Spending the Night

He was twice cursed: once to walk the night, and twice, to feel every cosmic shift of the stars, to hear its spirits calling, crying, and keening all around him.

He saw the roiling atoms of life grind and flow to make the very dark that cloaked his hands with frost, and burned his skull with eyes of fire.

Even the spirits paused in their wanderings to let him pass.

The damned saw him in all his splendor, the gems and gold that bedecked and dripped from his limbs, and the exalted blessed fled from the sight of his malformed, wretched nakedness.

And when he wished it, all fled from his presence, leaving him to hear his own feet crunch, splash, shuffle, and run, feeling the pain of never resting, even when the silence of a universe devoid of gods and magic mocked his tears where the trails scraped like small claws and tasted of brine, and he would beg for death’s peace.

Death would reveal himself, shake his silent skull ‘no,’ and disappear. Again.

And step after he weary step, he wandered on.

And wanders still.


Chapter 1: A Buzzard’s Circle

   Ours was a small town, but shrouded in dark secrets, and steeped in bad, bloody practices. The forest around us was cursed and haunted with the spirits of burned witches, tortured slaves, and small, shallow graves full of the indiscretions of the town’s self-proclaimed holy men. They sometimes paid unholy men to rid them of those indiscretions for good, or to see to it they didn’t stay anywhere close.

     The man who was now responsible for burying them all seemed himself to never age, though he was clearly on the other side of youth. He worked alone, and hard.

    Overall, he seemed fit enough, and did the job well.

    Of course, being quiet and aloof he came under suspicion, though he seemed a naturally quiet man content with his lot in life. His reluctance to offer any sort of consolation to the grieving seemed more out of surliness than a quiet personality.

    His name was foreign and difficult to pronounce for our plain tongues, and though no one knows or remembers who started it, he was nicknamed ‘Buzzard,’ because he seemed content to dwell there among the dead, though a house had been purchased for him in the town proper. 

    He set up a room in the sexton’s workshed and slept there. 

    Being under suspicion for his ways, the town council tested him by sending prostitutes, con men, and the occasional bounty hunter, to see what his character was made of and how prone he was to bribery’s corruption.

    All of them returned quickly, having been rebuffed in a quick and efficient manner.

    With the hunters, some of whom were offered a bounty for his head, not all of them returned; whether they died or got away is anyone’s guess. The ones who did kept their silence, and never came back.

    The women cited the Buzzard’s intense scrutiny that bore through their fakery and chilled them to the bone.

    His secrets were safe, whatever they were. 

    But the council was more determined than smart, and by the time they found out Buzzard’s true nature, it was too late.  

2: The Final First Warning

    At the time of the next town gathering to discuss bringing in and distributing the harvest, Buzzard showed up late and took a seat in the back. He paid no attention to the silence that fell over the Hall. He’d never shown up to a gathering before. 

    He looked at no one, and said nothing, but his eyes were all business.

    He figured out what they were doing, and he came here to let them know he wasn’t pleased.

    When the meeting was over, Buzzard moved to block the door, and those nearest him recoiled when his gaze swept over them. They recoiled a bit further as he spoke.

    “This will be your only warning. Leave me be. I bury your dead, respectfully and thoroughly.

    “Been doing it a long time, and I’ll keep doing it ‘til my own time. Leave it at that, and leave me be.”

    No one said anything, and he stepped aside to let them pass, turning his gaze to the council in the front of the room, who decided to leave by another door rather than pass him. 

   A couple of them challenged his staring, but their nerves failed them. It was as if they realized he might do any number of things to them at any time, because they knew almost nothing about him. 


    Leave it at that.

    It was too late. He piqued my youthful curiosity, and I had to get this figured out.

    I convinced two of my friends to come with me to spy on him after midnight.

*art by bzitz*

An Inheritance of Light

All I could think of was how beautiful you looked, even through the downpour.

Your stance so regal, dark-gowned, standing full height in the wind-tossed high grass

Your bearing, not defiant, but trusting that the power so rapidly bearing down upon you, dread and awful in its unpredictability when bequeathed to your forebears, would find no fault or make exceptions.

My heartbeat matched the shimmering rhythm of the thick, slashing rain seeking to smash through the window. I had to shield my eyes against the sizzling brightness of untethered lightning striking in several bolts, but I saw when it hit you.

I saw you fall, believing you dead, burned to a bloody pile of bone and ash to be swept away across the open field, the rushing wind scattering your remains like sand from a child’s fist.

