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The Ships of Air
Book Two of The Fall of Ile-Rien


The Ships of Air cover Hardback: HarperCollins Eos, July 2004.
Cover by Donato Giancola.
Paperback: November 2005 from HarperCollins Eos.


To save the remnants of her country, former playwright Tremaine Valiarde undertakes an epic journey to stop the Gardier. Rescuing the proud ship Queen Ravenna from destruction, Tremaine and a resolute band of warriors and mages set sail across magical seas on a voyage of danger and discovery. For the secret to defeating the enemy and to rescuing the world from Gardier's inimitable hatred lies far beyond the walls of the world, and only the tenuous ties of friendship and honor will keep them together.


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Foreign Editions:
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Audiobook: Tantor Audio, narrated by Talmadge Ragan

eBook and audiobook available on iTunes




So we made ready to leave the shore of the Isle of Storms, in hope of never setting foot on it again.
"Ravenna's voyage to the Unknown Eastlands," V. Madrais Translation


Tremaine picked her way along the ledge, green stinking canal on one hand, rocky outcrop sprouting dense dark foliage on the other. She was exhausted and footsore and at the moment profoundly irritated. She said in exasperation, "All they have to do is get on the damn ship. Is that really going to be so hard?"

"It's the eyes," Giliead told her obliquely. He and Ilias were just ahead of her on the narrow shelf of rock, both men having a far easier time of traversing it than she was. The mossy water a few feet below was foul-smelling and stagnant, inhabited only by weeds and the occasional brightly-colored snake. These canals cut through the rocky island in several directions, leading to and from the stone buildings that housed entrances to the deserted waterlogged city that wove through the caves below. The builders, whoever they were, had used black stones twenty or thirty feet long to line the watercourse, stacking them like tree trunks in the same way they built their underground walls and bridges.

"The ship doesn't have eyes," Tremaine protested. The air was heavy with moisture and the canal overhung by the twisted dark-leaved trees; the overcast sky made it even more dim. For years the island had been a trap for seagoing vessels and the crews who sailed them; the whole place felt as if the corruption in the caves below had crept up through the roots of the stunted jungle.

"That's the problem," Giliead said, glancing back at her as he brushed a branch aside. "She just looks like--"

"A big blind giant," Ilias supplied, balancing agilely on the slick stones. They were both Syprians, natives of this world on the other side of the etheric gateway from Ile-Rien. They were brothers, though only by adoption and they looked nothing alike. Ilias had a stocky muscular build and a wild mane of blond hair, some of it tied into a queue that hung down his back. He wore battered dark pants and boots with a sleeveless blue shirt trimmed with leather braid. Giliead was built on a bigger scale, nearly a head taller than Ilias, with chestnut braids and olive skin, dressed in a dark brown shirt under a leather jerkin. Both wore more jewelry than had been fashionable for men in Ile-Rien for many years; copper earrings, armbands with copper disks. Ilias also had a silver mark on his cheek in the shape of a half-moon, but that wasn't meant to be decorative.

Tremaine let out a frustrated breath as she ducked under a heavy screen of pungent leaves. She was the odd woman out, with short mousey brown hair and sunburned skin. She was wearing Syprian clothing too, a loose blue tunic block-printed with green and gold designs and breeches of a soft doeskin. Her clothes were a little the worse for wear but in better shape than the unlamented tweed outfits she had left behind in Ile-Rien.

At the moment all three of them were covered with bruises, howler scratches and patches of mud and slime from the walls of the underground passages. The last few days had been nothing but fighting and running and swimming and falling and Tremaine just wanted everyone to quietly get on the ship so they could get the hell away from here. She had also gone to a great deal of trouble to steal the Queen Ravenna for just this purpose and she wanted her new friends to like it. So far they had stubbornly refused to share her enthusiasm. Even Ilias, who had actually sailed on the ship briefly.

"It won't matter how big the ship is as long as she sails by curses," Giliead continued frankly. "They're never going to get used to that."

Tremaine knew he was probably right, though she wasn't ready to admit it aloud. Syprian civilization was considerably more primitive than Ile-Rien's and they regarded any mechanical object, from electric lights to clocks, as magical. Worse, Syprians hated magic, since all their sorcerers were murdering lunatics. It was a minor miracle that they had managed to get to this point, where a woman from Ile-Rien who was a friend of sorcerers could talk about this subject with Syprians at all. It helped that they were a sea people and fairly cosmopolitan, despite their prejudices. "But the Ravenna doesn't use magic," she pointed out. "The steam engines--" She stopped when she realized the words were coming out in Rienish. If there was a Syrnaic word for "steam engine" the translation spell that had given Tremaine the knowledge of the language hadn't seen fit to include it. "There's boilers, and you put water in them, and burn coal or oil or something, and the steam makes it go. It's not magic," she finished lamely.

Giliead and Ilias paused to exchange a look; Giliead's half of it was dubious and Ilias' was ironic. "They always say that," Ilias put in. He had spent nearly one whole day in Tremaine's home of Ile-Rien and now qualified as the local expert. "Wagons without horses, wizard lights, wizard weapons, there's an explanation for everything."

Giliead shook his head as he started forward again. "If that's our only way off the island, we're going to have trouble."

Ilias nodded. "It doesn't matter about me, I'm marked anyway," he said matter-of-factly. The mark he spoke of was the little half-moon of silver branded into his cheek. It was what Syprian law said anyone who had ever fallen under a sorcerer's curse should wear. "And Gil's exempt from the law because he's a Chosen Vessel, but it's the others I'm worried about. If the people in Cineth harbor see them come off that ship they could all end up ostracized or worse. And some of the younger ones come from pretty good families, they could still have a chance of getting married."

Tremaine considered that, frowning. There were a lot of things she didn't understand about the Syprians yet. In many ways their society was a matriarchy; men seemed to hold the public offices like warleader and lawgiver but weren't allowed to own property, and family status was important. The Andrien, the family Giliead had been born into and Ilias adopted by, had had its ups and downs, mostly due to Giliead being the local god's Chosen Vessel. The three female heirs to Andrien had all been killed by the sorcerer Ixion, leaving the family in danger of losing their land when Giliead's mother Karima died.

"They could end up ostracized," Giliead agreed. "But that's if we can get them aboard her in the first place." He didn't sound sanguine about the prospect.

It was the only way off the island at the moment and Tremaine didn't want to contemplate leaving anyone here. "So you're not even curious to see the inside?" she prompted, trying a different tack. "Ilias did."

Giliead just looked back at her, not the least bit impressed by this technique.

Ilias snorted, swinging sure-footedly over a gap in the stone. "I didn't have a choice."

Tremaine knew what he meant; the Ravenna had been the only way for him to return with the rescue party, to get back to his own world. She had been hoping the Syprians would like the Ravenna or at least get used to her. The way they acted toward their own vessels seemed to suggest ships were fairly important in their society. Ilias had become somewhat accustomed to the Ravenna but he and Giliead were much more used to strange sights and magic than most Syprians. She said dryly, "I failed to notice your helplessness."

Instead of retaliating verbally, Ilias just grinned and deftly caught her when her foot slipped.

Recovering her balance with his help, Tremaine was glad she hadn't gone headfirst into the canal; once her clothes were soaked with water she didn't think she would have had the strength to climb out again and that would have been embarrassing. She said reluctantly, "Nobody would necessarily have to see them get off the ship. We could send all of you ashore in one of the launches some place nearby but out of sight." Tremaine was a little reluctant to suggest this idea, considering what she thought Ilias' feelings on the subject were. She knew that when he had been cursed by Ixion, no one but he and Giliead had known, and Ilias had still insisted on turning himself in to receive the curse mark. "Then you could warn the city that we were coming before we could sail into the harbor."

"That might be best." Giliead had to crouch to duck under some dark trailing vines. Pausing to hold them up for Tremaine, he threw Ilias a thoughtful look, as if he had had the same qualm.

But Ilias just said, "There would be less trouble that way."

Ducking under the vines, Tremaine absently watched the display of flexed muscle as Ilias hauled himself up on a heavier branch to swing across another gap in the stone. She wasn't sure "less trouble" was a realistic expectation. But whatever happened, the Ravenna would be leaving this area soon, steaming through the unfamiliar waters of this world until it was safe to open the etheric world-gate again and bring the ship to port in Capidara, one of Ile-Rien's only surviving allies.

They still knew little about their enemies, except that they came from somewhere in this world. The Gardier used the etheric gate spell to reach their targets in Ile-Rien and Adera, something no one had realized until Arisilde Damal and Tremaine's father Nicholas Valiarde had somehow stolen the spell from them. After both men had disappeared, it had taken the Viller Institute sorcerers years to discover what the gate spell was and where the Gardier were coming from.

The spell needed two things to create a gate to another world: a circle of arcane symbols that no one properly understood and a sorcerer using one of the Viller spheres. Carrying her circle with her gave the Ravenna great mobility in travelling back and forth between worlds. As far as they knew, the Gardier didn't have circles on their ships or airships, and so could only create gates when they were close enough to one of their bases where a circle was located. They had destroyed the Gardier spell circle on this island; hopefully that would keep the Gardier ships blockading the coast of Ile-Rien from coming through the gate after them. It would not stop attack by the Gardier already in this world.

A shout from above startled Tremaine. "Now what?" They were so close to temporary safety and she was so tired. The two men plunged ahead, splashing in the stagnant water. They were closer than she thought; only a few yards along was the break in the canal where a rough set of stairs led up the steep overgrown hill.

Tremaine reached the opening and scrambled up the steps after Giliead and Ilias, both almost at the top by now. The short scrubby trees and thorny thick-leaved vines clutched at her and she clawed at the muddy rock to drag her weary body up. The stairs led into a dark flat-roofed stone building that was now filled with milling refugees, some whispering in anger or panic and some fearfully silent. She shouldered into the path through the crowd that the two men had already made, coming out of the wide square doorway into the plaza.

The little group of stone structures stood on a bluff looking out over the misty sea, all probably built about the same time as the underwater city; the stunted trees and thick carpet of vegetation had had time to eat away sections of the paving. Another flat-roofed building stood at a right angle to this one, concealing a shaft leading down to the caves.

Most of the freed prisoners had drawn back against the dark walls. They were all from Ile-Rien's world on the other side of the etheric gateway, a mix of Maiutans and other South Sea Islanders, Parscians, with a few Rienish. They had been captured and brought to this world by the Gardier as slave labor for their base in the island's caves.

Wrapped in a canvas tarp and lying by itself on the pavement was the currently inert body of the former owner of those caves, the sorcerer Ixion. Tremaine stared warily at the bundle, wondering if Ixion had decided to rejoin the living and that was what had upset everyone. But Giliead and Ilias stood with Ander, Florian and the group of Rienish soldiers and Syprian sailors who had led the attack on the base, all looking out to sea. After a baffled moment Tremaine saw what had caught their attention: About three hundred yards from shore the low dark outline of a Gardier gunship moved silently through the mist.

Oh, no, Tremaine thought, her stomach clenching as she moved to join the others. It wasn't the gunship from the Gardier's harbor on the far side of the island, even she could tell that. This boat was longer than that one and had a second gun on the stern. "How long--?"

Florian glanced at her, her expression desperate. "We just saw it a few moments ago." She was younger than Tremaine, a slight girl with short red hair, dressed in stained khaki knickers and a dark pullover sweater. It had been Tremaine, Gerard, Florian and Ander who had first come through the etheric gateway, scouting the approach to the Gardier base, and been shipwrecked here. Gerard was back at the cove now where the Ravenna would be landing her launches in preparation for taking them all aboard.

Giliead must have already informed Ander of the situation because he turned impatiently to Tremaine, demanding, "It was the Ravenna? You saw it?"

Ander Destan was a tall dark-haired man, conventionally handsome. He was only a few years older than Tremaine but was already a Captain in the Ile-Rien Army Intelligence Corps, or what was left of it. He had never quite trusted the Syprians the way she, Florian and Gerard had, but Tremaine could tell this wasn't disbelief of Giliead's truthfulness. It was pure relief; after seeing the gunship, a viable escape route probably seemed like too much to ask for. She nodded hurriedly. "Gerard's there with Niles now, the launches will be waiting for us in that cove where we met the Swift." She waved her arms. "We need to get moving!"

None of the Syprians gathered around could understand Rienish and Tremaine heard Ilias rapidly briefing Halian on the situation. Halian was Giliead's stepfather and had been captain of the Swift; he was an older man than any of the other Syprians except Gyan, with a weathered face and graying dark hair. Halian turned to the other Syprian crew members gathered worriedly around and said, "Break them up into groups and start leading them down the canal. There's boats waiting at Dead Tree Point."

Florian pressed forward, following the men as they scattered. "I'll translate for them." She and Ander were the only other Rienish besides Gerard and Tremaine who spoke the Syprians' language Syrnaic. "Oh, here." She dashed back to hand Tremaine the battered leather bag that held the sphere.

Tremaine took it absently, hanging it over her shoulder as she watched the Syprians spread out to herd the freed slaves down the steps to the canal. The Gardier's prisoners had had to be in fair health to survive this long but some of them were disoriented and shocked by their long captivity underground and the swiftness and violence of their escape. Some didn't speak Rienish, so that made it even more difficult. Getting them on the motor launches waiting in the cove would be less of a problem; once they saw the boats they would surely know it was their best escape. The Syprians were going to be the problem then. I'm not leaving anybody behind, Tremaine thought grimly. Not this time.

Ander's military team were gathered around the eleven captured Gardier; Tremaine moved to join them. The prisoners sat on the broken moss-stained stone of the plaza in a sullen group, their hands bound with the same chains they had used on their slaves. With pale skin and heads shaved to stubble, they all looked alike to Tremaine. Their brown coverall uniforms with heavy boots and close fitting caps had nothing to distinguish one from the other. They were a different problem altogether. Tremaine eyed them, deciding it looked like a problem that could be solved by eleven bullets.

"The wireless?" Basimi, one of the Rienish soldiers, turned to ask Ander.

Ander squinted at the wireless that had brought them the Ravenna's signal. "Take the box, leave the antennae." It was strung up across the two stone buildings and would be too much trouble to remove. And the Gardier knew they were here, there was no point in trying to remove any trace of their presence.

Ander stepped toward the Gardier prisoners, watching them thoughtfully. He grasped the Gardier translator disk around his neck, saying carefully, "Get up, follow us quietly and you won't be harmed." They had captured several of the translators, small silver medallions with an inset crystal that held the spell that converted the speaker's words to the Gardier language. They translated only Rienish unfortunately and didn't work for Syrnaic.

Most of the Gardier just stared at him but one spoke rapidly in a high light voice, the disk translating his words, "Free us and surrender. You will be well-treated--"

Tremaine, her eyes on the long black shape of the gunship plowing through the gray sea, suddenly had enough. That a Gardier, sitting there in chains surrounded by Rienish, would still have the gall to try to dictate terms was too much. The slaves, the people fleeing Vienne knowing they had no control over their lives, poor dead Rulan's betrayal, what the Gardier had done to Arisilde, all came together in perfect clarity for her.

Basimi had set his captured Gardier rifle aside so he could pack the wireless box; Tremaine walked across the plaza to pick it up. Distracted and thinking she was just relieving him of a burden, he barely glanced at her.

Tremaine hefted it thoughtfully. The weight and stock felt odd in her hands and there was no safety. Crossing back to the Gardier, she pumped it to get a cartridge into the chamber. She stopped beside Ander, lifting it to her shoulder to aim at the Gardier spokesman. The man's expression went from stoic contempt to fear, his dark eyes widening in alarm. Good, she thought. I'd hate to take you by surprise. Then before her finger could tighten on the trigger a long arm reached over her shoulder and grabbed the barrel.

It was Giliead. Tremaine tried to hold on to the gun but had to give up before her hand got caught in the trigger guard. Ander was staring, startled. From across the plaza Ilias shouted, "Tremaine, stop that!"

"They won't move!" She gestured in frustration at the Gardier. She wondered if anybody else was appreciating the irony of the barbarian Syprians preventing the civilized woman of Ile-Rien from shooting the prisoners. Some of the ex-slaves had stopped to watch, probably hoping to see her do it. Ander and Basimi and the other Rienish military men were staring in disbelief. Why do they all look like this is such a bad idea? "We can't leave them, they know too much about us! What else are we going to do?"

"Not that." Giliead's expression was way too reasonable for her current mood. "They're not wizards," he said patiently. "And they're helpless." He held the gun away from his body, his distaste for what he thought of as a curse weapon evident, but there was no way she could get it away from him.

"Then let them loose and I'll pick them off on the run." But the moment of cold uncontrolled fury was fading. Tremaine knew she wasn't in touch with her own emotions at the best of times but maybe this was a little much. She pushed her hair back, looking away.

Ilias rolled his eyes and turned back to helping one of the Parscian women to her feet, obviously leaving the situation to Giliead, who just watched her calmly. If he had said aloud "I've given you my position on this and I'm not going to argue about it" it couldn't have been more clear.

"Tremaine, would you mind if I handled this?" Ander said with sarcastic emphasis. He was past astonishment and on to exasperated anger, the usual emotional state he and Tremaine communicated in. "Would that be all right with you?"

Tremaine folded her arms and told him, "Somebody figure this out right now or we do it my way." She couldn't back the threat up with Giliead standing ready to wrestle another gun away from her but maybe in the heat of the moment nobody would figure that out.

The conversation had been in Syrnaic and with Florian down on the stairs urging along the first group of prisoners, Ander and the Syprians were the only ones who had understood it. He turned to the Gardier again, grasping the translator, and shouted, "Get up! I won't ask it again!"

Maybe his grim face convinced them, though Tremaine thought it was probably her he wanted to throw off the cliff. Two of the Gardier stumbled to their feet and the others followed, the spokesman last and most reluctant, with the Rienish soldier Deric giving him a poke with a rifle to hurry him along. The other members of Ander's military team closed around them, shepherding them toward the stairs after the last group of refugees.

Ander stopped beside Tremaine. She expected another sarcastic comment but he said reluctantly, "At least you got them moving. They really thought you meant it."

As he moved away Tremaine clapped a hand over her eyes. It would have been worth it, just to show Ander. He had known her for years longer than anyone else here except Gerard, and yet he didn't know her at all. She lifted her head to find herself sharing a look with Giliead. His mouth quirked and she had the sudden feeling he understood.

Basimi, the wireless box packed in its case and tucked under his arm, pointed at the gun. "Uh, Ma'am, could you ask him if I could have--"

"Yes, sorry." Tremaine rubbed her face, trying to collect herself. She told Giliead in Syrnaic, "He wants the weapon back."

Giliead handed it over as Ilias came up to them. He gave Tremaine a pointed look and she snapped, "Don't you start."

He ignored her, turning to Giliead. "You ready to take Ixion?"

Giliead let out a breath, his expression darkening as he looked at the canvas-wrapped bundle lying on the broken pavement. Moving the sorcerer's body wouldn't disrupt the ward Gerard had placed on it, but Tremaine wouldn't have had that job for anything, and Ilias looked as if this was as close as he planned to get to it. They both watched Giliead lift the body and heave it over his shoulder.

***

Tremaine hurriedly picked her way along the edge of the canal after Ilias and the others, the sphere's bag bumping her familiarly in the hip. I feel like I just did this. Oh right, I did. The overcast sky was darkening rapidly and the canal had become a dim gray-green tunnel as the overhanging vegetation screened what little light remained. Giliead, still carrying Ixion, had gone up ahead to talk to Halian, jumping down into the canal and wading through the waist-deep water past the line of refugees making their way along the stone ledge. Ander and the other Rienish were herding the Gardier prisoners through the canal up near the front of the line. Basimi was just ahead of Ilias, burdened with the wireless box and the rifle slung over his back. Tremaine had offered to carry the gun for him but for some reason he had declined.

Most of the refugees were moving quickly, carrying the injured, helping each other along, spurred by fear of recapture. Occasional stragglers still fell behind, dazed by the suddenness of events or too scarred by their long captivity to really understand what was happening. Ilias plunged into the water frequently to hand them back up to their companions or to just get them pointed in the right direction. "It's not the ones who are still trying to move you've got to worry about," he commented to Tremaine, hauling himself out onto the stone pathway again, dripping with the stagnant water and with his arms and chest stained with moss. "If they have to be carried there's more chance they might go dead later."

Tremaine grabbed the shoulder of his shirt, more to steady herself than him, since he was far more sure-footed on the slippery stone. "What do you mean 'go dead?'" Her knowledge of Syrnaic having come from a spell rather than studying the language, she found she actually did know some of the local idiom, but this one escaped her.

Ilias pushed to his feet, shoved the wet hair out of his eyes and moved after the others. "It's when someone's been caught or had their village cursed by a wizard, and they just never get over it. They won't talk, won't recognize their family, won't eat or drink unless you make them. You've seen that before?"

"Yes, I know what you mean." Tremaine digested that, not liking the implications. If the other Syprians were really that affected by exposure to magic, then that didn't bode well for a future contact between the cities of the Syrnai and Ile-Rien's government-in-exile. The Andrien family had accepted them, but then they had felt obligated by all the mutual life-saving that had gone on between Tremaine, Florian and Ander when they had been stranded in the underground city searching for Gerard, and Ilias, who had been likewise searching for Giliead. And Giliead's mother Karima had managed to reconcile herself to having a son who was a Chosen Vessel, so getting used to the idea of wizards as allies probably wasn't as hard for her as the others. Tremaine had noted that Halian's son Nicanor, the current lawgiver of Cineth, had barely deigned to look at them.

"Anything I should know?" Basimi asked, glancing cautiously back at them. The conversation had been in Syrnaic and he hadn't understood it.

He was a hard-faced wiry man who was one of the few who had volunteered to follow Ander back to this world to infiltrate the Gardier base. Tremaine knew nothing about him except that he probably wasn't a traitor like Rulan. "Just chatting," she told him.

The first of the refugees must have reached the cove long before them. As they finally climbed up the canal's embankment near the bluff, Tremaine foundered in the sudden high wind. Following the last of the stragglers, Basimi staggered under the burden of the wireless. Ilias stopped, looking worriedly up at the cloud-heavy sky. "This isn't natural," he muttered. Tremaine was uncomfortably reminded of the spell-driven storm that had swamped the pilot boat when they had first been stranded on the island.

She stumbled around the rocks to see the little sandy cove and the even more welcome sight of two motor launches moored in the shallows. They were sturdy boats each almost forty feet long, painted gray to match the Ravenna's war camouflage, with steel hulls, diesel engines and canvas canopies to protect the occupants from the weather. The surf rolled in around them, white and frothy, and the wind lifted the sand in stinging sheets. Another boat already packed with people steamed away between the tall rocks, fighting the waves, heading for the safety of the larger ship anchored somewhere in the heavy mist outside the cove. At least Tremaine hoped the Ravenna meant safety. She couldn't see Niles but Gerard and a couple of men in the short jackets and pants of the red-trimmed dark blue of undress Rienish naval uniforms were helping the refugees onto the first launch. Florian was at his side.

Tremaine trotted across the sand, the wind tossing her hair, and got there in time to hear the other girl say, "Gerard, is this an etheric storm?" Florian squinted up at the streaming clouds overhead, her face white and strained, having to nearly shout to be heard over the roar of the surf.

"I'm afraid so." Gerard winced away from the spray as the waves broke around the launch's hull. He was a tall man in his early forties, with dark hair just lightly touched with gray. He was currently wearing Syprian clothing, battered dark pants and a loose mud-stained white shirt with a green sash; he was a sorcerer and had been Tremaine's guardian before she was old enough to assume control of the Valiarde family fortunes. "It's nearly impossible for us to call up weather magic so quickly but we've seen the Gardier do it before."

Florian gave Tremaine a concerned look as she approached. "Is that all of them? Ander already took the Gardier on another boat."

"We're the last," Tremaine told her, looking around for the Syprians. They were gathered in a group over by the rocks and Giliead, hands planted on his hips, was talking to them. Ilias had gone to stand at his side. That doesn't look good, she thought grimly. She noticed Giliead didn't have the canvas-wrapped bundle anymore. "Where's Ixion? Did they put him in the boat?"

"On the other one." Gerard nodded, indicating the launch wallowing in the surf a little further down. "That's the boat you'll be taking. I want the sphere to stay fairly near him."

"Are they coming?" Florian shielded her eyes from the spray, looking at the Syprians worriedly. "I know they think the engines are magic but it's their only chance."

