Chapter Twenty One

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 The Sieltacor proved to be the most interesting time of my life. After the first dance I began to understand how to prepare my body for those that followed. The real problem was discerning where the dance would take me. It is a different world, you see, the world of darkness. Forsaking the light is one thing, but turning your back on it altogether is another. I questioned it at first, fought it even, but in the end I embraced the darkness, though I cannot help but wonder if it was because of her.

The problem with chasing someone in the shadows is that you never quite know where they will be. The narrows, as we called it, was the underground crypt in Osprey. My first dance landed me in the kitchen. A dreadful place I must say, but one that I found myself returning to time and again. My second dance happened a few days later with a full belly and a rested mind. It was not much more pleasant, but the dance was better, though my belly still did not remain full. One of the cooks shot me an abhorring look after I emptied my dinner on his stone floor—though saying it was his stone floor was like saying that these trees are mine.

I was no longer an outcast, and apparently the other acolytes were allowed not only to speak to me, but to train with me as well. It was Alris who pulled me out of the haze when I landed in the kitchen the first time. He carried me through the maze once again and into a smaller, more threatening room than that of the large chamber I had graced those times before. The same small man was sitting at a similar desk. There was no light in this room, but I no longer needed light to see.

He was smiling this time, but it was not a friendly smile. I saw something moving across the stone floor, a rat perhaps, and it gathered my attention for all but a moment. “Equality, yes?” His voice was no more inviting than before. I turned my gaze back to him, forgetting the critter.

Alris dropped me to the floor and was gone before I could think to curse at him. I stood there, my head still ringing, my stomach still turning, and watched the small man dissect me with his eyes. “I never did catch your name, my dark lord,” I finally spoke.

The small man’s smile faded and he steepled his hands in front of his face, much like the fake oscura had done so long ago. “Questionable, your reasons for coming to us… I can understand why your cousin deemed it necessary, but he does not concern me. You do, my prince, you do.”

I frowned at the small man. “Reasons…what do reasons matter?”

“You are full of vengeance and hate, young prince. You are preparing to take back an empire, an empire promised to you; an empire stolen from you.” He struggled to pull himself up from the chair, the bones of his arms apparent with every move. “The shadows do not care about your empire. The Sieltacor will train you, but you must forget the life you have left behind. We require you, and everything that is in you… forever.” The statement had an aura of finality to it.

That is unfortunate, I thought. “So in return for training, I owe a lifetime of servitude to you?”

He shook his head and flashed a quick smile. “No, not to me,” he said as he moved around the small table and towards the door I had been dragged through. “You start tomorrow. Exim here will show you to your chambers.”

“Who?” I managed to blurt out, but the small man had already disappeared.

“Me,” a voice said from behind me. When I turned I saw a boy near my age, but at least three or four winters older. He was thin, with long black hair that cupped an equally long, slender face. “I will be showing you around. I hope you can keep up.” His voice was reedy and he seemed to keep a permanent scowl across his face.

I nodded with an outstretched arm. “After you then.”

He only frowned as he walked towards the end of the small room. “The layout can be a bit… obscure, so remain close.”

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