The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
The doors shut behind her. The large fire growled in its place, bathing one half of the room in shifting orange light. The shadows grew stronger toward the far side of the room, the violet Amberite shining only weakly. Where the shadows grew deepest, the bed began.
The Emperor was like one of the shadows. He sat in the bed, his eyes twinkling unblinkingly in the firelight. Siri immediately cast her eyes downward, her heart fluttering. She knelt, as she had been instructed, bowing her head and lowering herself until her breast touched the floor. Then she looked up slowly, waiting to see what the Emperor did. He simply continued to stare at her.
Siri shivered beneath his gaze. It was unyielding and steady—like Vvenna’s had been, only without the quiet edge of understanding. This man took no care to understand, had no want to know her. He wanted only one thing. The question was, would she give it to him?
That’s a silly thing to ask yourself, Siri thought wryly. She had dressed as instructed and presented herself in his bedchamber. It was far too late to back down. The truth was, however, Siri still didn’t know how she would react when the time came. Up until that point, she had moved out of rote—she had been too stunned to do much more than watch. Now she would actually have to act. She wasn’t sure if she could go through with the facade when it came down to . . .
The Emperor continued to stare at her.
Why doesn’t he do something? Siri thought with annoyed impatience. The priest had said the Emperor would gesture to her, but so far he hadn’t even moved. Siri continued to kneel, her elbows on the ground, her head slightly raised to watch for the signal. The position was incredibly uncomfortable—her back was already complaining. Still the Emperor watched her.
Eventually, Siri was forced to avert her eyes. She watched out of the corner of her vision for signs of movement, but she couldn’t continue to watch the creature. His unblinking stare was too chilling, his posture and dark form too ominous.
He’s toying with me, Siri realized. He’s forcing me to wait on his whims. He wants me to understand that he is the one in power.
Siri frowned in anger. It was an infuriating move, but not an uncommon one. Greater Kkoloss often made their attendants or supplicants wait, simply to reinforce who was the dominant one in the relationship. Such things had always bothered Siri, but for some reason they did so even more when coming from the Emperor. He had no reason to emphasize his power. He was the Emperor—he was the highest Kkoloss on the continent. He was so powerful, in fact, that he was supposed to be above political manipulations.
Apparently, he’s not, Siri thought with dissatisfaction, her arms beginning to grow numb from the pressure. If she had been Vvenna, she could have lightened her body to relieve the discomfort.
She wanted to move, to shift her body, but something held her back. She wouldn’t let him win. Siri might not have had Vvenna’s patience, but she had something equally powerful—stubbornness. She gritted her teeth as the minutes passed, maintaining the posture no matter how uncomfortable—even painful—it became.
The silent contest of wills continued. Siri even managed to meet the Emperor’s eyes through the veil, forcing herself to look him directly in the face. He didn’t move. They continued that way for an amazingly long time, but eventually the day’s events began to tug at Siri. She hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and the rushing, worrying, and surprises had taken their toll. She barely noticed as she broke the Emperor’s still-steady gaze, her head beginning to bob sleepily. She tried to stay awake out of principle, but even still, she eventually slid to the Amberite floor, asleep.
Devin awoke to the howling wind. He started, sitting up with surprise. The world had changed around him—the camp was gone, his friends were gone, the trees were gone. Instead, he was surrounded by a flat, dust-covered plain. The sky was a deep black void above him. There was no sun or stars in the sky, yet he could see a great distance. In every direction, there was nothing but dry, barren earth and blowing dust.
Where am I? Devin thought with horror, stumbling to his feet. The wind-blown dust had been piling against his body, and it left a depression behind as he stood. The wind continued to blow against him, and it pushed dust into his eyes and stifled his breathing. It was sharp and granular, like chipped glass.
A voice spoke. Devin could barely hear it—it was as if the speaker were a great distance away. Yet there was power in the voice. Incredible strength.
