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  • Andrew M. Trauger

BK 3: Chapter One: Decisions

The wonders of The Deepening were both legendary and fearsome, captured in the name many sailors gave it: “The Cradle of Storms.” Rumors told of a small island near the middle of the lake, but the stories were sketchy at best and filled with inconsistencies. Üzen Ada it was called—the “floating island.” Land-lubbers scoffed, but sailors swore the darkest of oaths at the mention of its name. Those who claimed to have seen this speck of land amid the ship-swallowing waters returned in a fragile, unstable state of mind, raising doubts about the truth of their tales. But they had seen something, for they bore the fright of a thousand nightmares.

Along the southern shore of The Deepening, halfway between Cer Halcyon and Cer Cannaid, the sun shone brightly on the grain-laden fields surrounding Westmeade, where no one thought about Üzen Ada. Warmth from the waning rays struggled against the cool breeze blowing in off the lake. Stalks of grain ripe for harvest undulated like golden waves, the wind bringing with it the promise of a cold winter to come.

Cora O’Banion lay stretched across her bed, her bare feet dangling off the side, kicking randomly, with her chin resting atop folded fingers. She stared out the open window of her loft bedroom in the Kotting’s house as the erratic breeze tossed her fiery-red hair across freckled cheeks and shoulders. Spread before her were several sheets of parchment containing her thoughts from the past few months, memories that she now tried to recall and form into a cogent tale. Her escritoire leaned against a pillow, patiently awaiting another entry, and the quill rested between her teeth, forgotten as her thoughts drifted on the breeze.

Lying atop the parchments was a letter from her parents, its message yet another plea for her return home. More of an insistence than a plea, really, with spicy adjectives heating the argument. The letter pulled her thoughts to Lorenvale, where she had left behind an angry mother and a worried father. They had reluctantly given her permission to leave for Cer Halcyon and inquire about a family heirloom, the Sword of the Coast. Rather than returning as she had promised to do, she had joined Pathway Adventures to obtain that sword.

Cora rolled over and sat up, her gaze falling on the mahogany box leaning in the corner by the door. Two months ago, that sword had been gifted her, thus fulfilling the reason for leaving. But a probationary sentence anchored her to Westmeade—that, and an obligation to resolve the mystery of Wilder Tower. Not to mention the growing affections of the young alderman, Montpeleón deCorté.

That was all behind her now; the mystery solved, their probation lifted, and Monty’s proposal of marriage denied. She sighed and fell back onto her pillow, bouncing the escritoire near her head. So, what’s keeping me here now? Elric’s been invited to join the Sentinel League, and he has a girlfriend. Cuauhtie can easily find his way around, and if we weren’t a freeblade company, he could be Lady Karlina’s personal bodyguard. He still can’t read, but anyone could teach him that. I finally ditched Selorian. Why don’t I just go home? So what if the duke commissioned us. He doesn’t need the Dragonslayers…

In her most honest of moments, Cora admitted the truth: she wanted the fame and fortune that resulted from being a successful freeblade. With less honesty, she could convince herself of having purely academic motives, a desire to chronicle the exploits of a freeblade group so they could be famous. But she had told her parents she was acting on behalf of the family name. There wasn’t much truth in that at all, and with the letter from her parents draped across the bed, she felt the sting of her deceits.

As she had opportunity, Cora had kept her parents informed of her whereabouts and her deeds. In a handful of letters over the past few months, she had described her allies and adventures both past and present, and the budding relationship with Montpeleón. No mention was necessary of the failed attempt on her life.

Relating Ordin’s death had been especially difficult, and not simply because of the pain it rekindled as she wrote. The tale had reaped the “deepest concerns” from her mother, words intended to layer guilt atop the pain.

They were grateful, they said, that she had acquired the heirloom sword. They were most pleased that her actions had led to the salvation of the Duke, Lady Karlina, and the nation of Alikon. However—and it had been stated in the strongest of terms—they wanted her to come home. Now.

Cora hung her head and groaned. I don’t want to…

The breeze shifted and drafted through the window, lifting several sheets of parchment from her bed and scattering them across the room.

“Cripe…” she muttered as she rolled off the bed and crawled about the room to retrieve the wayward sheets. A second gust spread her work even further. With a disgusted sigh, Cora glared at the window. She had been enjoying the crisp air of a fall morning. The aromas of fields ripe for harvest wafted in from north and west of Westmeade. Wheat, barley, rye, and a variety of other grains swayed in the breeze—including one new to Cora, a wide-leafed variety called mylo, used in thick, syrupy beers.

