The Onyx Vial (Shadows of The Nine Book 1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Mom, who believed in me.

Dad, who supported me. Andi, who rooted for me. Josh, who encouraged me.

And Michelle and Jeannie, who journeyed with me from start to finish.

Races of Etâme

Aeriel {
air
}

Eerden {
earth
}

Mervais {
water
}

Fyydor {
fire
}

Fvudor {
wyldfire
}

•••

Tierenved {
fire/earth
}

Tierenvar {
fire/air
}

Tierenvem {
fire/water
}

Tierendar {
earth/air
}

Tierendem {
earth/water
}

Tierenmar {
water/air
}

•••

Elder {
air/earth/water/fire
}

The Nine Worlds of Etâme

Eerthe  |  Ionia  |  Helede  |  Balask  |  Corday  |  Grodaan  |  Toriel  |  Haimar  |  Sahmora

Provinces of Ionia

Gailleonne  |  Navean  |  Urkan  |  Heromalii  |  Ladria  |  V
ane  |  Quall  |  Turj  |  Rhoenne

Erroll  |  Deltorra  |  Kember  |  Cerulean

Prologue

{Heledian Summer, Day 46; Year 889, Helede}

 

The crowd gathered in the amber light of dusk, their red eyes fixed on Prince Killian as he pulled the dagger from the white-hot coals.

Killian lifted his gaze, meeting his father’s russet eyes. He could feel the eagerness of the crowd as he handed the blade to his father and exposed his forearm. King Fyrenn settled the dagger against Killian’s wrist. Fire erupted in his muscles as metal seared into skin. He bit back his scream,
casting his mind wildly for something to distract from the pain. The memory that surfaced was dangerous—a secret that threatened to shatter him. If his father knew, he wouldn’t hesitate to turn the blade and drag it down Killian’s wrist, bleeding him out then and there
.

“Killian Falken Fyrenn.” His father’s voice—smooth, pleasant, with an undercurrent of instability—was amplified for the thousands watching. But his eyes bore into his son with a sharpness that rivaled the dagger’s edge. The blade left Killian’s skin, trailing a thin wisp of smoke and the sickly sweet scent of charred flesh. “Your coming-of-age trials are complete.”

Killian allowed himself his first real breath, then broke his father’s stare and looked down, flexing his fingers and stretching his arm to relieve the pain. His family crest glared blood-red and cauterized-black.

“This mark you bear as a reminder to all, of who you are and what you have done to
earn
the right to bear it.”

What he had done
.

The
memory returned: his knife at the throat of a broken, defenseless man
.

The boy in your dreams is not you. He is real. And—

His father’s eyes flickered and narrowed.

Killian’s heart stuttered with fear.

“You have proven yourself a Fyrennian,”
the king
continued. “Most importantly, you have proven yourself as my son.”

I have proven nothing. You played me for a fool, and I have dared to play you back.
He wished he could scream the words instead of swallowing them.

“Let the celebration begin,” the king declared, signaling the fireworks that soared into the darkening sky.

A cacophony of cheers, whistles, and explosions engulfed the ceremony square. But the moment his father leaned in, the sound seemed to drown to a whisper.

The king’s voice had returned to the hard-edged tone Killian knew best
. “Come. We have much to discuss.”

Killian hesitated, sensing something dangerous in his father’s manner. He searched the party of guards and servants standing watch on the castle stairs, catching sight of his mother. In the
instant her eyes found his, Killian’s insides turned to lead
.

The sub
tle
shift in her expression
would have been
unnoticeable to anyone but
her son
. He understood the
warning
in her eyes as well as if she’d shouted:
He knows
.

Chapter 1

 

Ariana rested her forehead against the bay window of the dusty, derelict room, imagining that the world obscured by the steady rain was safer and kinder than it was. “Forty more days...”

“And you’ll be free,” Tehya completed the though
t without missing a beat,
her c
innamon-red curls bouncing lightly as she dropped into the seat beside Ariana
.

“Free to finally roam the school grounds together. Free from the Huntsmen. Free from
her
.” She
caressed the worn, aged cover of the book in her lap, imagining Ruekridge and its fabled towers.
“No more sneaking around, hiding my father’s life’s work under dirty old floorboards, stealing back the books when she finds them.”

Tehya grinned, warmth and excitement in her eyes.
“Yes, now you
’ll be able to
take them from the Ruekridge Library with full permission.”

Ariana’s heart filled with delight at the prospect. “I’d sleep in that place if they’d let me.”

“I’m not the least bit sorry to know they’d never let you.”

Ariana laughed. “
If only sharing a room with you was a more likely scenario.


