Jaimie Krycho

sugar and spice
and copyrights

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Category: Serial

7:46 pm on Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

The end is near.

Hey, all. I just want to assure you that the rest of Bloodlines of Epheria is still coming! I’m writing the last large chunk as a whole, so that I can have my favorite beta reader (my husband Chris) give me feedback on it. Then, I’ll make the necessary plot and style changes, and post it in smaller pieces as usual. That means you’ll get a new installment every day for several days running.

I really want the ending to have some punch, and don’t want to leave you feeling unsatisfied by a ho-hum first draft. So, stick with me! The end (of Book One) is near.

P.S. Keep in mind that when I’m done, I’ll be asking for your feedback before I write the second draft (the one I’m going to send to Harriet McDougal. I KNOW, RIGHT??). I’ll also post the feedback I’ve already received via blog comments and email. Thanks for the help you’ve given me thus far – it means a lot!

I send out my writerly love to you, dear reader.

7:46 pm on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

“Bloodlines,” pt. 15

It took the length of Lorin’s story for Jatan, Antian and Namiss to recover from their shock. Ileniel still insisted on muttering to himself from time to time, but Lorin pointedly ignored him.

“I should’ve pressed her more. I should’ve gotten to know her better,” Namiss said to her hands, sounding disconsolate.

She jerked her head up with suprrise when Lorin snorted a dry laugh, though it was Jatan who put voice to what he was thinking. “Pressed her? Namiss, you know Sifani was never one to respond to pressure, especially in respect to personal matters. She is —”

“Self-reliant?” Lorin supplied dryly. “Excellent at deceiving herself? Or perhaps the phrase you’re looking for is ‘infuriatingly slow to trust others.’”

“I suppose she can be all of those things,” Jatan conceded slowly, completely missing the humor.

Not that Lorin himself found any of this truly funny. The fire in the center of the room was yet burning, and the only thing that kept him from going mad with the inability to act was knowing that as long as the flames roared, Sifani was probably still alive inside them. “She was planning to tell you all, you know, but only after she had asked her questions of Ileniel. Unfortunately, her temper got the better of her, as it often does.”

“She’s not the only one who had information that needed sharing,” mild-mannered Antian asserted as he glared at Ileniel, more fiercely than Lorin knew him capable of. Of course. Antian would’ve expected the other scholar to share any information about the epheria with him, at the very least. “Your direct experience with a Reehler like Nume would’ve put much more meat on our research. Perhaps this crisis could’ve been averted if we’d had the information you chose to keep secret.”

The words, bordering on pugnacious, seemed to rouse Ileniel from his blubbering stupor. His back straightened suddenly, expression only barely under control. “You weren’t there!” he spat. “You don’t know the terror of it – the burden of an experience not many could comprehend and even fewer would believe. What was I to do with what I had seen, hm? Besides, you signed me on to study the epheria, not the Deities. I knew the roads had to cross again someday, but until then…”

“The roads are one and the same, Ileniel.” Lorin had only been half-listening to the scholars’ exchange, but Ileniel’s last sentence had caught his ear and he had replied idly. But now that he was considering it, just how closely _were_ the epheria and the Deities interconnected?

He was following the path of that thought when the steady crackling of the fire ring died suddenly. Lorin spun, frozen for the briefest moment, then bolted to the space where the flames had been burning. He was there before any of the others had time to do more than stand. Was Sifani still alive?

Lorin was supporting Sifani’s hunched body by the time he was able to process that she was standing somewhat on her own, blessedly living.

“Ow, Lorin. OW. Could you be a little more careful, please?” Sifani flinched, and Lorin eased his grip with the closest thing to embarassement he had felt in years. “I didn’t draw these cuts on myself, you know!”

“Ever the sweet and demure damsel,” he mumbled, mildly vexed. “I’m keeping you from falling onto your face right now, and this is the thanks I get?”

“I thought the familiarity of my actions might reassure you of my good health,” Sifani retorted, wincing as she clutched a particularly large gash on her shoulder. “Ho, Jatan! Think you could fix me up?”

Discordant voices began calling for bandages, crying out in concern, and swearing as Lorin turned, putting Sifani in full view. Finally, Ileniel ran for the medical supplies while the rest gathered around Sifani, trying not to crowd her with their bodies or their multitude of barely-restrained questions.

“She let you live!” Namiss exclaimed, sounding near to tears.

Sifani reached out and squeezed the girl’s hand. “That she did. At least, for now.”

Jatan had come up on Sifani’s other side to help hold her up, nodding across her drooping body to Lorin. “Your partner has been telling us very interesting stories about you, Sifani.” His smile was a mixture of warmth, relief and solicitude. “By all things holy, it is good to see you – more than I can properly express.”

Lorin waited for the older man to finish his salutation before he addressed Sifani again. “You said Nume let you live ‘for now.’” He wanted to stop and look her in the eye, but he and Jatan brought her to the bench by the wall and seated her, first. Silence hung heavy in the air as they did. “What do you mean, ‘for now?’”

Sifani inhaled deeply, taking in the face of each member of the band in turn. Finally, her gaze lighted on Lorin, and he saw distress behind it. “I made a bargain with my mother.” Another deep breath. “I am to meet her in the garden two days from now, to put myself into her power. And…I am to bring you with me, Lorin.”

He could not have been more surprised. “Me?”

She nodded, looking away as if ashamed.

“I — why?” Lorin forced his mind to stillness, though it resisted. “I’m a little too young for her, don’t you think?”

Sifani shot him a routine look of annoyance, but she didn’t answer. Before the pause had time to become uncomfortable, Ileniel trundled into the room with an armful of bandages and the small pouch that contained the needle and gut. It wasn’t hard for Lorin to detect that Sifani was relieved by the distraction, as she made a show of summoning Ileniel loudly and setting Jatan to the task of stitching her up at once.

Fortunately, Jatan wasn’t going to have it. “We’ll clean you up, Sifani, but then no more secrets,” he told her gently but firmly. “You must explain what happened between you and your mother just now, and why she has demanded that both you and Lorin come to her.”

Sifani nodded, looking sick. For some reason, Lorin felt the slightest bit sick, too, but he forced himself to grin.

