Diana is free from her curse, but her troubles aren’t over yet.
Their shadowy foe behind the attacks still lurks somewhere in the city, along with their minions, the Wights. The only clue Luca and she have is Mia, their friend who was controlled by the Wight. The trail leads them into the depths of the city where horrors unknown even to Luca await them.
To add to their predicament, a visiting royal has arrived, complete with an entourage of trouble. The pair of royals must balance their duties with their investigation, along with the emergence of a recent spate of attacks that have sent parts of the city into panic. As the danger grows Luca and Diana take comfort in each other’s arms, but will their love be able to outlast even death?
“Get back here!”
The crier was me as I rushed down the street with a basket hung from the crook of my arm and bouncing uncomfortably against my hip. My target was a child some ten years of age and some ten seconds away from feeling my wraith. One of their hands was wrapped around Luca’s leather wallet which he’d given me only minutes before to purchase the said basket.
Our chase took place in the bustling marketplace of the beautiful city of Amnisis. Crowded stalls featured goods from all over this strange new world I now inhabited. Their shop keepers barked out their wares, but never their prices, and a steady flow of people mingled and jingled their coins, singing the sweet song of every stall keeper.
I wanted to enjoy the sights, sounds, and even some of the smells that wafted out of the meal tents, but my focus was on the little pickpocket and exacting my revenge by noogie.READ MORE
The rapscallion turned a corner and I saw he was headed out of the massive open court that held the open air market and toward the maze of streets that made up the city. He was nearly at the mouth of the nearest alley when a tall figure stepped out from behind the last stall and blocked the urchin’s path. The kid skidded to a stop and whipped his head around in my direction. I stretched out my arms and blocked his escape.
Luca stood before the little thief, and a bemused smile slipped onto Luca’s lips. “Tom. You seem to have something that belongs to my mate.”
Tom shrugged. “I was just practicing, Yer Highness.”
My frown turned to puzzlement as I caught Luca’s attention and pointed at the thief. “You know him?”
Luca studied the urchin with admiration mixed with a soft sternness befitting a younger protege. “Tom here is an enterprising young man of the streets who knows more rat holes than the rats themselves, though he has explicit orders not to ‘practice’ his trade within the city walls.”
Tom sheepishly handed back the purse which Luca tucked into his pants pocket. “Well, I wouldn’t have done nothing at all if I knew she was yours, Yer Highness.”
Luca chuckled. “And next you’ll tell me you don’t know the best spots to pickpocket. Now then-” He dipped his hand into his other pocket, “-what is it today?”
The young lad lifted an eyebrow, but there was a mischievous and slightly greedy twinkle in his eye. “Whadda ya mean?”
Luca drew out a small bag which jingled with the sound of coins. “I mean that you didn’t steal the basket for the item, but to catch my attention. I sent around to your friends to find any clues as to the whereabouts of Eunomia Smith during the last few months. What have you found?”
A grin stretched across the young urchin’s face. “I found where she’s been headed.”
Tom crossed his arms over his chest and scoffed. “She’s been going into the Dredges. Not exactly a place someone like her would be looking into, is it? Gets people talking, too.”
Luca set the bag into the young man’s eager palm, and the coins vanished somewhere into the rags the young ruffian wore. Tom gave us an inelegant bow paired with a mischievous smile. “Always a pleasure to serve you, Yer Highness.”
Luca nodded in the direction of the south. “Lead us to where she was seen.”
Tom scurried away into the alley, and Luca and I followed. Our short guide wound through the streets like a dog on a trail and with the memory of one who knew every pothole and alcove of that large city. We passed through the various boroughs, each with their own unique style, until we found ourselves in a quaint section that reminded me of London, circa the Great Fire.
Everything was made of wood, even parts of the narrow, meandering streets. The houses shared their side walls with the buildings on either side, and the upper floors leaned impossibly far from their foundations to cast their shadows over us. Latticed windows stared down at us with ancient curiosity as false fronts on several of the buildings advertised wares. One of them made me pause. It was a mannequin that sported a cloak covered in green slime. I leaned in close and squinted at the strange substance.
The substance squinted back.
I yelped and stumbled backward into a hard chest. Relief turned to panic when I realized it wasn’t Luca, but a hefty man in a thick overcoat. I spun around to face him as he opened one side of his coat and revealed dozens of vials filled with strange liquids and globular forms. One of them looked like a rotten finger.
“Looking for love, miss?” the man asked me as he bared his teeth in a slimy smile. “Or maybe a potion to turn your hair red?”
Luca’s shadow fell over me as he set his hands on my shoulders. “She is looking for neither.”
The man frowned and slunk off with his strange inventory. I looked back to the shop window. The green slime had vanished. “Where are we?”
Luca swept his eyes over our archaic settings. “The Dredges. It’s a place where one might find any manner of magical items.”
“Legal or not!” Tom chimed in from his place a few yards down the street. He pointed at an alley ahead of him. “The place we’re looking for is in there.”
We continued on our way and slipped into the narrow alley. Trash and a thick layer of strange dust crunched beneath our feet and an open sewer slid past us filled with blobs of indescribables, and a dead rat or two. A door stuck out of the clapboard building to our left, but it wasn’t something I expected to find in such a London-esque street. The entrance looked more like a screen door with two heavy metal bars shaped into an ‘x’ that ran across the mesh screen. A wooden door stood open behind it, and revealed a shadow-covered room beyond that.
Tom stopped beside the entrance and swept an arm toward the strange door. “There you go, Yer Highness. My sources tell me she went in there pretty often over the last couple of months.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “How could your resources recognize her when she was dressed up like that?”
A crooked grin slithered onto his lips as Tom jerked a thumb at the door. “You’ll see. Now if yer not needing me anymore, I’ll just be heading out.”
He tried to scoot past us, but Luca grabbed the back of his shirt collar and yanked him to a stop. “You’re still our guide until we enter the shop.”
Tom glared up at him. “Why’s that?”
Luca chuckled. “Because I paid you enough to decide when you would stop being our guide, so-” He marched up to the door and opened the unlocked entrance.
“Wait!” Tom yelped as he shrank back from the entrance. “Wait a sec!”
Luca paused and lifted an eyebrow at our young guide. “Why?”
Tom’s shoulders drooped as he cast a surely look at the door. “There’s something wrong with that doorway. It makes magic just kinda. . .I don’t know, just crumble.” He dug into his pocket and drew out a slip of paper with runes which he held up for us to see. “This here’s a rune mark. It. . .well, let’s just say it helps me get some nice sticky fingers. Now watch this.”
He tossed the slip of paper at the open doorway. The parchment floated across the threshold and immediately crumbled into dust. A convenient draft blew out from somewhere inside the shop and pushed the dust out into the alley.
Tom jerked his head toward the doorway. “If I go through there then I’d be out a week’s worth of snooping wages with what’s in my pockets.” Luca released him and Tom brushed off his wrinkles. “Good luck to ya.” He scampered away.
I stepped up to Luca and squinted at the dark interior. “You think it’s safe for you? I mean, you’re kind of magical.”
“As are you,” he countered.
I snorted. “It could take away what I have and I wouldn’t know the difference.”
Luca studied the doorway for a moment before he shook his head. “For small matters of disguises and runes, the ruse is dropped or destroyed. For more inherent powers, they may be suppressed, but I doubt they’ll be broken.”
He stepped inside and I waited a half second to see if he would explode. Nothing happened, so I followed him inside and we found ourselves in the middle aisle of a tiny shop. A few candles burned in their scattered holders, and at the back was a tall, thin desk. A doorway stood behind the desk, but otherwise there were no other entrances, nor even a window.
A short man with dark hair sat atop a stool and was hunched over a ledger opened on the desk. In one hand he held a quill which scratched across the pages. He cast a single eye in our direction before returning his full attention to the book. “I have no information for you, Your Highness.”
Luca smiled as he strode up to the desk and leaned an elbow on the top. “Cotio. I had no idea you had set up shop again.”
Cotio didn’t look up as he scoffed. “A man in my position has no other means of living other than to provide people with what they desire.”
“That wouldn’t happen to include providing material benefit to those who would like to kill me, does it?”
Cotio shook his head. “You know that as well as any other, Your Highness, that I have a no-questions-asked policy.”
I walked toward the pair, but a soft glint to my left caught my eye. The soft narrow light came from the corner, and I walked over to find something tall covered by a thick cloth. Part of the cloth had fallen away to reveal a gilded frame and mirror.
I grabbed the cloth and pulled the cover off to find myself staring at my reflection. Sort of. There was something off about the whole thing.
“Luca?” I called out. “What’s wrong with this mirror?”
Cotio whipped his head up and snapped the ledger shut before he hopped down from his high chair. “You put that cover back on this instant!”
Luca swept past him and snatched the cloth from my hand to keep it out of reach of the shop keeper. He studied the reflection for a moment and frowned. “The reflection is showing us as others see us, and not as an inverse appearance.”
Cotio leapt up and tried to snatch the cover from Luca’s hand, and failed miserably. “That is not yours to use!”
Luca lifted an eyebrow. “Who does use it?”
Cotio stopped his hopping and cast a dark look at Luca. “That is private information.” I reached out my hand toward the glass, and the short man’s eyes bulged out of his head.