Mercy, and Other Costly Mistakes

17. Circles

by gargulec

Tags: #cw:gore #D/s #dom:female #pov:bottom #pov:top #sub:female #bondage #fantasy #sadomasochism
See spoiler tags : #exhibitionism #humiliation

One by one, the invisible walls of the High City parted before Shard. Their touch skirted her, never more harsh than a slight caress, then a galvanic note on the tip of her tongue, or a brief flash of warmth gone as quickly as it registered. The glass invitation rested securely in the palm of her hand; in the other, she held her ornament. It was the hour of her return, and her world welcomed her. Soon, it was going to gasp in wonder.

Next to her, the alchemist looked intoxicated, a thin haze drawn over her eyes, her body held in shape more by the shell it had been locked into rather than any effort of muscle or will. Only the faintest notes of worry escaped from her, making themselves felt as if a latent charge in the air, or, as Shard preferred to think of it, the fragrance of spice carrying ahead of a feast. But she did not rush to feed, holding onto the leash with patience. There was no need to get ahead of herself. She was going to hold Ifi to the light soon enough. Under the eyes of the High Table, the girl would bloom in flowers of fear, of shame, of helplessness. Shard would drink deep from their nectar, gorge herself on it until the strain of the dress and the weight of being looked at would grind Ifi down to nothing but quavering, mindless flesh. And even then, there would be still more to feed on. She would drag Ifi's body forward until it was too sore from being stretched and bound to carry on, and she would feed on that too, like sucking marrow from the roast's bones. Only then would she release the girl, just so that she could weep in gratitude, too deliriously happy to even pay attention to how much it all hurt. She turned the end of the leash around, looping it around her wrist. Though she tried her best not to let it show, she too had fantasized about this coming night, starving herself for days so that her hunger would stay sharp and ready.

The pair of golems pushed the carriage past the arched gate and into the spacious basilica at the bottom of the Glassmakers' Tower. A valet rushed to open the door; another hurried with a set of readied stepping stones just so that Ifi could disembark on her own. In all of that, they made no sound but for the crisp creasing of their spotless livery. Their eyes swept the floor ahead of the guests, their hands posted the way, but none of them dared to look. Shard's feet sank into the prepared carpet; she walked slowly forward, Ifi taking measured, careful steps just in front of her. She had insisted on putting on heels higher than she had been used to and now struggled with them, but Shard wouldn't let her trip.

This low to the ground, the sounds of the feast couldn't reach them yet. Marching through the guild's enormous reception hall, they were alone but for all the servants and, of course, the waiting women.

They huddled on the mosaic floor of the hall, to the sides of the red carpet, wrapped in ragged, once-colorful blankets. To Shard's eye, they were little more than bundles of cloth with the odd human feature peeking from beneath, each unmistakably marked by the Lower City and all of its hardships. They prostrated themselves out of habit, if not despair, each waiting for the end of the long night. For now, they were silent; only at the end of the night they would open their mouths in a cacophony of begging for alms and scraps.

"When we come back down," Shard explained to Ifi who had stopped to look at them, struggling to move her head with the collar and the muzzle, "we will have to leave something with them. For good fortune."

The alchemist turned back towards the elevator ahead; Shard too was glad to leave the sight behind her – it reminded her too much of all that she would rather not think of tonight. They stepped both onto the elevator plate; glass veins cut into the stone came alight with white glow, raising a bright-burning cage of cold light around them. The stone shifted and groaned, and then lifted itself off the ground, up into the High City proper.

The flight was slow, less by necessity and more by the need to let those travelling from the bottom be properly impressed by the exalted guild. The elevator sailed out of the main gate, back into the night's cool air, and then made an ascent around the tower, giving a view of the entire city as it would be seen by those at the High Table. Shard found it a reassuringly familiar sight, yet another proof that she was returning to where her heart really was. But Ifi stared, enchanted.

Not that there was no reason to. From up here, the Middle City appeared like a thin white ring, a bright beach surrounding the mountains of the towers, and itself lapped at by the impossibly vast, dark sea, that brown froth of mud, flesh and industry called the Lower City. It stretched far towards the horizon, its few lights muted and scattered compared to the light wall of the white streets immediately below. Seeing it like that, Shard could understand why they built the towers so very high up, so that no matter how swollen the dirty waves of that ocean got, they could never flood the chambers of the High Table.

The elevator came to a stop, locking to a bridge that extended from the midway along the tower's height.

