Chapter 27 – Wings

For a fraction of a second the window seemed to bulge inwards, and then there was only an expanding cloud of coloured glass shapes raining down upon the marble floor as Justin burst into the hall. With a great sweep of his wings he halted in the air, hanging for a moment before he dropped down to land on the magistrate’s podium. There was a crash of splintering wood as claws the size of cart-wheels tore into the platform. Rachael saw the old man scrambling away, feet tangling in his long coat. Majestically, Justin swept his wings outwards. The wind buffeted the whole chamber and Rachael stumbled back a step. Then his lungs swelled and he let out a deafening cry that rattled the glass in the remaining windows.

Silence followed. Towards the back of the room she saw a pair of grey-coated guards standing with their swords drawn, but clearly unwilling to approach. She wondered how long they would have before more came, with guns.

Justin surveyed the silent chamber once more. Then the vast black form of the bird dissolved down to the shape ofthe young man in a flowing black coat with his messy hair swept back, standing in the centre of the chamber. He grinned, amused, arrogant, entirely sure of himself, and in the face of those sparkling gold flecked eyes her fears seemed to vanish. The courtroom continued to empty, people pushing past each other in their panic. At the doors she could see more guards struggling to get into the room, but they were fighting the press of bodies. When the centre of the chamber cleared she remained alone, as Justin walked calmly towards her.

And then she realised that she was not alone. Standing beside her, Arsha reached out to take her hand. The girl looked frightened, but she held her ground.

“I wasn’t sure…” Rachael began, a guilty feeling twisting her stomach. She couldn’t seem to get the words out.

“Yes you were,” Justin said. “I’ll always come for you. You know that.”

He spoke calmly, but as his eyes fixed on hers she saw the turmoil behind that gaze. The uncertainty. The hurt. She had doubted him, and he knew it.

“I believe it. I believe it now,” she said, uncomfortable with the tacit admission.

“It’s OK,” he said, a little of his affected arrogance slipping away. “I shouldn’t have left you…”

“Just… Shut up,” she said. His eyes flickered towards the guardsmen now pushing their way through the crowd at the door.

“We should go,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“And her?” he nodded to Arsha. Rachael turned to look her sister in the eye.

“It’s your choice,” she said, keeping her voice as level as she could. To her astonishment, Arsha barely blinked. The girl’s eyes were cool and hard.

“I said I was coming with you. No matter what,” she said. Still, Rachael couldn’t help notice the way she avoided looking at Justin when she spoke.

“OK,” Justin said. “Let’s go.”

Glancing back, Rachael noticed Manindra and Naveen. When the rest of the court fled, they had remained. So too had the crew of the Triskelion. Micah, Ilona, Abasi and Milima all watched them from the tiered seats. Not one of them said a word, but Rachael got the feeling they were holding their tongues, waiting to see what happened next. Even Maya had remained, lurking at the very back of the room, Rukiya standing before her with her blade held firmly in one hand.

Naveen also had his sword drawn, and was edging forwards slowly. His father stood back, with an expression that seemed almost awestruck.

Justin looked at Naveen’s towering form, and just shook his head.

“Don’t,” he said.

Though she could see his hands trembling, Justin’s eyes remained fixed and calm. Watching the way he projected that cool demeanour, Rachael found herself achingly aware of how desperately she had missed him.

A clatter of heels against the marble alerted them to the guards breaking through into the chamber. They had lightning ballistas cradled in their arms. Taking advantage of the moment, Naveen advanced a step and Rachael saw that even Ilona half-raised a hand, as if to level the arc-gauntlet that she had been forced to leave behind.

Justin’s reaction was immediate. He stepped between the girls, a hand pushing each of them back a step.

“The podium,” he said sharply. She didn’t have time to ask what he meant, as instantly he began to change. A heartbeat later the giant raven dominated the chamber once more, claws gouging thin lines into the marble floor.

Turning to glance back, Rachael saw what he meant. The magistrate’s podium stood high above the courtroom floor. From there they would be able to climb onto his back. Taking Arsha’s hand, she dashed up the steps as Justin moved towards the guards.

He let out another ear-splitting cry, and as the guards staggered he swept his wings forward in flashing arcs of glistening black feathers. Naveen darted forward with an angry roar. Then the wing-tip caught him in the chest, hurling him across the chamber. There was a painful sound as he struck the far wall and fell to the floor. His sword clattered to the ground. Micah was scrambling over the benches, unarmed but still making a beeline towards herself and Arsha. It was strange how easily she expected his thoughtless heroism. Still she felt a wave of relief when Ilona tackled him, pinning the man to a bench, clear of the fighting.

The other wing swept through the guardsmen, not striking any directly but flooring them all with the clap of air that followed hard in its wake. Rachael felt a rush of excitement as she saw weapons knocked from hands. One man kept his grip, and from a prone position he pointed the lightning ballista upwards to fire. Justin simply reached down with his curved black beak and plucked the gun from the man’s hands. There was a snap, and two halves of the weapon fell to the ground.

Forcing herself to look away, despite the giddy rush she felt at seeing Justin so thoroughly demolishing the grey coated guardsmen, Rachael clambered up the podium, hauling a dumbstruck Arsha with her. As they clambered onto the Lord Inquisitor’s desk, she glanced back and saw that the old man had not left the room after all. Below the back edge of the raised dais he was huddled against the wall, a frightened look in his eyes. It almost seemed impossible that it could be same man who had commanded the entire chamber into hushed silence with every word. Now Rachael saw the way his skin sagged around his eyes, the way his wrinkled hands shook. He looked up and met her gaze. She wanted to turn away, ashamed of seeing him like this. She wanted to say something cruel. Something comforting. Something proud. There were no words that could encompass everything she was feeling. She turned to look at Justin, as he swept his wings back once more and ruffled his feathers, the gesture making her think of the way he would flick his hair back.

A guard made to scramble for his gun. The clack of claws against marble seemed to send a clear enough message. The chamber belonged to Justin. He turned his head back and forth, sweeping his gaze about the benches, daring someone to answer his challenge. The room seemed to hold its breath. Micah had ceased struggling, though Ilona still kept his arm pinned behind back, her eyes watching Justin cautiously. Abasi and Milima watched with the same cautious expressions. Only Manindra seemed curiously unafraid. In his eyes she saw only a burning hunger. He seemed not even to have noticed that his son lay in a crumpled heap at the back of the chamber.

Then Maya stepped forwards. As she pulled her white scarf back, Rachael saw a sadness in her expression. Her bodyguard was already dashing forward to interpose herself between Justin and the young woman.

When Maya spoke, the world seemed to ring like a bell. Rachael staggered, nearly falling off the podium. She saw Justin shaking his head, as if trying to stop the sound from hammering in his ears.

Again Maya opened her mouth, but no words came out. Or at least no words that she could hear. She knew somehow that the woman had spoken, but the words seemed as if they would not fit inside her head. Again there was something that went beyond sound, making the whole world shake. Her stomach churned and her head swam. Everything seemed to be moving slowly, as if the air had turned to syrup.

Again Maya’s mouth opened, the soundless words forming. Blood red tears were tracking down the woman’s face. Rachael heard Justin’s shriek of pain, slicing through the ringing echoes in her head. Black smoke boiled off of his body, and he seemed to flicker like an old television. Like he was there and not, at the same time. For the briefest of instants, instead of the vast form of the raven there was only a boy, on his knees, screaming in pain.

Then the raven lunged, curved beak darting forward. In the blink of an eye Rukiya was there, pushing Maya away. Rachael saw blood as Justin’s beak closed around the woman’s leg. He flicked his head up, tossing Rukiya aside like a doll. Sprawled on the floor, Maya looked up at him with eyes wide in terror as Justin drew back his head to strike again.

Rachael felt her mouth moving, felt more than heard herself shouting at Justin to stop. For a moment, he hesitated. Then Maya’s lips moved. This time she did not speak the words. She shouted them, at the top of her lungs. Rachael’s head swam, and she felt herself falling, tumbling down from the podium onto the cold floor of the chamber. When her head stopped swimming, the raven was gone. Justin lay on his side, curled into a tight little ball of pain, his black coat spilling out around him. Hazily, she noticed that the floor was still covered in brightly coloured shards of glass.

She looked up to see Maya standing over her, swaying unsteadily. The woman fell to her knees, drops of blood falling from her chin. She felt the woman’s hand cradling the back of her neck, lifting her head a little. Enough for them to look each other in the eyes.

“…Because I saw what would happen if I didn’t.” The woman gasped, her voice barely more than a whisper. “And I couldn’t imagine anything that could be worse. I’m sorry, Rachael. I’m so sorry.”

She heard the words, but they seemed like something distant, like a conversation overheard. Just a fading echo. It seemed as if all the sound had been sucked out of the world. She wanted to lash out at the woman, punch her, kick her, spit on that delicate face. But it was all so pointless. All her rage seemed to float around her, empty and useless. Her arms and legs felt numb. Her chest seemed to have a weight pressing down on it.

She saw the guards gathering up their weapons, saw them close in from all sides. Maya was lifted to her feet, carried away by men with nervous expressions. She saw the men coming to take herself and Arsha. She didn’t fight. She couldn’t. Her legs didn’t seem to work any more. One of the men hauled her to her feet and began to drag her away. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from Justin’s face, that look of agony turning to shame. She saw tears forming in his eyes as his hands clenched tight, knuckles showing white. Then they passed through the doors, out into the streets, and everything seemed to pass in a blur.

She remembered the tower, hovering above them, seeming to sway and bend, until she realised it was the tears blurring her vision. She remembered clean white hallways of frosted glass. Stairways cut into the substance of the tower, leading them upwards. A room, a bed.

She passed in and out of consciousness. Doctors came and went, testing her, injecting her, and scratching notes on white paper. Strange devices flickered and hummed. Whispered conversations as more notes were made. Then another injection, and she faded out again.

Eyes finally crept open on a small room that seemed to have been hollowed out from the milky green glass of the tower. It was hard to make the shape of it come into focus. The angles all seemed to be slightly wrong. She was surrounded by crisp white linens. The bed, like the small night-stand, were carved from some kind of ghostly pale wood.

Slowly, she got to her feet. Her clothes had been left folded on a chair by the door. She felt stiff, and sore, like she’d been lying in bed for days.

A simple curtain covered the doorway. Pulling it aside, Rachael stepped through into another hauntingly sterile room. A large window seemed to blend into the walls around it, as if the glass had simply been worn thin in that spot. White lace curtains framed the window on either side. Four chairs had been arranged around a small table. The furnishings were simple, all of them carved of the same sale pale white wood. Across the room from her stood a second doorway, just like the one she had come through.

Standing at the window, Rachael looked down into the streets below. The sun shone down from a clear blue sky, and for a moment the lifeless city seemed almost beautiful. Though they were higher than the tallest buildings around them, she could still make out the people and the carriages clearly. She wondered if one of them would be carrying the crew of the Triskelion back to the ship. She decided that by now they were probably already gone.

She looked down at her hands, and saw that they were shaking. In the silence, she heard the soft shuffling of bare feet on the smooth floor. Rachael looked up as Arsha slipped past the curtain that covered her door. For a moment the girl paused, surprised.

Neither of them said a word. There was a scraping sound as Arsha pulled a chair away from the small table and fell into it. Rachael turned to face the window again, watching the carriages drift through the streets.

“Do you think they’d bring us something to eat? If we asked?”

Arsha’s voice was hoarse and thin, barely a whisper.

“Maybe,” Rachael said.

From the corner of her eye she could see the way that Arsha stared at the blank tabletop. The girl seemed to have been hollowed out, like a perfectly carved model of herself.

“So, what now?” Arsha said, at last.

Rachael blinked in surprise.

“What now?” Arsha repeated, with a helpless shrug.

“What do you mean, ‘what now?’ Like I’m supposed to know?”

Arsha shrugged. The movement was so tiny that Rachael almost missed it.

“You’re the one who’s good at this stuff,” she whispered. “Not me.”

Arsha lifted her head just a little, looking at Rachael with a helpless expression.

“You must have some kind of plan, right?” she said. “That’s what you do. Even when you were with us, on the ship, I know you were thinking of ways out, the whole time. I don’t know how to do this. I’m not a strong as you. You’ve survived so much.”

Rachael felt a sound curl up from somewhere deep inside of her, somewhere a heavy sigh and a kind of sick laughter. She shook her head, as he fingertips brushed the smooth surface of the glass window.

“Yeah, I have a plan. Give in. Let them win. Whatever happens now I can’t do anything about it, so I’m going to close my eyes and hope the worst part is over quick.”

“How can you say that?”

Arsha’s voice was a stunned gasp. Again, Rachael felt that sick, bitter sound of laughter welling up from inside.

