Unguilded, p.21

Unguilded, page 21

 

Unguilded
 



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  KARA AND PILO trekked to the manor house. It was the third dull, grey day in a row, and Kara was happy to be out of the cabin. They’d spent the past few days storing food, and the little kitchen was stacked with bottles of preserves.

  They searched the house, calling Santos’ name, finally finding him shut away in a back room that Kara had never been in before. The walls were lined with bookshelves that were bursting with books and labeled jars and pots. Santos sat at a large table, open books scattered around him and a small magical light floating in the air above.

  “Santos,” Kara called again. “We’re here.”

  Santos looked up distractedly. “What? Oh good. I know just where to start. Over here, Pilo.” He gestured to the girl, and she stepped nervously to his side.

  Santos nudged the light until it was directly above Pilo, who looked up at it with a worried frown. The Mage either didn’t notice her concern or didn’t care. Instead he ran a hand down the scarred side of her face. He raised his hand again, and Kara saw a wisp of light green mage mist on his fingertips. Santos’ hand ran down Pilo’s scars again, this time leaving the mist in his wake. A few more passes, and half of Pilo’s face was obscured by mage mist.

  “That’s the face,” Santos said. “Now for the rest. Take your shirt off.” Pilo hesitated, and he drummed his fingers on the table top. Mage mist puffed up at each touch of a finger.

  “Come, child,” Santos said. “I’ve seen more than your young hide in my day. I need to expend this magic. I’ve been accumulating it for days, and it wants out now.”

  “Go ahead, Pilo,” Kara said.

  Pilo ducked her head and untied the laces on her shirt. Her eyes were closed when she dropped the shirt to the floor.

  Kara sucked in a breath at the extent of damage on the younger girl’s torso, but Santos simply started trailing mage mist along the thick ropey scars. Soon half of Pilo’s body was covered in mist.

  “That’s it,” Santos said. “I’ve done all I can for now.”

  Pilo grabbed her shirt and pulled it back on.

  “It will itch,” Santos continued. “And as I said before there might be some pain. Kara, let me know when the spell has faded. I’ll need to apply a second one.”

  “I will,” Kara said.

  “Thank you,” Pilo mumbled. Then the girl hurried out the door.

  Kara turned to follow her, but stopped and turned back to Santos.

  “You said you’d been accumulating magic,” Kara said. “Do you need to think about it in order to accumulate it?”

  “I do now,” Santos said. He waved a hand at the light, and it retreated higher overhead. “At one time I didn’t have to, but when I went mad I tried not to accumulate power, hoping to keep my spells smaller and less destructive. But one of the first things a Mage is taught is how to conserve and contain their magic. Without a store of magic you cannot perform spells.” He paused and ran a hand through his hair. “Unless you take it from someone else, of course. But that requires very advanced skill that only a very few Mages can master.”

  “Does the magic need to be given?” Kara asked.

  “No,” Santos replied. “But to take without it being offered is such a grave offense that you will be expelled from Mage Guild and could even be put to death. Only the most foolish or desperate Mage would flaunt Guild Law so blatantly.”

  Kara hovered while Santos rearranged some books on his table. She recognized the journal she had carried with her from the mountains, and it reminded her of Chal Honess.

  “Santos, I might need you to keep watch for someone,” Kara said. She traced a finger along the edge of the table, running her hand over the journal. “With magic.” She lifted her eyes to his. “Vook and I went to the market at Shanty Town a few days ago, and I met someone there, a Seyoyan, and I think he knows what I can do.”

  “A Seyoyan,” Santos repeated. “There were rumours that a few of them see magic.” He pulled a stool up and sat down, a thoughtful look on his face. “Even as Mage Guild Primus, I was never able to confirm it. Warrior Guild keeps the Seyoyans very close. I’ve heard that they work with Assassins, although Warrior Guild claims Assassins do not exist.”

  “But they do, don’t they,” Kara said. “You said one killed your wife.”

  “Yes.” Santos sent her a sharp look. “It would not be good for them to know about you.”

