A lightning bolt sheared past Reese into the smoke-filled night sky and left an acrid
stench in its wake. Streaks of fire and blue-white fingers of electricity flared so bright he could
barely focus. He wasn’t getting out of this. Not this battle, or this life, with any modicum of
Darting through the air, he dodged another electrical strike.
An elite flashed into view and swung wide, his bloodied dagger aimed at Reese’s gut.
Reese barrel-rolled up and over his attacker, wrapped him in a chokehold, and masked
their presence from the rest of the fighters. Praise the Great One, he should be fighting beside
this warrior, not against him.
The warrior flailed and tried to break free, the lack of footing giving him zero leverage.
He slumped, unconscious, into Reese’s ready hold seconds later.
He lowered them both to the tree line at the battle’s edge, out of site from the rebels. The
man couldn’t be more than twenty years outside his awakening. Probably barely into his elite
torc and cuffs. Beneath Reese’s fingers, the man’s pulse thrummed slow, but steady. At least this
innocent’s death wouldn’t be on his conscience.
A twenty-five-foot wall of flame exploded across the open field and rattled the air and
earth around them. The bright flare faded under heavy night, and more rebellion warriors
thunked to the mottled field.
The sharp rustle of leaves against the forest floor sounded down the tree line, one quick
shift and then silence.
Reese backed deeper into the foliage and strengthened the mask that kept him hidden. It
couldn’t be a rebellion man. All those were engaged against the malran’s warriors. Focusing his
thoughts, he sought the soulless black thread that represented the link he’d grudgingly created
with Maxis Steysis, and traced his location.
No, not the rebellion leader either. His energy showed more than ten miles to the east,
well away from the fight. Reese levitated off the forest floor and floated through the trees.
Gnarled and leafless branches scraped his cheek and shoulders. Darkness enveloped him, broken
only by the bright attacks where the forest opened to the battle beyond.
There. Not five feet from the tree line, a figure knelt facing the battle.
He drifted closer. The sweet, damp scent of soil and decomposing leaves overpowered
the metallic residue of electrical strikes floating on the wind. Grunts, shouts, and the too-frequent
thuds of perished men sounded in a haphazard pattern.
A flash spotlighted long, auburn hair. A woman. Bowed over a body, she cradled a fallen
companion’s head in her lap.
Reese angled to better see her and nearly faltered in holding his mask. His heart kicked in
an awkward rhythm and reality faded to nothingness. Galena Shantos, sister to the malran. The
last person he wanted to witness his disgrace.
Seventy years since he’d seen her this close. Her elegant features were still as staggering
as the days when he’d trained to serve the malran, but there was more to her now. A confidence
in the way she protected her charge and watched the battle. Knowledge behind her tropical blue-
green eyes that spoke of experience and age.
And he fought alongside the men who battled her brother.
Galena flinched at another blast and hugged the limp body she cradled tight. As the light
dimmed, she uncurled from her burden.
Another woman, her long blond hair stark against Galena’s black tunic and leggings, and
her sightless eyes aimed at the heavens.
No. Surely not. Reese crept closer, pressure building at his temples. The zings and
thunder of battle rumbled louder, and his gut clenched.
Phybe. She’d been alive when Reese left her, tucked away in a zeolite mine where Maxis
couldn’t trace her link. He touched down in the thick carpet of leaves at Galena’s right and
dropped his mask. “I failed her.”
Galena jerked and reached for something beneath one leg. “Who are you?”
Smudges marked Phybe’s ashen face, her blue gown torn and satin slippers stained.
Somehow Maxis had found her and finished the job he’d sent Reese to do. “He’ll kill me for
trying to save her.”
More strikes burst through the thick residual smoke, the malran’s fighters airborne and
casting one attack after another. Fewer than twenty rebellion men still lived, half retreating north.
“A cause that fights without honor isn’t worth fighting, is it?” he said.
Galena straightened and squared her shoulders. “I’d have a hard time counting on honor
from any man who fights with Maxis.”
“You’re right. I gave that up the moment I agreed to his schemes.” He crouched beside
Galena tensed and tightened her grip on whatever she hid beneath her leg.
Reese palmed Phybe’s forehead, cool and lifeless. May your journey be swift and your
spirit find peace with The Great One. The same Myren prayer he’d offered his mother when
she’d drawn her last breath. He stepped back. Maybe it was time to find his own peace. On his
own terms. “You don’t remember me do you?”
She shook her head. A terse, barely-there jerk as she eased from beneath her dead charge,
crouched on the balls of her feet and coiled for escape.
“My name is Reese Theron.”
She froze, flashes of light from the battle winking off the edge of her blade. She assessed
him head to toe, no spark of recognition.
Maybe if he’d been braver all those years ago, he’d have had a chance with her. Or
broken his vow and killed Maxis himself when he’d had the chance. He shook the memories off.
He’d taken the wrong path and now it was time to pay. “Call your guards. Make sure they know
you’re in danger.”
A gunshot rattled the skies and a woman’s blood-curdling scream sounded across the
Galena lurched to a stand and then stopped, zigzagging her attention between the shouts
along the battlefield and Phybe’s body.
Now was his chance. Either he took the brave farewell, or he’d die by Maxis’ hands.
“Your face is a good one to remember. Go with The Great One, Galena.” He shot to the sky and
built a violent ball of energy in his palm, sharp tendrils darting from its center. Drawing back, he
aimed the bogus attack at Galena. Surely The Great One would understand.
An elite guard spun from across the skies and drew back for counter- attack.
Reese braced for impact.
A streak of auburn flashed below him. Galena, spearing through the air, her trajectory
centered between the elite and Reese.
The energy in his palm fizzled. Not her. Not Galena.