“Because that’s what surviving is. It’s getting by, holding on, keeping some tiny little part of yourself moving. That’s all. Your dad tried to win, Justin tried to win, and none of it mattered a damn. People like Manindra and Reuben always win, and the people who fight them just get stepped on. So screw your dad and whatever fight he’s got with the old man, and screw Maya, and all the rest too.”

“He’s your dad too,” Arsha said. “Remember?”

“Whatever. I just want it all done with,” Rachael turned away and pressed her forehead to the glass, feeling the warm sunlight against her skin as she closed her eyes.

The sun was setting when they heard the sound of the door opening. No knock, just Sir Reuben standing in the doorway, speaking softly to one of the guards. Then the door closed and for a moment he stood in silence, looking about the room.

His eyes turned to the table, where food and a jug of iced water had been left for them by the guards. Fresh bread, sliced ham and beef, salad, and small bowl of fruit. None of it had been touched. He looked to each of them in turn, waiting for a reaction. Eventually he shrugged, pulled up a chair and sat down at one end of the small table.

“How are you both feeling?” he said, his voice soft, almost gentle. “The apothecaries tell me you’re mostly recovered.”

Silence greeted him. Neither of the girls even bothered to look at the man, as he reached out selected an apple from the bowl in front of him.

“I don’t suppose either of you are hungry. No? You should eat, really. It’s going to be a while before we see fresh fruit like this again.”

He bit into the apple, chewing slowly, the sound of it filling the room.

“I am very sorry about what happened. The seer has been taken into custody, of course. I’m told that the fatecraft she used is very, very old, and very powerful. The Chamber, of course, denies any knowledge of how she could have come to learn such a thing. Your shifter has, of course, also been taken into custody.”

At the mention of Justin, Rachael looked up at the man, her eyes cold.

“What did you do to him?”

For a moment, Reuben said nothing, studying his half finished apple as if it fascinated him.

“He’s alive and well. Better than he was a few days ago, in point of fact. Our fateworkers have put a binding on him, of course. To prevent any further use of his… abilities. But he’s in no danger.”

“That supposed to be some kind of threat?” she growled.

“Of course not,” Reuben said, quite sharply. “I’m not here to bully you, Rachael. What I want is to put an end to this. I want to find some way that we can assure your safety, and the safety of all the people within the Hearth.”

There was a pause. Her throat felt dry.

“Because of the Seed,” she said.

“Yes. Because of the Seed. Because in all of their ridiculous feuding, your adopted father and Lord Bhandari have allowed this rot to continue to to fester, whilst more and more innocent people suffer.”

“Feuding? You were the idiot that thought they were working together.” Rachael snapped.

“Young lady, I am well aware of just how much those two despise each other. I’m an Inquisitor, it’s my job to know when I’m being lied to.”

“Then why’d you go after her dad so hard back there, if you knew he was only trying to help?”

“Whatever Chandra is trying to do here, it certainly isn’t helping. I had only one goal in that courtroom, and that was to see to it that neither of those men had any more part in this. They’ve both done more than enough damage already.”

“What do you mean?” Arsha exclaimed. She had been so quiet that the sudden outburst seemed to catch both of them by surprise. “My dad’s been doing nothing but try to stop what’s happening in London. If you and Manindra hadn’t been chasing after him all this time, he’d be there right now trying to stop the Seed and everything else that’s happened. This is your fault, because you wouldn’t trust him, and because you didn’t stop Manindra from getting away with all the awful things he was doing.”

Watching the girl’s eyes, Rachael could see that she was holding back tears. Arsha’s mouth was set in a hard line, her anger barely masking everything else she was feeling.

Reuben sighed.

“I wish I could believe that, young lady. I really do. I know you think the world of your father, and I’m sorry that I have to be the one to tell you this, but he doesn’t deserve the faith you have in him.”

“How can you say that? You don’t know anything about him,” Arsha snapped.

“Yes, I do,” he said, heavily. There was another pause. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts. “A mentor once told me that a guardsman looks for where the crime is. An Inquisitor looks for where a crime isn’t. A broken window, a tavern brawl, these things are easily solved. But the absence of a crime… How do you investigate that?”

He let the question hang in the air for a moment, though it was clear he wasn’t expecting an answer.

“I have been taking an interest in your father’s activities for a very long time now,” Reuben continued. “Ever since I was a junior officer in fact. He’s covered his tracks well, mostly with Lord Bhandari’s help. Bhandari, you have to understand, has always kept himself at a remove. He prefers to work through others. Your father was one of his finest agents. Nothing we’ve ever been able to prove, of course. Barely any evidence at all. Mostly it was the signs of where evidence was missing. Inconsistencies and alterations. References to forbidden archives, redacted statements, trails of paperwork that lead back on themselves in endless circles. But I continued to pick at the threads. A little here, a little there, but it all adds up, given time. I spent the time. Years. And in those years I have begun to get a very clear picture of what kind of man your father is. What he and Manindra have done.”

“What do you mean?” Arsha said. Rachael caught the note of growing uncertainty in her voice.

“I mean Fallen Peak. I mean the trail of bodies they left getting there, and getting back again.”

“You’re lying,” Arsha snapped at him. “He told me what happened at Fallen Peak. I was born there. He nearly died getting me out alive.”

“Yes. I’ve heard his story. How the expedition was marooned. How he fell in love with one of the researchers working for him. How she died in a storm that wracked the outpost. How they finally managed to get one of the ships flying again, with only half a dozen of them left alive. How the hardship of the journey caused most of his remaining crew to lose their minds. I’ve heard it all. And it’s a lie, every bit of it.”

“How do you know that?” Arsha said.

“Because I’ve been there. Because I wanted to see for myself what could have been so important that so much effort was spent to conceal it. Do you know what I found? Nothing. Or, very nearly nothing. Manindra and your father were out there for seven years. Stranded, supposedly, with a crew of sixty all told. That many people, living in one place for that long… There should have been a mountain of evidence. But what I found was the signs of a simple temporary encampment. No struggle. No disaster. They were there for perhaps six months at the most. The only sign of any struggle was the outpost itself… Or, what was left of it. The whole thing had been reduced to a smouldering crater. So for six and a half years I can offer no account whatsoever of where Manindra and your father went to. Six and a half years, during which sixty people died or were lost, and an ancient Ur citadel was reduced to ash and rubble, with no clear answer as to why or how.”

“That’s not true,” Arsha said, her voice on the edge of breaking.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You don’t deserve this. Neither of you deserve any of what’s happened to you. I wish there was time to… To explain. To help you understand what’s happening here. What has been happening for many years now. But then, even if we had all the time in the world, I don’t suppose any of this would be any easier to accept.”

He drew a heavy breath, and downed the rest of his water.

“Unfortunately, every moment the Seed continues to grow, and the walls of reality around it weaken. Soon it be strong enough to tear the Veil apart, and unleash an unimaginable chaos on all of the Hearth. The apothecaries tell me you’re both well enough to travel, which means we have to make our move now. I came here because I felt you both deserved an explanation for what is happening, and because I would really prefer to do this with your cooperation. We think there is a chance, a slim chance, that the Seed can be made dormant again. That’s why we need you, Rachael. Because you awakened it. And Arsha… if you are now Fatebound to her, then we may well need your assistance as well. My ship is being prepared as we speak. We’ll set sail for the Hearth within the hour. My men will come for you then.”

“And what if we don’t help? What are you gonna do then?” Rachael said.

He shrugged helplessly.

“Whatever we have to. I’m sorry, Rachael, but there are billions of lives in the balance here. Against that cost, to sacrifice a few… Even a few million…”

“What do you mean?”

“If nothing else can be done… If the Seed cannot be safely contained… Then we will bring fire. We will burn every part of it away, and the whole city with it. And then we’ll pray that’s enough.”

She said nothing. There was a scraping sound as he pushed his chair back. At the doorway he paused, and turned to look at them both.

“I’m sorry for what I had to do to your father. For what it’s worth, I truly believe there is a great deal of good in him. None of us are born monsters. But even the most noble of us carry something inside ourselves. There’s a beast lurking in our hearts, and once we set it free, we might never be able to tame it again.”

Arsha’s eyes were red with tears as she looked up at the man with a hateful expression.

“Just go away,” the girl whispered, her voice hoarse. Slipping an arm around her sister’s shoulders, Rachael said nothing, but the look she gave the man made it clear that she felt the same. With a dejected nod, he turned and walked out the door. It closed behind him with barely a sound.


Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Chapter 26 – Whispers

It was early in the morning when the carriages came for them, rattling through streets that were filled with what Rachael at first took to be fog. It took her a while to realise that there wouldn’t be any fog in the city. They were riding through thin wisps of cloud.

The city was neatly arranged, with six long spokes radiating outwards from the central tower. Their carriage joined one of these main streets and proceeded towards the tower itself. The thin spire looked down over everything else in the city, a slender needle of glass that seemed uncomfortably similar to another building, a world away. Rachael assumed that they would turn away onto a side street as they neared the city centre, but instead they continued right up to the very base of the tower and the cluster of buildings that surrounded it. The building they arrived at was larger than a cathedral, with a high domed roof and a long colonnaded entrance hall that stretched out towards them. An impressive set of double doors crested wide marble steps, flanked by rows of grey-coated guards. Impressive as it was, even this immense structure seemed insignificant against the vastness of the tower that overshadowed it.

The courtyard was filled with people, dressed in a dazzling display of coloured silks and gold and silver embroidery. She supposed the crowds were all here for the last day of the hearing, just like they were.

As they stepped down from the carriage their guards formed up around them, leading them in a procession towards the wide steps. She saw people in the crowd turning to look. Some pointed or whispered, and she became increasingly sure that she was the focus of at least part of their attention.

At the doorway another set of guards checked paperwork and waved them through. They entered into a large foyer. Curved staircases followed each wall, leading up to a balcony above. Wall hangings were arrayed in every colour imaginable, each adorned with an elaborate symbol in gold and silver thread.

Groups milled about the room talking amongst themselves in hushed voices. Micah laid a hand lightly on her shoulder, keeping her close. She glanced up at the others, unable to avoid noticing the way Milima’s face seemed to slip into a worried frown. Arsha seemed to notice as well, moving close to the woman’s side. Milima slipped an arm around Arsha’s shoulder and gave them all a weak smile.

“I’ll be OK,” she said. Even Ilona reached out to touch the woman’s arm, the small gesture of comfort seeming to speak volumes.

Rachael turned away and studied the crowd, endless unknown faces milling around her. Then her eyes fell on one face that she recognised, and a cold shiver passed down her spine.

Manindra Bhandari stood amidst a small gathering, his long white hair tied back in a braid with a ruby clasp, his weight resting on an ebony cane. Naveen stood with him, dressed in red and gold like his father, a sword hanging at his waist. He had a hard scowl on his face.

The crash of a gong resounded through the foyer, turning every eye upwards to the balcony where a man in a grey robe stood.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will please proceed to the Hall of Whispers and take your seats.”

The doors below the balcony swung wide, and the crowd began to move in their direction. Ilona lead the way as their group joined the stream of people filing through the large double doors. Rachael followed at the back, not feeling particularly eager to see where any of this was going. As she was being jostled by the throng, she was surprised to feel a sharp tug at her sleeve. She looked back to see a woman in a familiar looking white robe standing a little behind her.

“Maya?” she whispered.

The lady nodded. Maya’s bodyguard stood at her side, staying in step, eyes razor sharp. She gave Rachael a stern, measuring look.

“Rachael, I just…”

Maya seemed unsure of what to say. The cool confidence the woman had shown a few nights before had now vanished entirely. A pair of older men ducked past them, carefully avoiding the seer, though their curious eyes took in the scene.

“I’m sorry,” Maya said, with a deep earnestness. “Rachael, I’m truly sorry. You have to believe that. What’s going to happen in there…”

Confused, Rachael tried to catch a glimpse of Maya’s face under the scarf as if she might find some explanation there. More people were flowing past them, an exaggerated care in the way they avoided even brushing Maya’s robes.

“Go. Be with the others,” Maya gestured, apparently unable to bring herself to say anything else. Though she wasn’t happy about leaving without a clearer answer, Rachael saw the way Rukiya’s eyes fixed on her, like something dangerous. She gave the bodyguard a curt nod and slipped away, joining the crowd that filed into the chamber.

As she entered the hall, she found herself at the top of a flight of steps leading down to an open floor. A dais occupied the far side of the chamber, supporting an imposing desk and a high backed chair, whilst all around her tiered seating filled the remaining space. A balcony above encircled half the chamber, seeming to offer more seating. Above it all a high domed ceiling of stained glass allowed sunlight to pour down onto them.

