City of Lies (Part 2)

  • More Chapters from City of Lies:
  • Part 1 - June 5, 2018
  • Part 3 - June 5, 2018
  • Part 4 - June 5, 2018

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me…

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising… and angry.

City of Lies is the first novel in the epic fantasy Poison War series from debut author Sam Hawke—available July 3rd from Tor Books. Read part 2 below; you can start with chapter 1 here, and come back all this week for additional excerpts.

 

 

2
Kalina

Duty takes precedence over all else, and I knew what it meant to fail at it far better than my brother ever could. There had been no time spared to comfort me all those years ago when we all realized my body couldn’t tolerate the life of a proofer; I’d simply recovered from another health crisis to find my Tashi’s time devoted instead to my small brother. The same honor and duty that was taken from me still bound our family to the Chancellor, and while he still lived we couldn’t pause to grieve for our own uncle.

But already it seemed hopeless. Jovan and I stole moments where we could talk out of hearing of the physics, whispering thoughts and theories, reaching dead ends. It had to be poison, surely, for all the physics’ talk of unknown diseases— and I knew as well as anyone their fascination with unexplained ailments—because no one else had fallen sick. But if so, it was one Jovan didn’t know. And he knew all of the poisons. Or at least we’d thought he did.

Jovan leaped to his feet, pacing again. I sat on the floor, back to my uncle’s body, knees drawn up to my chest and arms wrapped around my bare shins. He took his measured steps: left, right, left, right, spin to the left, left, right, left, right, spin to the right. The impeccably timed sound of his feet on the floor, in precisely equal steps, tapped out the rhythm of my childhood. Always balanced, no movement with one side of his body failing to be echoed by an equal one on the other. I rested my head back on the bed, watching him. Although average in his dark coloring and his medium height and build, my brother was striking in his symmetry and precision, even at his most anxious. Perhaps especially at his most anxious. His breath released slowly as his pacing calmed him. It calmed me, too.

Etan had given us a detailed description of his day, including everything he ate and drank, and every person he saw. Nothing unusual. First thing in the morning he had proofed the kori, kavcha and tea, cheese and dessert at Lazar’s kitchen and then spent the morning with Chancellor Caslav, eating only food he’d prepared himself. They hadn’t left the Manor until Lazar’s lunch, and afterward Etan had gone alone to the docks to check on a late tea delivery while Caslav had returned to the Manor.

The symptoms had begun at his mouth; likely whatever had triggered the attack did, too. “Eat, drink, breathe, kiss,” I murmured. At my words, Jovan finished his set of eight and visibly resisted the urge to begin another set. I offered my hand and he sat beside me. Together we thumbed through the pages of my notes.

“He ate two courses with his fingers,” I said. “So he could have touched something and passed it to his mouth. But it would have to be something only he and Caslav touched.” I looked back at the notes. Etan had kissed every Councilor and recalled touching the shoulder of the musician who had performed, a man called Hasan. The Talafan nobleman had shaken his hand in the manner of the Empire. Etan had also handled the leksot briefly when it had crawled over him during its brief escape, but he had washed his hands after doing so because of the smell and the shed fur. And although the Chancellor had also touched the animal, so had Lord Ectar, Jovan, and Credo Lazar, as well as at least one of Credo Lazar’s servants.

Jov stopped at that place in my notations. “Have we checked his skin where the leksot crawled on him?” He thrust back the bedclothes from our uncle’s body. Several red scratches marked his calves and knees. Jov touched the skin around the markings, but they were ordinary scratches and showed no sign of special irritation.

“I looked at those already,” I reminded him. “Didn’t we agree this was something oral?”

The beads at the door rattled. “I am sorry to disturb you, Credo, Credola,” Thendra said. The sight of the physic triggered a wave of nerves in me. Though never anything less than courteous, Thendra looked at me like an interesting puzzle that she hungered to solve, and I’d grown to dislike her assessing, dispassionate face for all that I relied on her.

Jov stood. “We were just looking at these.” He indicated the scratches. “The Chancellor will have some too… ?” But she was already shaking her head.

“I asked your uncle about the marks, Credo. If the animal had a toxic scratch we would see symptoms surrounding that area.” Her gaze dropped. “I do not know what is causing this. It is no poison or disease I know of.”

