“The Outlaw Adept” Excerpt

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Thalia Kalarien stood on the quay and watched the ship carrying her best friend and her older brother disappear over the horizon.

All around her Araspan’s harbor teemed with activity. Ships maneuvered through the waters, sails billowing, oars lashing, captains and bosons shouting orders. Thalia saw ships from every nation under the sun – Saranian vessels carrying wine, peppers and spices from Orlanon, timber from Callia, gems and jewelry from the proud merchant princes of Annoc.

And the slave galleys from Khauldun and Carth, of course. Slaves in orange tunics filled the docks, carrying barrels and crates of cargo from the ships. Others went about their masters’ errands, delivering messages or packages.

Thalia felt her lips thin.

Always and ever, the Conclave of Araspan relied upon its slaves.

“You look,” said a man’s voice, deep and amused, “as if you just took a bite out of a lemon.”

Thalia turned to face her eldest brother.

Solthain Kalarien regarded with an easy smile. Like Thalia, he had thick black hair and bright green eyes. It was hard to look dashing while wearing the black-trimmed red robe of an Adept of the Conclave, but Solthain managed it. Yet Thalia had known him her entire life, and she spotted the faint hints of strain around his eyes.

They never left him. But given that his soul had spent twelve years imprisoned within the traitorous First Magister Talvin’s crystal, Thalia was not surprised.

“I was just thinking,” said Thalia, “how much better off both the Conclave and the city of Araspan would be if we did not rely upon slaves.”

“Ah,” said Solthain. “And not how you’ll miss Rachaelis and Corthain, then?”

They turned from quay and walked into Araspan’s dockside district. Slaves and freemen alike took one look at their red robes and hastened to get out of their way, which annoyed Thalia. Still, it was easier than forcing their way through the press.

“Of course I will miss them,” said Thalia. She sighed. “It has been quite a month, Solthain. One of my brothers was banished, and I thought the other dead. And then Corthain returned as a hero and you were restored to us.”

“And now Corthain is leaving again,” said Solthain.

Thalia shot a look over her shoulder at the harbor. “It is for the best. Corthain is the domn of Moiria. He has responsibilities elsewhere.”

“And Rachaelis?” said Solthain.

Thalia blinked. She loved her brothers, but both of them had been absent from her life for over ten years. Rachaelis, though…she had Rachaelis had become friends during their time as Initiates. When Rachaelis had survived the Testing, Thalia had been overjoyed. She had hoped to have another woman of her own age in the College Liberia, the small group of Adepts dedicated to ending slavery.

But then Corthain had returned, and First Magister Talvin had revealed himself for what he truly was.

“Rachaelis,” said Thalia at last, “would never be happy here. She doesn’t like to fight.”

“And you do?” said Solthain.

Thalia grinned. “Of course.”

He snorted. “That would explain the constipated look Father gets whenever you draw near.”

Thalia laughed. “Don’t let him hear you say that. The First Magister of the Conclave of Adepts would never conduct himself in such an undignified fashion.”

“Fine,” said Solthain. “Let us say instead he looks…consternated whenever you come to harangue him about slavery.”

“Would not the city and the Conclave be better off without slaves?” said Thalia.

Solthain shrugged. “If we freed all the slaves, who would do all the work? I can hardly see you scrubbing your own floors, sister.”

His response both amused and annoyed her. He had never taken anything seriously, and was not a man prone to strong opinions. Yet he did love his family, and craved their approval.

But if he had not desired their father’s approval so much, then perhaps he would not have led his men to disaster against the possessed Magister Paulus.

“Free men shall work for wages,” said Thalia, “as in the other kingdoms of the west.”

“They have peasants and freeholders in Callia and Saranor and Orlanon,” said Solthain. “Surely that is not so different than slaves.”

“But it is!” said Thalia. “They are free men, and not bought and sold like cattle. They own their possessions, and therefore can put hope in the future, rather than living in resigned despair. And men who live in resigned despair can put their hope in terrible things.”

They kept walking. Araspan rose up before them, the Ring of the Conclave looming over the city on its mountain spur. The poets liked to call Araspan the City of a Thousand Towers, and the towers of the Araspani nobility thrust from the mass of the city like stone fingers. Both the nobles and the Adepts competed to build the highest and most splendid towers.

“What do you mean?” said Solthain.

“Why do you think,” said Thalia, voice low, “that Maerwulf and Thurvalda found so many willing followers among the slaves? Perhaps if the slaves were not treated so brutally, perhaps if they were not slaves at all, they would not turn so quickly to blood sorcery and the worship of demons.”

Solthain said nothing, his eyes wandering over the city. Thalia wondered if he had decided to ignore her, but instead she realized that he was gazing towards the towers.

Towards the shattered ruin of the Magister Paulus’s tower, where his men had been slaughtered and his soul imprisoned.

“Maybe you are right,” said Solthain, shaking his head. “Ah, sister. It is a cruel world, is it not? There are so many hard choices to make, and sometimes we must decide between evils.”

“That was profound,” said Thalia.

His smile returned. “Surprised? Do not be fooled by my handsome face, Thalia. I am not quite as stupid as I seem.”

They both laughed.

“Enough grim talk,” said Solthain. “Let us return to the Ring. Not even you can save the world in a single day.”

“We need to return to the Ring anyway,” said Thalia. “I have a dinner to arrange.”

“Oh?” said Solthain. “Another Initiate you sponsored survived the Testing? That is always a happy occasion.”

“No, nothing so elaborate,” said Thalia. “Just you, me, and a friend of mine.”

Solthain’s eyes narrowed. “Only three? This sounds suspiciously like a trap. Who is this friend of yours?”

“Carandis Marken,” said Thalia, “another Adept.”

“One of your friends from the College Liberia, I suppose,” said Carandis, “some grim old reformer filled with humorless zeal?”

“Hardly,” said Thalia. “She is a member of the College Historia, I shall have you know, and spends a great deal of time in the Great Library, translating works from archaic Callian and Saranian.”

“Ah,” said Solthain. “Some old woman with a squint, then.”

“Actually,” said Thalia, “she is a year younger than I am.”

“Little sister,” said Solthain, “this sounds suspiciously like you are plotting to transform me into Carandis’s suitor.”

“Why, brother,” said Thalia, “whatever would give you that impression?”

“You sound like Father,” said Solthain. He stiffened, squared his shoulders, and executed a rather good impression of Arthain Kalarien, First Magister of the Conclave. “House Kalarien requires heirs, Solthain, and the Conclave needs children with magical talent. It is your duty to sire heirs, for both the good of our House and the Conclave.” He laughed. “But Father is wasting his breath. Corthain is more likely to have sons first.”

“What makes you say that?” said Thalia.

“You’ve seen the way he looks at Rachaelis,” said Solthain. “Shall we place a wager? Do you think he’ll get her into bed before his ship even reaches…”

“Brother,” said Thalia, “that is most inappropriate. And I am not waving Carandis in front of you like a piece of meat before a wolf. If you meet and happen to like her…well, who am I to gainsay it?”

“Subtle,” said Solthain. “What is she like?”

“She’s quite clever,” said Thalia. “She speaks a number of languages, and is one of the stronger young Adepts in the Conclave. Her father was a Callian fur trader, and I suspect an occasional poacher. So she is shrewder about money than most of our brother and sister Adepts, and has investments with a number of merchants in the city. I suspect she will be a wealthy woman soon enough.”

“Well and good,” said Solthain, “but what does she look like?”

Thalia rolled her eyes.

“Don’t give me that look,” said Solthain. “Intelligence and thrift are good, but you said she is in the College Historia. Should I expect a squint and a hunch? Or will she look like old Magister Rodez? I swear the man is wide as he is tall.”

“Neither,” said Thalia. “And you’ll find Carandis pretty enough, brother.”

They left the docks and the markets behind and entered the wealthy districts, walking past the towers of noble houses and Adepts and wealthier merchants. Fewer people filled these streets, mostly slaves going on errands for their masters and black-armored Swords on patrol.

“We could simply astraljump back to the Ring,” said Solthain.

“Or we could walk,” said Thalia. “Too many of the Magisters astraljump everywhere in lieu of walking or riding, Father says. And if you’re afraid of looking like Magister Rodez in your old age, I suggest you keep walking.”

“That does sound like Father,” said Solthain. “He never did do anything the easy way when he could do it the hard way.” He paused. “And…we’ll have to wait a bit.”

Thalia frowned. “For what?”

They had come to a cross street, and Thalia saw a group of about two hundred men and women turning the corner, trudging in the direction of the Ring. All of them wore the orange tunics of slaves. At their head walked four burly men carrying a litter and a sedan chair. In the sedan chair sat a man in the crimson robe and black stole of a Magister of the Conclave.

