Narova the Skagit: Chapter 10

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Black Hand Ledger Entry — November 29th of the 13th Year After Old Empire

Successfully completed the Lullaby on the gambler Davad Thorn in Avarum. Two-hundred gold pieces added to the treasury. Thorn died at the hand of Narova. Exploded by a powder bomb.

Narova has bound to the spell Glowery gave her. I am trying to avoid being smug about the entire thing with Vexen, who always doubted my theory. He is training her now. Extra orders of Koka fish have been made.

Vexen has ordered the next Lullaby to be left outstanding until Narova is ready. Our employer requested Vexen Green handle the Lullaby personally, but he has declined. No reason provided.

The identity of our employer is a mystery, which is unusual. Generally, Rynoa and her crows are able to puzzle these things out.

Chapter Ten: The Wild Things

I trained with Vexen for two months in the bowels of the Holdfast.

At first, Vexen just ran me through magical mechanics. It was boring, but I learned to cast Blink without actually saying the name of the spell, just pulling on my finger threads. Then I spent two weeks tracing the threads through my body until I could cast it just by blinking my eyes. I closed them in one part of the training room and opened them in another. I was so happy the first time that my eyes got blurry and I was afraid to cast again and wind up in a wall because I was blubbering like a pussy.

I wouldn’t have been so pleased if I had known what was coming next.

Some days, Vexen stretched my casts across nine or ten hours—running me through increasingly complicated combat drills where I attacked him with daggers, swords, throwing knives, spears, and my bamboo darts. Even with Blink, I never came close to hitting him. I had no idea he could move so fast. Vexen Green had mostly been sitting cross-legged and smoking opium for the entire time I’d been with the Black Hand. Finally, I got to see the liquid movements that had made him a legend. The cold skill that had shattered the Empire’s grip on Terranum.

But other days he made me drain all my Spirit in the first ten minutes. Then we sparred for a full day anyway. Those days were the worst. Vexen Green did not pull his punches, even if I was about ready to pass out on my feet.

“Your rib’s broken,” Rynoa said after a particularly vicious day. She said it like she’d discovered a cute birthmark instead of a snapped bone.

I’d just finished my Koka fish bath and was lying naked on a table made from pine in the bathhouse. Rynoa was rubbing a salve across the dozen or so wounds Vexen had given me that day and wrapping my feet and hands, which were battered and cut and covered in blisters. A mat of woven straw is not as soft as you’d think after twelve hours running around on it. Rynoa cut another length of barkskin bandage and wrapped it around my chest. I could feel her breath on my neck as she worked and despite the fact I was too hurt to walk upright there was something erotic about the whole thing.

Or maybe I was just extra horny. Vexen’s training and beating sessions did not leave time for pleasurable pursuits. Most days, I just took my bath, ate whatever meat was around in the Food Hall, then went to bed and started the whole thing over again the next morning.

“You don’t seem concerned,” I said.

Rynoa shrugged. “All of us went through this. We had to. You’re doing better than most. Vexen shattered Troy’s leg during his training. It took the poor bastard a year to pay off the Juvi Mage we hired to heal him.”

“That makes my rib feel better immediately.”

“Figured it would.”

Rynoa had been there to help me recover every day. I don’t like being that vulnerable in front of people, but I didn’t have a choice. I was usually too drained or hurt or both to even get undressed on my own. If she hadn’t been there to help me I’d probably have given up. I don’t have friends and I don’t believe in trust, but Rynoa had gotten herself wedged pretty close to both feelings.

“How many casts can you make these days?” Rynoa asked, finishing the bandages.

“Thirteen clean. Fourteenth gives me the bends.”

“Progress.”

“Slow progress. How many casts can you make?” I’d never asked.

“More than you, but less than Vexen.”

“He just keeps on going,” I murmured, closing my eyes. “Doesn’t seem possible.”

Vexen had a Wrath spell that shot something kind of like lightning out of his palms. He’d cast it a hundred times in one day, forcing me to dodge it as best I could. Part of my scalp was still singed from when I’d ducked a little too late. I hadn’t seen the Black Hand paralysis spell yet, but in all the stories he could cast that one a ridiculous amount of times, too. He’d left entire castles full of frozen knights and dead lords.

“All kinds of things seem impossible until some bastard does them in front of you,” Rynoa said.

***

One day, I came down to the matted room and found Vexen sitting cross-legged on the floor, smoking opium. He usually finished a pipe or two before we began training. I took off my boots, cracked my neck and fingers and toes, and then I walked over to the rack of wooden weapons. I was thinking I’d try my luck with the spear again. Get some distance on him.

“Not this time.”

I turned to him.

“Use your short sword.” He gestured to the small of my back. I always kept the sword sheathed there when we were training, even though I never used it. I was trying to get used to fighting with the weight and the shape of it against my body.

I hesitated. “What are you going to use?”

Vexen set the pipe down and pulled the white tunic over his head. The rest of his body was covered in the same strange deep-blue markings as his arms—all rectangular bars and circles of different sizes filling the space between them. But the marks on the left side of his chest were blood red, and far more intricate than the rest, as if the tattoos were imprisoning the heart beneath.

He picked up a sheathed blade that was on the ground next to the pipe, which I hadn’t noticed. Falen always told me I needed to mind my surroundings better. Vexen drew a black, thick blade that was the length of my forearm—lingering somewhere between a dagger and a short-sword. There was a notch cut into the back of the blade that you could use to yank someone’s throat out, and a red cord hanging from the pommel. I recognized the nameless weapon immediately from a hundred stories I’d heard about our mysterious leader. It was the same blade Vexen had used to extinguish viscounts and murder generals during the troubled years. A famous weapon that had carved the Empire from Terranum like a cancer, and kept them out for the past thirteen years. Kept our big fire of feudal unrest burning strong.

“Whoever draws blood first, wins,” he said.

Vexen bolted forward, weapon held in a reverse grip, face calm and focused. I was used to how fast he moved, used to the fact he could cross the distance between us in two heartbeats when it would take a normal man four. So I knew I didn’t have time to draw my sword before he had that black blade at my throat.

I let his first dagger strike come within a finger’s width of me, then I Blinked clear across the room. I drew my sword and waited for him to turn around. When he did, I Blinked into the space right behind his head, already bringing my sword back for a strike. He swiped my attack harmlessly to the side without turning around, then he kicked me in the chest so hard I went toppling into the rack of wooden weapons.

I grunted, looking up at him to see what he’d do next before I bothered trying to get up.

Without hesitating he threw the weapon at me—blade and red sash tumbling over each other in the air. It would have been buried to the hilt in my ribcage if I hadn’t Blinked away.

“What the fuck?” I gasped from across the room when I re-materialized.

“All these wooden weapons have you relaxed,” Vexen said, moving over to the rack and yanking his dagger out of it. “There was no fear on you when came down here. Just a weary peasants walk, as if you were here to milk cows or pull carrots from a fucking garden. But now you’re blood’s flowing, isn’t it Narova?”

Flowing. My heart was about ready to crack open my fucking chest.

“Good,” Vexen said. “You should be scared. I’ll kill you down here if you can’t protect yourself—Touched or not, you’re no good to me if you can’t win a simple fight after all this time.” He closed his eyes and moved into a defensive posture. “Ten Blinks left now. Draw some of my blood or die.”

I spat on the floor and pulled my sword into a high guard. I wasn’t going to waste any more breath on words—I’d need every bit of air available if I was going to get out of this basement alive. A big problem with trying to hurt the man who trained you to use magic is that he knows all your tricks. I’d spent two moons Blinking from one side of Vexen to the next. Conjuring myself upside-down above his head, between his legs. I’d never once struck a blow to his body. Never even gotten close.

I needed to try something new. Something disorienting. I charged him fast, and started howling at the top of my lungs.

When I was five strides away, I Blinked behind him so I was within striking distance of his blade, but I didn’t break my stride and I didn’t stop screaming. When I felt him start to whirl around, I Blinked again, backing myself up just behind his arm. I lashed out with a blow that would have cut any other man’s arm off, but I was expecting Vexen to twist just out of reach, which he did. Quick bastard. All that movement put his weight fully on his left foot for half a heartbeat, which was the best chance I’d have.

I Blinked above Vexen’s head and threw my sword down at him. I knew I wouldn’t hit him, but from that angle, and with all his weight on his left foot, he had no choice but to dodge forward or backwards. No way to move to the side. I figured he’d go backwards because it was the harder maneuver. I’d learned a lot about Vexen, same as he’d learned about me. And the lanky bastard almost never did the easy thing when it came to fighting—he favored the difficult and the unexpected. So I stopped screaming and Blinked into a crouched position near the place I figured he’d end up.

And I was right.

His body moved above me, and for the smallest splinter of a second—with my voice still yelling at him from four different directions—Vexen Green didn’t know where I was.

I disarmed him and swept his legs out from under him in a single motion. His blade clattered into a corner, and we clattered to the floor in a heap, me on top and him below. His body writhed like a snake, legs locking around mine and arms grappling for the pressure points in my neck. Vexen was better than me with swords and daggers and spears and darts. And the same would have gone for a hand-to-hand fight, if I didn’t have seven Blinks left.

Every time he pinned me and positioned himself to deliver a crushing blow to the face or throat or stomach, I Blinked just far enough above him to get free from his grip and pull my hand back into an open-palmed strike.

I hit him in the forehead. The nose. The throat. The stomach. The ribs. Both ears.

