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Authors: Ken Scholes

Requiem (11 page)

BOOK: Requiem
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“Yes.” The sudden memory of sharing dreams with the boy brought about the ache of loss. When those dreams had stopped, after he left the Named Lands to run the Churning Wastes, she’d been beside herself, cut off from him. She’d dreamed alone her entire life, and when he’d joined her there, it brought about a sense of completeness and understanding she’d not felt before. Something she’d not felt, at least not in the same way, in a goodly stretch now. “Usually,” she added, “there is an underlying message, though it is not always easily discerned.”

A cloud passed over the man’s face, and his mouth tightened.

He saw something.
Whatever it was disturbed him. She waited, and when he said nothing further, she gently prodded. “What did you see, Charles?”

He looked at her. “I saw a girl,” Charles said. “A young girl.” He paused. “She asked me if I was awake.”

“Did you recognize her?”

He shook his head. “No.”

She could see the uncertainty in his eyes. “Did you answer her?”

Charles sighed. “I did.” There was hesitation in his voice. “I told her.… I told her I was functional.”

I’ve heard those words before.
Many times, she realized. It was a common response among the library’s mechoservitors. A response Charles also had heard, probably since long before her birth, back in the days when he’d first re-created the metal men from Rufello’s
Book of Specifications.
His furrowed brow told her there was more. “What else?”

His face was white now. “I recognized the voice I spoke with.” When his eyes met hers, there was a fear in them that she could not place. As if what he’d seen and heard was not nearly as frightening for him as what it represented. “I think…” He paused again, looking away. “I think the Watcher survived the explosion.”

The words struck her, and she could not comprehend the fear he felt in the swell of hope that she experienced. If the Watcher lived, the Final Dream lived, too. Those pages, carefully cut from the Book of Dreaming Kings by that ancient mechoservitor, that together formed their last Homeward Dream. The dream that would open the tower to Neb and ultimately, would open the path for her people to return to their promised home.

Back to the moon.
Though she did not comprehend how such a thing could be possible. “That is a fortuitous dream,” she said.

He stared at her, blinking, and she suspected in that moment that she knew what he was afraid of. He would not say it himself, so she gave words to it. “Don’t you see, Charles? If the Watcher survived, it’s also possible that Isaak and Neb were spared as well.”

“Those we lose,” he said, breaking off eye contact, “are lost.”

Winters shook her head. “And yet you’ve seen one of those believed lost in a dream.”

And despite his best Androfrancine training, he believed what he saw and it frightened him.
It is a hard thing, Winters realized, to lay aside one truth and take hold of another.

He mumbled something, and she didn’t catch the words. “I’m sorry?”

He drew in a deep breath, released it, and brought his eyes back to hers. “I have to know,” he said.

Yes.
Of course he did.

The wagon lurched to a stop, and she heard voices shouting orders. Soon a perimeter would be set and the people she’d bought with her blood would go about the work of establishing yet another camp. Until now, she’d longed for the comfort of a bed and roof, the quiet familiarity of the library.

But this changed things. And Winters suddenly suspected that perhaps that bed and roof would have to wait to another time at least for her and the old arch-engineer. It was too soon to know for certain, but if the Final Dream was out there, it had to be found; it had to be dreamed.

And it didn’t matter to her what required it—heaven or prophecy or simply a longing for those they’d lost to have been suddenly found. What mattered was that they listen and respond.

She looked at Charles.
Such an unlikely messenger,
she thought. But then again, she’d thought the same when she’d met Neb two years earlier. And, Winters realized, she’d thought it each time she met her own reflection in the mirror.

Unlikely, she thought, was perhaps heaven’s most fluent language.

 

Chapter

6

Marta

Marta stepped back as the metal man’s eyes opened, red and cold, upon her.

“I am functional,” he said. He swiped a hand over his face and stared into the water in the palm of his metal hand.

“Were you dreaming?”

“Yes.”

She nodded to the entrance to the cave behind her. “I brought you a cow. That’s a lot of blood to paint with.”