Devin spun, looking around the horrible plain. He could barely see for the dust, could barely hear for the wind. Beside him, the remains of a dried-out riverbed lay partially covered with dust. Devin frowned when he noticed it—something was familiar about the river’s meandering trail.
His heard froze when he realized what it was. The hornswater, Devin thought with horror. I’m home. This is where my village should be.
The voice spoke again in the distance. Devin strained to hear it over the wind. A part of him knew he didn’t want to know what it was saying—there was such power in the voice that it frightened him.
“Sulevin Mass,” the voice whispered in the distance. “Serve me.”
“What is this!” Devin screamed against the wind. “Where is my village!”
“Join me,” the voice whispered.
Devin spun again, kicking up the dust that had piled against his feet. Somehow he knew, somehow he understood. This was the place where his village had stood. Or, at least, this was what would happen to the place where his village now stood.
“Why?” Devin screamed. “Why do this? Why do you destroy? Why do you hate the world?”
“Follow . . . me . . .” the voice trailed off, and the wind grew more furious. Devin was swallowed in a hurricane of sand and dirt. He spun, seeing the world around him. The entire continent of Kkorimar, destroyed, its life reduced to dust.
Why? he thought with pain. Why?
Devin sat upright. The sky was still dark above him, and for a horrible moment he thought he was still in the wasteland. Then, however, he saw the twinkle of a star, and relief washed over him like a welcome storm of cleanwater.
“Bad dreams?” a voice asked.
Devin looked up. Voko sat on watch, his broad face illuminated by the small fire. He smiled as he nodded toward Devin.
“Yes,” Devin said quietly. He stood, picking his way past sleeping forms toward the fire. A short distance away the Kkoloss princess lay snuggled against a tree stump—apparently, fatigue had finally overwhelmed her suspicion. In the darkness she looked more like a frightened animal than she did a careless tyrant.
Devin pulled over a small log and settled down beside the fire’s warmth. Here, on the island, the heat wasn’t necessary—the air was warm enough. Still, the crimson flames were comforting. It was not the cold that made him uncomfortable this night.
“I almost think they move sometimes,” Voko mumbled to himself, nodding toward the shadowed trees.
Suddenly, all the flames in the world couldn’t keep the chill from running up Devin’s spine. Staring out into the darkness, he could make out five shadows standing amongst the trees. Five shadows that looked like tall, thin men, their heads turned directly toward him. The Shadein.
“I could have sworn there were people out there watching us,” Voko said, chuckling uncomfortably. “I even went to look, fool that I am. Nothing but stumps and branches.”
Devin barely heard him. His eyes met the face of the lead figure, a horrid creature whose name had been lost in time. The lead Shadein—high priest of the Demon God.
“It’s almost enough to make a city man like myself believe in Desicrates and Night Spinners, eh Devin?”
Devin felt his hands begin to tremble, but his eyes remained fixed on his watcher. Eventually, the black form melded into the darkness—became part of the darkness—and they were alone again.
“Devin?” Voko asked nervously.
Sulevin Mass. Serve me. Devin shivered. Still, he turned and smiled reassuringly to Voko anyway. There was no reason to pass his psychosis on to his friends.
“The night does strange things to the mind, doesn’t it?” Devin asked with a laugh that, to him, sounded a bit hollow.
Voko took it with a smile, however. “That it does, Dev. I tell you, sitting out here nights . . . well, let’s just say that suddenly I can understand why you rustics are so prone to invent superstitions.”
Devin smiled at the comment, then nodded toward Voko’s hands, where the squat man held something indistinguishable. “What have you got?”
Voko looked down. “This?” he asked, then held it up. “I picked it up while we were scouting the town before we grabbed the woman.”
Devin squinted in the firelight. It looked like a metal box with a hole in the front.
“It’s a training box,” Voko explained. “For picking locks. There is a lock on four of the sides, each one a little more difficult than the one before it.” He looked down with sorrow. “Once I would have snorted in disdain at the hardest side, but now I can’t even pick the easiest one.”
Devin regarded his friend with sorrow. “I’m sorry, Voko.”
Voko sighed. “Well, at least it forced me to go honest. I’ve been trying to do that since I picked my first pocket. Now there’s no temptation. Of course, I did end up joining a group of rebels, sneaking into a royal palace, and kidnapping the Emperor’s bride.”
Voko sat for a moment, regarding the box clasped in his thick fingers. Devin could see the remains of a pick lodged in one of its sides—a pick that had been twisted and broken by fingers that could no longer move dexterously enough to keep from snapping the thin metal.
“Voko . . .” Devin said quietly, uncertain how to proceed. How would he feel in Voko’s place—everything he had ever been good at taken away from him? “You have to move on,” Devin said.
Voko snorted. “You mean I have to give up.”
“No,” Devin said firmly. “You just have to learn how to use what you have. Voko, your fingers don’t work anymore, but you still have a quick mind. I can’t believe how cleverly you tricked those guards and got Hine and myself out of the city. You just have to learn not to rely on what you no longer have, and instead use what replaced it. You can’t keep expecting to do what you did before.” Devin nodded toward the box. “Take that and squeeze it,” he said.
Voko sighed, but did as requested. His muscles strained for a moment, then the box popped, smashing in his hand and throwing forth springs and bits of metal.
Devin raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just so . . . crude,” Voko complained.
“Your strength is a tool, Voko,” Devin replied. “Learn how to use it. Instead of insisting on fighting with a dueling sword, find something else that works. Remember back to that first raid the camp went on? When you used a cudgel, you were twice as effective as with a sword. Your talents have changed, but you’re not useless.”
Voko sighed, then nodded. “You’re right,” he said. Then he smiled to himself. “You know, it’s ironic, in a way. When I was a boy, I wanted nothing more than to be as strong as the bigger kids.”
Devin smiled. “Hess moves in strange ways, Voko.”
Voko snorted, setting the broken box aside. “Hess nothing, Dev. I’m the idiot who swore the Kkell oath. If only Eruntu could forsake their Kkell power, like Kkoloss can.”
“We Eruntu don’t have that luxury, I’m afraid,” Devin mumbled.
Voko regarded him for a moment, an odd look on his face.
“What?” Devin asked, feeling slightly defensive.
“Nothing,” Voko said, picking up a stick and stirring the flames.
“What?” Devin repeated.
Voko shrugged. “You said ‘we Eruntu,'” he explained.
Devin rolled his eyes, sighing. “Not you too?” he asked.
“Dev,” Voko said frankly, “Ralan is much better at hiding his Kkell power than you are, and I saw through him in a couple of days. You’re far too powerful to keep it hidden.”
Devin sighed, leaning back. “I can’t believe this.”
“The hair threw me off for a little while,” Voko continued, turning the coals and stirring up a wave of heat. “How did you bleach it?”
“I’m not Kkoloss, Voko,” Devin insisted. “I most certainly don’t dye my hair—and neither does my mother.”
Voko sat thoughtfully for a moment. “Half-breeds aren’t supposed to be possible,” he mumbled. “I wonder what else they aren’t telling us.”
“Voko, this is insane,” Devin said.
“More insane than a rural mainland boy being an expert chef, a master swordsman, a trained surgeon, a free-climber, a lock-picker, an incomparable horseman . . . did I miss anything, or have you learned a couple of new skills while I wasn’t looking?”
Devin closed his eyes, feeling the fire’s warmth on his face. “All my life, Voko,” he said. “All my life I’ve been nothing more than average. No matter what I did, or how I tried, I couldn’t distinguish myself. I was . . . well, I was just Devin. No one special. Now . . .”
“Now you’re good at a lot of things?” Voko said.
“Not a lot of things, Voko,” Devin replied quietly. “Everything. Anything I need to do, I can. I just have to have the need—and someone to show me how to do it—and it comes. I don’t have to try, Voko, and I don’t have to learn. It feels wrong—like I’m cheating somehow. I can kill men who have trained all their lives with a sword. I can pick locks without even really understanding how a lock works.” He sighed, opening his eyes. “It’s wrong, Voko. I shouldn’t be able to do these things.”
