Trissiny returned from her morning run looking forward to a shower. Much as she’d found the thing ostentatious on her first arrival at the University, she’d come to enjoy the experience. It was certainly a more efficient way of getting clean than soaking in a tub of water. Upon opening the door to Clarke Tower and stepping inside, however, she had to stop, taking in the scene.
At first glance, everyone appeared to be having breakfast. Pancakes, in fact; there was a large, steaming platter of them set in the center of the coffee table, along with dishes of butter and syrup, and those present were holding laden plates and forks. Shaeine and Teal sat side by side on the sofa, Ruda and Janis in two of the chairs.
Something about the situation made the fine hairs on the back of Trissiny’s neck stand up, however, and she knew very well to respect her intuition about danger. Indeed, on a second look, only Ruda appeared to be enjoying the meal. Teal and Shaeine were glassy-eyed and chewing slowly as if bespelled or drugged. Janis was holding a plate but not eating; her body language was tense, and upon Trissiny’s entry she looked up at her, an incoherent plea in her eyes.
Reflexively, Trissiny reached for her sword.
“What’s going on?” she asked tersely.
“Breakfast,” said Shaeine with a broad smile so totally unlike her normally reserved demeanor that it sent chills down Trissiny’s spine. “Have I mentioned how much I love Imperial food? Sugar on everything.” She swirled a forkful of pancake in syrup and stuck it in her mouth, Teal giggling beside her.
“I’m pretty sure they’re okay,” said Ruda, grabbing Trissiny’s attention. “I’m keeping an eye on this and Janis hasn’t eaten the food.”
“You’re eating the food!”
“Yeah, have you noticed I drink a barrel’s worth of liquor a day and never so much as slur my speech? Mind-altering shit doesn’t work on me.” She glanced at the hallway door. “Like I said, I’m keeping an eye on this; didn’t wanna start up a scrap when we’ve got two incapacitated crewmates, that’s asking for somebody to get hurt. ‘Sides, help’s on the way. Glad you’re here, though, it seems to be you she’s after.”
“What’s… Who did—”
She broke off as Principia Locke bustled into the room from the direction of the kitchen, carrying another platter of pancakes. She looked eerily domestic, wearing a frilled apron and oven mitts. Her whole face lit up when she saw who was present.
“Trissiny! How wonderful, everyone’s finally here. I’m so glad, dear; I’ve been waiting a long time to—”
“What have you done to my friends?” Trissiny demanded.
Prin clucked her tongue, coming forward to set down the pancakes on the coffee table. “I made them breakfast. Honestly, everyone’s so suspicious when I do a nice turn, you’d think…” She trailed off at the rasp of Trissiny’s sword coming out of its sheath.
“I am not going to indulge you in banter,” the paladin said icily. “Something is clearly, badly amiss with them. You will explain this, or you’re going head-first out the nearest window.”
The elf stared at her in silence for a moment, her expression neutral, then sighed softly. “They’re fine. It’s just a little charm to encourage peace and happiness; people pay good money to have it done to them. Wears off in an hour. Honestly, Trissiny, all I wanted was a chance to talk with you, but you’re always surrounded by…” Her eyes cut back and forth around the room, and a scowl fell over her features. “All right, what happened to the dryad?”
“Went to get Tellwyrn,” Ruda said cheerfully. “C’mon, you didn’t expect using a fairy charm on a dryad would do anything but cheese her off? Be glad she didn’t decide to deal with you herself; Juniper’s tastes in breakfast doesn’t run toward pancakes. These are really good, by the way.”
Prin narrowed her eyes. “You are annoyingly lucid for someone who’s supposed to be charmed.”
“Yup. Let’s see, you’re clearly using witchcraft, so it runs on sympathy and symbolism… Something that clouds minds, but it’d almost have to be divine in origin to avoid tripping Triss and Shaeine’s alarms… Ah!” She grinned broadly. “Sacramental wine in the pancake batter, right? I’m right, aren’t I? Yeah, read about the Punaji Curse sometime, see if you can guess where you fucked up.”
