Prologue and Chapter One
Every person enters your life for a reason.
Sometimes it’s to learn, sometimes to teach.
Sometimes it’s because you need to remember that you’re just a small part of this grand universe.
There are many people who come into your life and leave but a small trace of what they have to offer.
Those people are merely passing by.
Others will be there for a while.
They will mold you, bend you, reinforce your sense of self, or make you question everything you ever were.
These people are the ones who live on in your mind.
There are few people who live on in your heart.
Rare and invaluable, they come in and consume everything, not leaving a single part of you untouched.
Like a wildfire, you are helpless to stop them, no matter how hard you may try.
Then something happens, something that both terrifies and amazes you: you find that you can no longer see yourself any other way, and the way those people have changed you is who you are and who you want to be.
You discover that you were made better because they were part of your life.
These are the people who in your heart cannot die.
“Are you sure about this, Saph?”
Arin was beside me, his face masked by the night. His crystalline eyes shone out at me,
“Since when do you turn down a challenge?”
Arin had been my partner in mischief since before I could remember. My older brother, my
greatest confidante, the one who I could count on to follow me into the thickest of trouble without so much as a question.
Until now, apparently.
He scoffed. “Never.”
Looking at the unease on his face, I knew he wasn’t finished.
“Out with it.” I prodded.
“This plan...is it wise? To go after a small traveling camp when they’re completely
“What, you’re now sympathetic to the enemy?”
That triggered my brother’s annoyance. “NO. I’m just trying to take humanity into account.
You act like they’re not even human.”
“They’re not.” They were monsters. Why did Arin debate this? What, did he think we went
after the enemy for sport? For the game of it? Did he not remember all of the lives we’ve lost at the Tokorans’ hands? Our missions were merely meant to tamper with their resources, drive these vile people back, unsettle them. It was incredibly humane, and hardly the sort of deliverance they deserved.
Night after night we made it our goal to uncover more weak spots that might unravel the Tokoran forces. We did it for our people, for our country, for the thousands before us who laid down their lives in the hopes of seeing victory one day.
But sometimes, when the night’s work was done and my team was fast asleep, I lay awake and wondered if my motives were really so pure.
Enough of those thoughts.
“Do you remember what the plan is?” I asked Arin.
He ran a hand through his white blonde hair. We were so alike in our features, thanks to our family lineage. Fair hair, fair skin, crystal blue eyes in a face everyone knew as regal. Arin especially had always had a royal air about him. It made the current image of him in normal attire laughable. The Intetran King in shirt and pants? What would Grandmother say?
I suppressed a snicker.
What about myself? The thought immediately put a damper on my mood.
My identity was constantly threatening to destroy me. If I didn’t cover up completely, didn’t remember to keep my voice low or my face masked, I would become Tokora’s biggest target. Life didn’t provide me with many choices: it was either pretend to be male or die. Princesses didn’t survive.
“Alright, you want us to split our team and take on either side of their camp. Once we’ve secured an entrance - and a quick escape - we locate their food sources and...destroy them...your words, not mine. And then we get out of there faster than you can say ‘check mate.’”
Arin had us all gathered around, myself and our most trusted team of soldiers. I gave Arin a nudge to the ribs just for mocking me. Jared was on my other side - my favorite of the team. He was the same age as Arin and had grown up with us in the palace. Other than Arin, he was the one I trusted most with my life. The rest - Gregory, Nina, Philip, and Felicity had been hand-picked by Arin and myself to be apart of this reconnaissance team. They had demonstrated particular loyalty to us over the years, in battle and off the field. Arin had been leading our entire army for two years now. Two years. That was how long it had been since our father had died.
Long Live King Liam the Lionhearted.
“Okay, so who’s going with who?” Jared asked, bringing my attention back to the present. He answered himself first. “I’m with Sapharine.”
“Nina and I will go with Arin.” Gregory said. Gregory was a brilliant strategist, and was Arin’s consult for most military plans. Nina was his wife, and a remarkable spy. The two made a strong pair for our team.
“I’m going to go with Sapharine.” That was Felicity, the Windox fighter. She taught me the martial art at a young age, at the request of my father. It was all about predicting movements and obtaining a rhythm to outperform your opponent. Felicity could bring down even the largest foe in combat.
We then all looked at Philip, who we all knew had feelings for Felicity. He grinned. “Guess that puts me with Saph.” So that was settled.
“Which side of the camp do you want to take, Arin?” I asked.
Arin gave a shrug. “Which side’s the general on?”
