The action-packed second novel in Katy Rose Pool’s acclaimed Age of Darkness series, which began with There Will Come a Darkness
No one in the smoke-filled gambling hall knew that a killer walked among them. Ephyra eyed the crowds of sailors and hustlers bellowing and brawling over tables strewn with dice, coin, and cards, their teeth and gold flashing in the dim light. None of them paid her any mind, and if she’d come here for a kill, she would have had an easy time of it.
But Ephyra wasn’t hunting for a victim tonight. She was hunting for answers.
She’d spent over a week chasing down rumors about the Thief King in every gambling hall and slyhouse in Tel Amot before finally pinning down a lead thanks to a woman who’d sold her wine at the Night Market. It wasn’t much, just a place and a name—Shara at the Laughing Jackal.
Ephyra picked her way across the sticky floor toward the bar, dodging a brawl that had broken out over cards.
“Have you seen my friend Shara?” Ephyra asked as a server drew up to the bar with an expectant look. “I’m supposed to meet her here. She been in tonight?”
The server gave her a flat look. “Do I look like a messenger to you? Order a drink or leave.”
Ephyra gritted her teeth and placed two copper virtues on the table. “Fine. Palm wine.”
The server scooped the coins off the table and disappeared into the back room. Ephyra watched him go, reaching into her bag and brushing a finger along the spine of her father’s journal. She’d spent days poring over the pages, looking for clues beyond the short letter addressed to her father on the back of a map that, presumably, showed all the places he had gone in search of Eleazar’s Chalice.
It was the same thing Ephyra was looking for now. The only thing capable of saving her sister.
She’d studied her father’s drawings and the few short lines he’d scrawled on the corners of pages. There was only one thing that stood out. Six words beneath a sketch of a handsome man’s face.
The Thief King has the key.
In the past week, she’d learned that the Thief King was a disgraced scholar of the Great Library of Nazirah who’d abandoned his studies to search for a legendary artefact called the White Shield of Pendaros. He’d realized he had a knack for hunting down treasures and legends, and styled himself the Thief King. Along with the White Shield, his crew was rumored to have stolen a whole host of other legendary artefacts—the Ruby Veil, Lyriah’s Flame-tailed Arrows, the Eye of the Desert.
But according to the note tucked into her father’s journal, not Eleazar’s Chalice.
Ephyra jumped in surprise as the server thunked down a chipped glass of wine.
He jerked his chin over Ephyra’s shoulder. “That’ll be your friend.”
The crack of breaking wood sounded, and Ephyra whipped around. Not ten feet away, a girl stood with her back to one of the card tables. A menagerie of bangles and rings clanked around her wrists, and a dark, loose braid lay coiled over her shoulder. Two men flanked her, the remains of a splintered chair scattered at their feet.
“I should have known a whiny cretin like you wasn’t good for his word,” the girl shouted. “Give me my money or I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” the man said, grinning. “Annoy us until we—”
The girl cracked a punch across his face. She got a fistful of his shirt and dragged him closer. “Give. Me. My. Money.”
“You’ll pay for that,” the man growled. He raised a hand and smacked it across the girl’s face. She reeled back as the other man advanced.
Ephyra cursed under her breath. Of course her lead had to be an absolute idiot. Slinging her bag across her chest, Ephyra slipped between Shara and the two men, pushing her back.
“It’s time to go home,” Ephyra said to the men.
“Who in Behezda’s name are you?” one of them growled.
“Yeah, what are you doing?” the girl demanded. “This is a negotiation!”
“I’m currently saving you from possible dismemberment,” Ephyra replied. “So I would shut up if I were you.”
“Stay out of our way.” The man moved to shove Ephyra with a meaty fist.
Ephyra twisted away and had her knife at his throat before he could so much as blink. “I suggest you stay out of my way.”
Ephyra held the man’s stunned gaze, waiting to see what he would do. If he would call what probably seemed like a bluff, or if the knife would scare him off.
Of course, the knife wasn’t what he should be afraid of. But he didn’t know that.
He held his hands up. “Fine.” He jabbed a finger at Shara. “This isn’t over.”
Ephyra waited a beat and then reached back to grab Shara’s arm, ushering her away from the men.
After a few steps, Shara suddenly shoved her into a nearby card table. It caught her hard in the hip and Ephyra stumbled to regain her footing.
“What is your problem—” Ephyra’s protest died in her throat when she took in the scene. The man she’d threatened was holding a splintered chair leg. Shara had just pushed Ephyra out of the way of his intended blow.
“Should’ve known you’d fight dirty,” Shara snarled. “Once a cheater always a cheater. You can keep the money. You’re not worth my time.”
She backed away from them, waiting until she was a good ten paces away before she turned and fled through the cardroom.
Ephyra scrambled after her, catching up to her near the back doors.
“Word of advice,” Shara said. “Never turn your back on lowlifes.”
With every step, her bracelets clinked against one another. Ephyra now also saw the polished rings on her fingers and the beaded necklaces coiled around her neck.
