Darkness fell over the continent of Turrim as the leylines above dissolved to nothingness. The shardlight of Argent Tower had gone out.
For the first time in a hundred and ten years, the people of Turrim were united.
By their screams.
A curved barrier of blue shardlight surrounded Eitan, Hana, and Fizzy and blocked the library entranceway as the bomb exploded. Fire wracked the room and tore a tremendous hole in the walls but the barrier kept the blast contained.
THE FEASTING CHAMBER
The bomb blast from the armory rocked the chamber from one side while twin blasts from elsewhere in the tower erupted into the chamber.
Liam protected himself with a thin shield made of shardlight. He smiled from ear to ear.
The delegations were in chaos. Many of those that hadn’t died in the initial blast ran blindly, their bodies on fire. Those strong in their shardlight had found a way to protect themselves from the brunt of the attack. Liam had expected this when he planted the bombs. When he, a member of the Rose, seduced Mirai of the Forge and convinced her to help him. When he plotted with the Sicari and the Shogunate of District Sol to turn coat on the Rose and join forces with the Forge.
He had seen this very outcome. The Vigilante Tower had shown it to him.
Across the chamber, Brisbane fought against invisible Sicari warriors who shimmered into and out of focus in the light. Gunslingers skewered the servants of the tower and recouped their handcannons from the pocket dimensions, turning them against their master’s in service to Liam. He walked through the fire unafraid and grabbed Brisbane from behind.
“You,” Brisbane said.
“Me,” Liam answered, slitting the Corum leader’s throat and taking his shards for his own.
“Princess!” Dragonholt hollered, casting aside the traitorous gunslingers with his massive tail. “Raoyenna!” Last he saw her, she was dancing with Crane. The smoke and the fire did not perturb him. He was born in smoke and fire. It was the bodies, hundreds of them, piled high and more dying all the time.
He flapped his wings once, twice, took to air and saw her.
Her entire body was wrapped in a cocoon of water by the leader of the Iakuma, Meiyu. Her face purpled as she drowned. A Corum knight impaled her from behind.
“NO!” Dragonholt roared, diving for the Stormheld witch. She flicked her wrists and the water pooled from around Raoyenna’s neck, spinning wildly, growing sharper. Dragonholt’s roar echoed around the chamber as the blade of water severed his head.
Explosion after explosion rocked the tower at its core. Energy plumed up from the base, exploding anew on every level of the tower, all the way to top where the leylines met and powered the world.
Eitan came to on the library floor. The bomb had imploded upon itself. Hana, the young, unconscious girl next to him, had somehow used her water spirit to stop.
The shardlight that infused every surface of the Argent Tower flickered and went out, leaving only the light of the fires.
“No,” Eitan said. “It’s not possible.”
He channeled every ounce of shardlight he had left into his leg augmentations and bounded back into the hallway and up the first flight of endless stairs to a top he didn’t know he could reach.
Eitan could feel the tower dying. Across Turrim, he suspected everyone could, even if they couldn’t quite identify the feeling of terror and pain in their hearts.
But he could also feel the tower’s will to live. The stairways seemed to rearrange themselves, providing short cuts to higher and higher levels. He kept running, ignoring the wonders and the horrors of the upper floors of the Argent Tower. Running until it was all he could do to keep breathing.
And then he ran some more.
Finally, he came to the end of a staircase that led to nowhere. There were no more floors above it, no rooms or secret corridors. There was only the floating silver crystal. The Argent Shard.
The heart of all of Turrim.
It had blackened, its light flickering.
It called to him.
A Silver King, it said. Fitting it is one of your number at my end.
“Not today,” Eitan said. He wished for the determination of his camel Bo as he willed his augmented legs to give him the strength he needed. He leapt off the ledge right at the floating crystal.
Everything turned to white.
THE FEASTING CHAMBER
Outside, a cold wind swept across the districts as young and old stared in horror at the sky. If the leylines were gone, then shardlight was gone. If that happened…
Light flickered above. In the distance, the light atop the Argent Tower erupted into the sky once more, shooting out across Turrim to the five towers of power.
Once more that night, the people were united. This time in cheers.
Silver shardlight filled the entirety of the Argent Tower. The bodies of the dead dissolved to shardlight as the fires went out.
The living were pushed like needles through thread, sent spiraling through time and space, deposited at the base of their district’s towers.
“What happened?” a Corum knight asked Liam as the rest of the delegation came to. They were outside the Vigilant Tower in District Knitehood. “Did we win?”
Liam sat on the ground, one leg outstretched, back against the tower. “Oh yes,” Liam said, standing. “I think we did.”
“You killed Brisbane!” one of the knights called. He lunged for Liam, who dodged deftly and skewered him with his spear.
“I did,” he said, twisting the bladed end. He added Brisbane’s seven shards to his three and with their power, leapt into the sky. He floated above Knitehood, dripping with dazzling light. His voice boomed over the district. “Knitehood! I, Liam of the Corum, call upon you. We have been betrayed by our comrades in the Rose and have been forced to join the Forge! But fear not! You have a new champion to lead you through these troubling times. A better champion.
You have me.”
Mei Yu stood over an operating table in the research pits of Stormheld. Hana lay on the table, chest open. Iakuma witchdoctors examined her insides.
“Find the frog,” Mei Yu said. “By any means necessary.”
Dragons were not so easily slain as in the stories. Severing one’s head did not end their lives. It simply prolonged their suffering.
Dragonholt cried as his head floated down the Omega River. He mourned. He mourned the loss of his princess. He mourned the death of his honor. Everything he cared about was gone. Even his tears were washed away at the river’s edge.
In a dark alley in District Gloom, Hoenna held out a sweet. “Would you like a candy, little girl?”
For when she saw her sister next, it would be with an army.
The Alpha River ran parallel to the Omega. Whereas the Omega ran through the districts of the Rose, the Alpha cut through those of the Forge.
Eitan’s body floated down the Alpha River. His face, shrouded. He floated for the better part of the evening until the early dawn where on the edges of District Sol a young woman found him washed ashore. She had silver hair.
Her name was Ariana. Thus, begins her story.