Chapter 4

By sunset, they came upon the forest of oaks. Daion’s lead was sure and straight until this point, when it was anyone’s guess where the shortest, stoutest oak grew. They made the motions of spreading out to search, but the Azierites stayed within earshot of one another while Daion peeled far off. Not long after separating, Rune corralled his friends one by one with a pull on their sleeves. By a series of questions to which Rune would only answer with nods and shakes of his head, they elicited that Daion was signaling them with his aura. The frustrated knot in Faenon’s brow held back a question that Kari also dared not ask. Rune was alone at last with his closest friends, but he still would not speak.

Daion crouched under an oak nearly four feet in diameter, but no more than three yards high. “Sure looks like the one,” Faenon said.

“It’s definitely the one,” Daion said, peering into the trunk. “There’s a piece of fake bark here, slides away to a keyhole. Anyone know how to pick a lock?”

Kari squeezed Rune’s hand, which had never let go of her sleeve, and smiled. She could feel his reluctance to move, to exist at all, but he forced himself forward. He pressed his fingers to the keyhole. A moment later, there was a heavy clink. The tree split along invisible seams as a hidden door fell ajar.

Daion took a long step back, not from the door, but from Rune. “What the hell was that?” he uttered.

“It’s just magic,” Faenon said with a shrug. His strides were a bit quick to Rune’s side. “What’s inside?”

Daion flinched again when, after Faenon swung the door open, Rune lit a small, green flame in his palm to light the dark hollow inside the tree trunk. This flinch was familiar to Kari; it was the same reaction any experienced mage had when they saw Rune cast even the smallest, simplest sort of fire magic. Flickering in the green light was a ladder going down below the ground.

“Who wants to go first?” Faenon muttered. After a few seconds of silence from his companions, he stepped forward with only slight reluctance.

Saakir’s underground hideaway had a simple look, with whitewashed walls and shabby floorboards, adorned only with crude elven lights and a few colorful knit rugs. Aside from a small kitchen, a dining space, and a bathroom with a water pump, all of the small rooms were stuffed to capacity with exactly five beds. Each of the rooms branched out from the narrow central hallway that terminated at one end with the ladder leading up and outside, and on the opposite end with a staircase descending deeper. It was down these stairs and through a door with at least two locks that Rune dragged Althea by the arm after dinner, followed at a small distance by the rest of the group.

“Was it unlocked?” Althea asked. Over the course of the long day, she had recovered from her fatigue with food and rest.

Rune shook his head. He needed more than food and rest to recover from what ailed him.

When the heavy door opened as far as its hinges would allow, the five intruders could walk in a single-file line through a narrow passageway leading right. Once they had made it into the dank study beyond, four out of five pairs of eyes fell first upon a tranquil, vivid painting of water on a starry night that spanned most of the wall. The fifth pair, Althea’s, took to the adjacent wall instead, where two bookshelves stretched all the way to the ceiling, filled to bursting with worn texts and elven lights to illuminate them. Her steps turned into a weak stagger as she gawked at the small font of knowledge before her.

“Well, see you in a few months,” Faenon sighed. “Have a good time.”

With a gasp, she darted to the shelf with a neat row of books with matching bindings. “It’s the full set,” she breathed. “Every centennial compilation, from the founding of the University—every single medical text they published. I’ve only ever seen… it’s the full set. It’s…” She snatched a leather-wrapped bundle of loose papers from the end of the shelf. “These are papers from last year! Someone’s collecting…”

“Looks like there’s some medical things on this shelf, too,” Daion murmured, slipping a volume off of the adjacent bookshelf.

“Okay. Just the ones about medicine and magic… and maybe folklore,” she muttered to herself, running her finger along the edge of one of the pages in the leather folder as if cherishing the very parchment on which it was written. “If I just prioritize—I don’t need to sleep—maybe I can…”

“You might not need to prioritize that much,” Daion interrupted, flipping open a book. “This whole shelf’s useless to you. How much of yours is in elven?”

Althea’s whole body drooped. “No,” she groaned in disbelief.

“Well, check everything. It can’t all be elven,” he said. “How anyone could have this much elven literature, anyway? I thought almost everything was lost after the Celestial Event.”

Althea fell still as if contemplating the horror of a childhood without books. Daion replaced his volume, gazing blankly at the bookshelves.

Soon she had everyone searching for relevant titles on her behalf. “If it’s magic or folklore, it only matters if it’s hundreds of years old, or specifically mentions healing magic,” she said. “And if it’s medicine, it only matters if it’s less than a hundred years old. Or if it’s elven and has a lot of diagrams. Maybe they’ve figured out things that we haven’t.”

Faenon hoisted Rune onto his shoulders to investigate the top shelf. When Rune found a relevant title, he carried it with magic to the desk where Althea stacked and organized the selected writings. Daion stared when he saw Rune’s power. “That’s not wind, is it,” he said. “How are you doing that?”

“Same way he unlocked the door. It’s just magic,” Faenon said of his brother, his lip twitching. Rune faced the bookshelf with unnecessary intensity.

“It’s not just magic,” stated Daion. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“Well, now you have.” Faenon’s voice had a cold edge that dropped as soon as the subject changed.

Unlike Faenon, Daion could reach the high volumes on the elven shelf by himself. He said he was at least six and a half feet tall when Faenon asked his height. He discovered a startling number of elven medical texts and looked at Althea with pity as he stacked them on the desk at the edge of the room. “If you see anything that looks interesting, I can try to translate,” he said. “I won’t know much of the jargon, though.”

“I doubt I’ll get far enough to read those,” Althea said, as Kari dropped off another pile of books she had pulled from the very bottom shelves. “Knowing me, I’ll probably just get wrapped up in something pointless like neurology instead of actually learning something useful.”

When the brothers had investigated all of the higher shelves, Faenon picked Rune off of his shoulders and placed him on the ground. “You keep looking. I’m gonna get something for you,” Faenon said. “Dad told me he wanted you to have it when you got older, but… you’re probably old enough.”

Rune felt cold after Faenon slipped out of the room. Kari examined the same shelf as him, with the same lack of attention, to stand close enough to share heat between their arms.

Faenon returned with his bag hanging from his hand, the empty buckles for his axe rattling along the floor as he dragged it. From it, he pulled a stack of old parchment in all shapes and sizes. “Looks like a bunch of letters,” he said, his eyes sweeping across the ink as he presented it to Rune. “Not sure what it…”

As he trailed off, he pulled the stack back towards him, holding it too close to his face for Rune to see without standing on his toes. Kari could not see it at all, and asked, “What’s the matter?”

Faenon sent a hard glance to Daion before he spoke. “Vega, right?” he said. “I just saw… it says Vega in here.”

They jumped at the smack of a pile of books hitting the desk when Althea dropped them in a stack.

“Well, what’s it say?” she demanded. “Why the hell are we all out here?”

Although his fingers ran over the spines of books as if searching, Daion had his eyes on the letters. Faenon sat himself and his stack of letters on the floor, glancing at those watching. He took the short scrap from the top of the pile and read it aloud.

Corona,

About an hour ago, Vega’s mercenaries invaded my home in search of Sycilae. They didn’t find her here, of course, but they forced me to tell them about the rest of her family and friends and where they lived. I’ve told Clef and Nami to flee and I am telling you the same. Vega has already taken my son hostage and she could very well come after you. This is exactly what Sycilae warned: if a Vessel does not submit, Vega will leverage their cooperation by seeking out their vulnerable loved ones. Felisia begged for them to take her instead of any of you, but they refused, knowing she would do anything to see our son again. They are men without hearts. Please take care that they do not find you at the location they forced me to tell them. Think of your sons.

Faenon stopped there, though there were a few lines more to the letter. Kari needed no more words, either. Each one twisted another knot into her stomach and made her more afraid of the soldiers in red armor who had taken away a man she adored.

“So that’s why we’re here?” Faenon muttered, turning the paper over.

“Sounds like you do have a relation to a Vessel,” Daion said. He had given up pretending to search for books, but maintained a respectful distance of about five feet from the reading circle.

“Sycilae,” Althea said. “Have you ever heard that name before?”

“No,” said Faenon. “But I’ve heard Kye. That’s what the letter’s signed, Kye. And Clef, he mentioned Clef in the letter. Clef and Kye are my dad’s brothers.”

“It’s a whole stack of letters. Are they in chronological order?” Althea asked. “Can we piece a story together with this?”

“Let’s find out,” Faenon said, flipping the stack over and taking the letter that came out on top.

