Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)(6)

Written By: Cinda Williams Chima

As they made the handoff, Adrian managed to strip back the hood. He was surrounded by cloaked and hooded men. He saw his father in the distance, already midway across the bridge. “Da! Help!”

His father heard, and turned. The flowers fell to the bridge deck like jewels scattered on the pavement as he drew his sword in one fluid movement and charged at them.

All around Adrian, swords hissed free. While his captor was distracted, Adrian brought both feet down on his instep.

The wizard howled, something smashed down on Adrian’s head, and he landed flat on his face on the icy cobblestones, twisting his ankle.

“Careful,” somebody growled. “Don’t hit the mageling too hard. We want him alive.”

Mage. That was what they called wizards in Arden.

Close by, Adrian heard the clatter and clash of swordplay, smelled the acrid scent of wizard flame, heard somebody scream as a blade hit home. Black spots swarmed in Adrian’s vision as he tried and failed to prop himself up. Tried not to spew onto the stones.

Finally, he rolled onto his back. His vision cleared enough that he saw his father, surrounded by six or eight swordsmen, fighting like a fury in the stories with flame and sword. He was backing toward him, trying to get close to Adrian, but he hadn’t escaped the bite of the blades. His cloak was already sliced through in several places and spotted with blood.

It took everything Adrian had to sit up, then straighten to a standing position. He swayed, then shouted, “Leave him alone!” Gripping his amulet, he stood up next to his father and launched a flaming volley of his own, putting all of his frustration and fury into it, driving the assassins back.

“No, Ash! Run! Get to the river if you can,” his father shouted, pivoting and cutting down another swordsman. “Get into the river and dive.”

“I’m not leaving you. We can win this.”

That was when his father staggered, the tip of his sword drooping a little. He looked at the assassins, tried to lift his sword again, but it was as if it was too heavy.

“Da? What’s wrong?” Adrian stepped in closer, but his father shook his head, reached for his amulet, then dropped his hand away, swearing softly. His body shuddered, and despite the cold, a sheen of sweat gilded his face.

That’s when Adrian knew. It was poison. His father was poisoned. He followed his father’s gaze, and saw that the assassins’ blades were stained blue-gray with it.

His father stumbled to his knees, his sword clattering free on the stones. His face was pale, as if the blood were called to other places.

“That one’s done,” the leader said. He pointed at Adrian with his poison-daubed blade. “Bring the mageling, and let’s go.”

Howling with rage, Adrian turned and charged toward the assassins, sending a deluge of flame out ahead. But, somehow, his father tripped him, and he went down hard on his face in the snow. His father crawled forward and covered his body with his own. He felt warm breath in his ear.

“Lay still,” he said. “Play dead, buy some time. The bluejackets will come. These ones will run. They don’t want to be caught and questioned.”

Adrian struggled to get up, but his father had him pinned. He heard what sounded like an army of running feet and somebody shouting, “The High Wizard! The bastards have killed the High Wizard!”

A mob of people hurtled past. Adrian heard screams and blows landing, shouts of rage and despair.

Finally wriggling free, he gripped his amulet with one hand, pressing the other hand into his father’s chest. He sent power in, seeking to isolate the poison. But it was everywhere, and already the spark of life was all but extinguished. He ripped his father’s cloak and shirt away, exposing wounds that should have been minor. He sent flash in directly, desperately trying to draw the poison out. It hit him like a runaway cart, and he reeled back.

“Don’t,” his father whispered, twisting away from Adrian’s hand. “You don’t want to risk it. You’re not strong enough, on your own. Wait for help.”

Adrian understood. Wizard healers took on the ailments of their patients, and so healing a gravely sick patient was always risky. Even more so for someone who didn’t know what he was doing. But there would be no waiting, because waiting meant that his father would die.

“I am going to save you,” Adrian growled. “I don’t care what it costs. You’re important. You need to live.”

“Ash. Please listen. I have been saved so many times,” his father said. “First your mother saved me, and then you and your sisters. I’m not the one who needs saving now.” His body shuddered again. “Save yourself, and the Line. Your mother will take this hard, and she’s had enough grief in her life already. Tell her . . . tell her that having her . . . that being with her . . . that loving her . . . it was worth it. It was worth it. Will you tell her that?”

“No!” Adrian cried. “You can tell her yourself. I’m not letting you go.”

“Sometimes . . . you have to . . . let go.” His father took both his hands and closed them over the serpent amulet. “This is yours. I want you to go to Oden’s Ford and learn how to use it.”

And then he was gone, the spiritas departing like a whisper on the wind, or a gray wolf on the snow. And, with it, Adrian’s childhood.

A fierce anger ignited inside him, mingled with guilt and pain. His father had survived a lifetime of fighting—until Adrian lured him into a fight he couldn’t win. He’d failed him in every way possible. He bowed his head over their joined hands and prayed to whatever god was listening, “Take me. Take me instead. Spare him. Please.”

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