Blood of the Wolf, Chapter 9

In the dark, Nic clutched the fine woven fabric of Falken’s coat, following him as he led the way through Divinity Castle’s network of secret passageways. His exceptional night-time vision made him an ideal leader here, she had to give him that. Her memory of the Contarini maps was perfect, but it didn’t do her any good in complete blackness.

Only the rare pinprick of firelight beamed through peepholes fashioned in the walls. The knowledge of who did what in the privacy of their rooms was always useful, but in Silen, especially so. Falken slowed before those beams—good practice in case anyone was awake and listening.

They followed the outer corridors, just as the map had indicated, to a ladder leading both up and down. It was here that she passed Falken and climbed first. If anyone was to be the tip of the dagger emerging in the chambers of the Grand Divinus, it should be the assassin. Besides, her earthsight eyepatch would give them the information they needed before entering.

She headed up the ladder. There was no monitoring to do, since they had to go all the way to the top. Just the slog of several floors before arriving level with their destination.

How many assassins and thieves had ever made it this far? Climbing the ladder to the Grand Divinus herself? She’d never heard of any, so either their successes had been kept secret by the Divinity, or… or their bones had been magically reduced too little but dust. Hopefully the former.

She and Falken had discussed what to do in case either of them were caught: run. Anyone apprehended by the Divine Guard would surely be executed, and there was no sense in both of them failing their goals and dying. If he was caught, she’d run. If she was caught, so would he. That was their agreement.

And yet… that same pleasant shiver danced down her spine as it had earlier, when his arms had surrounded her, when his gaze had held hers, when his lips had met hers.

A finger tapped on her boot—Falken—and she swallowed, resuming her ascent.

It had only been a kiss. That was all. The plan hadn’t changed. The contingencies remained the same.

The ladder finally ended, letting out into a corridor that barely allowed for her height, let alone Falken’s. But according to the Contarini maps, this would take them where they needed to go.

With sangremancy being against the Divinity’s laws, the Grand Divinus would have the vials of blood with her or in the privacy of her chambers. It would be here. It had to.

Crouched, Nic crept along the corridor’s path, searching ahead through the earthsight eyepatch. Nothing. No one. She bit her lip, frowning. The Grand Divinus wasn’t sleeping in her own bed?

The only figures of bright anima were distant. The chamber had to be empty. It was perfect, really. She could find the vial and then hide here in wait until the Grand Divinus arrived—and breathed her last.

Now or never.

She forged ahead and came up against a wall. Falken rested a hand on her back, silent word he was still with her. Good. She pushed against the wall, but it didn’t budge.

With careful fingers, she searched for any mechanism to open it, brushing over rough-textured stone. Her fingertip swept over a cleft, its shape a rectangular depression. She pressed it, yielding a soft click. Hopefully soft enough that no one else heard.

She leaned a shoulder against the wall and pushed. When Falken’s palms joined on either side of her, stone grated against stone, and a panel shifted. As she slipped through, he continued just a bit more, and then followed suit. Just around an armoire was a quiet room.

The quarters were dark, but not pitch black as the passageways had been. The lambent glow of the stars shone through the veil of the curtains, cast onto an armchair, a dresser, two empty marble-topped nightstands, a fur rug far too big to be bearskin, and… a four-poster curtained, canopied bed.

The panel had let into the bedchamber.

The bed curtains were drawn, and when she inspected it through the earthsight eyepatch, there was nothing there. At all.

Falken’s anima was visible at least, even if he wore his invisibility ring. Around the armoire, he waited by the open panel, keeping a lookout.

The next closest anima figure was distant—moving down a hallway, probably a Divine Guard.

No better time to search these quarters. There was a desk against the far wall—she padded over to it, an eye on the door. The top drawer was locked, but she removed her lockpicks and opened it. Papers, more papers, quills… The other drawers contained books and the like.

Not here.

On the dresser was an array of boxes and jars. If Marcel’s vial wasn’t the only one—

She lifted the box lids carefully. Powder, a pouf, jewelry… and vials. A dozen of them, full of dark liquid.

A shadow passed over her.

“There’s only one man who’d be arrogant enough to send you.” A woman’s voice.

Nox’s black breath—

Nic whirled, throwing two arcanir knives.

A clang and another. Each knife glanced off a slab of marble.

“None of that. Unless you want to become my new rug.”

New…? Nic flickered a glance above her—

Where the desk hovered. Gods-damned mages.

The Grand Divinus’s black-and-gray hair was unbound, but there was an unmistakable elegance in her bearing. She stood in a nightgown next to the bed, from between the bed curtains. But how—?

The cloth… Arcanir-weave cloth? For the bed curtains.

“Hands up.”

Nic did as bidden, angling her body just enough to shoot a surreptitious glance toward the panel. If Falken was still here…


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