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The Gate of Gods
Book Three of The Fall of Ile-Rien


The Gate of Gods cover Hardback: HarperCollins Eos, November 2005.
Cover by Donato Giancola.
Paperback: July 2006 from HarperCollins Eos.


Besieged by a mysterious, seemingly unstoppable army of sorcerers called the Gardier, the country of Ile-Rien has turned to its last hope--the wild magic hidden within a sorcerer's plaything, wielded by an unlikely heroine named Tremaine Valiarde. Aided by the warrior Ilias and a band of adventurers--including her mercurial, formidable father, Nicholas--Tremaine has found a hidden Gardier base and, ranging on the wild, magical seas, what may be the clues to stopping the relentless Gardier. Amid turmoil and danger, only the discovery of a secret portal holds any hope of saving what is left of Ile-Rien. But the ancient portal leads to a mysterious city hidden behind the awesome Gate of Gods--a realm of wonder and danger beyond any they have ever imagined...


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"This isn't a good idea," Tremaine said under her breath. She was aware she had said it before but she hadn't been counting.

"Do you really think so?" Radiating annoyance, Gerard was cleaning his spectacles with his handkerchief in a way that could only be described as aggressive. "I'm afraid that wasn't made clear to me the first seven times you said it."

Gerard, evidently, had been counting. "All right, fine." Tremaine folded her arms, looking around the meeting room foyer. She resented being here. This building, part of the Capidaran Senate, was prized for its age and historical significance rather than its comfort or utility. Cold and not well lit, the foyer was lined with dark wood and the high coffered ceiling had yellow patches from old water damage. Colonel Averi and several dignitaries, including the Rienish and Parscian ambassadors to Capidara and members of their staff, were waiting too, standing about in small groups, pretending to chat amiably. Gerard was the only Rienish sorcerer present; safety decreed that the Queen Ravenna remain crewed and ready to leave Capistown harbor at any time. At the moment Niles was on board with one of the spheres he had constructed, so the ship could defend itself from Gardier spells and be taken through the etheric world-gate at will.

They were all here in the Capidaran Senate to discuss the plan to liberate Lodun, the Rienish city where dozens of sorcerers, plus hundreds of other townspeople and students, had been trapped behind the town's defenses in a magical Gardier blockade since the beginning of the war. And with all their past and ongoing problems with Gardier spies, Tremaine felt any discussion in a virtually public forum was an incredibly bad idea. But while the Capidarans had lost some of their merchant ships, they hadn't yet come under direct attack, and it was hard to convince them of the immediate danger.

Tremaine could almost understand why. Up until a few weeks ago they had all believed the Gardier had come from a hidden city somewhere in the empty ocean between Ile-Rien and Capidara. Discovering that the Gardier came from another world entirely, that they used an etheric world-gate spell to transport their military vessels to a place they called the staging world, inhabited mostly by primitive peoples with no sorcery or modern weapons to protect them, and from there to Ile-Rien and Adera, had been hard enough to swallow, let alone explain.

And when it came down to it, Tremaine felt her presence here was useless. Not that her presence anywhere else would have been particularly helpful. There was plenty of work for sorcerers; the Capidaran and the expatriate Rienish and Aderassi sorcerers who had been trapped in Capidara when the war started had all been conscripted to build Viller spheres, the only real defense against the Gardier. The Viller Institute researchers were busy examining the prototype airship brought back from the Gardier world, but Tremaine really didn't know enough about mechanics and engines to help with that.

She grimaced and looked around again, impatient. Everyone wore sober wool or broadcloth suits, except for Averi and the other military men present, who had on their dark blue dress uniforms. She noticed Averi's uniform hung on his thin frame, making it obvious he had lost weight since it had first been issued. Tremaine wore a new outfit of dark wool serge, and the narrow skirt and long-waisted jacket might be fashionable, but she found it constricting and drafty. She didn't think the cloche hat did anything for her either, but Capidaran polite society insisted women wear something on their heads. On her bad days, she felt as if a dead albatross might be more appropriate headgear for her, suiting her mood and her apparent role in life. Since they had arrived in Capistown, nothing seemed to be going right, or if it did go right, it moved at a snail's pace.

"Where the hell is your father?" Gerard muttered, pulling out his pocket watch to check the time. Again. The watch had been one of the first things he had purchased in Capistown, a replacement for the one broken during an attack by the Gardier's mechanical disruption spell. The same spell that Rienish sorcerers couldn't defend against without the help of the spheres. The spell that had devastated Rienish and Aderassi military forces.

"Oh come now, Gerard, considering what you sent him out to do, does either one of us really want to know the answer to that?" Tremaine said dryly, and considered him paid back for the "seven times" comment.

Gerard gave her a brief glare, putting his watch away. "If we can just get this nonsense over and done with so we can get on with the experiment--" He stopped, relieved. "There he is."

Tremaine looked at the double doors standing open to the dark marble-floored hall. Nicholas Valiarde was just stepping into the room, nodding cordially to Colonel Averi, who nodded back with a closed and somehow wary expression.

Tremaine regarded her father with as much suspicion as Colonel Averi. Nicholas wore a black suit and overcoat, managing to make the impeccably expensive cut look rakish, despite the gray in his hair and the beard he had recently grown. He didn't look as if he had been robbing a bank; but then, he wouldn't.

Then the door to the inner chamber opened and Tremaine followed Gerard inside.

No weapons were allowed in the meeting and had to be handed over before anyone entered. This produced quite a collection. Everyone expected Colonel Averi and the other military men to be armed. A few eyebrows were raised when Tremaine produced the pistol she had been carrying for the past two weeks but Gerard surprised everyone by emptying his pockets of a flick knife and a revolver. Nicholas was the only one unarmed. Tremaine snorted to herself in derisive amusement, knowing weapons or lack thereof was no measure of who was dangerous and who wasn't; if the Capidarans had any inkling, they would never have allowed Nicholas inside the building.

The meeting room was as drafty as the foyer and the hall, with a dark marble floor and dark panelling lightened only by electric sconces, newly installed in the old building. Rows of long finely carved tables and uncomfortable benches faced a raised dais with a table and chairs for the principal figures.

Tremaine was making her way towards a seat, already feeling the room's damp chill penetrate her bones, wishing she was back at their refugee hostel with a cup of coffee, or in bed with Ilias, or better yet on the Ravenna in bed with Ilias and coffee, when Gerard grabbed her arm. This was not something Gerard normally did, not unless he strongly suspected they were about to be killed. Instinct freezing her into immobility, Tremaine hastily surveyed the room.

She had noted in a general way the several well-dressed men and women taking seats at the head table, shuffling papers, addressing casual comments to one another. Now she saw that the man seated quietly at one end of the table was Ixion.

Oh, for the love of God, she thought, mostly disgusted with herself. I should have expected this. The sorcerer was wearing a gray wool suit with high pointed lapels in the latest fashion; for some reason this made Tremaine's skin crawl. None of the other Syprians would wear Rienish clothing except for a coat against the cold.

There was no hint now to show that the body Ixion was wearing had been grown in a homemade vat on the Isle of Storms; his brows and eyelashes had grown in and his hair was dark, if too short for fashion. His face was ordinary, that of a reasonably handsome older man.

Beside her Gerard echoed her thought, quietly furious, "I should have known this was coming."

Tremaine turned to him, appalled, then read his expression. "Don't walk out," she said sharply. If ever a man looked as if he was about to take his sphere and go home, or at least back to the Ravenna, it was Gerard.

Count Delphane, highest-ranking Rienish noble in Capidara, and representative of the Queen and Princess Olympe, took his place at the table. He was tall, sharp-featured, with carefully cut gray-white hair. He met Gerard's gaze steadily, as if letting the sorcerer know his reaction hadn't gone unobserved.

Gerard pressed his lips together. "No, I won't walk out. They would know it for an empty gesture." They would know Gerard wouldn't desert the people who depended on him, no matter how great the provocation.

Nicholas stepped past them, commenting dryly, "This surprises you?"

Tremaine set her jaw and studied her feet in her uncomfortable new shoes. She supposed it made a horrible kind of sense. They were desperately short of sorcerers, and only the most skilled were able to successfully build Viller spheres, the only things that made resistance to the Gardier possible. Even with every available sorcerer at work constructing them, there were still far less than they needed to repel an invasion of Capidara, liberate Lodun and the rest of Ile-Rien and protect their ally Parscia. To people who didn't know Ixion's history, it must seem mad not to make use of him. Ignoring Nicholas, she said, low-voiced, to Gerard, "The request to give up our weapons takes on a new aspect."

"Yes, doesn't it," Gerard agreed grimly. Nicholas had moved on, finding a seat at the front row of tables, near the outside aisle. Tremaine caught Gerard's sleeve, hauling him to an empty place in the middle row, anxious not to be the only ones left standing. She wanted to give Gerard time to recover.

As everyone found a place, the Capidaran Minister, a grim faced older man, stood on the dais, saying, "I don't think I need explain the gravity of our situation to anyone here. The Low Countries, their colonies in the Maiutan Islands, Parscia and Bisra have all suffered terrible losses. Adera, and now Ile-Rien, have fallen."

Unexpectedly, Tremaine felt her stomach clench. Was it the first time someone had said it aloud? The Minister paused, staring inquiringly at Tremaine. She stared back blankly, then realized he was actually looking at Gerard, seated next to her, who had raised a hand. The Minister asked, "You have a comment?"

"I have a question," Gerard corrected, and Tremaine rubbed her brow to shield her expression, hearing that tone in his voice.

"Yes?"

"What is he doing here?" The question was pointed and obviously directed at Ixion.

The Minister threw an unreadable glance at the Syprian sorcerer. It was Count Delphane who answered, "He's offered to help defend Capistown from the Gardier."

Gerard shook his head slowly, incredulously. "You must be out of your minds."

Ixion spread his hands, the picture of reason. "I have never done anything but defend myself." He spoke Rienish with less of an accent than Ilias and the other Syprians did; he had learned it from his captors the same way he had learned the Gardier language on the Isle of Storms.

Gerard lifted his brows. "By concealing your identity so you could murder three young women in their own home, among other crimes too numerous to list."

This gathering was too orderly to actually stir or murmur, but Tremaine detected a sudden shift in interest and a new alertness around her; she suspected that the members of the Rienish Embassy to Capidara hadn't known this.

Three young women. Ilias' cousin, Giliead's sister and stepsister. Tremaine hadn't known them, couldn't remember the names she had been told. But she knew how close Syprian families could be and how painful that loss must have been. Not the least because Giliead and Ilias both felt responsible for failing to see through Ixion's deception. And since Giliead's sister had been all that had stood between the Andrien household and the more acquisitive branches of the family, it was a loss that continued to have repercussions. Tremaine knew why Gerard had brought up that crime, rather than any of the many others which could be laid at Ixion's door. Ilias and Giliead had seen it happen, and if the Capidaran government could be persuaded to hold a hearing they could testify to it.

Ixion, of course, seemed impervious to the accusation. He said simply, "I was angry. I felt I needed to revenge myself. Something you could perhaps understand in your current circumstances."

Gerard sat back, his lips thin with distaste. But he had made Ixion's character public and it would be impossible for the Capidarans to ignore.

A voice, quiet but amused and clearly audible to the entire room, said, "It's been my experience that such 'indiscretions' are invariably committed by men who are enraged by their own sexual inadequacy."

The room went silent. Tremaine choked on an indrawn breath and clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from ruining the moment by gasping for air. The speaker had, of course, been her father.

Ixion contemplated Nicholas in bemused silence. Nicholas, slouched on the bench, chin propped on his hand, gave him back a thin predatory smile.

Ixion lifted a brow. "You find such behavior cruel and immoral, of course."

"No," Nicholas answered casually. "I find it dull and unimaginative. As well as enormously predictable."

Ixion's brows drew together. Tremaine read that look with unexpected clarity. Nicholas wasn't what the sorcerer expected and Ixion couldn't decide if he was facing an opponent or a kindred spirit, and it clearly intrigued him. He said slowly, "That could be construed as a challenge."

"A challenge?" Nicholas didn't bother to seem innocently surprised; he said mockingly, "To an entirely reformed character such as yourself?"

"That's enough." Delphane cut off Ixion's response firmly, throwing a forbidding look at Nicholas. "We have much to discuss and little time for it." He glanced at the Capidaran minister and got a nod to continue. "You all know that we're here to discuss the plan to use the etheric world-gates to liberate the Rienish sorcerers trapped by the Gardier in the city of Lodun. If you've studied the notes at all, you realize there is some protection against materializing inside solid objects written into the gate spells, but creating gates on land is still problematic, at least for us. We originally thought Lodun's wards must be keeping the Gardier out, but we don't know if that's the reason the Gardier haven't entered Lodun through a world-gate, or if they were unable to establish any spell circles in the corresponding location in the staging world, or if...." His expression became even grimmer. "They have entered Lodun, and have simply allowed the barrier to remain in place to keep whoever remains alive inside imprisoned." Tremaine winced. The Gardier used large crystals they called avatars in place of the spheres, but all were inhabited by the displaced souls of sorcerers, none of which had gotten there by accident. The Rienish still had no idea how the Gardier did this, or what happened to the captured sorcerers' bodies, or the answers to a number of unpleasant questions. "None of our prisoners can shed any light on this." Delphane paused to look around the room, his eyes hard. "But if any of those inside are still alive, we have to attempt a rescue. The spheres now make this more feasible."

No, really? Tremaine thought, rolling her eyes. There were some quiet comments exchanged in the audience, then Delphane continued, "Of course we know now the barrier must be maintained through use of the crystals. Now if anyone has any thoughts...."

***

After an interminable period, the meeting broke up for a short interval. Tremaine suspected it was to give the older members of the Capidaran delegation a chance to retreat to one of the retiring rooms where there were working radiators. She noted that Ixion had guards who conducted him away, burly young men in Capidaran dress militia uniforms of red and gray. There was also an older man with old-fashioned muttonchop whiskers, dressed in a well-tailored civilian suit, who would be a sorcerer, and a correct young woman in a dark dress who must be his assistant or apprentice. Tremaine snorted to herself in disgust. Small use that would be, if Ixion decided to make trouble.

She caught up with Gerard out in the foyer, in time to hear him tell Averi, "I think that demonstrated that Ixion's claims are completely false. Even under mild provocation, he couldn't keep himself from making a threat."

"Yes, but I hardly think what Valiarde said was mild provocation," Colonel Averi pointed out wearily. "The man is impossible."

Well, yes, Tremaine mentally agreed. She looked around, noting that Nicholas was not only impossible but absent, off on his next mission. It looked suspiciously as if he had only shown up for the meeting to invite Ixion into that confrontation. She stopped abruptly, letting Gerard and the Colonel draw ahead of her, wondering if that was the case. He would have had to know that Ixion would be there, she thought, annoyance turning to anger. And he didn't tell us.... But she didn't see how he could have known; they had only been in Capidara two weeks, surely not even Nicholas could have set up a spy network in that time. Unless he already had one in place, and he just had to find it again....

"Tremaine, if you have a moment." Giaren stepped up to her, opening a brown cardboard portfolio. He was a young man, dressed very correctly, with his hair slicked back. He was Niles' assistant in the Viller Institute, though he wasn't a sorcerer himself. "I thought you might want some of these."

The portfolio was filled with photographs. Tremaine took the first he handed her, diverted. "You took these?"

"Yes." He paged through the others, selecting a few. "I've been using the camera to help catalogue the Institute's experiments with the spheres and it seemed natural to take some exposures of the Ravenna. Though," he admitted, apparently realizing just how many photographs were in the portfolio, "I seem to have gotten a bit out of hand."

The black and white image Tremaine held was grainy but she recognized the Ravenna's boat deck immediately. It had to have been taken when they were disembarking at Capistown port; the long hulls of the life boats that nearly made a roof over the deck were swung out in their davits and a crowd of refugees and sailors milled around the railings. Back against the wall, Giliead was seated on the steps that led up to one of the hatches, Ilias at his feet. Many of the other figures were a little blurry as the camera had caught them in motion; the two Syprians, sitting still, were in sharper focus.

There was a hard edge to Giliead's face and his expression was guarded and suspicious. Ilias looked more relaxed but still watchful. His hair had come mostly loose from his queue and hung down past his shoulders in a mane of curls and tangles. The lack of color muted the effect of their Syprian clothes, but the sleeveless shirts and jerkins, the leather boots and braid, armbands and earrings and the pants with lacing rather than buttons still looked exotically different from the dungarees or tweed or pullovers that everyone else seemed to be wearing.

From this distance the curse mark branded into Ilias' cheek was just a glint of metallic light against his skin.

She sorted through the other photographs, finding one of the ship's officers posed rather stiffly in the wheel house, and one of Gerard and Niles, Gerard's dark head bent down near Nile's sleek blond one, their backs half-turned toward the camera, and their attitude that of conspirators. So the last great sorcerers of Ile-Rien will be remembered to posterity, she thought dryly, if there is a posterity. But the next was of Arites, sitting cross legged on the floor of a lounge she didn't recognize, his parchment sheets in his lap and his wooden pen in his hand, gazing earnestly up at someone standing over him. His braids were loose and his hair was falling into his eyes, making him look much younger than he was. Had been.

Giaren must have read her expression. He said quietly, "That's the young man who was killed, isn't it?"

Tremaine let out her breath, ignoring the tightness in her chest. "Yes. One of them."

Giaren cleared his throat and sorted through the folder of photos again, changing the subject. "I thought I had one of your father, but it didn't develop."

Tremaine nodded ruefully. "It's the silver nitrate in the film stock. He doesn't show up on it."

Giaren stared at her blankly.

"That was a joke," she added belatedly.

"Oh." He sounded relieved.

***

Ilias was waiting for Tremaine out in the drafty hall, sitting on a wooden bench. He wore a borrowed dark blue naval officer's greatcoat that mostly concealed his Syprian clothes: a sleeveless shirt, dark-colored pants and boots of dyed and stamped leather. He also wore a white gold ring on a thong around his neck, a wedding gift from Tremaine. The copper and leather armbands were hidden by the coat and the copper disk earrings were buried in his hair.

Seeing him under the brighter electrics of the hallway gave Tremaine a slight shock. He was pale and there were bruised hollows beneath his eyes, and he looked ill. Or more correctly, he looked like someone accustomed to living his life outdoors in hard physical activity who now had little to do, was trapped inside most of the time, couldn't sleep for the noise, hadn't seen the sun in days and could hardly breathe the bad air.

The Syprians hated Capidara. Capistown was crowded onto a hilly narrow peninsula that sheltered the large harbor, so land was at a premium. Buildings of brown brick or weathered stone, crammed with businesses or flats, stood several stories tall, blocking out the winter daylight from the narrow streets. And unlike Vienne, there had been no room to expand and no great building projects in the recent past to widen the main avenues and turn old byways that had been little more than footpaths into real roads. The streets here were perpetually crowded with wagon and automobile traffic and a constant din of shouting and engines and horns.

The Ravenna wasn't the most aromatic of transports but the cool clean wind of the Syprians' world had swept the steamship odors away through most of the trip. Even Tremaine, used to cities and automobiles, could smell the stink of smoke here; it was making all the Syprians ill and the cold and damp didn't help either. Gyan, oldest of the Syprians who had followed them from Cineth, had been unable to stand it and was staying on the Ravenna, where the air was fresher and the ship's heating system kept the cold at bay. Danias, the youngest Syprian, had been sent with Gyan, partly to get him out of the city and partly because Syprians couldn't contemplate going anywhere alone. Pasima and the rest of her contingent -- Cletia, Cimarus and Sanior -- had separate quarters in the Port Authority, which kept the inter family fighting to a minimum.

The Ravenna was anchored near the mouth of the harbor, as Capistown's deep water docks were crowded with their own big ships, unable to leave port due to the Gardier's attacks on their regular routes. Another Rienish Vernaire Solar liner, the Queen Falaise, was docked there also, having been trapped here by the war. She was now being loaded with supplies and weapons for the embattled troops in Parscia, and had had one of her grand ballrooms turned into a circle chamber for the etheric world-gate spell.

Tremaine dropped down onto the bench next to Ilias, saying, "Don't laugh at the hat."

She didn't manage to provoke a smile, though Ilias leaned against her, close enough to rest his shoulder against hers for a moment, a Syprian gesture that could be a greeting or an offer and request for reassurance. "Well?" he asked. "How did it go?"

"That depends on which side you're on."

He lifted a brow. "That badly."

"Yes." She hesitated. "I need to tell you...."

"Ixion's found himself a lawgiver who thinks he can use Ixion against the Gardier," Ilias interrupted grimly.

"That's...exactly it."

Ilias just looked tired and resigned. "We've been expecting it. He manipulates people. Even without curses, he's good at it."

Tremaine took a deep breath, searching for reassurance to offer and not finding much of any. Giliead, the god of Cineth's Chosen Vessel and the only one who had been capable of communicating with the single Gardier crystal they had captured, had already flatly refused to help unless Ixion was executed. What this was going to do to the fledgling Rienish-Syprian alliance, Tremaine didn't want to consider. Given the way Syprians hated and feared magic and sorcerers, it had been a miracle the alliance had even progressed this far.

Two women, passing down the corridor, dressed in the height of Capidaran fashion, were staring at them with sharp critical expressions. Capidarans could be astonishingly provincial at times, even here in their largest city, and many seemed to regard the Syprians dubiously. Perhaps because they were too like the native inhabitants of this area, forced out to make way for the Capidarans. Tremaine stared back, widening her eyes slightly, and was rewarded when both women looked hurriedly away. She turned to Ilias to find him watching her quizzically. He asked, "How do you do that?"

"What? Oh." She shook her head slightly. Things you learn in a mental asylum. "It's a talent."

Gerard stopped in front of them, preoccupied and harried. "Hello, Ilias. Tremaine, we're starting again."

"Oh, goody," she said mock-brightly, and got to her feet.

* * *

Ilias watched them go. The hall was cold, but he didn't want to go back to their room in the building across the street. It was cold too.

He wasn't used to having nothing to do. Even when he and Giliead were home at Andrien, there was always something that needed to be done. A fishing boat with a leaky hull, a fence to repair. There seemed to be so much that needed doing here, but none of it could be done by him. He felt useless.

Then he saw Pasima coming up the corridor and felt worse. She was a tall woman from the coastal Syprian strain, wearing a dark-colored stole pinned at her shoulder, mostly concealing the colors of her Syprian clothes. Her dark hair was braided back from her face, and while her features were a little less finely cut than those of her beautiful sister Visolela, men still turned to follow her progress as she walked past.

Ilias knew she would sail by him without a glance, so it took him a moment to realize those were her boots with the red-stamped leather planted on the floor in front of him. He looked up at her, startled and wary. Her face was set in hard lines and white from long days of tension. She sat down on the bench, almost close enough to touch. Startled, Ilias shifted away, just to make it clear he didn't find her presence any favor. "Someone might see you," he told her, making no effort to keep the sarcasm out of his tone.

She watched him critically, long enough to make the back of his neck prickle, though he just watched her back and refused to break the silence. Then she said, conversationally, "You really think this foreign woman wants you?"

He could have done without that. He said dryly, "Curse marks don't make any difference between the legs." The silver brand on his cheek, given to any Syprian who survived a wizard's curse, made him a pariah in the Syrnai. His status was a little better since Tremaine had married him, but not in the eyes of people like Pasima.

She shook her head, as if he hadn't spoken. "You aren't like their men, you don't know the first thing about living in a city like this. The only reason she took you was to get Giliead's help. If he continues to refuse to help her people, you should ask yourself how long you'll have a place here."

Arguing with her was pointless. Saying she was right that he couldn't live here but that for the rest there were some things you had to take on trust was worse than pointless. He said through gritted teeth, "What do you want?"

Pasima took a sharp breath. "I want you to talk to Giliead."

Ilias looked away, tightening his jaw. Of course she did. "You can talk to him yourself."

