“There are two ways to interpret a prophecy: the way that spells your doom and the wrong one.”– Dread Empress Dismal
I knelt, pushing down a twinge of pain, and squinted closely at the copper wire.
Obviously my quarters had been trapped, but how? The wire was of the finer kind Pickler had come up with during my time in the Everdark, but even though pushing fully open the door would definitely pull on it – and so on a contraption tied to munitions, hopefully but not necessarily College-grade instead of military – the angle was all wrong for a sharper or a brightstick. Sure, a full brightstick would shatter my eardrum from this close but I wouldn’t be blinded. And I’d lose what, at most a shredded ankle to a sharper? This was amateur hour. Where was the triple-wire spring with the overhead sharper? No, I was being screwed with. This was bait.
The foundations of my house in Neustal, which I didn’t actually use all that often compared to my tent, were stone raised above ground-level as was standard in areas where the Dead King might attempt assassination. It meant I had a single ‘step’ to take going into the house, in reality just a small extension of the foundation beyond the walls. And when I leaned closer and smelled that step, I found a familiar scent: stone dust and sapper’s plaster. That little fucker had put in a weight-sensitive demolition charge after hollowing out the step, hadn’t he? The copper wire had just been to draw my attention away. Narrowing my eyes, I used my staff to hoist myself back up on my feet.
I wasn’t going to let this ambush pass without a bit of a rap on the knuckles, of course. It was good for my sappers to occasionally be reminded I was just as shameless as them and twice as mean.
“Special Tribune Robber,” I called out. “Report.”
There was a beat of silence.
“It was all Borer’s idea,” a voice cheerfully called out from inside. “I tried to stop him, Your Maleficence, but with his brute strength he overwhelm-“
“I asked for a report,” I mildly said. “Come out and deliver it.”
I pulled on Night the slightest bit, just in case. Special Tribune Robber, who’d held his rank for several years now, had visibly aged since I last saw him. That was often the way with goblins, whose lifespan was much shorter than most other races’. How old was he now? Near twenty, I imagined. Over the hill by the standards of his race, who quickly began going decrepit past thirty when they lived that long. He was distantly of a Matron line, I knew, so I held out hope that his face grown even gaunter and the pulls of skin around his yellow eyes were not warning signs.
Deftly the sapper came to stand on the stone, and offered me an offensively terrible salute paired with a smug grin of white needles. I could not help but notice the distinct lack of him exploding. Vexing.
“Reporting at your leisure, Your Wickednousness,” Robber cheerfully said.
I cocked my head to the side.
“Fine-tuned it to trigger only above your weight?” I said.
“No idea what you’re talking about, ma’am,” he assured me. “Although, while we’re at it, I’d like to report Captain Borer for wanton mutiny, assault of a superior officer-“
“How long did it even take you to hollow that thing out?” I asked, reluctantly impressed.
“Pickler made this stone-eating acid while we were up north,” Robber said. “Works like a charm. Based on some Lycaonese alchemy they use to keep their ramparts clean.”
There was a beat of silence.
“Is what I would say were I Captain Borer, who is obviously responsible for-“
“How strong are the munitions?” I mildly asked.
“Like the gentle caress of a breeze,” he lied.
A slender tentacle of Night pierced through the fresh plaster, triggering the munitions within, and the little bastard fell into the step with little burn but large billows of a pungent black smoke. I took a sniff and almost gagged. Leftover smoker ingredients mixed with something rank, I’d guess. Robber had always been a deft hand with munitions, especially recipes that weren’t on the record. Even as the goblin tumbled forward at my feet, coughing, I leaned against my staff and cocked an eyebrow.
“So what have we learned today?” I asked.
“You are an implacable foe to all goblinkind,” he croaked out. “And take pleasure in persecuting your poor, innocent, loyal servants.”
A grin tugged at my lips.
“I did saddle Borer with you,” I conceded, “so I suppose an argument can be made for the second.”
“You could offer me healing, at least,” Robber complained, then faked a few fresh coughs. “Aren’t you some sort of fancy priestess these days, Boss? First Into The Pie or something like that.”