The door to the tower flew open. A shrill whine just at the edge of human hearing sounded for a moment, and then with a sharp pop and a flash of light, something burst from above the doorframe and shot across the room, landing smoldering in Prin’s new dish of pancakes. It was a silver horseshoe, slightly charred. Immediately, Shaeine and Teal straightened up, blinking, and the goofy smiles faded from their faces.
Professor Tellwyrn stepped inside, Juniper hovering behind her. Her expression promised murder.
“Well, aside from the obvious,” Ruda added.
“Arachne,” Janis said in obvious relief. “I could have fought her, but the girls…”
“You acted correctly, Janis,” the Professor said, her eyes on Prin. “Kindly make sure they’re suffering no lingering effects.”
Principia stared at Tellwyrn for half a second, then turned back to the paladin. “Trissiny, just—”
“No,” Tellwyrn snarled. She stepped to one side, herding Juniper along with her, then pointed at Principia and gestured at the open door. With a yelp, Prin was yanked forward and hurled bodily outside.
Tellwyrn followed, Trissiny right on her heels, Juniper and Ruda bringing up the rear while Janis attended to a confused Shaeine and Teal. Principia landed on her feet on the bridge, skidding briefly but managing not to lose her balance, thanks to elven agility.
“This is too far,” Tellwyrn said icily. “You were warned about this, Principia. By me, and by the Sisters of Avei. The fact that you chose to challenge me instead of them just goes to prove you’ve not developed any wisdom in the last twenty years.”
“The Sisters didn’t send her into the Golden Sea to face off against a centaur horde,” Prin shot back, glaring. “They aren’t trying to get her killed!”
“They will, though,” Tellwyrn said grimly. “No Hand of Avei has ever died in bed. Well, except Taslin of Madouris; somebody got her with some kind of flesh-dissolving poison. Nasty business. Which doesn’t change the fact that none of this is any of your concern.”
“What is going on?” Trissiny demanded.
“This will always be my concern, Arachne!”
“You gave up the right long ago,” Tellwyrn said inexorably. “Deliberately. Now I have to decide what to do with—”
“She’s still my daughter!” Principia shrieked, then fell silent, fists clenched at her sides.
The only sound was the constant wind that sighed over the bridge.
And then Trissiny laughed. “Oh, come on,” she scoffed, “that’s not even believable. I’m not an elf!”
No one answered her. Principia was staring at her with something like hunger, and Tellwyrn… The Professor’s face was carefully blank, not the expression of someone who’d just heard an easily debunked falsehood. Trissiny felt her smile drain away.
Prin opened her mouth, then glanced warily at Tellwyrn.
“Well, you’ve gone to all this trouble,” Tellwyrn said, folding her arms. “Go on, say your piece. See if she thanks you.”
“The ears are a recessive trait.” Prin began with a careful eye on the Professor, but turned her gaze to Trissiny as she spoke. “Your friend Rafe is the exception, not the rule. Most half-elves are basically just tall, lanky humans with incredible stamina and really good eyesight. Usually blonde. Sound like anyone you know?”
She paused, as if for a response. Trissiny stared blankly at her, unsure whether she was experiencing a total lack of thoughts or simply too many at once for her to pick one out.
“You’ve probably already felt the effects, training with the Sisters,” Principia went on, her tone gentle. “You have ten times the stamina of a pure human and don’t need as much food, but you’ll have had to work thrice as hard as any of the other girls to put on muscle.”
“I…” Trissiny looked desperately at Tellwyrn, who was still watching Principia.
“It’s a tree,” Prin said, barely above a whisper. Trissiny looked back at her and she swallowed painfully before going on, still as softly. “The trissiny. It’s… I don’t know the Tanglish word, they aren’t common on this continent. It literally means ‘silk tree.’ There was one in the grove where I grew up; I used to climb it as a child. It’s one of the very few happy memories I have of home. Slim branches, leaves like fern fronds and little pink puffball flowers in the spring—”
“A mimosa?” Trissiny burst out, horrified. There had been a mimosa tree on the grounds of the Abbey at Viridill. A delicate, decorative thing that with absolutely zero practical use, it was a standing affront to Avenist sensibilities. It had been a gift from some Izarite temple, Mother Narny had said. The cults of Avei and Izara had deep doctrinal conflicts, and the Izarites were forever trying to mend the divide with such ill-considered presents.
Principia jerked back from her as if struck; her expression fell, and Trissiny realized she had let revulsion stand out plainly on her own features. If any of this were true… The fact that she might have been named after that stupid tree was the last straw.
Professor Tellwyrn heaved a sigh. “Well, there you go. Look how happy everyone is. Janis?”
“The girls are fine,” the house mother reported from the doorway behind them. Her eyes were on Trissiny. Everyone’s eyes were on her; she couldn’t make herself meet anyone’s gaze. “It’s a harmless enough spell, but Shaeine is furious.”
“You came onto my campus,” Tellwyrn said grimly, turning back to Principia, “broke into a residential building and laid a hostile enchantment on my students. I have killed people in extravagant ways for considerably less, and none of them had been warned to stay off my property beforehand. All things considered, though, I think it’s more poetic to leave you to stew in the consequences of your selfishness, Prin. The Sisters of Avei will know you flouted their command before the day is out, and you’ll find them a more reasonable enemy than I, but also far more persistent. Enjoy. But you’re done in Last Rock. I want you out of this town within the hour, and if I ever see you on my campus again, I will personally send you to Hell.”
“Yes, yes,” Principia sneered, “the great Professor Tellwyrn hands out death like candy at a parade. We know.”
“I’m not talking about killing you,” Tellwyrn said with a cold smile. “Not directly. On the Acarnian subcontinent there is a hellgate which, though easily accessible from this side, opens thirty feet in the air above a phosphorous swamp on the infernal plane. The nearest exit point back to this dimension is more than fifty miles distant, in the hands of a major demon settlement on the Hellish side and blocked by an Avenist temple on the other. Cross me again and I will take you there, toss you through, and see if you can weasel your way out of that. In four years she’ll be out from under my protection and you can decide whether your selfishness is worth further antagonizing the Sisterhood. Meanwhile, get out of my town.”
“I’m already packed,” Principia said grimly, looking at Trissiny again. The sadness in her eyes made Trissiny furious, for some reason. “I just wanted her to know.”
“Yeah, good job. Everybody’s just so very happy. Feh.” With a wave of Tellwyrn’s hand and a quiet pop of air, the dark-haired elf vanished.
The silence that followed was painfully awkward.
“She…was lying, right?” Trissiny had to pause to swallow the lump in her throat. She could hear a note of pleading in her voice and hated herself for it, but couldn’t hold it back. “Right?”
Tellwyrn sighed heavily, taking off her glasses to rub at her eyes with a thumb and forefinger. Every moment she didn’t casually brush off Principia’s claims was another damning affirmation of them. “I suppose we should talk, Trissiny. Let’s go to my office.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, you are not dragging her across the goddamn campus at a time like this,” Ruda exclaimed. “I’ll help Janis clean up and you can have the room. How many thousands of years does it take you to grow some fucking sensitivity, woman?”
“Thanks, Ruda,” Trissiny said, touched in spite of herself. Ruda grunted and waved her off, turning to head back inside.
“Hey, guys!” Fross zipped over to them from the gate to the main campus, coming to a stop in the middle of the bridge. “Wow, everybody’s up early! You know this is Saturday, right?”
Ruda had been progressively decorating the whole time they’d lived there, and her side of the room was now draped in rugs and heavily embroidered throw pillows, the walls swathed with silken hangings and tapestries. At the foot of her bed were an old-fashioned treasure chest that looked like it belonged in an illustration in a penny dreadful, as well as a modern enchanted cold box in which she kept pints of frozen custard. A white bearskin rug, complete with mounted head and claws, was draped haphazardly over her bed. Trissiny’s side of the room was as stark and spartan as ever.
Tellwyrn stopped in the middle; she didn’t seem to be terribly interested in either side, but frowned at the sharp line of demarcation between them.
Trissiny shut the door behind her, a touch more firmly than was necessary. “It’s…true, then? That woman is my mother?”
The Professor turned to face her, a distasteful grimace twisting her lips. “Trissiny, any imbecile can get knocked up, carry a child to term and squeeze it out. Profound as the experience may seem when you’re going through it, the fact that so many imbeciles do so is the only thing that explains the state of the world. Motherhood is another matter entirely.”
