Varajas felt bad about how had fallen between him and Samir. The longer he sat alone in the silence of Lysander’s tent, the more he felt like he’d done something wrong. No, he knew he’d done something wrong. On top of that, he’d hurt Samir, who didn’t deserve it.

How had Ádan lived like this? These constant calculations, the lies upon lies, drawing lines between yourself and the people you let close to you without tearing yourself up inside from guilt?

He was worried about Samir, and that worry finally drove him out of the tent. He just needed to make sure Samir was—well, not all right, but safe. Varajas wouldn’t even try to talk to him, just make sure he’d gotten back to his tent all right.

“The wizard? Sure,” one of Lysander’s guard answered when Varajas asked if he’d seen Samir. “Went back to his tent, but didn’t stay there. Him and the bat and that dog, they all went back out. That way.” He nodded his head in a direction that led out of the camp. Back up the mountain.

Towards the castle.

A couple questions to guards stationed further out confirmed it. Samir was heading to the castle. He’d left Lady behind, which, to Varajas, implied he was planning to do more magic. Better to leave her safe back here.

Varajas considered grabbing Torment and rushing after him. He could probably catch up if he were mounted. Although footing in the dark would be treacherous, and once he caught up to Samir—what then? He wasn’t going to drag Samir back against his will. And Samir probably wouldn’t invite Varajas to come along with him.

So that left the more quiet approach, following at a distance, being ready to help if Samir needed it.

Moving through the woods in the dark was no trouble. Varajas knew this land. It did mean he was louder than he wanted to be, but he was well behind Samir, so that wasn’t a crisis. Even so, he flinched every time he stepped on a branch or scuffed his boot against a rock.

When the sound came from ahead of him, he reacted on instinct, reaching for his sword, before the shadows resolved into a figure he would have recognized blindfolded.

Ruan was there, swords drawn, looking every bit as surprised as Varajas felt.

Varajas blinked. This was—this couldn’t be real. Another mind trick thrown by the castle. A mistake in the darkness.

He had only a fraction of time to think that before Ruan’s cross lit up, illuminating them both clearly, and there was no more room to question what he was seeing.

“What are you doing here?” Ruan demanded, sounding more frustrated than confused, and that just made Varajas angry because he shouldn’t have to be the only confused person here.

Also, he should get to ask that question. “You’re supposed to be in Triome.”

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Ruan snapped back. “So I guess we’re all off script.”

“I don’t have time for this.”

“I’m sorry. Am I inconveniencing you?” Ruan hadn’t lowered his swords. “Am I in your way again?”

There were so many ways in which this was a disaster, not the least of which was that Ruan had seen him now. Ruan knew he was still alive. If Varajas let him walk away, that could bring Donatien down on not just him, but Ádan and Nikki, on Lysander and Korin, on the knife itself. This could be the end of everything.

But Varajas’s very soul recoiled at the next logical step in that train of thought. To stop Ruan, he’d have to kill him. Cold-blooded murder, when Ruan’s only sin was that he’d known Varajas from a time before.

Derian would have done it. Derian had done far worse in defense of their secret. So many lives had been taken to keep the knife hidden. What was one more?

“No.” Saying the word out loud made it real. “I can’t.” He wasn’t that man, couldn’t be that man. Not even knowing the stakes.

“Can’t what?”

Varajas relaxed his hand, lowered it to his side. “I’m not going to fight you.”

“That’s what you think,” Ruan said. And attacked.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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