  “It might be too late.” She shivered, suddenly chilled. “Do you think that a Seyoyan who can see magic would travel with an Assassin?” Chal’s mysterious friend had acted like he was a Guildsman, but he hadn’t been wearing a patch.

  “Have you seen one?” Santos asked.

  “Maybe,” Kara said. “His name is Reo.”

  Santos shook his head. “It’s not a name I’m familiar with, but I’ve been mad for the better part of seven years, and Assassins have notoriously brief lives.”

  “Can you guard against them?” Kara asked. She almost wished she hadn’t started this conversation. If she hadn’t, she’d be a little worried about Chal Honess and his friend Reo, but she wouldn’t have this knot of fear clutching at her gut.

  “I can create some spells,” Santos agreed. “But not to maim or kill. Even the mad mage can’t kill an Assassin and not expect consequences.” He shook his head. “You’d be very valuable to an Assassin.”

  “They don’t know where I am,” Kara said, thankful that she and Vook had come home the long way.

  “They know you’re on Old Rillidi,” Santos replied. “I don’t want to alarm you, but Assassins are trained to uncover secrets, and they are very, very good at it. And your abilities would be so useful that I’m not sure one would ever stop looking for you.”

  “They could earn guilders with my skills?” she asked.

  “Yes,” Santos replied. “I’m sure there would be a way.”

  “Could I bargain with one? My talents for their protection?”

  “It’s possible,” Santos said. “But dangerous.”

  “Why? You said they could earn guilders with me.”

  “And they could,” Santos replied. “If they chose to. But more importantly, you could help an Assassin stay alive. As I said, they don’t live long. What would another year or two of life be worth to a man trained to take the lives of others?”

  EVEN WITH EXTRA protection from Santos’ magic, for the next few weeks Kara only left the cabin to undo the spells cursing him. She told the others that she didn’t care for the cold, rainy weather, or that she wanted to make sure their stores were put away so nothing would spoil, or that she didn’t feel very well. In reality, she was terrified that an Assassin was looking for her.

  So she wasn’t surprised when he found her.

  “Kara.”

  She turned at the sound of Vook’s voice, and the smile slid off her face. Chal Honess and Reo stood in the doorway behind Vook, each one with a tight grip on the boy’s shoulders. She straightened her shoulders and met Reo’s blue eyes.

  “Let him go,” Kara said. “It’s not your fault, Vook.”

  Reo nodded and lifted his hand off Vook’s shoulder. Chal let go too.

  “Get the others and take them to Santos,” she told him calmly. Santos would keep them safe—the Assassin only wanted her.

  The two men stepped aside, and Vook squeezed past them. He sent Kara a worried look before he sprinted away.

  “Close the door,” Kara said. She turned her back on them, closed her eyes, and sent a prayer to Gyda. When she heard the door shut softly, she walked over to the table and sat down.

  When Chal and Reo sat across from her, there was no trace of mage mist on Reo.

  “Santos would be Santos Nimali, the mad mage,” Reo stated.

  “Yes,” Kara said. “You are no longer spelled.”

  “No, it was a temporary protective spell.” Reo and Chal exchanged glances. “And quite fortunate for me that I had it when we met.”

  “Fortunate,” Kara said. “Not the word I would use.”

  “You d
on’t seem very surprised to see us, Donna Kara,” Chal Honess’ voice was almost a caress.

  “Santos has told her what to expect,” Reo said. “Isn’t that right?”

  “Yes,” Kara agreed. “He said I would be far too valuable for an Assassin to walk away from.”

  Reo leaned back and watched her through lidded eyes. Even sitting still he exuded an air of unleashed power. He reminded her of snakes she’d seen near Larona. They’d curl up and sun themselves on a rock, but at the smallest sound they could launch themselves in the air and strike a target four feet away.

  “Santos is correct,” Reo said finally. “But how is it that you have conversations with the mad mage? I hear that he can barely function.”

  “He’s not mad anymore,” Kara said. She hoped he might be afraid of a capable Mage of Santos’ skills, but Reo simply nodded. “I’ve been helping him. Undoing the spells that made him go mad.”

