the smuggler’s bible


They’re crossing the stream when the nineclaw stops and lifts his face to the wind. His great eyes gleam.

“There,” he says, pointing. “You go. I must not approach.”

Gisela falls to her knees and digs carefully in the snow. She finds blood—one tiny droplet, resting like a pearl on the thin crust of ice.

“Oh, my god. Is it…?”

“Yes, a child’s. But not fresh. Draw your sword, lost-cub. He is not generous, and I suspect this—” the nineclaw is interrupted by the sound of heavy branches snapping nearby. “—was meant to distract from fouler scents.”