2

They took me into a ruin that had four walls and a pit and tossed me in. I tried to break my fall with my hands, but the wrist that’d been hit collapsed with a shot of pain and I landed on my face in the dirt. Gentle hands turned me over and I looked up into the twin faces of Dreanan and Rheanan.
“My lord,” Dreanan said, removing my gag. Her hands were bound also and a gag hung about her neck.
“Shut up,” I said and sat up.
She smirked and asked what happened. I related the story.
“Good, The Owl got away.”
“Mother of Summer,” Rheanan said. “You’re lucky to be alive.” She managed to stanch the blood flowing from my shoulder, where the bolt had grazed me. My wrist she could do nothing about, so she left it.
They helped me over to a side of the pit. We sat. We waited.
“You were captured?” I asked Rheanan.
“She was,” Dreanan answered. “I felt her pain, so I searched for her. The sentinel called Vytar had captured her.” While Dreanan spoke, I watched Rheanan, who shrugged in a way that indicated longstanding tolerance for her sister’s ways. They were not exact copies, but very close. Rheanan’s had her hair tied back in a slightly different manner than Dreanan. One I felt attracted to, the other repelled by.
“He met up with the other sentinel and that man forced me to reveal the Loyalists’ location.”
Dreanan looked at her twin. “How?”
“He had a device that shown with a pulsating light. Completely mesmerizing. It’s like he put my body to sleep but kept my mind awake. I couldn’t do anything but watch the light and answer his questions.”
“Did he abuse you?” I asked, remembering my own experience with her sister.
“What? No.” She paused, “At least I don’t think so.” I watched her begin to doubt and felt horrible for suggesting it.
“That’s horrible,” Dreanan said. I looked away.
“Can either of you climb out of here?”
They shook their heads in unison. Dreanan stood and touched the earthen wall.
“I can climb almost was well as The Owl, but something in these bonds weakens my hands.” Rhaenan nodded confirmation.
I tried to call the wind, but only a puff of air found me.
“I think they have some sort of shield that keeps our magic from us,” Rheanan said. Her sister flopped to the ground next to me with a sigh.
The sun set and men put lit torches on the walls around our prison. Sentinel Vytar did not come.
And neither did The Owl. Or Zat.
It was an uncomfortable night.

In the morning a ladder was lowered down and we were told to climb up. Dreanan made Rheanan go up first, then me, and she followed. I’m not sure if she thought she could catch me if I fell. I’d been feverish during the night, but felt clearheaded that morning. The wound on my shoulder had stopped bleeding, but my wrist looked like a purple log.
The camp had been taken down and the troops ready to leave.
An animal brayed and made a commotion, and Sentinel Vytar stepped through a group of men, being dragged by the yamamulecine. It saw me and rushed over, butting its head against my chest and almost knocking me to the ground.
I greeted it and scratched its ear awkwardly.
“This prisoner will ride with me. Put the women in the cart,” Vytar said.
“Are you sure, Vytar?” the other sentinel said.
“I have the emitter,” Vytar answered, waving the mace with the light. “He will behave. Won’t you, Nord?”
I nodded.
That seemed to satisfy him, and he took charge of the twins, leading them off to a coach with bars on the windows, drawn by two mules.
“Get the healer and remove these restraints.”
A soldier moved forward and freed my hands, which hurt a lot. The healer appeared and examined my wrist and shoulder. He tied a splint to my arm and refused to look at my face. He moved off quickly.
They’d put a saddle on the yamamulecine and Vytar helped me mount. He turned to get his mount.
“Hey, that’s my horse.” Rand the second snorted and tossed his head.
He shook his head slightly at me, and I closed my mouth.
The other sentinel rode a horcine.
We rode out. The wagon moved more slowly, being surrounded by armed men. I noticed that we too were surrounded, but not as closely.
“I still don’t see why you insist on riding that inferior creature, Vytar.”
“I like real horses,” he answered.
“Tell me, Nord, do you have a special way with all of the constructs?” The sentinel asked me.
“Constructs?” I answered after looking at Vytar, who twitched a lip.
“Yes. That thing you ride is not a yamamule – or not only a yamamule – surely you realize that?”
“Yes, I realize it.”
“Then why does it react to you so? Constructs do not normally display emotion. They are the perfect fit of machine and animal.”
“They are a prefect abomination,” I said with some heat.
Vytar cleared his throat.
“From all reports, the crockagatorcine also reacted to you. Grand Councilor Fadreel will definitely want to examine you.” He turned to Vytar, “Good call, Captain.”
The way he said ‘Captain’ made me wonder. All did not appear right in Vytar’s world.
Vytar grunted in reply and we rode out of the ruins in silence.