The metal man stood, and she watched as the light from her small lamp played out over its silver skin. “Thank you, little human.”

It was still dark outside, though the moon slowly made its way to bed for the morning. In the last few days she’d become quite adept at slipping out. And at stealing her brother’s sling so that if she were caught, she could claim hunting as her excuse.

Of course, she realized, if Dagya’s father discovered that she’d stolen one of his cows, she’d have no excuse to fall back on. But it was bound for the tithe caravan leaving tomorrow for the Machtvolk Territories; another practice her father would not abide, garnering stares from the others. Still, it would be missed and possibly searched for. “You’ll want to bury it when you’re done,” she said.

The metal man’s bellows whispered in and out, powering his voice as it inclined its head slightly. “I will do so.”

This was her third visit. She’d brought a lamb the last time—one she’d found wandering—but it wasn’t until now that she felt a stab of guilt over it. Her father had taught her throughout her life that the only killing that was condoned—and even that with remorse at times—was for food or for the protection of one’s family. She could only imagine his reaction to this kind of killing. It wouldn’t be favorable.

Marta followed the metal man out to the front of the cave where the cow awaited, its lead tied to an outcropping of rock. “Do you remember who you are yet?”

He glanced down at her. “I do not.”

She thought about the last two years of her life, living in the shadow of her mother’s loss. Marta looked down and away. “Sometimes,” she said in a quiet voice, “I wish I couldn’t remember who I am.”

She jumped at the loud crack of the cow’s neck breaking. Her eyes wanted to wander up to see just how he did it, but she forced them not to. “It isn’t very pleasant,” the metal man said.

And like him, you’d never escape the dreams.
Marta bit her lip. Nothing had been the same since the day that ash rained down and her mother did not come home. But her dreams, bad as they were, didn’t need to be painted with blood. She thought about his answer. “I imagine it depends on what you’re forgetting.”

He lifted the cow onto his shoulder and glanced briefly to the southeast. “Yes,” he said.

She followed his eyes. “I would only want to forget the bad things.”

“I do not know how I know or if my speculation is correct, little human, but I suspect the bad things are as important to remember as the good things.”

She thought about this for a moment and found she really had no reply. So she walked with him as he took the cow back into the cave. She’d brought him more buckets with the lamb, and she wasn’t sure exactly how he would handle something as large as a cow. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know. She watched as he laid the dead animal aside.

“I have something for you,” he said. He moved deeper into the cave and came back with something dangling from his hand. As he drew closer, she saw it was a rabbit. He extended it to her, and she carefully wrapped a hand around its feet. When he released it, she felt its weight pull at her arm.

“What is this for?”

“Dinner,” the metal man said. “It seemed only fair that I compensate you for your assistance.”

She looked closer at the rabbit. Its neck had been broken, and not too long ago. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll try to find more buckets. Do you need anything else?”

The metal man looked eastward again, and she wondered what pulled him in that direction, even here in the cave. When he spoke, there was a sadness in his voice that made her feel sad as well. “Not anything that you can give me, little human.”

He turned back to the wall, and she looked, too. The dark, dried blood was hard to decipher on the stone, especially with the scant light her lamp offered. But she could make out what looked to be spiders and a tower surrounded by words in an unfamiliar script. She knew that the pictures and words went farther back along the cave wall, and she wondered what other images he’d painted from his dreams.

“It will be light soon,” the metal man said, turning to the cow.

Marta glanced over her shoulder to the soft disk of gray that betrayed the coming dawn beyond the cave’s mouth. “I should go.” She looked back to him. “I will come again tomorrow.”

“I will have plenty of blood left for tomorrow,” he said.

She nodded. “I know.”

Then, before he could tell her not to, she turned and left, moving quickly out into the winter gray. She’d stayed out too late this time.
And the mornings are coming earlier.
Extinguishing her lamp, she picked her way through the snow in the long meandering path she’d made. She’d not worried about being followed the last two times, but the more she returned, the more she realized she was now keeping a secret that others would not approve of. And providing that secret with animals to kill.

