“I wish I had found some of the journals from when you were my age,” she said as she stacked the journals and set them on one side of the bed. “I wish . . .”
She opened the trinket box and took out each piece of jewelry. Memories. Family heirlooms. Talismans of a life filled with love. She would give the jewelry to Theran, along with the journals—and her resignation. This time, she wouldn’t wait for the court to resign from her. She’d release these people from their unwilling loyalty, and she’d go home before the roots she’d begun putting down sank in too deep.
Before going would hurt as much as staying.
She put each piece of jewelry back in the box, one by one. Would Theran let her take one as a keepsake? Would she have the courage to ask him?
Her lower lip quivered and her vision blurred. She pressed her lips together hard enough to stop the quiver, then blinked back tears.
Just go. Just get it done.
She picked up the trinket box, intending to set it on the desk while she wrote the letter that would dissolve her court. She heard the crack as the bottom of the box broke and fell, spilling the jewelry over the bed.
“Hell’s fire,” Cassidy muttered, shaking her head. Something else she couldn’t do right.
When she picked up the bottom of the box to see if it could be repaired, she discovered it was made of two thin layers of wood.
Then she discovered the paper that had been hidden between those layers.
And when she opened the paper, she found the map—and another key.
*There are bad smells up here.* Vae pressed against Cassidy’s leg.
“I know.” The psychic onslaught was bad enough for her. Who knew what else the dog might be sensing?
The attic was a graveyard of furniture. Nothing physically wrong with most of it from what she could see, but the psychic scents that had been absorbed by the wood—the pain and despair or the gleeful cruelty—had probably reached a saturation point where no one could stand being in the same room with the stuff.
Of course, piling it up here in the attic got the furniture out of sight but did nothing to cleanse the house. The weight of emotions pressed down on everyone living here, and most likely, none of them realized why.
Why would they? Cassidy thought. Theran and his family had returned to Grayhaven shortly before bringing her here, the rest of the court hadn’t lived here before, and the servants were probably so used to these feelings, they had no reason to think things might be different.
They could be different. There were cleansing spells that could remove psychic residue from an object. Shira might know some, and if she didn’t, Cassidy could ask Jaenelle and send the information back to Shira.
“And if that doesn’t work, burn the damn stuff,” Cassidy muttered.
*Fire?* The Sceltie sounded much too eager to use witchfire to take care of the bad smells.
“Not up here.” Crouching, Cassidy held up the key. If Vae had been able to find the hiding place under the bed by smelling a key, maybe she could find what this key opened. “We’re looking for the thing that fits this key, that has the same smell.”
Vae sniffed the key. *Not much smell, even for kindred.*
Damn. Well, she hadn’t expected this to be easy. “Come on. Let’s see if we can find the starting point that’s shown on the map.”
Grayhaven was a big mansion, so there were several ways up to the attic, and the map, by accident or deliberate omission, didn’t indicate direction. So she was hot and dusty, and Vae’s tail was veiled in cobwebs, by the time she found the attic entrance that looked like the starting point for this stage of the treasure hunt.
Of course, that assumed no one had removed or added windows in the past few centuries or made other structural changes to the house. And the map had been made long before generations of furniture had been disposed of by tossing it up here.
Cassidy tipped the paper toward the light to read the small print around the section of the attic that had been marked as the end of the search.
“We need to find a large wardrobe that has a mirror beside it and a clothes trunk in front of the mirror.” She looked around at all the discarded furniture. “Hell’s fire, Lia. Didn’t you consider that someone else might toss a trunk or two up here?”
The attic had been divided into sections. The interior walls didn’t go all the way up to the roof, but they did offer sufficient privacy. Would she find remnants of servants’ quarters at the other end of the attic, or would she find more out-of-reach shelves?
“She tells me the number of paces from here to the treasure if I walk in a straight line,” Cassidy muttered. “So were the walls here then, and she assumed whoever was searching would use Craft to pass through the wood, or were the walls added later?”
“Do we walk in a straight line as the map indicates, going through the walls and furniture?” Cassidy asked, more as a question to herself.
*No.* Vae shook herself. *Don’t want to walk through the bad smells.*
The dog had a point. Cassidy was feeling mucky enough just being near this furniture. The thought of passing through it and having some of that psychic residue cling to her was nauseating.
“All right, then. I guess we do this the hard way.”
“She’s not in her room,” Shira said when she returned to the Steward’s office later that morning. Talon had gone to his room for some rest, which was a relief to her, but Powell, Ranon, Theran, and Gray were still waiting for her report.
Gray hugged himself. “Captured?”
The sharp look Ranon gave her said he was wondering the same thing. The fact that any of them would ask that question now . . .
She could almost feel Dena Nehele dying around her.
Shira shook her head. “No sign of struggle. No feel of anything wrong.” She hesitated, then decided against mentioning the old, broken trinket box on Cassidy’s bed. Might have been an heirloom Cassidy had brought with her, but Shira didn’t think so. She’d been tempted to pick up one of the books that had been on the bed as well, but when she’d reached for one, she’d had the feeling that the moment she touched one, something important would go away, would be lost.
Because it wasn’t time for her to touch one or read whatever was inside.
When a Black Widow sensed that kind of warning, she heeded it—especially when a friend was suddenly, and mysteriously, missing.
Which was why she had put locks and shields around Cassidy’s rooms. Until they knew what had happened to the Queen, she wasn’t taking a chance of anyone upsetting a delicate balance.