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Authors: Ken Scholes

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BOOK: Requiem
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And she would worry, too, but not about him. She doubted there was much that arrows and knives could do to harm him. But the villagers were another matter.

If they did find him, she knew with certainty that they were the ones to be worried about.

Yet I said nothing.

She rolled over and faced the wall, but sleep still would not come. Finally, she cursed and blushed at the sound of her words. Then, she pulled her clothes back on and slipped quietly into her father’s room. There, she found his largest shirt and trousers. In the hall closet, she tugged out his spare coat, a broad cloth hat and the boots he wore when he mucked the barn.

She crammed these all into a rucksack, picked up her brother’s sling once again, and fled into the morning calculating the best route to get her to the caves before her father and his friends.

Neb

Neb moved from sleeping to waking as they slipped through the lunar night amid the sound of howling and the whisper of moving machine parts. It wasn’t restful sleep, but it was all they could afford and more sleep than any of the other nonmechanicals were getting.

The rhythm of the metal man’s long strides rocked Neb more gently than he thought it would, but there was still no way to find comfort strapped to the cold steel shoulders. His muscles ached from head to toe, and he suspected it was as much from the crash he’d somehow slept through as it was the hard steel that pressed into him.

And everything else I’ve faced.
Much of it was a blur to him—the capture and cutting by Shyla and her Blood Guard, his rescue by Renard followed close on its heels by a flood of knowledge he wished he could forget. The very people he’d considered his family had left him behind to witness the fall of Windwir alone. And the power of the Seven Cacophonic Deaths had somehow begun his transformation into something far more than he’d imagined he could be, the result of some bargain he still did not fully comprehend. From that quiet cave and Neb’s first encounter with his actual father, he’d flown quickly along the veins of the earth to Winters’s side, lured into combat with the Watcher.

His body twitched as the sound of metal on metal flooded his ears, as the smell of pine trees and snow and ozone filled his nostrils.

Isaak.
He’d watched the metal man tackle the Watcher and plunge into the quicksilver pool, saving Neb’s life. He’d felt and heard the explosion. And now, not only was the Final Dream lost—supposedly the sole key to the tower—but so also was the staff and spellbook the metal men of Sanctorum Lux had set out to gather for this journey. And how many mechoservitors were now lost?

Neb pushed the grief away from him and it pushed back.

He tried to go back to sleep, but his mind would not slow. It raced, a dull hum behind his eyes that ached as all of his senses were ambushed by this new place.

He could smell the sweetness of blossoming fruit trees and wildflowers mingled with the scent of sea grass. He could taste the salt on the warm, moist breeze that moved over him.

And he could hear the baying and howling of the hounds.

At some point, Petronus settled in to keep pace with the mechoservitor, walking beside Neb. The man had to be past seventy, Neb suspected, and yet the old pope held his own. His breath was even and steady as they talked quietly, starting from the day they’d parted company in the Ninefold Forest nearly two years ago and filling one another in on all that had transpired in that time.

Neb watched him as they talked in quiet voices, noting each time the old man looked away or reached for the scar on his neck. And Neb especially paid attention to the line of Petronus’s jaw—a trick Petronus himself had taught him. All of this unspoken language underlined the words themselves, giving him a broader picture. And punctuating it, Neb felt bursts of emotion at key moments, strong enough that he flinched at them.

Rage. Despair. Bereavement.

All feelings he knew well, but he knew this was not some empathic echo. These were Petronus’s feelings. Products of his own path, not Neb’s.

Neb blinked.
I can read him with ease.

This was new. Certainly he’d done well enough in the Franci school, but this was beyond any skills he could have learned there and he suspected he knew why. What had Whym said? He would find his path by walking it, growing into the powers of an unexpected godhood.

He let the old man talk, closing his eyes and listening to the words even as he experienced the emotions that accompanied them. And not just Petronus’s feelings about his own experiences, but also his response to Neb’s. When Neb told him about the letter from Introspect III, rage of that betrayal rose up from Petronus like a fist. It nearly took the wind out of Neb, and when they finally ran out of words in the gray of morning, he found himself exhausted by the ordeal.

