Varden Chauncellor looked from the sewer grating to Kara, in fury and disbelief. “You must be joking. You are the worst thief in existence. Wasn’t the thing covered in gold and jewels?”
Djaren looked pale, but somehow amused. He shook his head at Kara in an oddly cheerful bewilderment.
“I had a bad feeling about it,” Kara snarled.
“We’ll have to open it up. All of you, grab hold and pull that grate up,” Varden instructed.
Together Djaren, Kara, and Jon found that they could. The grating made an awful scraping sound on the cobblestones as they pulled it aside. Kara glanced around, but no one was near. She’d chosen this area for its desolation in the first place.
She leaned down and looked into the smelly blackness of the sewer. There was the sound of gurgling and rushing water. “It’s pretty dark and wet down here. I don’t think that thing’s where I left it.”
“Then we will locate it. My brother’s life may be at stake so forgive me if I’m impatient,” Varden snarled.
Jon, kneeling beside Kara, was looking at his hand. As he placed it palm down over the sewer, it gave off a pale silvery glow. “It’s down there somewhere,” he whispered.
“Why,” Djaren muttered, “must someone make us go down dark tunnels at gunpoint every summer?”
“It isn’t every summer,” Jon said. “Is it?”
“Only the interesting ones,” Djaren said. “So, do we have a rope or anything?”
“Rope?” Kara snorted. “Never been down a sewer before, have you? It’s not a cave.” She found the first of the metal ladder knobs and began to descend. She paused to look up at Varden. “If it’s all right with your lordship lemon-face, I’ll be going down here.”
Varden looked angry and undecided. “I’ll be following you. Closely,” he said at last.
“Won’t that be a treat.” Kara grinned, looking at his nice clothes. She climbed down into the darkness.
Varden waved Jon and Djaren in after her, and Kara had a bit of a crisis of decision at the base of the ladder. Right now she could run, or slog rather, away down some side passage. Instead she found herself helping Jon and then Djaren onto a slim brick ledge beside a gurgling channel of surprisingly clear sewage. The ceiling of the passage was about eight feet above the water level, and there were continuous ledges on either side of the channel.
“Ah,” said Djaren. “I see. They’re spaced just right for a sewer man’s cart to be rolled down. People are meant to be able to work down here. I wonder if there are gas lines being installed here as well. What an efficient system.”
“I can’t see anything much at all,” Jon said. “Except when, um, Djaren—” he dropped his voice to a whisper. “My hand is rather bright down here. How do we explain it?”
“What on earth?” Varden asked, paused halfway down the ladder, gun still aimed for them. He was looking at Jon’s hand.
“Phosphorous!” Djaren said promptly. “It was an experiment. See, Jon, it really does shine quite handily in the dark.”
“It does,” Jon admitted, shoving the hand down into a pocket.
“Whyever would you be painting—never mind. Does anyone have a more reliable light?” Varden waved them back, and managed to drop rather dexterously onto the ledge and not into the water.
“I’ve quite forgotten a lantern,” Djaren said dryly.
“Then we’ll use the ridiculous phosphorous,” Varden sighed. “You, with the hand, out with it.”
“It’s Jon,” Jon said. “I’m Jon Gardner and you are making a bad mistake.”
“Hand up,” Varden grimaced. “I’ve had a pleasant day gone beastly wrong, and I am not open to engaging in discussion right now.”
Jon took his hand reluctantly from his pocket and the dim silver glow reappeared, brighter when directed to the left than the right. Varden didn’t seem to notice that last. He was looking about at what he could now see of the sewer passage. “I had no idea that the city had quite so advanced a system. I wonder if they’ve installed parallel gas lines as well.”
“I said that first,” Djaren grumbled quietly.
Jon looked down at his hand and at the water. He carefully pointed his hand to the right, in the direction where its glow was dimmer. “We could look this way,” he suggested.
“Right.” Djaren caught on to what he was doing. “This way, then.”
“Stop,” Varden said. “Are you quite dull witted? But you never went to any proper school, did you? The water flow would indicate that the seal washed down in this opposite direction, and probably not very far, given its weight. Point your hand that way,” he directed Jon.
Jon sighed quietly, doing as he was told. A stronger light showed them the corridor in what was obviously the correct direction.
Djaren made some entertainingly annoyed faces, back in the dark where only Kara could see.
“It’s likely not far down the channel,” Varden said. “And we haven’t any dredging supplies.” He frowned at them. “Well then, down in the water now, tallest first.”
Kara and Djaren exchanged glances. “I think I’m taller,” he said.
“Not by much,” Kara said. “And you have that bust ankle.”
“It isn’t bust—isn’t broken,” Djaren argued. “I should go first. The current doesn’t look strong.”
