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  • Andrew M. Trauger

Chapter 9: Reentry

Instead of the warm beds Cora had wanted, they spent the night in a hay barn on the back pasture of a ranch owned by someone who had not yet heard of their troubles at the Lucky Duck tavern. The hay was clean and dry, and as clouds driven by a chilling wind blanketed the stars, it was much preferable to sleeping on the open ground. But Cora lay awake long after the lantern had been put out. They were embroiled in a delicate situation that wasn’t going to be sorted out by flinging purple fire all over the place. Exposing a councilman as a Nephreqin agent was tricky business.

As her restless mind wandered, carried along by a flurry of emotions, memories of Ordin swept in and drowned all attempts at cogent thought. The half-Vashanti outcast had been such a puzzle to her. He went on about his “purpose” but had never fulfilled it; he had been afraid of the Roark but channeled lightning; he spewed vitriol at every turn, but loyalty and bravery had been his hallmarks. And despite his rough demeanor, deep beneath that alabaster skin, he had been kind. Cora pulled her blanket tighter around her neck as a gentle tear trickled along her freckled nose and dripped on her clutching hand.

As morning dawned, overcast and gray, rain pelted the thatched roof of the barn. A trail of water meandered across the dirt floor, pooling in an old hoofprint before resuming its slow, wandering journey. Cora arose groggy and tired, with an insatiable desire for a warm cup of kaffe. She wrapped her blanket about her, stepped over the rivulet and shuffled to the barn door. She pushed it open and peered outside. “Cripe.” Cold rain would make their travels north miserable. More miserable, at any rate.

She pulled the door closed and turned inside. Selorian slept soundly, doubtless lulled by the quiet patter of rainfall. She regarded the savant with narrowed eyes, recalling how a dark aura seemed to hover about him when he used his lavender energy. Candles had snuffed when he spoke in a foreboding language she had never heard before, an icy ominous language that had set her teeth on edge. She shivered, but whether it was from the morning cold or thoughts of his dark speech she could not be certain. What if that dark aura was real—tangible even—like the tendrils of Tenebrae around the shadow walker, Kavee? Maybe Cuauhtie was right; maybe this was all just a mistake.

The creaking of the barn door interrupted her thoughts. Cuauhtérroc stepped into the drizzle with a spear in hand and two more strapped across his back. Cora sighed. Any notion of dismissing Selorian would have to wait until after the savage returned from the hunt. Despite her reservations, she could not bring herself to sack the savant just yet. She had a hunch they would need him, but he was on a short leash.

By mid-morning, they had finished breakfast, and with few words spoken between them, they stepped into the weather to launch a wet journey back to Westmeade. As they traveled, Selorian toyed with his purple fire, increasing Cora’s misgivings with every passing mile.

But Elric’s fascination with the savant grew. He gawked endlessly as the savant formed and squelched it in his hand, rolling it between fingers or snaking it up his arm. Occasionally, he flung the fire into the ditch or at a small bush or tree stump. Even in the rain, his target was silently reduced to ash and rubble.

“So, who learnt ya how to do that?” Elric asked.

Selorian glanced sideways. “It is not something that can be taught.”

“Well, ya reckon ya could show me how to do it?”

Selorian raised a pierced eyebrow. “It occurs to me that if the skill were teachable, you would not be a ready recipient of such instruction. But since I have already responded in the negative, perhaps I should offer you a demonstration.”

Ahead of them, Cora groaned. “Selorian, please…”

Elric grinned. “Like, right now while we’re walkin’ along?”

“Sure,” Selorian said. He formed a ball of energy and flung it at a bluebird, reducing the creature to a puff of scattered feathers.

Cora recoiled with a gasp. “That is quite enough of that! Ordin would excoriate you for such pointless destruction of Creation, and I won’t allow it either.”

Cuauhtérroc placed a hand on Selorian’s bony shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. “Do not keel dees birds. Ordeen Clay is right about dees.”

Selorian backed away from the savage with his hands held out. “Cripe. Sorry…no killing birds.”

After the rawness of the moment had passed, Elric fell back to walk beside the savant, gazing up with an inquisitive look. “So…how’d ya do that?”

Selorian sniffed and sighed. “I presume that you persist in this line of questioning because you lack the capacity to comprehend what has already been elucidated. Therefore, here is what you must do. Prior to conjuring a sphere of eldritch power, you must deliberate on penumbral manifestations of a hypersensitive essence, particularly where eschatological knowledge is required. Immediately following, your subconscious must be in complete harmony with the concordant vicissitudes of both internal and external resonances, primarily in the stratospheric timbre. Finally, should these extraordinary measures prove impotent, you must resort to more visceral and ultimately subjective methods, such as spitting.”

“Right!” Elric said, rubbing his hands briskly, but his eyes darted ahead to the songsage. “Hey, Cora.”

Cora dropped her head in dismay, steadying her patience. “Yes?”

“What’d he say?”

Cora shook her head. “Not even my translative spellsong can cut through that pile of rubbish. You’re on your own.”

While Elric wandered about the road, squinting, grunting, waving his hands, and spitting, Cora drifted back to Selorian’s side. The savant might be merciless in his handling of Elric’s limited knowledge, but it was obvious that he was a learned man.

“You speak with intelligence, Selorian. Might I inquire as to your place of learning?”

“Why do you assume I have an education?”

For a brief second, Cora recoiled with indignation, but she decided to take the savant’s off-putting manner as something of a challenge. “Actually,” she countered with a smug grin, “I had not assumed anything of the kind. I noted that while you used many large words correctly as pertains to syntax and structure, you failed to make any sense. The collation of your chosen words, then, was more of a lexical collision and not intended to convey any meaning whatsoever. It is entirely possible that you possess an extensive vocabulary, but you have no idea what you’re saying. Also, I did not ask where you had obtained a higher education, as you supposed or assumed, but rather I made a generic inquiry into your place of learning, which could as easily have been your mother’s bedside as the halls of magecraft in Cer Halcyon.” You dolt.

Selorian rolled his eyes and looked the other way.

“Surely, Selorian,” Cora continued, “you are familiar with the theories of Thurston. He says in his treatise on concordant harmonies that when sufficiently satisfied, a resonant frequency can be amplified upon itself to cause an ‘effectual multiplicity,’ and that in most cases, this has nothing to do with music. Weren’t you referencing this in your statement to Elric?”

“Personally, I think Thurston is an intellectual imbecile.”

“What do you mean?” Cora asked. “Thurston is a renowned expert on the ancient methods of arcanism.”

“When you cross-examine the rhetorical perambulations of Thurston’s hypotheses with observable phenomena found in the scrutable universe, you discover that, resonant frequencies notwithstanding, things simply don’t align as he presumes.”

“What are y’all talkin’ ‘bout?” Elric interjected, rejoining them from his failed attempts to conjure even a flash of light.

“Literally or figuratively?” Selorian responded.


“As I thought. Now…” the savant continued, turning back to Cora, “as the ancient Lothanians liked to say, to zatizeni nesmysl. Or, as the mustached one would probably rejoin…hogwash.”

“You can’t dismiss Thurston altogether,” Cora objected.

“I just did,” Selorian said, and he destroyed another small plant with his eldritch fire.

* * * * * * * * * *

Master Bray sat alone in the root cellar of Tussex House, fidgeting with a small stack of papers on his desk. His sinewed leg bounced rapidly atop the ball of his foot. Any minute now. Everything was in order; all that remained was the journey—

With a sudden, low-frequency pulse, a shimmering circle of pale red appeared on the floor of the hut. Gossamer waves of reddish energy shot upwards from the ring, forming a circular curtain from floor to ceiling. Seconds later, it disappeared, leaving in its place a man draped in a hooded blood-red cloak, the cowl pulled forward to shadow his facial features. Twin daos hung from his hips, the braided scabbards inches from his gloved hands. If required, those curved blades could be drawn in the speed of a wink.

