Authors: Claire Legrand
“They call him the Wolf. He’s the Prophet’s favorite, our informants tell us. They say he cannot be captured, but rest assured, my lord: we will find this Wolf, carve every secret from his body, and leave him to bleed dry.”
—Report written by Lord Arkelion of Ventera to His Holy Majesty, the Emperor of the Undying
June 21, Year 1018 of the Third Age
The Wolf bound
her hands to the stair banister and ordered her to sit on the bottom step. Then, to her surprise, he took off his own mask and lowered his hood.
Eliana’s madam acquaintance had greatly exaggerated.
His scars were silvered streaks across his forehead, nose, and cheeks. There were patches of marred skin, worn from fire or wind, but the face itself, framed by tousled ash-blond hair, was stern,
But the madam had been right about his eyes: winter blue and diamond cold.
“See something you like?” Eliana glanced up at him through her lashes. Shifted her body toward him, arched her back just enough to make a point.
The Wolf knelt before her. “You’re good.”
Grinning, she looked him up and down—lean and tall, slim-fitting trousers and vest and cuffed sleeves,
weapon holsters on a sash around his torso and a low-slung belt around his hips. “So are you, Wolf. It’s a shame I’ll have to kill you. Were our circumstances different, I’d ask to see your sword.”
“A bitter disappointment, to be sure.” Now he was the one to let his gaze roam over her. “You’re much more fun than I had imagined.”
“Fun?” She laughed low in her throat. “You’ve no idea just
how fun I can be.” She leaned back as best she could with her hands bound, feigning boredom. “So. You exist after all. The mighty Wolf. Fearsome Red Crown captain, unstoppable soldier. Right hand of the Prophet himself. More like a dog than a wolf if you ask me. You rebels are all the same.”
“Are we, now?” His easy smile chilled her.
“Tell me,” she pushed on, “when you report back to the
Prophet, do you crawl on your belly to him? Kiss his boots? Does he whip you for not having managed to overthrow the Emperor yet? You’d better get on with things, you know. More rebels are dying every day.” Smiling, she leaned closer, willing her pounding heart quiet. “I make sure of it.”
He shifted closer to meet her. Even kneeling, he was tall. “If you’re trying to make me angry,” he murmured,
their mouths mere inches apart, “I’m afraid it won’t work.”
With every moment he crouched there staring at her, his eyes wandering over each plane and curve of her body, Eliana felt closer to outright terror. There was a stillness about him—a sense of something horrible lying in wait, tightly coiled—that pressed against her skin like the memory of a bad dream.
For a moment, she lost her
“What do you want?” she asked.
His smile spread slowly. “Why, Madam Dread, I want you.”
The strange tenderness in his voice sent ice up her spine. “Where is my mother?”
“I haven’t the faintest.”
She scoffed, rolled her eyes. “I didn’t realize Red Crown was in the habit of snatching defenseless women from their beds. Aren’t you people supposed to be heroes? Fighting our
oppressors, saving the world from tyranny?”
“Red Crown is not responsible for those abductions.”
“Then who is?”
“A good question. I have my guesses.”
It was pointless to accuse him further. She had long ago ruled out Red Crown’s involvement in the disappearances.
But she could not stop imagining her mother held captive somewhere, alone and afraid, wondering when her daughter
would come for her.
Eliana’s eyes grew hot. Her fingers itched for her daggers. “Either kill me,” she said cheerfully, “or untie me so I can cut out your lying tongue.”
“I’ve no interest in doing either of those things.” A smile pulled at his mouth. “I have a proposal for you, but I’d rather not talk about it here, in case whoever took your mother decides to return. What say we take our
secrets elsewhere, little Dread?”
Little? The moment she had the chance, she would knock him on his ass.
“Are you mad?” she snapped.
“Many have wondered.” He curled two fingers under her chin, made her look at him. His touch jolted her; she forced herself to lean into his hand.
“I hunt people like you,” she told him with a slight, hard smirk.
“Yes, and you do a fine job of
it.” All humor in his voice died. “Tell me, Madam Dread: If I pledge that I will help you find your mother, in exchange for your assistance, will you join me?”
Eliana tried to read him and could find nothing to go on. Join him? A ludicrous thought. She could not possibly trust him.
And yet, if she refused him, if he fled the city and she went to Lord Arkelion empty-handed, what then?
