Ventus – Day 13 of 135

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They ate well in a dining hall of royal proportions. Jordan had spent the most luxurious half hour he could ever recall bathing in the marble tub. His clothes were now clean and dry, and Lady May had lit a fire here in the hall, in a large hearth with stone gargoyles on the mantelpiece. It looked as though no one had ever lit a fire there before. Warmth against their backs, they contemplated the rain-streaked darkness of the windows, and Lady May told him the names of some of the people on the painted ceiling.

“The stories those paintings tell are traditional stories, older than Ventus itself.”

“How can a tradition be older than the world?” he asked.

“Mankind is older than this world,” she said in her measured, confident voice. “The Winds made Ventus for us to use, but then they rejected us. Have you never heard that story?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking down at his plate. “We made the Winds, the Winds betrayed us and trapped us. They teach us that at chapel lessons.” His fingers traced the perfect circle of the china; he was here, and alive, in a place of the Winds. “It always seemed very remote from real life.”

“You’re very lucky to be able to say that,” she said. “Listen, when did you start to dream about Armiger?”

“A couple of days… a day before Emmy ran away, I think. Was it you who did that to me?”

Now it was her turn to pretend to examine her food. “Yes, but I had no idea it would be so traumatic for you. And it wasn’t originally our plan to kidnap you this way. But let’s go back a step or two. How do you think I was able to get you to dream about Armiger?”

“You said he put something in my head,” he said. “But why should I believe that? I never felt it before. I think you put it there, that night.”

“You believe what you want,” she said with a smile. “Meanwhile, I’ll tell you my version anyway. Armiger did put it there, probably six years ago, when he first arrived on this world.” He looked over quickly. “Yes,” she said, “Armiger is not from this world.”

“What other world could there be?”

“We’ll get to that,” she said. “Armiger came from another world. And when he came to Ventus, he made you and a number of other people into his spyglasses. He could see through your eyes, hear through your ears, all these years.”

Jordan suddenly lost his appetite. He put a hand to his forehead, thinking of all the minor shames and crimes of his youth.

Lady May went on indifferently. “He didn’t care about you, or what you did, of course. He was looking for something.”

“What?”

She sat back, her mobile face squinched into a speculative look. “Not sure. But we think he came here to conquer the Winds.”

Jordan shot her the kind of look he reserved for Willam’s less-successful jokes.

“Hmm. I guess it would sound crazy to you. Tell me, what specifically did you dream about Armiger?”

Any former reluctance he’d had about revealing his dreams was gone; Jordan now hoped May would be able to remove them, the faster the better he satisfied her. He began with the first dream, and she listened patiently as he described Armiger’s death and burial.

“You remember him writing his name in the mortar? That was real, not an actual dream?” Jordan nodded; he felt he could tell these visions from dreams.

“Strange. He’s faked his own death. I wonder why.”

“Tell me what they mean!”

“Okay.” Lady May turned her heavy wooden chair around to face the fire, and stuck out her boots. They listened as something clittered by in the outside hall, and her hand hovered near the protective gauze until it was gone. “In the first dream, you say you saw a great battle, which the Winds interrupted.

“If that was a true vision, he has been defeated here, just as he has in space. Maybe Armiger only just received a transmission telling him about the greater defeat off-world. You see, a little while ago a battle was fought among the stars. I was there. And I helped destroy a creature rather like the Winds. A thing that went by no name, only a number: 3340.” Firelight caressed her features as she spoke. “This creature had enslaved an entire world, a place called Hsing. There are other worlds, Jordan. Other places than Ventus where men walk.” He shook his head. “Well, anyway, 3340 has been destroyed. But some of his servants survive. One of these servants is Armiger.

“Armiger was sent here six years ago by 3340, who hoped to find a way to enslave the Winds, and thus take all of Ventus as its own. And Armiger sent out his machines to try to find the Achilles’ heel–the secret vulnerability–of the Winds.

