AFTER LEAVING THE battle on the beach, Kami had wandered down the coast for some time before she grew hungry.
She waded into the sea and caught a blue fish. It flopped in her lap for a moment before she snapped its spine. She split it open with a rock and ate the flank. She walked into the forest and ate some overripe fruit that was so sweet she kept eating until she felt bloated. She climbed into a tree and found a junction of branches large enough to hold her while she slept.
She woke from a fitful nap. Clouds were rolling in from the sea. Rain was on the way. The air was misty but warm. The wet air caressed her lungs. Closing her eyes, she lay back, breathing deeply. She loved humid days. Her thoughts reached out to embrace the life around her. The creatures of the forest were busy preparing for the rain. A line of ants turned from her sticky arm when she noticed them. They swarmed an abandoned chunk of fruit before stealing off with pieces to their mound. Birds settled down into their nests. Deer and fox snuggled in with their own.
The air remained saturated after the brief rain. Kami dropped to the forest floor and drank a puddle of rain from a broad leaf. The ants were leaving their mounds again, setting off for the fruit peels she had dropped. A few flying ants had found it first, but they offered no resistance to the ants on the ground. They were more interested in swarming.
It was the first mating flight of the year, and masses of flying ants from every nest around came together to follow the new queens that emerged. In time, the queens would allow a few of the males to mate. The queens would fly until they decided to burrow in and establish new colonies, where they would detach their wings, block off the sunlight forever, and then begin to lay eggs. Like any insect, an ant queen’s life was magnificently precise, like a tool crafted for one type of cut.
Kami watched the swarm, the males so numerous she couldn’t find a queen. She inserted herself into the madness only to find madness was an impression from the outside. Inside the swarm, all was, again, precision. She flew with one male and then another, hopping from one all-consuming intention to another in an upward spiral.
Her knee suddenly burned. She drew back from the ants and looked down. As soon as she focused on it, the spider dropped from her leg. It sensed who she was then, as if it had not while she was distracted with the ants. She rubbed the sore spot through her slacks, realizing she must have torn them at some point since leaving camp. She stopped rubbing when she noticed the forest floor moving. Hundreds of spiders crawled over and through the leaves. They flowed around to either side as they crawled toward the beach.
A voice stole her attention, and she turned at the sound. No one was there. She ran through the trees away from the beach and deeper into the forest. The voice followed, calling her name. It was a masculine voice, familiar and unwanted, but she wasn’t sure why she was afraid.
She raced ahead until she burst from the trees into a clearing, where she found herself confronted by a company of Darklaw soldiers. They stood at attention as if they were prepared for something, but they were startled by her appearance, and she realized she was not who they were waiting for.
A shouted command mobilized them before she could react. Avestar pulled up his mount just behind the line of men. He pointed at her with his command baton, and at his shout, the men charged, a few throwing spears at her.
She barely had time to stop her momentum before the spears reached her. She dove forward, flattening herself as best she could as the spears sailed over her. The charging soldiers pulled up sharply with shouts, although she didn’t pause to consider why. She moved forward, feeling their hatred and hearing the voice that continued to speak in her head. Avestar struggled to control his horse when she came near. When she reached toward him, he let himself fall. He ran into the trees, and she followed, drawn to fleeing prey.
She caught up to him easily. The terror in his eyes intrigued her. He looked down at her and stumbled back against a tree. He waved his baton frantically to keep her away. She drew up, rose to get a good look in his eyes and found she wasn’t tall enough. Only then did she realize she was a snake.
Avestar wore black-scale boots covered with mud. A blue furry cape hung from his shoulders over a black tunic. Emblazoned on his chest was a design of the Blue Sun, comprised of sapphires and silver. His clothes were clean and neat. His hair was recently trimmed, and he had no shadow of a beard. He didn’t appear like a man on the run.
She glanced from herself to Avestar and tried to speak, but her tongue simply flicked. She uncoiled and sank back to the ground. As she backed away, she felt her body change and she grew taller. She looked down and saw she had recovered her own body.
Avestar suddenly cried out with delight. “Avatar, how glorious! We finally meet. How grateful you must be to me. Do you see now? Do you see what you are, what she tried to deny you? I gave you this.”
Kami felt only contempt. “Why are you here?”
“For you, of course.”
“Get out of my forest. You have no claim on me.”
“I have no claim on Raret, either, but where else would he go?”
“He’s a liar and you’re a fool. He’s probably back in Sahrdon wearing your face and commanding your throne.”
The soldiers at her back jostled each other, compelled to attack, afraid to risk it. She turned and glanced at them, appraising their courage and seeing it wasn’t yet enough. She found a pack of wolves passing nearby and drew them to her. They arrived at the soldiers’ backs, their growling enough to spook the already shaky men into a defensive circle.
She looked into the man she remembered mostly for his emptiness. He was calculating. Kami wanted to know what he knew. “You know what I am,” she said to him.
“Yes, I do. You were my Essanti and I gave you the emanation.”
“You think this is a gift?”
“You’re a god!”
“You’ve taken everything from me.”
“A god can have anything she wants.” “But I don’t…” Kami couldn’t find the right word. “I don’t want. I don’t want anything.”
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |