Samir hadn’t actually been expecting anything to explode or fall or grab him when he stepped through the gate, but it was still a relief when none of those things happened.
They’d stepped into a small courtyard. Samir was first, with Raj right behind, close enough Samir could feel the air move with his every exhale. Bolt nosed forward and whined; he looked far less happy than he had a minute ago. Krys flapped in over the gate, finding an easy perch on a fallen flagpole that jutted halfway off the edge of the battlement.
The silence was oppressive. Too like a graveyard.
Raj took a shuddering breath. “What happened here?”
Samir looked back, confused. Raj caught his eye, started a little, like he’d been lost in his own thoughts. He shook his head. “Yes, I know what happened. But I mean—at the end. The very end. I wasn’t here for it. How did it become...so…”
There was a hopelessness in his voice, on his face. This place was affecting him even more than it was Samir. Samir didn’t want to contribute any more to that desolate expression, but Raj had asked, so he would answer.
“Naktigan, I think, was the beginning of the end. The magic that night—it was worse than anyone had ever seen. And it wasn’t just that it was horrifying—that cloud—you can’t imagine. But it was indiscriminate. For all the things people said about the knights, all the things they were accused of, Naktigan was the first time their magic had struck out at civilians in equal measure to the people attacking them.”
Samir’s voice echoed against the walls that surrounded, engulfed. “I don’t know what happened inside these walls. I never had a chance to talk to any of the survivors. But if I had to guess, I’d say even Grandmaster Derian was horrified by what they’d done. A couple skirmishes happened after that, but our side was so angry and the heart had gone out of the knights. Those fight ended quickly and decisively. And then King Kolyn issued his surrender.
“That should have been the end of it.” The end for the knights. The beginning for everyone else. “There were negotiations. I was there when we accepted the King’s terms. We rode in. He and the grandmaster surrendered themselves to Donatien. That should have been the end.”
“But it wasn’t,” Raj said, his voice still flat.
“It wasn’t. At that point, everything was still…well, not okay, but as okay as anyone could hope for. All the remaining knights were arrested, but the castle had its own civilians. No one blamed them for anything. They were permitted to stay, to keep things running while the winners hammered out the question of who got to take over.
“Prince Calimar, he was in custody too, but light custody. He wasn’t a knight, after all, and the King insisted his brother had nothing to do with any of the choices that had been made. The prince tried to beg leniency. No one listened.”
Samir looked up at dark windows above. Easy to imagine unseen eyes looking down at him. “The agreement—from the start, there had been no chance that the king or the grandmaster would live. But a clean execution—those had been the terms. Those terms weren’t kept.”
The torture had been Donatien’s idea. His determination that questions needed to be answered before Kolyn or Derian could be “set free.” Sheluna had railed for hours in private. It was inhumane. It was pointless. It was a breach of the agreement. But no one could stop him.
“They tortured Kolyn and Derian both, but Donatien never got what he wanted out of them. Finally, he killed them, and hung their bodies in front of the castle main gates. That display—that hadn’t been part of the agreement either.”
Raj’s expression was transforming, from despair to anger, but his voice was calm as he said, “Keep going. Tell me the rest.”
“It shouldn’t surprise you to know that when everyone thought they’d captured all the knights, they were wrong. At least one was still free, hiding in the castle. And that one knight was enough.”
Samir took a couple steps over to the courtyard wall and pressed a hand against it. It felt like nothing more than cool stone. Whatever magic still lingered here, he couldn’t feel it. Yet.
“I don’t know exactly what happened. I can only tell you what I felt—what every wizard felt who was still close. It was like an earthquake, only one that happened entirely in your mind. Or drowning in a tidal wave. This feeling of power, of…of the world shaking out from under you. It happened in the middle of the night. It woke me up. It woke up anyone with any amount of sensitivity to magic.
“Everyone who had stayed in the castle fled. None of them could tell us what had happened. But they felt it—we all felt it—that something had changed. The castle had changed. It was…” Samir waved his hand, gesturing at their surroundings, “it was like this.”