The Gate of Gods
Book Three of The Fall of Ile-Rien
HarperCollins Eos, November 2005, ISBN 0380-97790-7.
Cover by Donato Giancola.
Paperback: July 2006 from HarperCollins Eos, ISBN 0380808005.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
Ilias just looked tired and resigned. "We've been expecting
it. He manipulates people. Even without curses, he's good at
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
Nicholas was silent for a few steps, before he replied
obliquely, "There are better ways of getting rid of unwanted
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
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
"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
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"
"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
"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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
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
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,
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
Tremaine advanced cautiously into the room. "Where is
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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...."
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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,
"What?" She looked down at her hands. Her jaw dropped.
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
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
turned to find Nicholas and Kias in the hall, Kias with his sword
drawn. "It's Cletia and Cimarus," she reported.
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?"
told Gyan," he admitted from the doorway to the salon.
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."
winced but headed for the stairs. Resigned, Tremaine drew the bolt
and opened the door.
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
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.
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.
looked up, shaking his hair back, and Tremaine saw his cheeks were
red from embarrassment. "We quarreled with Pasima."
hesitated. That obviously wasn't the answer he had expected. But he
said, "And why should we care?"
quarreled over you, you arrogant ass," Cletia snapped.
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?"
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."
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?"
eyed the two newcomers thoughtfully. Cletia weathered his gaze but
Cimarus shifted uneasily. In Rienish, he asked Tremaine, "I
assume they can be trusted?"
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
Then I should feel quite at home," Nicholas said pleasantly,
and with that left the hall.
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."
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.
shrugged, apparently indifferent. "I don't know." He bit
into the bean, winced and spit it out.
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.
gave him a sharp stare. "Did I say there was?"
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."
rubbed his face, looking as if his annoyance was suddenly spent and
he was just tired again. "Will that help you?"
seemed surprised, as if that thought hadn't occurred to him. "I
don't see how it could," he said honestly.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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...."
Giliead agreed quietly.
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."
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?"
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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?"
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
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."
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.
experiments were a little expensive, if you recall," Ander
pointed out, his expression dry.
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."
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
hell." Tremaine stared at Gerard, horrified. She hadn't
thought of that. "You shouldn't go, Gerard."
pushed to her feet, alarmed. "She's right, Gerard. There's
dangerous and there's...dangerous."
go," Ilias said suddenly.
you won't," Tremaine said, startled, at the same time as
Giliead, sounding aghast, said, "What?"
stepped forward, as if no one had spoken. "I'm obviously the
one to go."
Ilias demanded, turning to glare at him. "I've done it more
than you have."
rounded on him impatiently. "You don't understand the spell.
You don't have any idea what happens when--"
snorted derisively. "And you do?" He flung an arm in the
air. "Explain it to us then."
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--"
quiet," Nicholas snapped. In the sudden startled silence he
lifted a brow in ironic comment and added, "Let's listen to
Gerard, shall we?"
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
I could--" Florian began.
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."
Florian subsided reluctantly, Ander put in, "Of course, but
you'll need someone to--"
interrupted, "And I accept Ilias' offer to accompany me."
me," Tremaine added, alarmed that she might actually be left
out. It wasn't fair. Going through strange circles was one of her
Gerard told her. "I want to keep the first expedition to a
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.
this time," Gerard said firmly.
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?"
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.
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
you know how we felt when you made that first experiment with
Gerard," Florian told her sharply.
was unimpressed. "Yes, that's why I always go. Then I don't
have to feel this way."
had been standing at Ilias' elbow, radiating increasing impatience.
Finally he said, "I need to talk to you."
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
planted his hands on his hips, glaring at him. "You don't know
where this thing will take you. Think what happened last time--"
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."
grimaced. "Why are you doing this?"
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
gestured in annoyance. "Have you not noticed that he is a
wizard? He can take care of himself."
stared at him, then said through gritted teeth, "So I'm useless.
I'm still going."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
said in Rienish, "Good luck, gentlemen."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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."
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.
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?"
shook his head. "I have no idea. I know we're somewhere in
your world, but that's all I can say."
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
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."
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.
doesn't appear to have been recently occupied," Gerard observed,
stepping to his side.
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."
nodded grimly. "Yes, that spell circle carved into the rock is
at least as old as the rest of this place."
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.
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?"
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.
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
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. I saw something." Ilias crossed to the side wall,
studying the half-column there intently. "Something flashed in
the light, like metal."
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
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."
stepped close, squinting, lifting the glass pieces over his eyes to
peer at it. "Good God," he whispered, startled.
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
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."
nodded, seeing it was like those on Gerard's coat, though the design
why back in this corner, and not in a more obvious place?"
Gerard said, half to himself.
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, 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."
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."
Nicholas studied the button, turning it over on his palm. "Arisilde
must have left it there."
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.
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.
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."
it comes from one of my old coats, which Arisilde was wearing when I
sent him back," Nicholas told her.
nodded, remembering. "He never bought clothes. He just wore
whatever he could find."
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."
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.
did the writing mean?" Ilias asked, watching Nicholas. "'The
Scribe'? It was a message to you?"
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
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?"
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."
looked from Gerard to Nicholas. "Was it me?" she demanded.
"Were you using the painting to spy on me?"
No!" Nicholas stared at her, startled into showing honest
affront. "For the love of God, Tremaine, it was years before
you were born."
Tremaine subsided, aware she was being a little overwrought. "Maybe
he just wanted you to be sure it was him that left the message."
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--"
nodded. "It means we can get inside Lodun and get the people
out, without the Gardier knowing until it's too late."
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."
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
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
said firmly, deciding to ignore the hint.
"Why do you ask?"
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
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.
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
Ilias turned his head
just enough to regard her with one eye and an air of deeply affronted
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
"Oh God, good
question." She shook her
head. "Because I hate
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
Tremaine eyed him for a
moment. "All right, I take
back the sarcastic bastard remark," she conceded.
"It was true, but I take it
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
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
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?"
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
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."
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
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
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
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.
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Tremaine nudged Ilias,
who was craning his neck to see the charts, saying pointedly, "He's
talking to you."
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
"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
"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."
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
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?"
but--" Averi hesitated, his
brows drawing together, and Tremaine looked down to hide her expression, the
sudden realization hitting her.
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
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.
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
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
"I know what you
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
"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
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
It was a pitch above Balin's usual
"Were you an
observer?" Tremaine asked, but she knew she had lost the benefit of
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
Tremaine stood in the
corridor, running her hands through her hair.
She was trembling with rage, ready to hit something.
Ilias watched her with concern, then
said, "So she still thinks she knows
Tremaine took a deep
breath to calm herself, and her mouth quirked wryly.
"That came across through the language barrier, did
"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
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
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.
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."
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."
Tremaine agreed cautiously, unwilling to commit to anything where Nicholas was
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.
Did he come over on the Ravenna?"
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
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
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
"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
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
making decisions for those who had.
"There's a reason she can't refuse to see
"She can't afford
to offend him, at this point. She
isn't the Crown Princess. Not as
far as we know."
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
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.
back. "Yes, the
to examine the new circle. Florian
will be a little later, she was detained at the
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
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
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
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."
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
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
The door to the
stairwell opened and Ander entered, exchanging greetings with the other
men. Oh good, him
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
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
Just then Tremaine
returned from down the hall, looking thoughtful.
She saw them standing together and her expression took on a
certain sardonic cast.
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
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
Ander lifted his
brows. "Don't you think you
should stay here?" he asked.
What could I do
"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?"
Ilias stared, then
rolled his eyes.
Tremaine's laugh was derisive.
"There isn't anywhere that's safe.
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
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
But she was still
looking at Ander. "And I'd
hate to be in the way," she snapped, then walked out of the
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."