Then I wept for you all through the wet, stormy night thinking your new power found fault in you after all and punished you for the crimes of your soul.


At first, the smoldering grass hid you from me.

When you finally emerged, walking toward me, unsteady as newborn fawn, the sight of you was terrible and beautiful, spellbinding and repulsive. I confess that fear and lust waltzed within me at the sight of you, rescued and resurrected, by a hand unseen yet not unfamiliar.

The dark, vengeful fallen one, swatted from Paradise like the very flies he commands, took pity on himself, raising you to be yet another useless minion to strike another feeble blow at his celestial conqueror.

Closer still, our eyes locked. There was sadness in your gaze, even through the iridescence of your glowing irises.

The field that newly took the trauma of your birthing, now tinged with the light of false dawn, gave the wet, charred grasses over to cold death as the morning dew drowned the rest of the small, clingy fires..

You walked back into a world that no longer knew you, and held me tight.

And in my weakness, I suffered the bite that transported me, and took the mark that condemned me to be with you to endure unbearable pain, knowing you were no longer who you were.

I wondered if together, in the inheritance of damnation’s light, we would we learn to love again.

In time?

For eternity?

Does it matter?

Vision Aerie (1: The Caul of War)

Years later, standing there alone in the center of the sizzling, stinking, fire strewn rubble, I was left without a sense of peace or resolution following the enemy’s defeat.

As the sun set in the very shades of the blood we spilled, those who gathered round to gawk at the remains of their invaders likely felt a sense of ‘closure,’ but the only thing that closed for me that day were the gates of any celestial paradise to my immortal, trembling, wailing soul, and I left them to bury their dead, and loot what they desired, reminded once more of the calling that followed me, and the curse that followed the call.


I was in their world, even then, and while not quite understanding what was wrong, I knew that something wasn’t right.

The spirits were all around the onlookers staring into my cradle. A swirling mass of black shapes and shadows, they too turned their gazes on me, peering as they assessed the threat.

I stopped pulling at my face and returned their silent scrutiny, looking past the smiling, cooing, babbling faces that were a hair’s breadth away from having their souls snatched from the land of the living the way a cutpurse steals the gold of the unsuspecting.


The onlookers were now cheering, surrounding my body, kissing my cheek soiled by ashes and blood, pounding my back, and offering hands to shake that I ignored.

I was a foreigner here; I had no tribal marks, nor spoke their language, but their grateful smiles convinced me that I’d helped win the long, protracted war against the invading hordes that seemed to continually plague them. As the cheering continued, despite my reluctance, in my own relief I began to return their smiles, and in a rush of pride foolishly, foolishly roared my hollow victory to the equally hollow sky, or so I thought.

But the gods that dwelled in hallowed halls had just begun to make the path crooked as they played with my life.


The spirits around my family and their friends all turned their attention to a dark haired, dark eyed woman who took my infant fists in her hand, and leaned over to get my attention.

Everything went still, and with three of her long fingernails and a practiced motion she lifted the caul from my face, letting it dangle for a few seconds while she cleaned my face with the damp, warm cloth in her other hand.

My face was cold, and I suppose blue, because she set the cloth aside and rubbed my cheeks with her soft palms as she turned to reassure my mother I would live.

When she took the caul, it was not a tearing off, but more like an extraction of something inside me, like lovers releasing a long, hard hug.

She put it somewhere on her person, and the spirits began to disappear from my sight, as grim and deathly silent as they’d manifested.


As the sense of relief at their liberation swelled, I found myself lifted and carried on shoulders that bobbed and dipped not unlike the ocean. Whether it was from drunkenness or weakness. I couldn’t tell, and it didn’t matter, but I bunched some fabric on shoulders in my fists and held on, not knowing where they were taking me.

Inevitably, the toll of the fight took my consciousness as its prize, and the last thing I remember was a pair of large hands peeling me off the revelers’ shoulders, and lifting my prone body into the air.


I woke up in my own bed.

Covered in bruises and scars, I didn’t understand what happened at first, handed back and forth between dreams and reality as I was, and not being able to tell the difference.

What was it about that war that I needed to be a part of it? What was inside of me that it needed in order to end?

How much did I really want to know the answer, to remember what I did, what my birth caul had to do with it, and what was the price of that knowledge?

At the core of me now was an emptiness, cold and black, devoid of anything remotely like desire to repent or apologize for whatever it had been.

Let the blood and madness flow, then.

A Vampire Pleads for Death

But the humans….

