Authors: D.K. Holmberg
opyright © 2016 by D.K
Cover by Rebecca Frank
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light faded as it disappeared behind thick clouds, casting a haze across the late evening sky that reminded Rsiran of when he Slid to the center of the Aisl Forest. A chill hung in the air. It had been that way all day, even under the day’s bright sunshine, and he pulled his cloak tight around him, over the line of knives sheathed at his waist.
“Are you sure that you want to do this?” Valn asked. The dark-haired man crouched next to Rsiran, staring out at the distant city of Thyr with eyes that were a moderate green, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. His sharp jaw clenched, the tension visible to Rsiran.
“You don’t have to come,” Rsiran said.
Valn turned and shot him a hard look. Since the attack on Elaeavn, Valn had come with Rsiran often on his scouting trips. Having someone accompany him was the only way that Jessa would really let him go.
“Don’t I? After what happened in the city—”
“Are you sure you want to risk yourself again?” Rsiran asked. “The last time…”
“The last time? You mean the time when we caught the three Venass scholars in Eban trying to blend in? The time when you decided to throw around your knives as we caught them, getting the attention of their city watch? That time?”
“I don’t throw my knives. Then my aim would be nearly as bad as yours.”
Valn shook his head.
Rsiran tried to hide his smile as he patted him on the shoulder. It was easy to get Valn on edge, and Rsiran needed to stop taking advantage of it by making fun.
“Coming so close to Thyr… This isn’t our best idea, Rsiran.”
He knew it wasn’t, but their search for scholars of Venass had only turned up a few stragglers. The more they looked, the more it seemed that Venass had tried to disappear, pulling their people back to Thyr. It was the one place he hadn’t risked visiting until now.
“I need to find him.”
fault that Danis escaped,” Sarah said. She shifted the ends of the long cloak she wore, dragging it across the hard stone. Valn had insisted on her coming with them this time, especially as they got closer to Thyr. As one of the Thenar Guild, she could detect Sliding, at least those who did so using their talent. Rsiran still didn’t know whether she could detect Sliding done the way Venass did. “They had enough people with them who Slide that they were in and out of the Forgotten Palace before we could get back there. Besides, you managed to stop the others from destroying any more of the Elder Trees.”
“Still lost the one,” Rsiran said.
Sarah’s deep green eyes wrinkled as she frowned. “Yes, we did. Father still isn’t sure what that means for the alchemists.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Valn said. “The trees mattered in times past, but it’s been centuries since they played a relevant role.”
Sarah looked toward Rsiran, as if searching for answers. He didn’t know what to tell her. Should he share that there was still power in the Elder Trees but that he seemed the only one able to reach it? Would that make her feel better, or worse? They hadn’t saved the alchemist tree. The tree itself wasn’t dead, but the power within it had changed, leaving the tree darkened. There didn’t seem to be anything they could do that would restore it.
But he had saved the other that had shown signs of being poisoned, only learning later that it was the smith tree. The Smith Guild had rewarded him for restoring the tree by naming him guildlord, but he still didn’t know if it had been a reward or a punishment, especially with all the meetings he now had to attend.
“They still protect the crystals,” Sarah said when it became clear that Rsiran wouldn’t answer.
“The guilds have them protected,” Valn said. “I should know. I have to take my turn on the rotation, watching the entrances to the room. The last time was so boring, I think I would rather have been back in Eban again with Rsiran.”
Rsiran smiled. “I think you liked Eban.”
“There’s really nothing like having a dozen men with swords surround you,” Valn said.
“You were never in any danger,” Sarah chided. “You can Slide away from swords.”
“And the next time? What if they have crossbows?”
“Slide faster,” Sarah suggested.
She stalked away from them and stood on the peak overlooking Thyr. Rsiran turned his attention there, as well, watching as the city slowly blinked to life as the sun set completely. He focused on his sense of metals within the city, and with his increased affinity for lorcith, he could practically feel the shapes that had been forged, everything from pots and decorative works to knives. Even two swords. The knives were his work—the act of forging them created an even stronger connection to them for him—but the others were not.