“Is that how your negotiations usually go?”
“You’re obviously new here,” Shara replied. “There something you want?”
Might as well cut to it. “I’m looking for the Thief King. Someone said you might be able to help.”
Shara’s eyebrows climbed up her forehead. “Is that right?”
Shara frowned. “There’s only two reasons you could be looking for the Thief King.” She raised a finger. “One, you’re searching for something.” She put up a second. “Or two, you had something stolen from you. So which is it?”
“So you do know him.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you do,” Ephyra countered. “Can you take me to him?”
She appraised Ephyra, eyes scanning over her worn boots and threadbare cloak, lingering on the scar on Ephyra’s face. The scar that had been Hector Navarro’s parting gift, right before Ephyra had killed him. “That depends.”
“Whether you’re willing to pay the price.”
A chill slid down Ephyra’s spine. “What kind of price?”
“What any thief wants.”
Ephyra’s heart sank. “I don’t have much coin.”
“Not money,” Shara said. “Treasure.”
“Well, I don’t have that, either.”
“Sure you do,” Shara replied. “Everyone does. Treasure just needs to be valuable to the person giving it up.”
Ephyra thought about what she had. Her belongings were few. She couldn’t part with her father’s journal, as it might contain more undiscovered clues. She definitely didn’t want to give up her dagger. Tel Amot had already proved to be an untrustworthy city, and if she was to get out of there unscathed and without leaving any new victims of the Pale Hand, she needed something to defend herself with. That left only one option, though Ephyra’s chest clenched at the thought of parting with it.
“Here,” she said, slipping the bracelet off her wrist. It was the last thing Beru had made before she’d left Pallas Athos, stringing together bits of broken pottery and a glass bottle stopper Ephyra had brought her. Ephyra had found the bracelet among their scattered things in the burned-down shrine. She could still remember the panic rising in her throat when she’d realized Beru was gone. She pushed down that same panic now as Shara took the bracelet and spun it around one of her slender fingers.
“What?” Ephyra asked impatiently. “Do you need a sob story to go with it?”
She looked up. “Nope. As long as there is a sob story. Come with me.”
She opened the back doors to a courtyard lined with date palms. A few people milled about, some of them clearly too drunk to stand. Shara led her past the courtyard, down a walkway.
“What did you do?” Shara asked casually. She drew a line down her cheek, indicating the scar on Ephyra’s. “That’s the mark of a criminal in Behezda.”
“I’m not from Behezda,” Ephyra replied. This question suddenly clarified a lot of the strange and wary glances she’d been getting. No one else had had the guts to ask, though.
They reached the end of the walkway, which tapered down to a set of stairs that descended into the cool earth.
“Here we are,” Shara said, motioning Ephyra down the stairs.
“Oh, come on,” Shara said, rolling her eyes. “You’re the one with the knife.”
Ephyra descended and Shara followed. At the bottom of the stairs, a creaky door hung open to a long, rectangular room with a low ceiling. A desk and a leather chair sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by numerous shelves stacked with books and other trinkets.
No one else was in the room.
Ephyra glanced around as Shara closed the door behind them. “How long do we have to wait?”
“Wait for what?” Shara asked, circling around the desk and pouring herself a cup of palm wine from a crystal decanter.
“You said you were taking me to the Thief King.”
“Oh, right,” Shara replied, sounding bored. She folded herself into the leather chair, propping her thick boots on the desk. “Pleased to meet you.”
Ephyra planted her hands on the desk, leaning toward Shara menacingly. “Don’t waste my time. I know you’re not the Thief King. The Thief King is a man, an ex-scholar from the Library of Nazirah.”
“The Thief King was a man,” Shara said, holding her wrist up to the light as if to admire Ephyra’s bracelet. “He’s dead now.”
“No,” Ephyra said, more forcefully than she meant to. “That can’t be. I need to speak with him. It’s important.”
“Oh, it’s important,” Shara said. “Why didn’t you say so? I’ll just go dig him up and we can resurrect him, then.”
Ephyra sucked in a startled breath. For a moment, she wondered if Shara somehow knew what Ephyra was. That she could raise the dead and had done it before. But that was impossible.
“If the Thief King is dead, then why are you calling yourself that?” Ephyra asked, recovering.
Shara shrugged. “Couldn’t think of a better name.”
Ephyra raised an eyebrow. “Truthfully?” Shara asked. “The Thief King has a sort of reputation. Which I’m sure you’re well aware of, if you’re trying so hard to find him. When he croaked, I figured it would be a shame to let that reputation die with him. It comes with major perks—useful contacts, intimidation, things like that.”
“You’ve been working as the Thief King?” Ephyra asked. “Stealing legendary artefacts in his name?”
“Did you know him?”
Shara’s expression suddenly hardened. “Yeah. I knew him.”
Ephyra knew that look well—the face of someone trying desperately not to let their grief show.
“Then maybe you can help me after all,” Ephyra said, reaching into her bag for her father’s journal. “Your predecessor sent a letter to my father.”