Jovan looked back at the scratches, desperation apparent in his shaking voice. “The animal drooled a lot. What if it had some foreign disease, one we’ve never seen here, and passed it through its saliva onto an open cut?”

Her sleepy gaze sharpened as she regarded him. “I could examine the animal,” she said. “I do not know if it will help, but I am happy to do so if you wish.” She left unspoken our lack of remaining options.

“I’ll go,” I said quickly, before Jovan could move. His experiments would be outside my knowledge and understanding to conduct; I wanted to do something, anything, that might help. Though the tension in my brother’s expression signaled his objection, the desire to examine the scratches more closely won out and he didn’t argue.

“The glass garden,” he said. “Be careful.”

* * *

Dozens of staff members and even a few Councilors crossed my path on my way to the gardens; word had spread. I didn’t stop to hear commiserations. Every time I pictured Etan lying still and empty, my chest squeezed in on me and my throat and eyes burned. But Caslav lived, still. We’d lost our Tashi, but maybe we could redeem our family’s honor. Maybe I could help, for a change.

The glass-walled gardens were small, so even in the darkness it didn’t take long to find the leksot. I wouldn’t need the cage after all.

The creature lay prone on a patch of dirt underneath a crying fin tree, its tail spread limp across the ground like a snake. Jovan had been right. Here was the architect of our uncle’s downfall; not some shadowy foreign poisoner or a treacherous colleague, but a pitiful dead animal, its paws and face still and wilted, tongue protruding from its little mouth. My hand shook, wobbling the light. Losing our uncle to something so stupid and random as a foreign disease was so unfair, so unworthy of all he’d been. But at least I could hope something in its body would help Thendra and the others treat the disease. The Chancellor was running out of time.

I crouched, about to scoop up the body, when something made me pause. I swept the light around slowly. Something looked wrong.

The dirt surrounding the body was unmarked. I pressed a light finger in and noted the easy impression it left. The leksot hadn’t walked or crawled here; it must have fallen from the tree. A low branch of the crying fin formed a green fan just over the animal. I ran a hand down its flexible length. It was no wider than my wrist.

An odd place for a sick animal to sit. Etan had suffered for hours. Why would an animal in distress have perched on a branch too narrow to lie down on? The swollen, protruding tongue suggested it had died the same way as my uncle. But it had been in apparent good health when Jovan left it here. How had it come into the city carrying a disease but then sickened and died so quickly? That was odd even accounting for differences in anatomy.

My sweeping lamplight, scanning the garden, illuminated a flattened patch of the toxic weed feverhead by the pond. Tracks marked the grass around the entrance and through the center of the garden. Not just my own footprints, marking a path toward the crying fin, but also a secondset, from the pond. Someone had been in here recently, perhaps even this afternoon.

I wasn’t sure what it meant. Maybe nothing.

I gathered the leksot with a fold of my paluma. We could still hope Thendra could learn something from the body and help the Chancellor. An image of my Tashi’s distorted face sliced through my mind. Either way, we’d failed him.

As I passed through the arch and back into the Manor, my brother came around the bend. Our eyes met for a moment, and he shook his head. I lowered my gaze.

We’d failed the Chancellor, too.

* * *

They took Etan’s body away in a covered litter, a flock of physics trailing it, solemn-faced. I pretended to need to relieve myself so I didn’t have to watch. Keeping the mask of calm—don’t be fragile, don’t be weak— had taken a toll. Alone, cracks widened into chasms, and I cried for my uncleuntil my sobs turned to hiccups. Leaning my forehead against the cool stone wall, I listened to the sound of my brother’s footfalls, back and forth. The familiar sound gave me no comfort now.

I scrubbed my eyes and returned, my legs shaking. Desperation to save the Chancellor had invigorated me, but without that task the energy had seeped out. We made a fine pair, me too tired to stand and my brother unable to stop pacing. When he spoke, his words were rushed and mumbled.

“We have to tell Mother and the rest.” Pure Jovan, always focused on the practicalities. It helped him, but still rankled at me.

“It’s too late to send anything to night,” I said. “We’ll send a bird to the estates and to Telasa first thing in the morning.” Along with everyone else in the city. Breathing slowly, I wobbled to my feet. Engaging Jov’s memory and the rational part of his brain would help him calm down, so I asked a question to which I knew the answer. “There was feverhead in the garden. There’s no chance the leksot just ate some of that, is there?”

“No,” he said. “You’d have to eat your own weight in feverhead to kill you in the short term. It damages your system over time.” His pace slowed a little. “There shouldn’t be feverhead in the garden, though. We should tell the gardeners.” I nodded along with the pretense that such a thing mattered.

Thendra interrupted us from the doorway, and Jovan fell silent. “Credo, Credola,” the physic said. She wrung her hands and glanced at Jovan. The concentration on my brother’s face intensified as he tried to stop pacing.“Considering what has happened, I am going to recommend to the Honored Heir that all those who came in contact with the diseased animal be quarantined. Neither of you are showing symptoms, no, but since we do not know how the disease was transmitted…”

“Of course,” I said quickly, drawing her attention back to me and away from Jov. “We understand.” My heart beat faster. Whatever had happened to the Chancellor, it had involved that animal somehow. Whether Lord Ectar had brought a diseased animal deliberately or inadvertently, we needed to know. Physically weak I might be, and a proofer I was not, but Etan had not left a potential tool lying about his house hold unused for long; behind my diplomatic career I had my own training and my own skills in less genteel arts.

Thendra let out her breath. Perhaps she’d been expecting arguments. “I have arranged a litter to the hospital. Who else handled the creature?”

“Credo Lazar, and a few of his servants,” Jovan said. His steps had slowed, signaling he was gaining control over the pacing. “The Talafan nobleman who brought it, of course— Lord Ectar, I believe is his name— and any of his servants who handled it on the way here, I suppose.” He slowed his pace further, finished his eighth step, and stopped with his own relieved sigh. “You might want to send an Order Guard or two,” he added. “I’ve no idea how they’ll react to the quarantine.” He shot me a sidelong look, quizzical but trusting in my plan.

“Care will need to be taken with Lord Ectar,” I said. “There’s no centralized medical care in the Empire. No hospitals. Their physics are hired privately by those who can afford them. Our visitor may not understand what you’re doing.”

“I see.” Thendra frowned. “I do not want to cause panic. News is already spreading of the Chancellor, and the last thing we need is a public scene.”

“I know their culture,” I said. “And I can speak some Talafan. Perhaps I could accompany the Order Guards and help smooth relations?” I used my meekest, most obliging tone. One of my most-practiced. Quiet, shy little Kalina; every one knew her so well.

“And I could assist with Credo Lazar,” my brother added.

She seemed grateful to have something to do with us. “I will ask the Honored Heir to approve this, yes?”

We hadn’t seen Tain since the Chancellor died. He’d been closeted in his uncle’s room with the body, and though sounds could be faintly heard through the wall, no one had been in since. We tapped tentatively and the muffled sounds stopped. The jangle of beads of the inner door sounded,then the outer door opened a fraction. Tain looked out, his eyes red and his mouth set in a hard line of contained emotion. My heart hurt for him.

“Honored Heir,” Thendra said, “I am proposing to quarantine Credo Jovan, Credola Kalina, and anyone else who touched the diseased animal, yes? May I have your permission to do so, at least until tomorrow?”

Tain frowned, starting to speak, but a hard look from Jovan silenced him. Thoughtfulness chased the confusion from his face as he looked at us carefully. “That would be best, I suppose,” he said, his voice raw. “Please ensure they have every comfort. They’ve lost their Tashi, too.” A pause. Even in grief, Tain was still thinking. “We don’t know whether that animal came here diseased on purpose or not. Please take Order Guards and make sure the Talafan does not leave.”

As Thendra murmured her agreement and turned away, Tain’s hands shot out of the gap and grabbed one of each of ours, wrapping our fingers together and squeezing, just for a moment. I blinked away tears and squeezed back.

The Manor had been a hive before, buzzing with anxious servants and serious-faced physics, Councilors and messengers pounding the winding internal corridors. After the announcement it had emptied like water froma basin, all the noise and energy sucked from the building that had become a tomb. We met four Order Guards at the entrance, uniformed in red-and-blue striped leather vests over their tunics, short swords dangling from their belts. Thendra insisted on a hospital litter for me, and I didn’t protest. It felt easier to close the cloth sides and my eyes as we made our way down the zigzag, hilly streets of the upper city, shutting out the bright merriment of the evening. But voices and laughter and the chink of teacups, music from street corners, and even the faint sound of applause from the closest theater bled through into my dark, cushioned world, an oddly merry background to the grim clump-clump-clump of the Order Guards and the practiced smooth shuffle of the litter carriers. One last night of oblivious normality. In the morning the great bells would ring and the whole city would be in mourning.