"I'll go see." Stumbling in the wet sand, Tremaine went over to join the group.

Arites, a young man with wild brown hair who was a Syprian poet, was standing with Dyani, Gyan's young foster daughter. She was a slight girl with dark brown hair tied back in a loose ponytail. Gyan himself looked grave and Halian was fuming with frustration and anger. Most of the others hovered between confused and rebellious. "I won't do it," one of them was saying stubbornly. He was big like Giliead, but with darker hair and a boxer's mashed nose. "It was bad enough letting them curse the Swift and we saw what happened to her--"

"It was Ixion's curseling that did that," Gyan objected. Tremaine was glad he was on their side. He was an older man, with a heavy build and a good-humored face, balding with a long fringe of gray hair. He was much respected by the other crew. "And Gerard's curse got us out of that prison--"

"But you can't ask us to get on that wizard ship!"

"It's not magic," Tremaine protested helplessly. "The lights, the engines, it's steam turbines and--" She stopped in exasperation when she realized the words were coming out in Rienish because there were no equivalents in Syrnaic. "Dammit!"

"I've been on the wizard ship," Ilias began patiently. "It's not--"

"You've got nothing to lose," the man snapped at him.

Ilias' expression went stony and he stepped back, reflexively drawing away from the group.

That did it for Giliead. He looked the men over with grim contempt. "I'm going. Anyone who wants to stay, we'll send help back to you. If the howlers or the Gardier wizards leave anything."

"Wait." Halian fixed an eye on the objector and said, almost too quietly for Tremaine to hear over the rising wind, "So you're Captain now, Dannor?"

"Maybe he ought to be," somebody else piped up.

Without taking his eyes off Halian, Dannor back-handed the offender in the mouth, saying, "When I want you to talk for me I'll tell you."

"Tremaine!" Gerard shouted from the launches. "We have to go!"

"Go on!" she turned to yell. "We'll take the other boat." I hope. She could feel the sphere shaking violently in its bag and wondered if it was responding to the argument or the growing storm.

"The thing is, Dannor," Halian said, still softly, "Either you're making yourself Captain, or you're not."

Dannor breathed hard, something flat and desperate in his eyes. Halian had been Cineth's warleader once, Tremaine remembered. Dannor looked like he knew why Halian had been chosen for that job and didn't want to find out all over again. He stared out toward where the Ravenna lay, obscured by the heavy mist and the black rocks that sheltered the cove. A scatter of raindrops pelted the sand around them and thunder rumbled. "Halian, I--"

Halian's grim expression didn't soften. "Do you really think I'd ask you to do this if it wasn't the only choice?"

Gerard had splashed back out of the surf and started across the beach toward them. The other boat was leaving, she could see Florian standing in the stern watching them, hanging on to a stanchion as it fought the waves. The last one, empty but for two Rienish sailors, still waited. Tremaine was turning to tell Gerard to go back when sand suddenly blew up in her face and something shoved her hard from behind. She hit the wet beach face first.

The next thing she knew Gerard was dragging her upright, the sphere's bag knocking her in the stomach as she got her feet under her. "Ow," Tremaine protested weakly. Her ears rang, her head pounded, her teeth hurt. After everything else, it seemed especially unfair. "What happened?" The Syprians were scattered around her, sprawled in the sand or struggling to their feet.

Gerard spoke urgently but his voice sounded far away over the ringing in her ears. Giliead staggered upright, shaking his head, and Ilias rolled over, still stunned.

Tremaine gave up on trying to hear Gerard and looked around for the source of the explosion. She saw with shock that the big rock they had been standing near was missing a large chunk off the top. She could smell burning and the aftermath of a lightning strike. She pointed at it, tugging on Gerard's sleeve, trying to get him to look. "They're shelling us!"

Gerard gestured imperatively at the boat, shouting something that sounded tinny and far away. Ilias managed to struggle up and Giliead pulled Halian to his feet. He started pushing the others toward the beach. Tremaine reached to help Dyani but Gerard grabbed the other girl's arm and hauled them both toward the water.

Something flashed overhead, lighting up the gray sky, and Tremaine flinched. "What was that?" she demanded again.

Gerard's voice still sounded too far away but this time she understood his shout. "It's lightning, etheric lightning. The Gardier generated this storm and the lightning is aiming for us."

Damn. Tremaine stared up, stumbling as another flash lit the sky. The men on the boat were waving urgently for them to hurry. "Us specifically?" She looked around and saw with relief all the Syprians were with them, no one was staying behind. Dannor and Halian were half-carrying Gyan.

"Anything human," Gerard clarified.

"Why aren't we dead?" Dyani asked, looking up in terror at the flashes shooting across the gray sky.

"The sphere is deflecting it!"

Dyani probably didn't understand what that meant but Tremaine was a little reassured. Arisilde, locked inside the sphere, was fighting the Gardier spells for them.

They stumbled into the surf and the cool water shocked Tremaine out of her daze. Staggering in the waves they reached the boat. Tremaine grabbed the railing and looked for Ilias. She found him when he caught her around the waist and lifted her over the side.

The floorboards were already drenched with spray. Others tumbled in and Tremaine helped Gerard and Dyani steady Gyan as Halian boosted him up to climb the rail. The older man's face was red and he was breathing hard; Tremaine hoped he wasn't having a heart seizure. Then she saw the gray hair at back of his head was matted with blood and realized he must have been hit by a fragment of the shattered rock.

Giliead was the last to scramble in. The engine coughed to life, making the Syprians flinch in alarm, and the boat began to plow forward against the waves, taking them away from the island.






Chapter Two


The wall rose out of the sea and the fog, up and up, bigger than a mountain, taking up all the horizon like another sky....
"Ravenna's voyage to the Unknown Eastlands," Abignon Translation





Tremaine thought the water in the cove was rough but as the launch left the shelter of the rocks, the high waves flung it into a violent roll. She slid from her seat to the deck, clutching the bench and trying valiantly to keep her stomach down where it was supposed to be. She hadn't ever been sea sick before but the waves tossed the boat like a tin cup.

Gerard pushed his way up to the bow and held on to the rail next to the sailor wrestling with the wheel. Everyone else was clinging to the seats, trying to brace themselves. Ilias was beside Tremaine, gripping a stanchion, and Giliead was braced next to him. Even with the wind and the spray in their faces they were watching something with awed expressions. Whatever it was Tremaine didn't think she wanted to see it. The sudden onset of nausea had sucked any interest in staying alive right out of her; it was almost like being back home again. Then the wind died suddenly and she realized the sea was less violent, the boat's wild dips and sways less agonizing. She grabbed the rail and dragged herself up a little to look.

At first all she saw was a giant gray wall. She thought it was mist or a low cloud formation, then she realized it was the Ravenna, looming over the little boat like an avalanche. Ilias and Giliead must have been watching her advance and turn.

The pilot turned from the wheel to shout, "We're all right now! She's come to our windward side so we're in her lee."

Oh good, an optimist, Tremaine thought. "She's shielding us from the wind," she translated it into Syrnaic for the Syprians, though being sailors they probably didn't need her to tell them what had happened.

The boat chugged rapidly toward the Ravenna now, making good progress over the still rough sea. Peering up at the ship, Tremaine could see a few lights glowing along the upper decks and a searchlight sweeping the water, fixing on the launch to guide it in. The gray paint made the ship fade into the heavy overcast sky and her upper decks were draped in mist. It fell over the ship like a giant's shroud, catching in diaphanous streamers on the three enormous smokestacks. In actual physical size she didn't dwarf the island behind them but she gave the impression she wanted to try. The Ravenna had been built to be a passenger liner, the largest in the Lenaire Solar line, and she was far from home, just like everyone else from Ile-Rien.

Somehow approaching the liner by sea was more daunting than just walking up to her on the dock; the Ravenna was free now and all powerful in her element. As they drew steadily closer to that great gray wall, Tremaine suddenly remembered the smashed warehouse and the sheared-off pier, victims of a miscalculation during the ship's leave-taking from Port Rel. It had seemed funny at the time; it didn't now.

The pilot brought the little boat alongside the wall between dangling cables, then worked frantically with the other crewman's help to get them locked in place at either end of the boat. With the others, Tremaine stared nervously at the huge hull so dangerously close that she could count rivets. Gerard stood at the wheel, holding it steady as the two seamen worked. She saw Gyan on the other side, up toward the bow with Arites and Dyani; he looked a little better though his face was gray in the dim light. He was staring at the Ravenna with nervous astonishment. Halian shouldered his way back through the others, his face intent, leaning over to ask Tremaine, "What are they doing?"

Giliead and Ilias both leaned in to hear her answer. She swallowed to clear her throat and said, "They hook those cables to the front and the back and then there's an electric winch to haul the boat up to the deck where they uh...keep boats." She knew about the procedure in principle but had never gone through it herself.

Giliead and Halian exchanged a dubious look and Ilias leaned back on the rail, craning his neck to look up at the height above them.

Halian nodded in resignation, squeezed her arm and said, "Don't tell anyone else."

Finally one of the seamen signalled to those waiting above and the lifeboat started to lift, moving a little in the wind. Some men shifted and called out in alarm but Halian snapped at them to be quiet. It seemed to take forever and Tremaine tightened her grip on the bench, reminding herself that if the Rienish woman who was supposed to be blase about all this got hysterical everybody else was bound to do it too. She saw portholes in the Ravenna's side, then larger windows streaked with water from the spray, then suddenly the boat swayed in toward an open deck, bumping against the ship's railing.

Tremaine stumbled as she stood and Giliead caught her arm to help her. A seaman held a gate in the ship's railing open and she stepped up on a bench and climbed through it, finding herself on the Ravenna's polished wooden deck in a milling confusion of sailors, freed prisoners and people she vaguely recognized from the Viller Institute. The deck was rolling but it was nothing after being thrown around in the little launch. The wind was still harsh but the other stowed lifeboats, their canopies flattened down, hung overhead in their curved davits, forming a sheltering partial roof for the deck.

A little dazed, Tremaine noticed some of the sailors were women, their hair cropped short or tightly bound back under their caps. Early losses at the beginning of the war meant there were now more women serving in the army and the fragments left of the navy than ever before in Rienish history. It didn't surprise Tremaine that the Ravenna, designated as a last-ditch evacuation transport when the pilot boat had failed to return with the sphere, had ended up with a lot of female crew. It also meant they would all have only a few years experience at most and that none had ever worked on a ship like this before.

Tremaine watched the others clamber off the boat and then Gerard appeared at her side, guiding her to an open hatch. A seaman stood beside it, motioning for them to hurry. Tremaine dragged her feet, looking back to make sure the Syprians were following, then ducked inside.

Getting out of the wind was an immediate relief; with everyone else Tremaine jostled down a narrow wood-panelled stairwell that opened abruptly into a large area, brightly lit and teeming with refugees from the Gardier base, more Viller Institute staff and crew members trying to get them all to go somewhere. Voices spoke urgently in Rienish, Maiutan, Parscian; freed slaves who had held together throughout the battle and the trek across the island were falling down on the tiled floor and weeping with relief. Tremaine stumbled and leaned on a wall of finely polished cherrywood. Over the heads of the crowd, she spotted green marble pillars and the top of a glassed-in kiosk. "Promenade deck," she said to herself, relieved. Now she had her bearings; they had come down a full level from the boat deck above and were in the ship's main hall and shopping arcade. Past the people clustering around she could see that the glass cabinets for the shops along the walls were dark and empty.

"Gerard!" Someone forced his way through the crowd. "There you are," he said, as if Gerard had been deliberately concealing himself. It was Breidan Niles, the sorcerer who had brought the Queen Ravenna through the etheric world gate to this temporary safety. He had narrow features, fair hair slicked back and wore an exquisitely tailored country walking suit. Despite the appearance of a man who should be lounging decoratively at one of the expensive and fashionable cafes along the Boulevard of Flowers, Niles had been working on the Viller Institute's defense project as long as Gerard. As the other primary sorcerer on the project, his role had been to stay in Ile-Rien to watch over things there; this evacuation had been his first chance to travel through the gate.

Before Niles could continue, Gerard interrupted, "There's a problem. We're holding an enemy sorcerer called Ixion." Gerard gestured toward the damp canvas-wrapped bundle Giliead was just depositing on the floor. "He isn't a Gardier; he's a native collaborator. He's apparently perfected a consciousness transference spell that can take effect at the moment of his death. Now he seems to be in some sort of comatose state. Giliead here is something of an expert on this subject and he believes it's very possible that Ixion has another body waiting somewhere that he can transfer into if we attempt to harm this one."

"I see." The crowd noise rose and fell around them but Niles stroked his chin thoughtfully, eyeing the quiescent bundle as if they were standing in a quiet library. "No chance we could tempt him over to our side?"

Gerard's mouth twisted in distaste. "I rather doubt it. From what our allies tell us the Syprian sorcerers are all quite mad. My experience with Ixion certainly bears that out."

Niles' frown deepened. He pulled a booklet with a printed cover out of his coat pocket and began to flip hurriedly through it. Tremaine stared. It looked like a tourist brochure. "What is that?" she demanded.

"A map of the ship for passengers," Niles explained. "There were bundles of them in the Purser's office. They come in handy since so many of the crew were assigned here just yesterday." He glanced at Gerard. "Thorny problem. But this Ixion isn't resistant to our spells like the Gardier?"

"No, not resistant at all, fortunately." Gerard pushed damp hair out of his face. "Does the ship have a brig?"

"No, but there's a secure area meant for stowaways. That's where your Gardier prisoners have been packed off to." Niles' brows lifted as he studied the map. "The ship does have an extensive cold storage capability."

Gerard smiled thinly. "That's a thought."

Giliead touched Tremaine's arm, asking uneasily, "What are they saying about Ixion?"

Tremaine started. Standing here listening to Gerard and Niles talk, she had almost drifted off. "They've thought of a place to keep him," she explained, switching back to Syrnaic with an effort and trying to look alert. "A locked cold room somewhere."

He nodded, pressing his lips together. "I'll take him there."

"No!" One of the Syprians protested. Tremaine craned her neck and saw it was Dannor. Of course. "You brought us here, you stay with us."

Tremaine saw Halian's face suffuse with red. Ilias muttered something under his breath that hadn't been included in the sphere's translation spell. But it was obvious the others agreed, except maybe Arites who was staring around in anxious curiosity. It's a good thing they don't know Niles is a sorcerer, Tremaine realized. Ilias knew from his brief visit to Ile-Rien, but he didn't look inclined to mention it. The Syprians had gotten used to Gerard but there was no telling how they would react to another Rienish sorcerer, especially as unsettled as they were now.

Watching with concern, Gerard told Giliead, "It's all right, we can take care of it ourselves. I still have a ward of impermeability on Ixion."

Giliead hesitated, threw a dark look at Dannor, then said reluctantly, "All right."

"Very well." Gerard turned to Tremaine as Niles called over a couple of men to take Ixion. "Will you let me have the sphere?"

She nodded, handing him the bag wordlessly. The lights were too bright and everything was taking on a surreal tint, probably a product of her exhaustion. As he pushed off after Niles, Florian appeared, saying, "Were you the last, did everyone make it?"

Tremaine stared at her blankly. Florian, with her red hair tied tightly back and her face pale, seemed oddly normal against the chaotic background. Tremaine shook herself and nodded a shade too rapidly. "Yes, we were the last. Everyone made it."

"Good." Florian relaxed in relief. "I've got to go, I need to help them get some people down to the hospital."

"Good luck," Tremaine managed as the other girl slipped away through the crowd. She looked at the Syprians gathered around her. Dyani had fetched up next to Tremaine and she anxiously eyed the light in the wall above their heads. It was encased in a smooth crystal sheath mounted in a brass base. It took Tremaine a moment to realize what was wrong, then she said hurriedly, "The lights aren't magic, they just look that way." We need to get out of here, she thought wearily. She stood on tiptoes to see over the heads of the crowd; her legs felt like rubber.

"This way," she said in Syrnaic and turned to follow the wall around. By this method she found the grand stairway at the back of the large chamber. She led the way down the carpeted steps, feeling the tension in her nerves ease as they left the noisy crowd behind. She glanced back to make sure the Syprians were following and saw Giliead and Halian both looking around, probably doing headcounts. Gyan was walking by himself but holding on to the wooden bannister with another man at his elbow watching him worriedly. Dannor, who had started the mutiny, looked wary and she was glad to see Ilias was right behind him.

The next deck was the First Class entrance hall she, Florian and Ilias had passed through when they had boarded the Ravenna in Port Rel. It was brightly lit now, the fine wood walls and the marble-tiled floor gleaming, and nearly as crowded as the main hall. Tremaine continued down to the next deck, finding a smaller carpeted lounge, mercifully unoccupied, with one wall taken up by the Steward's office. It was covered in sleek wood and had etched glass windows; there was a light on inside and the door was standing open. Tremaine hesitated and decided not to bother them. If she did, it would just give someone the opportunity to give her a lot of unnecessary instructions and orders.

Four large corridors led off from here, two toward the bow and two toward the stern. She picked the nearest and led the way down toward what should be the First Class staterooms. The corridor seemed to run most of the length of the ship, the patterned carpet making her a little dizzy as her eye followed it. The doors were in little vestibules opening off the corridor and she picked one at random. There was only one doorway in this vestibule so she hoped that meant it was a big room. "This is the place," she said over her shoulder, trying the handle. It was locked. She stepped back and gestured. "Can somebody open this?"

Halian stepped forward, took the handle and applied his shoulder to the fine-grained but light wooden door. Something cracked in the jamb and it swung obligingly open. It was dark inside and smelled dusty, unused. Tremaine stepped in, fumbling for the wall switches.

Behind her, Dyani whispered like a litany, "The lights aren't curses, they just look like it."

"It's all right," Ilias told her, managing to sound as if he believed it. "Really."

"Are there curses here?" somebody asked Giliead.

He hesitated an instant too long. "No."

Tremaine found two call buttons for the stewards before finally pushing the button for the lights. As the lamps flickered to life she saw she had struck gold. The lights were milky crystal lozenges set into cherrywood veneered walls and the floor had a deep tawny carpet. If Giliead could sense spells it might be the concealment wards protecting the ship from the Gardier; or the staterooms in this section might have been warded against thieves at the commercial liner's commission. If they had, nothing had happened when the door was forced open. She walked through a small foyer to a sitting room with gold upholstered chairs and two couches. The built-in writing desk, the silk pillows and the rich red drapes concealing the portholes in the far wall were all meant to make it look like the best hotel in Vienne rather than a ship's cabin.

The Syprians followed her with subdued murmurs of admiration at the furnishings. Gyan dropped down on one of the couches, clutching his head and groaning. Halian turned and in a grim tone that reminded Tremaine that he had raised at least two children, said, "None of you better break anything, I'm saying that right now."

Breathing space immediately formed around a delicate little marquetry table.

Muttering, "There's got to be beds somewhere," Tremaine shouldered her way through and fumbled at the latch of a sliding door in the other wall. She pushed it open to reveal a dining room with a fine wood table, more upholstered chairs, another built-in desk and chest of drawers, and another couch.

"Is it all like this?" Dyani asked in an awed whisper. Tremaine glanced back at her and saw the girl seemed to be over her fright. She looked more intrigued than afraid now. Ilias hadn't liked the ship much either, until he had seen some of the more richly decorated public rooms. The Syprians used a lot of color in the painted walls and floor mosaics of their own homes and the rich fabric and decoration must seem comfortable and familiar to them, unlike the starkness of the Gardier base.

"Normally they charge a lot of money to stay here," Tremaine told her, stepping into the dining room. She knew there were even better suites available, forward on the deck above the Promenade, just below where the Captain and the Chief Engineer had their quarters. Those were the ones meant for members of the royal family.

Pressing the switches for the lights as she went, Tremaine found two more unobtrusive panel doors that led into equally lavish bedrooms, with two double beds each and accompanying vanities and chests of drawers in the same cherrywood. There was also a smaller plainer bedroom that might be the maid's quarters though it was probably better than any of the Third Class rooms, and a large bathroom with gleaming taps and walls that looked like alabaster but probably weren't. She was momentarily stymied by the fact that all the beds had been stripped to the mattress covers; going off in search of the laundry, wherever it was in the bowels of the ship, was not high on her list of what to do next. But by opening all the doors and drawers she discovered a cabinet in the maid's room with neatly folded linens, towels, and silk bedcovers, all in red or gold to match the curtains and carpets. They weren't musty because the seals on the cabinet doors were nearly air tight and as she piled them into Dyani's arms the faint faded scent of lavender laundry soap puffed up from the folds. It was odd; the people who had carefully cleaned up after this suite's occupants on the ship's last voyage had probably never imagined that the next time she left port would be to carry refugees away from a devastated Ile-Rien.

In the sitting room everyone was finally starting to settle down. Ilias had shown the others how to get hot water out of the bathroom taps and Giliead was in there tending Gyan's head wound; Arites, deprived of paper and writing implements by the Gardier, was walking around muttering to himself, probably trying to memorize details; some of the men had just curled up in corners and gone to sleep. Tremaine found herself standing in front of the mural on the dining room wall, a surrealist mix of curves and angles. One of the men whose name she thought was Kias -- big, olive-skinned, with frizzy dark hair falling past his shoulders -- asked, "What is that supposed to be?"

"I don't know," Tremaine replied honestly. Her last dose of strong coffee had worn off far too long ago and the world felt distant and strange. The surrealist mural didn't help that sensation.

There was a knock at the door and several people flinched. "What now," Tremaine muttered and went to answer it.

Ilias followed her into the foyer, saying under his breath, "Did you steal this room too?"

Ilias had maintained that Tremaine's method of getting the Ravenna diverted to the Institute's use was stealing; that he was technically correct just made it worse. "How very helpful." Tremaine glared at him, then opened the door.

It was an older woman, slender, her graying dark hair neatly arranged and her face bare of cosmetics. She wore a plain but well-tailored blue-gray wool suit. Tremaine thought she might be one of the Institute's secretaries or administrators but didn't recognize her. The woman lifted her brows and said calmly, "Oh, it must be Miss Valiarde from the Viller Institute. They said you'd be somewhere with all these young men." She smiled admiringly at Ilias, who was leaning against the other wall, displaying more bare chest and arms than one usually got to see in Ile-Rien since the ballet, the opera and the more interesting demimonde theaters and dining establishments had shut down for the duration. He smiled engagingly back at her. Tremaine suspected the Syprians were going to prove popular, at least among the Rienish onboard. "We're just trying to keep track of everyone," the woman explained, "So we can get all these poor people into rooms. I'll note down that you're in charge of this suite...." She wrote rapidly on the clipboard she carried.

Gratified as she was to actually be recognized, Tremaine had a sudden qualm at being "in charge" of anything at the moment. "What do I need to do?" she asked, shifting to lean casually against the door and cover the broken lock with her body.

"Just make sure the dead-lights -- the metal covers over the portholes -- stay fixed in place. There's plenty of fresh water for drinking but do have everyone use the saltwater taps for bathing. And here," She pulled one of the ship's map booklets from her pocket and showed Tremaine two areas marked in pen, "If anyone needs medical attention, Doctor Divies is set up in the ship's hospital with the army surgeon, and some volunteers are going to try to serve a hot meal in the First Class Dining Lounge in a few hours."

Tremaine took the booklet, finding herself smiling. "They're ambitious."

The woman caught her meaning and smiled back. "Yes, if there's any delay, it'll be because they've mislaid themselves in those huge kitchens." She checked her notes again. "Also, try to conserve the linens as much as possible. Getting the laundry operational is rather low priority at the moment. Oh," the woman tucked her clipboard under her arm and extended a hand, "I've forgotten to introduce myself. I'm Lady Aviler."

Tremaine automatically shook the extended hand. The expensive but tastefully plain just-what-one-should-wear-to-an evacuation clothing, the confident beau monde manner combined with the polite leer at Ilias all made sense; she was a member of Ile Rien's nobility. The Aviler family had been highly placed in the Ministry as long as the Fontainons had been on the throne. She couldn't remember if it was Lady Aviler's son or husband or brother who had been Minster in charge of the War Appropriations Committee. How had the woman ended up on the ship? Had she been in the group picked up at Chaire? And more importantly, did she know the orders Tremaine had brought to transfer the Ravenna to Colonel Averi and the Institute were forged? "This is Ilias," she managed, hoping to distract her.

Lady Aviler gave him a pleasant nod and a warm smile. "How very nice."

