Ventus – Day 87 of 135

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Marya was doing a dance of frustration in front of Axel. Tiptoed as she was, he would have found it amusing at any other time. Just now he would happily have walked away–had there been anywhere to walk to.

“We can’t leave yet!” She pulled at her frazzled hair. “We’re so close!”

He and Marya stood in a meadow. Snow was falling gently, disappearing in the yellow grass. Axel was cold, hungry and weary, and disappointed at life in general. All he really wanted right now was a hot bath.

A faint voice whispered in Axel’s head, counting down monotonously. It was the voice of a ship–a rescue ship, at last. The Archipelago navy had arrived, and though for the most part it was standing off so as not to antagonize the wary Swans, three pickets had broken through the Winds’ cordon around Ventus and were searching for Archipelagic citizens to evacuate.

“It’s only a few kilometers now,” insisted Marya. “We’re so close. Less than a day, that’s all it will take.”

Axel fingered his ripped shirt sleeve. “Close indeed.”

She puffed out her cheeks. “Pfaw. The arrow missed you! And we got away, didn’t we?”

“For now, but they’ll be tracking us.” They had been intercepted by a group of militia yesterday afternoon. Apparently having Marya pretend to be a morph to steal the horses hadn’t quite worked. A woman fitting her description was being sought, as were the horses. Axel had been forced to use the laser pistol to wound several of the militia so they could escape. As if having mounted men after them wasn’t bad enough, using the laser might have alerted the Winds. One way or the other, somebody would find them soon.

“They probably know where we’re going,” he said, “since we’ve had to stop and ask directions six times to get here. It’d be suicide to go to Turcaret’s estate now.”

“But we may never get another chance! Don’t you see? The Winds are putting Ventus in quarantine. They’re not going to let any offworlders land again, maybe not for centuries! Turcaret represents our last best chance of finding out what the Flaw is. We can’t throw away the opportunity.”

“You sound just like her. Responsibility be damned! We may not get another chance to escape, have you thought about that? Especially if you’re right and the Winds are quarantining the place. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die here. Which is what’s going to happen if we don’t get out now.”

“I sound like her? Is that what this is about, Mr. Chan? Is this about her?”

“No, I… –don’t change the subject.”

“You’re the one who changed the subject!”

“I–” Axel was right on the edge. He straightened up suddenly, and walked away. Don’t think about it, he told himself. Just stop.

He couldn’t stop, though. Calandria had run out on him. She didn’t trust him; after all they’d been through together, she didn’t believe in him. He was damned if he was going to take it out on this… tourist whom he’d been saddled with.

“Axel–”

“Shut up!” He walked further away.

Damn, it was cold. He would be happy to be away from here. His toes were numb, and his back kept seizing up whenever a lick of breeze made it past his cloak. It was too dangerous to light a fire; the noose of pursuers was too tight.

He didn’t know what had possessed him to go along with Marya’s idea of finding Turcaret’s body. He supposed in some abstract, academic sense it was important to know why some people could speak with the Winds while others couldn’t. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference to their survival, and it would be moot the instant Armiger had been erased from the surface of the planet. Let Ventus stew in its own juices–but let him and his friends be safe first.

Worst of all, they were riding away from Cal, just when she needed them most. On the second day of their journey Axel had awakened cursing, and leapt on his horse with every intention of going back. That was when they learned they were being pursued.

Everything was coming unravelled. Sure, they were going to escape now that the navy was here. He even told himself Calandria would see sense and try signalling, and maybe she would be offworld before he was. But Axel couldn’t shake the feeling that things were starting to swing wildly out of control. The Winds were in a frenzy–two nights ago they had been awakened by dawn light at four a.m. One of the orbital mirrors had swung round and made it bright as day for three hours, while immense shapes cruised back and forth in the upper atmosphere. And twice now Axel had spotted the wizened shapes of the creatures Jordan called morphs–always in the distance, but always staring back. Were they being shadowed by the things? If so, why hadn’t the Winds attacked?

And Axel himself? He felt like some core of self-reliance had been stripped away. He needed help! He had to get out of here, and now. Was that how Calandria felt? Out of her depth? And would she react to that feeling by fighting all the harder?

He ran his hands slow and hard through his hair, tilted his head back, and roared at the sky.

“Axel?” Marya had come up behind him. She sounded contrite–or maybe just wary.

“What?” he said wearily.

“I never asked to be here,” she said.

He looked at her. Marya wasn’t angry, but she had a determined cast to her that he was learning to respect. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Truly. You’re right, of course. We’re so close we might as well take the chance. After all, it’s why we came here.” Or close enough as makes no difference.

“I wish she was here,” said Marya. “Truly I do. And I wish all this would end, and end happily.”

“I know.”

“Then let’s get going,” she said. “We can just get there by dark, I think.” She pranced toward the horses.

I no longer know what I’m doing. The realization had him scowling as he followed her; strangely, though, the idea also made him feel free. Recklessly, he laughed.

“All right! Let’s pay a visit to our old friend Turcaret.”

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