The Thief of Cragsport

Once just a thief and swordsmaster, Sonata Diamante has developed god-like powers. She will need them if she is to defend her city of Cragsport against its many enemies. War has begun, and Sonata may be the only person standing between the city she loves and the gods that would see it fall.

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Thief and swordsmaster Sonata Diamante is now Sacudente do Mundo, the World-Shaker, with god-like powers she can’t control. Perhaps her wizard uncle, Borshen Galo, can help. But he’s missing, and the streets of Cragsport have changed. Martial law has been declared, but Sonata refuses to keep the peace. She wants answers, and her quest brings her into contact with Duke Ernesto and his Night Watch.

The Duke hires Sonata as the security lead for a delegation heading north. He wishes to forge an alliance with the island kingdom of Corodana so that Cragsport can survive a war with its rivals Agadano and Pontaboro. Sonata finds her uncle in Corodana, but his answers to her questions are not helpful. Soon, the attempts of assassins and fantasma wizards on the life of the Corodana king force her to use her powers in ways that make it clear: Sonata is no longer human.

She returns to Cragsport, but her growing number of enemies threaten her life. To survive, she calls upon her newly-discovered father, Taigo Guerra do Dorecao, but he and the powers he represents have their own plans for the world of Mirada. War has begun, and Sonata may be the only person standing between the city she loves and the gods that would see it fall.

From darkness, Sonata Diamante watched the old pimp hobble with a cane down the street. She did not remember Davido having a limp before, but then, she had pushed him from a fast-moving wagon several months ago. Perhaps the fall had broken his hip or had injured his leg. Serves him right, she thought, watching as the ill-tempered oaf walked past the alley in which she was hiding. A scumbag pimp like him deserves to suffer. The way he treated his women sometimes. . . . The thought of it made Sonata’s blood boil. Best thing for him would be to draw Freira across his loose throat and then watch in satisfaction as his life drained away in a gutter. But not tonight. Tonight, the old pimp had his uses.

She made a quiet nick!nick!nick! sound with the side of her mouth, and Fellfang responded by slipping out of the alley and following Davido quietly. The bullmastiff held himself back several paces, stopped when Davido stopped, and was careful not to let his sharp claws clicking against the cobbles of the street give away his pursuit. Sonata smiled. The dog had grown in skills a lot since their adventures in the southern province of Pontaboro.

She turned and slipped down the alley she was in, turned right and then another right a block away. This part of Cragsport was a little livelier, with lanterns outside each doorway into apartments or businesses. But she was Sonata Diamante, thief and swords master, niece to the dreaded and infamous Borshen Galo, ex-battle wizard and potions-maker. A few extra lights to shine upon her passing did not scare her, nor would they ever impede her progress. She slipped into the other alley without notice, tiptoed down to the street where Davido was coming, waited another thirty seconds or so, and then pushed her straight-bladed sword, Chefe, out into his path.

The blade caught just below his neck. Davido walked right into the blade and stopped just before the cold, sharp edge cut his throat.

“I’d advise caution, pimp,” Sonata said, whispering. “My father longs to drink.”

Chefe meant “father” in the Old Tongue. Her other sword, a long curved blade that she used for slashing, was Freira, meaning “mother.” They were everything to her.

Davido turned and tried slinking away. Fellfang blocked his path. The beast growled, a low, guttural sound that even Sonata feared. “Take caution in that direction, too, Davido. Fellfang is hungry as well.”

The pimp stopped again, and his shoulders dropped, defeated, as if he were preparing to pass out. “Sweet Destinado,” he said, invoking the name of the Miradan God of Death, his voice tinged with fear, defeat, “you’re alive.”

“And healthy,” Sonata said, “despite rumors to the contrary. Did you miss me?”

“Hardly. You nearly killed me that morning.”

Sonata could hear the old pimp’s breathing, a cold, gasping sound, as if he were about to have an attack. I better not scare him too deeply, she thought. I need him alive . . . for a little while anyway.