“Djaren hurt his ankle running after Ellea’s kidnappers,” Jon told Varden, fixing those huge eyes of his on the taller boy. Varden flinched a little. He seemed to be bothered by Jon’s faces.
“What did you hurt?” Kara asked Varden. “Just your sense? When did you notice it was missing? When did you notice your brother was?”
“Shut up and get in the water! All of you!” Varden snapped.
It wasn’t deep, Kara found, hopping in, and though chilly, it wasn’t freezing cold. She was grateful, almost hip deep in the stuff, that it seemed mostly to be storm drain water. She offered a hand to Djaren, to help him down, with an insolent grin. Somewhat to her surprise he took her hand, and promptly jumped in beside her, landing carefully on his good ankle, and splashing her. He wore a mischievious revenge smile. She dropped her hand away from his. She would get revenge on him later. She was still smiling, considering what one could do to obliterate smug smirks down here.
Jon sat down on the ledge and edged in sensibly, landing with no splash at all, and looking uncomfortable. “Mother won’t be happy. They were new boots,” he explained.
“We’ll get newer,” Djaren assured him. He looked up at Varden. “Are we now trying to find a demon artifact with our toes?”
“Don’t be dramatic,” Varden sighed. “It’s a second-century seal from Narmos, not a magical talisman, or gateway to the realm of gods, or a demon artifact, or any other nonsense. Just find it, and you can get out of there.”
“Dramatic? You’re the one waving round a pistol in the sewers of Germhacht and trying to drown children.”
“Varden? Djaren? What in the world are you all doing?” Anna’s voice echoed down to them from above, back where they had climbed down.
“Who’s got a pistol, now?” Tam’s voice called down.
“Tam!” Jon yelled. “We’re down here, and the seal’s down here.”
Varden turned and pointed his pistol directly at Jon. “You—” he began.
Anna climbed down the ladder, spinning to land neatly on the dry ledge, suddenly quite close to Varden. He stared at her. She stared at him in turn, and at the pistol he was holding, pointed at Jon.
“You surprise me very much, Varden,” she said, breathless but stern. “I cannot abide bullies. Surely you were raised better than this, Mr. Chauncellor.”
“Lady Anna?” Varden said, beginning to lower the pistol as Tam climbed down the ladder, lantern in hand, splashing a step into the water at the bottom with a mild surprised curse of “Cabbage cutworms.”
“Please drop the gun, Varden. We can be all on one side here, can’t we? Whatever happened to start a mess like this?” Anna touched Varden’s shoulder lightly. The hand with the pistol dropped further.
“Pumphrites kidnapped Morly too, we think,” Jon explained, looking relieved that the pistol wasn’t pointed at him any longer.
“That’s terrible,” said Anna. “Ellea was kidnapped by people we think are Pumphrey’s followers. Lady Blackfeather and Professor Sheridan went right to the Derdrien to try to track them down.”
“My letter, Father’s letter, mentioned the Mendiheim Observatory.” Varden looked, for the moment, more puzzled than anything.
“Which is in full view from that glass roof on the Derdrien,” Djaren pointed out.
“But they didn’t take the seal,” Varden said.
“Because they don’t and never did have it!” Djaren said. “And they wouldn’t be dull enough to give such a thing to Pumphrey.”
“It’s still here, and I can find it,” Varden said, frowning at him. “Lady Anna, I don’t quite understand. What are you and your, er, coachmen doing here?”
“You went and kidnapped my brother, seems like.” Tam frowned at Varden reproachfully, and reached down to help pull Jon up out of the water and into a quick hug.
“You recognize my colors but not my pen work,” Anna said. “I’m A.Darvin. I do all the archeological sketches for the Blackfeathers. I believe you’ve seen them. The Blackfeathers are very good friends. I should probably have told you, but you seemed set against them.”
“You’re . . . you’re just a sketch artist?” Varden’s puzzlement began a shift toward what Kara recognized as anger.
“I am not just anything. I’m me, and we’ve met. You seemed to approve of my work earlier.”
“Isn’t Darvin their foreman’s name? Why, you’re just a common servant, aren’t you? You may as well be one of those gold digging Maribelle film people!” It was certainly anger, Kara thought. She ducked down and to the left and pulled Djaren after her.
Djaren was watching with widening eyes. “He doesn’t know about the boot knife, I’m guessing,” he whispered.
Anna was not reaching for her boot knife, but her fingers were twitching near one coat pocket. It was too dark to tell for sure, but it looked at though her face might be flushing. “Why, you . . . You’re the one imposing your absurd class system on foreign nations! I’m not a servant, and neither is Tam, or, or any one of us! We don’t tolerate any of that silliness in Shandor. Which is, by the way, not a wasteland.”
