Spy Glass Page 96

Encouraged, I increased my pace. A crunching shuffle sounded behind me. I turned. Galen rounded a corner. Thank fate! He held a dim lantern.

He slowed. “I told you to stay put. You’re lucky I found you. Otherwise you’d die down here.”

“Sorry. When you didn’t come back, I thought the worst. What happened?”

“They were enlarging a cavern and hit a stink hole.”

“What’s that?”

“There’re bubbles of gas trapped underground. When you drill into one, a horrible stench hits you first, then it reaches the lanterns and…boom! If you’re lucky it’s a flash fire and you walk away with minor burns.”

“And if you’re not?”

“The force blows you apart and brings the ceiling down on your head.”

“Which one?”

“The explosion collapsed two quadrants. Vasko’s going to be livid.”

“Did many miners…” I couldn’t finish.

“A handful died.” Galen dismissed the loss of life as insignificant. “He’ll be more upset about the time and cost to open up new shafts.”

“That’s—”

“A risk they’re well aware of and are paid extra for. And most of them still steal gems from the mines.”

Another tremor vibrated under my feet.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

Galen brushed past me as he took the lead. When his shoulder had touched my upper arm, I felt magic. By itself, it wouldn’t cause me any alarm. Vasko was a shrewd businessman, and I could understand why he would hire a magician as his right-hand man. But the texture of the power reminded me of someone. I just couldn’t put my finger on who.

My opinion of Galen increased as he navigated the maze of shafts, chambers and intersections with confidence. The trip seemed never ending.

“How much longer?” I asked. My throat burned from the dust.

“A few more minutes. We have to bypass the weak quadrants.”

When the shaft’s incline increased, I hoped I would see blue sky soon. I would never take it or fresh air for granted again. But the passage leveled off and ended in a room. Galen set the lantern on a desk, and I corrected my initial impression.

“I thought—”

“You thought wrong.” Galen rummaged around the office and found a canteen and two cups.

Pouring water into both, Galen handed me one of the cups. Our fingers touched, and I finally recognized the magician. Finn.

24

I DREW MY SWITCHBLADE AND STABBED, AIMING FOR his heart. He blocked the attack, but didn’t move quite fast enough to avoid the blade. It sliced his upper arm.

Finn/Galen growled in pain and I slammed into a null shield. Acting on pure instinct, I flipped my switchblade around and flung it at him. It sailed through the shield, but he deflected it with his power.

Then the shield pressed on me, forcing me back until it flattened me against the wall, unable to move.

Finn plopped into his desk chair and drank from his cup. “Too easy, Opal.”

I glanced at his ripped and bloodstained sleeve. “Next time, Finn, I’ll slice higher.”

He pulled off his glasses and wig. “Points for following the clues and linking me to Vasko, but I’m not his son Phinnegan. I’m really Vasko’s faithful dog.” He didn’t bother to hide the bitterness in his voice.

“Then who is Junior?” I asked, managing to surprise him.

“I didn’t think you’d learn anything useful from Vasko’s office. Your Ixian teacher should be proud.” He watched me. “The Commander isn’t the only one with a network of spies in Sitia. The Council is more aware of what’s going on than you give them credit for. And Vasko’s tapped into that network.”

“Is Junior working for the Council or Vasko?”

“He’s me. I’m not related, but I have disguised myself as Vasko from time to time. Occasionally he likes to be in two places at once.”

“Why tell me all this?” I pushed against the null shield, but it remained firm.

“You’re going to be a player in this game. You should understand the basics.”

“What does Vasko want now?” I asked. “He already has my blood.”

“No he doesn’t.”

“But he sent you to Wirral?”

“To gather information on blood magic. The existence of your blood was a nice surprise. One I failed to tell him about.”

“Why does he…oh.” I connected the dots. “He wants to use blood magic to return Pazia’s powers.” All my actions, whether good or bad, inadvertent or on purpose have all spun in circles and returned with force, slamming right back into me. “Does he know about the side effects?”

“Yes, but not to worry about your friend. Vasko would never endanger his daughter. Instead he has been experimenting on test subjects, trying to find a way to increase a person’s magic without the addiction.”

“Should I be horrified by the mention of test subjects?”

“Oh yes. I am. And I’m not the squeamish type. Vasko makes me look like the nice guy. Why do you think I’m so loyal?”

“For your private office?”

He laughed with genuine amusement then sobered. “If I were to betray or double-cross Vasko, I’d disappear in these mines. I’d either become a new test subject or locked in the cells below and left to die of thirst.”

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