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Authors: Claire Legrand

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Rielle turned back to Corien.

“You shouldn’t get so angry,” she told him. “You make mistakes when you’re angry. If you hadn’t been so blinded with it, you’d have stayed with me, grabbed her the moment she was born, and slit her throat right then and there.”

Corien smiled coldly at her. “You might have killed me for that.”

The queen shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll kill you now anyway.”

Simon turned away, his chest tight with fear. How could he possibly do this? He was only eight years old. He had read his traveling books over and over, of course, but he still didn’t understand everything inside them. And from what his father had taught him about the old days, before the marques were hunted down by both humans and
angels, most of their kind didn’t attempt traveling until adulthood.

You can do this, Simon
, came a voice. A woman’s voice—but not the queen’s. Familiar, but…

He whirled, searching the darkness, and found no one.

You
must
do it
, said the voice.
You and the child, Simon, are the only ones who can save us. Quickly, now. Before he discovers you. Your father hid you well, but I can’t protect
you any longer.

A thick, fleshy sound came from inside the queen’s bedroom. Glass crashed to the floor. The queen cried out, and Corien muttered something hateful.

The castle groaned. The wall against which Simon hid rumbled like something deep underground was awakening. A hot burst of air erupted from inside the bedroom, shattering the windows. Simon ducked low over the baby. She squirmed
against his chest with a muted, angry cry.

“Hush, please,” Simon whispered. The air vibrated around him; the terrace rocked beneath his feet. Sweat rolled down his back. A thrumming bright light from within the bedroom swelled, growing ever more brilliant.

He closed his eyes, tried to forget the strange woman’s voice and concentrate. He searched his mind for the words in his forbidden
books, now abandoned beneath the floorboards of his father’s shop:

The empirium lies within every living thing, and every living thing is of the empirium.

Its power connects not only flesh to bone, root to earth, stars to sky, but also road to road, city to city.

Moment to moment.

Only marques, Simon knew, had this mighty gift. The gift of traveling. The ability to cross vast distances
in an instant and walk through time as easily as others walk down the road.

Simon had often fantasized about what it would be like to travel back to the time before the Gate was made—before the old wars, when angels still walked the earth and dragons darkened the skies.

But he couldn’t think about time, not just then. Time was a dangerous, slippery thing. He must think only about distance:
Celdaria to Borsvall.

“No, Rielle!” Corien was screaming. “No! Don’t do this!”

Simon looked back inside to see Queen Rielle on her knees with her face turned to the sky, struggling to stay upright as a brilliant shell of light swelled around her. Corien pounded on the light, burning his fists, but he couldn’t touch her. He clawed and shouted, cursed at her, pleaded with her.

But all
his screams were no use. Rielle’s body was unfurling in long streams of light, her skin flaking away like ash on the wind.

Simon turned away and whispered to the princess, “Don’t worry, I won’t let go. I’ve got you.”

He closed his eyes, bit his lip, ignored the desperate shouts of Corien and the queen’s blinding light. He directed his mind northeast, toward Borsvall. As his books had instructed,
he guided his breath along every line of his body, every sinew, every bone.

Now.

His eyes snapped open.

Twisting strands of light, thin and smoky, floated through the air before him.

Heart racing, Simon held the princess close with one arm and reached out with the other. He listened to his blood, for it knew the way just as it knew to step, to swallow, to breathe. He felt through
the night for the correct threads of
here
and
there
. Somewhere before him lay a road, hidden to his eyes but known, unquestionably, by the power that thrummed in his veins, and if he could just find the right thread, tug it free, lay it out before his feet like a winding carpet—

There.

A single thread, brighter than the others, danced at his fingertips.

Simon hardly dared to reach
for it. If he moved too slowly or too quickly, if his mind wandered, the thread could slip away from him.

Behind him, the queen screamed at Corien, her voice thick with fury: “I am no longer yours!”

There was no time for doubt. Simon reached for the brightest thread, cautiously guided it around his fingers like a lock of shining hair.

Take a moment
, his books had said,
to get to know
your thread. The more familiar you are with it, the more likely it is to take you where you want to go.

As Simon stared at the thread hovering in his hand, others brightened and drifted closer, pulled by the force of his concentration.

Though they scorched the tender skin of his palms, he gathered up the threads in his hands, guiding them through the chill night air. Soon he had maneuvered
the threads into a quivering ring, and past the ring stretched a passage into darkness.

The first thread, the brightest, crept to Simon’s chest and clung there like a briar, tugging him gently forward.

Simon felt silly about it but thought to the thread nevertheless,
Hello.

The pressure of its touch lightened.

Simon saw faint shapes through the shifting, sharpening passage: A winding
path of black stone, a tall, narrow gate. Ice-capped mountains. Soldiers pointing in awe, shouting in the harsh Borsvallic tongue.