She tucked Chefe away in the scabbard harness on her back, stepped out of the alley, and grabbed Davido by the coat collar. She pulled him back into the alley and pushed him against wet building stones. His breath was rancid. She wiggled her nose. “I don’t have time to chat, Davido. I’ve just returned. I need information. I need it now. What’s happened to Cragsport?”

The small knife at his throat and the angry bullmastiff at his side, growling and drooling white, foamy spit on his worn boots, made him speak quickly and perhaps a little too loudly.

“I don’t know what you mean, girl.”

Sonata tucked the knife away, gave him space. “The place has changed. It’s colder, and I don’t mean the air. It’s quieter. There’s a tension that wasn’t here before. And I smell old smoke, as if there’s been fires. Tell me what you know.”

“It’s because of you,” Davido said, clearing his throat. “That morning, I mean. The fight didn’t stop when you disappeared, Sonata. It kept going. Other neighborhoods got into it. It spread like fire, and then fires began to spread for real. Burning, looting. Duke Ernesto imposed martial law. It went on for fifteen days, at least. All the pent up tension of years of the Night Guard sticking it to us small folk, and all their corruption, boiled over. It was a mess.”

“Who’s running the Night Guard now?”

“Rodrigo Vaasco.”

Sonata huffed. “Duke Ernesto’s stooge.”

Davido nodded. “All captains of the Night Guard fit that bill.”

“What else?”

“The city is still under a curfew . . . sort of. No large gatherings after dark, no parties, no religious or large secular meetings of any kind, which has put a strain on our taverns, dance halls, theaters.”

“And I suspect the brothels as well. Madam Carla must be—”

Sonata saw Davido’s expression change. “What?” She asked. “What’s the matter?”

Davido winced, sniffed, cleared his throat, and eyed Fellfang carefully before speaking. “She . . . she’s gone, Sonata. Her house is boarded up.”

Sonata felt her heart sink. She grabbed Davido’s collar, pulled him closer. “What do you mean? Where is she?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. She was taken away by the Night Guard. Vaasco cleared out all the brothels. The revolt started there, he said, so he ended it there.” He cleared his throat again, then chuckled. “It’s been great for me. I’m able to put my bitches back on the street, with no threat of being—”

Sonata grabbed him and pulled him down the alley. Fellfang tagged along, yelping and nipping at Davido’s heals. “Where are you taking me?” The old pimp asked.

“Shut up,” Sonata said, slapping him on the back of the head. “Be quiet, or you’ll be the next one the Night Guard disappears.”

✽✽✽

She had to see it for herself. The butcher shop and the wine distillery were still there, but in-between, only the empty, burnt carcass of Madam Carla’s brothel remained, boarded up, dark, and silent. She could still smell the charred wood and the musty old scent of the heavily-ornate furniture that Carla’s “girlies” would lounge upon while awaiting customers. Sonata felt a tear well below her left eye. She felt Sacudente do Mundo, World-Shaker, rise through her veins, her muscles, flesh. She knelt and hugged Fellfang. He nuzzled her face, whimpered, and licked her cheek. She breathed deeply and calmed herself.

“What happened to her girls?” she asked.

Davido, rubbing his sore leg, shook his head. “Some were killed, I think, in the riots. Some were taken away like Carla. Some I own.”

Sonata fought the urge to smack him across the face. You own no one, you filthy— She wiped her face again, turned to Davido, and said, “What else can you tell me? What news from abroad?”

Davido paused and screwed up his face. He probably hadn’t talked or used his brain like this in years. He scratched his head, and Sonata stepped back a pace in case he roused lice. “Not much I can tell. I’m just a foolish old pimp. But people are pretty mad that Agadano tried to form an alliance with Pontaboro. The duke is livid about it. He’s putting together an army is what I hear, and a fleet perhaps? They don’t tell me nothing, you know, and what I hear is rumor mostly. But there’s a war footing at play. You don’t have to be too smart to see it. Lots of weapons moving to and fro. Lots of young men pouring into the city from all over Viscano.”

“What of the Rosa Blanca incident?”