I knew he was full of shit, because the Sisters were actually wildly popular with the sappers and even goblins in general. It was almost like, culturally speaking, they were very comfortable with the idea of unknowable female eldritch entities of murder and theft standing above them. Go figure. I wouldn’t call them converts to the Tenets, which were much too drow in nature to ever really find takers beyond the Firstborn, but these days sappers liked to mark their equipment with the Crows and the occasional rabbit or bird was bled in their name before being tossed in a cookpot. Andronike was rather charmed by the practice and had sounded me out on the subject of bestowing Night – I wasn’t opposed, so long as she knew what she was in for. Komena was lukewarm at the notion of branching out too much from the drow, though, so it’d gone nowhere.
“You’re right,” I mused. “Silly of me to forget.”
Quicker than he was able to dodge, I rapped the top of his hairless head with the side of my staff. He yelped and paddled back.
“How is that healing?” he accused.
“Well,” I shrugged, “you’re not thinking about the cough anymore, are you?”
A heartbeat later he was cackling, and I shared in the laughter. He darted in to clasp my arm in a legionary’s salute, close but light-touched, before backing away.
“It’s good to see you, Boss,” Robber said.
“You too,” I smilingly replied. “You malevolent little shit. Was this just a heads up you got in, or did you have a reason to seek me out?”
“Pickler wants to see you,” he said. “Sent me to get your attention.”
“Haven’t been able to get more than three words out of that one in the weeks she’s been here, but now she feels chatty?” I said. “Let me guess: she’s finally finished her latest tinkering trip and she wants to show off.”
“You’re the one who named her Sapper-General,” Robber shrugged. “Then you compounded that by throwing a mountain of coin and artisans at her. She’d been on a two-year tinkering binge, Boss. I had to assign someone to making sure she ate.”
I winced, though I was not entirely surprised. In theory Pickler was the head of all the sappers in the Army of Callow, which had been made into a separate military order not unlike the Order of Broken Bells – I just didn’t have enough sappers to use them the way the Legions did – but she was utterly uninvolved with field command. Even company assignments were largely handled by her second, Commander Waffler, with her only occasionally meddling in matters. Her efforts had been on making war engines for this new war we were fighting, and Twilight’s Pass has been her both her testing and proving grounds.
“No one told me was quite that bad,” I admitted, faintly apologetic.
Robber had always been sweet on his old commanding officer, in a goblin way. It was unlikely to ever go anywhere, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t hold a torch. We got moving as we talked, him leading the way as I limped to the side.
“She’s pleased as a raider on a moonless night,” Robber dismissed. “I’m not irked about that part, just that she’s learned some bad habits. Nobody seems to care since she’s spitting out wonders keeping to those hours, but it’s not good for her health.”
He looked at me from the corner of his large yellow eyes.
“She’s been wildly happy since you freed her from field command and let her loose, Boss,” the Special Tribune said. “And she’s grateful, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Buy you know she’s always been like this.”
I softly smiled. Look at him, all these years and he was still quietly cleaning up behind Pickler the same way he had back when we’d just been a bunch of kids fighting in College war games. Some things never changed, huh?
“We’re all creatures of habit, in our own ways,” I drily said. “I know better than to take offence, Robber. Not seeing you two for a few years won’t change that.”
Hells, I didn’t have enough friends left alive to start getting petty with them over little things like, say, Pickler’s inability to pretend she cared a whit about niceties when instead she could be attending glorious machinery. Reassured, Robber caught me up on gossip from Twilight’s Pass as we walked with great relish. No doubt he was making up half the tales. I choked, though, when he mentioned the supposedly fierce debate among the northern armies about whether Prince Frederic and Prince Otto were close friends or secret lovers.
“You met the man in the Arsenal, didn’t you?” Robber asked. “Did you get a read on whether he’d enjoy that sort of lance-handling?”
The goblin obscenely wiggled his hairless brows, startling a laugh out of me. I could have told him that Frederic was actually a more than decent jouster, but that was best kept quiet even among my closest.
“Alas, I only ever got to see him use a sword,” I sighed. “A tragedy, Robber. You know what these pretty boys do to me.”
He wrinkled his nose in disgust, not even entirely feigned.
“Humans,” he sighed. “It’s all fluids with you lot – and not even the fun ones, like blood or goblinfire.”
I made a somewhat unkind comment about the sexual attraction the average sapper might feel towards a crate of munitions, which devolved the conversation into bickering all the rest of the way to where Pickler was holed up. A shooting range, I discovered, or at least the battered remnants of one. Targets had been blown through in ways experience allowed me to match with ballistas, but it’d been more than just stone that’d done this. The grounds and wooden targets were scorched, like they’d been set aflame. I frowned as I limped to the edge of the firing range, interested enough I didn’t stop to chat with the sapper crews fielding the three ballistas on the range.
