Varajas tried to grab at Samir’s sleeve as he fled, but he couldn’t move fast enough. His rubbery legs didn’t want to hold him and he stumbled against the wall. “God-dammit!”

As Samir disappeared into the gloom.

Ruan was glaring. “I suppose you’re going to blame me for this, too,” Varajas grumbled, trying to will his body into cooperation.

“You say that like I’ve been unfair somehow.”

That was when Varajas noticed the dog nosing his way in through the other door. “What the hell?” he asked, his mind stuttering at just one surreality too far.

Ruan shrugged, a surly, challenging look on his face. “I found him. Or he found me. He doesn’t make any less sense than any of the rest of this.” Varajas couldn’t argue.

He closed his eyes, took several slow, deep breaths. They’d been stumbling around, confused, reacting. It wasn’t getting them anywhere but hurt and angry with each other. And he knew better. He’d been trained better. They all had.

“We need to find Samir. And then we need to get out of here.”

“We don’t even know where here is.”

When Ruan was upset, he argued. It didn’t mean anything. Varajas knew that, but couldn’t stop himself from snapping, “Then tell me your better idea.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

Another deep breath.

Samir, Varajas, Ruan were all here together. And the dog. Varajas couldn’t make sense of the dog, so he just ignored that for now. All three of them had been on the road. And now they were here.

Here was real and not real. An Ulek that didn’t exist. That faded in and out as they fell into memories, visions. Visions that had their own solidity, that other people could get pulled into, even if they hadn’t been there.

Calmly, he asked, “Do you remember the last investigation we worked together?”

“Before you betrayed the order, joined our enemy, and began a trail of blood that—”

“Yes. Before that.”

Ruan sneered. “Of course I remember.”

“The wizards we found—the captives.”

Ruan gave a grudging nod.

Varajas was still having trouble focusing in on the slippery memories, but some parts of that investigation were clear enough in his mind. “They’d been restrained, not physically, but with chains around their minds. Held, somehow, without a single need for locks or chains. That wizard—the first one we saw—who was so confused, who kept talking about what was real.”

“Do you have a point?”

“I just wonder—if we’d been able to talk to one of them. If we’d found them alive. What story they would have told.” Varajas pointedly looked around the room.

Varajas could tell the instant Ruan got it as his eyes widened, then his face went sharp, thoughtful. “That was eight years ago.”

“And we never found the wizard who did it.”

“No we didn’t because you—” Ruan cut himself off. It seemed to be dawning on him, just how bad a situation they were in. “So what do we do?”

That was definitely an improvement over don’t tell me what to do. “Same as before. We find Samir. And then we figure out how to escape.”

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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