Thalia and Solthain stopped and waited for the Magister to pass. Slaves and commoners cleared the path of a noble, and even nobles gave way for an Adept, but both Adepts and nobles waited for a Magister and his entourage. Thalia looked at the Magister as he passed. The man was about forty-five or fifty, with a gaunt, grim face and gray-streaked black hair. His cold eyes flicked over her, and Thalia felt a twinge of unease.

Then the bearers carried his chair around the corner, and the line of slaves continued their walk towards the Ring.

“I wonder,” said Solthain, “why one Magister needs so many slaves?” He laughed. “Do they hold the skirts of his robe as he uses the privy?”

Thalia shrugged. “Maybe. You see why I dislike slavery? It’s unjust to the slaves, and relying upon slaves makes a man both crueler and weaker. I wonder when that Magister last bothered to walk anywhere.”

“Did you know the Magister?” said Solthain. “I didn’t recognize him. Though I’ve been…out of touch for a few years.”

“I didn’t,” murmured Thalia. Which was odd. There were over three thousand Adepts of the Conclave, and she could not recognize them all. But she was Arthain Kalarien’s daughter, and Arthain Kalarien had been respected and feared even before he became First Magister. The other Magisters sought his favor, and so Thalia had met most of them at one time or another.

But she had never seen the Magister in the litter before.

“I thought you knew everyone,” said Solthain.

“I don’t,” said Thalia. “Maybe that Magister spent the last few years on the mainland, and is only now returning to greet the new First Magister. There are Adepts who haven’t been back to Araspan in decades.”

“Well,” said Solthain, “it’s no concern of ours. Let’s head back to the Ring.” He grinned. “I’m eager to meet this hunchbacked, obese poacher’s daughter.”

“Carandis,” said Thalia with a sniff, “is neither obese nor hunchbacked.”

They kept walking for the Ring.

Yet part of Thalia’s mind returned again and again to the cold-eyed Magister.

 

###

 

“This wine,” said Carandis Marken, holding the glass, “is excellent.”

They met for dinner in Thalia’s rooms within the towers of the inner Ring. The Magisters occupied spacious suites atop the inner Ring’s high towers, but the apartment of a common Adept was still more space than Thalia needed. She had her own bedroom, lavatory, study, and sitting room. Her hired workers had set up a small table in the sitting room, and Thalia, Solthain, and Carandis ate at it.

“You can thank my brother for it,” said Thalia. “Apparently his domnium has numerous vineyards. Which was the entire reason he came to Araspan. He wanted to find new markets for his freeholders.”

Carandis laughed. She was, Thalia thought, quite pretty, slim and fit with long dark hair and steely gray eyes. Unlike many members of the College Historia, she had not lost touch with the world outside of the Library, and was able to converse on subjects other than ancient history.

“What is so funny?” said Solthain.

“The vagaries of fate, I suppose,” said Carandis. “I was with the group of Adepts that attacked Maerwulf’s sanctum and Thurvalda’s lair, and I saw Lord Corthain lead the Swords into battle. Without him, the Jurgurs and their demons might have destroyed the city. Yet he only came back to Araspan to sell wine.”

“It is well that he did,” said Thalia.

“Indeed,” said Solthain. “If he had not, I would still be imprisoned…and we would not now be drinking this most excellent wine.”

Carandis laughed again. “Well said, Lord Solthain.”

“Please,” said Solthain with a dismissive gesture, “call me…”

Thalia never found out what her brother intended to say.

A deep, booming chime rang out, so low that Thalia felt the vibrations in her bones. Her hand clenched around her wine glass, and she saw the surprise on Carandis’s and Solthain’s expressions.

The surprise, and the sudden fear.

The chime was an alarm. Mighty wards guarded the walls and gates of the Ring of the Conclave, spells of protection again demons, blood sorcery, and hostile magic.

And that chime meant that a demon had penetrated the walls of the Ring.

Thalia surged to her feet, as did Solthain and Carandis. All three of them began casting spells at once. Thalia gestured, radiance flaring around her fingers, and a shimmering shell of white light appeared around her. The ward would turn aside the touch of a demon, guarding her from possession. Solthain and Carandis did the same, and soon stood within protective spells of their own.

“The Jurgurs?” said Solthain, his voice hard and calm. For all his easy manner, he had commanded men in battle, and knew how to handle himself in a crisis.

“I doubt it,” said Carandis. “We smashed both Maerwulf and Thurvalda. And even Maerwulf was not mad enough to launch a direct attack upon the Ring itself. How should we proceed?”

