Ventus – Day 10 of 135


They slit open his belly and dumped out his organs. He did not protest. His eyes remained fixed on the ceiling of the tent. Muttered voices all around; the sharp tang of incense; and outside, professional mourners wailed hypocritically.

The two men who were preparing his body were elderly, their long grey hair tied back with strands of hair from the corpses they’d worked on. They wore black velvet robes sewn with many pockets, and from these they produced a variety of vials filled with noisome chemicals. These they dripped on and into his body, and painted over his skin with brushes.

The ceiling was aplay with shadows of underworld spirits, from statues placed around the perimeter of the tent. The shadows elongated and bent, shortened and faded, as if the spirits were waging a war with some unseen enemy across the amber heaven of the canvas.

A metal handle clanked; the bucket containing his blood was taken out of the tent, to be burnt. One of the attendants bent over him, holding a mallet and a long spike with a T-shaped head. Placing the spike under his chin, the man hammered it up, nailing his tongue against his palate, piercing the palate and the nasal palate and imbedding the iron deep into his brain. The T held his slack jaw shut.

“Speak no more,” said the attendant, and putting down the hammer he nodded to someone at the door of the tent.

Six men entered, looking solemn. Some stared at him; some looked everywhere else. They lifted the pallet he lay on and he passed out from under the sky of canvas, to the sky of night.

Diadem, the only moon of Ventus, was up and glittering like a tear. The rest of the sky was clear and splashed with stars, rank on rank, gauze on gauze of finest points of white. The river of the galaxy ran across the zenith. The human mourners fell silent, leaving only cricket sounds that seemed to come from the stars themselves.

The night air lessened the smell of burnt meat that had pervaded the tent.

Torches to the left, right, ahead and behind. Spirals of grey moved up to dissolve among the stars. Murmuring voices and the sound of shuffling footsteps, as he was carried out across the plain toward a dark hill.

The hillside rose steeply, blocking the stars. The torches lit a deep cut in its side, where a bare rock face had been smoothed, maybe centuries ago. Deep letters were carved over a slotted doorway uncovered by a huge stone slab. The slab had been tilted to the side, and now leaned heavily on a scaffold made from catapult parts. Rough soldiers sat on the scaffold, passing bottles back and forth. They watched impassively as he passed under them.

Another sky drew overhead, this one of yellow stone. The ceiling was centimeters away. The deeply pitted sandstone was painted in abstract clouds of grey and black by the passage of many torches. The smoke from those burning now swirled up and around him, settling into a layer of trembling heat.

Around a corner, and now he was being carried down a steep flight of steps. His bearers spoke back and forth as they lowered him carefully. Ten meters down, then twenty, into a region of dead air and penetrating cold where squat pillared halls led away to either side. His bearers moved more quickly now, and the torchlight flickered off an uneven ceiling and dark niches in the walls where objects, long or round, were piled.

He was lowered to the floor in front of a black opening, and unceremoniously slid in. The ceiling here was just above his nose. Bricks thudded down just behind his head. What little light there was disappeared, and of sound, only that of stones being mortared into position. After a few minutes, even that ceased.

There had been no name carved above the niche. So, after a while, he raised one hand, slid it across his opened chest, knuckles scraping the stone, and felt behind his head. There, in a band of moist mortar, he wrote the letters:



Jordan sat up screaming. Calandria was at his side instantly, holding his shoulders while he shuddered.

“What is it? A dream?”

“Him, him again–I saw him–” He seemed not to know where he was.

“Saw who?”


Calandria lowered him back onto his bedroll, and when he closed his eyes and drifted off again, she smiled.


In the morning he awoke feeling sore and frustrated. He expected Lady May to raise the subject of his dream last night, but she didn’t, as if daylight were not the proper time for such things. She did seem even more cheerful than she had yesterday, though. When Jordan awoke she had already hunted, for there were two pheasants near his head, which she indicated he should tie to his belt. She had also gathered several handfuls of mushrooms and some other roots he recognized as edible. At least they wouldn’t starve any time soon.

“Come,” was all she said, and they set out again.

He was content not to talk for most of the morning, but the warm sunlight and the shared exertion of the walk was bound to loosen his tongue eventually. She might have been counting on this. Even so, he cast about for a long time for a subject other than the dark vision he’d had last night, finally asking, “Why are we going this way?”

Lady May looked back, arching an eyebrow in apparent amusement. “It speaks,” she said. “That was a question you should have asked yesterday, Mason.”

He glared at the ground.

“We’re avoiding the people who are searching for you. I had my man say he’d seen you going south, but even so they may search north. But not this far into the forest.”

“Did Emmy hear that?” he asked sharply. “She thinks I ran away?”

“I don’t know what he told her,” she said. “He’s a compassionate enough man, if a bit of a libertine. I’m sure he wouldn’t hurt her by telling her that, if he thought he could trust her with the truth.”

Jordan chewed on that. Just how much could Emmy be trusted with something like that? He had to admit he didn’t know; she kept secrets pretty well, he thought, but what about the secret abduction of her brother? It made more sense to let her believe the lie everybody else had heard.

In which case she would believe he had abandoned her.

After a while he asked, “How can you know where we are? You say you aren’t a morph, but you’re not using a compass or anything. And you can see in the dark.” And you’re pretty strong, but he didn’t say that.

They were walking through an area of new growth now. Slender willows and white birch stood in startled lines all around, and the sun had full access to the ground. Very high in the sky, mountainous white clouds were piling up over one another.

Lady May squinted up at them. “Storm coming,” she said.

“What are we going to do when it rains? We’ll get soaked.”

“Yes.” She shrugged. “We should be under shelter in time.”

“How do you know that?”

Lady May sighed. “It’s rather difficult to explain,” she said. “And I really didn’t want to get into it yet. But you and I are going to have to make an agreement to work together, I mean really work together, and I’m going to tell you some things and you’re going to tell me some. Understand?”

He nodded. He didn’t want to talk about Armiger; even in daylight, he vividly remembered the embalming tent and the slot in the hillside, and the disturbing implication that he had been looking through the eyes of a corpse.

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