Every muscle in Simon’s young body snapped rigid. With each breath, the world dimmed. And yet laughter bubbled up inside him even so. He could not imagine ever being happier. It was not easy, this power, but it was right, and it was
his
.

Then, behind him, Queen
Rielle cried out something Simon couldn’t understand. Her voice shattered.

Corien’s frantic screams were hoarse with anguish.

Simon swallowed hard, fear crowding him like a swarm of insects.

A great, sudden stillness swallowed away all sound—the infant’s cries, the humming threads. The world fell silent.

Simon looked back just as a column of light shot up from the queen’s bedroom
and into the night, turning the sky white as the dawn. Simon hid his face, bowing his head over the infant in his arms. His traveling hand shook as he worked. An instant later, the silence erupted into a shattering boom that shook the mountains and nearly knocked Simon off his feet.

The castle pitched beneath him. The air popped with the smell of fire. One of the mountains surrounding the
capital collapsed, followed by another—and another.

Hold on to her
, said the woman’s voice once more, high and clear in his mind.
Don’t ever let her go.

The threads were slipping in the grip of Simon’s thoughts. He felt stretched between where his feet stood and where the thread at his chest tugged.

Go, Simon!
the woman’s voice cried.
Now!

Simon stepped toward the ring of light
that led east just as a blazing heat bloomed at his heels.

The last things Simon knew came at him slowly:

A bright wall of fire rushing at him from all sides, crackling like a thousand storms. The air shifting around him as he stepped through the threads’ passage, like cold water sliding over his skin. The princess screaming in his arms.

The sight of the Borsvall mountains fading.

The thread attached to his heart changing. Twisting.

Darkening.

Breaking, with a snap like thunder.

A force slamming into him, snatching him forward by his bones.

The baby being ripped from his arms, no matter how hard he tried to hold on to her.

A piece of fabric, ripping in his hands.

And then, nothing.

1

Rielle

“Lord Commander Dardenne came to me in the middle of the night, his daughter in his arms. They smelled of fire; their clothes were singed. He could hardly speak. I had never seen the man afraid before. He thrust Rielle into my arms and said, ‘Help us. Help her. Don’t let them take her from me.’”

—Testimony of Grand Magister Taliesin Belounnon, on Lady Rielle Dardenne’s
involvement in the Boon Chase massacre
April 29, Year 998 of the Second Age

TWO YEARS EARLIER

Rielle Dardenne hurried into Tal’s office and dropped the sparrow’s message onto his desk.

“Princess Runa is dead,” she announced.

She wouldn’t describe her mood as
excited
exactly, but her own kingdom, Celdaria, and their northeastern neighbor, Borsvall, had lived in a state of tension
for so many decades that it was hardly noteworthy when, say, a Celdarian merchant ship sank off Borsvall’s coast or patrols came to blows near the border.

But a murdered Borsvall princess? That was news. And Rielle wanted to dissect every piece of it.

Tal let out a sigh, set down his pen, and dragged his ink-smudged hands through his messy blond hair. The polished golden flame pinned to
his lapel winked in the sunlight.

“Perhaps,” Tal suggested, turning a look on Rielle that was not quite disapproval and not quite amusement, “you should consider looking less thrilled about a princess’s murder?”

She slid into the chair across from him. “I’m not happy about it or anything. I’m simply intrigued.” Rielle pulled the slip of paper back across the desk and read over the inked
words once more. “So you do think it was assassination? Audric thinks so.”

“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid today, Rielle.”

She smiled sweetly at him. “When have I ever done anything stupid?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “The city guard is on high alert. I want you here, safe in the temple, in case anything happens.” He took the message from her, scanning its contents. “How did you
get this, anyway? No, wait. I know. Audric gave it to you.”

Rielle stiffened. “Audric keeps me informed. He’s a good friend. Where’s the harm in that?”

Tal didn’t answer, but he didn’t have to.

“If you have something to say to me,” she snapped, color climbing up her cheeks, “then just say it. Or else let’s begin our lesson.”

Tal watched her a moment longer, then turned to pick
up four enormous books sitting on the shelf behind him.

“Here,” he said, ignoring the mutinous expression on her face. “I’ve marked some passages for you to read. Today will be devoted to quiet study. And I’ll test you later, so don’t even think about skimming.”

Rielle narrowed her eyes at the book on the top of the stack. “
A Concise History of the Second Age, Volume I: The Aftermath of
the Angelic Wars
.” She made a face. “This hardly looks concise.”

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” he said, returning to the papers on his desk.

Rielle’s favorite place in Tal’s office was the window seat overlooking the main temple courtyard. It was piled high with scarlet cushions lined in gold piping, and when she sat there, dangling her legs out into the sun, she could almost forget
that there was an enormous world beyond the temple and her city—a world she would never see.