10:13 am on Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

“Bloodlines,” pt. 14

What followed might have been just a few moments of staring, but they stretched on to infinity in Sifani’s mind. The sheer number of words she had on the tip of her tongue alongside the bone-deep shock that had hit her cancelled each other out, so that she could say and do nothing. Nume was still as well, though her eyes – a bright hazel that seemed to glow almost gold in the light of the flames around them – narrowed with something much fiercer than evaluation. Sifani imagined that if a look could burn a person out of existence, that one would have.

After that split-second expression, Nume straightened, her face assuming chilly composure. She looked decidedly regal, but Sifani wasn’t intimidated. Deity, creator, matron, whatever – she was still one thing that Sifani couldn’t stand, and that was a coward.

“You’re fortunate I deigned to speak with you, girl,” Nume began at the same time Sifani hissed, “I’m surprised you summoned the courage to face me after twenty-seven years.”

The fire around them cracked as if in response to the tension. Sifani barely felt the strong heat pressing against her back, warming her fresh wounds and threatening and goading her. “You’re certainly less grand than I’d expected of a such a legendary being. Deity,” she spat, and the thrill of the heretical mocking was heady. “Now that I see you, I wonder what that word even means. You have power, but that’s the only thing about you that’s different from any aging farmwife.”

Sifani seemed to have struck a nerve, for Nume sneered. I’d always heard that mothers and daughters had a tendency to clash, she laughed – a bit madly – in her head.

“Power is the only thing that sets any of us apart,” Nume retorted, and now that Sifani wasn’t speaking over her mother, she could hear that the woman’s voice was low, seductive. The kind of voice that would entangle an insatiable, free-spirited man like her father.

“You can’t be that powerful, if you have to kill me to escape the wrath of your fellow Deities. Those are the actions of someone weak and afraid.”

“Don’t pretend you understand the workings of a people higher than you!” Nume stepped forward, eyes peering down at Sifani dangerously. A hint of petulance showed through, though. “Twenty-seven years is more than a lifetime for someone like me. The actions of the young are not to be accounted for, and I was but a child when I hunted Maric. He certainly was good sport,” she added with a predatory grin.

Sifani felt her face darken. “That’s my father you’re speaking about, harlot!”

The fire flared again, and it seemed that Nume was one moment across the circle from Sifani, and the next nose-to-nose with her, looming. Yes, Sifani considered fleetingly, I certainly got my height from my mother.

“As I was saying,” Nume breathed after a moment. “I was young.”

“And now, after years have passed, I suppose your wisdom has finally demanded you take action.” Sifani chose to speak carefully. The ground she trod was much too thin. “I know my religion – I assume the Golden Council forbade any dalliance with us mere mortals? Yes? I thought so. So, rather than face the consequences of your own actions, you’re going to erase the evidence.”

Nume snorted softly and took her face out of Sifani’s. She began to circle Sifani, then, looking her up and down in appraisal. “It’s a shame, really. You seem much like me, in a way, and your power is quite remarkable. I was certain that Maric could not have stayed with us, but you would’ve made a profitable addition.”

Sifani was doubtful that being “much like her mother” was a compliment, but the offense was overshadowed by sudden interest. What did she mean by “a profitable addition?” Was it possible to join the Deities? Sifani’s senses went on alert, and just like that the conversation reconstituted into a different thing entirely. Instead of a last confrontation, Sifani realized, this could be a first opportunity – an investigation into exactly who she was dealing with, and what that meant for a Reehler like herself.

“Joining you. That’s an intriguing thought,” Sifani answered, modulating her tone just enough to sound slightly desperate, likely pliable, and yet not suspicious. “If I’m as much like you as you think I am, Nume, that could be profitable for both of us, don’t you think?”

Nume’s lips twisted inscrutably.

“The way I see it, you have two immediate choices,” Sifani continued. “Kill me now and hope that erasing the evidence of your disobedience is enough to keep you from being found out and punished, or tell me more, and perhaps have a new and powerful ally.” She smiled grimly. “So, mother? What think you?”

***

Lorin stumbled back from the blaze that flared up between him and Sifani. “NO!” he shouted, taking a step foward as if he would attack the flame itself. Gods above, he could do nothing with fire! And that woman – Sifani was trapped in there with her!

Wiping both sides of his knife on the leg of his trousers, he shoved it into its leather sheath as he stalked back to where Ileniel, Jatan, Antian and Namiss stood, incredulous. They stared alternately between Lorin’s demeanor and the ring of fire burning in the center of their dining chamber, unsure which one was more incredible.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Lorin told them, “so stop staring, and I’ll explain what just happened.” He glanced irritably at Ileniel, who had his face in his hands and was murmuring into them lugubriously. Jatan stepped over to the man, looking only slightly disoriented that Ileniel had appeared seemingly out of nowhere minutes before, and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“That woman,” Namiss said in an angry, tremulous voice, “Who was she?”

Lorin took her arm, and the arm of an unsteady Antian, and led them over to a long bench angled against the curved wall. He sat them down. “That would be Sifani’s mother, who’s a Deity.”

Jatan and Namiss gasped. Antian almost fell backward off the bench. Lorin caught him and propped him up with a hand on his back. “Get comfortable, you three. Ileniel and I have a whole lot to tell you.”

9:25 pm on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

“Bloodlines,” pt. 13

A mistake. She wielded the first defense that came to mind, ignoring the part of her that told her she sounded childish, or foolish, or both. “But they were married!” Sifani told Ileniel vehemently. “We all knew the story – my foreigner mother left my father after a whirlwind marriage and a tragic falling-out.”

“Only a story.”

“If you’re lying to me about any of this – !”

“Why would I, Sifani? How do you think people would’ve reacted to the news that you were an illegitimate child? Maric had to tell them something!”

Sifani felt a physical pain in her chest at that. “Pa always told me you two lost your house in a fire,” she mumbled, knowing the thought didn’t follow.

“Some fire,” Lorin scoffed.

Sifani had forgotten Lorin was there, and hearing him made her inexplicably angrier. Something snapped inside of her – perhaps sanity, perhaps irresoluteness. Whatever it was, without saying a word, she spun on her heel and dashed into the tower, leaving Ileniel and Lorin gaping after her.

Sifani heard their shouts following behind her, but she ignored them with a vague sense of dark satisfaction. Taking the first flight of stairs two steps at a time, she bounded into the circular room where the band took their meals. There, Namiss, Jatan and Antian sat like members of the Deities’ Golden Council, their heads simultaneously snapping up from morning meals.

