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Fireblade: Chapter 17


I LOOK UP AT JANTIAN, puzzled. “Why secret history?”

“We found this hidden collection of scrolls only recently, in a sealed alcove at the far end of the archive. My guess is that Jaren was discovering events and conclusions that went against the rationale for what Valara was doing. And he felt compelled to record what he knew, even though he lacked the confidence to confront his commander over it.”

I can’t resist a gloomy shrug. “I know how that feels––”

Nem treads heavily on my foot in an attempt to shut me up before I get myself into more trouble. I glance guiltily at Jantian who makes out that he didn’t notice.

I scan the rest of the page for more clues.

“Jaren says here that he spent a great deal of time and effort trying to convince Valara that it had been a mistake to wage war on the Elementals and that she should hold back from trying to kill Shadow, the only survivor. Is that why she made a bargain with him instead?”

“We are still trying to find out. I suspect there is another sealed chamber still hidden somewhere in a forgotten corner of this cave-complex. It may hold the missing information.”

“That bargain didn’t turn out too well though, did it? Why you’re so worried about my rather rash offer to discuss making a deal just now?”

Jantian lets out a long breath. “We don’t have much choice. We either try to strike a bargain and form an alliance, or face defeat by an approaching army that outnumbers us. Maybe we can avoid the mistakes Valara made.”

“Except, we don’t yet know what they were.”

He waves dismissively at the scroll. “She underestimated Shadow. You already discovered for yourself that Elementals have different priorities and values to ours. A different view when it comes to upholding a bargain.”

“You only have one way to hold him to account. Use me as a hostage for his life.”

Jantian’s steely grey eyes are searching for signs that might confirm my offer is genuine.

“You could live under that threat and still stand beside us in battle?”

“Jantian, I have lived under sentence of death from the day I took the Blade’s gift. The hardest part was the way it forced my Eldrin friends to reject me, to remain suspicious of my every move. This is my way of accepting the inevitability of it, taking ownership of it. Maybe I can reclaim friendships I thought I had lost. Even if only for a while.”

He grips my arm, then releases me and steps back. For the first time I see something like respect in the way he looks at me.

“It would appear that you have learned more from Eldrin training than I thought possible.”

“So now we make this bargain?”

“Go ahead.” Jantian follows me back to the outer cave.

Shadow is standing just inside the great arched entrance with the two Eldrin guards, watching the bats circling in the domed roof high above. I can still hear the sharp edge of his anger when he speaks.

“So. You seem to have completed your discussion with your jailers quickly enough. What is your offer?”

“Fight alongside the Eldrin to drive out the invaders. Swear not to take power from Maratic unless you are wounded and need to heal yourself. In exchange you can return here. With the Eldrin garrison.”

“And with you?”

The question takes me by surprise. “I thought your only purpose for me had been fulfilled. Nagal is dead. I will remain with the Eldrin. If you’re concerned about being vulnerable to my death or injury, I can assure you they will protect me better than anyone in the land. Unless you break your agreement of course.”

“I can protect you better.”

“No. I have to remain a hostage to ensure you keep your word. You haven’t been very reliable in the past.”

“Valara’s lies. All you have seen is her history, recorded by that obsequious servant-scribe Jaren.”

“Fight with us to drive out the invaders and you can write your own version.”

A long silence before he answers. “I will fight if you are at my side. If you are with Zandar, I refuse.”

Not the first time he has objected to my association with Zandar. It has to be something more than mere jealousy or competitiveness? Unlikely I’ll get a straight answer so I don’t ask.

I look to Jantian to see if he thinks this is acceptable. His lack of surprise suggests that Marin has already told him about the fire-drake’s tendency to be unpredictable. Finally he gives his answer.

“Agreed.” He fixes his intimidating stare on the sullen Elemental standing at my side. “If the Shadowblade will swear to keep his word not to steal power from Maratic without permission.”

Shadow doesn’t hesitate. “I swear.”

Nem’s impatient sigh sums up everyone’s lack of trust that he will fully keep to this bargain, but as always, one thing at a time.

Jantian breaks the tense silence. “Marin has only two days to move our army out of Blackthorn and into Dragar’s path to cut off his advance on Maratic. We return to Blackthorn at first light to prepare.”

Shadow steps in front of me, blocking my way.

“You said I could take power to recover from a wound. I need that now if you want me to fight an entire army in two days’ time.”

I glance at Jantian for permission. “He’s right, Jantian. We are both weakened by what happened in the fight with Nagal.”

“Go ahead.” He waves the others to follow us back to the training cave.

I watch Shadow walk slowly into the central part of the arched space. He turns back to me, an expression I can only call joy transforming his pale features. I feel caught up in his moment of triumph, after so many centuries planning and scheming to make his way back here… and yet I am also painfully aware of the risk we are all taking in letting him do this. I step away from him and lay my weapons on the ground, a physical warning that he has to keep his word.

Jantian draws his blade and walks over to stand beside me while Nem and the Eldrin warriors move into bodyguard formation, shielding him. For a few silent moments I feel sure this is not going to work out and strangely my only regret is that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to Marin.

Everything seems so clear and sharp. The faint murmur of wind outside the arched entrance, the soft echo of footsteps as the guards move into position, the shifting gold and green light on the cave walls.

And the way it highlights the razor edge of Jantian’s crysteel sword, poised over my heart.

Shadow raises his arms high above his head and I can feel the instant flow of raw power running through him, just as I can share the exultation of his triumph. All I want is more, the echo of his fierce longing to let this victory grow in strength and intensity, until nothing and no one will be able to stand in our way.

My eyes track across the floor to where I laid down my weapons, working out to the last fraction of a second whether I can make it across to them in time. I catch the Blade’s eye. He is watching me intently and I know that even through the rapture of this moment he is calculating too, working out how much power he needs to be sure of cutting his way past the Eldrin warriors and snatching me away before Jantian can kill me.

“Ariel.”

Jantian’s warning is soft-spoken but I can tell instantly that he is following my every eye movement. I make one last effort to hold focus on keeping my pledge.

“Shadow! Stop.”

For a few moments it seems as if he hasn’t heard the command. Or is refusing to hear. And then, finally, he lowers his arms and the fierce crackling energy ceases as he walks silently back out of the entrance.

Jantian keeps a firm grip on my arm until the light-headedness passes and I can turn away from the edge of death. It feels like a long journey, fully returning to the world of the living again.

“Are you all right?” He releases his grasp, watching to make sure I stay upright.

My voice sounds as if it is coming from far away.

“I really hope I don’t have to do that too often.”

“So do I.” The brief moment of empathy quickly passes, replaced by Eldrin battle-focus. “We ride to Blackthorn at first light tomorrow. The sooner Marin is informed of developments the better. Can you trust the Blade to take you there tonight?”

“You mean trust that he won’t simply kidnap me for safekeeping?”

“I doubt he will be content, living under the hold I have over him through you.”

“I’ll talk to him.” I notice Jantian’s suspicious frown. “He doesn’t lie. And I’m getting sharper at noticing his evasions.”

“Go. I’ll trust your judgement. Don’t make me regret it.”


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