The wicked heroine, p.63
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.63

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  The pudgy man descended the ramp from the white marble of the temple into black basalt hallways, lit by green torches. His mind was filled to bursting with the news he had to impart; it would assure him a higher position with the Hand of Power.

  A voice arrested him, and he turned to see his bald rival, skulking in the shadows as usual.

  “You,” the fat man said, “are about to get demoted.”

  “Really? Do tell, Anchis,” his rival drawled, leaning against the stone wall.

  Anchis felt the massive import of his news pressing against his lips from within. “I’ve come from the farmhouse,” he prefaced. “It was time for the quarterly sacrifices.”

  The other man’s lips pursed. “Did you use young ones again this time? You know how upset the Hand of Power was when he realized you’d not drawn off enough blood for the last spell.”

  Anchis glowered. “I used full-grown sacrifices this quarter. I’m not an idiot.” He shrugged his shoulders, flicking off his irritation, and continued. “The point is, the spell found something this time. After centuries of waiting, it’s happening!”

  His rival stood away from the wall, electrified. His eyes bored into Anchis. “What’s happening?”

  The fat man rocked on the balls of his feet, chin high. “The thief and the key are reunited. We can track the magic of the key from now on!”

  The other man’s face fell, and Anchis knew his rival was feeling his base of power disappear beneath him. Nothing could compete with delivering this news to the Hand of Power, and they both knew it.

  “I guess you should learn to live with a lesser position now,” Anchis said with a smug grin, brushing past the bald man with an arrogant stride.

  Black lightning crackled through the air, and Anchis screamed and dropped, writhing, to the warm stone floor. “And you should learn to keep your mouth shut. Oh, but I fear my advice has come too late.”

  Just before the body’s tremors subsided into fatal stillness, the bald man gathered a few drops of Anchis’ blood with a quick slice of his dagger. He let them fall from its point into his own open mouth. Swallowing, he smacked his lips, as if he could taste the magic in the man’s blood.

  It would take a few minutes for Anchis’ magic to blossom within him, but he could already tell that Anchis had gathered several other magics himself. The man grinned, knowing he’d effectively doubled his magic ability in a single stroke. The Hand of Power would not be pleased with Anchis’ death, high as he was within the cult, but the power of the news that only he now knew would more than absolve him of the crime.

  He stepped over Anchis’ cooling corpse and strode down the hallway toward the Hand of Power.

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