Be not too much in love with your power, my lord. Tools can turn, armies mutiny, peasants march. You have only the power you can beg, steal, or coerce, and nothing more.

Sir Lakeston

 

Mae took her out in the evening, after Isaye and she read books in the chamber and pointed out strange things for each other. She’d reread the family chronicles, unsure she’d find anything but too interested to stop.

Isaye’s ancestor talked about – not her grandmother, because she’d been called Elisa, but her grandfather’s first wife. The woman who was Betty Singer’s namesake. He did so with a glowing pride that might, almost, have been love.

She left another pot of salve on the side before she followed Mae out into the rain.

Hood up, hands tucked in her pockets, she was warm and dry, except for her trouser bottoms. Mae said nothing but led her, calm, every step utterly silent, to the docks. Sarea’d wandered this way so often with Amisine she checked over her shoulder, but no one floated there. Amisine hadn’t shown up since they went into the West Side.

For all she’d loved Amisine, Sarea couldn’t find it in her heart to miss her ghost.

The rain washed away the stink of human life, leaving just the wood smoke drifting in the wind. Rain danced and drummed on the ground around them in dim blackness, the noise echoing in silence and filling the entire world. Little more than a silent shadow ahead, Mae walked sure-footed and steady and, Sarea found, so did she. Under black skies, in empty streets, Durabilis felt more like home than it ever had.

There’d been a Durasoona in Durabilis, city and country, since the raising of the Wall. It’d never mattered to her before but now, now, she had the faintest understanding for why da never wanted to leave. Time crept its roots around her ankles, slow and sure, anchoring her with the blood and death of all her kin.

She shivered.

The warehouses of the dock loomed over them even in the dark, lit only by dim lanterns hanging over the doors. Mae disappeared. Sarea stood on her own, and all of a sudden it was chilly and inhospitably dark, lonely and loud, a faint sickly-sweet scent rising off the West Side across the rushing of the river. Her breath had to be so noisy anyone could hear her –

“Biter,” Mae hissed. “Come on!”

A shadow against the wall of the very last warehouse. Sarea sighed out relief and darted across. “I couldn’t see you -”

Mae touched a finger to her lips. “Eyes open, biter.”

Sarea nodded.

Mae took her hand, coat sleeve wet against her skin, and led her down the length of the warehouse. Bright light flickered at the other end. Mae left her against the wall and peered around the corner, hands flat against brick.

She came back and hissed, “Instigators. Five of ’em. They’ve got a lean-to and a fire. Can you do anything?”

Sarea pressed her lips together. Could she? She could put out the fire with a little focus, but it’d be noticeable, and might link back to her if someone thought about it hard. All she could do otherwise was change colours, or…

Ionas did want her to practise with water.

“Maybe,” she said, low. “I can try. Let me look.”

The light near-blinded her. But there were five, under a slate and iron-bar roof bolted to the warehouse wall, near the back door. The wind tugged at the fire, but without any real anger. The five huddled around it with sausages on sticks, heads bowed.

Sarea slid back into cover, blinking through the spots in her eyes. She’d never done this before, but she’d never been taught to pull up her sunlight, either.

She needed wind. She pictured the shelter, pictured the rain falling around it, a beacon of light in a cold place. The fire in her mind flickered and danced and blurred. Then she imagined the wind rising up, in a hard wintry gust, blowing the fire straight out.

She did it again, and again, awareness of the world dimming to raindrops on her hood, to her heartbeat pulsing around her body. Again, and what was Mae thinking of her now? Again, and it had to work this time, it had to –

Yelling broke through. She opened her eyes and was attacked by wind and rain, a cold slap to the face. She grabbed hold of her hood, ducking her head. Mae leaned in close and said, laughter in her voice, “Well, that distracted ’em.”

Around the corner, men yelled, a cacophony of voices. Amongst them rose a “Bugger this!” and wet footsteps squelched towards them. Mae caught her arm, pulling her around, face to the wall. Without a torch, the Instigator ran straight past them.

A door creaked and slammed. Silence again.

“And drove them indoors,” Sarea muttered.

Mae shrugged. Sarea felt it. “Least we can get to the door.”

“And if they’re behind it?”

Mae shifted. After a moment Sarea realised she was looking up. “Big place like this? Cold and open? They’ll take over the office. Give it a breather.” She paused. “Hey, can you dry us off inside? No footprints.”

The wind still gusted around them. Sarea leaned her forehead against the brick. “Yes.”

She was fairly sure of it, anyway…

:-#-:

Mae leaned in first, and reported no one in sight. Just inside the door Sarea heated up her hands long enough to stop their trousers from dripping, and their shoes from leaving wet marks. That done, she stood and looked around.

She’d only ever been in the empty warehouses. They seemed larger than the world, especially to a child, their floors thick with dust. Full of crates, or maybe just because she’d grown, the warehouse was vast and echoing but just a building.

In painted squares on the floor, marked by numbers and letters, crates and boxes and the occasional chest piled atop each other precariously. Shivering, she shoved her hands up her sleeves and made her hands warm again.

“Yeah,” Mae said, her voice still low, and grinned. “It’s colder in here than out there. Great in summer.”

Sarea shook her head. “Not planning on being here then.”

“Ah, well.” Mae dug in her pocket and pulled out a handful of crystals on cords. “You need a light?”

Sarea shook her head.

Mae nodded and untangled a crystal from the bundle before dropping the rest back in her pocket. She dropped it on the floor. It clattered, the sound echoing up to the empty rafters. Sarea started. “What are you -”

Mae stepped on it. The stone cracked under her boot heel like sugar-rock, and light flared. She stooped down, shifting, and picked up a ball of light on a string. She wrapped the cord around her hand, concealing the little light in her cupped hands, and glanced up.

“Useful, aren’t they?” she said.

Crystals that broke when you trod on them? Of course not. They had to be glass. Glass inscribed with runes, maybe, or…

“Can I look at them, later?” she said.

“No problem,” Mae said. “Lots thirty six to forty B, if you spot them,” and she disappeared into the stacks.

Sarea wrinkled her nose – they called them lots? – but followed, summoning sunlight around her hands and wrists that shone out from under the sleeves. She could barely see Mae, head down, shining her light at thick black paint on the floor.

She slowed down, glancing across the crates. Rough-hewn and well made, large and small, each of them was stamped with symbols. Some had crests, other circles or squares, and each shape had a name in it or around it. One, just the shadow of a tree, had Appleton woven into the branches. She looked down. It was part of a stretch ten lots long that just said Palace.

Click-click. Click-click.

“Don’t know why we have to go looking,” a man muttered. “‘I heard summat out there’, he says. ‘Go look. You all split up.’ An’ nothing happens in the dark when you’re alone, does it? Twat.”

True, sang a sense at the back of her mind.

Talking, and coming towards her, a shadow of a man with a guttering lantern. He just hadn’t looked up. Sarea stepped backwards, took a deep breath, and looked around. Wall upon wall of crate, too high to deal with. Running would be noticed. She put her sunlight out, and crossed to the other side of the aisle.

Lanterns were fire. She breathed steady, trying to match his pace – lazily slow, shoulders hunched over – and reached out with her mind for that flickering, half-alive flame.

Go out, she told it. It didn’t even flare as it died.

In the blackness, she kept walking.

The Instigator spoke, a quiet, “Fuck.” She listened for his breathing, pacing closer. The sound of scratching at a box. Sparks that came to nothing.

Then quiet. He said, next to her, “Who’s there?”

He was an Instigator. A tormentor, a rapist, the iron glove that kept her people down. If she intended to kill him, she could. She could touch him and set his blood on fire, if she wanted it enough. Wasn’t that the point of magic? If she stopped, stood next to him in pitch black night, she could reach out…

Could almost feel him turn towards her. He managed a quavering, “Hello?”

She reached out with her hand and caught his arm. He squeaked and…

Wasn’t there?

She brought up a little more sunlight and looked around. Then she looked down. He was on the ground, lantern across his chest, eyes shut. He’d fainted.

She snorted, dark mood dissipating. Maybe he’d mistaken her for Amisine. Glancing around, she spotted a 37B on the floor, and Mae in the distance.

Sarea pointed. “Here,” she said.

 

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