Spear Gate — Chapter Thirteen, Pt. 3

Varra threw her hood back as she reached the wall that divided Lower Terrace and the Meadows. She looked back to the raised city in the distance, and let out a sigh of untold emotion. As much as she hated it, Eathe was right. This was the only way. If their plan worked, she would become a target. Already was a target, in some ways.

As she watched, the ground beneath her began to hum. The deep, familiar rumble of the Spear Gate opening was more distant now, as the horn blaring of an incoming army, but she could still feel it in her bones. Soon a beam of blue light shot upwards out of Upper Terrace, heading straight for the sister-planet.

She remembered her mother describing how the Gate opened back when she was the Hand of Defense. She said that the light came from Eranos and landed on the obelisk as lightning drawn to a metal rod. That was when Rozire had come through, from Eranos to Asamos. The Gate opening now meant the plan worked, and Maelys would now be going from Asamos to Eranos. Which begged the question…

From which side was the Gate opened the second time, while Varra was visiting Maelys in Xan’s infirmary?

Of course, there was no point dwelling on such questions. As far as she knew, nobody went into or came out of the Spear Gate that day. It could have been as simple as being opened on Asamos with nobody passing through at all.

Varra frowned, sitting on the inner edge of the wall as she stared at the beam of light. She was a fugitive, now. The other Hands probably wouldn’t waste much time looking for her, but she would never be able to come back here. Not even to Lower Terrace, once she passed through. Beyond that, she’d have to wait here for a few hours for the Shadow to come to enter Lower Terrace. She couldn’t enter the main way, of course. She would have to slip into the city unseen. The rags Eathe had given her would help.

This begged the question: what was the next step? She still felt a duty to Terrace. The threat of what lay on the other side on Asamos was only growing more real with how often the Gate was suddenly opening after centuries of silence. Hand or no, her knowledge of the danger made her responsible for anything that could go wrong.

And then there was Maelys. If there really was a threat on Asamos, he would now be alone to face it. She hated that he had been thrown into this, but his success in opening the Gate meant that he had a competency to him.

And then there was Eathe. Brilliant as he was, he had no real allies now. He’d have to fend for himself. All the more surprising that he was the one that suggested this plan. He could be executed within a day for all of this. Maybe he was already dead.

Darkness fell upon the trees as Asamos eclipsed the sun. The Shadow had come.

New horizons awaited.

Varra stood, vaulted onto the wall between Lower Terrace and the Meadows, and faded into the city.


End of Part One

…Draft One

Spear Gate — Chapter Thirteen, Pt. 2

The inner courtyard of the palace was large. The stage of his execution was near the front, and cobblestone paths made beelines towards the Spear Gate, which loomed in the very center of the area as an ominous guardian to the carefully cultivated foliage around it.

He had no idea how to open it. Wasn’t even conscious when it had opened a few days ago. The only person anyone had ever known to open the gate was Rozire, and even that was hearsay.

His life depended on his use of magic. He didn’t even have any proof it existed, and now his fate would be the result of his trust on people he hadn’t known for a week.

But he couldn’t hesitate now.

He approached the bronze-colored obelisk in a huff. People were after him, but his surprise had gained him some ground.

He inspected the monument, looking for any monuments or handholds, or anything that looked suspect. He doubted there would be a hand imprint that would cause the portal to open once he touched it.

There wasn’t, of course. The surface of the entire object was smooth, and the dark reflection of a terrified young man stared back at him, willing him to hurry up.

Shouts came from behind, commanding him to stop. A quick glance behind him revealed that the half dozen guards running after him already had their weapons drawn.

“There’s no time to meditate,” Maelys muttered to himself. “Mind projection is out. Varra said I ignited Rozire’s staff when she first found me, but I don’t have that now.”

What would Rozire do? Open the Gate, of course, but how?

He closed his eyes and pressed both hands against the obelisk. The cold, smooth metal seemed to push back against him, as if it was a wall testing his resolve.

