Shadows of the Limelight, Ch 20: The Bone Warden

Previously …

Vidre should have just watched. She had turned away before knowing whether Calligae would act, before knowing whether Dominic would be saved. She had even said a prayer. It was nothing more than an ill-timed bout of maudlin sentimentality. She would learn what had happened later anyway, once she went looking for his corpse. It would have been better to watch, to remove any doubt and allow her to focus on other things. She tried to take her mind off of Dominic’s unknown fate and watch Welexi instead.

Welexi intended to keep Castle Launtine. Their assault had driven all of the staff away, not to mention the dozen illustrati they’d killed and the score of guards they’d put to the sword. The central question was now who had the legitimate right to rule the Iron Kingdom. The Ministries were located in Parance, but power had always been held by the Iron King himself at Castle Launtine. That had been true for as long as most people had been alive. Keeping the castle meant keeping a claim on legitimacy. To do that effectively meant calling back the common people who had been driven away.

“It puts us at risk,” said Vidre. “We’ll have to be wary of assassins in the night for as long as we stay here. We have no money to pay guards. Even if we had the money to pay guards, we would have no way to ensure that they were loyal to us.”

“We’ll plunder the Iron King’s personal vault,” said Welexi. “If I recall correctly, it was some distance from the powder room and should be intact.”

“On whose authority?” asked Vidre. “It might be one thing if we were backing a particular bastard for the Iron King’s throne. We’re free agents, working on behalf of the idea that there should be a king or queen instead of whatever they were trying to put in his place.” She gestured to Lothaire’s unmoving body. He was unconscious and drooling slightly, with the Harbinger ring still on his finger.

“We already assaulted this castle in the name of the divine right of rule,” said Welexi. “Taking money is nothing in comparison to that.”

“Then who are we handing power to?” asked Vidre.

“The rightful ruler,” said Welexi. “There are papers to look through here; I believe that the Iron King kept careful track of his bastards. It is well possible that if this conspiracy did not destroy the evidence entirely, we might find concrete evidence of who is meant to sit the throne.”

“Do you understand we’re up against the Ministry of Legends?” asked Vidre. “We need to get the story straight. We need to be backing a real, actual person instead of a nebulous principle. We need it today, tomorrow at the latest, because whoever gets moving first has the advantage. I’m sure our names are already smeared thanks to the attack at the Ministry.”

“I will look through the papers then,” said Welexi. “Begin thinking about what we might tell the bards.”

It was going to be more complicated than that, of course. Vidre made her way back to the Iron King’s bed chambers, both to give herself time to think and so that she could be away from Welexi for a while. Of the two of them, Welexi was better at framing his actions; it was something that he did without any seeming thought, twisting around what had happened so that it was presented in the best possible light. It was one of the reasons that he was revered the world around as a hero. He also acted heroically, Vidre had never denied that, but it was his gift for presentation that had put him so far ahead of everyone else. Someone — one of Vidre’s early lovers, whose bed she’d shared when she’d first come aboard the Zenith — had called it a pathology of presentation. The phrasing had always stuck with her. The concept of a story was like a sickness to the man.

Presentation wouldn’t be enough. They would need to build up lies, both about what they had done and what had happened. They needed to be acting on the authority of their chosen heir from the moment that they were assaulted in the Ministry of Legends, not after the fact. It needed to be a story which would survive scrutiny.

Vidre got to work, happy to have something to occupy her.


The sound of the chimes was slowly driving Vidre mad. The artifact had two tones, one it gave off when a link was taken and a second it gave when the link was given. The first was slightly lower than the second. When they’d begun the day, Vidre had taken some amusement from trying to figure out which notes they were hitting. She’d had music lessons as part of her extensive tutoring, as music was the sort of thing that any noblewoman was supposed to have a passing interest in, if not a complete mastery. Vidre had a pleasant singing voice that she rarely used. She hummed along with the artifact as it made its tone, trying to narrow down the exact pitch. After she was satisfied with that, the sounds of the artifact continued on, wearing at her nerves.

They’d pulled in the commoners from the village that sat below Castle Launtine. Many of them had worked at the castle prior to the change in ownership and now wished to return; all claimed ignorance of what had been going on. Welexi had flown down into the village and gave a rousing speech, proclaiming that the Iron King had died some weeks ago and that the Sunhawk had personally worked against a cabal of people intent on usurping the royal line. All that was true enough. Vidre had expected that the response would be anemic, even with the announcement of increased pay, but the people had come all the same.

