Dominic tried not to watch the lengths of flesh slither back into Gaelwyn’s wrists. Dominic could see a faint impression of coiled flesh within Gaelwyn’s skin, as though the rope of flesh was coiled around the meat of his forearm. When Gaelwyn was finished, the wounds at his wrists bled slightly.
“It needs refinement,” said Gaelwyn when he caught Dominic’s glance.
“Do we need to worry about them getting back up?” asked Vidre. She looked down at the bodies.
“No,” replied Gaelwyn. His voice was hard.
They continued forward, into the interior of Castle Launtine, before Dominic could ask any questions. Gaelwyn had touched those men and women with his domain. Had he cut the muscles loose from the bones, like he’d done with Wealdwood? Or had he killed them? Dominic wanted to believe that Gaelwyn wouldn’t go from pacifism to murder in a single leap, but it wasn’t as though Gaelwyn had never killed before.
To Dominic’s surprise, the first room they came into was a large, cavernous throne room. The throne itself was several feet off the floor, with a series of low steps leading up to it. It was built of braided metals interlaced with other materials, including wood, glass, and rock. There were shapes sculpted into the sides, showing the domain animals and giving representation to the more ephemeral domains. The Iron King had once sat upon the throne. It was enormous, sized for someone eight feet tall then built even higher than that. Dominic couldn’t take his eyes off it. The others didn’t even seem to notice it.
“We need to track them down,” said Vidre. “Gaelwyn, you probably remember the castle better than I do. Where would the king have been kept for a supposed convalescence?”
“There were grand chambers on the fourth floor,” said Gaelwyn. “If we’d had more time, we might have asked, but in lieu of that, the grand chambers are where we should go.”
“Do we think they’ll still be there?” asked Dominic. “They know that this is an attack. They retreated.”
“The illustrati are immaterial,” said Welexi. “The artifact is the prize. Beyond that, we need confirmation that the Iron King is dead, or proof of malfeasance. Even if the remainder of the conspiracy has fled like rats from a sinking ship, they won’t have time to destroy all the evidence of their existence. There will be secrets to uncover in their personal effects. Letters signed in the Iron King’s name. We’ll find out who gives the orders, at the very least. We might be able to unravel the whole of it.”
Dominic wondered whether they would find any Harbinger artifacts here. Faye had been holding one, back in the wreckage of Hartwain’s manor, but it seemed unlikely that she had made her way to Castle Launtine since then. She hadn’t said whether it was a single artifact or multiple. She hadn’t told him how it worked. The unmitigated power of the artifact frightened Dominic; as much as he thought Faye’s people might have a point, the potential for some villain to become powerful beyond imagining was immense. Welexi had said that they would destroy it — that they must destroy it — and on that Dominic could agree.
“We need to move slowly,” said Vidre. “There are going to be choke points. Places where they could set an ambush.”
“With the four of us working together, there’s little to fear,” said Welexi.
“If they can combine their power into a single person, that person could beat us,” said Vidre. “Domain immunity for glass, light, shadow, and flesh would leave us fighting bare-knuckled against someone who wasn’t under any such constraints.”
“Domain immunity doesn’t apply to flesh,” said Gaelwyn. “That is, there is an immunity present, but the mechanism of attack is almost always domain alteration or domain kinesis, which are opposed by an equal measure of applied power from an illustrati rather than any innate protection.”
“In any case,” said Welexi. “Lightscour believes that they have philosophical opposition to such tactics.” He nodded in Dominic’s direction.
“It’s only a guess,” said Dominic quickly.
Vidre frowned. She didn’t look at Dominic. “If he’s right, we have nothing to worry about. If their artifact only provides for giving a second domain but not a third, we’ll be perfectly fine. We can’t plan on that being the case though. We need to move as though they’re immensely powerful and prepared to ambush us.”
“Very well,” said Welexi with a low bow. “Lead on.”