Davido shrugged. “Don’t know much about it. All’s I know is that it had to do with the Agadano and Pontaboro alliance. They say a two-headed dragon was there, and that it was killed in battle by some bitch they call Lisetta. But that’s bullshit. Ain’t no dragons alive anymore, if there ever was any. You been away. You been out and about. Do you know anything about it?”

Sonata placed her hand inside the satchel that hung at her side. She touched the gold and silver dragon masks that lay there, safe and out of sight.

“Not a thing,” she said. “That’s why I’m asking you.”

“Well, that’s all I know.” Davido paused, then asked, “Where’d you go, Sonata? That morning?”

“None of your business, Davido. That’s where I went.”

“I’m just surprised to see you back, is all. You’re marked in the city. The Night Guard has a warrant for your arrest. It’s big money, girl. They catch you, you’re going to die.”

“I’ll take my chances” Sonata said, drawing Chefe again and whipping it through the dark air to freshen its edge. “And we’ll just have to make sure no one knows I’m back.” She lowered the tip so that it rested under Davido’s chin.

He put up his hands in surrender. “Not a word.”

“Good,” Sonata said, nodding. “We’re done here, but one more thing, Davido. Your ‘bitches,’ as you call them, are women. They are human beings, mothers, daughters, and not your property. You get me? If I hear you call them bitches again, or if I see you mistreat them in any way, you won’t recognize your head from a corpse’s asshole. Understand?”

Sonata turned to walk away, toward the place where Uncle Galo lay in wait. Davido called after her.

“Why are you such a mean bit—I mean—woman, Sonata? Why?”

Sonata paused, turned, smiled, and said, “I was born that way.”

Had Cragsport changed, or had she changed? Both, Sonata admitted to herself, as she and Fellfang made their way across the dark and relatively quiet city to the Stretch, an old graveyard four times as long as it was wide, tucked against the northeast wall of the city. One thing was certain, however. Davido was right: things had changed. The change made Sonata anxious; the change made her sad.

Nothing felt right.

The graveyard was still there, of course, right where she had left it. Right where she had left Uncle Galo, in fact, wrapped in a rug, stiff, rigid, and buried many feet deep. Adriana’s Breath was thin tonight. That was fortunate, for it allowed her to see the lay of the land, so to speak, to seek out that place where her uncle lay. Luckier still, there was no one standing guard. Perhaps the fool was off on a piss or smoke break. Either way, she and Fellfang easily slipped through the wide bars of the gate, and once inside, disappeared among the old, weathered headstones.

In all the years she had lived in Cragsport, the Stretch had never changed, had never even received one official corpse and burial ceremony, due to its tough, rocky ground. It was the resting place of the rich ancients, many claimed, active during the time of the Leal Emperors. But now, Sonata saw the ground disheveled not just where she thought she had placed Uncle Galo, but in many other places as well. Things had changed, indeed. The riots that Davido had talked about must have forced Cragsport officials to use whatever ground they could to bury the dead.

Sonata’s heart sank. Was he there? No, there? Where was he? She could not see any appreciable difference from one plot to the next anymore. It all blurred together, as if the entire graveyard had been tilled. “Find him, boy,” she said to Fellfang. “Find Uncle Galo.” Fellfang’s ears perked up at the name of his master. It had been a long while since Sonata had said his name aloud. “Find him, boy. Find him!”

Fellfang poked his large black snout into the fresh dirt. He sniffed, jumped to another grave, sniffed again, and over and over as Sonata continued to give him encouragement. He was excited; she could tell. The idea of seeing his master after so long was too much for him. She had to calm him down with soft rubs to his back as his sniffing turned into whimpers, and whimpers turned into growling, turned into barking. “Shhh . . . calm, boy. Quiet, or they’ll hear us.”

Sonata did not know who “they” were exactly, but Fellfang’s noises echoed through the darkness. She was about to pull him back. Then he paused at one grave. He fell silent, sniffed the ground, and began to dig.

She fetched a shovel from a pile of picks and staves by the guard shed. She fell beside the bullmastiff who had already dug a hole large enough for her to lay in comfortably. It was a scary notion, the thought of lying in a grave. Over the past several months, there had been many times where she should have been killed, so many times where she thought her end had come. But it hadn’t. Now here she was, digging up a man who had lain in a hole just like this one for far longer than he had deserved. Sonata made a mental note to ask her uncle how lying in the ground had felt once he was free from his petrification.

Her shovel tip struck a rock. No, not a rock. Petre Olavo’s skull, the old man who had helped her dig the grave in the first place. Or, rather, a part of his skull, for the ground of the Stretch was so rocky, so dry, that there were few bugs, insects, and other little nasties that would feed on the flesh. Part of Olavo’s face still remained, black and mangled, yes, but otherwise, recognizable. Sonata blanched and shuddered at the dry smell of decay that now wafted up from the remaining bits of Olavo’s corpse. But that didn’t stop her. For if Petre was still here, then Uncle Galo lay just below.

But Sonata dug and dug, and Fellfang dug and dug beside her. Nothing . . . nothing save for dry, torn scraps of the carpet that she had wrapped Uncle Galo in on the night that he had almost died. She jumped into the hole, tossed the shovel aside, grabbed Olavo’s corpse, and tore him out of the ground. She then fell to her knees and dug with her hands, not caring about the smell, the tiny rocks, the dirt, anything. She dug until her fingers bled, until Fellfang had stopped digging and had instead turned his attention to her. He licked her sweaty face, whimpered as she began to cry, and tried to push her aside with his broad snout, his powerful neck. She would not budge. He’s got to be here, Sonata said over and over to herself as the hole grew deeper and her fear and anger grew stronger. He’s got to be here.

But he was not, and no amount of digging would change the truth.

Uncle Borshen Galo was gone.

Sonata screamed, and the Stretch erupted in a shower of rock, sand, bone, and rotting corpses.

✽✽✽

When Sacudente do Mundo had finally subsided, Sonata was many streets away. She was like a drunkard sometimes afterwards, finding herself in places that she did not remember going to. She could hear whistles and shouting, mumbled words of panicked Night Guardsmen who passed the mouth of the alley in which she was lying. They were headed to the Stretch, or, what was left of it. She rubbed her face, closed her eyes, and prayed to Santa Dominica, the Goddess of Home and Hearth, prayed for all the bodies she had just desecrated with her anger, anger that she could control sometimes, but not always. Discovering that Uncle Galo was no longer buried must have been too much for her to take; that, coupled with all the changes that she saw and felt in the city. Madam Carla, gone. Uncle Galo, gone. So few citizens on the streets. Curfews. Burnings. Fear. Anger. It was too much, too soon.

Fellfang lay sleeping at her side, snoring, his big snout on her lap. Sonata smiled, so thankful to have him there with her in these trying times, for there had been a time when they had not gotten along. That seemed so long ago, but in truth, it really wasn’t. Things had changed so quickly for her, and now Sonata felt alone. She had no one, save for Fellfang, of course, and the masks. No matter what happened to her, no matter how violent Sacudente do Mundo presented itself, those masks were always at her side now.

Sonata fought the urge to pull the masks out of her satchel and look at them. They called to her, something that happened with increased regularity these days. That, too, scared her, for it meant that they were still active, that there were still dragons inside them, and if they once again fell into the wrong hands. . . .

She pushed away the thought, stood, and walked out of the alley. Now that the Night Guard was distracted with the crater in the middle of the Stretch, Sonata felt emboldened to walk unimpeded in the dim lamplight of the Cragsport night.

What to do next? She wondered. Obviously, she had to find her uncle. Was he still in the city? If it were any other wizard, probably so. But Borshen Galo was reviled everywhere in Mirada, even in Pontaboro, the southern province from which she had just returned. Damn the Gods, but she and her uncle could have passed each other in the night as she and Fellfang had made their way through the Divide and the Chance to get home. He could be anywhere by now.

“We need some sleep, boy,” she whispered to Fellfang as he walked beside her. She tickled his head. “And food.”