He thought about the Spear Gate. He envisioned it opening the way Varra and Eathe had described. A blue beam of light shooting into the sky as the obelisk shattered and reformed into the shape of a doorway. When nothing felt different, he pushed harder against the Gate.

The clamor behind him grew louder, and he could feel his heart speeding up along with it.

“By the Maker’s five hands, I command you to open!” The stone remained silent. “I’m going to die making a fool of myself,” he muttered.

Maelys tried for the thousandth time to think of any hidden meaning in any of Rozire’s lessons. He tried to think of an often repeated phrase, or a suspicious hand gesture his master might have employed.

Nothing came to mind.

Helpless, he lowered his arms and turned back to face the approaching guards. They raised their weapons with intent to use them.

He looked up at the sister-planet in desperation. The dark spot loomed in the sky, gazing down at him in disapproval. As if he had failed the test.

The first guard finished closing the gap, sword raised to slash down through his shoulder.

What would be the point of raising his arms in defense? He couldn’t fight six armed soldiers unarmed. He doubted he could even win a fight against one soldier, even if Maelys was the one that was armed.

In that moment, two thoughts popped into his head, slowing time as if they would not allow Maelys to die until he had considered them long enough.

The first thought was Rozire. What had happened to him? He wasn’t one to turn back when things got difficult. If anything, he pressed on with more determination. Varra was fairly certain none of the constructors had killed anyone the night she found him dying of Red Teeth, but since Upper Terrace was literally on a platform raised high above the Meadows around it, nobody could have entered without being spotted.

The second thought was what Rozire had said to him on the last night Maelys had seen him. His master was looking for his mother, and commented that he had been searching for her ever since she left Upper Terrace. Maelys had never known his mother, and in that moment he had first brought it up, Rozire had instilled a dream in him that he had never known he had.

He wanted to see his mother. To at least know who she was and why she had left.

The sword came down, and the world went white around him.

Spear Gate — Chapter Thirteen, Pt. 1

“And so,” the herald called as he read off the parchment. The inner courtyard of the palace was deathly still, and Maelys was trembling in his bindings.  “The charges against Maelys; that of Unprotected Nightly Foray, Unlawful and Undocumented Entry into the city, and Treason under suspicion of opening the Spear Gate.”

Maelys looked into the crowd for the brief moment of silence accompanied by his words. Dozens of guards wearing the uniform of Upper Terrace. He even recognized two of the three guards that had came down into the dungeons the night before. Eathe stood in the front of the group, alongside the Hand of Justice, whose name was Karayan. Both had spoken testimony against Maelys, but from the talk the three of them had this morning, it was obvious that Maelys would be executed regardless of who said what. Eathe was just playing a part.

“… to be executed via axe immediately,” the herald finished. A chill ran down Maelys’ spine.

He had nothing to fear though, right? All he had to do was trust in himself.

In his magic.

He felt an arm grab him by the shoulder and lead him away from the crowd. His mind screamed at him to bolt, but that would only get him killed that much quicker. Just breathe steady. In, then out.

He was pushed further towards the front of the makeshift wooden stage as the Herald folded his parchment and stepped aside. He glanced back, away from the crowd and towards the Spear Gate.

If Varra and Eathe were wrong, and Maelys had no magic, this would be it. He had to trust them. People that, realistically, he had only just met days ago. If only Rozire were here.

The executioner pushed him onto his knees. They agreed Eathe would give the signal, and even though he assured it would be auditory, terror flooded into his body now that Maelys couldn’t see him.

“Aenias,” he muttered under his breath, trembling. “Guide me. Maker protect me. Please.”

“Consider this an honor,” the executioner chuckled, too quietly for anyone but him to hear. “A petty criminal like you doesn’t ever earn the right to hold the case of the Hands of Aenias. What makes you think the Maker will save you now.”

“If faith was so easily squandered,” Maelys replied, “what value would it have?”

The executioner chuckled again. “Profound. The best last words I’ve heard in some time.”

A horn blared from inside the palace. Maelys heard the crown start rustling in response.

“All personnel!” Eathe yelled. “Find the Hands! Protect them with your life!” Maelys heard the sound of armor plates sliding against each other as the guards bustled into motion.

That was the signal. Maelys moved to get onto his feet, but a boot pressed him down into the wooden stage.

“Oh no you don’t,” Karayan said. “I see what you’re doing. Guards, stay here.”

“You don’t command these men, Karayan,” he heard Eathe say. “I do.”

“Not for long, boy. Maybe if you’re so eager to consult with your girlfriend about matters that are no longer her concern, you both will be joining that boy as he gets the axe.”

A few people inside started screaming for help. Maelys finally felt the pressure on his back release. And he couldn’t trust he would get a better chance than this.

Maelys loosed the fake knots in the cord that Eathe had bound around his wrists and rolled to the side. A grunt of surprise was followed by the soft whistling of air, and then finally the loud slam of metal splintering wood.

He looked to see the executioner heaving the axe back up and staring at Maelys with a mixture of annoyance and anticipation.

“Fourth Squad, stop the prisoner! The rest to the palace!” Eathe yelled.

His heart skipped a beat. He glanced up to see Eathe and Karayan both staring at him. It was a slight movement, but Maelys was sure Eathe gave him a nod of assurance.

No time. Maelys turned around and leaped off the wooden stage. Straight for the Spear Gate.

Prompt — Orn’s Legacy

(I couldn’t decide which of two prompts to use for this week’s story. I set up a Facebook poll, but then ended up using both. Whoops.)


Civet lowered her hood as she stared in admiration at the armor. Even with so many years of disuse, it didn’t have any trace of rust on it. The same couldn’t be said for the spare parts and scrap lying forgotten around the rest of the warehouse. Orn’s masterpiece: the Heaven’s Lock. The armor sat on a pedestal near the far wall, its wings extending outwards as it yearned to be free of its worldly tethers. It beckoned her to remove the tubes and pipes that anchored it down, for its original bearer was gone…

But his legacy lived on.

She removed her backpack, trying to imagine the last time the legendary ‘Defender of the Spear Gate’ had worn the famous armor. Photos and special events required him to wear it for publicity’s sake, but the last time it had truly tasted battle had to have been the final closing the of the Gate. At least, that was the last time all of it had been used together. This was just the chest piece. Orn had apparently given the vambraces and greaves to his daughter in his will. His only daughter. Civet grimaced.

She walked over to the pedestal and began unlatching the life support that fed the Heaven’s Lock. “We’re going to find out what you’re really capable of today,” she muttered, voice hushed as she spoke with eyes closed, petting the metal plating. It was hard to keep the anticipation from her voice, but then, why should she? This would be a day to remember.

“No. You aren’t.”

Civet opened her eyes, expression dark. She stood behind the pedestal, and the newcomer had entered the warehouse from the main hall. Civet couldn’t see her, but she didn’t need to. Didn’t want to.

“I’ve been hunting you all across the city, you know,” the woman’s voice said. “I’m authorized to execute you here and now, but if you come quietly I’ll consider mercy. I’m impressed at your audacity. A petty thief trying to steal the Heaven’s Lock? Who do you think you are?”

Civet took a deep breath. Then, she stepped out from behind the pedestal. “The rightful owner,” she said, fists clenched.

Tora’s eyes widened, her hand raising to her mouth as her posture lost all authority it once held. “Civet…” she gasped. “You’ve… you’ve dyed your hair.”

Civet inspected her sister, scanning her body up and down. She wore the familiar gauntlets on her arm, and though her long coat covered much of her form, there was a distinct glint of metal about her shins, as well. She stared Tora in the eyes. “Are you going to kill me?” There was no joviality in her tone.

