Varrain assembled his companions, briefed them on the day’s plan, and then came to explain to the Blaine. He told them about the visit to the Company Base on the edge of the Colony site. He explained the significance of the artefacts the Company had admitted to holding, and the simple fact that the artefacts might be dangerous. “As you know, you were all tested for sensitivity to the kephera which was used in great quantities here at Kniva. The company employees were not, nor were their kin. We were dismayed to discover one case of severe contamination at the base. There will, undoubtedly, be others. Our task today is to screen all the Company’s staff; all the Security detail on Daydar IV; and to trace and warn all others who have been transferred off-world. Ultimately, we feel every man, woman and child should be tested. We had sought to avoid that, not only because of the discomfort and stress it puts upon our own, but to avoid the distress and anxiety which any such examination places upon you all.

“We have spoken of this all night and can find no safe way around it. I hope that you and your people will understand that what we do is for your continued safety and the safety of your children. On which point, I must also speak. We have been told the entire site was guarded, the perimeter sealed. We believe the intent of the Company was to do this, for whatever their own reasons. We thank them for trying to do this; however, the Harad Rheave T’real has walked the boundaries. He has informed me that there are access points all along the near side where the security protections were previously breached. S’Clare and Araveyn have found places where nests have been made, where items have been secreted in the ruins.”

The Blaine became suspicious and uneasy as Varrain spoke. He raised his hand a moment and dragged their attention back to his words with a quiet but deliberate tone. “We are not criticising, or condemning, anyone. We have all been children, and know that the ruins represent a very attractive playground for young ones despite, and sometimes because of, the dangers. We fear your children have been at risk far longer than anyone can know. We ask, I ask, that you pass the word, gently, among your own. There is great danger for your young people if they have strayed over the site, if they have found anything and brought it home.”

One of the Blaine, a thickset young man with dark skin and tightly curling hair pulled back from his face into a long almost Clanley style, stood up and asked: “You’ve gone on and on about this risk, this so-called danger. Exactly what are you afraid of? I helped clear some of the roadway through the site. The whole area was tested for war toxins and cleared. There wasn’t much there to start with, the place was hit by shock weapons, nothing heavier than laser cannon. What are you afraid of, or rather, what are you afraid we’ll find out about you?”

Heads nodded agreement, men shuffled in their seats to glance at their neighbours; the warmth they had been sharing with the Harad chilled and died.

Varrain took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak.

“Let me explain,” Xavron-Marlexian said from the upper storey before his cousin could attempt a reply. Varrain looked up and hissed in surprise and exasperation.

“You look like a half-drowned shehar!” Varrain told the Son of the Sun, without the slightest trace of deference.

“But I feel wonderful,” Xavron countered as he swung over the upper rail and jumped lightly down to the lower floor, cloak flying out behind him like great bat wings. His hair was loose and washed free of the mud, as were his leggings. He was barefoot and stripped of all jewellery but his rings and earrings, and gave the impression of having stood under a shower for a long time. His sudden entrance and the manner of his descent shocked the Blaine, who took several seconds to remember that this Harket Princeling at least was prone to the unexpected, and several more to reconcile themselves to the fact that he had taken no personal damage when he landed.

He turned to the Blaine and said simply: “I am what may happen to your children. Look at me, and ask yourselves, do you want this?” He shook back his hair from his face and offered the Blaine his hands. “These are not the hands of the natural born Harkethanian, Lord or servant. They are the hands of a mutant. Think on the powers given to your TDM, and of your children.” After a moment he spoke again, pulling a piece of the leech glass to him from Varrain’s cloak pin. As the blue crystal turned in the air, Varrain grabbed at his cloak, and the Blaine hushed in a deeper shock at the revelation of the Harket’s mental powers.

The crystal hung suspended in the air before him; the Lord of the Morning smiled softly, eyes hooding as he concentrated. “This is the benefit of the mutation.” He demonstrated, spinning the stone in the air so that filaments of blue light radiated out from it as it turned, the axis and axle-point of a web of light. He shaped it with his mind, the form he created following the lines he drew in the air with his hands, filling in the form with crystal and light. There was a burst of bright darkness and a strange whine as the crystal changed shape and dropped into his outstretched hand. He held a tiny crystal figure like a detailed chess piece. Casually he threw it towards the Chapter Representative with a slight bow and a raised eyebrow. As the man examined the figure, he said, in a voice that sent chills of foreboding down the Blaine’s spine: “This is the curse.”

He raised again his left hand, the hand that had so carefully cut the crystal figure, and flexed the fingers wide.