- Author: Sara Roethle
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An air of foreboding permeated the walls of Castle Helius. Markus and Isolde, when they were around, watched me warily, though I was no threat to either of them. Markus’ secret was the same as my own. I wasn’t telling anybody.
I had never learned how the Potentate knew I was in danger when he sent the pair to aid me against Karpov. If either of them knew more about it, they weren’t sharing.
Or perhaps I was just making everything about me. Maybe the sense of unease just had to do with the looming vampire war. We had told the Potentate what we learned of Karpov’s intent, and that others would surely soon pick up his crusade. If the younger vampires managed to kill off the ancients who kept them under control, the Ebon Province would be bathed in blood.
I couldn’t let that happen, and not only because the killing of a certain ancient would end my life too.
My boots tapped lightly across the smooth stones leading to the main keep. A messenger had found me that morning with word that the Potentate desired an audience with me. The Seeing Sword rode my shoulder, silent since the night Karpov was killed.
I tossed my red braid behind my back as I opened the heavy oak and iron door. I had acquired new armor since my old set had been lost in Charmant. My leather cuirass forced my back straight, though my shoulders wanted to hunch. I’d been waiting for the moment the Potentate told me he knew everything. That he knew I was a vampire’s human servant. The way he’d been watching me in the dining hall told me he at least knew more than he was letting on. He watched me like I was a strange new creature, and he was trying to figure out my use.
I walked past an older hunter as I made my way up the staircase. Surely I was just imagining that he looked at me strangely. I’d heard no whispers behind my back. No one had questioned how such a small band of hunters had managed to kill four ancient vampires along with a slew of young ones. Steifan and Tholdri had been listening closely for such talk, but whenever the event was mentioned it was not with an air of skepticism. Markus, Tholdri, Isolde, and I were highly capable, and Steifan and Niall had told the tale of our bravery. Never mind that none of us would have survived the night if Markus and I weren’t both human servants, and if Asher had not been fighting on our side.
I reached the Potentate’s door, which swung inward before I could knock. My eyes landed on the Potentate as I stepped inside.
He stood leaning against his desk, arms crossed. “You appear ready for battle, Lyssandra.” The lines around his eyes wrinkled with a small smile. “Do you have a mission I am unaware of?”
I stopped gnawing the inside of my cheek and lifted my chin, moving further into the room. “My only mission is to serve the Helius Order.”
His bony shoulders drooped. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was tired, but men like the Potentate rarely showed weakness.
His intelligent blue eyes glanced me over, eventually settling on the hilt of the Seeing Sword peeking over my shoulder. “How has the Voir L’épée been serving you?”
I shifted my weight to the other foot, feeling uncomfortable standing in the center of the room, but he hadn’t invited me to sit. Three chairs sat empty near the cold hearth, and another behind his desk. The wide open door was my only comfort. If we were discussing something important, he would have closed it.
“It is a fine sword,” I said. “Finely honed.”
He pushed away from his desk, stepping near. Though he had grown thin with age, he was still a head taller than me. His eyes seemed to bore into my skull. “And has it warned you of dangers? Tholdri told me of the Nattmara you slew.”
Was he trying to get me to admit that the sword had spoken to me? It had been his sword, he knew of its gifts, yet he’d never mentioned it.
“It thrums through my mind any time someone means me harm,” I said. “If I had realized that’s what it did, not just warning me of predators but of any who meant me harm, I might not have come so close to becoming the Nattmara’s meal.”
His frown let me know I’d misspoke. “I suppose that is my fault for not being clearer?”
My jaw hung open for a moment. “Not at all, it is my fault for misunderstanding. But I learned quickly enough, and it is a fine sword.”
He turned away, pacing back toward his desk. I wished he would hurry up and tell me what he wanted with me. I was so nervous it felt like there were sun ants marching up and down my back.
He moved his palm across the worn surface of his desk, keeping his back to me. “You will go to Silgard. A duchess has been found drained of blood. Two of her ladies are missing.” He glanced over his shoulder at me. “You will bring Steifan.”
“What about Tholdri?”
Suddenly his eyes held a hard glint. “What of him? You may have required aid in defeating Karpov, but this should be a simple task. Slay the monster responsible for killing the duchess, and bring its head to the Archduke.