Chapter Nine: “Crossed Paths”
Markus closed the folio and let it fall on a growing pile to his right. He then reached over to the shrinking pile on his left and picked up the next. Ginken and his rebels had been quite thorough in their tracking of the crimes and occurrences that had even a hint of revenant activity, and Markus had to wonder if the constabulary and Sunset House even had such a grasp on exactly what had been transpiring in the city.
For all of the meticulous documentation that was collected, though, nearly none of it was useful. Markus had now spent the better part of three days doing little more than reading the reports, hoping against hope that he would find some clue that had been overlooked in the summary pages, but he found he had learned little more than he already had known. There were three revenants, and they were terrorizing the city nearly every night.
The first part at least had some bit he could riddle out that was beyond Ginken and his men. They had never been around real revenants and did not really know what was and was not, in the strictest sense, possible with the Secret of Silver. For one, revenants could not fly, at least short of being turned into a thinking dirigible. He had crossed out any and all suggestions in the reports that any of the revenants could, and from what he had read, it seemed at least one of them had a grappling hook similar to his own.
In fact, it would seem the only useful thing of going through the files had been to correct these kinds of mistakes. Well, that and to confirm what he was already fairly sure of. Three revenants, and each modified in different ways. One was an impeccable shot, purportedly on several occasions having landed lead between some unfortunate’s eyes using only a long-barrel pistol from a distance a seasoned rifleman would have difficulty with. Eye augmentation had been rare during the war; usually injuries that took the eyes took the rest of the head, too. But they were not unheard of. The rebels had listed him has having a gun built into his arm. Possible, but just because the gun was part of you, you were not suddenly a better shot. No, it just meant you really felt the heat of the gunpowder and didn’t have to pull a trigger. No, this one had new eyes. Markus scratched out the old codename the files had given him and replaced it with one of his own: “Deadeye”.
Then there was the second revenant, the one that seemed to get his jollies by ripping people limb from limb. The report Markus had heard in the tavern a week ago had not been the only instance, or even the first. The man obviously had new arms, and possibly even a new back. What interested Markus more, though, was the very small handful of people who reported the man as having not just a spike in the back of his head, but an entire metal plate. That, coupled with the reports of how the man urged people to scream pointed to aural enhancement.
Such an enhancement had been offered to Markus, a strictly elective surgery, and he had declined. He heard enough of the war as it was. That this man seemed to seek out loud noises, though, was odd. A screaming victim should have been causing him pain, not pleasure. Still, he scratched out the codename on that file and replaced it with “Rabbit”.
The third man’s file was the hardest to make sense of. A man who could scream and knock people out? It sounded like more of a fairytale than a revenant, but the reports were consistent. Anyone who stood in front of the man when he opened his metal mouth was likely to pass out, although at least one person had died. Even the survivors were not completely unscathed, as many had severe hearing loss after they came to. Markus had seen vocal reproduction on the battlefield, but never more than just a raspy, metallic thing that barely let the poor soldier say “yes, sir!”
He had asked Lector about it yesterday, and between sneering and threatening to take Markus apart, he admitted that a “sonic weapon” was possible, although he had never dabbled in the exact science of it. From what Markus had seen of the man, if Lector thought it might be possible, it was likely Tesma or Quintin, at least, could have easily made it. The thought that these revenants were made by either hand was disturbing, though. He named the third revenant “Banshee”.
There were files on a fourth revenant, truthfully. He had identified the reports that were concerning his own actions and marked them as such. It was not hard, really. No one ever died or was grievously injured in his.
He gave the next report a cursory glance as he leafed through it. It was another report about Banshee, which he already knew from the tag on the front. Nothing new stuck out, so he changed the name on the file and moved it to the pile on his right. He still had another half-day’s work, provided he read everything to his left, but he saw little reason. He had gone through the newest reports first and worked his way backward, and he had eagerly hoped for a new report to come in. After all, there was the second part of the pattern: three revenants that struck nightly.
But, it had been three nights now, and not a single strange crime or obvious revenant sighting had come to his desk. Markus had checked with Ginken just to be sure, but the man assured him they were not holding any reports back.