As Lady Aviler continued briskly up the corridor, Ilias leaned out to watch her. "Get back in here," Tremaine snapped, anxious to shut the door again. She was paranoid about her trick with the orders being uncovered. Not that it had been terribly well covered in the first place, but she hadn't had any time. And really, she told herself, at this point there isn't much they could do about it. Except, of course, throw her in the brig with Ixion and the Gardier. But the main thing was that it would be embarrassing and she knew it would tell too many people more about how her mind worked than was good for anybody, especially her.

Ilias stepped back in, giving her a wry look. "She was nice."

Tremaine grimly shut the door, heading back into the sitting room. "Sure she was."

Gyan was back out in the main room again, his head wound tended, resisting Halian's attempts to make him sit down. He demanded, "Do we know where we're headed, if the Gardier are still out there?"

Gardier. Oh, damn. Tremaine rubbed her forehead, trying to massage away the pounding headache. She needed to know what was going on out there too. "I'll go up and find out." She started for the door again.

Giliead stopped her, taking her by the shoulders and steering her back into the room. "No, you've done enough. You're about to fall down."

"I am not," Tremaine protested, stumbling.

"Yes, you are." Ilias took over, taking her arm and hauling back through the dining room. Kias was still staring at the mural. "When's the last time you slept?"

"Don't ask hard questions." Tremaine rubbed her eyes. She wanted to say that she had to get back up to where the decisions were being made. Here where the Viller Institute's money and authority meant nothing she had only a toehold with the people who were running things. If she didn't hold onto it she would lose even that.

Ilias steered her into the maid's room and Tremaine gave in and collapsed on one of the narrow beds. The mattress was still bare but it was wonderfully comfortable. She was asleep in moments.

***



Ilias looked around for a blanket and Dyani handed him one out of the cupboard. She paused to run her hand over the dark red fabric, saying, "All the dyes match. And the weaving is so tight. How do they do that?"

"You should have seen their city," Ilias told her, covering up Tremaine with the blanket. Her tousled hair and the shadows under her eyes made her look vulnerable and soft. When awake she was anything but, no matter what she seemed to think of herself. "And that was after the war with the Gardier."

Dyani took a deep breath, looking down at Tremaine worriedly. "These people are so powerful. If they can't fight the Gardier with ships like these, how can we?"

Good question, Ilias thought grimly, but he squeezed her arm and said, "We'll think of something."

Arites ducked his head in to whisper, "Halian wants to talk to you."

Ilias grunted an acknowledgement, having an idea of what Halian wanted. He stepped out past him. "How's your shoulder?"

"Good, see." Arites pulled the charred torn fabric of his shirt apart so Ilias could see the little round wound. "The wizard weapon sent a bolt right through me -- there's a hole just like this on my back where it came out, but Gerard made the bleeding stop and a little later I saw the hole had closed up, like this."

Arites sounded rather pleased and enthusiastic about the whole thing, but then as far as Ilias could tell he had been born open-minded. Ilias absently flexed the arm he had broken in the wreck of the Swift. "Yes, they're good at that." The problem was, if everyone didn't keep quiet about it when they got back to Cineth, Arites might end up sentenced to a curse mark.

Ilias returned to the main room, seeing everyone was settled in the beds or collapsed in the padded chairs that looked almost as comfortable. Thunder rolled outside, distant and ominous; he could hear the wind trying to bore into the heavy metal hull but not a hint of a draft came through. There was only the familiar sway of the deck underfoot to tell him he was on a ship.

He looked for Giliead and Halian and after a moment heard their voices out in the hall. He found them just outside the door, leaning against the dark wood walls of the little vestibule. The wizards lights out here, like those inside, were set back into the ceiling behind mist-colored glass ovals so they weren't harsh and bright. There was a carpet on this floor too, a gold and brown one with a pattern that dazzled the eye as it stretched the length of the corridor as far as Ilias could see, which was a pretty damn long way. By ducking his head a little he could tell it curved upward as it grew smaller with distance, until it vanished into shadow. He could hear voices speaking Rienish somewhere down there and saw a few men come out of a door, look around in confusion, then retreat back.

Giliead saw he was looking at the curve in the floor and said ruefully, "It's hard to believe."

Ilias nodded, knowing what he meant. A building this large, especially constructed of metal, would have been enough of an amazement; that this was a living ship was almost incomprehensible.

Leaning against the opposite wall, Halian said in a low voice, "So? Can we trust these people? And I don't mean our friends, I mean the ones who give them their orders."

So Ilias was right and it was time for this conversation. He glanced at Giliead, who just looked thoughtful. Ilias leaned in the doorframe next to him and said slowly, "Everything's as they said. I saw their city. There were places that had been torn apart and burned to the ground by the Gardier. The man who took Ixion away with Gerard is another wizard." Ilias held out his arm, showing them the faded bruises. "When the Swift sank I broke this and he healed it."

Giliead took his arm, looking it over carefully. Ilias continued, "But they have traitors, people who have sworn themselves to the Gardier like the one who betrayed us on the island. Some captured Ander and Florian and nearly killed them before we came back here."

Halian nodded, impatient. "That's to be expected in a wizard's war like this." He stepped closer, his face serious. "I know you weren't there long but did they seem the kind of people we could ally with?"

Ilias stared at the floor for a moment. He didn't like this all being on his head; he didn't want to mix what he wanted with what Cineth, let alone the whole Syrnai, should do. In his gut he thought the Rienish would make good allies; better than the Hisians who made treaties only for the pleasure of breaking them and thought everybody who looked odd was a wizard. He told himself it wasn't just because the Rienish, like the woman who had come to the door, never saw his curse mark for what it was, and that he liked being looked at like a man again. "All I can tell you is that they treated me well." Glancing up at Giliead, he added, "And it wasn't like the places here that fall under wizard's rule." They had both seen what could happen to a village or town taken over by a wizard: the people cursed into obedience and treated like slaves. There were towns past the Bone Mountains in the dry plains where wizards had held sway for generations and the inhabitants were little better than cattle.

Giliead eyed Halian. "You're thinking of what to advise Nicanor and Visolela." Nicanor was Halian's son by his last marriage and now lawgiver of Cineth with his wife Visolela. It would be their decision whether to recommend the alliance to Cineth's council or not and whichever way it decided the rest of the city-states in the Syrnai were likely to follow.

"We need an alliance." Halian pressed his lips together. "What they're doing now is just helping ship-wrecked travellers, no more than any other civilized people would do. But when the Gardier return for vengeance we'll truly need their help."

Ilias shook his head regretfully. "They haven't been able to help themselves. When we left, their cities were falling," he said, trying to be honest. "But their god-thing can fight the Gardier in ways we can't. We'd be better off with their help than without it."

Halian looked at Giliead. When the cities of the Syrnai sent a representative to foreign lands, it was usually a Chosen Vessel, but they all knew this was different. "You agree?"

Giliead nodded, as if he had already made the decision some time ago. "Yes."

Ilias took a deep breath. He had gone with Giliead to the Chaeans and to other lands, but he had the feeling that going with the Rienish would take them even further.

Halian leaned back against the wall, his face grave. He knew what this decision could mean. "Then we need someone to speak for us with them. Would Tremaine be a good choice?"

"She'd fight for us." Ilias snorted. "And I don't think she knows how not to fight dirty."

Giliead's mouth quirked. "That's true."

"All right." Halian stepped back, nodding to himself. This wasn't his first wizard war by a long stretch; Ilias just hoped it wasn't the last one for all of them. Halian already looked worn down and older than Ilias was used to thinking of him.

Giliead must have had the same thought. "Get some rest," he suggested.

Halian nodded wearily, clapping Ilias on the shoulder as he went back into the room. Ilias and Giliead looked at each other, then Giliead jerked his head down the hall, back toward the stairs. "I want to see what they did with Ixion."

Ilias nodded. He was tired, his head hurt from the storm and his scars ached but he was too keyed up to sleep. Besides, it was their job to make sure there were no curses lying in wait so the place was safe for ungrateful bastards. As they started down the corridor, he said, "I'm going to kick the shit out of Dannor."

"He's an idiot," Giliead agreed grimly.

Dannor wasn't really an idiot and they both knew it but Ilias was tired of his word being disregarded as worthless because of the curse mark. All his other years of experience at finding and killing wizards aside, a sane person might think that someone who had actually been cursed and survived would be the best judge of what was safe and what wasn't. It's not as if you didn't ask for it, he reminded himself. He took a breath, trying to look at it in perspective. "He was right."

Giliead gave him a sour look. "If you say that again I'm going to kick the shit out of you."

Caught by surprise, Ilias glowered back at him. "You think?" he said dangerously. They stopped, facing each other, but just then two Rienish women came into the corridor and they had to step apart to give them room to get by. By the time the women had passed, glancing at them with nervous curiosity, the mutual urge to relieve their feelings by pummelling each other had faded. Still glaring at one another, they reached the room with the big staircase again and started up.

At the first landing Ilias stopped to get a better look at the Rienish style painting mounted on the wall, forgetting his pique entirely. It showed a woman in a midnight black gown slashed with blood-red silk, a glitter of icy gems on her breast. She was sharp-featured but beautiful, with red hair coiled elaborately around her head. She was seated surrounded by a group of young men all in dark rich clothes, with long hair and beards. He had come across this kind of art when he had gone to Ile-Rien with Tremaine, Florian and Ander, and it was different from any type of painting he had ever seen before. "Look how they do this. It makes the people seem so real." He stepped closer to look at the brushstrokes.

Giliead put a hand on his shoulder and drew him back, adding matter-of-factly, "There's curses in that."

"Really?" Ilias fell back a wary step, startled. "Tremaine said the paintings didn't use curses."

"The ones in those rooms she took us to didn't. This one is different." Giliead held his hand over it, not quite touching it, frowning in concentration. "It doesn't feel dangerous. I don't think it was meant to be a trap. It's very old. Maybe it was painted by a wizard and his curses just...leaked into it."

"Oh." Relieved, Ilias stepped close again to examine the woman's image. "Maybe that's the woman the ship is named after." She looked like someone that would make Visolela feel threatened and defensive, so Ilias immediately wanted to like her. He jerked his chin toward the men gathered around her. "She had a lot of husbands." Warrior-husbands. They all wore swords, strange looking ones with long narrow blades and rounded guards to deflect the sharp points. No one had worn swords when he had been to Ile Rien but he knew all the warriors must have been away fighting the Gardier.

Giliead nodded, studying the woman thoughtfully.

They went on up, finding the big room where they had first boarded less packed with people but still crowded, everyone babbling in unfamiliar languages. Ilias recognized some of the freed slaves by their ragged brown Gardier clothes. From here he could see there were round columns of polished green stone flanking colorfully patterned carpets and more of the cushioned furniture. There were glass-walled rooms along the sides, though they seemed to be empty.

"I don't see Gerard." Giliead let out his breath, sounding both resigned and annoyed. "This is going to be like looking for a pebble in a quarry. Any ideas?"

"No.... Wait, there's somebody." Craning his neck, Ilias saw a familiar sleek blond head bobbing through the crowd and started forward, shouldering his way through. It was the other wizard, Niles.

"Hey," he called when he was in earshot. "Niles."

The man turned, a little startled, and eyed them dubiously.

"We need to find Gerard," Ilias said. He was annoyed to find himself speaking slowly, as if that would help. The only word the man would recognize was the other wizard's name.

Niles lifted his brows, enlightened, and motioned for them to follow, turning to head for the opposite end of the big chamber. It was easier this time because people had noticed them and were moving aside, mostly so they could stare. It didn't bother Ilias since he had done his share of that in the Rienish city. And it wasn't unfriendly staring, like the Gardier or when he and Giliead had travelled to an enemy city or port; it was just honest curiosity.

Niles led them to the back of the big chamber, down a short corridor where the tile floor turned to rich green carpet. It opened into another stairwell, this one gently lit by cloudy glass panels in the walls, each etched with graceful water birds and plants. They went up a couple of decks, through an empty carpeted chamber and then a metal door that led to another stairway, this one narrow and without the colorful appointments of the others. The walls here were just the bare metal bones of the ship and as they went up Ilias caught the scent of damp outdoor air, as if a hatch was open somewhere. He wondered how far they were above the water. "How do you steer something like this," he said softly. It must be like trying to steer a floating city.

Giliead shook his head slightly. "The steering platform has to be in the bow."

"But how does that work?" Ilias protested. They came up into a short passage with four doors and Niles chose one, stepping inside. Ilias looked cautiously past him, seeing a room with wooden walls unadorned except for two small windows looking out into a cloudy gray sky. In the corner, there was a long cabinet with narrow drawers, very like the one where they had found the maps inside the Gardier's flying whale. The men in the room were leaning over a big table spread with maps and papers, studying them intently. Permeating the air was the strong odor of that awful drink the Rienish seemed unable to live without. The Rienish sailors had identical clothing the way the Gardier did, but instead of dull brown they wore short dark blue jackets with bands of red on the upper arms, the front decorated with small round ornaments of bright metal. The color of their clothes can't be the only difference between them and the Gardier, Ilias thought, feeling a little uncertain in spite of himself. He glanced up at Giliead, whose brow quirked, as if he was thinking the same.

Then past the other men he saw Gerard, leaning over the table and looking reassuringly ordinary in his Syprian clothes.

"Gerard," Ilias said in relief.

"There you are." Gerard straightened up. He spoke to Niles for a moment in Rienish, then adjusted the pieces of glass he wore over his eyes and switched back to Syrnaic to ask them, "Everything all right? Oh, this is the shipmaster, Captain Marais."

One of the other men glanced up, studied them with sharp attention, nodding as Gerard repeated their names. Ilias was surprised to see how young he looked, though his face was reddened and weathered from long experience at sea.

Giliead nodded to the man, then asked Gerard, "Where's Ixion?"

"Ah, yes." Gerard's expression hardened as it always did at any mention of Ixion. It was one of the reasons Ilias trusted him. "We've got him stowed away in a specially warded chamber. Would you like to see it -- him?"

Giliead let out a breath and glanced at Ilias. "Not really but I should anyway."

"How do they steer this ship?" Ilias asked, only partly wanting to delay the visit to Ixion. He was really curious.

"Ah...." Gerard looked around absently. "I can show you the wheelhouse, it's right up here."

In Rienish he spoke to the Captain again, who nodded and waved them on. Gerard stepped to the half-open hatch in the far wall.

They followed him into the next room and Giliead stopped so abruptly in the doorway that Ilias stepped on him. A little wary, he peered past him to see a big room, the opposite wall lined with large square windows.

Green-gray sea stretched out in all directions and they were so high in the air the heavy clouds seemed almost within reach. Ilias had seen the view from the bow before but they were higher up this time; in daylight, even the half-light of the storm, it was far more breath-taking. "A floating mountain," Giliead said softly.

The two men in the room turned to look curiously at them but didn't object to their presence. One stood before the center window, holding onto a wooden wheel mounted on a post. Gerard exchanged a few words with the other who nodded and made an expansive welcoming gesture.

Giliead moved further inside, still caught by the view, and Ilias followed him, looking around. There wasn't much there he understood the use for except the windows. The other sailor stepped to one of the waist-high white pillars that studded the floor, taking hold of the lever that sprouted out of the top and pushing it forward. Baffled, Ilias glanced at Giliead, who shrugged slightly to show he had no idea either.

Gerard noticed and explained, "Those are the engine telegraphs. They're used to communicate the helmsman's instructions to the engineers in each of the four main engines." He indicated the squiggles on the pillar's side that might be writing. "Slow, full, stop, and so on."

Ilias exchanged a look with Giliead. Some of those words hadn't meant anything, but he thought he had caught the gist of it. It was more evidence that what all the Rienish were saying was true and that the ship didn't really use curses to sail. Wizards -- the wizards they knew anyway -- would have just cursed these men below to do whatever they wanted. Not require them to read their orders from signal flags or whatever these things did.

Gerard nodded to the man holding the wheel. "The helmsman steers from there. At the moment we're on a sort of zig-zag course to avoid any Gardier airships that might be accompanying the gunship. Our advantage is that we're much faster in the open sea." He pointed to two glass boxes set above the center window. "That indicator shows the course heading, the other one shows the angle the rudder is making with the ship."

"You steer with that?" Giliead's expression was doubtful.

Gerard smiled wryly. "Yes, it's a little daunting to know that a ship of.... Well, of however many tons is being guided by that. Supposedly it can be moved with one finger."

"She sheared off the end of the dock when she left port," Ilias told Giliead. "And smashed a house."

Giliead looked impressed. So did Gerard, for that matter. The wizard said, "Did she? I suppose accidents will-- Anyway, let me take you to see Ixion."

***

They went down this time, past endless metal corridors and places where heavy pipes covered the ceilings. Except for the steady movement underfoot you could forget you were on a ship. The air had a slightly bitter metallic taint to it but it wasn't hot and moved as if there was a strong draft somewhere. But the passages were as complex as the caves under the Isle of Storms. Ilias groaned under his breath, wishing they could leave trail signs. He kept telling himself if this ship was inhabited by anything other than people the Rienish surely would have mentioned it.

There were trail signs of a kind; down here they were painted on the slick gray metal walls or doors and on the decks above they were embossed in what looked like copper or brass. If they stayed here any length of time learning to read the markings would become imperative but right now Ilias couldn't see any pattern to them at all.

"How many wizards are aboard?" Giliead asked Gerard suddenly.

"Niles and myself are the only Lodun-trained sorcerers on the ship that I know of." Gerard glanced over his shoulder as they left a stairwell for a narrow corridor. Before they had left the room at the top of the ship, he had picked up a familiar battered leather bag and now carried it slung over his shoulder; it held the sphere, the Rienish god-thing. "There are a few others assigned to the Institute whose training was interrupted by the war, like Florian. The ship did stop to pick up more passengers at Chaire before creating the etheric world-gate; there may be some among them as well." He hesitated. "I was told that when the border fell, the Queen released all sorcerers from army service to flee to Parscia or Capidara. I'm...not certain how many would have made it."

Ilias glanced back at Giliead, who was unhelpfully wearing his stony expression. The thought of unknown wizards aboard made his nerves jump but he reminded himself again it was different for the Rienish.

Gerard added more briskly, "I meant to tell you, I've spoken to Colonel Averi and Captain Marais and as soon as the storm passes and we're certain we've evaded the Gardier gunboat, we'll head back toward the mainland and put you all ashore somewhere near Cineth." He added hastily, "But not near enough to alarm anyone in the city. You'll have to let us know what would be a suitable spot."

Ilias hesitated, not sure if they should say anything about the idea of an alliance yet or wait for Halian. He felt out of his depth. Brow furrowed, Giliead said, "We were hoping you would stay to talk to Nicanor and Visolela."

"Really?" Gerard turned to regard them, his face serious. "We had assumed that would be impossible because of your beliefs."

Giliead shrugged slightly. "It's not...impossible."

Gerard gave him a thoughtful nod. "I see. I'll speak to the military commander about it."

As they moved on, Ilias exchanged a guarded look with Giliead. At least it had been suggested and Ilias supposed that was all he and Giliead could do without stepping on Nicanor's sensitive toes. Halian's idea seemed only common sense, but considering how much trouble the council had had with the very idea of wizards as allies, they had a steep hill to climb.

More sailors, men and women both, came and went down here, either dressed in the now familiar blue or stripped to brief white shirts stained with sweat and some dark foul-smelling stuff. They passed through a room where three men stood guard, all armed with the weapons that shot metal pellets to kill at a distance. The Gardier used these too but the Rienish insisted they didn't need curses to work, but a black powder made from various metals. As deadly as the weapons were, they might as well have used curses.

"Here we are." Gerard stopped in front of a heavy door with a round glass window in the center. "The wards I placed around Ixion should keep him inside. Considering I used the sphere and that Niles has augmented my efforts with his own wards, it should be secure." Gerard rubbed his forehead, letting out his breath. "Of course, we also have the armed guards."

Giliead held out his hand to the door. "I can feel the curses -- spells." He added the Rienish word a little self consciously. From what he had told Ilias, Giliead and the others owed their lives to Gerard; if he hadn't given them a curse to immobilize Ixion they would never have gotten out of the Gardier cells. Not without making a demon's bargain with Ixion himself.

Giliead stepped up to look through the glass and Gerard told him, "Niles and I believe your first instinct was entirely correct. Attempting to kill him would have been a mistake; I think if this body is still viable the spell to transfer his consciousness won't initiate. Such a spell couldn't be cast in the usual way; it would have to be triggered by the sorcerer's death or severe injury." He hesitated, then gestured absently. "If he can somehow trigger it on his own, we won't know until he does it."

Giliead nodded thoughtfully. He held his hand close to the door without quite touching it. "It's cold. Is that part of what's keeping him inside?"

"No, that's actually not magic. This room is connected to one of the ship's refrigeration units. They create the cold." Gerard eyed the door. "We thought if we made it somewhat uncomfortable for him he might be encouraged to break cover."

Giliead's mouth twisted ruefully and Ilias thought, Won't that be fun. He would have preferred it if Ixion never broke cover.

Giliead stood back so Ilias could look. Wary of what he might see, he stepped up to peer through the glass, feeling the cold radiating from the door. He saw a small metal-walled room, brightly lit. Ixion's new body, still clad in the brown Gardier clothing, lay on the bare floor. The skin on his face had a white waxy look and his features were blunt, like melted clay. From what they could tell, Ixion had grown this body in his vats, much the same way he had made the howlers, the grend, and the other creatures he had created to populate the island. It still looked uncannily like his real body, the one Giliead had decapitated last year.

Ilias stepped back, ignoring the cold knot in his stomach. It was just a body, locked in a room and held helpless by Rienish curses, but thinking that didn't seem to help. "So when can we kill him? When we're far from the island?" He looked at Gerard.

Gerard glanced at Giliead and let out his breath. Ilias sensed he wasn't going to like the answer; Gerard looked exactly like a healer who was about to tell you that your leg had to come off. Giliead folded his arms and stared at the floor, as if he suspected what was coming. Gerard said slowly, "The problem is that this kind of spell is outside our experience. The books -- and the people -- who would be able to help are back in Ile-Rien, in the city of Lodun, trapped behind a Gardier blockade. And I suppose Ile-Rien itself has been overrun by now." He shook his head, as if just remembering, as if the idea was still unreal. He cleared his throat and his gaze turned thoughtful. "One solution might be for us to take Ixion back to our world."

Ilias ran a hand through his hair, looking away. And if he escapes and finds his way back? He knew Gerard was trying to help but the thought of Ixion off alive somewhere, still plotting, with them helpless to do anything about it, was the last thing he needed.

Expressionless, Giliead said, "We'll think about it." After a moment, he added belatedly, "Thank you."

Ilias heard quick footsteps out in the corridor and Niles, the other wizard, leaned into the room, his face flushed. In Rienish he spoke hurriedly to Gerard, who answered in the same language, sounding exasperated. Niles replied and they argued back and forth for a moment.

Finally Gerard turned to them, looking both harassed and enthusiastic. "Niles believes he has an idea for protecting the ship against the Gardier's disruption spell. It sounds unconventional, but-- We can't afford to be choosy at the moment. Can you find your own way back?"

Giliead nodded, saying, "Good luck," as Gerard hurried away. Then he turned to Ilias, his face drawn in concern, taking breath to speak. Ilias interrupted him briskly with, "One of us should stay here. They don't know what he's like." He didn't want to talk about Ixion, not anymore, not right now. "I'll take the first turn, you go get some sleep."

Giliead hesitated, then obviously decided to accept the change of subject. He nodded, absently looking around for the door to the corridor.

"You know the way back, right?" Ilias asked, suddenly not sure if he did himself.

Giliead shrugged and gave him a farewell clap on the shoulder. "No, but I wanted a better look around, anyway."






Chapter Three



Gerard asked Gyan what the god was. He asks everyone that. Gyan said that didn't the Rien have gods of their own? Gerard said yes but that they didn't choose Vessels or give advice, and Gyan asked what they did with their time? Apparently no one knows.
"Ravenna's voyage to the Unknown Eastlands," V. Madrais Translation





Tremaine woke from a dream about being on the train to Parscia with Florian's mother to find herself staring at an unfamiliar metal ceiling painted a cheery yellow. Through the bed she could feel the rolling movement and remembered she was on the Ravenna. The distant howl of the wind, muffled and rendered impotent by so much metal and wood, told her the Gardier's storm still pursued them.

