Excerpt from the Prologue
THE NIGHT WAS COLD AND DEAD, AND SO FELT CLARENCE'S HEART.
He dashed through the darkness, never stopping, always watchful for the menÂ--every passing car making him leap back into the shadows of the trees lining the abandoned rural highway. His form was hardly more than a shadow, sweating even in the cold, his face bruised and scarred. With every second that passed, he knew they were coming; and with every step, he knew they were gaining on him.
He darted through the mist and onto a side street with no houses or people, lined with thick walls of rock on both sides. His eyes swept the road, watchful for the lights of police cars or of the vans he knew were following him. He was worn from a night of running, but he couldn't stop. He had to get to the city before they found him. Or worse, before they found BranÂ…
Suddenly, there was a burst of light behind him, coming over the hill. He spun, and his eyes flashed, the noise startling him for a secondÂ--but only a second, as he heard the engine roar and saw the shape of a black van rushing after him.
"No!" he gasped, and he took off in the other direction, hearing the van blast in pursuit. The road was cut through the rocks, and the rising walls blocked him from going into the woods. His shadow was thrown ahead of him, the headlights burning the sweat on his neck. He ran faster, panting for breath, his heart pounding and his feet slapping against the pavement.
Ahead of him there was a flash of motion, a squeal of tires, and a second black van shot out of the shadows, skidding and coming from the other direction. He shouted and turned to run the other way, stopping and spinning back as the first van slid after him, blocking his escape as the other cornered him in. Clarence ran to the wall of rock, digging his fingers into the cracks to climb, to find any way to escape, but falling to the pavement when he found he could not.
The vans stood still and foreboding, the intense headlights trained on his form against the wall, blinding his eyes as he crouched over. He held up his hands to shield his face and heard the doors burst open, two men coming from behind the cover of the windows, their pistols trained on him. He stiffened and held his hands up in terror, and out of the second van came two others, bald and strong, their faces emotionless and their forms hidden by black coats that swept as far as the ground. Each held in his hand a black wand of metal, and Clarence trembled under their gazes, almost feeling the torturous magic coursing through his body again.
The side door of the van opened slowly, and Clarence whimpered, pressing himself against the rocks. All was still as the last man came from the darkness, standing in front of the others. Clarence looked up at him weaklyÂ--the man's face was rough, his hair light and to his shoulders, power behind his eyes. His clothes were torn and bloody, as were those of the others. Clarence counted them in the light. There were only fiveÂ…the police must have caught the rest.
"Running away so soon, are we?" the man said in a soft tone that held poison behind it. Clarence only covered his eyes.
"Wouldn't stick around to help clean up, would you?" the man said louder. "Already tired of the project just because the police break in?"
"Farfield is overÂ…" Clarence managed to hiss, hardly able to breathe. He looked up. "You've already failed, Joris," he choked. "The police are onto all of you. Baslyn is dead, his spirit is goneÂ…and Emry will hide her son well enough so you'll never bring him back."
"But you know where she's taking him," Joris said, and Clarence jerked his head away, refusing to speak. Very slowly, Joris stepped forÂward, his form covering the headlights and casting a shadow down upon Clarence.
"You know where he is, don't you?" Joris said, his voice unrelenting. Clarence whimpered, shaking his head. NoÂ…he wouldn't tell. He would not betray Emry.
"I-I don't know where she's taking him," Clarence stammered, fighting against the fear that threatened to consume him.
Joris narrowed his eyes disbelievingly. "Well then," he said, "we'll just have toÂ…convince you to tell us then, won't we?"
"I won't," Clarence whimpered. "I can't break my promiseÂ--the boy is gone. Farfield is over."
Joris gave a dry smile, and he leaned down so close his whisper was loud in Clarence's ear.
"Farfield isn't over yet," he hissed. "We're going to find Bran Hambric, and we're going to bring him back."
A freezing wind blew across the alley where Emry Hambric had parked her car. Her windows were down and the cold chilled her faceÂ--but nothing chilled her more than the sudden feeling of dread that crawled across her skin.
"ClarenceÂ…" she whispered. Something was desperately wrong. He should have been there by now. She glanced into the back seat: in it was the limp body of a small, six-year-old boy, the boy who was her son. Just looking at his face tore a hole through her heart.
"I'm sorry," was all she could say. If only it could take back years of mistakes, so that maybe she wouldn't be there, running from all she had doneÂ--knowing that if she could have lived a few more weeks, she might see herself turn twenty-seven, but knowing in her heart she would not even see the next sunrise. Emry never cried, always the strongestÂ--always pretending to be the strongest. But now, as she looked back on her life, and looked down at the child she loved so much, tears grew in the corners of her eyes. She would never see him again.
"I won't let them get you," she whispered. "I promise."
But just as that whisper left her lips, she felt a start within her and jerked her gaze up, out the back window. She had sensed something moveÂ--a shadow, or rather the feeling of a shadow, moving her way, watching her. Someone was coming. And Emry knew who it was.
"She's found meÂ…" Emry whispered. She thought she would be safe in Dunce. No mage would follow her in there, none of the police from outside either. But she could feel the woman approaching, and she jerked her eyes back to her son. It was too late to runÂ--she'd have to send him elsewhere. Her senses came like a force wrenching her around, telling her she couldn't waste another second. She jerked around quickly, searching the floor for something to write on: it was empty, not even a spare receipt or a strip of cloth.
She tried her pockets and finally found something: an old scrap from earlier that day, with part of something else still at the bottom. She didn't have time to find anything else, and quickly scribbled her note on it.
"This is all I have to give you," she whispered, stuffing it into his fist and closing his fingers around it. She knew he wouldn't remember anythingÂ--her magic was strong enough for that. But the least she could give him was the note.