“To the great hall,” said Thalia. “The Conclave is supposed to assemble there in event of an attack. Magister Jonas and the First Magister will be there, and they can decide upon a plan of attack.”

“Lead the way, sister,” said Solthain. “A pity about Corthain’s wine.”

“No matter,” said Thalia. “I’ll simply buy another cask from him.”

She crossed her sitting room, opened the door to the corridor, and a scream rang out.

Thalia hurried into the corridor. The doors to the Adepts’ apartments lined the walls. A middle-aged woman in the orange tunic of a slave ran towards her, eyes wide with fear and horror.

“Adept!” wailed the slave. “Oh, Adept. It killed Martha! The thing killed Martha!”

“What is it?” said Thalia, moving closer. Solthain and Carandis followed her. “Tell me what…”

There was a flash of blue-green light, and a translucent shape rose out of the stone floor. It looked vaguely like a hunched, misshapen man, albeit a man fashioned out of blue-green light and glowing smoke. The slave stumbled to her knees with a scream, and Thalia felt the weight of the ghostly creature’s unseen eyes.

And with a cold shock of recognition, she realized what the thing was.

Thalia had never seen one, but she had learned about such creatures during her studies. The demons of the astral world usually inhabited flesh, either possessing a living man or a corpse. But demons sometimes inhabited things other than flesh. In rare cases a powerful demon could fuse with the memories of a dead man, inhabiting them as if they were a body of flesh. The resultant wraith was extremely dangerous – it could drain away a victim’s life with a touch, and was impervious to material weapons.

For how could mere steel harm a creature fashioned of thought and astral energy?

Fortunately, Thalia had weapons other than steel.

The wraith stooped over the slave, reaching for it with rippling hands, and Thalia drew on her power. White fire snarled around her fingers, and a column of white astralfire burst from her palms. It passed harmlessly through the terrified slave and slammed into the demon. The wraith flowed backwards, and Thalia felt the creature’s malign attention fix upon her.

“Get behind us!” shouted Thalia, and the slave scrambled towards her. She sent another blast of white astralfire drilling into the wraith’s immaterial form. The creature hissed and flowed towards her, and Carandis and Solthain unleashed their own attacks. The wraith froze in place, struggling as white firechewed into it.

Then it burst apart in a swirl of blue-green light and vanished.

Thalia let out a long breath.

“Are you all right?” she said to the slave woman.

“Yes, Adept,” said the slave. “We were cleaning the apartments on this level when those…those ghosts rose out of the floor. They killed Martha, and Katrin ran for the stairs.” She clutched the hem of Thalia’s robe. “Thank the Divine I found you, Adept! The ghosts kill with a touch!”

“What sort of demon was that?” said Solthain.

“A wraith, I suspect,” said Carandis. “They’re incredibly rare, and are only created when a powerful demon inhabits the corpse of a man slain with magic. I would not expect to see one in the Ring.”

“What’s your name?” said Thalia.

“Amanna, Adept,” said the slave.

“Stay with us,” said Thalia. “We can protect you.” She looked at Carandis and Solthain. “The slaves, the free servants, and the Swords will be helpless against these things. We should search the apartments and alert anyone we see as we make our way to the great hall. We can escort them to safety, and the powers of any additional Adepts will be welcome.”

“A solid plan,” said Solthain. “You ought to be commanding the Swords yourself.”

“I certainly hope not,” said Thalia. “This way.”

She strode down the corridor, Solthain and Carandis at her side, Amanna trailing after. Thalia knocked on every door they passed, and then pushed them open. If the doors were locked, she opened them with a spell of psychokinetic force. Most of the apartments on this level were deserted. Just as well, since that meant fewer targets for the demons.

Of course, that also meant Thalia and her companions would become the wraiths’ targets.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind that a swirl of blue-green light appeared on the floor a dozen paces ahead.

“Thalia!” said Carandis and Solthain in unison, and Thalia summoned power.

The misty light resolved into another wraith, identical to the first. The creature drifted towards them, hands reaching out like claws, and Thalia hit it with a blast of white astralfire. The wraith rippled backwards, and Solthain and Carandis unleashed blazing shafts of their own. The force of the magic drove the wraith backwards, and ripped it apart into swirling blue mist.

Thalia took a deep breath, lowering her hand. “At least the wretched things do not put up much of a fight.”

“Thalia,” said Carandis, “I think that was the same wraith as before.”

Thalia frowned. “We destroyed it.”

