Music and laughter greeted Cosmin Aurel as he neared the night market. The sounds were joyous, a full chorus of strings and lutes building a harmony over which roared a trio of horns. Setting the rhythm were two sets of skin drums and the clapping of a hundred feet as they danced in time upon the stones of the market square. The musicians were as red faced and sweating as the dancers and a crowd gathered around them all and the edges of it blurred as more and more were pulled towards the dance. Cosmin walked behind them and smiled. The dark circles beneath his eyes vanished in the warm and smoky light.
He passed beyond the fountain square and the revelry at its heart and entered the bustling street of the market. The music was lost behind him, buried beneath the thousand conversations of the crowd, the bursts of laughter, the punctuated cries of children. Vendors lined the streets and called from beneath the canopies of their stalls or the open doors of their shops and bragged out their wares to the crowd. Butchers dangling strings of sausages or the bodies of plump feathered hens. Fishmongers from the southern docks displaying glistening heads of river carp, all nestled and arranged within beds of dried grass, mouths agape, yellow eyes slick and shining.
Cosmin travelled deeper into the market, through the pressing crowd and cold air that carried with it the smell of lantern oil and smoke, of flatbread baking in stone ovens, the brine of raw fish, or crackling, spitted boars with slow dripping fat hissing in the fires beneath them. A heavy scent of cinnamon as well, and Cosmin chased it to a vendor roasting tree nuts in a deep copper bowl, dusted with spice and sugar. A motley group of children stood a short distance from the man and watched him with their hungry eyes. Cosmin walked to the stall and spoke with the vendor then handed him a few coins and soon each of the children held a small handful of the candied nuts, a shared look of disbelief written across their faces. Almost frightened, they looked at Cosmin then sprinted into the crowd as if they had committed some great crime. He smiled after them.
The music and the roaring crowd grew muted at the far end of the market, and as Cosmin turned to the shadows of Durling Street they disappeared entirely. The joy faded as well. The stones became slick with mildew, the air musty and damp. A few lanterns burned along the curving street, each a dim beacon in the wet darkness, each attracting huddles of shrouded figures who followed Cosmin with turning heads and hidden eyes. Those few walking the street kept their hoods drawn and hurried past on their way to places unknown in the further dark of the night.
The Scuttle Cur was just as Dace had described it. Windowless, derelict, and marked only by a rusted iron door and a pair of pitch-soaked torches that burned with a thick, reeking smoke. A small window was held in the center of the door and Cosmin banged on it and waited.
In a moment the window slid open and Cosmin was greeted by a pair of bloodshot and leering eyes. A din of drunken shouting came from the room behind the man and with it a flickering of lantern light. The eyes stared at Cosmin, their owner said nothing.
“I’m here to see Daciana Vireo,” Cosmin said.
The man’s eyes traveled up and down Cosmin. “Day-see-ah-nah,” he said, rubbing the stubble on his chin. He brought his eyes back to Cosmin’s. They held a flicker of contempt. “Now that there is a fancy name. Sounds like a highborn snoot ye’ll not find here at the Cur. Turn ye towards the Circle. Shout for yer fancy lady up there and begone.” He smiled to show two rows of blackened, crooked teeth then slammed the window shut.
Cosmin sighed. He reached into his pocket for a coin, then used it to rap on the window. He waited another moment and the window slid open again and the man looked at Cosmin and the coin he held. “Ah,” the man said as he reached deftly through the window and plucked the coin from Cosmin’s grip. “Can I help ye, stranger?”
“I’m here to see Dace.”
“Dace!” the man said. “Good ol’ Dace. Are ye a friend to her?”
Cosmin paused. “I suppose I am.”
“Well don’t that make ye a blessed and special thing,” the man said. He laughed, wet and heavy, then slid the window closed. The sounds died for a moment, then came back as a roar as the door swung open to reveal the smoke filled depths of the Scuttle Cur.
The man hunched back to sit at a stool and eyed Cosmin as he approached. “Have ye any arms?” he asked.
Cosmin opened his coat to show that he carried no sword or dagger. “None,’ he said.
“No?” the man asked. “Well that’s odd… what’s keepin’ them two hands of yours from fallin’ to the floor?” He waited for a moment, then roared with laughter and Cosmin could smell the liquor on his breath. The laughter turned to a heavy cough and when he finally calmed his eyes were wet with tears. He dabbed at them with the stained sleeve of his shirt then looked finally at Cosmin. His face creased in a frown. “Ye heard that one already then, I take it.”
“Then p’rhaps ye weren’t listenin’, as it were a fine sort of joke. P’haps I should speak it again, only this time I’d shout it at that High Circle smirk ye wear.”
Cosmin said nothing. He only watched.
The man opened his mouth again to speak, thought better of it, then waved Cosmin away. “Ah, no arguin’ against a lack o’ humor,” he muttered. “Make ye welcome. Dace’ll likely be in yonder corner.” He nodded to the shadows of the far rear of the room. “Best get to her quick before she stirs a fight. It’s nearin’ that time, I’d say.”
Cosmin stepped into the tavern and the door slammed behind him. The hunched man watched him for a long moment then slid the locks back into place.
The Scuttle Cur quieted only slightly as Cosmin stepped into the crowded darkness. Conversations halted, heads turned, but Cosmin stepped through without pause and soon the commotion rose back to its full roar.
Dace Vireo reclined on a bench with her feet crossed on the table in front of her. Two bottles of wine sat beside her boots, one empty and the other half full. She raised the half full one and by the time she set it back to the table it was empty as well. She wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and watched Cosmin approach. She raised her head slightly as he stood at the edge of the table. The scars running the length of her face caught slick in the lantern light.
“This is lovely place you’ve brought me to,” Cosmin said as he sat.
“Isn’t it though?” Dace said with a grin. “So very few places like it anymore. A truly rowdy, dirty little spot.”
“I could smell the alethia from the street.”
“Could you now? I can get a bottle for us if you’d like. The house recipe is something quite special.” She leaned towards Cosmin and lowered her voice to a husky whisper. “It might just be strong enough to send you into a night of terrible regrets.”
Cosmin leaned back in his seat. “I don’t doubt it,” he said.
Dace smiled. The scars on her face were hidden in shadow and her eyes were bright with wine and the twinned reflections of the lantern. Her hands were splayed on the table and the low cut of her shirt parted slightly above them. “You haven’t had any regretful nights in a long time, I think.”
“I’d prefer to keep it that way.”
The smile widened. “Of course you would.” She pushed herself back into a recline. With the back of her hand she slid one of the wine bottles along the knotted wood of the table until it teetered just at the edge. She looked to the bar and when no one looked back she flicked the neck and sent the bottle toppling to the floor where it shattered. She began to slide the other to join it, but a bartender appeared at the end of the table and grabbed the bottle just as it reached the edge.
“Goddamn it Dace,” he said.
“Another bottle if you please,” she said. “And mind the glass.”
The bartender huffed and turned from the table.
“You’re enjoying your evening,” Cosmin said.
“I enjoy every evening.”
Cosmin thought for a moment, but kept himself from disagreeing. “You know I’d prefer to talk with you when you’re sober,” he said.
“You may have to wait a while. Days perhaps. Maybe longer.”
“Then I suppose this will do.”
“You suppose correctly. Now tell me why you needed to see me.”
“You know why.”
“Perhaps I do, but I still like to hear you say it.” She lowered her voice again and whispered. “Tell me you need me.”
“I need your help,” Cosmin said.
“Close enough,” Dace grinned. “Who is it this time? A merchant to press beneath your thumb? Perhaps another counsellor you need to coerce?”
Cosmin paused. He looked across the room.
Dace leaned forward. “Interesting…” she said. “You’re cooking up something big, aren’t you dear? Who is it then?” She smirked. “The Magister himself?”
Cosmin said nothing.
Dace’s eyes narrowed. “You’re fucking joking,” she said at last.
The bartender returned with another bottle of wine and set it loudly on the table without saying a word. Dace slid it to the side. “Hollis,” she said at last.
“The goddamn Magister.”
“I know how it sounds.”
“It sounds like a coup.”
Cosmin looked again into the darkness of the tavern. “I don’t want him dead,” he said.
“Good,” Dace replied. “Because that’s not what I do. You have other friends for that dirty business… Although it won’t matter what you want or don’t want. Hollis won’t go quietly. Death might be what it takes to get him off his throne. It will be a mess. A real fucking mess.”
“We have time to make it clean.”
“How much time?”
“The Congregation will be here in three years,” Cosmin said. “I plan to make my move in two. Hollis cannot be in charge of the city when that happens. It would be a disaster.”
“And what does your wife think of this? What does my dear sister think of your madness?”
“Petra knows what needs to be done.”
“Of course she does,” Dace said. “How is she these days? Still playing with alchem and sulking against the world? Does she ever wonder about me? Doe’s my pretty, perfect sister ever ask about her dark half?”
Dace laughed. “I didn’t think so,” she said. “I’m sure she doesn’t approve of these little meetings.”
“But here you are regardless.”
“Here I am,” Cosmin said. “Because I know what you can do.”
“Oh you just use me up, don’t you Cosmin? What happens when I’m all out of guile? What happens when I can’t crawl through the muck for you anymore?”
“The money will stop.”
“I can find other ways to make money.”
Cosmin said nothing. He let Dace’s words hang in the air. He waited. She shifted on her bench.
“Besides,” Dace said at last, “you already know everything there is to know about Hollis. Hell, the whole city knows his dirt. He’s not a subtle man. It’ll take more than dirt.”
“You know how to find the cracks in a person.”
“And you know how to chip away at them,” Dace said. She looked into the smoke-filled tavern and shook her head. “Magister Hollis… you’re fucking mad. Fucking mad.”
“The money will be good.”
“It damn well better be,” Dace said. “It damn well better—”
A crash sounded from the front of the tavern, loud and penetrating, and all conversation stopped. Another crash, louder than the first and the front door flung open and the hunched doorman fell from his stool and tumbled into the room. Four members of the City Guard, all dressed in black leather, came into the tavern. They moved with practised order, each bearing a tall shied and shortsword and they positioned themselves as a tight corridor on either side of the door. The crowd inside the Scuttle Cur had no idea how to react to the sudden intrusion. Those sitting at the bar jumped to their feet and those at tables near the door rose quickly and backed into the bar. No one spoke.
A man stepped out from the street and walked between the soldiers. He was tall and thin and unarmed and his face was grave. “Commander Aurel,” he cried out.
Cosmin was already on his feet. He came from the shadows and stood before the Guard. “What is it captain?” he asked.
“It’s Lieutenant Redwyn, sir,” the man said with a bow. His voice was pleading.
Cosmin’s blood went cold. “What about him?” he asked.
“Sir, he’s…” The man shook his head. “He’s been attacked.”
Cosmin shared a quick look with Dace, a subtle nod, then he was gone.
He flew through the streets. Horse hooves clamoring on the cobblestone, thunderous in the night. Cosmin pressed down in the saddle, his face against the wind.
“Do you know where Doctor Halliwell lives?” he shouted over his shoulder.
“Yes sir,” the captain replied, his voice barely reaching the distance to Cosmin.
“Go get her!”
The captain signalled to the men then broke off hard to the right. Two of the Guard followed him. The other two rode up behind Cosmin. They careened through the streets and reached the high stonewood gates of the Barracks then rode past them into the open courtyard and to the clinic at its far edge. A full-faced man in white robes ran from the open clinic doors as Cosmin approached. He was flushed and wiping his hands on a bloody towel. Cosmin dropped from his saddle.
“Is he alive, Brinn?” Cosmin asked without stopping.
“I have no idea,” Brinn Tullis said. “A night patrol found him a few blocks away, collapsed in an alley. His arms are both broken, and his face…”
Cosmin burst into the clinic. A single bed, ringed in lanterns, occupied the center of the western floor and Cosmin ran to it. He stopped short and his breath caught in his throat as he looked upon the wrecked and bleeding body of Adrian Redwyn.
