The one-armed man staggered toward Gaelwyn and laid his hand upon the physician. His face was pale; blood dripped from the stump where his arm had once been.
“Please,” he whispered.
Gaelwyn sat up slowly and gave the man a careless touch. The bleeding stopped at once as the meat around his shoulder folded in on itself. The grinding sound of bone touching bone set Dominic’s teeth on edge. The man sagged to the floor with a haggard expression and began to cry.
“It’s too quiet,” murmured Vidre. She was standing at the end of the short corridor that separated them from the long hallway which led back to the ascending room. “Unless you were exceedingly stealthy, the alarm will have been raised.”
“I’m afraid there was much shouting,” said Welexi.
“Most of the people in this building wouldn’t have been aware of what was happening,” said Dominic. He helped Gaelwyn to his feet, barely thinking about their flesh making contact. Gaelwyn would be able to feel almost the entirety of Dominic’s body through that connection. “They’ll only know that we left death and destruction behind us.” He turned to look at the minister’s corpse.
“Leave the moralizing for later,” said Vidre. “What’s our next move?”
“They’ll respond in full force, thinking it’s an attack,” said Welexi. “We must assume hostility. We leave through one of the windows.”
“How high up are we?” asked Vidre. “Three hundred feet? You’re the only one with wings.”
Dominic watched the one-armed man while they argued. What was to come after they made their escape from the Ministry? It was clear that they couldn’t stay in Parance for any longer than they had to. They’d have to get back to the ship as quickly as possible, trying to outrun the news of what had happened, but if anyone was aware of what had happened here, they would already be racing ahead to cut off that path. In fact, it seemed likely that if the enemy planned for them to be assassinated in Parance, the ship would have been seized upon first word of their arrival. The iron room was a trap, but it was only a small trap nested inside a larger one.
“We won’t be able to escape the kingdom with broken legs,” said Dominic.
“We aren’t going to escape,” said Welexi. “We’re going to confront the Iron King. This story doesn’t end with us running away with our tails between our legs, it ends with the ringleader put to the sword and made to answer for his crimes.”
“We’re going to kill the Iron King?” asked Dominic.
“Or whoever rules in his stead,” said Vidre. “Seems sensible enough to me, all things considered. If we tried to run, they’d chase us. There would also be our enduring reputation to worry about, if the weight of the Iron Kingdom’s storytelling engines was brought to bear against us.”
There were sounds from the corridor beyond where they stood. It was the thunder of footsteps. Vidre’s armor had already been built up to be thick, but now it slammed down into place around her, leaving no contact with the outside world save for two vents that passed by either cheek to allow her to breathe. Welexi’s armor was nearly as concealing. He held a spear of light in each hand. Dominic tried his best to thicken his armor, but he’d sparred enough to know that he would be a hindrance to the others in the tight quarters of a hallway.
“I can’t fly while carrying another,” said Welexi. “But I would be able to use my wings to slow the descent for another.”
“And leave the others to be spitted?” asked Vidre. She furrowed her eyebrows.
“I could return,” said Welexi. “We would move one by one. It would be a matter of minutes.”
Vidre leaned over and looked down the long hallway. She pulled her head back and swore. “They’re already in position.”
“All you’ll need to do is hold the hallway,” said Welexi. “I’ll take Gaelwyn out the window then return.”
“Minutes is too long,” said Vidre. “Dominic and I will fight our way down together.”
“Agreed,” said Welexi. “I will return to offer what assistance I can.”
“Wait,” said Vidre. “Where do we regroup?”
Dominic heard an unfamiliar sound from down the hallway. They were hidden in their alcove; he trusted Welexi and Vidre to keep them safe, but if they were driven back into the iron room there wouldn’t be any hope of escape. The sound was something like hissing. Vidre must have heard it too, since she steeled herself and faced the doorway that separated them from the longer hallway. A metal ball the size of a human head rolled into view. Vidre swept forward and kicked it with her glass boot hard enough to shatter the glass, sending it flying back down the hallway to where it had come from. The explosion happened a half second later.
The noise came first, followed quickly by a rush of air. The wall between them and the grenade — a term Dominic was only passingly familiar with, but that must have been what it was — burst outward, with small bits of wood filling the air. Dominic’s teeth were rattled and everything sounded as though he was underwater. Vidre’s armor was shot through with cracks. Her left leg, visible within its shattered glass casing, was red with blood.
“Move!” shouted Vidre. The word was understandable more from the shape of her mouth than the sound, which barely reached Dominic’s ringing ears. She darted down the hallway, moving toward the explosion. Welexi followed, with Gaelwyn behind him, but they went the other direction when they got to the central hallway, towards the large window that gave the hallway its light. Dominic came after them, just in time to see Welexi hook Gaelwyn beneath his arms and leap from the window without ceremony. His wings could be seen unfurling for a brief moment before he dropped from sight.
Dominic followed Vidre through the smoke, nearly tripping over blood and viscera. Welexi had already been down this corridor before, when he’d fought his way out of the iron room; he must have left bodies behind. The smoke was thick enough that Dominic tried to navigate through only his domain sense, but the smoke made the shadows diffuse. He plunged forward anyhow, just in time to see Vidre slice a man in a red uniform across his throat. At his side was a sling with two more of the enormous grenades within it. Vidre moved forward without giving him a second thought, on to the next; there were no obvious illustrati among them, only men with wide-barreled pistols and sabres.
“Dom, darkness!” called Vidre.
Dominic deepened the shadows around them, until nothing was visible save for what his domain sense showed him. Vidre had more glass powder to allow her some proxy to sight; she sliced through the helpless men quickly and efficiently, sometimes leaving a glass dagger stuck in one of them while she pulled a spare from the shards of her armor. For his part, Dominic did not fight. The quarters were cramped and he was far less skilled than Vidre was. He could have used his sword of shadow to spear those men that still squirmed on the ground in her wake, but he didn’t have the stomach for it.
“Hold,” said Vidre as she lowered a bleeding man to the floor. She was holding him up by the dagger stuck in his stomach. “No illustrati,” she said into the darkness. The deep shadows made her a ghostly image to Dominic’s eyes. It was harder to read her face like this. “They’re preparing something further down. Or at least, that’s what I would do.”
“How much further until we can jump?” asked Dominic.
“I don’t know,” said Vidre. “Come on.”
They had rode up together in the ascending room, carried by unseen ropes thanks to the might of an unseen engine. It had been nerve-wracking to Dominic, in part because of the way the room swayed and shook. This was nothing compared to their journey to the bottom of the Ministry of Legends.
They were fighting against an unstoppable tide of men. Vidre was favoring her left leg, though she made no complaints about it. If another of those grenades went off at close range, Dominic worried that they would be seriously injured, if they didn’t outright die. Most of the men in red had sabres, but a few of them had pistols as well. With her glass armor in place, covering her ears, Vidre couldn’t hear the sizzling sound of a fuse running short. She took a single shot to the gut which pierced her armor entirely, but though Dominic saw blood, Vidre only stopped for long enough to kill the man and seal her armor closed again.
The wooden stairway did not follow a straight path down. It zig-zagged back and forth, occasionally stopping abruptly, only to pick up again at the other side of the floor. This provided a number of ideal choke points for the men in uniform to put up a defense, when they weren’t trying to fight a battle on the stairs (one the guards would invariably lose). In the course of descending four floors they twice encountered a grenadier, who pitched forward grenades that ranged in size from an apple to a melon. When they saw one, Dominic and Vidre would both duck behind a doorway or try to scramble out of the way. The explosions caused more damage to the building than to Dominic or Vidre, though Dominic was left with a headache.
Vidre had killed perhaps twenty men by the time they encountered their first illustrati. He stood at the end of one of the central hallways, dressed in heavy metal armor but with his wrinkled face and gray hair exposed. Vidre whipped one of her daggers at him, but he flicked it aside with a casual gesture as it approached him. Vidre created a second dagger and ran towards him, which was all the incentive he needed to fill the hallway with an enormous wind that slowed her down. Dominic followed behind her, hoping that he could be some use for once; a few weeks of training had not yet made him an expert soldier and they hadn’t once discussed how to defeat an illustrati of air. Dominic assumed that one of them had been responsible for sucking the air from the iron room they’d been trapped within.
As the illustrati redoubled his efforts to create a wind that would knock them off balance, two men came out from a doorway behind him with rifles, which they aimed squarely at Vidre. She cursed and threw herself sideways into one of the rooms. Dominic was nearly thrown from his feet by the wind, but he followed behind Vidre all the same.
“Darkness,” she said. Dominic heightened the shadows until they were standing in pitch black. A quick look around the room showed a long table with pots of inks; this was one of the places where those paints were made. A few of them hung up on the walls, though the room was dominated by its windows. They were still hundreds of feet from the ground. Vidre stood facing doorway with her daggers drawn.
“It’s Calligae,” Vidre said, mostly to herself. “Stupid bastard took up residence in the Iron Kingdom a few years ago. He was a friend once.”
Dominic held a sword of shadow in his hand. It was still unused. The illustrati of air would be coming for them, or summoning reinforcements while they hid. Neither option was good. Vidre seemed indecisive for once, unsure of what the best course of action would be. She couldn’t let herself be shot too many times, not even with her glass armor as thick as she could make it. The illustrati of air alone would be an issue. Vidre tossed more glass powder into the air — Dominic’s lungs were sore from breathing the stuff — and frowned at whatever she was seeing in the darkness.
“No darkness,” she said. Dominic dropped the shadows. “We’re leaving out the window.”
“It’s too much of a drop,” said Dominic.
“I don’t know if I can beat Calligae, not if he’s got an army behind him,” said Vidre. “He’s almost certainly an innocent in all this besides that. We’re going to have to risk some broken bones.”
“If we break our legs we’ll never leave this city alive,” said Dominic. “And we don’t know how to find Welexi and Gaelwyn.”
Vidre held a finger to her lips. Her daggers wavered slightly in her hands. She would need to see Gaelwyn after they got out of here, if they got out at all; her leg and her stomach both showed red behind the glass.
A gust of wind blew through the doorway, causing papers to fly up from the long table and rip free from the walls. A figure came darting into the room, though not the one that they’d been expecting; this was a new illustrati, someone in burning red, molten armor. The air shimmered around him as he dove towards Vidre. She stepped to the side rather than try to face the heat coming from him. He landed on the floor, causing fires to light up where he touched it, then lunged at Vidre a second time. She tossed her daggers at him and ran, leaping over the long table and then crashing out of the window in a swan dive. The molten man shared a brief look at Dominic then began to advance on him, which left Dominic no real choice besides following Vidre. He sprinted towards the large windows, surrounding himself with more shadows to blunt the impact, but the wood and glass broke away easily. Dominic found himself in free fall.
Dominic was forming the wings of shadow even as he made his exit from the Ministry of Legends. They were small stubs when he began to properly fall. By the time that first second had passed, they were long enough that they might be doing something to slow him down. He began to spin, first a gentle turn and then fast enough that the buildings around him were something of a blur. It was something in the way he’d made the wings that was doing it, by the tug he felt at the point they attached to his armor, but he didn’t dare dismiss them to try again. Dominic had no idea how quickly the ground was approaching, nor how much the small wings were helping to slow him down. He focused his efforts on trying not to be sick, which he accomplished mostly by closing his eyes tight. Papers fluttered down around him, some of them printed with the faces of illustrati.
He landed with a jolt and realized with immense relief that his legs were still working. Dominic opened his eyes and dismissed his wings, only to find himself standing atop a building that was still a hundred feet up from the ground. He took a moment to get his bearings. Dominic was further from the Ministry of Legends than he’d thought possible, more than a block from the shattered window that he and Vidre had leapt out of. There was no sign of Vidre, though that was little surprise; she would have taken a much more direct trip to the ground. Dominic must have twirled like a leaf on the wind, slowed but uncontrolled. There was no sign of Welexi or Gaelwyn either, but thanks to twisting stairways, Dominic had no idea which side of the building they’d even left from.
A flicker of motion brought Dominic’s attention back to the Ministry building, just in time to see Calligae leaping out the same window. For a moment Dominic thought the old man was actually flying, but it was only a sort of glide. A full second passed before Dominic realized that the illustrati’s glide was taking him to the rooftop that Dominic was standing on. Dominic deepened the shadows around him once again and began to run, as fast as he’d ever run before.
