I had no sooner sent an initiate to bring some mulled wine, when Nostra Guy’on appeared in the doorway of my chamber. His Templar bodyguards were not with him, but I thought there was someone standing in the shadows outside the doorway. Dressed in a long, simple robe Nostra Guy’on looked more a tired old man than a Grand Councilor. He unarmed – not that he needed a weapon. His weapons were power and his armor subterfuge, and he used them with a deftness unmatched by any Dahlian or Magdalite.
“You know why I am here.”
“The boy,” I responded.
“He is secure here in the Tower?”
“Yes, he is in a cell awaiting an Inquisitor.” My throat tightened around the word.
“And the others?”
“The girl was found and turned over to the Red Gaol, who will deal with her. The boys will attend to me, until such a time as Joan deems all of them fit for the Arena.” I paused for a moment, carefully choosing my words. “Not to disrespect, Elder, but I don’t think you came here to check on an imprisoned halfwit and a handful of derelicts.”
Nostra worked his nearly toothless gums for a moment, his eyes dark and cold. “Your actions have placed us in a difficult position. Shaman Storm Cry was disrespected, gravely so, and you acted against his – and the Council’s – authority.”
“But Joan spoke through me. Her will…”
“Do not confuse Joan working through you with knowing Her will. Joan seldom speaks, much less through her Templars. It is not surprising you would be a little confused.”
His words stung like a slap in the face. I knew what I had experienced, what Joan had said through me, and there was no mistake. “That cannot be. I felt her anger and her frustration. We have had so much taken from us…Vimary stands half-defended our fate has been placed in the hands of others? Joan is…”
“Enough!” Nostra snapped, then sighed deeply. “The Beasts’ backs were broken when Joshua slew Tibor. That was nearly three generations ago, they are no more than shadows on the wall now. Darker forces are at work within the Nation, but you and the other crusaders fail to see it. You want to stand on a watchtower,” he motioned skyward with his hands. “Ever vigilant for a threat that has long since been cowed by the Fatimas’ power…even if it means the rest of the Tribes fall into degeneracy behind you. The Tribe of Joan must stand with all of the Tribes, for the purity of all of the Tribes. That is Joan’s Will.” He pinched the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger, looking at me through hooded eyes. “That is why you will do as I say or I will throw you to the Beasts myself, since you seem to prefer their company to your own kind.”
I silently nodded my capitulation. He gestured and the person outside the doorway stepped into the light. She was short and slender, covered completely in a burial shroud of black muslin. “This is Den’a. She is a Sin Eater.”
I tried to speak, but the words stuck. The Yagan Sisterhoods were secretive, but the Sin Eaters made them look like an Evan gossip circle. Stories about Sin Eaters were the kind repeated only in hushed tones: they had transformed themselves into wights, struck pacts with the Z’bri, or were responsible for Zom attacks. I found myself suddenly wishing for the wine.
Den’a unwrapped the layers of fabric concealing her features and I was surprised to see a beautiful young woman instead of a wizened crone. Her face was round, the death mask tattoo contrasting with her bone white hair and pale skin. The tattoo was unlike any I had seen before, shifting subtly in the shadows cast by the firelight, coalescing into another visage…Nyeda. A chill ran through me. Mercifully she looked away slightly so I would not have to avert my own gaze.
“At dawn, you will accompany Den’a, the boy, and the three young Joanites to Mortuary. You will do exactly as Den’a asks of you. You will tell no one that you are going or of what transpires afterward, upon pain of Banishment or worse. This is the decree of the Grand Council and the Fatimas’ will.” He rose from the chair slowly and left without another word, Den’a following close behind. She glanced back at me before disappearing into the darkness, her eyes sympathetic.
I sat on the edge of my bed for a very long time, staring into the darkness beyond the doorway. The shadows moved, forming shapes the flowed into one another before they could become anything recognizable. I knew whatever awaited Robbo in Mortuary would change his life. Naively I failed to see it would change mine as well. With the weight of the day pressing down on me, I silently began my preparations for the next.