Lonely Pride

by Cynus

Chapter 14

Ghayle released the vision of the present and turned to Prism, her eyes inquisitive. "Shall I bring him here?" she asked calmly.

Prism started, turning to Telzath in confusion before returning his gaze to Ghayle. "What?"

"Dogo," Ghayle replied. Prism raised a questioning eyebrow and she continued. "He gave his life fighting a demon and went out of his way to do it. What say the both of you?"

"We have the ability to determine who the Chosen will be?" Prism asked skeptically.

Instead of answering his question, Ghayle asked simply, "Would he do a good job?"

"Dogo is an honorable man, surely," Telzath offered, his stony brow furrowed in thought. He turned to Prism and shrugged before saying to Ghayle, "He also knows the balance between what is right and what is practical."

Prism shook his head and said, "I don't think I could make the determination with what I know of him."

Ghayle leaned her head to the side and asked, "So, you vote against him?"

"Why are you asking me, Ghayle?" Prism asked after a moment. He met her gaze and held it unwaveringly, demanding with his eyes that she explain herself. "I don't understand."

Ghayle nodded and said softly, "Prism . . . you are unique among Chosen. I told you this before. You are to be First, no matter who becomes my replacement. Could you work with Dogo to preserve the world?" She paused to allow the question to sink in. When Prism leaned back, his eyes widening, she went on, "You are, in fact, the only one whose opinion matters besides my own. I only asked Telzath because I thought his perspective might help you decide."

Prism stared at Ghayle, his body tensing as he felt this unexpected responsibility settle on his shoulders. Mine is the only opinion which matters other than yours? He thought skeptically. I don't feel qualified at all, Ghayle. How could you possibly ask me this?

But then he considered everything he'd seen, everything Ghayle had showed him. He knew the way she'd lived. She had felt the weight of responsibility as surely as he did now. She had been mortal once and had risen to the role she now occupied. How many doubts had she faced over that time? But there was no one else to decide the fate of the world. Here he had a choice to help the world, and he had accepted many similar roles in the past. His honor demanded that he participate in any effort to preserve the innocent.

Prism gave the question deep thought, considering everything he had seen of Dogo. The man had earned the respect of his peers, a sure sign of his honor. He had let Prism escape The Shade, had earned the loyalty of the gladiators. And then there was his relation to Styx. "He sacrificed himself for his people. He loved his son . . ." Prism said after a moment. "Yes, I think he would do well in that role, assuming he'd be willing to transfer that loyalty to the world itself."

"So . . ." Ghayle said, smiling at his decision, "shall I bring him here?"

"I suppose," Prism said, shrugging slightly. "But if you'll bring him here, then why not the others from the early days of the war? Why not Janlynd? Master Vinh? There are so many heroes, so many people who gave their all. Why can't I see the rest of them?"

"Do you want to see them all?" Ghayle asked. Her face remained unreadable to Prism, and when he didn't respond she continued. "They await in another place, not far from here. But I thought it best to save that reunion for another time. Events are moving forward for the first time in centuries, and I want you to watch them unfold instead of wasting time on conversation. After all, you'll have millennia to spend catching up."

"She is right, Prism," Telzath offered. "There is much to be concerned with before reuniting with old friends."

Prism considered the Elrok for a moment before asking Ghayle. "Then why did you introduce me to Telzath?" He sensed Telzath stiffen beside him and hastened to add, "Not that I mind . . ."

Ghayle smiled fondly at both of her guests and said, "Because he could present you with an anchor back to Grim, and you needed that lens in order to perceive the present properly."

"But Grim isn't even active right now," Prism replied. "He's in stasis, and likely will be until the end of the Trial."

"But look at how much he has affected!" Ghayle said, clutching Prism's hand. Prism felt a surge of memories flood through him, everything Grim had connections to since Prism had escaped stasis himself. Ghayle ended the surge as quickly as it had begun, and as Prism sat in dazed wonder, she explained, "Styx would have died. Dogo would have died more times than he can count without Grim. Maxthane would have never escaped The Shade with the gladiators, would have never learned to heal with his natural abilities in time to save Kirra. Bradeth wouldn't be hunting him, wouldn't have worked with Kirra to kill the demon. Neredos wouldn't be contemplating his role in this at all! Of the three non-demons still alive from the time, Grim's actions are currently the most active of all."

"I see . . ." Prism said, breathing in deeply as he rooted himself in the present once more. The memories faded in sharpness as he considered her points. One thought seemed stronger than the others, and instinct drove him to ask, "You think he's going to be the one to end it, don't you?"