He picked up another folio, a report on Deadeye, and stared at it. He was not going to get any new information out of it. The rebels, diligent as they were, always seemed to ask the wrong questions by the narrowest of margins. They were not constables, nor were they spies. He looked away from the folio when someone knocked at his door.
“Yes? Come in.”
He expected Mikhail, but when the door opened, a woman with fire-red hair and pale blue eyes walked in. Her dress was an odd mixture of Sentatian and Adervynian style, and she had a folio under one arm.
She looked him over with a critical eye. “Sergeant McGrigor?”
She raised an eyebrow but smiled. “I’m Mirisa Rigs. Mikhail asked me to help you.”
“Did he now?” he said. “And how exactly are you going to do that?”
“Well,” she said. “I figured I’d start by bringing you the latest report.”
She held out the folio, and Markus took it and flipped it open. “A new report? When? Which one of them was it?”
“Last night,” she said. “And it was all four revenants.”
“You mean three,” he said. “I’m the fourth revenant in these reports.”
“I guess this would make you the fifth, then,” she said. “Because four revenants attacked a foundry last night. That is, of course, unless you were there.”
Markus leafed through the reports and found the news clippings. “The witnesses claim to have seen four men, not four revenants.”
“As you will,” she said.
He read the report quickly then stood up and found his coat. He then turned to Mirisa. “So, you’re supposed to help me?”
“That is what Mikhail said.”
“Then you can start by taking me to this factory.”
“And what do you hope to find there?” she said. “The folio had a copy of the constables’ report in it.”
“We’ll see,” he said. “Constables are great and well, but they have the same blind spot as Mikhail’s agents. Neither has ever really dealt with revenants before. They don’t know what to ask or what to look for. I do.”
She considered it for a moment then shrugged. “Alright then, when do you want to go?”
He smiled. “I was thinking now, provided that agrees with you.”
The comment made her narrow her eyes, but she shrugged again. “Very well, Sergeant. This way.”
* * *
Gavrial chewed on his lip and furrowed his brow in concentration. Everyone had talents, he figured. Some people were good at talking, and they became Councilmen and poets. Some were good at making pretty things, and they became artisans down in the Scent District. Well, Gavrial was not either of those. No, he was passably good at many things, but his true talent was shooting people. He was so good at it, in fact, that he rarely had to do it anymore, which suited him well enough. Just because you were good at something did not mean you had to enjoy it.
No, he was happy enough to just make people think he was going to shoot them because of his reputation of doing it. That made people typically more eager to just hand over whatever it was he wanted or tell him where it was. In fact, he had to stop and think about the last time he even had shot someone, and he realized it was three months ago, when he shot that smarmy Walden fellow in Tidor manor. A bit of bad business, that. He did not regret it, and would do it again in a heartbeat, but it was unsettling to think that was the last person he shot. Especially all things considered.
He took a deep breath and decided to take a break. On the small, often unused desk in front of him, a book was sitting on a length of brown wrapping paper. Finding the book had been hard enough, and had ended with him in a store that smelled of flowers and cinnamon. When the clerk had offered to wrap it for him, he had said to not bother and just pocketed the book in his coat. He had wanted out of that store as fast as he could. He really should have considered that wrapping things up was not a talent often found in those good at shooting people.
He had already tried three times to wrap the infernal book, and each time it had looked like some child had wrapped it. No, a child could probably do better. Perhaps he could get one of the urchins to wrap it for him, but when he tried to think of one that would not go around telling everyone, the list came up empty.
No, he had to do this himself, and by Troena’s pointy beard he was going to do it right. He leaned in to start folding the fresh sheet of paper just as someone knocked on his door.
“Gavrial?” It was Kira. “You in there?”
He jerked, ripped the paper, but did not care. He picked the whole mess up, paper, string, and book, and shoved them into the only drawer in the desk.
He cleared his throat. “Yeah? What is it?”
“Heavens, you don’t have to snap at me,” she said. “Bryon wants us all in the common room.”
Gavrial took a deep breath. “Right, sorry. I’ll be there in a moment.”
He cleaned up his desk a bit more then opened the door. Kira was still there and she looked at him in confusion when he smiled at her.
“Are you feeling well, Gavrial?”
