I couldn’t see a damned thing. I cursed my human eyes as I staggered through the darkness—darkness so all-encompassing that within just a few steps, it swallowed up even the distant remnants of the moonlight
through the open door. One hand blindly felt my way forward as I ventured into the dense shadows, the other holding up an orb of Nightfire that didn’t even begin to penetrate the black.
What was I even looking for?
A safe? A chest? Where would Vincent have hidden something so powerful? Would he have made it into a weapon? Should I be groping around these walls for—what, another magical sword ready for the taking? Or—
My next step did not find ground where I expected it.
My backside hit the floor hard, sliding down a set of stairs. My hands clawed at the walls to slow myself, Nightfire sputtering out.
With a clumsy THUMP, I slid to a stop. “Fuck,” I hissed.
My tailbone ached. I’d lost count of how many steps I’d struck on the way down.
But nothing, thankfully, seemed broken. It would be awfully pathetic if, after everything I’d been through, a fall down a flight of Goddess-damned stairs was the thing to take me now.
I pushed myself back to my feet, wincing as my bruised muscles whined in protest. I conjured Nightfire in my palm again, holding it out before me.
The unnatural stubbornness of the darkness had, apparently, broken, because now the cold light bloomed through the shadows.
I let out a shaky exhale at the sight before me.
I was in a circular room crafted entirely of stone. I stood in an arched doorway. At the center of the room rose a massive column, stretching floor to ceiling. Two circular barriers surrounded it, as tall as my waist, expanding from the center and each bigger than the last. The stone was black and polished, clearly the work of fine craftsmanship. Unlit lanterns lined the walls, six around the outskirts of the circle.
Every inch of this place—the walls, the barriers, the obelisk itself—was covered in carvings. I’d never seen anything quite like them. They didn’t seem to be a language, exactly—they weren’t arranged in the linear, neat lines of writing. Most of the symbols formed circles, though some floated off on their own or were wedged between other sets of carvings.
Glyphs, maybe? Sigils?
Wielders of Nyaxia’s magic used them rarely, aside from summoning, but I’d heard that some sorcerers who drew from gods of the White Pantheon did. A few of the marks, upon closer inspection, reminded me of some of the symbols I’d seen in my mother’s notes.
I gingerly stepped from the last stair—cringing slightly, half expecting that the floor would fall out beneath me or burst into flames. When no such thing happened, I let out a sigh of relief and walked around the perimeter of the room, lighting each lantern with Nightfire.
Something was off about this place. My skin felt itchy, the air too thick, like the atmosphere itself was heavy with magic. It was an unpleasant sensation. It reminded me of how I’d felt when I’d wielded the Taker of Hearts for the first time, but much, much stronger.
The magic in this room, I knew, wasn’t meant for me. My blood was close enough to let me in, but it was wary about me. Goddess knew what kind of horrible death I’d meet if it decided to expel me, like an unwelcome virus.
With the lanterns lit, the room didn’t look any less eerie. If anything, the flickering blue light made this place seem more unsettling. I took another walk around the circle, fingertips trailing over the half-wall before me— feeling for something, anything, that might guide me.
My gaze fell to the center of the room. The column. Now that looked important. It felt important, like it was calling to me.
I attempted to hoist myself over the first wall, only to immediately find myself knocked back to the ground, as if I’d just thrown myself against an
Goddess damn it.
My ears were ringing now, though I wasn’t sure if it was from the impact or the magic, which suddenly seemed overwhelmingly thick.
I pushed myself up. My knees shook slightly. I didn’t think it had anything to do with the fall.
Alright, then. No climbing.
My teeth ground as my impatience rose. It was unnaturally silent down here. I couldn’t hear even the faintest echo of the world above. But I knew that Simon and Septimus’s armies must have been upon us by now.
Raihn was probably locked in battle with the man who had come so damned close to killing him.
I didn’t have time for this.
I pressed my hands to the dividing wall, hard enough that the carvings dug into my skin. I closed my eyes. I let myself feel the sensations that I’d been trying to avoid—the magic that burrowed into all of my most shameful vulnerabilities.
Magic this powerful required an offering from those who used it. And Vincent had wanted to protect this place from any other soul but him. Anything of his that I’d used—the mirror, the pendant, even this door—I’d had to offer it something in return.
The one thing that had always been my greatest weakness.
I withdrew my blade and opened a wider cut across my palm, a fresh river of crimson flowing across pale, fragile skin.
Then I pressed my hand to the stone.
Red flowed through the carvings in the smooth black, filling the sigils. I drew in a gasp as they drank it down eagerly, like a vampire in bloodlust.
And the gasp became a strangled cry as the magic swelled in a sudden rush, sweeping me away.