If only,” Tehya sighed wistfully
. “But it’s possible we could get rooms facing each other.”

“That would be the best, wouldn’t it?”

Tehya’s verdant eyes sparkled with mirth. “Oh, the trouble we could get into.”

Ariana envisioned a vine linking their windows, several stories high, stretched across the space between their Orders’ towers. “Trouble?
Us
? Never.”

“You’re right. Never
us
,” Tehya teased. “
You’re
the trouble. I just follow you around and get caught in it.”

“Ha!” Ariana thumped Tehya’s leg with the flat of the book, and Tehya kicked harmlessly at her in retaliation.

Their laughter was cut short as the double doors blew open, dust motes flying about the room like startled birds.

Ariana tensed. Tehya shrank into the cushions.

Madame Emory entered the room
like
a thunderhead
,
slate-grey eyes glowing in cold disapproval.

“This has to stop, Ariana.”

She
gripped the book tighter. “You’re right. Please stop.”

Her mother’s expression didn’t change. “I’m not doing this with you again.”

“Then don’t.”

Her mother arched her brows; her tired skin taut over angular bones, making her look, as ever, both beautiful and severe. “Give me the book.”

“It’s all I have left of him.”

“No. It is the reason you don’t have him at all.”

Ariana stood, incensed. “It
isn’t
, Mother. It isn’t and you know it. You just don’t want me following in his footsteps.”

“Those footsteps will lead you to an early grave, Ariana. I won’t have you throwing your life away for a cause that
cannot
save us.”

“But it
can
! And once I become the next Master of Words, I’ll prove it to you.”

Her mother shook her head. “You will not. Because you cannot.”

“But she’s incredible, Madame Emory,” Tehya put in, uncurling from her corner, bravely meeting
the Shadow Keeper’s
hawkishly narrowed eyes. “If anyone has the skills to do it, it’s her.”

Ariana took Tehya’s hand in hers; a silent thanks for her unwavering support. But the gesture didn’t soften the sting of her mother’s words.

Madame Emory offered Tehya a sad, knowing smile. “I do not doubt my daughter’s skills, sweetling. I fear them.”

Ariana
tensed
, her hand sliding out from Tehya’s.

Her mother took a step toward her. “You are Tierenmar. That alone is a threat to your life. On top of that, you’ve declared the most dangerous profession in the Nine your calling. If the Fyrennians ever found you—and by some miracle, didn’t kill you—they would enslave you in Lockden and torture you until you
had no will of your own
. And then they would use you as a weapon against us. You—with your abilities—are an incredible thr
eat.”


Maybe
,” Ariana interjected, as Tehya moved to stand by her
side, nodding agreement.
“But I’m also an
asset
, if you would allow the Shadows to
use
me. Being Tieren makes me a target but it also makes me strong. Strong enough to fight—”

“Not right now, it doesn’t. Not at fifteen. You’re too young and too stubborn to see that you’re as much a danger to yourself as you are to the Fyrennians.”

Madame Emory held out her hand, silencing Ariana’s protestations before they
could leave
her tongue. She straightened her shoulders, her face solemn. “If you continue to fight me on this, if you refuse to consider another way—a safer way—to employ yourself in the Shadows, you’ll force me to do something drastic.”

A chill plucked at Ariana’s skin. Threats were a new tactic. In all the times they’d had this argument, not once had her mother stooped so low. Her blood fizzed as anger coursed through her veins. “I will fight you for as long as it takes for you to accept this
.
I’d rather die like my father, trying to change things, than squander my abilities just to extend my own life
under
this oppression.”

Ariana had not raised her voice, but in the silence that followed, her words rang loudly in the air around them. No one moved. No one took a breath.

Her mother’s eyes darkened. “Give me the book.”

“I’ll just find it again.”

“Not if I burn it.”

Ariana jerked back in surprise. Then she stepped forward, her anger flaring, and shoved the book into her mother’s hands. “Burn it, and I’ll never speak to you again.” She brushed past her,
pushed
through the doors, and swept down the curved stairwell to the entryway.

As Ariana stomped into her boots, she heard Tehya politely and awkwardly maneuver out of the room
to follow her
.

“I can’t stay here another moment,” Ariana
didn’t turn
around until she’d snatched her long coat from the rack and slung her leather satchel over her shoulder.

Tehya
looked
ruffled, but she nodded, reaching for her own coat and boots.

Madame Emory descended the stairs. The temperature in the entry plunged as
she met her daughter’s
eyes. The rain hammered the roof of the house as if in warning. Ariana paid it no heed. Upset as she was, the weather wouldn’t affect her.