Loyalty was an issue. There was a very real possibility that one of the illustrati that fled would try to come back to the castle, especially if they heard that workers were being taken on. There was no way to lay claim to the castle without guards and servants though, so Welexi had proposed a solution.

The commoners came into the large dining room beside the throne room one by one. Each was made to place their hand into the artifact, which gave off its low tone. Then the artifact was placed on the hand of Welexi, Gaelwyn, or Vidre, giving off its second, higher tone. This was repeated for every person they meant to hire on. It wouldn’t stop anyone from sneaking in, nor would it stop an assassin with a mundane blade, but it at least ensured that no illustrati were secretly working for them. They would have to sleep with their doors latched firmly shut, always planning on someone trying to slit their throats in their sleep, but that was a necessary cost of their new position.

“How many more?” asked Vidre as she withdrew her hand from the artifact. She rubbed her wrist, though there was no sensation involved. The young man she’d taken the link from looked uneasy as he left the room. The young man had no standing, so the link would do little, but he would ever after be deprived of even the chance of becoming an illustrati.

“A dozen,” said Welexi. “Are you so eager to depart?”

“I should have left yesterday,” said Vidre. “We still have no clue what’s going on in Parance. Better that I set the record straight sooner rather than later.”

“You’ll be safe on your own?” asked Welexi. He seemed worried on her behalf, but that was part of the character he played.

“I’ll be fine,” said Vidre. “It’s only scouting for now, with perhaps a few visits to whatever allies we might still have. My experience in going unnoticed is considerable.” She had demurred when Gaelwyn had offered to change her face, saying that she wanted some proof of her identity in case she needed to leverage it. In truth, she wanted to keep Gaelwyn’s hands as far from her as possible. She had never enjoyed the sensation of his alterations. Recent developments had amplified her distrust of him, for all that they were still working together.

They had taken Lothaire’s ring from him. Welexi had immediately put it on, defying all sense of caution, then declared that it didn’t seem to have any effect. He still wore it though, perhaps for the same reason that Lothaire had; it was mightily impressive just for the effect it had on the mind, a nagging insistence that came whenever it was in view. They had put the artifact on Lothaire’s hand after that, in order to deprive him of whatever powers he had, but it hadn’t made its tone. Welexi had concluded that Lothaire didn’t have a domain — that his link had already been taken from him. Vidre had immediately seen that this was a power in its own right, a way for the old man to mark himself as serving the cause above all else.

Lothaire had still not woken up. Gaelwyn had said there was some difficulty with the process. He had spewed medical terminology when Vidre inquired further, enough to let Vidre know that he was lying to her. Lothaire hadn’t woken up because Gaelwyn didn’t want Lothaire to wake up. The reason was obvious enough; Lothaire knew things he shouldn’t have, enough to drive further wedges between them. The only reason to keep him alive was that he might let slip some useful information, but he was dangerous when he was talking. Lothaire knew something about Vidre’s father, something that Gaelwyn had thought would substantially change her attitude. Vidre had always thought that if someone was keeping a secret because they thought you would be angry if you knew it, that was reason enough to be angry, but she found herself not pushing too hard. It was a weakness that she recognized in herself, but not one that she was eager to correct.


Six Weeks Later


Dominic was miserable. His anger and despair had faded as the weeks went by, leaving only a pit of anticipation that had turned into a sour knot. He hadn’t moved of his own volition in six weeks. He hadn’t spoken in six weeks, though he and Calligae had gotten quite good at communication. Calligae liked to talk, both about the life that he’d led and the stories that he’d heard over the years. The conversation never strayed toward names familiar to Dominic, which he imagined must have been by design. Calligae was a friend to Vidre and Welexi, but he never mentioned them, not even in passing. The topic hadn’t been broached since the day that Calligae had caught Dominic.

“I’ll be happy not to have to be your caretaker,” said Calligae. He had booked passage for them aboard a ship, paying with a promise and a demonstration of his power. Calligae could whip up winds around him, strong enough that he could prevent a small ship from being becalmed. The crew had taken the old illustrati for a good omen; they thought that Dominic was an invalid, which wasn’t far from the truth. Calligae did everything for him. Providing food and water was the least it. Whenever Dominic had to go to the bathroom, Calligae had to pull down his pants and position him over a chamberpot. In the beginning it had been utter humiliation; now it was simply an unpleasant part of the rhythm of the day.

