Home > Foundryside (The Founders Trilogy #1)(9)

Foundryside (The Founders Trilogy #1)(9)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

   But then, it was not for her to think about. Her purpose had been to get the box, and nothing more. Sark had been very clear about that. And Sancia was well favored by their clients because she always did as she was asked—no more, no less. In three days, she’d hand the box off to Sark, and then she’d never think about it again.

   She put the box in the false floor, closed the floor, and shut the closet.

   She confirmed that her door and shutters were secure. Then she walked over to her bed, sat, placed her stiletto on the floor beside her, and breathed deep.

       Home, she thought. And safe.

   But her room did not look much like a home. If anyone had happened to peer inside, they’d have thought Sancia lived like the most ascetic of monks: she had only a plain chair, a bucket, an unadorned table, and a bare bed—no sheets, no pillows.

   Yet this was how she was forced to live. She preferred sleeping in her own clothes to sleeping in sheets: not only was it difficult to adjust to lying in yet more cloth, but bedsheets were prone to lice and fleas and other vermin, and the feeling of their many tiny legs picking their way across her skin drove her absolutely mad. And when her scar burned hot, she couldn’t bear to have any of her other senses overloaded either—too much light and too many colors was like having nails in her skull.

   Food was even worse. Eating meat was out of the question—blood and fat did not taste delicious to her, but instead carried an overpowering sensation of rot, decay, and putrefaction. All those muscle fibers and tendons remembered being part of a living creature, of being connected, whole, bright with life. To taste meat was to know, instantly and profoundly, that she was gnawing on a hunk of a corpse.

   It made her gag. Sancia lived almost entirely off of plain rice mixed with beans, and weak cane wine. She did not touch strong alcohol—she needed total control over her senses just to function. And any water found in the Commons, of course, was not to be trusted.

   Sancia sat on her bed, bent forward, rocking back and forth with anxiety. She felt small and alone, as she often did after a job, and she missed the one creature comfort she desired the most: human company.

   Sancia was the only person who’d ever been in her room, or in her bed, for touching people was unbearable: it wasn’t quite like she heard their thoughts, because people’s thoughts, despite what most believed, were not a smooth, linear narration. They were more like a giant, hot cloud of bellowing impulses and neuroses, and when she touched a person’s skin, that hot cloud filled up her skull.

   The press of flesh, the touch of warm skin—these sensations were perhaps the most intolerable of all for her.

       But perhaps it was better, to be solitary. There was less risk that way.

   She breathed deep for a moment, trying to calm her mind.

   You’re safe, she said to herself. And alone. And free. For another day.

   Then she pulled her hood over her head, tied it tight, lay down, and shut her eyes.


* * *



   But sleep never came.

   After an hour of lying there, she sat up, took off her hood, lit a candle, looked at her closed closet door, and thought.

   This…bothers me, she thought. A lot.

   The problem, she decided, was a matter of risks.

   Sancia lived her life very carefully—or at least as carefully as one could while making a living climbing towers and breaking into places full of dangerous, armed men—and she always sought to minimize any potential hazards.

   And the more she thought about it, possessing something small that was worth the nigh-inconceivable sum of twenty thousand duvots while not knowing what that thing actually was…

   Well. It now felt mad. Especially if she was going to hold on to it for three scrumming days.

   Because the most valuable things in the city of Tevanne were undoubtedly scriving designs: the strings of sigils that made scrived rigs work. Scriving designs took a great deal of effort and talent to compose, and were the most protected property of any merchant house. Get the right scriving design and you could instantly start making all kinds of augmented devices at a foundry—devices that could easily be worth a fortune. Though Sancia had often been offered work to go after merchant house designs, she and Sark always turned it down, since house-breakers who ran such jobs often wound up pale, cold, and bobbing in a canal.

   And though Sark had assured her that this job had not been about scriving designs—twenty thousand duvots could make anyone too stupid for their own good.

   She sighed, trying to quell the dread in her stomach. She walked over to the closet, opened it, opened her false floor, and took the box out.

       She looked at it for a long time. It was unadorned pine, with a brass clasp. She took off her gloves and felt it with her bare hands.

   Again, the box’s form and shape bled into her mind—a large cavity, full of papers. Again, she sensed the box’s false bottom, with the linen-wrapped item beneath. Nothing else—and no way for someone to know she’d opened the box, then.

   Sancia took a breath and opened it.

   She felt sure the papers would be covered in sigil strings, which would have been as good as a death warrant for her—but they were not. They were elaborate-looking sketches of what looked like old carved stones with writing on them.

   Someone had written notes on the bottom of a sketch. Sancia was only a little better than literate, but she tried her best, and read:



Artifacts of the Occidental Empire

        It is common knowledge that the hierophants of the old empire utilized a number of astounding tools in their works, but their methods remain unclear to us. While our modern-day scriving persuades objects that their reality is something that it is not, the Occidental hierophants were apparently able to use scriving to alter reality directly, commanding the world itself to instantly and permanently change. Many have theorized about how this was possible—but none have conclusive answers.

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