Retribution Launch

“For too long the Knights of the Last Dawn have stood by and done nothing while the Sovereigns shrouded the world in darkness. That ends today. The time for retribution is at hand.”

High King Zharrs once again rules the north from atop the Crescent Throne, and the newly-empowered Dragon Queen marches her army south in search of vengeance against the Crell. But for Jason and his allies, the war has taken a dark and unexpected turn. Following his climactic battle with Dathiel, Jason has lost the power of the Godsoul, and an unhealable wound festers in its wake. His only hope lies with a mysterious assassin who seems just as willing to kill him as save him.

Meanwhile, Elade and Belek must return to the Citadel to defend their fellow paladins from a deadly, enigmatic sorcerer known only as “the Archon.” But many knights would rather die than accept the aid of a traitor—especially a dark elf—and Highlord Alric’s plot to redeem the Last Dawn may very well lead to its annihilation.

Retribution, the fifth installment in the Godswar Saga, is now available at all major e-book retailers!

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes
Smashwords

Want early previews or signed hard copies? Check out my page on Patreon.

Patreon Launch

Greetings again!

I wanted to let everyone know that I have launched a Patreon page to coincide with the pending release of Retribution, the fifth book in the Godswar Saga and my fourteenth (!) full-length novel. If you aren’t familiar with Patreon, it’s basically a “tip jar” where folks can support their favorite artists, podcasters, and writers.

If you have the means, I greatly appreciate any support you can offer. As an added bonus, anyone who pledges before the end of the month will receive a free digital copy of Retribution before it’s available on Amazon or anywhere else. I’ve also added some other goodies like signed physical copies and early outlines/chapter previews. Feel free to take a look!

As always, thanks for reading! I’ll see you back in Obsidian soon.

https://www.patreon.com/CEStalbaum

 

October Update

For October, here’s the first scene with Jason and co from Retribution. This will (probably) be the last bit I throw up before release. I’ll keep everyone posted!

 

“The dragons are prepared, Your Majesty. We can depart whenever you are ready.”

Krystia Tharule, Dragon Queen of Solaria, waved a dismissive hand without turning her head. “I will join you shortly. Wait for me upstairs.”

Once the door closed, she leaned down and placed her hand on the cheek of the unconscious man lying upon the bed.  Her pale blue eyes turned mournful as she slowly shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Jason,” she whispered. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. If you had just listened to me, if you just stayed here where I could have protected you…”

“You will accomplish far more with this power than he ever could,” a male voice said from the shadows behind her. “Do not allow misguided sympathy to blind you to the greater truth.”

Krystia sighed and grit her teeth. “I do not wish to see him harmed. There must be something we can do for him.”

“If he was strong enough to survive his Awakening, he is strong enough to survive this.”

“Perhaps,” she whispered as she lovingly stroked Jason’s face. “I’m afraid he’ll overreact. Once he learns that Darius is gone—”

“I’m far more worried about his friends,” the man in the shadows interrupted. “I don’t trust them, and neither should you. We should imprison them until we return.”

“No,” Krystia insisted. She kissed Jason’s forehead and stood. “We cannot afford to antagonize the Asgardians any further. Sarina assures me that her cousin is willing to negotiate.”

“And you believe her? She’s convinced that I ordered the attack on Valheim.”

“You did, and it failed. Instead of dividing the clans you’ve united them against us.”

“The point is that the barbarians are going to invade regardless of how you treat the High King’s cousin. We should lock her in the dungeon and interrogate her. With your power, you could extract everything we want to know from her memories in seconds.”

“We’d have to find her first,” Krystia pointed out. “No one has seen her in days.”

The other speaker finally stepped out from the shadows and crossed his spiked gauntlets over his chest. His golden armor glittered in the thin beams of afternoon sunlight filtering in through the window. “She and her friends are still here in the city somewhere.”

“Obviously. They would never leave Jason behind. Sooner or later, they’ll make their move and attempt to break him out of the palace.”

