#LastSunReadalong Week 4: Chapters 13-16

Posted 9th December 2019 by Siavahda in Promos, Queer Lit / 0 Comments

This post is late, because it was hard to write. Anybody reading along with me knows the last few chapters were rough (even if they had a ton of wonderful things in them as well) and analysing some of this stuff wasn’t super fun. But! We’re approaching the endgame now, folx. And as usual, feel free to peruse my live-tweeting thread for these chapters over here,

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Warning, also, that this week we discuss rape and trauma.

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The last chapter ended with the bombshell that Rune and Brand are to be separated, with Rune and Addam heading into the Westlands, while Brand helps Lord Tower with an unspecified distraction for Rurik. Chapter 13 opens with that leavetaking, and to be blunt, it’s fucking heartbreaking. Although there have been moments where their Companion bond was muted – all the way back in chapter one, Brand was unable to sense Rune for a minute during the raid on the Heart Throne when Rune stepped into the secure, presumably heavily warded lab – they’ve never really been separated before, and it’s incredibly hard for both of them. It’s absolutely heart-rending to read, especially when Rune has to face the fact that he just might not come back. He asks Lord Tower to take care of Brand, especially if Rune himself dies.

It’s painfully clear to the reader, though, that not even Lord Tower can do that. If Rune dies, Brand will be right behind him. Rune’s only option is survive this mission and make it back to his Companion.

I felt Brand right up until the Boundary’s magic began crushing our bond into silence. At the last, I had the clearest sense of him grabbing his door handle so hard that he nearly tore a ligament in his hand.

And then the Boundary was behind us, and I was alone in my head for the first time since I was even capable of conscious thought.

Just rip my heart out, why don’t you?

Rune and Addam are making their way to the Moral Certainties compound – the one shared by Justice, Temperance, the Hermit, and Strength – via the ‘safe paths’; roadways that are heavily warded to protect travellers from the wild magic of the Westlands, but are far from totally secure. The Westlands itself is strange, beautiful, and very clearly dangerous, and it’s especially interesting to see Rune and Addam swap roles a little; Rune is out of his usual environment here, unfamiliar with the dangers and not much of an outdoorsy person, whereas Addam spent a lot of time in the Westlands as a child and is delighted to be back. He’s also much more well-versed in all the many ways the Westlands can be dangerous, and is placed in instructor role for a while. It’s a shift in dynamic that they both take to well; Addam isn’t arrogant and Rune’s pride isn’t bruised. There’s an especially beautiful moment when a large, tusked monster appears – and where Rune sees a potential threat, Addam goes wide-eyed with wonder.

It’s really incredibly sweet.

Which isn’t to say that this part is all and only about the dangers of the Westlands; Addam and Rune continue to banter – Addam admits that Max heavily implied that Max and Rune were an item, or going to be, and that Addam needed to back off; and they talk a little about what Old Atlantis was like, what Addam’s heard from his older brother Christian, who was born pre-exodus. But that’s about as far as they get before something teleports them off the safe paths.

Addam…doesn’t react so well. For all his experience with the Westlands, he’s never been outside the warded ‘safe’ zones, and he panics a little, although he follows Rune’s orders to get back-to-back and watch for an attack.

It’s Rurik, of course. Who, with the use of golems and illusions, manages to separate them, sending Addam chasing after a false-Rune he believes is in trouble – and I’d like to take a brief pause to point out that this is very much a case of Addam’s instinct to do good and help being a bad thing, because the false-Rune doesn’t sound like Rune at all, and if Addam had stopped for a second I think he’d have realised it. But in fairness, I don’t think I’d have stopped and thought either, and that makes Rurik’s trick extra twisted – there’s something especially awful about using someone’s own goodness against them. A more selfish person wouldn’t have gone after the false-Rune; it’s a trick that would only work on someone who tries to be good. That’s…pretty hideous.

It’s not nearly as bad as the focus or core of the scene, though, which is when Rurik finally gets where he’s wanted to be since he first ‘tasted’ Rune – inside Rune’s head.

He makes Rune relive his assault – the rape when he was 15, the night the Sun Court fell.

Actually, he doesn’t, because Addam sweeps in and the illusions/mindfuckery are destroyed before they can go…very far. Maybe it would be more accurate to say; he’s not raped again, but he does relive the first time, and it’s horrific, it’s awful, it’s like swallowing broken glass. Edwards doesn’t go into much detail, and I’m grateful, because the tiny flashes of detail we do get are enough to give me nightmares; the focus is on Rune’s panic and terror and to be honest, that’s where it belongs. I’m so tired of rape being used for shock-value, of it being portrayed in a way that tries to be titillating or scandalous, and of how often victims are dehumanised, in the moment and afterwards. This isn’t like that. I almost wrote that it’s impossible to forget that Rune is a real person here, and I deleted that line, because yes, he’s fictional, I know, but – but at the same time I’m not sure he’s ever felt more immediately real than in this moment. The fourth wall completely shatters and you’re right there and it’s too damn real, honestly.

It’s just a few lines. I’m not sure I can break down what makes it hit so hard. Or I can, but I really don’t want to.

What makes you want to scream, as a reader, is when Rune’s a heartbeat away from unleashing Exodus, the spell we’ve heard of in passing but never learned what it does, until now –

I frantically tried to concentrate, to feel the silver band on my finger, the sigil where I stored Exodus. I’d do it, I’d activate it, I would–I’d reduce this entire clearing to atoms, myself included, oh gods oh gods oh gods, I would, because in the darkest corner of my heart I knew this was why I’d created Exodus in the first place. I’d let the flames sing out and destroy me. I’d rather die than let this happen again, than be this helpless, than be this abased.

He’s not prepared to suicide; he’s ready, about to do it, in the process of triggering the spell. And that says far more than pages and pages of graphic detail ever could.

And Addam interrupts before Rune can do it, fully clad in his own Aspect, that of a Knight, and it ends well enough with them driving Rurik off. But much as I don’t want to delve deeper into this scene, I guess I have to a little bit.

See: Rune doesn’t talk about what happened to him. He doesn’t – as far as the reader knows – think about it. It was 25 years ago; there’s plenty of reason to think that, although he’s obviously scarred, he’s also healed. Nearly the very first thing he tells the reader, all the way back in the prologue, is that he’s a survivor. It’s how he sees himself and it’s how he demands the world see him – how he forces the world to see him, even, arguably. So he’s awkward with flirtation: so what? So are a lot of people who’ve never experienced any kind of assault. It’s not by itself a sign of anything.

I don’t feel qualified to say whether Rune’s immediate and terrible reaction to the illusions is a sign that he hasn’t, actually, dealt with what happened to him. I’d imagine a lot of people would have a panic attack if thrown back into their trauma, regardless of what kind it was. But the fact that Rune’s been carrying Exodus around all this time? That’s not like an assault victim carrying pepper spray or a taser now that they know the world can be awful. That’s like keeping a cyanide pill always at the ready, just in case. It’s a whole ‘nothing level of thing.

So…yeah, I’m tentatively willing to say he hasn’t dealt with it. Not that I have the first clue what ‘dealing with it’ really constitutes. But I know Brand would lose his mind if he found out the truth about Exodus, and that, weirdly enough, has become my standard of measurement re whether whatever Rune’s doing is okay. And when you think about it, the idea that Rune hasn’t dealt with it makes perfect sense. He lives in a society that treats its victims like object-lessons. Where would he go for therapy? Is that something even theoretically available to him? To any Atlantean? Pretty much his first lesson after his rape was that he had to suppress everything and control himself – see, Lord Tower whipping Brand to drive that message home to Rune. Then, as far as I can tell, he’s spent the last 25 years making himself as strong and smart and secure as he possibly can. He’s never been allowed to be ‘weak’, not in the world he lives in, not with the standards he sets himself. When did he ever have the chance to process and heal properly?

I mean, he’s no whimpering wreck, at all. Nothing like that. He is a survivor. But he seems to have survived by repressing, not processing. He’s healed, but the scar tissue just closed over the shrapnel. Maybe.

It’s dark, dark, dark reading.

Addam comes in like a literal ray of light, blazing in his Aspect – something we, and Rune, had no idea he had (most younger scions don’t, these days). That his Aspect is a knight in literal shining armour ought to be ridiculous, but it somehow isn’t. Addam as a character, honestly, really ought to read as a Gary Stu, too perfect to be real – and yet somehow he never seems unrealistic or impossible??? I have no idea how Edwards manages that. I really don’t. I’ve tried analysing Addam’s character, but I gave up. Take him apart, and he shouldn’t work, but put all the pieces together and he’s like the perfect romantic interest you can absolutely believe in. I don’t know how it works, but I definitely appreciate the effect.

ANYWAY.

Addam sees that Rune was distressed, but since it was all illusions he has no idea what Rune saw. Rune’s so shaken he actually hugs Addam – is this the first time he’s deliberately initiated contact between them? Thinking back, it might be. Addam certainly picks up on the fact that Rune’s badly shaken, and hugs him back once Rurik is, at least temporarily, banished again.

(By a light that burst from the both of them once they touched. Hmmmm.)

Rune seems a lot more shaken by his own reaction to Rurik’s illusions than anything they showed him, though. There’s something important there, I think.

*

The two of them make it to an unfamiliar manor, which allows them in – Addam, with his knowledge of the Westlands, tells Rune that out here the hospitality rules of Old Atlantis still reign, which seems to translate as, travellers are always granted safe harbour so long as they don’t intend harm to the residents. Addam watches Rune sweep the place for dangers, but it’s secure enough, even if there isn’t much in the cupboards. They do find a training room for golems – specifically, golems from the Terracotta Army – which clues Rune in as whose place this must be: the Hierophant’s, who is apparently into this sort of thing.

I’m sure the Terracotta Army soldier golems will be plot-relevant down the road.

There’s a storm outside, and no Rurik for the moment. This chapter mostly serves as breathing room for Rune and Addam, a much-needed downtime after the hell of the previous chapter. Addam puts forward the theory that they might be tallas, or soulmates, an Atlantean concept that doesn’t translate super well, since tallas can be deadly enemies as well as dearest lovers. That would normally be pretty forward (haven’t they only known each other a couple of days?) but it’s one explanation for the light they made together, the one which hurt Rurik badly and banished him. Tallas, after all, can accomplish mysterious, powerful things together.

Rune shuts this down gently, but firmly.

In a voice far gentler than I’d thought I could manage, I said, “We’re not tallas, Addam. I’m sorry.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I just am. It’s not possible. It has nothing to do with you.”

“Is…” He chewed his bottom lip. “Is Brandon your talla? Is that why?”

“That’s not why,” I said.

Look: the talla thing has come up briefly before, and pretty much everyone is heavily invested in theorising who Rune’s talla might be – if he has one at all. It’s kind of impossible to do more than come up with wild theories because we just don’t know nearly enough about tallas at this point in the series to make serious guesses. But this exchange does tell us a few things: Atlanteans can apparently be tallas with humans, since Addam wonders if Brand might be Rune’s. It’s heavily implied that a person can only have one talla, since otherwise Brand and Addam could be tallas with Rune, and Addam wouldn’t have to ask that question.

And something very, very strange is going on. Because Rune’s wording… ‘It’s not possible.’ Honestly, that makes it sound like he believes there’s something wrong or broken with himself – that that’s why it’s impossible he has a talla.

(An argument could also be made that he does already have a talla, and knows who it is, and that’s why he claims it’s impossible he and Addam could be. But he later wonders what it would be like to have one, and if he already had a talla, he wouldn’t have to wonder, would he?)

Addam’s sigils were destroyed by Rurik in the fight – something Rune didn’t know was possible; I feel like that’ll also be plot-relevant at some point – and Rune Wills him a few of his own sigils so Addam won’t have to go undefended. There’s a very beautiful and interesting intimacy to this; Rune is distracted by seeing Addam wearing his, Rune’s, sigils. I have no idea if it’s because sigils are such personal things that it’s intimate by default, or if it’s more because Rune’s sigils are so few, and therefore much more precious – and more often against his skin, so seeing them against someone else’s is..a Thing. Addam and Quinn both have platinum disk sigils – a lot of them, but they’re very impersonal. I’m not sure Addam feels as connected to his sigils as Rune does to his; Addam might not feel the same distraction if their scenarios were reversed.

The scene is warm and pretty lovely; there’s banter, Addam flirts, and when he realises what happened with Rurik and tries to apologise for the flirting, Rune kisses him in the most adorable manner possible;

Before I could think better of it, I lifted my butt off the ground and scooted over to him. His mouth closed in surprise. I leaned in, gave him a quick, aimless kiss on the cheek and scooted back the way I’d come from.

“If you still feel bad, though, you can give me the best side of the mattress.” I thought about it some more. “And the rest of your animal crackers.”

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? Edwards went with the time-honoured tradition of the there’s-only-one-bed!!! trope.

YEP.

HE WENT THERE.

I cackled.

Seriously though, the conversation goes from banter to meaningful and back again, a really lovely, soothing rhythm akin to listening to ocean waves. But it stays sweet and funny, and when they go to bed, Rune snuggles. Just a little bit.

*

I want to skip over the next bit, honestly, but let’s go over it lightly; sometime before the morning, Rune and Addam wake up holding each other – or more accurately, with Addam holding Rune – and they’re both cautious but enjoying it. They start to make out a little (I don’t know what the technical terms are – is it still making out when there’s no kissing?), and Rune is horrified when he comes almost immediately. Humiliated and, I think, ashamed somehow, he flees to the shower. After a little while, Addam follows him, and asks if he can touch Rune again. Rune consents, and it’s very, very good, but he’s uncertain about how to reciprocate until Addam tells him not to. He tells Rune,

“I needed this to be the memory you remember, from tonight.”

Not the humiliation, or the shame. Just pleasure. I feel like there’s something deeper to be untangled there – something about Addam’s easy sensuality, how at home he is with his body, how comfortable with his sexuality – and with his existence as a sexual being. This, it’s been made clear, is a very Atlantean approach to things like modesty and sex. So contrast that to Rune, who, we now know, has had few romantic interests at all as an adult, who is awkward with flirtation and uncomfortable with showing skin.

It feels like a lot more than Addam making sure Rune walks away with a good memory, not a bad one. It’s like…like Addam’s showing Rune, or reminding him, maybe, what it means to be Atlantean. That hedonism and body-comfort, sensuality and pleasure, are his birthright, an intrinsic part of his heritage. Something he’s allowed to reclaim.

Rune says he wishes Addam could be his talla. That it could be that easy. And Addam responds with one of the most meaningful, and powerful, passages in the whole book.

They both go back to bed.

*

Which turns out to be extra-important, because Ciaran shows up in Rune’s dream to facilitate Quinn showing up in Rune’s dreams, and there is a Talk. The short version is that Quinn lays out for Rune the path he and Addam need to take to make it to the Moral Certainties compound with the greatest chances of safety and success. In the previous chapter, Addam shared stories about Quinn that showcased his adorable side – how Quinn used to sneak away to Siberia while Addam was stationed there, unwilling to be separated from his older brother. But those stories also showcased a well-intentioned manipulative side, honestly – it’s not as if sneaking through guarded portals is easy, and yet he was able to do it repeatedly; that’s clear evidence that he’s not above using his powers for personal reasons, even without the emotional blackmail of telling Addam that he, Quinn, ‘sometimes meets a man with a white van and candy’ while Addam’s gone. It’s cute because it’s a little brother willing to do anything to spend time with his older brother, but it makes you pause. If Quinn’s willing to manipulate even Addam, who adores him without reserve and whom Quinn adores right back…it does make you wonder what he might be capable of.

If nothing else, his conversation with Rune in Rune’s dream definitely makes it clear that, for all his joking about meteors made of soy beans, Quinn very much has an adamant core under all the sweet toffee.

“But he’s expecting that,” I said. “Right? Rurik is expecting me to go off the safe path at the point closest to the compound.”

“He expects everything,” Quinn said. His face hardened. “But so do I.”

Quinn may be young and he may be genuinely sweet – but I for one wouldn’t want to go up against a true seer. And given that Quinn’s powers seem to be a secret from New Atlantis at large, I don’t think Rurik and his summoners even know he’s in the game. I never thought of that before, but it’s true – Rurik & co would definitely have tried to kill Quinn if they knew, although I’m not sure they could have managed it.

Hmm.