The man, or what was left of the man, was naked and sobbing and wet with blood. He was tied down to the bed. Half his face was wrapped in bandages, already staining dark. His upper arms were bent at foul angles and black with bruises and dried blood. Skin pulled tight across the valleys of ribs and hip bones and every joint seemed buckled and protruding. Lips pulled back from the teeth, cheeks sunken and cavernous. He moaned blindly to the room, a harrowing call, dry as dust.
“Oh Adrian,” Cosmin said as he stepped forward. “What have you done?”
Brinn reached down to a crumpled sheet on the ground and draped it over Adrian’s body, up to the waist. “I had to tie him down,” he said. “Even in the shape he’s in he won’t lay still.”
“How did this happen?”
“Who knows?” Brinn said. “He didn’t have enough strength to stand, let along walk out of the Barracks, but damn if he didn’t do it.”
“Has he said anything?”
“Nothing that makes any sense.”
The sounds of galloping horses came through the open doors of the clinic and in a moment a woman hurried into the room, her white hair was tied in a bun at the back of her head, her clinic robe tied hurriedly atop her nightgown. She ran to the bed and took Adrian’s head in her hands and turned him gently towards the lantern. She looked into his single eye though it rolled in the socket and darted across the room.
“What sort of shit did you get yourself into?” she asked, but Adrian only moaned in response. She turned to Brinn. “How long ago did you put this bandage on?”
“And did you flush the wound.”
“Not to your standards, I’m sure.”
Doctor Layne Halliwell laughed, short and quick. She walked to a stone sink at the edge of the room to rinse her hands, then returned to unwrap the bandages. “Did you do this with your eyes closed?” she called to Brinn.
“No it isn’t.” Halliwell turned to Cosmin. “You got here quick,” she said.
“As fast as I could.”
“Well now that you’re here why don’t you make yourself useful. I need more light.”
Cosmin grunted and then went through the empty clinic and brought all the lanterns he could find. Brinn went to fetch clean water and salts and brought both back to Halliwell along with a clay basin. He poured the water and salt in the basin and swirled it. Cosmin returned with the last of the lanterns which he placed on every surface he could find. Halliwell pulled the last strand of the blood soaked bandages away from Adrian’s face and laid them in a pile at the foot of the bed.
“Dear heaven,” Halliwell said, staring at the gnarled and ruined flesh where Adrian’s right eye had once been. The skull was exposed, cracked, and wet with blood. She smoothed his hair with her hand and he seemed to calm as she did so. She untied the ropes at his arms and wrists. His remaining eye stopped swimming for a moment and he stared dumb at the ceiling or at something far, far beyond it. He began to sob. “Adrian you poor thing,” she said. “What did you do?”
“How bad is it?” Cosmin asked.
Halliwell gestured to the full length of Adrian’s body. “This bad,” she said.
“Will he live?”
“He shouldn’t be alive now,” Halliwell said, studying the torn edges of the wound. “Just look at him.” She shook her head, then turned to Brinn. “You two hold him up. Turn him a bit, here into the light. Cosmin, get another hand on his head and hold him.”
Cosmin held Adrian and lifted him, shocked at the fragile lightness of the body, like holding a bird.
“Keep him steady,” Halliwell said. She placed an empty basin beneath Adrian’s head and began to rinse the wound with the salted water, pouring clear then running deep red as it flooded into the basin. Adrian’s body jolted in Cosmin’s arms. He cried out again, but the sound was weak and faltering. Halliwell poured the water once more, then wetted a cloth and cleaned the edges of the torn skin. Blood continued to well.
“Ok, lay him back down. That’s good. Now stay calm Adrian you fool. Brinn, find me clean bandages. A nice stack of them.” She dabbed at the wound and shook her head. “This is just a mess,” she said.
“What could have done that?” Cosmin asked.
