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Author's Note (VERY IMPORTANT): This is the third book in a series. If you have not read "Between Light and Shadows" and "The Scepter of Light", do not read this! You will be completely confused! That said, if you have read my other two books in this series, then I think you'll enjoy this one. This is where the first two novels really get connected. It's also pretty much two stories in one, hence the double title.

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Twas a fine day on a summer morn

When my lady, she left me

She did not leave for spite or scorn

She was stolen by the sea

The Windless Sea, anonymous Galatéan ballad

Prologue

Two figures stood in the dark shadows of a deserted hallway, plotting. The taller of the two stood rigid, his hands clasped behind his back and his head bent as he listened to the shorter speak in a hushed whisper. Her voice was harsh, angry.

"You are blackmailing me," she accused, her eyes blazing as she regarded the taller man.

He shrugged indifferently. "I do what I must," he replied.

"I will tell you what you want to know, but I will not keep silent on your methods of extraction," the girl warned.

"So be it. Now tell me what you saw."

The girl sighed deeply and turned away from him. Her eyes, the typical gold of her father's family, shut tight as she tried to recall the dream from so many nights ago. "I saw a golden goddess," she said, her voice distant, lost in the memory. "She stands above a crowd of people, brilliant as the sun and yet rejected by this world. She is the key. She is the one you seek."

"That is all?" The man frowned. This was not as specific as he'd hoped for.

"There is more," the girl confirmed. "I see water. Lots of it. An endless ocean that must be crossed to obtain the answer, and a city of white. All white. And one word."

"What is it?" the man prodded when the girl refused to continue.

Now it was her turn to frown. "I know not what to make of it," she admitted.

"Just tell me the word. Perhaps it is something sacred to these people across the sea."

"Galatéa," the girl finally told him. "The word is Galatéa."

The man let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding as he tried to make sense of the information. Across the Eternal Ocean, the people that were only rumored to exist housed the answer to the problem he'd been trying to solve for his entire life. The key to proving that he was worthy to bear the name Thorikell.

"Well? Does my information satisfy you?" the girl demanded.

The man reached out and ruffled her cinnamon-colored curls with one hand as he held out an old, handmade stuffed animal with the other. Its seams had come apart under one arm and just beneath its button nose. The brown fur that had once been soft was now matted and mangy, hardly bearing resemblance to the proud creatures it had been fashioned after. Of course, their mother had never been very good at sewing, so it was a wonder the thing had ever looked like a bear at all.

The girl snatched the stuffed animal up, holding it against her tiny chest as if it was gold. "You had better hurry, William Laith Thorikell, because I am going to tell dad what you did, and he'll give you one of his looks," little Cristi warned.

The darkness hid Will's grin, a smile only his presumptuous little sister could evoke out of the hardened warrior. "I'll bring you back a souvenir from across the Eternal Ocean," he assured her, and then disappeared into the shadows.

As soon as he was gone, the little girl gave her stuffed animal another squeeze and, with a mischievous light in her eyes, she smiled.

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Green eyes. It was always the most vivid part of her dream, the part she remembered first upon waking. They were the oddest eyes, too. Emerald green with yellow swirls, an impossible mixture. Eyes were either one color or another. Two colors could not intermingle in such a way in a person's irises. It was not humanly possible.

Of course, there was no guarantee that the man in her dreams was human. She never remembered anything more than the eyes and the riot of emotions they caused in her. Emotions she would rather not dwell on. The only one that mattered was the incredible grief, the one that made tears stream down her cheeks.

But only in her dreams. Alys never cried, not since the day she'd first had this dream ten years ago.

Her friends and family called her foolish. They told her it was impossible to escape fate, that she should embrace what her dream had foretold. It was difficult for Alys to embrace anything where her powers of Light were concerned, however. They were, after all, completely useless.

As the oldest in a long line of royal blood, Alys should have been gifted with a great power of Light. When she was eight and had not yet started having the dreams, her mother had assured her that she had nothing to worry about. Why, her own mother, the Empress, had not come into her powers until she was nearly eighteen years old. She had the gift of hindsight, the ability to speak with a person and know his entire life history if she saw fit to delve that deeply.

Alys did not have to wait until she was eighteen to discover her powers. She had her first dream when she was nine. Well, it was more like a nightmare, really. She dreamt of a terrible fire that devastated a large forest, a forest that looked achingly familiar. When she woke up, she related the dream to her mother. Her description of the forest had worried the Empress, who had immediately sent out an envoy to the area between the countries of Gorma and Daten.

