Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

“I’m looking for a dead man.”

“Your Jan’caran is terrible,” the older man grumbled. As he began to turn away, something caught his attention and he paused. He brushed a dusty strand of black hair from his eyes.

“You said ‘dead,’” the man spoke slower, as if explaining to a child. “Did you mean sick?” He pointed to his stomach and raised a bushy black eyebrow. “Or dying?” Nox sighed.

“Dead,” Nox repeated. The old man shook his head and lowered his hands from his stomach. He shrugged off Nox’s questions and continued to push his cart down the sandy alley way.

“My Jan’caran is fine.” Nox spoke after him. “The man’s name is Jaq Lo’ren. I was told you would know where to find him.” The old man stopped pushing his cart. He turned back and took a swift step towards Nox, drawing a knife from a blurred sleeve. Nox stumbled back and his hand reached for a dagger that wasn’t hanging at his belt. The old man pressed the blade against Nox’s scarf covered throat.

“You keep looking for dead men, and you’ll join them.” The old man’s breath stank of smoke and cheap ale. His dark Jan’caran skin crinkled at the sides of his mouth as he smiled. “Perhaps I’ll kill you now, and save the Royal Guard the trouble. Blood Mage.” He scraped the knife slowly down Nox’s throat and pulled back the scarf, revealing pale white scars. Nox waited for the man to slit his throat.

“Do not ask me again.” The man’s pale blue eyes studied Nox dangerously before he lowered the knife.

“A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed.” Nox coughed and rubbed his neck. The man sheathed his knife and continued to push his cart down the alley. Nox was left rubbing his neck with no more answers than when he had started. He leaned against the hot white stone of the alley and adjusted his scarf.

“I need a drink,” he mumbled to himself and checked the sky. The sun was high overhead. Close to the middle of the day, and everyone except vagabonds and the Royal Guard would be sleeping. Often, Nox couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

The Burning City came alive at night. Nox wanted to be good and drunk before then.

Nox made sure his skin was completely covered before stepping out in to the sunlight. The moment he faced the full force of the Jan’caran sun, sweat began to pool against his lower back and shoulders. The heat was overwhelming and the streets began to shimmer and look hazy. He pressed himself against the wall for support and began the short walk to the Jeweled Heart which happened to hold the room he had been renting as well as his favorite drink.

A painted wooden sign hung above the street, once brightly colored and attractive. Sand and wind had nearly scoured the paint from the surface of the red sign, but Nox knew the name. The wood was still vaguely in the shape of a heart and the Inn Keeper had painted the symbol, poorly, on the front door that was protected from the weather. The building was built from the same, smooth white stone as the rest of the Burning City. Two awnings held thick red cloth to provide shade to the guards who were posted outside. They must have been paid in wine or women, for nothing else could convince a man to stay beneath the hot sun for so long. They watched Nox as he approached.

“Do not cause trouble, blacksmith.” The guard sneered and rested a hand on the handle of his sword. Nox wasn’t in the mood to argue; his bruises were still healing from the last time he had “caused trouble.” Nox knew the guards wouldn’t kill him in the middle of the street, but the Jeweled Heart was secluded and dark. He wouldn’t push his luck. He couldn’t guarantee someone else wouldn’t, however. Jan’caro was a city filled with Jan’caran people: dark skinned, dark eyed and sometimes, dark hearted. They saw Nox’s pale complexion and blue eyes and knew he wasn’t local.

Nor was he a blacksmith, but that’s what his paperwork said. The counterfeit parchment he held in his satchel had saved his life more than a few times. When the papers didn’t work, his knife had done the trick. He didn’t dare use Blood Magic in the Burning City. After the Jan’caran War a few hundred years ago, all Blood Magic had been outlawed. The old man who had seen his scars earlier could already be reporting to the Royal Guard, and Nox wanted to be off the streets by then. He brushed passed the two hulking guards and stepped into the shaded doorway of the Jeweled Heart.

The inside of the tavern was lit by candles and oil lamps. The white stone walls were stained with smoke and grease. A young, skinny boy was yawning and scrubbing at dark stains in a table. He dropped his rag to the floor when he saw Nox standing in the doorway.

“Blacksmith,” the Inn Keeper spoke in broken Tala’rican, “if you scare my table boy away, I’ll make you replace him. And I won’t pay you.” The tall and broad shouldered Jan’caran man stood up from the stool he had been sitting on. He looked like he belonged behind the forge or breaking horses than resting behind a bar.

