“Your comrade,” Zhenjin says, “was exceedingly difficult to put down.”
The plainsman locks eyes with you again, disgust and anger still simmering in the depths of his gaze. But there is also grudging respect and curiosity and determination – teach me more about your kind, his eyes demand. Teach me how you think, how you act, how you fight.
Teach me, so one day I can kill you.
You nod. “And his body?”
Zhenjin goes still for the briefest of instants. You tune out murmured conversation and clinking cutlery and steady breathing until – there it is – his frantic heartbeat echoes in your ears.
“We burned it,” he replies, looking away from you. He’s lying.
You nod again. “Thank you for telling me.” Zhenjin shifts his weight slightly and opens his mouth to speak, and…
Something calls to you, a faint spark of power at the edge of your perception. You answer in kind, closing your eyes and drawing on your Shard–
Image and sensation flash past one after another, almost too fast to follow. You run through the forest, cool air in your lungs, loyal hound at your side, twigs and branches and leaves crunching beneath your feet…
You hack away at a massive oak, arms burning with the exertion – something deep within the wood strains and creaks and snaps, and the tree begins to fall…
You stand at the base of the Tower, and all around the trees are red and gold with the colors of autumn (but it was winter when you arrived, white and cold and so silent)…
You train under the watchful eye of your master (but you have never seen her in your life)…
You join the war, bearer of the sixteenth Shard. You slip into tents and murder savages in their sleep, revenge for everything they’ve taken from you (but you were lucky, weren’t you? far from the front, family and friends safe and sound). On the last day of your life the tent is empty and the howling starts and there are teeth and claws and fangs ripping at your flesh and you fight but they–
(no this isn’t right, it can’t be right)
With a silent scream of effort, you tear yourself from the swamp of memory. That is not who you are. You never did any of those things. You were not killed in battle. You are not Sixteen. You are not Johannes.
I am Forty-Seven, you tell yourself. I have crossed the sea on a mission – to serve and protect Lord Anselm during his talks with the Reshanese. I made it through the war.
I am alive, you tell yourself. I am alive.
You open your eyes, and barely a moment has passed in the Imperial banquet hall – nobody seems to notice what just transpired.
Nobody except Zhenjin. He looks at you, wide-eyed, reaching up to his heart in disbelief, and you put the pieces together. Ambassador Yesui’s quiet confidence in her ability to negotiate with the Reshanese, her odd choice of bodyguard, Zhenjin’s refusal to tell the truth…
The sixteenth Shard was never recovered, you remember your superiors saying. We will need a replacement soon.
“What,” you ask very quietly, “have you done–”
“It was you,” Zhenjin growls, getting to his feet. “You killed my father.” His fists are clenched in rage, and his eyes burn with otherworldly fire.
THE PLAINSMEN HAVE DONE THE IMPOSSIBLE – ONE OF THEIR WARRIORS WIELDS THE POWER OF YOUR FALLEN COMRADE. WHAT WILL YOU DO?
- [Appeal to his honor. The Shard is a warrior’s weapon like any other. It belongs with Johannes’ kin.]
- [Tell him the risks. He has not been trained as you have; the strain of bearing the Shard will kill him as surely as any blade. It belongs with you.]
IF NEGOTIATIONS FAIL…
- [Duel him. You are stronger and more experienced, but he will not give up the chance to avenge his father. Kill him and retrieve the Shard.]
- [Let him be. His guard is up, and the banquet hall is packed with witnesses. A better opportunity may arise later.]