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CHAPTER 1 The Coming of Dust


My heart sinks as I watch the enemy approach. Tens of thousands of marching boots raise thick clouds of dust, obscuring the afternoon sun, which scorches the desert plains. Already, the advance troops are hammering away at our defensive wall, which is all that separates this vengeful invader from the hill on which I stand. Once the Roarim breach the wall and take over the City of Eliadys, there will be little hope for us up on the hill.

A sharp pain shoots from my left hand up my arm. I stifle a wince and rub the place where, six years ago, the Roarim cut off my ring finger. The ghostly jab is like a warning of the suffering to come: the enemy will be upon us within a few hours, sowing death and destruction in their path. And all we can do for now is wait and watch from up high as the bulk of our troops try to keep the enemy out for as long as they can.

The faint sound of creaking leather makes me glance sideways. Uncle Denesius’s hand is clenched so hard around his leather scabbard that his knuckles have turned white. His tall frame towers beside me—stoic and commanding—and his gaze is set on the horizon. A gust of hot wind lifts his burgundy cape, the edge of it brushing against the back of my throbbing hand. The woolen fabric feels rough and used against my skin.

Poor Uncle Denesius! Did he really think the Roarim would lie low after he defeated the head of their army six years ago? Did he not foresee that a new leader would take his place? Unless the rumors are true…

I hesitate, but need to know. “Uncle,” I say in a low voice, so the soldiers positioned along the fortifications before us do not overhear. “Do you think the Wraith Lord is out there?”

A vein in Uncle Denesius’s temple throbs, and I instinctively know I should not have asked that question.

“There are no such things as wraiths, Termite!” he snaps, turning hard eyes toward me. “I already told you that!”

My cheeks burn. His harsh words bother me because I suspect his anger is hiding fear. It is not good for a leader to go into battle like this. But the Grand Protector of the Atheneum fears nothing, or does he?

There are no such things as wraiths…

A troop of Knowledge Seekers rushes to join their companions, lining up along the fortifications that surround the hill and the Atheneum. Their burgundy capes flow, and their greatswords gleam in the sharp sunlight. I take comfort in the sight of them. These men will fight to the death to protect the Atheneum and what lies within.

I do not have such a cape, so I close my right hand over the pommel of my curved sword, which is smaller and thinner than the traditional Seeker blade. It is all I have to offer. “We will defeat them again, Uncle,” I venture, deciding to ignore his anger. “You led us to victory before, and you will do so again.”

Uncle Denesius does not answer right away, but when he does, his words chill me to the bone. “No, boy,” he says, his voice cold. “Not this time.”

One of the Seekers turns to glance at us, his eyes wide. He is only two years younger than me. I know this because he was Anointed yesterday when he turned fourteen. He received his official name—Odwin Atheneumson—his own Talisman, his greatsword, and a brand new Seeker cape, which hangs down his stiff back. Its burgundy color is rich and full.

The young orphan glances at Uncle Denesius, perhaps waiting for a comforting gesture or a reassuring word. When he receives none, he pulls the cape closer around his shoulders and turns to face the army swarming beyond the wall.

A torrid wind picks up, bringing with it the sounds of thumping feet, grinding carts, and sharp metal. Battering rams thud against the defensive wall, the violent sound reverberating through the air all the way up the hill, and, each time, I feel as though I am being punched in the gut.

Hundreds of our archers fight bravely from atop the defensive wall, sending volleys of arrows at the enemy, but, really, they look like tiny ants facing a storm.


Frantic screams from fleeing citizens rise from the jumble of low structures and narrow,

dusty roads of Eliadys. Families and elderly people hurry out of their clay homes—homes that had to be rebuilt after the last attack—and their disorganized escape jams the messy streets.

I rub my hand. Is this it, then? Will the City of Eliadys fall? Will the Roarim steal the Knowledge contained in the Atheneum tonight? Silently, I calculate the date according to the calendar of the Enlightened People: today is June 7th, 2613.

Will this be a day of triumph or disaster?

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