The domed glass had been divided into smaller sections, each depicting a person, strangely stylised. Some were hard to make out, others more clearly depicted, but Rachael immediately recognised the figures she had seen on the walls of Manindra’s home. Her eyes quickly settled on the form of a woman in a flowing dress, surrounded by a swirling cloud of autumn leaves. Her face was concealed by what appeared to be some kind of mask. For a moment she could almost hear a voice like dry leaves whispering her name again. It was only when a tall man jostled her as he passed that she remembered where she was standing.

To the left of the room, a couple of rows from the front, she could see Manindra sitting with his son. Further down, in the very front row, she saw Reuben Ben Mahir with a couple of men she didn’t recognise. To the right, a set of seats appeared to have been reserved for them. Already she could see the others waiting for her. Micah gestured, ushering her into the row ahead of himself. The long bench was hard and uncomfortable.

She glanced across at where Manindra and his boys sat. The old man’s self-indulgent smile never faltered, but his son scowled at everything in the room as if it might be a threat. Just like the way Rukiya had been looking at her. She was thankful that at least Rakesh wasn’t there too.

As the last group entered the chamber, she barely paid attention until she saw the long grey coats of the guards who flanked the two men walking between them. Rishi and Abasi strode between the tiered seats, shoulder to shoulder, cold eyes seeming to issue a challenge to anyone watching. It was only as Abasi saw them seated at the front that his expression softened. He almost seemed to want to reach out past the guard who stood at his side, to grasp his wife’s hand. Rishi, however, seemed to barely notice them. There was only the briefest flicker in his eyes as they met Arsha’s. A moment of something that almost seemed like shame. Then the two men were brought to their seats at the centre of the chamber, just in front of the open floor that surrounded the dais.

In the nervous silence her eyes returned once more to the image of the woman in the glass, surrounded by the swirling golden leaves, the sunlight making the whole image glow.

A few minutes later, a man in grey entered and sounded a gong.

“All rise for Lord Inquisitor Kadima,” the man declared, his voice ringing out across the hushed chamber.

As everyone in the chamber stood, Rachael followed their example. Her eyes flickered to Ilona’s face, the cold mask that seemed to give nothing away. She tried to let the same blank expression settle on her own features, to become an empty space, devoid of emotion. Anything to keep her stomach from twisting itself in knots. She felt Arsha’s hand brush against hers, and with scarcely a thought she slipped her fingers through her sister’s.

A tall man entered the room, walking slowly to the dais where he took his seat behind the large desk. His hair was a tight mat of greying curls, and he was dressed in long black robes hemmed in blue and gold. His face had the square roughness of a heavy stone, skin the colour of jet.

The gong was struck again and the man cleared his throat, a rough, rasping sound that resounded through the silent chamber. When he spoke, his voice creaked like oak timbers, old but strong.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you may be seated. This court of inquiry shall now be called to order.”

As people took their seats, a hush settled over the courtroom.

“This court has heard the arguments presented by all parties, and reviewed all material evidence pertaining to this matter. We have deliberated on the arguments and the facts presented to us, and we are ready now to pronounce judgement in this matter.”

The man paused for a moment to glance down at his desk, where Rachael supposed he must have had papers laid out.

“We have heard, from Sir Reuben Ben Mahir, a charge of conspiracy against Lord Manindra Bhandari and Professor Rishi Chandra. That these two men conspired to gain unlawful access to information held by the Chamber of Foresight, and put that information to the purpose of capturing and containing a forbidden artefact, namely one of the Seeds which was discovered in the city of London, beyond the Veil. Sir Ben Mahir contends that, in doing so, these individuals and persons associated with them and working under their direction enacted multiple breaches of the Accords during the events which transpired in London.”

A pause, as the Lord Inquisitor cleared his throat.

“After reviewing the evidence brought by Sir Ben Mahir, and certain documents provided by Professor Chandra, it is the finding of this court that Lord Manindra Bhandari was indeed in possession of materials that should have remained the sole purview of the Chamber of Foresight, without clear cause or remit. For this matter, he shall be censured, and his family’s estates, titles, and privileges revoked, immediately and forthwith.”

A murmur reverberated through the room, a thousand whispered conversations springing up at once.

“On the actions of Professor Chandra and Captain Bira,” the Lord Inquisitor continued, his voice rising above the din, “we must first address the question of their crossing the Veil without papers of travel, and without apparent cause. Whilst I have serious questions…”

The Lord Inquisitor fixed Rishi with a steely gaze.

“…As to precisely what sparked Professor Chandra’s sudden interest in this matter, I have seen no evidence that he obtained access to information from the Chamber of Foresight, no matter what Sir Ben Mahir or House Bhandari may contend. However the fact remains that Professor Chandra and Captain Bira are responsible for crossing the Veil without the permission of the Wardens. On this matter, Professor Chandra has informed this court that this decision was entirely his responsibility, and that he wilfully coerced Captain Bira into compliance.”

Rachael heard the sharp gasps from those seated around her.

“Oh Abasi…” Milima said, under her breath. “How could you let him…”

“That idiot…” Micah growled. Though Ilona said nothing, Rachael saw the way the woman’s fingers curled, as if ready to make a fist. She turned to look at where Rishi and Abasi sat. The professor’s eyes were cold, almost lifeless, but Abasi looked as if he wanted to throw up.

“Thus, this court has no recourse but to find Professor Chandra entirely culpable in this matter. As to the charge of conspiracy, though the prosecution has dwelt for some time on the history shared between these two men, this court must acknowledge the following… First, that the fostering of Rishi Chandra under House Bhandari is a matter of record. Second, that Rishi Chandra was formally disowned by House Bhandari, and all ties between House Chandra and House Bhandari were severed some twelve years past. Third, that the prosecution has failed to bring sufficient evidence to demonstrate any further collusion. Thus, we can find no cause sufficient to prove any charge of conspiracy.”

“Are you following any of this?” Rachael said, turning to look over at Arsha. The girl nodded, her eyes wide. She seemed unable to actually form a reply.

“In the matter of the breach of the Veil enacted by Professor Chandra, this court declares that Professor Chandra shall immediately be stripped of privilege, his papers of travel removed, and his house be fined the sum of ten thousand Guilders.”

Again, the rising chorus of whispers from around the chamber. For a moment it appeared the Lord Inquisitor had finished, until the man seemed to remember himself.

“One other matter has been brought before this court’s attention. In the matter of the care of the child Rachael Barnes, a refugee from the Hearth, Sir Ben Mahir has moved to take the child into custody as material to the matter of the awakened Seed. Professor Chandra has claimed the child as his adopted daughter, and refused to present her to the Inquisition. However in light of these penalties issued against Professor Chandra, this court must deem that he is longer a fit or suitable guardian. The adoption of Rachael Barnes by Rishi Chandra is hereby annulled. The child shall be granted to the care of the Inquisition until suitable arrangements can be made for her.”

The way the old man spoke the words, it seemed almost like a dismissal. As if she had been hardly worth mentioning. No matter how she had tried to prepare herself for this, she could still feel her hands shaking. Then a voice rang out, loud and clear across the courtroom.

“Lord Inquisitor, I… I need to say something.”

Arsha stepped down from the seats as she spoke, crossing to the centre of the chamber with quick, nervous steps. In the sudden silence all eyes were on her. For a moment the old man didn’t say a word. He just regarded her curiously, as if he had never seen a teenage girl before in his life.

“Speak your piece, child,” he said at last.

“Lord Inquisitor, you can’t take Rachael away. Even if my dad can’t adopt her, she’s a member of this family now.”

“Child, no matter how you may feel about this, the law is the law. If you have nothing germane to bring, you must clear the floor.”

The Lord Inquisitor spoke with the slow and patient tones of an old man addressing a little girl, too young to realise her own foolishness.

“Lord Inquisitor, this is a… A matter of law. Rachael is my sister. Bound by blood and fate. According to the precedents set by the Dunforth trials, Guild law recognises the practice of blood-binding as…” The girl faltered, for a moment, pausing to catch her breath. “As being of equal weight to the ties of family established by birth or marriage.”

For a moment, no one seemed to know quite how to react. The general tenor of the courtroom seemed to be one of confusion. People were glancing at each other, as if to see if anyone knew quite what the words were supposed to mean. Rachael caught the professor’s expression, frozen in disbelief. The man’s knuckle’s were pale as he gripped the railing in front of him. In Manindra’s eyes she saw a look of quiet curiosity that left her even more unsettled.

Gathering himself, the Lord Inquisitor regarded Arsha very carefully, as if his eyes could pierce through any lie she might try to tell him. Standing her ground, Arsha held up her palm, showing off the thin scar. Sensing her cue, Rachael jumped down from her seat before anyone around her could react and stepped out onto the floor with her own hand raised high, the matching scar clearly shown.

In the silence, a single word was spoken.

“Arsha…”

Rishi’s astonished gasp seemed barely a whisper, but it still echoed loud in the hushed room.

The Lord Inquisitor drew a long, calming breath.

“Very well. A fateworker shall be called upon to determine the veracity of your claim to be blood-bound. If it is confirmed, I shall reconsider my previous judgement. Does the prosecution have any point to bring in this matter?”

He turned to regard Sir Ben Mahir. The younger man slowly unfolded himself, striding out onto the floor.

“Yes, Lord Inquisitor, we do. The prosecution accepts that Rachael Barnes and Arsha Chandra are now bound by blood. We must, therefore, move that both children be immediately placed under our care. If, as she claims, Arsha Chandra has indeed been blood bound to miss Barnes then we can only conclude that miss Chandra is, herself, irrevocably contaminated.”

“Contaminated?” the Lord Inquisitor said, raising an eyebrow. “Sir Ben Mahir, I do hope you mean to explain yourself.”

“Yes, Lord Inquisitor. I have here the results of the medical examination performed upon miss Barnes before her admission into the Citadel. Under our discretion, pursuant to Guild laws and articles volume seven, section thirty-two, the results of this testing were made available to our own experts, who have provided their formal conclusions which I also have here, signed and witnessed. I will, of course, make all of these documents available to the court upon request. However, if you will permit me to summarise, what we learned from examining the child’s blood was… Well… Baffling to say the least. None-the-less, our best alchymists agree on one thing with absolute certainty; whatever this girl may be, she is not human. Or at least, not entirely. As such we must attest that she stands outside of the protection of Guild law. Even the bonds of blood.”

For a moment, Rachael felt as if she wasn’t sure which way was down. She caught the incredulous expression on Arsha’s face, as the girl turned to look at her.

“We have not yet fully determined the precise nature of the child’s altered heritage, but it is quite likely that her inhuman ancestry is connected to the situation now unfolding beyond the Veil. As such, the Inquisition demands that she be turned over to our custody for further study.”

Even the professor looked on with horror, as Ben Mahir laid out his case.

“Naturally,” Reuben continued, “if Arsha Chandra has truly bound her blood and fate to Miss Barnes’, we must contend that she is likewise contaminated, and must also be rendered into the care of the Inquisition.”

“No!” Rishi cried out, leaning out halfway across the railing in front of him, eyes wide with horror as the guards pulled him back.

With a deeply disgruntled look about him, the Lord Inquisitor regarded Ben Mahir for a long moment.

“Very well. This court accepts your recommendation. Rachael Barnes and Arsha Chandra shall be given to the care of the Inquisition, pursuant to the ongoing investigation into the matters occurring beyond the Veil.”

“No, you can’t take her! You can’t take my daughter!”

Rishi’s cry resounded through the room as he vaulted the railing. He was moving across the floor before the guards could react. He ran to his daughter, snatching up her hands in his. Rachael could see the way he stared at the pale line across the girl’s palm, as if not able to believe it.

“Oh Arsha, why did you do it? Why?”

Arsha turned to look at her father, with eyes that seemed ready to fill with tears.

“I had to, Daddy. It was the only way.”

“No, Arsha, no, you foolish girl, you never should have…”

The words tumbled out of his mouth, crashing into one another in his confusion, as two guardsmen caught him by the shoulders and dragged him back, kicking and thrashing.

“Get that man out of here,” the Lord Inquisitor snapped, his voice like a whip-crack.

The professor continued to shout as he was hauled out of the room, a stream of violent curses against the Lord Inquisitor, Reuben Ben Mahir, and most of all Manindra. His eyes flickered between them, spittle forming around his mouth as he shouted himself hoarse, all the while twisting in the iron grip of the guardsmen.

