and discussed it all with Hamos.

            Rissa had found little over the past week. Her eyes had become strained as she let them do the work for her, her mind in some other foreign realm. The notes she’d accumulated did not help her or Hamos in the slightest. She could’ve sworn that she even learned less and less every day.

            Now, she bent over a book and peered at the pages with a rather interested set of eyes. All of this hard work had better be for something or else the war would consume them all.

Master Balwin, upon examining his students’ abilities, had found that the majority of his class could view spirits individually. None could see the eventualities of the deaths, or how they’d come into presence with the life-realm. However, this information had been used in various other types of Braesim.

            Gods, none of this helped her. Or helped Hamos. Perhaps fate just had other plans for her other than studying the same form of magic for far too long.

            She pushed the book away from her, the mahogany table before her quaking as she slammed her knees upward. Anger boiled through her—anger at the gods, anger at their magic and anger at this stupid plan to reveal Althulôr’s powers.

            It might just doom them all, but at least it’d be worth it.

            She hoped.

            The only sounds that came from the library were voices, whispers of pages fluttering and being turned and Fervora, the librarian, shuffling around and tending to the shelves. Rissa was thankful for the partial silence. However, it did nothing to satisfy her thoughts’ needs. She needed information and—if she wasn’t going to get it before the War…

            Well, she just prayed the world was readying for the wrath of Althulôr.

            “Excuse me.”

            Although light, the voice scared the ten hells out of her. She jumped in her chair, gooseflesh rising like hackles, as she peered upward to find a friendly face. The man—around her age of twenty—had black eyes, even blacker armour and tight pants fitting well on his legs.

            “Sorry for startling you,” the man said, “but I don’t seem to see a librarian around. Could you help me find a book?”

            Fervora had most likely disappeared into the tumultuous stack of books around them, Rissa concluded.

            “I suppose so.” She began to lift herself from her seat before the man pointed at the book she’d been reading.

            “What are you reading?”

            “What is it to you?”

            He sighed, furrowing his brow. “It just seems…familiar, that’s all. I’ve seen these symbols around somewhere back in my homeland.”

            Indeed, illustrious depictions of spiralling symbols and whorls and swirls were on the page she’d finished reading. The man glanced at it as if he had been seeking the answer to some ancient question… And sought it out.

            “Sorry. Who are you?” she asked, raising a brow at him suspiciously. “I don’t think anyone has ever interrupted my leisure time before.” Lie. Not leisure time, but studying. By the gods, she should’ve already found something out by now. If it weren’t for this man’s poor interruption, she might’ve…

            “Zarael,” he answered, holding out a hand. There’d been no hesitation in his voice as he said it. No implication that he was afraid to be… Afraid to be known as…

            “You’re Althulôr’s new assassin. Why have you come here into a library? I don’t suppose you’re reading up on how to maim and kill your targets, are you?” she teased him. No fear, no hint of spite entered her bones. After all she’d seen in the Voidlands, she had no reason to be worried of a human that killed other humans.

            She’d seen beasts. Monsters. Alienated forms of nightmares.

            She could stare down the eyes of an assassin, undoubtedly.

            His mouth twisted to the side. “No. I’m— Uh, I’m doing some research for my next location. I’m not exactly sure where to go, that’s all.”

            “Seems we’re both particularly vague about why we’re here,” she replied. Her heart thundered in her chest as she looked at him.

            “I know why you’re here.” He gestured to the book placed in front of her. “At least, I can gather some of it from what you’re reading. That’s the components of Braesim, isn’t it? The major components of it, actually.”

            Fear. Pure, definite fear flooded through her. If he got a hold of the information she’d been studying… Would he reveal her plans to Althulôr? Would Althulôr then send her to the dungeons or just get rid of her, having no use of either her or Hamos as his guards, his personal Cohorts?

            No. He wouldn’t steep too low. If only because the coming war would let him do that. Let him choose a side for the Cohorts.

            Her breath rattled through her bones, her breath, her heart.

            “I’ve… I’ve been instructed to look on the mechanisms of it. To see if it—if it can help the God-King in any way possible. Surely he can’t know… know all of the ways it can be used by now,” she blabbered, the words useless and vile. Like poison.

            A sly smile tugged Zarael’s lips upward as he took a seat in the chair adjacent to where she was seated. “Do not fear. I know how enemies work. You’re clearly against the ways of the king if you’ve stooped so low to do what he wishes you to do. You’re wearing a façade. A mask. Some may see it, some may not… But I’ve glimpsed into lives before. I’ve seen how dark terrors tarnish their souls and whatever remnant of humanity they have left inside them. But do not fear. My work for the king is not as simple as it seems.”

