Returning from the Isolation Unit, Callan padded down the walkway to Mathias’s private domain and paused at the door when he saw Etoi and Zilya.

Some days, those two were almost as much trouble as the TecKnatis and so caught up in their conversation that neither heard him approach. How many times had he drilled them in training that to be unaware is to welcome death?

Of course, a fully-grown prantheer hadn’t heard him sneak up on her lair last week either, but she’d been caring for her cubs. Not gossiping.

Etoi worked on a basket of dried tullee pods for seasoning a stew and complained to Zilya, “The one who calls himself Tony is a TeK. He must die.”

Zilya nodded. “Yes, I know.” She sat on a separate mat spinning katoni threads into a skein the weavers used to embellish the hems of gilded tunics.

Poor use of labor. Left to Callan, he’d have everyone train to fight and build defenses when not gathering food or hunting. Decorating clothes was a foolish use of time when faced with survival. But Mathias had pointed out that the simple task of sewing allowed those too young to hunt or gather food alone to have a feeling of worth.

That’s why Mathias made an excellent leader.

But then there were those who felt that physical training was beneath their House level.

And Etoi and Zilya were not little children who needed to be coddled to have a sense of worth.

“Why does he still live?” Etoi’s focus stayed locked on the topic of the TeK captive with the tenacity of a dugurat latched onto a last meal.

Zilya gave a dainty shrug. “I would use that Tony for croggle bait myself, but Mathias decides the fate of the prisoners.”

“He is too soft. You should–”

“But he is our leader. I can only advise, not force his hand if he chooses to ignore my counsel.”

You should be leader here.”

Callan almost stepped inside to let Etoi know he’d heard her traitorous comment, but he wanted to hear Zilya’s reply.

“I will always regret having you with me the night I was captured, but I have to admit that I am selfish enough to be glad for your company. I am fortunate to have a champion such as you, Etoi, but to challenge Mathias for his position would be foolish on my part.”

Callan agreed, but didn’t hear the outrage in her response that he’d expect from a Gild female who should strike down impertinence against a leader, not preen under adulation.

Zilya added, “Let’s finish here soon. I have much to worry over besides the prisoners.”

Nodding her head in concession, Etoi still grumbled, “I just believe all TecKnati should be punished.”

“As do I.”

Callan could not listen to these two carry on any longer. No one had more reason than him to feel deep hatred for the TecKnati who had killed his twin brother, but Mathias was the eldest of the Governing House and had studied MystiK law since taking his first steps. His word was final and Callan would uphold the law here just as he would at home, even if it meant laying down his life to do so.

He’d failed once. That wouldn’t happen again.

Making himself heard as he stepped in, Callan asked, “Where is Mathias?”

Zilya’s surprised gaze shot up to his, then she calmly returned to winding her thread. “Checking on our new child.”

Callan called to Mathias, mind to mind. This is Callan. We need to talk.

Mathias answered, I’m on my way to my chamber. Meet me there.

Speaking out loud, Callan said, “For one so busy as you claim, I would think you’d have more to do than sew, Zilya.”

She tensed at realizing he’d overheard her conversation.

“What would you have her do?” Etoi argued in her usual surly tone. Her lack of respect knew no bounds.

“You could both use more training.”

Etoi leaped to her feet, hands fisted and shoulders tight. “You wish you had more warriors like me.”

“If you’d train as hard as you gossip, then I’d agree.”

Growling, she lunged at Callan who only lifted a hand. Etoi smacked against the invisible surface of his power and bounced back, yelping and rubbing her nose that now trickled with blood.

He grinned. “You can put a bandage on your nose, but there’s no cure for stupidity. On the positive side, those who act without thinking will eventually clean up the gene pool.”

“Must you?” Zilya asked Callan.

“I did nothing except defend myself in the least painful way from someone who should take care whom she attacks.”

Murder raged in Etoi’s eyes. “In this Sphere, you are not of Gild or Rubio level. You are not your brother, only a second son who is unfit to rule the Warrior House.”

Zilya went very still, her eyes raised watching Callan.

Etoi’s words sliced through him back and forth, cleaving his heart with each reminder that he’d failed to protect his twin brother’s back. Jornn should have been the next Warrior House ruler, but the TecKnati had murdered him. After torturing Jornn to the point of disembowelment, they’d cut a triangle where his heart had been and that was the last vision their mother had of her son’s body.

Callan’s last memory of his closest friend in the world.

