Citadel of the Sky First Chapters

Chapter One

Tasteless

 

Great-Uncle Jant’s Regent died of old age, and cousin Cathay’s Regent was thrown from his horse, and Uncle Yithiere’s Regent had a heart attack, but it was all just bad luck until the King’s Regent died. It took more than bad luck to tear somebody’s arm off. It took a fiend, or a team of horses, or somebody really spiteful.

“Perhaps an eidolon,” Princess Jerya observed to her companions. It was a rainy early morning two days after the tragedy and the daughters of the King were waiting for the funeral procession to begin.

“What a horrible thought,” Tiana, her younger sister, said. She looked critically at her lace gloves. “Do you think these are the proper gloves? The milliner swore they were ash-gray but in this light, they look silver.”

“Other people have suggested it already,” said Jerya. “You’ll hear it eventually. Best to be prepared.” The wind gusted rain under the umbrellas held by their Regents and Jerya clapped a hand on her hat.

Tiana frowned at her hand. “But eidolons are part of our magic. That’s ridiculous. We all loved Tomas.” As she considered, her expression grew more shocked and she added, “How can you make accusations like that?”

Lisette, her Regent, touched her arm soothingly. “It’s not an accusation.”

Jerya said, “It’s a problem, though. The Court won’t let it go.” She paused, reflective. “And they shouldn’t. Look at Cathay.” She nodded at their cousin, a handsome young man their own age, as he walked into the yard. He was alone, and soaked to the skin, oblivious to the rain. His hands were clenched into fists and one of his cat eidolons prowled beside him, only half-real. “His Regent Sennic was an excellent rider, after all. Do you really believe his horse just threw him?”

Tiana pulled off a glove and crumpled it. “Nobody talked about murder at Sennic’s funeral.” She shook her head. “It’s so tasteless, Jerya.”

Jerya shrugged. “I’m just warning you. Others will bring it up. But as you wish. Look, here comes Father with Tomas now. Put your glove back on, it’s fine.”

The cavernous funeral carriage was pulled by six gray horses. When the footman opened the door, the Niyhani priest emerged first, and then the Chancellor. He gave the princesses a grim nod of greeting and turned to steady the King as he stepped down. The King’s six eidolons, all in his likeness, descended the stair after him, more adroitly than their creator.

“I’m glad the Chancellor made sure he dressed appropriately,” said Tiana, “but he should have a real escort. Poor Father. It breaks my heart.” She looked away, at her hands again.

“He insisted,” Jerya said. The Chancellor guided the King around to the back of the carriage, where the coffin was mounted under twin lanterns. The King looked startled, as if he’d forgotten why he was there. Then his eidolons flowed past him to lift the polished box. He turned and looked at the three monolithic Royal mausoleums. His shoulders slumped. Then a seventh eidolon stepped out of him, and his face emptied of pain. The Chancellor took his arm again and together they led the eidolons and their burden into the cemetery. Tiana and Jerya, along with their own human entourage, fell in behind him. Their other relatives followed after, and so Lord Tomas Ferya, King’s Regent, was escorted to his final rest.

 

*

 

It wasn’t like Sennic’s funeral at all. Tiana disapproved.  For one thing, it was raining, and it was hot. It was far too hot for a proper autumn rain. People had grieved at Sennic’s funeral, not whispered and stared at the Royal Blood. She’d put a jade falcon into Sennic’s basket and she hadn’t cared who watched her cry. But today, it was as if the sky was crying everybody’s tears, and there were only nervous rustles from under the umbrellas as the Niyhani priest performed the rituals that accompanied the closure of a life.

As she passed by the casket, she put a painted porcelain mask into the funeral basket, next to Jerya’s golden chain and her father’s rosewood violin bow. Tomas had shared her affection for the theater, though he hadn’t the time to lavish on it as she did. When they had been at dinner together, she told him the gossip of the Small-light District. Not anymore, though. It was an obvious little thought, with a shocking punch that she pushed away.

She watched the crowd; better wandering eyes than looking at her father’s distant gaze and his empty face. Her extended family was spread among the mourners, most of them absorbed in their own grief. Her uncle Yithiere was reserved and distant. Her cousin Shanasee seemed more concerned about the state of the sky. But little Gisen, the youngest of the Royal Blood, and her Regent Yevonne hugged each other, and behind them, Cathay looked angry.