“I have no idea. The cut on his cheek looks like it came from a knife. A sharp one. This eye though… the skin looks torn, not cut.”
Cosmin squinted at the edges of the wound. The skin was jagged and strangely spaced. “Are those teethmarks?” he asked.
Brinn returned with a stack of linen bandages. Halliwell took one and folded it into a small square and held it against Adrian’s eye socket. “Are your hands clean?” she said to Cosmin.
“Then get out of Brinn’s way. Brinn, get over here and hold this. Keep pressure.”
“I know how to wrap a bandage.”
“I once thought so as well.” She tapped on the bandage. “Keep your hand right there. Good. Now bring his head up a bit.”
Halliwell took another of the bandages and began wrapping it carefully around Adrian’s head. She started at the back and wrapped so the bandages crossed in an angle across his head, just above the nose. He had stopped moaning and seemed to only stare. A line of tears fell from his one good eye and cut across his cheek.
The clinic kitchen was small and cramped. Cosmin sat across a small oak table from Halliwell. A single lantern burned between them, it’s flame dancing delicate inside a frosted globe. Halliwell sipped thoughtfully on a glass of wine.
“Will he live?” Cosmin asked.
“I don’t know,” Halliwell said. She rolled the glass in her hand and watched a single drop of wine cling to the lip and run along its edge.
Cosmin looked to the lantern, then back to Halliwell. She stared into her wine glass. A lock of silver hair draped over her face. She ran it behind her ear where it held for only a moment. “You look tired,” Cosmin said.
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“It’s always the middle of the night,” Cosmin said. “Or early morning. Or just at the end of a long day. You never look tired though.”
Halliwell shook her head. “Well maybe it’s because I’ve finally become old. It finally caught up with me.”
“I doubt it.”
Halliwell smiled. “I do too,” she said. “I’ll keep at this miserable work until it’s me who’s laid out on one of those beds.” She took another drink then wiped her mouth. The wine on her lips staining her sleeve. “Likely even after.”
“So what is it then?”
Halliwell paused. When she looked back at Cosmin her eyes were distant. “It’s Adrian,” she said. “I’ve been doing everything I can think of to fight this disease, but nothing works. He’s been slipping away for months. I come in every morning thinking that he can’t possibly go on another day, that today will be the day that he finally passes… but I’ve been thinking like that for so long and he just keeps holding on. I’ve never seen someone suffer through a disease like this. Never. His body has just wasted away. His mind too. He’s been talking to himself. Moaning and crying through the night. Talking to an empty room. And now this…”
“And now this,” Cosmin said.
“It’s just too much. He goes through periods where he is himself. Every few days I get to speak to the old Adrian Redwyn. And on those days my heart breaks all over again. He is still there, somewhere inside that broken body.”
“And what about now?”
“What about it?”
“Is his mind still capable?” Cosmin asked. “Or has he fallen too far?”
Halliwell sighed. “I don’t know,” she said. “Yesterday I would have said yes. I would have said that even though he seems to disappear he is still with us. Fading, but still there. But today… after all of this… I just don’t know. I can think of no good reason why he would leave this clinic, let alone the Barracks. It doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t something that a sane mind would do.”
“He went to the Reaches,” Cosmin said.
Cosmin nodded slowly. He stared at his hands. “I’m sure of it.”
“You think one of the Vacant did this?”
“Because he knew they would,” Cosmin said. “He knew that if he went to the Reaches they would find him and they would kill him.”
“You think… You think he went off to die.”
Cosmin watched the lantern light play across Halliwell’s wine glass. He watched the shadow it cast, rippled and translucent, fluttering on the table. The way it descended the far edge only to reappear against the wall and climb it as a pillar. The orb of lantern light on the ceiling. Crumbs on the table. He pressed his forefingers to his temples and shut his eyes. “Yes,” he said at last. “I think he went off to die. And I think he’ll do it again.”
Halliwell sighed. She took another drink of wine, felt the empty glass her in hands, then refilled it. “You’re probably right,” she said.
“You know what we have to do.”
