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Cinis sat on the back of the raft, trailing his feet in the water so that two low, v-shaped wakes followed the raft.
This was the farthest he had ever been from Querkus. One week ago he had been polishing bottles behind the bar, cutting vegetables for dinner, and awaiting lessons with Reardon. And now, everything had changed so drastically that he found himself even missing his history lessons.
He frowned, looking back toward Jessica as she studied the map. Surely she could get him to Cardinia, but he wondered what would happen after that. Would they confine him for his own protection and not allow him to leave the city? Maybe she was lying, and they would never let him avenge Rearden. Should that be the case, he could always sneak off when they arrived in Granttan. Surely he could find another tavern where he could work while he learned more about Rorcul and planned his next move.
Just a few minutes before, they had caught sight of Anarchen, the low profile of roofing and smoke from stove fires just visible in the distance. Cinis and Libus had looked to Jessica expectantly, waiting for her to renew her argument about disembarking early. But she had remained quiet, her eyes staring ahead at the seemingly never-ending river.
Libus had temporarily moored the raft and headed ashore for news, claiming he was good friends with the town’s smith, a man whose words poured out of his mouth faster than clangs rang from his anvil. Until he returned, Cinis reclined on the floor of the raft while Jessica sat with her back against an empty crate. Cinis caught her eye and rested his arms across his chest.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on? Or am I going to have to solve this mystery by myself?”
Jessica sighed. “There’s a lot to say, yet precious little that I know for certain. I don’t really know where to begin.”
“You owe me something. In the past few days, my only living relative died, and apparently I’m now the subject of some country-wide manhunt. Tell me what this is all about, otherwise I’m walking ashore right now.”
Cinis saw Jessica’s face tighten for a half second. Good, he thought, that’s one thing I know. She needs me for something. That’s leverage.
“Start with Rorcul. Who is he?”
“Nobody really knows who he is. We believe he’s connected to a Lord in Corsus. But what, that I can answer. He’s a Shadow assassin, and an effective one at that. As you know, he’s already killed enough to prove that point. You escaping was more of a fluke than the norm. All of his victims were under heavy guard with their every move monitored, whether they knew it or not. And each died by his hand. Additionally, my fears were confirmed when I listened in on him bribing the king himself with these, one of which I managed to sneak away.”
She fished into a pocket and pulled out a small sack, handing it to Cinis for his inspection. He poured a small pearl into his hand, dark black in hue, and inspected it as Jessica continued speaking.
“The only place where these can be harvested is Corsus, and deep in Corsus at that. This isn’t from a borderland—these are from deeper than the heart,” Jessica explained.
“So Corsus has reason to kill me?” asked Cinis. “How did you know I’d be next?”
“Well, there’s actually a list.”
“A list of what?” Cinis asked flatly.
“You and fifteen others. That is, if you count the ones who have already been knocked off. Coincidently, fifteen of them.”
“All of them? I’m the last one of the list, and he’s killed off the other fifteen? Damn it, how are you supposed to protect me if you let the other fifteen die?”
“Look, this is the reason why I didn’t want you fighting him. We’re doing our best, and this time we’re ahead of the curve. You’re actually the first death that I’ve been involved in. Well, to rephrase that with optimism, not death, but life.”
Cinis laughed. “Look, Jessica, I’m convinced you both have the wrong person. I’m not rich. I’m not royal or talented.”
“We don’t even know if that’s a requirement! Perhaps your influence is so small that you’ve already contributed your part. Either way, the point is moot to you,” Jessica said. “All that matters is that he still wants you dead. And if we can draw him out to Rhymenia, maybe we can learn more. But—”
Suddenly she cocked her head, sitting stock still and lowering her voice to a whisper. “Did you hear that?” she asked. “Footsteps!”
From his laying position, Cinis looked through a crack in the boxes, peering toward the shore. Not twenty feet away he spotted a glimpse of advancing purple cloaks, Libus walking backward in front of them and waving his hands frantically.
Jessica held a finger up to her lips and, taking Cinis’ hand, slowly lowered herself over the edge of the raft into the water. Cinis followed, his feet on the bottom of the river, not trusting his limited swimming skills in the current. Taking a deep breath, he followed Jessica underneath the raft and found an air pocket between two of the lashed logs just large enough for the two of them. He peered upward through the crack as two sets of feet boarded the raft.
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