“And you’re just going to let that happen?”

Krystia took a deep breath before she turned around to face him. “They are not our enemies, no matter what you think. They’re simply…misguided. Just like Jason.” Her expression hardened. “And Darius.”

The armored man scoffed. “So what do you plan to do, then?”

“I don’t want to harm them, but we obviously can’t allow them to jeopardize our plans, either. Not even Jason.” She glanced back down to the bed. “If they do try to break him out of here, we know exactly where they’ll take him.”

“Asgardia?”

“Eventually, perhaps, but first they’ll try and rendezvous with Darius. If we follow them, there’s a chance we can solve all of our problems at once.”

The armored man smiled.  He was tall and relatively young, and his wide forehead and pronounced cheekbones suggested an eastern Torsian heritage. “I’m impressed. You’re finally learning to think like a queen.”

“A queen who has no interest in being patronized, least of all by you,” Krystia growled. “Deep down, Jason and his friends know that the Crell are the real threat, but they’ve allowed themselves to become distracted. Once the war is over, they’ll understand…but until then, I may need to protect them from themselves.”

“And what of the faeyn twins? The male will not survive much longer, but his sister might.”

“They will be executed, as planned.”

“Even though they fought against Dathiel? Even though they have intimate knowledge of the Watchers and the Triumvirate? You knew who they were when they entered the palace with Jason, but you didn’t seem to care at the time.”

“That doesn’t matter now,” Krystia said, shaking her head. “They killed our soldiers at Belethari. They are enemies of Solaria and shall be punished accordingly.”

“The healers believe they will awaken soon or not at all. Shall we stay the execution until our return?”

“No. The moment they regain consciousness, I want them carted out to the lower ward and strung up in front of as many of the refugees as possible. I will not tolerate any more dissent, not from my people and certainly not from foreign mercenaries.”

The armored man grinned. “We prevented Dathiel from destroying the city. Once we liberate the Darrowmere, the people will have no further reason to doubt us. Even the Legion will recover, in time.”

“Perhaps,” Krystia whispered. “Or perhaps you were right all along.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning I never needed soldiers to win this war. I have the Unbound, I have your dragons…and now I have the power of the gods themselves.”

“I have a feeling that even the Sovereigns know their time has come.”

“If they don’t already,” Krystia said, “they will soon.”

 

Jason Moore awakened with a start. For a brief moment he thought the world was shaking around him, but then he belatedly remembered he was inside a covered carriage lumbering down the road.

“You all right?”

He swallowed and turned. Sarina was sitting next to him, her green eyes narrowed in concern. Behind her, Gor was snoring softly beneath an oversized silk blanket; behind him, Kaeya Virithal was huddled up against a cushion in the corner, her arms crossed and her hood drawn over her face. The rest of the carriage interior was filled with their meager traveling supplies.

“Uh…I think so,” Jason muttered as his brain finally reconciled the difference between dream and reality. His memories of the past few days flooded back over him: waking up inside the Celenest palace, rejoining with Tam and Sarina, escaping the city before the royal guards could catch them…

“You should try and get as much rest as you can,” Sarina suggested, squeezing his shoulder before she shifted her attention back down to the impressive bow she’d brought back with her from Asgardia. “We should be coming up on Lonath’s Watch soon, but with any luck the guards won’t give us any trouble.”

Jason cleared his throat and ran a hand back through his tangled brown hair. They were three days out from Celenest at this point, and as long as their bribes and bullshit continued to appease any Legion soldiers they encountered, they would arrive in Serogar tomorrow evening. There, hopefully, they would reunite with Darius and figure out what in the void they were going to do next.

A week had passed since Dathiel, the mortal avatar of the Immortal Orias, had assaulted Celenest. As far as Jason was concerned, however, it could have easily been a different lifetime. In addition to trashing the Temple of Sol, Dathiel had also ripped Anvira’s Godsoul from the Virithal Twins and stolen the Malacross Godsoul from Jason. He was surprised he’d woken up at all—host bodies didn’t often survive the extraction process. Kaeya’s dead brother, Zorvyn, was proof enough of that.