I heard the ancestors’ voices in my head, chorus and echo, reprimanding me for my reluctance.

I looked up at them, but not in prayer. If I’d had a heart, it likely would have quailed, or broken, or skipped, or whatever it is hearts do when they’ve had their full of life’s dealings.

“Yes, I know. But I grow weary of dwelling in drafty halls full of shadows, and the stench of entrails and blood, and broken bodies strewn across the soil.

“The misty nights among the tombs hold no beauty for me anymore, not even by moonlight.

“And yes, the humans are foolish; they either don’t understand why they’re punished for evil, or the relish the pain and death, and seek our retribution.

“I am tired of their tears, their screams of suffering, and the pitiable prayers, and the endless stories of why their lives should be spared in the name of love, or the offers of their wealth, even their flesh in the earthly sense, bartered like the counterfeit coin it is, but they still believe it of value to us.

“No, my people. Release me from this darkness, for I am made of dark stone, indifferent to the killing now. It holds nothing more for me, and I have lived too long in it.”

I found that as my request was spoken, I began to feel lighter, even as my vision blurred and began to darken.

They heard me.

“As I have no part in Heaven’s light, let me embrace the final darkness, and see earth and damnation no more.”

Sit here, child, and wait for the sun.

I sat and waited, feeling the red hunger growing silent within me.

And crying final tears of blood, awaited my oblivion.

Desiring Incandescence

A single ray of light shines in the sewer of my life.

The water around me is befouled beyond stench, and full of things that nip and suck and bite.

The chains chafe my wrists with their rust, now in my bloodstream, infecting as it goes. They’re heavy too, and to a starving man they weigh too much for my arms to move for too long.

I focus on the light.

I belong up there. I belong to the light.

The dark and silent cell I’m in mocks my feeble affirmation as I try to spit, but my captors have decided to keep me thirsty as well.

The light, dim as it is, hurts my eyes, and squinting doesn’t help much, but I see the hole is big enough to fit my fingers. Touch freedom. It is just within your grasp. I wanted to, more than anything, but the rational part of me that was still there tells me it’s a test, and I follow my instincts, and keep my hand inside.

I reach through, and someone breaks my fingers by stomping them, or worse, they cut them off,

The light brightened, or seemed to, as if to say I won’t let that happen. Do it. Don’t be afraid.

And so, against everything in me screaming in fear, I reach. The light finds them, warms them, and the ground is firm beneath them, and I close my eyes even as the tears fall.

There’s a breeze, and the warmth from the sun, and I close my eyes, imagining myself out there sunning like a lizard, grateful for everything. Even my solitude.

Already, my thin, shaking arms grow tired, and small clank from the shifting chains calls me back from the reverie like a parent whose child wandered too far past an unseen boundary.

Like the same willful child, I tune out the call to stay as long as I can, as long as I want. The darkness can wait.

I leave it now choice, but it is patient, indulgent even, as if the parent decided to let the consequences of that choice teach obedience.

The darkness doesn’t understand the human will.


I don’t know how long I stood there surrounded by the filth, but the ray of light faded, and gravity pulled at my manacles to break my infantile grip on the ground above me.

There were tears in my eyes still, but a smile on my face.

That smile made the darkness angry, and the things that crawled, nipped, bit, and sucked my blood came at me with a vengeance. These seemed larger, more fierce, and faster, and my screams of pain and prayers to relieve the anguish fell on deaf celestial ears that did not hear me, or chose to ignore my begging for mercy.

There will be no more tomorrows for you, the darkness said.

I was on my knees, bleeding and in agony from the poisons coursing through me.

By the time the vermin were burrowing into the gore of me, I was laughing.

I left the darkness, and went toward the last of the light.

Tell Me Your Story (Chapter 2)

His mother’s hair, glossy and black as a newborn raven’s wing, framed her face as the gentle beach wind blew strands across her sea-green eyes, an obsidian veil of strands she was forever moving with her fingers, unable to keep it tamed and penned behind her ears.

Her eyes were beautiful, the contrast against her hair and dusky skin a bit jolting at first; it seemed even her hair couldn’t help but be near them, the dark strands like fairy trails, as if they’d stopped to look before flying away, weaving around her lashes.

He found it odd she never considered cutting it, but never suggested it.

At this hour of the day the sun was high enough for the sand to be warm under his feet, and he took a glance up at the clouds sailing like galleons of vapor across the sky, assailing the light before floating away.

A perfect day.

