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Chapter 5 — Memories

Sonata hated crying. It was weakness, and she couldn’t afford weakness. She’d shown too much of it growing up. She’d seen too much of it in her mother. Weakness gets you nowhere. Weakness gets you killed. It was the best advice Uncle Galo had ever given her, and she tried living by it always. But sometimes she just couldn’t stop the tears.

She’d sold her soul to the darkness. That’s what she had done with her signature and her blood mark. Now she belonged to Nathyn Sombrio. Perhaps not as a master owns a slave, but it was effectively the same thing. She belonged to the Night Guard, her bloody print the symbol of that bond. If she tried running now, if she left the city, Viscano law permitted her to be hunted, and if captured, imprisoned and possibly, executed. Execution, however, didn’t sound so bad.

Fellfang clung to her side, no longer pulling against the leash. He was easily affected by change in mood and body language. He knew something was wrong, and so fell obediently in line, letting her set the pace. If Sonata were honest, she’d wrap her arms around the dog’s powerful neck and wail away in his fur. But no. That wouldn’t do. It was enough to cry while walking.

Am I to blame? She’d asked herself that question a thousand times over the past four years. She’d seen that question even in her uncle’s eyes. It was so difficult for a girl to prove sexual violence. Her word against the man’s, and someone with Sonata’s disreputable background—poor, street waif, mother destitute and husbandless—how could she be telling the truth? Even when she could provide physical proof of the attack, it was dismissed by authority. She’d obviously asked for it.

Had she?

They had met during training with Kolas Duvale, the finest swordsmaster in Viscano at the time, and a personal friend of her uncle. Master Duvale rarely trained women, and he only agreed to take on Sonata at the behest of Uncle Galo. There were six students: her and five boys. Nathyn Sombrio was one of them, and an extremely gifted swordsman. Awe inspiring, in fact. In a month, he’d mastered the foil, the rapier, and the broad. Within another, he was fighting Florentine like a professional, tearing blades out of the hands of older and more experienced students. He was amazing. Amazing and arrogant, letting everyone know how terrific he was, giving no quarter in practice. He was not well-liked at the school, but Sonata nearly worshipped him. He was tall and fit and ever so charming in his way, and she was desperate to win the approval of a man, any man, who showed her the least bit of interest.

And Nathyn did. He worked with her after hours, pushed her to do better. Week after week, she got better, until she nearly matched him in skill. Then The Tests came, a series of five trials to determine who would advance to the next level of training. The goal was to score high enough in all five tests to advance. Both Sonata and Sombrio were performing well, reaching second and first place. The final bout was a foil match, six touches.

Sombrio opened with one touch to her chest. Then, in his arrogance, he let her score two touches, laughing all the way, calling her a little girl and baby. “You can’t beat me, little girl,” he said and laughed, and all the boys laughed. Sonata got angry. She touched him again, then he touched her. When she touched him the fourth time, his mood changed. He looked at her with a desperate expression that seemed to say, “What are you doing?” He thrust, recoiled, thrust, parried, thrust, in a sequence that she knew well. His assistance to her had helped her learn how to beat him, and she was putting that knowledge to use. Another touch, and he grew wild, angry, and uncontrollable. He thrust again. She tore the foil from his hand and pressed the tip into his chest. Victory!

Afterwards, he ripped his mask off and threw it to the ground. “Stupid bitch!” he barked and walked away.

But later that night, he seemed to have calmed. He spoke gently to her at the graduation ceremony, offered her a sip of sweet wine, and held her hand as they walked in moonlight beside the Doro River. She let him stroke her back. She let him pull her close. She let his mouth press against hers. But he went too far. He pushed her to the ground, and reached under her blouse and squeezed her breasts hard. She screamed “No! Stop, you’re hurting me!” He grabbed the top of her head and yanked her hair. He rose up and smacked her face. “You’ll never embarrass me again, bitch!” Another smack and she tasted blood. Her mind swam in confusion as he pried her legs apart and pressed her tender skin with rough, stiff fingers. She lay there dazed, terrified, feeling around on the ground for a stick, a rock, something. She’d left her sword behind. She didn’t think she’d need it. “Please, no!”

