Kara sat, feeling less heavy and sick than she had a little while ago, in a remarkably nice hotel. Djaren was still standing looking at the closed door. He turned at last, with a little frown, to Kara. “Hired to steal the seal of Kesh? Where do you keep finding these clients?”
Jon blinked at her. “The last one was also an old evil power, that’s true.”
Kara scowled at them both. “So what, this is all my fault?”
“No,” Djaren said, then, “well, sort of. Yes. But at least you found it. Father has been looking for a while.”
“He can have it,” Kara said. “It shrieks in your head.”
“I’d imagine,” Djaren said. “It’s got a demon god in it, after all.”
“I have bad luck, all right?”
Djaren nodded. “Me too, I think.” He collapsed into an armchair, wincing. He pulled back a sleeve to examine a purpling wrist, and an arm with deep red finger marks on it.
“I’m sorry I fell on you,” Jon told Djaren. “Out of the carriage, I mean.”
Djaren shook his head, carefully. “Not your fault,” he said.
“It really wasn’t yours either,” Jon said. He looked back and forth between Kara and Djaren, slumped dejectedly in their respective chairs, and rose. “I’m going to get us all a bit of tea.”
“Got anything stronger?” Kara asked.
Djaren threw a pillow at her with a lopsided grin.
“I could see if there’s lemon?” Jon suggested. He left the sitting room.
Kara threw the pillow back at Djaren, but without malice. He caught it with his better hand. “I hate sitting still and doing nothing,” he said.
Kara nodded agreement. She looked around the room, and then made a face. Half under a hurriedly thrown blanket lay the worst treasure chest she’d ever seen. “Why do you have half a chest of copper coins? To annoy would-be thieves?”
“Half?” Djaren sat up and leaned forward to see. “Oh,” he said, a little breathless. “She took an arsenal’s worth. Mother’s really worried.”
“She’s going to fight demons by what, chucking pence bits at them?”
Djaren nodded absently, getting up out of his chair and going to a bookshelf. “It’s got to have a name,” he muttered. “If you have something’s name, you have power over it. In stories. Usually.” He answered Kara’s skeptical look. “Well, with ancient unbodied powers, anyway. I can quite see that saying ‘I know you to be Willim Darjohn, greengrocer, now end your vile bewitchments,’ doesn’t have the same feel as when you’re addressing Elzkenevebar the fiend.”
“And have you? Addressed whatsit the fiend?”
“Or any fiends?”
“Not to my knowledge, no. Not to put a name to.” Djaren pulled down two more books. “But Pumphrey isn’t really Pumphrey, by the sound of things, and finding out who he really is can’t hurt. I don’t suppose he gave a name?”
“He wore a mask. He wasn’t being real forthcoming. He said some things. No names, though.” Kara frowned, remembering. Abominations, he’d said. Whose sins crafted you?
“Do you remember what he said?”
Kara glared, nervous and therefore belligerent. She was about to snap a rude comeback, but then she remembered something. “He said the master’s seal. Not the seal of whoever, but the master’s.”
Djaren’s eyes lit. “A servant of Kesh then, a lieutenant. What else?” He scrambled over with his books, to fall onto a pile of pillows beside Kara’s chair.
Kara considered telling him to shove off, but didn’t. “He said something about a growing legion who need hosts.”
“A legion? That sounds ominous.”
“You think? He was pretty ominous altogether, I’d say. I think that’s what he was aiming for.”
There was a loud knock, and Jon ran in breathless from the other room, gripping a tea pot. He noticed it in his hands and, with an apology to no one in particular, set it down on a little carved trivet. “I’ll go see if my hand glows near the door,” he said. “Stay here.”
“Don’t let anyone in.” Djaren half rose from his chair.
“Stay!” Jon called back, continuing on toward the foyer.
Djaren slumped, looking torn.
There was the muffled exchange of voices from the direction of the door, Jon’s high but calm and inquisitive. He seemed to be talking to a grown-up.
Both Kara and Djaren sat up abruptly at the sound of the door opening.
“What–” Djaren lurched upright as Jon and Varden Chauncellor walked in.
“It’s all right,” Jon explained quickly, “Someone’s kidnapped his brother too.”
“It is not all right,” Djaren and Varden both said, at the same time. Varden looked far more nervous and wild-eyed than he had back at the Derdrien house. Before anyone could speak further, he drew a pistol from his coat and pointed it at Djaren.