Neb felt a firm hand squeeze his upper arm, and he opened his eyes. “You’ve had more than a lifetime of sorrow,” Petronus said. “Hells, we all have. Betrayal and loss on every side. And I don’t know the why of it all, but I do know
some
things.”

Neb met the man’s eyes. “What do you know?”

Petronus smiled. “I know I’ve died and come back twice … once by my design and once by the dark design of others. I know I’m walking on the moon with a boy who now seems to be a god. I know we’ve come here, following a dream within a song, in a ship built by the metal men who heard it.” He paused, and behind them a howl arose. “I know,” he said, “that there is great purpose in all of this and I’ve no choice but to trust this bargain we’re caught up in.”

He squeezed Neb’s arm again. Then, he slipped back to talk quietly with Merrique.

Neb closed his eyes again, letting the weariness wash over him and through him. His body craved sleep, but his brain resisted. The image of Amylé D’Anjite leaping from the tower and the hounds that scaled it haunted these quieter moments, chilling the warm comfort that slumber offered.

Instead, he pondered Petronus’s story and his own—all of their stories, at least those parts he knew. They formed a tapestry stitched together by loss and hope, dreams and death. And always, his mind wandered back to Winters and the wideness of her eyes when she saw him in his translated form. He wondered what she was doing now and what her response was to the loss of the Final Dream he’d hoped to wrest from the Watcher.

And more than anything else, he wondered if she still loved him or if what he’d become lived beyond that kind of grace.

The pondering twisted to brooding easily, leaving him even more unsettled. Behind him, the howling drew slowly closer, and he tried to calculate how long they had before those large, sleek beasts overtook them. Probably by nightfall.

And what then?
They had a half-dozen thorn rifles, a few men and a handful of mechoservitors. If he could somehow clothe himself in the blood of the earth that had he’d used to fight the Watcher … But the thought was stillborn. Even if he could find a source here in this place, his father had been clear: It would not serve him if it sensed his body wasn’t strong enough to bear it. It might carry him elsewhere, traveling vast leagues in mere seconds through those silver veins that laced the Beneath Places. But it would not carry his companions, and he would not leave them.

And we can’t outrun the hounds.

A glint of light to his left caught his eye, and he turned his head. The lunar sea shone white with the newly risen sun, and its brightness made his eyes water. The water stretched out away from him to a smudge of horizon indistinguishable from sky or sea.
If only we had a ship.

“If only we had what?”

The voice startled Neb, and it took him a moment to realize he’d spoken aloud and Rafe Merrique had heard. “I said we need a ship.”

Rafe Merrique chuckled. “Aye, lad. It would be a handy thing.”

Neb nodded and pushed the thought aside. If he was going to wish for the impossible in the face of what pursued them, why not instead wish for a quicksilver vein in the earth or an access to Beneath Places that they could hide in? But instead of continuing that wishing game, he closed his eyes again and forced his breathing to find a rhythm in the steady pace of the metal man who bore him. Whatever did await them would require all of their wits and strength. So as much as he dreaded what might meet him in his dreams, Neb willed himself to sleep. And as he slept, he dreamed of a crystalline vessel, low in the water, racing seaward propelled somehow without sails.

It was a good dream.

He wasn’t sure how long exactly his eyes were closed before the party’s sudden stop brought them open. What he saw brought his mouth open as well.

Ahead of them, a scattering of glass structures stood above the jungle. Nature’s resolve had left its mark upon the buildings but still, they stood. They scintillated in the light, reflecting back the blue of the sky and sea, the green of the foliage. Leftovers of some ancient city.

Neb’s first thought was that perhaps they’d find shelter there, but then he realized that it wasn’t the city that had captured everyone’s attention. When he followed the line of their stares, his stomach twisted and he felt bile rising in his throat. There, just before the city, moored to an ancient dock set within a lagoon, lay a crystalline ship.

He felt Rafe Merrique’s eyes upon him before he saw them. And when he met his stare he saw an awe that looked too much like fear in the old pirate’s eyes. He wondered if the old man could see the terror in his own.

