I took Trace out of the Elgleggen Swath because overnight the growth had encroached upon our fire by the length of a person. Vines with big, wet yellow leaves and small purple ones wound across the soil toward us, like sea monsters at the bottom of the ocean.
Into the scrub I found a long abandoned, half crumbled shepherd’s hut on a hillside where we sat against the walls.
“You must understand something.” I sharpened my knife on a stone. “What I want from you has greater importance than your pilo ever had.”
“There is nothing more important.”
“Listen!” I sat forward and grabbed his hair on one side, twisting his head. “Listen and think. I will hold you captive until your very last breath if I believe you have a wisp of knowledge that I need left in you. You won’t ever see a pilo again. You won’t have anything again.”
In truth, I didn’t anticipate anything from this man. When I first heard the Children of the Desiderasha had taken Enta, a thin line of hope that I might find her stretched through my despair, but I knew how thin it was and the unlikelihood that I would find the half-human demons who took her. Every day that I hunted them down took her farther and farther away from me, and luck had abandoned me since then.
You’ve heard me tell how thin the thread of luck is, how easy it breaks and is lost. But the thread of hope never breaks, and for Enta I will follow it to my dying breath.
I let go of his hair, and he sat back.
“Did you buy a little girl from Breshkan’s traders?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you see a little girl at all?”
“We’re all the same.” He said it like he’d repeated it since birth.
“You’re not thinking. Think back, at least three seasons. Were there children?”
He shook his head. “No children came to the pilo.”
“Never? In your entire life as a pilolite?”
His eyes looked frenzied, so I didn’t think he was being reliable.
“Calm, Trace. I’m not going to hurt you. Close your eyes and think back.”
He closed his eyes.
“Remember the people who came into your community. Some joined you, some didn’t. Some were big. Some were small. Think about the small ones. Were there any little girls? Brown hair? Blue eyes?”
“There was a girl,” said Trace.
I held my breath.
“A girl was there. And she kept asking for her big man. Yes, her big man with guns would come get her. She kept singing the same song.”
“Was it called ‘Skupping Runnels by the Old Man’s Dock?’”
“Yes! Yes! I’m sure of it.” He grinned wide and reached his hand out. “Beautiful girl. Beautiful singer.”
I picked him up by his hair and threw him out of the hut. “You’re a liar.” Enta called me ‘Mallo,’ never ‘big man,’ and she doesn’t think of guns when she thinks of me. I hadn’t told Trace my name, so he’d come up with something descriptive. Sure as hell Enta never sang a song called ‘Skupping Runnels by the Old Man’s Dock.’
“I saw her! I did! She fed from the pilo for many days.”
“You stupid nothing.” I was prepared for disappointment, but frustration and anger welled up in me. “I should kill you for lying.”
“No. I’ll tell you more.” He sat up, and lay his arms across his knees.
I slumped to the ground next to him. “You didn’t see her.”
“Shut up, you crazy son-of-a-whore.” I pounded my fists into the ground. “Enta would never feed off your hateful orb.”
Trace leaned forward, hands on the ground. “You mean the deranged. The insane. The insane ones don’t feed, so they are sent away to be cured.”
“Whatever. Stay quiet.”
“But I know her. We don’t forget the insane—why wouldn’t one feed on the pilo? They must be insane, so we give them up to be cured.” More lies to please his captor.
“Why didn’t you mention her first, instead of making someone up?”
“She never joined us—I didn’t know her. But I remember her among the insane. Oh, yes. I remember. She clouted her keeper good and got away. ‘Mallomallomallo,’ she cried, but we caught her again.”
I took in a sharp breath. “What happened to her?”
His head quivered like he was confused. “The insane must be cured.”
I grabbed him by the head and glared into his face. “What happened to her? Where did she go?”
“To the remediers. The fixers.” His voice cracked, like he was in raptured awe and terrified. “They will cure her insanity so she can participate in the feast of the Desiderasha.”
I knew nothing of these remediers. In all my years I had never heard of them. A weak thread of luck finally crossed my unbreakable thread of hope. My arms shook, and the rest of me trembled.
“How do I find them?”
He shook his head. “They find you.”