Ventus – Day 39 of 135

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Calandria sorted herself out of the tangle of lead triangles and glass flinders on which she had landed. She had never read of, seen or VR’d someone jumping through a leaded glass window before; it had turned out to be a lot more difficult than she had expected.

It had taken two tries, but she was on the ground now. Poor August was still upstairs, but there was only so much she could do. She rolled to her feet, rubbing blood out of her eyes.

Madness had fallen from the sky. She had a perfect view of the grounds from here in the bushes by the front steps of the manor. People were running back and forth, trying in equal numbers to get into and out of the house. An aerostat hovered over the estate, visible in the light of fires that were springing up all over. Calandria stared at it for a moment, then shook her head to clear the muddle of half-thoughts that filled it. Bits of glass flew from her hair.

A deep crash sounded from inside the manor; the front doors flew open, and a waft of dust blew out. There was no going back in there–but she had to find Axel. She bounced on the balls of her feet for a moment, debating whether to use radio to contact him.

A huge metal arm plowed into the earth a hundred meters away. Its end flopped there for a second or two, then split into a hundred bright threads, which coiled outward. Each thread–which must be a motile cable as thick as her body–bent and probed the ground ahead of itself as it moved. She realized suddenly that this thing might be able to smell her out from the radio waves, and her scalp crawled with sudden fear. She had been about to contact Axel. Its cables continued to unravel and lengthen, and some were heading towards her.

With a terrible rending crash, one wall of the manor fell outward. Calandria screamed as the air around her was filled with flying stone. At least ten people had been hurrying across the patch of ground the wall had hit.

She stood back and cupped her hands around her mouth. .”Axel!” Twenty meters away, a gleaming metal snake reared into the air, its mandibled tip quivering. It slid deliberately in her direction.

A hand fell on her shoulder. It was Axel, coughing and covered head to foot in blood and grey dust.

“You’re hurt!” She gingerly peeled his sticky shirt aside.

“It’s superficial. You look a bit rough yourself. You okay?” he said.

“So far. Look at that!” She pointed at the questing snake.

He glanced at it briefly. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here.”

“Which way?”

“We need our supplies. Where’s your stuff?”

“August’s got it. He’s… well, we got separated. How about yours?”

Axel pointed wordlessly at the heap of rubble even now being picked through by metal scavengers.

“Inside!” She went to grab his arm, and thought better of it; she didn’t know where all his wounds were. “Oh, Axel, what happened?” She gestured for him to follow her up the pillared steps. The snakelike thing was only a few meters away now.

“Can’t we just run for it?” He stood swaying slightly, staring at it.

“Come on!” Abandoning care, she hauled him inside. The foyer of the manor was a chaos of screaming people. One staircase had collapsed; a weeping woman dug frantically at the wreckage, screaming “Hold on! I’m coming!” Some soldiers with their swords in their hands stood in a knot, staring hectically at the shadowed ceiling. Men were hauling injured people and corpses in from one of the side corridors.

“There’s nowhere else to go,” said Axel.

“What’s happening?” She pulled Axel to face her; his expression was lost in darkness, since the only light came from a couple of oil lamps, and from fires burning outside.

“Turcaret says they’re after Jordan,” said Axel. “I guess his implants set them off somehow. The bastard did this to me,” he said, raising his arms then wincing. “Tried to set me up for the murder of Yuri.”

She shrugged angrily. “Yes, I saw the result. Where’s Jordan?”

“No idea.” One of the front doors fell off its hinges. With everything else that was happening, this didn’t seem momentous. But harsh cones of electric light pierced the dust from outside. Calandria heard a loud whirring sound, accompanied by undulating movements in the doorway.

“What do we do now?” she said.

“Nothing,” he said, staring into the light.

“Not nothing!” She let her breath out in a rush, coughed on dust, and said, “We shoot down the aerostat.”

Axel’s eyes widened. “With what?”

“Call the Desert Voice. Land her here. Have her take out the aerostat on the way.”

“But Jordan–”

“Axel, we’re done here! We need to get Armiger and get out of here. Axel–” she couldn’t prevent her voice from rising as she spoke–“they’re killing everyone here! Because of Armiger!”

Axel’s lips were drawn in a tight grimace. He clenched his fists and glared at her while around them people screamed. “All right!” he said finally. “Do it!”

Calandria closed her eyes and opened the link.

§

Turcaret ducked involuntarily as something nearby fell with a crash. The manor was coming down around him, but he couldn’t leave it until he had taken care of his people.

He fought his way past running servants to his people’s quarters. The maids and footmen were clustered at the windows, staring outside in disbelief. “Run!” he barked at them. “Quickly now. Get outside before the rest comes down.”

“What’s happening?” wailed one. “Is it the war?”

