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Beneath the hood of a faded open-front robe, his short chocolate-colored hair with flecks of silver was in disarray. Strands dangled to his thick brows above eyes separated by a straight but overly prominent nose. His borrowed clothing of a dusky linen shirt and drab pantaloons was no different from that of a common street vendor. In part, he wondered whether such caution was needed. Few people about this late would ever glance his way. Most of the stalls were closed with their tarp flats pulled down, and all nearby shop awnings had been lowered and shut tight. But he had learned in hard ways to be more cautious than ever before.

When he slipped along the cutway, across the back alley, and then neared the next street, a new smell filled his nostrils. Up the northward stretch of the next street, an old man with a cane of scrap wood shuffled nearer along the sandstone cobble. Wrapped in rags too filthy to show any hint of color in the dark, he dragged his lame foot more than the good one.

With barely a blink, the dark behind his eyelids filled with lines of spreading light. In an instant, a doubled square formed in sigils, symbols, and signs burned brightly. Then came a triangle within that square and another inverted within that, both at the center of the pattern. As his blink finished, he completed his incantation with a flash of thought quicker than spoken words.

The old man blinked as well. He looked about as if having seen something and then second-guessing upon seeing it no more. With a tired sag of his shoulders, he moved on in his click-clop-scrape. Ghassan waited until the beggar was halfway to the next cross street before silently stepping out. He could have made the old man see someone else in his place, but to wipe his presence from the awareness of one target was much simpler.

Such were the subtleties of sorcery, especially for a master of the third and most reviled practice of magic. Arrival after sunset was nothing more than good fortune. Had they docked earlier—considering he was a noble dead, specifically a vampire—he would have had to wait until nightfall to disembark. Now he gazed out over the vast, seemingly endless port with mixed emotions.

He and his companions had sailed south along the coast for nearly a moon. Partly relieved to reach their destination, he struggled to suppress anxiety over what they might face here. Chane glanced down as Wynn Hygeorht stepped to the railing. She was so short she could have stood beneath his chin. Though in her early twenties, she looked younger, or at least she did to him.

For a moment, his gaze locked on her pretty, oval face of olive-toned skin surrounded by wispy light brown hair. Back there, all sages dressed in full-length robes, but this shorter one stopped at her knees. Beneath it she wore pants, tunic, and boots to move more easily. Still, the robe was the wrong color for her.

First and Last Sorcerer: A Novel of the Noble Dead - Barb Hendee, J. C. Hendee - Google книги

Not long before, Wynn had worn gray for the order of Cathology, until she had been forced to change orders for a number of reasons. She now wore the midnight blue of the order of Metaology. Chane was still unaccustomed to this; he would always see her as a cathologer. Wynn looked away from the port and up at him. Her gaze ran over his pale face and red-brown hair. A puzzled frown then clouded her expression. Not wishing her to think he was studying her, he turned his attention back to the port that awaited them.

In truth, he had not given this much thought or expected anything in particular. Now, upon their arrival, the place looked too. His night vision was far better than that of the living. By the clear sky and three-quarter moon, he could see that most of the buildings nearest to the piers were only one story high. Many of the structures beyond peaked high above the waterfront buildings. Some had to be huge, by a guess, especially those set farther and farther into the immense capital of the Suman Empire. Every structure within sight was mostly golden-tan sandstone except for heat-grayed timbers and planks or the occasional dyed wall or pinnacled dome with colors faded by the desert sun.

His voice had never healed. Time to gather our belongings. Shade, a long-legged black dog resembling an overly tall wolf, stood only a few strides away. With her forepaws up on the railing, she too looked out into the city. Before this voyage, the dog had been badly injured and nearly killed. Though she appeared fully healed, he still did not want her exerting herself unnecessarily. It was a strange thing for him to care so much for anyone or anything besides Wynn. He could not help his concern for her in turn. The fourth member of their group had turned to readying the last of their belongings.

An exceptionally tall elf with long white-blond hair hefted several packs. Unfortunately, Wynn did not see things this way, which was all the more irritating to Chane. In grudging fairness, Chane had to admit that Osha was astonishingly skilled with the long, curved bow strung over his right shoulder. His shots struck with more accuracy than should have been possible. Over his left shoulder was a quiver of black-feathered arrows, as well as a narrow wrapped bundle tied to his back.

Osha raised his head with the usual dour expression on his long, horselike face. This softened only whenever his large amber eyes fixed on Wynn. Though Osha now struggled less with tongues other than his own, Chane had rarely met anyone as inept with languages.

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He looked away, scowling for reasons besides those concerning the elf. Around them, sailors tossed down lines to men on the pier, and Wynn suddenly stepped off to join Osha by the small pile of their belongings.

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  • It was much heavier than it appeared, for inside it lay the orb of Spirit. The one called the Ancient Enemy and other names and titles had once wielded that potential weapon in an all but forgotten war upon the world. Startled, he raised his eyes to find Wynn frowning at him again. He quickly stepped in to heft the chest. Still frowning, Wynn turned the other way and grabbed her staff leaning beside the aftcastle door.

    It was taller than her head, with its upper end sheathed in leather over the long crystal atop it. She picked up the last pack and headed for the ramp as Shade closed in at her side. Wynn let out a breathy sigh, perhaps as daunted as Chane over what they would face in the next step of this journey. Wynn tried to keep a confident air as she led the way down the pier toward the city.

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    Moons ago, she and Magiere had agreed to split up in the search for the remaining two orbs: Spirit and Air. In all, there were five of these devices, hidden centuries before by minions of the Ancient Enemy. Three had been recovered—and safely rehidden—leaving only two left to locate. So Wynn had remained up north with her small group to search for the orb of Spirit.

