الرئيسية The Magicians' Guild

The Magicians' Guild

Categories: Fiction
السنة: 2007
اللغة: english
ISBN 13: 9781905654109
Series: Black Magician 1
File: EPUB, 789 KB
تحميل (epub, 789 KB)

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THE MAGICIANS’ GUILD


THE BLACK MAGICIAN TRILOGY BOOK ONE





TRUDI CANAVAN





Dedication


This book is dedicated to my father,

Denis Canavan.

He provided the spark that lit the twin fires of

curiosity and creativity.





Contents


Dedication



MAP



PART ONE





Chapter 1

The Purge





Chapter 2

The Magician’s Debate





Chapter 3

Old Friends





Chapter 4

The Search Continues





Chapter 5

The Reward





Chapter 6

Underground Encounters





Chapter 7

Dangerous Alliances





Chapter 8

Messages in the Dark





Chapter 9

An Unwelcome Visitor





Chapter 10

Taking Sides





Chapter 11

Safe Passage





Chapter 12

The Last Place They’d Look





Chapter 13

Powerful Influence





Chapter 14

An Unwilling Ally





Chapter 15

One Way, or the Other…



PART TWO





Chapter 16

Introductions





Chapter 17

Sonea’s Resolve





Chapter 18

Away from Prying Eyes





Chapter 19

Lessons Begin





Chapter 20

The Guild’s Prisoner





Chapter 21

A Promise of Freedom





Chapter 22

An Unexpected Offer





Chapter 23

Rothen’s Friend





Chapter 24

Unanswered Questions





Chapter 25

A Change Of Plans





Chapter 26

The Deception Begins





Chapter 27

Somewhere Under the University





Chapter 28

The Hearing Begins





Chapter 29

To Dwell Among Magicians





Epilogue





Lord Dannyl’s Guide to Slum Slang



Glossary



Acknowledgments



About the Author



Other Books by Trudi Canavan



Copyright



About the Publisher





MAP





PART ONE





1


The Purge




It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there. On the day of the Purge it whistled amongst the swaying masts in the Marina, rushed through the Western Gates and screamed between the buildings. Then, as if appalled by the ragged souls it met there, it quietened to a whimper.

Or so it seemed to Sonea. As another gust of cold wind battered her, she wrapped her arms around her chest and hugged her worn coat closer to her body. Looking down, she scowled at the dirty sludge that splashed over her shoes with each step she took. The cloth she had stuffed into her oversized boots was already saturated and her toes stung with the chill.

A sudden movement to her right caught her attention, and she side-stepped as a man with straggly gray hair staggered toward her from an alley entrance and fell to his knees. Stopping, Sonea offered him her hand, but the old man did not seem to notice. He clambered to his feet and joined the hunched figures making their way down the street.

Sighing, Sonea peered around the edge of her hood. A guard slouched in the entrance of the alley. His mouth was curled into a sneer of disdain; his gaze flitted from figure to figure. She narrowed her eyes at him, but when his head turned in her direction, she quickly looked away.

Curse the guards, she thought. May they all find poisonous faren crawling in their boots. The names of a few good-natured guards pricked her conscience, but she was in no mood to make exceptions.

Falling into step with the shuffling figures around her, Sonea followed them out of the street into a wider thoroughfare. Two- and three-story houses rose on either side of them. The windows of the higher floors were crowded with faces. In one, a well-dressed man was holding up a small boy so he could watch the people below. The man’s nose wrinkled with disdain and, as he pointed his finger down, the boy grimaced as if he had tasted something foul.

Sonea glared at them. Wouldn’t be so smug if I threw a rock through their window. She looked about half-heartedly, but if any rocks were lying about, they were well hidden beneath the sludge.

A few steps farther on, she caught sight of a pair of guards ahead of her, standing in the entrance to an alley. Dressed in stiff boiled-leather coats and iron helmets, they looked to be twice the weight of the beggars they watched. They carried wooden shields, and at their waists hung kebin—iron bars which were used as cudgels, but with a hook attached just above the handle, designed to catch an attacker’s knife. Dropping her eyes to the ground, Sonea walked by the two men.

“—cut ’em off before they reach the square,” one of the guards was saying. “About twenty of ’em. Gang leader’s big. Got a scar on his neck and—”

Sonea’s heart skipped a beat. Could it be…?

A few steps past the guards was a recessed doorway. Slipping into the shallow alcove, she turned her head to sneak a look at the two men, then jumped as she saw two dark eyes staring back at her from the doorway.

A woman gazed at her, eyes wide with surprise. Sonea took a step back. The stranger retreated too, then smiled as Sonea let out a quick laugh.

Just a reflection! Sonea reached out and her fingers met a square of polished metal attached to the wall. Words had been etched into its surface, but she knew too little about letters to make out what they said.

She examined her image. A thin, hollow-cheeked face. Short, dark hair. No one had ever called her pretty. She could still manage to pass herself off as a boy when she wanted to. Her aunt said that she looked more like her long-dead mother than her father, but Sonea suspected Jonna simply did not want to see any resemblance to her absent marriage-brother.

Sonea leaned closer to the reflection. Her mother had been beautiful. Perhaps, if I grew my hair long, she mused, and I wore something feminine…

…oh, don’t bother. With a self-mocking snort, she turned away, annoyed at herself for being distracted by such fantasies.

“—’bout twenty minutes ago,” said a nearby voice. She stiffened as she remembered why she had stepped into the alcove.

“And where are they expectin’ to trap ’em?”

“D’know, Mol.”

“Ah, I’d like to be there. Saw what they did to Porlen last year, little bastards. Took several weeks for the rash to go away, and he couldn’t see properly for days. Wonder if I can get out of—Hai! Wrong way, boy!”

Sonea ignored the soldier’s shout, knowing that he and his companion would not leave their position at the entrance of the alley, in case the people in the street took advantage of their distraction to slip away. She broke into a jog, weaving through the steadily thickening crowd. From time to time, she paused to search for familiar faces.

She had no doubt which gang the guards had been talking about. Stories of what Harrin’s youths had done during the last Purge had been retold over and over through the harsh winter of the previous year. It had amused her to hear that her old friends were still making mischief, though she had to agree with her aunt that she was better off keeping away from their troublemaking. Now it seemed the guards were planning to have their revenge.

Which only proves Jonna right. Sonea smiled grimly. She’d flay me if she knew what I was doing, but I have to warn Harrin. She scanned the crowd again. It’s not like I’m going to rejoin the gang. I only have to find a watcher—there!

In the shadows of a doorway, a youth slouched, glowering at his surroundings with sullen hostility. Despite his apparent disinterest, his gaze shifted from one alley entrance to another. As his gaze met hers, Sonea reached up to adjust her hood and made what would be taken to be a crude sign by most. His eyes narrowed, and he quickly signed back.

Sure now that he was a watcher, she made her way through the crowd and stopped a few steps away from the door, pretending to adjust the binding of her boot.

“Who’re you with?” he asked, looking away.

“No one.”

“You used an old sign.”

“Haven’t been about for a while.”

He paused. “What you want?”

“Heard the guards talking,” she told him. “Plan to catch someone.”

The watcher made a rude noise. “And why should I believe you?”

“I used to know Harrin,” she replied, straightening.

The boy considered her for a moment, then stepped out of the alcove and grabbed her arm. “Let’s see if he remembers you, then.”

Sonea’s heart skipped as he began to pull her into the crowd. The mud was slippery, and she knew she would end up sprawling in it if she tried to brace her feet. She muttered a curse.

“You don’t have to take me to him,” she said. “Just tell him my name. He’ll know I wouldn’t mess him about.”

The boy ignored her. Guards eyed them suspiciously as they passed. Sonea twisted her arm, but the boy’s grip was strong. He pulled her into a side street.

“Listen to me,” she said. “My name is Sonea. He knows me. So does Cery.”

“Then you won’t mind seeing him again,” the boy tossed over his shoulder.

The side street was crowded, and the people seemed to be in a hurry. She grabbed a lamppost and pulled him to a halt.

“I can’t go with you. I have to meet my aunt. Let me go—”

The press of people ended as the crowd passed and continued down the street. Sonea looked up and groaned.

“Jonna’s going to kill me.”

A line of guards stretched across the street, shields held high. Several youths paced before them, shouting insults and jibes. As Sonea watched, one threw a small object at the guards. The missile struck a shield and exploded into a cloud of red dust. A cheer erupted from the youths as the guards backed away a few steps.

Several paces back from the youths stood two familiar figures. One was taller and bulkier than she remembered, standing with his hands on his hips. Two years of growth had erased Harrin’s boyish looks but from his stance, she guessed that little else had changed. He had always been the undisputed leader of the gang, quick to smarten up anyone with a well-placed fist.

Beside him was a youth almost half his size. Sonea could not help smiling. Cery had not grown at all since she had last seen him, and she knew how much that would annoy him. Despite his small stature, Cery had always been respected in the gang because his father had worked for the Thieves.

As the watcher pulled her closer, she saw Cery lick a finger and hold it high, then nod. Harrin gave a shout. The youths pulled small bundles from their clothes and hurled them at the guards. A cloud of red billowed from the shields, and Sonea grinned as the men began to curse and cry out in pain.

Then, from an alley behind the guards, a lone figure stepped into the street. Sonea looked up and her blood froze.

“Magician!” she gasped.

The boy at her side drew in a sharp breath as he too saw the robed figure. “Hai! Magician!” he shouted. The youths and guards straightened and turned toward the newcomer.

Then all staggered back as a hot gust of wind battered them. An unpleasant smell filled Sonea’s nostrils, and her eyes began to sting as the red dust was blown into her face. The wind ceased abruptly, and all was silent and still.

Rubbing tears away, Sonea blinked at the ground, hoping for some clean snow to ease the sting. Only mud surrounded her, smooth and unbroken by footprints. But that couldn’t be right. As her vision cleared, she saw it was marked with fine ripples—all radiating out from the magician’s feet.

“Go!” Harrin bellowed. At once the youths sprang away from the guards and fled past Sonea. With a yelp, the watcher pulled her around and dragged her after them.

Her mouth went dry as she saw that another line of guards waited at the end of the street. This was the trap! And I’ve gone and got myself caught with them!

The watcher pulled her along, following Harrin’s gang as the youths raced toward the guards. As they drew close, the guards lifted their shields in anticipation. A few strides from the line, the youths veered into an alleyway. Following on their heels, Sonea noted a pair of uniformed men lying slumped against a wall by the entrance.

“Duck!” a familiar voice shouted.

A hand grabbed her and pulled her down. She winced as her knees struck the cobblestones under the mud. Hearing cries behind her, she looked back to see a mass of arms and shields filling the narrow gap between the buildings, a cloud of red dust billowing around them.

“Sonea?”

The voice was familiar and full of amazement. She looked up, and grinned as she saw Cery crouching beside her.

“She told me the guards were planning an ambush,” the watcher told him.

Cery nodded. “We knew.” A smile spread slowly across his face, then his eyes flickered past her to the guards, and the smile vanished. “Come on, everyone. Time to go!”

He took her hand, pulled her to her feet and led her between the youths bombarding the guards. As they did, a flash of light filled the alley with a blinding whiteness.