“What? We haven’t spoken in years and… this is how we find each other?” She gestured around the warehouse and behind Civet.

“You’re the one that found me,” Civet replied. “It would have been better if you had stayed out of it.” She turned back to the Heaven’s Lock. “All of this.”


“Oh, now you call me that?” she spun back around. “You have some nerve. You wanted nothing to do with me after Orn disowned me.”

Tora glanced to the ground. Then to the Heaven’s Lock, the backpack, and finally Civet. Her voice was quiet, but firm. “He had good reason to, sister.”

“You just wanted the Heaven’s Lock for yourself,” Civet crossed her arms.

“That’s ridiculous. I just wanted to uphold the truth of this city. The truth father worked so hard to protect.”

“There is no truth!” Civet yelled. “Working in the police force should have taught you at least that much. How much has crime increased since dear old Dad died?”

“That’s not fai—”

“How much? Tell me.”

Tora bit her lip as she stared at her sister. She didn’t like the answer, but she couldn’t lie, either. “Thirty percent.”

Civet sighed. “People were scared of the ‘Defender of the Spear Gate’. A real life superhero who saved us all from the monsters of that other world. But now that he’s gone, there’s nobody to save us from the monsters of our world.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Tora put a hand on her chest. “We help people every day, Civet. Not all fighting is blood and war.”

“How did Orn die?” Civet asked.

Tora froze, taken aback by the question. “What do you mean?”

Civet shrugged. “He was barely over fifty years old, and even in retirement he was in better shape than most people ever achieve. So how did he die?”

“You’re going to tell me you know?”

“I know a good deal more than you, for all you claim to uphold the truth. Tell me, how many people have you killed with those?” Civet asked, pointing to her arm.

Tora looked down, holding her arm out as she inspected the metal gauntlet. “None. It’s the symbol that’s important.”

Civet shook her head. “You’re just like Orn. Results are the only important thing.”

Tora stared at her feet for a while. When she looked back up at Civet, her eyes were glistening, though her voice did not betray her. “I’m not going to get my sister back, am I?”

“You have no sister.” Civet looked over her shoulder to the armor, then back at Tora. “Are you going to stop me?”

A tear fell down Tora’s cheek. “If I have to.”

Civet nodded as she crouched down and unzipped her pack.

In one swift motion, she pulled the gun out and shot two of the nearby tubes that spanned the floor.

Immediately, they broke apart and flailed madly into the air, spewing gas into the room as Civet threw her pack on and slipped into the rapidly spreading smoke.


Tora tried to follow her movement, but it was no use. She stepped away from the smoke, backing into a more spacious portion of the warehouse. She was exposed now, but Civet wouldn’t shoot her. She wouldn’t dare.

Would she?

Wiping away the tears, she thought about pulling out the Voice device from her pocket. She should call for backup. Civet was a wanted criminal. A vigilante at best. Even if she only had the wings of the Heaven’s Lock, she would be an enormous threat.

But even as she considered it, she found the thought ebbing away. She could handle this alone. She could prove to her sister that violence wasn’t the answer. Barring that, wearing the limbs of her father’s armor gave Tora the upper hand.

She glanced about her, watching for any signs of movement or sound that could clue her in to Civet’s location. The whole time, though, she kept an eye on the wings.

Something metal slammed against the ground behind her. Tora swiveled around to see Civet glance back at her, more annoyance than anything else written on her face. She rose the gun towards Tora’s chest.

Tora’s breath caught. She took a stance and engaged the greaves.

Just as the gun fired, Tora was pushed sideways in a flash of blue energy, out of harm’s way.

In a flash of anger, she engaged the greaves again, launching herself forwards towards her sister.

She closed the gap instantly, and grabbed Civet by the scruff of her jacket. With the enhanced strength of the vambraces, Tora heaved her up and threw her back.

Civet was thrown across the room and landed with a loud crash in a forgotten pile of what might have been a recycled generator. An involuntary gasp of pain accompanied the impact.

Tora clenched her jaw as she approached, walking with purpose.

“I’m glad you’re not afraid to use it, then,” Civet choked as she got to her feet. She dropped the gun, and Tora sighed in relief.

But that relief faded when she noticed that her sister didn’t quite seem to be surrendering. Instead, she was taking her backpack off.

“Here,” Civet said. She zipped the backpack up and tossed it to Tora. It bounced more than slid across the cement floor, and Tora glanced up in suspicion.

And engaged her greaves immediately when she saw the detonator in Civet’s hands.


The room exploded with raw power, enhanced by the flammable gas Civet had released earlier. Tora always was the clumsy one. Slow to react in a fight. This had been her plan all along, of course. Misleading her to think that releasing the gas was to conceal an escape was an obvious ruse.

Tora wasn’t dead. Civet had to trust she wasn’t that slow.

So Civet used the rising flames as cover as she ran to the Heaven’s Lock.

Unlatching the lock on the breastplate, she heaved it up and climbed inside, pulling her arms out the sides and clamping it back down over her own body.

As soon as it locked, she felt two drills bore into her back, cutting through the jacket. She screamed in sudden agony. The drills were thick, and were actively removing her flesh as it dug into her skin, right where Tora had thrown her against the generator. For what felt like an eternity, she forgot the roaring flames, her sister, and everything else.

Eventually, the drilling subsided, and even though her back still ached. She clenched her fists…

And felt her metal wings retract at the same time.

As soon as she thought about it, she realized that she could move the wings on her armor as if they were actually a part of her, like extra limbs. She flexed them, stretching them outwards, then inwards.

With a smile, she got off the pedestal.

“You’re not going to leave with that, Civet,” Tora said, projecting her voice over the flames that were slowly consuming the entire building. “I’m sorry, but I’m not the scared little sister you grew up with. I have a duty to uphold.”

Civet nodded. “I suppose I would think less of you if you let me go now.”

Tora rose her vambrace in a defensive posture, and a long blade shot out of it. “I don’t want to kill you,” she said.

“I don’t want to kill you, either.”

Civet launched herself forward using the power of the wings. Tora extended the blade on her second vambrace as well, crossing them in a block.

The momentum carried Civet right into her sister and the two flew backwards into the flames.

Tora grabbed her by the shoulders and swung around, then used the greaves to propel herself away from the fire.

Civet crashed into the debris, but used her wings to push herself up and out. She rose above the flames and glided up into the air. The smoke obscured her vision, but she could see her sister starting to get her bearings as she recalibrated.

This felt natural. She felt like she was floating above all the troubles of the world. The wings of the Heaven’s Lock didn’t need to flutter like the wings of a bird, so she just hovered there. “You know,” she called down. “If you had been willing to kill me, you might have won.”

She watched as Tora turned into a flash of light, jumping straight up at her sister with blinding speed.

Civet glided out of the path of her blades and caught her by the throat, holding her up with an unexpected ease as the wings helped shoulder the added weight.

“You’re… so easily provoked,” she said with an air of disappointment. “It must be nice to be an only child. I bet it would suck to be on the losing end of a sibling rivalry.”

Tora choked, her vitality fading as the combination of the smoke and Civet’s grasp on her neck proved too much. Civet watched as the expression in her sister’s eyes shifted from rage, to sorrow, and finally… to fear.

Civet looked away. She knew she wouldn’t be able to do it. Was that weakness or strength? She curled an arm around her sister to ease the pressure on her neck, then lowered herself to the ground and laid her down on the floor. The flames rolled about with a vicious hunger, but this particular spot was safe. For now. Civet rose back into the air and started to make her way to the exit as Tora tried heaving air back into her lungs.

“So what happens now?” Tora called after her, voice weak.

“Now I’ll seek my own truths. On my own terms, and uphold Orn’s legacy as I see fit, not as he would have wanted me to,” Civet replied. This, of course, meant recovering the rest of the Heaven’s Lock from Tora, but she could wait. She would need time to get used to her new… heights. “But if you can make your way out of here without dying, I suggest you quit your job. You’ll be humiliated after today. And Tora.” She looked back down at the girl laying in defeat amidst the curling flames. “Consider today a mercy. Don’t cross me again.”







Wings Art


Duel Art

Spear Gate — Chapter Twelve, Pt. 2

Esmina focused on the ground as they walked. What did that mean? The supposed drunkard was too well dressed, and spending money frivolously… And beyond that, the two men made no move now to hide their connection to each other. That must have organized known each other and planned the little scheme earlier today.

This was all a stunt to remind her who was in charge… And to show her what resources Berold had at his disposal. What a loathsome creature. She held her fury tight in her fists but kept her mouth shut. There was nothing to be done.


Soon they made their way into the Ministry offices, the dark browns and greens dimly lit by lanterns mounted on the wall. There was an older gentleman looking through spectacles as he scanned through the contents of some document on his desk. As the two of them walked in, his eyes lifted up, and Esmina could see the frown on his face even underneath his thick mustache. “Good evening,” he said in a gruff tone.

“Salutations,” her father replied. “Berold Rhaun. Come to finalize paperwork and acquire my Night Seal.”

“I was expecting you earlier.”

“My apologies. My daughter delayed my arrival, for she needed extra time to prepare for the trip.”

Now Esmina was frowning. What use was there in lying? Besides, they weren’t late. Her father had told her they wouldn’t be coming here until after sundown.

“Better late than never, I suppose,” the man at the desk said. “Let me see your papers.”

Berold walked over and put the writ on the desk, sliding it over. Esmina had stayed back near the door, silent.

“Alright, I’ll send for somebody to retrieve it.” He pulled a bell from beneath his desk and rang it a few times.

Within moments, a servant opened a nearby door. “Yes, sir?”

“Take our guest into the lower chambers to fetch him a Night Seal, would you?”

“Yes, sir.” He beckoned Berold to follow him, and the two left without so much as a glance towards Esmina.

The room was left in an uncomfortable silence as the man at the desk went back to his work.

“Um…” Esmina asked. “Can I ask you something?”

He did not look up. “Stupid questions don’t get answers. What.”

Was everyone in high society like her father? “A Night Seal only protects one person at a time, right? The one holding it?”

He rolled his eyes and glanced at her, annoyance painted all over his face. “Night Seals are just a formality. You’re not going to die if you are caught outside without one. Going to jail for not paying money for the privilege is the worst of your fears.”

That was some comfort at least. Her father wasn’t putting her in danger for dragging her along when they only had one Night Seal.

“Then what’s the point? What are they beyond expensive rocks?”

“Nothing. They’re just shards of the only constructor to ever die. One of the last kings of Upper Terrace had some publicity stunt to chop its corpse up into pieces and sell it to noblemen to boost the economy.” He looked back down at his documents and started scribbling on them. “Don’t let fanciful stories of the Maker’s magic fool you. All of those were stupid questions, but I was nice and answered them anyway. Now shut up, I have work to do.”

She gulped and looked away. What a pleasant fellow. She had known Night Seals were fragments of the only constructor to have ever died — that’s why they tended to be more common closer to the heart of Tebrein — but hadn’t heard any history lesson associated with them. Maybe her research wasn’t as extensive as she had thought. Or maybe he was just lying.

Soon, her father returned alone, holding a small stone. The shard of the constructor was encased in a smooth blue rock, somewhat translucent but not quite glass. Even long dead as it was, the metal inside seemed to glow with a faint, triumphant air to it.

“The paperwork is all settled, I presume?” Berold asked.

“Yes, yes,” the old clerk waved a hand at him. “I’d like to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight, so please be on your way.”