    Unfortunately, he was unpredictable, perhaps untrustworthy, and always had his own agenda. If anyone might know the whereabouts of Magiere and those with her, it would be him. The air of the waterfront was tainted with spices and dust that mixed with the odors of sea brine and masses of people. As if that thought called the dog, Wynn felt Shade press up against her thigh. Most of the dusky-skinned and dark-haired people on the waterfront wore light, loose-fitting cloth shifts or equally loose leggings or pantaloons. Wraps upon their heads were done up in all sorts of mounds, short or tall, thick or thin.

    She read the common dialect of Sumanese quite well and even spoke a bit of it, but all languages in common usage tended to evolve like living things. Her knowledge of it was more scholarly than practical. Osha towered over everyone, and though he was dressed in brown pants and a simple tunic, his tan skin and large but slanted amber eyes were exotic in this place.

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    Worse was his white-blond hair, which glowed too brightly whenever he passed under an oil lamp. Dressed like a traveling nobleman in a well-tailored but well-worn white shirt, dark pants, and high boots, he would likely be fixed upon by any cutpurse around. That is, until they spotted the two sheathed swords at his waist instead of one.

    When he grew angry or agitated, they turned crystal clear. Wynn looked down once more at the tall black dog—or wolf—walking at her side. Looking into the city, she saw no trees or plant life anywhere, only an endless stretch of light-toned buildings. But he often attempted either Belaskian or Numanese, either for practice or to be polite. If we stay near the waterfront, we should spot it down an inland street. Wynn turned ahead, taking a slow breath. A sandstone arch stretched between two buildings like a gate into the city.

    Wanting out of the crowd and trying to appear confident, Wynn walked through the arch. When they reached the next street parallel to the waterfront, she turned north again. Along the way, she peered up the side streets, looking for one wide enough that it might reveal their destination. Wynn carried her own pack over her left shoulder, and Chane carried the chest with the orb—which was heavy—but Osha was burdened with everything else.

    And then Chane looked back as well and half turned. Chane moved on with a subtle sneer, and Wynn sighed as she headed onward. This quietly hostile competition was becoming annoying. The mainway was almost as well lit as the waterfront by streetlamps hung high at every intersection. The scent of jasmine sharpened in her nose, though she saw none blooming along the rows of shops and eateries they passed.

    It thickened even more as she passed a dark-haired woman in a gauzy wrap and bangles of brass around her neck and wrists. More than this, and due to a plan hatched by her father, Chap, Shade had traveled across the far ocean and the whole central continent to protect Wynn. As a sage, she should be offered shelter for herself and her companions.

    He jutted his chin up that street. Wynn nodded and headed for the side street. From what she saw, there were no street signs or markers pointing toward anything, and she grew worried. In order to find Magiere, she needed to find the domin, and to find him, she needed to find the guild. Then she spotted an elderly man with a heavily lined dusky face coming her way, and she tried her best in simple Sumanese. The man stopped, blinked several times, and took in the sight of her companions.

    He looked over her short-robe and nodded once. Instead of answering, he held up six fingers and then pointed up the way. Before she could nod, he pointed northward and held up four fingers. Wynn smiled—six blocks inland and four to the north. She quickened the pace and soon reached a seemingly endless stone wall stretching in both directions. It was surprisingly short and was probably just something to mark the extents of the grounds and keep the public from wandering in.

    Around a vast courtyard stood numerous enormous buildings of tan stone with ornately peaked rooftops. The courtyard had been painstakingly cobbled with dark brown and red tiles in an arcing diamond pattern. Paths between buildings were well swept and benches had been placed at comfortable intervals. She felt a little daunted at the sight of it all. These grounds were far larger than those of the Numan branch, which by comparison looked like little more than a squat stone keep tucked tightly inside a four-towered old wall.

    Much more important, they should soon learn where to find Magiere. Upon reaching the entrance, she halted before a set of opened iron gates between two immense sandstone columns. Four men—obviously not sages—were stationed inside the columns, and all four turned to stare at her. They wore identical tan pants of fine fabric tucked into matching tall, hard boots.

    Dark brown tabards overlaid their cream shirts, and red wraps were mounded atop their heads. Each had an ornately sheathed curved sword tucked into the heavy red fabric of his waist wrap. She was staring at them with growing concern when one barked a question in Sumanese. Both men, along with Shade, were far too protective of her. One guard with a close-trimmed beard took a step toward her. His accent was thick, but his command of Numanese was sound, and at least he recognized her for what she was. For the sake of good manners, Aweli-Jama would have to offer hospitality to a fellow sage—albeit a foreign one—and her companions.

    The bearded guard simply studied her. Then his gaze shifted beyond her, likely to Osha and Chane. He twisted slightly, whispering something to the other guards, and then. She watched as he entered the beautiful sandstone building straight ahead with six peaks along the top of its roof. There was another strange thing Wynn noted. There had to be many sages of all ranks staying on the grounds full-time, especially in a place as big as this.

    That was all that was needed between them in situations like this. The dog could catch rising memories within anyone in sight and show such to Wynn, so long as they were touching. Wynn waited three breaths, far too long for any sights or sounds to enter her thoughts. What did Shade mean? How—or, for that matter, why? Four people walked brusquely toward the gate, and the guard who had told her to wait led the way.

    Behind him came a tall man hidden within the gray robe of a cathologer, with the full cowl up and shadowing his face from the courtyard lanterns. She is also confused about the peaceful ways she learned in her Shining Star village and the insistence of her new Northlander friends that Greeta must embrace the warrior ways of her Northlander heritage.

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