3

My hands bound, my mouth gagged, I was led down the tunnel and out through the stable. They’d captured the horses and mules and were trying to take the bird/horse. It snapped it’s sharp beak and a man lost his hand. His companion made to dispatch the bird/horse with his sword but took a hoof to the stomach. The bird/horse broke free and reaching the outside, launched into the air out or reach. Good.
They took me through the streets to the northeast. The buildings here weren’t as tall and showed a different architectural style. We climbed a hill and came to a camp, just as cleverly hidden as the Loyalists’. I wondered how long each had inhabited the city, not knowing of the other.
A male sentinel, medium height with short pepper and salt colored hair, greeted the group.
“Where is Iagut?”
The man who held my tether said, “This one burned him. He follows.”
“Burned?” a familiar voice said. I looked around to see Sentinel Vytar step out of a concealed tent. He looked the same, tall, short red hair, stern expression. He looked me up and down and dismissed me with a snort. “He doesn’t look like a Nord.”
“He tore the roof off the building,” another man said.
“He blocked our bolts. Turned them back on us,” someone added.
“And talked to that monster, like it was his friend,” the man to my right said.
Vytar exchanged glances with the other sentinel, who rolled his eyes.
“A monster?”
“You know, Captain, the swamp monster you wanted us to capture.”
Vytar smirked and the man wilted. “The crockagatorcine, which you let go?”
“It escaped.”
Vytar turned to the man to my left. “Tell me more.”
The man related the series of events that lead to my capture. My actions sounded impressive from his perspective, but I knew they weren’t. They’d been wrong. I’d been correct in my first move to surrender; less people would have been injured or died. I felt a small sense of relief that the short man, Iagut, hadn’t been killed by Zat. Zat – I hope it went with the reptile to the river. There’d be things to burn there.
“He had this, sir,” the man finished his tale and handed my canvas bag to Vytar, who tucked it in his belt with out looking in it.
“So we sent out one hundred and twenty five of you to bring in fifty rebels, and you bring us one Nord,” the other sentinel said.
“And you didn’t capture The Owl,” Vytar said with a growl.
“We’ll go back,” the man vowed.
Vytar shook his head. “The Owl’s gone. You’ll go back and get the crockagatorcine. It needs to be returned to Trommel.”
The men stifled their groans.
“Put him with the others,” the other sentinel said.

4

A small man with a wide, flat nose and full lips, wearing a helmet and body armor, clamored down from the ceiling.
“Keep the Nord, kill the others,” he said, gesturing with a mace that emitted a light somehow.
The tan men attacked again. One pulled Uri to him, preparing to slit his throat.
“Stop!” I yelled, using my voice. Everyone froze, except the Nord – some of whom gave me startled looks but didn’t waste time. The Owl stabbed the attacker holding Uri and moved the kid out of the way.
“That trick doesn’t work on me, Nord.” The small commander said, swinging his mace at me. I spun out of the way, but it still caught me on the wrist. I responded by elbowing him in the face. He stumbled back, his flat nose flatter. The wind took the roof off of the building, knocking several unseen invaders to the ground – and the effect of my voice wore off.
The Owl signaled that he had the tunnel clear, so I gave him a distraction so that he and the rest of the Loyalists could escape.
“Stop,” I said again, using my voice and hoping that it would only affect the attackers. A few froze, and a few Loyalists. “I am the son of Myrik, King of Adnor. You cannot attack me.”
That caused many fights to stop and allowed many Loyalists to escape down the tunnel.
The small man, wiping blood form his mouth, laughed.
“I don’t care if you’re my son, Nord. Attack!” he commanded again. He followed his own advice and swung at me.
I dodged and spun as I was taught, kicking up dirt in his face, and darted to the wall where my canvas bag lay. Zat, responding to my call, crawled out of its nest and into my hand. It seemed different, but I hadn’t the time to examine it. I tossed him at the small man, who screamed as the fire elemental ignited.
More screams made me look toward the tunnel. The Loyalists and attackers rushed back out of the tunnel as one group followed by a familiar stubby-legged reptile with armored spikes down its back being ridden by a glowing water elemental. It snapped at the nearest person, an attacker, taking his leg off at the knee.
I laughed. Inappropriate and not funny, but I laughed anyway.
My laughter drew its attention and it waddled over to me. Everyone got out of its way. The Owl dispatched the poor injured man and gestured for the Loyalists to escape.
Some brave fool shot at the reptile with a crossbow. I flicked the bolt out of the way.
The reptile snorted, bumping its bloody nose against my knee. The water elemental blew bubbles.
“There’s a river, sort of, to the west of here,” I told it.
The moment of kind greeting was ruined by an attacker trying to skewer the beast. The blade bounced off it’s tough hide. I spun up a dust cloud to hide the animal’s retreat. I sent Zat after it to ensure that no one on the Loyalist side tried to keep it from leaving.
The dust settled and I realized my error.
Strong arms surrounded me and a heavy weight bore me to the ground.
I guess they did take prisoners after all.

5

They attacked almost as silently as the Loyalists defended. It seemed like a strange, fast dance of thrust, parry, dodge, strike. The attackers, all men from what I could tell, had the same type of crossbows as Sentinel Vytar and were just as accurate. Olmar, who’d been standing on the sidelines offering helpful hints to his son, took a bolt through the neck. Uri cried out, rushing to his father, and my sense of time slowed, showing me the red spurt of his life reaching out to touch his son’s frantic face.
I gathered the wind and blew the bolts back at the attackers, driving them back. The Owl and a few others took that opportunity to grab real weapons and attack. The attackers dropped their crossbows and hand-to-hand or sword-to-sword combat ensued.
A sharp pain in my left shoulder made me whirl. A bolt had grazed my arm. Attackers dropped down through the uncertain ceiling and we were surrounded.
“Run, Angestirian!” The Owl yelled at me, blocking a blow to his head.
But there was no where to run.
I dropped my stick, which I’d been clinging to as if it were a real dagger, and held my hands up, surrendering. The other Loyalists followed suit. The Owl gave me a dirty look. I knew he probably could have survived, but the others – mostly common folk – would be slaughtered.
Unfortunately, the attackers were not interested in taking prisoners.

