Ventus – Day 37 of 135

She didn’t reply. “Our poor August, here, was done for, by his own admission,” Linden continued. “Someone tried to disguise a freshly healed sword wound with a new and shallower cut, but it’s a clumsy job. Especially since there’s a corresponding scar on his back. I’ve never seen such a pair of scars like that before… most people with that sort of wound don’t last a day. Now August assures me his blood is actually rather thin, making it difficult for him to clot a cut finger. He says you did something to him… something scientific, which brought him back from the brink of death. The last person to try that was general Armiger, whose entire army was destroyed by the Winds.”

“But–” she started.

“But,” interrupted Linden, “you happen to be right. You did save my servant’s life, by his own admission. I’m not sure what it is you are doing, but those who attacked August the first time just returned to finish the job. That tells me you are not one of them yourself. I don’t know who you are, but–”

He was stopped mid-word by screams and shouts breaking out below them. A man ran up the stairs recklessly, shouting “Sir! Sir! He’s dead!”

Calandria had bent to pick up her packs. She hesitated, as the man stumbled on the top step, skidded to his knees, and shouted, “They’ve killed Yuri!”

Linden’s eyes widened. “Brendan! I knew it!” He rounded on Calandria. “If you have some involvement in this, lady, then you won’t live to see trial. But you saved August, so if you love our house then come with me!” He raced down the stairs.

Calandria reached for her packs, but August already had them. “Where is Jordan?” he asked her, as men raced around them like a river in flood.

“Don’t you know?”

He shook his head. Then they turned as one and ran after the mob.

§

Axel reached for the first thing at hand. It was a potted spider plant.

“B-bastard,” he managed to croak. His throat burned like he’d been branded. Every time he moved, his arms and shoulders screamed pain. The subcutaneous armor worked just as Calandria had advertised, or else he would be dead by now. It wasn’t enough to prevent loss of blood and deep bruising. He had to hope Turcaret didn’t realize just how close to collapse he really was.

He threw the pot. Turcaret dodged it easily. Axel’s reflexes were still pathetic, but the dizziness was passing.

“I’ll kill you,” Axel told the controller, trying to sound confident. He stepped into the center of the room. Turcaret backed to the window. Axel stared at his stolen possessions, laid out on a piece of cloth on the table top as if they were for sale. They were going to plant them wherever they killed Yuri, in case they didn’t get Axel himself. Good plan.

Turcaret stepped to the window and shouted “Men! Get up here!” loudly.

“Oh, right–” Axel began, but just then the door behind him burst open. Four large men with swords spilled into the room. They stopped their onrush when they saw Axel, bloody by the table, and Turcaret backed against the window.

The leader’s eyebrows hopped up and he sneered at Turcaret. “Shall we finish him, sir? It’s well past time for–”

He had laid himself wide open, so Axel put a side kick into him. The man sailed across the room and shattered a fine lacquer cabinet. Axel staggered and nearly fell over.

A sharp blow to the shoulder drove him to his knees. This time he had the sense to roll forward, and came to his feet on the far side of the table. The man who had tried to chop his head off was looking at his sword in surprise.

Two of them came around opposite sides of the table. Axel hopped onto it and let one stab him in the chest. He reached out and took the man’s wrist; Axel twisted it and took the sword out of his hand while the other bodyguard watched in confusion.

He couldn’t let these men catch him. He turned to see a good view of Turcaret’s rear end, as the controller struggled to get out the window.

Axel put the pommel of the sword into its owner’s face and got off the table. He kicked a chair between himself and the other bodyguard and ran for the window. Turcaret had made it outside, and was clinging to the casement, some three meters above the roof of the manor.

No more time to look–they were converging on him. He grabbed the window frame and pulled himself through it as they howled after him.

The fall would have broken something had he been unarmored. As it was, he was stunned for a second. When he pulled himself to his knees on the rooftop, he could not at first spot Turcaret.

But there he was struggling with the metal door set into the rooftop. Behind him the moon was rising, huge and white. Axel barked a laugh and painfully pulled himself to his feet.

Turcaret looked up in fear–and it took a moment for Axel to realize the controller was not looking at him, but past, at the sky.

Ventus only had one moon, and Diadem was small. The thing Turcaret was silhouetted against was huge–larger than Earth’s moon–and growing by the second. It glowed from within.

Turcaret was staring at something behind Axel. He turned around, and looked up… and up.

“Oh, thank you,” Turcaret said.

§

The Boros family feud really wasn’t any of Calandria’s affair, but right now she was surrounded by shouting men for whom nothing could be more important. She let herself be swept along with them, thinking that by doing so she might find Jordan.

Linden raised a hand. “Silence!” he thundered. “Where?” he said to the man who had told them of Yuri’s death.

“In his bed-chamber!”

“Oh, pray he was not butchered in his sleep.” They hurried out into the courtyard, which was ablaze with torches. The sky was lit by the crepuscular glow of a vagabond moon, huge and lowering over the estate. Servants crowded everywhere, gawking. Linden’s men were rallying under the main doors to the manor. “Where is Sheia?” roared Linden.

“We’ve got his men barricaded in their rooms!” crowed a lieutenant. “Don’t know where he is–doubtless he’s run, like the cur he is.”

“Where is Marice?”

“With Yuri.”

“Come then.” Linden hurried into the manor. They followed. August stayed close to Calandria, but said nothing.

Yuri’s bedchamber was on the third floor, at the front of the house. It had a commanding view through many floor-to-ceiling leaded glass windows. Two fireplaces faced one another across the room; Yuri’s giant, canopied bed hulked near the one to the right. Linden’s men crowded in after a whole mob of people, who were babbling and wailing incoherently.

Everything had been knocked about in the course of Yuri’s final battle. Tables were overturned, chairs smashed. It was astonishing no one had heard the fight–but then, the walls were thick stone, and the door was four centimeters-thick oak.

Yuri lay on his back on the bed. His belly was slit, and intestines bulged blue out of the wound. His eyes were still open, glaring at the ceiling.

Lady Marice stood next to the bed. There was no expression at all on her face; it was as if she were carved from stone. She watched as people ran back and forth shouting.

“The assassin fled,” someone said to Linden. He stepped up to Marice and took her hand. She snatched it back, and turned away from him.

“But he left his sword.” The man pointed to the floor by the bed.

“Did he now?” Linden knelt and prodded the blade that lay there. “And whose is this, I wonder?”

Calandria gasped. It was Axel’s sword.

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