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The sensation reminded Kirya of being bitten by a mosquito: becoming slowly aware of the intrusion, looking down, too late, to discover the insect swollen with blood, then swiping it away with a panicked gesture and watching its crumpled, crushed carcass fall to the floor. But there was no regaining the stolen blood.

She wrestled with a total body paralysis as her mind lifted out of its stupor, as she strained against her unresponsive muscles. Her eyes came reluctantly into focus, revealing a canvas covering just above her, through which she could see bright daylight beyond. There was a musty, old, dirty smell, infused with spice and oil and decaying food, as if she were surrounded by all three. Managing to move her fingers, then an arm, she attempted to roll onto her side, but the rest of her body remained resolutely inoperative.

There was a memory of arriving at the old arena, where they'd picked out a line of caravans which looked nearly ready to leave the city, but she couldn't remember beyond that. She lay on something soft, which indicated a bed of sorts. Aching against her stubborn joints, she rolled her head to one side, discovering that she was wedged between assorted trade goods, atop a pile of straw. The space was tiny, presumably inside one of the merchant caravans. She wondered how long she had been unconscious, and whether they had already passed the city walls.

A pang of guilt rippled through her inert body and she felt an involuntary single tear emerge from one of her eyes, slipping down her face and into the straw. She wanted to rush back to the palace and into the throne room, where she could embrace her father and help him set things right. Together, they could have restored order and calm. She could have brought him back to reason, and found a way for Fenris to return to his post.

Instead, she had run. To find Tranton Seldon, of course. That's what she had told herself, and had believed it, but joining Fenris' personal rebellion wouldn't help find the vanished explorer. Fenris had asked for her trust and she had given it, over her loyalty to her own parents and the crown. The decision had been fast and ill-considered, instinctual rather than strategic, and she grimaced at her own impulsiveness. It didn't escape her notice that it had always been Fenris who had admonished her for her more fanciful ideas and impulses.

Her old mentor had assured her of his best intentions, talking of a rot within the castle that threatened the king and everyone in the valley. He spoke of the old wars as if they were yesterday, of gods as if they were real, rather than stories with which to scare children.

They would be caught, and Fenris executed. The boy, Tarn, would also be killed. She would live but be forever imprisoned, living comfortably but never again able to wield power or whisper advice to the king. Perhaps even exile would be an option, now that the southern passage was open - assuming that anybody could retrace Seldon's path.

Light flooded in as a door was swung open, out of her view. She tried to sit but still couldn't command her limbs. From around the corner of stacked crates came Tarn, looking every bit as untamed as he had been when she'd first set eyes upon him in the tower. His eyes widened and an enormous grin spread over his face.

"You're alive!" he shouted, kneeling next to her. "Everything will be better now."

She murmured something groggily at him and he frowned, then grasped her by the shoulders and helped her into a seated position. Her vision spun, slowed, and stabilised. Tarn held a hand out to her shoulder, and she leaned into it as her balance returned.

"Thought you were dead," he said. "Didn't know why he kept you here still."

"I wasn't dead." She tilted her head from side to side, stretching her neck.

"You must have been very tired, then."

She suppressed a laugh. There were so many questions she needed to ask the boy. She began with something simple. "Where are we?"

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