By: Maria V. Snyder

Chapter One

Valek gazed at the mess on Mogkan’s desk and sighed. It would take him days to go through all the papers, but Commander Ambrose wanted him to fully investigate the extent of Mogkan’s involvement in General Brazell’s plans to seize control of the Territory of Ixia. Plans that had been thwarted. With Brazell incarcerated and Mogkan dead, only the tiresome chore of tying up the loose ends remained. As he scanned the various documents and notes on the desk, Valek was sickened by the details of horror Mogkan had wrought on the orphans in Brazell’s care. It was a wonder Yelena survived Mogkan’s magical torture. And it troubled Valek greatly that a rogue Sitian magician could live in Ixia for fourteen years without his knowledge. The fact that Brazell had sheltered Mogkan was no excuse. Valek was the chief of security for all of Ixia; it was his responsibility to know these things. Children had been tormented.

Valek’s thoughts returned to Yelena. An icy finger of loneliness touched the emptiness inside him. She was in Sitia, where she needed to be to learn about her magical powers, but she had taken his heart with her.

Cursing himself for being melodramatic, he concentrated on the grim task at hand. An unfamiliar name—T. Daviian—was written multiple times on various papers. When he found the line T. Daviian—My Love—paid 6 golds, Valek guessed T. Daviian had been the Sitian assassin who had poisoned the Commander’s drink with My Love during the trade treaty negotiations. Daviian was the name of a plateau in Sitia. As far as Valek knew, the plateau was uninhabited. A knock interrupted his musings. “Come in,” he called.

Ari opened the door and entered.

“How’s Janco?” Valek asked. Ari’s partner had gotten skewered with a sword during the battle to free the Commander from Mogkan’s magical control.

“Driving the nurses crazy. This morning he pretended to be dead. When the night nurse reached for him, he grabbed her arm.” Ari shook his head.

“Good to hear he’s feeling better. Do you have a report?”

“Yes, sir. All of General Brazell’s aides have been accounted for. The Commander is conducting interviews with them.” A glint of appreciation flashed in Ari’s pale blue eyes. “It’s amazing how the Commander can get a confession from an advisor using silence. I felt compelled to confess all my boyhood crimes during the deadly quiet.”

“How many advisors were involved with Brazell’s plans?”

“Two so far. We’ve stopped for lunch.”

Valek doubted they would find more. His spies hadn’t picked up on the illicit activity, which usually meant a small number of people were involved. Either that or his scouts had been compromised. An intensive investigation into his intelligence network would be prudent before he could trust anyone besides Ari and Janco.

“What’s the status on Brazell’s soldiers?” Valek asked.

“Everyone on the roster is accounted for.”

“Good.” From the uncertain expression on Ari’s face, Valek knew the man was troubled.

“Something else?”

“Yes.” Ari paused as if debating what he should say. “Our initial count of General Brazell’s army had one extra person, but when we matched names to the list, it worked out.”

“Perhaps a servant or an aide was counted by mistake?”

“That’s what I thought, too. But…”

Valek waited. He, too, knew the value of silence.

Ari flinched as if he suspected his next words would anger Valek. “I’ve heard rumors in the guard house. There’s been a lot of boasting about who’s going to murder Yelena.”

Which was expected. There was no love for her among Brazell’s people; she had killed his only child, Reyad, and had played a major part in the General’s arrest. “Go on.”

“The boasts have stopped, but bets are now being made on when Tam will kill her.”

“Who’s Tam?”

“A lieutenant. That’s all I know.”

T. Daviian? Valek wondered. A Sitian assassin? “Is Tam on the roster?”


“When did the bets start?”

“This morning. Orders?”

“Get me more information about Tam. Don’t be subtle.”