Ádan sank his awareness into the body on the table. Loukanos had brought it in as a corpse, but he fed it with false life so Ádan could practice.
He was following the blood on its complicated path, feeling it pulse and flow, learning the byways of veins and arteries and capillaries. Power was useless without understanding. Derian had been the first to explain that to Ádan, and Loukanos had echoed it back many times over the past few weeks. Magic was useless unless its wielder understood the thing he was trying to affect. To change.
Ádan was starting to build a map when Loukanos said, “Tell me about Naktigan.”
By now, Ádan was used to this trick—Loukanos trying to distract him, break his concentration. He liked testing Ádan, and—if Ádan failed—punishing him. The punishment was always couched as another lesson. How would Ádan understand pain he never experienced?
The first time had been a shock, and it had almost shaken Ádan out of his pretense, had almost goaded him into fighting back. But he’d kept his head, reminded himself of his mission. And he’d learned. He took the pain, studied it every bit as much as Loukanos said he should. And going forward, he’d improved his focus, got better at not being rattled by interruptions.
But this wasn’t a question Ádan had expected, and it almost pulled him out. “Naktigan?” he repeated softly, buying time as he settled the magic into a place he could keep it moving without a lot of active thought.
“Yes. The night of the slaughter. The power Derian used to make it happen.”
Despite his best effort, Ádan’s concentration wobbled. This subject…what did Loukanos know?
Tiny needle-pricks of power rippled over Ádan’s skin. “Do we need to have this lesson again?” Loukanos asked in a too-kind voice.
Ádan took a deep breath, forced his mind back to the magic. Cold calculation, that was all he could afford right now. He couldn’t let himself think about… “Were you there? At Naktigan?”
“I was in proximity. Not close enough to see the ritual as it was taking effect, but I felt it. The raw power of it. I felt the deaths. And afterwards, I saw the results. All the dead.”
Ádan heard the smile in Loukanos’s voice, knew he didn’t dare open his eyes or it would be too much to maintain his careful mental distance. But still, a flare of anger made him say, “Including two of your own.”
“Did Korin tell you that?”
Cursing himself, knowing that had been a mistake, Ádan remained silent.
But Loukanos went on breezily. “Ah, yes, Teriad and that other apprentice of his. No great loss, and if it gave the people an outlet to drain their anger, so much the better. Teriad’s own fault for letting himself get captured. But what I’m more interested in is the magic that came out of Ulek. What exactly Derian did. How did he summon it, control it?”
If Loukanos thought he could goad Ádan into an emotional corner where he’d have trouble telling a smooth enough lie, then all the better for Ádan. Because it wasn’t going to happen. “I don’t know. Naktigan was the night I ran.”
“Oh?” More curiosity than disbelief in Loukanos’s tone, which was good.
“It was chaos inside the castle. Surely you can imagine. There had been talk for weeks of mutiny—whispers in corners. You understand. The King and the Grandmaster had a death grip on their authority to keep it from crumbling. And then that night… I felt…something. It put everything inside me on edge. It did that to everyone. And suddenly no one was watching me. So I got out.”
As Ádan spoke the words, he made himself believe them. He wouldn’t let the truth form itself in even the deepest depths of his thoughts.
Needles against his skin; tiny, sharp points of pain. It didn’t hurt enough to be a punishment. This was merely Loukanos’s frustration. He said nothing more, and after a moment, he left, and the pain faded.
Ádan let go his own magic and collapsed back into the chair. That had been dangerous. Loukanos’s questions were getting close. Too close. Ádan still had so much to learn, and he still didn’t have the tools to figure out the knife, but it seemed time to start figuring out an exit strategy.
But for right now, he had to get out of the house.