Among the Midlings, the punishment for treason was death. There was no other way to deal with someone willing to sell out the entire tribe for their own personal interests. Evera allowed Meager to live, not for her sake, but for the sake of Ramses who begged for her life. Ramses, her second in command, and leader of the second team to enter Sinistral, would need to be able to concentrate on his assigned task. Evera could not risk his mind being divided by worry or remorse for Meager, nor could she risk dividing his allegiances so close to the realization of their plans.
Meager had been remanded to Ramses and she had been ordered under pain of death to stay with him at all times. If at any time she was found to be alone, where and when her actions could not be corroborated, Evera had made it clear that she would be killed. This seemed a harsh tact even to Evera, but the fact was, there were plenty of people among the Midlings who would have gladly dispatched the woman if given the chance. The order was as much for Meager’s protection as it was for Ramses. It did not escape Evera’s notice that he no longer looked on Meager with any hint of the affection he once did, nonetheless, there was something there that none of them could yet name.
By now everyone knew the details of Ramses departure from the Midlings, and the part that Evera played in seeing two cousins, two crib mates, separate. Had Ramses not preferred exile over Meager’s plan of treasonous betrayal, it would have been Ramses’ head they’d have to take. Ramses’ return was so bittersweet, and the fact that he had returned with his pride lowered in conciliation and at the risk of losing her made him all the more beloved to them. Meager was a dangerous woman, power hungry and ruthless, and Evera desperately hoped that she hadn’t made a mistake in sparing her life.
Evera sat on the ropey roots of an old maple and watched Ramses who stood a couple dozen yards away. He adjusted the pack on his shoulders and then approached each member of his team in turn murmuring words of encouragement. Meager kept pace a few steps behind him, her eyes flashing in all directions, arms crossed over her chest. Ramses never even glanced at Meager. It was an obvious concerted effort. When she was most near, Evera noticed that his broad square shoulders stiffened.
“Is it possible to love and hate someone at the same time?” mused Evera as she stood and shouldered her own pack.
“That’s not love or hate you’re seeing,” said Alif. He smiled when Evera jumped. She hadn’t known he’d been standing there. “That’s disgust.”
“I almost feel sorry for her.”
“I don’t,” said Alif, patting her on the shoulder before he walked away.
Evera worried about Alif as well. He would heal quickly from the wounds he earned from the explosion, but only if he was able to rest. Alif refused to rest. Old Mother dressed his wounds and brewed him a flask of tea that smelled and looked like river sludge. After he drank it, he claimed that his pain had abated and that he was more alert than he’d ever been. But how long would this last? And, would that be long enough?
Evera nodded to her group, and they moved to the edge of the clearing along with the other two groups. All three groups would head out in three different directions to take three different approaches into Sinistral. Evera’s group would enter from the south and make a stop in the Sinistral sewers. She wanted to find Siti and garner her support. Ramses would enter from the western boarder and was supposed to stop at The Garden’s, a Believer stronghold within a defunct prison right under Scientist noses. Alif’s group was supposed to go directly to McKinley’s compound. They would be the first to test the old Scientist’s defenses, the first to either live or die trying.
Die, more likely than live. It had come to that. How would she tell Airun that she’d sent his brother up front first, to his death? How would she explain that he’d insisted? She wouldn’t, if she lost her life as well, which Evera realized with macabre amusement, she was more like than not to do.
Evera had made all the speeches she had the stomach for. If her people weren’t sufficiently motivated for this mission by now, they never would be. Evera raised her arm to catch their attention and when all eyes were on her she said, “Go forward if you dare.” She lowered her arm and started south.
Truth stood at the gates of McKinley’s estate. “I can’t feel her anymore,” he said.
“Do you think that McKinley has taken her somewhere else?”
Truth closed his eyes, his brows in a tight stitch across his forehead as he concentrated. “No. She’s here. I can feel her. I can feel me,” he said smiling. “It’s almost like she charges my battery.” He laughed out loud. “Something is blocking her mind from me. But…”
Siti pressed forward out of the darkness and stood next to Truth. “What is it?” she asked, a plume of steam issuing as she spoke.
“At first, back in the sewers, I couldn’t feel her at all, but then somehow she slipped through a chink in the barrier and I could at least hear her thoughts. Like a slippery whisper,” he hissed. Truth turned his cold silver stare onto Siti. While sharp with intelligence, it was strangely vacant. He squinted his eyes. Until that moment she had forgotten that he couldn’t see, at least not as she did, and also that he’d said looking at her hurt his eyes. Part of Siti wished to see the world as Truth did. The same part of her wanted to know if her light was beautiful. “Proximity seems to make a difference though. The barrier only blocks Honor thoughts, not her presence.”
“But you heard her thoughts before.”
Truth nodded. “Yes…but, maybe she’s sleeping,” he said matter of fact. Truth suddenly stiffened and his gaze shot back to the mansion in front of them. “Who is Taha?”
Eyes wide with shock and disbelief, Siti glanced back at Michael and Seraph. “He’s one of the children from the sewers. He’s recently befriended Honor.” Siti grasped Truth’s shoulder but then quickly released it when a frozen current waved through her fingers like an electrical pulse. Truth was so very cold now. The air around them was also cooling. “Are you saying that Taha is here too?”
Truth nodded. “He’s strong.”
“Yes, he is,” said Siti, worried. She’d always worried that the child might actually be too strong. If McKinley figured out how strong the boy was…Siti hated to consider the potential outcome. He’d either be taken for a worrisome enemy or McKinley would find some way to use and control Taha. Neither option was a good one, although the latter might at least spare his life. In all of Siti’s years, with all that she had seen, she’d learned that death wasn’t always the worst outcome. She’d seen worse things happen to a Believer. Remembering that Taha could speak distances, she asked Truth, “Can you hear him? Is he speaking to you?”
Truth nodded slowly, distractedly. “He has much to tell. So much, in fact, that I am having trouble sorting it all out.” Truth turned to face Siti and her two tall doting friends, both of whom had pressed closer, faces dark with concern. Truth was smiling, a warm genuine smile. “I like him. His mind is so vast and, well, it’s like standing with your face in the wind.”
“What is he saying?”
Truth cocked his head to the side, eyes closed again. He was quiet for a long time, unnerving them all with his stillness. Then nodding his head he said, “We won’t be entering through the front gate, as I planned. Apparently, McKinley expects that of me.” Truth backed away from the gate. “Daylight?” asked Truth not to Siti and her men, but to Taha who was channeling him. “But, I can’t…” Truth smiled again. “I see.” When Truth’s gaze fell back on Siti he looked grave, but no less determined. “Taha has found a way to take him down, once and for all.”