This week’s chapters were INTENSE! For gifs, caps-lock, and Monty Python references, you can see my twitter thread for this week’s readalong; for a more thoughtful recap, read on.
Chapter 9, Farstryke Castle, is, predictably enough, set inside Farstryke Castle. And it’s immediately interesting because Farstryke seems to be a kind of Atlantean cultural heritage site – it used to be the home base of the now-defunct Time Court, another Arcana (like the Lovers Court) which was disbanded ‘for crimes against humanity’. It’s definitely noteworthy that it’s crimes against humanity, not their fellow Atlanteans, that is grounds for wiping out an Arcana – one of the fundamental powers of Atlantean society. As Rune said earlier, all of (New) Atlantis is weakened when one of the Arcana is destroyed (at least if the other Courts don’t get to profit from it by seizing their stuff in a formal raid). So dismantling a Court is a very big deal, from which we can infer that for whatever reason, fucking with humans is a Very Big Deal indeed. Why that’s so is a bit unclear at this point. On the one hand, Atlanteans don’t protect their victims, they use them as object-lessons, so I get that an Arcana abusing other Atlanteans is not seen as punishable – the victims should have been able to protect themselves better, or something. (Urgh victim-blaming). But why do Atlanteans care about protecting humans, then?
Especially because, the Lovers Court, we’re told, threatened New Atlantis’ treaties with humanity. Treaties that presumably didn’t exist before Atlantis was revealed to the world. But since the Arcanum inspired the Major Arcana of the tarot, and there is no Time tarot card, the Time Court must have been taken apart ages and ages ago, before those whispers of magic could get out to inspire the tarot. So, before humans knew about Atlantis. Before there were treaties to threaten.
And yet messing with humans was still a big enough deal to get the Time Court ripped apart. Even back then.
Since Brand can’t go with Rune this time, Ciaran is the one to accompany Rune into Farstryke. All’s going fairly well until Ciaran hits a null-line – which kills magic – and the ghostly inhabitants of the castle grounds wake up for breakfast. Rune and Ciaran can pretty much handle these, right up until the Big Bad from the last chapter – the creature Rune is calling the Dead Man, because he is very good at snark but maybe not so good at naming things – shows itself. That scuffle doesn’t go so well, with the Dead Man continuing to display impossible abilities – like speaking, but also grabbing and moving null lines around – until Rune tries a gambit.
This, apparently, is something old Atlanteans would yell to each other on the battlefield, when they were fighting at the behest of their masters and had no personal quarrel with each other. And I guess it makes an impression, because Rurik – as the Dead Man names himself – confesses that he must kill Rune if he tries to get past and inside the castle, but doesn’t want Rune dead of his own will.
The problem is, not wanting him dead does not mean wishing Rune well, and Rurik gives off plenty of serious creeper!vibes.
(The ‘Stay with me. Play with me.’ line is giving me Exquisite Corpse flashbacks, and I have no idea if that’s intentional or not but it is definitely helping with the NOPE-NOPE-NOPE.)
Rune and Ciaran manage to fight Rurik off with the help of Bless-fire, which is exactly what it sounds like – a spell for holy fire that destroys dead, evil things with extreme prejudice. It’s pretty clear that Rurik isn’t actually destroyed though, and Ciaran tells Rune he has got to report this to Lord Tower. But he won’t say why, and Rune currently has no cell service, so it has to wait a while.
They face lower-level dead things inside the castle, and something about its haunted energies messes with Ciaran; he keeps getting trapped in what might be visions or memories, until he’s forced to retreat and leave Rune to go on alone. Rune makes it through the various monsters, though he’s running dangerously low on magic by the time he finds Addam Saint Nicholas.
Perfectly hale and healthy.
With fast food and an mp3 player.
With books and wine.
It’s…not exactly the condition Rune, or the reader, was expecting to find him in.
There’s no way I’m ignoring Rune’s reaction to this, though;
My first thought was that he danced like Brand.
As I said on Twitter when I reached this line – EXCUSE ME?
