Chapter 84

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In the main room of the Cascadia, the four men were seated – or, for some of them, slouched – wearily by the marble bar counter. Nursing short, stiff drinks of Red Flame.

Councilman Henten Eagle-Eye had just shot Professor Jorand Stormwave – Uptown School Headmaster, husband to Camila Rosethorn, father to Chosen Shaylan Rosethorn.

Clearly, Elder Tremes Oldwoods, Priest Grisham, and Arnel Fiercewind were still trying to come to terms with it.

Henten recovered the fastest, sat upright in his stool. They needed to get their stories straight. Too much was at stake.

No music played in the room. No fire roared in the hearth. A ghostly hush covered billiard tables, couches, and dinner table. No waiters to ask what they wanted to drink or eat – it was one of their nights off. Henten and the others weren't even supposed to be here.

But, desperate measures.

Henten's voice cut across the uneasy, gloomy silence like a sharp knife. "We need to decide what we're going to say. And I have an idea."

Next to him, Arnel scoffed into his drink, "You mean decide what lies we're going to sell?"

Henten sighed, irritated. He placed both hands on the marble counter, turning to stare at the tired-looking chief of temple security.

"Arnel, unless you want Hanna to know all the creative ways in which you've been cheating on her, I suggest you shut up and let me speak."

No one said a word, Arnel included. They sipped their Red Flame with shaky hands.

"Good," Henten said, adjusting the black silk scarf about his neck. He noted there were a few blood splotches on it, and frowned. He left the accessory alone.

"Let's see . . . Jorand got excited about Leithan becoming his son-in-law," Henten offered, gesturing reasonably with his hands. "So Jorand wanted to bring him to the club, to celebrate. Then, later on, we say . . . Leithan had a bit too much to drink, and things escalated. They got into a fight. Leithan took the shot."

"Who would believe that?" Tremes asked, calmly. The Elder Priest looked toward Henten, over Arnel. "They'd sooner believe Leithan shot you. He has motive. But he has nothing against Jorand."

Henten raised his forefinger into the air. "That's it! We say he got drunk and upset, tried to shoot me because of some unresolved daddy issues, and Jorand saved my life. Got in the way, the bullet killed him instead. Jorand died a hero. I think we have our story, gentlemen. Your wife," he added, addressing Arnel, "will escort Leithan to the Black Fortress. We'll give Jorand the dignified burial he deserves."

"Veya's sake, Henten," Arnel said, anger pulling him up from his drink. "Would you listen to yourself? Unresolved daddy issues? You shot his father dead when he was ten, while the kid was there to see it. At least own up to that."

Henten drew in a calming breath. "It was established in court that it was self-defense."

"Don't give me that bullshit," Arnel snarled – maybe he'd had too much to drink.

"Get off your high fucking horse, Arnel," Henten replied, temper rising now. "I'd like to see you come home to Hanna, and find her in the arms of some Yoxai man. With the kid you thought was your own, except he has blue eyes and looks nothing like you. My wife lied to me for ten years. Ten fucking years, they lived off my money that I was making working in the capital by the king's side."

For a few moments, no one spoke. They drank, in silence. Henten regretted losing control like that, but sometimes it couldn't be helped.

"Look," Henten said, with more calm. "I'm sorry about Jorand. I truly am. But he was going to expose us. All of us."

Grisham, the youngest of the group, sat up straighter with a nod.

"So, we go with that, then. Leithan got upset, wanted to shoot you. Jorand got in the way. Do you think Hanna will give us any trouble?" he asked, to Arnel.

Arnel's eyes were veined in red. Slowly, he shook his head. "Not too much. The kids, though. Rami, Shaylan – they won't take this well."

"They're kids," Tremes said, irritation on his tone. "They'll get over it soon enough."

Henten nodded his agreement, and took a sip of his drink, glad to see that the shaking of his hand had subsided.

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