Darklaw – Episode 84

KAMI HAD LEARNED repeatedly that in an animal form she was at risk from predators. She barely escaped an enterprising wolf that caught her off-guard as her falcon form ate a rabbit. Only when she stepped into her own body again did the wolf halt its pursuit. It was the same with other opportunistic hunters. Even parasites. Several days as a falcon left her with lice.

She managed the distance most efficiently flying, so she maintained her falcon form until she reached the temple at the top of the world. A race of nomads built the white granite marvel. Traces of many gods remained in the architecture, but the men who now held the temple were worshipers of Adonja, the Sky, and her three children—Coth, Arujan, and Katan.

Kami found the temple tucked into a peak, a sharp incline at its back and an impressive wall guarding the only pass. She circled high above before spiraling down. A few people walked between buildings, white robes and fur hoods held tightly against the wind. She took the form of a white hawk, and when she descended, a white feather fell from her wing. As it floated downward, one of the temple workers noticed it, followed its progress, and rushed to pluck it from the ground.

As Kami landed on a column’s capital, the temple worker shouted at the building behind her before rushing to the pillar, where she threw herself onto her knees and her face to the ground. Kami cocked her head to watch the woman as others rushed into the courtyard through two great wooden doors. They slowed, muttering to each other as they looked from their companion to the great white hawk. The woman on her knees turned to show her friends the feather, and they crowded below the pillar.

Kami waited until the group of people had calmed down before she glided to the ground and stepped back into her own body. The people fell to their knees before her, exclaiming praise and begging mercy from Sahrot. Kami asked only for clothes. The woman with the feather offered her thick robe, which left her wearing only a thin blue dress.

Once inside the building, Kami returned the woman’s white robe and attendants clothed her in a red one. It was soft and warm. Kami thanked the women and glanced about at the people standing around. They were mostly women, although Kami saw a few men, all clothed in the same long, white robes with light blue dresses and black boots. Temple workers in gray robes remained near the doors, as if they should be about their duties but couldn’t resist watching.

The room was like the audience hall for a king, with a throne and statues of the temple’s gods standing to either side: Adonja, the Sky, and her sister, Ansheti, the Sea. Here Kami felt a sense of peace she rarely felt anywhere but the forest. She smiled up at the twin images, the large-eyed serenity of Adonja, and the wily-eyed passion of Ansheti. Ansheti, she knew, was the mother of Bala. Despite the white faces, the statues wore bright clothing: red robes, golden dresses, black boots, and each carried a scepter. Each had green eyes.

Kami tried to identify who was in charge among the group of people watching her. One woman wore a ring of gold in her hair, and Kami addressed her. “I’ve come for the girl.” The woman didn’t seem to understand, so Kami repeated herself in the languages she knew. She said the names of “Avestar” and “Avestine.” She mentioned the Architect and Darklaw. She glanced about with frustration, ready to walk through the temple herself, when the woman with the gold band raised her hand.

“You wish a girl, Wild One?” said the woman in Sahran. She glanced to her right and gestured at two of the youngest women. “These are our finest young maidens.”

“No,” interrupted Kami. “Not a girl. The girl. The daughter of the Emissary.”

The woman fidgeted. “I’m called Rayna. I’m here to serve, as are the rest of Adonja’s faithful.”

“Where is she?”

“I know of no girl.”

Kami grew angry. “You know who I am and think you can lie?”

“Forgive me.” Rayna gestured for all the people to kneel. “It’s just that you surprise us, Wild One. No signs foretold. We’ll prepare a reception.” She waved her hand, sending workers from the room. The two women she had pointed out earlier rose and shuffled out the door, remaining bowed as they walked backward.

“No reception!” shouted Kami. “No feast. Just the girl. Bring me the girl.” In her frustration, Kami raised her arms and flung the robe from her shoulders. She grew large, twice her size and expanded as white fur sprouted across her skin. The people in the room gasped and backed away. Rayna covered her head and began to mumble a prayer as Kami’s large white paws scooped her from the ground.

Rayna cried out for mercy as Kami held her with her large polar bear arms and roared in her face. Sharp teeth reached toward Rayna, but Kami controlled herself, and shrank back into her body. She leaned over Rayna, who sprawled on the floor. “Bring me the girl.”

Kami could tell one of the men was seeking permission with a look, but Rayna didn’t give it. Kami turned to him, and he nodded even before she spoke. He dashed from the room.

