Chapter Seven, Bodysnatchers

Eljiah brushed his new small hands across the inscription on Herringbroke’s grave, and found that his fingertips fit inside the letters. He pulled them away, wondering if this strange second youth meant he’d watch twice as many friends outlive him.

“There’s a body down there,” Tallis said. “It’s at rest entirely. I thought you should know.”

“How long, um, how long do you think you and Rades have, before you rest?” Eljiah hoped Tallis wouldn’t mind the question. He seemed not to.

“I’m not certain. A few years, perhaps. He’s aging a bit slower than the wolves. We are blessed though, even in our curses. Whenever and wherever we go, it will be together, my remaining life bound to his heartbeat.” Tallis knelt beside Eljiah and patted his shoulder. “So you shouldn’t worry about us.”

“I see. I rather envy you.” On the grave, Eljiah laid the flowers a small girl had sold them near the gate.

Tallis nodded, unruffled.

“He wasn’t afraid to live or die,” Eljiah whispered, nodding at the grave. “But I am, of both. I hate watching everyone age and leave without me.”

“Only almost everyone,” Tallis said. “It will probably make you a very good doctor, if you don’t let it drive you mad.”

Eljiah nearly laughed. Tallis’ absurd practicality was breaking his maudlin mood. “I shall endeavor not to go mad.”

“Good. We wouldn’t want anyone confusing you and Ash once you’ve grown up again.”

“Wait. How long do you think he’ll live?”

“With stolen bits of your pattern sewn into his own? Until he is utterly destroyed.”

“Then I have more important things to be doing than weeping over graves.” Eljiah drew himself up and squared his shoulders.

“I think he’d say so.” Tallis nodded toward the grave. “It’s getting dark. Let’s go.”

In a thin alley two turnings from the burial ground, several men emerged from the shadows in the other direction, with a body thrown over their shoulders. Tallis was walking first, in his flowing scholar’s robes, and he shoved Eljiah back between two rain barrels.

The men stopped, and looked alarmed to see the student in their path.

“Am I in your way? I’m so very sorry. I’ll just be going.” Tallis dashed back the way they’d come. The men shouted and chased after him, leaving Eljiah unnoticed, wedged between barrels. It took him several moments to get back out and follow them, trying to keep up on short legs.

*      *     *     *     *     *

Kara tracked the men she’d seen corner Seilu when he came out of the market stall. They were still following him, and had picked up four more men. Usually Seilu could handle himself. He was one of the quickest and smartest Tembelakan bodyguards, but even he couldn’t take on six men in their territory, especially not once they joined three more in an alley further down, near an open sewer grate. Maybe if he had back-up, though. She watched the brown-skinned boy with his thin ropes of hair, and reminded herself that she wasn’t his bodyguard. He’d been gathering supplies for the night expedition into Abbeyrose. He’d bought a parcel of her favorite curry buns. She swore inside her head. The thing to do would be to watch what happened and follow them. Only what if what happened was that they smashed that braided head in? The men below were beginning to close in, and Seilu to notice. He was a foreigner, in a dark street, without family, all alone.

Not alone. Kara swore, sending Djaren a mental map of the place, the streets, the open sewer grate. Then she jumped down on one of the thug’s heads, boot heel first. This was Djaren’s fault, this senseless heroism. She didn’t tell him so.

*     *      *     *     *     *    *

“There’s no time to call in the law. There’s not even time to be talking to you!” Djaren found himself yelling at the crown prince of Arien. “Kara and Seilu are in danger and we have to get to them right now or they’ll be corpses.”

They stood in the darkening yard, where they’d met the prince and his friends who were eager to come out with them.

Isakoa clamped a large hand on Djaren’s shoulder. “I’ve lost too many friends in the past few years. I will not lose another, especially not to untrained rabble.” Isakoa looked at Lory. “We are leaving to save our people. Come after us, with your law, and we will see if justice may not be met on these men tonight.”

Lory frowned and shook his head. “I’m with you.” He lifted his coat to show the carved ivory grip of an expensive-looking pistol. “Grey, call the watch, and send them after us. I am no prince, after all, if I let guests to my lands be kidnapped.”

“Fine, whatever, let’s go!” Djaren shouted. His head throbbed where he knew Kara’s had been hit. He couldn’t salvage more than pieces of her groggy, splintered thoughts—tunnels, splashes, dizzy turnings, and such hurt—but he couldn’t let go. If he did, he’d lose her entirely, and he had to keep up. Her senses began to go black, and he ran, not toward the place she’d shown him, where they went down, but toward where he guessed the bodysnatchers were heading.

Isakoa, Nahaka, Lory and some of his guards charged on behind him, into whatever craziness he was throwing himself at. “Blackfeather, wait!”

Stay awake, we’re coming for you!” he told Kara.

*   *   *   *   *   *

“He’s out,” one of the men bending over Tallis said. His accent wasn’t quite local, Eljiah thought, hiding out of sight behind some bins of rubbish. It was rougher, broader. Maribelle Province.

“I think he’s dead,” another said.

“He’s stopped breathing.”

“You shouldn’t have thrown the brick at him,” the first chided.

“He’d seen us.”

“He looks like he was sickly anyway. Maybe no one will miss him.

“Which school is he from?”

Eljiah squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to breathe too loudly.  Don’t be really dead. Can you even die while Rades is alive? Tallis, wake up.

“Looks like robes from the medical college.”

“That’s bad luck. We’ll have to sell this one international. Pack him in ice and send him to Vespiri or summat.”

“What if someone starts looking for him?”

“Won’t look in a Vespiri art academy, will they?”

“You’re too hasty. Careful with him. We’ll go down here. No more popping off anyone who sees you, right?”

“I hate blackmailers.”

“I remember, but think, there’s bribes too, and threats. You let me handle the next chap who tries to blackmail you.”

“Next chap tries, I’ll squeeze him like the last one.”

“Calm down, and careful with those bodies. You don’t want to break nothing.”

Eljiah waited until he heard the sewer grate slide back into place, and then ran over and examined it. He wasn’t strong enough to lift it on his own.

He took several deep breaths and made himself think. He’d been in this part of town before. He’d gone to school here long ago, before most of these buildings existed. This had all been dug up back when they built the sewer. He thought carefully, tracing the construction in his mind. He had an idea of where they might be going, and set off above ground to follow his guess. Perhaps he could find a Damaera man or five on the way.

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