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The truth was . . . he should have let him die.

Kuma knows the legend, or the part of it that he paid attention to. He knows that it’s his place to protect the royal who is next to carry the secret of the Book of Ivory. He also knows that his visions of the future differ from those who’ve come before.

When the Book of Ivory awakens and the souls within are allowed their chance at freedom, Kuma is thrust onto the path that he spent his life dreading. A path that could cost him everything. A path that only has one end. Death.

Family secrets, forbidden magic, and ancient souls collide on the journey to the gateways.



Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“What was that for?” Kuma glanced at the gash across his chest, taking a step back and staring into Arkhaois’s startled eyes. He touched his hand to the shallow wound, shifting his gaze down at it once more before focusing again on the man across from him.

“You scared me,” he answered, his blue eyes wide. “What are you doing down here?”

“Coming to ask you that very question,” he answered. “You spend days locked away from everyone, ignoring all those who try to see you, and when you do finally decide to leave your room, you’re off exploring the catacombs. Someone is going to think you’ve lost your mind.”

“Maybe I have,” Arkhaois answered, reflecting on the fact that h

e was disobeying his grandmother for the first time by being in this place. He stared at the ground before glancing at the slightly glowing mark on his right hand and closed it into a fist to keep Kuma from seeing it. “I don’t see why it’s anyone’s business what I do with my time.”

Kuma shook his head. “What are you doing down here?”

“It’s personal,” he answered.

“Personal?” He raised an eyebrow while studying the crypt before moving toward the coffins and looked down at the one belonging to Queen Margareet. He took a breath and looked up past the stone boxes and made his way to the statues that were barely lit by Arkhaois’s lantern. “So, this is the true form,” he muttered, studying the imposing statue, his eyes focused first on the horns atop its head before surveying the carved representation of its large, feathered wings.

“What did you say?”

Kuma turned quickly and looked at Arkhaois and shook his head. “It’s a strange figure, isn’t it? It’s almost frightening. There’s no way this man could walk through the city unnoticed,” he said quickly and moved toward the other coffin. “Lord Akum, who was he?”

“I’m not entirely sure.” Arkhaois shrugged. “Someone close to Queen Margareet.”

Kuma smiled his carefree smile. “So, what kind of adventure brought you down here?”

“I told you—it’s personal.”

“It sure is strange to find such intricately carved pieces this deep in the catacombs,” Kuma mused, the smile staying pasted on his lips and his voice light.

“How did you find me, Kuma?” Arkhaois questioned.

Kuma shrugged. “I followed you.”

“And you didn’t think to say a word to me when I got lost?” he questioned suspiciously.

“I didn’t want to startle you in the dark. I thought you might attack me if I did that.” He looked again at the wound on his chest. “I guess it didn’t matter.”

“I . . . ,” the prince hesitated, “you startled me.”

Kuma shrugged. “Nothing to worry about. It’s just a flesh wound.” He smiled again, taking a step closer to Arkhaois and back into the brighter light of the lantern. “You know, Delfina came by to see you earlier. I was surprised to learn that you turned her away without a word. I thought you wanted to talk to her.”

“Delfina?” Arkhaois muttered, his eyes focused on the ground. “I don’t need charity from her.” He straightened and looked up into Kuma’s eyes, holding his breath nervously as he noticed that they seemed to be glowing golden in the light of the lantern.


“Tell me, did she come of her own accord or did you send her?”

“I asked her to talk to you. What’s wrong with that? I’m worried about you, Ark, and so is she.”

“I don’t need people coming by to pity me just so that they can vanish a few weeks later,” he snapped. “Delfina doesn’t want anything to do with me or she would have answered my letters.”

“She would have answered them if she’d ever received them.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She never got your letters, Arkhaois, and you never got hers. Someone has kept the two of you from contacting each other since she left the castle.”

Arkhaois was silent a moment before he took a sharp breath. “I don’t believe you.”

“It’s the truth,” he said smoothly.

“She never got my letters?” he muttered, looking through the shadows at Kuma. “You’re the only one who knew about our relationship. If our letters were being stopped—who’s to say it wasn’t you doing it?”

The light-hearted look left Kuma’s eyes and he stared at Arkhaois in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

“You’ve always been very close to Delfina.” He shrugged. “Stopping contact between her and I would have given you a chance to—”

“To what?” he gasped. “Arkhaois, listen to yourself. Do you even hear what you’re saying?”

“You’re not denying it.”

Kuma stared at Arkhaois. “You have lost your mind if you think there is anything like that between Delfina and I.” He turned away from Arkhaois. “I’m not going to stand down here in this place of death and argue with you about something so foolish. You know very well that Del is—” Kuma gasped as a pain shot through him and he looked at the blade that had pierced through the back of his shoulder and came out the front. Overcome with shock, he turned his head and watched Arkhaois pulling the dagger from his body. “Ark?” he muttered, taking a few steps forward and staring at the badly bleeding wound.

Arkhaois stared at the blood on Kuma’s shoulder, his mouth open in shock at what he had done. He took a few steps back, hitting the wall, then stared at the bloody dagger in his hand before letting it fall to the ground. “Kuma, I . . . ,” he stuttered and looked up to find that his friend had vanished.


“Delfina.” Charles waved his hand toward her as she entered the tavern. As Delfina made her way to his table, he found himself fixated on the way her body moved while she dodged a few of the more drunken patrons. He motioned for her to take a seat across from him and managed a smile as he watched her push her short brown hair out of her eyes. “I was beginning to think you got a better offer.”

“Sorry I’m late. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting,” she stated and looked up at the barmaid who approached their table. “A beer please.”

Charles watched Delfina take a mouthful of the drink that had been placed in front of her, doing the same and smiling before he sighed. “Did you managed to speak to Prince Arkhaois?”