Rsiran focused on heartstone but found none. That he didn’t made it less likely that Danis was down in the city. Rsiran still wasn’t sure that he was prepared to face his grandfather again. The last time, he had nearly died. Others
died. And if not for the cell that had originally been created to hold Rsiran, he might not have survived.
Had he only been more decisive when he’d trapped his grandfather in that very cell, he wouldn’t have to worry now about what the man might do next. He’d had him, contained. He could have gone back, finished him off, so that he wouldn’t cause anyone else the same harm that he had caused all of Rsiran’s family, but he hadn’t. At the time, he claimed that it was compassion, but the more he thought about it, the more he wondered if it hadn’t been something else: fear.
Rsiran had already lost his mother—killed by his own knives—and still didn’t know what had happened to his father. How many more would die because of him?
“Is he down there?” Sarah asked.
Rsiran shook his head. “I don’t detect any heartstone.”
“And you’re sure that’s how you’ll know he’s there?”
“He carried something with him,” Rsiran said. “It was his sister’s.”
“Evaelyn,” Sarah said. She didn’t mask the anger in her voice. She had been controlled by Evaelyn, Compelled to nearly attack Rsiran. Fear that it might happen again had kept her from getting involved in the last attack. Now she wore bracelets much like Rsiran’s and Valn’s that were meant to prevent her from being Compelled. “I didn’t think they were close.”
“Maybe not anymore,” Rsiran said. “But Della claims that they once were very close and that he would have done anything for her. Considering how she went to him for help…”
Sarah nodded, her eyes still troubled. “Why are we
“Venass. We need to weaken Venass,” Rsiran answered.
Sarah focused on the distant shape of the Tower of Venass. From where they stood, a mist seemed to envelop it. Rsiran could feel the way that Venass pulled on him, as if the lorcith within the tower itself drew him forward. He had stopped wondering how Venass had access to so much lorcith, having discovered that they had access to alternative mines with seemingly limitless veins of the metal. This unending supply allowed Venass to experiment with the metal, learning of uses that those in Elaeavn would have once believed impossible.
“I don’t know that we can truly weaken Venass from here.” Sarah stared at the tower, likely feeling its pull in some way as well. As a member of the Alchemist Guild as well as the Thenar Guild, she would share a connection, though probably weakened compared to what Rsiran experienced. “Reaching the tower—”
“We’re not going to enter the tower,” Rsiran said.
She turned her attention to him, glancing briefly at Valn as she did. “You intend to go into Thyr. That is close enough to the heart of Venass.”
“We will enter Thyr to demonstrate that we aren’t afraid of Venass,” Rsiran said.
“That isn’t why you’re going.”
Rsiran shook his head. “There is word of Venass scholars in Thyr.”
“I suspect this close to Venass, it would not be uncommon for their scholars to be there,” Valn said.
“That isn’t the reason, either,” Sarah said.
“You don’t have to come with me,” Rsiran told her.
“I want you to admit the real reason we’re doing this.”
Rsiran took a deep breath before answering. The more he discovered about his connection to the guild, especially now that he was guildlord, the more he questioned why his father had kept it from him. And now that he was missing… Rsiran had no way to ask. What had happened to him? Could it simply be that his mother’s attempts at Compelling his father had caused him to go mad over time, much the same way that Luca had grown increasingly insane during his time in the mine all alone, with nothing other than the song of the lorcith and Venass attempting to Compel him?
“I need to find my father,” he answered. “You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to, but it’s important for me. For the guilds,” he added, though he wasn’t sure it was convincing.
“Will it change anything?” Sarah asked. Valn touched her shoulder and she shook her head. “No, Valn. That’s the question, isn’t it? Will finding his father change anything that we do?”
“Not that we do,” Rsiran answered, “but it changes things for me. I… I need to know what happened to him.”
“Even if that means finding out that he’s really gone?” Sarah asked. Her tone had softened, and she brushed a strand of dark hair away from her face.
He nodded. He needed to know.