“La’th, you know your son isn’t afraid of me.” Nox replied in Jan’caran and La’th smiled. The skinny boy picked up his rag and returned to scrubbing tables. La’th sat back down on his stool and began counting out wooden coins. It was a slow and painful process for La’th, who had trouble counting beyond the men he could count in the bar. Inn Keeper was his father’s profession, and his father’s before that, as far back as La’th could recall. Inn Keeper may have been his family trade, but it had never stopped La’th from exploiting an opportunity. Nox had been one such opportunity.

Two years ago Nox had snuck in to the Burning City with nothing more than forged paperwork and a name. He had been looking, aimlessly, for a man. Being Tala’rican, and a Blood Mage, Nox had to be very careful about who he talked to and where he stepped. He had stumbled drunk and injured in to the Jeweled Heart on his second night in the city, and La’th had made a small fortune on him ever since. Nox fumbled around in his vest pocket until he found a leather coin purse. He dropped it on to the counter and Nox knew he had easily doubled the amount of coins La’th was already counting. La’th could see that, too, and smiled again.

“Your room is still there. A woman was looking for you. I turned her away.”

“A woman?” Nox asked as he took a seat at the bar. “What did she look like?”

“Like her,” La’th pointed with a wooden coin. Nox turned and looked to the corner of the room. A woman was veiled in pipe smoke.

“I said I turned her away, I did not say she left.” La’th poured a glass of Isaru wine and pushed it towards Nox. He paused, looked at the woman, and poured another glass.

Nox didn’t recognize the woman – but he recognized what she was: stunning. The Burning City was filled with pure blooded Jan’caran women. Hair the color of black silk or tanned leather. Eyes the color of the setting sun, a soft brown. All in all, he found Jan’caran women to be attractive but they all had very similar features. And after two years of nothing but Jan’caran women—and perhaps the occasional Tala’rican or San’daran slave– to look at he appreciated some variety.

This woman was different. Her hair and skin were still dark but her eyes caught him off guard. At first he thought they were an icy silver and his heart froze in his chest. Tas’kara. His thoughts pushed to the surface for the first time in over a year. He pushed the cold weight aside. Tas’kara is dead. He reminded himself as he approached her. He saw her eyes were not icy blue, but a vibrant silver. They reflected the dim candle light.

“I understand you are looking for someone. Someone dead.” She smiled as she spoke. He felt as if the old man from the street was mocking him again. It was Nox’s turn to play his role as the blacksmith; one who didn’t understand the local language.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak very good Jan’caran.” He spoke in flawless Tala’rican and even let some his home accent slip in. It felt good to not have to hiss at the end of every word.

The woman continued to smile. She reached a ring-covered hand out and accepted the glass the he held out to her. She turned her wrist slightly and showed a rough, black tattoo. The mark of a criminal within Jan’caro. At least they both had a reason to avoid the Royal Guard.

“Let me speak a language you do understand.”

She let a thin silk strap fall from her shoulder. As she leaned to push it back up, she made certain he got the best possible view.

“My room is just upstairs. We can—uh, talk there.” Nox finished his wine as he spoke. The woman stood from her seat in a single, graceful motion. Her silk dress fell in pools of gold and yellow to the floor. Her bare ankles were wrapped in chains that held bells and she jingled as she walked. La’th handed Nox the bottle of Isaru wine as he passed. Nox held out his hand and guided her up the darkened stair way. As they reached the top of the stairs, she wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him close.

“Woah, wait–” His protests were quickly forgotten as she pulled him in to a kiss that tasted like wine. Nox used his hand to fumble for his door then cursed when he found it locked.

“I know what it’s like,” she whispered, pulling away long enough to let him find his keys. “To be alone in this city for so long. I know how that feels.”

“It feels like hell,” Nox sighed and unlocked his door. He opened it slowly and checked his small window to make sure it hadn’t been disturbed since he had last left. He could never be too careful. Behind him, the door closed. He turned back to see the woman had managed to wriggle out of her silk straps and entire dress in a matter of moments. She leaned against the door with the bottle of wine he hadn’t noticed she’d stolen from him. And nothing else.

“You want information. I want you.”



The sun was just beginning to set upon the Burning City. The woman—her name was Kas’andra—perched naked at the end of his bed.

“Do you know what happens to a Blood Mage after they’ve whore’d around?” Kas’andra asked.

“They take a nap.” Nox said with a yawn. He nearly bit his tongue when he realized she had called him a Blood Mage.

