The night after that fateful day on the cliffside, Cassia and Fyn camped in the lee of an outcropping of rock just outside of Haverin Forest. This night was much more peaceful than the last; the the air was fresh and free of smoke, and the sky overhead was clear of clouds and blazing with stars. Cassia and Fyn had passed the evening together in a near-companionable silence, with Fyn even catching and eating his meal out of her sight. He didn’t speak a word even after he returned, and Cassia hadn’t been able to think of how to engage him in conversation, if she even wanted to.
Instead, she had waited until sun had fully set, then got out her scrying bowl and water by the light of the dying fire and the setting moon overhead.
“Are you there, Tilana?” she whispered as she finished the spell. The water glowed white and then cleared, revealing her sister’s disheveled face.
“Hi,” Tilana said, sounding flustered. “Give me a moment.”
Cassia caught a glimpse of her sister’s bare shoulder as Tilana moved out of view, and she had to stifle a laugh. She had clearly caught her changing.
Tilana returned not a moment, but several long minutes later, wearing her most formal dress and her hair long and unbraided.
“There’s a political dinner tonight,” she explained, “but I have a few minutes before I’ll need to do makeup. How’s the drake?”
“He’s… all right, actually,” Cassia said, glancing back over her shoulder at where Fyn was curled up and snoring in one great lump. “I sort of saved his life, and I think it knocked some sense into him.”
Cassia launched into the story of everything that had happened at Haven, from how she had tried to get the Treatise, to Fyn’s kidnapping of Iona’s child, to the confrontation on the cliff.
“—so I… sort of gave him your wings, and we flew away. I’m really sorry.”
“You gave the drake my wings,” Tilana said flatly. She unconsciously reached up to touch the pair of wings she was wearing today, which Cassia recognized as Raphel’s. She must have needed them for some ceremony or state appearance. “You gave him one of MIthrinde’s motes.”
“I took it back right after,” Cassia said, cheeks burning. “It’s not like he wanted to keep it.”
Tilana’s just shook her head, lips pressed together.
“What was I supposed to do, let him die?” Cassia defended herself. She was startled to see Tilana’s face remain grim. “Ty, you can’t be serious.”
“It would make things easier,” Tilana said without looking at Cassia directly. “I’m still not convinced he doesn’t have orders to kill you if he gets the chance.”
“And what would that accomplish?”
“I don’t know exactly,” Tilana admitted. “But they could keep the Treatise themselves and tamper with it, or break it. More likely, they could try to frame you for stealing it, or sabotaging the recovery effort, and give them an excuse to go to war against us.”
“Or they could just not all be monsters,” Cassia said, irritated. “And, you know, they don’t want eternal war to break out among the gods again.”
“Maybe.” Tilana pressed her forehead against her fists. “But they’re the reason we haven’t told any of the other Orders the Treatise is gone. A condition of the partnership was complete silence on the matter. They shouldn’t need to fear the other Orders’ wrath — they’re too powerful and independent for that, and the blame should fall equally on us and them anyway. I’m afraid they’re setting us up for something.”
“What’s happening with Dad?” Cassia said, mostly to change the subject. Tilana’s suspicions made her uneasy. Her sister had always been brilliant in political situations, but this was extreme. Even if the drakes were planning something, Cassia was convinced Fyn wasn’t a part of it, and as long as that was the case, Cassia was confident she could get the Treatise and get back to Promise without foul play on either side.
A spasm crossed Tilana’s face. “Not good,” she admitted. “Haliel’s still under house arrest, and Dad knows we’re communicating.”
“The quill message you sent about following the family to the forest — I was talking to him when it arrived. He asked who sent it, and, well…” Tilana grimaced.
“It’s fine,” Cassia said automatically. She could count on one hand the number of times either of them had successfully lied to their father. “How angry was he?”
“I think he’d already guessed. He just sighed. But Cass, he does have people looking for you, and now he knows better where you are.”
“Maybe I should just talk to him,” Cassia said.
Tilana shook her head. “If you send him a message, he can trace you. He could even trace you with this scrying spell. You know that. He’s already scrying on you every day to figure out where you are.”
Cassia winced at the thought.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Cassia said. “We’ll be heading somewhere else soon.”
She proceeded to tell Tilana about the distinctive, dry twigs she had found in the dirt surrounded by footprints in Haven, holding them up to the bowl so Tilana could see. “I’m not sure where they’re from. Fyn’s says there’s a city a little ways south of here, on the Haverin River. We’re going there to restock on our supplies and figure out where this comes from. There might even be a Courier who can take us there.”
“Good,” Tilana said with feeling. “You should know… I haven’t talked to Dad since that time he saw your message. He’s been bedbound again. Raphel says it’s worse this time.”
Cassia closed her eyes and made her decision. “I want to talk to him.”
Tilana’s face fell. “Cassia, I just said—”
“I know,” Cassia interrupted. “But I’m in the middle of starlit nowhere right now. He might know where I am but there’s no way he’s getting anyone here to catch me today. I’m sick of this. I want to talk to our dad.”
Tilana sighed. “You’re going to make me late. But okay. I’ll scry you back with his water.”
The water went dark. Cassia sat back on her heels and stared up at the heavens. “You know, Mithrinde,” she said conversationally to the moon, “if I really should give up and go home because Dad to do this himself, a holy manifestation to tell me so would be really helpful right about now.”
She didn’t feel anything in particular, but she hadn’t expected to. Mithrinde would be watching, as she always was, but she didn’t seem to have anything to say to Cassia right now.
A memory rose unexpected in her mind. She had been very small, before their Receiving, and had eavesdropped on Micah having a serious argument with Haliel about a diplomatic issue. Afterward, when Micah was tucking her in, she’d asked him why he had to argue about things when he could just ask Mithrinde what to do.
“She doesn’t just tell me what to do all the time, my stardrop,” he’d said, pulling the covers up to her chin.
“But why not, Daddy? Doesn’t she know what to do?”
“Well, little moonflower, I suppose it’s because if she told everyone exactly what to do all the time, that would be like forcing people to worship her. And if she has to force people to worship her, she’s not much of a goddess.”
“Well, Ty would say that’s an answer all on it’s own,”Cassia said to herself. She looked down into her scrying bowl again right as the water began to glow.
It cleared to reveal a mound of pillows propped up against a mahogany headboard, and a forehead that was more gray than silver.
“Dad,” Cassia said, already wincing at the start to the conversation. “I can barely see you.”
Slowly, the bowl of water shifted, until her father’s worn face came fully into view. His eyes were rimmed with red, as if he had not been sleeping.
“Cassiandra,” Micah said. Cassia’s heart sank at the use of her full name.
“Hi, Dad,” she said. “I… wanted to talk. About what’s going on.”
“You would possibly be referring to the time you conspired with your fellow Council members to directly undermine your Archpriest, committing treason against your Order, and how you are now on the run and still directly flouting my orders?”
“That’s not what I was trying to do,” Cassia said.
“Oh, forgive me. It is certainly how the situation reads.”
Cassia tried to fight back a sudden surge of anger. Micah only gave her the formal treatment when he was being deliberately stubborn. “Don’t kid yourself. You know exactly what I did and why I did it, and if you don’t, Haliel will be more than happy to tell you.”
She half expected a reprimand for being rude, but instead the barb hit home. Micah didn’t seem to be able to think of anything to say. Her view of him shook and distorted as he gripped the bowl of water with what much have been a shaking hand.
“I have spoken with Haliel,” he said at last. “It does not change the laws that you broke.”
After a moment, he bowed his head and added softly, “More importantly, the trust that you broke. Mine.”
A jagged lance of shame pierced Cassia’s stomach. “I felt like I had to,” she defended herself lamely.
No response. Micah was so still that Cassia almost wondered if the connection had broken.
“Look,” she said. “I can say I’m sorry. I kind of am, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to come back. I just want to know: why did you say you were going to go? You know you don’t have the strength. Dad, we were scared you would die. Why would you throw away your life like that?”
“Cassiandra, I understand, but you of all people should know I am more than capable—”
Cassia leaned forward, planting both hands on the side of the bowl and looking straight down at her father. “Oh yeah? Look me in the eyes right now and tell me you’re well enough to be traveling out here by yourself. I’ve already had to dive off a cliff to catch — someone — and then fly away from a forest fire.”
“Since when did you learn to speak so disrespectfully to your father and Archpriest?” Micah demanded, but he had averted his gaze and Cassia knew he was just avoiding the question.
Cassia didn’t answer him. She waited with the same firm expression. Inside, her heart was pounding wildly. She knew she was far out of her father’s reach, but he could be scary when he got angry.
The silence stretched long enough for Cassia to count the beats in the chirruping calls of the nighttime insects around her.