I knelt slowly, leaning on my staff, a trailed my fingers against the charred wooden remains of a target. Bringing them close to my face, I took a whiff and immediately let out a noise of surprise.
“Aha,” Sapper-General Pickler of the High Ridge Tribe enthused, popping out without warning. “You get it, then. I knew you would.”
She forgot to tack on even a ma’am at the end, but I was excited enough it barely registered.
“That wasn’t done by sorcery,” I said. “There’s no ozone smell, like there would be with an enchanted stone blowing up.”
Having appeared out of hole in the ground – not metaphorically, it’d been an actual hole and she’d been in it – Pickler offered me an excited grin that was like a clacking mouthful of white needles. Like Robber she’d aged, yet while like him her face had grown gaunter her frame had actually thickened. She was only a little taller than the last time we’d seen each other, but her shoulders and hips had grown broader. Her amber eyes looked even larger, now that the skin was pulled taut around them, and they shone with manic zeal.
“It’s Light,” she said, confirming my guess.
I let out a low whistle.
“We’ve been trying to get that to work for years,” I said, honestly impressed. “Multiples stones were fired here, Pickler. You really managed to get several shots out without scrapping the engine?”
Stones with a Light infusion weren’t new, everyone under the sun had used those at some point. They’d been a known part of Calernian arsenals since the First Crusade, when trying to take heavily warded Praesi cities with inferior mages had forced the crusading armies to find an alternative to simply dying by the dozens of thousands storming the walls. The problem with those munitions was that they tended to wreck whatever siege engine they were thrown out of, as Light was highly unstable when shoved into things. There was a reason the foremost artisan in Light of our generation was the Blessed Artificer, who’d gotten a fucking Name out of her skill at it.
Usually larger stones were more stable, so trebuchets and catapults could be relied on to toss a dozen stones before being seriously damaged. It made their use viable. The smaller the engines got, though, the more the Light in the projectiles screwed with them. Scorpions and ballistas were sometimes made unusable by as much as a single shot, the javelins and stones having bent the wood they were on. The Lycaonese, who loved ballistas as much as the Legions of Terror – even though they used dwarven models, the poor fuckers – had long been bitter about this, as they could not afford to buy replacements and lacked the mages to turn to a magical solution instead.
“We have to put a copper casing on the stones,” Pickler hedged, “but once that safety is observed, yes. It had been an unequivocal success, Catherine. And the amount of Light that emanates is battle-appropriate, it has a decent shot of destroying even a construct.”
“Gods Below, Pickler,” I laughed out. “That…”
Changed things, to put it lightly. Most constructs were too damned quick to be threatened by something like this, and those that weren’t were much too big, but the amount of Light she was talking about would utterly wreck most undead infantry. It might even finally give us a way to deal with the Grey Legion that wasn’t ‘soldiers praying Akua, the Witch or me got there in time’. Even Hanno had found those fuckers a hard nut to crack.
“I thought it might please,” my Sapper-General said, smiling a smile as girlish as goblin teeth allowed.
It would have made a cat flinch, I suspected. And wisely so, given that goblins liked them in a stew.
“It has,” I said, almost touching her shoulder before I refrained.
It, uh, was usually taken as an advance by goblins. Robber had been trained out of that by his years rubbing elbows with other races, but Pickler wasn’t as social.
“Have supper with me tonight,” I said. “You can tell me more about it there. But until then?”
She watched me, amber eyes alight with expectation.
“Take what you need, Sapper-General,” I grinned, wolfish. “On my authority, requisition any bloody thing you need to make sure we have as many of those modified ballistas and… copperstones as we can when we march.”
She didn’t protest the name, improvised as it was, so it might just stick. The two of us grinned at each other again, and it felt like the day had gotten just a little bit lighter.
I swung by my tent, afterwards, to follow through on what I’d just promised. I doubted Pickler was going to be shy with requisitions if she was rushing things before our departure, so I’d better ensure she actually had the recognized authority to make those. Thankfully Adjutant was waiting there, seated in his wheelchair and dictating notes to three attendants in the green-and-grey livery that signified they were directly in his service. Two humans and one goblin, I noted, by the looks of it a young Soninke woman and an older Callowan man.
