Authors: Adalyn Grace
When Bastian’s eyes catch mine in the torchlight, the pieces holding me together begin to dissolve. I press a hand to my throat, clammy and sticky with sweat despite the dank, pressing coolness of the air. Because it’s not anger in Bastian’s glance, nor is it annoyance. Though his mouth is a hard line, his eyes have softened with sympathy. They hold me tight, chilling my bones.
“Sure, they’ll have a trial, but things aren’t looking good for you. Do you really want to take that risk?” His words are a whisper spoken soft and gentle, under his breath. “They’re planning for your aunt to move here at the end of the summer, to accept her magic and begin training. Your father’s trying to sway them, but the people think you’re too much of a liability; they want to keep you locked up.”
As much as I don’t want to admit it—as much as I want to believe my parents are well loved and influential enough to stop this, and that Visidia wouldn’t want to get rid of a potential heir when there are too few of us—deep down I expected this.
There’s no way I should expect people to overlook what I’ve done. I maimed a man right before their eyes, and I smiled as I did it.
Bastian grips a bar tight. “You might be as good as dead if you stay here. But if you come with me, right now, I can help you. We can help each other.”
I hate not having a weapon. I’d love for him to say that to me again when I can press a blade to his throat for the blasphemy. “You want me to abandon Visidia?” I ask at the same time another prisoner across from us calls out, “How about I go with you instead, handsome?”
Bastian rolls his eyes and leans closer into the cell, dropping his voice so that no one can eavesdrop. “Listen to me. I don’t want you to abandon Visidia.” He pulls back his coat to reveal my dagger and satchel tucked into his belt. “I want you to save it.”
Before I can protest or demand to know how he got his hands on either, he tosses both into my cell. I don’t hesitate to scoop them up, feeling whole the moment my fingers brush the burnished leather and slide around my blade’s worn hilt.
“I’m not here to fight you.” Bastian yanks the cell door open, and I ready my dagger to strike if needed. But he doesn’t come closer.
“What do you mean you want me to save Visidia?” My voice is weaker than I will it to be, my thoughts scattered a million different ways.
Ferrick could return any minute with the palace guards or even Visidian soldiers in tow. My cell could be slammed shut
again, with Bastian thrown into the one beside me. And then what? Locked in this cell, what are my options?
I must find a way to earn Visidia’s forgiveness. To prove myself to my people. All along, Aunt Kalea was Visidia’s backup plan. But now I’m all they have.
Either I can wait and hope that Father’s able to come through, or I can find a way to earn my own second chance.
“Listen, these are stolen keys.” Bastian motions to the cell door with an exasperated huff as I linger. “And let’s just say that the guards are taking a little nap right now, courtesy of some of Curmana’s finest herbs. I tucked them in a cell, so they should be perfectly comfortable, but they’re not going to stay asleep for long and I imagine there will be some shouting once they’re awake. I’ll explain everything once we’re on my ship, but I swear to you that if you don’t come with me right now, Visidia as we know it will be gone by winter’s end.”
The world spins, but this time it’s not from nausea. I grip the bars to keep myself steady, thinking.
This man has a ship.
Ships are good. A ship will get me off Arida and give me enough time to prove to my people that my head is worth sparing. That I can lead them. It will give me a chance to save not only Aunt Kalea, but all of Visidia.
And if what Bastian says is also true, and Visidia truly is in danger, then what choice do I have but to help? To prove myself. Change my fate.
It’s like there’s a current behind me, pushing me toward the Valukan whose eyes hold the same earnestness now as they did when he tried to speak with Father earlier. He’d been trying to warn us of something then, too. Of Kaven.
Bastian has answers. He’s got a ship, and offers me a chance for redemption that I can’t risk leaving up to fate.
This man, whatever his true motives may be, is the best chance I’ve got.
I don’t second-guess what my gut tells me. Ignoring how wildly my blood pulses, I remove my crown and the flowers Mother wove through my hair, then undo my epaulettes and let them drop to the dirt like discarded trophies. I pull my hair from its loose bundle at my neck, letting the thick curls fall past my shoulders. Though I wanted nothing other than to show off these adornments earlier, I feel light as air now that they’re gone.
“You saw what I did to Aran,” I warn him, thumbing the lip of my satchel, comforted by the clacking of bones inside. “One wrong move, and I’ll do the same to you.”
When he doesn’t argue, I slip around him and bolt to the exit. Now that they see the glint of my blade and hear the rattle of bones and teeth as I walk, the prisoners no longer jeer.
