TWELVE-YEAR-OLD KAYSAR DE AOIBHEALL wiped blood and other things from the metal claws secured to his hand. His third kill in eight months. He choked down his shock and abhorrence and raced around a line of trees to collect his baby sister.
When the troll had first lunged from the shadows, eager to snack on the five-year-old little girl, Kaysar had pushed her into a thicket and driven the seven-foot monster back with his most powerful ability—a voice of compulsion. But as frightened as he’d been, his ability had...twisted, and a brutal fight had broken out. A match he’d barely won.
Littered with gashes, he looked a terrible fright, but Viori hardly noticed. She stared off into the distance, her expression as blank as ever.
“All is well,” he told her, displaying a brittle smile as he helped her to her feet. She held fast to her doll, Drendall. “Come, love. Let us hurry from here.” Trolls ran in packs. Where you found one, you would find others.
Heart thumping, he squired Viori forward, away from the carnage. Which way, which way? The blood-map he’d drawn on his arm had gotten smeared during battle, and he cursed inwardly. Guess he’d have to improvise.
Kaysar decided to follow a winding path provided by a babbling brook, and quickened his step. Nature sweetened his panting breaths, an overwarm wind twirling fallen leaves from here to there. He maintained a tight clasp on Viori’s hand, lest she and the doll blow away, too.
Despite the morning hour, thick shadows crept and slithered on the other side of the water, carnivorous foliage beckoning unwitting prey. On their side, at least, sunshine bathed the land in golden light. Problem was, pixies buzzed about. Known thieves.
Another threat. Kaysar could afford to lose nothing. Everything he owned, he required for Viori’s survival.
“Why don’t I sing to you, hmm?” he asked, feigning nonchalance.
Minutes ticked by in silence. His sister hadn’t spoken a word since their parents had died.
At first, Kaysar hadn’t fretted about her lack of communication. He’d been flooded with new responsibilities, too busy to deal with his own grief, much less another’s. Now he thought of little else.
“I’ll sing anything you wish,” he said, trying again. “Something about a princess and her prince, perhaps?” Once her favorite subject. “Or, what if I sing to Drendall? Would she like a song all her own, do you think?”
Viori continued to stare straight ahead, offering no response.
A sigh of dejection seeped from him. I’m failing her.
Kaysar knew guilt imprisoned her tongue. He also knew why. Eight months ago, a plague had swept through their village, infecting their mother and father. Since their livelihood had depended on their parents’ ability to work the fields, harvesting pixiepetals, Viori had opted to use her glamara. An innate supernatural ability. The strongest a fae possessed.
Like Kaysar, she wielded a voice steeped in compulsion. When she issued a command, listeners obeyed. Fighting did no good. Except, her glamara had not yet been honed. What she hadn’t comprehended back then? Emotion affected tone. Always. Bad things happened when the wrong sentiments layered her words.
Fearful, upset and desperate, Viori had ordered their parents to feel better. And the pair had indeed felt better—when they’d died.
The siblings had been on their own ever since. Viori had ceased speaking altogether.
Tears of regret stung Kaysar’s eyes. The day after he’d burned his parents’ bodies, according to fae custom, a tax collector had arrived to settle outstanding debts by seizing the farm. Later that day, a neighbor had invited both Kaysar and Viori to stay with him...if they found a way to “repay such incredible generosity.” He’d declined. Another couple had approached him, hoping to adopt Viori, and only Viori. He’d declined their offer, as well, unable to soothe his fears about the girl’s safety and unwilling to disregard his parents’ final wish. Stay together, no matter what.
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