            “He— He wants you to kill for him,” she elaborated his words further. “Kill men and women. Whether they’re good or evil or somewhere in between, they wear a semblance of that humanity, don’t they? Why are you killing them? Why do the dirty work for him?”

            “I’m not.”

            Quiet fell, as heavy as an axe would thud into the ground.

            Their voices became mere whispers as she hissed, “What?”

            “I’m not killing anyone,” he confessed. And, as he looked at her, it seemed that a heavy burden had been raised from his shoulders. Like he’d been keeping this secret dwelling deep inside him for the past week…and could finally release it, a breath on the summery winds. “I have never killed anyone. I—I may go to where they live, yes. But that’s to warn them of the threat the king has imposed on them. And let them escape.”

            Her eyes widened, her arms slackened by her sides, and her heart beat as slow as could be. Death—she felt like Death. “How… How could you do such a thing? These people could be criminals… Criminals.

            “But they’re enemies of the king. Enemies of someone who has tormented people for longer than anyone else has been alive. And, if they’re enemies to him, to the God-King… Then those who must be evicted are friends to us. And so I shall not kill them. I will not kill our friends, no matter what he tells me to do,” he continued, the confession flooding from his mouth now. Nothing but the truth.

            “You despise Althulôr,” she crooned, the name bitter on her lips. “And yet you work for his sorry arse. Why?”

            He seemed inclined to grunt, but instead leaned forward—arms braced on the table—as he said, “Because I’m trying to get somewhere. Be someone. I guess this is my first place to start.”

            Rissa scoffed nonchalantly. “I beg your pardon, but I don’t see how working for a malicious Druid-King is going to help anyone become something. He’ll eliminate you in the end.”

            A breeze drifted through the library, setting several pages of her book to flutter with it. She quirked an eyebrow, the movement full of questions best left unanswered. The librarian paced through the library uncontrollably, carrying hefty stacks of books piling atop one another. Tomes and volumes and bounds worth of information.

            Zarael only shrugged. “We have time—time until the War. Maybe it’ll give us a chance to regather our forces, whatever we have, and cooperate.”

            “I suppose… However, armadas, armies and the like are all focused on one thing nowadays: heated arguments. They need an outlet and so they express it by use of battle. We’ll have so many small battles that there’ll be no use of the War.”

            He peered over the table, glancing at the book set before her. “The War is only meant for the wrath of the gods and Althulôr. I think it’s best we choose a side—and see what happens from there.”

            In response, she hummed a near-silent refusal. “People have other plans than going head-first into the midst of battle, though. Politicians work their way through the tunnels of issues, both severe and fragmented, while we bask in more… relevant circumstances. At least those prominent to war.”

            A blazing hot flame danced in Zarael’s eyes. Hot and gleaming and dangerous—but not untamed. “I’m an assassin, sent to kill those my master despises or thinks as a threat against his own men. Or himself. I go by the law, but if I have to break it in order to make right by my own people, then so be it.”

            On his face, she could see that expression. A flower blooming, spreading hope and life-long peace. However, there were shadows lurking deep within. Something that was without form, without life. She’d been Cohorts with Hamos too long to not stop thinking about the possibilities of emotions that could be swarming. Swimming, like a tirade of flaws.

            Battle—she’d been in it, of course, but not enough to have scars so deep that no knife could cleave them. Rid them from existence. A sword gripped in her hands was formidable, but she’d done so much more with her head. Calculations and assessing in the council room. Manipulating a foreign enemy. Perhaps it could help her with confronting the druids and exposing whatever it was they were made of. Whatever they ran off. Some source—some deeper zenith of creation.

            She would find out, but first…She had to figure out Zarael’s motives—before the Druid-King did. Before Althulôr assassinated the assassin.

            “I have no qualms with associating myself with one who kills,” she answered. “Soon enough the world will be full of them. Killers one, killers all.”

            “How come?” he asked, furrowing his brow.

            She merely shook her head, a mirthless smile on her face. “War is full of blood. Blood, dead men and victory.”

            “War is not just played on the battlefield,” he chuckled. “You’re at war every day. With your heart, you are battling feelings. Your eyesight is battling whatever you refuse to witness. Your soul is battling your agenda, your rights and wrongs. There is a war inside of you—and you need an outlet.”

