Blood over water, stone over sand.

Heinmast family motto.

 

In the underground headquarters, Gregor sat, and Ionas slouched against the wall. Oh, he missed that salve. Standing for an hour, and already bruised muscle pulsed agony at him. He needed to sleep…

He needed to find Sarea. But I know where she is. He pulled a face. Right where she shouldn’t be.

Tolle Range ducked through the passage in the corner, red faced. “No sign of Mae in the bathhouse or her rooms,” he said. “No one’s seen either of them since yesterday. Do you know what Edith Aldhouse did? Pushed her around until the poor girl snapped! That damn woman.”

He stopped in the middle of the room.

“I have people searching her known hiding places,” he said, “But the odds aren’t good. Mae’s assigned to a long term scouting mission.”

“The West Side, Gregor rumbled, and frowned.

Ionas shivered. Of course she’s there. “Sarea would volunteer,” he muttered.

“And two mothers were visited by Commander Jorge himself,” Tolle said, hand tightening on the hilt of his sword. “But no Instigators have been recalled.”

Gregor rose. “We must assume he has them. Strike now.”

Tolle nodded. “Give me a week.”

“No.” The man stood as implacable as mountains. “They’ll wait until the first moonless night, in four days. You have two.”

Tolle paled. “Sir, that isn’t enough -”

“Two,” Gregor said. “Do it.”

He glanced at Ionas, who mustered a one-sided shrug in response. Maybe? Something in Tolle’s being tightened. He bowed, stiff. “Sir.”

“We’re not losing another Sun on my watch, Pachin.” Gregor turned his head. “Go with him. Bring her back.”

Ionas nodded, pushing off the wall. Ow, ow, ow…

Tolle Range turned on his toes and marched out of the headquarters. Wincing, Ionas loped after. “Where are we – ”

“I can’t muster our entire force in two days.” Tolle’s voice echoed in the tunnels. “We need to see Lord O’Hallorn. Immediately.”

:-#-:

A servant opened the door, only to be swept away by Isaye O’Hallorn, pretty as a picture and worried.

Shortly followed by Larone, scowling. “We were talking, Isaye. Stay still.”

“These are our guests!” Isaye waved her off. “I told you they were coming.” Then, stepping up to the threshold. “Where is she?”

Not have you found her, Ionas noted. Where is she. Like she already knew. But then, she would, wouldn’t she?

Tolle started. “How did you -”

“I’m afraid we need to speak to your father,” Ionas said.

Isaye sighed. “Yes. Something is awful wrong, isn’t it? I can feel it.” She pressed a gloved hand to her chest. “You really must stop it from happening,” she said to Tolle. “We’re on the edge, you see.”

“I don’t believe I do,” Tolle said, tilting his head.

“Well,” she said. “You will. Ghosts and shadows and memories, oh my…” She shivered and let her hand drop. “Come in. In.” She stepped back. “Out of sight, out of mind – Larone, can you take them up? I’ll get tea, we’ll need tea.”

In a whirl, she was gone down the hallway.

“My cousin is feverish,” Larone said, cool. “She hasn’t slept. This is the nature of her fits, you understand. Her fancies.”

“If I may.” Ionas didn’t bother with a smile. Larone would just slam the door. “She’s had these fits often? When was the last?”

Larone sniffed. “You may not – but you never stop, so I might as well tell you. Three times in the last ten years, but many times in her infancy.”

Three. “Which times?”

“Perhaps eight or nine years ago, five years ago, and…” Larone waved her hand. “I wasn’t here. Seven, eight months past?”

Oh, he hated when coincidences lined up perfectly. “Thank you,” he said, and stepped up. “We did come to see your uncle. May we?”

“It’s very important,” Tolle said.

Larone rolled her eyes. “I’m sure it is. I can take you to him, but I can’t guarantee him wanting to speak to you.”

Up the stairs was more of a problem than walking here, but he managed, if not at Tolle or Larone’s pace. Maybe Sarea had been right about that rest. Still, he got a lot of time to glance at the recent rune-working carved into wood and paint. Larone’s, at a guess, to make the house clean and safe from conventional threats. She did good work, even if there wasn’t an inch of imagination in it.