“Yes I do,” Halliwell said. “Yes I certainly do.”
A clattering sounded from the clinic hall followed by a string of swears from Brinn Tullis. Cosmin watched the empty doorway. “Tell me about Brinn,” he said.
“Chubby, talkative, snippy.”
“You like him.”
“Oh yes,” Halliwell said. “Quite a lot.”
“And you trust him.”
Halliwell considered for a moment. “I do,” she said. “He knows how to mind his own business.”
“And he’s a good alchist?”
“Not good,” Halliwell said. “He’s great. Nearly all the medicines I use are his formulas. Tinctures or elixirs or whatever the hell he calls them. He’s likely the best in the city… not considering your dear wife, of course.”
“That’s why I’m asking. Petra may need help.”
The glass slipped from Halliwell’s hand. It toppled to the table and fell to its side and the wine it held splashed to the table. Halliwell wiped it with the sleeve of her robe then righted the glass. She cleared her throat. “She’s started her work again.”
“Dear heaven, Cosmin. What are you planning?”
“Do you trust Brinn?” Cosmin asked again.
Halliwell nodded. “Yes,” she said. “But that’s grim work. He may not be up to it.”
Halliwell looked to the arched doorway that led to the clinic then called for Brinn and he appeared in a moment, red faced, towling his hands and leaning against the arch. He dabbed at his forehead.
Halliwell straightened herself in her chair. “Come in here, Brinn,” she said. “Sit down with us for a moment. Grab a glass.”
“How is he?” Cosmin asked.
“Sleeping,” Brinn replied as he sat. “And thank heaven for that.” Halliwell filled his glass. He took a long drink then leaned back and looked at the darkness over Halliwell’s shoulder. “I’ve put splints on his arms and given him his first treatment of predelle… though I can’t imagine how much good it will do. That wound is just screaming for infection.” He took another drink. “I saw something strange when I gave him the medicine,” he said. “His tongue is burned. The inside of his mouth as well. It’s like he drank poison. Something really nasty.”
“Did you check through your stock? Was anything missing?”
“I checked. It’s all there.”
Halliwell shook her head. “The Vacant,” she said. “Fucking monsters.”
Cosmin was silent. His jaw was set hard.
Halliwell turned to Brinn.
“It’s time we had a little talk, Brinn. How long have you been working as my alchist?”
Brinn through for a moment. “Seven years,” he said. “Though it feels like twice that.”
“And how long would you have stayed here if I didn’t trust you?”
“Not long, I imagine.”
“You imagine correct. And how well do you know me?”
Halliwell grinned. She gestured to Cosmin. “And how well do you know this man?”
“Not well at all, I suppose.”
“No,” Halliwell said. “You don’t. There are very few who do, but I count myself among them. I’ve known him since he was a boy. I know him very, very well, and it’s time you got to know him too. I want you to look at Commander Aurel and describe him to me.”
Brinn’s eyes grew large. He looked to Cosmin then right back to Halliwell.
“Don’t look at me,” she said. “Look at him. Tell me what you see. Is he a tall man?”
“No,” Brinn said.
“Some grey in his hair. Brown eyes. Crow’s feet at the corners.”
“Would you say that Commander Aurel is an imposing man?”
“Neither would I,” Halliwell said. “Not an imposing man at all. A father and a husband. An ordinary looking man with two teenage kids and a lovely wife. Do you know why I’m telling you this?” she asked.
“Have you ever been to the Reaches?”
“Of course not.”
“But you’ve seen it.”
“And what do you think of it?”
“That district is a nightmare,” Brinn said. “It’s where the faithful live… it’s a mess. They live like wild animals…”
Halliwell leaned forward in her chair, closer to the lantern. “That, Brinn, is what the entire city would look like if not for the man sitting across from you. Mayfaire has order only because Cosmin has fought for it. It is not the natural state of things… not anymore. Have you ever seen the world beyond the forest?”