Other than the Blood, she only knew a small portion of those who gathered to bid the Crown Regent farewell: the Justiciars, her music teacher, a few of the nobles. The rest were strangers: nobles and bureaucrats, the less prominent members of the Regency and the Justiciars’ Court, all turned out for a full state funeral. They whispered to each other. She caught herself scowling at them and straightened her expression carefully. It was no concern of hers if they were there to see and be seen instead of to say goodbye.

Beyond the crowd, though, was somebody she thought she should have recognized: a woman with the distinctive dark coloring of the Blood. But although she resembled Tiana’s family, Tiana had no idea who she was. Her hair was very long, nearly to her feet, and her face was as empty of emotion as the King’s.

Tiana moved her head to catch the eye of Lisette, her Regent and best friend, but as she stared at the woman, the woman faded away, like spots on her eyes after she looked at the sun. Unease prickled at Tiana’s neck, and she was suddenly uncertain the woman had ever existed. Was she staring at empty space? She averted her gaze, and realized she was rubbing her thumbs together. She smoothed her dress instead and took a deep breath. It was just the phantasmagory, another component of her family’s ancestral magic. If she wasn’t strong, the phantasmagory could pull her mind away, leave her standing there senseless, or worse, half-aware and very dangerous. That was why each member of the Royal Blood had a Regent to help them.

The dreamlike phantasmagory offered unparalleled magical focus, and private communication, and even escape from boredom and physical torment, but entry was not invisible. When a member of the Blood sent her soul to the phantasmagory, her eyes glowed with a pearly white sheen. She had to resist it; people were watching.

Under her wrap, she fumbled for Lisette’s hand and Lisette squeezed her hand reassuringly.  She turned to her father at the foot of the bier. His eyes were black, not white. She had to be strong for him. Again, she rearranged her frown into something more pleasing. She was rewarded by her father’s gaze focusing. He gave her a faint, worried smile.

The priest paced around the bier, waving an amber-tipped wand at the heavens and the earth, to the east and the west, invoking the Firstborn to carry Tomas’s soul home. His assistant lit the incense and the rising scents of sandalwood and jasmine overpowered the smell of the rain.

“Why is everybody so tolerant?” a man cried out. It was a tall man in a pleated grey coat, with wild chestnut hair tied with an ornate black ribbon. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. Tiana only knew his face, not his name.

“Lord Brehain, drinking companion to the Justiciar Lord Warrane,” Lisette whispered to Tiana.

Lord Brehain’s outburst continued. “Where are the honors due a Regent who died in execution of his highest duty? That was no peaceful death in bed, and yet he stands there unashamed.” An unsteady finger pointed at King Shonathan.

Lord Warrane, nearby, snapped, “Be silent, you fool.”

The Chancellor, maintaining his grip on the King, said, “We don’t know what happened. We’re investigating. At the moment, it looks like a terrible accident.”

“An accident!” But Lord Warrane clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder and Brehain’s speech stumbled to a halt.

The King spoke into the sudden silence, despite the Chancellor’s hold. “I don’t know myself,” he said thoughtfully. “It almost seemed like an eidolon. Almost like one of mine. I counted mine, though. And that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Daddy, no!” said Tiana. Lisette held her hand tightly.

“What’s the use of covering it up? There’s never any punishment, never consequences.” It was Lord Brehain again, apparently drunk or suicidal. “Bring it out, so everybody can grieve for everything properly, for this mad world—.” This time Lord Warrane pulled him away, into the crowd.

Tiana called after him, “You don’t deserve to be here.”

Sharply, Jerya said, “Tiana, enough.  I’ll deal with this later.”

The crowd murmured, but slowly settled back toward silence as the Niyhani priest gazed around expectantly. But just as quiet returned and he raised his wand to provide the final benediction, somebody shouted in alarm.

Something formed in the sky.  In one distinct area, the path of the rainfall changed, spiraling like a tiny storm. Shadows rushed together and borrowed color from the mourning clothes and the graveyard. In a final splash of magic that Tiana could feel in the back of her head, a creature, blurred and ragged, unfolded colorful taloned wings.

It descended, hovering over the bier. The strange, many-legged form had the washed-out unreality of an eidolon, but it was no shape Tiana was familiar with. It cried out, as if in response to the priest, a perfect clear note, and dived at the center of the crowd. Mourners scattered.

Tiana stared at it, not even bothering to duck. The tingling at the back of her head grew stronger, and she shook her head in irritation. “It’s not ours,” she complained. “We wouldn’t do this!” She stomped her foot, staring at the creature. It couldn’t be from her family. She refused to believe it. “Who made you?”

It dove a second time. Everybody was screaming and running. Rain fell through it but its talons shredded umbrellas.  The Chancellor and her uncle were urging the King under the cover of the Dawn Age mausoleum.

“Tiana!” called Jerya. “Get over here, under—”

The tingling at the back of her head was joined by a sparkling at the edge of her vision. She didn’t care enough to hear the rest of what Jerya had to say. She focused on the alien eidolon. “I don’t want you to exist.”

It spiraled up into the sky again, and she was sure a rainbow eye was fixed on her, just as she was sure her own eyes were turning pearly white. Eidolons and the phantasmagory weren’t the only magic of the Blood.

“Go away!” she shouted. She pushed her hand out, curved it into talons of her own, and slashed downwards.  Gashes opened up within the shape, and she pulled her hand back, pushed it out again, and then shook it like she was shaking rain off. The shape of the eidolon shook away, until it was nothing but colors washing away in the rain.

Sullenly, she said, “Why do things like this happen? I try so hard.” Then she sighed, and let the phantasmagory take her before the embarrassment could.

 

Chapter Two

Walk Under The World

 

The retreat into the phantasmagory was a slow familiar descent. Detachment came first. Tiana watched incuriously as her Regent Lisette shoved the umbrella at her cousin Kiar and took her hand. Let’s walk, she said. Let’s move our feet. That’ll help.

Tiana moved her feet. The colors of the world were melting around her, but that was hardly a bother. The rain against the umbrella was the sound of a heartbeat, until that faded away as well, and she was cocooned in a comfortable world of silent grey cotton, only perceiving the world of the phantasmagory. Somewhere far away, her feet were moving. That was all right. Somewhere out there was Lisette, too. She trusted Lisette, just like Father trusted Tomas. That was what Regents were for. But Father didn’t have Tomas anymore, so who was helping him walk?

One step after another, Tiana. We’ll sit here, shh, shh, it’s just me now. Lisette. Can I join you?

The soothing murmur continued as the grey veil parted and pink hills under a yellow sky appeared. Her place. She was walking in a storm of blue and orange flowers. Somewhere far away, her feet weren’t moving, but here, a butterfly floated beside her and she caught the petals in her hand. Pretty, don’t you think?

A silver fish swam by, familiar and far away, a cousin. Don’t worry about her, the butterfly said. She’s calm, too. There are no threats now.

The grass became paving stones, became the tile of the palace. The storm of flowers became a salty rain. Who would Father trust? Who would kill Father’s regent? Was Father here, all alone, lost? But Lisette was the one she could trust, and the butterfly flapped its wings and flowers drifted out. Let’s go see, the butterfly said. If you’re worried, let’s see. I’m here.

She could smell the flowers as she drifted down stone corridors, up stone steps to where they’d found Tomas. It was near Father’s rooms, very near. But nobody could say Father hurt Tomas. That was ridiculous. But there he was, his eyes wide and staring as they’d never been in life, and his body was so terrible, so twisted. She tried to pull the grayness back, tried to wash the colors away, but the phantasmagory was not kind.

The disappearing woman from the funeral, the woman Tiana thought she should know but didn’t, knelt beside Tomas and closed his eyes. There were white flowers woven into her endless hair, and her eyelids and lips were painted silver. Her gaze blank, she spread her hands and a white lamb stumbled out of her. Then she and her lamb were no more, lost in the walls closing around Tiana.

She heard a heartbeat. Was it Tomas, alive again? But no, his body was twisted and broken. What had happened to his screams? Did they echo still in the walls, trapped by the mystery?

A heartbeat. It came from under her feet, loud and insistent.

The walls closing around her slid apart to reveal a staircase down. She descended, but the butterfly could not follow. It called after her, the perfume from its wings lingering in her nose, but there was a heartbeat and it called louder. She descended past the place where the kitchens stored the meat, past the old catacombs, into the ancient tunnels where only the foolhardy went. At each landing on the calling stair, a door closed behind her.

