84th day of Summer, Kil’ead, Brucia

Meramon said King Coran of Brucia was dead. The throne was empty. The remaining Wyvern Lords had ordered a mass exodus to save the masses they had suddenly become responsible for. A queen was in charge of the castle, but she had no power; in fact, Meramon said it was his own step-mother who had taken that position. She had little authority, though, and no power beyond the castle itself.

Meramon seems to think I should show the lords the box and the parchment. My box. The reason I’ve been hunted, and the reason Mother and Father were killed. I could claim authority and… what? I would probably just get killed. Meramon said I could put a stop to the exodus. He said it was only happening because the nobles were unwilling to bear the burden of any lives the war might claim. Why would I want to? He said the exodus would be more dangerous than staying to fight. Kil’ead was defensible. There was nothing remotely as strong as Kil’ead to the east, unless the people went up to the Dwarven mountains, but the Dwarves had little love for Brucia.

I will not take the throne! I don’t want the crown; I will not be made a prisoner of stone walls. I need fresh air and trees and warmth and life. It’s only days ago we were in a desert, and I’ll not be starved of greenery again.

And Eliana would hate it. She’d think me horrid, corrupt, proud, cold. She can barely endure stay in towns for a few nights, let alone live her whole life between huge stones. A castle is a huge tomb of stifled souls. She’d either die slowly or leave me forever.

Meramon was right, though – Kil’ead was indeed a fortress. I had seen only a little of it when he stole me away in an attempt to save his brother from the king, or Brucians, or whoever it was. The white walls towered against the sky and nearly blinded us in the morning light as we approached. The eastern entrance – which Meramon said was the least-used – was a house-long tunnel behind two massive oak gates. The houses inside are mostly two stories tall, packed tightly together, and networked by a thin web of alleys.

However, Kil’ead was a writhing muddle. Thousands of people had already gone east to Amerset, but still some remained. Those were either preparing to leave, or looting. Sasha was a woman riding with Meramon again, and Reyla kept peering at her with wide eyes. Hers wasn’t the only gaze, though… Meramon said the streets were dangerous, and I could feel the stares on us from every corner, every scavenger. Perhaps the stares were even stronger because we were on horseback. Every clop of Gaunt’s hooves on the cobblestone street seemed to draw another undesirable pair of eyes.

Meramon took us to a house within sight of Kil’ead Castle. He knocked, waited, muttered something. He counted to five, then knocked again. The door cracked open, and an eye flitted past the gap. Meramon said that it was him. A slender, wide-eyed woman let Meramon in. She shrank into a corner when we all came in behind him, but Meramon went to her and held her hand and told her that we were friends. She took one look at Sasha and said “She has blue hair!” I almost said that she had wings as well, but Meramon raised a hand and eyed us, effectively telling us not to say anything of the sort.

The house was several rooms that connected to one central room, a wide hallway. The hallway was deep, too, and made a good place for us to leave the horses. I was the one who suggested that, and Meramon approved the decision after looking outside. He said Intimara – his sister-in-law – had owned a horse, but it was gone. Looters. This city is a place of madness, not humanity…