CHAPTER 14

Aunn bolted to the room at the end of the hall, where Cart and Ashara had placed the injured servant. The bed was empty. He forced himself to walk back to Gaven’s room, though he wanted to run.

“We’re leaving,” he said from the doorway. “Gather your things.”

“Where are we going?” Gaven asked.

“No more discussion.” The servant had probably heard everything they’d said. “Let’s move.”

Ashara edged past him to retrieve her pack from her room as Gaven pulled his mail shirt back on. Aunn reviewed the morning’s events, trying to fix the two servants in his mind. The young woman’s disappearance suggested that she had been the spy, not the boy, but he couldn’t be certain. She’d had a round face, dark hair hanging over her eyes, thin lips, the pale skin of a household servant who lived her life indoors. Her eyes had been closed in pain or veiled behind her hair-perhaps hidden on purpose.

Ashara emerged from her room and Gaven stood ready. Without another word, Aunn led the way back to the front door. Halfway down the stairs, he remembered-his pack was still in Kelas’s chamber. When he’d heard the thunder in Gaven’s room, he’d bolted out, stopping only long enough to pull on his boots. He had to go back.

“Listen,” he whispered. “You three go to the Ruby Chalice, near Chalice Center. You know it?”

He glanced behind him and saw Ashara nod, at least. Good-she could lead the others. The plaza called Chalice Center held an airship docking tower and a lightning rail station, making it a good place to blend in among travelers.

“I’ll be right behind you. I just have to get some things from my room.”

“We can wait,” Gaven said. “No need to split up.”

“No. In fact, it would be better if you split up, and be careful you’re not followed.” They had reached the front hall, and the same servant who had met them at the door stood smiling, ready to hold it open for their departure. “Go,” Aunn whispered.

“I hope you had a pleasant rest,” the woman said. Her smile almost looked genuine, for a moment while she looked at Gaven. Aunn watched her eyes as his companions filed past her out the door, and he saw only venom and steel.

I’ve spent my whole life crawling through a nest of vipers, Aunn thought. So far I’ve managed to bite before getting bitten, but how much longer can I do that?

He left the hall by a different door and strode down a wide hallway floored in marble. He turned and started up another flight of stairs, but a voice at the top brought him to a halt.

“You’re not Kelas.”

Aunn looked up and saw the young woman Gaven had injured, though no sign of the injury remained. She held a long knife to the throat of another young woman… no, the same woman, staring at him with pleading eyes. One was a changeling-presumably, the one with the knife-and the one who had been spying on Gaven in his room. Her pale blue eyes bore into him, as if she thought she could see through his disguise if she stared hard enough.

“Of course I am,” Aunn said. “One changeling in this house is enough.”

“Kelas wouldn’t care if I slit this girl’s throat.”

Aunn had to will his heart into a steady rhythm. She was right-Kelas wouldn’t care. And a year ago, he wouldn’t have risked his disguise to save a servant’s life. He was a servant of the crown.

“What is his death,” Kelas demanded, “if Aundair is served by it? What does it matter if I die, if you die, if hundreds of soldiers march to their death, so long as Aundair remains?”

Laurann’s knuckles were white on the hilt of her dagger. The man-a Brelish spy, Kelas had said-stared up at her, pleading in his eyes.

“You serve the crown!” Kelas shouted in her ear. “You are a Royal Eye of Aundair! You are not a person, you’re an eye, an appendage, a part of Aundair. The queen relies on you to do her work. Do it!”

The dagger cut quickly across the captured spy’s neck. For Aundair.

“Neither would any spy worth a damn,” he said. “You prove nothing by doing it.” Please don’t, he thought. Not another life’s blood on my hands.

The spy hesitated, confused, and he saw the hand holding the knife relax ever so slightly. Aunn climbed another step, then the captive woman exploded in a blur of motion. Aunn heard bones crack as the knife changed hands, then blood sprayed him as the knife plunged into the first woman’s chest. Aunn watched her sink to the floor, waiting for her face to change in death, but it was the other woman who changed, smiling wickedly.

“Thank you, Kelas,” the changeling said. Then it was Haunderk’s face sneering at him, ridiculously perched atop a serving-girl’s smock.

