Life Magic, Chapter 26

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The fading howls of demons chased Cinis down the glowing corridors as he rushed deeper under the city. His head moved faster than his feet, a stream of questions without answers flickering through his consciousness, and he ran forward without guiding his direction. He sought only escape—but whether from his thoughts or from the demons above, he did not know.

He found himself traveling deeper than ever before, running until he no longer recognized the corridors, and the glowing about him began to grow brighter. His chest heaved from a combination of exertion and the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes, and he continued to descend. Part of him wanted the singing to begin, to hear the voice that would guide him, to find comfort in the familiar. But he heard nothing besides the echoes of his footsteps and his heavy, arrhythmic breathing, that grew in volume as the walls widened. He passed through an archway of glass, the surface fogged, reaching up three times his height, the texture like that of waves in the ocean.

He gasped and slid to a stop, then fell to his knees, looking about the enormous hall he had just entered. At the far end there was a throne, made of the same glass as the arch—a towering white-capped wave rushing over where a man’s head should be, and rivers of water traveling down the arm rests. It trickled below, creating ripples in the lake that formed the floor of the hall, stretching from wall to wall, the surrounding glow sparkling off its surface.

Dozens of dragons stretched out from the walls, water spewing from their open mouths to meet the lake below, their faces forever locked in stone snarls, and their roars condemned to eternal silence. Mirrors formed the ceiling, reflecting the pool below, and the pool reflected back toward them in an endless exchange. The water sloped away the farther it traveled from Cinis, until it disappeared into darkness just below the throne. Above the throne golden words were written—words repeated by the water and the mirrors around the room.

Ambassador to Rymenia

But Cinis knelt at the water’s edge, and his own tears meshed with the water below, creating their own ripples in the pool, dancing across the surface before the water accepted them as its own. Dyrius’ words echoed in his head—words that made him punch the ground, blood from his knuckles joining his tears in the pool.

I must warn you that what I have to say will cause great change. You will not be able to go back to your ordinary life.

“Damn it!” he shouted, and the hall shouted back at him. “Damn it!”

As the echoes died away, he felt the weight of two objects in his pockets. He knew of one, the one freshly acquired, but he refused to touch it—refused to pull the ring from his pocket. He knew that if he did, he would cast it into the water before him. And he might cast himself in to follow it, because the seer had traveled to find him at the tavern. And if the seer had never found him, Rearden would still be alive.

So instead he reached into his other pocket and pulled out what was there. It was a coin—a coin he had forgotten—with the picture of a beetle-like bug on its surface. And as he stared at it, Dyrius’ voice filled his head again.

Run to Cardinia.

But he pushed that voice out and listened to another, which spoke more loudly to his emotions. One that caused his tears to dry, and his fists to curl.

Should you ever wish to have another chance at those guards, then follow this.

And as Cinis remembered Libus’ words, his knuckles turned white over the coin. He stood and wiped the remaining tears from his face, then threw his shoulders back. Cardinia could wait. Querkus could not.

Then he turned and started walking back to the surface, but as he passed through the arch, he heard a flurry of notes behind him: seven notes that reached out to him, notes played by harp strings. He whipped around, studying the room with the pool, trying to find a source for the noise. Aside from the ripples, nothing moved, and as the echoes of the notes died down, so did his belief in their reality.

He walked for two hours before he reached tunnels he recognized, the paths seeming to twist him in circles against his will. As time passed, his feet fell more firmly on the stone, becoming more and more resolute in his decision. When he breached the surface, he did so with care, streaking into the shadows and keeping out of lantern light and the centers of streets. He watched for purple cloaks in the night or dark forms lurking in corners. Twice he changed direction to avoid patrols, and once he nearly collided with a dark figure lurking in a doorway, only to find it was a drunkard fumbling with the key to his own home.

Coming to a well-lit intersection that he needed to cross, Cinis held his breath and listened for a full minute for footsteps. He looked left down the street, seeing the wall in the distance, and several figures walking across its top holding lanterns of their own. To the right he saw two purple cloaks walking toward him.

He waited, falling into the darkness of a doorway, and watched them pass. They paused at the intersection, and Cinis tensed, his hand gravitating toward the knives in his belt. One of them looked toward him, eyes narrowing and nose wrinkling. Cinis stood still, the seconds dragging on as chills ran down his spine. Eventually the guard turned away, and the pair continued walking.

After another two minutes of waiting, he darted across the street. He ran the last bit of his journey, scanning the shop signs for one he had visited on a delivery from Rearden a week before. In moments it appeared—a small book shop tucked between a bakery and a hatter.

Loose Pages, read the sign, but the words were not what interested Cinis. Rather it was the symbol beneath the name, in the right corner—a bug that matched the one on his coin.

He knocked softly on the door. After a moment it creaked open, and a tall, cloaked figure looked out. Taking Cinis by his collar, he pulled him inside the shop, where it was darker than the night outside, and shut the door with a soft click.

“The news has preceded you,” said Libus, his voice a whisper. “We offer our condolences.”

“And I offer my aid,” said Cinis through gritted teeth.

At that Libus smiled—a smile not of happiness, but of understanding—and led him deeper into the shop’s darkness.

Next Part

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