She settled by the window, kicked off her boots, hiked up her heavy lace-trimmed skirts, and rested her bare feet on the sill. The spring sunlight washed her legs in warmth, and soon she was thinking of how Audric blossomed on bright, sun-filled days like this one. How his skin seemed to glow and crackle,
begging to be touched.

Tal cleared his throat, breaking her focus.

Tal knew her far too well.

She cracked open
A Concise History
, took one look at the tiny, faded text, and imagined tossing the book out the window and into the temple courtyard, where citizens were filing in for morning prayers—to pray that the riders they had wagered upon in today’s race would win, no doubt. Every
temple in the capital would be full of such eager souls, not just there in the Pyre—Tal’s temple, where citizens worshipped Saint Marzana the firebrand—but in the House of Light and the House of Night as well and the Baths and the Firmament, the Forge and the Holdfast. Whispered prayers in all seven temples, to all seven saints and their elements.

Wasted prayers
, thought Rielle with a slight,
sharp thrill.
The other racers will look like children on ponies compared to me.

She flipped through a few pages, biting the inside of her lip until she felt calm enough to speak. “I’ve heard many in the Borsvall court are blaming Celdaria for Runa’s death. We wouldn’t do such a thing, would we?”

Tal’s pen scratched across his paper. “Certainly not.”

“But it doesn’t matter if it’s
true or not, does it? If King Hallvard’s councils convince him that we killed his daughter, he will declare war at last.”

Tal dropped his pen with a huff of annoyance. “I’m not going to get any work done today, am I?”

Rielle swallowed her grin.
If only you knew how true that is, dearest Tal.

“I’m sorry if I have questions about the political climate of our country,” she said. “Does
that fall under the category of things we’re not allowed to discuss, lest my poor vulnerable brain shatter from the stress?”

A smile twitched at the corner of Tal’s mouth. “Borsvall might declare war, yes.”

“You don’t seem concerned about this possibility.”

“I find it unlikely. We’ve been on the edge of war with Borsvall for decades, and yet it has never happened. And it
will
never
happen, because the Borsvall people may be warmongers, but King Hallvard is neither healthy nor stupid. We would flatten his army. He can’t afford a war with anyone, much less with Celdaria.”

“Audric said…” Rielle hesitated. A twist of unease slipped down her throat. “Audric said he thinks Princess Runa’s death, and the slave rebellion in Kirvaya, means it’s time. That the Queens are coming.”

Silence fell over the room like a shroud.

“Audric has always been fascinated with the prophecy,” Tal said, his voice deceptively calm. “He’s been looking for signs of the Queens’ coming for years.”

“He sounds rather convinced this time.”

“A slave rebellion and a dead princess are hardly enough to—”

“But I heard Grand Magister Duval talking about how there have been storms across
the ocean in Meridian,” she pressed on, searching his face. “Even as far as Ventera and Astavar. Strange storms, out of season.”

Tal blinked.
Ah
, thought Rielle.
You didn’t know that, did you?

“Storms do occur out of season from time to time,” Tal said. “The empirium works in mysterious ways.”

Rielle curled her fingers in her skirts, taking comfort in the fact that soon she would be
in her riding trousers and boots, her collar open to the breeze.

She would be on the starting line.

“The report I read,” she continued, “said that a dust storm in southern Meridian had shut down the entire port of Morsia for days.”

“Audric needs to stop showing you every report that comes across his desk.”

“Audric didn’t show me anything. I found this one myself.”

Tal raised
an eyebrow. “You mean you snuck into his office when he wasn’t there and went through his papers.”

Rielle’s cheeks grew hot. “I was looking for a book I’d left behind.”

“Indeed. And what would Audric say if he knew you’d been in his office without his permission?”

“He wouldn’t care. I’m free to come and go as I please.”

Tal closed his eyes. “Lady Rielle, you can’t just visit the
crown prince’s private rooms day and night as though it’s nothing. You’re not children anymore. And you are not his fiancée.”

Rielle lost her breath for an instant. “I’m well aware of that.”

Tal waved a hand and rose from his chair, effectively ending all talk of the prophecy and its Queens.

“The city is crowded today—and unpredictable,” he said, walking across the room to pour himself
another cup of tea. “Word is spreading about Princess Runa’s death. In such a climate, the empirium can behave in similarly unpredictable ways. Perhaps we should begin a round of prayers to steady our minds. Amid the chaos of the world, the burning flame serves as an anchor, binding us in peace to the empirium and to God.”

Rielle glared at him. “Don’t use your magister voice, Tal. It makes
you sound old.”

He sighed, took a sip of his tea. “I am old. And grumpy, thanks to you.”