Jon jumped and skittered back around a chair, eyes huge. Djaren went quite still, eyes inventorying things and places throughout the room, breath irregular. Kara found his gaze seeking out the same set of exits she was eyeing. Time to run again, if she could only shake the last lingering threads of slowness from her limbs. Wait for it.
“You, you were seen with the thief. You know where the seal is!” Varden said.
Djaren glared. “I was, but I don’t. What are you doing, Varden? We don’t have it, and we never did.”
“Please stop, and put that away, sir,” Jon managed in a near whisper. “Maybe we can help. We can all work together and be friends and save everyone. Please?”
Varden swung the pistol round, and Jon flinched. Varden looked conflicted and pointed it at Djaren again. “You will help me, but on my terms. Get up.”
“Fine,” Djaren said, standing. “And just what do you want, other than to be an–”
“Please,” Jon said. “Ellea and Morly are both kidnapped and we shouldn’t be fighting. No one should get hurt.”
“No one will, if you do as I say,” Varden said.
“Forgive me if I don’t find you convincing,” Djaren snapped.
Kara had risen from her chair when Djaren did, and was now attempting to edge over to the armoire. She’d been eyeing a sharp silver letter opener, and this turn of events convinced her that she really wanted it.
“You! Stop!” Varden’s aim found her next and Djaren, stupidly, moved to stand between them.
Varden stared at her over Djaren’s head, frowning in angry confusion. “Who are you? Wait. You’re the foreign girl, the one who couldn’t speak— a small foreign thief, father said. Friendly with Djaren Blackfeather! You!”
“Friendly is rather an overstatement,” Djaren said, rueful. “And she doesn’t have it either.”
“I don’t,” Kara agreed. “Not even a bit. It’s gone. Get your gun away.”
“Just tell them what happened, with Morly,” Jon pleaded, “and we can tell you how they took Ellea, and maybe Lady Blackfeather, and your father, and, and the authorities can take care of it all. With no guns.”
“Father will do nothing!” Varden said, voice cracking. “Not until it’s too late. It’s his bloody pride, he just won’t be bullied, he says. So it rests on me to rescue my brother. And I will. You or she must have the seal, and you will give it to me at once!” He stepped closer to Djaren, training the pistol on the spot between his eyes.
“No!” Jon cried, horrified.
Djaren stared open-mouthed, fighting to relax his breathing into something less panicked, and scowled. “We don’t have anything that belongs to you, Varden.”
Varden looked at Kara. “Hand it over to me.” His voice shook with fury, but his hand on the gun didn’t.
“What?” Kara demanded. “I told you I don’t have it.” She was scared, and there were no exits she could reach faster than a bullet. She hated being bullied too, and so what if Varden was angry, she was angry too, but of course she didn’t have a gun and he did. It wasn’t fair.
“I am not a gullible fool, and I won’t be put off by weak lies. You may not have it in your pocket right now, but you must have sold it, or hidden it somewhere. Where is it? Who has it now?” Varden advanced on her.
“He wasn’t possessed,” Jon whimpered. “I thought he was all right. I’m so sorry.”
Varden waved Jon to stand with Djaren and Kara.
“I don’t know where it is.” Kara spat the words at him. “I chucked it. I threw it away.”
“You’re going to take me to it right now.” Varden insisted, jerking his chin in the direction of the door.
“Please,” Djaren said, fighting with the word. “Get hold of yourself, Varden.”
Varden lifted the now quaking pistol to within a foot of Djaren’s face. “Walk. And don’t speak.” He threw a jacket over the pistol hand, hiding the gun from outside eyes and pushed them out the door ahead of him. “Show me where you left it.”
“You’re not going to like it,” Kara muttered.
Djaren exchanged a look with her, but there didn’t seem to be anything to be done. No one glanced at them twice as they left the hotel. Djaren winced and stumbled on the stairs outside, making Varden tense, hand under the jacket twitching. Jon went to Djaren’s side, lending a thin shoulder to help him keep the weight off his bad ankle. Kara swore silently, and told herself that she wouldn’t have done that anyway even if she’d thought of it first. They could have planned something in whispers, close like that.
She glared at Varden, happy to find someone to be justly angry at. He looked strained, annoyed, and maybe even a little regretful when his eyes touched on Jon, helping Djaren along.
They wound first through the open streets of the prettier parts of the city, past windows aglow with scenes of well-to-do people having sherry before bed, and dancers in glittering ballrooms. It smelled of gardens. The streets Kara led them into next were narrower and darker, with tall houses in rows, all of dark brick. There were no lights inside, because oil and coal cost money, and there was work early in the morning for the people who lived here. It did not smell of gardens.
She led them halfway to the train station, to alleyways with rickety wooden stairs that led up to third and fourth stories of shabby buildings, all dark, and mostly silent except for the occasional wail of a baby or distant shouting. Varden had not lowered his hidden gun, or shown any signs of wavering or making mistakes. He was going to see this stupidity through like a gentleman, evidently.
Ellea woke in a plain room, dimly lit, with heavy curtains over the windows. It seemed to be full night. She sat up and noted movement beside her. Morly Chauncellor sat on the carpet in a very correct little suit, with his mop of tousled black hair. He looked at her eagerly. “Hullo, I was hoping you’d wake. We’re kidnapped, but don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” He blinked at her and offered a hand. Confused, she took it, and he squeezed her hand in reassurance. “I’m not scared,” he lied. “My brother will come rescue us.” This last was a truth, in his hopeful eyes.
Ellea looked round the room, her eyes adjusting to the lack of light, and she noted the covered windows, the door, and the woman who sat on a chair in front of it, in a gown fit only for a Pumphrite.
“I see,” she told Morly. “Won’t that be nice.” She wasn’t going to wait. She closed her eyes, sending out her keener senses beyond the room’s walls, looking for Mother, for someone to call for help. She felt a presence, multiple presences in fact, and pulled back at once. It wasn’t safe out there, not for a wandering mind.
The woman at the door stood and turned up one of the gas lights. “Don’t be frightened, dears. Your families will be coming for you soon.” She smiled at them vacantly. “This is for the good of all.”
Ellea considered trying something. She looked hard at the woman. Desperate situations might forgive desperate measures after all. She sent out a thread of will to catch round the woman’s mind, and sank into it to find only deep wells, empty loops of inane thought, clear signs of tampering by another mind. Ellea withdrew her thoughts quickly. Someone more powerful, more skilled, and more unprincipled than Ellea had been here first. She looked at Morly, who was still trying to put a brave face on things. “We’re in trouble.”
* * * * *
“They aren’t here,” Tam announced, breathless, jogging out of the boys’ room. “There’s no sign of them.”
Anna knelt by the cooling teapot on the floor. “There wasn’t a struggle,” she said.
They had dropped off the Professor and Lady Blackfeather around the corner from the Mendeheim and the Derdrein, careful to remain out of the sight of the observatory roof or any of the Derdrien’s windows. Hellin had insisted that Anna and Tam return to the hotel at once, and had refused any argument. Back at the hotel, they’d found the door to their suite unlocked, books out on the tables, blankets in the chairs, and the mysterious teapot on the floor.
Tam kept looking away toward the door. “They aren’t here. They went out.”
Anna couldn’t disagree. “But why?”
“I don’t know. We should find them.” Tam looked distraught. Anna had never seen him like this before, not even in the terrifying Derdrien house. “It sounds odd, I’ll allow, but . . . but I can tell Jon’s scared.”
Anna, used to the Blackfeather family and their strange points of connection, didn’t think it very odd. She pocketed the spare pistol that Lady Blackfeather had left in the weapons case, and put a handful of the little copper bullets in another pocket. She was not foolish enough to go running about with a loaded weapon. The best gun of all, Lady Blackfeather always said, is the one you never have to fire.
“Can you find him?” she asked Tam, throwing a light coat around her shoulders.
“I think I can.”
“Let’s go, then.” Anna scribbled a quick note for Lady Blackfeather, and she and Tam ran back to the stables.
“No time for the carriage,” Tam said. “We could just take the horses.” He looked over at her, a question.
“Of course I ride.”
“Thought you did.” He nodded at her. “Who’s that horse there? He’s still waiting on his rider.”
One horse stood tethered, sweaty, still in tack and saddle, as it had been when they’d arrived.
“Someone’s been careless with him,” Anna observed. “He was left in a hurry.”
“Well, we’d best hurry too.” Tam helped her up onto one of the horses and they were off, following whatever sense of direction led Tam after his brother, into the night.