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Chapter 3: Electric Shock

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Shrieks of warning faded into the ether as her opponent raced to Lapis. The man kept his hand oddly hidden, making his movements awkward. When he came within striking distance, he whipped his arm out, a maniacal grin on his face.

He wore an over-large leather and metal gauntlet of the bright red color she associated with inadequate Dentherion tech sold in the undermarket. He clenched his hand and a sizzling yellow beam shot from a plate on top, lightning snaking about it.

He thrust. She ducked and rolled into his legs.

He kept his balance with a shriek of rage, and she flipped to her feet, her back to the rebels. If they planned to take advantage of her distraction, now would be the time. She feared the yellow beam far more than their knives.

What was it? Would the beam behave like her gauntlet blades? He used it in the same manner, unlike typical underground tech. Handheld boomerang-shaped devices that spurted beams where the tip aimed were shank fare, and exceedingly rare because of cost. For him to afford the extravagant weapon, he must be a successful hunter.

He feinted, driving her to the railing. When he thought her near enough for it to impede her, he slashed, right to left, aiming for her head. She dodged down, heat sizzling past her ear; the beam bit into the wood and smoke puffed up from the slice. He jerked it free without effort and held it up, smashing his teeth together in a rabid smile. She rolled into the empty street corner and leapt to her feet; he pivoted but remained in the same spot, his right eye glinting like glass.

A modded eye. She knew Patch’s intimately enough to recognize one. While he kept his hidden, if anyone removed the patch, they would see a glass surface realistic enough to pass as the real thing. Can’t have all those wires and whatnot evident for all to see. Her opponent’s did not move with his other eye. though; her shoulders shuddered at the creepiness.

He pressed harder into his palm. The sizzle increased.

He guessed her dodge and lunged. She bent back, twisting to the right; the beam skimmed the cloth on her chest. Heat accompanied it, along with the tingle of static.

He reversed his strike, and she dropped, in too awkward of a position to counter. She rolled, and again, avoiding his slashes. It skidded across the dust, emitting sparks, popping loudly. He rapidly struck, back and forth, and she dodged until she hit the wooden wall behind her. He lifted his arm high, to bash her. An odd choice, considering he used it like a sword.

She intercepted the downward strike with her blade. Glints flew as the beam glanced off her weapon and her opponent staggered back, grunting in shock. He expected it to sear through the metal, render it worthless. He likely had done so with countless shanks—but shanks did not have special gauntlets made to Patch’s specifications.

She could counter his strikes. His shock turned to vicious hate as she grinned.

She circled, defending, as the man’s arm jerked about, wildly slashing, the beam sliding off her blade in awkward directions. His attacks became less intense, less thoughtful, and he randomly struck, hoping to land a blow; she gratefully accepted his degrading morale. A quick win just turned into a battle he might lose, and with antsy anticipation infecting his moves, her staying calm gave her the advantage.

A stray rock bounced off his head. He stumbled and howled, slamming his free hand against his temple. More followed, and she vowed to have a talk with the rats about interfering in life-and-death battles.

She rushed in, crouched, and punched her back into his side. He hissed as he tumbled into The Milk Maid’s railing, grabbing the top’s underside and hunching to keep from flipping over, the beam digging into the three split rails. Fire erupted from the gouges, and he jerked back but did not have the strength to pull it free from his awkward position.

She darted to him and whisked her blade across the backs of his legs. Her weapon easily dug through pants and flesh, and his scream of pain echoed through her head. She did not strike low enough to take out the tendon, but his right calf and half the left gushed blood, the slice impeding mobility.

She grabbed his collar and yanked him from the railing; he gacked, his arm wrenching because the beam stuck in the wood. He released his fist, and the yellow evaporated, but a thin metal tube remained attached to the rails. Drool rolled from his mouth and his unmodded eye bulged from the socket.

“I’ll kill you!” he shrieked.

Not in that condition. Struggling simply smeared his blood around. How long before he became woozy?

