Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Guin looked down at the open book of blank pages. They stretched out before her, a broad expanse of accusatory emptiness.

Thesul tapped his foot impatiently.

Guin licked her chapped lips and glanced at Lorn, who shook his head ever-so-slightly. No. Guin. No.

She gave him a look she hoped said, I don't have a choice, do I?

She saw his expression alter, just the smallest bit—becoming not so much an urgent warning as a look of resigned terror.

Guin wanted to say something reassuring and quippy, but her tongue had turned to gummy sandpaper. Her mouth was a desert—all the words had dried up.

She looked down at the pages again. Her hand strayed to the inkwell and grasped the quill, but didn't remove it from the bottle.

"What happens," she asked quietly, her voice cracking a little with each word, "if I can't?"

Thesul cleared his throat and sighed. "Well, Guin, as I said, if you decide to be difficult..."

"I said can't," Guin retorted . "Not won't. What if I can't do what you're asking?"

Thesul tapped one finger thoughtfully against his chin for a moment, then shrugged. "Can't. Won't. It makes no difference, Guin. You may be held back by my master's will, but only so far as correcting your rebellious spirit. In the end, it all comes down to a matter of motivation, of incentive—and I intend to provide a more than ample supply of each." He pointed at Kip. "For instance, the young beastmaster. I'll cut out his tongue, perhaps even damage his ears with, hmm, molten metal. That always works a charm."

Guin stared at him, feeling as though her own insides were turning to liquid lead as he continued to point at each of her companions in turn.

"As for the skinshifter, I'll break her arms just so. Even if they do heal, which is unlikely, she'll never fly again. The young prince... hmm. He has Silkwalker blood, does he not? Such a graceful people. I think I'll cut off his legs, then his arms. He won't walk again—or do much of anything, for that matter. The delvers I will kill slowly, in front of each other. And the old woman..." His lip curled as he turned to Zolga. "I'll remove her other eye like I did the first. Then I'll hobble her and send her into service with the other Disgraced. What do you think of that, Zilia?"

Guin frowned. Zilia?

Zolga's expression didn't change. She remained motionless, staring straight ahead with her remaining eye—refusing to give Thesul the satisfaction of her fear. Guin loved her for that.

Thesul smirked and turned back to Guin. "So, you see, unless you wish to watch your so-called friends suffer, I think it would be best if you do exactly as you are asked, hm?"

Guin stared hard at the blank page. She was thinking, perhaps, if she managed to work any kind of magic at all, it would be to kill Thesul...

She heard a light tread behind her, and saw out of the corner of her eye a new figure had entered the room. He was tall, and lean, and dressed in gold armor.For some reason, she caught a faint whiff of urine.

Thesul nodded to him. "Mordel. How good of you to join us. Guin--" He threw her a sly glance. "Guin, I do believe you two have met already?" 

"We've been acquainted, yes," murmured Mordel, moving to stand beside Lorn's chair. "Quite intimately acquainted, I should say." And he grinned.

For a moment, Guin was utterly confused. She'd never seen this man befo--

Then it hit her--just as he had, in her room, in the dark. Hit her hard enough to crack her ribs. She remembered his voice, the brutal power of his hands. How he had laughed at her pain.

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