We crossed over Trickster’s Bridge to the lower city. The massive bridge, an inspiring feat of architecture, spanned the north end of the lake where it thinned into marshes. On the east side was the bridge tower, nicknamed the Finger for its height and bulbous middle, and all that remained of the lakeside fortifications of the original city. Now, most of our wall circumference lay on the west side of the lake, where the newer part of Silasta sprawled, less elegant than the old but equally important. If the old city was the face of Silasta—beautiful, with its glimmering buildings, graceful archways, and famous flowering vines—then the lower city was the internal organs, pulsing with commerce, learning, and enterprise.

The Talafan nobleman was staying in one of the best guesthouses in the city, near the school complex just near the northwest bank of the lake, only a short walk from Trickster’s. The proprietor visibly struggled with her competing urges to protect her expensive guest and to stay on the right side of the grim-faced Order Guards, but in the end she directed us to the gaming room across the street where the Talafan was deeply embroiled in a game of four-strike. He sat cross-legged opposite three local opponents, a small pile of polished bird bones in front of him and a frown of concentration on his thin, clean-shaven face. It was hot inside, the room lit with scented oil braziers and urns of steaming sweet tea constantly refilled by servants as the guests played.

The other players noticed us before the Talafan. One was well born, wearing Credo Bradomir’s haughty nose and brow. The others I didn’t recognize, but the sumptuous fabric of their clothing and the jewels in their hair suggested wealth. All three gave a start at the sight of us. In the corner, the musician stopped playing.

“Lord Ectar, may I beg a moment of your time?” I spoke in my best Talafan, inclining my head.

He stood gracefully, gray eyes taking in the tattoos on my arms, and bowed low. His cosmetics were skillfully applied and his fair hair floated lightly into its clasp at his nape, unoiled. “Credola,” he replied. His voice surprised me; it was young, rich, and pleasant, at odds with his rather ascetic visage. “Of course. What may I do for you?”

I led him outside and introduced myself. His eyes widened at my family name, flashing quickly to my arm and then back again. I could practically see the vying forces of opportunism and cultural bias warring across his face, though he moved little more than a fraction. “I hoped to meet you, Credola Kalina,” he said, speaking now in our language. “I have a business proposal for your family. Perhaps—”

“Lord Ectar,” I interrupted him, but as politely as I could. “We must speak about the gift you brought the Chancellor earlier today.”

“The leksot? A marvelous animal. Maybe your family enjoys one as a pet as well? I feel it will soon be the fashion.” He looked immediately more comfortable. Gifts and bribes for women were far less challenging for a Talafan than directly doing business with one. He spoke good Sjon, not just the simplified Trade tongue that most merchants shared across borders. He must have studied us, and he’d have been a fool to come to Silasta expecting to deal only with men. But the habits of home are hard to break. I would make it as easy for him as possible. For all the talents I might lack, appearing less than I could be wasn’t one of them.

“I’m afraid the creature appears to have carried a disease,” I told him, watching his reaction closely. “Our physics need to examine every one who came in contact with it, for every one’s safety.”

“A disease? Nonsense!” Ectar folded his arms, his tone indignant, but the light spilling from inside the gaming room was too good to hide the draining of color from his already pale face. “I traveled with it for two weeks.”

“The creature sickened and died, Lord Ectar,” I said, lowering my gaze and spreading my hands, helpless. “And it infected several others. I, too, have been summoned to the hospital.” He didn’t need to know, yet, who had fallen victim to the disease.

“Just a precaution, Lord Ectar,” one of the Order Guards chimed in. “We take public health seriously in Silasta. You’ll need to bring any of your servants who handled the creature, as well.”

The line between his eyes deepened. Before he could protest, I added in Talafan, “Please, Lord Ectar. I asked to accompany you. I am fascinated by the Empire, and hope to visit someday. Perhaps we could pass the time in quarantine together?”