“Your scars aren’t exactly subtle,” she purred over her shoulder. “I had to be certain you were the one looking for Jaq. A tall, handsome—they didn’t mention muscular–”

“I’ve been a blacksmith for two years, it comes with the territory.” He smiled.

“–and arrogant, Blood Mage.”

Nox struggled to sit up from his tangled sheets. He leaned on his elbow and propped up his head. He admired the bones down her bare back. Another tattoo wrapped itself around her lower back and sides. It looked fresh.

“It’s been… ages, but of course I know. My magic doesn’t work.” He blinked. “My magic doesn’t work.”

Nox cursed in every language he knew. He had been so careful, for two years: no women, very little Isaru wine and a lot of hard work. And it taken just one woman—admittedly, very beautiful—to put all his plans at risk.

Kas’andra smiled again and turned to face him. Her dark curls fell over her eyes and he found himself staring back at her unusual silver gaze.

“How quickly we forget, with the right person.” She studied him and nodded. “Don’t worry, now that I know you’re the man I’m looking for, this won’t take long.”

“What was your plan? To seek me out and bed me?” Nox stretched and pulled the sheets over his suddenly very naked body.

“To kill you.”

Nox paused.

“Did you?”

“Not yet.”

As casually as he could manage, he looked around the room. On a table that was close to her that it was to him: an ornate wooden box that held his blood dagger. If she hadn’t stolen it already. He had a few swords he had made during his time at the forge and a knife under his pillow. He reached for it. It was gone.

His Blood Magic was mostly useless. One of the first lessons he had learned as a student in the Blood Citadel, and he had forgotten it with just a glance. The real reason most Blood Mages swore a vow of chastity: anything but would set them back for days. Some Blood Mage’s magic was more emotional than others, some more physical: for Nox, he would be nearly useless for a week. His blood might as well have been water. He was stuck, naked and alone, with a woman who was going to do—something.

“Yes, I’m a Blood Mage. And you, Kas’andra, are a criminal. Why do you get to kill me? Who sent you?”

Kas’andra laughed and it took Nox back about an hour ago, when she had been laughing in his arms. He tried not to be aroused by the woman who was going to try and kill him.

“That’s an awful lot of questions, and we have very little time.” She leaned down and picked up an ornate wooden box. Nox’s blood dagger, black and red metal, untouched since he had entered the city.

“Who sent you?” Nox repeated as he rolled to the side and jumped to his feet. He had to know where he had made a mistake. Someone had discovered he was a Blood Mage, and who he was looking for. Kas’andra opened the box and let it fall to the floor with a clatter as the wood broke.

“A dead man,” she said as she lunged at him. She was fast and Nox had nothing to protect himself with. He moved to the side but wasn’t quick enough: the dagger grazed his chest across his shoulder blade. It cut deep. The wound stung; without magic, his sense of pain was normal. He hadn’t felt the pure, unaltered sensation of pain since the day he could draw his first spell. Numbness and a sensation of warmth, yes; pain, not so much. It helped him to focus. He knew it would leave a scar and that made him angry.

Kas’andra rushed him again and this time he was ready. Nox turned sideways to take the bulk of her weight against his side and used her momentum to flip her on to the bed. She laughed as she tumbled, hair flying, on to the sheets. If she didn’t have his dagger in her hand, he would have gladly followed. She swung her foot out and caught him behind the knees, sending him falling to the floor. Before he could recover, she had jumped across the bed and tackled him. She pressed the blade against his throat.

The bedroom door flew open.

“Blood and rain, Nox–” Starr’s voice echoed from the open doorway. La’th towered next to her as they stared at Nox and Ka’sandra.

“She’s trying to kill me–”

“I can see what she’s trying to do to you,” Starr said and threw her hands up in the air.

“Woman, stop being jealous and help me.” He felt the dagger dig in to his skin.

“Jealous?” Starr rushed forward and slammed her knee in to Kas’andra’s stomach. She rolled off Nox with a grunt of pain and pressed herself against the wall. Starr leaned down and picked up Nox’s blood dagger. Before Nox could warn her, she drew the blade against her palm. Blood pooled on the floor.

Dark, churning water and crackling lightning crept up Starr’s forearm. An arc of bright light shot from her arm and slammed Kas’andra hard against the wall.

“Blood mage,” La’th whispered and stumbled back. “Blood mage!” He ran back down the stairs.

“Surrender,” Nox breathed. Starr wiped her blood off on her leggings and reached out to help him up off the ground.

