Sunrise at the High Altar, I’m up to my elbows in goat entrails. There’s no arguing with the bloodied mess of intestines.
Esset approaches, apron stained with the blood of seven goats, face stained with tears as if I’m already dead.
‘Nembe.’ He speaks my name in sorrow.
At noon, I’m summoned to the King of Huq’s apartments.
His son lies twisted in pain beneath the canopy of his bed. Slaves fan him with ostrich feathers. The priestesses of Thaal beat drums and light incense to mask the smell of death. My rival, Pravet of Thaal, eyes me with hatred.
Elvish steel gleamed, muting the flames from Reki’s torch. The bluish light dispelled the cavern’s shadows as he stared at the sword buried tip first in the rock floor.
He glanced back the way they’d come. ‘That was easy.’
Nachal grinned. ‘Don’t knock it, boy,’ she said. ‘I’ve hired out on a few quests. It’s usually a bitch to fight your way in.’
They’d met a pack of orcs. Nachal had despatched them with brutal efficiency. Otherwise, the infamous Caverns of Karthick had been a tame ride.
Reki scowled. ‘Stop calling me boy. I’m older than you.’
‘Yet so much…
“Andy, darling!” She enters my apartment in a waft of costly perfume and kisses me on both cheeks. My sensors work automatically in the background.
Breath alcohol level: Thirty-seven milligrams.
Skin temperature: Elevated.
She’s a little drunk and definitely horny.
She heads straight for my sumptuous four-poster bed and slips off her gold heels. She bought silk sheets and furs to cover it the very first time she visited me.
Real sable fur and the cocoons of a thousand dead pupae. Something so passé, even the career dissidents have forgotten to protest it and not something she’d display…
Ailric presses his blade against my throat. ‘Go ahead. Kill me,’ I say. ‘Add another ghost to haunt you.’
There’s a long pause. He pushes me away from him. Ghosts. He has enough of those.
‘In the name of all that’s holy, Danae! Why’re you here?’
I sweep my arm wide. The one that isn’t carrying my own blade.
The bank vault of Arnaus, Duke of Sygia, rises around us. Gems glint in the torchlight. Gold reflects dully. Centuries of inherited — and undeserved — wealth, waiting for the taking.
‘You left the back door open. I simply strolled in.’
Relieved to get a response from the boy, I glanced back over at the wolf.
There was no wolf.
I eased myself up slowly, looking around. No sudden movements, I told myself. Wolves had been native here a couple of hundred years ago, but I was pretty sure they were extinct now. Had an animal escaped from the zoo?
I squinted into the gloom beneath the trees. There was nothing; no gray fur, no flick of the tail, no amber eyes. I shook my head. Too much caffeine and not enough sleep over the weekend with Jen.
I must have…
“What the…” I shoved myself backwards, coming up short against the car door. I pressed myself against it, my heart hammering in my chest as I tried to figure out what had just happened.
There was no broken glass, not even a crack in the windshield. Whatever this thing was — this wolf — it had just launched itself through solid matter and into the passenger seat of my car.
I looked back at the boy. His face blurred in and out, cycling between wolf and child. I gaped at him, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.
We need you to make the other half of the map.
What in the hell was going on here? A few hours earlier I had found a boy by the side of the road and tried to do right by him. Tried to help him.
I was more than regretting that good Samaritan impulse.
Now, my oldest friend was acting totally out of character.
Icy fear slithered down my spine at Harlan’s words. The boy was a map? They needed me to make the other half?
I didn’t understand the words, couldn’t grasp what they meant, but Harlan’s tone left…
I glanced down at the child I’d tried to save. He scooted backwards, away from me.
If he won't come with me, I must leave him here.
I had no choice. I’d go alone and fetch help back with me.
A sharp ache pierced my chest at the thought of leaving him here. I tried to shrug it off. I’d only met him today, and he’d been nothing but trouble for me… still, it felt wrong to leave him alone with Harlan.
I was convinced that Harlan had gone mad. Maybe I had as well. Boys do not carry wolves…
Harlan didn’t respond.
He removed his jacket. Folding it, he laid it neatly at the foot of the lectern. He placed the briefcase beside it and pulled out a slip of material. When he shook it out, it seemed to increase in size, became a long, black cloak that he swung over his shoulders.
I glanced back up at the mullioned windows. It was still dark outside, although the angle of the moonlight was lower. It was still nighttime but, I guessed, edging into the early hours of the morning.
The college had a couple of security guards that sat…