Alliance of Serpents
it is. It says—Well, that's
interesting. Vultrel Lurei is listed in the deceased column."
    Vultrel raised an eyebrow. When did the mayor
decide to start screening people before allowing them to enter the
village? "I can understand why you would assume that," he replied,
keeping his voice calm, "but I assure you that I am not."
    "In order to be permitted entry this evening,
I'll need you to provide both of your parents' names and your
mother's maiden name," the soldier said through his grizzled black
beard. His stubby fingers looked like small sausages turning the
    "My father's name was Eaisan Lurei, Master of
Blades, Captain of Honor, and my mother's name is Veran Lurei,
maiden name Nienas."
    The other soldier, his narrow jaw framed by
an orange beard, eyed him suspiciously as the first searched
through the little book. Finally, after the two conferred briefly,
Vultrel was permitted to pass. "Thank you, Gentlemen," he said with
a polite bow. They eyed him with obvious suspicion, but neither
said a word.
    The village was quiet, as was to be expected
at such a late hour. There were no militiamen patrolling the
streets, and the few men he did see were simply commoners out
enjoying the summer evening. Farmer Boyer and Clarissa stood near
one of the gates of their farm. Clarissa was swinging her hands in
a wild attempt to catch a firefly while her father lifted her above
his head. He nodded at Vultrel as he passed, though Clarissa was
too wrapped up in her game to even notice him. Several courts down,
Ben Mantes sat in his favorite rocking chair on the front porch of
his house smoking a long-stemmed pipe. He didn't seem to recognize
Vultrel, though the darkness and Vultrel's face of stone may have
had something to do with it. Vultrel nodded anyway. Ben was a good
man. A great weapons master, too.
    Vultrel's own home was dark; his mother had a
tendency to go to bed early. No doubt the empty house had been hard
on her, especially at night. Hopefully his return would lift her
spirits. It wasn't until he placed his hand on the doorknob that he
heard the soft murmur of voices floating from the rear of the
house. When he followed the dirt path through the short fence of
chicken-wire, he found his mother seated in a wooden rocking chair
his father had built, sipping tea and staring at the stars. Elayna
Sheeth sat across from her, staring blankly into her own tea. They
both wore their silk evening robes and shawls despite the heat.
    Elayna shook her head as she spoke. "The
world just seems so . . . empty without them."
    "I'm alive, Mother," Vultrel said simply.
    Veran's eyes widened as she whipped her head
toward the alley. Elayna looked up as well, and their mouths
dropped in unison. "Vultrel?" his mother asked, softly. "My son, is
it truly you?"
    He opened his mouth to reply, but she was
already on her feet, and she threw her arms around him with a wail
that could've been either euphoric happiness or overwhelming
despair. "It is," he told her, his voice just as soft. She cried
uncontrollably on his shoulder, murmured babble about dreaming and
his supposed demise mixing with her sobs. Tears rose in his own
eyes as he listened to her; there were times he thought he'd never
see her again, either. "It's all right, Mother. I'm home."
    "We heard so many terrible things," she
sobbed. "We were told that you were killed in Cathymel with your
father! They said Arus killed Eaisan! There were even rumors that
aliens were involved!"
    It was the moment he'd been preparing himself
for since making the decision to return home. If he was going to
keep Terranias' society from being corrupted by the knowledge of
what went on amongst the stars, he was going to have to create a
new reality not only for the people of Terranias, but for himself.
He'd rehearsed the story over and over for the better half of the
day. It was now or never. "Father was murdered by Sartan Truce," he
began, trying to beat down the butterflies in his stomach. "I
followed him

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