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Authors: Ken Scholes

Requiem (7 page)

BOOK: Requiem
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“What is the last sign?” Rudolfo asked.

Now the voice was by the flap at the tent’s entrance. “Empty skies,” she said simply.

And Rudolfo knew it would do no good to ask what she meant, because she was already gone, slipping like a ghost from his tent. Instead, he would simply summon Philemus and have his second captain send a magicked half-squad southwest to verify what his heart already told him must be true.

Sighing, Rudolfo looked to the bottle but—once again—refused to reach for it.

Petronus

Petronus crouched at the shore and scrubbed the dirt from his hands and forearms while he contemplated the massive, dead world that hung above him. Its presence prevented true night, the darkest point being a shadowy twilight. The temperature dropped, but the jungle never quieted. Throughout the dusk in which they buried their dead and spoke over them, the sounds of birds and monkeys and animals Petronus couldn’t identify played in the background.

What now?
Their dead were buried, and what could be salvaged from the ship had been gathered and sorted by the mechoservitors and the last of Rafe’s men.

He heard footsteps behind him and rose to his feet, turning to watch Rafe Merrique and two Gypsy Scouts approach.

The old pirate spoke first. “So what now, Father?”

Petronus saw weariness in the man’s face, and Rafe’s eyes were dark from lack of sleep. The Gypsy Scouts fared no better. “I think we need to get some rest,” he said. “In the morning, we can decide our next steps.” He paused, scratching at the scar on his throat. “Perhaps by then our boy will be awake.”

And
, Petronus thought,
be able to tell us exactly what we’re meant to do here.

The highest-ranking scout—a sergeant named Olynder—nodded. “Very well. Shall I organize a watch?”

Petronus shook his head. “No,” he said. “I’ll ask the mechoservitors to establish a perimeter. I’m sure they’ll see the value of letting us get our wits about us.”

He took another look at the vast world above him and then turned back to the crash site, making his way across the sand and up into the grass-covered dunes that marked their makeshift camp. The others followed, and when they reached the collection of crates and barrels and piles of salvaged gear and tools, the metal men had already started erecting small field tents.

Petronus approached the two metal men who stood over Neb. They looked at him, their amber eyes glowing dully in the twilight as their shutters flashed open and closed. He reached for the word they used and formed his question. “Is Neb still regenerating?”

Bellows wheezed before the first spoke. “Yes, Father.”

“The rest of us need to do the same if we’re to be of any use to you,” Petronus said.

The other mechoservitor spoke. “Forgive my forthrightness, Father, but even regenerated, you are of little use to us. The parameters and outcomes of this expedition were not calculated with your participation taken into account.”

Petronus felt a momentary surge of anger but held it in check. “Regardless,” he said, “I’m certain you also heard the voice that compelled us to join you.”

The metal man nodded. “Yes, Father. It is a curious development outside the framework of our dream.”

“Yes,” Petronus agreed. Even he was uncertain why the ancient god Whym would send him here, and until he’d heard the voice, he’d not even believed in gods that could speak much less direct. “It is curious indeed. But we are here and we are in your care. And we need rest.”

The mechoservitor inclined his head. “My brothers and I will keep watch.”

Petronus returned the gesture. “Thank you.”

He was turning to leave when the quietest of whispers brought his head around. Neb’s lips were suddenly moving, and Petronus strained to hear even as the two mechoservitors leaned in.

Beautiful?
He tried to push closer to the boy, but the metal men blocked him. He raised his voice. “Neb? Can you hear me?”

“He is dreaming,” one the metal men said. “That is a good sign.”

“Dreaming?” Petronus glanced to the boy’s burnt hand and saw the fist was tightly closed. “Is he…” He’d heard the word from Hebda or from one of the mechoservitors.
What was it?
“Is he in the aether?”

Petronus had first encountered the aether when Hebda had made contact with him. The arch-behaviorist had been able to infiltrate Petronus’s dreams in the early months of his exile from the Named Lands and had eventually been able to induce dreaming even while the old man was awake, stretched out upon a massive black stone in some underground place. A small kin-raven carved from a similar stone had allowed Petronus to reach the mechoservitors and bid them admit his tattered band to defend the Antiphon.

“If he’s in the aether,” Petronus said, “we should be able to reach him.”

Both mechoservitors released steam from their exhaust grates at the same time. One of them spoke. “Yes, Father,” it said, its voice wheezing from a leak in its bellows. “But even if we did, that would not change his need for regeneration.” The metal man stood and faced Petronus. “You also require regeneration. Tell your men to sleep, and we will watch over you.”

Petronus glanced to Neb again. He’d spent days pondering the ramifications of who this boy really was.
Nebios Whym
. Kin, it seemed, of P’Andro and T’Erys, the brothers who’d forged the Order, shepherding the earliest years of the refugees who wandered the ashes of the Old World. Neb, the orphan boy, somehow caught up in the roles of Homeseeker to some and Abomination to others. He didn’t know how it was possible, but he believed it; and that faith disturbed him.

He looked to Rafe. “Bring the men in,” he said. “Tell them to get some sleep.”

Petronus then turned to the small pile of belongings he’d salvaged from the larger pile of cargo. He pulled free his bedroll and opened it, spreading it out in the soft green grass. He left his clothes on and stretched out with his hands behind his head, gazing up at the sky. That broken world hung low now, and he saw unfamiliar seas and large islands scattered over it. In the middle of the sea, something white caught his eye.

His mind went back to Neb. He wasn’t sure what the mechoservitor meant exactly by “regenerating”—he suspected in Neb’s case it was about more than sleep—but he did understand the dreaming. And if Neb dreamed in the aether, there was no telling what the boy was experiencing. Petronus’s own forays into that surreal space had reproduced his papal office, had shown him things he should not be able to see.

And voices I should not hear.

The old man tossed and turned, the itch of the scar on his neck unbearable and his mind racing. Finally, he sat up and reached for his pouch. He rummaged through it until he found the wad of cloth and drew it out carefully. Then, he unwrapped the tiny black kin-raven slowly. Glancing once more toward the mechoservitors who kept watch, Petronus slipped the token into his palm. He felt the slightest tingle as it touched his skin, and he shivered, suddenly chilled despite the heat of the night. He forced his fist to close around it and lay back down.

He bent his mind forward and focused on the sharp-edged carving in his hand.
Neb.

Nothing.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried again. This time, he whispered the name as he thought it. “
Nebios.

When it happened, it was sudden and jarring. He found himself suddenly surrounded by hot wind, his robes flowing around him. He stood upon the top of a tower the color of bone, a dead world suspended above him, casting a dim light over a jungle far below that whispered as it was savaged by the storm. The first warm rain began to fall.

A woman’s voice, flooded with rage, rose above the roaring of the rising typhoon. It was nearly a shriek, and he jumped at it. “You do not belong here,” she said.

Petronus spun around reaching for a sword he did not have, and he saw her. She was at least ten years his senior, her white hair wild and tangled, her skin sagging with age. She wore a tattered robe that hung loose over her bony frame, and it took no Franci training to recognize the madness in her eyes. “You do
not
belong here,” she said again, pointing a long crooked finger at him.

Petronus took a step back, raising his hands. He opened his mouth to speak, and she cut him off.

“You have no right,” she said. Then she raised her finger until it pointed at the dead world above. “Behold your home, Downunder. Behold your handiwork.”

He forced his eyes back to hers. “I’m looking for a friend,” he said. “Nebios Whym.”

Her eyes widened at the name. “Whym.” The anger drained from her voice until it was a whisper. “She told me one day Whym would come.”

Petronus blinked. “Who told you?”

But she didn’t answer; instead, her whisper became a singsong murmur. “Whym will come in the last days of Lasthome. A dream within a song shall bear him.” Then, her eyes came back to him. “Where is he? He must come to me. He must—”

A howling rose from far below them, cutting her off. The sound of it widened her eyes and dropped her jaw. “Clumsy Downunder,” she said. “They’ve smelled you in the aether.”

More howls joined the first. “Who?”

“The Hounds of Shadrus,” she said. “They hunt you now.”

The noise grew in his ears, and Petronus felt his head throbbing. A wave of nausea washed over him, and then there were metal hands forcing his fist open.