Lightning fired from the elite’s palm, sheered past Galena’s cheek, and pierced his
shoulder. He jerked and spasmed, locked in place by the force of the strike. Blue-black spots
dotted his vision and his lungs seized.
A woman’s scream ripped through the air.
Wind whipped around him, dead weight as he fell, and darkness took
Galena twisted midair and shot toward Reese, wind blurring her eyesight.
His arms and legs flailed boneless as he hurtled to the earth.
She’d never make it before impact. Even if he survived the fall, Jagger’s strike had been a
killing shot, off by inches at most.
Reese crashed against the unforgiving ground, his head and limbs thunking against the
She landed seconds behind him. The sticky iron scent of blood, dirt,
and sweat surrounded her. So many men strewn across the grass, their bodies contorted in
Less than ten feet away one of her brother’s men struggled for breath, unconscious with a
trail of blood at his temple. A loyal fighter who’d battled against an indecent and cruel rebellion.
But it was Reese her palms burned to touch. To feel the beat of his heart. She dropped to
her knees and rolled Reese to his back, muscles surging with wells of strength she’d never felt.
His pulse fluttered beneath her fingertips, faint and irregular.
A thud sounded behind her. Her name registered, a voice she recognized.
She ignored the call. Shedding her mortal form, she dove into Reese’s unconscious body
and let her spirit spread and assess. Gaping, charred flesh at least two fists wide, muscle and
sinew around it lifeless from the electrical shock. She followed the damage, too much
impairment radiating dangerously close to his heart. She couldn’t lose him. Traitor or not, her
instincts didn’t care. Only knew this moment would shape the rest of her life in a way she didn’t
Shouts rang out beside her. Short, brusque words delivered with a frustrated bite.
Footsteps shuffled around her and the injured moaned. Detached in spirit but still connected to
her physical senses, the muffled distractions rattled as she healed.
Five inches. That was the gift of her intervention. Had she not flown in the path of
Jagger’s bolt, he’d have pierced Reese’s heart. Blood seeped from the violent gash and his heart
trembled with the aftershocks of the delivering jolt.
Swift and sure, she spread her spirit, cauterizing and mending the most critical lesions. A
touch here. A brush there.
Near his heart, a fine opaque mist appeared.
Her spirit vision faltered. The odd substance settled into every nook and cranny. It
shimmered and sparkled, a mix between morning dew and midnight fog. Seventy years she’d
been healing men and not once had she seen anything like it.
“Damn it, Lena, we need you.” The admonition rang in her ear and a firm hand clamped
on her shoulder.
Galena ripped her spirit from Reese’s body and spun in a levitated twist to a defensive
crouch, hands lifted to protect herself. Her vision wavered.
Ramsay came into focus, the whites around his gray eyes glowing in a way that promised
dire loss of control and a vicious scowl aimed squarely at her. “What in histus is wrong with
Her knees nearly buckled. Maybe she’d put too much into her healing. “He’s wounded.”
“He’s a traitor. To me and to Eryx.” Glaring at her, he swept his arm behind him. “What
There were dozens of them. Good men, battered, bloody, and fatigued. Most were upright
and lumbering across the battlefield, checking for rebellion survivors. Six were laid out for triage
close to Maxis’ estate, Eryx and Ludan seeing to their care.
Her cheeks burned and her stomach pitched. There wasn’t any logic to defend her
actions. She’d acted on pure emotion and instinct, and put the lives of loyal men at risk, but she
still wouldn’t change what she’d done. Not a second. A truth she wasn’t altogether sure how to
“Focus on the ones worthy of your gift. Not someone—”
“Enough.” She straightened and met her brother’s scowl. Every muscle shook with
fatigue. “I watched an innocent woman die tonight. Held her in my arms while she screamed.”
“Trust me.” Ramsay glowered at the unconscious man behind her. “He’s not innocent.”
For years she’d trusted her brothers. Loved and followed them with unwavering loyalty
wherever they asked her to go. Until this moment. She inched forward on trembling legs, hands
fisted at her sides. “Innocent or not, I saw goodness in him. Watched him say a prayer over
Phybe’s body and felt his grief. Healing is my gift to use when and how The Great One guides
me. Not to be commandeered and directed by a man swept up in the heat of battle. Life is life, no
matter whose heart feeds it.”
Ramsay sneered. “Even Maxis Steysis?”
Nearly six hundred years their families had been at war, since their grandfather left
Maxis’ grandmother pregnant at the altar in favor of a commoner.
“Everyone has a shred of goodness in them.” Well, maybe not Maxis. But she’d be
damned if she let Ramsay question her judgment. There was a reason she was drawn to Reese.
She just needed a little time to figure out why. “If you’d stop and think for a minute you’d know
saving him is a smart move. If he fought with Maxis, he knows things. Things you won’t be able
to learn anywhere else.”
Reese’s chest rose and fell, slow and steady. With a push from her senses, she registered
the faint but solid rhythm of his heart. More than anything she ached to kneel beside him. To
finish the job she’d begun and skim her fingers through his wild hair. Perhaps link her fingers
with his long, tapered ones and rest alongside him while she waited for him to wake.
Praise The Great One, what was wrong with her? This protectiveness didn’t make sense.
Eryx’s best friend and somo, Ludan, shouted from the furthest edge of battle. “Ramsay.”
Galena knew that tone. Had heard it after too many battles. Another warrior in need of
care. With a last glance at Reese to placate herself, she headed in Ludan’s direction. “I’ve got it.”
Three steps in she stopped and glared at Ramsay. “You may not care for him. May see
him as the vilest of men. But do not disrespect my gift by hurting him.”
She left her frowning brother behind, and prayed the promise of a traitor’s information
would stay Ramsay’s hand until she returned.
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