FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO
Hoenna was not much of a dancer but did so enjoy watching her golems try. Their cries of rage and pain were almost muffled out by the music. Almost.
She gazed around the room looking for her sister Catrina. She would hate such revelry. It would be good to see the annoyance on her face.
But Hoenna could not find her sister in the feasting chamber. Not among the lawyers squabbling with themselves over insignificant sections of amendments to the treaty that would never pass. Not among the other members of the Rose. She and her gargoyles had slipped off.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a thin streak of purple light fade to nothing. Catrina’s light. She had long ago replaced her eyes with shards. It was not the first act of zealotry and one-upmanship the sisters would engage in but it had certainly seemed radical for a twelve-year-old. It gave Catrina awesome power but also made her easy to track.
Hoenna smiled, pleased with her own cleverness. She took a flagon of wine off of a servant’s tray and followed her sister down a passageway underneath the stairs.
TEN MINUTES AGO
May I have this dance?” Brisbane asked of Meiyu.
“Why Brisbane, I never would have expected a member of the Corum to engage in such acts of celebration,” she said, taking his hand.
“I am a man of vigilance, Meiyu. But I am still a man.”
The two took to the dance floor.
EIGHT MINUTES AGO
“Fizzy! Wait!” Hana ignored the pounding in her head as she chased the water spirit. Shardlight burst from the shard and formed the frog’s cerulean body. It flew on waves of light and water down the halls and open doors, leading her deeper into the labyrinthian belly of the Argent Tower.
SEVEN MINUTES AGO
So fast! Eitan could hardly keep up with the girl from Stormheld as she chased the water spirit, even with his camel’s leg augmentations still attached. He wondered if she knew how fast she was going; both she and the spirit were little more than blue blurs. It was almost as if their bodies had turned to shardlight.
He channeled another shard into his leg augmentations and sped up. Shard spirits were uncommon at best and usually appeared as omens of dangerous times to come. This girl had no idea what forces she had unlocked.
Suddenly, he heard a ticking.
FIVE MINUTES AGO
“Catrina!” Hoenna hollered. She flew through the halls chasing the purple light of her sister’s eyes.
She conjured a circle of dark energy and used it to fling the locked doors ahead of her open.
Her sister stood inside an armory protected by dark shardlight as both gargoyles armed a bomb.
THREE MINUTES AGO
Hana stopped to catch her breath as she ran into a room filled with books. Fizzy flitted around the circular library chirping louder and louder.
“Give me a second,” she said, her hand to her head. Every nerve felt like it was on fire. She could hear her blood pulse in her ears.
Hana opened her eyes and her breath caught in her throat.
A bomb made of pure shardlight hovered in the center of the library. “RIBBIT!”
It did not have a timer but it made a ticking noise and with each tick, it grew until a minute went by and it nearly filled the room.
“Oh,” she said.
TWO MINUTES AGO
Eitan raced down the hall after the girl. He recognized the ticking for what it was: A shard bomb, one of District Sol’s. He had to save her. And, more importantly, he had to disarm the bomb before it killed everyone in the chamber.
An invisible blade sliced Eitan in the stomach, sending him to the floor.
Three shimmering figures stood in front of him. Members of the Sicari, the covert branch of the Sol military.
“I don’t have time for this,” Eitan said, summoning his daggers from the pocket dimension with shardlight. It would take more than a pocket dimension to keep him from his blades.
ONE MINUTE AGO
Hoenna flung spell after spell at her sister who deflected them deftly. She conjured shardlight to fill the suits of armor that lined the walls. Each jumped from their pedestals and attacked Catrina. Nothing worked as the bomb in the center of the room absorbed the shardlight from the spells, growing larger all the time.
“You would kill us all?” Hoenna said, casting another.
“No,” Catrina said, flinging it aside as she had all the others. “Just you.”
Hoenna and Catrina had tried to murder each other hundreds of times over the course of their lives. Never before had one of them sunk so low as to use a bomb. No satisfaction could come from such a death. Hoenna wanted to see the light shrink from Catrina’s eyes. She felt there would be honor in that.
Catrina had no such conviction. “Why do you think I invited you?”
THIRTY SECONDS AGO
Eitan held his stomach as he dashed past the three Sicari bodies. He’d trained with the strongest of the Sicari. No normal unit could stand up to him. Their presence, though, justified his worst fears. The treaty was a farce. A betrayal.
No time to think about that now, he thought, running faster than he knew he could and into the library where the bomb had filled the room, torn the covers from the books, and spun with the force of a tornado.
The girl’s eyes had glazed over. A strand of shardlight connected her to the water spirit as the two channeled shardlight. Somehow, they kept the bomb at bay.
TEN SECONDS AGO
“This is the end, Hoenna!” Catrina shrieked.
FIVE SECONDS AGO
The music in the feasting chamber reached its crescendo as Liam spun Mirai one final time. “I’m afraid we’ve come to the end,” he said. She eyed him quizzically.
ONE SECOND AGO