The forest between those countries, a place where bandits roamed freely, had already burnt to the ground when her mother's envoys arrived. Unfortunately, her mother had been friends with some of those bandits. When Alys learned this, she immediately blamed herself for not predicting the devastating fire sooner.

This would become a pattern with her. Her visions always predicted a future event, but they always struck her without enough time to prevent that event from happening. Not only that, but her visions were always disastrous. She would dream of a person's death, and only minutes later that person would die. The worst had been seven years ago, when she'd dreamed of her very closest and dearest friend and the event that would destroy her. While she'd managed to assist in saving her friend's life, that was only one small victory over the course of eleven years of failures.

But the dream of the green-yellow eyes was one that had yet to come to fruition. When she first had the dream at the age of ten, she'd woken up crying. However, there was no one with those strange eyes anywhere near her, so she knew that the events predicted by her dream had yet to occur. So she made a vow to herself that day. She swore that no matter what, if she ever met the person with the strange eyes, she would not cry. The next ten years of her life were spent hardening herself to every kind of physical and emotional torment, every possible humiliation, to prevent herself from feeling the need to shed tears.

It was all she could do to defy the powers that constantly taunted her. To defy the people who whispered behind her back and called her worthless.

She was worthless. By all accounts, she should be Empress by now. The child chosen to become the next Emperor or Empress of the Galatéan Empire always performed the Scepter Ceremony at the age of eighteen. As the eldest, Alys had always hoped for that honor. Once she realized how utterly useless her powers were, however, she knew she would have to abdicate that responsibility to one of her younger siblings.

One of the many.

When Alys was younger, she'd had the distinct mental image that, somewhere in the Palace of Light, there was a factory that constantly churned out brothers and sisters for her. That seemed the only possible way for them to keep coming, year after year. Her mother was near forty now, and was pregnant with Alys's tenth sibling. Well, technically this would be her eleventh, though she rarely saw her older half-brother, who lived with his mother in Pasetina.

After having the mother-daughter discussion that left her face red with embarrassment for weeks, Alys understood that there was no baby factory. Just her father and mother and a great deal of love. She supposed she should feel grateful that her parents cared for each other so much that they still could create children, but sometimes it was easy to feel left out with so many brothers and sisters to contend with. Especially when they were all so much more powerful than she.

Her brother Danyl had just turned ten and would be presented to the Empire this day, and his powers already far surpassed hers. It would be easier to accept if he didn't have the same gift of foresight. It would be easier if his powers didn't include both good and bad visions. In fact, it would have been wonderful for him to have the same error of receiving his visions without enough time to act on them. Unfortunately, his gift of foresight was perfect. So perfect that their parents had already agreed he would become the next Emperor on his eighteenth birthday.

This was a bittersweet day for Alys. She had been introduced to the Empire on her tenth birthday as well, just like all of her younger brothers and sisters. It was a custom as old as time in the Galatéan Empire, and luckily, at the time of Alys's introduction, the people had not been fully aware of what a failure she was. At least for that one time she felt accepted. Every time afterwards that she was forced to stand on the veranda outside the palace as one of her more powerful siblings was introduced, however, she got the distinct impression that everyone in the Galatéan Empire was laughing at her.

Alys sighed as she rolled over in her massive bed. She did not want to get up. In fact, she would be quite content to remain in bed all day long, to skip Danyl's introduction entirely and just go straight to the celebration that would occur afterwards. It was the one benefit of having so many brothers and sisters. Almost every other year they had a grand celebration such as the one that would occur on this night.

The white satin sheets had become tangled around Alys's legs, and she groaned as she struggled to free herself. This was not a good omen. The fact that she'd had that same dream for the fifth night in a row was an even worse omen.

She should just stay in bed. Yes, that was the perfect solution to this wretched day.

Unfortunately, it wasn't going to happen. No sooner had Alys resigned herself to remaining entangled with her sheets for the rest of the day than the doors to her room flung open.

"All right, lazy bones, am I going to have to drag you out of that bed, or are you going to get up and get dressed on your own?"

Alys groaned. If it had only been a servant. Or one of her brothers and sisters. Even her mother or father would have been preferable to the person who came strolling into her room.

Alys glared at the tall, slender nuisance standing at the foot of her bed. The stance that was meant to intimidate—deceptively thin arms that were naught but muscle crossed over a deceptively flat chest, back rigid—only irritated Alys. The crystalline blue eyes that sent shivers of fear through the strongest and bravest of men only made Alys glare harder.