Bray shot up from his chair and stood still, his eyes lowered to a spot near his feet. “Welcome, Watcher.” From his perimeter eyesight, he monitored the daos. He had seen them flash and kill without warning.

The Watcher remained where he had appeared. His baritone voice resonated from beneath the shadows of his hood. “This will be the last of our weekly meetings, Bray. I expect you are ready?”

“All is in place, Watcher. Except for the Company.”

“Please enlighten me on why they are still a problem.” Displeasure laced the Watcher’s words, a tone that sent a small chill through Bray’s spine.

“As you recommended, I used the proper legal channels, but Hunt failed to prosecute them effectively. Also, he is misguided on his understanding of the Decree—”

“The Ascendency will little care about his notions, Bray. You were given a charge. Need I ask if you will obey?”

Bray’s blood chilled, but he pushed aside the fear. “No, Watcher, that will not be necessary. I will obey. Even now I have conscripted an assassin to remove the Company two days hence; their dossiers are here.”

“Good. You need to concentrate on Cer Cannaid now. It’s time Alikon learned that they answer to us, just as the kingdoms of the Bluhusk Sea do, as well as the eastern half of the continent. With Lenair removed, the country will implode, regardless of who they raise in his stead. They will question everything once their façade of security is destroyed. Fear, Bray, is power.”

“Yes, Watcher.”

“I could not care less who runs the country, but he must know fear. He must know that Alikon cannot—ever—be secure. Unless, of course, they also bow to the All-Father. And as our kinsmen, I think they would want the Decree firmly established here.”

Bray nodded. “I understand, Watcher. It will be done as you have spoken.”

The Watcher began drawing a tight circle around himself with a fine red powder. “I will speak with you again in Cer Cannaid near the end of the month, once the Duke is dead and Alikon has bowed to the All-Father.”

“Yes, Watcher.”

A flickering swirl of pale red light shot up from the floor, enveloping the Watcher. Then he was gone, leaving Master Bray alone once more.

* * * * * * * * * *

The following day, Cora traded their horse and cart for passage on a coach heading north from Everglade to Westmeade. Being dry and out of the mud was a simple comfort, and comfort had been an infrequent visitor these past many days. To pass the time, she brought out her escritoire and worked with Cuauhtérroc, guiding him through the alphabet and teaching him to sight-read a small handful of simple words.

At Cora’s insistence, Selorian had put his fire on temporary respite, but he fidgeted nervously and became withdrawn. When they stopped for lunch, the savant bolted from the coach and dashed off behind a small building where he methodically unleashed several volleys of purple flame into the soggy ground. He returned with a sated smirk on his thin face and a thick spray of mud and water on his trousers from the knees down.

By evening, as the walls of Westmeade appeared closer with each cresting of a hillock, Cuauhtérroc had learned how to write his name.

“Good job,” Cora said, holding up the crude but correctly-formed letters.

Cuauhtérroc beamed. “I do dees thing that no panther warrior has done. Meeny panther warriors keel dees more eenemies; meeny keel dees greater creatures; meeny have dees more weemen and cheeldren than Térroc of dees Pelt. But no panther warrior write dees name.” For the last couple of miles to the city, Cuauhtérroc rode with a proud smile etched on his face.

The coach rolled to a halt at the southern gate of Westmeade. Elric opened the side door and peered over the heads of the weary horses that had drawn them the entire forty miles. Guards inspected the cargo, checked travel papers and collected the gate toll. He flopped down on the seat and pulled the door closed. “I know those guys. How ya reckon we’re s’pose to get past ‘em?”

“I don’t ‘reckon’ we will,” Cora answered. “My guess is they’ll haul us straight to jail, but we’ll have our chance to—”

“Do what?” Selorian interjected with genuine alarm. His eyes flashed the faintest shade of lavender.

“It’s nothing, Selorian,” Cora assured him. “We’re only on probation, but we got—”

“Probation? You failed to mention that you were criminals. It now seems that your reaction to my harmless display in Heavener was a mite overwrought. Were you planning to inform me of your offenses?”