It was the first day of the Brewer’s Consortium, a festival of thankfulness and feasting, and for the Church of Stewards a time to honor and revere the Maker for the bounty of harvest. Naturally, it was also a time of considerable drinking, especially in Westmeade. The sleepy town awakened once each year for this celebration, hosting dozens of independent brewers from across southern Arelatha.

Cora had always loved the harvest celebration in her hometown. But it was nothing like the gala in Westmeade. Already the air was heavy with the scents of brewers fermenting and refining their alcohols. Brewers’ caravans and merchants’ wagons packed the streets. Music floated in from multiple troubadour groups, their songs borne aloft on the cool, refreshing breeze. She savored the aromas, galas, joyous refrains of upbeat tunes, gaudy colors, and boisterous barking of the merchants hawking their trinkets.

With a heavy sigh, she shut her window to it all and returned to gathering the sheets of parchment strewn about her bedroom. When the last of the pages were gathered and rearranged, Cora sat down once more to transcribe them—with many songsage embellishments—into her escritoire.

Quiet minutes passed as she wrote the story of the duke’s salvation and the thwarting of a Nephreqin coup. Heroic deeds done by all; solemn honors for those who died; gifts for the freeblades who had spoiled the plot. Even Selorian.

Cora looked up from her writing and stared absently out the window. What a piece of work…I wonder how he’s doing.

The last she had heard was the duke had confined Selorian to the castle, under personal guard at all times. Why he didn’t exile the man was beyond her. Sure, he saved the duke’s life, but was a “life debt” tradition keeping him there? That was such a passé notion in these modern times.

Cora sat back and reviewed her summary. It was important to record every detail before they slipped through the petiole of the hourglass and vanished. As their fame spread—she hoped—tales of the Dragonslayers would be on the lips of songsages everywhere. Controlling which tale they told was paramount. Relying on a roll of the Bones would create a mongrel tale. I have to chronicle the true story, or…at least bend the truth the right way. The Dragonslayers’ legacy is up to me.

Recalling tales of heroes from ages past, she wondered if they were, in truth, anything like the talespinners’ weaves. A common thread ran through each—extraordinary persons gifted with amazing abilities, heirs to a throne forged by the fires of war, or hapless farm boys born into prophecy. Station, position, wealth and authority, they said, destined these heroes to fulfill impossible quests, destroy unprecedented evil, and save the world from ultimate destruction. Cora could rattle off their names: Cathasac MacGregor, Zillah Dorian, Damion Vrice, Moag—dozens more.

But she had lived the hero’s life. She had eaten with, laughed at, cried on, and fought beside a group of real heroes, and there was nothing special about them. The Dragonslayers were misfit wanderers, each one a hard-luck case. Only Ordin had a prophecy hanging over him, and he had died. Fat lot of good that did him. No, she had to tell their story as it was, warts and all. Mostly warts.

Cora flipped through her notes, shuffling the pages back and forth. She searched under her pillow, beneath the escritoire, and under her legs. Where’s the page on Monty? I had it right here. The page contained several notes on her brief courtship with the dashing alderman, and it would not do for that sheet to fall into a stranger’s hands.

A thorough search for the errant parchment ended with a glance beneath her bed. The wayward sheet had slipped into the dust with an edge lodged beneath a thick, leather tome—Blanchard’s book.

Her hand brushed against the spine as she reached for the lost page, and a tingle coursed through her arm, pushing up goose bumps along her freckled skin. Thoughts vanished; intents melted into vapors. With a jolt of capricious disregard, she tossed Monty’s page on the bed, its importance brushed away as easily as his proposal had been.

Wisdom said to leave the book alone, but curiosity easily defeated wisdom. Cora retrieved the book, blew off a fine layer of dust, and sat on her bed with the tome in her lap.

She studied the sigils blanketing the front cover. Her best guess was it had once belonged to Blanchard, who had left it for his duplicate. Presumably, it was filled with arcane spells—convoluted instructions for “finger waggling” and facial contortions, archaic and unpronounceable words.

It was pure speculation, for she had never found the nerve to open it. A spellbook was not merely filled with hand-written incantations of remarkable power; it oftentimes was terrible power. Arcanists infused portions of their souls into crafting these invaluable works, and for that reason, they were famed for the lethal wards they placed on their creations.

