The Four-Part Key
An ancient proverb holds the key to restoring the long-awaited wizard fortress of Aero’set.
Sitting in the front room of his family’s cottage, TY listens intently as Nyalis conveys the urgency of his upcoming quest. Having agreed to search out the four missing pieces of an age-old relic, Ty soon discovers how unprepared he is for a mission of this importance. Not only must he find the missing pieces and assemble them, he must survive long enough to figure out how to use them before the White Tower closes in.
Desperate to reach Rhowynn ahead of Chief Inquisitor Sylas, FERRIN pushes his small band of convicts to their limits—his twin sister’s life depends on it. On foot, they fight their way through the harsh winter countryside of Sidara, hoping to find someone willing to help. But the help they find is not what they expect, and the battle that ensues will likely mean the end of them all.
Still struggling with the loss of his memories, AYRION and his companions travel north, eager to find a safe haven in the rugged mountain community of Wellhollow. Instead, they find an army of Black Watch purging the town of wielders. And when a local seer reveals a disturbing prophecy that directly links his fate to hers, Ayrion finds himself donning his black leather coat and twin blades once again.
Meanwhile, in Easthaven, ADARRA makes a shocking discovery. Not only were the Tallosians who attacked her home part of Mangora’s scheme, it seems they are also part of a much larger invasion—an invasion Easthaven isn’t prepared to withstand.
The third book in this award-winning epic fantasy saga continues where the second left off, with a world in desperate need of saving, as powers beyond their control threaten to bring the Five Kingdoms to its knees.
Excerpt: Chapter One
THE FIRST OF THE winter snow left a thin blanket across the alleyway behind the Easthaven Harbor House. It wasn’t much more than a heavy dusting, and Ty knew its beauty would be short-lived, as the sun was sure to melt it away before the council meeting was over. Still, it did leave him with a momentary sense of peace, a feeling he was little acquainted with these days.
He stood quietly on the back step and watched his breath rise into the air. He felt different. Sure, the anger was still there, the desire to seek justice, but the rage was gone. It was as though someone had lifted an enormous weight off his shoulders, and for the first time in a long while, his thoughts were his own. With the witch’s hold severed, and the last of the book’s magic excised from his mind, Ty felt almost hollow, as if a piece of him were missing. He wondered how long the feeling would linger.
He hoped not too long.
“You still feel her, don’t you?”
Ty cocked his head. His brother stood behind him in the doorway, taking up most of it with his broad shoulders.
“I see the way you look at that finger,” Breen said, nodding at Ty’s hand.
Ty hadn’t noticed, but he was thumbing the empty spot where the glass ring had been. It had only been a week since Nyalis had purged him of the numori’s dark tendrils, the pages of Mangora’s book having done more damage than he knew. It was scary how something as innocent as a book could have nearly toppled the kingdoms of Aldor. If Mangora had gotten her way, and the Easthaven wielder council hadn’t been there to stop her, she might have used Ty to kill nearly the entire Provincial Authority in one fell swoop.
The wizard had said the ring in itself wasn’t dangerous. It simply put a voice to the words in the book. But Nyalis figured it was best that the artifact remained with him for safekeeping.
Ty let his hand drop to his side. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be rid of the feeling.” He shivered as he thought about what he’d done under Mangora’s control, how he’d been forced to watch as the witch used his abilities against him, against his family, his friends. If he had a way to expel those memories, he would do it. He would cut them out with a knife.
His dreams were plagued by nightmares. The worst of which involved Gilly. The look in the little man’s eyes as Ty engulfed him in flame was more than he could bear. But that wasn’t him, he had to keep reminding himself. It was the witch. Ty turned and looked up at his brother. He read the concern in his eyes. “Will they ever forgive me?”
Breen took a deep breath and slowly released, white mist curling above his head, forming a sort of spiral snake that widened as it rose. “The more important question is: Will you ever forgive yourself?”
Ty could feel the weight of his own guilt in his brother’s eyes, and he looked away. He hated how Breen could peer inside him, and with one question, drive straight to the heart of the problem. “I don’t know.”
Breen waited a moment before stepping back inside. “Come on. They’re waiting.”
Ty nodded, expelling one last puff of mist before joining his brother.
Master Eliab stood beside the kitchen table, cradling his double-bolt crossbow like a newborn child. “Winter’th upon uth,” he said, stepping over to the door and taking one last look outside before shutting it. “It’ll be a cold one for thure. Mark my wordth.” His mouth widened into a bright, toothless grin. He threw the door’s bracer into place and started across the room, motioning for the two to follow.
