Return 19

Lysandra huddled under the eaves of a roof, tight against the wall and praying she was hidden by shadow, while the owl swooped back and forth. She’d barely escaped its talons twice in fleeing from the walled compound, and wasn’t sure how often she could continue to do so. At least it seemed to have lost her for now: it felt like she’d been hiding here for hours, though it had probably been minutes.

What was she going to do?

Her sister’s whereabouts were unknown. Obviously her deception had fallen through, but that didn’t mean she’d been captured. In fact, it was unlikely she had. Lysandra had caught a glimpse, while dodging the owl, of a figure she thought was Juro being dragged to the outbuilding the others were in, but she dared not linger. She’d be no help dead.

What help could she be alive? She was alone, five of her family and one ally going into that building but not coming out. Even the donkeys and Ander were gone. She couldn’t find or reach Narcissa, and it probably wasn’t safe currently to try.

She needed to add something more to the equation in order to change the result of it. If she was alone… then change that. She knew of someone, a group of someones, who were familiar with spirit-creatures and, if not exactly on her family’s side, shared a common enemy.

She peeked out to look for the owl, and caught a glimpse of green-gold in the sky back in the direction she’d come from. That should give her time to get to where she needed to be.

The temple offered a clear landmark that was hard to miss, and from here, she could estimate which house was Onyeka’s. It could complicate matters if anyone saw her change, so probably she should go to their camp where she could get out of sight briefly first.

Why was there a fire in the pit at their camp? Continue reading

Return 18

The lock on the outbuilding door was a simple one, meant more to prevent easy access than for genuinely high security. Tyrel crouched to examine it, while Madoc and Mirren and Lysandra kept watch, and finally just used his smaller katar to dig into the wood of the frame and force the heavy blunt tongue back enough that he could pull it open.

In the trickle of moonlight, he could see Kieran in one cage, on his feet and watching the door, ears perked forward alertly… and Kaveri in another, huddled in a corner, though she raised her head in response. The side of her face was bruising rapidly, and he could see quite a lot of blood streaking her bare skin, though it was hard to make out the details.

“’Rel?” It was barely audible, might not have been to human hearing.

“Of course. Would we leave you? Madoc, watch the door? Mirren, come on.” No need to tell Lysandra to stay alert from her rooftop perch. He crossed the threshold into the oppressively dark building, Mirren a couple of steps behind him. “’Cissa and your lemur are keeping everyone busy. Let’s get you out into the moonlight.”

“Yes, please. Lock… two hands to open.”

He studied the lock on her cage, trying to figure out how to open it. No wonder they hadn’t worried much about the door lock. This mechanism appeared to involve having various fingers pressing down on the right bits at the right time in order to get it open. A quick inspection established that it wasn’t going to be possible to just pry it open, either.

“Well, this is a pain in the tail,” Mirren muttered, doing much the same at Kieran’s cage. “I have a really bad feeling this is taking time we don’t have.”

“Then kill us fast,” Kaveri said. “He has an obsidian knife.”

“A what? Oh hell.” He snatched one of his throwing knives from his back, since they were thin with little hilt, and slid it through the close mesh. “Just in case.”

She hid it under her. “Kieran?” Continue reading

Return 17

Narcissa had learned very young how to stand confidently still without looking stiff. At the moment, staying on her feet gave her a psychological edge on those around her. Juro positioned himself at her side, though back far enough that he wasn’t crowding her—no matter how Gernot and Wira read that, and Narcissa could think of a number of possibilities, he would almost certainly find himself in serious difficulties if he stayed here.

Gernot had seated himself on an elaborately carved and painted rectangular stool, and Wira on another close to him, more or less mirroring Juro’s place in fact. She thought Gernot had intended that to convey a sense of his being enthroned and her being a supplicant, but it wasn’t working and there was little he could do without looking indecisive.

A second mistake was that he had summoned all the reborn currently in this particular house, as witnesses or bodyguards or a show of force, but that only meant there would be more people present to view any loss of face against an unknown quantity. Two women, four men, all around the edges of the room; she wondered briefly why there was such an imbalance, whether it was a general trend or a situational development or only this house. The majority were uneasily on their feet, though one woman stood at military attention so rigid it was all but wooden. The owner of the house was among them, perched on a plainer stool against a wall.