Dominic wasn’t above deck when they sailed into port. He was only brought up once the ship had docked, which meant that he missed the grand view. Calligae had told him it was nothing special; where Torland was an island nation dominated by a large mountain with Laith’s visage carved into the side of it, Xeo was flat and rocky, barely fit for human life and incapable of leaving anyone in a state of awe.

Calligae hired a litter which took them to the palace. He seemed cheery enough, though he was spending the last of his money. Dominic hadn’t thought about money during his entire time with Vidre and Welexi. He hadn’t needed to. Even before then, he’d gotten so much money from the races that it was almost meaningless, so long as he wasn’t being too extravagant. Now Calligae was paying mostly with his reputation and expending what little resources he had in order to get them to someone who might actually help. Calligae looked out the window of the litter that carried them with a faint smile on his face. Dominic couldn’t help but recall the trip he’d taken with Welexi, back when this had all started. It left an unpleasant feeling in his gut.

When they arrived at the palace, Calligae pulled Dominic out and carried him over his shoulder.

“Less dignified than you might have hoped,” said Calligae. “But I suspect the Bone Warden will take some amusement from it.”

Dominic was given a backwards view of the palace as Calligae navigated his way forward, though it was mostly of the palace floors, which were smooth but unpolished gray stone broken up with threadbare carpets. The sound of footsteps echoed through the halls. Eventually they came to a room much smaller than Dominic had expected, where a set of cushioned chairs had been arranged. Calligae set Dominic down in one of them, putting him face-to-face with the Bone Warden herself.

She was a tall, spindly woman, with a face lined with wrinkles and two great horns coming up from from her forehead. For an illustrati as powerful as she was supposed to be, that was an affectation. She surely had the resources to find someone like Charnel to rejuvenate the skin and pull it tight. Yet she had chosen this appearance for herself. She was a crone, in much the same way that Hartwain was, a woman who had taken age and run with it. Her hair was as white as the bone of her horns. Her eyes were sharp though. She was watching Dominic, though he had little to offer her except for a meager attempt at facial expressions.

“It’s been too long,” said Calligae. “I often find myself wishing that you lived closer to the core of the civilized world.”

“What’s happened to this young man?” asked the Bone Warden.

“Has the legend of Lightscour reached you?” asked Calligae. “Most famous as the slayer of Zerstor, some months back, but involved in some business within Torland. He was instrumental in bringing an end to Torland’s internal strife, as I understand it.”

“Uhh huuuh,” offered Dominic, if only to show that he was aware of what was happening.

“I only rarely listen to the stories,” said the Bone Warden. She arched her eyebrows. “They’re so often false that they approach meaninglessness. He can’t speak?”

“He needs the attentions of an illustrati of flesh,” said Calligae. “I was hoping that you might provide such a thing. He has information as well; there is a story which he has not been able to communicate with only his grunts and groans.”

“An important story, for you to have brought him this far?” asked the Bone Warden. “Very well,” she said, without waiting for an answer. “I shall see what I can do about repairing his tongue.”

“And the rest of him,” said Calligae. “The boy has value beyond what knowledge is locked within his head.”

The Bone Warden sniffed. “I assume it was Gaelwyn that left him in this state?”

“That’s what I gather,” said Calligae. “The boy has lost the use of his tongue and though I’ve gathered a good amount of experience in interpreting him on the way over, communication has been spotty.”

Dominic said nothing. He only looked at the Bone Warden with hard eyes. He had been worried in the beginning that Calligae would simply leave him to die. He imagined that’s what most people would have done, if given such a burden. Perhaps a lesser man would have taken him to Parance and turned him in for whatever reward was on offer; after all, he was a wanted man there, in a manner of speaking. Yet Calligae had rightly divined that something greater was at stake. The fate of the Iron Kingdom — or whatever name it would go by now that the Iron King no longer ruled — hung in the balance. With it hung the fate of every nation that the Iron Kingdom bordered. That was without even taking into account the conspiracy that had replaced the Iron King and installed a new parliament in Torland, or the artifact that had the power to reshape the system of the world, if given a chance.

The Bone Warden wasn’t one for pleasantries. She sent a servant off to fetch her physician, then sat in silence. When Calligae spoke, she deflected him, turning his questions down. He did not try terribly hard. Dominic, having no other options, sat there silently as well while they waited. A small woman came into the room some moments later, looking nervous.

“Lolly, fix this man,” said the Bone Warden.

The woman reached forward with slender fingers, touching Dominic gently. She closed her eyes and pursed her lips. “Whose work is this?” she asked. “An illustrati did this.”

“Gaelwyn Mottram,” said the Bone Warden. “Fix his tongue first.”

Lolly swore silently to herself. Her ministrations were nothing like Gaelwyn’s. They were barely perceptible. After a few moments, Lolly reached her fingers into Dominic’s mouth without asking him, to physically touch the flesh of his tongue there. The change happened slowly. Dominic tried not to move or gag. Eventually Lolly removed her fingers from Dominic’s tongue, wiping his spit on her tunic. “Try to speak?” she asked. She kept a hand rested on his the bare flesh of his wrist and closed her eyes to concentrate.

“Calligae,” said Dominic. “Thank you.”

“I would say that it was my pleasure, but we both know that’s not true,” said Calligae.

“Tell us what it is that you know,” said the Bone Warden.

Dominic had gone six weeks without speaking. He did his best to make up for lost time.


The Bone Warden sat for a long time once Dominic was finished. Food had been brought in halfway through; Dominic ate small bites of hard cheese and smoked fish during brief pauses. Lolly had repaired his arms before she left, but nothing else. Dominic had started his story wanting to skip ahead to what had happened at the end, but the Bone Warden insisted that he start from the beginning. He had taken weeks to get to Xeo; delaying further wasn’t going to change anything. Calligae had taken to interrupting early on, asking for clarifying details, but the Bone Warden had given him a disapproving frown that kept him quiet. When Dominic was finished, there was only silence.

“You are an inexpert storyteller,” the Bone Warden eventually said. “You have told a story which does little to raise my opinion of you. For those reasons, I think it is safe to believe that most of what you are saying is the truth.”

Dominic sighed with relief.

“I’d guessed at most of it,” said Calligae. “Not the exact nature of the artifact, but a fair amount.” He shook his head and turned to the Bone Warden. “What’s to be done about it?”

“The news is six weeks late,” replied the Bone Warden. “A fast ship might make the trip back to Parance in a third that time, which means that whoever I sent would be operating on instructions made with information two months out of date. It isn’t entirely uncommon for me to give my agents wide latitude, but I’ve found the more latitude given, the greater the resources that need to be committed.”

“So there are no repercussions?” asked Dominic. “Welexi is allowed to steal my fame from me and just … continue on as though nothing has happened?”

“I care nothing for your fame,” said the Bone Warden. She steepled her fingers. “The transgression is alarming, but many illustrati have done alarming things before. In this case we have no precedent for the sin he has committed in taking your domain and standing from you. I am not certain that I agree with you when you say that he will do it again, though Welexi and I have spoken together only infrequently, given that I have no need of his services nor interest in advancing his story. No, Dominic, the two things that interest me are this artifact, the one which it is claimed there are dozens of, and this coup that seems to have no respect for national borders.”

Dominic’s face fell. The Bone Warden would act, but it wouldn’t be against Welexi. She would only serve her own interests. Dominic shouldn’t have expected anything more. His dreams, in the rare moments that they extended beyond being able to walk and talk, involved him leading the charge back to the Iron Kingdom, somehow disarming Welexi and then taking back what was rightfully his. It was a fantasy, but fantasy had been what he had needed for that long period he’d spent trapped in his body.

“Whatever you decide,” said Dominic. “I’d like to be part of it.”

The Bone Warden eyed him. “Do you understand how easily a mortal man can be struck down in a battle between the highest illustrati?”

“I was a mortal man when I killed Zerstor,” said Dominic. “Just before that, I saw him dispatch trained guards. I understand the risks.”

“Vidre saved your life,” said Calligae. “I would hate to think that the care I gave you was all for nothing.”

“I don’t plan on dying,” said Dominic. “I don’t plan on a headstrong rush into danger either. I’m not invincible, I’ve been made aware of that in the most brutal fashion that I could have imagined. But I need to see this through.” He turned to the Bone Warden. “If it’s the conspiracy you want, then I’m a useful tool. They’ll speak with me, especially because of what I can tell them about Welexi. More than that, if Welexi has been claiming that I’m dead, I can prove that he was lying. And I might be able to talk Vidre out of working for him, if she still is.”