Rune passes along Quinn’s message/s when he wakes up, and Addam is clearly still worried about his little brother. But he more than anyone knows better than to ignore Quinn, and they follow Quinn’s instructions to the letter, heading out and following the path until they reach the point where Quinn told them to diverge from it.

And Rune tells Addam to use all of his sigil spells for this next dash.

“I want to cross that hundred yards like gods, Addam. I want our footsteps to be like thunder. I want to show that miserable creature what it means to interfere with an Atlantean scion. Are you with me?”

“Are you with me?”

If Rune’s afraid or shaken after how their last clash with Rurik went, there’s no way for the reader to tell. And maybe this is what it means to be a survivor, at least for Rune; he won’t cower, and he won’t flinch. His response to attack is to hit back harder, and it’s a reminder, not just of what he’s been through, but how it’s shaped him and set him apart from other scions. We’ve seen various other scions attempt to threaten him, sometimes bluntly, sometimes slightly more subtly, and he’s thrown them with his reaction every time. Because Rune’s not interested in the posturing and dominance scuffles his peers engage in; when he steps onto the field, he fights to put his opponent down, with a skill and efficiency we’ve yet to see matched by any other magic-user. He doesn’t fight to show off or impress anyone, but to destroy whatever’s standing against him, and it kind of amazes me that scions like Michael and Ashton – both of whom have threatened Rune earlier in the book – don’t see it, don’t sense the difference between what he is and what they are. It’s the difference between a school-yard bully and a Special Forces officer, between a yappy little puppy and a wolf, a house-cat and a tiger.

How the hell do they not see it?

So Rune and Addam hit Rurik – who appears the moment they step out of the safe zone – with everything they’ve got.

“You have no idea,” Rurik said loudly from his linen cowl, “what forces are marshaled against you. I will bring everything I have to bear on–“

“Fuck that mastermind chatter,” I said, and hit him with a surge of fire that blackened the grass under his feet.

Okay, so it doesn’t go quite like this, but LET ME HAVE MY DRAMATIC GIFS

It helps drive home just how dangerous liches are that the fight doesn’t exactly go well. I’m not sure I’d say it goes super badly, either, but Rurik is alarmingly powerful, and even now Rune’s learned some of Rurik’s favourite moves…the sheer power the lich has at his disposal is terrifying. And Lord Tower said that Rurik is a young lich, who’ll only grow stronger with time. That’s really not good, when a Scion Heir (I know Rune’s technically Lord Sun, but power-wise he’s still on the Heir level) and one of the few post-New Atlantis scions to be born with an Aspect can’t make a proper dent in him as he is now.

At least there’s no null-threads for Rurik to play with. Quinn specifically directed them down a path where there wouldn’t be any.

Okay, so maybe the fight does go kind of badly, because Addam is caught at a point where he’s probably right about to die when Brand puts a bullet through Rurik’s head.

The fight goes better after that, and Brand uses some kind of magical bullet (created with the help of Mayan, Lord Tower’s Companion, we later learn) to make Rurik disappear in a forced retreat. But I want to take a second to look at the symmetry of the last 24 hours; Addam saved Rune from Rurik just the day before, and now Brand saves Addam (and a few minutes later puts an end to the fight completely, but let’s put that aside for a sec). It’s nothing as simple as a thank-you – partly because Brand doesn’t know what Addam did and partly because that’s just not how Brand works, he’d have saved Addam anyway as long as it didn’t put Rune at risk – but it is a glimpse of how well the three of them might work together as a unit. And although Brand is Rune’s partner as well as Companion, and they were thus both hired to find Addam, I still feel like there’s a particular intimacy to a Companion saving their Companion’s love interest. Again, Brand would have done it regardless, because that’s the kind of person he is. But in typical Atlantean life, I suspect Companions probably don’t extend their protection outside of their Companion’s immediate loved ones. A more traditional Companion would defend Rune’s consort or spouse, surely (as long as it didn’t mean risking Rune), but not a random bystander or acquaintance, not in the same way.

Probably.

Am I making any sense here? I just feel it’s significant that Rune’s Companion is safeguarding his love interest too, okay?

ANYWAY.

*

Brand escorts Rune and Addam to the compound, on the way breaking the news that no, Rurik wasn’t destroyed by the magic bullet – just ‘decorporealized’ for a while, damn it.

Sigh.

But the compound’s not far, and Ciaran and Max, it seems, have also been sent along with Brand by Quinn (try convincing me that kid is not a puppet-master. You won’t manage it). Quinn also had Brand drill up the mass sigil buried in the foundation of Rune and Brand’s house – the only mass sigil that survived the fall of the Sun Throne, one Rune’s been charging for years and years in case he ever had to defend their home. The implication that they might need it is reasonably terrifying.

Not that Quinn was dreamwalking into Brand’s dreams, by the way. All these messages were passed on via Max, because Brand didn’t sleep the entire time Rune was gone.

You hear that? That’s the sound of my heart breaking, just a little more.

Although Max is eager to greet Rune, he’s stopped short at the sight of Addam still wearing Rune’s sigils. (This does suggest that the act of wearing someone else’s sigils is in fact an intimate thing, not just made so because Rune has so few sigils to share). He becomes even more upset when he sees that Addam is also wearing the ring-sigil his grandmother – that would be Lady Lovers, from way back in chapter one – gave Rune.

“And that’s my grandmother’s ring! You gave it to him? The one you took in exchange for me? You gave it to him?”

Phrased that way, it does sound kind of bad. Or at least, it does when you remember that Max’s whole world collapsed just a few days ago, Rune pretty literally saved him (several times, in fact), he’s a teenager with a crush, and – maybe most importantly, and something that only literally just occurred to me as I type this – he’s been trained to think of himself as a commodity. Something to be bought and sold.

And not for a very high price, either.

But of course, that’s not what the ring symbolises to Rune, and none of that played into why it was one of the sigils Rune gave Addam. And when Max goes on to be directly rude to Addam, Rune’s had enough.

“Did you tell Addam that we were involved?”

Max lowered his eyes so far that the lids nearly closed. “We…talked. He might have gotten the wrong impression.”

“I can assure that lying to me, right now, right here, is the wrong, wrong tactic. You are seventeen years old. We will not become involved. Your behavior toward Addam is unacceptable.”

“I–“

“We will not have this conversation again,” I told him.

It’s a conversation they badly needed to have, and Rune is decent enough to drag Max away to have it in privacy; no doubt Max’s feelings are pretty hurt, but he doesn’t have to be humiliated on top of it. As someone whose guardians didn’t always give me the same consideration, it’s something I really appreciate.

Rune joins Brand and Addam at the outdoor showers by the compound pool, since they all have a lot of guk to wash off. Which is when this happens;

“Shall we share the shower?” Addam asked me. Only he said it like he was saying, Shall we share a shower AGAIN, which had Brand’s head snapping up.

Addam. Addam, Brand shot a lich all of five minutes ago.

It’s like he has no self-preservation instinct at all.

No, but for real, what follows is intense, emotional, and hilarious. Far from defending Rune’s virtue or whatever (which – I don’t think that’s a concept Atlanteans really have, anyway), Brand instead says…

I saw the wheels turning in Brand’s head. “It’s big enough for all of us.”

And yes, he’s talking about the shower, but as I joked on twitter, he might as well be talking about Rune’s heart. Especially since he says as much, just a few minutes later. But first, he has a little bit of a trap for Addam, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to make anybody shriek with laughter. Because once Brand’s in the shower and Addam has confirmed with Rune that he’s comfortable with this – Atlanteans basically have no nudity tabboo, so Rune’s the only one who might be bothered – we get THIS freaking gem!

When he heard Addam approach, he turned and stretched his arms upward to bring his front into the best definition.

The trap was sprung.

I couldn’t see Addam’s face, but his shoulders actually sank as he caught sight of Brand’s endowment. Addam turned and gave me such a comic expression that I started laughing.

Look, yes, it’s probably more than a bit immature, I DON’T CARE IT’S HILARIOUS. Every time I picture the face Addam must give Rune I start giggling, and I’m not even a little bit sorry.

Rune reassures Addam – again – that he and Brand don’t have a sexual relationship, and it actually morphs into this really sweet bonding moment when Brand starts massaging Rune’s bad shoulder, and Addam asks about the best way to help the old injury. Addam’s interest seems to imply that his feelings for Rune go way beyond the superficial – although it’s been a while since he was only interested in Rune for his looks, if that was ever the case; wanting to know how best to help an old injury kind of suggests he’s in it for the long-haul, doesn’t it?

But eventually Brand shoos Addam away so he and Rune can talk. About what happened with Rurik, and about Brand being left behind. About their relationship, really, about what the Companion bond means to them and means to Brand. But when Brand flashes back to what he considers the first time he protected Rune – from a little jerk who was verbally bullying him when they were kids – Rune has to correct him.

“That wasn’t the first time. You’ve always protected me. You’ve always been my hero. You ate my broccoli. You told my father that you were the one to run out on the ice when the pool froze over. You made me drink my stupid juice when I was sick. Always.”

And when Rune – who clearly has concerns about the consent of a Companion bond, given that it’s something done when both parties are infants – admits he’s not sure he deserves Brand’s devotion…

“Rune of Sun House, I believe that you are meant for great things. I truly, truly do. Your story has barely begun. It is my honor to be along for what has been, and is, and will be one hell of a ride. So don’t leave me on the bench again. That’s all I wanted to say.”

I know I’m quoting a lot, this time around. But there were just so many perfect passages in last week’s chapters. How could I not?

*

Alas, that’s about all the time Edwards allows us to patch up our hearts. After that, it’s back into the plot again.

In short order, a battered Geoffrey arrives on the scene, looking for his brother. Rune, Brand and Addam discover that Michael Saint Talbot – the one who was secretly dating Addam’s sister Ella – is dead in Ella’s room, apparently a victim of a summoning gone wrong. However, the summoning is pretty obviously staged; it fooled Addam briefly, but Rune and Brand called it after just a few seconds, and I think any other trained investigator would too. Which makes me wonder whether the staging was done poorly by someone too stupid to think of all the details necessary to make it believable, or if it was just thrown together as a brief delaying tactic, and not meant to fool anyone for long?

Ella is hidden in a closet, shoved in there by Michael when recarnates attacked them. Having listened to Michael die, she’s understandably hysterical, but Rune & co manage to put together that the disgusting perfume Ashton was wearing back at the hospital – way back when Rune first met Quinn – acted as a scent-marker to prevent the recarnates, and maybe any other monsters they summoned, from harming him. Brand kicks himself for not putting it together earlier – Ashton’s supposedly a trained fighter after his stint in the Poland training camps, but he was terrible when they were fighting the recarnates together. He was terrible, they now realise, because he didn’t have to bother to seriously fight; the recarnates were never going to hurt him.

But the perfume no longer works – at least not the bottle that Michael had. With Michael, Ella, and Geoffrey accounted for, the only one left of Addam’s business partners is Ashton; clearly the one in control, since he allegedly sent monsters after Geoffrey too now that their plan’s come down around their ears.

Geoffrey explains – begrudgingly, and with much whining – that he and the other partners wanted Addam out of the way so they would get his shares, but via Michael’s relationship with Ella, still retain the connections and influence of the Justice Court. (Brand points out that this is most likely why Addam wasn’t killed; Ella was okay with removing Addam from play, but not with actually killing her brother). Ashton thought bigger: he wanted to take down Lord Hermit, whose assets would be divided amongst the rest of the Moral Certainties courts – Justice, Strength, and Temperance – adding to the partners’ personal wealth. Lord Hermit, appropriately enough, doesn’t have a large court, so Ashton seemed to think he would be easy to take down. Rune’s not convinced, but Geoffrey insists that Ashton claimed he had powerful friends who owed him favors – even as he admits that he thinks Ashton might have been planning something even bigger and worse the entire time. What that is, Geoffrey claims not to know.

“And he hates you, Rune. Ashton hates you; he says he won’t let you ruin his life again. He’s going to keep trying to kill you.”

“When the hell did I ruin his life the first time?” I demanded.

Geoffrey has no idea what Ashton was talking about, is only convinced that Ashton’s hate was very, very genuine. There isn’t really time for Rune’s team to dig into that, anyway, especially since motivations are a lot less important right now than actions. It’s clear to Brand that Ashton is tying up loose ends – which means he’s probably coming to the compound, or at the very least, is far from neutralised.

Which, of course, is when the estate wards come down, on what’s probably the biggest cliffhanger we’ve had so far.

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