He looked me over. Talafan and their expressionless faces! But this, this I was good at. I read hesitance but also curiosity in his eyes. Perhaps it was not just business that had driven him here, far from his pampered existence in the Empire. Behind me, the Order Guards took a leisurely step closer. Across the street, several passersby stopped to watch. A couple of women kissing enthusiastically in front of the next building stopped their fun to stare. An earther preacher rambling on the nearest corner mumbled off into silence. The silhouettes of Ectar’s gaming companions were visible from where we stood, as they hovered, listening, on the steps inside. Ectar’s gaze traveled back to the Oromani family tattoo on my arm.

Opportunism, curiosity, a desire to avoid a scene; whatever it was, it won. He bowed deeply. “Of course, Credola Kalina. How do you say it? There would be… much honor?”

I smiled. “Thank you. We have a litter for yourself and one for your servants.”

He waved a dismissive hand. “They can walk. They have never been carried before; let us not begin now. Maybe I can share with you?”

The Order Guards blocked his impertinent step toward the litter, but I nodded. “It would be my honor.”

It was a short but strange journey to the hospital, which was back on the other side of the lake, not too far from the Finger. Ectar seemed both fascinated by me and slightly repulsed, as if I were a strange animal who had inexplicably learned to speak. Here, family was the cornerstone of our culture and our honor. Women contributed to families with our learning and skills, just as any other adult, and when we wished to have children we chose our most trusted male relative—a brother or an uncle, usually—to help raise them within the family. In the Empire, women were forced from their own families and expected to live as a kind of pampered ornament in the home of an unrelated man, who would then take the woman’s children as his own. They lived what seemed to me a bizarre, intolerable existence, unable to choose their own lives, careers, or the number, gender, or even specific identity of their romantic partners. So we spoke tentatively, politely, but always conscious of the undercurrent; I was as peculiar to him as he was to me.

The physics at the hospital escorted us to a well-lit upstairs room, where Jovan and Credo Lazar waited. Lazar looked frantic, a wreck of a man. Sweat drenched his tunic from armpit to waist, his manufactured curls wilted sadly about his bulbous face. Two of his servants sat quietly in the corner. Jovan, given new lease by a fresh task, looked as impeccable as ever as he sat straight-backed and cross-legged on one of the pallets, watching the Credo wobble around the room. The smell of fortified kavcha assaulted us. The tiny, spectacled physic with us wrinkled his nose in disapproval.“Credo Lazar,” he said, his voice deep and authoritative for such a diminutive figure, “there is to be no food or drink in this room. We need to observe you unimpeded.”

Lazar noticed us at last. His face went through a few contortions as he tried to balance his outrage and fear with his instinct to flatter potential business partners. “Lord Ectar,” he said at last, in a passably neutral tone.

I introduced Ectar to Jovan, watching the jump of interest in the man’s face as he realized he’d been quarantined with two members of the Oromani family he’d traveled here to bargain with. Lazar’s obvious panic and discomfort seemed to have a steadying influence on the Talafan; any tension he had harbored toward the process seemed to dissipate. His gray gaze swept the austere hospital room without apparent judgment, and he took a pallet and endured the physic’s examination as politely as I did. His servants spoke only in direct response to the physic’s questions, with Ectar translating from the pallet in a lazy tone.

Lazar, uncharacteristically, seemed too distraught even to talk. He lay down on the farthest pallet, his back to the rest of us, and his drunken snores soon filled the room. Jovan, too, lay still, though to someone who knew him well it was clear he was concentrating deeply rather than relaxing. We were trapped in a room with people who might have caused the Chancellor’s death; here was our chance to learn whatever we could from their reactions.

I was exhausted, but so well-practiced at masking it that it was no trouble to pretend enthusiasm for a late-night conversation. For his part, Ectar seemed genuine. If he knew about our uncle’s death, he was an excellent liar, because he spoke readily and easily about Etan as he relayed his excitement to supply the Emperor with our tea. For a time, I could pretend I didn’t know, either.

“You are related to the Emperor, I understand?”

“He is my…” He paused, searching for the word, then must have remembered there was no equivalent term in our language. “Grandfather,” he said in Talafan. Then a smile warmed his face, making him seem younger. “But I am very far from the throne. The youngest son of a youngest son is not likely to inherit.”

“How many brothers do you have? One seems sufficient to me,” I said, shooting a sidelong smile at Jovan.

Ectar laughed. “One would be sufficient to me, also yes! Alas, I have eight older brothers.”

“Eight!” Jovan exclaimed. “What bad luck for your family.”

