Ky, the Locksmith, had spent what seemed like an eternity trying to build some kind of rapport with the prisoner, yet the Chancellor’s speech was as incoherent as anything Rima had ever heard. Most of it didn’t even seem to be in a real language.
“I am sorry.” Katrina placed a hand on Ky’s shoulder. “I had hoped you would be able to reach him.”
Ky let out a long, slow sigh.
“Can’t we use magic to fix him?” Rima didn’t know much of magic, but she figured if it could heal the body why not the mind?
“No,” Ky replied, though his expression grew thoughtful. “But we might not have to.”
“Insanity is contagious.” Katrina had apparently figured out where he was going, though Rima certainly had no clue.
“But you could reach in for the answers directly?”
“It is not that simple.”
“Yet it is possible?”
The woman shrugged. “Not the way you are imagining it. One does not simply ‘reach in’ and pluck answers from someone’s mind. They must be revealed from within, or… “ She paused, scanning Ky’s face and then leading his gaze to the prisoner. “Or one must go in and seek them out. Had you been able to lead him in the right direction, perhaps I could have answered a scant few questions without risking my mind. As it stands…” She held her hands out helplessly.
“What about me?” Ky had a mischievous expression on his face. “Can you ‘send me in’? There are answers I need.”
“I thought you were the better mage?” Rima was confused. Surely anything the woman could do, Ky could do better? “Why do you need her to do anything?”
The woman, Katrina, suppressed a smile and arched an eyebrow at Ky as if daring him to explain.
“Different kinds of magic…” he began, trailing off almost immediately while seeking the right words. “She is a shadow mage-”
“Oneiromancer,” came a sharp interjection; one accompanied by a stern, though fleeting, scowl.
“Hrm yes,” Ky offered a curt gesture and bow of deference. “Her magic is that of dreams, whereas mine is that of physical form… Quite similar to Shapers among the Sollim; though I shall spare you the details of that particular distinction. As such, she is quite capable of manipulating the mind and the senses in ways I can only imagine.”
“Oh! Is that how you’re so good with locks?” Rima couldn’t help feeling excited over the possibilities such magic would give a cat burglar. “You could climb any tower, open any lock, disarm any trap!”
“Clever girl,” Katrina remarked with a smile Rima thought might actually be the first sincere one she had seen the woman wear.
Ky merely chuckled. “Tricks of the trade, my girl, tricks of the trade.”
“Could you teach me? I’d love to-”
Ky cut her off by raising a hand. “I’ll make you a deal. You join the adventurers’ guild, prove you’ll use the skills right, and I’ll teach you as much as I can and point you to some friends of mine who can teach you more.”
Rima could feel her grin pulling at her ears, but as embarrassed as she felt she could not help smiling.
“Magic won’t solve things with a wave of your hand, remember that. It’s got its own challenges, like the threshold being warded so I had to use the floor instead…” He turned to regard the prisoner. “Or find out what this fellow knows about-” Ky fell silent.
“Without an anchor to hold us in place, I cannot send you in without great risk. To both of us.” The woman placed a hand on Ky’s shoulder and gently nudged him toward the door. “We should leave before we are discovered.”
Ky nodded quietly as he reluctantly started toward the door, but froze when his eyes locked upon Rima. A mischievous grin spread across his lips as an impish twinkle came to his eyes, one that made Rima’s skin crawl. He regarded her for a moment, then met Katrina’s inquisitive gaze.
“Anyone would do as anchor, yes?”
“Even someone without magic?”
“The less, the better.”
“And there is no risk to them?”
“Minimal, but not none.”
“Well, Rima, want to earn yourself a place in the Guild?” Ky turned to her again, his smile now as warm as it had been mischievous.
“What… What’s it you want me to do?”
Katrina beckoned her closer to the cell and reach out to rest a hand on her head.
She felt like had been suddenly woken from a deep slumber.
Ky’s expression was vivid in Cat’s mind. With eyes as pools of utter blackness, his teeth had been clenched and his face tense as if he were straining to hold himself back. He’d sunk down to his knees even as he turned toward them, a guttural “Run!” escaping his lips. Then Katrina had grabbed Rima and pushed her into the wall, but instead of feeling the cold stone smash her face the world had turned black.
Rima felt like she was falling, even with Katrina’s hand on her back pushing her forward. Then the hand vanished and all at once the world took shape around her. She wasn’t sure where she was; all she could make out were windowless stone walls looming around her.
Trapping her; threatening to topple over and crush her.
She tried to focus on the alley in front of her, but something kept pulling at her attention. White mist began creeping in around the edges of her vision, and when she tried to rub it out of her eyes the world changed.
She was stalking the halls of somewhere wealthy; a huntress, wounded and seeking prey. The mansion must lay very close by the lake, for she could hear the waves. Cat wasn’t sure what was going on, and even as she began to get her bearings the black mist crept back into her vision.
Darkness overtook her as her senses went numb. Then a light, far off in the distance, winked into existence. Then another, and another, and another, until before her seemed to lay the star studded sky.
The mist returned, its tendrils of silver snaking across the dark void. It seemed to be reaching for the stars, yet at the same time it began mingling with the darkness. Soon everything had turned into shapeless clouds of gray.
Rima inhaled sharply as Shiv stepped out of the fog. He flicked his blade about with practiced ease, grinning wickedly. “Time to die, Kitten.”
Cat reacted instinctively to the lunge, ducking deftly to the side and into a low sweep with her leg. The move was more diversion than attack. The kick that followed not only wiped the smirk of Shiv’s face but sent him stumbling backward, vanishing into the mist.
Smooth, practiced, yet utterly foreign; the routine was one she had never even seen before, yet felt as familiar as if she’d spent a lifetime practicing it.
Rima could hear the sloshing of water as towering shadows slowly took shape in the swirling shades of gray, great walls of unyielding rock rising around her once more.
They blocked her path, forcing her this way and that, driving out what semblance of clarity Rima had reclaimed and replacing it with confusion.
Then they fell away into the whirling fog again as a luxurious canopy bed manifested before her. Once more Cat was a predator, and her prey lay slumbering before her.
She slipped like a shadow through the wisps of smoke covering the floor, gliding silently to gaze down at the sleeping form of a young woman. She could feel her lips spreading in a voracious smile, even as she struggled to resist.
The shadows deepened around her, enveloping Rima in their chill embrace. She caught a glimpse of the palace gardens, and the city spreading out beyond them, before darkness was all she could see once more.
Liquid flooded her mouth. Rima must have tore the poor girl’s throat even while blinded. Cold, tasteless liquid…
The silver light of Auyana caught her attention, gave her a focus she could finally cling to.
It was muddled and distant, warped by… by water. Rima was underwater. Panic fueled her struggles as she thrashed about, trying to figure out how to swim towards the light; towards the surface.
She coughed as water sought to force its way down her throat, the motion only costing her precious breaths.
The light swept off to the side, out of sight. She tried to turn, to follow. Where was it? There! So close… A woman, her silken shawl dancing beneath the waves, was holding out her hands. Rima reached back, and as their hands locked the woman’s flesh shriveled away.
The skeleton stared back at her with empty sockets from under a heavy crown. Rima knew the tales, but oh how she wished she had never heard them. The ones that told of Death living upon the Haunted Isle, collecting souls to join his unholy court. A skeletal figure, draped in the full regalia of the long-lost King; whose visit promised death and eternity in his service.
She struggled to free herself of his vice-like grip before he pulled her into a watery grave, only for the world around her to fade as her consciousness slipped away.