As Rachael watched, his eyes met hers, furious and wild. For a moment he seemed to not even recognise her. When he did, the expression that passed across his face chilled her. In those wild eyes, what she saw was an accusation. Her own feeling of shame was immediate, and momentary. She realised that he was wrong. She had not stolen his daughter from him. She had not put him in this place. He was the one. The one who had taken her away from everything she had known, who had committed the crimes that he was now facing the penalty for, who had made his own daughter a part of it all. He was the one who had failed. After all his promises, he had done nothing to protect her. She was going to be locked away from the world, and the only one who had done a thing about it was Arsha.

As the guards hauled Rishi out of the chamber and the doors slammed closed behind them, she saw figures in grey coats moving towards where she was sat. Others came to stand at Arsha’s side, gesturing for her to follow them.

Ignoring their instructions, as the nearest of the men tried to make her step clear of the seats, she looked up at the glass dome above, some impulse making her long to see the sunlight. The figures in the stained glass window stared down at them all impassively. In their glass eyes there was no pity, no comfort. But as she watched, the window darkened. For a moment she thought the shadow must have been cast by a cloud, but then she recognised the shape.

The shape of outstretched wings.


Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Chapter 25 – Blood

A carriage pulled up, the horses snorting and flicking their tails as they drew to a halt. Arsha watched as the door opened and Micah stepped out to help Rachael down.

“Thanks,” the girl said, giving the man an awkward half smile as he boarded the carriage again. Micah smiled back and closed the door. Then a whip cracked, and everything was covered by the sound of the carriage clattering away.

Arsha was sat at the prow, head resting against the railing, her legs dangling over the front of the ship. The cavern floor, far below, was shrouded in darkness. Above, the lights in the roof glittered like stars. The sound of the carriage faded, and then all she could hear was Rachael’s footsteps echoing through the still air as the girl walked towards her. She pulled her legs up and turned to sit with her back against the railing, as Rachael sat down beside her.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” Rachael nodded. “Micah went back to go watch some more of the hearing.”

“What was the examination like?” Arsha said.

“Horrid,” Rachael replied, “all needles and weighing and stuff. Blood tests, all kinds of things. And the whole time they had me sitting in this stupid white nightie thing with no undies on or nothing.”

Arsha pulled a face.

“Sounds awful.”

“Yeah, well it’s done now. They said I’m all OK. No germs or whatever.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“So, this hearing of theirs… It’s been going three days now. How much longer is it gonna be?”

“Tomorrow. They’re going to make all their closing arguments and stuff. Either way, it’s all going to be over after that.”

“We’re not going to win. Are we?”

For a moment, Arsha didn’t say anything. She leaned her head back onto the railing and stared up the lights above them.

“None of them want to say it, but… It’s not going well. Micah’s quiet and Ilona is just more… Intense. She’s always that way, when she can’t solve something.”

“Yeah. I figured. I guess that means they’re going to take me away after all,” Rachael said.

“I know,” Arsha said, feeling a lump in her throat. “I don’t want them to.”

“Thanks,” Rachael said. There was a long pause before she added “And your dad… I guess they’re going to lock him up too.”

Unable to even form the words, Arsha just gave the barest of nods.

“I’m sorry,” Rachael said.

“He’ll think of something. He never gives up,” Arsha said, feeling all too much like she was trying to convince herself. “For you too. I know it. He won’t stop fighting until we have you back.”

“It’s OK. I know how it is.”

Arsha reached out and took the girl’s hand.

“You know I’m not giving up on you, right? Not ever. We promised.”

Whatever Rachael might have said in reply, it was lost when they both turned towards the sound of another carriage approaching. It was larger and more elaborate than the one that had brought Rachael back from her examination, and it was painted all in white.

The carriage doors opened and four men in long white coats disembarked. Though Arsha didn’t recognise the braiding and trim on their sleeves and shoulders, she knew that even Citadel guards didn’t normally wear such elaborate uniforms. They were followed out by a young woman with a boyish face and short cropped hair that was pulled close to her scalp in rows of tightly woven braids. The woman wore a half cloak of green and gold cloth, and beneath the dark leather of her armour there were flashes of blue silk. A sword hung from her belt, the hilt and scabbard simple and unadorned. The last figure to emerge from the carriage was dressed head to toe in a full white robe, with a white silk scarf that covered their face. The hem of the robe was trimmed in a deep red, and it was marked all over with the golden sigils of the Chamber of Foresight. Arsha had never even seen the marks in person before, only in her father’s books. The figure moved calmly, with a stately and feminine grace, as if her feet were only brushing the ground. The guards took up a formation around the two women, strangely tense despite how little danger there seemed to be. They approached the ship without a word spoken between them. The guards kept a slight distance, as if actually touching the person in the flowing white robe might be a terrible thing.

At the foot of the gangplank the short-haired young woman made a commanding gesture, and two of the guards turned to stand watch on the dock. Then the robed figure ascended the walkway to the deck, the remaining pair of guards flanking her. Approaching the prow, she stopped a few paces from them. Arsha felt herself holding her breath. In the shadows of the deep hood she could make out a dainty chin, skin the colour of honey.

It was eerie, how quiet everything was. When the woman spoke, it was with a voice like music, clear and gentle, that sent a shiver of recognition down Arsha’s spine.

“Good evening ladies. I wondered if I might come inside.”

Feeling as if she had only just come to her senses, Arsha leapt to her feet and gestured politely towards the main door.

“Thank you,” the woman said, her head inclining slightly below the hood. Hearing the voice again, Arsha felt her suspicions growing even surer.

She lead the way as they headed inside, Rachael staying close beside her with a bewildered look on her face. At another gesture from the short haired woman, the remaining guards took up positions just outside the door. From their faces it was clear they were not happy about something. As Arsha and Rachael got the heavy door open, the robed woman turned to her companion.

“Rukiya, these people are old and dear friends. I’d like to speak to them alone, please.”

The shorter woman looked surprised, perhaps even horrified by this suggestion.

“My lady, I can’t.”

“Rukiya, please. Just do this one thing for me.”

Lips pressed in a thin line, Rukiya nodded, clearly even unhappier than the guards were.

“I’ll stay by the door, but not outside. I won’t let them put half a foot of steel between us.”

A sigh.

“Agreed.”

No happier, the shorter woman nodded as Arsha led them all inside. True to her word, Rukiya took up a position just inside the inner doorway, as the robed woman followed them down to the mess. Sitting alone at the table, Milima looked up as they entered and her eyes immediately widened in astonishment.

“By the Seven… Seeker, I am so sorry. No one… We weren’t told of an official visit…” Milima blurted out, jumping up from the table. Arsha saw Rachael’s eyes widen in surprise, clearly taken aback by the sight of Milima seeming so flustered.

“Milima, please. It’s quite alright,” the robed woman said. “This is not what you think.”

Calmly, the figure drew back her white hood, revealing the face that Arsha remembered from her father’s sending stone. She felt butterflies dancing in her stomach as she tried to keep her expression calm.

“My name is Maya. I’m a very close friend of Rishi Chandra, and I am very grateful to finally meet you.”

“Can I… Can I offer you anything?” Milima said, still clearly nervous and confused.

“Tea would be lovely, thank you,” Maya said with an angelic smile, as she settled herself at the table.

Milima nodded and turned to set a kettle on the stove.

“I… I suppose you know Rishi’s situation,” Milima said, as Rachael and Arsha took seats across the table from Maya.

“Yes, and your husband’s too. I’ve been sitting in on the sessions. Milima, I am so very sorry. I know this must be awful for you all.”

“We’ll pull through,” Milima said, with a faltering attempt at a smile. “Seeker… I don’t meant to impose, but is there anything you can tell us about what’s going to happen at the hearing tomorrow? Anything you might have heard?”

“I’m afraid there’s very little I can tell you,” Maya said. “Beyond my own suspicions.”

Milima nodded, unable to hide her disappointment.

“I have heard a little about Reuben Ben Mahir,” Maya continued. “He’s an earnest and forthright young man, by all accounts, just like his sister. Very eager to prove that his family’s influence had nothing to do with being granted his appointment, whatever the truth of that might be. And he’s gained a reputation as something of… A troublemaker, I suppose. He’s embarrassed more than a few nobles already, exposing dirty secrets and a few shady dealings. I couldn’t say if he actually believes in what he’s doing, or if it’s just more Guild politics, but he’s certainly ruffled a few feathers. But going after Manindra… I really don’t think he knows how dangerous an enemy he is making. That worries me.”

“Well it’s about time somebody stood up to the man. Honestly, Maya, the thought of Manindra Bhandari finally getting what he deserves is the only silver lining I can see in all of this,” Milima said, as she set a steaming mug of tea down in front of the woman. For a while Maya just stared down into the surface of the liquid, as if seeing something there.

“Manindra’s plans don’t fail,” she said. “They just get… More dangerous. The man has no concept of defeat. He is entirely possessed of the certainty of his own importance, his… His ‘right’ to the things he has set his eyes on. There is nothing in this world that he does not believe he can bend to his will. It’s just a matter of how far he will have to go to make it happen. So yes, that scares me. Manindra is never more dangerous than when he has been defeated.”

With a heavy sigh, Milima set herself down at the table. Maya raised her cup, blew gently on the surface, and took a long sip.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. I appreciate your insight, Seeker, I truly do,” Milima said.

“You’re carrying a lot right now, Milima. I understand.”

“And being a terrible host. I’m afraid I’m not really sure what we can help you with, though. Rishi and Abasi are both in holding, and it’s just myself and the girls here on the ship right now.”

“Actually, my visit concerns the young ladies. I wondered if you might permit me to speak with them alone for a little while?”

“Uh… Certainly,” Milima said, taken aback. “If it’s alright with the girls, of course.”

Confused, Arsha glanced at Rachael, who looked just as perplexed. The girls both nodded.

“Wonderful,” Maya said. Then, with a glance upwards, at where Rukiya was no doubt still holding guard on the floor above, she added “Is there somewhere we might…”

“If you’re looking for some privacy, Rishi’s library is at the end of the hall,” Milima said quietly.

“Thank you,” Maya said with a warm smile. As the woman stood, Arsha jumped to her feet and lead the way. Her father’s library was located at the very back of the ship, past the stairwell and just above the engine room. She opened the door and let the others step into a room that would have seemed large if it was not some completely filled with bookcases. Each shelf was filled to the brim, the books strapped into place with leather bindings to keep them from shifting with the movements of the ship. In the centre of the room stood a round table with four chairs, and a single ghostlamp at its centre.

Arsha closed the door and turned to see Maya standing in the centre of the room, hands folded in front herself. The woman’s poise and grace seemed entirely flawless. Rachael stood a little to one side, looking nervous, unsure of what to do with herself. As Arsha stepped towards the table, however, Maya moved towards her.

“May I?” the woman said, reaching out to take her hand. Dumbstruck, Arsha just nodded, as Maya held her palm up between them. Then she realised what the woman was looking at, the thin line of the scar standing out clear against the skin. Maya’s soft fingertips brushed across the knotted line.

“You did this yourselves?” she said. Arsha nodded. “Very well done. This is a strong binding. Any fateworker would be proud.”

“How… How did you know?”

Maya smiled.

“Red string. It took me a while to puzzle it out, of course, but two nights ago I dreamed of a hand clutching a bloody knife. The rest was easy to put together.”

Arsha nodded, not saying a word.

“Oh there’s no need to be so cautious my dear. I assume you already know about the prediction I shared with Rishi, yes?”

Arsha blinked.

“How did you…?”

“You recognised my face, darling. The moment you saw me. Your father refuses to even keep a holo in case he lets slip that we stay in touch, and that was first sending I’d made to him in ten years. The only way you could recognise my face is if you’d found a way to listen in. Rishi is too careful for anything else.”

“I… Yeah. I did, a bit. I’m really sorry,” she said, lowering her eyes. Maya’s hand settled lightly on her shoulder.

“It’s done now, and for the best I suspect. Have you told Rachael yet?”

Arsha nodded.

“Good,” Maya said, smiling.

“So… Is that what this is about?” Rachael said. “This prediction stuff and all?”

“In a way. We should sit,” Maya said, gesturing towards the table. Still feeling a little dumbstruck, Arsha followed Rachael, taking a chair beside her. Maya sat down across from the two of them, folding her hands on the table.

“So… What else can you tell us about your prediction? About what’s going to happen?” Arsha said. Her throat felt dry.

“Very little I’m afraid. Most of it is still fairly opaque to me. I’ve been having visions ever since, but they’ve been confused, fragmentary, very little that I can piece together. That’s the nature of predictions, I’m afraid. Mostly the Chamber collects these pieces, cross-references them with what the other seers have seen, and builds up a larger picture. Seers very rarely have a complete prediction on their own. The intelligence that the Chamber passes on to the Guild council is usually gathered from hundreds of seers across thousands of visions, and even then the results are generally murky at best. But, the truth is, these last few weeks, I’ve been keeping most of what I’ve seen to myself. I fear there’s something rotten at work in the Chamber, and I can’t escape the feeling that whatever I’ve been seeing… That it wasn’t meant for them.”

“Won’t you get in a lot of trouble for that?” Arsha said.

“Perhaps. But that can’t be helped.”

“You don’t seem all that worried,” Rachael said.

“The life of a Seer is a little hard to explain. I know this all must seem very strange to you, Rachael. In this world, people with abilities like mine… The Guild needs us, but it also fears us. We live very constrained lives. I have not left the Citadel since I was 12, and I will probably remain here until the day I die. After a while you grow used to the idea of living in a cage. It certainly leaves you with very little to be afraid of. I might lose a few privileges, perhaps, but I’m too valuable for anything worse than that.”

“That’s…” Arsha began to say.

“…Awful,” Rachael finished for her.

Maya simply spread her hands, palms upward, in a helpless gesture.

“There is one thing that I am absolutely certain of,” the woman said. “Something has started here, something much bigger than what we can see now. The two of you are standing together at the eye of a storm. The choices you make now could change everything. The fate of worlds will be reshaped by what you two have done, and what you continue to do now. I know that’s an awful responsibility to place on you both, and I wrestled without myself about whether to say anything at all, but… But I know that no matter what else happens, you are going to need each other. You must find strength in each other, because soon there is going to be very little else left to you.”

Arsha turned to look at Rachael. The girl looked just as nervous as she felt.

“I’m sorry. I know that isn’t exactly what either of you wanted to hear,” Maya said. For a while neither Arsha or Rachael made any reply, an uncomfortable silence settling in the air.

“I was wondering before,” Arsha said, “how do you know my dad?”.

“I’m his sister. Of sorts,” Maya replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

Arsha’s eyes widened.

“Sister? Dad never mentioned having any brothers or sisters.”

“No, he wouldn’t have. We’re not related by blood. Rishi was my father’s ward. You know about the wreck that killed his parents, I suppose?”

Arsha scrunched her nose up, confused.

“Dad told me that he grew up with his granddad, after his parents died.”

Maya nodded.

“I know. You have to understand, Arsha, he had his reasons for lying. After everything that happened, Rishi wanted nothing to do with our family. The truth is, I envy him, being able to leave it all behind so easily. Even sequestered in the Citadel here, I’ve never really felt like I was far enough away from my father.”

“Your father?”

Maya paused, her shoulders settling in a heavy sigh.

“Manindra. Manindra Bhandari.”

“That crazy old…” Rachael interjected, seeming to catch herself just in time.

Maya just nodded.

“I was the youngest. I think even as a little girl I recognised the madness in my father… And how it had infected my brothers. In a way, it infected Rishi too, but there was a kindness in him that my father could never quite find a way to cut out. Not like he did with Rakesh and Naveen. As for Dayaram… I don’t know. Whatever part of himself he managed to hold onto, he’s buried it deep inside. He plays the dutiful son so well that he’s forgotten how to be anything else.”

“No… I can’t believe that. How could my dad be anything like those people?”

“For all the poison in his heart, there is much in my father to admire, Arsha. Much that your father learned from him. Rishi is driven, resourceful, determined, inspiring, and fearless. All things my father taught him. Our parents shape who we are, whether we like it or not, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t decide what kind of person we will become. Rishi has gone to the ends of the earth to cut away my father’s influence from his life, and he has become a very different man from the one that Manindra wanted him to be.”

“But why didn’t he ever tell me this?”

“Why do you think? Rishi never wanted you to have anything to do with my family. Arsha, believe me, I couldn’t agree more. If I could somehow erase that part of myself, I gladly would. If there was a surgeon’s knife that could cut deep enough to extract every last trace of him, I would hold it myself, and I would smile with every cut.”

“He still shoulda let her know,” Rachael said. “It weren’t right, keeping that from her.”

“Perhaps. Rachael, I’m not trying to pretend that anything about Rishi is perfect. We are all flawed creatures. He’s made the best choices that can, given his circumstances. I’m not in a position to judge him.”

Rachael said nothing, obviously holding back whatever thoughts she had on the matter.

“Is there… Is there anything else you can tell us? Anything at all?” Arsha said.

Maya considered this for a moment.

“This is a marvellous library,” she said, at last, looking around the room in apparent wonder. “I suppose Rishi must have a copy of the Guild laws and statutes here somewhere.”

Arsha looked around, uncertainly.

“I guess,” she said.

“Volume Three, if I recall correctly,” Maya said. “There is a chapter on the subject of lineage and inheritance. You’ll find some interesting notes on the subject of blood-bonding, and how it relates to Guild law.”

Arsha scrunched her nose up, trying to figure out what the woman meant by this.

“I thought that kind of thing was, you know, forbidden,” she said.

“Oh yes. The practice of fatework, in all forms, is highly regulated within the Guild. However the results of that practice are another matter entirely.”

“So what Arsh and I did…” Rachael began, tailing off with a nervous look.

“Would, to my understanding, be recognised by Guild law as no different from any other blood tie. If Reuben means to snatch you away from your family here by having your adoption annulled…”

“It wouldn’t matter, because she’d still be my sister,” Arsha said, hearing the excitement in her own voice.

“By Guild law, that will make Rachael every bit as much your father’s daughter as you are, entitled to all the same protections. Reuben might try to argue it, of course, but there’s enough precedent that I imagine Miss Karvonen will be able to tear him to pieces. I’m sorry, I know this doesn’t help your father… Believe me, I am every bit as worried about Rishi as you are, Arsha… But at least it is something.”

“Thank you,” Arsha said. She turned to look at Rachael, and saw the nervous relief in the girl’s eyes, barely concealed.

“Thanks,” Rachael said, not quite able to look Maya in the eye. “Really, thank you, for all of this.”

“You’re both welcome, of course,” Maya said. “Now I really should be going. Rukiya will only let me stay down here so long.”

The woman smiled and got to her feet, smoothing the front of her robe down.

“Hey,” Racheal said, “you won’t… You won’t get in too much trouble for all this? Will you?”

“A little. But I’ll be fine. Honestly, I think Rishi will be more angry at me than anyone else will.”

“Why?” Arsha said.

“Because your father is one of kindest men I have ever known, and he’s never stopped trying to protect me, from myself and from everyone else. But sometimes little sisters just have to get in trouble.”

Maya smiled again, and just for a moment Arsha saw Rachael smiling back, as if amused by something the woman had said. Then Maya turned and let herself out.

“Remember, Volume Three,” the woman said as she closed the door.


Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License

Chapter 24 – Glass

It was well past midnight, the sky outside velvet black and studded with pinpricks of silver, when Arsha found herself standing outside the door to Rachael’s bedroom. She tapped lightly, for a second time. She almost jumped when the door opened. Rachael was wearing a dressing gown over her nightie, and a look of confused surprise.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Can I come in?” Arsha said, glancing up and down the corridor, reassuring herself that no one else was up.

“Yeah, course.”

Arsha slipped inside, as Rachael closed the door and dropped back down onto her bed.

“What’s up?”

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Arsha said, biting her lip.

“About what?” Rachael said.

“About… About how this all started. Everything that happened, I mean.”

“Like, the stuff with me and your dad, and all?”

Arsha nodded.

“Did… Did my dad tell you why he came looking for you?”

“Sort of. Said it was the right thing to do or whatever.”

Arsha paused for a moment, biting her lip.

“That’s not the whole story,” she said. “There’s some stuff that he couldn’t tell you… But I think I should. I think you need to know.”

“Know what?”

“In our world, there are people who… We call them Seers. They can see the future, in a way. It’s like, glimpses, and jumbled up stuff. Dreams.”

After a moment Rachael nodded, as if the idea wasn’t so surprising.

“That’s why my dad came to find you. One of these Seers… She shared a prediction with him. A dream that she’d had. They’re not supposed to… In fact it’s… It’s a really bad thing. I mean, really, really bad. If anyone ever found out… That’s why he couldn’t tell you. To protect her.”

“Right. But he could tell you?” Rachael said, raising an eyebrow.

“Not exactly…” Arsha paused again. “I kind of listened in.”

Rachael looked surprised, and just a little impressed.

“The point is, this prediction… It was about the Seed… But it was also about me and you. She saw us both standing together, in the middle of London… We were holding hands, she said. There was a boy with us… She talked about him being made of smoke and shadows…”

“Justin.”

Arsha nodded.

“I think so. There was a bunch of other stuff, that didn’t really make a lot of sense… But she said something about a choice. And about our hands being wrapped up in red string.”

“Red string?”

“Yeah. It didn’t really make a lot of sense to me either, but since then I’ve been reading some stuff… My dad’s library has a lot of books about Fate and stuff. He doesn’t let me read that stuff normally, but with all that’s happening, he’s been pretty distracted, and after we did the ritual to talk to you… I got looking into what red string might mean, if it was something to do with magic, or Fate.”

“And?”

“Well, I found this thing, in one of these books. I was looking at stuff about the Herdlands, because Milima said that they still do real fatework out there. And there’s this ritual they do, where two people join themselves together. They call it blood-binding. It’s a way of tying your Fates together. Connecting yourself to someone else, permanently.”

“Like, blood brothers, right? You cut your hands and stuff?” Rachael said. Arsha blinked at the girl in surprise.

“Yeah, that’s right. How did you know?”

“It’s just, like, one of them things from stories and stuff, y’know? Like, a couple of kids from my block done it because they thought it would make em well gangster and all, but then one of them, his hand went all manky, because they done it with a piece of glass.”

“Well, I guess it’s the same sort of thing, but, you know, we’ll be careful to disinfect the knife and clean the wounds properly so we don’t have to worry about stuff getting infected. They really did it with a piece of glass?” Arsha said, looking at the girl incredulously.

Rachael just shrugged.

“That’s so stupid.”

As Arsha shook her head in despair, she saw Rachael’s expression shift.

“Wait, hold up…” Rachael said. “So you actually want to do this?”

Arsha looked down, her fingers tangling together, as her stomach suddenly twisted around on itself.

“I mean, we’re sort of sisters already, right?” she mumbled. “With my dad adopting you. But it seems kind of sad that it was just some pieces of paper and stuff, and I thought this would make it real, you know? And that stuff in the prediction about red thread and all… I think this is what she meant. That we were supposed to do this.”

To her surprise, Rachael laughed.

“Oh my God, you’re actually serious. I can’t believe you’re actually serious.”

“Fates, do you have to?” Arsha snapped. “Yeah, I am serious.” Falling back onto her bed, Rachael kicked her feet up against the wall, still smirking.

“God, if you only knew. If knew anything about me, you’d get what a joke this is. Trust me, I’m not the sort of person you’d ever want as family.”

Arsha stared at her, fuming at the girl’s smug expression. Rachael just shook her head. Barely able to contain herself, Arsha leapt to her feet and turned away. Fists balled at her sides, she stared at the door, willing herself to just open it and storm out.

“What’s the deal?” she heard Rachael say. “Why’s this so important to you anyhow?”

She wheeled around, fists still clenched, feeling the words burst out of her mouth.

“Because they’re going to take you away!”

For a moment they both stared at each other in stunned silence.

“They’re going to take you away,” Arsha continued, the words pouring out of her in a flood, “the Guild, or Manindra, or someone, they’re going to take my dad and they’re going to take you, and I can’t stop it, and you’re going to be alone, and I know you can take it, I know you’re not scared and you’ll make it through because you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met… You’re stronger than I could ever be…”

Breathless, Arsha felt her head spinning. Her eyes were blurry, and she could feel tears running down her cheeks.

“But you shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t have to go through all this, and you shouldn’t have to be alone. No one should have to be alone.”

Her chest heaving, Arsha finally realised that Rachael was staring at her, eyes wide with astonishment.

“Of course I’m scared,” Rachael said, quietly. “Jesus, Arsh, I’m terrified. It’s like, every time I think I have something to hold onto, it all changes again. Like everything I’m reaching out for keeps getting snatched away from me, and I’m just falling. I’m falling, and I don’t even know when I’ll hit the bottom.”

Rachael stared at the floor, chewing her lip as Arsha looked on in silence, too stunned to think of anything to say.

“I can’t figure you out,” Rachael whispered. “You’re always so nice to me, and I gave you so many reasons not to be. I don’t get it. I don’t get why you care. Why any of what happens to me should matter to you. I don’t know why you’d ever want to do this.”

“I’m sorry,” Arsha said. “I guess I can’t really explain it either. I like you. You’re smart, and you’re funny, and I feel happy when I’m with you. You’re such an amazing person, and you don’t deserve everything you’ve been through. Isn’t that enough?”

