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Cinis sat stunned as Dyrius jabbed backward from his seat with his makeshift walking broom. The blow caught the guard in the gut, and he hissed, doubling over and spitting. The movement jarred Cinis, and his right hand gripped the polished handle of the knife at his belt, one of the two that Libus had given to him long ago. Sweeping it from its sheath, he flung it backhand at the guard, his proximity making it impossible to miss.
The knife streaked through the air with a silver flash, completing one full rotation before sinking deep into the guard’s chest. Dark blood sprayed from the wound—blood that was viscous and reeked of sulphur—and the guard released a feral scream as his back arched upward. Behind him, two other guards looked in and tried to push their way past his rigidly upright body, but were blocked by the door frame.
Dyrius reacted before they had the chance to enter. The door slammed shut as the dead guard toppled in, his body now limp, and Dyrius locked the door while shoving his chair under the knob. Cinis knelt by Rearden, his hands shaking as he stared at the motionless body, touching the fletching of the arrow that extending from his uncle’s tunic.
He stared in shock. The only man who had ever cared for him remained still, his face blankly facing the bookshelf he had loved so much.
“How? What were they?” Cinis shouted at Dyrius with a cracking voice, tears beginning to form in his eyes.
“Demons,” cried the Seer, his face white. “Spawn of Cryson and eaters of men. We must go; where there is one, there are many. Even the locks will not hold the two outside much longer, no matter how much the vrael weakens them.”
Even as he spoke, the door bulged inward, boards creaking, and a whoosh of air that threatened to put out the dwindling candle filled the small room. A grunting snarl sounded outside and Cinis heard a table splinter against the door. Muffled screams of men came from the main room, and then something sharp raked across the wood of the door, causing it to shudder as one board splintered.
“We can’t leave him!” yelled Cinis, still kneeling at Rearden’s side, looking into eyes that were glassing over too quickly to be changed “Why would they kill him? He has done nothing!” A single tear fell from his face, mingling with the blood that had already begun to seep into the floorboards from the dead man’s chest.
With a start, Rearden coughed and stirred, his head turning.
“Uncle!” Cinis cried with a start, but Rearden held a trembling hand to quiet him.
“Listen, Cinis. Dyrius is right, you must go with him. I was wrong to keep you ignorant so long.” He coughed again, his body racking as hard as the door beside him.
“But Uncle,” stammered Cinis, “I can’t leave you here. We can get you to a doctor, someone that can fix this. Someone who can do something, someone who—”
“Stop. It is my dying wish that you go with him, and I do not have much more time. Go beyond the Wall. It is where you belong. Forgive me, Cinis, for I have hidden much for your safety. Take Dyrius back to the tunnels. Do not be caught, do not hesitate. Go, Cinis. Don’t put all these years to waste. Don’t put the promise I made your father to waste.”
Then Rearden’s eyes finished glassing over, and his arm fell backward to thud against the floor. Cinis grasped it, willing his uncle back to life, but the old man did not stir, and the flow of blood from his body slowed to a trickle.
“Honor his last wish, Cinis,” said Dyrius, gravely taking his shoulder in a firm hand. ”We must leave now with all haste.”
Cinis touched his uncle’s face one last time before rising and removing the knife from the guard’s body. A panel in the door gave way and a forearm reached through, but instead of a hand at its end, there were brown claws, swiping the air fruitlessly.
Pushing Dyrius’ body in front of him, Cinis rushed back into the tunnel entranceway hidden behind them. The trap door slammed, but not before he glimpsed two guards jostling into the study just as the final panels of the door gave way. Skin ripped away from their faces as they screeched, their mouths widening too far to be human, flecks of red scattering around their irises.
“Hurry! They’re coming!” yelled Cinis, and he prodded Dyrius, moving the man forward.
“The vrael is not so bad down here,” panted the seer, “so I can see dimly, and they will be stronger. Already they have broken their human form. These tunnels may be the death of us, should they come in pursuit.” He stopped, leaving Cinis tugging at his arm.
“By the screams there are at least five of them,” observed Cinis, looking through the trap door above, “and they’re big, they have claws, and they’re coming as we speak. If we stick around, we will die, but I can lead you through the tunnels. We can outrun them.”
“Not in my condition,” muttered Dyrius, so quietly that Cinis could barely hear him, then he continued.
“Take the ring, Cinis,” the old seer said, face solemn, “and always remember what your uncle has done for you. Remember me—remember that I came for you in the darkness. And remember, most of all, that your time has come. You can change the terrible things we have seen in the water.”
“Dyrius, we need to leave! You can tell me of what you have seen later.”
“Run Cinis. Take the ring and go to Cardinia. There you will find the craftsman, for he is the next step in your journey.”
“What are you talking about? Why are you leaving me? I am lost outside the city!” Cinis shouted, pulling at the old man’s arm. “Rearden’s last words were that you would lead me!”
“I fear I will be staying here tonight. Just now, I have seen it. There is no other way, and what is seen cannot be unseen.” Dyrius raised his hands.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving your uncle a funeral pyre to remember.”
The trap door opened, and Dyrius stiffened, shouting words Cinis did not understand. Blue flames burst from his palms, rocketing through the passageway and through the pine trap door, incinerating everything in its path. Cinis leapt back from the heat, the tips of his hair singed, cursing as he was forced to retreat further or else be burned. Above them, the fire engulfed the entire tavern, scorching the edges of the trap door and setting the wooden walls ablaze. Howls broke out as the demons struggled to retreat, but behind them bottles of spirits had shattered, increasing the spread of fire. Still the intensity of the blue fire did not falter from Dyrius, but rather grew stronger and brighter, the heat intensifying. He shouted a final word, and the blue fire remnants raced up his arms, consuming his entire body until there was only fire. And then there was only smoke.
“Run Cinis,” came his voice as the fire flickered out. “Run to Cardinia.”
Then his spirit was gone, and Cinis ran. Alone.
Jessica watched the blaze from the street. A crowd had gathered around the tavern, with one drunkard stumbling about the street, shouted about horned and clawed monsters who wore masks of human flesh. Some people in the crowd laughed at him as he stumbled away from the blaze, thinking too much of the alcohol had gone to his head.
Jessica knew better. She had heard those types of screams before. And she had hoped she never would again.
She turned the broken glass from the wine bottle in her hand, inspecting it once more—the last bottle of wine to ever be served at Horsekick’s. The boy’s smeared fingerprints still twisted around the broken edges, and though she had heard the screams of demons from within the building, she had not heard the screams of a boy. And buildings did not burn blue.
She had found what she was looking for.
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