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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

As the Shadow Rises

The Age of Darkness (Volume 2)

Katy Rose Pool

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

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1

EPHYRA



No one in the smoke-filled gambling hall knew that a killer walked among them. Ephyra eyed the crowds of sailors and hustlers bellowing and brawling over tables strewn with dice, coin, and cards, their teeth and gold flashing in the dim light. None of them paid her any mind, and if she’d come here for a kill, she would have had an easy time of it.

But Ephyra wasn’t hunting for a victim tonight. She was hunting for answers.

She’d spent over a week chasing down rumors about the Thief King in every gambling hall and slyhouse in Tel Amot before finally pinning down a lead thanks to a woman who’d sold her wine at the Night Market. It wasn’t much, just a place and a name—Shara at the Laughing Jackal.

Ephyra picked her way across the sticky floor toward the bar, dodging a brawl that had broken out over cards.

“Have you seen my friend Shara?” Ephyra asked as a server drew up to the bar with an expectant look. “I’m supposed to meet her here. She been in tonight?”

The server gave her a flat look. “Do I look like a messenger to you? Order a drink or leave.”

Ephyra gritted her teeth and placed two copper virtues on the table. “Fine. Palm wine.”

The server scooped the coins off the table and disappeared into the back room. Ephyra watched him go, reaching into her bag and brushing a finger along the spine of her father’s journal. She’d spent days poring over the pages, looking for clues beyond the short letter addressed to her father on the back of a map that, presumably, showed all the places he had gone in search of Eleazar’s Chalice.

It was the same thing Ephyra was looking for now. The only thing capable of saving her sister.

She’d studied her father’s drawings and the few short lines he’d scrawled on the corners of pages. There was only one thing that stood out. Six words beneath a sketch of a handsome man’s face.

The Thief King has the key.

In the past week, she’d learned that the Thief King was a disgraced scholar of the Great Library of Nazirah who’d abandoned his studies to search for a legendary artefact called the White Shield of Pendaros. He’d realized he had a knack for hunting down treasures and legends, and styled himself the Thief King. Along with the White Shield, his crew was rumored to have stolen a whole host of other legendary artefacts—the Ruby Veil, Lyriah’s Flame-tailed Arrows, the Eye of the Desert.

But according to the note tucked into her father’s journal, not Eleazar’s Chalice.

Ephyra jumped in surprise as the server thunked down a chipped glass of wine.

He jerked his chin over Ephyra’s shoulder. “That’ll be your friend.”

The crack of breaking wood sounded, and Ephyra whipped around. Not ten feet away, a girl stood with her back to one of the card tables. A menagerie of bangles and rings clanked around her wrists, and a dark, loose braid lay coiled over her shoulder. Two men flanked her, the remains of a splintered chair scattered at their feet.

“I should have known a whiny cretin like you wasn’t good for his word,” the girl shouted. “Give me my money or I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” the man said, grinning. “Annoy us until we—”

The girl cracked a punch across his face. She got a fistful of his shirt and dragged him closer. “Give. Me. My. Money.”

“You’ll pay for that,” the man growled. He raised a hand and smacked it across the girl’s face. She reeled back as the other man advanced.

Ephyra cursed under her breath. Of course her lead had to be an absolute idiot. Slinging her bag across her chest, Ephyra slipped between Shara and the two men, pushing her back.

“It’s time to go home,” Ephyra said to the men.

“Who in Behezda’s name are you?” one of them growled.

“Yeah, what are you doing?” the girl demanded. “This is a negotiation!”

“I’m currently saving you from possible dismemberment,” Ephyra replied. “So I would shut up if I were you.”

“Stay out of our way.” The man moved to shove Ephyra with a meaty fist.

Ephyra twisted away and had her knife at his throat before he could so much as blink. “I suggest you stay out of my way.”

Ephyra held the man’s stunned gaze, waiting to see what he would do. If he would call what probably seemed like a bluff, or if the knife would scare him off.

Of course, the knife wasn’t what he should be afraid of. But he didn’t know that.

He held his hands up. “Fine.” He jabbed a finger at Shara. “This isn’t over.”

Ephyra waited a beat and then reached back to grab Shara’s arm, ushering her away from the men.

After a few steps, Shara suddenly shoved her into a nearby card table. It caught her hard in the hip and Ephyra stumbled to regain her footing.

“What is your problem—” Ephyra’s protest died in her throat when she took in the scene. The man she’d threatened was holding a splintered chair leg. Shara had just pushed Ephyra out of the way of his intended blow.

“Should’ve known you’d fight dirty,” Shara snarled. “Once a cheater always a cheater. You can keep the money. You’re not worth my time.”

She backed away from them, waiting until she was a good ten paces away before she turned and fled through the cardroom.

Ephyra scrambled after her, catching up to her near the back doors.

“Word of advice,” Shara said. “Never turn your back on lowlifes.”

With every step, her bracelets clinked against one another. Ephyra now also saw the polished rings on her fingers and the beaded necklaces coiled around her neck.

“Is that how your negotiations usually go?”

“You’re obviously new here,” Shara replied. “There something you want?”

Might as well cut to it. “I’m looking for the Thief King. Someone said you might be able to help.”

Shara’s eyebrows climbed up her forehead. “Is that right?”

“Can you?”

Shara frowned. “There’s only two reasons you could be looking for the Thief King.” She raised a finger. “One, you’re searching for something.” She put up a second. “Or two, you had something stolen from you. So which is it?”

“So you do know him.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you do,” Ephyra countered. “Can you take me to him?”

She appraised Ephyra, eyes scanning over her worn boots and threadbare cloak, lingering on the scar on Ephyra’s face. The scar that had been Hector Navarro’s parting gift, right before Ephyra had killed him. “That depends.”

“On?”

“Whether you’re willing to pay the price.”

A chill slid down Ephyra’s spine. “What kind of price?”

“What any thief wants.”

Ephyra’s heart sank. “I don’t have much coin.”

“Not money,” Shara said. “Treasure.”

“Well, I don’t have that, either.”

“Sure you do,” Shara replied. “Everyone does. Treasure just needs to be valuable to the person giving it up.”

Ephyra thought about what she had. Her belongings were few. She couldn’t part with her father’s journal, as it might contain more undiscovered clues. She definitely didn’t want to give up her dagger. Tel Amot had already proved to be an untrustworthy city, and if she was to get out of there unscathed and without leaving any new victims of the Pale Hand, she needed something to defend herself with. That left only one option, though Ephyra’s chest clenched at the thought of parting with it.

“Here,” she said, slipping the bracelet off her wrist. It was the last thing Beru had made before she’d left Pallas Athos, stringing together bits of broken pottery and a glass bottle stopper Ephyra had brought her. Ephyra had found the bracelet among their scattered things in the burned-down shrine. She could still remember the panic rising in her throat when she’d realized Beru was gone. She pushed down that same panic now as Shara took the bracelet and spun it around one of her slender fingers.

“What?” Ephyra asked impatiently. “Do you need a sob story to go with it?”

She looked up. “Nope. As long as there is a sob story. Come with me.”

She opened the back doors to a courtyard lined with date palms. A few people milled about, some of them clearly too drunk to stand. Shara led her past the courtyard, down a walkway.

“What did you do?” Shara asked casually. She drew a line down her cheek, indicating the scar on Ephyra’s. “That’s the mark of a criminal in Behezda.”

“I’m not from Behezda,” Ephyra replied. This question suddenly clarified a lot of the strange and wary glances she’d been getting. No one else had had the guts to ask, though.

They reached the end of the walkway, which tapered down to a set of stairs that descended into the cool earth.

“Here we are,” Shara said, motioning Ephyra down the stairs.

Ephyra hesitated.

“Oh, come on,” Shara said, rolling her eyes. “You’re the one with the knife.”

Ephyra descended and Shara followed. At the bottom of the stairs, a creaky door hung open to a long, rectangular room with a low ceiling. A desk and a leather chair sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by numerous shelves stacked with books and other trinkets.

No one else was in the room.

Ephyra glanced around as Shara closed the door behind them. “How long do we have to wait?”

“Wait for what?” Shara asked, circling around the desk and pouring herself a cup of palm wine from a crystal decanter.

“You said you were taking me to the Thief King.”

“Oh, right,” Shara replied, sounding bored. She folded herself into the leather chair, propping her thick boots on the desk. “Pleased to meet you.”

Ephyra planted her hands on the desk, leaning toward Shara menacingly. “Don’t waste my time. I know you’re not the Thief King. The Thief King is a man, an ex-scholar from the Library of Nazirah.”

“The Thief King was a man,” Shara said, holding her wrist up to the light as if to admire Ephyra’s bracelet. “He’s dead now.”

“No,” Ephyra said, more forcefully than she meant to. “That can’t be. I need to speak with him. It’s important.”

“Oh, it’s important,” Shara said. “Why didn’t you say so? I’ll just go dig him up and we can resurrect him, then.”

Ephyra sucked in a startled breath. For a moment, she wondered if Shara somehow knew what Ephyra was. That she could raise the dead and had done it before. But that was impossible.

“If the Thief King is dead, then why are you calling yourself that?” Ephyra asked, recovering.

Shara shrugged. “Couldn’t think of a better name.”

Ephyra raised an eyebrow.

“Truthfully?” Shara asked. “The Thief King has a sort of reputation. Which I’m sure you’re well aware of, if you’re trying so hard to find him. When he croaked, I figured it would be a shame to let that reputation die with him. It comes with major perks—useful contacts, intimidation, things like that.”

“You’ve been working as the Thief King?” Ephyra asked. “Stealing legendary artefacts in his name?”

“Pretty much.”

“Did you know him?”

Shara’s expression suddenly hardened. “Yeah. I knew him.”

Ephyra knew that look well—the face of someone trying desperately not to let their grief show.

“Then maybe you can help me after all,” Ephyra said, reaching into her bag for her father’s journal. “Your predecessor sent a letter to my father.”

She flipped through the journal and slid the letter from its pages. Shara took it warily.

Ephyra knew its contents by heart now. Aran, I’m afraid we can’t help you with this one. If the Chalice exists, you don’t want to go looking for it. The only thing you’ll find is a quick death.

“So, did he?” Shara asked, eyes flicking up from the letter.

“What?”

“Your father,” Shara clarified. “Did he find a quick death?”

“No,” Ephyra replied. “He did die sometime after receiving this letter. But he was sick. It was a slow death.” She didn’t want to talk about this with Shara. “Can you tell if that letter really is from the Thief King?”

Shara frowned at the paper. “Looks like his writing to me. This Chalice he’s talking about—that’s Eleazar’s Chalice?”

“You’ve heard of it?”

Shara’s smile glinted like the edge of a knife. “Every treasure thief in the world has heard of Eleazar’s Chalice.”

“And have any of them ever found it?”

Shara laughed. “You read the letter. My predecessor was the boldest, ballsiest thief of them all. And he didn’t want to set foot near that thing. So what does that say to you?” She didn’t wait for Ephyra’s answer. “Now, what was your father doing looking for something like that?”

“That’s what I’m here to find out,” Ephyra said. “I think my father must have known your predecessor—maybe even quite well. He never mentioned him to me, but the letter makes it sound as though they’d worked together before. My father was a trader.”

Shara nodded. “We work with traders often—they’re our go-betweens, finding the right buyers for artefacts.”

“Then you think my father was asking for the Chalice on behalf of someone else?”

“Could be,” Shara replied. “Although I doubt it. I don’t think there’s a fence in the eastern Pelagos crazy enough to try to make that sale.”

Ephyra shivered. She couldn’t shake the thought that her father had been looking for the Chalice on behalf of someone else—her. But she didn’t know what that meant. Her mother and father had always forbade her from using her Grace—it didn’t seem likely that they would be looking for the very thing that would make her stronger.

Maybe … maybe somehow her father had known that Ephyra’s Grace was tainted. Wrong. Maybe he’d known what she was capable of, and maybe he thought the Chalice could fix her.

You’ll have to finish what your father started. That was what Mrs. Tappan had said to Ephyra in Medea. If she had any hope of saving Beru, she had to find the Chalice.

Shara interrupted her thoughts. “You aren’t the first person to come asking about Eleazar’s Chalice. Every so often, some fool comes poking around for it.”

“My father wasn’t a fool,” Ephyra snapped.

“I’m just saying,” Shara said, holding up her hands placatingly. “It’s not the first time someone looking for the Chalice has wound up dead.”

“I told you, my father was sick,” Ephyra said.

Shara raised an eyebrow. “There’s lots of ways to kill someone.”

“You think someone’s trying to stop anyone from finding the Chalice?”

“I have my theories,” Shara replied. “Come to think of it, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about this Chalice as of late. More than usual.”

That startled Ephyra. Besides Mrs. Tappan, who else could be asking about Eleazar’s Chalice? It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Shara eyed her. “There’s more to this than you’re telling me. Isn’t there?”

Ephyra met her gaze evenly. She couldn’t tell this girl the true reason she was asking about the Chalice. That it was her only hope of saving Beru. That for years Ephyra had killed to keep her sister alive, until finally she’d gone too far—she’d killed Hector Navarro, and Beru hadn’t been able to forgive her. She’d walked away, ready to let herself die rather than let Ephyra keep killing. And now the Chalice was Ephyra’s only chance to stop that from happening.

“You’re right,” Ephyra said at last. “I don’t just want to know why my father was looking for the Chalice. I want to find it, too. I need to find it.”

“And you want my help?” Shara asked, crossing one foot over the other on the desk. “Even after everything I just told you?”

“You’re the Thief King now, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Shara replied. “But I told you only fools go looking for the Chalice.”

Ephyra’s heart thudded in her ears, desperation clawing at her throat.

Abruptly, Shara pushed her feet off the desk and stood, folding Ephyra’s father’s letter in her hands. “Luckily for you, I am a fool.”

Ephyra blinked as Shara stepped up to her, her hand held out. “I’ll take your job.”

“Job?” Ephyra echoed. “I told you—I don’t have much coin.”

Shara shrugged. “We’ll work all that out later. So, are you in or not?”

Ephyra’s eyes narrowed. “Why would you want to help me after everything you’ve just said?”

Shara waved a hand. “I’ve a taste for glory and a penchant for ignoring consequences. And you caught me at a slow time. I get bored easily. Did you want to stand here and argue, or do you want to find that Chalice?”

Ephyra clasped Shara’s hand, heart soaring in her chest. This morning, all she’d had was a name, a place, and her dwindling hope. Now she had a bona fide treasure thief on her side and her first, real belief that she could do this. Hold on, Beru, she thought fervently. Just stay alive a little longer.

Shara smiled as they shook hands. “Glad to be doing business with you.”



2

JUDE



For the first time in Jude’s nineteen years, a Tribunal was convened at Kerameikos Fort.

The last time a Tribunal had been assembled was before Jude was born, though he didn’t know what had occasioned it. It was the practice of the Tribunal to keep all records of their proceedings sealed. The only person who had access to those records aside from the Tribunal itself was the Keeper of the Word—though Jude had hardly had time to exercise that right.

Two statues flanked the Tribunal Chambers’ entrance—one of Tarseis the Just, and the other of Temara, the first Keeper of the Word who’d sworn herself in service to the Prophets almost two thousand years ago. Jude paused for a moment beside the statue of his ancestor. She was luminous in the morning light, her fierce gaze overlooking the fortress. She was a warrior, a soldier like Jude. Devoted to a cause greater than herself. He wondered if it was easy for her, to give up everything quiet and warm for cold armor and steel.

“Jude.” His father’s voice sounded from behind him.

The former Captain Weatherbourne stood in the center of the walkway, the span of his shoulders taking up its full width. His thick beard had begun to gray, and though his throat was no longer adorned with the golden torc of the Keeper, he still looked every inch the part.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Jude blurted. “Unless they’ve allowed you to attend?”

His father shook his head. “I only came to see you beforehand. Whatever transpires is between you and the Tribunal.” He set a hand on Jude’s shoulder. “And I am not worried about you, my son. There are simply lingering questions around what happened to Navarro, what led him to desert.”

Jude had heard some of the rumors. Some made him angrier than he thought possible, like the one that said Hector had deserted the Order to raise a child he’d fathered before he took his oath. And some of them—some of them hit much too close to home.

“If they decide that Hector is guilty of desertion—” Jude broke off. He didn’t want to think about what would happen. Jude still remembered the grim look in his father’s eyes when he’d explained to Jude that part of his duty as Keeper of the Word was to be the one to enforce the Paladin’s oath and to administer—swiftly, irrevocably—punishment for breaking it.

His father gripped Jude’s shoulder a little more tightly, his face drawn and solemn. Jude knew what he was thinking—that Hector’s conviction was inevitable.

“No one even knows where he is,” Jude said quietly. That day in Pallas Athos, when he had fought Hector in the ruins of a priest’s shrine, had been the last time he’d seen his friend. “He could be halfway across the world.”

“The Tribunal will decide what action to take,” his father replied. “Just tell them everything you know.”

Jude nodded, nerves buzzing in his stomach. His father didn’t know exactly what had happened in Pallas Athos, beyond the fact that it had led to Jude finding the Last Prophet.

“When the Tribunal is over, I will be here for you. And for the Prophet,” his father said. “That is what we must focus on.”

Anton. Jude still had trouble thinking of him as the Prophet. When he’d first met him in Pallas Athos, he’d seen him only as a thief and a gambler—one who’d saved Jude’s life. Jude had been avoiding him since their return to Kerameikos. He’d read Jude with such ease and Jude feared that if they were alone together now, Anton would take one look at him and know every wretched thought crowding inside Jude’s head. He couldn’t afford that, not with the Tribunal looming over him.

Jude’s father withdrew his hand and then let him go alone through the doors of the Tribunal Chambers.

The Chambers were composed of stone platforms around a central circle, in which blue and gray tile formed the seven-pointed star of the Order. The members of the Tribunal were arranged on the platforms in a half circle, facing Jude as he entered. They were a mix of Paladin and stewards, although all wore gray cloaks on this occasion. Each also wore a pin with the scales of Tarseis the Just, and their faces were veiled to maintain secrecy. Anyone could be under those veils—Jude’s old teachers, the other wards who had resented him, even his father, had Jude not seen him two minutes ago.

Jude bowed his head as he reached the center of the circle. To his left, Penrose and the rest of the Guard sat on stone benches at the perimeter.

The magistrate, nominated to conduct the Tribunal’s questioning, stepped forward from the rest of the group. Unlike the others, he did not wear a mask, and Jude vaguely recognized him—not a swordsman, but a steward, involved in maintaining the fort’s defenses.

“This eighty-first session of the Tribunal of Kerameikos has been called to order,” the magistrate said. “The Tribunal would first like to acknowledge the unusual circumstance in which we find ourselves assembling. Never before has a Keeper of the Word been questioned in our proceedings.”

“I am here of my own volition and will cooperate in any way the Tribunal requires,” Jude said.

