"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. Of course I knew the theory, and I had known I had it right. Power was not an issue to a sigil artist. Not the way it was to an ordinary mage, at any rate. I looked down at my hands and wrinkled my nose, trying to shed the excess nervous energy.
It had worked, and that was what was important. We had all been pulled from the shaking cavern room, and deposited into the front room of the Trevino mansion. Although I felt a bit odd in considering it a familiar place, the fact remained that it was. My sensitivities could adjust to the social unevenness of it at a later date. My sigil had done what I had hoped it would.
That was the real trouble with writing one's own sigils. Knowing it would work and believing it would work were not quite the same thing.
The less troubling... trouble, was that I felt a bit foolish. Breaking the law should have ceased to become a bother to my mind, after the way I had fled before, but some things stayed ingrained in the mind. And I had just broken the law in order to go to my friend's house.
Thinking that put me on another tier of thoughts, all of which had me groaning in my head. While the others milled around the room, I grabbed Noni's arm. All of the boy's could take care of themselves, I had to talk to her.
Luckily, Demetrius seemed to shake himself free of the odd daze that had some grip on each of us and pointed to his father's study. "It's been a while since I was back," he said. "You can all make yourselves comfortable--yes, even you, Chrysander. I have to see my father. He.... There are things he ought to know. About what we found."
Right. Noni appeared to be asleep almost. Perhaps that was one of the many, many reasons that drawing one's own sigils was considered worse than just messing up while drawing a long-ago established sigil. When I had messed up the rune of return and landed us in the sea, she had kept all of her faculties through the trip, or at least had them all in order quickly enough not to drown. I shuddered to think what would have happened if I had been upset enough or frenzied enough to try something new back then.
"I have to talk to you," I said to her in a low voice, giving her shoulder a bit of a shake. "About Demetrius."
Hearing his name appeared to rouse her to, if not full alertness, then some acceptable percentage of it. She gave me an uneasy look that reminded me of when she had gotten mad at me in the conservatory. "Oh yes. What about him?"
"Do you know how he feels about..." I waved a hand, the foolish feeling getting worse. This was not a subject I had ever been any good at and I knew it. "Well, about your engagement?" Not the way I had meant to ask, but it was one time when the wrong words came out of my mouth in a more polite fashion than the ones I was actually thinking. I wasn't sure if that was better or worse than being too blunt.
Although this was not my forte and never would be, Noni was hardly enigmatic. Her face went over a short range of very clear emotions: worry, confusion, sadness, and then a hopeful look of anticipation. None of them made any sense to me, especially as they were all but presented out of context. "Yes, of course I am. He's not exactly hard to read, is he? Besides, he's told me before, more than once. Demetrius can go on and on about things." That smile made me feel sad, but I didn't know how to interrupt. "I'm sure he'll come around though."
"Are you?" This burst was nothing like the polite slip. It was unbridled and probably quite rude. "What if he doesn't?" I had other questions, but I was slowly realising that I didn't want answers to the rest of them. All I wanted was to hear that she was completely certain. Noni's absolute certainty of anything would have been a nice change of pace after what had happened in the cave.
Anything that had happened in the cave. I forced myself to think inside the present moment.
She put her hands on her hips, irritated now. "He will. We grew up together, it's better than a story. There's no one else that could make me happy, and no one else who could even understand him."
"That doesn't sound like much of a love story," I confessed.
"Love stories are silly things."
For a moment I thought that Chrysander or even Soterios had broken into the conversation to say this. But I was still talking to just Noni. Her hands were still on her hips and that had been her voice. Dumbstruck, I stammered, "B-but you love him, don't you?" Even if it was one-sided, that part had made sense to me. "You were jealous of me just being around. That looked like love to me."
"Of course I love him, but it's not a story. You can't play about like that, especially with Demetrius. He'd get bored, or run away when it stopped being a story." She sighed and placed a hand on her cheek, leaning against it. "It was a story for me when I was a kid, but even then he wasn't exactly eager. I can read him, but I don't really know what he wants sometimes."
If she didn't know, even after implying that she was the only person in the whole of existence with any hope to, then it wasn't likely that I was ever going to understand him. Not that I wanted to. "There's other things you should know," I said, hating myself for talking so slowly.
"What, that he likes you? I do know. Stop it."
"Stop what? I haven't done anything!" It almost felt like a lie. But it was technically true, I consoled myself. I had not done anything.
She patted my arm, still looking quite annoyed. Her crossbow had been transported along with her, and I could not fight an overwhelming awareness of it. Or of the fact that Soterios still had my weapons. Visions of a ridiculous duel started to pass in my head. "Stop making him like you," she said, her voice soft. "It isn't your fault, I guess. I can see the way you talk to him, you aren't encouraging him. But still. Stop doing it."
And then she walked away. I couldn't tell where she was going. All I could understand was that she was delving deeper into the house, maybe towards the garden, or to another place that belonged to her by dint of stubbornness, position, or just long-time acquaintance.
I took a step after her, then rescinded it. There were things we all had to sort out, at least nothing of hers had to do with Hollow Man.
Soterios leaned his head over, his fine blond hair sliding with gravity to make him look as though he were peeping in through a doorway rather than past my shoulder. "Is everything all right?" he asked. "Some of us are acting a bit odd."
"That's my fault," I confessed, only half-forcing a weak grin. "I got us back here by use of... well, an illegal sigil."
"What makes it illegal?"
"I made it up on the spot. Even back when that part of the magic was not regulated, there was still a recommended amount of time to pass between thinking of one's wish," I explained, quite aware that too little of this was directly quoted from the books I had read what seemed years ago, "and then designing the sigil. Even more time had to pass before it was used." I decided not to go into the more technical details. He'd straightened and moved to stand in front of me, but his face didn't look any less lost or confused than it had an angle. "What I did was squish the entire process together into one knotted mess."
His worried smile relaxed. "Do you think that I helped at all? I--I mean, with what I can do. It's supposed to help, isn't it?"
The thought was not quite as cheering as it ought to have been. If he had not been there, or if I'd been too far from his sphere of influence, then anything could have happened. I swallowed, finding that a lump had been growing in my throat. "Yes, I think you helped a good deal more than the more nervous of us wants to know. If Demetrius and I had still been by ourselves in that room when the shaking started..."
Soterios held up a hand and shook his head. "Say no more. I think I get it." He chuckled nervously. "Never thought I had much call to be useful. But finding you two wasn't anything to do me at all. People always forget that I don't really do all that much. I can usually tell when I'm not doing anything. Like there's less pull on me than I feel the rest of the time."
Intrigued, I folded my arms and focused on his face. It did look a bit haggard and drawn, as if he had expelled a significant amount of energy. If only I knew more about how sympathetic magic of any kind worked. I knew as much about it as any student of any magic would, but the technical details had never even crossed my mind. "Then how did you all find us?"
"Chrysander, of course. Didn't you see him practically boomerang at you?" Soterios covered his mouth with one hand, but the laughing smile was too big, too amused to be easily hidden. "That's what diviners do, apparently. As soon as you disappeared, Noni threw a fit. She kicked him in the knee and told him to get to work. Asclepia did rather the same thing, but neither of them needed to say or do anything at all."
I looked over at Chrysander, who had rather unexpectedly fallen asleep in a chair not far from us. He looked peaceful and serene. Not at all like himself. "What do you mean?"
"It's the diviner thing. I didn't really get it when Demetrius tried to explain to me back in the laboratory, but diviners don't actually specialise in finding the Hollow Man's victims. They're just supposed to find people. Even though it's not thoughtform magic, like you have, it's just as fiercely regulated. By the king himself, Asclepia said."
"And why is that?"
"Because they can find anyone, if they know them, or have something that belongs to that person. It could lead to total chaos."
"Or just petty crime." I glanced at Chrysander, unable to keep a wry smile off my face. What had they done, making a bounty hunter a diviner. Perhaps he had already been one, though. It would have explained why someone so young could be so cocky in his cutthroat profession. "So he tracked me down."
"You specifically. He kept saying that he hoped Demetrius was somewhere else so he could refuse to find him."
"I don't believe he meant it," I said, walking over to the chair. "Those three make one quite jealous, don't they?"
Soterios appeared to think about this sudden change in subject, but then he nodded. "It could just be us. You--you and me, I mean. Zurhykeh never does generations right like that."
"Zurhykeh doesn't do playing outside right like that." I sat on the arm of the chair and took one of Chrysander's curl's in my hand. He looked exhausted. Either divining took a lot of energy, or he had been up to something on his own demerit. "I used to think things were better that way. It's easier to get by when you aren't thinking about other people."
"Less fun though."
Chrysander mumbled something in his sleep and curled onto his side. Just watching him made me aware of all the things that the dulling haze of the hastily created sigil had been keeping under a fog for me. My wounds were probably going to need Dr Allenford again, but at least I could not feel that heavy sensation in my stomach. It was still there, but I knew it on a level closer to my mind than to my skin. If that was the most I could ask for, then it was the most I could accept.
A door slammed open and running footsteps filled the air as Demetrius pelted down the stairs. I had never seen him move so fast, with nothing behind him. I thought immediately of the Hollow Child and shook Chrysander awake. If he could track a human being, then perhaps I could give him enough information to track a spectre I could describe to him. And... he had seen it in the cave, hadn't he?
Before he could even reach us, Demetrius began shouting. "My father's gone! I can't-- Soterios, I can't find anywhere."
Bleary-eyed and quite clearly confused, Chrysander rubbed his cheek and held his other hand to one ear. "What's all the shouting?"
Demetrius skidded on a rug, rumpling the thing into a chain of folded accordion loops. "My father is missing! He's not..." Demetrius stopped for a breath. His face was red with exertion, sweat matted his hair to his head, barely even allowing some of it to frizz. "I've looked everywhere, really everywhere."
"Did you look in a cupboard? We used to hide in those..."
"He's not a child playing at hide and seek, Chrys!" Swearing, Demetrius grabbed Chrysander by the shoulders and gave him a hard shake. "You've got the king's bloody blessing to divine people, so use it. Find my dad, he's not anywhere good."
I manoeuvred myself between them, working at Demetrius's fingers to make him let go. "Calm down for just a second," I ordered him. "Your father is not going to get found faster just because you addle Chrysander's brains a little. Heaven knows his brains can't take much more addling than he already puts them through on his own time. How do you know he's missing? Maybe he's just stepped out."
Taking a deep breath that practically lifted him to the tops of his toes, Demetrius went on panicking, the expression on his face so abundantly clear that I could actually see a spiritual resemblance to Noni. I wished she had not gone off. Her touted claim of understanding Demetrius would have been rather handy just then. "I thought of that already. I'm not a fool, he isn't a hermit to the house. But no one saw him go."
This appeared to get Chrysander's attention. He rubbed at his eyes, already looking more awake. "That's impossible. There's so many servants in this place, you can't make a straight run for the loo without someone knowing what you're about."
I suppressed a twinge of paranoia. "What about the doormen? If by some chance your father did avoid the eyes of the servants, the doormen would know when he left."
"The doormen were the first people I asked. No one has come or gone all day. Not even us," he added, a hand gripping in his hair. He glared at Chrysander, but it was quite a different expression than the usual irritated grimace. "So start sniffing or chanting, or whatever it is you're supposed to do to find people."
A look that I could have sworn was helplessness washed over Chrysander's face, and he nearly managed to appear pale, in spite of his complexion. "I can't," he said, and it was almost a stammer. "It's not that easy. I've only been a diviner for a few hours. Maybe you could count the training and say it's been a week, but... They only taught me how to find Athena."
Demetrius punched him in the mouth.
It was probably the shock more than anything that made Chrysander stumble. He hadn't been hit hard, even I could see that. Nevertheless, his lip had split, and a trickle of blood spilled down his chin.
I grabbed Demetrius by the arm and pulled him back. Not sure what I was actually doing, but knowing that I had to do something, I held on and started talking. "This is not the time to just open doors and do whatever your stupid muscles demand."
Nothing made any sense. Where was his father? The house was big, of course, but Demetrius lived her, had probably lived here his entire life. He wouldn't make an outlandish claim about his father being missing if he hadn't exhausted all of the house's options.
He did not slump in my arms, but remained tense and twitching. Soterios tried to help Chrysander, but the latter pushed him away, none too gently. "Idiot," he said, scowling at Demetrius. "Just like when we were kids, you just do the first thing that comes into your head. Use your loaf, you ponce. The doormen didn't see your dad go. The servants didn't see him. What if he went out the tunnels?"
Demetrius shrugged me off, leaving me to stand awkwardly to one side. "He doesn't use them. There's no reason for him to use them. They're for people like Dr Cordet and cabinet members. My dad's a grandmaster and he lives here. He thinks it's rude to go about in tunnels. That's why he got where he is, he works in the open and he doesn't sneak about."
"But the tunnels are still there to be used," Soterios pointed out. "If you really think that something is wrong, that your dad didn't mean to leave, then it could be that you're right. Intuition does count for a lot. So that might mean that someone else came in and made him go down a tunnel."
The three of us stared at him. I felt like I had slipped off the edge of something, and someone had gotten hold of my wrist, except I couldn't see who it was.
Soterios rubbed his arm, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "It could be. Right?"