The roof of Waters & Moore Fiduciary Exchange was a small wonder of unnoticed architecture. Each tile was made of thin-cut marble in a most flattering shade of faded green. The builder, a famed goblin crafter whose name was remarkably silly even by local standards, had used an enchanted chaos saw to transform massive blocks of the stone into finger-thick slices. Most importantly, each tile was slightly curved with a simple notch on the bottom. The roof was assembled with no mortar at all, only a proprietary binding spell and hundreds of creature hours to construct the roof piece by piece. It allowed excellent airflow in the summer but kept the heat inside better than thatch or slate in the winter. Rainwater passed over and off the roof with the gentlest of kisses and a faint apology. It was a marvel of roofs. A competitor Roofmaster Jeprodain’s slide into alcoholism and financial ruin the winter after the installation was attributed quite correctly to his all-consuming jealousy at the accomplishment. “Damn you, your silly name, and your beautiful, beautiful roof,” he howled outside the goblin crafter’s home two or three times a week before sobbing his way into the shadows.
Knowing none of this, Rime exploded through the roof, sending a geyser of marble tiles spinning off through the air. The heat from her blue nimbus melted and seared each piece of marble, rendering them absolutely useless for any future repair.
Across town, Roofmaster Jeprodain woke from his drunken doze in a pig cart with a start—but soon fell back to sleep, not knowing of his vindication until some days later.
The blue fire bit into the tiles with ravenous heat. Rime was held aloft by a blooming flower of her magic, already swiveling to look down at the gaping hole in the bank’s roof. She had a large sack in her hands, and her face was covered with chocolate and a rainbow of tiny candy dots. Her eyes blazed a pure white, searing the confection around the orbs a crisp black. From between clenched teeth, a furious stream of end-to-end curses hissed a litany of hate.
“Not the plan. Not the plan. Not the fucking plan,” the wild mage spat.
As if to punctuate her wrath, two massive hands made of lacquered oak appeared at the hole behind her and clamped on to the melting tiles. The first few feet ripped away feebly in the golem’s claws, but at last it found enough structure to bear its considerable weight. Rime soared to the western edge of the roof, blue fire keeping her feet inches above the tiles. She flew backward, keeping her eyes on the golem’s bulk.
It was of a simple bipedal design. Green crystal eyes deep set into its wooden face, the symbol of a crashing wave on its forehead in brass, the letters “STC” just above. Rime had only passing knowledge of these constructs’ manufacture and design, but she was quickly learning how devastating a theft deterrent they could be. As the golem finally stood on the bank’s roof and clenched its fists in mechanical pride, she gave a faint mental salute to whomever had built this savage block of wood.
The gigantic cannon in its chest was just excessive, however.
Rime ignored the growing exhaustion in her limbs and the vibration in her vision and took stock. She had the gold in hand. It was her gold, deposited some weeks ago. The irony of stealing her own money was irrelevant to her current predicament, so she flicked it aside. Far more germane was the iron cannonball that the golem pulled from a slot in its hip and began to insert into the barrel protruding from its chest. She made her mind go faster. Her magic was burning hungry and fast—maybe thirty seconds before she lost consciousness. The bank sat in the middle of a wide plaza. Her vision filled with lines, angles, numbers: the clarion vision of mathematics and order, calculating radii and distances and the surface areas of each piece of skittering tile as it fell from the roof. The comfort and mastery that some find in song or color or the secret knowledge of good grain from bad, Rime had always found in numbers. They were her ablest allies and most assured sentinels. The closest golem-less roof was 162 feet away—she could fly there before blacking out, but there was no way to guarantee the bank’s defender couldn’t follow—or hit her with a well-placed cannon shot. She would need to see at a volley or two before she could calculate the exact range of the golem’s cannon, but no time or folly to allow such experiment. The wooden construct had bounded across the vault’s polished metal floor with startling speed: too risky to leave it operable. She would need to destroy it before making her escape. Absently, she jammed the sack of gold into the waistband of her pants.
A distant shout came from the streets below. Rime rolled her blazing white eyes. That meant she would need to trust in her guardian. This was never a welcome part of any strategy.
“. . . ime? Rime! What’s going onnnnn?” The voice came from the plaza beneath her.
Four ticks of the clock. The golem was bracing itself to fire, small pitons on its feet digging into the tile roof. The construct had surprised her, and she had pulled far too much magic in alarm, hurling herself through the roof. Stupid. Wasteful. Dangerous. I don’t have time to dance with this thing. She pointed a finger toward the open plaza below and drew a circle on the ground in heatless flame. As a quick afterthought, she put a block letter “J” with a blinking arrow right above it. Even he should figure that out, right? It was easily forty feet to the Blackstone streets; a fall would kill her. She would just have to trust her guardian to figure it out.
The golem’s cannon fired.
Rime clenched both hands until her power burned white. The ball of iron and flame seemed to slow. She was the master of the Magic Wild and all she could see was a toy that needed breaking. Her laughter came quick as she flew to meet her foe. The lines of force were easy to follow, sketched in the air for her to follow in sapphire blue, each vertex carefully annotated with the proper numeric notation for angle, speed, and force.
The golem was fuzzy, indistinct, already loading another shot; Rime’s focus was on the cannonball. It would be easy enough to avoid it entirely. The mage didn’t bother. She punched the ball with all the might her magic could generate. The lump of hot metal reversed course, fast as a flicked peapod. Rime burned her magic to go even faster, a frenetic arc to arrive before the first cannonball—just as the second cannonball spewed forth from the golem’s chest. She didn’t know if the golem had been designed to show surprise, but the glint in its crystalline green eyes was in the neighborhood of aghast.
Rime laughed and placed herself parallel to the imminent collision of the two cannonballs. A spike of pain circumnavigated her head, but she ignored it. She spread her small hands wide, wrapped in bright power, and smacked the two colliding lumps of iron together. Her magic reached into the kinetic frenzy of colliding metal and bent and twisted it to the image in her mind’s eye. Before the golem’s (perhaps) startled gaze, she formed the metal and fire and magic into a grotesque sledgehammer. The weapon seemed to grimace, dark iron burning red in the fires of its birth.
Rime grunted, wrapping her small hands around her creation’s haft. It was a waste of time; the edges of her vision were already getting dim. She should have just dodged the cannonballs and eviscerated the golem with surgical fire. But there was style to be considered. And the way the Magic Wild sang in her veins: werewolf-golden howl of power. Why can’t it be this all the time? Why can’t it be always this?
The hammer came down, crushing the golem’s head. A similar echo of nausea pealed inside her head. Rime ripped the dark sledge free and brought it down again and again, shards of wood and enchanted brass flying. Not much time left. Need to finish. In three heartbeats the hammer fell a dozen times. Rime took a ragged breath, a trickle of blood making its way from her left nostril down across her lips. The mage blazed away toward the edge of the roof, allowing herself one heartbeat to turn back and watch the golem topple and fall. As a parting gesture she squeezed the sledgehammer until it disintegrated into hundreds of burning iron pellets. They fell on the roof like rain, pitting and warping every moss-green tile they touched. The white flame of her magic began to dim, turning light blue and growing ever darker as it faded. She bobbed in place, her magic guttering like a torch in the wind. Wasting no more time, she stepped off the edge of the roof and sailed toward the glowing target she had drawn for her companion.
He was twenty feet from the target. Of course he is. Rime sighed.
Her companion was a square-faced young man, only a couple of years older than she. He was wearing a moth-eaten cloak of mud brown and a sword strapped to his back. Currently, he was shuffling back and forth in the plaza between the edge of the building and the illuminated target she had drawn for him. Indecision was clear on his face, gone at once when he spotted her sailing toward the target. Jonas immediately backpedaled, his eyes locked on the falling girl.
Rime summoned forth one more erg of magic to keep herself aloft as the vision in her left eye went completely dark. It changed her smooth arc of a descent into a sudden updraft, raising her fifteen feet above the target. She held consciousness between her teeth and allowed the last bit of power to dribble away and vanish. Her body folded and dropped, deadweight, and she braced for impact with the stone plaza floor.
She landed square in Jonas’s sweaty arms. Her guardian grunted with exertion, dropping to one knee. Rime could still see from her right eye and her fleeing vision was filled with the squire’s mop of brown hair, flushed face, and broad grin.
“A glowing target. Your initial. An arrow,” she complained.
“I couldn’t tell what was happening up there. I wasn’t sure if I should try to climb up the drain spout,” Jonas apologized.