"You're looking well today, Jak," Alys noted, though well for Jak was always a debatable point. Today, Jak's short, unruly curls were at least somewhat tamed, meaning they were not poking out in all directions as usual. And the attire donned by her lifelong friend was somewhat less unacceptable. A crisp, white shirt with flowing sleeves and black pants that fit loosely made Jak look like a respectable man of noble birth.

Yes, Jak would have looked very well for a man.

Except that Jak was a woman.

"You look like Hueres," she snapped. "You had the dream again?"

Alys sighed. "Yes," she admitted. No use trying to keep secrets from Jak. The two of them had always had the uncanny ability to read what the other was thinking without words, almost like twins. They might as well have been twins, having been born on the same day in the same hour, except for the inconsequential little fact that they came from two separate wombs.

They both had the tainted blood of demons in their veins, however. Alys's father, Demmi, was a daimon—half demon, half human. This proved to be quite controversial when the holy Scepter chose him as Empress Ariella's Consort twenty years ago, though old prejudices were swiftly dying as the people realized how well Ariella and Demmi worked together to rule the vast Empire.

Jak's mother, a daimon woman named Vesna, was married to the Empress's Guardian, Edward Thurston. Thus, the two girls had been raised, with the exception of one horrible year, as sisters.

That was where the similarities ended.

Alys had inherited her father's dark gold tresses and golden eyes. Jak had her mother's black hair and her father's blue eyes. Alys preferred to wear dresses, and while she had a wild streak buried deep within her, she was normally quite calm and controlled. Jak preferred men's clothing because it was less restricting, and she was an even greater controversy than Alys's father.

She was the very first female Guardian in the history of the Galatéan Empire.

Guardians had always been male because it had always seemed like an important requirement for the position. While sex was not a defining characteristic in becoming a Lightmaster, where one had naught to do but use one's Light powers, it was for Guardians, who used their Light powers as well as physical prowess to protect the Empire. Jak had always idolized her father, however, and when she insisted on training to become a Guardian so long ago, her parents had begrudgingly agreed. They could deny their daughter nothing, especially since she was their only child. While Jak's parents were blessed with the same devoted love as Alys's, they hadn't been blessed with the same abundance of children.

Even though many protested, when Jak underwent the tests involved in proving herself worthy of the title Guardian two years ago, no one could deny her what she so greatly deserved. Jak was incredible with any weapon, though she much preferred a lightweight short sword, and her powers of Light were very strong as well. She had inherited her father's wind powers, and in a battle, they could serve as a shield without the encumbrance of having to hold one.

"You shouldn't worry about the dream," Jak assured her. "Whoever the green-eyed person is, he won't make you cry."

"You sound very certain of this," Alys mused as she resumed the task of disentangling herself from her sheets.

"I am."

"And why is that?"

"Because. I'll kill him first."

Alys fought back the urge to smile at Jak's surge of overprotectiveness. Though she hadn't been formally installed as Alys's Guardian—typically when Guardians were assigned to protect one person, it was someone with great powers or great importance, of which Alys was neither—Jak seemed to believe it was her right and her duty to protect her best friend from everything. She'd nearly given Alys's brother Efrem a concussion once when she caught him 'attacking' his older sister. He'd only tackled her so he could tickle her, but Jak had interpreted the act as hostile and slammed the prince's head against the marble floor of the throne room. Right in front of the Empress. And her father. Needless to say, Jak's bottom had been sore for weeks after that encounter, but while she generally controlled her more violent impulses, she was always quick to come to Alys's defense.

"Are there clothes around here somewhere?" Alys wondered as she finally pulled herself out of bed. Wearing nothing but a thin chemise and without her blanket and sheets to protect her, she found herself shivering in the cool air of her spacious bedroom.

"And they call you useless," Jak grumbled as she walked over to Alys's wardrobe to pull out the traditional white and gold robe she was to wear for the ceremony that morning. "You should have your servants fired. Not only should they be in here getting you dressed, but they should have had your fire stoked this morning, what with the winter chill coming in."

"They are probably busy with my younger brothers and sisters," Alys said with a shrug of dismissal. She was used to being overlooked for her more important siblings, after all.

"Which is why I came to make sure you didn't wallow away in self pity all day," Jak said brightly as she tossed Alys the robe. "Remember, I have to make an appearance out on that veranda today as well. You won't be the only one they snicker at."

"If you wore a dress, they wouldn't snicker at you," Alys retorted as she slipped the robe over her head.

"They would snicker harder. They expect me to dress like this," her friend quickly argued.

Alys raised a questioning eyebrow. "Is that why you refuse to wear dresses? Because you think people expect you to dress like a man?" she wondered.

"Of course not!" Jak looked so entirely offended by her friend's observation that Alys wondered at her sincerity. Being a woman herself, she knew that some part of Jak had to feel regretful about the path she'd chosen. But the young woman was too stubborn to ever admit that she longed to feel like a real woman, even just once.

They continued their lighthearted banter all the way down to the main entrance of the palace, where most of Alys's family was already waiting. Her parents looked relieved to see her enter the room, dressed and ready. She had been late to Efrem's introduction, which held up the whole ceremony. Of course, her parents could not have known that she was late on purpose as a test to see if they would hold the ceremony without her. They had passed the test, but she was convinced it was only because Jak had intervened somehow.

"You forgot to brush your hair," her mother chastised even as she reached a hand up to run it through her daughter's thick, golden tresses.

"Mom," Alys whined.

"Stop fussing, she looks fine," her father grumbled. Her parents shared a heated look that Alys interpreted as a silent argument, a rarity between the two of them. Her parents generally made all of their arguments vocally, sometimes physically. They never actually hurt one another, and Alys had come to accept their arguments as normal, something they enjoyed on occasion to keep their relationship interesting.

Her father won the argument. Her mother's hand dropped, and she stomped forward to fuss over one of her younger children.

"Thanks dad," Alys murmured.

"She was only trying to help. You should let her fuss sometimes," Demmi suggested to his daughter.

She just sighed. She wasn't a child anymore, after all, and her mother had done little enough fussing back then to be trying to make up for lost time now. Sometimes she envied Jak, who stood in between her parents like a prized statue. They each held one of her gloved hands, though she didn't even seem to notice the affection. Alys glanced askew at her father, wondering if he would take her hand. She didn't wear gloves to hide the evidence of her demon heritage as Jak did, as the marks of her heritage did not embarrass her as they often did Jak. Yet still, for some reason Alys could not bring herself to take her father's hand, and as she suspected, he did not make the move to take hers. And then Danyl joined them, drawing all attention to him.

He looked like a little cherub today, ensconced in white with his white-blonde hair framing a heart-shaped face and sparkling blue eyes. One would have never believed that little Danyl's father was a daimon. The child's right leg, the only part of his body bearing the scars of a demon, was well-hidden beneath his robe.

Alys forced a smile on her face as they walked through the great double doors of the palace and out onto the veranda. Thousands of people stood in the large courtyard below, spilling through the palace gates and into the streets of the Holy City. Alys looked upon seas of white—white robes, white walls, white buildings—as her mother introduced the future Emperor of Galatéa to his future subjects. She watched them roar and cheer and applaud. She watched them give their approval. And when the din died down, just before they turned to reenter the palace, she knew what they were murmuring as she followed behind her family, the last to walk through the entryway and away from the crowd. She knew the word that was on everyone's lips as they followed the progress of the oldest Galatéa child.

Worthless.

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It was a masked ball.

Every time a Galaté child was introduced to the Empire, the Empress and her Consort planned a celebration as equally unique as the ones before. Since Alys was their first, her party was far less grand and not nearly as well-attended as those that followed, but it was no less extravagant. The eldest child's celebration had included wild animals from the plains of Azamar. No one could fathom how a large, gray beast like the Azamarian elephant could have fit inside the palace, but it had been the talk of the Holy City until the following year, when Alys's brother Raul had his party.

Raul's was a murder mystery, where one of the maids was 'killed' in the sitting room, and everyone had to work together to discover the killer. Everyone let little Raul solve the mystery, even when it was clear that the Empress herself had done the deed. The Galaté children were always doted upon, if not by their parents, by everyone else who lived or worked in the palace. That was the reason why her brother Efrem won the scavenger hunt that was the theme of his tenth year celebration. Though Efrem had made scavenging into something of a hobby, Alys was one item away from completing the hunt when she went to have a snack while she waited for her little brother to catch up.

Yes, every celebration was different, and because Danyl favored the mysterious, he got a masked ball. The boy wasn't much of a dancer, but he enjoyed standing on the sidelines and watching the couples parade around in circles of flowing silk. Plus, he had the pleasure of spending the entire day using his abundant artistic skills to make masks for all of his family members.