On the other hand, opening the book might not be dangerous at all, and it might not even be a spellbook, for that matter. It could as easily contain a collection of poetry, a personal diary, political essays, or even artwork. The possibilities were as endless as her curiosity. Cora’s fingers prickled; itching, straining, almost daring to turn the clasp and lift the cover.

Staring at the cover, the runic lettering shifted and formed into legible writing. What the rink? But just as she thought she could decipher the meaning, she blinked, and the symbols reverted to their original indiscernible state. Cripe.

She knew a spellsong that might reveal the hidden words, but dread for the consequences quitted her of that option. Her best option was simply to open it. She bit her lip as she traced a finger along the small brass latch. Just a quarter-turn. It would be that easy…

Voices floated up the stairs and filtered through her door, and Cora paused. She glanced down at the lacquered fingernail flirting with the tiny clasp, and in a moment of astonishing clarity, she yanked her hand away. A pair of heavy booted feet ascended the steps, and Cora quickly shoved the book under her bed and flopped across the mattress. She slipped a quill between her teeth and pretended to be thinking.

Despite knowing that someone would knock on her door, the sudden thumping startled her.

“Come in,” she called over the quill.

Elric Reichtoven strode in, led by his blonde mustache. He was likely the only man in twelve nations to sport a handlebar mustache, but he did so with as much panache as could be mustered around those waxed hairs. More likely, he simply didn’t care what people thought, evidenced by the faded red—nearly pink—shirt he wore atop pale green trousers.

“I’m ‘ere to whisk ya away!” he announced with arms flared wide in a flamboyant invitation to join him.

Cora pulled the quill from her teeth. “Whatever for, you lunk?”

His arms fell deflated to his side. “Are ya serious? There’s beer flowin’ in the streets. I know ya ain’t gonna jis sit up ‘ere by yerself.”

“Elric, look at all this. I’ve got to get caught up on all my writing. Folks don’t know what really happened in Cer Cannaid, and I can’t possibly let our story go untold. I can’t keep putting this off or I’ll never finish. Besides that…” Cora sighed as her eyes fell upon her mother’s flowing script. “I owe my parents another letter.”

“But it’s the Brewer’s Consortium. Beer! Lots o’ beer! C’mon! Them papers’ll still be sittin’ ‘ere when ya git back, but the beer will be gone in four days. Ya really wanna waste a big o’ drankin’ opportunitoi?”

Cora wagged her head and scooped a handful of parchments. Elric was a simple man who enjoyed the simple things of life. And when he set his mind to something, it was a challenge getting him to see another way. “All right, after I pack all this up, you can ‘whiskey’ me away.”

Elric raised an eyebrow at her. “Huh?”

“Never mind,” Cora answered. She stuffed the last pages in her escritoire and latched it. Humor is wasted on the daft.

With notable irony, most taverns in Westmeade were closed for the week, as all the ale-drinking people had assembled at Penefeld Lawn. The inns, however, were filled to capacity, and tent communities lined the roads outside the four city gates. Tents and frame booths dotted the Lawn like a makeshift city of its own, each one home to a different brewer, who proudly hawked his wares, negotiated sales, and paid the young boys of Westmeade to load carts with the goods they sold.

As Cora and Elric strolled through the lively crowd, she gaped at the wide variety of brews—altbiers, barleyweins, marzens, pilsners, lagers, and stouts—from at least eight different nations. Many bore the names of recognizable breweries—Oakenhammer, Doubletree, Barby & Sons, Red Starlight…even Griffin Rider, the finest ale money could buy.

In the center of the lawn stood a large white gazebo with a single arrow embedded into it, and Cora pointed it out. “Hey Elric, what’s that?”

“A gazebo.”

She frowned at him. “I know what a gazebo is. I mean, why does it have an arrow stuck in it?”

Elric pulled his gaze away from the smile of a shapely young woman to gawk at the arrow. “I dunno. Someone attacked it, I reckon.”

Cora rolled her eyes and held up a brochure. “Come on; let’s find the Doubletree tent. Rumor says they have a pumpkin spice lager this year. That sounds delectable.”