“East side. Hadrian always puts his men in charge on the East.” Gregory said.
Hadrian. The Commander of the enemy’s forces. I had never seen him in the flesh, but we had been involved in many of the same battles, set across many miles. We had all heard stories about him - that he wielded a sword like no one had ever seen, that he was the youngest Tokoran to claim his position, a position that was based on merit alone. That he had never even endured a cut because he couldn’t be touched.
Rumors, of course, but daunting nonetheless.
Luckily, we had Arin, and there was also me. Arin was an amazing fighter, his skill with a sword unparalleled thanks to our father, King Liam, who forced Arin to master the art early on. I, on the other hand, had my own mysteries about me. People knew me not as Sapharine, my given name, but as Seraphin, the kingdom of Intetra’s secret weapon. The rumors about me as inflated as Hadrian’s - that I appeared out of nowhere, that I moved faster than any other, that I never missed a shot. There were some who whispered that I wasn’t human.
It was a reputation I was forced to keep alive.
I gripped my bow.
Arin nodded. “Okay, then. I’ll take that side.” He moved to fasten his sword to his belt. It
was the same blade our father wielded, and his father before that. The blade had been in Intetra since any of us could remember. What made it so unique was that the blade itself was made out of a reflective metal - something no one could identify, but when used, it made other swords whimper with each strike, shattering them with precise contact. Its name was MoonBlade.
We busied ourselves with securing our weapons, but I noticed Jared acting strangely. He was spending far too much time trying to tie his sword to his belt, a very simple act.
I cleared my throat. “Something wrong, Jare?”
He looked up, the strangeness manifesting itself in his expression. Still, he did not speak.
“Well?” I prodded.
“I...I think Hadrian’s on to us.”
I nearly dropped my arrows.
Everyone else froze in place.
Jared threw up his hands. “I mean, if he’s as smart as they say he is, then he’s figured
out what keeps happening to his camps, and he won’t allow it to persist.”
The team was silent, taking this in.
I, however, was unmoved. “You think Hadrian knows we are the ones sabotaging his
camps?” I scoffed. “Impossible. The whole point of these missions is to eliminate their resources without leaving a trace. We take the food, and we make it disappear. We find their water source, and we make it go away. We mess with their heads. He couldn’t possibly figure it out.” I crossed my arms. I didn’t want to believe that a plan I’d devised could leave such a hole.
What if he’s right?
No, I had thought through all of the angles. There was nothing I could think of that would have given our plan away.
Jared reached out to me and I stiffened. It was a bold gesture for a soldier to make toward his superior, but when we were out here in the wild those roles didn’t apply. We were a team of equals.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt.” He murmured.
Philip snorted. “As if she needs protection.”
The others chuckled under their breaths. Jared was still looking at me, and I faintly noticed
his cheeks grow red in the darkness. Only I knew Jared’s real intent with those words. Arin turned to me, the laughter still in his eyes. “So we’re clear then?”
I nodded. Everything was ready.
“Let’s get to work.”
“Have you located the food source?” I asked Felicity as I worked to get my hair pulled back and covered with my black hood.
“We believe so.” Felicity pointed through the brush toward the camp. “It’s in bins next to the largest tent.”
I followed her finger, picking out the large boxes to the left of the tent. What would it be this time? Salted meat? Potatoes? It was always a surprise.
“Okay, so everyone knows their positions. Let’s break our record this time.”
I started moving toward the camp. Felicity and Philip broke off, acting as surveillance. Jared fell in behind me as I treaded swiftly through the woods. When I got up to the camp, I stopped short. Jared nearly flew into me.
“Whoa! What are you doing?” He whispered.
I looked around. What was I doing?
“I don’t know.” I hissed. “Something doesn’t feel right.”
Jared walked around to look me in the eye. “Should we call the mission off?”
That was what he wanted, I could tell. But we were already here, and there was no solid
reason not to continue.
Stop letting Jared’s words get into your head.
“No, it must have just been the air. Let’s keep going.”
Jared kept his eyes on me but didn’t say a word as I walked past him and made my way to the food bins.
There were ten large boxes. Too much for me to carry on my own, but that was the good thing about having Jared around - he was built like a soldier. I bent over and lifted the top box.
Oh yes, definitely potatoes.
“Take it.” I muttered through clenched teeth, trying with all my might not to drop it.
Jared rushed forward and took the box from me easily.
“Thank you.” I breathed. “You can dispose of them now.”
Jared nodded but didn’t move.
“Well?” I pressed.
He frowned. “I don’t feel comfortable leaving you alone.”