“It makes sense they’d let you live above your station, they’re not even true nobles themselves,” Varden muttered.
“My station?” Anna’s voice rose. “Do I come into your country and tell you that only women can rightly own property? Or that you can’t conduct any construction south of the 50th parallel, or demand vengeance rights for that slight to my honor, or impose any of my culture’s beliefs on you?”
“Don’t be absurd or hysterical.” Varden raised one hand dismissively, and with the other, began bringing the gun to bear again.
Anna kicked it out of his hand, and it skittered down the ledge. Varden looked very surprised. “Don’t you try to bully me, I won’t have it,” Anna said. “The second you try to bring a gun into an argument, you’ve lost it.”
Kara stared. Djaren grinned and scrambled after the dropped gun.
“Still want to find that seal, Varden?” he asked. “It can’t be far, can it? You should get down in here and help us find it, don’t you think?”
Varden glared daggers at him. He had very nice shoes.
“Ought we even be looking for that?” Anna frowned.
“Well we can’t just leave it here to be found by anybody,” Djaren said. “It isn’t somewhere safe. Varden knows it’s here now, for one. And Father’s been looking for this for a while now. We can find it, and give it to him, and he’ll know what to do with it.”
“You really are all filthy thieves,” Varden snarled.
“In the water, please.” Kara grinned. “Now.”
He hesitated, but Djaren waved with the gun—carefully, Kara noted—and Varden obeyed, stepping down into the deep water with an expression of disgust.
“Show us where, Jon,” Tam whispered to his brother. “If you think you should.”
“The Professor and Dr. Blackfeather will know what should be done with it,” Jon agreed. He lifted his hand and held it out over the water. “Further that way.” He pointed, the light in his hand reinforcing the direction with a stronger glow.
Djaren, Varden, and Kara waded that way, Kara making sweeps of the sewer bottom with her boots, looking for small objects that made the world go cold.
“We just can’t let Pumphrey, or whatever he is, anywhere near it,” Anna said.
“Of course. We’re not stupid,” Djaren agreed.
“Do you even care about your sister at all?” Varden hissed.
“Most of us aren’t stupid,” Djaren amended.
“We do care, Varden, that’s why Lady Blackfeather and the Professor are rescuing them right now.” Anna said.
“Do forgive me,” Varden said coldly, “if I don’t believe you any longer about anything.”
“You could stab him just a little,” Kara pointed out.
“No,” said Anna. “That would be rude. He really doesn’t understand at all about, um, unnatural things.”
“Like that haunted house he saw, or demon artifacts or possessed Pumphrites?”
“Yes, those sorts of things.”
“You should have been with us last summer,” Djaren said.
“I think you’re quite close now,” Jon said. He, Tam, and Anna were walking along the ledge, keeping pace with them, and the light from Jon’s hand was enough now to illuminate the tunnel. The water was higher here, up to both Djaren and Kara’s waists.
Varden was frowning at the water at his feet. “I found something but I seem to have kicked it a little to one side.”
Djaren, standing to his left, looked at him and there was a pause. “You’re not going to reach down for it, are you?” Djaren asked after the pause grew uncomfortable.
“It’s closer to you,” Varden said, crossing his arms.
“Boys are ridiculous,” said Kara. “Stay still and keep watching him. If you get the gun wet you’ll ruin the powder.”
“I know that,” Djaren said, glancing over with some surprise as Kara ducked down under the water. She fished up the object in a handful of coat, so as not to touch it. She came up sputtering. “If this turns out to be a horseshoe, I’m going to borrow Anna’s knife and cut you.”
It was not a horseshoe. A solid, malignant gold face peered up at her, the light from Jon’s hand dimming around its edges. The screaming face seemed to eat light and warmth. Kara was not about to touch it with her hand. She looked over at Djaren, wiping away dripping hair. “Found it.”
He’d have dived for it, his expression said. He looked both annoyed that she had instead, and somewhat impressed. Revenge achieved.
Djaren’s expression turned to one of alarm as Varden lunged at him from behind and began fighting him for the gun. There was a quick scuffle that ended with Djaren ducked choking under water and Varden with the gun in hand, pointing it at Kara.
“Give it to me!” he demanded, backing Kara against the ledge.
“Stop that this instant,” Anna ordered, cocking a small pistol with a loud click beside Varden’s ear. “I didn’t want to use this.”
Djaren surfaced with a sputter. Kara pulled him to the ledge, and looked up at Anna. “You seem better at holding on to things. Here.” She handed the seal of Kesh to Anna, who took it and slipped it neatly in a coat pocket.
Varden glared at them all, but let Djaren snatch the gun back from his hand. “You will all be so very sorry for this, I swear it.”
“Don’t,” said Anna, looking cross, “be an ass.”