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Page 75

The trees explode into cinders, their glow painting the firmament an infernal red. Moss and shrubs curdle to soot, leaving an acres-wide black ring. The earth shudders, a tremor that will shatter glass from Marinn to Navium.

I taste fear on the air: from the Augurs and the ghosts, from the humans that infest this world. Visions flash across my mind: a scarred soldier cries out, reac

hing for daggers that will not help her. A newborn babe awakes, howling. A girl I once loved gasps, wheeling her horse about to gaze with gold eyes at the crimson sky over the Forest of Dusk.

For an instant, every human within a thousand leagues is united in a moment of ineffable dread. They know. Their hopes, their loves, their joy--all will soon be naught but ash.

My people stagger toward me, their flames coalescing into arms, legs, faces. First a dozen, then two score, then hundreds. One by one, they tumble from their prisons and gather near me.

At the edge of the clearing, thirteen of the fourteen Augurs silently collapse into heaps of ash. The power that they siphoned from the jinn flows back to its rightful owners. The Star crumbles, dusty remnants swirling restlessly before disappearing on a swift wind.

I turn to my family. "Bisham," I say. My children.

I gather the flames close, hundreds and hundreds of them. Their heat is a balm on the soul I thought I had long since lost. "Forgive me," I beg them. "Forgive me for failing you."

They surround me, touch my face, pull away my cloak, and release me into my true form, the form of flame, which I have repressed for ten centuries.

"You freed us," they murmur. "Our king. Our father. Our Meherya. You did not forget us."

The humans were wrong. I had a name, once. A beautiful name. A name spoken by the great dark that came before all else. A name whose meaning brought me into existence and defined all I would ever be.

My queen spoke my name long ago. Now my people whisper it.

"Meherya."

Their long-banked flames blaze brighter. From red to incandescent white, too bright for human eyes, but glorious to mine. I see their power and magic, their pain and rage.

I see their soul-deep need for vengeance. I see the bloody reaping to come.

"Meherya." My children say my name again, and the sound of it drops me to my knees. "Meherya."

Beloved.

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