She sat up in the narrow maid's bed, recognizing the warm lump next to her as Dyani. The girl was curled up around a pillow, sound asleep. Gyan was in the bed against the opposite wall, buried under a blanket and snoring faintly. There was a clock built into the paneled wall but it was electric, powered by the ship's system. It would have started up with the generators and she doubted anyone had bothered to go around setting the clocks in the passenger cabins. Tremaine scratched her head vigorously and tried to get her brain to focus. She needed to find out what time it was, where they were, what the hell was going on.

She carefully climbed out over the other girl and stood, stretching carefully. Oh, God, I hurt. She had been relatively fit and used to hard work after her stint with the Siege Aid, but after the past few days her muscles ached down to the bone. She felt bleary and incompetent as she opened the door and stumbled out.

Everyone seemed to be asleep, piled in the beds with those who couldn't fit stretched out on the floor. Some of them had decided to shed their clothes and Tremaine, used to spending time backstage at theaters, regarded all the bare skin with bemusement. The lights she had turned on earlier still burned; she realized the Syprians wouldn't have wanted to touch the switches. It didn't matter as the electric glow, softened by frosted glass, didn't seem to be keeping anyone awake. The air was warm but not too musty or close, despite all the people in the suite. She stopped in the dining area, reaching up to adjust the small vent near the ceiling. It was a round bakelite orifice spewing air, with a metal lever to turn the inner ring to cool or warm, or to close it off entirely. The draft from it was strong; it might be outside air, funneled through the ventilation system by the ship's own movement. There were fans mounted on some of the walls as well.

She continued on, pausing at the raised threshold of the bathroom. It was the only room nobody was sleeping in. You could have a bath, she thought, tempted. With hot water and soap. She didn't think she was awake enough yet to make that serious a decision. She stepped in to get a drink of water from the tap, finding one of the small china tumblers still there though someone had carried off the matching carafe. Several pairs of boots were drying on the black and white tiles, the patched leather dyed in soft colors or stamped with fanciful designs. She leaned on the sink, looking into the mirror. Her mousey brown hair was getting shaggy and she pulled it back for an unobstructed view of her face. No, still don't recognize that person, she thought, resigned. Especially now, when she should be pale from the Vienne winter. Whoever that was in the mirror, her cheeks had a sprinkle of freckles and red patches from riding and sailing under this world's bright summer sun, as well as a nice patchwork of greenish-yellow bruises. Giving up the unproductive self scrutiny, she went back out into the main room.

In the sitting area Halian was stretched out on the couch, his face buried in a pillow. Giliead was still awake, sitting on the floor with his back propped against one of the chairs. His face drawn and thoughtful, he was staring absently into the foyer where the door to the corridor stood open. As he glanced up at her Tremaine asked, "This is going to seem like an odd question, but is it day or night?"

"It's night," he told her, his voice low to keep from waking the others. "The storm is starting to die down."

She settled on the floor, cross-legged, and yawned. She wasn't sure how he knew that about the storm, unless he could tell it from the sound of the wind. She propped her chin on her hand, watching him. His long braided hair, the soft sun-faded colors of his worn clothes, made an interesting contrast with the smooth yellow upholstery and elegant lines of the armchair behind him. "Couldn't you sleep?"

"I did for a while. Too much to think about." He looked at the door again as two Rienish sailors passed in agitated conversation. "I was wondering what your people are like."

That was too abstract a concept to be discussing at this hour. But Tremaine found herself saying, "I don't know what my people are like anymore. I used to know, before the war. When it started, it seemed like the cities, the country just...stopped." Like Lodun, trapped inside its defenses by the Gardier's spells, perhaps not even realizing yet that Ile-Rien had fallen. "Things that were important to us just stopped."

Giliead accepted that with a nod, without demanding further explanation. This was probably the longest private conversation she had had with him so far. From his expression he was turning her words over thoughtfully. Did all Syprians accept people at face value or was it just the Andrien family, she wondered. They all acted as if not understanding you was their problem, not yours. She looked around, distracted. "Where's Ilias?"

"He's with the others guarding Ixion. He's worried about what we're going to do about him." Giliead shook his head uneasily and it was obvious Ilias wasn't the only one who was worried. "Even if we take Ixion far from the island before we kill him, we won't know if it's worked or not. Not until he comes back again."

"I hadn't thought of that." Tremaine felt a little chill settle in her stomach. It was the kind of problem Arisilde had been excellent at solving. But all they had left of Arisilde was what remained in the sphere. The other powerful sorcerers who might have helped were trapped or dead at Lodun, trapped or dead at the overrun Aderassi front, and if the Gardier had reached Vienne by now, trapped or dead there too. "Couldn't Gerard think of anything?"

Giliead's expression grew a little less distant. He shrugged slightly and said, "He's offered to take Ixion along when you go back to your land. And we appreciate the offer, but it would be better if we could get rid of him ourselves. If Ilias could see it was done and over." He hesitated, then added a touch stiffly, "He has nightmares."

And again, Ilias isn't the only one who'd like to see it done and over, Tremaine thought, watching his face. Under the worry, Giliead looked guilty. That had never been something her father had suffered from. If you don't care for the consequences then don't commit the crime, Nicholas had said once, years ago when she was too young to understand that he meant it literally. But not everybody understood what the consequences were likely to be. And not everybody had a choice. And you don't know how he felt after your mother was killed, some traitor voice said. She shook herself, pushing the uncomfortable thoughts away. "I have nightmares too, sometimes," she said, though her dream of the Ravenna sinking seemed far away now.

Giliead shook his head, ready to change the subject. "Gerard also said as soon as the storm clears and the Gardier leave the area, the ship will turn inland and they'll put us ashore where we can reach Cineth easily. Then you'll leave."

Tremaine frowned, rubbing her eyes. I was afraid of that. "Without stopping at Cineth?"

"Maybe." He looked at her, his face serious. "We told him we want an alliance, your people with ours."

Tremaine nodded slowly. As the Gardier had used the island as a staging area for raids on the Ile-Rien coast, it would make an excellent spot for Rienish troops to prepare to retake the country. They could use both spheres, Arisilde's and the one Niles had built, to open gateways to the coast or further inland, slipping spies, ships, armies through the etheric world gates. If any Rienish armies had survived. They could still do it without Cineth's cooperation, but Tremaine didn't want to break that tenuous tie. "You think Nicanor and the others would go for this? An alliance with a world of wizards?"

Giliead looked away with a resigned expression. "I've given up trying to guess what Nicanor and Visolela will or won't do. But Halian seems to think so."

Tremaine frowned, trying to read his expression. "But we think Halian's an optimist."



***

At first the Rienish guards tried to talk to Ilias but realizing that was impossible, they fell to talking among themselves. He suspected they would like to ask about what they were guarding; he was just as glad they couldn't.

He had taken a seat on a wooden bench bolted to the wall and leaned back, stretching his legs out. He was beginning to get used to the feel of being underground, the metal walls, the strange noises and acrid scents in the air, though combined with the roll of a ship at sea it was passing strange. But as tired as he was, he didn't feel like dosing off. Not with that thing only one wall away, he thought, eyeing the door to Ixion's prison. One of the guards, studying him thoughtfully and perhaps too accurately reading his expression, went to the glass window to check on the wizard's sprawled body.

For years Ilias and Giliead had never known what Ixion looked like. The wizard had been too canny to ever face Giliead directly, sending creatures or laying subtle curse-traps for him instead. Then the search had led them to a mountain village stalked by a curseling; the instant the survivors had described it they had known it was something Ixion was responsible for. It had fur and claws like an animal, but metal and wooden parts had been meshed with its flesh. It had killed the family of a man named Licias, one of the few who had been trying to hunt it. With his help they had destroyed the creature but Licias had been wounded. He was still suffering the loss of his family, alone in the village and not seeming to have many friends there. So they had taken him back to Cineth and Andrien House.

And he had been Ixion in disguise.

We should have asked more questions, Ilias thought, not for the first time, as he stared at the floor. We should have found out he was new to the village, that no one saw the family he said the curseling killed. But even if they had, would it have really made them suspicious of Licias? He had lived at Andrien in apparent friendship for months before he had finally revealed what and who he was.

Thinking about it, Ilias was beginning to wonder if the things the Rienish did, the way they used curses to build and cure and protect, was the way it was supposed to be. If Syprian wizards like Ixion had somehow looked at those things through a distorted glass, twisting them out of their original purpose into something terrible. It wasn't an idea he wanted to share with anybody but Giliead. Even Halian might think it was too extreme.

He glanced up as Gerard and Niles turned into the room, arguing animatedly in Rienish. Niles carried a square leatherbound case over to the metal door that sealed Ixion's prison. Sitting on his heels to open the case, he took out several little glass pots and jars. Ilias sat up, feeling uneasy, but the containers seemed to hold various colored powders rather than anything disgusting. "What's he doing?" he asked Gerard.

Gerard sat next to him, holding the sphere in his lap and watching the other wizard critically. "If Niles is right -- and of course he insists that he is -- the chamber we've warded for Ixion will need to be excluded from this spell. Channelling the sphere's protective ability throughout the ship may interfere with the wards already in place. Those that shield the ship from view from overhead won't matter at a moment like that but I'd rather not have the containment wards tampered with."

"Me neither." Ilias still didn't understand all the different Rienish words for curses, but he thought he had the idea. Niles took a sheaf of papers from his jacket and began drawing lines and circles at the base of the door, using the colored powders from the jars. As he added something from another container that looked like gold filings, Gerard made a critical comment in Rienish and got a sharp reply back.

Ilias eyed the sphere a little warily. "Is it really true there's somebody in there? Somebody you knew--know."

Gerard regarded the copper-colored ball with a kind of rueful resignation. "It seems so, unfortunately." He adjusted the glass pieces he wore over his eyes. "Arisilde was a very powerful sorcerer in Ile-Rien. He and Tremaine's father had been friends since they both attended the University of Lodun -- that's a place for education, in history, law and medicine and many other things as well as for sorcery. He built this sphere after the design invented by Tremaine's foster grandfather, Edouard Viller." He took a deep breath, turning the tarnished metal ball over thoughtfully. Inside it something clunked. "Viller wasn't a sorcerer himself. He intended the spheres to allow a person with no magical ability to perform simple spells. But each sphere had to be charged by a sorcerer before it would work properly. The metal even seems to retain something of that sorcerer's essence. But in the end Viller was never able to construct a sphere that would work unless the wielder had some small magical talent, no matter how slight." He shook his head, preoccupied. "Arisilde was the only one who could successfully duplicate the design, until Niles managed it with the sphere he constructed."

Ilias wet his lips. He was still trying to cope with the idea of wizards having friends, and presumably families, like normal people. "So he built it. How did he get inside it?"

Gerard let his breath out and absently rubbed at the tarnish with his sleeve. There was pain etched on his face as he contemplated the fate of the man he had known. "Arisilde might have been attempting to return from here to our world. Perhaps something happened during the transition, such as an attack by the Gardier, and the sphere he was using was destroyed. In an attempt to save himself, Arisilde somehow sent his soul and his consciousness into this sphere, which was stored at the Valiarde family home. This is Tremaine's theory, based on the sphere's responses toward her and its increasing abilities. It is just a theory." He glanced up, shaking his head grimly. "But after Gervas' revelation that the Gardier's crystal devices actually contain the souls of imprisoned sorcerers, it seems all too likely."





***

Tremaine decided to take that bath, then realized once she had wrestled her boots off that she hadn't yet retrieved her bag of belongings from the Steward's office. The lure of clean underwear was too seductive to ignore, so she padded barefoot down the quiet corridor and up the stairs to the office. There she found it under the control of several women, some Institute personnel and some from the Chaire group of refugees, all apparently having signed on as Lady Aviler's minions. They offered to take the bag of Gerard's belongings to his cabin and Tremaine accepted, thinking that it would be interesting to see if Lady Aviler ended up leading a faction and or being the power behind one. And Tremaine was certain there would be factions.

Walking back to the suite, listening to the quiet thrum of the ship, she decided grandly not to declare allegiance with any of them; it would be far more instructive to play them all against each other. She grinned to herself, giving up the fantasy. Attempting it in practice rather than theory sounded like a good way to get thrown off the boat.

As she passed one of the narrow cross corridors that connected the larger bow-to-stern passages, movement out of the corner of her eye startled her. Midway down the cross corridor stood two men, one in a civilian suit and the other in dark blue naval fatigues. Reflexes common to anyone who walked the less reputable parts of Vienne kept Tremaine moving with only a slight jerk of her head to betray she had noticed them; the set of their shoulders and the way they stood conveyed furtive activity, and she was fairly sure she had seen some object changing hands. It might be nothing, and it was none of her business. War profiteering, the opium trade and other criminal pursuits had flourished in Ile-Rien since so many Prefecture officers and the sorcerers who had once assisted in investigations had been either killed in the bombings or gone into the military. It would be the same on this ship, which was going to be near impossible for anyone to police. She kept an ear cocked in case either man was foolish enough to pursue a potential witness, but neither came after her.

Back in the bathroom she started the water, then realized she had also forgotten to get soap. It didn't matter; the hot saltwater bath in the enamelled tub felt incredibly luxurious. Her various cuts, scrapes and blisters stung a bit but it was worth it. By the time she got out and dressed again, Giliead had gone down to take his turn at watching Ixion and Ilias was back.

"How did it go?" she asked him, using one of their few precious towels to dry her hair.

"He didn't come back to life and kill us all," Ilias replied laconically.

Tremaine decided not to prod that sore point any further. The others were stirring and food was suddenly a priority.

In search of it, she and Ilias followed the map booklet back to the grand stair and down one deck, then through an elegant foyer to the giant First Class dining area. Dyani, who had loudly declared, "I'm not afraid. I want to see it," trailed along after them.

The room was huge with mellow-gold wood broken along the base and top of the walls by silver and bronze bands. Silvered glass panels were set above the columns that separated the main area from the private dining salons along the sides. The light from the overheads was warm and the people sitting or wandering about were far more calm than the chaotic crowd in the main hall earlier. What must be about half the room's original chairs and tables remained and about a third of those were in use. The only reminder of the danger was the blackout cloth tightly tacked over the outside windows.

Lady Aviler was right and the volunteers had managed to produce food; trolleys were lined up near the baize serving doors and several women and a few older children were dispensing bread, soup, tea and coffee. Tremaine turned to Ilias to comment only to find he wasn't there. He and Dyani were absorbed in the set of embossed wall panels at the side of the big chamber. Going to join them, she saw the theme was "A History of Shipbuilding from Classical to Modern Times" and understood the attraction. She nudged Ilias with an elbow. "You think we can get the others down here to eat?"

"If they don't they can go hungry." Engrossed in the images, Ilias didn't sound sympathetic to their plight.

"Did Dannor make any more trouble?" Tremaine started to ask when someone shouted, "It's you!"

She looked wildly around, thinking oh no but the woman who had jumped up from one of the tables and now hurried toward her didn't look hostile. She had dark hair tied back and wore men's pants and an oversized Rienish army fatigue shirt. As the woman reached her she caught Tremaine's hands and said in a Lowlands accent, "I thought it was you! You're the Ile-Rien spy."

"Oh, no, not really--" Tremaine managed. She did know this woman; she was a Lowlands missionary who had been taken by the Gardier on Maiuta. Tremaine and Florian had spoken to her briefly when they had been captured on the island with Ilias. She hadn't recognized the woman at first because the brilliant smile she wore now transformed her face and made her look years younger.

"I want to thank you." She wrung Tremaine's hands gratefully. "I thought we would never see the sun again. And you." She looked at Ilias. "I saw his people fight for us. Who are they?" she asked Tremaine, "I don't recognize their language."

"They're Syprians. The Gardier base was in their territory," Tremaine explained vaguely. "But I'm not really--"

The group at the woman's table was standing up to leave and one of the other women called to her. The missionary glanced over her shoulder. "I must go back, but thank you." She kissed Tremaine's cheek quickly and darted away.



***

Most of the Syprians who weren't still asleep ended up trailing reluctantly along to the dining room. Some of them eyed the food suspiciously, but when Halian, Gyan and Arites ate, they followed suit. The biggest problem seemed to be that since Syprian dining tables were only a foot or so off the floor, they found the waist-high Rienish ones awkward. Arites had found some old pages of ship's stationary and a pencil in the suite somewhere and sat on the floor, happily taking notes. Tremaine noticed he was writing with his good arm, a trace awkwardly.

Having got everyone else settled and approaching the food herself, Tremaine found her stomach in mild revolt, but a mug of tea settled it and she was able to eat one of the thick slices of bread moistened with rich brown onion soup. She had been expecting military metal plates and cups but it was served on the ship's china, gleaming white with a band of antique gold.

Then one of the volunteers emerged out of the back somewhere to call out, "Is Tremaine Valiarde here?"

Tremaine set her bowl aside and stood hastily. "Yes?"

"There's someone on the line for you; it sounds important."

"On the line?" Tremaine frowned.

"The ship's telephone," the woman clarified as she led her back to the discreet baize doors. Just inside the first was a narrow little corridor that led to a sort of staging area of steel cabinets and wooden counters. Through another door Tremaine could hear pots banging and someone yelling in Aderassi. She started to make a jaunty remark about it being no different than any other hotel kitchen in Ile-Rien, then recalled uncomfortably that that was a way of life none of them might find their way back to again. Adera barely existed anymore and the fine hotels and Great Houses of Vienne were probably even now being turned into Gardier barracks. There was a telephone set tucked into a small cubby and the woman handed her the receiver.

Tremaine put it to her ear in time to hear, "Miss Valiarde? You've been asked to report to the ship's hospital--"

The thought that they had discovered she was crazy and were planning to lock her up crossed her mind. She brushed that aside in annoyance; it was an old defensive reflex from the time right after she had been kidnapped into a mental asylum by her father's enemies. Still, she demanded, "Why? Who wants me there?"

A little taken aback, the voice replied, "It's on Captain Ander Destan's request. I think it's something to do with the Gardier prisoners."

"Oh, Ander. I'll be right there." She hung up.



***

The hospital was down on D Deck, where according to the booklet the crew messrooms and workshops, one of the swimming pools, some of the Second Class cabins and much of the food storage areas were located. The corridor in this section was still decorated with wood panelling and carpet since passengers were meant to use it. As they approached the hospital they met Institute personnel coming and going, some leading small groups of the ex-prisoners from the Gardier base. This caused a delay as many of them recognized Tremaine and Ilias as members of the group that had rescued them and they stopped to thank them in a variety of languages. Ilias seemed caught between gratification and bewildered embarrassment. Tremaine was embarrassed too, mostly because she had no idea how to respond, but she was surprised at Ilias' reaction. He and Giliead's daily life included risking death to defend their people from crazed wizards; didn't anyone ever thank them for it?

Then outside the door to the hospital area she saw two men, dressed in dark suits of an old-fashioned cut and archaic ruffled black neckcloths. Tremaine rolled her eyes. God, Bisrans. That's all we need. From their dress these two were members of the dominant religious sect which completely controlled the Bisran government. Bisra had come down in the world since it had near successfully invaded Ile-Rien more than two hundred years ago; it had spent itself in pointless wars and was a minor player in the game of nations now. Easy meat for the Gardier, once they had finished with Ile-Rien.

The two Bisrans watched them approach, neither man losing the cold aloof expression worn like a uniform. "Who are they?" the younger one asked. He spoke Bisran, but that was one of the languages Tremaine's father had insisted she learn. One of Nicholas' many false identities had been a Bisran importer of glass and objets d'art.

The older man replied in the same language, "Some sort of native partisans, I heard one of the sailors speak of them. They're barbarians, worse than the Maiutans." He turned his head to hide a thin smile. "Perfect allies for Ile-Rien."

"At least the women aren't half-naked too."

Tremaine realized she was the Syprian woman in question; she was still wearing the shirt and pants Giliead's mother Karima had given her two days ago. An astute observer would have noted her boots, scuffed and stained but with brass buckles and rubber heels, but then neither of these men had the perspicacity of the fabled Inspector Ronsarde.

Reaching the hospital door, she paused and said earnestly in accented Bisran, "I was naked but it's so cold up on deck." The older man stared and the younger flushed an unbecoming shade of red. "Pardon me, you're in my way," she added in Rienish, stepping past them through the door.

Ilias eyed the men suspiciously as he followed her and then asked, "What's wrong with them?"

"They're Bisrans," she replied in Syrnaic, raising her voice a little, knowing the two men would hear the word "Bisran" and know she was talking about them. "They're idiots. Now laugh like I said something really witty."

Ilias laughed obligingly and then added, "I'm not doing this again."

A narrow corridor with green-painted walls led back into the hospital, which was a warren of wardrooms with a dispensary, operating theater and tiny cabin-offices for the doctor and nurses. It smelled like every hospital Tremaine had ever been inside, with the odor of carbolic that was an unpleasant reminder of the asylum. They passed an open door and she saw the room was lined with beds, all occupied. A pile of stained brown coveralls, the garments the Gardier had given their slave labor, lay on the floor. Voices murmured, a woman whimpered in panic and a harassed nurse she recognized from the Institute's Infirmary passed, readying a hypodermic.

Tremaine felt her stomach clench and moved on past. Just around the corner was an office area, with desks and cabinets. Sitting perched on the edge of a table, Florian glanced up as they came in. "There you are," the other girl said in relief. She looked like she had had a bath as well and had changed into a clean sweater. She smiled a greeting at Ilias then looked at Tremaine with concern. In Syrnaic she said, "Everyone says you tried to shoot somebody."

Oh, good. My reputation precedes me. "It was just a Gardier," she said, adding randomly, "Why are there Bisrans aboard?"

Dropping the subject with a reluctant frown, the other girl answered, "They were picked up at Chaire. There's a fairly big group of them. They'd escaped from Adera and had been stuck in Ile-Rien for the past month."

Tremaine lifted her brows, skeptical. "From Adera? From Gardier territory?"

Florian nodded grimly. "Ander said just the same thing."

"So you think they're spies?" Ilias asked worriedly. "You people have a lot of spies."

"I think that's why they wouldn't let them out of Ile-Rien." Florian turned to him, elaborating, "When the Gardier first invaded Adera, tons of people escaped into Ile-Rien and they sent most of them on through to Parscia or wherever else they wanted to go. My mother used to work with the Refugee Assistance group, finding clothes and things for them. Then the fighting along the border got very intense and the refugees stopped coming. But last month these Bisrans just found their way across."

"Found their way across when lots of desperate Aderassi who were native to the area couldn't?" Tremaine snorted.

Florian nodded agreement, her mouth twisting in annoyance. "I'm not sure why they were still in Chaire. I think the government must have been watching them."

"That's all we needed," Tremaine said, thinking of Rulan and Dommen and the other men the Gardier had suborned or bribed to work for them. They had had enough trouble with the spies they already had without taking on more.

Then Colonel Averi, Doctor Divies and Niles stepped in from the other passage. Niles was saying, "Individual Gardier aren't resistant to our magic, it's those devices they wear. We suspect they derive their power from disembodied sorcerers imprisoned within large crystals, but if the small crystal fragments contain individual spells -- or if they're shards of the larger crystals, of--" He seemed to realize where that thought was leading and halted, his face hardening.

Doctor Divies was the physician assigned to the Viller Institute. He was about Gerard's age though his hair had turned gray early and he had Parscian ancestry showing in his coffee colored skin. His face deeply troubled, he said what the others were thinking, "Shards of the imprisoned sorcerers. Broken off bits of soul."

Niles took a deep breath. "It explains the siege of Lodun. We thought the Gardier must have teams of sorcerers working constantly to maintain pressure on the barrier, but with these crystals...it would be simple."

"Obviously their plan was to overrun Vienne, then destroy the Lodun barrier and collect the sorcerers at their leisure." Colonel Averi shook his head slightly, his lips thinning with disgust. He was older than most of the military personnel assigned to the Institute, with a habitually grim face and thinning dark hair. Startled, Tremaine thought he had aged at least ten years from the last time she had seen him; the skin of his face was pale and paper-thin, stretched over his skull like aging parchment. He and Tremaine had never gotten along and she hadn't thought much of him except as an obstacle to be worked around. Now for the first time she wondered if he had been sent to head the Institute's military detachment because he had been judged too ill for frontline service; he certainly looked it now.

"Don't count Lodun out," Niles said thoughtfully, hands in his pockets. "They've had a great deal of time to make plans, and they have access to some of the oldest and most extensive philosophical and sorcerous text collections in the world."