They crossed Brilliano Street and walked casually toward Rua Vendedor. For all the unbridled power that Sacudente do Mundo gave her, it didn’t keep her from having to rest and to eat. Maybe her father was an immortal, but her mother had been quite human, and there was no getting around the truth: Sonata was mortal, as far as it went. Food and sleep were required.

She first considered breaking into Madam Carla’s and finding a safe corner in which to sleep. But the dreadful memory of staying there the night before she had escaped Nathyn Sombrio and the Night Guard overruled her decision. No, best thing to do was to act as normally as possible, to act as if nothing was wrong and she was just a normal citizen in need of a bed, some drink, and some bread.

They entered the Purloined Goat, the Cabra Roubada, on Rua Vendedor, a small tavern with a few patrons scattered among its six round tables. Sonata approached the bar. The sight of Fellfang piqued the attention of the tavern keeper.

“We don’t serve mutts in here, young lady,” the man said. He was a big fellow with a long, mangled back beard. Sonata was unimpressed.

“My four-legged friend does not require a drink by the mug, nor do I,” she said, dropping a small bag of coins onto the bar in front of him. “Rent us a room for three days, give me a loaf of bread and a jug of your finest, and we’ll be out of your way, Conrado.”

“Do I know you?” the man squinted as if to get a better look at Sonata’s face, partially obscured by a line of shadow cutting across her chin.

Play it cool, girl. “No, but I’ve heard of you. And I’ve heard that you’re a decent fellow, once you get past the overgrown beard, blunt disposition, and foul breath.”

A few of the patrons chuckled behind her. Conrado looked at them with daggers, sniffed, and replied, “A smart mouth, are you?” Sonata could tell that he wanted to say more, but the bag of coins on the bar was too tempting. He took it and counted through the moedas inside. He fished out half of them, put them in his pocket, and tossed the bag back to her. He turned and picked up the registry and laid it flat in front of her. “Sign in . . . please.”

Sonata started to write “Lise” and then scratched it out. She could not use her alias anymore, at least not in Cragsport, if the Night Guard was looking for a girl with that name. Nor could she use her own. So, she used a name from her past.

“Maria Galo, eh? Doesn’t ring a bell.”

Sonata nodded. Her mother’s name. The name of the strongest and the most beautiful woman Sonata had ever known. You should remember, you simple son of a bitch. She worked for you for three months. But who remembered such things, right?

Conrado motioned up the dark stairs to his left. “Up the stairs, first door on the right. I’ll have bread and wine sent up.”

The room was small. An unlit lantern sat on the windowsill. There was a tiny round table in the far corner next to the bed. The bed itself was nothing more than a weak wooden frame and a lumpy feather-filled mattress. But it felt like heaven to Sonata, as she fell onto it and closed her eyes. She didn’t even bother to remove the sword harness on her back. Chefe and Freira felt terribly uncomfortable underneath her, but she endured the discomfort. She closed her eyes and slept. The bread and wine were delivered a few minutes later. Sonata called to them to leave it outside the door.

When she awoke, she took the bread and wine, ate half the loaf and tossed the other half to Fellfang. She downed the wine in three gulps, wiped her mouth clean, and left the empty bottle on the round table. She then lay back down, but this time, she did not sleep.

Despite the sleep and food, she had a headache. She often did after Sacudente do Mundo. It would go away eventually, she knew. They always did, leaving her with the same questions for which there seemed no answers.

What are these powers I have?

Who was my father?

What will become of me?

For a brief moment near Rosa Blanca, as she was killing Nathyn Sombrio and his men, the purpose of her powers seemed clear. For that brief moment, she had understanding. Now, several months past the event, the purpose of Sacudente do Mundo was, at best, confusing, and she certainly did not have control of it. Who her father was . . . well, she hoped Uncle Galo would tell her, for surely he knew. He had never spoken of the man—the being—that had gotten her mother, his sister, pregnant. Perhaps he honestly did not know, for despite his powers and skills as a wizard, he was, like her, mortal, and all mortal men had limitations. Uncle Galo could not divine the future any more than she could, so he had no better sense of what would become of her with these powers than she did. But she was a Galo. Her mother was Maria Galo. Her uncle, Borshen Galo. Even if he knew nothing, she had to find him, and save him if possible.

