Unguilded, page 24
He met her gaze for a moment before he answered. Meeting his eyes and covering up her hurt and disillusionment was one of the hardest things she had ever done.
“We have to be believable,” Reo said eventually. “As lovers. A woman carries herself differently around a man she’s bedded.”
“And people notice?” Kara asked.
“I notice,” Reo said. “I have to assume others will too. It’s for our safety.”
“Oh, it’s to keep me safe, keep us both safe,” Kara said. “Why didn’t you discuss this with me? Did you think I wouldn’t be interested in being safer?”
“I didn’t think . . .”
“No you didn’t think, did you? Instead you made a decision and took away my choice.”
“You did choose,” Reo said defiantly. “Last night.”
“An uninformed choice isn’t really a choice at all.” She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “So now I will choose. Don’t bother moving from your rooms, I won’t be sharing my bed with you again. I trust people will still be able to tell I’ve bedded you by the way I carry myself when I’m around you?”
Reo nodded. His jaw clenched, and she knew he was furious. Well so was she!
“Please leave,” she said to Reo. “You too, Chal. Don’t think I’m not angry at you as well. By not telling me what to expect, you played your own part in this.”
Reo’s anger was palpable as he walked past her. Chal simply regarded her with sad eyes and shrugged.
“And, Reo?” Kara said. “I’ll do one assignment with you, to help introduce you, and that’s it.”
Reo turned to her, his body so tightly controlled that Kara wondered if she’d gone too far. Too late—she wasn’t backing down now.
“We had a bargain,” Reo said. “I expect you to keep your end of it.”
“No,” she said. “I can’t trust you.”
“We had a bargain,” Reo repeated.
“Fine,” Kara said. “Perhaps I’ll simply step aside when I see a spell heading your way.”
He paled, and she smiled sweetly.
“One assignment. Your choice and your timetable, but after that I will leave.”
Reo glared at her, his fists clenching and unclenching as she stood as straight and steady as she could. It was Chal who broke their stalemate. He slipped a hand under Reo’s elbow and gently ushered him to the door. The door closed after them, and she was alone in her rooms.
Kara rubbed at her face, wiping away a few stray tears. She would not cry—she would not let Reo Medina affect her so much. She’d been foolish and naïve, and he’d taken advantage of that, but she wouldn’t allow him to do that to her again. One assignment, she’d told him, and then she would return to Santos’ cabin, her cabin, and try to make a life. And when she looked out the cabin window at Warrior Guild Island, she would not think about Reo Medina.
CHAL VISITED THE next day, his face serious as he set some books on her sitting room table.
“You made him very angry,” Chal said softly. “I’ve never seen him like this.”
“He made me angry too,” Kara replied. Idly she picked up one of the books and flipped a few pages. It was another history of Seyoyan navigation, complete with star charts and maps of islands. She set it down with a sigh. “Why does everyone think I can’t make my own choices?”
“Would you have bedded him if he’d explained it?”
“Probably,” Kara said. “If he’d explained why and asked nicely.” Her face flushed when she remembered how he had asked her to choose and she had chosen him. But she hadn’t known it was to help them both be safe, she’d thought it was because . . . because why? Had she thought Reo Medina was in love with her? No, but she’d thought he’d respected her, enjoyed her company, liked her. And all along it was simply something he had to do to prepare them for their tasks. No different than making sure she learned Seyoyan navigation.
“It would be nice to be treated as an adult,” she said. “To be allowed to make my own informed choices.”
“Not so different from what Reo wants for himself,” Chal said.
“What do you mean?” Kara asked. “He’s making all the decisions.”
“No, he too is constrained by his guild and the expectations they have for him.” Chal shook his head. “Unfortunately, in his resolve to free himself, Reo has robbed you of your own freedom.”
