Gaven stared up at a storm-wracked sky where dragons wheeled like vultures. Darkness slowly poured into the sky until it was a whirling cloud of shadow, and Gaven saw the souls of the fallen drifting into that new storm. He is the storm, and the eye of the storm, he thought. In him the storm cannot die.
The harsh chant of the Blasphemer was gone, but no sound dared to take its place. He felt but did not hear heavy footsteps drumming the floor beside him, and then Cart crouched over him. Cart’s mouth opened, but no words emerged. Gaven tried to focus on Cart’s face, but his eyes kept drifting past the warforged to the storm of souls. Cart turned away for a moment, then leaned close, putting a steadying hand on Gaven’s shoulder.
Ashara came then and leaned over him, and Cart shifted away to give her room. A slender wand was in her hand, and she moved it slowly over his body, as if it were a tool knitting his wounds closed. Her touch was cold on his skin, but it woke his nerves, first to a cacophony of pain, then as the wand worked its magic, to the hard floor and sharp glass beneath him.
“What happened?” Kelas’s voice, somewhere behind him, was the first clear sound he heard. “Damn! Is she hurt?”
“The servant?” Ashara said, glancing up. “She’ll be fine. Don’t move her! I have more work to do yet. But we almost lost this one.”
“Gaven?” Kelas’s face appeared in his vision. Gaven felt a surge of rage and fear before he noticed the lines of worry and the genuine concern in the man’s eyes and remembered it was Aunn looming over him, not Kelas. Aunn looked him over, then surveyed the room. Something caught his attention, and his eyes shot wide. “Fire!”
Cart sprang to his feet, following Aunn’s eyes. Gaven managed to turn his head enough to see the warforged snatch a blanket from the bed and beat it against the floor, sending smoke in eddies toward the open door. After a moment the warforged stopped and stood back.
Aunn barked orders. “Ashara, see to the servant. Cart, as soon as Ashara says you can move her, carry the girl into a bed and find out what she saw.” He turned to address someone Gaven couldn’t see. “You, put that wine on the table, then go and bring me a fresh bottle.” He crouched beside Gaven and sighed. “I think I’m going to need it.”
Ashara stood and strode toward the door, leaving Gaven in Aunn’s care.
“Can you hear me, Gaven?” he said.
Gaven opened his mouth and found that he had no voice. He managed a slight nod.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Gaven turned his head to the side. Even if he could speak, he wasn’t sure he knew what had happened.
“Well,” Aunn said, “it looks to me like we had a lightning storm in here. If I had to guess, I’d say that a bolt of lightning connected that dragonshard to the sky, with you and the window caught in between. Which resulted in a burning rug, a shattered window, a wounded servant, and you…” His brow furrowed. “On the brink of death. Which seems odd.”
Gaven closed his eyes, trying to remember the lightning.
“I’ve seen lightning go through you quite a number of times,” Aunn continued. “But I’ve never seen you burned like this.” With a glance at the door, Aunn slid a wand out of a pouch, hiding it halfway in his sleeve. Warmth flowed into Gaven’s body where the wand and Aunn’s hands touched him, and he felt a surge of renewed strength.
“The Blasphemer,” Gaven said. He could manage a rasping croak, no more.
“You were dreaming,” Aunn said. “By the window?”
“A vision. Rienne.”
“I see.” Aunn looked around, lifted a sheet of paper from the floor beside him, and read it aloud. “‘In the darkest night of the Dragon Below, storm and dragon are reunited, and they break together upon the legions of the Blasphemer.’ That’s pleasant bedtime reading. No wonder he was haunting your dreams.” He turned and started collecting the other pages strewn across the floor.
“Wait,” Gaven said. “Read that again.”
Aunn did, and Gaven felt his pulse quicken. Storm and dragon reunited…
That could just mean Gaven holding the dragonshard that contained his mark. Or it could point to his mark being somehow restored to his skin-or, he supposed, to the involvement of some dragon. “Is there anything else on that page?” he asked.
“Just the date, 22 Dravago 988. Why?”
“I’ve forgotten so much.”
When he had first left Dreadhold, the Prophecy swam in Gaven’s mind. He remembered every dream that had haunted his sleep, every scrap of writing he’d collected and deciphered in his expeditions through the depths of Khyber, and even verses he’d never read-fragments held in the dragon’s memories trapped in his mind. Haldren and Vaskar had questioned him about the Time of the Dragon Above, the Eye of Siberys, the Soul Reaver-and those memories had flooded over him and spilled out of his mouth. Flashes of memory still surprised him occasionally, but the Prophecy no longer felt like a part of him.
“Just set it down and leave us alone,” Aunn said, looking toward the door again.
