Authors: Jim C. Hines
Table of Contents
Light filled the mirror, bright as the sun.
The light spread into the library. Snow White felt as though she were falling into the glass. She grabbed the mirror’s frame with both hands. Wisps of fog curled from the glass. She peered into the light, trying to follow Beatrice’s soul wherever it had gone.
Snow’s blood battered her head from within as though straining to crack the skull. Her body felt numb, and she clung to the mirror to keep from falling. Through the pain, a part of her marveled at what the mirror had done, reaching out so far in pursuit of the dead.
“Come back to us, Bea.” Silence swallowed her words. Snow wasn’t even certain she had spoken aloud. She could no longer make out the library around her. Nothing existed save the light and the place that lay on the other side. The place Beatrice’s spirit had gone.
With her hands clenched around the frame, she felt the glass shift ever so slightly. Pain exploded behind her eyes as she tried to focus not on the light, but on the mirror’s surface, where a white line now curved across the center of the glass. Lines spread in a starburst from her hand. Fragments of glass no larger than pebbles fell to the floor. Blood dripped down the frame, though Snow hadn’t felt the cuts.
The magic surged like a living thing. How many times had Talia warned her against bending the laws of the universe too far? Push hard enough, and things were going to snap. Even her mother’s mirror had limits. Snow tried to end her spell, but it was far too late....
DAW Books presents these delightful fantasy novels by Jim C. Hines
THE STEPSISTER SCHEME
THE MERMAID’S MADNESS
RED HOOD’S REVENGE
THE SNOW QUEEN’S SHADOW
Jig the Goblin
GOBLIN QUEST (Book One)
GOBLIN HERO (Book Two)
GOBLIN WAR (Book Three)
Magic ex Libris
*Coming in 2012 from DAW Books
Copyright © 2011 by Jim C. Hines.
All Rights Reserved.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1553.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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First Printing, July 2011
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
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HECHO EN U.S.A.
ISBN : 978-1-101-51683-6
HE PLAN HAD BEEN SO SIMPLE. An hour or so before sunrise, Snow White and Talia would sneak into the Sailor’s Bone Inn. Talia would “persuade” the innkeeper to tell them which room held the two fugitive witchhunters who had recently snuck into Lorindar. Snow would cast a spell of sleep upon their quarry, who could then be brought to Whiteshore Palace to face trial.
The universe rarely cooperated with Snow’s plans. She should have been halfway back to the palace by now, not staring down the pointy end of a silver-tipped arrow, wielded by a man known to have murdered at least sixteen witches, while fire spread through the inn’s upper story.
It went without saying that this was entirely Talia’s fault.
Snow’s would-be prisoner went by the name of Hansel. He was middle-aged and built like a bear, with shaggy blond locks that hung just past his shoulders. He wore heavy furs over a thick leather vest, studded in brass. Knotted braids of hair dangled from his belt: trophies of his kills.
Hansel jabbed his longbow at Snow. “Call your witch friend. Tell her to bring my sister back.”
“Talia’s not a witch.” Snow searched the empty tavern for anything she might use as a weapon. The occupants had fled into the cold right around the time Snow sent Hansel tumbling down the stairs. His sister had escaped onto the roof, with Talia close behind. “Besides, she never listens to me. If you’d like to put down that bow, we could head to the palace to wait for them.”
“No, thank you,” he said, his expression half sneer, half smile. “I’ve better things to do than be executed by your witch-loving king and queen.”
He stepped around a broken table, wincing as he put weight on his right leg. Blood darkened the area around the sharpened steel snowflake stuck in his thigh. Hansel had some sort of protection against her spell, but non-magical weapons worked just fine. Had her aim been better, she might have ended things at the top of the staircase. On the other hand, then Talia never would have let her forget how brute force had triumphed where magic failed.
At least if Hansel killed her, she wouldn’t have to worry about Talia’s teasing. Snow knew the only reason he hadn’t fired was because he might need to bargain with Talia to get his sister back, but she had no idea how long he would wait. He didn’t strike her as the patient sort.
“Take off that necklace of yours,” Hansel said. “Slowly.”
Snow touched the back of her choker. Gold wire unraveled, and the choker fell into her hand, its small oval mirrors clinking together. She glanced at the largest, searching for Talia, but it was dark outside, and Talia was moving too quickly to make out any details. Snow concentrated, maintaining the thread between her choker and the mirrored bracelet Talia wore. If nothing else, Talia should hear their conversation and know what had happened.
“Toss it to the floor.”
Snow obeyed, throwing the choker so it landed at his feet. She moved sideways, putting another table between herself and Hansel. He stood so he could see both Snow and the door, and he was rumored to be good enough with that bow to put an arrow through her knee should she try for the stairs.
She heard shouts outside as neighbors worked to organize against the fire and keep it from spreading. The flames had reached the top of the staircase, and smoke darkened the ceiling. “That was an interesting charm you used to protect yourselves from my spell,” she said brightly. “The one that burst into flame when Talia ripped it from your neck? So you kill witches, but you’ll use witchcraft when it suits your purposes?”
He scowled. “You’re Allesandrian, aren’t you?”
“So you’re old enough to remember the Purge.”
Snow’s smile vanished.
“I see that you are. You’ve seen the damage such power can do. How many people did Queen Curtana murder?”
“Officially? Forty-seven.” Unofficially, the tally was far higher. Forty-seven men, women, and children were known to have been executed for treason during the weeklong purge, convicted only by the secrets Snow’s mother had plucked from her magic mirror. Snow forced the cheerfulness back into her voice. “Two years ago, a man from southern Lorindar murdered twelve people with an ax. Should we kill all the woodsmen? And what of you? You shoved a witch into an oven when you were younger. Obviously we should hunt down and destroy all bakers!”
As she finished speaking, she waved a hand at her choker. Sunlight flashed from the mirrors. Snow crouched low and upended the table between herself and Hansel. She heard the snap of Hansel’s bow, and an arrow punched through the wood a handspan from her face.
She pulled a long knife from her belt and thumbed a hidden catch on the hilt. A circular plate with an engraved snowflake swiveled open at the center of the crossguard, revealing a small mirror. Through the mirror, she saw Hansel stumbling toward the door, one hand shielding his eyes.
Snow jabbed her knife at the door and spoke a quick spell. The door slammed shut.
Hansel merely lowered his shoulder and smashed his way through. Cold air rushed into the tavern.
Snow swore and hurried to retrieve her choker. Her head throbbed from the magic she had used tonight, an old injury warning of worse to come if she continued to push herself.
She shoved the pain aside as she followed Hansel onto the street. Sixteen witches dead, in Lorindar and elsewhere. Like Snow’s mother, Hansel killed indiscriminately and without remorse.
Snow had been too young to stop the Purge, but she’d be damned before she let Hansel murder another witch.
She squeezed through the gathering crowd, diverting a part of her attention to her choker and her connection to Talia’s mirror. “Where are you?”
“On my way back to the inn.” The choker relayed Talia’s voice as clearly as if they were running side-by-side. Talia didn’t even sound winded. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine!” Her boots splashed through slush and snow as she ran. The sky to the east was just beginning to brighten, but the streets were still dim. Her mirrors enhanced her vision, helping her spy Hansel limping up Mill Street. Snow cut through an alley, hoping to intercept him. The snowdrifts were higher here where the three-story buildings protected the streets from the sun. “He’s making his way toward Holy Crossroads.”
“Probably heading for the gates.”
Snow bit back a yelp as her feet skidded on the cobblestones. A rain barrel had frozen and split, and ice covered much of the alley. She slowed, chafing at the delay, but she would never catch Hansel if she slipped and snapped an ankle.
The crowds had already begun to fill the streets at Holy Crossroads, eager to hear the preachers and their daily performance. The preachers’ garb had grown more flamboyant over the years, as had their rhetoric, as each shouted and condemned his neighbor to eternal damnation.
Even if Snow had been able to spot Hansel, the crowd shielded him from both magical and mundane attacks. She slipped into the crowd, elbowing her way past the gawkers. “Danielle, are you listening to this?”
Princess Danielle had remained behind at White-shore Palace. “I’m here. Did you really set the Sailor’s Bone on fire?”
“That was Talia’s fault! And if they get that bucket line organized, I’m sure they can save part of the building.”
A priest of the Fairy Church stepped into the middle of the street, blocking her way. He raised a hand to her. “No mundane errand is more important than your immortal soul,” he shouted. “Enter the house of the fairy saviors. Confess your sins and receive their blessings!”
Snow smiled. “I like my sins.”
The priest looked to weigh twice as much as Snow. Had he stood his ground, she would have been hard pressed to move him. But Snow had spent years working with Talia, and had picked up a number of tricks. She lowered her shoulders and ran, showing no sign of slowing. The priest stepped back. That move cost him his balance, and moments later he was tumbling into the slush on the side of the road, earning shouts from his followers and cheers from the other churches.
“What was that?” Danielle asked.
“Nothing. Can you get word to the guards at the southern gate?”
