Gustavo Bondoni


“There’s only one way to remove the curse,” the dying man whispered. He paused, taking shallow breaths.  The fireball had burned away most of the skin on the right half of his body, leaving a blistered, blackened patch.  Three ribs could be seen, shining whitely in the charred wreckage of his chest.  “Get the bane.”

“The bane? But that’s been lost for five years.  There has to be another way.”  Sangr resisted the urge to shake him.

The man tried to shake his head, but his strength failed him. A single sigh escaped; a near-silent epilogue to an episode filled with noise, violence and terror.  Sangr let the body drop to the ground in disgust.

“Damn,” Yella said.




Tengut was a beautiful place. The spires rising around the square were ethereal things of airy wonder, taller than any buildings Sangr had seen before.  The overall impression was that of a colossal sculpture made of cloud.

The festering rot was well hidden, just below the surface.

He could feel the fear rising in waves from the people in the plaza. Their thoughts were focused on one thing and one thing only: to sell whatever they had in order to raise the City Tribute – the tax that would allow them to remain inside the walls one more night, and not have to face the horrors beyond.  Here, an old man’s thoughts were filled with hope and fear – hope that the trinket he’d found on the street would be enough to gather the coin he needed, fear of the things beyond the gates.  There, a young woman’s contained considerably less fear, but more disgust with what she had to do, every day, to come up with coin for herself and for her baby.

Sangr blocked off the random thoughts that assailed him from every side, allowing them to become part of the background. What he searched for would not be found in the stray thoughts of some poor, scared soul walking through the square.  He needed to get further in, get near the corridors of power.

To this end, the man beside him would be useful, if not pleasantly so. Karet the wine merchant was fat, sweaty and loomed over the short, wiry thief.  Most tellingly, though, he was willing to betray his city in exchange for the ability to read other people’s minds.  His thoughts were a chaotic mix of greed and fear of betrayal.

“Relax,” Sangr told him. “We never renege on our promises.”

Karet jumped. He knew about Sangr’s ability, but that didn’t seem to stop him from believing that his own thoughts were sacred.  “I know this,” he replied hastily.  “Your reputation precedes you.  Where is Yella?”  His agitation was evident in both his clumsy attempt at changing the subject, and the enormous faux pass he committed in the process.

“Yella is camped out in the hills. She wasn’t willing to pay the entrance fee.”  Women from outside the city weren’t given the option of paying for their sanctuary in gold, no matter how long they’d been inside the city.  It was the city’s way of keeping foreign families from settling there.

“Outside? But that’s suicide!  The Shanna own the night.”

“Yella can take of herself. She thought she had better odds against a few specters than if she had to take on the entire garrison for the privilege of entering the city without being passed around like a wineskin.”  The truth was that Yella was wearing an amulet that made her invisible to any magical search; a twin to the one Sangr had hidden inside his jerkin.  When one had the kind of people looking for them that Sangr and Yella did, certain precautions were necessary.

Karet grunted. “If you say so.”  He didn’t sound at all convinced.

They kept walking towards the inner city, a complex of terraced palaces rising between the spires, growing out of the hillside beyond the square. The elite of Tengut lived there.  Sangr would have sworn that nothing could be more beautiful than the buildings around the plaza, but the palaces certainly made the attempt.  Though less delicate than the common buildings below, the inner city made up for it by having bands of every color of the rainbow woven into the very material of the walls.  The city shimmered in the afternoon sunlight.

“Are you sure you can get me in?” Sangr asked.

Karet nodded, but Sangr could feel his doubt. The merchant was getting nervous as they approached, having second thoughts.  But underlying the fear was the determination to go through with it, if only for the fabulous reward.  It was so nice to have reliable companions.

They had no time for further conversation. The tunnel leading under the thick wall which separated the ordinary citizens from their masters loomed in front of them, and they had to deal with the two armored and feathered spearmen standing guard at the mouth.

Sangr opened up his mind and was immediately reassured. This trooper was a ceremonial soldier: he was more curious than suspicious, serene in the knowledge that his back was covered by elite guards inside the wall.

“State your name and your business,” the plumed guard boomed.

Sangr suppressed a smile and tried to look bored but earnest as Karet explained.

“I am Karet, vintner to the great. And this man is Lord Santos of the Geno, owner of a million slaves whose only task is to nurture the finest grapes in the north.”

The guard looked Sangr over. A hard look, steady, tempered by years of weighing miscreants attempting to invade the sanctuary of their betters.  But his mind told another story: the man had already decided to let them through.  Evidently, Karet went in and out every day, and if his guest was unwelcome, that was a decision to be taken above the guard’s pay grade.  He moved aside.

The tunnel ended at an iron gate. Murder holes lined the entire length of the roof and at least one section of the floor boomed hollowly as they passed over it – sign of a pit trap. 

Sangr took careful note as he passed; even if all went well, he would be leaving in a hurry with the garrison hot on his heels. What he saw made him decide that the tunnel would only be used as an exit strategy of last resort.  Boiling oil tended to disagree with him, and sharpened spikes were even worse.

The gate swung open as soon as the man on duty recognized Karet. Smiles were exchanged, a few gold coins changed hands and even if he hadn’t been a mind-reader, Sangr would have been able to tell that the final obstacle had been surmounted.  In no time at all, they were walking through corridors of spun glass.

“Hanet is a good man. A family man.”  Karet grinned evilly.  “Of course he has two lovers on the side, and is always in the mood to help some poor woman in the outer city pay her fee, so my gold is always welcome.  We were lucky to find him on duty – the guards change randomly.”

Sangr wasn’t listening to the other man’s babbling. He was preoccupied with the surroundings.  Long corridors led to inner courtyards surrounded by high walls, with only tiny patches of sky visible overhead.  The complex would be very difficult to escape from.

The people they passed could have been from a different planet than those in the city outside. They strode confidently, with no worries about city tax.  Their stray thoughts showed that most of them were involved in the clerical work of the palace, either rushing to an appointment or plotting how to gain favor with their superiors.  Most of them that took notice of the mismatched pair ignored them – the rest simply dismissed them as supplicants of no particular note.

Which was exactly the way Sangr wanted it.

Before long, the pair reached Karet’s home, a collection of small but luxurious chambers off one of the minor corridors. Sangr dumped his pack unceremoniously on to an empty chair and faced his host.

“Now what?”

“Nothing until dinner, in an hour or so. I, myself, am going to take a bath.  Smuggling people into the inner city is a nervous business.  The baths are communal, I’m afraid.  Only the Great Ones have private bathing chambers.”

“I’ll come with you. The dust from weeks on the road won’t sit too well with your guests.” 

Karet didn’t know what Sangr was looking for in the inner city. They hadn’t told him about the bane, captured years before by the Supreme Great One of Tengut – even Sangr wasn’t quite certain about its nature.  All they’d told him was that he would be rewarded handsomely for getting them into the city and into the presence of the most important people in town.  Sangr could get the information he needed directly from their minds.

A communal bath might not be a meeting place of the upper echelons, but even servants might have information relevant to his mission. And besides, Yella would have a fit when he told her that he’d been living in luxury while she’d had to scrub in a cold mountain stream.




The baths had yielded no information, but dinner promised much better. True to his word, the wine merchant had assembled a congenial group of mid-level Great Ones.  Men who wished to impress their betters by always having the best vintages on hand, and who had the coin to pay for it.  Even without Sangr’s reward, this dinner would have been profitable for Karet.

But it only took ten minutes for his enthusiasm to turn into frustration. None of the Great Ones at the table were thinking of the bane.  It should have been, to some extent, on their minds.  After all, the bane was the only thing that kept Tengut from the attack of the Mage Lords to the northeast.  Only the wizards’ fear of the single thing that was known to destroy their power absolutely kept this city safe.

Outside the walls, everyone knew about it. Was it possible that the great ones had kept something that important secret from their own people? 

That might be good news. Maybe the bane was a small item, easily concealed, which might explain why no one seemed to have heard of it.  And it went well with what Sangr had learned of the world of magic – the most powerful objects were generally small, inconspicuous things that had had spells woven carefully into their fabric by master sorcerers.

It made no difference how it had been achieved. What mattered to him was that a small piece would be much less cumbersome when trying to flee than a medium sized one.  If the bane was some heavy item, a largish statue for instance, he would be in deep trouble indeed.

But as the night wore on, it seemed that the size of the bane would be the least of his troubles. No one had so much as thought about the thing by the time dessert rolled around.  Sangr knew what he had to do.  Mentioning the bane, even casually, was a risky course of action, but there was no other choice.  He didn’t have days to spend on this mission.  While he was wining and dining in luxury, his friends were falling, one by one, to the battle mages of Oixx.

“What a great city you have here,” Snagr said. “Such stability.”

