Cast in Ruin, p.20Michelle Sagara
She therefore walked slowly toward home, trading moments of peace for moments of sleep, something she rarely did. Her usual anxiety didn’t catch up with her until she’d unlocked her own door and stood in its frame, looking toward her mirror. Only when she saw its flat, reflective surface did she relax. There’d been no emergencies. The midwives hadn’t called her. Marrin hadn’t mirrored, which meant all was well in the Foundling Hall.
She made her way to her bed, crawled beneath it, and fished out the crate that still held the egg. Unwrapping it with care, she placed it on her pillow. She was awake enough to undress and fold her clothing; she was awake enough to wash herself—quickly, because the water was cold—and towel herself dry.
Then she slipped into bed, wrapped herself carefully around the egg, and listened, pressing her ear gently against its shell. It felt warm. She smiled because it felt warm, and slowly drifted off, wondering what would hatch from it, if anything ever would.
Severn woke her in the morning. Morning, given the previous evening, wasn’t as much of an enemy as it usually was, and she woke to the aroma of food. Severn was cooking. He was also whistling something, and even whistling on-key. He stood where sunlight could reach him, and sun was streaming in through the open windows; his shadow was long.
“Teela dropped by,” he said without turning. “She tried to wake you up.”
Kaylin had no memory of that at all. “Are you sure?”
“I stopped her from upending the bed, if that helps.”
Kaylin laughed. “Was Tain with her?”
“No—but she had a message from Evanton she wanted to pass on.”
“He couldn’t mirror?”
“Apparently not.” He turned then; he was grinning. “Physical objects don’t travel well through mirrors.”
“Of course not—that would be useful. What did she bring?”
“It’s on the counter.”
Curiosity was a better incentive than work; Kaylin slid out of bed and slid into clothing. While she dressed, Severn said, “She seemed a bit surprised by the egg.”
“She wanted me to explain biology to you.” He was smiling broadly. It wasn’t genuine.
“What did she say?”
“She did say that. But she touched the egg, Kaylin.”
“It turned red.”
He nodded. “Red, orange, gold; it looked like a small, contained fire.”
“Did it—did it burn her?”
“Got it in one. It didn’t burn you, though—and you were in direct contact with it the entire time. She’s not happy,” he added.
“What did she say?”
“Oh, some Leontine, some Aerian, some Elantran. Strictly non-Barrani for about two minutes.”
Kaylin examined the egg; it looked the same as it always did in the morning. She placed it back in its crate, wrapped it with care, and shoved it back under the bed. “Does she know what it is?”
“No. She wants you to get rid of it, though.”
“Big surprise. What did she bring?”
Severn reached across the counter and lifted something: it was a sheath.
“How the hells did he know?” Kaylin asked as she crossed the room to take it from his hands.
“He’s Evanton. If I had to bet, Teela probably told him.”
She lifted the sword that she had taken from Maggaron, and took the opportunity to examine it closely. The blade was still much shorter than it had been the first time she’d seen it, but aside from that one huge shift in shape and form, it was solid. It was a clean, gleaming steel that held a perfect edge when inspected with the naked eye. Runes, however, had been carved in the flat of the blade on both sides.
“I’m glad Teela left,” Kaylin murmured as she swung the short sword experimentally in the air a few times. She could fight with long knives, but long knives and short swords weren’t the same species of weapon, and her sword training, given that she’d started it so late, was minimal.
“She’s a core part of the Exchequer investigation. Marcus is enough on edge about that he’ll rip out her throat for the usual minor infractions.”
Severn shrugged because it was true.
Kaylin picked up the sheath sent by Evanton. It was wrapped in what felt like leather, except at both lip and tip; those were steel of some sort. There were no words on the leather, and no engraving on the steel; nothing set the scabbard apart from any other utilitarian scabbard she’d ever seen. It suited her.
It did not, unfortunately, seem to suit the sword. Kaylin had sheathed many weapons in her life; she’d never before had the privilege of fighting with said weapon when she tried.
“Kaylin!” Severn shouted. “The sword’s glowing!”
The sword wasn’t. The runes were. Severn could be forgiven for skipping the details. He could also be forgiven for jumping as far out of the way as her small apartment allowed before he hit the wall. The sword swung her arm. It hit her chair. It cut her table. It separated parts of the mangy rug she used to absorb the sound of creaking floorboards. She hoped like hells that it hadn’t actually split the floor.
She wasn’t weak; she spent at least three days of any given week drilling and lifting weights. That probably saved some of her furniture, because she began to fight the sword for control of its direction. She wouldn’t have been surprised if the damn thing had started to speak, but it didn’t. Instead, it started to change shape, which was so not what she wanted.
Cursing in Leontine, and wishing she had the bulk that usually came with the language, she grabbed the hilt with her other hand and tried very, very hard to keep it still enough to put it in the sheath.
It took twenty minutes and some very cautious help from Severn before she managed to slide the weapon home. Only when she’d managed it did it suddenly cease to struggle.