Voko shrugged, tossing a few more logs on the fire. “I was once skilled, and now I can’t pick a simple lock. You were nothing, and now you are everything. It seems to me that our situations aren’t all that different.”
Devin frowned. “And?”
“And?” Voko asked. “What did you just tell me to do, Dev? You’ve got skill. Well, use it.”
“I don’t deserve it,” Devin said.
“So?” Voko asked. “You’ve got it, and we’re all the luckier for it. I’m not complaining. Feeling guilty won’t make the Kkell power go away . . . your majesty.”
Devin froze. “Don’t say that, Voko,” he requested.
Voko shrugged, rising. “I’ll tell you what, Dev,” he said. “I’ll make the best of what I have, as long as you promise to do the same. I think it’s your shift on watch.”
With that, the shorter man clasped him once on the shoulder, then wandered over and lay down.
Vvenna awoke with a start. She lay huddled against a tree trunk, a thin blanket—salvaged from the remnants of the camp that had apparently once been in the clearing—pulled around her. Vvenna immediately pulled the blanket tighter, looking up with alarm. She hadn’t expected to fall asleep—she had tried to stay up to keep watch over her captors. However, as they had bedded down, none of them had paid her much attention. It appeared that some of the stories, at least, were not true.
Or, perhaps they’re just waiting for something, Vvenna thought with a chill. She didn’t know—she didn’t know anything. All her preparation, all of her studying, was useless outside of Kkoloss society. She didn’t know what to expect—she didn’t understand her captors, or their motivations.
Suddenly, she felt very, very alone. She pulled up against the tree’s trunk, blinking in the soft darkness, tears forming unbidden to her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she had cried—a true Kkoloss woman didn’t show emotion in such a way. Immediately, she felt guilty. The shame didn’t stop her tears, however, which continued to flow quietly. She was losing control—she didn’t know what to do, or to think, anymore.
Why haven’t you come for me? she wondered morosely.
A sudden sound from behind made her jump. The Eruntu! she thought with horror, turning. They’ve come to—
No one was sneaking up on her, however. A short distance away the boy, Devin, sat on a rock, staring up into the sky. Before Vvenna had dozed off, another one of the men had been sitting on the rock—apparently they had organized some sort of watch.
Vvenna settled back with relief, wiping the shameful tears from her eyes. The sky was cloudless, and she could see the boy’s features well in the starlight. He wasn’t really that much younger than she—a few years at most. Of course, he was Eruntu—when Vvenna reached about thirty years of age, she would begin to age slowly, like all Kkoloss, while he would not. In their youths, however, both races aged similarly.
It must be his height, she decided. It made him look younger at first glance. Vvenna was not only accustomed to Kkoloss men, but Kkoloss men with the Sserin Kkell power. The Kkell of strength tended to make men taller, as well as more strong—many of the men Vvenna knew were well over seven feet in height.
Still, despite his height, the longer she stayed with her captors, the more she realized this Devin was not a child. He didn’t act like one. He was almost distinguished, in a way.
Be careful, Vvenna, she warned herself. The man you are thinking of is your captor—he stole you out of your home and brought you here, into the forest. He associates with shadowlings—he is a Desicrate follower of the Demon God. His intentions for you are not honorable.
With a sigh, Vvenna rolled over and pulled the blanket tight. Just because King Dunn hadn’t found her yet didn’t mean he wasn’t looking. If nothing else, Vvenna’s mother would ensure that the search would continue. All Vvenna had to do was wait. Wait, and survive.
Siri groaned, rolling over. Her back hurt, her arms hurt, and her head hurt. In fact, her body hurt so much that she couldn’t stay asleep. She sighed, letting her eyes flutter open. She was met with the sight of harsh morning sunlight streaming in the bedchamber’s large windows.