“Gods,” Rafe Merrique whispered as he looked back to the waiting ship.

The still, small voice was a tickle beneath Neb’s scalp.
Yes,
it whispered in reply.

Jin Li Tam

The galley was warm with the smell of fresh-baked bread and cinnamon-flavored chai when Jin Li Tam pushed her way through the door to take her seat at the table. A handful of crew and an off-shift Blood Guard with her close-cropped hair and her dark leather armor sat at the table for breakfast. The Blood Guard sat alone and silent. The sailors were rowdy—until they saw Jin enter.

It was early yet for breakfast—dawn still hours away—but she came here when there were as few people as possible. She preferred to take her meals in her room.

It was easier that way. The awestruck stares of the Y’Zirites unsettled her, and she wasn’t quite sure how to act around them. Still, she could learn more by venturing out here and there. And the truth was the cabin left her feeling stifled, crammed into a small space on what seemed a small ship on such a vast ocean.

A serving boy, his scars white on skin red from the heat of the kitchen, raced out upon her arrival. His eyes were wide despite having served her a half-dozen times before, and his hands shook as he poured her chai. When he inclined his head, she returned the gesture, then sipped her tea while he hurried away to fetch food for her.

She breakfasted on fresh fruit and crisp bacon served with a sweet, dark bread and pears soaked in a sauce she did not recognize. Jin ate quickly and slipped out of the galley and moved aft to the prayer deck where Sister Elsbet awaited.

The woman looked up from where she knelt. Her hair was braided, hanging heavily over her shoulder to coil on the ground. “Great Mother,” she said. “You’re early.”

Jin Li Tam nodded. “I rise early. I’ve already danced the knives and had breakfast.”

Elsbet smiled and climbed slowly to her feet. “I used to watch your grandfather practice. The Tams have a distinct … style.”

She mentioned Grandfather.
It was the second time, and this told Jin it was an area she could drop her nets. “You were close,” she said.

“Yes. Very. He and Jakob were the first to convert during the Watcher’s Vigil. I met him when he made a pilgrimage to Y’Zir. I was assigned to tutor him, but things took … a different direction.” The woman smiled.

“You said something about being his kin-healer?”

Sister Elsbet folded up her prayer mat. “If the Vessel had held, I would have. But it was not time.”

They walked to the small chapel abaft and ducked through its small hatch. It housed a simple altar and two chairs. To the left of the altar sat an open Rufello lockbox.

Elsbet walked to the box. “Now,” she said with a smile, “it’s time.”

She drew out a small phial and a wooden box and sat, pointing to the chair across from her. “Sit. We don’t have much time. Maybe a week.”

Jin sat.

Elsbet leaned forward, unstopping the phial. “Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.”

Jin cocked her head. “I thought you were tutoring me in language and eschatology?”

“I am. This will help.”

It was not in her nature to trust, especially when it came to matters concerning Y’Zirites. She forced her tongue out and watched as Elsbet drew out a glass dropper and touched it to her. The taste flooded her mouth, sour and heavy, and Jin’s stomach clenched. Memories of breakfast gurgled in her throat. “Gods,” she muttered. “What is it?”

Elsbet clucked her tongue. “Blood magicks. The mildest of doses. It’s far better if we can start younger—Jakob’s age even—but this will be fine for our needs.”

Jin felt the nausea spreading out into the rest of her body, becoming a dull ache. She closed her eyes against the urge to vomit.

Elsbet patted her hand. “It will pass.”

Jin felt the cramps now and gasped. “How is this helping?”

The old woman held up the box. “I’ll show you.” Opening the carved lid, she lifted out a leather cord. At the end of it, a small carved stone object dangled. “Now, lean forward.”

Jin did and felt the necklace settle over her head and onto her shoulders. When the cold stone touched the skin of her chest, she felt a vertigo take her, and only the woman’s steadying hands kept her from falling over.

“Steady.”
Steady.

Jin blinked. It was like an echo. The word in her ears followed close on the heels by the word in her mind. She forced herself to look at the woman across from her. “What is happening?”

“Close your eyes,” Elsbet said.
Close your eyes.

BOOK: Requiem
4.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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