KARA DIDN’T SEE Reo for more than two weeks, although Chal continued to tutor her. Eventually he declared her Seyoyan respectable enough for a foreigner. The language still felt odd rolling off her tongue, and she had a long way to go before she could read it fluently, but she wasn’t concerned about that. Few Tregellans could read their own language half as well as she could read Seyoyan.
“Maybe I should go and live in Seyoya,” Kara mused in Seyoyan. “Do you think I could make a living for myself?”
“Yes.” Chal lounged on the sofa, a book on guild history in his hands. Kara had started to teach him all she knew about the guilds, Mage Guild in particular, and he’d spent hours reading and asking her questions, always in Seyoyan. “Every trader needs to learn Tregellan, and many would pay for your knowledge of the political history.”
“So I could teach,” she said. Just as her mother had suggested—had she ever expected her daughter to live long enough to do it?
“What would you like to do?” Chal asked quietly. He set his book down.
Kara leaned across the desk and met his gaze.
“I want to help my friends on Old Rillidi—Vook, Pilo, Sidra, and Mole. And Santos,” Kara added. And she wanted to fit in with them again. Reo had changed her—educating her, refining her manners—but she could fit in again. It would take a little time, that’s all. Reo had yet to choose her one and only assignment, and she hoped he wasn’t going to make her wait too long. She wanted, no needed, to return to her cabin and start making a life for herself.
THERE WAS A quick knock, and the door to her apartment swung open.
“Put this on.” Reo tossed a dark bundle onto the sofa beside her. He crossed his arms and ran his gaze over her. “What you’re wearing will do,” he said.
Kara felt her face flush, and she smoothed a hand along her woolen skirt to cover her nervousness.
“Are we attending a party?” she asked. Her skirt and vest were dark blue and her blouse was a pale silvery grey—good quality, but by no means suitable attire for a social function.
“No,” Reo replied. “Make sure you wear sturdy footwear. We leave in half an hour.” He turned and left the room as abruptly as he’d entered it.
Chal followed him out, stopping briefly to give Kara a questioning look.
Kara unfolded her legs from under her skirt and set her book on the table in front of the sofa. She grabbed the cloth Reo had tossed to her and shook it out. It was a cloak—dull, black wool with a deep, cowled hood. She stood and held it up. It would cover her completely. She peered out the window.
The sky was already a deep indigo, and the moon was a sliver on the horizon. In half an hour it would be dark. They were going in secret then. Was Reo still angry enough with her that he would lead her away and kill her? Kara shook her head. No, if he’d wanted to kill her, he wouldn’t have waited so long. This was something he wanted her help with—this was her assignment, her mission. Boots, that’s what she needed. Sturdy footwear indeed.
ARABELLA PACED HER workroom. She’d sent the request days ago, and still there was no firm reply. They had acknowledged the request—they couldn’t do otherwise for a Mage of her standing. She was on the council—she’d made certain they understood that. But still no firm contract, even though she was offering a substantial number of guilders.
The girl had to die—she’d known it as soon as she arrived in that pitiful mountain town all those months ago. Unconsciously she rubbed her belly—and it wasn’t just because Valerio had seemed interested in the girl. No, she had at least a dozen years before this child would be expected to display magical abilities—
She sat heavily in the chair, suddenly feeling drained. This pregnancy would be her last—it was too exhausting.
Valerio had proven to be far too shrewd for her to manipulate into showing her how to create a killing spell. And as for Primus Rorik . . . though he was her confidant these days, a spell of this kind was beyond his skill level.
Arabella wiped a stray hair from her neck. As tired as she was, she may not have the strength to create such a spell even if she knew how.
Warrior Guild must accept her contract—the girl had to die.
REO WAS STILL furious with her. Kara followed his stiff-backed figure through dark, dank tunnels as they decended into the fortifications of Warrior Guild Island. His anger radiated from him, and he’d barely spoken to her since he’d fetched her from her rooms. Let him stew. She was still angry too. He’d coerced her into helping him originally, and then he’d had the nerve to use her.