Averi looked away a moment, then said shortly, "My wife is in Lodun."

Tremaine lifted her brows. It made sense, but it was more than she wanted to know about Averi. Niles nodded, unperturbed. "I have a younger brother there. Not a sorcerer; he's in the medical college."

It was as if they were both admitting to sharing the same kind of chronic illness. Florian and Divies were watching them sympathetically, but Tremaine wanted to change the subject. "Have you seen the barrier?" she asked Niles somewhat desperately. She had only read newspaper stories about it herself, and seen a few grainy pictures which didn't really show anything.

"I have," Averi answered. "It looks rather like a wall of water." He turned to her. She wondered if the white around his blue eyes had always had that yellow tint. His expression enigmatic, he said, "Gerard is getting some rest, but he suggested you might help us. One of the Gardier is a woman--"

"Really?" Tremaine lifted her brows. She supposed there had to be female Gardier but she couldn't recall seeing any on the base at all, much less in the group Ander and his men had rounded up. "One of the ones we caught? How did--"

Averi cut her off. "We want you to try to question her."

"Me?" Tremaine stared at him, startled that he seemed to be voluntarily asking her to do something.

"You and Florian have had the most experience with the Gardier," he continued, glancing at Niles. "We're not having much luck with the others yet."

"We have time," Niles said with a calm that had a hint of an edge to it. "There are some spells that may help."

Tremaine hesitated, biting her lip. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to have a conversation with a Gardier, like he -- or she -- was a person. She turned to Florian, who was giving Ilias a low-voiced translation. "What about Florian? She knows as much as I do."

"I tried already with one of the men," Florian broke off the translation to explain. She didn't sound as if she had enjoyed the experience. She added in frustration, "He wouldn't talk to me at all."

Averi, Niles and Divies were all watching Tremaine expectantly. She pushed her hair back. She wasn't sure what was wrong with her; she could hardly give them a reason for her reluctance when she couldn't articulate it to herself. "This is hard," she said under her breath.

Ilias was watching her, his face concerned. "You want me to go with you?" he asked her. "You don't have one of those curse weapons, do you?"

Tremaine looked blankly at him and realized he thought she was afraid of losing control, of trying to kill the Gardier prisoner. And he's right, she thought, surprised to realize it. She nodded. "Yes. No. No, I don't have a pistol. Yes, I do want you to come with me."





***

The Gardier were being held in a part of the ship called the Isolation Ward. It was in the far end of the stern and walled off from the inside corridors, requiring you to go along the covered Promenade deck, leave its shelter for the open deck area off the stern, go down a set of steps to a lower open deck, then down a stairway and into a warren of small secure rooms with white-washed walls. It was technically part of the ship's hospital system, a place for patients who came down with infectious diseases. In reality, it was a brig for stowaways.

To question the prisoners they were using a small treatment room that had a metal ventilation grille in one wall, allowing observers in the outer room to hear the conversation inside.

Standing in that anteroom with the guard, Averi gave Tremaine a Gardier translator disk. After what Niles had said about fragments of souls, Tremaine accepted it reluctantly. She hadn't noticed before, but the surface of the crystal set into the metal disk felt greasy, like a decomposing bone; she told herself that was just her imagination. Averi already wore one around his neck so he could follow the conversation behind the grille. He said roughly, "There's a guard in with her. I'm not expecting you to get their invasion plans for Parscia and Capidara out of her, just to get her talking."

"Right." She couldn't tell what Averi thought; he hadn't objected to Ilias accompanying her. As the Colonel turned to open the door, Ilias' mouth quirked in an encouraging smile.

The treatment room had been stripped to bare whitewashed walls. A young man in gray Rienish army fatigues stood in the corner, one hand on his holstered pistol. His eyes went to Tremaine and Ilias as they entered, acknowledging them with a slight nod.

Tremaine's eyes went immediately to the other occupant; she had resolved not to make the mistake of showing shyness or diffidence even unintentionally. The Gardier prisoner was seated on a wooden chair, her hands bound with the manacles the Gardier had used for their slaves.

It was the one who had opened his -- her -- mouth, the one Tremaine had decided to shoot first. The Gardier was tall, lean and small-breasted, her face dirty from the battle, the skin on her cheeks reddened and raw. This didn't stir any sympathy in Tremaine's heart; the secure rooms for stowaways would have bunks with mattresses and bedding, sinks with hot running water and toilets. Compared to the conditions the Gardier had kept their prisoners and slaves in, it was practically the Hotel Galvaz. While Tremaine was still looking her over thoughtfully, the prisoner spoke first. "You were the one who wanted to kill us. I thought it was an act."

Tremaine felt her face move in a smile. "I'm not much of an actress." The Gardier's voice was husky but high in pitch. Tremaine had noted that on the island but not the other details; the smoothness of her throat and the shape of her hairline, visible now that her cap had been removed.

"Then why are we not dead?" The woman sounded bored and skeptical.

"You are. You're walking, talking dead." The words came out before Tremaine had a chance to think, but as she watched the Gardier's eyes narrowed, a faint trace of unease crinkling the smooth brow, and she knew it had been an apt impulse. She spoke first because she wanted control of the conversation, she thought she could get information out of me. She held her expression, keeping her smile from widening. You could do a lot with someone who thought that much of herself.

The silence stretched and the Gardier finally said brusquely, "Then why are you here?"

"They made me come in to ask you questions." Tremaine shrugged, shaking her head, still with the faint smile. "I personally couldn't care less whether you answer or not, but I've already had lunch and I haven't anything else to do right now." She levelled her eyes at the woman. "I just want to get to the part where we throw you over the side." Tremaine let her gaze turn abstract and thoughtful. "If you survive the fall, you'll probably get trapped in the bow wake. It'll carry you right into the propeller."

The Gardier tried to stare her down, then looked away. Sincerity helps, Tremaine thought. She hadn't a shred of sympathy for the Gardier, even where she could find some compassion for the Rienish who spied for them. Greed, desperation, good intentions twisted out of shape she could have some empathy for; she could too easily see how she could have fallen into the same trap. The people who set that trap were just so much garbage to be disposed of.

Ilias nudged her with an elbow and asked softly, "Did she tell you anything?"

"We're not at that point yet," she told him. It was handy that the Gardier had never bothered to add Syrnaic to their translator crystals, or at least none of the ones they had found so far.

"Oh." He leaned back against wall, folding his arms. "It looked like it was going well."

The Gardier woman watched this exchange with a kind of wary incredulity. She said, "You behave as if they are people."

Tremaine lifted her brows. Though Ilias' boots and clothes had mud-stained patches from their recent adventures, he had had a bath more recently than the Gardier. He had also rebraided his queue so his hair wasn't quite such a wild mane; he didn't look that savage. "No, I behave as if you are people. I wish I didn't have to but it upsets the others. What makes the Syprians not people to something like you?"

The Gardier stared, insulted. "They are primitives. They don't-- It is obvious," she finished stiffly.

Tremaine's eyes narrowed. Destroyed coastal villages and ships going missing were what had drawn Ilias and Giliead to investigate the island in the first place. "If it's obvious, why can't you explain it coherently?"

"They can't be used for labor. They don't use civilized speech. They won't stop fighting." She sneered. "If they do, they're afraid of the tools."

The welders, the lights. The Syprians would think it was magic and would find it terrifying, would consider themselves soiled by the contact. They tried them out as slave labor and when it didn't work they killed them. Tremaine couldn't say she was surprised. "And sometimes they blow up airships. How do you make the avatars?" That was the closest the Gardier's translation spells could get to a Rienish word for the crystals and their imprisoned sorcerers.

The woman shook her head, caught off guard. "I don't know. That is for Command and the Scientists. I am in Service."

"Then you're even more useless than I thought."

Tremaine let go of the translator crystal and headed for the door. Following her lead, Ilias pushed off the wall and trailed after her.

She expected to have to argue with Averi but as the guard shut the door behind them the Colonel nodded sharply, motioning for them to go on through to the outer room. Once there she saw the usually grim cast to his face lightened by satisfaction. He said, "It's a start. We'll isolate her from the others, give it a few hours and then see if she's more receptive."

Florian had been waiting in the outer area too. There were only two small rooms for the staff, with a small desk for the lieutenant in charge and some comfortless wooden chairs for the other guardsmen on duty, two of whom were women. "Did she tell you anything?" Florian asked, curious.

"A little." Tremaine shrugged. "A very little." She was relieved that Averi seemed confident. It occurred to her that she also had Averi in a receptive mood and maybe even inclined to discuss things with her. She said quickly, "Where do you think the Gardier come from? The Syprians sail all over this area, they travel fairly far inland, and have contact with a lot of other people. But they had never seen the Gardier or even heard any rumor of them before."

Averi nodded, leaning against the desk and saying thoughtfully, "Those maps your friends recovered from the base show a Gardier stronghold close to where Kathbad is in our world. I think it's possible--"

"Colonel--" One of the women soldiers leaned into the room to interrupt them urgently. "There's a call for you on the ship's telephone."

Averi went to the other room, taking the receiver from the instrument mounted on the wall. Watching his sallow face redden as he listened, Tremaine exchanged an uneasy look with Florian. The guards in the room watched him too, caught by the growing air of tension.

Averi finally said, "Yes," and replaced the receiver, turning back to the them. "Florian, can you find Ander? Tell him it's the gunship."



Chapter Four


Ixion had killed two Chosen Vessels that the poets know of, Lyta of Hisiae and Kerenias of the Barren's Edge. But Vessels often disappear without trace, their companions with them, no one knowing of their deaths until their god Chooses again, so Ixion could have accounted for many.
Fragment of Incomplete Work, titled "Journal for the Chosen Vessel of Cineth, under Nicanor Lawgiver," Abignon Translation





"The wireless officer has picked up coded signals from the Gardier gunship. When they were translated it was apparent they were instructions to a landing party." Averi glanced back at Gerard, his face grim. "A landing party in a native city."

They were on the forward stairs climbing toward the wheelhouse, Averi in the lead with Gerard, Tremaine and Ilias following. "Are we sure it's Cineth?" Tremaine asked, her stomach twisting with guilt. "I thought the Ravenna could hear wireless traffic all the way to Capidara." The ship had the most powerful transmitters and receivers on the ocean, or at least that was what the advertisements on the map brochure said.

"From the heading they gave, it has to be." Averi was out of breath from taking the stairs at such a rapid pace. "They're searching for Rienish refugees -- they seem to believe you all left the island on native transport, which means they haven't sighted the Ravenna yet."

The ship hummed around them like a kicked anthill; Tremaine could hear someone shouting orders as they passed an open corridor. The ship's telephone had found Gerard in his cabin and Florian had hurried off to fetch Ander, Ilias asking her to bring Giliead too. Then Tremaine realized what Averi had said. "Wait, I thought we couldn't break the Gardier codes." It was common knowledge that wireless operators on the Aderassi front and along the coasts had always been able to listen in on Gardier traffic, but there had never been any progress in deciphering it.

"Ander recovered some Gardier codebooks from the island," Gerard explained hurriedly, glancing back down at her. "One of the books had transcriptions of our older codes. There was a direct translation into a Gardier code, and that's allowing our wireless officers to understand their traffic."

"He didn't tell me," Tremaine muttered as she climbed after him. Ander being a good Intelligence officer again, she supposed. She hoped it was just that. He had at one point decided she might be either a Gardier spy herself or just stupid enough to be passing information along to one. Since she and Ilias had caught the spies in Port Rel, she had thought he was over that by now.

As they reached the wheelhouse level metal creaked alarmingly and the stairs swayed under Tremaine's feet, sending her careening into the wall. She fell back against Ilias, clinging to the handrail, suddenly aware how high up they were. "What the hell...?" she gasped. It was like being at the top of a tall and unsteady tower in a hurricane.

"The ship's heeling over," Ilias told her, bracing his feet on the steps to keep them both upright.

She looked over her shoulder at him, trying to keep up a pretense of calm. "Is that another word for sinking?"

"Turning," Gerard explained, grimacing as he hauled himself up the railing. "Without slowing down." Recovering his balance, Averi reached the top, wrenching the hatch open.

With Ilias urging her, Tremaine managed to pry her hands off the rail and drag herself up. As they reached the hatch, the deck began to sway back to a more level plain. Following Averi and Gerard, Tremaine bounced off the opposite wall of the short corridor and stumbled into the officers' chartroom.

The room held a polished wooden chart cabinet in the corner and there was a large table bolted to the floor, covered with maps and papers. The place was full of dishevelled uniformed officers and worried civilians. Tremaine recognized the Captain even though he was in his shirtsleeves and a younger man than she had expected to see; he was standing in the center of the room, hands planted on his hips, anger written in the tense way he held himself and the grim resolve on his wind-burned face.

He confronted an older man in a brown walking suit nearly as well-tailored as the ones Niles wore. Captain Marais was saying, "And I'm telling you we're not going to run again. We were forced to abandon Ile-Rien--"

"Your orders were to take this ship to Capidara," the man interrupted briskly. He was tall, sharp-featured, with carefully cut gray-white hair. "The civilians, the women and children on board--

"I know what my orders say, I don't need you to repeat them," Marais snapped.

It's happening, Tremaine thought, not realizing she had been unconsciously expecting this until now. The reality of Ile-Rien's fall was starting to sink in and the chain of command was breaking down. From her family background Tremaine might have been expected to be an anarchist at heart and she was a little shocked to discover this was simply not true; Captain Marais' defiance worried her, even though she wanted to save Cineth more than he did. The other men in the room looked angry, determined, tense. She saw Niles standing back against the wall, arms folded, his lips thin with annoyance.

"Apparently you do need your orders repeated," the other man shot back. "No one wants to see an undefended city attacked and I admit an alliance of some sort with the native people is imperative. But this isn't a warship." He threw a glance at Ilias, who stood near the door with Tremaine. Ilias' eyes moved from one man to the other, wary at the air of tension in the room. Tremaine knew he couldn't understand the conversation but she didn't want to chance interrupting it with a translation.

"We're at war with an enemy that doesn't recognize the concept of noncombatants, Count Delphane," one of the other civilians pointed out, his voice acerbic. He was an older man, balding and somewhat stout, dressed in a battered dark suit and fanning himself in the warm room with a folder of papers. "And we carry weapons, so of course we're a warship. The conventions of international law simply do not apply."

A solicitor, Tremaine thought, pegging him instantly. A solicitor on our side, more's the better. And the opposition is Count Minister Delphane. And she had been unnerved by Lady Aviler's presence. Delphane gestured in exasperation. "Taking us into battle with the Gardier is as good as murdering everyone on board."

Marais' eyes narrowed. "I've lost three ships in this war, and watched countless others go down. I don't intend to lose this one. But I'm in command here. If you don't like it, my lord, you're welcome to get off at the next port."

Nobles in Ile-Rien, including the Queen, could be familiarly addressed as "my lord" whatever their title, but Marais made the honorific sound like a threat. The problem is, Delphane has a valid point. But Tremaine looked at Ilias standing next to her, his face tight with anxiety, and knew it couldn't matter. Cineth was helpless against an attack like this. Delphane regarded the Captain with narrowed eyes, saying, "At this time the Gardier do not even know of this ship's existence--"

Niles cleared his throat. "But they do. Colonel Averi?"

Averi stepped forward, facing the Count. "Unfortunately Gardier-controlled spies were present in the Viller Institute's organization. We took some of them but we couldn't possibly have found them all." He glanced thoughtfully at Marais. If he's smart, Tremaine thought, clinically interested, Averi won't directly challenge Marais. Pitting the crew, under Marais' command, and the remnants of the army detachment under Averi, against each other with Niles and Gerard and the other Institute personnel as wild cards was the worst mistake they could all make. But Averi only said thoughtfully, "And I can't believe the Ravenna wasn't spotted at Chaire."

Delphane looked at him, his lips pressed together. "I was aware of that. But we're in an entirely different world. Are the Gardier communications between wherever we are and Ile-Rien likely to be that swift?"

"As swift as our passage here," Gerard put in.

"We aren't facing a fleet, just a single gunship," Marais said deliberately. "And we have every chance of taking that gunship by surprise."

Delphane watched him. "As long as they can destroy our engines, Captain, size doesn't matter."

Captain Marais consulted Niles and Gerard with a look. "Well?" he demanded. "Is that true? Or can your new ward protect us from their offensive spell?"

Niles glanced at Gerard, lifting a brow. Gerard took a deep breath and said, "We can't know for certain until we test the ward. But I think it will work. I've seen the Damal sphere," he stumbled a little over the name, perhaps recalling that the sphere wasn't just named for its creator anymore, "the sphere's affect on Gardier airships firsthand. It stripped heretofore impenetrable wards away effortlessly."

Delphane turned to Colonel Averi, saying quietly, "So you are going to allow this?"

Ander arrived in the doorway, breathing hard, halting when he saw the grim tableau as the ship's Captain, the military commander, and the highest ranking civilians confronted each other.

Averi let out a slow breath and met Delphane's eyes. "Count Delphane, as the Solicitor General pointed out, we know the Gardier consider civilian transports, hospital ships and anything else that moves as a military target. This is a warship, whether we like it or not." His gaze went to Captain Marais. "You've already changed course for the native port?"

"Yes. At full speed." Marais' words were clipped. His eyes fixed suddenly on Tremaine. "Ask him to describe the harbor."

Startled, Tremaine managed to realize he meant Ilias and turned to him, repeating the question in Syrnaic. Throwing a narrow look at Marais, Ilias asked, "They're going to help?"

Tremaine felt all eyes on her but she wasn't going to push him. "They're still arguing about it, but we've changed course for Cineth."

Ilias regarded Marais for a long moment. Tremaine saw a great deal of suspicion in that look, as well as pent-up fear and guilt. If he and Giliead hadn't brought us to Andrien, this might not be happening, she thought, sick with nerves. Her part in bringing them to this point wasn't exactly small either. Then Ilias took a sharp breath. "There are cliffs to the west, and a stone breakwater...." Tremaine translated his description hurriedly.

Averi listened, the creases across his forehead deepening. "You want to attempt an attack with our forward gun?" he asked Marais, not bothering to keep the incredulity out of his tone.

The weapon mounted on the Ravenna's bow deck was an anti airship artillery piece. Tremaine tried unsuccessfully to visualize it, wondering if it could even be used to shoot at something in the water.

Marais' face set in an even grimmer expression, though it seemed he was getting his way. "If we can lure the Gardier out into open water, we won't need the gun." He glanced at Delphane, saying with pronounced irony, "You may find, Count, that size -- and speed -- do matter a great deal."

Delphane shook his head slowly. He seemed weary now that he had lost the argument. "I don't want to leave a potential ally's city to a Gardier attack anymore than you do, gentlemen. But I hope your decision doesn't kill all of us."



***

Gerard and Niles hurried away to get their supplies for the sorcery, Ander and Averi to organize a small military force to land and search for any Gardier left trapped on shore. Marais had more questions for Tremaine to translate for Ilias, then let them both go.

Out in the corridor, officers and crew hurried past them, dashing in and out of doorways, yelling commands and questions at each other. Tremaine was impressed with Captain Marais; he was obviously an intelligent man and the pressure and his nerves had wound him up like a top. She headed for the stairs just to get out of the way but Ilias caught her arm. "But how soon can we get there?" he asked her, throwing a worried glance back into the chartroom. He looked just short of frantic. "I know we left the island heading east but where are we now?"

The Captain had said full speed and Tremaine knew that as a passenger liner the Ravenna had been criticized for barreling along at 20 knots in the dark and fog, and 30 knots in and out of crowded ports. But there was no way to translate that into Syrnaic. She met his eyes and said deliberately, "This ship is very fast."

He nodded, though he didn't seem much reassured.

"We need to see what's happening," Tremaine said to herself. An officer, fresh-faced and surely younger than Florian, bolted past them. Tremaine managed to snag his sleeve. "Excuse me! Do you know where Gerard is, or Niles? The Viller Institute sorcerers?"

Startled, he halted, looking from her to Ilias. But she could see he was thinking that if they were up here in the wheelhouse, they must be Somebody. "They're on the cable deck. You can follow me, I'm going there now."

Following the man down the forward stairs, Tremaine found herself wondering how Count Delphane, Lady Aviler and other important personages like the Solicitor General had ended up on the Ravenna. Delphane in particular was a High Cabinet minister; he should have gone to Parscia with the government-in-exile and the royal family. There was only one reason she could think of to account for the presence of such high government officials.

They left the forward stairs to thread back through a Third Class area and reach a passenger stairwell, taking it to the landing that opened into the forward end of the now uninhabited main hall. The officer left the stairs, saying, "This way, it's quicker." He led them down a passage toward a set of double doors of padded leather with bronze fittings. He fumbled in his pocket for a set of keys and unlocked them, revealing a room like a big dark cavern. As the man hooked one door so it would stay open, Tremaine fumbled for the light switches on the wall.

As she pressed the first button, small indirect incandescents over a long ebony bar sprung to life, casting light down on leaping dancers in a wall mural above the empty bottle racks. The young officer said sharply, "Just the bar lights, Madam. Leave the overheads off. It's still light out but we don't want to take any chances."

It was the Observation Lounge. There was just enough light to make out the dark wooden walls and the chrome pillars supporting the ceiling. Tables, chairs and curved couches of red leather were scattered around the lower half of the room; a few steps in the marble floor led to the upper half, set apart by an ornate metal balustrade with enamelled pylons. The curved back wall was covered by floor to ceiling curtains of dark red brocade and it was all windows behind them. Looking out with all those curtains open the view would be incredible; or looking in at night with all the soft lights lit.

Ilias took one look around, then plunged across the room after the officer. The man fumbled under the curtains, then managed to open a glass panel door. Ilias pushed out after him and Tremaine fought her way through the heavy drapes to find they were on a curved open balcony, looking down on the bow, the sea stretching out in all directions. The sky was a heavy gray streaked with clouds, the remnants of the Gardier storm, and the cool wind tore at her hair. At the far end of the balcony a narrow set of stairs led down to a small deck area where the base of the mast was anchored. The mast itself was circled by a cargo derrick that looked like a giant metal spider with its legs tucked in and surrounded by an impressive array of waist-high electric winches.

Ilias threw himself against the railing so enthusiastically she grabbed wildly for his shirt, thinking he was about to plunge over onto the deck below. But he was pointing at a distant line of cliffs. "Look, we're nearly there!" He tore down the stairs and Tremaine hurried after him.

There was a gap between this area and the forwardmost section of the deck where Gerard, Niles, Giliead, Florian and several crewmembers stood. Tremaine followed Ilias across the short railed ramp that bridged it and through a minefield of giant cables, giant chains, and giant spindles to wind them up on.

In the shelter of the forepeak, a small raised platform in the very tip of the bow, Niles and Gerard were crouched on the deck, drawing symbols on the planking in white chalk. Niles clutched a sheaf of notes, referring to them as he took pinches of different powders and concoctions from the small jars and boxes scattered around him.

Ilias stopped at Giliead's side, asking him in confusion, "What is this?"

"They're making a curse so the Gardier can't see us," Giliead told him, keeping his voice low.

Ilias threw a cautious glance at Gerard and Niles. "Like the Swift? That didn't work so well."

Florian, trying to look over Gerard's shoulder without getting in his way, explained, "This isn't just a ward, it's an illusion. All the Gardier will see is a distortion in the air. Like when it's a very hot day and the air seems to ripple. They'll hear us, but that won't matter. We just need them confused about exactly where the ship is."

Tremaine had been looking for the sphere and spotted it, sitting on the deck near Gerard's knee. "What about the Gardier's mechanical disruption spell?"

Glancing up, Gerard explained, "The sphere should still deflect it, and the new ward Niles has been working on should transmit the sphere's influence throughout the ship." He added, not quite under his breath, "We hope." He turned to tell one of the sailors, "Signal the bridge that we're ready."

The man hurried back across the deck and Tremaine stood on tiptoes to see past the solid metal railing around the forepeak. The ship was still moving at full speed and she could see the opening of Cineth's harbor now. It was sheltered by a high promontory with golden cliffs falling down to the water, a pyramidal lighthouse of gray stone on the far end. Those cliffs cut off any view of the gunship but part of the little city was visible, sprawled across a series of low hills. The buildings were mostly white stone with red tile roofs, none taller than two stories, and a few round fortress-like structures crowned the hills. The whole was dotted with shade trees, standing in the gardens and market plazas.

