They arrived in the dark of the morning and the Prophet was hustled off in the Sunborn Elite’s and Irefas’s capable hands and Megan was handed a note as she was let down out of the flying harness.
“I am sorry to keep you from your rest, but I urgently wish to hear what happened from your own mouth. Please come to the Temple, whatever time you arrive and I shall be woken.”
She yawned, hugely, stretched and the servant held out a tray with a steaming cup of black tea. “If the honourable Zak would come with me?”
“Dah, I mean yes, of course.” She ached all over from being in harness all night but downed the tea in the cool, damp late winter morning. The birds were beginning their morning chorus in the woods and gardens around the Marble Palace, a raucous, cheeping, rustling flap and in the distance a Sereniteer’s muted whistle joined in for a moment.
The Temple was finishing the night round of hymns, distantly and muted behind the door. Minis was up and waiting for her by the time she was escorted across. A scribe sat in the corner, lapdesk at the ready.
Minis, in a plain yellow monk’s robe, hair loose and just touching the floor as he sat, waited quietly, but she noted that he looked tired. It was hard to feel exhausted with the Temple on their side but he was managing.
“Megan,” he said.
She nodded at him and sat down at his wave, the gold shimmering on his hands. “How’s herself?” She asked him, equal to equal. He flashed a grin at her.
“Well. Though chafing at not being able to ride.”
“Huh. She, to my wife, should be talking. Shkai’ra rode, into labour going. Same day.”
“She sounds like someone Ky would like to meet.”
“Not so sure I am. She’s kind of rough hewn is.”
“Then Ky should definitely meet her.” Minis picked up his cup and sipped. “Do you need kaf, Megan?”
“Minis…” She took a deep breath. “Fouled up, I did. My kid, it was, who was pulling our bacon out of the fire.”
One pale eyebrow went up, came down. “Pasen made no mention of you failing.” The scribe’s pen in the corner skreeked.
“Scouting is what we were to be doing. Just to be getting of information. Hit with the Prophet’s incense I was and was climbing down to join the crowd. Lixand held me… with his new Temple manrauq – his Temple magic – and I fought back with my own. The overwash of that burned every light in the plaza bright as day and then burnt out completely.”
“Hmmm. That was what caused the blackout and gave Matthas his chance to reach the Prophet. Even if he wasn’t supposed to he took advantage of your—struggle, shall we say, with your son.”
“And did it, he did.”
“I shall see that he’s commended for his initiative…” he paused and trailed off. “Something about Matthas?”
“He…” she picked up a cup and sipped. It was straight black kaf and she drank it down to clear her head. “He went even crazier than he was in the Temple. He… became another person, yet again. He, like a murderous little boy talks. His name is Smiley Mat.”
“Ah.” Minis sipped his own kaf as she re-filled her own cup from the elegant carafe. She thought of the darkness of the Tunnel. It was unusual for a Zak to be made uncomfortable by enclosed spaces, but she had been in sweating tears by the time the Kadussas had given her permission to make a small kraumak so she could see. She’d not thought she’d ever be powerful enough to charge a marble and turn it into the glow stone that used up no air. Her first attempt had been fumbling and frantic and Lixand had reached out and she’d caught his hands and steadied down.
“Matta, even if you can’t see, it’s all right. Just breathe.” He’d said and she’d managed to reach her manrauq. Her stone flickered and glittered violet and silver just barely enough to light her hands but it was enough to break her darkness induced panic.
She tapped her steel nails against the edge of the cup. Koru, it’s why I got these. I’m mostly over that but the Tunnel dark is… special.
“So you slipped up, but your team kept it from being a disaster and, in fact, turned it to our advantage.”
She shook herself out of her thoughts. “Well, dah.”
“Then thank you for being so straight forward.” He caught himself in a yawn. “Irefas will have your payment made up and given to you…” he looked over at the scribe before looking down and continuing… “Tomorrow. Please feel free to stay until your son and Matthas are back from their cleaning up hunt.”
“Thank you,” she said. Found her eyes dropping closed, blinked, hard. “Sleep I should—“
“Imperator!” The cry came from outside. “The Imperatrix is in labour! True labour!”
He was on his feet. “Goodnight Megan, I’ll see you later!” And out the door even as he flung his last words over his shoulder.
Megan was almost staggering tired and the sky was light when they came back across to the Marble Palace.
She yawned a dozen times and pulled off her vest even as they came into the corridor of the suite that was theirs for now. “Good night, Sera,” the servant said, and opened the door for her.
Shkai’ra sat, cross-legged on the floor, nursing the baby.
“Kheeredo! You’re back. Glitch take it you little grub!” She looked down at the child then up at Megan who was stunned to see tears in her eyes. “Hotblood has left me!”