Jessica, Cinis

“What are you doing? You’re going the wrong way! This is a dead end!” screamed Jessica, darting after Cinis in the darkness. Flowers that she had worked so hard to maintain trampled beneath their feet, petals flying in a wake behind them.

“Trust me!” shouted back Cinis as he remembered the map he had made for Libus a few days before, the purple x’s marking places where the underground tunnels came to the surface.

But Jessica was right—a boulder carved to resemble an enormous double door blocked their path, cutting off their escape from Rorcul and Alretta. Two armored guardians chiseled entirely of white marble protected the doorway, their ivory spear tips crossing the path, body-length shields hanging to protect their torsos. Thick hedges lined the left and right, preventing turns.

The singing and his memory carried him forward as heavy lines of golden light raced across the surface of the stone doorway, shimmering as they took hold of the rock. With a crack like thunder, a fissure raced down the boulder, quickly propagating through the center. Stone grated against stone as the doors opened on their hinges. And through the crack Cinis saw the familiar light of the tunnels, and the singing amplified.

Cinis slid first on the grass, falling under the guards’ crossed spears and into the corridor beyond. Jessica followed, her hair streaming behind her, making it just inside the doorway as Rorcul entered Cinis’ line of sight.

The door shuddered to a stop, the lines of light blazing now, then started to close. Rage flashed over Rorcul’s face, and even from where he stood Cinis felt the cold wash over him as Rorcul raised his right hand. The darkness and light around it twisted, separating out like oil and water, converging toward him.

Die!” Rorcul shouted, a lance of darkness exploding from his palm, warping the light from the stone as it streaked toward Cinis’ chest. The spear reminded him of the hound’s fur—drawing in the light around it, managing to be darker than pitch black, a substance of it’s own rather than a shadow. And just thin enough to pierce through the shrinking gap in the stone doorway.

But just as the spear reached the door, just as Cinis started to react too slowly for escape, one of the shields from the marble guardians fell from its grasp and slid in front of the gap.

The marble exploded into dust, pulverized by the blow, fragments of darkness scattering to intermingle with the white cloud. Jessica raised her hands from where she had slid into the corridor, and the shadows raced toward her, accumulating in a disk that rotated between her palms. Just before the gap closed and resealed, Jessica threw the disk back through, into the night.

There was a scream of rage—a scream cut off by the clapping of stone on stone—then silence as the world above was locked away. Cinis and Jessica turned, backs to the door, staring into the tunnels.

And the tunnels beckoned.

***

Rorcul

The disk of shadow spun toward Rorcul, the dark lines of magic from his hands still connected to it as the edge sought the arteries in his neck. He turned, reacting faster than any human should, the vrael from the ground consuming even more of his energy as he released his grip on the dark lines.

Instead of his throat, the razor sharp edge of the disk ripped through his sleeve, drawing blood as it sliced into his tricep then continued past him, cutting a row of hedges in half with a flurry of twigs and leaves before embedding itself into a tree. Bark split off from the trunk and the branches quivered before the shadow dissipated into the night.

He cursed in rage, falling to his knees from the exertion of the attack, shielding himself once again from the vrael.

Beside him Alretta stepped forward, her two remaining hounds panting, their heat clashing with Rorcul’s cold. In her palm she held two red, glowing stones, still dripping water, that she placed into her pocket.

“Well?” she asked, staring at the stone door as the golden lines retracted from its surface and slid beneath the ground.

“Gone,” said Rorcul through gritted teeth, and he held up his hand again. “Gone, with the help of interference.”

Two more dark lances lashed out, striking the marble guards at the entrance way. They cracked in half, thudding to divot the soft soil, their spears toppling over them.

Rorcul gasped, drawing in air, his left hand pressed against the ground for support as he knelt, blood trickling down to join the grass. Spots clouded his vision, but he held them back as Alretta’s hand clasped over his shoulder.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “Save your strength. We’ll need it for the hunt.”

“I could still kill him if I were inches away from my deathbed.”

“Didn’t work this time,” she retorted, and his fingers clenched into a fist.

From behind Rorcul heard another figure approaching, and he turned to see a man from the guard flanked by two concealed demons. He pushed himself to his feet and raised his chin to meet the guard’s’ gaze.

“Close all the gates,” he spat. “Nobody leaves, and nobody enters. I want patrols all night through the city in full saturation. Anyone appearing younger than the age of thirty is to be taken into custody until this is settled. All known entrances and exits to the underground tunnels are to be guarded. Understand? Fail me, and I’m sure the guards on your left and right would be happy to provide the consequences.”

“Yes, sir,” said the guard, swallowing, then trotting away with the demons close on his heels. Alretta snapped her fingers, and the two hounds followed, galloping to the palace gate and to the streets beyond, leaving the grass singed where their paws had pressed into it.

Shadowseeker,” said Rorcul, watching them depart. “Shadowseeker, you will find the shadow.”

Chapter 36

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