Month 4, Day 9, Friday 11:00 p.m.
Gera seemed able to sense behind herself with whatever magic allowed the woman to function so effortlessly without her eye. She turned her head slightly towards Katerin’s astonished face, and then back to Siobhan. “Is it safe to speak freely with her here?” she asked.
Siobhan nodded. Katerin had not been involved any of Siobhan’s plans for Operation Palimpsest, but there was no need for secrecy anymore. The woman might speak to Oliver, but she wouldn’t reveal any of Siobhan’s secrets to the coppers or the Thirteen Crowns.
“What is going on?” Katerin asked, her throaty, biting accent thickening as her eyes narrowed.
Gera nodded to Siobhan but ignored Katerin’s question. “I completed the task assigned to me to the best of my ability,” she reported. “All seemed to go smoothly, but when I returned, Millennium was missing, along with several of the guards. One of the servants told me that they had run from enemies some hours before, while I was gone preparing. Everyone with legs to move and eyes to see was out looking for him, but with little luck. I feared the worst. I broke the bracelet that you gave me, but there was no response. Even my greatest efforts at divination could not find my son, nor any of those that disappeared with him. I spent hours futilely attempting to track his path.”
The woman’s voice wavered and she paused to take a deep breath and loose it again.
Siobhan pulled the broken pieces of her own bracelets from her pockets, now having the presence of mind to count them and make sure none were missing. “We were deep beneath walls of stone. The magic on these trinkets was weak. No doubt, it failed to pass the barrier and petered out uselessly.”
Katerin’s eyes widened, and she pulled up her sleeve to reveal her own small handful of spelled bracelets.
“Any that are connected to me will be useless now,” Siobhan said, standing up with some effort and using the knobs on the side of the fancy fireplace to automatically light the hardwood logs within. She tossed her bracelets into the flame, watching as they burned up. The magic was gone, but this was easier than casting the shedding-disintegration spell on the pieces.
Liza snorted derisively. “So amateurish,” she muttered. Louder, she added, “I can make you something much better. For the right price.”
Gera stood, tearing the other bracelets from her own arm and throwing them into the fire beside Siobhan’s. “I called Mistress Liza in to assist my attempts, but when I learned that it was the Pendragon Corps who had taken my son…” She trailed off, closing her sightless eye and shaking her head. “But you have returned him safely. I owe you a great debt.”
Katerin was still giving Gera strange looks, but she, too, bowed to Siobhan. “You have my thanks as well. I was out managing one of our ventures, and heard about what had happened from one of the enforcers who were injured while trying to protect my so—my nephew. The man was knocked unconscious early and did not get taken with the others. I am going to knock some sense into that boy, I swear it. I…” She shuddered. “I was so terrified. Why was he taken? How did you save him? And does it have anything to do with the Raven Queen’s supposed multiple appearances today? I have been getting the most ludicrous reports, and everyone saw the ravens.”
Gera smiled proudly.
“Was that you?” Katerin demanded. She turned her bloodthirsty gaze from Gera to Siobhan. “Did you plan this? Put Theo in danger intentionally, just so that you could be seen to save him?”
Gera’s eye widened perceptibly, and she took a slow step back from Siobhan, placing her back against the wall beside the fireplace. Looking at Katerin, she gave small, surreptitious shakes of her head, as if trying to tell the other woman to shut up, but Katerin ignored her.
Siobhan raised her hand to cut of Katerin’s impending tirade. “I did not place Theo, Miles, or any of those who attempted to protect them in danger. That was the High Crown. My ability to save them was a combination of great luck and terrible misfortune. I am too exhausted to retell the events in detail, but suffice it to say that I had something planned to take advantage of the proceedings. The High Crown had his own plan in place. He wanted to capture both children, perhaps to get yourself and Gera to turn on me. But I was in the right place at the right time, he badly misunderstood my capabilities, and his plan backfired. Also, Miles is very capable, and Theo very brave.”
“Kidnapping our children may also have been a way to pressure us to asking another boon of you,” Gera added, relaxing cautiously and stepping away from the wall. “And then, to trap you if you attempted to save them. You are known to be fond of children,” she said to Siobhan.
