The Captain sat at his desk looking like thunder. The events of the previous day all came rushing back, and I felt my expression fall. I tried to catch it. He looked away to control his. Contessa Annalize was also there.

“At last you are come! Where have you been in this dreadful weather?” She checked me for signs of illness, but I doubted I was at any risk. The Holy Man’s soup had tasted mystical. I felt very healthy, and for a little while I had forgotten my troubles.

I glanced at the Captain and quickly focused on Anna. “Were you waiting long? I found shelter to wait out the rain.”

“The rain!” she stared, amazed. “Did you not hear the terrifying crack of thunder, nor see the frightful flash of lightning?”

Besides that in the Captain’s eyes? “I waited that out, too.” The forest was such a creepy place. I had not heard a whisper, nor seen a spark.

But I was glad I had gone. Hope had returned to the world and to my heart. I even felt forgiving toward the Captain. Kiva had told her story believably, and I had not. Her charms were irresistible, mine were not. At least the Captain was not throwing me out, which he could have done. Nor was I returned to the dungeons.

“Well, come. We must leave Eliot Winter to his all-important paperwork.” She tossed a look of irritation at the Captain and missed.

He stood to be polite and his face was almost pleasant, but his eyes promised an unpleasant conversation in my future.

It was unfair. Bad enough that Kiva had made me a villain, I had not even done anything wrong this time! Unless—had the King’s Mage seen me? But if he had, the Captain would not have been letting me leave with the contessa. He would have been locking me in chains, in the deepest dungeon.

Anna was a force of nature, not even noticing my feeble resistance as she dragged me to the seamstresses room in the crafters quarters. “Do not look and try this on,” she commanded. It sounded impossible, but she and Mirelle made it happen, and in an amazingly short amount of time. All too soon, the measurements had been taken and I was back in my stiff dress, returning down the same hallway following the same determined Contessa.

Suddenly unready to face the Captain, I pulled on her arm and offered resistance. “Anna,” I half-whispered. “What were your brothers’ names?”

“Hm?” She slowed, momentarily distracted. “Olivario and Nicolas.”

Strange, he exactly resembled her.

She started to walk again.

“You did not have an older brother? Much older.”

Anna stopped completely. “Why?”

It was not a no, and neither did her face suggest that I was wrong. “I met a man who looked like you.”

She looked shaken and hopeful. “Not..No, it could not be.”

“Was his name Reuben?”

“Describe him,” she whispered back, turning away from the Captain’s office.


For reasons known only to the Captain, when we returned he offered to take Anna home, forestalling her prepared speech. Would she tell him where I had been, whom I had seen?

The Holy Man had said they were friends. Perhaps his approval of me would count for something in the Captain’s eyes.

They were gone long enough that he must have escorted her the whole way to the guild, or to her house. In the meantime, I was stuck sitting at my desk in his office, looking listlessly at the Family books the bookkeeper’s assistant had sent over. They were not interesting.

The Captain’s mood was worse when he returned. He did not say anything, but sat at his desk in stormy silence. He even ignored his paperwork.

When he finally looked up at me, I hid my face behind my book. He uttered only one word, “Study.” If he had said outright that I had been recognized and the execution had been scheduled, I should not have been any more frightened.

He stood and left the room while I hid behind my book. The door shut firmly behind him, and I heard the sliding of a bolt.

As if locking a flimsy wood door could protect me from Zaphar, King’s Mage, or the Count, or Grandfather’s blood.

“Unbelievable. It locks from the outside.”

“What?” I joined Avery at the door and tried to open it. The handle turned but the door did not budge.

“He locked you in.”

After kicking me out, he was locking me in. The last traces of hope from the Holy Man’s soup dried up, along with my tears. I stared at the door and started to reach for it. What was a door to a mage?

Avery caught my arm. “I’ll go haunt him until he opens it. Don’t break anything until I come back.”

I knew it was still hot despite the rain, but I felt freezing. Not even a boiling bath could warm me, nor did pants and long sleeves help. I was in my chair drying my hair when I heard the soft shuffle of footsteps. “What news?”

“It’s all very quiet at the moment,” the intruder spoke softly. “Everyone is just…waiting.”

