Chapter Twenty-two

A Charitable Endeavor 

It was a couple of blocks before the chaotic energy of the fighting faded out of the passive range of Seya’s senses. She slowed to look around and get her bearings—they were headed in the right direction, thankfully. But then she glanced down at Nemone and realized leading a bruised, bandaged and bloodied child around was an open invitation for trouble. She took a quick look around and then shrugged out of her long-sleeved shirt. “Here, let me put this over your clothes,” she said. 

Nemone let her pull the shirt up over her arms and button it over her bloodied clothes and bandaged arm. A simple masking charm covered the bruises well enough.

Nemone lowered the ice pack and stared up at her with wide eyes. “What happened to your shoulder?”

Seya glanced down at herself with chagrin. Walking around in a plain undershirt made her look like an over-aged delinquent, as well as doing little to hide the scars on her shoulder and back. They were still red and more than a little attention-catching, though hopefully not as alarming as Nemone’s fresher injuries. “I got cursed last week. It’s fine now, though, it’s just a scar. Come on, we don’t want to be out here any longer than we have to.” Seya felt uncomfortably exposed. Mere cloth didn’t do much to mute the effects of being jostled by passersby, but it was still better than nothing at all. At least it was a quiet enough evening that the chances of that were low. Still, she gave their few fellow pedestrians a wide berth in passing, trying not to shrink from the odd looks they garnered. 

Anxious as she was, Seya tried to set an easy pace for the girl, but Nemone was even more uneasy to be outside. She stuck close to Seya at first, but then started walking faster, until she was almost jogging ahead. 

“Look, you’re hurt,” Seya said. “Don’t run, you’ll reopen those cuts. The school isn’t going anywhere.” 

“School? I thought you said we were going to a healer!”

“He lives at a school,” Seya said. It was going to be so awkward turning up at Halcyon again, and this time asking for a favor on this scale. Surely Aren had been filling everyone’s heads with tales of her misbegotten youth. She briefly considered dropping Nemone off at a temple instead, but that seemed too heartless, to say nothing of cowardly, when it was her fault the girl had been hurt. 

She shoved aside a quiver of anxiety and ranged about with her sense, checking for possible threats. Nothing stood out to her until they were getting close to the school. Her steps slowed as she followed after a faint trace of something that rang sharp and negative and purposeful at the outer edge of her range.

“Wait,” Nemone said, glancing around the streets with sudden recognition. “Are taking me to Halcyon?” 

“You know about it?” Seya asked, her concentration broken. When she ranged out again, whatever she’d felt was gone. She picked up her pace anyway, not trusting that it had been a coincidence. 

“I’ve heard of it. Isn’t that place practically a joke?”

“Hey, now, I went to Halcyon! It’s a good school. They foster kids like you all the time, so you don’t even have to worry about going back home.”

“I can’t afford a school, and there’s no way my cousin will let me go, anyway!”

“It’s a charitable school, they get a stipend from the government in cases like yours. You wouldn’t have to pay anything. And your cousin isn’t going to have a say in it, if she’s letting her husband hit you.”

“I’m not going to a damn charity school!” Nemone bristled. 

“Too bad, we’re practically there already,” Seya said, gesturing to the corner they were approaching. The street they were on ended in an alley along Halcyon’s south wall. The ancient trees and lush, informal herbal gardens, Aren’s small cottage-type house—it all made a pleasing view, restful and settled and most of all, safe. “The main gate’s on the west side, it’s this way.” She led Nemone up the wide alley between the south wall and the neighboring block. 

Nemone was grudgingly impressed by the gardens visible over the low wall, vibrant with flowers and greenery, the towering trees, the heavy lines of magic that criss-crossed the grounds. It was very inviting, especially for bond magic, which usually carried an aura of exclusivity against those who did not share in the bond. “I guess it doesn’t look as bad as they said,” she allowed as they approached the corner. 

“What did they say?” Seya asked.

Nemone shrugged. “They called it a waste. The people running it are supposed to be sops.”

Seya rolled her eyes—of course they would think that. Stupid clan mentality. “Your cousin said that?”

“No, it was Arton and his friends.”

“Why were they—”

The question was interrupted by a car rounding the corner into the alley, screeching to a halt behind them. A woman with the same dark gold skin and curly hair as Nemone got out and lunged for the girl. “Nemone! You gods damned brat, what the hell are you doing, I’ve been looking all over for you!”

