Ventus – Day 67 of 135

§

Ka drifted from room to room, reporting what it saw. Its habit was to hover at least a meter above the heads of the empty ones, because a randomly swung arm could smash it. This had happened to more than one of its previous bodies. Ka was in its own way proud that it had survived in this one for thirty years now.

Desal 463 did not mind Ka’s servitude to the magician. Neither did Ka. Its patrol was the market anyway, where it hunted for ecological deviations. The entire city hovered on the edge of abomination, but the empty ones had learned scrupulous cleanliness over the centuries. Every now and then, however, some visitor imported something outside the terraforming mandate –petroleum, crude electric devices, most recently some cheerfully glowing radioactives stolen from a fallen aerostat–and it was Ka’s job to find the offending substance. Then other agents of the desal would act, recovering the deviation and generally killing any empty ones associated with it. Empty ones made good fertilizer when they died; it neatly balanced the equation.

The being who had called it forth from the market was something else entirely. Its voice had the power to compel in a way the magician’s could not. As far as Ka was concerned, it was a Wind.

“Tell me what you see,” it said now.

I can relay the information directly to your sensorium, if you wish,” said Ka.

“What? What do you mean? Show me.”

Ka beamed an image of the corridor to the waiting Wind.

“Ah! Stop it!”

As you wish.”

“Um… can you do that with hearing? Can I hear what’s going on around you?”

Yes.” Ka began to relay sound as it travelled.

It drifted from room to room, pausing to eavesdrop on conversations, then moving on.

“…Don’t know why I’m forbidden to go into the cellars tonight. He’s up to something bad, I just know it…”

Down the hall from that room: “…I don’t think this meat is cooked through…”

Elsewhere on the same floor: “He could be useful to us, but obviously we can’t trust a turncoat like that. Especially one who’s spent his career with the Perverts. How do we know what he wants, in the end?”

“So he’s a pawn?”

“We’ll play him out a little. He could be a competent bureaucrat. When the time comes, we’ll trade him for something more valuable.”

“And Mason?”

“Mason is going to save us. There’s grumbling that our house is cursed. Cursed! –Because of what happened at Yuri’s. You and I know it wasn’t our fault. We have to convince the rest of the world that we’re innocent victims. If Turcaret was right, and the Heaven hooks were after Mason, then all we need to do is stake him out in a field in full view of the town, and wait for the Winds to come. The sooner the better; we can’t let the courts get ahold of this, they’ll tie us up in years of wrangling. No. Tomorrow, we put the word out, then the day after we put him out, and if anyone objects we put a sword to their throat. It’ll be done before anyone can mount an organized resistance. And after the Winds come down, no one is going to question why we did it. We’ll be seen as having done the Winds’ bidding. It could end up in our favor.”

Someone entered the room, and the voices turned toward a discussion of food. Ka drifted on, up the grand stairway, and towards the back of the house. There were voices coming from behind one door there, and it was made to pause and listen again.

“It’s called the Great Game, niece, and you have to play it to survive.”

“So it was a game you were playing when you led the soldiers to our town.”

“No, you misunderstand me–”

“Ha! You could have saved them. You lied to me. And I believed you!”

“You do what you have to in order to survive, niece. And you can’t get emotional about it. That’s the beginning and the end of it. If it weren’t for me, you’d be dead now. I saved you–”

“You killed them! You killed them!”

“Silence!”

“No! I won’t be silent anymore. I won’t be anything for you anymore.”

“You will. Yes, you will. Listen, do you think your life has any value in this country if people find out what you really are? Where you’re from? They won’t look at you and see a young woman full of promise, as I do, Tamsin–they’ll see a monster, born of monsters. At best a curiosity, at worst an abomination to be stoned. Now you have two choices, young lady. You can do as I tell you, learn your lines and your dance steps, and become the proper young lady in society here at Rhiene. Or, if you won’t do that, I can still get something of my investment back if I turn you in to the high court as a renegade Pervert. If that’s what you want, then that’s the way we’ll do it. Believe me, I don’t care either way at this point.”

There was no reply to this; only silence, drawn out until at last Ka was ordered to withdraw.

§

The lock made a very loud click as it turned over. Jordan held his breath past a tight grin. Had the guard heard? Apparently not. He pushed the door open slowly.

The brawny man who had hit him earlier was sitting at a table in the hall outside. He was industriously carving leaf designs into the capital of what was obviously going to be a chair leg. Three other half-completed legs lay on the table next to him.

