Baldur’s deep, petulant frown irritated Lapis no end. She sat in his office, she in a simple black outfit with her hood shading her eyes, clutching her bathing supplies, he in a resplendent get-up of shiny Dentherion green cloth with a gold, swirled pattern stitched throughout. His fingers contained multiple jeweled rings, and his heavy necklaces hung low enough to drag that fine fabric down his chest, where it bagged unattractively above his curved belly.
Most rebels avoided such obvious Dentherion displays.
He tapped his fingertips on the desk, the thrumming increasing with his annoyance. “You went with Blue Council members,” he gritted out, his voice rough with anger.
“Yes.” She crossed her legs and sat back, waiting for his wrath to descend. She noted his anxiety underneath his overt irritation and wondered what stupidity he had decided that he knew would cause problems, but revenge drove him harder.
“You know some of them.”
“Ciaran and Tearlach, yes. I know them from Coriy. They thought I had died in the fire that killed my family.”
His eyes squinted so hard, she could not see them under the folds of flesh. “And Leader Faelan?”
Leader Faelan? When had he decided to be polite? “And?”
“Do you know him?” he gritted through clenched teeth.
How was she going to answer? She truthfully did not want the attention it would bring, but she had no idea how to navigate around the obvious physical similarities. All the rats who showed up at the Eaves the night before took one look at him, looked at her, and grinned. Every damn one of them. If the kids noticed, so, too, had the Jiy House rebels.
Worry pricked her. Other rats said they had seen Rin, Lyet and Scand, but the three had not returned before she and Faelan left, and considering the danger the streets posed, she could not bury her concern. Where had they gone? She would understand if just the lads took off; they pickpocketed together. But they never involved Lyet.
“Lapis!” Baldur shouted.
She reluctantly returned to the confrontation. Why had she not asked Faelan what he wished her to say? Missed opportunity, and she may pay for it.
The headman sucked in a deep breath, ready to scream, when a sharp knock on the door startled him out of his rage. It opened, without his permission; a giggling Relaine waltzed in, Perben a step behind.
Lapis immediately looked away, her heart pounding so hard she could not hear.
She could not kill him. Her gauntlets sat in her brother’s room, useless, because she had not thought she needed them to retrieve bathing supplies. She should have taken Faelan’s offer to use his, instead of insisting on retrieving her own because she wanted to smell like herself.
So easy. She would have out-run Relaine and Baldur, raced past the useless bodyguards, and reached Faelan before any ramifications slammed into her. She clenched the glass containing her soap so tight it cracked. One thin skin slice bled into her towel, and she pressed it against the cloth, hard. The pain, though slight, brought her back to the reality of the too-small office and Perben’s presence.
“Teivel wants a tour of the modifications we made to the House,” Relaine said cheerfully as Baldur’s face turned a beet red. “I told him we needed your permission.”
Teivel. Teivel, the Rebel’s Devil. Typical, a man so heavily respected in the rebel community for being a thorn in Gall’s side, was a traitor. No wonder Lady Thyra required mounds of evidence against him. Who would suspect or accept the Devil capable of such heinous crimes against the rebellion? He blew up Dentherion army depots and helped the Ramiran Skulls sabotage vehicles.
She stared at her hands, satisfaction mingling with fear. She hardly cared what he did for the rebels. She now had a name.
Baldur’s fingers dug into the desk. “And that’s why you interrupted me?” he demanded. Relaine sighed and pursed her lips as Perben stopped to her side, body relaxed, not expecting trouble.
“GET OUT!” he roared, leaping to his feet and pointing imperiously at the open door. “I’m busy—”
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you,” the traitor said softly, his voice low, calm. “Meinrad and Rambart asked me to make certain we have adequate safeguards, and since Faelan’s here, it can’t wait.”
Lapis’s tummy twisted and prickly anxiety descended. He would peruse the protections and happily give the info to the crown. She needed to alert Faelan. She would inform him of the secret passages Patch created that only she, Brander and Sherridan knew, because his life would depend on it.
“Talk to Sherridan!” Baldur snapped.
Relief twined through Lapis, combining with the dread. He knew about the traitor and would look upon any rebel asking about House escape routes and protections with suspicion. She wondered what the Blue Council members discussed with him and Brander the day before, because she doubted Ciaran and Tearlach let the opportunity pass.
“Sherridan isn’t—” Relaine began.
“Then find Brander!” Baldur screamed.
Apparently he had no care for what rebel hierarchy thought of him. Relaine frowned in annoyed disgust and Lapis gloated. She likely insinuated she had a close relationship with the headman, and Perben would pay for her misdirection.
And she now had a name.
Relaine looked down at her and sniffed, then remembered she kept important company because she replaced the ugly grimace with a smile as she turned back to the traitor, attempting to return to pleasant and helpful rebel. “Well, let’s see if we can find Sherridan,” she told him. His arms moved as if he shrugged, unconcerned, his body language indicating he did not find the confrontation insulting, but which likely meant he planned revenge for later. The Rebel’s Devil took advantage of unconventional situations.
Baldur sank back, shaking, as Relaine huffed out the door, Perben a step behind. She left it open, which a bodyguard closed with a soft click. Lapis studied the headman as he regained his composure.
He did not trust Perben—and it had to be Perben, because Relaine never triggered that reaction in him. He wiped the sweat from his brow and glanced at her, the offended fire diminished. He waved his hand in dismissal, frowning, his thoughts elsewhere. She nodded to him and fled, refusing to wait until he got his roar back. The bodyguards ignored her, tense unease replacing their normal, sarcastic disdain. Baldur must have mentioned something to them about the Rebel’s Devil—or, perhaps, someone else casually said he was Teivel, they feared the retaliation he may visit upon them for their boss’s screaming.
