We mostly stayed silent for the remainder of the journey, because there was so much to say that it was too much. We’d talk ourselves out of it, or keep planning without moving much toward anything. There were too many outside factors we couldn’t control, so we’d have to trust our powers, and each other.
It was a lot to ask, but as Abdiel said, the moment would reveal the man, and though he’d meant it for Tyrel specifically, it applied to all of us, including him.
We never did purchase the horses. Not knowing who was in the Traitors Guild, or the extent of it, we would gather attention. Zephyr and myself alone would likely be the focus, but Tyrel in his Canceler’s robe would have been a dead giveaway something was amiss.
It was just as well. The trip ended in another two days.
When we topped the final rise, the Cancelers Palace was in full view.
As soon as I saw it, I remembered Gran and Atheron having a late night conversation about power and its affect on men. If the Cancelers’ powers were those of stealth and negation, their pride and confidence in their abilities was on full display in the opulence of their dwelling.
Four spired towers formed the corners of a concentric structure, with walkways serving as spokes in a wheel. Some were stone, and some glass enclosed. The center of the circle was the palace proper, sitting against its forested backdrop like a diamond. The stones were bright colored, reflecting the sunlight and heat.
Given the power contained within its walls, they apparently felt no need to conceal themselves.
Tyrel gave a quick explanation: the towers were the living quarters divided among those who stayed there, one for priests, another for priestesses, then the male and female novices. They were on opposite sides to discourage night visits, as the guards stayed within the palace proper at all times, having quarters of their own beneath the circle.
“Does it work?” I asked.
“Guards can be bribed. But few of the acolytes are lusty enough to risk it, and there are other areas out of sight, and full of shadows.”
“And you know where they are?”
He grinned, but didn’t answer, giving me my answer.
I changed the subject. “So where are the prisoners kept?”
He waited a couple of heartbeats, then said, “They’re not.”
I sighed. Of course not.
“So how do I get in?”
“As my disciple.”
“They won’t find out I have magic?”
“As long as Abdiel keeps the spirits contained, I can cover whatever residuals are still in you.”
I looked at Zephyr. His age, whatever it was, was not serving him well as it affected his ability to keep Abdiel and the others at bay without cost to himself.
He looked diseased, and I was reminded once more that Abdiel and the others were dark in nature at their core, bound to me only through Gran’s passing of her power to me, and nothing else.
He could barely move, much less talk, but he never complained or weakened his hold. I wasn’t sure how long he could last, or even if he would. I went to him as I spoke to Tyrel.
“I’ll have to take the spirits back for a day or two, and since you’ve been away for some time, you can go inside and see what goes on in there, then come back for us. Zephyr needs to heal.”
“He needs to find you a new familiar.”
I bristled at that, but it was more out of guilt since I’d also thought it along the way here; that he might not survive this, and the spirits would do what they do if I fell victim to the Cancelers.
“Given where we are, I don’t see that happening, and unless I can just show up and claim you as my mentor, we’ll wait here, and you can come back.”
His frown and silence made me angrier, but he’d been moody since the outset, and it was wiser overall to leave him to sort it out on his own.
I picked up Zephyr, saw the dried blood crusting his stinking feathers, and the cloudy eyes that were gleaming obsidian.
“Abdiel, come out of him.”
I’m not sure we can. The trees are warded here.
I really didn’t want to speak to Tyrel anymore, but this was out of necessity. “Tyrel, Abdiel says the trees are warded, but I need him to leave Zephyr and return to me. Now. Is it safe?”
“From this distance, we are beyond the wards; he should be safe.”
Very well. I’ll gather the others to me. It will be but a moment.
“Zephyr, will you be able to take another transfer?”
“We shall see.” He seemed to push the words through a swollen throat.
“That’s not an answer, you cryptic thing.”
“You will come to find, young witch, that answers only lead to more questions. Are you ready for what’s to come?”
We are ready, Tina.
I smiled at Zephyr, but it was trembly and not at all reassuring.
“We shall see.”