I know it's been a while since I posted anything. I haven't gotten much writing done so far this year. Murphy's Law has been in full effect. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the drama will end soon!
* * *
I threw up an arm
to block the blow. Fire sliced my skin as the steel pierced my glove. Far
better then the main artery in my neck. If I stayed on the ground though, I was
My boot shot
toward his crotch. He shifted to block the blow, and the momentum allowed me to
shove him while I rolled the other way.
Directly into the
path of the oncoming horses.
I curled into a
tight ball, arms over my head to protect me from the multitude of sharp hooves.
My head rang from the vibrations and pain of my injuries.
As suddenly as
they appeared the multitude of riders and steeds were gone. I leapt to my feet,
right hand already drawing the sword at my back.
I whirled around
to find wardens pouring from both the temples of Light
and Balance. Little Bear must have standing at the doors, watching for my
return. My attacker, though, was gone.
familiar scent washed over me. He beat the wardens to me by a couple of paces.
He caught himself.
“Are you all right, Lady Justice?” He reached for the blood on my face, but I
shoved his hand away.
“No. Don’t.” A
vicious smile twisted my lips. “We spilt each other’s blood.”
Luc’s answer was
just as feral. “We have him.”
* * *
Or so we thought.
But like everything else in this damnable day, the gods seemed to be laughing
at our efforts including the two we were personally sworn to.
We left our team
of wardens to watch the possible exits at a decrepit inn near the docks. The tracking
spell failed as we reached the door it indicated. Inside was my attacker’s
still warm body, bloody nose and all, in a tiny, third-story room. The scent of
bitter almonds told us what type of poison he used. A quick search gave no clue
of his identity, which in itself spoke of his origins.
Luc raked his
hands through his hair. “There hasn’t been an attempt in Issura by the
Assassins Guild since—”
“The reign of the
Twin Queens before the last demon war.” I blew out an exasperated breath. “The question becomes why me?”
“Because you would
administer Gretchen’s estate?”
“That makes no
sense. We have no reason to believe my attempted assassination is connected
with Sister Gretchen’s death.”
Luc snorted, his
disgust evident. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”
I sheathed my
sword. “Whichever priest of Light witnessed the opening would know her last
“Which is why I
assigned a warden to watch Kam.”
I stared at Luc. “Let’s
assume for a moment you are correct, and there’s connection. Who knew the
contents of Gretchen’s declaration? She deliberately filed it with the Temple of Death so Gerd wouldn’t know.”
Luc shrugged. “Everyone
“If one of their
members is involved, why not switch scrolls? For that matter, why not lose it?”
Luc grunted. “Too
many safeguards. The entire temple would have to be involved in the
conspiracy.” He crouched next to the body and lifted its hand. “What did Master
Devin say about a man with small hands?”
I knelt and held
my gloved hand against the corpse’s. “I suppose it’s possible, but no assassin
is going to waste precious escape time to mutilate their target.”
hired him gave him specific instructions.”
I climbed to my
feet. “Now we’ve officially jumped into wild hare territory.”
Luc rose as well.
“I haven’t had a chance to research a separation and tracking spell for the
scrapings Master Devin provided you. Do you want me to do that while you have a
talk with Lady Alessa?”
I shook my head.
“No, I want her truthspelled during this little interview, and longer we wait,
the more likely something else will go wrong in this investigation. The
tracking spell can wait.” I stared at the rapidly cooling body. “If this is
Gretchen’s killer, your spell won’t work anyway, and we’re no closer to understanding
As we exited the
room, we found Magistrate DiCook and a handful of peacekeepers pounding up the
staircase of the inn.
“What the names of
the Twelve is going on here?” When I didn’t answer, his attention switched to
Luc. “One of you had better answer me!”
“A member of the
Assassins Guild tried to murder me,” I said.
“On the steps of
the Lord of Light’s home,” Luc added.
“Less than a
candlemark ago.” I pushed past him, and he grabbed my left arm. I couldn’t stop
the hiss of pain. When I refused to waste time waiting for a healer, Little
Bear and Tyra had threatened to hold me down while one of the brothers bandaged
the ugly cut from the assassin’s knife.
“Why wasn’t I
notified?” DiCook’s lip curled into his familiar sneer.
I yanked my arm
out of his grasp. “Because we were trying to catch him before he escaped.”
“You let him get
I wasn’t sure if
DiCook was more pleased that the assassin escaped or that I failed. If I
gambled, I would have bet on the latter. “You could say that.” I gestured
toward the wide open door. “If you can get more out of his belongings than I,
let me know.”
I continued painfully
down the stairs, Luc right behind me. My hip would stiffen from the bruising if
I rested now, not that I could afford the time.
from the peacekeepers and DiCook’s curse when they discovered the body beat us
to the first floor.
“You really need
to stop antagonizing the man, Anthea.”
I smiled up at
him. “When the Lord of Light’s domain freezes over.”
* * *
Duke Marco’s face
froze, the air of disappointment and despair obvious when Luc and I showed up
at his gate and asked to speak with his sister. Lady Katarina graciously
allowed us to use her reception room, but the fire couldn’t warm me as it did
Lady Alessa held
her composure until her brother and sister-in-law left the room. Hot shame
tinted her cheeks. “You know.”
“Know what?” I
She sank into a
chair. “Don’t play with me, Justice. Please, don’t. You have no idea how
h-hard…” Pale blue tears ran down her cheeks.
Luc cursed under
his breath. I knew at once he hadn’t asked the right questions during his
originally interview of her. He hadn’t conceived of the two women having a
“You could have
pulled one of us aside yesterday,” I said gently. “We would have listened.”
She stared at the
painfully bright grate. “I couldn’t. Things have been so difficult for my
brother. There’s been so much scandal. He tried, he really did, to find me an
appropriate match. I thought if he did, I could suppress my desires…”
“Alessa, I need
Luc to truthspell you.”
She nodded though
her attention never wavered from the fire.
The moment the
pale nimbus of magic surround her, I said, “Tell me about the counterspell
Gretchen taught you.”
Her head jerked,
and she stared at me, eyes wide as she realized her mistake. She reached for
her neck, and I seized her arms. It wasn’t much of a physical struggle despite
But around us,
objects shivered. I knew damn well it wasn’t Luc or me losing control of our
Luc removed the
chain hidden beneath the collar of her dress. Dangling from the links was a
carved ruby heart. A thin line of energy surrounded the jewel. A talisman.
crumpled and her sobs came loud and fierce. Her terrible grief overrode the
agony of the truthspell. For once, I was the one patiently stroking the distraught
witness’s hair while Luc paced behind her chair.
noblewoman’s emotion, I could feel the stones of the keep moan in sympathetic
When she weeping
faded to hiccups, I released her. “Don’t make me ask you again, Alessa. Otherwise,
the truthspell will force you to answer me, and it will be painful.”
She nodded. “Gretchen
gave me the heart a year ago. When we first started…” Her blood pulsed as she
acknowledged their affair. “She laid the spell and taught me the words and gestures
to activate and deactivate the magic.”
slowed, her voice turned numb, as she stared at me. “She didn’t mean any harm.
She was protecting me as best she could when…when Mother would have one of her
hired sorcerers truthspell us.”
My own blood ran
cold. I didn’t want to know the answer to the next question, but duty forced me
to ask anyway. “Us? You mean you, Marco and Isabella?”
Behind Alessa, Luc
froze. “That’s how your mother found out Marco was courting Katarina, isn’t
“Yes.” Her head
bowed once more. “Ironically, Mother sending our baby sister to the capital
protected her from the worst of her predations. Isabella loves the university,
and now she can focus on her studies without Mother breathing down her neck
about seducing some lordling.”
Time to get the
questioning back on track. “Alessa, did you kill Sister Gretchen of the Temple of Love?”
threaded through her single word. There was a hint of power behind it.
“Do you know who
killed Sister Gretchen?”
“No.” The fire
flared, and I couldn’t stop my wince at the brilliant heat. Thankfully, Alessa
couldn’t see my reaction with my hood in place.
“Do you know who
put Sister Gretchen’s body into the barrel she was found in?”
“When was the last
time you saw her alive?”
ago. I had snuck out of the manor and met her at a hunting cabin on our lands
about an hour's ride north. We spent the night together.” Once again, her pulse
jumped at revealing such intimate secrets. “We parted two candlemarks before
dawn in order to return to our beds without arousing suspicion.”
I glanced at Luc,
his frown matching my own. Alessa’s testimony narrowed the window for
attention back to the noblewoman, I asked, “Why didn’t your parents have you tested
for magical talent?”
Her gaze met mine
again. “They did. The priest of Light who supervised said I was a passive.”
A passive talent
could activate a spell created by an active talent, but they couldn’t cast one
on their own. Therefore, they weren’t required to register with the temples.
stopped pacing. He crossed to the chair on the other side of Alessa and sat. “I
know you are still dealing with your lover’s death, m’lady, but I would like
you to come see me, in say, two weeks from today for retesting.” So I wasn’t
the only one who sensed her flashes of power.
I could feel her mounting
panic. “You are not in trouble, Alessa. Either you were too young to fully
manifest your talent yet, or the brother was incompetent.”
“Excuse me?” Luc
exclaimed in mock outrage.
lightened Alessa’s mood, and she made a burbling half giggle-half hiccup sound.
Luc held up the
necklace. “I am going to take this for now. We need to figure out how to deal
with this counter spell in order to discover Gretchen’s murderer. I’ll return
it when you come to see me in two weeks.”
“You’ll remove the
spell from the jewel, won’t you?” she whispered.
“We have to,” I
said. “Technically, it’s illegal.” I held up my hands when the chair I sat on
trembled. “I’m not charging you. You received it in good faith from another
priestess.” I cleared my throat. “I do need to ask you a few more questions.”
She sagged in her
own seat and nodded.
“Did anyone know
that you and Gretchen were having an affair?”
“Not that I know
of. As I said, we were very careful because of my mother.”
“Did you receive
any notes or messages that insinuated a person knew about your affair?”
reference about you personally involved in a sapphic affair?”
“Not to me.” She
paused for a moment, but she wasn’t fighting the spell. “Some lords have made
derogatory comments about me to Marco, but as far as I know it was for the
purpose of insult, not because they truly believed I prefer the bed of a
“Do you know who
Gretchen named as her heir in her declaration of last wishes?”
“Me. She told me our last night together.
That she wanted to make sure I had resources if something happen to her, and my
family discovered our relationship.” Alessa’s smile was small and sad. “She kept
trying to talk me into running away with her. Cant, or the Mecas, or even the
Sea Peoples’ islands. I just couldn’t leave Marco and especially Isabella
without any explanation.”
“Did she ever
indicate there was another reason she wanted to escape from Orrin?”
“I’d like to
believe it was only our love, but I know there were problems between her and
Sister Gerd and Sister Dragonfly.”
“What kind of
Alessa took a deep
breath and released it. “Gerd was always accusing her of trying to usurp her authority.
Dragonfly was simply jealous when Gretchen stopped sleeping with her.”
I exchange looks
with Luc. Now we were getting somewhere, but neither of us said anything.
Instead, I took
her hands in mine. “Your pain is mine.”
Her face scrunched
again at the ritual words of sympathy for the death of a loved one, but she
forced back her tears. “Thank you,” she whispered.
At my signal, Luc
murmured the words to release his truthspell.
Alessa’s hands. “Gretchen was also Katarina’s friend. She would share your
“A-are you going
to tell them? Marco and Katarina?”
“No,” I said
softly. “Sharing that knowledge is not my right, but I think you are
underestimating your family. About Gretchen’s declaration…” I sucked in a deep
breath. “Brother Kam and I have opened and confirmed it—”
I held up one hand
at her little gasp. “I don’t want to cause you any embarrassment, but I have
the duty to insure Gretchen’s wishes are followed. Sister Gerd believes that no
declaration exists. I’m going to have to make the public post soon to prevent
her from illegally seizing your property.”
“I-I don’t know if
I want it,” Alessa murmured.
I clasped her
hands again. “You have the right of refusal, of course, but right now, your
grief is overriding your common sense. I would suggest confiding to your
brother. Get his counsel before you make any decision.”
“But the public
post will cause even more scandal.”
gold equivalent of Gretchen’s holdings, it will garner more noble suitors than
you know what to do with,” Luc said, dryly.
“Not to mention,
Marco has already broken with tradition. There’s no reason you cannot follow in
his footsteps,” I added.
Alessa nodded. “I
will take your wisdom into consideration, Justice, Brother.”
“If you remember
anything else, come straight to us,” I said. “No pages or other messengers if
you want to avoid the gossip.”
She nodded, but
tears had started trickling down her cheeks again. Luc deactivated his wards,
and we left the reception room.
Marco stood in the
hallway, by his expression obviously expecting the worst.
I stopped before
him. “Your sister isn’t involved in the murder.”
He sagged against
the stone wall. “Thank the Twelve.”
I laid right hand
on his shoulder and squeezed in support. After all the struggle and tension with
Alessa, the slice on my left was throbbing.
As I continued
past him, he called, “Lady Justice—”
“I can’t say
anything more, Your Grace.” Before I spilled all of his sister’s secrets, I turned and marched down the hallway.
Luc and I were
nearly to the entryway when a figure stepped from behind a statue. “She didn’t
I remembered the
voice from yesterday. “You are Bartholomew, correct?”
“Yes, m’lady.” He
bobbed his head. “Lady Alessa, she didn’t kill that priestess.”
Behind me, Luc’s
irritation rippled through my psyche. “Yesterday, you told me you didn’t know
who killed Sister Gretchen.”
Between Bartholomew and Luc’s emotional turmoil, I felt as if my eyes would erupt from my
“Do you have an
additional statement you wish to make, Bartholomew?” I said, trying to inject
some calm into the situation.
“Ah just told ya.
Lady Alessa didn’t kill that priestess.”
I wanted to
believe he was a loyal DiMara retainer, but maybe he was too loyal. “And how do
you know this?” I asked.
If the heat of his
face hadn’t given him away, the shuffling of his feet did. “Ah-ah just know,
“If you still want
a place in this household, you’d better answer the justice’s question.” Lady
Katarina’s cold steel voice came from behind Luc and me.
Unfortunately, the moment we glanced at her was the
same moment Bartholomew decided to run.