“One of the traps were sprung,” Storm said.
Blaine looked up from the scroll he was reading. “Traps?”
“Aura set Spirit traps around your children until you were ready to bring them to the camp.”
“Does that mean they’re in danger?”
“Something has happened to your sons. We’re not sure what just yet, but I sent Season, Aura and Crest to check on them. They will be bringing them to the camp ahead of schedule.”
Blaine stood from his seat. “Bringing them?” he repeated. His heart thudded quite painfully in his chest. He was not ready to face his children.
“Blaine, you knew this moment would be coming soon. I realize this isn’t easy on you, but it is necessary.”
“Necessary.” He spat the word. “That’s all you and the Circle care about. What’s necessary.”
Storm frowned. “Do you think I enjoy traipsing this gods forsaken forest watching after the flesh and blood bonds of the Blighted Ones just because you have cold feet?” She pointed at him. “I stilled my voice out of pity for you, High Inquisitor, but now your children are in danger, and I will take care of it as I see fit.”
Blaine was unable to answer as Storm’s eyes flashed golden. Her Issets Stone glowed for a moment and she frowned. “What is it, Storm?”
“A Tenshai attacked your sons on the way to Sheera.”
“Tenshai?” His voice was strangely calm, not allowing Storm to see how frightened he’d become. “Are they alright?”
“Surprisingly so. Danneth suffered a fall from his horse, but it wasn’t anything serious enough that Crest couldn’t heal. Andric protected them until they showed up.”
Blaine nodded. “Do we know whose Tenshai it was?” Storm’s expression confirmed his fears and she didn’t bother answering.
“What should we do then?” she asked.
“If Adin’s in the forest, we do not need to risk the Chosen Ones’ wellbeing. We should bring my children to the camp and then travel to Taradel through veil. I will come for Erika after we are sure they are safely tucked away in the Crystal Citadel.”
“We will use Aura’s Spirit traps to locate your daughter and bring her here.”
“Tell Aura that Danneth and Andric need to wait in an empty tent for their sister. If I have to face them, I will face them all at once.”
“Understood, High Inquisitor.” Storm left his tent, her Stone beginning to glow before she crossed the entranceway.
Blaine watched her go, feeling more than a little helpless. His world seemed to fall in around him. All this time he’d spent trying to keep his two facets of life from finding out about each other, and then it falls to ruin.
Of course, he should have expected no less when his children were the Chosen Ones. Each time he thought that, it brought an indescribable feeling of fear and intense sadness. His children served the Elements in the sole role of dying so their banished siblings could walk the worlds. What did it matter that his children were individuals when it came to the fate of his deities? Apparently, his gods were not as merciful as he once believed.
There was a cruelty to his world that he’d never imagined.
And the Circle expected him to explain their fates to them. As if it couldn’t be any crueler. His fate rested with the death of his children, but all he wanted to do was keep them safe and hidden in the forest. It was not by accident that he moved Erika into Sheera. He’d hoped that was enough to keep his newly born twin sons from being discovered, and he’d realized that a daughter would follow soon. He’d read enough of the Sǽph Elder Scrolls to understand that. If he’d truly loved his children, he would have killed them when they were born. It would have been a much more merciful death.
Now he had no choice. The War of Sanity loomed, and the echoes of power from the Umbyimaran Empire past the Lambraen Desert was unsettling. Despite all his careful precautions, the Circle found out about his children. Now they would suffer.
When Storm returned, he was pacing.
“High Inquisitor, they are waiting outside your tent for you.”
He nodded, swallowing. How much would he tell them? He’d had so little time to prepare…
“Will you leave with the Sages?” He cleared his cracking voice. “Someone will need to warn Erika that her children will not be returning. I don’t want her worrying until I can come for her.”
“Is that the best excuse you can give me?”
“Please, Storm. All I want is to be alone with my children.”
Her expression softened. “We won’t stay long at your home. It isn’t safe to stay in Sheera. Do you understand?”
He nodded. “Thank you, Head Sage.”
Storm walked out of the tent and he gave her a few minutes to make sure they’d all left before he walked out. He was immediately seized in a hug from his daughter.
“We were so worried!” she whispered into his shoulder. She punched him in the shoulder lightly as leaned back and smiled. She wiped a tear away. “Gods, we didn’t know what was keeping you.”
“The High Inquisitor?” Danneth asked. His voice was barely above a whisper and he had an eyebrow arched, a half smile on his lips.
“I’ve been hiding things from you and your mother.”
Andric rolled his eyes. “You think?”
He hesitated. “There’s a lot I need to tell you.”
“Why are the Head Elementualists interested in us?” Skyler asked. “What are we to initiate the attention of the leaders of Ayumia?”
Blaine shuddered at the way she’d worded her question. Not who are we, but what are we? The honest answer was that nobody knew, but certainly not human. He had no idea how to answer though.
In all of this, his daughter asked the hardest question to answer. He licked his lips, not sure how he could possibly answer her.
Horsel could not believe his luck. Were the Elements siding with him? If he believed that the entities actually existed then maybe. The Sages had left, leaving the High Inquisitor and the Chosen Ones alone.
Horsel formed Spirit, contacting Adin and giving her his memories.
“Blaine Aeron alone?” His friend’s voice was surprised.
“Allow me the honor? This is our best chance. Without the High Inquisitor, the Sages are little more than precocious children.”
“I agree. They are still training; Blaine is the true danger. You must be careful, Horsel. Don’t use the Elements to kill him; his children can sense that. You will have only one chance.”
“One chance will be all I need.”
“Good luck, Horsel. He’s escaped us both before.”
Horsel snorted in silent laughter. “My arrows never miss.”
Horsel dropped his concentration, scaling the tree he’d perched in as a falcon. He landed silently and made his way to where Blaine was preoccupied with his children. “I’ll contact you again after I watch Blaine die.” Horsel released the hold on his Sign so that he could get close enough that the Chosen Ones wouldn’t feel it. After he killed Blaine, that would leave the Chosen Ones at his mercy. The War of Sanity—if one believed the Sǽph Elder Scrolls at all—would end before it started.
Horsel concentrated, using the Tenshai ability to blend into the background, mimicking a massive chameleon. If they looked his way they would see nothing in the clearing beside the tents. Not even a shimmer. He was too powerful. Horsel took a step forward, stepping on a branch. He winced at the sound and raised his massive, clawed hand. Tenshai energy swirled around him and an arrow formed from the air. They would be able to see the arrow, but Horsel wouldn’t give them time to react. He took careful aim and pushed his power through the arrow, sending it flying.
It was Skyler that heard it.
The sound had come from the edge of the camp, closer to the recess of the forest, where the light was stolen by unforgiving crevices of branches. She turned, watching the arrow form from seemingly nowhere. A Tenshai scout, Skyler thought vaguely, but she wasn’t aware of how she knew with such certainty that the arrow that formed had poison and that it was meant to kill Blaine.
“Father!” Skyler watched him turn, watched his eyes widen as he saw the speeding arrow. Time seemed to slow, and she had time to wonder why he didn’t move.
“He will die, daughter.”
The thought was in the back of her mind, spoken to her by a soft and cruel voice. No, she thought.
That was Skyler’s last thought as she shoved her father away. She tried to move, but time was cruel. The force of the impact knocked her backward.
The pain was immediate.
Time. She had enough of it to assess the situation. The arrow had pierced her ribcage, and she could feel the poison paralyze her, burning her veins as it pumped through her body. It traveled through her body faster as her heart sped up to account for the blood she was losing. Her body was killing her more quickly—too quickly to be healed by her father. It was a fatal blow and she knew it.
It was amazing how little time could pass and could feel like an eternity. She had time to marvel how dying actually lessened the pain, how the burning from the poison faded from her chest and begun in her extremities, finally pooling in her fingertips like they were asleep. A shuddering cough was the only sound she managed, and she couldn’t help but analyze her lungs that were quickly filling with blood. She was fairly certain the arrow had pierced her left lung.
There was no hope she would survive. It was a sobering thought, but she knew it was worth it. There were no regrets and she made sure the last thing she saw was her brothers and father. Her eyesight began to dim, her fingertips ceasing their burning as she gave a weak cough that shook the arrow shaft burrowed in her rib cage. She would have held on to the pain if she could, clung to the last thing that remained of her life for as long as possible, but the agony faded along with her shaking breath.
Time was not on her side. The last bit of her brain that reasoned knew that she hadn’t been on the forest floor for anymore than five—ten seconds at most. Such a short time for a life to end, Skyler thought. She made sure the last thing she saw was her brothers and father crouched over her body. Her father stroked her hair, his eyes wide and frantic.
“Skyler, no…not like this. Elements, give me more time. Don’t let her go like this…”
She was a little sad that it would be the last time she would see her father, a little sad that their reunion had been cut so short. She tried to smile, but knew there was no movement in her face. She gave one more numb, rattling breath before her eyes began to close.
In the depths of the silent darkness, her heart ceased its frantic pulse—overcome by the poison it had delivered to the rest of her body.