Aunn’s heart pounded, refusing to be quieted. Who was this changeling who had stolen his face? Did he expect Kelas to believe he was Haunderk? Or was he taunting him somehow, trying to show that he saw through the Kelas disguise? Whatever he intended, he had demonstrated how dangerous he could be.

Until he knew more, he had to stick to his own disguise, at least hope to sow enough confusion to find an opening. “Not that face,” he snapped. “You know I hate talking to dead people.” Words straight from Kelas’s mouth.

It worked-the changeling was visibly surprised. “Dead?”

“Yes. I killed him myself. Do you mean to be next, pointing that knife at me?” He was Kelas at his most imperious, and the changeling took a step back from the top of the stairs. Aunn climbed two more stairs.

Haunderk’s face melted off the changeling, leaving only a gray blank-ness and white eyes. Long white hair fell in unruly shocks down to the shoulders. The mouth was a lipless slit in a featureless face. “But you’re Haunderk,” the changeling said.

“Don’t be a fool.” Aunn took two more steps up. He had to browbeat the changeling into believing his lie before he was asked for proof he couldn’t give. He jerked his chin toward the servant’s body lying at the changeling’s feet. “You’ve made enough of a mess as it is.”

The changeling took another step back, giving Aunn room to stand beside the dead woman. “I’m sorry, master.”

Aunn twisted his face into a fury and howled. “You are not sorry!” He stepped forward again until his face was a hand’s breadth from the changeling’s. “Her death is nothing!” Ignoring the knife in the changeling’s hand, he slapped the featureless face. “You don’t feel regret, you don’t know shame, you don’t care!” He punctuated his words with slaps and punches until the knife clattered to the floor and the changeling cowered before his rage. With one final kick, he strode past the changeling and away down the hall.

Before turning the corner, though, he shot a glance back. The changeling was glaring after him with a searing hatred that mirrored Aunn’s own feelings toward Kelas. As their eyes met, though, Aunn realized his mistake-Kelas would never have looked back. And the changeling knew it.

Aunn reached the sanctuary of Kelas’s chamber and sank against the door. Nausea gripped his stomach and chilled his brow, and his pulse still pounded in his ears. In the space of moments, he had let an innocent woman die and-perhaps worse-he had become everything that he had despised in Kelas. What happened? he wondered. Didn’t anything change in the Labyrinth?

“Make it solid,” he muttered. But nothing was solid-he couldn’t find a firm place in the quagmire. He dragged himself to his feet, but nausea brought him back to his knees, vomit splattering on the floor.

“Where is he?” Gaven said for the third time. He searched the faces in the crowded tavern for Kelas or anyone else who could be Aunn-anyone, really, who might be heading for the table where he sat with Cart and Ashara.

“Stop it, Gaven,” Cart said. “You’re drawing attention. Look at us, look at your drink, or look at the pretty women. But don’t stare at everyone, and don’t make eye contact.”

Gaven laughed. “The warforged is giving me lessons in behavior.” He saw Cart stiffen, and he put a hand on the plated arm of his warforged friend. “I didn’t mean it like that. Clearly, I need the help.”

“When’s the last time you cut loose in a tavern?” Ashara asked.

The smile fell from Gaven’s face as he thought about the question.

“There was our wrestling match in Darguun,” Cart offered. “That wasn’t so long ago.”

“True. But we were just waiting for Haldren, the way we’re waiting now for… whatever his name is.” He started to look around the tavern again, but forced his gaze back to Ashara’s face. “It’s been a very long time.”

“Well, we’ll have to remedy that,” Ashara said, smiling at Cart. “Though I have to say, I wish I’d been there for the wrestling match. Who won?”

“He did,” Cart said.

“Cart was holding back,” Gaven added. “He’d been wrestling hobgoblins and bugbears, so he wasn’t prepared for a real challenge.”

“No, I stopped holding back when I realized what I was up against. You won it fairly.”

“It must have been an epic struggle,” Ashara said. Gaven noticed for the first time how her smile crinkled the corners of her eyes-and how her eyes shone when she looked at Cart. Rienne’s absence hit him suddenly like a mace in his gut. He stared down into his wine glass and saw the red of her silk wrap.

“Sorry I took so long.”

Gaven looked up with a start and saw Aunn, still wearing Kelas’s face, standing by the table. “There you are!” he said. “Is everything all right?”

“I ran into a little trouble.”