"I think he has one of the greatest chances, surely," Ghayle said with a nod. "But, like I told you before, there are still many ways this can end."

"How will you determine who it is?" Telzath asked.

"That will be made clear as it occurs," Ghayle said, her smile faltering. For an instant, uncertainty flashed through her eyes as she added, "I do not make that choice."

"Do I?" Prism asked nervously.

Ghayle's face turned stony. "No. Another."

Prism decided not to press the point and instead focused on Ghayle's original question. "Bring Dogo here. He deserves to know what is happening, and why he had to die for it."

"As you wish, First Prism," Ghayle said, then took his hand again. "Until he arrives, lets look in on the others, shall we?"

The world shifted, and once again he perceived it through another's eyes.

Kirra knocked on the open door to announce his presence to Alsha. She looked up from the book in her lap, her eyes lighting up at his presence. Color had already returned to her cheeks, and she looked as healthy and ready to fight as ever, despite the way she favored her shoulder slightly.

Before Kirra could remark on how well she looked, Alsha spoke, "So, you're returning to The Shade today?"

"As soon as we can, yes," Kirra replied with a curt nod. "I've promised to help Bradeth free Grim. I believe the small amount of influence I have with Maxthane will help."

"I still don't like that plan," Alsha said, sighing as she closed her book and put it on the nightstand. She winced and rubbed at her injured arm after returning it to her side. "I don't like the thought of a demon being unleashed on Pentalus, no matter the reason. I can't be happy that the people I'm sworn to protect are going to be put in danger again."

"Bradeth is confident we'll be able to finish it off as soon as it's free," Kirra said firmly. His words did little to alleviate the skepticism in Alsha's expression, so he added, "Especially if we have Maxthane with us."

"You expect the Prince of the Shade to help you?" Alsha asked with a derisive snort.

"I told you about this . . ." Kirra said, rolling his eyes, "he tried to stop his father, and he's King now. He'll want to free Grim now that he knows where he is. Afterward, maybe Grim can help us find this 'Ghayle' that Prism sent Styx after."

"Right . . . the grand quest you're on," Alsha said, nodding slowly. "I'm sorry, I wish you luck with everything, Kirra, I just have a hard time trusting Shades."

Kirra grinned and replied, "Styx helped us, didn't he?"

"I suppose he did." Alsha chuckled and returned Kirra's grin fondly. "I guess I'm just resisting the idea of you leaving again."

Kirra approached her bedside and took her hand, squeezing it gently. "I don't think I plan to spend the rest of my life in The Shade. I'll probably take up residence in Pentalus when I can. You can visit me there, you know."

"Or you could come home," Alsha said, her smile weakening.

"And risk running into Grembal?" Kirra asked. He shook his head firmly. "No thanks. As far as I'm concerned, that chapter of my life is closed for good."

Alsha stiffened at the mention of Grembal. She locked gazes with Kirra and gripped his hand with such intensity he couldn't let go. "I'm going to find a way to bring him to justice, Kirra. Your former commander, too."

"It's not your affair—" Kirra began.

"Shut it, Kirra," Alsha interrupted with a growl. "Maybe you don't want justice for you, but there's no way of knowing if they've done it to others unless we investigate, and that is something I know how to do."

Kirra shook his head, his eyes moistening. "It's too dangerous. If they find out you're investigating them, they'll have you killed."

Alsha snorted and finally let go of his hand. "I doubt it. I have too many friends in high places."

"But how do you know if your friends aren't part of the problem?" Kirra asked. He rested his hand over hers again and insisted, "Alsha . . . please, be careful. Don't get into this unless you're certain you can trust someone."

She stared at him incredulously then burst into laughter. "I'm not stupid, Kirra," she said when the laughter subsided.

"Of course," Kirra replied, his cheeks flushing crimson. "I'm sorry."

A strained silence settled between them, avoiding each other's eyes as it stretched on. Kirra wanted to press the issue further, to try and convince Alsha not to get involved with High Inquisitor Grembal, but he knew it would have little effect. Alsha was stubborn, at least as stubborn as anyone else Kirra had ever met.

Which is why it surprised him that she broke the silence first, coughing awkwardly. "So, you're going to . . ." she searched for the right word while fidgeting with the covers over her legs, "teleport?"

"That's the plan," Kirra said with a nod. They looked up at the same time and both blushed. Eager to prevent the silence from taking hold again, Kirra hastened to add, "Are you going to be fine to fly back tomorrow?"