The castle wasn’t built along the same lines as the Ministry of Legends was. The Ministry building had mostly identical floors, laid out through elaborate designs which had gone through the thickets and warrens of its bureaucracy. Castle Launtine predated the age of cannons. It might once have been a simple thing, but it had been created over generations, through a series of architects and construction methods. They took the servants’ corridors, the small paths that maids and butlers took to stay out of the way of their master. Vidre said nothing about it, but she seemed to know her way around. They trekked up tight spiral staircases with worn down steps between periods of rushing down the hallways. Twice they had to turn back because part of a wall had collapsed in, or the floor was missing, but Vidre didn’t seem too concerned with this. The king’s bedroom had been quite far from the gunpowder room. The poles of iron laced through the rock ensured that the whole thing wouldn’t come crashing down.
They came out into a hallway sized for a giant. A man in plain clothing was touching the handle of a door. There was a momentary pause before he turned to look at them. In his hand was a Harbinger artifact, its presence written on the mind as soon as it was visible. It was the same as the one Dominic had seen Faye holding. The man bolted; Welexi threw a spear after him, straight and true. When the spear touched the man’s back, Dominic was prepared to see blood and viscera as the man toppled to the ground. Instead the spear passed through harmlessly; the man continued running.
Vidre chased after him, running at a dead sprint. She had daggers drawn and ready. One of these she threw in front of her, spinning it so hard that it appeared as a blurred disk. This struck the man in the shoulder, instantly staining his shirt with a blossom of blood, but he continued on and rounded a corner.
“What happened?” asked Dominic. He stood in the hallway with Welexi and Gaelwyn, looking at the spot where the man had been. “Your spear didn’t work.”
“Domain immunity,” said Welexi. “You’ve never fought someone with your own domain before, but I’ll tell you now that it’s rarely a pleasant experience.”
“Should we be chasing after him? Or her?” asked Dominic. “It could be a trap.” He was ready to follow, despite the sick feeling that was growing in his stomach with every moment they spent in the castle.
Vidre came trotting back only moments later though, with the artifact held in her hand.
“You shouldn’t touch it,” said Welexi.
“He was touching it,” said Vidre. She looked down and turned the artifact around.
“It might still be a trap,” said Dominic.
“We won’t do anything with it,” said Vidre. “But we do need to carry it with us.” She tossed it to Gaelwyn, who fumbled when he caught it. “Come on, the Iron King’s bedroom was through there.”
They stepped through the large doors and entered a bedroom larger than Dominic had ever seen. Everything in it was sized for a man of immense proportions. It felt slightly grotesque to Dominic. The four-poster bed in the center held a large figure sculpted of iron, which they approached cautiously, weapons drawn.
It was Gaelwyn who went to the figure first. “It’s the Iron King,” said Gaelwyn. He touched the face. “Not a trace of flesh. The likeness is perfect. He only rarely removed his helmet; whoever made this knew him with some intimacy.” He ran his fingers along the face. “It’s too accurate to have been cast. It was made by an illustrati of iron.” He frowned. “Dusty.”
“What’s the point?” asked Vidre. “If they’re pretending that he’s not dead, why do something like this? Obviously no one would be allowed in this room anyway. It wouldn’t convince anyone. That’s if there were still people in this castle who didn’t know the truth, which I doubt.” She frowned. “We might be looking at his corpse?”
“Try to restrain the next person we find instead of killing them,” said Welexi. “We might get answers yet.”
“The Iron King had a study he kept for his private contemplations,” said Gaelwyn. He looked down at the artifact in his hands. “We might find some papers there.”
They walked slowly, keeping their guard up. Vidre seemed ready to run at a moment’s notice; she kept her helm sealed at all times, breathing through the flutes of glass. Dominic covered himself in armor of shadow, though experience had shown him that it wasn’t so good at taking a hit as Vidre’s was. He kept his sword in front of him, ready to contribute what he could.
They reached another room with a large door. Vidre kicked it down with a single blow. She fell into a fighting stance just afterward, ready to deal with whoever came running out. Yet the room had only a single occupant behind a desk that was too large for him. He didn’t seem surprised by the sudden entry.
He was an older man. Dominic recognized him; it was the same man that had negotiated with the Flower Queen over several long, boring hours. He had gone by Chester Welling then. Now he was dressed in a clerk’s outfit. His sleeves were rolled back. A blocky ring sat on one finger, a Harbinger artifact displayed to the world. He had a wry grin that faded when he saw what Gaelwyn was holding.
“Vidre, don’t kill him until we have some answers,” said Welexi.
“I’ll do my best,” said Vidre.
“I had hoped we’d be fast enough,” said the man. He seemed unconcerned with the intrusion. “A pity we weren’t.”
“Who are you really?” asked Welexi. “Not Chester Welling, clearly.”
“Names are immaterial,” said the old man. Vidre’s glass daggers were in front of her, ready and waiting for him to make a move. “Yet they’re so important to the illustrati. Very well, if you wish to know a dead man’s name, I am Lothaire Corrant. I already know all your names, naturally.”
“What happened to the Iron King?” asked Welexi. “We came to his bed and found only a statue.”
“It’s something of a mystery to us as well,” said Lothaire. “He knew he was dying. As much as a decade ago he knew it. There are illnesses and injuries that even an illustrati —”
“He’s stalling,” said Vidre.
“No, my dear Queen of Blades, I am saying what I know. If I’m taking my time, it’s only because I don’t expect to live much longer than it takes for this conversation to reach its conclusion.” Lothaire spread his hands wide with palms up. “You have me at your mercy.”
Welexi dismissed the spear from his hand. “I believe him. If he acts against us, it will be with his wits, nothing more.”
Dominic felt his heart beat faster. He’d done nothing wrong, but he hadn’t yet told them about his conversations with Faye. He looked at Lothaire, trying to get some sense of what the man’s game was. Vidre’s nightmare seemed to be of a single man with all of the domains at his disposal, but Dominic didn’t think that Lothaire was that sort of man. If he had even a fraction of Charnel’s power, why would he still have wrinkled skin? The treacherous part of Dominic’s brain answered that Lothaire only wanted to appear weak, but it was hard to believe that it was a bluff.
“As I was saying,” continued Lothaire. “There are illnesses and diseases that even the king’s illustrati were incapable of curing. I am given to understand that they opened him up with scalpels, trying to find the root of the recurring sicknesses that their powers were keeping at bay. With an illustrati of blood gripping his head and providing him life, they could safely muck about with his innards, opening him wide to look at the places where tumors and polyps kept forming. The Bone Warden was brought in, but she could find nothing wrong in his bones.”
“What were the symptoms?” asked Gaelwyn. “How did the sickness present itself?”
“He asked for you,” said Lothaire. “He sent letters in secret, trying to get you back, despite the exile he had imposed on you. From the look on your face I suppose that you never got them?”
“He lies,” said Vidre.
Lothaire had eyes for only Gaelwyn. “Or perhaps you’ve seen enough of what people think of you that you have someone else sift through whatever letters come your way,” said Lothaire. “You travel constantly. If someone sends a letter, your bards will forward it to the next expected port of call, where other bards will hold onto it in anticipation of your arrival. But you never speak with the bards, that’s something that Vidre and Welexi do, is it not?”
“You won’t drive a wedge between us so easily,” said Welexi. “You haven’t answered my question either.”
“What do I care about the Iron King anyway?” asked Gaelwyn. “Who was he to me? After what he took from me I owed him nothing.”
“Do I have leave to address the question?” asked Lothaire, turning to Welexi. “Or do you wish to silence me in this as well?” Dominic could guess what Lothaire was going to say. Even if Gaelwyn didn’t care about the Iron King, he would care about the respect and acknowledgment. The Iron King could have offered Gaelwyn a new hospital, new printings of the books he’d written, all manner of things. When Dominic looked at Gaelwyn, he could see that Gaelwyn understood this too.
Welexi narrowed his eyes. “Tell us what happened to the Iron King.”
“He was dying,” said Lothaire. “Yet he was the most powerful illustrati the world had ever known. He had incredible resources at his disposal. As Laith had done before him, the Iron King tried to find a way around it. He sent archaeological teams all across his country and beyond its borders in an effort to learn more about the Harbingers. He diverted resources in order to bring in more illustrati of flesh and blood, hoping that one of them could be crafted into a prodigy that would cure him once and for all. He brought forth scholars to try to delve into the mysteries of his domain. It’s that last I believe killed him. The animal illustrati can take on minor changes from their domain when they have enough standing and engage in the proper exercise of will. The best guess is that the Iron King tried to become like iron.”
Dominic glanced toward Welexi. The Iron King had tried to become living iron, just as Welexi could become living light.
“When?” asked Vidre.
“He was found in his current state sixteen months ago,” said Lothaire.
“You’ve been running the Iron Kingdom for that long,” said Vidre.
“Longer,” said Lothaire. “We were his aides and advisers. And who is to be the new king? That’s why you’ve blown a hole in this castle and killed so many people, isn’t it? Prove the Iron King dead so that a new king can take his place?”
“Once the corruption has been rooted out, a new seed may be planted in clean soil,” said Welexi.
“Rooted out?” asked Lothaire. He gave a humorless laugh. “Oh, did you think that’s what you had done?”
“We have the artifact,” said Welexi.
“Fruit borne of an expedition to the Highlands,” said Lothaire. “Yet it is less of a melon and more of a grape; there were many fruits which came from that particular vine. We found thirty in total, among other things.” Lothaire tapped his ring against the table. “All that were in Castle Launtine have been scattered to the winds. I have no idea where my compatriots have taken them, but the corruption you believe you’ve rooted out has spread so far and wide that it is for practical purposes impervious to defeat.”
“What is your plan?” asked Welexi. “What is it that you are aiming to do?”
“The elimination of the illustrati,” said Lothaire. He said it without so much as raising an eyebrow at the audacity of it.
“Impossible,” said Welexi.
“By now you know what the artifact does,” said Lothaire. “You know that it’s perfectly possible. The question is whether we can accomplish our goals given this most recent setback. I must admit the prospect looks a bit grim at the moment, especially when you have one of the artifacts in your possession, but there are many men and women much younger than I am, strong in their convictions and not so willing to go toward death.”
“How is it activated?” asked Welexi. “How does it accomplish the transfer?”
Lothaire hesitated for the first time since they had come into the room. “If I elect not to answer that question, what happens then? You turn aside while Vidre does her best to torture the information out of me? Or you simply try to work it out by using it on someone expendable? I must admit to some curiosity. How much of a fraud is the Sunhawk? How much of the true core of himself is he going to reveal in his quest for power?”
“I will not allow Vidre to torture you,” said Welexi. “We will not kill you in cold blood. Yet you must understand that your time as our prisoner will be much more pleasant if you cooperate in all ways, not only those you find pleasing.”
“You suggest torture of a different sort,” said Lothaire. “A dark cell with thin gruel.”
“How do we use it?” asked Welexi.
“Ah, so you would use it,” said Lothaire. “The Sunhawk reveals himself. In that case, I think I’ll keep my silence.”
“Then you’ve outlived your usefulness,” said Vidre.
“No,” said Welexi. “There is other information we must extract from him. Even if he doesn’t know where his conspirators have gone, he knows names and descriptions.”
“I know much more than that,” said Lothaire. “Were you aware that Vidre agreed to kill Gaelwyn?”
“Lies,” said Vidre. Her daggers were still held in front of her. She seemed ready to leap across the desk and kill the man. Dominic realized that he had begun to assume that the man was their helpless prisoner, but they had no real evidence that the man hadn’t used the artifact to make himself an illustrati. Welexi had dismissed his spear of light, but Vidre was still as tense as she’d been the moment they’d entered the room.
“It was part of her agreement with the Blood Bard,” said Lothaire. He smiled at Gaelwyn. “She never liked you. You were politically inconvenient even before the trial that left you an exile of yet another country.”
“No,” said Welexi. “I trust Vidre more than I trust you. Now, I’m afraid we’re going to have to bind you.”
“Has Welexi told you about your father?” Lothaire asked Vidre.