“Did we?” said Carandis. “I worked a detection spell when we saw the first wraith, and again when we encountered the second. Both had spells upon them, spells of blood sorcery. And…the demons had the same astral resonance. I think they were the same demon.”

“You mean the thing…reconstituted itself, rebuilt itself, somehow?” said Thalia.

“Aye,” said Carandis. She glanced at Amanna and lowered her voice. “There was a spell of blood sorcery on the wraith…but also one of the High Art.”

“You mean…” said Solthain.

Carandis gave a sharp nod. “An Adept created that wraith.”

“Oh,” said Thalia.

That was not at all good.

The Adepts of the Conclave presented a united face before the world, claiming to be mankind’s sole shield against dark magic and the demons of the astral world. The various Colleges of the Adepts bickered and squabbled constantly, yet despite their differing philosophical positions, all the Colleges claimed to follow the laws of the Conclave and aid in mankind’s defense against the demons.

But Thalia knew better.

Both First Magister Talvin and Magister Orain had belonged to a Secret College, a college devoted to summoning and controlling demons. The law of the Conclave punished summoning and binding demons with death, but that had not stopped Talvin and Orain. Both men were dead, but they must have had associates. Students.

Teachers.

Which meant there were any number of Adepts who might have embraced blood sorcery.

“Oh,” said Thalia again, and she pushed away the thoughts. This was not the time to brood. “We can take it up with my father once we find him. Meanwhile, we’ve got to get to…”

“Thalia!” said Solthain.

Thalia turned, and saw streamers of blue-green light crawling across the floor. Even as she watched, the ribbons of light flowed together and pulsed, swelling into a human shape.

The wraith had repaired itself.

“Damnation,” whispered Thalia.

“Again!” said Solthain, unleashing a blast of white astralfire. It hammered into the wraith, knocking it back, and Carandis and Thalia summoned their own astralfire as Amanna huddled between them. The beams of astralfire plunged through the wraith and ripped it to shreds of pale light.

“Come on,” said Thalia. “We have…”

“Adept!” said Amanna.

Thalia turned just in time to see two more wraiths step through the walls. She cursed, summoning more white astralfire. Her blast hammered into the wraith on the left, while Carandis and Solthain attacked the wraith on the right. The streams of astralfire rocked the wraiths, but the demons continued to flow forward, reaching for them with ghostly arms.

Thalia shifted her focus, flinging a bolt of astralfire at the wraith on the right. Her power joined Carandis’s and Solthain’s, and the wraith disintegrated in a spray of blue-green light. But the second wraith lunged, its insubstantial hands reaching for her. A deathly chill washed over Thalia, but her ward of white light repelled the wraith’s touch. Yet the ward’s glow winked out, and she realized the wraith had drained away its power.

The creature reached for her, and Thalia ducked. She flung out her hands, and white fire dug into the wraith, driving it back a few paces. Carandis and Solthain turned and unleashed spells of their own, and the white fire ripped the wraith to wispy shreds of smoke.

Thalia took a deep breath, and as she did, the shreds of smoke started to flow back together.

“Damn it,” she said, “can’t anything kill these things?”

“Thalia, get your ward back up,” said Solthain. “More are coming!”

Even as he spoke, four more wraiths rose from the floor. Thalia recast her warding spell, white light flaring around her. The wraiths Thalia and the others had destroyed reassembled themselves, coalescing back into their hazy shapes, and joined the others.

There were too many wraiths for the three Adepts to focus their magic upon a single target. Thalia cast a spell, drawing as much power as she could manage, and a fan of white astralfire sprayed from her fingers, striking three wraiths at once. The demons reeled back, hissing, but with her fire spread among so many targets the spell did little damage.

Solthain and Carandis worked their own spells, flinging cones of astralfire against the wraiths. The white flames drove back the demons, but the fire was too dispersed to destroy them. The wraiths, now over a dozen strong, prowled around them like wolves circling a wounded bear. Thalia felt sweat dripping down her face, a tremor of fatigue going through her arms. The wraiths needed only wait until Thalia and the others exhausted their strength.

“Thalia!” shouted Carandis, her face drawn with strain. “I’m going to try something! Cast white astralfire after I attack!”

“Carandis…” said Thalia.

Carandis broke off her fire, cast another spell, and flung a sheet of silver astralfire into the wraiths. But why bother? White astralfire harmed demons, but silver astralfire burned away magical spells and enchantments. It wouldn’t affect the wraiths, unless…

Thalia’s eyes widened in understanding.