You’re in a haunted castle, there’s an impossible monster throwing null threads around outside, Ciaran had to retreat so you’re alone, your Bless-fire is running out, you finally found the kidnap victim someone has been trying to kill you to prevent you from finding – and your first thought is ‘he dances like Brand’???
There’s so much to read into this: it’s yet another moment reinforcing/driving home the depth of Rune and Brand’s relationship, that even now (maybe especially now) it’s Brand Rune thinks of, not any kind of relief that the mission’s almost over, or even relief or confusion that Addam seems to be okay. It tells us that Rune has spent a fair bit of time watching Brand dance, or thinking about it – probably both. And given what follows, I think it might also be how Rune reflexively categorises people who are beautiful or appealing to him – I think he sees them in terms of Brand, in how they are like and unlike his Companion. Because Brand is his standard by which he measures the rest of the world. Brand is the standard anyone else has to measure up to.
Meaning that Addam reminding Rune of Brand is how we’re supposed to know that Addam has caught Rune’s attention in a way most people don’t. And is probably a flag from Edwards telling the reader to pay attention, that this scion is maybe not like all the others we’ve met so far.
Which seems to be true: Addam immediately endears himself to me by swinging to attack Rune, only to halt when he realises that Rune is not one of his dead-creature captors.
“Ah. You’re not dead. I am being rescued, yes?”
The next few seconds are an amusing confusion as Addam – kind of naturally – reveals his assumption that this is a fairly major operation, rather than a one-man mission. Rune seems to find this hilarious.
“Oh, I get it. You think this is one of them big, fancy rescues. Boy are you about to be embarrassed.”
This is one of those moments Edwards drops where it’s easy to miss the layers. My first time reading this scene, I just shared in Rune’s amusement, but now it reads very differently. Or rather, it’s still funny, but it says a lot about Rune’s character, his personality and how he sees himself. Rune thinks Addam is about to be embarrassed; it doesn’t seem to cross his mind that Addam might instead be impressed. It’s one thing for a big team of people to break in and break Addam out; it’s a whole nother thing for one single person to walk in to a notoriously haunted castle, get past Rurik and all the other traps and monsters, and get Addam out by himself.
So does Rune really not understand how impressive he is? He has absolute confidence in his abilities (and knows exactly where his limits are), and he dismisses other scions as ‘wasted and wasteful’, but it’s like he hasn’t made the mental jump from ‘I am objectively better with magic and in a fight than any other scion I’ve met’ to ‘I’m actually kind of awesome’. I’m very happy to have a hero who isn’t stuck-up and arrogant, but Rune doesn’t even seem to have very solid self-confidence. Confidence in his abilities: absolutely. Confidence in his own worth as a person: not so much.
I think it’s pretty clear that the judgement of his people has had an effect on him, even as he bares his teeth and defies them at every turn. He won’t give up and die; he won’t let assholes like Ashton Saint Gabriel walk all over him; he doesn’t even try to live especially quietly, although he’s happy to fly under the radar for purely tactical reasons. He refuses to be a broken thing. But somewhere along the line, I think he internalised some of the vicious whispers, because I don’t see how he could be so blind to how genuinely impressive he is otherwise.
Unless he’s just used to other scions being idiots who don’t or can’t recognise that a single rescuer is a lot more badass than a bunch of them. I guess it takes a certain kind of mind to be able to jump through all the implications of a situation – especially to jump through them quickly. So maybe he just didn’t expect Addam to have a good enough grasp of the real world to understand what it was Rune was pulling off, and what that says about him?
Well, if that’s the case, then Addam very quickly subverts Rune’s expectations – and the reader’s. What with it being so established that yeah, actually, scions = assholes, and with Addam even getting the next chapter named after him, it would be natural to expect Addam to be – well, not that great.
But that’s really not how it goes.
On their way out of Farstryke, Rune and Addam run into a pack of animated skeletons. Addam’s immediate response is “Ten apiece” – meaning, he’s automatically putting himself forward to actively help in his own rescue; he takes it for granted that he’ll take half the monsters while Rune takes the other half. Compared to the only other scion we’ve seen in combat – Ashton, who took minutes to react when people were throwing grenades at their group, and wanted to have Brand whipped for insolence afterwards – the difference is damn stark.
