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How could this happen? she wondered. The only answer could be that the destiny of Escalon was changing moment to moment. What had been written for thousands of years was being unwritten. The fate of Escalon, she sensed, hung in the balance, and was now amorphous.

Lorna sensed all the eyes of the ship on her, all wanting to know where to go next, what fate held in store for them as they sailed from the burning isle. With the world burning in chaos, they all looked to her for the answer.

As Lorna stood there, she closed her eyes, and slowly, she could feel the answer welling up inside her, telling her where they were needed most. Something was obscuring her vision, though. With a start, she remembered. Thurn.

Lorna opened her eyes and searched the waters below, watching every floating body that passed by, the sea of corpses bumping against the hull. The other sailors, too, had been searching for hours, scanning the faces with her, and yet they had not been successful.

“My lady, the ship awaits your command,” Merk prodded gently.

“We have searched the waters for hours,” Sovos added. “Thurn is dead. We must let him go.”

Lorna shook her head.

“I sense he is not,” she countered.

“I, more than anyone, wish that were so,” Merk replied. “I owe him my life. He saved us from the dragons’ breath. Yet we saw him catch fire and plummet to the sea.”

“Yet we did not see him die,” she replied.

Sovos sighed.

“Even if he somehow survived the fall, my lady,” Sovos added, “he could not have survived these waters. We must let him go. Our fleet needs direction.”

“No,” she said, decisive, her voice ringing with authority. She could feel it rising within her, a premonition, a tingling between her eyes. It was telling her that Thurn was alive down there, somewhere amidst the wreckage, amidst the thousands of floating bodies.

Lorna scanned the waters, waiting, hoping, listening. She owed him that much, and she never turned a back on a friend. The Bay of Death was eerily quiet, with all the trolls dead, the dragons gone; and yet still it carried a sound of its own, the non-stop howling of the wind, the splashing of a thousand whitecaps, the groaning of their ship as it was rocked nonstop. As she listened, the gales of wind grew more fierce.

“A storm brews, my lady,” Sovos finally said. “We must sail. We need direction.”

She knew they were right. And yet, she could not let go.

Just as Sovos opened his mouth to speak, suddenly Lorna felt a rush of excitement. She leaned over and spied something in the distance, bobbing in the waters, carried by the currents toward the ship. She felt a tingling in her gut, and she knew it was him.

“THERE!” she cried.

The men rushed to the railing and stared over the edge, and they all saw it, too: there was Thurn, floating in the water. Lorna wasted no time. She took two big steps, jumped off the rail, and dove, head first, falling twenty feet through the air down for the icy waters of the bay.

“Lorna!” Merk cried out behind her, concern in his voice.

Lorna saw the red sharks swarming below, and understood his concern. They were circling Thurn, but while they prodded him, she saw they hadn’t yet been able to pierce his armor. Thurn was lucky, she realized, to still be in his armor, the only thing saving his life – and luckier still that he was grasping a plank of wood, keeping him afloat. Yet the sharks were now swarming in greater force, becoming more bold, and she knew his time was limited.

She also knew the sharks would come for her, and yet she would not hesitate, not when his life was in danger. She owed him that much.

Lorna landed in the water, in shock at the icy cold, and without pausing, kicked and swam beneath the surface until she reached him, using her power to swim faster than the sharks. She put her arms around him, grabbing him, sensing he was alive, though unconscious. The sharks began to swim for her, and she braced herself, prepared to do whatever she had to do to keep them alive.

Lorna suddenly saw ropes landing around her, and she grabbed on tight and felt herself yanked backwards quickly, flying through the air. It was not a moment too soon: a red shark leapt from the water and snapped for her legs, just missing.

Lorna, holding Thurn, was yanked through the air, rising in the freezing wind, swaying wildly as they smashed against the hull of the ship. A moment later they were pulled up by the crew, and before she went back on board, she caught a last glimpse of the sharks swarming below, furious at having lost their meal.

Lorna landed on the deck with a thud, Thurn in her arms, and as they did, she immediately turned him over and examined him. Half of his face was disfigured, burnt by the flames, yet he had, at least, survived. His eyes were closed. At least they were not open to the sky; that was a good sign. She put her hands on his heart, and she felt something. However faint, there was a heartbeat.