“What was that?” Sonea gasped, trying to blink away the image of the narrow street which seemed to hang before her eyes.

“The magician,” Cery hissed.

“Run!” Harrin bellowed nearby. Half blind, Sonea stumbled forward. A body slammed into her back and she fell. Cery grasped her arms, pulled her to her feet, and guided her onward.

They leapt out of the alley and Sonea found herself back on the main street. The youths slowed, lifting hoods and hunching their backs as they spread amongst the crowd. Sonea followed suit, and for several minutes she and Cery walked in silence. A tall figure moved to Cery’s side and peered around the edge of his hood to regard her.

“Hai! Look who it is!” Harrin’s eyes widened. “Sonea! What are you doing here?”

She smiled. “Getting caught in your mischief again, Harrin.”

“She heard the guards were planning an ambush and came looking for us,” Cery explained.

Harrin waved a hand dismissively. “We knew they’d try something, so we made sure we had a way out.”

Thinking of the guards slumped in the alley entrance, Sonea nodded. “I should’ve guessed you knew.”

“So where have you been? It’s been…years.”

“Two years. We’ve been living in the North Quarter. Uncle Ranel got a room in a stayhouse.”

“I hear the rent stinks in those stayhouses—and everything costs double just ’cause you’re living inside the city walls.”

“It does, but we got by.”

“Doing what?” Cery asked.

“Mending shoes and clothes.”

Harrin nodded. “So that’s why we haven’t seen you for so long.”

Sonea smiled. That, and Jonna wanted to keep me from getting mixed up with your gang. Her aunt had not approved of Harrin and his friends. Not at all…

“Don’t sound too exciting,” Cery muttered.

Looking at him, she noted that, though he hadn’t grown much in the last few years, his face was no longer boyish. He wore a new longcoat with threads dangling where it had been cut short, and probably loaded with a collection of picks, knives, trinkets and sweets hidden in pockets and pouches within the lining. She had always wondered what Cery would do when he grew out of picking pockets and locks.

“It was safer than hanging about with you lot,” she told him.

Cery’s eyes narrowed. “That’s Jonna talking.”

Once, that would have stung. She smiled. “Jonna’s talking got us out of the slums.”

“So,” Harrin interrupted. “If you’ve got a room in a stayhouse, why are you here?”

Sonea scowled and her mood darkened. “The King’s putting out the people in stayhouses,” she told him. “Says he don’t want so many people living in one building—that it’s not clean. Guards came and kicked us out this morning.”

Harrin frowned and muttered a curse. Glancing at Cery, she saw that the teasing look in his eyes had died. She looked away, grateful, but not comforted, by their understanding.

With one word from the Palace, in one morning, everything that she and her aunt and uncle had worked for had been taken away. There had been no time to think about what this meant as they had grabbed their belongings before being dragged out into the street.

“Where are Jonna and Ranel, then?” Harrin asked.

“Sent me ahead to see if we can get a room in our old place.”

Cery gave her a direct look. “Come see me if you can’t.”

She nodded. “Thanks.”

The crowd slowly spilled out of the street into a large paved area. This was the North Square, where small local markets were held each week. She and her aunt visited it regularly—had visited it regularly.

Several hundred people had gathered in the square. While many continued on through the Northern Gates, others lingered inside in the hope of meeting their loved ones before entering the confusion of the slums, and some always refused to move until they were forced to.

Cery and Harrin stopped at the base of the pool in the center of the square. A statue of King Kalpol rose from the water. The long-dead monarch had been almost forty when he routed the mountain bandits, yet here he was portrayed as a young man, his right hand brandishing a likeness of his famous, jewel-encrusted sword, and his left gripping an equally ornate goblet.

A different statue had once stood in its place, but it had been torn down thirty years before. Though several statues had been erected of King Terrel over the years, all but one had been destroyed, and it was rumored that even the surviving statue, protected within the Palace walls, had been defaced. Despite all else he had done, the citizens of Imardin would always remember King Terrel as the man who had started the yearly Purges.

Her uncle had told her the story many times. Thirty years before, after influential members of the Houses had complained that the streets were not safe, the King had ordered the guard to drive all beggars, homeless vagrants and suspected criminals out of the city. Angered by this, the strongest of the expelled gathered together and, with weapons provided by the wealthier smugglers and thieves, fought back. Faced with street battles and riots, the King turned to the Magicians’ Guild for assistance.

The rebels had no weapon to use against magic. They were captured or driven out into the slums. The King was so pleased by the festivities the Houses had held to celebrate that he declared the city would be purged of vagrants every winter.

When the old King had died five years past, many had hoped that the Purges would stop, but Terrel’s son, King Merin, had continued the tradition. Looking around, it was hard to imagine that the frail, sick-looking people about her could ever be a threat. Then she noticed that several youths had gathered around Harrin, all watching their leader expectantly. She felt her stomach clench with sudden apprehension.

“I have to go,” she said.

“No, don’t go,” Cery protested. “We’ve only just found each other again.”

She shook her head. “I’ve been too long. Jonna and Ranel might be in the slums already.”

“Then you’re already in trouble.” Cery shrugged. “You still ’fraid of a scolding, eh?”

She gave him a reproachful look. Undeterred, he smiled back.

“Here.” He pressed something into her hand. Looking down, she examined the little packet of paper.

“This is the stuff you guys were throwing at the guards?”

Cery nodded. “Papea dust,” he said. “Makes their eyes sting and gives ’em a rash.”

“No good against magicians, though.”

He grinned. “I got one once. He didn’t see me coming.”

Sonea started to hand back the packet, but Cery waved his hand.

“Keep it,” he said. “It’s no use here. The magicians always make a wall.”

She shook her head. “So you throw stones instead? Why do you bother?”

“It feels good.” Cery looked back toward the road, his eyes a steely gray. “If we didn’t, it would be like we don’t mind the Purge. We can’t let them drive us out of the city without some kind of show, can we?”

Shrugging, she looked at the youths. Their eyes were bright with anticipation. She had always felt that throwing anything at the magicians was pointless and foolish.

“But you and Harrin hardly ever come into the city,” she said.

“No, but we ought to be able to if we want.” Cery grinned. “And this is the only time we get to make trouble without the Thieves sticking their noses in.”

Sonea rolled her eyes. “So that’s it.”

“Hai! Let’s go!” Harrin bellowed over the noise of the crowd.

As the youths cheered and began to move away, Cery looked at her expectantly.

“Come on,” he urged. “It’ll be fun.”

Sonea shook her head.

“You don’t have to join in. Just watch,” he said. “After, I’ll come with you and see you get a place to stay.”

“But—”

“Here.” He reached out and undid her scarf. Folding it into a triangle, he draped it over her head and tied it at her throat. “You look more like a girl now. Even if the guards decide to chase us—which they never do—they won’t think you’re a troublemaker. There,” he patted her cheek, “much better. Now come on. I’m not letting you disappear again.”

She sighed. “All right.”

The crowd had grown, and the gang began to push forward through the crush of people. To Sonea’s surprise, they received no protest or retaliation in return for their elbowing. Instead, the men and women she passed reached out to press rocks and over-ripe fruit into her hands, and to whisper encouragement. As she followed Cery past the eager faces, she felt a stirring of excitement. Sensible people like her aunt and uncle had already left the North Square. Those who remained wanted to see a show of defiance—and it didn’t matter how pointless it was.

The crowd thinned as the gang reached its edge. At one side Sonea could see people still entering the square from a side street. On the other, the distant gates rose above the crowd. In front…

Sonea stopped and felt all her confidence drain away. As Cery moved on, she took a few steps back and stopped behind an elderly woman. Less than twenty paces away stood a row of magicians.

Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly. She knew they would not move from their places. They would ignore the crowd until they were ready to drive it out of the square. There was no reason to be frightened.

Swallowing, she forced herself to look away and seek out the youths. Harrin, Cery and the others were moving farther forward, strolling amongst the dwindling stream of latecomers joining the edge of the crowd.

Looking up at the magicians again, she shivered. She had never been this close to them before, or had an opportunity to take a good look at them.

They wore a uniform: wide-sleeved robes bound by a sash at the waist. According to her uncle Ranel, clothes like these had been fashionable many hundreds of years ago but now it was a crime for ordinary people to dress like magicians.

They were all men. From her position she could see nine of them, standing alone or in pairs, forming part of a line that she knew would encompass the square. Some were no older than twenty, while others looked ancient. One of the closest, a fair-haired man of about thirty, was handsome in a sleek, well-groomed way. The rest were surprisingly ordinary-looking.

In the corner of her eye she saw an abrupt movement, and turned in time to see Harrin swing his arm forward. A rock flew though the air toward the magicians. Despite knowing what would happen, she held her breath.

The stone smacked against something hard and invisible and dropped to the ground. Sonea let out her breath as more of the youths began hurling stones. A few of the robed figures looked up to watch the missiles pattering against the air in front of them. Others regarded the youths briefly, then turned back to their conversations.

Sonea stared at the place where the magicians’ barrier hung. She could see nothing. Moving forward, she took out one of the lumps in her pockets, drew her arm back and hurled it with all her strength. It disintegrated as it hit the invisible wall, and for a moment, a cloud of dust hung in the air, flat on one side.

She heard a low chuckle nearby and turned to see the old woman grinning at her.

“That’s a good ’un,” the woman cackled. “You show ’em. Go on.”

Sonea slipped a hand into a pocket and felt her fingers close on a larger rock. She took a few steps closer to the magicians and smiled. She had seen annoyance in some of their faces. Obviously they did not like to be defied, but something prevented them from confronting the youths.

Beyond the haze of dust came the sound of voices. The well-groomed magician glanced up, then turned back to his companion, an older man with gray in his hair.

“Pathetic vermin,” he sneered. “How long until we can get rid of them?”

Something flipped over in Sonea’s belly, and she tightened her grip on the rock. She pulled it free and gauged its weight. A heavy one. Turning to face the magicians, she gathered the anger she felt at being thrown out of her home, all her inbred hate of the magicians, and hurled the stone at the speaker. She traced its path through the air, and as it neared the magicians’ barrier, she willed it to pass through and reach its mark.

A ripple of blue light flashed outward, then the rock slammed into the magician’s temple with a dull thud. He stood motionless, staring at nothing, then his knees buckled and his companion stepped forward to catch him.

Sonea stared, her mouth agape, as the older magician lowered his companion to the ground. The jeers of the youths died away. Stillness spread outward like smoke through the crowd.

Then exclamations rang out as two more magicians sprang forward to crouch beside their fallen companion. Harrin’s friends, and others in the crowd, began to cheer. Noise returned to the square as people murmured and shouted out what had happened.

Sonea looked down at her hands. It worked. I broke the barrier, but that’s not possible, unless…

Unless I used magic.

Cold rushed through her as she remembered how she had focused all her anger and hate on the stone, how she had followed its path with her mind and willed it to break through the barrier. Something in her stirred, as if it were eager for her to repeat those actions.