The magistrate nodded, satisfied. “The goal of these proceedings is to determine whether the Paladin oaths of the Order of the Last Light were broken, what circumstances led to the alleged oath-breaking, and what steps must be taken to resolve these matters. We will be speaking with all those who have immediate knowledge of these circumstances. The Tribunal first calls Jude Adlai Weatherbourne to speak.”

Jude took a seat on the stone bench that sat atop a black marble dais.

“Captain Weatherbourne, please tell us the events that preceded Hector Navarro’s departure from Pallas Athos.”

Jude took a breath. Maybe he could convince them that Hector had left the Guard in service of the Order. Maybe then, Hector could return one day. He began to speak, telling them how he and Hector had gone together to the citadel of Pallas Athos. How they’d discovered the Pale Hand there.

“And how did you know it was the Pale Hand?” the magistrate asked.

Jude hesitated. The truth would count against Hector and make it appear that he had been acting out of revenge. It was exactly what Jude had accused him of, after all.

“He recognized her,” he said at last. “He had seen her kill before. Knew what she was capable of.”

The same fury and heartbreak that had wrenched at Jude’s chest that day seemed to clog his throat now. He swallowed it down, forging on to explain how Hector had returned to the citadel the next morning, and Jude’s own decision to follow him.

“And when you left the villa that morning, what were you intending to do?” the magistrate asked.

It wasn’t the question Jude had anticipated. He wondered what the magistrate hoped to learn from his answer. “My aim was to find Hector. I thought I could persuade him to return with me.”

He paused again. This was the most critical part of the story. For the Tribunal but also for himself. The moment when the two of them had fought and Hector had left him bleeding on the floor of the ruined shrine. Even now, in retelling it, Jude felt sick.

“And you couldn’t?” the magistrate prompted.

“He … he felt he needed to see his mission through. To find the revenant he believed to be the last harbinger,” Jude hedged. Like the rest of the Paladin, the Tribunal could all sense whether someone was lying by the minute changes in their pulse, their scent, and their breath. This wasn’t a lie—it just wasn’t the whole truth. “If he was right, then his actions might have stopped the Age of Darkness.”

“Is that so?” the magistrate said. “Captain Weatherbourne, the question is not whether Hector’s actions were wrong. What we are here to determine is not what he did but why. The breach of the covenant always starts in the same place—the heart.”

“Only Hector can tell you exactly what was in his heart when he left.” But Jude knew some of it. The words Hector had thrown at Jude—that he never should have accepted a place in his Guard—rang through his head.

“And if he were here, I would be asking him,” the magistrate said pointedly.

Jude looked down at his clenched hands. The magistrate was right. No matter what Jude said to defend him, the simple truth was that Hector wasn’t here. And yet Jude was still twisting himself into knots for the faintest hope that Hector would return one day. But deep in his heart, he knew it didn’t matter if the Tribunal named Hector an oathbreaker. He was never coming back.

“Very well,” the magistrate said softly. “On behalf of the Tribunal, we thank you for your participation today.”

Jude felt numb as he stood from the bench and retreated from the circle.

“The Tribunal next calls Moria Penrose to speak,” the magistrate said.

Penrose stepped into the circle, pausing for a moment when she was shoulder to shoulder with Jude. She didn’t look at him, but he could hear the hitch in her breath as she passed him to step up onto the dais.

“Paladin Penrose, would you agree with Captain Weatherbourne’s version of the events leading up to Hector Navarro’s departure?” the magistrate asked.

“Yes, I would.”

“Have you anything to add on your own account?”

Jude looked at Penrose. There were things Jude had left out, chief among them how desperately Penrose had tried to stop him from leaving. But when she met the magistrate’s gaze, she simply shook her head. “It happened as Jude said.”

“Very good,” the magistrate said cheerfully. “Now, I’d like to go back, to the day that Hector Navarro returned to the Order. Do you remember speaking to anyone about Navarro’s return that day?”