In her linen dokran, she was not dressed for swimming today, though they walked where the surf met the sand and their feet kicked up droplets of mud; she didn’t seem to mind the hem of her robe getting muddy.

He was going to splash her, as she’d fallen into a reverie, but something in her expression checked the impulse and purged it from his mind.


She was preoccupied, looking out at the ocean, and though the surf was quiet, he didn’t think she heard him, so he called again.


She turned to face him then, her eyes coming to focus, her smile indicating he had her attention, but he’d forgotten what he was to ask about his father, and quickly filled it with something more inocuous.

“Can we collect shells today?”

Her smile grew bigger. “Don’t we always?”


He wanted to remind her that they hadn’t always, to remind her that when his father set sail and the weeks flew past like a hurricane wind that brought no letters to their door, they would go to the harbor, and she’d spend hours watching the horizon, leaving him to fend for himself through the rough trade and thick stench of filthy, briny sailors, fearless gulls and rats, and buckets of bloody chum for sharks and such.

He took the neglect well enough, and an older fish merchant took a liking to him, teaching him to scale and gut, and how to remove a hook from a wriggler. He’d also taken a liking to Mother, but when his advances were rejected, he cooled toward the boy himself, no longer as welcoming, content to exchange a brief nod of non-greeting and nothing more.

Too young to understand the motives of lust, the boy retreated further into himself, not realizing he’d been used as a prop.


Mercifully, she stopped going to the harbor, and they began to walk the beach instead. He wasn’t sure whether to view it as a sign of persistent optimism or fading hope. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, and so they passed the time collecting shells, and he’d go swimming while she watched.

He’d swim today too, when the water became warmer, but for now, her eyes replaced the sun in his world.

The ship never came, and the emptiness of the horizon seemed to reflect the emptiness in her heart as he listened to her quiet sobbing in the small hours of the morning, grieving more for her instead of with her.

For himself, there were calico patches of impressions that never became a whole picture, trickles of sensory things that never became a whole stream.

It left him more numb than angry, more resigned than sad.

He did have a memory that he favored, but even that one he’d buried deep.


The book seemed to know he wasn’t done, and the pages called to it, digging into the barriers of his mind and tearing them like desiccated gossamer as he fought back the tears from a well he thought had dried long ago.

The memory came, evoking feelings of an unwanted longing he hated but couldn’t stop.

He shook his head. “Please, spirit. No. Please….”

The book’s power broke through, and the oldest memory flared like a newly made torch.


His parents were standing together, looking down at him as he woke up, squalling and striking the air with his infant fists.

She smiled at the both of them, kissed his toes, then kissed the man on the cheek and said she was going to make breakfast.

When she was gone, his father’s rough, strong hands lifted him to see a smile of loving pride nestled inside of bushy, black whiskers, but the rest of his father’s face was indistinct.

The smile was all he remembered while the edges of the vision dimmed and faded, and the sound of gently rolling surf returned…


“That’s a beautiful shell, son.”

He beamed at the praise, and she laughed and ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead.

“Did you put it to your ear yet?”

“Yes, I did!”

“Did you hear the ocean?”

He grew pensive. “No, I heard….I heard it speak.”

She stopped, and looked at him, saw he was serious. “What did it say to you?”

It asked me…it said, “Would you sail the world to find a smile?

He’d heard the voice as clearly as he could hear the wind, the gulls, and the surf foaming and hissing at his feet, and when he looked up again, she was weeping into her hands.


The book’s power, or whatever it was, released him.

Weakened, he merely sat back, and let his wits and composure begin to return.

He guessed he always knew he’d put the memory away but never sealed it.

He didn’t know if he could, or really wanted to seal it forever. He didn’t know if the book had that power. But what he knew was that in that moment, if he could have, he would have sailed the world to find that smile and bring it back to her so she could see the man she loved, and smile at him as she did that morning, and her world would be set right again.

Leaving the book on the table, he finally emerged from the hidden room and locked the door.

Through the dirty windows he saw the light had turned to darkness, and under a blanket of moon and stars and dusty silence, he shuffled along to his space in the library’s cellar.

He used the slivered moonlight to find a match and lit the candle on his stand, and sat on the edge of his bed thinking about what just happened, but the emotions were too high and the thoughts racing and incohesive.

He didn’t want to think right now, and reached for the flask in his stand.

With the fire of the flask’s liquid settling him, he managed to change into his night clothes and lay down.

Tonight at least, he’d sleep like the child he wished he’d been, his father standing by his mother’s side, lifting him onto broad shoulders as they all watched the feeling of longing sail away on the high tide, never to return.

