Chapter Twelve

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Once Thesul had seen her safely inside her room and shut the door, Guin heard the unmistakable sound of a key tuning in the lock.

Well, good. She'd have some warning if someone tried to get in while she concocted her stupendous escape plan.

Guin stood and listened while Thesul's soft footsteps echoed into the distance, then faded away altogether.

So. She really was alone now. Or, at least, it seemed that way.

Guin grimaced and massaged the skin where Thesul's hand had clasped her arm. She'd tried to pull free once or twice, but he hadn't seemed to notice. The touch of his cold fingers lingered like an invisible bruise.

In an effort to distract herself from the sensation, Guin walked slowly around the parameter of her glamorous cell as she mulled over Thesul's offer.

Okay. So. This Thesul bloke's cheese has clearly slipped off his cracker if he thinks what's happening to Ther is just gonna bypass him and his palace like some sort of custom-made mini apocalypse. No way in hell is he telling the whole truth about that magic fountain, or giving me all that power. This whole spiel about the fountain healing Evey feels like a trick--at the very least, he's not telling me everything about it. That whole room felt off. I mean, the whole palace feels off, but that room in particular gave me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe it was those shadows in the water. The way they moved. Like they were alive...

Guin shuddered involuntarily, then hugged herself. She was chilled, despite the warmth of the sunny room.

In any case, he wants to use me. Or, more accurately, he wants to use 'The Reader'. That's clear enough. And I don't think he plans to take 'no' for an answer. He'll try threats next. And if those don't work, then--

The coldness spread, and her shuddering increased. With sudden, perfect clarity, Guin knew precisely what Thesul planned to do next.

He'll hurt Lorn, or Kip, or Mrs. Ironsong--he'll hurt them all, one after the other, to make me do what he wants.

A surge of bone-numbing fear flooded Guin's body, threatening to paralyze her like a deer in headlights. She grit her teeth and rode it out, forcing herself to channel the adrenaline back where it belonged--anger. That was what she needed right now. She had to keep the anger alive or she'd freeze.

Guin took a deep breath and closed her eyes, allowing her rage to grow and feed on everything; Evelyn's illness, the Fog, Thesul, Orven--even herself, for being dumb enough not to see straight through that slimy, two-faced bastard of a homicidal librarian.

He played me. He played us all. And to think I almost found him cute.

That did it. Guin stopped shuddering. She no longer felt cold. Instead, she was hot with outrage and shame.

I've been a complete idiot. But I can make it right. It's time to kick ass and chew gum--and I'm all out of gum.

First things first, she had to find a way to make words.

Guin opened her eyes and looked around the room. She'd already ascertained that there was no paper or pen lying conveniently about. She'd have to improvise.

Her first thought was to break the large mirror with one of the bronze candelabras and arrange the shards into words, but she wasn't sure if she could break the glass quietly enough. If there was any sort of guard post out in the hall, they'd hear the mirror shatter, even if she wrapped the candelabra in a sheet first.

Guin didn't want to risk having someone get suspicious, burst in and see her vandalizing the room. They would guess what she was up to in a second, and she'd probably wind up in an actual prison cell with no way to save herself or her friends. Thesul, in his bid to win her over, had given some slack to her leash--and she needed every inch of it.

Okay. So the mirror's not really an option--unless...

Guin stepped up to the glass, leaned forward and breathed heavily on it. A small patch of moisture fogged the mirror's surface for a few seconds, then faded away.

She could manage one word with that, if she was quick. Not much, but it was something. The question was, which word?

Guin licked her lips, considering. She wanted a weapon. And pants. And maybe a giant indestructible battle troll...

I'll try the pants first.

Once more, she leaned close to the mirror and fogged its silvery surface with her breath. She traced 'pants' in the patch of moisture with a fingertip, then read it aloud in a whisper before the sloppy letters vanished.

The familiar zing of magic began to tingle along Guin's tongue and fingers--but before it could really get started, it was replaced with an equally familiar, though far less welcome feeling. A dull, heavy, suffocating flatness. As if invisible hands were trying to snuff out her soul from the inside. The complete opposite of Guin's own brand of sorcery. Her magic was electric and joyous and dangerous and alive...

But this--this was dead weight. It pressed down on her like a million pounds of nothing.

Guin stood motionless before the mirror and found she had no air left in her lungs. Her chest ached. 

Of course. He's here. He's all around me. This was like his temple, or something. Some part of him has been kept alive, and it's fighting me. Even more so than when I was in his Östlor lair.

Guin stared at her reflection, at the ghost of a smudge left behind by her finger-scrawled word, and realized that this was why Thesul had given her so much slack in the first place. He knew. He must. This was all part of the game. The game in which only he knew the rules.

This realization hit Guin like a punch in the gut, and she found herself sliding to the floor, winded.

No magic. No words. Nothing.

She had nothing.

But why was she surprised? This entire world had been made by the Sorcerer. Even seven years dead, his power still ran deep. How could she even begin to fight something like that? Everything she'd done so far was just drizzle into the ocean. Yeah, she'd melted some ice, made a few flowers, opened some doors--but what was all that, really? Nothing. Parlour tricks.

The Reader indeed. She was bloody useless.

Unwanted tears of frustration sprang to Guin's her eyes, and she knuckled them fiercely away. She wouldn't cry. That would be like admitting defeat.

I've got to keep trying. Maybe I can fight it.

Even as she thought it, Guin knew it was a lie. She had a nasty, sneaking suspicion that the only magic she'd be allowed to work would be whatever Thesul asked her to. The idea made her gut tighten like a fist.

I wish Mogra was here. Or Kip. Or Lorn...

But they weren't there. The whole company was locked up in a dungeon somewhere, and here she was being utterly useless.

Guin swallowed, wiped her nose and sat up straighter. She had to keep trying. Even if she couldn't make any magic at all, she'd just have to try something else.

Still, she knew one thing for certain. The breath and mirror writing wasn't enough. It was too light, too insubstantial. If she had any chance at all, Guin needed something she could read over and over again--something she could focus on and hold in her mind like a battering ram. Words. Good, solid, real words that stayed put.

God, I would kill for a big fat chisel-tip permanent marker right now...

She glanced around the room, but saw nothing that seemed plausible. Then her eyes lit on the big, luxuriant bed, where an ocean of lightly rumpled silk sheets lapped at a mountain of tasseled cushions.

Guin chewed her lip, considering.

That could work. 

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