With an effort, Gaven sat up and looked around the room. A young man stood in the door, eyes wide, clutching a bottle of wine. The floor around him was covered with shards of glass, and only a few jagged pieces remained in the frame. A faint smell of smoke lingered in the air, but Gaven couldn’t see the damage his dragonmark had caused. Cart and Ashara had vanished.
The servant placed the bottle on the small table beside the bed, knocking it into a glass that was already there, sending a splash of red wine over the lip. Flustered, he looked around in vain for something to clean up with, but Aunn barked at him and he scurried away.
“Let’s get you into bed,” Aunn said, extending a hand to Gaven.
“I’m fine.” Gaven managed to stand, glass crunching against the wood under his feet. Now he could see the rosy dragonshard on the other side of the bed, resting in a blackened crater in the woven Talentan rug. Between the window and the rug, Gaven’s outburst had probably caused a thousand gold galifars of damage. He stepped carefully out of the glass and bent to retrieve the shard.
Its heat surprised him, and a sharp surge of anger shot through him. For an instant, the man before him was really Kelas, who had stripped his mark from his skin. A prickle ran over his chest and shoulder, where his mark had been, and he heard thunder crack outside. He dropped the shard back on the bed.
Aunn’s hand shot to the hilt of his sword, as if the thunder heralded an imminent attack. “What was that?” he said.
“His storm flies wild,” Gaven muttered, “unbound and pure in devastation.”
“Nara said that,” Aunn said. “Is that the Prophecy?”
“What’s the rest of it? You were saying it with her.”
“Pure in devastation, going before the traitor’s army to break upon the city by the lake of kings.”
“The city of Varna, on Lake Galifar.”
“Going before the traitor’s army,” Gaven said. “Kelas? Did he send the army marching to Varna?”
“Or Nara. Is there anything else about the traitor’s army, or the traitor herself?”
“I don’t know.” Gaven slumped onto the bed. “I don’t remember. Why don’t you look in there?” He gestured vaguely toward the papers still strewn on the floor.
“You didn’t sleep at all, did you?” Aunn asked.
“A little. I’m sorry. I’ll stop interrogating you.”
“What do you know about Nara?”
Aunn laughed. “It’s only fair, I suppose. But let me find Cart and Ashara first. They should hear this as well.”
Gaven gathered the papers from the floor while Aunn ventured down the hall in search of the others. He didn’t give the pages any more than a glance until he saw his father’s writing. The sight of the flowing script made something in him break. He fell on his knees, felt glass bite through his skin, and dissolved into grief.
“She was bringing the wine.” Ashara’s voice came from the doorway. “She said she had just knocked on the door when it flew open and threw her back.”
“Where’s Gaven?” Aunn said.
Gaven tried to compose himself and got to his feet, fumbling with the papers in his hand. Aunn stood in the doorway, relief plain on his face as Gaven returned to his view. Cart and Ashara crowded the hallway behind him.
“Is the servant badly hurt?” Gaven said.
“She’ll be fine,” Ashara said. “You’re bleeding again.”
Gaven looked down and saw blood soaking into the knees of his pants, where glass had cut through the cloth and sliced his skin. “It’s nothing,” he said. The cuts burned, but they weren’t serious. He looked at Aunn. “So tell us about Nara.”
Aunn took a deep breath and let it out. “Very well. Nara ir’Galanatyr led the Royal Eyes from 975, I think, to 996. She was supposed to be close to Queen Barvette, but I’ve heard nasty rumors that she had something to do with the old queen’s death. When Aurala took the throne, though, Nara became one of her closest advisors, and she stayed that way right up until the end of the war.”
“When she was dismissed,” Cart said. “She didn’t want Aurala to sign the treaty, so Aurala appointed a new spy master who would work for peace.”
“Something like that,” Aunn said, “but there was more to it.” He paused, biting his lip.
“What?” Gaven asked.
Aundair’s internal politics were a mystery to him, for all that he’d been caught up in them since leaving Dreadhold in Haldren’s company. But opposition to the Treaty of Thronehold was something that Nara and Haldren evidently had in common.
“Well, first of all it’s not entirely clear that Aurala has ever been interested in peace, except a peace that results from her sitting on the throne of a reunited Galifar. So it’s possible that she replaced Nara purely for show, to convince the other nations that she was serious about the treaty-serious enough to remove her most trusted advisor.”
“What has Nara been doing since the end of the war, then?” Ashara asked.
“To all appearances, she’s been in seclusion-I think in Wyr, by the Eldeen Border.”
“But you think she’s been working for the queen in secret all this time?” Ashara said.