"Come," Shard said, giving a slight tug on the leash to break Ifi away from vista ahead of her.

The alchemist turned promptly; Shard shortened the leash until she almost held the girl by the throat. It was crucial that they see them like that.

The first few gazes were already on them. A woman from the Charmcutters' in a snow-white ball-gown was leaning over the railing of the elevator bridge, smoking from a long cigarette, a steel serpent half-mask lifted from lips. When Ifi and Shard passed by them, she turned, her eyes immediately moving onto the alchemist, as if trying to see if she could recognize the face and index it to a scandal. It was but the first attempt of many that were to follow.

The door inside opened, and they stepped into the light, the music, and the Feast.

Ifi turned around quickly, as if surprised by how small the ballroom was, and how empty of people and furnishings. Indeed, the floor around them was mostly clear, just a handful of men and women stepping over a mosaic floor, little glass charms burning a floral pattern in reds and greens. Shard allowed her the moment of confusion, then pointed up. It made for a pleasing sight to see how Ifi had to bend her entire body to look in that direction. Understanding dawned on her face.

The ballroom was small, because it extended up and up. Above their heads, walkways stacked on top of each other, making for a complicated lattice of inner balconies, suspended floors and narrow footbridges, now teeming with life and wealth. The alchemist noticed the spiraling staircases leading all the way up to the invisible ceiling, and then looked down at her feet with what seemed like concern across her face.

"Don't worry," Shard said loudly enough to attract the attention, pulling the girl closer. "When your legs give up, I will carry you."

There were also elevators, but she kept that detail to herself for now. Her words had the desired impact anyway – on Ifi, but even more importantly, on the few guests who still loitered around the bottom floor.

Shard smiled at them with the exposed half of her face, letting the sharp teeth show, and then she sipped on their fear. Their eyes followed from her hand to Ifi's collar, realizing quickly that this time, the Lair-Mother's child was among them unbound. The fashion of the month seemed to be demonic masks in the style of the far south, vivid reds and greens painted across grotesque ogre faces – but with the tide of whispers that rose up at Shard's sight, it was clear there were other demons that really occupied their attention. They didn't know who she was, but she was not what they expected to see – and so, they feared.

"Let's go looking for Villis," Shard added, also loudly, hoping the words would reach him, passed through the rumors chain, even if she couldn't manage to find him herself.

They walked up two floors, to a wide catwalk where little finger-food was being served to whet the appetite for the night. Shard had no need for any of that, and Ifi obviously was not going to eat either, but she didn't want to exploit the alchemist too hard too fast. Besides, there were more people here to make a show before. Shard found a table by the railings, with a good view of floors up and below, and sat down.

"Stay up," she whispered into Ifi's ear on her way down.

The girl strained to straighten up beyond what was already forced on her body. Shard left a hand on her shoulder, the leash hanging loosely in loops around the wrist.

"Good," she added, letting her fingers extend up and lightly caress Ifi's cheek. Even through the muzzle, the alchemist smiled. "Now face the crowd."

With her other hand, she tapped the metal railing a few times, the sound loud enough to turn heads – and once they saw her, few looked away. The fashion of the night seemed to be white – white for men, white for women. White surrounded Shard and Ifi, distinguished only by the colors and shapes of their masks. Though it was not the kind of look Shard thought of highly of, she could not help but to enjoy standing out and being seen. Through the eye-slits of the masks, she saw curious, strange glances thrown her way, thrown at Ifi. The girl had to notice them too; red emerged under the traces of blue glitter on her cheeks. She started to look away. Shard did not allow her.

"Do you not enjoy what you see?" she asked the gathered, holding Ifi by the muzzle so that she had to meet their eyes. There it was. The nectar she had been waiting for. "Do you not envy her?"

They were all silent. Afraid? No. Impressed. Shard breathed freely, and deeply. She knew what they saw in her, and relished every single moment of being looked at like that.

"Do you need Villis to save you from me?" she threw out the name and watched them flinch.

"This is wrong," some man hiding behind a dragon's head said. "This is what happens when they leave your kind off the leash."

Shard pulled down on Ifi's leash, the jerky motion almost making the girl stumble. The dress she wore, and all the other accessories, dug into her flesh; a muffled yelp came through the gag. The crowd took a step back.

"Do you not envy her?" Shard repeated her quest, her smile as sharp as her claws. "Do you not envy yourself?" she leaned up to whisper to Ifi, just for her. The girl nodded with her full body, the haze over her eyes deep and sweet.

"Poor creature," Shard heard someone hush.

"You think it will eat her?" someone else worried.

"No, not even those creatures would be so bold here," an older woman reassured, turning to hurry away.

Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, no doubt to carry the news of this terrible sight across all the layers of the ballroom. Shard released Ifi's head, but held her secure so that the girl wouldn't stumble. She wondered how much she enjoyed knowing that for all those people at the High Table, she appeared only as a piece of captive meat to be torn apart at Ifi's leisure. The mortal's mind worked strangely, but Shard expected she would draw at least some joy from this notion, no matter how-

The sound of a gong exploded down from the top of the tower, reverberating all the way to the floor. Music and idle chatter died instantly, leaving only a fragile silence. Shard looked up; on the balcony far above she spotted a slight-looking woman with a mess of gray hair covering half of her head, the other left bald. Though from the distance she could not see it, her mind provided her the image of the burn scars covering that face. Shard, despite herself, gasped.


"Master Glassmaker wishes to address those sitting at the Table," an announcer's voice came down, and for a moment, no one was looking at Shard anymore. Everyone faced the future of the High City instead.

"Thank you," the woman at the tallest balcony said, a charm reinforcing her voice so that it came loud and clear throughout the entire tower. To hear that voice again was a cold shock. The woman speaking it was supposed to be dead, not at the absolute top. She leaned up, straining to get a better look – only to notice a pair of white, porcelain shapes flanking the new Master Glassmaker. So it really was true – the Lair Mother had changed her allegiances, so very dramatically.

"Thank you," the woman whose name once was Alessia Pia, who had once been considered the black sheep of the great extended Glassmakers family, and who Shard was quite sure she had managed to kill over a year ago, addressed the High Table as its new head.

"There are a few words I would like to offer you," she continued. Her voice had changed – grown harder, colder, "before we all move on to what the Feast of Indulgence is really about, which is rampant politicking and vicious backstabbing."

Sparse chuckles broke the dead quiet. They sounded rather nervous to Shard.

"I am obliged to remind you that this is a hallowed ground and all the enmities we carry should be left at the door. I am also obliged to remind you that those who break this peace shall be broken in turn. But that," her voice lightened a bit, "will make for a great mess, so in the memorable words of my predecessor, spoken right before I hanged him like a dog from the Mason's Bridge, please, don't do this to me."

The scattered laughter died down instantly; if the tower had been silent before, now it was a grave. But only for one, hanging moment. Hushed words erupted; a wave of fear had washed down across Shard – virginal, coming from those who had seldom feared before.

"How dare she?" someone uttered nearby, sparking a sense of recognition in the Lair-Mother's child – but before she could turn to see, Master Glassmaker picked her little speech up again.

"Now, that man and I," she whistled, "we didn't often see face to face. But one thing that we shared, other than mutual enmity, was an appreciation for shows of force. As such, I would like to welcome among us a very special guest, one that many of you are no doubt already familiar with, considering the great lengths you've gone to try to get him killed. Thankfully, unsuccessfully. Please, extend a warm welcome to Villis of the Glasswork' Ward!"

Shard's head darted to face the direction she pointed – and then she saw him, her old doom, standing on a balcony in his signature uniform, golden hair shining in the charm-light, an easy smile on his unmasked face. Nothing remained of the man she had once hunted for sport through ruins of the Lower City. Despite herself, she felt a hit of fear – her own.

"That dog!" someone spat.




The words were quiet, but coming from all directions. Shard's hand closed on Ifi's neck, as if to shield it. A terrible thought occurred to her that it looked increasingly like the conflict had not properly ended among the High Table – but that was not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it made for an opportunity, even. She needed to talk to Villis as soon as possible.

"Ah, but enough with the compliments!" Master Glassmaker waved her hand dismissively. "Shout your discontent as loud as you want! All of you who were brave enough to make a stand for it are already dead. Let there be no misunderstanding among us. I hate you no less than you hate me. But if you are still here, you were either on my side, or too cowardly to die for yours. In either case, you will fall in line, and there will be peace at the Table!"

Someone booed. Someone shouted 'traitor to the blood!'. Someone cried that the future will not be stopped. Master Glassmaker soaked in it.

"Now," she demanded, "everyone who doesn't want to end up on a list – a round of applause for the new order!"

The voices of protest drowned in the frenzied clattering that followed. Many, many more clapped than Shard expected; even she, just to avoid drawing too much attention to her plots. Besides, was she not looking to defect?