Looking up, she saw that several magicians had gathered around their fallen companion. Some crouched beside him, but most had turned to stare out at the people in the square, their eyes searching. Looking for me, she thought suddenly. As if hearing her thought, one turned to stare at her. She froze in terror, but his eyes slid away and roved on through the crowd.

They don’t know who it was. She gasped with relief. Glancing around, she saw that the crowd was several paces behind her. The youths were backing away. Heart pounding, she followed suit.

Then the older magician rose. Unlike the others, his eyes snapped to hers without hesitation. He pointed at her and the rest of the magicians turned to stare again. As their hands rose, she felt a surge of terror. Spinning around, she bolted toward the crowd. In the corner of her eye, she saw the rest of the youths fleeing. Her vision wavered as several quick flashes of light lit the faces before her, then screams tore through the air. Heat rushed over her and she fell to her knees, gasping.

“STOP!”

She felt no pain. Looking down, she gasped in relief to find her body whole. She looked up; people were still running away, ignoring the strangely amplified command that still echoed through the square.

A smell of burning drifted to her nose. Sonea turned to see a figure sprawled face-down on the pavement a few steps away. Though flames ate at the clothing hungrily, the figure lay still. Then she saw the blackened mess that had once been an arm, and her stomach twisted with nausea.

“DO NOT HARM HER!”

Staggering to her feet, she reeled away from the corpse. Figures passed her on either side as the youths fled. With an effort, she forced herself into a staggering run.

She caught up with the crowd at the Northern Gate and pushed her way into it. Fighting her way forward, clawing past those in her way, she forced herself deep within the crowd of bodies. Feeling the stones still weighing down her pockets, she clawed them out. Something caught her legs, tripping her over, but she dragged herself to her feet and pushed on.

Hands grabbed her roughly from behind. She struggled and drew a breath to scream, but the hands turned her around and she found herself staring up at the familiar blue eyes of Harrin.





2


The Magician’s Debate




Though he had entered the Guildhall countless times since graduating over thirty years before, Lord Rothen had rarely heard it echo with so many voices.

He regarded the sea of robed men and women before him. Circles of magicians had formed, and he noted the usual cliques and factions. Others roamed about, leaving one circle and joining another. Hands flashed in expressive gestures, and the occasional exclamation or denial rose above the din.

Meets were usually dignified, orderly affairs, but until the Administrator arrived to organize them, the participants usually milled about in the center of the room, talking. As Rothen started toward the crowd, he caught fragments of conversations which seemed to be emanating from the roof. The Guildhall amplified sounds in odd and unexpected ways, particularly when voices were raised.

The effect was not magical, as ungifted visitors often assumed, but an unintended result of the building’s conversion into a hall. The first and oldest Guild construction, it had originally contained rooms to house magicians and their apprentices as well as spaces for lessons and meetings. Four centuries later, faced with a rapidly growing membership, the Guild had constructed several new buildings. Not wanting to demolish their first home, they removed the internal walls and added seating, and since then, all Guild Meets, Acceptance and Graduation ceremonies and Hearings had been held there.

A tall, purple-robed figure stepped out of the crowd and strode toward Rothen. Noting the younger magician’s eager expression, Rothen smiled; Dannyl had complained more than once that nothing particularly exciting happened in the Guild.

“Well, my old friend. How did it go?” Dannyl asked.

Rothen crossed his arms. “Old friend indeed!”

“Old fiend, then.” Dannyl waved a hand dismissively. “What did the Administrator say?”

“Nothing. He just wanted me to describe what happened. It appears I’m the only one who saw her.”

“Lucky for her,” Dannyl replied. “Why did the others try to kill her?”

Rothen shook his head. “I don’t think they meant to.”

A gong rang out above the buzz of voices, and the Guild Administrator’s amplified voice filled the hall.

“Would all magicians take their seats, please.”

Glancing behind, Rothen saw the huge main doors at the back of the hall swing shut. The mass of robes parted as magicians began moving toward seats on either side of the room. Dannyl nodded toward the front.

“We have some rare company today.”

Rothen followed his friend’s gaze. The Higher Magicians were taking their places. To mark their position and authority within the Guild, their seats were arranged in five tiers at the front of the hall. The raised seats were reached by two narrow stairways. At the center of the highest row stood a large chair embellished with gold and embroidered with the King’s incal: a stylized night bird. The chair was empty, but the two seats flanking it were occupied by magicians wearing gold sashes tied about their waists.

“The King’s Advisers,” Rothen murmured. “Interesting.”

“Yes,” Dannyl replied. “I wondered if King Merin would regard this Meet important enough to attend.”

“Not important enough to come himself.”

“Of course not.” Dannyl smiled. “Then we’d behave ourselves.”

Rothen shrugged. “It makes no difference, Dannyl. Even if the advisers weren’t here, none of us would say anything we wouldn’t say in the presence of the King. No, they’re here to make sure we do more than merely talk about the girl.”

Reaching their usual seats, they sat down. Dannyl leaned back in his chair and surveyed the room. “All this for one grubby street urchin.”

Rothen chuckled. “She has caused quite a stir, hasn’t she?”

“Fergun hasn’t joined us,” Dannyl narrowed his eyes at the rows of seats against the opposite wall, “but his followers are here.”

Though Rothen did not approve of his friend expressing dislike of another magician in public, he couldn’t help smiling. Fergun’s officious manner did not endear him to others. “From what I remember of the Healer’s report, the blow caused considerable confusion and agitation. He felt it wise to prescribe Fergun a sedative.”

Dannyl gave a quiet crow of delight. “Fergun’s asleep! When he realizes he has missed this meeting he’ll be furious!”

A gong rang out and the room began to quieten.

“And, as you can imagine, Administrator Lorlen was most disappointed that Lord Fergun could not give his version of the events,” Rothen added in a murmur.

Dannyl choked back a laugh. Looking across at the Higher Magicians, Rothen saw that all had taken their places. Only Administrator Lorlen remained standing, a gong in one hand, a striker in the other.

Lorlen’s expression was uncharacteristically grave. Rothen sobered as he realized that this crisis was the first the magician had faced since being elected. Lorlen had proven to be well suited to dealing with everyday issues within the Guild, but there must be more than a few magicians wondering how the Administrator would tackle a crisis like this.

“I have called this Meet so that we may discuss the events which occurred in the North Square this morning,” Lorlen began. “We have two matters of the most serious nature to address: the killing of an innocent, and the existence of a magician outside of our control. To begin, we will tackle the first and most serious of these two matters. I call upon Lord Rothen as witness to the event.”

Dannyl looked at Rothen with surprise, then smiled. “Of course. It must be years since you stood down there. Good luck.”

Rising, Rothen gave his friend a withering look. “Thanks for reminding me. I’ll be fine.”

Faces turned as the assembled magicians watched Rothen descend from his seat and cross the hall to stand before the Higher Magicians. He inclined his head to the Administrator. Lorlen nodded in reply.

“Tell us what you witnessed, Lord Rothen.”

Rothen paused to consider his words. When addressing the Guild, a speaker was expected to be concise and avoid elaboration.

“When I arrived at the North Square this morning, I found Lord Fergun already in place,” he began. “I took my position beside him and added my power to the shield. Some of the younger vagrants began throwing stones but, as always, we ignored them.” Looking up at the Higher Magicians, he saw that they were watching him closely. He suppressed a twinge of nervousness. It had been a long time since he had addressed the Guild.

“Next, I saw a flash of blue light in the corner of my eye and felt a disturbance in the shield. I caught a glimpse of an object coming toward me, but before I could react it struck Lord Fergun on the temple, rendering him unconscious. I caught him as he fell, lowered him to the ground and made sure his injury was not serious. Then, as others came to assist, I searched for the stone’s thrower.”

Rothen smiled wryly as he remembered. “I saw that, while most of the youths looked confused and surprised, one young woman was staring at her hands with amazement. I lost sight of her as my colleagues arrived, and when they could not locate the stone thrower they called on me to point her out.”

He shook his head. “When I did, they mistakenly believed I was pointing to a youth standing next to her and…and they retaliated.”

Lorlen gestured for Rothen to stop. He looked at the magicians in the row of seats below him, his eyes settling on Lord Balkan, the Head of Warriors.

“Lord Balkan, what have you discovered from questioning those who struck the youth?”

The red-robed magician rose. “All nineteen magicians involved believed that one of the boys in the crowd was the attacker, as they thought it unlikely that a girl would be trained as a rogue magician. Each intended to stun the boy, not harm him. From the description of the strikes from witnesses, I have been convinced that this is, indeed, what happened. I have also concluded from these reports that some of the stunstrikes had combined to form an unfocused firestrike. It was this that killed the boy.”

A memory of a smoldering form flashed into Rothen’s mind. Sickened, he looked down at the floor. Even had the strikes not combined, the battering from nineteen stunstrikes would have shocked the boy’s body excessively. He could not help feeling responsible. If only he had taken action himself, before the others could react…

“This raises difficult questions,” Lorlen said. “It is unlikely that the public will believe us if we tell them we simply made a mistake. An apology is not enough. We must make some attempt at reparation. Shall we compensate the family of the youth?”

Several of the Higher Magicians nodded, and Rothen heard murmurs of approval behind him.

“If they can be found,” one of the Higher Magicians added.

“I fear compensation will not repair the damage we have done to our reputation.” Lorlen frowned. “How can we regain the respect and trust of the people?”

Murmuring followed, then a voice called out: “Compensation is enough.”

“Give it time—people will forget,” said another.

“We’ve done all we can.”

And quieter, to Rothen’s right: “—just a slum boy. Who cares?”

Rothen sighed. Though the words did not surprise him, they roused in him a familiar anger. The Guild existed by law to protect others—and that law made no distinction between rich and poor. He had heard magicians claim that slum dwellers were all thieves and didn’t deserve the Guild’s protection.

“There is little more we can do,” Lord Balkan said. “The higher classes will accept that the boy’s death was an accident. The poor will not, and nothing we do or say will change their minds.”

Administrator Lorlen looked at each of the Higher Magicians in turn. All nodded.

“Very well,” he said. “We will review this matter again during the next Meet, when we have had time to gauge the effects of this tragedy.” He drew in a deep breath, straightened, and swept his eyes around the hall. “Now for the second matter: the rogue magician. Did anyone apart from Lord Rothen see this girl, or witness her throw the stone?”

Silence followed. Lorlen frowned, disappointed. Most discussion in the Guild Meets was dominated by the three Heads of Disciplines: Lady Vinara, Lord Balkan and Lord Sarrin. Lady Vinara, Head of Healers, was a practical and stern woman, but could be surprisingly compassionate. The robust Lord Balkan was observant and careful to explore all sides to an issue, yet was unflinching in the face of difficult or rapid decisions. The oldest of the trio, Lord Sarrin, could be harsh in his judgments but always acknowledged the others’ views as valid.

It was these Higher Magicians that Lorlen considered now. “We must begin by examining those facts that are clear and confirmed by witnesses. There is no doubt that, remarkable as it may sound, a mere stone penetrated a magical shield. Lord Balkan, how is this possible?”

The Warrior shrugged. “The shield used to repel stones in the Purge is a weak one: strong enough to stop missiles, but not magic. It is clear from the blue flash, and the sense of disturbance described by those holding the shield, that magic was used. However, for magic to break through a shield it must be shaped to that purpose. I believe the attacker used a strike—a simple one—sent with the stone.”

“But why use a stone at all?” Lady Vinara asked. “Why not just strike with magic?”

“To conceal the strike?” Lord Sarrin suggested. “If the magicians had seen a strike coming, they may have had time to strengthen the shield.”

“That is possible,” Balkan said, “but the force of the strike was used only to break through the harrier. If the attacker’s intent had been malicious, Lord Fergun would have more than a bruised temple.”

Vinara frowned. “So this attacker did not expect to do much harm? Why do it, then?”

“To demonstrate her power—to defy us, perhaps,” Balkan replied.

Sarrin’s wrinkled face creased into a disapproving frown. Rothen shook his head. Catching the movement, Balkan looked down and smiled. “You do not agree, Lord Rothen?”

“She didn’t expect to do anything at all,” Rothen told him. “By her expression, she was clearly shocked and surprised by what she had done. I believe she is untrained.”

“Impossible.” Sarrin shook his head. “Someone must have released her powers.”

“And trained her to control them, we hope,” Vinara added. “Or we have a serious problem of a different kind.”

At once, the hall began to hum with speculation. Lorlen lifted a hand and the voices fell silent.

“When Lord Rothen told me what he witnessed, I called Lord Solend to my room to ask if he, in the course of studying the Guild’s history, had read of magicians whose powers had developed without assistance.” Lorlen’s expression was grave. “It appears that our assumption that a magician’s power can only be released by another magician is wrong.

“It has been recorded that in the early centuries of the Guild’s existence, some of the individuals who sought training were using magic already. Their powers had developed naturally as they physically matured. Since we accept and initiate novices at a young age, natural development of power no longer occurs.” Lorlen gestured to the seats at one side of the hall. “I have asked Lord Solend to gather what he knows of this phenomenon and now call him before us to relate what he has learned.”

An aged figure rose from the rows of robed men and women and started down the stairs. All waited in silence as the old historian reached the floor and shuffled to Rothen’s side. Solend nodded stiffly to the Higher Magicians.

“Until five hundred years ago,” the old man began in a querulous voice, “a man or woman seeking to learn magic would approach individual magicians for apprenticeship. They were tested and chosen according to their strength, and how much they could pay. Because of this tradition, some apprentices were quite mature by the time they began their training, as it could take many years of work, or a generous inheritance, before they were able to pay for the training.

“Sometimes, however, a young man or woman would appear whose powers were already ‘loosed,’ as they termed it in those times. Those people, known as ‘naturals,’ were never turned away. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, their powers were always very strong. Secondly, they had to be taught Control.” The old man paused, and his voice rose in pitch. “We already know what happens when novices are unable to master Control. If this young woman is a natural, we should expect her to be more powerful than our average novice, possibly even more powerful than the average magician. If she is not found and taught Control, she will be a considerable danger to the city.”

A short silence followed, then a buzz of alarm spread through the hall.

“If her powers have, indeed, surfaced on their own,” Balkan added.

The old man nodded. “There is a possibility, of course, that she has been trained by someone.”

“Then we must find her—and those who have taught her,” a voice declared.

The Hall filled with discussion again, but Lorlen’s voice rose above it. “If she is a rogue, we are bound by law to bring her and her teachers to the King. If she is a natural we must teach her Control. Either way, we must find her.”

“How?” a voice called.

Lorlen looked down. “Lord Balkan?”

“A systematic search of the slums,” the Warrior replied. He turned to look up at the King’s Advisers. “We’ll need help.”

Lorlen’s brows rose and he followed the Warrior’s gaze. “The Guild formally requests the assistance of the City Guard.”

The Advisers exchanged glances and nodded.

“Granted,” one replied.

“We should begin as soon as possible,” Balkan said. “Tonight, preferably.”

“If we want the Guard’s assistance, it will take time to organize. I suggest we start tomorrow morning,” Lorlen replied.

“What of classes?” a voice called.

Lorlen looked at the magician seated beside him. “I think an extra day of private study will not affect the novices’ progress.”

“A day won’t make much difference.” The sour University Director, Jerrik, shrugged. “But will we find her in a day?”

Lorlen pursed his lips. “We will meet here again tomorrow night if we have not found her, to discuss who shall continue the search.”

“If I might make a suggestion, Administrator Lorlen?”

Rothen started in surprise at the voice. He turned to see Dannyl standing amongst the watching magicians.

“Yes, Lord Dannyl?” Lorlen replied.

“The slum dwellers are sure to hamper our search, and the girl will probably hide from us. We may have a better chance of success if we enter the slums in disguise.”

Lorlen frowned. “What disguise would you suggest?”

Dannyl shrugged. “The less conspicuous we are, the better our chances of success. I’d suggest that at least some of us dress as they do. They may be able to tell who we are when we speak, but—”

“Definitely not,” Balkan growled. “How would it be if one of us was discovered dressed as a grovelling beggar? We would be ridiculed throughout the Allied Lands.”

Several voices rose in agreement.

Lorlen nodded slowly. “I agree. We, as magicians, have the authority to enter any house in this city. Our search will be hampered if we do not wear the robes.”

“How will we know what we’re looking for?” Vinara asked.

Lorlen looked at Rothen. “Can you remember what she looked like?”

Rothen nodded. Taking a few steps back, he closed his eyes and called up a memory of a small, skinny girl with a thin, childlike face. Drawing on his power, he opened his eyes and exerted his will. A glow appeared in the air before him, and quickly sharpened to form a slightly transparent face. As his memory filled in the rest, her rough clothing appeared: a colorless scarf around her head, a thick hooded shirt, trousers. The illusion complete, he looked up at the Higher Magicians.

“That’s who attacked us?” Balkan muttered. “She’s barely more than a child.”

“A small package with a big surprise inside,” Sarrin said dryly.

“What if this is not the attacker?” Jerrik asked. “What if Lord Rothen is mistaken?”

Lorlen looked at Rothen and smiled faintly. “For now we can only assume he is correct. We shall know soon enough if the city gossips agree, and witnesses may be found among the public.” He nodded at the illusion. “That will be enough, Lord Rothen.”

Rothen waved a hand and the illusion vanished. When he looked up again he found Lord Sarrin looking at him appraisingly.

“What are we going to do with her once we’ve found her?” Vinara asked.

“If she is a rogue we will apply the law,” Lorlen replied. “If she is not, we will teach her to control her powers.”

“Of course, but afterward? What then?”

“I think the question Lady Vinara is asking is: should we make her one of us?” Balkan said.

At once the hall filled with voices.

“No! She’s probably a thief!”

“She attacked one of us! She should be punished, not rewarded!”

Rothen shook his head and sighed as the protests continued. While there was no law forbidding the testing of children from the lower classes, the Guild sought magic in the children of the Houses only.

“The Guild hasn’t taken a novice from outside the Houses for centuries,” Balkan said quietly.

“But if Solend is correct, she may be a powerful magician,” Vinara reminded him.

Rothen suppressed a smile. Most women magicians became Healers, and he knew Lady Vinara would happily overlook the girl’s origins if it gained her another powerful helper.

“‘Strength is no blessing if a magician proves corrupt,’” Sarrin quoted. “She could be a thief, or even a whore. What influence would someone with that background have on the other novices? How can we know if she would value our pledge?”

Vinara’s brows rose. “So you would show her what she is capable of, then bind her powers and send her back into poverty?”

Sarrin nodded. Vinara looked at Balkan, who shrugged. Biting back a protest, Rothen forced himself to remain silent. From the row above, Lorlen regarded the three magicians silently, his expression betraying no opinion.

“We should give her a chance at the very least,” Vinara said. “If there is any possibility that she will conform to our rules and become a responsible young woman, then we should offer her the opportunity.”

“The further her powers develop, the harder it will be to bind them,” Sarrin reminded her.

“I know,” Vinara leaned forward, “but it is not impossible. Consider how we will be regarded if we take her in. A little generosity and kindness will go a lot further toward redressing the damage we did to our reputation this morning than blocking her powers and returning her to the slums.”

Balkan’s brows rose. “True, and it may save us the trouble of a search if we make it known that she will be welcomed among us. Once she learns that she could become a magician, with all the position and wealth that entails, she will come to us.”

“And the loss of that wealth may be all the deterrent she will need should she consider returning to any distasteful ways she once had,” Sarrin added.

Lady Vinara nodded. She looked around the hall, then her gaze slid to Rothen and her eyes narrowed. “What do you think, Lord Rothen?”

Rothen grimaced. “I’m wondering if she would believe anything we told her after this morning.”

Balkan’s expression darkened. “Hmm, I doubt it. We will probably need to capture her first and explain our good intentions afterward.”

“Then there is little point in waiting to see if she will come to us,” Lorlen concluded. “We will begin our search tomorrow as planned.” He pursed his lips, then turned to face the seat above him.

Rothen looked up. Between the Administrator’s and King’s seats was a single chair reserved for the Guild’s leader: the High Lord Akkarin. The black-robed magician had not spoken throughout the Meet, but that was not unusual. Though Akkarin had been known to alter the course of a debate with a few mild words, he generally remained silent.

“High Lord, have you any reason to suspect there are rogue magicians in the slums?” Lorlen asked.

“No. There are no rogues in the slums,” Akkarin replied.

Rothen was close enough to see the quick glance that passed between Balkan and Vinara. He smothered a smile. The High Lord was rumored to have particularly fine senses, and nearly all the magicians were at least a little in awe of him. Nodding, Lorlen turned back to face the hall. He struck the gong, and as its peal echoed through the hall, the buzz of voices dropped to a faint murmur.

“The decision whether to teach the girl or not shall be deferred until she is found and her temperament assessed. For now, we will focus on the task of finding her. The search will begin here at the fourth hour tomorrow. Those of you who feel you have valid reason to remain in the Guild, please prepare a request and present it to my assistant tonight. I now declare this Meet ended.”

The Hall filled with the rustling of robes and the clatter of booted feet. Rothen stepped back as the first of the Higher Magicians stepped down from his seat and strode toward the side doors of the hall. Turning, he waited as Dannyl wove through the rest of the magicians and hurried to meet him.

“Did you hear Lord Kerrin?” Dannyl asked. “He wants the girl punished for attacking his dear friend, Fergun. Personally, I don’t think the girl could have found a nicer magician to knock out.”

“Now Dannyl—” Rothen began.

“—and now they’ve got us sorting through rubbish down in the slums,” a voice said behind him.

“I don’t know what’s the greater tragedy: that they killed the boy or that they missed the girl,” another replied.

Appalled, Rothen turned to stare at the speaker, an old Alchemist who was too busy looking glumly at the floor to notice. As the magician shuffled away, Rothen shook his head.

“I was about to lecture you about being uncharitable, Dannyl, but there’s little point, is there?”

“No,” Dannyl agreed, stepping aside as Administrator Lorlen and the High Lord passed.

“What if we don’t find her?” the Administrator asked his companion.

The High Lord gave a low laugh. “Oh, you’ll find her, one way or the other—though I’d say by tomorrow most will be in favor of the more spectacular, less fragrant alternative.”

