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
The Writing on the Wall CH21"By rights, you should be arrested again," Dr Cordet said, her hand over mine. Her knuckles were white, and my fingers hurt, but it was almost a nice reminder that we had not died.
I laughed, rather unsteadily as I worked my fingers free, dazed after travelling via hasty sigil. It was the first one I had ever made. That thought kept on repeating in my head, so that I was barely aware that Dr Cordet was speaking at all. I had to focus to understand her words.
"As for myself, I have spent far too much time away from my own bed. I have to compile the data gained from our little excursion, which I believe I shall do in combination with a nice hot bath. Tomorrow afternoon, I shall call on you all again." With that, she turned on her heel, with less precision than I would have normally expected from Asclepia Cordet, and left the mansion.
The fact that we had ended up there was more than a little unsettling to me.
The Writing on the Wall CH20The light grew fast, but thankfully that was because Demetrius had helped me to stand and started walking toward it, taking long strides. He seemed excited to have a goal. Or perhaps that was just me. He could have been embarrassed by his faux pas and wanting to leave it behind, as if it were a physical landmark.
It would have been easier to convince myself of that if he had shown at least a bit of remorse over what he'd done, but that was not something to dwell on. He would never make sense to me, I decided, and that was that.
All thoughts of this nature dribbled out of my head like beads of wax down the sides of a distressed candlestick when we had come close enough to the light to discern its nature. It was a cavern, carved out of the rock by deliberate hands.
I let go of Demetrius, pulling my arm away from his shoulders, and walked over to one of the walls. Placing my hand on the rock, I rubbed my fingers over it.
The Writing on the Wall CH19"That's impossible."
It didn't matter who said it, I wasn't listening terribly closely. All of my attention was on the Hollow Child and its lack of teeth. Hollow Man cried out somewhere. Like a caged animal. "Being used by..." That was the question they should have been asking. Who was using him?
Or perhaps I should have been asking myself why I cared. The other person inside me twitched, and I fell to my knees, retching. Oh, Dr Cordet, thank you so very much. Focusing or thinking, whatever it was she had told me to do, had not just woken up some connection. Nor a magnet pull either.
Someone held my hair back out of my face while everyone else kept their shoes clear of my breakfast. I coughed and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand. The Hollow Child flickered in and out of my vision now, as if whatever had made it so hard to shake had gone out of me with
The Writing on the Wall CH18Out in the natural light of the world, I had to cock a grin. It was like going to another country, but as another person. I was a licensed sigil artist--a courier had brought the license with a dry letter from the king, both of which were in my modest rucksack.
The sheer rush of it, of being outside and official, were enough to flood my emotions. I could obscure from myself the fact that we were already leaving the outside in favour of a dank cave where the walls dripped and the king's men had insisted we would find the Hollow Man.
At the head of our meagre party, Soterios and Demetrius walked like soldiers. Soterios, rather less so. Although he didn't look foolish with a sword bouncing against one hip as he walked, the pistol on his other side made for a funny contrast. I couldn't say why. He followed a step behind Demetrius, who had geared himself up to look exactly the way he had when I'd first met him.