Chapter Twenty-four

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"He went. At first Kozua promised not to do anything, but after hearing what the spirits had seen, he believed he could eradicate the Coretian threat and save the village from an invasion, or occupation, or whatever they might have planned.

"He knew Grandmother Ashi would be furious if she found out what he was now planning. He didn't tell me, either, knowing I would try anything to stop him. That night when I told him about what I saw, he convinced me he wouldn't do anything. I was young, and he was my older cousin. I trusted him not to lie to me.

"Grandmother Ashi was a powerful leader, and she taught Kozua everything he knew. And his connection to the Passage, his Strength, was beginning to surpass even hers. He was a young man with great discipline and a lot to sacrifice. The spirits were drawn to him like bees to clover.

"He went at night just over a week later, not wanting the Coretians to make any moves before he got to them.

"Not one Hatawan witnessed the event, but the Coretians fear us to this day because of it." Riuza looked at Rinnet. "He tells me even you were afraid of him."

"Not of him," Rinnet said through her teeth. His powers, perhaps — but she wouldn't admit that to Riuza.

"Maybe not," Riuza said, though her sideways glance suggested she thought otherwise. "But you spoke with one of the Guardsmen, and she led you to me. She must have told you some of what happened."

Hakolly's brother. Rinnet struggled to link the two. If whatever Kozua did made a Coretian whose whole life was the Guard resign, he had to have been hiding power from her. Scrawny, pathetic Kozua. The possibility ate at her. "The Guardsman didn't tell me anything useful," Rinnet replied. "It seems nobody knows what happened, if anything did."

"Something definitely happened," Riuza asserted. "The camp was in ruins. The tents blew away or ended up torn to pieces. What few structures the Coretians built burned to the ground — in fact, everything in the camp went up in flames. But not before Kozua went through himself.

"Coretians who tried to stop him found themselves inexplicably pinned to trees or thrown to the ground. They couldn't even get close — he had a wall of spirits around him. All the previous week he had fasted, held vigil, even drawn blood. By then, he looked more dead than the spirits. But few Hatawans, if anyone, suspected much. He was always walking along the edge of the Passage.

"And the spirits took notice. Even as Kozua himself was barely able to stand, the spirits fed off his Strength and rampaged through the camp at his silent command. He only meant to chase the Coretians away, hopefully for good. But then he found something after clearing a tent of high-ranking Guardsmen.

"Plans. Not to invade from the camp right away, but to settle in Hatawa and attack from the inside. The full invasion wasn't due for another year or two.

"Sick with hunger, dazed by lack of sleep, and now, wracked with the fear that peaceful Hatawans might one day be at the mercy of the brutal Coretians — Kozua lost control. He was..." Riuza searched for a word, tilting her head. "Spirit-blinded," she said, not her own phrase. "Kozua wanted the Guardsmen gone for good, and he wanted them gone that night. And with my own vision and the spirits around him, he knew he could do it.

"He rampaged without ever moving from the entrance of the tent. The fire at the center of the camp grew monstrous and leapt over its bounds. It surged to the wooden buildings and devoured them until nothing but ash remained, regardless of the people trapped within. Great winds swirled and flung tents, weapons, and Guardsmen across the campsite, hurling everything into the trees. The high-ranking Guardsmen Kozua had removed from the tent felt invisible hands clenching around their necks, squeezing tighter and tighter until each of them dropped to their knees, then collapsed, the darkness of death curling over their vision. The last they could have seen was the hot embers of their camp hissing in the damp earth, and the Coretian boots fleeing over them.

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