Addam does panic and throw his stake before he really should, but personally I’m willing to forgive him. Even if his cage was a fairly comfortable one, he did get snatched out of his office by something so evil just its psychic traces are enough to make people throw up, and he’s been stuck in a castle populated by the dead ever since. If he’s a bit on edge, I think that’s understandable?
Besides, after Rune blasts the skeletons, this happens;
He gave me a smile. “I am unaccustomed to being upstaged by a proper hero. That was very good spellwork.” He winked, turned, and retreated. “This way, Hero.”
I TOLD YOU SO, RUNE. I TOLD YOU.
But seriously, the genuine appreciation, the lack of pricked pride… He takes Rune’s teasing – “Want me to go fetch your stake?” – without the slightest bit of offence, and there’s no sarcasm when he compliments Rune’s spell. Even the fact that he’s smart enough to be impressed says good things, doesn’t it?
It feels like a bit of an Easter egg that the spell Rune uses is Shatter, the one stored in his ‘marital aid’ sigil. Remember a few chapters back, when, in response to the teasing about the cock ring sigil, he was all
“Godsdamnit,” I said. “It’s a sigil. I have a Shatter spell in it. Do you know how few scions can pull off Shatter?”
It’s THAT spell, and Addam seems to recognise how badass it is. Give the man points!
I also somehow doubt it’s a completely innocent coincidence that the spell that impresses Addam is in what’s effectively a sex toy sigil, when Addam is clearly being set up as a potential love interest.
And I mean, he flirts. With Rune. So clearly he also has good taste!
They make it out of the castle without too much trouble after that, meeting up with Ciaran outside. Without discussing it, Rune and Ciaran agree not to tell Addam about Quinn’s coma just now, and Rune calls Brand to report in. Brand is, obviously, deeply relieved that everything’s okay, but he’s not willing to write Rurik off as a threat. Rune tries to play it down; it’s not clear if he’s just trying to reassure Brand, or if he genuinely thinks Rurik isn’t something he needs to worry about just now. Given Rune’s tactical smarts, I suspect the former; he’s too competent and realistic to think Rurik’s little fixation with him is over and done with.
It clearly doesn’t work at soothing Brand, though, given that we get this delightful little bit of interaction as Ciaran drives them away from Farstryke;
My cell phone vibrated. I pulled it out and saw Brand’s name. I barely got a syllable out before he said, “Are you sticking to busy streets? Is anyone watching for a tail? Do you have your senses open to feel for power spikes?”
I thought about it for a second. I said, “Shit. You’re behind me, aren’t you?” I swiveled around. Brand’s motorcycle trailed us by a half block. I felt a sharp, sudden surge of emotion–relief he was there, guilt that he always did a better job at looking out for trouble, and anger. Oh, there was anger. “Brand, so help me fucking gods, if you were standing outside Farstryke this entire time, it will be war.”
Seriously, this exchange hit me hard. “It will be war.” Fuck everything and everyone else, because Rune had to face the possibility of a world without Brand in it when Ciaran passed along Brand’s prophecy, and it was too much for him then. Just the thought of it. So if Brand actually risked it–risked dying, risked leaving Rune forever–then hell yes, it will be fucking war.
(It’s a different kind of risk than the ones they face every time they take a job. A seer who sees probabilities said that Brand always dies if he enters Farstryke. That’s a certainty, a surety, a promise that their combined skills and powers will not, cannot be enough to prevent it. Brand would have died. So if he came so close to the castle–)
But he didn’t, of course. No matter how much he might have wanted to, Brand knows better.
Ciaran drops them off at Addam’s condo, after Rune expresses his genuine gratitude for the principality’s help. It’s the kind of open gratitude I haven’t seen very often in stories like this, honestly – again, there’s that lack of pride or shame, Rune not hesitating to make it clear that he needed Ciaran’s help and that he’s thankful he had it. No macho posturing.
