The Ranellians circled them, coming close enough to where he could see the stark lines of their features in the night.

The Necromancer ignored them. “As long as my shield holds, we can continue this stalemate for days, Protector.”

Dev sized up the humans. He needed to make sure they were on his side. “And who do you think they’d attack first? You, who ordered the undead to attack them? Or me, who came to their aid?”

“The law of the kingdom still stands.” He inched closer so that his shield butted against Dev’s. “King Heodis is not known for his mercy.”

From the crowd, a voice replied, “And I intend to carry out the King’s justice.”

Steel flashed through the air and sliced through the Necromancer’s wrist. His screams echoed off the trees as his hand fell to the ground, the fingers still clutching the hilt of the dagger. Before the Ranellian could come in for another attack, red magic exploded from the Necromancer’s other hand, knocking all the humans to the ground.

“Tell Arden I look forward to seeing her again soon,” he growled as his body faded into mist.

The Ranellian responsible for cutting off the Necromancer’s hand jumped to his feet and swung his sword through the shadowy remnants left behind, dispersing them into the wind. “What the hell just happened?”

“He dissipated,” Dev replied. He wrapped his arms tighter around Trouble and reinforced his shields around them. The Ranellian’s blade had pierced the Necromancer’s shields, and he worried that if he didn’t cooperate, they might become the next victims to experience the King’s justice. “It’s a spell most master mages know.”

“Where did he go?”

“I have no idea. It’s not like we’re best friends.”

The hand in the mud burst into flames and turned into a pile of ashes within seconds. Only the dagger remained. The Ranellian picked it up.

“Be careful with that,” Dev warned. “It’s cursed. The last person who felt its point ended up encased in stone.”

The Ranellian dropped it and raised his sword. The tip pressed against Dev’s shoulder through the shields, the blade obviously holding some enchantment stronger than any magic he could wield. “Why should I believe anything you say?”

“Because my apprentice and I seem to be the only ones who can help you defeat the Necromancer.”

The Ranellian’s blade grazed Dev’s neck. “Who are you, and what is your business in Ranello?”

“I’m Sir Devarius Tel’brien, Knight of Gravaria.” No need to add the “Sworn Protector of the Soulbearer” and rouse their suspicions further. The fact that he was a foreign elf who could use magic would be enough to cause him to lose his head. “I was sent by the Empress to follow a Gravarian who’d escaped to Ranello and bring him back.”

The clouds parted, and a beam from one of the three moons shined down on them through the trees. Damp curls clung to the Ranellian’s broad face, and the royal crest of Ranello stretched across the armored plate covering his chest. One of the King’s soldiers. “And where is he?”

“The Necromancer killed him before I could capture him.”

Something warm and wet dripped onto Dev’s hand. He turned his attention to Trouble. The gash on her temple continued to bleed, trickling down her face onto her shoulder. He contemplated the danger of healing her in front of a hostile audience or waiting until later and praying he wouldn’t be too late. His leg throbbed in response, reminding him of his own wounds. He lowered his shields, since the Ranellian had already proven he could slice through them. “May I ask your name?”

The Ranellian’s eyes widened in surprise. He withdrew his sword a few inches. “I’m Kell.” He waited a moment, the expression on his face full of self-importance.

Dev gave a curt nod in acknowledgement but nothing more. The name meant nothing to him. As far as he was concerned, the man was just another backwards Ranellian. “Well, if you don’t mind, my apprentice and I need to find our horses and be on our way to Boznac.”

“You’re not going anywhere. Like Sulaino said, magic is forbidden in Ranello. Your apprentice gave us quite a display of her power.”

“She did it to save your lives, you ungrateful humans.”

His retort resulted in three news blades poking his back.

Kell narrowed his eyes. “The law is still the law, and only the King can overturn it.”

A familiar growl sounded behind him. The Ranellians jumped back as Cinder forced his way through them, sitting between Kell and Trouble. Dev used the momentary distraction to heal the gash at her temple. The blood stopped, but she didn’t stir.

Cinder licked her cheek and whimpered.

“I’m beginning to think you like her more than me,” he murmured to the animal.

“Is this your wolf?” Kell asked. His sword wavered slightly in front of them.

“Yes. He’s tame,” he replied before adding under his breath, “for the most part.”

“Sir Devarius, I have no desire to remain here in the mud with my sword pointed at you all night. You and your apprentice both look like you could use the attention of a healer.”

Dev choked back a laugh. He would rather rot in a shallow grave than face the primitive healing the Ranellians offered. Although it took more magic to heal himself than it did to heal another, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about rusty needles and dirty bandages. “I’ll take care of her.” He brushed her wet hair back from her temple to inspect the injury. Not even a scar remained. “She is my responsibility.”

“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. You are both under arrest for using magic in Ranello. According to the law, I have every right to burn you both at the stake right now.”