He blinked and cleared his throat. “Fine, just fine.”
“First you apologize for snapping at me, then you come out of your room with a smile?” She went up on her tiptoes and felt his forehead. “You don’t feel like you have a fever.”
He backed away from her and sputtered. “Oh phaw, it’s your birthday, isn’t it? Can’t a man be nice to a lady on her birthday?”
She took a step back, crossed her arms, and looked at him. “You? Nice?”
He flustered a bit more and felt his face start to heat up, and she laughed. She then stepped forward and again went up on her tiptoes, although this time it was to kiss him on the cheek.
“You’re funny, Gavrial,” she said. “Now come on, Bryon wants us.”
He made a noncommittal sound and followed her into the common room. Everyone else was already there. Jak and Gust were to one corner, and while Jak did not look quite the hallowed shell he was when they pulled him out of Hordin House, he was still a mite far from being his old self, if he would ever get there. He kept one hand on Gust’s wrist, as if making sure he was real, and Gust occasionally patted it.
Margot and Vlad were sitting on the other side of the room, although they were not sitting together in the same way Jak and Gust were. Vlad was playing with a knife, opening and closing the blade with quick flicks of his wrist yet somehow not being menacing about it, and Margot was nursing a mug of something. Bryon stood in the middle of the room, leafing through a folio. He looked up and nodded when Gavrial walked in.
“Right,” he said. “The meisters have sent us a job.”
“Sod off,” Gavrial said. “We’re a night crew.”
“We’re Qristina’s crew now,” Bryon said. “She is paying us good enough money on top of supplying us. Besides, it isn’t like we have to go break into some mansion for this job. Just a simple recon mission.”
“Simple recon?” Margot said. “What exactly does that mean?”
“It means there was finally another revenant attack last night,” Bryon said. “And we’re to go check out the factory they hit before the trail gets cold and the constables muck it up too much.”
Gavrial frowned but kept his mouth shut. Bryon had the right of it. And a simple job like this would likely leave the rest of the day open. He would have plenty of time to get that book wrapped.
“Any chance of us needing to shoot anyone?” he said.
Bryon smiled and shook his head. “Hopefully not. I doubt the revenants are still there, eh old chap?”
Gavrial sighed. Oh well. Just a mission to go look at things. He was not all that good at looking at things either, but there was always a chance someone would need shot. And it was not like he was going to leave his guns behind anyway.
“Alright,” he said. “Where’s this factory? Let’s get this done.”
* * *
Markus looked up at the factory and frowned. From the exterior, all that could be seen was that one of the sliding bay doors right up front had been forced open and was now blocked off by a yellow rope. It was only mid-morning, and he had expected there to still be constables about, but after an hour of watching, it seemed that the building was empty.
He turned back to the person in front of him. “And you saw the men breaking in?”
“That I did.” The old woman had been found by Mirisa, who was off looking for other likely witnesses. “And I told the constables exactly what I saw, I tell you truly.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “I’ve read the reports, but I find my counterparts at the precinct have a habit of forgetting to ask certain questions. Now, you saw four men, yes?”
“If you can call revenants men!” The woman spat. “But aye, there was four of them monsters.”
“You are sure they were all revenants?” he said. “How?”
“Look at the door!” she said. “The big one, he did that all by himself.”
“Did you get a good look at them?”
“Are you doubting me, sonny?”
Markus kept a slight smile on his face. “I am just asking questions, ma’am. It is my job.” At least, he wanted her to think it was. He had told her that he was a special investigator with Sunset House. So far, she had not asked to see a badge. “Did you get a good look at them? Did they step under a streetlight?”
She seemed only mildly mollified. “They stepped under a light, but not one what was lit. It had been, but then I heard a sound like nothing else, and then it was out. They was little more than shadows, they was. But I know they was revenants! I’ve read the broadsheets!”
“I’m sure you have,” Markus said. “And yes, that fits the description of one of the revenants we are after. Tell me, did you notice anything else about the men? Were any of them walking in a strange way, like they were carrying a lot of weight, or their legs were stiff?”
The woman sucked on her teeth. “Mayhap. The big one, he seemed a little stiff. And I’d swear there were bits coming off him, like thorns or something.”
Markus looked back at the factory for a moment. “Exactly how big would you say this big one was?”
“Bigger than you,” she said. “Bigger than the others, too. You’d get a crick in your neck to look up at him, I’d say.”
None of the reports had mentioned a revenant that was exceptionally large. In fact, they all made a point of how they were all average in shape and size. No one realized what was attacking them until after it started. A veritable giant would have surely been in reports before, yet this old woman was the third person he had talked to that spoke of the fourth, large man. One of the others had mentioned spikes as well.
“Thank you,” he said. “If I need to talk to you again, where can I find you?”
“Here,” the woman said. “Run a small stall just down the way. That’s where your woman found me.”
“Right, thank you, ma’am.”
The woman snorted and made to spit again, but instead just turned and walked away, although he thought he could hear her mumbling about knowing what she saw, along with some rather derisive comments about constables.
Markus stood and looked at the factory for a few minutes until Mirisa returned. She followed his gaze for a moment.
“I couldn’t find anyone else,” she said. “Everyone is either just being tightlipped or didn’t see anything.”
“I’ve learned what I need to,” Markus said. “Three separate people have confirmed there was a fourth revenant. Maybe not all four were revenants, but the one that was for sure was not one we’ve seen before.”
“So, what now?” she said.
“We go inside.” He looked up and down the street, and while it was busy, he did not see anyone paying the factory or him particular attention. “The factory seems closed down.”
“The report says it was pretty messed up inside,” she said. “Probably not safe to work right now.”
“But no cleanup crews?” Markus led them across the street and down an alley alongside the building. “Seems odd for an industrialist to just let the place sit for an entire day.”
“Well, I’m sure there is the insurance claim to work out,” Mirisa said. “Not to mention it will take the Meisters’ Guild to put the place to rights.”
Markus looked at her. “And why would that matter?”
“This is Lord Holmes’s factory,” Mirisa said. “He and the meisters have been having a bit of a tiff lately.”
Markus stopped by a large side door and looked at the lock on the handle, although he spared Mirisa a glance. “You seem rather well informed.”
“Did you think Mikhail assigned some random street tough to help you?” she said. “I’m one of his information specialists. I wrote a good quarter of those reports you read. It’s my business to be well informed.”
“And to topple governments,” Markus said.
She shrugged. “It’s something to do.”
He removed his glove so he could use the lockpick tools in his hand and smiled when he noticed her staring. The lock came free easily enough, and he put his glove back on before opening the door.
“Something to do?” he said. “Not a diehard supporter of the cause?”
“I think you’ll find few are,” she said. “Mikhail pays me well and doesn’t make me do anything dangerous. I can think of worse jobs.”
“We’re breaking into a factory that was attacked by revenants,” Markus said. “Sounds pretty dangerous to me.”
“I never said I didn’t go willingly.”
The door opened directly to the foundry floor, and Markus stopped dead in his tracks. All around them, molds and troughs for molten metal were scattered about, many of them bent and damaged. Stock bins of raw and finished materials were smashed open and their contents spread all around. In fact, it seemed like there was more broken equipment than there was floor space. He looked up, and sure enough numerous broken chains hung from the ceiling, where they had been attached to winches and sliding rails. He looked back at the ground and saw no few of the winches had been pulled from the railing and were amongst the wreckage that had once been the platforms they had supported.
“Troena above,” Mirisa said. “Four men did this? The reports said they couldn’t have been in here for more than a half hour.”
“Four revenants,” Markus said. “I can believe it. The other foundry floor is probably just as ruined.”
Markus started to pick a path out amongst the debris. The air was heavy with the smell of scorched metal and brick, but there was also a distinct odor of copper and zinc he had smelled only too often. He stopped and looked around, and he spotted a hand sticking out from under a pile of steel bars.
Mirisa looked at the hand. “The report said the night crew was killed to a man. Twenty men, all told. Most of them were back by the forges.”
“I’d imagine this place is pretty loud, normally,” Markus said. “Even a gunshot might not really register, long as it finds flesh instead of metal.”
They continued to walk, and Markus found himself worried over something. It was not the destruction or death. No, he had seen plenty of that during the war. It was like there was a sense of uneasiness that made him want to reach up and feel his spike. Was it tingling? He had grown so used to it over the years that he barely felt that it was there.
Several times he caught himself reaching up and stopped himself, but at least he gave in and felt it. The silver stump was slightly warm, and sure enough it made his fingers tingle.
“Everything alright?” Mirisa said.
She gave him a suspicious look, but he just frowned and pressed on, although he found himself still having to resist the urge to touch his spike. The foundry offices were a mess, and while Mirisa looked over the scattered papers, Markus looked at the now detached door. The handle had been crushed, and by a hand far larger than Markus’s. The places where fingers had obviously pressed into the wood to rip the door from its hinges were higher than he would have used as well. Yes, there was a very large revenant indeed, a man who likely even Gavrial would have to look up to.
Mirisa glanced up from where she was sorting through papers. “So, why are you working for Mikhail?”
Markus looked up from the door. “Is that why he sent you? To try and find out if I’m loyal?”
She smiled. “I wouldn’t say loyalty is so much a question, but no, he didn’t. I’m asking because I’m curious. Fair is fair, after all. You asked me first.”
Markus frowned. “The military used me then cast me off like rubbish. I think I have more reason than most to want to see them and the King and Council above them torn down.”
Mirisa nodded slowly. “True, but that isn’t why you’re here. Mikhail told me you said the revenants were your problem. What’s that mean?”
“It means exactly that. I’m a revenant, and so are they. Mikhail brought me in to deal with them, so I will. They’re my problem.”
“Close,” she said. “You are a good liar, Markus, I give you that. Then again, a man who hid in an enemy army for ten years must be good. Weaving lies and truth together so well, very good indeed. What’s the whole truth?”
“You first,” he said. “Good pay and safety isn’t the only reason to work for rebels. Why not for Sunset House, or the military? Plenty of use for someone with your skills there.”
She smiled and went back to looking through the papers.
Markus sighed and looked over at the safe. Again, it had been forced open. Whatever these revenants had, finesse was not in it. Brute strength and the reckless abandon that came with it were all too obvious over everything they touched. Bad for the public, but good for Markus. They would think they were invincible, despite anything the meister that made them would have to say. They wouldn’t realize just how vulnerable they were if their wires were cut, or their steam reservoir punctured. Revenants were far from invincible; they just had different weaknesses than a normal man.
“I’m from Kanadis,” she said. “If you couldn’t tell, although most don’t even know to. The barony is a snow covered name on a map to most people, despite there being enough gold, iron, and coal in its mountains to make it a kingdom in its own right. Thing is, no one wants to come dig it up. The baroness has tried to get the Council to invest, and I hear her daughter is even in town, trying to get some industrialists interested, but it doesn’t seem to do much good. No one cares about Kanadis.”
“So what,” Markus said. “You want to tear down the government because no one cares about your home?”
“Hardly,” she said. “I left when I was fourteen. Traveled about, went to Voxfeld, Gorlido, Adervyn, even Askar, way far to the south. I’m worldly enough to know that it doesn’t matter who’s in power, someone is always going to be stepped on. But I can also see that the Sentatian way of doing things is on the edge. I figure, why not be on the winning side for once? And if the rebels don’t win, well, I’m really not any worse off than I was before.”
He looked at her, and found himself oddly believing her story. Perhaps it was the nonchalant way she said it, or just the entire way she carried herself, but here was a woman who was tired of being on the bottom and had thrown her lot in with the rebels as more of a gamble than a shared cause.
“A revenant is a monster,” he said. “That is what people say. And now that cardinal has been preaching hellfire and brimstone, as I understand it, and right alongside it how revenants are evil. Well, I don’t know about that, but I am the same man I was when I was Reclaimed. It isn’t the spike that makes a man evil. So, when revenants come along and decide to be evil, that makes it my problem.”
She looked up at him then back down at her hands for a moment. “Closer. You’re still holding something back.”
He frowned. “Well, a man is entitled to his secrets and demons. Don’t tell me you told me everything.”
“I told you everything,” she said. “My demons aren’t in why I joined the rebellion, though.”
He sighed and shook his head. He was about to say something else when he heard the sound of scraping metal out on the foundry floor. Mirisa heard it too, and he motioned for her to stay silent. He moved as quietly as he could and peeked out of the office and down to the floor.
“Well,” Mirisa said. “What is it? Constables?”
“I’m not quite sure,” Markus said. “Looks like four people, but they’re in the shadows right now. I can’t quite tell who they are.”
“Four, eh?” Mirisa said. “Revenants come back to the scene of their crime?”
“Not likely,” Markus said. “Heights are all wrong, and the big guy doesn’t have any spikes sticking out of him.”
The people moved into the light, and Markus nearly laughed. Gavrial, Kira, Margot, and Vlad were poking around the wreckage. He looked back at Mirisa, and the laugh fell off his lips. She had drawn a gun.
“No need for that,” he said. “I just saw who it is.”
“The thieves I used to run with,” Markus said. “Come on. I don’t think there is anything else we can learn here. Do you?”
She looked around the papers and shrugged. “I suppose not. The place is ransacked, but no real reason is apparent beyond simple robbery. Did you find anything interesting?”
“Enough,” he said. “Come on, and put that gun up unless you want shot.”
She slowly holstered the weapon, although she obviously doubted his assertion that she would be the one shot. He led the way and walked slowly out onto the foundry floor.
He raised his arms. “Don’t shoot.”
All four of his former friends turned to him, and Kira took a step forward.
“Markus?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “I have to say, I’m surprised to see you here.”
“We could say the same,” Margot said. “I thought you gave up thief and larceny.”
“I’m just here investigating,” he said. “Trying to get my head around these revenants-related crimes.”
“And not alone, I see.” Kira’s gaze went past him.
He glanced back to see Mirisa then turned back to Kira. “Yeah. Not alone. So, why are you here?”
“The Meisters have hired us to look into the crimes too,” Vlad said. “Funny, eh?”
Gavrial elbowed Vlad, and the scrawny man looked at him in confusion. Gavrial shook his head then turned to Markus. “Well, find anything?”
“The meisters, eh?” Markus said.
“We could still work together,” Kira said. “They aren’t all bad, you know. They even helped us rescue Jak. Did you know he was still alive?”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Markus said. “But I have my own employers. I don’t think they’d appreciate me working with meisters.”
Kira’s gaze again went to Mirisa. “Oh.”
“We’d best be going, Markus,” Mirisa said.
“Yeah,” Markus said. “Good luck, Kira.”
They made their way back to the side door, Mirisa leading. He lagged behind, though, and once she was through the door, he turned back. Kira looked at him with a mixture of emotion he could not identify on her face, and he shook his head.
“Stay safe, Kira. These revenants, they’re dangerous.”
She nodded slowly and looked away. “I know.”
He turned to leave, then a thought made him turn back.
She stood there for a moment, mouth agape. “Thank you.”
He licked his lips, nodded, then left.
* * *
Gavrial rubbed a hand over his scalp as he watched the city drift by. He had known going to the factory was a bad idea. And if finding Markus there with that strange woman had not been bad enough, the constables had decided to make it even worse. And let us not forget the military officers that had been with them. The gang had barely had time to look around before the brown-coats had showed up to poke around. Luckily, Gust was waiting with the carriage in the back alley, and they had managed to slip out through one of the furnace rooms.
Vlad sat across from Gavrial, and looked down at his hands. “You’d think people would have the common courtesy to leave a crime scene alone.”
“Yeah,” Gavrial said. “Those brown-coats should have known better than to come barging in on a bunch of thieves lurking about.”
“Vlad, he wasn’t being serious,” Margot said.
Vlad looked from Margot to Gavrial. “You weren’t?”
The carriage came to a stop, and Gust hopped down and opened a large, sliding door. A moment later, they were safely inside a stable a block away from their hideout and connected via an underground tunnel. Kira was the first out of the carriage and wordlessly led them down through the passage hidden in one of the stalls and out into the gang’s private common room.
Bryon looked up from a book he was reading and frowned. “You’re back sooner than I expected. What happened?”
“Constables showed up,” Gavrial said. “Didn’t give us much time to look around, not there was anything to be seen. The police report has the right of it. The revenants trashed the place, stole the cashbox, then ran.”
Bryon sighed and stood. “Well, the meisters can’t say we didn’t try. Anyway, it’s for the best, I suppose. Cook already sat the cake out, and the urchins are getting rather restless. Shall we?”
Kira shook her head and stormed off to her room.
Bryon looked after her. “What was that about?”
Margot laughed. “We also saw Brassman.”
Bryon’s frown returned. “Oh. Well, I suppose she needs her space. Why was Markus there?”
“Said he, too, was looking into the revenants,” Vlad said. “Apparently he’s found some new group to run with, one that doesn’t care for meisters. You know, he had a kind of cute girl with him, too.”
Bryon’s face took on a cast that Gavrial had come to call the “Oh, I see” look. Typically, it meant Bryon had just put the pieces together and come to a greater understanding that the rest present could barely comprehend. Right now, though, Gavrial was pretty sure he knew what Bryon was thinking, and it nearly made him want to draw a gun, not that he was entirely sure who he would point it at.
“Well, why don’t we go on up and let Cook know to put the cake away,” Bryon said. “Perhaps Kira will be more in a mood for it tonight.”
“No, go on up and wait,” Gavrial said. “I’ll go talk to her.”
Every eye turned to him as if he had just announced he could fly. Margot put a hand on his shoulder.
“I said I’d talk to her!”
He shrugged away from her and went down towards the gang’s private quarters, following Kira’s steps. He stopped only to glare back at the others until they started to file upstairs. Bryon and Margot put their heads together, but he could only imagine at what they were talking about. Probably taking bets on how long it would take Kira to try and gut him.
He turned back down the hallway and went first to his room and opened the drawer. There was no time to try and wrap the book, so he just shoved it into one of his coat pockets and then went down to Kira’s room.
He hesitated for several moments with his fist just above her door, but then took a deep breath and knocked. Silence answered him, so he knocked again until Kira’s voice came from inside.
“Open up, Kira,” he said. “I . . . well . . . I want to talk.”
He stared at the door, and was just about to knock again when it slowly opened. Kira’s eyes were red, as was her nose, and he could see a balled up kerchief in one of her hands.
“You?” She said. “You want to talk?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It might not be something I’m good at, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like to do it sometimes.”
She stared at him for a moment then smiled despite herself. She rubbed a tear away from her eyes. “Okay, fine, talk.”
He opened his mouth, wondering what to say. He was not lying when he said talking was not one of his strong points. Still, he was here now, so all he could do was go forward.
“Listen, it’s your birthday,” he said. “Well, I mean, I know you know that, but that doesn’t make it any less true, right? And a person ought not be all put out on their birthday.”
“It’s just a day,” she said.
“No, it isn’t just a day,” he said. “It’s your day. And you should enjoy yourself. So, well, here!”
He pulled the book out and held it out to her. She looked down at it, and for a moment he thought she was not going to take it, but finally she accepted it and opened the cover.
“The Adventures of Baron Singard?” she said.
“I heard you talking to Bryon a few weeks ago about it,” he said. “About how you wanted to read it but couldn’t find it. Well, I just happened to find it, so I figured, well, I didn’t just happen to find it. I had to look pretty hard, but I still found it, and thought you might like it, so, well, I got it for you. Happy birthday.”
He said the last without breathing, and by the end his heart was going so loud in his ears that he was surprised he could hear anything else.
She closed the book and looked at it for a while.
“Uh, don’t you like it? ‘Cause if you don’t, I can take it back, no hard feelings.” He bit his lip and looked around. “I mean, getting gifts isn’t exactly one of my strong points, either. I just thought, you know, since you had said you couldn’t find it—”
She looked up and reached one hand out to put a single thin finger against his lips. “Thank you.” She looked back down at the book one more time and closed her eyes.
She still had her finger against his lips as she went up to her tiptoes and kissed him, this time on the lips. She moved her hand around his neck, pulling herself up and him down. When she finally pulled away, he looked into her eyes in confusion. Was he dreaming? He tried to pull away, but not very hard.
She kissed him again, and this time started to unbutton his shirt as she pulled him into her room. He did not even try to resist, although some small part of his brain wondered just how long they would wait with the cake upstairs, but it stopped caring quickly.