She was barely out the door and down the front steps before the
raindrops
turned to snowflakes
in a radius
around her. Puddles splashed her knees as her
boots
slammed into the
ground
, the flying droplets
crystallizing in the air
before
dropping back down to
the
newly
frozen pools beneath her feet with an icy tinkling. She ran hard and fast through the sodden fields, trying and failing to escape her anger.

Only w
hen she finally reached the
tree line
at the edge of Rockwood Pass,
did she stop
. She turned, waiting,
h
er breath ragged

from the run itself or the adrenaline, she couldn’t be sure. S
haking
off the dusting of snow that clung to her dark hair
, she
swiped at her watery eyes.

Tehya caught up a
fter a moment
, soaked from head to toe and shivering,
her expression one of loving annoyance
.
“Couldn’t have extended that snow to land on me, too?”

Ariana grimaced. “Sorry.”

Tehya waved her off.
“I understand. Help me dry off a bit, would you?”
She twisted
her hair tight in her hands
,
wringing it out.

Ariana nodded, pulled off her coat and dropped it
on the ground
before wrapping her friend in a tight hug.

“Brr
.
” Tehya
flinched
at Ariana's touch.

“Sorry again. Give me a minute.” Ariana let her icy skin sense the
woolen texture
of Tehya’s
soaked coat
against her arms—and the cool, satin-softness of
the girl’s
wet dress against her exposed knees.
A stray thought crept into her head and s
he noted, absently, that she
ought to
have changed out of her house shorts before she’d stormed out.
But she tuned out the distraction and her thoughts turned completely
to the moisture in Tehya’s clothes
as
she
drew it out
.

For a moment,
Ariana’s
skin seemed to absorb the water. Then
she shook it off
.
“There,”
she
said, as the air around them filled with droplets that dissipated a
nd drifted in a mist to the rocky path beneath their feet
.

Tehya breathed relief and patted her dry clothes. “Good work.” Then she frowned. “Ariana,” she said, drawing the syllables out slowly, caution in her voice. “I know you’re upset, but… we shouldn’t be here. Did you mean to come this far?”

Ariana looked around. She
had
come too far. What she could see of the main road—before it bent and disappeared in the trees—was, for the moment, empty. But it wasn't likely to stay that way. She'd run right past the entrance to their secret, much safer path. She reached for her coat, intending to turn back, but a noise stopped her, half-bent.

"What was that?" Tehya whispered, her eyes wide.

Ariana strained to listen. Around the bend, a horse neighed, and someone cried out—in shock or in pain, she couldn't tell. Torn between curiosity and fear, she grabbed her coat and stood, unsure which way to go.

"Huntsmen?" Tehya w
hispered.

Ariana furrowed her brow. She worried the same. Only... "It sounded like a
boy
. He could be in trouble."

"But the horse..."

"Maybe he stole it, and it bucked him off?"

"Or a Huntsman ran him down," Tehya cautioned.

Ariana sighed. That
was
much more likely.

They listened again.
W
hinnies and the murmur of a boy's voice. But nothing else. No rough commands, no screams of pain or helpless protestations.

"I don't think it’s the Huntsmen."

"Me neither. We should take a look," Tehya said,
not waiting for Ariana’s agreement
. "Make sure the kid's not hurt, at least."

"Stick to the edges
,
" Ariana cautioned.

"Of course."

The girls ducked into the tree line and started around the bend. As they drew closer, Ariana glimpsed the silky blackness of the horse through the trees. Her steps faltered.
But the horse
had no metal horn strapped to its head, no armor, no saddle, and most importantly, no red metal band around its back right hoof. Which could only mean that it was—

"A Mustang," Tehya breathed, coming to the same conclusion.

"They never come this close to the city," Ariana murmured in astonishment.

"
Ria
, look.”

There was a boy

tall, with hair the color of rich, wet soi
l—
standing
before
the Mustang, his back to the
trees
. His clothes were strange, unfamiliar, dirty, but otherwise intact. He wasn't hurt or even, r
emarkably,
in danger of getting a hoof to the face, it seemed. He was interacting with the beast as if it was tame. But it wasn't. It couldn't be. It was a
Mustang:
wild and dangerous and never, ever this close to a human. Not willingly. And yet, it was letting the boy touch it.

He
reached his long, tan arm past the Mustang's muzzle and ran his fingers along its flank, calming it with a low voice and soft words.

"What is he doing to it?"

For a moment, Ariana didn't follow. Then she saw what Tehya meant. Wherever the boy's fingers touched the Mustang's jet-black sides, they left chalky white trails. But his eyes never left the Mustang's face, and he didn't seem aware of what he was doing. For someone their age, this skill was remarkable. To be able to do something like that, at fifteen, without conscious effort, he'd have to be...

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