He wouldn’t listen. Then her hand felt something large, a piece of obsidian, smooth yet sharp. She picked it up and slammed it into his face. She didn’t think she’d hit him very hard. Her balance was off, and it was an odd angle. But he fell back screaming, holding his bloody, lacerated cheek. Sonata rolled away, got up and ran, the obsidian still in her hand.

The next morning when news of the incident had reached Kolas Duvale’s attention, Sonata was expelled from the school, her graduation honors revoked. How could they do this? She tried pleading her case. But it was Nathyn who had the mangled face. All she had were a few bruises on her chest, a busted lip, and a sore spot on her thigh. Surely, she was the aggressor in this matter.

Uncle Galo did not take the news well. He never said anything, but she could see the disappointment in his eyes. He was angry; at her and at his friend Duvale for taking the politically expedient way out. The weak way. “Never show weakness, Sonata,” Uncle Galo said. “Never leave yourself open for attack. Never!”

She placed her hand on her black obsidian blade, forged from that rock years ago. The edge never grew dull. She took comfort in that. Come at me now, Captain Sombrio, she said to herself as she turned the corner onto Flores Street. Come at me now, and I’ll touch you in ways you’ve never been touched.

Flores Street was rather quiet tonight. That was unusual. Adriana’s Breath was not so thick. The way should be crammed with crowds. Oh well, she thought, at least I’ll get home faster. She was looking forward to bed. A long day, a terrible evening. She needed to clear her mind, rest her sore body, and plan her next move.

The stairs to her uncle’s apartment were dark. That was unusual too. The sconces along the way were always lit with torches. Uncle Galo was a master of fire. He could turn them on and off with a simple snap of his fingers, and he always kept them burning at night.

Sonata walked up the stairs. Halfway up, she unleashed Fellfang and let him spring ahead. Above in the darkness, she heard the apartment door burst open as the dog pushed through. No light from inside the apartment either.

Her heart sank. “Uncle?” she whispered, pulling a torch from the wall. She had nothing to light it, but she held it forward, as if it could possibly protect her. Protect her from what? Protect her from whatever had blown off the lights.

Perhaps he wasn’t home. That was unusual as well, but not unprecedented. He was old, but he still liked to favor the ladies from time to time, and to visit one of the local taverns to swap old war stories and to knock back glasses of wine. But he would have closed the door, locked it securely. Her heart sank again.

She stepped inside. The room was dark and cool. Moonlight came through the terrace doors which stood ajar, their curtains waving in the evening breeze. “Uncle?” she said again, feeling around for the workbench. Even the fireplace was dead and cold.

She found the workbench and shuffled her hands around on top. Uncle always kept a tinder box handy. A tinder box was a required part of the trade. He refused to teach her how to manipulate fire, claiming that the energies needed for such magic were beyond her control. Fire was wild, explosive, raw, and deadly, and one did not trifle with it. It took years of special training to control “The Flame,” as he called it. She was still too young.

She lit the torch and waved away its smoke. It would take a moment for the oil to burn clean and clear. It was a special kind of oil, one extracted from Narwhals of the Sorrow Sea.

“Uncle?” She raised the torch and looked around the room. Her mouth fell open; her eyes widened.

The room was wrecked.

The chairs, the tables, the paintings, even the racks of potions and fetishes were strewn on the floor and against the wall, as if someone had taken them one by one and dashed them to pieces. Blood too, streaked the walls and floor. Bloody hands and footprints everywhere, as if a struggle had taken place, and Sonata saw a large crack on the wall against the fireplace. Someone had been tossed aside like a doll and had left an imprint in the wood.


She turned down the hallway and entered the library. She raised the torch and again saw the devastation. Row upon row of books tossed to the floor, ripped apart, shelves upturned and splintered, potion bottles everywhere.

And in the corner near the window, Fellfang stood guard over a body covered in papers and books. Sonata looked down and saw a frail old man wrapped in a shredded, bloody robe.

She screamed.