But the TecKnati had not broken Callan and neither would some spiteful elite-Gild-wannabe like Etoi. He forced a smile to his lips and told her, “You’re right. I will not rule my House, but I never wanted to, where you will always lust after the life of a Gild female and the closest you will ever come is cleaning their hygiene facilities.”

His strike slapped the arrogance off of her bitter face and silenced her. He pointed at the door. “Go.”

Wisely, Zilya stood and pushed a bowl at Etoi as though she had made the decision for them to leave. “Meet me in my chambers.”

Etoi gripped the woven bowl with fingers so tight they turned white at the knuckles, but she left without another word.

Once Etoi was clearly out of earshot, Zilya whispered, “When did you realize you had that ability?”

“Stopping Etoi with my hand?”


“It’s new and not of any significant use yet.” Not that he’d let her know when any of his G’ortian gifts reached full potential. He could use those powers with fighting croggles if not for some defense mechanism the TeKs had put around the areas where the monsters lived.

Stepping up next to Callan, Zilya said in a sultry voice, “I’m always willing to train. When will you be available for a private session?”

Back home, men lost their wits when Zilya walked into a building. She was stunning and rare, and they all wanted her. Not me. He’d been interested, once, back when he was fifteen and before she’d been promised to his brother. Then Callan had investigated her as he would anyone who might have proven a threat at some point to his brother.

Beneath the layers of Zilya’s beauty lay a deadly trap of deceit and a heart of ice. Sharing his opinion of Zilya with Jornn had caused an argument Callan didn’t want to remember. He told her, “I’ll let you know when I’m training grunts again.”

Her eyes narrowed to angry slits. “Insulting me is dangerous.”

“No, dangling you in front of a croggle is dangerous. Insulting you is rude.”

“You can pretend the rules are different here, but nothing has changed at home.”

Not having to deal with political issues at home was the only upside he’d found to being in this pit of death. “That’s there. This is here.”

Her chin lifted and her eyes flared with warning. “When we return–”

Mathias walked in. “Is there a problem?”

“Of course not. I was just leaving.” Zilya’s face glowed with a smile for the one person she believed would push Callan to do her bidding even here.

She was wrong.

If no one else had been able to force Callan to take Jornn’s place as leader, what made her think she had any more power?

Once Zilya left, Mathias faced Callan. “You should try to get along with her.”

Callan held up his hand. “Please, no lectures on Zilya today.”

The weary sigh that escaped Mathias spoke of long days and nights trying to keep a band of children alive. At the moment, that meant providing for over sixty MystiK children stolen from the Ten Cities of the K’ryan Renaissance. Many of whom were barely past nine years old. Callan didn’t envy him.

Mathias moved on. “In that case, tell me what you couldn’t share about our captives when everyone was here.”

“The girl with the long black hair who leads the trio is dangerous.” Pretty, too, but then Zilya proved that physical attractiveness meant very little when it came to character.

“More dangerous than the TeK male?”

“Yes. Have you decided she’s not TecKnati?” Callan didn’t think she was, but he’d reserve final judgment until he had all the information. The fact that she’d been found in the company of his enemy and defended that same TeK counted against her.

“She doesn’t appear to be TeK. However, that doesn’t clear up who or what she is.” Mathias waved toward the far wall for them to sit in two ocean-blue chairs he’d carved from the base of chopped-down terrian trees. “I’ll have to ask V’ru, which reminds me. Would you spend some time with him?”

Train V’ru?” Callan didn’t even try to hide his shock.

“No, just talk to him. He’s adjusting, but not as quickly as I’d hoped.”

Words were not Callan’s strength. He didn’t know how to comfort anyone. “Can’t Zilya talk to him?”

“V’ru likes Zilya, but he doesn’t look up to her. He idolizes you.”

That made it even worse. Callan wanted no one idolizing him, but he owed a debt to V’ru who had given Callan valuable information that helped in investigating Jornn’s death. As a powerful G’ortian and a prodigy of the Records House, V’ru was better than any Cyberprocessor when it came to producing immediate information. And Callan wasn’t entirely sure that V’ru hadn’t been following him the night they were both captured. “I hate that he’s here.”

“I understand, but we lost a lot of children before V’ru arrived. I was barely keeping this village alive on what little we’d figured out was edible through trial and error.”

“I’m glad we have V’ru’s unlimited knowledge at hand, but he shouldn’t be here.”