“You want some water?” Sarina asked into the silence. “You look like you just saw your father’s ghost.”

Jason nodded and licked his parched lips. “You’re not as far off as you think.”

She handed him a skin of water and frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I was having a vivid dream,” he mumbled, taking a long drink. “So vivid I’m not sure it was actually a dream.”

Her auburn eyebrows arched in unison. “What else would it be?”

Jason pressed his tongue hard against his teeth. “You remember back before Garos when I had that vision about the coming battle?”

“Of course,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “But it came from the Godsoul, right?”

“Yes, but that’s exactly what my dream felt like just now. Except it wasn’t a vision of the future—it was more like an echo of the past.”

Sarina’s eyes narrowed as she studied him. “You think it has something to do with your…condition?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t think of any other explanation. Unless I’m just going crazy.”

Jason shook his head. Ever since he’d awakened in Celenest, his entire body had ached like he’d just been pummeled into submission by a groll. Most of the lingering muscle and join pain had faded by now, but the strange hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach had not. It felt like he’d eaten some rotten food, but more intense…and nothing they’d tried so far had helped.

“What did you see?” Sarina asked. “Do you remember?”

“Perfectly,” Jason said. “It was just after you and Tam arrived in Celenest. Krystia and a man in golden armor—Wyrmlord Sovan, I assume—were standing over me talking about their plans.”

She pursed her lips in thought. “Maybe you overheard them while you were unconscious. Your mind could be playing tricks on you.”

“I considered that, but my memories are too vivid. Even now, I can remember almost everything they said with perfect clarity.”

“Strange,” Sarina murmured. She didn’t sound convinced, but he could hardly blame her for being skeptical. “Did you learn anything interesting?”

“Only that it’s more important than ever for us to stop them. To stop her.”

When Sarina didn’t reply right away, he wondered if she was using her newly acquired channeling abilities to try and probe his emotions. He still had trouble believing she’d actually accepted her cousin’s power; she had been opposed to the idea of becoming a ranger for as long as they had known each other.

“Tam is still convinced that Sovan is the bigger threat,” she said eventually. “If he’s half as insane as the man he sent to attack Valheim, we’re all in trouble. He believes the Unbound are destined to—”

“He’s been whispering poison into Krystia’s ear, but she’s the one who chose to listen,” Jason interrupted. “She’s the one who worked with my father. She’s the one who murdered Areekan and deposed the Lord’s Council. She’s the one who has to answer for all the death and suffering she’s caused.”

He stared into Sarina’s eyes for several long, heated seconds before he finally turned away and sighed. “This wasn’t how I envisioned our reunion, believe me.”

“When has anything ever gone the way we expected?” she groused. “At this point, chaos seems perfectly normal to me.”

Jason smiled despite himself, but it faded quickly. “We never should have split up after Ashenfel. It was delusional for me to think I could get through to Krystia. I could have helped with your cousin and—”

Sarina reached out and grabbed his arm. “You did what you had to. You never would have been able to live with yourself if you hadn’t tried.”

“I’m having enough trouble living with myself now.”

“That’s because you’re moping like a child. I’m already sick of it.”

Jason turned and glared at her only to find a wry smile on her lips.

“We haven’t been able to bicker in almost a month,” Sarina said. “You didn’t really expect me to show up and coddle you, I hope.”

“I guess not.”

“Good. Because I’m not that kind of girl.”

Jason snorted. They’d barely had any time alone since he’d regained consciousness, and there were still about a thousand things he wanted to tell her—and do to her—before they reached Serogar. Unfortunately, he doubted they’d get any privacy in the near future.

“Hopefully Darius has been able to gather some support,” Jason said. “It won’t be—”

He grimaced as a fresh spike of pain shot through his chest. He clutched his side like he’d just been stabbed.

“What’s going on?” Sarina asked, grabbing his arm.

“I’m all right,” he breathed. The pain faded as abruptly as it appeared, but it was yet another reminder that something was seriously wrong with him.

“Maybe you should lie back down,” Sarina suggested. Her voice was unusually warm, and her forehead was creased with concern. “And maybe I should commune with my cousin and see if he can teach me any healing magic…”

“I’m all right,” Jason assured her. “It’s been getting a bit better every day.”

She shook her head. “Lying will only make me hit you.”

“I’m not lying. It’s just…I wish I understood what was going on.”

“Kaeya seems convinced that the Archdruid is the only one who can possibly help you,” Sarina said, glancing back over her shoulder to the faeyn woman buried beneath a blanket in the corner. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

“I think she believes what she says. Whether it’s true or not is a separate question.”

“Mm,” Sarina murmured. “I understand why you wanted to help her escape from Celenest, but that doesn’t mean she’s suddenly our ally.”

Jason sighed and swallowed the lump of guilt in his throat. Kaeya and Zorvyn, the “Virithal Twins,” were former Watcher operatives who had turned against Dathiel when he’d betrayed the Triumvirate and attacked the Temple of Anvira in Sorthaal. In the aftermath of the massacre, Archdruid Nelethayne had entrusted them with the goddess’s power. She had sent them to find Jason and bring him to the rest of the Triumvirate in western Galvia. There, the Archdruid hoped, the knights and druids could make a final, unified stand against Dathiel and the Sovereigns.

But Jason had refused to go anywhere until he made one last attempt to convince Krystia to see reason. Thanks to his stubbornness, Kaeya’s brother was dead and two Godsouls had been lost.

“She has no reason to deceive us,” Jason said. “It’s not like I have any value to the Triumvirate without the Godsoul.”

Sarina eyed him intently. “Is that guilt or reason talking?”

“It’s the truth. I hope all of this goes away, but if it doesn’t…” He shrugged and slumped back down onto his pillow. “It feels like some kind of disease, and I’m pretty sure it’s eating away at me—at us.”

Sarina squeezed his arm again. “Just try and get some rest. We’ll be…”

Jason frowned when she trailed off. He belatedly realized that the horses had begun to slow down, and a few moments later he heard voices shouting in the distance. Shortly thereafter, Tam banged on the outside of the carriage as a warning.

“We must be at the checkpoint,” Jason reasoned, leaning back up. Kaeya still hadn’t moved, but Gor’s eyes had finally cracked open. The chagari licked at his fangs and rubbed his paws over his eyes.

“Trouble?”

“Not as long as you trust Tam to talk his way out of an inspection,” Sarina said.

“Definitely trouble, then,” Gor muttered as he stretched out his arms. “Wonderful.”

Jason reached down and touched the sword and crossbow lying next to him. He hadn’t thought about wielding a real weapon in months, not since he’d learned how to control the power of the Godsoul. He still trusted his aim, but he wasn’t nearly as confident about his swordplay…

Ideally, he would be the one out there bluffing the soldiers at the checkpoint, but Krystia had almost certainly warned her priests that he might be fleeing in this direction. Everyone here in the carriage was easily recognizable—the chagari, the faeyn, the Asgardian huntress—which left Tam as the only one who could confidently toss on a disguise and pass as a random merchant.

“He’s gotten better at this sort of thing,” Sarina whispered as her fingers anxiously slid up and down her bowstring. “He actually sweet-talked some people in Valheim.”

Jason cocked an eyebrow at her. “You really think he can pull this off?”

She stared straight ahead for a moment before she finally shook her head. “It’s Tam,” she admitted. “So no.”

Jason grunted and picked up his crossbow. Once the horses finally came to a halt, he could make out several muffled voices outside. The canvas they’d stretched over the back of the carriage wasn’t particularly thick, but the wind was ruffling it just enough to make eavesdropping difficult. Hopefully that would work both ways and prevent anyone outside from hearing the heavy breathing of a chagari.

