Roan huddled in the wooden cage.
Evening was giving way to night and the air was growing colder. His breath streamed into the dying light, drifting between the bars of the cage.
Over by the fire, men drank and laughed while the smell of food made his mouth water. He tore his eyes away and looked to another cage. Inside it, a boy waited, his eyes locked on the men and their meal. The boy looked older than Roan’s seven summers and taller by almost a hand width.
It didn’t matter.
It was almost time.
Roan clenched and unclenched his fists as he crouched behind the cage door.
The Dogwatcher approached, his leathery face stained with grease and ale. “Hungry, pup?” the Dogwatcher asked. “Then you know what to do,” he said, kicking open the cage door.
Roan darted for the other boy and the two of them met in a vicious tackle in the center of the clearing. At the impact, the men around the fire cheered.
Roan slipped out of the hold, wrapping an arm around the bigger boy’s neck as he moved behind him. The boy dropped to his back, smashing down upon Roan and driving air from his lungs. Roan tried to hold on, but the boy broke free, turning and throwing wild punches.
A punch landed squarely in his nose and Roan’s world went white. Blood spurted as the boy kept punching.
Roan desperately reached with his free hand and felt the smooth weight of stone in the cold earth. Grabbing the rock, he swung it into the boy’s head, knocking him sprawling backwards. Roan jumped on top and struck him again in the head. The rock came away wet with blood.
The boy cried and flailed as Roan struck again and again.
Finally, the boy’s arms fell limp. The rock was warm and wet in Roan’s hand and everything was stained with blood. Breathing hard, Roan looked to the Dogwatcher.
The man spat into the fire and gave a half-nod.
Roan gripped the rock in both hands and raised it high.
Roan awoke. His blankets were gone and his nightclothes were covered in sweat.
The bandit camp was gone. The cage was gone. He was back in the school dormitory. The other boys slept soundlessly in their beds.
Blood roared in his head, a slowly fading tumult from the nightmare.
No, not a nightmare.
A memory of the boy he’d killed.
The boy whose name he’d never know.
Roan shook the feeling off. Good, he thought. Good.
He had to remember what he was, who he had been before Kay and the others had taken him in. And he had to remember why he was still here.
Here, she could have a new life of promise and joy and belonging. A life she deserved.
A life he owed her.
If he had to fight others and face his past, so be it.
For Kay, what wouldn’t he endure?
Kay awoke in terror.
She found herself standing in a grass field on the far side of school. Her nightclothes were soaked with dew and the edges of their fabric were ragged and torn. There were leaves in her hair and the knuckles on both her hands were raw and bloody.
Just like the week before.
These dreams were coming more frequently now.
Worst of all, within her heart was a low, dull ache in the place she had forced the sliver of Behayer’s blade. The sliver Gideon had given her. It began there, but radiated to her fingers and toes and behind her eyes.
Doubling over, she rolled into a fetal position on the wet grass. She bit her lips to keep from crying out as her chest burned in agony, scared she would alert the groundskeepers or guards.
It had seemed so simple. Roan would never have stayed if she failed. When Gideon offered her the means to secure Roan’s admission into Faith, she took it. She knew there would be a cost.
But this? This?
As the first fingers of dawn crept over the tall marble towers of the school of Faith, Kay finally sat up, held her knees to her chest and sobbed quietly alone.
She didn’t know what was happening to her, but she did know it was just beginning.
Release: May 15, 2016