“Yes,” one of the Great Ones replied. “Our supreme Great One has much to brag about.”

“And getting his hands on the bane must have helped.”

Even as he said it, Sangr tensed, ready to defend himself if necessary. Ready to run if the situation turned truly serious.  Fortunately, none of the guards had asked him to give up his rapier, so it would be child’s play to hold this particular group of soft nobility.  But the world was full of surprises.

“Oh, the bane,” the man to his right said with a smile. “While we’re all thankful for her presence, we don’t think our protection is the primary use the Supreme is putting her to.”  Other faces around the table smirked at this, at least one looking more like a leer.  Only Karet’s face registered slight suspicion.

At the word ‘her’, an icy ball formed in the pit of his stomach, a sensation made worse as he sifted the information from the minds of the men at the table, whose thoughts were suddenly filled with very graphic imagery. Most of what he got was a product of overly vivid imaginations, but it was enough for Sangr to know that the mission had just become much more complicated.

He didn’t like it one bit, and had a feeling that Yella was going to like it even less. Especially if he was successful.




Night. The chambers of the inner city changed completely as the light washing in from above was replaced by darkness punctuated by the occasional torch or patch of moonlight through the semi-transparent walls.  The effect was eerie, and it was difficult to see the walls clearly.  The passage was as silent as a tomb, but Sangr was unconcerned.  He’d been able to pull the direct path from Karet’s chambers to the place where the bane was kept out of a dinner-guest’s mind with ease.  Even better, it was nearby, just a couple of corridors to the west.

His only concern was how the harem would be guarded. It seemed unlikely that the supreme Great One would leave something like this to chance, and Sangr was expecting at least one, probably two guards.  They would be eunuchs.  The kind of supreme leader who would keep his women in a separate wing of the palace would also be the kind who’d place eunuch guards.

His plan was extremely rough, because there were simply too many variables that had to be taken into account. How many guards would there be?  He was betting on one on the outside of the door and one on the inside, but there could be any number of them.

What was the layout of the harem? Would the bane be willing to come with him?  If not, was she small enough for him to carry?  Would there be any other way out of the chambers?

Close now. It was easy to be silent on the carpeted hallway, but it was also easy to get overconfident.  And a eunuch’s spear could be just as deadly as the sharpest sword, and some of them were both big and nasty.

Only a shadow moving in the darkness alerted him, at the very last moment, to the fact that there was someone lurking in the passageway. It came as a nasty shock that he hadn’t detected anything from the man’s mind – he could normally sense the thoughts of anyone in his vicinity, even those deeply asleep.  But nothing came from this guard.  The corridor could have been empty.

Was the man dead? Sangr stood very still in the deepest shadow and studied him.  He thought he could hear soft breathing.  So intent was he on keeping perfectly silent that when the guard moved, walking down the corridor in the opposite direction Sangr was momentarily too startled to move.

But he hadn’t survived this long by freezing in the face of unexpected situations. Reacting quickly, he sprinted silently across the carpet, struck the guard as hard as he could on the back of the neck, and caught him before he hit the ground.  Sangr was satisfied with the outcome; the operation had produced little noise.

Looking at the man, Sangr thought it would be safe to assume that there would be another guard inside; this one was not a eunuch.

But, for some reason, he just couldn’t believe in the existence of a guard. He could sense nothing whatsoever through the door.  No guard concentrated on his job, no Great One’s women dreaming of what they’d like to do with their lives if they weren’t trapped in the Harem.  Nothing.  The room might as well have been empty for all the information he was able to gather from it.

Just like the guard at his feet might have been dead, except for the fact that he was breathing.

Sangr felt his heart race. Could he have lost his power?  He’d become completely dependent on it ever since the day, just under a year ago, when he’d touched what he’d thought was a valuable diamond, only to find that it was cursed, and gave him the power to read other people’s thoughts – a power he couldn’t turn off, no matter how much he wanted to.  But now, he could sense nothing.  He couldn’t help thinking that it was a very inconvenient time to have his power fail him.  Getting out of this warren of passages without knowing what the myriad of guards who knew the place better than he did were thinking; was going to be . . . interesting.

Nevertheless, he had no choice. The bane was the only way to counter the incredible magic set against his adoptive people, and Sangr was their only hope of getting their hands on the bane.  The bane which; as far as he knew, was on the other side of this doorway.