Rothen shook his head again as the two Higher Magicians moved away.

“Am I the only one who cares what happens to this poor girl?”

He felt Dannyl’s hand pat his shoulder.

“Of course not, but I hope you’re not thinking of lecturing him, old friend.”





3


Old Friends




“She’s a tag.”

The voice was male, young and unfamiliar. Where am I? Sonea thought. Lying on something soft, for a start. A bed? I don’t remember getting into a bed—

“Not a chance.”

This voice was Harrin’s. She realized he was defending her, and then the significance of what the stranger had said sank in and she felt a belated relief. A tag was a spy in the slang of the slums. If Harrin had agreed, she would be in trouble…But a spy for whom?

“What else could she be?” the first voice retorted. “She’s got magic. Magicians have to be trained for years and years. Who does that stuff ’round here?”

Magic? Memories came back in a rush: the square, the magicians…

“Magic or no magic, I’ve known her as long as I’ve known Cery,” Harrin told the boy. “She’s always been right-sided.”

Sonea barely heard him. In her mind she saw herself throwing the stone, saw it flash though the barrier and strike the magician. I did that, she thought. But that’s not possible…

“But you said yourself, she’s been gone for a few years. Who knows who she’s been hanging about with.”

Then she remembered how she had drawn upon something inside her—something that she should not possess…

“She’s been with her family, Burril,” Harrin replied. “I believe her, Cery believes her, and that’s enough.”

…and the Guild knows I did it! The old magician had seen her, had pointed her out to the others. She shuddered as the memory of a smoking corpse flashed through her mind.

“I warned you.” Burril was unconvinced, but sounded defeated. “If she squimps on you, don’t forget who warn—”

“I think she’s waking up,” murmured another familiar voice. Cery. He was somewhere close.

Harrin sighed. “Out, Burril.”

Sonea heard footsteps moving away, then a door closing.

“You can stop pretending to be asleep now, Sonea,” Cery murmured.

A hand touched her face and she blinked her eyes open. Cery was leaning over her, grinning.

Sonea pushed herself up onto her elbows. She was lying on an old bed in an unfamiliar room. As she slid her legs down to the floor, Cery gave her an assessing look.

“You look better,” he said.

“I feel fine,” she agreed. “What happened?” She looked up as Harrin moved to stand before her. “Where am I? What time is it?”

Cery laughed. “She’s fine.”

“You don’t remember?” Harrin crouched so that he could stare into her eyes.

Sonea shook her head. “I remember walking through the slums but…” She spread her hands. “Not how I got here.”

“Harrin carried you here,” said a female voice. “He said you just fell asleep while you were walking.”

Sonea turned to see a young woman sitting in a chair behind her. The girl’s face was familiar.

“Donia?”

The girl smiled. “That’s right.” She tapped a foot on the floor. “You’re in my father’s bolhouse. He let us put you here. You slept right through the night.”

Sonea looked around the room again, then smiled as she remembered how Harrin and his friends used to bribe Donia into stealing mugs of bol for them. The brew was strong and had made them giddy.

Gellin’s bolhouse was close to the Outer Wall, among the better built houses in the part of the slums called Northside. The inhabitants of this area called the slums the Outer Circle in defiance of the inner-district attitude that the slums were not part of the city.

Sonea guessed she was in one of the rooms Gellin let out to guests. It was small, the space taken up by the bed, the tattered chair Donia sat in and a small table. Old, discolored paper screens covered the windows. From the faint light shining through them, Sonea guessed it was early morning.

Harrin turned to Donia and beckoned. As the girl pushed herself out of the chair, Harrin hooked a hand around her waist and pulled her close. She smiled at him affectionately.

“Think you could fish us up something to eat?” he asked.

“I’ll see what I can do.” She sauntered over to the door and slipped out of the room.

Sonea sent Cery a questioning look and received a smug grin in reply. Dropping into the chair, Harrin looked up at Sonea and frowned. “Are you sure you’re better? You were out of it last night.”

She shrugged. “I feel good, actually. Like I’ve slept really well.”

“You have. Almost a whole day.” He shrugged, then gave her another appraising look. “What happened, Sonea? It was you who threw that stone, wasn’t it?”

Sonea swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. She wondered for a moment if he would believe her if she denied it.

Cery put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Don’t worry, Sonea. We won’t tell anybody anything if you don’t want us to.”

She nodded. “It was me but…I don’t know what happened.”

“Did you use magic?” Cery asked eagerly.

Sonea looked away. “I don’t know. I just wanted the stone to go through…and it did.”

“You broke through the magicians’ wall,” Harrin said. “That would have to take magic, wouldn’t it? Stones don’t usually go through it.”

“And there was that flash of light,” Cery added.

Harrin nodded. “And the magicians’ sure got fired.”

Cery leaned forward. “Do you think you could do it again?”

Sonea stared at him. “Again?”

“Not the same thing, of course. We couldn’t have you throwing stones at magicians—they don’t seem to like it much. Something else. If it works, you’ll know you can use magic.”

She shuddered. “I don’t think I want to know.”

Cery laughed. “Why wouldn’t you? Think of what you could do! It’d be fantastic!”

“No one would ever give you any rub, for a start,” Harrin told her.

She shook her head. “You’re wrong. They’d have more reason to.” She scowled. “Everyone hates the magicians. They’d hate me, too.”

“Everyone hates Guild magicians,” Cery told her. “They’re all from the Houses. They only care about themselves. Everyone knows you’re a dwell, just like us.”

A dwell. After two years in the city, her aunt and uncle had stopped referring to themselves by the term the slums dwellers gave themselves. They had made it out of the slums. They had called themselves crafters instead.

“The dwells would love having their own magician,” Cery persisted, “especially when you start doing good things for them.”

Sonea shook her head. “Good things? Magicians never do anything good. Why would the dwells think I’d be any different?”

“What about healing,” he said. “Doesn’t Ranel have a bad leg? You could fix it!”

She caught her breath. Thinking of the pain her uncle suffered, she suddenly understood Cery’s enthusiasm. It would be wonderful if she could fix her uncle’s leg. And if she helped him, why not others?

Then she remembered how Ranel regarded the “curies” who had treated his leg. She shook her head again. “People don’t trust curies, why would they trust me?”

“That’s ’cause people think the curies make them sick as much as they make them well,” Cery told her. “They’re scared they’ll get sicker.”

“They’re scared of magic even more. They’d think I might have been sent by the magicians to get rid of them.”

Cery laughed. “Now that’s silly. Nobody’ll think that.”

“What about Burril?”

He made a face. “Burril’s a dunghead. Not everyone thinks like him.”

Sonea snorted, unconvinced. “Even so, I don’t know anything about magic. If everyone thinks I can heal them, I’ll have people chasing me around but I won’t be able to do anything to help them.”

Cery frowned. “That’s true.” He looked up at Harrin. “She’s right. It could get really bad. Even if Sonea wanted to try magic again, we’d still have to keep it a secret for a while.”

Harrin pursed his lips, then nodded. “If anyone asks if you can do magic, Sonea, we’ll tell them you didn’t do anything—that the magicians must’ve lost their concentration or something, and the stone got through that way.”

Sonea stared at him, the possibility filling her with hope. “Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe I didn’t do anything.”

“If you can’t use magic again, you’ll know for sure.” Cery patted her on the shoulder. “If you can, we’ll make sure that no one finds out. In a few weeks, everyone will think the magicians just made a mistake. Give it a month or two and they’ll forget all about you.”

A rapping on the door made Sonea jump. Rising, Harrin opened the door and let Donia in. The girl carried in a tray laden with mugs and a large plate of bread.

“Here,” she said, placing the tray on a table. “A mug of bol each to celebrate the return of an old friend. Harrin, Father wants you to go out for him.”

“Better see what he wants.” Harrin picked up a mug and drained it. “I’ll see you around, Sonea,” he said. He caught Donia about the waist and pulled her, giggling, out of the room. Sonea shook her head as the door closed.

“How long has that been going on?”

“Those two?” Cery asked, his mouth full of bread. “Almost a year, I think. Harrin says he’s going to marry her and inherit the inn.”

Sonea laughed. “Does Gellin know?”

Cery smiled. “Hasn’t chased Harrin off yet.”

She picked up a piece of the dark bread. Made from curren grains, it was dusted with spices. As she bit into it, her stomach made it known that she had been neglecting it for over a day, and she found herself eating ravenously. The bol was sour, but welcome after the salty bread. When they had finished, Sonea dropped into the chair and sighed.

“With Harrin busy keeping an inn, what will you do, Cery?”

He shrugged. “This and that. Steal bol from Harrin. Teach his children to pick locks. At least we’ll be warm this winter. What’ve you got planned?”

“I don’t know. Jonna and Ranel said—Oh!” She leapt to her feet. “I didn’t meet them. They don’t know where I am!”

Cery waved a hand dismissively. “They’ll be around.”

She groped for her money pouch, and found it hanging full and heavy at her waist.

“Nice bit of savings you’ve got there,” Cery noted.

“Ranel said we should each carry a bit and head for the slums on our own. We’d be so unlucky to all be searched by the guards.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “I know how much went in there.”

He laughed. “So do I, and it’s all there. Come on, I’ll help you find them.”

Rising, he ushered her through the door and out into a short corridor. Sonea followed him down a narrow flight of stairs into a familiar drinking room. As always, the air was thick with bol fumes, laughter and a constant flow of chatter and amiable swearing. A large man slouched over the bench where the thick liquor was served.

“Morning Gellin,” Cery called.

He narrowed his eyes at Sonea short-sightedly, then grinned.

“Hai! This is little Sonea, eh?” Gellin strolled over and clapped her on the shoulders. “All grown up, too. I remember when you used to swipe bol from me, girl. A dainty little thief, you were.”

Sonea grinned and cast a glance at Cery. “And it was all my idea, too, wasn’t it, Cery?”

Cery spread his hands and blinked innocently. “What do you mean, Sonea?”

Gellin chuckled. “That’s what comes of hanging about with Thieves. How are your parents, then?”

“You mean Aunt Jonna and Uncle Ranel?”

He waved a hand. “That’s them.”

Sonea shrugged and quickly described her family’s eviction from the stayhouse. Gellin nodded sympathetically at their misfortune.

“They’re probably wondering where I got to,” she told him. “I—”

Sonea jumped as the door of the inn slammed. The room quietened and all looked toward the entrance. Harrin stood leaning against the frame, his chest heaving and his brow slick with sweat.

“Take care of my door,” Gellin yelled.

Harrin looked up. As he saw Sonea and Cery he paled and started forward. Hurrying across the room, he caught Sonea’s arm and pulled her through a door into the inn’s kitchen, with Cery following closely.

“What is it?” Cery whispered.

“The magicians are searching the slums,” Harrin panted.

Sonea stared at him with horror.

“They’re here?” Cery exclaimed. “Why?”

Harrin gave Sonea a meaningful glance.

“They’re looking for me,” she breathed.

Harrin nodded grimly, then turned to Cery. “Where should we go?”

“How close are they?”

“Close. They started from the Outer Wall, working outward.”

