“Let us see,” said Octavia. She reached toward the middle of the broad table and lifted the receiver on the conference phone there. She put it on speaker for all to hear. “Lord Najir, are you there?”
<“I am,”> came the Sandlord’s voice.
“Is this line encrypted?” Mariana asked.
<“It is. And before you ask, no, Zeff is not here with me. Only Axiolis escaped.”>
Mariana’s heart sank a little. But at least now she knew he wasn’t dead.
Salvador puffed up with visible irritation. “Why would Axiolis go to you and not us?”
<“Ah, is that you I hear, oaf?”>
“It is! Answer my question, desert rat!”
<“Axiolis feared that going to you would be too predictable. So he came to me, knowing the enemy would not think to intercept him on the way here.”>
<“Don’t feel bad, oaf. I’m sure Axiolis would have gone to you right away if he needed any big rocks turned into small rocks.”>
“Ha! Will you be delivering Axiolis to us in person, then? Please tell me you will be.”
<“Axiolis says he will stay here and attempt to recruit more of the Sandlords with me.”>
Mariana’s brow rose. “You have already decided to help us?”
<“Of course.”> The man said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Mariana knew Zeff and Asad were close, but considering they hadn’t spoken to each other in months, she would have expected some hesitation, at least. Certainly, the other Sandlords would not be so easily convinced. “I must thank you, Asad.”
<“You are welcome. How is the situation in Aguarey? I have seen the news.”>
Mariana brought him up to speed in detail. The attack on her house, her subsequent escape, Cisco being unaccounted for, and Marcos. The boy’s lifeless body was already becoming stiff. Mercifully, the stench of death was not as bad as she knew it could be.
<“Terrible. I am so sorry. Do you have a reaper for him?”>
“...I do not,” she said. “Do you happen to have one there with you now? If you send them to Aguarey right away, they could make it here in time.” Axiolis, of course, was not an option, as he could not release Zeff without making contact again.
<“...I am sorry, Mariana. There are no such reapers here.”>