What did he see, sense, that triggered him? Most people did not see the starkly vicious animal in Perben, and she had a hard time believing that the headman noted it in the other rebel. He simply never seemed that observant.
Relaine had her hand on Perben’s arm and a bounce to her step as they ambled down the hall. Lapis’ stomach rolled as he chuckled, amused at something she said, and tugged a stray curl from his forehead, congenial and relaxed. She crept after them, unwilling to squeeze past and garner attention. She needed to remain as hidden as possible from the man, until she had weapons at hand and could slice through his unprotected throat, dealing to him what he gave to her little brother.
The two exited into the larger room, in time to interfere with a rebel carting an armload of fabric through it. She dropped the items, and, laughing in guilty humor, Perben bent to help her retrieve them.
Lapis slipped past, hugging the wall. Relaine made a point of smiling at her, a self-satisfied meanness underlying the expression. Let her play. It would keep the traitor absorbed in something other than hunting her down. She turned away and took another hallway that led to the House bathing area, where they likely expected her to go. She glanced behind, but neither Relaine nor Perben seemed interested in making certain of her path; she sidestepped into a small corridor and hustled back to Faelan’s room, her heart beating too rapidly.
He, Ciaran and Brander sat at the table, talking about something, as she whisked inside and closed the door not-so-quietly. They all glanced at her and she stared back, trying to gather her wits and her bravery.
“So, Relaine and a certain Teivel were asking Baldur about inspecting the escape routes of the House.”
“Shit,” Faelan and Ciaran said together, vehemently annoyed. Brander narrowed his eyes, and she guessed someone had informed him of Teivel’s not-so-rebel association.
“There’re escape routes only Patch, me, Sherridan and Brander know about,” she continued. “I’m going to show them to you.”
Faelan studied her as she turned on her heel and headed to the bathing room, her supplies clutched so close to her chest, they were nearly one with her breasts.
“He made me promise the same thing.”
She froze, her hand on the doorknob, and looked over at him. “What?”
“Patch,” he told her, his voice mild, his look heated. “He made me promise not to kill.”
The soap container shattered, and she hissed, then fled to the sink to rinse the blood away. Damn Patch, anyway. He knew, and he elicited her vow, knowing when she faced the Rebel’s Devil, it might stay her hand. Did he expect it to protect her, protect Faelan? Had he another reason? When would he return, so she could scream until hoarse at his underhanded methods?
Her brother handed her a thin handkerchief, and it smelled strongly of alcohol. She cleaned the slices, lips smashed so tightly together it made her neck quiver. He said nothing until she looked around for a place to set the blood-smeared item.
“Lady Ailis will be here in a few days,” he reminded her quietly. “Her evidence will shred his support among the general rebel alliance and give me a solid reason for evicting those who will still back him. We have our own trials, and he will face justice, Lapis. If Patch doesn’t just get rid of him first.”
“I can do it,” she whispered. “We don’t need to wait for Patch. I’ve eight years—”
“Lapis.” She remembered that tone, one of deep disapproval tinged with anger. In her childhood, she had hated his use of it, because it usually meant he had discovered some naughtiness she completed and while he would not tell their parents, he would make her burn with guilt over her indiscretion. “Revenge isn’t worth your soul.”
“My soul died long ago,” she muttered bitterly.
“No, it didn’t, or you never would have reacted to me or to Perben the way you did. It’s still there, as strong and moral as I remember. It’s why you created the reading circle, and why the urchins love you.” He folded his arms and leaned against the wall near the sink; small bits of white flaked off and floated to the floor, twirling in the slight breeze that blew from the open window above the bathtub. Who would think twice about them, other than to sweep them up? Would the thin shards of her fractured life be so easily wiped away? “Lapis,” he said softly.
She looked at him; big mistake. She knew better. When he looked sad, thoughtful, concerned, her guilt took over, and she agreed to whatever he asked, only half-questioning why. She sucked in a quivery breath, held it while trying to grab her emotions and knot them into a semblance of order. She failed.
“You weren’t there,” she told him bluntly. “You didn’t watch him kill Endre.”
He flinched before he squeezed his fists, his knuckles cracking. “No,” he agreed. “But I mourned every one of you. I still do. I can’t go a day without thinking about Dad and how we traveled Jilvayna together, or how I read to you, or how I’d take walks with Anthea.” He looked at the sink, his eyes shimmering. “Lady Thyra told me she thought the traitor purposefully led the attack when I wasn’t there, because it would torture me to know my family died and I could do nothing to prevent it. She wasn’t wrong. I didn’t use a sword, but I always felt I had, in some way, helped kill you all. It’s a hard guilt, Lapis. Even justified, you don’t want to carry it.”
She had spent the last eight years plotting in the darkness, vowing revenge on the traitor. She had spent the last eight years honing her skills, thinking about how to approach him, how to cut him, how to make him, however briefly, suffer as her family had. How to make him watch his blood pour from him and know he had moments to live. Why give it up? “I know the guilt of survival, Faelan. It’s in my nightmares. I’ve lived with it for a very long time, and I doubt it will ever go away.”
“Then why add to it?”
“When you’re done with your bath, maybe we can look at those hidden escape routes,” he said. “I don’t have anything else planned.” She nodded, and he left, closing the door behind him.
She looked at the tub through blurring eyes. She had a bit of time to herself, a secluded space to mourn, vent, but she knew, her thoughts would remain jumbled, her emotions a wide, raging ocean of pain, fear, confusion, acceptance. She sat on the chilly edge and cried.
And wondered, what might Patch do, if she killed her enemy.