"He won't listen to me." She shifted forward, lowering her voice, though there was no one in the corridor who could understand Syrnaic. "You know what will happen if he goes back to Cineth."

"What could happen," Ilias corrected, unable to help himself.

"I don't want him to be hurt."

He snorted and eyed her skeptically.

Her face tightened with offense. "He's my brother by marriage. If you don't believe I have any concern for him, at least believe I don't want the disgrace to fall on my family."

Ilias met her eyes. Maybe it was true. Family honor was vitally important to Pasima. Grudgingly he said, "What do you want to say to him?"

She took a deep breath. "That he should stay here. Not return home."

Ilias stared at her, his brows drawing together incredulously. He had said the same thing to Giliead himself already, and though they both knew it wasn't possible, he still couldn't quite get it out of his head. Hearing Pasima echo it was unnerving. "He can't do that."

She shook her head as if he had made some silly emotional protest, not understanding. "He would be safe. Safe from the god's punishment, at least," she amended, perhaps remembering that none of them were safe, now that the Gardier could cross worlds wherever they wanted.

"He has to know what will happen," he told her, annoyed. Surely no matter what she thought of Giliead, she could understand that.

"He should accept it, stay here, and let the god choose another Vessel," she insisted.

Oh, now I see. Ilias smiled sourly. "The god won't choose another Vessel while Giliead lives."

Pasima frowned in disbelief. "How do you know that?"

"It's in the Journals." Gathered by various poets through the years, the Journals told the stories of all the Vessels, their life histories, the wizards they had fought and killed, details about the different curses they had encountered. Everything they knew about the gods. Most people didn't bother to read the whole text, as the poets usually excerpted the more entertaining stories. But Ilias had had to do something on all the long nights Giliead had set himself to study, so he had read them too. "There's a story about Liatres, a Vessel from Syigoth. He was injured in a battle on the Outer Islands and couldn't walk. He lived for years after, but the god didn't choose the Vessel to replace him until he died." Arites had been writing Giliead's journal, Ilias recalled suddenly. He didn't know if the older parts had been copied and sent to the poets in Syrneth yet or not. The newest part must be mixed up with the story Arites had been writing of the Ravenna's voyage. Though if things went the way they feared, Giliead's journal might not be a story Arites would have much wanted to tell.

Pasima sat back, her brows knit. Ilias felt a flash of pity for her. He said, "There's nothing anyone can do about it now. We have to wait and see what the god will do."

Her face set, the lines of strain around her finely-shaped mouth deeply etched. "There's a reason our ancestors decided to mark the cursed. Maybe it's Giliead's continued association with you that made this happen." She stood abruptly. "You should stay here and let him return alone."

Pasima didn't stay to take in his stung expression, already turning on her heel, striding away down the cold corridor. Ilias looked at the mud-stained stitching on his boots, gritting his teeth until his jaw hurt. Why did you even talk to her? What is wrong with you?

When he looked up, Nicholas Valiarde was standing over him.

He wore Rienish clothing, all in black, most of it concealed by a long black coat. Oh good, it's my crazy father-in-law, Ilias thought in resignation. This day was just getting better and better. Nicholas said, "Come with me."

Ilias eyed him. "No."

An eyebrow lifted slightly. "You only take orders from my daughter?"

Ilias lifted a brow right back at him. "Yes."

Unexpectedly, Nicholas' mouth quirked in amusement. He sat down on the bench, sweeping his coattails out of the way. "I see."

A test, Ilias thought sourly. That was about all he needed. Then he realized Nicholas had spoken Syrnaic. "You got the god sphere to give you our language." It came out sounding like an accusation. The special sphere, the one that the wizard Arisilde lived in, had given Tremaine, Gerard, Ander and Florian the ability to speak Syrnaic when they had first come to Cineth. They had discovered later how to get it to give the ability to speak Aelin, the Gardier language. At least Nicholas had learned that one the hard way, by living among the Gardier.

"It seemed easiest." Nicholas regarded him for a long moment. "I have an appointment to view a house in town. Do you want to accompany me?"

Ilias frowned, not certain he understood. "A house?"

"Gerard needs a place to make further experiments with the sphere. And I'm assuming you and the others find the accommodations in the refugee hostel as uncomfortable as I do." He watched one of the Capidaran warriors with a shooting stick propped on his shoulder stride down the hall.

Ilias thought it over, considering briefly the idea that Nicholas might mean to kill him. At this point, anything would be a welcome distraction. He shrugged. "I'll come."

***

Ilias had walked along the harbor with the others, usually to look wistfully at the Ravenna, but he had only gone into the city a few times, and not very far. The noise and stink of smoke was bad enough inside the port.

Nicholas didn't lead him toward the building's outer court, but down the polished stone stairs and through an unobtrusive door in the wall at the bottom. It led through a series of dingy corridors and into a low-ceilinged noisy room filled with wooden cabinets and steam and cooking smells. People in white clothing stared at them as they passed but no one tried to stop them; Nicholas pushed through a heavy wooden door at the far end and they were suddenly out in gray daylight, in a small dirty stone paved court. It was sunk below the street, walled by an iron barred fence, with a stairway leading up to an alley between high brown brick walls. Following Nicholas up steps that were still damp from a recent rain, Ilias was aware this was probably not the way most people left the building. As Nicholas paused to close the barred gate behind them, Ilias asked, "Are we prisoners here?"

Nicholas hesitated, then let the gate latch drop. "Not as such." He took a pair of small round glass eye-lenses out of a pocket, like the ones Gerard wore. But when he put these on Ilias saw the glass was tinted dark rather than clear. He turned down the alley, walking toward the noise of the street. "I'd rather not give anyone the opportunity to restrict my movements."

Ilias could understand that. They reached the walk bordering the street in front of the heavy stone façade of the Port Authority. It was fairly broad, but awash in mud, with a narrow stone verge for people to walk on. The passersby hurried along, dodging water and mud spray from the wheels of the horseless wagons. Most were dressed in the same kind of clothes the Rienish wore, dark blues or browns and grays with only a touch of color in a neckcloth or scarf. Ilias wrinkled his nose at the stench of smoke and stagnant water and worse. He didn't understand how these people could have horseless wagons and wizard lights like the Rienish but have failed to master the elementary skill of draining their city of human waste.

Ilias had been to a Rienish city with Tremaine, the one the Gardier now occupied. The smoke and the noise had been nearly as bad but there had been marvelous things to look at: windows with jewel-colored glass, huge stone buildings heavy with carvings of strange creatures. These buildings were all brown brick or a weathered dun-colored stone, none as imposing, and the windows were just dusty glass. The people here spoke mostly Rienish but other languages were mixed in as well, making it confusing.

Ilias knew from past ventures out that the people here would still stare even if he tied all his hair back, so he hadn't bothered. People did stare, not in the idly curious or sometimes appreciative way that the Rienish did, but as if they were affronted at seeing someone different from themselves.

Nicholas stepped around a mud puddle and said, "Why did you ask if we were prisoners?"

Ilias shrugged, at first not meaning to answer. Then he found himself saying, "Tremaine says they're listening to Pasima. If she's told them that when we go back to Cineth, the god will kill Giliead for what he's done...." He shrugged again, torn between the anxiety that made him want to talk about it and a reluctance to drag the whole thing out before Tremaine's enigmatic father.

Nicholas threw him a sideways glance, his eyes invisible behind the opaque lenses. "I hadn't realized your situation in Cineth was quite that serious."

"We don't really know what the god will do," Ilias admitted. "But no Chosen Vessel ever used a curse before."

"But it has punished Vessels for transgressions in the past."

"Our god hasn't." Cineth's previous Chosen Vessels had all led fairly unremarkable lives, except for the one a few generations ago who had somehow managed to acquire two husbands and a pack of children in between ridding her territory of several particularly vicious wizards. Her descendants still had their farms to the south of the city. "Other gods have. They refuse to see the Vessel, and then he kills himself." Gunias of the Barrens Pass had fallen on his sword when his god had denied him, though no one knew what Gunias had done. Eliade of Syrneth's crime had been more obvious: she had been sent away from her god when she had killed her own sister out of jealousy over a man; she had drowned herself.

Nicholas was silent for a few steps, before he replied obliquely, "There are better ways of getting rid of unwanted individuals."

Ilias thought he meant that it was no good overreacting, that there was no proof the gods had caused deaths that might well have come out of guilt. But because he wanted to get something out into the open, he said, "Like me."

Nicholas stopped to regard him directly, the stream of people impatiently circling around them. Ilias still couldn't see his eyes but his voice was dry and faintly exasperated. "That aside, if anything happened to you, Tremaine would of course assume that I had arranged it. No evidence I could produce of my innocence, no alibi no matter how iron-clad, would convince her otherwise, and I could shortly expect an unpleasant surprise." Turning away to continue up the street, he added, "If you raise a daughter to be both independent and an excellent marksman, you have to accept the fact that your control over her actions is at an end."



***

They reached a quieter street finally, though the buildings here were just as ugly. Nicholas stopped in front of one with steps leading up to a door a little way above street level. Ilias supposed with the city so crowded they had to take advantage of every space, but he didn't understand why half the people didn't just pick up and go build another city somewhere else. It seemed ridiculous to let a place grow so large that it became unpleasant to live in. And it's not like they have to look for a spot with a god, either, he thought, watching Nicholas climb the steps and pull at a little brass handle to one side of the door.

Ilias heard a bell ring dimly within. After another moment's wait, the door opened to reveal a thin man with dark hair and narrow features, dressed in the same jacket and pants that many of the men seemed to wear, except his was a dark brown and the cloth tied around his neck was bright red. Nicholas spoke to him in Rienish and Ilias didn't bother to listen, looking around to see if there was anything on the street to keep him occupied while Nicholas conducted his business. The man replied, moving back out of the doorway and making an expansive gesture. Nicholas glanced back, gesturing for Ilias to follow.

Ilias hesitated a moment, surprised, then remembered the only good thing about this place was that they had no more idea what a curse mark was than the Rienish. He went up the stairs after Nicholas.

The entry hall was high-ceilinged and dark, despite the wizard lights in glass shades mounted on the walls. Four doors opened into other spacious rooms, and stairs at the far end led to the upper floors. It was a relief to be out of the cold, though Ilias suspected that once he got used to it this house wouldn't feel warm either. It was a little like the house that Tremaine had lived in, the one he had seen in their brief trip to her land, except this one smelled of damp rot. It made him miss the Ravenna again; her insides were all light wood and colored glass, her colors ivory and gold and red.

The Capidaran man looked him over curiously as he shut the door, speaking to Nicholas in Rienish, "And this is your...?"

"Son-in-law," Nicholas replied, stepping to one of the partly open doors to examine the room inside. Everything was dark and heavy, with dark colors in the carpets and the wall-coverings, heavy dark wooden furniture with dark fabric cushions. "I'm taking this house for my daughter and her in-laws."

"Oh, I see." The man seemed to make some mental shift.

"The ballroom?" Nicholas prompted.

"Ah! This way." He turned to lead the way up the stairs.

Ilias trailed after, turning over the Rienish words ball room, and remembering it wasn't as interesting as it sounded. At the top of the stairs there were two double doors, and the room proved to be just a big shadowy chamber, the floor of once fine wood set into squares, the different grains and hues used to make patterns. There were curse lights in pink crystal balls mounted on the walls, and the ceiling was figured into squares. Though the colors here were lighter pinks and creams, the paper wall coverings were peeling off, revealing plaster beneath that was green with mold. Ilias wrinkled his nose at the smell. But Nicholas looked at the polished expanse of floor and nodded to himself. "Perfect."

"So glad it suits," the Capidaran man said, though there was a note of incredulity in his tone.

The talk turned to coins and how much Nicholas was going to give for the house. Bored, Ilias wandered the length of the room, half-alert for lingering curse-traps. Though he didn't have Giliead's god-given ability to see curses, there were things he knew to look for: blind spots in his vision, surreptitious movement, changes in the air. Giliead would have to check over everything, but Ilias suspected there was nothing here.

Through an archway at the back he found a much smaller room that was all glass, the long panes set into panels of wrought iron. It might have been a fine place except that the glass was covered with dust, turned to a thick sticky substance by the damp, and there were pottery tubs filled with dirt and the dry remains of dead plants. He rubbed at the glass with his coat sleeve, and found it looked down onto a garden paved with stone, with overgrown beds choked with weeds and dead brush and a fountain with stagnant green water. He sighed, leaning his forehead against the cold glass. Everywhere he looked there were reminders of death.

Nicholas wandered in and studied the windows with an air of dissatisfaction. The Capidaran man followed him, hesitating as Nicholas wandered out again. He stepped over to Ilias and asked, "Valiarde -- it's a noble Rienish family, yes?"

Ilias shrugged. "I don't know." He wasn't sure what "noble" meant.

"I see." The man nodded, still bewildered. "But wealthy?"

Ilias thought about it, trying to answer honestly. "They paid a lot for me."

The man just looked more bewildered, until a shouted question from Nicholas sent him hurrying out of the room.

Ilias left the dead plants to their slow degeneration and went back through the big chamber. He found a wide stairway in the hall and climbed it, finding two more floors of cold musty smelling bedchambers. Above that there was another stairwell, this one narrow and cramped, the wood panelling giving way to yellowed plaster halfway up. The hallway it led to was narrow and cramped as well, with a low ceiling and only one bare wizard lamp for light. He opened a door and the wan light from the corridor showed him a small dark room with a bare iron bedstead and a washbasin on a stand. A thick layer of dust coated every surface and it smelled of must and rats. It looked like a cell, except the door didn't seem to have any kind of lock. He left it open, moving down the hall to check a few of the other rooms. They were all the same.

He heard Nicholas' quiet step on the stairs and glanced back at him, asking a little suspiciously, "What are these rooms for?"

"They're servants' quarters," Nicholas said in Syrnaic. He glanced into one of the rooms as he came along the corridor. "Fortunately I wasn't planning to hire live-in help. Other than that, I think this will do."

Ilias started to ask what it would do for when at the far end of the hall, one of the still-closed doors started to slowly swing open. Nicholas saw his expression change and turned, one hand moving to the pocket of his coat, but it was obvious no one was there to move the door. Fully open, it hesitated a moment before slowly and deliberately closing again; Ilias heard the latch click as it shut. Nicholas sighed in annoyance and looked at the Capidaran man standing in the stairwell, who smiled apologetically and made a helpless gesture.

"Shades." Ilias squinted up at the yellowed plaster ceiling, considering. Probably angry shades, since the quiet ones never knowingly drew attention to themselves. "Gil can take care of those."

"So he can." Nicholas had fixed the Capidaran man with a gaze that should have melted the skin right off him. "Then this will still do -- for half the price."



Chapter Two




It was evening and cold with mist-drizzle when Tremaine arrived back at the refugee hostel. She was tired, thirsty and had the strong sensation of an impending headache. Reaching the hostel was not much of a relief.

The place had been a commercial traveler's hotel, right up until the Capidaran authorities had conscripted it to hold refugees, so it was actually in much better condition than the dilapidated seaside hostelry at Port Rel that the Viller Institute had once taken over for its headquarters in Ile-Rien. There was no fallen grandeur here; there was in fact no grandeur of any kind. Crossing through the pokey little lobby with its bad imitation Parscian carpets and floral upholstery and dusty potted palms always brought back memories of waiting for trains in small villages along the Marches.

The people sitting around on the hard wooden benches and understuffed couches made the place look even more like a station waiting room. Except no one's going anywhere, she thought, depressing herself further. They spoke quietly, calm but with signs of strain showing in tired eyes and worried voices. They were Rienish, Parscians and Aderassi who hadn't enough funds to find a place in the city or who had no relatives or friends here to support them. The Maiutans, all of whom were ex-prisoners of the Gardier, would have been in even worse straits, without even an overworked Embassy to appeal to. But some of the freed prisoners had been Lowland Missionaries who had known which local charitable organizations to alert, and several contingents of volunteers had managed to hurry off the Maiutans before the Capidaran government had been able to stop them. The others were supposed to have dual citizenship with Capidara, so they could leave if they wanted, but employment was scarce and most had nowhere else to go. The lobby smelled of must and dust and fear sweat.

Tremaine had almost reached the stairs when one of the harried desk clerks hurried over, holding a folded slip of paper. "Madame Valiarde! A message for you."

As one of the few people still in the hostel who could actually afford to tip, Tremaine usually got extra attention. She exchanged the hoped-for Capidaran coin for the message and unfolded the paper. There was nothing on it but an address. She stared at it blankly then realized what this must be. He found a house. She wondered how. Accommodation was supposed to be nearly impossible to get in the crowded city, and Gerard had needed a large room for experiments with Arisilde's sphere. "Did they clear out our rooms?"

"Yes, madame." The man sounded relieved. The entire staff was somewhat nervous of the Syprians, and Giliead in particular was in no mood to be friendly. Tremaine counted the staff lucky; it would have been much worse if Pasima's group had been staying there as well. "They said we could give the space to someone else."

"Yes, that's right." She tucked the address away in her pocket with a mental sigh. There was no telling what shape the house would be in and she suspected real food and real rest were a long way in the future.

Preoccupied, she turned back toward the front door, hoping she could find a taxi-cab driver that knew the street. Her path blocked, she looked up to find herself facing Ander Destan.

Ander was dressed as a civilian, in a tan pullover sweater and a leather jacket. The shopkeepers and market stalls had been doing good business with the refugees who had money, all of whom were buying clothes, blankets and other items that would quickly become scarce once the bombing started here. Smiling, Ander said, "You look lovely. That outfit suits you."

Tremaine regarded him blankly. She distrusted compliments on her appearance in principle, but she really couldn't find anything in that statement to object to. It made an interesting contrast to what Ilias had said when she had gotten dressed this morning, which had been "Why do you wear clothes that hide your breasts? It's not as if anyone's going to think you don't have any." Come to think of it, she hadn't been able to muster a suitable reply to that one either. "Are you waiting for Gerard? He's going to be trapped in the meeting for a while longer."

"I was waiting for you, actually," he said, and gave her that slow warm smile that had worked so well on her and so many women in the past.

Tremaine eyed him, unimpressed. "Really."

Ander let out his breath, the smile turning wry. "I suppose only the truth will do."

"Some people prefer it," she acknowledged that warily.

"I know Gerard and the others have some sort of plan afoot--"

Tremaine rolled her eyes, annoyed. "And you thought you'd get it out of me with a few compliments. That's a new interrogation technique. 'My, what a nice hat. Give me the secret plans--'"

"Tremaine! You know that's not what I--" He eyed her. "Maybe you don't know. Can we start over?"

Starting over would take years, and she didn't have any to spare. "What do you want?"

"I'd like to help."

Tremaine lifted a brow. "Don't you have anything better to do?"

"At the moment, no. I've been assigned off the Ravenna, but the Capidarans are handling most of the duties." He added bleakly, "There's nothing to do except wait."

Watching his face, seeing the new lines of anxiety and strain that she didn't remember being there before, Tremaine felt a reluctant surge of empathy. She rubbed her forehead wearily. I hate it when I do this. "All right, come on. But you're paying for the taxi-cab."

***

The shade in the top of the house was not only angry, it was actively hostile. Braced against the door to keep it from slamming and trapping them inside, Ilias hoped the battle at least gave Giliead a chance to work off some of his temper. "I'm just telling you what she said," he repeated for the third time. He hadn't even gotten to the part yet about just who Pasima thought was responsible for all this.

The wan yellow illumination came from the curse light in the narrow attic corridor, revealing that the floor of the long room was littered with odd fragments of metal or wooden rubbish and rat droppings. Giliead paced the confines of it, his face set in grim lines. He was a big man, even for the coastal Syprian strain, and nearly a head taller than Ilias. Outraged, he seemed to take up even more space in the relatively small chamber, his light brown hair frazzled in its braids. "I just don't understand what she expects to gain out of it," Giliead said in frustration. He had tracked the shade back to this room and the first brush with it had left long light scratches across his chest and neck.

The old wooden door, propelled by the shade's anger, shoved against Ilias' shoulder with renewed vigor; he leaned into it more firmly, bracing his feet in the doorjamb. The shade's turbulent presence made the room deadly cold; their breath misted in the air and his fingers were going numb. "Why do you think she wants to gain something?"

"Why else would she care?" Giliead demanded. "It doesn't do her any good if I die. Whoever the god picks will be a child; does she want Cineth to have to rely on other cities' Vessels for the next score of years?"

"No. I think she was being sincere. For her, anyway." It was what worried Ilias the most. The door whacked him in the back again and he grimaced, saying impatiently, "Look, just calm down. Forget Pasima. You're not going to be able to convince this motherless shade to rest if you're angry."

Giliead snarled, "I know that." Then he pressed his hands over his eyes, taking a deep breath.

Dust stirred across the room, lifting in a curtain, then gently dispersing. Ilias found himself holding his breath, and not just to keep from sneezing. It doesn't mean anything if he can't do it. Some shades never rest and this one is a real bastard. But he still held his breath.

The room was calm, silent. Ilias felt the pressure of the door against his back ease, then it squeaked as it swung gently back. He straightened up slowly, relieved.

Further down the corridor, another door banged. Then again. And again. Giliead opened his eyes, swearing. "Well, at least it's not haunting this room anymore," Ilias said wearily, standing back to let him stomp out. It was going to be a long evening.



***

Dusk was gathering and a light rain had started when the taxi-cab deposited Tremaine and Ander in a broad residential street. It was lined with three-story brown brick townhouses. Unlike such houses in Vienne, most had steps leading down to basement entrances for servants under the front doors, and there were no ornamental ironwork fences, windowboxes or potted trees. Despite that, the street seemed clean and open. Tremaine could see warm yellow light behind drawn curtains, and men in overcoats or women carrying market baskets hurried up to welcoming doorways. There was something odd about observing such ordinary activities, as if seeing people who weren't enslaved, weren't fleeing death or warily waiting for the next bombing was unusual. Well, for me it is, she thought tiredly.

Tremaine looked down to consult the address again and decided it should be in the middle of the block. "This doesn't look so bad," she said cautiously as they walked along the damp pavement.

"What were you expecting?" Ander asked, sounding amused.

Tremaine thought of trying to explain Nicholas' taste in houses, or Nicholas' taste in general, and decided against it. She also thought of saying I shot a man in cold blood to get a truck, Ander, so please get that tone that says "you silly little girl" out of your voice when you speak to me. "Nothing," she muttered. Nothing changes. You shouldn't have let him come.

These houses looked about the size for families of professional men with room for children and a cook and housemaid; some even seemed to be broken up into flats. She had thought Gerard wanted something with a room large enough to draw a spell circle in. Though maybe-- She stopped suddenly, as the house occupying the middle portion of the block came into view. "Oh, God."

It was a huge hulking structure, its brick leprous with mold, with no ground floor windows and a pair of badly-proportioned pillars flanking its entrance. There was no carving on the eaves and the proportions were subtly off; it looked like a small and incompetent copy of a badly neglected Vienne Greathouse. The neat townhouses to either side of it seemed to stand in silent reproach. Ander took the address away from her, saying, "That can't be it."

"Of course that's it," she snapped. "The place has 'Valiarde' written all over it." It had probably been built years ago as part of an estate by some Capistown land baron and the city had gradually encroached on its grounds until only the house was left.

She stamped up the steps, reflecting that at least it looked big enough to have a ballroom, and tugged at the bell-pull.

Nicholas, who must have noted their approach, opened the door almost immediately. He eyed Ander with enigmatic disfavor, greeting them with, "Why did you bring him?"

Tremaine regretted it now herself but she wasn't going to admit that. "Because he asked," she said flatly, stepping in past Nicholas to look around. The entrance hall was high-ceilinged and dingy, the wood floor showing evidence of past water leaks. Four sets of double doors opened off it, and there was a staircase at the end, but it was all a little too small and badly balanced for a true grand entrance. Whoever had built the place had been struggling between elegance and parsimony.