“Then you should count yourself lucky. The world was beautiful once, but now it isn’t. It was broken and ruined by the Faith, and Mayfaire would be broken and ruined right along with it if not for Cosmin. He keeps the Faith at bay.” She paused and watched Brinn. “I’ll just let that sink in for a moment,” she said. “The weight of it. Cosmin is the one who keeps our city safe. He does this through the Guard and he does this through other means. It’s messy work, Brinn. Very messy and very dangerous and the stakes are higher than you can imagine. And he is only able to hold it all together by knowing who to trust. I’m trusting you, and now Cosmin will be trusting you as well. This clinic has its secrets Brinn, and tonight you’ll be a part of them… and greater secrets besides.”
Brinn was silent. He studied the knotted wood of the table.
“I trust very few people,” Halliwell continued. “Cosmin trusts even fewer than me. So tell me, can we trust you?”
Brinn nodded. “Of course,” he said, his voice quiet. “Of course you can.”
“I thought so. And do you know what will happen if that turns out to be a lie?”
Brinn said nothing.
“Better not to say it, you think?” Halliwell said. “Well I think it needs to be said. You need to hear it. This ordinary man sitting across the table from you will have you killed. He won’t hesitate.” She patted Brinn’s hand, then poured him more wine. “Ok?” she asked.
“Good!” Halliwell said and slapped the table. “A little dramatic, I know, but I had to get the point across. Cosmin, is that good with you?”
“Excellent. Now then, I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen tonight, Brinn. You are going to get as much opellum as you think would kill a man and you’re going to give it all to Adrian Redwyn.”
Brinn’s eyes went huge. He looked to Cosmin.
“Don’t look at him,” Halliwell said. “I’m the one telling you this. Me. Adrian cannot be saved. You know that as well as I do. There just isn’t enough of him left. His body can barely heal a bedsore… and now his skull is cracked and he’s missing half of his face. Not to mention two compound fractures, and heaven only knows what damage beneath those awful bruises. He may survive the night, but he will suffer. He may even last the week. But he won’t live. And he’ll keep trying to leave this clinic. He’s as proud and stubborn as they come… even at death’s door. If he’s set his mind to dying out there in the world then that’s what he’ll do. We’ll have to keep him strapped to the damn bed. We’ll have to flip him from time to time so the blood doesn’t pool, and we’ll have to figure out some way to feed him. Now does that sound like an inspiration to the Guard? Does that sound like a life fit for Cosmin’s heir apparent?”
Brinn shook his head.
“I didn’t think so. Adrian left this clinic because he wanted to die. And I see no reason to disobey that wish. Do you?”
Brinn shook his head again. It was shining with sweat.
“Good. Now get the opellum.”
Brinn rose and stepped from the room like a man in a dream. Cosmin watched him leave. “You frightened him,” he said.
“He can be stubborn and mouthy,” Halliwell said. “I’ll soften it later, but this is how he needs to learn.”
“He’s a grown man.”
Halliwell dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. “There is no such thing,” she said. “Besides, he needs to know the consequences. I’ve wanted to bring him into our little cause for some time now, you know. I’m glad you might have use for him. He’ll make a strong addition if you can tolerate him.”
“I trust you.”
“I know you do.” Halliwell watched Cosmin for a moment then softened her voice. “I don’t mean to make light of any of this, you know. I’m truly sorry about Adrian,” she said. “Truly sorry. He was a great man. I know what he meant to you.”
Cosmin nodded. He reached across the table for Halliwell’s glass and drank the last of the wine. “You’re already talking like he’s dead.”
“He’s been dead a long time,” Halliwell said.
Cosmin took a deep breath. “Yes he has,” he said. “The Vacant just finished what that disease started.”
“The Vacant…” Halliwell said. “Damned beasts. I hope Adrian gave them hell before they got him. I hope he bloodied a whole pack of them and sent them crawling back to the Pale City.”
“He wasn’t strong enough to kill a spider,” Cosmin said.
Halliwell stared into the darkness and shook her head. “No he wasn’t,” she sighed. “But I can dream can’t I? They need to pay for this.”
“They will,” Cosmin said. “They damn sure will.”