Dear Corona,

I’m not sure if you’ll receive this letter directly from A or if she will arrive at some odd hour, slip it onto your bedside table, and disappear without a trace, so I thought I’d better explain all of this, in case it’s the latter. She hopes to start a cross-continental private mail delivery service and perhaps dominate the world as a side job. In any case, I gave her a horse to help her meet at least the former of those ends, and in exchange she has agreed to deliver mail for the two of us for free. She may mean only between the two of us—I can’t be sure—she can be so charmingly deviant.

Her wife had their child, a healthy baby girl, and they will stay on their island home off of the southeastern coast of Gardena, but A came back with disturbing news from the capital. People are talking about interracial relationships now—apparently it’s common enough to be controversy—and word has it that the legislature is trying to make it illegal for humans and elves to marry. The people are not fighting this: if they do not ardently support the law, then they are silent. Those who protest are dismissed as typical University radicals. When it’s discussed in public, everyone says they oppose interracial relationships because the children could be born with serious defects, or other health-related reasons—concerns that I, too, had until A told us that her daughter is as healthy as any baby. This is not the real reason they support the legislation. The Gardenians have started using the word half-elf as if they’re talking about animals. A says the elves sound the same when they call it half-human. Neither race wants their blood tainted by the other breed, it seems.

I’m terrified of what this means for our child. We haven’t heard anything yet in the Highlands, but the hate—and the law—will spread westward in time, because everyone is afraid. There is a latent belief in every hardened heart that to be half-elven and half-human is somehow against nature. You saw it in Azier, the village that rejects Gardenian thought more fiercely than any other. We can run to the west all we want, through the mountains of the Highlands, but the government will catch up with us soon enough. A suggests we follow her example and split up, while one of us raises the child as either a human or an elf. We try to talk about separating time and time again, but neither of us can speak after more than a minute. We don’t want to have to lead separate lives, no matter laws are made. A is certain that there are individuals behind this racism and she’s determined to find them and destroy them. I can only give her a horse and wish her the best.

So that is what goes on in our lives. I hope yours are fairer. How is

“Oh.” Faenon rubbed his forehead and swallowed. “Yeah, probably chronological. Hopefully. This is really old.”

“Well, yeah, they’re talking about the first drafts of the race laws,” Althea said. “I think those were established about a decade ago.”

He scratched his head and swallowed again before saying, “He’s asking about my mom.” He placed the letter on the floor. “So at least twelve years ago. Maybe even thirteen, probably, that was when we knew…”

Rune jerked his head up. “Who is it from?” Kari asked in his stead, while he grabbed the next letter and flicked his eyes across it at an alarming pace.

“This one’s Clef,” he said. “Same as before, he just signed it with his first name. Not even an address or a date or anything.”

“Is everyone ignoring the fact that he talked about two women somehow having a child together?” Daion interrupted.

“That’s possible.” Althea had covered her mouth with both hands. “That… if Corona knew them, that would make sense.”

“That was with A, right? What a stupid name,” Faenon complained.

He had stumbled often when he came to the name, unsure of whether to read it as a proper noun or an article. When he got to the phrase her wife, he had reread it three times to make sure he was not mistaking the cursive or mismatching words from different lines.

“Keep reading, I guess?” he said. “Until we figure out what the point of this is.”

“But…”

Kari was surprised by the sound of her own voice interjecting. She took a while to force the rest of the words out.

“I mean,” she said, “if it was over twelve years ago and they were talking about… and Corona wanted Rune to have these… what else could it be?”

Rune stared at the second letter, which sat on his lap, and nodded, slowly and deeply. His hands were limp on either side of it.

“You think this is…?” Faenon said to him.

“It has to be,” Althea said. “The timing all works out, with the legislature and your mom and everything.”

Rune gave a jolt and a silent gasp when Faenon snatched the page away from him. He grabbed Faenon’s wrist and yanked back. When Faenon would not yield, Rune, grimacing, tapped urgently at a paragraph halfway down the page. Faenon started reading from there.

What kind of man are you, Corona? Faye is ill, yet the two of you want another child. That’s foolish enough, but to think that you see a half-elven child as a blessing, as the child you’ve been wishing for—that’s where the folly becomes incomprehensible. And to think everyone saw you as the most sensible of us brothers.

“Brothers,” he repeated. “Yeah, I was right, they’re brothers.”

He had almost reached the end of the letter, but had to stop there to turn to Rune. His mouth opened, but only silence filled it, for want of words. For all of the years that they had spent knowing that the bonds of family could be forged without blood, it was difficult to say what this new knowledge meant to them.