Reo stopped abruptly, and she bumped into him. He glared at her before he pulled a key from inside his jacket and unlocked the door in front of him. When he pulled the door open, the salty odour of the bay wafted out. Reo pulled something else from his jacket, and mage mist swirled around his hand. He held a mage light up, and she preceded him through the door.
After being cooped up within her rooms for so long, even this dank place was a welcome change. A stone jetty extended out a dozen feet, and a few small boats were tied up beside steep staircases that were chiseled into the rock. Multi-coloured mage mist swirled over each of the boats.
“What is this place?” she asked, her voice hushed in the watery cavern.
“It’s where the Assassins’ boats are kept,” Reo said.
The door shut, and she glanced over to see him relocking it from the inside.
“But they’re spelled.”
“Of course.” Reo stepped down towards the boat. “They are powered by magic and spelled to be silent and unseen.”
“How come we can see them here?”
Reo held up his mage light. “This allows the boat to be seen. Once we are on our way, we won’t have any light. And when we leave the boat, without this light we’ll struggle to find it again.”
“Have you ever lost one?” Kara asked. “A boat, I mean.”
For a moment she thought he would answer, but then his eyes hardened.
“Time to leave,” he said.
He held out a hand and awkwardly helped her down the steps and into the boat.
“Cover up with your cloak.” He stepped lightly into the boat and seated himself in the stern, one hand on the tiller. “In case we run across Seyoyans.” He reached over and slipped a rope from an iron post driven into the rock face. “Or a Mage with your skills.”
Kara lurched as the boat started to move. She huddled into her cloak, suddenly chilled. She glanced at Reo, but he sat stock still, only the hand on the tiller uncovered. The shadows his hood cast were too dark for her to penetrate; she couldn’t see his eyes. Then the mage light went out, and they ghosted silently through the cavern.
She felt the air change. A cool breeze blew towards them, carrying the scent of fish and the autumn night. The mouth of the cavern showed the lighter night sky, and once they were out in the open, the pale moon sparkled on the water of the bay. The hulking mass of Warrior Guild Island was behind them, lights streaming through the many windows. Sentries paced along the tops of the walls as they sped away unnoticed.
She sighed and breathed in the tangy salt air. She’d missed being outside. Even Reo’s dour presence and the worry of their unknown destination couldn’t keep her from smiling.
She sat up. On her right was Old Rillidi Island and the point near Santos’ estate. Was Pilo gazing across the water, wondering if she really was seeing the hazy boat? Reo was right, they needed the cloaks. How many others like Pilo were out there? People who could see through magic, but didn’t understand what they were seeing? It would give Mage Guild nightmares if they knew about it—if they knew about her.
Kara stared at the shoreline. Somewhere along here was the little cabin. She pictured the rows of food they’d set aside for the winter and smiled, wondering if any of the apples they’d preserved were still uneaten. Pilo would have a hard time keeping Mole away from them, he’d loved them so much.
They passed near the docks, and she strained to see it in the dark. Was that the hulk of the overturned boat? Off in the woods she thought she saw the flickering of a fire, but then they were past, following the coast and rounding a wide, silvery beach. Probably where the clammers had lived, she thought.
Lights blazed up ahead, and Kara pulled her cloak tighter. It was a bridge, the one she’d crossed alone after she’d been separated from Mika. The mage lights sparkled on the water, and she held her breath as a few people hurried from Old Rillidi to Merchant Guild Island. She shivered. She’d been lucky that Vook had found her that first night. She could have ended up with the banditos. She peered out from under her hood at Reo. What the Assassin had requested of her seemed reasonable compared to what life with the banditos would have been like. But it didn’t mean she’d forgiven him.
