When they built the Grand Warlock’s keep, they uncovered ruins of a more ancient place, built out of solid blocks of a strange grey stone. There are still perfectly preserved rooms down there, complete with furniture and books and all the things that a person might need to survive. Scrawled on the outside walls are messages. Phrases. One of them has been loosely translated to “I slept with your mother”.

Sorry, you were saying how the ancients were wise?

Matea Fleet-Footed, Grand Warlock

 

Another wet day spent with Isaye.

Or rather, spent staring at Isaye blankly.

The girl held out a dress, an actual gown of a dress, and said, “See! You even have something to wear.”

“To this… party,” Sarea said. “Tonight. The one you didn’t tell me about.”

“If I told you, you wouldn’t have come,” Isaye said. “And you can’t tell me it’s too expensive. It was mother’s, but of course, she’d never fit it now. Her hips, you know? But this style is coming back into fashion, so I had it sized for you, a few embellishments to make it fit in – and of course, this year austerity is in fashion, too, so you can wear it to all three parties – that fire down in Nettinam made fabrics so expensive.”

“Three?” Sarea said, and sat down on the bed.

“No, you’re right,” Isaye decided, and hung it up on her wardrobe door. “Three is quite unreasonable. I think you’ll be far too tired to make the third.”

“I can’t go to any parties,” Sarea tried, rubbing her face. “I won’t know any of the dances.”

“You will be danced with, if they know what’s good for them,” Isaye said firmly. “You have to go. It’s not like Larone will be coming.”

“And this means I’ll need -” Sarea flailed for words. “A bath, and good shoes, and -” Shiver. “Make up.” She’d never used any, for all she and Tineke had mixed it up for the local girls. No one would invite her to the festivals, anyway. “And I can’t just take off for the evening, I have -”

“Afternoon,” Isaye said. “It’s a tea party.” She spun around. “And my sister will be there!”

“Your sister,” Sarea echoed.

“Alatia.” Isaye giggled. “Engaged to the viceroy? I never see her these days. She’s too busy preparing for the wedding. Spring, for life, and joy, and fertility…”

Sarea gave up, flopping back on the bed. “A tea party in the rain,” she muttered.

“Under the pavilion, of course,” Isaye chirped. “Oh – wait here, I’ll be right back -”

The door slammed.

“Alatia O’Hallorn is a fussy harlot,” Amisine muttered.

It couldn’t last forever. Sarea shrugged, closing her eyes.

“An’ this one is pushy. Assuming you’ll go.” Cold touched her forehead. “‘Rea?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “Just tired.” It’d been nearly dawn before Mae called it save to leave the warehouse, and fitful dreams of crystals and horses didn’t make for a good night’s sleep. She didn’t have the energy to do this party, not when Mae’d claimed her night for scouting in the West Side. But if she didn’t, after Isaye had gotten her a good dress…

Sarea pushed herself up and stared at it. It taunted her. Pale yellow, with sleeves to the elbow, it had an uncomfortably low neckline and nothing on the shoulders. There was a white bodice hanging on the back of the hanger. She could imagine the entire affair on her, white straps on her light brown skin, and a full ankle-length skirt that’d swish and sway around her –

Maybe it won’t be that bad, she thought. When else would she have a chance to wear something like that?

“Reckon she has a crush on you?” Amisine said, drifting to beside her.

Sarea sat still, eyes wide.

“If I liked girls, I think I’d like to see one in that,” her sister said, settling on the bed like she could actually sit there. “Just a little skin. Not much. Great view. Good for dancing in.”

“You don’t get invited to dances,” Sarea said. Crush? Girls who had crushes stammered and hid. Isaye couldn’t have any feelings of the sort for her. She was just lonely, reaching out for a friend that didn’t seem to care about her position, and holding on too tight.

“Used to watch ’em anyways.” In the corner of her eye, she caught Amisine’s grin. “Fun to ruin ’em.”

“Don’t you dare ruin this one,” Sarea muttered.

“What, and waste that pretty dress up there?” Amisine snickered. “No chance.”

“You can wash,” Isaye declared, bursting back in, “And I’ve sent a message to Keyne, he knows not to expect you back for hours. So we’ll be fine.” She paused, hands on the door. “Gosh, it’s gotten cold in here all of a sudden.”

“Just for a moment,” Sarea said. “It’ll pass.”

“Well, if I’m not wanted,” Amisine said huffily, and sat on the floor. Isaye walked through her and took Sarea’s hands, pulling her off the bed.

“This,” Isaye told her, “Will be the best.”

Sarea managed a smile.

:-#-:

One more miserably wet day in Durabilis.

Ionas walked the streets in his coat, his right side a miserable ache, soaked to the bone. He could keep himself dry, but why stand out? Not for this business, that’s for sure.

It’s not a bad lie, he told himself, turning a corner and approaching the distinctive façade of the O’Hallorn house. She doesn’t need to know the truth right now.

What was the point worrying Sarea over this?

He knocked three times. The butler opened the door and stepped aside. Ionas walked in. The man didn’t offer to take his coat, and Ionas didn’t ask. Instead, he walked upstairs, straight to the top, alone and unseen.

Philippe O’Hallorn’s study door was ajar. The lord himself stood in front of the fire, holding a glass of whiskey, staring at the flames. Ionas shut the door behind him and waited.

Finally, when Ionas had dripped a wet patch into the carpet, he said, “Do you have it?”

Ionas reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, simple, silver locket. It didn’t look like much on first glance, but when he dangled it on its chain in the firelight, the slow turns revealed the Durasoona crest on the back and the intricate knots on the front. Inside were two paintings, tiny detailed paintings of two men, one old, and one young. Lord O’Hallorn turned and looked, face long.

“The final piece of evidence,” he said. “Taken from Guilliarme’s very house. You are a clever man, Pachin.”

“I try,” Ionas said. “But why this? After the paper work and accounts, why…” He jangled the chain. “This?”

“You don’t know what you hold,” Lord O’Hallorn said. “I will forgive you. That is the locket of Isobel Durasoona, Regent-Queen. The portraits are of her father, who gave it to her, and her brother, who died. It is a near-sacred heirloom of the Durasoona family.” He set his glass down on the mantelpiece. “It was kept in the care of one Marei Durasoona, daughter of Princess Isobel, who inherited it because of her namesake. It is also in every family portrait since Isobel’s reign.

“Marei came back to us in rebellion against her mother’s self-exile. She petitioned the Viceroy, married well, and prospered. She became a venerable dame, living well into her eighties. Her children, too, prospered, but they were all killed in a freak fire. The entire family died, grandmother, children, grandchildren, and servants. It is a tragedy that hasn’t quite left our minds.”

Ionas caught the locket in his other hand. “But if they burned,” he said. “How is this intact?”

He looked up and smiled back at Lord O’Hallorn.

“That is the question the Viceroy will be asking,” the noble said, “And when he does, I will provide him with every account, every piece of paperwork, each and every scrap of information that tells him that if there was a noble or beggar in Durabilis with Durasoona blood, they have each and all disappeared or died, and the entire trail – all of them!” He raised his hand. “Leads to the Instigators!”

His face shone with triumph, eyes wide and shining in the dim light. Ionas considered him, then stepped forward and set the amulet on his desk.

“You have done me well,” Lord O’Hallorn said.

“And you have done me well,” Ionas returned. “All I want is the Instigators destroyed.”

“Yes,” the other man said. “And paid, of course?”

Ionas shrugged. “Keeps the apprentice off my back, doesn’t it?”

“You allow the girl too much free reign,” Lord O’Hallorn said.

“She’s special,” Ionas said. “In ways even she doesn’t comprehend. Trust me on that.”

“There is something about her,” the other man said, as if to himself. “Something familiar. Well, then.” He shook his head and took the locket, reaching across across the space between them without moving a step. “Return tomorrow. I’ll have another job for you.”

Ionas inclined his head. “As you wish.”

He left the house as purposefully unnoticed as he came in.

You’re still a dangerous old bastard, he thought, tramping through the rain one more time. And when I stop being useful to you… then it’d be time to leave Durabilis.

 

back home forward