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Pen Your Pride

Part 2

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Alloran went straight home, using a complicated route of back alleys he'd never traversed before. Why make himself easy to find by retracing his steps?

Home–such as it was. The small villa was crammed cheek by jowl with similar structures. The stucco flaked from the walls, and the building badly needed repairs. Alloran resisted the urge to look at the citadel. In the lengthening shadows of late afternoon, it verged on invisibility against the rocky crag. At twilight, the castle lit up like a million fireflies in a tree. Inside, wizards and sorceresses would dine on exquisite meals prepared by the finest chefs in Ehsan, if not the whole of the kingdom. Tomorrow night was the weekly ball with dancing and music and....

His mouth watered. He shoved the door open, heedless of the crooked way it hung on its hinges, and slammed it behind him. Tonight's dinner would be mutton, tough enough to make his jaw ache, and wizened potatoes. It was pointless to dream about banquets, never mind dancing.

The chair at the scarred table was too rickety for him to throw himself into it. Dissatisfied, he retrieved his journal from a moth-eaten armchair and sat carefully. The chair wobbled but held.

Dek was probably mad at him for taking off. Too bad. He'd needed a cover, and gold had bought him a share in Dek's business while magic gave him the credentials to pull off the charade. The body of poor Ehvana had been reported to the authorities without any link to Alloran. That was the important thing. He owed Dek nothing and had no need for guilt. He didn't.

The journal was one of the few things he'd been able to grab before he fled the citadel–that and a bag of gemstones. If the lord wizard knew me better, I'd be in chains now. But none of the idiot wizards thought he'd run straight for his suite before fleeing.

Luckily, the two people who did know him that well hadn't been in a position to advise the searching wizards to check his rooms, or he'd be rotting in a dungeon right now instead of just the back alleys of the city. Gisayne was unconscious, and Ladanyon fled. No point being caught at the scene of a crime that one wanted pinned on someone else, after all.

He flicked through yellowing pages of his cramped handwriting. The book dated back decades. He'd read and re-read it dozens of times over the past three months, scouring again and again for new clues that he might've missed. It wasn't the journal he'd wanted to take. That one disappeared. This one would have likely gone with it if it hadn't been hidden separately.

Ladanyon must have taken the journal, though Alloran had no proof. None, except a missing journal containing research notes on the summoning of demons and a friend who was the only other living soul who knew where to find it, a friend who had later tried to kill him with a demon.

He flipped the page. A huge red blemish marred the paper. Alloran blinked. Where did that come from? As he watched, another line met it at an angle, then another, slowly forming the letter M. His pulse quickened, and his shoulders tensed. This was wizardry of the sort that could only be used by someone who knew him intimately. Someone had sent him a message, and he had only two choices.

Agonisingly slow, the letters formed in bright crimson across the page of notes to spell out the message: Meet me. Before the sentence was complete, the first strokes of the M began to fade, leaving only line upon line of his writing.

He slammed the book shut, breathing fast. Ladanyon, trying to lure me out? Or Gisayne? And if the latter, whose side was she on?

Gisayne. His breath hitched. So much of the events of three months ago remained unknown to him. Smoke and haze had filled her rooms when he arrived. Belly to the floor, he crawled in. The terrible fear lodged deep in his stomach like a ball of ice. Coughing and choking, he cast about with his senses, searching for Gisayne.

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