            She’d heard of the brutal clans up in the northeast of the Darklands. The ever-ancient peoples of the Dorghas. They rode on neither horseback or bird or mythical creature—but feet. They ran into battle, their chins held high and hearts even higher. Wielding spears of fashionable design, the Dorghas knew nothing but the power of companionship, family and weaponry. They married none, wed none and bore no children. They knew their clan was slowly dying because of this mechanism. They knew—and yet their swollen hearts became undefeatable in battle.

            Rissa wished she had that momentum, that power in battle—and in seeing Hamos walk up from behind Zarael, eyes locked on the assassin sitting in front of Rissa.

            As if Zarael could immediately sense the pair of feet striding up to the wooden table, he shuffled over and brought a chair from another table nearby.

            With a questionable look on his face, Hamos took the seat and sat down, perching his hands on top of his firm belly. Rissa gazed at her Cohort unblinkingly, caught in a trance between the two men as they stared off each other—before being dismissed entirely by Rissa.

            “Hamos Firesworn, this is Zarael Lightseer, former Assassin in White of the Raede Spez,” Rissa introduced the man. “I trust you will be respectful and guiding in more ways than one. He is new to this land of diplomacy and government, having been in a tough situation what with being dethroned from his position as High Assassin.”

            “Were you confused with the ends of the blade?” Hamos joked, assessing the man with a keen eye.

            A muscle flickered in Zarael’s bulging arm. The assassin replied with a tight smile, “I no longer see myself in a position where I have to work for someone who thinks of Decay as an abomination. It can be used benevolently.”

            “You possess the magic of Decay,” Rissa breathed. “One of the darkest mystic elements of Questeria.”

            “I do. But I don’t see the malice in it. Unless, of course, they plan to use it for such purposes.” He was tensing—as much as Rissa could see, anyway. She gulped at the sight, worried Hamos would pounce at any whisper of dark magic.

            Only then would she lose every potential she got to getting closer to investigating Althulôr—finding out his powers, how he could warp reality…and the precise functions of his magic.

            Hamos rose a brow, his eyes fiery in the semidarkness of the library. Lights hung loose within sconces, sending fluttering shadows down halls and aisles of books upon books. Within, Rissa could feel her own heart thundering like a drumbeat.

            “What do you use Decay for?” the man grumbled, more than a statement than a question. “You kill meaninglessly for the reputation of other… other leaders to rise. But how do you work for yourself? How do you survive?”

            There was a heavy silence, then. It hung above them like a blade pointed to their heads. Rissa glanced at Zarael—then back to her Cohort. If there was too much tension between the assassin and Hamos… She didn’t particularly want to see how that would result.

            “There’s… There’s more than just the act of killing in an assassination,” replied Zarael, a dagger-like smile perched on his lips. “I wouldn’t allow anyone to understand the specifics of it. But, essentially, an assassin takes something away from themselves as they take a life. You give something up as you give a client’s mark into the warm embrace of Death. However cold-hearted they may be, Death always gives them the red-hot satisfaction of slipping beneath the surface. Of ceasing to be.”

            Heartless cowards are nothing more than men letting kings of horror reign, Rissa’s father used to say before he’d turned on the wrong side of this war. Before he’d subdued to the lowest of the low—to below the surface of killers.

            Perhaps heartless cowards had a heart…but it just needed the right person to let it glow. Shine like a newborn star.

            “I don’t do much in the way of killing,” the assassin continued, “so much as finishing off what the mark’s deadly reputation began. They started off their own assassination. If you’ve committed a sin, a sin must be committed in your own eyes. In your heart. Perhaps that’s how I kill so easily.”

            “Because it’s right?” Hamos grumbled, a frown of disapproval on his lips.

            “No. It’s just. It’s the balance between right and wrong. It’s the in-between of morality. Assassinations are what you have left when the world is in chaos or in order. You can’t have either. You can have both, though, and neither.”

            In the lurking silence beyond, Rissa’s eyes perused the spines of the stacks of books around her. Then to the book before her. Then up into Zarael’s mysteriously glittering eyes—like pinpricks of golden light. She cowered away instantly, her gaze locking upon a book on a nearby shelf.

            She could only just make out the title of the tome. And yet, she inclined her head to the object in a swift movement. At the gesture, Hamos stood up and eased away from the table, returning with the book in hand.

            Now that she could see it more clearly, Rissa examined the tome with wide eyes. The leather-bound book was torn with scraps of pages, stained with brown liquid and had a gingery, coppery smell. Aside from that, the leather was worn and close to falling apart at the seams. However, there was something grand about its ambience—something mystic and abrasive.

            The Time before Dawn.

            The two men crowded around her, trying their unfailing best to peek a look at the tome.

