He heard the girl before he saw her, a high and golden hum that cut through the chaos of battle like the first flare of sunrise.
Sheets of floating ice seesawed and creaked under his boots as he ran across the frozen lake, making his way toward the sound. It beckoned to him amidst the other noises piercing the winter air—the screaming, the rattle of crossbows, the roar of cannons, all from the burning city that lay behind the ancient forest bordering the lake. The fanned gaps between the longleaf pines at water’s edge offered glimpses of destruction in veins of red-gold embers, their needle-pricked canopy silhouetted against a crown of smoke beneath the seven moons.
There was smoke out here on the ice as well, but it was the smoke of aetherspace, not inferno. Rings of shadow bloomed over the snowy floes, crackling and shivering and trapping everyone trying to escape the city, everyone except him and his legionnaires. With a wave of his gauntleted hand, each dark barrier parted before him, until—finally—
There she was.
Loose strands of bedraggled chestnut hair streamed in the montane wind, escaping her braid to frame an oval face with freckled, olive-skinned features. She was coltish on the bobbing ice, light blazing in her hands against the swirling shadows, the twitching body of one of his men crumpled at her feet. He hurtled forward, a weapon of his own blocking what would have been her killing blow to his erstwhile legionnaire, and as she staggered back her eyes met his, her magic reflected in shards of gold setting fire to brown irises, and perhaps this, too, was how a war began. In the space between heartbeats. In the room of night.
He lunged at her.