The man was dead.
Kiva Meridan—known to a select few as Kiva Corentine—stared down at the body, noting his sunken cheeks and ashen skin. Given his state of bloating, he’d likely passed into the everworld three or four days ago. Long enough for the scent of death to emanate from him, even if he was yet to show physical signs of decomposition.
“Middle-aged male, average height and build, pulled out of the Serin River early this morning,” Healer Maddis said, her crisp voice enunciating every word perfectly. “Who can speculate as to the cause of death?”
Kiva kept her mouth shut, fully aware that she’d been granted entrance into the sterile examination room as an observer only.
“No one?” Healer Maddis prompted her students, all of whom were crowded around the body resting on a metal slab in the center of the small space. “Novice Waldon?”
A young man wearing large spectacles blinked owlishly and answered, “Uh, he drowned?”
“Marvelous deductive reasoning,” Maddis said dryly, before turning to the student beside him. “Novice Quinn?”
The young woman hunched in on herself, her voice barely a whisper as she said, “Maybe a heart attack? Or—Or a stroke?”
Healer Maddis tapped a fingernail against her lips. “Perhaps. Anyone else?”
Kiva shifted on her feet, catching the healer’s attention.
“What about our visitor?” Maddis asked, drawing all eyes to Kiva. “Miss Meridan, isn’t it?”
Seeing the open, inviting challenge in the elderly healer’s gaze, Kiva shook off her trepidation and stepped closer to the corpse, picking up his limp hand to reveal the smudges beneath his nails.
“This discoloration indicates he was suffering from an immune disorder, most likely syphinus or cretamot,” Kiva said, having diagnosed similar cases in the past. “If left untreated, both can lead to the rapid swelling of blood vessels.” She glanced toward the two novices who had been called upon. “Waldon and Quinn are both right—he most likely had a heart attack or a stroke, caused by his underlying medical condition, then fell into the river to drown.” She released the man’s hand. “But only a full examination will be able to say for sure.”
An approving smile stretched across the Matron Healer’s dark, wrinkled face. “Well spotted.” She then launched into a lecture about common immune disorders, but Kiva was only half listening, still marveling over where she stood.
Silverthorn Academy—the most renowned healing academy in all of Evalon. Some would argue in all of Wenderall.
When Kiva was a child, her father had spoken often about Silverthorn. Having grown up in the city of Fellarion, he’d used any excuse to visit Vallenia and sneak into the academy’s classes. His greatest regret was that he’d never relocated to study on campus full-time, instead accepting an apprenticeship from a master healer nearer to his home—an honored position, but one that paled in comparison to being a Silverthorn student.
Faran had made it his life’s purpose to help people, something Kiva had inherited to the point that, even when she’d been locked away in a nightmare, she’d still used everything he’d taught her to make the lives of others better.
A shadowy feeling overtook Kiva as she thought of the long years that were now behind her. A decade of her life spent behind thick limestone walls and impenetrable iron gates.
It was a death sentence for most, but Kiva had survived.
And now she was here, standing at the heart of her father’s dream, when she should have been somewhere else. Anywhere else.
There was no excuse for her actions today. But when the opportunity to visit Silverthorn had presented itself, she hadn’t been able to say no, even knowing that her own desires should have been at the bottom of her priorities.
It had been six weeks since Kiva had escaped Zalindov. Six weeks since she’d discovered that the crown prince had helped keep her alive through the deadly Trial by Ordeal, a set of four elemental challenges she’d undertaken in order to save the life of the Rebel Queen, Tilda Corentine.
Her efforts had been in vain, with a violent prison riot ending Tilda’s life. But even in death, her purpose remained, inherited by Kiva and her two older siblings. Together, the three of them would seek vengeance for what had been stolen generations ago; together, they would reclaim Evalon’s throne for the Corentine bloodline.
The problem was, Kiva had no idea how to find her brother and sister. The only hint she had was a coded note she’d received before leaving Zalindov, containing a single word: Oakhollow.
The village was barely half an hour’s ride away from Vallenia, but Kiva hadn’t had a spare moment to explore since arriving in the city two days ago, having spent the previous weeks holed up in the Tanestra Mountains waiting for the spring thaws. The first chance she’d had to sneak away was today. But instead of using the opportunity to seek out her long-lost siblings, she was indulging in her own dreams.
Tilda Corentine would have been livid.
Faran Meridan would have been delighted.
Kiva chose to side with her father, deciding that her mother’s mission could wait another day.
Guilt had simmered within her when she’d made her choice that morning, but a knot of anxiety had also eased in her stomach. She had no reason to be nervous about a reunion with her siblings, and yet . . . ten years was a long time. Kiva wasn’t the same carefree child anymore, and she could only assume the same must be true for them. Too much had happened—to them all.
And then there was what the three of them intended to do . . .
The sound of chiming bells interrupted her thoughts, the noise making her jump, a lingering effect of the years she’d spent listening for the smallest of sounds that could herald her death. But she was no longer in Zalindov, the peaceful chimes merely echoing through the walls of the sterile examination room to signal the end of class.
The students, all clad in pristine white robes, scrambled to f...