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Authors: Ken Scholes

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BOOK: Requiem
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She did, and as she did, she felt the weather change. The cold, wet morning air was gone. Instead, Jin felt sunshine on her face, and the crash of waves had been replaced by birds singing.

She opened her eyes. They sat in a field now—a meadow of green speckled with purple flowers—on a rise overlooking a vast forest. She smelled summer on the warm wind. “Where are we?”

Elsbet smiled. “We’re in the aether. The stone and the blood magicks can bring you there. But you’ve been here before without them.”

Yes.
She’d thought they were dreams—she’d visited the Plains of Windwir to find the bones had all been dug up. A kin-raven had quoted Y’Zirite scripture to her just hours before Jakob was born. “How did you know?”

“It was a likely outcome of your pregnancy,” she said. “A side effect of bearing the Child of Promise.” She stood up and stretched. “Of course, we need nothing so elaborate as this for our lessons. I just thought you might enjoy a momentary diversion.”

Her stomach was settling, and the sunlight felt good. “How are you doing this?”

“It’s like dreaming awake,” the woman said. “The stone is a conduit. The blood magicks give you the ability to use the stone.” She smiled. “If you start when you’re small—say, as a young Daughter of Ahm just four years old—and practice your entire life, you can learn to shape things here.”

Learn to shape things here.
The echo was back, and she understood it now. “You’re not speaking Landlish,” she said.

Mother Elsbet shook her head. “I am not. I’m speaking V’Ral, the imperial language of Y’Zir. You are gathering the meaning of the words from my thoughts.”

Her nausea was forgotten entirely now, and she felt wonder pulling at her. It wasn’t the first time. She’d seen miracles of blood magick both on the battlefield in the form of near-invincible scouts but also there on the ground, as they brought Petronus back from the dead, choking his way to life through a sliced throat even as the wound healed itself. She’d seen the miracle of that same blood magick heal her child after she’d begged for Jakob’s life as she knelt and clutched at Ria’s feet.

The memories brought back a rush of emotion. Gratitude and shame, anger and hope. Across from her, Elsbet flinched, and they were suddenly back in the room. “I’m … sorry,” she said in a quiet voice. Her face was white. “You have strong feelings, Great Mother.”

Jin Li Tam felt heat rising to her cheeks along with a sudden sense of violation. She instinctively reached for the necklace, but instead of clawing it off, she forced herself to breathe. She’d not just seen the woman flinch and heard her gasp, she’d felt Elsbet’s surprise in those moments before the woman brought them back to this space and even now. “I do have strong feelings,” she agreed.
And I am uncomfortable sharing them with you,
she thought. “How does the stone convey them?”

Elsbet smoothed her long robe as she sat. “Usually as vague impressions. But yours are quite powerful.”

Jin’s eyes narrowed. “And it lets me see thoughts.”

“Yes. But only the ones I present to you. Trying to find anything else would be like searching for a flea on a sand dune.” She held out her own hand, and Jin noticed for the first time that she also had a stone—carved into a tiny kin-raven—tied to a leather cord wrapped around her hand. “The stones—and the aether—are really intended for dreaming. They’re much more effective if the user is asleep.”

Jin reached down and lifted her own stone off her chest. It was shaped like one of those dark messengers as well. Most Tams were as well educated as any Androfrancine, but she’d never seen or heard of such a thing. “Where do they come from?”

“They’re very rare. Mined from the Beneath Places.”

Jin released it and felt the slightest tingle as it touched the soft skin of her chest. “I’ve never seen such a thing.”

“No,” Elsbet said. “You would not have. Even if those Deicides had known of them, it’s not magick they would’ve deemed safe for you.” She cleared her voice as if it might somehow dispel the air of disgust her words carried. “But to the work at hand. We’ll meet each morning after prayer if you find that agreeable, Great Mother. I think you’ll find that the stone will help you pick up V’Ral much faster. We’ll study language in the mornings; eschatology and customs in the afternoons.”

Jin Li Tam inclined her head. “Very well.”

Elsbet smiled and returned the gesture. “Good.”
Good.