“Shouldn’t we try and run? What about her?” Starr pointed to the door then to Kas’andra.

“It’s too late. We can’t fight our way out of the city, Starr.”

“…You could.”

Nox smiled but it was short lived. No sooner did he stand up and wrap a sheet around his waist than the stairwell was congested with the Jan’caran Royal Guard. They unceremoniously grabbed Starr, Nox and Kas’andra and hauled them down the stairs. They allowed Kas’andra to put her dress back on but left Nox in his sheet.

A barrel-chested guard bound Nox’s wrists with thick rope and shoved him down the stairs. Nox hit his knees on the dusty floor of the Jeweled Heart. He cursed and glared over his shoulder at the guard responsible.

“Where are are they taking us?” Starr asked, speaking in a language only Nox—or other Citadel-trained Blood Mages—could understand.

“Silence, blood mage.” The guard sneered and spat on the floor beside Nox.

Nox was hauled out the front door of the Jeweled Heart and in to the unrelenting heat of the late afternoon sun. The white stone buildings were nearly blinding. He blinked back tears and turned his head, forcing himself against the shoulders of his captors to try and get a better view of where he was at. He strained to see the stark black pillar that marked the Jan’caran Palace in the middle of the city. They were headed down the South Road; one he avoided often, as it was patrolled heavily by Jan’caran guards who didn’t like seeing outsiders.

“To the desert, to let us die instead of killing us themselves.” Kas’andra grunted as her arm was bent behind her back and she was forced, chin first, to the ground.

“Wait, you speak Citadel?” Nox asked with raised eyebrows. It shouldn’t surprise me, she did know I was a Blood Mage. His thoughts were interrupted by a swift punch to the side. He exhaled painfully and knew it was going to leave a bruise. He was tired of bruises. The guard flexed his fist, ready to strike again if Nox continued to speak. Kas’andra didn’t answer, just nodded curtly beside him as she was pushed down the hot white streets.

All the doors in the city were painted white or watered down blue. The windows were covered in thick iridescent cloth and closed while the inhabitants of the Burning City slept through the daylight hours. Nox only spotted a few curtains pulled aside and strange, curious eyes upon them as they were paraded down the empty streets. The guards were silent as they marched the small group resolutely down the South Road. Nox saw the billowing smoke ahead and his stomach began to turn.

“Starr, I’m so sorry–”

“This isn’t my first time, remember?” Starr whispered back with a wink but Nox saw the look of worry that flashed across her face. Nox pushed against his captors, but they were two of the largest Jan’caran men he had ever seen. He’d never manage to overpower them. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before they approached the pyres.

Two large, metal pyres flanked the towering gate to the South Road. Nox and Kas’andra were held in place as Starr was dragged toward the pyre. She knew better than to yell or cause a scene; Jan’caran law may forbid the execution of prisoners, but accidents were known to happen. And during the daylight hours, accidents were much more likely.

Let this be quick. Nox hoped as he saw Starr cast a glance back over her shoulder. He held her eye contact as the pushed her down on to her knees.

The guards spoke in a dialect of Jan’caran that Nox couldn’t recognize. High Jan’caran, mostly used in the Palace, by the distinct hissing. He knew who they were talking about, as one of them nudged Starr with his dusty boot. The guard reached out and grabbed Starr’s wrist, wrenching it around to show her bloodied palm. He dropped her arm as if she were sick and pulled a red-hot metal poker from the pyre. The end burned wicked white and red. Nox kept his focus on Starr as they grabbed her hair and held her in place. He brandished the poker in front of her face. Starr could feel the heat resonating against her skin. Sweat dripped down her temples.

“We will mark you, Blood Mage, so that all will know what you are. You’ll never again touch the sands of the Burning City without notice.”

“Don’t scar her face,” the guard holding Nox said with a grunt. “Would be a shame.”

“Hardly matters, she’ll die in the desert soon enough.” They spoke as if addressing animals about to be slaughtered; casually, without remorse, as if their words didn’t matter at all.

“Let her remain a beautiful corpse then, and the vultures can peck at her cursed eyes.”

The guard lowered the poker from near Starr’s face. She allowed herself a shaky breath. The last time she had been caught on her first mission to Jan’caro, they had tattooed her—although they were strangely beautiful, it had not been a pleasant experience. The hot fire and scarring was new. She bit her lip to keep from yelling at them.

Kas’andra cursed and pulled against her captor’s grip but he held her steady as if she were a straw doll. Nox felt the grip on his shoulder lessen as his guard was too busy watching Starr and smirking at Kas’andra’s attempt to free herself. His hands were still bound behind his back but he was able to pull away and kick the guard sideways in the knee. Hard. The guard cried out as Nox made a break for Starr. He didn’t have a plan; he just needed to get to her. Any magic, even weak blood magic, may be able to buy them some time. Starr’s eyes widened as he approached and her guard lowered the poker.

Nox concentrated on the shallow cut across his chest from Kas’andra. It wasn’t deep or fresh blood, and it wasn’t a specific pattern: but it was done with his own dagger. There should still be some still magic lingering there. He struggled to pull fire from the air, or water from the sky; his magic felt sticky and weak. He couldn’t focus. His vision began to blur with the effort and he tasted blood in the back of his mouth. His chest began to ache.

The guard pushed Starr to the side and swung the red-hot poker straight at Nox.

“You son of a–” Starr began but Nox never heard her response. The metal cracked him against the side of his skull and sent him straight to the ground.


“You can’t leave him like that!” Starr’s voice sounded muffled. “He’s going to burn to death.”

“Yes, he will.” A Jan’caran voice, the same one that tried to spit on him. The same one that had knocked Nox unconscious. He groaned and opened his eyes. They were full of sand and burned. Nox cursed and tried to sit up. The ground was hot. He couldn’t see anything past the tears and grit but, by the sound of the wind and the heat against his back, he knew exactly where he was. Kas’andra had been right: they’d been thrown in to the Jan’caran desert.

“Am I still wearing my sheet?” Nox asked. His voice was hoarse. He licked his lips and tasted blood and sand.

“Yes, but don’t move too much.” Starr said. He could hear a smile in her voice and a ghost of pain.

“If it falls off, the best part of you is going to burn.” Kas’andra said with a laugh. Nox turned to face her voice, forcing his eyes fully open. He was staring, teary eyed at a dark-colored cloth bag over his head.

“I’ll have you know, I have many–”

The women began to laugh.

“My sheet fell off, didn’t it?”

Nox turned away from their laughter and tried to move his wrists. They were still bound with a thick, wet rope. The rope hadn’t been wet before. And it smelled like fish. Dead, hot fish. He couldn’t get any kind of grip and his hands felt slick.

“It’s fish oil,” Kas’andra said as she stepped close behind him. “Hold still.” He heard the sound of a knife cutting through the rope.

“Why would they do that..? It smells terrible. And where did you get a knife?” She cut through the rope and Nox pulled his arms free. His muscles felt sore. He felt her hands graze his waist as she re-tied his sheet.

“So many questions,” she said as she tied a tight knot at his hip. “They do it because it’s cheap and effective. The knife is yours, the woman hid it from the guards. Lucky for us, they want us gone so badly—they did a poor job of searching. They’d rather throw us and everything with us in to the desert to rot.”

“Are you going to try to kill me again?” Nox asked as he blinked away more grit. Sunlight and heat blinded him as Kas’andra removed the cloth bag from over his head. He raised a hand and gingerly touched the welt on the side of his head. Bruised and burnt, all at the same time. His fingers came back sticky with sweat and dried blood. He sucked in fresh air and leaned over to cough.

“Before you two start tearing each others clothes off again, will someone explain to me where we are?” Starr’s patience had ended. Abruptly. Nox wiped his eyes and turned to face her.

“I haven’t slept with another woman in two years. She was the first—”

“Don’t lie to me, Nox—”

“I’m sure he isn’t lying. I mean, if he has, he felt out of practice.”

Nox turned to Kas’andra and narrowed his gray-blue eyes.

“You are not helping.”

He stopped before he began to argue; Starr’s shoulder was wrapped in a strip of yellow silk that had been torn from Kas’andra’s dress. She was arguing so he wouldn’t ask her about it. He recognized the tightness of her jaw that simply told him: I’m fine, don’t ask. He wished he could ignore it as easily as she could.

He sucked in a deep breath and shaded his eyes from the sun. He decided to save his energy for trying to escape, rather than exchange heated words with Starr.

Even after being alone for two years in The Burning City, he was still surprised that he had managed to survive his initial trip across the Shard Sea with her. The Captain of the Glass Rose was an angry woman with a short temper; one that Nox enjoyed tampering with. She was more loud, angry words than actual anger—but he had been on the receiving end of her magic before. He certainly didn’t want to end up with any more wounds than he already had.