Tell Me Your Story (Chapter 1)

The old librarian was down there alone for hours in dim light stuffed with lazy, floating dust motes that filtered through neglected windows. It settled on everything, sealing the words inside the books beneath another layer of obscurity.

The silence held all the ancient words no longer in use.

Journals, scrolls, and the books bound in leather and skin, written in inks of indigo, black, and blood, sleep side by side waiting for a scholar’s eager hand to pluck them from the gloom as the old librarian walks the aisles as slowly as the drifting dust. The slow rub of his his rags, intended to beat back the dust and grime that claimed the place a long time ago merely smeared it about and spread it across the shelf spans.

But to his fading vision the shelves were newly made and gleaming, and his off-key humming grew more in tune as he went about preparing places for absent visitors.

He did not know what else to do, and had nowhere else to go, and lived too long.

The ways of the folk that once needed him hardened and died, like winter corn left in the field.

He mourned their passing, even as he knew his years of knowledge of the books, of their ways, and even their secrets, had endeared him to their little town.

He mourned them but didn’t miss them, for knowledge had evolved and they had not.

And in the end, when his body could no longer do the work, he went to a hidden room in the back that had a solitary desk with a book on it, bound in faded black leather with elegant, flaking, gold etched letters that read:

Tell Me Your Story.

So he closed his eyes and opened his mind, and as he let the memories in, the words of his story filled page after page…

The Passing: A Touch of Menace (Chapter 31)

“Zephyr, how do the Cancelers know what you are?”

Hannah knew you would have to come to them and asked me to accompany you. As she saved my life, and for the love I bore her, I agreed.

“But you sacrificed your body.” I would’ve questioned him on when Gran contacted him, but she was capable of things far beyond my understanding then, and now. How much had she seen beforehand? How much had she known?

When he came to me, he’d been in such a frail state, his age so apparent, his feathers so faded and old looking, I thought him all but dead. I should have known better; Gran had always said death was a gateway to another realm, and nothing more, and his next words confirmed her proverb.

A small thing to lose at this time of magic warfare. In some ways, it’s better, but by all means, Little Mother, defend yourself. My power will only strengthen from now on, to your benefit.

Tyrel came and stood beside me.

I wanted to take his hand; he seemed so lost and resigned to his fate at their hands, I wanted to hold him, reassure him, but anything I said would mean nothing, especially now that it was known his people had no power over me. Still, I was grateful he was there, for we were now at a crossroad.

“What do you want, child?” Centerpiece asked.

There was no point to further delay, or an attempt to deceive; I forced myself not to drop my gaze as I answered. “To find the Traitors Guild, and bring them to justice for their part in the purging.”

A moment of silence, then some spluttering laughter, and an amused smile from their oracle, standing nearby.

You? ” Centerpiece asked again. “And just how will you do that if the king protects them?”

I felt my face heat even as I said it. “By using the magic you couldn’t take from me.”

Tyrel hid a grin behind his hand, and the oracle stopped smiling as the Council’s laughter abruptly stopped.

“To what purpose, Tina?” another Canceler asked.

Tyrel stepped in front of me, and I let him, understanding what was at stake for his future. He needed to redeem his error with bringing me here to keep in their good graces. Mercifully, they were going to let him try.

“We’re not entirely sure their powers are completely gone,” he said.

This piqued Sarai’s interest. “How so?”

He looked at her. “The spells aren’t destroyed or broken when they enter the Void. We believe the Traitors never fully cooperated, and found a way to extract the spells, fix them, and reuse them against us.”

They looked to the oracle. “Sarai, is this possible?”

She closed her eyes for a long moment, then came back to herself, looking like she snuck back into the house after being told not to go out.

“I don’t sense anything amiss in the spirit realm, Lord Sydon.”

“They could be using one of you to hide what that something might be, or they might be using a turned Canceler to shield the magic from you, or a powerful familiar like Zephyr.”

A long stretch of silence began as the talked among themselves and I stood there shivering, not just from the draft in the hall, but for Sarai’s focused gaze and the fact that our mission would actually be starting in a matter of hours.

A long silence ensued for those of us tied and shackled as they talked amongst themselves; clearly they weren’t used to feeling threatened. Tyrel was fidgeting, and I had my own creeping doubt, but I decided to go for it anyway.

“If it comforts you, Councilmen, send Oracle Sarai with us.”

She hadn’t expected that, and glared at me; if they ordered her to go she could not refuse.

