Ventus – Day 112 of 135


The first ally to arrive was a jaguar. It padded into the circle of firelight as they were preparing for bed, and lay down opposite Jordan and Tamsin, its head on its paws.

Tamsin clawed at Jordan, who had been drowsing in Vision. “Jordan, look look oh no oh no.”

He flopped his head over and blinked at the animal. “Ah. I’ve been expecting this. I asked Mediation for protection. It said it was sending troops.”

The jaguar gave a cat smile: a slow two-eyed wink.

“Troops…?” Tamsin relaxed her tight grip on his arm. “Is that… one of Mediation’s Winds?”

“Not a Wind. Just a cat.” Jordan sat up, looking grimly at the animal. “Part of our escort.”

“Ah.” He had told her to expect guests. She hadn’t known what was coming, but had imagined morphs or something equally hideous. “Is it… wild?”

He shook his head. “The Winds can cohabit the minds of animals. It’s our lieutenant. You can trust it completely.”

“Lieutenant jaguar.” She rose to her feet, slowly. The jaguar watched her, not moving. “Can I–can I touch her?”

“I don’t know.” He squinted at the animal. “Yes, I think you can.”

Tamsin rummaged near the fire for scraps of the pheasant they had spitted earlier. Then she got down on her haunches and waddled carefully over to the jaguar.

“Here.” She held out a drumstick that still had some meat on it. The jaguar sniffed, then gravely took the bone from her hand.

Tamsin stood up and took four steps back. Then she let out a breath she’d apparently been holding. “Animals. They sent us animals, not monsters. I was so worried, I–“

“Look.” Jordan stood up and pointed into the darkness.

They were visible at first only as pairs of glowing disks in the night. One, two, half a dozen, twenty, roving around the fire. Then a bear walked into the light, and squatted down next to the jaguar. After it, two scampering ferrets, and then an antlered deer, who snorted and pawed at the dirt next to the bear.

They could hear it now, an immense quiet motion in the dark. There was nothing out there but dark forms, black on black moving. “How many are there?” shouted Tamsin, as she glimpsed phalanxes of horns closing in from one side, an ocean of furred backs from the other.

Jordan shook his head. He looked so serious that she was afraid to ask what he was thinking. To Tamsin, the arrival of these beasts seemed wondrous. She couldn’t imagine why he found it disturbing.

They continued to come, all night, and eventually Tamsin had to sleep. She lay down facing the jaguar and wept quietly, for it seemed as though she and Jordan were being granted a benediction by nature tonight–and she had not realized until this very moment that all her life, she had longed for such a blessing.


Tamsin wept again the next day, but this time it was because she finally understood the reason for Jordan’s unhappiness.

They had woken to find themselves at the center of battalion of animals, hundreds of them, who lay head-to-tail in a sweeping circle around them. When Jordan stood up and walked to the edge of the camp to piss, they all stood as one and did likewise.

That woke Tamsin, who was appalled, then laughed until her sides were sore.

It was later in the day, when they were riding elk-back into the desert, that the escort ceased to be magical for her, and became something sinister–an abomination. She had not considered how the animals would feed.

Without warning, a bear that she had been admiring turned on the gazelle trotting next to it and ripped its throat out. Tamsin screamed. The gazelle fell, thrashing, spouting blood everywhere. As the bear stopped to feed, a few other carnivores moved in to share the meal, and the rest of the batallion–hunters and prey alike–simply split politely around them and moved on.

“How could it do that!”

Jordan had turned in his saddle to watch. “I guess it makes sense,” he said reluctantly. “Mediation controls these animals. They’re not acting out of their own volition.”

She cried then, as she realized that the harmony of nature she had fallen asleep to was a sham, merely evidence of overwhelming power; these animals would die because of herself and Jordan, pawns in a game about which they neither knew nor cared.

“I’ve been thinking about this ever since we met desal 447,” he said. “Is this how the world was intended to be? Were we meant to treat all living things on this world as puppets we can just order around? As slaves? Is that what Mediation wants to return to? If it is, I think I can understand where Thalience is coming from.”

“It’s evil,” she said.

He nodded. “Even if we don’t do anything, just knowing that the world is like a big puppet show for our benefit… it makes everything cheap. Like we’re being cheated somehow.”

She nodded, wiping at her eyes. “It is all a lie, isn’t it?”

The sky, the earth, the animals and trees, were constructs of the Winds, who could do with them as they pleased. What they pleased to do was make them act like natural things. They–or whoever controlled them–could as easily make them act differently.

Tamsin had pictured Armiger’s conquest of the Winds as a liberation, akin to the Iapysian parliament overthrowing Queen Galas. It was a change of government, no more, she had thought.

Might it mean something else, though?

“Jordan, what is Armiger going to do with the world if he conquers it?”

Conquest of the Winds meant complete command of Ventus–earth, sea, sky, and nature. And while Tamsin loved nature and might wish to preserve it, another mind, given that kind of power, might conceive an entirely different world. Brick over the seas. Turn the sky to gleaming metal. Replace everything alive with something mechal, in the name of efficiency or power.

“I know,” he said. “I’ve been worrying about that. For all that they’re tyrants, the Winds use their power to keep Ventus a garden for life. It seems as if Thalience genuinely loves the life here. But Mediation? I don’t know. And Armiger? Is he going to care as much? Would we? I don’t know–but it scares me to think about.”

Tamsin thought about it, and as she did, it came to her that her life was dividing in two at this point. She had thought that time had split in that moment when Uncle tore her out of her village, and her family and childhood died. Now, even that seemed like a period of innocence to her–a time when, however sad her life, the sky was still the sky, and the grass still the grass. None of that was true anymore, nor could she imagine how it could ever be true again.

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