I landed seven solid blows. When I was done, Vexen was bleeding from the nose, mouth, and eyebrow. My throat was raw from screaming the entire time. But I couldn’t Blink anymore without getting the bends, so he wrapped me up in that serpent’s strength again. Legs clamping around mine so I had to bend my knees. His hands grabbed both my wrists and stretched them out wide so we looked like a pair of thieves being crucified against each other. He held me there, face full of some feeling I couldn’t figure out.

Neither of us did or said anything. My face was pressed against his. Both of us were breathing so hard it was all I could hear and taste and smell.

“You’re bleeding, Vex,” I said eventually.

He relaxed his grip on me a little. Release one of my arms. He ran one hand gently down my cheek and moved a lock of sweat-matted hair off my forehead. I felt his cock stir a little against my thigh, and I knew exactly what was going to happen next. I wanted him just as much as he wanted me.

“And you aren’t,” he said.

He rolled over so that I was on my back. There was no logic between us, only rage instinct and dirty desire. He put his hands on my shirt and ripped it open. My tits bounced free and he covered them with his hands, squeezing them hard enough to send little shocks of pleasure through my nipples and down my spine.

Vexen Green kissed differently than he fought. His lips were soft and he tasted like a poppy field. His mouth moved against mine as if he would never kiss another, and he wanted to savor every piece of the moment.

Nobody had ever kissed me like that before.

I broke away from his mouth and pulled at his belt, undoing the buckle and then shucking his pants down to his knees. I put my bare foot between his knees and kicked the pants off the rest of the way. His thighs and calves were covered with those same tattoos, but his cock was thankfully unmarked. It would have been a shame to change such a pretty, natural thing. My pants got stuck on my left foot and Vexen lost patience and just left them hanging there. He lowered his body back against mine and pushed himself inside me. I was already soaking wet and half his length went inside me with the first thrust.

“Careful!” I half-gasped, half-screamed from the sudden mix of pain and pleasure. I was wet, but still. “Little slower. Go a little slower.”

“Sorry,” he whispered. It was the first time I’d ever heard him apologize.

He leaned down and kissed me again, filled one of his hands with my black hair. Moved himself out a little and then slowly pushed himself all the way inside of me. I could feel all of his weight.

“That’s it,” I whispered. “Just like that.”

We moved against each other for a long time, soft and slow—taking our time with the feeling of each other’s bodies. I sucked the blood from his split eyebrow and shuddered at the metallic taste. Swallowed it and then kissed the ears I’d just finished pummeling with my fists. The neck I’d chopped at. The ribs I’d tried to splinter. Then I rolled him over so I was on top again, pressed both hands on his chest and started riding him, slow at first and then faster as I felt my pleasure building. I’d spent two months just trying to touch him, and now I had him inside of me.

He looked up at me while I fucked him. All the serenity of those green eyes was gone, replaced with a hunter’s lust that made me bite my lip and soak the floor below us. There was a moment—just a splinter of time that lasted for a handful of thrusts—where it felt like Vexen’s heartbeat was hammering inside me. Shaking my blood in a different rhythm than my own heart. The feeling grew and spread, Vexen’s skin and hair and eyes became a part of me. There was so much violence in him. So much pain sewed up and battened down beneath the surface. He hid it from everyone. Everything. But he wasn’t hiding it from me right now.

I came. Digging my nails into him, closing my eyes, and letting out a few wordless moans. Just as my pleasure was starting to fade I felt his warm seed inside me and I started up again. Stronger and shorter this time.

When it was over, I slipped off him and we both stared up at the dark, marred ceiling of the cave for a long time without talking or moving. Our legs were still intertwined. Our shoulders and forearms were still touching. His skin was burning. I touched the red ink over his heart with two fingers.

“What do these do?”

He kept his eyes on the ceiling. Swallowed once. “They change what the magic takes from you.”

I didn’t say anything. Figure it was better to get the trickle of information started and see how much came out on its own.

“Spirit, if you want to call it that, has defined borders. You can push them back a ways but you can’t get rid of them. We could spend a year in this basement and you’d still only get to twenty casts, maybe a few more. The Morganthi Wizard you killed probably trained for decades just to handle a few dozen.”

“If your spell doesn’t take Spirit anymore, what does it take?”

He turned his head to face me. That sad, serene look had crept back in his eyes. The anger and the pain was gone. “Your humanity.”

A lot of people talk in riddles because they like to hold power over you. They like to see you squirm and whore yourself out for more information. But it seemed to me like Vexen was being vague because he didn’t like the taste of the straight answer to my question. So I slipped myself back on top of him and kissed him again, massaging my tongue against his and touching his face with both hands.

“Humanity isn’t worth much in my opinion,” I said. “Always had a serious kind of envy for the wild things in this world.”

“From a distance, everything is enviable.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

Neither of us said anything for a while. Just stroked each other’s bodies in silence. I didn’t like how much I liked touching him. After a while I leaned down and kissed his neck, right beneath the ear.

“Tell me, Vexen,” I whispered, “have you lost so much of your humanity that you don’t want to fuck me again?”

He smiled at me. Another thing I’d never seen him do before. His teeth were clean and white. Predator’s teeth. I felt him stiffen against my thigh.

“Let’s go to my room,” I whispered. “This mat hurts my ass.”

***

I spent a day and a night in my room with Vexen. We did not leave my bed except for water and wine and his opium pipe. That is some strong smoke—clouded my head and made me doubt the reality of so much flesh and sweat and pleasure. I liked it, but I have no idea how Vexen spends so many of his waking hours under the power of the Black Sticky.

“Who gave you the tattoos?” I asked after my third jug of wine, his fourth opium pipe, and our fifth time fucking in as many hours. Seemed like a good time to tell secrets.

“A crazy old hermit named Garland who lives on a tropical island,” he said.

“What?” Seemed like a really specific joke.

“There’s a storm heading towards our little band of killers. I can feel it in my chest. If we don’t all weather it, you’ll need to go see the Old Man. He’ll help you finish what I’ve started down here.”

“Why me?”

“Because of that spell you have around your bones. And because of the feeling you had back in the training room. I could see the Heart Thread in your eyes. The Old Man will give you the marks if you manage to earn them, but it won’t be easy. It’ll make these last few months look like a pleasure barge.”

I had definitely felt something while Vexen was inside of me. It was the same feeling I got when I plucked on my spells threads, just bigger and stronger.

“So where do I find this Old Man Garland, just in case things go to shit?” I said, half-joking. Our twisted little lives seemed pretty stable to me.

“Past the bay south of the port city, Kagoshima,” Vexen answered without a trace of humor in his voice. “Which is about as far south as you can get. There are seven islands that hook into the ocean from there. He lives on the last one. If he lives at all, anyway. It’s been a long time.”

Near dawn, I finally fell asleep, smiling at the sore and satisfied feeling between my thighs.

When I woke up, Vexen was gone.

I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Enjoying a good fuck is one thing, but letting your insides go mushy like a rotting pear is disgusting. Nothing is uglier to me than a swooning bitch. I figured Vexen felt the same way. The Untouched ranks of the Black Hand may have screwed like rabbits, but the Touched seemed to keep their pants tied a little tighter and I didn’t want to stand out. So I pulled on my clothing, stomped the last few embers of attraction for Vexen out of my head, and made my way down to the training room. My plan was to pretend the whole thing had never happened. We’d spar until I was bruised and bloody and then I would head down for a bath with Rynoa.

Vexen was there, fully dressed and cross-legged, smoking his pipe again. I looked around for the dagger on the floor, and breathed out with a little more relief than I meant to when I didn’t see it.

“You’ve learned everything you can in this room,” Vexen said, smoke drifting out of his mouth and nostrils. “It’s time for a Lullaby.”

I didn’t say anything. Didn’t move. A Lullaby is what I wanted, but it wasn’t until that moment I realized how happy I’d been over the last two months, training with him. It was the most peaceful stretch of life I’d had in years, despite all the violence that had been done to my body.

“It’s a pretty simple job. Usually, Falen would send four or five of the Untouched lot. But you should be able to handle it on your own, now. The Untouched can go sing to someone else.”

“Who am I putting to sleep?” I asked.

“Baron Glowery.”

I thought back to the dozens of armored knights and that slippery fuck with the claw-marks on his face. Simple isn’t exactly the word I’d have used.

“Glowery has some magic,” I said carefully. “Some Vision spell.”

“And you have something else entirely.”

I tightened my hands into fists. “If he has one Vision spell, he might have more. It’s just…it might not be a simple job, as you so simply put it.”

“If you don’t want the Lullaby, I’ll give it to Rynoa and you can stay down here playing with sticks.”

“I’ll kill the highborn fucker, Vex,” I said. “I’ll hang his entrails from the ceiling if that’s what you want.”

“Then why are your hands shaking?”

“Because you lied to me,” I snapped. Fucking sex. When it’s good it stirs everything up into a cloudy mess. I took a few deep breaths. “How long before the last Lullaby did you know about this one?”

He took a few pulls from his pipe, stood up, and walked across the room. Stopped a stride away from me. I could still smell our sex on him. And then I smelled something like a field of flowers an hour after dawn, when the dew blanket was thickest and you’d soak your boots walking through it all. It took me a moment to realize that smell wasn’t the opium.

Vexen jabbed two fingers into my chest. I crumpled over as if he’d reached down my throat and pulled my heart out. Then all of my limbs froze. My eyelids froze. Even my fucking asshole froze.

“We’ve gotten to know each other some, these past few months,” Vexen said, standing over me and examining the fingernails he’d used to paralyze me.

I didn’t respond, obviously, but my heart was pounding out a panicked song in my chest. At least that wasn’t frozen.

“Intimacy is an important part of training well together,” he continued. “But you need to remember that I could snap your neck right now and hang your entrails from the ceiling. And the only thing the rest of the Black Hand members would do is ask who had to clean it up. That’s why I give you the work, and you do it without asking me any annoying questions. What happened yesterday doesn’t change that—you aren’t entitled to anything extra.”

He moved to leave the room, but stopped somewhere out of my sight.

“I knew about the Glowery job two weeks before I sent you after that gambler,” he said. “And I knew that a look inside Glowery’s manor ahead of time would make him easier to kill. You got the look and you got a spell, so now you’re getting the Lullaby. Don’t ever question me again, Narova. You’re part of something much larger than yourself now, but I am the one who made you. I can unmake you, too.”

His soft footsteps started padding towards the door again.

“That’ll take an hour to wear off,” he said without stopping. “I don’t want to see you again until Baron Glowery is dead.”

I guess that’s another way to kill intimacy. It worked pretty well—I spent my frozen hour imagining what Vexen’s tattooed chest would look like with a spear jammed through it.

***

Falen was down in his storeroom. I didn’t need anything from him, really. Vexen had given me the job and I already knew where to find Glowery. I just ended up walking down there after my limbs came out of their stupor. Call it habit. Call it nostalgia. Call it whatever you want.

“Been a while,” he said when I slipped into the storeroom. He was counting grain sacks, tapping each bag with the butt of a throwing axe, his ledger open as always. “That’s the way of if though, you get Touched and there’s less reason to bother with old, magic-less men.”

“Self pity doesn’t suit you, my dear Falen.”

He grunted and kept on counting. I couldn’t tell what kind of mood he was in. Bastard was always crotchety, it was just a matter of degrees.

I looked at the ledger. It was a hand’s-length thick. The binding had been broken and then remade with more pages so the tome could continue. “What do you put into that thing, anyway? Besides an accurate grain count.”

Falen stopped counting and looked between the ledger and me. “Back before the Old Empire got tossed out, Sleeper guilds didn’t keep records. Bad for business to leave evidence like that when the Old Empire is hunting you down for sport. Nothing was organized, Sleepers forgot who they killed and how much money they were owed all the time. Killers make terrible accountants. But after Vexen, after the fall.” He shrugged. “There’s nobody to stop us. Nobody to care. That book has all the Black Hand’s activity from the fall of the Old Empire until today. There’s an entry for the day I found you, even.”

“Lots of dark work.”

“That’s a fact.”

I got awkward. Never could give a proper goodbye. “I’m off for Olagathi again,” I said.

“I know.”

“I was thinking, when I got back, maybe we could go out in the woods again together. Train some more. Davad Thorn got the drop on me, apparently I’m not as clever as I think I am.”

Falen nodded gravely. There’s nothing he took more seriously than training. “I have something for you,” he said. Then moved over to a cheap wooden chest beneath his small desk. “It’ll be getting cold soon.”

He handed me a thick oilskin poncho that was yellow on one side and black on the other. Waterproof on both. “It’ll hide your weapons from road traffic,” Falen explained. “And you can flip it to black at night. I figured.” He stopped, cleared his throat. “I figured speed would be more important than armor for you now.”

I took it from him. It was beautiful and expensive. Nobody had ever given me something like this.

“Thank you, Falen. Truly.”

Falen nodded. “Keep your back to the wall, Narova.”

“And your body in the shadows, Falen. I’ll see you in a few months.”

***

I rode Crescent back to Glowery’s manor. My Lullaby. My horse.

It felt good to own things. To name them. I’d lived so much of my life wandering from one place to the next like a feral dog wandering across some floodplain, feet never touching the same ground twice. A wild thing has no need for belongings. But I had Blink and I had Crescent and I had all of my weapons. I had the clear memory of Baron Glowery’s estate.

Three weeks later, I reentered the Olagathi barony from a more southern road than my previous trip. Since I didn’t have a letter with a seal that explained my presence in the barony—and since I was planning to murder the liege lord as soon as possible—I kept to the back roads and I hauled myself into the underbrush every time I heard or smelled someone coming down from the opposite direction. It was slow work—and most of the time it was just some peasant carting a payload of turnips or potatoes or some other insufferable root—but twice I’d gotten myself out of sight just before a score of knights rode past, their eyes scanning the underbrush.

That made me uneasy. A good knight was always alert, but Olagathi was a peaceful place. There were no marauding bandits. There were no rival lords sending skirmishers.

Those knights were looking for someone. I wondered if it was me.