The Doubletree tents were easy to find, being one of the most brightly colored and most crowded. Though the Doubletrees were Dareni, a diminutive people, they ensured their tents stood taller than any others, as if ostentatious showmanship was as critical to their sales as quality drink. Maybe it was, for only a Dareni would have conceived of brewing pumpkins and offering such a thing to the public.

“Well, we don’t actually brew the pumpkins,” Fildios Doubletree explained when Cora asked. “It’s a barley malt, mostly, flavored with pumpkin rinds and strained across the roasted seeds.” He looked up at the songsage with a grin as she raised a small cup of the orangey-brown liquid to her lips. “The secret’s in the spices.”

Cora turned the cup back and let the lager settle in her mouth for a moment. As she swallowed, the palette shifted and the spicy flavors—nutty and sweet—washed over her tongue in a flavorful wave. Her eyes widened. “Oh, wow…”

“You like?” Fildios asked with excited joy.

“That’s…that was amazing!”

“Lemme try!” Elric exclaimed. He grabbed up a sample cup and drained it. “Whoa! That’s like drankin’ a whole slice o’ momma’s punkin pie, but mixed with sweet, creamy goodness!”

Cora touched her top lip and pointed at Elric. “Your, um…”

Elric wiped his mustache on the back of his sleeve. “Happens all the time.”

Cora placed an order for a crate of bottles and happily paid the premium price of two gold stallions. She would save the drinks for special occasions. “I hope you entered this pumpkin lager in the competition this year.”

“Oh yes!” Fildios replied. “We hope to beat out the Oakenhammer ales this year, which won three years straight. It’s a long shot, but…”

Cora nodded. “I think you have a good chance.”

The Dareni grinned broadly and bowed, which caused his short stature to disappear entirely behind the table. When he righted again and popped back into view, he thanked Cora profusely before turning to the line of customers beside her.

Cora stared at the crate with folded arms, rubbing her chin. “Elric, could I get you to carry this crate for me?”

Elric’s attention had diverted to a young woman who held up a glass of pale ale in the sunlight. He smoothed the ends of his mustache and adjusted his faded red shirt. Rising on the balls of his feet, he began a slow strut across the way to meet her.

Cora shook her head. Oh, for the love of… She grabbed his shoulder before he had gone far. “Would you carry this crate for me?”

Elric glanced down at the crate of lagers, then met Cora’s eyes. “No, ma’am. I jis seen the future Mrs. Reichtoven, an’ I’m gonna say hey.”

Cora sized up the lass—tall, elegantly dressed, nice figure, and light brown tresses that softly draped her lower back. “She’s out of your league.”

“Nope. I’m tellin’ ya, that’s the one.”

“She’s taller than you are, you lunk.”

“So? Purt near everbody is. If I had to pick a girl ‘at’s shorter’n me, I’d be marryin’ me a Dareni. An’ that ain’t gonna happen.” Elric pulled free of the songsage’s grip, smoothed back his hair, and gave each end of his mustache another twist. “Girls love the ‘stache.”

Cora sighed. No, they don’t. “Look, I’ll give you one of my pumpkin lagers if you carry my crate.”

The fighter stopped and turned around. His eyes drifted down to the wooden crate near Cora’s feet. He looked back at his future wife, then to Cora. With a crooked grin, he grabbed the crate. “Deal!”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Deal!” exclaimed a younger Elric, holding out his hand to his best friend, Mason Rutland.

Mason gawked for a moment before accepting the handshake and giving him a leather riding crop. “Reichtoven,” he remarked with a bemused smile, “I’ll never understand ya, m’boy. Coughin’ up a purty gal like ‘at fer such a small thang.”

Elric looked at the crop. It seemed a fair enough trade. The chance to ride the dangerously wild Hellion across Farmer Rutland’s pasture was something he’d dreamed of doing for years—ever since Mason first showed the wild stallion to him. Rumor said the horse had descended from a nocnamora, the dragon-blooded corruption of a natural horse, capable of breathing fire upon those it hated, which was just about everyone. No one had ever seen Hellion breathing fire. But Farmer Rutland’s pasture had burned at least three times since Hellion roamed its acres, and no one thought that was coincidence.

Elric licked his lips as he strode forward with the crop in hand. Despite her riches and family name, Thalana Brackenstone could wait. Years if need be.

That evening, Elric shuffled to the leather workshop, where his father sat at the workbench trimming edges for a new saddle. Word had spread of his spree with the horse, and now he had to endure a lecture. And when it was done, Elric’s kid brother would endure a beating.