The door presented a problem. He didn’t know whether it was locked or not, didn’t know if the guard behind it would open to a knock.  It didn’t look all that solid, so he could easily break it open, but that would alert the whole palace that there was something going on here.  And it was unlikely that the harem would have a back entrance.  Too much temptation.

A quick search of the man on the floor revealed no keys. Should he knock?  Or just run into the door with his shoulder?  He decided that it was better to perhaps alert a single guard than to wake the entire palace.  And he had to act quickly; anyone could stumble onto him at any moment.  He rapped softly, three times.

“Yes?” The whisper, male, came through the door.

“Food,” Sangr replied, hoping his foreign accent would be hidden by the short word or muffled by the wood.

“What?” the voice said, but Sangr could hear the latch undoing on the other side. The guard evidently wasn’t suspicious yet.  A small crack appeared in the doorway, and faint light shone through.

Sangr acted immediately. He jammed his shoulder against the door as hard as he could, trying to make as little noise as possible.  The door encountered resistance, as if it had met with a solid object and then he heard a thud.  The movement stopped suddenly, held in place by something that yielded slightly, but not enough to open the door fully.  Sangr pulled his rapier and slipped through the opening, which was not narrow enough to stop him.

The guard was blocking the entrance. The door must have hit him in the head and knocked him out.  Soft, bloated flesh marked him as a eunuch as clearly as if he’d been holding a sign.  Sangr knew he had the right chamber at least.  He kicked the guard in the head, hard, just to be on the safe side.

He sniffed. The chamber smelled of un-emptied chamber pots, of perfume, and lots of people, and two things were immediately apparent: it was unlikely that the room would have any windows he could climb out of, and his gift was on the not working – he couldn’t sense a single presence.  It was just his luck, he grumbled to himself.  Whenever he was in a crowded marketplace surrounded by farmers, peasants and beggars, he couldn’t keep their incredibly boring thoughts out of his mind for a second, but when he needed his gift to work, to help him identify a single woman in a large harem, it was gone as if he’d never had it.  The only positive aspect was that it hadn’t failed him earlier; he would have looked extremely silly if he’d gone to all the trouble of sneaking in just to have to sneak out again empty handed.

What would follow would be a little callous, and could possibly get messy very quickly, but he could still achieve his objective if he was careful. Sangr stood silently in the room for a few seconds, letting his eyes get accustomed to the deeper darkness and trying to ascertain whether anyone had noted his presence.  Time was of the essence – the two guards wouldn’t be out for long, and he preferred not to have to kill them if they woke.

Dark shapes began to coalesce in his vision, large rectangular forms that loomed in front of him. Beds, he thought, with tall posts and curtains pulled – fit for use by the Great One’s many wives.  He shrugged and walked towards the nearest one, rapier ready, and pulled the curtain aside.

 Sangr could make out a flowing mass of hair, so he made a quick calculation and clamped down with his free hand.  It took some fumbling, but he managed to cover her mouth before the eyes popped open, wide with terror, and clearly visible even in the gloom.

“If you try to move, you will die,” he whispered, pressing the point of his rapier into her side for emphasis. “Do you understand me?” 

She did nothing for a few moments, and Sangr felt an icy ball form in the pit of his stomach. All the cities near Tengut spoke the Common Tongue, but what if this girl was a trophy piece from some far off land?  He would have to silence her and then find one who did speak his language.  And he didn’t have time for that kind of thing at all.

Finally, eyes even wider, she nodded. Sangr sighed with relief.

“Good. Then if you do what I tell you, you’ll be all right.  Nod if you are going to help me.”

She nodded, quicker this time.

“Good. I’m going to take my hand off your mouth.  If you scream, I will drive my sword into your stomach.  It will kill you, but not right away. You will take days to die, and you will suffer horribly.  Am I clear?”

Another nod and she trembled. Sangr could feel moisture on his hands.  Tears.  He pulled his hand away.  “I don’t want to hurt you, and if you do what I say, you won’t be harmed.  I have just one question: do you know where the Sorcerer’s Bane sleeps?”

“The Bane? Yes, she’s . . . .”

“Shh! Not so loud.  Get out of bed quietly and show me.”

The woman complied, walking softly over the carpeted floor to indicate a bed near the left wall. He kept a careful grip on her arm, the point of his rapier pressed softly into her side – softly, but present, lest she forget the consequences of any ill-advised attempt at flight.

“Is this the one?”

The girl nodded, and Sangr smiled at her. He wasn’t sure whether she could see him in the dim light, but wanted to try to reassure her.  Then he let go of her arm and punched her hard in the jaw.