“Just . . .” Rime’s voice faded as her awareness ebbed. “Just get us out of here.”
The girl let go and sank into her private darkness.
Jonas pushed himself up to his feet. Rime’s body was thin and small, light enough to be no trouble. I really need to rig up some sort of sling. This is becoming a habit. He balanced the mage in the crook of his left arm and pushed the hair out of her face with his right. Rime’s hair was brown, but a swath of it had gone bone white over the past few months. It had begun as a small collection of locks, but now nearly a third of her hair was drained of color. Why is her face covered with chocolate and candy sprinkles?
Okay. Simple job. Get us out of here. Right. Jonas trotted away from the ruined bank, doing his best to look innocuous and not at all like a bank robber.
The city of Carroway was quiet, just a few moments after dawn. Rime had picked this day and time with care. The day prior had been some sort of financial festival and one of the busiest days of the month for the establishment; the next day should be lightly staffed. She had concluded that entering the bank bare seconds after it opened would mean easy access to the hallway near the vault and a minimum of onlookers to cry alarm if a small girl suddenly made the intricate locks and gates fly open with a bolt of lightning. After her recent experience solving and disassembling a most intricate lock, she had been eager to try her hand at whatever the bank had to offer. Jonas had wanted to accompany her, but she had only instructed him to sit on a marble bench outside and wait for her. “You’ll knock over something and track mud on the floor. Just wait here.”
He had a pleasant time on the bench. A couple of sparrows flew by and ate some peanut shells in a nearby gutter. A stitch had started to give way in the hem of his cloak, so he had pulled out a needle and thread and set to mending it. Jonas had just started to whistle an old marching tune when the first muted rumble had come from inside the bank. He had sighed, tucked away his sewing kit, and stood up. The next explosion that blew glass out of every window in the bank found him ready with one hand already on the hilt of his good steel. The squire had made it as far as the tall archway that led to the entrance when he heard the explosion coming from above. The rain of melting roof tile had made it easy for him to guess where his companion was.
Now he ran through the streets of Carroway with his armful of unconscious mage. This was the trade district of the town; no residents to be disturbed by the predawn rooftop battle, but more than a few clerks, guild bonds, and one fat dwarf pushing a bagel cart were coming into the plaza with wide eyes and fearful questions. An attractive goblin with blue hair and a sharp business cloak eyed his flapping brown one with disdain. Jonas put his head down and ran.
He ran out of the plaza and down mimic streets of Blackstone. They all looked the same, so he turned wherever felt right. The squire did his best to keep moving east toward the port. Rime breathed shallow and thin in his arms. He briefly considered throwing her over his shoulder for convenience, but he decided that it would be better to avoid the wrath of an upside-down wild mage. The girl’s blackouts were never of certain length: sometimes a few minutes, a few hours, and once or twice over a day. Jonas was on his own until she woke up.
To his great shock, the squire made it to the docks without incident. The dawn light gleamed on the Blackstone of the streets of Carroway, just picking up the barest sparkle of the minerals pulverized within. He had nearly wrenched his neck out of socket, craning at every open alleyway or opening door expecting a horrendous wooden golem to come smoking forth or armed bank rangers to loose a volley of golden arrows. This is one of those times that Master would talk about. Where you were supposed to run into trouble, but Trouble spilled morning coffee on his tunic and got a late start. Jonas could see his master’s lean face spreading into a low chuckle. But don’t worry, young man. Trouble always keeps his appointments, late or no. Enjoy the days you missed him because he’ll be double furious next time around.
The docks were busy, even this early in the morning. Four dwarves were tossing sacks of meal from a battered crate up onto the deck of a ship while singing lustily. A fat wood elf bellowed over the side of his ship either demanding more cats or less cats, Jonas wasn’t sure. Two Minotaurs were standing chest deep in the bay applying pitch and resin to a new patch in the side of a low sloop. The squire puffed up the stairs to the warehouse attic he and Rime had rented yesterday. The sun’s gold made a black outline of his form on the cracked stone sea break running alongside the warehouse. Jonas had to bang his shoulder twice against the splitting wood before the salt-crusted doorjamb gave way.
