Back | Next



The door had vanished, lost with the walls in a swirling malignancy of mist.

He stopped, striving to hold himself utterly still, ignoring the beguiling movement of the mist, waiting for the path to show itself.

There was always a path. One needed only to recognize it.

About him, the mist grew thicker, peppered with flares of unattached kest. Very like the keleigh.

In fact, extremely like the keleigh.

He laughed, softly. The trap had a certain amusing audacity to it. Who would dare to use the artifact against the artificer? And she had surprised him, had Zaldore, his erstwhile co-conspirator in the downfall of the Bookkeeper Queen. He had expected treachery . . . eventually. That she acted now, and with such boldness, argued that she considered her potential gain to outweigh any cost that might fall due, should her stratagem fail.

As he had quite decided to take her life for this little pleasantry—which she certainly must have supposed he would do—that made for a fascinating contemplation of the stakes.

Perhaps he would question her, before he drained her of power and watched her die.

First, however—there was the matter of the trap.

It was, he allowed, a clever trick; derivative, of course, but clever.

Zaldore could not continue to expend kest at this rate for many days, so plainly, she expected him to succumb—to fail—quickly. In that much, at least, he would certainly disappoint her. Learning the trick and turning it—as he no doubt would—that might consume some time. It was possible that Zaldore's kest would fail before he had fairly won free—though he hoped not. He had always disliked a win by default.

Had the mist thickened? Surely not. The path had yet to appear, which was worrisome, or not. If the trap were constructed like unto the keleigh, then time, along with all other natural forces, would be subverted. He might equally have stood here debating with himself for nine thousand nights or a single heartbeat.

No matter.

"I am Altimere," he said conversationally to the mist, "of the Elder Fey." It was well that he recalled his name; and well that the mist—so very like the substance that formed the keleigh—should hear it

He focused his attention, teasing out a careful strand of mist. Why should Zaldore not see to the comfort of a guest, he thought whimsically, as he worked the substance into the shape he desired. And if this use of her power discommoded her, then she was not the philosopher her trap would have him believe her to be.

The texture of the mist was . . . not entirely pleasant. Sticky, and . . . warm, it initially resisted his will, then surrendered, as of course it must. He applied the smallest touch of kest, and the mist-woven shape solidified into a chair.

Altimere smiled. He leaned back comfortably, and crossed his legs. A chair worthy of a guest, to be sure.

He closed his eyes against the swirling uncertainty about him, and released his will to probe the boundaries of the trap, so to discover its weaknesses.


Back | Next