“I... helped create the Treatise,” Micah finally said, twisting his wedding ring on his finger. “It should be my duty to retrieve it.”
Cassia lost her temper. “Yeah, and did you ever think then that we might prefer you alive and needing help to dead and proud of yourself? Even if you didn’t want to send me, because you think I’m not capable, or you’re afraid I’ll get hurt, or whatever, you could have sent Haliel, one of your guards, anybody. Dad please, please just tell me Mithrinde ordered you to go yourself, or that you had a really great plan, or anything that actually makes sense.”
She didn’t know what she would do if that was the case. If Mithrinde had ordered it, she’d have to stop this and let her father come in her place. But maybe she could refuse to leave his side, and they could hunt for the Treatise together.
“I —” Micah began, but cut himself off. He shifted in bed, groaning slightly, and when he looked back at Cassia, his whole face softened.
“She didn’t,” he admitted. “Perhaps… I was asking too much of myself.”
Cassia let out a breath and felt the tightly curled knot she had been carrying in her chest begin to unwind. She was finally getting somewhere.
“I don’t want to come back,” she said. “I’m on the trail — it’s been working. I only just got the drake to start listening to me. Even if you were well enough to take my place, it wouldn’t make sense. But I didn’t like going behind your back in the first place, and I’d rather you send a search party to come and get me now, if that’s how it’s going to be.”
Micah was smiling. “You are so like—”
“Mom?” Cassia suggested.
“Like me,” Micah said, and he reached out a hand as if to ruffle her hair before remembering they were hundreds of miles apart. “Stubborn as starlight.”
Cassia smiled. “I blame you.”
“Fair,” Micah acknowledged. He paused. “All right. You’re right. I’d be proud if I wasn’t so irritated at you and Tilana for outsmarting me. I will release Haliel and allow you to continue searching for the Treatise, on two conditions.
“First, be careful, my moonflower,” he said. “I could not bear losing you.” He stretched a hand out to touch the surface of the water separating them. It rippled, disturbing his image, even though the water on her side was quite still.
“Second, you must swear to me you will the following when you find the Treatise. Firstly, you will teleport it immediately here, to Mithrinden. Secondly, you will not allow the drake you are traveling with to touch it. Thirdly and most importantly, you will not touch it. Wrap it in a cloth and bring it to me.”
Cassia frowned. She’d never thought of the Treatise as dangerous before, at least not for godformed. “Why?”
He looked at her for several moments before he answered. “It will be extremely unstable by the time you get to it. It’s not safe. If you get it to me, I can keep it stable until the Archpriests gather and we start the Renewal.”
He saw her hesitate and added, “Don’t push me on this, Cassia. Swear to me, or you’ll have a team of angels on you within the hour.”
“I… trust you,” Cassia said, a small part of her deflating as her quiet vision of touching the Treatise and talking to Mithrinde face-to-face died. “I swear by Mithrinde’s wings. To all three conditions.”
Some of the creases in Micah’s brow seemed to melt away. “Good,” he said, his voice suddenly weaker and more tired. “Is there… anything else?”
Cassia knew she should let him rest, but something in her chest cracked at the question, and the dread spilled through.
“The woman who stole the Treatise,” she began. “She’s part of a group calling themselves the Seekers. They… hate godformed, Dad. And… I’ve seen why. The drakes treat them like slaves.”
Micah closed his eyes for so long Cassia had fallen asleep. At last, he said, “If the Treatise is destroyed, the gods go to war. It would shatter even the human people. However valid their grievances, they are either ignorant of what they do or so angry they would burn the world to get their revenge.”
“I know, but—”
“Your heart would hold the whole world,” Micah said. “That’s commendable. But let’s focus on one Basin-wide problem at a time, okay?”
Cassia shook her head, defeated. “Okay. It’s just… is this why we don’t like the drakes?”
Micah gave a short bark of a laugh. “It’s one facet of a very dirty gem.”
They fell into a silence, one more comfortable than before.
“I need to sleep now,” Micah said finally, “and you should be too.” He gave Cassia a knowing look.
“Good night, Dad.”
“Good night, my flower. Call again soon. I love you.” And he broke the connection with a wave of his hand.
“Love you too,” Cassia said, a second too late. The water in the bowl grew dark and still.
Cassia sat back on her heels and gave a sigh of relief. Then she looked up at the moon. “Thank you, Mithrinde,” she said. “Thank you for giving him just a little bit of sense.”