|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Gilead||Haiku Odsdottir||Persia|
They do not hear what is said between the officer and Pilot Groder, but the man looks about as low as a human being can get. He is so ashamed that he avoids even looking at them.
On the return trip, Gilead tells Tira about his midnight visit from Iron John. He wants to kill the animate, and wants to know if she can help. She looks at him as if he is crazy. In fact she tries to dissuade him from this course, but he will not hear of it.
Instead, she deftly changes the subject and tells him of her project with Teacher Cho. Gilead is intrigued, and agrees to help. They speak much of the strange Sky Pirates they have encountered, but there is little they can actually do about it.
Back in Tallon, Persia has discovered the source of the leaks regarding their trip. She discovers Kamlak at the Wyvern's Head, boldly proclaiming their adventures to any who will listen. He speaks openly of the "Demon King Arthur", his dive from the falls of Niagara, and the "Strange Twin of Iron John."
When Persia confronts him and berates him for breaking the silence, he claims he owes no allegiance to a city of adepts, and cares nothing for the social consequences. It makes a good story, and if those in power are a little shaken up, so be it. Perhaps they need shaking up. At any rate, she won't have to worry about it much longer. He is leaving soon on a merchant ship as a mercenary guard. Nevertheless, Persia dutifully makes a report to the Archony.
Days later, Gilead and Tira are gathered in Teacher Cho's disheveled office. Cho has a habit of leaving stacks of work lying about. Nevertheless, she has cleared a space for them to perform their experiment. The last time they tried, Tira was unable to summon the same memory as before. She tries again while Cho links to her. Gilead watches on in awe, unable to do more than try and rouse them should something go wrong.
The results are totally unexpected. Tira relives a scene that she has never experienced. She is walking about in the persona of a cat beast. She seems unable to control her actions for some time; she is too deeply buried in the mind of whom she eventually realizes is Mranda, Persia's mother. Apparently, she has had a bad day and has had to resort to bribing a guard with goods of questionable ownership in order to procure the freedom of a friend. Later they discover that Cho was living through the identity of the guard.
Gilead watches as they twitch and mutter, dreaming to all appearances. Suddenly he hears the sounds of crashing and screaming. The Hall is under attack?
He quickly grabs the two in order to separate and rouse them--
--and is swept into their vision. He is a drunken merchant of some kind. He has just awoken to find that he has been robbed. Mranda is in the wrong place at the wrong time. The merchant draws on the cat and demands his money back. Mranda swings the only weapon she has at her disposal, a golden candlestick. Suddenly Tira realizes that the blow will be deadly. It will certainly cave in his skull. She exercises every ounce of will power and diverts the course of the weapon at the last possible instant.
All three instantly awaken in Cho's office. Gilead clutches his nose, which has been soundly broken. The pain is excruciating, but they can later find no sign of a weapon that could have done it.
At the moment, however, they instead are drawn by the sounds that caused Gilead to try and separate them. There is crashing, screaming and the sounds of distant explosions.
Slightly before this and across the river, another drama is taking place. Displaying once again a vast capacity for stealth, Iron John has entered Persia's house unbidden. Realizing that he will be hard pressed to actually get his hands upon the lithe cat beast, he grabs the sleeping Basarin by the throat and uses her as a threat to make Persia tell him more about Viginti. Not knowing of Gilead's encounter with the animate, she tells him a bit more than he had discovered from his first victim. This time, he seems to have no reluctance about using deadly force.
Hank inadvertently walks up at this point and opens the door on this tableau. He first attempt to leave and then realizes the danger they are all in. They all banter words for a while, as Iron John relentlessly throttles Basarin.
The poor half-breed is only saved at by a disturbance across the harbor. Apparently, the glass ship is bombing the city. It is concentrating its attack upon the Old Circle. Since this is where the Palace of his master lies, he tosses Basarin aside like a dirty rag, admonishing them not to speak of his visit. He strides quickly away, towards the disturbance.
Back at the hall, Gilead and Tira see that the great glass dome has been breached. People are walking or crawling about, injured, slashed and punctured by shards from above. There is dust and rubble and pain everywhere. Tira rushes outside to see where else has been attacked, but runs back as she sees from the corner of her eye, a creature flying down to the dome.
Inside, the wounded look up to see a beautiful female creature, golden skinned and winged deliver a sheaf of papers. They gather up copies, but it is unnecessary, since the herald of destruction voices the demands written thereon:
Helios, Most High Archangel of the Celestial City demands the following as tribute from the Merikian City of Tallon:
Failure to comply with these demands or to pay proper respect and obeisance due to the Most High will result in death and destruction of the people and buildings of Tallon. Molesting or obstructing one of the citizens or servants of the Great People will be met with stern and instant reprisal.
This has been a warning. The next action will be swift and terrible. You have until the height of the next sun to make your tribute.