“Thirty-two is hardly old, especially to already be Grand Magister of the Pyre.” She paused. She would need to proceed carefully. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were appointed as the next Archon. Surely, with someone as talented as you beside me, I could safely watch the Chase from your box—”

“Don’t try to flatter me, Lady Rielle.” His eyes sparked at her. There was the Tal she liked—the ferocious firebrand, not the pious teacher. “It isn’t safe for you out there right now, not to mention dangerous for everyone else if something set you off and you lost control.”

Rielle slammed shut
A Concise History
and rose from the window seat. “Damn you, Tal.”

“Not in the temple, please,”
Tal admonished over the rim of his cup.

“I’m not a child. Do you really think I don’t know better by now?” Her voice turned mocking. “‘Rielle, let’s say a prayer together to calm you.’ ‘Rielle, let’s sing a song about Saint Katell the Magnificent to take your mind off things.’ ‘No, Rielle, you can’t go to the masque. You might forget yourself. You might have fun, God forbid.’ If Father had
his way, I’d stay locked up for the rest of my life with my nose buried in a book or on my knees in prayer, whipping myself every time I had a stray angry thought. Is that the kind of life you would like for me too?”

Tal watched her, unmoved. “If it meant you were safe and that others were safe as well? Yes, I would.”

“Kept under lock and key like some criminal.” A familiar, frustrated
feeling rose within her; she pushed it back down with a vengeance. She would not lose control, not today of all days.

“Do you know,” she said, her voice falsely bright, “that when it storms, Father takes me down to the servants’ quarters and gives me dumbwort? It puts me to sleep, and he locks me up and leaves me there.”

After a pause, Tal answered, “Yes.”

“I used to fight him. He
would hold me down and slap me, pinch my nose shut until I couldn’t breathe and had to open my mouth. Then he would shove the vial between my lips and make me drink, and I would spit it up, but he would keep forcing me to drink, whispering to me everything I’d ever done wrong, and right in the middle of yelling how much I hated him, I would fall asleep. And when I would wake up, the storm would be
over.”

A longer pause. “Yes,” Tal answered softly. “I know.”

“He thinks storms are too provocative for me. They give me
ideas
, he says.”

Tal cleared his throat. “That was my fault.”

“I know.”

“But the medicine, that was his suggestion.”

She gave him a withering look. “And did you try to talk him out of it?”

He did not answer, and the patience on his face left her seething.

“I don’t fight him anymore,” she said. “I hear a crack of thunder and go below without him even asking me to. How pathetic I’ve become.”

“Rielle…” Tal sighed, shook his head. “Everything I could say to you, I’ve said before.”

She approached him, letting the loneliness she typically hid from him—from everyone—soften her face.
Come, good Magister Belounnon. Pity your sweet Rielle.
He
broke first, looking away from her. Something like sorrow shifted across his face, and his jaw tightened.

Good.

“He’d let me sleep through life if he could,” she said.

“He loves you, Rielle. He worries for you.”

Heat snapped at Rielle’s fingertips, growing along with her anger. With a stubborn stab of fury, she let it come. She knew she shouldn’t, that an outburst would only make
it more difficult to sneak away, but suddenly she could not bring herself to care.

He loves you, Rielle.

A father who loved his daughter would not make her his prisoner.

She seized one of the candles from Tal’s desk and watched with grim satisfaction as the wick burst into a spitting, unruly flame. As she stared at it, she imagined her fury as a flooding river, steadily spilling over
its banks and feeding the flame in her hands.

The flame grew—the size of a pen, a dagger, a sword. Then every candle followed suit, a forest of fiery blades.

Tal rose from his desk and picked up the handsome polished shield from its stand in the corner of the room. Every elemental who had ever lived—every waterworker and windsinger, every shadowcaster and every firebrand like Tal—had to
use a casting, a physical object uniquely forged by their own hands, to access their power. Their singular power, the one element they could control.

But not Rielle.

She needed no casting, and fire was not the only element that obeyed her.

All of them did.

Tal stood behind her, one hand holding his shield, the other hand resting gently on her own. As a child, back when she had
still thought she loved Tal, such touches had thrilled her.

Now she seriously considered punching him.

“In the name of Saint Marzana the Brilliant,” Tal murmured, “we offer this prayer to the flames, that the empirium might hear our plea and grant us strength: Fleet-footed fire, blaze not with fury or abandon. Burn steady and true, burn clean and burn bright.”

Rielle bit down on harsh
words. How she hated praying. Every familiar word felt like a new bar being added to the cage her father and Tal had crafted for her.

The room began to shake—the inkwell on Tal’s desk, the panes of glass in the open window, Tal’s half-finished cup of tea.

“Rielle?” Tal prompted, shifting his shield. In his body behind her, she felt a rising hot tension as he prepared to douse her fire
with his own power. Despite her best efforts, the concern in his voice caused her a twinge of remorse. He meant well, she knew. He wanted, desperately, for her to be happy.