∞ ∞ ∞

Sonata fell to her knees and crawled across the littered floor. Fellfang jumped forward and growled, trying to protect his master, his lips drawn high, his long fang dripping spit. He snapped violently.

Sonata recoiled just in time to save her hand. “Release, damn you!” she said. “I must see him. He’s hurt.”

The mastiff wouldn’t budge.

“I said release! I’m not the enemy. I didn’t do this.”

He was having none of it. His master, his uncle, was hurt, and he wasn’t about to let anyone near.

Desperate, Sonata put up her hand, closed her eyes, and willed her fear away. She concentrated on her fingers and waved them in front of the dog’s face. If she couldn’t order him to move, she’d move him another way.

“No,” said a weak voice. “Don’t vex him, girl. He’s just scared.”

Uncle Galo lifted his arm and patted Fellfang’s rump. “It’s okay, boy. Be still.”

Fellfang whimpered, turned, pushed his muzzle into the wizard’s mangled face, and licked vigorously. A weak smile crept across Uncle Galo’s battered lips.

Sonata rushed to his side. “Thank the gods you’re alive.”

She pulled him up and rested his head and shoulders on her lap. He coughed and blood trickled down his face. “Oh my. What have they done to you?”

He coughed, then said through pain, “One man, but you should see him.”

His attempt at humor did not sway her. “Don’t play, Uncle. This is serious.”

Galo squirmed. “More than you know, child.”

“Who did this?” Sonata asked, rubbing the blood off his face.

Another cough. “Your assassin.”

This was her fault. She should have killed the bastard. Would she have been able to? Who knows, but she should have tried harder. A bone to the mouth. She shook her head. What a stupid move, and Uncle Galo had paid for it.

“The mask,” she said. “Did he find it?”

Uncle Galo nodded. He gasped for air. “I did my best. You have to know that, girl. I tried to keep it from him. But he jumped me, just like you did. I thought it was you again.”

Sonata closed her eyes and hugged him tightly. All my fault.

“He took it, and he’s headed to Sagano. I’m sure of it.”

“What is it?” she asked. “Did you learn something?”

“Yes, kind of.” He lifted a hand and pointed to a pile of books. “In there. Find the one with the blue cover. Bring it to me.”

Sonata shuffled over to the pile of books. Some of them were slimed with potions, others spattered with blood. She shuffled through them and found the one bound in blue leather.

Sonata laid the book on his chest and helped him raise his head. He thumbed through the pages. In the middle, he stopped, laid his head back, and cursed. “Bastard!”

“What’s wrong?”

He pointed to the remains of three torn pages. “He took them. See? He ripped the pages out. Gods help us all, but they do know what it is.”

“What do they know?”

The wizard broke into a spasm of coughs. Sonata turned him on his side. She placed her head against his back. With each labored breath, her heart ached. He was drowning in his own blood. She could hear it. She bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut. Don’t cry. No weakness.

“I don’t know the extent of its power,” Galo said, spitting phlegm and blood onto the floor. He turned back over. “It’s an ancient relic, from a time before the empire. There are two of them, one silver, one gold. The Pontaboro may already have the other. If so…”

“What does it do?” Sonata grew frustrated.

Galo stilled and looked into her eyes. He blinked. “It destroys.”

The wizard fell into coughing again. She turned him and beat his back. When he was finished, he said, “You have to get it back, Sonata. You have to.”

She furrowed her brow. “Me? Why me?”

“You’re the only one I trust.”

He was talking madness. The pain had gone to his head. What could she do? And besides, she had a commitment to the Night Guard. Suddenly, that sounded more appealing than chasing her crack-toothed assassin.

“Forget about your duty to the state, Sonata,” he said, as if he knew her thoughts. “This is more important.”

“How am I supposed to get it back?”

A cough. “Follow him to Sagano. Find the assassin, and you find the mask.”

The beast had already tried to kill her once. He had killed one wizard already and had badly beaten another. It didn’t seem like a good idea to her. “It’s suicide.”

“You have no choice,” Galo blurted, grabbing the collar of her shirt. “You’re in it now. You’re the only one who knows about it.”

“I don’t know anything because you haven’t told me anything.”

