“How did you know about this place? That rock has never opened—I’ve been past it over a hundred times, and it has only ever been a monument,” stammered Jessica, staring at the stone slab. Despite the little she knew of Cinis, the power required to split stone like that in the presence of vrael would be astronomical, something she would expect only from a master. Not something a tavern boy could do with a flick of the wrist.
“I mean, it was pretty obvious. The singing was practically screaming out of it.”
“What voice? From outside?”
“No, can’t you hear it? Listen—it’s fading now, but pretty clear still.”
Jessica shot him a confused expression and frowned. “No, there’s nothing. Dead silent. Are you sure you’re not hearing things?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I think it wants us to follow it, deeper down beneath the city.” Every time he had heard the voice, Cinis had been alone in the tunnels. But if he was the only one who could hear it—well, that would make the singing even stranger. But stranger events had already happened that night, and he started walking down the tunnel before Jessica called after him.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Have you always heard voices? That’s not normal, you know.”
When he didn’t turn around, she grabbed his shoulder to stop him and, in the motion, pulled his shirt. An extra button on its corner caught on his pants pocket, and with a clink, something fell onto the ground, coming toward Jessica with a wobbling roll.
Stooping over, she picked up the ring. She stopped as soon as her fingers made contact with the metal.
Jessica had heard singing before—great singing, possibly the best in Lorai. Air Magic users are often known for their singing, for the way they can coax streams of wind through their vocal cords, producing notes purer than natural talent can provide alone. Some were so skilled they could sing with two voices at once, a duet by one person with several octave gaps between the notes. Her parents had taken her to a performance house the second week of every month, when their favorite acapella group held shows.
But Jessica had never heard singing like this.
Her expression turned to awe and she stood stock still, her head tilted to enhance her hearing. The voice was pure, strong—it followed a beat that she did not recognize, but rather a different timing that sounded alien. Not wrong, just different. The notes followed no pattern she could identify, cycling through highs and lows that she was not entirely sure even existed on a musical scale.
And Cinis was right—the voice came from down the corridor, reverberating off the walls in its quest to reach them.
“I, I don’t know what to say,” she breathed, looking at the ring in her fingers whose gemstone reflected the light from the walls. And on closer inspection, she wasn’t quite sure if the ring reflected the light or, rather, participated in generating it.
“I have,” Cinis answered, in reply to her earlier question. “It’s always from deep below, but I’ve never found the source. And now you hear it too. Maybe this time it will be waiting for me. It’s all I have left.”
The words had hardly escaped his mouth when the music began to fade, the last notes tinkling upward, and the singer singing what Cinis now understood to be a farewell.
“Or not,” he said, his face in a frown as the voice dwindled to nothing and the spell was broken.
With some effort, Jessica handed the ring back to Cinis, releasing a gentle sigh at the music’s departure.
“It’s not all you have left, Cinis,” she said. “Rorcul wasn’t the only one sent here to find you. I was too. I know it’s difficult to understand, but I’m here to protect you and take you somewhere safe.”
“I don’t want safe,” Cinis answered, turning back toward the stone door. “If Rorcul is in league with the demon guards, that means that he’s close to the person responsible for Rearden’s death.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s close to the person who killed Rearden,” Jessica answered, her voice low.
“Obviously he is. Demons killed Rearden, he works with demons, he—” The realization flowed across Cinis’ face as his eyes widened. “No, wait. You’re saying that he isn’t close to the person who killed Rearden because he is the person who killed Rearden!”
He ran back to the stone door, pressing his shoulder against it, but the golden light failed to illuminate it. He kicked it, achieving nothing more than a dull thud, the door stubborn in its refusal. Whipping around, he pointed a finger at Jessica and hissed.
“You knew this! You knew this, and you made me run instead of fight! I could have killed him there, at the fountain!”
“He would have scattered your insides like fertilizer in the garden,” she replied as he continued kicking the door. “It would have been suicide, Cinis. Besides, as I said, Rearden would have wanted it this way.”
“Oh, so you knew him then?”
“No, but if he had a lick of common sense, then—”
“Then you have no clue what he would have wanted!”
Cinis took his knife from his belt, and wedged it into the crack, trying to pound it in with the flat of his hand. Again, the stone refused to budge.
“Are you crazy? You’ll get yourself killed at the least if you pry that open. Outside that rock is Rorcul, one of the greatest assassins in all the realm! You wouldn’t have a chance!”
“Then what do you expect me to do? Run away until he kills me, too? No, I’m settling the score.”
“I can’t let you do that. Did you see his magic? Cinis, I know you may not be acquainted with magic, being from Querkus, but that was no small trick back there. Only a man of great power could perform such a feat with the amount of vrael present. The fact that he was able to carry on a conversation at the same time is incredible enough with the level of detail he maintained.”
“I’m not scared.”
Jessica paused as he continued to pound. The strategy of logic and rationale to convince him was not working. It was time to change tactics.
“Cinis, the only way to avenge his death is to come with me,” she said, and he turned to look at her, eyes ablaze.
“How? Don’t think that you can trick me.”
“As I said, Rorcul is strong. But you are weak. Sure, you may know a few tricks about how to fend off the average street urchin, but you don’t have a chance against Rorcul. Next time he’ll be more careful, and I can guarantee you that he won’t make the same mistake twice. On top of that, there’s Alretta, and I know very little about her prowess. She could be just as deadly, if not more so. An inexperienced tavern boy cannot hope to contend against those odds.
“But I can change that. Where I’m taking you, you can learn to defend yourself against him. We can teach you how to survive. Cinis, I can’t promise that you’ll have a chance against him, but this is the best shot that you have. There are powerful friends where I come from, friends that can take Rorcul down, even if you can’t.”
“What do you mean, if I can’t? This is my battle.”
“Magic is deadly, Cinis. We can teach you how to protect yourself against it, but we cannot teach you how to beat it. I’m sorry, but that’s all I can offer. And when the time comes to confront Rorcul, there will be others to help.”
Cinis closed his eyes, standing still for a full minute. Then he asked a single question.
“To Cardinia, then,” he answered after a moment of consideration, pulling the knife from the stone. To find the Craftsman.
And as the knife slid out of its place, echoes of the sound ran down the tunnel, reminding Jessica of the singing.
And there was one thing that Jessica was absolutely sure of, something her instincts of Life Magic and training by Cesaro made her realize.
The singer, whatever it was, was not alive.