The old spice market of Tiraas was as rich in history as in smells. Originally a fortress of an old style like an inverted pyramid, the huge, almost cubic structure was ringed by thick walls, which at their base were wide enough to take up three quarters of the grounds, leaving only a relatively smaller open space in the center, which had once served as a parade ground and now was the main trading floor of the market. Each level of the walls narrowed and climbed outward as they rose, so that the structure which seemed perfectly square from without opened progressively toward the top on its inside, till the uppermost level was only a narrow path along the peak of the crenelated wall. Rooms that had once served as barracks, mess halls and armories were now shops, moneylending stalls, storerooms and private meeting areas.
And until ten years ago, the whole thing had been clenched in the iron fist of the Thieves’ Guild.
The Guild’s control had come about piecemeal and not really by design, through a sequence of events that saw them increasingly use the old spice market as a meeting ground, while also having to establish longer-term relationships than they normally liked with some merchant houses in order to recoup certain unwisely incurred debts. Bit by bit these things added up over nearly a century, until a cut of every major shipment of spices that passed through Tiraas went to line the coffers of the Guild. And spices were just like everything else: all roads led to, or through, Tiraas. It was an absurdly lucrative business, and once they had their hands on it, the Guild took full advantage.
Eventually, the cult of Verniselle lost patience with this encroachment into what they saw as their domain. An unprecedented joint campaign between the Vernisites and the Sisters of Avei saw the Guild pushed forcibly out of the spice market, through a combination of backroom financial manipulations and the insistent presence of Silver Legionnaires. At the height of the ensuing cold war, women in bronze armor made one of every three people in the old spice market at any time, and the bankers were so heavily leaning on the Thieves’ Guild’s assets that even the Imperial Casino suffered a severe drop in profits.
The unlikely alliance prevailed, in the end, liberating the spice trade of the entire continent from Eserite control, but the Guild extracted its pound of flesh.
There was an entrance into the old fort on each side, smaller ones to the north and south, but it had huge gates on its eastern and western sides. The building actually stood astride the main thoroughfare between the eastern gate of the city and Imperial Square; the path through the old spice market could not be missed. One morning, an ancient sword appeared thrust point-down into the capstone of its western arch, with a series of golden hoops and chains entangled around its blade. More to the point, they were entwined with powerful enchantments binding them to the arch itself—if removed, the entire gate, and possibly half the fortress, would collapse.
The odd-looking tangle of gold was the Links of Verniselle, similar in design and purpose to a metal blacksmith’s puzzle—but made by the goddess of money herself, and given to her mortal followers to be used in their rituals. The sword, a unique bastard sword unlike the leaf-bladed short swords favored by the Silver Legions, had been the weapon of Tathryn Alindivar, a Hand of Avei who had had a particularly illustrious career a thousand years ago. Quite apart from the fact that these artifacts had been secured deep in the vaults of their respective temples, it should have been impossible for any outsiders even to handle them without incurring the wrath of their goddesses. And yet, there they were, not only worked into the fortress but so inundated by arcane magic that their ancient blessings had been completely burned away.
It took furious behind-the-scenes effort by the Universal Church, as well as the Imperial government and the cults of Izara and Omnu, to prevent a full-scale crusade from erupting in the streets of Tiraas. In the end, though, the three cults involved retreated, unwilling to pursue the matter to its disastrous ultimate conclusion. The bankers of Verniselle freed a lucrative market for themselves, the Sisters of Avei asserted that criminal control of any part of the city would not be tolerated, and the Thieves’ Guild demonstrated that they were not to be crossed with impunity—by anyone. All benefited, but nobody won, and nobody was happy.
But nobody dared try to remove the sword, and the Imperial Surveyors quickly determined the enchantment holding the two artifacts to the archway was stable and not a danger unless tampered with, even classifying it as a bolstering of the old structure. Not long after, the Emperor proclaimed it a national monument, and that was pretty much that.
“Thanks for the history lesson,” Merry said dryly.
“I thought it was fascinating,” said Casey.
“It is!” Farah enthused. “History is always fascinating. When you meet someone who says they hate history, you know they had a terrible teacher at some point who made them memorize a bunch of names and dates without any context. It’s the stories, the people that make it so interesting! And especially in the way you can see how those events worked together to create the world we live in now. It’s absolutely amazing!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so passionate about anything,” Ephanie noted with a smile.
“I wasn’t telling you the story just to pass the time, though,” Farah said, her expression growing more severe as she turned back to Principia. “There was a point to all that. Reminding any mixed group of Avenists and Eserites about the whole debacle is a great way to start a fight. And yet, here we are, five Silver Legionnaires in armor, meeting a member of the Thieves’ Guild in the old spice market. Are you sure this is wise?”
“Point of order,” said Merry, holding up a finger. “Not all of us are actually Avenists.”
“Actually, that is part of why I asked to meet him here,” said Principia with a smug little smirk, pausing to take a sip of her tea. “Darling is too smooth and too even-tempered to take this as a provocation—or to be provoked if he thought it was meant as one. Trust me, we’re safe in that regard. However, few people are his blend of sly and understanding, and so anyone looking for me to make connections with the Guild won’t be looking here. Also, there are those.”
She pointed to one of the glowing orbs illuminating the tea shop on the spice market’s uppermost level, where the fives Legionnaires had taken seats in one dark corner. It was nearly all dark corners, despite the fact that each booth had its own sconce. The place had clearly been designed for quiet conversations, filled with low walls and obscuring draperies and plants.
“The fairy lamps?” Merry drawled. “Well, I can imagine you’d be excited, ancient one. You see, we have these enchantments now that let us create light without having to burn—”
“Ordinary I’d let you ramble long enough to properly embarrass yourself,” Prin interrupted, “but he might be here any moment. Those have fairy lamps attached to them, Lang, but do you see how much bigger they are than normal ones? Especially considering how little light they put out. Those are scry blockers.”
“Is that… I didn’t know that was possible,” Ephanie said, frowning.
“Using one is tantamount to an admission that you’re up to no good,” Principia said with a grin, “but so is coming here. This place caters to people discussing sensitive business deals. Several times now, ladies, Syrinx has known where we would be with timing that exceeds the possibility of just using Covrin to spy on us and carry messages. No, she’s watching, somehow. I don’t want her watching this.”
“That’s absolutely horrifying,” Farah mumbled.
They all looked up as two familiar elves materialized out of the dimness of the tea shop, their expressions blank. One, wearing a black cloak, put her back to them and leaned against the side of their booth; the other, dressed in black leather, lounged against the wall opposite, taking out a huge knife and beginning to clean her fingernails.
Before the soldiers could comment, Bishop Darling himself arrived, bowing elegantly to them.
“Prin! Always a pleasure, my dear. And privates, good to see all of you again. Several I believe I’ve met before.” He smiled at Ephanie, who pursed her lips and said nothing.
“Always a pleasure?” Principia said dryly. “If you’re going to tell bald-faced lies, I’m gonna have a hard time trusting you.”
Darling laughed. “Nonsense, if I didn’t tell lies, that’s what you would distrust, and rightly so. Mind if I have a seat?”
“Please,” said Casey, smiling up at him.
“All joshing aside,” Principia said more seriously as Darling folded his long frame into the booth next to her, “I do appreciate you seeing us. We’re in a bit of a bind.”
“Not at all, I always have time for friends and business relations in need,” he said, helping himself to a cup of tea. “What can I do you for?”
“The issue is we’re having trouble with Bishop Syrinx,” said Farah.
Darling grimaced. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“We think she’s trying to kill us!”
“Not kill us,” Merry said, frowning at Farah. “Don’t exaggerate the issue, Szaravid.”
“She is definitely trying to get us booted out of the Legions, or worse,” said Casey.
Ephanie cleared her throat. “If I may? Rather than making him sort through this chatter, here’s what happened from the beginning.”
