The leader produced a crystal from his bag and, one by one, he moved through the line of people, passing it from person to person. Vhalla wondered how long it would be before the Inquisitor began showing signs of the taint. She remembered Daniel’s stories of monsters and wondered if it was all some greater part of Victor’s machinations.
For nearly everyone the crystal did nothing. Vhalla held her breath, glancing at the other two Inquisitors slowly making their way from where they hid in the shade of the stables toward the crowd.
“Vhalla, we need to leave,” Jax urged, as she was the only one of them not mounted.
She took a step back toward Lightning. She couldn’t do anything. She couldn’t stop this.
And then she heard a scream.
The boy was maybe twelve, not far from his coming of age ceremony, barely old enough to have fuzz on his chin. He looked around in panic as everyone gaped at him—even the Inquisitors seemed surprised. The crystal glowed faintly from between his clutched fingers.
“No!” A woman, presumably his mother, swatted the stone away like the bad omen it was. “No, it-it’s a mistake!”
“I am truly sorry.” The Inquisitor did not sound sorry in the slightest, he sounded almost giddy. “But our Supreme King made these crystals with his divinely given magic; they cannot be wrong.”
The man in all black grabbed the boy’s arm. His mother grabbed the other.
“Please, please, he . . . I will raise him right; I will raise him to love the Supreme King. We will not let his magic show.” The woman began to sob.
“The law is clear.” The Inquisitor ripped the boy away as the town looked on in horror.
Vhalla realized it didn’t matter if Victor could find all the Windwalkers. Displays like this would ensure that none of them would ever expose themselves to the world. Magic would become legally outlawed again in the East; it would be even worse than the Burning Times. Victor was clever, and he was sending a clear message for anyone who’d dare expose their powers.
“No!” the woman screamed. “No, no!”
“He’s just a boy!” another brave soul protested.
“No,” Vhalla took another step toward Lightning.
“You lot! You must report!” One of the Inquisitors making their round of the town had finally caught sight of them.
“He’s my boy!” Other members of the town had begun to restrain the woman for her own sake as the Inquisitor dragged the lad up the line.
“Stop!” Vhalla cried and dug her heels into Lightning. “Stop this!”
“What?” The leader looked honestly puzzled for the briefest of moments as she raced down the small street through the center of town. He pushed the boy to the ground defiantly. “You will be next for going against the Supreme King’s decree!”
“Fine, but let him go,” Vhalla spat back fearlessly. “You don’t want him. I’m the one you want.” She threw down her hood. “I am Vhalla Yarl, Duchess of the West, Lady of the Southern Court, and the one whom you call the Windwalker.”
The Mother, hanging high in the sky above, must have looked fondly upon Vhalla’s otherwise foolish act because, at that moment, a gale swept through the town. It pushed her cloak about her form from behind, as though an invisible hand was placed upon her. Everyone held their breath.
“She lies!” one of the assistants cried. “Do not hesitate!”
The assistant threw out his hand and a spear of ice impaled the boy through his center. A cough of blood, a gurgled cry, and the mask of death was upon him.
With an anguished scream, Vhalla charged. She didn’t care if she no longer had her wind. She would rip the man limb from limb with her own two hands.
Vaulting off Lightning, she tackled the leader head first. He reared back to punch her and Vhalla dodged, bringing her knee up hard between his legs. The wind left him, and Vhalla pushed him off her. He stumbled off the stage with a menacing groan and a string of colorful words. She drew her sword fearlessly.
The crackle of ice lit up the air and Vhalla turned. But where the assistant had been was now nothing more than a charred mark on the ground, the temperature of the square rising by several degrees.
“Move and die!” Fritz shouted, holding out a hand to one of the remaining two Inquisitors. Jax was poised, ready to attack the other.
“Wh-who are you?” The leader scrambled away, looking between Vhalla and the Firebearer on the horse.
“The Fire Lord.” Aldrik threw down his hood, staring down the man who suddenly looked like nothing more than an ant beneath a mountain. He held out a hand and fire crackled off his finger, setting the leader ablaze.
Vhalla was expecting some further retaliation, but the remaining assistant by the stage fell to his knees and brought his face to the dusty ground. No one seemed to be able to process this reaction.
“My lord, my lord,” the man wailed. He turned his face upward, looking to Aldrik as though he were a god. “You have returned from the Father’s halls to save us.”
“Are you really who you say you are?” An elderly man moved away from the mother grieving over her fallen son.
“I am.” Vhalla looked on at the broken family in sorrow, wishing she could reverse the clock. “We are.”
“We can’t believe them,” snarled one of the Inquisitors, a blonde Southerner who viciously stared down Fritz.