“You’re avoiding the question,” Trissiny accused.
Tellwyrn shook her head. “I am clarifying the question, because you asked the wrong one. Now you listen to me: Abbess Narnasia Darnassy is your mother. She gave years of her life to loving you every minute, taught you everything you know about the world, formed you into a young woman capable of living on your own and then let go to let you do it. That is what a mother is, and you have a damn fine one.”
Trissiny nodded; the lump in her throat was too painful to speak around, but there was something sweet in it as well. Mother Narny had been responsible for all the girls at the Abbey, trainees of every age from all backgrounds, as well as the seven other orphans who’d been raised alongside her, but Trissiny had never once felt that she lacked for care or attention. It was a timely and welcome reminder—and surprising, coming from Tellwyrn—and she resolved on the spot to let the Abbess know how much she was appreciated the next time she had the chance to go home.
“With that said,” Tellwyrn went on, suddenly sounding weary, “the answer to what you meant to ask is yes. You do owe half your blood to Principia Locke. Best have a seat, Trissiny,” she added, suiting the suggestion by stepping over to sit down on Ruda’s bed.
Trissiny pulled out her desk chair and seated herself, keeping silent for the moment as she still didn’t trust her voice not to waver, and also wasn’t sure which of the questions roaring in her head to grasp at first.
“Principia,” Tellwyrn began, “is selfish, clever, unburdened by moral scruples and rather predictable despite her twisty way of thinking. I make a point to keep several such people in my address book; they’re very useful to know. So it was that I happened to be acquainted with her about twenty years ago when she was pulling something particularly crafty with a rural noble House—which I won’t bother to name, as it’s not really material to the subject.
“She’d managed to initiate a fling with the eldest son of the family. I don’t know how and it doesn’t particularly matter. As you probably know, and should if you don’t, such things are taken very seriously by the nobility; the two things they love most are their comforts and their bloodlines, and there is thus always some contention when an aristocrat’s prerogative to screw around with lowborn women creates the risk of producing bastard potential heirs. Matters are more serious still when non-humans are involved; the rich do love exotic playthings, but a half-human member of the family is seen as a disgrace most Houses would go well out of their way to cover up. Of course, all of this happens regularly, everywhere, but it’s still something shameful. The wealthy and powerful, Trissiny, are weird.
“Alchemical contraceptives weren’t common back then, but you can bet that the aristocracy had access to them, and even the most dissolute noble wastrels were heartily encouraged to make use of them. Principia’s paramour most definitely did; he didn’t lack for intelligence or ambition. That ended up being immaterial, however. Prin arranged things so that her status as the young noble’s mistress was well-known throughout the province, behaved herself with uncharacteristic good taste and charity and actually managed to be somewhat well-thought-of. And then she got herself pregnant.”
“You mean… I’m an aristocrat?” Trissiny said numbly.
Tellwyrn grimaced. “You wouldn’t be even if the poor boy had been your father—House Whatever would go to great lengths to hush you up in that case. Anyhow, he wasn’t; he was more careful than that. Prin went and found herself some other human in another district to take care of that little detail. It was a rather inspired little con, which was why I loitered in the area to watch how it played out. She couldn’t prove anything and didn’t need to; it was all about perception and insinuation, about the court of public opinion, not courts of law. She couldn’t have won a paternity suit, but with some skillful manipulation of rumor, she placed the House in the position of having to be nice to her or risk a greater scandal than she’d already created. If their scion’s pregnant mistress were made to up and disappear, there would’ve been an outcry. She effectively forced them to pay her off, make a show of how generous and understanding they were. And then, of course, she wisely removed herself from the region before the fickle public forgot the whole story and the much more vindictive nobility she had effectively blackmailed decided to correct her manners.”
“That is despicable,” Trissiny breathed.
“Yes,” Tellwyrn said, grinning faintly. “but it was quite clever, and it worked. That, I assure you, was all that mattered to Principia. After that, she was only left with the inconvenience of actually being pregnant, and too far along to extinguish it gently. So…when you came along, she was very relieved when I offered to find you a home.”
“You offered?” Trissiny said shrilly. “You?”