From there, the older woman started pointing to objects around the room, stating what they were in Landlish while Jin replied in V’Ral. But even as she parroted back the words, she was elsewhere, busy cataloging what she’d learned of the dark stone that dangled at her throat.

Jin Li Tam added that knowledge to her growing inventory. She would learn everything this woman could teach her, she would do the same with every person who crossed her path, and she would use that information to assassinate the Crimson Empress and bring this madness to an end. After, she would take her son home where he belonged.

And where
I
belong,
she thought, hoping that it was true that the woman across from her could not read her mind or comprehend exactly why she smiled.

 

Chapter

7

Rudolfo

Rudolfo sat across from the emissary of Y’Zir and imagined the pleasure it would bring to kill the man. Still, there was a Franci proverb that suggested killing the bird because of the color of its thread was inefficient, and he knew that his mind wandered toward murder because of the document that he held in his hands—not because of the man who bore it to him.

The Gypsy King leaned forward and chose his words carefully. “Emissary El Anyr,” he said, “I appreciate your assurances, but you can certainly imagine my surprise and consternation regarding this so-called treaty.” Rudolfo looked down at it again, scanned the thirty-year-old parchment, shuffling its pages back to the last. The page that sank his heart into a sorrow that twisted itself into rage.

My father’s signature and signet.

He knew both well. And the terms and conditions of the treaty staggered him. It named Rudolfo chancellor; it also called not only for the protection but also the promotion of the Y’Zirite faith within the Named Lands—and for the exile of any remnant of the Androfrancine Order.

As well as the establishment of a unified constabulary and educational system.

El Anyr inclined his head. “Yes, Chancellor Rudolfo. I completely understand. Regent Xhum has asked me to personally convey his regret that he could not be here himself to speak with you about these matters. He also regrets the duplicity that has brought you to this place. But again, I assure you: These were your father’s wishes for you. His legacy to you, if you will.” When El Anyr smiled, it was wide and warm. “Your part in the healing of the world.”

Chancellor of the Named Lands.

Rudolfo laid the document aside and clapped. An attendant stepped out of the command tent’s shadows with a carafe of chilled peach wine. After both glasses were refilled, Rudolfo took a sip and savored the sweetness on his tongue. “And you wish me to go with you and your escort to the Divided Isle?” He scanned the document. “To negotiate the surrender—” The emissary’s eyebrows went up and Rudolfo paused.

“Not to negotiate,” El Anyr said, “but to facilitate. There is no other option for your neighbors but unconditional surrender. You will call together the council, present the terms and call for a dissolution of kin-clave and a pledge of fealty to the Crimson Empress and her regent. General Yazmeera has established a command headquarters there, and she will work with you in the transition ahead.”

Rudolfo put his glass down and rubbed his temples. The dull ache behind them was nearly constant now, with too little sleep and too much stress fueling it. He’d returned to camp with the emissary and the Blood Guard to find his worst suspicions true—every bird in the camp had died. Philemus had sent runners out to reestablish lines of communication, but it would be days—maybe weeks—before they would have any reliable news of what transpired in the lower Named Lands.

Still, it took little for Rudolfo to imagine it. Ria would certainly have brought her Machtvolk armies to her southern borders, creating a wall of swords and spears at the back of his neighbors in Turam and on the Entrolusian Delta. Pylos, already fallen, would no doubt serve as Y’Zir’s foothold on the mainland, and if El Anyr spoke true, the Divided Isle and its loose affiliation of counties and volunteer militias would have quickly been overrun by an army they’d never imagined possible.

Rudolfo sighed. “Very well.” He forced resolve into his voice, but beneath it, the anger coiled and his mind turned to murder again.

Why do I want so badly to kill this man?
Was it the smug face? The assured tone of voice? Or was it simply that this was the man who had driven home the last nail into Rudolfo’s heart, the one who had brought the last bit of evidence necessary for him to judge a father he’d revered his entire life.

I named my son for him.
His stomach clenched at the thought.

He looked up and met the emissary’s eyes. “I can arrange for us to leave first thing tomorrow morning.”

The emissary nodded, and Rudolfo started to rise, then stopped when he saw his guest did not. “There are two other matters for us to discuss,” he said, “though I fear they may be difficult topics.”