Siobhan was too tired to ask what other things about her were supposedly “known.” “That may be so. In any case, I was forced to promise two boons to ensure our escape. I would appreciate assistance fulfilling them. I would also appreciate your help keeping the families of those I brought out tonight safe. One man did not make it. He has a daughter.”
Gera agreed immediately. “My power and resources will be turned to your purpose, as repayment. Nothing can compare to the worth of my son’s life.”
Katerin was less enthusiastic. “I might be able to help, depending on what you promised. Even though association with you is what endangered Theo in the first place,” she added sourly. “What were you thinking, doing things like this in secret, behind our backs?”
Gera drew in a sharp breath and paled noticeably, staring straight ahead with her sightless eye, as if hoping by extreme stillness she could disappear.
“Rude and thankless,” Liza muttered from where she was drawing repeated glyphs along the walls.
Katerin’s pale, slender neck flushed a few dozen shades lighter than her crimson hair, but she didn’t look away from Siobhan.
The muscle under Siobhan’s right eye was twitching. She’d run through so much adrenaline that day that she didn’t have any left to grow truly angry, but she was equally out of patience. “I think you will find,” she said in a slow, hard voice, “if you think about it a little harder, that association with”—she remembered at the last minute not to reveal Oliver’s name—“Lord Stag is what endangered Theo. In fact, the same might be said for myself.”
Katerin’s face flashed through a series of emotions that Siobhan couldn’t read. Finally, the woman pressed her thin lips together. “Perhaps you are right. But if not for him, Theo would likely have died as a babe. Lord Stag’s actions are not without consequence, but they are decisions made for the greater good. And right now, he is out there desperately trying to gather information on what’s happened to you and Theo. You don’t know how worried he was—we both were,” she corrected.
Siobhan wasn’t sure if Katerin had caught the hints of Siobhan’s suspicion and distrust, but if so, the woman didn’t show it.
Siobhan sighed, then explained the terms of the agreements she had made with Parker and Anders. “In any case, the High Crown’s plan failed, but we should not expect that the man will simply give up. He does not seem one to compromise, nor to accept defeat.”
With that, Katerin agreed easily. “Especially not after the spectacle of today. No matter his intentions, I, for one, cannot forgive this insult. Assaulting and kidnapping our children was an act of war.”
“Yes,” Gera said simply.
“Don’t be reckless,” Liza said. “Also, I will warn you now, I have no desire to be involved in any hare-brained attempts at vengeance.”
Gera bared her teeth. “But if Leandro Pendragon, cursed be his name, believes that he can simply get away with such things? That he is not only above the law, but above retribution?”
Siobhan stopped them before they could devolve into arguing and worsen her headache. “You may plan your revenge, but do not expect me to be a part of it. I must rest.” When they didn’t move, she waved her hand at them. “Go! Liza, stay,” she added.
Liza gave her an exasperated huff. “Yes, master. Bark, bark, master. Should I roll over, too?” she asked dryly.
At the door, Katerin looked back. “Thank you once again. Sincerely. Theo is the most important thing in my life. If there is a next time for something like this, come to me.” Then, they were gone, the door closed behind them.
“I need help removing my corset,” Siobhan told Liza. “Also, I believe I have broken a rib. And I definitely have Will-strain. I may have previously had a concussion, but the healing potions took care of that.”
With a deep, put-upon sigh, Liza rubbed her forehead. “All of this is not what I agreed to. I am going to bill you for the difference.” But when she had finished setting up the additional wards, she helped Siobhan with the ribbons and stays. As her corset was drawn away like the broken-open ribcage of some vivisected animal, Liza watched stoically while Siobhan whimpered in pain.
The leather contraption beneath the corset was much easier to remove, revealing the bloom of horrible bruises that looked weeks older than they should be. There were distinct depressions in her side where the stones of the holster had pressed most deeply into her flesh and bone.
Liza ran her fingers over Siobhan’s abdomen and spine, cataloguing Siobhan’s flinches and whimpers of pain. “I’m no healer, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a dislocated rib, girl. Lie down on your stomach,” she commanded. And then, with some steady pressure followed by a strange, sudden motion, she slammed Siobhan’s rib back into place.
The pain flared white-hot for a moment and then immediately died down.