All three bore a discreet painted iron pin in the form of a curled skeletal hand pointing its index, the enchantment laid on it serving only to prove it was authentic. On the rolls these constantly-swelling ranks were called the adjunct secretariat, and their stated purpose was to serve as a mix of my personal bureaucracy and messengers. And while they did serve those purposes, and well, that was only the official part of their duties. In practice people had taken to calling the ‘phalanges’ after the pins, and they served as Hakram’s eyes and hands.
Some of them had been invested with authority on my behalf, able to make inspections of Callowan and Grand Alliance property and soldiers to unearth treason and corruption, but there was also an entire armed wing that’d expanded out of the first tenth of legionaries I’d long ago put under Adjutant to ferret out Heiress’ rats in the Fifteenth.
Grandmaster Talbot had approached me and expressed, in confidence, a degree of unease over ‘the Adjutant’s private army of soldiers, sneaks and scribes’. If he’d know that Hakram had heavily recruited from the parts of the Assassin’s Guild that’d not been a good fit for the Jacks, I suspected he would have been outright worried. I’d appeased the commander of my knights by assuring him there were non-negotiable limits to the amount of coin dedicated to the adjunct secretariat, which would restrict its size permanently after a little more growth.
I got the sense Talbot had wanted some Callowan oversight over the phalanges, either through Vivienne or my Queen’s Council – though the latter would have probably meant Vivienne also, given that my Council was currently in Laure and answering to Duchess Kegan – but that wasn’t going to be happening. When I abdicated I’d be taking the phalanges with me to Cardinal, so I wasn’t interested in giving Callow too deep a peek at their inner workings. If I wanted them to survive as a Cardinal institution, I couldn’t let them slide into being just a chapter of the Jacks by another name.
The three phalanges saluted as I limped in, but I gestured for them to keep jotting down Hakram’s orders as I made my way to my liquor cabinet and poured myself a celebratory finger of aragh. The copperstone munitions were worth a drink for more than me, I decided, so after a moment I poured a finger for Adjutant as well.
“- and have another look into Captain Garrick,” Adjutant said. “That’s twice now he’s splashed coin around, we still don’t know if it’s inheritance or he’s been taking bribes.”
The goblin licked her lips, as the others nodded.
“And my own find?” she asked.
“The Jacks have been in touch, she’s already one of their informants in the ranks and she warned them of the contact,” Hakram said, sounding chagrined. “Start over with another company.”
I sipped at my aragh, watching as he finished the last round of instructions and dismissed them. They saluted, first to me and then to him, and within moments we were left alone. I pressed the small cup into his only hand, the skeletal one Masego’s father had crafted from him what felt like a lifetime ago. The orc – still so tall, even wheelchair-bound – let out an approving rumble. We clinked our glasses and drank.
“Pickler’s work proved worth all the mess?” he asked afterwards.
“And more,” I replied. “She managed to get Light-infused projectiles working for ballistas, though she has to tinker up both. Dips the stones in copper, which means they’ll be hard to make out on the campaign trail.”
Hakram’s eyes widened, his fangs clicking together thoughtfully.
“That is fine news indeed,” he said. “We only have enough goblin munitions stockpiled for one last campaign, even used sparingly, so a substitute is long overdue.”
More like two pitched battles than a whole campaign, in my opinion, and I wanted to keep a decent quantity at hand for when we moved on the capital so really more for one battle. Our initial hopes that the Confederation of the Grey Eyries would be able to push out the Matron who’d betrayed them, currently styled High Lady Wither of Foramen, out of said city had turned out to be… overly optimistic. Wither had little Legion support, but the Confederation’s armies weren’t the kind that could take a Praesi city except by surprise.
Which High Lady Wither wasn’t going to fall for, since she’d taken the city this way from both her predecessors the Banu and then the Confederation itself.
The Grey Eyries were hardly at risk of falling, since the traitor tribes couldn’t really afford to chance anything aside from a defence of their seized territories, but without control of Foramen the Confederation could no longer sell us goblin munitions. Some mountain routes had been opened but the quantities that could be taken through them were paltry and the Eyries themselves were full of creatures that preyed on goblins. We still got the occasional wagons from Callow, as much from old Legion caches as what the goblins got to us, but it wasn’t enough.
I’d forbidden use of munitions, lest attrition at the defensive line empty our stock long before a decisive battle could be fought.