She groaned again, pushing herself up and shaking her head. An Amberite floor, royal violet or not, was not a very comfortable place to spend a night. The bright purple reminded her where she was, and she looked up with alarm.
The bed was empty, though its covers were rumpled. The Emperor must have left sometime during the night. Of course, he might have left during the day—the sun was relatively high in the sky. She looked around, but there were no clocks in the room. Still, it had to be close to noon.
Siri shook her head, climbing to her feet. She wasn’t surprised that she had slept so late—she had spent a very restless night. She yawned, seating herself on the dark purple bed and stretching. Her oversized dress was wrinkled horribly from being slept in—Siri was glad there wasn’t a mirror in the room, for she suspected that her face and hair looked little better. She had lost the veil sometime during the night; it lay crumpled where she had tried to use it as a very ineffectual pillow.
Siri lay back on the bed, relishing its softness. One of its many blankets would have been very welcome during the night. The Emperor had retained them for himself, however, She remembered awaking several times during the night to see him still gazing at her, studying her with those haunting eyes of his. It was amazing she had even managed to fall asleep with him watching.
And, during all that time, he had never gestured for her to come to him. He had remained motionless. Had the priest been wrong—was Siri meant to just go to him? If that was the case, then he wasn’t ever going to have her. Still, it seemed odd that he hadn’t given her any sort of command.
Maybe he didn’t want me, Siri suddenly thought. Maybe he didn’t think I was good enough for him. The thought was incongruous, considering her anxiety the night before, but still her pride forced her to wonder. Had she been rejected? There was no way to tell.
Siri shook her head, smiling to herself at the irony of the concern. You hate him, she reminded herself. You don’t care if he rejects you or not. Besides, he’ll never know what he missed out on.
The thought brought another along with it. What would happen when the Emperor touched her? Would he recognize the Kkell of Healing? At the Third Sept, Siri’s touch was weak, but still noticeable. The women who had bathed her the day before hadn’t said anything, but the power was a great deal weaker when applied to women. Maybe the Emperor would sense what her touch did. Another reason to avoid intimacy.
Siri sighed as she forced herself back to her feet. The room looked much different in the daylight—it had seemed foreboding the night before, but now it only seemed stark. It held only the bed and the large fireplace set in the far wall. The fire was still smoldering weakly—a servant must have entered to build it back up sometime during the night. Perhaps when the Emperor left.
Siri moved toward the door, then paused, turning slightly. The priest had told her to burn the sheets. If she didn’t, it would be obvious that nothing had happened between her and the Emperor. She wasn’t certain if that were a good thing or not—what would the Archpriests think if they knew? Would they suspect that she wasn’t Vvenna?
Siri waited indecisively for a moment, then finally decided that she had better be certain. She pulled the silk sheets free from the bed and carried them over to the massive fireplace. A little stirring and a few pieces of wood later, she was able to dispose of the sheets as she had been commanded. She nodded to herself, watching the lavender cloth disappear in the flames. Then, she made her way out the door.
Outside a quartet of white-clothed handmaidens waited for her. They turned soundlessly, leading her through the lush hallways. None of the floors were carpeted for some reason, but the walls all bore decorations of silver, gold, and Amberite. Siri’s rumpled train dragged behind her as she walked, the only sound beside their falling footsteps. Apparently, the Emperor wasn’t the only persistently quiet person in the palace.
Eventually, they led her to a set of chambers that were obviously for her. They looked much as Vvenna’s had back in the Sserin palace, though, of course, everything was a shade of violet instead of red. The main room bore an intricate rug over the Amberite, and the walls were decorated with gold-lined mirrors and flowery brocades. There were cabinets filled with jewelry for her to use, and she assumed there were also closets full of clothing. She would never search through any of it herself, of course—that was the handmaidens’ job.
Her servants led her through the main room and into a smaller changing room. Here, Siri allowed them to remove her rumpled dress and replace it with a robe that was much more comfortable. Then they withdrew to the side of the room, leaving her standing uncertainly.