Cery whistled. “That close.”

Sonea pressed a hand to her chest. Her heart was beating too fast. She felt sick.

“We’ve only got a few minutes,” Harrin told them. “We have to get out of here. They’re searching every building.”

“Then we’ll have to put her somewhere they’ve already been.”

Sonea leaned against the wall, her knees losing all strength as a memory of a blackened corpse rose before her eyes.

“They’re going to kill me!” she gasped.

Cery looked at her. “No, Sonea,” he told her firmly.

“They killed that boy…” she shuddered.

He gripped her shoulders. “We’re not going to let that happen, Sonea.”

His gaze was direct, and his expression uncharacteristically stern. She stared back, looking for doubt and not finding it.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

She nodded. He gave her a quick smile.

“Come on, then.”

He pulled her away from the wall and propelled her through the kitchen, Harrin following close behind. Passing through another door, they stepped out into a muddy alley. Sonea shivered as the chill winter air quickly seeped into her clothes.

Stopping near the end of the alley, Cery told them to stay back while he checked so see if the way was clear. He paused only a moment at the entrance, then hurried back, shaking his head. With a wave, he sent them hurrying back down the alley again.

Midway, he stopped and lifted a small grille set into a wall. Harrin gave his friend a doubtful look, then flattened himself to the ground and slithered through. Sonea followed and found herself in a dark passageway. As Harrin helped her to her feet and pulled her to one side, Cery slid through the opening. The grille closed silently, suggesting a regular oiling of the hinges.

“Are you sure about this?” Harrin whispered.

“The Thieves will be too busy trying to stop the magicians from finding their stuff to worry about us,” Cery told him. “Besides, we won’t be down here long. Keep your hand on my shoulder, Sonea.”

She obeyed, taking hold of his coat. Harrin’s hand rested firmly on her shoulder. As they started down the passage she stared into the darkness ahead, heart racing.

From Harrin’s question, she knew they had entered the Thieves’ Road.

Using the underground network of tunnels without prior approval was forbidden, and she had heard frightening stories of the punishment the Thieves dealt out to those who trespassed.

For as long as she could remember, people had jokingly called Cery a friend of the Thieves. There had always been a hint of both fear and respect in their teasing. His father had been a smuggler, she knew, so it was possible that Cery had inherited privileges and contacts. She had seen no proof, however, and had always suspected he had encouraged speculation to keep his place of importance as Harrin’s second in the gang. For all she knew, he had no connection to the Thieves at all and she was hurrying to her death.

Better to chance a meeting with the Thieves than face certain death above ground. At least the Thieves weren’t searching for her.

The way darkened even further until Sonea could see nothing but varying shades of blackness, then it gradually lightened again as they approached another grille. Cery turned into another passage, then changed direction into the total darkness of a side passage. They continued on for several turns before Cery stopped.

“They should have been here already,” Cery murmured to Harrin. “We’ll stay long enough to buy something, then move on. You should get the others and make sure they haven’t told anyone about Sonea. People might think they can get something out of us by threatening to tell the magicians where we are.”

“I’ll round ’em up,” Harrin assured him. “Find out if they talked and tell them to keep their mugs shut.”

“Good,” Cery replied. “Now we’re here to buy some iker powder, that’s all.”

Faint sounds echoed in the dark, then a door opened, and they stepped out into bright daylight—and a pen filled with rassook.

At the sight of invaders, the birds lifted their tiny, useless wings and screeched loudly. The sound bounced off the four walls of a small courtyard. A woman appeared in a nearby doorway. Seeing Sonea and Harrin in her pen, her face creased into a scowl.

“Hai! Who’re you?”

Sonea turned to Cery, and found him squatting behind her, running his hand over the dusty ground. He rose and grinned at the woman.

“Come to pay you a visit, Laria,” he said.

The woman peered down at him. Her scowl vanished and was replaced by a wrinkly smile. “Ceryni! Always good to see you. These your friends? Welcome! Welcome! Come in my house and have some raka.”

“How’s trade?” Cery asked as they stepped out of the pen and followed Laria through the door into a tiny room. A narrow bed filled one half of the room, and a stove and table took up most of the rest.

Her brow creased. “Busy day. Had some visitors less than an hour ago. Very nosy they were.”

“Robed visitors?” Cery asked.

She nodded. “Scared me witless, they did. Looked everywhere, but didn’t see anything, if you know what I mean. The guards did, though. I’m sure they’ll be back, but when they do there’ll be nothing to find.” She chuckled. “Too late then.” She paused as she set water boiling on the stove. “What you here for, then?”

“The usual.”

A wicked gleam entered Laria’s eyes. “Planning a few late nights, then? How much you offering?”

He smiled. “You owe me a favor, if I remember.”

The woman pursed her lips, her sharp eyes narrowing. “Stay there.”

She disappeared out the door. With a sigh, Cery dropped down onto the bed, which creaked loudly. “Relax, Sonea,” he told her. “They’ve been here. They won’t look again.”

She nodded. Her heart was still racing and her stomach was uneasy. Taking a deep breath, she let herself lean back against the wall. As the water boiled Cery helped himself to a jar of dark powder and heaped spoonfuls into the cups Laria had set out. A reassuringly familiar pungent aroma filled the room.

“Guess we know for sure, Sonea,” Harrin said as Cery handed him a cup.

She frowned. “Know what?

“What you did must’ve been magic.” He grinned. “They wouldn’t be searching if they didn’t think it was, would they?”




With an impatient gesture, Dannyl banished the moisture from his robes. Puffs of steam billowed from the cloth. The guards shied away, then, as an icy gust of wind swept away the mist, the four men returned to their places.

They walked in formation—two beside him, two behind. A ridiculous precaution. The dwells weren’t stupid enough to attack them. Besides, if they did, Dannyl knew it would be the guards who would look to him for protection.

Catching a pensive glance from one of the men, Dannyl felt a twinge of guilt. At the beginning of the day, they had been nervous and deferential. Knowing he would have to put up with this for the rest of the day, Dannyl had made an effort to be approachable and friendly.

To them this was like a holiday—infinitely more entertaining than standing at one of the gates for hours on end or patrolling the city streets. Despite their eagerness to break into smuggler’s stores and whorehouses, they hadn’t been much help in the search. He didn’t need anybody to force locked doors or open shipping boxes, and the slum dwellers had been cooperative, even if reluctantly.

Dannyl sighed. He’d seen enough to know that many of these people were well accustomed to hiding what they didn’t want found. He had also seen many smothered smiles on the faces that watched him. What chance did a mere hundred magicians have of finding one ordinary-looking girl amongst thousands of slum dwellers?

None at all. Dannyl clenched his jaw as he remembered Lord Balkan’s words from the previous evening.

How would it be if one of us was discovered dressed as a grovelling beggar? We would be ridiculed throughout the Allied Lands.

He snorted. And we’re not making fools of ourselves now?

A pungent stench filled Dannyl’s nostrils. He glared at the sewage-choked gutter. The people standing beside it shrank away hastily. With an effort, he made himself take a deep breath and school his expression.

He did not like to frighten people. Impress them? Yes. Inspire awe? Even better. But not terrify. It disturbed him how these people always shied off the road when he approached, then stared at him as he passed. The children were bolder, following him around, but quick to run away if he looked at them. Men and women, old and young, regarded him warily. All looked hard and cunning. He wondered how many worked for the Thieves…

Dannyl stopped.

The Thieves…

The guards skidded to a halt and looked at him questioningly. He ignored them.

If the stories were true, the Thieves knew more about the slums than anyone else. Did they know the location of this girl? If they didn’t could they find her? Would they be willing to help the Guild? Perhaps, if the rewards were attractive…

How would the other magicians react if he suggested bargaining with the Thieves?

They’d be horrified. Outraged.

He looked at the shallow, stinking trench that served as a gutter. The magicians might look more favorably on the idea after a few days of roaming through the slums. Which meant that the longer he waited before proposing it, the better his chances of gaining their approval.

Yet, every hour that passed gave the girl more time to hide herself. Dannyl pursed his lips. It wouldn’t hurt to see if the Thieves were willing to bargain before he presented the idea to the Guild. If he waited for the Guild’s approval first, and the Thieves then proved uncooperative, he’d have wasted a lot of time and effort.

He turned to face the eldest of the guards.

“Captain Garrin. Do you know how the Thieves may be contacted?”

The captain’s brows rose so high they disappeared under his helmet. He shook his head. “No, my lord.”

“I do, my lord.”

Dannyl turned to regard the youngest of the four guards, a lanky young man named Ollin.

“I used to live here, my lord,” Ollin admitted, “before I joined the Guard. There’s always people about who can get messages to the Thieves, if you know where to look.”

“I see.” Dannyl chewed the inside of his cheek while he considered. “Find one of these people for me. Ask if the Thieves would be willing to work with us. Report directly back to me—and no other.”

Ollin nodded, then looked at the captain. The older man’s mouth tightened with disapproval, but he nodded, then jerked his head to one of the other guards. “Take Keran.”

Dannyl watched the pair stride back down the street, then turned away and continued walking, his mind absorbed with possibilities. A familiar figure stepped out of a house a little farther down the street. Dannyl smiled and lengthened his stride.

—Rothen!

The man stopped, the wind catching his robe so it swirled out around him.

—Dannyl? Rothen’s sending was faint and uncertain.

—I’m here. Dannyl sent a quick image of the street to the other magician, and a sense of nearness. Rothen turned toward him, then straightened as he saw Dannyl. Drawing closer, Dannyl saw that Rothen’s blue eyes were wide and haunted.

“Any luck?”

“No.” Rothen shook his head. He looked at the makeshift houses to one side. “I had no idea what it was like out here.”

“It’s like a harrel warren, isn’t it?” Dannyl chuckled. “A real mess.”

“Oh, yes, but I meant the people.” Rothen gestured at the crowds around them. “Conditions are so bad…I couldn’t have imagined…”

Dannyl shrugged. “We haven’t got a hope of finding her, Rothen. There just aren’t enough of us.”

Rothen nodded. “Do you think the others have fared better?”

“If they had, we would have been contacted.”

“You’re right.” Rothen frowned. “It occurred to me today: how do we know she’s still in the city? She could have fled into the country.” He shook his head. “I fear you are right. I’ve finished here. Let’s go back to the Guild.”





4


The Search Continues




Early morning sunlight bathed the frost-coated windows with gold. The air inside the room was deliciously warm, heated by a glowing sphere hovering behind a clouded glass panel set into the wall. Tying the sash of his robe, Rothen stepped out into the guest room to greet his friends.

A second panel allowed the heat globe to warm the bedroom and guest room simultaneously. An elderly magician stood in front of this, holding his hands to the glass. Though well into his eighties, Yaldin was still robust and sharp witted, enjoying the longevity and good health that came with magical ability.

A taller and younger magician stood beside Yaldin. Dannyl’s eyes were half closed, and he looked as if he was ready to fall asleep.

“Good morning,” Rothen said. “Looks like the weather is going to clear today.”

Yaldin smiled crookedly. “Lord Davin thinks we’ll have a few warm days before winter sets in.”

Dannyl scowled. “Davin has been saying that for weeks.”

“He didn’t say when it would happen.” Yaldin chuckled. “Just that it would happen.”

Rothen smiled. There was an old saying in Kyralia: “The sun seeks not to please Kings, nor even magicians.” Lord Davin, an eccentric Alchemist, had begun a study of the weather three years ago, determined to prove otherwise. He had been supplying the Guild with ‘predictions’ recently, though Rothen suspected his rate of success had more to do with chance than genius.

The main door to the room opened and Rothen’s servant, Tania, entered. She carried a tray to the table and set it down. On it was a set of small cups decorated with gold and a plate piled high with sweet, elaborately decorated cakes.

“Sumi, my lords?” she asked.

Dannyl and Yaldin nodded eagerly. As Rothen ushered them to seats, Tania measured spoonfuls of dried leaves into a gold pot and added hot water.

Yaldin sighed and shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t know why I volunteered to go today. I wouldn’t have if Ezrille hadn’t insisted. I said to her ‘With only half of us out there, what chance do we have?’ She replied, ‘Better than if none of you went.’”

Rothen smiled. “Your wife is a sensible lady.”

“I’d have thought more of us would be interested in helping after the King’s Advisers announced that, if she isn’t a rogue, he wants her trained,” Dannyl said.

Yaldin grimaced. “I suspect some withdrew their support in protest. They don’t want a slum girl in the Guild.”

“Well, they have no choice now. And we’ve gained one new helper,” Rothen reminded them as he accepted a cup from Tania.

“Fergun.” Dannyl made a rude noise. “The girl should have thrown harder.”

“Dannyl!” Rothen shook a finger at the younger magician. “Fergun is the only reason we still have half the Guild looking for her. He was very persuasive at last night’s Meet.”

Yaldin smiled grimly. “I doubt he’ll stay that way for long. I went straight to the baths when we finally came in yesterday, but Ezrille said she could still smell the slums on me afterward.”

“I hope our little runaway magician doesn’t smell that bad,” Dannyl sent Rothen a crooked grin, “or I think the first lesson we’ll have to teach her is how to wash.”

Remembering the girl’s starved, dirty face, eyes wide with realization, Rothen shivered. All night he had dreamed of the slums. He had roamed through thin-walled hovels, watched by sick-looking people, or old men shivering in their rags, or skinny children eating half-rotten food, twisted cripples…

A polite knock interrupted his thoughts. He turned toward the door and gave a mental command. It swung inward and a young man in the garb of a messenger stepped into the room.

“Lord Dannyl.” The messenger bowed low to the younger magician.

“Speak,” Dannyl ordered.

“Captain Garrin sent a message for you, my lord. He said to tell you that the guards Ollin and Keran were found robbed and beaten. The man you were seeking does not wish to speak to magicians.”

Dannyl stared at the servant, then frowned as he considered the news. As the silence lengthened the young man shuffled his feet uneasily.

“Are they badly injured?” Rothen asked.

The messenger shook his head. “Bruised, my lord. Nothing broken.”

Dannyl waved a hand dismissively. “Thank the captain for his message. You may go.”

The messenger bowed again and left.

“What was that all about?” asked Yaldin when the door had closed.

Dannyl pursed his lips. “It seems the Thieves are not well disposed toward us.”

Yaldin snorted softly, and reached for a cake. “I should think not! Why would they—?” The old magician stopped and narrowed his eyes at the younger magician. “You didn’t…”

Dannyl shrugged. “It was worth trying. After all, they’re supposed to know everything that goes on in the slums.”

“You tried to contact the Thieves!”

“I didn’t break any laws that I know of.”

Yaldin groaned and shook his head.

“No, Dannyl,” Rothen said, “but the King and the Houses will hardly look kindly on the Guild conducting business with the Thieves.”

“Who said we were conducting business?” Dannyl smiled and took a sip from his cup. “Think about it. The Thieves know the slums far better than we could ever hope to. They’re in a better position to find the girl than we—and I’m sure they’d prefer to look for her themselves than have us snooping around in their domain. We have only to make it appear to the King that we have persuaded or intimidated the Thieves into turning the girl over and we’ll have all the approval we need.”

Rothen frowned. “You’ll have a long and difficult time convincing the Higher Magicians to agree.”

“They don’t have to know for now.”

Rothen crossed his arms. “Yes they do,” he said firmly.

Dannyl winced. “I suppose they do, but I’m sure they would forgive me if it worked, and I gave them a way to justify it to the King.”

Yaldin snorted. “Perhaps it’s just as well it didn’t work.”

Rising, Rothen walked to a window. He wiped a little frost away and peered through at the neatly laid out, carefully maintained gardens. He thought of the shivering, hungry people he had seen. Was that how she lived? Had their search driven her out of the dubious shelter of some hovel and into the streets? Winter was coming, and she could easily die from cold or starvation long before her powers grew unstable and dangerous. He drummed his fingers on the window sill.

“There are several groups of Thieves, aren’t there?”

“Yes,” Dannyl replied.

“Does this man you tried to contact speak for all of them?”

“I don’t know,” Dannyl admitted. “Perhaps not.”

Rothen turned to regard his friend.

“It wouldn’t hurt to find out, would it?”

Yaldin stared at Rothen, then slapped a hand to his forehead. “You two are going to get us all in trouble,” he groaned.

Dannyl patted the old man’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Yaldin. Only one of us need go.” He grinned at Rothen. “Leave it to me. In the meantime, let’s give the Thieves a reason to help us. I’d like to have a closer look at those underground passages we found yesterday. I’d wager that they’d prefer we had no reason to be snooping around down there.”




“I don’t like these underground rooms,” Donia said. “They got no windows. Makes me feel all creepy.”

Sonea frowned and scratched at the tiny bites that she had gained during the night. Her aunt regularly washed their beds and blankets with an infusion of herbs to rid them of bugs, and for once Sonea missed her aunt’s fastidious ways. She sighed and looked around the dusty room.

“I hope Cery won’t get in any rub for hiding me here.”

Donia shrugged. “He’s been doing stuff for Opia and the girls at the Dancing Slippers for years. They don’t mind you staying in their storeroom for a few days. His ma worked here, y’know.” Donia placed a large wooden bowl on the table in front of Sonea. “Put your head down.”

Sonea obeyed, and winced as icy cold water rushed over her head. After several rinses, Donia took the bowl away, now full of cloudy green water. She rubbed at Sonea’s hair with a threadbare towel before standing back and examining her work critically.

“Hasn’t done a thing,” Donia said, shaking her head.

Sonea lifted a hand to touch her hair. It was still sticky from the paste Donia had applied. “Nothing?”

Donia leaned closer and plucked at Sonea’s hair. “Well, it’s a bit lighter, but not that you’d see straight away.” She sighed. “It’s not like we can cut it much shorter. But…” she stepped back and shrugged. “If the magicians are out for a girl, like people are saying, they might not pick you, anyhow. You look like a boy with your hair like that, at least at the first look.” She put her hands on her hips and stepped back. “Why’d you cut it so short, then?”

Sonea smiled. “So I look like a boy. I don’t get hassled so much.”

“In the stayhouse?”

“No. I did most of the picking up and delivering for Jonna and Ranel. Ranel’s leg made him slow, and Jonna was better at the work. I hated being stuck in the stayhouse all the time, so I went instead.” Sonea grimaced. “The first time I had to deliver stuff to a merchant, I saw a couple of crafters and stablemen hassling a baker girl. I didn’t want to put up with that, so I started dressing and acting like a boy.”

Donia’s brows rose. “And it worked?”

“Most of the time.” Sonea smiled wryly. “Sometimes it doesn’t pay to look like a boy, either. I had a maid in love with me once! Another time I was cornered by a gardener and I was sure he’d worked out I was a girl, until he grabbed me. He nearly fainted, then he got all red-faced and made me promise not to tell. There’s all kinds out there.”

Donia chuckled. “The girls here call those men gold mines. Opia charges more for boys, because if the guard found out they’d hang her. No law against girls, though. Remember Kalia?”

Sonea nodded as she recalled the thin girl who had served in a bolhouse near the market.

“Turned out her father’s been selling her to customers for years,” Donia said, shaking her head. “His own daughter! Last year she ran away and started up with Opia. Says at least she sees some of the money this way. Makes you realize how lucky you are, doesn’t it? Father makes sure nobody hassles me more than what’s polite. The worst I’ve—”

She stopped and looked at the door, then hurried to the keyhole and peered through. A smile of relief lit her face and she opened the door.

Cery slipped into the room and handed Donia a bundle. He eyed Sonea critically.

“You don’t look any different.”

Donia sighed. “The dye didn’t work. Kyralian hair don’t change easy.”

He shrugged, then nodded at the bundle. “Brought you some clothes, Sonea.” He moved back to the door. “Knock when you’re done.”

As the door closed behind him, Donia picked up the bundle and unwrapped it.

“More boy’s clothes,” she sniffed, tossing a pair of trousers and a high-collared shirt to Sonea. She unfurled a long swathe of heavy black cloth and nodded. “Good cloak, though.”

Sonea changed into the clothes. As she swung the cloak about her shoulders, there was a rap on the door.

“We’re leaving,” Cery told them as he strode into the room. Harrin followed carrying a small lamp. Seeing their grim expressions, Sonea felt her heart skip a beat.

“They’re searching already?”

Cery nodded, then moved to an old wooden cupboard at the back of the room. Opening it, he pulled at the shelves inside. They swung forward smoothly, their contents shaking slightly. The back of the cupboard hinged inward to reveal a rectangle of darkness.

“They’ve been searching for a few hours,” Harrin told Sonea as she stepped through the hidden doorway into the passage.

“Already?”

“It’s easy to lose track of time down here,” he explained. “It’s mid-morning outside.”

Cery shooed Harrin and Donia through the doorway. Sonea heard the faintest squeak and a sliver of light escaped Harrin’s lamp to reveal the damp walls of the passage. Cery pulled the cupboard together, closed the secret door, and turned to Harrin.

“No light. I know my way better in the dark.”

The passage vanished as Harrin closed the shutter.

“No talking, either,” Cery told them. “Sonea, grab hold of my coat and put your other hand on the wall.”

She reached out and grasped the rough material of his longcoat. A hand touched her shoulder lightly. Their footsteps echoed in the passage as they started forward.

Not a ray of light illuminated their way as they groped through several turns. The faint echo of dripping water came and went, and returned again. Opia’s brothel was near the river, Sonea remembered, so the passages were probably below the level of the water. It was not a comforting thought.

Cery stopped and his longcoat slipped out of Sonea’s grip as he suddenly moved upward. She reached out and touched a rough, wooden board, then another. Anxious that she would lose Cery if she hesitated too long, she scurried up the ladder only to be rewarded by a kick from his boot. She bit back a curse and continued with more care. Behind her, she could hear Harrin and Donia’s shoes scuffing the wood faintly as they followed.

A paler square of black appeared above. She followed Cery through a trapdoor into a long, straight passage. Faint light filtered in through the occasional crack in the wall on one side. They walked along this for over a hundred paces when, just as they had almost reached the turn in the passage, Cery came to an abrupt halt.