            Rissa gazed left and right. She searched the library—but could find no remainders of the librarian mumbling to herself and shoving books back into their original positions.

            “What is it?” her Cohort asked, his Horn rubbing against her knee. He glanced into her eyes, questions running ablaze.

            “I’m not sure, I… It just called to me. Not a voice, but a feeling,” she responded. Her heart trilled as she set her eyes upon the book once more.

            The Time before Dawn. Ominous, yet familiar. Almost as if the nagging hand of a god was pushing her, pushing her to look into the depths of the volume, she turned to a random page in the mountainous book.

            For an ancient-seeming book, Rissa had expected the language to be otherworldly and of some odd origins. She expected no one to have understood where it came from. But, alas, the scripture was of southern Questeria—belonging to the Darklands and the land of the Dead, Maortyem.

            What was more confronting were the images depicted in the book.

            A shudder ran down her spine, echoing its way down to her bones, her breath.

            She couldn’t find it in herself to breathe until she looked away from the illustrations, some distorted painters’ rendition of chaos and madness and disorder.

            Shadows intertwined in Zarael’s eyes as his line of sight met with the illustrations, all ghastly and horrid and wraithlike. Hamos himself, shaking, quivering hand held in Rissa’s own, had his mouth agape as the images unfurled like the wings of a great beast.

            Creatures. Creatures of worlds old and new—savage and delightful and deadly.

            Under the command of a great one-eyed darkness, they ruled. The beasts reached out to the burning sun with clawed hands, razor-sharp like obsidian blades wielded by the Ancients. Or perhaps these were the Ancients.

            And perhaps the great darkness was their monarch.

            As if he knew what he was seeing, as if the sight of it brought back memories, Zarael stumbled backwards, near-tumbling out of his chair. He breathed, “Where—what… How is this in here?”

            “I think there’s a question that needs to be answered before anything else, assassin,” Hamos spat back, the words flying with rage. He stood from his seat and grabbed the man by the collar, breathing heavily into his face. Spittle lingered on her Cohort’s bottom lip but he seemed to pay it no heed whatsoever.

            “And what would that be?” the former Assassin of Light rasped.

            “How do you know what this is? Your question implies it—and your reaction… Your reaction—it was as if you’ve seen this before. So don’t tell me you know nothing when you clearly do.” She contemplated taking another step towards him, but then fought against posing a threat to him.

            Zarael whispered, as if to keep the librarian from getting word of the news, “I know… I know it. But I cannot tell you. I cannot take that risk, as much as I’d like to. If only to ensure your realm’s safety, but… No, I can’t. It’d cause too much trouble.”

            “Trouble?” Hamos laughed, a crow’s cackle. “Have you seen our world? Chaos and war is in every living, breathing region of the planet. Crops are dying, people are ceasing to be. And the art of nature, of humanity, of life is being cast away—into nothing. The War will be tough and brutal and taught by soldiers who haven’t a clue about gods or the supernatural. And yet we are here to defend ourselves. We already have trouble, Zarael! You just can’t see it.”

            “Both of you sit down,” Rissa commanded.

            Under utter command of the woman—like that looming darkness in the picture—Hamos sat down, his eyes two fireballs of fury and ferocity. In response to his movement, the assassin scoffed and took his seat, albeit grumbling beneath his breath.

            “We need to work out what’s going on,” she said, her tone explicitly obvious, “without naming one another childish names.”

            “I’ll try,” joked Hamos.

            But her smirk, her joking manner had faded like the freshness of leaves in autumn as soon as she’d seen those images in the book.

            “What is this?” she said, gripping the sides of her head. An ache had formed some time ago, but she wouldn’t let this issue drop until she’d gained more knowledge.

            Knowledge—or anything to gain leverage into Althulôr’s grand plans.

            “It’s a book on the old magics, I think,” Zarael murmured. His eyes flickered over the book, his brow shadowed and drawn as if in silent contemplation over what he saw. He shuffled closer still, glancing at the illustrations in the Time before Dawn.

            A familiar sensation urging right into Rissa’s bones, her mind a blur of thoughts and mirages and past memories clinging to her Essence. Curiosity peaked, she drew closer, passing a finger over the stained pages and peering at the ancient knowledge written in a language understandable to her. To the two men beside her. But not for the life of her, certainly not for the staggering amount of knowledge in the world, could she interpret what any of it meant. The cryptic messages, the overwhelming and insurmountable mass of ancestry looming back into the Old Age.