Nemone gave a terrified squeak. Seya moved between the two of them and drew up a defensive shield. “Look now,” she said to the woman—Rheta, she guessed. “I don’t care what your story is, I’m taking this girl to see a healer. She’s not going anywhere with you.”

“How dare you—is this the interfering bitch who messed with you yesterday?” Rheta demanded, glaring at Nemone. “Get over here, you ungrateful little—”

“I don’t think so,” Seya said. “Come on, Nemone.” She herded the girl backwards toward the corner, her eyes never leaving Rheta’s face.

“You’re not going anywhere with her! I am that girl’s guardian, you are kidnapping her right now. I don’t know what lies she’s told you—” 

The woman’s aura was riddled with fear and she was lying through her teeth. “If you’re her guardian, then go on and call the guard,” Seya retorted. “Tell them she’ll be right here at Halcyon. I’m sure they’ll be very interested in how she got those bruises on her face.”

Rheta went a little pale at that. “Don’t think I won’t! Damn it, Nemone, get over here!”

Nemone hesitated a bit, glancing from Seya to her cousin.

“Come on, Nemone,” Seya said, without shifting her fierce glare from Rheta’s face. “You don’t owe her anything. No one should be allowed to hit you, ever.” 

Nemone did not hesitate this time when Seya pointed her again toward the corner. Rheta swore colorfully and dove after them. She wore dueling gloves, and they were embellished with a number of charms, all carefully selected for maximum damage during a fight—fire, cracked glass, hard stone and sharp-edged metals. She sent a vicious burst of sharp, glassy magic at them, aiming for Seya, but not troubling much to avoid Nemone either. Seya’s shield deflected it easily—Rheta’s levels were not that high—but she was aware that she was not supposed to be using any magic, and it was hard for her to shield someone else because of the proximity required. There was simply no good way to secure a shield around another person without touching them. If she had an anchor—but Vico wasn’t there, and it wasn’t like she’d be able to tolerate anyone else, even if there had been help around. She shoved Nemone around the corner and in the direction of the gate, which sat an inconvenient distance away, considering they were now being chased. Why does this place have to be so damn big, anyway! she thought, feeling a stitch pinching in her side as she ran.

Rheta unleashed another attack, which slammed into Seya’s ungrounded shield hard enough to knock her sideways into the wall. Seya wished she had set something more substantial as the rough stone gouged her bare shoulder, stinging painfully. At least it wasn’t the curse-injured shoulder. She stumbled upright again, making a hasty attempt to strengthen her defenses. It made her acutely aware of just how far she was from fully recovered. An ache was already starting up in the scars on her shoulder, an all-too-familiar pain stabbing up from her left hand from the magical exertion, and she was feeling winded before they were even halfway to the gate. 

It was fortunate, then, that Rheta did not seem to be much of a mage, or much of an athlete either—she was panting too, losing ground, and her pace slowed further when she was casting. After a third attempt at blasting Seya to get to Nemone, she stopped trying to use magic and concentrated on catching up. She managed to tackle Seya just as she reached the gate, and they both went crashing through together, with Seya knocking into Nemone’s back and taking her down with them too. The shock of Nemone’s pain and Rheta’s fury and both of their desperate fear stunned her enough that Rheta was able to get an arm around her neck. For an interminable moment, Seya was paralyzed between two overwhelming tides of emotion. 

Then Nemone gave a pained, terrified whimper, squirming away from her, and that relief was enough to galvanize her back into action. There was warm stone under her right hand, and Seya sank her sense into it, drawing out the hardness with such force it cracked under her palm. She slammed her elbow backwards into Rheta’s face, shielded by part of that hardness, and when the woman staggered backwards off her, clutching her nose, Seya twisted around, leveling the rest of the energy into a swift, angry strike that knocked Rheta backwards through the gate, to crash onto the sidewalk outside. 

“Nemone, are you okay?” Seya gasped, turning to check on her. The girl was curled into a ball, cradling her injured arm, tears pouring down her face. There was blood seeping through the shirt sleeve. “Can you stand? You need to get to the house.”

Rheta dragged herself upright, swearing furiously, and started back toward them. Seya raised her hand, sweeping with her sense for something else to borrow energy from, anything—but Rheta never reached them. Seya felt the stirring of Halcyon’s energy as the wards slammed shut. Rheta crashed into them before she could stop herself, bouncing back with a pained grunt. With a burst of violent profanity, she made one final, ineffectual blast at the wards before fleeing. 

