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Wynn Hygeorht paced the floor of her room inside Calm Seatt's branch of the Guild of Sagecraft. Shade, a large wolflike dog with charcoal black fur, lay on the small bed, watching her through crystal blue eyes.
Wynn was in trouble, and she knew it.
Only one night before, Wynn and Shade, and her other companion, Chane Andraso, had returned from Dhredze Seatt, the mountain stronghold of the dwarves. In that place, Wynn had disobeyed every order and every warning from her superiors. The repercussions were staggering. By now, word of her return had surely spread through the guild to its highest ranks. It was only a matter of time before she would be summoned before the Premin Council.
"Where's Chane?" she whispered absently, still pacing.
Whatever happened tonight, he'd want to know. He'd taken guest quarters across the keep's inner courtyard, but it was well past dusk, and he was late.
She nearly jumped when the knock at her door finally came. Pushing strands of wispy brown hair away from her face, she hurried to open it.
"Where have you…;?"
It wasn't Chane outside the door.
There stood a slender young man only a few fingers taller than Wynn. He was dressed in the gray robe of a cathologer, just like her. His shoulders were slumped forward, as if in a perpetual cringe.
"Nikolas?" Wynn said, then quickly dismissed her confusion and smiled. He was one of the few friends she had left inside the guild.
He didn't smile back. In fact, he wouldn't even look her in the eyes.
"You…; you've been summoned," he whispered, swallowing hard half¬way through. "Premin Sykion says you're to come straightaway to the coun¬cil's chamber. And you're supposed to leave the…;" He glanced once toward Shade. "You're to leave the dog here."
Wynn just stared at him. But she'd known this was coming. Hadn't she? She straightened, smoothing down her own gray robe.
"Give me a moment," she said. "Go tell the council that I'll come directly."
He hesitated nervously, then nodded. "I'll walk slowly. Buy you a little time."
Wynn gave him a sadder smile. "Thank you."
She watched him disappear down the passage, but she closed the door only partway. She took a breath before turning about, for the next part wouldn't be easy.
"Shade, stay here," she said firmly. "You cannot come."
Wynn used as few words as possible, as Shade's understanding of language wasn't fluent yet.
With a low rumble, Shade flattened her ears and launched off the bed.
Wynn was ready. She spun through the half-open door and jerked it shut. The door shuddered as Shade slammed into the other side with her full bulk. Then the howling began.
"Stop that!" Wynn called through the closed door.
With no time for Shade's drama over being left behind, she gathered up her robe's skirt and hurried down the passage to the end stairs, and then out into the night air of the courtyard.
She made her way across to the old stables and storage building, long ago converted to workshops, laboratories, and, of course, the guest quarters. Slip¬ping through one outer door, she headed upstairs to a door she knew well. These were the same quarters once used by her old ally, Domin Ghassan il'Sänke of the guild's Suman branch, far to the south. She knocked lightly.
"Chane, are you there?"
No one answered, and anxiety swelled inside her. Where could he be? She had to at least let him know she'd been summoned.
She knocked again, more sharply.
A scuffle rose beyond the door, followed by the sound of rumpling paper and a sudden screech of wooden chair legs on a stone floor. This time, the door opened, but the room beyond was dark. Wynn looked up at Chane Andraso towering over her, his face pale as always.
"What in the world were you…;?" She stopped midquestion.
Chane's clothes were wrinkled, and his red-brown hair was disheveled. He blinked several times as if she'd just roused him from dormancy. And…;
"Umm, you have a piece of parchment stuck to your face."
His eyes cleared slightly, and he reached up. Instead of grabbing the torn scrap, he swatted at it with his hand, and it fell past Wynn into the passage.
"Did I wake you?" she asked in confusion.
Chane always woke the instant the sun fully set. Light from the passage's small cold lamp seeped into the guest quarters' outer study. The chair behind the old desk was pushed at an awkward angle against the wall. A pile of books and papers was lying haphazardly all over the desk, and some had even fallen to the floor.
"I must have read too late…; near this morning," he rasped in his maimed voice.
Wynn raised one eyebrow. Chane had fallen dormant at the desk, not aware that dawn was coming? She shook her head, for they had larger problems.
"I've been summoned."
Realization spread over his handsome features as he came to full awareness.
"I am coming," he returned instantly, stepping backward to grab the room key off the desk.
Then he hesitated, glancing down at himself. He still wore his boots from the night before, along with his rumpled breeches. He quickly began tucking in his loose white shirt.
Wynn didn't care how he was dressed. It didn't matter.
"Only me," she said. "I was even ordered to leave Shade in my room."
Chane froze. He knew Shade almost never left Wynn's side. The dog rarely tolerated that. He returned to tucking in his shirt.
"I am as responsible as you," he insisted, "for all that happened. You are not facing them alone."
