Author's Note: Finally, the end of book three! It turned out very differently than I planned because someone *glares at Lian* barged in and tried to make the whole story about him. I have mixed feeling about the finished book, but hopefully it isn't too bad!

I haven't decided yet if there'll be a book four or if I'll start book one of the sequel. For now this is the end of The Power and the Glory itself, but there will definitely be a follow-up of some sort!

Thank you to everyone who's read this far, and an especially big thank you to those who've reviewed! :D

Book 3 Chapter XXII: Face to Face

Sometimes a ghost is a ghost but other times a ghost is the prominent absence of a ghost. – Unknown

The delegation from Saoridhlém was expected to arrive within the hour. Preparations were well underway to welcome them and escort them to their rooms. The funerals would be held tomorrow. In all likelihood Lian would barely get to see the visitors, much less talk to them. He wasn't invited to the funeral itself. He would be somewhere in the rear of the procession, far away from them.

Common sense told Lian he should avoid them. He would only open a can of worms that he could never close again. But for so many years he'd lived anonymously, moving from place to place and changing his name so many times he could hardly tell what his real name was. It was a lonely existence. And he had to admit he was curious. What stories were told about him back home? Was he remembered at all?

Zi Yao didn't go to the welcoming ceremony, so neither did Lian. Mirio and Lady Yuan did, which left Lian without anyone to talk to. He had nothing to do but think. So he thought. And thought. And thought.

Mainly he thought about Abihira. Was Mirio's description of her accurate? He must be exaggerating or she would never be allowed to go on a diplomatic mission. If Lian met her and talked to her, if he told her everything, what would she say? She probably wouldn't believe him. Why should she? She had no memory of him and he had only the faintest memory of her. No, it was better to leave well enough alone. He would do nothing but cause trouble for himself.

Lian's thoughts turned to the curse. Whoever was responsible for it had to pay. He didn't know who they were yet or if they really didn't intend to cast it again, but they had cursed Zi Yao. They could have killed every other prince if they wanted to and Lian wouldn't have cared. But not Zi Yao. Lian would hunt them down for that. Even if it took him a hundred years, five hundred, ten thousand, he would find them and make them suffer.

Zi Yao was fast asleep. Lian kept a much closer eye on him than usual to make sure he really was recovered. His temperature was normal and his spots had disappeared. But even so the slightest change in his breathing snapped Lian out of his thoughts instantly.

Yes, whoever had tried to kill Zi Yao would suffer for it. Lian usually killed people quickly. But when he got his hands on them he would make sure they had the slowest, most painful death he could invent.

Normally Abi was curious when she arrived in a new place for the first time. She would explore everywhere she could and familiarise herself with where she was. Not this time. With Aunt Jiarlúr's looming presence beside her she didn't even dare look up. Abi tried to remember everything her aunt had yelled at her.

Bow ten times. Hold your hands in front of you with one placed on top of the other. Do not raise your head unless commanded to. Do not speak unless you are specifically addressed. And above all do not try to speak Gengxinese! The language is notoriously difficult for Saoridhians who haven't studied it for years. Speak Saoridhin and let the translator relay what you said.

Well, she was in no danger of breaking those last commands. She hadn't dared to open her mouth since they got off the ship. Aunt Jiarlúr had elbowed her – very hard – in the ribs the only time she tried.

Dimly Abi was aware there was a large crowd gathered in the throne room. She tried to ignore their existence. The fear of Aunt Jiarlúr's displeasure was bad enough without worrying about what a crowd of strangers thought of her.

She didn't even notice when the welcoming ceremony was over until Aunt Jiarlúr elbowed her in the ribs again. Abi bit her tongue to stop herself crying out. Did her aunt have bludgeons attached to her elbows? At this rate she'd have broken ribs before the day was over.

Keep your mouth shut, she told herself as she got up. Don't look up. Just follow dear old auntie.

She hoped there wouldn't be any fish-ponds around the palace like there were in Seroyawa. If there were, she'd have real trouble resisting the urge to throw her aunt into one.

There was only one good thing about this whole sorry mess. Lian could cross the Noble Royal Consort off the list of suspects. Both of her sons had died. So now he had a place to start his investigation. The queen was the only other woman to lose a child, and she still had two living children after Zi Xiao's death. Which of the royal family disliked the Noble Royal Consort enough to kill both of her children?

It was a long list. None of the concubines liked each other and none of the princes or princesses liked their mothers' rivals.

While Zi Yao was asleep Lian went out to check the other palaces for any traces of evidence. He slipped in and out without the guards ever seeing him. Nothing. Not a single trace of the curse.

On his way back he rounded a corner and saw Mirio talking to a Saoridhian girl. Lian dived back behind the corner. He glanced around to make sure no one had seen him. Carefully he peered out. The two of them were walking in the direction of the palace gardens.

"She's a complete nightmare!" the girl was saying in Saoridhin.

"I can't imagine what that's like," Mirio said in the same language. He kept his face perfectly straight even though his voice was laden with sarcasm.

They disappeared from view. Lian ventured out of his hiding place and stared after them in confusion. The girl had to be Abihira. But why was she surrounded by an aura of dark magic?

Talking to Mirio was the first peace Abi had gotten since leaving Saoridhlém. Not coincidentally, it was also the first time Aunt Jiarlúr had left her alone. She complained at length about how she was treated. Mirio listened with the blank expression that suggested he was trying not to laugh.

"You brought all of this on yourself," he said when she was finished.

Abi scowled. "I know, but couldn't you be a bit more sympathetic?"