“They just burnt down the national monument, that’s all,” Elric said. “We weren’t tryin’ to kill anyone…”

Cora buried her face in a hand.

Selorian opened the door. “Given this sudden revelation of not so trivial a matter, my prior belief in your ability to oust a Nephreqin agent was ill-founded. I must conclude that I am of no further use to you.”

A full-bearded, sandy-blonde guard pushed the door closed. “Have a seat. Nobody’s goin’ nowhere until we’ve checked out this coach.”

With a smug smile, Cora watched Selorian squirm. “Now you know how we felt when you ran us out of that tavern,” she said. “Shall we call it even?”

The air within the coach grew a shade darker as Selorian folded his thin, tattooed arms across his bare chest. “I could kill him,” he muttered to the songsage.

“I know,” Cora replied with a fierce glare. “But you’re not going to. You’re going to testify on our behalf. We pay you for your service, and then, with a good roll of the Bones, we never see y—”

“Good day, miss. Where ya headed?” The sandy-blonde guard leaned his head inside and tipped his hat to Cora.

“We live in Westmeade,” Cora answered.

The guard studied their faces more closely, recoiling slightly at the sight of Selorian’s multiple piercings and dark eyeliner. As his eyes fell upon Elric, the guard paused, squinting as he thought. Elric feigned sleep, nestled against the back wall of the coach with his face buried improbably into his armpit.

“Reichtoven?” the guard said. “Izzat you? I’d recognize that ‘stache anywheres.”

“Did you say ‘Reichtoven’?” asked the guard’s partner, his face glancing up over the back of a farmer’s mule on the other side of the gate.

“Yeah, looks like ol’ Reichtoven’s hunched up in this here coach, sleepin’ all awkward like.”

“Let him sleep,” the other guard ordered. He patted the mule on the rump and nodded at the farmer leading it into town by a rope. He then tucked his logbook under his arm and strolled over to the coach, his hand resting meaningfully on the hilt of his sword.

“Well, well, well…” he said, his tongue dripping with contempt, “could it be that the Company of Dragon Slayers has returned? Captain Hunt will be glad to know the Sentinel League won’t be needed in this manhunt after all. He was going to send them out tomorrow, so you really have saved him much embarrassment and cost.”

“Lieutenant Reimart,” the bearded guard said, “is there somethin’ I need to know here?”

Reimart smiled conceitedly. “For now, Cullins, see that they stay inside the coach. Driver, I’ll need you to step down and stand aside for a moment. Over against that wall will be fine. This isn’t about you, trust me.” He draped his arms across the windowsill and leaned into the coach. “Cora O’Banion. Some would call you a fool for showing your lovely face inside the walls of Westmeade again, but me…I would say you’re as smart as you are pretty.”

“Save your flattery for someone who cares.” Cora glanced at the new insignia on his right shoulder. “Lieutenant,” she added. “Perhaps your captain is impressed by a show of flowery words, but I’ve heard better from this Audric savage.”

Cuauhtérroc looked up briefly and smiled at her.

Reimart scoffed. “Captain Hunt neither needs nor desires my praise. He seeks loyalty, something you couldn’t show him for two whole weeks.”

“Two whole weeks? What is that…about how long you’ve been Lieutenant? Loyalty, sir, is displayed more readily in the motive behind one’s actions than in the actions themselves…to quote the military philosopher Balladere. I would suggest that our motives—that of protecting this great city—are a far better display of loyalty than your readiness to light Hunt’s pipe.”

Elric sniggered.

Reimart’s frowned. “Do not question my loyalty, wench.”

Cora folded her arms. “I don’t, but I do question your motives. I also wonder how you like being promoted in title and demoted in duties. This is so beneath you…Lieutenant.”

Reimart pushed away from the coach, rocking it sideways. “Cullins, arrest them.”

Selorian’s face darkened, but the aura faded as he turned to Cora. “I presume from your countenance that there is more at play here than the obvious—your inevitable incarceration.”

Upon hearing this new voice, Reimart returned to the window. “Who is this?” he asked. “Or should I say ‘what’? Is he with you?”

