Special Feature: An Excerpt from Dust and Light
Imagine a young sorcerer, the sole remaining male of a prestigious family of artists and historians, unusually gifted in both sides of his bloodline magic-a bent for portraiture and a bent for history. As Dust and Light begins, Lucian has abruptly been contracted to a new employer not of his own choosing-a city coroner, who has hired him to draw identity portraits of the dead.
Coroner Bastien's not-quite-a-smirk was immensely irritating. "Constance sent word we've another mystery."
Shuffling off annoyance, I clutched my parchment scraps and plummet and followed him into the courtyard.
Our new mystery was a girl child of eight or ten summers. Her tunic and leggings were little more than sacking. Her dark hair was chopped off short. Though disease and harsh winter hit the poorer ordinaries very hard, she looked neither wasted nor ill. Had it not been for her unnatural pallor, the scrapes and black streaks on cheeks and brow, and the mud all over, one might have thought her a healthy child asleep.
"She were found in the hirudo ditch next the piggery," said Constance, scratching her ear vigorously as if a bug had flown into it, "but none claimed to know her. Demetreo, the headman, swore it so when he had her brought here. Not that we'd believe a Ciceron's barbling any more'n a frog's spit. But she don't have the visible of a hirudo kind, no matter her garb."
"Aye, look at her hands," said Bastien, brushing dirt away. "No hirudo child."
Her fingernails were broken, with a thin rime of dirt underneath, but her hands were smooth and plump. And when the coroner pulled the tunic away from her neck, he grunted and spat. "No mystery as to her dying, neither."
Blue-gray bruises around her neck showed the very spread of the fingers that had strangled the life out of her.
Bastien glanced up at me. "You've no magic can tell us whose hands made these marks, do you?"
I shook my head. Not even a bent for history, fully practiced, could pull such a revelation out of the air.
"Then bestir yourself, pureblood. We're like to get no bounty from her family, but catching a dastard who's murdered without provocation tots up a decent fee."
Revulsion at the coroner's venal motives left me incapable of speech. The slim, pale neck could have been Juli's but a few years ago, or the innocent flesh of my young cousins who had died screaming in the fire at Pontia. I already hated this place, this life, this despicable world of ordinaries.
I dispensed with preliminary sketches. My left hand touched her cold cheeks, traced her violated neck, smooth hands, and ragged hair. My right hand dipped my pen as I reached deep into my magic . . .
The bawling, clattering business of the city of the dead faded. War and winter vanished. Past horror, present anger, and anxiety about the future fell away. My senses were aflame with enchantment that seared a river of fire through bone and sinew, engraving the image of the murdered child upon my spirit and pouring through my fingers and pen onto a flimsy scrap of animal skin.
Time lost shape, but at some point well in, an urgency forced its way into my awareness, and a blur swept between my eyes and the page like some great insect.
I growled and shooed it away. I was not yet done. There was so much to convey.
"Remeni!" At the brittle utterance of my name, someone yanked the page from under my hand. The loss of connection doused my frenzy like cold rain down my neck.
"Give it back! It's not done." My right hand shook with pent urgency. I squeezed my eyes shut as if I could hold on to the vanishing lines and curves. But lacking a knot of completion, I could not hold on to the true image, even for a few moments. Without touching the page, I was blind to my creation.
"Time to go inside."
Coroner Bastien crouched beside me, though he sounded as if he were at the bottom of a well. The yard was as quiet as the stone halls of the prometheum. Constance stood on the far side of the bier, holding her cloak spread wide as a tent, as if to shield Bastien and me from the wind. Her pale eyes had grown to near half her thin face.
I shook my head to clear it. "I should finish it now," I snapped. "Details come sharper on the first connection. What's wrong?"
"Naught, I trust," spat Bastien, mouth twisted into a sneer. "But you're going to work inside the prometheum from now on. You attract far too much interest."
The portrait wasn't right. But without examining it, I'd no idea why. The image burning inside me would not manifest without my hand in contact with the page. In the main, I was pleased not to be constantly plagued with all the faces I'd drawn, but an unfinished work irritated like grit in a raw wound.
As I followed Bastien into the prometheum and down the passage to his office, my snarling stomach and soggy knees reminded me how long it had been since I'd eaten anything. Two portraits should not have drained me so, but this last one . . . The magic had been extraordinarily intense.
Bastien dropped onto the stool at his writing desk. He did not invite me to sit. I didn't care. Purebloods did not sit down with ordinaries.
"What time should I arrive tomorrow?" I said.
"Dawn," he snapped. "We'll have a full day. But don't think you're leaving until you explain."
Maintaining calm was exceedingly difficult at so late an hour. "Explain what?"
"What are you playing at? How do you decide what to put in the picture besides the face?"
"What?" My head spun. "I don't decide. The magic . . . my bent . . . enables me to make a bond of the senses with my subject . . . to shape a true image of the person. If you're talking about background details, that's just incidental. I draw whatever the image suggests, whatever feels right. I don't think about those things at all."
He turned the page toward me and moved the lamp closer. But divining Bastien's purpose was the issue here, not some imperfection in my art. I gave the portrait a token glance.
But then I blinked and examined it more carefully, squinting in the shifting light. The likeness was good. The round cheeks. The small nose. But the hair . . . How had I got the hair so wrong? It wasn't chopped off ragged, but elaborately curled, pale and shining, caught up in ribbons. Her eyes were light and merry, the color of a winter sky. And her gown and cloak . . . not rough sacking, but soft folds of satin, edged with beads and elaborate embroidery. And on her bodice . . .
Idrium's Gates! Worked in pearls and shining thread in the center of her stiff bodice was the three-petaled lily of Navronne.
My head spun in confusion; words died unspoken. I glanced up at a grim Bastien.
"If you're setting me up to play the fool, Servant Remeni, I swear on Kemen Sky Lord's balls, you'll live to regret it. If not, then you'd best tell me why your drawing shows no dead ragamuffin, but a child wearing the mark of the royal family."