As he came to the door, Wynn looked up, meeting his eyes in silence. She felt ashamed by her relief at the thought of his standing beside her to face the council. But that wasn't the way this would work.
"I don't think they'll let you"
"I am coming," he repeated, and stepped out, closing the door.
He headed down the passageway toward the stairs before she could ar¬gue further. Without intending to, she sighedin relief, resignation, or at the weight of her burdens. Perhaps all three.
Wynn still felt cowardly in her relief at Chane's presence as they climbed the stairs to the second floor of the guild's main hall. With all that had happened in the Stonewalkers' underworld, deep below Dhredze Seatt, she could imag¬ine the Premin Council like some Old World mock court. Its verdict would be predetermined before any trial began.
But it wasn't a trial. This was a guild matter, and what she'd done would never be revealed publicly. She would have no statute of law to protect her against any unofficial conviction.
She glanced up at Chane beside her, his expression grim with determina¬tion. Perhaps his presence might keep the council in check, for there were internal affairs they might not raise before an outsider. But she doubted it.
When they stepped onto the upper floor, two sages waited outside the council's chamber down the broad passage. Chane never slowed, and Wynn tried not to falter, but the closer they came to the council chamber, the odder it all looked.
A middle-aged woman in cerulean, from the Order of Sentiology, and a younger man in a metaologer's midnight blue stood in silence on either side of the great oak double doors. Wynn didn't immediately recognize either one, although, with their differing orders, they made a strange combination. She'd never seen attendants outside this chamber before.
Both watched her as she approached, which made her nervous. Then they both reached out at the same time and opened the doors without a word.
Inside, standing about, waiting, was the entire Premin Council. And Do¬min High-Tower, the only dwarven sage and head of Wynn's order, was pres¬ent, as well.
Folklore of the Farlands, Chane's world, spoke of dwarves as diminutive beings of dark crags and earthen burrows. High-Tower, like all of his people, was an intimidating hulk compared to such superstitions. Though shorter than humans, most dwarves looked Wynn straight in the eyes. What they lacked in height, they doubled in breadth.
Stout and wide as he was, he showed no hint of fat under his gray robe. Coarse reddish hair laced with gray hung past his shoulders, blending with his thick beard, which was braided at its end. His broad, rough features made his black-pupiled eyes seem like iron pellets embedded in pale, flesh-colored granite.
He glowered at her from where he stood beyond the council's table. Sud¬denly, his glower turned to an incensed glare, quite disturbing from any hulk¬ish dwarf. He rounded the table and tall-back chairs, coming straight toward the opened doorway, his long red hair bouncing with each stride.
"Does your impudence know no limits?" he rumbled, halting within arm's reach.
For an instant, Wynn had thought Chane was the domin's target, but High-Tower's anger was fixed on her.
"This is a guild matter," he growled. "It is no business of any outsider!"
Wynn glanced up at Chanewho stared down at the broad domin.
"You need to leave," she said quietly. "Wait for me in my room."
"No," Chane rasped.
Wynn stiffened. Most times, she no longer noticed his maimed voice. But there was warning in that one word. Chane passively looked at everyone inside the chamber, and this only heightened Wynn's tension.
Chane's resolve might have given her relief at first, but now it was making things worse.
"You will leave," someone else said flatly.
Wynn followed the sharp shift of Chane's eyes.
Premin Frideswida Hawes of Metaology stepped straight toward them in a smooth gait that didn't even sway her long, midnight blue robe. Within the shadow of her cowl, her hazel eyes watched them both. She stopped six paces off and focused fully on Chane. In place of High-Tower's anger, she appeared mildly disdainful.
Chane didn't moveand Wynn began to panic. What could anyone here possibly do to force him?
"High-Tower," Hawes said.
The dwarven domin lunged and grabbed Wynn's arm, jerking her into the chamber.
Chane took one step. "Release her!"
A sharp utterance cracked the air between the wide chamber's walls.
Wynn twisted her head to see.
Hawes's eyes narrowed as she stamped the floor and lashed out with an open palm.
The echo of High-Tower's steps seemed to vibrate in the floor, and Chane wobbled, as if about to topple, his eyes widening.
The floor beneath his feet suddenly lurched. Its stones rolled like a wave rising on a tidal beach. He fell backward through the open doors and toward the passage's far wall. Hawes swept forward to stand before the opening, her back to Wynn.
"Why are you doing this?" Wynn asked, and jerked forward, but she couldn't break High-Tower's grip.
The two attendant sages grabbed the door handles, pulling the great oak doors closed. Hawes raised one hand before the narrowing gap.
"Wynn!" Chane rasped, trying to scramble to his feet.
"Wait for me in my room!" she called.
The doors slammed shut, and he was gone from her sight.