The air moving through the room is strange, unusually warm for the morning canyon air. The light filtering through the white curtains at the window is dull as though something is blocking the sunlight.
Even with her eyes closed, Meah can tell something is wrong. Strong smells fill her nostrils and her eyes open quickly. She sits up, startling Ime awake.
“What’s wrong?” His voice is low, not yet warmed up.
Instead of answering, she leaps from the bed and runs to the window. She throws the curtains back and peers up at the darkened sky. Black clouds fill the sky, moving far too quickly to be regular clouds. The canyon is filled with a strange haze, making the morning light appear more like evening light.
Meah knows better as she breathes the strange air in. The smell has become an all-too-familiar scent. It fills the canyon and alarms those who understand what the smell means.
As though to answer her fear, alarms scream through the canyon. The city comes alive as people run to their windows or race through the streets to spread the news. Yells of fear rise from the buildings, as the sky grows ever darker.
“Ime,” Meah’s voice is small as she turns to him.
He’s already dressing and hands her a dress. “Come on.”
She stands still, dumbfounded. She has trouble understanding what to do, but Ime’s strong hands on her shoulders remind her she’s not alone. She dresses quickly and Ime grabs his sword. Daniil, Kylii and Tanith appear in the hallway as Ime and Meah run out of their room. The five stare at each other only for a second before heading down the stairs and out of the building.
The city is growing crowded with confused and curious spectators. They speak quickly to one another and point to the sky as the alarms continue to ring out. Hoks are taking off all over the canyon, some with riders, but most fleeing from the unusual skies.
Ime, Meah, Daniil, Kylii, and Tanith tear through the crowds. They reach the bridges and run across followed by Kellahn soldiers woken from their sleep. Small flakes float from above as they reach the eastern half of the city and they pick up their pace.
The trek across the city to the path leading to the top of the canyon doesn’t take them long and they soon reach the steep climb upwards. They force their way through the growing crowds of the curious and fearful.
Ash falls far more plentifully from the sky, covering the ground, making it seem like snow. Ime uses wind to keep the ash from blinding the group, but still several soldiers lose their footing.
Meah covers her nose and mouth as the stench of burning flesh grows stronger. Her mind flashes with images of her village being burned and of Eraunel’s beautiful white buildings burning.
Waiting for them at the top of the canyon is Altan, Deven, Saunem, and the allied leaders. The rage on their faces answers any doubts the arriving group may have had as to what the source of the darkening sky and falling ash is.
The camps of the allied forces are engulfed in blue flames. The fires tear through every camp, nondiscriminatory. Men rush to put the flames out and save those still trapped inside tents. A line of wounded are already laid out away from the fires and Meah sees Bon, Tristan, and Skara yelling orders to other Healers as they work to save as many men and women as they can.
“Blue fire,” a voice says.
Meah searches the many faces around her, but she’s unsure who said it. “No. He would never…he couldn’t have…”
Ime’s steely grey eyes are blazing as he fixates his gaze on her. “He’s the only one who could have done this.”
She shakes her head furiously. “No.” Lyrrel’s words echo in her mind. The choice has been made.
“There are witnesses,” Altan says, his voice cold. He’s trying hard to keep his rage from his voice. “Several hundred witnesses who saw him set the camps aflame and run off.”
Kylii spits on the ground. “I knew we couldn’t trust him.”
“Where was he heading?” Ime demands.
Deven points to the southeast. “He was last seen heading towards the mountains in that direction. On the other side lie Klaeon’s lands.”
The fires are slowly being put out, water magic users from throughout the city and the armies work diligently as more people arrive to help.
“No! He wouldn’t do this!” Meah cries out angrily.
Ime wraps his arms around her, trying to comfort, but she tries to fight him off. She screams, scratching at his arms, but Ime remains silent as he holds her.
“I’m afraid snar eyes did do this, Life Healer,” a new voice says from behind. Everyone turns as Kiphy walks towards them. His hands are black with soot and he’s sweating. “I saw it with my own eyes. He didn’t say a word as he set the tents on fire. He moved through the ranks and picked out random men to burn. Then when he was satisfied, he took off for the mountains.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, Meah whimpers in Ime’s arms, refusing to believe anything she’s hearing.
“I want his men strung up for this,” Herbart thunders. “He killed many of my men, some of my best.”
“He killed a third of our beasts,” Farrow hisses. Her beautiful features are twisted with her rage and her simit growls with her mistress’s anger. “His men’s deaths will be a good start to revenge.”
“There will be none of that,” Kiphy says. “He acted alone. His men weren’t aware of the betrayal.”
“And how do you know this, old man?” Marin roars. “Maybe you’re part of his betrayal as well?”
Daniil and Kylii storm forward and grab Marin in anger. “Don’t speak of things you don’t know!”
“Silence all of you,” Altan yells. All eyes turn to him, but his glare rests on Marin. “This man you’re pointing fingers at happens to be one of the few who ran into the flames to save your men. Show respect. As for Jaxon,” his attention turns to Ime and Meah, but his eyes refuse to meet Meah’s, “he must pay for what he’s done.”
Ime nods his head. “I’ll go after him.”
Ime hesitates only as the strength in Meah disappears and she almost falls to the ground. He gently hands her to Kiphy before facing Altan again. “And kill him.”
A shriek escapes from Meah’s lips and tears roll down her cheeks. She can’t find the words to argue and only buries her face in Kiphy’s chest. He rubs her back and whispers words of calm into her ears as the soot from his hands stain her clothes.
“We’ll go with you,” Daniil says, motioning to Kylii and Tanith.
“My men will accompany you,” Altan says, signaling to Deven. Deven whistles and several men approach. They appear tired, having been digging through burned tents for survivors.
“We’re going to need men who haven’t been working.”
“Take my men,” Kordeaux Fellet says, waving his hands at a group standing off to the side. “Magic users may be more useful to you. Our camp was on the other side of the canyon so I can spare more than the others.”
“We’ll go, too,” Tayli says. “My men have also not been injured in the attack. If Deven allows it, of course?” Deven nods and Shadow Watchers appear behind Tayli.
“Thank you.” Ime approaches Meah, but she cringes at his touch. “I’m sorry.”
Kiphy grabs Ime’s hand and shakes his head. “Go, I’ll watch her.”
Daniil and Kylii move to either side of Ime. The allied leaders watch him with great intensity. Ime turns his back on Meah and, without a word, sets off after Jaxon. The group of volunteers follows quickly.
Meah tears herself from Kiphy’s arms so she can watch the group leave, but her legs give out beneath her. Kiphy catches her before she falls and his eyes stare after the backs of his sons, a dark feeling filling him.