A tendril of flesh shot out from just beneath Gaelwyn’s collarbone to strike Lothaire in the chest. He went limp instantly.
“My father?” asked Vidre. She turned toward Welexi. She hadn’t lowered her daggers, though she didn’t quite go so far as to point them at him. “Everyone knows my father sold me for forty drams. Welexi, do you have any idea what he was talking about?”
“If I knew anything about your father, I would have told you,” said Welexi. “We’re all a little upset right now. That’s what he wanted. There are more important tasks than turning over his words. We need to know what there is to do with those pieces of information which are salient to the future of the Iron Kingdom.”
Vidre let her daggers soften until they slipped back into the glass of her armor. She removed her helmet as well, revealing hair that was damp with sweat. “We can’t trust anything he said.”
“No, of course not,” said Welexi. “The papers might let us know the truth though.” He looked around the room, which was filled with bookshelves, interrupted occasionally by a large painting. Two doors led out to a small balcony. The old man still sat slumped in his chair, though he did seem to be breathing. “It is curious to me that he said nothing about Dominic.”
“How so?” asked Dominic. His heart leapt at the words.
“He was attempting to drive wedges between us,” said Welexi. “Obviously the man was present in Torland with us. I might even venture to say he was responsible for much of what happened there. He likely had spies or sympathizers. There are any number of ways he might have learned what he might use against us — what lies he might be able to tell in order to set our minds racing.”
“This isn’t the time for this,” said Vidre.
“The time for what?” asked Dominic. He could feel the anxiety rising inside him.
“When you spoke with Hartwain,” said Welexi. “Following the attack on her home. What exactly did she say to you?”
Dominic was silent. “I should have told you sooner,” he finally said. All their eyes were on him. “I was approached by one of their number. It was a woman called Faye. She spoke with me once in Torland, then a second time yesterday.”
“What leverage does she have against you?” asked Vidre.
“I — nothing,” said Dominic. “She had the better of me both times. I don’t believe I could have beaten her in single combat. All she wanted to do was talk.”
“Yet you didn’t tell us until just now,” said Vidre. “You didn’t say anything after leaving Hartwain’s. You lied to me.” Her hands were clenched tight around her daggers. Dominic recalled his rescue from Corta; Vidre had been angry then, but most of what she said was for the crowd. Now there was no element of performance in the furrow of her brow and the redness of her cheeks.
“This would be the third time you have lied to us,” said Welexi. “The very first day we met you, you lied and said that you were not a thief. Vidre saved you from that. In Meriwall you conspired with the Blood Bard. Do you expect that after the third time I would be so kind as I was before? You may only abuse our trust and charity a limited number of times.”
“He didn’t actually do anything,” said Vidre. She softened slightly. “If he’d tried to stab us in the back that might have been one thing, but he took a shift on watch last night. That would have been the time for him to try something, if he was going to.”
“And how do we know he did not?” asked Welexi. “We have encountered resistance here, but less than I would have expected.”
Vidre had no reply to that.
“There was never a right time to tell you,” said Dominic.
“They tried to kill the rest of us, yet let you live,” said Welexi. “Your objections last night make a great deal more sense, as does your escape from the Ministry.” He twitched his lips. “Gaelwyn, subdue young Lightscour. Leave him capable of speech.”
Gaelwyn hesitated, then threw one of his ropes of flesh forward. Dominic had a sword in his hand in an instant and sliced in front of him. His sword cut through the first tentacle but he didn’t have the speed to stop the second. Wet flesh touched his armor for only a brief second. His muscles seized up and he pitched backward, landing painfully on the ground. Gaelwyn moved quickly, touching Dominic briefly in order to finish his work.
“Please,” said Dominic. His head was all he could seem to move. He could feel his arms and legs, but no longer move them. “I did nothing.” He directed his attention to Gaelwyn. “I did nothing!”
“You take your opportunities where you can find them,” said Gaelwyn. “You pretended to defend me when all you were looking for was a scrap of glory. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but … you brought it upon yourself.”
“We need to talk about this,” said Vidre.