I glared at him. The only thing he studied about other cultures was their use of poisons; I doubted he’d understood the reference to Ectar’s “grandfather.” Here, to have sons instead of daughters was indeed bad luck. Women could continue the bloodline and family name, while sons had to find some other way of distinguishing themselves and adding value to the family. In the Empire, parenthood was illogically granted to men, and bloodlines supposedly—and probably inaccurately— followed through males.

I reframed my brother’s clumsy comment. “It must be challenging to distinguish yourself among so many. You’ve obviously become a trader of some esteem.”

Ectar puffed up. The more we spoke, the more expression seeped through his careful Talafan mask. “I… er, cultivate my grandfather’s taste for foreign goods. When I was a child, you may not consume a food product in the Imperial City that was grown outside the Empire. Now, I bring him Sjontea for his cups, and Doranite furs for his bed. He wears a bloodstone necklace from Perest-Avana! He hungers for new things to surprise him. Itis a new world. A good world for a man like me.” He leaned closer to me, eagerly, his gaze darting to Jovan and back. “I desire much to make a most beneficial deal with Credo Etan. Oromani tea is the very best, and my grand father hungers only for the best.”

I seized the moment. It took little effort to summon tears; the mention of my Tashi’s name had burned anyway, and the memory of his body being carried away from us was enough. I let them splash down my cheeks and dropped my head. Though he was behind me, Jovan was doubtless watching Ectar closely as I said, in a tiny voice, “Oh, Lord Ectar. I… I have tried to be brave, but…”

He knelt closer to me. “What is it? What has happened?”

“Credo Etan. My uncle. I didn’t want to frighten you, but I’m afraid he was infected. It was fatal.”

Fatal?” Ectar scrambled to his feet, reverting to Talafan as he spluttered, “You mean we are infected with something that might kill us? Why did no one inform me of this? This is unacceptable!” Now he was shouting. The solicitous merchant persona abandoned, he reverted to pure nobleman. His servants hovered about him like bobbing flies, convincingly fearful and unsure. “This is an outrage! I will not be treated like this. Call your physics, woman, and summon me a messenger at once! My grandfather will hear about this.”

Exchanging glances with Jov—he would understand the sentiment if not the words—I tried to calm the Talafan. “Lord Ectar, please.”

But he was having none of it. Lazar woke, spluttering and red-eyed, and stared at the furious Talafan. Jov stood. “Lord Ectar,” he said firmly, “you should also know that the disease that apparently killed your animal was passed to the Honored Chancellor himself.”

Ectar broke off midrant, and his already pale skin went alabaster. Tiny muscles around his mouth worked. Rage subsided into the bone-deep politics of nobility; he was from a different world, but politics were not so diff er ent allthe world over. He knew what the death of the Chancellor meant. “I am… deeply grieved to hear this,” he said in Sjon, bowing his head. “Please forgiveme, Credola Kalina, Credo Jovan, Credo Lazar. The Chancellor! I… I did not know.” Still shaking, he stepped back a few paces. “How could I know?The leksot was perfectly healthy, you believe me. I bought her from the best breeder. I beg you, please understand. This was not my doing.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Credo Lazar said tearfully. “Word is already spreading. The whole city will know by the morning. I brought you into my home! My family’s honor will never recover. To have had a role in the death of our most beloved Chancellor and his closest adviser… the shame of it.”

“It was healthy,” Ectar insisted. “I would never have gifted an animal that had so much as sneezed in my presence.”

“Yet the creature scratched our uncle and the Honored Chancellor,” Jovan said, his tone cold and his face still. “Now they are dead.”

“And we are going to die also?”

I suddenly realized he was not much older than we were, and not nearly as controlled as he’d appeared. If this fear was not genuine, he’d best make an appointment with the Performers’ Guild, because I believed it. “I’m sure we are not in true danger,” I reassured him. “The symptoms came on fast, so we are only here as a precaution.”

But the Talafan, still white and shaking, closed himself off once more. He mumbled another apology and then lay down with closed eyes. I would get no more from him. Jovan and I shuttered the lamps without speaking, and we lay down on our pallets in the darkened room, holding on for just a bit longer in the darkness to the illusion that this was all a terrible nightmare. He held my hand as I fell asleep.

Excerpted from City of Lies, copyright © 2018 by Sam Hawke

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