“No MystiK should. He’ll settle in.”

Seemed like a good time to change the subject back to why Callan had stopped by. “You need to train.”

Mathias groaned. “I’m proficient with the spear. That’s enough.”

Not if Mathias intended to spend tonight in the woods alone, but Callan didn’t want to add to his leader’s worries by reminding him. “You missed the last two training sessions.”

“I’ll make you a deal.”

Now Callan groaned, sure of what was coming. He pushed up from the chair and stepped over to where two shoulder-high spears were stabbed in the ground next to the feather wall. When Mathias stood, Callan lifted a spear and tossed it at him. “Fine. We both train.”

Mathias grinned and caught the weapon with one hand then moved to the center of the room. He began stretching, using the staff for support. “If I must train to fight croggles, you must train to fight SEOH.”

Here came one of Mathias’s “leader” lessons.

Callan crossed his arms and spread his feet apart, ready to work Mathias to the point of distraction. “If you say so. I’m ready to meet him on the battlefield.”

“That you are, but as leader of all the TecKnati, SEOH will never fight fairly, or on a physical battlefield.”

“I have no intention of fighting fairly either. Not against someone who got away with killing three future MystiK leaders without sanction.” Jornn had been one of those. “Our treaty isn’t worth the spell that was cast on it.”

Mathias paused from a contorted stretch and straightened. “Yes it is. The sanction worked just as the spell on the treaty was intended. At the moment each of those underaged MystiKs were murdered, SEOH and two other TeK dignitaries lost their seventeen-year-old sons. An eye for an eye. A future leader for a future leader.”

“But no one knows that’s why those TeKs died. You want to know what really chafes my hide? The whole thing got covered up.”

“I’ll admit that SEOH is a genius when it comes to battle strategy.”

Callan scowled at Mathias. “How can you praise him?”

“Do not misunderstand me. I do not praise him, but you were the one who taught me to thoroughly evaluate an enemy. I am only doing that.”

“I said to look for an enemy’s weak spot, because they always have one. Never underestimate an opponent.”

Mathias nodded as he began moving through exercises while Callan gave hand signals of different attack and defense positions. Shove straight out, pull back to his chest, then a half spin to the right, another shove, a half spin left. Mathias said, “SEOH is a sociopath, and a clever one. My point was that he ran a brilliant damage control campaign to camouflage the deaths of the three TeK children who appeared to have collapsed from asphyxiation. Easy to accomplish with the technology at his fingertips.”

Only because idiots believed his lies,” Callan ground out, disgusted. “I couldn’t believe that even MystiKs bought into SEOH’s claim.” Callan dropped his voice to emulate SEOH’s from the black-ban vid and struck a politician’s pose with a hand over his chest. “Our planet has experienced a rare phenomenon.”

Mathias snorted at the imitation. “Maybe we need a vid player as a ruler.”

“That’s the problem. Our citizens are lazy sheep. They accept anything spoken through a microphone or seen on a vid screen as truth.”

“I concur, but no average person will dispute SEOH’s statements when his claims are backed up by scientists.”

Callan never understood how people could be so easy to trick. Couldn’t they use their brains? “How stupid can anyone be to believe that fine particles from a meteor had passed through the atmosphere to cause the sudden deaths of three TeK boys?”

“Naïve, not stupid,” Mathias corrected.

With one quick move, Callan struck unexpectedly and had Mathias on his back, the spear at Mathias’s throat. “Never allow anything to distract you.”

When Callan stepped away, Mathias climbed to his feet and snatched back the weapon, grumbling something about payback.

“You were saying?” Callan smiled.

“Just wait until I test you on MystiK law.” Mathias nodded for Callan to resume, then stabbed and moved with the intense conviction that Callan had been looking for. Mathias continued, “All I’m saying is you must study the way SEOH handled that situation. Instead of allowing rumors of three mysterious TeK deaths to surface, he offered major credits to families who, quote, ‘also had children die of unexplained deaths’ during that same time frame.”

“I understand. With so many families coming forward whether they had an unexplained death or not, the three TeKs killed by our treaty were buried in the flood of reports.”

Mathias nodded, lifting his arm to swipe sweat from his brow. “That is a TeK strength you must plan to confront when you return.”

“I can’t fight press conferences.” If he could, Callan would have destroyed SEOH a long time ago.

“To be a strong leader, you must also learn how to fight political battles, Callan.”

