Together they followed their new acquaintance. This Crimson Guardian was young and slightly resembled Flavus Brian in his seriousness and naive kindness, and also, in his youth.
“What’s your name?” Kan asked him.
“Ainan Smalt,” answered the young mage. He stopped at the corridor intersection, puzzled for a moment, then confidently turned left. “I’m just a student,” he apologised. Again. “What has happened there is big. So big that all available mages have been summoned. I wish I knew what those thieves stole.”
“Can you tell me what you already know?” asked Kan.
“Sure. A group of thieves infiltrated the Tower. No one knows how. The magical wards here can keep anyone away unless it’s one of the immortals or a person with a special permit. The thieves sure weren’t… So, one of the lady Aster’s apprentices called the Crimson Guard for help, a bloodbath followed. We’re still counting the losses. Lady Aster fought unarmed against the thieves’ leader… who was smart enough not to rely on his or her skills and used poison to win. Most of the mages are looking for the thief now. I hope they’ll catch him… her… whatever.”
“And what of the thief that you’ve captured? The girl?” that was the young pirate speaking now. Something in the way he pronounced the word ‘girl’ gave Kan an unpleasant, sickening feeling as if he was on that thrice-cursed ship again, without a peppermint bar.
“She is unhurt. Didn’t even try to resist arrest,” Ainan shrugged. “Looks like she’s in shock.”
He stopped in front of a small unadorned door locked with a disproportionately heavy magical device.
“She is almost a child… about my little sister’s age,” sighed Ainan. “And now they will lock her up for life in some prison. So sad…”
“Open the door,” said Kangassk, echoing his regret.
The room was a closet, windowless, filled with old things, dust, and darkness. Two Lihts lit up there simultaneously, one Ainan’s, the other Kan’s, two tiny suns that ended the dark and made shadows twist and dance as they burned. It was the first time Kangassk had used magic in the South. He was used to Lihts being cool, sometimes even cold; now, the ball of magical light was uncomfortably hot in his hand.
There weren’t many places to hide in the little room but the young thief somehow did. It took both mages a while to notice her messy hair behind a stack of brooms.
The girl was small, a head shorter than Kangassk and of a very fragile build. How old was she? She seemed very young, just a teenager, but there was something strange about her, something that made Kan’s soothstone… puzzled? There was no telling what that mix of signals it radiated could even mean. There was a tinge of recognition, a shadow of foreboding, a subtle undertone of deceit, and a wandering, unstable melody under all that, like a distant, gleaming light in the dark depths of the ocean.
The little thief didn’t even raise her head to look at the visitors. Curled in a dusty corner under the unsteady canopy of old brooms, she kept crying. Those weak, almost meowing sounds she made, they made Kan feel like a villain; he hated that.
Kangassk cast a simple levitation spell on his magical light so it would float in the air in the centre of the little room. It felt nice to get rid of the uncomfortably hot glowing sphere at least. The niceness didn’t last, though, for as soon as he had got down on one knee before the girl, his cold obsidian ignited a hot coal of foreboding under his heart.
“Hello,” said Kan.
“Go away!” the girl hissed at him. “I won’t warn you again!”
Kangassk didn’t take the thief seriously and reaped the consequences right away. Everything happened very fast. Wound up like a spring, the thief put all her energy, all her anger, all her hours of fear and despair into one little action that was meant to end her new acquaintance once and for all. A glass shard sparkled in her hand as it flew toward Kan’s throat. There was no way to react in time. Neither Ainan nor Orion could’ve helped him. But, thanks to his cold obsidian, he knew. Knowledge is power, they say. It is.
The girl’s slender wrist met Kangassk’s open palm and was caught in his grasp, as firm as any smith’s, like a mouse in a trap.
Their eyes met.
“I am not your enemy,” said Kangassk slowly and loudly, making sure every word got home, and opened his hand.
The little thief didn’t even move. She just stared at him, her eyes wide and full of terror. The glass shard fell to the floor with a sharp, jingling sound. Kangassk carefully wrapped it with his cloak and lifted it to the light.
“This isn’t just a shard, right? You can't kill a full-grown man with such a little thing,” he said. “Unless it’s poisoned, of course…”
The girl gasped but said nothing.
“What’s your name?”
“Edna,” she said, her lips trembling.
What happened a moment later made both Ainan and Orion grasp their swords but left Kangassk quietly sitting where he was. Edna lunged at him again, with the same energy as the last time. Only now she didn’t try to kill the Apprentice. No, she hid her face in his cloak, a hand on each shoulder, and wept, loudly and miserably like the child she - probably - was.
“He killed them all! Just like that! He killed them all!” she muttered between sobs. “They were my friends. My family…”
Ainan and Orion exchanged glances and turned to Kangassk again, a silent question in their eyes. He didn’t need a soothstone to guess what the question was.
“Who?” he asked, very quietly not to scare the girl away. “Who killed your friends?”
Kan threw a quick glance at his companions. Both frantically gestured for him to keep going.
“You all were a team, right?” he asked. A sorrowful sob was the answer. Yes, they were. But what was the girl’s place in that team? Well, he had a clue now. “And you were their poison expert?”
Kangassk took the girl by the shoulders and gently pushed her away to look her in the eye. A simple soothing spell he wordlessly cast helped her calm down enough to stop crying.
“Please, help me, Edna. And I will do my best to help you,” he promised. “My name is Kangassk, I’m the worldholders’ apprentice. I can vouch for you, save you from life in prison…”
“You… Kangassk?” the girl whispered, surprised.
Paypal no longer works in my country, so I can't get money from Ko-fi, Gumroad, and ComicAd.
But now I have good news!
Patreon still works! And I've replaced Ko-fi with Buymeacoffee! that works with Payoneer instead of Paypal. You can even buy my books there now. Boosty still works as well. It accepts Paypal and all cards.