            “I know that,” she spat, the words like ashes on her tongue. “I just can’t get anything out of it, Zarael. What both of us—me and my Cohort—are trying to do is find information on…”

            No. Not now. She could not, would not, reveal any of that information. Not unless she wanted to be skewered on the gate fences in the glittering morning light. Not unless she also wanted Hamos Firesworn on the run from the Darklands Empire. It would indeed be a pity if she had crawled through blood and tears and sweat to land up in a state of purgatory—where she’d be tortured endlessly for her sins.

            The former assassin quirked an eyebrow. A look so dark and yet mesmerising written over his face like spatters of ink. The gesture prompted a response—but Rissa had nothing to give him as of yet. Oh he knew of her plans to rid war from the world. As for the way for her to do this… There was no assessment, no calculations riddling his face. Only mere thought and a complex of images behind those eyes.

            She glanced to Hamos, then focused on the both of them. Shaking her head, saying, “It doesn’t matter. Not right now and especially not in a library. I’m going to have to find some more books on… On it.” She said the last words carefully, diverting her gaze to Hamos before standing up and making for the exit, book in tow.

            “Wait,” Hamos started.

            She turned, facing her Cohort. His face was crestfallen, shadowed eyes darkening even more so as they both passed a glance at a confused Zarael. The latter stood from the table, his movements restricted as if hearing the knowledge in the book had shook him to his primeval core.

            “Well…?” replied Rissa, twisting an unruly thread of auburn hair between her freckled fingers.

            “I’ll escort you to your room,” he sighed. Turned to Zarael in a sudden movement and said, “Assassin. According to the God-King, you are pleased to go wherever you wish. Make use of that permission.”

            Zarael’s attire made shadow-swift motions and near-silent sounds as he stalked away from the library, the shadows of ivies passing over his form. Grotesque, deadly, full of fury—he was a warrior and assassin alike, akin to some great beast lurking beyond these lands.

            Rissa made a mental note to keep her own eye on Zarael. She had no doubt that the ire writhing off him was suspicious enough as to keep several guards on permanent watch outside the assassin’s chambers, but still… Worry crept through her gut, churning and alive as a clockwork machine. Eddying her innards. Skin turning pale.

            She pushed away from the horrors she’d conjured in her mind, though. Casting any terrors aside, Rissa followed Hamos out and into the grand hallways of the Darklands Kingdom.

            Tapestries hung on the walls, representing great battles—both naval and field—as well as some of the deadliest sieges on sea and land. Noblemen, aristocrats and servants alike hurried about the hallways, keen to attend to their daily routines.

            The lavish red rug they stepped upon seemed to be exported from either the Stormlands or the Dreamlands some aeons ago, given the antediluvian style of the empire. The golden tassels at each corner of the rug sparkled like a chandelier of jewels as the torchlight brazened their colour, their appearance and form.

            Rissa pondered on what Hamos had to say. In comparison to her somewhat political mind, as well as her ability to easily fit through small spaces, Hamos was a tall brute of a man like the knights of old in tales and fables—like the war-god, Vaanaras.

            Although Rissa doubted Vaanaras muttered frequently offensive curses to assassins once they left the Grand Library of the Darklands Empire.

            “Gods be damned, that man gets on my nerves!” he cursed, face stone-cold and dark as the eve of a new turn. “If there’s any shred of loyalty left in such a rat, he best show it before I skin him alive.”

            The girl only rolled her eyes. “He’s going to be helpful to us, I can see it now. The deadliest assassin of the north opposing the Druid-King of the Oldest Realms.”

            “A human man incapable of keeping his faith intact is hardly able to strike down a creature of shadow that has been alive longer than the universe has been stable.”

            Once he’d turned into himself, like an angry beast incarnate, Hamos’s stride became more resigned and controlled. Yet there was ferocity and lingering madness in his eyes. Something vengeful and relentless.

            As they turned a corner, the firelight playing upon their dissimilar figures, Rissa kept her gaze on her Cohort, her lover. The reason she was still in the kingdom. For too long they had been stuck in the same place—and revealing themselves wouldn’t be as easy as they both thought it to be. But Hamos was right. If Zarael couldn’t face Althulôr, who would?

            A battle that Fate would call the vilest invasion of all. A war that would ravage the world, plunging many others into doom.

            “I’ve got more to back up our plan. More to reveal Althulôr’s intentions,” she grumbled. A light. It was like flame shuddering through her, like icy fire burning her alive. “But you’re not going to like it.”

            “Oh?”

            Rissa smirked, her eyes revealing nothing but trouble. “Let’s visit your kin.”


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