Outside the door to the audience chamber, Spike stood with one hand on the handle. It was harder to be fierce here, with the doors that towered over her and not knowing what was waiting on the other side. The guardsmen had frowned at the Hounds, lowering their polearms. She’d wanted to hug them goodbye, but they’d stepped well back and saluted her. Totenberg nodded once, briskly, as his hand dropped back to his side.
The throne of bones was empty. That could be a good sign, that maybe she’d beaten him here somehow. Or it could be bad, that he’d become impatient with waiting for her and was now pacing the room. She closed the door behind her with a hollow thud.
When she turned around, he was waiting for her there in the gloom. A tall, lean man, dressed all in tightly fitted black from his doublet to hose and boots, with a sleeveless robe trimmed in bearskin that glinted with silver. His head was shaved. He was a man of all or nothing; no half-measures. When his hair had begun to fade and fall, he has simply gotten rid of it all. Even though he was her father, he was mostly a stranger to Spike, like a dour god.
He looked down at Spike with eyes as hard and grey as February. "Nikolevnischka von Schaedelthron," he started, and Spike winced. It was never good when they used your full name. His voice was soft and his cadence slow, like water dripping from an icicle.
"Atyets--Papa! I can explain . . ." She trailed off as he shook his head.
"I'm sure you can. And I'm sure it's a good explanation, and it wasn't your fault." She nodded, mouth dry. "But there comes a time when explanations must end." He held up a slender, pointed hand to stop her from going on in the pause. "And that time, Nischka, is now."