Chapter 11

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"The Boekhandel's are broke, Ria." Mal pulled her legs in, resting her arms atop her knees while her head thumped against the headboard. "Today, when I was hitching Gray Dawn outside the shop, I overheard Ulris and his mother arguing. They lost a cargo ship."

"That's who that man from the city was," Ria gasped, finally putting the pieces together. Insurance brokers weren't common in Sors, but Bastian dealt with enough of them in London before the fires.

Mal nodded, picking absently at the quilt under her. "Apparently, they were betting a lot on that ship, and they gambled poorly. Madame Boekhandel said she lost contracts, deeds, land grants...I can only imagine how much loose coin was also on board."

Oh. Oh...that was news. Finding the room growing a bit too bright, Ria sat back down on the end of the bed, absorbing this new bit of information and how it fit into the sense of chaotic change about to befall her family.

"That could be...beneficial for us," she ventured, careful where she placed her words and the hope that came along with it.

"I thought the same thing," Mal admitted. "With our contract gone, we might be free, but we're not. We never will be because even if our contract sank to the bottom of the sea, Madame Boekhandel has one key piece of leverage keeping us chained here."

Neither had to speak it aloud. Downstairs, plants began to shiver in their pots, reacting to the rage and despair welling in Ria like a storm cloud.

"Which puts us in a very precarious situation." Mal extended her legs and reached for the coins, scooping them back into the bag and synching the laces tight. Then she handed the whole bundle to her sister, expression grim. "Desperate rich people are dangerous creatures. They're like starving animals, attacking and eating anything just to fill their bellies and continue their way of life. Get in their way and you're only so much meat. If the Boekhandels have reached that point, if they truly have lost enough to worry Madame Boekhandel, we're in more danger than anyone in Sors. I imagine the Hunstmen would pay handsomely for our heads, so I want you to take this money and get us safe passage away from this godawful country."

All at once, the earth and every star yoked around the planet stopped moving. Ria sat stock still, watching her sister with widening eyes, cheeks leeched of color. It took a few moments for her to find the use of her tongue again.

"Mal, have...have you gone absolutely insane?" she gaped, eyes darting between the coin purse and her sister in numb disbelief. Settling shock was enough to move her to standing and then to pacing almost in the same breath. "Safe passage? To where? From where? Sors is our home as much as I hate it. It's all we have!"

"All we have here is a grave, Ria! We have a short existence before we're starved to death by a woman who wants nothing more than to see us hang because of something we can't control. Or that same woman will sell information about our whereabouts to the Huntsmen and then parcels off our land to make back the money she lost at sea. Either way, we lose by staying here."

"And where are we going to go? Papa's mythical Haven City?" Ria scoffed, fear making her equal parts angry and resentful. "Do we even know if it still exists? Or have the Huntsmen taken it too?"

"Breakwater City still stands."

"How do you know?"

"I've been in contact with their head Green Witch." 

The admission blew past Ria like an explosion, sucking the air out of the room. All she could manage was a barely audible, "What?"

"Her name is Sybil. She knew Mama before London burned. I'm sorry, I should have told you sooner. It's been getting harder and harder to speak with her via letter, but I last heard from her three months ago. We've been trying to coordinate our escape, handling it gently, but I think the time for caution has passed."

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