“He should be up there,” Kevor said to me over his shoulder. He was barely panting, the bastard, but then he wasn’t hauling half his weight in a pack. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the firestone after all.
Kevor stopped where the path briefly leveled, and I was happy to pause and catch my breath. The wind was at our backs, blowing as though it needed a running start to get up the mountains ahead. It twisted his cape around his legs, so that the twin streaks of flame on the black cloth seemed to dance even without their enchantment. But he didn’t notice. He was watching me.
I let my bag slump to the ground. We had only left the Occultarium an hour ago, and already I no longer cared how the rocky road would treat the albino ox leather I had paid so much for. My own cape, a dreary black, was stuffed in the bottom of my bag, but my velvet doublet kept the wind out and looked phenomenal to boot.
“You don’t have to do this, Dasper,” he said. His whole face seemed clinched with anxiety, an expression I hadn’t seen on him in the months since his own Venture. It was a welcome relief from the flat, grim face that he’d worn recently.
“Sure, I do. Headmaster Laren will expel me if I don’t.” I didn’t add, and probably even if I do.
He put his hand on my shoulder, gently, as he once had. “It might be better that way.”
“Easy for you to say, you’ve already earned your sword and cape.” I gripped the ten-inch athame at my belt to contrast the blade at his hip.
His face slackened as he began to withdraw again into his melancholy, like there was an ice fortress in his eyes in which he could hide.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a sigh. “I know that something happened to you during your Enkindling.” Something he wouldn’t tell me, or anyone save his fellow Blazes. “But each Enkindling is different. Everyone’s price is different. I’m not afraid.”
“Then you are a dolt.” His eyes were cold again, the icy gates had closed. He looked away from me, up the path, and pointed.
A man, surely my client, stood where the mountain trail met the sky, silhouetted against rolling clouds.
I picked up my bag and began my trudge. Kevor did not move.
“The price is always the same, Dasper,” he shouted after me. His voice echoed through the foothills so I would hear him half a dozen times as I hiked toward my client.
“As much as you can bear.”