They made their way down the hall to the next room, then through the open door and down the stairs to the cellar. The wielder council used the cellar as a meeting place, as well as a temporary shelter for wielders who needed a place to hide. It seemed like a lifetime since Ty’s father had first brought him here and introduced him to the council. So much had happened since that night; it seemed almost a distant memory.
Ty kept to Master Eliab’s heels as the former lancer captain guided them across the room to the chamber on the other side, where the council carried out its meetings. To the left and right were doors that led to rooms that had been arranged for displaced wielders. Each was barely large enough to fit a cot and small table, but those they sheltered were extremely grateful for them.
Ty balled his fists as the memory of Saleena’s face flashed across his mind. She was another innocent victim who had lost her life in the White Tower’s pursuit of him. She had been the last to seek shelter at the Harbor House.
Eliab stopped outside the door leading into the council’s meeting chamber and knocked. Ty turned to see if his brother was watching and quickly wiped his palms down the front of his trousers, not wanting him to see how nervous he truly was. It was the first time he’d been in the same room with the other members since the Sidaran Assembly Hall, when Mangora had used him to try killing the entire council.
“Come in,” Veldon’s gruff voice called out from the other side. Veldon was the Easthaven dockmaster and head of the wielder council.
Ty stuffed his hands in his pockets and squeezed the material. Willing participant or not, he wasn’t looking forward to this reunion. He startled when Breen placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” he reassured his brother with a nod.
Eliab opened the door. “Mathter Breen and Mathter Ty have arrived.” The Harbor House gatekeeper stepped aside to let them pass.
“We were starting to wonder if you were going to make it,” Veldon said from the head of the table on the right. “Thank you, Eliab.”
Eliab nodded but waited for the two to enter before stepping out and shutting the door behind them.
Nearly every seat around the long table was filled. Even Nyalis was there, sitting at the other end, quietly conversing with Ty’s sister. Adarra seemed enthralled with whatever the old wizard was saying. Mistress Reloria, sitting just to the other side of Nyalis, fiddled with her hat, looking particularly on edge. In fact, most of those around the table looked anxious in one way or another: fleeting glances, nervous fidgeting, flustered adjustments of clothing and jewelry.
Strangely enough, the only person who seemed unaffected by Ty’s presence was Gilly, and he was the one person who had the most to be bothered by, considering the last time Ty had seen the little man was when he had tried to burn him alive. Ty heard Gilly’s screams in his mind as he lowered his head and followed Breen around the table to the two empty seats beside his father.
Breen took the chair next to Fraya, and Ty sat in the open chair on his other side, staring down at the buttons on his jacket. He tugged on each, attempting to distract himself so he wouldn’t have to face the people he’d hurt.
“You’re looking better,” Master Orlyn’s voice rang out from across the table.
When no one answered, Ty spared a fleeting glance in the old apothecary’s direction. “I feel better,” he said with a forced smile, then lowered his gaze back to his lap.
“Can we be sure that no one else is listening in on our conversation?” Feoldor asked, shifting uncomfortably in his seat between Reloria and Orlyn.
“The numori’s magic is gone,” Nyalis said, getting to the heart of what Feoldor was asking. “But the effects might be longer lasting.”
“And what effects are those?” Ty’s father asked.
Ty could feel the old wizard’s gaze burrowing into him, and as bad as he wanted to look, he kept his head lowered.
“Nothing to fear, I assure you. A bit of rest, and he’ll be back to his old chipper self in no time.” The sarcasm in the wizard’s voice was unmistakable.
“What aren’t you telling us?” Orlyn asked. “No offense, but you tend to have a way of leaving things out. Offering half-truths and partial explanations.”
Ty could almost hear the wizard smiling as he leaned back in his seat. “What our young Master Ty seems to be suffering from is a lack of confidence, brought on by an acute sense of guilt, topped with a debilitating need for reconciliation.”
The room went silent.
“What in the flaming pits are you talking about?” Feoldor blurted out, the only one brave enough to do so. “I didn’t understand half of what you just said.”
Breen mumbled something under his breath, but all Ty could catch was Feoldor and two-headed donkey.
“Ty blames himself for what happened,” Nyalis said.
Ty spared a quick peek around the table to catch the others’ response, stopping before he reached Gilly’s seat. He knew he needed to say something, but before he could muster the courage to do so, Feoldor cleared his throat and fluffed his side whiskers.
“Why didn’t you just say so? Look here, boy,” he said, grabbing Ty’s attention. “There’s plenty of blame to go around. I mean, sure, you might have been the one snooping through the witch’s stuff and all, stealing her numori thingy—”
Reloria jabbed Feoldor in the side with her elbow. “That’s hardly helpful.”
“What? I was just trying to explain how—”
“What Feoldor’s trying to say, dear,” she said, “is that this wasn’t your fault. We know it was Mangora.”
