"Killien says that all his assistants heard Nissa shouting 'No' just before she disappeared. That's all. The one word and then she was gone."
"Where is Shadow? Why is it that you seem to pop up whenever there is bad news to be delivered from Grey House, instead of my Inner Circle mate? Does he conveniently forget that we are married and that Nissa is our child—together?" I was shaky and short of breath, so I had to force the words to come.
"Shadow is in a healing sleep. Selkirk placed it when Shadow almost took Killien's workshop apart." Glendes looked beaten, ducking his head before me.
"And what about that?" I kept pushing. "I thought she was working in Calebert's workshop. Did my mate forget to tell me about that, too?"
"Lissa, now is not the time. Nissa is missing. We have to find her." Glendes raked a hand through dark hair in an agitated manner.
"I have everyone I can spare out looking for her," I snapped. "Reemagar came to deliver the news shortly before you arrived, Glendes. At least my Larentii keep me informed. You and your grandson certainly don't." I knew I was close to hyperventilation. Forcing it away for a moment, I glared at Glendes. Somehow, something was blocking me from Looking for Nissa. That terrified me more than I could say. In my experience, only one had been able to accomplish that in the past and my imagination was running wild.
"Lissa, calm down, all right?" Drew knelt beside my chair. "We're calling Karzac."
"He'll just put me in a healing sleep while somebody else makes all the decisions," I gasped, standing up and almost falling again. Drew and Drake both had hands on me when Karzac arrived in a flash of light.
"What is this?" my healer mate demanded.
"Nissa's missing," Drake muttered.
"I heard. And who is at fault over this?" Karzac glared at Glendes. "Letting our little one disappear, then upsetting the Queen when she should not be upset. Lissa, Lara'Kayan, don't struggle," Karzac said softly, placing fingers against my forehead. Everything went dark and I was asleep in seconds.
"Now," Karzac turned angry eyes toward Glendes as Drake and Drew carried Lissa from her study. "What is it you intend to do to get our little girl back?"
Making her hair look like Toff's had been Nissa's biggest challenge, but she looked as much like him now as she possibly could, given her limited memory of him. Even her clothing had been altered with power and she'd scrubbed handfuls of dirt around the knees of loose-fitting pants as she hurriedly dug clay and tossed it into the two canvas bags Toff had dropped in his flight.
The shovel had been harder to find—he'd dropped it first thing. "He should have just used it to whack them," she muttered to herself. She'd had to Look—a trick her mother taught her two years earlier, to discover what it was that Toff was supposed to be doing. She'd never dug up clay before or worked it to be used for pottery. Nissa was also removing all extraneous material with power as she worked.
Nissa left the three boys behind, too. Let them wake on their own and wonder what happened, she snorted softly. Nissa couldn't get through the barrier a second time—she'd already tried, thinking to go after Toff. She couldn't get the folding trick to work a second time, either. She'd been desperate before and it had just come—Nissa didn't know how to duplicate the feat. Again, she wished her mindspeech hadn't been deactivated—she would have called for her mother first thing and this would have been sorted out right away, with those three boys hauled off to the Queen's dungeons. Now, Nissa would have to use every bit of talent she had to make sure she stayed alive until someone came looking for her.
"Sissy's missing?" Tory was stunned. Ry wanted to crumble, but that wouldn't help their sister. Erland and Garde had come to deliver the news to their sons.
"I'm afraid so, and none of us can get a hit on her by Looking. Not even the Larentii and that's extremely unusual." Garde didn't want to show the boys how upset he was over this. It would have been devastating at any time, but with Lissa pregnant, it couldn't have been any worse.
"What happened?" Ry demanded.
"Son, settle down. We have to think carefully about this instead of letting our emotions rule our heads," Erland replied. "Grey House thinks she's been abducted, but they can't find any evidence that this is what actually happened. There was no power signature and Glendes swears that his shields weren't breached. We're left with the mystery of how she was transported through Grey House's shields. Your grandfather Wylend has offered to send some of his best, including me, to go take a look, but Grey House doesn't want outside interference if they can help it." Erland sounded angry over that. The long unspoken agreement not to tread on each other's toes still held for the moment between the Karathian Warlocks and the Wizards of Grey House.
"I wish we had our mindspeech back; we could contact Sissy that way," Tory muttered angrily.
