Just as Roland and Cuthbert rode into Rhea’s yard, but before they had time to register more than an uncertain wrongness about the place, there came a sharp, crunching sound from within the hut, as of breaking glass. A moment after that, a stranger stepped from the open door: a lean man, with brown hair and eyes, and wearing a revolver like their own at his hip.
“Hile, gunslingers,” he said, in a cheerful tone. “Don’t mind me, I’m just here to make a little adjustment.”
Roland, as ever, was quickest: “Who are you, stranger?”
“No one of importance,” the stranger answered. “A random factor. An eddy in the space-time continuum, if you like.”
“We have business within,” said Cuthbert.
“The witch is dead,” replied the stranger. “And your fathers should know that the Pink Bend was in Farson’s possession, but has since been destroyed.” He stepped aside from the doorway. “See for yourself, if you like.”
Roland scowled in suspicion. “How do you know about that?”
The stranger grinned, if it could be believed. “You told me yourself! Or rather, you will. Or you would have.”
And with that enigmatic remark, he vanished as if he had never been.
“You will do no such thing.”
The king could only stare at the one person in the hall who had dared to speak up.
“This is not what your daughter wants, it is not what the late queen would have wanted, and if you weren’t unhinged with grief, it wouldn’t be what you wanted either. Your Majesty.”
The king said, in a dangerously quiet voice, “How do you propose to stop me?”
“I have arranged the Princess’s enrollment in finishing school. Greenlaw College. It is quite far away—don’t bother trying to find it on a map—and they do have a strict policy against family visits, but the quality of education more than makes up for it.
“In the circumstances, I think they will accept her attendance a little ahead of schedule.”
The king’s tone grew even more flat. “When were you going to tell me about this? Do you really expect me to let you take my daughter from me?”
“I have tried to bring it up several times in the past weeks, Your Majesty, but you have not been able to discuss your daughter’s future reasonably. In any case, no lock nor gate nor force of arms has ever kept me from where I need to be. Goodbye.”
The woman with aviator goggles on her head was no longer standing in the center of the hall, and when the king thought to look, he saw that his daughter was gone as well.
“It’s like this,” said the man who called himself Urgas. “For generations, my people haven’t done anything but prepare for war. At the last minute, the war was cancelled, leaving me with a huge army with nothing to do and no peacetime skills worth mentioning. So we’re mercenaries. And we hear this city is in dire need of a defense.”
Glokta frowned. “This isn’t to say no, but you should be aware that if I had the money to hire mercenaries I would have done it already.”
“Oh, we’re already paid for. Wouldn’t have left home otherwise—bad practice in this line of work. We’ve got friends, you see, with deep pockets and a serious distaste for ancient wizards who don’t know how to let go of a grudge.”
“Then you’re already informed that the Prophet’s army may have, er, somewhat uncanny abilities? Not that I know how much of that to credit.”
“Indeed we are.” Urgas smiled. “Not even close to the nastiest uncanny abilities my army’s overcome.”
“Well, again, not to say no, but I know there’s some kind of catch here.”
“Yeah. Meet Silk.” Urgas waved over another, less obviously armed man. “You’re going to help him do some house-cleaning on your Inquisition.”
“Mrs. Woodhouse, I’m afraid I have bad news and worse news.”
“I was expecting bad news. Tell me that first.”
“OK: You’re not losing your mind.”
“How is that … oh. You’re telling me it’s all real.”
“But that means… my baby is some sort of…”
“No. Your baby has unusual genes that will give him—it’s a boy, yes—unusual abilities, including some that might be called supernatural. But they don’t determine who or what your child will be. That’s up to him, and you. And we can help you make sure he won’t become anything like the monster you saw in your dream. Or if you’d rather, we can find foster parents who will do the same.”
Mrs. Woodhouse blinked a few times. “Guy doesn’t have anything to say about it?”
“Well, that brings me to the worse news. The only way this can have happened is with your husband’s active participation—before, during, and since. Some of your neighbors, and your doctor, are probably in on it too. But they have been keeping you in ignorance. And what they have in mind for your son—I don’t think it’s good.”
“I suspected,” Mrs. Woodhouse said, frowning. “I didn’t want to believe it, but it all fits. The special doctor, the couple down the hall. Guy almost talked me out of listening to Elise and Joan.”
“In the circumstances, I have to recommend you leave your husband. In fact, I don’t think you should go home at all.”
“The Orb of Thessala. If memory serves, this is supposed to summon a person’s soul from the aether, store it till it can be transferred—”
“—I think that’s quite enough.” Without any warning, a second woman stepped through the door behind Ms. Calendar.
Angelus never did care to be interrupted. “Who the hell are you?” Not the Slayer, unarmed, confrontational stance, why on earth does she wear goggles on top of her head?
“A few days ago you killed a man,” said the woman, “he was in your way, you didn’t know or care who he was, and it doesn’t matter who I am either; but he was a friend of mine, and I’m not going to let you kill his niece.”
“You’re not the Slayer,” growled Angelus, “and she couldn’t stop me.”
“No, I’m not. I’m something else.”
She snapped her fingers, and just like that, Angelus vanished. The stranger caught the Orb and set it neatly back on the table.
Calendar, absurdly, found that the first words out of her mouth were “…You knew my uncle?”
“A long time ago,” said the stranger, “but quite well. Did he never mention me? Your namesake, who walks Everywhere?”
“—Yes, but I thought he was making up stories to entertain me!” Calendar frowned at her desk. “I suppose I don’t need all this now.”
“I didn’t kill him,” said her ‘namesake’, “he’s about half a kilometer straight down, embedded in the rock. Ought to hold him till you can put that spell together.”