He caught her as she fell, and thought to himself that, for a smallish thief who prided himself on his wits and his planning, he was certainly using quite a bit of brute force that night. At least he could take comfort in the fact that the rapier remained un-bloodied.  Sadly, though, such mercy put him at greater risk — any of the people he’d knocked out could come around at any time.  He had to move quickly.

It was the work of a moment to clamp a hand over the mouth of the woman lying in the bed and manhandle her, struggling and kicking, out of the room. Fortunately, she was built along similar lines to his own – small and very thin, although quite evidently well-endowed.  He shuddered to think how he’d have managed her if the woman had been Yella’s size.

He needed to regroup and make a break for it, and the only place that offered even the slightest temporary safety was his own room. He dragged her down the hall and through the door, ignoring the fact that she was biting his hand hard enough to draw blood.  “Will you stop that?” he hissed as soon as he’d closed his door.  “I’m trying to rescue you from this place!”

She tried to speak, but his hand was over her mouth. “I’m going to let go, but if you scream, I’ll have no choice but to kill you.  Do you understand me?”

It was a lie, of course. This girl was absolutely critical to the survival of his adopted people.  He might beat her senseless and tie and gag her, but there was no way he could afford to murder her. 

But she didn’t know that. She nodded, eyes huge.

“Good.” He pulled his hand away, keeping it close enough that he could clamp down again quickly if necessary.

She calmed down long enough to give him a haughty look. “I was saying ‘what makes you think I want to be rescued?’”

Sangr smirked. “I understand you were the spoils of war, handed from soldier to soldier until the Supreme Great One decided to keep you.  Even now, I hear he often lends you to those courtiers who please him.”

She shrugged. “It certainly beats the way I lived before.  Smelly rebel camps, unwashed soldiers, always scared that some sorcerer’s troops would find us.  And, before you ask, the men in charge of guarding me handed me around back then as well.  They couldn’t care less that I was just a little girl.  Now I have safety, warmth, all the food I can eat, and men who bring me gifts.”  She gave him a piercing look.  “And whatever you’re trying to do, stop it.  It won’t work.”

Sangr flinched. “What do you mean?”

“The magic. I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but it won’t work on me, or even anywhere near me.  So the love spell, or whatever, isn’t going to do you any good.”

“I’m not doing anything,” he protested.

“Don’t give me that. I can feel it.  I’ve known how to identify when people are trying to use magic on me since the day I was born.  I can feel it in my sleep. Your magic is trying to break into my head.”

And suddenly, it was clear. That was why he couldn’t sense her thoughts.  He’d thought she was a magician in her own right, but that wasn’t it at all.  All one had to do was put her in the presence of a magician and the magic went away.  That was why she was valuable to the rebellion against the sorcerers, and also why she’d been little more than a prisoner in the hands of every power that had ever controlled her.  They didn’t need her cooperation, just her presence.

Sangr could also tell that she was going to be trouble. Even if he managed to convince her – in the next few minutes, before the alarm sounded – that she was better off with the rebels than as a pampered prisoner in Tengut, his life would be forfeit as soon as Yella sensed the things he was thinking about her.  The Great One had known what he was doing when he picked her for his harem.

“So, you’re the bane.” That, at least, was a relief.

“No. I am Maluz, just one of the Supreme’s women.”

“Whatever. We need to leave now.”  He headed for the door.

She stayed where she was. Only moving as he dragged her.  “Why?” she asked.

“Because you are the only person who can overthrow the sorcerers and free your land.”

“Do you really expect me to fall for that? What did my land do for me?  I’ve suffered much more at the hands of the so-called freedom fighters and Max’s Hounds than I ever did at the hands of the sorcerers.  So what if they don’t allow the common people to make decisions?  Would Max be any better?”

“Max is dead, his Hounds hunted down, and their heads placed on spikes above the gates of Rewd. The men who came after them are just farmers and innkeepers, people like your father.”

“And don’t even think about using my father as a goad. Where was he when they came for me?  He believed them when they spoke of freedom and sold me into slavery.  I have spent every night over the past seven years cursing his name.”

“He’s dead, too. Failed to move quickly enough when a necromancer ordered wine.”

Her face fell; the jaw that had jutted out in defiance lost its set. He didn’t let her get a word in edgewise.  “And besides, I’m not giving you a choice.  You can either come willingly; and take your place among the people who win the freedom – an honored place among equals, this time – or I will take you with me by force, and you can go back to being a slave.  Either way, you will come.”

“And if I scream?” She was far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to stop her.

Sangr shrugged. “I can kill you easily enough, but I might not bother.  Maybe it would be better if I left you here.  That way the next time a sweaty man who sees you as nothing but a piece of flesh, you’ll know that it was your choice.  You’ll know that you’re there because that was what you wanted.  You’ll remember that you had an option.  I wonder how long you’ll last, knowing that.”

She glared at him in silence.

He smirked. “I thought so.  Now, we’re in a bit of a hurry.  If the guards haven’t realized you’re gone yet, they will soon.”

A shout in the distance seemed to reinforce his point and he pulled her to the door once again. “Do you have any way to turn your bane-ness off?”

Now she was the one who smirked. “No.  What’s the matter, little man not so tough without his magic?”

“It would have been helpful.” Now they’d have to do this the hard way.




The rapier, which he’d avoided using so far, was a bloody mess as he pulled it out of the guard’s neck. He still would have preferred to keep things non-lethal, but the guards had given him no choice.  Their first encounter had yielded a clatter of arrows against the translucent walls.  At least this one had been facing the other way.

Sangr wondered where the opening the man was guarding led. The strange cloudy-walled hallways had disoriented him to the point where he had no idea where he was.  Any opening was a welcome sight.

They stepped out cautiously, but there were no guards in sight. It seemed pursuit was confined to the interior of the palace for now, although how long that would last was anyone’s guess.  The night was chilly up in the mountains, but clear skies exposed a wealth of stars. 

They were on a ledge about a hundred feet wide and twenty deep, surrounded by a waist-high wall. The only exit was the way they’d just come through, and that corridor would soon begin to spout armed angry men.

He ran to the wall and looked over. The side of the palace beneath him was built of the same decorative, smooth material as the rest of the building, and joined the wall at a steep angle.  Not flat enough to try to walk down, certainly.  Sliding might be in the cards, but it would only take a small protuberance to send him into a roll – which they wouldn’t survive.  He and Maluz exchanged glances and ran back towards the door.  Maybe they’d be able to find another corridor before the pursuit arrived.

The first guard arrived at the same time as they did, but Sangr was ready for him. He sliced open the man’s relatively unprotected belly with a quick stab and drag of the rapier, and turned to face the next.  He was no longer fighting to escape – his blood was up and he wanted to take as many of them with him as possible before they took him down.

Suddenly, unexpectedly Maluz pulled his hair, causing him to stumble away from the surprised guard.

“Just my luck,” she said, as she pushed him over the wall. I get rescued by the idiot of the litter.”

They slid down towards the city below.



Sangr hit the ground hard. At some point his uncontrolled slide had turned into an uncontrolled tumble, and he’d done himself quite a bit of damage against the side of the palace, and a bit more than that against the hard-packed earth at the end of their trip.  He’d been peripherally aware of Maluz sliding along in perfect form beside him, although he probably imagined the superior look on her face.

As he came to his senses, a familiar, whiny voice was complaining at him.

“I knew you were trouble the moment I laid eyes on you. It’s a good thing I packed my stuff when I did, or I would have had to leave everything behind.”


“Who do you think. If I’d known the deal included saving your sorry ass, I would have asked for more.”

“But . . .” Sangr began, but stopped.  They seemed to be in a wagon, in the soft glow of early dawn, heading for a peak he recognized, the one where Yella was awaiting for them.

“I packed everything as soon as you left dinner. I knew you were up to something, and I would be blamed for it, so I’d have to leave anyway.  It didn’t take much imagination to deduce who might be sliding down the wall of death in the middle of the night.”

Sangr was speechless. “Thank you,” he said.

The other man grunted. “Just protecting my investment.  You owe me my payment, after all.  And a lesson to you: even if you can read minds, you should know that a merchant must always keep his thoughts hidden, even from himself, lest his face betray him.”

“So you were trying to read my mind? That’s a neat trick.”  Maluz’ head popped up from beside a barrel of wine. “There was a sorcerer who used to do that.  But he liked little girls, and when he saw me, he followed me into the woods, trusting his talent to warn him if there was anyone about.  The Hounds tore him apart, using those little knives they were so fond of.”

She smiled evilly and Sangr found himself hoping that her power was as effective against Yella as it was against him. Because if Yella got an inkling of what he was thinking about this girl, she would kill him. 

Very, very slowly.