Far to the North (Chapter 12)

“Hey,” Hemmett says. “You ready?”

Anna looks over her shoulder at him, not turning her body away from the view in front of her.

Seeing a distant longing in her eye, Hemmett pauses. “They’re leaving now. We should get going too. Our walk will be harder without the luxury of the road.”

Anna nods. “Okay. I’m right behind you.” She turns back to the frozen lake, a soft stretch of white resting in the palm of jagged, stone mountains. Gray clouds writhe across the sky and swallow reaching peaks while small snowflakes dance in a gentle breeze. It’s the first time I don’t want to leave, she realizes. But why now? Why this? But she knows the answer before the question can exit her mind. The frozen lake sits untouched and without blemish. Surrounded by storming clouds and hard stone, it rests as a calm circle in world unable to find peace. She turns before sadness can grab a hold of her feet and take her captive, and a dull sting pangs her heart as she walks away. In a feeble attempt to escape her heartbreak, she follows Hemmett’s tracks with a quickened pace and leaves the frozen lake behind. Joined, the two weave through trees, boulders and thickets of ice-vine to follow beneath the telegraph line, their eyes constantly glancing upwards in search of broken connections. To her right, Hutch and Wilder walk shoulder to shoulder along the road, Hutch clinking like a chandelier in the wind and Wilder silent with determination. Wynn and Vials follow, already engaged in conversation. Their voices trickle through the trees before getting sucked up by snowy limbs. Anna tries to listen, but the words don’t quite reach. Glancing at them, she notices a limp in Wynn’s step. Concern keeps her eyes on him, on the subtle hop in his leg, on the hand rubbing his hip. But her worry soon slips away. He’s doing it on purpose, she thinks, realizing his hobbled pace matches the gnome’s smaller stride. He was fine in camp. Understanding his cleverness, a soft smile touches her lips.

As Anna settles into her pace, her legs loosening and lungs warming, Hemmett breaks the silence hanging over them. “I meant what I said last night.”

“What?” she asks, caught off guard and not hearing him entirely.

“About you being a fine addition to our group, your tenacity.” He glances over his shoulder to catch her facial expression. “I meant it. Last night was a little absurd with Wynn putting so much ceremony on the whiskey and all that, but it wasn’t meant to be silly. It wasn’t a joke.”

“Thank you,” she says after a pause. Considering the night again, she asks, “Why did you tell Vials I was your niece?”

“I didn’t want him asking anymore questions. He noticed you immediately, how young you are. He might even suspect some of your clothing is uniform. I don’t know,” Hemmett says, shaking his head. “There’s a look in his eyes I don’t trust. Like he’s scheming. Besides, with how our lives have been altered by your father, we’re a bit like family.” Expecting a quip from Anna, Hemmett glances back after being met with silence. “He never told you, did he?”

“My father?”

“Wynn. He never told you what happened.”

“No,” Anna says. “He said the two of you had history, that you were likely to hold it over me, and I shouldn’t take it personal.”

Hemmett chuckles, shakes his head and sighs. “I love that man. He treats everyone with compassion, even complete strangers. Wynn, I mean. Not your father.”

Anna glares at the back of his head. “Yeah.”

Hemmett stops below a leaning telegraph pole and looks up. “This looks promising.” Overhead, several branches tangle around the support bar, smothering the line and its porcelain insulation. He removes his small pack and exchanges snowshoes for climbing cleats. “See the limbs there? That’s the sort of thing we’re looking for. Let me get my feet started and then hand me the saw.”

Anna stands in silence as Hemmett climbs upward, studying his footwork and watching him work. As he clears away ice and limbs, snow falls down in thick clumps. Anna turtles her neck and covers her head with her hands against the tiny avalanche. “Sorry!” Hemmett shouts down. After a few minutes, he’s back on the ground and strapping on snowshoes once more.

“No issues here. On to the next one.” He gives her a sharp look. “You know… you don’t need to stand directly below when I’m clearing the pole.”

“I was trying to watch. I’m supposed to be learning, remember?”

Hemmett rolls his jaw, chewing on nothing. He clears his throat. “Fair enough.”

They walk on, and the morning slips by.