Gerrit slipped around and dug his heel into the man’s leg. Perben hopped the railing and grabbed the gauntlet, both hands on the weapon, yanking hard. The metal ground free, taking bits of wood with it. The rebel slammed the shank into an open space that would not catch fire, and Perben knelt on the weapon, taking care not to touch the tube. Well, the Rebel’s Devil hardly had the leverage to harm her, and now was not the time to stab him in the back.

The owner of The Milk Maid staggered to the flames, a full bucket of water swaying between her legs. Lapis sheathed her blade and helped her with the heavy container, pouring the liquid over the fire before they could roar into a Lells-wide event. Good thing the managers of the market required each standing business, whether a stall or in a building, to use flame-retardant paint. Only made in Dentheria, the expense of importing it kept many from selling there, but the random fires that took out other poor markets around Jiy never caught there. It was why the Lells remained the city's largest market, not a smoky ash pit.

Cassa scurried around the men and planted herself in the dust by the gauntlet. She jerked the buckles free and tugged, ignoring the growing crowd’s gasps of shock and calls for caution. Perben held the struggling man’s forearm as she ripped the thing from his hand and stood, holding it with extreme distaste.

“Do you know what that is, Cassa?” Lapis asked.

“No,” she admitted, turning it about and running her fingers on the top. “It reminds me somewhat of link blades. Those are tiny, though, and used for delicate surgeries. I think the wire was as long as your physical blades!”

“Wire?” Perben asked. He and Gerrit tamped down on the man, subduing his struggles through pain. “Wires don’t dig into wood like that.”

“This wire does.” She moved away from others, squinted at the shredded bits of wood, and pressed the palm; the beam shot from the metal plate, weak but viable. Flame and smoke puffed around the wire, burning the bits and ash floated to the ground. She released, and the yellow glow died, leaving behind a shuddering metal tube. “I’m a biologist from Meergevenis. I’ve used link blades in dissections, so I know how they work, and they rarely snag on anything. It’s why they’re surgical instruments. But this one’s pitted.”

“Does that mean he didn’t properly care for his tech?” Lapis asked.

“Yes.” She worked to get the wire to retreat into the gauntlet, but only produced a stronger yellow beam. “I think he bent it,” she explained. “That’s why it’s not retreating into the gauntlet.”

Lapis glanced about; Dagby dumped his unconscious, profusely bleeding shank next to the first hunter, who stared at his modded friend, aghast. They expected an easy stake; instead, they would end up begging the palace for their lives, attempting to explain away their nasty tech. Lady Thyra comforted Lady Merika, and the owner attended to the patrons who had not fled the violence.

The rebels had disappeared.

Of course they had, fucking cowards.

“You alright?” she asked Dagby. He modded congenially. “You alright?” she called to the rats, who stood before the general curious lot, rocks in hand. Big ones. Where had they nabbed them from? Or did they have a stash nearby? She needed to ask.

“Of course, Lady,” Brone said, tossing his up and down. “We’re not the ones he went after.”

Brone must have taken lessons in cheekiness from Rin.

Copper reached them at a dead run, Lells guards in tow. The rats-in-training trailed them, curious, concerned, led by Lyet. She must have raced to the nearest patroller, which coincidentally was Copper, and the thought of tech, in the open, at the Lells, scared him into action.

More guards arrived, sober, Fyor with them.

“Lady, are you alright?” Copper asked. She followed his gaze; her shirt had a rip where the blade tore through, the edges of the fabric burned and ashy. The chest skin below blazed an angry red.

“I’m fine,” she assured him. “Just grazed, nothing more.” She motioned to Cassa. “Guard Copper, Guard Superior Fyor, this is Cassa. I met her at the Ambercaast workstation. She’s a biologist and has used tech similar to that gauntlet.”

Cassa smiled at them and held up the weapon. “It’s similar to much smaller link blades, which I’ve used in dissections. I can explain how they work.”

“We’ll need that in writing,” Fyor told her.

“I can show you how to fill out the forms,” Dagby said.

A morose smile replaced her polite one. “We’re out that wonderful meal you bought, aren’t we.”