"I'm going to have to be. I need to make my report," Alsha replied.

Kirra shrugged. "Fenri could do it in your stead."

"He could, but he won't," Alsha said with a frown. "There is too much work to be done in the Everbright City, and I have to be the one to do it." Her tone implied her meaning. She meant to set to work on finding incriminating evidence on High Inquisitor Grembal as soon as possible.

Kirra sighed heavily. "As stubborn as ever."

"Look who's talking," Alsha said. "We want the same thing, don't we? That no one else gets hurt?"

"Point taken," Kirra said after a moment. He still didn't fully agree with her position, but he couldn't deny the logic anymore. He just hoped she would remain safe. With that in mind, he smiled fondly and said, "I'll see you soon, okay?"

"Sure," Alsha said with a nod and a grin of her own. "You better at least send a message with Mister Swallow when you can."

"I will," Kirra replied, "You can leave messages with him for me, too."

"I'll keep that in mind."

Kirra stepped away from her then, nodding once before walking to the door. He paused in the doorway, one hand on the doorframe before turning back to Alsha. "Goodbye then," he said. He wanted to say more, but no words came.

Alsha seemed as unable to find the words as he, though her misty eyes spoke volumes even as she replied, "Take care."

With that, Kirra turned and walked down the hall. He had never thought of Alsha in any way other than as his commander before, but now . . . now she was his friend, perhaps his sister even. He was no longer a Knight, and that had defined their relationship. Was he free to love her now? Could he consider her family?

As he rounded the corner and started up the steps which led to the rooftop, he realized the truth behind that question. Alsha was the closest thing he had to a mother. She had looked out for him in ways that no one else had since his own mother's death. With that in mind, he couldn't blame her for wanting to avenge the wrongs done to him. She loved him, and for the first time he realized what that felt like.

He owed it to her to live a life that would make her proud, to be worthy of that love. There was a lot of good left to be done in the world, an infinite amount which he could stake a small claim in. But he would leave behind the expectations of others and do good in a way which fit him and his nature.

Bradeth interrupted his thoughts as she saw him crest the top of the stairs. "Are you ready to go?"

Am I? Kirra asked himself, and the thought made him smile. He'd never been readier for anything in his life. He would return to The Shade, would reunite with Styx, and free Grim before finding Ghayle. This was the beginning of his next great adventure. "Yes. I think so," he answered, then narrowed his eyes suspiciously in an attempt to unsettle his Elrok companion. Despite this, he couldn't help but grin mischievously as he added, "No surprises this time though. I know your tricks."

"Only the ones you've seen," Bradeth said, chuckling with a low rumble. She nodded toward the far side of the roof where her leather teleportation circle was already set up. Parril perched on the edge of the roof, watching Kirra with a bored expression. Bradeth moved to the center of the circle and extended her hand to Kirra. "Let's go. I have a Chief to free."

Kirra grinned and followed her, taking her hand and letting her pull him into the center of her magic.

Neredos walked through the hallways of his palace without acknowledging a single servant who bowed to him. He barely noticed their presence at all but stopping to offer them respect would only delay his purpose. Their memories of his arrogance would fade sooner than those of what he was about to do.

He arrived at a pair of reinforced doors guarded by a dozen soldiers, four on each side of the doors and two directly in front. Each held a halberd and a side sword and stood at attention. Neredos had only come this way once in the last decade, and he was pleased to see that these soldiers held to their duties.

They had seen him recently, however. He'd come a week earlier, a visit spawned by the arrival of Prism in the Everbright City. So much had changed since then. So much to consider and fix.

He faced the soldiers in front of the double doors. These two were officers of equal rank in his guards, though only one was in command. He didn't know which and didn't want to waste time to find out. "I need access to my armory," he said simply.

The soldiers didn't flinch despite the rarity of Neredos' request. The apparent leader of the garrison, a greying woman with a leathery face, simply bowed and turned toward the door, drawing a ring of keys from her belt. "Of course, Your Majesty," she said as she fitted a key into the lock. She opened the door and pushed it inward then stepped to the side to allow Neredos to pass by her.

He strode in with barely a nod in her direction. If he could remember to do so, he would have her commended for performing her duties with distinction. But this was not a time to dwell on such things. There was too much to worry about. Too much.

He walked into the chamber, filled with some of the most unusual objects in the world. Very few aside from he and Veil would know what most of the objects were. Electrical devices occupied one corner, most used for diagnostics or communications. He had preserved them, thinking one day he might be able to give them back to the people.

