For a brief moment, Peino thought he had the intruder caught, until he saw the man raise a fist and punch through the still-forming shadow barrier. Out the window he went, and Peino was there a second later — but he saw nothing but rain and waves in the night, and quickly had to withdraw his head as the barrier healed itself.
“Shit, piss, and corruption!” He struck the shadow wall with a leaden thud, then bowed curtly to Lotye. “I beg your pardon, lady.”
Jeneyeru hurried up, followed by embassy guards with pikes and lamps and Lord Ambassador Ceula in a hastily donned dressing down, bearing a candelabra.
“Brother, I am sorry,” said Jeneyeru, closing his sea-green dressing gown with one hand while holding a candle aloft with the other. “The barrier had not fully hardened.”
“Bah,” said Peino, “no fault of yours. Curse that shrew’s son and his speed. May he never stop running.”
“Who was it?”
“Some miserable scum of an assassin, by his garb. I awoke to find him playing about at my bedside.”
“How dreadful!” cried Ambassador Ceula. “Your Highness is not injured, I hope.”
“No, but what of the cards?”
“The strong-cabinet is secure. I made sure of it,” said Jeneyeru.
“Good. I want this building swept top to bottom. Let us see no other rats have gotten aboard.”
In less than an hour, all interested parties were assembled again in the apartment salon. The guards had determined that no other scum or sons of shrews infested the Embassy of the Grand Navigators, and appropriate wards were cast to prevent further incursions. The mortified and shame-faced Captain of the Night Guard presented Prince Starhand and Master Nightwise with the grapple and rope found on the roof.
“He must have climbed up from the dustman’s alley, then down again to a chosen window,” the Captain said. “There was no sign of force on any of the windows. I reckon the wind undid a latch and gave him his chance.”
Peino nodded, scowling, until he caught the stricken look on the man’s face.
“Well done, Captain,” he said, “and kindly accept my apology. This incident is my own fault, for I neglected to tell you of a risk of which I was well aware. I trust that we shall have no more difficulty now that I place the matter in your hands, as I should have done at first.”
The Captain of the Night Guard bowed low and with obvious relief. He took his leave, perhaps thinking that it was true what people said about the Sovereign Prince of the Grand Navigators — that he was like a strong gale that blew hard but fair.
“A daring attempt,” said Jeneyeru, handling the grappling hook, a standard, ordinary piece of hardware. “Quick to grab an opportunity, yet not at all haphazard.”
“Indeed,” Peino agreed. “It was done at the order of that fellow Ashcat, I’d wager, no doubt in vengeance for the fight and the taking of his goods. Did your scrying yield anything?”
“Nothing good, I fear. I saw the aura of the Daemon Arcana wandering to the Five Realms, and a pall of silence I could not pierce lying over Mt. Isolla. I believe a dire crime has been committed.”
“So as we discussed then,” said Peino, “to Isolla after I am released by the High King?”
“If you would be so kind, brother, your company would be most welcome. Ah,” Jeneyeru sighed, “I wish we had Ruili here.”
“Isolla and the Wizards Guild?” said Ambassador Ceula. “My lords, that will be a risky journey for nobles such as yourselves. The central mountains of Raurugia are the domain of bandits. Quite organized villains, I hear, veritable private armies capable of threatening the Sesan oligarchs. If not for the presence of the High Court to enforce the peace, Raurugia could very well have changed hands at any time in the last century. So say the papers and coffee houses, at least.”
“Yet for all that, there is some civilization, surely?” said Peino. “Towns, trains and whatnot?”
“Oh, indeed, Your Highness. The mountains are a lovely region, but one where travelers should keep their wits about them.”
“And their colors low, I would imagine,” said Jeneyeru, “but it is not bandits who worry me. A part of me wishes to fly to the Mage Mountain as fast as the wind will take me, but another part warns me to approach the Guild House with caution. Even the trains may be too exposed to public view. Yet to use the Cairn Hawk, why I may as well send heralds to trumpet us the whole way, burning so much aura.”
“If you don’t mind flying,” said Peino, “there is another option, one that uses little or no magic, so far as I can tell.”
“Why that’s right, and you did say he intends to follow the cards one way or another, did you not?” A sly grin tugged at the wizard’s lips. “Perhaps I shall wait upon the good Captain Lafitte in the morning. I could return him his crossbows.”
“While you’re at it, see what he plans to do about this storm his lookout has brought upon him.” Peino cocked his head, listening to the plaguing wind that should have died down hours ago. “Ah well, it seems another crisis has passed. I suppose I should try to get a little more rest before I go to the Court. It shall be dawn soon enough.”
So, with the embassy locked down and on alert, and with thoughts of present enemies and future dangers fresh in their minds, the party retired again to their bedchambers — though what rest each might find was an open question.
“Those accursed cards,” Jeneyeru said to Peino as they parted, “if ever anything cost more than its worth…”
“Don’t worry yourself, brother,” said Peino, patting Jeneyeru’s shoulder. “We beat this game once. We shall beat it again.”