Seya looked back to see Zan coming down the walk and gave a sigh of relief and resignation. He stopped, blinking down at her in such surprise she was amazed not to be able to feel it coming off him. He really did have good discipline. 

“Seya? I did not expect to see you back here,” he said. He frowned after Rheta’s swiftly retreating form. “And fighting in front of my gate again.” 

“Yeah, well. Owed you a thank you gift, didn’t I?” Seya said, gesturing to Nemone.

“Oh!” he said, eyes widening with recognition. Seeing the bruises and blood, they widened further in alarm, and he knelt in front of her to get a better look at her injuries. 

Nemone stared up at him a moment in horror, before turning to Seya with an expression of utter betrayal. “Why’s he here!”

“He’s the school master,” Seya said.

“Well I’m not staying here now!” Nemone cried, and tried to stand up, but the mixture of pain, panic, and the fact that she had skinned both her knees pretty badly when she fell sent her crashing right back to the ground. Ignoring her indignant protests, Zan picked her up and carried her to the house. Nemone went quiet, shaking with mortification.

Aren met him halfway up the walk, looking right past him to Seya, who was dawdling along behind and looking longingly back over her shoulder at the gate. She wished Zan had opened the wards back up, so she could have made her getaway rather than remain stuck here in the trouble this was going to cause. Not that she supposed leaving would help that now. The guard would certainly end up involved. But with Nemone’s distress still echoing in her sense, she could hardly abandon the kid now. 

Gods, the fallout was going to monumental.

As, it appeared, was Aren’s wrath. At least she hadn’t done anything to upset the framework of his healing spells. Even so, he stormed out to her in a fury, his arms thrown wide. “What part of no magic is so hard for you to understand! Do you want to die of a rebounded curse? Look at you, your shoulder is bleeding! Of all the—”

“Aren,” Zan interrupted, with quiet but unmistakable authority. “Would you mind getting the door for me?”

Aren gave a sigh of disgust and followed him back up to the house, but by then Kaya was already waiting to usher them inside. She beckoned Seya too. Seya followed them in—what else could she do? 

“Zan, bring her into the kitchen while I fetch my bag. Aren, please stop shouting at people and make yourself useful,” Kaya directed.

Grumbling, Aren slipped ahead of them both and went to clear off the table. Zan set Nemone in a chair and stepped back so the healers could hover over her, then went to stand next to Seya, who had hung back in the doorway. She avoided his eye. “I hope I didn’t interrupt your dinner,” she said, glancing at the dishes Aren had put in the sink. A stab of hunger joined the quiver of anxiety-induced nausea in her stomach. Perfect, she thought, clutching her aching left arm. A trifecta of miseries.

“No, we were just cleaning up,” he said, eyeing the bright bloom of scarring on her left shoulder, and the bloody scrapes on the right with concern. “Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” she muttered.

Kaya took charge of Nemone while Aren prepared disinfectants and pain wards. “I’m Kaya,” she said. “I’m a healer. Why don’t you tell me your name and what happened?”

Nemone slouched miserably, her eyes fixed on the floor. “M’not saying anything,” she mumbled, and tried to scrub at her eyes with her free hand, but only succeeded in smearing bloody tears over her face. She started crying in earnest. 

Kaya cleaned up her face and started repairing the bruising. Aren put a pain ward on the back of her neck and stretched her arm out to remove the bandages, scowling down at the cuts. “Who did this?”

“She broke out a window getting away,” Seya sighed, when Nemone remained silent. Nemone glared at her. 

“So it was an accident?”Aren said. “What about your face?”

Nemone ducked her head, interrupting Kaya’s work. Kaya tipped her face back up with gentle insistence. “Won’t you let us help you? It’s safe here. No one at Halcyon will allow anything to happen to you.”

Nemone stubbornly avoided her eyes. “I’m not saying anything,” she repeated. 

Everyone looked at Seya. She shrugged, forgetting for a moment that she had scraped one shoulder and irritated the mostly-healed curse on the other one. Seeing her wince, Zan pulled out a chair for her and gestured her to sit, which she did, but only because that was better than keeling over in front of everyone.

“There’s no point in not telling us,” Aren said, bending back to his work on Nemone’s arm. “It’ll all come out when the guard gets here.”

“The guard!” Nemone said, trying to jerk her arm away in her panic. “Why do you have to call them!”

“Because you are a minor child who has been the victim of a crime,” Aren said. “It is the law.”

“You’ll be fine,” Zan said. “The guard won’t send you back someplace that isn’t safe for you. They’re there to protect people.”

Seya snorted. “Yeah, that’s the reason.”

“They serve the same function the knights did before the abdication,” Zan said, frowning at her. 

“And the knights were proper bastards too,” Seya said. “I ought to know, I spent enough time in trouble with them when they were in charge of things.” 

“I wish you wouldn’t say such things when we’re trying to calm her down.” He brought her a dampened towel. She made a face and took it, dabbing at the oozing scrapes on her shoulder. 

“That doesn’t look too bad,” Zan said. “Would you like me to take care of it for you, since Aren and Kaya are both occupied?”

“No! No, it’s fine,” she said. She didn’t want him touching her with her defenses still not quite back to normal. She felt unsettled enough after dealing with Nemone’s injuries and then being set upon by Rheta. “It’s barely bleeding anyway.”

“It’s no trouble for me, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said.

She set her jaw. “Look, Montreides, I realize it’s a little ridiculous to be saying this to you after—everything,” She put a hand over her face and went on, brusquely, “but I really do not like being touched by people I don’t know. And most of the people I do know, if you want to get down to it, so why don’t you take your giant savior complex over there and use it on the person who actually needs it.”

He retreated, stung by the vehemence of the rejection. Seya winced again, this time out of embarrassment at her outburst. She knew she was being ridiculous. Between the discomfort of the curse and the interference of the pain wards and having two other sets of hands on her and the background noise of the Malthusius arguing in the waiting room, she hadn’t had much attention to spare for him, but he had to have gotten an eyeful of her magic. 

“Saints and spirits, Seya, just let him help you. You didn’t have a problem taking advantage of his kindness last week,” Aren said.

His phrasing—taking advantage of his kindness—turned her stomach. She clenched her fists. “I got cursed, I couldn’t very well walk around like that. I did try to turn him down,” she said, flushing a little at the memory. She had spent a considerable amount of time over the last two days trying not to remember how he’d had his hands on her. “You know why I don’t like people touching me, Aren.”

Aren looked up from his work with genuine concern this time. “It’s still an issue? Dad always thought you’d grow out of it. When Zan told me you let him heal that curse for you, I assumed that was the case.”

“Well, I didn’t,” she muttered. “You should know better than to assume things.”

“You should have said something. If I had thought that was still a problem, I’d have made Vico come in and help instead.”

“It doesn’t matter. Vico was too upset to have been able to help anyway. It’s fine, I’m not…upset.” That was a lie, everything about that situation still upset her. “But that doesn’t give him or anyone else blanket permission to put their hands all over me again if I don’t want them to.”

Zan glanced between them in bewilderment. “Did I miss something?” 

“I told you she has very strong spiritual magic,” Aren said. “Problematically strong. She can’t block things out of her sense.”

“It’s—it’s not as bad as it used to be,” she said, her cheeks burning. She had assumed Aren would have told everyone about this already. It was humiliating to explain how defective her magic was, and the only thing worse than having people chasing after her magic was having them avoid her because they were afraid of what she might do with it. “I finally worked up a set of shields that can keep most things out. It’s just—touching—that still—you know.” She slouched further. 

Aren turned back to his work. “Yeah, I do. It can be a pain to block things out for us while we’re working on people too,” he conceded. “I’m sure it’s not anything on your level of up close and personal, but still.”

“Ah…exactly how up close and personal are we talking here?” Zan asked, concern flickering in his eyes.

“I didn’t go poking around or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Seya said. “I wouldn’t do that.” Not on purpose, anyway. DeGraffenreid had made her do some things…pain shot up her arm. Don’t. Don’t think about that now. Say something else.“You would have been able to tell, anyway. It’s shockingly uncomfortable. From both sides.” 

“Ah, no, I didn’t think—I mean, I was worried that I had possibly—triggered you, perhaps. I’m so very sorry—if I had known—”

Seya blinked at him—he looked worried and flustered. Not the reaction she had been expecting at all. “Calm down, Montreides. That didn’t have anything to do with you.” 

“I know a panic attack when I see one. I don’t like to think that I may have contributed to that.”

“I have…issues. It’s nothing to do with you, so just shut up about it already.”

He subsided, but he had that look on his face again. Seya looked away so she wouldn’t have to see it.

Kaya finished healing the bruises on Nemone’s face and sat on the floor in front of her to tend to the scrapes on her knees. Nemone trained her eyes away determinedly, ignoring every entreaty to get her to talk until Kaya gave up trying. 

