When I was a child, messengers had arrived at my father’s palace gasping out desperate news of Dalyn’s fall. It was shocking, entirely unexpected, but at least reasonably explainable by ordinary things like armies. The messengers who had arrived later, bearing news of Shyr Valla, had been white faced, shifting on their feet with the impossibility of their news. The jewel of the Magron Mountains was just…gone. All her people and the armies arrayed at her feet vanished into thin air. No bodies. No camps. No giant hole in the ground or volcanic eruption. The entire ruling family, including crown princess A’rora Wynn, were inside the city at the time. Trinh Kegan and eight of his knights were at the edge of the valley and turned up six years later, no time at all having passed for them.
“She’s alive?” I demanded, “Is she like you?” I looked at the twins, then Eliah, who were among the time-passed knights.
“No,” said Rakov, grimly.
“She’s incorporeal,” said Quill.
“I suppose we really have only her word that she isn’t a proper ghost,” put in Eliah.
“That,” added Rae’d, “and the fact that we all saw her, and some of us have no Sight to speak of. Ghosts can’t just make you see them like that.”
Eliah huffed, “Can. Can’t. How much do we really know about ghosts?”
Quill raised a hand in a gesture of peace, “She appeared to us last time we were working near the Empire and told us that the entire city and the lost army are on the ethereal plane and have been this entire time. She has been trying to break through between the planes—and is apparently finally strong enough to do so.”
I stared at Quill. I knew very little about the planes that made up Serrifis. I knew only what was taught broadly, partly due to my focus on physical pursuits and partly due to the wars that cut short my formal education. There were several planes of existence, according to thinkers. The material world was ours, then there was the ether, which belonged to sprites and pixies and anything else that Seers saw drifting through walls, then there were heaven and hell. I remembered being told you had to pass through the ether to reach either heaven, or hell, and ghosts were people who got lost on the way. An old memory surfaced, and I bit my lip as I began to wonder.
Eliah and Quill both perked up. “You know something,” said Eliah.
“Not really,” I said slowly, “But I think I encountered her, or someone else from Shyr Valla. I didn’t understand at the time. Ayglos did, too. It’s how we realized we had some human giftings after all.”
“What happened?” prompted Quill.
“Back in Dalyn, before Tarr died…remember when the ambassador drugged me?”
He nodded, his mouth thinning to a grim line.
“Someone woke me up before the drug wore off. Slapped me and yelled until I woke up…I never saw her. I can’t even swear I heard her properly. Tarr said there were so many ghosts in Dalyn it could’ve been anyone,” I shook my head, “But Ayglos saw her. When he was pursued by the Huntsmen a golden woman was keeping watch for him, warning him when they got close…I don’t know if he would’ve made it without her help. He always thought it was Lady Tirien.”
“A’rora does look a bit golden these days,” said Rakov. “She had red hair, before.”
“It could’ve been her. We didn’t exactly have time for a long chat about her activities the past six years before she faded again,” said Quill. “But that’s why we’ve been tasked with research. To learn everything we can about the ether, and the magics that could push a city into it. And maybe pull it back out again.”
When the others left, I flopped back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling while Quill locked the door again. “You know,” I said, “You promised me private hot baths and a lot of money on this job.”
“So I did.”
“Your room is much nicer than mine,” I felt the bed shift as he came to lay down beside me again. “I’ve been waiting on someone else this entire time.”
“You got some hot bathes, didn’t you?” he said, snuggling close and planting a soft kiss on my temple.
“Yes, but I’m a princess and require lots—” my words cut off as Quill kissed the sensitive spot under my ear and I forgot language.
“You do require lots,” agreed Quill, amiably.
“What happens now?” I managed.
“Right now? Whatever you want.”
My entire body tingled, but I said, “Longer term.”
Quill propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at me, his expression serious. “If King Keleman gives us access to his library, I’ll be staying here to research for the next few months. After that, returning to the farm with whatever we find. What about you?”
Reaching up, I traced the neckline of his shirt with my fingertips. “We were headed to Cartahayna when you found us.”
He nodded. “A visit home, or do you have another job lined up?”
“Just circling back. As we do.” I chewed my lip. “Finding a way to bring Shyr Valla back could change everything.”
He nodded again.
“I’m aware of the significance.”
Staring at the stitching of Quill’s shirt, I struggled to sort through the idea that A’rora Wynn and the armies of Dalyn and Shyr Valla were in the ethereal plane. In theory, that meant that Seers would be able to see them. Which…air whooshed out of me in a soft gasp. “That’s why she killed all the Seers she could find.”
“That was our conclusion.”
“I need to tell Ayglos about this. And Namal needs to know.”
“Will he believe it?” asked Quill.
“I think so. Namal needs evidence, and likes logic, but consequently he can be persuaded. You have a lot of witnesses.”
“Yes, but these witnesses are all sworn to a man he hasn’t spoken to in years.”
Shaking my head, I said, “I don’t think he’d hold that against you under these circumstances. Such a bizarre thing to lie about.”
“So, you’re going to Cartahayna, then?” Quill’s voice was neutral, carefully so.
I looked up at his face, poignantly aware again that we were laying in his rooms, on his bed, in his clothes…That he loved me, and I loved him. That I could ride away with my brother this afternoon and not see him for months and months, and when we met again, I could leap into his arms and kiss him like I’d always wished I could.
But that didn’t mean I wanted to leave.
Besides which, if the Lost City of Shyr Valla really was in the ethereal plane, bringing it back would be a tremendous blow to the Empress who had taken so much from us. It was a blow I wanted to be a part of. I thought it wasn’t a stretch to assume my kingly brother would feel the same. Tracing the line of Quill’s lips with my fingers, I said, “Ask me to stay.”
A smile curled across his face and he bent close, whispering against my mouth, “Stay.”
Zare Caspian will return.