. She had counted on him, needed him beside her. They had maintained an odd but beneficial relationship. What she didn’t understand was why he would sacrifice himself for her. Rook would have died to protect her. Maybe even Kami.
“Rook told me what you think. Your discussion disturbed him tremendously. If you want to blaspheme, save it for me, not a man so devoted to the gods that he’s spent thirty years suffering my abuses. You said my father lied, changed the ancient religion to suit his purpose.”
Avestine wondered if Kami would ever understand the power she had to move her, how her presence let her smell more, taste more, hear more, feel more. The world became bigger and more exciting. Everything had the ability to touch her when she was with Kami, even things invisible to her awareness the rest of the time, like the sound of a cricket in the wall or the smell of the books on the shelf. She luxuriated in Kami’s raw sensation, the other half of the Emanation of Instinct, whose shadow side appeared capable of consuming the world.
Avestine sighed. “I see.” She touched Kami’s chin and smiled indulgently. “Women don’t need to be protected. They need work and pleasure, and I give them both.”
Maybe to a man the sight of blood can mean only death, but to a woman, blood is life. It’s the first thing that tells us we are women. Our own blood, not another’s, is a sign of power. It promises a future.
HE LEFT, AND by the time he returned, she was falling asleep. He woke her and had tea brought. She sat with him at the table, where he set down a very old and weathered…
KAMI LOVED THE water. It caressed her skin like the softest silk she could imagine, and she wished she didn’t need to leave it to breathe. She wanted to become a fish but still didn’t…
Those who understood the path of Essanti viewed Kami’s light among the dimmest, the lowest Emanation a person might follow. But in all of history, among all those Avestine had known or even heard of, no Essanti had displayed the kind of power Kami had.
Seeing her hands gone took something from him, but he couldn’t quite name it. He had no reservations about the importance of the ritual, believed in it utterly. He decided the mutilation itself didn’t disturb him, but how it manifested in her.
She watched the weight of realization fall upon Kami, the memory of who she was and who she was not. It was a cruel thing, perhaps the cruelest yet, to return Kami’s rational mind to her, since Kami’s bestial army had killed thousands of people.
Sometime later, she opened her eyes and wasn’t sure where she was. It had been a lifetime since she had run among trees, danced to seductive drums, and laughed beside creeks. Vague memories stirred in her, and she didn’t know why they were so vague. She recalled pain and realized she felt nothing now.
They had come around the coast. They drove the wild beasts from their path. The web of life vibrated with their reckless passage. Kami could sense where the forest ended, where its bounty of life became like a desert, absent of sounds and smells but for a little knot of arrogant men pressing toward the magnificent artery of the continent.
“Love?” Avestine’s lipped curled as she said the word. “This isn’t about love, Essanti. I own her, like I own you. I’m taking back what is mine, what my brother stole, just like I’ll take back Sahrdon one day.”
She could barely stand to look at the bloated little man, with his wispy beard and yellow teeth, but like everyone she came to rely on, she probed him for the one vice that might define his limits.
A thrill raced through Avestine because she knew who she was when she had prey on the run. “Whatever I want.” She anticipated Elle would try to bargain. Instead, the young body straightened, and Avestine’s whiskey-fogged mind couldn’t make sense of what happened next.
EVERY DAY, AVESTINE heard petitions. City elders and wealthy tradesmen came asking favors or bringing complaints against each other. Peasants begged for seed or bread. The life of a ruler had never been something she…
Amilese could be enthusiastic, was certainly dutiful, but was never importunate. She was a young woman of discrete and sensible manners. Not like Kami at all. The moment she thought the name, Avestine felt as if she had been stabbed.
I’m beginning to think that freedom isn’t about doing what I want but having what I need. And I never seem to have what I need. No matter where I go, something’s always missing. Kami…
When she looked up to see Malika’s response, the pity was almost more than she could bear, but what seized her more fiercely than the shame of what had been done to her was the fear of being alone.
MORNING ARRIVED QUICKLY and Kami found she had managed to sleep for awhile. Malika woke her before sunrise and dressed her. The guards arrived while she was in the toilet, and she had to force…
Anger drained from him, and he slapped her as if he could conjure his passion in the way he said his sister did. Kami licked her lip, which had started to bleed, and saw every sense in him dilate with desire.
AVESTAR OCCASIONALLY VISITED Kami, and when he did, he insisted she concentrate on her Essanti training. He often became abusive, but in time, his beatings lost their strength as he lost whatever pleasure they had…
A GREAT DEAL of time passed and no new ability had made itself apparent, despite Avestar’s insistence that as a trained Essanti, Kami should find some power that had eluded her before. She spent some…
KAMI FOUND LITTLE to enjoy in Sahrdon, but she liked the palace courtyard, a square area surrounded by a heated marble portico. Melted snow left a ring of bare dirt around the yard, and Kami…
The Essanti follow the ancient teaching, their training a mystical show, using symbols for instruction. But the archetypes don’t need the lies of generations. There is a truth here she didn’t wish you to know. You can still be saved, Kami.”
Like a relentless storm, that madness pursued her. She knew it had moved across the world with an impartial path, and her terror was that much greater for its implacability, for its inevitability.
That’s all right, little one. Hundreds of people watched you beg like a rutting cat. You don’t need my respect, and I don’t need your love. You’ll do what you’re told. That’s all. Avestine (Darklaw)…
ROOK KNEW HE should be dead, and when he woke, he thought he was. He felt like a ghost left to haunt the woods. He wandered a while. He grew cold when the sun dimmed. He ate berries and killed a fish and even managed after half a day to kindle a fire. So he realized he wasn’t dead.
ALTHOUGH SHE THOUGHT Kami and Rook long dead, Avestine continued to send scouts into the Fulbern Forest, even as far away as the Katan Ri. One scout returned with some evidence of a struggle—pieces torn from black tunics in an area that had witnessed a run of mounts, but nothing to confirm what happened.
AVESTINE SAT IN the courtyard of the palace, looking across to the ridge beyond the city, to where she had begun her ambitious assault.
Gerard sat nearby, staring into the same distance. “A well-deserved rest.”