Samir stumbled, catching himself against a crumbling wall before he fell. Krys grabbed the exposed bar of a broken light above and swung, scolding him. He’d been running, heedless of his surroundings, and then got sucked into another of those visions—memories—whatever they were.

They were too much like…

Samir wrenched his mind away from that thought before it could form, before it could drag him back down into another morass of dreams that wouldn’t get him any closer to finding a way out of here.

Wherever here was.

He’d been running a while. He was panting, head down, trying to catch his breath. Instinctively, he glanced back, but the hall behind him clouded to impenetrable darkness. What mattered was he didn’t see Varajas or Ruan. That they hadn’t followed him.

How could he have trusted them? It was so obvious now. The way they’d both followed him, making excuses to keep close. And he’d believed…he’d believed they liked him. That they hadn’t just been using him.

The cards had tried to warn him. Night, right there at the top of the spread he’d done. Warning him of lies and illusions. False friends. The ace of stone and knight of water—Varajas and Ruan. So obvious now. He should have seen it, except that he’d been so distracted by…

What had he been distracted by?

He was growing sensitive to the tug on his mind as the world around him tried to drag him back to sleep. Memory was dangerous. Just standing and thinking was dangerous. He needed to keep moving.

Slower, now. No more running. He summoned a light, and it cut through the gloom somewhat. The darkness here seemed resistant. It didn’t want to let Samir see.

Samir wasn’t even sure what part of the castle he’d stumbled into. A hall with many doors. Could be living space. Could be something else. Windows along one wall gave him a view of an interior courtyard and other wings, all rising higher than the floor he was on. Nothing was distinct enough for him to get his bearing.

“This is Ulek. Or a parody of Ulek. If it isn’t real, it’s copying well enough that if I go from what I know, it should be true.”

Krys looked down when he started talking, craning her head around so that she was looking at him right-side-up. She always looked like she was listening, her eyes sharp, her ears perked. It made her easy to talk to.

Familiars were smart. The process of bonding a familiar made changes to them, made them smarter than most animals of their type. There was an upper ceiling—probably. And animals that started out smarter became smarter.

The limiting factor was that the smarter the animal, the harder they were to bond to. Bats started out pretty smart. Everyone was always so amazed by Sheluna and her tiger, but really, Krys had been a greater challenge than Cír. Even Sheluna had said so.

So it was hard to say how much Krys understood when he talked to her. Samir liked to think it was a lot.

“Where are we trying to get to? That’s the question.”

Krys chittered. If that was meant to be answer, it was beyond Samir’s understanding.

“I guess we keep going.” Further into the darkness. To find answers. Because Samir refused to accept there were no answers to be found.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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