Once Nic was over the wall, she didn’t stop running. The autumn air chilled down her throat as she rasped it in.
Falken had freed his people from the castle’s dungeon. He’d accomplished exactly what he’d planned to, and that was good. When the Grand Divinus had caught her, he’d left her…
But that was what they’d agreed. She would’ve done the same—or at least she’d planned to do the same. They couldn’t have defeated her, not once the Grand Divinus had discovered her. She was an assassin, not a mage or a paladin. Her strength was in stealth.
The Grand Divinus had spared her… claiming to be allied with Marcel. Demanding his allegiance once he was crown prince.
He’s going to turn on the king.
But if they were allies, why had Marcel sent her? Wouldn’t he have worried the truth would come out? Perhaps this was some ploy to turn the king and the Constable of Emaurria against one another—if she reported this to the king.
The Grand Divinus could have been lying, couldn’t she? But why, when it would have been so much easier to kill the so-called thief in her chamber? Why allow her to bring the vial back to Marcel?
No, the Grand Divinus’s words had borne some truth, and that was why she hadn’t killed her ally’s thief.
It’s why I’m still alive.
And Falken leaving had saved his life. The Grand Divinus may have seen fit to grant mercy to someone serving her ally, but a light-elf? Especially when she kept them locked up in the dungeon? Not a chance.
Falken was back with his people now, where he wanted to be. Where he belonged.
And it was time she went back to her own.
She stopped at the Frozen Cello’s ivy-claimed walls, gathering her composure for a minute before walking in. The door resisted the wind, but she shut it, gave the young serving woman a nod, and glanced about the tavern.
A couple of hooded men sat in the corner with ale steins, but the place was otherwise empty.
“He’s not here,” the young serving woman said.
Nic looked over her shoulder.
“Falken. I haven’t seen him since you left.”
Well, well. Wasn’t she paying attention. “He’s not coming back. I’ll settle the tab before I leave.”
Without waiting for an answer, she trudged up the stairs. They’d agreed to meet here, but he’d freed his people from imprisonment and unleashed what had looked like the second coming of the Rift.
When he’d given her that final look across the castle’s bailey, it had been just like the one at the Bagni Bianchi. Hands raised, palms up. Pale and ethereal, like some spirit, a dreamy figure from reverie. Inclining his head, just slightly. Like a farewell.
It was farewell.
Shaking her head, she climbed the last step, gaze fixed on her door—
Anima. Through the earthsight eyepatch. Bright.
She darted to the knob, unlocked the door—
And came face to face with Tomasia Contarini.
“Good evening, Signorina,” Tomasia greeted with a serene smile, but her voice was the smooth stroke of a blade through butter.
Her face hardened into a pleasant mask, Nic left the door ajar. “Signora Contarini.” She nodded toward the coin purse on her bedside table. “I assume you’re here to collect for the ring.”
The ring Falken had thought—so irrationally—to steal.
Her eyes hooded, Tomasia turned her head ever so slightly toward the bedside table and breathed what might have been a laugh. “Indeed I am.”
Tomasia wasn’t here for coin. And considering there wasn’t blood and gore strewn about the chamber, death wasn’t the payment she sought either.
Nic shut the door, but didn’t disarm.
Running a fingertip along the desk, Tomasia slowly paced, her long black velvet gown trailing her in sensuous elegance. “We’ve had word that the Emaurrian king is working with the Covens.”
And? Tomasia would get to the point.
“Silen is a very loyal kingdom,” Tomasia continued, reaching for a black feather quill. “Loyal to the Divinity.” She straightened, canting her head as she toyed with the quill and sighed. “It’s no secret a clandestine war is being waged between Emaurria and the Divinity. We would pledge our support for Emaurria.”
Nic raised an eyebrow. “That’s very generous of you, but I don’t work for the king.”
Tomasia bit her lip. “In exchange, after the victory, the king is to leave Magehold in our—most beneficent—control.”
Nox’s black breath… Clearing her throat, Nic turned away. Tomasia didn’t care whether or not she worked for the king. This was her price for Falken stealing the ring.
And if she didn’t pay up—
If she didn’t pay up, she wouldn’t leave Magehold alive. Tomasia and the Contarini couldn’t take down the Divinity, but they most certainly could take down one Black Rose assassin.
Someone would have to make the case for the Contarini to the king.
Someone who’d owe her a favor.
Someone like Marcel.
“Pleasure doing business, Signorina.” Tomasia gently set down the quill and sauntered toward the door. She opened it, but paused and grinned. “Steal from the Coven again, and not even the rats will be able to collect all the pieces of you.”
Nic grinned back until Tomasia left and shut the door.
Then the blood rushed back into her face, and swallowing, she leaned against the wall, letting her head rest against it, and closed her eyes.
She had the vial—probably Marcel’s—but the Grand Divinus was still alive and had seen her face. The Contarini were on her tail. She had to convince a king to turn over a territory outside of his dominion to a Coven.
And Falken wasn’t coming back. If he wasn’t here yet, then he wasn’t coming. And there was no way he’d find her in Emaurria, no matter what niceties they may have exchanged.
There was nothing here for her. And nothing left but to go home.