Decades Ago

She allowed herself a single sigh of relief as her bare feet touched the cold marble floor. The bed was way too hot—any bed would be, after all, after the evening’s lessons. She’d have to remember to tell her student about that next time. “Make sure she has every comfort before you fall asleep.” Obvious enough, but she knew that her student’s great love would eventually appreciate these little details. Love forgives many things, but there was no reason not to give it every chance to blossom.

She stood, smiling down at the form on the bed, and (not for the first time) wished she could, finally, spend one night in a lover’s arms. The lesson was over, however, and her student’s bedchambers happened to overlook a particular garden labyrinth, and that was why she was really there.

Just outside the window lay her weapon, Final Beat, secreted earlier. Keeping one eye out on the moonlit ground below, she strung the powerbow. She looked at the fountain, saw the naked stars reflected there, and knew Heaven was watching Great Forks. Watching her.

The message would have to be on point, tonight.

She didn’t have to wait long. A boy vaulted over the gates leading to the gardens, carrying a wrapped bundle, and stumbled into the labyrinth. Eyes wide with fright, eyes so wide that Starlight Dove could see Heaven reflected there, too, cast about in all directions, looking for a way to get lost in the maze. He needed a moment to catch his breath, to think, to figure out how to escape inevitability. He never looked up to see the archer observing him.

Shortly behind him, climbing over the fence, followed a large man, bare from the waist up save for two sheaths secured behind his back. He, too, never saw the archer above, but instead looked about the garden, seeking his quarry.

To the boy’s horror, the wrapped bundle started to cry.

The man drew his swords and started to cut through the hedge maze, advancing on the boy who, by now, had simply given up any hope of escape. The last of the bushes concealing the boy with the crying child fell away.

A low rumble carried itself over the courtyard. “Return him, and you’ll be allowed to die quickly.”

“I can’t! Please, he can’t stay with you!”

“He’s mine. He will return with me, even as you die.”

A circle flickered on the boy’s forehead, spilling golden light. “Please!”

She breathed in, willing an arrow from herself into Final Beat. Her fingers drew the powerbow, the usual creak of wood replaced by a whisper.

The baby wailed once more.

The swords erupted into flame.

She exhaled, knowing the arrow would arrive where it was meant. The second, third, and fourth arrows arrived where they meant, too, and the man pitched forward, swinging wildly with his weapons even as she daintily dropped from the window onto the ground.

The fight was ugly; as she wiped sweat and blood away from her eyes, the young boy trembled, still clutching the child. Her instructions were quick: return the child to his mother. Do not tell her of her husband’s death. Make absolutely sure that his mother knew the child was rescued by a Lawgiver. And return the two swords, as well—they would belong to the child’s elder brother.

The young boy did as he was told, even though he didn’t remember the woman who gave him the commands. No one remembered she was there that night, except the naked stars. Heaven would remember.

The fates of many would change.

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