“You should not have used the dreamstone,” the mechoservitor said, taking the kin-raven from him. Around him, Petronus was suddenly aware of the pandemonium and clamor as they hurriedly struck camp. “What’s happening?” he asked.

But a moment later, he needed no reply. The distant sound of howling told Petronus all he needed to know.

 

Chapter

4

Vlad Li Tam

Vlad Li Tam walked for another day and night before he found himself growing weary and thirsty. The kin-raven followed, racing up and down the beach repeating back any words that Vlad shouted after it.

As the sun started its slow climb into the morning sky, he paused and wiped sweat from his brow, startled by his perspiration. “I need water,” he said.

“I need water,” the kin-raven repeated, beating its wings as it landed on the black, hard-packed sand.

But from where?
Vlad looked around and saw the same beach stretching east and west, running along the base of the same dark cliffs and lapped by waters washed purple in dawn. In two days and nights of walking, he’d seen nothing but the kin-raven, who left at sundown and returned just before dawn.

There’d been no other sign of life. Even the water here seemed dead.

And I would be, too, without the staff.
He looked at it in his hands, cast red now in the growing light. It had carried him this far, but he could tell that whatever magicks it bore were only for a season. His muscles were growing aware even as his thirst grew, and he knew he needed to rest soon.

“Water and shelter,” he whispered. The bird was out of earshot, but he felt a tingle in his palm—the slightest
thrum
—that brought his eyes back to the staff. For a moment, it went dark as dried blood, and then it became silver again. And even as it did, he felt the strength going out of him. It was as if what little he had left rushed out, and he felt his breath rushing out with it.

The kin-raven was back now, and repeating words it should not have been able to hear. “Water and shelter,” it said, turning quickly, wings beating against the hot air, as it shot west again. “Water and shelter.”

Only it wasn’t Vlad’s voice, he realized. It was a woman’s … and he recognized it. He felt a rush of emotion at it.
Beloved?

Vlad squinted and saw something in the shadow of the cliff ahead. He forced his feet back to their work, taking the staff in both hands now. As he drew closer, his nose picked up the scent of something foreign in this place, and it took him a moment to find a word that aptly described it.

Life.

The sun lifted higher, its light dispelling the shadows, and Vlad staggered from what he saw ahead of him.

Rising up at the base of the cliff was a patch of green—thick, high grass and a scattering of palm trees unlike any he’d seen before, heavy with an unfamiliar purple fruit. A murmuring sound reached his ears, and his stomach responded to it before he recognized it. He saw the glint of sunlight from its surface and moved toward it—a narrow creek that flowed out from the oasis to hiss into the hot ocean.

I am mad,
he thought. But he knew if that were so, he’d been mad for a while now. From the time he’d fallen in love with a ghost in the water and found meaning in its song.

“Water and shelter,” the kin-raven said again. This time, it was Vlad’s own voice, barely a whisper.

“Yes,” he said. He smiled, feeling a sudden lightness in his step even as every muscle and bone he had protested these final steps. Still, he moved forward until he felt the cool water flowing over his feet and the soft green ferns brushing against his arms and hands.

He followed the water to its source—a crack in the side of the cliff—and only then did he lie down in the shade and drink with cupped hands. He took the water slowly, waiting to see what his stomach would do with it, and then he sat, leaning against the cliff, cradling the staff in his arms.

I am mad,
he thought again. Yet he’d felt the power go out from him, felt the staff respond to him and then …
this.
Water. Fruit. Shelter. What had she said about the parents’ toys in the hands of infants?

Vlad shook his head. “Not possible,” he said.

The kin-raven settled down before him, but this time, the large bird regarded him without speaking. Vlad studied it, cocking his head. How long would it shadow him? And who bid it do so?

He’d heard Amal’s voice clearly from it; he’d swear to that. Of course, that was another impossibility. Like this island of life in the midst of nothing but scorched earth and dead water. He looked away from the bird and back to the staff. It felt heavy now, but he couldn’t bring himself to put it down. He stood, refusing to lean upon it. And then, he stretched his aching muscles and picked some fruit.

BOOK: Requiem
12.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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