Authors: Callie Kanno
L’on brought his horse alongside the king, and L’unn gave his son
a grim look. “I should not have let you come.”
L’on snorted softly. “That would have filled the people with
confidence—the crown prince goes into hiding while everyone else fights the
“If both you and your brother die…” he couldn’t bring himself to
The prince finished the sentence in a brusque tone. “Then L’era
King L’unn could only shake his head. “She is with them.”
His son reached over to put a hand on his father’s arm. “L’iam
would never let any harm come to her. He probably tied her to a tree to keep
her out of danger.”
The king smiled at his son’s optimism. “You are probably right.
L’iam was even more protective of L’era than your mother and I were.”
A murmur ran through the crowd, and both sets of royal eyes were
immediately fixed on what caused the stir.
Like a black cloud rolling slowly over a plain, the mercenary army
appeared at the turn of the mountain pass, heading toward them. The dull glint
of their armor shone ominously in the moonlight, and the jingling of their
weapons as they marched was unnerving.
Even though they had been informed on the numbers they would be
facing, the sight was enough to drive away what remained of their hope.
In an effort to prevent this, King L’unn used his
to send the image of a fiery bird
across the sky. It was said that the Serraf could take this form, and it served
as a reminder of the gifts they had given the L’avan people.
A heartening cheer erupted from the throats of the L’avan army.
As if responding to a signal, the Rashad suddenly appeared at
their sides. Their race had never been as numerous as the L’avan, but the added
numbers seemed to make quite a difference to the defending forces.
L’unn looked over at his friend, Rajan, and together they took a
few steps forward. They wanted to be visible to all of the soldiers as they
waited for their opponents to advance.
“War was unheard of in our fathers’ time,” he said softly.
The Rashad leader nodded his graying head. “And our grandfathers’
“I suppose we cannot expect to lead the same lives that they did.”
Rajan smiled sadly. “No, we cannot. The labyrinth of time
progresses, and we must follow it through to the end of the age.”
The L’avan king quickly looked over at his companion. “This is the
change, then? She is the Threshold Child?”
There was no need to specify who they were talking about. L’unn
had asked Rajan about Adesina not long after she had come to Pevothem. The
Rashad had been reluctant to give a definite answer until now.
“Yes, she is the Threshold Child.”
An unexpected warmth filled the king’s heart. “Then they will be
Rajan gave him a questioning glance.
“L’iam and L’era will be safe if they are with her,” King L’unn
The Rashad didn’t answer, knowing how precious hope was at a time
like this. He could not bring himself to take it away from his oldest friend.
“They will be safe,” L’unn repeated, “and our people will survive.
In spite of all of this, the L’avan people will survive.”
Rajan merely turned his golden eyes to the approaching army. It
was just like he had seen in his Dreams. He wondered if his Dreams about the
others at the fortress would be as accurate as this. Either way, he feared that
the reality would be just as dark.
It was raining.
Actually, considering the torrential downpour, that seemed like an
understatement. Even in the shelter of the trees, Aleron was still getting very
wet. He had built a makeshift tent next to the fire and had placed L’era
underneath it, but that meant that there was no room for him.
He tucked a blanket around the unconscious princess, built a large
fire, and then went to sit between the roots of the closest tree. It was only
slightly more dry, but it was better than nothing.
He found himself gazing into the shadows beyond their camp. His
heart almost stopped when he thought he saw a shadow move. After several
minutes of staring at that same shadow, he berated himself for letting his
imagination run away with him.
L’era started to stir, and Aleron hurried to her side. She had not
moved since he had drugged her, and he was beginning to get very anxious. Her
eyes fluttered and opened, resting on his with a dazed expression.
They slowly focused and became more aware, then they also hardened
when they saw his face. “You!”
He was immediately apologetic. “Adrie made me promise to keep you
She sat up and jerked away from him. “How could you?” she raged.
“After coming so far, how could you let them leave me behind now?”
Aleron started to get angry himself. “Do you think I am happy with
this arrangement? I wanted to go as well!”
L’era wasn’t listening to him. “My whole life I have only been
seen as a princess, and this was my one chance to do something great—to prove
that I was something more! Now, thanks to you, that chance is gone.”
“I know!” he shouted, wounded by her accusations. “I wanted to
prove myself, too!”
She stared at him in surprise, but he was now too upset to take
notice. He continued to yell, even though she had fallen silent.
“I know I am not a warrior, but I wanted to help in
I wanted to help
! Not that she needs it,” he added in a tone of
self-mockery. “I, a healer’s apprentice…what could I possibly offer her?”
L’era was stunned by his words. She studied him in pity,
forgetting her own frustrations. “You really care for her.”
Aleron fixed his eyes on the fire, not wanting to admit that he
was in love with someone so completely out of his reach.
The princess tried a different direction to gain his confidence.
“I feel like such a burden to this group. I followed them so I could prove
myself, but I ended up just being another mouth to feed, another person to
He nodded. “Me, too. I thought I could help.”
glad you are with us,” L’era said softly.
Aleron snorted. “No. I am just her funny little friend from the
High City who tagged along. I do not even belong here.”
She wrapped her blanket around her shoulders more tightly and
replied, “That makes two of us.”