"We're going to unlock yours for the time being, in case someone is targeting us," Gardevik Rath sighed. "Misuse it though, and you'll be without it again."
"Dad, don't you think we know better?" Tory looked hurt.
"Son, don't go there, things are bad enough as it is."
The only thing not working against Toff at the moment was the light. It wasn't dark and wouldn't be getting dark. Not completely—not on this side of the planet. He was tired, hungry and a light rain was falling, making him cold as well. He couldn't understand why he'd run away like that—he should have stayed and talked with Nissa. Perhaps she was right and the Queen wouldn't harm him, though Redbird had insisted over the years that she would. Now, Toff had no idea where he was and couldn't really say what direction to take to get back to the barrier.
Corent would come looking for him when he didn't show up for dinner, but what would he find? Nothing. Toff couldn't explain how he'd gotten through the barrier—the protection jewel must have done it. Corent would assume that Toff was still inside the barrier and would exhaust himself, looking for something he couldn't find. Toff kicked miserably through deep piles of soggy red and gold leaves—he was walking through a stand of bare maples, the fallen leaves thick and wet around his feet. He was grateful he had his old boots on; they were made of spelled and weatherproofed canvas and wouldn't allow dampness to reach his feet.
Toff frightened a deer a short while later. The deer had been foraging for acorns in the stand of oaks he now slogged through on his journey to find food and shelter. The misty rain had gotten heavier, Toff had gotten hungrier and he felt as if the world had already forgotten that he'd ever existed. Mist and fog were now rising from the ground and Toff worried that it would get so thick he wouldn't be able to see after a while. "Must be going through a low spot," Toff mumbled and the sound of his voice in the muted quiet almost made him jump. He only wore a thin jacket, which was well on its way to getting completely soaked.
"It took you long enough," Mother Fern snapped when Nissa walked in with Toff's two canvas bags filled with clay and the shovel tucked under an arm.
"My apologies, Mother Fern." Nissa had gotten the name by Looking, in addition to other information on her trek back from digging clay. Nissa would have to be extremely careful—she'd been thinking about Toff and determined that the farther he was away from these people, the better off he was. She was buying time for him to find a safe place. At least that's what she hoped was happening.
"Dump the clay and start working on the roots and gravel," Mother Fern grumbled, leaving her potter's wheel to examine what Nissa had brought. Nissa was frightened that Mother Fern might discover her disguise, but Mother Fern didn't notice a thing except the clay Nissa dumped on the table. "Where are the roots?" Mother Fern demanded.
"I uh, pulled them all out," Nissa felt a flush creeping across her cheeks.
"It's about time," Mother Fern snapped. "Leave that there to dry and go pound what you brought in two days ago. It's dry enough, now." Nissa hurried to do as she was bid.
"Son, did you happen to see Gren, Clover or Laral today?" Corent was seated across the table from Nissa, eating a vegetable stew. Nissa had almost balked at the food—there wasn't any meat in it.
"At school," Nissa told the small lie. Toff would have seen them there and she was taking Toff's place.
"They had to be treated by Mother Rose when they got home today," Corent went on. "They said they fell, but had too many bruises for a mere fall. I was just wondering if you'd seen anything."
"No. I don't think I've ever seen Gren fall."
"Don't worry about it—Rose just wanted information, that's all."
Nissa didn't realize she was holding herself stiffly, waiting for discovery to come. Redbird, Toff's adoptive mother didn't seem to notice anything, either. Nissa had no idea how that could happen—her mother would have sniffed out the disguise in less than a blink. She forced herself to relax.
Toff's closet was tiny and Nissa only found work clothes inside it later—mostly hand-woven items in natural colors. Nissa found three dyed shirts with pants in coordinating colors—certainly nothing compared to what she normally wore—even to work. Sighing, she pulled pajamas from the small chest beside Toff's narrow bed and went off to get a bath before going to sleep.
Toff's teeth were chattering and he was shivering, his arms held tightly against his thin body. He kept walking—he knew that if he stopped now, his body temperature might drop too low and he could die. He'd been walking forever, in his estimation, and hadn't come across anything—no people, villages or even signs of life. Daylight was still with him, however, so he knew he hadn't wandered across to the darker side of the planet. He didn't realize that not only was he headed in the wrong direction now, he might have to walk for days to reach that portion of Le-Ath Veronis.