Ádan added another book to the growing pile he’d started in what had once been some officer’s private study. He’d chosen this room because it already had shelves of records lining the walls, and now he was working his way through the rest of the safehouse to find any other writings—histories, journals, even accounting ledgers—that might give him some new insight of how to move forward.
As he turned to resume his search, he saw Nikki and V at the door, blocking his exit. “Ádan,” V began. “We need to talk.”
“I know.” Ádan was happy to talk. Eager, even. The trouble was, he knew what questions they were going to ask and damned if he had any answers for them. “Can it wait till I’m done with this?”
Nikki eyed the teetering tower Ádan was building. “What are you even doing?”
There was silence as they waited for him to say more. Ádan offered nothing else. Finally, V said, “You know, if you told us what you were looking for, we might be able to help.”
“If I knew what I was looking for, I’d tell you.”
“That’s bullshit.” Nikki crossed his arms, his blue eyes narrowed with judgement. “You know something, and you’re not telling us.”
Varajas added, “There are only three of us left.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Ádan snapped in response.
Varajas continued, his voice patient. “All I’m saying is we need to work as a team. Together.”
Ádan matched his tone. Two could play the cool and collected game. “And all I’m saying is I’m trying to figure out how we do that. How three of us do the work of an entire order. How we protect the knife. How we protect ourselves. I can’t tell you how that’s going to work, and until I can…”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Nikki slapped the door in frustration. “Who said you had to figure it out by yourself? Let us help.”
“I appreciate the offer.” But Grandmaster Derian had handed this responsibility to Ádan when he’d placed the knife in his hands. If they succeeded—if they failed—it was on Ádan’s shoulders. As it had been on Derian’s, on his predecessor’s, stretching all the way back to Grandmaster Alín who had first taken on this burden.
On the other hand, Ádan understood just how hard it was to stand around and wait for orders, feeling like you should be doing something. “Okay. If you want to help, the first step is to tear this safehouse apart, and pick through any stone still standing in the Academy. If there’s any record to be found, I want to find it. Any writing down to some squire’s grocery list. We’ve lost so much knowledge, we can’t afford to lose anymore.”
“We can do that,” Varajas said evenly. “And after that?”
“After that will depend on what we find. On if we end up knowing any more than we do now.”
Which wasn’t much. Ádan wasn’t sure V and Nikki realized just how little they knew. How thin were the threads at which Ádan was grasping.
That had been one of the most frightening parts of that last night before Ádan, Nikhil, and Varajas had fled Ulek. Derian had talked to Ádan, had made a final confession, knowing it would be the last time they would talk in this world.
They’d been together in Derian’s bedroom—one of the few parts of the castle where the wards still held well enough they could trust no wizard could be spying on them. The knife lay on the bed, its black, twisting blade pulsing with malice. Derian had held himself rigidly, like he was having to fight to keep from reaching for it.
“She can’t be destroyed. That’s the awful truth.” Derian’s hand twitched before he caught himself and crossed his arms. His handsome, firstborn face had aged terribly just in the last few months, drawn and hollow from too much magic and too little sleep. “We’ve had some of the best theorists who ever lived study her, and they’ve tried to find a weakness, but it just isn’t possible. Something about the knife—something we don’t understand.” His hands had closed to fists. “What do we understand? Nothing. Even after all these years…”
He’d trailed off, taken a deep breath, found his focus again. “Maybe they knew more—Alín and Tiarna, when they first took on this burden. Maybe we’ve lost information over the years. Maybe we never had it. If that knowledge does exist, it’s buried somewhere, lost in some corner no one has looked for a very long time.
“What I do know is that she’ll whisper to you. She’ll creep into your dreams. She’ll try to get you to use her, to set her free. There’s no way to stop that. But you can’t. We can’t. If her power were set free, it could be the end of everything. The death of…”
He fell silent again, his eyes growing unfocused. He wasn’t looking at Ádan anymore. “She lies,” he whispered. “She lies. You have to remember. Above all else. She lies.”
The emptiness in his voice had been terrifying. Whatever nightmare he’d been living, even now, Ádan couldn’t imagine it. Although, when he let himself slow down long enough to think, he worried he might have taken the first step down that path. A path lined with the creaking sound of a body hanging from a rope, a shadow that would follow Ádan forever.
The other terror, equal in awfulness, was that whatever connection previous Grandmasters had with the knife—some step or ritual Ádan hadn’t been able to fulfill—Ádan would never had. That he’d never hear its voice. And that would turn out to be the failure that would ruin what tenuous future the knights still had.
Ádan could share none of these fears with his friends. Derian had chosen him to be the leader. He couldn’t begin that duty by undermining whatever faith they had in him. After everything that had happened, if they knew just how lost he truly was, it could all fall apart.
Varajas, who had been looking around the office, seemingly unaware of the struggle going on inside Ádan’s head, said, “If nothing else, this gives me something to do. I won’t be leaving the house for a while.”
That jerked Ádan’s focus back to the here and now. “Why not?”
A thin, cynical smile. “When you rode back with Lysander, did you notice the rest of the people riding with you?”
“Darkivels,” Ádan said with poison. “But they don’t know you. They shouldn’t.”
“Not them. High Father Donatien and his blades. I saw a number of familiar faces. Including Ruan.”
Most people had history before they joined the knights. Ádan had been recruited young, but that wasn’t true of everyone. The rule was, whatever your past before the knights didn’t matter. Your oaths started you fresh. So Ádan didn’t know the details of Varajas’s history, other than that, somehow, he’d run afoul of the blades. That one in particular—Brother Ruan—had hunted him for years.
Blades were the arm of the church that hunted wizards who had broken the rules. Since the knights had started—all those hundreds and hundreds of years ago—with a wizard who had broken the rules, the blades had been suspicious of them from the start. High Father Donatien had been quick to side with the Darkivels when they’d first made noise about moving against the knights.
Blades in the city weren’t much of a threat to Ádan. His cover was solid. Nikki, similarly, had been kept away from the front lines by Derian, so he’d be safe to move around. But Varajas was right. He’d have to stay hidden until the High Father turned his eye to some new project.
One more thing for Ádan to worry about. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to his friend, of course. But also, they simply couldn’t afford to lose Varajas.
So many things to keep track of. So many things to think about. How had Derian done this? And he’d had the whole order to run.
“All right then.” Ádan was a pro at sounding confident. “We’re going to dig through the safehouse and the Academy. We’re going to find everything there is to find. And then we’re going to figure out how to move forward.”
That seemed to satisfy Nikki and V. They nodded like he’d given them an order, then left him alone again. Silence descended, surrounded him, covered him like a blanket. Silence in which Ádan strained to hear the barest whisper, the slightest breath, of the object over which he now stood guardian.
More things he didn’t know—whether or not he even needed to be able to talk to it. But Derian had talked to it; he’d implied that all previous guardians had been able to talk to it. That it was good to know what the knife was thinking.
She lies. She lies.
Or maybe silence wasn’t the worst thing after all.