“That’s a little more shock than I think the story warrants,” Tellwyrn said wryly. “Yes, me. I didn’t happen to have any reliable friends who’d have wanted a child at the time, and state-run orphanages have a tendency to be unspeakable hellholes. Of the cults who take in orphans… Well, it was just lucky you turned out to be a girl. The Sisters of Avei indoctrinate their youth just like anyone—obviously, I mean look at you—but they generally don’t screw kids up too badly. And Narnasia had just taken over as Abbess at the time; I knew she’d do very well by a foundling. It was part of why she was given the job.”
“But you hate the Sisters!”
The Professor rolled her eyes. “Other way round, Trissiny. I’ve never had an argument with the Sisters; it’s they who hate me. I doubt they even remember why anymore, but Avei chose to take something I did a few centuries back more personally than it was meant, and let me tell you, nobody holds a grudge like an immortal.”
“And of course, you’re famous for rescuing orphaned babies from a life of drudgery,” Trissiny said bitterly.
Tellwyrn gazed at her in silence for a long moment before replying. “I’ve had five children, Trissiny. All by human fathers. Four errors in judgment and one extremely extenuating circumstance. Not a bad record for a three-thousand-year career.”
Trissiny blinked in startlement. “I… You… Really? Somehow…I can’t see you raising a child.”
“Omnu’s breath, girl, I didn’t raise them. Can you imagine how messed up someone would be with me as their primary moral example?”
“That’s a great thing to hear from an educator.”
“You kids are at least nominally adults. You are intellectually and morally formed; I’m simply teaching you how to think effectively. Creating a fully functioning person from whole cloth, as it were, is an entirely different matter. Trust me, I know my limitations.” She sighed softly and glanced to the side. “So no, Trissiny, I don’t make it a habit of gallivanting around the world rescuing orphans… But I happened to be there, and I have a soft spot for the half-elven offspring of horribly unfit mothers. Prin didn’t want you, and I found it wasn’t in me to just leave you there. So…here we are.” She shrugged, smiling ironically. “If I hadn’t intervened, you’d have been brought up as a small-time grifter. In the best-case scenario. In the other… I would like to think even Principia wouldn’t have abandoned an inconvenient baby in a haystack somewhere, but if you asked me to look you in the eyes and swear to it, I’d have to balk.”
“Here we are,” Trissiny repeated in a whisper, staring at the floor. Slowly, she lifted her eyes. “She…Principia… She’s a bad person, isn’t she?”
“In all my years, after all the things I’ve done, for all that I’ve kept myself at the forefront of world events about half the time, I’ve met maybe a dozen bad people. Trissiny, most evil in the world is due to stupidity, ignorance and laziness. Some is the work of the mentally ill; much results from the accidents of birth and culture that train people to see the world in irrational ways. Actually evil people, individuals who understand right and wrong and deliberately choose wrong, are vanishingly rare. For the most part, people do what seems best to them, and their moral failings are the extension of intellectual failings.
“Principia Locke is selfish, lazy, deceitful, irreverent and gratuitously obstreperous, but there are much, much worse things a person can be. I can’t tell you she’s a good person to know, but she is not the sort of person you as a paladin are likely to be called on to chase down and bring to justice.”
Trissiny nodded, lowering her eyes again. “I don’t even know what to think about all this. What… What do you think I should do?”
“I think I’m the wrong person to ask,” Tellwyrn said, her voice uncharacteristically gentle. “I’m here to help however I can, but in this case, you have better sources of support. I suggest talking to Avei, and to Narnasia when circumstances permit. I’ll tell you this much: redemption is a real thing and the desire for it is downright commonplace. People do change, and the love for a child is a powerful motivator. You should know, however, that Principia brought you into the world as a prop for a con she was running, and after handing you off to me, the first time she evinced the slightest interest in your existence was when you were chosen by Avei to be her paladin. A week after the announcement, she turned up on the steps of the Abbey, and Narnasia threw her bodily down the stairs.”
“Mother Narny did that?” Trissiny said, shocked. The Abbess had been a Silver Legionnaire in her youth, but now suffered arthritis and walked with a cane.