Ciaran implies – I don’t think quite truthfully – that he did it solely or mostly for Quinn, whom he’s fond of; personally, I think Ciaran might just be a better person than he’s willing to admit to. But he reminds Rune to tell Lord Tower about Rurik, and to tell Addam about Quinn’s injuries asap. The two brothers are ‘unusually close’.
He blows Brand a kiss and drives away
Upstairs, Addam momentarily steps wrong by inviting Brand – and it does seem like a genuine invitation, not a snooty dickish thing – to wait outside the apartment if he’d be more comfortable there. This is more than just an amusing mis-step because when he’s corrected – Rune explaining that Brand is his partner, not just his Companion; Brand pointing out that bodyguards don’t leave their clients in unfamiliar rooms with strangers – he bows an apology and welcomes Brand in, adjusting his expectations and behaviour immediately.
Basically, Addam continues to impress. He weeps without shame when he hears that Quinn has been hurt, which: see what I’ve said before re the lack of toxic masculinity bs. It’s one of the things I really, really love about these books, and about Rune and Brand in particular; Addam’s complete disinterest in being macho or whatever just reaffirms that he’s different and belongs in the same category as Brand and Rune, a clear Good Guy, something that’s only confirmed as he talks about Quinn and shares the emails he received from his little brother before the attack. And from his and Rune’s subsequent discussion about what’s going on and what might be motivating whoever’s doing it, it seems pretty clear that while Addam’s not super interested in revenge for his own sake, he is going to kill whoever hurt his little brother.
And you know, I think I’m okay with that.
We get a little glimpse of what is probably the more typically Atlantean approach to sex and sexual attraction too, with this little moment before Addam goes to shower;
“You interest me, Hero. I’m fairly sure you saved my life, and a simple thank you seems so small. I don’t know whether I should pay you handsomely, or invite you into the shower with me.”
“We take checks,” I said.
It makes Addam smile, and it definitely made me grin.
Rune and Brand then actually search the apartment, since this is the first time they’ve had access to it, and discover that someone set things up to make it look like Addam left of his own volition to Brazil. Lord Tower was the only one taking Addam’s disappearance seriously, but clearly whoever took him was ready for when other people did too; when someone eventually checked his flat, that was what they were going to find.
But Addam’s business partners don’t have access to his apartment – only his family and his assistant, Lilly Rose do. Pretty much confirming that, whoever might have summoned Rurik, someone very close to Addam is working with them, if they’re not the summoner themselves.
Addam tells Rune he wants to take over Rune’s contract from Lord Tower now – hire Rune himself, in other words – which Rune agrees to, as long as Addam agrees to follow orders when necessary (it’s pretty obvious Rune hasn’t forgotten how Ashton behaved during the firefight, and wants to make sure Addam will follow orders in a similar situation). Addam then arms himself – he has a belt of 20 matched sigils – metal disks, like the one Quinn gave Rune – but has only four of them charged with spells. However, they’re all charged with Telekenesis, not stupid cosmetic stuff. Addam, apparently, has more sense than most scions, which is something he seems to be aware of –
“Do any of them contain spells to make your teeth whiter? Your breath mintier?”
“Such a cleverly laid trap, Hero. Yes, please, allow me to admit being vain and vacuous.”
That said, he seems unaware of the immense privilege of having so many sigils – that match, along with matching accessories designed just for those sigils. He still comes from unimaginable wealth. He’s just that somehow managed to become less of a dick than most other scions seem to become.
I’d really like to know more of his backstory, honestly. Why is he different? Is it Lady Justice’s parenting skills, or was he influenced by someone or something else?
