And yes, in fact, as soon as he walked in the door, Ádan heard Loukanos’s voice summoning him upstairs. “Coming!” Ádan yelled back.
“Where have you been?” Loukanos asked irritably as Ádan came into the study. The Archwizard was surrounded by books and hand-written notes, but the space on the table before him was taken up by a wide, flat, polished sheet of crystal.
“Out.” When Loukanos was in a mood like this, there wasn’t a correct answer, so Ádan aimed for short.
“Yes, out. Where you so often go.” And incredibly, Loukanos smiled. “And there it is,” he murmured.
“There what is?”
Loukanos waved a hand and the door behind Ádan slammed shut. “So very well done, Ádan.” Loukanos’s smile grew. He sounded eerily happy.
Ádan took a couple steps back. He couldn’t help himself. Every instinct was screaming to flee from the monster grinning that rictus smile. “What did I do?”
“You fulfilled our bargain. Oh, I know you didn’t intend to. But here you are.”
Ádan still wasn’t sure what Loukanos was talking about, but he was beginning to suspect. What he did know was that standing here, puzzling it out, was a really bad idea. He kicked a chair at Loukanos and spun for the door.
Except he didn’t.
The chair hung in the air, frozen in space no where close to the Archwizard, and Ádan stood frozen too, stopped mid-turn by his body simply shutting down.
“You think I didn’t know the game you were playing? You think I didn’t suspect?” Now Loukanos sounded disappointed. “And you were playing so well. A shame to blind yourself to something so obvious.”
Loukanos came closer, moving into Ádan’s view. “If it makes you feel better, you sold the lie. At first, I did believe you. That you’d abandoned your people, run away when you could. So that was well done. I’m not often fooled.”
He reached up, traced a finger down Ádan’s face with the same calculation in his eye Ádan had seen directed at body after body. “And then you went out, and came back to me reeking with power. Soaked in it. The same power you claimed to know nothing about.”
Ádan held panic away by sheer force of will. It wouldn’t do him any good. He couldn’t afford it right now. What he needed was focus. The same iron focus Loukanos had been teaching him all this time. If he could fight back against this magic…
Pain blossomed inside him, a flurry of explosions he could feel ripping through his body. Loukanos shook his head. “No more magic for you, I’m afraid.” He released the binding that held Ádan frozen and Ádan collapsed to the floor.
“I’d like to thank you for leading me to the Academy. I’d looked there, of course. And well done on whatever magic you have hiding the power source from anyone who would look. But you were close to it, weren’t you? You touched it. And I know that’s where you were.”
The tree. He meant the tree. The knife. He knew. Or thought he did.
Because the knife was below, deep below. Even knowing to look in the Academy wasn’t enough.
Ádan needed to—
Loukanos clenched his hand and Ádan’s insides ripped and shredded and all coherent thought was driven away by screams.
“The most fun, of course,” Loukanos said conversationally, “would be to leave you like this on Korin’s doorstep. To force him to watch you die. But I can’t trust that he wouldn’t be able to save you. So I’ll have to do the next best thing and leave you here. I’m afraid it won’t last long. For which I apologize. You’ve been a good servant and you deserve more of my attention than I can give you. But I don’t dare put off the opportunity you’ve given me.”
He paused at the door. Ádan could barely make sense of his words through the pain. “You’ll be dead when I return, of course. But I promise I’ll do something worthwhile with your body. I owe you that much.”
And then he was gone, and Ádan could do nothing but spiral deeper and deeper into the white-hot agony of his body tearing itself apart.