Cast in Ruin, p.15Michelle Sagara
“Given Tiamaris’s reaction, I’m not sure performing an autopsy is in the cards. We need Red,” she added. “I could try to get Mallory sent in his place.”
Sanabalis snorted. So did Severn.
“What do you think he’ll find?” she finally asked.
“I don’t know,” Sanabalis replied. “But we now need the information. You will not understand why,” he added softly, “but I am almost certain that these deaths—if they are, indeed, deaths—are entirely a product of the Shadows that lie at the heart of Ravellon. And they are spread throughout the fief of Tiamaris.”
“You think they might be spread throughout the rest of the fiefs, as well.” It wasn’t a question.
“The situation in Tiamaris is different,” he replied, but it took him at least a minute. “Only Tiamaris has a Dragon for a Lord. I do not know if that was the intent of the Tower’s creators or not; I know that something at the heart of Ravellon has now turned an eye upon the newest of the fieflords. If there were no similar identical corpses to be found in any other fief, it would not surprise me.”
“And if there were?”
He was silent. It wasn’t a particularly good silence.
“Sanabalis, I’ve never met a female Dragon.”
“Aren’t there any?”
“That is not a topic of discussion that will prove fruitful,” he replied, and as he glanced at her, she concurred, because his eyes had dipped to a shade that was almost—but not quite—red. She had the usual vested interest in making sure they didn’t get there. “I will speak with Lord Grammayre on the morrow.”
“I do not know, Kaylin. Today was more…eventful…than even I had guessed it would be. Diarmat’s lesson tomorrow, however, must not be missed. Unless you are severely injured. Minor injuries, sadly, will count for little. But you have failed to mention Maggaron to the Arkon; you have also failed to mention your sword.”
Sanabalis grimaced. “This is not the time to be careless in the presence of magical weapons, especially not if you claim to own said weapon.” His eyes were now a pale orange. “You will, of course, procure a sheath before you meet with Diarmat again, if it is at all possible. I assume the weapon didn’t come with a sheath?”
“Given the reaction of the previous owner to the question, I’m assuming the answer is no.”
“He was angry?”
“Horrified. I don’t want to ask him again. I got the impression the question itself was hideously disrespectful.”
He glanced toward the unadorned ceiling in much the same way her Sergeant had when she’d been younger. “It is no small wonder to me that your lives are so short,” he finally said. “They are far, far too crowded with immediate catastrophe; if the whole of my life had been this eventful, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have considered mortality a distinct boon.” He turned his back on the figure that stood, unmoving, just above the crystal Severn had set on the table.
He cleared his throat.
“What did the four of you say when you were flying over the City?”
Sanabalis didn’t reply.
“What did you hear?”
Severn stepped in and carefully tapped her shoulder. She turned. “If it’s a matter of the Dragon Court, think carefully about how much you want the answer. Lord Diarmat is unlikely to approve.”
“And if we need it?”
“If you require the answer,” Sanabalis replied heavily, “you will know.” He started to speak, stopped, and made a show of straightening out his beard.
The door flew open, framing the Arkon, whose eyes were now an even, simmering orange. They darkened when he glanced at the figure that adorned the tabletop, but this time no flame accompanied his exhalation.
“Arkon,” Kaylin said quietly. She felt Sanabalis’s warning glare drill the side of her cheek, and ignored it. Nothing she’d ever said had caused the ancient Librarian to spout flame in the middle of his hoard, after all. “Her eyes were only golden when the bodies were examined under spell. In normal conditions we believe they were brown or hazel.”
“Whose spell?” he asked, voice sharp.
The glance that the Arkon shot at Sanabalis was far from friendly, but he seemed satisfied with the answer. “My apologies for my outburst,” he said. “I was…surprised. I also interrupted the details of your investigation thus far, and I am now ready to entertain all those missing details. Private?”
When she had finished answering his questions, she felt as if she was sitting in on an interrogation. Her own. But the Arkon had turned his attention to Severn. “You took samples of the cloth?”
“I would like to examine them.”
Without blinking, Severn took them out of his satchel and set them on the table to one side of the crystal.
“Why did you cut these?”
“The dye,” Severn replied after a careful pause. “It’s an unusual shade of blue. Blue dyes aren’t common, and they’re expensive; they’re not readily found anywhere in the fiefs. If the fabric was made in the Empire, we should be able to find out where.”
“Leave one sample with me.”
Severn nodded again.
“I would also appreciate a report—in person, and off the record—of your findings in this particular investigation. Lord Diarmat was mildly skeptical about the necessity of your presence in the fiefs. I will set his doubts permanently to rest.”
“Arkon,” Sanabalis began.
“If he wishes to argue, he may.”
“Can he do it when I’m nowhere near the Palace?” Kaylin asked.
Both Dragons turned to look at her, and she had the grace to redden. “There are a couple of other things that we haven’t had the time to mention.”
The Arkon’s brows rose quickly enough there was some chance they’d detach.
“It has,” Sanabalis told the Arkon, “been a very complicated day.”
Before they’d finished in the Library, the Arkon took a few moments to examine the sword Kaylin had left at the front desk with a man who was now understandably entirely absent. The sword, however, was where she had placed it, boxed in on all sides by glass, wood, and magic.
His mind was clearly not on the sword itself, but his inspection wasn’t cursory; it just wasn’t magical. He asked Sanabalis for details—in, thankfully, High Barrani; Sanabalis supplied them. Kaylin glanced around; nothing seemed to be on fire, and nothing had been staved in.
Sanabalis raised a brow. “You don’t think he’d damage any part of the Library, do you?”
Because she thought better of answering that question where anyone might hear her, she didn’t fall further afoul of the Arkon. Unfortunately, before he dismissed the Hawks, he asked several pointed questions, and he didn’t seem entirely satisfied with the answers. Given that Kaylin surrendered everything she knew of relevance to Maggaron, Ascendants, magical swords, and fief borders, she thought it a touch unfair. Especially since he didn’t seem to consider any of her questions pertinent or worth answering in return.
But after what felt like hours, he rose. “You will take the crystal, Corporal. Use it as you see fit in the confines of your investigation. Because you are both so young and at least one of you defines lack of wisdom by her actions, I will tell you to use that crystal as far from the Dragon Court as it is possible to do.” He took the swatch of cloth Severn had left him and said, “I will begin my own investigations here; we may confer at the end of tomorrow.”
Kaylin lifted a hand.
“I have lessons with Lord Diarmat tomorrow when I return from the fiefs.”
“Yes. But Corporal Handred does not. You may join us if you survive your lesson.”
There was only one stop left—the Halls of Law. It was now dark enough t
Marcus, on the other hand, was still in the office. The mirror on his desk—a small, unobtrusive oval on iron legs—was putting on a light show that made Kaylin turn to look at the schedule posted on the board. But Teela, Tain, and a half dozen of the other Barrani Hawks were also in the office; quiet wasn’t in the cards.
Teela looked up as Kaylin, sidling around Marcus’s desk, approached. Barrani didn’t need much sleep or food—unless you counted alcohol—but this didn’t show on Teela’s face; she looked peaked. “Kitling,” she said. “Corporal.” Peaked changed to something with less approval in it. “What are you carrying, Kaylin?”
“With no sheath.”
“It didn’t come with a sheath.” She laid it across the surface of an almost-clean desk and draped herself over the back of the nearest empty chair. Marcus hadn’t even growled when she’d entered, which was always a bad sign.
“Where did it come from?”
“The fiefs. It’s—it’s a magic sword.”
If she’d expected Teela to snort or laugh, she was disappointed; the Barrani Hawk was staring at the sword as if she expected it to stand up and dance. “Yes,” she finally said. “It is.”
Tain walked by, dropped a stack of papers to one side of Teela’s elbows, and said, “Lord Grammayre expects us within an hour.”
“An hour from now?” Kaylin asked.
“An hour from now.”
She watched Tain leave, and then turned to Teela. “The Exchequer?”
Teela nodded. It was a curt, grim motion.
“How ‘not well’ is the investigation going?”
“There’s some possibility that the Arcanum is indirectly involved.”
“And how is the fief of Tiamaris?” Teela asked, as if a change of subject could bring momentary relief.
Kaylin’s shrug was less graceful than Teela’s, but not by much. This caused Teela to raise one dark brow over eyes that were a little too blue to be emerald. “Lord Diarmat has petitioned the Hawklord for your services.”
“Ah, no, you don’t. He sent a second request in, directly, by his personal courier, citing the lack of legal jurisdiction for your current deployment.”
Kaylin grimaced. “I think that’ll be withdrawn.”
“You have information you can bring to bear on Diarmat?” the Barrani Hawk said as her second brow joined the first in its high arch above her eyes. “Spill.”
Kaylin almost laughed. “I have no information that I could use against Diarmat, and even if I did, I wouldn’t touch it—I like breathing. But there’s something going on in the fiefs of Tiamaris, and I think it’s important.”
“Diarmat is not going to care what you think.”
“I think it’s important because the Arkon thinks it’s important.”
“Better. How important?”
“He was…intemperate enough…to breathe fire on the only person in the room it wouldn’t kill?”
“That’s important,” was the grave reply. “Anything else?”
Kaylin leaned over her folded arms. “We spent an hour at the interior borders in Tiamaris. The Shadows were there—and focused—in an all-out attack.”
Teela stilled. “The borders held?”
“Yes. But as far as I can tell, that’s the point of the borders.”
“That’s the public point of the borders, yes. But, kitling, you’ve seen the borders before, albeit in Nightshade, not Tiamaris. Was there an obvious, physical barrier then?”