Anyway, they all head to the hospital so Addam can see Quinn, even if Quinn’s unconscious. On the way, Rune and Brand quiz Addam on who could possibly wish him harm. It’s an interesting little scene, because initially Addam has only good things to say about everyone. They have to teach him a little mental trick to start seeing the potential for his inner circle to wish his downfall, and it’s not an easy thing for Addam to do. But he does it, and that’s what’s noteworthy; he shuts up, he listens, and he does as Rune and Brand ask, once he wraps his head around it. Once it clicks, he’s actually pretty good at it, and tactically analyses everyone in his inner circle, coming up with what might motivate any of them to hurt him. Thankfully, I have no real-life experience with needing to analyse my own nearest and dearest in the same way, but given how most people protest and throw a fit if detectives or the like ask questions about whether their loved ones might be the bad guy, I’m guessing this is something a lot of people balk at.
But Addam listens, and does it. Without protest, even if it’s difficult. That he’s willing to listen and obey Rune and Brand is another major point in his favour.
Although I admit that my heart melts when he refuses to see Quinn as an enemy. There’s nothing that could make Quinn hurt him, no matter what Rune and Brand say. And it becomes clear that that’s very likely the case; Addam explains how he’s basically raised Quinn himself, and there’s no way to forget how Quinn told Rune that in every timeline where Addam dies, Quinn eventually commits suicide.
I suppose he could have been lying, but I don’t think so.
At the hospital, Addam goes to see Quinn, and while waiting for him to be finished, Rune catches Michael Saint Talbot – one of Addam’s business partners – leaving the hospital. Ella, Addam’s sister, is also leaving, though by another route, and it’s clear from the state of them that they’ve been making out.
Pieces snap into place.
Ella reveals her ability to cry on command, and uses it to dodge Rune’s questions, and then Addam’s, when Addam returns. Addam, after all, is not so impressed with the fact that Ella hasn’t been to see Quinn, despite having visited the hospital where he’s staying. So Ella is revealed as much more manipulative, and much smarter, than we knew her to be before.
It’s also a pretty hard strike against her that she doesn’t like Quinn. Hmmm.
Despite that, Addam struggles to understand how Ella and Michael being together is suspicious, indicating that he really has lived a life of incredible safety, and also that his seeing-good-in-others shtick is pretty deeply ingrained and likely genuine. I like him for it, but I can understand Rune and Brand’s frustration in having to lay things out for him.
They stop by the hospital’s sanctum – a space Atlanteans use to engage in whatever activities they use to raise their magic and charge their sigils – to stock up on spells. Addam dives for the music collection, and starts dancing; once Rune is done meditating (the imagery here is really beautiful; in charging his sigils, he imagines his power as a grain of sand, and then slowly builds it into a pearl) he watches Addam move.
I liked men who danced. It was something I was far too self-conscious to do well myself. Brand was a good dancer. Brand, who’d dragged a stuffed armchair to the corner so that he could keep an eye on the exits, and who was watching me watching Addam. I ducked my gaze.
Once again, we see Rune comparing Addam to Brand. I still think that says something deep and important about how Rune’s mind and worldview work, and in particular how he sees other people. How Brand-like is this person that he maybe likes?
Rune isn’t thinking about that consciously, though, or if he does, it’s not something he shares with the reader. Instead, while he, Brand and Addam are discussing Ella and Michael, Rune gets yanked into one of Lord Tower’s memories, a method of communication Lord Tower seems to prefer to phonecalls. Lord Tower – who has heard from Ciaran, it seems, or else has listened to the messages Rune’s been leaving when the Tower wouldn’t return his calls – says that Rurik is a lich, a creature that is supposed to by a myth even to Atlanteans. While the details are sparing, it’s pretty clear that this is a Big Bad indeed, and dealing with Rurik is not going to be a nice simple walk in the park.
Returning to his body, Rune doesn’t share what Lord Tower said, only that they need to go to him immediately. Brand knows him too well, though, and pulls him aside to demand more information. Rune tells him that Lord Tower said Rurik is a mythological creature, but he doesn’t use the word ‘lich’, and given Rune’s lack of information on them I’m not sure Brand would know much about them either.