I take off down the tunnel with Bastian in tow, certain I know the way better than he does. Being in the first tunnel, we don’t have far to go to reach the entrance. Yet nervousness prickles my skin as we run, our footsteps echoing off the walls. Each one sounds like the shot of a cannon, too loud and too jarring. Darkness stretches around us, eerier than ever without the gossip of the guards. When Bastian points to a cell I squint my eyes, trying to make out shapes in the shadows. Eventually my vision adjusts, and I see the distinctive outline of three large figures slumped into the cell.
“Curmanan herbs?” I flash him a look, and he grins.
“Aye. Potent when inhaled, but not as long lasting as when they’re ingested.” Even as he says it one of the guards begins to stir, murmuring words of confusion under his breath. I grab hold of Bastian’s hand and pull him along, dragging him up the stairs and to the exit.
The moment fresh air smacks against my skin, I’m forced to squint my eyes shut, taken aback by the sudden brightness of the moonlight and the luminescent flora that lights our path.
Because the prisons are built at the base of the mountains, we’re far from the celebration happening in town. The only voices are still distant, though I know better than to get comfortable. If there’s one thing I know about Ferrick, it’s that he’s smart. He likely noticed the prison’s lack of security and is already on his way back with reinforcements; we need to hurry to the docks.
“What’s your affinity?” I peek over the cliffside—it’s about fifty feet down to the docks, and while I know every step of this island and am confident I can get there quickly, I don’t trust Bastian to keep up.
“Earth?” Bastian says, though it sounds more like a question than an answer.
“Perfect. Hurry and build some stairs into the cliffside. We’ll collapse them once we hit the sand.”
But instead of grounding himself into a proper stance or making any motion of using his magic, Bastian draws a step back. “I think it’s best if we walk. We wouldn’t want to cause a commotion.”
When he presses his lips together, I can practically feel his anxiety. I turn to him fully as understanding dawns, and I look at his hands—they’re calloused and a little sandy, but otherwise pristine. No dirt under his manicured nails. And his stance is all wrong; he’s lighter on his feet than any earth-affinitied Valukan I’ve ever known.
I draw my blade and, before he has time to react, press it firmly against his throat.
“You’re no Bargas.” I use my free hand to grab him by the hair, keeping him steady. “You don’t have an affinity, do you?”
Bastian’s eyes flicker down to my blade as he sighs. “Well,
this certainly isn’t very polite of you. I’m the one who gave you that back.” I press the blade closer. “Ouch! Fine, no, I’m no Valukan! I’m a sailor. Now put that thing down and I’ll explain—”
I tighten my grip on his hair and yank him toward the edge of the cliff, letting the dagger nick his skin. Bastian grabs hold of my arms to steady himself, his breaths quickening. One push, and he’s as good as dead.
“Tell me what you did to the baron,” I press. “You have his seal!”
Bastian’s eyes flicker to the corner, grimacing at the drop behind him. When he hesitates to answer, I lower him farther off the ledge until his knees begin to shake.
“He’s fine! Stars! I promise you, he’s fine. I snuck aboard his ship before he left Valuka and dumped a pouch of sleeping herbs into their wine and water barrels. What I used on these guards was the last of my supply; that’s why they’re already waking up. But the baron and his crew ingested enough that, if I had to guess, they’re about halfway to Arida, napping in the middle of the sea.”
I clench my teeth together. “I know better than to trust a man who’s stolen not only his clothing, but also his name.” I scoff. “You’re nothing more than a thieving pirate.”
Bastian throws his hands up in defense. “As I said, I prefer the term ‘sailor.’ And really, this whole thing is a big misunderstanding. So, if you put that thing down…”
The once distant voices grow closer, and I hesitate to press the blade any deeper. If I’m going to leave, it needs to be now.
I find my magic waiting and tentatively wrap it around myself—just enough to warm my skin—and focus on reading Bastian’s soul. With my magic still weakened from the performance, there’s a missing piece I can’t read. I see only a misty veil of light gray, and the spirit of adventure lingering in his
soul. It’s enough to tell me he’s not a threat, but I don’t let on that I know that just yet.
“If you’re no Valukan, then where are you from?”
Though his face darkens, he slackens his body and lifts his chin. “That’s the reason I lied.” His words are quiet but confident, daring me to challenge him. “I’m from Zudoh, and my people need your help.”
The words cause my blade to go slack. I withdraw it from his throat and take a quick step back.
“Tell me why I should help a banished island.” I try to keep the fear from my voice when I ask. If Bastian notices, he doesn’t let on.
“Because it’s not just about Zudoh. Kaven wants to destroy the entire kingdom. And if you don’t come with me right now, he’s going to succeed.”
There’s that name, again. Kaven.
It’s like fire to my throat and lead in my stomach; a name that, deep in my gut, I know is somehow wrong. Bastian has the answers that Father won’t give me. Answers that I’ll need if I’m to properly rule Visidia.
Bastian may not be telling me the whole truth, but he’s not lying about this. And for now, with the voices of the guards growing closer and the future of Visidia on the line, that’s enough.
I sheathe my dagger and nod to the switchback that carves our way down the cliffside. “Keep close, and get me to your ship.”
When we make it to the sand, breathless and dripping with sweat, there isn’t one ship in the bay that’s manned. I search for Bastian’s crew, but they’ve likely all been given leave to view my performance and enjoy Arida’s festivities; if Bastian plans to sail us away, we won’t get far without them. Yet he doesn’t stop moving. A rope ladder dangles from the side of a brigantine and he latches onto it, ascending with ease.
It’s a ship that snatches my breath, smaller than Father’s, but far from simple. While our ships are made from oak, this one is a magnificent shade of white I’ve never before seen—made from aspen or birch wood, perhaps—and outlined with rich gold trim. Older, it reeks of charm and adventure.
At the bow, a brilliant figurehead of a sea serpent stares back at me, its forked tongue out like it’s hissing. Half its face and whiskers are covered in sculpted barnacles, which make it look as though it’s just emerged from the depths of the sea. The
sight of it quickens my heart and makes my throat thick with desire. It’s the loveliest ship I’ve ever seen, and though part of me knows that this is far from what I should be feeling in the midst of fleeing my home, I can’t ignore the surge of excitement that heats my blood as I clutch the fraying ladder and pull myself up after Bastian.
By the time I throw my legs over the side of the ship, he’s already got his sleeves rolled up, halfway through hauling up the anchors.
!” he grunts. “Make yourself useful and help me get this thing up.”
“What does it matter if we’ve no crew to sail us?”
Bastian rolls his eyes. “I’m afraid we don’t accept pessimism aboard this ship, Princess. Come help!”
I wipe the sweat from my brow and move to join him, wishing my dress wasn’t half as heavy or nearly so tight as I help him raise the anchors, surprised by how easily they move with just the two of us. But I’m half distracted as I help, squinting my eyes shut to hone my magic and see what other souls it can sense.
Even below deck, Bastian’s is the only soul I can feel. I drop my hold on the anchors at once, ignoring the pirate’s exasperated sigh.
“Who is this
?” I demand. “The two of us are the only ones on this ship, and there’s no way we’ll be able to sail it on our own.”
“Now what did I say about pessimism?” Bastian chides. “If you don’t trust me, then feel free to jump off the plank and swim back to your kingdom right now.”
“Well, I wouldn’t really have to swim, now would I? Considering
we can’t sail
Bastian’s lips quirk as he finishes reeling in the anchors. “Oh? You sure about that?”
I follow Bastian’s finger as he points behind me, and I’m dizzy again. I swear I’ve been here for no more than two minutes, yet the shores of Arida are at least a hundred feet away. When I turn back to Bastian, he takes a seat on the deck and pats the space in front of him.
“Before we get into specifics,” he says, “I need you to tell me something—did you truly have no idea what was happening with the Kers? Not even a suspicion?”
“Of course not!” I slam my hand down onto the deck, and he frowns in offense at the spot I’ve hit. “How dare you even imply—”
“Why wouldn’t I imply it?” Bastian argues. “The majority of the kingdom knows.”
The words are claws to my soul, tearing its lining to shreds. If Bastian’s telling the truth, then just how much has Father managed to keep hidden from me?
“Yeah, well, I didn’t. If I’d known they were suffering, I wouldn’t have stayed silent. I would have found a way to help.” The words don’t feel like enough. They’re quiet and painful, but they’re all I have to offer. “I swear it.”
I can’t be sure Bastian even blinks when he stares at me. His face is so stern and assessing, as if waiting for me to flinch under the pressure. When I don’t, he leans back on his palms, the hard lines of his face eventually softening with belief.
is a fool to not take Kaven seriously.” He spits Father’s title. “The Kers are done begging him for support he refuses to provide. They’ve turned instead to Kaven, a Zudian who’s had enough of the same thing. He’s been raising a rebellion of like-minded individuals, all who believe that learning multiple magics is a necessity for Visidia’s survival. But the issue with Kaven is that he doesn’t know when to stop. In building a name for himself and forming this rebellion, he destroyed Zudoh, helping support only those who sided with
him while leaving anyone else to rot. Now he’s aligned himself with Kerost, where he’s doing the same thing.” Bastian’s voice tightens in anger. “I came here to warn your father that Kaven’s expanding his reach to the other islands, though I shouldn’t have wasted my time. I knew he’d never listen.”