"Evening, Valiarde," Ander said with cautious reserve, stepping inside.

Shutting the door, Nicholas answered with a noncommittal grunt. Years ago when Tremaine and Ander had first met, she had been immersed in Vienne's artistic community and Ander had been a feckless young noble who liked slumming. Nicholas had met him twice, managed not to speak directly to him on either occasion, and now appeared to be trying to stay consistent.

For his part, Ander seemed to be fooled by Nicholas' portrayal of an eccentric gentleman-adventurer, though with Ander it was always hard to tell. In contrast, Ilias and Giliead weren't familiar enough with Rienish society to be taken in by the façade. They treated Nicholas with wary respect, and when they were in the same room, they always seemed to reserve a part of their attention for him, alert for any sign of aggression. It was a wariness they didn't show with anyone else in their group, an almost instinctive understanding that Nicholas was dangerous, and that they weren't willing to trust their safety to his good will.

Kias seemed to sense it as well; he avoided the whole issue by trying to never be in the same room with Nicholas.

And Nicholas.... Appreciates the honesty, Tremaine thought. Well, she had thought he might be tired of hiding what he was.

Tremaine went toward the only set of doors that stood open, stopping in the archway. There was a fire in a large and ugly brick hearth and the electric sconces were lit, chasing shadows back into the dark wainscotted corners. Calit was on the floor by the fire, dressed in dungarees and a bulky blue pullover sweater that was too big for him. Spread out on the floor around the boy were an array of toys, all of the kind that could usually be bought from street peddlers in Ile-Rien, and presumably here as well: a few crudely carved wooden animals, picture cards with famous sights in the city, some polished stones and three brightly-colored tops. Calit was arranging the collection with the concentration of an explorer surveying artifacts of a foreign land; which, in a way, he was. He was an Aelin, one of the people who the Rienish called Gardier, and had come back with them from their brief involuntary visit to the Gardier's world. He glanced up, nodded a solemn greeting to Tremaine, and regarded Ander with suspicion.

Tremaine advanced cautiously into the room. "Where is everyone?"

"The attic appears to be haunted," Nicholas said, following her in, Ander trailing behind him. "Ilias is with Giliead, dealing with it. I think Kias is shifting some empty barrels out of the pantry."

Tremaine nodded slowly. "So we're living here, then?"

Nicholas gave her a raised eyebrow. "Temporarily."

"Right. Did anyone tell Gerard and Florian?"

"They'll be along later tonight, once they finish at the Port Authority."

"I can go pick them up, if you like," Ander offered blandly.

Nicholas regarded him with equal blandness, and apparently decided to take his relationship with Ander to a new level by actually speaking to him. "I suspect Gerard is capable of making his way here unescorted."

Considering that Gerard was capable of world-gating a 88,000 ton passenger liner, he was probably right. Leaving them to it, Tremaine went down the hall and started up the stairs. The second floor landing gave on to another hallway with a sitting area at the far end beneath a curtained bay window. There were four doors off the hall, all open, and all the lights were on. She looked into rooms until she spotted her carpet bag, a couple of Syprian leather packs, Ilias' sword in its scabbard and one of the wooden carved cases that held arrows and a goathorn bow, all piled on a dark bureau.

She wandered inside. The carpets and upholstery were all dark, the furniture of a heavy wood in a bulky style out of fashion even for Capidara, and there was a fire in the hearth. There was also a radiator in the corner, but it was cold. She supposed she should feel lucky for the electricity, such as it was. God, I wonder what the plumbing is like. She buried her face in her hands. Best not to find out just at the moment. But it was better than being one of the poor bastards at the refugee hostel, with nowhere to go.

Needing to distract herself, she checked the carpet bag to make sure her journal and the folder with Arites' papers were all there, but someone, probably Ilias, had packed it carefully. She had left most of Arites' writing stored on the Ravenna, since it would need to return to Cineth, but she was using his partially complete dictionary to teach herself to read Syrnaic. She shut the door and quickly changed out of the new but uncomfortable dress suit and into Syprian clothing. The shirt she pulled out of her bag was a faded gold and the pants a soft dark blue, each with block-printed designs along the hem and with seams reinforced by braided leather. It was the first time she had worn this shirt and she discovered it had ties to allow the sleeves to be looped up and secured at the shoulder, leaving the arms bare. A sensible arrangement for a garment that might be worn on a fishing boat, but it was too cool to wear like that now. She pulled a Rienish wool sweater on over it, put on her comfortable old boots and sighed with relief.

She took the back stairs down to the kitchen to discover actual food being delivered through the service door under Kias' supervision. The kitchen walls were dingy brick, the room furnished with a long plank table with a few chairs. A couple of old wooden dressers held a random assortment of cracked china plates and stained copper pots, all probably judged too worn for the former owners to haul away. Distracted by the sight of a bag of coffee beans and two bottles of wine on the sideboard, Tremaine almost didn't recognize the white-jacketed man placing warming pans on the old-fashioned monster of a range. He nodded to her affably and she squinted at him, racking her memory. "Were you on the Ravenna?"

"Yes, I volunteered in the kitchens," he answered with a smile and an Aderassi accent. "I am Derathi, late of the hotel Silve. I have been hired as chef in a restaurant a few streets over, and your father has made arrangements with us to feed you."

Tremaine lifted the lid of the warming pan, her stomach contracting at the appetizing scents. "This looks wonderful," she murmured.

"If you need anything, please send to us, at any time." Derathi paused at the kitchen doorway. "This is a good city, but.... I would like to return to Ile-Rien and then Adera again someday."

Tremaine looked up, meeting his solemn gaze. We both know, but let's not say it. "Someday."

Derathi took his leave and Kias stepped out of the pantry, asking without much hope, "Any news?" Kias was Giliead's father Ranior's sister's son. He was big like Giliead, olive-skinned, with frizzy dark hair falling past his shoulders.

"Nothing good," Tremaine told him. She supposed he already knew the news about Ixion from Ilias.

With a resigned shake of his head, he filled a couple of plates and carried then out of the kitchen, calling for Calit. Not feeling sociable, Tremaine sat down to eat at the battered kitchen table; the old range still radiated heat, making this the most comfortable room in the house. Ilias wandered in when she was nearly finished, standing in front of the still-warm range, with his arms tightly folded across his chest. He looked worn down and tired, more so than he had this morning. She knew that dealing with Giliead, who had been shuttling between rage and despair over what he saw as Ixion's release, wasn't easy. Tremaine had been on the verge of asking about it several times, but she was reluctant to broach the topic. She asked instead, "House still haunted?"

He shook his head, casting an annoyed glance up at the ceiling. "I think Gil scared it away."

Tremaine hesitated. "Because he's a Chosen Vessel or because he was really angry?"

He snorted wryly. "Guess."

Tremaine winced. She thought for a moment he would go back to rapt contemplation of the rusting iron range but he turned to the table, hooked a chair out and sat down. He pulled her plate over, investigating it for scraps.

Tremaine rescued the last hunk of bread. She eyed Ilias for a long moment. "Homesick?" She asked him finally.

He glanced at her with a lifted brow, not understanding.

She was surprised Syrnaic didn't have a word for it. She gestured with the bread, clarifying, "You miss being home."

He shrugged, but looked away. "It's summer there. We'd sleep outside in the atrium at night, or out in the fields."

As opposed to being stuck in this moldy cold house, or the crowded cold refugee hostel. Watching him crack the leftover bone and render it free of any shred of edible material as methodically as a wolf, she said, "We're not going to be here that long."

He frowned down at the plate, and started to speak. Then Ander walked in. Searching for an uncracked cup on the sideboard, he nodded politely. "Ilias."

Ilias looked up sideways, regarding Ander for a moment in silence, then looked at Tremaine. She could tell from his expression that this was about the cap to his day. She said brightly, "Ander's here."

Ander poured coffee from the enamelware pot resting on the stove, giving Ilias a thoughtful look. "I hope you and Giliead don't still blame me for Ixion."

Ilias let out his breath. "We don't blame you." He looked up at Ander again, his expression just this side of irony. "All you did was let him out."

Ander's mouth twisted in annoyance. Tremaine took a sip of coffee and pointed out mildly, "If you didn't know, Ixion has managed to convince the Capidarans that he can help them against the Gardier."

Ander stared at her, his brows drawing together. "You're joking.... You're not joking. What do they think they're doing?"

She watched him over the rim of her cup, trying to decide if she thought he was telling the truth. It had suddenly and belatedly occurred to her that that might have been why Ander had sought her out, that Gerard's open hostility during the meeting had worried the Rienish command enough to send someone to keep an eye on him.

Ander was shaking his head. "I wonder what they think Ixion can do for them. He doesn't have a sphere. They'll have to...." He hesitated.

"Get Niles or one of the others to make one for him, unless they're stupid enough to let him learn how to do it himself," Tremaine finished his thought impatiently. The new spheres weren't as powerful as Arisilde's, not being inhabited by the living soul of a sorcerer, but they did allow Niles and the other Rienish and Capidaran sorcerers here to use the gate spell, fight the Gardier crystals and to cast far more elaborate spells of their own. If Ixion got a sphere, he would probably kill all of them. "The new spheres actually work, unlike--" She stopped, blinking. "Oh, that's perfect."

"What?" Ilias demanded, sitting up, suddenly alert. "You've got that look."

Ander regarded her suspiciously. Maybe he recognized the look too. "You can't mean--"

"Before they found out how the world-gate spell worked," she explained to Ilias, "several sorcerers tried to build spheres to use it. The spheres couldn't take it and destroyed themselves -- and the sorcerers using them."

"So Niles could build him a trap god-sphere?" Ilias asked, rubbing his chin speculatively. "Would Niles do that?"

"Mm. Good point." Tremaine tapped her fingers on the table, thinking it over. "To save our lives, yes." Finally she shook her head, disappointed. "But when Ixion hasn't done anything yet...I don't think so. We could broach the idea, but if we got caught by the Capidarans...." She looked thoughtfully at Ander, who had his arms folded.

Ilias jerked his head toward the other man, his expression sour. "He'd tell everyone it was our idea--"

Ander frowned at him, "Hey, I know as well as anyone that--"

"And if Ixion gets a god-sphere and dies of it, everyone will think it was our doing even if it wasn't," Ilias finished.

Tremaine stared at him. She could recognize that brand of logic anywhere. "You've been talking to Nicholas."

"Yes," Ilias answered warily. "How did you know?"

"It was a lucky guess." She rolled her eyes in irritation, whether at herself, Ilias or Nicholas she wasn't sure, pushed her chair back and left the kitchen.

The service corridor was dark and Tremaine blundered through a couple of traditional baize servants' doors and ended up in the salon. Nicholas was sitting in one of the armchairs, reading the Capistown newspaper, and Calit was still playing with the wooden animals on the hearth rug. Before she could form an ironic observation on the domesticity of this scene, Nicholas said dryly, "You should be more careful."

"What?" Tremaine said, startled. She realized a moment too late she should have said "Undoubtedly" and walked out of the room. Whatever he had to say, it wasn't going to do her any good.

"As civilized as the Syprians' behavior is, you have to remember that their society is run by different principles than ours." Nicholas turned a page of the paper, rustling it into a better position. "If Ilias continues to see Ander as a threat to his relationship with you, he may act to remove the threat. And he may not feel the need to announce his intention first."

Tremaine snorted. She thought this was wishful thinking on Nicholas' part. "Ilias isn't in love with me."

He lifted a brow, not looking up from the paper. "As I said, their society is run by different principles than ours."

Tremaine flung her arms in the air, aware she wanted to argue but having nothing rational to say. She stomped out into the cold hallway, feeling about twelve years old and angry at herself for it. The clunky ring of the front door's bellpull stopped her.

Picking up a rickety chair near the door to the parlor, she dragged it over so she could stand on it and peek through the dusty fanlight. In the dim illumination of the streetlamp, she saw it was Florian and Gerard.

She hopped down and shot back the door's bolt, pulling it open. "Ah," Gerard said in relief as he saw her. "So this is the right place."

"Who else would live here?" As she stepped back to let them in, Nicholas appeared in the doorway to the salon, demanding, "Did you look to see who it was first?"

"Yes," Tremaine snarled. God, does he think I'm that stupid? "Somehow I failed to let Gardier spies with guns into Coldcourt the entire time you were gone."

Nicholas rolled his eyes and vanished back into the salon.

"I see everything is as usual. Everyone here?" Gerard said briskly, helping Florian off with her coat. Florian, not having a worthless meeting to attend, was dressed comfortably in canvas pants and a faded brown sweater, her red hair tucked up under a man's cap.

"Yes. Oh, and Ander's here," Tremaine added. She saw Gerard had a leather bag over his shoulder that had been hidden by his coat. The sphere, Arisilde's sphere.

"I see." Gerard pressed his lips together briefly, then shook his head. "Well, I suppose it can't hurt."

"Colonel Averi is the only other one who knows about this, isn't he?" Florian asked, looking around the foyer with a distracted expression. "The house is.... Uh...."

"Ugly, and it smells bad," Tremaine supplied, taking the wet coats from Gerard and draping them over the battered hall bench. "It's also violently haunted, though apparently Giliead's monumental bad temper scared whatever it was into temporary submission."

"Niles knows as well," Gerard answered Florian, ignoring the rest as they stepped into the salon.

Nicholas was moving chairs up to the round table in the other half of the room. "Any trouble?" he asked, flicking an opaque glance at Gerard.

"No, we weren't followed." Gerard answered the question that had actually been asked, setting the sphere down on the scratched surface of the table.

Nicholas nodded, looking down at the little device. It was about the size of a croquet ball, formed of copper-colored metal strips, filled with tiny wheels and gears. He reached to brush a droplet of water off the somewhat tarnished surface, and a blue light sparked deep inside the copper depths. Nicholas lifted his brows. "Does it do that often?"

Gerard watched Nicholas' face. "Yes. He often responds to people he knows."

Nicholas didn't react to the "he," at least not visibly. He regarded the sphere a moment more, then turned away. Speaking in Aelin, the language of the Gardier, he said, "Calit, go up to your room now."

The boy looked up. Calit was slowly learning a few words of Rienish and Syrnaic, with Kias and the other Syprians' help, but he couldn't understand much of either language yet. Gardier believed that learning other languages was somehow beneath them, and even if Calit overcame that, he hadn't had any formal schooling. "Can I take these things with me?"

"Of course, you may take your things with you." Nicholas placed a slight emphasis on the your. It had also been hard to convince Calit that when they gave him anything, whether it was clothing, a toy, or even food, it was his to keep.

Tremaine watched the boy carefully gather the cards and trinkets. "How is he doing?" she asked Nicholas in Rienish.

"As well as can be expected." Nicholas watched the boy leave the room. "I'm going to have Kias take back to the Ravenna tomorrow. For his own good, I don't want him to see too much of what we do here."

Though he hadn't had any noticeable problems aboard ship, in the refugee shelter Calit had persisted in sleeping under his bed. Tremaine said only, "He likes the Ravenna."

"He may be of some help in questioning the prisoners," Gerard put in. "The woman Balin seems to know a good deal more than she should, as a member of the Service caste. Not that she's revealed any of it voluntarily." As Ilias and Ander came in from the hallway, he told Nicholas, "Colonel Averi is beginning to think you're right about her."

"Right about what?" Tremaine took the chair next to the fire, trying to ignore the musty puff the upholstery exuded. Ilias settled on the floor at her feet, a gesture which she suspected was solely for Ander's benefit.

Giliead entered, throwing a disgruntled glance at Ander. He consulted Ilias with a look. Ilias responded with an eye roll. Capistown hadn't seemed to effect Giliead's health the way it had Ilias', but maybe that was just because he had concealed it better. And since he spent most of his time angry or simply not talking, it was harder to tell.

"That Balin is not Service caste, but an observer posted either by Command or Science," Nicholas was explaining, "Meant to evaluate the performance of those officers on the base."

"So they spy on their own people?" Florian took a seat on a footstool near the hearth, folding her arms and huddling into her sweater for warmth. "That makes sense, considering what else we've heard. But she doesn't have one of those little crystals?" A tiny crystal fragment implanted in someone's body could allow the Gardier to temporarily take control of that person's mind, without his or her knowledge. It was nearly impossible to detect, as they had discovered on the voyage here.

"No, none of our prisoners were Liaisons. Either voluntary or involuntary ones." Gerard looked around the room, gathering everyone's attention. He spoke in Syrnaic, since there was no one here who couldn't understand it. It also meant their conversation was private, whether it was overheard or not, since as far as they knew the Gardier couldn't translate the Syprians' language. "There are various plans for freeing Lodun, most of them involving landing troops, either by sea or by using a world-gate. But I feel we can use a world-gate to still greater advantage."

"You want to use one to go from the staging world to Lodun, to inside the barrier?" Ander asked, frowning. "I thought Command decided that wasn't feasible."

Gerard frowned back. "It isn't feasible with the mobile circle, the one the Ravenna and the Gardier airships use. But I think more can be done with the circle symbols." He glanced at the sphere, sitting quiescent on the table. "We need to find out more about the inner workings of the spheres and the circles. To do that, I feel we need to find out what happened to Arisilde, how he became trapped inside this sphere. We know Arisilde left Nicholas on the Isle of Storms, intending to return to carry the word that the Gardier were preparing a massive assault."

Tremaine grimaced to herself. Nicholas had told them he and Arisilde had stolen the gate spell from Gardier agents in this world and used it to follow them to the Staging World, the world the Syprians came from. The first time they had tried it they had ended up in the ocean, with the Isle of Storms distant on the horizon, much the way she and Gerard had. Arisilde had been able to sense the etheric activity around the island so they had returned to Ile-Rien and obtained a small sailboat for their next trip. With it they had managed to reach the island. They encountered the Gardier, who were scouting with the intention of turning the old abandoned city there into one of their bases of operations against Ile-Rien. Nicholas had decided to infiltrate the Gardier, talking his way into joining them.

"If we had gotten that word, if we had had Arisilde's knowledge of the world-gate spell from the beginning...I think we can assume that the course of events would have unfolded in a very different fashion." Gerard cleared his throat and continued more briskly, "We also know that Arisilde had resolved to discover the origin of the Gardier gate spell. He believed, even before Nicholas had discovered the...acquisitive nature of the Gardier's explorations, that the spell had been created by someone else."

"He said the gate spell had a different flavor," Nicholas contributed, leaning against the mantle and watching with opaque eyes. "He said that it had a weight and an elegance of design that gave the impression of a different mind than the one who had created the crystal he accidently destroyed." Years ago, before he had disappeared from Ile-Rien, Nicholas had discovered Gardier agents and stolen the gate spell and an avatar, though he had had no idea at the time that he was dealing with anything other than a criminal organization of sorcerers. Arisilde had killed the avatar, but discovered his sphere could substitute for it and make the spell work.

"He destroyed it accidently?" Giliead asked quietly. It was the first time since arriving in Capistown that he had revealed any interest in their situation, and Tremaine found herself staring blankly at him, along with Florian and Gerard.

Nicholas shifted to face him, explaining, "He was horrified at finding a living mind inside it. I think he meant to release it but didn't stop to consider the consequences." He shrugged slightly. "I suspect if he had stopped to consider, he would have done the same."

Tremaine could believe that. They knew now the living minds imprisoned in the crystal were captured sorcerers, Rienish, Aderassi, Maiutan and whatever others the Gardier had managed to seize.

"That aside," Gerard interposed, "I think -- I hope -- that if we can discover how Arisilde's consciousness was transferred into the sphere, it will contribute another piece of the puzzle. To that end, we're going to attempt to directly contact Arisilde."

"You can't just ask him?" Ilias wanted to know. Tremaine was glad he had asked, since she was thinking the same thing.

"I tried that," Gerard admitted. "Without result. But his attempts to communicate have all been through etheric means. He allowed Giliead to see the etheric traces of his spells, he spoke to Tremaine in a dream, and before that he conveyed to her some details of events that had occurred to Ilias and Giliead in the Syprian's world, implying that he had contact at some point with the Syprian god of Cineth."

Tremaine saw Ander frowning thoughtfully and grimaced, glad no one knew the outcome of Arisilde's empathic communications to her at Coldcourt. She had been unaware of them, but they had fed her own melancholy and depression to the point of suicide. If she hadn't been such a lousy planner, she would have done away with herself long before Gerard had come to ask her for the sphere for the Viller Institute's experiment.

"So we're going to try a method commonly used to speak to etheric beings," Gerard finished, adjusting his spectacles and clearing his throat.

Ilias twisted around to look up at Tremaine, brows lifted inquiringly. She didn't get it either, but before she could ask, Florian said tentatively, "A seance?"

Gerard frowned at her. Apparently he had hoped to get through this without anyone using that word. "I wouldn't describe it as that, though the underlying principle is the same."

Ander snorted and said dubiously, "Using spiritualism? Isn't that a little...odd?" Contacting the dead through spiritualism had most often been used in Ile-Rien as either a confidence game or a pastime of people who should know better.

Gerard eyed Ander in a way that should have dropped him dead on the spot. Remembering what kind of day Gerard had had, Tremaine interposed in Rienish, "My uncle lives in a metal croquet ball and I'm married to a man from another world -- maybe you should consider redefining 'odd.'"

Ander took the point with a wry smile and Gerard managed to take a calming breath. Florian said hastily, "Don't we need a medium? How does that work?"

"A medium isn't necessary," Gerard said with some asperity. "We have here the people whom Arisilde was closest to."

While Gerard set up a few precautionary wards, Tremaine borrowed a couple of table knives from the pantry and demonstrated table-rocking and other tricks of the spiritualism trade. Nicholas was pacing with his hands in his pockets, watching with an imperturbable expression. She supposed he would correct her if she got anything wrong. Crouching to watch how she was making the table move, Ilias said, "So...no one just looks under there?"

"It's misdirection," Florian tried to explain. "They think they have looked under the table."

"But they look at the wrong time," Tremaine added, though her mind wasn't really on it. Her palms were sweating though she wasn't sure why she should be nervous. What are you afraid Arisilde will say? She remembered Colonel Averi's not so subtle suggestion that Arisilde might be dangerous, that he might have gone mad inside the sphere. She didn't believe that. But maybe I don't want to be proved wrong.

Gerard came back into the room, carried the sphere to the table and carefully set it down again. "Very well. The wards I've placed around the house should prevent any outside influences from intruding. This doesn't include the etheric entities that are currently inhabiting the place, but they should be easy to discourage."

Tremaine put the knives on a sidetable and rather self consciously took her seat. Nicholas took the chair opposite her and Gerard gestured Florian to the other seat, saying, "We need at least four people to make the circle."

Tremaine noticed he wasn't inviting Ander. She almost expected Ander to make an arch comment but he just said, "So the holding hands part isn't just stage dressing?"

"Holding hands is not necessary," Gerard said repressively, taking his seat. "You could make yourself useful and turn out the lights."

Ander dutifully pressed the wall switch and the room was left in the flicker of firelit darkness. "Put your hands flat on the table and focus your thoughts on Arisilde," Gerard instructed.

They sat in silence for a time. Tremaine slumped in her chair, stifling a yawn. Ilias, Giliead and Ander were standing a few feet behind her so she couldn't see them, and it was a little too dark to make faces at Florian. Then the fire went out with a faint whoosh, as if someone had thrown a blanket over it. Tremaine flinched and shivered at a sudden cold draft of air, noticeable even in the none-too-warm atmosphere of the parlor. That was definitely something, she thought, a little unsettled. "Everyone all right?" Gerard asked sharply.

There was a general murmur of agreement. "I didn't see anything when it happened," Giliead put in, sounding intrigued, "so it wasn't one of the shades."

"Good," Gerard muttered.

Tremaine heard a chair creak and someone shift impatiently, someone else take a sharp breath. Time stretched and she was about to ask how much longer they had to wait when Giliead made a startled exclamation. "What is it?" Gerard demanded.