Aren had less patience about it. “This is the girl from the marketplace that Zan told us about, right?” he said. “Seya, you must know something. What is it? Theft ring? Garden variety delinquency? Or just your amazing penchant for dropping trouble on our doorstep?”

“How should I know?,” Seya retorted, unwilling to share what little information she had without Nemone’s blessing. “I saw her yesterday, I tried to talk to her, gave her Vico’s address, she showed up today hurt. And isn’t that what Halcyon is here for? The kids who fall through the cracks? Where else I could have taken her?”

“Any of the four temples in town? The guard offices?”

Nemone went pale at that. “Please don’t,” she said in a small voice. “I don’t want to go there.”

“Aren,” Zan said, repressively. He turned to Nemone. “Seya is correct. Of course we would not turn away anyone who needs help. But it will be much easier to help you if we know what happened.”

“I—” Nemone glanced around the room. “I—you’re not going to send me to j-jail, or—”

Aren huffed irritably. “If you don’t want to get shuffled off to some temple home, maybe you should just tell us what happened.”

“Aren, please let me handle this,” Zan said. He pulled out a chair and sat across from Nemone, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees so that they were on eye level. “We may have started this conversation the wrong way, so why don’t we try again from the beginning? I’m Zandre Montreides,” he said. He held his hand out to her. She shook it reluctantly. “I’m Halcyon’s bondmaster. You can call me Zan if you like. This is my cousin, Aren Halcyon, and his bond partner, Kaya Alciere. They run the Halcyon clinic. What’s your name?” 

He was practically radiating that same kindness that had nearly drawn Seya in. It worked even better on Nemone. Her face crumpled, tears trickling down her face again, but she gulped back her sobs and answered. “Nemone.”

“Nemone, won’t you tell me what happened?” he asked, handing her a tissue. “I promise, no one is going to make you go anywhere you don’t feel safe.”

“You can’t promise that,” she said. “Everyone always promises, but no one ever means it. You’re just going to turn me over to the guard for stealing your wallet, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said, his tone going even more gentle. “Why don’t you tell me what you want us to do? Is there someone we can call for you? A family member? Friends you trust?”

“I don’t have any family except for—” She broke off, uncertain.

“Just the people who hurt you?” Zan asked.

She nodded, lowering her eyes. “I don’t have any friends here,” she mumbled. “I’ve only lived here for a few months, and they didn’t register me for school here or—or let me go out much. Only when—” She stopped, shame coloring her cheeks.

“When they wanted you to steal things for them?” Zan asked.

She hunched miserably in her chair, not meeting his eyes. “I guess,” she said.

His brow furrowed, but he didn’t call her on the obvious lie. “Will you tell me your full name?”

“Anemone Tancerra.” She sounded defeated.

“But you prefer Nemone?” 

She nodded.

“How old are you, Nemone?”

“Fourteen last month,” she said. 

Seya dropped her face into her hands, stifling the expletive she couldn’t hold back. 

“Seya?” Zan asked, glancing to her with concern.

“It’s nothing,” Seya mumbled into her palms.

“She was fourteen when she was remanded to Halcyon’s custody,” Aren said. Seya glared at him through her fingers.

“I see,” Zan said. Seya transferred her glare to him—he was giving her that look again, the one from the clinic. Zan turned back to Nemone. “What happened to your parents?”

“They died at the end of the war. The Uprisers came through the town where they were working. They—they burned everything,” she said, her voice very small.

Burned. Gods. DeGraffenreid loved his fucking fire magic. Seya slumped forward, letting her hair form a curtain around her face, to hide the tears of grief and rage welling in her eyes.

“I lived with my grandma until she died last winter, then the Child Welfare Agency sent me to stay with my aunt, but she didn’t want me. She went to work in Zelle province in the spring, and dumped me off on her daughter, and they came to Starling a few months ago.” She sniffled. Zan moved the tissue box closer to her, then took a few and offered them to Seya. 

“Stop looking at me like that, Montreides,” Seya snappedjk, sitting up and blinking back the sting of tears. “We’re hardly the only two war orphans in the country. I’m sure Aren filled you in on all the tragic details.” She shot Aren a scowl, crumpling the tissues in her fist.

Aren rolled his eyes. “I did, actually. It’s not like it was a secret. The whole damn town knows what happened to your mother.”

There was a tense silence as the two of them glared at each other.

“What happened to your mother?” Nemone ventured.

Seya swallowed down the lump in her throat long enough to say, “The Uprisers killed her.”

“Oh,” Nemone said, her eyes growing wide again. 