“I’m sure you know the Winds destroy all machines that are not of their own devising. They did this to Armiger’s first probes. He tried hiding some probes in animals, but the morphs discovered them and took the probes out. But he had learned that the Winds do not change humans the way they do other life here. The morphs can kill, but they do not change people, do they? Only animals. So he realized he could hide his probes in people. And he did so. One of those people was you.”

“I would remember,” he protested.

“No, it was done in your sleep, using very small mecha. That’s all the probe is, a mechal infection on your brain. Nanotech, we call it. And for six years he roamed Ventus, casting a wide net to learn as much as he can about this world. In order to learn how to conquer the Winds.”

“You can’t conquer the Winds,” he said. “The idea is absurd. Armiger must not be very bright.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” She shrugged. “His master had enough power to spare to send him on a mission that had no guarantee of success. But what if he did find a way?”

She left the question hanging. Jordan stared at the fire, and tried to imagine the sovereign Winds bowing to another power, to the thing that had scratched its own name on the inside of its tomb.

“Armiger,” Lady May said, “wanted to become god of this world. But he had a master, from whom all his power came. Armiger is only a spy, possibly an assassin. And he has learned that his master is now dead.” She steepled her hands and glared into the fire. “So now what? Is he free to pursue the plan on his own? Your story suggests he’s gone mad, but he may just be going to ground, dropping from sight, which would make sense if he suspected we were going to come after him.”

Jordan blinked at her. This was too strange to question; he could not fit any of it into his understanding of the world.

Lady May seemed to sense his confusion. “The rest is simple,” she said. “All 3340′s agents are being hunted down and killed. Axel Chan and I have come to find Armiger, and destroy him. Destroy it; Armiger’s not a human being like you and me.”

“But he died.”

“And you went on receiving from him after he died? He’s not dead, although he might not realize it himself yet, if he has gone insane. When we came here, Axel and I could not discover Armiger, but we found you. And we found there was maybe a way to use you to find him. Our intention was to hire you away from your father, as an apprentice. I travelled with Turcaret for credibility’s sake, to negotiate that with Castor. Castor would have none of it, though; maybe it was Turcaret poisoning his mind about your sister, he realized he couldn’t shatter the whole family and chose Emmy. We were stuck until your sister ran into the woods. You see,” she shot him a conspiratorial smile, “it was the perfect opportunity, and I really had no time to explain.”

“So you made me dream.”

“I’m not sure why that’s happening. He seems to be broadcasting a signal to his eyes and ears. Trying to summon them home, maybe. A good happenstance, since we still can’t track Armiger directly through your implants. But you can tell us where he is. Better and better.”

“For you, maybe.” He stood up and walked away from the fire, to peer out the rain-runneled window. Instead of telling him something he could make sense of, she’d prattled a tale of insanity. “You’re telling me you’re from the stars, too.”

“I am.” She laughed. “Oh, Jordan, I’m sorry we had to meet this way. Our intention was to hire you, and you were to receive all the benefits of our knowledge and skills. We were going to pay you better than in coin for your service, and you would return home equal to Castor or any of the monks in your wisdom. You see, we did plan to tell you something about the world you live in–the truth, not the myths you were raised on.”

He heard her stand and approach. Close behind him, she said, “And I will still honor that intention. We have more to make up for now, but I promise you we will make it up. Money is the easiest thing; I can pay you in knowledge, and wisdom.”

Jordan had lost the safety of his village and family. Calandria May had told him a tale which, in the normal course of things, would have sparked his imagination; it made a good tale, people up there in the sky, fighting nameless gods and stalking a demonic assassin across the plains and mountains of the world. Now, though, he could only shake his head dumbly, and try not to think at all.

For a while they stood looking out at the storm; when he glanced at Lady May again, her eyes were hooded, her carven features masklike. But she caught his eye and smiled, not with her usual harsh amusement, but with sympathy. In that moment she was beautiful.

“Let me show you something,” she said.

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