The rooftops of Parance were uneven, dropping precipitously from building to building before rising again. Dominic dropped two stories down to a rooftop plaza, then burst through a pair of large doors, bringing the deep shadows with him. A group of musicians with string instruments held with long fingers were groping around in the darkness, but the breeze Dominic could feel on his neck was enough for him to ignore them and push his way towards the nearest door, which he kicked open with a splinter of wood. He barreled his way down the hallway he found himself in, looking for somewhere that he could lose his pursuer. When he saw a flight of stairs, he took them, going up instead of down, then raced to another open window so that he could jump down to the street.
There were gasps and cries of terror as he brought the darkness with him. The landing was hard on his joints, but while the drop had been from high up, it wasn’t nearly bad enough to injure him. Dominic raced past the blinded people, trying his best not to look back. He ducked into the first alleyway he could see, then dropped not just the shadows, but his armor as well. The purple clothing he wore was more conspicuous than he would like, and his complexion was darker than the people he saw in the streets, but if Calligae was still following, Dominic hoped that a casual air would be enough to deflect immediate attention. Dominic would have to steal more simple clothing in order to blend in. It was unfortunate that the people of Parance didn’t seem to hang their clothing out to dry as was done in Gennaro.
Dominic walked down the alley with a casual stroll, looking for somewhere that he could duck into without making a scene. He heard shouts from the street behind him, which he assumed were caused by Calligae landing in pursuit, but it would take some time for him to question the bystanders, and by then Dominic hoped to have melted into the city as best he could. When Dominic came to the end of the alley, he found himself on another of Parance’s city streets, with a cafe close by. He smiled with an ease he didn’t feel and sat down at a table near the back, just in time to see soldiers marching down the street at nearly a run. Calligae didn’t come barreling down the alley as Dominic had feared; by the time Dominic had gotten his cup of coffee, it was starting to sink in that he had accomplished the first part of his escape. That left him a wanted man in the middle of Parance, separated from his party and with only a trifling amount of money.
They hadn’t agreed on a place to meet. The grenade had interrupted that conversation. Afterward, he should have talked it over with Vidre, but he hadn’t imagined that they too would be split up. The last thing that Welexi had talked about was taking on the Iron King himself, which would mean going a day’s ride from Parance to Castle Launtine, but that had seemed like foolishness itself even before the four of them had been scattered to the winds.
Dominic wasn’t sure how to find the others, if they were even alive. Vidre had fallen some two hundred and fifty feet, if not more, without the benefit of even small, ineffectual wings. If she’d been able to land without injury, she would have found herself right next to the building they’d been trying to escape from, likely in an area swarming with the very men they’d just been in combat with. Welexi had broken through a window on the top floor of the Ministry of Legends with glowing wings displayed to the world; the shards of glass falling to the ground would have brought people forward like moths to the flame, even before the most famous man in the world was seen making a dramatic exit. By the time Vidre had made her own landing, the base of the Ministry would have been awash with the sorts of people who are drawn to catastrophes. Dominic’s experience told him that soldiers, guards, and illustrati would be among them.
Dominic finished his coffee slowly. Welexi and Gaelwyn wouldn’t be in much better shape than Vidre. While Dominic could at least make an attempt to blend in, Welexi was far too recognizable. Dominic had a darker complexion, but Welexi’s skin was the color of burnished bronze, too dark for him to easily fit in with population of Parance, especially not with his bald head and regal stature. Gaelwyn could pass as another redheaded man from the Highlands of the Iron Kingdom, which was more or less what he was, but Welexi would stick out like a sore thumb.
If they all went into hiding like Dominic planned on doing, he had no idea how they would find each other. If the Iron Kingdom were not looking for them, the place to go would be Bordes, where their ship waited in port. Unfortunately, not only was Bordes a day’s ride away, it was almost certain that there were spies and soldiers watching the ship, if they hadn’t seized it entirely. That meant that Dominic would have to find the others somewhere in Parance without any real way of communicating with them. They had only been to a few places since coming to Parance, not including the Ministry of Legends, which was unsuitable as a meeting spot for obvious reasons. The problem was that the Iron Kingdom’s spies would know everywhere that the four of them had been as well; Dominic recalled leaving Quill’s former building with their weapons drawn and Welexi’s armor lighting up the city street. They hadn’t been the least bit inconspicuous.
