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"And you think it's just coincidence? Someone sneaks into one of our palaces now, with the war approaching?"
"And the intruder just happened to pick one of the four Returned who hold Lifeless access Commands? If I were going to go to war with Hallandren, the first thing I'd do would be try to search out those commands. Maybe see if they were written down anywhere, or perhaps try to kill the gods who held them."
Lightsong glanced back at the palace. Blushweaver's arguments held some merit, but they weren't enough. He had an odd impulse to look into this more deeply. However, that sounded like work. He really couldn't afford to make an exception to his usual habits, particularly without a lot of complaining first. It set a poor precedent. So he just nodded his head, and Blushweaver led them back to the pavilion.
"Dear," Blushweaver said, quickly sitting back beside Mercystar and looking a little bit more anxious. She leaned in. "We've talked it over and decided to trust you."
Mercystar sat up. "Trust me? With what?"
"Knowledge," Blushweaver whispered. "There are those of us who fear that the Idrians aren't content with their mountains and are determined to control the lowlands as well."
"But we'll be joined by blood," Mercystar said. "There will be a Hallandren God King with royal blood on our throne."
"Oh?" Blushweaver said. "And could that not also be interpreted as an Idrian king with Hallandren blood on the throne?"
Mercystar wavered. Then, oddly, she glanced at Lightsong. "Do you believe this?"
Why did people look toward him? He did everything to discourage such behavior, but they still tended to act like he was some kind of moral authority. "I think that some . . . preparation would be wise," he said. "Though, of course, the same can be said for dinner."
Blushweaver gave him an annoyed look, though by the time she looked back at Mercystar, she had her consoling face on again. "We understand that you've had a difficult day," she said. "But please, consider our offer. We would like you to join with us in our precautions."
"What kind of precautions are you talking about?" Mercystar asked.
"Simple ones," Blushweaver said quickly. "Thinking, talking, planning. Eventually, if we think we have enough evidence, we will bring what we know to the God King."
This seemed to ease Mercystar's mind. She nodded. "Yes, I can see. Preparation. It would be wise."
"Rest now, dear," Blushweaver said, rising and leading Lightsong away from the pavilion. They walked leisurely across the perfect lawn back toward Blushweaver's own palace. He felt a reluctance to go, however. Something about the meeting bothered him.
"She's a dear," Blushweaver said, smiling.
"You just say that because she's so easy to manipulate."
"Of course," Blushweaver said. "I positively love people who do as they should. 'Should' being defined as whatever I think is best."
"At least you're open about it," Lightsong said.
"To you, my dear, I'm as easy to read as a book."
He snorted. "Maybe one that hasn't been translated to Hallandren yet."
"You just say that because you've never really tried reading me," she said, smiling at him. "Though, I must say that there is one thing about dear Mercystar that positively annoys me."
"And that is?"
"Her armies," Blushweaver said, folding her arms. "Why did she, goddess of kindness, get command of ten thousand Lifeless? It's obviously a dire error in judgment. Particularly since I don't have command of any troops."
"Blushweaver," he said with amusement, "you're the goddess of honesty, communication, and interpersonal relationships. Why in the world would you be given stewardship of armies?"
"There are many interpersonal relationships related to armies," she said. "After all, what do you call one man hitting another with a sword? That's interpersonal."
"Quite so," Lightsong said, glancing back at Mercystar's pavilion.
"Now," Blushweaver said, "I should think that you'd appreciate my arguments, since relationships are, in fact, war. As is clear in our relationship, dear Lightsong. We . . ." She trailed off, then poked him in the shoulder. "Lightsong? Pay attention to me!"
She folded her arms petulantly. "I must say, your banter has been decidedly off today. I may just have to find someone else to play with."
"Hum, yes," he said, studying Mercystar's palace. "Tragic. Now, the break-in at Mercystar's. It was just one person?"
"Supposedly," Blushweaver said. "It's not important."
"Was anyone injured?"
"A couple of servants," Blushweaver said with a wave of the hand. "One was found dead, I believe. You should be paying attention to me, not that-"
Lightsong froze. "Someone was killed?"
She shrugged. "So they say."
He turned around. "I'm going to go back and talk to her some more."
"Fine," Blushweaver snapped. "But you'll do it without me. I have gardens to enjoy."
"All right," Lightsong said, already turning away. "I'll talk to you later." Blushweaver let out a huff of indignation, her hands on her hips, watching him go. Lightsong ignored her irritation, however, more focused on . . .
What? So some servants had been hurt. It wasn't his place to be involved in criminal disturbances. And yet, he walked straight to Mercystar's pavilion again, his servants and priests trailing behind, as ever.
She was still reclining on her couch. "Lightsong?" she asked with a frown.
"I returned because I just heard that one of your servants was killed in the attack."
"Ah, yes," she said. "The poor man. What a terrible occurrence. I'm sure he's found his blessings in heaven."
"Funny, how they're always in the last place you consider looking," Lightsong said. "Tell me, how did the murder happen?"
"It's very odd, actually," she said. "The two guards at the door were knocked unconscious. The intruder was discovered by four of my servants who were walking through the service hallway. He fought them, knocked out one, killed another, and two escaped."
"How was the man killed?"
Mercystar sighed. "I really don't know," she said with a wave of the hand. "My priests can tell you. I fear I was too traumatized to take in the details."
"It would be all right if I talked to them?"
"If you must," Mercystar said. "Have I mentioned exactly how thoroughly out of sorts I am? One would think that you'd prefer to stay and comfort me."
"My dear Mercystar," he said. "If you know anything of me, then you will realize that leaving you alone is by far the best comfort I can offer."
She frowned, looking up.
"It was a joke, my dear," he said. "I am, unfortunately, quite bad at them. Scoot, you coming?"
Llarimar, who stood-as always-with the rest of the priests, looked toward him. "Your Grace?"
"No need to upset the others any further," Lightsong said. "I think that you and I alone will be sufficient for this exercise."
"As you command, Your Grace," Llarimar said. Once again, Lightsong's servants found themselves separated from their god. They clustered uncertainly on the grass-like a group of children abandoned by their parents.
"What is this about, Your Grace?" Llarimar asked quietly as they walked up to the palace.
"I honestly have no idea," Lightsong said. "I just feel that there's something odd going on here. The break-in. The death of that man. Something is wrong."
Llarimar looked at him, a strange expression on his face.
"What?" Lightsong asked.
"It is nothing, Your Grace," Llarimar finally said. "This is just a very uncharacteristic of you."
"I know," Lightsong said, feeling confident about the decision nonetheless. "I honestly can't say what prompted it. Curiosity, I guess."
"Curiosity that outweighs your desire to avoid doing . . . well, anything at all?"
Lightsong shrugged. He felt energized as he walked into the palace. His normal lethargy retreated, and instead he felt excitement. It was almost familiar. He found a group of priests chatting inside the servants' corridor. Lightsong walked right up to them, and they turned to regard him with shock.
"Ah, good," Lightsong said. "I assume you can tell me more of this break-in?"
"Your Grace," one said as all three bowed their heads. "I assure you, we have everything under control. There is no danger to you or your people."
"Yes, yes," Lightsong said, looking over the corridor. "Is this where the man was killed, then?"
They glanced at one another. "Over there," one of them said reluctantly, pointing to a turn in the hallway.
"Wonderful. Accompany me, if you please." Lightsong walked up to the indicated section. A group of workers were removing the boards from the floor, probably to be replaced. Bloodstained wood, no matter how well cleaned, would not do for a goddess's home.
"Hum," Lightsong said. "Looks messy. How did it happen?"
"We aren't sure, Your Grace," said one of the priests. "The intruder knocked the men at the doorway unconscious, but did not otherwise harm them."
"Yes, Mercystar mentioned that," Lightsong said. "But then he fought with four of the servants?"
"Well, 'fought' isn't quite the right word," the priest said, sighing. Though Lightsong wasn't their god, he was a god. They were bound by oath to answer his questions.
"He immobilized one of them with an Awakened rope," the priest continued. "Then, while one remained behind to delay the intruder, the other two ran for aid. The intruder quickly knocked the remaining man unconscious. At that time, the one who had been tied up was still alive." The priest glanced at his colleagues. "When help finally came-delayed by a Lifeless animal that was causing confusion-they found the second man still unconscious. The first, still tied up, was dead. Stabbed through the heart with a dueling blade."
Lightsong nodded, kneeling beside the broken boards. The servants who had been working there bowed their heads and retreated. He wasn't certain what he expected to find. The floor had been scrubbed clean, then torn apart. However, there was a strange patch a short distance away. He walked over and knelt, inspecting it more closely. Completely devoid of color, he thought. He looked up, focusing on the priests. "An Awakener, you say?"

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