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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 9, Reunions and Seekings (continued)
Sarai entered the small cabin in which Stavin was restrained first, with Mehrnaz at a discreet distance behind her. As Sarai confirmed that his restraints were fully operational, Stavin was well aware that her sister’s hands were in one of the deadliest places he could imagine the hands of an Ishmaeli hirebrand of her caliber: inside her robe. What weapons might be secreted there he didn’t want to imagine.
In the day or so that he had been their prisoner—a time during which he had been left entirely alone—Stavin had gone over all the likely scenarios. Secular Genesis wouldn’t have hired the Sisters of the Red Sun to abduct him; they would have used people inside the organization to take him down. It would have been far too expensive and ultimately pointless to hire the twins to deal with him. Not to mention the fact that Secular Genesis had no reason to be displeased with his actions.
Likewise, the Vatican wouldn’t have hired them, for too many reasons to count, among them pride, suspicion and the connections between the Muslims and the Ishmaeli—no matter how tenuous those connections were.
After going through the other logical candidates, he was left with his original instinct that somehow, Maree had access to more money than he had ever dreamed—which wasn’t all that strange, since as a high-ranking templar she would come into contact with all sorts of valuable contraband—and she had either known about his use of the sisters on various tasks or had hired them without realizing they had a connection to him.
No one else could want him badly enough to hire them. No one else would need to turn to hirebrands for such a job except for someone angry, desperate and on the run from both Secular Genesis and the Catholic Union.
“I am willing to pay you more than Maree Deschaine has,” Stavin said confidently and neutrally, figuring that his best bet was to run with his instinct now, while he still had time to do so.
Sarai’s face remained impassive, though she turned slowly and casually to look at her sister. Expressions passed between them, but what those faces meant to the sisters was unknown to Stavin.
“Assuming that any such person has contracted with us in this regard, what makes you suppose that as hirebrands we would break an agreement simply because someone else paid us more?” Mehrnaz asked.
There was a buzzing note in her tone, like a threat. That didn’t surprise Stavin. Where Ishmaeli honor was concerned—and most particularly hirebrand honor—he was treading on dangerous ground with such a gambit.
“I am still alive and unharmed,” Stavin responded, even more certain now that he was on the right track; the sisters had not made any sign that he had misjudged Maree’s involvement. “This suggests to me that you were hired to restrain me, not to take action against me. You are waiting for your chance to deliver me to her or for her to come here and deal with me herself. This also means you won’t harm me for any impertinence in making such an offer. And, as I am already in your clutches and obviously on borrowed time, I have nothing to lose by making the attempt.”
“Assumptions can be dangerous things, leader Stavin,” Sarai said, feeling the old appellation for him sit bitterly on her tongue, when her desire was to call him by his current status, the doomed Stavin. But it would not do to reveal their hands when he was doing such a good job of revealing his, she considered.
“You should also know that dealing with Maree is dangerous to you,” Stavin continued. “She would not be operating from a position of honor or honesty. She has been, we thought, in the service of Secular Genesis as a plant within the templars, but recent actions by her suggest her loyalty to us is as tenuous as her feigned loyalty was to them. And she is being pursued by the Vatican. It is quite likely that she will betray you to them to save herself.”
“Our thanks, leader Stavin,” Mehrnaz responded, and it was entirely unclear to him whether sarcasm was hidden there. “Now that we are assured you are still secure cargo, we can take your comments under advisement.”
* * *
Once they were well away from the cabin, Sarai turned to her sister. “Intriguing. Here we planned only to intimidate him while we determine how best to mete out our vengeance on him, and we discover that he has no idea we were hunting him down for our own reasons. I am, in truth, appalled by his ignorance-insult.”
Mehrnaz nodded slowly. “Despite all his care to make sure his agents over the years, and his own actions, rarely posed potential insult to our cultural values, he truly thinks us nothing but mere mercenaries in the end.”
“He has no idea what being linked to a hellpod attack would mean to us, given what Muslims have suffered since the Conflagration,” Sarai noted.
“Typical Earther prejudice,” Mehrnaz said. “They either assume we have no connection to those who sired our race or they assume we sympathize with their every plight.”
They stopped in the corridor at the same time.
“So now, we must ascertain how to honorably proceed,” Sarai said.
“We must find out more about this Maree Deschaine and discover whether she has a valid honor-debt to exercise against the doomed Stavin,” Mehrnaz responded.
“Because if she does, we cannot knowingly exclude her from participation in his demise,” Sarai concluded with a rustling sigh.
“So, what do we do with him in the interim?” Mehrnaz wondered aloud.
“Sedate him and place him into one of our stasis tubes,” Sarai said. “I dislike having him ambulatory, as we don’t know how soon we will be able to find this Maree-fugitive. But our tubes are sufficient for the task to keep him for a pair of weeks if we must.”
“And after that, if we haven’t found the Maree-fugitive, he will be completely and solely ours to deal with,” her sisted responded.
“Ah, yes,” Sarai answered. “And by that time, imagine the creative and edifying punishments we will have devised to bring the doomed Stavin to the end of his journey.”
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