Adree embraced him. There was still a plaster on the back of his hand where the cannula had been taken out. “I thought you were still in the medical unit.”

“I felt well enough to leave, and I wanted some fresh air, so when your clearance showed you leaving I thought I would join you.” Tobias Aeslin leaned against the wall. “I sent my bodyguards home. So I could speak to you privately about what happened today.”

Adree flushed. “Are you going to rebuke me too?”

“No. But I can’t fight your battles for you either.” He looked at her meditatively. “The Forum is correct, Adree.”

That was her last hope to be taken off probation dashed. The thought made her sullen. “You think I’m a traitor.”

“You know I would never think that.” Tobias shook his head with a smile. “Look at you. Sitting up here. Adrigal Lawley used to come here too.”

“I know. I’ve read her diaries.”

“Another sign, I think.”

“Please don’t talk to me about signs. Not tonight.”

“Adree, I know you don’t want to hear this. But it’s a responsibility to acknowledge. Your soul is so much like Adrigal’s. You think like her – your reports even sound like her sometimes. And you look so alike.”

“I’m myself. The only thing of Adrigal Lawley in me is her DNA. Stop tr –“

“Hear me out.” His voice was commanding; that of a general to his subordinate. Adree bit her tongue. “Yes. You’re Adree Aeslin. You're my daughter. I know that. But I can’t ignore what I see and hear either. And what I see in you is your ancestor, our ancestor, speaking. I see Adrigal Lawley in you so strongly I can’t ignore it. And I wonder…”

Adree looked at him curiously. His thoughts, intricate with all the thinking he had put into this question, were hard to unravel. “What?”

Her father folded his arms. “Why now? Why would the Entourage send her heart to us now? What stirs that only a member of the Entourage could face?” He sighed. “I feel change coming, Adree.”

She summoned the fire she hadn’t been able to channel before the Forum. “I don't care what it is. I’m ready for it. More than ready.”

“I wonder if you are.”

“I’m tired of people doubting me!” Adree got to her feet. “Even you, now?”

Tobias Aeslin’s face was tired and old in the starlight. “It’s not you I doubt, Adree. The world we live in is harsh. Its history repeats itself. Ancient memories… ancient grudges, old patterns… they bubble to the surface. Sometimes I think it’s beyond human power to dispel them.”

“Patterns can be broken if you’re strong enough.”

“Maybe.” He gave her a clear and candid look. “Remember your history. Adrigal’s thoughtlessness, where the man she loved was concerned, was what got her killed. She tried to save him even when she knew it was futile, and died because of it.”

She had no answer.

Tobias stared out towards the Middle District. “Perhaps the change I feel is the stability that will come from the Generator Well, stability that might finally allow us to rebuild. So I’m trebling the guard around the Well’s power grids in the southern ruins. I agree with your initial report, that’s probably where Borden will be striking.”

“I’ll leave tomor -”

“You’re not going.”

The words he spoke and the force of his thought behind them had the same iron ring.

“What?”

“I have to listen to the counsel I’m given. And if I ignored the Forum’s findings, I would be open to accusation, and rightly so. Perhaps you are the best person to catch Athellus Borden, but your edge has been blunted. You need time away to refocus.”

“But –“

“The Archive needs your care. And I need an analyst for the Earthborn movements; those are worrying me. I have to think of what the Taugen might do. I need someone I can trust to look into it.”

Bureaucratic makework for a disgraced soldier, in other words. “Father, please don’t do this.”

“I have to, Adree. I love you but I have to treat you as I would any other officer. That also means censuring you when necessary. I have to use you as you’re most suited, and right now you can’t catch Borden. We both know that. I can’t confuse nepotism with love.”

She felt her eyes well, her pride stinging. “Give me another chance.”

“I will. When I think you’re ready.”

Adree looked dully over the city once more. Oh my ancestor, is this the answer you’re giving me?

“Who’s going to lead the new guard details?”

“Captain Lessinger.”

She nodded. “I – I can give him my recommendations for how to handle an attack.” The pain made her add: “If I’m permitted to.”

“Of course you are.” Tobias put a hand on her shoulder. “Even if Lessinger captures Borden, you will still share the credit for it. This isn’t a punishment, Adree, it’s an object lesson. Treat it as one.”

She tipped her face to the stars. “You can’t teach a hawk to kill by keeping it grounded.”

Her father made no answer.

They sat in silence under the night sky, father and daughter. Finally Tobias, beginning to shiver, left the hill. Adree barely heard him go.

Old patterns.

Athellus…

He’s not prey. He’s another hawk, gone rogue. I cherish the thought of being leader, and killing him would prove I’m strong enough to do it. But after this? Now they’ve shown how fast they can seize on weakness? Can I rely on the support I have, to face the senior officers who would see me fall?

What if there’s a better way? What if… I managed to recruit the one person I know is strong and smart enough to fight anything?

What if I could find a way to bring him back to us? To do penance for his crimes and admit his error? To claim a banru back from their Greater Powers – wouldn’t that be unparalleled?

What he said to me on Lailenus Street… no, no. This is folly, treachery. My father already warned me. Forgive a convicted traitor? I must be strong enough to set my own will aside for the good of the city, for the morale of my people. Kill him and I earn the respect I need for my leadership. The leadership that so many lives might rest on…

But so many more might be saved with his help, with him there to advise me: repentant, experienced… proof that a true Evinthei can overcome anything, even ban-reth -

Can it be done?

This isn't some futile hope. I can do it. He’s got Evinthei blood. Surely what moves me must move him too.

Adree thought of the DNA sample, tagged and patiently waiting.

That woman who rescued him… the strange young man he’s with… I think they’re the key. I think they’re the answer. Learn about them, and I learn what to do next. Perhaps he’s lost forever, in which case a bullet might be quick and kind after all. But if there’s a chance - Better to be sure. I have to try.

Or all this might be for nothing. If he storms the guard posts, straight into our soldiers, the question becomes moot. With the right people, the right planning, Lessinger could take him, all three of them, banru or not.

The night sky seemed to burn into her.

Lessinger… 

…now it hangs on you.

 

 

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