Sloping hills squeeze together while larger mountains lord over Anna and Hemmett. Stone outcroppings stand like watchful sentinels. As the terrain worsens, their pace slows. Trees huddle together in protest against towering crags, and the wedging land mass tightens into a small canyon that is home to a frozen river. Ice hangs from shelves of stone, patiently awaiting warmer days. To their right, the road narrows. Hutch and Wilder are forced to end their side-by-side companionship for single file travel, Wilder taking the lead. Wynn and Vials continue to prattle on. On rare occasion, their voices pass through tiny openings between the trees to arrive as phantoms in Anna’s ear.

“I figured you were a spy at first,” Hemmett says with shortened breath.

“A spy?”

“When we were wired a copy of your orders, Wynn told me who you were. Not just your name, but who you really were. I was furious,” he says. “Your father, he can never leave well enough alone. I figured it was more of his meddling. It took me a few days to calm down and really sort it out.”

“Sort what out?” Anna asks, both the conversation and the terrain pressing heat into her veins.

“Sort out that you couldn’t be a spy, not an effective one at least. It doesn’t make sense to both send you and have you use your real name. If anything, he would send you under an alias. Just some random soldier sent north.”

“Why would my father want to spy on you?”

Hemmett pauses his march and turns, breath huffing from his mouth. “Seriously?”

Anna stops in front of him and adjusts the rifle on her back. Seeing the expectant look on Hemmett’s face, Anna throws her hands. “Yes? I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

“How well do you know your father?”

Anna sighs in frustration. “Pretty well. He’s my father.”

“Sure, but did he ever talk about me? The war? How this whole mess in the south got started?”

“Not really,” Anna says, “other than trying to talk me out of it. His approach was to keep me in the dark as much as possible. If he did talk about it, it wasn’t to say anything positive. He only got specific when it came to the brutality.”

Hemmett nods. “Sounds about right. Well, at least he’s consistent.” Having caught his breath, he turns and continues his pursuit of the broken line.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Anna calls after him. “Why would he want to spy on you?”

Hemmett pulls his collar close to his neck and pushes through a thick weave of tree limbs. Snow tumbles onto his head and shoulders, leaving white splotches on his dark coat. “You really don’t know what happened, do you?” he says after Anna passes through the stubborn trees.

“Death of man, Hemmett, I’ve already told you that.”

“Fair enough.” He shoots her another look over his shoulder. “I just find it surprising is all.”

Annoyance crawls into Anna’s voice. “I’m sorry to inform you there are other happenings beside your movements. You’re not the center of the universe.”

Hemmett laughs. Wisps of breath spiral over his shoulder. “No, I suppose not. Not now, not ever.” He lets out a long sigh. “Maybe it’s all in my head. I’ve been north for so long now. I’m here with Wynn, sure, but it’s almost a form of solitary confinement. Being this far from the real world and knowing what’s happening elsewhere and not having a say in its outcome, not being able to contribute. Not having anyone to challenge the thoughts that spring up in my mind… it’s hard, you know?”

“I know,” Anna says, not hiding the bitter tone in her voice.

The path they follow makes a quick jump in elevation, and Hemmett veers to the right to side-steps his way up the steepened grade, dry snow tumbling away from his pushing snowshoes. At the top of the small rise, he stops and looks at Anna. “Yeah, I suppose you do.” He chuckles at himself. “Death of man, Ms. Holt, it really is all in my head. Here you are staring me in the face, stripped of your markings, denied your place on the front, and all I can think about is me.”

Anna squints as snowflakes snag in her eyelashes. “So then tell me what happened,” she says. “I’ll hear whatever you’re willing to share. I don’t care how ugly it sounds. It doesn’t matter that you’re talking about my father. You’ll do us both a favor.”

“Both of us. How do you figure that?”

“You can get it off your chest and I stop being left in the dark.”

Hemmett jabs his walking poles in the snow, punching random holes. “Yeah…” he says with hesitation. “Yeah. I suppose. You know, I thought it’d be easier to talk about after so many years, but even now…” He clenches his jaw. “Let’s keep moving, okay?”

Trying to ease his nerves, Anna forces a quick smile. “Lead the way.”

Continuing, they work their way up a small waterfall. Ice hangs from rock shelves like curtains. Hemmett scans the cliff for passage, and they side-step up a steep slope, gripping tree limbs for balance. After the brief ascent, the frozen river flattens. Concerned about falling behind Wynn and Vials, Hemmett quickens their pace to make up time. Above, the telegraph line dips forward in long, slow arcs.

“I was an officer in the Army before the war broke out,” Hemmett says. “A captain. I was stationed in the south and often took orders directly from your father. He’s a shrewd man. Cunning. Tactical.” He glances back. “But he’s vicious as well. And unforgiving.”

