Kìlashà san Draego de Mìtaran paced the elegant confines of his assigned room, a snarl of frustration on his lips. The quiet murmur of the city drifting through his window grated on his patience. Five years in this place and still he’d found nothing of what his gods wanted him to cultivate here among these… humans. Always complacent in the face of danger and joyous at the destruction of plausible dissent. And he sat here among them, wasting time trying to mold the humans into a usable ally when he could have been preparing his clan for the threats whispered by his seeker’s power.
A sharp knock at his door broke into his thoughts and Kìlashà spun toward the sound, a hiss escaping his lips. An instant later, a voice spoke through the door.
“Pardon the interruption, Lord Kìlashà. May I enter?”
Kìlashà let the tension drain from him. Kaen, his gods-chosen kai’shien and lord of these lands, was the one balm to this cursed pursuit. He crossed the room and threw the door open just as a younger male rounded a corner.
“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda—” The male froze, his eyes focused on Kìlashà.
Anger rushed through Kìlashà, his lips pulling back in another silent snarl. As if he would harm this human for simply speaking to his liege lord. The slightest tingle of his hair brushing the nape of his own neck reminded him of the real reason for their fear. Kìlashà had no people any longer. Not since his sacrifice to save Kaen years before had turned his skin the palest white and left his veins glowing in rivers of magic patterned across his skin.
Kaen stepped forward—between Kìlashà and the younger human—and cast a reassuring smile at the boy. His slender body and slightly shorter stature hid nothing from Kìlashà’s vision. But Kaen would never try to hide events from him.
“Count Skianda needed what?” Kaen asked.
The messenger stuttered, eyes still locked on Kìlashà despite Kaen’s attempt to interject himself. Kìlashà dipped a mental thought into his seeker’s power, twisting the gods’ gift to his will. A minor shift of the timelines and he could see the moment that would have occurred had he waited to open the door.
“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda demands your presence.” The young human bowed, his palms clench in the folds of his tunic. A sign of his fear at the response he might receive. They had never learned how to trust Kaen.
“Demands, does he?” Kaen replied, smirking at the boy. He stepped away from Kìlashà’s door. “By what authority does my count makes demands on my time?”
“I—Apologies, my lord. He said—”
Kaen chuckled, striding down the hall to lay a hand on the messenger’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, lad. I’m sure he just wanted to impress upon me the importance of his concerns. I’ll see to him shortly.”
Kìlashà let the vision go, focusing on the hallway before him again.
Kaen reached a hand out in entreaty. “You did say—”
“Your human lord desires an audience, kai’shien,” Kìlashà said. The messenger would likely never get the words out.
Kaen glanced back, a flicker of a frown indicating his frustration, before turning back to the messenger. “Count Skianda needs to speak with me in person?”
The messenger nodded, still mute. After a moment of silence between them, he found his voice. “The count said… He needs you n—” Another glance at Kìlashà and froze. Took a deep breath. “Count Skianda said to tell you, my lord, that his need was immediate.”
Definitely not what the human lord had said. Kìlashà could hear the lie this human messenger used to avoid a confrontation. But Kaen nodded as if he couldn’t hear the deception as clearly as Kìlashà. More so, likely. He understood humans far better.
“Please inform the count that I have heard his request and will attend him as soon as I’ve finished matters here,” Kaen replied.
He turned away, gesturing for Kìlashà to follow as he strode into Kìlashà’s room. A ploy to avoid any follow up and give them a few moments to speak alone. Kìlashà stalked back into his room, the messenger’s fear still irritating his volatile temper. He’d never harmed Kaen’s people since they’d declared the war ended. Not even when they’d deserved it.
“Could you manage to not terrify every new servant I hire?” Kaen asked, pushing the door closed behind him. “That’s a perfectly decent lad from a family struggling to get their feet back under them. If he leaves for fear the high lord’s terrifying demon might eat him, the entire family will starve.”
Kìlashà shrugged, crossing the room to collapse into a chair set by his reading table. “And what, precisely, did I do to frighten the child?”
“You…” Kaen slumped against the wall, drumming his fingers against the adorned stone in thought. “Gods. You answered your door too forcefully.” He let out a humorless chuckle. “What are we going to do with them?”
“Forge them into the tool my people need to face their coming adversity, to protect the lives of as many Drae’gon as can be saved.”
“And protect their lives.” Kaen pushed off the wall, gesturing toward the window. “You swore to me that my return was needed to protect my people as much as yours.”
Kìlashà scowled. The humans would have been back at war already had they not returned. And yet…
He was no longer certain that Kaen’s people were worth their efforts. Not that Kìlashà could ever choose to leave, with the visions granted by Ancient Spirits nagging at his conscience. These humans held some value to the gods of his people and none of the Drae’gon had seen it before Kìlashà. He was starting to understand why.
“Kìlashà.” Kaen took a step forward, crossing his arms and glaring. “You swore it. To me.”
“And I did not lie. These humans need your guidance.” What little of it they chose to follow.