If they spotted me, I wondered if they’d peg me for what I am. Lorn had made me as a Sleeper so easily, I’d tried to disguise my nature a little better for this trip. The poncho helped cover all of my weapons. I’d used my share of Davad’s murder to buy new equipment: a satchel of powder bombs and a lighter shortsword that kept a better edge, a sturdy pair of black boots with steel shanks and tips, soft woolen pants dyed black, a silk shirt that wrapped its way around my torso and arms in a river-like route, and wool gloves reinforced with chainmail.

It was all good quality, but I liked the yellow poncho Falen gave me the most.

***

I returned to Baron Glowery’s villa under cloak of night and hobbled Crescent a league or so to the south. Watched the walls and the courtyard from a high bluff about six hundred strides away. I could see the torches of six sentries meandering around the small ramparts. I tugged on my magical threads gently a few times, knowing it would sharpen my hearing and smell. I could smell another six down there, hiding in the shadows and trying to make themselves scarce. If they wanted to be invisible, they should have taken more baths.

A dozen men on the outside. More inside. If there were patrols of knights all over the roads, Glowery had bolstered the men in his villa, too. Could be twenty inside. Could be a hundred. And there was that slippery fuck, Tarus, too. He bothered me the most. I had the distinct feeling that he hadn’t been wearing any armor that day for the same reason I wasn’t wearing any now—that bastard had some magic in him.

And somehow I doubted I could sing Glowery his lullaby without singing one to Tarus, too.

“Stop stalling,” I muttered. I unclasped my poncho and flipped it inside out so the black side was facing the night. Then I whispered my shortsword free from its sheathe.

Without Blink, it would have taken me hours of slinking in the shadows and struggling with grappling hooks and climbing spikes to get inside that villa. Probably would have had to slit three or four throats, too.

But I had Blink. It was time to put her to use in the real world. No more basement teleportations.

I took a good look at a spot on the ramparts where there wouldn’t be any eyes for a few minutes. Then I started moving down the hill at pretty good clip. I crossed a tiny stream, moved through a copse of Cyprus trees, and then came under the looming wall.

One Blink and I was on the rampart. That gave me a clear view of a small porch on the third level of Glowery’s villa. There were no sentries there because there was no way to reach the porch without going past a dozen armed sentries below. I Blinked up. No evidence of my passage besides the faint scent of moss and forest.

I knelt down by the lock and cursed. There weren’t any guards but this little bitch was just as problematic. I slipped a metal pick and a bamboo dart through the tumblers. There were eight of them. Locked up tighter than a princess’s pussy.

I may have saved three or four hours of shadow-slinking with my spell, but I lost two hours picking that fucking lock. It was almost enough to make me wish I’d binded with a spell to charm tumblers open, but not quite.

An hour after midnight, I popped the last tumbler.

The porch opened into one of those unnecessary rooms that only lords have. I looked around, checking corners quickly. Two mirrors, two sofas. A bunch of tiny tables that were barely a cock’s length across. And not a very big cock. One of them had a teacup on it, but they needed a separate table for the pot. Why build a table that can’t hold anything besides a teacup? Whatever. I was getting distracted. My mind wanders when I’m nervous.

The door on the opposite side of the room wasn’t locked. It opened up into a long hallway with a tile floor. I moved back into the stupid tearoom and shucked off my boots. Hid them out of sight beneath one of the sofas. I remembered that most rooms and hallways in the villa had the same naked marble floors. I didn’t like doing this sort of thing barefoot, but one boot click in the wrong place and I’d be dead.

I padded down the hallway. I didn’t know where Glowery slept, but I didn’t think he’d be there anyway—he seemed like the type of person who spent the witching hours frowning over some candlelit scroll. Or working some hex over on Davad Thorn’s family, or on someone else who screwed him over. It reminded me that I needed to make damn sure I got all the breath out of Glowery’s lungs. I already had one hex on me. Two would be absurd.

I worked my way down the hallway, up a flight of stairs, and down another hallway before I found the room I’d first met Glowery in. Sure enough, there was an orange blade of candlelight coming from underneath the door. Voices on the other side. I crouched down and listened.

“One of the sentries thought he might have smelled something. A foresty kind of smell.” It was Tarus. I remembered that voice.

“We’re surrounded by a forest,” came Glowery. “Doesn’t mean anything.”

“Maybe not, but Narova had that same smell when the spell bound to her, I think she’s out there.”

“Not Vexen? You said he’d be the one to come for me.”

“His spell is different. It would smell like…morning arriving at the wrong time.”

“Pity. I suppose Mordred will have to handle him up north.” Glowery sighed. “You are here to kill Touched Sleepers for me. Just find the magic-bound cunt and kill her, what’s the problem?”

“You should never have given the Skagit that spell. Gods only know what it does.”

“You afraid of her, Tarus?”

“I’m afraid of everyone. That is why I’m still alive and most of my enemies are not.”

“None of this would have worked if I hadn’t given Narova the spell. That opium addled psychopath doesn’t take to the puppet strings easily, but we have his attention now.”

“We have our strings, too, Glowery. Don’t forget that.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” There was a pause. “Well, go take your strings outside, you’re disturbing my work.”

“As you wish.”

There was an alcove in the hallway with a statue of some naked guy holding a shield not far from the doorway. I slipped behind it and hid myself in the shadow. Tarus exited the room and walked past me down the hallway. He didn’t stop, but I heard him take a large breath in through his nose, and just for a moment I thought I heard a hesitation in his footfalls. A hitch. Then he was moving away, smooth as ever. Silk slippers swishing.

Falen told me once that if something seems too easy, either the person you’re trying to kill is an idiot or you’re being trapped. Baron Glowery and Tarus did not seem like idiots, but I was pretty sure I could kill Glowery and Blink out of there before they had a chance to spring whatever trap they’d planned for me.

All the same, I removed a powder bomb from the satchel at the small of my back and attached it to a length of tripwire. I ran the wire between the statue and a candelabra on the far side of the hallway. If anyone came down the hallway in a huff, they’d yank the wire, which would cause a spark and ignite the bomb. It wasn’t particularly powerful—enough to blow a man’s leg off or, in this case, the door to the room—but it was louder than a clap of lightning and bright enough to turn your eyes into cinders.

I crept across the hall and slowly opened the door just enough so that I could slip through. I went to close it again as quietly as possible.

And I had a very specific thought: one wrong move, one loud noise, and you will probably wind up dead.

That would have been fine, I have been in situations like that before, but I hadn’t thought something like that since before Boris Blithe cast his final hex on me. I felt that icy noose slip around my throat again, the one I’d felt right after I killed Blithe. I still had one hand on the door. In a panic I looked around for a place I could Blink to safety but it was too late. The noose tightened and I was torn away from the door by an invisible force. I slammed into a bookcase and scattered tomes everywhere, then got drug across to the other side of the room, hitting tables and chairs on my way. The hex stopped me in the exact middle of the room, my feet dangling about two strides away from the carpet. I tried to slip my fingers underneath the noose and get some slack, but didn’t get anywhere. I tried to suck air into my lungs but couldn’t.

Glowery was leaning over the same trestle table I’d dropped pieces of Davad Thorn’s limbs several months ago. The same table he’d dropped Blink on, too. He looked very amused.

“That’s a bit disappointing,” he said. Then louder: “Oh Tarus, could you come back in here for a minute?”

I tried to stay calm. Tried to focus. Tarus didn’t set off the powder bomb when he came back into the room—I couldn’t tell if it was because he’d come from the other side or just gotten lucky and stepped over it. I was too busy strangling to death. Two knights came in behind him.

“Are you doing this to her?” Tarus asked with a surprised kind of respect in his voice.

“Sadly, no.” Glowery fanned his hands a few times, as if he was playing a tiny and invisible piano. I could smell the thick residue of a Vision spell working in the room. “It’s a Hex. Some nasty final Hex that triggers when the cursed is at her most vulnerable point. When horrible violence will be done to her, should she be revealed.”

“Seems to be working pretty well.”

“Very well, I’d say.”

I gathered myself and tried to Blink out of the noose, but nothing happened. It was like the spell wasn’t bound to me at all anymore, and I was just an Untouched bitch playacting at magic.

“I should just kill her,” Tarus said quickly. “She’s dangerous.”

“No, this is perfect. One of you,” he motioned to the knights behind Tarus, “get my tools. I’ll use the same spell I used on Davad Thorn to sift through the last few months of her memories. I imagine her dead eyes and ears will tell a very interesting story.”

One of the knights trotted away. I listened to his boots and I heard them turn left at the door. Tarus was watching me very carefully, he saw the smile spread across my quivering lips.

“Wait!” he shouted.

I didn’t hear the explosion, only a click in my head as my eardrums ruptured. The bomb I’d set in the hallway exploded and the door to the room flew off its hinges. The noose loosened up on my throat just enough for me to draw a full breath, as if it was surprised by the explosion too. There was smoke everywhere and people moving around in the haze. There was warmth on my face that I knew was human blood.

I grabbed the monkey-stomach hanging at my chest, snapped it off the rawhide, and popped it in my mouth.

I chewed hard, biting through the bones and charms Izzy had prepared for me. The blood inside was warm and gooey. Tasted terrible. When I swallowed, it felt like being punched in the throat, there was so little room. But I got it down. It was heavy and sharp in my stomach. For a moment nothing happened. I heard Tarus or Glowery coughing. The noosed tightened again so I couldn’t breath. And then it slacked off and disappeared as if it had been cut by equally magic and invisible knife. I dropped to the floor in a crouch.