“It will take time, but I’ll see what I can do.”
A splash of red drew her attention to a snowbank on the left. She plucked her steel flake from the snow where Hansel had discarded it. Droplets of blood marked his path toward the gate. Snow ran around a mule-drawn wagon, then stopped to search the intersection in front of the gate. The main avenue was broad enough for three carriages to pass side by side. Two other roads branched away from the gate, parallel to the wall. There were too many people and too much space.
The stone wall wasn’t as impressive as the one surrounding the palace, but Snow doubted Hansel could have scaled it with his wounded leg. The barred iron gate was wide open, though. Danielle’s message must not have gotten through. Snow approached the closer of the two guards on duty. “Have you seen a witchhunter pass through here? Shaggy and bleeding, carrying an enchanted bow?”
He stared. “Are you all right, miss?”
“I’ve had better days.” Snow sighed and turned away, just as Talia came running up the far street.
“Don’t tell me you lost him.”
Despite her annoyance, Snow grinned at the sight of poor Talia, bundled tight against the winter cold. Talia had grown up in the deserts of Arathea, and viewed snow as a punishment delivered personally by vengeful gods. She wore a thick wool cloak, and a knitted scarf covered her mouth and nose. Only her hands were bare, so she could better grip the various weapons hidden about her person. At the moment, she had one hand tucked beneath her arm for warmth while the other held her hood low to protect her face from the cold.
“I haven’t lost anyone.” Snow crouched to scoop a handful of slush, crushing it into a ball. She tilted her steel snowflake, allowing a single drop of blood to fall onto the slush. Tucking the weapon away, she whispered a spell to harden the ball to ice. “I just thought it was more sporting to give him a head start.”
Her head pounded as she cast another spell. She blinked back tears, turning it into a wink when she caught Talia watching her. She switched the ice to her other hand and hurled it into the air. At its peak, the ice jerked to the east as if caught by the wind, though the air was still. It plummeted back to earth, the blood magically guiding its flight more than a block past the gate. The crowd at the gate hid Hansel from view, but Snow heard the impact, followed by loud swearing.
More shouts followed. By the time Snow and Talia made their way past the crowd into an alley between a butcher’s shop and a tavern, Hansel was ready. He aimed his bow at Snow, the string drawn back. “Where is my sister?”
“I don’t know,” Snow said. “Let’s go ask the nice guards at the gate if they’ve seen her.”
The bow didn’t waver. Snow glanced at Talia.
“She fell off a roof and broke her leg.” Talia stepped sideways, away from Snow. “I tied her up at the hitching post a few blocks over. Danielle said she’d send men to collect her.”
“Wait, you just left her there?” Snow asked.
“I had to make sure you didn’t get yourself killed,” Talia shot back.
Snow jabbed a finger at Hansel. “I found him all by myself, thank you.”
“And now he’s got a bow aimed at you!”
Snow shrugged. “We can’t all throw people off of rooftops.”
“I didn’t throw her!”
A brown shape swooped from the wall. A small hawk flew through Hansel’s drawn bow, its claws neatly plucking the arrow from the string. He jumped back, releasing the string so it snapped against his arm.
Snow smiled. Her choker flared to life.
Hansel turned to run, but his feet slipped on the magically-slick ice. He rolled over and pulled a knife from his boot.
Snow gestured, and an icicle snapped from the eaves overhead. It shot down as if launched by a crossbow, piercing his arm. He screamed, and the knife dropped to the road.
Talia had her own knives out now. She kept one raised as she approached, as if daring Hansel to try something.
Snow leaned against the wall, closing her eyes against the pain throbbing beneath her skull. The worst should pass soon, but it would be at least a day before she fully recovered. She wiped her face. “I assume the hawk was your doing?”
“Oh, good.” The cheerfulness in Danielle’s voice carried quite well through Snow’s choker. “I was afraid he wouldn’t reach you in time.”
Talia sheathed one of her knives and tossed the bow to Snow. Hansel grabbed her wrist, but Talia took his fingers in her hand and twisted, flipping him onto his stomach and eliciting another shout of pain. By the time the guards arrived, she had taken an array of blades from Hansel’s person.
Snow plucked one of the mirrors from her choker and tossed it to the closest guard. “Talk to your princess. She’ll explain.”
She waited long enough to make sure the guards had everything under control, then grabbed Talia’s hand and tugged her away. “Come on. The bakery should be open soon. I want cookies.”
“What about your mirror?” Talia asked.
“It will find its way home eventually.”
Talia shook her head, smiling despite herself. “You enjoyed this.”