Callan ignored the comment about being a leader, determined not to argue with Mathias today of all days. He turned to find a water gourd near the chairs that he handed Mathias who upended it for a long drink then set it aside.

Mathias pressed on with his lesson. “When SEOH uses charm to sway the masses while he kills MystiKs, you must be just as creative when it comes to striking back.”

“I’m the sword arm of Warrior House, not the mouth.”

“And that’s only one reason SEOH is successful.”

Callan’s entire body tightened at the insinuation that he was at fault for SEOH’s success.

When Mathias noticed Callan’s face, he stumbled in his movements and held the spear across his chest. “Save that look for a croggle or the enemy. I have enough nightmares.”

Callan gained control of his anger and wiped all expression from his face.

Angling his head in a show of thanks, Mathias went on. “I meant no criticism of the Warrior House, but of the fact that none of our Houses work together. A sword arm alone will not save us. If we continue fighting the way we always have, we’ll eventually lose everything.”

Callan agreed about the lack of cohesion between Houses, but he would kill the man who took Jornn’s life...if he ever got out of this Sphere. The moment Jornn’s soul had left his physical body, his brother’s spirit had spoken in Callan’s mind saying, “I’m sorry to leave you, brother. SEOH has murdered me and, as decreed by the treaty, he’s punished by the loss of his own son. But there will be more. Do not let him win.”

SEOH may not have struck the blow with his hand, but he’d ordered the vicious killing. In one instant, Callan lost the equivalent of a limb and became the next in line to rule the Warrior House, except he wasn’t ruler material.

But duty rarely took ability into account.

Callan would fulfill his brother’s last command once he figured out how. “You’re right. If our Houses weren’t so competitive, secretive, and paranoid over protecting their powers they might communicate and know the treaty has been broken. As it is, the leaders of all seven Houses will not know that three MystiKs have been murdered by the TecKnati until our elders meet at the upcoming BIRG Con, expecting to indoctrinate new leaders and sign another worthless treaty. By that point, there may be no future generation to take the reins. What will our people do when they realize children from all Houses have gone missing? Will they figure out that the TecKnati have been capturing us? I tell you this as truth. The Warrior House will seek retribution, but will the other six make SEOH pay?”

“I don’t know. SEOH has to be expecting retaliation at the BIRG Con. I have to hope our leaders would put aside their differences and unite the minute they realize genocide is under way and, at that point, turn on the TeKs.” Mathias paused, lowering his spear. “This could mean war.”

“It should.”

“But can we fight the TecKnati?”

“United, I believe we could, but not when our leaders only meet once every five years at the BIRG Con. SEOH has had the luxury of time for planning.” Callan lifted his spear and gave a silent defensive order to Mathias to keep him training. Maybe when Mathias returned to his Governing House, he’d be able to show his elders that one could govern and protect at the same time.

Mathias agreed, “We have proven the power of shared knowledge and communication to survive in this Sphere. There is no value in hoarding information if the price is our future.” Mathias made a difficult maneuver that included a back flip. He landed decisively, grinning.

“Well done.” Callan could see a strong MystiK society if the Houses joined resources the way he, Mathias and other young MystiKs had done to survive this Sphere. But MystiKs didn’t question the status quo, content to believe they were safe as long as they stayed inside the ten secured cities, content with their own corner of power. And the TecKnati population appeared as easily misled.

Both MystiKs and TecKnatis had lived in uneasy peace since the K’ryan Syndrome when an infection had wiped out ninety percent of civilization a hundred and six years ago.

But the peace would last no longer.

Callan changed up the training. “Now without your hands.”

Mathias balanced the spear on one arm and used his kinetic ability to roll the rod up his arm and dipped his head forward as it traveled across his shoulders. “Can you see the Warrior House ever being as forthcoming back home?”

“Security has always called for a certain amount of autonomy and maintaining classified information.” Callan conceded the point though. “We have thick-headed seniors, too. The old ones have been in control for too long. They refuse to change the way things have always been done. Time for new blood, younger blood, but SEOH is wiping out our next generation before that can happen.”

With a new hand signal from Callan, Mathias flipped the spear in the air, caught it and went into a series of attack positions. “No argument on that point. Sadly, the TecKnati’s ability to communicate better than we do is why we’re sitting in this Sphere.”

Callan vowed, “One day I will prove that SEOH is a cold-blooded killer and see him sent to a cage worse than this place.”

“That’s probably one reason SEOH’s glad to have you in here.”

