the smuggler’s bible

Gisela

Rhombus stares at the object in his palm. He breathes in. The world draws close to the cottage, crowding heavily at the edge of the lantern’s circle of light. Then he exhales in a rush and tears away his linen bandage, raises the object to his face.

“Wait,” Gisela says. “It’s very cold.”

“Cold.” Rhombas stands with his palm clapped over one eye.

“Yes, it was like ice. Rhombus?” She rushes forward to catch him. “Rhombus!”

The world is retreating again, falling back as the light advances. Past the lantern, past the cottage, a bright wave rolling over the forest.

Gisela

Gisela sprints through the bitter cold—feet pounding, heart pounding. Her hair blows wildly behind her as she races back over her own footprints, rimmed already by a crust of ice.

Rhombus is in front of the cottage, leaning over a half-laced boot. Huffing. A lantern is glowing on the step beside him and he snatches it up when he hears the sound of crunching snow.

“Child,” he says.

“Rhombus, look! I found it, just like you said.”

“We have been sick with worry. Even now the creature—”

He falls silent when he sees the glimmer in her outstretched palm.

Rhombus

“I’ve been over every root and trunk. It isn’t there. I can’t even find a spot that looks right,” Rhombus says. He points east and west to twin breaks in the tree line. “I alternate trails every day. Sometimes I flip a coin and pick at random, in case that makes a difference.”

“Just those two?” Gisela says, looking south toward the overgrown footpath beside a forked beech. Shadows dapple a carpet of dried leaves poking up through the snow.

The nineclaw follows her gaze and turns away immediately. “Left or right, lost-cub.”

“Oh, nine,” Gisela whispers, “not you too.”

Rhombus

Rhombus remembers, of course. He remembers the forest and the doorway—in such an odd place, he thinks—and the voices on the other side.

But these memories are useless, good only for illuminating slightly the curve of the negative space in his mind. The Thing That Is Missing is shaped like a keyhole, and it grows larger, larger, larger as he approaches crouched and careful of every footfall.

Rhombus takes a deep breath. He leans closer, peers through. Inside is something that flares with red light and agony as it is removed together with the eye which saw it.