OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Gilead Haiku Odsdottir Persia

39. Investigations

ne of the first things that Tira does upon her return is confront Mistress Halifax about her identity as a sympath. The Headmistress of the Hall reveals that she has known (and by extension the Archon), since Tira was first brought to the city and probed for placement. Ningan had conjoined her to silence, for Tira's protection as he claimed. Tira asks who else might know, and pointedly refers to Grandmistress Novya. Halifax confesses that Novya has many spies and informers about the city and might have garnered the information from someone. She swears that she has told no one personally, though she has no idea to whom the Archon might have confided, if anyone.

The two leave on good terms, and Tira even mentions that they visited the city of her namesake (Halfax).

Gilead ponders what to do with the egg he has somehow inherited from Soldier Ben. Eventually he decides to donate it to the Archon's Zoo. The Zoo is home to any number of odd and unusual creatures. The zookeeper scans the egg with spirit sight, but again, whatever is inside is so unusual that it only registers as vaguely reptilian. The egg is placed for incubation and exhibit space is reserved. A plaque will be placed upon the enclosure, listing Gilead as a benefactor, should the resulting animal be display-worthy.

Hank is put to work on a great number of projects related to the "vacuum dirigible". In his spare time, he works upon Persia's house. His plan is to gradually clear and construct a finished basement.

Persia, however, finds her days unusually dull. She has made enough from the voyage to allow her to live comfortably for some time without working.

As the days pass, it quickly becomes apparent that someone has been talking. Though all members of the expedition, including those who were not present at the debriefing, were forbidden to speak of certain topics, word is all over town about "Iron John's twin", and the Demon King Arthur. The party members do their best to deny such "outrageous stories."

Gilead suffers a particularly unforeseen consequence of the leaks. A midnight visitor awakens him in his own bedchamber. Iron John has come to call upon him. The ruthless animate questions him about Viginti. Gilead is evasive and refuses to be cowed. Still, he tries to give Iron John the impression that he has told him everything he knows. His inquisitor is plainly suspicious, but decides to leave, after nearly crushing Gilead's wrist. As he leaves, he warns Gilead not to reveal his presence here, making veiled threats about his loved ones' safety. Oddly, he does not kill Gilead, an action that would fit in with his previous characterization.

Gilead spends the next day studying ways in which he might slay iron John. It is a daunting goal, but he is serious.

Hank is approached by Cinnamon upon one of his supply gathering trips. The rabbit is chafed for adventure. She wants to explore Night Folk caverns, or go find "this here Garlok feller", or anything rather than wander around the city any more. In an effort to deflect the mad rabbit, he shows her how to find Gilead. Hanks tells her, "He's rich. He has time for adventure. I have to work."

Gilead has been doing long and tedious bookwork for his grandfather. He tries to explain it to Cinnamon, but it makes her head swim. Finally, she asks him to hush a minute. Her extremely sensitive ears have picked up something interesting from the next room. Someone under the employ of Elias has failed to report in from a trip into the farmlands, and the old man is sending someone out to check up. Gilead deeply feels the need for adventure, and hasn't heard from Iron John again, so intercepts the messenger and decides to tag along. Cinnamon goes too, eager for adventure.

The name of the place they are heading is a remote farmstead called Horseshoe hill, where a half dozen large families live. They petitioned to have their barricade gate replaced several days ago. A work crew was sent out, but has not returned or reported in. As the travelers approach, they soon discover a mystery. Horseshoe Hill was a fort many years ago, and still maintains a palisade of sharpened logs, behind which the families sleep. No answer is given to their hail as they approach. The gate is repaired and closed, but there does not seem to be anyone home. Gilead and Cinnamon climb the fence and quickly discover signs of violence. The farmstead was obviously attacked. Beyond the few bodies of old or infirm, no one is to be found alive. Though things have been smashed and doors broken down, there is no clue as to what happened to the people. The gate is barred from the inside.

Eventually, they find a lone survivor. A young boy has escaped the event by diving down a well. He is able to give few facts, since he is suffering from shock and exposure, but they wrap him up and hurry him back to the city, stopping briefly to report in at the nearest fort. Here they discover that there have been a number of odd disappearances over the last few months. They have all been in fairly remote areas, but not all of them have been places that gators could easily reach. It does not seem to be the work of Garlok.

Meanwhile, Tira has been busy with a project of her own. She has been summoned to the office of Teacher Cho, who reveals that she now has the custody of the Silver Circlet. She is a premiere psychometrist and has notable discretion. She has been asked by the Archon to examine it and determine its properties. Presumably Ningan could do likewise. But he is Archon, and has neither the time to spare, nor is he in a position to assume the risk.

For similar reasons, Teacher Cho has asked Tira to help her in the examination. Tira has used the item before, and can do so while Cho reads her psyche. Thus Tira will do the initial probing and Cho will act as an observer and recorder. For this, Tira will receive some compensation.

Tira feels compelled to reveal to Cho that she is a Sympath. Cho is startled; she had no idea. This pleases Tira, who has begun to feel that it is the worst kept secret in Tallon. Cho has second thoughts, but Tira needs the money, and is frankly interested in the task. They decide that setting a goal of discovering Tira's roots would be a good task to direct their energies.

Their first attempt is less than successful. Instead of reliving her capture by gators, she finds herself experiencing a period of her life just before her discovery of Hank. She finds that she must repeat the same actions as before unless she makes a strong conscious effort to do otherwise. During the vision, she receives a slap from Shornear, the mate of Blackfang. When she and Cho emerge from the trance, they discover that Tira has the red imprint of a hand across her cheek. They are unable to determine if it was indeed Cho's hand that caused the mark, although Cho reveals that she experienced the same vision from the point of view of Shornear. They decide they need a third party to watch them, one who is not linked. Tira suggests Gilead.

In lighter news, Farallon reveals that he has begun work on fining funding and partnership for a Halfax food restaurant.