Her father nodded, turning to Esmina. His scowl made her glance nervously about herself, wondering what she had done wrong.

“Alright, let’s go home.” He passed her on the way to the door, opening it and stepping back outside as he pocketed the Night Seal.

“Home, or back to the inn?” she asked, following after him.

“I don’t intend to repeat myself.”

Maybe she could get some sleep on the carriage.

Spear Gate — Chapter Twelve, Pt. 1

(Mild content warning on this one.)


It was dark before Esmina found her way back to the Liar’s Respite, and despite her heart pounding in fear and exertion as she raced back, it was met with no words at all on her father’s part. As relieved as she was, though, she was afraid she might face repercussions later.

They had gotten two rooms, adjacent to each other. The Tenshari servant standing guard outside had been kind in greeting, as Berold had probably paid him to be. Since they had brought almost none of their own servants with them to Tal’Doraken, it seemed her father was being generous with his coin.

Esmina retired into her rooms, as silently as possible so as not to rouse her father. She found that her trunk had been brought to her room, and after changing into a nightgown fell back onto her bed with a lazy sigh.

She didn’t have any way to know for sure, but she could have sworn her father had waited until she started drifting her off to sleep to wake her up.

“Esmina,” he said, swinging the door open without so much as a knock of warning. “Time to go.”

She woke back up with a start. Looking out the window, it seemed just as dark as it was when she first walked in, but that wasn’t saying much.

“Quickly now,” he demanded. “We have places to be.”

“May I at least clothe myself, father?” she asked.

“Don’t be daft,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to whisk my daughter away unclothed. What kind of father do you take me for? You have three minutes.” And with that, he closed the door. Yesterday, that would have been a stupid question. He was cruel, but not stupid. But then he bought a drunkard as her escort through the city.

Soon, she was dressed once again in a simple long tunic and leggings. Fresh clothes, in case anyone recognized her. Besides, they would only be here for the day, and she had packed an excess.

Soon her and her father were back in the streets of the city. It was colder than she remembered it being. Had she actually fallen asleep for a while, or was it the panic of running back to the inn that made her misremember?

Her father seemed to be in a bad mood, which she considered a small blessing, because they did not speak much as they made their way through the sparse torchlight of the city. Berold held the Night Seal writ in his hands, all but marching towards the Ministry Office as they went. The streets were mostly empty now, with some Tenshari servants milling about.

She kept quiet, avoiding anything that might cause him to speak to her. As they walked she noticed that the buildings on the street they were currently on had enormous windows, almost walls of glass. So much glass had to cost an insane amount of money, and it was everywhere. They had no signs announcing what kind of establishment they were, but whatever their purpose was, they were towing the line as to what religious customs regarded as ‘indoors’. Esmina paled when she stole a glance inside.

Several women walked around inside, wearing little more than undergarments as they tended to their patrons. Aenias above, those two didn’t even have that much decency. And what was that one doing to…

“We’re walking next to the brothels?” Esmina hissed, voice hushed.

“It’s the quickest way to the Ministry Offices,” her father replied, unconcerned. It was not a defense, it was the simple explanation.

I’m fourteen, father,” she said.

“And yet I imagine you’re still older than some of the workers here.”

She was so appalled she almost retched. What had gotten into him lately? “This is too far,” she said.

He glanced down at her. “You may not care for me very much, but know that this is a life you do not have to endure. This is the life of many an orphan with nowhere else to go.”

She broke his gaze. Another one of his vile lessons. Her eyes wandered to another one of the buildings, and to her amazement she recognized the drunkard from earlier today, with a… maid, sitting on his lap. He was well dressed now, and he gazed outside as the two of them passed.

Some primal fear caught Esmina as she looked away, ashamed and embarrassed that she had seen two people so… engaged. She noticed her father looking in the direction of the drunkard. They were making eye contact.

And Berold nodded to him.