Kami said, “It’s time for her to come home.”

“She’s sick. She’s had another fever. She shouldn’t be moved.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Our healers don’t know. I thought Ansheti sent you in answer to our prayers.”

When the man returned, two workers were carrying a blanket. They set it down in the middle of the room. Kami came close and knelt beside the figure. She rolled the girl onto her back and the small eyes fluttered open. They were blue as the sun. “Avesha,” whispered Kami.

The girl tried to smile, although the light seemed to hurt her eyes. She cringed and closed them.

“My name is Kami. I’m here to take you home.”

Avesha managed a squint. “I don’t want to go home.”

“Don’t you want to see your mother?”

“At Guldivah?”


“That has been my home since I learned to walk.”

Kami tried to make sense of the thought. She knew about Guldivah, the Imperial City of the Dead, a city of statues and monuments paid for and prayed to by Sahran citizens who could afford the effigies. Kami didn’t know what to think of a girl growing up in a city populated by faces of the dead. “Is that where Avestar hid you?”

“Did he send you to bring me back?” Avesha’s voice was strong, despite her weak eyes and the flush on her cheeks.

Kami reminded herself the girl was only eleven. “I’m here to take you to your mother.”

Rayna set her hand on Avesha shoulder. “Let her rest for a few days.”

“There’s no point in lying,” said Avesha.

“It’s come and gone for many weeks.”

“Wild One,” said Avesha, “I was so happy to leave Guldivah! So happy to be among the living, if just for a while. If I die here, now, I am content.”

Kami thought a child raised in a city of the dead could likely never be like other children, but she said, “No child should be ready to die.”

“What does it matter? Death is only another kind of life, one without smell or taste. Life without blood or breath. Life, just different. That’s why we spend so much to keep Guldivah full of effigies.” Avesha struggled weakly to sit up. She was a thin girl, with long black hair. Her eyes were as fierce and blue as her mother’s, and her small jaw set with the same strength. She had a dimple that appeared when she finally smiled, as she did when she saw something behind Kami.

Kami glanced behind her but saw nothing. “What are you smiling at?”

“The spirit of the mountain.”

“What spirit?”

“I call her ‘Zemza.’ She’s like a monkey. Playful. You wouldn’t expect that from seeing her ominous peaks, would you? But Adonja’s Peak dances like a child.”

Kami watched Avesha for a time, trying with every sense she could command to determine if the girl were mad. Avesha glanced behind her again, smiling and finally laughing at what she saw. The fierceness of her blue eyes grew kind above the white smile and charming dimple. Kami stared at the girl, confusion giving way to recognition. Something familiar. Something unwelcome, yet a relief. Kami tried to shake away the thought that came to her. “Your father. Avestar told you he was your father?”

She nodded.

Kami knew Avestar was no one’s father. The amused eyes, the searching sadness they hid, and the charming dimple didn’t belong to Avestine. The only person Kami knew with such traits was Rook.

If Rook were her father, then Avesha might be Essanti, and perhaps the sickness that had seized her was nothing born of the world. Rook believed Free Essanti couldn’t remain free for long without going mad.

Avesha struggled to sit up, finally overcoming Rayna’s protective hold. When the blanket dropped to her lap, Avesha sat shivering and Kami stepped back from what she saw. “He took your hands.”

“And sent me here to die.”

“You don’t seem to hate him.”

“He’s the Emissary, and I’ve prepared for my destiny, the fulfillment of a prophecy. Only I didn’t heal well, and he didn’t think I would live, so he had Raret bring me here, where the priestesses closest to the gods could pray for me.” She smiled to the point of tears. “And Adonja heard and told Ansheti and she sent you. You’re here to help me, aren’t you?”

“I’m here to bring you to Avestine.”

Avesha’s joy drained like rain down a hole. “You should know the only thing my father ever asked of me was to kill her.”

Kami searched her memory for information on the Essanti of Cognition, the other servant of the Wild, beholden to Sula. The ancient chart suggested that servants of Sula were clever but prone to madness, and Kami glanced about one more time for the spirit monkey. “Avestar isn’t your father. Your father is an Essanti named ‘Rook’.”

“Don’t lie to me, Wild One. I know the gods must choose, but don’t think you can trick me into betrayal. My father knows the truth. I am the prophecy. I am the Darklord.”

Published in Darklaw |
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