He shook his head. “Just go.”

They made for the door.

He sighed. Duty was satisfied; now to find Jordan Mason.

He had no idea whether the assassination of Yuri had gone off successfully, but that seemed unimportant now. The Heaven hooks were in a rage. He could hear them, a deep sussurating chorus in his mind.

Never in his life had Turcaret been in the presence of such powerful Winds. He had heard voices as a child, and long before he met anyone who could explain them, had decided they were Winds. Little things spoke to him, trees and stones, and sometimes he could reply. They generally rambled about subjects he didn’t understand, but every now and then they brought news of the Hooks, or the Diadem Swans, and once or twice had told him of the activities of the desals. He clearly remembered the day he learned that the desals had chosen to put the lady Galas on the throne of Iapysia. She was blessed by the Winds; it was this fact that finally made him throw in with Brendan Sheia, because she had somehow angered the desals, and he feared what the Winds might do if that happened.

Now the voices discussed their search for a man. The Winds were acting to eliminate a threat–but how could that be? In all his years, Turcaret had never heard the Winds speak of any sort of danger to themselves or the world. They were all-powerful.

Sometimes when the Winds were very near, Turcaret could see secrets within things. That was happening now, but on a scale he could never have imagined. Everywhere he looked, ghostly words and images seemed to hover in front of objects–the chairs, walls, casements and jittering chandeliers each had its orbiting retinue of tiny visions. He knew if he had time to stop and examine them, each would reveal some secret about the object behind it. You could learn all the crafts, from masonry to bookbinding this way.

He had always felt exalted by such gifts. They were proof that he was special, destined in some way to be a great leader and master over both Man and Nature. When he heard whispers of the coming of the Heaven hooks last night, Turcaret had assumed they knew of his plot with Brendan Sheia, and were preparing to marshal the forces of heaven itself behind their attempt to wrest control of the Boros family. Sheia didn’t believe him when Turcaret told him, so they had continued with the conservative approach: framing the visiting imposters for the assassination. But Turcaret had suspected such detail work would prove unnecessary in the face of what was to come.

Now the Winds had arrived, and they were destroying the estate! He would have thought they disapproved of Yuri’s assassination, were it not that he could hear plainly they wanted only one thing: Jordan Mason.

Turcaret himself meant nothing to them. That knowledge came as a deep blow, worse than anything Chan had inflicted.

At the foot of the stairs, people were spilling into the courtyard. He could see Linden Boros trying to organize his men among tilting statues. The terrifying arms of the Hooks reared overhead.

Turcaret ignored them; they were no threat to him. He scanned the faces in the courtyard. He had seen Mason once, being hoisted aloft in Castor’s courtyard for some minor victory. And indeed, there he was coming out of the front hall. He looked more boy than man, his dark hair tousled, eyes wide.

“Give me your sword,” Turcaret demanded of a passing soldier. Dazed though he was, the man hurried to comply. Turcaret hefted the blade and walked through the mob, eyes fixed on Mason.

What was this boy to the Winds? He was nothing but a loutish tradesman, and yet the Heaven hooks were willing to kill everyone on the estate to get at him. “You!” Turcaret levelled his sword at Mason. “What did you do to anger them?”

“I don’t know!” shouted the boy. He shook himself and glared at Turcaret. “And who are you to accuse me?”

Anger always calmed Turcaret; it gave him focus. He smiled now at the boy. “You’ve spent too long with Chan. Answer me! What have you done to offend the Winds?”

Uncertainty crept into Mason’s eyes again. He was lit in intermittent flashes of lightning, making him seem to shift in place. If he tried to run, Turcaret was prepared to kill him.

“I don’t know why they’re doing it,” Mason said simply. He seemed guileless; whatever he had done, he was probably too stupid to remember or connect it to tonight’s events.

The Heaven hooks would keep tearing the estate apart until they found Mason. He was the cancer at the heart of the night, and only his removal would restore the correct order to things.

Killing him would also surely make the Winds notice Turcaret at last.

“Stand still,” he instructed the youth. He stepped forward and raised the sword.

Lightning flashed again, and Turcaret caught a glimpse of Mason’s eyes. In them Turcaret saw something he had never believed he would see.

Words and images flickered like heat lightning in those eyes. Somehow, this youth was both Man and Wind. The whispering voices of nature spoke from within him. All the people on this estate–all people everywhere–appeared to Turcaret as absences, silhouettes against the glow of the Winds. All except Mason, who shone like nature itself.

Mason glanced up at the sky. Suddenly everyone in the courtyard was screaming.

Mason jumped back. People were running for the walls, so finally Turcaret tore his gaze away from the youth.

He just had time to count the claws on the giant hand before it fell on him, took him, and crushed out his life.

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