Aunn scowled. “Actually, the thought hadn’t occurred to me. But it’s possible. Perhaps they’ve spent three years plotting the next stage of the war. But that would mean…”
“That all of this goes back to the queen,” Gaven said. “The barbarians invading the Reaches, the Dragon Forge, my dragonmark. What about Haldren? Were Kelas and Nara behind all that as well?”
“Indirectly,” Aunn said. “But that would also mean that Aurala is planning her own assassination, or planning to stage an attempt on her life at least. Because that’s what Kelas thought he was doing.”
“Ending a thousand years of Wynarn rule over Aundair,” Cart said. “At least, that’s what he told Haldren.”
“Kelas might have lied,” Ashara said. “Or Nara might have lied to Kelas. Think about it. Poor Aurala-she has rogue generals starting hostilities in Thaliost, barbarians threatening her western border, and insurgents plotting against her. Naturally, she has to take drastic measures to secure her throne-destroying Varna, invading the Reaches, taking control of House Cannith and Arcanix. What’s next? Some kind of assault on her own people under the guise of putting down a rebellion?”
Aunn shook his head. “I got the sense that Kelas knew everything Nara does, or just about.”
“Which puts you in a difficult spot,” Gaven said, “as long as you’re wearing his face.”
“I’ve survived worse.”
Gaven looked at Aunn and scratched his chin. What did he actually know about the changeling? He was a Royal Eye-deception and intrigue were his life’s work. He had been sandy-haired Darraun, a whispering dwarf opening Gaven’s manacles, tall and proud Aunn, and now Kelas, the mastermind behind the Dragon Forge. Gaven had never seen his real face, and he wondered if he would ever know the real man. Aunn lived in a world Gaven could barely imagine, and he seemed perfectly at home in all this discussion of conspiracies and betrayal.
“What did she say?” Ashara asked.
“First she asked about the storm-the demonstration for the queen.” He snapped his fingers. “She said she saw it, so she can’t be in Wyr, that’s two hundred miles from Varna.”
“Unless she was using magic to watch it,” Ashara said.
“Anyway, she asked about the queen’s reaction to the demonstration.”
“And she cited the Prophecy,” Gaven added. “She saw the storm as a fulfillment of the Prophecy.”
Aunn frowned. “So did she plan the Forge in order to fulfill the Prophecy, or is the Prophecy just an extra?”
“I don’t think it’s just an extra,” Gaven said. “If Nara is trying to shape history so the Prophecy is fulfilled, it’s because she wants whatever she thinks the Prophecy promises. Like Vaskar-he brought about the clash of dragons at Starcrag Plain because he wanted to be the Storm Dragon. He wanted to cross the bridge to the sky and become a god.”
“So what does Nara want from the Prophecy?” Aunn asked.
“The destruction of Aundair?” Ashara said. “Barbarians plundering the land as some kind of revenge against Aurala?”
“Perhaps,” Aunn said, “but then why all the intrigue? It would be enough to stir up the barbarians, perhaps weaken the armed forces from within. She wouldn’t need House Cannith and Arcanix for that.”
Gaven ran his fingers through his hair. “But she needed them to build the Dragon Forge, to take my dragonmark. To make that storm that she thought fulfilled the Prophecy.”
“And she thinks she needs you for the Prophecy as well. ‘We need him in place when the time is right for the reunion,’ she said.”
Reunion-the word sparked a memory, and he shuffled through the papers in his hands. “Storm and dragon are reunited,” Gaven said. Then he found the page Aunn had read. “‘In the darkest night of the Dragon Below.’ The Time of the Dragon Below is beginning now.”
“What else is supposed to happen in the Time of the Dragon Below?” Cart asked.
Gaven closed his eyes and tried to remember. “The rise of the Blasphemer,” he said, and an echo of a vision flashed through his mind, an impression of bone-white banners. Beyond that, his mind was a blank. “I can’t remember what else.”
“The Prophecy makes my head spin,” Aunn said.
Gaven sighed. “All this political scheming does the same to my head.”
“I need some of that wine now.” Aunn moved to the table by the bed and stopped, staring down at the wine bottle and the glass beside it.
“Are you sure it’s not poisoned?” Gaven said, trying to laugh.
Aunn turned and pointed at Ashara. “The servant who was hurt-she told you she was bringing wine to Gaven.”
Ashara nodded. “She said she was just about to knock on the door when it flew open.”
“And the glass broke on the floor in the hall. So why is there a full glass of wine here?”
“There was a young man,” Ashara said. “He came just after you did, holding a glass of wine. You told him to set it down and bring the bottle.”
Aunn shook his head. “How long has there been a spy in Kelas’s house?”