What now? She thought with surprise. What am I supposed to do with my time? Before, she had always been busy. She had either been attending to Vvenna’s needs or socializing with Kkoloss of her Sept. The Emperor’s wife, however, didn’t socialize—and she certainly didn’t have anyone above her she was expected to serve. So, what was she supposed to do?
“Um,” Siri said hesitantly, trying to imitate Vvenna’s passionless voice. “Go and find me that priest, the one who spoke to me last night.”
The girls regarded each other with looks of surprise. “Priest Slels, my lady?” one of them ventured.
“Yes,” Siri said. “What does he do here?”
“He is head of the palace staff, my lady,” the girl continued. Like most of the others, she had dark hair and a thin frame.
“Ah, good,” Siri declared. “Bring him to me.”
The girls frowned again, but one of them scurried away to do her bidding. Siri tried not to let her confusion show on her face.
Why were they so reluctant? She wondered with dismay. Have I made a mistake already?
While she waited, she moved from the changing room to search for her audience chamber. However, she didn’t find one—the rooms were set out just like Vvenna’s had been, only they didn’t contain a place for her to meet guests.
I guess I’m not supposed to entertain anyone, she realized. It made sense—the Vessel was supposed to stay away from courtly politics. Still, it seemed silly for her not to have an audience chamber. As she searched through the rooms, her handmaidens followed her like two dozen ghosts, quite save for the rustling of their clothing. Siri was beginning to find them increasingly annoying. Handmaidens—whether they be her own, or the others she was working with—usually talked and chatted, keeping each other abreast of court gossip or important events. Beyond that, Siri was used to being Vvenna’s friend—the two had usually talked. The constantly voiceless followers were discomforting, and even a little creepy.
Trying to ignore the women, Siri made her way back to her main room. If she didn’t have an audience chamber, she would just have to use that room for the purpose. It bore a group of couches, after all. She chose one and seated herself, waiting uncomfortably, surrounded by attendants, until the priest arrived.
He appeared with a knock at the door. Short and businesslike, Slels carried a pile of ledgers in his hands—lists, from what Siri could see. His only bow was a nod, and it was given with a barely masked look of annoyance.
“You asked for me, my lady?” he asked with a direct tone.
“Yes, Slels,” Siri said. “You were very useful last night, so I thought that I might seek your advice today.”
“As long as you are quick about doing so,” the priest said. “You simply can’t imagine how busy I am—one of the girls spilt the Emperor’s supper in the east wing and two of the cooks are sick today.” The man spoke with a perfunctory, yet casual tone. Siri frowned slightly to herself—he treated her with respect, but far less deference than she would have imagined. Of course, all of the maids she had seen in the palace were Kkoloss—perhaps such frequent contact with members of the Holy Race had desensitized him to them. Not that it really mattered to her.
“Well, priest Slels,” Siri continued, “I will try not to take much of your time. You simply need tell me what I am expected to do.”
Slel frowned. “Why, give birth to the next Emperor, of course,” he said.
“I meant today,” Siri clarified. “What do I do in-between . . . my other duty.”
The priest shrugged a ‘why are you bothering me with this’ shrug. “Do whatever you want, my lady,” he replied. “As long as you present yourself at the Emperor’s bedchamber every night at eight, you may spend the rest of your days however you wish.”
Siri paused. “But surely there are restrictions. I’m not supposed to engage in politics, for instance.”
“Well, yes,” Slels agreed. “Though that is a convention, rather than a requirement. You are supposed to be above such things.”
Siri nodded, trying to look like she already knew what he was saying. Unfortunately, the majority of the rules surrounding the Vessel were contained in the Interdictions, and theological books were restricted to the priesthood. Vvenna had read those on her own, and been forbidden to share what she learned with anyone else—including Siri.
But, she reminded herself, I am Vvenna now. I’m the Vessel, which makes me part of the Imperial family. Those things are no longer forbidden of me.