He dropped his head back to the letter, scratching the back of his neck until he finally mumbled, “Why didn’t he just… say we were cousins?”

At the sound of the word, Kari glanced her own cousin. Althea was staring straight back, eyes cold. Something about the way she muttered, “A human can still be cousins with a half-elf,” made the blood drain from Kari’s face.

“I mean, sure, obviously,” Faenon said, gesturing at Rune without looking at him, “but it’s not like it’s the first thing you’re gonna think of. We don’t look like each other enough to be brothers, so why didn’t he—”

Althea broke eye contact with Kari to snap a glare at Faenon. “Maybe because your mom literally died to—”

“It would’ve been less suspicious!”

By some miracle, Faenon had raised his voice over Althea’s enough to block out anything more she would have said about his mother. Although he had heard her, or heard her well enough, if the frenzied but distant look in his eyes was any indication, he chose not to engage. Rune’s own shift was subtle: he curled just a bit tighter, and his breathing became so soundless and shallow that he looked more like a statue than a living being. He held this rigid pose over the letter he had pulled from the stack, one that was yellow with age and tearing at the creases.

“We could’ve been just like you and Kari, y’know?”

Her eyes got narrower. She was back to looking at Kari. “Just like me and Kari?” she repeated coolly. “You mean, lying about your relation and relying on the good graces of your family’s name to cover up a smuggled half-elf?”

Kari’s stomach had been sinking since the conversation turned her way. This moment was where it made the full drop.

“Because you’re already there,” Althea said, with a nonchalant shrug.

“No, I meant cousins,” Faenon said, “but can you just say whatever the hell you’re being so pissy about instead of getting passive-aggressive because I don’t know what you’re not talking about because you won’t even say it?”

She had this way of rolling her eyes sometimes that let you know that this time, she really meant it, with loathing and frustration. “Maybe because I’m trying to be civil in the presence of company—”

“Doing a crap job there,” Faenon cut in, flicking a glance to Daion.

“—and I thought maybe, after however-many goddamn years, you’d be smart enough to figure out she’s not my cousin.”

The speed and subject with which Faenon responded meant two things. One, he was not surprised, whether because of the icy way Althea had been hinting at it for the past thirty seconds, or because it had never seemed out of the question to him. Two, he and Althea were about to start a fight.

“Smart enough how?” was what he asked. “What, was I supposed to be reading your mind all this time? Maybe I would’ve known if you ever said anything, Althea!”

Although unable to uncurl her fingers from her tight fists, she thrust her arms out at him in exasperation. “You were ten years old when it happened!” she yelled. “You weren’t stupid! Deric never talked about his family until she showed up and needed a convenient backstory to get her inside the gates, and he’s never talked about them since, and the only reason no one’s calling her out for being a half-elf is—”

“Okay, yeah, there’s the other part you still haven’t even said outright,” Faenon said, in a voice that made Kari remember how he used to sound when he was ten years old, only because it sounded so different, so booming and low and threatening. “Humans can be cousins with a half-elf, but she’s not even your cousin—whatever the hell you’re trying to say, just say it, Althea!”

“Then stop talking over me!” Althea shouted back.

Faenon jabbed an arm out towards Kari in gesture without sparing her so much as a glance. “How the hell is she supposed to be a half-elf?!” he demanded. “I know she’s got that aura or whatever, but she’s got human ears, and she’s—”

“Do you know why she’s got human ears?” Althea said, and her voice could be worse than Faenon’s when she got mad. “Because Deric pulled the cousin trick on me, too, and it does work. It does make you think, first thing, that she’s the same race. Even when the tips of her ears are sliced off and those wounds are fresher than any of the other ones she has. And when you’re ten years old and your dad’s guilting you into healing a malnourished, disease-ridden, bloodied-up girl who should honestly be dead with everything that’s wrong with her, because he tells you she’s your family—” She bit back the words that were getting away from her, swallowed them like a bile almost too painful to keep down, and let out a sigh that sounded more like a growl. “Then maybe it’s only after you healed the ears round, that you figure out it was all a goddamn lie.”

“He cut her ears?” Faenon said in a voice near a whisper.

Althea gave a flat stare to Faenon, which was more than she was giving to Kari. For all her life, or all of it that she could still remember, Kari had denied her distinctive aura by relying on her ears, only to find that the ears were the illusion, not the shape of her energy. Sheepishly she looked to Rune, perhaps for solidarity, but his eyes were fixed downward, staring at more than reading the letter in his lap.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Faenon said, snapping Kari back to attention. “Whatever about the aura, the ears, all that crap—she’s fourteen, she’s too old to even be a half-elf. This is about Deric, that’s what this is. You just think Deric lied because you don’t like him.”

“I stopped trusting him because he lied!” Althea lifted her fists, and by the grace of the gods she slammed them into the floorboards instead of into Faenon’s face. “Look how mad it’s making you, now that you know what really happened. Do you finally get it now? Will you stop telling me to cozy up and be best friends with a man who doesn’t respect me enough to be honest with me?”

Faenon fell silent. Faenon, who had been Deric’s best friend, who had made Deric his idol, could not say a word in defense of the man now. He could only keep picking at the lie to prove it was still somehow truth.

“The Celestial Event was fourteen years ago,” he protested weakly. “It was less. She’s about to turn fourteen this winter, that doesn’t even—”

Though Faenon’s voice had fallen quiet again, Althea was still red with the fury of a fight. “We made up her birthday! She didn’t even know it! That’s how young she was!” she yelled. “She’s always been smaller than Rune, and Rune’s not even—be honest, Faenon, does she look like she’s almost fourteen?!”

Faenon was pale. He did not spare Kari a look to think about it. He did not need to. She had never felt so small.

“Daion, you just met her,” Althea said sharply. “How old do you think she looks?”

Daion was quiet, as he had been all this time, and he spoke with stiff lips. “I think,” he said, “that if you want to keep talking about Kari like she’s not even here, you could at least leave.”

A shiver ran down Kari’s spine. Not even Daion would meet her eyes for more than a glance.

Althea slammed her foot to the floor when she rose to stand. “I’m not going anywhere,” she stated. “I have a hundred pounds of books to read so I can save your sorry asses someday when you’re dying of some rare disease.”

Faenon glared at Althea’s turned back as she made her way to a desk stacked with books. “Whatever,” he muttered. “If you’re gonna throw a tantrum about every damn thing, let’s just read these letters somewhere else.”

At the moment that Faenon leaned in to take the next letter from Rune’s hands, Kari felt it, like a background noise she had not noticed until the rest of the room got quieter. Usually this magic spun faster around Rune’s body, but that was only when he summoned it on purpose, not when something gripped onto the walls of his heart and wrenched it open, leaking out magic that wove itself unconsciously into a protective spell while he was at his most vulnerable. There was a little shimmer in the light as Faenon’s arm, reaching towards Rune, bounced off of thin air.

Rune’s head shot up. His face was raw and wild, but, in less than a second, it disappeared behind the curtain of his red hair, and he stumbled to his feet. He did not run from the study, but made haste in the most even pace he could control underneath him, taking the third letter with him.

“Okay,” Faenon said, “guess we won’t be reading letters tonight.”

“What the hell was that?” demanded Althea.

Faenon grimaced. “Just Rune being his usual charming self,” he grumbled.

“Faenon, go talk to him,” Althea snapped. “He’s twelve years old, for crying out loud.”

“He left because he wanted to be alone, Althea!” Faenon shot back. “You try and talk to him if you suddenly care so much.” He snatched the stack of letters from the floor and trudged towards the door. “Maybe he won’t try to set you on fire if something you say pisses him off for whatever goddamn reason.”

“What about Kari?” said Althea, but her gaze stayed on Faenon.

Faenon glanced first at Althea, then finally at the girl still shell-shocked by all that had happened in such a short amount of time. “Maybe,” he said, scratching his head, as he left the study.

Althea slid into the desk chair, shuffling through the stacks of books with an ever-present crease between her eyebrows. When she caught Kari looking at her, she jutted her head forward and to the left, in the direction of the exit. Kari’s legs obeyed the nonverbal command with such a start that she nearly tripped over her own feet. Daion followed her out of the study.

The hallway was empty. “Both gone, huh,” murmured Daion.

Although Kari could barely find Faenon’s aura, she determined which of the two closed doors in the hallway he was behind by process of elimination. Beyond the other door, Rune’s aura burned in its entirety, combining human and elf into one without reservation.

“Well, I wanted to talk to Faenon,” Daion said. “Are you going to talk to Rune?”

She nodded, gazing in Rune’s direction, even as doubt clouded over her thoughts. In all of the years that they had shared their lopsided friendship, she had always been smaller than him, felt weaker than him, and thought that he had wisdom she had not yet won.

“Are you okay?” Daion asked.

She flinched at the touch of his hand on her shoulder, but turned the jerk of her head into another quick nod.

“She’s still your sister,” he said. “She’s as much your sister as you ever thought she was, really. If it helps to think of it like that.”

She stared at the floorboards and shrugged. Her head was getting thick and heavy with too many thoughts already. Try as she might to focus on Daion’s input, instead she was calculating the distance between herself and Faenon’s axe, sitting propped by the ladder entrance to the hideaway, or recalling instructions on how to defend against an attacker if grabbed from behind: firmly upwards against the knuckle joint—speed was the key—targeting the middle or index finger.

“Kari?”

Again, she flinched, this time out of reverie. Those kinds of thoughts startled her when they cropped up unbidden. She swept them back behind her and mumbled a quick apology.

With a slight frown, Daion drew back his hand. “I’m going to talk to Faenon,” he said. “Take care of yourself.”

Kari rubbed her shoulder in silence as Daion disappeared. For every minute that she hesitated, she worked another knot into her stomach, until it was as tight and twisted as she could make it and showed no signs of unraveling. She counted each of the thirteen reluctant steps it took to make it to Rune’s door, which she rapped lightly with her knuckles before grasping the doorknob and twisting it. The door opened slowly and with an obnoxious creak.

The room was barely wide enough to accommodate the length of the bed upon which Rune lay on his stomach. He had buried his head underneath a pillow that he held down with clasped fingers. He did not stir at the sound of the door; Kari’s aura was introduction enough.

She slipped to the other side of the door and backed into it to shut it behind her, holding the doorknob in both hands. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

Rather than speak, Rune pulled his head out from under the pillow that she could see him nod, though he faced the far wall.

The letter that had sent him off running sat on the end table. “We can skip the ones from your parents if that would make you feel better,” Kari said. “When we read the letters, I mean. If you don’t want us to read those ones.”

Rune said nothing and made no movement. Kari waited a long time for some sort of response, twisting the lock on the door and rocking back and forth on her feet, until not even those repetitive motions could tame her nervous energy.

“Rune, you haven’t—I’m sorry, I don’t mean to—I just—you haven’t spoken all day, and I’m…” Her voice faltered, and she squeezed the doorknob. “Can you just say something? You don’t even have to say anything. Just let me know if everything’s okay, or if… if you need… I don’t know. I’m… worried, that’s all.”

So many times had she asked him if he needed help, no matter how often he told her she could not help, and how often he was right. Wanting to help was not enough when she was so powerless.

Rune turned his face to the pillow, then to Kari. “Are you okay?” he whispered, because his first words after a spell of silence were always weak.

The question caught her off-guard. “I’m okay,” she said quickly, but her voice cracked again. She had come into the room to ask after him. There he was, asking after her instead, as though he had always known she was the child of the two of them, the one who needed coddling and protection.

“Did you know?” he asked, still voiceless. “About you and Althea.”

A lump formed in her throat. She shook her head to avoid speaking through it.

He could not break the silence. After a moment, he pulled his arms close to cover his face. Kari very clearly saw the request for her departure.

“Sorry, I can—I’ll go,” she stammered, clutching the doorknob, only to find it locked after her nervous fidgeting.

Rune peered at her through his fingers as she fiddled with the lock with shaking hands. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

As many things as Kari instinctively understood about Rune that not even Faenon could see, she so often missed his cues of affection. For instance, she assumed that he had thanked her for recognizing that he wanted her to leave.

She closed the door swiftly, but made sure not to slam it, and soon found herself wandering into Faenon’s room. No matter how warm Daion’s words were when he greeted her, she knew from their posture—Daion leaning forward, Faenon with arms crossed—that she had interrupted something important.

“Did you talk to Rune?” Faenon asked after his brow had relaxed.

Kari shrugged.

“Or talk at him, I guess,” he said. “He’ll be fine.”

Rain made an unusual noise when heard from underground. The patter of the raindrops was softened by the earth into a thick, warm sound. Daion was the one to identify what the sound was, and shortly afterwards, he left the room without an explanation. Faenon lay back on his bed and stared at the ceiling in silence. Kari continued to feel very much in everyone’s way.