Haden stared at Lady Margone. “Mother?!”
“You were expecting someone else?” she asked.
“Expecting? No, that isn’t the word I’d use. Hoping, maybe. What are you doing here?”
“I came to see your father, of course,” Margone sniffed, leaning back against the couch.
“Is that so? And what are you after this time?” Haden demanded.
Lady Margone snapped her fan open in front of her face and fluttered it sharply. “That’s no way to talk to your mother,” she hissed. In the corner, Splinter took a step forward. Cerellis blinked in confusion.
“Is Haden here?” he quavered.
“Yes, darling, he’s just arrived with some . . . others.” Margone made the word sound like a pejorative term. Cerellis hauled himself upright and looked around the room until his eyes fixed on Haden, then he broke slowly into an incredulous smile. Haden clenched his teeth and shot Margone a poisonous look before making an effort to return the smile. It did not come off very well. Margone, in her turn, shifted her sneering expression to Sheen.
“My boy . . .” Cerellis said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Haden said shortly, then realized that this was a bit impolite. “Things are . . . things are actually going fairly well, for now.”
“Good,” Cerellis said, then repeated himself slowly, “good.”
“You remember my friends?” Haden essayed. “Joris, Talan, and Sheen? And this is Mal.” Mal waved a hand limply; he seemed engrossed in staring at a small jade ornament. Cerellis looked at each of them for some time.
“I . . . yes. I believe I do,” he said finally.
“I heard that you were . . . better,” Haden continued, “so I . . . we thought it might be a good idea to visit and . . . say hello. But if you’re busy, I can come back.”
“Your father and I were—“ Margone cut in.
“Enough!” Cerellis said, his elderly voice taking on a surprising tone of strength and authority. Haden and Margone both stared in shock. “I am never too busy for company.” The elder celestial levered himself to his feet and shuffled over to look at Mal. “You are fey-marked, are you not?”
“I am of those who are,” Mal said hollowly.
“Not of the Seelie Court . . . but not Unseelie either. Fascinating,” Cerellis said distantly.
“I don’t know *what’s* gotten into him,” Margone growled under her breath.
“Do you know something about the Fey, Father?” Haden ventured.
“Indeed he does,” Mal said, staring suspiciously into Cerellis’ face.
“Would it be all right for us to sit down?” Sheen asked. “It feels a bit awkward, just standing here.”
“Oh, take my seat,” Margone said, her tone vicious. “I have more important matters to attend to, since that devil-loving witch passed over my generous offer, I’m forced to look for other opportunities.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something,” Talan said stiffly.
“You know, it’s so . . . charming . . . that you all still trail along so loyally after my son. Like a pack of dogs. Come, Splinter!” She swept out of the room, her bodyguard trailing behind. Cerellis watched her with an expression of deep pain and longing on his face, an expression that Haden did not miss. It made him grimace. Sheen stared at them, bewildered, and started to sit down, but Haden grabbed her arm and nudged her into a chair.
“Better not,” he said quietly. “You don’t know where she’s been.”
“Where . . . where was I?” Cerellis said after a moment. “Ah, yes. The fey.” He sat down carefully in an armchair. Mal plopped down on the floor, like a child waiting for a story. Cerellis began to speak, his voice faltering a bit at first, but gradually gaining strength as the words came back to him.
Sheen watched Haden, saw him sigh and rub his forehead tiredly, even though he was obviously trying to listen. “Are you all right?” she whispered.
“I’m all right. I was just hoping . . .” Haden’s voice trailed off for a moment. “I’m not really sure what I was hoping. I wasn’t expecting Mother.”
“And to this day, no fiend would *dare* approach that bridge, knowing the price we paid, and would still pay, to defend it,” Cerellis finished.
“Do you remember Catriona, milord?” Joris asked. Cerellis frowned in puzzlement, then seemed to recover.
“By the Stars! Catriona! Now there’s a name I have not heard for some time. Of course I know her!”
“Is it always like that with you two?” Sheen whispered to Haden. “You and your mother, I mean.”
“It used to be worse,” Haden said dully, “but now that I’m old enough to have some autonomy she’s been reduced to impotent sniping.”
“We saw Catriona in Arvandor,” Joris was saying. “She sends her love.”
“Does she, now,” Cerellis murmured. He smiled distantly. Sheen glanced at Haden’s face, and saw that he, too, was smiling slightly.
“You admire him, don’t you?” she asked.
“Well . . . yes, I suppose I do. He *is* a hero, after all. And he tells wonderful stories. I just never understood how he could get involved with someone like Mother.”
“I kind of wondered a bit about that myself,” Joris murmured, “given my own, ah, situation.”
“Love chooses who it will,” Talan said.
