The White Bone Mistress was quite thoroughly peeved. Normally this would cause heads to roll, but this time the peevishness came from a lack of available heads for rolling. After completely losing track of Txori and Grey, she had finally (belatedly) realized that the skyship they flew on was much faster than an ordinary skyship, and was not going to ground or fleeing in any way but instead seemed guided by a purpose which she could barely even begin to guess at. Perhaps they did not know or care they were being pursued. So much the better, but if only she could catch them.
Fortunately, she had an advantage not easily afforded to other pursuers: the twins, Rivas and Relia Nightshade, had arrived as quickly as able, piloting their sandrunner, Silent Blade. A large ship that “sailed” the dead sands of the underworld on enchanted skis of bone and soulsteel, harnessing sickly breezes and providing propulsion with a necrotic propeller engine, it was quite capable of catching up to the skyship. However, locating it had proved to be a challenge.
Ghostly spies throughout the South were instructed to keep watch for any skyship, and since there were precious few in the south, they rapidly reported seeing such a ship in Harborhead. Unfortunately the closest shadowland belonged to Eye and Seven Despairs, and the twins needed some persuading to venture through it, since they were loyal servants of the First and Forsaken Lion and did not trust the mad scientist Deathlord. By the time they had made it through there, new spy reports came in that the ship had departed on a southward passage, and so they had remained in the Underworld to try and make up for lost time and reemerge farther along the skyship’s course.
However, this strategy may not have had the intended effect, since they proceeded deep to the south without hearing any further reports from any spies, until at last when they arrived back at the Empire of Sand and Bone without any reports, they had stopped to report to Sanity’s Weeping Wound, but found little solace in the ancient spirit’s furious demands that they drag Txori and Grey back as soon as possible.
Now they were patrolling through the empty deserts of the Underworld’s Deep South again, waiting to hear from any spy anywhere, and the White Bone Mistress was about ready to throw her hands up in the air and demand they go back to the Empire of Sand and Bone’s shadowland, rally the small fleet of sandships they had available, and comb Creation’s desert as literally as possible. She was expending a lot of self control to avoid doing so, and was occasionally weeping blood and smearing it across the deck of the Silent Blade.
From the corner of her eye she saw Rivas Nightshade approaching her hesitantly. He was Deathblooded, still young, and clearly unaware of her true power. He was hovering just outside what he thought was her kill zone, trying to get her attention so as not to startle or anger her, but the poor fool was actually well within her kill zone, and she toyed with the idea of taking off an ear just to educate him. But with another single tear of black blood she pushed that thought down and turned to face him.
“What is it Rivas?”
“Good news, Mistress. We received this from a Messenger Scarab.”
He held out one of the crooked, void-black beetles that Nemessary spies used to communicate with them. It could tunnel directly into the Underworld, carrying a message if needed. This one had a small trinket within, a wind-up toy that danced and jiggled. The White Bone Mistress’s eyes narrowed with predatory delight.
“I don’t understand, Mistress. All it had was this toy and a crude map showing a course and heading.”
“Perfect. Lay in a course for the nearest shadowland that lies close to that route, and get us there immediately.”
“But, why? What is this?”
“It is his work, of course. The artificer. There are many shades to his work, you see,” The White Bone Mistress said smugly. “Many shades indeed. I could write a book about it… anyway, our spy amongst the living spotted it and knew I would know. Now, move double speed. If this spy used a Messenger Scarab then they probably left in all haste, and we must labor to keep pace.”
“Certainly, Mistress.” As Rivas handed her the map and turned to chart the new course, the White Bone Mistress called up her essence to peer more closely at the map, and then her ice-cold blood froze for a moment.
“Rivas! Maximum speed with not a moment’s delay!”
“Mistress?” Rivas asked in confusion even as he cranked a lever on the Silent Blade.
“Their course passes not far from the Guild Caravan that Sanity’s Weeping Wound traded with last month. They have the necrotech artifact weapons that he sold them!”
“Mistress, do you think they’re after those weapons?”
“Possibly,” she mused. “But what worries me more is that the caravan is also carrying something much more valuable to the Lion’s plan than mere weapons that had already been sold.”
“I know not what you speak of,” Rivas muttered, clearly flustered. The White Bone Mistress turned sharply to him.
“Of course not, no one chose to brief you on Sanity’s Weeping Wound’s secret plans,” She snarled at him. “But since it concerns you now, I shall briefly do so! He sold the Guild those weapons for the sole purpose of ensuring he could get close enough to Makarios and Minajikin, who were with that caravan, without arousing any suspicion! Sanity’s Weeping Wound helped them perfect their Essence Resonance Crystalline Projectors in exchange for the large quantity of raw souls it would produce, thereby replenishing the First and Forsaken Lion’s depleted Soulsteel reserves. So Minajikin and Makarios are probably still on that caravan, most likely with a completed batch of Clockwork Rhythm Resonators which we purchased to get a bunch of souls.”
Rivas was utterly astonished at the complexity of this scheme, and barely managed to drink it in. He turned back to adjusting the course of the Silent Blade and increasing the speed, but before the wind drowned out all speech he yelled out, “So do you think Grey knows about the caravan?”
The White Bone Mistress shrieked back, “No way to know until we find what guides them!”
Rivas nodded and got back to guiding the Silent Blade, while Relia poked her head out from belowdecks. “Why are we accelerating so fast??” She screeched angrily, but a single look from the White Bone Mistress caused her to turn pale and immediately get back to work on the engine.
The White Bone Mistress stared into the empty desert ahead of them and brooded. They could probably pursue Txori, but perhaps it would be better to simply reach and shadow the caravan. If Txori and her friends were on some other mission that didn’t account for it, they could always try to pick up the scent again once the caravan was safely in Chiaroscuro.