“You lot are up early,” Geral observed, a steaming cup of wheat tea between his hands.
Vhalla returned the keys with a smile. “So are you.”
“True enough.” The man paused, his expression sobering. “Dodging the Inquisitors?”
“Inquisitors?” She looked to her comrades to see if they knew of what Geral spoke, but the group looked just as confused as Vhalla.
“I thought you would’ve heard . . .”
“There’s been a lot to hear,” Vhalla encouraged delicately.
“It’s all the Supreme King’s doing,” Geral began.
“Do you support the regime change?” They should’ve found that information before staying under the man’s roof.
“Do I look like a man who would support senseless violence?”
“You don’t.” Vhalla gave a breath of relief. “So, what is the Supreme King doing with Inquisitors?”
“They are sweeping the continent, but their presence has been especially felt here in the East. They have a way to use crystals to see if someone has the powers of a Windwalker.”
Vhalla was instantly reminded of Victor’s ledger. He knew there would be more. Not many, but they would be out there. A Windwalker could be the only possible opposition to his powers. The information was as useful as it was terrifying for the people who were confirmed to have the ability.
Geral continued, “A group of strange travelers, like yourselves, may want to know information like that.”
“Thank you,” Vhalla said sincerely, raising her hood to leave.
“I think it’s funny,” Geral added. “I only ever heard of one Windwalker in all my years. The first one to leave the East’s nest and fly. That was the girl named Vhalla Yarl.” He rested his elbows on the table leaning forward. “Though, I suppose she wouldn’t be a girl any longer. You know, she would stay with her parents at my inn during the Festival of the Sun. And when I heard the tales of all that was happening to her—the good, the bad—I cheered for her alongside the rest of the East.”
Vhalla’s hand went up to her shoulder, gripping it just above the scar.
“She’s the pride of the East. A beacon of a new future where people may start seeing Cyven as more than just some pastures and crops between North and South.” Geral sipped his cup once more. “What happened to her was a crime. But, then again, I hear she had a good record of dodging death itself. The truth could be right under our noses.”
“Things have a strange way of working out.” Vhalla’s words were laden with shock.
“They do indeed.” The man shifted his hands and turned the mug; upon it was the blazing sun of Solaris. “Now go, before the Inquisitor begins his rounds through the town.”
Vhalla took one last look at Geral before the door closed behind them. His warm words had restored her—and terrified her. These were her people, and they stood behind her. She had betrayed them, and now she had to do whatever was necessary to save them.
“How much did we pay him?” Elecia broke the silence as they were checking their saddlebags.
“Three silver,” Aldrik answered.
Elecia and Fritz shared a look. “Fritz and I went down when you two were being slow. The man said we had given too much on accident.” She held out her hand to Aldrik, three shining coins in its center.
He had returned the money.
The thunder of horses interrupted Vhalla’s thoughts. Five men rode boldly into the center of town, up to the small stage she had admired fondly the day before. Each echo of their footfalls upon the wood sounded like a dagger to her childhood.
“By the order of Supreme King Anzbel, we have been sent to inquire as to the magical merit of this town.” All five wore black cloaks with a silver wyrm stitched upon the back. People seemed to shrink into their homes as he spoke. “All towns in the East will be searched. The searches will be random and continue in perpetuity. All those presently in the town are asked to report now.”
“We should go,” Elecia whispered. “While they’re distracted by the initial bulk of people.”
“We should,” Fritz seconded.
Vhalla didn’t move. She watched as the people of Paca, her people, walked forward to the center of town. Diligent and dutiful to orders set forth by those in positions of leadership, the Easterners lined up.
The leader gave a nod to two of his men, who began making a quick sweep of the town, starting on the opposite end.
“Those who are known sorcerers, please report to my assistants and you will be asked to demonstrate your gift from the Gods and bypass the test.” He motioned to the two men at his side. Vhalla noticed none of them were Eastern. “Everyone else, the test is simple. You will hold a crystal. Should it shine, our righteous and Supreme King has demanded you shall be put to death for possessing the accursed powers of the wind.”
Vhalla couldn’t breathe. He’d said he wanted to make a world for all sorcerers. He’d lied. Victor was King Jadar born again.
“Victor is afraid,” she forced her mind to keep moving past her anger. “He’s afraid of Windwalkers. We can still stop him.”
“He can’t honestly think that there are more Windwalkers.” Aldrik shook his head.
“There are.” Vhalla didn’t even look back to see the confounded stare on the Emperor’s face. “There have been more. They’ve all been kept hidden or killed.”