"Something just brushed past me," Giliead answered, sounding wary. Tremaine could sense him moving behind her, trying to find whatever it was, though he stepped so quietly he didn't even make the floorboards creak.

"Turn on the lights," Nicholas ordered suddenly.

Tremaine blinked at the sudden glare of electric light. She heard a startled curse from Gerard and Nicholas said, "Tremaine, don't move."

"What?" She looked down at her hands. Her jaw dropped. "Oh...."

The table was covered with writing scrawled in black, spiraling out from the sphere in the center and crossing her hands where they still lay flat, crossing Nicholas' hands. It had just missed Florian and Gerard. Ilias was at her side suddenly, tense with alarm, asking, "Does it hurt?"

"No." Her breath misted and she realized the room was still icy cold. "I didn't feel it at all."

Ilias looked at Giliead, who stood back from the table, his expression fascinated as he watched something invisible drifting through the air. He said, "I didn't see it when it happened, but I can see it now; the whole room is filled with curses."

Florian pushed back from the table, fumbling a pair of aether-glasses out of her pocket and putting them on as Gerard shoved to his feet. "There's ether everywhere."

Gerard circled the table rapidly, his expression fascinated. "Those are the same symbols as on the circle-- No, no, they're similar, but different."

"This isn't ink." Nicholas leaned down to peer at the table's surface, the writing scrawled across his own hands. "It's soot from the fireplace."

Gerard was already digging a pen and a battered notebook out of his coat pocket to copy the symbols. "It would be better if we had a photographic record. I don't suppose there's a camera in the house--"

"Giaren has one, he gave me some photos today," Tremaine said, leaning down to study the marks scrawled across her hands. There was a sweeping curve on the back of her right hand, part of a circular symbol that had something like a curlicue on the top. On her left hand was half of a pair of lopsided triangles. Nicholas was right, the broad strokes had been drawn with a finger, dipped in soot from the hearth. "Do we have a telephone?"

"Yes, but careful what you say. This isn't something that could be trusted to an exchange. In fact, I'll--" Nicholas looked around in annoyance, realizing he couldn't move without disturbing the delicate writing. "Damn it."

Tremaine controlled a snarl of annoyance, instead commenting to Ilias, "Yes, I was planning on confiding the entire episode to the operator while she was making the connection."

"I'll telephone," Florian said hastily, getting to her feet, "I'll just tell him to come here, I won't say why. Where is it?"

As she hurried to place the call, Gerard started on Tremaine's side first, copying enough of the design to allow her to leave the table. Standing up, she was able to more clearly see the roughly circular pattern of the markings. That, taken with the similarity in the symbols Gerard had noticed, meant only one thing. "So this is another spell circle." She lifted her brows at Gerard. "Maybe he heard you, about wanting a circle that could take us from the staging world to Lodun safely."

Gerard glanced up, straightening his spectacles. "I don't know. But the original spell circle opens etheric gateways between worlds. This one...might open something else."



Chapter Three



Several hours later, Tremaine sat in one of the spindly chairs at the door to the second floor ballroom, yawning profusely. She had finally been able to wash her hands once Giaren had arrived with the camera and careful photographs had been take to supplement Gerard's notes. The Syprians had all retreated out of the room as the first flashbulb popped; despite the explanation, she didn't think they quite understood what the camera was doing. She remembered she hadn't shown them the photographs from the Ravenna yet; that might be an interesting experience.

After that, while Gerard and Florian studied the symbols and Giaren turned the pantry into a temporary darkroom, she and the others had worked at sweeping and scrubbing the ballroom floor, to get it ready for the circle's inscription. It was a big room, suffering from water leaks down through the walls and rather horribly lit with pink crystal sconces. The ceiling was coffered and figured with plaster and the pink and cream flowered wallpaper was coming off the mildewed walls in long shroud-like strips, making the room look as if it had a skin disease. The once-fine parquet floor had been cleaned about as well as any of the others in the house to prepare it for sale, but for the glyphs to be properly inscribed the old coats of wax had had to be removed. Tremaine tiredly pushed her hair out of her eyes, wondering if she could use the large kitchen range to heat water for coffee without setting anything on fire. It would probably be easier to use the hearth in the salon.

Gerard was now crouched on the floor, carefully painting in the chalkmarked symbols with Florian's help, being observed by Ilias, Ander, Giliead and Giaren. Kias hadn't objected to the magic but didn't want to be a part of it or witness to it; he was downstairs, tending the fire in the salon and dozing. Coffee, she reminded herself, getting wearily to her feet.

As she went down the stairs, she heard Nicholas in one of the rooms off the hall, and paused long enough to ascertain that he was talking to Niles on the telephone. Again. Niles, who had to remain on the Ravenna with his sphere so the ship could world-gate if there was an attack, had been telephoning using the ship-to-shore line every half hour. He was attempting to supply Gerard with all the assistance that Gerard didn't require and giving the impression that he felt they were all having fun without him.

In the hallway she heard a hesitant knock at the door. It was the middle of the night. And we aren't expecting anyone, she thought grimly. Fantastic. As she dragged a chair back to the door, she heard Nicholas hanging up on Niles. Taking a cautious peek through the fanlight, she stared at the two people standing on the stoop, visible in the light from the streetlamp. Recognizing them, she grimaced in resignation.

She turned to find Nicholas and Kias in the hall, Kias with his sword drawn. "It's Cletia and Cimarus," she reported.

Kias muttered something inaudible, sheathed his sword, and retreated down the hall. Tremaine jumped down, setting the chair aside. "Kias," she asked sharply. "How did they know where we were?"

"I told Gyan," he admitted from the doorway to the salon.

Nicholas regarded him sourly. Tremaine pinched the bridge of her nose, thinking Gyan must be out of his mind. She told Kias, "Why don't you go up and tell Giliead they're here."

Kias winced but headed for the stairs. Resigned, Tremaine drew the bolt and opened the door.

Both Syprians were standing back from the threshold as if they expected something unpleasant to leap out at them. They were sister and brother, and Pasima's cousins. Cletia was slight and had a deceptively delicate appearance, with long blond curls that fell past her shoulders. Cimarus was tall and dark-haired with long braids neatly tied back, and had some resemblance to Pasima in the handsome cast of his features. Water dripped off their hair and the dark-colored wool wraps they wore over the more colorful fabric and leather of their Syprian clothes. Tremaine sighed. "Well, come in."

They stepped into the hall cautiously and Tremaine shut the door on the rainy night. She saw they both had their swords tucked under their wraps, which didn't surprise her, but as Cletia let the wet wool slip off her shoulder she saw the other woman also had the leather packs and bags they carried their belongings in. They came to stay? she wondered, startled. She had thought they had just come to argue.

Giliead came down the stairs, his face set and angry. "What do you want?" he said, not sounding as if he was particularly interested in the answer. Ilias trailed behind him, watching the two visitors with suspicion.

Cimarus looked up, shaking his hair back, and Tremaine saw his cheeks were red from embarrassment. "We quarreled with Pasima."

Giliead hesitated. That obviously wasn't the answer he had expected. But he said, "And why should we care?"

"We quarreled over you, you arrogant ass," Cletia snapped.

Silence stretched. Giliead glanced down at Ilias, who shook his head slightly in response, as if he wasn't sure whether to believe them or not. Giliead advanced another few steps down the stairs. "Did she tell you to leave?"

"No. We left on our own," Cletia answered. She looked at Tremaine pointedly and with the air of someone performing an unpleasant but necessary duty, said, "It's our right to ask for lodging at another Andrien household."

So much for staying out of the middle. Tremaine looked at Ilias, lifting her brows, though she knew Cletia wouldn't lie when there were others present to contradict her. He gave her a reluctant nod. "Oh, good." She looked at Nicholas. "Well, do we have the room?"

He eyed the two newcomers thoughtfully. Cletia weathered his gaze but Cimarus shifted uneasily. In Rienish, he asked Tremaine, "I assume they can be trusted?"

"They won't betray us to the Gardier," she replied in the same language. Unlike the others, Cletia and Cimarus never made attempts to speak Rienish, though she suspected they knew enough to understand most conversations. Nicholas almost certainly knew that too, and his question had been more of a warning to them than anything else. But I don't want them here. She let out her breath and rubbed her eyes. "But they'll fight with the others and argue about everything."

"Ah. Then I should feel quite at home," Nicholas said pleasantly, and with that left the hall.

Tremaine stared after him, feeling her face heat. She took a deep calming breath. I don't want him here either. In fact, I think I'm going to go to the mountains, find a cave and become a hermit. No relatives allowed. "Kias, why don't you show them to a room." She turned to a frowning Cletia, saying brightly, "By the way, the attic is haunted, and Gerard is about to do a curse in the ballroom. I'll be in the kitchen."



***



Tremaine found the coffee beans in a cabinet and a grinder, and proceeded to take her frustration out in manual labor. Ilias appeared after a short time, boosting himself up to sit on the sideboard next to where she was working. He watched her for a moment, then picked up one of the beans, sniffing it thoughtfully. "And how are they settling in?" she asked him.

He shrugged, apparently indifferent. "I don't know." He bit into the bean, winced and spit it out.

Giliead wandered in at that point and leaned on the sideboard, watching Tremaine. After a moment of stiff silence, he said, "We owe them hospitality. There's nothing I can do about that." There was a definite chill in the air. Tremaine felt the urge to intervene and managed to squash it, pretending to give the awkward coffee grinder her full attention. She knew both men well enough by now to realize that they would either get over it immediately or have a fist fight and then get over it immediately.

Ilias gave him a sharp stare. "Did I say there was?"

Giliead glared back. "No." He appeared to wrestle with himself for a long moment, then admitted, "When we go back, it might help with the council, if they're honest about what happened. It would make it easier on Mother and Halian. And you."

Ilias rubbed his face, looking as if his annoyance was suddenly spent and he was just tired again. "Will that help you?"

Giliead seemed surprised, as if that thought hadn't occurred to him. "I don't see how it could," he said honestly.

Ilias swore, hopped off the sideboard and walked out, banging the door on his way. Giliead watched him go, his face troubled, and Tremaine grimaced in sympathy. "Is it really going to be that bad?" she asked, giving up on the coffee grinder.

He leaned against the sideboard, taking a deep breath. "It will either be that bad, or it will be nothing. It's impossible to tell until we get there." He looked down at her, smiling ruefully. "If the waiting doesn't kill us first."

Tremaine nodded. "Waiting is what makes me...crazy." The beings the Syprians called gods didn't have many rules, as far as she could tell. They didn't make moral judgment s or hand down pronouncements; they didn't answer questions, except those posed by the Chosen Vessels relating to magic or sorcerers. Their presence in a cave or a hollow tree would drive off the most dangerous of the etheric entities the Syprians were troubled by and seemed to lessen the effect of inimical spells. They didn't seem to attack sorcerers directly but in the few historical cases that Giliead had spoken of where sorcerers had ventured to attack a god, the sorcerers had reputedly not fared well.

Gerard's theory, which Giliead was coming around to, was that the gods only objected to hostile spells. That that was why Giliead had found it difficult at first to see wards and other protective Rienish spells; the god ignored those and so Giliead had never learned how to spot them. And the god must have communicated with Arisilde at some point, before he had gotten into whatever situation it was that had led to him being trapped in the sphere.

Tremaine had pointed it out before, but she felt obliged to say again, "But the god didn't object to Gerard or Florian, and it acted sort of friendly to Arisilde in the sphere. And it didn't interfere with any of the spells they cast in Cineth. So maybe...."

"Maybe," Giliead agreed quietly.

Tremaine could tell he was humoring her now. "But Gerard's not a Chosen Vessel. I know, I know," she snapped. She seized the recalcitrant coffee grinder again. "You two just be pessimists; I'm going to be an optimist from now on."

Giliead actually snorted in amusement. "That will be a change." He took the coffee grinder away from her. "What are you trying to do with this thing?"



***



Giliead ended up making the coffee; he was much better at it than Tremaine once she had explained the principle. This did not help her mood any.

There wasn't much else to do after that than sit around and watch Gerard work on the spell circle. A dusty sofa and a couple of chairs hauled in from another room made the waiting a little more comfortable. Tremaine had taken a seat there with Ilias sprawled next to her. Florian was still sitting cross-legged on the floor near the developing circle, taking notes for Gerard, though she looked more than half-asleep. Giliead sat on the floor, watching thoughtfully, and Ander was pacing. Giaren had finished developing the photos and had taken over Nicholas' task of talking to Niles on the telephone, leaving Nicholas free to stalk the upstairs hall in what was probably an unconsciously sinister manner. Cletia and Cimarus had retired to elsewhere in the house, and Kias was supposed to be keeping an eye on them and on Calit, who was asleep.

Ilias was dozing on Tremaine's shoulder though this was probably the most uncomfortable place in the house to sleep. Dust floated in the air from all the floor-cleaning and the room was still uncomfortably cold and damp. But Ilias was very warm against her side and she was on the verge of drifting off herself, when Gerard got to his feet with a grunt of effort. She sat forward, waking Ilias with an elbow. "Is it done?" she demanded.

"Yes." Gerard massaged his lower back with a grimace. He glanced up, saw everyone watching him expectantly, and sighed. "I can tell it's meant to take us to the Syprians' world, but I have no idea where. It's not like the circles we've used before, that can only take us to their current position in the next world over. It has many of the same characteristics of the original spell circle, though many of the key figures and glyphs are different." He bent down again to collect his scattered notes.

"But we know Arisilde wanted us to go there," Tremaine pointed out, getting to her feet. She went to the edge of the circle, standing next to Florian. It didn't look much different from the other circle to her, but then she didn't know the symbols well enough to recognize most of them, or even to know if they were in the right order. Ilias had followed her, pacing along the edge of the circle thoughtfully. Giliead came over to sit on his heels near the edge, examining the symbols. Tremaine noted nobody touched it, or stepped inside, though it would take the sphere to make it work.

"But we don't know why," Florian put in around a yawn. "It might be because there's something incredibly dangerous there that he wants us to know about."

Nicholas stepped up behind Giliead, his hands in his pockets. "I don't think the danger or lack of it is worth debating; it's obviously something he felt it was vital for us to know."

Tremaine bit her lip, considering it. She glanced at Giliead. "What does it feel like to you? I mean, does it seem any different from the other spell circles?"

She thought an instant later that that might not be the most politic question in the world, especially coming from her. She was the one who had talked Giliead into using his ability to speak to their captured Gardier crystal, leading to his working an actual spell with its help. But he just frowned in a preoccupied way, holding out a hand above the carefully written symbols. "I can tell it has power, that it's...waiting for something. But that's how the others feel." He shook his head. "It's a little different, but every one I've seen has been a little different; they never feel identical."

Florian was nodding, looking a little more alert. "That makes sense. Each circle is in a different location, so it leads to a different spot in the other world it can reach. I bet the one on the Ravenna changes as the ship moves. That it would feel different to you here in Capistown harbor than it did when we looked at it on the voyage here, in your world."

"Right." Tremaine folded her arms. "So we need to test it." They all knew testing it meant using it, sending someone through. The Viller Institute had tried the first circle a few times before successfully making it work. Of course, it had been the badly-constructed spheres that had killed the sorcerers involved, not the circle itself. Though somehow she didn't find that very comforting at the moment.

"Those experiments were a little expensive, if you recall," Ander pointed out, his expression dry.

"Yes, Ander, oddly enough I do recall Riardin dying before my eyes as his sphere destroyed itself in an etheric explosion," Gerard said, still looking distractedly around for his scattered notes. "Nevertheless, I'll be making the experiment myself."

"I'm not sure that's wise," Nicholas said, watching him with a trace of concern. "If Arisilde was trying to show us how he became trapped in the sphere, and this circle has something to do with that--"

"Oh, hell." Tremaine stared at Gerard, horrified. She hadn't thought of that. "You shouldn't go, Gerard."

Florian pushed to her feet, alarmed. "She's right, Gerard. There's dangerous and there's...dangerous."

"I'll go," Ilias said suddenly.

"No, you won't," Tremaine said, startled, at the same time as Giliead, sounding aghast, said, "What?"

Ander stepped forward, as if no one had spoken. "I'm obviously the one to go."

"Why?" Ilias demanded, turning to glare at him. "I've done it more than you have."

Ander rounded on him impatiently. "You don't understand the spell. You don't have any idea what happens when--"

Ilias snorted derisively. "And you do?" He flung an arm in the air. "Explain it to us then."

Not sure which one of them she wanted to argue with, Tremaine pointed out, "Hey, I've done it more than both of you put together--"

"Children, quiet," Nicholas snapped. In the sudden startled silence he lifted a brow in ironic comment and added, "Let's listen to Gerard, shall we?"

Gerard gazed at the ceiling as if asking it for patience. "I'm going, because I'm the sorcerer and it would rather help to be able to return."

"But I could--" Florian began.

"No." Gerard told her, pausing to look at her over his spectacles. Florian could use a sphere to make a circle work, but her results hadn't always been ideal. "I appreciate the offer, but no."

As Florian subsided reluctantly, Ander put in, "Of course, but you'll need someone to--"

Gerard interrupted, "And I accept Ilias' offer to accompany me."

"And me," Tremaine added, alarmed that she might actually be left out. It wasn't fair. Going through strange circles was one of her few accomplishments.

"No." Gerard told her. "I want to keep the first expedition to a minimum."

First expedition? Now Gerard was being a rampant optimist, to assume there would be a second. "But I always go. It's...lucky," Tremaine finished self-consciously as everyone stared at her.

"Not this time," Gerard said firmly.



***



Now that the decision was made, Ilias was impatient to get it over with. "Shouldn't you take some more time?" Florian asked, looking over to where Gerard stood near the circle. The wizard was still going through his papers but he had put on his coat, apparently the only precaution he was going to take. The other men were waiting with him, except for Giaren, who was still using the talking curse box to speak to Niles. Florian turned a little hopelessly to Ilias. "To make more preparations?"

"Like what?" Ilias slung his baldric over his shoulder and checked the set of his sword in the scabbard. He knew from what Gerard had said, and his own past experience, that either all would go well and they would quickly return, or it would go badly immediately.

Tremaine folded her arms, pacing impatiently. She had been running her hands through her hair, disordering it as if she had just gotten out of bed -- which made him want to be in bed with her right now. "This is going to drive me crazy," she said, sounding more angry than anything else.

"Now you know how we felt when you made that first experiment with Gerard," Florian told her sharply.

Tremaine was unimpressed. "Yes, that's why I always go. Then I don't have to feel this way."

Giliead had been standing at Ilias' elbow, radiating increasing impatience. Finally he said, "I need to talk to you."

"I don't-- Hey!" Giliead seized his arm and hauled him into the cold hall, then through the first open door to one of the empty bedchambers. Ilias banged into the door and grabbed it, planting his feet to halt himself. "What?" he demanded, jerking his arm free.

Giliead planted his hands on his hips, glaring at him. "You don't know where this thing will take you. Think what happened last time--"

"Either the sphere has a god in it or it doesn't. And either we trust it or we don't," Ilias said, his voice flat with irritation. "If you've got another choice, I'd like to hear it."

Giliead grimaced. "Why are you doing this?"

Ilias took a deep breath, trying to actually answer the question and ignore the peremptory tone. "If I don't do something, I'll go crazy. The only thing useful I've been able to do in days is help clean a floor." He shook his head in frustration, shrugging. "Besides, he can't go alone. If that thing takes us to the middle of a Gardier outpost--"

Giliead gestured in annoyance. "Have you not noticed that he is a wizard? He can take care of himself."

Ilias stared at him, then said through gritted teeth, "So I'm useless. I'm still going."

"Hey, that's not what I--" Ilias cut him off by slamming out of the room, managing to bang Giliead with the door in the process.

He stamped down the hall and back to the ballroom where everyone was gathered. Gerard was standing inside the curse circle now, the god-sphere tucked under his arm, still reading the sheaf of paper in his other hand.

"Hey." Tremaine caught his baldric as he passed her, forcing him to stop or strangle himself. She was frowning but instead of saying what he thought she might say she pulled herself forward and kissed him. The kiss deepened until their teeth scraped, then she released him. She still said nothing, but at the moment she didn't need to. He knew Pasima was right, that he couldn't live in Tremaine's world, and what was between them had been born out of expediency. He could admit to himself he still didn't know what it was they had together. And now he had to go off and hopefully not get killed.

He went to stand next to Gerard in the circle, conscious of everyone's eyes on him. Giliead had followed him into the ballroom and stood next to Tremaine now, arms folded, watching him worriedly.

Gerard glanced up, folding the paper and tucking it carefully inside his coat. He said, "Ready?" He looked as if he just wanted to get it over with. Ilias felt the same. He nodded tightly.

Nicholas said in Rienish, "Good luck, gentlemen."

Ilias was braced to fall into water. Every time he had been through the world-changing curse, it had been over water. Sometimes very cold water. The sphere sparked blue and spun, and the room vanished. His stomach lurched from a sudden drop and he felt the floor fall away under him. An instant later he landed on hard stone, staggering to keep his balance and stay on his feet.

Heart pounding, Ilias looked around wildly, reaching for his swordhilt. They were outside, in gray daylight, under the partial shelter of a soaringly high rocky overhang. Nothing moved nearby except Gerard, shakily getting to his feet a few paces away.

Ascertaining that they weren't dead and weren't about to be leapt on by anything, Ilias took a deep breath and actually looked at the place.

The ledge they stood on extended some fifty paces beyond the shelter of the giant overhang, ending in a jagged cliff. Beyond it was a sweeping view of a cloudy morning sky and the wall of a canyon. A dark green band of forest topped the buttressed cliffs directly across the gorge and clumps of greenery clung in pockets up and down the rock, all wreathed in drifts of mist. The air was fresh and cold and the roar of falling water echoed off the rock. Ilias moved forward, far enough to peer over the edge, and saw there was a broad river several ship's lengths below. Further away, a cluster of toweringly high falls at the end of the canyon fed it, the water plunging dramatically in cascades of spray. Despite the cloud-streaked sky, it was a beautiful sight, the dark green against the gray of the rock, the white-capped rush of the water.

Behind him, Gerard swore softly in awe. Ilias glanced back at him and saw the wizard wasn't reacting to the view. He turned to look.

The gray-veined walls of the overhang were carved with square columns, narrowing as they arched up to gather in a domed circle on the rock high overhead. The floor had been smoothed by human hands and etched with strange symbols-- Ilias skipped back away from the markings etched on the stone, realizing they were from the world-changing curse and formed a large circle.

"It's all right," Gerard said, though he sounded a little overwhelmed. He was looking around at the symbols, the sphere tucked under one arm. "It won't -- shouldn't hurt to touch them."

Ilias let his breath out, nodding. He looked around at the overhang again, following the line of columns. "Look, it's broken off." The righthand wall was missing a last column entirely and the other had only the jagged remnants of one. "The end of the chamber is sheared off." He carefully stepped over the curse circle and crossed the distance to the end of the ledge to look directly down, stepping cautiously as he drew near the edge in case it crumbled. He sat on his heels, leaning out to see the gray-green surface of the river below.

"My God, yes," Gerard said, following him. "If these columns were evenly proportioned, there was at least another half of about this size extending out over the water."

"Maybe more than that." Ilias could see huge chunks of stone thrust up out of the water all along the rocky bank so far below, each creating white-capped waves and eddies as the water rushed past. If that amount had fallen on the bank, no telling how much littered the deeper water towards the center.

A flock of birds, white with long thin bodies and large graceful wings, flew by. Ilias stood and backed away from the edge. The cold was making the scars on his back ache, but at least it was clean air, fresh as the morning of the world. "Do you know where we are?"

Gerard shook his head. "I have no idea. I know we're somewhere in your world, but that's all I can say."

"It looks a little like the Wallport, like the same people built it," Ilias pointed out, then found himself unable to say exactly why he felt that way. As Gerard stared at him expectantly, he gestured helplessly. "The way it's so big. Or something. I don't know."