Sonata climbed out of the bed and picked up her satchel. She took the masks out and looked at them, one in each hand. They were beautiful. They had been through a lot since she had acquired them, and yet, their surfaces were clean, smooth, and unmarked, as if they had just been forged. Who had forged them originally? That, too, was a question she’d like answered. Perhaps Uncle Galo knew that as well, but then, Guilherme Cavaco had not known anything about the masks either, save for their inherent evil, and he was pretty damned smart for an old wizard.

She took them and placed them next to her head, one on each side like large ears. In the faint glow of moonlight cast through the window, she looked at herself. She smiled, and even chuckled. She looked silly, like a big-eared bat or mouse. She kept looking, but in a few minutes, the image was not so silly, not so foolish. The masks felt good in her hands, felt warm pressed against her head, as if they belonged there. The moonlight shone well across the smooth surfaces of the masks and Sonata noticed that, like the metal in the masks, the moonlight shone across her face as if it had changed, stiffened, and smoothed.

She tucked the masks back into the satchel, shook her head, and tried focusing her mind. She looked out the window at the darkness of Cragsport, saw hundreds of tiny lights from windows spread across the city, all the way to that part of the city wall known as the Jaw, where she and Fellfang had jumped to escape Nathyn Sombrio, oh those many nights ago. The horizon beyond was beginning to glow white. The sun would rise soon, and she would see Cragsport in the light of day for the first time in months.

Then, she and Fellfang would venture out again and visit the tall tower that now rose out of the darkness like a dragon’s rotted tooth.

“There,” she whispered to Fellfang as she pointed towards that tower. “That’s where we will begin to search for Uncle Galo.”

It was once known as the Tower of Dorecao, back in the time of the emperors when Dorecao, then Deus de Tudo, God of All, was worshipped as such. Now, the Tower of All Saints Marching, or a Torre de Todos os Santos Marchando, in the Old Tongue, was an ecumenical establishment, though in practice, both Dorecao and Santa Dominica were the two primary religions of Viscano. The coupling of those two deities had formed a northern denomination known as “All Saints Marching.” All the other Miradan Gods and Goddesses, however—Cominata, Destinado, and Lorena—had their small chapels within. It reminded Sonata of the establishment that she had visited in Sagano when she had needed access to the Channels to find Guilherme Cavaco. But that’s where the similarities ended. The Tower of All Saints Marching was a state-run facility, and as such, its layers of security were numerous. Moedas placed in palms at the door found their way up to the duke himself, whose own administrative tower and living quarters were not far away.

She went as a worshipper of Santa Dominica, wearing a thin white robe with green epaulettes that she stole from a clothier en route to the tower. She left her swords and satchel in her room. She felt uncomfortable not having them, the swords especially, but it was best to appear as a simple woman with a simple desire to worship. She brought Fellfang with her, however, though like in Sagano, he was not allowed in the tower itself. She pressed to have him wait in the foyer of the east entrance. The estudante of Dorecao that guarded the door was hesitant to allow such a large beast to linger there, but an additional moeda in his hand gained his cooperation. Three further layers of security later, Sonata’s purse of coins was running dangerously low. But the additional bribes brought her to the person she needed to convince.

“With your permission, doce senhora, I request access to the Channels.”

The priestess of Santa Dominica stared at her as if she were mad. “A girl like you cannot weather the Channels. I thought you wanted to worship our savior.”

“I do, doce senhora,” Sonata said, looking up at the very tall woman as if she were Santa Dominica herself, “but first, I must try to contact my wizard friend. He is ill, and in grave danger. I must find him in the Channels.”

Sonata could see the priestess struggle with the request. “I need access only for a short while. I promise, doce senhora, I will be in and out quickly.”

She made sure the priestess saw her most sincere and innocent face, and the bag of diminishing coins on her belt. A woman at the level of this priestess was unlikely to be swayed with such emotional and physical bribery, but it was worth a try.