“She was quite irate, I understand. She also swallowed her pride enough to keep me informed, which was lucky, as the next thing Prin did was move into Last Rock. Avei determined you were to attend school here when you were old enough almost as soon as she called you, though how Prin found out about that I’ve no idea. You may choose to forgive her or not, maybe even to let her be part of your life, but don’t do so blindly: remember her interest in you began when you became a person who’d be useful to know. If she is genuinely repentant, I strongly advise you to make her prove it before you come to any decisions.”
Trissiny nodded slowly. “…I’m a half-elf, then. I think I’m having the most trouble with that.”
“If you’ve gone eighteen years without knowing that, it’s not likely to break your stride now. You’re lucky in that you can pass; most humans and an unfortunate lot of elves tend to shun half-bloods. You’re also the Hand of Avei, so nobody with a lick of sense is going to give you a hard time. Talk with Admestus if you have questions. I can explain the basics, but it’d all be very technical; he’s actually lived them.”
“Ugh.” Trissiny made a face, and Tellwyrn laughed.
“Yes, I know. Remember what I said about people doing what makes sense to them? Rather than turning up your nose at his eccentricities, it would behoove you to wonder what motivates him to act that way.”
“I’m…altogether surprised at how you’re acting,” Trissiny admitted, forcing herself to meet Tellwyrn’s gaze.
“Why, because big bad Tellwyrn has a kind streak?” The elf shook her head. “If I had to guess at Avei’s motivations in sending you here, I’d say she meant you to soften the black-and-white view of the world that growing up in what amounts to a convent has left you with. Nobody’s all one or the other, Trissiny. Honestly, I’m probably the most straightforward person you will ever meet. If I confuse you, you are dramatically oversimplifying the world.”
“Do you know who my father is?”
“No idea,” Tellwyrn admitted. “Some human. He was a bit part in Principia’s game; probably got the night of his life out of the blue and never had an inkling it resulted in consequences for anyone else. They never do. Let me ask a question: what kinds of interactions have you had with Prin since you got to town?”
Trissiny shook her head slowly. “Not much… She tried to give me a necklace once, but Sheriff Sanders chased her off. Well, actually gave it to me, I suppose.”
“What?” Tellwyrn straightened up. “You have something she gave you?”
“She didn’t give it directly to me,” Trissiny explained. “She found Teal and Shaeine in town one night and gave it to them to pass along. I, uh… I was going to have someone look it over for enchantments, but…it slipped my mind.”
“Slipped your mind. Well, now we know how she’s been following your movements, at least. I was all set up to go hunting down whoever blabbed about centaurs.” She rubbed her forehead. “Damn it, Trissiny, I can accept your priggishness as a result of upbringing, but you of all people should know to be more careful than this.”
“You’re right,” Trissiny said, flushing. She opened her belt pouch and rummaged inside for the necklace; it took some doing, as the thing had slid under her first aid kit. “I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by this place, but that’s a poor excuse. Here it is.”
“And you’ve even been carrying it—” Tellwyrn broke off abruptly, staring at the necklace dangling from Trissiny’s fingers. “That’s a golden eagle.”
“Uh…yes. I guess she thought it’s the only kind of ornamentation I might want. Which is true; I didn’t even want this, but the sigil…”
“The sigil!” She snatched the necklace out of Trissiny’s hand, staring at it. “Yes, there’s a tracking charm… Oh, hell, Principia, what have you done?”
“What?” Trissiny stared at her, nonplussed. “I’m confused, what does that—”
“No time!” Tellwyrn said curtly, and then the room vanished.
Trissiny had never teleported before; the lack of sensation was disorienting. It seemed it should feel like something, but her room simply disappeared and the sheriff’s office in Last Rock replaced it. She also materialized in a seated position and staggered to one knee, only her years of physical training warding off an embarrassing tumble to the floor. Tellwyrn, she noted with annoyance, had re-sorted herself in transit so that she appeared upright.
“Damn it!” Sheriff Sanders shouted, jerking backward from his desk so abruptly he caused a minor avalanche of papers. “Don’t do that!”
“Where is Principia Locke?” Tellwyrn demanded. “Have you seen her today?”
“A few minutes ago,” he grunted, re-settling himself in his chair. “She popped out of midair and landed right there in the street. I kinda figured it was your doing.”
“Which way did she go?”