But they had never proven responsible enough in his judgment. They had never . . . no, it wasn't a matter of responsibility, was it? He was afraid. With these things, the people would have a greater understanding of the world, and with that understanding they would seek to destroy it. They would once again make weapons, find ways to kill each other en masse. He had to protect them from themselves. That was why he'd—

His eyes were drawn to another side of the room, lined with tools. With those same tools he had built weapons for Oligan. He hadn't known the technology would be used in that way. He had tried to progress the world, to bring peace to it by creating wondrous things. Instead, they had turned that knowledge against their own people in the last days of the old nations.

But no more. No more would he allow his knowledge to be used against his people. No more would he . . . he glanced at the center of the room, his logic failing him once again. Three objects stood there, three of his greatest inventions of all, and the ones which had inevitably made him King.

A mannequin bore a red cloak spun of a material the world could no longer make, durable enough to resist the weathering of millennia. It bore a thousand small runes he'd embroidered himself, all arranged in small circles he could touch for small focuses during battle, to draw on ancient Gor spells. Some of the spells were always active, triggered by a sliver of focus if he wore the cloak. It allowed him to fly, to control the air currents around him in ways that had made him a legend. The world thought him a mage of unmatched skill. How would their thoughts change if he entered battle without that cloak?

On the arm of the mannequin was a gauntlet, an electronic marvel and Neredos' crowning achievement. He had discovered a way to harness and hold static energy, allowing him to draw with light itself. The cloak funneled that energy into his gauntlet as needed, but the gauntlet became the conduit for him to write rune circles in the air, allowing him to channel the full range of his magical knowledge without the need of ink or blood. Some of the static energy always came from himself, and that was enough to link him to each spell he cast with the runes of light.

He had never told anyone how it worked. If he had, the powers of the world would've used it for their personal gain, turning it against the world instead of using it for the wonders it could have accomplished. This secret would die with him, no matter when that day came.

The mannequin's head wore a helmet, its face open. It served mainly as a companion piece to the gauntlet. Small emitters in the frame near his eyes generated small holograms only he could see. He had placed his entire knowledge of Gor rune magic into the helmet's memory. Whenever he needed to recall a rune to draw it exactly, all he needed to do was think of the rune's purpose and the helmet would generate it for him. Once he had it in his vision, he could draw it and use its power.

He would have need of these three items again to help the world. During the Demon war they had made him a hero and then King. Now . . . now they would stop those who would become King in his place. The thulu'Khant's could not be allowed to try again.

Beginning with the cloak, he removed the items from the mannequin. As he put the cloak over his shoulders, someone attempted to walk into the room but was stopped by the guards, drawing Neredos' attention briefly. High Inquisitor Isean, a stuffy, arrogant man with grandiose ideas of his own importance. With an annoyed wave of his hand, Neredos beckoned Isean forward and the guards let him apss.

"What is happening, King Neredos?" Isean said. His well-manicured beard barely masked his scowl as he stared at Neredos with incredulity.

"You would demand an answer of me, Inquisitor Isean?" Neredos said sharply but didn't bother to focus on the insignificant Isean. Instead, Neredos adjusted the cloak for comfort and then reached for the gauntlet.

"Forgive me," Isean replied, the words lacking any sense of humility, though Neredos assumed a bow accompanied them. He didn't bother to look at Isean, though the Inquisitor continued. "I meant no disrespect, though there is some anxious talk among the servants. They are concerned that you may be preparing for a battle."

"I will not forget that you have spies among my servants, Isean," Neredos said, pausing briefly as he pulled the gauntlet over his hand. It took several adjustments to set it properly as he murmured, "I will not forget that at all."

"I am merely concerned for your safety, my King," Isean said guardedly.

This absurd statement raised one of Neredos' eyebrows as he regarded Isean with obvious mirth. "Oh? The safety of an immortal? How interesting."

Isean stiffened at the implied mockery in Neredos' gaze. "Your life is not the only thing to protect. We must also consider the secrets of our rule."

Neredos' eyes narrowed. "Our?"

"Your, rule, of course," Isean said, bowing. "I misspoke."

"Likely," Neredos said. He turned away and resumed strapping the gauntlet to his wrist, then reached for the helmet. Once it was settled on his head, he addressed Isean again. "I will be gone for the rest of the day. There will be no guard. I cannot trust anyone you'd assign to my . . . coterie."