However, the trip to Lord Tower doesn’t go well. The three of them are attacked in an underpass – in public, in the middle of a crowd. People start dropping like flies as spectres emerge from the dead, and Rune and Brand aren’t equipped to deal with them – Rune’s out of Bless-fire, and spectres don’t seem to be material creatures that can be shot or stabbed. They fight back as well as they can, though, with Addam using his Telekenesis to clear the path for them until Rune tells him to run ahead and get them help.
What happens is this: Rune and Brand reach Lord Tower’s building. Dozens of supposed civilians reveal themselves as part of Lord Tower’s defences by throwing up an enormous Bless-fire barrier.
And Rune’s on one side – the safe side – while Brand is left on the other.
Lord Tower’s people try to stop Rune from getting Brand.
It doesn’t work.
Rune and Brand don’t talk about the barrier, but Addam is waiting for them inside. Brand tells Rune that his Aspect set his eyeballs on fire.
“This is new?” Addam asked politely.
Yep, it very much is.
There’s not really time to discuss it, though, because Mayan, Lord Tower’s head of security and Companion, sends the three of them, not up to the floors where Rune and Lord Tower typically meet, but down. They’re going to Lord Tower’s ‘war room’, and Rune and Brand, at least, grasp the implications all too quickly.
Whatever’s going on is really, really bad.
And so it proves to be. Lord Tower – along with Ciaran, who is also mysteriously present – describes his one previous experience with a lich, many centuries ago, and explains how liches are tied to terrible disasters, like the eruption of Pompeii.
“They are summonable creatures, and virtually immortal. They feed of death and annihilation; they draw strength from disasters on an epochal scale; and if they are not stopped they become, I promise you, a threat that can bring down empires.”
A little of this is shown as Lord Tower shows them a grid of the city, covered in neat red circles – deaths Rurik caused and used as a death-magic tracking spell to find Rune. Lord Tower doesn’t blink at this, but Rune is shaken, and I love him more for it.
I stared at the red circles. I couldn’t count all of them in a single glance.
It reminds me of how he cared about bystanders at the hospital; somehow, maybe because Atlantean society has tried to make him into one, Rune is able to see the weak and ostracised as people rather than toys or subjects. Even Addam doesn’t express the kind of horror Rune’s feeling about the tracking spell, although he, too, tried to protect the bystanders in the underpass as much as he could.
I’m not sure I’d call it a superpower, but Rune’s empathy is one of the things I love most about him, and really appreciate in a hero.
Lord Tower – and Ciaran – present their plan: their are various reasons it’s not ideal to chase Rurik down or even go straight to the Arcanum with news that there’s a lich in New Atlantis, so their best bet (they say) is to use Rune and bait to draw Rurik out, given that Rurik is entranced with him. Specifically, Lord Tower wants Rune to travel into the Westlands – the magic-warped area outside the city – to find and clear the summoning circle that was used to summon Rurik in the first place. The circle is most likely to be the one in Lord Magician’s Westlands compound – and Ella’s been travelling to the Justice compound in the Westlands lately.
It’s not looking like she’s going to prove to be uninvolved.
Lord Tower collected Max and Queenie – Rune and Brand’s sweet housekeeper – meaning that their entire household is now safely in Lord Tower’s – well, his tower. Brand kicks Rune into a guest bed to catch up on much-needed sleep.
When he wakes up, he and Addam have a short conversation about the situation – once Addam’s dressed and Rune can take his eyes off the scissors! – and they’re both refreshingly open and realistic.
“I would like to admit I am worried you have a poor impression of me.”
“Why would you say that?” I asked, stopping short.
“I did not fight a spectre, as you and your Companion did.”
“No, you just used Telekenesis to push bystanders from the line of fire. You pushed tripping hazards out of my way. And when I needed you to run for help, you went, without hesitation. You handled yourself well.”
I really like this bit of interaction, since it’s just – not the kind of talk I think I’ve ever gotten to read before. One of the things that differentiates Last Sun from other urban fantasy novels with whodunnit elements is how genuinely professional Rune and Brand come across as; they really seem to know their stuff, and react to things like real people would, real professionals – not like they’re in an action film, or in whatever way is better for the drama or cinematics. And Rune is completely right here: Addam did exactly what he should have, and Rune can see that and appreciates it.
