Sitting across the table from Devlen, I felt unsettled. He had done nothing to alarm me, but the atmosphere in the Weir Inn’s common room seemed charged. The normal buzz of conversation was muted as if the others were afraid of being overheard.
I glanced around. Town guards sat at tables and leaned against the bar. More than usual or was I just ultra-aware of them because of my situation?
I questioned Devlen on Ulrick. “Where did you leave him?”
“We parted company at the Tulip Inn on the western edge of town.”
He stuck to his story and I had no way to force the truth from him. “I’ll play along. Did he say where he planned to go?”
“I suggested he find a mentor to teach him how to use his new powers and to increase them.”
“With blood magic?”
“Of course. You can not add to your magical abilities otherwise.”
I considered my own history with magic. At first, I had thought I possessed one trick—to capture magic inside my glass animals. But when Kade exhausted himself filling orbs with storm energy, I joined my essence with him and helped contain the lethal might of the tempest. Then I discovered the skill to harvest another’s magic.
“Your magic was always there, Opal. You lacked the confidence and the knowledge to fully use it.”
“You can read my mind?”
“No. Your face. Your expressions are easy to read. Despite your adventures with the sinister side of life, you remain an open and kind person.”
I would call them my misadventures.
Devlen relaxed against the back of his chair. “You do not agree. Just because you are smarter and more cautious now, you are not jaded and suspicious. When you meet someone, you think the best of them until they prove you wrong. It is refreshing and a little frustrating, especially in Ulrick’s case. He has not proven you wrong.”
“Mind games and sweet talk. You’re very good at those. You only know me through Ulrick.”
“And you have forgotten I was born a Sandseed and learned how to control my magic from the Story Weavers. Just because I chose to leave my clan to be a Warper, does not mean I have forgotten my training. When I had magic, I scanned each person I touched. If they resonated with me, I had full access to the story threads of their life. Past, present and future.” He leaned closer. “You resonated deep within me. More than any other.”
He played with my emotions, conning me. I pushed aside his insinuations about knowing my life story. Focusing on the original topic, I asked, “Who would Ulrick seek out to teach him? According to the Sitian Council, all the Warpers are dead.”
Devlen propped his elbows onto the table and rested his chin on his hands. “Why are you asking me questions when you do not believe my answers?”
“Perhaps I’m hoping you’ll slip up and tell me the truth.”
He huffed. “Okay fine. I told Ulrick there were three other Warpers who had escaped. They might have moved on, but two were living in Ognap and the other was somewhere near Bloodgood lands. I assume Ulrick would head east to Ognap. If the two Warpers are still there, he would find them.”
“By their smell.” Seeing my confusion, he added, “It is not discernable by regular people or magicians. Only Warpers can smell it. Handy for a number of things, especially for finding spies in our midst.”
Ulrick could be in Ognap by now. If he was, then it would prove Devlen’s claims Ulrick agreed to the switch. If he found the other Warpers, then they’re all together and I would have to deal with three powerful magicians. But it would also mean I could drain and neutralize three more blood magicians. Which was fine with me. The sooner the better.
Before Ulrick’s skills were limited—his glass vases also trapped magic within them, but the magic transferred emotions rather than thoughts. Could he still use his own magic? I asked Devlen.
“No. Besides not knowing how to blow glass, all my own magic stayed with my soul.”
“How does blood magic work?” I asked.
Devlen sipped his ale. “Everyone has a soul. Therefore, everyone has magic. But not all can access the power source and use their magic potential. Only magicians can link their magic to the blanket of power.”
“I know all this. I studied at the Magician’s Keep for the past five years.”
“Humor me.” His finger traced the wood grain on the table. “Blood magic binds a person’s soul magic to his blood. It attaches energy to a physical substance. After the binding is achieved, blood can be drawn from the person and injected into another. The Warpers would mix the blood with tattoo ink and inject it into the skin.”
Devlen rubbed his arm as if remembering the prick of pain. “For the first level of the Kirakawa ritual, only a small amount is needed. The blood gives the Warper a boost of magic, and instead of drawing a thin thread of power from the blanket, he could pull a thicker strand. If the blood…donor is not a magician, the boost is weaker than blood from a magician.”
His gaze trapped mine. “This is where it becomes interesting. If the person receiving the blood is not a magician and the donor is not a magician, nothing happens. But if the nonmagical person injects blood from a magician, he gains the ability to connect with the power source. He becomes a magician. Think about it. Everyone could be a magician. Everyone would be equal. What is wrong about that?”
A persuasive argument, except for the one thing. “But it’s addicting. No one stops at the first level. The first few levels are benign, but once you get to level nine—”
“Ten is when the killings begin. And at level twelve the heart’s blood is harvested from the chambers of a heart. The final step reaps the most potent magic. Because the heart is where the soul resides.”
I shuddered, remembering the blood-stained sand at the Magician’s Keep. Sudden pride at my deeds during the Warper battle flared. Those who knew how to perform the last two levels of the Kirakawa had been imprisoned in my glass animals and hidden. Devlen had hoped to use me to find his captured mentor and finish the Kirakawa.
“What level were you on?” I asked.
The word hung between us like a dark cloud. I recoiled when he touched my hand. “When you stole my magic, you took away my greed for power. You could do the same for Ulrick.”
Ulrick had been frustrated with his limited magical abilities. To render him without any magic at all would be devastating. “I’m not sure he would want me to.”
“Does not matter what he wants. If you do not drain him, he will desire more magic and he has learned how to acquire it.”
With blood magic. “How could you say it doesn’t have to be ill used? Eventually anyone using it will advance to a point where he needs to kill in order to satisfy the hunger.”
“The desire to increase your power does not influence what you chose to do with your magic. Once acquired, I could do good things like heal and help others with it. The Daviian Warpers believed Sitia needed stronger leadership. They used their powers to overthrow the Council because they felt Ixia was on the verge of invading us, and the current Council would be ineffective in repelling them.”
“They were wrong.”
Devlen shrugged. “For now. Ixia’s Commander could always change his mind.”
“I can’t get pass the fact of having to murder another to finish the ritual.”
He considered. “You could find someone on the edge of dying and take his soul right before he passes.”
“But then you deny him eternal peace in the sky.”
“Only if he was headed to the sky. What if the fire world claimed him? Given the choice of eternal pain or helping another, I have no doubt he would chose to stay.”
I almost agreed to the benefits of his scenario before I realized he had used his golden tongue to twist his words again. And I had fallen for it. Again.
His gaze slid pass me and a wry smile touched his lips. “Such a good boy. Right on time.”
I turned. Janco and four Sitian guards hustled toward us.
Devlen spread his hands wide, showing he was unarmed, but his attention never left me. “I enjoyed our conversation.”
Two guards rushed him. They jerked him to his feet and slammed him face first onto the table. He offered no resistance despite being armed with Janco’s sword, which Janco wasted no time in reclaiming. Frisked and manacled, Devlen was pulled upright. The amused smile remained on his now bloody lips.
All the patrons in the room stared at the spectacle. The other town soldiers watched with interest, but didn’t attempt to help their colleagues. Probably off-duty.
“See you later,” Devlen said as the guards escorted him from the inn.
Janco remained behind. He turned a worried expression my way. “Are you all right?”
“Fine. How about you?” I gestured to his face and neck. Angry welts and scabs stripped his skin.
He rubbed his arm. “Lousy whip. Took me by surprise. Knocked my sword right out of my hand.” His eyes, though gleamed with appreciation. “Nasty weapon. I can’t wait to try it out on Ari.”
Janco’s partner Ari was twice as broad. Powerful and smart, Ari wouldn’t be easy to beat.
“Just don’t let him catch the whip. If he grabs it, you’re done.” I righted the mugs on the table and sat.
Plopping into the opposite chair, Janco winced.
“Do you want to go to a healer?” I asked.
He was quick to respond. “No. Absolutely not. I’m fine.” He waved down a server and ordered a meal. Moving with care, he leaned back. “Okay, spill.”
I filled him in on what happened the past two days.
“You didn’t believe a word he said. Right?” Janco asked.
“Of course. I know better.” I tried to sound convincing, but wondered if the effort was for Janco’s benefit or mine.
“He’s got to have another reason for being here.”
He enjoyed twisting my emotions. Dismissing the thought, I said, “Your turn.”
“That big oaf, Ox, must wrestle bulls. He’s stronger than Ari and he wrapped me so tight in the whip I couldn’t move a muscle.”
I suppressed a smile. Janco liked to exaggerate. This would be an interesting story.
“After waiting all day for the authorities to arrive, they wouldn’t hear our side of the story. Just carted us down to Robin’s Nest and dumped us in jail.” He shot me a cocky grin. “Local yokels. They did a sloppy search. My lock picks went undetected. But then I was in a quandary.” His grin turned sardonic. “I wished Ari was with me. He’s good with planning. But then again he would have lectured me on getting whupped by a man named Ox. I would have never lived it down.”
He swigged his ale and gazed at the liquid as if considering his near miss. Janco’s mood matched the waves in the sea, constantly up and down.
“A quandary?” I prompted.
“Oh, right.” He perked up. “If I escaped, the authorities would assume I was guilty and send soldiers after me. No big deal, except what to do when I caught up with you and Devlen? I couldn’t have him arrested if I had a posse on my tail. But I didn’t want to waste the night, waiting for the town’s guards to confirm my story. I’ve seen what he’s done to you. It about killed me to decide.”
Judging by the time of Janco’s arrival with a team of Sitian soldiers, I figured he must have waited. “You did the right thing.”
He downed his ale and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “There is one problem.”
Oh no. I held my breath.
“In exchange for help to rescue you, I had to promise to escort you to the Citadel.”
I relaxed with relief, but my smile froze. A very un-Janco expression hardened his face. He was serious.
“I don’t go back on my word,” he said.
Bad news. I needed to find Ulrick. My mind raced. “What exactly did you promise?”
“I promised to take you to the Council. They’re frantic for your return.”
“Frantic? You could tell this from a message?”
“Yes. It read frantic.” He crossed his arms. “And considering the torture I thought you were enduring, I wasn’t going to waste time negotiating with them.”
“Thank you for your concern.”
He huffed, not mollified.
“Did you promise them a certain time? Like as soon as you rescued me or just that you would escort me home?”
A slow smile lit his face. “The time was implied. As in the sooner the better. But no. I just said I would bring you to the Council.”
“Then we need to make sure you come with me when I return after we find Ulrick.”
Janco ordered another ale to celebrate. “I like the way you think.”
Locating Ulrick proved to be difficult. The next morning, Janco and I talked to the Tulip Inn’s owner. He remembered Ulrick and Devlen because he had worried they would cause trouble. He thought Ulrick had been in a drunken brawl by the way he leaned on his companion and by the fresh blood on his face.
“They rented a room and I didn’t hear a peep out of them all night. In the morning, they left,” the owner said.
“Together?” I asked.
Devlen had said they parted company. Another lie. No surprise there. “Do you know where they were going?”
“Have you seen the big Sandseed since then?”
I thanked him for his time. We left.
“Now what?” Janco asked.
“Check the other inns. See if he stayed anywhere else. If that doesn’t work, we can ask around town and hope someone has seen him.”
Janco groaned. “This is going to take all day.”
We searched the entire morning and half the afternoon. All to no avail. No one remembered seeing Ulrick or Devlen.
Janco gestured to the row of buildings. “He could have locked him in any one of these houses, and paid someone to care for him. I hate to give up, but I think we’re searching for a raindrop in a storm. I vote we put the screws to Mister Warper’s pressure points and squeeze the information from him.”
“You would have to hit the perfect spot,” I said.
“I’m a patient man.”
Dubious, I looked at him.
“All right, all right. So I have the patience of a two-year old. Happy now?”
“No, but before we try Devlen there is one more place I want to go.”
“Scene of the crime. Perhaps Ulrick had returned to his sister’s glass factory. Gressa is his only family in the area. The rest live in Booruby.”
“But you said she ran off when Ulrick confronted her about making those fake diamonds.” Janco rubbed the place where the lower half of his left ear used to be.
“I’m guessing she’s long gone, but maybe someone has seen him. Do you have any better ideas?”
“Yeah. Torturing Devlen. That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.”
Janco followed me to Gressa’s glass factory. I imagined the store front would be boarded up or a new business opened in its place. A colorful sparkle from the window display greeted us. Rows of elegant glassware lined the shelves. Perhaps a new glass artist had bought her studio.
I peered at the vases and bowls. The excellent craftsmanship and intricate designs were the unmistakable marks of Gressa’s vast talent. She had returned.
We entered the store. More of her pieces decorated tables and filled shelves. The centerpiece of her collection spanned over four feet—a delicate yet top-heavy, fan-shaped vase crafted with translucent orange glass defied gravity. The saleswomen wore silk tunics. Their serene smiles and sales pitch were as smooth as the glass they sold.
A tall woman glided toward us. Her expression didn’t change after her gaze swept our dusty travel clothes. Bonus points.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I need to talk to Gressa,” I said. No sense wasting time on niceties.
A tiny wince creased her saleswoman mask, but in a blink of the eye, it was gone. “I’m sorry. The Artist is on important business right now. Perhaps you would like to leave a message?”
“Do you know when she’ll be back?”
“No. She is extremely busy. If you leave her a message, she might arrange a time for you to talk.”
“Might.” Janco huffed. “Which translates to not in a million years.”
The woman strained to keep her polite demeanor.
“This is regarding her brother, Ulrick. It’s very important,” I said.
“Brother?” The woman’s confusion appeared genuine. “She never mentioned a brother.”
“Is she here? Or do we need to search the place?” Janco’s threat was not idle.
The heart of the factory—the kilns and equipment needed to melt and work with molten glass— resided behind the store front along with Gressa’s office.
Flustered, the woman gaped at Janco.
He turned to me. “We should search anyway. Ulrick could be hiding in the back.”
I led him to the door marked “employees only.” Alerted by the saleswoman’s attempts to stop us, the rest of the sales staff turned their attention our way. Unconcerned, Janco barged into the factory, trailing a line of protesting women.
“Let me know if you see anyone,” Janco said.
We wove through the heat surrounding Gressa’s four kilns, annealing ovens and various benches. The workers glanced at the parade, but kept spinning their rods to keep the molten glass from sagging toward the ground. My hands itched to help. It had been a long time since I’d worked with glass, and the need ached inside me.
The familiar hum of the kilns vibrated in my ears. Not all of the factory employees were in the middle of a project. A large man grabbed a punty iron. The five-foot long metal rod made a formidable weapon. He ordered us to leave the factory.
Janco continued his search, ignoring the man. Using his picks, Janco popped the lock to Gressa’s mixing room and entered. I stayed by the door with my hands wrapped around the handles of my sais, keeping the man in sight.
Janco returned and headed toward Gressa’s glass-walled office. After another order to stop failed to work, the man swung his rod. I yanked my sais from my cloak and deflected his strike. The clang of metal pierced the air. I switched my sais to a defensive position. With the shafts along my forearms and the knobs up, I could attack or defend, depending on the circumstances.
Two things happened. One good and one bad.
The noise created instant silence, but then the sales staff moved away to give their fellow worker more room to maneuver. A few disappeared.
Janco nodded at me. “Keep him busy.”
Great. My opponent pulled back to bash me on the head. Perhaps barging in here hadn’t been the best idea. I flipped my sais out and crossed them into an X-shape, blocking the head shot. The force of his blow vibrated down my arms.
He jerked the rod back, but I followed, closing the distance between us. I stepped to within a foot of him and jabbed him hard in the solar plexus with the sais’ knobs. He stumbled, gasping for breath.
I caught a glimpse of another armed attacker and turned in time to stop a hit to my stomach.
Janco’s voice cut through the din. “No sign of Gressa or Ulrick. Now what?”
The factory workers abandoned their tasks and armed themselves with rods, jacks and battledores.
“Time to leave.” I shouted, but Janco was already engaged in a fight with two men. “Don’t hurt anyone.” I ducked a wild swing. The workers were strong, but unskilled at fighting. They also outnumbered us four to one.
Janco easily countered his opponents. He had almost cleared an escape path for us. Hope of a quick exit died when the town’s guards burst through the door.
From SEA GLASS (Glass Book 2), MIRA Books, September 2009
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