The smile faded from Delfina’s lips and she placed her mug back on the table. “No—how did you know that’s where I was?”

“I overheard you and Lord Kuma talking.” He shrugged. “You’re quite close to him, aren’t you?”

“To whom?” she questioned and gripped her mug.

“Lord Kuma.” Charles took a long swallow of his beer and watched Delfina drinking some of hers. “I’ve seen you with him before—off in a shadow usually. It does seem that someone like me has no chance with you.”

“Charles,” Delfina looked into his eyes, “I—”

“You’ve never led me on, Del,” he interrupted and forced a smile. “But between Prince Arkhaois and Lord Kuma, I haven’t a hope. I’m just a lowly commoner and you grew up with much better, didn’t you? I don’t know why I—”

“How many drinks have you had?” she demanded in a hushed voice. “I think maybe you should go back to the barracks.”

“And leave a woman to walk down these dark streets alone?” he snapped. “I might not be a nobleman but I can still protect you.”

“Keep your voice down,” Delfina scolded and added hotly, “and I’m not just some woman.”

Charles’s eyes grew wide and he looked down at his drink before pushing it away. “I think I’ve had enough,” he said slowly. “I have duty in the morning.” He added as he got to his feet and took a step away from the table. “Good night, Delfina.”

Delfina watched him make his way across the tavern, swaying slightly as he walked. She quickly finished her drink and followed behind him, hurrying out into the night air and finding him doubled over just outside the door. She sighed and watched him wretch. “How about you walk me home?” She smiled, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.


“It can’t have been real.” Arkhaois continued to stare at the spot where Kuma had stood, wondering if the event had been a simple figment of his imagination. “He couldn’t have followed me down here without me noticing, the catacombs echoed every single sound.” Nodding to himself, he reached down and picked up the dagger then stared at the blood dripping off the blade. His hands shook and the weapon fell back to the ground, the sound seeming to echo without end around him. The proof of his actions was there at his feet, he had harmed someone and that person was now gone without a trace. Kuma had vanished in an instant the same way that he had appeared.

After a long while of trying to make sense of his thoughts and actions, Arkhaois turned his attention back to the wall that he had been studying when Kuma had arrived. He gazed again upon the carvings, the paint long gone from what must have once been a magnificent piece of art. His eyes once again caught sight of the symbol that was the mirror image of the one on his hand but this time he took notice of the figure carved above it. Another horned and winged man looked back at him, carved much simpler than the statue but the same figure none the less. “What are these?” he wondered, looking back at the large statue a moment. “Why are you depicted so prominently in this room?”

Arkhaois turned back to the symbols on the wall and reached up toward the one he recognized. His hand paused midway as pain shot through his forearm and he quickly pulled it back against his chest. He stared at the deep scar across his forearm in annoyance then lifted his right arm with his left, doing his best to ignore the pain as he placed his hand against the symbol on the wall.

The prince’s right arm throbbed and he clenched his teeth and did his best to hold his hand steady but the pain soon became too much and he pulled away. As he did, he caught sight of a faint green glow covering the mark on his palm and looked up to see that the symbol on the wall had also begun to glow. The pain in his forearm was gradually replaced by that in his hand and he looked at the mark that was now burning his flesh, realizing there was nothing he could do to make it stop.

Arkhaois stared at the wall as the light grew brighter and the pain in his hand became blinding. He took a few steps back but paused when the ground beneath his feet began to tremble and looked up to see that the wall in front of him had started to collapse. Taking a step toward the wall, Arkhaois yelped as someone grabbed him and pulled him between the two marble coffins, pinning him to the ground as a large slab of stone fell from the roof.

As the tremors subsided, Arkhaois found that he could move once again and the pain in his right arm had returned to the old scar on his forearm, something he could ignore. He crawled from beneath the stone slab toward the new opening in the wall, realizing that if he had remained standing where he had been, he would have been killed by the falling rock.

“A trap,” he muttered, staring at the stone in awe. “Well, what is behind the wall that’s so important they’d kill to keep it hidden?” Part of the prince knew that it would be best to leave the catacombs and forget the journey he had taken on this night. Whatever was down here—be it the Book of Ivory or some other treasure—someone had gone to great lengths to keep it hidden. Still, the pull of the mystery was too strong. He had come so far already and endured so much to reach this point that he knew he had to continue.

Arkhaois took a deep breath and nodded to himself. “Let’s see what you’re all hiding, shall we?” He smiled adventurously and moved into the cavern, his lantern following behind him just above his shoulder.

At first, there seemed to be nothing to the room. The walls were incredibly smooth, something in stark contrast to the rest of the catacombs, and the floor shimmered beneath his feet. The light from his lantern glittered gently around him, bouncing off the surfaces but managing to do little to increase the light. Arkhaois continued deeper into the room, reaching a small stone altar with a leather-bound book atop it.

“This can’t be it,” he muttered. “The Book of Ivory, nothing more than a simple leather tome? There must be more to it. Something so powerful can’t possibly appear so normal.”

Arkhaois continued to stare at it as he reached his left hand toward the book, pausing as it began to shimmer and a familiar symbol appeared on its cover. He glanced at his right hand in disbelief. “Grandmother, did you know that you were giving me a key when you gave me that pendant? Did any of you really know what you held?” He smiled and lifted his right arm with his left, again ignoring the pain, and placed the two symbols together before he felt someone pull him back.

Pain quickly began to ripple through his body and Arkhaois cried out in agony, watching through failing sight as the smooth surfaces around him started to glow and quickly illuminated into mirrors. As the pain consumed him, the image in the mirror changed. Before his eyes, the reflection showed him with grey-white skin covered in intricate black markings. His body looked frail but at the same time, his glowing green eyes showed immense power. He continued to tremble, the pain growing and soon blinding his senses.