He shrugged, and they sparkled at each other. Ambercaast had grown something new, and Lapis had not realized it. She thought of them as an unlikely pairing, but considering Cassa’s audacity, perhaps they shared more traits than she assumed.

Lapis glanced at Lady Thyra and Lady Merika, then her eyes strayed to Perben, who, with Gerrit, handed their man off to the guard. Hopefully, in the confusion afterwards, and the fact Fyor would have everyone write witness statements under the guard’s watchful eye, he would keep away from her. Chaos might grant him an unprecedented opportunity to stab her, but he retreated to his mother, his concern for her apparent.

Effectively tethered. Good.

Her gaze drifted over the crowd, and she squelched a grin as she beheld a worried Rin and her trainees.

“Well, this is unexpected, but let’s get some ‘keeper training in,” she said.

Thankfully Perben stayed at his mother’s side through the interrogations at the Lells Guardhouse yard, wary but helpful to the guard, a seething wreck of a Lady Thyra next to them. In a different circumstance, Lapis knew she would have gone after Perben, Lady Merika be damned, but a public attack would bring unwanted attention to her, and possibly the rebellion.

Gerrik mirrored Perben on Thyra’s side. They glared at each other, and she realized that Faelan’s spy on the inside with Meinrad and Rambart was no longer viable. He helped her, rather than flee with his fellows, when they comprehended their hunt went sour.

She suspected the two ex-rebels placed a stake, not realizing the chasers who accepted it hunted. Presenting them with an opportunity to fulfill their stake, snatch her for Hoyt and get extra pay proved too juicy to pass up.

How nice, they misjudged her and failed.

At least the rats learned what to do if their captured shank needed medical attention, how to tie up people in different states of injury, and various methods for carting them away. She kept them out of the guard’s way, and then ordered the trainees to help the witnesses fill out the report forms. She had her own to write up, but her activity gave her time to ponder how to explain why Rambart and his buddies wanted to find her without mentioning the rebellion.

How thin would Fyor think it, if she said they were business rivals of her brother?

Cassa flumped next to her, fanning her face with her hand. The afternoon had turned muggy, with hints of rain clouds plodding across the horizon, and the typical heat wafting up off the ground proved uncomfortable. Lapis smiled at her.

“I’m sorry I interrupted your date.”

She waved her hand. “You didn’t,” she reminded her. “Those goons did. Dabgy noticed them, recognized them. He’s . . . alert, in public places. When he said they were hunters, I knew we had to help.”

“I thank you for that.”

“I can’t believe they have a weapon like that,” she said, dropping her voice when she realized the rats paid more attention to her than their write-ups. “I’ve seen my share of inventive tech. Kathandra kludges everything together at the workstation to keep it operational, and the stray shank nosing about Ambercaast sometimes carries odd equipment. But I’ve never seen something like that.” She leaned closer. “I need to speak with you about it,” she mouthed. Lapis nodded.

“And my brother will be curious.” She glanced about. “Where did Dagby go?”

“To get us something to eat. Superior Fyor said it was fine, as long as he came back.”

“Of course he will. You’re here.”

She nudged her shoulder. “I’m not certain we’re at that stage, yet,” she said. “But he’s so thoughtful.” She half-smiled. “I know about his past. He was very upfront about it, and how he’s trying to make a new life for himself. It’s hard to do. I know, I had to re-establish everything after I adopted Tovi. Different circumstances, obviously, but the doubt and the terror you’re going to fail are the same.” She wobbled her head from side to side, grinning. “And he has no problems with Tovi.”

That likely outweighed a lot of his history.

“How is Tovi?”

“He’s fine, if a little bored. Studying isn’t as exciting as it was before Gredy’s people kidnapped him.”

“I’d be happy with that.”

She laughed. “He is, but he sees Rin as having excitement all day long, and is a bit jealous.”

Rin snorted. “This ain’t typical,” he muttered. The witness he helped chuckled at his consternation.

Lapis grinned. “So says the famous, in-trouble-with-every-breath, Rin,” she teased.

The knowing looks between most of the crowd amused Cassa.