“I believe you to be overselling yourself,” said the Bone Warden. “Yet the core of the argument, the one laid bare when the pulpy flesh of eager sentimentality is stripped away … well, it would cost me little to send you as well, if I were to send anyone. The only expense would be in the provisions that you would consume.”

“I took quite the effort bringing this young man to you,” said Calligae. “I think it likely that he has more worth than just his story.” He glanced to Dominic. “I don’t mean to tell you your business, but if what you’re after is revenge, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Not revenge,” said Dominic. “Just … a sense of completion.”

“I will consider my options,” said the Bone Warden. “The two of you are dismissed. I will have Lolly complete the repairs to your body, to the best of her ability.”


Dominic laid back on a bed with Lolly in a chair next to him. She had pulled off his shirt and rolled up his pants, the better to touch and prod his flesh. What Gaelwyn had done in a matter of seconds took her much longer. She had far less standing than Gaelwyn did, not to mention that she was almost certainly not a world-renowned expert in the human body. She didn’t seem too much older than Dominic was.

“How did you become an illustrati?” asked Dominic while she massaged his calf.

“I was born into it,” said Lolly. “The Bone Warden is my great-grandmother. Try lifting your leg?”

Dominic did as she asked. The muscle pulled to the right, which Lolly greeted with a frown. “Is it alright if we speak?” asked Dominic. “I would have thought after hours of talking I would be ready for a break, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think once you’re done with my legs, I’m going to run until I collapse. I want to feel the wind on my face again … I was a runner. I don’t know whether you’ve heard the stories about me, but before I was an illustrati, that’s what I did.”

“I had heard you were a thief,” said Lolly. She smiled when she said it. Dominic winced, though there was no recrimination in her voice.

“I was that too,” said Dominic. He sighed. Lolly had him move his leg again, trying to make sure that the muscles were properly anchored. “Do you like being an illustrati?”

“To be honest, I don’t really think about it,” replied Lolly. “I’m not one of those titanic figures who goes off to war facing down dozens of armed men. I’m not even terribly good at fighting, though I do have some training.” She wiggled the fingers on her free hand. “Grappling, naturally. It’s difficult for me to work when I’m not directly touching flesh though, so even a layer of fabric could probably stop my assault. But to circle back to your question, I suppose it’s better to be an illustrati than not, even if only a minor one.” She hesitated slightly. “Which is not to say that your condition is, ah. You know. Lift your leg again?” She was blushing slightly.

“Do you ever wonder about the system of the world?” asked Dominic as he lifted his leg.

“In what sense?” asked Lolly.

“Just … kings and queens. The illustrati and the nobility. People paying each other with coins stamped with the face of whoever is currently at the top of the heap.” It was hard for Dominic to express what he was thinking, despite all the time he’d had nothing to do but think. “Whenever I see the marble hallways and gilded flourishes that decorate what should have been a simple table, I think about how much it must have cost. How much energy do the illustrati pour into being known? How much of their time does it consume?”

“This is nothing that hasn’t been said before,” said Lolly. “Not only that, it’s been said before by older and wiser people who were far more learned that either of us.”

“I know,” said Dominic. “But was this something that they solved? Or did they just talk in circles?” But it was more than that. The scholars of the past didn’t have an artifact that could change the structure of society.

“They talked in circles, obviously,” said Lolly. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have the world we do now. Okay, I think you’re good to go. The Red Angel was kind to you. He was very precise. It made things a lot easier.”

“I don’t think it was kindness,” said Dominic. “I think that’s just how he is.”

“Either way,” said Lolly. “Everything should be in working order now. Try walking around for a bit, touch your nose, and stretch yourself out.”

Dominic did as she asked, trying his best to twist and turn in order to stretch his muscles. It felt wonderful to move around and scratch at itches. More than anything, he wanted to go running, to pump his legs and let loose, but a small part of him knew that it would feel hollow after the speeds he’d been able to attain as an illustrati. It was hard to complain about being restored to wholeness though.

“I think it would be possible to find you a place here at Xeo,” said Lolly. “If you don’t have a trade, you’re still young enough for an apprenticeship. You might be able to put all the stories behind you. There’s no real need to worry about the system of the world.”

“Thank you,” said Dominic. “But I think I have to see this through.”


Dominic walked with the Bone Warden down a set of narrow halls. She’d come to his room in the morning, just after a servant had woken him up. She hadn’t said where they were going; Dominic kept his questions to himself.

