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A frown creased Falen’s forehead. That storm looked nasty. She really ought to return to Variss. Any sensible person would turn her horse round and head for home. But then she’d miss the chance to take vital readings from her experiments.

And that was not an option.

Turning her back on the storm, she nudged Yrsa into a trot and continued up the trail.

Her father would be furious, of course. How many times had he lectured her about safety? You’re not to go riding alone, he’d say, wagging a finger in that annoying way of his. When you leave the city, you must tell me first, and take a guard with you.

Well, she’d broken both rules and expected another blazing row when she got back.

The path was one of many game trails crisscrossing the foothills of the Sisters. Although a long way from the tree-line and the real wilderness, Falen felt like she traveled the edge of the world. Nobody came up here. Even herdsmen avoided this place. The Sisters’ slopes were haunted, the tales said, and Black Seza was the worst of them.

Idiotic superstition, in Falen’s opinion.

She guided Yrsa into a clearing and dismounted. She saw Variss twinkling in the valley below. The sun shone on the city, making its turrets and towers sparkle like fresh snow. Variss. Queen of the North. Ancient, wild, beautiful. Falen’s home.

And her prison.

In the other direction Black Seza, the tallest and most feared of the Sisters, towered almost directly above the clearing. Black Seza’s sides were sheer, with no safe paths to her summit. The mountain’s craggy peak looked like a wizened face looking down at Falen. She shivered, goose bumps riding up her skin.

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