A second bridge loomed ahead, and Kara tried to remember her geography lessons. Mason Guild Island, of course, she knew it as soon as she saw the cut stone of the bridge. Reo motioned, and she ducked. If she reached out, she could touch the stone that arched above her head. Mage mist faintly outlined each block, and she wondered if Masons unconsciously used magic. If Pilo and the clammers had magic—so could others.
When they emerged from under the bridge, Kara sat up and stifled a gasp.
Ahead the sky was bright with mage mist. It flowed and swirled in every colour and hue—blues, greens, white, purples.
None of the books, none of the descriptions she’d read, had prepared her for her first real look at Mage Guild Island.
Turrets and towers stretched up into the sky. The mage mist that blanketed the city varied in density, and in places she was able to see through it to the actual buildings. A sweet perfume drifted across the bay, and she sighed at the lovely smell of roses and sunshine and honey.
As they got closer to the dark shadow that stretched out below Mage Guild Island, she shivered. They were going underneath it. She knew that the island floated, but the realization that the huge mass would soon be above her was unnerving. She pulled her cloak tight and concentrated on not letting the mage mist react to her. What if her mere presence was enough to interfere with the magic that held the island aloft? Had Reo even considered that when he’d decided to bring her here?
Why had he brought her to Mage Guild Island? Did he plan to assassinate a Mage? Did he expect her to protect them both from magical attack? Or maybe Reo was doing a Mage a favour, and Kara would be asked to remove a curse or two? But if so, it would expose her talent to a Mage, something Reo had said he didn’t want to do. Unless that was his revenge for withdrawing her help.
They slowed as they entered the shadow. Mage mist eddied against the sides of the boat, and mage lights twinkled on the underside of the island, illuminating patches of earth. Wooden docks, many with small boats tethered to them, dotted the water as far as she could see. Staircases attached to the docks led up into the earth itself. She didn’t smell dirt or fish or sea, instead there was just the sweet floral scent, which seemed more cloying than pleasant now.
The boat took them further and further under the island, and Kara turned to watch Reo’s profile, hoping to get a sense of what he was thinking, but he stared straight ahead.
Finally the boat glided up to a small dock attached to a set of stairs. She glanced around nervously. Mage lights dotted the underside of the island as far as she could see, and around everything rainbows of mage mist eddied. Her mouth felt dry, and she licked her lips. The stairs they stopped beside seethed with mist.
Kara grabbed it and let him steady her as she stepped onto the small dock.
Reo joined her, keeping a hand firmly on her waist. The lit staircase led up to a closed door. Reo urged her forward, and she climbed the steps.
The door was covered in more mage mist. Kara squinted, trying to see beyond the mist. Reo reached the top step, and she moved aside.
“Is there magic?” he asked. His voice was quiet, almost a whisper, and Kara wondered if he was as nervous as she was.
“Yes,” she replied. “Everywhere.”
He frowned and glanced around, and again she wondered what he had planned, what would bring him here, with her as his only protection.
Reo reached out and rapped twice on the door. The sound of his knock was so muffled that Kara barely heard it, yet the door swung open immediately. An old woman, the crest of the Server Guild sewn onto her blouse, stepped aside so that they could enter.
“You are expected,” she said and quickly closed the door behind them.
Reo pushed his hood off his face and reached out to pull Kara’s down. She passed a hand through her hair and turned to look at him, but he had already turned away.
They followed the Server through hallways lit by mage lights. After a few turns, their surroundings changed—the hallways were larger, and the ceilings were higher. The Server stopped in front of two large, ornately carved doors, bowed low to them, and backed away.
Kara looked at Reo, but he kept his gaze averted, and an uneasy feeling settled over her. Had he brought her here to have her killed because she’d defied him?
The doors cracked open, and a swirl of mage mist flowed out. Before she could react, it skipped past her and swept over Reo. Briefly he clenched his hands and then opened them wide, leaving them to dangle at his side.
He felt the magic. Maybe that was the point of the spell. The mist quickly faded, and Reo turned to face the open door.
“Enter,” came the order.
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