Finally, the priestess relented, on one condition. “Very well, menina, but I must go in with you.”

It was customary for civilians who desired access to the Channels to be escorted in by a priest, a priestess, or a wizard. It was a way to improve the connection with the Channels and to ensure the psychological welfare of the civilian. The Channels were no place for the weak of mind. Sonata was by no means weak of mind. Not anymore, at least. But what could she do? She could not refuse the priestess and hope to gain the kind of access she needed.

The priestess took her into a small antechamber off the Santa Dominica chapel. They knelt at a railing before an altar affixed with small gifts to Santa Dominica, bits of bone, winter flowers, tiny drawings, and prayer scribblings. Sonata did not like being in the midst of so much religiosity. Regardless of who her father was, who he could be, and who she could be as a result, she did not like religion. Not a single denomination represented in this chapel had given her mother one scrap of bread while she and Sonata had been starving on the streets of Cragsport. Only a cantankerous, wise-ass wizard had shown any mercy at all.

“Concentrate now, menina,” the priestess said in a soft, soothing whisper. She lay her hand on Sonata’s back and ran her fingers gently up and down her spine. Sonata’s flesh tingled, and for a moment, she felt like falling asleep. The priestess’s voice and touch was enchanting. It felt good after so many months of not feeling anyone else’s touch. “Say your friend’s name aloud in your mind. Say it clearly, again and again.”

“Guilherme Cavaco.”

The last time she had been looking for Cavaco in the Channels, he had been unknown to her, just a name that Uncle Galo had uttered near death. But now the Pontaboro wizard was her one true friend still remaining in the world. Could he help her now? She did not know. Would he help her? That question was the most important.

She said his name over and over, like the priestess suggested, but she got no response. Her voice sounded funny in the Channels, like an echo in a cave, or in a room stripped bare. Her vision was foggy as well, as if she was staring into the oncoming morning fog of Adriana’s Breath as it billowed up from the crashing foam of the nearby falls. She glided through the haze like a bird. She both enjoyed and hated the sensation; it was like the calm before a storm, luring you into thinking that all would be fine, that the Channels were safe and comforting, and indeed, some places inside were. But Sonata was no priest, no priestess, no wizard. Regardless of her new powers, she was not welcome here.

Guilherme Cavaco!” She said his name again, louder this time, as the fog dissipated and was replaced by a long, bright corridor with doors. Scores of them. Hundreds. Behind one of them was Cavaco. Which one? She did not have time to search them all. He had to come out, to reveal himself before the priestess beside her decided that it was time to leave.

“Come out now, old man,” she said. “I do not have time for games. My uncle is gone, and I need your help.”

Sonata did not know how much to say in front of the priestess. It was unclear just how much the woman could hear, given the fact that she was busy trying to keep Sonata psychically safe in the Channels. How much of her energy was spent just keeping the connection? How much spent eavesdropping?

Finally, a face came to her, faint and distant at first, and then it was right up on her, appearing out of a small flash of light. Cavaco’s ethereal face hovered before her, detached from his body. He did not have a body. He was just a face. A face and a voice, which echoed in her head like her own voice.

Is it wise, Sonata, to come here looking for me?

“Happy to see you too, Cavaco. How’s the weather in Sagano?”

Pleasant, as always, if you are actually referring to the weather.

Sonata shook her head. “I am not, but I have following ears. Can you assist?”

Cavaco turned his floating head toward the presence of the Dominica priestess. She did not have a face in the Channels, just a presence, which floated beside Sonata like a wisp of smoke. The priestess suddenly tried to sever the link, to bring them out of the Channels. Cavaco struck her with a bolt of lightning.

Nausea consumed Sonata as the priestess’s link to her was severed. She felt like throwing up. But she resisted and soon felt much better, as Cavaco’s link to her was established. His was even stronger than the priestess’s.

I’ve knocked her cold, Sonata, but she won’t stay that way for long. When she wakes up, she isn’t going to be happy. We don’t have much time.