“Hell if I know,” he said. “I ain’t her keeper, unless I can manage to actually catch her committing a crime for once. Home, I reckon.”
Tellwyrn hissed a curse, and the world vanished again.
“Son of a bitch!” Sanders barked when they materialized; this time he was dumped to the floor, suddenly without the chair under him. He winced, looking up at Trissiny. “Ah… My apologies, ma’am.”
Trissiny nodded abstractly to him, looking around. They were in a bare attic space containing nothing but a bed with an uncovered mattress and battered old table and chair. “Where are we?”
“Prin’s place,” Sanders grunted, climbing to his feet. “Though it looks like she’s skipped town. Well, for all that I couldn’t help liking her a little, I’ve gotta say this’ll make my job a mite easier.”
“Trissiny,” Tellwyrn said sharply, “do you sense anything? Anything demonic or otherwise evil?”
Trissiny frowned, panning her gaze around the bare little room. “Nothing like that. Why? Are you expecting demons?”
“I would take it as a great kindness if someone would explain to me what’s going on,” Sanders said with visibly strained patience.
Tellwyrn held up the necklace, regarding it grimly. “This piece of jewelry has a tracking charm on it. She’s been using it to keep tabs on Trissiny’s movements.”
“Well, that’s a misdemeanor, if Ms. Avelea didn’t consent to the surveillance,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure I understand the urgency of all this, though.”
“Sam, this is the sacred symbol of Avei! The gods aren’t always paying attention to us—okay, hell, they aren’t often paying attention. But to lay a charm on a holy sigil intended to surreptitiously track her Hand? Avei would damn well notice that.”
“What are you saying?” Trissiny demanded.
“There are ways of hiding such things from the gods,” Tellwyrn said grimly. “They’re commonly used on idols, to prevent the deities in question from realizing that those worshiping them are…less than sincere. This is Black Wreath spellwork.”
Silence held for a moment.
“Aw, Prin,” Sanders groaned, dragging a hand over his face.
“It’s probably not what you’re thinking,” Tellwyrn said. “Principia wouldn’t join the Wreath.”
“This looks pretty damning!” Trissiny retorted. A hollow sensation was opening up inside her; this was just too many revelations for this early in the morning.
“Pun not intended?” Tellwyrn actually smiled a little when Trissiny glared at her. “Two kinds of people join the Black Wreath: true believing fanatics eager to pull down the gods, and everyone else, most of whom just like feeling subversive and get squeamish when they realize what they’ve gotten into—if they ever do. Principia is too self-centered and too cynical to be in either group. However, I can well imagine her being brazen enough to con the Wreath out of some spellwork. Which leaves the very significant question of what she offered them in return and whether she came through on her end of the deal. I can see that going either way.”
“That’s assuming she’s not actually a Wreath cultist,” Trissiny added grimly. “A personality profile isn’t evidence, Professor.”
“Yes…in any case, she’s certainly intelligent enough to foresee how this would play out when she broke into Clarke Tower,” Tellwyrn said, beginning to pace. “Packed up and ready…an escape prepared. We won’t catch her.”
“She broke into…” Sanders trailed off, shaking his head. “What do you mean, we won’t catch her? Are you Arachne Tellwyrn or not?”
“Legendary power does not connote omnipotence or infallibility,” Tellwyrn said, still frowning into the distance. “Last person I met who thought it did was a god. I will forever cherish the look on his face when I killed him.”
Trissiny and Sanders exchanged a wary look.
“City girl or not, she’s still an elf. All she has to do is get lost in the tallgrass and that is pretty much that. With even the basic enchantments she can use, she can deflect a tracking hound.” She shook her head, coming to a stop and staring out the room’s one window. “This goes way beyond Principia. Damn it… We need to find her. We aren’t going to be the only ones trying, and depending on who gets there first, she may be silenced before anybody can get answers.”
“By ‘silenced,’” Trissiny said slowly, “you mean…”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
She realized she was gripping the hilt of her sword. Whether for comfort or in anticipation of trouble, Trissiny couldn’t have said, and it bothered her that she could make so little sense of her own thoughts. Whatever else was going on, they needed—she needed to find Principia Locke. They needed answers.
So did she.