SO DO I.
In the years since the fall of the Sun Throne, I’d had very, very few romantic interests. I was uncomfortable with people flirting with me, and usually let Brand growl them away. The fact that Brand was almost speculative with Addam’s interest was either really interesting or horribly unsettling.
AND I GUESS BRAND DOES TOO.
Max is adorably puppy-ish when he gets to see Rune after the last few days. He’s clearly crushing on Rune hard, and it’s hilarious to see Brand deal with that – especially in contrast to how he’s ‘speculative’ about Addam’s interest. It’s cute, but I continue to be relieved that Rune and Brand – Brand especially – are so no-nonsense about not putting up with it, given that Max is just 17 and dependant on them.
Max jerked into motion. He beat Brand to the table and slid into the chair on my other side. “I’m okay. How are you?”
Brand grabbed the back of Max’s chair, lifted it up, and dropped it into the next place setting. He pulled another chair up for himself and sat down next to me.
I cackled, but I also find it telling that Brand is okay with Addam sitting on the other side of Rune. Addam’s being evaluated and considered; Max is not even a little bit in the running, and definitely doesn’t get to push Brand out of his spot – which is always next to Rune.
Lord Tower sets a very fine table indeed for his guests, with ridiculously rare and expensive magical fish for dinner. It’s another one of those tiny details Edwards uses to convey a lot, since Addam calls the sundrop fish ‘a treat’, highlighting the difference between his lifestyle and Rune’s – given that this is a meal Rune could never afford if he was footing the bill. But the focus of the meal is very much what they’re going to do about Rurik; this is when Lord Tower explains about the summoning circle, and tells them all that all of Addam’s business partners seem to have disappeared. There’s evidence that at least a few of them were attacked or abducted, but there’s no telling if they were staged or not.
But ultimately, Lord Tower makes it clear that Rune is to go to the Westlands with only Addam – Brand has to stay behind, to help convince Rurik that Rune is still in New Atlantis. The resulting confrontation is epic and emotional and so full of feels; Brand is furious, incredibly angry at Lord Tower for making this necessary (which – he really has. Lord Tower has a golem of Rune, a kind of animated statue that will definitely convince people Rune is in the city – but obviously to make it convincing, Rune’s Companion has to hang out with it. It was Lord Tower’s choice to not have a Brand golem made, when he has dozens of other golems of other people – and you really have to wonder why. Any scenario in which Rune’s body-double was going to be necessary was always going to require the real Rune be separated from his Companion, to make the body-double worth the effort. Why would Lord Tower want that?) Even Queenie, who I think is completely human and definitely doesn’t have Brand’s level of badassery, demands to know why Rune is the one who has to perform the anti-summoning ritual in the Westlands.
OF LORD TOWER.
It’s stunningly impressive, and suddenly gives Queenie a lot more depth than her character has really had a chance to display this far. A not-militarily-trained human housekeeper, snarling at a sitting Arcana in defense of her boys?
Oh, hell to the yes.
Brand storms off, and Rune goes after him. Rune doesn’t seem to share Brand’s rage – it kind of reads like Rune doesn’t see, or doesn’t judge, Lord Tower’s manipulation in the same way Brand does. Rune doesn’t like them being separated, but the Westlands is full of wild magic, which isn’t something Brand is equipped to fight. He can see the sense in Brand staying behind, though that doesn’t make it easier for either of them. But where, in another book, the scene might end with Brand storming off to spend his rage in a punching bag, here he pivots on his heel and comes back to hug the fuck out of Rune, apologising for his anger and for lashing out at Rune because of it.
This is what soulmates look like. Whether Rune and Brand remain platonic throughout the series, or eventually shift to romantic; this is what soulmates look like.
And when Rune slips on the wet floor…
Rune, Brand, and Max join Addam by Lord Tower’s pool, where Brand and Max reveal what they’ve discovered in researching the recarnates. It’s an important little scene because it has that ring of truth again; Max babbles about how recarnates’ dicks fall off, because, dead bodies, and Addam teases him a bit. But Brand very coolly points out that that is, actually, useful information.
