Through Nic’s earthsight eyepatch, Falken’s figure brimmed brightly near the open panel. He was still here, even if only shadows appeared to claim the chamber’s corner.
“Try to escape,” the Grand Divinus dared, still hovering the desk directly over Nic’s head. Her voice was matter-of-fact, as if she dealt with assassins daily. The Grand Divinus clearly noticed her, so that meant she had some precaution against Shade. An anti-mentalism sigil tattoo?
“It’s been some time since I’ve taken a life by my own hand,” the Grand Divinus continued. “At least a human life.”
But Falken lingered, not a muscle moving. The radiant threads of his anima swirled restlessly, flared and faded, wove and re-wove.
And then he backed through the panel.
Her chest tightened and her jaw clenched. She looked away.
He was invisible by way of the ring, but even as much attention as she’d given could be enough for the Grand Divinus to notice.
No, there was no sense in both of them dying. They’d agreed beforehand. They’d agreed, and—
I’m not dying today either. Nic rolled out from beneath the desk and toward the armoire, clipping open one of the doors for cover.
A thud hit the parquet floor. Papers flew like feathers.
The armoire’s door ripped off as Nic threw two more of her knives. High. Low.
The nightstand’s slab of marble caught the high knife. The bearskin rug caught the low. Damned magic—
Nic had her arm around the box of blood vials, readied her last arcanir knife—
In front of her face was the tip of a letter opener, its sharp edge glinting in the moonlight. She stopped short.
Another shone next to it. A ring of blades, surrounding her.
“Enough of this,” the Grand Divinus huffed, waving an impatient hand. “I should have you flayed for this.”
Should wasn’t will. Nic didn’t move, but glanced toward the Grand Divinus.
“It’s the top left vial. Go ahead and take it.” The Grand Divinus indicated the box with an imperious raise of her chin. “He and I are allies, after all. Call it a gesture of good faith.”
Watching the Grand Divinus warily, Nic plucked the top left vial out of the box. There was no way of knowing whether the woman spoke true, but there would be no guarantees. Not even of survival.
A flurry of running steps neared the door to the hallway.
Divine Guard—had to be. “Your Holiness!”
Without looking away, the Grand Divinus lifted her arm toward the door, and the armoire slid in front of it. “I am well. Do not enter my quarters,” she called, her voice even and hardly raised at all.
It would be the perfect time to kill her.
But then, of course, an armoire wouldn’t hold that door forever, and the element of surprise was already lost.
“I will allow you to leave here with your life and that vial,” the Grand Divinus said, but the ring of knives closed in. “But do tell Lord Constable Marcel that I expect his complete allegiance once he is crown prince.”
Crown prince? Nox’s black breath…
But now was not the time for questions. Her heart pounding, Nic nodded.
The ring of blades opened from one side and moved, urging her to the window.
“A thief can show herself out, can’t she?” the Grand Divinus asked with a curl of her lips.
It was sheer dumb luck that the Grand Divinus thought her a thief and not an assassin. Nic tucked the vial into her shirt as the window panels flew open behind her. She barely had time to reach for her grappling hook when the the blade tips pressed against her clavicle—
The hook anchored to the sill, she rappelled down. The wind battered against her clothes, its chill streaking across her back through the arcanir-weave fabric.
A commotion broke above her.
Still three stories up, she was quickly running out of rope. And no time to climb down properly.
Below, a row of hedges grew off to the side. Not a comfortable pillow, but better than the solid ground directly beneath.
Holding the rope securely, she swayed left, then swayed right, catching her footing against the castle’s stone to scurry along it and gain momentum.
Two heads poked out far above as she swung and let go, curling her body tight to protect her head and vitals.
The sharp sting of cuts and the crunch of twigs of branches met her along with the hedge. A bolt of agony shot from her collarbone, shooting through her like lightning. Wetness coated her cheek, neck, and upper chest. Blood.
She rolled out, testing her extremities. Unbroken.
The Divine Guard looking out above didn’t turn in her direction.
Shade still worked on them, it seemed. Thank Nox for small favors.
A deafening explosion sounded from across the property. A rumble rippled through the ground beneath her feet, and she struggled to remain standing as it shook.
The grind of stone against stone, the chaotic thuds of brick—
An ear-splitting roar rent the air, unlike anything she’d ever heard. Her hands over her ears, she fled, running for the surrounding walls. Whatever had made that sound—she didn’t want to be around to meet it.
Her feet didn’t stop.
One of the castle walls crumbled, its stone blown away like autumn leaves.
Screams and shouted orders added to the chaos, and bright flashes lit the darkness. Spells—and fire. So much fire.
When her palms finally met the wall, she didn’t have her grappling hook. Her fingers searched for handholds as she jerked her head over her shoulder.
Innumerable black wings beat against the silver moon, along with sleek tails and great maws. Otherworldly roars and shrieks cut the waves of human screams and orders.
Her muscles trembled in their work, but she scaled the wall, clambered up between the merlons, flat against the cover and concealment.
When it was clear, she’d need to move. Move, and run without looking back.
She inched her head out, just to peek, and a massive creature of many heads leaped off the opposite battlements. In its wake stood a group of people—no, Immortals. Elves with pointed ears and lean bodies.
One with long, pale hair and a winter-wolf gaze, his hands fisted, looking out at the bailey. Falken. And next to him, a woman who looked just like him standing at the head of a group, her hair just as pale and long as his, her face as hard as her gaze. She barked something at him and jerked her head beyond the wall.
The rest of the elves followed her and disappeared off the side.
Falken stood there, a winged horse beating its wings behind him, soaring up into the moonlit sky, where embers floated off magical fires.
Nic removed Shade, only for a moment, as her gaze met his.
His eyes brightened, ethereal fires. He slowly raised his hands palm up—then inclined his head, the moon’s silver glow revealing a twitch of his jaw.
And then he was gone. Just like the rest of them.