"Perfect," the woman at the top laughed, raising her hands as if conducting an orchestra. "Let's get on with it! Music, play!"

Noise exploded across the tower in the shrill call of violins and trumpets, and the flood of words, shouts and laughs that followed. Shard pulled Ifi closer. She could taste her fear, and it was not the sustenance she had been hoping for.

"Don't worry," she whispered, as honest as she could get. "It's nothing. It doesn't involve you. Try to enjoy yourself. I'll keep you safe."

Much of it was actually true; if there was one good side of Alissa being the head of the Glassmaker guild it was that she was unlikely to care too much about guildspeople meddling; her enemies were elsewhere, and far nearer than the Middle City. The alchemist leaned into Shard's touch, and as far as the Lair-Mother's child could tell, she actually even relaxed a bit.

"Can you believe that whore?" the same familiar voice as before boomed behind Shard. Still holding onto Ifi, she looked around to see a man with a blue goblin mask, and a heavy cane in his gloved hands. It wasn't the exact replica of the one he had lost in the Lower City brothel, but close enough.

"If only I had been here," Andronikos drew his rant on, swinging a glass of liquor definitely too hard for how early the hour was, "this would have never happened. I would have never let Grandfather die. This is a…"

"Didn't he kick you out for making things worse, An?" a companion of his asked, shrugging.

"Do you have to bring that up?" he snarled in response. "This is a- wait," he paused, noticing Shard looking at him. She could almost see him squint behind his mask. He put the glass down for a moment. "I know this one seemed so familiar. Is this…?"

Shard stood up as if stung, pulling Ifi behind her. The confused alchemist blinked quickly, trying to look around to the best of her bound ability.

"I remind you," Shard hissed in turn, trying to locate the nearest elevator, "that it is bad form to recognize anyone on a night like this."

"Hah," Andronikos laughed, unfortunately stepping closer. "Of course, you're not wrong. Well met, mysterious creature. And you have brought yourself a very nice piece…"

He reached with his hand towards Ifi; Shard made a half-step forwards.

"You don't want me to touch?" he asked, sounding genuinely confused. "But you are putting her on display so beautifully.

The Lair-Mother's child did not grace him with a response; she extended three of her claws, fanning out their razor edges in front of the loathsome man. He shook his head, notably disappointed.

"So selfish," he whined as she stormed towards the elevator, keeping Ifi between him and herself. "Didn't her mother teach her to share…"

In front of her, the alchemist breathed heavily. When the elevator lurched up, she propped herself against Shard's chest, resting for a moment. It seemed like just touching her was enough to bring back some of confidence into Ifi – and a good thing, too. The night was only getting started. Neither of them should be getting distracted from what they came here to do.

The floor they landed on was high in the stack, overlooking most of the Feast, directly above a great white vortex of dancing men and women. A scattering of people sat here, above the music and reverie, gathered around a well-stocked bar. At this hour, the viewing gallery was mostly empty, though; it wouldn't fill until the night was closer to an end.

"Let's rest here," Shard said, finding a table away from the view. "Do you want to kneel?"

Ifi shook her; Shard pulled her into a quick embrace, before asking a servant for a pillow. They were all well trained and made no fuss. This time, she wanted less to put the alchemist on display and more to just enjoy having her in hand; she let her nestle between her legs, the back of her head propped against Shard's stomach, eyes set somewhere on the slowly flickering lights above. Ifi's motions reminded her a bit of a rag-doll; she liked it a lot. She loosened the leash and slipped a hand around the alchemist's arms, feeling the rush of the girl's blood through the thin fabric. Later, she would put her on display again, and feed properly, but until then, she needed time to think, and just sitting together had its perks. A servant offered her a drink; she accepted, taking a thick glass of some luxurious ruby liqueur into her hands. It tasted sweet, though Shard never understood the fondness mortals had for alcohol.

Within a few moments, the tension and worry of the unpleasant revelations and even less pleasant meetings drew away. Shard watched the dance below, the great swirl of bodies in precise motion. Thankfully, not everyone at the High Table decided to cop to the snow white fashion, spicing up the view. Here and there, she spotted splashes of color, scandalously bared flesh, two men with animal masks each holding each others' leashes. And then, holding the center of the dance-floor with supreme confidence, there was another pair that especially drew Shard's two women, tall and short. The shorter one wore a bright uniform with gold lapels, a saber rattling at her hip, bound into its scabbard, while her pair was head-to-toe black, a diaphanous black dress thrown over a suit of a polished, smooth material that clung to her like a second skin. Shard couldn't see her face, of course – a massive rebreather of the sort of which alchemy soldiers used on the battlefield obscured it – but she had a good idea who it was. She moved Ifi so that she too could get a look, and the recognition on the alchemist's face was confirmation enough. They watched them dance together for a while.