Tyrel looked at me too, his expression letting me know I’d made another big mistake.

Lord Sydon, formerly Centerpiece, at least made a pretense of considering it, but he decided to let Tyrel be responsible for our fates.

“Will she be of any use to you in your search, Canceler Tyrel?”

Given his predicament, I was surprised when he actually told them yes; she glared daggers at him too.

“Zephyr?” I needed his insight, and got more than I needed.

She is fond of him, Little Mother; she will compete with you for his attention.

“But I’m not competing for it.”

You don’t have to compete, because you already have it.

I’d suspected that, but to hear it spoken was something else again…

“And if have to summon Abdiel against her?”

I will not contain him, or interfere with whatever your will is for her.

“You leave at first light. We are adjourned,” Lord Sydon stated, giving a slight nod in my direction as they rose and filed out.

I fussed with my hair and clothes until Sarai finally took her eyes off me, taking Tyrel by the arm and leading him away so I’d be alone.

“It’s going to be a long trip, Zephyr.”

Indeed, but the spirits grow stronger, and take comfort that Abdiel and I will watch over you.

It was a comfort; he’d said if I needed Abdiel and his brood he’d release them.

I didn’t want to be put in a position to take Sarai’s life, but it wasn’t up to me.

The Passing: Balancing Powers (Chapter 30)

I had questions for Zephyr, who told me he could shield us all. I wasn’t sure what happened when the spirits were occupying his body, drawing from it, leaving him weak to the point of death. His spirit, joined with theirs now, was gaining strength at an alarming rate.

He smothered their voices as they tensed in the presence of so much power, but he shielded them from it too. Where and how he got such power, and what it meant for me, I didn’t know, but intended to ask him.

There was no time to now.

My nerves had been firing faster the closer we came to the palace, and I all but cast a spell when under the watchman, but somehow Tyrel and Zephyr had combined to keep him from detecting my magic.

It would be all but impossible now that we were to face the Canceler Elders directly. As they entered the room I felt their eyes rake over me, assessing with an unnerving calmness, as if they could instantly flick me away like a bug.

The took their seats in such a cold and stony silence that I half expected frost to coat the architecture. There was no one else in the Hall at first, and no preamble to the fact they intended to get to the matter at hand.

The man in the center seat, fully garbed in a dark red outfit that looked suited a jester more than a judge, addressed Tyrel: “Canceler Tyrel, who is your prisoner, and why have you brought her to us?”

“Her name is–“

More importantly, ” a voice spoke from the right side of where I was standing, “why is she not bound and gagged properly?” A woman, clothed in diaphanous black pieces of cloth that somehow covered her, slinked from around one of the colonnades. She was slender, tall, and bald, and had large, sapphire blue eyes that gripped me in an icy thrall as she looked at me, but spoke to the Council.

“This child is awash in dark spirits. But there is one, known to me, who holds them at bay and calms her emerging power. And she is alone in the world.”

That last part, spoken with no inflection of any kind, made the reality that much more stark. I was alone in the world, as far as my flesh was concerned. So much so that I was attracted to the nearest male to me, still at best an unknown, at worst an enemy.

I checked off a list of sorts: An enemy leading me to danger, the spirit of a dead bird, and me, a keeper of dark, unfamiliar spirits testing my ability to keep them from wreaking havoc on the living was all that stood between worlds bent on destroying each other. It was a frayed, thin strap to hang the fate of the world on so weak a warrior. Having shouldered the burden, though, I now had to carry it.

Plans be damned. They can’t afford to kill me now. I stepped forward to speak to them and plead to be heard, but they panicked, and I stepped into pulsating, writhing bands of power that brought me to my knees as they bound me tight.

I felt pain all over as Zephyr cried out inside my head, which I now held in my hands.

If I’d ever been a threat, I wasn’t now, and if I wondered about the Cancelers’ abilities to contain my magic, I didn’t now. I hurt everywhere. But then it began to subside, almost as abruptly as it had beset me.

The looks on their faces told me something unexpected happened. Three of them stood up, looking at me with something between fear and contempt, and the woman who was on my right side recoiled, not quite sure if she was up to taking me on or not. One who is known to me… she knew of Zephyr, then. Another piece added to the puzzle of magic around me.

Tyrel stood open mouthed at first, then hung his head in resignation; he was in deep trouble now. Zephyr’s cry hadn’t been one of pain, but power, strong enough to counter their own, on their turf, and in their home.

Zephyr was known to the Cancelers.

Had I just been betrayed?