Tam responded to the soldiers and hopped off his horse, though based on his increasingly pleading tone it appeared they weren’t buying his bullshit. The muted exchange continued for another minute, and Jason forced himself to stay calm even as Sarina slowly plucked an arrow from her quiver. None of them had any interest in killing random Solarian soldiers, obviously, which was why they’d taken the long route to Serogar and avoided as many patrols as possible. But they obviously couldn’t afford to just surrender, not after they’d busted Kaeya out of the Celenest dungeon and assaulted several royal guardsmen in the process. Jason still didn’t know if Krystia would actually harm them or not, but at this point he didn’t really care. One way or another, he was going to find a way to stop her…

“Fine!” Tam yelled eventually. “Open it up and look around, but you’re just wasting everyone’s time.”

He wrapped his knuckles against the side of the carriage as he circled around back. From the footfalls, Jason guessed there were at least two, possibly three men with him—enough that this could get messy in a hurry. He and Sarina would have to strike quickly enough that the soldiers couldn’t signal the fort, otherwise they’d have to ditch the carriage and vanish into the forest on foot. Though at this point, there was a good chance they’d have to do that anyway.

Jason braced his crossbow against his forearm once he heard Tam fiddling with the locks outside. But just before the gate fell open, a strange sensation tugged at the corner of Jason’s mind, almost like he could feel the presence of the soldiers in the Aether again…

“Don’t shoot,” he whispered.

Sarina turned and glared at him. “What?”

He lowered her bow with his hand. “Just wait a moment.”

“Jason—”

The gate dropped open. Tam was standing there alongside three scowling legionnaires. It took less than a second for them to draw their swords.

“I knew it,” the soldier with a captain’s insignia blurted out. “Signal the garrison. Have them—”

“There’s no need for that,” Jason said, raising his hands in surrender. He could feel Sarina and Gor glaring at him. “We’re not here to cause trouble.”

“Good, then we won’t have to kill you,” the captain growled. “By order of the Dragon Queen, you and your allies are to be chained and returned to Celenest immediately!”

“Nothing would please me more than watching you try, human,” Gor snarled.

The captain’s lip twitched as he reflexively took a step backwards. He knew how badly he was outnumbered, but the close proximity of the fort must have emboldened him to stand his ground. “The Queen’s orders are quite clear.”

“So are General Iouna’s,” said a female voice from somewhere behind him.

The legionnaires died before they could turn around. Jason heard the unmistakable click of multiple crossbows firing in unison, and the barrage of bolts dropped all three soldiers in the span of a single heartbeat. Tam shrieked and rolled away, then conjured a massive flaming sphere in his palm as he turned to meet the ambush—

But no more shots were forthcoming. A moment later, a small group of leather-clad, camouflaged marksmen shuffled out of the bushes along the edge of the road. They were also wearing Legion insignias.

“Jason Moore,” their leader said, lowering her weapon. “General Iouna sends his regards.”

 

***

 

Twenty minutes later, the group had unloaded their supplies, set the carriage ablaze, and ducked into the nearby forest. Ten minutes after that, they were hunkered down in a thick copse preparing to continue their journey to Serogar. Sarina was a bit concerned about their water supply, but otherwise they still had everything they needed.

“We really can’t thank you enough for the help,” Jason said as they were preparing to leave. “I’m glad Darius still has some loyal supporters.”

Neera, the Legion scout who’d saved them, smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “He has plenty, trust me,” she said. The pride in her voice was unmistakable. “General Iouna is the only reason most of us are still alive. If Wyrmlord Sovan had gotten his way, we’d all be rotting in a ditch somewhere in the Darrowmere.”

“Why do you say that?” Sarina asked.

Neera shrugged. “Since the fall of Amberwood, he’s been trying to redeploy every soldier in the north. The bastard doesn’t give a damn about the people here. I think he’d feed us all to his bloody dragons if he could.”

