Well, that made sense… sort of. The first part certainly did. Of course Miss Lewton would have noticed such a startling resemblance between Dash and Kira, and she could easily have seen Dash when she paid her visit. What didn’t make quite so much sense was the conclusion Panterras had drawn. In Uluki’s whole life, she had never met anybody— besides Zee and Dash, obviously— created to be a magical soldier. It just seemed a very uncommon thing. It didn’t seem very reasonable that upon seeing unusual physical features in their daughters, Panterras would immediately leap to the correct conclusion about where they had come from. How did Panterras know that was even a possibility if he’d had no involvement in things? It appeared an absurd guess, even though it happened to be true. Even if the girls’ similar appearance was a coincidence, Panterras had too much information. Uluki suddenly felt chilled, not from her hurt feelings of before, but because it now seemed her children were in danger.
Dash and Zee’s origins were not well known even among their friends at the compound. Aorle, Julen, and Thetta had been told, and Dash had probably told Kaydee, but those people were absolutely trustworthy. There was no chance Panterras had found out from any of them. So how had
he found out?
Apparently Rollick was thinking along the same lines. “Really, Barmitheon? Do you often draw the conclusion that people’s adopted children are magically enhanced soldiers, or just in our case?”
Panterras scowled at him. “They have horns and wings, in case you didn’t notice.”
“I did. Funnily enough, Zee isn’t the first person we’ve met with horns, is she? Yet you didn’t make that assumption last time.”
Panterras suddenly felt boxed in. Damn, he’d forgotten about Mara, and Rollick was right, he hadn’t claimed anything like that about her. He had no real answer for that, so he turned defensive. “And you didn’t formerly behave in such a hostile manner. We were being quite civil to each other. Why do you insist on breaking our rapport?”
“You’ve been spying on our children, and I want to know how and why.” Rollick still sounded calm, but his tone was deadly serious.
Panterras desperately wanted to scoff at Rollick’s belief that his children were the important ones, but that would only cause further trouble. “Miss Lewton explained to you…”
“She explained her part of things, yes. Yours remains a subject of concern.” Rollick was actually puzzled why Miss Lewton would apparently consider the idea of magical soldiers so… well… commonplace, but he wasn’t sure where that fit in, if at all. “If you provide some sort of plausible explanation for how you knew, I’d let the matter go.”
Panterras grasped wildly. “Uluki told me.”
Rollick made a disbelieving sound. “No, I said a plausible
explanation. You haven’t seen her in ten years, and in case you failed to notice— as I suspect you did given your treatment of her in front of me— I have been here the whole time. I know everything she said, because I heard it for myself. She didn’t say that.”
“Not now, no…” Panterras managed an almost genuine look of contrition. “Rollick, I’m so very sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I resisted temptation as long as I could, but… gods, she’s relentless when she wants a man. I wasn’t strong enough to avoid falling prey to her charms. On her part, I have no illusions about whether I am an attractive man, but my title, money, and influence were more than sufficient to spark her… desire. I’ve been sleeping with Uluki for weeks now. I can only apologize humbly for...”
That was all he managed to get out before Rollick punched him, the strong fist connecting sharply with his face. The two Lightswords moved instantly to stand on either side of Rollick, not interfering but making it clear they would not hesitate to become involved.
Panterras was, if anything, pleased. “I know you must feel hurt and betrayed that she…”
“Hurt and betrayed, yes. Because of Uluki? Gods, no. I feel hurt and betrayed that a man who was once
my friend is telling such despicable lies about my wife. Consider that a warning.”
“Lies?” Panterras laughed, made doubly unpleasant by his split lip. “She has a hell of a scar down her front, doesn’t she? All the way to her hip. I can tell you where all her scars are. She likes to be held, after. Gods, she’s clingy, isn’t she? She always likes to cuddle when we’re in bed. Likes me to call her ‘dear one’…”
Rollick punched him again. “You don’t have any idea what the hell you’re talking about.”
Panterras put a hand to his mouth. “Don’t I? And where’s your proof I’m wrong?”
“I don’t need any. I know her.”
her. I don’t claim to understand how you’ve found out all these things about my family, and I suspect when I find out I shall be even angrier, but I can say with absolute certainty that you’ve never touched her.”
“And I can say with absolute certainty you have my daughter. You’re as much of a liar as I am.”
“Maybe if you’d taken better care of her, she’d still be here.”
“Perhaps. And how good is the care you take of your own daughters, I wonder? It would be such a shame if sweet Zee or lovely Dash should come to grief in some tragic accident…”
At that moment, several things happened at once. Rollick drew his sword and lunged at Panterras, the Lightswords also drew their weapons and joined him to surround the man, Uluki watched in complete astonishment… and Panterras disappeared.
Rollick sighed as he slid his sword back into its sheath. “Did I mention that he teleports?” And of course, there was no way for them to track or follow him.
“This wasn’t how I imagined tonight turning out,” Uluki said, a huge understatement. “But at least… now we know.” She wrapped her arms around Rollick and buried her face in his chest. She wasn’t crying, just trying to express her deep, deep, sympathy.
“Yes, now we know,” Rollick said a little heavily, wrapping his arms around her, accepting her comfort gratefully. After a moment he gently released her and turned to Miss Lewton. “I’m so sorry to bring violence into your home. You have my apologies about that. We’ll… leave now.”
There didn’t seem to be anything more they could do, so they made their way out. Rollick took Uluki’s hand, squeezing it lovingly. “Thanks… sorry…” Uluki murmured to Miss Lewton as she slipped out the door.
Out on the street, Uluki started shaking, the tension she had been holding inside finally needing release. Rollick wrapped an arm around her. “I’m sorry, Rollick. I’m so sorry I ruined things.”
“There’s no need to apologize, dear one. This wasn’t your fault by any stretch of the imagination.”
“If I hadn’t been here…”
“You don’t have to apologize for existing. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t cause this. It’s probably better this way anyway.”
Merohl’s attention was focused on the house next door to the one they’d just left. “That’s the house he came out of. If you wanted, we could break down the door and see what he’s hiding. I know you may not want to, since he’s your friend, but…”
my friend,” Rollick corrected. “Yes, please do it.” Merohl did so in an efficient and yet amazingly unobtrusive way, and the four of them went inside.
Rollick and Uluki searched the main room while the two warriors tackled the bedroom door, which was surprisingly rather well reinforced. Rollick took out some of his frustrations on the desk drawer locks and began to go through the contents. There was little of interest, except…
Rollick found the log book and flipped a few pages, then looked like he was going to be sick. “Gods, I can’t even stand to read this. He’s a monster. He was the one who hurt Kira.” Uluki took the book out of her husband’s hands, read an entry or two, and her own stomach turned. Such horrific abuse recorded in a clinical, disinterested hand; the vivid and methodical description of his acts and their painful aftermath penned in obsessive detail. It made her heart ache. At least now they had their proof. Cold comfort.
Merohl and Metellus had the bedroom door open now and called to them, and they went to join the two men. The room was quite bare of furnishings, but full of various types of strange and obscure scientific apparatus, as well as jars and bottles of strange liquids.
“Do you have any idea what all this is?” Metellus asked doubtfully.
“Not a clue,” Rollick answered with perfect honesty. “We should smash it. All of it. Otherwise he might use it to hurt someone else. We found his records. He wasn’t up to anything good. I don’t want this equipment to fall back into his hands. It isn’t suitable for looting because though it could probably fetch a price, it could end up with someone just as unscrupulous. So… we smash it.”
The warriors accepted this and set to work, and even Uluki joined them, breaking bottles by throwing them against the wall. She hadn’t realized how angry she was at Panterras until that moment. He had threatened their daughters! He had tortured Kira! When the jars and bottles were gone, she wished there were more.
There seemed nothing more to find or do. Uluki looked around to see if Kira had any possessions they could bring back to her, but didn’t see anything that appeared it would belong to a young girl. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any personal items at all. Uluki suspected that although the room had a mattress, Panterras slept elsewhere, though his notes suggested he’d left Kira locked up here.
Rollick took the log book with him, though he seemed to find the mere presence of it upsetting. Uluki understood both the revulsion and the need to bring along the proof. Rollick would have to kill the man who was once his closest friend, and Uluki knew her husband too well to think he would take that lightly.
They stepped back outside, and Uluki took Rollick’s hand again. “I love you so much,” she said, the only comfort she could think of to offer.
“I love you too, dear one,” he replied quietly.