Metis goes on a long trip, and apprenticey tasks are no longer called for. Isabella blesses a cranberry bog in exchange for a large stack of cheap notebooks, and she writes trees of questions in them - if this is true, she needs to know that, in which case this could also be relevant. She passes them to Kas as fast as he'll take them; Path supervises and clarifies what Isabella meant where needed.
The alethiometer can make suggestions about spells. It doesn't communicate in words, and Kas doesn't know enough about ritual magic to interpret it very specifically, but it can point Isabella in the right direction. When she fails six times in a row to figure out what it means about a certain powerful defensive blessing that it thinks she'll want soon, though, she needs something that was better optimized for her use. The alethiometer describes the location of a witch from a non-Olympic but friendly clan based in Texas, an expert in such defenses. Isabella is busy: she sends Path to go talk to her about the spell, and stays in Metis's house herself, catching up on sleep now that Path is too far away to be stubbornly shaken awake, contemplating the unification of the clans as a preceding step to the attempt on human society, and eating mostly what the cornucopia can make for her.
After Path has been gone for just shy of a day, Isabella, collapsed sleeping on top of Kas, jolts awake with a strangled scream.
"Oh," murmurs Isabella softly, after recovering a semblance of normal breathing rhythm. "Oh. He let go. We hurt but I think he let go."
"I'm sorry you hurt," he says. "I'm sorry you ever had to feel that."
(Whether Path is currently in contact with a human or not, she's obviously not in good enough shape to get out the snow-circle, let alone something as complicated as the spell that brought her the alethiometer or the death curse.)
"My sweetie's gonna get him," Kas says softly. "I asked the alethiometer, it said that's how."
She seizes up, full of tension, again. "Path, Path," she moans.
The respite is apparently over for the time being.
Kas just hugs her.
"You already sent her," pants Isabella. "Didn't you. She's gone already."
"Yep," he says. "I don't know how long it's gonna be."
"Took Path - my Path, my Path - all day," whispers Isabella. She twitches. "Nnnnnnng fuck fuck fuck she'll kill him right when she gets there right she'll kill him?"
"She will," Kas promises. "And she'll get Path out and bring him home and he'll be safe."
It's a little under an hour before she can talk again. "How - fucking - much - can - fuck - one - tiny - owl - take - before-we-just-fucking-die-already," she shrieks.
"Oh, honey," he says, and starts very quietly crying again.
(That it'll be all right. That Petaal will kill the bastard. That Path will come home. Anything. She can't specify, there's sharpness and heat and twisting all over her.)
"It's gonna be okay," he sniffles. "My sweetie's gonna fix it."
And convulses again.
Petaal, meanwhile, has been going maximum speed on her cloud-pine for hours. But she knows all the landmarks; when she gets close, she drops until she's skimming just above the trees, and when she spots the log cabin with the crooked roof like a broken tooth, she dives to get out of sight and shifts squirrel to bolt across the remaining distance. Then cockroach, to wriggle her way in through the walls.
And a deeper voice snarling mocking versions of the same words, with additions. "Oh don't hurt meeee, I'm only a poor wittle witch-owl, I'm too aloof and powerful to be hurt like anybody else - not so much now, little fucker, huh? Shut up!"
There's a squeak and then more screams.
Cockroaches are good at getting into places where no one wants them, but their eyesight is for shit. Petaal shifts housefly. Houseflies get a great view.
The man and the scorpion daemon accompanying him have Path rigged up in something that is obviously specially designed for holding birds. With less than zero regard for the comfort of those birds. Path is pierced in a few places through both wings, held spread open. Many of his feathers are no longer attached to him and the ones that are have been crushed by miscellaneous abuse. There are spots of blood dotting the table beneath him; his beak has been cut clear through like a battery cage chicken's and his talons are all severed at the quick. Assorted ominous implements stand in neat rows nearby. In the torturer's hand is, currently, a small serrated knife. It looks like he's going for an eye, but he's taking his time about it, feinting and laughing and never taking his other hand off Path's weakly struggling foot.
What's the fastest kill from here?
She shifts and launches herself into the man from the side, tackling him away from Path; on the way down, she gets her jaws around the back of his neck and crushes his spine in one bite. She knows she's done it when touching him stops feeling like some integral part of her is being shredded.
Path can talk even with his beak mangled. Daemon speech isn't much about how they're physically made.
"Sweetie," she says, shifting witch and getting to her feet, reaching for him hesitantly. "I wanna fix it—I don't know how to fix it."
"J-just - Isabella - can - she can, my Isabella, she can," Path moans, feet twitching. "There's clips - on the frame - holding the - things -"
"I see it, I see it," she breathes, and she carefully carefully carefully disentangles him from his prison.
Path whimpers, but it's nothing like the screams from earlier. He doesn't even try to fold his wings; he lets them hang limp from his shoulders.