She longed to shut her eyes and have a moment alone to think.
Mother, I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry. I’m coming as soon as I can. I’ll find you. I swear it.
“I leave this city tomorrow,” the Wolf continued, “and you might just get the shit kicked out of you for letting me slip through your fingers. So you can join me or not, but either way, you won’t catch me.” A small smile. “You want to
find your mother, yes? Wouldn’t it be smarter to do it with help?”
Her thoughts scrambled and raced. “Goodness me, what a night. The famous Wolf, needing help from a girl—”
“My mission begins tomorrow evening. Do we have a bargain or not?”
“Tomorrow is His Lordship’s naming day. There’s a fete at the palace.”
“What a happy coincidence.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Only tomorrow
“No. Our mission will be longer.”
“How much longer?”
“I cannot say.”
“Or you will not.”
“Those are my terms. Do you accept?”
Her wound-up nerves felt ready to detonate. She managed a disinterested sort of sneer. “Why me?”
“You know the palace. You’ll make it easier to get inside.”
“And after that? Why bring me with you?”
“Because I need to move fast,
and I need another killer on my side. Someone as good as I am.”
“She says, bound on the floor.”
“You pulled a gun on me. I would have beaten you, otherwise.”
“Must be quite an important mission,” she continued mockingly, “and yet you would risk trusting me.”
“I’m gambling that you won’t risk losing your mother,” he replied.
The Wolf had her there.
And judging by the look on his face, he knew it.
“And if I don’t accept this bargain?”
“Then I will leave and never see you again, and you’ll go on about your life here, if you can call it that. Unless they kill you for failing to capture me.”
Eliana stayed silent to see what he would do.
After a moment, he untied her wrists, discarded the bindings, and stood. “Well?”
how long it would take to kick him, send him staggering, grab his revolver, and shoot. She’d never used a gun—they were rare, expensive, and she never let herself spend the money on them—but pulling a trigger seemed simple enough.
Five seconds. Perhaps six.
She could do it. She rose.
And then she saw Harkan.
He was coming in from the kitchen, his body dipped in shadow, his favorite
dagger in hand. Behind him, Remy watched tensely from the kitchen.
Harkan’s gaze found hers, held firm.
I’ve got you.
“I’ll help you,” she told the Wolf slowly, “but only if I can take my brother with me.”
Remy’s eyes widened.
“The little baker’s boy?” The Wolf frowned. “You can’t be serious.”
Eliana kept her face blank. Just how much did he know about her? “I assume we’re
stealing something from the palace, then delivering it somewhere. Some piece of intelligence? Wherever we’re taking it afterward, Remy will come. You’ll get him safe passage to Astavar and do nothing to harm him. Or we’ve no deal.”
He glared at her. “That wasn’t my offer.”
“Yes or no, Wolf.”
He tilted his head. His eyes caught the moonlight and made him look like something from one
of Remy’s more fanciful tales—a night creature, made of secrets and sharp edges. An Empire monster for the Sun Queen to slay. “Only those who are frightened of me call me that. And you aren’t frightened of me. Are you?”
Harkan approached through the shadows—one step, two steps.
“Not even a little bit,” she lied. “So what shall I call you instead?”
He inclined his head. “You can call
And one more thing: my friend, Harkan, will come with us as well.”
Behind Simon, Harkan raised his dagger to strike.
Eliana flexed her fingers.
Simon’s mouth thinned, the only warning. A turn, a shove, and then Harkan was flat on his back on the floor, Simon’s boot pressing into his throat, his weapon in Simon’s hand.
“Him?” Simon pointed at Harkan
with the dagger. The look he threw Eliana was one of profound disgust. “Your lover?”
Eliana shot Simon a rakish smile. “Jealous already? Let him go.”
“El,” rasped Harkan, struggling to breathe, “we can’t trust him.”
“No,” she agreed. “But he can’t trust us either.” She held out her hand for Tuora. “Release him, or no deal.”
Simon paused, then returned Tuora to her and stepped away.
Eliana slipped the dagger into the holster at her belt, knelt at Harkan’s side, and helped him sit up. “Tell me more about this mission of yours, Wolf.”
“Information only as you need to know it, little Dread,” Simon said. “Until then, do as I tell you, and I’ll help you find your mother. You have my word.”
“The word of a rebel doesn’t count for much.”