For so many years, he had believed that his father hadn’t wanted anything to do with him once he’d learned of his son’s abilities. Rsiran assumed his father had feared his ability to Slide—seeing it as the dark ability from the Great Watcher. He assumed that when the old smith discovered the way that lorcith called to his son, he simply couldn’t understand. But it seems his father knew these abilities all too well. Though he might not understand why or how Rsiran managed to Slide, he clearly understood the call of the lorcith… Because his father had the same ability. He was a Master Smith, born with smith blood. The difference was that his father believed one should deny the call of the lorcith, not embrace it. He thought of all the years his father had been tormented by his mother, unwittingly manipulated as she attempted to use him so that she could discover the secret of the guild—the Elder Trees that he’d discovered were the heart of the Aisl.
He’d learned all of the family secrets that day back in his mother’s home, overhearing her conversation with Danis… her father. He now saw his own father in a different light. A victim. And a man who maybe wanted to get to know his son. But it was more than that. Finding his father was something that he needed to do for Alyse. She had found happiness with Brusus, something that Rsiran would have thought impossible when she first moved to Lower Town, and he knew there was a part of her that longed for their father’s approval. If Rsiran were honest with himself, there was a part of him that longed for that approval as well.
“Night time,” Valn said, breaking the silence that had spread between them. “Time to make our visit.”
He and Sarah both looked to Rsiran. Valn could Slide himself to Thyr, but doing so risked someone like Sarah with Thenar Guild abilities influencing the Slide. Letting Rsiran take them didn’t carry the same risk, especially not when he
them in his Slide.
He held his arms out and they each grabbed on.
Thinking of where he wanted to go, he Slid.
They emerged inside Thyr, in an alley where he’d once been attacked. Familiarity made Sliding easier, and this was a place that he knew had some protection so that he didn’t have to fear harming anyone by suddenly appearing.
Inside the city, the stink of filth rose to his nostrils. Sounds drifted down the street—loud voices and music, likely from the taverns nearby. Valn released Rsiran’s arm and held onto the hilt of his sword. Sarah shifted the cloak around her, less eager to grab her sword than Valn, but tension still apparent in her posture.
“Interesting choice,” Valn said.
“It’s one I knew. I’ve been here before.”
Sarah glanced at him. In the faint glow from the streetlight, he could see the frown on her face. “From when you chased that Hjan here?” She fumbled over the word as most of them did. From Haern, they knew the Hjan were a part of Venass, assassins trained with skills that gave them speed and abilities. Haern had nearly been one of them, taking the first steps with the implant that had augmented his ability as Seer.
“Thom,” Rsiran said. He felt no remorse for the fact that he was dead.
“Well, time to work your magic,” Valn told him. “Can you detect anything?”
They counted on his ability to discern the lorcith found throughout the city. Not only to discover where it might be, but to find when that lorcith—or heartstone as there had been a few of the Venass they discovered with heartstone implants—had been placed inside of someone. Making that distinction required a greater proximity to the city. His sensitivity to lorcith had improved, but not to the point where he could stand outside the city and discern absolutely everything about the metal he detected.
He hadn’t attempted Traveling as a means of detecting lorcith. Though he’d tried the mind-travel several times since discovering his ability, the effort of Traveling still left him weakened unless he returned to the Elder Trees, and he had reservations about relying on their ability to power him.
“There’s lorcith all around here,” Rsiran said.
Standing in the city, he could feel it in ways that he was unable to from outside the city. As he let his awareness of it stretch away from him, he detected the growing sense of lorcith. Even along the street, there were dozens of items of lorcith.
“Anything stand out for you?” Valn asked.
Rsiran swept his focus through the city. He detected the same items that he had from above the city but nothing that made him think of an implant. “Not like what we need. Maybe the report was—”
A flash of lorcith came to him, one that he recognized. A knife, formed by his hand.
Had it been there before?
Hard to know. There were plenty of knives outside of Elaeavn that he’d made, especially considering how many he’d made for Brusus, who then sold them, shipping them outside the city.