In less time than I’d expected, the carriage drew to a stop. We jumped out and I paid the driver, slipping him an extra coin along with the finger-on-finger gesture universally accepted as “stay quiet.” He bobbed his head, shook the reins, and the carriage clattered off along the narrow cobbled street. I grabbed Ayla’s hand and steered her into a side alley, leading her on the back-alley shuffle to The Stout and Puke.
At the door, she dragged her heels. “I’ll wait out here until you’re done.”
I tugged her forward.
“It’s too dangerous and I don’t want you out of my sight. You’re my apprentice, so you have to obey.” I winked.
She rolled her eyes but followed me into the dark taproom. I separated our hands as we crossed the threshold. Necromancers don’t hold hands.
The dregs of society were already congregating, weaving drunkenly among stable boys scattering fresh straw. True to the inn’s name, the stench of old vomit mixed with that of stale beer. Arms reached out to paw at Ayla, but when they saw my robe they slunk away into dark corners. I stood tall. Yes, you lecherous mob, the necromancer just stepped into your sleazy world.
There was no sign of the Duke’s men, or anyone else trying to catch my attention. The back stairs creaked and bowed as we ascended, and I didn’t risk putting weight on the unsteady banister. The upstairs hallway was empty, so we strode past several doors that muffled ecstatic cries or snores, and I knocked on the rearmost door.
No answer. Kristach, he’d left.
I pushed it open and froze.
I tried to block Ayla’s view but she slipped past me into the room. She gasped and her hands flew to her mouth. Then she doubled over in a crouch and threw up, spraying her breakfast all over her feet. I hurried inside and shut the door. Thank Belaya she hadn’t screamed, but she uttered a low, haunting moan, at the same time clutching her abdomen and trembling.
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