“Recarnates used to be alive, and a part of them remembers it. There’s a part of them that hates what some sick necromantic fuck has done to them. And the more you make them aware of it, the harder it is for said necromantic fuck to hold them. You don’t think it’s good information that their dicks are about to fall off? Knowledge is a weapon. Knowledge informs tactics. Max did good work.”
It feels like another exchange that wouldn’t have happened in another story; it’s what someone actually trained in tactics would say, whereas in another book, Addam’s teasing probably would have stood, because another author wouldn’t have nailed that professional mentality so well.
But let me point out that Addam gives his sincere apologies. Again. This is a scion who isn’t afraid to be wrong, and doesn’t think it’s weak to say he’s sorry. Who isn’t offended to be put in his place by a human Companion, or upstaged by a 17 year old.
It makes me like him more.
The chapter closes with a meeting between Rune and Lord Tower. Besides getting a glimpse of a beautiful but dying Atlantean art – painting with melted gemstones – the scene is important because Rune lays down the law.
“I want to thank you for helping me outside, when the spectres were after me. You revealed one of your defense mechanisms to save my life. I know it wasn’t an easy, or costless, decision. I need you to knot that–that I am truly, truly grateful for your help and protection. I always have been.”
“But if you or your people ever leave Brand outside that protection again like you did downstairs–when it would have been so easy to save him as well–I swear, on my name, by binding oath, that we are done.”
It’s a potent moment, and a pretty big risk for Rune to take. Rune, after all, isn’t at all certain where he stands in Lord Tower’s affections, if Lord Tower even has affection for him; the Tower is one of the most powerful men in the world, and Rune is definitely risking losing that powerful protection. It’s been implied that most of Rune and Brand’s income comes from doing jobs for Lord Tower; that could disappear too. Worse, if Lord Tower is offended, if he decides to strike Rune down as he’s struck down so many others…
Someday Rune will have his father’s strength. He doesn’t yet. He wouldn’t be able to stop Lord Tower.
And that risk – in all its layers – is worth it. Rune is absolutely ready to walk away from everything Lord Tower has been and is to him if it’s a choice between the Tower and Brand.
Just let that sink in for a sec.
In the end, Lord Tower promises to do his best when the situation allows for it – he’ll still prioritise Rune’s life over Brand’s, and points out that Brand would want nothing less. Lord Tower even gives what might be a kind of apology for having Brand whipped when he and Rune were younger – when Rune needed to learn, after the fall of the Sun Court, that he needed to control himself and his Companion.
Sometimes Lord Tower seems coldly calculating, but in that moment, it does seem like he might have genuine affection for Rune – I’m not sure what else could get a man like Lord Tower to come even that close to an apology. On the other hand…
The whipping incident came about because Lord Tower’s son was sexually harassing Rune in the aftermath of the Sun Court’s fall, and Rune’s own rape. Now, years later, Rune asks “Have you changed your mind about what happened? Do you see your son more clearly now?”
To which Lord Tower replies, “I’ve always seen Dalton clearly, Rune.”
And that alarms me on several levels. Because it means that Lord Tower allowed his son to grow into that kind of person; it suggests that the Tower was fully aware of what Dalton was doing to Rune, and allowed it. I get that Atlantean society isn’t interested in protecting the hurt or weak, but it feels like there’s more to it than that – or there might be, at least. Especially since Lord Tower was protecting Rune at the time, took him in and gave him some kind of home (although not for nothing – Rune made some desperate promises and oaths of service, though I’m glad they’ve now run out). He wanted Rune to learn the lesson about self-control, but why did he let it happen that way? Why has he let his son become someone like that? It’s like he’s a puppet-master, and was pulling strings for more than to teach Rune just that one lesson.
I’m not at all sure he can be trusted long-term.
But that wraps up this week! The Q&A with KD Edwards is happening now over on Twitter, and make sure to follow the #LastSunReadalong hashtag to join us for week 4’s reading!