“That’s more or less what we’ve heard,” Jason said, nibbling at his lower lip. His skin was still paler than normal, and he moved with the sluggishness of a man who was soaking wet. “I’m a bit surprised he emptied out all the forts.”

“Most have less than fifty men, some barely have a dozen. Even Lonath’s Watch is down to about a hundred these days. If there were any groll left in the mountains, they could take half the province before anyone stopped them.”

Jason nodded solemnly. “We’ll see what we can do about that.”

“I know the General will appreciate any help he can get.” Neera pulled a crudely-drawn map from her satchel and handed it to him. “The patrol routes on the roads here used to change frequently, but since all the garrisons are undermanned these days…” She shrugged again. “Just stay as clear of Lonath’s as you can, even if it means traveling through the night. The watch commander will start deploying more scouts once his men finish pilfering through the wreckage.”

“We’ll do that,” Sarina said, squinting out through the tree cover towards the distant fort. She had expected to be able to ride a carriage straight into Serogar, though a part of her was glad they’d have to move on foot instead. The spring weather in this part of Solaria was rather pleasant, and the blooming forest was a sight to behold. Besides, she’d always hated being cooped up.

“With an Asgardian huntress and a faeyn ranger, I figure you can handle just about anything,” Neera said, smiling and glancing over towards Kaeya. As usual, the faeyn woman had barely spoken a word this entire time. She was currently standing a good thirty paces from the group staring off into the forest.

“What about the soldiers in Serogar?” Sarina asked. “Where do their loyalties lie?”

“They’re loyal to staying alive, which for the past few months has meant doing whatever Overseer Grovahl says,” Neera told her. “With the depleted garrison, his dragon is the only real authority in the whole province. And believe me: he’s not afraid to use it.”

“Sounds like yet another charming friend of the Wyrmlord,” Tam muttered. “Do you think Darius will be able to convince anyone to support him?”

“I don’t know. I certainly hope so.” Neera turned back to Jason. “He seemed convinced that you could make all the difference. I hope he was right.”

“So do I,” Jason whispered.

Neera clapped him on the shoulder again before she turned and barked fresh orders at her men. After a few more parting words, the scouts slipped back into the forest and disappeared.

“If nothing else, it’s always nice to meet new people who didn’t want to kill us right away,” Tam commented. “My faith in humanity has been restored.”

“Mine hasn’t,” Gor grumbled. He hissed between his fangs and squinted through the trees towards the Lonath’s Watch. The fort wasn’t actually visible from here, but his chagari senses were much sharper than anyone else’s. He could probably hear and smell the garrison. “We should get moving.”

“We will in a minute,” Sarina said, turning back towards Jason. “But first I want to know why you stopped us from shooting those soldiers.”

Jason’s upper lip quivered. The movement was subtle enough that the others probably didn’t even notice it, but she knew him better than anyone.

“I wish I knew,” he said with a shrug. “I just had a hunch.”

“What’s this about?” Tam asked. “Is that why you were all just sitting in there like idiots? I banged on the doors to give you a warning.”

“We were just about to fire, but he stopped us at the last second,” Sarina explained. “Just after he told me that he was having some kind of prophetic vision.”

Tam blinked. “Uh…what?”

“It wasn’t prophetic,” Jason said, rubbing his eyes. “I was dreaming about the past, not the future.”

“Oh. Well, there’s obviously nothing to worry about, then,” Tam grumbled. “When exactly were you planning on mentioning this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Translation: never. There’s no point in holding back now. Are you sure this was a real vision? Like the one you had back before Garos?”

Jason shrugged. “I’m not sure about much of anything these days. But before those guards opened the door, I knew that something was about to happen.”

“In other words, you risked our lives on your ‘hunch,’” Gor growled. “Why am I not the least bit surprised?”

“Whatever happened, there’s no point in worrying about it right now,” Jason insisted. “We need to get moving before—”

“It wasn’t just a hunch.”

All four of them turned to look at the faeyn woman standing off to the side. She still hadn’t moved or picked up her pack.

“You know something about this?” Sarina asked.

“Only the Immortals are capable of glimpsing the future or past,” Kaeya said. “I don’t know how or why, but it’s true. Every mortal channeler who has ever claimed to be a prophet has been a fraud.”

“Who told you this?” Jason asked. “Dathiel?”

“Him and many others. I have no reason to doubt them.”

Sarina crossed her arms and studied the other woman. At first, she hadn’t been able to figure out why Jason had insisted on bringing along someone who, by her own admission, had been fully prepared to drag his corpse back to Galvia if he refused to cooperate. But once Sarina had learned the full story, the truth had become abundantly clear.

Jason was an irredeemable sap. He felt guilty for dragging the faeyn to Krystia in the first place, and he felt especially guilty for getting Kaeya’s brother killed. It was as pathetic as it was predictable.

It was also, rather inconveniently, one of the many reasons she loved him.

“Anything else you feel like sharing?” Tam asked after a moment. “You’ve barely mumbled a word since we left Celenest.”

Kaeya’s luminous green eyes flicked over to Jason. “Only that his condition—our condition— is unprecedented. Few host bodies survive the absorption of a Godsoul. None have ever survived the extraction.”

“So what makes the two of you special?” Sarina asked.

“I don’t know.”

Tam grunted. “Okay, well, how in the void is Jace still having visions without the Godsoul inside him?”

“I don’t know that, either,” Kaeya admitted. “The Archdruid is the only one who might have answers. We need to reach Dreen as soon as possible.”

Jason’s eyes narrowed as he took a step closer to her. “You’ve been having dreams, too, haven’t you?”

The faeyn woman glanced back into the forest and sighed. “Yes.”

“Why didn’t you mention it?”

“Why didn’t you mention it?” Kaeya countered.

“Galivar’s mercy, this is already giving me a headache,” Tam muttered. “Remind me again why we busted her out of the dungeon?”

Sarina crossed her arms and stretched out through the Aether. She had only met a few faeyn in her lifetime, and Selvhara was the only one she’d ever considered a friend. The druid had always been poised and serene, even in the heat of battle.

But Kaeya was…different. Her anger was as sharp as a dagger, and she wore her grief like a heavy cloak. Sarina had only barely begun to explore her newfound telepathic abilities, but the faeyn woman’s anguish was like an open wound gushing into the Aether.

“Maybe Dathiel didn’t steal everything,” Jason whispered. “Maybe he left a sliver of the Godsoul behind.”

“Is that good or bad?” Sarina asked.

“I have no idea. But I can feel…something.”

Tam sighed. “You know, I’m starting to think that opening that ancient cube was a terrible idea. We really should have sold it in Taig when we had the chance.”

Sarina rolled her eyes. “We can talk on the way, but we really should get moving. This place will be flooded with legionnaires soon enough.”

Jason’s eyes remained locked on Kaeya. “If you’ve also had visions, what have they shown you?”

“Nothing of consequence,” the faeyn whispered.

“Did you see the past or the future? Maybe there’s a connection we can—”

“Talking is pointless,” Kaeya interrupted. She reached down and flipped her pack up onto her shoulder. “We need to get to Dreen as soon as possible. The Archdruid is the only one in Torsia who might be able to help us.”

“So you’ve said,” Tam muttered. “That’s about the only thing you’ve said, actually.”

“Because it’s true. And even if she can’t help us, we still have to warn her that Dathiel has captured another Godsoul.”

“You’re free to go wherever you want,” Sarina reminded her. “But the rest of us are heading to Serogar to meet up with General Iouna. An Asgardian army will be crossing the border soon, and we need to find out what they’ll be up against.”

