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Excerpt from 'Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Secret of Kilara's Keep'

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 Siawn fell to the floor coughing blood. He tried to get up, but a heavy boot planted itself firmly on his back. "Don't bother," Zendavian said, and looked to the shadowcaster. "Maybe we should try my methods." He reached for the weapon at his belt.

"I wasn't going to keep it," Siawn conceded. "I kept it safe, but the buyer never came for it." Focus. It's only pain. No real damage. The curator's got almost all his weight on me, which means there isn't much on his other leg. No, he'd probably have his shins armored. Siawn's looked to the floor behind the counter, just two feet away. Keep them talking.

"The second buyer, you mean," Zendavian replied. "You killed the first one when you got a better offer from the head of the Farad High Council. Don't try to deny it. He did, and it disagreed with his health."

"So if he didn't send you, and the Repository didn't—"

The shadowcaster laughed. "You never knew who you were really working for, did you?"

Siawn frowned, and kept slowly reaching for the small square tile in front of him. "In Farad, it's best not to ask too many questions. You know that."

"Some would say it is better to look for answers," the shadowcaster replied. "However, I will say we were pleased that you remained true to form in not investigating the motives and connections of your employer. Not that it would have mattered, since Behúko thought he was working for the Repository, and that silly goat of a Faradi politician thought he was in business for himself."

Siawn looked up at his captors. "Huacal, then." This is worse than I thought. If Huacal is involved, then ...

"Now, I'm sure you have some manner of failsafe in place. Right now you are probably thinking that you will set it off once we try to make you open that little safe-box of yours, and that you'll be able to escape with the goods. You are wrong on both counts."

"You'll kill me just as soon I hand it over." Just a bit more. I can almost reach it.

The shadowcaster waved a bandaged hand carelessly. "And as much as Zendavian would like to kill you, that isn't what we came here to do. Get him off the floor. I tire of looking down."

Zendavian seized the elf by the scruff of the neck and hauled him to his feet. Siawn cursed inwardly and flexed his fingers. There's still the trigger by the safe. Then I have to get Mika and make for the Hollow. I have no friends there, but they're oathbound to protect one of their own. "You'll leave me alone after you collect it, then? I've no desire to be involved further with Huacal or his order. I've made a good life in this place."

"I wish I could believe that you'd hand it over so easily," the shadowcaster said. "In any case, that decision is neither yours nor mine to make, nor is it Huacal's. You have served a higher purpose even than that of the ku'ja, though you knew it not." Seeing the elf's confused look, he added, "The service of the Stone Prophets is not to be cast aside."

"The Stone Prophets left thousands of years ago," Siawn replied. "I've heard they can't come back."

"And yet the holiest of their kind remain with us, few in number but potent, and generous rewarders of those who serve," the shadowcaster said. "Huacal is but one of the faithful, as are we. Faithless though you may be for now, you have been of some use to us, and we may have further use for you."

Siawn gave the shadowcaster a contemptuous look and spat on the floor. "You speak of the tomach'nar?"

The shadowcaster rippled with darkness and clenched a fist in Siawn's direction. The elf's body convulsed with agony, and Zendavian let him fall retching to the floor.

"Do not ever call our masters by that name again, you misbegotten child of the woods. I do not have leave to kill you without need, but I can acquaint you with torments you could not imagine while sparing your life." The shadowcaster looked to the back room, and his tone brightened. "Now get up. You have a safe to open, and we have a great destiny to fulfill."

Siawn rose to his feet, holding on to the doorway for support. "The Stone Prophecy," he rasped. "Is that what this is about?"

"I'm surprised that you know anything of it," the shadowcaster said as Zendavian shoved the elf into the back room. "Yes. Now open the safe."

Siawn rapped on the wall. He winced as he pulled the door open. I'm bleeding inside. Not fatal, but it will take weeks to mend, and could easily get worse.

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