Her delivery was succinct and clipped, but thorough, every bit the soldier delivering a report. The others fell silent as she spoke, having nothing to add to her account, and Darling listened intently. As complex as the matter had become, it had only been going on less than a week, and Ephanie was finished in a relatively few minutes.
There came a short pause after she spoke.
“I see,” Darling said at last, frowning pensively. “And what is it you’re asking of me, ladies?”
“Not to intervene,” Merry said quickly. “I somehow think that kind of help would only cause us more trouble in the long run. Locke thinks you might have some…advice.”
“Well, when it comes to skulduggery, I doubt I have anything to teach you that Principia can’t,” he said with a wry grin. “She’s been at it longer than I’ve been alive.”
“In general terms, yes, but we’re caught in a position where we can’t really engage her that way,” Prin said. “That is the problem. There’s a lot more going on here than just Syrinx and us; based on what we know, there’s no reason for her to be doing this at all, much less to be putting so much effort into it. She’s taking some serious risks just to get a handful of fresh privates drummed out of the Legion. You know the city, Sweet, and you know Syrinx herself. You have access to a lot of sensitve matters way above our pay grade. What do you think?”
“I think,” he said thoughtfully, “you lot are in very big trouble.”
“That’s just fabulous,” Merry groused while the others glanced apprehensively at each other. “Thanks ever so much for that.”
“I’m not trying to spook you,” Darling said with a faint smile. “But Prin is right: to understand what’s happening here, you need to gain a bit of perspective. Tell me, have any of you considered the question of why an individual like Basra Syrinx is the Avenist Bishop to the Universal Church? She doesn’t seem the type, does she?”
“I certainly have,” Casey muttered.
“It’s not generally worthwhile to wonder about things like that,” Merry snorted. “Nothing good comes of it. The answers aren’t for the likes of us, and if you wonder aloud you sometimes get punished for it.”
“It’s like this,” Darling said seriously, folding his hands on the table and gazing around at them. “Bishops are appointed by their respective cults, but have to be approved to their rank by the Archpope. It’s always a delicate balance, finding a person who fulfills the requirements of both, and gets dicier the more tense things are between a cult and the Church. What, then, do you think it says that the Avenist Bishop is a person who’s chiefly interested in her own agenda, rather than that of the Sisters or the Universal Church?”
Casey straightened up in her seat. “It means the Sisters aren’t on good terms with the Church right now.”
Darling grinned at her. “Very good! You have a sharp mind.”
“Apparently I don’t,” Merry complained. “I don’t see the connection there. Also, what’s this about Syrinx’s agenda? None of us have any idea what she really wants.”
“Well, for that…just take my word for now,” Darling said. “That woman is on her own side, period; any other loyalties she has are conditional. That makes her a suitable link between the Church and the Sisterhood in a time when their motives are at cross purposes, because she is a compromise.”
“Basically,” added Principia, looking at Merry, “she’s not loyal to the Archpope or the High Commander, which means they can each use her against the other. In theory.”
“And what that means for you,” Darling said more grimly, “is that you absolutely cannot afford to make Commander Rouvad choose between you. She didn’t put Basra in that position without knowing what she was dealing with. The politics of the situation mean she cannot remove Basra except at urgent need, because that would leave the cult of Avei temporarily without a voice in the Church until a new Bishop is approved. That would take time—maybe not much time, as Justinian can’t drag the proceedings out forever, but plenty of time for him to do any number of things Rouvad may want to prevent.”
“What kind of things?” Farah asked warily.
“Hell if I know,” Darling said with a shrug. “The inner politics of the Sisterhood are rather opaque to me. But I can see the shape of her relationship with the Church. If it comes down to Basra or you, Rouvad won’t choose you. In her position, she has basically no choice.”
“Fuck,” Merry said feelingly.
“So, what, we just have to sit here and take it?” Casey demanded. “We can’t keep fending her off! For whatever reason she’s determined to get rid of us. She’s gonna do it if this goes on much longer!”