“And what about the word of
a fellow killer?” He took off his glove and held out his hand. “Have we a bargain?”
Eliana hesitated. If she accepted his offer, her life here would be forfeit. Lord Arkelion did not deal with defectors lightly, and Rahzavel would not allow her to disappear into the night. By doing this she would be endangering not only herself, but Remy and Harkan as well.
But if anyone could help her
find her mother, and get all of them to Astavar and to safety, it would be the Wolf, with all of Red Crown—the very people she had spent so long hunting—at his disposal.
If she played this right, she could keep Harkan and Remy out of the Empire’s grasp for a few more years. She could elude Invictus, stay with her loved ones, find her mother, and keep them all safe.
She searched Simon’s
eyes for lies and found only cold steel.
“Eliana, don’t agree to this,” Harkan rasped, glaring up at Simon. “We’ll find Rozen another way.”
But there was no other way. Eliana stood and clasped Simon’s hand.
“We have a bargain,” she said and tried to ignore the way her skin shivered at Simon’s touch—like the sensation of being watched from the shadows or the simmering charge of a storm
she could not outrun.
“The seven saints combined their powers and opened a doorway into the Deep with wind and water, with metal and fire, with shadow and earth. And when Saint Katell, last of all, let fly her blazing, sunlit sword, the angels fell screaming into eternal darkness.”
The Book of the Saints
The Hall of Saints was the largest, most sacred room in Baingarde.
pillars supported soaring vaulted ceilings ribboned with elaborate carvings of suns and moons, trees and flames. The ceilings themselves boasted a map of the world of Avitas: Celdaria and the other four nations of the sprawling eastern continent. North of Celdaria lay the Sunderlands and the Gate. And across the Great Ocean were the western kingdoms of Ventera, Astavar, and Meridian.
tall, white marble dais at the front of the room sat the High Court’s bench; grand, high-backed chairs for the king and queen; an ornate, wide-seated chair for the Archon, the head of the Church; and a multilevel gallery large enough to seat the members of every temple and royal council.
Above the dais towered Saint Katell, the patron saint of Celdaria and all sunspinners in the world. Her
right arm held up her sword—her casting—which was now hidden somewhere in Celdaria.
Katell’s other hand clutched a fistful of ragged stone feathers. Angels, miniature and pathetic, their faces contorted in agony, crawled up the legs of her white mare, pleading to no avail.
Around her head shone a halo of light, plated in gold, kept burnished and flawless.
Saint Katell the Magnificent—a
sunspinner and, after the Angelic Wars, a queen. The unifier of Celdaria. Loved by an angel but strong enough to resist the temptation of the enemy.
And, in the thousand years since, the children of her line had sat on the throne.
The other six saints lined the vast hall, three on each side. Gigantic and solemn, stone and bronze, they each carried their own casting and were framed by an
element: Saint Nerida, waterworker and the patron saint of Meridian, brandishing her trident as waves crested at her back, her kraken coiled at her bare feet. Saint Grimvald, metalmaster and the patron saint of Borsvall, striking his way on dragonback through a storm of iron shards, his hammer in hand.
And Saint Katell, riding her shining white mare.
Twenty armored guards stood at the
foot of the dais, facing Rielle. They were her father’s men and women, people she knew by name. She felt their eyes on her—concerned, curious. Afraid.
They are right to be afraid
, came the voice, without warning.
Rielle stiffened. In this environment, it was impossible to hear the voice without remembering the truth: mind-speaking was something the angels once did.
skin crawled at the thought. So many people were staring at her that she could hardly remain still. Her father stood surrounded by a contingent of armed guards. Queen Genoveve, King Bastien, Ludivine. The Archon, serene in his robes. The councils—with the obvious, alarming exception of Tal.
He sat beside his parents, on the edge of his seat as if prepared to launch himself
off the dais in case of disaster. When Rielle’s eyes met his, he sent her a small smile, thin with worry.
Rielle relaxed slightly.
Audric is here
, she told herself.
He won’t let them hurt me.
She found the king, above. The expression on his face made him look more troubled than she had ever seen him. King Bastien was a man of good humor. Rielle had grown up to the sound of his laughter
booming through the halls of Baingarde, had screamed gleefully while he chased her, Audric, and Ludivine through their childhood playroom in countless games of go-find-the-mouse.
There was no trace of that man today.
