Quill pressed me back against my door and kissed me as if he could capture the words from my lips and swallow them whole. His hands moved from my face to my sides, spreading heat, making me feel delicate. I ran my hands over his chest, feeling ridge after ridge of thin throwing knives under his coat.
A pointed cough from one of the guards down the hall called us back to reality. Quill’s mouth was pinked and swollen from kissing, and it shimmered with the bronze from mine. I touched his lower lip with my forefinger. “You have paint…” I said.
He grinned, then tilted his head and surveyed me. “You have paint, too.”
Twisting, I looked down to where his hands still rested on my ribs, leaving little metallic smears on in their wake. I laughed. “How?”
He cupped my face again, “That’s how.”
Wrinkling my nose, I sighed, “I will not miss the make-up.”
“I kind of like it.” Quill swirled his thumbs across my cheeks. “It’s fun.”
I snorted. Then the guard coughed again and reluctantly we stepped away from each other. The Angari and the Terrim were both openly watching with bemused expressions. I put my hand on the doorknob. “Come in while I get cleaned up?”
He nodded, following me into the room and waiting while I closed the door and lit a lamp. “I originally came up here to get you so we could go interrogate the prisoner.”
“This won’t take long,” I replied, heading toward the bathing room. “I just need to not scandalize the entire palace.” I’d been alone with Quill thousands of times. Just, not right after baring my soul and kissing him passionately. But I ignored the bed and the walls and closed door and found a towel so I could wash my face. The cool water eased the heat in my cheeks and neck. Raising my voice to be heard in the other room I said, “You heard about the assassin I fought, I assume?”
“I did,” Quill’s voice floated from the bedroom, “Do you think the Scythe is a team of assassins, rather than one?”
“Lucius’s clothes and mask looked the same as the man I fought,” I replied. For a short time, the only sound was the gentle splashing as I finished removing the gold make up. I tried to rub it out of the coat, but I mostly managed to spread it, so the coat took a faint glimmer in the lamp light. That would have to do. I inspected myself in a mirror, deciding the faint touches of gold lingering around my eyes could stay, then wandered back into the bedroom rubbing oil into my skin. Quill was perched on the desk, staring at his boots, but he looked up when I entered. Fornern’s fists, that look. As if I were the only thing he ever wanted to look at. I tossed a clean, damp, towel to him. “For your hands.” With a casualness I did not feel I said, “The other assassin recognized me.”
Quill’s gaze sharpened.
“And his eyes were brown, but that’s really all I got beyond his truly impressive climbing ability. He scaled the palace walls like they were nothing. And…once he recognized me, he started trying to get away, rather than kill me.” I paused, mood thoroughly dampened, “Bel has brown eyes.”
“Do you think Bel Valredes is the other half of the Scythe?” asked Quill, evenly.
I finished with the oil and sat down on the bed. “I wouldn’t have thought it of him. Then again, I didn’t think he’d do anything as subversive as smuggle nymphs out of Dalyn, either.”
Quill made a skeptical noise. “People are rarely straight forward. I saw Valredes at the wedding after you switched back. If he is who you fought, he’s very smart.”
“I saw him, too,” I agreed. “We know the Scythe is very smart.”
After another silence, in which we both turned over our own thoughts, Quill said, “I think the Scythe being a two-man team makes more sense than the Empress sending two of her own lords to kill the Countess. It could too easily be blamed on her, and then she runs the risk of Angareth and Terrimbir uniting over a common enemy.”
“I agree.” How strange to be relieved we were dealing with the Scythe. I sighed. “There’s another thing, Quill. Lucius is good with faces, even if Bel didn’t tell him, he probably knows me. Back in Dalyn, he recognized Namal at the Midwinter Festival. He also apparently never did anything with that information since there aren’t detailed wanted posters for Namal everywhere.”
Arching a brow, Quill asked, “Are you saying you don’t want him rotting in a dungeon?”
“Capture is a professional hazard,” I allowed.
Quill’s brow climbed higher. “But.”
“But one good turn deserves another?” I rubbed my temples and was momentarily pleased that I could without smearing anything. “I don’t know.”
“We’re not breaking him out,” said Quill, firmly. “I came here to build an alliance with Angareth and Terrimbir, myself, and I am not going to undermine that.”
“Did you? Is that endorsed by your king? How fascinatingly proactive.”
“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell, your Highness,” he replied, unfazed by my snark.
“Perhaps there simply hasn’t been enough kissing.”
“Undoubtedly. I’m at your disposal should you wish to conduct experiments.”
“Some other time,” my lips twisted in a smirk for a breath before I made myself return to the subject at hand. “I don’t know that there is anything we can do for him. I don’t see the kings being lenient under the circumstances. Though I suppose it’s possible the Imperial Ambassador will try to help him.”
“It’s possible,” agreed Quill. “We should go talk to him now, before kings and ambassadors have a chance to do anything irreversible.”
It didn’t take long for Quill to find an off-duty guard who knew him and was willing to detour to show us to the dungeons. I could hardly be surprised that Quill had put time and effort into building rapport with the royal guards. They were his people in a way that I didn’t have people.
I’d never been anywhere near the dungeons before. We’d crossed the river to the Palace of Domes, and from there went through the palace until we came to a long windowless corridor with two guards at the end of it.
Our guide left us with a smile and an exchange of jokes with the guards on duty. Quill and I found ourselves in a dark corridor, the only light from the lantern one of the guards carried. I paused, letting my senses adjust to the dim and the smell. It was the rank of unwashed bodies and chamber pots. Stone cells with iron bars and gates lined the walkway. Several were occupied, and some of the prisoners eyed us as we passed, but it was late, and most were sleeping on pallets. I felt my senses reaching out to them and reeled them back. I didn’t wish to know what my gifting would make of their souls. The corridor turned left, and the guard stopped a few cells down. His face went white in the pale lamplight. He began to fumble with the keys.
Quill and I came alongside him just as he got the door open and rushed in. He kicked at the straw and caught up the blanket on the pallet, shaking it vigorously.
“What’s wrong?” asked Quill, his tone suggesting he knew already.
“This was his cell,” said the guard, turning in a helpless circle. “He was in here when I came on shift.”
Quill stepped in and made a quick survey of the clearly empty corners of the cell. Straw. Pallet. Chamber pot. He tapped the stones of the wall as if he’d find a hidden passage. I moved back and looked in the cells on either side, the cells across the aisle…nothing.
Quill cursed softly.
Lucius Tene was gone.