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
There wasn't much to do until the
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
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
"We were told the Ravenna
would go from this world to Cineth, then back again to the Ile-Rien
"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
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
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
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
Gerard said, "It's the
Gardier. They're bombing the
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
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
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
She stared at him,
mouth open, then managed to shut it and look away.
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
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
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
Another booming crash,
and another, echoing from behind them....
"The harbor," she breathed.
"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
away from a potential target, but the side street was the shortest path to the
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
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
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
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
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.
Ilias shook his head, his expression
something-- She's not going down
like-- And there's no
sound!" Then he caught her
arm, pointing urgently. "Look
at the water."
Tremaine shook her head,
"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
It did look like a bow wave.
A large one just like a giant liner
should produce. What the
hell.... The water
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
it's not a trade.
her with us," she said.
"Get her up."
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
Kressein, with the
assistant who carried his sphere and the two Capidaran warriors, had
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."
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
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
From behind him,
Nicholas shoved into the doorway, shouting, "Stop!
An explosion shuddered
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.
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
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
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
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?"
incendiary," Nicholas answered him, striding toward the stairs.
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
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.
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
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
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
She shook her head, her
face anguished. "No, I've
never-- I don't think I
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.
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."
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,
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
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
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--
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.
Ilias said quietly.
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
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.
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
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
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."
sure?" Tremaine took a cautious step forward, feeling the air in front of
"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.
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.
escaping," Ilias replied, pushing the Gardier woman ahead of him.
Balin snarled at Nicholas, who ignored
Tremaine decided to
give up on the sarcasm battle.
"What happened to the windows?
The bombing is still several streets
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."
derisively. "That's suicidal
of them. Arisilde's not going
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."
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
"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
worked, Niles was able to make a gate."
Tremaine felt the tightness in her chest ease.
With Arisilde and Niles and
between them and the Gardier, Florian and the other Syprians were
better off than
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
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
they're just bombing
the rest of the street?" Tremaine gestured in frustrated rage.
She looked at Gerard.
"Can you stop
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
"If Arisilde was
here, Niles wouldn't have gotten the Ravenna out in time," Tremaine
told him, frustrated.
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
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."
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
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
Tremaine's brows drew together, but a
moment later, she saw it too.
"Because the Gardier could follow us
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
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
Gerard swore, passing a
hand over his face. "I
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?"
"Yes, in my case
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
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
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.
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
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
back. Gerard looked up at him,
saying, "Good luck."
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
He dragged her back
against the wall and an almost voiceless whisper in her ear said,
"Florian, it's Valiarde."
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
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
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
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
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 waited just
out of the man's view, his eyes narrowing with impatience.
Frowning, the Gardier reached for the
aether-glasses around his neck.
see me anyway. Oh, what
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
firewood," Gerard muttered, looking around.
"And we didn't see anything combustible up
"There has to be a
passage outside." Giliead
stood, looking down at the unconscious Capidaran with a worried
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
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
"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.
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
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 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
Ilias paused in the
corridor to tell Giliead, "We should post a guard at the
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
Giliead lifted a brow,
resigned. "We need a sentry
"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
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
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
"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."
"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
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.
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.
smiled, though it felt false and brittle, and got to her
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
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?"
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
Tremaine lifted a
brow. "That was forty years
He actually put his pen
down to glare at her. "Twenty
years ago, Tremaine, twenty--"
He saw her lips twitch.
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
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.
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."
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."
Gerard shrugged, still occupied with
"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
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
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
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
accident boats met them halfway across the harbor and they transferred onto it,
the two small craft bobbing in the choppy water.
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.
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.
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."
Nicholas answered seriously, just as Florian had time to realize that was an
incredibly stupid thing to say. Of
course he would remember.
silently at herself, feeling her cheeks redden, as he asked, "You'll be
all right here?"
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?"
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
end chapter 5
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