Rudolfo settled back into his cushions. He lifted the wineglass and sipped. “Yes?”

El Anyr offered a nervous smile. “First, there is the matter of the mechoservitors. I understand that Lady Tam bore word to you of the regent’s request? They are to be escorted to the Divided Isle as well.”

Rudolfo nodded. “She did bear that word to me, though she told me it was a mechoservitor who requested it—an Y’Zirite mechanical called the Watcher.” He noted the cloud that passed over the man’s face when he mentioned the name; then he continued. “Of course, at the time I was unaware of the full nature of the relationship existing between the Ninefold Forest and the Empire of Y’Zir.”

“Yes, absolutely,” the emissary agreed. He opened his mouth to say more, but Rudolfo cut him off.

“And I’m certain you realize that they are actually essential to my work at the new library,” he said with a smile. “Especially in light of the books destroyed in the insurgents’ bombing.”

El Anyr returned the smile. “Certainly. And to be perfectly honest, I believe we can accommodate your need if you would grant General Yazmeera the grace of a small complement of Blood Guard. The added security, I’m sure, would be welcome given your present standing in the Named Lands.”

Rudolfo saw the pieces in this game of Queen’s War as they moved over the invisible board between them. “I think the general’s forces are far too valuable in the southern reaches at this time; however I’ll gladly increase my own security.”

The emissary’s smile widened, and Rudolfo knew that now the net was laid out for him, even before the words were spoken. “I think that may be sufficient, Chancellor.” He paused. “I have but one condition.”

Rudolfo raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“There is a mechoservitor in your care that goes by the designation of Isaak. Regent Xhum was most insistent that this particular mechoservitor be brought south with haste. The others, I believe, can be left to their work, though I’ll have to seek the regent’s confirmation of this.”

Rudolfo’s eyes narrowed. “Let us be perfectly clear. You want Isaak because of the spell he bears.”

The emissary shrugged. “Why the regent wishes this is not something I am privy to. But he was most emphatic that the mechanical enter into Y’Zirite care.”

“I would gladly meet this request,” Rudolfo lied, “but there has been an unfortunate incident involving the mechoservitor in question.” He waited, watching the man’s blue eyes for some betrayal of emotion. He saw nothing. “Isaak was destroyed in the Machtvolk Territories in an altercation with your so-called Watcher.” He leaned forward and saw the first hint of those clouds regathering on the man’s face. “I understand the earthquake from the explosion was felt for league upon league, well past the ruins of Windwir, so I’m certain your Watcher can confirm this fact.” The man winced at that, and Rudolfo forced his smile to stay behind his camouflage of concern. “And what other matter did you have for us to discuss? I’m afraid I will need to excuse myself soon to make preparations for our journey south.…”

El Anyr cleared his throat. “Yes. Well, this other matter is too recent for Regent Xhum to have offered any instruction, but I understand that you’ve recently banned the practice of the Y’Zirite faith in the Ninefold Forest and have exiled its practitioners?”

Rudolfo nodded, knowing what came next after his reading of the treaty. “I have.”

“An understandable decision based on the information available at the time,” El Anyr offered. “But surely now you see the untenable nature of this choice given the terms of your father’s treaty?”

The anger spiked, and Rudolfo wasn’t certain that he could keep it in check much longer. “Tenable or not,” he said slowly, “my orders stand for now.” And to punctuate his words, he climbed to his feet.

El Anyr did not. He looked up, his own eyes wide at Rudolfo’s careful words and sudden movement. And others in the tent—invisible Blood Guard that he could not see—must have also been surprised, because he felt the softest breeze of movement as they drew closer. The emissary’s words were hurried, clumsy, betraying his surprise. “Regent Xhum will likely take great exception to this, Chancellor, and—”

Rudolfo’s voice was cold. “And when he does, he may do so
personally.
I will gladly discuss it with him … and him alone.” Then, he forced the anger aside. “And with that said, Emissary El Anyr, I believe our business here is completed. I will be ready to ride at first light.”

Not waiting for a reply, Rudolfo inclined his head and strode past the man, brushing against the ghost of a magicked scout as he left the tent.

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