“I do not trust easily,” the Bone Warden said when they reached a thick oak door near the bowels of the palace. The air was damp and smelled of wet dust. “In my opinion, no one should trust easily. I believe much of your story, at least those parts which seem most important, but that belief does not extend to you as a person.”

“I understand,” said Dominic.

“Are you aware of how I built my reputation?” asked the Bone Warden. Her horns had shrunk down from the last time he’d seen her, the better to accommodate the small doorways.

“You keep prisoners,” said Dominic.

“Keeping illustrati confined is difficult,” said the Bone Warden. “In most cases, it involves building thicker and more sturdy boxes. Pile up stone and iron, enough that a motivated individual with an absurd amount of strength can’t break through, then close it off entirely such that there is nothing more than a small hole for food and water to be put in and excrement to be removed. On the whole, this is horrifically expensive, especially when you take into consideration that oftentimes a prisoner must be kept alive and healthy for political reasons, as when the prisoner in question is a member of the royal line being held for ransom.” She stared at Dominic for a moment. “I take it you have already heard of my solution to the problem?”

“Make the body itself the prisoner,” said Dominic. “The same thing Gaelwyn did to me.”

The Bone Warden opened the door in front of them, then strode down forward. Dominic followed after her. There were a number of doors in this hallway; the Bone Warden went to one of these and opened it up. It didn’t appear to be locked.

“Christopher, this is the illustrati formerly known as Lightscour,” said the Bone Warden. “You are to keep your mouth shut in his presence and do nothing more than serve as an object lesson.”

The man’s bones were twisted into curls. He had been reading a book, though he put this down to look at Dominic. The bones of his arms looped in and around each other, limiting his movements. His legs were similarly bent and bowed. Dominic didn’t imagine that the man could walk terribly well, if at all. There would be no need for a lock on his door.

“My methods are better than Gaelwyn’s,” said the Bone Warden. “They are much more refined. In my youth, I was a traveling jailer. People all around the Calypso needed my services, so I would go wherever I was wanted. I could provide a lock to which I was the only key.”

“Only if there wasn’t another illustrati of bone,” said Dominic. He kept looking at the man’s arm, at a place where the bone spiraled like a corkscrew.

“I killed Oso, Ivory, and Asgwm in the space of a single month,” said the Bone Warden. “The Iron King was eleven years old, his grand stadiums not yet built. The world was a different place back then. I doubt that my scheme would have worked so well today, but back then it made me a particularly valuable woman, even after the rumors began to swirl about what I had done. I made myself part of how illustrati dealt with each other. Once an illustrati was jailed by me, both my client and my prisoner had an incentive to keep me alive, because only I could undo what had been done. I dined with the king of Lerabor while his son was held captive, his twisted bones keeping him docile despite his years of training and brutish strength.”

She was saying this in order to impress her strength and savagery upon him, Dominic had no doubts about that.

“As time passed, there came to be other illustrati of bone,” continued the Bone Warden. “These were younger, weaker than the ones I’d killed. I knew that my tiny empire couldn’t last, not if it required me to kill the competition. So instead, I became a landlord of people. Every time I heard of an illustrati of bone, I would pick up my skirts and make haste towards them, hoping to make a deal. I did not trust those men and women, I only trusted that they would act on the incentives that I provided to them. It was, after all, better for us to work as one, like a guild which shuts out all competition in order to drive up its prices. I was the Bone Warden; they became my acolytes. We would negotiate for our services as one. It gave these bony fingers a great deal of reach.”

“I’m not thinking of betraying you,” said Dominic.

“You are thinking of using me,” said the Bone Warden. “Just as I am thinking of using you. I want us to be clear on the incentives on offer. Play your part and everything will be fine. If you abuse my kindness towards you …” she gestured to the man with twisted bones. “From your story I am given to understand that you are bad with both contracts and honesty. It is my hope that perhaps you have gained some wisdom since those days.”

“I have,” said Dominic. “Just tell me what you want from me and I will do my best to comply.”

“I will be sending a small number of illustrati with a wide degree of latitude,” said the Bone Warden. “You will act as bait, not just for the conspiracy but for Vidre and Welexi as well, if need be.”

“Consider it done,” said Dominic.

“No matter what you find has happened in your absence?” asked the Bone Warden.

Dominic gave a firm nod.


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