Cerellis reached out and grabbed Haden’s shoulder suddenly, winking. “You know, son, Catriona had feelings for your grandfather . . . had she not been sworn to another, our family might have been rather different! Indeed, her consort was the one that Vaeros and your grandfather went to rescue from the Abyss in the first place!”
“Um, I don’t think I’d have made much of a celestial, Father,” Haden joked weakly.
“Ohh,” Cerellis said, waving a hand in front of his face sharply. “Give it time, son. Give it time.”
“Wait,” Mal said to Talan. “That’s Haden’s father?”
Talan blinked at the elven wizard in shock. “Yes. You only realized that now?” Mal shrugged.
Haden cleared his throat. “I did actually want to ask you about something, Father. If you don’t mind.”
“Of course, my boy.”
“The five of us have been adventuring together, and it’s become a bit . . . awkward for us to stay in public inns. Our business has gotten kind of involved.”
“Oh?” Cerellis said.
“Yes,” Haden explained. “I thought I remembered that we, er, you own several townhouses, and I was wondering if there’s one available we could . . . borrow for a while.”
“Oh! Certainly. Certainly!” Cerellis said cheerfully. “Come, let’s adjourn to the study, this way . . .” he rose creakily to his feet once more and shuffled slowly out of the parlor and down the hall, to the study they’d seen on their last visit. A huge map of Sigil hung on the wall. Cerellis sat down at the desk and pulled one of the drawers out: it was full of dozens of keys. “Now let me see . . .” he said, moving his finger over the drawer.
Haden stalked around the room uneasily, looking at the map and examining the books on the walls without really seeing them.
“I have a house in Swordhold, at the edge of the Lady’s Ward,” Cerellis said eventually. “But it’s close to the Foundry, which is, well, it’s smelly.”
“I think that would be wonderful, Father. Thank you. Besides, Sheen’s a metal-worker by trade, it won’t bother her any.”
“That’s not far from my place, either,” Joris added.
“I have my own place, though!” Sheen asserted, a bit too late. Haden blinked at her, then he flushed slightly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply—“
“No, no, it’s okay!” Sheen babbled desperately.
“I thought the point of this was that we needed to move from our known places of residence,” Talan said.
“Um, I think it’s more that the inn is just too public,” Haden averred. “Too many people in and out all the time.”
“I may have something else, if you’d rather?” Cerellis asked, clearly confused by the rapid-fire conversation taking place around him.
“No, of course not,” Haden said. “I really appreciate this, Father.”
“It’s the least I can do for you, son.” The old celestial pulled a ring of keys out of the drawer, but his hands trembled and he dropped it onto the carpet. “Oh . . .” he started, frustrated.
Haden ducked and grabbed the keys, handing him back to Cerellis in a single smooth motion. “Maybe you should get some rest?” the bard suggested.
“I . . .yes. I think it must be that time,” Cerellis said. He passed the keys back to Haden. “It’s the brass one with the interwoven swans, there.”
Haden smiled sadly and patted his father on the back. “Thank you.”
“No, thank *you*, son.”
“We should . . . we should probably head out . . . make sure Yolette’s all right . . .” Sheen murmured.
“Right,” Joris said. “Right.” Talan sniffed and passed a hand over his eyes.
“Yes, I want to have words with that Tulio fellow,” Haden said. He took a deep breath. “We interrupted a bit of a robbery earlier today, you know. Nothing important, but it’s probably better to follow up on that sort of thing. Um.”
“That’s nice,” Cerellis said. “I’ll just be off to bed, then.” Haden’s hands twisted the keys as he stared at the floor. Cerellis braced himself on the chair arms and stood with effort.
“Good night, Father,” Haden whispered.
“Yes, good night,” Cerellis said. He glanced around the room. “Take care of my boy, won’t you?”
“I think he takes care of us, more,” Sheen said gently.
Haden snorted, but it sounded more like a sniffle than an expression of disbelief. “Oh, come on,” he said thickly.
“I believe it,” Cerellis said, reaching out and plucking hesitantly at Haden’s sleeve. Very slowly, the bard detached one of his hands from the keys and extended his arm. Cerellis wrapped his arms around Haden’s shoulders and gripped him tightly. “Take care of each other, then.” He turned slowly and shuffled off to bed.
Haden took several deep breaths, trying to regain his composure, and stared at the wall for a while. “I need a drink,” he said finally.
“We, ah, passed the Black Sail on the way here,” Joris said as they all began filing towards the doors. Haden stuffed his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders, staring at the street as he walked, lost in thought.
Sheen glanced at Joris. “I don’t know how much this helps, but I don’t think your situation with Kalisa is really parallel to Haden’s,” she said.
“No?” Joris said, relief evident in his voice.
“No,” Sheen said. “I’m not completely sure why, but she just doesn’t strike me quite the same way that Margone does. If Margone were after you, she’d make sure she left you no options, and she’d gloat over your helplessness every step of the way. Kalisa seems to have gone to a lot of effort to leave matters up to you.”
“That was my first time actually meeting Her Ladyship,” Joris said, and gave a mock shiver.
“Fun, isn’t she?” Sheen said. “I know she’s being nasty, but both times I couldn’t think of a thing to say.”
“I can’t imagine why Hexla wouldn’t want to do business with such a generous dame,” Talan said sarcastically. “She probably got drawn in before she knew what a self serving . . . Margone she is. But she pulled out in time, that’s good, right?”
“Maybe,” Sheen said, “but she has Margone’s attention now. That can’t be good.”
“Mmph,” Talan said. “You’re probably right.”
“Well, so do we,” Joris added.
“Yes, but we are more independent,” Sheen said. “There has to be something we can do to help Hexla so she doesn’t have to get involved in this kind of thing any more.”
Talan smiled and nodded. They walked into the Black Sail. Haden smiled at Salja and asked for a table. The tiefling’s face lit up and she hauled some drunk out of a seat, swiped the table clean in a twinkling, and corralled five chairs for them.
“I knew you’d be comin’ back through that door,” she said happily. “Now what’ll it be?”
“A bottle of wine, and some of whatever you’re serving for dinner,” Haden said. Joris raised an eyebrow at the bard skeptically. “I said I needed a drink,” Haden added with some asperity, “not that I was going to get drunk. Facing Sheen’s temper with a hangover is not an experience I care to repeat.” Sheen scowled.
“I’ll drink to that,” Joris said.
“Is that the house just across the street, there?” Talan asked after a minute or two. The building looked solid, but every inch of it was covered in soot, or razorvine, or sooty razorvine.
“It looks like it could use some work,” Sheen remarked.
“So could the whole ward, for that matter,” Talan opined.
“It’ll give us something to do while we’re waiting for the next development, anyway,” Sheen said. “Someone’s going to turn up looking for that rock.”
“Yes,” Haden said. “Mal, isn’t there anything you can tell us about why you’re here?”
“I wish I could,” Mal said quietly. “I know not even what she wishes done with the Eye.”
“You don’t know, or you can’t remember?” Sheen asked.
“I do not even know if I ever knew,” Mal said.
“It’s terrible not to know what’s going on inside your own head,” Sheen offered, just as Talan shot the elf an exasperated look. Mal glared at him.
“DO YOU THINK I CHOOSE THIS, TALAN?!” he exploded. The bar instantly went quiet. Talan winced.
“Well, no, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s really very frustrating,” the ranger said.
Mal stared around the bar. “WHAT?!” he demanded. Everyone very quickly turned their eyes away.
“Settle down, friend,” Haden advised. “What can we do to help you?”
Mal lowered his head. “I’m sorry,” he said in a subdued voice and stared at his clasped hands. “I can do nothing. We wait. Her desires will become manifest when she wills.”
“Maybe it’ll come back to you,” Joris said carefully.
“I find it helps to keep busy,” Sheen said. “It keeps you from losing your mind, anyway.”
“Sometimes I start to feel closed in . . . when I’m around too many people, meditation helps.”
“You need to shack up with some books and find out more about the Eye,” Haden said.
“We have the Tome of Knowledge I took from that Baltazo creature,” Mal said. He pushed his plate and glass away and stood, tossing a few coins onto the table.
“Let’s go see the house,” Haden suggested. “It should be quieter than Chirper’s, anyway.” They left the common room, passing the bar. Mal swiveled to look at the huge bar mirror, then abruptly climbed over the bar and pressed his face to the glass.
“Oi!” Salja called, startled.
“Why?” Mal whispered. “Why do you do this? What penance do I pay? What crime bought me this sentence?!” He pounded on the glass with a gauntleted fist, cracks spreading. “WHO ARE YOU?!” the elf bellowed. The glass gave way and rained down around him. Sheen grabbed his shirt.
“Mal, come on Mal, you’re making a scene!” she hissed.
“I’m sorry! Please, I’m sorry!” Mal pleaded, grasping at the shards of glass.
“Mal, come down before you cut yourself!” Sheen insisted. Mal let her help him down from the bar, sobbing weakly and mumbling.
“Come on, let’s get you home,” Joris said, taking the wizard’s other arm.
Haden looked at Salja, who was incoherent with fury. “I’m sorry about that. We’ll pay for the damages, of course.”
“Glad to hear it!” Salja said coldly.
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