“What’s there to talk about?” asked Welexi. “You agree that Dominic has betrayed us. It’s a fitting conclusion to his time as apprentice. A time-honored trope, is it not, the young and impetuous student trying to displace his master? His story ends here. We can send letters to the bards to keep them updated and eventually the story of young Lightscour will fade, as it was always supposed to.”
“You can’t keep me as prisoner,” said Dominic. “I haven’t done anything to deserve that.” He pulled at his useless muscles, trying to find some way that he could move. He still had his domain, but there was little that he could do with it. Darkness wouldn’t allow him to move. He might project a blade from his armor in an attempt to cut Gaelwyn, but he had no illusions about being able to kill. Besides that, he would still be left motionless on the floor, with the only person capable of restoring him injured or dead. The more he fought, the worse this would go for him; they were three of the strongest illustrati in the world.
“Perhaps nothing so severe as locking you away in a prison cell,” said Welexi. He stood tall and imposing, looking down at Dominic with piercing eyes. He held his hands together behind his back. “However, you have a significant amount of raw power we can’t have falling into the wrong hands, not in this new era when one man might steal standing from another.” Gaelwyn had set the artifact on the ground before coming over to Dominic. Welexi picked it up and strode forward.
“Even if you can find a way to take his power from him,” said Vidre. She had moved to the balcony that projected off the room and opened the door to look out onto the valley. Dominic could see little but smoke and dust. “That doesn’t serve the story. Lightscour as an over-eager apprentice willing to use you as a ladder to climb higher? That has the proper beats of a story. If necessity compels us to take his power, so be it, but it will read to others as cruel or callous. The betrayal will lack weight unless they believe there was some true bond between the two of you. If the bond were true, you wouldn’t strip him of his power like that.”
“You said you would destroy the artifact,” said Dominic. “You said it was too dangerous.”
“I said we should not let it fall into the wrong hands,” said Welexi. He placed the artifact on Dominic’s chest. “Let me know when you feel any different.”
Dominic didn’t have any choice but to lay there, motionless, while Welexi set about trying to activate the artifact. Dominic was sweating, the only reaction he could muster. His brain kept scrambling for something he might say to Vidre or Gaelwyn, but nothing came to mind. He was closest to Vidre, but while she seemed unhappy with what was being done to him, she had stopped trying to speak in his defense. There was still a faint glow of anger about her. She stood at the balcony with the windows open, looking outward instead of watching what Welexi was doing.
When Welexi slipped Dominic’s hand inside the artifact, it sounded a single loud tone. Dominic’s shadow armor disappeared in an instant, dropping him down so that his back was touching the cool stone floor. A feeling of sickness came slowly fading in. He remembered his first few days of fame, when it felt like he had been sick his whole life and only then, with the fame of a city behind him, known health. All the strength and vitality that had been contained within him for the past month emptied out like a cup with a hole in the bottom.
“Fascinating,” said Welexi. He held the artifact high, looking it over. There was no visible change in it. Without any seeming forethought, Welexi stuck his own hand in the mouth of the artifact. It emitted a tone again, this one lower and longer. When he pulled his hand out, he had a smile upon his face. “The character of it is different,” he said. “Defined by absence. I had thought of them as opposites, even knowing that they were not quite that.” Welexi held out his hand. A sword of shadow sprang to life in it, ornate and fully formed. He set the artifact upon the ground and conjured a spear of light in his other hand.
“You have them both,” said Vidre. She was staring at Welexi. “You went ahead and took it.”
“Spoils of war,” said Welexi.
“This was no war,” replied Vidre. Her glass daggers were nowhere to be seen, but real anger was visible on her face.
“Of course it was,” said Welexi. His tone was firm and solid, nearly unquestionable. If there had been any wonder in Welexi’s expression when he had used the artifact, now it was gone, replaced by conviction. “I was shocked when Dominic attacked me, aghast at not only the depth of his betrayal, but the ferocity with which he defended this secret master.” He gestured toward the sleeping Lothaire. “We fought a pitched battle throughout the castle. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt the boy that I had come to think of as the son I never had.” He paused. “Isn’t that how you remember it?” Welexi asked with honest curiosity. Dominic couldn’t tell whether it was a masterful performance or whether Welexi had simply created his own version of events that he instantly believed. The world felt sick and wrong, twisted around itself in an unnatural way.
