Prologue: On Old Roads

9:27 Dragon

Somewhere in the Korcari Wilds



She grimaced and grunted, twisting Spellweaver in the flesh of the thing that had just crashed to the ground in front of her. The thing made a high whine and shuddered, then went still.

She took a deep breath and pulled her blade free of the thing's stinking flesh. Lorn barked once, happily. Dead! The bad thing was dead!

"It is," she told him. She wiped her hand on her trousers and ran it over her braided hair. The thing had surprised her at the edge of the old road, and it had somehow managed to cross fully over into the mortal world from the Fade when she'd fought it. That's new. And worrisome. She'd been out of armor, heading to a nearby stream to wash, and it had been a stroke of luck that she'd even had Spellweaver on her.

The creature was the size of a drake, with a roundish body and far too many limbs tipped with claws. She couldn't figure out which limb was the head; it had a mouth surrounded by razored teeth on the front of its body, but no eyes. Yet it had most certainly not been blind. It had spat a caustic substance at her as an opening volley, but she'd dodged most of it. Her shirt sleeve was never going to be the same, though.

Dark wings fluttered at the corner of her vision. She swallowed, and shoved them back to the deep recesses of her mind. Lorn was leaning against her hip, and she smoothed down the fur on his head.

How long has it been?

She remembered two springs, two summers, one winter. The leaves were turning gold and red as she made her way deeper into the Wilds, and there was frost on the ground in the morning when she and Lorn woke. So it had been almost two years since she'd shoved her sword through the neck of an Archdemon. She wondered if anyone had noticed that she was gone.

Probably not.

The things that had driven her onto the old roads did not bear thinking of. Only the things she was learning. Ancient, wild magics that were part of an answer to a question she was only now beginning to put into words.

Kathil ruffled Lorn's ears and turned away from the dead thing. The breeze was pushing little white clouds over the pale sky. It was a nearly perfect autumn day.

The only warning she had was a rustle of leaves.

She was flying sideways as the thing she had thought she'd killed slammed into her. She hit the ground hard, and her sword hand was empty—she raised a hand to call a storm—

The thing's razored mouth closed on her shoulder, and she couldn't feel the side of her face, and the spell fled her mind as she screamed. Lorn howled, and howled—

Black wings closed around her and bore her away.