6

Uri prevailed. To my credit, it was a close match, but the boy sidestepped at the right moment and the big man flew past him and into the crowd, which parted to let him land with a grunt. The opponents bowed to each other solemnly, then the man ruffled Uri’s hair, smiling.
Uri waved at me, a grin consuming his face. Then he pointed to himself and then at me and nodded. I took that to mean that if he could do it, so could I. I nodded back. Sure, I could do that in about a year of constant training.
The Owl snapped his fingers again and everyone gathered up their belongings and slipped away into the late afternoon haze.
Following The Owl back to the sleeping area, my body felt like wet wool – heavy and stinky.
“You’re fatigue comes from your magic use. It will get better.” The Owl left me with those words and a tray of carrots, onions, hard bread, and a weak beer.
Grateful that Dreanan hadn’t served me, I stripped off my grimy clothes and bathed the best I could in small washbasin. My face itched from my beard growth, but I hadn’t a razor. Did the ancients have a water system like Trommel? Pondering this, I ate and tossed bits of bread to Zat, who enjoyed catching them and turning them to little bright flashes.
I looked through my returned goods, reading again the letter to my mother that mentioned me. It also congratulated my mother on the birth of her daughter and the person’s wish to someday meet that child. I poked my memory and could not come up with the child’s name or what happened to it. Som said that she’d died, but I had a feeling. I poked at my memory for a while longer and ended up with a headache. Maybe it’d come back to me while I slept. I supposed I should ask The Owl if he knew the author of the letter.
I placed the map to the side and reached in to pull out the shards of the vase. They crumbled in my fingers, turning into the same tan ash that the rest of Tiria’s things had. I poked at it. It felt cool and stuck to my finger – sort of a consistency between ash and sand. I poured the rest of it out of the bag and pushed it into a pile. Zat came over and perched on my shoulder, curious.
I poured a bit of beer into the pile and made a ball. Zat patted at it with a tendril and the tan ball solidified but remained malleable. It turned opaque.
I examined it more closely. A web of green light ran through the ball, reminding me of the green power that had given me a boost in the tavern in Trommel.
I pulled out the map and looked, under Zat’s helpful light, for the green lines. If the green lines were the soul of the land then perhaps these green lines were a part of that soul? Did the land have separate souls or just one big one? After all, a map was a construct of man, not the elements. The elements and their associated weather gods didn’t care on which side of the river you were on when it flooded.
“It rains equally on the just and the unjust,” I murmured, repeating a phrase my mother frequently recited to me when I’d whined about moving.
Ha! I’d whined about moving. If only I could remember where from and to. I assumed Oakvale was the ‘to,’ so maybe the sanctuary had been the ‘from.’ Coalfen Swamp?
Zat knocked the rest of my beer over and then settled in the pile of wet ash, purring with content. Fire elementals like to nest in small spaces, like lamps, so I formed the ash into a deep cup around it. It settled down to rest and I followed its example.

The next morning I went with Uri to learn how to grapple. By the afternoon, I’d been thrown so many times I’d learned to lessen the impact by grabbing the wind. Uri complained to The Owl that I’d been cheating, but The Owl shook his head, saying “He’s using his natural ability just as you are using your size.” So Uri asked how he could negate that natural ability.
The Owl said, “Shot him,” which didn’t sound like fun to me. Uri rolled his eyes behind The Owl’s back.
We moved on to weapons, actually sticks the size of daggers and learned circles.
Lots and lots of circles – circles to defend, circles to attack, moving our feet in circles, moving our hands in circles. Circles.
My head seemed to be spinning in circles, so it took me a moment to notice the tan-clad men coming up out of the refuse tunnel, crossbows and swords in hand.

7

I followed The Owl down the stairway. He paused at the room at the bottom and said, “Clearing the dust to hide your passage was a good idea. I almost didn’t check this building, except that the dust here wasn’t as thick as it was in other places.”
I made a face and said, “I tried to cross without disturbing the dust but couldn’t.”
“Let me show you.”
He leaped across the room, only touching down once – on the point of his toe – before leaping again. It was quick, silent, graceful, and amazing. The one disturbance of the dust had been filled in by the wind of his passing when he leaped the second time.
He stood at the entrance to the building, the light behind him giving him an aura.
“Just use the wind to lift you and sweep up with your trailing foot.”
Yeah right. I backed up and took as much of a running start as I could, calling the wind to me. It caught me as I leapt and carried me further than I’d anticipated. I plowed into The Owl, knocking him back to the street.
He looked angry, but I couldn’t help laughing as I crawled off of him.
“Yeah, yeah, control,” I said, smothering my laughter and offered him a hand up, which he took to my surprise.
He didn’t comment but lead me back to the Loyalists’ camp in silence and with stealth. I did my best to copy him.

