Oskan had trained me well, it didn’t take me long to find Haines’ trail since he made no effort to cover his tracks. He was running. I still couldn’t figure out why he ditched me, but I was thinking that he didn’t really want me dead; he just didn’t want me here. That could be the reason why he asked how powerful I was; he wanted to know if I could survive being ejected at high altitude. But why? Didn’t he trust me? He had put me at the emperor’s elbow when things were at their worst. What was different about this situation?
The compound came into sight through the trees ahead, but there was no sight of Haines yet. I extended my magic and felt him off to the left and yet there was the gate off to the right. I looked ahead to see what was on the other side of the wall directly in front of me and discovered that the wall, though very sturdy, was hollow. I also saw that there was an open courtyard on the other side of that wall so it wasn’t the best place to cross unseen. I took advantage of the hollow though.
Once inside, I laid my hand on the wall and sent my magic through the complex. A half hour later I had a passable understanding of the layout.
To the right, this passage led to a tower beside the great front gates and to the left, it soon went underground and turned toward the sub floors of the center-most building.
Seeing people this way was like seeing fireflies in a dark room only the light doesn’t light up the room at all. If I know the person, then the tiny light has an identity; otherwise, it’s just a light. Sometimes I can tell men from women, and children are usually smaller, but that’s about the only difference in the lights.
Without counting, there must be twenty or thirty people scattered through the whole compound. I can only assume that most of them are servants here to serve the royal family. There was a small cluster of lights in the middle of the big house.
My mental exploration was interrupted by the scratchy signal from the emperor. “Liam, what are you doing? I can barely hear you breathing. Where are you?”
“I’m inside the outer wall of your wife’s complex. Who built this place?”
“My great grandfather built it. You’re inside the wall; I didn’t know there was an inside.”
I changed my boots for tennis shoes and headed left at a run again. “Listen, this passage leads under the main building, so I’m going to be under ground for a little while. Haines has gone through some side door. He didn’t go through the main gate. Is everything quiet there?”
“Yes. Nothing has changed here since you left. Liam, Haines is not this Ronok fellow, is he?”
“No, I don’t think so. Something else is going on with him, but I don’t know what it is yet. You might not be able to hear me for a little while. Don’t worry.”
“I’m counting on you, Liam.” He sounded so worried, so helpless.
By now, I was heading down and I could barely make out the emperor’s voice. Ten minutes later, I was directly under the main house and I found a spiral stairway.
I paused for a few minutes and looked for the little lights again. Little had changed. Some looked to be posted like sentries around the edges. These were likely guards guarding the house perimeter. Had they gotten the warning too? Others were scattered around the house randomly, they may or may not be the servants.
Haines was on the first floor. The guard he had just passed was untouched. If he meant harm to the empress or the children, why wasn’t he eliminating the guards first? He was a known face though. His arrival might be unexpected, but wouldn’t cause undue alarm.
I headed up the stairs, confident I would reach the cluster of lights before Haines. I would have, only there was no door on that level. I could have made my own door, but I was trying to be inconspicuous and there were people in the hall, so I sped on upward.
The door at the top opened freely into a well-lit bedchamber. Of course, I was forced to wait about a minute before I could see that. The door was a secret door hidden behind a bookcase and I wondered if the occupant of this room knew of its existence since the emperor didn’t.
I didn’t spare any more thought on the house. I headed for the stairs to the landing below.