Cora closed her eyes. This is my chance… “Yes, he’s with us.”

Reimart chuckled. “Pity. What happened to your pasty white Vashanti? Did he finally run away? Perhaps the League should be called out after all…”

Cora’s heart grew heavy as laments filled her mind. “Do not be so hasty in meting out justice. I believe that’s also a quote from Balladere. Our dear friend, Ordin, paid the ultimate price while protecting this fair city.”

“I see,” Reimart said with a dispassionate flick of his hand. “Cullins….”

The savant raised a pierced eyebrow. “You would also have me arrested?”

“If you’re with her, you go to jail with her. We’ll sort it all out later.”

The ominous clang of the iron door slammed with finality, isolating Cora in a lonely cell on the third floor of the Tower of Truth. She slumped against the outer wall beneath the only barred window, at last able to strip away the façade of hope she had displayed to her allies. She drew her knees close against her breast and wrapped her arms around them, staring at the motes of dust in the glow of a half-moon.

They had taken Blanchard’s journal, and that was that. Cora had pleaded with Lieutenant Reimart that it was of utmost importance. She had argued that it was critical to their findings. She struggled against her bonds to ensure they entered that journal as evidence, and she begged for assurance that it would be turned over to their Protectorate, Robert Baskin.

But no amount of explaining, pleading, or imploring had prevented the guards from stripping that tattered tome from her and tossing it in the back of their wagon with all their other gear. Along with the box of documents, the journal was destined for a forgotten trunk in a basement vault. A lot was riding on that journal, but Cora despaired that it might not ever get its due.

She released a heavy sigh. She never learned exactly what Selorian knew about Vincent Schumann, and it occurred to her that he might be released without ever having the chance to share it. If they don’t process the journal, then Selorian is all I’ve got. He had better come through. If there’s any justice in Westmeade, we’ll would be vindicated; otherwise, this stone cell will become my new home.

The moonlight had given way to total darkness when a metallic click startled Cora from her sleep. She opened one eye, surprised to find that it was not yet morning.

“Get up,” said a deep voice. Seconds later, a heavy hand jostled her. “Get up, woman. You’re leavin’.”

She sat up groggily. “Leaving? Where am I going?” She didn’t recognize the guard towering over her, but the heavy-set man was in no frame of mind to converse.

The guard grabbed her with a firm hand as he dragged her to her feet and ushered her roughly out of the room. Cora protested the harsh treatment, but his grip only tightened. In the front room at the bottom of the tower, the guard finally released his hold, and Cora rubbed her arm. A clerk near the entrance pored over a file, then stamped three sheets of parchment, one of which was handed to Cora. It contained her vital identifying information and the crimes for which she had been convicted, including the recent charge of breaking probation. Below all that was the word: “Released.”

Cora stumbled through the doorway to find her personal effects outside the tower and her allies waiting in a stagecoach. “What’s going on?” she asked as she stepped inside the coach and sat beside Selorian. “I don’t understand.”

“They’re takin’ us to Prisido Castle,” Elric answered. “Seems ‘at little book done caused quite the stir.”

“What book?”

“Blanchard’s book, ya lunk.”

Cora’s eyes widened. “So, they read it?”

Elric nodded. “Yep. I asked Manson at the desk, an’ he told me Sir Prisido himself read it.” He clapped Cora on the shoulder and grinned. “I think ya did it. I think ya done went an’ did somethin’ right.”

They spent the remainder of the night in considerably better conditions—not the best guest rooms the Lord’s Castle had to offer, which were reserved for honored guests and dignitaries from other nations, but rooms furnished slightly better than the servants’ quarters. Smallish as guest rooms went, but quite comfortable. More importantly, there were baths, and Cora immediately poured one for herself and washed away a week’s worth of grime. She dressed in a plush robe afterwards, flopped across her bed and soon was fast asleep.

Breakfast the next morning was brought to their rooms, served on carved teak platters. Not silver trays, but still it was served to them. And it was hot and delicious.

A housemaid knocked on Cora’s door about an hour later.

