It was always easy for me to kill a man.
Even then. That night.
“You’re a monster,” Dionna said to the Archon, high in his tower. She was strong in her resolution, confident in her decision. Truly a sight to behold. “You’re mad. Koralingia was right. I can never give you this power.”
The Archon reaction with deadly calm. He nodded slowly and said, “Very well.”
His hand flourished at his belt in what I knew was runetracing. Harry flew backwards into the nearest window, sending spiderwebs of cracks in all directions but not breaking. A frostbolt spell came next, ragged and hasty, rough with the Archon’s madness. It formed at the end of his finger and aimed at Harry like a bow drawn and ready to be released.
They continued speaking. I heard none of it. The calmness that came with being a Shadow washed over me, allowing me to see everything as clear as daylight. The options we had. Paths forward and backward, toward victory and death.
Some people were fond of saying Shadows were born without a conscience. That wasn’t true. Shadows were merely blessed with a harsh view of the world. Killing a diseased sheep to save the flock was an easy decision; why spend time grieving over the unfortunate nature of it? There were times when there was no good decision, and one had to choose the least terrible option. People agonized over such things, as if by willpower alone a third option would manifest itself.
Shadows, above all other skills, could cast aside such inhibitions and cut straight to the proper action. Distaste was for the other professions.
When the Archon threw Harry up against the wall and pointed a runemagic spell at him, part of my brain turned off. The part holding me back. Threatening one of my Quintmates was like threatening myself. Harming them was like sticking a dagger into my own gut.
A Shadow like me couldn’t allow that to happen.
“Okay,” Dionna eventually said, pulling me back to the present. “I’ll show you.”
“Dionna…” Harry said, begging her not to.
“I need my runes.”
She thought she had a way out. That all she had to do was turn over her secret and everything would be okay. All of them, Jax and Arthur and even typically pragmatic Maze, were seizing on the idea like it was the only way to swim back to shore.
Only I saw the truth: the Archon would kill him regardless. As punishment for Dionna wanting to keep the spell from him, or merely as an outlet for his particular brand of cruelty.
I thought about the loss of Harry in that moment. Losing our Ranger, with his raven black hair and eyes as green as fresh grass. We’d lost one of our Quintelaide before. The loss was indescribable.
But what really cut into my soul was the idea of Dionna’s pain. We had experienced it; she had not. Blessedly, she had not. I didn’t want her to. Nor could I bear the thought of her harboring the guilt for his death, forever wondering if only she had surrendered to the Archon’s demands sooner if Harry would have lived. She didn’t deserve that kind of guilt. None of us did, but her especially.
It had to be someone else.
It had to be me.
The act was easy. I’d practiced it a thousand times. A flick of my wrist and the blade came loose from the bit of thread holding it up my sleeve. Steel flashed in the light of the Archon’s chambers, the dagger traveling on a perfect line to our doom.
I didn’t watch it strike, because I knew it would.
“No!” Dionna screamed as the frostbolt released, shattering into a thousand pieces of harmless ice.
And then something happened. Something I hadn’t seen with a Shadow’s clarity. Like the Dragon bond occupying a corner of my mind, a new door opened next to it, something I’d never realized was there. I was abruptly connected to something to the north, the far north, so far away I could barely feel it.
The Dragon shifting ability had awoken within us. I could see it in Dionna’s eyes, and Harry’s.
“Steel shield me,” Jax cursed, and I wasn’t sure if he meant the dead Archon on the ground or the new sensation in our heads.
There was no time to consider it, not now. Jax bulled into the nearest guard, and in their daze I took the opportunity to somersault over the next guard and kick out the back of his knee, stealing his dagger from his hip as he fell and plunging it between his shoulder blades.
As we slaughtered the guards, the only thing on my mind was Dionna, and the need to protect her from the terrors of the world.
It was always easy for me to kill a man. Even that night.