The front door had warped in the damp. It rasped against the flagstones as Ilana pushed through. A bitter wind, pricked with rain, lashed the stone walls and the unkempt jungle of the garden; it moaned deep and hollow in the eaves. She found her father huddled on the dining room carpet, close to the hearthfire. He was crouched on his knees, his head bowed, his hands lifted to his face or to his throat; she couldn't see, with his hood in the way. At first Ilana thought that he was praying, and she let him be. She went out to the kitchen where the lamplight was good and, sliding her longsword from its sheath, she checked the blade for smudges. Not an hour had passed since she'd cut down some slavering meat puppet out to the east of Umbra, a towering golem sculpted from gobbets of flesh and strung haphazardly together with ropy sinew, and a bloody blade would rust quickly in this weather. The quick field job she'd done with a shred of cloth and a clump of damp dead grass had been good enough, though. The sword glinted spotless and sharp as a serpent's fang in the lamplight. She wiped it over again once, just to show her love, before sheathing it and hooking it to the rack with the others. Her father met her in the hallway with his hood lowered and his head tilted slightly back to expose his throat. Aghast, Ilana sprang backward. Someone had sliced him from ear to ear, leaving a yawning gash. She could see the amputated stubs of vein and sinew, the arteries gaping, the strings of pale and bloodless meat. The wound did not pump as a slit throat ought to, but drizzled an inky fluid; Lindae's robes were soaked with that same mockery of blood, his hands coated in it from trying in vain to hold himself closed. "Who did this?" Ilana demanded. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a tuneless whine. In the roof, the winter wind was making the same sound. Ilana heard thunder snarl somewhere off toward the alps, and longed suddenly for the fireside. Taking her incoherently wheezing father by the hand, undisturbed - after the initial shock - by the strange slick feel of his dead man's blood, she dragged him back into the dining room and pressed him forcefully into a chair. Then she fetched a pen; an inkwell; a piece of parchment; and a sewing kit. Ilana was no fine seamstress. She mended him as she would a torn tunic, closing the hole in his throat with thick black thread. By the time that she was finished, he looked like he was wearing a necklace of barbed wire. It was an ugly repair job, clumsily knotted and trailing string; but he could lift his head now, and the wound was no longer leaking, so she considered it a success. Lindae's writing style was far from succinct. He was only halfway through his letter when she packed up her needle and thread. All of the important information was there, however. Magincians, it read. Dante Lamperouge, Valek Typhoon, Lynne, Circe the bartender. Revenge for Nicholas and his slut. They tried to force a confession but I would not have it. Cut my throat anyway. Ilana looked down at her father. He gazed back up at her. His eyes were dark as raw blackrock; there was a trace of somebody else's blood in his hair, human blood drying red against the grey. "Can you talk yet?" she asked him. He tried, but nothing came out but a hiss. Obviously frustrated, he slapped the quill down on the parchment, spattering ink across the lines of spidery script. A log cracked in the fireplace. Wincing at a twinge in her back, for she was almost fifty and the rain did badly by her, Ilana straightened up. She glanced out the window, where the mist hung low and roiling white. "Finish your letter," she said to her father. "I'll send owls." * She sent four owls, out of their flock of twelve. They were handsome snow-white birds, hand-reared, well-trained; Ilana fed them black rats grown fat on barley and wild rice, and they served her well for it. Before she let each one go, she held them briefly, loving the calloused clutch of their talons on her wrist, and looked deep into their sun-gold eyes. She whispered "in lor" to them, touching them with charms so that they could see through the fog and the night - for three of them had quite a way to travel. When she released them, they hung silver-edged in the air a second and seemed to melt away into the mist. Ilana stood at the open window for a few minutes, looking out across her family's fields to where the land dropped away into the void. In the fog, it looked as though someone had simply erased the countryside and left the blank white page behind. * One owl headed south to the centre of the city. The next day, when the weather cleared, Ilana would ride down there herself. If the necrarchs did not want war, then there was nothing that the Seiren family, old and wealthy though they were, could do to change their minds. But the necrarchs would not let this matter go lightly. Of that, she was confident. Murdering a foreign noble - even one who could not be murdered, at least not by normal means - was no petty theft; it was an act of warfare. One owl headed to Dawn, and one to Magincia. They carried the same message. It was not a friendly one. The final owl also went to Magincia, but by a different route. This was no snowy Lunarian barn owl, as were the rest of its flock, but a more nondescript creature - small where its fellows were large, drab grey in colour, and barely noticeable as it winged its ungainly way across the sky. It carried a letter; a list of names; and a signed cheque. The cheque was blank. The list read, "Lynne the blacksmith; Dante Lamperouge; Valek Typhoon; Circe the Bartender; Nicholas Tarrant, should he return to us; Peter Tarrant; and the girl Maggy." The letter simply read, "To Jenny. Whatever you ask. Dead is good. Alive is better."