“Closed reduction,” Liza explained simply. Siobhan didn’t know what that meant. “Your rib was probably fractured in addition to the dislocation, depending on how strong that healing potion you took was. But the bone is fine now. You just need to take it easy for a few weeks. No more healing potion for the time being. Trust me, you would greatly regret building up Radiant toxicity. Planar components are useful, but we mundane beings were never meant to be steeped in their energy.”
Siobhan thanked Liza weakly for her help, then moved to sit on the edge of the too-plush bed. If she were attacked in her sleep, she would struggle to wade her way off of it. She considered her next words, but was too tired to try for tact. “I need to get into the severe damage wing of the Retreat at Willowdale. I know you visit there. Can you get me past the security?”
Liza stilled, then turned to face Siobhan slowly and silently.
“I need to meet the only coherent survivor from the Black Wastes expedition,” Siobhan explained.
Liza’s voice came deep and slow. “Siobhan Naught. The parts of my life that I do not advertise are private. How dare you?” It was, perhaps, the first time that Siobhan had seen Liza truly angry. Usually, the woman grumbled and complained, but at most, deep down she was exasperated. Now, Liza’s Will was tangible in the air to whatever hindbrain sense could discern such things, her head tilted a few degrees too low as if to hide the baring of teeth.
Siobhan was very aware of not only the battle wand disguised as a decorative stick holding Liza’s bun in place, but also that pretty much every other piece of jewelry or clothing could be a battle artifact. ‘Perhaps it would have been better to approach this when I was not so tired and prone to mistakes,’ she acknowledged.
Hurriedly, Siobhan said, “I learned about your visits by coincidence! I had no intention of prying into your business. I have not been following you or anything like that, and I do not know what you do there.”
Liza was silent, still glaring, but at least she was listening.
“I understand the value of boundaries and privacy,” Siobhan continued. “I have not, and will not disrespect your privacy. If you take me, I won’t ask questions, and I will do what you tell me.”
Liza shook her head sharply.
“You can refuse,” Siobhan allowed, “but I will still need to find a way to speak to that man.”
“I do refuse,” Liza said. “You will do well to keep your promises regardless.”
The palpable pressure of Liza’s anger still hung in the air, but Siobhan was quite literally too exhausted to worry about it. If Liza wanted to kill her at this moment, there was almost nothing Siobhan could do to save herself. Siobhan flopped back onto the bed, trying to defuse the tension. “Alright. But before you go, can you help me with one last thing?”
Liza remained silent, but she didn’t leave. And as Siobhan explained the details of the dreamless sleep spell that she needed cast on her pillow, the clenched muscles in Liza’s jaw and around her eyes relaxed.
It was not hard to link together the clues and realize that Siobhan had a secret of her own.
Liza cast the spell, using Siobhan’s supplies and more power than Siobhan had ever been able to imbue it with. Before leaving, she paused at the doorway. “I will consider your request,” she said, still staring at the door. And then she was gone.
Siobhan snuggled into the thick blankets and laid her head down on the spelled pillow that smelt of her familiar tinctures, staring at the fire. For a moment, it reminded her of Grandfather, and then of her nightmare “clawing away on the inside,” as it had said.
She shuddered. Too exhausted for contemplation, she resolved to think of it later.
But Siobhan kept the crystal lamp on the bedside table turned on as she closed her eyes. The idea of being in complete darkness when the fire died down made her palms clammy and gave her the urge to look over her shoulders and under the bed for monsters.
Hey guys. I’m doing pretty good, if a little slower and more tired than normal. I hope you all are doing well, too. And as a reminder, be kind to yourselves. If you need some grace, give it to yourself.
In case you missed Monday’s chapter of The Catastrophe Collector:
The Typo Hunt for the PGTS spinoff book, The Catastrophe Collector Book 1: Larva has opened. We have several applications to join, but there are a few more spots if any of you are interested. As patrons, you’re getting first dibs here, as from past experience I know that interest in the limited number of Hunt spots is rabid.
Larva contains Chapter 1-31, so it’s an option to read quite a ways ahead of where we currently are.
If you’re interested, read through the info page, then submit your application. Info Page: https://www.azaleaellis.com/join-the-typo-hunting-team/