“I’m sure.” Callan glanced up at the sky, always keeping an eye out for change. “Think this Sphere is the only world SEOH’s created?”

“Quite possibly. According to V’ru, the engineering of an artificial planet such as this one takes an enormous amount of credits that even SEOH’s ANASKO Corporation would hesitate to spend twice. The media vids V’ru allowed me to review showed SEOH bragging about the plants and animals gathered as a result of his space exploration program. He touted the TeKs for donating generously to create a suitable host location for the study of adaptability.”

“Adapt or die, in our case.”

“Yes. Most people would assume SEOH meant the ability of his alien plant and animal specimens to adapt to our world, not that we would be doing the adapting.” Mathias lifted the spear and began timed maneuvers that required rapid hand-over-hand defensive and offensive moves. “I think SEOH saw this as the perfect place to put captured MystiKs while justifying the expense of building this Sphere to his board of twelve. He probably convinced them this would be a sort of training area prior to relocating people–MystiKs–to other planets.”

Callan dodged forward with the speed of a striking snake and snatched the spear from Mathias, flipped it once into an attack pose, then handed the weapon back to a scowling Mathias. Callan grinned, continuing. “I’ve heard that rumor about relocation. You think SEOH’s really going to try to wipe out MystiKs by shipping us off to another planet?”

“No.” Mathias paused, thinking as he cradled the spear. “I think his primary goal is to remove those of us approaching eighteen–take us out of circulation, especially G’ortians.”

Callan avoided discussing his G’ortian status since that was yet another reason his family had been disappointed when he refused to accept his role as a leader. More powerful than other MystiKs, G’ortians only came along once every seven generations. Callan had experienced some gifts since birth, such as immediate telepathic ability that usually developed several years later. But his kinetics were a recent revelation and undependable as yet. He pushed the conversation back to SEOH. “I keep trying to figure out SEOH’s end game for putting us in here. What’s your guess?”

“To prevent us from taking our places as the next level of leaders within our Houses.”

“Sure, but SEOH’s also putting TeK children in jeopardy every time a MystiK child dies here. Even TeKs will eventually raise an alarm if they lose enough children.”

“I’ve thought on that quite a bit. I don’t believe the TeKs are losing children.” Mathias jabbed the spear into the ground and took a breath, wiping a sheen of sweat from above his mouth.

“Why not? The treaty decrees retribution.” Not that Callan wanted to see any child die, but without a consequence SEOH would continue capturing MystiKs.

“I believe this Sphere is their answer to neutralizing us.”

Callan argued, “But the treaty–”

“–stated that a TecKnati or a MystiK child would die in response to an intentional death caused by either group.” Mathias drew a couple of breaths. “SEOH probably thought little of that clause at the time it was written. Rumors say he scoffed at the notion that anything supernatural would reach beyond our people to affect the TecKnati, and him in particular.”

“SEOH was the fool there. Underestimating your opponent is shortsighted and dangerous.” Callan had drummed that into his young warriors.

“Quite true, but when our MystiK forefathers negotiated the current treaty, the TeKs had never before experienced more than occasional interruptions in their technology caused by MystiK powers that they dismissed as coincidental. SEOH had no reason to believe our leaders could infuse any real power into that one retaliatory clause in the treaty. Not until he paid the price for ignorance and arrogance with his own son’s death. Sending captured MystiKs to this Sphere is evidence that he’s worried now.”

Callan pondered on that, not liking the direction of his thoughts. “So you’re saying SEOH has changed his tactics and there’s no consequence?”

“He may not want to believe in our powers, but he has to know that MystiK power was behind the failure of ANASKO’S HERMES shuttle and the death of his son at the same moment your brother died.” Mathias dropped his gaze to the ground. “My father and our House led the drive to stop that launch. As the Governing House, we should have been better prepared for the reaction. We anticipated a backlash, but no one expected SEOH to send an assassin after three of our future leaders or to orchestrate a plan for genocide.”  

There was little Callan could say to that admission, but Mathias did not deserve to carry the blame for those deaths. The only person responsible was SEOH. Callan walked over to lift the other spear and turned back. “Through resting?”

Once Mathias raised his weapon, Callan attacked. Strike, dodge, strike. Callan admitted, “Our elders must accept the need for change. Had all seven Houses worked together, my warriors would have been brought in to perform a covert attack on ANASKO’s shuttle launch that no one could have pinned on the MystiKs. That being said, regardless of any mistakes, at least your father took an action when we had to do something. We can’t allow SEOH to bring another deadly version of the K-Virus into our world again.”