“None of that will matter if Dathiel consumes any more Godsouls,” Kaeya said pointedly. “And the druids and paladins are the only ones capable of stopping him.”

Tam gestured west with his thumb. “Then you should definitely go speak with them. Just head in that direction for a week or so and—”

“Come with us to Serogar,” Jason interrupted. “It’s not far out of the way at this point, and maybe Darius will have some ideas.”

“Every moment we delay gives Dathiel more time to reconstitute himself,” Kaeya said. “And once he’s corporeal again, he’ll go after the Triumvirate. They need as much warning as possible.”

“And they’ll get it, I promise,” Jason assured her. “But for now, we need to keep moving.”

Kaeya eyed him for a long moment, her scarred, pale cheek twitching in thought. Sarina wondered if the elf woman might actually storm off to Galvia on her own, but eventually she slung her pack over her shoulder and started north towards Serogar. Gor followed a moment later, grumbling something derogatory under his breath.

“What a charmer,” Tam muttered. “Are you sure it’s good idea to keep her around?”

“For the moment, yes,” Jason said. “She’s not wrong about Dathiel, and she might not be wrong about the Archdruid, either.”

Sarina sighed. “Be that as it may, you know we can’t afford to head into Galvia right now. Not with my cousin’s forces already on the move. They’re counting on us to size up Serogar’s defenses.”

“Which is precisely why we’re headed that way first.” Jason flicked his wrist dismissively. “Look, I’m sure it will work out. And if we run into trouble in Serogar, we’ll need all the help we can get.”

“Maybe, but I don’t plan on turning my back to her,” Tam said sourly. “She was a Watcher, Jace—a Watcher who hunted down and killed Unbound.”

Dangerous Unbound,” Jason added. “You know, the same kind we’ve had to deal with this past year.”

Tam’s jaw clenched. “This is different and you know it.”

“We can argue about this later. I have a feeling she won’t stick around long anyway.”

“Just don’t tell me you’re planning on going with her. We are not splitting up again. Not after Asgardia.”

Jason smiled tightly. “Come on.”

They made reasonable time through the sparse forest, and Sarina used the silence to try and sort through all the questions racing through her head. Unfortunately, she couldn’t seem to find any decent answers.

“I’m worried about him too, you know,” Tam whispered into her ear once they’d separated a bit from the others. “In some ways, this might even be worse than right after he absorbed the Godsoul in the first place.”

Sarina grunted softly as she watched Jason hop over a log and wince the instant he landed. She didn’t need the Aether to know that he was in pain.

“I really thought this reunion would be a lot more fun,” Tam added after a moment. “I should have known better, given our luck.”

Me, too, she thought to herself. After almost two months of separation, she’d been so happy to see Jason again that all her concerns about the war and her people had faded away…but not for long. Tam was right: this wasn’t the reunion any of them had expected. Jason’s “condition” was more severe than he was letting on, and none of them had any idea how or if it would ever get better.

And then, of course, there was the imminent Asgardian invasion. Her cousin’s victory over Thogrim Bjoldera had solidified his control over most of the clans, but the people were still crying out for Solarian blood. Queen Krystia had attempted to mollify them by insisting that Pavos Varin hadn’t been acting under her orders, but no one who’d lost loved ones in Valheim or Frostgarde gave a damn. Clan-Lord Garm Agridor would have marched his soldiers across the border no matter what the High King said, and ultimately Doyd had been forced to go along with an invasion.

Sarina hoped that taking Serogar would be enough to sate their bloodlust, at least for a while. Otherwise, Varin and his master, Wyrmlord Sovan, were going to get the war they’d wanted all along.

“Jason has endured worse,” Sarina said after a moment. “Just make sure you keep your eyes on the Watcher.”

Tam nodded idly. “You really think Jace will let her go off on her own?

“He’ll have to eventually.”

“What if his condition gets worse? What if the Archdruid really is the only person who can help him?”

“Then we’ll figure something out,” Sarina whispered, wishing she believed it. “We always do.”