Anna meets his eyes but says nothing. Hemmett takes her silence as permission to continue.

“Some blame your father for the war, and they’re right to do so. To an extent. But those that blame him also think it could have been avoided, and that’s where they’re wrong. This war has been years in the making. Dwarves are staunch miners, obsessive over it, and that southern range along our border has always been a point of contention. They’ve always looked at our territory with greedy little eyes. The mountains practically taunt them. Do you know why it’s called Apatura Mountain?”

“No,” Anna says, wondering if the question is rhetorical.

“The southern side is chock-full with cobalt and quartz. When the sun hits it just right, the mountain takes on colors of dark blue mixed with spots of white. Like the butterfly wing. Anyway,” Hemmett says, waving his hand as if mocking the trivial fact, “that mountain just sits there and stares at them. Our governments tried to work it out. We tried leases, temporary claims, direct trade, but it was never enough. We’re too different, them with their king and lords and us with our elected leaders. It’s like they can’t conceive of the idea they’re not entitled to our land. After so many clashes between our miners and theirs, the military finally got involved. First it was camps and patrols. Then we built forts. Then walls started going up. But none of it seemed to matter. Dwarves are vermin. They just dig and dig and dig, like they’ll die if they stop. You wouldn’t believe the number of underground tunnels there are. It’s a wonder they whole region hasn’t collapsed on itself.”

The frozen river they follow snakes between tall stones standing like the fingers of a fossilized giant. As Hemmett and Anna pass through the, the breeze swirls around them and fills the air with tiny cyclones of snow.

“We were able to keep things in check for a while,” Hemmett continues. “The military presence created tensions, but it also held the dwarves back. It forced them to either respect the border or openly invade. Things calmed down, and it seemed like a solution had been found. But then something happened that pushed the dwarves right over the edge.”

“Which was?” Anna asks.

Hemmett stops and tilts his head back, taking a long look up a telegraph pole standing near the river. Graying wood mixes with frost. A quick gust of wind snaps by and blows Hemmett’s black hat off his hand. It hits the ground as if landing on a cloud, quiet and soft. Anna picks it up, brushes snow away, and hands it back.

“Thanks,” he says, sliding it on. He shakes his head. “I thought I saw a loose connection here, but it’s just the breeze blowing the cable around.” Agitated, he looks around, and his eyes drift toward the road. “Where’s Wynn?”

“I’m not sure. I think they’re further ahead.”

Hemmett glares.

“What?” Anna asks.

“It’s that damned gnome. He’s distracting him. Wynn is supposed to keep pace with us since all our equipment is in the sled. We can’t fix anything without it.” Hemmett grumbles as he starts off. “Come on. Either way, we still have to find the break.”

Anna hurries after.

“Where was I with the dwarves?” Hemmett shouts over his shoulder.

“Something pushed them over the edge.”

“Right,” he says, remembering. “Right.” A moment passes before he continues, and a sighing growl rolls from his throat. “I understand now, why it’s so difficult to talk about. Talking about the past is just digging up old bones, and these are bones I’d rather leave buried.”

Anna follows his tracks through the snow in silence, unsure of what to say. “You don’t have to.”

“No, I don’t have to,” agrees Hemmett. “But I need to. I need to put it behind me, somehow, and you deserve to know. You’re my niece after all.” He slows just enough to turn and give her a trying smile. It’s forced and a little awkward. Anna smiles back as well as she can, but she knows her smile is just as forced. Their connection, it seems, doesn’t come as easily as it did with Wynn.

“Anyway,” Hemmett says once his pace is resumed, “miners kept digging as miners do, and some day one of them stumbles upon a crystal deep within Apatura, the poor bastard. Not that it’s his fault for finding it, of course. He did what any miner would: found it, dug it out of the ground and tried to sell it. Trouble was there wasn’t anything particularly impressive about these crystals. They didn’t clean up well, and they weren’t easy to work with. Somewhat brittle. Broke easily. Nearby jewelers quickly lost interest, so the market for them dried up. But miners need money like anyone else. It’s a poor business model to dig rocks out of the ground for nothing, so they did what any miner would do.”

“Sold them to the dwarves,” Anna says.

Hemmett points his fingers like a gun and pulls an imaginary trigger. “Bullseye. Which was perfectly within their right, mind you. It wasn’t their fault no one understood the value of these crystals, and there were trade posts all along the border before the war started. So of course they crossed over to see if the dwarves were interested in buying.”