Tolle, waiting at the top of the last set of stairs, said to Ionas, “What was that, Pachin? At the door.”

Ionas shook his head. “The O’Hallorn bloodline has a gift. Or curse. It’s a long story. You’ll find out soon enough.”

Larone came out of her uncle’s – he still couldn’t see a damn resemblance between them! – study, down the hallway. “Well?” she said. “You’re lucky. He’ll see you.”

Inside, Lord O’Hallorn stood behind his chair, back to them. Larone took up a place to his left. “Master Pachin and a Hunter, I believe?” He turned. He may as well have been stone. “What have I done to merit this?”

“Tolle Range, sir,” Tolle said, and inclined his head. “I command those in the city. We need your help. Whatever force and assistance you can muster in two days.”

Larone pinned Ionas with a tight-lipped glare. He met her gaze long enough for her to see how little he cared, then stepped back to the side, where there was a chair against a side table. He eased himself down. Oh, that’s better.

“Two days?” Lord O’Hallorn raised an elegant eyebrow. “That’s a lot to demand. May I ask why?”

Tolle nodded. “We must rescue Sarea Sahar Durasoona from the Instigators.”

Absolute, total silence reigned for all of a minute before Larone said, “That lying cow, feeding me stories about dead aunts. And I believed her!”

At a glance from her uncle, she shut her mouth.

Ionas snorted. “Those stories were true,” he said. “But she’s a Durasoona, too. Very nearly the last of the Durabilan line. Her father is Balint.”

Lord O’Hallorn sat down. He folded his hands neatly against the desk. “You mean to say that rude apprentice is the heir to Durabilis?”

“Well, I suppose we could,” Isaye said, bustling into the room with a tray. She stepped around Tolle to set it on her father’s desk. The cups steamed. “Although, really, that all depends on if we still consider the royal line legitimate. They did run.”

Philippe sighed. “You knew?” he said, in the pitch-perfect tone of a tired father.

She glanced up between setting cups on the wood. “Well, no. I wasn’t certain. I always knew she mattered, you see. But when she’s angry, she moves like a queen. And…” She ducked her head, cheeks reddening. “Maybe I stole this from her yesterday.” From a pocket otherwise invisible, she produced a heavy ring, and set it down next to her father’s cup.

Tolle stared as Lord O’Hallorn picked up Sarea’s family ring and turned it, catching sunlight streaming through the window. “A last Durasoona,” he said. “One without the Western taint. You’re sure about her, my dear?”

“They’re fancies,” Larone said. “Uncle, please.”

“They are not,” Isaye snapped at her. “Really!

Between them, Lord O’Hallorn said, “I was twenty three when your great grandfather died, Larone.” He smiled faintly. “He was disposed towards fantasies, too.”

“In the blood,” Tolle said, with a dawning realisation.

“So we’re inclined towards being weak-minded,” Larone said. “What does it matter? We’ve been lied to, uncle, and you’re letting Isaye indulge herself. She hasn’t slept, you know what that does to her – ”

Isaye burst out, “She is important! More important than anything. I can feel it even when we’re not in the same room, and it’s not just because she’s so adorable I could hold onto her forever. She’s so bright it burns, and we need that because without it the shadows will eat everything and there won’t be an anything and I couldn’t sleep because it filled all my dreams, that nothingness. It’s horrible. So we need to get the next few days right, perfectly right, or we won’t have any chance!” She stopped, gasping for air. “I’m sorry, I don’t – I’m so tired -”

Ionas pushed up and caught her as she sagged sideways. Ow, ow, ow.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have done that,” she managed, but accepted being guided to his chair, and a cup.

Lord O’Hallorn set the ring down. “I assume,” he said, “The Instigators aren’t capturing and killing the Durasoona so they can surprise the Viceroy with a coup, and a figurehead monarch?”

Tolle managed a short laugh. “No, sir, nothing so simple as that.”

 

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