“Agreed,” I said. “I ordered her to stock up as much as she can of both ballistas and copperstones, so she’ll need my seal and a Grand Alliance warrant.”
“It would be polite to inform the other commanders in advance, since she might requisition from them,” Hakram reminded me. “No need for much, just a courtesy letter.”
“I suppose,” I muttered.
Might as well smooth the feathers before they ever got ruffled if it could be done. Bone fingers came to rest on the side of the wheelchair, clutching around the grip, and Adjutant wheeled himself to the side. Tried to, anyway – the left wheel got caught on a rock that’d bene pushed into the ground, and while the chair was too well-built to flip it did get stuck. Hakram grunted with effort as he tried to force it, but all it did was get the rock stuck between the wheel and the protective sheathing as earth sprayed. I stood paralyzed, wanting to help but certain he’d take it as an insult. He finally let go with a half-swallowed roar, the dead hand slamming down onto the arm of the wheelchair.
Hakram looked to the side, as if unwilling to face me.
“I can send back for secretaries,” I delicately said.
Some part of me dimly suspected that my helping him instead would go over very poorly. It… wasn’t how we did things. Never had been.
“No,” Adjutant roughly said. “The seal and warrants are under lock, and there’s none close that have the clearance to touch them.”
“An exception can be made once,” I tried. “While we are here.”
His fingers clenched until even the enchanted wood under them creaked.
“I wrote those safety rules, Catherine,” Hakram bit out. “I won’t break them because of a fucking rock.”
Quietly I drew on Night, wondering if I could slip a tendril near the chair and-
“Stop that,” Adjutant sharply said.
Lips thinning, I released the power. I did neither of us the disservice or pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“It will be easier when the prosthetics come from the Arsenal,” he tiredly said. “I’ll be out of the chair, able to walk again. It will take longer to be able to fight but-“
“Hakram,” I said.
“There are shields built for men with only one hand, Catherine,” he told me. “I have looked into the matter. It will take training, but it can be done.”
My heart clenched, but I couldn’t just let him keep on telling himself that lie.
“Hakram,” I quietly repeated, “you know it can’t be like that. It’s done, the old fights. Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to handle soldiers, but not Named. Not for a long time, if ever again.”
He’d have to make a fighting style nearly from scratch, learn to compensate for several glaring weaknesses while having few strengths to call on. It wasn’t impossible, and men that had half his courage and discipline went back to fighting after losing a hand, but he’d lost a great deal more than that. Prosthetics relying on magic would make him brutally vulnerable to heroes that could wield Light, which was most of them, and a skilled mage without even a Name would be able to meddle with the enchantments on them.
“I will not be put out to pasture, Catherine,” Hakram rasped out. “I won’t allow it.”
“I haven’t stopped relying on you,” I insisted. “You lost some aptitude in swinging around a stick with steel stuck onto it, that’s all. If anything I’m running you too hard, considering you’re recovering from severe wounds.”
He studied me for a moment, dark eyes calm and all too knowing.
“You are closing the door,” Adjutant said. “To my ever standing by your side in battle again.”
I opened my mouth to argue, hadn’t I just said that – but he raised his hand, and so I swallowed my tongue.
“Maybe not with words,” Hakram said. “Or with deeds. But in the back of your head, you have.”
My lips thinned. I’d never liked being told what it was that I was supposedly thinking, even coming from my closest friend in the world.
“You know my aspects,” the orc tiredly said. “One felt mockery, when it sunk in what I had lost, but then I thought it might instead turn into a key.”
Rampage, Find, Stand. The last must have felt like a bitter joke after losing his leg. With the way the Severance’s cut had carved into his hipbone, he couldn’t even try to get around on crutches – even with painkillers the pain was simply horrendous. Only surgical spells that deadened pain worked, and those could damage nerves if they were kept on for too long.
“But it hasn’t,” I said.
“It is fading,” Hakram replied, then corrected himself. “No, perhaps not quite that drastic. Losing luster? Losing potency, certainly. As if there was no longer a call for me to use it, or a place where I would.”
My stomach dropped. He was implying that I no longer thought of him as someone who’d fight by my side – and Gods, I had carefully kept the words out of my mouth but they were not untrue – so his Name, ever so bound to my service, was no longer trying to help him in that purpose. Even when he wanted it to. I drew back as if struck. It was only a theory, this, but Adjutant had good instincts. And it had that damning ring of truth to it.