Unless the wraiths had been bound by a spell.

Carandis’s silver fire shot through the wraiths, and the demons rippled, pausing in their motion. Thalia unleashed a tight beam of white astralfire, Solthain following suit, and swept it through the demons. The wraiths burst apart in sprays of blue-green light, the wisps fading away. Carandis sent silver astralfire blazing through the remainder of the demons, and Thalia and Solthain unleashed blast after blast of white astralfire, spearing the wraiths with shafts of writhing flame.

A moment later the last wraith vanished. Thalia spun, white astralfire crackling around her fingers, but no additional wraiths appeared.

She heard Amanna muttering a prayer under her breath, over and over.

“What did you do?” Thalia said.

“The spell of the High Art upon the wraiths,” said Carandis. “Every time we destroyed a wraith, the spell upon it pulled the demon back from the astral world and manifested it once more. No matter how many times we destroyed the wraith, the spell would pull it back. So I disrupted the spell.”

“And the demons will then stay banished?” said Solthain.

“Ah,” said Carandis. “No. I suspect these wraiths were created through blood sorcery. First with the deliberate murder of a victim, and then a spell of the High Art placed upon the corpse. The corpse is the anchor for the spell. Unless we find the corpses and break the spell at its source, the wraiths will manifest anew every time they are destroyed.” She shook her head. “Disrupting the spell with silver astralfire will make it harder for them to return, but they will still be able to do so.”

Even as she spoke, Thalia saw wisps of blue-white light begin to flow across the floor, pulling themselves together. Carandis raised her hand and swept a cone of silver astralfire across the floor. The wisps of light scattered in all directions…but they started to move together again.

“We should get to the great hall at once,” said Solthain. “Our powers are not infinite, and those wraiths will wear us down without aid.”

“Wait,” said Thalia. “Let me cast a thoughtmeld over us first.”

Carandis frowned. “That will drain you considerably.”

“Not if I cast a shallow one,” said Thalia. “The thoughtmeld won’t be deep enough for us to communicate telepathically, but strong enough for us to share intents and emotions. If we have to use both white and silver astralfire to disable the wraiths, we need to coordinate instantly. A thoughtmeld will let us do that.”

“Cast it,” said Solthain. “And quickly.”

Thalia nodded, stepped forward, and put her left hand on Solthain’s shoulder and her right upon Carandis’s. She took a deep breath, drew on her power, and muttered the spell. Her thoughts changed, shifting into reaching fingers, and with her thoughts she touched both Carandis and Solthain. A moment’s disorientation washed through her, and when it cleared she felt the presence of Carandis’s and Solthain’s emotions within her mind. Carandis was afraid, but kept the fear bound beneath the discipline every Adept learned. Solthain’s emotions were harder and grimmer. He had seen more violence than either of them…though after Maerwulf’s and Thurvalda’s attacks, Thalia was catching up.

Solthain grunted and rubbed his temples. “I’ll never get used to that. You’re good at those, sister.”

“Thank you,” said Thalia, smiling as she felt his approval through the thoughtmeld.

Carandis laughed. “She had plenty of practice. When were Initiates she would work thoughtmelds after curfew, even after the senior Initiates told us to go to bed.”

“Mischief is ever the best teacher,” said Solthain. “But I suggest we move on before those wraiths return from the astral world.”

Thalia nodded. “Carandis. Keep casting the detection spell. If we find one of these enspelled corpses we can break the spell permanently, and we’ll have one less wraith to fight.”

“And it should warn us if any additional wraiths approach,” said Solthain.

Carandis lifted her hands and worked the spell, and Thalia led the way forward. The corridor before them remained empty, and they checked every door they passed. Thalia found other slaves, hiding beneath beds and in wardrobes in hopes of escaping the wraiths, and soon a dozen men and women followed her. She felt the weight of the thoughtmeld upon her thoughts, sensed the worry and vigilance of both Carandis and Solthain.

But their fears did not match her own.

An Adept had summoned these demons, an Adept with skill in blood sorcery. Neither Carandis nor Solthain knew the truth about the Secret College. Talvin had been denounced as a traitor, and her father had claimed that the Jurgurs killed Orain during Thurvalda’s insurrection. But Thalia knew better. She knew that both men had been members of the Secret College, and that they had sought to summon and control demons.

Just how deep did the rot in the Conclave go?

Thalia kept walking, her eyes scanning for wraiths.

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