“I take it they were,” Anna says.

Hemmett raises his other hand to fire another invisible gun. “You better believe they were, and when the dwarves got their grubby little fingers on those crystals, boy did they start to foam at the mouth for more. Prices skyrocketed. Every day, they’d send buyers making higher and higher offers. For a time, things were good. Miners were making money. The dwarves were getting what they wanted, though seemingly never enough. A kind of cohesion existed.

“But your father didn’t like it. I still remember him telling me. ‘It’s the crazed look in their squinty, little eyes. They’re fiends for it, and they can’t even hide it.’ And he was right,” Hemmett says, laughing. “Everyday they’d thrust more gold onto the table without question. Their anxious fingers would roll in their hands. You could see the impatience in their bodies as they waited for the transaction to be recorded before the crystals were handed over. It’s like they were possessed.”

“Why?” Anna asks.

“We didn’t know,” Hemmett says. “And we still don’t. That’s the problem. But it wasn’t long before your father closed off trade with the dwarves, and that’s when the real trouble started.”

Anna furrows her brow. “How? The military doesn’t have authority to cutoff trade.”

Hemmett pauses near a telegraph pole to catch his breath and looks toward the road. “Death of man, where is Wynn? Did they pull ahead?”

“I don’t know,” Anna says while resting her hands on her hips and sucking in labored breaths. Her cheeks are flushed. “I haven’t heard any of them for a while now.” The frozen river, forming its own white, narrow path, winds before them and feeds into a narrow canyon. Alongside, the telegraph line darts upward, its poles carefully planted between large croppings of stone.

“It’s gonna be a bitch through here,” Hemmett says.

“Yeah,” Anna agrees, tightening the rifle strap.

Hemmett looks at her and grunts a laugh. “Look at you. Already acclimating. You’re no worse than I am. How’s it feel to be a Walker in the north, Ms. Holt?”

She breathes in the clean, crisp air, a soothing counter to the fire in her lungs, and smiles. “It feels good.”

Hemmett reaches up and clasps her shoulder. For a moment, Anna thinks he intends to hug her, but he simply squeezes his hand and smiles. “You’ll make a hell of a soldier someday. Believe that. Hell, you already are as far as I’m concerned.”

Anna smiles, then narrows her eyes and gives him a crossed look. “Are you trying to distract me from the rest of your story?”

Hemmett nods. “Of course I am. Is it that obvious?”

“Mr. Hemmett, everything you do is obvious.”

Hemmett sighs, and a smile cracks along his weathered face. “Subtlety never did suit me. Alright then,” he says, nodding his head toward the small canyon. “We’ll see if we can catch Mr. Wynn. Double-time, soldier. On the move. Let’s see how strong you are.” He turns and starts out at a brisk pace. Anna follows, matching him stride for stride.

“The military can restrict trade,” Hemmett explains, his voice bouncing with his steps. “There’s an ordinance that gives military authority over trade taking place within forts and military-occupied camps. Your father enacted it, much to every miner’s chagrin, obviously. He damn near had a mutiny the first morning before he called everyone in for a town meeting. He made it pretty clear then.”

My fellow compatriots,” Hemmett says in a low voice dripping with authority, performing his best impression, “I understand your disagreement. I understand how attached your livelihood is to your trade, but you must consider a bigger picture. A nation’s resources are precious, some so precious that no amount of coin is worth their trade. Our stunted neighbors seek to rob our children and our grandchildren of something we’ve yet to understand. Their lust for these crystals is too great, the risk too severe. Until we learn more, we cannot allow these sales to continue. We must consider the bigger picture and serve the needs of our country.

“Bigger picture,” Anna says. “Death of man, you’ve no idea how tired I am of hearing about that.”

Hemmett laughs. “Good!” he cheers. “You and I both.”

“What did the miners do?”

Hemmett dashes up a narrow gulley. Snow puffs away from his feet. “Most of them grumbled but took it on the chin. A few tried to argue the ban, but your father wouldn’t hear it. He just gave them the same lines about precious resources and securing the nation’s future. He dispatched soldiers into the mines to keep watch. That brought everything to a boil. A few miners were caught trying to circumvent the ban. A couple were thrown in the brig. One was hanged for treason. But that paled to how the dwarves reacted.

