Lara sighs as she puts down the whiteboard marker and reviews the additions she’s made to the seemingly never-ending lists. The board and markers are ones she brought back from London on a previous visit, Amber City not being up with such technology, and she finds them far more useful than the scattered thoughts contained on bits of paper strewn across her desk.

She wonders whether, if she stares at the mess of thoughts to the left of the ‘To Do’ list hard enough, the picture of who was helping Fiona and for what ultimate end will emerge fully formed. Snorting she shakes her head, as if anything, fantastic as this place may be, so useful would happen.

No, with Fiona dead (maybe?) the only way through this is to backtrack her steps, talk to those she was known to have associated with. Isolde – likely to be no joy at all there and Lara doesn’t blame her for that. Poor girl has been so used and abused by Amberites, including Lara herself (and she curses at her own stupidity), that it’s no wonder she doesn’t trust them a whit. Well none of them except possibly Fiona. And how fucked up is that? So, Isolde won’t talk to her, certainly won’t talk to Sioned, and doesn’t really know Talion so is unlikely to confide in him. That leaves Emil and Hagen. Emil has a complicated history with her, but he cares very much about her so will want to do whatever he can to help her. Hagen is more objective and Isolde may be more willing to deal with him. Whichever choice, it will have to happen soon, the body farm is of great concern and could be a key ingredient in any resurrection plan Fiona had. Lara makes a note to talk to both Emil and Hagen, at the same time if possible, and get them onto it.

Bleys – he may know more of what Fiona was up to than he’s been letting on. He certainly wants the throne for himself, so it’s entirely possible he was helping Fiona at least to some degree. Just enough to maintain plausible deniability though, Lara would be willing to bet. Maybe Hagen should talk to him and try to see what he can dig out. Although how much Bleys will be willing to talk after finding out his sister is dead (?) is debatable.

So, perhaps ask Emil to talk to Isolde and Hagen to talk to Bleys then. Right.

What next, what next, what next? What else on the lists can she do right this very second?

Deirdre, she should let Deirdre know that Corwin is back in the palace and of his own free will this time, even if he is still under house arrest. God knows what problems that may cause, but it’s not like she won’t find out anyway and Lara figures that it’s probably best coming from her rather than idle palace gossip, or one of the less well-meaning members of the family. But she finds herself hesitating, searching for something else she can do.

Getting the Deputy Sheriff role sorted, that’s also something she can do right now. Well, if Talion is willing to accept the job that is. Lara thinks he may be, after all he had already accepted a position with the Office not long after he’d arrived and he had been a police officer of some sort in a previous life. And, she can’t quite pinpoint how exactly, but Talion seems more confident now, as if he’s found a purpose for being here and that he’s happy with. She suspects it’s something to do with finding Glory and Ty and perhaps the last Pattern walk, and the choices he faced and made in that.

Lara pulls out her Trump deck and shuffles through until she finds the one of Talion. It’s changed somewhat from when he first appeared in the deck. In place of the scruffy, haunted looking man is one who looks healthy, if world-weary. He’s wearing a law enforcement looking uniform and holding his ubiquitous Gun. Lara smiles as she concentrates on the Trump, a smile that gets slightly bigger as the card goes cold and Talion swims into view.

“Talion, have you got time for a quick chat?”

The Trump contact blooms open onto what looks like an apartment in the palaces. Behind Talion is a balcony looking over the harbor, and close by is a broad mirror, and a bed. On the bed is a sack, full of what looks like old leather clothing.

Talion moves about the room, talking. “Of course – don’t mind me,” he says. “Just doing a little piece of housekeeping. What can I do for you?”

“Well, you know that Edan has resigned as Deputy Sheriff, so I’m left with no backup and a huge pile of work which is only getting bigger.” Lara stops and shakes her head, “sorry, let me start again, I’m not doing a good job of selling this to you.”

She moves around her office to sit at her desk and Talion can see the files and bits of paper strewn across it.

“I need a good Deputy that I can trust and I think you’re that man. You understand policing, you’re decisive and I think I can trust your decisions and that you will do what you need to within the scope of the law. So, how about it? Would you like the job?”

“Huh,” says Talion, and he stops for moment. He looks back over his shoulder, and smiles at something out of sight – that mirror perhaps. Then he starts moving again, and picks up… is that a rock? “Well, you know I was happy helping out anyway, but, uh, you know I’m more of a… of a field man, right?”

Lara nods as she responds, “I do and there is a lot of fieldwork involved, but I’m not going to lie, there can be late nights and piles of paper.” She waves a hand at her desk, “this looks worse than it is though, being Regent on top of being Sheriff and having no deputy means things are piling up and I just don’t have time to get to it all. But there is no pressure for you to accept if it’s not something you want.”

“No, it’s… it’s definitely something I want,” Talion says. “Between you and I, I think it’s something I need.” He pauses, hefting what Lara can definitely now see is a heavy piece of masonry, before purposefully stuffing it into the sack on his bed. Close up, she can now see it’s full of Talion’s old traveling clothes. “I should warn you – my handwriting is terrible. But I’ll take the job,” he says. Then he picks up the sack and spins in place for a couple of orbits, before letting go. Through the Trump Lara sees sack sail out the window, over the palace grounds, before disappearing from view. A moment later she hears a distant splash.

“It’s time I looked forward. I’m your man.”

“Excellent. If you want to swing by the office in the next couple of hours to sign the documents that would be great. Then I’ll get them to Tomas and we can get started. Thank you again Talion, I think this will work well.”

With that she cuts the contact and exhales a breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding. One thing off the list, and a positive one at that.

The Trumps shuffle back and forth in Lara’s hands and she sits at her desk contemplating the faces as they flash past. Some unknown, some lost and some loved. Edan’s card tops the pile for a moment and she feels a slight jump in her heart rate and a small smile plays across her lips. The smile dims a little as she wonders how he’s getting on with Monroe. She wants to talk to him so badly, but she knows he’s busy dealing with it all and he’ll let her know when he’s able. That doesn’t stop her worrying though, or staring at his picture just long enough for the Trump to start to go cold.

She shuffles the deck again hurriedly and her hands still as Deirdre’s face appears. Lara looks at the card contemplatively, not yet trying to make contact. The portrait on the card has also changed from when she last looked at it. The picture used to suggest someone who was defiant and closed off, angry at the world. And there are still hints of that in the new image, but there is also a bit of, Lara would hesitate to call it softness, but something warmer or less guarded perhaps. Which is surprising, because last time they spoke Deirdre was dismissive and non-committal, for no reason which Lara has been able to work out. She had hoped their trading of gifts and the heartfelt message in the note Deirdre had left for her would mean a new beginning for them. Lara’s sure she knows who Deirdre is to her now, and why she would want to keep that a secret, but she’d also hoped they might develop a stronger bond.

Clearing her mind of all such thoughts, Lara concentrates on the trump and it goes cold in her hand.

As the connection solidifies, there’s a moment of scent and sound and sensation – sea air, friendly laughter, and the gentle swelling motion of a boat. Deirdre is leaning back in a chair, a glass of wine in one hand, and she is still smiling at whatever comment caused the laughter that’s settling in the background. It’s the first time Lara’s ever seen her so at ease – happy, even.

“Lara,” there’s a warmth in her voice that’s also new, but it fades, along with the smile, all too quickly. “What do you need?”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but there’s been a couple of developments at the Palace that I think you should know about.” Lara cringes internally, knowing that she’s likely to be breaking any peace Deirdre has found with what she has to say next.

Deirdre lowers her gaze for a moment, an odd expression on her face. Lara realises after a breath that she’s trying to hide a smile. When she looks back up, her attempts to school her features are only partly successful – there is a crinkle at the corners of her eyes, and a dimple in one cheek. “Developments is one way of putting it, I suppose,” she says.

Elsewhere in the room, a man’s laugh springs into being and is just as quickly stifled by a yelp, as of a well-placed elbow in the ribs.

Deirdre’s gaze flicks sidelong at whoever is making the noise, then back to Lara.

“But I wouldn’t mind having a first-hand report.” She looks away again as a thoughtful frown pulls at her brows. Without remaking eye contact she continues, “we are sharing a rather heady bottle of Cockaigne Shalistin – maybe you would like to take a short break and join us?”

Lara finds herself surprised by the invitation, but grateful for it. A short break, even if it is followed by delivering news which might not be taken so well, is a welcome thing. “That would be lovely,” she says and she takes Deirdre’s proffered hand, wondering what awaits her on the other side.

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