“I spoke with Captain Weatherbourne,” Penrose said. “Theron Weatherbourne, that is.”

“And what did he say?”

“He had concerns about Hector returning to us and taking his oaths.”

Jude dug his nails into his palms. He’d known of his father’s concerns about Hector being named to the Paladin Guard—he hadn’t realized that his father’s concern had extended to Hector returning at all.

“Did you share those concerns?”

Penrose seemed to choose her words carefully. “It’s rare for a member of the Order to leave Kerameikos of their own will. It’s even rarer for them to return once they’ve left. We all had questions.”

“How did you respond to the former Captain Weatherbourne’s concerns?” the magistrate asked.

“I told him I thought Jude might choose Navarro as a member of his Guard.” Penrose paused. “And that I didn’t think it was a good idea.”

The magistrate latched onto Penrose’s hesitation like a hound catching the scent of blood. “Are those the words you used?”

“No,” Penrose said.

“Then what did you say?”

Penrose glanced toward Jude. “I said I thought it would be the worst mistake of Jude’s life.”

Her words cracked over Jude like a blow. He had known Penrose was worried when Hector came back, but he hadn’t realized the depth of it. Even more shocking was that she’d spoken to his father in such a way. It bordered on insubordination to her future Keeper. Penrose would have known that, which meant her distrust of Hector was important enough to risk it.

“You felt it would be a mistake because of the questions surrounding Hector Navarro?” the magistrate asked, almost gently. “Because you feared Navarro would not be committed to his oath?”

Penrose looked down. This was it. Despite Jude’s attempts to protect Hector, Penrose’s suspicion of him meant Hector would be deemed an oathbreaker. Sentenced to die.

Penrose took a deep breath, closing her eyes. “No.”

Hope fluttered in Jude’s chest.

“What was the reason for your objection?” the magistrate asked.

“I was afraid,” Penrose said, her voice shaking ever so slightly, “that Jude was in love with Hector. And that as much as I knew Jude to be committed and true to his duty, I also feared that if Hector was with him, Jude’s feelings would compromise him.”

Jude’s whole body went hot and then ice-cold, as though he’d been burned by Godfire. Ash coated his lungs, the pit of his stomach. This was the moment he’d feared since he was sixteen years old and realized that his commitment to his destiny was not as unshakable as he once thought. The moment when all Jude’s shortcomings, his failures, his unworthiness was laid bare to the rest of the Order. When they all saw that instead of a staunch heart, inside Jude’s chest beat a wild and tender thing.

“In your opinion, did Jude Weatherbourne’s feelings compromise him?” the magistrate asked softly.

Penrose looked down at her lap and didn’t answer. The magistrate let the silence hang.

Finally, in a tiny voice, Penrose said, “Yes.”

“It’s as I said,” the magistrate said, almost pitying. “The breach of the covenant starts in the heart. Paladin Penrose, can you please speak the oath of the Paladin Guard?”

Penrose swallowed as if fighting back tears, but when she spoke her voice was as hard as steel. “‘I swear to fulfill the duties of my office, to uphold the virtues of chastity, poverty, obedience, and devote myself, my Grace, and my life to the Order of the Last Light.’”

“By chasing after Hector Navarro, by putting his feelings for him above his sworn duty as Keeper of the Word, did Jude Weatherbourne uphold this oath?”

Jude sucked in a sharp breath. Even without looking into her eyes, Jude knew Penrose’s answer. He knew, too, how much it hurt her to say it. The sentence for a Paladin who broke their oaths was death. But Jude also knew that when he’d decided to go after Hector, he understood exactly what it had meant.

“No,” Penrose said, her voice hollow. “I don’t believe he did.”

“And this was your gravest concern, wasn’t it?” the magistrate asked. “Not that Hector Navarro would break his oath—but that Jude Weatherbourne would.”


Text copyright (c) 2020 by Katy Pool