That was scary. There were stories of ancestors lost in the phantasmagory, their bodies left behind to die slowly. Would that be her? Further down she went, into dungeons she didn’t know existed, and a prison where nightmares writhed in stone.

She missed the butterfly, then.

She could no longer sense the faraway place where her body dwelled. Under the forgotten dungeon, the stairs ended at a door that was already closed. Behind it, something lived; something breathed and longed for escape. She reached out to open it.

But behind it was nothing at all.

*

Tiana opened her eyes. She was lying on the chaise longue beside the fireplace in her parlor. A small fire had been kindled, and her cousin Kiar was adjusting a lamp on the west wall. The wan grey light streaming in from the diamond-paned window told her it was past midday. A light blanket had been arranged over her, and she was still in the gown she’d worn to the funeral, though it had been loosened.

She sat up, kicking off the blanket. “What happened? Where’s Lisette? I need her. And you.”

Kiar stepped away from the lamp, brushing her hands off. “You went further into the phantasmagory than she could follow, she said. I couldn’t find you either. Then you fell asleep. What happened?”

Tiana pushed herself to her feet. “Where is she?”

Kiar assessed Tiana until Tiana fidgeted under her stare. Kiar was a Royal bastard, but two years her elder, and far more sensible. That was annoying, sometimes. “The Chancellor wanted to talk to her. He sent guards as an escort. About an hour ago, right after we got you back here. What’s going on? Why so intense?”

Tiana went to her dressing room, leaving the door open, and twisted around to finish unbuttoning her dress. Her maid was nowhere to be seen. “Help me with this, won’t you? There’s some kind of sub-basement under the catacombs. There’s a fiend down there! I think it’s the one that killed Tomas. We should go find out.”

Kiar stopped mid-reach. “Tiana…”

Tiana fumbled. “I’m serious! I saw it. Something is down there. Something that caused that disaster at the funeral. I need to deal with it.” She yanked on the dress in frustration and Kiar reached over to work the back buttons.

“If there is, you don’t have to deal with it, especially when you’re so… upset. Despite what the Regency is telling people, I’m almost certain there isn’t a fiend in the castle. There would be signs.”

“You mean, more than Tomas being murdered?” Tiana shrugged out of the formal dress and dug through baskets for an old, comfortable sundress.

“Yes, actually!” Kiar said. “Fiends leave impressions in the Logos. I looked around a little, right after Tomas was found. All I found was us.”

“Shut up! It’s not us!” Tiana’s composure cracked. Then she muttered, “I’m sorry.” She sought for distraction, the sundress almost over her head. “Did you talk to Twist, too?” Twist was the Royal Wizard, and nominally Kiar’s tutor in the ways of the Logos. Students of the Logos could do all sorts of things, from enchanting orbs to glow at a touch to diagnosing obscure structural problems in buildings and people. Sometimes they could change the world just by speaking sternly to it.

At least, that’s what happened in the stories and plays. In Tiana’s experience, Twist mostly appeared places he couldn’t possibly be and gave obscure advice, and Kiar spent a lot of time staring at things and muttering.

Kiar bit her lip, then said, “I’m sure he checked around on his own. He would have said something if he’d seen anything like that.”

“Maybe he did, to the Chancellor.”

Kiar worked on re-assembling the formal dress on a hanger, rather than meeting Tiana’s eyes or answering her. She did that a lot these days when anybody brought up Twist.

Tiana sighed. “Well, that’s why I need you, anyhow. I know there’s something down there, Kiar. Something alive. I could feel its heart beating.”

Kiar said, “Tiana, you were really deep into the phantasmagory. Your eyes were glowing. You stopped talking, or moving. Lisette was terrified. And nobody’s sure what happened at the funeral, either. It scared Shanasee into the phantasmagory, too, and that eidolon…”

“It couldn’t have actually been an eidolon. Who would disrupt the funeral like that?” Tiana said firmly.

Kiar shook her head. “It wasn’t a familiar one, but it was definitely an eidolon. Maybe whoever spawned that eidolon also spawned something that killed Tomas. No fiend necessary. Just another undiscovered bastard, screwing up.” The hint of bitterness in Kiar’s voice was old and familiar.

“Why is everybody so happy to believe we’re murderers? No, don’t answer that.” Tiana could feel the undertow of the phantasmagory, closer than usual. She thought she could hear the heartbeat within, calling her. Taunting her. She wouldn’t let it drive her mad. Pushing her feet into a pair of sturdy slippers, she said, “Come on, let’s go find Lisette. I need her. Do you know if there are any maps of the catacombs in the library?”

In horrified fascination, Kiar said, “You really want to go down there, right now? You, me and Lisette?”

“It doesn’t have to be you, me and Lisette. I could go by myself, without a map!” She stopped, modulated her voice. “And if there isn’t a fiend, what is there to be worried about?” She narrowed her eyes at the taller girl.

Acidly, Kiar said, “Falling rocks. Getting lost. Us.” She paused and then said quietly, “I do know what it’s like. To feel totally driven by a desire, out of nowhere. And I know what it’s like to act on that desire. And I know what it’s like to regret it, afterwards.” She hesitated, and then sighed. “And I know no wisdom in the world would have stopped me. No falling rocks, no locked doors, no hungry animals.”

Tiana stopped dressing again. “Kiar…”

Kiar shook her head in a rejection of sympathy, and opened the suite door. “Oh, hello, Lisette. Tiana has been asking for you.”

Lisette was walking down the hall towards the suite, flanked by four men in the Knights of the Regency tabards. She looked tired and irritated, and her chestnut hair had been plucked out of the elaborate braid she’d put it in for the funeral. But when she saw Tiana in the doorway, a smile lit up her face.

“You’re awake! I’m so glad.” She ran the last few steps to Tiana and embraced her. Then she held her by the shoulders and looking at her carefully. “What happened? What pulled you away?”

Tiana looked at the guards behind Lisette. Normally they guarded the entrances to the Palace, and accompanied the Blood or Regents on expeditions. They looked uncomfortable this deep in the residential area of the Palace. “Why did the Chancellor want to see you?”

Lisette’s breath hissed between her teeth. “He doesn’t want any of the active Regents to be alone, ever again. If I’m not with you, I’m to have a Regency guard. And they’re to escort me everywhere. He was very firm. Also, he rescheduled tomorrow’s reception to next week, so nobody has an excuse not to attend. And Pell’s old Regent has agreed to come out of retirement to assist the King.” Pell, one of the King’s brothers, had been dead a decade now.

Tiana chewed her lip, and considered the rescheduled reception. Then she blinked at the guards. “What, all four of them? That seems… crowded.” Tiana frowned at the guards. She recognized faces, but only recalled one name.

That one, Lieutenant Tant, a tall, dark-haired man, cleared his throat. “Your Highness, only two of us will be escorting her Ladyship. The others are on their way to Lady Iriss. We’ll try to be inconspicuous. Oh, and…” He cleared his throat and recited, sing-song “The Chancellor has all faith in your ability to protect your lady companion when she is with you. Our presence is merely a precaution against an opportunistic assassin.” Then his eyebrows drew together and he added in his own voice, “The King’s tragedy is already too much for the Regency to bear.” He nodded at two of the guards, and they bowed and continued down the hall. “This is Guardsman Berrin. He just transferred from Stormwatch. An old friend.”

Berrin, who was almost as tall as Tant, and far broader, said, “We don’t want to get in the way of your usual pursuits, your highness.” Then he grinned. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to attending some of those Small-light shows, though. We’ll just be around in the background. Lurking.”

Tant said sharply, “Guardsman!” and Berrin ducked his head, still grinning.

Tiana was taken aback. “Oh. Well… now we’re going to the library. Right, Kiar? The library?”

Kiar sighed. “It seems as good a place to start as any, Tiana.”

“Right,” said Tiana. She slipped past the guards and walked down the hall.

Lisette fell into step at Tiana’s side. “Why are we going to the library?”

Tiana glanced at the guards trailing them, and shrugged. “I want to look something up. I need Kiar to translate Aunt Rinta’s catalog.” Lisette responded to her vague answer with a silence and a sympathetic smile.