The attic was a drafty loft facing the ocean with one wide window, snaggle-toothed with broken glass. Rime had pressed her last three copper coins into the hawk’s talon yesterday in return for two nights lodging. The fat bird had squawked a warning about gem crabs in the loft and defecated all over its perch as way of punctuation. “It’s a roof; that’s all we need. We’ll be gone tomorrow,” his companion had said, plopping her bedroll down in the center of the attic.
Gone tomorrow. Jonas shook the words off. They fell down in the folds of his cloak and set to smoldering. He knew where they were going, though Rime had never named their destination. A witch of his acquaintance had left little doubt in his mind where the wild mage was taking them both. Home.
He placed Rime’s sleeping body carefully on her bedroll and propped her head up with his satchel. The squire splashed the edge of his cloak with water from his canteen and did his best to wipe the scorched confection off of the mage’s face. He noticed the jingling sack of gold in the girl’s pants making an uncomfortable bulge in the thin fabric. Jonas was already reaching to remove it when he abruptly realized what he was doing and hastily pulled his hands back, cheeks growing warm. It’s safer there anyway.
A few steps to the broken window and Jonas looked out over the bustling dock. He gave the crowd a slow scan: no followers or hard eyes, no one paying the attic the least bit of attention. Certainly the morning’s bank robbery turned bank demolition would be attracting heavily armed notice from the Third Regiment of Carroway, but for the moment they appeared to be safe. He squinted at the sun. One—no, two—hours. I’ll let her sleep for two hours. If she isn’t up by then, I guess I’ll move us somewhere else. Maybe hire a ship?
A ship was a decision. Jonas had made that sort of decision before, when he begged his way onto a ship heading north, away from Gilead. Now he was about to get on a ship going south, back to Gilead. “Gilly-son, gilly-son, come ’round the bend.” The old doggerel came to his mind unbidden. “Stones in the river and your own grave to tend.” It was a march; most of the songs he knew were marches of one sort or other. In the Academy that was what they sang, excepting a rare ballad or two on feast days and hymns at the turn of night.
I have to tell her. I have to tell it all. Jonas looked down at Rime. If she’s going to Gilead, I’m going too. But I don’t know how far she’ll get with me at her side. He pulled the red cord of his sword strap, wrapping both hands around it.
“I’m a murderer,” Jonas said to the sleeping girl. “The last person I was supposed to protect, I cut his throat. I killed my master.”
Rime began to snore muzzily into the leather satchel.
“Hey. That went pretty well.” The squire sat down and pulled his sewing kit back out. His cloak was not going to mend itself.
Rime’s Dream #1
Bricks bricks bricks
Fingertips on bricks
Counting the bricks
Counting the bricks
There are many bricks
Climbing the bricks or crawling the bricks?
Another brick another brick
Brick brick cold brick colder brick
Ice on the bricks
Ice brick ice brick ice brick brick brick
Rime woke up. A small puddle of drool had formed on the leather satchel under her face, but the smelly bag had gotten revenge by imprinting the thick outline of the buckle on her left cheek. She growled and pushed herself up, rubbing the indention in irritation. Jonas was across the room with needle and thread and the hem of his brown cloak supported on his knees. They were in the stinking loft next to the docks.
She opened her mouth to berate her guardian but checked herself. Jonas was sitting in the perfect position to look out the broken bay window and keep an eye on the street below. A quick glance at the position of the sun told her only one hundred and thirteen minutes had elapsed since her blackout. A skilled, swift, savvy citizen of Carroway could run from the bank plaza to the docks in thirty-five minutes at a dead run. Jonas was none of the above, so probably between forty-five minutes and a flat hour for him to find his way back here. That meant that they had been resting here for a reasonable amount of time. This was their only base of operations in the city, and it showed sound judgment on the squire’s part to retreat here when left without other instructions. The squire had performed his duties well. Rime snorted and concentrated harder. There must be something she could find fault with. She shifted on her bedroll and felt the bank pouch dig into her hip.
“Why is there money still in my pants?” Rime groaned and pulled the sack free with a sigh.
“It didn’t seem, uh, proper?” Jonas said primly, tucking his needle and thread away into its tiny leather clutch.
