Chapter 5 Consequences “My family, I come to you now with events I never wished to bare. Listen and know my voice.” When Ironblood was younger, before she donned the Cinnabar…before she’d proven her name, one of the Kindly had led her through the Barrowhall. Any who would rise must first see where they may fall. Once a burial chamber, the Barrowhall became a sepulcher of things best left forgotten. Few of the Cinnabar to fall was guilty enough to face the labyrinth, but with the secrets of the order in their minds they were deemed too dangerous to walk free. Here they remained in indefinite solitude. The alchemist ran a finger along the alien iron bars that separated her from freedom. Iron had no soul, it did not feel. None of the Clad could coax the iron to bend, not as easily as wood. The trial was distant now. All memories seemed to scuttle from her in the darkness. Her past was her present and her future was a dark silence. Within her, an evil struggled at similar barriers. Till the council knew how to truly handle the Grievous, she would be locked away. But the Grievous had been galvanized during the trial. Although Ash had successfully held the thing in check, it had awoken. She could feel it pushing in her soul, a light tap-tapping on the precipice of her virtue. Here she was useless, here she was trapped. Here it only grew stronger. “Once we were mighty. In the service of Ilium we looked to our Prophet and the Clad. Once that was all we needed, all we desired. But our prophet has not yet returned, and the clad arein disarray. The War Criminal Amaltas has escaped confinement and the High Alchemist has been found guilty of endangering the realm. The Aerie has fallen from the sky and the smell of smoldering branches still clings to the air. We are no longer safe, Viridos. We are no longer strong.” Wyrm Rock “Damn!” Malachai hissed the curse at the warped table beneath a clenched fist. Ayanne flinched instinctively, clutching a clay cup with both hands and swiftly drinking the water inside to mask her movements. They had been left on Wyrm’s rock while the Malachai’s new ship was being repaired. Originally the plan was to sail back into Viridos, but no captain was bound for its shores. The navy patrolled the waters of the port and the secret hide-aways dotting the coast. It seemed as though no profiteer wanted to risk their hides dropping the half-nocturne and his companion near Hosia. Days had passed, ships putting out to the Dreadcove or Kaustir but never Viridos. It was as though the nation had ceased to exist. “What…do we do now?” Ayanne asked quietly. Malachai looked up at her and shrugged helplessly, leaning back in his seat. “What do you suggest? We’ve spoken to every captain in port. The coin is too high for us to pay the few crazy enough to challenge the blockade.” Sullenly he took his own mug and toasted the empty air, “Here’s to thee, father.” Ayanne wisely chose not to toast in return, pulling the mug against her chest. “A nearly sinking ship and exile on this Illium-forsaken rock. Fitting birthrights.” He tipped the remainder of the dark brew into his mouth and smacked the bottom of the cup onto the table. “I know the riverways. I know the jungle. Don’t need a big ship, just one small enough to slip between patrols. Damned if these pirates are more coward than cutthroat.” “A bit of caution goes a long way to save skins.” Malachai turned to the voice, glaring at the man who spoke in the table besides theirs. His skin was dark, scorched by the Kaustirian sun, and his companion was a lithe draken with a lustrous shine to her scales. “No profit in safe skins though,” the foreigner went on to say, “The real prize is in the gamble.” The pirate said nothing, kicking Ayanne lightly under the table. She might have yelped, but after spending so much time with Malachai she knew it was a comforting tap. “What I mean to say is, friend,” the stranger continued “We seem in a unique position. I have a ship but no way past the blockades. You have a way past with no ship.” The draken hissed a light approval and nodded. “Don’t mind my partner’s tone,” She said “We aren’t the sort to take the navy lightly. You’re a man with a way to get past.” She folded her scaled hands and tapped the claws against the hardened scales, “Well. We’re the people with the boat to do it with.” “What’s your name?” Ayanne asked quietly “Nassad,” the Kaustrian said, “Nassad and Tamaa.” “It is with a heavy heart that I admit I haven’t the experience for this situation. Our enemies are powerful and manifold and we need a leader who can safeguard our way of life, our people till the prophet returns or Ilium speaks once again. But through this time of darkness there will be light. No blade will not go untempered with wisdom. I ask you now, Viridos, to put your faith in me as you have for so many long years.” The lesser merchants were moving. The scampering of their tiny operations still seemed unheard by the Greater merchant family of Hosia, but Shekar wasn’t optimistic. Twenty years ago the High House had come down on a few ambitious swindlers carving out a smuggling trail outside the main routes. Their blood fed the Hydra plants growing along the Grand House’s perimeter and their bones were left to peer balefully through thick underbrush at any who would dare cross those in control. She didn’t turn when the bell on her door rang. She could smell the heavy blood lingering on the air, like a stamp. “Zovalias.” “Most Honorable Shekar.” His voice was so regally composed, not at all what one might expect from his ruin of a mouth. The floorboards creaked under his weight. “I had hoped to engage your time regarding our arrangement.” “I’m surprised you came, Nocturne,” She turned with a dry smile, as easy a grin as a draken could manage, “Amaltas still runs wild. Do you not fear for your health?” Zovalias towered over Shekar, devouring her with his blazing eyes. From behind him, the emaciated child aux watched with undisguised starvation. Holding up both hands, Zovalias clacked the long claws off the ends of his fingers together, “A calculated business risk,” he explained, “The horse will come whether I hunker and hide or walk free.” He grinned and Shekar grounded her feet, choking a shudder, “Bad for business to hide, after all.” “Where is it then?” Shekar asked, looking the blood gorger up and down, “Small enough to hide in your clothes? Not exactly an optimistic size.” “No,” Zovalias admitted, turning back to the door, “Much larger. Come, Shekar, let me show you something you have not seen before.” Sighing, the draken hung the closed sign in her door and followed the Nocturne. Most would have cringed from following the beast to anywhere of import. But Shekar knew what most seemed to have forgotten. Monster or not, Zovalias was a man of business And killing her was bad business. “I give you Tattersal, general in the defense of Viridos. The Clad and the Council will defer to his judgment in matters both domestic and foreign till peace can be guaranteed for all who seek Ilium’s blessing in the Forest. Expect a number of new laws to be enacted by the general for the safety of the realm and those within it. I ask, no, beg your forgiveness for being wholly unprepared for the turn of events we have suffered. It is my hope the General will lead us from these troubles to a peace, as he has before. Trust in the Prophet. Trust in Ilium. Trust in Viridos. Together we grow strong.” Om the Invader answered no questions, silently stepping behind the impassive Tattersal. The General looked out over the crowd with neither approval nor derision. As before, he would guide them. As before he would lead them. Sheep never learned. But he would save them from the wolves. Deep within the BarrowHall The metal sizzled. Surprised, Lady Ironblood snatched her hands away from the bars. Where she had clutched them, corrosive liquid tore into the iron with startling speed. The Grievous…it had learned to work through her now, already unsatisfied with its prison. She debated. It wanted her out there…among new hosts, new victims. But here it would only grow stronger. Slowly, she reached out and touched the bars again. They sizzled and melted at her coaxing. Greater horrors stalked than the Council knew. Her path was clear now, clearer than it ever had been. The wilds of Viridos called…and somewhere beyond, the Earthspeaker waited. Ironblood left without looking back, without seeking Ash. By Ilium they would meet again, she was sure of it. And of the unicorn who had slipped its shackles? She would find him too. Debts needed to be settled.