We went into a building that looked completely unstable. Once over the pile of rubble at the entrance, I found several mules, two horses, and the bird/horse stabled. The bird/horse had curled his hay bed up into a nest and sat, legs tucked under it, napping. The Owl chirped at it and it opened a glassy black eye in response. I examined the horses – both brown with black manes and tails. Neither were my horse, Rand the Second. He opened a trap door and disappeared down a ladder before I could ask him where Rheanan and my horse were. I hurried to catch up.
The ladder ended in a rounded tunnel that had a ditch in the center. It smelled faintly.
“What was this?”
“Refuse collection tunnel. The ancients put it under the street instead of in it.”
“Amazing.”
The Owl nodded. We followed the tunnel for several minutes and climbed a ladder up into a complete room with most of a roof. Several men and women grappled or spared with blunted weapons. Uri saw me and raised a hand. His father, Olmar, grinned at me.
He didn’t speak, but shook my hand with vigor. He thumped his heart and put a fond arm around Uri’s shoulders. I nodded understanding. They moved off and resumed their practice.
The Owl whispered in my ear, “we will start with grappling and footwork. Tomorrow or the day after, you will start with weapons.”
He lead me to a clear space and gestured for me to copy his movements. I spent the next hour moving my feet in a square. Then he stopped and snapped his fingers once, softly.
The others gathered around and he pointed at Uri and another, much larger and older man with bulging muscles.
The crowd made a ring and the two faced off.
I grabbed at The Owl’s arm. Uri was going to get pounded. Did The Owl want me to intervene again with magic? There was a hole in the roof, so the wind could get in, and Zat hovered, invisible, overhead.
The Owl shook off my hand, put a finger to his lips to indicate silence, and gestured for the two to start.
My anger returned. I almost trusted him again. Storm god’s nads, how could he make me watch this? And Olmar too?

8

I walked away with no destination in mind. I felt as if my whole life was a nasty prank pulled by the indifferent weather gods. I walked in the middle of the streets between the dead buildings, no longer worrying about copying the Loyalists’ implied edict of staying out of sight. Let them see me, whomever they were. The gods? The agents of the Grand Council.
I walked for an hour and did not reach the end of the ruins. What a city this must have been. If each multistory building had been only half dedicated to living quarters, the population must have been in the hundreds of thousands. That many people in one spot seemed completely impossible. Crown City was the most populous city in Adnor and it had
nearly 100 thousand persons living it it.
Or maybe it didn’t. The plains below the city, where this ruined city lay, had had many prosperous farms and orchards. I kicked up a cloud of dust and looked back at my obvious footprints going down the middle of the street. If anyone wanted to follow me – and of course someone would eventually look for me – leaving them a trail didn’t seem wise. I picked a mostly intact building and went inside. The dusty ground floor had no foot prints or markings. I paused on the threshold and considered. Could I cross it without leaving a trace. My killer uncle seemed to have that ability. Maybe he used magic.
I could use magic. Sort of. The wind might help me. I tried to relax, taking a deep breath in through my nose and letting it trickle out through my open mouth. I imagined the wind lifting me, just barely, up from the ground so that I could walk with the lightest of touches of my toes on the ground. A breeze blew in, and I felt encouraged. I took a step, on my toes, trying to be light. The breeze increased and I lifted off of the ground. The breeze grew even stronger and a dust cloud billowed up around me.
I grunted with frustration and walked through the whirlwind. At least my footprints would not be visible after the dust settled.
I found a stairway and ascended. Each step up, I felt my anger ebb – along with the daylight – and my curiosity emerge. Zat left my shoulder and floated above my head, giving me helpful light. The walls of the building were of that brick material, smoothed and cold to the touch. The stairway had a metal railing and my footfalls echoed. Many of the landings still had metal doors with little windows in them, but most were stuck closed and the windows obscured with grime. I found one that opened after a while, helpfully labeled with a symbol I almost recognized. Zat settled on my shoulder, and with his light, the symbol resolved itself into a 12. Which reminded me of the letter I’d lost. Would that person have been able to tell me of my past?
I pushed through the door and almost stepped into the open air. I windmilled my arms for a moment and, using my recent training, found my balance. A not-so-helpful breeze tugged at my hair. I moved to my left and found a thin spit of building to sit on.
I looked down. Way down, and surprised myself by not becoming dizzy, just a little anxious. The view provided from this height answered many questions.
The purple-pink lightning dome, clearly visible in the daylight, still glowed in the distance. The once fertile valley that lead up to it looked like a sandy desert, lifeless. The ribbon of water, which I assumed used to be the great Lybar, reflected sunlight off to my left. Closer, the ruined city stretched to the north and faded into the sands. I heard a noise and looked down.
Stealthy black dots scurried from building edge to building edge, shadow to shadow. Looking for me?
Some other movement caught my eye and I looked down to see sand colored dots moving toward the black dots. They came together, clashed. I could almost hear the cries and some of the dots of both colors became still and changed either from black to darker black or from tan to red.
So, the Loyalists’ hideout was not secret and the Grand Council – I assumed – knew of its opposition.
I heard a bird whistle almost in my ear and I nearly fell off my perch.
The Owl stood in the doorway. My stomach tightened. I wondered if I could catch myself if I feel from this height.
“I brought you something,” he said, handing me a canvas bag.
I took the bag carefully. He made no further move toward me.
I peeked inside and found my map, the letter, and the shards of the vase.
“I didn’t want the sentinels to get the map,” he said, and leaned casually over the edge to look down that the fight below.
“You stole it.” An obvious statement, but I didn’t know how else to express my annoyance and not pick a fight that I’d probably lose.
“Yes.”
I snorted. “Thanks. I guess.”
“The sentinels may not know how to read the map, but the Dvergr do. And since the Dvergr are entrenched with the leadership of Adnor, I couldn’t let it fall into their hands.”
I pulled out the map and unfolded it. It seemed like blue and green squiggly lines until Zat settled on my shoulder. By its light, it became a proper map.
“What’s so special about it?”
For a moment I thought he wouldn’t answer and a gust of wind almost tore the map from my hands. I took a breath and tried to calm down, folding the map quickly and tucking it back into the bag.
“It shows the natural resources of Adnor, including water and minerals. It also shows all of the ancient ruins.”
“Why would the Dvergr want that?” I asked, interrupting.
“Everyone wants that information, so you should guard it a little better.”
“If I’d known, I would have,” I made an angry gesture with my hand and the wind blew him back against the wall. “Just answer the question.”
He held up a hand in resignation.
“It also shows the soul of the land – something the Adnorians cannot perceive but the Nord can. Attacks on the soul of the land has caused this widespread drought.”
I pulled out the map again and looked.
“Where?”
The Owl moved over and pointed a finger at the green lines. One ran right through Oakvale.
“So Tiria didn’t actually move to the middle of no where without cause,” I said, pondering aloud.
“She had plenty of cause – but no, Oakvale wasn’t a random choice. She nurtured the soul there – as only one of the elite of the Nord can do.”
“How did she die?” I hadn’t wanted to discuss this with him, as he seemed so unfeeling about death, but the question popped out anyway.
“I hoped you could tell me.”
I shrugged. “Som found her body next to her well. She hadn’t a mark on her. The village assumed she’d died of old age.” I paused, hearing Wulfgit’s voice say “She weren’t that old,” in my head.
“The drought showed up after and all of her things turned to ash. Is that normal?”
The Owl shook his head.
Another bird cry made The Owl look up and over. I spotted figure in a window in a building near us. It waved once and disappeared into the shadows. I looked down. All evidence of conflict had been cleared away. The ruins seemed empty.
“Come, Angestirian. If you want. I promise no more games. I will teach you to defend yourself and to master your magic. You will need it.”

9

I cried out, grasping for the cable. It slipped through my gloved hands and I plummeted toward the hard ground. My mind raced and I tried to reach for the wind, but I got no response. Of course, my cynical self said, you had to go and die by falling. I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
And then marveled at the weightless feeling I had. Like floating in water, but not being wet. Maybe more like that moment after plunging into water where you’re neither sinking or rising. Just weightless.
I seemed to have all of the time I needed to contemplate my messy end, for surely my innards would become my out-ards momentarily.
When they didn’t, I cautiously opened my eyes. I lay on my back, looking at the cables above me. I did not feel ground beneath me, so I turned my head and my whole body rotated with me. I seemed to be about a meter from the dusty ground. The Owl, Dreanan, and Uri seemed frozen in place. The Owl looked pleased with himself. Dreanan had a smirk on her face. Uri looked terrified.
I sat up, put my feet down, and stood firmly on the ground. The wind, which had been holding me so gently, started to swirl around in answer to my anger.
“You did this on purpose,” I said to The Owl, advancing on him through the growing dust storm. “You manipulated me into carrying for this boy and then purposefully caused him to fall. What if I hadn’t been able to save him?”
The Owl shrugged. “Then you would have failed your test.”
“And Uri would be dead or broken.”
The Owl shrugged again. Dreanan put a calming hand out, tugging at the wind in my control. I snatched it back and blew dust into her face.
“We wanted you to realize your potential, Angestirian,” she said. “You have so much power.”
“And you need to learn to use it. To control it,” The Owl added.
Uri looked between us and backed away slowly. I didn’t blame him. I suspected we were about to find out just how powerful I was and I didn’t want him in the way – for there was no doubt in my mind that they’d use him as a shield.
“And you thought scaring me was an appropriate training tool?”
Uri slipped away between the buildings and I breathed a little. How dare they?
The wind tore at the cables, snapping one. Released from its tension, it sliced down, cutting a furrow in the ground between us.
Dreanan tried to snatch my wind again. Another cable snapped and I pushed it toward them. They jumped out of the way.
“Stop, before you bring the buildings down,” Dreanan said.
Well…maybe? On her certainly, but not my uncle, and not before I learned more of my past. I used the wind to pick up a pile of bricks and toss them in their general direction. Dreanan yelped and jumped away. The Owl let them fall about him, without moving.
He held out his hand. “It may have seemed extreme but I found that you only respond with magic when you are threatened or upset.”
I yearned not to let that logic sway me. It did though.
Zat zoomed to me, snapping and hissing. I let the wind drop and he settled on my shoulder. I ran a comforting hand through his fiery tendrils.
The dust settled.
“You are an asshole, uncle.”
“That’s Ken-sa,” he responded, his smugness returning. Dreanan laughed.
I made a rude gesture and walked away.

10

The next two days were a repeat of the first, only Uri and I made it to slightly higher on the web of cables that ran between the leaning buildings. The summer heat made the metal particularly challenging, especially for our bare feet. The Owl’s only comment was “Toughen up.”
The evening of the third day Uri invited me to dine with his father, Olmar, and the rest of the Loyalists. Although I didn’t want to be mobbed, eating with them allowed me to avoid the direct attention of Draenan.
The group ate in a common area, underground of course, in a section of the ruined city that boasted of an enormous crumbling statue of a reclining man – the first piece of ancient art I’d seen in person. Who man had been no one knew, but Uri informed me that the locals called him “Sleeping Winter.”
Olmar seemed a nice enough man – former apple farmer – except that he laughed at his own jokes, which, at first, I failed to either understand or find funny. After a few days, I began to appreciate his dry humor. His opinion on the political situation – a council of representatives not actually representing the people – made me question how it had been different with a king, for surely a king, being noble, did not represent the common man.
“Ges-lord,” (my new nickname), “you’ve got a point. But you see, the king had audiences and he paraded about the kingdom and listened to what the people had to say. He may not have done something himself, but he tasked his people to make sure that our problems were addressed.”
His wife, Alyst, a petite woman with blonde curly hair and blue eyes that spoke of a Nord heritage, added “The weather gods loved him.” Others around the table nodded.
“And they don’t love the Grand Council or Grand Councilor Fadreel?” I asked.
She tossed her curls and said more loudly, “No, they do not. Would we have this drought if it were so?”
“What if I told you the drought may have been caused by men from Flowstone?”
“Where’s that?” Uri asked.
“How can men cause a drought?” she asked.
“Magic?” I shrugged.
She huffed, “Magic is for those Crown City fools to believe in. You and I,” she tapped me on the arm with her finger, “know that any supernatural event happens because of the weather gods and their agents, the elements.”
I nodded, remembering that was my belief before Tiria had died. Zat, luckily, had stayed in my room happy to play in the fireplace – otherwise there may have been a moment of revelation for Goodwife Alyst.
“Now my darling, you were once a citizen of Crown City. Don’t disparage your past.” Olmar kissed his wife’s cheek and she flashed me a brilliant smile.
Uri repeated his question.
“Flowstone is the country to the south of us, home to short men known as Dvergr,” I said, pulling up an unexpected memory of some tutor pointing out the lands around Adnor. I’d been seated at a desk in a room full of maps and books. I recalled the window, to my right, looked down at the courtyard. Had that been in Crown City?

The fifth afternoon of training found me clinging to the wall, about five meters up, trying to balance on a cable slightly smaller than my foot. Uri was at the other end, having just successfully walked across. His technique included putting his arms out and sliding his feet forward without ever taking them off the cable. The Owl, safe on the ground below, watched and yelled an occasional instruction.
“Uri, well done. Climb up to the next one.” The next one was seven meters or so above the ground. Uri shot me a panicked look but grabbed the nearby handholds and hoisted himself up. I gripped my own handhold a little tighter, my heart pounding.
“Angestirian, you watch.” I held where I was, watching my young partner tentatively place his foot out on the thinner cable.
A strong gust of wind whipped through the leaning buildings, causing all of the cables to vibrate and swing. Uri, about a third of the way across, windmilled his arms. Falling from that height would certainly end in a broken limb.
“Ges-lord,” he cried and fell.
I grabbed the wind and caught him about two meters before he face-planted into the ground.
“Good, now let him down slowly,” The Owl said in a calm voice.
With a deep breath, I tried to calm my pounding heart and control the wind.
“Keep breathing, Angestirian. You’re doing well.”
I asked the wind to lower the boy to the ground. It spun up a cloud of dust too thick for me to see if he made it or not. I moved out, unthinking, from my place at the wall to get a better look.
“You can stop now,” The Owl yelled up, coughing.
I let the wind go.
Uri stood below, looking up at me with wide eyes. I noticed a darker stain on his charcoal trousers. The Owl grinned in triumph. Dreanan stood next to him, holding a hand over her eyes and looking up at me.
I began to suspect that the gust of wind had not been natural when I noticed her gesture and another wind, stronger still, blew past me, causing my cable to rock. I windmilled my arms and managed to stay perched on my wire.
The Owl said something to Draenan and a stronger wind buffeted me. I fell.

11

I returned to my pallet that evening sore and exhausted. Zat had returned, bringing with him a puff of air.
“A little late, my friend, but much appreciated anyway.” I stroked him and feed him a stick to burn in the fireplace.
The sight of Dreanan at the doorway with a tray of food made me freeze in place. Zat hissed.
“Food, my liege.”
I grunted but didn’t move.
“It’s safe. I’m not going to attack you,” she said, smirking at me.
“Again. You are not going to attack me again.”
“Well maybe you should learn how to defend yourself, Nordling.”
“And you’re the one to teach me?”
She shrugged a shoulder and fluttered her eyelashes. “It has been said that I am a talented Ken-sa.”
I hesitated, really not wanting her in my mind but wanting to learn to defend myself against a similar attack.
“Do all Nord have magic or just some?”
“Just the elite. Magical abilities tend to run in families. And as you are a son of your mother – whose family is widely known to be the most powerful – I expect your powers to be impressive.” As she said that her eyes drifted to my crotch. I put the table between us.
The sound of The Owl clearing his throat made us both jump.
“He has started on the path of the Skahdi this day, Dreanan. He has no energy to spare you this night.”
She smirked at me and said as she passed The Owl, “You’ll have to teach him how to conserve his energy if he is to be my student.”
The Owl smacked her on the bottom. Her laughter followed her down the hallway.
“Student?” he asked, coming in and seating himself at the table. He picked through my food and took the drumstick.
I briefly considered describing what she’d done to me, but embarrassment kept me silent.
“I would like to learn to defend myself from magical attacks as well, Ken-sa.”
“Magical attacks? Is that what the Adnorians call it?” He chuckled.
“Just magic not sex,” I answered, my face growing hot.
“You could learn many things from her, but none that would be more of a distraction than a help at this point.”
“Is there someone else who could teach me?”
“Only follow one master at a time, nephew. Why do you think you’d be under attack magically?”
My stomach clinched.
He looked at me closely when I didn’t answer.
“What else happened to you with that Sentinel?”
“Nothing. I just want to be prepared for anything that comes at me.”
I couldn’t tell if he accepted that or not, but we spoke no more of it then.