“So what…” Kaen trailed off, turning away to stare out the window.
But the accusation flared from Kìlashà’s power.
“What are we supposed to do next?” Kaen demanded. “I’m no good at these half-truths and manipulations. Everything I do here seems to make the province worse. More poverty, more theft, more division.”
“I should see to Brayden,” Kaen said. “The Skianda family has always supported mine. His request may give us some hint of what’s coming.”
He meant something more for Kìlashà’s seeker’s power to use, allowing him to finally identify what they needed to accomplish in these lands. Unspoken, but they both heard the implication. They both chafed at the obscurity of the visions that had sent them here.
“You came for a reason, kai’shien.”
“I just—” Kaen hesitated, sweeping his gaze over the rich furnishings of the room he’d designated as Kìlashà’s haven.
Kìlashà could see the room as Kaen saw it without the aid of his power. Rich furnishings, magnificently broad bed, gilded decorations. All of it crammed into a space barely half the size of the entry room of Kaen’s high lord’s suite. More than either had during the war, and a pittance by the standards of Kaen’s nobility. A slight toward Kaen’s strange, foreign comrade that he hadn’t been able to prevent without revealing too much. But Kìlashà cared nothing for the opulence of the room and Kaen’s anger burned over the insult, not the result.
“I’m not helping them.” Kaen slumped back against the wall, his words an echo of the frustration in Kìlashà’s vision. “It’s been—” He sighed, pacing across the room and back like a caged beast. Like Kìlashà had only moments before. “Too long. You brought us here to unite them, and I’m not able to do that. Are we failing?”
“They are further from war than when we returned,” Kìlashà replied. But they hadn’t accomplished what he’d expected when he’d convinced Kaen to return. Still… “The Spirits do not speak in absolutes. Should we fail to serve Their purpose, it will not be the result of any choice now past.”
Kaen laughed. “So I haven’t completely dismantled the plans of the all knowing gods who grant the ability to see the future just yet? How reassuring.”
“Kai’shien.” Kìlashà hesitated as Kaen focused on him. But he deserved to know. Pushing up from his chair, Kìlashà strode over to where Kaen stood. “I did not foresee this path. Not precisely. But you have done only what you believed best and thus cannot have forsaken the path the Spirits desired you to take. The Ancient Spirits knew of your skill in these matters when They chose you.”
“They chose you for this, Kìlashà.” Kaen scowled, leaning against the wall again. “They chose me for a far different purpose, and I doubt it has anything to do with my political acumen.”
“The Ancient Spirits are immortal gods seeking to protect Their followers,” Kìlashà said. “You think that spent a great deal of time locating the correct person to warm my bed at night?” Kìlashà smiled at the flush that tinted Kaen’s cheeks. “Even that would be a sign of your unique qualities. They have never before expressed an opinion on a Drae’gon’s choice of mate.”
“All right, They have a plan for me, too.” Kaen shook his head. “I’m not entirely certain that’s a good thing.”
“It is a truth. Beyond that—”
Kìlashà froze, the surge of his seeker’s power flowing through him in a sudden flash of vision. Staggering, Kìlashà caught himself on the wall as the moment overtook his senses.
The young female slipped through the crowd, adept at avoiding notice in all the right ways. People saw her, but they’d never remember the grubby form hunched to mimic an older child more than the young adult she truly was. Her hands acquired meaningless trinkets as she strolled, the last swipe catching the attention of Kaen’s guards.
“Hey, you there!”
This was one of the gaudy guardsmen, left over from Kaen’s father but not immediately corrupt. Or not enough to justify banishment, Kaen said. The guard ran toward the female and she dodged past a pair of shoppers huddled over a stall. The crowd seemed to freeze, the young female and her guard weaving through a sea of shocked faces and angry shouts.
Finally, she broke free of the crowd and hurried toward an alley, the guard close on her heels. Both seemed ignorant of the figure shoving through the crowd on the other side. Baron Oskari Weydert reined his war horse to a halt a scant few steps shy of trampling Niamsha, and she fell back. Oskari’s boots hit the ground an instant later, his boot flying into her gut. Niamsha puked on the ground as he stepped back for another blow. The guard stopped behind her, a flash of uncertainty on his face.
“Kìlashà?” Kaen’s hand on his shoulder, the cool feel of stone beneath him. He’d fallen when the vision took hold. “Do you need anything?”
“I am well.” Kìlashà pushed up from the floor, head still spinning with the vision. Too clear. Every color held the sharp precision of a certainty, every action felt like a truth he’d always known. A vile, horrific truth. This would happen, and the Ancient Spirits desired it changed. “I must go to the city. To the market where the merchants built your statue.”
Kaen nodded. “Then I’ll go with you.”
For an instant, Kìlashà hesitated. The human noble would be angry. But Kaen would argue if he tried to refuse the company and the human female did not have that much time.
“Swiftly. Come.” Kìlashà strode from the room with Kaen in his wake. Finally, the Spirits had given him something to do.