Alaric was summoned to his father’s private hall at the Citadel within an hour of the Deliverance making landfall in Kesath.
He strode into the vast, high-ceilinged chamber that was cloaked in perpetual darkness and it was jarring to him, this abrupt shift from the bright islands of Nenavar. Talasyn would dislike the Citadel, most probably. This place would drown out her light. He would have to make her comfortable in any way that he could, perhaps determine which chambers got the most sun and assign them to her.
Focus, he admonished himself. He couldn’t think of Talasyn while in an audience with his father. He needed to come up with a passable excuse as to his recent transgression—when he hadn’t answered Gaheris’s call to the In-Between at the Belian campsite.
However, the withered figure on the obsidian throne in the middle of the hall had no interest in taking him to task just yet. “Welcome home, my boy.” Gaheris’s eyes flashed silver in the dark. “Marriage looks good on you. Why, you’re glowing.”
The dryly affectionate humor was a trace of the old Gaheris, the one who had been king and not Night Emperor. Try as he might, Alaric couldn’t help but cling to it, to these bits and pieces of the father that he remembered.
Alaric belatedly realized that something was off. It took a searching gaze cast around the hall for him to figure it out. The raw shadow magic that Gaheris loved to drape his surroundings in was not as solid today, and Alaric traced the dilution to a far corner that remained untouched by the Shadowgate and was instead bathed in natural daylight from a high window.
The corner was occupied by a table on which sat a tall, vaguely rectangular object, covered in midnight-black cloth.
“A gift from Commodore Mathire,” Gaheris said with a pleased little grin. “Go on, take a peek.”
Puzzled, Alaric walked toward the mysterious object, followed by his father’s watchful gaze. After he had taken only a few steps, sounds began to emerge from under the black cloth, one lilting chirp after another, eerily familiar. Alaric frowned and quickened his pace. Several more steps and then—
He felt it.
An absence in his being. A hole where the Shadowgate used to be.
The magic had drained from his veins exactly seven meters away from the object.
Alaric broke into a run while more chirping wafted through the air, increasing in agonized urgency with each second that passed. As soon as he made it to the sunlit corner, he ripped the black cloth away to reveal the table and the ornamental brass birdcage atop it, and the little creature perched inside, with its twisted golden beak and its red-and-yellow tailfeathers. With its unique, awful ability.
The sariman’s jeweled eyes stared mournfully at Alaric through the brass bars of the cage. It flapped its wings, its chirps taking on a tone of pure distress, of lament. It was clearly terrified, and so far away from its verdant jungles.
“Fascinating thing, isn’t it?” said Gaheris. “I knew that I had to acquire a specimen for myself. How fortunate that Mathire’s men were able to capture one during Kesath’s sweep of the archipelago.”
“Why . . .” Alaric trailed off, unable to look away from the sariman in the cage.
“Because Nenavar shouldn’t get to have all the fun,” Gaheris replied, the smile still evident in his tone even though Alaric was no longer facing him. “Because Kesathese Enchanters need to catch up to the Dominion’s technology and surpass it. And because your wife is a Lightweaver and a former Sardovian, and this is how we will find a way to rid her of her magic, once and for all. We will rule the Continent and Nenavar. We will rule it all.”
Alaric’s fists clenched at his sides. The sariman’s wings scrabbled against the bars of the cage in a futile bid for freedom, its plaintive melody filling the hall as it sang for its lost shores.