I sighed. “Come on, Jare. I’ll be fine. Stop being so skeptical about this!”
That at least got him moving, reluctantly. His shoulders slumped as he took the box into the
woods. I turned back to the boxes, wondering whether I could successfully take one out into the woods without dropping it and waking the entire camp.
I would have to - there was no way I was leaving all of these boxes for Jared to pick up alone.
I put my arms around another box and inhaled before lifting it.
Get to the woods. Get to the woods. Get to the woods.
My knees were bent and I sidestepped my way as quickly as I could to the forest’s edge. Jared was there, his eyes wide as I came at him. He grabbed the box immediately, and I let out a long breath.
“Please don’t do that again.” He growled.
I shot him a look. “I wasn’t going to drop it.”
He gave me a look that said We both know you were seconds from dropping it.I threw up my hands.
“Fine. So what can I do?”
Jared shook his head as he turned and meandered through the woods with the box. I glared
Well, there was one thing I could do.
I moved back to the boxes, glimpsing around me. I couldn’t see to the other side of the
camp, and took the lack of sound as a sign that Arin and the others were doing their job well. There was no one who could see me.
Slowly, I put my hands on either side of the box. I had to be very certain of what I was
doing, or else I’d expose myself and the entire mission. But I could do this, I knew. I just needed to focus.
Closing my eyes, I summoned the ability to manipulate air. “Saph.”
My eyes bolted open. Jared was at my side, grabbing onto my arm. His face was livid. “Don’t.” His voice was fighting to stay a whisper.
I stared at him until he released my arm.
“I’m just trying to protect you.” He murmured, face still upset.
That was Jared. The one who needed to protect me, who saw me as the damsel he had to
It made no sense.
“Get the box.” My voice came out of clenched teeth like a growl.
Jared hesitated for a moment before turning and grabbing the box, not saying a word. He was wise enough not to.
I was about to resort to tampering with the dirty linens when I heard a bird call.
My senses were instantly heightened, my entire body on high alert. None of us had ever used the bird call before - it was only for when we’d been caught.
None of us had ever been caught.
My body turned for the woods before I could think it through. I sprinted to Felicity, pulling my bow from across my body, grabbing an arrow from behind with my other hand.
How could she have been detected? She could move silently and blend in with any surrounding.
Felicity was on the ground, rolling in pain. I rushed to her, throwing my bow back around my shoulder, kneeling down at Felicity’s side.
Her face was contorting in pain. My eyes scanned her body, locking on something lodged in Felicity’s leg.
This wasn’t good. Thankfully, I knew plenty about arrows to know exactly how to remove them without risking further injury. My hands went to the spot.
“Ready?” I asked, to which Felicity gave a beleaguered nod.
Pull. The arrow was out.
I ripped a piece of cloth from my pants and used it to wrap around Felicity’s leg.
“Are you alright?” How had she been hit? Felicity knew very well how to listen for disturbances.
None of this made sense.
Before Felicity could say more, another noise captured my attention.
It was a strangled bird call, rippling through the air from the other side of the camp.
“Souls.” What was happening?
“Go.” Felicity managed, waving me away. “I’ll be fine.”
I bolted, promising to return for Felicity as soon as I could. As soon as I knew Arin was safe.
A horrible sound shook the earth as I ran, and I bolted faster with the sound.
It was the cry of an entire camp awakening to an attack.
I was running so fast that my legs became a blur beneath me. I had to get to Arin and the others, praying I wasn’t too late.
A body slammed into mine, latching onto me and throwing me to the ground. It rolled at the last second and took the brunt of the fall, me on top.
I heard the heavy breathing beneath me, the sound of large exertion. “Saph. No.” Jared.
I squirmed beneath his iron grasp.
“Let me go! I have to get to Arin!” I was shrieking, writhing. Jared’s grip became even tighter.
“No.” He breathed, his chest rumbling beneath me. “It’s a death trap, and you know it. You go into that, and you’ll be killed. Or worse.”
I stiffened. Arin. He had to be alive. Please let him be alive.
“Let me go.” I tried again, but Jared knew me too well.
“I’m taking you out of here. That’s the emergency procedure.”
“WE DIDN’T THINK WE WOULD USE THAT PROCEDURE WHEN WE CAME UP
WITH IT!” I screamed.
Jared didn’t bother saying anything else. He picked me up, locking my hands together in his grip, and started running.
“NO!” I screamed. “ARIN!” My voice was lost in the roar of the camp, which ebbed as we got further and further away.