“ ’Sides,” the rat continued. “Chaser trainin’s dull. Lady even said so.”

“You thought today was dull?” Cassa asked.

“The trainin’ was.”

“He thought it was exciting,” Gabby declared, leaning over the urchin she helped with the paperwork. “He’s just acting grown-up, and they’re not supposed to be excited.”

“Who says?”

Lapis did not consciously bound into Patch’s arms after his bemused retort, but his embrace enveloped her with a warmth that drove away the icy fear settling into the pit of her stomach, a late reaction to her fight. He pulled back and frowned, touching the slash in her shirt.

“I’m fine,” she whispered.

Ciaran rushed past, and Lady Thyra hugged him, fighting the tears. Lady Merika smiled at them, and Perben looked to have soiled himself. He hunched and sat back against the wall, tugging on his wispy brown curls.

As a conscientious rebel, Ciaran would not attack him in public, especially not at a guardhouse. He should know that. Patch . . . she would remind him of the same.

“After this, you need to see Faelan,” her partner told her.

“OK.” Upset likely did not explain his state of mind. “Who told you?”

“Ness came to the House.”


Dagby returned, carting a large bag. He had drinks for her and the rats, in the glass containers Rue on Dew used in a fashion similar to that of the Wine and Brandy at the Night Market. His generosity surprised Lapis, and she wondered if Faelan’s stipend had kicked in. She had the impression from their first meeting, funds were not readily available.

“Good that you’re here,” he told Patch as Cassa dug into the bag.


“Yeah. You ever meet Cledsen?”

Patch snarled. He rarely sounded so enraged, and if the man ever weaseled his way out of Jilvaynan punishment, another hunter would exact justice. “Yeah.”

“He and two of his hunters attacked Lanth. I was surprised. The group had retreated with Klow when he took up sanctuary with the Beryl, but apparently they’re back. He asked about my retirement, oddly enough.”

“You did go after quite a few rogue hunters before you quit,” Patch said. “It’s a bit safer for them with you out of chasing.”

“I accepted stakes, like everyone else.” He shrugged. “But his second and two backups were trailin’ me. They retreated when they realized my destination, but we should still warn someone about an attempt to break them out.”

Copper wandered to them, eyeing the people still filling out reports. “Lady, Sir Armarandos just arrived. He’d like a word, with you, Cassa and Dagby.”

Cassa kept pace with Dagby, stuffing her face so her stomach would not rumble during the meeting. If her pudgy cheeks startled the men, no one mentioned it. Lapis liked that, a woman who did not care about presentation so much as her empty tummy.

Patch tagged along, because of course he did. Copper found that amusing.

His amusement crashed when Patch told him about the tail and a potential jail bust. After showing them to the dimly lit back room Lapis had visited more often than prudent, and informing his superiors of a possible raid, he hastened to prepare for an attack.

Sir Armarandos and Fyor sat behind the single desk, content to let him take the lead on the threat. The knight, while dressed in his blue uniform, was a stark contrast to the three guards standing at attention behind him. He never covered his slicked greying brown hair with the official beret, an obvious omission that made the meeting less formal, more akin to a serious discussion among friends rather than an interrogation. Lord Adrastos slumped in a chair set against the wall, arms folded, huffy, his wispy white hair cavorting about his head. Captain Ryalla remained at his side, reflecting his annoyance. Father and son must have had another spat, with the elder losing the argument.

“Please, have a seat,” the knight said politely, motioning to the vacant chairs placed in the center of the room. “We haven’t had the pleasure,” he said, focusing on Cassa. “I’m Sir Armarandos, Knight of the Jiy guard. You’ve met Superior Fyor and Captain Ryalla, but please meet my father, Lord Adrastos of Rivenswalk.”

Cassa smiled and bowed her head to both men. “I’m honored. I’m Cassa Meygh, biologist from the Bawik Institute in Mozen, Meergevenis. I work at the Mawai Scientific Workstation at Ambercaast.”

“Captain Ryalla has many wonderful things to say of you,” Sir Armarandos said, smoothing his mustache. “I wish more favorable circumstances heralded this meeting.”