Dominic drained the rest of his coffee, leaving only dregs, and kept his eyes on the street. He had seen more than a few people moving towards the Ministry of Legends. The ones in uniform moved faster than those who were not. Dominic wondered how much time he would have before the manhunt began in earnest; if the average member of the Iron Kingdom’s bureaucracy had no idea what sort of trap had been laid, it might take some time to untangle the events of the day and tie them back to the nominal culprits. There was no question that they had killed the Minister of Legends, or a great many people within the building whether illustrati or not. That made Dominic feel slightly sick. It didn’t seem to matter that it was compelled by necessity.
He came to no firm decision on where the best place to meet up with the others might be. After some time he decided on Hartwain’s, though he wasn’t quite foolish enough to go knocking on the door to the manor. Instead he would steal whatever he needed for a suitable disguise, then loiter a block or two away, not only to watch for the others, but to see whether Hartwain’s house was under surveillance by anyone else. Dominic had only been in Parance for a day; he hoped that his face would be difficult for anyone to recognize.
He left the cafe after a group of soldiers had gone by, stole trousers and a shirt from a house whose lock he quickly picked, and made his way across the unfamiliar city until he arrived at Hartwain’s manor house. When he got there, his heart sank in his chest.
The door was slightly ajar and the windows were all shattered on the ground floor. Dominic saw no one on the street, so he crept closer, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger. Fleeing from Calligae’s pursuit had gone much better than he’d thought it would; the ability to fill a space with shadows combined with Dominic’s power as an illustrati and natural fleet-footedness meant that he could likely outrun anyone following him, no matter who they were. He tried to keep his heart from hammering in his chest as he slipped inside the manor. If there had been any talking, he would have kept his distance, but whatever had happened to Hartwain, it seemed as though it was already over. The interior of the house showed the same disarray that was clear from the outside, with pictures hanging crooked on the walls and furniture knocked askew. There was blood as well, mostly in small dribbles that were smeared on the floor and spattered on the walls.
Dominic slowly pushed open the door to the sitting room where he’d taken tea with Hartwain. The sliver of light revealed a number of cats, a few of which were looking right at him. Dominic felt an urge to run away and leave this place behind, but tried to ignore it. When he heard a low growl from behind him, he wished that he had listened to that inner voice. He turned slightly to confirm that the immense black cat, the one which almost certainly outweighed him, was standing directly behind him. Its footsteps had been entirely silent.
“Won’t you come in, Dominic?” asked a voice from within the sitting room.
Dominic reluctantly pushed the door the rest of the way open, revealing Hartwain laid out on the chaise, unmoving, and Faye standing in the center of the room. There were dozens of cats of every variety around her, each of them looking at Dominic. In her hands, Faye held a blocky gray device with a fist-sized hole in the top. Dominic was immediately aware that it was a Harbinger artifact, by some uncanny trick of the mind which only the Harbingers knew. He looked at Faye, whose face showed no amusement or compassion. At the same time, she didn’t seem particularly surprised or angry to see him.
“You tried to kill me,” said Dominic.
“We tried to kill Welexi,” said Faye. “Apparently something went wrong, if you are here.” Her hair was mussed. She had a wound on her forehead near the hairline, three parallel marks that could only have been from the claws of the big cat which had sat down right behind Dominic. The wound hadn’t been bandaged, but despite that it was completely bloodless. Faye had other wounds about her, along with places where her clothing had been ripped and torn, but there was no blood anywhere on her person.
“You could apologize,” said Dominic.
“I am sorry,” said Faye. “Our organization is composed of many different people with different views on how things should be done. It was agreed that Welexi is among the greatest threats we face, but opinions varied on what losses were acceptable. I argued in favor of taking you aside, but it was thought that this would raise suspicions.” She shook her head. “I arrived too late for my opinion to mean much. Nevertheless, I am sorry that I did not campaign for you harder.”
“Do you really think that I’m still going to join you?” asked Dominic.
“I don’t know,” said Faye. “I hope that this meeting is fortuitous in some way.” The cats watched Dominic, all eyes turned in his direction. Faye’s affect was flat, yet there was something of music in the way she spoke, a harmonic that underlined her words.
“You killed Hartwain,” said Dominic.
“No,” said Faye. “The artifact does not require death. We endeavor not to kill. Hartwain is only resting.”
“You stole her power,” said Dominic.
“Yes,” replied Faye. She held forth the artifact. “You recall what I said when we last met? The illustrati are — to a one — concerned with their fame, thirsty for more of it and intent on propagating their own image as far and wide as possible. The most powerful men and women have to be concerned with how they are viewed by the people they rule.”
“So you change the concentration of power,” said Dominic. “The illustrati will be you and your people now, not men like Kendrick and women like Hartwain.”
“You do not grasp what the artifact does,” said Faye. “There is a link between a person and the idea of that person. We change that link, pulling the handle of power and the domain with it. Do you understand the distinction?”
“No,” said Dominic. “If you stole Kendrick’s domain — and I have to think that’s the most reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that your wounds aren’t bleeding — then it’s clear you don’t need the subject alive. You’ve stolen the power, but the only difference is that you’ll be propagating someone else’s legend instead of your own.”
“And if I exchanged a linkage with another?” asked Faye. “We would be inspired towards cooperation rather than pursuing selfish strategies. Or beyond that, if I had no idea which stories propelled my own fame.”
Dominic frowned. “It wouldn’t matter. You wouldn’t be able to spread someone else’s stories in order to accumulate your power, but … you could still use your status as illustrati to spread stories about yourself. One domain would fade with time while the other would rise, until eventually you were nothing but an ordinary illustrati again.”
“Unless my link belonged to another,” said Faye. “Someone I did not know. You can imagine a group of illustrati who are arranged not as single points of light, but as a web of dependency, can you not? You can imagine how things might be between you and Welexi if there was an added ignorance? Dominic, you know that the illustrati are vain, self-aggrandizing people, competent only insofar as they can hold onto their power. This doesn’t have to be the case. We can forge a new system of governance. It is imperative that we do so, if we are to bring the world through these troubled times.”
Dominic saw pleading in her eyes. She didn’t want to kill him, though if she did hold three domains and the fame of at least three different people, he had little doubt that she would be capable of ending him. Her voice would raise high enough to split his eardrums, her large black cat would leap on him from behind, and it would take only a single touch for her to end his life. It would be like fighting the Blood Bard all over again, with the dangers now real and multiplied. There was nothing to say that her domains stopped at three; she might have taken power from any number of the illustrati that had disappeared from the Iron Kingdom in the past weeks.
“You’ve accumulated a significant amount of power for yourself,” said Dominic. “For one who wants to see power less concentrated, you’re doing a pretty poor job of it.”
“I agree,” said Faye. “Necessity compels us in this matter.”
“Hartwain wasn’t a threat,” said Dominic. He looked to the still form on the chaise. “She wasn’t going to fight against whatever reforms you’re in the middle of planning.”
“Of course she was,” said Faye. “You’ve known the woman a day, if that. She was fearsome in her time, more than capable of killing in the same casual way that marks the illustrati. If you escaped the trap we laid for you, I have to imagine that more than one person died. How many of those men and women who fell do you believe truly deserved it?”
The answer was that almost none of them had any real fault, but Dominic didn’t say that. The conspiracy couldn’t run so deep as to include dozens of men. This thought had occurred to Dominic while they were making their way down the tower. Vidre had been more ferocious than casual in the way she murdered the men she came across, but there was little compassion or empathy from her until they came across the illustrati of air, someone she knew on a personal level.
“What do you want from me?” asked Dominic.
“Want?” asked Faye. “I am more concerned with what I can reasonably expect, given our shaky understanding with one another. I expect that you will join up with your traveling companions again, perhaps in the near future. You will go with them as they try to unravel this attempt at a new system that the world might operate under. Perhaps you will tell them about this encounter, or voice your concerns about the shape that the illustrati impose on society. But in any case, if you all survive long enough eventually a time will come when you will make a stand. Not because of anything that I can offer you, but of your own recognition that it must be done.”
“You’re asking me to do something you think I would do anyway,” said Dominic.
“It is the only reason that you and I don’t need to come to blows,” said Faye. “You’re fortunate that I was sent to call on Hartwain, rather than one of the others; they would simply have attacked without waiting for conversation. There would be no hope of you leaving here alive.”
“Which I suppose I should now do,” said Dominic.
“Remember the rule of three, Dominic,” said Faye with a solemn voice. “A man and a woman, apparent enemies, meet twice for conversation. The third time cannot end like the first two did. If we see each other again, it will either be as allies or enemies, with the gray washed out by black or white.”
Dominic had no response to that.
Dominic tried not to feel the eyes on his back as he left Hartwain’s manor. He still needed to find the others, if that was even possible in a city so large as Parance. While he walked, he mulled over what Faye had said. The Iron King must surely be dead, if this cabal had infiltrated the highest levels of the leadership within the country. The Iron King had been one of the most powerful men in the world, not only one of the greatest illustrati, but the ruler of one of the mightiest countries. He had also been a monster, the terrifying sort of monster that shaped the world around him to be a better place for monsters. Gaelwyn had been shaped by the Iron King, as had countless others. Faye thought it was the shape of power that led to such things, but Dominic wasn’t so sure. He had no good counter-example to look at, no one who lived up to the heroic ideals. When he’d been a minor player in Corta’s gang, he’d sometimes looked up at the statue of Gennaro in the center of Nuncio Plaza. There were stories about the man that were now hundreds of years old, of a statesman and a protector. Something had changed in Dominic’s thinking. He had always thought that the legends were exaggerations, makeup caked around a homely face, but now he doubted that there was any core of truth to it at all.
He walked down the streets, moving more or less at random. It was possible that Faye would try to follow him to Welexi, though Dominic had no idea how he might find Welexi. He made a few surreptitious glances behind him as he walked. He thought he’d imagined a large-bellied man with a cloak and hood, but after three turns he was certain that he was being tracked. Dominic wore simple clothes, with none of the markings of his domain. If someone was following him, they’d likely been doing so since Hartwain’s. Dominic cursed silently to himself. It was midday. The streets of Parance held a fair number of people. Speed was one of Dominic’s few advantages, but he knew from long experience in Gennaro that sprinting in broad daylight would draw the wrong sort of attention. It would be difficult to become anonymous again, especially if the man following him started an earnest pursuit.
Dominic was about to duck down an alleyway when he saw a glint of light coming from the man’s hand. He paused for a fraction of a moment before realizing that it was a glass dagger reflecting sunlight. The hooded man with a potbelly was now clear for what she was; not just a disguise Vidre was wearing, but one that he’d been meant to recognize. It wasn’t quite the same as the one she’d been wearing before, but the shape of it was similar. Dominic gave her a brief nod before moving into the alleyway. If she’d been following him since Hartwain’s, she would have questions. He hoped that she would accept the answers.
“Is Hartwain dead?” asked Vidre. The left side of her face was red and swollen, enough that her eye was nearly shut. She spared nothing for pleasantries.
“She’s no longer an illustrati,” said Dominic.
“Close enough then,” Vidre replied. “I don’t think anyone else was following you; I had to make sure though. Our enemy has rained down a flurry of blows. Hartwain wasn’t the only one.”
“You survived the fall,” said Dominic.
“Yes,” said Vidre. “The sooner I can find Gaelwyn, the better. There’s too much blood pooling in my boots.” She paused. “I have some ideas on where we might find our companions. Come on, let’s go.”
“They won’t go to Hartwain’s?” asked Dominic.
“They would have arrived before us,” said Vidre. “I knew you would go there, but didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to go inside. There could have been someone dangerous inside.”
Dominic could have explained things. He could have relayed the conversation he’d had with Faye, which would have meant explaining that she’d come to his room when they were still in Meriwall. He might have tried to talk with Vidre about the structures of power that underpinned the world. There was something in her eyes that stopped him. She was angry and injured, ready to kill whoever stepped in her path. Dominic held his tongue; there would be time later. He might even be able to sway Vidre, if not Welexi. That would remove the need to fight and kill.
“I was lucky,” said Dominic. “Come on, let’s go find the others.”