While Namiss and Antian gaped at what must’ve been her panting, wild-eyed self, Jatan’s brow immediately crinkled in concern. “Sifani, what happened? What’s wrong?”

“All of you, up.” Her voice was hard. “Arm yourselves.”

Knives appeared in Namiss’ hands seemingly from nowhere, and Antian began to glance around the room wildly, searching for the source of attack. Jatan went from bent old man to straight-backed protector in moments – starting from his seat, he approached Sifani with a decisive step. He took her by the shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “Is it the creatures?”

“They should be coming very soon,” she snarled quietly. Then she canvassed.

The world washed over with blue. The three people before her radiated light, each his own white-hot candle. Out of the corner of her eye, Sifani saw two more figures – Lorin and Ileniel – stumble into the room to try to prevent her from recklessness. She wanted to tell them that this wasn’t recklessness, it was reckoning.

If a Deity – if her own mother – was going to try to kill her, she should at least have the decency to talk to her, first.

She let her concentration shift from the people around her to the room itself – its sober wooden table, sparse decorations. There wasn’t much to work with, but if Sifani guessed correctly, she didn’t need much. She only had to wield enough power to signal to Nume that she was in the epheria, and the woman would come after her. She would send her dog-creatures, perhaps, like she did the first time in the garden, but Sifani hoped she would come herself.

Occasionally, Sifani did things without a plan, and as for this…well, she was definitely making it up as she went along.

I can create, she told herself, the very truth that had horrified her not long ago. Eyeing the rectangular table, ignoring the hands tugging at her arms – no one could force her out of the epheria now that she was inside – Sifani made herself see.

She saw deep within the structure of the wood. It was a web-like tangle she couldn’t have made sense of in her right mind, but in the insanity of her current state, it was perfectly clear. In the space of a blink, Sifani ripped a piece of that web away. As she began to reconstitute it, she knew that what she was doing to make her mother parley was to force her to remember.

The birds. I have to make those birds that Nume made. How in Donis’ name she was going to do that? She began to twist the pieces of the web she had pulled apart, breaking some portions apart, obliterating others. Try as she might, she could make nothing approaching an animal. As she repeated the process, her failures quickly mounting, she felt disconcertingly like a child fumbling with a twig and her father’s carving knife.

Fortunately, it took a longer time than Sifani expected for the monsters to appear. Like last time, she didn’t see them the moment they manifested, yet suddenly, they were there. Sifani planted her feet as four creatures stalked into a semicircle around her. She was aware of every muscle in her body tensing, coils ready to spring, as they approached, growling. “Hello, again,” she whispered fiercely.

The things rushed her at once. Sifani bit her teeth against the inferno of pain that bloomed across her body as the creatures scrambled for purchase in her flesh. Yelling, she flung the first two – one on each arm – away from her, hoping that her friends had recovered from their shock enough to finish the monsters off, now that Sifani had made the things visible to them. The other two creatures still gnawed at her legs, trying to drag her down. As Sifani stumbled and fell to them, desperately trying to kick and strike as she did, she had a revelation of her own stupidity.

In her haze of pain, Sifani realized one of the dog-creatures had released her leg. She stretched her arm out, hand scrabbling to grab something to pull herself to safety. She tasted phantom relief for a moment, only long enough for the first monster to relocate his death-grip to her shoulder. She screamed in agony as its teeth ripped through muscle. I guess there won’t be a parley, after all…

A human form burst onto the scene beside her, ramming a belt knife into the side of one of the monsters. Dazedly, Sifani processed the sight – he wasn’t burning with light, which meant he had entered the epheria with her. Lorin.

He seemed to dance in slow motion to the other side of her, swinging the bloodied knife as he did. Some corner of her mind winced as the knife came down toward the monster clutching to her shoulder – if Lorin wasn’t careful, he would stab her – and struck true. With a savage grunt, Lorin kicked its dark body to the side, hard enough that it smashed against the wall, and slashed at it once more for good measure, though the opaque black eyes already showed the universal glaze of death.

Sifani climbed to her knees, though the effort of it made her want to roll over and die. “You okay?” she rasped, staring at her companion’s back. His tan shirt was splashed with black, sticky blood, and his shoulders heaved from anger, or more likely exertion.

“Are you an idiot?” he snapped. Well, maybe the heaving was from anger, after all.

Loss and confusion crashed back down on Sifani in the silence that followed. The sweet, distracting fury left as quickly as it had come, leaving emptiness behind. “I had to talk to her.”

Lorin shook his head slowly, still not turning to face her. “You risked all of our lives – your own most of all! – so you could try to talk to the woman who is trying to kill you,” he said flatly. “I’ve thought you many things, Sifani, but never a fool.”

Something about the way he said it – the disappointment that lurked underneath it – shamed her profoundly. “I…” Sifani trailed off, still staring at Lorin. While doing so, she suddenly realized that just like that, something had undeniably shifted. The sense of emptiness there only moments before was gone suddenly – filled. Filled with a maelstrom, but filled nonetheless.

Understanding dawned on Sifani. She knew how her mother had brought those birds to life.

She glanced at the table – at the impossibly small pieces of it – and began to try to build again.

The creatures Sifani built were rough – a child’s charcoal scratchings next to Nume’s artistic masterpieces. But, she thought, they would make her point. Looking through the epheria into the void over Lorin’s shoulder, Sifani released the crude, brown birds she had made into the air. They took wing, and when they reached the ceiling, they didn’t burst into flame like her mother’s had done. Instead, they dissolved into water.

“Speak to me,” she said firmly. It was quiet, both a plea and a command.

Sifani didn’t know what to expect, and therefore expected nothing. So when the epheria appeared to ripple, she was startled to her core.

A woman seemed to step out of a…fold in the air between Sifani and Lorin. That was the only way Sifani could describe it. She had only the space of a breath to take in the striking height, the round face so much like her own, the hair’s golden sheen that her own hair hinted at, before a ring of fire sprang up from floor to ceiling, cutting the woman and Sifani off from everyone else in the room.

Sifani’s mind seemed to take much too long to catch up. She was face to face with Nume, as she had wished, and she was trapped.

8:16 pm on Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

“Bloodlines,” pt. 12

Ileniel leaned forward to put his forearms on his knees, a posture he often took before launching off into a personal sermon, or a particularly long and complex tale. He waited several heartbeats before speaking again. “I can only tell you what I know, but it should be enough.” He took a deep breath.

“Your father and I were schoolmates, both looking to work in government before he became a financier and I turned to my research. Though we were very different in temperament, we held a common fascination – the history of the Reehlers. Maric was the first person I met who had a little Reehler blood in him – at least, the first and only person I met during my school days who confessed to it. He knew that my research was more than a passing fancy – it was a deep love for the subject, a profound fascination with the people – and so he trusted me with his secret.”

“He made occasional forays into the epheria, and told me all about them. After the first year of our friendship, we decided to share a lodging, and together, we developed theories on – and recorded all we could deduce about – this other world.” Ileniel smiled thoughtfully, to himself, Sifani thought. “Maric was my partner in research, you could say, and a good one at that. We were enthusiastic about bringing the knowledge of the Reehlers and the epheria back, and finding out how and why it was lost in the first place.”

In a wink, his demeanor fell. “Things began to change one day when your father was canvassing, for that was when he met her.” Ileniel grimaced slightly as he looked over at Sifani for the first time since he started his story. “I’m sorry,” he said uncomfortably, visibly squirming. “You wanted the truth, though. I didn’t really know your mother, except for what came through Maric. Her name was Nume – her family and hometown were a mystery. Maric was immediately and completely taken by her.”

“You must understand – Maric never wanted for female attention, but suddenly he found himself strung along behind a woman who seemed, from everything he told me, not to care that he was alive. At first I thought that your father was simply intrigued by the challenge, since, in my experience with him, very few women had every turned him down.” He spared a grim half-smile for Sifani. “Always hated that, I did.”

Ileniel cared about women? Sifani thought with surprise, following his jest. How many more shocking revelations is this day going to bring?

The man continued, the lines of age so often hidden against his dark skin illumined by the sunlight. “However, the more Maric chased Nume, the more concerned I became. Somewhere along the way, I saw that his fascination had become obsession. And though your father always was one of the most self-assured, arrogant people I knew -“

“Arrogant?” Sifani raised an eyebrow.

“A strong family trait, I hear. But as I was saying, though he was one of the most self-assured and arrogant people I knew, I was sure he would throw himself at Nume’s feet if she ever decided to end the game and put him off for good.”

Ileniel paused. Sifani sat with her hands clutched, waiting for him to go on.

“And then?” Lorin’s voice.

“And then…he caught her.” Ileniel spread his hands.

Sifani stared at him flatly. “Don’t you dare end your tale there, Ileniel.”

“Sifani, I can’t help but feel this part isn’t mine to tell.” He was squirming again. Sifani felt her hands curling into fists. “Perhaps if you spoke to your father -“

Her father? Why – so he could lie to her again?

“Ileniel!” Sifani rose, standing over her father’s friend with fury beating against her ribcage, threatening to break free. A moment of light-headedness washed over her.

She swayed. In the periphery of her awareness, she heard Lorin’s voice and saw him reaching out toward her, but most of her being was focused on her sudden awareness of the pieces of everything around her.

Those pieces were so fragile…they would be so easy to destroy…

”Sifani!

Blood pulsed in Sifani’s ears, the world and its sounds were swallowed up as if she were floating underwater.

”Sifani, you have to stop! Don’t let your anger take over!”

Her anger…

She remembered where she was, what she was doing.

“Sifani!”

The sounds and voices settled back into realism and clarity.

“Sifani!”

She shivered, blinking up at the bright sun startledly. “You can stop shouting at me, now, Lorin.”

She looked over at Lorin beside her, and Ileniel cowering just behind him, and felt her heart drop at what she saw. Even Lorin’s warm eyes had that icy-cold tinge of terror in them – terror at what might happen if Sifani had another breakdown here outside the epheria.

She wrapped her arms around herself – she felt like she stood in the depths of winter, after seeing their faces like that. Sitting down again, Sifani said, “I’m fine. Sit down, both of you – nothing’s going to happen.”

Ileniel looked as if he’d rather eat a roasted Piper leg than resume his story at Sifani’s side, but to his credit, he crept back to the water barrel and sat gingerly. The sight would’ve been hilarious, if Sifani weren’t responsible for the fear that still hovered over his expression.

“Where was I?” he asked timorously.

“‘And then he caught her.’” Sifani quoted. “Please, elucidate.”

Ileniel took a deep breath, unconsciously looking to Lorin and waiting for the other man to nod before he started up again.

“Well, that’s what happened – Maric caught her. Whatever your father did, Nume finally decided that she would have him. I didn’t see Maric for a full week – he stumbled in once, grabbed a few things. I saw her behind him…it was the briefest glimpe, but I did…” Ileniel trailed off.

“What did she look like?” Sifani hadn’t meant to whisper it.

The man’s eyes took on a far-off cast. “If you had studied her features bit by bit, you would conclude that she was a fine woman – pretty, even – but beholding all those features at once, together, she became unaccountably….beautiful,” he breathed. “Just beautiful. I couldn’t put my finger on what made her that way. It was a presence, I suppose, the likes of which I’ve never seen before, or since.” As if suddenly aware of what he had said, Ileniel’s head snapped upright. “Hum, that is – as I was telling you – I saw Maric that once, and then not again for many days. When he came back, it was only because she had gone.”

Sifani paled.

Ileniel nodded sadly, his face contorting with sympathy. “She left your father without a word as to why, and it crushed him. He was a broken man for weeks afterward. I was furious, as I would’ve been for any friend.” The admission seemed to embarass him, but Sifani found a sliver of unused emotion to feel appreciation for it. “So you’ll understand that when Nume walked in several months later, belly swollen with child, all imperious rage, I refused to leave Maric to confront her alone.”

Off to the side, Lorin clicked his tongue softly. “You should’ve left the man to fight his own fight, Ileniel.”

Until then, Sifani had never seen Ileniel sneer. “What do you know about manhood, boy?” he spat. “Had you seen the way Maric worshipped her, you would’ve understood why I thought he needed an ally. And before this imp continues, Sifani, I will tell you that that confrontation is when we found out who your mother really was.”

“She told Maric that she could not keep the child – that Maric must raise the babe alone. Maric, poor man, had spent nearly half a year haunted and broken, and by that time, his sorrow had curdled into anger. He would have none of her talk – ‘coward’s bluster,’ he called it, and I was proud! – so the fight only escalated, even as I looked on.”