  Reo sat up. “He was spelled? Another Mage made him go mad?” He looked over at Chal before he leaned back again. “But you have confirmed Chal’s assumption. You can affect spells.”

  “Yes,” Kara said. “Just as you’ve confirmed that you are an Assassin.”

  Reo smiled. “I like you, Kara. I think we will work well together.”

  “Do you?” she asked, bitterness creeping into her voice. “A few months ago I was foolishly thinking of approaching Warrior Guild with just such an offer, but now that I don’t have a choice, I want you to leave me alone. Except you know I exist, so you’ll either use me or kill me to make sure I can’t be used against you.” She met his eyes with a steady gaze. Eventually he looked away.

  Reo shrugged and stared at her again. “We all do what we must to survive. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be pleasant to each other.”

  “Is that what you say to the people you kill?” As soon as she said it she wanted to take it back. Why was she provoking this Assassin?

  Chal glowered at her, and Reo’s eyes darkened for just a moment.

  “As a matter of fact, it is,” Reo said. “I’ve been guild-trained since I was a boy. I know no other life, and frankly, I’ve lived longer than I expected to. There is no point in living or dying in fear and anger. It’s much better to accept your fate.”

  “I’m not sure I believe in fate,” Kara replied. If she’d believed in fate she never would have left her home in Larona, never would have traveled with Mika, never would have understood her talents, or been able to save the group from the clammers.

  She looked at Chal. “Or destiny.”

  SHE SPENT HOURS answering Reo’s questions—where she grew up, what happened when she’d reached sixteen without magic, what other skills she had. For the most part Kara answered as truthfully as she could, but she told him that her name was Kara Banio and said nothing about Arabella Fonti being her mother. Reo would be angry if he found out she’d lied to him, but that secret seemed too big and too dangerous. She would rather risk the wrath of an Assassin than have her mother know she was living on Old Rillidi.

  It was dark before Reo finally let her get some fresh air. Not alone of course; Chal shadowed her as she strolled through the almost bare garden.

  “How did you find me?” Kara asked. She and Vook had been so careful.

  “People living down near an old dock told us,” Chal replied. “Odd, pale people with a small amount of magic.”

  “Clammers,” Kara said. “That’s where we were living. Then they moved in, and we moved here.” When she said it like that, it sounded so easy. Not the harrowing escape through the forest in the dark, not the feral looks on the faces of the clammers when they thought they weren’t being watched. She shivered.

  “Clammers,” Chal repeated. “They weren’t very friendly, but Reo has his ways.”

  “Did he kill them?”

  When he spoke, Chal’s voice was full of humour. “You want the answer to be yes, don’t you?”

  “Did he?” she asked again. “It would be doing everyone a great service.”

  “No, he didn’t kill them,” Chal replied. “But a couple of men with them were more than eager to tell Reo all about you.”

  “Harb and Lowel,” Kara said. “So they’re still alive.”

  “Probably wish they weren’t,” Chal said. “They were slaves, and not being treated very kindly. But that’s neither mine nor Reo’s concern.”

  “So you left them?”

  “We left them,” Chal agreed. “Are they friends of yours? They didn’t have a very high opinion of you.”

  “Not friends,” Kara said. “But not enemies either. They’re just stupid boys who made mistakes.” She felt sorry for them, Lowel especially. He didn’t deserve that kind of life.

  “I could go and get them,” Reo said from behind them. “If you asked me to.”

  Kara stopped. She hadn’t heard Reo come outside, hadn’t heard the door to the cabin close, or the sound of his footsteps. She sighed and turned around. Pale moonlight bathed one side of his face. She stared at him, searching for answers in the set of his jaw, the angle of his head.

  “Why would you do that?” she asked.

  “We will work together,” he said. “I’d prefer you as a willing partner. I could do much for you, Kara.”

  “What is it you think I want?”

  “I can give every unguilded person you care about guild status,” he said.

  Kara sucked in her breath. “I’m not sure I want them all in the Warrior Guild.”