The realization brought a flutter to her heart—she had always been curious as to what was in those books. No amount of prying had been able to get even a squeak of information out of Vvenna—the princess had taken her duties very seriously.
“Of course,” Siri said, nodding to the impatiently waiting priest. “Why don’t you send me several works,” she said, trying to remember the titles of some of the books Vvenna had read. “How about the Undertenants and the Interdictions. I feel a need to review my duties.”
“One of your handmaidens can find them for you,” Slels said with a quick nod. “If there is nothing else . . . ?”
“No,” Siri said. “You may go—”
He was out the door before she finished.
Devin stretched in the morning light, watching as the rest of the camp began to awaken. In a way, he was glad for his shift on the watch—it had given him a lot of time to think, something he sincerely needed. As long as the fire burned brightly, he hadn’t needed to worry about his shadowy followers.
He was starting to realize he hadn’t thought through his plans far enough. He didn’t know why any of the others had listened to him—he was very new at being a leader. They should have warned him, and he should have seen that he wasn’t being foresighted enough.
They had managed to capture the princess, but now he was realizing he didn’t really know what to do with her. How was he supposed to make the Kkoloss do anything in exchange for her, and how would he know if they kept their promises? Plus, what was to keep them from changing things back the moment Devin returned the princess?
He was still a little stunned that they had managed to kidnap her. Part of him had still believed that the Kkoloss were somehow undefeatable. That was gone now—he had not only gotten in and taken the princess, but not a single one of his men had been captured or harmed in the process. Unfortunately, his success only made him more nervous. Now the men would expect him to be able to carry out the other half of his plan—the bargaining for improved Eruntu rights.
There was groaning all around as the men rose. Quin and the others must have left the camp in a rush, for they had left a good number of discarded items behind. Even still there hadn’t been much to make bedding from. Devin had given the only blanket to the princess, and the rest of them had been forced to make do with old sacks and torn pieces of clothing.
A short distance away, Hine staggered by, scratching his beard with a lazy hand. Ix followed behind him, mimicking the scratching motion and the stagger like a child walking behind his father. Hine dug some wood out from underneath the tent they had made to keep it dry from dew or rain, and began working on a fire, Ix helping as best he could. On the other side of camp, Ralan nudged the still-sleeping Voko and prepared to go try and catch them something for lunch.
Beside Devin, Skeer was rising, his face bearing its usual look of barely contained excitement. He smiled optimistically at Devin. “Don’t worry, Devin,” he said with a nod. “They’ll come for us.”
“I’m certain they will,” Devin said. For some reason he never felt like confronting Skeer with his delusions. The tall man was just too happy to intentionally disillusion.
Skeer looked off into the forest, taking a deep breath of the still-chilly morning air. “They’ll come,” he said again, stepping over * still-sleeping form to wander toward the fledgling fire.
Devin watched him go with a shake of his head. At times he wondered if Skeer could possibly be as clueless as he seemed. Yet, the spindly man was incredibly consistent—whether it be a jail cell or a cold morning, Skeer was always confident and optimistic. Idiot or not, that said a lot about a man.
A groan more feminine in nature sounded from the side, and Devin turned. The princess had awakened. She sat herself up against her tree, shivering slightly. She seemed fascinated by the dew on her blanket, rubbing it between her fingers with a confused look.
Devin slid off his rock, approaching her. She immediately pulled back in a frightened reflexive reaction, then nearly as quickly gained control of herself, smoothing out her expression and forcing her body to remain motionless.
Devin knelt beside her, rubbing his fingers across the grass. “You’ve probably never had to sleep in dew before, have you?” he guessed.
She regarded him with a blank stare, though her eyes did flash down toward the ground. “Dew?” she finally asked.
Devin paused. “You’ve never seen dew before?” he asked with surprise.
She didn’t respond, of course.
She was even more protected than I thought, Devin realized. “It comes in the morning,” he explained. “Everything gets covered with a thin layer of cleanwater. My mother used to tell me it was God’s way of cleaning the land, kind of like splashing water on your face after you get up.”
Vvenna looked down at her fingers, then slowly raised them to her lips to taste the water. Even through her emotionless mask, Devin could sense a slight hint of wonder in her face.
This is all new to her, he realized. She’s probably never been out of the Holy City, let alone experienced a forest.
“I’ll bring you some more cleanwater with breakfast,” Devin promised. “I—”
“Hey, Devin!” a voice called from behind.
Devin frowned, rising. Behind him, Hine was moving out of the forest. He waved for Devin to approach.
“You might want to see this, son,” Hine said. “Voko and Ralan found something in the forest.”
“What?” Devin asked.
“I can’t explain—just come look.”
The enormous footprint was as wide as two of Devin’s handspans. It was pressed into the ground beside a small riverbed—the soft ground had sunk down two entire thumbwidths. Whatever had made it had been incredibly large.
“Hess . . .” Devin whispered with amazement.
“What do you make of it, Dev?” Voko asked, kneeling on the other side of the print.
“I have no idea,” Devin said, shaking his head.
“Well, I guess that makes four of us,” Voko said with dissatisfaction.
Devin stared down a the print, amazed. It had definitely been made by some sort of animal—he could see claw marks at the ends of all four toes. But what kind of animal could make such a large print? It would have to be even larger than a horse.
“Have any of you ever seen anything that could make a print this large?” Devin said, looking up at the other three.
Voko and Ralan shook their heads. Hine was hesitant.
“Hine?” Devin asked.
“It’s nothing, son,” he said, looking a bit sheepish.
“What?” Devin prodded.
“I remember something,” Hine explained, squatting down to regard the print. “You’ve probably heard it—something the priests would say about the time of the Demon God.”
“‘Beasts walked Kkorimar,'” Voko whispered, his eyes unfocusing slightly as he quoted. “‘Creatures spawned of chaos and the Living Darkness. Monstrous forms, sent to plague man and upset the balance of the world. The Demon God loathed balance and order; he made the world turn against itself. Suckling lambs slew wolves of the forest, creeping insects grew to the size of men, and . . .'”
“‘Fish left their sea home and took home upon the land,'” Hine finished, looking up.
Devin followed his gaze, looking out through the trees. A short distance away, a group of lills swam through the air, flitting from trunk to trunk skittishly. They almost seemed commonplace now, though he remembered his shock when he had seen that first one a year before. There seemed to be more of them now—he never saw them alone anymore. They were always in groups—like schooling fish.
Devin felt cold. Creatures of the Demon God walked Kkorimar, fish swam through the air, and the Shadein had returned. And, somehow, Devin himself was mixed up in all of it. What was going on? Could the world survive another attack by the Demon God?
“He’s still imprisoned,” Devin whispered. “The Mythwalker locked him in a prison beneath the Imperial Palace.”
“For now,” Hine said.
Devin shivered. “Come on,” he said, rising. “Let’s get back to the camp.”
When they returned, they found an incongruous sight waiting for them.
“Devin!” a voice exclaimed.
“Meeve?” Devin asked with surprise, walking back into the camp. The young Guard stood beside Skeer, his face ecstatic. Beside him stood a group of about five men—all of whom had been regular attendants at Hine’s training sessions.
Meeve rushed toward him. “Sir, we knew you would return!” he exclaimed. “Quin told us not to come, but we left anyway.”
“That’s right, sir,” Sevn said, speaking quickly, as usual. “He yelled and huffed at us, but Meeve stood up to him. ‘I’m going back for Devin,’ he said, yes he did. I’ve never seen Quin so mad, but the rest of the men refused to do what he said. They just stood there and let us go. I think they miss your cooking.”
“You see,” Skeer noted. “I knew that they would come for us.”
Devin turned, meeting Hine’s eyes. For a moment, he had almost hoped they wouldn’t find the camp. Now he had no choice but to face Quin once and for all.