“I remember it like it was minutes ago,” Ileniel continued softly. “The house began to quake. Things began…they began to both disappear, or dissipate, and to manifest. Where once there was a wall – suddenly smoke, or fire. The ground around us churned to water, if you will believe it. And…sometimes…things. Creatures that shouldn’t exist. Beautiful, beautiful birds, colored things, in moments of recounted passion.” Ileniel had the prudishness to blush, then – how had the man survived the actual conversation, Sifani wondered? “They burst into flame the moment Nume’s anger rekindled,” he muttered, darting his eyes away from Sifani’s when hers widened with horror. “There were many such things.”

“I had my suspicions, then, Sifani. They were only confirmed when Nume appeared to Maric for the last time.” Ileniel’s head was turned away from Sifani, now, and she struggled to make out each word. She wanted to remember every detail of what he was saying – to taste every moment, every bitter truth he was telling her in order to replace the sweet lies she had been told all her life before then. The man sounded choked. “Speak up, Len,” Sifani managed. “Please.”

She realized he was crying, then. Her numb heart wouldn’t let her feel anything for him. He kept on, speaking doom, like an oncoming bank of thunderclouds. “When Maric opened the door to her, she was holding a wrapped baby, and she pushed her into Maric’s arms.”

“‘If they ever find out, they’ll kill me,’ your mother told him, by way of explanation, and then he asked her, ‘Who will?’” Ileniel wiped his hand across his face. Sifani heard him sniff. She felt a twinge of disdain, and an even stronger jolt of painful inevitability.

“Who did she say, Len?”

“You already know.”

“I want you to tell me,” she heard herself say.

“None of the other Deities were supposed to know you live. They weren’t supposed to know you existed! But if you’re making yourself known, Sifani…by all things holy, you must stop going to the epheria! Nume – your mother – she thought she had made a mistake with you. She is one of the Deities, Sifani, and she mixed her blood with a mere human. To her, you are still a mistake, and she will cover that mistake any way she has to!”

It came to my attention – via a reader – that the last installment of “Bloodlines of Epheria” was a touch confusing. It was unclear whether or not Sifani was going to talk to Ileniel right then and there, or if she was going to wait, and why she would even choose to wait in that case. Therefore, I’ve composed a second version in which Sifani converses with Ileniel immediately after he arrives. This is a taste of what the writing process looks like for me – lots of small yet very significant adjustments, often made according to the feedback of a reader I trust.

If you didn’t read the original version in the first place, go back and read that one first, as it contains the first half of the following scene, which is integral to the story.

That said, here is “Bloodlines” part 11, version 2.

___

“Whatever you say, Len.” Immediately, Sifani was seized by the impulse to put her father’s old friend to the question, right then and there. She warded it off – it took more willpower than she expected. “Has Jatan seen you, yet?”

Ileniel wagged his dark head irritably, sparing a sidelong glare for Lorin. “No. This brute decided to waylay me before I could even dismount Rush – the heavens alone know why.”

Lorin met Sifani’s eyes significantly. She raised her brows, suddenly understanding. He wanted to give me the chance to talk to Ileniel before anyone else got to him! A warm smile overtook her expression of surprise. Deities bless you, Lorin!

Lorin, abruptly seeming embarrassed, took Rush’s reins in hand and let the mare nuzzle him as he walked her back to the stable. “Whatever my reasons for ‘waylaying’ you,” he told Ileniel, “the moment I saw you I remembered you weren’t worth the trouble.”

Ileniel sniffed disdainfully, glancing between Lorin and Sifani. In the awkward silence, he brushed at the stiff sleeves of his tunic, lips twisted in distaste, as if Sifani’s hug had soiled them beyond cleaning. “You’re in a fine mood today, Sifani a-vinna Leyone. What’s put the extra sprig of mint in your tea?”

She stood still, staring at him ingenuously, her hands folded in front of her.

Abruptly, Ileniel narrowed his eyes. “You want something from me, don’t you?”

“I need to talk to you. Now.”

“Bah, the dust that Rush kicked up hasn’t even settled! Can’t this wait?”

“Lorin and I have been doing some thinking, Len.”

“Well, now, that’s something n—“

She cut him off. “I need to know: why did you run?”

For a moment, Ileniel looked genuinely confused, so she elaborated. “After I tore down the Head Counselor’s home, why did you leave the band, Len? And don’t try to tell me you were tired of it. Our work was only becoming more involved, and we were just getting a true grasp on the nature of the epheria. Yet, you ran scared.”

At this point, Len’s eyes darted back and forth. “That’s ridiculous,” he asserted, but he looked a cornered animal, deciding whether or not to bolt, or whether or not he could. He never had been good at hiding his feelings.

Sifani opened her mouth to ask about her pa and mother, but found that the words caught in her throat. She had imagined this conversation many times in the past days – she was always speaking with confidence and force, wresting the truth from Ileniel with the skill of a veteran soldier. Now, however, such an approach seemed…inappropriate. This was, after all, her family.

There must have been a shift in Sifani’s demeanor, for when she asked Ileniel to sit down with her on the water barrels nearby, he did so without protest, though caution and suspicion remained wavering on his brow. Lorin had chosen to stand several paces away after stabling Ileniel’s mare, but Sifani waved him over.

“I don’t suppose you know – Jatan would’ve waited until you arrived to inform you.” Sifani began. “A Deity tried to kill me.”

Ileniel made a strangled sound. His hand went to his chest involuntarily. “What—?”

Sifani just nodded. “At least, that’s the best explanation we have. Lorin and I were in the epheria, and these creatures, monsters the likes of which don’t – er, didn’t – exist, just manifested there.”

Sifani proceeded to explain what had happened from beginning to end. It was a different experience, recounting the story to one who hadn’t been there when it happened. She had expected it to take on a tinge of the ridiculous in her telling of it, but instead it became more tangible and weighty as she watched Ileniel’s expression melt into slow horror.

“Gods above,” he whispered when she had finished.

“Perhaps you can guess why I’ve been waiting to talk to you, then,” Sifani said, heart beating rapidly. “I need to know why a Deity might want me dead. It could be because I’m a Reehler, though Lorin is, as well, and wasn’t specifically targeted. When I look at all the facts…well, my pa once told me that my mother was one of the most powerful Reehlers who ever lived. I know so little about her that it’s more likely something to do with her than with me.”

Her voice quieted. “You knew my father so well, Ileniel. I remember how closely he kept your company – how you would talk by the fireside late into the evenings. Friendly arguments, philosophical musings.” She could see Pa’s face, laughing, the pleasant grey pepper of stubble covering his strong neck and square jaw. She missed him – how long had it been she had last visited him? “You must’ve known more about my mother than I ever did. I only know that she was dangerous, and my guess is that when you witnessed my breakdown at the Head Counselor’s home, you thought I might pose the same danger my mother did.”

“Does.”

Sifani leaned forward. “What?”

“The same danger she still does, Sifani.” Ileniel would not meet her eyes, but kept them on his folded hands. “Your mother lives.”

Sifani suddenly felt as if she couldn’t breathe. Silence stretched for long moments.

“Deities,” she finally murmured, running her hands through the top of her hair. “I thought…I always guessed… Tell me.”

8:15 pm on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

“Bloodlines,” part 11

The days that followed comprised a small lifetime for Sifani, made all the worse for the fact that she had nothing to do. Jatan had forbidden her from the epheria, and for once, Sifani wasn’t inclined to disagree with his decision. The aging man spent his time with Antian, exploring Antian’s notes here and there, though with a languor that suggested he was biding his time almost as uncomfortably as Sifani.

Namiss contented herself with the activities she always did – roaming the streets, securing food and supplies for the band, and engaging in petty thievery she convinced herself Sifani knew nothing about.

Lorin, of course, went on being Lorin. This time, that was a relief. Sifani had to calm her nerves more frequently than she wanted to admit, reminding herself that Lorin might be many things, but he was no liar.

It had been…difficult to recount any of her history to him. The past was called “past” for a reason. It had always seemed foolish to her, that people would drag their background with them into the future like a ball and chain. But what do you do if the ball and chain starts dragging you?

That thought played about in the back of Sifani’s mind as she descended the tower stairwell one morning. She moved slowly, stifling a yawn, counting the steps as she went. 20. 21. 22… She needed a breath of fresh air after all the nothing she was working on. By Donis, waiting by doing nothing felt a lot like spending the night blindfolded in a circle of cavefoxes, hoping that one wouldn’t get hungry and decide to take a nip out of her…

Stretching her arms, Sifani emerged from the tower into the narrow street that fronted it. She was surprised to find Lorin leaning against the outside wall, idly tossing a stone in his hand.

“What are you doing up?” Sifani asked as she approached him. It was early – the sunlight on the tops of the buildings still had the bright look of youth to it.

Lorin straightened and smiled at the sight of her. “I have a surprise for you,” he announced in a sing-song voice. Pushing that tangle of black curls from his face, he glanced over his shoulder and whistled shrilly through his teeth.

Sifani perked up at the whinny that followed, and almost jumped when a familiar mount – a smooth, glossy brown mare with a long scar down her left flank – cantered around the corner toward them.

“Len’s here!” she shouted, and broke into a run before she thought better of it.

Ileniel was facing his horse’s empty stall, scowling, when Sifani threw her arms around his neck from behind. She still missed his tail of hair, but he’d grow it back eventually.

“Aagh!” Ileniel’s eyes popped as she accosted him, and he pushed and swatted her arms away from him like he might a cuddly – yet possibly rabid – animal. “Get off me, madwoman! What in the name of the Golden Council do you think you’re doing?”

Despite herself, Sifani began to laugh. “Oh, Len, don’t pretend you don’t love me. How was your journey from the bird farm?”

”Convent.”

“Whatever you say, Len.” Immediately, Sifani was seized by the impulse to put her father’s old friend to the question, right then and there. She warded it off – it took more willpower than she expected. “Has Jatan seen you, yet?”

Ileniel wagged his dark head irritably, sparing a sidelong glare for Lorin. “No. This brute decided to waylay me before I could even dismount Rush – the heavens alone know why.”

Lorin met Sifani’s eyes significantly. She raised her brows, suddenly understanding. He wanted to give me the chance to talk to Ileniel before anyone else got to him! A warm smile overtook her expression of surprise. Deities bless you, Lorin!

Lorin, abruptly seeming embarrassed, took Rush’s reins in hand and let the mare nuzzle him as he walked her back to the stable. “Whatever my reasons for ‘waylaying’ you,” he told Ileniel, “the moment I saw you I remembered you weren’t worth the trouble. You’re free to go.” Becoming sincere, he added, “I’m sure the others will give you a warm reception.”

Ileniel sniffed, glancing between Lorin and Sifani, and tugged hard on his stiff tunic. “Yes, I’ll go up and greet them, then. Hum.” He paused awkwardly. “I’m…glad to see you both still have your fool heads on your fool shoulders.” The man’s tone was gruff as always, but Lorin and Sifani grinned at each other as he withdrew to the tower.

“He likes us,” Lorin stated.

“After all the trouble we’ve made for him, I wonder at the fact he still does.” Sifani’s own voice was laced with grudging affection.

“Are you going to speak with him in front of the others?”

“I thought about it. Keep the others updated on the situation and all that. But if I did that, Lorin, this could become a comedy – with myself as the fool in the center – when it turns out that what happened has nothing to do with my parents after all.”

“Always trying to protect your pride, huh, Sifani?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Speak for yourself!” A friendly jab, perhaps, but a jab nonetheless. “I hold on to what I can.” She paused, and felt mischief touch her tight smile. “Besides, not telling the others means that I can test the waters with Len. Testing the waters means I get to make him squirm. And making him squirm…that means I get answers.”

8:14 pm on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

“Bloodlines,” Part 10

Sifani recoiled as if struck. She stared at Lorin for a moment, and then her tongue sputtered words while her mind struggled to form the coherent thoughts to go with them. “Deities, creation…what’s the point of even discussing this? We know nothing. Nothing! No, don’t you dare contradict me, Lorin! All our information about our gods has come down the years by word of mouth. There’s not one, damn, crusty scrap of paper to confirm a jot of what we’ve been told!”

Lorin continued lying back on the bed, refusing to rise to the challenge. “You’ve accepted what you know about the Deities until now. Are you really going to change your mind because it turns out you might personally be caught up in it?”

Sifani felt primal anger stir in her breast. Leaning over until she was just a few inches from Lorin’s face, she dropped her voice to a growl. “That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it, Lorin? You act as if you know what I’m thinking, but what do you even know about me?”

Lorin scrunched his nose a few times, as if surprised she was invading his air, before answering. Infuriatingly, his demeanor remained perfectly calm. “I know that your view of the Deities is something you inherited from your parents, just like your Reehler bloodline. And I also know – may the heavens have mercy on me if I don’t know by now – that you can’t be bullied into believing anything.”

He sat up, forcing Sifani to straighten in turn, as she refused to withdraw from her threatening position in front of his face. “You always want answers, and reasons. So it’s only logical for me to wonder why you’re so afraid of answers and reasons now. Tell me, Sifani. There’s a missing piece here – a missing brick in this path that’s made it impossible for an outsider like me to cross. Are you going to tell me what it is now, or will you keep me prodding you and making wild guesses until we’re old and grey, with our feet hanging over the edge of our graves?”

Sifani realized Lorin had stood and backed her all the way up to the wall, one arm braced against it beside her shoulder, and the other planted on his hip. His dark eyes flashed with their spark of laughter, but she had no doubt about his seriousness. The two of them had kept each other’s pasts at arm’s length, out of respect. When one of them raised questions about the other, it was because questions were necessary.

Sifani held Lorin’s gaze for a moment longer than she was comfortable with, then wrenched them, and her body, away. “I only know what I grew up with, okay?” Her hair swung as she stalked as far from her partner as she could get, arms crossed, faced turned towards the wall. “My pa always told me that my mother was…a powerful Reehler. He said his talent was laughable compared to hers.”

Lorin studied her. She hated how his look made her writhe! “How powerful?”

“Who do you think I am – Antian?” She hissed at him over her shoulder. “Do you think I have a chart I can just slap her onto?” Immediately, she regretted her irritation, and thought about apologizing, as she often did. However, Lorin was already coming to stand closer to her, and she told herself she should save herself the embarrassment.

She amended her tone – it would have to be enough. “My pa said she was one of the most powerful Reehlers to have ever lived.”

“She died, then?” Lorin sounded vaguely uncomfortable, though likely only Sifani would be able tell. He was treading lightly.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t –?”

“I always assumed that that was the case, and it was what my father intended me to believe, I think. He never told me that explicitly, though.” Pa probably thought it would escape her notice, but it hadn’t. Sifani was his daughter, after all.

“And? Did your father tell you anything else?”

Sifani squeezed her eyes shut. The epheria. The only family heirloom she took with her when she went out into the world. She liked the idea of a simple life, but she loved the epheria more, and it had never led her to anything close to simplicity.

“He said that my mother had to leave us in order to protect other Reehlers from danger. He always did look…afraid when he said it.” It wasn’t the epheria that he thought dangerous, though, since he never stopped me from canvassing or reconstituting when he found out I had done it.

“Did anyone else know about your mother?”

“No.”

“No one? Not even Ileniel?”

Sifani jerked in surprise. Ileniel. Stuffy, pious Ileniel, who had been friends with her father from the beginning. He had cared more than anyone she knew about the lost history of the Reehlers, and had spent much time in Pa’s company. It had always baffled Sifani that her pa, with his ready smile and infectious laughter, kept the scholar so near. Because of that, though, she had trusted him, enough to recruit him to their little research band when Jatan first took her under his wing.

Suddenly, it made so much sense.

“What is it, Sifani?”

“You’re brilliant, Lorin.” Sifani paused. “Soak that in now, because you won’t hear it again.”

Lorin bowed in mock gratefulness. “I expected nothing less, my milk-tempered maiden. Do you mind telling me why?”

“Because everyone knows I’m the brilliant one, you big lummox.”

“No – I meant, why am I brilliant?”

“Ileniel is the key.” Sifani suddenly began straightening her clothing, touching her hair and then checking her belt to make sure her knife was in place. It was a nervous habit she had when preparing for a large task. “It never surprised me that Ileniel jumped on the chance to be Jatan’s epheria researcher. He loved his work. Therefore, it was really surprising when he quit right after my disaster with the Head Counselor’s home. What would drive such a zealous, devoted scholar away from his work, into the shadow and isolation of a convent?”

Lorin turned to her in understanding, a slow, wide grinning spreading across his face. Deities, but it was a pretty grin. “It was fear. Real, profound fear.”

Sifani nodded earnestly. “Whatever my father knew about the danger my mother posed, maybe Ileniel knew it, too. Something about what happened at the Head Counselor’s home made him panic and flee.” She exhaled a long breath, gazing longingly at the still-curtained window. “Ileniel, suddenly, you can’t get here soon enough.”

Nodding in agreement, Lorin patted Sifani on the shoulder. “I should go. Namiss will use me for knife practice if she finds me here, invading her space.”

Sifani gave him a half-hearted smile for the humor. She let him walk a few steps away, then remembered something, and grabbed his arm. “Lorin.”

He looked over his shoulder at her, questioningly.

“Don’t tell anyone what I told you. At least, wait until we speak with Ileniel, and things become clearer.” She hoped he wouldn’t make light of this one request. She almost prayed he wouldn’t, though she might well be praying to someone who was trying to kill her. “Promise me you won’t.”

Lorin’s dark eyes bored into hers. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

She watched his back, his broad shoulders, as he exited the room. Maybe he wasn’t always such a great buffoon, after all.

9:23 pm on Friday, November 16th, 2012

“Bloodlines,” part 9

Even as she was pushed along, Sifani stared flatly at Lorin over her shoulder. “This had better not be a joke, Lorin. After the scare we just had, the last thing I need is you creeping about behind me in the hallways.”

They came to the door of her and Namiss’ room, and Lorin guided Sifani inside.

“Maybe we should be scared,” he mumbled as he shut the door behind them.

Sifani wished he were joking, then. She and Lorin had been through much together, and fear was not something he usually had on his emotional repertoire. “What are you going on about, you big lummox?” she groused.

Instead of answering, Lorin crossed the room in three long strides, and peered between the filmy blue curtains framing the lone window. Apparently satisfied with what he saw outside, he tugged them closed. Dusky greyness fell over the room.

“Lorin.” Sifani snapped.

“Those monsters appeared when they did for a reason,” Lorin began without introduction. He distractedly pushed a stray dark curl from his forehead. “They appeared right after you reconstituted those leaves into water and dust. That was amazing, by the way. I would’ve congratulated you then, if I hadn’t been too busy fighting off evil, red-eyed dog-monsters with claws the size of Ileniel’s ego.” He flashed her that boyishly charming smile of his.

Now that was more like Lorin. Sifani felt some tension ebb from her shoulders. “Whose ego?” she muttered wryly.

