SHE ARRIVED NEAR the shore at Agate Bay within a few days, curiosity winning out over caution. She had been sure the presence she tracked was Avestar, but the closer she got to him, the more confusing her sense grew until she was no longer sure who the empty presence truly was.
Where the Demonforest dwindled at the approach to Agate Bay, she sat in a tree and surveyed the beach. A ship rocked in the distance, but she saw no one. She wandered the rim of the bay, enjoying the feel of sand and smell of salt air until she had forgotten why she had come.
Kami looked around and saw no one. The voice echoed in her head, its direction from nowhere, but she knew someone was nearby. She crouched down and slipped her arm through the sand in search of some vibration or sensation of heat. She thought if she tried to reach out, tried to feel more, she could find the voice.
She sensed his presence, but she could tell he didn’t sense hers. He didn’t seem to know where she was or what she was thinking. The thoughts in her mind weren’t communication between them. They were a one-way message.
“You belong to no one.”
She looked behind her, sharply, for the voice reached her ears this time instead of her mind.
A man with dramatic features stood near the trees. His black hair was short, as was his beard. He wore the clothes of a pirate, now ragged but originally well-made of wool, and dyed with reds and purples. His leather boots bore years of salt stains and had molded themselves to the lithe build of an agile man, now solid with middle age. “Who are you?” she asked.
He seemed relieved. He walked toward her, but stopped when she scurried away from him. “You’re afraid?” He shook his head. “Of course. I’m sorry.”
“What did you mean I belong to no one?”
“You’ll need to know that soon.”
“War will convulse the land, and it will consume this forest, this place, unless you stop her.”
“I sensed Avestar in my forest.” Impulse told her to run, but she was too curious to give up finding answers just yet. Her mind reached out along the paths of connection that she had come to rely upon, and she found many beasts of the earth, companions whose presence comforted her, whose readiness eased her fear.
“I don’t have much time to change your mind. I know that. You’re probably seeking help now. I have no defense against your beasts.” He spread his hands apart.
“Who are you?” she asked again.
“You can call me ‘Katan’.” He looked away and looked back. “I think.”
“Raret! So many people with their memories, desires, fears.” He sank to his knees and held his head as if to soothe a headache. “I get lost.”
“Do you remember me?”
“I was never you.”
“You helped me escape from Sahrdon.”
“You’re why I’m here.” He struggled as if something hurt in his gut, and then his body shrank a little, his hands became stumps, and he was once again the man Kami remembered from Sahrdon.
“Raret,” she said, more relaxed to see his familiar face. But then he changed again. His body settled into the form of a man with dark skin and short coarse hair. He looked like one of the nomads from Koledoon.
He gazed offshore. “He’s coming.” He took a deep breath and seemed to struggle against fatigue as he stood. “The third Avatar. You know him, don’t you? He serves her.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“The fourth also serves her,” he said, his voice impassioned. “The fifth serves him. The sixth will be the one decided by the rest. All that remains is for us to decide whether we kill Avestar or Avestine. It’s not so simple as you think. You love her, but do you know what she’s capable of? He’s the guardian, the one who wants the world fearful and familiar. She’s the evolver, ready to do whatever it takes to destroy the present so she can plant new seeds. The children of the Architect are opposites, preserver and destroyer. But what they share is a need to control. Avestar does it with laws. Avestine does it with ruthlessness. With him, it’s the survival of tradition. With her it’s a rebirth. He listens to the voices of the past, but she listens to no one.”
“I won’t let you kill her.”
“So you’ve chosen, but have you chosen wisely? Like every god, Arujan navigates two poles: King and Tyrant. You know which she is. She’s your enemy, the enemy of Bala, the enemy of freedom. You’re the only one she can’t manipulate. She will come to hate you for that. Kill her now and save yourself. Kill her now and save the world.”
“And I also know Katan is a god of tricks and lies.”
“You’re wily, Sister.” He laughed. “No. Don’t trust anyone.”
His words brought back a memory that stole her breath away. Her heart hurt, and she pressed her arm there.
“Let the emanation guide you,” he said. “I’ll tell you this. Her most trusted advisor will be assassinated. The Sovereignty will be in Illusion Bay soon after. Avjakar iceward. She’ll have war on two fronts. Ureth Mourning will fall. She’ll have nothing left but the future, one she still shares with her brother, but that future is trying to kill her. If you give her haven, you’ll give her the world. If Avestar dies, Avestine will never be stopped. Do you trust her enough to let her mold the world as she sees fit? To give her the power of life and death?”
Raret flashed a bright smile and ran into the trees.
She started to follow but felt a tickle that drew her to look back out at the sea. The distant ship still bobbed on the waves, but a longboat drew toward the shore. Waving above them was the flag of Arrowreign. She smiled, knowing who was on that boat.
Within an hour, Rook splashed through low tide and walked toward her. Soldiers followed on Rook’s heels and stopped behind him. She rose to her feet and brushed sand from her legs.
He looked her over. “You’re naked.”
“Can you still talk?”
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. He let her.
“I’ve been practicing everything I would say that might persuade you to come back,” he said.
“I’m curious to hear it.”
“But you don’t need to?” he said hopefully.
“Although I’m sure it’s all quite reasonable.”
“She makes my life hell when you’re away.” He had a soldier search through one of the trunks brought to set up camp on the beach. He had her dress in a soldier’s undershirt and breeches, and then they boarded the boat and headed back into the sea.
Published in Darklaw |
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