As if adding insult to injury, Danyl had fashioned his father's mask to look like a great, roaring demon. The mask covered his face, leaving only his eyes exposed with two slits for nostrils. If it weren't for his golden locks, Demmi might have actually looked like a demon as he prowled about the throne room. He was definitely in character, though Alys suspected there was a reason for that.

Empress Ariella was an innocent angel, complete with attached halo and dressed all in white. For the past hour, her demon husband had been chasing her around the throne room, threatening to steal her virtue—or what was left of it. Alys suspected her parents were participating in some elaborate game that only they understood.

The two youngest Galatés, Amos and Matai, were too young to attend the ball, being only one and four. Little seven-year-old Cayla wore a cat's mask that only half-covered her angelic face. While it originally was a full mask like her parents', she'd whined and whined until Danyl agreed to cut it in half so she could breathe more easily. The mask was appropriate, however, for Cayla had a distinct love of cats. So much so that she could have opened a petting zoo for cats alone with the number she kept in her bedroom.

Danyl had chosen to go without a mask because he said it made him feel more important, and since this was his special day, he should feel like the most important person there. His older sister by one year Gana, however, was not granted the same courtesy no matter how much she protested. Especially when Danyl presented her with the mask of a dog. Gana didn't understand that the gesture was complimentary because Danyl thought dogs were intelligent and loyal. She insisted that her brother was trying to imply she was ugly, but she ended up wearing the mask just to placate him.

Thirteen-year-old Ilana's mask was the dark face of a Horave native, covered with colorful designs that looked like fierce war paint. Ilana wore the traditional loose-fitting garb of one of the many native tribes of Horave—soft fabric wrapped around the body and pinned at the shoulder—to complement the mask, though in reality, she typically wore the garment on a daily basis. Since the age of four she'd been obsessed with the culture of the natives, and Danyl's mask was a way of bringing her closer to the people she so adored.

Efrem, at sixteen, was still not quite mature enough to be considered a man, which showed in the fact that he slipped right into the personality of his mask. It was a rather grotesque monkey, and Alys wondered at how people could call her worthless when she had such an addle-brained younger brother. Of course, Efrem's powers were not useless like Alys's, and it was the powers that mattered, not the actions.

And then there was Raul, wearing a simple black mask so he would look like a bandit. This was only appropriate since his namesake had been a bandit, a friend of his mother's who had died in the forest fire many years ago.

Unfortunately, Danyl's natural kindness in designing his siblings' masks was wholeheartedly extended to his sister. Everyone's mask was thoughtful and appropriate—however much Gana might argue that point—but Alys could not help but feel there was some cruel joke behind hers. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, really. Just a simple gold demi-mask with no adornments. With the golden dress and gloves she had selected for the evening, she looked like a golden statue. Danyl made the mistake of telling her with a pleased smile upon her entrance to the throne room that she looked like the golden goddess herself.

When someone overheard the reference to the original Empress of Galatéa, a woman said to be descended from angels, the snickering began anew. Not that it mattered. Alys was rarely noticed by anyone for any reason other than laughter at events such as these. Most of the time she was ignored by men and women alike, her only solace being her similarly misfit best friend.

Feeling typically left out of the merriment, Alys searched the crowd in the throne room for Jak. She wouldn't be dancing, either, though there was no doubt she'd been propositioned. By other girls. For some reason, members of their gentler sex tended to think Jak was a rather handsome boy of about fifteen. Thus she almost always had a swarm of teenage girls trailing after her. A few years back, Jak had grown tired of correcting anyone who made the error of confusing her sex and just ignored the ignorant people.

Alys found a small crowd of young girls, and sure enough, there was Jak, staring in her direction with a look of pleading in her brilliant blue eyes. Jak had made her own mask, a more feminine demon than the one Demmi wore, but not feminine enough to repel the advances of her own sex. Alys stifled a chuckle as she watched Jak try to make her way through the sea of groping hands and dance offers. Luckily, her mother intercepted the group after a short while, dressed as a goat but still as regal and overbearing as ever, and sharply ordered the girls to leave her daughter alone.

The crowd dissipated rather quickly after that.

Jak had nearly reached Alys when the golden goddess felt someone tugging on her hand. With a frown, she looked down and realized that a large, male hand had grasped her own small one and was pulling her out onto the dance floor. The hand that held hers was tanned and strong, calloused but strangely elegant. Alys hadn't even realized that the man had not bothered to ask if she wanted to dance until she was already amidst the dancing couples and in the man's arms. After that, she decided not to protest. It was the first time in three years anyone had asked her to dance besides her father and brothers, after all.