It was a happy moment. They shared silence, but also touch and closeness. In all of this, the matters of the world lost their edge and softened until she thought more of what she would do with Ifi – and for Ifi – rather than of Villis. There would be time for him too, and no guarantee of a moment like that again. When was the last time she held someone, and they were at peace? She shook that thought away. There was no point in remembering that; there was no point in dredging it all up. She caressed Ifi's cheek, ran a finger across her smooth head, held her close and secure. It was a happy moment.

Of course it was Villis who broke it.

"So here it is," he said, emerging from behind the bar. Her words must have reached him, just as she had intended – too soon. "The unbound demon and her prey."

Much of Shard tensed instantly, her entire body girding itself for battle; the crack in the shell breathed out a puff of phantom pain. But she kept it all down, alongside her fear, all the many memories of defeat that followed the man now approaching her. There was no need to think of the spear, and of the flight. That was the past. She was not going to dwell on it. Not now. Villis stood in front of her, sharply dressed, and seemingly unarmed. There was no spear this time, only long strings of beaded charms wrapped around his wrists like bracelets. And a smile on his face – she hadn't noticed it before, but it appeared just a little bit sad.

"You have made quite a show," he said, looking down at the kneeling alchemist; the girl turned her eyes away. "Can I sit with you?"

The words she wanted to say to him, all the plans she had, drifted away into wisps of thin smoke. She motioned without saying anything, her arm closing around Ifi as if the alchemist needed to be protected from him, too. But he just sat down – not on an empty chair, but directly on the floor, cross-legged before the Lair-Mother's child.

"Can you ungag her?" he asked after a moment, staring straight at Ifi. "I don't like talking to people who can't talk back."

"This doesn't involve her," Shard snapped, her voice less deferrential than it was supposed to be. "She is here just to enjoy herself."

She wished she had left Ifi a better way to give her a sign; the girl was afraid and ashamed, just as she had been for the last hour, and that was honey on Shard's tongue. But she could not read anything other than that, leaving her only with the hope that Ifi was enjoying it as much as she was. Suddenly, a nasty sense of guilt opened up right where her shell had been broken.

"And to be the evening snack, no doubt," Villis looked at his wrists; Shard had cut him there once in the distant past.

"She wants all of this," she replied. "It was her idea!"

Unexpectedly, Ifi nodded her head forward a few times; the hero of the Lower City raised an eyebrow.

"See?" the Lair-Mother's child uttered, grateful in a way she wasn't aware she was capable of. "She agrees. It's for her."

"Shard," Villis sighed, "with those claws of yours, you could make anyone agree to anything. But fine. Let her stay gagged. Let her stay uninvolved, whatever that means. Did you come all the way up here to try to get one more shot at me, or is this something else?"

He sounded tired, maybe a bit disappointed. Shard knew what he was expecting. So instead, she made her bid.

"Give me protection," she said, holding her voice steady, but setting her hopes loose. "And I'll give you the Lair-Mother."

The music played below, lively and warm. Shades of fear that swirled above the High Table vanished into the reverie, into the simple joy of living out the coming peace, even if one darkened by change. The smile faded from Villis' face, leaving him looking spent and empty.

"Shard," he repeated, like disappointment, like ash, like a future that was never allowed to be, "all those years, and you've learned nothing."

Ifi trembled in Shard's grasp; the Lair-Mother's child couldn't help her. She trembled too. She did not expect that. She did not see this resignation coming. Her hopes were for something else – anything else. She counted on hunger.

"She is the architect of all of your misery! She is the root cause!" she threw out. "Don't you hate her? Together, we could destroy her and her machinations!"

"I've spent the last ten years fighting," Villis' words were measured, almost soft – as soft as he could offer someone he loathed as much as Shard. "You, your kind, and the High City. And now, there is peace. I have won, Shard." he uttered, the statement as forceful as it was bitter. "This," he gestured at the ceiling, at the now-empty balcony that Master Glassmaker made her address from, "is the celebration of my victory. And your kind, your mother, had conceded to it. There was a deal," he spat the word out, "made."

There was no reason why any of that should surprise Shard, and in reality, nothing did. She had to have known that this was what she was going to hear. From the start, she knew that her plan was a long shot at best, and probably impossible in reality. Villis looked at her with a decade of buried hurt in his eyes.

"You are not wrong," he added, the smile returning to his face as a pale shadow of itself. "I hate the Mother of Demons. She is the evil spirit of the earth that we all grow up learning to fear. But it was your claws that tore my life apart, Shard. Not hers. What I feel for her is a shadow of what I felt for you."

How could she forget the time he came for her with fire in him, and a name on his lips? The first time he really broke her. But even those flames had gone out. She offered the wrong deal, far too late for it to matter.

"She will destroy me if you don't help me," she pleaded in turn, the ground slipping from under her feet. She held onto Ifi as if the alchemist could anchor her to the world. "Do you know what she is capable of?"

"You've taught me well enough," Villis shrugged the plea away as if it weighed nothing. "And if you are so afraid of her, then why not run? Why not make it to the northern frontier? Her reach is long, but your stride could be longer. If you only tried."

Like trails of slick, black poison guilt rose from the hole punched straight through her chest. Villis didn't need a spear to pierce her anymore.

"I don't want to spend the rest of my life running," she hissed back out at him.

"You would miss the silks too much, I'd wager," the man nodded. "And willing evening snacks, too."

Her arm was now pushing Ifi tight to her chest. Was she trying to hide behind her? The alchemist looked dead ahead, quiet and still.

"Goodbye, Shard," he stood up, dusting himself off. "Against hope, I hope you will make a good choice some day," he turned to leave, before remembering something and looking down at the alchemist. He frowned.

"What do you want from her?" Shard was surprised by how possessive she sounded. Or was it defensive? "She is not a party to any of that."

"Ifigenia, was it?" he said, ignoring Shard. "Seems like you've insisted on ignoring every word of advice coming from this lowborn thugs' mouth," he chuckled, not very happily. "But let me repeat myself, just because I'd hate to see even one more life ruined by this monster," there was little bite to this insult; Shard was a monster to him as the sky was blue and the sea vast.

Could she blame him, really?

"Walk away," he said, driving one more knife into Shard's gut. "Forget everything she has ever promised, because none of it is real. It's all hunger, despair, and delusion. As our conversation, I think, managed to demonstrate."

He bowed respectfully, and vanished into one of the spiral staircases, his white uniform melting into the masked mass below. Shard was quiet for a long while, thinking about the abyss now opening below her. But that fear was only a part of it, and maybe not even the worst one. There was something else she had to face, and couldn't. What if Villis was right? What if it wasn't about survival, but hunger? What if, at any point, she could have chosen differently? What if she could have just walked away?

And what, leave her world? There was no difference between flight and death. Outside of the city, she was nothing – a demon at best, a hyena at worst.

Ifi rested in her embrace, just as quiet and still – and just as afraid. Shard could never give up on that. She could not ever leave behind that which made the alchemist so easily fold under her touch. She had clawed her way back to the heights above, far above the dirt, far above the dark tunnels of her youth. She was imperial and beautiful, and all who looked at her feared her, or desired her! They envied her servant and wished she would hold them as she held her. As if!

This was her world, this was where she belonged – to live was to stay.

"Don't worry," she reassured Ifi, and herself. "I won't let anything happen to us. I won't let us fall again."

In the galleries above, in the corner of her eye, she could sometimes notice the prowling shape of one of her siblings, now bound to a different hand. They looked at her, as they would at a potential enemy, at a potential threat. Luck had decided it so that they were hostile now, but their mother's will was fickle, and easily changed. Shard thought back to the speech by the new Master Glassmaker, to all the fault-lines it exposed in the High Table, fault-lines she could jam her claws into to split the world open and drink from its still-beating heart. Was she not the spiderhawk? Was she not meant to rule? Was not the highest of her joys to hold a beautiful ornament in her hand, and hold to the light for the world to admire how she cut it?

"I have a plan," she promised the alchemist, trying to cut through her fear, and through Shard's own doubt. "A better plan. We will be ascendant yet."

The servants during the masque were well-versed in the art of passing messages. After all, no one could recognize anyone – the force of custom protected all communiques. They were as silent as golems, if need be, and just as discreet. Shard summoned one of them, and explained to him that somewhere below there was a man in a blue goblin's mask, and that this man could pass on a message to his father, who had to be somewhere around too. And the message was:

I can give you the city back.

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