His strength was failing. He closed his eyes, faded for a minute. When he opened them again, he smiled and said, “Do you know why your mother named you ‘Sonata Diamante’?”

She did, but she never grew tired of the story. “No, Uncle. Why?”

“Because when you were born, she said the heavens opened to diamond starlight and the angels sang.”

He faded again. She patted his cheek. “Uncle, wake up. Uncle?”

He blinked, coughed, and opened his eyes. “When you get to Sagano, find Guilherme Cavaco, a sorry son of a bitch, and an old colleague of mine. He’ll know what to do. Promise me you will find him.”

Sonata nodded. “Yes, Uncle. I promise.”

Then his face grew still, almost pleasant. He smiled again and raised his hand to her cheek. “I love you, girl. Don’t fail me now, you hear?”

He faded out again. “No!” she said, tugging on his robe, thumping his chest. “Don’t die, you crazy old bastard! Stay with me.”

Sonata placed her head against his chest. There was still a faint murmur, but very faint. He was close to fading away into Destinado’s keeping.

She got up and began rummaging through the fallen racks of potions. By the gods, she would not let him die. He was all she had left in the world, and the world would not be so cruel as to take him from her, no matter now nasty, how brutal he had been in his youth. He was Borshen Galo, master fire wizard, her own flesh and blood. That had to mean something.

Surely somewhere among his stock he had a resurrection or vitality potion of some kind. He dabbled in everything else, why not rejuvenation? She picked up vial after unbroken vial. She read each label. Thankfully, Uncle Galo was as anal as he was selfish. Each potion was carefully named and numbered. No. No. No. One after the other, she dashed them against the wall. Some of them puffed into smoke on impact, some of them oozed down the wall like syrup. One even flashed a deadly face as it shattered. None of them did what she wanted.

Then she picked up a tiny bottle of stone. Most of Borshen’s potions were contained in glass, a small cork stopper on top. This one was rough like pumice and grey and sealed with a walrus tooth. She turned it over and read the label on the bottom: Rigor Perpetua. She smiled. Perfect.

Fellfang had resumed his guard duty, but this time, he let her by and stepped away carefully, whimpering. Sonata could see sorrow in his big, black eyes. Help him, they seemed to say. Please save him.

“I’ll do my best, big fellow,” she said, rubbing his nose. He licked her hand.

She pulled the walrus tooth out. She winced as a nasty, sulfuric odor escaped the stone bottle. She placed her hand on the back of Uncle Galo’s head and pulled him up. He was unconscious. She’d have to work the liquid down his throat. She pried his mouth open and tipped the bottle over and poured the contents into his mouth.

She massaged his throat, rubbing back and forth to work the thick chemical down. He jumped a little, gagged, and a little of it slipped out the side of his mouth. She scooped up every drop and rubbed it into his gums. “That’s right, Uncle,” she said. “Swallow it down. It’ll be okay.”

She tossed the empty bottle aside, closed his mouth, and whispered a small prayer. She hardly believed in the gods, although she was constantly cursing or praying to them. Worship of the gods was like breathing, a visceral response to stress engrained into the essence of each Miradan citizen. Evoking the gods was just one of those things that everyone did.

Uncle Galo began to stiffen. Sonata felt it on the back of his head, his hair turning brittle and sharp. She opened her eyes and saw his shredded clothing crinkle as the body beneath it turned hard and smooth. His stomach first, then his chest, then slowly his arms and legs, like a mass of coils roiling and wrapping themselves down his flesh. His fingers were the last to change, growing taut, hard, and blue.

Sonata laid his head down with a thump. The wizard was now nickel blue granite, trapped between this world and the next. He wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t alive either. He was suspended in time, preserved until an antidote was given. Sonata did not have that potion and did not know where to find it. But this would buy her time. He would stay this way until she returned. If she returned.

She stood on weak legs. She was exhausted, confused, angry. She was alone. Then she felt the cool muzzle of Fellfang on her left hand, pushing gently. She looked down. He wanted her to pet him, to rub his face, his head. She obliged.

“Well, old boy,” she said, her voice shaking with tears, “it’s just you and me now.”

Gods help us.

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