She glanced quickly at the man who had selected her, but it was difficult to discern much about him. His hair was brown, though the mixture of candlelight and magic light reflected steaks of red and gold. He wore a simple black mask, like Raul's, though his height and somber expression lent it a far more sinister appeal. Alys had to crane her neck up just to look at his face, and the effort was so great that she didn't look very long. Instead, she focused on his chest and the steps to the dance.

After a few minutes of feeling rather successful for having not tripped over her own feet, Alys decided she should address her dance partner.

"May I ask your name?"

Silence. She frowned and tilted her head back again, but this time he slid his hand around to the small of her back and jerked her closer to him so she was forced to look down again. "This is highly improper," Alys protested. "We should not be dancing so closely."

In response, he pulled her even closer, to where their bodies were nearly touching.

"Are you mute?" Alys wondered. "And deaf, too? You know, I have enough trouble as it is without you adding to the scandals surrounding me. You are only throwing more fodder to the cattle, so to speak."

The man did not reply.

With a sigh, Alys resigned herself to finishing the dance in silence. She concentrated on his chest again, a very broad, powerful chest covered by a crisp white shirt that smelled of salt. Salt? That was odd. Why would a man smell like salt? It wasn't salty like food was salty, either, but a strange smell that Alys did not recognize. It wasn't unpleasant just…different.

For some reason, it was easy for her to let her mind wander while dancing with this imposing stranger. Everything about him was so odd that she had to stop and speculate, and she became so engrossed by his muscular thighs that she didn't even realize the music from the throne room was getting quieter and quieter. In fact, she didn't comprehend she'd even left the throne room until she felt a distinct chill and realized she was outside. Not outside, really, but within the confines of the outdoor sanctuary within the palace walls, a wild garden her mother had designed to give the palace inhabitants the illusion of being outside in a jungle.

Alys gave a start as she became conscious of her surroundings and looked up at the man suspiciously. "Why have you taken me here?" she demanded, trying to sound haughty so he would not realize just how frightened she was.

If I die, so be it, she told herself. I will not cry. I will die a noble death.

"Who are you?" she persisted, and this time she lifted a foot and stamped it down hard on his to try and force a response out of him.

The man didn't even flinch. He did stop dancing, though, and he looked down at her so slowly that Alys's heart had time to excel to double its normal speed.

"What do you want?" she managed to ask him, not expecting him to reply since he hadn't answered any of her other questions.

One word formed on his lips and escaped in a voice strongly accented and almost unintelligible.

"You," he said, and Alys gasped.

He was looking straight at her now, his eyes cold and emotionless and the most piercing green she had ever seen. Green with yellow swirls…

Alys opened her mouth to scream, but the man captured her lips in a harsh kiss meant to silence, not to please. She struggled vainly against him, more in an effort to breathe than to escape since she knew escape from this man would be futile. She did not have the strength or the skill to fight him. Jak did, but if she didn't free herself long enough to scream, her friend wouldn't arrive in time to save her from whatever fate this man had in store.

By the time he finally released her lips, Alys was too addlebrained to remember to scream right away. When she realized she was being buffeted by wind and opened her eyes long enough to see that she was rising above the palace at an alarming rate, she didn't need any prompting. She let out an ear-piercing shriek that could have woken the dead.

A wind user, she thought as she tried to make out the square that was the inner sanctuary. She only had one hope left, and that was Jak.

Since Alys could not free herself now even if she wanted to, she had to help Jak find a way to save her. Since the man now only held onto her with one arm, assuming she would not try to do anything stupid, Alys used her free arm to reach up and tug at her right earlobe. Before he could stop her, she tossed the gold and sapphire earring towards the open square, praying that it landed somewhere easily visible to the naked eye.

"Leave as many clues as you like," the man goaded as he watched the twinkle of gold disappear towards the ground. "No one will find you. They would not care to search for someone they see as worthless."

"If I am so worthless, then why have you abducted me?" Alys wondered, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

"Because you hold the answer," he said surely, as if he knew some grand secret she did not.

Alys did not press the issue. At the moment, she would rather stay silent and focus her thoughts on the daring rescue that Jak would surely stage. She had no idea where this man was taking her, but Alys was positive that her friend would find out and chase the man down. He would pay for kidnapping the princess. Even if no one else searched for her, Jak would.

She would not be in this man's company long enough for him to make her cry. She would not allow it. She would die first.

"So be it," Alys murmured as she watched the world she knew and the people who loathed her fade away into blackness.