“They sent an envoy within days, all prissy and clean, full regalia, to negotiate the sudden change. Honestly, it was a little silly. Despite their attempt at formality and propriety, all they managed was revealing their desperation. They practically begged for the crystal trade to be reopened, and that sealed the deal when it came to your father’s decision. It confirmed all his suspicions.”

Anna jogs through the snow, her lungs on fire. “That’s right,” she says between breaths. “Never show loss. Not with him. If he takes something from you. Treat it like garbage. You’ll never see it again otherwise.”

“Alright,” Hemmett says, slowing their pace back to a walk. “That’s enough hustle for now.” Breath pours from his mouth like a fog as he cranes his head to search the line. “Problem was the dwarves had no intention on taking no for an answer. They thought their fancy display of royalty would sway us, as if we’d be too in awe of their pretty clothes to disagree. When your father sent them back empty handed, that was the end.”

“The end?” Anna asks, hands on hips and head back with heavy breathing. She peels off her fur cap to allow heat to escape. “More like the beginning of the end.”

The narrow canyon they follow closes into a wedge of stone. Hemmett pauses, leaning against the rock in search for a way up. He shoots Anna a quick glance. “So it seems to have been.”

“Is that when the dwarves attacked us?”

Hemmett shakes his head. “No. That’s when we attacked them.”

“What?” Anna says with shock. “No. No, no. We didn’t attack them first. Everyone knows that. Every news source confirmed that. The dwarves started the war, not us.”

“Have you read any of their papers?” Hemmett asks.

“What do you mean?”

Hemmett smiles, a look mixed with humor and sympathy. “Their papers. You seem to know a lot of what humans say about dwarves, but do you have any idea what they say about us?”

“No,” Anna says, somewhat confused by the question. “Why would I? If anything, they’re likely printing lies.”

“And our papers? What do they print? Lies or truth?”

Anna glares at the question. “They have no reason to lie. They—”

“They have every reason to lie,” Hemmett says with stabbing words. “Elected officials don’t keep their positions as easily as kings and lords. Dwarven royalty worries little about public opinion. They can say or do as they please. Our kind attacked first, Ms. Holt. You can believe me on that.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Hemmett gives her a long, knowing stare. “Because your father gave me the orders, and I carried out the attack.”

Anna’s dark eyes bore into his. Her face tightens with anger. “Bullshit,” she says.

Hemmett lets out a casual chuckle and turns. “Here,” he says. “We need to climb. Take off your snowshoes. We can put them in my pack. When I’m going up, watch where I put my hands.”

The portion of canyon they climb is steep, but short, no more than fifteen feet in height. Anna watches as Hemmett bushes away snow from flat edges and makes his way up the cliff. Nearing the top, he pauses to look down at her. “Come on,” he says. “There’s still a lot of ground to cover.”

With each hand and foot placement made, Anna broods. It’d be easier to take if he didn’t have to throw it in my face, she thinks. That stupid smirk, like he’s so smart. Death of man, Hemmett must have gotten along so well with my father. As she crests the canyon, Hemmett extends a helping hand, and she hesitates before accepting it. He pulls her from the cliffside with ease, and they both sit in the snow, resting a moment while reattaching their snowshoes.

“Let’s hear it then,” Anna says, breaking their short silence.

Hemmett brushes snow from his hat, fixes it to his head and nods. “Alright.” The frozen river, narrowing in size, bends with the sloping mountains and turns toward the road. As they draw closer, both Walkers listen for Wynn or Wilder. Only silence finds them. Hemmett curses under his breath.

“Should we look for them?” Anna asks.

Hemmett stares down the visible stretch of path with hard eyes, as if attempting to will the others into view. “I don’t know. No,” he says, second-guessing himself. “He’ll just chide us for bothering over him. Wynn can take care of himself. Our job is the line. Let’s keep going,” he says with frustration. Leaving, he sets a fierce walking pace. “I mentioned we hung a man for treason?”

“Yes,” Anna says, “but you never said why.”

“When your father stationed soldiers in the mines, a couple juicy secrets were revealed. Foremost was that one fellow by the name of Percy Jennings was working directly with the dwarves, smuggling crystals, selling maps of the mining network, claim sizes. Just about anything he could. He was hanged, and four dwarves were taken into custody.”

“I’m sure that worked wonders for relations,” Anna says.

“More flames for the fire under the powder keg. Dwarven diplomats ordered their prisoners released, that we had no authority to hold them without trial.” Hemmett laughs. “Your father told them they’d already been given a trial and that all four had pleaded guilty. He said their admission of guilt was why they were still alive instead of hanging beside our man.”