Minutes passed while his father finished the trimming. When it came time to take up the awl and begin punching lace holes, he hesitated, glaring at his son beneath heavy eyebrows. “Sit down.”

Elric pulled up a stool and sat. His mind whirled with what manner of scolding he would receive this time. Would it result in lashes again? Without thinking, he glanced up at the strap only a professional leatherworker could fashion for the backside of wayward boys.

His father swept a hand across the stretched hide. “What am I doin’ heah?”

Elric squinted; the answer seemed obvious. “Um…makin’ a saddle.”

“An’ how do ya know that…aside from my sayin’ so?”

Elric stared at the saddle-shaped swath of leather. “Well, it looks like a saddle.”

“So, m’boy, ya can tell what sumpin’s gonna be afore it’s done, right?”

Elric nodded.

“Ya see, that’s where I got a problem,” his father said as he stabbed his awl into a nearby wooden beam. Elric jumped. “When I look at ya, I cain’t tell what yer gonna be. Yer like a hide what’s been cut an’ cured all in a jumble. Mebbe all the parts is there, but they’s stuck together in ‘at jumble. I cain’t tell what I’m lookin’ at, an’ it don’t make no sense.”


“I done tried to teach ya this ‘ere trade, but ya didn’t want none of it. An’ ‘en I figgered ya’s doin’ all right when ya slopped stables in exchange fer ridin’ lessons. I even reckoned on makin’ ya a saddle if ya proved capable, but ya done give up on ‘at.”

“No, I—”

“An’ now, jis when I’s thankin’ ya finally come to yer senses wid ‘at Brackenstone gal, ya up and let her go! An’ for what? Another rinkin’ horse ride.”

“But I rode Hellion!”

“I don’ care if ya rode a flamin’ pegasus! That ain’t the bloody point, boy! Yer a jumbled-up mess, an’ ya likely just lost a real chance o’ makin’ sumpin’ of yer life. Ya had Thalana Brackenstone—do ya even know who she is? Do ya know what ya done tossed aside for that fool’s ride? Miss Brackenstone is a direct descendent of House Lambrick, the most influential Kedethian house in Alikon, an’ if you two was t’ hook up—” He grasped at the air with a clenched fist. “Ya had ‘er, boy. Ya had ‘er in yer hands! An’ ya done let ‘er go fer a horse ride.”

Elric turned over everything his father had said, which wasn’t nearly as painful a tirade as he’d endured before. Why did he let Thalana go? Why had Mason’s offer swayed him so easily?

It was Hellion. Rather, it was the thrill of riding such an untamed beast. It was the thrill he was drawn to, and the truth of it was that working leather day after day held no thrill. Elric sighed; he couldn’t say that. He watched his father punch a series of holes. That has got to be the most awfulest job in the world. I’d just as soon slop stables for rides…

The answer suddenly occurred to him, and before he gave the notion a second thought, he blurted out, “Pa, I’s born to ride! You’s born to make saddles, an’ I’s born to sit in ‘em! Pa, I didn’t give up on ‘em lessons…I was done with ‘em. I took right to ‘at saddle like I’s a natch! An’ ‘at’s why I jis had to ride Hellion, Pa. I’s born to! So, I done made up my mind, right here an’ now: as soon as I’m old enough, I’m joinin’ the City Guard. An’ I aim to ride with the Sentinel League if they’ll have me.”

For a long minute, the elder Reichtoven continued punching holes as if Elric had not spoken. If there was one thing his father appreciated, it was a straight shooter, and Elric had shot as straight as he knew how.

“Well, m’boy…” His father sighed as he replaced the awl in the rack of tools. “That beats all I ever heard, ya know that?” He turned around and leaned against the workbench, arms folded across his chest. “There ain’t never been a Reichtoven in the military. We been farmers, smitties, couriers, leather workers, an’ even a fisherman up on the lake. But never military. An’ you say ya was born t’ ride. How’s that even possible?”

Elric leaned forward. “I rode Hellion, Pa…not like a sack o’ taters an’ not even hangin’ on fer dear life. I rode ‘im like he was a ol’ nag. Cain’t nobody else say they done ‘at. This ain’t a hankerin’, Pa; this is fer real.”

His father blew contempt up his bangs. “Fer real?”

Elric nodded emphatically. “Fer real.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Are you for real?” Cora asked. “You would take a pint of ale in exchange for your future wife?”

Elric thought back to Thalana and shrugged, clinking the bottles together in the crate he held. “I done it before.”

Cora shook her head and laughed. “You’re a jumbled mess. C’mon.”

Back in her attic bedroom, Cora sat on her bed while Elric leaned against the wall in a chair. In reverent silence, they savored together the brown pint bottle of Doubletree pumpkin lager.

A more delicious brew Cora could not remember tasting. Every swallow was an explosion of flavor; there seemed to be multiple layers to each swill, and the deeper she got into the bottle, the more intricate the taste sensations. Nutty and sweet overtones, hints of cinnamon, a wave of saffron. She closed her eyes as if to memorize the flavors, and her thoughts took a sudden turn to the arcanist’s book beneath her bed.

She reached an arm under the bed frame and slid the thick book out for Elric to see. “Remember this?”

Elric nodded. “Yeah, ain’t that the old man’s—what’s ‘is name…”

“August Blanchard.”

“Right. Wasn’t ‘at his book?”

“Cripe, Elric…he was an alderman of Westmeade, for crying out loud.”

“Well, I don’t ‘member people’s names.” He slurped the last of his lager from the bottle and set it aside. “So, whatcha gonna do with it?”

“I’m not sure,” Cora answered, staring with growing interest at the tome.

“I bet there’s some powerful stuff in ‘ere.”

The songsage nodded, but she didn’t hear him. The sigils on the cover were morphing again. She detected a very distinct “C” in the first pair of symbols. She wondered if the presence of alcohol was making her more lucid or simply suggesting things to a willing mind. In a few seconds, the second pair of runes had melded into an “O.”

“Whatcha doin’, Cora?” Elric asked. His voice sounded like he was speaking to her through a metal tube from a hundred feet away.

Cora ignored him. The third set of sigils were close to congealing, and she was not going to blink and miss it again. The third letter was “R,” formed from three or four symbols. It was difficult to tell where one ended and the next began. Her eyes were drying out and burning, but she pried them open between her fingers and thumbs.


Her eyes would just have to burn. Just a few seconds longer. She could see it forming; the last set of sigils swirling together, shifting and rejoining. Her lids strained to close and restore moisture to her eyes, to do the one thing for which they existed, but she refused them.

The last one was an “A.”

Cora blinked. Hard. “What the…!” she cried out, “Cora?”

“That’s what I been sayin’,” Elric replied dully.

The clasp on the spellbook turned with a soft metallic click.

A swell of dread pulsed through Cora’s chest as she backpedaled away.

“Wha s’matter?” Elric asked.

“The book has my name on it,” Cora panted. “And…and…the clasp just opened by itself when I spoke my name.”

“Well then, it’s yours!”

Cora shook her head vigorously. “No…no, it’s not. We found it in Wilder Tower. Ordin rescued it from the fire, and I’ve just been stashing it here all this time. It’s not mine. It belonged to Blanchard’s duplicate.”

Elric shrugged. “But he’s dead.”

Cora peeled her eyes away from the tome with some effort. The sight of her name on the cover chilled her to the core. Not since Fylokkipyron, the red dragon, breathed down her neck had she wanted so badly to run away. How does it know my name? What does it mean?

She no longer needed to stare intently; the runes on the front spelled her entire name: Cora Eileen O’Banion. It was as if the book had acclimated to her and accepted her. Maybe it had claimed her. Cora shuddered at the thought. Not another sentient item. The last time someone had been claimed by a magical object, it didn’t turn out so well.

“So, ya gonna open it, or ain’t ya?” Elric asked with a hint of impatience.

Cora thought about it. Half of her wanted to bag it up and take it to Artus Calloway, the merchant alderman who was an expert on many magical things. The other half of her—perhaps the larger half—pined to see the book’s contents. There could be any number of useful incantations both mundane and powerful within those pages.

“Well?” Elric prodded.

“Give me a moment, will you?” Cora stared at the open clasp. It had unhitched itself when she spoke her name; that had to be a good sign. An invitation for her. Most traps she knew about were contained within the locking mechanism. This one unlocked without dire effect, so she should be safe. She reached for the cover but hesitated. I should be okay…right? “Elric, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about traps, would you?”

Elric looked about the room and scratched his head.

“Never mind,” Cora said, “that was a silly question.” Here goes…

She held her breath and opened the front cover.

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