Disbelief and worry war within my skull. We’ve had nothing to do with Zudoh since I was a child—so why now?
“What does this rebellion want, exactly?” I have to dig to find my voice. It’s raspy from the salty air, scratching my throat with each word.
Bastian doesn’t hesitate with his answer, though my world freezes when he says, “They want the end of the Montaras. They want to abolish the monarchy, and practice however many magics they’d like. Soul magic included.”
I nearly laugh as fear swells within me. There’s no telling whether the dampness of my skin is due to the ocean, or my own sweat. “They’re asking us to let them destroy Visidia!”
Bastian leans forward and says, “Aye, so let’s not let them win. Kaven’s the brains behind this rebellion. If we take him down, the rest of it will crumble. He doesn’t have the support he needs to wage a true war. Right now, the Kers are divided. Only half of them support Kaven, while the others are focused on rebuilding their island on their own. And the Zudians…” He takes a moment to consider his next words, face darkening. “Most of them want Kaven gone, too. But we have to get to him before the other islands join his cause.”
“And you expect us to do this on our own?” I press. “Two people, against a rebellion?” A thousand questions war in my mind. What are Kaven’s tactics? How long do we have? What are the numbers like? But this ship is moving fast, and there’s little time to make my choice—turn back and hope Father’s able to convince Visidia to give me another chance, or put fate in my own hands and earn my chance.
“I’m not looking to start a war,” he corrects me. “I’m looking to end one man, which will put a stop to all of this. You said you wanted a chance to help your kingdom, so here it is. Will you take it?”
My chest seizes. Not with defeat, but purpose. The ocean’s brine is a perfume that steadies me as I press my fists against my lap so that Bastian can’t tell how deeply his words resonate.
“And what role do you play in all this?” I ask, because I want to glean every bit of information I can before I let him know I’ve made my decision. “Am I to believe that a pirate has no ulterior motives and is doing this for the good of the kingdom?”
The ocean pounds into the ship, but Bastian doesn’t flinch. He watches me with the thoughtfulness of a particularly clever feline. “I want my home back. And so long as Kaven’s there, I’ll never have it. That’s my only motive, and with my ship and your magic, I believe we’ll make quite the pair. So how about you and I strike a—”
“For the honor of Arida, I will not stand for this!” The voice comes from behind.
I whip my head around and see Ferrick, soaked and dripping water onto the deck. His skin has taken on a greenish hue. He sways slightly, barely managing to hoist a rapier out in front of him.
“You have kidnapped Princess Amora,” Ferrick says, “and I’m prepared to sacrifice my life to save her. I hereby challenge you to a duel!”
He looks like he’s about to throw up.
“Ferrick,” I groan. “What are you doing here? This isn’t necessary.”
But Bastian’s already on his feet. “Code of conduct, Princess—if you don’t want stowaways, be sure to draw up the ladder once you’re done climbing it.” He sighs and crosses the
deck, looking over Ferrick’s ill-fitting emerald garb with a grimace I fully understand. “I’m guessing you’re a Suntosan?”
Ferrick squares his shoulders and tries to stand proud despite the seasickness that colors his skin. “I knew there was something off about you. Thank the gods I trusted my gut and turned back; I saw what you did to the guards, pirate. Let Amora go.”
Bastian draws a sword from his belted sheath and taps Ferrick’s blade with it, as if in greeting. “Ferrick, was it? I suppose it has been long enough since I’ve had a proper duel.” There are stars in Bastian’s eyes and amusement brimming in his words.
Ferrick thrusts with his rapier, but Bastian parries it without looking. Show-off.
The clanging of steel bounces off the deck before the ocean devours the sound. The sea is less gentle than it was this morning. It’s angry at the ship disturbing it, rocking it fiercely as we venture out of the shallow waters.
Bastian wields his sword as though it’s an extension of his own body, unrivaled by a swaying, seasick Ferrick. He moves effortlessly, stepping with the to-and-fro sway of the waves. I’ve no doubt he’s a practiced pirate. His tongue and wit are as sharp as the blade in his hand. He’s been doing this for many years, but I’ve never heard any stories of a pirate who sailed the seas without a crew.
“Ever lost an arm in a duel, mate?” Bastian asks as he effortlessly weaves around Ferrick’s next strike. There’s no time to consider his words before he half jumps forward and brings his sword down on his opponent. The sound of Ferrick’s surprised yelp fills the sky. His rapier clatters to the ground, and his right hand thumps down alongside it.