“Did Shadows cross the Nightshade border?”
“And you weren’t alarmed.”
“I was almost killed, Teela. How much alarm do I have to show?”
Teela laughed, and reaching out, she ruffled Kaylin’s hair. Kaylin, used to this, didn’t resent it as much as she probably should have. “No. I wasn’t alarmed by the crossing. I didn’t know what purpose the Towers served at the time.”
Kaylin was thoughtful. “Now? I think Nightshade must have allowed them to cross.”
“You need to rethink that.”
“You weren’t there.”
“No. But, Kaylin, think on this: the Shadows are contained or confined unless the borders become destabilized.”
“I know that.”
“Not everything that can speak to—or hear—Shadow is entirely of it. It’s why the Dragon Outcaste is considered such a threat. He can move between the borders of the fiefs and into the Empire, should he so choose, because he is a Dragon. His power is not in its entirety of the Shadow.”
She thought about this for a moment. “And the Leontines?”
“The same. They are not, or were not, entirely of the Shadow, but they were very, very vulnerable to its voice and its words.” Teela shook her head.
Teela shrugged. “They were probably once rats; they certainly have, or had, a physical, mortal component.”
“Which is why they can come to the fiefs.”
“Yes. It is also why they aren’t a danger.” Kaylin glared; Teela was so preoccupied, she didn’t notice.
Kaylin leaned even farther over her arms, tilting the chair to bring herself closer to Teela. “I wanted to ask you a question.”
“Have you ever taken someone else’s name?”
If she’d asked a mortal that question, she would have been talking about marriage—itself a hot topic on any given day in the office, as some people were trying to avoid it, some were actively courting it, and some were in the midst of discovering that they hadn’t really learned anything from their previous mistakes. True, some of the naming customs were race and class dependent, itself a topic for some heat when the days were slow and the Sergeant was somewhere else, but it still had that meaning.
She was talking to a Barrani, an Immortal, and a Lord of the High Court.
“Kitling,” that Lord said, “this is not the time for that discussion. And, in case you’re slouching on Barrani social custom—”
“No classes covered this.”
“It’s not unlike asking for the explicit details of your sex life. But more offensive.” All of this was said in Elantran. “I know you, and I’ve known you for years, so I choose not to take offense. For now. What might solidify that position would be your careful explanation about why you’re asking.”
“Because I don’t understand how it works.”
“Clearly. What I don’t understand is why it’s relevant.” She lifted a hand. “What you know—or do not know—is something you had best keep to yourself. Why are you asking what I know?”
Kaylin hesitated. Teela’s eyes shaded toward a blue that had no green in it. “Kitling, I asked you a question.”
“I…accepted…the name of a man who came out of the Shadows on the wrong side of the border.”
Teela stared at her as if she’d grown two extra heads, neither of which had the brains she clearly thought Kaylin was missing. “Is ‘accept’ a human euphemism for ‘take’?”
Teela was silent for a minute. Her eyes didn’t get any greener as the time passed. “When you say he came out of Shadow, what exactly do you mean? Was he fleeing the Shadows? Had he somehow wandered across the border without realizing it?” Her tone made it clear that she found this improbable.
“He was kind of leading the attack.”
Teela looked at Severn, who nodded. “You took his name presumably to end the attack?”
Teela raised a brow.
“I took his name because he wanted me to take his name, Teela. I’m not the onl
“His people?” Teela frowned. “Are you telling me he’s one of the refugees?”
“Yes. And no. He was, but I think his role was special.”
“So he arrived here with his people—Kaylin, they’re mortal as far as I can tell. They don’t have names. He then wandered across the border where he gave a name he shouldn’t be able to possess to the Shadows on the other side?”
Tain had come to stand to one side of Teela, and was gazing pointedly at the untouched reports by her elbow when he inserted his stare into the conversation.
“He says he fell in battle while in his own world.”
“And he ended up here how?”
“I don’t know.”
“Kaylin, did it not occur to you that he was lying?”
“I held his name.”
“You understand,” Teela said, rising and grabbing the stack of papers that needed her attention, “that this is not like taking in a mangy stray, unless the stray just happens to be rabid? If he is indeed bound to the Shadows, your binding takes precedence if and only if you enforce it. Your will against theirs, for as long as the person being pulled between you survives.” She shoved her chair to one side, glanced at the papers in a hand that was now almost fist, and then said, “Where is he now?”
“I left him in the Tower of Tiamaris.”
This seemed to be the right answer, even if it plainly followed a host of the wrong ones. “You can’t hold him,” Teela said, voice flat.
Tain touched her shoulder, and she flicked his hand aside without even looking at him.
“If I can’t hold him, the Shadows have—”
“An agent in the heart of the fiefs, yes.”
“I don’t know how to let his name go,” Kaylin finally said, after a long pause. “I don’t know how to just forget I know it.”
Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes