AN: Wow, it's been awhile... College is a busy thing... but I'm on break now, and determined to get some of this written! Thanks to everyone who has kept reading and messaged me, asking about this- sorry this takes so long, but I'll be trying to crank as much of this out as I can! I know it's also tricky to keep up with a story when the writer hasn't posted in awhile and how on earth are you supposed to remember the plot and characters? So I will endeavor to keep this up better, at least until I had to go back to college things. Thanks to all reviewers, SarahE7191, Dragonfly257, renagirl9, funny-fic9090, angry reader, Eternityfalls, ALK, Aria657, and A Well Wisher. And thanks to my beta as usual- you are amazing! =D
"The Gods enjoy torturing us poor mortals," Myles sighed, placing the scroll he had been looking at for over two days aside. "The maps are very old, but would be useful, I believe, if I could read the inscriptions which go along with them." Cadel glanced up, eyebrow raised.
"You said you could read some of it- how can some of it be decipherable and the rest impossible?" he queried. Myles shook his head.
"That's just the thing- I have been translating old texts using keys- lists of translations from one obscure language to another. One out of every four symbols is in the key of the southern dialect of one of the nameless, forgotten tongues, which are translated into Old Carthaki, which can then be translated into Carthaki and then Common. This, here-" He tapped one of the symbols; Leo came around to his side to look at it, then scanned the rest of the parchment. "-is the Quaternion- which makes me believe this could be invaluable, if it could be read." The Quaternion was the name Myles had given to the single sign composed of the four symbols of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. The sign had come up several times; it was the symbol of the Guild. "The rest-" He shook his head. "I have consulted every key I have and every sample of inscriptions whose keys have been lost centuries ago. They are formed in the same way as the southern dialect- the same sorts of shapes- but these symbols do not exist." He sighed. "We will just have to look elsewhere for word of an island no man has seen." He handed the scroll to Leo. "Put this down somewhere- anywhere, really; we have no further use for it."
"You do all the talking," Merle murmured as she and Kol wandered up one of the docks. She leapt to the side as a man with a barrel on his shoulder strode past them, nearly knocking her off the platform. "I'll stay here." Kol nodded, giving her a sidelong glance; she passed for a lad, if a bit of a pretty one- her porcelain skin and delicate fingers didn't bode well for getting work on a ship. It was only on closer inspection that one saw she was wiry, not scrawny, and her hands were covered in calluses. However, if a captain was close enough to notice that, he might notice other details which might lead to questions they would prefer to avoid. Girl shiphands were not unheard of, but boys were preferred... and there were dangerous positions of which a girl had best be wary. Kol cleared his throat, then made a quick jog to the captain's mate, who was swearing at a few hands.
"Faster, will y'geta that load off- Yew! Getcha thieving hands off'n the merchandise!" he snapped, brushing his hair back as his one beady eye fixed on Kol, who raised both hands high to show they were not wandering over any valuables. The mate's other eye was staring off into the distance, twitching every few moments; Kol could tell from the yellow crust around it that it was succumbing to pestilence.
"Please, sir, I'm a'looking for passage- me and me mates will work as hands- I done it afore-" The man snorted.
"Yew and the rest of the city brats- what makes yew and yer crew any better than the rest?" Kol swallowed, thinking fast.
"I'm the youngest of us," he said. "We all done hard work before-"
"Yewd have to have done hard work afore to live this long up here in the damned cold." He glowered. "Go on with yew!" Kol's back straightened; he met the man's stare.
"Me uncle works in Tortall. He'd be right obliged to-"
"Yew think we care about that? We don't need nuttin, we're jewel merchants-"
"He's a physician," he retorted, pointing at the man's sick eye. "If you take me and me friends, he'll treat that eye. If nobody does, you'll be half blind in a few months. I seen that afore with seamen- and a mate with one eye is not as good as one with two." The man glared at him for a moment. "I swear on my life- Black God take me if I lie." The words rang true, but Kol felt a shiver run up his back; swearing on the Black God's name was no small oath. He waited for another minute while the mate looked him over.
"Well," he said slowly. "Getcher lads here on the morrow. We set sail with the sunrise." Kol nodded and slipped past the loading hands before the mate could change his mind and call him back. He glanced around; Merle was not were he had left her.
Frowning, he took a step forward before hissing in pain; the talisman around his neck, the one the nobleman had given him, burned into his skin. Swearing, he ducked behind a pile of fishing nets and yanked it out from underneath his tunic.
"Where are you going?" a voice snarled quietly from it. Kol got a good look at the currently-glowing medallion for the first time since he had received it; there was a single symbol carved into it which he did not recognize.
"Tortall, with the Kyprian princess's guards," he gasped, glancing around frantically, praying Merle was nowhere nearby. When he turned his gaze back to the medallion in his hands, it was no longer glowing and the heat was gone. Making the Sign against his chest, he stuck it back underneath his shirt, a rotten, guilty feeling plaguing his stomach.
It wasn't his fault. He needed to keep his sister safe. And he wasn't even doing anything to hurt anyone. Yet.
Orbea twisted her fingers, hardly daring to raise her eyes from her lap, lest she somehow catch the eyes of the Chancellor, who was pacing around the room.
"I am leaving for a few days," he told her; her head stayed bowed even though her heart leaped. A handful of days of respite of the fear that he would summon her would be glorious. "Some business I must take care of." She shivered as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "In the meantime, you are to keep a close eye on His Majesty; urge him to wait for my counsel. I would not want to return to find him making niceties with the others." He paused. "That would make me... most displeased. I could find your brother in an instant, should I wish." Orbea swallowed, fighting down her panic. "Keep him... occupied. Tell him it is good to let the others stew in worry for a little before striking." He chuckled. "Are you curious, my lady? You should ask me questions; I am in a good enough mood to answer them." Did she dare?
"Where are you going?" her voice quavered.
"I never thought you would miss me," he whispered, amusement in his voice. "Rest assured, our parting will be short; I must take care of negotiations with the Gotzane. I believe they are... misguided, in their attitudes towards some of my enemies. But it will only take a few words to straight them out, and then I will be returning."
Harailt decided he was tired of the Chancellor's fondness for dramatics. Wondering how long the king's puppeteer would drag this next speech out, he fixed his eyes on the man standing high above them, gazing over the delegations.
"There have been reports of spies following my ally." Harailt's stomach dropped. "Curiosity, while understandable, is a direct affront to Scanra's attempt to build trust."
"You have not even stated your terms!" a noble from the Carthaki delegation interrupted; he took a step forward, eyes glittering. His heavy voice carried to the far ends of the room. "Who could blame anyone for trying to learn more? Trust requires openness, Chancellor, something you have yet to show!" Harailt heard several intakes of breath as Heolstor's cold gaze fell on the man.
"Terms would require threats and demands, sir. His Majesty has stated his purpose- to unite the lands and guide them into a time of peace and prosperity."
"And what of your purpose?" The Carthaki's voice rose. The Chancellor's eyebrows rose. When he continued, he ignored the implication that he served his own agenda, rather than his king's.
"His Majesty has not yet outlined his plans, because of the duplicity which seems to pervade this conference; he suspects someone is attempting to sabotage these peaceful overtures." Although his face betrayed nothing, Harailt felt a rush of indignant skepticism.
How were the "demonstrations" from Scanra's ally at all peaceful? They were threats piled on top of threats; all they were waiting for now was the ultimatum.
Tortall was in the most danger; they had always been Scanra's most immediate enemy, directly south of the warring states. Even if another nation posed a challenge, Tortall would most likely be trampled in the crossfire. Harailt would have advised immediate preparations for war, if he had not feared provoking trouble.
"Since this is the second time such unpleasantness has occurred, His Majesty has decided to postpone negotiations until we can get to the bottom of this." He nodded deeply. "Rest assured- we will put all resources towards finding the culprits... and our retribution shall be swift."
The Children of the Old Ones. They shall destroy the world. Leo fingered with the ragged edge of the torn parchment as he gazed down on Myles' scribble. Opposites. Light and dark, but neither good nor evil. They are not whole, nor do they want for anything but death. While they might have been in Common, Irnai's ramblings were more unintelligible than old Cyritac. Rising, he slipped in between stacks of books and scrolls covered in runes and maps, nearly catching his foot on the leg of the candelabra lighting the room.
He passed Vanora, who was asleep in the chair she had plopped down in several hours before; the large tome she had taken with her was still open in her lap and less than half-read. He took a moment to slid the large book out of its precarious position in her hands and placed it on the table next to her. A smile lingered on his lips as he saw how her perfect curls were falling over her face. She was not one to have a hair out of place, even when riding or shooting. He reached out, intending to brush them behind her ear, when she stirred and he yanked his hand back. Turning his back on her, he composed his impassive expression as he stared at an upside-down list of symbols. After a moment, he glanced back; out of the corner of his eye, he could tell she was still fast asleep. He looked down again, smiling, then paused, leaning over the list of symbols Cadel had been pouring over before he had left.
One was the Quaternion. However, even upside-down, it seemed somehow familiar... Brow furrowed, Leo angled his head slightly so he could see the symbol on its side; his eyes widened.
He had seen that- it had been in that scroll with maps that Myles had declared inscrutable... The symbols had been rotated, each in a different way! No wonder Myles had said all the symbols looked familiar, but were not in his translation keys! The prince whipped around, elated, then scowled at the dozens of piles lying on the floor around them.
There was only question... where had he put it?