“Of course,” replied Vidre. She straightened her back and stood tall, with the bearing of a soldier. “I would have helped, but my relationship with Dominic was of a different nature. I’d grown too close to him. And Gaelwyn is a pacifist. He would never lay a hand on anyone.” If Welexi spoke with such authority that it was difficult to question him, Vidre replied with pure cynicism and mockery.
“Just so,” replied Welexi, not seeming to hear her tone. “It is a shame that Dominic escaped. If I hadn’t taught him my technique, if he hadn’t used it so recklessly, then perhaps he wouldn’t have ended up like he did. It was so utterly regrettable.” Welexi held out his hand and formed a creature of shadow, similar to the ones that he had made in the theater. It was nearly as tall as Dominic; the more Dominic looked at it, the more he saw his own image there. The figure of shadow suddenly held a sword; he thrust it toward Welexi, who easily parried it away. “I fear I’ve created a shadow that will haunt me. Lightscour had become a villain like the one he was so famous for killing. Perhaps Dominic was infected with something of Zerstor, something black and foul. Now the ghost no longer has a physical form.” Welexi swung his spear around, but the construct of shadow dodged to the side. They fought a mock battle, slowly at first but building in speed, a performance that was more beautiful than a true fight would be.
Welexi waved a hand, dismissing the construct of shadow. All eyes were on him. He didn’t so much as look at Dominic as he moved to stand over Dominic’s prone body. Welexi held his spear up with the point down, positioning it over Dominic. Dominic flinched back, trying to move, but his muscles were still betraying him.
“Wait,” said Vidre. “Let me do it.”
“Do what?” asked Welexi, spear still positioned over Dominic’s heart.
“You know what Dominic was to me,” said Vidre. “Give me a moment to grieve.”
“I’m afraid there is much to be done yet this day,” said Welexi. He frowned slightly.
“All the same,” replied Vidre.
“I’ll be here to comfort you, should you need it,” replied Welexi. “You may take a moment to do what you believe needs to be done.”
Dominic would have spoken, but his tongue had gone numb in his mouth. Gaelwyn still had his hand upon Dominic’s shoulder, resting it there. Dominic couldn’t speak unless Gaelwyn willed it. He could barely force air into his lungs. There was nothing that he could say in his defense, no way that he could stop whatever fate had been set in motion. Vidre leaned down and grabbed Dominic by his collar, pulling him to his feet until she had him held above her. He dangled in the air with his head lolled to the side.
“I’m sorry” said Vidre. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be the sort of person you’d be able to trust.” She carried him with her, taking him to the balcony where she’d been looking out over the valley. “I wish that it wouldn’t have come to this. I wish that we could have both been different.” She sat him on the balustrades, still holding onto him by his collar with a single hand. Dominic watched her with tears streaming down his eyes. Beyond her, Welexi was looking away, pretending that he could not see or hear. Gaelwyn’s face was impassive, free of any emotion.
Vidre stabbed Dominic three times in the stomach then kicked him off the side of Castle Launtine.
4 thoughts on “Shadows of the Limelight, Ch 18: The Rule of Three”
Dominic had touched those men and women with his domain. Had he cut the muscles loose from the bones, like he’d done with Wealdwood?
Should probably be Gaelwyn.
Great read so far. Love the “story thinking” and ambiguous heroism from Dominic’s companions. While foreshadowed, the details the betrayal within the group still surprised me. Thank you alexanderwales!
18 chapters with a constant undercurrent of discomfort and unease finally paying off…
I gotta admit that I’m really conflicted about it. On one hand that feeling anxiousness was really well done, constantly making me second guess every character…
but on the other hand it was TOO well done and drawn out, making the entire story feel uncomfortable to read in a sense.
No one to trust, no moment to relax.