Mathias’s father had led the charge against space exploration for years. Callan respected that. MystiKs believed the dangerous K-Virus that annihilated so much of the world’s population five generations ago had originated in outer space. In his thinking, every effort SEOH took to expand space exploration placed the entire world’s population at risk.

“The threat of the K-Virus won’t stop SEOH from trying to ship us off planet,” Mathias said, and shot forward, jabbing the spear.

Callan spun away from the sharp tip. He landed with his feet set to intercept a second attack, but Mathias was laughing too hard to follow through. Callan gave him his due and dipped his head slightly in a nod, the equivalent of high praise for getting that close to an elite warrior. “You’re improving.”

Shrugging, Mathias swung the spear up in front of his chest, holding it horizontally with two hands. Callan lifted his spear with two hands as if he wielded a sword, striking the wooden bar from different angles as Mathias blocked. Callan thought out loud. “With the threat of facing another K-Virus, does SEOH really think our Houses will go along with shipping MystiKs to a new planet?”

“Perhaps. There are MystiKs who believe in SEOH’s relocation program as a chance for our people to rule their own world. I heard many excited about SEOH’s announcement of his new HERMES shuttle plans. The ad campaign went viral within minutes. If I saw one more ad for Hermes, God of Travel, I threatened to destroy my Cyberprocessor.”  

“Foolish MystiKs and TeKs. Yet again, they hear only what they want to hear.”

Mathias quipped, “I wonder if any of them realize Hermes was also the god of trickery and thieving.”

Callan answered with a wry smile. Could Mathias be right about SEOH’s reasoning behind using the Sphere as a cage for MystiK children?

After the K’ryan Syndrome wiped out billions of people, every generation of MystiKs since then had become more powerful in using their abilities. Gifts the MystiKs considered as natural as breathing, but TecKnati saw as supernatural freakishness. Now the G’ortians showed signs of unexpected levels of abilities that, if combined, threatened a power capable of impeding technological advancement the MystiKs deemed reckless.

Now that Callan thought on the specifics of the treaty–just as Mathias had intended during this training session–he realized Mathias hadn’t answered his earlier question. “Why do you think no TeK children are dying at home?”

Swinging the spear tip up and down in fast arcs, Mathias blocked, breathing hard as he answered. “The treaty is written in such a way that if an underaged MystiK dies by the hand of, or order of, a TeK as a premeditated act, a TeK child of equal rank will lose his or her life immediately. The idea was that no parent would willingly sacrifice his own child, and if someone who was not a parent killed a child, that the penalty would be great enough to force the people to rise up against the person responsible.”

“But, as I mentioned, the loophole in the treaty is lack of knowledge of this heinous act.” Callan worked through the logic in his mind. “What about a beast that belongs to SEOH?” If I’d studied with Jornn back when he went through government training I’d know the terms of the treaty better.

“I assume you don’t mean sentient beasts, which were outlawed long ago and would still cause a TeK death if SEOH directed the animal to kill a MystiK child. Even SEOH wouldn’t risk the death penalty that possessing one of those beasts carries.”

“No, I mean what about a regular living animal?”

“If a TeK owns a living creature who attacks a MystiK who then dies, but the TeK did not train the animal to kill, that would be considered an accident, leaving TeK children safe.”

“You think that’s true even of things in here like croggles?” Callan started understanding where Mathias was going with his train of thought and put the blunt end of his spear on the ground.

A bit winded, Mathias lowered his spear as well. “SEOH did put the croggles and other deadly elements retrieved from planetary exploration into this Sphere, but those creatures are naturally hostile. SEOH isn’t directing the plants, animals or the poisoned liquids. So as long as we die here, killed by natural events, he’s found a way around the treaty language.”

Callan’s skin chilled at the possibility of what Mathias was saying. SEOH could capture thousands of children, ship them here to die, and get away with murder.


Footsteps approached at a fast clip from down the hall, then Etoi rushed into the room without requesting entrance, as always. “There’s a corruption in the fog barrier.”

Mathias frowned. “That might only be the atmospheric change we experienced a couple of months ago.”

Callan snatched up his spear. “Or it might be something more significant.”

Any change to the fog compromised the safety of the village. He ran out with Mathias and Etoi close behind.

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