“This can’t be right. My torch spirit is terrified. It says that woman is carrying a sea.”

Krigel gave the girl a cutting glare over his shoulder. “Why do you think I brought two dozen of you with me?” He turned back again. “Steady yourselves; here she comes.”

Behind him, the red-robed figures squeezed together, all of them focused on the woman coming toward them, now more terrifying and confusing than the monster she rode.

“What now?” Miranda groaned, looking tiredly at the wall of red taking up the bottom step of the Spirit Court’s tower. “Four days of riding and when we finally do get to Zarin, they’re having some kind of ceremony on the steps. Don’t tell me we got here on parade day.”

“Doesn’t smell like parade day,” Gin said, sniffing the air. “Not a cooked goose for miles.”

“Well,” Miranda said, laughing, “I don’t care if it’s parade day or if Master Banage finally instituted that formal robes requirement he’s been threatening for years. I’m just happy to be home.” She stretched on Gin’s back, popping the day’s ride out of her joints. “I’m going to go to Banage and make my report.” And give him Eli’s letter, she added to herself. Her hand went to the square of paper in her front pocket. She still hadn’t opened it, but today she could hand it over and be done. “After that,” she continued, grinning wide, “I’m going to have a nice long bath followed by a nice long sleep in my own bed.”

“I’d settle for a pig,” Gin said, licking his chops.

“Fine,” Miranda said. “But only after seeing the stable master and getting someone to look at your back.” She poked the bandaged spot between the dog’s shoulders where Nico’s hand had entered only a week ago, and Gin whimpered.

“Fine, fine,” he growled. “Just don’t do that again.”

Point made, Miranda sat back and let the dog make his own speed toward the towering white spire that had been her home since she was thirteen. Her irritation at the mass of red-robed Spiritualists blocking her easy path into the tower faded a little when she recognized Spiritualist Krigel, Banage’s assistant and friend, standing at their head. Maybe he was rehearsing something with the younger Spiritualists? He was in charge of pomp for the Court, after all. But any warm feelings she had began to fade when she got a look at his face. Krigel was never a jolly man, but the look he gave her now made her stomach clench. The feeling was not helped by the fact that the Spiritualists behind him would not meet her eyes, despite her being the only rider on the road.

Still, she was careful not to let her unease show, smiling warmly as she steered Gin to a stop at the base of the tower steps.

“Spiritualist Krigel,” she said, bowing. “What’s all this?”

Krigel did not return her smile. “Spiritualist Lyonette,” he said, stepping forward. “Would you mind dismounting?”

His voice was cold and distant, but Miranda did as he asked, sliding off Gin’s back with a creak of protesting muscles. The moment she was on the ground, the young, robed Spiritualists fanned out to form a circle around her, as though on cue. She took a small step back, and Gin growled low in his throat.

“Krigel,” Miranda said again, laughing a little, “what’s going on?”

The old man looked her square in the eyes. “Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette, you are under arrest by order of the Tower Keepers and proclamation of the Rector Spiritualis. You are here to surrender all weapons, rights, and privileges, placing yourself under the jurisdiction of the Spirit Court until such time as you shall answer to the charges levied against you. You will step forward with your hands out, please.”

Miranda blinked at him, completely uncomprehending. “Arrest? For what?”

“That is confidential and will be answered by the Court,” Krigel responded.

“Powers, Krigel,” Miranda said, her voice almost breaking. “What is going on? Where is Banage? Surely this is a mistake.”

“There is no mistake.” Krigel looked sterner than ever. “It was Master Banage who ordered your arrest. Now, are you coming, or do we have to drag you?”

The ring of Spiritualists took a small, menacing step forward, and Gin began to growl louder than ever. Miranda stopped him with a glare.

“I will of course obey the Rector Spiritualis,” she said loudly, putting her hands out, palms up, in submission. “There’s no need for threats, though I would like an explanation.”

“All in good time,” Krigel said, his voice relieved. “Come with me.”

“I’ll need someone to tend to my ghosthound,” Miranda said, not moving. “He is injured and tired. He needs food and care.”

“I’ll see that he is taken to the stables,” Krigel said. “But do come now, please. You may bring your things.”

Seeing that that was the best she was going to get, Miranda turned and started to untie her satchel from Gin’s side.

“I don’t like this at all,” the ghosthound growled.

“You think I do?” Miranda growled back. “This has to be a misunderstanding, or else some plan of Master Banage’s. Whatever it is, I’ll find out soon enough. Just go along and I’ll contact you as soon as I know something.”

She gave him a final pat before walking over to Krigel. A group of five Spiritualists immediately fell in around her, surrounding her in a circle of red robes and flashing rings as Krigel marched them up the stairs and through the great red door.

Krigel led the way through the great entry hall, up a grand set of stairs, and then through a side door to a far less grand set of stairs. They climbed in silence, spiraling up and up and up. As was the tower’s strange nature, they made it to the top much faster than they should have, coming out on a long landing at the tower’s peak.

Krigel stopped them at the top of the stairs. “Wait here,” he said, and vanished through the heavy wooden door at the landing’s end, leaving Miranda alone with her escort.

The young Spiritualists stood perfectly still around her, fists clenched against their rings. Miranda could feel their fear, though what she had done to inspire it she couldn’t begin to imagine. Fortunately, Krigel appeared again almost instantly, snapping his fingers for Miranda to step forward.

“He’ll see you now,” Krigel said. “Alone.”

Miranda’s escort gave a collective relieved sigh as she stepped forward, and for once Miranda was in complete agreement. Now, at least, maybe she could get some answers. When she reached the door, however, Krigel caught her hand.

“I know this has not been the homecoming you wished for,” he said quietly, “but mind your temper, Miranda. He’s been through a lot for you already today. Try not to make things more difficult than they already are, for once.”

Miranda stopped short. “What do you mean?”

“Just keep that hot head of yours down,” Krigel said, squeezing her shoulder hard enough to make her wince.

Slightly more hesitant than she’d been a moment ago, Miranda turned and walked into the office of the Rector Spiritualis.

The office took up the entirety of the peak of the Spirit Court’s tower and, save for the landing and a section that was set aside for the Rector Spiritualis’s private living space, it was all one large, circular room with everything built to impress. Soaring stone ribs lined with steady-burning lanterns lit a polished stone floor that could hold ten Spiritualists and their Spirit retinues with room to spare. Arched, narrow windows pierced the white walls at frequent intervals, looking down on Zarin through clear, almost invisible glass. The walls themselves were lined with tapestries, paintings, and shelves stuffed to overflowing with the collected treasures and curiosities of four hundred years of Spiritualists, all in perfect order and without a speck of dust.

Directly across from the door where Miranda stood, placed at the apex of the circular room, was an enormous, imposing desk, its surface hidden beneath neat stacks of parchment scrolls. Behind the desk, sitting in the Rector Spiritualis’s grand, high-backed throne of a chair, was Etmon Banage himself.

Even sitting, it was clear he was a tall man. He had neatly trimmed black hair that was just starting to go gray at the temples, and narrow, jutting shoulders his bulky robes did little to hide. His sharp face was handsome in an uncompromising way that allowed for neither smiles nor weakness, and his scowl, which he wore now, had turned blustering kings into meek-voiced boys. His hands, which he kept folded on the desk in front of him, were

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату