I don’t bother entering the small salon or searching out the kitchen. Maven’s footsteps echo on the stairs, and I follow, pulling the Sentinels along with me. If the king wants to be alone, he doesn’t say so.
He bangs open each door on the second floor in turn, poking his head into various bedrooms, closets, and a bathroom. Once or twice, he snarls under his breath, like a predator denied prey.
At the final door, in the corner, he pauses, hesitating.
This door he opens with one hand, gently, as if entering a holy place.
I hang back a moment, letting him go first.
Inside is a bedroom, with two small beds flanking a single window. I notice the oddity first. The patterned curtains are cut up, with precise chunks removed.
“The sister,” Maven murmurs, running his hand along a sliced edge. “The seamstress.”
As he runs the fabric through his fingers, sparks spit from his wrist. They catch and spread, eating through the curtains with speed and skill. Burning holes spread like disease. Acrid smoke stings my nostrils.
He does the same to the wallpaper, letting it burn and peel beneath his touch. Then the window, laying a flaming hand to the glass. It cracks under the tremendous heat he throws off, shattering outward into the sunlight. The room seems to pulse and boil, like the inside of a bubbling pot. I want to step away, but I want to see him. Maven. I must know who he is if I am to defeat him.
The first bed he ignores, somehow knowing it wasn’t hers.
The second he sinks into, as if testing the firmness. He smooths the coverlet beneath his hands, then the pillow. Feeling where her head used to rest. I almost expect him to lie down and breathe in whatever scent might linger.
Instead his fire consumes. Feather and fabric. Wood frame. It leaps across to the other bed, gobbling it up.
“Give me a minute, please,” he whispers, almost inaudible over the roar of controlled flame.
We do as we are told, fleeing before the shining heat.
A minute is all he needs. We’re barely back on the street before he emerges from the door, an inferno jumping to life behind him.
I realize I’m sweating with fear as we walk away and the row house crumbles.
What will Maven burn next?
The snarl of transports echoes outside the holding bunker. The soldiers must have returned, and I wonder if they managed to track down anyone in the swamps. The noise filters through the high windows cut into the concrete slab walls. This room is cool, partially underground, bisected by a long aisle dividing two rows of barred cells. By the official count, we have forty-seven captured held here, two or three to a cell. All red-blooded, but still under heavy Silver guard. Some could be newbloods, quietly waiting for a chance to use their abilities and escape. The Silvers of Montfort—the blood traitors, as the Sentinel called them—are being held elsewhere, restrained by silents and the most powerful of guards.
Maven idly knocks his knuckles against each bar as we pass. The prisoners shrink back or stand firm, afraid or defiant in the face of the king of Norta. Strange, he seems relaxed here, surrounded by cells. He barely seems to notice the prisoners at all.
I do the opposite. I count as we go, to see if they match the official tally. To look for any flash of rebellion or determination that might spark into something inconvenient. I wish I could separate Red from newblood. Every cell I pass makes me uneasy, knowing a snake could be waiting in each one.