“Well?” Gernot barked. “What do you want?”

Narcissa eyed him coolly. “For you to stay out of the way of Neoma’s bloodline. By assaulting two of my household, you have declared war on us directly. Declaring war on those who are your superiors is a very foolish move. For the sake of the bright blood we all bear, I am going to give you a chance, one chance only, to change your mind about that. That we are more selective about who we choose to join us does not mean we have not spread. We have, after all, had well over a century since your attempt at killing Neoma failed, and she had the span of a human lifetime before that.”

“Attempt?” Had he been human, the dark flush that surged up his face would have given her some concern about his heart. “Neoma is dead!” Continue reading

Return 16

It took a moment even for moonblood eyes to adjust to the light of a pair of oil lamps that were brought in and left on small shelves to either side of the door.

Considering the size and musculature of the two men who opened her cage, Kaveri expected little to come of physical resistance, but she fought anyway while they dragged her out. One had a scarcely-visible halo of aquamarine, the other of green-gold.

The way the coarse rope was looped tightly around her wrists suggested that no one cared whether it slipped even tighter and did serious damage. It wasn’t much surprise, but it did make her distinctly nervous.

They bound her to one of the beams that crossed the room—they didn’t look structural to her, might have been for hanging meat or other foods. They jerked it up so hard that she could keep her weight on the balls of her feet only with an uncomfortable amount of strain on her arms. She wondered how long it would take for that to exhaust her abdominal muscles and make it hard to breathe. If she lost her balance, or fatigue took hold, and more weight came down on her arms, that would only happen faster.

Did suffocation count as a death by anything of earth? she wondered. What if it was suffocation because of being bound with vegetable-fibre rope to a wooden beam in a mud-brick building? She wasn’t in a hurry to test it.

A third man, who had lingered just inside the closed door while the other two made their preparations, said a single syllable, “Back.” The other two retreated instantly against the walls. Kieran snarled as one passed too close to his cage.

“Oh, be silent, cur,” the third man said contemptuously. “You’re an abomination. As is anyone whose blood comes from The Great Traitor through you.” Continue reading

Return 15

Tyrel, Madoc, and Mirren pressed close to the stone wall, hoping to stay concealed in the shadows. Lysandra clung to the wall above them, her tiny body wedged into a bit of decorative carving at the top, as she watched what was happening on the other side of the sturdy wooden doorway that blocked their access.

Tyrel couldn’t actually hear Narcissa and Juro at the front. Shouting wasn’t like Narcissa at all. A single expressionless look from her could convey more about her confidence in her own power, and her opinion of whoever was so foolish as to challenge her, than any amount of bluster or threat. He wasn’t at all comfortable with Narcissa walking into a hostile environment essentially alone. It was hard to argue, though, that it should keep a lot of attention on her at the front of the enclosure, and give the rest of them an opportunity to slip in the back.

Their princess had been fierce in her insistence that she was responsible, in part, for Kaveri and Kieran being alone, and that with her moon-sister in danger of torture, she considered even a high level of risk to be acceptable. And it was a very high level of risk. But if it worked, it would buy them time.

Of course, if things went wrong…

No plan ever went exactly as intended. The simplest approach was usually the most likely to succeed, since the more factors you had to depend on, the more likely one of them would fail. But even without a true failure, there was always something unexpected. The trick, of course, was making sure that the end result was as close as possible to what you were aiming for, or at least wasn’t catastrophic. That was easier and more reliable than trying to cling to the details of any plan, as long as you were sufficiently quick on your feet to adapt.

He heard Lysandra move, and looked up just in time to see her slip over the crest of the wall. The defences weren’t constructed to keep out shapeshifting enemies. Defences against humans and local wildlife were laughable against Lysandra.

Sure enough, only heartbeats later, he heard a bar being moved—it sounded heavy—followed by a second one, and the door cracked open. “It’s clear,” Lysandra whispered. Continue reading