Philip appeared out of the brush. “Where’s Felicity?”
“On the west end. She was hit, but I bandaged the wound.”
He nodded, then began running in that direction.
There came a sound from behind me. “Six. Soldiers. Swords.” Jared said, grabbing for his own.
“I’ve got them.” I commanded. Jared’s grip lessened, which I took as his affirmation, and I dropped to the ground lithely.
Finally, I could act.
My bow was in my hand - arrow at the ready - before the soldiers could get an inch closer. I drew back an arrow and shot.
I had another two down before I could blink.
The last soldier stopped, staring wide-eyed into the darkness at me.
He had figured out who he was attacking.
Immediately, the soldier dropped to his knees, whispering, “Please, have mercy.” I stalked toward him, arrow still drawn. Jared was beside me. Felicity stayed back. The man’s face became clearer as I drew near. He was frightened for his life, eyes
sunken with fear.
“What right have you to mercy, Tokoran?” My voice cut through the air, deep in command.
His body shuddered. “I-I have no right. I only beg.”
Jared nudged me, urging me to hurry, but I was not as quick to kill once I had a face to
“You will go, then.”
The soldier, and Jared looked at me with wide eyes.
I nodded. “Back to your leader. Tell him this prince is more just than his.”
The soldier’s eyes widened, and he sputtered at my feet. “Y-yes, Your Grace! T-thank you, Your
“Now!” I commanded. The soldier stumbled to his feet without another word, turning back
to the camp and running as if his life depended on it. I smirked.
“Oh no...” Jared murmured, bringing my attention back. I followed his gaze and caught sight of fire.
“We have to make sure Arin and -” My voice was overcome by the sudden explosion. The fire multiplied before my eyes with a blast.
I stumbled, Jared grabbing me by the waist to steady me as the earth shook.
“We have to run!” I heard him shout through the roar of the explosion.
The fire was still growing.
“Saph?” His face was weary, awaiting my command. He at least should get to safety, I couldn’t have him injured as well on my watch.
“Go! Get out and take the horses and go to the stables. I’ll go there once I find Arin and the others.”
He shook his head vehemently, both hands latched onto me now.
“I’m not leaving you to die.” He insisted. I shook him off. “Go.”
It was a command, not a suggestion.
The heat from the fire was getting worse. The air was being invaded by smoke. I could barely see through the trees now.
I turned to run for the camp. Nothing in me was going to stop until I got to Arin and knew he was okay.
Jared made a move to grab me again, but this time I wasn’t thinking. My mind was lost to panic, and the only thing I could do in this instant of survival was one, costly act.
My hand shot out and a burst of air erupted from it.
Jared had no warning - one moment he was reaching toward me, and the next he was sent flying backward. He looked at me wide-eyed, face white. I refused to let the guilt keep me there. Jared wasn’t afraid of me. My skills were hardly new to him.
I would have to apologize later.
My feet began moving, one after the other, away from Jared and toward Arin. I couldn’t
know his exact location, but I was going to start with going around the camp’s perimeter to where he and his team were supposed to be.
I sincerely hoped they weren’t still there.
The smoke was so thick that I was coughing trying to breathe. Seeing anything at all was becoming difficult.
Still I ran.
When I had made it half-way around the camp, I slowed, listening. Men were yelling. I couldn’t make out the words.
Several forms became visible at once. I pulled my bow from my shoulder and moved closer. Enemy armor was on their bodies.
I shot each one.
Moving through the smog, I strained my eyes to try and make out my surroundings. Breathing was impossible. I could feel my throat closing up in protest.
It suddenly occurred to me that I could die here.
No. I would not let this mission fall apart at my hands. And Arin is not hurt. He’s not.
The smoke was tearing at my lungs, and I felt my senses cloud. Just a little farther. Come on, Arin. Let me find you.
Where...? Where was he again? If I could only...
A hand latched onto my arm.
My entire body swung around in a shot of adrenaline. Forgetting my weakened state, I tried to strike at my attacker.
He caught my arm easily.
“WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE.”
Jared? Was he shouting? It was a mumbled sound to my ears.
“Arin!” I urged. Where was my voice? Nothing was coming out!
“ARIN! ARIN! ARIN!” I kept trying, each sound more and more strangled.
“You have to trust that Arin made it out! We need to leave now before the smoke kills us!”
I didn’t get a chance to shout at him, to tell him that I wasn’t going to leave, that I wasn’t going to stop searching for my brother.
I didn’t get the chance to do anything at all, because without warning I lost all consciousness.