But Gerard frowned, looking over the chamber. "Perhaps you're right. But this is clearly a spell circle and these symbols match the new ones Arisilde gave us. Though I don't see any specific spot for the antagonist -- the sphere or crystal -- that controls it."

Ilias headed toward the back wall, slowing his steps to let his eyes adjust to the shadows. The stone was darker back here as well, making it harder to see the carvings. Gerard stopped, tracing a band of faded figures with his fingertips. Following the curve of the wall, Ilias felt the faint rush of air from the doorway before he saw it. Closer, and he could see the narrow opening, set between two of the pillars. He paused in it, squinting to see. It was carved back into the cliff, and dim daylight filtered down through cracks in the rock, illuminating a wide passage with more rooms opening off it.

"It doesn't appear to have been recently occupied," Gerard observed, stepping to his side.

Ilias took a deep breath, tasting the breeze. The air held stone-dust, moss, water, bird droppings, with no scent of human presence, at least not nearby. "Not this part of it, anyway." He glanced at Gerard; he knew they had found something important. "The people who lived here, they made the world-changing curse."

Gerard nodded grimly. "Yes, that spell circle carved into the rock is at least as old as the rest of this place."

Ilias moved down the passage to the first door, taking a cautious look inside. It was a big room, dimly lit by an old crack in the high rocky ceiling, roughly squared off, with a circle of low stone blocks in the center. The circle was about the right size for a firepit. Ilias stepped inside, but it was too dark to make out old burn marks on the stone or soot stains on the rock above it. This might have been a room for living in, though there wasn't a stick of furniture or scrap of cloth left to prove it. There were carvings on the walls, in parallel bands, and half-columns carved out to make it look as if they were supporting the rock overhead.

He went back out to the passage. Gerard had made a light, a little floating ball of yellow-tinged illumination, drifting along after him as he investigated a room across the way. Ilias had to shake his head, thinking of how a little wizard light like that would frighten people back in Cineth. He snorted to himself. That was the least of their problems. Gerard glanced up, asking, "Find anything?"

"Just another empty room." This one was bigger and lacked the firepit, and had a opening into the next empty chamber. Like the other, it was clean except for drifts of dust and blown leaves.

Gerard frowned thoughtfully, running a hand through his hair as he looked around. "We'll have to come back when it's evening here. If those clouds abate, we can get a look at the stars and have a better idea where we are in your world." He stepped back out into the passage, the wizard light bobbing along after him. He stood there a moment, looking down the shadowy corridor. "Unless we can find more writing, or more significant carving, back there...."

Ilias drew breath to suggest they explore it now, then thought of how Tremaine and Giliead would feel, waiting and worrying. "We should get back, tell the others what we found. And that we're not dead."

"Yes. Yes, of course." Reluctantly, Gerard moved back toward the main chamber. As they came out into the wan daylight, he made the wizard light vanish with a distracted wave of his hand. "We'll need to come back with a larger group, and--"

"Wait, wait. I saw something." Ilias crossed to the side wall, studying the half-column there intently. "Something flashed in the light, like metal."

"Where?" Gerard demanded, hastily following him over.

It was too dark in the corner formed by the column to see it, whatever it was. Wary of curse traps, Ilias didn't want to feel around for it. He stepped back, motioning to Gerard. "Make the light again."

Gerard made a preoccupied gesture and the light sprang into existence above his head, banishing the shadows from the dark corner. Ilias spotted it immediately, pointing. "There."

Gerard stepped close, squinting, lifting the glass pieces over his eyes to peer at it. "Good God," he whispered, startled.

It was a squiggle of what Ilias could now recognize as Rienish writing, marked on the stone with some white substance. Near it, wedged into a small crack in the carving, was a round metallic disk, like an ornament or a game counter. "What does it say?" he asked impatiently.

"It says 'The Scribe' in Rienish." Gerard sounded incredulous. "And this...." He scraped at the object with his thumb and managed to push it free. He turned it over on his palm and Ilias leaned to look, seeing it was of a light-colored metal incised with the delicate little figure of a flower. "Is a button."

Ilias nodded, seeing it was like those on Gerard's coat, though the design was different.

"But why back in this corner, and not in a more obvious place?" Gerard said, half to himself.

Ilias jerked his head toward the opening. "Rain and dust gets blown in here and might have worn the writing away, if it was any closer to the opening. It's sheltered back here." He cautiously dabbed at one of the strokes forming the words, figuring Gerard would have warned him if it was a curse trap. A white powdery substance came away on his finger.

"Yes. Yes, that must be it. It's written with chalk. I suppose we're lucky it lasted this long." Gerard shook his head slowly. "'The Scribe' is vaguely familiar. I think it's the title of something, a book or a play." He lifted a brow ironically. "I strongly suspect Nicholas will be able to tell us."

"Why?" Ilias demanded.

"Because this button is made of white gold, a metal that can't be used to conduct etheric activity, unlike silver. It's a sorcerer's coat button." Gerard closed his hand around it, his expression intent. "And it can only belong to one person."



***



"Yes." Nicholas studied the button, turning it over on his palm. "Arisilde must have left it there."

Tremaine had shouldered her way in between he and Gerard to see. She picked up the button. "So he was there." It only made sense. Why else give us the circle to go there? But what did he want us to see? Whatever it was, it didn't seem as if Ilias and Gerard had found it.

She hadn't known just how worried she had been until both men had appeared in the circle again, no worse for wear. A gust of cool outdoor air from the other world had accompanied them, with a scatter of dead leaves that had drifted to the ballroom floor like torn paper fragments. She had seen Giliead rub his face to conceal his expression and look away, and Florian fan herself with a sheaf of notes, and knew she hadn't been the only one. The initial experiments at the Viller Institute with the spell circle had had immediately fatal consequences for the sorcerer involved, but that had been without Arisilde's help and without a correctly assembled sphere. She hadn't worried about that. Well, not much anyway, she admitted to herself. But there had been no telling where this circle was meant to go and what they would find waiting for them.

"How can you be certain?" Florian asked, standing on tiptoes to look over Tremaine's shoulder. She sounded a little skeptical. "I can't remember what Gerard's coat buttons look like and I'm standing right next to him."

"Because it comes from one of my old coats, which Arisilde was wearing when I sent him back," Nicholas told her.

Tremaine nodded, remembering. "He never bought clothes. He just wore whatever he could find."

Ander lifted a brow. "He sounds like he was a little...." He glanced at the sphere, sitting nearby on the table, and obviously decided to chose another word. "Unique, for a sorcerer. I wish I'd met him."

Nicholas slanted him an opaque look, but Tremaine was willing to concede that compared to Gerard and Niles, Arisilde had looked like a mad ragpicker. And in his case, it wasn't for an intentional effect, as it was when Nicholas assumed that guise.

"What did the writing mean?" Ilias asked, watching Nicholas. "'The Scribe'? It was a message to you?"

"Yes." Nicholas glanced at him. "It's the title of a painting in my collection, one of my favorites. Years ago Arisilde constructed a spell for me, using the painting to...keep an eye on an acquaintance of mine."

Gerard was nodding, lost in thought. "I thought it sounded familiar. But did he mean it to suggest that he was spying on someone? That he had followed someone there?"

Nicholas was staring at the coat button, his brows drawn together. "I think it may mean...that he felt he was being followed, or watched. By some method he couldn't discover."

Tremaine looked from Gerard to Nicholas. "Was it me?" she demanded. "Were you using the painting to spy on me?"

"What? No!" Nicholas stared at her, startled into showing honest affront. "For the love of God, Tremaine, it was years before you were born."

"Oh." Tremaine subsided, aware she was being a little overwrought. "Maybe he just wanted you to be sure it was him that left the message."

Ignoring them, Gerard continued, "Nevertheless, this is an important discovery. These new symbols, compared to the original circle, can tell us so much more about how the individual elements that make up the spell actually work. It could allow us to manipulate them, to choose our destination, so we could construct another circle that could transport us to Lodun from any point in the staging world, or even from our own world--"

Ander nodded. "It means we can get inside Lodun and get the people out, without the Gardier knowing until it's too late."

"If we can devise the circle," Gerard added, giving Ander a repressive look. "I'll report to Colonel Averi, and I suggest the rest of you get some sleep."



Chapter Four



The next morning dawned far too soon, at least for Tremaine. It had been well past midnight when she went to bed but she woke after only a few hours, her mind retracing yesterday's events in exhausting detail. Seeing the line of gray daylight under the door didn't help.

She crawled out of the still faintly musty bed, cursing as her bare feet touched the cold boards. Fumbling along the wall, she found the switch for the wall sconce and pushed it, blinking at the dim glow of the shaded electric light. She gathered her clothes up from the chair where she had left them but the cold was funneling right up her cotton nightgown as if it was a chimney and she made a run back for the bed.

Ilias was lying on his stomach, arms curled around a pillow, watching her blearily. "What are you doing?"

"It's cold," she said through chattering teeth, pushing her feet under the blankets to warm them against his side. He gasped and woke up a little more. His queue was unravelling and his hair was a mass of frayed tangles and curls, spreading out over the muscles of his shoulders, the two long lines of scar tissue showing through the strands. The scars were a souvenir of Ixion, of a transformation spell that had reversed when Giliead had cut Ixion's head off. The spell was the reason Ilias had gotten the curse mark. Absently she picked up one of his smaller braids, picking it apart to redo it.

He eyed her a moment. "Are you nervous about something?"

"No," she said firmly, deciding to ignore the hint. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason." He buried his face in the pillow again. But after a moment, he asked, "We're going back to the cave with the circle today?"

We? hah! Tremaine thought, her mouth twisting bitterly. She didn't think she was likely to be included. And if you were, what could you do? "They have to have a meeting about it first. Before I came up last night Gerard had telephoned Averi, who said the Capidarans want a piece of it too." She tried to keep her annoyed snarl subvocal. "I don't know how much use we're going to get out of it. We already knew the Gardier steal everything they can find and use it for their own purposes. And we already knew they must have found the spell circle somewhere else; so we found one of the places where they could have stumbled on it. In your world. Somehow."

"Yes," Ilias said dryly into the pillow, "They stumbled on it, and they thought, here's gibberish scratched on the ground, let's pop a wizard into a piece of pretty rock and see if it takes us to another world."

Tremaine lifted her brows, giving the braid a deliberate tug. "Damn, you are a sarcastic bastard. No wonder Giliead is so intimidated by you."

Ilias turned his head just enough to regard her with one eye and an air of deeply affronted suspicion. She clarified, "Yes, I am making fun of you." She took the point, though. They did have much more to find out and the new circle and its destination were just a single piece of the puzzle. You're being a pessimist again, she reminded herself with asperity, you gave that up, remember?

She finished the braid, retying the end and reaching for the next. But he pushed himself up on his elbows, tossing the other braids out of her immediate reach. He took her hand, absently running his thumb over her bitten nails. "Why did you bring Ander here?"

"Oh God, good question." She shook her head. "Because I hate myself."

He cocked an eyebrow at her, unimpressed. Tremaine gave in and explained, "He still sees me the same way he saw me five years ago, as a silly little girl. Oh, maybe he's condescended to elevate me to plucky little girl. And I have enough problems with trying to figure out who I am." She shrugged helplessly. "I can't help wanting to give him opportunities to-- I don't know, prove me wrong. Or prove himself right. It might be nice to be the plucky little girl who is absolutely sure what's right, who doesn't have blood on her hands, who's never made decisions that got people killed."

Ilias shook his head. "Maybe he just wants something to stay the same as it used to be," he said, sounding intensely reluctant to make this concession. Then he looked up at her through the tangled fringe of his hair. "I like grown women."

Tremaine eyed him for a moment. "All right, I take back the sarcastic bastard remark," she conceded. "It was true, but I take it back."

***

Later, Ilias sat at the big table in the kitchen with Tremaine and Giliead. He was having trouble deciding if he was still angry at Giliead, but the food Derathi had brought that morning was rapidly improving his mood. Gerard and Florian had gone to meet with the Capidaran wizards at the port, Ander accompanying them, Giaren had gone to report to Niles, and Kias had taken Calit back to the Ravenna. Cletia and Cimarus hadn't made an appearance yet this morning, a situation which Ilias hoped would continue. He felt he could get along fine with never seeing them during their entire stay in the house.

The talking curse box kept ringing shrilly from the front room and Tremaine kept getting up to answer it, returning in a state of increasing annoyance. Nicholas was here somewhere, but apparently he was no longer bothering to respond to the box's incessant demands.

She returned yet again, muttering, "No, no one's here. No, that hasn't changed in the past five minutes. Yes, I do believe they are perfectly capable of placing a call once they do get back here, if they want to talk to you, which frankly, I can't imagine why they would." She dropped into a chair, rubbing her face.

Giliead winced sympathetically. Ilias picked up one of the heavy little buns filled with sweet cream, asking Tremaine, "So has anybody said when we go back yet?"

"No." She propped her chin on her hand, sounding resigned. "I'm betting it will be this afternoon when the Capidarans come. Gerard can get a look at the night sky in the other world then, if it's not cloudy." She lifted a brow ironically, turning her cup around on the table. "You can imagine how thrilled Nicholas is about the Capidarans."

Ilias nodded, lifting his brows. To say Nicholas was somewhat protective of his privacy was a vast understatement. It was like saying Pasima was somewhat worried about her status in Cineth.

Giliead leaned forward, poking at one of the buns. "We need to decide what to take." He glanced a little self-consciously at Ilias. "You said it was cold there?"

That trace of hesitancy, and the sign that Giliead meant to help them after all, got Ilias over the last of his pique. He shrugged, feeling guilty over letting it drag out this long. "It wasn't bad while we were there, but it would be much worse at night. We'd need warm clothes, blankets if we stay there any time. And water. There should be a way down to the river from those passages, but we didn't see one. I'd rather not take the chance."

Giliead nodded thoughtfully. "We'll need to get waterskins, or whatever they use here."

"Yes, it would be nice to be prepared this time," Tremaine put in, picking up her cup. "Like with a sphere and a sorcerer." The curse box shrieked again and she swore, thumped the cup back down and stamped off to answer it.

Giliead picked up a cloth, absently mopping up the liquid that had slopped out of her cup. He said slowly, "You know I didn't mean--"

"I know," Ilias interrupted. He wasn't exactly happy with how he had reacted. It was a stupid thing to do in the middle of a battle, and even if they weren't fighting right at the moment, this was still the middle of a battle.

Tremaine returned, but though she was frowning, she looked considerably less irritated. "That was Colonel Averi. He wants me to come down there. It's something about that damned Gardier woman they've been questioning forever."

"I'll go with you." Ilias got to his feet. Since there was nothing more to do here at the moment, he might as well.

***

Since she was going to talk to a Gardier prisoner, Tremaine put on Syprian clothes, the dark pair of pants and the gold shirt with the sleeves that tied back. Her battered boots, an overcoat and a cap made it a comfortable and convenient outfit for tramping through the cold and muddy streets. She knew from speaking to Balin before that the Gardier woman found the signs of alliance between the Syprians and the Rienish disconcerting. Not disconcerting in a "my enemies are allying with each other" way, but disconcerting in a "my enemies are intimate with animals" way. The Gardier had never seen the Syprians as people.

Tremaine briefly considered a taxi-cab but she knew automobiles made Ilias ill, so she decided to walk to the Port Authority. It wasn't a long way and would give Tremaine a chance to work off her excess energy.

"We didn't come this way before," Ilias said as the street she had chosen expanded into an open circular plaza. It wasn't large by Ile-Rien's standards, but it was almost palatial given Capistown's lack of space. It was paved with a gray-veined stone that gleamed in the overcast light. In the center, surrounded by bright beds of early spring flowers, was an over-sized statue of a female figure swathed in robes and holding a sword.

"Nicholas likes back alleys," Tremaine explained, turning on to the covered promenade that ran around the perimeter of the plaza. It was fronted by expensive shops, the local telegraph office and several cafes. The inclement weather had caused the cafe patrons to withdraw inside, but as she and Ilias passed an open set of double doors, Tremaine heard a mandolin chorus and smelled sweet bread. She sighed. She thought the Syprians would enjoy Capistown more if they had a chance to explore the places where people actually lived, and not just the refugee hostel and the government buildings they had been trapped in so long. She had heard of a confectionery somewhere in this district that sold chocolates shaped like sea shells; maybe on the way back she could find it.

Ilias nudged her elbow, asking in a low voice, "Who are they?"

Craning her neck to get one last sniff of the cafe, Tremaine hadn't seen the small group of people sitting on the paving stones just off the promenade, dangerously close to the motorcar and wagon traffic circling the plaza. They wore ragged cloaks over skirts of braided grasses and brief leather tabards, and both women and men had cropped dark hair with tribal scarring and tattoos decorating their sallow skin. None of them looked healthy, and the children and elders were close to emaciated. They had clay bowls set out on the pavement and were ostensibly selling jewelry made of polished stone and braided hair, though they were probably doing more begging.

"They're Massian natives, they lived here before Capidara was colonized." And if we don't stop the Gardier, that's better than what will happen to the Syprians, she reminded herself. The Gardier would simply exterminate the inhabitants of the Syrnai. And if by some miracle we do win the war, are they any better off? herself retorted. The rich forests around Cineth would tempt any number of land barons, eager for new territories to exploit, and the rest of the city-states were probably just as lush. The Capidarans already had the secret of building the spheres and what was left of the Rienish government couldn't even protect its own people, let alone its otherworld native allies.

Ilias frowned, probably baffled at why the Massians were sitting in the street. "What's colonized?" he asked, stumbling over the unfamiliar Rienish word.

She shook her head, tugging at the sleeve of his borrowed coat to get him to move along. "It's not important." And I hope you need never find out.

A light rain had started by the time they reached the Port Authority. One of Averi's corporals met them in the foyer, a large echoing space floored with dark marble and occupied by the usual contingent of Capidaran bureaucrats and businessmen hurrying back and forth. As was apparently standard for Capidaran public spaces, it was too cold in the building for Tremaine to bother leaving her coat at the cloakroom and Ilias kept his as well.

The corporal led them up the back stairs to the floor of the rather cramped and dingy offices given over to the Rienish authorities. Strangely dressed Rienish and Syprians were a more familiar sight here, and a couple of Capidaran naval officers and a woman secretary Tremaine recognized from the various meetings she had attended actually said hello to her. They reached Averi's area where there were more familiar faces and even a few officers Tremaine knew in passing from the Ravenna, most contemplating some naval charts and captured Gardier maps tacked up on the wall.

Averi appeared almost immediately out of the back room, greeting them brusquely with, "I heard about the experiment last night. You were lucky you didn't kill yourselves, going through a gate into some unknown world." Colonel Averi was the highest ranking Rienish army officer in Capidara; if there were others who had taken evacuation transports, none had made it here. He was an older man, with a grim face and thinning dark hair. He and Tremaine had had their problems when they first met, but they had managed to achieve an almost accommodating working relationship. Capistown hadn't approved Averi's health any either; he still looked thin, pale and more like he should be lying in a hospital bed instead of planning an attack on Ile-Rien's occupied coast.

Tremaine nudged Ilias, who was craning his neck to see the charts, saying pointedly, "He's talking to you."

"What?" He looked startled, then shrugged, telling Averi in Rienish, "We had to find where it went. It's lucky every time we go through and don't die."

Averi didn't seem satisfied with this answer, but he didn't pursue it either, just shaking his head and gesturing for them to follow him back to the inner room.

It was more private but not any better appointed, with wooden filing cabinets and a table covered with papers, most weighed down by a large book of standard nautical charts. "I've had Balin brought here from the cells in the Magistrates' Court," he said, "There's a room we use on this floor for questioning."

"Why did you want me to talk to her?" Tremaine asked, looking distractedly around for a place to sit and seeing there wasn't one; the straightbacked chairs all seemed to be a vital part of some arcane filing system.

"I wanted to confront Balin with someone who has been to the Gardier world. I know she's become increasingly uneasy with our new knowledge of the Gardier -- the Aelin." Averi glanced at Tremaine with a thin smile. "I know she wasn't pleased the first time one of us was able to speak to her in her own language, but you should have seen her face when we asked her about the Liaisons."

Tremaine nodded. "Liaison" was the closest the Rienish could come to the Gardier word for the men who had had small crystals implanted in their bodies, who passed along orders from the Gardier's upper echelons. Though Nicholas had lived among them so long, he had never been able to find out just who the Liaisons were liaising with, or why. "And you think she's some kind of observer, sent there to spy on the other Gardier by Command or Science or whichever."

"Yes. There's apparently a deep distrust between the Command and Science classes." Averi picked up a sheaf of papers, frowning absently. "She can write and read, which makes her too well educated for their Service class."

They had found out so much about the Gardier in such a relatively short time, going from knowing next to nothing, not even what they called themselves, to actually visiting their world and one of their cities, stealing a new prototype airship, and to having all Nicholas' accumulated knowledge after spending the last few years as one of them. They also had a few old Aelin books, scavenged out of an abandoned library. Nicholas had read them for the Viller Institute researchers, and the books had turned out to be novels, adventure tales of explorers and traders of some earlier age, bearing little resemblance to the Gardier life Tremaine and the others had glimpsed in Maton-devara. But speaking of Nicholas.... Tremaine asked carefully, "Why did you want me to try, though? Hasn't Nicholas already spoken to her?"

"Yes, but--" Averi hesitated, his brows drawing together, and Tremaine looked down to hide her expression, the sudden realization hitting her. He meant, "I wanted to confront Balin with someone who has been to the Gardier world who I don't distrust as much." It was something of a revelation.

Averi finally finished, "You had quite an effect on her the first time you spoke to her. I think she's afraid of you."

Tremaine glanced at Ilias, who lifted an ironic brow and said in Syrnaic, "He's talking to you this time."

***

The room used for questioning was bare, with stained plaster over battered wainscotting, but it had a working radiator and was warmer than the hall outside. The only furniture was a scarred table and two straight chairs. The Gardier woman was already seated in one, and two guards, one Rienish and one Capidaran, stood back against the wall. It wouldn't matter how large the audience was, as Tremaine would question her in Aelin, the Gardier language, something only a few members of the Rienish command knew.

Balin was a tall woman and lean, dressed in a loose white civilian shirt and pants. Her hair was growing back from the bare fuzz that seemed to be regulation for Gardier Service people, probably because she hadn't been allowed access to a razor or scissors. The color was a muddy brown and it fluffed out around her ears in a particularly foolish way. She looked up, her plain face changing from a kind of weary defiance to wary watchfulness. "Oh good, you remember me," Tremaine said with a patently false smile. She took the other chair, slouching into it casually.

Ilias went to lean against the wall behind Tremaine, and Balin's eyes followed him with cold disgust. Her gaze came to Tremaine again and she said in her husky voice, "You. What do you want of me now?"

"The same as I did before. Nothing," Tremaine replied in Aelin. The sphere had given the language to her the same way it had given her Syrnaic, so she knew it nearly as well as Nicholas did. She shrugged, idly examining her fingernails, surprised to discover that she still hated this woman. When Balin had been captured on the island, squatting on the ground, bound with the chains the Gardier had used on their slaves, she had demanded that her captors surrender. Tremaine would have shot her if Giliead hadn't taken the rifle away from her. She said, "But the others have some idea that you were sent to the island to spy on Command for the Scientists or on the Scientists for Command. That you're not as stupid and useless as we assume."

Balin didn't betray any surprise at Tremaine's knowledge of her language, but she must be used to it now from Averi and Niles and the others who had questioned her. Gardier considered learning other languages as an activity only pursued by a lower order of beings. Balin's thin lips twisted in amusement. "I know what you want."

Tremaine met her gaze, a renewed stirring of rage making her eyes narrow and her jaw tighten. She had the realization that she really, really disliked people telling her they knew what she wanted, knew what she thought, when she didn't know herself and they couldn't possibly know. She smiled thinly, recognizing that Balin had an unerring talent for saying the wrong thing to her at just the right time. "I'm all attention."