Tremaine had liked the place the moment she had first seen it. The trees reminded her of those that lined the Boulevard of Flowers, though these streets were dirt instead of ancient cobblestones patched with modern pavement. If the trees, if the Boulevard itself, was still there. The Gardier are in Vienne now, she reminded herself coldly. Jerking herself back to the present, she wondered aloud, "So how do we get the gunship to come out--"

A sound assaulted her ears, a deep boom that set her teeth on edge and made her bones shake. She clapped her hands over her ears along with everyone else, wincing away from it. Both Giliead and Ilias recoiled as if they were in real pain. As it died away she demanded, "What was that?"

"The ship's whistle." The officer who had guided them here pointed up above the forecastle. Tremaine could just make out two trumpet-like projections mounted on the first smokestack. "To lure the Gardier out of the shallow water." He looked back toward Cineth, shading his eyes. "They have to come out sometime."

Ilias was at her elbow, impatient to know what the giant boom had been. Tremaine explained in Syrnaic, then they waited, staring at the mouth of the harbor. Tremaine felt her nerves jump with impatience. Giliead moved away from the spell circle to pace and Ilias boosted himself up on the rails to get a better view past the forepeak.

"There!" Someone pointed and Tremaine saw the black shape of the gunship emerge from behind the promontory. She stepped closer to the rail. The illusion masking the Ravenna's exact location made the Gardier craft seem hazy, as if she were viewing it through a mist. When they had seen it from the island, she had thought the long low shape, the guns mounted in the bow and stern, looked predatory and sinister. From this high vantage point it suddenly looked like prey.

"Here it comes!" Niles shouted suddenly, anxiously studying his spell diagrams. Tremaine tensed and Giliead reached to pull Ilias back from the rail. She could see nothing. Without etheric lenses the spell that was travelling toward them was invisible, a deadly wave of power.

She saw the glamour haze and weaken, the view of the gunship still steaming across their bow momentarily crystal clear. Then a bright light flared. She threw up an arm to shield her eyes, stumbling back on someone's foot. It didn't work, that was the mechanical disruption spell, she thought frantically, we're going to sink. An image of the dream she had almost forgotten flashed vividly behind her eyes: The Ravenna sinking beneath still black water, her lifeboats still in place.

In the next heartbeat she was out of the dream and back to reality. Giliead held onto her arm and Ilias was braced against the rail next to her. Her eyes were watering and dazzled by the light and she could barely see Gerard, Niles and the others. "It worked," she breathed. "Hah." That wall of light hadn't been the Gardier's spell, it had been the sphere, deflecting the Gardier's attempt to destroy the ship.

Tremaine blinked hard as the dazzle faded and she leaned forward, gripping the railing. The Ravenna was still bearing down on the Gardier craft and though she knew the gunship must be travelling at full steam now it looked as if it was standing still. Tremaine saw the puffs of smoke above the barrel as it fired its bow gun; the blast reverberated over the water a moment later. She grinned, pounding her fist on the railing. The gun pointed several degrees off their bow; fooled by the illusion still concealing the Ravenna's exact position. "We can turn the spell back on them; Arisilde knows it too. We can--"

"We don't need curses," Giliead interrupted quietly, his mouth set in a tight line. "We're going to ram her."

"Can we do that?" Tremaine eyed the fast approaching gunship. "Without sinking, or anything...?"

The Gardier seemed to realize their error; the gun swiveled but too late. The Ravenna's drive forward didn't falter as the smaller craft disappeared from view; Tremaine grabbed the rail but instead of a huge crash there was only a thump that shuddered up through the deck. Stunned by the ease of it, she peered down the side to see half the gunship flip up and vanish under the surface as shattered wood and bodies tumbled past in the Ravenna's bow wake.

"And you said metal ships wouldn't float." Giliead turned to keep the wreckage in sight, leaning out to look down the side.

"I never did," Ilias protested.

Despite their attempt to sound totally unaffected, or maybe because of it, Tremaine knew they were both a little shocked by the Ravenna's power. She knew she sure as hell was.

The ship's drive forward slowed and Tremaine saw from the way the water churned below that it was moving into one of those insane turns. Oh joy, she thought with a sick sensation, contemplating the indignity of dropping flat to the deck to cling to one of the big cables. She grabbed Ilias instead, wrapping an arm around his waist. Still watching the pieces of Gardier ship bobbing in the waves, he absently put an arm around her shoulders, bracing them both against the rail. The fact that Giliead, though he didn't look particularly worried, still felt the need to hook one arm through the rail and grab Ilias' belt with the other, was not reassuring.

The ship started that frightening lean toward the waves and one of the officers from the group around Gerard and Niles shouted, "Hold on!" Everyone scrambled to grab something, Florian huddling down near Gerard. Niles grabbed for the loose jars of powder, hastily dropping them back into his case.

"No kidding," Tremaine muttered, watching in fascination as the green churning surface below drew closer. But this turn was less dramatic and the ship began to sway back upright long before she felt the urge to scream. They were heading back toward the wreckage, still slowing.

As the deck rolled to become more or less level Ilias let go of Tremaine and she lurched away toward Gerard. Before she reached him a seaman pounded across the bridge from the other deck, shot past her to one of the officers standing with the sorcerer, pulling both men aside to speak urgently.

Tremaine threaded her way around the cables, demanding, "What is it?"

Niles turned away from the discussion abruptly, his face ashen. "We have a problem." He was staring down at the spell circle, at the iron filings in the center. "The inner core didn't oxidize."

Giliead, Ilias and the other seamen were all watching, puzzled, and in the Syprians' cases, wary. "Niles, nobody knows what you're talking about," Tremaine said, a sudden qualm making her snap impatiently. "The spell worked."

"It worked, but the other wards were supposed to be excluded from the effect," he said tightly. "They weren't."

Gerard turned to them, his face hard and grim. "It's Ixion, the wards around his cell failed and he escaped."

"What about Ixion?" Ilias demanded. Gerard had spoken in Rienish and he had recognized only the name.

Tremaine grimaced. That's all we needed. She turned to Ilias, saying in Syrnaic, "He escaped."

The moment was one of those long heartbeats that never end as she watched their faces. Giliead's expression went absolutely blank, concealing any emotion and somehow worse than if he had actually showed his feelings. Ilias looked horrified for an instant before his face set and then both men were running across the deck, jumping over the cables.

Tremaine started after them. "I'll go with them, they'll need a translator--"

"Tremaine, wait!" Gerard snapped.

She thought he was going to tell her it was too dangerous, she would just be in the way, but he said hurriedly, "Give me something you're wearing. Niles and I can track your progress with it. We may be able to locate Ixion with the sphere and that way--"

Items carried or worn for long periods of time took on the same etheric signature as the body of the owner; Arisilde and Gerard had often used this spell for her father, sometimes tracking individuals all over Vienne. Tremaine was already doing a rapid inventory of her possessions. She wasn't wearing jewelry, her outer clothes were too new for the spell to work, she was reluctant to give up her underthings.... "Here." She hopped on one foot, hauling off her boot. "This is all I've got!"

Gerard accepted it with a grimace but didn't argue. She ran after Ilias and Giliead, charging up the stairs and tearing open the door to the Observation Lounge. The awkwardness of trying to run like this was too much and she stopped to haul off the other boot and her stockings, dumping them on a table. Barefoot she was much faster and caught them on the passenger's forward stair.

They barely noticed her appearance, intent on reaching the place where Ixion had been held prisoner. They made a transition to a crew stairway down in Third Class then turned off down a metal-walled corridor on one of the decks below the passenger areas, threading rapidly through a series of turns until Tremaine saw a group of worried crewmen and crewwomen gathered at a doorway. The group parted for the two Syprians and Tremaine hurriedly shouldered her way through in their wake.

The door to the refrigerated compartment hung off its hinges, the lock wrenched from the distended metal. The whole side where it had met the wall was scorched and melted. Three of the guards lay sprawled unconscious on the floor and another was sitting up, a bleeding cut on his temple being tended by a medical corpsman. A red-faced older man in chief petty officer's uniform stood by the doorway, snapping orders about search parties into the ship's telephone. Giliead surveyed the scene grimly, then turned away, pushing back out. Ilias snarled, "I knew this would happen," and followed.

Tremaine turned to go after them but the officer stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Where are they going?" he asked urgently.

"We're going after him." Tremaine pointed at his sidearm. "Can I have one of those?"

He stared at her, then unclipped the holster from his belt and handed it over.



***

The trail led upward through a small stairwell near the center of the ship. There were only a few lights set back into walls lined with smoky dark wood, and with the dark green patterned carpet underfoot they might have been making their way through a dim woodland glade. Keeping his voice low, Ilias said, "This makes sense. He's making for open air."

Giliead nodded. "He may be confused. He'll know we're at sea, but--" His slight shrug took in their strange surroundings, so unlike a ship except for the movement underfoot.

A distant hollow voice spoke suddenly, shattering the stillness. Ilias flinched violently and Giliead swore under his breath.

"It's the same as before," Tremaine whispered from behind Ilias. "He's telling everyone to stay at their posts or in their quarters, and to call the bridge if they see anyone suspicious."

Ilias nodded. She had explained it was one of the crew, speaking into a talking box that let his voice be heard through other boxes all over the ship. It had had a more authoritative ring when they thought it was the ship herself speaking.

"Here," Giliead said suddenly, frowning. "There's something here." He stepped off the stairs into a small foyer.

"What?" Tremaine demanded. She had a small curse-weapon tucked into the back of her pants under her shirt, which she thought they didn't know about.

"Ixion must have cast a curse up here," Ilias told her as Giliead cautiously pushed open the door.

It opened into a long room where the wizard lights weren't lit but it hardly mattered; the whole outside wall was windows, nearly floor to ceiling, looking out onto an expanse of roofed deck that ran along this side of the ship, allowing in enough cloudy gray daylight to illuminate the room. It was filled with cushioned chairs and couches, patterned carpets in soft warm colors covering a floor of green-veined marble. There were drapes over portions of the inner wall and a set of double doors near the middle. As they moved further in Ilias saw there was a large arched entranceway at the opposite end, next to a giant example of one of the Rienish paintings. It was a river winding through a green valley, so real it looked as if you could get your feet wet standing near it.

An ear-splitting shriek rent the air and he and Giliead both jumped violently, looking frantically around for the source. But Tremaine waved hurriedly for them to relax and moved to a little table near a chair. On it sat a small box; she lifted the curved part on top and held it to her ear. Ilias let his breath out and exchanged a harassed look with Giliead; another one of the Rienish talking curse boxes. "You'd think," Giliead said deliberately, rubbing the bridge of his nose, "They could make those things a little quieter."

Tremaine listened for a moment, her face getting that concentrated look he had learned meant trouble. Ilias could just hear the tinny voice issuing from the box but it spoke Rienish. She put the piece down, setting it carefully on the table instead of replacing it on top of the talking box. "Ah, that was Niles," she said in Syrnaic, turning to them. "He says hello." Then she jerked her head toward the double doors in the inside wall.

Ilias stared at the doors, feeling the skin on the back of his neck prickle. They were heavily padded with a deep red leather. Giliead stepped to them, lifting his hand but not quite touching, then shook his head. No curses. He came back to Tremaine and asked in an almost voiceless whisper, "What's in there?"

She had already pulled out the little map of the ship, studying it frantically. "There's a small ballroom, a lounge and a theater, a movie theater."

"A what?" Ilias asked quietly. Most of the sentence had been in Rienish.

"It's a room where they show movies, moving pictures." She waved the map, as if trying to use it to illustrate what she was saying. "It's not a spell, it's like the engines."

"Great," Ilias said under his breath. He didn't know what the engines were either, except that the Rienish said they made the ship cleave the water without sails or oars. He hoped she didn't mean "like the engines" as in powerful enough to move a metal ship the size of an island at incredible speeds.

"Is there another way in?" Giliead asked softly.

Tremaine traced the path on the map. "Yes, just through here, there should be another entrance through the lounge." She looked up at them, eyes thoughtful. "Gerard and Niles are on their way here."

"We can't wait." Giliead consulted Ilias, brows lifted. His mouth set in a grim line, Ilias nodded. Doing this made his insides go cold, but he knew they didn't have a choice.

Giliead took Tremaine's arm, drawing her with him through the open archway. She went without comment, stuffing the map back through her belt, with one enigmatic glance back at Ilias. He stepped to the leather-padded door, waited until he was sure they had had time to find the other entrance, then pushed it open.

It was a long room, filled with soft shadows. The walls were the same polished wood as the rooms outside, but broken by giant glass panels etched with a garden of colorful flowers and strange birds that glowed with wizard light. The entire space appeared empty, but that meant nothing. Ixion had curses that allowed him to hide in shadows not much bigger than a bird's wing.

Ilias stepped inside, moving cautiously but trying not to look as if he expected to find anything, his boots making soft sounds on the fine wood floor. He was certain the lights in the glass panels shouldn't be lit; the Rienish kept all the bigger rooms dark unless someone was inside, but Ilias pretended not to know that either. Ixion wouldn't have had time to notice and he would tamper with the Rienish wizard lights and anything else he could find.

There was a raised platform at each end of the room, the steps up to them bands of silver and bronze, and another wizard light overhead was a mass of prisms in colors Ilias didn't know the names of. Padded chairs in rich blue fabric were stacked atop small tables, obscuring the view and creating more pockets of shadow. He could hear a low metallic clicking that he thought might be coming from the set of double doors near the platform on the right. On the left an open archway showed another room more deeply shadowed, filled with couches and chairs shapeless under big white cloths; that must be the lounge on Tremaine's map.

Giliead would be there now, slipping softly in while Ixion's attention was on Ilias, as it was bound to be. Ilias went toward that darker portion of the room, as if to investigate it. The cool air that came through the little grilles in the walls stirred the dust more than it should and he knew there was something else moving in here with him. Then something brushed past him.

Ilias glanced down, saw the dust swirl up around his feet, saw it start to opaque and solidify. He tried to leap away and half-fell as his feet remained rooted to the floor.

He saw sudden movement out of the corner of his eye and kept trying to wrench free, forcing himself not to look; Giliead would need every moment he could buy for him. The thickening dust crept up to his knees when he heard a gasp and a thump behind him. The dust vanished abruptly and he staggered free.

He caught himself against the side of the archway, twisting around to see Giliead wrestling with a struggling form wrapped in one of the white drapes from the furniture in the other room. Ilias lunged to help, skidding to a halt when the floor around the two figures turned molten green.

Ilias hopped back before the stuff touched his boots. It could be an apparition or a flesh-melting curse; he saw it wasn't affecting Gil, but that didn't tell him anything. Then he saw the green ooze was shredding the drape. The thrashing figures separated as Ixion managed to toss Giliead off. Both came to their feet, Ixion tearing the remains of the drape away.

The man crouched at bay, still dressed in the brown Gardier garments, was like a shadow of his former self, his features still faintly blunted and distorted. But the way he held himself, the wild hate in his eyes was all Ixion.

Then the green mist dispersed, swept away in a silent wind.

Ilias glanced back and saw Gerard and Niles standing in the open doors, both wearing grim expressions. Niles had the sphere tucked under his arm.

Ixion stared at them for a long heartbeat, then smiled. He turned and pushed through the doors behind him.

Giliead plunged after him and Ilias reached the doors only a few steps behind.

Directly inside was a blood red curtain, looped back to reveal a dark room filled with chairs that all faced the back wall. Giliead had halted abruptly just inside and Ilias smacked into his back.

There were moving images flickering on that far wall, the source of the metallic clicking he had heard. Moving pictures, Ilias thought in awe. She meant that literally. Cast in shades of gray and somehow flat, they didn't look as real as the paintings in the other rooms, but they moved, jerking and stuttering across the wall in imitation of life. People walking beside stone buildings, on horseback, riding in wagons that moved by themselves like the ones in the Rienish city.

Then Giliead took a step to the side and Ilias realized one of the gray forms on the wall wasn't moving. Ixion stood in the front of the first row of chairs, outlined against the flicker of images.

Ilias looked at Giliead, his friend's face hard to read in the fractured light. Giliead caught his eye and jerked his head faintly toward the figure. Ilias nodded and started down the aisle on his side as Giliead moved down the opposite wall. He's strong, Giliead had warned him earlier, stronger than he looks. And fast.

He had just drawn even with the still figure, was just able to see the man in profile, when Ixion spoke above the click-clack noise. "The Gardier had so much contempt for their enemies I never expected them capable of something like this." His gesture took in the room around them, the whole ship. "A floating mountain, with so many wonders inside it."

"I wouldn't describe you as a wonder." Giliead's voice was cool and level, but he had encountered Ixion on the island. Ilias realized he was breathing hard, his heart pounding. It was the voice. It really is him. The last time he had heard that voice was right before Giliead had cut Ixion's head off. He wanted to leap over the chairs and rip Ixion's throat out. He wanted to run out of the room. He managed to do neither, waiting for a signal from Giliead as sweat ran down his back.

The image on the wall changed to a view of a storm-tossed sea from the deck of a ship and in the suddenly brighter light Ilias saw the corner of Ixion's mouth lift in a smile. "And Ilias is here. I'll say 'It's been a long time' and you can say 'Not long enough' and--"

"Shut up." The words were out before Ilias realized it.

Ixion hesitated, then said more softly, "I know exactly what you're thinking."

"I really doubt that," Ilias grated. He heard a soft sound behind him and realized Gerard and Niles now stood in the doorway.

"Well." Ixion turned to eye the Rienish wizards. "How did they do it?" He looked at Giliead, head tilted inquiringly. "You fought for them. You used the curse they gave you against me. You haven't been cursed. You're acting for them of your own will. How did they do it?"

He was trying to sound merely curious but Ilias heard the strain in his voice. He really wanted to know. Giliead must have sensed that too because he didn't answer.

"Is it just because they destroyed my curse on Andrien House?" Ixion must have realized he was betraying himself and looked away, smiling at the flickering images on the wall. "I'm still searching for allies. Perhaps I can offer my services to them as well."

"I'm afraid we aren't in the market," Gerard said in Syrnaic, his voice cool.

Giliead spoke, "You're nothing new to them. They have wizards like you in their land and they destroy them like sick animals."

Ixion watched the flicker of movement on the screen. Then he shrugged. "Surely you realize you can't kill me. I'll just come back."

For a moment no one spoke. Then Ilias heard another metallic sound, weaving in and out of the clicking of the moving images. It was the noise the god-thing in the sphere made, he realized, when it thought something was dangerous.

"If that's such a great plan, why haven't you just killed yourself?" Tremaine's voice was so unexpected, Ilias flinched. He hadn't even realized she was in the room. "You've had all the time in the world to jump off the boat. Hell, if you do it from the stern you'll drown in moments. Instead you wander around, sightseeing, playing with the switches on the projector. Even if you've got this other body to jump back to, which I'm still willing to believe, I don't think you want to go there."

Ixion turned, staring at her incredulously. "Who in the netherworld's name are you?"

"You didn't answer her question," Ilias said tightly. It was, now that he thought about it, a damn good one.

Ixion looked at him for a long moment, then at Giliead. He finally said, "Very well, I'm not eager to go to my new body. It will take months for me to grow into it and by the time I do, the Gardier will have retaken the island and destroyed Cineth." He turned to Gerard and Niles again. "I spoke to one of their men of learning at length. He taught me their language so we could converse. I know much about them and have no particular loyalty to cause me to dissemble."

"You would trade your life for information." Gerard sounded skeptical.

"Yes."

They can't, Ilias thought. We can't. But was there any other way out of this stand-off?

Gerard spoke to Niles briefly in their language. Niles answered in a dry tone and Gerard shook his head. He said to Ixion in Syrnaic, "And if caught, you would trade similar information about us to the Gardier."

Ixion smiled. "Then don't get me caught."



***

Waiting in the lounge outside, Ilias paced, his jaw set so tightly it was beginning to hurt. There were Rienish guards waiting by the doors, but he hardly noticed them. "I should be in there," he told Tremaine. He wasn't exactly sure why he had followed her out here, except that she had grabbed his wrist and tugged and he had been too distracted to resist.

"No, you shouldn't." She was sitting in one of the cushioned chairs, her bare feet propped up on a little wooden table.

He stopped, planting his hands on his hips, snarling, "He'll think I'm afraid to face him."

Tremaine was unimpressed. "No, he'll wonder where you are."

Ilias took a breath to reply and then stopped, staring at her. That wasn't the argument he had expected. "What?"

Tremaine studied her fingernails calmly. "He wants your attention, he wants you to be in there glaring at him and hanging on every word." She paused to pick at a broken nail. "Let him wonder what you're doing. Let him wonder what you're thinking." She looked up at him finally, her face serious despite her preoccupation with her hands. "Let him scramble to get a handle on you, instead of the other way around."

He thought that over, hoping to find a hole in it, but it was too patently evident to argue with. And her confidence told him she knew she was right. He dropped down into the next chair instead, demanding in irritation, "Why do you know things like that?"

She shrugged, and nibbled at her broken fingernail. "Annoying people is something of a talent of mine. I gave it up for a while, but lately it's started to come back to me."



***

They had the parley at a table just outside the moving picture room. Giliead wouldn't sit but paced behind Ixion's chair, hoping his presence made the wizard as uncomfortable as Ixion made him. But he probably enjoys it, Giliead thought with sour resignation. Thankfully, Tremaine had somehow gotten Ilias to leave with her.

Gerard took a place across from Ixion, grim-faced and somehow managing to convey that he felt Ixion was contaminating the air he breathed. There were men and women armed with Rienish curse weapons at the back of the room. The other wizard Niles was waiting with them, his face utterly cool and emotionless; Giliead had no feel for what the man was thinking, but he knew Ixion wouldn't be able to read him either, and that Ixion wouldn't like it.

Gerard said with cold contempt, "Our position is simple. If you attempt to leave the room where you have been confined again, we'll kill you and you can go on to your next body and be damned. If you give us the information you have about the Gardier and cooperate fully, you'll be confined, but you won't be harmed, and we'll keep you from the Gardier to the best of our ability."

The god-thing's sphere sat on the table near Gerard and Giliead could tell it was anything but disinterested. Its clicks and whirs sounded displeased. For the first time, Giliead could also feel little spurts of curses coming from it.

Ixion folded his too-smooth hands and said, "You could provide refreshments for this discussion."

Gerard lifted a brow. "Your needs are immaterial until you give us reason to think otherwise."

Ixion sighed. "You could also tell whatever it is you keep in that metal cage to stop trying to annoy me."

Intrigued by the sphere's activity despite the situation, Giliead concentrated on it, focussing as hard as he could. After a moment he saw a dim wisp of white light drifting from the tarnished metal surface. Fascinated, he watched the translucent wisp arch over the table toward Ixion. There was something about it that made him think of a scout trying to creep past an enemy sentry post.

Ixion was saying, "I realize now it was the other presence I detected on the Swift, that I assumed was another foreign wizard. It's a clever trick, but--" The wisp became a talon and dove in for a strike. He halted, frowning. Through gritted teeth, he said, "I told you, make it stop."

Still concentrating on the sphere, Giliead suddenly saw lines of faded blue light stretching out from it, connecting to threads of different colors stretching all through the ship. He started, blinking, and it was gone, as if someone had dropped a cloth over a lamp to conceal it. Gerard's talk of channeling the sphere's power throughout the ship for protection suddenly made sense. Giliead realized he had been deliberately allowed to see the tendril that had touched Ixion, that the personality in the sphere had shared it with him like a private joke. He was just as sure that the sphere deliberately shielded itself from him. He didn't mind; seeing that light constantly would have been unbelievably distracting. So the Rienish do have gods, he thought, lifting a brow. They just didn't know it.

Without looking away from Ixion, Gerard said, "Arisilde, please."

Giliead said calmly, "Ixion, the man in the metal cage is a god, and has bigger stones than both your bodies put together."

Ixion flicked a glance up at him. "Crude," he commented idly, but Giliead could sense the wariness in him. He turned to Gerard again. "If I give you the information, you will release me."

Gerard evinced surprise. "Are the innocent people you killed still dead? As long as they are, we won't release you." His expression hardened. "You are bargaining for your life, not your freedom."

Ixion regarded him for a long moment, then laughed softly. "The Gardier said their enemies were soft. You may be soft, but you don't lie when you deal, do you?" He sighed, making a gentle gesture with his pale hands. "Very well, I agree."

Giliead met Gerard's eyes. They both knew this was a temporary measure.



***

They put Ixion back into another warded storage room, not far from the first one. Tremaine noted that as a concession to Ixion's apparent surrender, it had been made more comfortable with a cot and chair and some bedding. They had chosen a compartment with an ordinary wooden door, locked but less likely to hurt anyone if Ixion decided to blow it up. With Gerard's assistance, Niles had also warded the door, the walls, deck, and ceiling against ether, light, sound, scent and liquid, which should cover just about anything Ixion could attempt to use to harm them. These were wards that hadn't been used in years since they were no use against the Gardier. She wasn't sure if the sphere had helped them or not; it sat on a desk in the outer room of Ixion's prison, clicking ominously to itself.

Giliead and Ilias had stayed to grimly watch most of the process, then went to join the other Syprians preparing to go ashore with Ander's men. It was an expedition Tremaine hadn't managed to join, something she blamed Ander for. She also knew lifeboats had been dropped to search for Gardier survivors among the floating debris of the gunship wreck, but the rumor was that none had been found.

The chances were good that some of the Gardier had stayed behind in the city. The Ravenna was making a slow approach to the mouth of Cineth harbor, though she wouldn't try to go inside. One of the sailors had commented that she probably couldn't, since it was unlikely a harbor meant for galleys had been dredged to accommodate a liner.

Niles was finishing the last symbols on the deck in front of the closed door, the chalkmarks fizzing and vanishing into the metal as he wrote. Gerard stepped over to join them, his notebooks under his arm. "This should hold him," he said, sounding grimly determined. "Until we have to channel the wards through the ship again. I'm afraid it will still cause this set to fail."

Colonel Averi just nodded tiredly. He had been out in the corridor discussing the situation with the army sergeant in charge of the guard detail. He eyed the door, "Some of the men were injured, but nothing permanent. It's almost as if he didn't want to burn any bridges, as if he planned this as soon as he regained consciousness."

Tremaine knew he was right about that. "He's like a rat. Or something else that always comes out on top."

"Can he provide any real information, do you think?" Averi asked Gerard, as if Tremaine hadn't spoken.

Gerard frowned. "Possibly. I doubt we dare trust it."

"There is one thing we need him for." Tremaine folded her arms, studying the door. "Ixion grew a body, an empty one. At least we hope it was empty--" Now everyone was staring at her. She finished hurriedly, "Arisilde needs a body."

That got Averi's attention. He stared at her, saying, "Good God, Tremaine." Gerard just rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache.

"I didn't mean the one he has." Not if they were going to be that way about it. "But the spell to make one."

"But could we force him to give us the spell he used?" Niles said calmly, getting to his feet and dusting off his hands. "He seems rather obstinate."

Tremaine kept her eyes on the door. I bet I could think of something.



Chapter Five


Some of those who saw the Ravenna from the cliffs said they thought the Gardier wizards had caused a great black island to rise up from the sea, until she called the wizard's ship out to do battle and ate it. Some of them didn't believe our telling that she was a ship until the Ravenna's Captain followed our custom and gave her eyes.
"Ravenna's voyage to the Unknown Eastlands," Abignon Translation



Ilias stood as close to the bow of the Ravenna's launch as he could get, holding to the rail as the wizard boat plowed across the harbor toward the stone piers below the trading Arcade. He had thought these boats fast but now impatience and fear of what they might find made this one seem to travel at a crawl. The lingering bitter taste of the confrontation with Ixion didn't help.

The boat was packed with the rest of the Swift's crew as well as Ander and a dozen Rienish warriors. "I can't see any fires," Giliead said in a low voice, standing next to him and anxiously surveying the shore ahead. "Not up in the town."

Ilias just shook his head. He couldn't bear to speculate. The boat sheds that housed the city's war galleys looked undisturbed, but many of the fishing boats tied up to the piers were sunk, the tangle of broken masts still visible above the waterline. Above the dock area was the long stone trading Arcade, six open arched entrances leading into stalls for merchants and for factors to sell or trade cargos. Some of the wooden market stalls built against the far wall had collapsed, but as Giliead had said, there was no fire rising above the red roofs of the greater part of the town.

Halian, standing beside the Rienish sailor who held the wheel, pointed toward the pier nearest the end of the Arcade. "Bring us in there," he said, his voice tense. The man might not know the words but he understood the pointing; he nodded sharply and adjusted the boat's course by turning the wheel slightly. The Syprians were silent, apprehensive, but behind them Ander was speaking to his men in their own language, giving curt instructions, replying to questions.

The Rienish all carried the long black shooting weapons, though the Gardier had curses which could damage them. The Syprians had lost all their weapons when the Swift had sunk but the Rienish had given them small wooden crossbows the Gardier couldn't harm. Using both weapons was the most effective way of attacking the Gardier the Rienish had found so far but none of the Syprians were willing to touch the shooting sticks, effective or not. Even if they didn't work by curses, they looked like it. Ilias had one of the crossbows slung over his back and the knife that he had managed to hold onto through the trip to Ile-Rien and back. Swords would have been helpful but the Rienish had none on board. Or at least that was what Ander had said.

Ilias wasn't sure he entirely trusted Ander yet; for a young man he was cagey about revealing too much of himself. It was still hard for Ilias to believe that he trusted the motives of Gerard, a wizard, and Florian, an apprentice wizard, better than that of Ander, a fighter and warleader. Maybe it was because Ander still seemed wary of the Syprians' motives.

Ilias saw figures running along the front of the Arcade, vanishing into one of the arched entrances. He could see they wore light brown clothing from head to toe -- Gardier. He nudged Giliead with an elbow and his friend nodded. One of the Rienish spoke urgently, pointing them out to Ander.

The boat slowed as it neared the dock, the low thrum of whatever powered it sputtering to silence. With the others Ilias climbed out as soon as the side bumped the stone, Arites helping the Rienish sailor tie off to the piling. Ilias scanned the docks but couldn't see any movement. Halian paused, then stopped at a small fishing boat. Leaning over to see down into it, he demanded, "How many are there? Which way did they go?"

Ilias stepped up beside him and saw there was a young woman in the boat, huddled next to the mast. She stood, pointing shakily to the road that started at the end of the boatsheds and curved up into the main part of town. "I didn't see how many. Most of them went up there." She looked up at Halian, her face pale. "But in the Arcade, there's a wizard! I saw him run inside."

Giliead's expression hardened. He flicked a glance at Ilias, then told Halian and Ander, "You go after the others, we'll take care of it."

Halian nodded sharply, clapping Ilias on the shoulder as he turned away. But Ander hesitated, eyeing them watchfully. "Are you certain? You don't want--"

"We're certain." Giliead pushed past him, breaking into a run. Ilias raced after him as the Rienish pelted down the dock, following Halian and the others.

As they neared the Arcade, Ilias saw four or five people crouched at the first arched entrance. Giliead waved them back urgently. Recognizing him, they faded back into cover behind the casks and large pottery jars stacked on the dock. One of the women was Feredas, the portmaster. As Giliead mouthed the words, "How many?" Feredas held up two fingers.

Giliead nodded and stepped to the side of the entrance, crouching beside the body sprawled there.

Ilias stepped back against the patched wall, pausing to cock his crossbow and take a cautious look ahead down the wide corridor that led through the building. Large square doorways along each side led into shops and storage areas for cargos. The place looked like a small army had bashed its way through. Copper cooking pots, baskets and broken pottery were scattered over the dusty stone. Three other bodies lay in the passage: two women sprawled in the middle, one with the bright fabric of her skirt tumbled around her, and one man slumped against the wall. A fallen bushel of pomegranates, crushed under the boots of those fleeing or fighting, made the floor look as if it was awash with blood and gore.

Giliead nudged his leg to get his attention and Ilias looked down at the dead man. Tersias, Calensa's cousin, Ilias identified him with a sick sensation. Damn. He had worked for Tersias' family as a youth, unloading cargo. Calensa had been his first love. Giliead twitched aside Tersias' shirt, showing Ilias the blackened skin around the mortal wound in the man's chest; it stunk of charred flesh. He looked up grimly and Ilias nodded to show he understood the warning. This Gardier had a wizard crystal that could throw fire.

Giliead eased to his feet, cocking his own crossbow, and they stepped inside the Arcade.

Slowly and carefully, Giliead moved down the corridor. Ilias stayed at his side, keeping several paces between them. The stalls were open across the front, deserted. They passed a coppersmith's shop with its wares tumbled into the passage and a place that sold bolts of cloth and dyes, mostly undisturbed. Ilias adjusted his grip on the unfamiliar weapon, feeling his palms start to sweat on the smooth wooden stock. This was the worst way to root out wizards; he much preferred sneaking up on them from behind.

A scatter of distant pops, like stones cracking under heat, sounded from somewhere outside; Ilias flinched, recognizing the noise the shooting weapons made. The Rienish must have encountered the other Gardier. Then he froze, poised on one foot, as a rustling came from the next stall. He heard a footstep and a worried mutter in the Gardier's harsh language. From the items spilled into the passage, the stall sold bronze lamps and braziers.

Ilias threw a questioning glance at Giliead, who nodded, his mouth set in a grim line. Ilias stepped soundlessly to the wall, stopping just before the edge of the opening.

Giliead dived forward suddenly, landing and rolling past the open entrance. Ilias heard a shout from the stall as he whipped around the corner. The space was crammed with metal goods, lamps, stands and bowl-shaped containers for coal stacked unsteadily or piled atop wooden chests. He aimed and fired the crossbow by instinct, almost before his eyes found the Gardier crouched back against the inside wall. It was a young one with soot stains on his face, just aiming a long black shooting weapon at Giliead. The bolt slammed into the base of the Gardier's throat. His weapon went off with an ear-shattering report as the man staggered, collapsing against the wall.

Movement towards the center of the stall caught Ilias' eye; he ducked sideways, realizing the other Gardier was concealed behind a stack of wooden crates. Giliead was on his feet now at the front of the stall, aiming his crossbow. Blocked from getting further in by the tumbled metalwares, he shifted impatiently, trying to get a clear shot. Ilias saw the crystal flash as the Gardier moved and shoved forward with a yell, slinging himself over a pile of braziers. He swung the crossbow, clipping the wizard in the head just before his foot came down on something that slid away with a metallic screech; he crashed to the floor.

Landing on his hands and knees, Ilias scrambled to get his feet under him, to get hold of a pot to throw. Suddenly he felt a burning heat erupt in his chest and looked up to see the wizard, the man's face a rictus of pain and fear, holding the crystal over him.

Ilias didn't have breath to yell in horror. He saw Giliead loom up behind the wizard just as the Gardier suddenly jolted forward. Ilias ducked his head as the wizard fell over him, then shoved himself free, slamming a kick into the man's side. Rolling over, trying to sit up despite the haze of fiery pain in his chest, he saw a crossbow bolt sticking out of the wizard's back. Blood soaked the dun-colored jacket but the Gardier was still trying to push himself upright, to reach for the fallen crystal. It was a broken shard, colored a yellow-tinged white, much smaller than the one Gervas had threatened Ilias and Tremaine with.

Giliead desperately shoved the crates aside but the wizard stretched, his fingers brushing the crystal. Pain shooting through his body, Ilias grabbed a heavy copper pot and lunged forward, smashing it down on the shard. It broke in fragments, light spraying from the pieces like droplets of water, vanishing into the cracks in the paving stones. The wizard shouted in despair and Ilias slumped over the pot, relieved, feeling the heat in his chest fade.

Giliead pushed his way through the debris to grab the wizard by the back of his jacket, awkwardly straddling him. The Gardier struggled silently, clawing at Giliead's arm. His face set in grim distaste, Giliead whipped his knife across the wizard's throat.

After a moment to make sure the man was dead, Giliead dropped the body, looking at Ilias. "You all right?" he demanded, breathing hard.

Ilias nodded slowly, pushing himself upright and away from the spreading pool of blood, rubbing the reddened spot on his chest. The sudden heat was fading rapidly, barely a phantom pain left behind. He took a deep breath and sat up on his knees, looking worriedly at his friend. "Did he get you too?"

Giliead shook his head, plucking at his shirt. Ilias realized the brown cloth now had a singed black patch right below the leather lacing on his chest. "He tried. It didn't work on me."

Some curses worked on Giliead, some didn't. It was just luck this Gardier wizard didn't know the right ones to use. Ilias pushed to his feet, staring down at the wizard who was just a dead man now. It had been a messy kill and he knew Giliead hated that. "Did you stab him with that bolt?"

Giliead winced as he stood, absently wiping his bloody hands on his pants. "The damn bow misfired." He kicked the copper pot off the remnants of the crystal, using his bootheel to grind the last few solid fragments into powder.

Ilias watched this, noting the fragments didn't burst into water-light and trickle away. He wondered if that only happened when the wizard imprisoned inside the crystal was released into death. If there really was a wizard inside the smaller shards, the way the Rienish said there was in the larger crystals. Giliead's face was still grim, his mouth set in a hard line. Trying to lighten the mood, Ilias stooped to pick up his crossbow, saying earnestly, "You want to cut his head off to make sure he's dead?"

Giliead gave him a forbidding glare. "That," he said deliberately, "Was not funny."

***

Popping sounds from shooting weapons led them up the road from the Arcade and through the lower part of the town. The trail of corpses -- Syprian, Gardier and one Rienish -- told them they were headed the right way. It also encouraged them to stay close to cover to avoid making themselves even better targets than they already were.

Houses with white clay walls and red tile roofs rose on either side of the wide dirt track, wooden doors tightly closed. Ilias heard dogs barking behind the garden walls and a few stray chickens skittered out of their path but other than that the town might have been deserted.

As they reached the corner of a larger house Giliead suddenly stepped back against the wall, motioning urgently for Ilias to do the same. He flattened himself against the cool clay surface, taking a cautious look around Giliead.

Around the corner was a small plaza with a square fountain house in the center, the edge of the roof carved with sea-snakes. Leaning out, Ilias could just see two Gardier and three Syprians sprawled on the dark-stained dirt near the little pavilion.

Giliead elbowed him back with the low-voiced warning, "There's a wizard up on the roof, just to the right of the waterspout."

Ilias crouched and leaned out again more cautiously, studying the square. There was a good vantage point in the goat pen in the corner opposite theirs, where the slant-roofed shed provided cover from the rooftops. He saw a head with Syprian braids bob just above the gate. He glanced up at Giliead, jerking his head inquiringly toward the goat pen.

His friend nodded approval of the plan. "Signal me when you're ready."

Ilias faded back along the side of the house, leapt to catch the top of the garden wall and scrambled over. He landed on the flagstones of a courtyard shaded by berry trees. The back portico of the house was empty, a shattered bowl of cooked grains on the blue tiled floor the only sign of the sudden disturbance. Crossing the court swiftly, he climbed the vine-covered wall opposite. It was shielded from the plaza by the second floor of the house and he was able to walk back along it to the open pen.

Six piebald goats clustered in confused alarm at the back of the hay-strewn pen. Ilias couldn't see under the roof of the shed where the defenders had taken cover, but he could hear a quiet murmur of voices. He hunched low on the top of the wall and hissed a warning that he was about to appear. After a moment of fraught silence there was a soft reply and he jumped lightly down into the pen.

There was still a flurry of startled movement under the low shed. Two Rienish men, Halian, Kias and a few townies all crouched behind the gate. "Where's Giliead?" Halian demanded, keeping his voice low.

He didn't bother to ask if they had gotten the wizard in the Arcade, knowing that if they hadn't, Ilias wouldn't be here. "He's around the side of the next house," Ilias told him, ducking under the low roof and kneeling near the gate as Kias shifted to give him room. "How many here?"

"Just one left on the roof, up there." Halian pointed, confirming Giliead's instinctive knowledge of the wizard's position, though Ilias didn't need it confirmed. "He's got a shooting weapon and those curse crystals."

Ilias nodded, noticing one of the Rienish had lost his weapon and had burned hands, a sure sign of the curse the Rienish feared most. One of the townies was bleeding from a wound in the shoulder and was unarmed, but the other had a goathorn bow. "Hey, let me use that."

The man shifted it off his shoulder, then hesitated. Curse mark, Ilias thought. At the moment it was more an annoyance than a kick in the gut. Halian twisted around to eye the man with grim intent and he flushed and passed the bow and quiver to Ilias.

One of the Rienish asked an impatient question and Ilias shook his head to show he didn't understand, motioning him to wait. He leaned out a little to whistle a sharp signal. At Giliead's answer, Ilias eased to his feet, readying himself to move.

Giliead leapt out of cover, shouting, firing the little crossbow at the pitch of the roof just above the Gardier's position. Ilias saw a flash of brown clothing and slammed through the gate, darting across the open court to put his back against one of the fountain house's pillars. He notched the arrow as Giliead loaded another quarrel and cocked the crossbow. Then he saw something dark grow in the air just in front of Giliead, an amorphous shadow that abruptly went solid and slammed his friend to the ground.

Ilias whipped around the pillar, raising the bow and firing up at the wizard in one motion. He knew immediately he had missed the chest shot but as the Gardier swung around he realized he must have gotten him low in the belly. The man scrabbled wildly at the roof tiles, then went over backward. He struck the packed dirt of the street with a thump, lying in a crumpled heap. Ilias reached him as Rienish and Syprians appeared from doorways all over the plaza. He hurriedly kicked the crystal free of the man's hand and crushed it under his bootheel.

Giliead was already sitting up, wiping black sticky strands off his face and chest as Ilias reached him. Relieved, he sat on his heels to watch, saying critically, "That's a little like the curse the Barrens wizard used. Did it try to go down your throat?"

"Not that I could tell." With a sour expression Giliead scrubbed black goo off his mouth and spat into the dirt. "And I didn't need to be reminded of that."

Ander slid to an abrupt halt in the dirt beside them, staring incredulously down at Giliead. "You're alive."

Giliead, always in a bad mood when even a mild aspect of a curse worked on him, just cocked a brow at the young man and said nothing.

Ander shook his head, still confused. "I've seen the Gardier use that spell before, in Adera. It's...brutal."

"We told you he's a Chosen Vessel," Ilias said pointedly, beginning to take offense. He knew Ander didn't trust them fully but he hadn't thought it extended to thinking them liars.

"Yes, but I didn't think--" Ander cut himself off, pressing his lips together.

Giliead got to his feet, wiping his hands off on his pants. Ignoring Ander, he said thoughtfully, "The god's here."

Knowing the god's penchant for dark cool places, Ilias looked at the fountain house first. Sparks of light hovered above the surface of the well, glittering like fireflies.

***

Tremaine sat on the bench of the accident boat as it chugged across Cineth harbor toward the stone docks. The heavy cloudcover was breaking up, letting the afternoon sun show through in shafts and patches.

She shaded her eyes, impatiently scanning the damage. She could see the sunken boats still tied to the dock and the collapsed stalls on the side of the trading building. It had been three hours since Ander had used an electric signal from the dock to tell them that the last of the Gardier had been dealt with and that there had been one man killed, plus some injuries among the landing party. They didn't know the extent of the Syprian casualties yet.

For Tremaine at least the wait had been excruciating, but she had known it would take some negotiating for the other Syprians to let more of the Ravenna's crew land. She didn't know how convincing Ilias and Giliead and the others had been, but at least nobody was pushing catapults out onto the docks. The god's visit to the Ravenna might have had something to do with that.

It had appeared first on the Sun deck, badly startling the refugees and crew who had gathered there for a view of Cineth. Niles and Gerard had arrived immediately and with them Tremaine had followed the god on its brief tour of the ship. It had visited the ballroom with the spell circle that allowed the ship to pass through etheric gateways; ignoring the strange symbols of the circle painted onto the marble tile, it had seemed more interested in the crystal light fixtures. It had finally ended up in the room outside Ixion's cell, sparkling around the door as if it knew what was inside but either couldn't, or chose not to, cross the wards.

Captain Marais had come down to look at it in consternation. "What does it want?" he had demanded. "And what is it, for that matter?"

"It's just curious," Tremaine had told him, aware she wasn't quite answering the question. They knew Arisilde had some kind of connection with the god, either before or after he had been trapped in the sphere. When the sphere had been stored at Coldcourt, it had influenced her writing without her conscious knowledge, sending her images of Ilias and Giliead's experiences from this world. Arisilde could only have gotten that information from the Syprian god, though they still had no idea where or how he had come into contact with it.

"Fascinating," Niles murmured. He glanced down at the sphere. "Arisilde doesn't seem to find it a threat."

"It might be some sort of elemental," Gerard explained, frowning thoughtfully as he watched the play of light around the door. "Whatever these 'gods' are, the entities provide some protection for the Syprians against sorcerers like Ixion."

Marais lifted his brows. "Well, I wonder what it would do if we let it in to him."

Tremaine stepped up to the door and lifted her hand, her skin tingling as the god's humming energy briefly touched her. "Oh, I bet it could get in if it really tried." She raised her voice, "Hey, Ixion, the god's here. It wants to say hello."

Ixion hadn't replied, and after a time the god sparked more faintly, then gradually vanished.

Ander's message to come ashore had arrived not long after. Gerard must have also told Captain Marais about the eyes painted on Syprian galleys, because when the accident boat had been lowered and they were moving away from the Ravenna, Tremaine saw a small scaffold had been hung off the bow and a couple of crewmen in safety harnesses were putting the finishing touches on the white paint outline of a stylized eye. It couldn't hurt, she thought. And from what she could see, ramming the Gardier ship hadn't even left a dent in the bow.

"There doesn't seem to be much activity," Gerard said in a low voice. He was standing at the rail next to her, surveying the line of docks with a worried frown. "Wait, there's Ander."

"What's he doing?" Tremaine came to her feet, grabbing the rail. Ander's message had asked for her specifically and she had no idea why, though she supposed he might need her for a spare translator.

"Watching us with field glasses," Gerard told her dryly.

Finally they reached the dock, the motor coughing as the boat slowed to awkwardly bump against the pilings. The seamen scrambled out to tie it off and Tremaine was right behind them, Gerard grabbing her elbow when her foot slipped on the wet wood.

Ander met them at the end of the dock. His shirt was sweat stained and he had a rifle slung back over his shoulder. "You were right," he said without preamble. "They are willing to discuss an alliance with us." For some reason his expression was grim.

Gerard nodded, holding up a leather file case he had brought with him. "Colonel Averi had a document prepared, a letter of intent. It's not binding until the government in exile ratifies it, of course, but it'll be a start."

Considering it was probably prepared by Count Minister Delphane and the Solicitor General, it will be more than a start, Tremaine thought. But Ander was eyeing her as if she had done something. "What's wrong with you?" she demanded.

He stared at her for at least a full minute, as if expecting her to break down and confess. Tremaine folded her arms and stared back. He finally said, "They want you to negotiate."

Tremaine frowned, not understanding. "Negotiate with them?"

"Negotiate for them," Ander clarified, still watching her. "With us."

"Me?"

"Tremaine?" Gerard echoed, startled.

Ander looked at him, exasperated. "I can't talk them out of it. These people are so stubborn -- it's like talking to stone walls."

Tremaine's mouth was open to protest; the very idea of that much responsibility curdled her stomach. But Ander's tone stopped her in mid-breath. He doesn't think I can do it. Well, she knew she couldn't. But she could fake her way along until she found someone else who could. She told Ander, "Then you can take that letter back to Count Delphane. The Syprians are not going to sign anything without the advice of an independent solicitor who is an expert in international affairs." A dimly remembered phrase from an old newspaper article surfaced and she added, "And I want an arbitrator from a non-aligned nation."

Ander stared at her, pressing his lips together. Then he said, "Perhaps we can get you a Gardier arbitrator." He turned on his heel and strode away up the dock.

Good exit line, Tremaine thought, eyes narrowed as she watched him go. Yelling a comeback after him would be highly unsatisfactory. And she didn't have a comeback.

She looked at Gerard, expecting another grim expression, but he was smiling faintly. "Your father would be proud," he said softly. "He couldn't have done a better job himself."

It struck her to the core and her eyes stung. No, he wouldn't be proud, she thought, looking away. But Gerard was, and that was good too. She forced the emotion down, putting it away where she could examine it later. "If my father was doing this," she muttered, "the Syprians would end up with a long lease on Chaire and most of the west coast."

***

Ander led them up the dirt path through the town and Tremaine saw people were beginning to stir, coming out to check the damage in the harbor or gathering around the little fountain houses in the communal squares to talk. Some of them were standing on top of their roofs, using primitive spyglasses to look at the Ravenna. They got many curious glances, or at least Ander did; Tremaine and Gerard were still dressed in Syprian clothing.

From what Tremaine understood, Syprians had come from two different peoples who had blended together along the coast, one tall like Giliead, with brown or reddish hair and olive skin, the other smaller and blond like Ilias. Most of the young men wore their hair in long braids or queues like Ilias and the others from the Swift, though many of the older men seemed to cut it off at the shoulders or crop it short. Their clothes were in soft colors, with leather and cloth dyed or blockprinted with designs. The women wore long skirts or dresses or the same cotton pants and sleeveless shirts as the men. Many of the people who worked on the boats or near the water wore little more than a cloth wrap around their waists.

They reached Cineth's central plaza, a large area of open ground where spreading trees shaded little markets of awnings and small tents, still deserted after the attack. The plaza was bordered by several long two-story buildings with columns and brightly painted pediments that formed a ribbon of color just under their rooflines. The large one with the pillared portico was the town Assembly, the smaller round one with a domed roof was a mint and the one with a forbidding square façade was the lawgiver's house. The city fountain house was next to it, a low square structure with what Tremaine now knew were anatomically correct sea serpents winding sinuously over its pediment. There were a number of men armed with swords or long spears on horseback, making a loose perimeter around the plaza. The horses were distinctly Syprian, with rough, dun-colored coats and patterns of small spots along their backs and down their hindquarters.

Heading toward the lawgiver's house, Ander gestured warily toward the largest tree, an old oak with heavy spreading branches that had sunk to the ground under their own weight. "The god came into town during the attack. It's settled in that tree now."

Tremaine stopped to look, squinting to see past the shadows under the branches. She couldn't spot any light or movement that couldn't be accounted for by the gentle breeze. But near the base of the tree, someone had stuck up a post with a goat skull as a warning, a few colored ribbons tied to the horns to catch the eye. "It visited us on the ship, too."

Ander glanced at her as if he thought she was insane but Gerard nodded, asking him, "Did it appear to take part in the battle?"

Ander let out a breath. "Not that I could tell. Except Giliead caught a spell that should have slowly strangled him from the inside out." He shook his head, incredulous. "The Gardier could have done more damage hitting him with a mud clot."

Tremaine nodded. "He's a Chosen Vessel." Gerard just looked thoughtful but Ander stared at her again. "What?" she demanded. "We knew that. Did you think they were making it up?"

Ander snorted in annoyance and stamped away. Tremaine followed, feeling like she had somehow gotten her revenge for that comment of his on the docks but not quite sure how.

Ilias met them at the door to the lawgiver's house, where he had been pacing with his arms folded. He looked like he had rolled in the dirt a few times but otherwise wasn't the worse for wear. "How is it going?" Ander asked him, keeping his voice low.

"I think they've convinced Nicanor," Ilias replied, with a glance back over his shoulder at the open door to make sure he wasn't overheard. "Now they have to convince Visolela."

"Oh, lovely," Tremaine commented under her breath. Visolela was Nicanor's wife, the head of his household and a major power in the city. On their last visit she hadn't even wanted Nicanor to speak to his scandalous relatives and their wizard guests where anybody could see him.

Ilias gave her a rueful glance in acknowledgement as he led the way inside.

A rather dark stone-walled foyer opened into a broad portico around an atrium, which Tremaine realized must be standard for large Syprian houses. It was bigger than the one at Andrien House and had less of the kitchen garden look about it. The trees were cyprus, their roots poking up into the formal flower beds, and there was a square reflecting pool down the center.

In a room opening onto the portico, Giliead, Halian, Nicanor and Visolela sat on low chairs and couches with brightly woven cushions. Halian nodded in greeting as Gerard and Ander stepped in. Giliead looked up with a slight smile. Nicanor, broody and thoughtful, glanced at them but said nothing. Visolela, stone faced, didn't glance.

Ilias stopped at the entrance to the room, standing back against a stone column painted with red and black bands. Tremaine stopped with him, a reflexive habit she had picked up from following him through the caves and the underground city on the island. He gave her a gentle push on into the room.

The floor was all mosaic, with stylized waves along the border and flowers and vines entwining through the center panel. Winecups and a carafe of some delicate white pottery stood on a low table, but no one was drinking.

Nicanor was Halian's son from his first marriage. He had long dark hair and the family resemblance showed in the shape of his face and his eyes, though Nicanor wasn't quite as tall as his father. Visolela was a beautiful dark-haired woman with a heart shaped face and, Tremaine saw now, ice-cold eyes. She wore a light sleeveless dress of dark red, a silk stole with black and gray block-shaped designs looped over one arm.

Looking at Visolela, Ander cleared his throat and said, "This is Gerard, and Tremaine."

Nicanor actually looked at her this time, with an appraising expression. Visolela's jaw hardened, but she still didn't look. Nicanor asked, "You agree to speak for us to your people?"

It took Tremaine a moment to realize he was speaking to her. "Uh, yes." She started to add Until you find someone better but realized in time that it wouldn't exactly engender confidence.

Nicanor accepted that with a glance at Visolela for confirmation. "It won't be easy to convince the council," he said, "And if we do, it will still have to go to the Matriarch's council in Syrneth."

Halian nodded. "Karima could speak for us there. Her cousin Ilyandra is still influential on it."

Her voice hard, Visolela said, "When she tells them that Ixion still lives, I doubt any amount of influence will matter."

Tremaine saw Ilias' gaze go to Giliead. Giliead, fortunately, pressed his lips together and said nothing.

Nicanor flicked a thoughtful glance at Giliead as well, but said, "They will have to be made to understand that the alliance is necessary."

Visolela grimaced and for an instant the hard lines in her face were visible, the ones that would become permanent evidence of bad temper as she grew older. "If Karima fails to convince them of that, then all of Cineth could end up ostracized. And even if she does, when the Hisians and the Menelai learn we have made a treaty with wizards, they will stop sending their trading ships. The trade with the Chaeans isn't enough to make up the difference. It might not matter to us at first, but people will starve in the smaller towns along the coast."

Halian let out his breath and rubbed his eyes. Tremaine sympathized. It would have been easier to argue with Visolela if she was wrong, but Tremaine suspected that wasn't the case and they all knew it.

"If the Gardier invade, there will be no trade, no cities or towns to starve." Gerard spoke quietly and they all looked up, startled. "You saw what they did in your city today. They can't be appeased, because they don't ask for anything. All they seem to want is territory, and people to turn into slaves so they can build more weapons to take more territory. We've found out from Gardier prisoners that they won't make Syprians into slaves because they can't or won't learn your language and they know you consider their tools cursed, and will die before you use them. So they'll destroy this coast just to get you out of the way."

Visolela didn't look at him but her mouth set and a flush crept up the olive skin of her cheeks. She stood abruptly, gathered her stole with a sharp gesture. "I must speak to the portmaster and the trading guilds."

As she strode out of the room, Nicanor looked after her with a frown. He said, "She'll agree. She just...doesn't like the necessity of it."

Tremaine saw Giliead flick a dry look at Ilias. She strongly suspected it represented a repressed sardonic comment that would have undone all Halian and Ander's careful work. With that out of his system, Giliead sat forward, telling Nicanor, "I'll have to go with them, to make sure of Ixion."

Nicanor nodded slowly, tapping his fingers on the table. "They agree to this?"

Giliead looked at Gerard, who cleared his throat and said, "We were hoping you would send some representatives with us. If all goes well, we'll be rejoining the government of Ile-Rien in exile and they will want to establish formal relations. It will be an exceedingly dangerous journey." He shook his head with a slight rueful smile. "But I know you're all very aware of that."

***

Later, Tremaine paced out in the plaza. It was early afternoon and the last remnants of the storm streaked the sky with strips of clouds. Ander and Gerard were waiting here too, though most of Ander's men had gone back to the Ravenna.

Nicanor had gotten Visolela to agree to Giliead going with the Ravenna to keep an eye on Ixion, and also that she would receive representatives from Ile-Rien's government as soon as they could be brought here. Now they just had to convince the rest of the Syprians at their council meeting, where Tremaine would have to be present to answer questions. At least she wouldn't be stuck in the large town assembly, but in the much smaller council chamber that was part of the lawgiver's house.

Coming up to pace next to her, Ander said, "You have to make it clear, we can't sign a formal treaty with them. Only the government in exile in Parscia has that authority."

Parscia, their ally to the south of Ile-Rien. It had been under attack as well and now that the Gardier had overrun Ile Rien, it was sure to be next. Maybe they'll stop to destroy Bisra and buy us some time. "Yes, I know," Tremaine said. "As long as we don't promise anything stupid the government in exile will probably ratify our agreement. If we make it back there before they're all dead too." She grimaced and glanced up at Ander's exasperated face. "I'm sorry, that part wasn't supposed to be out loud."

He swore under his breath. "Tremaine, you have to take this seriously. Don't you understand--"

"I am serious! God, what does it take?" she shouted. She saw Giliead beckoning to her from the portico. "I'm going now. If you're so convinced I'm going to wreck this then you can always shoot me."

Leaving him glaring after her in frustration, she stamped across to the lawgiver's house, stepping up onto the portico.

"Are you ready?" Giliead asked, managing to sound more encouraging than concerned. Ilias was looking past her at Ander, frowning slightly, and she knew the argument hadn't escaped either of them.

She nodded, feeling the tension start to gather in her chest. "Karima told me all the rules. And she said Halian would help." From what she understood it wasn't necessary to get the council to vote, as it would be in the Ministry of Ile-Rien; all they had to do was answer the objections of any council members, and hope that any objections they couldn't answer were shouted down by the others.

Giliead frowned slightly. "Well, Halian isn't good at speaking to the council." At Tremaine's inquiring look he added, "He gets angry."

"He was better as the warleader," Ilias put in.

"Oh." Tremaine rubbed her brow, wondering if it was too late to run screaming. "That's good to know."

Giliead led the way along the portico to a large double doorway. Tremaine darted a look past him to see a short hallway leading into a round high-ceilinged room that seemed to be completely crammed with people. Tiers of benches circled the room all the way up to the mosaiced ceiling, where little square windows let in light and air. From her earlier briefing, Tremaine knew the lower levels were occupied by the male heads of household and the younger sons and daughters. The female heads of the household sat up on the top tier. Men, even the male heads of household, couldn't speak without the female head of household's presence. Giliead, as Chosen Vessel, was the only one exempt from these rules.

As they entered the room everyone stopped talking and stared at Tremaine. Somehow she hadn't quite expected that. Ilias nudged her with his arm, not trying to get her attention, but in a Syprian way of showing support. She saw Karima, seated on the top tier and wrapped in an azure stole, wave at them.

Tremaine followed them to the only empty space left, a couple of tiers up where Halian was already seated. She shuffled into a spot next to him as Giliead elbowed room for himself and Ilias on the bench just above. People started to talk among themselves again, but more softly. Then across the room Nicanor got to his feet.

He spoke well, making the events of the past two days into a story for his rapt listeners. Listening to him describe Vienne and Port Rel through Ilias' eyes almost distracted Tremaine from the nervous clenching in her stomach. But hearing herself depicted as some sort of hero made her deeply uncomfortable.

The moment when he revealed the fact that Ixion was still alive distracted her from her own concerns. The room went deadly still, the horrified silence seeming to stretch forever. Wincing in sympathy, Tremaine snuck a look over her shoulder. Giliead's expression was as revealing as a brick wall, but Ilias looked angry and defensive enough for both of them.

When Nicanor finished, Tremaine tensed, her stomach cramping with stage-fright, knowing she would be called on next. Then at least ten people leapt to their feet, each clamoring to express an opinion.

"This is impossible. They are wizards."

"They're like the Chaeans, their wizards aren't mad."

"That's no recommendation, we've fought with the Chaeans for decades!"

"The light-keepers saw that giant thing, run by curses!"

"They saw it destroy our enemies!"

Repeat until blind with boredom, Tremaine thought some time later. Visolela and Karima had both answered some serious questions posed by a few of the female heads of household, all the while warily eyeing each other. Nicanor only occasionally interrupted the confusion on the lower floor, to correct a point of fact or to slap down a particularly outrageous statement, but mostly he kept his seat with a politely interested expression. Tremaine's respect for him as a politician increased; this was taking forever but nobody would be able to claim afterward that they hadn't gotten a chance to have their say. Halian, on the other hand, looked bored and annoyed and made an irritated huffing noise whenever anyone said anything too stupid. Giliead had his closed, impossible-to-read face on; it would have looked more daunting if Ilias hadn't nodded off and slumped over against his arm. The air in the room was warm and Tremaine was starting to drift a little herself.

Then across the room a tall spare man with the lean face of an ascetic stood up. Several of the others standing and waiting to speak immediately sat down.

Halian sat up, suddenly alert, and leaned over to whisper, "That's Pella." Giliead didn't react as far as she could tell but he must have tensed, because Ilias sat up abruptly, blearily awake.

The real opposition, Tremaine thought, eyeing Pella.

He surveyed the room thoughtfully, waiting until he had everyone's attention. Finally he said, "What guarantee do we have that these wizards will deal with us as equals?"

"We don't." Nicanor got to his feet, unhurriedly but without implying that he was stalling for time. "There are no guarantees in any alliance, any agreement, between strangers."

Pella lifted a brow, managing to give the impression that he was reluctant to correct the lawgiver. "Between strangers, yes." His expression hardened. "But all here know that those who make themselves wizards don't think of us as strangers, but as cattle."

Tremaine was on her feet, saying, "Excuse me," before her wits caught up to her. The room was deathly quiet and everyone stared at her expectantly. She realized she had inadvertently taken the floor from Pella, something only a woman could do in this council. Having the entire room's suddenly riveted attention was not a pleasant experience, but instinct told her she should field this question. Nicanor couldn't argue in abstracts forever, no matter how good a rhetorical speaker he was, Visolela was disinclined to argue at all, and Karima knew nothing about Ile Rien except the little she had been told.

Tremaine cleared her throat. "Most of our people aren't wizards. I'm not. The Captain of the giant ship is not. Our Queen--" She realized she had used the Rienish word; there was no Syrnaic equivalent. She substituted hurriedly, "--Matriarch and her heirs and the members of her council are not. There is nothing in our law anywhere that says a sorcerer's interest takes precedence over that of any other person." Finding herself unable to sustain the formal tone, she added with a shrug and a wry smile, "We're more likely to cheat you because we have politicians than because we have wizards."

A faint murmur rose as everyone talked that over. Pella eyed her for a moment, something she was beginning to recognize as a rhetorical device. He said, "If you truly mean to accept us as equals, then prove it. Prove it with a marriage alliance. Let her align herself with--" he hesitated, but it was a calculated pause, a tactical moment to sweep the room with a glance and make sure he had his audience's attention. "With the Andrien house. With Ilias."

Tremaine blinked. Did he just say what I think he said? She looked at the others for help. They were staring at Pella. Ilias was struggling to keep his expression blank, but the flush of red under his tanned skin laid bare his feelings. Giliead's face had suffused with anger, Halian's lip curled with contempt. A glance up at the top tier of seats showed her Karima, sitting up straight, lips pressed together, her hands knotted in her stole.

Baffled, Tremaine turned back to Pella, who waited with lifted brows, inviting her opinion. Then realization hit. Oh, I get it. She smiled at him through gritted teeth. Ilias' curse mark made him almost a non-person in the cities of the Syrnai; a Syprian woman would never have accepted this offer. The fact that it meant humiliating Ilias in front of the council and his family was obviously just an added bonus. The only thing that made it bearable was the enormous satisfaction she was about to derive from knocking Pella right off his self-congratulatory little pedestal. "Is that a serious offer?"

Pella's expression of calm confidence hardened just a little. Before he could reply she continued, "It sounds like that would be the Andrien family's business. But if they made the offer...." She hesitated for effect, mockingly copying Pella's rhetorical pause. "I would be happy to accept it." Oh. Wait. Suddenly uncertain, she leaned down to Ilias, asking in a whisper, "Is that all right with you?"

He looked startled. "What?"

Nicanor was on his feet now. "Is that your condition, Pella? A marriage alliance between Andrien and--" he looked inquiringly at Tremaine, who supplied automatically, "Valiarde."

Pella's lips thinned but he obviously recognized that it was too late for anybody to back out, especially him. "Yes, that is my condition."

Nicanor turned back to them. "Is it agreeable to Andrien?"

Giliead and Halian stared blankly at each other as if nobody had ever wanted to marry anyone in their family before and they had no more idea how to handle it than Tremaine did. She knew Halian had been married at least twice; surely he remembered something of the details. Then she saw with relief that Karima had left her place on the top tier of benches and was determinedly making her way down, stepping on the people who weren't fast enough to get out of her way. She stepped over the last bench, catching Halian's hand to steady herself, and leaned over to Tremaine, asking softly, "You said Gerard can speak for your family?"

"He's not my guardian anymore, but he's a trustee of the estate, so, sure." Stop babbling, she told herself urgently.

Some of those words had no equivalent in Syrnaic but Karima must have gotten the drift of it. She nodded sharply. "Let's go talk to him." She took Tremaine's hand, firmly leading her down the steps and away without a glance at anyone else.

Once they were out of the council chamber and into the corridor between the buildings, Karima released Tremaine so she could unwrap her stole and shake out her hair. Without looking at her, Karima said, "Is this just for an alliance?"

Tremaine felt sweat break out all over her body though it was cooler out here than in the council chamber. "No," she found herself saying.

Karima stopped to face her, her expression intent, guarded but hopeful. "You would want to take him back to your land?"

"I don't have a land anymore. Even if we drive the Gardier away--" Tremaine took a deep breath. She had the distinctly contrary sensation of her mind being blank but her thoughts racing. It was uncomfortable. "I'll have to stay with the Ravenna until we find out one way or another if there's a chance to go back. Unless they throw me off the ship which is always a possibility." You're babbling again. "But one way or another-- I wouldn't ask him to go back," she finished awkwardly.

Karima nodded seriously. She started toward the steps out into the plaza, saying, "If you decide to go back to your land, then he will still be better off. Men who have been married once aren't subject to the family laws."

Following her, Tremaine nodded, not sure she was taking it all in.

Gerard and Ander, sitting on the steps of the Lawgiver's House, stood up as they saw Tremaine. Gerard frowned in consternation and Ander demanded, "It's over? What's happened?"

Tremaine stopped in front of them, looking expectantly at Karima, who lifted her brows slightly. Tremaine realized she needed to do the talking. She braced herself, giving them both what she hoped was a confident expression. First things first: get rid of Ander. "Karima and I need to speak to Gerard alone."

Ander's frown deepened and he threw a sharp look at Gerard, but he retreated back out of earshot without further protest.

Gerard lifted his brows, puzzled. "Tremaine?"

She cleared her throat. Her teeth wanted to chatter from nerves and she had to clamp her jaw to stop it, which made it difficult to talk. "It's going well, well, there's a lot of arguing, but-- They want a marriage alliance, so I'm going to marry Ilias."

Gerard blinked. "You...you what?"

"You have to give us something. A boat, land, cattle, something of value," Karima put in, her voice a little concerned. "It doesn't matter to me but if it's too little than it seems as if you don't value him."

"I see." Tremaine nodded, not sure she did see but willing to work with Karima. She did have land, a house and a lot of property not leased to the Viller Institute but it was all on currently Gardier-occupied war-torn territory. She also had an art collection if the Gardier didn't find or destroy the hidden vaults. Then she remembered the gold coins she had taken out of the family deposit box at the bank to pay the forger. "I've got gold, Rienish gold Reals. They're each four ounces of solid gold, or really about ninety percent gold with trace metals. You can melt them down, or you might like them just as they are. They have the royal seal on them and they won't be made anymore so--" Stop it. She should tell Gerard she was hysterical and ask him to slap her. "I don't have them with me, but they're on the boat. The ship."

Karima was nodding, smiling in relief. She drew her stole around her. "That will be perfect. We don't use gold but the merchants from Argot will trade a lot of grain for it." She threw Gerard a look, obviously noting that he had something to say on the subject. "Come back when you're ready."

Tremaine watched Karima walk back to the council house, then turned reluctantly to Gerard. At least he looked more grim than incredulous. He said, "Are you actually seriously contemplating this?"

Tremaine gestured erratically. Maybe I am out of my mind. But then didn't I know that already? "Yes. It's perfect. It's what they want. Actually they don't want it, but they've suggested it and now they can't get out of it. I'm in there too. I mean, I think it's a good idea."

Gerard rubbed his forehead, possibly trying to calm himself. "Tremaine, you can't."

She nodded rapidly. "I can, actually."

He said tightly, "Your father entrusted me--"

She gestured, impatient. "Gerard, we both know if my father was alive, he wouldn't give a damn--"

"I'm afraid we both do not know that--"

"And if he did, we wouldn't know until it was too late. And by the way, I'm doing it anyway."

Gerard let out a frustrated breath and looked away.

Tremaine waited uncomfortably. If it was a tactic, it was working. Unable to help herself, she said, "What are you thinking?"

Gerard regarded her. "I'm thinking it's typical of you that you can't explain how a steam engine works but you can give the weight and metallurgic contents of a gold Real."

While she was trying to decide how to respond to that, Ander returned, his face dark with impatience. "Will you tell me what the hell the problem is?"

"I'll explain," Gerard said sharply.

"I'm getting married," Tremaine told him, suddenly enjoying herself.

The incredulous expression on Ander's face was classic. "What?"

"Tremaine--" Gerard began warningly.

"Wait, wait. Can I borrow your notebook?" As Gerard reluctantly handed it over, Tremaine told him, "We need to send for the coins." She thought for a moment about who she trusted to go through her things, then wrote a note to Florian, asking her to take the leather document case out of her bag and send it to her.

"What is this?" Ander demanded, looking at Gerard. "What is she talking about?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask her?" Tremaine said. She tore the page out, folded it, and handed it to an unwilling Gerard. "I'm going back in." She made her escape before either man could object.

***

Halian and Nicanor had moved to the far side of the chamber, talking intently amid the babble of other conversations. Pella had not been invited to join them and he stood watching, his face tight with tension and thwarted anger. To Ilias, he looked like a man who had realized he had made a fool of himself and was all the more determined to make somebody pay for it. He also noticed a lot of people were staring at him, and not for the usual reasons.

Giliead had gone off with Halian, but now came back to sit down on the step next to Ilias, asking quietly, "How do you feel about this?"

Good question, Ilias thought. He wished he had the answer. "We want an alliance," he said to avoid it. He shrugged. "Even if it's Pella's idea, it's the best way."

Giliead pressed his lips together in irritation. "That wasn't what I asked."

Ilias rubbed his eyes. Everyone was still watching them, or at least it felt like everyone. Giliead, of course, wouldn't care. The laws didn't give the Chosen Vessel any special authority in marriage matters, but if Giliead decided to argue against it, there would be few who would oppose him.

Silk brushed his arm and he looked up to see Visolela standing over them. She was trembling with anger, her lovely face flushed as she demanded, "Are you going to allow him to do this?"

Ilias stared at her. "Me?"

Giliead just looked at her. It was a badly timed question, since Giliead must be in the middle of deciding just that. He said, coldly, "Go away."

She stared down at them, the flush deepening, then gathered her skirts and walked back down the tiers.

Giliead watched her go. "This could turn out badly."

He wasn't talking about Visolela; they already knew that was going to turn out badly. Ilias snapped, "And I just wouldn't know what to do, since nothing bad's ever happened to me before."

Giliead's jaw set, but his expression said he knew exactly how conflicted Ilias was. Ilias looked away.

Halian returned, taking the seat just below them. He looked up at Ilias seriously. "Well? Do you want to do this?"

People keep asking me that. "Will they really agree to the alliance if I do?"

Halian persisted, "If you're just doing this for the alliance, tell Karima now."

"If I'm not just doing it for the alliance, when do you want me to tell her?"

Halian swore in frustration. Giliead muttered something inaudible but obviously not complimentary. Ilias told him sharply, "You can stay out of this now."

Karima returned, the muttered babble of conversations quieting as she crossed the room. They stood up as she reached them. Karima lowered her voice, reporting, "She said she wouldn't expect you to go back to their land."

Giliead let out his breath and Ilias couldn't help feeling gratified at the relief on his face. He was aware of the knot in his chest easing. He told them, "Yes, I'll do it."


end chapter 5








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