The familiar embrace of Blink wrapped around my bones again. The dust and smoke was starting to clear. I could see Glowery coughing and bracing himself against the trestle table. No room for hesitation. I Blinked above his head, spun in the air, drew my sword from the small of my back, and rammed the blade into the middle of his forehead. It got stuck there.

His body kicked back and landed in a crumpled, dead heap. I landed on the table with Glowery’s brain matter all over my face.

I turned towards Tarus. His right palm was facing me and there was a bolt of lightning coming out of it. I Blinked to the left side of the room, expecting to see the charred remainder of some electric Wrath spell over by the table. Instead, I saw a bone-white chain stretched out across the room and stuck into the far wall. How many magical ropes was I going to have to deal with in one night?

“Magic is such an unpredictable little bitch, isn’t it?” he said calmly, leaving the lightning chain where it was. The death of Baron Glowery did not seem like a particularly big deal to him. “Hexes. Counter hexes. Vision spells and…what is that, a Deceit spell? Never seen something like that before. I wonder how many more times you can cast it. I’ve been catching whiffs of it for the last few hours. Smells nice.”

“Yours smells like a burning mountain of horseshit,” I said.

He smiled. “I know.”

Tarus’ fist tightened around the other end of the lightning chain and I saw the muscles in his right arm rise up from beneath that silk robe. He whipped the whole mess towards me, so I Blinked behind him—level with his knees—planning to hamstring him. Before my vision returned from the Blink I was getting kicked in the face. The pajama-wearing bastard was just as fast as Vexen. Faster, maybe. It’s hard to tell when you’re tumbling ass-backwards and trying not to swallow two teeth that got knocked free.

The whip sounded like a snake striking out from a pile of dead leaves—all raspy and wicked. The crackling sound rose above my head and I figured it was going to come down on my skull pretty damn soon.

Blink. My fifth of the night. I couldn’t keep this up forever.

I materialized by the window and spat my teeth out on the carpet. I didn’t particularly want to leave Tarus alive. He seemed like someone who’d hold a grudge. But I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to kill him, either. Glowery was dead, and that’s all I was getting paid for. I remembered what Rynoa had said about moving through solid objects, and since I didn’t want to die with a chest full of broken glass, I cracked the window with the butt of my blade and then dove through it, smashing the cracked glass with my mailed gloves.

I was halfway to the ground and preparing myself for a beautiful Blink-assisted landing on the soft ground when I felt something tighten around my ankle and yank me backwards.

Tarus hauled me back through the broken window. The sides of my thighs and bottoms of my feet got scraped against the glass in a bad way. Then I was rolling back through the rubble of Glowery’s fucking desk and Tarus’ whip was around my throat. He was standing above me and smiling. I tried to Blink but it failed. Again with that shit. I drew one of my knives and tried to stab Tarus in the face but he kicked the blade out of my hand. Tightened the whip a little more.

“You’re a slippery little Sleeper, Narova,” he said. “It’s a shame you’ll die so soon after binding to such a unique spell.”

My vision went spotty and then started to blacken. Tarus was not as patient as the magical Hex noose. I tried a few more Blinks but nothing happened.

“Still trying to buck the Chain, mmm? I like your spirit.”

I looked into Tarus’ eyes. I think he was debating whether or not raping me would be a good idea. I have a good eye for thoughts like that. He shifted his weight just a little bit—probably didn’t even realize he was doing it. But it put his cock was right above my foot.

I kicked him as hard as humanly possible. Felt one of his balls squish and watched his eyes bulge. His chain loosened around my throat and I tore it free.

I looked out the window, focused on the rampart in the distance, and Blinked. Materialized on the rampart, found a clearing below the walls and Blinked. Found a shadowy hilltop that was covered by the trees and Blinked again. I’d covered a thousand strides in three heartbeats, and I felt like my chest was about to cave in.

Behind me, smoke was rising from the broken window. I squinted and tried to figure out whether Tarus was alive or not. Men have been known to die from kicks like that. There was a quick flash of white light, then an armored knight flew out the window and rose high above the villa, flipping head-over-heels like a tossed coin.

“Still alive you little prick,” I whispered. I could barely hear myself, ears were still ringing from that powder bomb. Mostly my words were just a vibration in my throat and chest.

I turned and ran away into the night.



4 responses to “Narova the Skagit: Chapter 10”

  1. Peter says:

    Thank you! Love how the story evolves :)

  2. Max says:

    Hey man, where’ve you been? Can’t say I’ve not been missing Narova

    • Fargoth says:

      I know I’m very late coming with next chapters, so sorry!! I will post a bunch of them soon to make up for lost time

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