“Yeah,” Seya said. “That was a long time ago, so let’s just skip over it for now. I’m not the one who needs help here.”

Aren snorted. “Just keep telling yourself that.”

“Someone should probably go ahead and call the guard,” Kaya said. 

“Oh, look at the time, I really need to get back before Vico comes home from work,” Seya said, bolting up out her chair and heading for the back door, pausing when Nemone gave a little whimper of protest.

“You can’t leave, you’re a witness!” Aren said. 

“And you’re still bleeding,” Zan objected.

“I did my good deed for the day,” Seya said.

“And now you’re just going to flake out the way you did before,” Aren retorted. “When you abandoned your own bond brother.”

She rounded on him furiously. “You mind your own gods damned business! I don’t owe you or anyone else here an explanation for what happened!”

“I think you do, actually!” Aren snapped. “Considering the sheer amount of wreckage you left in your wake.”

Seya flinched. That was true. She couldn’t very well tell him it had been a stupid mistake gone horribly wrong. In the end it was still her fault.

“The guard is already here,” Kaya said, gesturing to the window. Outside a guard vehicle pulled to a stop at the front gate, light charms flashing. Seya‘s heart sank—she had hoped to be well on her way by the time they arrived. 

“One of the neighbors must have called about the disturbance,” Zan said. “I’ll go let them in.”

“Do you have to?” Nemone asked.

“I’m afraid so,” Zan said. “Aren was correct, it is the law. But everything is going to be all right. Will you trust me?”

She looked at him searchingly for a long moment, and then nodded, her eyes dropping back down to the floor. 

“Good girl. I’ll be right back.”

He was intercepted before he reached the door by Adiel, who burst in the kitchen in a state of excitement. “Master Zan, the guard is here!”

“I am aware,” Zan said. 

Ariel looked past him at Seya and Nemone and his mouth dropped open. “What are those two doing here?”

“It’s a long story. Would you please go back upstairs while I deal with this?”

With a hurt look, Adiel cut through the kitchen to the back hall, pausing to scowl at Seya. “This is her fault, isn’t it? I knew she was going to make trouble for us.”

“Of course it‘s my fault,” Seya muttered, not bothering to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “Who else?” 

Zan steered him toward the door before he could reply, and the boy disappeared into the hall with a huff, the door swinging shut behind him. Nemone hunched even more miserably with embarrassment. Zan offered her an encouraging smile and a comforting pat on the shoulder before he went to bring the officers in.

“I’m done with your arm, so why don’t you move it around a little to make sure there’s no discomfort or tightness,” Aren said. “Bend it at the elbow—flex your hand—the other way—thank you, try wiggling your fingers. No pain? Stiffness?”

“It’s fine,” Nemone said.

“Do your knees feel all right, dear?” Kaya asked, wiping the last traces of blood away with a damp cloth.

“Yes, thank you,” Nemone mumbled. She stood as she was bidden and paced a few steps to test them out.

“Do you need anything? Water? There’s lemonade too.”

“Water, please,” Nemone said, sitting back down. Her voice got quieter with every answer. 

Seya went to the window. Zan spoke to the officers for a few minutes, during which the gate wards were open; it would have been possible to slip away. But one look at Nemone’s miserable face, her hands clenched around the mug of ice water, watching the two healers as they cleaned up with a heart-twisting mixture of wariness and hope, and Seya knew she couldn’t just leave the poor girl there like she was no more than a sad little errand. She sighed deeply and turned away from the window, wishing devoutly that Vico was there to work whatever silver-tongued magic he had used to persuade the guard officers to leave her alone before. Though it was just as likely to have been Corin’s money. She made a face at the thought, then felt a new twinge of guilt. How long before the Malthusius showed up as well?

Aren shot her a scowl. “What, still thinking about bailing?”

Yes. “Not right this second, no,” Seya said.

“Do you need to call someone? Vico?”

“I don’t know his office sigil,” she said. “Damn it, he’ll be home soon, he’s going to murder me when he sees the mess I left.” She rubbed at her face, suddenly exhausted. “I should have left a note or something.”

“He didn’t give you the dial sigil for his work? I told him—”

“He did. It’s sitting right next to the phone in his apartment. What was the point of memorizing it when I was stuck there for the last four days under constant supervision?”

“So you’re just an idiot,” Aren said.

“Aren!” Kaya scolded.

“No, he’s right,” Seya sighed. It had never felt truer as Zan led the guard officers into the kitchen.