Ruili Windwolf’s day started much earlier than Y’lanna Sparti’s, as indeed, the previous night had ended for him much later.
While Y’lanna had settled down to sleep in one of the guest chambers of the Prince’s house, Ruili had spent more hours sending and receiving runners with reports to and from all parts of the city. Finally, in the dark before dawn, a military escort had carried him back up to the Citadel of Grippio. There, in the grim recesses of the Fortress of Runes, he observed the interrogation of the prisoner together with the Lord Protector of the Isles, the Chief Guardian of Plesz, several generals and admirals, and the Duke and Duchess. After reviewing what had been learned before the summoner succumbed to aura-burn exhaustion, Ruili announced his intention to bring the card, the Queen of Blood, to Lord Jeneyeru in Raurugia.
“The card may be secured here, surely,” Duke Yirie objected.
“Then Jeneyeru would have done so,” said Ruili. “You must understand, these things are leeches of dark aura. They devour it and shit it back out again, far more noxious than before.”
“I beg your pardon, mother, but the analogy is apt. The longer these objects stay in a place, the fouler it becomes, and to store one of them here in the Fortress, as secure as this prison may be, would be far too dangerous. These walls are too saturated with dark magic. No, trust me, father, I beg you. Of all here, only I have ever been exposed to the Arcana before, and only Jeney has ever mastered them. The card must go to him, and I must carry it, with all haste.”
The Duke scowled, his scarred face terrifying in his frustrated anger, but the Duchess laid a hand on her son’s arm.
“Take the Guardian Cat,” she said. “Join your brothers.”
More hours of preparation then, and a return to Cherryrose Lane for a brief sleep and to pack for the voyage and give instructions to Mrs. Bodling when she came to work, and Ruili was out again, before the morning editions hit the streets with headlines full of the night’s terrors.
When Y’lanna arrived at the docks, Ruili didn’t waste a moment.
“Good morning! Come aboard, Milady Y’lanna. We have but minutes to catch the tide.”
If Y’lanna had any surprise to express, it would have to wait, but surprise would not be surprising. The Guardian Cat was nothing at all like the Wolf. Whereas Y’lanna had been pulled from the sea and brought to the Grand Navigators by a three-hundred-foot, four-masted ship-of-war with two ballistic decks above four lower decks, she was now to leave the Isles in a thirty-foot, single-masted racing yacht — the Duchess’s personal craft, more sail than boat, it seemed — which would skim the waves so fast and low, Y’lanna might find herself so much in the sea, she might as well never have left it. And in place of the hundreds who crewed the Wolf, on the Guardian Cat, it was to be just her and Ruili.
His energetic enthusiasm and the rush of activity to finish loading provisions, a full crate of wind cords, and other necessities, including two sealed boxes covered with magical symbols, all left her little chance to say or do anything but get onboard and out of the way. At last, all farewells were made, and the lithe, slight vessel made her way out of the harbor, over the breakers, and into the open sea.
Ruili raised the mainsail and jib and set the Guardian Cat on course for Raurugia. As she began to leap over the rolling waves, he settled down beside the wheel and said to Y’lanna, “Well, milady, you asked to see something of Aeldreth and now you shall. Allow me to catch you up with the news.”
“The criminal who summoned the beast was no wizard, but rather, an assassin. He was sent to kill that man we saw die in the square — something to do with a business dispute. He shall pay the price for that, but the good news is that he brought the card with him and had but the one. He arrived in the Navvies that very day on a Faurolian ship, that being the land next to our destination, which is also good if it means that the cards have not strayed too far from the Guild of Wizards in Raurugia.”
“I’ve laid in enough wind cords to get us across the Western Passage and up the Serpent Strait in three or four days. It’ll be tight quarters till then — bunk and galley in one, you’ll see when you get below — hope you don’t mind. You shall learn to raise sails and tie knots and wash in salt spray, like a true selkie, lady, mark me.”
With the wind whipping his long hair and loose shirt, and the boat heaving, and the cold spray stinging their faces even as he said those words, Ruili grinned and winked.
“What think you of your decision now, Lady of the Lavender?”