She flipped through the journal and slid the letter from its pages. Shara took it warily.
Ephyra knew its contents by heart now. Aran, I’m afraid we can’t help you with this one. If the Chalice exists, you don’t want to go looking for it. The only thing you’ll find is a quick death.
“So, did he?” Shara asked, eyes flicking up from the letter.
“Your father,” Shara clarified. “Did he find a quick death?”
“No,” Ephyra replied. “He did die sometime after receiving this letter. But he was sick. It was a slow death.” She didn’t want to talk about this with Shara. “Can you tell if that letter really is from the Thief King?”
Shara frowned at the paper. “Looks like his writing to me. This Chalice he’s talking about—that’s Eleazar’s Chalice?”
“You’ve heard of it?”
Shara’s smile glinted like the edge of a knife. “Every treasure thief in the world has heard of Eleazar’s Chalice.”
“And have any of them ever found it?”
Shara laughed. “You read the letter. My predecessor was the boldest, ballsiest thief of them all. And he didn’t want to set foot near that thing. So what does that say to you?” She didn’t wait for Ephyra’s answer. “Now, what was your father doing looking for something like that?”
“That’s what I’m here to find out,” Ephyra said. “I think my father must have known your predecessor—maybe even quite well. He never mentioned him to me, but the letter makes it sound as though they’d worked together before. My father was a trader.”
Shara nodded. “We work with traders often—they’re our go-betweens, finding the right buyers for artefacts.”
“Then you think my father was asking for the Chalice on behalf of someone else?”
“Could be,” Shara replied. “Although I doubt it. I don’t think there’s a fence in the eastern Pelagos crazy enough to try to make that sale.”
Ephyra shivered. She couldn’t shake the thought that her father had been looking for the Chalice on behalf of someone else—her. But she didn’t know what that meant. Her mother and father had always forbade her from using her Grace—it didn’t seem likely that they would be looking for the very thing that would make her stronger.
Maybe . . . maybe somehow her father had known that Ephyra’s Grace was tainted. Wrong. Maybe he’d known what she was capable of, and maybe he thought the Chalice could fix her.
You’ll have to finish what your father started. That was what Mrs. Tappan had said to Ephyra in Medea. If she had any hope of saving Beru, she had to find the Chalice.
Shara interrupted her thoughts. “You aren’t the first person to come asking about Eleazar’s Chalice. Every so often, some fool comes poking around for it.”
“My father wasn’t a fool,” Ephyra snapped.
“I’m just saying,” Shara said, holding up her hands placatingly. “It’s not the first time someone looking for the Chalice has wound up dead.”
“I told you, my father was sick,” Ephyra said.
Shara raised an eyebrow. “There’slots of ways to kill someone.”
“You think someone’s trying to stop anyone from finding the Chalice?”
“I have my theories,” Shara replied. “Come to think of it, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about this Chalice as of late. More than usual.”
That startled Ephyra. Besides Mrs. Tappan, who else could be asking about Eleazar’s Chalice? It couldn’t be a coincidence.
Shara eyed her. “There’s more to this than you’re telling me. Isn’t there?”
Ephyra met her gaze evenly. She couldn’t tell this girl the true reason she was asking about the Chalice. That it was her only hope of saving Beru. That for years Ephyra had killed to keep her sister alive, until finally she’d gone too far—she’d killed Hector Navarro, and Beru hadn’t been able to forgive her. She’d walked away, ready to let herself die rather than let Ephyra keep killing. And now the Chalice was Ephyra’s only chance to stop that from happening.
“You’re right,” Ephyra said at last. “I don’t just want to know why my father was looking for the Chalice. I want to find it, too. I need to find it.”
“And you want my help?” Shara asked, crossing one foot over the other on the desk. “Even after everything I just told you?”
“You’re the Thief King now, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Shara replied. “But I told you only fools go looking for the Chalice.”
Ephyra’s heart thudded in her ears, desperation clawing at her throat.
Abruptly, Shara pushed her feet off the desk and stood, folding Ephyra’s father’s letter in her hands. “Luckily for you, I am a fool.”
Ephyra blinked as Shara stepped up to her, her hand held out. “I’ll take your job.”
“Job?” Ephyra echoed. “I told you—I don’t have much coin.”
Shara shrugged. “We’ll work all that out later. So, are you in or not?”
Ephyra’s eyes narrowed. “Why would you want to help me after everything you’ve just said?”
Shara waved a hand. “I’ve a taste for glory and a penchant for ignoring consequences. And you caught me at a slow time. I get bored easily. Did you want to stand here and argue, or do you want to find that Chalice?”
Ephyra clasped Shara’s hand, heart soaring in her chest. This morning, all she’d had was a name, a place, and her dwindling hope. Now she had a bona fide treasure thief on her side and her first, real belief that she could do this. Hold on, Beru, she thought fervently. Just stay alive a little longer.
Shara smiled as they shook hands. “Glad to be doing business with you.”