Rielle resisted the urge to wipe away the sweat gathering at her hairline. She curtsied low, her skirts pooling on the spotless floor. “Your Majesty.”
“Lady Rielle Dardenne,”
King Bastien began, “you have been brought here today to answer inquiries about the incident that occurred during the Boon Chase two days past. I will ask you a series of questions, and you will answer them truthfully in the eyes of the saints.”
“I understand, my king.” The massive room swallowed Rielle’s voice.
King Bastien nodded, paused. The gray threading through his black beard and
the laugh lines across his brown face made him look older than Rielle had ever thought him before.
Then his gaze hardened. Rielle resisted the urge to take a step back from the new, dangerous charge in the air.
“How long,” he asked, his voice cool and matter-of-fact, “have you known yourself to possess elemental magic?”
Somehow, Rielle had thought this would begin with something less
direct. A question or two, or five, that would give her time to find her voice.
But at least, perhaps, they thought she was only an elemental and not…whatever she truly was. Maybe her punishment, then—and Tal’s and her father’s—would not be as severe as she had feared.
The prophecy’s words ran through her mind:
They will carry the power of the Seven.
“Since I was five years old,” she
“And how did you come to this conclusion?”
He asked it so casually, as though they did not already know the answer.
A chair creaked as someone shifted their weight. Rielle glanced over and found Tal’s sister, Sloane Belounnon, with the rest of the Magisterial Council surrounding the Archon. She sat rigid in her seat, her dark, chin-length hair looking unusually severe against
her wan skin. She looked as though she had not slept.
How must Sloane feel, to know that her brother had kept such a secret from her?
“When…when I was five,” Rielle continued, “I set fire to our home.”
“I was angry. My mother and I had had an argument.”
It sounded ridiculous, horribly small. “I didn’t want to go to sleep. I wanted to sit up with Father
“So,” the king said calmly, “you set your house on fire.”
“It was an accident. I was angry, and the anger built up until I could no longer contain it. I ran outside because the feeling frightened me. It felt like something inside me was burning. And then…when I turned around,” she said, the memory clawing at her, “I saw fire consuming our house. One moment it had not been there,
and the next, it was.”
“And you had caused this.”
“How did you know?”
How did you see your own hand moving and know it was attached to your arm and your shoulder and your blood and your bones? Like that.
“I knew because it looked and sounded and felt like me,” she explained. “It felt the same as my anger had felt. The same scent, the same flavor. I felt connected to
it.” She hesitated. “Grand Magister Belounnon has since helped me understand that what I sensed in that moment was the empirium. The connection between myself and the fire was the power that connects all things, and I had accessed it.”
Rielle dared to look at the Archon, sitting beside the Magisterial Council. He stared back at her, his small bright eyes unblinking. The torchlight made his
pale skin and smooth head gleam.
“And was your mother able to escape?” the king continued.
Rielle’s throat tightened, and for a moment she could not speak. “No. She was trapped inside. Father ran in to get her and brought her out. She was alive, but then…”
Say it, child.
The voice returned, compassionate.
Tell them. They cannot hurt you.
With the stone saints staring down at her,
their unfeeling eyes cold and grave, the strange voice should not have been a comfort. But hearing it nevertheless settled her churning stomach.
“I was afraid,” she continued, “when I saw my mother. I had never seen burns before. She was screaming, and I yelled at her to stop, but she wouldn’t, and then…all I could think was how I needed her to stop screaming.” She hurried through the story,
as if trying to outrace the memory of those climbing flames. “Then she stopped. Father laid her on the ground, begged her to wake up. But she was dead.”
The room shifted, murmuring.
“And you have hidden this murder from us for thirteen years,” King Bastien declared.
“It was not a murder,” Rielle said, wishing desperately to sit. Her body still felt bruised from the fight in the mountains.
“I did not mean to kill my mother. I was a child, and it was an accident.”
“We are concerned with facts here, not intentions. The facts of the matter are that you killed Marise Dardenne, and you have—with the help of your father and Grand Magister Belounnon—lied about it for thirteen years.”
“If someone had asked me if I had killed my mother, and I had denied it,” Rielle replied, looking
straight up at the king, “then that would be a lie, Your Majesty. Keeping a secret is not lying.”
“Lady Rielle, I am not interested in semantics. You concealed the damage you were capable of doing while you ate at my table, while you were schooled with my son and niece, and thereby placed them and all those around you in danger. Some might consider such a deception treasonous.”