Their eyes met, and for a moment they said nothing. They
understood each other completely, and knew that they were not alone in their
So strong was the shared empathy of this new bond that they didn’t
notice the dark shadows emerging from the trees.
Adesina led the way up the stairs to the second level. There was a
small passage that led from there straight to the stables, and that was the way
she wanted to make their escape.
Me’shan ran surprisingly well on his own, with a little help from
. Ravi stayed by
Adesina’s side and the L’avan prince brought up the rear. Me’shan repeated the
insistent request he had made when they first left his cell.
“We need to find Faryl.”
Adesina had been surprised to hear the name of the High City’s
woman apothecary, and had readily agreed to find her. Now she was beginning to
doubt if that had been a good idea. All Me’shan had been able to tell them was
that she had been taken by Shimat guards the day before. There was no way of
knowing if she was even still in the fortress.
“We will certainly help her if we can find her, but they could
have taken her anywhere. She may not even be alive anymore.”
Me’shan shook his head violently. “No, she must be alive! I
promised her I would protect her!”
Adesina didn’t get a chance to reason with her father, because her
words were lost in surprise. They had reached the top of the stairs and were
met by a scene that none of them could have anticipated.
Sa’jan was in the middle of a group of Shimat, fighting furiously
and losing desperately. With his
he was warping weapons and slowing the movements of his enemies, but even so,
it was not enough against such a large number. He seemed on the verge of
collapse, and there was no sign of help in sight. Where were E’nes and the
L’avan they were supposed to be rescuing?
She immediately drew her sword and rushed into the battle.
The Shimat were surprised by the sudden arrival of these new
enemies, but met them without hesitation. Adesina didn’t have to look back to
know that she was not alone. In fact, she caught sight of her father grabbing a
weapon and joining as well.
She relaxed her mind and remembered the training that she had been
given over the years. She moved smoothly from form to form, not pausing to see
what effect she was having. Her opponents ceased to be human in her mind and
became mere challenges—ones she knew she could eventually overcome.
came to her
aid, lending strength and speed. In the back of her mind she could sense that
it was anxiously waiting for her to command it to become something more
tangible in her fight against the Shimat.
The opponent before her was a skilled swordsman. He flicked his
blade expertly, getting past her defenses and using her own moves against her.
It took some quick reflexes for her to avoid being stabbed several times.
Adesina watched him closely, all the while defending herself with
all the ability she possessed. Eventually, a pattern in his attack began to
present itself. As soon as she moved to exploit it, however, the Shimat broke
from the form by kicking her wrists upward. Adesina’s sword flew over her head
and clattered down the stairs that were behind them.
She grabbed the Shimat’s arm as he lunged and then she whirled
around to avoid his blade, bringing her elbow forcibly into his kidney. The
Shimat cried out in pain, but did not stop his attacks. Adesina ducked as he
swung his sword around and she aimed a powerful downward kick to his knee. It
cracked sharply, and her opponent dropped to the ground.
She rendered him unconscious with a sharp blow to the head, then
her eyes glanced around in search for a new enemy. As she did so, her gaze was
arrested by her father.
Me’shan was struggling to do his best as a warrior, but his body
was weak and his mind was exhausted. He could barely summon enough
to keep himself on his feet.
Adesina hurried forward to help, but could not reach him in time.
The Shimat he was fighting struck him across the face and then drove a dagger
into his abdomen.
Time seemed to slow down as she watched her father fall to the
ground. His expression, the rush of air leaving his lungs, the clatter of his
weapon as it hit the stone—all of this was burned into her memory.
After all they had been through, after all they had sacrificed,
this was how it was going to end. Her father lay dying on the stones of the
She had sent him here.
All around her were the bodies of the dead or dying: her friends,
her family. Even the majority of the Shimat fighting them had no idea of the
true nature of the order. They were giving their lives to a lie.
She saw L’iam fighting valiantly, trying to get to where Sa’jan
had fallen. His features were fierce while in the rage of battle. The glow of
surrounded him, and he moved with
heightened energy as he drained his enemies of their life force. The Shimat’s
feeble attempts to fight him in their weakened condition were met with stunning
blows that left them alive, but unable to fight.
Even in a desperate battle to the death, L’iam still refused to
take a life unnecessarily. The L’avan were such good people, and they had
supported her from the beginning.
She had brought them here.
A burning sensation welled up from the core of her being and
spread throughout her body. Her hands tingled with power and her vision grew
brighter by the second. In her stomach she felt the sharp pangs of sorrow and
remorse, and her head whirled with the heat of fury and revenge. The icy
fingers of fear wrapped themselves around her heart, and somewhere deep inside
of her, something snapped.
She would not allow any more lives to be lost because of her
As if this new determination gave her power, she conquered the
flurry of emotion that bore her down and drew her father’s dagger from the
sheath on her belt. Her
had been boiling beneath the surface, burst forth in a flurry of light that
With a flying leap, Adesina sprang at the Shimat advancing on
Me’shan’s crumpled form. He turned to meet her easily, but was unprepared for
the strength of her attack, which was aided by her
. She easily twisted his arm around behind him, and threw him
headfirst into the wall. She barely took the time to make sure that he was
unconscious before turning away. Her senses immediately ranged out to find