Isean's head rose sharply. "I must insist, King—"

Neredos raised his hand and glared at Isean as if he saw a demon before him. "If you say one more thing, I will have you stripped of rank and flogged before I toss you into The Shade and let the rebels have you."

Isean stiffened with every word, but he wisely kept his mouth shut as Neredos nodded in satisfaction. With a less hostile tone, the King continued. "One more thing, Isean. I want you and the rest of the army to formulate a plan for the evacuation of the Everbright City. There are plots in motion which could destabilize the city itself, and I would prefer to have a plan of action to deal with it."

Isean's eyes widened at the strange order, and he opened his mouth but said nothing as if waiting for Neredos to give him permission. Instead, Neredos shook his head and said, "No, do not speak, only act on my orders. I expect you to have a plan by the end of the day."

For a moment, Isean seemed as if he would protest, his eyes locked on Neredos' in defiance. After a few seconds of consideration, however, he bowed stiffly and turned on his heel, leaving the room at a hurried but regal pace.

Neredos sighed and exited the armory. He nodded to the officers and told them to allow no one else to enter the room until he returned, especially not High Inquisitor Isean. They bowed in acceptance of his orders. He moved on before they'd straightened.

As soon as he reached a door leading to the outside, he took it. Putting a small sliver of focus into his cloak, he activated his flight and moved into the open air. There would be lookouts—likely loyal to Isean and the Knights of the Firmament rather than Neredos—who would see him and report his departure. He did not care. They would not follow him, could not, for before any eagles took to the skies, he would be gone from their sight.

He sped toward the edge of the Everbright City, to the end of the ring of clouds which appeared to bear it up. The illusion of mysticism, which had fed Neredos' reputation for his entire reign. He would travel to the heart of that illusion now, to a place no living person understood save himself.

As soon as he reached the edge of the clouds, he dropped down, flipping forward to head back the other direction, then flew directly into the cloud bank underneath the city. He had designed this city himself, and even after eight centuries he knew exactly where to head without having to check his speed.

The fog held secrets beyond the world's understanding. Once, there had been others who knew, those Neredos had taught. He had helped them understand energy and gravity in ways which had never been seen before. No one would see them again, unless someone were to develop it independently of him. He would see to that.

He flew close to the bottom of the platform the city rested upon, darting past pipes and service stations to maintain those pipes, always heading toward the central hub, and the six stations on the inner ring. Those would be the only ones he would need now. Whether the others were in working order or not was irrelevant. The six could accomplish his needs on their own.

The first one came into view exactly where he expected it to be. From an outside perspective, it looked like nothing more than a jutting piece of rock the size of a small house. On closer inspection, one would find small etchings across the surface—runes laid out in a way only Neredos and his architects would understand.

Hovering in front of the etchings, he pressed eight of the symbols in a precise sequence. The rock reformed before him, creating a platform for him to land on and a doorway to enter. He walked through the doorway without hesitation, tasting the stale air as soon as he entered.

Before him was a room half computer and half arcane workshop. A large glowing crystal sat in the center of the room behind a column of reinforced glass. Both crystal and glass bore hundreds of runes each, for protection from the radioactive properties of the crystal and for its preservation. Only a few were used for the power transference that connected it to the service console next to the glass column.

He looked for any signs of damage as he approached the console. It had remained untouched in this room for eight centuries, but he trusted nothing to the ravages of time. Whereas his body had not eroded, his mind had. Could he trust that the runes he put in place to preserve this equipment were accurate? Perhaps he had been crazy even when he'd inscribed them.

As soon as his hand touched the console, however, the machine roared to life. His runes had worked after all. No computer should have survived the ages and still been functional, not if relying on mere technology alone, but magic had done what tech could not. The display on the console told him the current diagnostics of the crystal and its energy stores. It was as strong as when he had left it, or near enough. The glass containing the crystal had slowed its decay to a crawl. All he had to do was turn it on.

With a deep breath, he searched his feelings one more time, deciding if this was truly the correct course. By the time he'd exhaled, he had input the correct codes to bring the entire machine to life. A soft hum permeated the room as energy conduits filled with power. A Gor would feel this from a mile away. Neredos wondered if any would come to see what he did next.

He left the service station as quickly as he'd come, resealing the chamber on his way out. One by one, he visited the five remaining stations and activated their crystals, then returned to the outer edge of the city.

He took the opportunity to fly for a while, to see the countryside. It had been a long time since he'd seen the world. He'd had little reason to leave the city. After all, others governed on his behalf. Most of the world still owed allegiance to him, but the descendants of those who'd fought in the Demon War had their own small territories which paid him tribute and ruled subjects.