Rielle kept her eyes on King Bastien and her hands flat against her thighs. If he had meant to frighten her, he had succeeded.
“And on the day of the race,” said the king, “not only did you start a fire when you attacked those men—”
Anger bloomed inside her. If she was to be found guilty of treason, then she might as well earn her punishment. “When I saved Prince Audric’s life, you mean.”
A louder murmuring rose from the gallery, but King Bastien simply inclined his head. Rielle knew it was the only thanks she might receive, but it was enough to give her a bit of courage.
“When you attacked those men,” the king continued, “you not only started a fire. You ripped open the earth. You carved sheets of rock from the mountains. One of the surviving racers has described you gathering
sunlight from the air using only your hands. Another claims you threw the assassins from their horses by no visible means she could detect. Even though the assassins themselves were elementals, you easily overpowered them.” The king looked up from his notes. “Does that align with your own recollection?”
Then they did know what she had done, that she was no mere elemental. Her jaw ached from
clenching it. “It does, Your Majesty.”
“So then, you are not only a firebrand but an earthshaker, a sunspinner, and also, perhaps, other things. I think you will understand our alarm as we contemplate what this means. No human who has ever lived has been able to control more than one element. Not even the saints.”
A tiny spark of pride lit inside Rielle.
“Lady Rielle,” he went on,
“if you had been near a body of water during this race, would you have caused it to flood?”
“It is impossible to say if I would have or not, Your Majesty.”
“Could you have, then?”
A flood. Years of lessons with Tal had shown her only hints of such power, and though she’d never been as strong with water as she’d been with fire—
You know you could do it
, the voice murmured.
flood the world. That kind of power hums beneath your skin. Doesn’t it?
A cautious delight unfurled within her.
Who are you?
she asked the voice.
It did not answer.
She lifted her chin. “Yes, I believe I could have.”
A new voice spoke up: “Did you like it?”
It was such a perfectly astute, perfectly terrible question that Rielle did not immediately answer. She found the speaker—severely
handsome, fair-haired, an elegant jawline. Lord Dervin Sauvillier. The queen’s brother and Ludivine’s father.
Beside him, Ludivine sat poised and clear-eyed in her gown of luminous rose, lace spilling out her sleeves.
“Lord Sauvillier,” said the king sternly, “while I appreciate your interest in these events, I have not given you leave to speak.”
Queen Genoveve—auburn-haired, pale
as her niece Ludivine—touched her husband’s arm. “However, it is a reasonable question if we are to determine how best to proceed.”
Rielle looked to the queen and was rewarded with a small smile that reminded Rielle of Ludivine—a Ludivine who had grown up not alongside Audric in the airy, sunlit rooms of Baingarde, but rather in the cold mountain halls of Belbrion, the seat of House Sauvillier.
Queen Genoveve’s gaze slid over Rielle and moved away.
“I am not certain,” Rielle replied, “that I entirely understand Lord Sauvillier’s question.”
Ludivine’s father raised a deferent eyebrow to the king, who nodded once.
“Well, Lady Rielle, if you’ll forgive me my bluntness,” said Dervin Sauvillier, “I wonder if you enjoyed what you did on the racecourse. If you enjoyed hurting
the assassins.” He paused. “If you enjoyed hurting your mother.”
“If I enjoyed it?” Rielle repeated, stalling.
For of course she had enjoyed it. Not the pain she had caused and not her poor mother’s death.
But the relief of it… That, she craved. The rush of release through every muscle in her body. Those forbidden, blazing moments—practicing with Tal, running the Chase—when she had
known nothing but her power and what it could do. The shining clarity of understanding that this was her true, entire self.
Sometimes she couldn’t sleep for wanting to feel that way again.
“Your hesitation is alarming, Lady Rielle,” said Lord Sauvillier.
“I…did not enjoy the pain I caused others,” Rielle answered slowly. “For that, I feel nothing but shame and remorse. In fact, I am
appalled that anyone might think I could enjoy doing such things to any living person, let alone my own mother. But…do the teachings of our saints not tell us that we should take pleasure in the use of the power that has been granted to us by God?”
Out of the corner of her eyes, Rielle saw the Archon shift at last, leaning forward slightly.
It was as if Audric had been waiting for a signal
from her, and he did not disappoint. “My lord, may I answer her question?” he asked his father.