The knife he was carving with was very large.

What would Armiger do? Jordan asked himself. The general knew when to attack, and when to be discrete. This was a time to be discrete.

It was interesting that Ka had been able to move sound from upstairs down to Jordan’s waiting ear. That implied all kinds of things about sound that he hadn’t thought before–that it was a substance, that it could be packaged and carried around. Maybe you could also choose not to carry it?

He focussed his attention on the hinges of the door, each in turn, and said, “make no sound,” with his inner voice.

Each hinge acknowledged his command, but he had no idea if they would obey. Gingerly, he pushed the door open. He could feel a faint vibration under his fingers, as if the rusty hinges were grating–but he heard nothing.

Once outside, he slowly closed the door again. Holding a torrent of Vision at bay, Jordan stepped into the earth-floored cellar behind the guard, and backed his way slowly to the stone steps that led up. His heart was in his mouth. When he got to the steps he let out the breath he had been holding, but still went up them one at a time, pausing after each to look back at the broad back of the man with the knife. He knew he wouldn’t just get a beating if he was found this time.

Upstairs, he ducked into a niche as two servants passed carrying a heap of linen. He poked his head out after they’d gone; there was the back entrance, in plain sight not five meters away. All he had to do was walk out the door, and he was free.

Except that he couldn’t do it. The conversation Ka had relayed from upstairs had been chillingly familiar to Jordan, if not in its details, in its thrust. Just as Jordan’s father had ordered Emmy to acquiesce to Turcaret’s attentions, so Tamsin’s uncle was ordering her to become his thing–bait, perhaps, to dangle in front of some high born household’s son. And though Jordan didn’t understand what threat Suneil was holding in reserve, it was obviously dire.

He owed Tamsin nothing, really. Jordan knew, though, that he would no more be able to live with himself if he left her in this situation than he would have if he had stayed in bed, those many nights ago, and let Emmy run.

§

Tamsin was drowning.

There was no water here. She could breathe, her heart still beat, she could walk and sit and even eat. Still, she was drowning.

The thing shaped like her uncle moved across the room. He was talking, but she couldn’t make sense of the words anymore. They came to her like sounds underwater, distorted and harsh.

What was drowning her was the horror she felt every time she looked at him–knowing that inside that familiar body was a soul that had helped her, sheltered her and cared for her, laughed with her and murdered her parents.

“–Get ready for bed,” he said now. “Tomorrow’s another day, niece.”

For her own survival, she needed to be silent now–but inside she was screaming at him: “You knew the soldiers were coming! You knew and you didn’t tell anyone, you didn’t tell dad you let them die you let them die…”

The worst thing was that she had known these things all along, somewhere deep in a part of her that she had told, every morning to sleep, look away.

Thinking that she had known and had gone along with this monster, her inner voice simply died out. She sat mutely, and nodded without heat, and rose to go to her sleeping closet.

As she walked she drowned a little more.

“Tamsin.” His voice held an old note of concern that she had once (yesterday?) believed was genuine and defined family. She looked back at him, knowing her face was slack, unable to raise an expression.

“Sometimes–” He had looked her in the eye; now he kept his gaze on the floor as he said, “Sometimes, you have to block out the here and now, and not think about what you’re doing. For your own future good.”

She could picture herself laughing at him, or screaming, hitting… she couldn’t summon the energy to do more than nod again. Then she knelt to open her night chest.

“Don’t scream,” said a voice from nowhere.

She froze. The voice was strange, tiny, like a whispering mouse.

“It’s me, Jordan. I’m free, and I’m leaving. Tamsin, I don’t know what you feel about me. I hope you won’t betray me.”

She looked behind the chest, up the wall, along it. There was no one here.

“Where are you?” she whispered.

“Outside the door.” Yet the door was across the room, and she heard the voice here.

“Who are you talking to?” asked her uncle. He had come up behind her. She whirled, hands behind her on the chest.

“Nobody,” she said. Her voice sounded strained to her own ears.

Her uncle’s eyes narrowed. He eyed the door, then walked over to it.

No. It all broke in her like a dam, and before she knew what she was doing Tamsin grabbed a brass vase from the table and ran at her uncle. She swung the vase up at his head with all her strength; it made a satisfying crunch, and he fell over without a sound.

She flung the door open and practically fell through it–into Jordan’s arms. “Let’s get out of here,” he said simply, and closed the door behind her.

There was only one lifeline for her now, and Tamsin took it. She grabbed Jordan’s hand tightly, and ran with him.

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