The sound of a crash from around the corner drew my attention. I followed the sound, curious and wanting my increasingly inebriated mind to be taken away from my self-obsessed ruminations.
The sound had come from the Lord Banyon exhibit room, and as I entered, it took me a moment to make sense of what I saw.
Three guards lay on the ground. A fourth fell to his knees, clutching his throat before dropping heavily to his side.
The fifth stood behind the one who’d just fallen—it was the same guard whom I’d embarrassingly mistaken for Viktor earlier.
His black-eyed gaze tracked to me, and his expression tensed.
“You again,” he said.
The multiple glasses of wine I’d consumed didn’t make it easy to process information, to say the very least, but I quickly came to the drunken realization that this Queensguard wasn’t really a Queensguard.
My gaze clumsily moved around the room, resting on each of the fallen guards. I couldn’t see any blood, but I didn’t see any movement or breathing or any signs of life at all.
“What are you doing?” I said, my words slow and slurred. “What is this?”
His expression darkened. “Listen to me very carefully. Make a move, make a sound, and I promise you’ll regret it.”
I couldn’t seem to summon a suitable comeback for that, nothing to say that would make sense of this.
He turned away from me, giving me another look at the dagger tattoo on his neck.
“Don’t worry,” he muttered. “I’ll be gone before you know it.”
Crime in Ironport was nearly unheard of, so I had no idea what I was supposed to do. This sort of thing just didn’t happen here.
I wanted to open my mouth and scream, to call for help, but his threat kept me locked in place.
He stood in front of the small golden box I’d admired earlier. He pushed the glass holder back from it and grabbed the box in one smooth motion. No alarms sounded; no sudden burst of a dozen armed guards flooded the room.
The thief looked at the box for a moment, then glanced at me. “This is all I need. I’m out of here.”
Box in hand, the thief strode toward the exit until a hand darted out and grabbed his ankle. It was the last guard who’d fallen—he was still conscious.
The thief tripped, falling to the ground hard, and the golden box flew out of his grip.
It landed right in front of me. Before I could summon my wits to pick it up—or run away—the lid swung wide open, and something rose from inside. It looked like golden smoke. Breath frozen in my chest, I watched as the sparkling, shimmering, swirling golden smoke rose up in a tall funnel, as tall as me. And hung there.
I heard the thief swear, a harsh and guttural sound.
Before I could move, before I could even think, the golden smoke streamed toward me, hitting me with enough force to knock me completely off my feet.
I don’t remember landing.
I only remember the darkness.