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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery

Book Two in the Risen Kingdoms

The Risen Kingdoms (Volume 2)

Curtis Craddock

Tor Books

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CHAPTER

One


Jean-Claude rubbed two copper pennies between his fingers. He was in the market for information, the collection of such being the greater part of his job. Unfortunately the particular salesman with whom he was faced, a nervous tic of a man named Pacy, was a bit of a junk merchant, selling rusty, secondhand rumors often cobbled together out of entirely different stories and missing critical pieces.

“What scandal are you talking about?” Jean-Claude asked, having been pursuing this topic for some time.

Pacy crouched at the mouth of his alley, looking around with the furtive air of a mouse who expected to be eaten by a cat at any moment. It would have to be a lower-class cat, probably a one-eyed stray with a yowl that could strip paint.

“If I knew that, I’d be selling that,” Pacy said peevishly. “All I know is that Mistwaithe talked about auctioning off a scandal to get even with des Zephyrs. Now where’s my coin?”

Jean-Claude, King’s Own Musketeer, had been guardian to Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs since the day she was born. She was his daughter in all but blood and woe betide anyone who sought to harm her.

“Getting even for what?” Jean-Claude asked. Isabelle was Ambassadress to the Grand Peace. She’d spent the last year stitching together a treaty between l’Empire Céleste and the neighboring kingdom of Aragoth. This attempt to preemptively stop people from killing each other had naturally earned her many enemies amongst those who likened peace to weakness.

“How should I know?” Pacy stared at the coins in Jean-Claude’s hand. He bounced up and down like a nervous squirrel, his fingers twitching. “He just said the comte and his children would regret double-crossing him.”

“Le Comte des Zephyrs?” Jean-Claude asked, surprised. Isabelle’s father was a vile, twisted villain, but he was also dying of the red consumption hundreds of kilometers away on a remote skyland. What in all the ten thosand Torments was a scandal of his doing here?

“Yes,” Pacy whined. “C’mon. I’ve told you all I know.”

Jean-Claude tossed him the coins, which he managed to drop. Pacy spent the next several seconds chasing the coins around on the cobbles and panting in panic as if they were running away on purpose. He then counted his haul, both of them, several times before slinking into the alley.

Jean-Claude couldn’t care less about Isabelle’s father—the sooner the man died, the better—but men seeking revenge frequently targeted the families of the ones they hated. Lord Brandon Mistwaithe, Goldentongue sorcerer and rumor monger of scurrilous reputation, must be dissuaded from taking any such action against Isabelle.

Jean-Claude therefore exerted himself to obtain an invitation to the auction. The event was to be held this hour at an inn called the Golden Swain.

Since showing up in a den of thieves and whisperers in uniform was likely to spoil the party, Jean-Claude had exchanged his blue-and-gold musketeer’s tabard for merchant’s garb: a floppy beret, a padded green doublet, and a pair of spectacles that he kept telling himself he didn’t really need.

At the appointed hour, Jean-Claude mounted up and rode to the Lowmarket. The main portion of the city rested on a narrow shelf of land between the deep sky and an immense cliff called the Rivencrag, which rose two kilometers straight up from the coastal apron. He passed beneath a wide stone archway, one of the many that cut through the buttresses the great cliff thrust out onto the plain, and emerged into the market circle. Here was a gladiatorial arena where great battles of commerce were daily enacted. Hundreds of merchant stalls selling everything from flake-bread to glimmer oil to dragonweed were staked out in mostly regular concentric rings around the open hub. More permanent structures were carved into the terraces that climbed the steep walls of the surrounding bowl.

The market was as packed as a pickle barrel. Pedestrians only made progress by sliding and bumping, shuffling past each other like cards in the hand of a clumsy dealer. Merchants dickered with customers, whores flashed tempting bits of skin, and troubadours strove to be heard over the din of a thousand voices. Beggars pleaded for alms and gangs of urchins worked the crowd looking for purses to cut. A crowd had gathered around the stone platform in the center of the square to watch a troupe of dwarf acrobats perform.

The Golden Swain was a large, open-fronted inn near the livery stable on the far side of the market. A hanging sign depicted a gallant youth dressed in yellow dancing with a young woman in a blue dress.

The back of Jean-Claude’s mind kept busy trying to puzzle out just what scandal this Mistwaithe person might be trying to sell. Le Comte des Zephyrs had only left his skyland once in all the years Jean-Claude had known him, and that was to attend his wife’s funeral here in Rocher Royale. Isabelle had no interest in scandalous behavior, unless one counted being a female mathematician, a fact which she did not advertise. Perhaps Isabelle’s brother, Guillaume, had committed some faux pas, like opening his mouth in the presence of functional adults.

Jean-Claude’s horse gingerly forded the human tumult toward the inn across the widest part of the square. Jean-Claude had chosen a long approach specifically to see if anyone took note of his arrival. It was always a good idea to know where the lookouts and toughs were perched.

Jean-Claude had just passed by the dwarf-occupied platform when a man in fine clothes burst from the Golden Swain’s back room into the open common area. His face was white and his mouth gaped in terror. A piercing inhuman scream followed him out the door and cut the noise of the market to ribbons. Several patrons in the Swain’s common room lurched to their feet, upsetting the trestle tables and knocking their compatriots to the floor.

From the open door lurched a horror. It had the shape of a man, if that man had been dipped head to heels in fresh-spilt blood. He was a Sanguinaire sorcerer in the midst of a horrible derangement of his powers. His whole body glistened crimson, and his scarlet shadow flailed about his feet like a maddened kraken. Carmine tendrils slithered across the floor, climbed the walls, and raced across the ceiling. One of them touched the fleeing man’s shadow, and he toppled as if he’d tripped over a physical thing.

The bloodshadow pierced the man’s ordinary umbra and spread through it like ink through water. The victim’s spine twisted in spasms of agony. His body lost its crisp edges, slumped like a butter sculpture in the sun, and dissolved away until there was nothing left but a russet stain on the ground, a soul smudge that writhed of its own accord.

The screaming, sobbing Sanguinaire rampaged through the tavern, his bloodshadow consuming patrons on every side. His ululating wail shattered into forsaken sobs. It was the sound of a soul being shredded on the Breaker’s wheel.

Panic swept through the square. Frightened souls near the Golden Swain turned and ran headlong into people farther out. The terror boiled up into a stampede. People thundered across the market. The unlucky fell and were trampled. The dwarf acrobats abandoned the stage and bolted for their wagon. Merchants ducked into their shops.

The human tide surged toward Jean-Claude. He raced after the dwarves toward their sturdily built, brightly painted carnival wagon. His mount plunged through the crowd as if through high water. A woman went down under his horse’s hooves. The horse stumbled, righted itself, thrust forward. Jean-Claude dared not even look back.

He skidded into the lee of the wagon as the mob broke around it. Wave after wave of bodies bashed against the timbers. People screamed, but above all the noise rose the sobbing shrieking howl of the mad Sanguinaire.

In an instant of respite, Jean-Claude looked for a clear path to the monster. He was a King’s Own Musketeer, versed in the means of disposing of sorcerers. He could not look himself in the mirror or Isabelle in the eye if he let this slaughter continue.

An alchemical lantern hung on the cart’s lamp hook. Jean-Claude deftly lifted it and lit it with his sparker. A clear flame jumped up, giving off a blue-white light. He clapped the front pane shut, then wheeled his mount.

The Lowmarket was still emptying of people, but the greatest surge had passed him by, and many of those left behind were wounded stragglers. The Sanguinaire had cleared out the inn and stumbled into the open. His bloodshadow reached out long threads into the square, consuming the lame and unconscious.

Outside the square, alarm bells called the city watch to arms.

Jean-Claude drew his pistol. He had only one shot, and he’d need to be close. He kicked his horse to a gallop toward the Sanguinaire. There was no point in subtlety; the man seemed lost in his own agony, gyrating like a drunkard with his horrible shadow flailing all around.

Jean-Claude whirled the lantern on its short chain. There were only two absolute defenses against a bloodshadow. One was total darkness. Bloodshadows couldn’t manifest without light.

He hurled the lamp. Tendrils of bloodshadow reached toward him. He tucked down and hung off the saddle, hiding his shadow in the horse’s.

The lantern hit cobblestone. Glass shattered. Lumin vapor sprayed. The bloodshadow grabbed the horse’s shadow. The poor beast squealed and pitched forward. Jean-Claude launched from the saddle. His shadow touched the bloodshadow and his body wasn’t his own anymore. He could not feel his flesh at all. Terror swelled in his chest. He’d misjudged his timing—

There was a hissing whump and a white-hot flash as the hypervolatile lumin vapor ignited. An expanding ball of fire drove every shadow from the square.

The other way to fight a bloodshadow was with blinding light.

