His fatherís sudden death left him with a responsibility he had not expected to deal with for many more
years, and wholly unprepared for the Rite of Passing itself. No one who knew of the Rite spoke of it,
enshrouding it in a dark mystery that sat foul in his stomach. Waiting all night long was hard enough,
but not knowing what to expect was far worse.
He forced himself to turn away before his expression reflected his state of mind, looking instead into the
shadowed mass stretching out around him.
For once, the shifting faces in the darkness beyond the fireís reach were not the horrid visions that
regularly haunted him in sleep and shadow. These were real people, thousands come to mourn the loss of their
leader, to place their candles and allegiance before the Lordmasterís only heir. In this, they were more
terrifying than the worst of his dreams, and a familiar cold apprehension tightened his chest. What will
become of these people if I fail?
He searched the crowd for the one man who possessed the serenity he could only emulate.
Jàon owed duty to no one within the borders of Rydhakk—there was no candle presented by him,
no obligation for him to even attend. Still, Kàil hoped for a glimpse of him, a bit of light in the
darkness. It was a vain hope, he knew. This was what Jàon would have called a defining moment, a
time when Kàil must stand on his own or fall, and his teacher was always conspicuously absent at
such times. Unlike his father, however, Jàon was always there for him once the moment had passed.
The drums ceased, leaving behind an unnerving quiet, accentuated by the roar of the bonfire and the
slapping of flags against the altar. Kàilís apprehension neared panic. He clenched his jaw and paced
his breathing in an effort to maintain his faltering appearance of calm, when all he wanted was to run, to
let the responsibility fall on someone elseís shoulders.
He looked at his fatherís body.
Fresh anger rose within him. No. If I fail, it will at least be in making the effort, not hiding
from the world the way you did.
The sorceress Ledayah wove her way through the field of red candles to stand beside Kàil, a carved
ivory chalice in her hands. He eyed it uncomfortably, wondering what sort of magic lurked within.
She sang, her voice clear but the words foreign, her swaying hips occasionally brushing Kàilís
shoulder as she circled him; it might have been enticing, had it not been for the menace of that cup.
He wished she would give him more space.
The song grew louder with the addition of pipes, and each beat of the Shravŗt drums chipped away at his
resolve. I will show no weakness, he told himself, but could not stop his body from tensing when
Ledayah held the chalice to the stars.
Still singing, she lowered the cup and offered it to him.
Warm in his hands, the brew smelled unexpectedly welcoming, like mulled cider. He braced himself and
Sweet liquid flooded him with comfort, easing his anxiety and providing a sense of peace like nothing he
had ever experienced. He sank into a fog of drink, herbal smoke, and strange, pounding music, leaving him
oddly distanced from the events around him.
Ledayah held his fatherís crown skyward. Silver and sapphires glinted in the firelight, and her song
seemed to bear his spirit with it when she raised her voice to the heavens.
Then among her lyrics, he heard the words he had dreaded since his fatherís death—Bayàt Innaius.
Before he could react, she slipped the crown onto his head.
His scream shattered all pretense. White-hot pain ripped through him as the Bayàt Innaius, the
Ancient Knowledge possessed by generations of Rydhakkís Lordmasters, coursed like fiery liquid through his
head. All thought, all sense of time, was stripped from him while age-old memories seared their way into the
deepest recesses of his mind. Everything around him melted into a brilliant amber glow; he felt his head hit
the flagstone, but it was inconsequential next to the anguish inside. He squeezed his skull between his hands
as if to crush it, would have died if given the choice, but there was no escape from his suffering. Pain
consumed all sense of time, and all thoughts but one: Please, let it end.
When at last he was released from the spellís agonizing grip, he remained slumped at Ledayahís dancing
feet. Fevered music assaulted him. The ivory chalice lay shattered on the vibrating ground.
Nauseous, too weak to stand, and still panting for breath, he lifted his aching head to look into the shadows of the bonfire, into the faces of Rydhakk. Each turned respectfully away from
his, but not before he saw the wide-eyed awe every one of them shared. Through the lingering pain, through the haze of Ledayahís herb smoke and mind-numbing drink, he saw their faces with
odd clarity, and recognized for the first time the true power that came with the title of Lordmaster.
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