Arkhaois fought to keep his eyes open and began to struggle to get to his feet but his body would not listen to his commands. As his eyes closed, he heard a familiar voice call his name and saw a huge figure made of shadow approach him and stoop down next to him.


Chapter 2

Delfina sat up abruptly, hurriedly glancing around the room from the edge of her bed while trying to comprehend what had woken her. With little but silence surrounding her, she carefully repositioned the knife under her pillow and began to lay her head back down when an impatient knock erupted from her door. Shaking her head, she got to her feet and grabbed her robe, pulling it on and sharply opening the door. “What?” she snapped before her eyes grew wide at the sight of the man standing there. “Kuma,” she said gently.

Kuma stared back into her eyes and quickly took advantage of the gap she created when she moved to the side, entering her chamber and making his way quickly across the room without a word.

Delfina closed the door and pulled her robe tighter, turning to see him standing at the window with his gaze focused on the darkness outside. “Kuma, what are you doing here?”

“I . . . ,” Kuma paused and turned to face her briefly before refocusing his gaze back out the window. “Have you ever looked at the night sky, Del? Have you ever really looked at the places between the stars?”

“Are you drunk?” she questioned. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Don’t make me leave,” he said quickly and stared at her pleadingly. “Please.”

Delfina’s eyes grew wide and she made her way across the room to him, placing her hand gently on his shoulder only to have him pull away. “What’s going on?” She took a step away, lighting a candle and gasping at the sight of her red-stained palm. “Kuma, are you hurt?”

Kuma looked up at her, his eyes glistening golden in the candlelight. “I needed somewhere safe to be,” he said gently. “I needed to be near someone I could trust.”


“You’re all I have, Del. There’s nothing else,” he whispered and sunk slowly to his knees. “Only shadows.”

“Kuma!” Delfina hurried to the man’s side and quickly shifted the tattered cloth of his shirt to look at the wound on his shoulder, his blood soaking her robe. “What happened to you?” she whispered, gently laying him back and taking note of the superficial cut across his chest.

After a moment’s thought, Delfina got quickly to her feet and hurried from her room, rushing down the hall and up the stairs to the remainder of the barracks. She knocked firmly on the door and waited for someone to open it. “Where’s Charles?” she said flatly.

“Personal call?” The man smirked.

Delfina looked down and realized that she was still in nothing more than a robe over her nightgown and pulled it closed. “Just get Charles for me before I knock your teeth out.”

The man continued to smirk as he nodded and closed the door.

She listened as he hollered obscenities while attempting to wake Charles who she realized would likely still be drunk.

“Del, what are you doing here?” Charles asked, closing the door behind him and smiling uncertainly at her. He couldn’t help but let his eyes wander for a moment but the sight of the blood on her robe quickly removed any lustful thoughts. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” she said, looking at the blood. “I need your help and your discretion.”

Charles nodded. “I’ll get some bandages from supply. Your room?”

Delfina nodded and hurried back down the hall, entering her room to see that Kuma had not moved. She quickly went about lighting a few more candles and carefully began to cut Kuma’s shirt away from his shoulder pausing when she heard a knock on the door. She jumped to her feet and pulled the door open. “Thank you. I didn’t know who else to turn to. He’s hurt and it looks bad,” she explained while Charles made his way to Kuma’s side.

Charles looked at the body lying on Delfina’s floor then back at her. “While I tend to him, maybe you could put some clothes on.” He swallowed, forcing himself to look away. “You know my feelings, Del.”

“I didn’t mean to imply anything,” she stuttered. “It’s just that he showed up here talking nonsense and then he collapsed and—”

“Del,” Charles took Delfina’s trembling hands in his, “I’ll take care of him.”

Delfina nodded and watched Charles force his attention back to Kuma before disappearing behind a screen in the corner. After quickly pulling on a pair of pants and a simple shirt, she emerged and approached the two men. “How is he?”

“It looks like someone got the better of him,” Charles answered and raised Kuma’s hands, “but judging from his arms, he didn’t fight whoever it was. I don’t think he expected the attack.”

Delfina nodded worriedly. “Charles, I . . . ,” she hesitated, her gaze fixed on Kuma, “thank you for helping me.”

“You care a lot about him, don’t you?” he asked as he tightly wrapped Kuma’s shoulder.

“I . . . what do you mean?”

“It’s the rare time when you allow yourself to be more of a woman,” he answered. “Only when you’re worried about someone you care about, do you let yourself be yourself. You don’t pretend to be the ideal image of a man.”

“We’re very close,” she answered gently, trying to think of some way to get angry at him for his comment.

“Look, I’ve told you before, men do show emotions.” He smiled and got to his feet, wiping his hands on his pants and looking into her pale brown eyes. “You can yell at me tomorrow about my comment. Now, unless you need a guard, I’m going back to bed to try and sleep off the rest of those drinks.”

Delfina smiled and watched Charles leave the room then turned a worried eye back to Kuma.


Arkhaois placed his hand against his aching forehead, sitting up slowly and scanning the room. His last memories were of pain rippling through his body and being surrounded by a reflection that he did not understand. “How am I here?” he muttered, shifting his heavy legs over the edge of his bed and fighting to steady his laboured breath before forcing himself to his feet. After taking a step toward the mirror in the corner of his room he paused and his eyes focused on the dagger that lay on the floor.

“I hoped it was a dream but . . .” He leaned carefully down and picked up the weapon, his mouth tight as he stared at the soiled blade. “How did I get here?”

That’s a good question,” a voice replied.

Arkhaois spun and stared across the room but found it empty. “Who’s there?” he called out, clutching the dagger tightly as he backed into the wall. “Is someone there?”

Right here, boy,” the voice answered.

Arkhaois’s eyes widened as he watched a sparrow land on the bedpost.

What are you staring at?

“Are you talking?”

Bright boy, aren’t you?” He rolled his eyes. “You can call me Jarah. Thanks to your stupidity, we’re going to be spending quite a bit of time together.

“Stupidity?” Arkhaois questioned. “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?”

I’m talking to the twit who decided it was a good idea to go searching for secrets last night,” he snapped. “I’m still trying to figure out how you survived. I could have sworn I had enough traps set to keep anyone from getting in there and I was sure I taught him well enough not to interfere.” The sparrow shook his head. “You really couldn’t handle that secret for more than a week without looking around? I told your grandmother that you were going to be trouble but she would not listen to reason.

“If you don’t mind, I’m not feeling too well,” Arkhaois said, slowly taking a seat on the floor.

No doubt,” he growled. “You should be dead. Weren’t you listening to me? Did someone help you? How did you get back here?

“I don’t know,” the prince answered. “Look, I’m tired. I’d like to get some rest.”

It’s too late for that,” the sparrow answered. “I can feel her presence near the city already. You are not making her wait.

“Who?” he questioned and shook his head. “Wait, who are you?”

I have already introduced myself,” he grumbled. “You don’t listen. Isabella, what were you thinking—leaving this boy as guardian? Not passing on your role would have been a better idea.

“Do not speak ill of my grandmother,” Arkhaois snapped. “Get out of here.”

You don’t even realize the danger that you’re in, do you, lad?” Jarah questioned. “You don’t feel the power that you’ve woken.”

“I don’t use magic,” he answered nervously. “No one in my family does. It’s forbidden.”

But your connection to the book—it should be stronger than this. Do you truly feel nothing? What happened when you opened the book?

“I never opened it. I only touched it,” he said, looking down at the mark on his right palm and closing his hand. “I guess the book must still be underground.”

You can’t sense it either?” he questioned, somewhat exasperated. “It’s under the floorboards. I suggest you retrieve it and prepare for your meeting at the Parsomia Tavern. I will direct her there. I doubt you need help finding your way.

Arkhaois watched as the sparrow glared at him a moment then shook its head and flew away. He stared at the spot on his bed where it had been, placing his hand again against his aching head and wondering if he was imagining things. He moved back across the room toward the mirror and looked hesitantly at his reflection, relieved to find nothing out of the ordinary.

Hurry up,” he heard a voice snap but when he turned he found no one there.

“If it’s all in my head,” he reasoned as he knelt next to his bed and pried up one of the floorboards, “then there won’t be a book.”


“You’re awake.” Delfina turned from adjusting her uniform jacket in the mirror and watched Kuma slowly sit up, smiling gently toward him. “I was getting worried.”

“What am I doing here?” He looked up toward Delfina through cloudy eyes and attempted to clear the haze from both his mind and the space around him. He blinked a few times then placed his hand on his aching shoulder. “I don’t remember coming here.”

“What do you remember?” she asked worriedly, the smile gone from her lips. “Kuma?”

Kuma closed his eyes but opened them quickly as images of his time in the catacombs quickly came to his mind. “I’m not sure what I remember?”

“You showed up here late last night,” she said slowly. “You were injured and rambling but you passed out before I could ask much of you.”

“I’m sorry, Del. I don’t have any answers that I can give you.” Kuma struggled to get to his feet, his body aching, then smiled toward her. “I must have been drinking.”

“You certainly don’t look hungover,” she answered. “Maybe a bit dazed from blood loss but not hungover.”

“I have a splitting headache if that says anything.” Kuma placed his hand against his temple and waited for the room to stop spinning, staring a long moment at the blood-soaked bandages covering his shoulder.

“Do you remember who attacked you?”

Kuma looked away and shook his head. “No.”

Delfina stared at the man, cocking her head and raising an eyebrow. “Are you sure? Charles suggested that it wasn’t something you expected. He said you didn’t fight back because there are no wounds on your arms or hands.”

“Charles?” Kuma stared wide-eyed at Delfina. “He was here? In your room?”

“He’s a good friend, you know that. I asked him to look at your wounds as my experience tending to such injuries is limited. You’ll have to thank him for binding your shoulder when you see him next.”

“I can’t believe you allowed him into your room,” he muttered. “He could have attacked you. He could have raped you. I’ve seen the look in his eyes, Del. That lust that threatens to spill out every time he looks toward you.”

“He’s not like that, Kuma.”

“He’s a man, Delfina, and no man can be trusted.”

“I trust you,” she said softly.

“That’s different.” He shook his head. “Just don’t be so foolish next time. I couldn’t handle it if something happened to you.”

“Kuma, I’m a royal guard, now. I’m not just some little girl. I can handle myself.”

Kuma shook his head. “Just be more careful,” he said gently. “What time is it?”

“Mid-afternoon,” she answered. “I’m on duty shortly. I can help you back to the castle if you like.”

“I’ll be fine on my own.” He smiled. “Besides, I don’t intend on going back to the castle just yet.”

“Kuma, stay away from the tavern tonight,” she said quickly. “You’ve lost a lot of blood.”

Kuma paused in his unsteady stride and smiled back at her. “Delfina, I don’t intend on remembering any of what happened last night for some time.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t remember any of it.”

“Thanks for letting me stay here, Del. If I show up again, just tell me to get lost.” He smiled warmly at her then vanished out the door.


Arkhaois pulled the hood of his cloak tighter around his face as he moved through the city streets aware that it was in his best interest that no one recognized him. The Parsomia Tavern wasn’t completely unknown to him, he had gone there a few times with Kuma whom he suspected frequented the establishment and he knew that many of the royal guards socialized there as well. The tavern was well known for being rough and was not a place that Arkhaois would have regularly gone alone but this was far from normal circumstances. The thought continued to occur to him that he had gone mad. He wondered if, in his grief, something within his mind had snapped and left him hearing voices and seeing visions of things that weren’t there but a quick look at the mark on his right hand continued to remind him that things had changed since his grandmother’s death.

Rounding a corner, Arkhaois took a quick look back over his shoulder and ran into the guard that had been headed in the opposite direction. “I’m so sorry,” he stuttered, looking down at the figure now on the ground.

“Clumsy oaf,” she snapped.

“Let me help you up.”

“I do not need your help,” she said flatly, shoving his hand away and getting back to her feet before dusting off her uniform. “Do you mind telling me where you’re going in such a hurry? I can’t imagine that . . . ,” she paused and her eyes grew wide. “Prince Arkhaois?”

“Delfina,” he gasped, staring open-mouthed at the woman. “You cut your hair,” he said finally.

“It’s easier short,” she answered. “I don’t stand out as much with the rest of the guards.”

“I can’t imagine it hides you completely. You’re too beautiful to ever be mistaken for a man, even if you’re dressing like one.”

“I . . . ,” she hesitated, “what are you doing out here, Your Majesty?”

Arkhaois took a step back, uncertain how to react to her cold demeanour. “My business is my own,” he answered, attempting to match her tone.

“It is unwise to be travelling these streets alone.”

“You’re alone,” he mused.

“I have my route.” She shrugged.

“Kuma told me that you tried to come and see me.”

“I did.”

“I’m sorry I never opened the door. If I had known it was you, I would have,” he said gently.

“When did you speak to Kuma?” she questioned.

“Last night,” Arkhaois answered. “We—”

“You were with him? Do you know what happened to him? Do you know who attacked him?” She asked in a worried breath.

“Attacked him?” He swallowed nervously.

“He was injured,” she answered, stepping back from Arkhaois slightly. “He came into the barracks last night looking for help.”

“Into the barracks?” The prince stared at her. “To your room?”

“No, Sire,” Charles interrupted. “Just into the barracks. Lord Kuma required medical attention and I provided it.”

“Charles,” Delfina gasped.

“Forgive the interruption.” He bowed low toward Arkhaois before turning his attention to Delfina. “You’re late to check-in.”

Delfina smiled. “I’ll be escorting Prince Arkhaois to his destination. Would you take over my path for me?”

“Of course,” he answered, bowing again at Arkhaois. “Stay safe.”

Delfina nodded at him. “Your Majesty, I do believe you were going this way,” she stated and headed down the dark street toward the tavern.


“Lord Kuma, are you sure you haven’t had enough?” the barmaid questioned. “You’re quite pale, my lord. You don’t look well.”

“I’ll have another, thank you,” Kuma answered with a reckless smile, placing his coins on the table and watching the waitress shrug and walk away.

“Lord Kuma.” A guard smiled as he and three others joined the table. “It’s been nearly a week since we’ve seen you here. We were starting to think you’d forgotten about us.”

Kuma smiled at the men. “It’s been busy around the castle,” he answered. “It’s been far too long since I was able to enjoy my evening intoxicant.”

“We thought maybe the royals had enough of you.”

“If they had,” Kuma took a long swig of his drink and shoved his light hair out of his eyes, “I’d have spent a lot more time here and a lot less time there. You can’t imagine how boring that place can be.”

“Not as boring as guard duty, I assure you. Nothing happens in this city—at least, not anywhere near the castle.”

“Well, then I guess you’re all doing your jobs. Maybe I should buy you a round to . . . ,” Kuma paused and looked toward the doorway and the oddly dressed stranger who entered. “Now who is she?”

“Not sure I’ve ever seen her here before,” one answered, looking toward the woman then noticing Kuma shudder. “Are you all right?”

“I’m not sure,” he answered, the smile gone from his lips. “There’s something odd about that woman.”

“Maybe you’re in love,” one of the guards laughed. “With Delfina choosing Charles over you, it’s time to keep looking.”

“What are you talking about?” Kuma questioned.

“Last night,” he answered. “She came to the men’s barracks in her nightgown looking for him and the two disappeared for a while. Seems his persistence may have finally paid off. Never thought I’d see the day she’d choose a simple guard over you.”

Kuma laughed. “Delfina is a grown woman. What she does is her own business.”

“Then you won’t mind that she just walked in with someone,” the young man whispered, staring toward the door.

Kuma’s eyes grew wide as he watched Delfina and a hooded man make their way through the bar and up the stairs in the back. “She’s a grown woman,” he muttered then noticed the stranger rise from her table and follow them shortly after. “Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Don’t make a mess. We don’t want to arrest you.”

Kuma smiled his carefree smile. “I’m just going to make sure that she’s all right,” he answered and threw his purse down on the table. “The drinks are on me tonight—not a word to anyone about Del and the stranger, understand?”


Chapter 3

Delfina closed the door and turned to see Arkhaois moving uneasily across the room. “All right, what’s going on?” she asked boldly. “What are you doing here?”

“Meeting someone,” he answered hesitantly. “Delfina, you should probably go.”

“Go?” she questioned. “This isn’t exactly a safe place for you to be. You realize that, right?”

“I’m not a child,” he snapped. “I’ve been here before you know.”


“No, with Kuma.”

“I might have guessed,” she growled. “No one else would drag you to such a place but that reckless fool. Are you meeting him here? I told him to stay away from the tavern tonight. He lost too much blood to be drinking.”

“You told him?” Arkhaois questioned. “When? Last night?”