Spear Gate — Chapter Eleven, Pt. 2

“Alright, I’m ready.” Varra kept her eyes closed, unsure of what was supposed to come next.

“Okay. Make sure your eyes are closed and your body is relaxed.”

“I thought that’s what we spent the last ten minutes doing.” She did a poor job hiding the annoyance in her tone.

“Don’t respond,” he replied, firm but gentle. “Just follow my instructions and be patient.”

She let out a breath. “Fine. Lead the way.”

“Once you’re relaxed, take a few deep breaths. In… then out…” Maelys spoke slowly as he followed his own guidance. A deep, slow inhale, followed by a full, steady exhale. “In… then out…” he repeated.

Varra did as she was told, waiting for the next step. He sure was taking his time.

“I want you to try your best to settle into this moment,” he continued. “Relax your breath, just breathe normally, and put aside all your troubles. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t worry about the future. These things don’t matter as much as the present. Concentrate on your breath. That’s the only thing that matters.”

He stopped talking after that, and the only thing she could hear was the sound of her own breathing. The more she thought about it, though, she picked up the hollow echo that served as white noise in the dungeons. It was quiet, barely audible in between her breaths. Where was that noise coming from? What was the source of sound in such an empty space? They were most certainly the only prisoners here. The Hand of Justice often enacted his decrees immediately, and there were no petty thieves in Upper Terrace. Anyone like that wouldn’t find themselves here in the first place. Eathe was definitely a minority. People from Lower Terrace rarely if ever found a place here.

But she was glad that he had found that place. He was a remarkable man, and an excellent officer. She wished things had been different. Maybe they both would have been happier as commoners. Perhaps then she wouldn’t have had to live with the burden of—

“If your mind has strayed away from the breath,” Maelys said, “stop thinking about whatever it is. It’s not important. Just go back to thinking about the breath.”

He couldn’t read minds, could he? Had he been lying about not knowing how to use magic all this time? Did he know how she felt? Did she know how she felt? All these stupid emotions did nothing but get in the way. She didn’t want to see Maelys die, that much she was certain of. She would only have herself to blame if he did. And for how little they knew each other, he did seem intent on trying to help her.

“I’m going to ask a question,” he said. “And I want you to answer simply with yes or no. Have you been able to remain focused on just stay on the breath?”

She exhaled, knowing full well she had done a very poor job of listening to his instructions. Maybe if he held her hand again… She shook her head at the thought. “No,” she admitted.

“That’s okay,” he said, his voice still full of levity. “I told you it’s hard the first time. Once you get comfortable letting go of your thoughts and attaching your focus to the breath, then I can try to teach you how to do mind projection.”

She heard him shuffling, and took that as a signal that the practice was over. She opened her eyes and looked up at him as she stood with him. “I’m sorry.”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Really. Don’t beat yourself up. I honestly didn’t expect you to be as patient as you were.”

But she hadn’t been patient, had she?

A door swung open, and she heard the sound of footsteps walking, almost marching down the corridor. Eathe.

The current Hand of Defense walked in, armored in full plate as he often was, and without a helmet as per usual.

“Greetings, you two. Getting along well?”

Varra, already the closer of the two, stuck her hands out from the bars and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him in for a kiss. Eathe was clearly caught off balance, but seemed to relax into it with a few awkward steps.

After a moment, she parted, and the room was left in a stunned silence. They glanced at each other, and Maelys shrugged. She thought about kissing him again, if they were just going to stand there slack jawed, but thought better of it. One was probably enough. For now.

“Right…” Eathe said, clearing his throat. “Now that that’s out of the way, on to business. I come with bad news.”

Maelys didn’t say anything. If anything, he took a step away from the two of them. What had gotten into him? “Well,” Varra said. “Out with it.”

“We’ve got a few minutes to chat and plan,” Eathe replied. “But I’m to take Maelys to the inner courtyard to be executed now.”