Return 10

Moonrise came without any further word from the self-titled great lady.

Tyrel unfastened the belt he always wore hidden under his shirt, the one that held three throwing knives and a small dagger horizontally at his lower back where he could reach them, and left it on the cart.

“Try not to let Cissa do anything reckless if this woman suddenly sends a caravan of food or something,” he said to Madoc, with a sigh.

Madoc nodded, pawing his own sheathed sica out of the box with one enormous furry mitt before Tyrel could bury it.

“You’re planning to change?” Tyrel untangled Madoc’s clawed glove from the belt of his own heavier katar and set it on the cart next to Madoc’s belt. At least the ring-tailed grey creature, which Narcissa thought was called a lemur, was too terrified of Madoc to be over here poking those long fingers into the box of shiny and very sharp weapons.

It had crept out of the stable-tent that afternoon and had mostly been watching Kaveri and eating any scraps she fed it, but Lysandra had been right: it was endlessly curious, wanted to handle everything, and was almost certainly at least as capable of havoc as a raccoon if not watched closely. Narcissa’s patients paid little attention beyond mild curiosity, no more than they showed towards the rest of the menagerie. It had, in fact, stolen Kaveri’s large pale green and grey scarf as the light began to drop, and Lysandra’s deep rose veil when she unpinned it for the evening, and dragged both under the wagon. The last he’d seen it had curled itself into a compact motionless ball, so wrapped up in its nest that it was invisible. Both women had sighed and let it be.

Another nod from Madoc.

“What about the mice?”

Madoc shrugged, the motion rippling along the length of his body.

“You’re right, they’re less of a threat right now than larger enemies. I wonder if we’re going to spend the rest of our lives stumbling over places they’ve infected and trying to pry them out and fix the damage. It’s not my idea of a bright future, although I suppose someone has to do it. The moonladies did intervene in Enodia when it came to a direct conflict, even if apparently they’ve completely failed to get the hint about our mothers not liking what they do. Maybe we can hope for some help again. And yes, stop looking at me like that. You know I’m just thinking out loud, I’m not expecting answers when you can’t give ’em.” Anything left on his person that he’d forgotten wasn’t moonspun, Madoc would pick up, he had no doubt. “There’s Talir, and there’s no time to waste. I’ll head towards the north and those big houses Lysandra said she saw last night.” With the cart and wagon between him and the street, he looked up at Talir and asked her to change him.

Fox-form, he shook himself.

Madoc bounced down off the cart to give him a quick cheek-rub.

Mirren emerged from the shadows under the cart—Tyrel had heard a small squeak under there not long ago—and looked at him expectantly.

Fox and cat darted off into the shadows. They was going to have to be very careful not to be seen by anyone: to sufficiently hungry people, they might well look like potential game, though quite possibly the oddness of a cat and a fox together would be ignored.

Though the landscape was, to Tyrel, washed by pale yellow light with Mirren brightly haloed in green-gold against it, he tried to keep an eye on the moons. The buildings interfered, though, and he didn’t see Meyar rise, only the flying shape glowing, to him, with blue-white light. Lysandra was above them, now, an extra set of eyes watching everything from a very different angle. Between them, he and Mirren watched for her, and when her loops began to pointedly shift towards the east, they followed.

What she led them to was not a single building. The crumbly sandstone meant that the designs carved into it had little intricate detail, though the regular geometrical pattern might have been of some interest under other circumstances. Right now, of more relevance was the fact that the wall was sturdy and tall enough to block not only access but sight.

Tyrel saw Lysandra flutter into a nearby alleyway, and followed her.

It opened onto a small cobbled courtyard with a fountain in the centre, currently abandoned; Lysandra landed next to it and changed back, in a simple knee-length tunic belted with a strip of fabric, her hair loose. She crouched to talk to them, her voice pitched very low.

“There’s a large house, which is more like three squares set very close together, each two storeys high, and a handful of smaller circular buildings inside the wall. For being night-time, it’s pretty active. I’d think that was just the heat, but I saw three people who were all glowing in the moonlight. I’m certain it would have been visible even to the humans around them, but no one seemed worried. If anything, they were being treated with deference.”

Tyrel changed, too, as did Mirren though it couldn’t have been comfortable with Sanur only a thin crescent above.

“Are there others like this?” Mirren asked.

“This is the biggest one. Two others have a stone wall, with a house a little smaller and two or three outbuildings each. Five have a mud-brick wall surrounding them, each a large house with outbuildings. I haven’t seen anyone outside glowing yet, but I’ll keep watching.”

“Carefully, please,” Tyrel said. “You’ll be just as visible to them, and they might actually remember to look up now and then, since they’re used to eagles and all.”

“There isn’t really anywhere to hide up there,” Lysandra pointed out dryly. “Would you prefer that I go back to the wagon and leave you to explore alone?”

“That isn’t what I meant. It would have taken us days, if not longer, to find out what you just told us. I’m extremely grateful. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“At worst, they can kill me. They can’t surprise or capture me in the air. Given what they’re doing to Ilek, I’m willing to risk it.”

“Apparently it’s my fate to be surrounded by women I care about who are determined to put themselves in danger for what they believe in,” Tyrel sighed.

Mirren just laughed at him, though quietly. “Poor tragic fox. You’d prefer to be surrounded by women who believe in nothing and shriek helplessly for you to rescue them? The women around you value our lives, I promise. But what’s the point of life if you cower in a corner while people do evil things?” She turned her gaze to Lysandra. “Considering how well you’re doing from above, I’m not certain how much use we are on scouting from down here, but at least we’re around if there’s any trouble. I don’t dare do my friendly-tabby-mouser routine around here, no one has any food to spare and they might decide to pop me into the soup, and it would be insane to try in a household that has them in it anyway. That’s rather frustrating, I tend to hear fascinating things that way.”

“I’ll keep looking,” Lysandra said. “I can see a lot, but getting close enough to listen so I can understand what I’m seeing is rather problematic. And,” she held up a hand to forestall Tyrel’s response, “I can’t report back if I get myself killed, which would make the whole exercise pointless. I doubt I’d find the entire family intact by the time Meyar is full again. Anything else, or shall we get back to scouting? Anything specific you want me to watch for, other than their presence?”

“Try to stay in sight,” Tyrel said. “We’ll circle around the walls and see whether we pick up any interesting scents or can hear anything, then we’ll go on to the next. We probably won’t, but at least we’ll know where they are. We now know that there are so-called reborn inside at least one, which more or less confirms what Ejiro is reacting to. We can’t even begin to make plans until we know what we’re up against, which makes knowing what info we need impossible to break down other than ‘anything you can get.’”

“Anything I can get. I can do that.” She stretched carefully, rotating her shoulders, and looked up at Meyar.

Mirren scooped Lysandra’s small body up and rose to give her the toss skyward that made it easier to get into the air.

“You worry about us too much,” she told Tyrel, once Lysandra was fluttering up to the open sky. “Maybe it’s a canine thing, or early training. Whatever. We look to you because you’re good at what you do and we trust you. But let us look after ourselves, hm? We’d better go or we’ll lose Lysandra.”

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