Eva knows the Testing is no dance class. Gallant Testors train for their entire lives to search icy wastelands for Relics: artifacts of the corrupt civilization that existed before The Healing drowned the world. Out in the Boundary Lands, Eva must rely on every moment of the lightning-quick training she received from Lukas—her servant, a Boundary native, and her closest friend now that Eamon is gone.
But there are threats in The Testing beyond what Lukas could have prepared her for. And no one could have imagined the danger Eva unleashes when she discovers a Relic that shakes the Aerie to its core.
Eamon throws his axe into the ice above his head. He hits a perfect depression in the wall, and the ice grips his axe. Pulling up hard, he kicks the bear-claw toes of his climbing boots into the ice a few feet higher up. Like some kind of arctic cat, he scales the frozen Ring.
He repeats the practiced motion, over and over. Each time, Eamon makes sure to insert an ice screw level with his waist and secure his rope to it. Just a precaution should he fall. Not that he ever has.
Bit by painstaking bit, the top of the Ring nears. Although he knows he shouldn’t, that it goes against the primary rule of ice climbing, Eamon can’t resist: He looks down at the hundreds of feet of sheer ice below him.
Even in the dim moonlight, the site amazes him. The Ring is a near-perfect, mountainous circle of ice at the center of this last remaining land above the seas, New North. The view makes the risk of climbing — punishable by exile into the Boundary-lands — worthwhile, he thinks. That, and the edge it will provide him in the Tests.
Eamon looks back up. Despite the cramps in his hands and calves, he smiles a little. Only a few feet left to the summit. Just one more swing of his axe, and he’ll be standing on the peak, staring down at New North.
He drives his axe hard into a concavity in the ice. But Eamon is too hasty. For the first time in his life, he misreads the ice. The axe doesn’t hold. It slips out of the giant wall of ice.
Sliding backwards, he plummets twelve feet. He bounces off sharp outcroppings that lacerate his skin. His descent is stopped only by an ice screw, his rope, and his harness. Dangling upside down in the frigid midnight air, hundreds of feet from the ground, he starts to pull himself upright on his rope. Just as he manages to right himself, he sees that his rope is frayed.
How, Eamon can’t imagine. He had made the rope himself with sealskin, and was certain of its strength. But really, the reason doesn’t matter. All that matters is how he’ll climb the remaining twenty feet with an injured body and a worthless rope.
He begins to unhook himself from his harness, and the slight pressure makes the rope unravel further. Just before it snaps and yanks him down with it, he swings his axe into the ice. Shaking and bleeding, he clings to the face of the ice wall with only his axes and his bear-claw boots. He has no choice but to climb back up, this time creeping inch by inch.
Stupid. He should never have risked the Ring, no matter the advantage gained for the Tests. He needs to win the Archon spot, to make sure he can act on what he’s learned, but he didn’t need to try the Ring. Because of his cockiness and thirst for glory, he now stands to lose everything, whether by death or exile. The Tests are not worth his life. And this is not worth what it will do to Eva.
He sees the summit. As he plans out how he’ll hoist his damaged body over the lip, a silhouette of a figure appears against the backdrop of the moon. Instinct tells him to scale back down; he doesn’t want to face the Ring-guards and certain exile. But he knows his only chance of survival is surrender.
“Over here,” he calls out.
The figure moves toward him, leans toward the edge, and stretches out a hand.
Eamon leaves one of his axes in the ice so he can reach out his hand. “Thank the Gods, you’re here.”
As the figure clasps Eamon’s hand, his face becomes clear.
“What are you doing out here?” Eamon asks, too confused to be scared.
“I’m so sorry, Eamon. You were never meant to make it this far.”
The figure lets go. And Eamon falls from the Ring into the darkness.
About the Author
HEATHER TERRELL worked as a commercial litigator in New York City for over ten years before trying her hand at writing. After publishing three historical novels — The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare — she turned her attention to the realm of young adults. Terrell is also the author of the acclaimed ‘Fallen Angel’ series. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.