He was wearing different clothes than he’d had on an hour before, and his movements were strangely stiff. “Are you injured?” Gaven asked.

Aunn shook his head and sat in the empty chair. He looked down at his clothes and absently brushed at a dark spot on his coat that might have been dried blood.

“So are you going to tell us what in the Ten Seas is going on?”

Aunn blinked at him, then his face came alive. He leaned forward on the table and words spilled out in a fierce whisper. “There was a spy in Kelas’s house. Another changeling. I think he followed us from the Tower of Eyes. She was the servant you injured and Ashara took care of, and I suspect she heard everything we said in your room after Cart and Ashara left her. He accosted me in the hall when I went back to my room.”

“And you killed her… him?” Gaven said.

“No. I convinced him I really am Kelas.”

There was more to the story than Aunn was telling, Gaven knew-starting but not ending with the spray of blood on his coat. He decided not to press for more details, though… at least, not until he saw Aunn smile again.

“So the spy was a Royal Eye?” Cart asked. “Not spying on the Royal Eyes?”

“As far as I know, yes,” Aunn said.

An awkward silence fell on the table. Gaven could see in Ashara’s face that she wanted to know more, and was holding back as he was.

“We need a plan,” Cart said at last. “And a safer place to talk it over.”

“Right,” Aunn said, sitting back and planting his hands on the table. “That’s why I suggested this place-they have private rooms that are really private, if you know who to talk to. I’ll be right back.” He stood up and weaved his way through the crowded tables to the back of the room.

“Is anyone else getting tired of looking at Kelas’s face?” Gaven said.

“It is unnerving,” Cart said.

“I keep forgetting which side I’m on,” Ashara said. “I worked with Kelas many times… before.”

“Which side?” Gaven dug his fingers into his hair. “I don’t even know how many sides there are, let alone who’s on which one.”

“How long can he keep it up, do you think?” Cart asked.

“He’s good at what he does,” Ashara said.

Gaven thought again of the blood on Aunn’s coat. “I think I want to stay on his side.”

Ashara gave him a grim smile. “Let’s hope he stays on ours.”

“I’d like to speak to the master cook,” Aunn told the gangly young man at the kitchen door. What if they’ve changed the password? he thought. But the boy nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.

I’ve been out of this for too long, he thought. The mad trip to Xen’drik with Janik and Dania, crossing Khorvaire with Senya and Cart to free Gaven and Haldren, the brief time as Caura and Vauren and General Yeven, then the long trek to the Demon Wastes-I’ve been so many other people, I haven’t had time to be a spy.

He recognized the man who emerged from the kitchen, a broad dwarf in silk and lace, a thick beard hiding most of his face. Lukas looked him up and down, but gave no indication that he knew Kelas’s face. “What can I do for you?” he growled.

“I need a quail in silver,” Aunn said.

Lukas’s expression didn’t change. “Certainly, master,” he said. “Will there be anything else?”

Aunn thought for a moment. If he asked, Lukas would send agents throughout the tavern and the rest of Chalice Center, listening for anyone who might be asking after Aunn or his party. But he doubted the other changeling would be so careless. “No, thank you.”

“Very well. Is the rest of your party here?”

“Yes. I’ll gather them. Thank you.” He nodded a slight bow to Lukas and returned to the table where he’d left the others.

“Ready?” Gaven asked as he approached.

“Ready. Lukas will show us the room.”

The dwarf led them outside and into a wide alley beside the tavern. A well-kept staircase took them above the dining room where they had sat before, and Lukas opened a door into a luxurious private dining room. It was little more than a table with benches on either side, but the benches were padded with upholstered cushions-and so were the walls, to keep sound from escaping the room.

Lukas bowed as they filed past him into the room. “I hope you find the quail satisfactory,” he said.

“I’m certain we will. Thank you.”

Lukas pushed the door closed, and the din of the tavern and the street faded away. Aunn collapsed onto one of the upholstered benches, overwhelmed with exhaustion and anxiety. The relief was so great that he felt his face begin to change under his hands, fading to its natural blank.

Make it solid, he told himself. He fixed Kelas’s face in his mind and molded his face to match, hoping the others hadn’t noticed the slip.

“Are you all right?” Gaven said.

Aunn took a deep breath and lowered his hands, Kelas’s visage fixed firmly on his face once again. “I’m fine,” he said. “And now we can talk.”

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