Rachael said nothing, her eyes still fixed on the floor.

“I’m not trying to force you,” Arsha said, gently, reaching out to brush a hand across the girl’s shoulder. “Whatever you decide, I’m going to be here for you. No matter what.”

When Rachael looked up again, there were tears in the girl’s eyes. Sniffing, she wiped a sleeve across her face.

“Alright. I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure?”

Slowly, Rachael smiled, her cheeks glistening with tear tracks.

“Yeah. I’m in.”

For a moment they just smiled at each other.

“But I can’t promise I’ll be much cop as a big sister, OK?” Rachael said.

“Big sister? Where’d you get that idea? I’m the older one, remember?” Arsha said, laughing.

“Oh, what, by like six months? That doesn’t count,” Rachael said, with an obviously feigned look of incredulity. Arsha smiled and stuck her tongue out.

“Oh, it so does.”

“Yeah? Well if I’m gonna be the little sister, you know that means I get to annoy the heck out of you all the time, right?” Rachael said.

“My goodness,” Arsha said, smirking, “however will you manage that?”

Rachael laughed.

“Alright. You win,” the girl said, still smiling. “You know you can be a real brat sometimes, right?”

“You’re damn right,” Arsha said, sticking out her tongue again. “I’m an only child. I’m good at getting what I want.”

Rachael’s smile faded.

“Yeah, well, lucky for some. I was an only child too.”

For a moment there was an uncomfortable stillness in the air. She could hear the creaking timbers, and the hum of the propellers, as Rachael stared at the wall, biting her lip. Gently, Arsha put her arms around the girl and pulled her close. She felt Rachael’s arms around her, squeezing tight, as she leaned in to whisper in the girl’s ear.

“Not any more.”

It was eerily quiet in the hold. Ensconced above the large room, in the pool of light that a single ghostlamp cast over the loft, the girls knelt on the dark oak floor, facing each other in nervous silence.

Carefully, Arsha undid the bag she had brought, and produced the contents one by one. Dried herbs and salt, a flask of water, a small wooden pot, bandages and safety pins, three small clay bowls, some matches, and a wooden handled kitchen knife.

Arsha crumbled the dry herbs into the three bowls and set a lit match to each one in turn. A powerful aroma filled the room, as the herbs began to smoulder, a dull red glow creeping through the papery leaves. Then she picked up the bag of salt and began tracing a swirling three point pattern on the floor between them. She could feel her hands shaking as she tried to keep the lines even. Several times she had to glance at the image she had copied out of the book, to make sure she was getting it just right. Finally, she placed the wooden bowl in the centre of the pattern and filled it with water from the flask.

“What happens now?” Rachael asked, quietly.

“Start by taking deep breaths,” Arsha said. “Don’t force yourself, just breathe, deep and even. Focus on your breathing, on the sound of your heartbeat. Let everything else fall away.”

She spoke evenly, trying to keep her voice calm and reassuring, the way Milima’s had been. Her own eyes were half-closed, but she could see enough of Rachael to watch the girl’s breathing slow.

“Concentrate on the sigil… The pattern in the circle. It’s like a map, for your mind. It shows you where you need to go.”

Arsha noticed that a sheen of sweat had already appeared on Rachael’s forehead, and realised that her own face was feeling flushed and damp. The air smelled bitter and sharp, as she breathed in the thick smoke. She swallowed. Her throat felt dry.

“Hold the sigil in your mind. Focus on it. Let everything else fall away.”

Already, Arsha could feel as if she was floating, as if her body was made of clouds.

“Fall. Fall inside of yourself. As if your own mind was the whole world, and you were just a tiny dot, floating deep inside of it.”

Arsha could feel her blood pounding in her ears. The walls of the room seemed to fall away, leaving a dark and empty space around them both.

“Now I want you to picture a door. Any door. Imagine it however you like. When you can see it clearly, you’re going to reach out and open it.”

They sat in silence. Then she heard Rachael’s voice, a whisper so quiet that she could barely make out the words.

“I can’t.”

Rachael’s eyes were still closed. Her knuckles stood out white against her tightly clenched hands.

“It’s OK,” Arsha said, softly. “This is just part of the ritual. Opening the door is part of creating a connection. You let me in. I let you in. We become a part of one whole.”

“I know. I know,” Rachael said, her voice tight. “But I can’t. I can’t open that door. I know… I know what’s behind there. I can’t go back to that.”

“You’re not going back Rachael. I promise you, you’re not. You’re moving forward. That’s why I want to do this with you. I want this, for both us.”

She heard the girl take a deep breath.

“It’s OK,” Arsha said. “When you’re ready.”

“OK,” Rachael whispered.

It took a moment, to centre herself again, trying to resume the calm even tones she had been using.

“Close your eyes, open the door, and step through. This is the space between us. The connection we share. This is real. Do you see me there?”

“I can see you.”

As she spoke, Arsha pictured her own door. It was the door to her bedroom, battered old oak-wood chipped and scarred in a hundred tiny but familiar ways. She could almost feel the brass handle turning in her hand. It opened, and she stepped through into the darkness, where Rachael stood, facing her. She saw the tears on Rachael’s cheeks and the fear in her eyes. She wondered if it was real or just her imagination.

“OK,” she said. “Hold out your hand.”

The knife gleamed in the darkness, as Arsha drew it across the skin of Rachael’s palm. She watched the blood well up around the cut and begin to drip, slowly, from the edges of her palm. She heard the soft splash each drop made as it fell into the bowl of water.

Arsha then held out the knife, handle first, and offered her own hand, wishing that it wouldn’t shake so much.

When the blade met her palm she gasped in pain. It was as if Rachael was drawing the tip of a red hot poker across her skin. It took everything she had not to pull her hand away. She bit her lip so hard that the taste of blood flooded her mouth. Distantly, she heard the knife clatter to the floor, but all she could think of was the pain. Tears flooded her eyes.

“It’s OK,” she heard Rachael say. “I think I know what happens next.”

Carefully the girl pressed their bleeding palms together, clasping Arsha’s hand tightly in hers. Their mingled blood dripped down from their hands, falling softly into the bowl. Arsha felt a warmth and a tingling throughout her whole body. She seemed to be surrounded by endless light, and she was intensely aware of Rachael’s breathing, her pulse, her heartbeat. As the sound of it thundered in her head, she felt the words coming back to her.

“Repeat… Repeat after me. Forever to this binding we submit,” she said, hearing Rachael echo the words back to her. “Bound in body, bound in mind, bound in spirit, bound in fate. In blood we forge our souls to share as one.”

Blinking, Arsha opened her eyes again. Rachael’s hand was still clasped in hers. The water in the bowl was a pale red. The mounds of crushed herbs had burned out. The smell of blood and smoke filled the air. There were tears glistening on Rachael’s cheeks.

Rachael’s eyes flickered gently open, and they looked at each other as if they were both expecting something to happen. It felt as if something should have changed, but the room was the same. It seemed that they were the same too.

“Did it work?” Rachael said, cautiously.

“I don’t know,” Arsha said, before breaking into a nervous smile. “I’ve never done this before.”

“Right,” Rachael laughed, softly. “I guess, maybe… I guess I was expecting something more… Magical.”

“That wasn’t enough for you?” Arsha said, drying her eyes with her free hand.

Rachael blushed and looked away.

“Yeah. I guess it was,” she said.

Gently, Arsha lowered their clasped hands into the bowl of water, carefully washing away the blood. She expected it to sting, but it didn’t really hurt very much at all. When they withdrew their hands from the water, her breath caught in her throat. Where there should have been a gaping wound, there was barely a mark. Only a tiny scar, a single thin line across the palm, like it had healed years ago. She examined Rachael’s palm, and found the same. Only a slim trace of a scar.

“I guess it did work,” Arsha said, softly.

“Yeah. It’s weird… After all the other things I’ve seen, I shouldn’t really be surprised by this.”

“Why not?” Arsha said. “I am.”

Still staring at her hand in amazement, Rachael began to stand up. She was halfway to her feet when her legs seemed to give way, and she fell backwards against the sofa. Arsha covered her mouth, trying not to giggle.

“Shut up. I’m just dizzy,” Rachael growled, but there was a smile on the girl’s face. As she settled onto the couch, Arsha slowly cleared away the remains of the ritual. Carefully she poured the bloodstained water back into the flask, and packed away everything into the bag. Then they made their way back down, taking each step with care, slipped through the corridor with soft footsteps, and dumped the last of the evidence down the toilet bowl.

Eventually they arrived back at Rachael’s room. The girl fell down onto her bed, leaning back against the wall with a dazed expression. Arsha stood, awkwardly twisting her hands together as the ghostlamp flickered.

“Alright… Good night…” she said, half mumbling the words.

“Hey, come here you,” Rachael said, holding up her arms in a beckoning gesture. A little confused, Arsha sat down on the bed beside her, and immediately Rachael’s arms slipped around her shoulders, pulling her close. Her head fell against Arsha’s chest, eyes closed. It struck her that she had never seen the girl quite so defenceless.

“Thank you,” Rachael whispered, her voice so soft that Arsha almost couldn’t hear the words. Arsha said nothing at all, as they lay together, arms tight around one another. The ghostlamp settled and dimmed, as Rachael’s breathing settled. Slowly, Arsha pulled the blanket up over the both of them, and laid her head back. She could feel her sister’s heartbeat, soft and slow, as her shoulders rose and fell with every breath. Outside the porthole the night darkened and the propellers droned on, their gentle hum lulling her off to sleep.

Standing out on the deck, they watched the Citadel approaching, lit from behind by the rays of the morning sunlight which reached out across the rolling white dunes of the desert below. At first all they saw of the Citadel itself was a smudge on the far horizon. Slowly it grew closer, larger and more menacing. As they watched the shape resolved itself into an island of rock hanging in the blue sky, completely unsupported. The sunlight gleamed on the spires of crystal that dotted the dunes, far around it.

They stood at the prow, leaning against the railing. Rachael was still wincing from her morning training with Ilona. For three days now she had been spending every spare moment down in the hold, practising under Ilona’s watchful eye. With time to spare, Arsha had buried herself in her various projects. The harmonic had finally come together, but when they’d turned it on they found only the Citadel wave, with blandly neutral music and coldly mechanical announcements. They had promptly turned it off.

They watched in silence as the sun continued to rise. Eventually the Citadel was near enough that she could make out the shape of the buildings, rising up in staggered waves towards the centre of the structure, where a single tower stood far above all the rest. It was so slim and fine that the whole thing seemed to be hanging from the sky on an invisible thread, connected to that needle point. Concentric rings of walls, dotted with towers, rose up like a wedding cake around the outer perimeter. At first she thought the tiered structure looked like a castle, but as it grew in size the sense of scale became clearer, and she began to see that it was closer to being a city.

Below where the island floated, shapes emerged from the desert, the tiered and misshapen skyline of a much larger city, tall spires that reached for the sun and crowded rows of buildings that lined narrow streets and broad avenues. All of it had taken on a warped and misshapen appearance. Sand had built up in great waves around the base of the buildings, and most of the structures had a twisted, half-melted look to them.

The city below gleamed in the dawn light, but the Citadel itself shone like the sun. The dazzling rays of sunlight reflected off every wall, as if every surface was a mirror. As the distance closed, Arsha finally saw that every part of the citadel, from the lowest edge of the outermost walls on upwards, appeared to be some kind of clear stone or crystal, tinted aqua green like jade. She drew a sharp breath as the realisation set in. It was made of glass. Every part of the Citadel, every brick and stone, was made of glass.

It was beautiful. As soon as the thought entered her head, she hated herself for it, but she couldn’t shake it. The Citadel was elegant, radiant and utterly awe inspiring, and she hated it. Still she watched as they approached, the ship sinking lower until they were below the level of the island. Vast openings lined the lower reaches of the island on which the citadel rested, lit by strings of lanterns along their inside walls, looking like tiny sparks of light in the darkness of each cave mouth. As the ship approached one of the openings, it almost seemed as if it would be too small, but the cave continued to grow as they drew closer. Every time she thought she had judged the perspective correctly, the shape of the Citadel turned out to be even grander than she had imagined. The whole island was vast, and each of the caves could easily accommodate ships much larger than the Triskelion, the vessel seeming tiny against that great dark opening. As they entered the tunnel, Sir Reuben’s sleek black ship followed them in.

Darkness overshadowed the deck, with only the lights on the walls to guide them. They moved slowly, the propellers beating out a steady rhythm. Up ahead she could see light. She looked down to see that Rachael’s hands, like her own, were tight against the railing.

