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Part 6 | Story Info Page | WBM Home Page | Part 8

It had been another long night of paperwork for Breath, but the work went easier when he cared about what he was doing. The pile on his left, nearly through now, had been a listing of the Celestial Lions' reports on all travel in and out of the Sijan area from Yu-Shuan over the past several years, as well as several other reports on travel to other areas. On his right sat a piece of rice parchment which was rapidly becoming a very detailed map of heavenly movements in the city of the dead.

Somewhere in there was Kamaria. Every once in a while she would travel using her real name and official papers, and those were easy to spot, but whenever he found another string of movement for Kamaria, it seemed to harmonize with half a dozen other invisible threads. If he could ever spot the other threads for long enough to nail them down, Sagacious Breath of Heavens suspected, he would find a well organized pattern.

Sauda had refused to acknowledge that she would use her own children this way, but Breath knew who the spider sitting in the middle of this web was. The only thing Sauda loved was control. She had probably been delighted to have a child, Breath noted, someone whose life was completely dependant on her own, a person who owed her very existence to Sauda. That must have been why she didn't tell him about her to begin with: she wanted to keep the child as her own plaything.

He was close to pinning down Kamaria now, finding where Sauda was keeping her at the moment. And then? Well, the girl deserved to have the chance to know her father didn't she? Wasn't it her right? For that matter, wasn't it his right to see her?

Cricket and Kestrel

"Shoat, honey?" Cricket was looking intently at the little girl and all but shaking her out of concern. After the girl had awoke, she had frozen like this: with her eyes fixed on a pile of dead flowers in the corner. "Shoat honey, are you all right? Kestrel, do you think Shoat is all right?"

Kestrel, who was still rubbing his eyes and getting used to the crowns of dust, took a moment to speak himself and finally came up with, "Look, it's shocking. I'm shocked, you're shocked. I'm sure she's twice as shocked -- a little girl her age can't have seen half the things we have in our lifetimes, nor in the past week for that matter. She'll come around in a few moments, and if she doesn't I'll go fetch a doctor." By the end of his speech Kestrel had done a great deal of his waking up and was, indeed, ready to bolt out the door to find a physician at a moment's notice.

"She's not moving, Kestrel. She's not moving. She's just sitting there. I can't even move her, Kestrel, she's stiff as a board. Oh god, what's happening?"

"It'll all be all right, Cricket. Whatever it is, we can work it out. I'll just step out into the hall and see if this is happening anywhere in the house, all right?"

"All right but, Kestrel ... hurry back."

Shoat took one look at the flowers and felt it welling up inside her again. She'd heard people describe an experience in their gut, as if a bridge they were crossing suddently gave out, but she didn't feel that that was quite accurate to her experience. For Shoat it was more like the bridge had given out long enough ago that she forgot she had been falling, until she caught a glimpse of the world around her moving rapidly upwards. These were the moments when she remembered what she really was, and everything she had done, yes, but more than that: these were the moments when she remembered what she used to be.

Or she thought she did. It's hard to remember what solid ground feels like when you've been falling for so long.

As soon as it had begun, the falling began to fade away and the immediate world filtered back in. She had to do something, or the would trace the dead flowers back to her. They would know. Cricket would know what she really was, and Mother would know what a failure of a servant she truly was. Shoat was better than to let a little sentiment get in the way of that.

Pointing at the flowers and screaming, Shoat tore out of the room.

A dresser's dummy in the finest formal-wear appeared from behind one of the myraid curtains that folded within the rose chamber, and intoned in the finest old realm, "Madam, I fear I bear bad news."

Kamaria, Breeze of Midnight stepped out of the pool of rose water and drew her hair around her like a robe before turning to address the visitor. "This news had best be dire indeed, you know what would happen if my mother, or god forbid the Court of Tailory, saw you with me."

"Yes madam, as you say, news most dire." The dummy shuffled uncomfortably. "I don't know what exactly has hap[pened with your man Mortwright, but the rosters of tailors, as of this morning, still lists Pale Cricket as very much active and, well, living. Whatever was done last night, I suspect that it was not your will."

Kamaria sighed, "Then you are prepared, I assume, to go forward with the other measures we had discussed?"

Though it was hard for a man without a face to look pleased, the dummy somehow managed it, "Of course madam, I would not dare to show myself if that were not the case."

Kamaria slid into her robe and prepared to leave the rose chamber, "Wonderful." She turned to the spirit for a moment, "I'm glad you came to see me, Bobbin, but please exercise some discretion in the future. I'll know about the success or failure of your endeavor by my own eyes and ears and then, only then, will I contact you."

Bobbin nodded, and touched the seam on curtain closest to him. As his form weaved itself into the thread and fabric under his thumb, he said "Of course, m'lady."

Kestrel was halfway down the stairs when he heard Shoat scream. Something was definately wrong, between the screaming and the flowers, and he didn't have the expertise to fix it. If he still had his credentials he might be able to call one of the Maiden's children who knew about these things to help, or at the very least to get ahold of a local spirit, but as it was he had to make do with mortals.

Who could he turn to for help? It was too early to try for a proper occultist or one of the morticians and, anyway, one of them might recognize he and Cricket for what they were. Then it came to him. He would ask Sky. She might not know a lot, but this was fertility magic which she must know something about. Between her and Lily and himself, they might yet be able to figure out what was going on.

Kestrel slipped out the door.

Shoat ran into the nursery, her screams waking both Tasmin and Lily.

If she was going to do this she had to do it quickly.

"Lily, Lily, I had a bad dream." Shoat started to weep, "I saw Tasmin, I was holding her and she was sleeping, and I kept shaking her and shaking her, but she wouldn't wake up!"

Lily scooped Shoat up into her arms, "Oh it's all right little one. I've been with Tasmin the whole night and she's slept peacefully, and see? She's awake right now!"

Shoat looked up at Lily with her big doe eyes, "Can I hold her?"

"Awww, little Shoat is that all?" Lily beamed down. "Of course you can hold her."

Lily set Shoat down and walked over to Tasmin's crib and then, gingerly, transferred the baby into Shoat's waiting arms.

"Oh little Tasmin." Shoat looked down at the child's face, and watched it slowly pale.

Part 6 | Story Info Page | WBM Home Page | Part 8

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