Ty couldn’t take the stares any longer. With a deep breath to steel his nerves, he stood. “I’d like to speak.” When he had everyone’s attention, he continued. “I’m sorry. Master Feoldor’s right. I was the one who took the book. I was the one who listened to what it had to say. I was . . .” He stared at the faces around the table and finally lowered his head. “I was just so angry.”
Ty’s father laid a hand on Ty’s arm, trying to coax him back to his seat. “It could have happened to any of us.”
Ty shook his head. “No. It was me. I wanted Mangora dead so badly that I opened myself up to the book without question.”
“But you didn’t know it was her, silly,” Ty’s sister said. “You can’t blame yourself for that.”
“Adarra’s right,” Fraya added, releasing Breen’s arm. “This isn’t your fault. In fact, I’m just as much to blame as anyone. If I’d listened to Orlyn and not been so consumed with my healing, Saleena might still be alive.” Her voice cracked. “She died because I wasn’t paying close enough attention.”
Orlyn grunted, his rune-covered staff shifting behind his seat as he scooted forward. “Now, let’s don’t go putting words in my mouth. What happened to Saleena could hardly be considered anyone’s fault, my dear.”
“Enough.” Veldon scooted his seat back from the table and stood. “We are doing no one any favors, least of all ourselves, by sitting here harboring blame.” He looked at Ty. “No one here holds you responsible for what happened. And if it will help to hear . . . We forgive you.” He paused a moment to look around the table. “And I would like to point out that—”
Gilly stood, and everyone turned. The little man didn’t come to the meetings that often, and when he did, he rarely participated beyond a friendly smile and a childlike wave at the girls, so any interaction on his part was clearly noted.
Ty tensed as the dwarfish man turned and hobbled around the back of the table, straight over to where he was standing. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Suddenly, Gilly reached out and wrapped his arms around Ty’s waist and hugged him.
Ty nearly started crying. In fact, the more he tried to stop it, the harder it became. Pretty soon, he was all but sobbing as he, too, reached down and wrapped his arms around Gilly’s shoulders. More than one person was wiping their eyes by the time Gilly retook his seat.
Ty sat, his legs shaking to the point of nearly giving out. That one gesture had done more to heal what was broken inside him than all of the wizard’s magic.
He looked around the table, warm smiles greeting him in return. Even Sheeva, on the far end beside Veldon, offered a partial grin, which looked oddly out of place for the short assassin.
Ty didn’t know how he could earn back their trust, but he swore to himself he would find a way.
“Seems to me,” Veldon continued, retaking his seat, “we could all use a little forgiveness. No one here’s without mistake. Except perhaps our illustrious friend on the end there,” he said half-jokingly as he gestured toward the wizard.
Nyalis stood, and all the light in the room dimmed, drawing everyone’s attention. “Mistakes are what it means to be human,” he said. “And I’m as human as they come.” The room suddenly brightened. “Well, for the most part,” he added with a cheeky grin. Nyalis had a strange sense of humor, one not everyone tended to get. “My point is, leave the past in the past. There are plenty of mistakes still to come, poor choices lurking around every corner. The one thing we don’t have time for is to sit around wallowing in guilt over the ones we’ve already made.” He made a point to look at Ty. “Learn from them and move on, because what is coming will be here before you know it.”
“What is coming?” Orlyn asked.
Ty found himself leaning forward along with the rest of those at the table.
Nyalis scanned the room. “Uncertainty. Uncertainty is coming. And she can be a deadly adversary.”
Ty shuddered. The room felt undeniably chilly, and it wasn’t just the winter winds beating against the outside walls. Whatever was coming, he knew it had something to do with him. He only wished he understood more about why that was.
“Which is why it is so imperative that our young Master Ty here start his journey. The sooner he is able to find and return the Wizarding Keep of Aero’set, the better our chances will be.”
“Winter is already upon us,” Veldon said. “Wouldn’t it be more prudent to wait until the weather has improved . . . say, spring?”
Nyalis paused. “Would it be more prudent? Yes. Is that what we should do? Absolutely not. We need Aero’set if we are to have any chance of surviving what’s coming. What you’ve endured so far is merely a scuffle, a backyard brawl between schoolchildren. If this has done anything, it’s shown us how unprepared we really are.”
Ty looked at the others. Their despondent faces said it all. What they believed to have been a great victory and a justification of their skills seemed barely worth mentioning in the wizard’s eyes. Then again, if Nyalis truly was as old as he claimed, Ty couldn’t imagine the battles he had seen and fought.
Ty scooted to the edge of his seat. “I’m ready,” he said. What better way to prove his worth than to bring back this fabled keep?
Nyalis smiled. “Then I suggest you pack.”