“Proper.” She let it drop and pulled the bank sack open. It was an unfamiliar fabric, a durable and tough purple weave laced with gold thread. A question for another time. I’ll make a note of it . . . later. Rime made a quick count of the steel coins within, letting them trickle through her fingers. Like all currency minted in Valeria, the coins emitted a dim blue radiance to prove their authenticity. In a city populated by dozens of wizard colleges, the opportunity for illusory or ensorcelled coinage was a legitimate concern, but the proper coins were embedded with a cunning enchantment. Local vendors were taught a simple cantrip that could identify them. And here in the wide world they were considered of almost inarguable value, one of the most stable currencies in Aufero. Perfect for traveling.
Traveling. Rime looked at Jonas’s waiting face as she considered. The coins here were a pittance compared to her family’s total wealth but a small fortune for her needs on the road. With the first half of this she had paid a group of caravan guards to escort her, bought rations for two weeks, paid for lodging at a few fine inns. What would she do with the other half of it? I will do what I must. The sun’s clock moved forward, and not even her power could confound time. She needed to book passage on a ship; she needed to be gone. The hounds of this city would be at their door before noon at her estimation. She needed to go now.
Which meant that the Conversation could no longer be avoided. She had been formulating it for days. The shaggy-haired guardian and his sword had become a comfort and a surprising place for her trust. From the first days of their quest searching for the Gray Witch, through the terrible night in Bellwether Manor, he had lumbered into a special space in her esteem. Together they had defeated the nefarious Hunt, leaving its commander Linus dead and forgotten on the lonely shore. Thoughts of journeying on across the sea without him were brittle and thorn edged. Rime shivered. Am I buying one ticket or two?
“Time is short, so I’ll speak swiftly. You’ve known that I have a goal. I appreciate your courtesy in not demanding to know our final destination all these long days and miles,” she began.
Rime gritted her teeth and plowed ahead. “Much to my surprise you have been an admirable companion”—she had finally arrived on that epithet after much deliberation as it meant that Jonas was capable of being admired without explicitly saying that she did in fact admire him—“and have proven worthy of my trust.”
“Rime, you don’t, uh . . .” Her companion raised a faltering hand.
“I have to go to Gilead. I didn’t tell you before because I know you ran away from there. So, I will understand if you will not or cannot return.” This was where her construction of the Conversation got rocky. She was surprised at how much she wanted the stupid squire at her side and completely lost as to how to convince him to remain there. Rime wanted desperately to withdraw within her own mind—into her place of safety and lore—a library of sorts where she could think and plan, revise the Conversation a few dozen more times, but she hadn’t been in there in days and had no wish to risk the long shadows of her mind now.
“I’ll go.” Jonas grimaced. “Though you may not want me to.”
Rime felt a burst of relief followed hard by disgust with herself. She pushed it aside and latched onto the thread spinning off the squire’s words that lead into the past. “Trouble in Gilead. You ran away from it. How bad?”
“How long to explain?” The mage felt the sun’s time press against her.
“Uhhhh . . . well . . .” Jonas’s eyes searched the ceiling for inspiration.
“Too long. You want to go. I want you to go. You can tell me on the boat.” Rime reached down to roll up her bedding, then tossed their battered satchel to the squire. She wished she had thrown it harder when she saw his creased smile beaming across the salt-air loft.
“It’s really bad, Rime.” Jonas face sobered. “You may not want me along when you know. Even less with the whole story.”
“Tell me on the boat.” Rime slung the bedroll over her shoulder and pulled her wide-brimmed hat from the rust-green nail where it waited. She was still wearing borrowed finery, a blue dress surmounted with a white half cape and hood. It was more than a little spattered with travel and chocolate but could still help her pass as a noble’s daughter. She thought about what she had done in those halls—thought about the bard’s blood she could still feel wet on her left hand. Whatever Jonas has done can’t be worse than what I’ve done. Or what I will do when the magic escapes my grasp. She knew what was inside her head. Madness. Death. A ticking clock. My tiny library surrounded by oceans of dark. Got to get moving.
Jonas swung the satchel over his head and tucked it in beside his sword’s scabbard. He followed the mage back down the clapboard steps. As they reached the ground he very gently pinched the fabric at her elbow. Rime rolled her eyes, stopped, and turned around. Her guardian’s face was uncertain, as if struggling to find the right words to say. Impatient, she poked his sternum with two fingers.
“Okay, okay.” Jonas rubbed his chest in chagrin. “I just wanted to say that a ship is a decision. I’m glad we’re taking this one together.”
Rime spun to hide her smile and advanced toward the waiting docks. Me too.