"You want to know how we make the avatars. This is obvious. The others think you want to make them for yourself." Her face hardened with contempt. "I know you want to un-make them, to get those inside -- out." She snorted. "You are pathetic. You could make hundreds of avatars but you will never defeat us because you are afraid to do what must be done." Her gaze flicked to Ilias again. "You sneer at us for our contempt of the primitives, but you let them serve you--"

Tremaine wasn't sure what else was said. She was on her feet, standing over Balin, gripping the woman's chin hard enough to feel the bone under the flesh. Through the roaring in her ears she was conscious of the Capidaran guard caught flat-footed and taken aback, the Rienish guard startled enough to drop one hand to his sidearm. Balin looked up at her, eyes wide, her pose of world-weary contempt forgotten. Her voice coming out in a harsh rasp, Tremaine said, "Do you know how to get them out?"

"No." It was a pitch above Balin's usual husky tone.

"Were you an observer?" Tremaine asked, but she knew she had lost the benefit of surprise.

Balin's eyes flickered. "No."

Tremaine let her go, making her expression deliberately bored. "Yes, that was very convincing." She headed for the door, ignoring the guards. Ilias followed her out, shutting it after her.

Tremaine stood in the corridor, running her hands through her hair. She was trembling with rage, ready to hit something. Preferably Balin. Ilias watched her with concern, then said, "So she still thinks she knows everything."

Tremaine took a deep breath to calm herself, and her mouth quirked wryly. "That came across through the language barrier, did it?"

He shrugged. "She's awfully arrogant for someone who was just an ordinary warrior. The prisoners from the Wallport outpost aren't like that. I think you're right that she's a spy on her own people."

Averi came out of another doorway, from the room where he had been listening in on the questioning. He was frowning and Tremaine said quickly, "We think she is an observer spy, for what that's worth. But it doesn't mean she knows anything about the Gardier that Nicholas didn't already find out."

Averi let his breath out, nodding. "I can't imagine they would send a particularly high level member of either Command or Science on a mission like that. But all the other prisoners have broken down and talked fairly openly. The fact that she won't, and that she was part of that original group the Liaison seemed so anxious to dispose of on the Ravenna, makes it seem as if she has some important information."

Tremaine nodded, relieved he wasn't going to mention her outburst. Maybe it had looked planned rather than spontaneous and heartfelt. "Niles' confusion charms aren't helping?"

Averi's lips twisted ruefully. "They only help when we know the right questions to ask." He glanced up, his frown clearing, and Tremaine saw Lady Aviler advancing up the corridor toward them.

Lady Aviler had organized the refugees on the Ravenna and had continued to do so in Capistown, finding them accommodation and using her influence with the wealthier Rienish and the upper class Capidarans to provide employment for them. The extraction of the Maiutan ex-prisoners of war from the refugee hostel by the Lowlands Missionaries had gone very smoothly; Tremaine had suspected Lady Aviler's well-manicured hand in it. She was a slender older woman, wearing her graying dark hair in the latest appropriate style for matrons and a well-tailored blue wool suit.

"Colonel, Ilias." She nodded a cordial greeting to Averi and bestowed that special smile on Ilias that Rienish noblewomen of a certain generation saved for handsome young men whose normal style of dress displayed bare arms and chest. Ilias gave her a brilliant smile back. "Tremaine, I wonder if I could have a word."

"I'll be back," Tremaine said over her shoulder, as Lady Aviler had a firm grip on her elbow and was walking her down the hall.

As soon as they were out of earshot of the offices, Lady Aviler said, "I wanted to ask if you could give your father a message for me."

"Probably," Tremaine agreed cautiously, unwilling to commit to anything where Nicholas was concerned.

Lady Aviler didn't argue about the qualification. "If you can, please let him know Lord Chandre has been to see the Princess Olympe again."

Tremaine frowned at the unfamiliar name. She hadn't ever been much interested in the personalities at Court and had no idea now where most of them had ended up after the evacuation. "Lord Chandre? Did he come over on the Ravenna?"

"No." Lady Aviler's lips pursed, as if she had just tasted something unpleasant. "He's been here for some time and he's apparently made himself a power in the Rienish expatriate community here in Capistown."

Tremaine's brows lifted. "I see." She did see. Rienish nobles who had abandoned ancestral estates to flee Ile-Rien early in the war weren't exactly well-regarded. In many ways it was an unfair judgment; many Rienish travelers had been trapped abroad by blockades and the sudden danger of any kind of overseas travel. But she could understand why Lady Aviler, whose husband and son had stayed to the very last to accompany the Royal party to Parscia, might not see it that way. Lady Aviler would be there too, if she hadn't been sent here with the Princess Olympe. "And that's not a good thing?"

Lady Aviler gave her a sharp sideways glance, then evidently decided to be forthcoming. "I knew his family before the war. He alternated between being an idler and starting a number of failed speculations and businesses. His father had to continually supply capital to buy him out of financial disaster, and he also has some unpleasantly close financial ties to a number of Bisran nobles. Now he has many business interests and a great deal of property here in Capidara, and great...financial influence with the Capidaran Ministry."

"And he wants to be an advisor to the princess?" Tremaine snorted. Olympe Fontainon was still a schoolgirl, barely out of childhood. She had been sent here as a precautionary measure, in case the Queen and the prince didn't reach Parscia successfully. That's all we need, a worthless royal favorite.

"I'm not sure advice is what he has in mind." Lady Aviler sounded thoughtful. They had reached the end of the hall, where it opened into a gallery looking down on the drafty foyer. Men and women in business attire still hurried back and forth below. A Capidaran Magistrate, dressed for criminal court in elaborate blue robes and trailing a shoal of black-suited solicitors, passed by below them. Lady Aviler leaned on the polished railing, tapping her fingers on it. "His continued visits to the princess give him an appearance of being involved in the war effort. It could give him even more influence on the Rienish here in Capidara."

Tremaine didn't think she had much of a head for politics, but this sounded...distressing. She was aware of an unpleasant sensation in her stomach. She didn't have any particular trust in Count Delphane, but he had been an advisor to the queen and involved in the upper levels of the Ministry since she could remember; he was a known quantity. And she didn't want someone who hadn't taken the risk on the Ravenna making decisions for those who had. "There's a reason she can't refuse to see him?"

"She can't afford to offend him, at this point. She isn't the Crown Princess. Not as far as we know." Lady Aviler's lips grew thin and her expression bleak.

No word from Parscia then, Tremaine thought, feeling the sinking sensation grow worse. They had an heir safely ensconced here, so it shouldn't matter whether the queen and the prince survived or not, but Tremaine found that after considering herself apolitical at best all her life, she now feared change worse than anything. There had been so much of it, and all for the worse. "Do you want me to tell Nicholas to take care of Lord Chandre?"

Lady Aviler lifted a brow and said wryly, "Good God, child, that wasn't subtle. No, just tell him Chandre's been to see her."

***

Giliead heard Gerard outside and opened the door. The wizard was standing on the step while down in the street, several people were climbing out of a pair of dark-colored horseless wagons. "The people we were waiting for?" Giliead asked, eyeing them thoughtfully. The clouds had closed in and a light rain had started, spattering on the dusty pavement.

Gerard glanced back. "Yes, the Capidaran delegation to examine the new circle. Florian will be a little later, she was detained at the ship."

Nicholas had reached the door by that point, standing next to Giliead to look out. At Gerard's words he growled something under his breath in Rienish that Giliead didn't understand but could guess the import of. Nicholas retreated back into the house. Giliead had actually spent the morning talking to him, answering a lot of questions dealing with Syprian wizards in general and Ixion in particular. It had been an interesting experience, to say the least. Nicholas wasn't a man who revealed much of himself, but Giliead could tell enough to know that he was even more ruthless at heart than Tremaine.

Giliead stepped back to let Gerard in, noticing the familiar bag the wizard had slung over his shoulder. Except what was in it wasn't so familiar. "That's not the god-sphere."

"No, this is the sphere Niles made. He wanted to work on the Ravenna's illusion charms and Arisilde is much better for that, so I went out to the ship and traded spheres with him," Gerard explained. His brows lifted and he added in exasperation, "I also think Niles is feeling left out, but there's nothing we can do about that. One of us has to stay with the ship."

Giliead waited in the cold entrance hall of the old house, arms folded, as Gerard conducted the Capidarans in. One of the men was a wizard, but small, stooped and much older than any wizard Giliead had ever seen, with long graying hair and a wrinkled face. He walked with a limp and had the delicate pale paper-thin skin of the very old or very ill. He looked more like someone who should be at home by the hearth being looked after by his grandsons, especially on a wet gray day like this.

As the group milled in the dingy hall, shedding coats and decorative walking sticks and other items, Gerard brought the old man over to Giliead, saying, "Giliead, this is Kressein, the former Capidaran Ministry Sorcerer who has come out of retirement for the war. Master Kressein, this is Giliead of Andrien, the god of Cineth's Chosen Vessel."

The old man looked up at him with clear bright blue eyes, saying in Rienish, "I have been very curious to meet you."

Giliead lifted his brows, keeping his expression noncommittal. Despite the man's age, he could tell Kressein was wrapped in curses. Like the Rienish curses he was getting better and better at sensing, these were passive curses, not meant to be harmful. He wondered if they were there to help sustain the old man's health. Kressein, apparently undaunted by the cool reception, continued, "I've heard much about your ability to see etheric traces. You can truly tell someone is a sorcerer simply by looking at him?"

Giliead let his breath out, recognizing the request for a demonstration. His eyes flicked over the rest of the group. Two men in the red and gray that Capidaran warriors wore, three in the dull brown or blue clothes of most men in the city. The youngest one carried a large leather bag slung over his shoulder. Two women, both in the confining clothes and little caps favored here, like the ones Tremaine wore when she went to the council meetings. He nodded toward the younger, sharp-featured one who wore her long dark hair pulled back into a bun. "She's a wizard." Though he had spoken in Syrnaic, the woman looked up sharply, startled. "And you made a sphere." He rested his eyes on the leather bag carried by the young man. "But it doesn't have a god." Not alive, it wasn't able to conceal itself like their sphere-god. It was like the sphere Niles had made; Giliead could see it through the material of the bag, its curses swirling inside, tinted with the same aura as its creator.

Gerard translated his answer, and Kressein laughed, startled. "I see there was no exaggeration. You're correct, of course."

"Of course," Gerard echoed with a slight smile.

Kressein gave him a sideways glance. Giliead thought he saw rivalry but couldn't tell if it was friendly or not. He wondered if Gerard hadn't just been making him known to the other wizard, but had been making the point that Giliead could see any curses Kressein might cast. But the old man only smiled. "So, let's see this new gateway of yours."

***

Waiting for Tremaine, Ilias wandered back into the entry room where people were working over the maps. He felt his own frustration easing as he watched all these preparations, even if what they were preparing for was the trip back to the other side of this world, that would take them through the world-gate back to Cineth. When they returned to the Syrnai, the god would pass judgment on Giliead, and at least the waiting would be over. He was more than ready for the waiting to be over.

The door to the stairwell opened and Ander entered, exchanging greetings with the other men. Oh good, him again. Ilias made an effort to look bored and not disgruntled, casually moving over to a table to look at the map spread there, though he had no idea what place it depicted. It did no good, as Ander spotted him and strolled over, saying in Syrnaic, "Hello, Ilias. What are you doing here?"

Ilias glanced up, taking his time. He said in Rienish, "Averi asked us to come."

Ander lifted his brow. "Us?"

Just then Tremaine returned from down the hall, looking thoughtful. She saw them standing together and her expression took on a certain sardonic cast. "Tremaine." Ander greeted her with a nod. "What brings you here?"

"Just doing a favor for Averi," she replied. She eyed him for a moment. "Have you heard from Gerard?"

"About the second trip through the new circle?" He nodded. "The Capidarans are sending a contingent to the house to get a look at the circle for themselves. Afterward we're going to assemble a small group to go through and get a look at the night sky. We'll probably stay at least until morning so we can search the place thoroughly."

We this, we that, Ilias thought, looking down at the toes of his boots to hide his disgusted expression. It would have been interesting to hear Gerard's reaction to that. Tremaine must have thought so too. She put on the smile that Ilias thought of as her fake one, saying mock-earnestly, "We'd better get back then so we can get ready."

Ander lifted his brows. "Don't you think you should stay here?" he asked.

Tremaine frowned, glancing around. "Why? What could I do here?"

He smiled. "I didn't mean here in the office, I meant here, in Capidara."

Tremaine's frown was reaching the point where if Ilias had been on the receiving end, he would have seriously considered keeping his mouth shut unless he was in the mood for a fight. Her tone clipped, she said, "And again I have to ask: and do what?"

"Be safe."

Ilias stared, then rolled his eyes.

"Safe?" Tremaine's laugh was derisive. "There isn't anywhere that's safe. Not anymore. Besides, what's the point in...." Her expression stilled and Ilias knew she had seen it now. She said softly, "The point is that I wouldn't be getting in the way. Is that it?"

Ilias read the anger under that deceptively mild tone, but he wasn't sure if Ander did or not. Ander shook his head so reasonably. "I didn't say that. But this trip, and the one to Lodun.... If we do manage to get in, it's going to be a long hard fight. We need sorcerers and soldiers. There wouldn't be anything for you to do," he pointed out gently.

Tremaine's expression was like brittle glass. Watching her, Ilias lost his sour sense of triumph over Ander's mis-step. It wasn't just an insult; it had struck her to the heart. He tried to interrupt, "Tremaine--"

But she was still looking at Ander. "And I'd hate to be in the way," she snapped, then walked out of the room.

Ander smiled ruefully. "I was afraid she would take it like that." He slanted a challenging stare at Ilias. "You're welcome to come along. And Giliead. We could use your help."

Ilias took two deliberate steps to pass just a little too close to the other man, saying as he walked away, "If I thought you didn't know exactly what you were doing, I'd feel sorry for you."

***

Giliead paced the hallway outside the ballroom, listening with half an ear to the Capidarans' conversation. He wasn't as quick with Rienish as Ilias, but he could understand most of what they said, despite their strange accents. They were carefully copying down the symbols that made up the curse circle and discussing Gerard's description of the chamber it led to. Giliead had given up trying to look interested after only a short time and come out here to pace, wishing Ilias and Tremaine would return. He would rather see the place himself than hear about it again. He had already consulted with Gerard about what they would need for a longer stay there and a thorough search, and Gerard had sent a list to Averi. There wasn't much to do until the supplies arrived.

He heard a step on the squeaky floorboards and glanced up to see Cletia cautiously peering out of her room. Brow lifted ironically, he told her, "It's all right, they're just talking."

She gave him a glare and stepped out into the hallway, folding her arms. She wore a loose yellow tunic over pants and boots, and rubbed the sleeves briskly as if she was cold. "This is a very unpleasant place," she commented.

"I noticed." He wasn't going to point out that she didn't have to be here. Cletia's break with Pasima still surprised him. He wasn't entirely sure what had brought it about. He thought part of it might be that Cletia was more than old enough to be making her own household now and that Pasima might not be willing to acknowledge that. Karima had been careful to give his older sister Irissa room to grow, encouraging her to build her own home across the field from the old Andrien house. But Karima had thought her family would increase as her daughter, stepdaughter, and Ilias' cousin Amari all brought home husbands. Thanks to Ixion, that hadn't happened. "We won't be here long."

Cletia nodded. "We were told the Ravenna would go from this world to Cineth, then back again to the Ile-Rien land."

"The second part isn't quite that easy." The plan to try to use a curse gate to get into the city where the other Rienish wizards were under siege was all well and good, but Gerard still didn't know the right symbols to make the curse circle go where they wanted it to.

She was watching him thoughtfully, frowning a little, but he had known Cletia since she was a child and seldom seen her do anything but frown. Then she said, "Will you go with them?"

Giliead hesitated, both from surprise that she had bothered to ask and the fact that he had no idea how to answer that question. Despite what had happened with Ixion, he didn't want to abandon this new part of their family at this dangerous time, and he knew Ilias didn't either. And somebody had to be there when Ixion inevitably turned on the Rienish and the Capidarans. But that wasn't a decision he was free to make at the moment. "It depends on what happens in Cineth."

She took a deep breath. "I thought--" The not-so-distant boom of thunder interrupted her and she glanced toward the little round window that lit the stairwell, startled. "That was close."

His head turned toward the circle of grimy glass, Giliead felt a cold chill walk up his back. There had been no flash of lightning. In the ballroom, Gerard had been speaking but all the voices abruptly stilled. The thunder crashed again, and this time Giliead knew it for what it was.

He turned to the ballroom, almost colliding with Gerard in the doorway. The frozen expression on the wizard's face would have told Giliead all he needed to know, if he hadn't already guessed. Gerard said, "It's the Gardier. They're bombing the city."

***

Tremaine was on the stairway down to the foyer when Ilias caught up with her. He didn't say anything, for which she was grateful. She wasn't sure what he thought; she knew that as the nominal head of a Syprian household she was doing a lousy job.

They crossed the foyer and reached the outer doors, the cold gray day greeting her as she stepped out on the walk. It had rained lightly while they were inside, making the paving slick and treacherous and giving the brownstone office buildings across the way a damp gloss. She made it two steps down the road before Ilias' lack of comment got to her and she turned to him and demanded, "Well?"

He shrugged, looking annoyed. "He does that whenever he talks to you."

Tremaine was already starting to regret her outburst. What was the point, anyway? She shook her head, feeling tired of it all. "He just wants me to be safe."

Ilias stopped abruptly, startling the businessmen who had been walking behind them into hurriedly veering around. Exasperated, he said, "I want you to be safe. Gil wants you to be safe. Florian wants you to be safe. Gerard, your father, Averi the warleader, they all want you to be safe. When did any of us say it to you in a way that made you seem like a fool?" He gestured helplessly, upset and frustrated. "You said you let him stay around because you hate yourself. That's true. You want him to punish you." He took a deep breath, maybe afraid he had said too much. He finished a little lamely, "And you shouldn't do that."

She stared at him, mouth open, then managed to shut it and look away. "I...."

Ilias grabbed her arm. Startled, she saw he was looking up, his expression aghast, and followed his gaze.

Stark against the gray clouds was the giant black shape of a Gardier airship. Tremaine stared for a long heartbeat, trying not to believe her eyes. The jagged ridge along the back that led down to the cluster of knife-edged tail fins, the black swell of the balloon, the control cabin tucked up under it. It's our airship, she tried to tell herself. The one they had captured at such high cost in the Gardier world. It isn't our airship, common sense told her a moment later. The cabin was smaller, without the second level; it was one of the older models. Then sound and motion returned and she pointed, yelling a strangled warning to the others on the street as Ilias hauled her toward the shelter of a doorway.

The first explosion crashed as Tremaine slammed back into the closed door, Ilias shielding her with his body. Tremaine knotted her hands in his coat, waiting for flying debris; their shelter was only a step and a brick archway, fully exposed to the street. But though she could hear screams and shouts there was no whoosh of fire and shrapnel.

Her brain ground into gear and she stood on tiptoe, looking over Ilias' shoulder to see smoke rising above the buildings across the street. It hit two-- Three streets away, she realized, judging it with senses honed in the bombings of Vienne. The Capidaran style of public building wasn't as elaborate as the Rienish and the Gardier might have trouble picking out the Port Authority from the air. She knew they were aiming for it. If Gardier spies in Capidara had scouted the targets for this force, they would be aiming for the refugee hostel, the Port Authority, the Magistrates' Court, the Ministry, anywhere the new spheres might be.

Another booming crash, and another, echoing from behind them.... "The harbor," she breathed. The Ravenna. "Oh no." She pounded Ilias' shoulder and he stepped back. Keeping hold of his sleeve she pushed out of their inadequate shelter and ran down the walk back toward the Port Authority. Instinct said to take the opposite direction, away from a potential target, but the side street was the shortest path to the harbor front.

People were running, screaming, motorcars speeding by as smoke from the bomb bursts belched into the sky. A siren belatedly started to howl as Tremaine reached the corner and ran toward the harbor. She stopped at the end of the short side street, where it opened onto a raised promenade that ran alongside the waterfront. Ilias jolted to a halt beside her.

The view opened up from here into the curve of Capistown's harbor, framed by the mountains that bordered the town on the left and the long arm of land that reached out into the bay on the right. Over the masts of the small fishing boats and pleasure craft that were docked along here, she could see the larger ships that lay further out at anchor. One of them was the Ravenna.

The great liner, painted gray for camouflage in the open sea, dwarfed the military ships and the smaller Queen Falaise moored nearby. The abstract outline of an eye was still visible on this side of her prow, painted there to make her more acceptable to the Syprians when she had been docked outside Cineth harbor. There were three huge smokestacks on the topmost deck, and Tremaine couldn't see any sign of steam from even one. "Go, go, go," she muttered. "What are you waiting for?"

Then a black airship blinked into existence above the liner.

Tremaine felt her gorge rise. "Oh, God." This can't be happening. She couldn't remember who was on the ship, Niles and Gyan for certain, maybe Kias and Calit.... She saw the dark shapes fall from the airship and held her breath.

The moment stretched forever, long enough for her heart to start beating again. The bombs must have missed.

Then fire blossomed up from the liner's upper decks and the ship shuddered, heeling sideways as it started to vanish under the surface. Tremaine made a strangled noise in her throat.

"No." Ilias shook his head, his expression baffled. "There's something-- She's not going down like-- And there's no sound!" Then he caught her arm, pointing urgently. "Look at the water."

"What?" Tremaine shook her head, sick.

"There's a bow wave, over there." He was bouncing on his toes in anxiety, pointing toward a churning V of white froth midway across the harbor

Tremaine squinted. It did look like a bow wave. A large one just like a giant liner should produce. What the hell.... The water the Ravenna was sinking into was flat, undisturbed. "God, you're right!" She pounded Ilias on the shoulder, bouncing up and down herself. Now that she knew what to look for she could see a haze of steam in the air far above the apparently shipless bow wake. "It's an illusion." That explained the hesitation after the bombs dropped; the sorcerer controlling the illusion had had to rapidly adjust it, to make it look as if they had struck a solid target. It was Niles, of course. It's sneaky and subtle, Tremaine thought, jubilant. It had Niles written all over it.

Distant pops sounded as a Capidaran battery on the far side of the harbor fired at the airship. Its wards deflecting the shots, the airship dropped more bombs. But the Ravenna illusion wavered; Tremaine could see water through it now, the tremendous splash as the bombs hit the water, a cloud of rapidly vanishing fire and smoke. She looked again at the empty bow wake to see the real Ravenna's stern fade into existence as the illusion cloaking it dropped away.

The Gardier aboard the airship must have realized their mistake as the illusory vessel beneath them faded. The airship turned, angling towards its real target. But fiery orange lines crept over the black surface of the balloon, flowing over it like liquid light; Tremaine knew it was the gas inside the hydrogen cells, ignited by a sphere. "Niles can't take much more," she said, thinking aloud. "Those two illusions -- some of that he could do in advance but--"

The real Ravenna released another cloud of steam, then disappeared, turbulent waves radiating out from the spot it had just occupied. Niles had made a world-gate for the ship, probably right before he collapsed. Ilias swore, startled. "It's different when you see it from outside," he said under his breath. He had gone through world-gates several times but she didn't think he had ever seen the Ravenna perform this feat from a distance.

Tremaine nodded rapidly. All the boats along the dock rocked madly as the waves from the ship's abrupt disappearance reached them. "Let's hope there was nothing waiting for them on the other side." Then another bomb-burst from inland made her reflexively cover her head.

Ilias pulled her back to the shadow of the warehouse behind them, saying, "We've got to get out of here."

"Yes, we have to get back to the-- Shit." Seeing the Ravenna escape seemed to have freed her stunned thought processes. She went cold with dread, realizing what the airship's exact targeting of the Ravenna meant. "They knew exactly where she was. They gated right on top of her. Or what they thought was her."

Ilias nodded, flinching as another explosion sounded. Tremaine could smell smoke on the wind now. He said, "Right, there's spies here too."

She turned back to the side street, making for the main road again despite the danger. "We have to get to the house. The Gardier will be heading there, that's what all this is for." No one had known about the house and the experiment with Arisilde's sphere except themselves, until this morning when Gerard and Ander had informed the Capidarans. The timing of the attack might be coincidence, but Tremaine didn't much believe in coincidence anymore.

She was halfway down the side street when she heard the distinctive whoosh-thump of a falling bomb. She hit the cracked pavement, instinctively covering her head as Ilias threw himself on top of her. The explosion reverberated through the street and she heard the dull roar of fire. Ilias rolled off her and she pushed herself up, realizing she and Ilias were covered with dust and plaster flakes. The bomb had struck the Port Authority.

"Damn," Ilias muttered, sitting up on his knees, looking up at the building. Tremaine could see that the brick wall looming over them didn't look damaged but smoke streamed up from the roof.

There was an airship nearly right above them, moving off now but it would be coming around for another pass. Tremaine grabbed Ilias' arm, hauling herself up. "It'll be back. We've got--" she inhaled a lungful of acrid smoke and doubled over, coughing.

Ilias pulled her onward, glancing up to keep track of the airship's progress. They reached the street to see a building had collapsed less than a block away and the air was filled with dust and smoke. The street was empty of fleeing pedestrians but a motorcar and a truck had been trapped in the debris, the motorcar crushed under a fall of bricks and the truck trapped by a beam across its steaming engine.

Ilias hesitated, scanning the street, then started toward the collapse. Tremaine had been hacking up dust trying to clear her throat enough to tell him to do just that; the airship was targeting the larger public building behind them and wouldn't waste another bomb on the far end of the street. She just hoped Averi and the others had had time to get to safety.

They made their way through fallen bricks and abandoned motorcars, coming within a few paces of the back of the trapped truck. Tremaine had just realized it was a Capidaran government vehicle when a gunshot, loud and close, made her jump nearly out of her skin. It had come from the truck, from the cabin over the back bed.

Ilias stopped, throwing her an inquiring look. Tremaine shook her head, baffled. The Gardier didn't land troops during bombings. At least, they hadn't in the bombings of Ile-Rien. Then the cabin door started to swing open and Ilias dived to one side and Tremaine scrambled to the other.

The opening door blocked Tremaine's view but she saw a lean form jump out. The door nearly thumped her in the head as Ilias hit whoever it was from the side, knocking him to the pavement.

Tremaine stepped around the door, saw the struggling figure on the bottom had a pistol in its hand and stamped on it, pinning the weapon and the hand clutching it to the pavement. A sharp cry of pain told her who this was and she swore bitterly.

As Tremaine stooped to grab the pistol, Ilias sat up, still pinning the struggling figure. It was the Gardier woman, Balin. "Guess who?" he told Tremaine, grimacing as the woman tried to knee him.

Tremaine stepped past him to look into the back of the covered truck. Two people in red and gray Capidaran military uniform lay inside, the man in a crumpled heap against the front wall of the cab, the woman sprawled across the bench, a bloody wound in her chest, the silly little cap that the Capidaran Women's Auxiliary members wore knocked askew, still held to her head by hairpins.

Tremaine felt her lips draw back in a snarl. They must have been moving Balin back to her cell in the Magistrates' Court. From their positions, the man had been thrown forward and possibly died in the crash; Balin must have gotten his gun and shot the woman after a struggle.

Tremaine looked down at the Gardier woman, automatically chambering a round in the pistol. Balin's face set but her eyes were afraid; she had a trickle of blood from a scalp wound running down her cheek. Ilias, keeping a wary eye on the woman, hadn't looked up. "What do we do with her?" he asked, breathing hard. "Take her with us?"

If I had to shoot someone in cold blood, I'd rather it be her than that idiot I killed for the truck in Maton-devara, Tremaine thought. Not that her blood felt particularly cold at the moment. If she could trade Balin for that poor dead Gardier man she had left to grow cold in a ditch, she wouldn't hesitate. Unfortunately it's not a trade.

"We'll take her with us," she said. "Get her up."



Chapter Five



Giliead had given up counting explosions. The distant blasts were punctuated by the eerie wail of what Gerard said were warning sirens, though they sounded further away now. Sick with anxiety about the others, Giliead paced the front hall where Gerard was trying to use the talking curse box to reach Niles on the Ravenna, or Averi at the Rienish headquarters, but the thing wasn't working properly.

Kressein, with the assistant who carried his sphere and the two Capidaran warriors, had left already, going off to try to do what they could to repel the attack. At least they could do something; Giliead felt trapped and useless.

Gerard spoke into the curse box with more agitation, then slammed the listening part down. "I've lost the operator." He loosened his collar, swearing. The sphere was still tucked under his arm. Giliead had noticed it never clicked and sparked to itself the way the god-sphere did. "The lines must be down."

Giliead didn't know what that meant but it couldn't be good. He looked away, gritting his teeth to keep from asking useless questions. Fire is falling from the sky and Ilias and Tremaine are out in it.

Gerard must have read the thought from his expression. He took a deep breath, saying, "Tremaine is...more than experienced with bombings. She was in Vienne through most of the worst-- They should be fine."

"I know, but--" The crash of glass breaking from upstairs interrupted him. Giliead traded a startled look with Gerard then beat the wizard to the stairs, taking them two at a time. He couldn't smell a new curse. As he reached the ballroom doorway he saw the remaining Capidarans were still in the big room, the two women, the other man, all of them looking around in a puzzled way for the source of the crash. Frowning, Giliead felt a draft of fresh damp air that shouldn't exist in the enclosed chamber. From here he could see straight through to the archway at the back, where a small room with glass windows looked down into the dead garden. He started forward; it had to be the source of the noise and the sudden draft. The Capidaran man, much closer to that end of the room than Giliead, was already moving that way. Giliead glanced over his shoulder, telling Gerard, "Something came through back there--"

From behind him, Nicholas shoved into the doorway, shouting, "Stop! Gerard, it's--"   An explosion shuddered the floor. Giliead staggered, shocked, covering his ears and wincing away from the light and sound.

Shocked, he saw fire roil out of the far end of the ballroom, enveloping the Capidaran man. Giliead started forward in instinctive reaction with no idea what he meant to do, but Gerard ran past him, flinging up a hand and speaking a rapid spate of unintelligible words.

Giliead felt the curse grow outward from Gerard, saw it as a haze of yellow light spreading toward the back of the room, passing the two women who had fallen to the floor under the force of the blast. The fire met the curse, washing up against its fragile barrier. Then the flames and heat vanished.

Giliead fell forward a step, staring. The wall that separated the little glass room was singed and blackened, a hole blasted through it revealing broken wood, shredded paper and smashed plaster. Shattered glass and wood fragments lay in an uneven pile just at the foot of the nearly invisible curse barrier, as if they had been washed there by a flood. Beyond it the Capidaran man sprawled, his clothes half burned away, his skin blood red.

Giliead gasped a breath, choked at the stench of burned human flesh, and ran toward the injured man. He passed through the barrier, feeling it pluck at his clothes and hair, and fell to his knees beside the Capidaran. He was breathing, but with a liquid rasp that meant burned insides. Behind him, Nicholas reached the curse barrier and bounced off as he tried to pass through. Stumbling back, he swore in frustration, "Quickly, they may throw another explosive any moment. Gerard--"

Giliead hadn't thought of that, but of course the Gardier would have more of the things. He gathered up the wounded man as carefully as he could, grimacing at the close view of burned skin showing through the gaping holes in his shirt and jacket. He said hurriedly, "Wait, don't take away the curse, I may be able to bring him through."

Giliead lifted the man and stood, mentally gathered himself, and stepped into the curse-barrier. He felt it pull at him again, at the man in his arms, but after an instant it gave way and he stumbled through to the other side.

Cletia stood in the doorway, staring, a horrified Cimarus behind her. "Take him out in the hall," Nicholas ordered, just as glass crashed again from the windows behind them. "Excellent timing," Nicholas added under his breath.

Giliead agreed, feeling his stomach clench at the nearness of their escape. He carried the man out to the hallway, deliberately not looking back at the curse barrier, knowing the other weapon would explode any moment. The other two Capidarans were already out in the hall, the older woman collapsed on a chair, her face chalky with shock. "Get some wet towels," Gerard told the other woman sharply. "There's a bathroom just up one floor. Stay away from the windows." He had spoken by habit in Syrnaic and had to repeat himself in Rienish as the woman stared at him blankly.

Giliead laid the man down on a couch at Gerard's urging, just as the second blast went off, muffled behind the protective curse barrier. If someone needed better evidence that Rienish curses could protect people rather than hurt them, Giliead couldn't think what it would be. He threw a glance at Gerard, asking, "Those are the same weapons from the Gardier world, the ones that made the fire in the building?"

"Yes, an incendiary," Nicholas answered him, striding toward the stairs. "You, Cimarus? Get upstairs, see if you can spot them from the window on the floor above this one. Try not to open the shutters far enough to let them fire into it."

Giliead looked at Cletia, opening his mouth to reinforce the order but she jerked her chin at Cimarus, telling him to follow Nicholas' instructions. As Cimarus bounded up the stairs, Cletia ducked back into their room and came out with her scabbarded sword, hurrying after Nicholas.

"Yes, careful," Gerard called after him. "They're sure to keep trying. Is the door to the back secure?"

"It was the last time I checked," Nicholas said grimly, starting down the stairs.

Gerard had knelt beside the couch to listen to the wounded Capidaran's labored breathing, trying to touch his ruined skin as little as possible. He sat up, taking a sharp breath, sweat staining his collar. "This man's going to die unless I do a healing."

"You can fix this?" Giliead asked, trying to keep the incredulity out of his tone.

Gerard gestured, distracted. "Burns aren't difficult to heal. It's simply a matter of encouraging the skin to grow back, something it's already inclined to do on its own." He shook his head slightly. "But it's a complicated spell, I don't know if I can hold the wards...." His jaw set. "I have to try."

Giliead got to his feet, realizing he couldn't help here. As he started up the stairs, the younger Capidaran woman appeared again, her arms full of dripping wet cloth, passing him on the steps. The older woman staggered to her feet and came over to help her lay the towels on the wounded man.

Giliead heard Gerard ask urgently in Rienish, "Meretrisa, do you have any experience with major healing spells?"

She shook her head, her face anguished. "No, I've never-- I don't think I can."

Giliead moved quickly up the stairs, going to the room where he had stored their bowcases, selecting one hurriedly and taking a handful of hunting arrows. He found Cimarus struggling to open the window at the end of the hall. "Move that metal clip over, then you can push the top part up," Giliead told him, tossing the arrows on a handy chair and pausing to string the bow. It was a fine one made for him in Cineth, of polished goathorn, wood and bone.

Swearing in frustration, Cimarus got the glass window pushed up out of the way and cautiously eased the shutter open. "There they are," he murmured. "Down in the garden."   Giliead looked over his shoulder and saw three men in the brown Gardier clothing confidently crossing the winter-dead garden court toward the back of the house. All carried the long black shooting weapons. "Go get a bow," Giliead told Cimarus grimly, shouldering him aside and nocking an arrow. He drew, taking careful aim on the Gardier in the lead. These men might not be wizards but he had never felt any regret in killing those who used fire as a weapon. And it would help clear Ilias and Tremaine's way back to the house. "There's going to be more of them."

***

Tremaine brought the taxi-cab to a halt, cursing. The end of their street was blocked by an automobile jammed into an ancient horse-drawn omnibus. Someone had cut the horses loose and taken them away but no attempt had been made to clear the blocked street. "Idiots," she muttered, throwing the motorcar into reverse and only belatedly remembering to look behind her.

Braced in the back, keeping a hold on Balin, Ilias pointed out rather desperately, "We can walk from here."

"I know, but--" But the neighborhood was too empty. She didn't want to hurry down that street under the gaze of all those windows. And the bomb blasts were getting closer, seeming almost to follow them the whole distance from the harbor.

She jolted the motorcar back into gear, turning down the street that ran behind their house, remembering that Mr. Derathi had made his deliveries through the back door so there had to be a passage through to it. This street was much like the other, lined with brown brick townhouses, some with shops in the bottom floors. It was empty, quiet, as everyone huddled in terror indoors. She braked at about the spot where their house was in the opposite street. Craning her neck, she was rewarded with the sight of a narrow alley running between the two brown brick buildings into the center of the block.

Tremaine bailed out, pausing as Ilias dragged a struggling Balin out of the back. The smell of smoke was strong here, but the breeze must be coming from the harbor. Balin glared at her, spitting a curse, but Tremaine was too occupied to surrender to the impulse to kill her. She led the way down the narrow alley, carrying her pistol down at her side, concealed by a fold of her coat. Dirt had drifted over the paving and weeds and determined flowers had taken root, but there was a flattened path down the center. At the end was a battered wooden gate in their house's garden wall, standing open. She was willing to bet Derathi hadn't left that open this morning.

She waved for Ilias to wait and he pulled Balin to a halt, covering her mouth when she tried to shout. Tremaine turned back to her to put the pistol's muzzle right under her nose, saying quietly in Aelin, "If you bite him, three guesses what I'll do to you."

Ilias lifted a brow in appreciation. Balin looked convinced, so Tremaine turned back to the gate, carefully peering inside. There was no real spot for anyone to hide in the small walled yard. She spotted the first brown-clad body crumpled in the weedy dry flowerbed and twitched, raising her pistol. An instant later she saw the feathered arrow shaft standing out of the man's back and knew he wouldn't be causing trouble any time soon. She eased a little further through the gate and spotted another Gardier floating in the stagnant green water of the fountain, and several more sprawled on the dirty stone flags. Looks like we had company, and company regretted it, she thought, grimly pleased.

She glanced up at the house, grimacing as she saw the second floor windows in the conservatory had been broken out. She looked down again, realizing that broken glass littered the paving. "That's not good," she muttered, stepping forward. The windows must have been blown out in an explosion. Glass cracked under her boot and she held out her free hand, in case there was a--

"Dammit!" Tremaine leapt back, gritting her teeth, shaking her numb hand. Her fingers pricked and tingled from even brief contact with the ward. She glared at the house, hoping the ward had also announced her presence as well as zapping her with what felt like an electric shock, but no one appeared at the door or windows.

"Tremaine," Ilias said quietly.

"It was a--" She turned, saw he had his hand clapped tightly over Balin's mouth, that he was looking at the far wall of the garden. Not the wall, she realized a moment later, but the three sets of bootprints in the dirt beside it. Illusion, she realized with a sick sensation, they can't get past a ward set with a sphere's help, so they're waiting for Gerard to drop it to let us in. "--a ward, right, you know how we always--" Say the leader's the one in the middle, say he's holding the crystal maintaining the illusion about chest-level-- She twitched her pistol free of her coat, raised it and fired.

The report rang out as the illusion shattered between one blink and the next. Two Gardier flung themselves away and one fell to the ground, crystal shards spattered with blood scattered around him. The telltale remnants of liquid light pooled on the ground, all that was left of the sorcerer who had been trapped inside the crystal. Guessed right, Tremaine thought, already scrambling for cover behind the raised edge of the fountain. A shot into the coping sprayed her with stone chips and she rolled away, feeling gravel and broken glass grit under her back. With the crystal broken the Gardier couldn't destroy her pistol with their mechanical disruption spell, but that didn't stop them from shooting.

Ilias had flung Balin aside and tackled the nearest Gardier, taking the man to the ground before he could bring up his rifle. Tremaine popped up to take a shot at the other, missed as he fired at her. The bullet hit the dead man in the fountain, making the corpse jerk horrifically. Two more Gardier vaulted over the wall. Ilias had killed the one he had tackled and now crouched behind the gate, taking cover from the gunfire. Balin, knowing the Gardier might not realize she was one of them, had flattened herself into the weeds across the court. Or she might just remember what had happened to some of the other Gardier prisoners, killed by a Liaison to keep them from talking.

Dammit, this could be a problem, Tremaine thought desperately, crawling through the gravel, trying to keep the fountain between her and the Gardier. Knowing she only had three shots left, she risked her head to fire again, just as a feathered shaft suddenly slammed into the nearest man's chest. The Gardier choked as he fell, blood foaming at his lips.

Tremaine shot the other one as the third tried to go back over the wall, only to be dragged down by Ilias. She heard a door bang and turned, just in time to see the other Gardier who had been creeping quietly up behind her. Before she could even get her pistol up, Giliead suddenly appeared behind him, his sword biting into the man's neck.

Tremaine pushed to her feet, watching Giliead finish the Gardier off with a thrust to the chest, uneasily fascinated. She tore her gaze away, looking back to make sure Ilias was all right. He was just retrieving his knife from the body of the Gardier who had tried to escape.

Giliead spotted Ilias and his whole body relaxed, though he didn't do more than nod to him in relief. Ilias gave him a tight smile back, then dodged sideways to recapture Balin as she ran toward one of the fallen Gardier rifles.

"We need to get back inside, there's more of them," Giliead told Tremaine, turning back to the house.

"Right." Tremaine started after him, and flinched back with a curse as she walked into the ward again. She shook her stinging hands, gritting her teeth. "Hey, can we do something about that?"

Giliead looked back in consternation. "Sorry, it doesn't work on me."

The servants' door at the side of the house opened and Nicholas stepped out, motioning them to come toward him. "Hurry, Gerard's opened a passage in the ward."

"Are you sure?" Tremaine took a cautious step forward, feeling the air in front of her.

"No, it's a cruel joke," Nicholas snapped. "Get in here."

Snarling under her breath, Tremaine followed Giliead across the littered pavement to the doorway, Ilias hauling Balin along after her.

"Why on earth did you bring her?" Nicholas asked as they reached the house. He shut the door behind Giliead and shot the bolt, throwing a suspicious glance through the inset window.

"Bring who?" Tremaine's expression was too acid for mock innocence. She went through the little entryway and into the kitchen. Cimarus was in the doorway to the pantry, his sword hung over his shoulder, watching worriedly.

"She was escaping," Ilias replied, pushing the Gardier woman ahead of him. Balin snarled at Nicholas, who ignored her.

Tremaine decided to give up on the sarcasm battle. "What happened to the windows? The bombing is still several streets away."

"We've been attacked by two groups of Gardier." Nicholas turned away from the door impatiently, leading them through the kitchen. "They're obviously after the sphere or Gerard or both."

Tremaine snorted derisively. "That's suicidal of them. Arisilde's not going to--"

"Unfortunately, Arisilde isn't here," Nicholas cut in. They came out into the front hall, which seemed undamaged except for a lingering odor of smoke. Nicholas started up the stairs. "Gerard took him out to the Ravenna last night, so Niles could work with him. He brought Niles' sphere back here to carry on the experiment."

"Oh." Tremaine bit her lip, taken aback. That explained the simultaneous illusion and gate spell. Niles had had powerful help.

Gerard met them at the top of the stairs, saying in profound relief, "Thank God you made it safely."

"Do you know where Florian is?" Tremaine asked. She had been hoping the other girl would be at the house with Gerard, but surely she would have come out to see them by now.

"I left her with Niles on the Ravenna this morning, with Kias and Calit." Gerard looked at her sharply. "Did you see if--"

"The illusion worked, Niles was able to make a gate." Tremaine felt the tightness in her chest ease. With Arisilde and Niles and the Ravenna between them and the Gardier, Florian and the other Syprians were better off than they were.

She saw two Capidaran women she didn't know, one young with dark hair done up in a bun, the other older and a little on the stout side, both leaning anxiously over a man stretched out on one of the fusty divans. There was a pile of towels and a large china bowl of water on the floor. Tremaine took a step forward to see who was hurt and suddenly realized the red and black marking his torso was burned flesh and blackened cloth, not just a rather ugly patterned shirt. Her gorge rose. "Who's this?" she asked, trying to clamp down on incipient nausea.

"Tremaine, this is Meretrisa and Vervane, members of the Capidaran party," Gerard said, preoccupied. "The injured man is Aras, with the Capidaran Ministry." He turned back to Nicholas. "We need to--"

A bomb blast shook the house, plaster dust raining down, window panes rattling in their casements, glass shields trembling in the sconces. Everyone flinched and Vervane, the older Capidaran woman, cried out, clapping her hands to her ears. Balin looked around hopefully, as if she expected the house to collapse. But the old building stayed upright. Tremaine looked around for a window to see how close the hit had been. Before she could take two steps for the stairs, another blast hit. She staggered, the vibrations making her teeth ache.

"God, what are they doing?" Gerard muttered, heading for the window with Nicholas.

Tremaine made it to the stair railing, looking out the window above the front door. In the haze of smoke she saw the houses across the street were rubble.

Another bomb blast shook the house and she gripped the railing. How many people had died in the past minute?

As the sound faded, Nicholas said quietly, "They've realized they can't get past our wards."

"So they're just bombing the rest of the street?" Tremaine gestured in frustrated rage. She looked at Gerard. "Can you stop them?"

He shook his head slowly, his eyes not leaving the devastation. "Not with this sphere. I can't hold our wards and strip theirs simultaneously. If Arisilde was here--"

"If Arisilde was here, Niles wouldn't have gotten the Ravenna out in time," Tremaine told him, frustrated.

"Quite possibly." Gerard looked at Nicholas, grimacing. "The Gardier must think Arisilde is with us. They won't stop until they find him."

"They'll bomb this neighborhood to the ground around us." Nicholas nodded absently, eyes distant as he thought it over. Tremaine bit the inside of her lip to keep from snapping at him. The worse the situation, the calmer Nicholas seemed to get, and it drove her mad.

Gerard lifted his brows suddenly. "We'll have to abandon the house, drop the wards, let them take it." He smiled thinly. "We'll go through the circle."

Tremaine blinked. Of course. The only value in the house was the sphere and the circle itself, and Gerard and Giaren had already taken enough notes on it to be able to recreate it anywhere. They could wait out the attack in the cave Ilias and Gerard had found, then return. She turned to Ilias and Giliead, waiting tensely behind her. "We're going through the circle -- get anything we might need."

They were both moving before the words were all the way out, Ilias bolting for the stairs and Giliead shouting for Cletia and Cimarus. Tremaine turned back as Nicholas said, "Yes, it's the only thing we can do. I'll stay here and destroy the circle."

"What?" Tremaine's brows drew together, but a moment later, she saw it too. "Because the Gardier could follow us through."

Gerard's worried gaze never left Nicholas' face. "At the very least, they would be able to copy the new circle's symbols. We can't allow that."

Nicholas was nodding. "I recommend you wait there until Niles can recreate the new circle and send you word that the attack is over." He lifted a brow in ironic comment. "Really, Gerard, don't look so dramatic. I am planning on leaving the house before it's blown to bits."

Gerard swore, passing a hand over his face. "I realize that."

Ilias pounded back down the stairs, his pack and Tremaine's bag slung over his shoulder with his sword and one of the wooden cases the Syprians stored their weapons in under his arm. Giliead appeared with Cletia in tow, carrying their packs and weapons and the other cases. Cimarus came pounding up the stairs from below, taking the packs Cletia passed over to him. Tremaine smacked herself in the forehead, knowing she should have been moving already. She started for the stairs. "Gerard, do you have any notes or books here, anything you need?"

He looked around, distracted. "Yes, in my case downstairs."

Nicholas took the pistol from her, moving to cover Balin while Tremaine hurried downstairs. She found Gerard's case on the table in the salon and as she grabbed it up another bomb blast reverberated down the street. Her jaw ached from gritting her teeth and she tried not to imagine the faces of the people she saw on this street, the women and children living in the houses, the people who worked in the shops. Remembering that Ilias had said it was cold in the other world, she grabbed Gerard's overcoat from the bench in the hallway, slid to a halt and caught up the other coats that must belong to the Capidarans.

As she reached the top of the stairs Giliead was carrying the wounded man, wrapped in a blanket, into the ballroom, with Meretrisa and Vervane following uncertainly.

Tremaine went after them but stopped in the doorway, startled by the sight of the damage. The conservatory windows weren't just broken, the whole back section of the room was charred and blasted. A shoal of broken wood and plaster chunks had fetched up against an invisible barrier where a ward had stopped the debris from flying across the room. The air smelled heavily of smoke and sulphur.

Nicholas was covering Balin with Tremaine's pistol and Gerard was herding the others into the circle. Cletia looked stoic and Cimarus nervous, an attitude also shared by the two Capidaran women. Ilias just looked impatient and Giliead grim. Gerard told Nicholas, "The wards will linger a short time after we go, so you'll have a few moments."

Nicholas nodded, and as Tremaine dumped the case and her armload of coats inside the circle, he passed the gun back to her. "Wait a moment," he added, and pulled a handful of ammunition out of his coat pocket, dropping it in hers.

"Thanks." She threw him a look. He lifted a brow at her and she couldn't think of anything to say. She jerked her chin at Balin, telling her in the Aelin language, "Get over there."

She shook her head stubbornly. "I won't go."

Another blast sounded nearby, close enough to rattle the sconces and remaining windows, and cause a shower of plaster dust.

Nicholas moved before Tremaine could, catching the woman by the arm and propelling her into the circle. Tremaine hurried after, grabbing Balin by the collar and shoving the pistol into her side.

Nicholas stepped back. Gerard looked up at him, saying, "Good luck."

Nicholas just smiled. It was a particularly evil smile, and didn't promise well for the Gardier. Bastard, Tremaine thought. He enjoys this kind of thing. Somebody had to, she supposed. As Gerard whispered to the sphere she held her breath and felt the rush of vertigo, then the world turned dark.

***

Florian hurried down the alley and paused as she reached the street behind the old house, relieved to see its distinctive roofline over the shorter townhomes surrounding it. Nearly there, she told herself. See, I told you you could do this.

The air had been heavy with smoke the whole way and it was much worse here; her lungs were starting to ache from coughing. The harbor launch she had ridden in from the Ravenna had just reached the dock when the bombing started. The Port Authority and the government buildings she was familiar with all seemed to be targets, which only made sense. As a victim of many Vienne bombings, she had decided to try what the Siege Aid people always told you never to do: to make her way across town back to the house.

Navigating rubble-blocked streets and dodging fire brigades, floods from broken water mains, patrols of Capidaran constables and soldiers as well as panicked civilians had been harder than she had thought. But the launch pilot had said the Ravenna had escaped and she had seen an airship crash into the harbor, and another go down near the Port Authority, so she told herself the attack couldn't last much longer.

Florian stepped out onto the walk, getting a better view of the empty street, and halted in shock. Half the buildings were piles of smoking rubble, leaving their house and a few of the townhomes on either side standing like an isolated island.   "Oh, no," she murmured, sickened by the sight. They knew, the Gardier knew we were there. They had to be looking for Arisilde.

She scanned the overcast sky hastily, but there were no airships in sight. She knew that only meant they might be hiding up in the clouds. Or that the Gardier had landed to attack the house from the ground. She whispered the words of her favorite concealment charm. It made her feel a little better, though not much.

Gritting her teeth, Florian darted across the street toward one of the few houses left standing, reaching the shelter of its set of stairs. She could smell gas and groaned under her breath; that was all this situation needed, a broken gas main.

Florian hesitated, knowing she was being stupid, but she had to see if the others were in the house, if they were trapped or.... She started forward, hugging the side of this building, the rough texture of the bricks scratching at her clothes, and reached the edge of an alley. Overgrown grass came up through cracks in the pavement but it was free of garbage or rubble. She hurried down it, grateful for the shadows that hid her from above, nervous at how trapped it made her feel. This charm didn't exactly have a great record of success at fooling Gardier crystals or the smaller belt devices.

The heavy silence was making her ears hurt. She could hear the distant sirens of the Capidaran militia but no hint of movement or voices from the houses on either side of her. The inhabitants must have fled, but it was unnerving.

Florian reached a heap of rubble that had been someone's garden wall and edged around it, getting a view of the alley behind the old manor house's back court. The wooden gate was closed. She bit her lip, seeing the conservatory windows on the second floor were broken out and the bricks around them singed. Gerard must have been there, he could have warded the house against fire. They must be all right. She needed to make sure no one was in the garden before she went through the gate. Glancing around, she stepped back to the rubble, putting one foot carefully on a broken pile of bricks and reaching to grab the part of the wall still standing. The rubble moved under her foot, making a loud chink of brick against brick; she froze. Nobody could have heard that, she told herself sternly, and started to boost herself up.

Someone clapped a hand over her mouth from behind and yanked her off the rubble, pinning her arms to her sides. Terror giving her extra strength, Florian didn't bother to try to scream, just bit down into the gloved hand with all her might, mentally fumbling for a defensive spell.

He dragged her back against the wall and an almost voiceless whisper in her ear said, "Florian, it's Valiarde."

Oh. Feeling like a fool, Florian released his hand and he withdrew it. It was Nicholas, Tremaine's father, dressed in the dark overcoat and suit he had been wearing last night. She noticed irrelevantly that he had cut himself shaving that morning. He was also giving her a mildly annoyed look. She saw the teeth imprints in his glove and winced, whispering, "Sorry."

He held a finger to his lips, telling her to be quiet. Just then Florian heard movement on the other side of the wall and a low mutter of voices. Voices speaking Aelin, the Gardier language. She threw a frightened look up at Nicholas. They were standing close together, so the concealment charm probably covered both of them, but the men behind the wall must have a crystal and she was fairly sure they weren't deaf. She heard footsteps start along the wall, heading toward the gate at the far end.

Nicholas grimaced in annoyance, releasing her arm and stepping away from her. He motioned for her to stay where she was and she nodded rapidly. She knew very little about Tremaine's father except what Tremaine had told her: that he was crazy and that it ran in the family. Knowing Tremaine, she found that oddly comforting at the moment.

Just as the man on the other side of the wall reached the gate, Nicholas called something out in Aelin. The steps hesitated, then the man asked a question in the same language.

Nicholas stepped to the gate, his boots soundless on the wet grass, standing just beside it. The gate jerked open and a man in Gardier brown stood there, suspicion etched on his features. His expression didn't change as his eyes passed over Florian and she knew her charm was working for the moment. Since the fallen brick had been enough to betray her to Nicholas, and she still hadn't a clue what shadow he had sprung out of, she held her breath and kept absolutely still.

It had been a while since she had seen a Gardier in person. This man had the cropped dark hair but his skin wasn't the unhealthy pale of the Gardier she had seen on the Isle of Storms; he was even a little sunburned. He wore the same roughly tailored brown uniform they all did, with some of the smaller spell-devices attached to his belt, made from chips off the larger sorcerer crystals. He also had a pair of the Gardier version of aether-glasses around his neck. But he didn't step out of the gate into Nicholas' reach.

Nicholas waited just out of the man's view, his eyes narrowing with impatience. Frowning, the Gardier reached for the aether-glasses around his neck. He'll see me anyway. Oh, what the hell. Before she could change her mind, Florian gestured the charm away.

The Gardier started, staring at her, and took that fatal last step. Nicholas was on him instantly, and arm wrapped around his neck, and the man went down with a strangled gasp. Florian skipped out of the way, seeing blood splatter across the dingy gray stones. God, I didn't see the knife either, she thought, shocked. Nicholas had produced it out of nowhere.

Shouts from the house told her the attack had been witnessed. The Gardier collapsed and Nicholas yanked something off the man's belt, not one of the crystal devices but a metal tube with a handle. He twisted the handle and flung it over the wall toward the house.

Taking her arm, he hurried her down the alley, saying calmly, "We had better report this to the Capidaran authorities. I don't suppose you know where there's a working telephone?"

"Was that a bomb?" Florian asked, not wanting to go through the whole encounter without at least getting a word in edgewise.

Nicholas didn't need to answer her as they reached the alley and the incendiary exploded.

***

Tremaine landed with a thump on solid stone. She staggered but managed to stay on her feet. The darkness was absolute and it was cold; someone jostled her shoulder, making her stumble. She kept her revolver planted firmly in Balin's back and tightened her hold on the woman's collar until she heard a strangled gasp. She didn't care; she didn't intend to be jumped in the dark by a Gardier. She just hoped she wasn't jumped in the dark by anything else. Uh...I hope we're in the right place.... "Stay where you are," Ilias said sharply, cutting across murmurs of confusion and dismay. "There's a cliff nearby." He had spoken Syrnaic and Gerard repeated the command in Rienish, which caused the jostling behind Tremaine to stop abruptly.

A cold breeze brought her the smell of water and a clean mossy scent, and she realized that background rush was a river cascading over rocks, somewhere not so distant. Her eyes were starting to adjust and she could make out the arch of the overhang just as Ilias and Gerard had described it, where the opening to the gorge was outlined with a faint sheen of starlight. Then light blossomed behind her and she glanced around to see a misty ball of white sorcerous illumination forming over Gerard's head.

The light revealed the large domed cave, the half-columns carved into the arching stone walls. Scanning the chamber with a preoccupied expression, Giliead said, "We need shelter for the wounded man. You said there's more caves?"

"Yes, there are rooms back here that should be less exposed," Gerard said, his voice echoing oddly as the wispy light drifted toward the back of the overhang. "Everyone keep together," he added. "We didn't have a chance to search this place thoroughly."

Tremaine followed the light, prodding Balin along in front of her, only realizing they had gone down a corridor when she bumped against a cold stone wall. She groped her way through a door into a very dark room. Gerard gestured again and more wisps of light appeared, revealing a big drafty chamber with smooth stone walls, marked by bands of geometric carving. There was a circular stone rim in the center about a foot high. Though the room was out of the direct path of the wind, a strong draft came from the doorway and cold seemed to radiate off the stone like one of the Ravenna's refrigerated storage cabins.

Giliead carried the wounded man in, lowering him carefully to the smooth floor. Meretrisa and Vervane hurried after him, pulling their coats off to make a makeshift pallet.

"We need firewood," Gerard muttered, looking around. "And we didn't see anything combustible up here."

"There has to be a passage outside." Giliead stood, looking down at the unconscious Capidaran with a worried frown.

"There doesn't have to be," Tremaine had to point out, giving Balin a shove to get her further into the room. They should have brought some of the furniture from the house, since it was destined to end up as firewood anyway. "There could have been stairs leading up from the river that collapsed."

"Tremaine--" Gerard didn't sound in the mood for random speculation.

"Should we search the place now?" Ilias was at her elbow suddenly, Cletia behind him. "We know this passage is empty and there's room to hold up here for the night."

"No, you're right, we'll wait till the morning," Tremaine told him. It would be ridiculous to wander around here in the pitch dark when they could fortify this room. Then she hesitated, Ander's words echoing in the back of her brain. "Is that right?"

Ilias snorted and gave her a light thump on the head, apparently the Syprian gesture that meant, "don't be stupid." He headed back for the door, calling for Giliead, Cletia following him.

Tremaine looked around, trying to decide what to do with Balin, who was standing in sullen and merciful silence. Cimarus approached then, carrying his and Cletia's packs, asking, "Should I give them the blankets we brought?"

Tremaine saw Meretrisa and Vervane were huddled on either side of the wounded man, trying to keep him warm. One of Gerard's light wisps hovered protectively over them. "Yes. No, wait, I'll do it, and you watch her." She nodded to Balin. "She's a Gardier, and she's already killed her guard and escaped once, so if she moves, gut her."

"I will, daiha-- I mean, Tremaine." There had been a Syrnaic word in there Tremaine didn't know, and she eyed him suspiciously as he handed over the packs. He put a hand on his swordhilt, gesturing Balin back into a corner. The Gardier woman obeyed, watching him angrily.

***

Ilias paused in the corridor to tell Giliead, "We should post a guard at the stairwell."

Giliead looked up and down the stone passage, brows drawn together in thought. One of the floating balls of curse light had followed them, but Ilias saw it didn't provide much useful illumination. Shadows clung heavily to the corners and the other doorways were just cold black holes; they needed to find something they could make torches out of. "None of these rooms had other doors?" Giliead asked.

"No, just these out to this passage." Ilias gestured as they moved along the corridor, Giliead stopping to look into each room, using the curse light to make sure each was still as unoccupied as Gerard and Ilias had found it earlier. Cletia trailed after them. Ilias thought he had been fairly successful at ignoring her so far, and meant to continue.

Giliead found the end of the passage where narrow stairs curled down a round shaft. Cold air flowed up it, but the draft wasn't as strong as the one that seemed to be blowing straight in off the snow-capped mountains across the gorge. "Let's put everyone else in that first room, and if anything comes up these stairs there should be plenty of time to give warning."

Ilias nodded absently, looking around for a good spot for the sentries to sit. The corridor was a drafty place to rest in, the air damp and heavy with the scent of the river. "Nothing's getting up that cliff face. Not unless it can fly." He hesitated, thinking that over. "Or come through the curse gate," he added, frowning as he looked back down the passage. He could see Gerard there, studying the circle, another of the wispy balls of curse-light floating around him.

Giliead lifted a brow, resigned. "We need a sentry there, too."

"What can I do?" Cletia demanded. She threw a look at Ilias, her features stark in the faint white light. "I want to help."

Giliead considered her for a moment. "Watch the stairs."

Ilias was already heading back up the passage. They needed to fix a blanket over the doorway to the overhang chamber or it would be too cold to sleep. If they had to stay here longer than one night they would have to find a way down to the forest; a good fire and a screen of brush for the doorway would make this place almost cozy.

Carefully avoiding the circle, Ilias went to where Gerard was standing near the ledge, staring up at the sky, paging through a sheaf of papers. He glanced up as Ilias stopped beside him, reflected starlight glinting on the glass over his eyes, and explained, "I'm trying to find out where we are."

Ilias squinted up at the sky, then lifted his brows in surprise. It was a clear night, the stars picked out like ice crystals against the dark void. "That looks like The Archers." He pointed to the constellation that formed the outline of two men with drawn bows. "And the Mother, and the War Galley. The sky looks like it did before the Ravenna made the world-gate and we docked at Capistown."

"That answers that question." With a sigh, Gerard tucked the papers back into a leather folder. "So we know we're somewhere close to the region in your world that Capidara occupies in ours. Hopefully by tomorrow Niles will send for us and we can bring more navigational instruments. We're rather badly prepared for an extended stay."

Ilias shrugged. "We've got weapons and blankets. If we can get out to the forest we'll have everything else we need."

Gerard turned and one of the light wisps drifted over to him as he started back toward the circle. His face set in bleak lines under the white light, he said, "Yes. I suspect we're a good deal better off than our friends at Capistown."

***

Tremaine carried their other supplies in from the circle and sorted through them, but there wasn't much there. Her bag contained her clothes, the blanket Karima had given her and some more ammunition for her pistol. Gerard had only a couple of books, some personal items and an electric torch, which at least would come in handy. The Syprians were the only ones who had been able to grab a large number of practical things.

Cimarus still guarded Balin, Cletia had been sent to watch the stairwell down into the cliff, Gerard was in the outer chamber with the circle and Ilias and Giliead were trying to use Giliead's blanket to block the draft coming through the doorway. This involved using a couple of latchkeys from Gerard's pocket as nails driven through chinks in the stone and a rock for a hammer and a lot of mock-arguing about who was making the process more difficult by offering alternate suggestions.

Tremaine shook her hair back, looking at the Capidarans. Meretrisa was speaking quietly to the older woman, Vervane, who was watching the Syprians with a wary expression. Meretrisa caught Tremaine's glance and explained with a slight smile, "I was reassuring her that they aren't...as uncivilized as they look."

Tremaine lifted her brows. Giliead, the only one tall enough to reach the lintel of the doorway, had just responded to Ilias' criticism of his hammering method by elbowing him in the head. "It depends on your definition of uncivilized. When you see them kill someone, maybe that will give you a better basis for judgement." She glanced back to see the startled expression on Meretrisa's face. Oops, time to put scary Tremaine back in the box. She must be more tired than she thought. Not everyone wants to know what you're really like, you know. In fact, nobody wants it. "Sorry." She smiled, though it felt false and brittle, and got to her feet.

She wove her way through the door-making exercise and out into the circle chamber. Gerard was sitting on the stone, wearing one of the Syprian blankets as a cloak, writing in his notebook in the glow of half a dozen balls of sorcerous light. "Is that a good idea?" she asked, gesturing to the lights. "Someone might see them from the cliffs. Even if we are in the Syprians' world, we still don't know--"

"I warded the opening against light," he explained mildly, without looking up at her. "No one will see it from outside."

"Oh." She sat on her heels, wrapping her arms around her knees and tucking her hands into her sleeves. It was probably colder out here, but she was numb now and couldn't tell. "Aren't you freezing?"

"Yes," he admitted. "Unfortunately, there's no ward that will affect temperature. But it isn't that much worse than the lodging halls at Lodun in the winter. Quite bracing, actually. It reminds me of my student days."

Tremaine lifted a brow. "That was forty years ago, Gerard."

He actually put his pen down to glare at her. "Twenty years ago, Tremaine, twenty--" He saw her lips twitch. "Very funny."

As he went back to his work, Tremaine sat for a moment listening to the river, organizing her thoughts. Finally she said in Syrnaic, "The Gardier came right to the house, Gerard. They knew where we were."

He nodded grimly, not looking up from his notebook. "Yes, yes, they did."

She took a deep cold breath. "So...can they tell we're using this gate?" When they had first experimented with the original circle in Port Rel, transporting the Pilot Boat to and from the staging world to test the spell's abilities, the Gardier had been able to detect when the world-gates were opened. Of course, the Rienish hadn't known that at the time.

"The Gardier should only be able to detect us if they're nearby, in this world. Or if we use the mobile circle to gate to this corresponding location in the Gardier world." He lifted his brows. "Which, I don't recommend that we do. Ilias pointed out some of the constellations for me, and if I'm correct in my calculations, in our world we'd be closer to Kathbad than Capidara."

"Kathbad." Tremaine frowned. One of the first captured Gardier maps, the one Ilias and Giliead had managed to steal from the base on the Isle of Storms, had shown a major Gardier installation near Kathbad. Once they had realized the Gardier actually came from another world adjacent to the staging world, it had become apparent that the installation wasn't at Kathbad but at the corresponding location in the Gardier world. Kathbad was a remote island nation, and even its nearest neighbor Capidara hadn't had any contact with it for the past three years. Since Kathbad was two world-gates from Gardier central, this wasn't surprising. Tremaine supposed there was nothing left of it by now. "So if we used the mobile circle, the one that takes us to this same physical point in either our world or their world, we'd either be in Kathbad which is probably a Gardier slave state now, or near a huge Gardier stronghold."

"Yes." Gerard shrugged, still occupied with his notes. "Exactly."

***

"No, I'm fine, really, thank you," Florian handed the mug of stewed tea back, her voice holding a thin edge of impatience. Everyone seemed to think she was about to have a hysterical collapse and kept trying to give her a blanket or a cup of tea or coffee. She understood it was Capistown's first bombing, but she had lived through so many in Vienne she had stopped counting them.

After the bombing had stopped, she and Nicholas had reached the Port Authority to find it still mostly intact. Two bombs had struck the building but one of the Ministry sorcerers had helped the fire brigade extinguish the blaze. The wounded were being carried to the courtrooms next door, the dead still lay where they had fallen. The Rienish offices were in the part of the building now too dangerous to enter, and marked by fallen beams and a haze of plaster dust. But Florian had caught a glimpse of Colonel Averi and several other officers she knew, still alive and well. When Nicholas had vanished in search of information, Florian had been swept into the ground floor offices of one of the steamship companies with a cluster of other refugees, most of whom actually were in a state of hysterical collapse.

Now she was sitting in one of the fine leather chairs of the office's well-appointed waiting room, surrounded by weeping secretaries, office workers and shop girls, with a couple of clerks and a woman Magistrate trying to keep them calm. This is ridiculous. I know Nicholas said to wait, but I've got to get out of here. Just as Florian got to her feet, Nicholas appeared in the doorway, saying, "The Ravenna's back, come along."

She hurried after him, relieved he hadn't abandoned her entirely. The office door opened into a little court, once elegantly decorated with potted trees and a little fountain, and now packed with more confused and hysterical people. Florian followed Nicholas' black-clothed back through the crowd and out onto the harbor front. The salt air was heavy with smoke, streaming up from the warehouses and the wreck of an airship that had gone down in the dock area. Out in the harbor a large cargo ship had sunk, its bow still visible above the waves. Like a gray mountain on the horizon, the Ravenna was just dropping anchor at the mouth of the harbor, steam belching from all three of her stacks. The great ship looked whole and unharmed, and it was like seeing a piece of home. Florian took a sharp breath that almost turned into a sob. Frustrated, she wiped tears away, breaking into a run to catch up with Nicholas. Stop it, this is no time to blubber, she told herself sternly.

Nicholas led her to a dock where a tugboat was being commandeered by Colonel Averi and several other Rienish. She climbed aboard, accepting a helping hand from one of the Capidaran sailors. Nicholas had already made his way up to the bow and Florian found Colonel Averi on the starboard side.

"Florian," he said absently, and put a hand on her shoulder, as if making sure he kept track of her. Looking over her head, the wind ruffling his graying hair, he called to one of the sailors, "All aboard? Let's go."

She stood next to Colonel Averi as the boat chugged into motion, heading out into the gray water of the harbor. The wind was much cooler here and Florian shivered, glad that she had put on a thick sweater this morning. One of the Ravenna's accident boats met them halfway across the harbor and they transferred onto it, the two small craft bobbing in the choppy water.

Soon the Ravenna's giant gray wall loomed over them as the accident boat pulled alongside. Florian clung to a bench as the boat was winched up to the height of a four story building; she had always hated this part. They reached the boat deck, the davit holding them close to the side, and a female Rienish sailor opened the gate in the railing, ushering them aboard.

Niles was waiting for them on the deck. "All right?" Averi demanded.

"Yes," Niles answered. He was hollow-eyed and hollow-cheeked, his normally sleek blond hair disarrayed. He carried Arisilde's sphere under his arm, apparently unperturbed by the fact that it was spinning rapidly and throwing out blue sparks. "There was a Gardier ship waiting for us when we made the gateway to the staging world, but unfortunately -- for them -- they were too close to our stern when we materialized and well within Arisilde's range. There were no survivors. There were other Gardier vessels in the area, so we returned as soon as possible."

Florian folded her arms to conceal a shiver, looking away. The gate spell was supposed to have built-in protections against opening a gate where another solid object was already present, but she didn't think those protections had ever really been tested.

Averi nodded sharply. "This changes our timetable rather dramatically. I need to speak to Captain Marais immediately."

As Niles and Averi strode off down the deck, several officers and sailors in tow, Florian stayed where she was. She felt a little light-headed, and wanted to find Kias, Gyan and Calit. She realized Nicholas was standing next to her and told him, "Don't forget to tell Niles we need to do the new circle to get the others back."

"I will," Nicholas answered seriously, just as Florian had time to realize that was an incredibly stupid thing to say. Of course he would remember. She swore silently at herself, feeling her cheeks redden, as he asked, "You'll be all right here?"

"What? Oh, yes." The Ravenna was as familiar to her now as the block her old flat had been on in Vienne. On impulse she asked, "They're going to talk about leaving, aren't they? I mean, the ship is leaving Capistown soon?"

"Yes." Nicholas looked out over the city, the familiar view of the brownstone town nestled between the sea and the mountains, now marked by plumes of smoke. His expression was distant, his brows drawn together in worry. "It's time to go back to Ile-Rien."


end chapter 5







[ Ile-Rien

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