“I haven’t,” I blurted. “I mean, I can’t…”
I did not quite know what I was trying to say, and an odd shame was eating at me from the inside for it.
“I am not accusing you of malice,” Adjutant spoke into my flustered silence. “Or trying to shame you. But you were not going to admit it unless told. And now that you know, perhaps if you shape your thoughts…”
I hesitantly nodded.
“I don’t know if it would work,” he admitted. “If it can. But what else is there but to try?”
Making peace with having lost something, I wanted to reply, but how could I? It was serving me he’d lost it, while I was getting clever playing shatranj with the Intercessor. Now I was looking at the consequences of my decision every day, and it was not a pretty thing to behold.
“You need a helper while we’re out there,” I forced out. “Someone who’ll take care of little things for you and keep an eye out for enemies. Neshamah will come after you, he knows how important you are to the war.”
And to me, which would have been enough for the Hidden Horror to aim for his head without all the other good reasons for it.
“I have my secretaries,” Hakram replied. “Some of them have better grips on swords than quills.”
“You need more than that,” I said. “I’ve talked with the Silver Huntress and then with the girl herself: the Apprentice could be suborned to you for the offensive, to learn from you and lend a hand.”
It’d been surreal looking at some slip of a girl from Ashur bearing Masego’s Name, much less one who considered herself a heroine, but I’d managed. The Apprentice badly wanted a term of service in the Arsenal, and I’d offered it a bribe after this campaign if she accepted. She’d still get lessons from the Sage, it was the reason she was out here on the front in the first place, but the hours would have been cut while we were on war footing anyway so serving as Hakram’s assistant would not be to her detriment.
It also put a skilled practitioner by his side during most of the day. The Apprentice had previously been studying with an eye to become the Silver Mage, one of the Ashuran wizardly mantles, but she’d abandoned the healing arts after most her teachers got killed during the sack of Smyrna. She’d picked up a lot of quick and cheap war magic since signing onto the Truce, and while her spellcasting was still pretty simple it was also swift and highly destructive. Nothing short of a Revenant ought to trouble her if she saw it coming.
“And what did it cost you to convince the girl?” the orc drily asked.
I shrugged. We both knew I wasn’t above sweetening the pot for someone when it served my purposes. I could read him well enough to know that the offer wasn’t making him happy, but he didn’t refuse outright.
“I’ll think about it,” Hakram finally said. “That’s all I can give you.”
I bit my lip, tempted to push since I sensed he was leaning more towards accepting than refusing. If I gave him too much time to ponder, though, he might just talk himself out of it. I breathed out. Trust, I told myself. We weren’t going to get through this intact without trust.
“Have an answer for me before we set out,” I nodded. “I’ll want to speak with the White Knight before making the final arrangements.”
“I will,” Adjutant gravelled, then hesitated.
He sagged into the seat, as if tension had drifted out of him.
“I’ll take care of the warrant and seal,” he said. “I only need one hand to fake your signature.”
“I leave it in your hands, then,” I said, then paused. “And Hakram?”
He turned darks eyes onto me.
“I love you,” I said. “You know that, right?”
The orc breathed out.
“I know,” he said.
I’d not asked for forgiveness and he’d not given it. It wasn’t in me to ask, and he’d be insulted if I did. But it was something, to say the words. A paltry offering, I couldn’t help but think as I left my tent, but what else did I have to give?
When the moon rose, it found me once more standing at the edge of the roof.
Summer heat had lingered even after dark, the breeze bringing the distant scent of the swamplands in the distance. Green and mud and life, all intertwined with something like sweet rot. I stood at the edge, letting the wind curl around me, and closed my eyes. I flinched in pain a moment later. Like nails driven into my temples. It wasn’t an attack, I realized, but a Night-working. One I’d laid myself as a precaution two years back. I pulled back the string of it again, but left the working in place.
“The trick’s not quite as good,” I said, “once you know what to look for.”
Her steps were quiet, but not so quiet I did not hear her deftly make her way down the tiles to stand at my side. First time I’d ever caught her out, wasn’t it? My contingency must have triggered when I’d closed my eyes, prompted by a power I’d not noticed and had felt entirely like my own whim. What a dangerous aspect hers was.
“The same can be said of all tricks,” the Scribe replied.
This, I suspected, was going to be an interesting talk.