WHAT GOD DID I PISS OFF?
See chapter one for disclaimers.
From the air, the damage was not as bad as might have been expected, although more than a dozen Zamballans had retreated into hibernation. That could be remedied. There was a lot of scorched earth to replenish, and Taranee hoped the others would hurry. After scouting the area and putting out several more fires, she returned to Nigel and Ironwood.
"Well, it could be worse. When the Guardians arrive, we should be able to set things right, pretty quickly." She looked at Nigel. "They can take you home, too."
"What about you?"
"Well. Like it or not, I think I'm stuck here, till I can, at least, pass on the Heart. Nerissa won't stop trying to get her hands on it."
"And your family?"
"I-I don't know. How'm I supposed to explain disappearing like that? Hard enough to think of away to explain Kadma popping up in the dining room."
"Cheer up," Nigel offered. "Maybe they'll think I kidnapped you."
She shot him an aggrieved look. "Not funny, Nigel."
"No," he agreed. "It isn't. None of this is, and you did promise to explain." She nodded. "Well?"
"All right, here goes." She laid it out for him, the Guardians, Kandrakhar, Meridian, and the rest.
"So. Guardians, kidnapped queen, wicked witch, evil minions, magic jewelry; am I missing anything?"
"That's about it," Taranee nodded. "The particulars aren't important, right now."
"Going to tell your family?"
"How? They'd freak!"
"What do you suppose their doing right now, aside from having me put on the most wanted list?"
"I guess. The only way they're gonna believe it though is if they see it first hand, but how can I put them at risk?"
"You don't think your...subjects could protect them?" He glanced at the Zamballans hard at work around them. Ironwood glanced over but did not approach.
"I don't want to give Nerissa any ideas. She might decide to use them as leverage." Nigel nodded, frowning.
"Okay. I see that. Are there any other options?"
"Not really, no."
"It was an accident, mistress!" Shagon stayed between the furious ex-guardian and the other knights. "The attack was one she should have easily countered, but something distracted her. Before we knew what was happening, she was down. I didn't realize how badly she was hurt."
"This was not my plan, Shagon. Kadma was to be at my side when I achieved my goal. They all were to be with me again!"
"We attempted to seize the Heart for you, but she teletransported away too quickly."
"That is not the point! She was to join me." With an effort, she reined in her temper. "She still will, just as Cassidy did." She looked to the ghost of her oldest friend. "They will all see that my way is the best way in the end."
"There is an upside to this mistress," Tridart offered.
"Indeed," Nerissa nodded. "That child will be far easier to manipulate than Kadma. I will simply have to plan anew." She considered carefully. "Everyone has a vulnerability to be exploited. It should be a simple matter to find the fire Guardian's."
It had taken time for the police to sort out what had happened. No one seemed to know what happened. The victim in the odd clothing had, according to the witnesses, seemed to simply appear in the living room. That was clearly impossible, but there was no blood trail leading from either the back or front door. This would have led them to believe that she had been killed there, but the medical examiner had found what appeared to be claw marks on the victim and there was nothing in the house that could have made them. He claimed that the kind of injury should have left blood splatter all over the room, but there was just a pool on the floor. The forensic evidence was confusing at best.
The witness testimony was confusing as well. All of them agreed that the victim hadn't made much sense. She had apparently carried on about defilers and hearts. She had also, they all agreed, asked Judge Cook's daughter to do something for her. What that was, however, was unclear. Taranee Cook had left the house immediately after the woman's death and had not been seen since.
It took over an hour after their arrival for the police to clear out so they could talk freely. "Taranee knew that woman," her mother said with certainty, "but I've never seen her before." She looked at her husband and son, "either of you?"
Both shook their heads. "Her friends might know," Peter suggested.
"Those girls from her school? Maybe. Do you know where we can find them?"
"I'm not sure about most of them, but Hay Lin's family owns the Silver Dragon."
"Let's start there." She grabbed her coat and got ready to leave. "Peter, you come with me. You know where the place is?" Peter nodded. "Then you come with me. Honey, would you stay here in case Taranee... comes back?" She gave herself a mental kick for almost having said 'reappears.' That was just crazy.
"We all saw it, mom," Peter interrupted the thought. "She disappeared. Here one second, gone the next. Kadma was the same way. She just appeared out of nowhere."
"Peter," his mother glanced at him sharply, "that is ridiculous."
"It's true! I was looking right at the arch, and she was just there. I didn't blink. She didn't step out of a shadow. She just appeared. Taranee was holding that stick thing Kadma gave her and the crystal on top started flashing. You saw it. That really bright light and she and Nigel were just gone."
"They must have taken off when we were blinded," Judge Cook reasoned. "I don't know what Taranee was thinking," she carried on before Peter could object again. "I'd like to think I wasn't wrong about Nigel, that he didn't have anything to do with this, but he might have."
Peter sighed and dropped the matter. "Let's just find her. Then we can get it straight."
The two of them left for the Silver Dragon a moment later.
With a sigh, the old woman nodded. "You can't afford to wait." She looked at the girls minus Taranee. "Go. Kadma's request sounds urgent."
"Okay then." Will drew out the Heart of Kandrakhar and held it up. "Guardians unite."
As soon as they had folded away, the council's messenger nodded respectfully to Yan Lin and departed. Frowning slightly, she turned her attention to the restaurant. Taranee was the responsible, level headed one. There had to be a reason she hadn't answered Will's telepathic summons. She made a note to call the house after she checked on the staff to make sure everything was under control upstairs.
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