Cat woke to the sound of angry voices. There were people outside the guest-lodge, too many people for this time of night. On the far side of the lodge, he felt Mara sit up; he felt the stirring of Gai-Cha around her, and felt the pistol in her hand. He stood, shedding his blanket, and his navic came into his hand. He followed the commander to the door.
Mara was not tall; she was shorter than Delissa, and stockier, with sandy blonde hair cut close to her skull, pale and freckled skin, and sharp blue eyes. She was also a good five years older than the other two, just past her thirtieth year. She pushed the door open and stepped out beside Delissa. "What is this?" she asked, her voice hovering in the toneless region between inquiry and threat.
The crowd fell silent. It was a crowd, and not quite a mob; only a handful of them were armed, and they seemed more upset than violent.
A woman stepped forward: older, heavyset, with her back held straight and her gaze clear. "My Sinna is missing," she said. "So are other children, boys and girls both. You have to get them back."
Mara frowned, but lowered her pistol. "What happened?"
Cat knew the answer almost before she finished the question; it came to him in a flickering spark of intuition. He knew, but he couldn't explain.
"The house has taken them. Old Yeric saw him come down, saw him gather our children and take them up the hill." She looked past Mara, and Cat found himself suddenly the focus of attention: the woman's, and everyone else in the crowd's. "That's why we never go up there. You did, and you woke him up."
Mara turned, and Cat bowed his head. It's possible, he thought. It's more than possible.
"I... see," said Mara. She turned back to the crowd. "We'll bring them back if we can." She turned back to Cat and Delissa. "Gather your things, and then show me where you went."
Cat nodded and stepped back through the door. He meant to gather the rest of his weapons, but Mara caught his arm as soon as the door swung closed behind them. "What did you do?" she demanded.
He paused, because words had never come easily to him. "There's a ruin on top of the hill. I went and looked at it. I didn't do anything, but..." ...just my being there... "...that might have been enough."
"Obviously it was," snapped Delissa. "Come on. Let's go fix your mistake."