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Soulblade: Chapter 7

I GLANCE OVER MY SHOULDER as we ride down the twisting trail from Maratic, wondering if I will ever return. At this moment it seems more likely that my destination will be some unmarked grave in the wilds of Rapathia.

I’m worried about Marin. I have to know what Jantian meant about it making no difference whether he kept his weapons or not. I fear it will be painful for Marin to talk about it, but I sensed in Jantian’s words a hint that there might be some danger involved. I need to know what it is and I don’t want to ask any of the others. I rein in to keep pace at his side, careful not to trample on Lupine who is running ahead of him, a ripple of silver fur in the tree shadows.

“Marin? What did Jantian mean when he said it would make no difference whether you gave up your blades or not?”

At first I think he maybe didn’t hear me but at last he answers.

“You could feel how the crysteel responded to your body when you touched the source of Maratic’s power directly? And you remember the pledge you gave to Jantian in the moments before that?”

“Yes, of course. I swear to defend King and country, Eldrin, friends, the weak and undefended. Never to use my weapons from hatred or for gain. You mean those two things are connected?”

He lets out a long breath of resignation. “I’m sorry it was all too rushed for you to have time to assimilate what Deris explained to you. But yes. That is the point. It is that connection that transforms a beautifully crafted crysteel weapon into something more. A Soulblade, an integral part of your pledge of allegiance that enhances your skill and strength as if it were a part of you––but only so long as you use it in accordance with your given word.”

I still don’t see how that applies to Marin. “In spite of everything that has happened, you have stayed loyal to the Eldrin. So why…?”

I can’t even form the question. This is all too strange and new.

He speaks softly and I know he doesn’t intend it as criticism. “Think back to when you warned Jantian about Shadow. I saw it on your face. You felt you had betrayed a comrade in arms. Even though he has used you for his own ends many times––but he has also guarded you and saved your life many times.”

It feels uncomfortable to be reminded about that. Sometimes I wish I could hide what I’m really thinking with the kind of skill my sister uses so effectively.

“Marin, I had no choice! If I had said nothing, I would have been breaking my word to the Eldrin within minutes of swearing lifelong loyalty.”

“I know, but that is not the point. The way it made you feel when you betrayed him. That feeling did not instantly disappear. You are still carrying it with you.”


“If you had broken your Eldrin pledge and betrayed one of us in the same way, it would affect your connection with your Soulblade. Instead of enhancing your strength and skill it would weaken you. For me, that time after the end of the battle when I let the power of Rahimar lure me into trying to seize the throne… The memory of it hasn’t simply disappeared.” He turns to look into my eyes, as if willing me to understand the real meaning of this. Hells, Ariel! Have you forgotten I almost murdered my own father?”

I see the pain he can no longer hide. “But you didn’t go through with it! You turned it around, endured the torture they inflicted on you even though you could easily have killed them all, burned them to ash, and escaped. To me, that means more than if you hadn’t been burdened with fighting alongside Zandar in the first place. You were ordered to do it, to win a battle we could never have survived without his help. I’ve experienced first-hand how difficult it is to deal with the dragonfire. I know what it’s like.”

“I know. But this is just the way it is. I won’t find out until I have to fight for my life how it will affect my ability to survive.”

“You have the four of us watching your back.”

He smiles, but I can sense the sadness behind it. “Thank you. Without your support I don’t think I could have stayed with the Eldrin. Knowing you still believe in me is what keeps me going, whether or not you actually manage to save my life at some point in the future.”

Something still doesn’t make sense in all this. “So surely it would have affected you when you tried to kill Tandarion? I never really believed you were…”

He shakes his head slowly and I can tell those few terrible moments have been replaying in his mind, over and over since it happened.

“It was all flames and confusion, Ariel. The rush of dragonfire was driving me beyond rational thought, a kind of uncontrolled urge to consume, to have everything. And yes, as soon as I drew the crysteel, I could feel the weight of the blades dragging against my grip… but at the same time I knew I could do it. Both Tandarion and Sarinder were unarmed, unprepared.”

“So what did stop you?”

“The conflict between the two forces, Rahimar and Eldrin training, pulling in different directions, until there came a point where they were suddenly in perfect balance. And for a brief moment there was only myself, seeing clearly again. Seeing the fate that would befall you if I went through with it.”

“And you immediately laid down your weapons and let them take you! I was watching. I could not understand how you were able to hold back, when you could have so easily burned them all and escaped.”

His voice is so sad it breaks my heart. “But all that cannot undo what has already passed. The geas is woven deep into the Soulblade creed. For good reason.”

I wish I had more to offer. He has given me so much all through those early days of my own failure to control both fire and shadow. Maybe eventually I will learn that aspect of Marin’s skill, but it feels a distant goal.

Deris catches up with us. “Marin, Jantian wants me to pay a visit to Blackthorn Manor on the way to the coast. In case there are some useful details about Farang’s escape that were not included in the hawk-message he received this morning.”

“Of course. We can wait for you in the forest.” Marin’s voice is flat, the unspoken words hanging in the air between us.