“Me too,” she agreed as she took a seat, nodding to the captain. Lapis and Dagby sat, but Patch remained standing, his hands on her shoulders, expressing concern without overtly showing it. She did not care; she settled her hand over his, the act pulling at her chest. She winced.

“Lady, you refused medical attention,” Sir Armarandos said sternly.

“I’m fine,” she reiterated. “It’s like a bad sunburn. I’ll put some oil on it when I get back to my room.”

Lord Adrastos leaned forward, squinting. “Didn’t draw blood?”

“No. It stings, but the beam didn’t cut me.”

“But it dug into the wooden railing at The Milk Maid,” Sir Armarandos said.

“The wire has pits. It’s why it stuck in the wood, like an unhoned saw,” Cassa piped up. “It’s a larger, weaponized version of a link blade. Link blades are small scalpels used in delicate surgeries and dissections. A wire carries a beam along its length, and the beam acts like the edge of a knife. It’s a precise instrument, with the extras like tiny lightning running up the wire.”

“I’ve not seen the like,” Lord Adrastos said, eyeing the gauntlet set on the desk. It looked like an old, overlarge red leather glove with a weird protrusion, rather than a terrifying weapon. “And I’ve seen quite a bit of tech in my time.”

“I don’t think he normally fights with it,” Lapis said. “He seemed shocked I didn’t just grovel when he revealed it. Like most shanks, he brandished scary red tech because the average Jilvaynan runs away from it, and when he actually used it, he failed.”

Dagby raised an eyebrow at that. “You’re underestimating your skill,” he told her.

“She does that,” Patch admitted. She blew her breath through her teeth, annoyed at the assessment.

“It looked pretty dangerous from where I stood,” Cassa said. “But I think you’re right. He might not have even known the wire needed upkeep. He used it for threats and misjudged its effectiveness in a combat situation.”

“That a hunter possesses this kind of weapon is concerning,” Lord Adrastos said. “Why did he even attack you?”

“Hoyt’s stake.”

They all winced.

“Several witnesses claim they worked for a large group who escaped in the ensuing fight,” Sir Armarandos said. “Hoyt’s men?”


Lord Adrastos waved a hand at the three unknowns. “They’re safe,” he told her. She needed to work on her acting skills, if he guessed the reason for her hesitation. Patch squeezed her shoulders, and she sighed. She supposed, since Dagby declared himself a rebel until further notice, he would keep what she said in confidence, but what of Cassa? Could she trust her?

Her shoulders sagged. “You know Rambart?”

“Rambart?” Patch asked, fierce and angry.

She glared up at him.

“Yes,” Lord Adrastos and Sir Armarandos said together. Well, then. So much for secrecy.

“He wanted to find me. He and Meinrad think I can hook them up with my brother and get their funding back.”

The look of utter repugnance that crossed Lord Adrastos’s face made her laugh, however darkly.

“That’s why Perben’s here?” Patch asked. She squeezed his fingers; raging at the guardhouse was a no-no.

“Yeah. He was pretty shocked to find his mom hanging with Lady Thyra and he made certain to protect her, to the point he held the shank down with Gerrit until the guard arrived.”

“Who’s his mother?” Lord Adrastos asked, a bitter frown deepening his wrinkles.

“Lady Merika.”

“Ahhh, Thyra,” the older man growled breathily, rubbing at his eyes. He knew something about the situation, then, and found the meeting absurdly exasperating.

She cleared her throat; they had other matters to discuss. “So Rambart hired chasers to find me. Only I don’t think he realized they were hunters. It really confused him when their leader told me Hoyt wanted me.”

“That’s Cledsen,” Dagby supplied. “It’s his second I noticed followin’ me back to the guardhouse.”

“I’m familiar with the name, but have not encountered him,” Sir Armarandos said. “He brought in some very large stakes for nobles, but that happened years ago.”

“He’s one of Klow’s personal apprentices,” Dagby said. “Underville rumor says he and his group went into hidin’ with the Beryl when Klow retired into their ranks. They didn’t think Shara would put up with them after she took the reins of the Minq.”

Lord Adrastos snorted. “Shara has a way with the hunters,” he said. A nice sentiment, considering she cleaned out the worst assassin corruption. Falling on the bad side of the Minq underboss had severe disadvantages for any disreputable chaser taking jobs from the Jiy underground.

“Then why reappear and pursue a stake from Hoyt?” Fyor asked. “The Beryl are very jealous of their influence, and he’s an interloper in their affairs.”

Sir Armarandos folded his fingers and tapped the tips against his lower lip. “There must be something more to this puzzle since his lieutenant is fidgeting. If he thinks the Lells Guardhouse inadequate for housing his boss, he will find out he is wrong.” He focused on Cassa. “Ms. Meygh. Do link blades come in sizes so large in Meergevenis?”

She shook her head. “Not to my knowledge. They might have some military use I’m not familiar with, but they’re a specialized scalpel tool for medical fields. It means they’re small and thin. This gauntlet . . . well, it strikes me as something that a Theyndora modder would produce. Taking known tech and mangling the general idea into something that works as a weapon.”

Lord Adrastos’s gravelly laugh erupted at the description. “Mangling?” he asked. “I suppose you would view it that way.”

“I’m not saying the mods they invent don’t work, but they’re awkwardly creative in their implementation. At least this kind is. If you don’t have access to someone, the workstation has a few members who tinker with our tech, to keep us up and running. They might have a better idea about the effectiveness of this weapon. The lightning was showy, but showy didn’t fight well. That might come down to maintenance, though.”

“The head of the workstation is Doctor Kathandra Duwein, correct?” Sir Armarandos asked.

“Yes. She’s a Dentherion scientist with a lot of experience using advanced tech.” She half-smiled. “She’ll be discrete.”

“There’s someone here who can look at it,” Patch said. He eyed Sir Armarandos. “Discretion goes both ways.”

Lapis did not think bringing Jhor into the incident prudent, but she also guessed, that if any guard but Sir Armarandos investigated, he would not have offered. And if the modder looked at it, he would not withhold his findings from the rebel House, which likely prompted the offer.

The knight nodded. “When can they look at this?”

“They’re free, pretty much. You want to be there.”

“Yes,” he emphasized with stern seriousness.

“OK. Be at the Eaves, evening meal.”

The loud series of knocks on the door startled Lapis. Sir Armarandos tossed the gauntlet to his father. The older man wrapped his cloak about his torso and the object, then donned an expression that flared his nose, wrinkled his already deep wrinkles, and pulled his mouth down so far Lapis would rethink ten times before bothering him.

“Come in,” Fyor called.

Copper opened the portal and Superior Seeza whisked inside, her nose so far up in the air Lapis did not think she could see where to place her high-heeled sun-yellow shoes. She wore even more foundation and powder than during their previous encounter, smoothing her face into an unreal imitation of skin, with pastel pink shadow, rouge and lipstick creating a hint of color on an otherwise marble façade. Her black hair stiffly ringed her head in heavily sprayed curls with a golden, gem-encrusted clip covering the ponytail holder, a style Lapis associated with court aristocrats from over a hundred years ago. Her fake nails glittered pink and small gems glued to the top twinkled; wealthy nobles out for a date at the theater wore those, not active duty guards.

Who pulled her out of a social engagement to visit the Lells Guardhouse?

She stopped as she realized the crowd inside. Patch glared the equivalent of a thousand daggers at her, and she edged around the chairs as far from him as possible, before clearing her throat and straightening her stance. Her gaze drifted down, and she recognized Lord Adrastos. Her attempt at stature vanished into panic.

“I’m here for your prisoners,” she said flatly, to the older man.

Sir Armarandos raised an eyebrow. “Prisoners?” he asked congenially, recapturing her attention.

“The ones taken this afternoon at the Lells. At the . . . Milk something. My men will take them into custody.”

“What?” Patch asked, deadly calm. She swallowed and edged closer to Lord Adrastos, realized her error, and skitted away, plastering herself against the wall.