Lorna rested her palms on his heart, and as she did, she felt a rush of energy, an intense heat pouring through her palms and into him. She summoned her powers and willed for Thurn to come back to life.

Thurn suddenly opened his eyes and sat upright with a gasp, breathing heavily, spitting out water. He coughed and the other men rushed forward and wrapped him in furs, warming him. Lorna was elated. She watched the color return to his face, and she knew he would live.

Lorna suddenly felt a warm fur being draped over her shoulder, and she turned to see Merk standing over her, smiling down, helping her to her feet.

The men soon crowded around her, looking at her with even more respect.

“And now?” he asked earnestly, coming up beside her. He nearly had to shout to be heard over the wind, the groaning of their rocking ship.

Lorna knew their time was scarce. She closed her eyes and reached her palms up to the sky, and slowly, she felt the fabric of the universe. With the Sword of Flames destroyed, Knossos gone, the dragons fled, she needed to know where Escalon needed them most in its time of crisis.

She suddenly felt the vibration of the Unfinished Sword beside her, and she knew. She turned and looked at Alec, and he stared back, clearly waiting.

She felt his special destiny rising up within her.

“You shall pursue the dragons no more,” she said. “Those that fled will not come to you – they fear you now. And if you seek them out, you will not find them. They have gone to battle elsewhere in Escalon. The mission to destroy them is now someone else’s.”

“Then what, my lady?” he asked, clearly surprised.

She closed her eyes and sensed the answer coming to her.

“The Flames,” Lorna replied, feeling the answer with certainty. “They must be restored. It is the only way to keep Marda from destroying Escalon. That is what matters most now.”

Alec seemed perplexed.

“And what has that to do with me?” he asked.

She stared back.

“The Unfinished Sword,” she replied. “It is the last hope. It, and it alone, can restore the Flame Wall. It must be returned to its original home. Until then, Escalon can never be safe.”

He stared back, surprise in his face.

“And where is its home?” he asked, as the men crowded close to listen.

“In the north,” she replied. “In the Tower of Ur.”

“Ur?” Alec asked, baffled. “Has the tower not already been destroyed?”

Lorna nodded.

“The tower, yes,” she replied. “But not what lies beneath.”

She took a deep breath as they all looked to her, riveted.

“The tower holds a hidden chamber, deep below the ground. It was never the tower that was important – that was a diversion. It was what lay below. There, the Unfinished Sword will find its home. When you return it, the land will be safe, the Flames restored for all time.”

Alec took a deep breath, clearly taking it all in.

“You want me to journey north?” he asked. “To the tower?”

She nodded.

“It will be a treacherous journey,” she replied. “You will find foes on all sides. Take the men of the Lost Isles with you. Sail up the Sorrow, and do not stop until you reach Ur.”

She stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Return the sword,” she commanded. “And save us.”

“And you, my lady?” Alec asked.

She closed her eyes and felt a terrible rush of pain, and she knew immediately where she had to go.

“Duncan dies as we speak,” she said. “And only I can save him.”

Chapter Seven

Aidan rode across the wasteland with Leifall’s men, Cassandra on one side, Anvin on the other, White at his feet, and as they galloped, raising a cloud of dust, Aidan felt overjoyed at his sense of victory and pride. He had helped achieve the impossible, managing to redirect the falls, to change the massive rush of Everfall, to send its waters gushing across the plains and flood the canyon – and save his father just in time. As he approached, so eager to be reunited with his father, Aidan could see his father’s men in the distance, could hear their shouts of jubilation even from here, and he felt filled with pride. They had done it.

Aidan was elated his father and men had survived, the canyon flooded, overflowing, thousands of Pandesians dead, washed up at their feet. For the first time, Aidan felt a great sense of purpose and belonging. He’d truly contributed to his father’s cause, despite his young age, and he felt like a man amongst men. He felt this was one of the great moments of his life.

As they galloped, the sun shining down, Aidan could not wait for the moment when he saw his father, the pride in his eyes, the gratitude and most of all, the look of respect. His father would now, he was sure, look upon him as an equal, as one of his own, a true warrior. It was all that Aidan had ever wanted.

Aidan rode on, the thunderous sound of horses in his ears, caked in dirt, sunburned from the long ride, and as they finally crested the hill and came charging down, he saw the final stretch before them. He looked out at the group of his father’s men, heart pounding with anticipation – when suddenly, he realized that something was wrong.

There, in the distance, his father’s men were parting ways, and amidst them he saw a sole figure, walking alone in the desert. A girl.

It made no sense. What was a girl doing out there, alone, walking toward his father? Why had all the men stopped and let her through? Aidan did not know exactly what was wrong, but by the way his heart was pounding, something deep inside told him it was trouble.

Even stranger, as Aidan neared, he was floored as he recognized the girl’s singular appearance. He saw her suede and leather cloak, her tall black boots, her staff at her side, her long light-blonde hair, her proud face and features, and he blinked, confused.


His confusion only deepened. As he watched her walk, saw the manner of her gait, the way she held her shoulders, he knew something was not quite right. That looked like her, but it was not. That was not the sister he had lived with his entire, with whom he had spent so many hours reading books in her lap.

Still a hundred yards away, Aidan’s heart was pounding as he felt a deepening sense of apprehension. He lowered his head, kicked his horse and urged him on, galloping so fast he could hardly breathe. He had a sinking premonition, felt a sense of impending doom as he saw the girl near Duncan.

“FATHER!” he shrieked.

Yet from here, his cries were drowned out by the wind.

Aidan galloped faster, riding out ahead of the pack, racing down the mountain. He watched, helpless, as the girl reached out to embrace his father.

“NO, FATHER!” he shouted.

He was fifty yards away, then forty, then thirty – yet still too far to do anything but watch.

“WHITE, RUN!” he commanded.

White took off, running even faster than the horse. And yet still Aidan knew there would be no time.

Then he watched it happen. The girl, to Aidan’s horror, reached out and plunged a dagger into his father’s chest. His father’s eyes widened as he dropped to his knees.

Aidan felt as if he, too, had been stabbed. He felt his entire body collapse within him, never feeling so helpless in his life. It had all happened so quickly, his father’s men standing there, confused, dumbfounded. No one even knew what was happening. But Aidan knew. He knew right away.

Still twenty yards out, Aidan, desperate, reached into his waist, drew the dagger that Motley had given him, reached back, and threw it.

The dagger sailed through the air, spinning end over end, shimmering in the light, heading for the girl. She extracted her dagger, grimaced, and prepared to stab Duncan again – when suddenly, Aidan’s dagger found its target. Aidan was relieved, at least, to watch it puncture the back of her hand, to see her shriek and drop her weapon. It was no earthly shriek, and certainly not Kyra’s. Whoever she was, Aidan had outed her.

She turned and looked at him, and as she did, Aidan watched with horror as her face transformed. The girlish countenance was replaced by a grotesque, manly figure, growing bigger by the second, larger than any of them. Aidan’s eyes opened wide in shock. It was not his sister. It was none other than the Great and Holy Ra.

Duncan’s men, too, stared back in shock. Somehow, the dagger puncturing his hand had transformed the illusion, had shattered whatever magic sorcery he had used to deceive Duncan.

At the same moment White lunged forward, leaping through the air and landing on Ra’s chest with his huge paws, driving him back. Snarling, the dog tore at his throat, scratching him. He clawed at his face, throwing Ra completely off guard and preventing him from rallying and attacking Duncan again.

Ra, struggling in the dirt, looked up to the heavens and shouted out words, something in a language Aidan did not understand, clearly invoking some ancient spell.

And then, suddenly, Ra disappeared into a ball of dust.

All that remained was his bloody dagger, fallen to the ground.

And there, in a pool of blood, Aidan’s unmoving father.

Chapter Eight

Vesuvius rode north through the countryside, galloping on the back of the horse he had stolen after murdering a group of Pandesian soldiers – and on a rampage ever since, barely slowing as he tore through village after village, murdering innocent women and children. In some cases he passed through a village for its food and weapons; in others, just for the joy of killing. He smiled wide as he recalled torching village after village, single-handedly burning them down to the ground. He would leave his mark on Escalon everywhere he went.

As he rode out of the last village, Vesuvius groaned and threw a flaming torch, watching with satisfaction as it landed on yet another roof, setting another village aflame. He burst out of it with glee. It was the third village he had burned this hour. He would burn them all down if he could – but he had pressing business. He dug his heels into horse, determined to reunite with his trolls and lead them on the final stretch of their invasion. They needed him now, more than ever.

Vesuvius rode and rode, crossing the great plains and entering the northern part of Escalon. He sensed his horse tiring beneath him, but that only made him dig his heels in deeper. He cared not if he rode it to its death – in fact, he hoped he did.

As the sun grew long in the sky, Vesuvius could sense his troll nation getting closer, awaiting him; he could smell it in the air. It gave him great joy to think of his people here in Escalon, finally, on this side of the Flames. Yet as he rode, he wondered why his trolls were not further south by now, pillaging all of the countryside. What was stopping them? Were his generals so incompetent that they could accomplish nothing without him?

Vesuvius finally burst free of a long stretch of woods, and as he did, his heart leapt to see his forces spread out on the plains of Ur. Tens of thousands of trolls were gathering, he was thrilled to see. Yet he was confused: instead of looking victorious, these trolls looked defeated, forlorn. How could it be?

As Vesuvius watched his people just standing there, his faced flush with chagrin. Without him there, they all seemed demoralized, to have all the fight taken out of them. Finally, the Flames down, Escalon was theirs. What were they waiting for?

Vesuvius finally reached them, and as he burst into the crowd, galloping amongst them, he watched them all turn and look up at him with shock, fear, and then hope. They all froze and stared. He’d always had that effect upon them.

Vesuvius jumped down from his horse, and without hesitating, raised his halberd high, spun around, and chopped off his horse’s head. The horse stood there for a moment, headless, then dropped to the ground, dead.

That, Vesuvius thought, was for not riding fast enough.

Besides, he always liked to kill something when he arrived somewhere.

Vesuvius saw the fear in his trolls’ eyes as he marched toward them in a rage, demanding answers.

“Who is leading these men?” he demanded.

“I have, my lord.”

Vesuvius turned to see a thick, large troll, Suves, his deputy commander in Marda, facing him, tens of thousands of trolls behind him. Vesuvius could tell that Suves was trying to look proud, yet fear lurked behind his gaze.

“We thought you were dead, my lord,” he added, as if explaining.

Vesuvius scowled.

“I do not die,” he snapped. “Dying is for cowards.”

The trolls all stared back in fear and silence as Vesuvius clenched and unclenched his grip on his halberd.

“And why have you stopped here?” he demanded. “Why have you not destroyed all of Escalon?”

Suves looked back and forth from his men to Vesuvius in fear.

“We were stopped, my master,” he finally admitted.

Vesuvius felt a rush of rage.

“Stopped!?” he snapped. “By whom?”

Suves hesitated.

“The one known as Alva,” he finally said.

Alva. The name rang deep in Vesuvius’s soul. Escalon’s greatest sorcerer. The only one, perhaps, with more power than he.

“He created a fissure in the earth,” Suves explained. “A canyon we could not cross. He has separated the south from the north. Too many of us have already died trying. It is I who called off the attack, who saved all these trolls you see here today. It is I you have to thank for their precious lives being restored. It is I who saved our nation. For that, my master, I ask that you promote me, and give me a command of my own. After all, this nation looks to me now for leadership.”

Vesuvius felt his rage building to the point of explosion. Hands shaking, he took two quick steps, swung his halberd wide, and sliced off Suves’s head.

Suves collapsed to the ground, while the rest of the trolls stared back in shock and fear.

“There,” Vesuvius replied to the dead troll, “is your command.”

Vesuvius surveyed his troll nation with disgust. He patrolled his lines up and down, staring into all their faces, instilling fear and panic in all of them, as he enjoyed doing.

Finally, he spoke, his voice sounding more like a growl.

“The great south lies before you,” he boomed in his dark voice, filled with fury. “Those lands were ours once, pillaged from your forefathers. Those lands were once Marda. They stole what is ours.”

Vesuvius took a deep breath.

“For those of you who are afraid to advance, I will collect your names, and your family’s names, and I will have each one of you tortured slowly, one at a time, then sent to rot in the pits of Marda. Those of you who wish to fight, to save your lives, to reclaim what your forefathers once owned, will join me now. Who is with me?” he shouted.

There arose a great cheer, a loud rumbling through the ranks, row after row, as far as he could see, of trolls raising their halberds and chanting his name.


Vesuvius let out a great battle cry, turned, and sprinted south. Behind him he heard a rumble like thunder, the rumble of thousands of trolls following him, of a great nation determined to put an end to Escalon once and for all.

Chapter Nine

Kyra flew on Theon’s back, racing south through Marda, slowly returning to herself as she left this land of blackness. She felt more powerful than ever. In her right hand she wielded the Staff of Truth, light shining off it, engulfing them both. It was a weapon, she knew, that was bigger than her; it was an object of destiny, filling her with its power, commanding her as she commanded it. Holding it made the universe feel bigger, made her feel bigger.

Kyra felt as if she were holding the weapon she had been meant to wield since she was born. For the first time in her life, she understood what had been missing, and she felt complete. She and the staff, this mysterious weapon she had retrieved from deep in the lands of Marda, were one.

Kyra flew south, Theon, too, bigger and stronger beneath her, the fury and vengeance in his eyes matching her own. As they flew and flew, hours passing, finally the gloom began to subside, and the green of Escalon became visible. Kyra’s heart leapt to see her homeland; she had never thought to see it again. She felt a sense of urgency; she knew her father, engulfed by Ra’s armies, needed her in the south; she knew that Pandesian soldiers filled the land; she knew that Pandesia’s fleets were pounding Escalon from the seas; she knew that somewhere high above the dragons circled, also bent on Escalon’s destruction; and she knew the trolls were invading, millions of creatures tearing her land apart. Escalon was in dire straits in all directions.

Kyra blinked and tried to push from her mind the awful memory of her homeland torn to shreds, the long stretches of ruin and rubble and ash. And yet, as she clutched the staff tighter, she knew this weapon might be its hope for redemption. Could this staff, Theon, and her powers truly save Escalon? Could something so far gone be saved? Could Escalon ever even hope to return to what it had once been?

Kyra did not know. But there was always hope. That was what her father had taught her: even in one’s bleakest hour, when things looked so grim, even if they appeared utterly destroyed, there was always hope. There was always some spark of life, of hope, of change. Nothing was never absolute. Not even destruction.

Kyra flew and flew, feeling her destiny well up within her, feeling a surge of optimism, feeling more powerful with each passing moment. She reflected, and felt she had conquered something deep within herself. She recalled slicing that spider’s web, and she felt that, as she had sliced it, she had also severed something within her. She had been forced to survive on her own, and she had conquered the deepest demons within her. She was no longer the same girl who had grown up in Fort Volis; she was not even the same girl who had ventured into Marda. She returned now as a woman. As a warrior.

Kyra looked down through the clouds, sensing the landscape shift beneath her, and saw they had finally reached the border where the Flames had once stood. As she examined the big scar upon the land, motion below caught her eye.

“Lower, Theon.”

They dove beneath the heavy clouds, and as the gloom dissolved, her heart lifted to see the land she had loved again. She was thrilled to see her own soil, the hills and trees which she recognized, to smell the air of Escalon.

Yet as she looked again, her heart fell. There, below, were millions of trolls, flooding the land, racing south from Marda. It resembled a mass migration of beasts, their rumble audible even from here. Seeing this, she did not know how her nation could ever withstand such an attack. She knew her people needed her – and fast.

Kyra felt the Staff of Truth buzz in her hands, then make a high-pitched whistling noise. She felt it calling her to action, demanding she strike. She did not know if she was commanding the staff, or if it was commanding her.

Kyra aimed the staff toward the ground, and as she did, a cracking noise emanated from it. It was as if she were wielding thunder and lightning in her palm. She watched in fascination as an intense orb of light shot forth from the staff and raced down for the ground.

Hundreds of trolls stopped and looked up, and she saw panic and terror in their faces as they looked at the ball of light coming down at them from the sky. They had no time to run.

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