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Chapter Fifty-One

Smoke was no earthshaker as a wizard but within his limitations, which he recognized, he was competent and effective. And forewarned, he was forearmed.

The woman knew his every move? Then she commanded some unsuspected agency for espionage. He needed blind that only a few minutes.

He scuttled through the palace, ducking his employers, who were looking for him. He dodged into one of his shielded rooms, barred the door.

Obviously his shielding had been penetrated because that man had implied she knew everything, meaning she had been peeking here, too. She was more than she pretended. Much more. She was the Daughter of Night. And that fool the prince had been blinded by her. Hadnt they been out to the gardens again tonight?

No one could stop her but him. Maybe he could shake loose from Longshadow later.

The Shadowmasters face formed in his head. His legs turned to jelly. He shook his head violently, forced the apparition away, hurriedly set about checking his defenses.

He found a pinhole through which some wicked spirit could have oozed. Or a shadow, for that matter.

He plugged it. Then he worked a spell that pressed his limits. It would conceal his whereabouts till he became the object of a very determined search. Secure, he filled a small silver bowl from a mercury flask, working as swiftly as he dared. Before he was finished he feared that he had been too slow.

Someone tried the door. He jumped but concentrated on opening the path to Overlook. It came. It came. More quickly than he expected, it came. The Shadowmaster had been thinking of him, too.

The racket at the door became pounding and shouting. He ignored it.

The dread face appeared on the surface of the mercury, amazed. It mouthed words. There was no sound. The Shadowmaster was too far, Smokes power too feeble. The little wizard gestured violently, Pay attention! He was startled by his own temerity. But this was a desperate hour. Desperate measures were necessary.

Smoke grabbed paper and ink and scribbled. They were trying to break down the door. Damn, the woman had reacted quickly.

He held his message up for Longshadow. The Shadowmaster read. He reread. Then Longshadow looked him in the eye and nodded. He appeared bewildered. Carefully, he mouthed words so Smoke could read his lips.

The door began to give. And something else was trying to get in now, clawing and tearing at the plugged pinhole.

The door gave a little more.

Smoke got half the message before the pinhole plug broke. Dense smoke boiled into the room. A face glared out of it. Hideous and fanged and filled with grim purpose, it came for him. He squealed, jumped up, overturned table and bowl.

The door gave way as the demon caught him. He screamed and tumbled down into an abyss of terror.

The guards took one look, cursed, dropped the ram and fled. The prince stepped inside, saw the thing ripping at Smoke. The Radisha crowded up behind him. What the hell is that?

I dont know. I dont think you ought to stay to find out. He looked for a weapon, recognized the absurdity of the impulse as he grabbed a swordlike sliver split from the doorframe.

The monster looked up, startled. It stared. Apparently this situation was beyond its instructions. It hung there, motionless.

The Prahbrindrah threw the sliver like a spear.

The thing shrank away into an upper corner of the room, swiftly and dramatically, leaving behind an odor like cinnamon and mustard and wine all mixed.

What the hell was it? the Radisha demanded again. She was petrified. The Prahbrindrah jumped over to the wizard. Smokes blood was everywhere, along with shreds of clothing. The thing had driven him into a corner. What was left of him had drawn itself into a tight fetal ball.

The prince dropped to his knees. Hes alive. Get some help. Fast. Or he wont be for long. He started doing what he could.

Chapter Fifty | Dreams of Steel | Chapter Fifty-Two