It’s Excerpt Thursday! This week’s excerpt is from CLOAK GAMES: THIEF TRAP, and it’s a conversation that sets the course of Nadia Moran’s life.
The Elf smiled his cold smile and withdrew his hand.
For a moment I could do nothing but gape in sheer astonishment. There had been a fire around his hand, and I had put it out with my mind. Nothing in my life had prepared me for something like this, and I struggled to understand it.
“The spark,” said the Elf. “The inborn magical ability. A talent, if you prefer. Once it was extremely rare among your race. Then the High Queen opened the gates to the Shadowlands and we came here, and piercing Earth’s umbra seemed to break some sort of protective shell around your world. Consequently, the spark has become much more common among humans. It would be a fascinating experiment to track the rate of the spark’s progression in your population, though I have no interest in the matter.” The cold smile turned a bit indulgent. “But you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“No,” I whispered, my eyes turning back to Russell in his incubator.
“Perhaps you soon will,” said the Elf.
“I don’t care,” I said. “Go away and leave me alone. I don’t care about your stupid magic. I don’t care about anything.”
“Lies,” said the Elf. “You care about the infant.”
“He’s going to die,” I said, staring at Russell’s small, limp form.
“My magic can save him,” said the Elf.
I looked up at the tall figure in black and gold.
“It can?” I said.
“The frostfever inflicted by the blades of the frost giants is a deadly ailment, beyond the powers of your physicians and their machines,” said the Elf. “Even for magic, it is a difficult cure, spread over many years, yet not beyond the skill of an archmage. It is in my power to cure your brother.”
I stared at him, caught somewhere between hope and disbelief. I had a smart mouth…but I also had a suspicious mind, too. “Why? Why would you do that? Why would an Elf care about my brother?”
“I care nothing for your brother,” said the Elf. “You, though…I have a great deal of work for you. I could simply buy you both as slaves. Yet given the nature of the work I require from you, that would be a foolish strategy. A slave is a tool that always betrays his master’s work. No, I require your willing cooperation.”
“To do what?” I said, baffled.
“In time,” said the Elf. “In time. Do you understand what I am proposing?”
“I…I think so,” I said.
“Then say it in your own words.”
“You’ll use your magic to heal Russell,” I said, “if I do what you tell me to do.”
“Precisely,” said the Elf archmage, leaning closer to me. “Do you know what I will do to you if you disobey me or betray me?”
“You’ll kill us both,” I said.
“Of course not,” said the Elf. “That would be inelegant. No, the spell necessary to cure frostfever shall require twenty different castings, one cast every year. Should you disobey me, should you betray me, I shall simply withhold my power, and your brother shall die.”
I looked at the Elf, and I was frightened. I saw the power there, the cruelty. Even at the age of five, I knew that this was not a good man. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run to my mom and dad. But they were dead, and I was all that Russell had left. If I did nothing, he would die.
I couldn’t let that happen.
“All right,” I whispered.
The Elf raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”
I swallowed and squared my shoulders. “I…I will do what you say, if you make Russell better. Please, Lord Elf.” I remembered some of the manners Miss Culpepper had attempted to beat into my head. A human was always to address an Elf he did not know as Lord Elf, even if the Elf was not noble-born.
The Elf snorted. “You do have a modicum of manners, then. We shall have to work on that. What is your name, child?”
“Nadia,” I said. “Nadia Moran.”
“I am Morvilind,” said the Elf, “an archmage of the Elven nation and a Knight of House Tamirlas, vassal to Lord Tamirlas, the Duke of Milwaukee. You may address me as Lord Morvilind, or as ‘my lord’, as you prefer.” The cold blue eyes seemed to sink into me. “Now, Nadia Moran. Are you ready to follow my commands?”
I tried to work moisture into my mouth. I was only five years old, but I had the sense that I was about to make an irrevocable choice. Yet I was only five, and I could not articulate my fears.
Besides. Morvilind could help Russell. That was all that mattered. That was the only thing that could matter.
“Yes,” I said, “my lord Morvilind.”