For the first time in a long while, he questioned that decision. He guided the world, prevented the demons from being free, but had he done more than sit on his throne and pretend? Was he truly affecting the world for the better? Did not The Shade and Incaria prove how ineffective he actually was in his rule?

If he was meant to rule, there would be no rebels, no other nations. If he was meant to guide them, to protect them from themselves, there would be no strife. If he was god, then his rule would be absolute.

But there were no gods. He knew that now. None that interfered in the lives of the races. Even those spoken of in the Gor legends—even Ghayle whom he'd met during the days of the Demon War—were not omnipotent. There were no gods, only beings who knew more, who tried to control it all.

And he had followed their same follies and failed to protect his people. Immortality did not justify rule. Immortality did not make him wise. Immortality did not keep him from losing his mind.

He returned to the city by sunset and walked to his chambers instead of the armory. Though he doubted he would need his equipment for the next few days, he saw little reason to return it to its proper place, either. So much had become meaningless.

Within moments of Neredos' arrival at his bedchamber, High Inquisitor Isean came to call. After the Inquisitor's earlier expediency in tracking Neredos down, the King had expected this, and spoke before Isean could even bow. "Do you have my plan, Isean?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," Isean said, extending a piece of parchment toward Neredos. "Should there ever be a need, we are read—"

Neredos cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Begin instituting it at sunrise. I want the city evacuated by the end of the week."

"Your Majesty!? That only gives us four days!" Isean replied with an open-mouthed stare. "Forgive me, but it will take longer than that. We need to give the nobles time to prepare and—"

"Isean," Neredos said coolly, "if you cannot do this, I will find someone who can. You will begin evacuating the city tomorrow at sunrise."

Isean continued to stare, but after a moment his jaw clenched shut, and he bowed as deeply as ever before walking from the room. Neredos didn't bother to watch him go. He would hand the task over to Veil immediately should Isean fail to begin as instructed.

He didn't trust her, but at least she would save her people. He could always count on her for that.

Alsha climbed out of bed and performed her nightly stretches. They made her shoulder ache, but the Fedain healer had insisted on them. He hadn't been able to fix her all the way, not because it was impossible, but because doing so would've taken more energy than he'd had.

She didn't fault him, she just wished her shoulder worked. Would she ever be able to hold a sword or reins again with that arm? She grimaced at the thought and resumed her stretches. That was the point of them, after all.

As she was finishing, a knock sounded at her door. She looked at the lamp burning low beside her bed. It was past curfew, and all her soldiers should have been sleeping for their early morning departure. Whoever this visitor was, it had better be important.

"Come!" she barked, then assumed a more professional posture.

The door creaked open and Fenri stepped into view, his eyes worried. "Commander, I'm sorry to disturb you, but . . ." he glanced over his shoulder before stepping inside and closing the door behind him.

"What is going on, Fenri?" Alsha demanded. "I did not give you permission to close the door."

Fenri nodded but left the door as it was. "I heard whispers in the garrison this morning. Something is happening in the Everbright City, Commander. King Neredos has gone mad, and it seems everyone is speaking of . . ." he gulped on the words and looked up, meeting Alsha's eyes. "The garrison is talking about rebellion, that it's time to end the Mad King's rule. Lord Chaltus has spoken of secession."

Alsha nodded automatically. It was good to acknowledge such things as a Commander, even when she had no words of wisdom to offer. But she had to make the decisions here, and there was only one which held any logic at all.

"Rouse our soldiers. We will have to fly at night, but we leave for the Everbright City immediately," she said quickly. "We cannot fight this, but we can avoid being trapped by it. If there are problems in the city, we must go there immediately and lend our aid."

Fenri nodded and turned to go, but Alsha stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Be quiet about it, Fenri. Rouse them one by one, and then use stealth and caution. We don't want the garrison to know that we're fleeing."

With a second nod, Fenri turned and left, closing the door once again. Alsha stared at it, her mind working through all the possibilities ahead of her. Rebellion? She thought. Unthinkable! How could anyone . . . she thought about Kirra, The Shade, and Prism. She thought about Veil's insane battle plan, the corruption in the Knights, the insidious nature of at least one High Inquisitor.

She would return to the Everbright City and lend her aid, but she would do it with open eyes. With grim determination, she started to dress, no matter how long it would take her with only one fully functioning arm. It was time to prepare for battle once again.

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