by David J. Normoyle
Plot Summary:Only the strongest, smartest and most ruthless will survive.
Every six years, the world draws nearer to the sun. In Arcandis, those who want to live must claim the limited places in the Refuge, a series of underground caverns cooled by the sea.
The teenage boys of noble birth are sent out into the city to demonstrate their wits and strength. Some prove themselves in combat, others display their empire building skills, still others attempt to kill off their rivals. Out of over a hundred, only six will be selected by the leaders of the great families and allowed a place in the Refuge. The rest will perish, one way or another.
Not only is thirteen-year-old Bowe younger and weaker than most of the other boys, he has no family to support him. He is expected to die on the very first day of the narrowing path. Instead he begins a journey no one could have anticipated.
Book Excerpt:He’d come to say goodbye to Chalori, and now he found he was bidding farewell to his childhood also. A cold chill went through him as he realized he’d get to experience less than a day of adulthood.
Chalori brought over an ornate silver teapot. On a small table nearby stood a metal platform with three candles underneath to warm the tea. As she set the teapot down, her hand shook and the teapot rattled against the platform.
Bowe had to take it from her. “Sit down. Forget about the tea. What’s wrong?” Bowe now noticed her red-rimmed eyes and wet cheeks. “You don’t have to worry about me, I’ll be fine; I’m always getting out of the little scrapes I get into. I’m sure the first day of the Path will be no different.” Bowe pulled her down beside him on the couch and clasped her hands in his until they stopped shaking.
She let out a sound that was half-sob, half-laugh. “I can almost believe it. You always were the little rascal. So small, but overflowing with mischievous energy. The amount of times I had to put ointment on the little cuts and bruises you used to get…” She shifted her shoulders, turning more towards him, and ran one hand through his hair. “And look at you now, so big and handsome.
“Chalori, stop it. What if one of the eunuchs passes by?”
“Don’t be silly.” She rubbed him under the chin causing him to flush. “They know I’m your mother, or as good as.”
Bowe slapped her hand away, feeling another stab of guilt as he remembered Ariastiana. “I’m not a child anymore. Besides, you’ve got me confused with someone else. Or maybe two someones. Reyanu is the handsome one and Vitarr is the big one.” Bowe was not the smallest of the Greens, but he was far from being the biggest.
“My fine, strong boy,” she said, sneaking in another caress of his hair before Bowe could chase her hand away. She hadn’t treated him this much like a child in years. Despite himself, it gave him a warm feeling.
“Now.” She wiped her eyes and composed herself. “I am strong enough,” she muttered under her breath. And then louder. “I have a present for you. Open that box.”
Beside the teapot was a small wooden box that Bowe hadn’t noticed before. Bands of interlocking leaves were carved around the edges of the box. “No need for presents,” he said.
Chalori tried to open the box herself, but her hands were shaking so much that Bowe had to help her. Inside were two curious-looking gold rings. Both had single spikes on the outside surface, pointing away from the center of the ring. At her request, Bowe held up hand palm-up and put the ring on his middle finger with the spike facing upward. She put on its twin.
“I see by your face that you don’t know what these are. They are called Paradise Givers. Inside is a little chamber containing a black liquid called Paradise’s Kiss—a fast-acting and painless poison.”
Bowe dropped the box and jumped up. “This is a sick joke.”
Chalori looked at her palm in wonder. “Look—my hand is no longer shaking.” The spike protruded from the ring like a viper’s fang. “Many of your old family, the Bellangers, would have worn these just before they killed themselves. You were just a baby then.” Chalori smiled. “I thought this would be hard, but now that the time has arrived, it just seems…natural. A goodbye kiss.”
Bowe hand jerked as he remembered that he was wearing the other ring. He carefully removed it, placed on the table, exhaled, and took a long step back. “I know how my family died. I don’t know what you are doing.”
“I am feeling strong. Now you have to be, too, my son. You know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The mentors always kill one Green the first day. Kesirran said twelve years ago when he rescued you that you’d die on your the first day as a Green. You’ve known this your whole life. I know you’re a fighter. But this is the easiest way.”
“You want to kill me?” Bowe, for once, couldn’t get his brain to work.
“No, silly. A suicide pact.”