It was a voice I had only heard once before, but I recognized it all the same. I stood up and turned to face him. “What about the door?”

“The door is fine; I had a key.” The man looked at me as I might have examined a piece of wood. “Miss Avery, Captain’s assistant. I have heard much of you, yet you are always kept hidden away. Let me look at you.”

“Zaphar, King’s Mage. Do I have a choice?”

“He lied. You are a pretty sight to see.”

I did not know if he referred to the Count or the Captain. “Things change?” I offered, needing to say something. Needing him to stop looking.

The mage laughed. “Do they? I wonder.” Glancing over his shoulder, he added, “Some do not.”

“I changed.”

He focused on me. “I see you.” He took a step closer. “I know what you are. Do you?” He bent down to look into my eyes and whispered, “You are the storm, you are the fury. You unmake all that you touch. You think you are safe here? You will never be safe anywhere.” He straightened as the door opened. “Miss Avery, have you seen Captain Silver? I would have a word with him.”

I did not hear the Captain’s response, nor see them leave together.

Zaphar, King’s Mage, was not a stranger to me. I had met him before, though not directly. I had never seen his face, but I had heard his voice in the room above my little cell. The Count had invited him after my first escape.

“You are playing with fire,” a stranger’s melodious voice filled my small prison as his footsteps echoed against the stone floor above me.

The Count laughed. “I intend to control those flames.”

“What you are doing, what you are planning…” His steps stopped just above where I crouched, holding my head in my hands.

“You wish you had thought of it first?”

I could feel the stranger’s gaze, but I did not have the strength to look up. My blood pounded in my brain.

“I will not save you when chaos falls,” he said softly, looking down at me. It felt as though he spoke to me, not to the Count.

“I will not need saving.” The Count’s voice was full of confidence. “Tradition is my ally, and truth my power.”

The stranger walked away, and I remembered to breathe. “This will be your downfall, cousin. You are fighting a force you do not understand.”

“Then I was right? She has magic.”

“That child…she does not have what you fear. It must have been a freak accident that aided her escape.”

The Count had taken to calling me his little freak after that. But why had Zaphar lied to him about my magic?

Avery shook me. “Aevie? Aevlin, look at me!”

I looked at her. “Avery?”

She was burning brightly. “Whatever you are doing, stop! You’re going to kill us both.”

“Didn’t you hear? We’re already dead. We’ve been dead this whole time.”

Avery held my face in her hands. “One of us has a responsibility to live. And anyway, it was Kivalya, again. She’s hiding in the crafters quarters—she saw us and cried to the Captain. Again. That’s all it was.”

Perhaps that was all it was, but when Zaphar, King’s Mage, explained my real identity…

The door glided open and shut around the Captain as he passed through. I turned my face away, but he did not look at me as he passed. He paused in the connecting doorway to his private quarters to say, “It is dinnertime, and you are not eating. No appetite is a clear sign of a guilty conscience.” The door closed behind him.

I was too relieved to defend myself, not that he waited for a response. Twice Zaphar had seen me and not revealed my magic to others. Why?


“You are not even listening.”

My heart leapt from my chest. I had not heard the Captain return.

“I was!” I protested, having not heard a word. “But, what am I to do?” I asked timidly. “And what will you do?”

“I will save the kingdom.” He had reappeared in different clothes. “I am going to dinner. Do not move. Do not even think about moving. I will be gone for two hours, and just this once I would like to know that you are not causing any trouble.”

“Will you bring me—”

“So you are hungry.”

“I only ate soup, and that was hours ago,” my voice was barely audible.

He made a disparaging noise. “Please, faint for fear of your life and stay fainted for the next phase.” The door shut behind him, and I heard the key turn in the lock.

At least he did not wish me dead.

Perhaps when the Holy Man’s happy ending came to pass, I could leave the country with my brother and sister, and we could settle somewhere quietly. Maybe on a farm, where we could be completely self-sufficient. Kiva could tend to the plants and Jaiden could…be Jaiden. Maybe Thorne could reconnect us with Teigen, and Mother would appreciate all I had done to protect her children. We could live in some faraway country where family relations and magics did not matter…

I passed a sleepless night imagining unrealistic fantasies.


About the author


Bio: I dream, I travel, I read, I write, and then I start over again.

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