(If you have not read the first book, Ink and Ice, consider reading that first!)
Cleetz 7th, 1351—Dessely Village
I walked down the narrow dirt road of Ravka avenue with a flask of Amitzl in hand. The chills of the night crept into the folds of my cloak, and I shivered, but I did not rebel against the cold, because I was not there of my own accord. I was there at Zosto’s request.
When I recall that day from here, I wish I had rebelled. I wish I had fought him instead of giving him the information I learned that night.
How regret warps things.
The wind whined in the trees, whipped at my cloak. Between the shivers racking my skin and the village dust burning my eyes, it was difficult to focus on my task, particularly when I considered how reluctant I was to perform it.
After all, in another world, my life might have been the same as Peter Ringdulous’s. In another world, I might have been living in Peter's shoes, living through the same nightmare Peter would have to live through.
At the tender age of thirteen, I would have rather been him.
The glass vial slipped in my numb hands, but my attention was on Peter Ringdulous's window. The wind blurred my vision, but I could still make out the vague shape of Peter's dark head: a mop of thick, messy black hair that grew past his ears.
Zosto had sent me to look for Peter’s weakness. Peter had magic that would be of use to the King—but only if the boy could be persuaded to use it. It would be difficult—particularly because the use King Tirak had in mind would be destructive. Peter didn’t know the art of pain as I did, and he seemed to repel the idea of hurting others. If King Tirak was to persuade him, an incentive would be needed.
Even then, hurting people came too easily to me.
The cold wind seeped through my cloak. I frowned and unwound my cold fingers from the flask of Amitzl in my palm. Never, in my life, had I summoned so much as a spark of magic without Amitzl. Drinking the potion was the only way to fix my… affliction.
I held it to my lips, tipped my head back so that the liquid was down my throat before I could taste it.
Dirt crunched beneath my feet as I stepped forward. I picked my way through tall grasses until I reached the windowsill of the house, and then crouched down outside of the window. Seated amid pale strands of green, I shut my eyes, and it finally began to take hold: magic.
A cold feeling comes from drinking Amitzl. It flooded me, and freezing water seemed to drench me as I waited. It was almost painful. But I was accustomed to it.
Then I heard something.
How else to describe it? Using magic with Amitzl creates a… third ear, as it were, that picks up on something better than noise. I heard the sound of magic in the air, the sound of power rustling in the breeze. I began to pick the noise apart, searching for the specific magic I would need. Ahess.
It took longer than it should have, but I did it. I summoned the Ahess and made myself invisible; I held onto the invisibility as I opened my eyes, then stood again, and looked into Ringdulous’s window.
The glass was grainy and bluish, similar to the look of cheap enchanted glass, or in this case, glass that had never seen soap and water. It took several moments to realize that Peter was awake. The boy's eyes were open, narrowed like a hawk’s, and he was looking out of the window. He appeared to be waiting for something.
I followed Peter's gaze to the window of the other house. The two houses were not far apart, and they were conspicuously easy to see across. The curtains in both rooms were drawn. Seconds ticked by in silence. It took a moment for the realization to strike.
Peter was waiting for someone to come to the other window. He and some other child were planning something.
I snorted aloud.
Peter was still only a stupid boy, a stupid boy with stupid boyish ambitions that involved sneaking around at night and pulling pranks. I took a few unthinking steps toward the other window and peered inside. At the time, I didn’t believe the information I was about to discover would help me learn anything about Peter's weaknesses, but I could not shake the curiosity.
The piece of glass was clean, and I could see the contents of the room in sharp relief. Everything from a set of flowery blue curtains to the nightstand in one corner of the room to the can of cheap alymihzz atop it to… to the girl, sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, playing with two ragged dolls.
I stared at her. Luminous blue eyes took up most of her face, and her shoulders were swamped in heavy brown curls. Surprise flooded me belatedly. I turned around and looked again into Peter's window.
Peter was waiting for a girl.
I forgot to be careful. My grip on the magic slipped as I was turning back to the little girl's window, and when the invisibility fled, I knew Peter could see me.
A moment later, the sound of a clanging door joined the howling wind, and ten-year-old Peter Ringdulous was striding down the road toward me. His eyes were burning with anger.