“No, this morning,” she snapped and turned as she heard the door open. “Who are you?” she growled, placing her hand on the hilt of her sword.

“Delfina, go,” Arkhaois begged. “This has nothing to do with you.”

Delfina looked from the prince to the stranger and shook her head. “If I were the jealous type, I might leave thinking something was going on between you both but I can tell that’s not the case just by the way you’re acting. I’ll ask you again, Arkhaois, what’s going on?”

“I don’t even know myself,” Arkhaois hesitated. “I was asked to meet a stranger here. Del, just go. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

“I’m not leaving you unguarded, Prince Arkhaois.” Delfina turned and glared at the woman near the door. “Are you going to say anything?” she snapped. “Just who are you? What do you want?”

Ebony glared at the two of them, staring briefly at the position of Delfina’s right hand and watching as the woman better positioned herself in front of Arkhaois. Without a word, Ebony slowly began to draw her sword and watched Delfina tense. She continued to stare at them both and with a sharp move, turned toward the door and shoved her sword forward, leaving it about a foot from the door as she growled in a heavy accent. “Show yourself!”

“Who are you talking to?” Delfina questioned, her sword now drawn and held defensively in front of her.

“I’m not a patient woman,” Ebony stated. “You are not invisible to me and you will not remain to listen to this conversation.” She waited a moment then pressed the sword a little closer toward the door, sensing the resistance through her blade. She shook her head. “Very well, you were warned.”

An audible gasp filled the room as Ebony’s blade stuck in the door and the outline of a man became visible.

“What’s going on?” Delfina questioned, looking back at Arkhaois who seemed just as startled by what he was seeing. “What is that?”

“That is the outline of a nosy intruder,” Ebony replied. “He will now remain my prisoner until he shows himself and explains why he followed me.”

“I’m not following you,” a familiar voice answered as the outline flickered and Kuma appeared in its place with his sword drawn and pressed to Ebony’s neck. “I am here to protect these two,” he said as firmly as he could. “Who are you and what do you want with them?”

“Kuma!” Delfina gasped after the shock of watching him appear had worn off. “Let him go, he’s no threat,” she said as she hurried toward the stranger only to have the woman turn on her and toss her backward with the flick of her wrist.

Kuma’s sword hit the ground with a clang and he quickly raised his hand and did what he could to stop Delfina from striking the wall, though the impact still managed to shatter the mirror that she hit. “If she’s hurt, I’ll kill you,” he said coldly.

Arkhaois stared wide-eyed at Delfina’s still body then turned and looked toward Kuma who stood pierced by the stranger’s sword, though there was not a hint of fear in the man’s face. The prince slowly withdrew his sword and took an unsteady step toward the woman.

“Let him go,” he said firmly and shuddered as Ebony turned to look at him.

“You’re no match for my skill,” she answered, pulling her sword back and holding it firmly in front of her.

Arkhaois watched as Kuma sunk to his knees, his eyes fixed for a moment on the blood coming from the sword wound, then stared at his blood-soaked shoulder. “It was you last night,” he muttered as all doubt that Kuma had been in the catacombs left him.

The stranger looked back at Kuma and shrugged her shoulders, her grey eyes sparkling. “Don’t worry, you’ll live,” she said flatly. “I had no intention of killing you before I knew who you were. My blade didn’t touch anything vital.”

“Thanks.” He coughed and winced in pain. “It’s nice to know you’re not a complete monster.”

“I could still kill you.” She shrugged and tapped his wounded shoulder with the flat edge of her sword. “Maybe it would be best that you stop trying to play protector for this young man. It seems to be getting you in trouble. The lady would make a much better guard.”

“She’s had the training for it,” Kuma answered, trying to get back to his feet but with little success as the room quickly began to spin.

“Blood loss and alcohol don’t usually mix well,” Ebony mocked.

“Shut up!” Delfina snapped, pulling away from Arkhaois who was helping her to her feet. “I’d advise you to get away from him.”

“Don’t be so emotional,” Ebony answered. “I have no intention of killing this man. Nor will I harm the prince. Your wrath is unnecessary.”

“Unnecessary?” she gasped. “Who the hell are you?”

Ebony slowly sheathed her sword and stared at Delfina and Arkhaois. “My name is Ebony and I am a guardian and guide for the Book of Ivory which some fool found recently and some other fool allowed to be awakened.”

“The Book of Ivory?” Delfina questioned.

“Keep your voice down, Del,” Kuma warned causing Ebony to look back at him. “I frequent this place.” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t trust most of the people here.”

Ebony nodded. “You are likely right. I will not say much. Arkhaois, you must prepare to leave this city at once. You are no longer safe here. The book will have called out to many creatures who have been looking for it to reawaken Varen.”

“Varen?” Arkhaois swallowed. “I know that name. He’s the man who murdered Ivory.”

“Yes, he is,” Ebony answered with little emotion in her voice. “He did not die that day as some believe. Some hold to the wish that the Book of Ivory holds the secret to restoring him to the realm of the living. That must not be allowed to happen.”

“What am I to do with the book?” Arkhaois questioned.

“We will not discuss that here,” Ebony replied after a look from Kuma. “Prepare to leave at once. I will meet you outside the north gate at sun up. Do you understand?”

“Just wait a minute—” Delfina interrupted.

“Delfina, she’s right,” Kuma said, struggling to his feet and opening the door. “The book has been awakened and there is no stopping the path that now lays ahead.”


“I have a few things to take care of,” Delfina said as she paused midway through the castle grounds. “Goodnight to you both.”

Arkhaois and Kuma watched Delfina bow her head and turn quickly before hurrying away from them.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do?” Kuma questioned.

“About what?”

“About Ebony’s request.”