“I want words with Evanton,” she said. She’d managed to bite her lip because one of the directions the sword had swung had connected her knuckles with the underside of her chin. Because she was in her apartment and no one, in theory, cleaned it but her, she didn’t spit the blood out.
“They’re going to have to wait,” Severn replied. “So is breakfast.”
They weren’t late. They weren’t late by a very small margin and a very fast run. Kaylin’s new scabbard hung off her waist by a thick and serviceable belt; she tried not to stare at it with either annoyance or suspicion when she walked between the guards that led into the Halls.
They went on a quick flyby of the office; Marcus was shouting at the mirror, which was a good sign for Marcus and a bad sign for whomever it was he was speaking to. She would have cleared the office after sign-in, but Caitlin caught up with her.
“Lord Sanabalis is waiting in the carriage.”
“The Imperial Carriage. Red is with him.”
Figured. “Where’s Teela?”
“The Barrani are in the Tower with the Hawklord.”
At least something was going right this morning. Kaylin tried to be grateful. “Tell Marcus Lord Diarmat’s not screaming for my head, yet.”
“That’s good to hear, dear. Marcus is screaming for his coroner back. Do you think Red will be finished sometime today?”
“Not according to Red. Sorry, Caitlin.”
Caitlin winced. “It’s fine, dear. Lord Sanabalis delivered a personal letter from the Arkon. Red’s duties in the fiefs are to be treated as emergency work.”
“Do they come before or after the investigation into the Exchequer?”
“I believe the Arkon considers them more important. The Emperor, however, has failed to mention them at all. Try to remember to eat lunch,” she added, giving Kaylin a push to ward the doors.
Sanabalis was waiting. He was waiting attached to eyes that were a pale copp
Also? The scabbard was making her legs itch. She wondered if this was the real reason Maggaron had looked so shocked when she’d asked him about a sheath for the sword. She’d have to ask him, if she had the chance.
They didn’t take the carriage all the way to the Tower; Sanabalis rapped three times on the roof as they approached the Ablayne, and a bridge that was, once again, congested. They got out, Red carrying a larger bag than he had the previous day, and began to make their way across the bridge on foot. Since a wagon was also making that crossing, and the bridge was lamentably narrow, it took ten minutes.
Sanabalis was snorting smoke by the time they hit cobbles again.
Kaylin waited until the air was clear to speak to him. “Are you heading out to the interior border?”
He failed to hear her. Given Dragon hearing, she didn’t ask again.
Morse was waiting for them when they reached the Tower. So was Tara; she’d been in the gardens, and it showed; she wore heavy gardening gloves, an apron that was more brown and green than the off-white it had been at some point, and a kerchief to keep her hair out of her eyes. Her eyes, however, were almost entirely obsidian when she approached. Given the color of Sanabalis’s eyes, this was not a comfort.
Kaylin hugged her anyway.
“My Lord is not happy,” Tara told her as she returned the hug. Someone could have said the same thing about either a husband or an injured puppy, in the same tone of voice.
“Neither is Sanabalis. And my Sergeant is practically spitting fur.”
“Because Red is here, and we need him in the Halls. Among other things. Sorry,” she added. “None of that is your fault. I have no idea, on the other hand, what’s irritating Sanabalis. Um, how is the border?”
“The Norannir guard the border at the moment. It is…stable…but the storms have been heavy.”
“The borders keep the storms contained, don’t they?”
Tara nodded gravely. “They have, in the past. But I cannot recall another time since my awakening when the storms on our borders have been so fierce, and so consistent.” She looked up at Sanabalis, who stood to Kaylin’s left and a few yards behind. “You will remain in the Tower today?”
“If it is acceptable to Lord Tiamaris.”
Tara said nothing. Instead, she removed her gloves and handed them to Morse, who seemed to be expecting them. “He is waiting,” Tara told them. “Red?”
Red detached himself from Sanabalis—and safety—and approached. “Lady.”
“Why do you hate the name Reginald so much?”
If there’d been a nearby wall, Kaylin would have hit it. With her head.
“Is this an inappropriate question?” Tara asked her when Red failed to answer.
“Ye-es.” Kaylin all but hissed.
“Because almost no one knows that that’s the name he was given at birth, Tara. He wouldn’t be called Red if he wanted them to know it.”
“Oh.” She turned to Red, who’d remained silent, and said, “Please accept my apologies. I am trying to listen less deliberately, now.”
His brows rose.
“She is the Tower,” Kaylin told him. She didn’t bother to whisper, because Tara was almost impossible to offend. “You’re standing on part of her. When you do that, she can pretty much read your mind. Think of the entire Tower, and the ground it stands on, as if they were Tha’alani stalks.”
Clearly, he visualized what Kaylin had just said, and the information didn’t exactly comfort him. “There are some parts of my mind it is not safe, by Imperial Dictate, to read,” Red told Tara. Tara blinked.
“But Imperial Dictate has no meaning in the fief.”
“Lord Tiamaris remains a member of the Dragon Court.”
“Imperial Dictate governs some part of his actions. I can’t—clearly—stop you from retrieving information, but before you speak of any of it, speak with Lord Tiamaris first. He knows the Emperor’s mind and the Emperor’s will better than any one in the Empire who isn’t a Dragon. It’s important that you understand what is, and what is not, public knowledge.” Kaylin caught the coroner’s arm as the doors rolled open, and she all but dragged him from the steps. She didn’t really want to have to explain the concept of public knowledge to Tara, because in Tara’s world, the only important secrets revolved around her duties to keep the fief free of Shadow, and she’d probably spend the better part of an hour—if Red was lucky—attempting to figure out why he equated the two. Explaining that he didn’t would take time; Kaylin knew this from personal experience.
Tara trailed after them, and Sanabalis and Severn pulled up the rear. Severn said something to Morse and Morse snorted; she waited outside.
Tiamaris was in the morgue. His eyes were a shade darker than Sanabalis’s, and if Kaylin had to guess, for about the same reason.
“It is,” Tara said quietly.
Both of the Dragons glanced at Tara, but reserved the brunt of their obvious glares for—who else?—Kaylin. Kaylin who had no idea what the actual cause of their unhappiness was, and had been relying, in silence, on base intuition.
“Red,” Tiamaris said, prying the glare from Kaylin’s face and adjusting his expression to one that was more neutral and vastly more respectful.
Red bowed. Kaylin was torn between shock and envy, because the bow wasn’t awkward, didn’t seem forced, and was likely to be one of the many, many things she would have to learn to do perfectly if she didn’t want to be Diarmat’s next meal. Which, she grimaced, Tara might take as literal fear.
“Oh, no,” Tara said, on cue. “I know the Dragons don’t actually eat mortals.”
Red walked to one of the empty slabs and opened his bag; he took out the long, cloth roll in which he kept scalpels, tweezers, pliers, and gods only knew what else. Kaylin frowned. Red had been silent in the carriage, which she expected given Sanabalis’s mood. But he’d been remarkably subdued when Tara had pretty much announced the most hated word in his past vocabulary, and he’d bowed to Tiamaris.
“Red,” she said, clearing her throat.
He continued to lay out scalpels, and he also drew a small mirror from the depths of his bag, which he laid beside them. “Private?”
“Did you get the Records information you were looking for?”
“Yes.” It was a curt, cool word. That tone of voice would usually have muted any further conversation, because Red, like Caitlin, had ways of making a person suffer when they’d annoyed him. It muted Kaylin for entirely different reasons, and it made his deep bow suspicious in exactly the wrong way.
But she no longer had the desire to pester Red while he worked; she had, instead, the much stronger desire to grab Severn’s arm and drag him into the streets of the fief, where they could do the work they were, in theory, meant to do while they were here. It was always a bonus when you could hide cowardice behind the facade of responsibility.
She chanced a look at Sanabalis; to her relief, he didn’t immediately return it. Red, however, had most of his attention, and Red moved very, very cautiously toward one of the bodies that he hadn’t yet touched. His scalpel hand was, to Kaylin’s genuine surprise, shaking—and he hadn’t even picked up a scalpel, yet.
Instead, he said, “Private, bring me my mirror.” She did exactly as ordered, which brought her closer to the body and the man under the glare of two pairs of Dragon eyes than she’d’ve liked. “Records.”
The small mirror flared in a brief, blue flash, its edges glittering in the dull and steady light of the morgue. Kaylin was surprised when marks on her arm began their low, distinct itch. Mirror magic didn’t generally cause her pain the way stronger magics did. She said nothing, although she h
Images began to form in the mirror, then. In the past, Kaylin had pulled up a stool while Red worked; he’d explain what he was doing and what he was looking for, so she knew what the inner cavity of a human body looked like. She knew more or less what bruises looked like beneath skin; she knew what damaged organs looked like. She didn’t really have that strong a sense of what living, healthy organs looked like; seeing parts of someone’s internal organs spill out was one of her personal nightmares.
But dead people were dead people. They felt no pain. They felt no shame or humiliation. She reminded herself of this when she lost the detachment necessary to function in a job that saw so many deliberate deaths. Still, watching the image form on the smaller mirror surface made her squint, because it looked…wrong, somehow.
He was silent; they were both looking at the same image.
“Red, what is that supposed to be?”
“Private,” Sanabalis barked. “Let the coroner do his job.” The words were very loud; they echoed in the chamber.
Red spoke a few more words to the mirror; they were technical enough that Kaylin didn’t immediately recognize them—which she guessed was his intent. She watched the mirror as the images shifted; in one case the mirror came up entirely gray, which was a mirror’s version of “no clue in hells.”
“Coroner, will it be enough?” Sanabalis asked.
Red nodded. He then took the scalpel and began to cut into the skin just below the corpse’s exposed breasts. Kaylin, who’d seen this done many times, was surprised because the woman’s skin seemed to resist the blade’s edge. Either that or it was very, very blunt, and given Red, this was unlikely.
Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes