I wondered why they did it. Why now. I sat down on the swing next to the boy, our tears as silent as each other’s. All I could think about was our last conversations. Was it the talk about the Official? The mention of doing something? Something that none of us could do? All the power they had left, with all of the power contained within their magic, seemed to be the power to make sure their father wasn’t caught harbouring magicians and their tomes.
Or was it that? Was it the slow drain of their very being, caused by their incarceration, necessitated for their own safety. From the fear of what would happen if they were discovered.
The boy eventually left. I tried to make it so it didn’t look like I had been crying when I finally went home. I would have to do this for many months.
She had about as much tact as a lumberjack swinging an axe in a china shop. “What the fuck is going on here?” she screamed at the mad axe man.
“Is she crazy?” Mark asked, wondering if he should run out there to save her.
“Of course she is!” Tom replied.
Neither of them had had to deal with this crazed man while Mark was out of town. Neither of them were chased by anything. It seemed the moment they were within proximity to each other, the insanity started again.
“He’s going to kill her.”
Tom picked up some more china. “If he doesn’t, she’s going to kill me.”
They did some good distraction, but Tom was right. She certainly wasn’t happy with them using her good china to do so.
The palace wavered, but that was nothing new. The columns moving back and forth, tilting one way and then another, was how this place had always been known for. Silver towers adorned with white spires.
It was a very vertical place.
Mai didn’t like it. She didn’t care what other people claimed. It all looked ready to fall over, as if someone was trying to balance a match on its head. This was not the type of place that she wanted to leave her charge, not for any amount of time.
Zlhna’s dark eyes were wide as she stared up at it.
Mai couldn’t protect Zlhna against a building. A building had no blood to stop. A building had no desires. A building would just follow the whims of the earth.
“We aren’t stopping here.”
“Oh, but Mai. We must.”
Unclenching her muscles, Mai followed her mistress into the danger. As she always did.
Vidvan was settled back at his station when Iqbal came to him. He was tugging at his perfectly groomed beard, making it less perfectly groomed. Vidvan didn’t know why he bothered with it if he was going to mess it up in public.
Then Iqbal grabbed Vidvan by the ear. “Ow! I’m not a child anymore!”
“Are you not?” Iqbal hissed, dragging him from the station. He let go of Vidvan’s ear by the time they reached the hallway, but Vidvan knew better than to do anything but follow him. All the way to Iqbal’s chambers. Which was when he turned on Vidvan with the words he dreaded to hear the most. “You left?”
Vidvan felt the blood drain from his face. “I-I…”
It occurred to him that he should have lied, but now it was too late. “You know what will happen if someone finds out?”
Vidvan blinked. “Someone has found out,” he managed to say without stuttering.
Iqbal pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Stop being an idiot! It doesn’t matter that you are the Master’s favourite! He will still have you sentenced to death!”
Well, he knew that was always a consequence. “But you aren’t reporting me?” Iqbal smacked him with the palm of his hand, right into the centre of his forehead. “Ow!”
“I can’t believe you’re supposed to be so intelligent!”
Vidvan rubbed his forehead. But his panic had subsided. Funny, he wouldn’t have thought that Iqbal liked him enough to protect him. But as he had, Vidvan couldn’t doubt it. Not at all.
He saw the danger in the distance. There was no time to get the others, to help them that way. Ling knew the only thing he could do was head straight into it himself.
“Out of the way, boy!” Jin’s assassin snarled.
Ling grit his teeth and jumped on him. He might have been a child, but roughhousing had always been his specialty. The assassin was expecting a child’s strength, not Ling’s. He bit the man on the arm, putting as much pressure through his jaw to get through the sleeve, to break the skin. He tasted blood – both his victim’s and his own as he lost a tooth in the ensuing struggle. He used a leg to block the assassin’s other arm from trying to rip him off.
He started swinging, knowing that Shui would have a few corrections to make about his form, but Ling didn’t want to think about it right now. Reaching out, he grabbed the assassin’s head and started to twist.
At some point he let go. Probably because he couldn’t hear the commotion where the others had been. Because the assassin had crawled away and Ling was fine with that. As long as he couldn’t hurt anyone else.
His chest hurt. Ling pulled the handle away from his chest, but it didn’t make it better. In fact, there was even more blood then before.
Falling to the earth, Ling watched a shadow descend upon him, as the dragon arrived.
Mai glanced over at her charge. She had been awake the entire time, but Zlhna should have been sleeping. They never had much time to stay in one place and get any restful sleep and Zlhna needed all of the rest she could get. “You should get some sleep, mistress.”
“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”
How come we never have these conversations in the daylight? Mai wondered. “How could it be wrong?”
“If it were so right, would I need you to protect me?”
Mai did everything in her power not to snort. Sometimes it was easy to forget how young Zlhna still was. She stood up from the chair she had been resting her legs in and placed herself on the edge of Zlhna’s cot. “If everyone knew what was right, then there wouldn’t be problems in the first place.”
“I suppose so.”
She placed her hand on Zlhna’s head, stroking back her long black curls. “Someone must, mistress, and only you are able. What truly troubles you?”
Zlhna bit her lower lip. “I… wondered if you’d be doing something else, if not for this.”
That was what really troubled her? Mai kept down a laugh. “Probably something worse, I assure you. Now. Get some sleep while you can, mistress. We will be moving on tomorrow.”
Nodding, Zlhna settled herself back on the pillow. “Thank you, Mai.”
And while it wasn’t the best position in the room, Mai merely shifted her perspective and kept watch there for the rest of the night.