Authors: Ken Scholes
When she’d left with Lady Tam, Kember had been steward. And though she wanted to ask, she knew from the way he said the name that this was not the time. Instead, she inclined her head. “Thank you, Lord Rudolfo.”
He looked at Charles next. “And you have work waiting for you,” he told the man. “We’ve recovered an artifact from one of these Blood Scouts. We’re not sure what it does, but it’s been stored in the Rufello vault in your office.”
Charles bowed. “Yes, Lord. I’ll look at it.” He moved back into the line and recovered his pony from the woman who held its reins, but Winters stayed, still looking for the words.
Rudolfo spoke first, his voice so low that none could hear but her. “My disappointment is profound,” he said. “By withholding this information until now, you’ve robbed me of choices regarding my family … my son.” She forced her eyes to his and saw the anger and pain there. “You are a queen, Winteria, and one who understands what it is to have your power and your choices taken away.” He paused and held her gaze. “I expected better of you.”
The heat on her face was different than earlier, and it arrived accompanied by a lump in her throat. She opened her mouth to answer him, but what could she say? She had wondered a hundred times whether or not she made the right decision. Before she could speak, Rudolfo climbed into the saddle and looked at the Gypsy Scout again. “I’ll have that letter now,” he said.
The man drew it from his sash and passed it up to his king. Lines of grief stood out on the scout’s face.
Rudolfo took it, tucked it into a pouch at his belt, and turned the horse. When he rode away, his back was straight.
Winters blinked tears of powerlessness and frustration.
I did what was best for all of us.
She knew when Aedric came to her that Jin Li Tam would’ve concurred as well.
Still, watching the result of that choice in the angry posture of the man who’d sheltered her, aided her since that dark night Hanric fell, Winteria bat Mardic felt a blade sharper than the Y’Zirite knives that had scarred her flesh.
This blade cut deep and cold.
Petronus felt the heavy wooden crate crash against him, and he clung to the safety harness with white knuckles, trying to shout over the sound of shrieking metal and hissing air that filled the cargo bay.
The floating crate traveled the length of him, and he deflected it as best he could with his free arm. Across from him, he saw Rafe Merrique groping for purchase on one of his crew. Beads of blood floated on the air, bubbling out of a gash on the crewman’s head. All around the metal room, anything that wasn’t strapped down drifted. Grains of rice from a burst sack, beads of water from an open canteen. A medico kit moved past Petronus, and he snagged it then pushed it across the room toward the old pirate.
Rafe cursed and stretched out for it. “What in the hells is happening?”
“I don’t—” The weight of a mountain fell upon him before the words were out, and all around Petronus, everything that had hung suspended suddenly dropped as the ship bucked and shimmied.
The ship pitched starboard, and Petronus found himself pressed hard against the metal wall. As he rolled along with the vessel, the cargo bay filled with light and he saw a bright blue sky through a crystal porthole that slid by beneath him as he tumbled about.
He heard the sound of metal on metal and looked in the direction of the ladder that separated them from the pilothouse above and the engine room below. A mechoservitor moved down the ladder, steam rising from its exhaust grate. The metal man reached the deck, and another began its descent.
What are they doing?
There were four of them now. The ship steadied, and the metal men moved across the deck quickly, pulling their way along the line of safety harnesses. The vessel shuddered, and the shrieking rose to a new and frenzied pitch. One of the mechoservitors staggered, steadied itself and moved quickly to Petronus.
“What’s happening?” he shouted as the mechoservitor lifted him to his feet.
“We’ve been attacked, Father Petronus. We are attempting to land.”
He flinched when the metal man’s arm encircled his waist, but the sharp pain he felt in his left leg convinced him to accept the offered help. The mechanical man lifted him easily. Behind him, he saw Rafe Merrique and two others also being carried toward the ladder.
The ship pitched again, and he felt the gears grinding beneath his ear as the metal man staggered and then compensated.
When they reached the ladder, Petronus scrambled up it and into waiting metal hands that pulled him up and strapped him beside a still form.
He twisted in the harness to look at the boy but found the view beyond too compelling to resist. Two metal men worked the wheel while another sat in an odd contraption of levers and pedals. Just past them, through a wide crystal window, Petronus saw wisps of low-lying clouds shrouding a green carpet of jungle, interrupted occasionally by patches of blue water.
Something large and silver flashed by, and once again, the ship shuddered and then dropped suddenly. He heard a thud to his left but couldn’t turn to see what had happened. Rafe Merrique’s cursing was explanation enough.
“We are landing in the southern lunar sea,” the mechoservitor who worked the pedals and levers said, its voice booming in the confined space.
Petronus saw it now, rising up at them faster and faster as the ship continued its descent. He tried to force himself to watch, but in the end, he shut his eyes against it and held his breath.
When they hit the water, it knocked the wind out of him, and light exploded behind his closed eyes. His awareness shrank to a single point of focus—clutching at the harness against the tossing and bucking and shaking of the vessel. Everything else faded, and even the roaring around him was shut out.
He became nothing but fists hanging on until he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head and gave way to the gray that swallowed him.
When awareness returned, he once more found metal hands pulling at him. Watery light washed the cabin, and the air had changed. It was fresh and heavy with salt, nothing like the stale air he’d been breathing since they left the Named Lands, and all around him, he heard the rush of water.
The mechoservitor before him was dented. One of its eyes hung useless and dark, and the other guttered. It lifted him up, and Petronus felt other hands taking hold of him as he was passed along a chain of mechanicals and eventually laid out upon a twilight shore. He tried to roll over and found the light erupting behind his eyes again.
“I have you, Father.” It was Rafe.
The old pirate carefully turned him over, and the first thing he saw was the massive brown-and-blue world that filled the sky and painted the landscape with an ethereal twilight.
Petronus lay still and blinked until the familiarity of that vast world registered. He could see the two mountain ranges he’d grown up with—the Dragon’s Spine marching across the northern reaches of the continent and the Keeper’s Wall running north to south, carving the Named Lands off from the desolation of the Churning Wastes.
“Gods,” he whispered. “I’m on the moon.”
“Aye, Father,” Rafe said.
Petronus took his eyes off the sky and looked to the pirate. “What happened?”
“I know what you know. We were attacked and crashed in the sea.”
Petronus forced himself to sit up, threads of light spider-webbing his field of vision as he did. Shaking it off, he looked around. They were on a strip of beach, and to the right, a mechoservitor bent over a still form.
“Neb?” The boy didn’t move, and Petronus felt fear rising in his stomach. He tried to stand and Rafe steadied him.
“The boy’s asleep, Father. He slept through it all.”
He’d not seen Neb since the day they loaded him into the vessel, naked, burned and unconscious. But the boy had spoken into his mind, and his words were full of despair.
We’ve failed. Isaak is dead. The dream is lost. The staff is lost.
. He limped to Neb and crouched. The metal man looked up briefly, its eye shutters flashing open and closed, then returned to checking the boy. From what the old man saw, there were no obvious injuries. The hair was growing in where it had been burned away, and the boy’s left hand and arm were covered in the pink of new skin. Anyone else would’ve died from the shock of the burns he’d sustained, but Petronus knew now that Neb wasn’t anyone else.
voice, as well, dropping into his mind, commanding him to fall back and accompany Neb. It was a voice that started his nose to bleeding and his head to pounding.
It was the voice of the Younger God, Whym, declaring himself Neb’s father and with that pronouncement challenging everything Petronus had ever believed.
He reached a hand out to touch the boy’s cheek. It was warm. “Neb?”
The mechoservitor looked up again. “Lord Whym continues to regenerate.”
When he’d met Neb, the boy was nearly mad from the loss in Windwir’s pyre. Petronus had watched him rise to the challenge of leadership in the grave-digging camp. He’d never imagined this. “Is he okay?”
Billows wheezed. “He is functional,” the metal man said.
Petronus nodded and looked back to the water. Rising up from it, half buried, lay the massive hulk of the ship that had carried them here. Five metal figures formed a line, passing what could be salvaged out of the ship and onto the sand. The others—two scouts and a sailor—gathered around two forms now covered with wool blankets.
We’ve dead to bury.
And one of them was his friend, Grymlis, killed by kin-wolves as they raced to board the ship. Petronus felt the grief of that loss. It was a fog that hemmed him in, and not even the wonder and fear of being shipwrecked on the moon could lift it.
He stood and went to stand with the others. They looked to him, their bruised faces pale and expectant in the light of the world that hung above them.
As a boy, he’d spent hour upon hour playing out the apocryphal
One Hundredth Tale of Felip Carnelyin
, he and his boyhood playmates turning the backwoods of Caldus Bay into a vast lunar jungle filled with new smells, new sights and dangerous beasts. And now, he stood upon the shore with that jungle stretching out behind him, smelling salt, ozone and the sweet scent of flowers he did not recognize on the midnight air. This wasn’t how he imagined landing upon the moon, back when he was young and playing out Carnelyin’s adventures.
Still, for now they were alive and safe enough, though he wondered what manner of mechanical or magick could bring down a vessel such as theirs. And more importantly, he wondered if it might return for them.
Regardless, he realized, there was work that must be done, though it grieved him that it was their first work in this new place.
He looked down at the bodies of those they’d lost and then turned to the growing pile of boxes, crates and barrels. He walked to it, and dug around until he found a shovel still wet from the sea.
“We’ll need white stones,” he said.
And then, once more, Petronus set about the task of burying his dead.
Neb floated in gray silence, sliding in and out of awareness until he heard the singing. He recognized the song instantly, and with it, he recognized the scent of lilacs and lilies on a warm breeze. He sniffed at the air tentatively and then drew in a great lungful of it before opening his eyes.
Vertigo rushed at him and he tottered for a moment, taking in the rich green jungle far below him. Beyond it, a green-tinged sea glinted in the sunlight. He closed his eyes against the impossible height he stood at, counted silently to ten, and then opened them again.
I’ve been here before.
He recognized it from his dreams, though the vastness of it had never struck him as it did now. Here on the tower, he stood above the wisps of morning cloud and watched a flock of silver birds move across the surface of the jungle canopy, their backs and wings reflecting back the blue sky.
And this tower was different than the one in his dreams. It wasn’t the ancient bone-white material he remembered standing upon with the mechoservitors, but instead, this surface was a garden—a grassy man-made ridge that encircled a stand of fruit-bearing trees and a pond. He stood on the ridge now, the grass warm beneath his bare feet, and wondered how it was he came to be here.
Am I on the moon then?
He thought he must be, and he reached back into himself to find some sense of how he’d arrived. The last thing he remembered was metal hands pulling him up and lifting him, the sharp odor of his charred skin and burnt hair choking his breath. Prior to that … He felt his muscles seize with the memory of violence. Other metal hands upon him, pummeling him, tossing him with ease, as he tried to escape the Watcher. The smell of ozone and oil filled his nostrils, and the shriek of tearing metal and grinding gears drowned out all other sound as a smoking, wheezing form toppled the Watcher into the bargaining pool.
The singing grew louder, and Neb turned in the direction it came from just as the music stopped abruptly.
The girl stared, her mouth hanging open and her eyes growing wide. And if the look on her face wasn’t enough to convince him, her emotions rushed him, pushing into his mind.
His head hurt from the force of those sensations, and he pushed back at her until she blinked. She took a step back and frowned.
“What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
She was older than he was by a few years, he suspected. Her blond hair was long and braided with unfamiliar flowers that set off the silver of her robes. She took another step back. “How did you gain access?”
Neb shook his head. “I don’t know that, either.”