Ventus – Day 84 of 135

29

It was completely dark, but it was not the darkness Jordan noticed first. It was the silence.

When he was very young, he had run singing through the woods one day, and met an old man coming the other way. “You like the sound of your own voice, don’t you?” asked the old man. His face had wrinkled up around a grin.

“I like music,” Jordan said. His mother had told him to be modest.

“So do I.”

“Then why don’t you sing?” He’d blurted it out, and immediately felt embarrassed. The old man was not offended.

“I’m too busy listening,” he said. “I’m listening all the time.”

Jordan cocked his head. “I don’t hear anything.”

“Yes you do.” The old man made Jordan listen for the sound of the breeze in the leaves, the distant cawing of a family of birds, the crackle of twigs underfoot. “All sound is music,” he had said, “and there is no place without sound.”

“I bet there is.”

“All right.” The old man smiled. “For the next week, I challenge you: find silence. I’ll be staying at the Horse’s Head. When you’ve found silence, visit me there and I’ll give you a copper penny.”

Jordan never did collect the penny. Strange how it was the first thing to come to mind upon waking now; or maybe not so strange. For he had finally found silence.

It smelled strongly in here, a sharp tangy odor he almost recognized. He must be in the belly of the desal, he thought. In that case, where was Tamsin? Startled, he tried to sit up. A solid weight on his chest kept him motionless.

Oh. She breathed slowly and regularly; her head lay on his breast and one arm was flung carelessly down his flank, the other crooked around his head. They lay on a powdery surface of some kind; it felt like the ceramic of the desal’s skin, overlain with finest sand.

He knew there could be no morphs here with them. Jordan’s skull would have been opened by now and his brains scattered in their quest to find Armiger’s implants. He imagined the things holding his gore up to the skies to those lights that had been descending on them, and shuddered.

Jordan let his head thump back on the cool floor. That was a mistake: he discovered a pounding headache that had been lurking around the base of his skull. Maybe the morphs had poked their fingers in his head after all.

He groaned, and heard himself, but something else was missing. No breeze, of course; no twigs underfoot. There was always sound, and now that he concentrated he could hear Tamsin breathing. No, he could hear, but at the same time he could not hear; there seemed to be a great gaping lack in his head.

Armiger was missing.

Tamsin’s whole body jerked when he shouted. “…What?” She put a hand on his solar plexus and pushed herself into a sitting position. “You’re okay!” Her hands grabbed him by the shoulders. Gasping for air, he started to sit up and they bumped foreheads. “Ow!”

“I guess I hit my head,” he said as they carefully arranged themselves in a sitting position. She would not let go of him, and from experience with darkness he knew why. “Where are we?”

She laughed; the laugh had an hysterical edge to it. “Where do you think we are?”

“Sorry. I meant… how big is this place. Did you explore?”

“I didn’t want to lose you. It might be… who knows how big.”

Jordan shut his eyes so he could look about himself using his Wind sense. He saw nothing but the speckled black inside his own eyes. Either there were no mecha here, not even the smallest speck, or he had lost his second sight.

His heart was in his mouth as he called “Hello?” with his Wind voice. He sent the call to anyone, anything that might hear him. “Hello, please!

Ka.” The little Wind’s voice rang in his head like the purest bell.

Jordan sagged in relief. “So I’m not…” He stopped, and forgot to breathe for a moment. Had he really been about to say crippled?

“Dead?” Tamsin laughed. “No, we’re not dead, but we might as well be. We’re in the belly of the monster.”

He had come all this way to divest himself of the new senses Armiger and Calandria had given him. Was he really disappointed now they were gone?

Yes.

Jordan found himself laughing. Every sound he made drove a spike of pain through his head, so he stopped quickly.

“I fail to see the humor in the situation,” said Tamsin.

“Sorry.”

“Well.” She hugged him. “You came here to talk to this thing. So… talk.”

“I’m not sure I–” he felt her tense. “Yes, yes, I’ll talk to it. Ka?”

Yes?

“Where are we? Do you know this desal? Can it talk? Why did it let us in? Are the morphs still outside? What about–” Tamsin nudged him in the ribs.

“Slow down,” she hissed.

You are in a holding pen near the gene splicing tanks of desal 447,” said Ka. “I know this desal. It has no vocal apparatus, but conversation with it can be relayed through me. The morphs are still outside.

Jordan told this to Tamsin, then said, “Ka, are able to speak out loud?”

A faint voice came out of the darkness overhead: “Yes.”

“Ah!” Tamsin clutched him.

“It’s okay,” he said. “That’s our travelling companion.” He had described Ka to her on the trip here; he didn’t know if she’d believed him then. Judging from the way she kept her grip on him, she didn’t quite believe him now.

“Ka, could you speak aloud for a while, so we can both hear?”

“Yes.”

Tamsin remained silent for a minute. “Of course. Yeah, I knew he was real, I just… um…”

“I find it hard to believe he’s real myself,” said Jordan. “Ka, will the desal speak with us?”

“It says, ‘Mediation speaks.’”

The voice was Ka’s, quiet, flat and calm. Nonetheless, the hairs on the back of Jordan’s neck stood on end. He felt small and unimportant suddenly, like being addressed by Castor or some other inspector, only infinitely more so. He tried to force confidence into his voice as he said, “Do you know who I am?”

“Identity,” said the desal. “It asks ancient questions. Identity was abolished.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Wait. Mediation raids ancient language archives. I. You are I. That is important.”

Tamsin shook her head. “It’s senile,” she whispered.

“Language comes like floodwaters,” said the voice abruptly. “You are human. I am desal.”

“Then you do know who I am.”

“Mediation knows only that the Heaven hooks and the Diadem swans want it to give you up,” said the desal. The voice was smooth and steady now.

“And you won’t?”

“Not yet.”

Jordan chewed on his lip. The next question was obvious, but he didn’t want to ask it rashly, lest the desal begin to wonder itself–

“Why not?” said Tamsin. Jordan groaned.

“You are the hostages of Mediation,” said the desal.

Jordan was completely tongue-tied for a few seconds. “Hostages? Why do you need hostages?”

“Hey!” Tamsin slapped the floor somewhere nearby. “Can we get some light in here?”

“Yes.”

Brilliance hit them like a flood. Jordan yelped and squeezed his eyes shut. “Good idea,” he said, as he slowly pried first one, then the other eye open a slit.

The light came from dozens of brilliant lamps like small suns, studded in the ceiling of a huge domed chamber. The chamber was filled with towering blocks of white crystal, and the floor was scattered with chunks large and small. Thousands of small black sticks lay everywhere too.

Jordan wiped his fingers across the surface he was sitting on, and licked them. “Salt,” he said to himself in sudden understanding.

Tamsin gave a sudden shriek and pointed. Jordan turned.

A dead morph lay like a heap of sodden laundry not three meters away. Beyond it Jordan saw skittering movement. It took him a few seconds to realize that what he had taken to be sticks was actually hundreds, maybe thousands of small rock lizards, like the ones he had seen sunning themselves in the desert. They were scrambling around trying to escape the light; or maybe they ran like this all the time.

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