Her stomach hurt at the thought.
And yet I will keep doing it.
But why? The strange mechanical man stirred something in her, and she found herself worrying about it, wondering about it during the day as she went about doing her part for the family.

After tracing and retracing her steps, she moved into familiar forest and merged her footprints with the rest of her village’s hunters. She picked up her pace now, her breath billowing out from her mouth and nose as she broke sweat beneath her coat.

If all went well, she thought, she’d have the rabbit skinned and in the stew pot before her father and brother were awake.

Marta approached the house from the back, circling around to the shed where her father kept his knife, cutting board and whetstone. She had her hand on the door latch when she heard a clearing of the throat behind her.

“Martyna?” Her father’s voice was controlled anger; using her full name was clear evidence of that. “What in the Younger Gods’ Hell are you doing out here?”

She turned to face him. In the gray light, she could see the hard line of his mouth and jaw. She stammered at first, then forced her composure to return. “I’m … I’ve been hunting.” She held the rabbit up.

His brow furrowed. “In secret?”

She cast her eyes away from his, her mouth suddenly more dry that it should be. The trick to lying, she reminded herself, is to let some truth in around it. “You told me hunting wasn’t my part. I didn’t think you’d let me go.”

He growled. “Certainly not alone in the middle of the night.” The anger was already fading, though, and she could see it. “Especially not in these times. It isn’t safe.”

She wanted to tell him that it seemed safe enough to her, but she knew better. Instead, she let him continue.

“We’ve got Marsh soldiers passing through daily on their way south. Jeryg’s got a lamb that’s come up missing. Thalnas is missing buckets. And Widow Tamrin’s son swears he saw some kind of fearsome beast wandering the forest near Mayhap Falls. These are not safe times.”

Mayhap Falls.
That was only a sling-shot away from the caves where her metal man hid. Marta hoped that the alarm didn’t register on her face. She looked back to her father. “I’ve been careful.”

He nodded and took a step toward her. “Aye,” he said, offering a forced smile. “And you’ve been successful, I see.”

She returned the smile. “I have.”

But her smile faded quickly as he closed the distance between them. “Let’s see what you’ve brought home.”

Marta’s stomach sank as she tried to find another lie. He stretched out his hand for the rabbit. She willed herself to lift her arm, but it disobeyed, hanging loosely by her side. He took it from her and held it to the moonlight.

She saw the anger in his eyes as he nodded to the sling tucked into her belt. “You didn’t kill this rabbit with that sling.”

No.
She couldn’t find the right lie, so again, she opted for something closer to true. “I broke its neck.”

Her father turned the rabbit over in his hands, now looking at its feet. “You didn’t take it from a snare.”

“I … I caught it.”

Her father’s eyebrows furrowed, and that controlled anger was back in his voice. “With your bare hands? In the dark?”

She nodded, but even as she did, she knew it was wasted effort.

He sighed. “Back to your room,” he said. “When your brother’s awake, you’ll apologize to him for stealing his sling. And you’ll be staying in until you learn truthfulness.” He stepped back from her now to take her in. “Maybe keeping you out of the Y’Zirite school was a mistake.”

The thought of that one-room building with its robed and smiling teacher twisted her stomach. “I don’t want to—”

“And I don’t want a daughter who sneaks about and tells lies,” he said, his voice more firm and sharp than she’d heard it in some while. “At least those children are honest regardless of the madness they believe. Now off with you.” He held up the rabbit. “I’ll clean this when I get back. We’re hunting the woods out by the falls to see if we can find any sign of Reyjik’s so-called monster.”

She felt a panic now, and it was all she could do to hold her breath and keep her eyes downcast. He stood still, and she could feel his eyes boring into her. Finally, Marta released her breath and made her way to the steps. She started knocking the snow from her boots and glanced up to see her father moving off in the direction of the village square.

She slipped into the warmth of the house and fled to her room, stripping down to her undergarments and crawling beneath the down quilt. She’d hoped to sleep but knew she wouldn’t. Instead, she’d toss and turn and wonder about the metal man.

BOOK: Requiem
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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