The library was on the first and ground floors of the Palace. On the first floor, the paneled double doors opened to a lofty space encircled by galleries. Four fluted columns rose from the ground floor to the frescoed ceiling. Long, narrow windows along the west wall spilled dreary light across the tables and chairs that dotted the worn carpet, while Logos-inscribed flameless lights illuminated the shelves. Rolling ladders allowed access to the hardest to reach volumes. The reconstruction and organization of the library had been a family project for the previous generation, and now, with most of them dead, it was a lovely, pleasant, rarely visited space.

Tiana pulled her companions away from the entrance where the guards stationed themselves, down one of the curving staircases to the ground floor. “I need to find maps of the catacombs. There’s a level underneath it, with something down there. If I find it, I can prove nobody killed Tomas.”

Lisette asked, “You saw this in the phantasmagory?” Tiana nodded, and Lisette looked thoughtful. “If you wandered into an ancestor’s construct, that could be what pulled you away from me. That’s very interesting.”

Tiana flashed a smug look at Kiar, who shrugged. “I’m not a Regent and I don’t have access to Regency journals like Lisette does, so don’t give me that look. I have to base my opinions on my own experiences. The crazy, distracted, weird stuff.”

“I’m not weird!” said Tiana, looking offended.

Lisette said, “Kiar, the Chancellor would still like to provide you a Regent, you know. He worries.”

Kiar flinched from Lisette’s words. “No, thank you. As long as the Regency agrees I don’t require one, I don’t want one. I don’t get lost in the phantasmagory. I don’t forget to eat. I can dress myself. And Yithiere will never legitimatize me. I like things the way they are.”

Tiana looked back and forth between them, and wondered what the fiend below the Palace was doing. Kiar and Lisette were standing around talking about unimportant things while Tomas’s murderer lurked somewhere. “Maps!” she said. “We need maps.”

Aunt Rinta catalogued everything in the library before she died. Yithiere, her older brother, then convinced her it was a good idea to let him encrypt her work. After her death, he wasn’t inclined to share the key, but Kiar had cracked it on her own. That was the sort of thing she did for fun.

Kiar led the way over to the catalog table, where a giant book sat open. “Any idea who to look for? Any ancestral names in the phantasmagory?”

Tiana shook her head, choosing to believe that was a serious question. “No names. There was a woman, but… there was something strange about her. I don’t think she was real. ”

Lisette suggested, “Pell’s journals? He did rebuild most of the Palace.” Most of the Blood kept journals, although sometimes about very peculiar subjects or in peculiar forms. “Are they here, or did Yithiere remove them for safekeeping?”

Tiana thought that was a very diplomatic way to refer to obsessive theft. “Yes, find those. Jerya says he used to roam all over the old Palace. We went exploring with him once. Just before he found you, Kiar.”

Kiar began to thumb through the catalog. “He was building Starset then. The kitchens hated it. The maids had to deliver lunch to him and his building crew every day and it was always freezing up that high.” She paused her turning of pages and said reflectively, “He almost claimed me as his own daughter, you know. He said, ‘But I don’t know if it will be easier for you, and I don’t know if Yithiere would ever forgive me’. They came to look at me sometimes in the scullery. Two tall men, one nice, one scary.” She shook her head, and resumed paging through the catalog. “I’m not seeing the adult Pell in here, though.”

“Yithiere or Cathay has them, then,” said Lisette. Cathay was Pell’s son.

Tiana said gloomily, “I’d rather not ask either of them.” Yithiere was prickly and Cathay would want something particular in return.

Lisette gave her another sympathetic look. “Cathay’s very persistent, isn’t he? But I doubt he’d be much of a bother today.” She sighed. “He must be thinking about Sennic’s death again.”

Tiana scowled. “He wouldn’t let anybody get near me at the last reception. He made fun of all my suitors.”

Lisette said gravely, “And yet, you seemed to be enjoying yourself.”

Tiana’s face warmed. “Well, it’s Cathay.”

With a little smile, Lisette said, “Yes, I know.”

Tiana made a mournful face. “Do you miss him? I didn’t mind, honest. I’d rather have things back the way they were.” Regents couldn’t marry, but chastity was neither expected, nor, often, valued in their service to Ceria.

Lisette shook her head. “You know it couldn’t have lasted. It’s his way. I expected him to move on to you or Kiar. I wish he weren’t so fickle, but I don’t think he can help himself.”

Tiana grumbled, “Well, Kiar doesn’t even enjoy the receptions, so he couldn’t ruin them for her. And she’s taller. Why couldn’t he have fixated on her instead?”

“Too blonde. He prefers brunettes,” said Kiar absently. “Here, this is a list of topics. Let’s look around in the library some more before involving anybody else.”

“Architecture?” Lisette asked.

“Maps?” Tiana suggested, patiently.

“No such topic. ‘Maps’ refers to Geography.” Staring at the book, Kiar muttered, “Rinta, what was the Palace to you? The Royal Library? Pell rebuilt it as well.” She looked around the room and then back at the designation again. “Over here.” She led the way to the shelf. “Up there.”

Tiana pushed the rolling ladder over and climbed up, pulling out a thick folio. It was loosely packed with documents and folded diagrams and half its contents slipped out of the folio to flutter to the ground. On the floor above, Tant leaned against the railing, watching casually, until she glared at him. Then he raised his hands, lowered his eyes and turned his back.

She handed the rest of the folio down to Lisette and climbed down. “They’re not going to like us taking you down to the catacombs, off the usual strolls. After all, we could be planning to murder you. I’ve read that in Cylisse, royal guards protect the royalty, they don’t protect people from the royalty.”

Not looking up from gathering the scattered documents, Lisette said, “Nobody thinks you’re going to hurt me. Well, nobody you should listen to, anyhow.”

“Yes, Tiana,” Kiar added. “It’s just another missed bastard. You know how much trouble they cause.”

Tiana frowned at Kiar. Was she trying to pick a fight? Lisette handed the sheaf of papers to Kiar to sort, looking exasperated. “The two of you are quite the pair today. Kiar, nobody thinks it’s you, either. The Chancellor thinks that it’s a bastard of the King who recently discovered his powers and is angry at being overlooked for so long.”

Tiana was shocked. “There’s no such thing. Father’s never been with anyone else since Mama left.” But Lisette just smiled at her in her soothing way.

Kiar, however, said, “That doesn’t explain what happened to the other regents. Or provide a motive for killing them, either.”

Tiana sighed, and took the book from Kiar. She went to the nearest table to spread out the contents, trying to pay no attention to the conversation.

Lisette said, “They were very different deaths! The Chancellor is assuming those were still natural.” She glanced up at the guards. “He’s just being careful.”

Tiana unfolded a thick sheaf of paper and announced loudly, “Maps of the castle. With…” she peered closer, “notes on the construction. And dates. Old dates. When it was built, I suppose.” She shuffled through the stack, tossing useless maps aside. Kiar grimaced and gathered them up again.

“Here! The catacombs!” Tiana sat down and smoothed the paper, focusing. Lisette read over her shoulder, and Kiar leaned across the table on the other side, reading upside down. “He says people used to live down there. Hundreds of years ago.” She ran her finger across the fading penciled lines, tracing the common strolls.

Kiar flicked at her fingers. “Don’t touch, Tiana. You’ll make it fade faster. I’ll get a scribe to recopy them in ink.”

Tiana flipped through several pages of the catacombs, and then back to higher levels of the castle, poring over the diagrams. Finally, she sat back, running her hands through her hair. “There should be a down staircase. I don’t see that symbol, though.” She fought against the rising tide of frustration that brought the thump thump of the beating phantasmagory with it.

“Here, let me look.” Kiar pulled the map away. “Well, this is a down staircase symbol.” She flipped quickly through the catacombs maps. “And no, there aren’t any marked on the catacombs.”

“Always so fast, Kiar,” complimented Lisette.

Kiar’s cheeks turned pink. “No, I’m not,” she muttered, and flipped through the pages again. “Here, there’s a door marked on the edge of the map. And here’s another one.” She leaned in to read the writing. “One’s locked. The other leads to a collapsed stairway. He thinks there’s a flooded sub-basement. The masonry there dates from… at least six hundred years ago. He’s got a note to return and investigate further, but I guess he never got around to it.” She looked up and her smile was brief and pleased.

“Locked doors are not a problem,” said Tiana happily. “Come on. Let’s get some lights and go see. If you can memorize it, we can leave the map here, Kiar.”

Kiar’s smile flashed again. “I don’t have your father’s gift for memorization. But I can recopy it. Hold on.”

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