“Didn’t you say I haven’t much choice?” Arkhaois asked.

“I’m not sure that I trust her.” He shrugged. “I just agreed with her so that we could leave. What made you think meeting with her alone was a good idea?”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“It’s personal, right?” Kuma muttered as he touched his aching shoulder. “She’s hiding something, Ark. I just don’t know if she can be trusted.”

“Trust?” Arkhaois paused and stared into Kuma’s tired brown eyes. “This from my best friend who has obviously kept secrets from me. You can vanish at will, Kuma, and correct me if I’m wrong but you stopped Delfina from hitting that wall as hard as she was going to. What other magic do you possess?”

Kuma glared at Arkhaois. “I never lied to you. If you had asked me, I would have told you the truth because our friendship warrants such a thing.”

“Friendship? Our friendship is based on misinformation, isn’t it?”

“Maybe I was afraid to tell you anything, did you think of that?”

“Afraid? You?”

“Magic users aren’t exactly welcome in this kingdom. Those that are allowed in are placed under constant watch and forbidden from using their gifts. The king is paranoid of everyone thanks to Nevra’s influence.”

“Did you honestly think that I would turn you over to them?” Arkhaois gasped. “You can’t have thought much of me over all these years to think that I would betray you.”

“Evidently our friendship has ended,” Kuma said flatly, placing his hand over his stomach. “I thought last night was a misunderstanding—how could a true friend attack me like that? I can see now that you do not need someone like me.” He turned and took a step away from Arkhaois and paused again. “I can’t say that the question of how you would react to the truth about who I am never crossed my mind and I suppose I thought it would be different. Take knowledge of my magic and do what you will with it,” he stated and walked away.


Delfina hurried down the dark streets of the city, retaking what had been her route hours earlier and quickly approached the guard who was now travelling it. “Have you seen Charles?” she questioned somewhat breathlessly.

“He was off duty about an hour ago,” the guard answered. “Delfina? It’s not often I see you out of uniform.”

“If I’m still around the city, you’ll see it more often,” she answered. “Look, Shaemous, I know we don’t get along too well but you and Charles are friends so I’m going to trust you with this.” Delfina pulled a letter from her jacket and handed it to him. “Please give it to him for me. He wasn’t in the barracks and he’s not in the tavern, I don’t want to interrupt whatever he’s up to.” She smiled.

“He’s only got eyes for you, you know,” he answered and Delfina’s smile vanished. “I know you don’t return that and he knows it too. I promise I’ll give him the letter when I see him.”

“Thank you,” she said and turned away from him.

“Delfina,” Shaemous called after her and she paused and turned to face him, “it’s been an honour serving with you. Stay safe.”

“I’ve enjoyed fighting with you too.” She smiled and hurried back down the street.


Arkhaois slammed the door to his room, tossing his sword onto the bed before beginning to rummage through his chests for a bag. As he stood, he looked toward the desk in the corner of his room and jumped, startled by the man sitting in the shadow.

“Forgive me for startling you, Your Majesty,” Nevra said as he got to his feet and moved into the candlelight. “Your father sent me to speak with you and finding your room vacant I decided to wait. I must have dozed off.”

“My father sent you?” Arkhaois asked uncertainly. “Since when does he care what I’m doing?”

“The king has always shown concern for his children, Prince Arkhaois. We have all realized the difficulty you have been having in dealing with your grandmother’s death. It has been a blow to the entire kingdom to lose someone as dear as Queen Isabella but we must continue to live in her memory. It is in this way that she will never truly die.”

“I know,” he answered softly.

“I assume you were out with Lord Kuma this evening. While I can’t say that your father approves of the time you spend with that reckless young man, I am glad to see you on the mend. You have been friends for a long time, have you not?”

“Since we were very young,” Arkhaois answered thoughtfully. “We met when he saved my life. Some time after that, we became friends.”

“Saved your life?” Nevra questioned, lifting an eyebrow as he peered at the prince.

“There was an accident—my forearm was nearly severed when my brother knocked me back into a statue. It fell but Kuma managed to keep it from crushing me. My arm was damaged but I lived thanks to his quick reaction.”

“Interesting,” Nevra muttered.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I find it strange how friendships can begin,” he said quickly. “It seems sometimes, like in your instance, that the fates intervene.”

“Well, fate has seen fit that we part ways now,” Arkhaois answered flatly. “It’s just as well, I have other things to attend to.”

“Have you and Lord Kuma quarrelled?”

“It is hardly important,” he answered. “Please take word to my father that I am fine and not in need of a chaperone.”

“Where were you this evening?” Nevra questioned after pausing on his way to the door. “Your father will surely ask me that.”

“At the Parsomia Tavern.” He shrugged.

“Ah, so this is a new quarrel between yourself and Lord Kuma. I understand that he is often too fond of drink. It’s likely things will ameliorate when he is sober again.”

“I wasn’t there with Kuma.”

“But did the two of you not return together?” he questioned and quickly added, “My old senses thought I overheard his voice but it could have been part of a dream.”

“Kuma happened to be at the tavern, which isn’t unusual I suppose.” Arkhaois swallowed. “I met a woman there.”

“A woman?” he gasped. “About what?”

Arkhaois thought a moment and smiled. “I’m not a child anymore. My business is my own.”

“Of course.” Nevra bowed his head. “I was only concerned for your safety. The ladies who frequent the taverns in the more colourful parts of this city can be quite dangerous.”

“You could say that Ebony seemed dangerous,” Arkhaois muttered, nodding to himself as he thought back to the fact that Kuma and Delfina had both been quick to defend him from the stranger. “Those with me saw her as a threat.”

“Ebony?” Nevra questioned. “That name is not familiar to me. It is a name most often heard in the Yashiry Mountains. Is she a newcomer to our city?”

“I believe so,” he answered and added, “I’d like to be alone, Lord Nevra.”

“What did this stranger say to you?” he pressed. “You’ve returned with the intent of leaving the castle, have you not?”

Arkhaois placed the bag on his bed. “I’m not needed here,” he said slowly.

“You are a prince of Mazdla. You—”

“Do not speak to me of duty or lineage. I am the last in line to my father’s throne.”

“That does not make your position any less important.”

“Lord Nevra, I have no desire for the throne. There are six ahead of me.”

“Four. Your sisters—”

“I wish to travel and see the continent—perhaps all of Graythal. With my grandmother gone, there is nothing to keep me here. Ebony has offered to be my guide and I intend to accept the offer.”

“Are you sure it’s wise to travel with a stranger?”

“Be on your way,” he said flatly. “And do not speak of my plans to my father. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Nevra answered, bowing quickly and leaving the room.


Kuma entered his room and gently closed the door, locking it tight before snapping his fingers and lighting the candles around him. After making his way to the mirror in the corner of the room, he pulled off his shirt and stared a moment at the wound on his stomach, relieved to see that it was no longer bleeding. While it continued to ache, it did not appear to be as severe as he worried it would be.

“It goes all the way through. Did you know that?” Delfina questioned.

“That blade was in my body, Del, I knew where it was,” he answered, turning slowly to face her. “What are you doing here? You really shouldn’t be here.”

“Why not? All I’m doing is repaying a harmless visit,” she answered. “I brought something to wrap your shoulder with. I’ve been told these herbs will help close the wound and fight off infection. I know how slowly your body heals.”

“Thanks.” He smiled, taking the jar and linens from Delfina. “I appreciate the help but you should go. If anyone sees you here you’re going to be in danger.”

“What are you talking about?” Delfina questioned. “I’ve been seen with you before.”

“Before, no one knew that I could use magic,” he answered. “Before, you were associating with a reckless, but harmless, drunk. Now you’re associating with a sorcerer. You know how the city views those.”

“You’re not any different to me.” She shrugged. “You’ll always be you in my eyes.”

“Thanks, Del.” He smiled for a moment then sighed. “What else brought you here?”

“I resigned from the royal guard,” she said with a shrug. “I’m going with Prince Arkhaois.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“I just want to make sure that he doesn’t get hurt. I’m not sure that he should trust Ebony and I don’t think he should be travelling alone with her. It’s the same reason that you’re going with him, right?”

Kuma paused from stuffing clothing into the bag in front of him. “I’m not going with him,” he answered with little emotion in his voice. “I am leaving the castle but Arkhaois has made it clear that he no longer wishes to have my friendship.” He reached up and touched his hand to his shoulder.

“He mentioned he was with you when you were injured but he never said who did it. Do you remember?”

Kuma looked at Delfina and sighed. “No, I don’t remember. All I know is that I am no longer safe here. I value my life, I’d like to keep it, and so I am leaving.”

“What do you mean? I’m not going to say anything.”

“Maybe not, but I’m not convinced that Arkhaois won’t,” he answered, throwing the bag over his shoulder and cringing as it struck the wound on his lower back. “Delfina, something isn’t right with Arkhaois. He has changed. He’s not the man we knew. Stay with Ebony, I trust her more than I do Nevra.”

“Nevra? What makes you think that—”

“Mark my words, he will find a way to go with Arkhaois,” Kuma answered. “I know that Nevra is behind Arkhaois’s change but I don’t have proof and even suggesting such a thing is likely to make me lose my head. If the prince decides to leave Ebony’s guidance, then stay with her. Please.”

Delfina nodded and watched as Kuma turned and left the room.


I don’t trust that man,” Jarah said flatly after having watched Nevra leave.

“Jarah!” Arkhaois gasped, dropping the shirt from his hand to the ground. “How long have you been here?”

Long enough to see that man enter and search your room before you came back,” he answered.

“My father trusts him. He’s been around the palace for as long as I can remember.”

No doubt sent to wait for a weaker guardian,” Jarah muttered.

“What was that?”

Nothing,” he said flatly. “Did you meet with Ebony?

“Yes, a meeting I won’t soon forget.”

What do you mean?

“My best friend is a sorcerer.” Arkhaois shook his head. “All these years we’ve been friends and I never knew. He kept it from me.”

I trust he had a reason.

“He didn’t trust me,” he snapped. “He just threw away our friendship as if it meant nothing to him.”

It’s no wonder with the fear of magic in this kingdom,” Jarah answered. “You’ll work it out.

“Work it out? I wish I’d been a little more selective with where I’d placed that dagger the other night. Then there would be nothing to work out.”

You feel that strongly?

“He spied on my meeting with Ebony. If she hadn’t stabbed him, he would have watched the entire thing and I’d never have known that he was there. I can’t help but wonder how many other times he’s spied on me like that.”

Stabbed him? Ebony must have seen him as a threat,” Jarah whispered. “She couldn’t have known any different I suppose. It was never supposed to be him.

“What are you talking about?”

Arkhaois, you and Kuma have a long and strong friendship that should not be thrown away for something like this. Place yourself in his position, would you have revealed the truth?

“I . . . ,” Arkhaois paused, “I don’t know.”

He saved your life, you know,” Jarah added.

“That was a long time ago.”

Not then,” the sparrow answered and shook his head. “He’ll be leaving the castle no doubt. You must not part in such a way. There will come a time when you’ll both regret it.

Arkhaois glared at Jarah a long while as he thought back over his friendship with Kuma. “I’ll speak to him before I leave.” He shrugged and continued to pack.

Chapter 2
Chapter 3


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