She tasted the tang, metallic and cold, heavy on her tongue. But it was wrong.
"Spirits shouldn't move through time," Cina muttered, frowning. "They don't belong inside time." And she tugged at the lines again, all tangled as dying time flowed through her fingertips—and felt something very slow, and very old, moving, grasping, reaching back at her.
"Grêve!" she cried, the startled call of a frightened sea bird. "Come next to me." She watched him from the corner of her eye, keeping sure his scarlet insignia was seen, safe. And she breathed in, searched for the fantome. Why had it sought her out? For it was silent, like all the others. The air remained unnaturally still, a stillness that seemed to contain a tension, as if the earth held its breath, waiting…waiting to exhale. Cina tilted her head to the side, listening, ready.
Cina felt it touch her, the lightest brush of a moth's wing against her cheek, her mind. Slow, musty, old; Cina tried to reach for it, back at it, what was it? But it was gone. Everything kept secrets from her now.
"Cina?" Grêve's deep timbre drew her out of herself again, and asked for reassurance.
"It's fine." She wasn't used to explaining her thoughts, or anything, to others—at least, others who were also alive. "At least for now," she added, hoping honesty might keep them safe. Grêve, however, maintained his frown, opened his mouth to say, "What is going on?"
Only it wasn't his voice that spoke.
Grêve's frown deepened as he watched Cina break into her whimsical crook of a smile at the new voice. "Venjetz!"
This was the runebender? Cina seemed to have totally forgotten the danger moments before—she'd gone to hug the runebender; Grêve saw her face in his mind, pale and small, so lost-looking, and there was nothing he could do to find her because she saw so much more than he could. He just saw her, trying to protect him.
Ignoring a sudden urge to kick at the stones, Grêve pushed his thoughts aside and listened to the conversation taking place in front of him. Cina explained their purpose as the three climbed a narrow staircase inside the clock tower, and then, haltingly, she told Venjetz about their experience in the graveyard.
Cina had turned her full attention to the clock, so for the first time, Grêve got a true look at Venjetz. He had just pictured, been so sure, this runebender would be a woman. Of similar nature and appearance to the swamp witch. After all, both his encounters had been female mystical personas. Not Nozfrith. Grêve nodded in agreement with his thoughts. No, not the necromancer. But Venjetz was nothing like Nozfrith. He was young, slim and long boned, pale as a sea plume. He looked calculating, sharp—even his hair, his eyes, white, opaque and unfeeling as marble.
"You see then, why the necromancer is so worried." Cina's voice registered through Grêve's stony appraisal of Venjetz, but she was not speaking to him.
"I don't normally have any bother with spirits. They are not willing to venture so far into time," Venjetz answered, nodding. "They tend to get lost. Something is wrong, to pull them so far out." His voice, too, carried cold, the bitter edge of a blizzard's first wind. "I'll see what I can find out, but I promise nothing." A cruel slash of smile, hard on his angular face.
Cina ran a hand absently along the rim of a broken grandfather clock. "I'm going to talk to the Siever, you know. If I can find her." At this, the runebender raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Grêve kept silent, waiting for Venjetz to start whatever it was he would do, so he and Cina could leave.
"I'll look backwards first, that's always easier." Cina nodded in agreement at the comment, so Grêve assumed it wasn't complete nonsense. "Forward—and then if I must, in between." At that, his eyes grew dusky as a fog, mysterious. "But then, the price will be extra."
Cina inclined her head with a solemn air; her auburn wisps the brightest hue in the room. She stepped back.
"I must reset the clock." Venjetz bestowed another begrudging smile to Cina, as if his muscles weren't quite used to the motion yet. And, to Grêve's surprise, he dipped him a courtly bow. But with a face as grave as death, he added, "You watch for her, soldier-boy. There are none alike."
Startled, Grêve flashed as glance at Cina, but she was already engaged in checking her many pockets, and whistling quietly, an odd jumble of notes that didn't fit. Grêve, in turn, gave Venjetz a stiff nod. This appeared to satisfy him, as he returned to his clock.
"I'll send one for your answer," Cina said suddenly, and then, to Grêve, "let's go." And, through the doorframe, "Oh. Do you have any pebbles?"
Cina had remembered something—something faint and dark and very old. Almost as though it wasn't her own memory, just given to her, a secret for a while, sitting on top of her thoughts, lingering, and inaccessible. "Old, yes…shadows and memories, very old words," she murmured as she and Grêve made their way out of Venjetz's home.
She'd played with shadows when she'd grown bored reading Nozfrith's books, and she'd rolled many a peculiar word from those books over her tongue, exploring them, tasting them. It knew many old words. So it couldn't be the shadows or words themselves that were the problem.
Grêve didn't look as though he'd like to play with shadows. He looked more like he would race with sunbeams. If he weren't so serious, Cina thought she might tell him that his skin held the glow of a summer peach, his hair reminded her of pirate gold, and his smile made her want to laugh. But as she thought of laughing, and remembered souls didn't laugh; she wondered if you could catch a laugh in a spider's web. And so forgot about Grêve until she heard him ask her something from far away. "What?"
He turned to her, haggard looking. "I said, what's your price. For Venjetz's aid? And this…Siever. Must you pay for that as well?" He sounded angry. His jaw seemed tighter than normal, his mouth a thin line. He couldn't be…for what reason?
"Oh, this and that," Cina replied airily, "a few moments of my life, or maybe stardust, my shadow. Nothing important."
For a long time, Grêve didn't answer. Then, "Oh." He sounded strange, strangled. "Nothing important. I see." And then he didn't ask any more questions. But Cina didn't notice, for she'd thought of something else.
"We should probably stop overnight. We won't reach the Zazir in time. And no one travels at night in those woods." Cina paused to check the sky before she continued. Grêve agreed with her; he felt he'd been doing a lot of that of late, and felt restless—all their traveling, and he couldn't see that they were getting anywhere. Not in distance, not in answers. Cina didn't appear worried, but who could tell what she thought.
"I believe the closest town is to the East. It's a bit out of our way, but I'm rather tired to drag the road."
Grêve looked out at the distance they would need to cover. "Cina. How to do you know this will help you? What exactly is the problem with dead being restless. They're dead."
Cina turned her odd eyes up at him. "How do we know anything will help us? We're alive."
Maybe she knew how frustrating she could be. But, as she looked at him, serious as ever, he wondered. And he shook his head in thanks that all conversations were not so trying. The sky deepened into hues of rich plum and tangerine as the pair walked. Cina offered no conversation, yet Grêve felt no awkward silence. If not for the urgency of their search, they might have felt comfortable.
"There." Cina pointed at lights ahead. She stared. "Less and less." She mumbled, and a faint frown marred her countenance. Her right hand rose, as if to grasp at something, but she let it fall—it had gotten away.
"Less and less what?" Grêve inquired, staring at her. Sometimes it felt as though she completely forgot him.
"Shadows." But she had started off toward the lights already, leaving him, and his mind, in the dark.
"Just think of when you've found her," Grêve muttered to himself, and then he too set off for town.
The town was small, smaller than most that Grêve's company had ever spent the night in, but did feature two respectable looking inns.
"It will do." Cina looked around with the same appraising glance Grêve suspected he wore, and smiled slightly. "It's lunchtime, and lunchtime frequently leads to free food."
One or two locals stopped to look at their visitors, but most simply continued on their way.
"Are you sure we have time to stop?" Grêve wanted to extract himself from the ghostly goings-on as fast as possible. However, he had a little twinge in his gut when he thought of leaving Cina in peril alone. But, he was sure she would find little problem in that.