Authors: Michelle Sagara
Tags: #General, #Epic, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy
He raised a brow. The night drew the red from it, leaving only the deeper browns behind.
“You’re going in?”
“Pretty much. I
want to hit something, and my best shot at that has to be inside.” She glanced at Tiamaris and Nightshade. “Because I’d also like to survive it.”
“Private Neya,” Tiamaris began.
“I think it unwise.”
“Oh, it’s unwise, all right. But I don’t think we’re going home through any other damn door. You can wait outside if you want,” she added, without much hope.
He didn’t dignify her offer with a reply. She glanced at Nightshade, who offered the courtesy of one raised brow. “So,” she asked him, just before she turned and entered the open doorway, “did you ever learn anything about time in your magical studies?”
He offered her a rare smile. “Yes,” he replied. “I learned that it passes very, very slowly when I’m bored.”
She laughed. She had no idea how much younger this Nightshade was because he looked exactly the same—except for the uniform. But she felt for just a moment that she liked this one better.
The Tower, from the outside, looked like, well, a Tower. Not really wide, lots of height, things that looked like arrow slits trying to pass themselves off as windows climbing the walls in spirals. It was too much to hope that the inside of it would bear any resemblance to the outside, and Kaylin didn’t waste the effort.
“At least there’s no damn portal,” she said to Severn.
He had let her enter the darkened Tower first, but he hadn’t been far behind; he certainly wasn’t far enough behind for the door to close before he’d gotten two feet across the threshold. The door, which was remarkably obliging when compared to Kaylin’s past experiences with Castle Nightshade, did not slam shut until Tiamaris and Nightshade had entered the Tower.
It did, however, close on the last few inches of Nightshade’s cape. Capes, apparently, didn’t follow the rest of the Barrani code; this one was jammed in the door, and no amount of graceful tugging would actually free it. Kaylin helpfully drew her dagger and gestured toward the taut fabric.
Nightshade raised a brow. Reaching up, he unfastened the cloak by its clips, and shrugged it off his shoulders. “It would be ruined, anyway,” he said, when she stared at him. Years of less than optimal pay warred with personal pride. It was a short war, and the outcome was not in doubt; she picked up the end of the cape and cut it free. It was long enough that she could have it cut down and actually use it for
. It didn’t take her long to roll it up into a much less bulky version of itself.
She slid her pack off her shoulders and wedged it inside.
Tiamaris was staring at her. Nightshade, one brow raised, was doing the same. She felt no pressing need to explain herself to either, but had the grace to flush slightly. She was in the
fiefs; what did they expect?
Better, of course.
Oh, well. They wouldn’t be the first people she’d disappointed in her life. She stood, shrugged, and walked past them. The lights went on.
They were in a room that was, in Kaylin’s estimation, larger by about half than the outer walls implied. It was stone; the floors, stone, as well. No marble, no gold, nothing fancy—but it was solid work. There were window seats, and the windows themselves had been carved out of stone; they contained no obvious glass at this distance.
There was light in the room. But it was like sunlight in an open courtyard—there was no obvious source. No torches, no chandeliers, no brilliant glass. Nothing. She glanced up at the ceiling. Oh. Well, that would be the problem. There didn’t appear to
She glanced up, and up again. While there didn’t appear to be a ceiling, there also didn’t appear to be a sun. Heaving a sigh, she looked at the walls. Besides the windows, there seemed to be a suspicious lack of anything that resembled a door. Sadly, this included the one they’d just passed through to get here. She could see where the door must have been, because jagged blue cloth hung from between the gentle curve of the stones of one wall.
“This,” Kaylin said, as she headed toward the closest window, “has not been my day.”
“Interesting,” Lord Nightshade said to Tiamaris.
“You’ve never explored the Towers?”
“It was not considered entirely safe,” was the reply.
Tiamaris raised a brow, and then, to Kaylin’s surprise, laughed out loud. Which caused Nightshade to smile. She thought she’d never understand either the Dragons or the Barrani, because as far as she could tell
Nightshade had been in one war or another with the Dragons for a long damn time.
Without thinking, she said, “Do you still have
The temperature in the room banked sharply in a downward spiral. But Nightshade’s brows rose slightly in surprise, and she felt the undercurrent in a connection that somehow still existed. “No,” he said softly. “I do not
. I am…surprised…that you know the sword’s name. It is not often that mortals express so much interest in such things.”
She almost bit her lip. “Never mind,” she said, failing to meet Tiamaris’s steady gaze. “I was just thinking out loud.”
“You were failing to think,” was the Dragon Lord’s clipped reply.
“You really did have Sanabalis for a teacher,” was hers.
Nightshade waited for an appropriate break in the conversation—such as it was—before he spoke.
“Are you truly from the future?”
“I don’t know. It looks like it.” She shrugged. “What we said is true. We’re having some trouble with shadowstorms in a city that looks a lot like this one will when things have gone to hell and been partially spit back out. We entered a storm—or it hit us—and when we emerged, we weren’t in the same place. Or the same time.
“And we need to get back.”
“You could do it the long way. Ah, I forget myself. Your companion, however, could.”
“I don’t think his boredom level is much different from yours, and he’s already been here and done it.” She had, by this time, made her way to the closest of what she had thought of as window seats. Looking at them up close made her revise her opinion, and her shoulders drooped slightly.
“Portals,” she said with a grimace. The ledges were actually stairs; the windows were actually empty, gray spaces that looked a lot like a door but without the obvious things like wood and a handle. Or a knocker.
“I concur,” Tiamaris said. “What did you
“Windows, if you must know.”
“Your eyes are probably better than mine. They looked like windows to me.”
Those eyes, a steady shade of gold, narrowed. “Do not attempt to see what you desire to see,” he said quietly.
“If I did, I wouldn’t be looking at a big, round, empty room with no ceiling, no sky and no egress. I’d be thinking of—”
Tiamaris stepped, hard, on her foot.
She counted nine portals in total.
Which was unfortunate, because everyone
counted eight. They didn’t split up to examine the room; Tiamaris didn’t think it wise, and for once, they were in agreement. The entire place gave Kaylin hives. Severn, silent, was watchful. “Where is the ninth?”
“Here,” Kaylin said, pointing to what was obviously another tall, narrow arch. The steps here were curved, as if well-worn, but also flat and wide; she could sit on them. Her butt would probably get cold; the Tower did not radiate warmth.
But Severn shook his head and looked at the Dragon Lord and the Barrani Lord. They both frowned. Tiamaris lifted a hand, and then closed it and dropped it before he had cast the spell that was at his fingertips.
“You think we have to take this one?”
“I think,” Tiamaris replied, “that you are intended to do so.”
“Thanks, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll give it a pass. I’m not going anywhere in this place without at least two of you.”
Nightshade raised a brow.
“No offense,” she told him, “but we already have one of you back home; two of you would be a little much to handle. If you get lost here, we’re even. If they get lost here, we’re screwed.” She had been speaking low Barrani, which was easier for her; she had had to descend into Elantran for the last word.
He repeated it, and she grimaced. “It means—”
“I take the meaning.”
She took a deep breath, turned, and said, “All right, let’s try the first door to the left.”
The door to their immediate left was a bust. Kaylin approached it first, and tried to touch it; her hand bounced off the gray of its slightly luminescent surface. As if there were, in fact, glass of a quality so fine that it could not be seen at all. “Figures,” she muttered. She turned on heel and approached the next door, with the same results.
Seven doors later, she was staring at the portal that only she could see, and remembering, glumly, that there were whole days in which staying in bed was the best and most viable option. “I don’t suppose you can see any strange marks on the floor that I missed the last fifty times I crossed it?” she asked Tiamaris.
“Not with the naked eye, no.”
And anything else was a risk. Kaylin stared at the door that she knew appeared to be a flat but curved expanse of wall to everyone else in the room. “All right,” she said, straightening her shoulders. “What do you want to do now?”
Tiamaris glanced at the wall out of which blue cloth could still be seen. “I am not entirely certain that we will be able to open the…door…that we entered. Nor am I certain,” he added, “that we will be able to follow you. If,” he added, “the portal that you can see and we cannot is more active than the others.”
“I’m not sure I can ascertain that—”
“Without passing through it, no. Nor can you be certain that it is not, in fact, a one-way portal.”
She glanced at Severn; she didn’t need to ask him what he thought; the
was written clearly across the lines of his face.
“If we can assume anything at all about shadowstorm,” Kaylin asked Tiamaris, “can we assume we’re here for a reason?”
“No. The Tower and the storm are not the same.”
“You’re the senior officer, here,” she told him, glancing at the portal. “What’s your call?”
He snorted. She could see the smoke leave his nostrils. He walked past her, closed his eyes, and touched the wall. Kaylin watched his palm traverse stone—and watched it reach the lines of window. “Can you feel it?”
Tiamaris continued his entirely physical inspection, and then nodded.
“I hate to sound like I’m directing a field trip of orphans,” Kaylin began, “but maybe if we all hold hands we can get through without losing anyone.”
“And maybe,” Severn helpfully suggested, “whoever is directly behind you will only lose an arm.”
“Thank you,” she told him. The thought had, of course, occurred to everyone. “I think it’s either take the risk, or let me go through on my own.”
He offered her one of his rare smiles; it was both edged and genuine. “That,” he said, stepping forward and offering her his hand, “is playing by fief rules.”
“Why, thank you.” She took his hand. It was surprisingly warm in a room that was gradually becoming chilly. She turned to face the door as Severn held out a hand to Tiamaris. Tiamaris grimaced, but took Severn’s hand; it took him two minutes to extend his own to Nightshade.
Nightshade looked at all three of them, and shook his head. “I have often been criticized,” he said, as he slid his perfect hand into the Dragon’s wider palm, “for my impulsiveness.”
“A trait, sadly, that we all have in common,” Tiamaris replied.
Severn coughed. Kaylin laughed. “Not all of us,” she told the Dragon Lord. “But Severn has other burdens to bear.” And she smiled at him. It was pained, and shadowed, but it was genuine.
She took a deep breath, and then, testing the strength of Severn’s grip, took a step forward. Her foot disappeared instantly from view, and she put as much weight on it as she could. “We’re not going to fall instantly,” she told Tiamaris.
“You’re not,” he replied. “Go.”
She walked into the gray, flat surface of the portal.
“Why do you care about all these damn kids?” Morse asked.
Elianne turned to look at her mentor. “What do you mean?”
Morse smacked the side of her head. “Don’t give me bullshit. I’m asking a serious question, here.”
“Why makes you think I care?”
“You’ve gotten into three fights this week. All three of ’em have been with our people.” She glanced at the crowded street. It was midday, and they were on the way to the White Towers. It would be hours before they had to worry about heading back home to avoid ferals. But it would be less than an hour before they had to talk to Barren.
“They picked the fight.”
Morse raised a bisected brow and lifted a hand. “What did I just say about bullshit?”
Elianne stopped herself from shrugging. “How’d you notice?”
“I’ve got eyes and they weren’t closed. Look, Mullet—” which wasn’t his real name, but Morse didn’t have a great memory for the names of people she viewed with contempt, “kicked the crap out of the boy with the bucket the other day.”
the damn bucket. You think they’re just going to steal another one in this part of town?”
Morse’s smile was thin. “Probably about as easily as he’s going to do his job with a broken arm. That was nice work, by the way.”
“He did most of it.” Morse’s turn to shrug. “Kebbs.”
“Which one was he?”
“The one with no hair.”
“Oh. The one who tore the shirt off that girl?”
“She was six.”
“And that’s not a guess.”
“I asked her.” Elianne glanced away. “All right, yes. I don’t care enough to give them all my money or offer them a place to stay.”
“You don’t have one, that’s why.”