The Master licked his lips, a nervous movement. “Sometimes borders are just lines on a map. The folks living in the towns and villages on the other side of the border in Little Terreille? They’re good people. We have no quarrel with them. When children started going missing, they asked us to keep a lookout for them. Not hard to do. A child from Little Terreille isn’t going to have the looks that would blend in with Dhemlan children, so he’s easy enough to spot. Most of the time, when a youngster runs away, he’s angry or unhappy, but no one has done him real harm, if you understand me.”
“I do. And if you do suspect real harm?”
“The youngster is brought before the Queen and isn’t returned to his family unless she’s satisfied that the reason he left home wasn’t more than growing pains.”
“Do you think the missing children are runaways?”
The Master hesitated, then shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. We’ve checked the runaway houses within our Queen’s territory.”
Most small villages had at least one runaway house—a safe place an unhappy child could go to receive a hug, nutcakes, and a sympathetic ear, or be given some space to brood over some trouble at home.
“I want to know if there are any children missing from Dhemlan villages.”
“I’ll check with the village guards, but I haven’t heard of any children going missing,” the Master said. Then he finished grimly, “Which doesn’t mean there haven’t been some that have gone missing.”
“I want daily reports until this is settled,” Daemon said as he started down the stairs.
“You’ll have them.”
“And get in touch with the Province Queen’s Master and make him aware—”
The urgency in Ladvarian’s voice made him rush down the rest of the stairs and out of the house. Dim balls of witchlight hung over a spot in the garden, so it wasn’t hard to find the dog.
And it wasn’t hard to see what the Sceltie had found.
Ladvarian circled the lower halves of two severed legs. The legs were bare; the feet were still covered by ankle boots.
*These smell like Sylvia,* Ladvarian growled as he daintily walked on air to avoid leaving paw prints in the blood. *And I smell dead flesh.*
Daemon caught himself before pointing out that the severed legs were dead flesh. The dog had grown up at the Hall and had been given the same training in Protocol as any other young male who had resided there. Ladvarian wouldn’t use a disrespectful description simply because a person was demon-dead, so calling someone “dead flesh” was an indication of the dog’s contempt for the person—an indication that the scent belonged to an enemy.
“Track the dead flesh, but don’t go farther than these gardens,” Daemon said. “I’ll search for Sylvia. And stay shielded.”
*I will.* Ladvarian headed down a path that led away from the house.
Daemon put a Black shield around the legs to prevent anyone from taking them. Then he searched the ground for a blood trail. Nothing clean about the severing, so there should be plenty of blood for him to follow.
Unless the attacker had used Craft and vanished Sylvia. Those personal storage cupboards the Blood created with Craft and power couldn’t support anything that was alive. But you could move a body that way—or kill someone who was wounded.
He found blood splashed over the tops of plants, following a line where there was no trail. Stepping up on air to stand level with the tops of the plants, Daemon created a brighter ball of witchlight and followed the spray until he found a spot in the garden that looked crushed by a body—and he found pools of blood. Not as much as he’d expected, not if Sylvia had still been alive when she’d landed there, but enough to tell him where he needed to look for Halaway’s Queen.
Ladvarian trotted up to him, also balanced on air. *The dead flesh is gone, but its smells are strong in some parts of the garden.*
“Hunting here?” Daemon looked around. Sylvia had landed close to one of the garden paths. If she did make the transition ... He sighed. “She’s not here.”
*Tildee and Mikal are not here either,* Ladvarian said. *I have called Tildee. She doesn’t answer.*
“All right. Let’s take care of the living, and then we’ll see what we can do about the dead.”
They retraced their steps back to the house. As they passed the point of attack, Daemon wrapped a tight shield around the legs and vanished them.
Seeing Surreal standing near the front door, talking to the Master, Ladvarian trotted over to the Coach, then had to wait for Jaenelle to create an opening in the shields and let him in. Reassured when he saw the precautions his Lady had taken, Daemon joined Surreal and the Master.
“They didn’t find Mikal or Tildee—or Sylvia,” Surreal said.
“And no one seems to know where the younger son of the house has gone,” the Master said.
“Oh, sugar, I think they know,” Surreal replied.
Which meant there was at least one child whose disappearance had gone unreported. Either Sylvia stumbled onto something evil here or she’d been lured here to be sacrificed. Either way, none of the people he needed to talk to the most were here.
“Surreal, go get the boy,” Daemon said. “Pack up anything you can as fast as you can. We’re taking him with us.” No matter what part Haeze had played in setting this trap, Daemon wasn’t going to leave a child in this place.
“Give me ten minutes.” She opened the front door and went inside.
“Do you want us to stay?” the Master asked.
“No. You need to keep a tight watch on your own village. I’ll contact the Province Queen and have her send in some guards.”
“This village has guards,” the Master said. “Do you want me to talk to them before I go?”
“Do you think it will make any difference?” Daemon’s voice was dry, biting.
The Master stared at him, then swore. “They’re blind to what’s going on in their own village, and it may be deliberate. That’s what you’re saying?”
“That’s what I’m saying. This village is under your Queen’s hand. As her Master, these guards are under your command same as the men in her home village. Would you vouch for them?”
“A couple of months ago, I would have. Now?”The Master shook his head. “They knew about the children that had gone missing across the border. If there was any hint of something being wrong here, my Queen should have been told.”