“Well, it sounds like a big part of your problem is you don’t understand her motives or desires,” Darling mused. “So…have a good think on that. Consider the situation carefully. The Church and the Sisters are at cross purposes, your cohort is training to produce political operatives, and there’s Basra Syrinx right in the middle of it all. Put yourself in her position, as much in her mind as you can. Be Bishop Syrinx, and think about what you want and what you have to do to get it.”
“Okay,” said Merry, closing her eyes and rubbing at her temples. “I’m Basra Syrinx. Hmm… I feel a sudden hunger for human flesh. Is that normal?”
Casey and Farah both snickered loudly; Ephanie rolled her eyes.
“Syrinx has an ideal position to influence politics one way or the other,” Principia said, frowning. “I didn’t know that, about how Bishops are promoted… But if she’s working her own angle, she couldn’t be in a better place. She’s basically the only person the Sisterhood has who’s affecting city and Imperial politics on any significant scale. And now… Rouvad launches an initiative to train more people to be able to do her job.”
“Holy shit,” Casey whispered, her eyes widening. “We’re her potential replacements.”
“Maybe not replacements,” Darling said, nodding approvingly at her, “but at the very least, if this project succeeds, she will have competition and a whole host of other problems to contend with. Other operatives, more loyal to the Sisterhood, could find out details about whatever she’s doing n her own time and make her life very difficult. And in the end, there is the chance Rouvad would find one of you a better candidate for her position.”
“She can’t let us succeed,” Ephanie whispered, staring into space with something very akin to horror on her face. “She can’t. We have to go, or she does.”
“And we can’t fight her, and we can’t rely on the High Commander to reign her in…” Farah planted her elbows on the table, clutching her head and staring frantically at the wall. “Oh, we are so screwed.”
“There’s also this about your cohort,” Darling continued grimly. “Ladies, you’ve been fed a line of bullshit about what you’re doing.”
“Hell, we know that,” Merry snorted. “Syrinx got up in front of us on day one and made this rambling speech full of contradictions and empty nonsense.”
“It’s high time Rouvad did something to bring her forces into the modern era,” Darling continued, “but the shape this initiative is taking is ridiculous. Training an entire cohort of Legionnaires to be political operatives? Idiocy. No, what I would do in her position is take a neophyte cohort and give them assignments that would both test and possibly encourage their aptitudes in that direction if they had any.”
“So far, that’s what they’ve done,” Farah said with a frown.
Darling nodded. “And then, rather than selecting likely candidates for officer positions as Syrinx claims is the goal with your cohort, I would pull them out of it, route them into a separate program and train them up specifically. More to the point, I would absolutely not lump my best prospects into one little squad.”
There was a beat of silence. Across the aisle from them, Fauna looked up from trimming her nails and grinned.
“Excuse me, best prospects?” Merry demanded. “Us? You’re joking.”
“I don’t know all your histories,” Darling said, spreading his hands and smiling, “but what I do know establishes a pattern. Principia Locke, brilliant con artist and Thieves’ Guild veteran. Meredith Lang, former frontier adventurer. Farah Szaravid, not necessarily of a cunning mindset, but definitely more intellectual and highly educated, having been an acolyte of Nemitoth.”
Casey caught his eye and shook her head, minutely but frantically.
“With that percentage,” Darling continued smoothly, “I don’t need to know what’s up with the rest of you to deduce two things: you are the women considered most likely to produce the kind of skills this program needs, and sticking you together was a terrible idea. The mix of backgrounds and aptitudes on display here is a recipe for lethal personality clashes at least.”
“That was her gambit,” Ephanie said slowly. “Or rather, the opening move. Lump us together and hope we hate each other enough to wreck ourselves.”
“Well, shit, I only hate this one,” Merry drawled, jerking her head in Principia’s direction. “I feel like I’m falling down on the job.”
“Oh, you don’t hate me,” Prin said, grinning. “You’re just tetchy. Hate is something I could actually manipulate.”
“I think…” Farah trailed off and swallowed when they all turned to look at her, but squared her shoulders and continued. “I think I understand what’s happening, then. Why she’s trying so hard to put us down, considering what she risks if she’s caught. Not turning on each other in the first place wasn’t just a failure of her plan, it was the worst thing that could have happened. Now we’re actually doing well, working as a unit and supporting each other. That makes it much more likely we’ll succeed.”
“Bingo,” Darling said quietly, nodding at her.
“So basically, we’re fucked,” Merry said. “Hell with it. I say we jump her in an alley.”
“Now, hold on,” Darling said soothingly. “There’s something else for you to consider. How is Basra manipulating affairs in the Sisterhood to set these traps for you, much less keeping track of your movements?”
“Arranging that order for court martials if we failed to report for duty had to have taken some doing,” Ephanie mused. “Something as outlandish as that wouldn’t ordinarily get through the chain of command.”
“Plus there’s the way she knows where we’re going to be, what we’ve done and always has Covrin positioned to give the orders to the right people,” Principia added. “That’s scrying.”
“You’re sure she hasn’t just set up traps for us?” Casey asked. “It’s not like we don’t know she’s good at that.”
“I know a thing or two about setting up traps myself,” said Principia, shaking her head, “and while it’s very doable, getting the timing that precise is not. No, she has more information than she could get through mundane means. Even the idea that one of us is working for her wouldn’t do; nobody has had the chance in any of those situations to report to her.”
“Fuck, I hadn’t even thought of that,” Merry growled. “Thank you so much for putting that idea in my head, Locke.” Prin grinned broadly at her.
“So, she’s pulling just all kinds of strings,” said Darling, “not to mention using illegal magical surveillance. Even what she’s done within the Sisterhood itself has to have involved outside influences of some kind, unless you’re willing to believe your chain of command has built-in loopholes for people like Basra to manipulate.”
“If anything, the Silver Legions’ command structure is designed to limit that kind of nonsense as much as possible,” said Ephanie emphatically. “The thing that has consistently stuck out in my mind is how bizarre it is that she’s getting away with causing the kind of damage she is to our cohort.”
“What good does that do us?” Merry demanded. “We’ve established that we can neither fight her politically nor lie down at take it. Who cares how she’s doing this if we can’t do anything about it?!”
“You aren’t the ones who’ll be doing anything,” Darling said quietly. “There are two more matters you haven’t considered. First of all, me.”
“You?” Farah asked warily after a short pause.
He stared at them solemnly. “I work quite closely with Basra, as it happens, and I know very well what a piece of work she is. Probably better than you do, in fact.”
“Not better than all of us,” Casey muttered.
He glanced at her, but continued in the same quiet tone. “The fact is, I have my own agendas and needs, and they involve not putting Basra Syrinx out of commission. As much of a headache as she can be, I need her.”
They all stared at him in silence for a moment.
“Headache?” Farah burst out at last. “She’s a monster!”
“She’s a predictable monster, which means I can deal with her. And as I said, I need her help with several things. She and I are involved in projects that really cannot be allowed to be disrupted.”
“Isn’t this just typical,” Merry said bitterly.
“I’m not finished,” Darling continued implacably. “The other factor you haven’t taken into account—well, four of you haven’t—is the Thieves’ Guild, which means my concerns may become irrelevant.”
“What about the Guild?” Ephanie asked warily.
“We were just discussing how Basra is clearly using outside resources in her campaign against you,” he said, leaning back in his chair and grimacing. “Where do you think those came from?”
Farah frowned. “Surely…she wouldn’t work with the Guild.”
“Directly? Hell, no.” Darling shook his head. “We wouldn’t work with her if she asked, especially not for some inner Sisterhood cloak-and-dagger like this. But the Guild doesn’t tightly control most of what its members do. The kinds of resources we’re talking about, the ability to move paperwork around, maintain surveillance…possibly cause enough privates to fail to appear for duty in another cohort that an over-the-top new regulation gets imposed about that? Anybody in this city who can accomplish stuff like that pays tithes to Eserion.
“And then there’s the scrying. The Guild doesn’t employ mages, not directly, but that kind of surveillance is illegal. That means neither the Wizards’ Guild nor the cult of Salyrene would be involved with it. There are, of course, black market mages who’ll do such work, but the middlemen who would put a fine, upstanding citizen like Basra Syrinx in touch with them also owe allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild.”
“Well…what of it?” Merry asked, frowning.
Darling heaved a sigh. “As Principia here very well knows, bringing all this to my attention is the first step to getting Basra off your case. Really, I could have spared taking the time to give you all advice, except that I firmly believe in helping people to solve their own problems any way they can. Knowledge is always better than the lack of knowledge. But what we have here is someone using Thieves’ Guild resources to attack a member of the Guild. Having been told of it, I can’t let this go. I now have to take it to the Boss, and my own business with Basra be damned.” He gave Principia an extremely flat look.
She smiled prettily, batted her eyelashes, and shrugged.
“Hang on,” Casey objected, “if it’s Guild people doing this for her, how does the Guild not already know?”
“Because, as I said, she’s employing specific people to do specific work,” he said, “and most of them won’t have a full picture of what’s happening. People who work on a contract basis under the table do not ask prying questions. Still, though, you’re right; there have to be a few who know that Prin is the focus of this. Business is business, but once the Guild leadership starts making noises about putting a stop to it, they’ll be tripping over themselves to be helpful.”
“No honor amongst thieves, huh,” Merry said with a grin.
“Honor,” Darling said with a smile, “is morality for thinking people. It’s a code that means you remain true to yourself, and do not test your powers against those too weak to offer you a challenge. Honor is, indeed, how thieves manage to get along with each other. In fact, Eserites are strongly encouraged to keep honing our skills against worthy targets, which frequently means each other.” He shrugged. “Pranks of this nature are downright commonplace within the Guild. Considering that the worst case scenario, as far as any of these contractors know, is sabotaging Prin’s career in the Legions, not harming her personally, I highly doubt anyone would have qualms. Like I said, matters become different when it turns out an outsider has been pitting members of the Guild against each other on an organized basis. That can’t be tolerated.”
“Holy shit,” Merry said, straightening up. “Are you gonna….what, bump her off?”
“I have no objection to that,” Casey muttered.
“We are not going to assassinate a Bishop of the Universal Church,” Darling said in exasperation. “You read too many novels, kid. Even the Guild respects powers of that caliber. No, it won’t need to go that far. It will take a little time…maybe more than a little, actually. Inquiries have to be made; the Boss will need to find out who has been doing what. Should go fairly quickly once the enforcers are sent out with pointed questions, but still, it’s a matter of finding the right people and bringing them on board, which won’t happen overnight.”
He heaved a deep sigh. “Somehow I need to ensure whatever happens to Basra doesn’t remove her entirely from the playing field, but I doubt it’ll even come to that. The Boss may do nothing but send Commander Rouvad a full set of evidence on what she’s been doing. Rouvad, as I said, can’t be too harsh with Basra, but she can certainly put a stop to something like this if she gets proof it’s going on. No, ladies, you just need to hold the line a while longer. Basra Syrinx is about to have much bigger problems than you.”
“Somehow,” Casey said darkly, “I doubt it’ll be that simple for us.”
“Oh, you’re right about that,” Darling replied with grim amusement. “It will be neither simple nor easy. When the pressure starts mounting, what do you think she’s more likely to do: back off, or double down?”
“Fucking hell,” Merry spat. “You’re gonna get us killed!”
“You should maybe have a talk with Prin, here, about trying to manipulate the Guild with your own fates on the line,” he said with a sweet smile.
“Oh, come on!” Principia protested. “Give me a little credit, Sweet, if I were trying to manipulate you, you wouldn’t know it!”
“That isn’t helping!” Merry snapped.
“Enough,” Ephanie said. She didn’t raise her voice, but her tone brought the burgeoning argument to a halt. “Locke, you should have been more up front with us about this. However… I can’t think of a single other thing we could have done. This is our best chance. Can any of you?”
She panned her gaze around the table; no one offered a comment, though Darling helped himself to a scone.
“Then here we are,” Ephanie said firmly. “Now we need to worry about lasting through whatever Syrinx does before the Guild leverages whatever they find on her.”
“We could…blackmail her,” Casey said, barely above a whisper.
“With what?” Merry demanded acidly.
Casey swallowed heavily. “The night… Um, on the night the Black Wreath tried to assassinate the Bishops…”
Principia blinked. “Excuse me? The Black Wreath did what?”
“I think that was supposed to be classified,” Darling commented.
Casey sighed. “Yes, well, it happened. Basra was one of the targets; four warlocks attacked her home. I know, because I was there. Covrin and I both were.”
“She took out four warlocks?” Ephanie demanded, raising her eyebrows.
“They weren’t particularly good warlocks,” Casey said. “But still…yeah. Sorry, Lang, but jumping her in an alley would have been a terrifically bad idea.”
“Duly noted,” Merry muttered.
“What were you doing in her house?” Principia asked quietly.
Casey heaved another sigh, her gaze fixed on the tablecloth. “I was…sleeping next door. Well, I wasn’t sleeping. She put me there so I could hear what was going on. She was in bed…with Covrin.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Well, that’s certainly an inappropriate relationships,” Ephanie said at last, “but I doubt it’s strong enough to blackmail her with. We’d probably just make her angry, which does not seem smart.”
“I…didn’t realize Covrin was into women,” Farah said, frowning. “I mean, in the training barracks… You could usually tell who swung that way, even if they didn’t make advances. Stuff came up.”
“I am pretty sure Covrin is not into women,” Casey said grimly. “That was why… It was targeted at both of us, Covrin to…y’know…and me forced to hear it. She knew she wasn’t going to get me into bed, but Covrin… Syrinx isolated her all through training. The DS wouldn’t tolerate behavior like Covrin’s from anyone else, but because Basra sheltered her, she got through it without shaping up. Didn’t realize until too late that she was alone, that her entire unit hated her guts, and there was nobody she could turn to except Basra. So…she hosted us overnight on some pretext—I don’t even remember—just to remind us both that…” She swallowed heavily. “That, basically, she owned our asses.”
“Holy…” Farah gulped, looking sick. “That’s… I never thought I would say this, but… Poor Covrin.”
“If this is true, it’s an incredibly serious matter,” Ephanie said, glaring furiously. “We’re talking about some of the central tenets of Avei’s faith. Syrinx could be executed if it came to light.”
“Covrin won’t testify against her,” Casey said wearily.
“Why the hell not?” Merry exclaimed.
“The thing about abusive relationships,” Principia said with a grimace, “is that if you do it right—and I have no trouble believing Syrinx knows how—the abuser gets into their victim’s head, twines themselves all around their whole identity. Elwick’s right; I bet Covrin will defend her, no matter how badly she’s being mistreated.”
“That is fucked up,” Merry whispered.
“After that…” Casey shrugged. “I happened to meet several Bishops the night I first met Basra. I saw Bishop Snowe on a poster, remembered her and wrote to her. She put me in touch with Bishop Darling.” She nodded gratefully to him; he gave her a warm smile in return. “He took care of…what Syrinx was holding over me. She never actually spoke to me after that, but I seriously doubt she was happy. After all, here I am, with you guys.”
“Bishop Darling,” Ephanie said firmly. “With all due respect to your own objectives, I think it’s clear we need to take this woman down.”
He shrugged. “Be my guest, Private; nothing you can bring to bear is going to damage her unduly. You’re only going to call wrath down on your heads by trying. For the time being, let the Guild and Commander Rouvad handle this.”
Ephanie looked disgruntled. “I suppose,” she said. “For the time being.”
“You’re both right,” said Principia. “We need to survive the current crisis. But after that… Syrinx is not going to forget about us. If we succeed, there’s going to be a grudge there.” She smiled coldly. “I say we make sure it goes two ways. And if the Guild and Rouvad can put a stop to her game, we are still the best prospects for our cohort’s mission, remember? Given time, the tables will turn. Basra Syrinx will live to regret creating the enemies she has here.”
Bishop Darling leaned back in his chair, nibbling on a scone, his expression unreadable.