Karesh Ni: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

The front doors looked like the outside thirds of an oval shoved together. They were round and tall, and came together at a point. On either side hung a lantern on a silver cord, glowing with red, blue, and white light as if many different fires were confined to one small vessel of glass. Inside the floor was polished, and yet my feet could tell where the floor was smooth marble and where it was slicker quartz. But it was warm, and my breath no longer steamed. My hostess had me lead to another office, one with frosted glass walls and a glass roof, two floors up from the entryway to the building. She dismissed the guards at the door.

“Are you sure?” asked one of the guards when she told them they could leave us alone.

“Yes. You hospitallers may go,” she said.

“If she tries to escape?” asked the guard, a hospitaller apparently.

My real captor looked at me, the glass walls, the star-filled sky above, and back to him. “She can try.”

That ended their conversation. The guards left. She sat behind her desk and looked me up and down. Without taking off the ribbon, I couldn’t sit down. She put her knuckles to her lips like she was punched herself in the mouth very gently and sighed.

“Would you mind, please?” I asked. I held my hands out to her.

She stared at my hands, either lost in thought, cold and numb, or something else. I couldn’t tell. Suddenly she reached out and caught the ribbons with one index finger and pulled. The ribbons fell off.

When I was younger and had assumed serial killers would play a much larger part in my life, I’d learned to get out of handcuffs and ropes. I hadn’t started working on these yet, but I’d poked at them. I figured they were doable but tricky. They were not loose pieces of ribbon. They should not come off with a one-finger pull.

She got up, walked around the desk, and pulled the ribbon off my ankles the same way. Taking both, she returned to her seat while I transferred my coats to a hook on one wall. She looked at the binding, looked at me, and her face told me nothing. Her hands shuffled the ribbons back and forth as if she’d forgetten they were there.

“To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” she asked.

“Astrologamage Elegy.”

“Astrologamage?” she repeated in a voice that didn’t imply she wanted a response.

I took off my first three jackets, left the last one on, and hung my various clothing, bags, sacks, and gear against the wall. I sat down. The room was pleasant and warm, brightly lit with more lanterns. They cast the same multi-hued glow. There were no drafts.

Like a frozen ship breaking out of the ice, my brain took a while to get back to that point.

She had lanterns and no drafts.

I looked around the room: no fireplaces, no vents, no holes in the ceiling. The room was warm and dry. There were no smoke trails on the glass, and the clean marble didn’t have soot trails. I stared at a lantern and saw twinkling white lights behind glass.

“You use stars in your lanterns?” I asked.

“Welcome to Whitefire,” said the woman, opening her hands to display her empty white desk and bright office. “The name means starlight, and we’re rather familiar with it. Now Astrologamage, star-sage, drawer of horoscopes, and reader of the future, why have you come to Karesh Ni?”

“I’m here to see Amon Tim,” I said.

“But you have not come to Hierophant Amon Tim, you have come to Eparch Tel Viv. Why do you wish to speak to the Hierophant?”

And that was the real question. I had actually thought about this, but my cold, confused brain wasn’t working. I had that feeling where I knew I knew something and couldn’t say it.

The first thing that came to mind was, “I’m looking for the previous hierophant, Kyria.”

Tel Viv rolled her lips around like she was tasting my words. “Why?”

“I threw her numbers, and she’s at the peak of my ascending fortune. The Treasure Chest favors her.”

“Bad news, girl. She’s dead.”

“My horoscope says she’s not.”

“We fed her to a dragon.”

“I believe.”

She didn’t really shake her head, just cocked it to the side like a half-shake. “Good luck.”

Our weird half-argument ground to a halt.

“Why did you ask for Amon Tim if you’re looking for Kyria?” asked the eparch.

“He is the hierophant. She was. He might be able to help me.”

Tel Viv gave that little half-shake again.

She sounded confident. She also wasn’t overcome with sadness. Alyssa had said Amon Tim and his eparchs, and Tel Viv called herself an eparch, had deposed Kyria. Also, just now, the eparch had said, ‘we fed’ of Kyria’s death.

“Why did you–” I wasn’t quite sure how to finish. I blinked a few times. If I could just start thinking, she was saying things I needed to know!

Tel Viv answered anyway. “Treason. Consorting with dark powers. Murder. If you want specifics, she summoned the dragon, we turned it away, and summoning dragons tends to end with someone getting eaten. Someone happened to be her and she deserved it.”

After a few seconds she continued, “You’re rather openly associating yourself with a dead traitor.”

And she jumped ahead of me. I hate the cold.

“I’m not associated with her yet!” I said quickly and just as quickly added, “Or at all if she’s dead. I can’t associate with her if she’s dead. I had no idea about any of this.”

Tel Viv looked at the ceiling. “Yes, I’m getting that impression. Well, Astrologomage, your astrology seems to be as useful as one would expect. I doubt the dead traitor is going to bring anyone to the Treasure Chest, or ascend through your Treasure Chest, or whatever. As a practical matter, I don’t think you’ll find anything you want here. We are the true followers of starlight, and you’re not impressing me much. There is no fortune here for an astrologer.”


She thought I was too incompetent to be a traitor, which was good, I guess?

No, it was definitely bad. It was bad and better at the same time.

“In fact, unless you happen to be a wheat merchant, I think there’s really nothing for you here at all.”

I stared at her like a dog confronting a doorknob until the logjam of my thoughts cleared. “I just sold a contract of ten cargos of winter wheat to the Truis of Kageran.”

Tel Viv stared at me so blankly I think sheer incomprehension blocked her. She obviously thought I was lying, lying so badly she couldn’t believe it.

I kept going. “The buyer is House Ossaria of Elvenhome. The Celephians cleared the contract. Strike price is confidential. Baroness Alyssa and her consort Satre witnessed it. I have the contract in my bag.”

After several more long seconds Eparch Tel Viv said, “Show me, please.”

Because obviously, obviously I was lying. Obviously!

Except I went into my bag, pulled out the contract, and showed her. I even showed her the deposit receipt the Gesphains gave me when I deposited my loot. Satre had escorted me and insigned the receipt too. I don’t think he really trusted me, and I definitely believed he didn’t like this whole operation. Putting his stamp on the contract probably gave him a feeling of agency. But none the less, I had all the paperwork, and I hadn’t forged any of it.

Tel Viv couldn’t believe it or me. She kept shaking her head and unblinking like she was fighting sleep.

While she was staring at this incomprehensible truth, I scooted forward so I could put my hands on her desk. The chair complained when I dragged it.

“Tell me,” I said. “Do you need wheat?”

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