Chapter Fourteen

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Guin tore the last strip of sheet in two and threw them on the pile at her feet. The frayed strips of silk slithered together like snakes.

This would do--or at least, Guin hoped it would.

Hitching up the trailing end of her gown, Guin hunkered down on the floor and began arranging the strips of cloth.

As she worked, her stomach gurgled. Guin ignored the hunger pang. She still didn't want to eat anything in this place, no matter how delicious it looked--and she wasn't hungry enough for her stomach to override her brian's initial hesitation. Not yet, anyway.

After fussing a bit and double-checking her spelling, Guin sat back on her haunches and observed the effect of her handywork.

Laid out in twisting patterns on the marble floor, the glossy strips of sheet now spelled: The Sorcerer's magic weakened, allowing a blank book and sharp pencil to appear before Guin Hawkins.

Not bad, she thought. It was what she wanted, after all, in simple and direct words. Maybe, just maybe, if she could get the suffocating remnants of old magic to budge just a little, she could get it to budge more. A foot in the door, so to speak...

But would this be enough?

I guess I'll just have to find out...

Guin settled with her back against the bed and crossed her legs, fidgeting about a bit until she was more or less comfortable. Then she straightened her back, squared her shoulders, planted one hand on each knee and focused her full attention on the silk letters.

She took a long, deep breath, held it in her aching lungs, then let it out.

"The Sorcerer's magic weakened, allowing a blank book and sharp pencil to appear before Guin Hawkins..."

She read the words aloud quietly. Just like before, she felt the weight of foreign magic bearing down on her, but she forced herself to ignore it. It couldn't hurt her, just block her.

Still, even after just one try, she was almost breathless with the effort.

I need to keep going. For their sake, if not my own. I need to keep trying.

And she did. Again, and again, and again, Guin whispered the words she'd shaped from torn strips of silk sheet. She repeated them until long shadows of afternoon crept across the marble floor--until her lunges were on fire, and her back throbbed, and her legs had long since gone numb.

Nothing happened. She grew exhausted. Still, nothing happened.

Once, Guin thought she heard laughter, as dry and rasping as the rustle of ancient paper.

The old magic never budged. Not once. If anything, it grew heavier. A smothering blanket of screaming silence.

Eventually, after a small eternity of hours, Guin slumped back and leaned her aching head against the mattress. Her shoulders shook. Every breath hurt. Her thoughts swam in a delirious soup of despair.

Useless. Bloody useless...

Her failure crushed her flat. It weighed even more than the Sorcerer's dusty echoes of malicious power. She closed her eyes and focused on her own laboured breathing.

Stupid. Stupid. Of course it didn't work...

Guin didn't realize she'd fallen asleep until she opened her eyes and saw gray, swirling nothingness.

Then, she saw him.

_____

Igren leaned heavily on the table with both hands as she studied the maps and charts spread across its surface.

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