“Now don’t interrupt – it’s rude,” Lorin continued to tease her, tweaking her nose like a child to her great irritation. However, the pacing that followed the teasing highlighted the fact that he was still deep in thought. “As I was saying, you showed an extraordinary amount of power when you reconstituted those leaves. I think that…well, why don’t I just ask you? How did you do it, Sifani?”

“I…” Sifani furrowed her brow, remembering. The most immediate thing that she recalled was that her actions had been new. She had seen those paint-like dots…and she had used those dots to break down the object, as always. Yet, to make water, she knew she had done more than just take something apart.

“I broke the leaves into all their pieces,” Sifani struggled to explain, chin propped on her hand as she stared into nothingness. “But then…Deities.” Sifani shook her head, hair swinging. “I put the pieces back together into something different. I made something. Deities!” she swore again, feeling sudden alarm. As she turned to Lorin, she knew her eyes were wide, perhaps a bit mad-looking, but she didn’t care. “Lorin, please tell me I couldn’t have – I didn’t – create something. It wouldn’t make sense! We both know that only – What I’m saying is, there’s no way that anyone…normal…could – By Donis, Lorin, what are you trying to say? What am I trying to say?” Sifani sat down hard on the edge of her bed.

Lorin came over and joined her. He had cast off his unnerving gravity and replaced it with a casualness that was almost hyperbolic. “You did create something, Sifani, and right after you did, the monsters appeared. They were created to counter you, and they went after you. Whoever made them did so in response to you.”

Whoever made them?” Why put off the inevitable?, Sifani asked herself, and yet continued hedging anyway. It was all strange, much too strange. It opened too many doors that had been long-closed and locked. It’s a shame, really. The epheria has been such a sanctuary to me. I should’ve known that one day I’d have to ask why.

“You know what I’m getting at,” Lorin insisted. “The only ones who can create are –“

Deities.”

“Was that an oath, Sifani, or were you finishing my sentence?”

“Both.”

“Well, then, yes.”

Sifani folded her arms and called up as much sarcasm as she could manage. Maybe it would make this all feel less earth-shaking. “So you’re saying that a Deity is trying to kill me?”

“Preeeetty much.” Lorin inhaled deeply and lay back on the bed with his hands behind his head. He might’ve been watching cloud shapes float by for all he showed on his face. “So, Sifani a-vinna Leyone, that leaves me with one final question.” He raised his head and turned to look at her. “If only Deities can create, then who the hell are you?”

8:26 pm on Friday, November 9th, 2012

“Bloodlines,” part 8

“What do you mean, you didn’t see them at first?” Sifani could tell that her nerves were frayed. The question she directed at Jatan came out as if he were a suspect instead of a friend.

Jatan took it with equanimity, of course, spreading his hands. “Antian, Namiss and I were all watching you the entire time you were canvassing. It wasn’t until the first creature attacked you that it became visible to us. The second one only appeared when it touched Lorin. It was as if they didn’t exist – at least, outside the epheria – until the moment they made contact with you.

Sifani drew her brows down thoughtfully, glancing at Lorin out of the corner of her eye. He had his feet kicked up on a chair as though he’d not a care in the world, but his whole body seemed to be covered in bandages. She found herself feeling sympathy for him, and turned away quickly.

“A creature of the epheria,” she murmured to herself, “that’s only transferred to the visible world when it comes in contact with a creature of the visible world.” Sifani’s conjecture in the midst of the battle hadn’t been far off, but it hadn’t been close enough to help them, either. “As soon as Ileniel arrives, we can ask him if he’s ever read of such a thing.”

“Until then, the question remains.” Antian said, idly tapping the tabletop with a finger. “How did those creatures get into the epheria in the first place? Where did they come from? You’ve been in there many times, Sifani, Lorin – it’s always been a perfect reflection of the real world, hasn’t it?”

Lorin nodded, tugging on the bandage wrapped around his left hand as if it were a gauntlet. “A perfect reflection,” he agreed. “So, it must be that something put the creatures there.”

Sifani felt a chill. When she looked up at the others, though, all except Jatan were staring at Lorin as if he had lost his mind.

Though Lorin didn’t look up from his hand, he went on as though he had stared right back into those disbelieving pairs of eyes. “Think about it. If everything in the epheria exists in the real world, but something new suddenly shows up in the epheria, it only follows that it had to have been put there – created there.”

“A monster created in the epheria, for the epheria.” Antian began speculatively. “Or, was it created in the epheria, yet for the real world?”

Namiss had been sitting sullenly apart from the others, her cheeks propped on her hands. The only time she got like this was when something bad happened to a member of the group, her own self not included, of course. She finally spoke, though. “How could anyone create something in the epheria?” The skepticism in the girl’s voice bordered on contempt. Deities, but Namiss hated it when those she cared about were met with danger.

“We do it all the time,” Lorin countered.

“You don’t create, you destroy. You break down objects into dust, or…water.” Namiss glanced at Sifani with a slight, appreciative smile. “Creating something would be the reverse of everything you’ve been practicing.”

Lorin shrugged. “Maybe not. Maybe it’s just the reverse side of the coin.” To demonstrate, he slipped a gold quint from his pocket and flicked it toward Namiss flirtatiously. Namiss caught it in one fist and threw it at his chest.

“Lorin’s right,” Sifani said.

Namiss grimaced at her. Sifani thought that was because she had sided with Lorin, until Namiss continued, “I wish that you hadn’t said that, Sif. Because if Lorin really is right, and someone created the dog-creatures in the epheria, the person who did has to be unimaginably powerful – much more powerful than either you or Lorin.”

“Yes.” Sifani put her palms down on the table, staring through it.

She saw Lorin’s head come up suddenly, and he looked at her oddly as if realizing something. She met his eyes with a challenging stare, but instead of giving her a roguish grin as he was wont to do, Lorin worked his lower lip. That was something he only did when in deep and serious thought.

It wasn’t until the group dispersed for their rooms that Sifani thought about Lorin’s strange reaction again. She had left Namiss behind in the central room and was padding back down the corridor alone, when a soft footfall joined with hers. Nerves still in alert, she spun with fists brandished – right into Lorin.

He caught both her fists in his large hands, and before Sifani could say a word, he turned her about and began hustling her – as gently as a person can hustle someone – toward her room by the shoulders.

“We need to talk,” he whispered grimly.

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