As she spoke she absently fiddled with the locket around her neck. Her aunt had insisted she wear it because it contained photos of her parents. Apparently Aunt Jiarlúr sincerely believed that would stop Abi doing anything to embarrass them. To be blunt it only annoyed her. She wasn't used to wearing necklaces all day and it was heavy. Without noticing what she was doing she snapped it open then closed it again several times, just so her hands had something to do. She only became aware of it when she noticed Mirio was staring at the locket with a confused look on his face.

"Could I see those photos?" he asked.

Bemused, Abi took off the locket and held it out. She opened it and pointed to the photos. "That one's my mother and that's my father. When they were children, obviously."

Mirio looked from the photos to Abi and back again. "Your parents?"

What's gotten into him? "Yes? Is there something wrong with that?"

Mirio hardly seemed to hear her. He was muttering something in Seroyawan under his breath. Abi could just catch the words, "Makes no sense."

Louder he said, "It's nothing. I just thought I'd seen those photos before."

He had certainly seen pictures of Abi's parents before, and he had probably seen these specific ones, but she had a feeling this was about something more than just recognising the photos.

"Did you know there's a Saoridhian doctor living here?" Mirio said.

Abi closed the locket and went along with the change of subject. "No. Why's he here? Aren't there enough doctors in Gengxin?"

A girl playing with a dog. A boy sitting on a swing. A boy with a familiar smile. Mirio could have kicked himself. Why hadn't he realised before? He recognised that smile because it was similar to Abi's!

Which raised many important questions. Why did Lian have childhood photos of Abi's parents and why did he say they were his?

Mirio firmly refused to consider the obvious answer. It was ridiculous. Not only that, it was utterly implausible. He'd met all of Abi's siblings. If she had another brother she would have mentioned it.

After saying goodbye to Abi he went straight back to Zi Yao's palace and knocked Lian's door. No answer. Casting politeness aside, Mirio pushed the door open and stepped in. The room was empty. Lian's diary sat on the bedside table. Next to it were those photos. They were exactly the same as the ones Abi had shown him a few minutes ago.

There was just the faintest hint of a resemblance between Abi's mother and Lian. No matter how hard Mirio thought about it he had to admit there was no resemblance at all between Abi herself and Lian. Probably there was a good explanation. Maybe Lian had noticed the slight resemblance and decided to pass himself off as a royal.

But that makes no sense either because he never claimed to be royal.

None of this made sense. It felt like he had stumbled into the middle of someone else's family scandal.

After Mirio left Abi opened the locket again and studied the photos. There was nothing odd about them. Certainly nothing that should have provoked such a strange reaction. Unless Mirio had gained an intense dislike of Saoridhin fashions from her parents' childhood – and honestly she wouldn't blame him; those puffed sleeves and hedgehog-like hairstyles were utterly ridiculous – he shouldn't have reacted like that. It was a mystery.

Abi shrugged and fastened the locket around her neck again. Oh well. It wasn't really important.

She wandered slowly back through the gardens. She was in no hurry to see Aunt Jiarlúr again, but if she stayed out for much longer she just knew another lecture was in store for her. The path led past flowerbeds full of brightly-coloured flowers she couldn't name. Every few minutes Abi stopped to examine one. In spite of her delaying tactics she reached the edge of the gardens far too quickly.

The gardens were surrounded by a river. At the edge of the garden was a stone bridge. Abi stopped short when she saw someone was already on the bridge. They were leaning against the wall and staring down at the river.

I hope they don't try to talk to me, she thought. The only words of Gengxinese she knew were "Hello" and "Goodbye".

The person turned as Abi approached. To her surprise she saw they weren't Gengxinese even though their clothes were.

This must be the doctor Mirio mentioned, she thought.

She didn't particularly want to talk to anyone right now, not even another Saoridhian, so she bowed and said nothing. He returned her bow and, thank the gods, also stayed silent. He turned back to the river and apparently ignored her existence. As she tried to pass him she felt a strange heaviness in the atmosphere. It was almost like the presence of... Her eyes widened. It was exactly like the presence of dark magic.

Abi stopped short just beside the doctor. He spun round as abruptly as if he expected her to attack him. The two of them stared at each other. Abi almost forgot about the dark magic when she got a good look at his face.

His eyes were the most vivid shade of silver she'd ever seen.

The memory of Imrahil's portrait came rushing back. Her mind superimposed the portrait over the doctor's face and she saw their eyes were exactly the same. Their faces were similar yet with enough differences for her to be unsure if they were the same person, but their eyes…

Imrahil was dead. Imrahil was dead and drowned and his body had never been recovered. He was dead.

Abi stumbled back. She collided with the wall of the bridge. For a terrible dizzying moment she felt as if she was about to fall. Then the stranger grabbed her sleeve and pulled her back.

"What's wrong?" he asked in Saoridhian. Saoridhian that had a distinct upper-class accent. It was exactly like her parents' and siblings' accent.

There was a moment's silence. Abi opened and closed her mouth. She couldn't think of anything to say. The stranger watched her all the time like she was a bug under a microscope. Then he smiled, bitterly and humourlessly.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," he remarked.

Abi glared at him. In light of how shaken his appearance had left her, that comment seemed to be in rather bad taste. "I was just wondering why you're surrounded by dark magic."

The stranger's smile disappeared. He stared at her coldly. "How strange. I was wondering why you're surrounded by dark magic. And not just any dark magic either, is it?" His smile came back again. He tilted his head to the side like a bird. "Whatever have you been doing meddling with necromancy?"



(but not the end of the story)