  Reo shrugged. “I can arrange to have them join other guilds,” he said.

  Could he do that? She met his eyes and saw only confidence. He probably could. He must be very good to be able to so casually offer what would be coveted by so many unguilded. Then she thought about Mika and Allon, who wouldn’t thank anyone to belong to a guild. And what of Pilo, Vook, Sidra, and Mole? Would a guild really give them a future? So many Guildsmen she’d seen since coming to Rillidi seemed worse off and with less hope than her small group. She would hate to agree and then later find out she’d sent them into servitude.

  “No guilds,” she said. “I’d not send people I care about into that life.”

  Chal smiled at her, and Reo nodded his head once.

  “Then I can offer some protection from the guilds,” Reo said. “Not from the Mage Guild, I’m afraid. They are beyond my influence at the moment. But the others, yes.”

  “What am I giving up in return?” Kara asked.

  “One year,” Reo said. “One year during which you will help me in any way I ask.”

  “As long as it does not put me or those I care about at risk,” she said. Could she do it? Could she survive a year being at the beck and call of an Assassin? And was it worth it to have all but Mage Guild leave them alone?

  Reo stared at her for a moment before he spoke. “I cannot guarantee you will not be at risk,” he said. “It is the nature of my profession. But I will promise to minimize the danger to you as much as I can, even if it increases my own risks.”

  “That’s fair.” She nodded. “Now I need you to tell me what’s so important to you that you had to hunt me down. What is that you want, Reo?”

  They stared at each other for a few moments. Reo’s gaze flickered, and Kara was sure he was going to lie to her, that he would smile and say something convincing and half true but not the truth. Instead, he looked at her and shrugged.

  “I’m twenty-four years old—an age few Assassins reach.” He shook his head. “An age no Assassin should reach. Because, Kara, I’m old enough to know that I want more. More life, more years, more time. But I’m a liability to my guild—I know too many secrets. Who would you hire to kill an Assassin?”

  “A Mage,” she said. There was no one else who could do it.

  “Yes,” Reo agreed. “I occasionally buy protective spells, like the one I had when we met, but it’s dangerous to let a Mage, even one I have paid, know even that much about me. I am fortunate enough to have Chal, but there are places where a Seyoyan would not be
welcome. Places where a well-educated young Guildswoman would be.”

  “And not be suspected of being able to see magic,” Kara said.

  Reo grinned, and his face transformed from a serious, dangerous Assassin to a carefree young man. “Or to affect it. Even the Mage Guild doesn’t know your ability exists,” he said. “No one will suspect you of anything.”

  “I only need to help you for one year?” she asked. She didn’t see how one year would make the difference. In her experience, Mage Guild didn’t stop chasing someone until they were dead.

  “One year,” Reo agreed. “After that, I will either be safely retired or dead.”

  ARABELLA EASED OUT of bed and pulled her robe on. She sighed at the way the silk slid under her hand. When he’d given it to her, Valerio had said that the fabric was from Seyoya.

  “Leaving already?” Valerio said from the bed behind her.

  “You’ve exhausted me,” she replied. She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “I need my rest, and if I stay, I don’t believe I will get any.” She remembered feeling tired during her first pregnancy, but not this heavy weariness. Even her magical abilities seemed to be suffering, although she would never admit that to anyone.

  “Come back to bed,” Valerio said.

  Arabella closed her eyes. It hadn’t been a request. She would love to tell him no, but she didn’t have the energy for that. She still needed Valerio’s good will. She would cancel her morning appointments and stay in her quarters tomorrow.

  “Yes,” she turned and let the robe drop to the floor. “Maybe one day I will learn to say no to you.” She smiled to take the sting out of her words, but vowed that one day she would have the power to say no.

  “You can tell me no,” Valerio said as he reached for her. “But I will only ever hear yes.”

  Arabella let herself be pulled into his arms. He rolled on top of her and wedged a knee between her legs.

  “I hear you had a visit with your friend from Larona,” Valerio said, his breath warm on her neck.

 

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