Then she looked up, and felt her breath catch in her throat. The ship emerged into an enormous cavern, too large for her to even begin to guess at its scale. The walls of the cavern were some kind of some kind of rough hewn crystal, and deep beneath their surface a million lights glimmered in the darkness, like stars. From all around the walls, walkways and piers protruded. She could see pulleys, cranes and other machinery.

They floated upwards, turning slowly to orient towards one of the many piers. The ship drifted in gently, guided by Abasi’s steady hands as Sir Reuben’s vessel manoeuvred towards the pier beside theirs.

Just as they were making the final approach she heard the door to the deck open, as Micah and Ilona emerged.

“Hey. Best you two stand clear,” Micah called out to them. He nodded in the direction of the slender figures moving their way. Even from a distance Arsha saw the blank faces and the eerily synchronous movements. Automs.

Without any sound, a group of half a dozen of them began to tie the ship off, first throwing ropes over and then calmly leaping a gap of maybe eight or nine feet. The deck shuddered slightly under the impact as each of the figures landed. Micah took a couple of steps forward, tension making his shoulders rise under his long coat.

When the automs were done they returned to the pier, standing a little way off as if waiting for instructions. Soon Abasi, Milima and her father all emerged onto the deck. Both of the men had the same look on their faces, like they were steeling themselves for what came next.

Across from the Triskelion, Reuben emerged from his ship with his mechanical bodyguards in tow. He walked calmly, as if he had all the time in the world. Already she could see that more guards were coming to join him, two lines of men in long grey coats filing down onto the docks from the walkways above. When all his men were assembled, Reuben nodded and turned towards the deck of the Triskelion.

The crew seemed to have gathered into a loose cluster on the deck, and somehow she and Rachael had ended up at the centre of it. She wondered if that had been by intention. As Reuben approached, her father looked him in the eye.

“Well, shall we get this over with? Or do you need more men?”

Reuben nodded to the nearest of his guards. The officer stepped forwards, holding up a pair of metal cuffs. Arsha felt a lump growing in her throat.

“Professor Rishi Chandra, you are to be bound by law,” the officer barked. “Will you consent to be bound?”

With a cold look, Rishi held out his arms, fists clenched, wrists exposed. There was a soft ‘chink’ as the cuffs were locked into place.

“Captain Bira, you are also to be bound by law. Will you consent?”

She saw Milima squeeze her husband’s hand, before the tall man stepped forward and offered his wrists as her father had done. Again, the soft ‘chink’.

“You will be escorted to a place of holding. Is there anything you require before we leave?” the officer said.

“I will have my effects brought over, if required,” her father said, with obvious restraint.

“Very well,” Reuben said, before turning to nod at the commander of the guards. With a sharp salute the officer turned and began to march off. Falling in line to either side of Rishi and Abasi, the men began to march after him. She saw her father turn, just briefly, to look back at her. She couldn’t say for sure if it was sadness or resolve that she saw in his eyes. Perhaps it was a little of both.

As the men walked away, she felt Rachael reach out to take her hand. The girl’s grip was firm, and she held on as tight as she dared. It felt as if her sister’s hand was the only thing holding her up.

Instead of following, Reuben paused and then turned to look at Rachael.

“Since I imagine the young lady here is unaware,” he said, obviously addressing the adults present, “I should remind you all that as a Hearth refugee she will be required to present herself for a routine medical examination before she may enter the Citadel proper. The Citadel is a closed environment, and we cannot risk the outbreak of some unknown Hearth malady.”

“We’ll see to it,” Milima said, coldly. “Will that be all.”

“For now, Mrs Bira. Thank you.”

With a slight nod that Arsha imagined was supposed to be a half bow, Reuben Ben Mahir turned on his heel and walked away after the guardsmen, his automs moving in perfect time with him. Already she could barely make out her father between the white-coated guards as they made their way up the winding slope that lead towards one of the many tunnel mouths. Then they were gone, slipping away into the darkness of the tunnels, headed for the city above. No one said a word as Arsha stared at the place where her father had been.


Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License

Chapter 23 – Bound

The slender black skiff touched down lightly on the deck. They watched from the windows of the bridge as four guards disembarked and took up positions. Then Reuben climbed down, followed by the same collection of porcelain figures that she had seen following him in Westfall. His automs. She shuddered at the sight of the mask-like faces. The figures moved with a steady and unnatural grace.

Below, Rachael could hear the inner door open. The professor and the captain were there to greet Sir Ben Mahir, all polite deference and custom. Rachael wondered how they could stand it. The procession soon made its way below decks.

Not a lot was said on the bridge. People moved about, looking awkward and uncomfortable. Micah fiddled with some charts. Arsha sat to one side of the room, eyes downcast, looking nervous. After what seemed like an age, Reuben finally left, taking his dolls and his men with him. Not long afterwards, Abasi appeared on the stairway, regarding them all with a sour expression.

“We should head to down to the mess. Come on,” he said.

Rishi looked up from the head of the table as she came in. She was the last to arrive. Everyone else was either sat at the table, or, in Micah and Abasi’s case, leaning against the walls.

“Where’s Justin?”

“Hiding,” Rachael said, with a shrug. “Like you asked him to. You want to try to find him, go ahead.”

The professor shook his head in dismay.

“Right. Wonderful. Well, if he’s listening, he’s listening,” he said, with obvious frustration.

“What’s all this about?” she said.

“Have a seat,” he replied, somewhat testily. His sour mood seemed to be reflected by the whole room. She stepped inside the doorway and leaned back against the frame with her arms crossed. The professor’s attention returned to those at the table around him.

“Abasi and I have been summoned to appear before an Inquisitorial hearing, to investigate our crossing of the veil and the events in London which followed.”

Around the room, a breath seemed to be let out. Not of relief, but a sense of something expected, and feared. Even Ilona’s eyes seemed downcast.

“Sir Reuben Ben Mahir is bringing this case on behalf of the Inquisition and the Chamber of Foresight. I am given to understand that Rakesh and Naveen Bhandari have likewise been called to give witness and stand against charges,” Rishi continued, his tone calmly matter of fact. It was only the tightness of his knuckles that revealed the tension in his body.

“Sir Ben Mahir wished to inform me of my rights, and demanded to know what my involvement was in this matter. Fortunately, I did not meet him empty handed. The documents I… borrowed… from Manindra’s estate will demonstrate that Lord Bhandari received communications from persons within the Chamber of Foresight before dispatching his sons to London. If we are very, very fortunate, we’ll get to watch Manindra’s allies throw him to the wolves, if only to keep themselves from getting dragged down with him. And if we’re even more fortunate, we’ll get out without any of it falling down on us.”

There was a palpable sense of relief around the room, but Rachael couldn’t help but notice the grimness of the professor’s expression. The tension had not left him.

“We are to make haste to the Citadel,” he continued. “The Dawning Light has been commanded to escort us there without delay. There will be no unplanned stops or deviations. Abasi will liaise with the captain of the Light to receive directions for our course. Upon arrival at the Citadel, the Triskelion will be grounded until further notice and Abasi and myself will be placed in voluntary custody for the duration of the hearing. They have called an emergency court, which should should begin session as soon as we arrive. If the winds favour us, the journey should be about five days.”

He stopped, and looked around the room.

“Does anyone have any questions?”

There was a long silence, before Micah raised his hand.

“Voluntary?” he said.

“Voluntary,” Abasi replied, “meaning ‘Or you’ll be in a whole lot more trouble if you don’t.’”

“Right. Got it,” Micah said, glumly.

After that, there were no more questions. Slowly, people began to file out of the room. There as a tense, nervous feeling in the air. She let most of them pass by, not meeting anyone’s eyes as she tailed the others out of the room.

Standing at the top of the stairs, she looked back, and saw that Arsha was still in the mess hall with her father. Through the narrow doorway she could make out the pair of them standing close together, and could just about overhear their conversation.

“Daddy, what’s going to happen to you?” Arsha said, her voice so quiet that Rachael barely heard it.

“I don’t know sweetheart,” he said. “But with any luck this will all blow over in a few days, OK?”

“And what if it doesn’t?”

He paused, unable to answer for a moment.

“We’ll figure it out.”

Arsha looked away. He reached out a hand to stroke her cheek, wiping away a dampness from around her eyes.

“We’re going to get through this sweetheart. I just need you to be strong, for a little while.”

Suddenly she threw her arms around him, and pressed her face into his chest.

“I don’t want to be strong. I want my daddy,” Arsha gasped, her voice muffled by his shirt. Rachael could hear her repeating the words like a charm.

He pulled her close, and for a moment neither of them moved. His face was buried in her hair, and Rachael thought he might have been saying something, but it was too quiet for anyone but Arsha to hear.

He straightened up, resting his hands on her shoulders.

“I have to go make some preparations. If you need me…”

Arsha nodded. Her eyes were wet with tears.

“I love you, and I’m proud of you,” he said, kissing her forehead. The girl nodded, and stepped away. Arsha’s eyes were lowered as she walked out of the room, as Rachael found herself awkwardly caught looking on. Arsha looked up as she passed Rachael on the stairs, with a sullen, hurt expression. She passed by without a word. Feeling as if she should apologise, or at least explain, Rachael followed just in time to hear Arsha’s door slam.

For a while she stood by Arsha’s room, hand half-raised to knock. Finally she gritted her teeth and rapped on the door.

“Go away,” came the muted reply.

She sighed and turned to leave, but she couldn’t seem to bring herself to walk away. She turned back and tried the handle. The door opened. Steeling herself, she stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.

Arsha was sat on her bed, legs tucked up in front of herself, face hidden by her folded arms. From her perch on the dresser, Penelope looked up and gave a shrill chirp.

“I told you to go away,” the girl mumbled.

“I know,” Rachael said, awkwardly. “But… I wanted to say that I’m sorry. For listening in there. And… You know. For everything.”

Arsha said nothing. Not even a sign of acknowledgement. Feeling deeply uncomfortable, but unable to bring herself to leave just yet, Rachael cleared a small space and sat down with her back against the door.

A long silence stretched between them, as Rachael waited for Arsha to make some sign of movement. After watching her for a while, Penelope fluttered down from the dresser and hopped across the floor towards her, her movements quick and cautious. Gently, Rachael reached out to brush the little bird’s feathers back.

“You should hate me,” Rachael said, at last. “All this… I’ve really mucked things up for you all.”

“It’s not… It’s not like that,” Arsha said, not looking up.

“It’s OK. I’d hate me,” she said, staring at her hands. Arsha lifted her head, enough to look her in the eyes. The girl looked furious.

“Why do you do that?” Arsha snapped. “Why do you always try to make everything about you?”

“I didn’t…” Rachael barely had time to begin before Arsha cut across her.

“Your fault, your problems, you that’s got it harder than anyone else,” she thundered.

“I was trying to apologise,” Rachael replied, sharply.

“Oh, good. You’re sorry. I’ll let everyone know, Rachael’s sorry, so it’s all OK now. No problems.”

As Arsha threw up her hands in a gesture of frustration, Rachael was already on her feet. She stormed out, Penelope’s angry screeching following her down the corridor.

She stalked back to her room and threw herself down on the bed. She heard a soft movement, somewhere down low, a scratching sound close to her feet. She lifted her head from the pillow in time to see the swirling smoke cloud reforming. Then Justin was sitting there at the foot of her bed. He reached out to take her hand.

“Where the hell did you get to?” she muttered angrily, pulling her hand away.

“Hiding. Watching,” he said.

“See anything good?”
“Saw you fight. It wasn’t fair, what she said to you. The things that you’ve been put through, because of them…”

“Yeah. But it weren’t fair what’s happening to her, either.”

He just shrugged, and let his hand rest on the back of her ankle. She rolled over, to look at him properly.

“Thanks,” she said, softly.

His only reply was to give her leg a gentle squeeze.

The sky was an ugly grey. The sun had not yet crested the horizon, but the first light was filtering through, giving shape to the patchy clouds. Rachael and Justin stood out on the deck, leaning against the railing. She had borrowed one of the heavy coats from inside, though she left the straps undone. He had his own long black coat on. Around them the high stone walls of the canyon rose up to meet a sky turning to first light. Craggy grey stone was split by long bundles of creepers that hung down into the emptiness below. Far below, the river was a dark streak through the canyon.

For a long time, they stood in silence, faces raised skyward, until a flicker of motion caught their eyes. Rachael drew a sharp breath as she caught first sight of the broad-winged silhouette wheeling in the sky.

The Rake was a slender thing, much more so than she had imagined. A kind of lizard with featherless, leathery wings and a long neck and tail, it seemed to twist and writhe, worming its way through the air. It really did look an awful lot like some kind of dragon.

There were others that she began to make out. A flock, she had been told. She could see them now, their weaving flights bringing them close before darting away. She saw a smaller one try to nip at another, like puppies at play. It was perhaps a trick of the perspective, but they seemed smaller than she had imagined.

Over a sullen and dismal dinner the night before, they had been warned about the flocks that had been sighted in the area. Abasi had shared the news with a despairing shake of his head, as if the whole thing was some kind of sick joke.

Flying low through the canyon, and slower than usual, they were safe enough. Abasi had wanted to halt until the flock passed, but they were told that Reuben’s people had insisted they keep moving. And yet, despite all the downcast faces, some tiny spark of excitement had flared inside of her.

A movement above the flock made her gasp in surprise. The rakes had seemed small, but now she saw why. A vast black silhouette passed over the rest of the flock, its wings vast enough to cover all of them if they would fly close enough together. One wing, she noticed, seemed to have a large hole in it.

She watched, enraptured as the mother played amongst its children for a while, seeming to gather them all in before turning on a wing to glide off into the distant sky, rays of sunlight momentarily glinting through the mother’s injured wing. The little ones followed in her wake, and soon Rachael lost sight of them in the light of the rising sun.

“I can’t stay,” Justin said.

Shocked, she turned to look him in the eyes, hoping for some sign that he was playing with her.

“Why? After all this time you spent looking for me…”

“This is just a cage, Rachael. What good’s it going to do if I’m just joining you inside the bars?” he said.

“You can’t just believe they might want to help us?”

“Maybe they do. But I don’t think they can. This professor, he seems to think he can keep you hidden away, or play some game with their courts, make everything OK with a few pieces of paper. You remember what those men did back in London. Rachael, these people don’t listen to pieces of paper. They have guns and bombs and absolutely no remorse. They are not going to behave because someone tells them to.”

She turned away for a moment, letting her eyes wander across the canyon walls that penned them in on both sides.

“So what, we just keep running?” she said.

“Eventually. I can’t take you with me,” he said, heavily. “I’m too weak now. But if I bide my time, if I wait for the right moment… It will be easier, if they can’t watch me. If I’m the one moving in the shadows. This place, where they’re taking us… There’s power there. I can feel it already, even this far away. So I’m leaving, but I’ll be watching. I promise you that. I won’t let any harm come to you. And when the time is right…”

She turned towards him, and saw the fire burning in him. The intensity of his conviction, as his eyes locked on hers.

“Justin, I really don’t think this is the right idea,” she said, shaking her head.

“I’m sorry,” he said, raising his shoulders in a helpless gesture. “I just don’t have a better one.”

“Please, don’t go.”

Her hands found his, fingers entangling as if she could pin him in place.

“This is the only way to get you out Rachael. It’s the only way to bring you home.”

He paused for a moment, his eyes studying her face.

“Stay strong, OK?” he said.

“Sure. Right. I’m good at that.” She said, biting off the words as if they had a foul taste.

He stepped in close and his lips were on hers, his fingers brushing her hair back. She wanted to seize that moment and hold it forever. But he let her go and stepped away. Smiling, self-assured once more, he sat back on the railing, spread his arms and threw himself over the edge.

Unable to help herself, she leaned over, just catching sight of the outstretched wings of the hawk as he swooped downward into the depths of the canyon.

A stack of crates collapsed with a satisfying crash, tumbling over one another and spilling across the floor of the hold. For a moment she stood and watched them settle, tension still singing through her body. Her foot hurt. The first few kicks had barely shifted the stack.

“Feel any better?” a voice said.

She wheeled around and saw Ilona standing in the doorway to the hold. The woman was wearing some kind of loose silk pyjamas.

“It’s fine,” she mumbled. “I’ll clear it up.”

Ilona shrugged as she stepped into the hold, letting the door swing closed behind her. She walked across to the far corner, under the loft, where she pulled aside a cloth covering. From a small pile of equipment the woman lifted up a heavy looking sack with a rope trailing from one end. She threw the rope over a hook that protruded from the underside of the loft space and began to pull. As the sack rose Rachael realised what it was. A punching bag. The sight of it brought back a strong memory of the smell of sweat and grime. The sound and the energy of the gym where her father had taken her sometimes.

Still not saying a word, Ilona began wrapping her hands. Then she produced a spare roll of cloth, which she tossed lightly in Rachael’s direction.

“What’s this?”

“For your hands,” Ilona said, flexing hers in demonstration.

Feeling somewhat unsure of what was happening, Rachael pulled off a couple of lengths of cloth and took a shot at trying to wrap her hands up as Ilona had done. It was difficult, working with just one hand, and the cloth wouldn’t seem to stay put no matter how she twisted and tied it.

“Here,” Ilona said, holding out an open palm. Frustrated, Rachael threw the strips of cloth at her.

“Hand,” Ilona said, almost as if she was commanding a dog. Seething, Rachael held hers out as instructed. Ilona began to weave the bindings deftly until they were fully secure.

“How does it feel?” The woman said. Rachael flexed her hands carefully, still not sure what they were doing.

“Good. Now, come here.”

Ilona went to stand at one side of the punching bag, bracing it. Rachael had seen how this was done. She stood across and raised her fists. She found herself wondering if there was a proper way to stand. Ilona said nothing. Not sure of what else to do, Rachael threw a punch. Then another. Soon they came thick and fast, the bag responding with a satisfying thunk as each of her blows connected. She punched and kicked until she felt ready to collapse from exhaustion. Finally, gasping for breath, she dropped to the floor of the hold.

Ilona crouched at her side.

“Better?”

Rachael shook her head.

“Not really,” she gasped.

“Good,” the woman said, with a fleeting smile. “I’d be disappointed if all this fuss was over something that could be solved by punching a sack a few times.”

Despite herself, Rachael felt a smile flicker across her own face. Ilona stood and held out a hand. Rachael took it, and was lifted to her feet.

“OK, take a break. You brace,” she said, nodding at the bag. Following the woman’s instructions, Rachael stood with her hands properly placed against the sackcloth. Standing across from her, Ilona settled down on the balls of her feet, hands raised in clenched fists. For just an instant the woman glanced up, as if to make sure she was paying attention. Then she fell into a series of strikes that flowed from one to the next with no apparent effort. Even with the weight of the bag, Rachael felt herself recoiling with each blow.

“I guess I was doing it all wrong,” she said, when the woman was done.

“Yes,” Ilona said, without elaboration. Rachael felt herself bristle a little. “Would you like to learn?” the woman continued.

“I… Yeah. I would,” she said, surprised.

“OK. Try setting your feet like this.”

Ilona demonstrated, and Rachael did her best to follow the woman’s movements. Slowly, Ilona began to draw deep breaths.

“Breath from the diaphram. That’s good. Shoulders back a little. Rest your weight forward, on the balls of your feet. Now bring your hands up. Fists lightly clenched, thumb on the outside. Like that.”

“Are you going to show me how to throw a punch or something?” Rachael said.

“No, I’m going to show you how to take one,” Ilona replied, with a flicker of a smile.

“Oh come on.”

“I’m serious,” Ilona said. “You’re small, so avoiding a blow is always going to be better than taking one, but you still need to know how. Being able to get away from a fight is much more important than winning one.”

“So, you wanna teach me how to fight by hitting me a bunch?”

“Don’t worry, you get to start. Hit me as hard as you can. In the face.”

For a moment, Rachael hesitated. Again, there was a flicker of a smile.

“Scared?” Ilona said.

Without even thinking about it, Rachael swung. Her fist connected with the woman’s jaw, but as Ilona rolled with the blow, there seemed to be little effect.

“Try it again,” Ilona said. Rachael did, with just as little effect.

“Where’d you learn all this stuff,” she said.

“Various teachers,” Ilona replied. “Anyone I could find.”

The woman stepped forward and began to adjust Rachael’s stance, light touches helping to shift her weight and position.

“Why?” Rachael said, as Ilona shifted her foot forward very slightly. As the woman straightened up, there was a coldness in her expression, even more so than usual.

“Because I was weak. And I didn’t want to be,” she said. “Now, watch what I do.”

The instructions continued in the same clear, clipped tones. Two hours later, muscles burning, hands aching, and her head swimming, Racahel collapsed against a heavy barrel. She could feel tiny bruises swelling up in a dozen places. Ilona had pulled her punches, but only a little.

“I think that’s enough for now,” Ilona said. The woman held out a flask and Rachael took it, greedily gulping the water down.

“That was brutal she gasped,” she gasped. “How do you even manage that?”

“Practice,” Ilona said.

“Right, practice. You just woke up one day and decided to be a total badass.”

The woman shrugged, and picked up a towel. Rachael looked down at her hands, her knuckles raw and stinging, even through the bindings.

“I wish I was strong like you,” she said, quietly. “No one ever gives you shit or nothing. All I do is run.”

Ilona watched her for a moment, with a thoughtful expression.

“I didn’t just wake up one day and decide,” she said. “Someone… Someone hurt me. I promised myself I would never let it happen again. I never choose to be the way I am, Rachael.”

Ilona paused, still watching her with a look of intense curiosity.

“But then, I suppose neither did you,” she said. Then, as if nothing had happened, she began to undo the wrappings on her hands. The look of curiosity was gone, replaced by the same vaguely disinterested expression she always wore.

“This time tomorrow?” Ilona said, without looking up. Her voice was so carefully devoid of emotion that they might has well have been talking about nothing more important than the weather. So Rachael just nodded. There seemed to be nothing else to say.

She found Arsha in the mess. Breakfast seemed to have come and gone. The girl was sitting with half a cinnamon roll on her plate and a full cup of tea by her hand. She seemed to have lost all interest in her food.

Rachael set herself down across the table. Arsha made no sign of having noticed her. Rachael waited patiently as Arsha drank her tea and picked at her half finished roll. Finally the girl emptied her cup and made to stand.

“Where are you going then?” Rachael said.

Arsha gave her a cold look.

“Why do you care?”

“Look,” Rachael said, tersely, “this is stupid. I’m stupid, you’re stupid, and this whole thing is stupid, so can we just stop it?”

Arsha said nothing, but she stayed seated.

“I don’t know how to stop being… Me,” Rachael continued. “I get that I’m pretty much the last person in the world anyone would want to hang around with, but right now, I figured you could do with a friend. And I figured I owe you that.”

For a while Arsha just stared down at her plate. The girl’s hands were clenched tight, knuckles pale.

“I know this really sucks for you,” Rachael said. “And I can’t change that, any more than I can do anything about where I am right now. But I wish I could, because you don’t deserve this. You’re probably the nicest person I’ve ever known in my life, and it’s not fair that you should have to deal with all this when you never did nothing to deserve it.”

She waited, her words exhausted, for some sign of response from Arsha. At first the girl said nothing, but slowly her hands unclenched. Then Rachael heard a strange sound, like rapid breathing, and the girl’s shoulders began to shake. It took a moment to realise that Arsha was crying. Tears rolled down the girls cheeks, splashing onto her plate.

Rachael’s throat felt dry. Her words were all gone. Slowly, she reached across the table and placed her hand over Arsha’s. Reflexively, the girl’s fingers closed around hers.

They sat that way for some time, until Arsha’s tears stopped and the girl wiped her eyes dry, sniffling quietly.

“I’m sorry. For being mad at you,” she said with an apologetic smile.

“I’m sorry for making you mad,” Rachael replied, returning the smile.

“Thank you,” Arsha whispered.

“Any time,” Rachael said.


Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Chapter 22 – Scars

Rachael felt a curious sense of deja-vu as she sat watching Justin sleep. Then she realised that it wasn’t this she remembered, exactly. Rather, that this must have been how it seemed to Arsha, watching over her on that first day aboard the Triskelion. Without realising it, she had sat herself in the same chair with the same lantern resting on the table between them.

She glanced down at the sketchbook on her lap, the pencil in her hand poised to add the last few details to a portrait of Justin’s sleeping face. She felt a nervous twinge in her stomach, knowing that she would have to hide the picture from him. He seemed so calm, so at ease. So vulnerable. It was nothing like the way he’d seemed when she first met him. Continue reading

Chapter 21 – Moonlight

They kept moving, following the road down the cliff-face, but staying in the bushes and long grass until at last they could see the glow of the foundries and hear the sound of the train pulling in to the station.

“Come on, we won’t have long before they finish loading,” Justin said, gesturing for her to hurry. They kept moving down the winding road, and soon they were in amongst the buildings, keeping to the narrow back alleys as they made their way towards the station. It was only by the silhouettes of the cranes looming over the skyline that Rachael had any sense of how close they were. In the gloom, she could almost have been in London again. The buildings had the same feeling of faded industry, though up close they were obviously recently built. Even in the night they could hear the sounds of work coming from the warehouses, getting louder as they grew closer. Continue reading