“Come in,” Cora said.

“Miss Cora,” the servant girl began, “I’m sent to say you are summoned to the Green Room off the library in ten minutes.” The girl backed out and pulled the door with her.

Cora closed her eyes and breathed a silent prayer.

The Green Room was decorated in at least six different shades of the verdant hue, with the highly polished furniture exhibiting as wide a variety of browns. It was dominated by a long, sturdy table and rows of chairs on both sides. A liveried servant motioned silently to four chairs along one side for the Company to occupy. With muted reverence, they sat and whispered amongst themselves. Any dread they had previously felt from being locked up again was quickly replaced by insatiable curiosity. It slowly dawned on Cora that this was the castle courtroom. Perhaps that’s what this meeting was intended to be—a private and non-embarrassing trial.

A door to the left opened and the aldermen of Westmeade began to stream in and take seats at the table. Sebastian, Hunt, Pinehurst, Baskin, Tarnistorel, and Calloway—six of the nine were present, thrice as many as had attended their last report. As they took their seats, the aldermen avoided the one chair in the middle with the winged back and carved armrests. Each gave a perfunctory glance at the foursome sitting conspicuously on the other side of the table, but soon they were busy reading through copies of a prepared report. While they studied, they engaged in a sort of concealed conversation that involved much leaning over to compare notes and whispering in neighboring ears. Occasionally, one of the aldermen would raise an eye or two at the Company. Cora hoped for a comforting glance from Calloway, but the merchant’s eyes remained on the report before him.

A tall, robed figure carrying a sturdy case strode in from the open door. Sir Anthony Prisido III, Chancellor of Westmeade, frowned as he entered. Stress lines across his brow furrowed deeply, emphasizing the crow’s feet at his blue eyes and the silver in his once-blonde beard. The aldermen ceased their muted speech and rose at his presence, and Cora and Elric instinctively did likewise.

“Be seated,” he said in a voice as commanding as his presence. “Is everyone here?”

Sebastian nodded. “Lady Gable is, of course, matron of honor in the Lady Karlina’s wedding, and both Schumann and deCorté are attending as guests.”

The Chancellor pointed to Selorian. “Who is this?”

Cora gave a brief and unadorned account of their meeting, emphasizing that he was a corroborating witness. Chancellor Prisido nodded and took his seat.

Silence filled the room as Prisido placed the case beside him on the floor and rifled through a variety of paperwork set before him. He mumbled to himself and scratched his chin as he read through the notes, turning pages back and forth. Several minutes passed as Prisido contemplated the documents, and still no one spoke. Doc Pinehurst coughed, and the rumble echoed loudly across the green walls.

Finally, Prisido looked up at the captive foursome. “This is all entirely fascinating,” he said to no one in particular. Prisido turned over a couple more pages, then leaned over and pulled a worn book from his case and held it aloft. “Where did you get this?”

Cora’s breath caught as she realized what he was holding. Blanchard’s journal…

“That,” Cora began, “we believe contains the answers to the mystery of Wilder Tower.” She spoke with confidence though her voice had cracked.

Several of the aldermen leaned toward a neighbor and whispered into eager ears, all the while casting a reflective eye at the Company.

As if Cora’s claim meant nothing, Prisido set the journal on the table and sighed. “How did you come to be outside the city of Westmeade when you were expressly forbidden to leave?”

Thus began the long telling of their entrance into the underground tunnels, the well, the caverns below, Ordin’s death, their wandering on the underground lake and eventual rescue, their introduction to Selorian, and return journey. Cora relayed the tale as expertly as she could, always trying to refrain from the customary embellishments so natural to songsage storytelling. Having Elric interject with a countrified exclamation or graphic description of a battle scene helped her stay close to reality and provided all the elaboration necessary.

When it came to recounting Ordin’s fall, however, Elric remained remarkably quiet. It was a painful reminiscence, and Cora kept strictly to the facts to tread upon those mental scars as lightly and quickly as possible. But as she recalled the mystic’s deeds and his death, a marked pall of disquietude settle over the otherwise unflappable Lady Tarnistorel, as if something had disturbed her on a more personal level.

Prisido studied the tattered leather journal. “So, you say the man who wrote this was a…duplicate…of August Blanchard?”

Cora nodded.

“And this…‘Personal Contingent Duplicity’…this copy…killed everyone who attempted to become the ruling alderman for Wilder District?”

The songsage nodded helplessly and looked at the floor.

“And,” Prisido continued relentlessly, “this product of high magicks that Blanchard could not perform in turn crafted an intelligent sword, which Blanchard had never done, and which had as its sole purpose to kill Vincent Schumann, another of the ruling aldermen on this Council.”

Cora looked up with pleading eyes. “Chancellor, it’s all in there. You really must read the journal for yourself.”

“I have read the blasted journal, Miss O’Banion! I’ve been up all night doing exactly that! I find contained within these pages the ramblings of a madman, a dark soul bent on very little more than the destruction of our fair city, first by scaring our citizens half out of their wits, then by duplicitous murders, the harboring of foul creatures, and the plotting of a hostile takeover of Westmeade itself. What else could be the man’s intent? It’s as if he were being manipulated by the Nephreqin.”

Cora set her jaw firm. “Sir, whether the Nephreqin are involved or not is important, but ultimately secondary. I believe we have stumbled upon the answers to Wild—”

Elric nearly jumped out of his seat. “But Schumann is Nephreqin!”

Cora’s breath caught and her stomach knotted. An equally stunned rumble of under-breath comments reverberated across the wide, polished table. Prisido stared at the former guardsman, his eyes narrowed. Hunt turned crimson, and Calloway looked upon the Company with a measure of pity.

“Young man,” Prisido barked, and the room instantly fell silent. “You have just committed a serious offense—”

“Not if it’s true…” Selorian quipped. They were the first words he had spoken since early that morning, and they comprised perhaps the most important sentence spoken that day. “Ordinance Fourteen requires that you ascertain the veracity of the claimant’s charge. The charge is serious, but it is not an offense until proven wrong.”

Cora’s breath returned. She felt as if she’d been granted a stay on life. You’re brilliant, Selorian. A smile formed at the edge of her mouth. She had no idea what Ordinance Fourteen said, but if Selorian was right, he may have just saved them. And that was certainly worth the first selection from their treasures.

Sir Anthony Prisido III closed the journal and abruptly stood. “We will reconvene this evening at the sixth hour. Return to your rooms until you are summoned.” He glared at both Elric and Selorian as he returned the leather journal to the case and exited the room with all the dignity demanded of his office. One by one, each of the aldermen followed him out of the room.

The walk back to their rooms was filled with anxiety but also with hope. Cora sat on her bed, pondering their fate. She could see things ending badly for them, and she could see a glorious future ahead—both equally well. Not knowing how to predict their outcome was pure frustration. She wanted to console and encourage on the one hand, and to scold and deride on the other.

But she was powerless to affect any of that. As time passed, her wandering thoughts drifted to the wedding of Lady Karlina, the Duke of Alikon’s second daughter, now only eight days away. She imagined the city of Cer Cannaid, nestled in the rocks of the lower Deepening where the lake funneled into the massive Rae Serene, the Duke’s castle on the edge of the water, towering over granite cliffs. But she would not get to see it. She could hardly think of a more magnificent event, and she would miss it all. I wish Montpeleón was here instead of traveling to Cer Cannaid for the wedding. I’ve seen death, and it’s horrible. She sighed and collapsed on her pillow. I miss Ordin…

A knock startled her. Not enough time had passed for the Council to reconvene…unless they had found something incontrovertibly proving the truth or falsity of Elric’s claim.

It was Cuauhtérroc. “Cora O’Banion, we talk in my room. All of us.” He turned and left.

Cora stared at the open door, listening to Cuauhtérroc’s steps fade down the hall. Well, I guess we’re not actually confined to our rooms. Whatever he needed, it was serious, and if she had learned nothing else, it was to listen to her savage.

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