Fire Falling Page 2

“I hate it,” Vhalla declared, not sure if she was speaking to her hair or her reflection as a whole.

Her feet carried her against the stream of people heading toward the kitchens. She wasn’t hungry. Vhalla didn’t think she’d manage a bite today. She had one day left before she’d march away from everything she had ever known. Her normally small appetite had shriveled to a rock hard pit.

She entered the training rooms of the Tower, which encompassed the center of an entire level. The circular room was lined with a low outer wall that acted as a barrier for spectators and waiting trainees.

A woman already stood in the room behind a high desk.

“Major,” Vhalla called as she entered.

“Yarl.” Major Reale was a Southern woman who was built out of steel and was just as warm. A metal eyepatch had been melted directly onto her bone, covering her left eye. “You’re early.”

“I can’t stay away,” Vhalla retorted with a sarcastic tone, a tone that was beginning to permanently slip between her words. Vhalla didn’t know where it came from, and she was too tired to care.

“Well, you’re not working with me today.” The major glanced up only briefly before returning to marking up the papers on the desk.

“I’m not?” Vhalla didn’t know where else she’d go. She couldn’t leave the Tower per the Senate’s orders. She was still property of the crown until she saw the war in the North to its conclusion—or she died.

“The minister wants to see you.”

Vhalla knew a dismissal when she heard it, and Major Reale wasn’t exactly the friendliest of women to be around.

With breakfast underway, the Tower hallway was empty. Most of the residents packed into the kitchens a few levels up. As she passed the mess hall, the noise washed over her, but Vhalla was too numb to hear it.

Past her room and almost at the top of the Tower was the Minister of Sorcery’s office and quarters. All other doors held a name plaque on their fronts bearing the resident’s name. But the one before her had the symbol of the Tower of Sorcerers cast in silver, a dragon curling in on itself split in two: the Broken Moon.

Her eyes drifted upward.

There was one more door, just visible on the curve of the sloping hallway. It was completely unmarked. And, while no one could confirm with any certainty, Vhalla could only suspect who it belonged to. She hadn’t seen or heard from her phantom in days and had no way of reaching out to him, no matter how badly her poorer judgment begged her to. Vhalla swallowed and knocked on the door in front of her before the bad idea to proceed to the next door could overcome her.

“Just a moment,” a voice called from within. The door swung open and a Southern man with short-cut blonde hair and icy blue eyes greeted her, the goatee around his mouth curling into a smile. “Vhalla, come in, come in,” Minister Victor ushered.

She was welcomed into the lavish office; it was a level of wealth that she was still unaccustomed to. Plush cerulean carpet beneath her booted feet reminded her of the Imperial Library in a physically painful way. Vhalla quickly sat at one of the three chairs situated before the desk.

“I was just finishing my breakfast. Are you hungry?” He motioned to a plate filled with an assortment of pastries.

“No.” Vhalla shook her head, bringing her hands together and wringing her fingers.

“No?” The minister cocked his head. “You couldn’t have eaten.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Now, Vhalla,” he scolded in a familial tone. “You need to keep up your strength.”

She stared at the muffin in his extended hand. Her training won out, and Vhalla listened to the man above her station. She picked at it listlessly, but that seemed to be enough for the minister.

“So tomorrow is the day,” he stated obviously.

“It is.” Vhalla nodded.

“I’d like to go over one or two things with you, before you march.” Vhalla continued to pick at her food as he spoke. “Foremost, I want you to know that no one in the Tower harbors any ill will toward you.”

Vhalla had a few bruises from Major Reale’s training that could beg to differ, but she busied her mouth with the muffin.

“I have informed all of the Black Legion that you are to be kept under close watch and be defended at all times,” Victor continued. “As the first Windwalker in nearly a hundred and fifty years I’d like to see you live long enough to study in the Tower.”

“Have you informed the Senate of this decision? I’m fairly certain they want me dead,” Vhalla replied numbly.

“Resentment doesn’t suit you.” The minister leaned back in his chair, pressing his fingers together.

“Excuse me,” Vhalla mumbled a half-hearted apology and snuck the partly eaten muffin back onto the minister’s plate.

“You need to return alive, Vhalla.” Minister Victor regarded her thoughtfully. “I need you to believe that you will be able to do this.”

Vhalla didn’t know how she could be expected to keep herself alive when she could barely manage magic. Mother, she could barely manage to close her eyes for more than a few minutes without horrors haunting her. “Very well,” Vhalla feigned agreement.

The minister only sighed at her response. “Will it help you if I give purpose to your days?” Minister Victor leaned forward, his elbows on his desk as though he was to impart a great secret upon her. “There is something I need ... and only you, as a Windwalker, can retrieve it.”

Vhalla instinctually sat straighter. “What?” She finally asked as the words were left hovering in the air.

“There is something very powerful hidden in the North. The longer it sits unattended, the greater the likelihood of it falling into the wrong hands or being used against our forces, should the Northern clans understand what they possess.”

Vhalla wondered how this was supposed to help her. “What is it?” Curiosity won the war of her emotions.

“It’s an ancient weapon from a different time, a time when magic was wilder and more divine.” He paused, mulling over his next words. “It is an axe that is said to be able to sever anything, even a soul.”

“Why would such a thing exist?” Vhalla struggled to think of a reason.

“Well, the latest records of it read as much fact as fiction.” The minister rubbed his goatee in thought.

“How are you sure it’s real?”

“I have it on very good faith it is.” The minister returned to the point, “I need you to retrieve it and bring it back here.” He tapped his desk.

“But if it’s so dangerous ...” Vhalla mused aloud. She felt like she was missing an important piece of information, but the minister was uninterested in imparting it to her.

“As I said, we want to keep it from the wrong hands. Beyond that, it would make the wielder nearly invincible.” Minister Victor let that hang and Vhalla was smart enough to piece together what he was trying to tell her. If the wielder was nearly invincible, and she managed to find it, then perhaps she could make it out of the North alive. “Will you help me with this, Vhalla?”

She hesitated for one last, long moment. Vhalla stared into the minister’s icy blue eyes, the eyes of the man who had kidnapped her when they had first met. But they were also the eyes of a man who had harbored her, healed her, and protected her when the world was ready to tear her limb from limb. The Tower was a mysterious place, but she knew sincerity when she saw it.

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