We endure.

Durasoona motto

 

Sarea barely finished dressing before Isaye pulled her out of the house under the shelter of a expanse of cloth on sticks and into a carriage. It was painted blue and silver, with an interior of deep red and soft, cushioned, seats.

“Where are we going?” Sarea said.

“Oh? I didn’t say, did I.” Isaye giggled behind her fan, gold contrasting against a blue, short puffy-sleeved gown. “The palace.”

Sarea sat back and stayed still. Amisine poked her head through the ceiling and said, “It should have been ours.”

“What should?” Sarea said, low.

“Sorry?” Isaye said.

Sarea managed a smile. “Thinking aloud.”

“The palace. The city. The country.” Amisine fell through and landed on the floor of the carriage on her back, and didn’t make a sound. “The world.”

The carriage rattled over a pothole.

“What would you do with the world?” Sarea said. Isaye closed her fan with a series of wooden clicks.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Where would it be kept? And the effort you’d have to go through to fight off other people that wanted it! What would anyone do with the entire world?”

“Burn it to ashes,” Amisine said.

“T’palace,” the groom called out, and Isaye bounced up and through Amisine.

“Look,” she said, tugging Sarea up. “Through the window. You’ve never seen anything like this!”

Sarea looked at it, composed of rose-pink and blue stone blocks taller than her, at window upon window and floor upon floor, but could only imagine her nameless ancestors living there. Lisheva, proud and armoured, and her brother. She shivered and looked away, at Amisine.

Amisine bared dog-like teeth. “Ours,” she said.

“I wouldn’t want the world,” Sarea said tiredly, rubbing her forehead. “Not a city, not a country, not an empire. None of it. Just a place to be.”

“Be what?” Isaye glanced at her, wide-eyed, guileless.

“Just be,” Sarea said.

The carriage rattled on into the gardens, pulling up next to a tent larger than their secret chamber. The tent was opened, and the groom opened the door into it. Isaye left the carriage nimbly. Sarea followed, unsure and unsteady. She glanced back. Amisine sat on the carriage floor staring at her.

The groom closed the carriage door and then she was trapped inside the tent.

“‘Tia,” Isaye said, and hugged another woman. Alatia looked a five years older, in a red dress that clung to her body and swayed around her ankles. Her hair, golden, bound in an intricate knot, more than matched Isaye’s tumbling curls. She stepped back, and there was more grace in that movement than Sarea’d seen in her entire life.

If she started running in that rain, she’d never stop.

“Isaye, darling,” Alatia said. “And this is your guest?”

A tentful of people were dancing and talking, but nothing mattered except for the urge to run when Alatia turned to her.

“Strange,” Alatia said, soft. “Do you know your family, miss Sahar? I must have met your cousins this past month. Your face is familiar to me.”

There were, doubtless, paintings of her ancestors still in the palace. Sarea shook her head.

“Never mind that, then.” Alatia laughed. “It’s good to meet my sister’s newest friend. She talks of very little but you, of late.”

Sarea ducked her head, cheeks hot. “I’m sorry -”

“For what? It’s good she’s found someone willing to speak true.” Alatia’s voice went low, her smile unchanging. “Would that I or my beloved had such.” Then, louder, “Enjoy yourself, miss Sahar.”

:-#-:

The Hunters didn’t purposefully ignore him. When they saw him, one and all, they treated him with perfect disdain. But Ionas had his own ways of shaking that off his back and, still dripping, still aching, he made his way into the tunnels and ignored each and every one of them as they passed.

Balint Durasoona had his own room, though it looked like a jail. The door was iron-bound oak, unlocked, and inside he had his own light, a bed, a chair, and a bucket.

The Hunters made him change his clothes, bathe, and eat, but the man still looked like a sack of bones. He sat still save for his hands, which twisted his necklace of bones around his neck, lips moving silently.

Ionas leaned against the wall opposite him.

If he concentrated on reading the man’s lips, he could guess at the names of Balint’s dead. Not today. He said, “Tell me about the ritual.”

Balint froze.

“You aren’t mad,” Ionas said. “Not corrupted, not yet. You’re alone, afraid, and carrying a great guilt. Tell me about the ritual.” He folded his arms. “Tell me what the demon-seed did to the children.”

:-#-:

Isaye lead her across to a young man, said, “Your escort for the day, Tomas,” and had promptly been caught up by some middle-aged man who looked at her like she was meat. Sarea bit her lip, tempted to rescue Isaye from him, when the young man bowed and said, “Tomasseo Ap-Merill, at your service.”

“Sarea Sahar,” Sarea said.

“Yes. Kite warned me about you.” He smiled. “Would you like to dance?”

Sarea glanced around. “I don’t know how. Warned you?”

“Well, you know our aunt,” he said, still smiling. “She’s always been a strong figure. Anyone who survives years with her must be formidable.”

Years? She hadn’t said years…

“Come,” he said, and offered his hand. “We’ll sit and talk.”

“You don’t want to dance?” she said.

“It will be a welcome change,” he said. “We are not kept free from chores, the Ap-Merills, as these lot are. My feet ache.”

:-#-:

Balint talked, a jumbled gobbledegook of words that solidified into something strong every other sentence. “The masks,” he said, once. “The masks,” and dissolved into nonsense again. Pieced together, they made sense.

He stopped suddenly and dropped his head to his chest, trembling.

Ionas closed his eyes and thought it through. Masks, the man mentioned. Taken in the night. Fire. Chanting. A man. Darkness. Screaming.

Then Balint said, “He’s going to come for her. She’s the last.”

“Sarea,” Ionas said.

“Take her out of here.” Balint’s head shot up, and feverish eyes fixed on him. “Get her away, away. It’s the only way to keep her safe.”

Ionas shook his head. “No,” he said. “That’s no way to keep her safe. That’s how you let the world burn.”

:-#-:

A shadow towered over them as Tomasseo described his hunting trip for her. Not the most interesting thing Sarea’s heard about, but he seemed to enjoy it. A painfully familiar voice said, “Miss Sahar, how strange to meet you here.”

Tomasseo broke off, looking up. “Commander,” he said, inclining his head. “Greetings.”

“And to you,” Guilliarme Jorge said, and turned his gaze back to Sarea.

“Isaye invited me,” Sarea said stiffly, folding her hands together so she didn’t make a fist. “It would have been rude to refuse.”

“Of course.” Jorge nodded. “Sometimes our young ladies like to raise those beneath them.”

Tomas said, “We were discussing hunting, Commander. Would you like to join us?”

“No,” he said, chuckling. “A sport for the young, I’m afraid. Good fortune to your family, Tomas,” he added, and backed away two steps. “Very strange, miss Sahar,” he said. “You remind me of someone.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” she said.

“Very strange,” he murmured, and turned away.

 

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