Sensation returned to Jean-Claude’s body just as he crashed to the cobbles. He tucked hard and rolled across his shoulders, narrowly avoiding being crushed by what was left of his horse.

He heaved to his feet, spectacles askew. The Sanguinaire, covering his eyes, blundered toward Jean-Claude. Already, the bloodshadow re-formed.

Jean-Claude raised his pistol, aimed, squeezed the trigger.

Fire and smoke. The gun kicked. The Sanguinaire jerked. The bloodshadow twitched and then dissolved as whatever mad mental faculty had been driving it retreated, and the sorcerer’s whole attention focused on the hole in his chest. He was a ragged man, skin and bones and tattered clothes and no shoes. He fell over backward. His bare toes were bloodied with missing toenails.

Jean-Claude took a step and nearly fell over again as his body reminded him that he’d just been shadowburned and thrown from a charging horse. Every muscle that wasn’t bruised was strained, and he’d bashed his game leg. Nevertheless, he stumbled onward, pushing his glasses back into place and drawing his rapier to finish the job.

The sorcerer looked even worse close up. One of his eyes was white with blindness, as his flesh was pocked with running sores. His face was an effigy of poverty, thin and scabrous, with fewer teeth than gaps. There was nothing to him but papery skin and twisted bones. His forearms had been scarred by countless bleedings, and there was an open trepanning wound over his temple, his brain clearly visible within. Aside from the bullet hole in his chest, only the trepanning wound was fresh. He lay with his hands clasped over the wound in his chest. Blood bubbled between his fingers and his breathing gurgled like a downspout. Of his bloodshadow there was no sign. His shadow was the same thin gray as any other man’s, and that didn’t make any sense. From all Jean-Claude had ever learned or witnessed, it was not until a Sanguinaire’s last breath had left his body that his shadow became normal.

“Who are you?” Jean-Claude asked, not expecting an answer.

The man’s eye didn’t focus, but his broken mouth spat out blood-flecked words. “Gloom rises, brother. Harvest king. Look at the cracks. Voices in the dark have feathers, tell the saints what to do. Their eyes see for harvest king. He wears their scars. Brother…” There was another spasm of coughing and then stillness.

The words meant nothing to Jean-Claude, and what of this rampage? The Sanguinaire had erupted from the Golden Swain where Lord Mistwaithe’s auction was to have taken place. No one else had come out, so Jean-Claude would have to go in.

First, he turned his attention to the immediate, necessary, and grisly business of dispatching his wounded horse. The poor beast hadn’t been absorbed by the bloodshadow, but it lay on its side, thrashing and kicking, eyes rolling and sightless. Humans could recover from brief exposure to a hunting bloodshadow, but beasts had to be put down.

Careful of the poor animal’s thrashing, Jean-Claude stepped in and put his sword through its eye. It shuddered and went still.

After that, the square was eerily quiet and empty. Even the swarms of corpse flies that were usually the first to arrive on a battlefield were absent. Most of the dead left no corpses, only soul smudges. There were a few survivors, people who had been trampled or only lightly shadowburned. Jean-Claude knocked on doors and called people out to lend aid and comfort where possible. More than a few, still filled with fear, rebuked his command, but enough came that he reckoned no more would die for want of aid.

The first watchman to arrive was a grizzled sergeant with a boot-leather face, gray hair, and aggressive eyebrows. He quick-marched into the square, musket at the ready, with half a squad of younger watchmen trailing behind him. He took in the scene at a glance before his attention landed on Jean-Claude, standing in the center of it, giving orders.

“You there. What’s your name?” the watchman called.

“I am Jean-Claude, King’s Own Musketeer,” Jean-Claude said. He opened his wattle pouch, which hung on a chain under his cravat, and pulled out his creased, stained letters of authority. He probably ought to get a new set while he was here in the capital, but these carried with them a patina of luck along with the stains of blood, oil, and beer.

The watchman took the papers and scanned them with the suspicious care of the barely literate. Finally he handed them back to Jean-Claude. “Near as I can reckon, those are real. So that being the case, may I ask what in all the foul-hearted, stink-headed names of Torment happened here, sir?”

Jean-Claude grinned, for he recognized a true sergeant’s manner of chivvying his superiors. “First your name, sergeant.”

“Sergeant Pierre, but just Sergeant if it’s all the same to you.”

“Fine by me, Sergeant. Do you know this man?” He gestured at the dead Sanguinaire.

Sergeant looked down at the corpse. “Blasted balls.”

“That would be a ‘Yes.’ Who is he and how do you know him?”

Sergeant knelt down and shook his head. “His name’s Orem. Everyone in a uniform’s run into the spindle-legged, rot-mouthed, piss-drinking blighter at some point. Vagrant, beggar, heard voices in the ground, claimed the Gloom was calling him. Old folks thought he had a Torment in him, but the Temple said it’s just a mind built on chalk. It cracks, it crumbles, it falls away. We used to run him out of town about once a week until they opened up Screaming Hall.”

“Screaming Hall?”

Sergeant spat on the ground. “It’s the Royal Agonesium for the Deranged, but everyone calls it Screaming Hall. Most folk here take care of their own, but the Agonesium takes in the really bad ones, the ones no one can handle. The lock-ups escape every now and then and we have to drag ’em back in.”

“A few moments ago, he was rampaging through the market with the powers of a Sanguinaire, snuffing people like candles.”

“You’re daft. Orem’s mad as a moon-dog, but common as sin, only more so.”

Jean-Claude stared at Orem, willing the corpse to yield up information. Could something have happened in the Agonesium to cause him to manifest long-buried powers? Saintblooded children usually manifested their sacred gift about the time they turned eight. Occasionally one would bloom after puberty. Those were called the lateborn. An unhappy minority, the unhallowed, never manifested their powers at all. Jean-Claude had never heard of someone Orem’s age discovering their gift. Isabelle hadn’t discovered her sorcery until she was twenty-five, but her gift had been deliberately suppressed.

“Whatever he was during the rest of his life, he was a Sanguinaire at his death. His bloodshadow devoured at least a dozen people. Watch that you don’t tread on the soul smudges.”

Sergeant yelped and took several mincing steps to avoid treading on a smudge that oozed toward him, like the shadow of a fish under ice. Soul smudges yearned toward the shadows of the living, gathering around them like moths to a flame. As far as anyone could tell, their touch was harmless, weightless, but no one stayed long where the suffering things had been created. One could not bring justice to the dead, but there were dozens of victims here, men and women with families who deserved an accounting.

“Breaker-cursed, skin-shriveling…” Sergeant muttered. Jean-Claude had learned to swear proficiently, but clearly he had stumbled into the presence of a master.

Jean-Claude said, “Sergeant, do me a kindness, and put Orem on ice. I want to have a friend of mine examine the body later.” Isabelle had the sharpest mind in the Risen Kingdoms; if anyone could extract a confession from a dead man it was she.

Sergeant frowned, but shrugged. “If it pleases le roi.”

“Orem mentioned the Gloom and something called the harvest king.”

Sergeant waved this away. “Means nothing. Orem never stopped muttering, even in his sleep. Thought the Torments under the street were out to get him, claimed the cobblestones moved around at night on hundreds of tiny legs, like beetles.”

“No help there, then.” Jean-Claude knelt and searched the wasted body for anything he might have been carrying to explain his presence and his sudden bout of sorcery. The manacle scars on wrists, ankles, and throat probably came from his stay at the Agonesium. But then how had he escaped, and how had he ended up with the Builder’s gift? Jean-Claude must report this to Grand Leon, but he damned well better have an explanation to offer up along with the mystery.

“Where is Screaming Hall?” Jean-Claude asked.

“Over by the tombs off Dousing Street in Cliffside.”

“So somehow Orem escaped from Screaming Hall, wandered all the way to the opposite end of the city unnoticed, and then broke out in bloodshadows. I am going to have to have a word with his keepers. In the meantime, if you’d like to make a little scrip on the side, I’ll pay for good information on who saw what before this got started, who’s missing and who isn’t.” Jean-Claude certainly wasn’t going to have time to talk to everyone himself.

Sergeant’s eyes narrowed. “And how do I know what you’ll think is good information?”

“It’ll be the kind that makes your arse pucker.” Jean-Claude slapped a silver denier into his hand, probably as much money as he saw in a season. “Consider that a down payment. I’m staying at the Rowan House in the Rookery.”

Sergeant made the coin disappear with the alacrity of a seasoned pickpocket. “I know the place.”

“In that case, I’ll leave you to sort this out,” Jean-Claude said. He touched his fingers to his hat and limped into the Golden Swain. His leg throbbed and kept trying to seize up on him. In the open taproom, a whole shoal of soul smudges yearned toward him. His skin crawled. The next good day of bright sunshine should burn away the ones outside. The ones beneath the eaves would need a pyre built.

The doorway from which Orem had emerged led directly into a room set up with rows of benches as if for a lecture or Temple instruction. Most of the seating had been overturned. The floor was awash with soul smudges, though their squirming made them hard to count. The one wriggling across the table at the front might be Lord Mistwaithe, or it might not. Orem hadn’t left any identifiable corpses behind.

What remained were two capes, a broken sword, a drinking horn, a pistol, a few coins, three hats, and a glass rod like the kind Isabelle used to stir alchemical compounds when metal or wood wouldn’t do. They were all things that could have been easily dropped. The stink of gun smoke lingered, and there were splashes of blood on the walls and floor as if there’d been a fight. But who’d been fighting who? A Sanguinaire’s bloodshadow left no wounds on its victims.

“Does that offer for information apply to anyone, or just greedy old guardsmen?” asked a voice from the doorway.

Jean-Claude turned and looked down at one of the dwarf acrobats, a man with a lopsided face, brown hair cut close, and a fool’s motley in yellow and purple. Unfinished clay, as Jean-Claude’s mother would have said. Jean-Claude pulled out his coin purse and flipped the dwarf half a copper penny. “That’s for your name. And more to come if you know anything of what happened here.”

The dwarf plucked the coin from the air with a stubby hand, then made it do acrobatic flips through his fingers before tucking it away. “Name’s Sedgwick. You have a heavy purse.”

“I work for le roi,” Jean-Claude said. Not that his bribe money came from le roi. It was all corpse money, gleaned from dead men.

“I hear the royal coffers are bare,” Sedgwick said. “And even Grand Leon can’t thread silver out his arse.”

“The penury of kings is still plenty for the common man. You could probably find enough coins twixt the floorboards of his gambling parlor to set yourself up as a baronet. Now do you want to earn some of that bounty or not?”

“Have it your way, squire,” Sedgwick said. “Before that bloody ruckus broke out, I saw something nobody else did. I was up on the roof getting ready to slide down the wire into the square and make a big ol’ entrance, when I saw two folks go in the back way.”

He paused, expectantly.

Jean-Claude huffed, amused, and pulled out a denier. “For the whole story and no mucking about.”

“Done.”

Jean-Claude flipped him the coin.

Sedgwick said, “There was two of ’em, a man and a woman. Nothing special about him, but she was a sorcerer, one of the feathered ones. Fenice.”

All the hairs on the back of Jean-Claude’s neck stood up and he resisted the urge to look around. All sorcerers were dangerous, but few more so than the eternally reborn Fenice. Each one was strong as a dire-bear and tough enough to shrug off grapeshot. Add to that skills honed over several lifetimes and you had an absolute terror in battle. That could certainly explain the blood on the walls.

“Was the man who was with her a Sanguinaire?”

“No, he were covered up real good. Hood, cloak, and all, but you can’t hide that red shadow.”

“Did either one of them come out again?”

“I don’t know. I had to take my run off the bloody roof, didn’t I?”

Jean-Claude made another circuit of the room but saw no way to determine whether the Fenice sorceress had stayed and died, or escaped. There were several soul smudges near the back, as if they had been trying to escape. The thick door boards were cracked from heavy impact, the fists of a Fenice, perhaps? Jean-Claude put his shoulder to the door, but it was blocked from the outside.

Jean-Claude asked, “How long between the time you saw the Fenice go in and the massacre in the square?”

Sedgwick considered his answer carefully. “We were in the middle of an act. There was only the stacking stools routine in between ’em, so no more than five minutes.”

“Did you hear a fight? A gunshot?” The gunsmoke smell was recent and the shot should have been audible for blocks around.

“Can’t say that I did.”

Jean-Claude exited the front door. Like most of the permanent structures here, the Golden Swain was built partially into the cliff face, but there was still a foreshortened alley between it and the neighboring building. Someone had wedged the alley door shut with a heavy wooden beam. He pictured a scene where someone had tossed in a mad Sanguinaire like a grenade and barred the door, knowing that no one in that room would escape. But who had been the target? Had it been Mistwaithe, the Fenice, or someone else? Had the grenadier been interested in silencing Mistwaithe, or obtaining his secrets? And what did this say about the significance of the des Zephyrs scandal?

Sedgwick leaned against the corner of the building, flipping the coin with his thumb and catching it again and again. “So what’s all this to you, squire? King’s Own Musketeer, I get that, but what does le roi care if some Sanguinaire goes poppers and melts a bunch of clayborn? It’s not like the nobs don’t feed on common folk all regular.”

“Grand Leon strongly discourages his nobles from actually killing anyone when they feed their bloodshadows,” Jean-Claude said. That prohibition had spawned a whole new industry of shadelings, shadow whores who got paid handsomely to have their shadows periodically grazed.

“If you say so,” Sedgwick said.

Jean-Claude said, “Come, I need to run a quick experiment.”

Sedgwick regarded him suspiciously. “What sort of experiment?”

“One that involves shouting at each other like an old married couple.”

“I don’t like you that well,” Sedgwick said, but he followed Jean-Claude inside.

There had been a fight before Orem killed everyone in the room. Someone had discharged a pistol. There was blood on the walls. The scrum would have made noise—lots of noise—but no one in the common room outside had so much as stirred until the door had opened and all Torment broke loose.

“Wait here,” Jean-Claude said, indicating a spot outside the backroom door, “and come in when I call.”

“Do I have to balance a ball on my nose, too?”

“Only if it improves your hearing.” Jean-Claude stepped inside and closed the door. The wall was made of cut stone, but the door was thin, ill-fitting wood that should not have contained the sound of a commotion.

“Sedgwick!” he bellowed. “Sedgwick, come in here!”

Nothing happened. Jean-Claude opened the door. Sedgwick folded his arms and stared up at Jean-Claude questioningly.

“I take it you didn’t hear me,” Jean-Claude said.

“You need to fart louder,” Sedgwick said.

“Have you ever considered becoming a mime?” Jean-Claude replied.

Sedgwick snorted and made an obscene gesture. “So what was all that about?”

“My old mother, saints keep her, had a saying, ‘Once is happenstance, twice coincidence, thrice shenanigans.’”

“Thrice what?”

“In this case, sorcerers,” Jean-Claude said. “Three went in but how many went out?”

When a much younger and sprier Jean-Claude and his boyhood friends had talked about what type of sorcery they might like to have been born with, most patriotically argued on behalf of l’Empire’s native Sanguinaire sorcery. A sizable minority had argued for the bestial shapeshifting abilities of the Seelenjäger, but Jean-Claude had always picked Goldentongue sorcery, the ability to craft illusions so convincing that they could even upend nature for a time. There was no end to the possibilities such powers represented to such a clever and daring mind as his younger self imagined he possessed. Later, at l’École Royale des Spécialistes, he had studied sorceries of all types and the few ways ordinary men might combat them. Goldentongue sorcery required the illusions be crafted into charms that were vulnerable to disruption by cold iron, arcanite, and water; and no Goldentongue could cast an illusion over himself.

The fact that sound could not escape this room suggested a charm of silence was in play. Jean-Claude searched carefully. The charm would be worked into something symbolic and probably something durable. Goldentongue glamours took a toll on whatever it was put into, so charms were typically stone, crystal, or metal.

Even knowing what he was looking for, it took Jean-Claude some time to find the charm. The room had been fitted with a hidden listening tube whereby the innkeep could spy on his guests, but Earl Mistwaithe had flipped the board on him. Into the tube had been stuffed a bat of wool wrapped around a silver bodkin. Such was the nature of a glamour that, as the tube was gagged, so was the rest of the room. No sound could get out at all. Jean-Claude extracted the charm from the tube’s throat and repeated the shouting at the door experiment.

As he expected, the charm of silence had been broken, and Sedgwick heard him clearly. The fact that the charm had been working when Jean-Claude found it all meant Mistwaithe was still alive, for with the rare exception of true reliquaries and storied artifacts of renown, the effects of sorcery died along with the sorcerer who created them.

Orem and Mistwaithe had left this room alive. So what happened to the Fenice? Rarely did Jean-Claude wish for more corpses, but if these people were going to be dead anyway, the least they could do was leave identifying information.

He nodded to Sedgwick and said, “Thank you for your help. I’m always in the market for good information.”

Sedgwick considered Jean-Claude. “You’re an odd noggin, squire. No pushing, no threats, no short jokes. You’re not daft but you pay more than the work’s worth.”

“Or it’s worth more than you think.”

“So who got killed that’s so important?” Sedgwick gestured to encompass the whole scene.

“It’s not the slaughter. It’s what the slaughter is meant to cover up.”

“Which is?”

“Shenanigans,” Jean-Claude said, “whole fleets of them.”


Copyright © 2019 by Curtis Craddock