02-CelestialSecrets-NKnightley

“Well, that was pointless,” Prince Dorin muttered into the dark.

Ignoring his father’s sour mood, Kato focused on controlling his mount. The warcorn wanted to throw him off and trample him to death with its massive hooves, and he liked his organs where they were.

The forest canopy was aglow thanks to the powerful starstorm above, illuminating the path ahead as if it were midday. Trailing into the distance ahead, one from Kato’s heart and the other from his father’s, two thin threads were visible in the sparking energy of the stars.

Dorin’s thread led back to Everlain’s royal estate, where Kato’s mother anxiously awaited their return. As for Kato’s thread…who knew?

Who cared?

Kato didn’t. The threads, only visible in the staticky fields of stars falling en masse, connected soulmates. But Kato wasn’t interested in romance, and he had no reason to be. As the youngest of five, with a grandfather on the throne and a healthy father, there was no crown waiting for him and no rush to marry.

But Dorin hated mysteries, and Kato’s thread was the biggest the royal family had seen in generations. It moved often, making it hard to pinpoint the person’s location, and it was only visible during starstorms, so weather dictated when it could be tracked. Worse, the person it connected didn’t seem to be trying very hard to track him down, either.

“I really hoped it was one of Duchess Ranelli’s kids,” Dorin lamented. “A marriage there would let us request soldiers from the northern realms, now that the Glass Wall is fallen.”

“So arrange a match,” Kato said indifferently. “Marriages of convenience aren’t out of style with the nobility yet.”

“The Duchess won’t give one of her precious children to someone who might eventually ditch them for a threadmate.”

Dorin snuck a glance at Kato, looking for curiosity about his thread. At twenty-seven, it was strange for him to show no interest in a partner, but he couldn’t manage to muster up any excitement about it.

“I’ve been fighting with the eastern legion for five years,” Kato said crossly. “Protecting this land from Concordia occupies my mind too much to care about a star-slapped meet cute.”

Dorin frowned at the mention of Concordia, their invading southern enemy. Kato spent most of his time on the front lines against them, thanks to his family’s strong magic. Kato was mediocre at best when it came to swinging a sword, mostly thanks to the stupid armor he was forced to wear by his station, but he excelled in sorcery.

Dorin stiffened in his saddle as something sparked in the dark, a thread of magic signaling an emergency call.

Kato spurred his warcorn to a gallop without being told. The Glass Wall fell two weeks ago and there was more border than they could guard, and Princess Namira didn’t jump at shadows. If his mother called for aid, something bad was happening.

Fanghold Keep was less than a mile away, looming in the starstorm light. Kato sensed something amiss when the guards didn’t respond to their approach, and forced them to jump out of the way when his warcorn didn’t slow. A spark of his magic blew open the heavy doors, and he quickly found himself in the midst of an active battle.

The tide had already turned, Kato could tell. The attackers in black were no match for the skilled keep guards, and two of his older siblings joined mounted soldiers in giving chase as the enemy broke ranks and fled. Kato grabbed a passing herald as Dorin was involuntarily spirited away to safety with the other heirs.

“What happened?” He asked. “How did they reach this far?”

“Stealth,” she panted. “Must’ve snuck through the city in small groups during the day. Not the best or the brightest though, they turned tail as soon as we started fighting back.”

Kato led her up the nearby stairs to a quiet stretch of hall, where it was easier to speak in private. It didn’t seem like the enemy got this far.

“You’re sure they’re southern?” he asked. “Concordia’s fighters are too disciplined for this kind of mess.”

“I recognized one from the front lines,” she insisted. “He ran when the archers started firing.”

“That makes no sense,” Kato complained. “No trained raiding party would retreat after barely half an hour of attacking.”

“It makes perfect sense,” a voice purred from behind the curtain to Kato’s unguarded left, “If the raid is a cover for assassination.”

A man lunged at Kato in the dark, not much bigger than himself. But he moved quickly, and before he knew it, a long dagger swept across his throat. He reacted on instinct, ignoring the sharp pain to grab the attacker’s knife arm as he turned to strike down the herald next.

Kato and the assassin fell to the ground, both off balance. Kato tore off the assailant’s mask, revealing a familiar Concordia soldier he had faced in combat before. He didn’t know the man’s name or rank, but he sure knew the stupid face that usually smirked at him across the battlefield while arrows tested his magic. The brief moment of recognition vanished as reality hit. Kato felt blood streaming down his neck and realized his throat had been cut.

Had been.

A quick head toss told him his neck was uninjured, but a heavy flash from the starstorm inflicted a wound to Kato’s psyche that would rival any physical injury.

The thread from his chest connected directly to the Concordia soldier’s, bright and vivid.

Conveniently—or perhaps inconveniently, now that he had the upper hand—threads prevented those connected from causing each other harm.

“Shit,” Kato breathed.

“Shit,” the soldier echoed.

Holy shit,” the herald chimed in.

“Get the guards, please!” Kato demanded. “No input necessary!”

She bolted, and the soldier immediately twisted to knee Kato in the head. Off balance, he fell, but while he dived for the knife, the would-be assassin sprinted to the window.

“Well, this is embarrassing,” he called as he jumped onto the ledge. “No point trying to kill the royal family if one of them can’t be killed.”

Kato lunged after him. “Get back here and go to prison like a man!”

But magic tingled on his skin as the shadows moved, enveloping the soldier and cloaking him from view as he slipped out the open window.

Kato quickly met with the guards to search the courtyard, but the other man had already disappeared.

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