I know what he is thinking. He can’t return to the Manor because he is supposed to be dead. And this news about Farang means Alina is in more danger than before, never mind if Jantian thinks Blackthorn is traitor-proof. I have seen with my own eyes how its defenses have been penetrated once––and there is no solid evidence yet that all the assassin-spies involved were captured before they could pass information on the Manor’s security. I have to see Alina and try to warn her––but if she is still in residence at Blackthorn, my presence could expose the way we have been exchanging places.

But to hell with that. My last chance to see my sister. And Marin’s last chance to ask forgiveness of his father. We can do this.

“We can use the tunnel to get in.”

Deris doesn’t speak but I can tell he is conflicted, feeling he should remind us not to take this sort of risk.

Nem’s voice comes from behind us. “I’ll scout for both of you while Brac and Lupine watch the horses.”

Well, we are not exactly disobeying orders just because only Deris was ordered to go information gathering.

Are we?

I TAKE THE LEAD THROUGH the outer part of the tunnel. I can still remember the precise number of steps to the narrow squeeze above the ceiling that takes us around the stone door blocking our access at the halfway point. After that I let Nem go first in case there are guards posted inside the tunnel.

There are.

Eldrin. Nem knows them. A hushed conversation about collecting more information about Farang’s escape and they wave us through. Marin and I pull our hoods down to shield our faces as we pass. If this were the regular military, it would be an alarming breach of security. One traitor and two assassins could be slipping through the cordon. But now I have a deeper understanding of the depth of trust and loyalty among the Eldrin, the way of the Soulblade, the bonding within a coherent fighting force. I can see how this allows them to adapt to new situations, use initiative, be creative.

And sneak off to visit loved ones.

We divert into the internal passageways instead of exiting through the library, which is sure to be bristling with soldiers. Then we split up. Nem goes to scout for Marin. I decide I can rely on my Nishan training and the fact that if I do meet one of the guards I should be able to pass myself off as my sister. If I’m lucky.

Two guards outside Alina’s door this time. Seems like there has been an increase in security here since the news of Farang’s escape. Too difficult to inveigle my way past two of them. I retrace my steps, follow the passageways to the attic storeroom, find Sarinder’s rope coiled in one corner and use it to descend to Alina’s window. A few nervous moments dangling outside, hoping the evening is now dark enough to conceal my presence from any guards watching from below.

Alina hears me scratching at the glass and opens the casement as well as the defensive steel grill outside. Within moments I’m inside the room. I look around, noticing her bags and boxes are half-packed in readiness for a journey.

She makes a guess at what I’m thinking. Unusually, she is mistaken. Romance must be clouding her sharp judgement.

“Ariel! Sarinder is not here.”

“Good. But I already knew that because his rope was stored in the room above. I can’t stay long in case anyone sees it dangling against the wall outside. Have you been leaving the grill unlocked?”

“Yes. I want Sarinder to be able to get in as quickly as you just did.”

“I hope you’re not going to continue doing that now Farang has escaped.”

“Surely he’ll be busy trying to find Gron and gathering an army to raid Maratic?”

“We don’t know how many people he has available to send on different missions. But it sounds like you’ve already been given all the most recent details?”

“Yes. In fact, I’m the one delivering the news to the Eldrin guard captain here. Kashia is sending me information from the capital with Nightwing––which is another reason I’m keeping the grill unlocked, I’m afraid. The spaces between the bars are not big enough for the owl to squeeze through. It seems I won’t be visiting Yarkfold for a while after all. Kashia wants me back in Corinium to help her spies track down Farang’s network of traitors. She feels responsible for his escape.”

“It’s not all Kashia’s fault by a long way. Lord Farang had too many years to prepare undetected and everyone failed to see what he was plotting. Alina, please don’t underestimate him. Stay safe. I asked Shadow to watch out for you, but he will be at Maratic most of the time and will only see you when he uses his mirror.”

She doesn’t seem at all reassured by this.

“Ariel, I’ve heard so many terrible stories about the Shadowblade. Do I really want him anywhere near me if you’re not here? Can I trust him?”

“No. You can’t trust him. He does not lie but he can be deceptively selective with the truth. With your political expertise you should be able to see past that kind of trickery better than I can.”

“Ariel, I don’t have your fighting skills. I heard how strong and deadly he is. I will be helpless in his presence if he turns traitor.”

“It makes no difference. No one can survive a fight with him. Which is why I want him to protect you. It’s still true that he has his own agenda––but he has no reason to harm you. And several reasons to keep you alive.”

“Such as?” She still seems doubtful.

“He has gained a great deal because I have been acting as intermediary between him and the Eldrin. He knows he would lose that advantage if he harmed my beloved sister.”

“Point. Well, if you really think…” She still seems uneasy. I try to reassure her with a final close embrace.

“Alina, I love you dearly, but I have to go. There is one last thing. I will be trying to learn how to use one of the scrying mirrors retrieved from Maratic. I don’t know yet if I will succeed but on the few occasions I had a chance to look at Shadow’s visions in his own mirror, they were often very fleeting, incomplete. So please try to leave clues for me in your room––maps, drawings, anything that could quickly tell me what is happening with you.”

She brightens a little. “That sounds better. More reassuring than having an Ice-shadow as a bodyguard.”


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