“Then let’s get to it. How’s the weather?”

Fair, but clouds are forming. Word out of Viscano says that Duke Ernesto is preparing for war. Queen Mariana is a good girl; she’s brave, and I believe that in time, she will become a good leader. But she is inexperienced and easily manipulated, and the men who advise her have convinced her to do the same.

“Mariana would never start a war with Viscano.”

She may have no choice if your stubborn duke decides to attack or decides to form an alliance with any of the kingdoms above the Sorrow Sea.

“Then you have to alter the situation,” Sonata said. “You have powers enough. Get in the thick of it and change her mind.”

Cavaco huffed. It sounded silly in the Channels, more like a sneeze than a laugh. I’m neither a politician, Sonata, nor an advisor. My goal in life is to live on my yacht in blissful peace until I die.

“You’ve a new boat?” That pleased her.

I do, and this one won’t be destroyed by you.

“I didn’t destroy the first one, you goon. But let’s not get distracted, Cavaco. This is serious business. We’ve a war to stop, and the first step is to find my uncle.”

She told him everything that she didn’t tell him on their first meeting in Sagano. Perhaps it was unwise to speak so openly in the Channels, but she didn’t have time for secrets. Cavaco was right about that.

After she finished, the wizard said, He could be anywhere, Sonata. Borshen was despised universally.

“I’m aware of his social standing. I need to find him nonetheless. Is there any indication that he’s been taken south, into Pontaboro or further?”

Cavaco paused. His image in the cloud wavered as if he were popping in and out of the Channels to deal with issues in the physical world. Then he reappeared in full, and said, No, nothing from here, and I would know if so. No one has snatched him from Sagano. He may still be in Cragsport. He may have been taken above the Sorrow Sea.

Sonata nodded. “The only way to know for sure is to seek out those who have taken him.” She paused, swallowed, dreading the next words. “The only way to do that is to enter the Catacombs.”

Are you insane?

Cavaco’s mood changed. Sonata could feel the chill in the stale air of the Channels. The temperature dropped. Has Sacudente do Mundo gone to your head?

Yes, it has, she said to herself, but did not share aloud. “It’s the only way. I buried my uncle well, Cavaco. The potion I used was strong and can only be reversed by strong sorcery. He may not have been revived yet, if they intend on reviving him at all. But whoever took him had the assistance of a sorcerer, and they reside in the Catacombs.”

I cannot protect you there, Sonata. I can get you in, but there are entities in the Catacombs that have been there since the beginning of time. Dark, powerful entities. Entities that do not care that you are Sacudente do Mundo. They will break you.

“You underestimate my powers, Cavaco.”

Are you able to control World-Shaker now?

“More and more every day.”

It was a lie, but one that she had to tell. Did Cavaco believe her? Probably not, but she stood her ground and held her gaze on his smoky face, unwavering.

Cavaco blinked. No. I’m sorry, Sonata, but I cannot take you there. It’s too much of a risk.

“Look,” she said, growing annoyed by Cavaco’s intransigence. “Uncle Galo, for all his faults, is my blood. He’s the only family I’ve got left.”

What about Fellfang?

She knew what Cavaco meant. He wasn’t so stupid as to be suggesting that she and a dog were related by blood, nor was he making light of the situation. Cavaco had seen first-hand what she and Fellfang had gone through, and when you’d been through that kind of turmoil together, you just inherently became family. On that score, she considered Cavaco family as well; a more mild-mannered version of her uncle.

“Fellfang will always be family,” she said, “but he wants Borshen back even more than I. The poor boy misses his master terribly. Please, Cavaco, help me save him. Or, at least, find out what happened to him. I’m begging you. My uncle may be the only person who truly knows what I am becoming, what Sacudente do Mundo is doing to me.”

Cavaco paused, sighed, then said, Okay, Sonata. I’ll get you in, but I’m telling you, I won’t be able to protect you if you make trouble. You’re on your own in there.

“Just get me in,” she said, her mood improving, “and while I’m there, see what you can do to keep our doce senhora sleeping. This may take a while.”