Excerpt: Pawn of Mine by Tabitha Vale
Sage pulled her mask snug around her face. Night fever got worse during the colder seasons, so she had to take a moment to compose herself. Once a swift inspection of her black clothing assured none of her skin was exposed to the stars, she rearranged the heavy pack on her shoulder so that its weight was evenly distributed in the center of her back.
A warden post stood nearby. Stationed everywhere around the continent — in every town, city, and rural hub — they were like the watch towers from an old castle, spiraled and made of vine-covered stone. From the top there were thick wires running through the air, connecting to the other posts miles off in the distance; each post was connected with at least two others, Sage had noticed at one point. They usually hosted around three to four wardens each, trained men that sat at the top for the entire day and night, monitoring the people. They played the role of law enforcement, and sometimes, were menaces that most people didn’t get along with.
A crash somewhere to the right jolted Sage’s attention.
She poked her head around the corner. There were three figures; one masked and cloaked in black that reminded her of a childhood hero named Mask, the other two clearly fire wardens based on their red and brown uniforms.
They were locked in a duel, and despite her rush, Sage took a moment to observe. This was the only way to get through the alley, so unless she wanted to find a detour, she was stuck.
Mask swung his swords in a taunting pattern, the wardens floundering in surprise. Recovering quickly, fire sparked between the men’s pale uncovered hands. Stances squared and stable, they drew the symbol for Lacerta, the lizard constellation. The starlight poured from their fingertips like a fiery paint, emblazoning the dark night air with flames.
The wardens were so predictable. They always used Lacerta.
Mask seemed to know that. He ducked under the blasts, swords swinging, and snagged one of the men along his calf with the edge of his blade.
The warden crumpled to the ground, howling in pain.
The other warden had fire in his hands once more; his arms were moving rapidly through another constellation. Sage recognized it instantly — Crux, the cross. The starlight burst from his palms in the form of a fiery T, charging at Mask with flaming tips.
The masked man ran. He sprinted down the alley, leaped over some fallen crates, and then somersaulted across the ground. He landed in a crouch, brought his two swords up above his head, and slashed them upward in an X shape. He sent Crux diffusing into smoke, its blinding outline still imprinted into the air.
Mask sprung up to his feet and charged the warden, who fumbled for another Lacerta. He barely had the lizard slithering through his fingers when Mask thrust the hilts of both his swords hard into the warden’s chest. He staggered back, the Lacerta losing its form. The fire burst from his hands in a jet of orange and red light, raining over the alley.
Mask whirled his swords in front of him to create a small vortex of wind, blocking the flames from consuming him. He effortlessly jumped out of the wayward fire’s reach, but Sage wasn’t as lucky.
The flames caught the building she hid behind, curling into its feeble wooden frame like it was paper. Sage stumbled away. The fire nearly scalded her, but she’d managed to duck around a pile of trash bags in time to avoid it.
The remaining warden shot Sagitta from his hands now — the arrow constellation. It was easier than Lacerta or Crux, but relatively weak. At the same time, it yielded the advantages of being swift and not requiring a formal stance — you could be balanced on a beam, sitting, or even running while you formed it. The wardens knew this one well, which meant they were usually good at it.
The element carved itself into the air, one arrow after another, and then struck.
Mask was backed into a corner, twirling his swords once more. He dispelled the fire arrows, but it didn’t seem to be enough.
Normally Sage would assist whoever this masked man was, since he clearly wasn’t a Fire, but she didn’t have the time. Already late to her appointment with Humble Narcissist Ruler Agni, she could not afford this delay. Agni was a temperate man, and being tardy by one second might jeopardize her cause completely. Several minutes could prove fatal.
Mask swore loudly, one of his swords knocked from his grasp. The warden took that opportunity to form another Lacerta, and Sage recognized it even before he made his first move. The stance told her everything.
Sighing to herself, she launched forward.
Call it instinct, or call it a natural tenacity to lend a hand when the wardens were getting thumped — whatever it was, it consumed her as she watched the swordsman scramble to grab his fallen weapon. She had to help him.
Sage leaped gracefully over the trash bags and swung her foot. A hard and swift jab, the blow landed directly in the delicate spot behind the warden’s knee.
The warden buckled with a shout. His Lacerta sputtered out mid-light, and flames rose up from his palms, spewing high into the night sky. A thick layer of smoke rolled out over the alley. Sage grimaced at the smell. That always happened when the Fires failed at forming a starlight.
Mask snuck up behind her and used the hilt of his one sword — apparently he’d given up with trying to snatch up his second — to strike the warden’s forehead. He tipped over into the ground like a falling tower, just beside the bleeding one who hadn’t fallen unconscious yet.
He was glaring up at them, it turned out, raising a shaking arm. He looked like he was fighting the pull of darkness, desperate to stay awake. A weak jet of light spewed from his hand, forcing Sage and Mask to leap out of the way. The fire caught onto the vines of the warden post and spread alarmingly fast — it took only seconds before the entire mini tower was engulfed in flames. A loud noise thundered at its base and then the bottom blew apart.
Mask turned to stare at her, and Sage stared back. It was brief, but something about him had his eyes burning into her memory as she dashed away. Something that made her feel guilty. There was accusation in that gaze — so much that it had her thinking they might know each other. But it was impossible. She would have remembered lime green eyes like his.
The world never ended in fire and ice. The people were consumed by it and now control the elements. The Fires have harnessed the power down to an art while the Waters cower in fear of their abilities, remaining weak and hopeless. Seventeen-year-old Sage Sinclair hopes to dispel the weakness of her Water people because she knows that if she doesn’t do anything, no one will. When she discovers something special about herself, she seeks Humble Narcissist Ruler Agni in the great fire city, Saint Firefly. Once she gains his seal of approval, she’s admitted into Erra Academy where she secretly sparks a revolution among her ennui peers—a revolution to fight back against the Fires. She has every hope in her movement, just as long as her feelings for a handsome and frivolous Saffron Larkspur don’t get in the way—that, and Agni’s sudden fascination with her.
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