The Writing on the Wall CH30With the spider gone, and the Hollow Man standing before me, I could see the difference between the two. The spider had been like a pet, almost. It had held parts of me in it. What the general had said shuddered through me, even as I backed away, scooting on my rear into a corner between two humming machines.
The Hollow Man did not harbour gratitude as the spider might have. Where the spider had hoped, and had some sort of... at least an illusion of fellow feeling, Hollow Man had nothing. His name had been given by an astute person.
Howling in a dry, cracked voice like icy smoke eking out of a frozen pipe, he advanced upon me. Each step appeared to pain him, but it was an act. I couldn't read his intentions anymore, nor did I have any feeling inside that even connected me to him, but this Hollow Man was not a creature struggling to survive. He was a thing with prey in sight and within reach.
The Writing on the Wall CH29Heading out into that hallway again, without the cloak of borrowed darkness, was like walking naked into a rosebush. Fortunately, I wasn't in the lead. Kosmo took point, so to speak, and I had to deal with sharing a sort of place in line with Chrysander. He had latched onto me again, in a way that I was almost becoming accustomed to. Demetrius was last, taking up the rear with a sullen, but dutiful air.
They were all so much like soldiers that I found myself thinking of the general. The spider skittered about as if thinking about the man was like bringing up his name in front of an enemy. It felt so loud that I actually held a hand over my chest, in case someone heard the scratching of hairy legs on glass.
My chest tightened, but no one came running to inspect the sound. Perhaps only I could hear it.
Chrysander looked about, then turned to Kosmo, who pointed down the hall. It lead in two directions.
The Writing on the Wall CH28What was not complicated, however, was knowing what I had to do. It was not going to be easy to accomplish, but I didn't have any trouble deciding what it was. In the vaguest form, anyway.
I pushed myself off of the table and brushed myself off, affecting far more composure and dignity than I actually felt. "Thank you," I said, unsure of what else I could say to Kosmo. He had known my father. I barely knew my father, but it sounded right, the way Kosmo had complained about him. Or maybe it didn't and he was just concocting some wicked ruse.
At that moment in time, hardly seemed to matter. He did not appear to hear me in any case. He was still pacing, his hands in his hair. With his seemingly natural suavity so near to being utterly gone, he actually looked shorter. Older. "This is not at all how I would have liked this day to go," he mumbled.
"How did you want it to
The Writing on the Wall CH27The woman flapped out the collar of her white coat, as if coming so close to me gave her chills. "Very well. I was to inform you of such things in any case, Miss Idony." The way she pronounced my name made it sound like a curse. She turned, made a motion to Kosmo, and then turned back.
There was a crack of paper and suddenly I was no longer holding it. My bluff would not have gone well, it seemed. I pretended that whatever it was he had done, it was beneath my notice.
"As you can see, we have been working on a rather ambitious project," the woman said. She brushed past me, her collar still turned up, and I could see a name tag bearing the label of 'Miss Saccourt' pinned to her coat. "It has produced extensive results, but not terribly impressive ones."
"I don't see any results at all," Noni said, obviously trying to sneer at the tubes. Instead she just looked apprehensive. Mayb
The Writing on the Wall CH26Call me sheltered, and I would hardly argue, but I knew a city when I saw one. "We're in the middle of the countryside!"
Chrysander, his mind still no doubt standing by the bloody linden tree, twisted to press his face against the window. He muttered a half-finished oath under his breath. "We are. I-I think."
"That can't be right." General Thornbehr leaned against the dashboard, squinting at the windscreen. That particular view was one with a city, albeit a blurred one. I could even make out the castle. "Don't be foolish."
"I'm not, look out the side windows."
"You're acting strange, even for you," Demetrius said, leaning against his own window.
"Maybe so, but--listen, try your dispel magic." It was rather a desperate thing to say. Even with as little as I knew about, I felt, anything.
"More foolishness," the general grumbled, as if to agree with my thoughts. "Dispel
The Writing on the Wall CH25Returning to the suite of rooms first loaned to me when I had been made a reluctant guest of the Trevino mansion had something of the sense of a homecoming. The wardrobe and vanity saw about as much use in this second visit. I dressed quickly and then looked around the room. Perhaps I would have liked it better if Noni had been there with me. But she had her own place in that enormous house.
We weren't to stay long in any case.
I saw on the edge of the bed and lifted up the shirt to check on my wounds. "You've seen near as much attention as I have," I said to them. They looked rather worse than I did, but I could still see that in spite of it all, they were healing. I'd have terrific scars to show my grandchildren. If I lived to have any, of course.
Although living to have the scars was my primary goal for the future, I found myself thinking about the possible grandchildren. Looking up at
The Writing on the Wall CH24As the dust settled, so did the heavy sensation in my stomach. Like chunks of biscuit dropping to the bottom of a glass of milk. I held a hand over my eyes, as if shielding them from the sun.
"That did not happen last time," I said. I wasn't sure if I was trying to be facetious and failing horribly, or if I was just so bewildered that I didn't know what I was saying.
In the end, it didn't matter. Chrysander reached over to lift an armful of debris from my knees, sweeping at it like a slobby student clearing his desk. I decided not to chide him for being overly familiar. "Dunderwyrms are... Blast it. Demetrius, was that normal? Or should we get up and bloody start running? I spent my time studying animals and people, not monsters."
"Time to turn to the poor little ranger, is it?" But there was no vitriol in Demetrius's voice. He just sounded tired, and a bit odd.
The Writing on the Wall CH23Both of my questions went unanswered. Chrysander seemed to have entered a kind of bounty hunter trance and pulled me cautiously along, his eyes sweeping the tunnel for further clues and pieces of the trail, and Demetrius, though he fell into deep thought, must not have had any ideas. Or he just didn't want to share them.
I considered repeating myself, then abandoned the idea as a foolish one. We had finally found something that was if not comfortable, than at least silence.
Then Chrysander stopped again. I followed him to the ground, kneeling right with him and examining the ground at least as closely. There were flecks of something, and a tuft of... "Is that hair?"
"Why are you whispering?"
"Why are you?"
"Because you are. I thought it'd be polite to let the lady set the volume of the conversation."
It sounded perfectly ridiculous, and for some reason, my mood lightened. I felt guilty for it, but e
The Writing on the Wall CH22"We should get Noni. She'll throw a monumental mardy if you try to leave her out."
Demetrius shook his head vehemently. "It's better that she stays here. I'll leave a message with one of the butlers, he'll keep her here and safe."
"You don't know that it isn't safe where we're going," I pointed out.
Chrysander increased his pace to stand beside me. "Look, no matter the blasted hurry, you can take five minutes to go and talk to your fiancee about what you plan to do, make her bloody stay here, and then meet us back here." He put a hand on my shoulder. "I've got to find a handkerchief, and unless those red and brown marks are decoration on our Athena's shirt, she needs some medical assistance before she's going anywhere."
"She isn't going anywhere," Demetrius said firmly. "And neither are you. If you can't help me find my father, then you're just a useless lump."
Delayed retribution caught