Rook stared across the table at Kami. How many of these conversations had he had with her over the years? She was stubborn. She was brilliant. She was a fool greater than any he had ever known.
“Something is coming. You feel it, too. She does not. She doesn’t feel it because she sees the world of men. You see the Wild. I see the dead. Don’t you understand what that means?”
Kami simply stared back.
“Coth’s balls, girl! You are not this ignorant. I’m telling you to stay with her until I return. She shouldn’t be alone. I’ll have your things moved. I’ll send away Esme and her other servants. It will be just you and her.”
Kami laughed. “You have never understood I’m not jealous, and you’re a controlling bastard. I suppose most men are. I love Esme. I have loved her many times, in fact.” One eyebrow rose as Kami asked, “How have you not noticed how often Avestine and I have shared a bed with other women through the years?”
Rook’s jaw tightened.
“It’s not jealousy of who Avestine beds that keeps me in the iceward tower, and I don’t understand your worry.”
“But you do worry. I see it.”
“Not for the reason you do.”
Rook paused expectantly for the answer to his unspoken question.
Kami raised her gold-capped wrists . “I’m leaving soon.”
Rook stood, knocking his chair to the floor. He slammed the table with his metal wrist caps. “No! This is no time to fuck nature or whatever you do in that fetid wilderness. Demons are spreading out from the Dark Quarter. I have to leave for a time, and you will not leave her alone.”
“As if she can’t take care of herself. What threat is a demon to a god?”
“This world is not the one we left a decade ago. You know it. I know it. She does not.”
“Avestine knows everything. Besides, nothing can hurt her.”
Rook saw Kami’s gaze soften. They both understood, but Rook said it anyway. “Your leaving will hurt her.”
Kami turned away, shaking her head. “I’ll be back. I always come back.”
“I mentioned taking you with me and she was absolutely against it. She won’t let you go.”
Kami laughed again. “As if she can stop me.”
A thought occurred to him, giving him a sense of relief. He leaned on the table, looking deeply into Kami’s eyes. “You haven’t thought this through. You wouldn’t dare leave Veris alone with her.”
Anger slowly darkened Kami’s face. Rook stepped back when he realized her skin was truly growing dark…and furry. Her face shifted briefly to something that resembled a bear, then returned to looking like Kami.
“You can transform? I thought—“
“Shut up, Rook. I will tear you apart if you finish that sentence.”
He examined Kami’s face, and then stepped back to examine her body. This world was surely not the same one. Kami had born a child, which meant the god she once carried within her was now split among at least two souls—her and her child. The day she bore that child, she was no longer the Avatar of Bala but an Essanti of the Wild. Rook had seen that happen. He had seen the change as the god became an emanation. But without an avatar’s powers, Kami could not possibly manifest a beast. The gift of an Essanti was to express the movement of the emanation to which one belonged. For Kami, that meant she could entice the beasts of the Wild to act. Only as the avatar could she become one of them.
Kami turned away, but Rook stepped closer, leaned in, insisted she meet his gaze. “How is this possible? How has the god returned?” After a moment of silence, he added, “And what does this mean for Veris? He has power. We know it. But what emanation moves in him if not Bala?”
When Kami sat back down, Rook followed. The two sat in a silence a long time. Rook was patience made flesh, but Kami had the patience of a cage beast. He was amazed that she could remain as still and silent as she did for so long.
“Veris…” muttered Kami. Another long silence followed. “Veris doesn’t know Bala. I’ve known that for a long time. I don’t know what moves in him. I’m not sure even he does, Rook. Whatever is happening to him, she will not like it. I won’t let her hurt him. I planned to take him with me. He won’t like it, but it’s not safe here.”
“You have time. She needs an Essanti to train him. She wouldn’t trust any but me.”
“I won’t take that risk.”
“You should trust me, too, Kami.”
“Trust you?” Her laugh was bitter this time. “We have no trust between us. You’re serve the god of war. You would kill me without hesitation if you thought it would help her. You have tried.”
He was a man of great circumspection, so he took several deep breaths before surrendering to the impulse that followed Kami’s confession.
As his body dissolved and clothes dropped to the floor, Rook watched Kami’s face slowly contort into an expression of horror.
Copyright © 2020 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.