Lapis found the reaction absurd. The old man never struck her as intimidating, but rather gruffly caring.

“I have official authorization!” she shrieked, yanking at her purse dangling from her shoulder, one decorated with pink glitter. She tore the pages on the zipper edge as she jerked them out, but had no care, curving around Dagby with a disgusted grimace and tossing them at Sir Armarandos. They fluttered to the floor as she retreated, refusing to retrieve them.

Lapis scooped them up and dumped them on the desk, her heart beating a painful tune of dread. They deserved punishment for attacking her and Dagby in the open and causing property damage. What did the daughter of ranking court members want with hunters? None of the answers flitting through her head reassured her that the three would not walk free that night.

“Thank you, Lady,” Sir Armarandos said, stressing the last word. Superior Seeza produced a faded ghost of a glare and did not respond.

Fyor’s polite mask could not conceal the glitter of angry loathing in his eyes. She had effectively stepped on his toes, to override his arrests and take custody, revealing her lack of respect for his guardhouse and his leadership.

“So I see,” the knight said after a plodding pause that electrified the room in tense anticipation. “Signed by Knight Superior Telden himself.” He calmly rolled his eyes up and laid the sheets on the desk. “But I’m afraid I can only comply with half the request.”

Her eyebrows briefly creased. “Half?”

“You may take the three hunters into your custody. If you wish to retrieve them, they are at the Iron Street Clinic.”

“What? They’re not here?”

“They attacked two seasoned chasers and paid for their misdirected assault. Unlike many of the superiors, I’m not averse to providing medical aid for the arrested. But I’m afraid this wondrous weapon you describe is unavailable.”

Her eyes narrowed to slits of burning brown. “Unavailable?” Her voice trembled.

“No weapon of this description made its way to the guardhouse,” he told her. “You may ask the remaining witnesses if they recalled seeing something so grand, but I’m afraid you will leave as empty-handed as you arrived. The weapons the hunters used were a regular sword and knives, and you are welcome to depart with those.”

No. NO! Sick anxiety filled her stomach as shock tingled her arms and neck. Those thugs tried to murder her! Patch’s grip on her shoulder intensified, and she kept her peace, rather than shouting at the woman about her unfair demands. Three hunters with returned weapons, once healed, would look for payback and come after her.

Dagby glanced at Patch, and she realized, neither would allow them an easy escape from justice. Faelan would stake them, and that would be that.

Superior Seeza’s lower lip vibrated. She attempted a rebuttal twice, thought better of voicing them, then whirled and stormed past Copper, so stiff her body jerked about like a marionette as she fast-walked away, leaving the request in Sir Armarandos’s hands. The guard quietly closed the door, unimpressed, annoyed.

“She leave anything behind this time?” Patch asked in a deep, sarcastic tone. Lapis discerned nothing on the tiles, and Dagby shook his head.

“She had a jumble of stuff in her purse. She might have wanted to, but couldn’t find it without an obvious search.”

“What’s the description?” Lord Adrastos asked.

“Long red glowing sword.”

Patch laughed sourly. “So whoever wrote that had a vague notion the hunter had some sort of tech. Is that Telden’s signature?”

“Yes, but he’s . . . oblivious. If she brought him the pages and asked him to sign, he would do so without reading them.” Sir Armarandos shook his head, bottled his anger, and tapped the sheets. “Superior Seeza certainly did not fill out the transfer form. Her script is hard to miss, and I don’t recognize this writing.” His father snorted in derision. “Not only is the number of people, who they are, their descriptions, absent, the date is from two days ago. Whoever sent her to do this knew about the attack beforehand and prepared these forms, just in case—and was sloppy about it.” His concerned brown gaze fell to Lapis. “I’m afraid someone other than Hoyt is searching for you, and likely associated with Gall’s court. There is no reason for Seeza, a typical lazy socialite, to concern herself in this affair and override my judgment, unless she had intense outside prodding from someone with more influence than her family.”

And she already had a name. Diros. Patch’s father.

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