“Death of man,” Anna says, shaking her head.

“That’s when the dwarven army mobilized. They were stationed along the border as well. Had been for years, just like ours, building up forts and doing what they could to keep the peace. To their credit though, and I really hate giving them credit, until then, they hadn’t shown any aggression.”

“So they did attack first,” Anna says with vindication.

Hemmett looks over his shoulder and gives her an apologetic look. “Your father was worried they would, and he was probably right. They were matching us step for step, capturing some of our miners and positioning their own soldiers within the mines. Trying to make sense of borders underground is a nightmare even though the mountain is clearly on our side. Fights were breaking out almost every hour over who was allowed to be where. So your father decided to end the debate once and for all by blowing the mines.”

“What?”

Hemmett gives a solemn nod. “Those were my orders. Get in, clear our people out, plant explosives on their side of the tunneling network, and collapse the whole damn thing.”

“But that’s absurd!” Anna shouts.

“Orders are orders, Ms. Holt. You don’t pick and choose which to follow, especially at my rank.”

Anna shakes her head in frustration, searching for an explanation. “The papers said it was an accident. That a fire broke out and caught onto an explosives cache. That’s why the mine collapsed.”

Hemmett nods along sarcastically. “Of course the papers said that. Because that’s the story we gave them. The truth is I was ordered to plant those explosives and start that fire. It was no accident.” He strolls to a nearby pole, stops and looks up. He slides his backpack from his shoulders.

Watching him, Anna’s eyes narrow. “I know who you are.”

“Do you?” Hemmett asks with disinterest. His eyes run from the pole to the sloping hillside beside it. A small rock cropping leans near the top. Hemmett starts up the grade toward the rocky pinnacle.

“You’re not Leonard Hemmett,” she says. “You’re Leonard Tepper. The Captain Leonard Tepper that was found guilty of treason.”

“Leonard Hemmett Tepper to be exact,” he says. “I go by my middle name now. Tepper died the day your father betrayed me, labeled me as a traitor after following his orders to a tee and stripped me of my rank, retirement and dignity.”

Anna scowls at Hemmett as he reaches the top of the small cropping. “I don’t believe it,” she says. “You don’t have any proof. There isn’t a single record that accounts for what you say.”

“You’re damned right on that, Ms. Holt,” he says as he shimmies along the rocks toward the telegraph pole. “Your father made sure not a shred of proof survived. Honestly, I’m lucky to be alive at this point. Any other man would have been hanged for what I was labeled as doing, committing acts of unsanctioned warfare against another nation while representing the military. But your father, he’s a clever man.” He reaches over a small gap between the rocks and the line and begins to clear snow away.

“And how is that, Mr. Hemmett?” Anna mocks.

“He knew he’d get his war by keeping me alive. The whole operation was a disaster. Most of it you know. Dozens of people were killed from the explosion, men and dwarves alike, and the dwarves knew immediately what was happening.” Hemmett pauses, clearing away more snow and wiggling a thick cable. “He told the dwarves I acted alone, that I led a small band of mutineers against them without his knowledge. He said my punishment, though worthy of hanging, would be reduced to a life sentence in prison due to ‘conflicting reports’ and my immaculate service record.”

“But why?” Anna asks. “Why keep you alive?”

Hemmett jostles the line, tugging harder and harder. Cable swings with the motion. “It was supposed be a gesture of mercy, sparing my life in exchange for service rendered. But there was more to it than that. He knew if he kept me alive that the dwarves would take it as an intolerable insult. It would enrage them.” He gives Anna an earnest look. “Keeping me alive was just enough bait to force them to attack.”

Anna gapes. “But that doesn’t make any sense! Why would he want them to attack?”

Hemmett shrugs. “So he could go to war.”

“Death of man, Hemmett—er Tepper, or whoever you are. This is insane!”

Hemmett swings his legs around and lets them dangle from the rocks. He stares at the line, and his voice goes distant. “I’m inclined to agree,” he says.

Seeing the distant look on his face, Anna shouts at him. “Now what?”

Hemmett gestures at the line with his hand and nudges the cable with his foot. “Found the break.”

“Great,” Anna says. “I’m very happy for you.”

“Ms. Holt.”

Anna, pacing in furious circles below, stops and looks up. “What?”

He gives her a chilling look. “It hasn’t broken on its own. It’s been cut.”

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