They were surrounded by sand. Harsh, dry wind blew across the dunes and whipped up dust and dirt in the air. Footprints in the sand, deep and slender, were already beginning to be scoured away. Nox counted the prints; he guessed four horses and one person walking along beside. Did they make one of the women walk? How far from the Burning City are we? Nox wondered as he watched the last of the footprints disappear with the wind. If there were four horses, alone in the desert, it meant no more than four or five guards. He wasn’t certain about Kas’andra, but he knew Starr should have been able to escape.

“Starr, why couldn’t you use your Blood Magic, and save us? What were there, four guards at most?”

“There were five. One of them was drunk and more than useless.” Kas’andra answered as she brushed the sand off her ripped yellow dress. Sweat pooled at her sides and made her dress damp. He thought he saw the faint outline of a bruise forming around her left eye.

“You weren’t the only one whoring around last night.” Starr said with a reluctant smile.

Nox couldn’t help but smile back. For as angry as she had been, she was just as guilty. He stretched and rolled his shoulders and began to look around. The sun was just sinking beneath the rolling dunes of sand. Already, the heat was beginning to lessen. At least they dropped us off just before nightfall and didn’t wait until the morning. He hadn’t been unconscious long, at least. Just hot and miserable while he was sleeping, apparently.

“Can I have my dagger back?” Nox asked, watching as Kas’andra wiped the fish oil off on her yellow dress. She wrinkled her nos and handed it to him, handle first. Nox accepted it and used his own—mostly clean—sheet to polish the dark metal. Starr was pacing a few feet out in the desert, trying to get a better view.

“I haven’t seen you in over two years,” Nox began as he stood beside Starr.

“Not since the Glass Rose left you just outside the city, and you had to swim the rest of the way…” She sounded angry but he saw she was smiling.

“Yeah, thanks for that.” He turned and looked at her. “You saved me back there. Don’t tell Kas’andra, but she could have killed me if you hadn’t—interrupted.” Starr rolled her eyes.

“Why now? How did you find me? Did the Grand Master send you?” Nox turned and watched as the sun became a sliver of light against the sand dunes. His skin began to feel chilled.

“You’re not a difficult man to find, Nox. As pale and skinny as you are, in a city full of tall and dark-skinned Jan’carans. The Grand Master has kept an eye on your progress. He also kept an eye on her.” Starr jerked her chin towards Kas’andra who was now sitting on the ground, ripping a section of her dress off.

“He was beginning to worry, and everyone else was—busy.”

“You volunteered?” Nox asked with an arched eyebrow.

“I was beginning to worry, too.”

Nox wrapped an arm around Starr’s shoulder and pulled her close. The last time he had seen her, the gesture may have made his stomach flutter.

“We need to find shelter,” Starr said as she moved out of his reach.

If there was anything left between them, it had blown away with the desert sand. One less thing he had to worry about.

“No, we don’t.” Kas’andra stood from the ground and held up the strip of yellow cloth she had ripped from the bottom of her dress. The wind caught the cloth and whipped it around like a flag. She stood and held it as high as she could.

“So the Grand Master knew she was going try and kill me? And he sent you to save me?” Nox asked as he watched Kas’andra stand and lose her footing in the sand. She fell over with a curse.

“Well, he knew you weren’t making any progress. A lot of weapons, and Isaru wine but mostly just getting attacked in the streets for asking about Jaq.”

“You’ve managed to summarize my last few years perfectly.” Nox shrugged.

“What is she doing?” Starr asked as she watched Kas’andra pick herself up, brush off the sweaty folds of her dress and hold the strip of cloth up like a flag. Exactly like a flag, Nox noticed. He crossed his arms over his chest. The sun was sinking fast beneath the dunes and a cold, harsh Jan’caran night would soon descend on them like a hawk. Starr looked back at him, noticed he was looking at Kas’andra and found herself smiling.

“Maybe a little jealous,” she began but her voice trailed off in the gathering darkness. Over a distant dune, a flickering light appeared. It was faint at first but it was bobbing and becoming larger. The light was moving towards them. Nox’s hand drifted to his blood dagger that was tucked at his hip. He realized how ridiculous he looked and wished, suddenly, that he has his cloak. Or, at the very least, pants.

“Can we outrun them?” Starr asked, looking off in to the distance. Nox’s hand settled on his dagger and he looked back towards Ka’sandra who was lowering her scrap of cloth.

“I don’t think we need to.”

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