The passage ahead had begun to glow, lit by a source of light somewhere beyond the turn. She could see Cery silhouetted against the wall. A distant voice, male and cultured, drifted to their ears.

“Ah! Another hidden passage. Come, we shall see how far it extends.”

“They’re in the passages!” Donia breathed.

Cery span around and waved frantically at Sonea. Not needing any urging, she turned to see Harrin and Donia tiptoeing back down the passage.

Though they walked as silently and quickly as they could, their footsteps sounded loud in the narrow space. Sonea strained her ears, expecting to hear a shout behind them any moment. Looking down, she saw her own shadow growing more distinct as the light behind them approached the turn.

The passage ahead extended into an infinite darkness. She glanced back. The light behind them was now so bright, she was sure the magician must be about to reach the turn. In a moment he would see them…

She gasped as hands grabbed her shoulders and jerked her to a halt. Cery pushed her against the wall and pressed on her shoulders. The brickwork seemed to collapse behind her, and she stumbled backward.

Her back struck another wall. Cery shoved her to one side, against a side wall, then moved into the tiny alcove beside her. She felt his bony elbow poking into her side and heard a dry scraping sound of bricks sliding against each other and clicking into place.

In the cramped space, the sound of their breathing was thunderous. Heart pounding, Sonea strained her ears until the muffled sound of voices began to penetrate the bricks. Light appeared through cracks in the brickwork. Leaning forward, Sonea peered through one of the openings.

A glowing ball of light floated in the air just before her. Fascinated, she watched it drift forward until it passed out of sight, leaving red blotches in her vision. Then a pale hand appeared, followed by a wide, purple-colored sleeve and the chest of a man—a man dressed in robes—a magician!

Her heart raced. He was so close—within arm’s reach. Only a thin wall of old bricks stood between them.

And he had stopped.

“Wait a moment.” The magician sounded puzzled. He stood still and silent, then slowly turned to face her.

She froze in horror. He was the magician from the North Square—the one who had seen her. The one who had tried to point her out to the rest. His expression was distracted, as if he was listening to something, and he appeared to be staring right through the wall and into her eyes.

Her mouth was dry and felt full of dust. Swallowing hard, she fought a rising terror. The pounding of her heart seemed loud enough to betray her. Could he hear that? Or could he hear the sound of her breathing?

Perhaps he can hear the thoughts in my head.

Sonea felt her legs go weak. It was said they could do such things. She closed her eyes tightly. He can’t see me, she told herself. I don’t exist, I’m not here. I’m nothing. No one can see me. No one can hear me…

A strange sensation stole over her, as if a blanket had been wrapped about her head, muffling her senses. She shivered, disturbed by the certainty that she had done something—but this time to herself.

Or perhaps the magician has worked some kind of magic on me, she thought suddenly. Appalled, she opened her eyes and found herself staring into darkness.

The magician, and his light, had gone.




Dannyl regarded the building before him with distaste. The most recent of the Guild structures, it lacked the grandeur and beauty that he admired in the older buildings. While some praised the modern style, Dannyl considered this building to be as ridiculously pretentious as its name.

The Seven Arches was a flat rectangle, fronted with seven plain, undecorated arches. Inside were three rooms: the Day Room, where important guests were received, the Banquet Room and the Night Room, where magicians gathered informally each Fourday evening to relax, sip expensive wine and gossip.

It was to this last room that he and Rothen were heading. It was a chilly evening, but a little cold air had never kept Night Room regulars away. Dannyl smiled as he entered. Once inside, he could forget the architectural blunder that had brought about the building’s existence, and enjoy the tasteful decorations within.

He looked around, enjoying a new appreciation of the room’s luxuries after enduring a second day in the damp, cold passages of the slums. Dark blue and gold patterned screens covered the windows. Luxurious cushioned chairs were arranged around the room. The walls were decorated with paintings and carvings by the best artists of the Allied Lands.

More than the usual number of magicians were present, he noted. As he and Rothen strolled deeper into the crowd, he recognized a few less social magicians. Then Dannyl’s eyes caught a splash of black and he stopped.

“The High Lord has graced us with his presence tonight,” he murmured.

“Akkarin? Where?” Rothen glanced around the room and his eyebrows rose as he located the black-robed figure.

“Interesting. How long has it been? Two months?”

Dannyl nodded as he took a glass of wine from a passing servant. “At least.”

“Is that Administrator Lorlen with him?”

“Of course,” Dannyl said, pausing to sip from his glass. “Lorlen’s talking to someone, but I can’t see who it is.”

Lorlen looked up and around the room. His gaze rested on Dannyl and Rothen. A hand rose.

—Dannyl. Rothen. I would like to speak to you.

Surprised, and a little apprehensive, Dannyl followed Rothen across the room. They stopped behind the chair that had blocked Dannyl’s view of Lorlen’s other companion. A cultured voice reached their ears.

“The slums are an ugly stain on this city. They are a nest of crime and disease. The King should never have let them grow so large. This is the perfect opportunity to rid Imardin of them.”

Dannyl schooled his expression and looked down at the chair’s occupant. Immaculately combed blonde hair gleamed from the light of the room. The man’s eyes were half closed, his legs crossed and pointing toward the High Lord. A small square bandage had been stuck to his temple.

“How do you propose he do that, Lord Fergun?” Lorlen asked mildly.

Fergun shrugged. “It would not be hard to clear the area. The houses are not particularly well made, and it would take little effort to collapse the tunnels beneath them.”

“But every city grows and expands,” Lorlen pointed out. “It is only natural that people build outside the walls when there is no longer room inside them. There are some areas in the slums that look little different to the quarters. The buildings are well made and the streets have effective drainage. The occupants of these areas have started referring to the slums as the Outer Circle.”

Fergun leaned forward. “But even those houses have hidden passages beneath them. I assure you, their occupants are the most suspicious people. Any house built on top of such tunnels should be assumed to be part of a criminal conspiracy and torn down.”

Akkarin’s brows rose slightly at this. Lorlen glanced at the High Lord and smiled. “If only the problem of the Thieves could be solved so easily.” He looked up at Rothen and smiled. “Good evening, Lord Rothen and Lord Dannyl.”

Fergun looked up. His eyes slid from Dannyl to Rothen, and his mouth stretched into a smile. “Ah, Lord Rothen.”

“Good evening, High Lord, Administrator,” Rothen replied, inclining his head to the Higher Magicians. “And Lord Fergun. Are you feeling better?”

“Yes, yes,” Fergun replied, lifting a hand to touch the bandage on his forehead. “Thank you for enquiring.”

Dannyl kept his expression neutral. It was rude, but not unusual, for Fergun to “forget” to greet him. That he had done so in the High Lord’s presence, however, was surprising.

Lorlen folded his hands together. “I noticed that you both stayed in the slums longer than most others today. Did you discover any clues to this girl’s whereabouts?”

Rothen shook his head, and began describing their attempts to follow the underground passages of the slums. Remaining silent, Dannyl looked at the High Lord and felt a familiar twinge of nervousness. Ten years since I graduated, but I still react to him as if I were a novice, he mused.

Dannyl’s duties and interests rarely brought him in contact with the Guild’s leader. As always, he felt a mild surprise at Akkarin’s youthfulness. He thought of the arguments that had risen, five years before, at the election of a young magician to the position of High Lord. Guild leaders were selected from the strongest of the magicians, yet older magicians were usually chosen over younger ones due to their greater experience and maturity.

While Akkarin had demonstrated powers far stronger than any other magician’s, it was the knowledge and diplomatic skills that he had gained while travelling abroad that had convinced the Guild to elect him. A Guild leader was expected to have qualities of strength, skill, dignity and authority, and Akkarin had all of these in abundance. As many had pointed out at the time of Akkarin’s choosing, age mattered little to the role. Important decisions were always made by vote, and the everyday running of the Guild was left to the Guild Administrator.

While this sounded reasonable, Dannyl suspected that questions about the High Lord’s age still lingered. He had noted that Akkarin now wore his hair in the old fashioned and distinguished style favored by older men—long and tidily knotted at the back of his neck. Lorlen, too, had adopted the style.

Dannyl turned to regard the Administrator, who was listening to Rothen intently. The High Lord’s closest friend, Lorlen had become the former Guild Administrator’s assistant at Akkarin’s suggestion. When the Administrator retired, two years past, Lorlen had taken his place.

Lorlen had proven to be well-suited to the position. He was efficient, authoritative, and, most importantly, approachable. It was not an easy role, and Dannyl did not envy Lorlen the long hours involved. Of the two positions, it was the most demanding.

Lorlen shook his head as Rothen finished his account of their day. “From the descriptions I’ve heard of the slums, I can’t see how we’ll ever find her.” He sighed. “The King has ordered that the Port be opened tomorrow.”

Fergun frowned. “Already? What if she escapes on a ship?”

“I doubt if the embargo would have stopped her from leaving Imardin if she really wanted to.” Lorlen looked up at Rothen and smiled wryly. “As Lord Rothen’s former guardian used to say: ‘Kyralia would run itself very well if ruling was declared a crime.’”

Rothen chuckled. “Yes, Lord Margen was a source of many such remarks. I don’t believe we have explored all our options, however. Dannyl pointed out to me this morning that the people who have the best chance of finding this girl are the slum dwellers themselves. I think he’s right.”

Dannyl stared at his friend. Surely Rothen was not going to reveal their intention to contact the Thieves!

“Why would they help us?” Lorlen asked.

Rothen glanced at Dannyl and smiled. “We could offer a reward.”

Dannyl slowly let out the breath he had been holding. You should have warned me, old friend!

“A reward!” Lorlen exclaimed. “Yes, that might work.”

“An excellent idea,” Fergun agreed. “And we should fine those who hinder us, too.”

Lorlen gave Fergun a reproachful look. “A reward will be sufficient. Mind you, nothing shall be given until she is found, or the entire population of the slums will claim to have seen her.” He frowned. “Hmm, we’ll also want to discourage people from trying to catch her themselves…”

“We could post a description of her and terms of the reward at street corners, with a warning that she should not be approached,” Dannyl suggested. “We should encourage people to report sightings of her, too, as they could give us some indication of the areas she frequents.”

“We could have a map of the slums drawn up so we can keep track of sightings,” Fergun suggested.

“Hmm, that would be useful,” Dannyl said, pretending to be begrudgingly surprised at the suggestion. Remembering the maze of passages and streets, he knew a task like that would keep Fergun out of their way for months. Rothen narrowed his eyes at Dannyl, but said nothing.

“The posting of a reward,” Lorlen glanced up at Dannyl, “you’ll arrange it?”

“Tomorrow.” Dannyl inclined his head.

“I will inform the rest of the searchers of this tomorrow morning,” Lorlen said. He looked up at Rothen and Dannyl and smiled. “Any more ideas?”

“This girl must have a presence,” the High Lord said quietly. “She is untrained, and would not know how to hide it—or even that she has one. Has anyone looked for it yet?”

For a moment, all were silent, then Lorlen chuckled ruefully. “I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that. No one has mentioned looking for her presence.” He shook his head. “It seems we’ve all forgotten what we are—and what she is.”

“A presence,” Rothe