Ventus – Day 113 of 135


It seemed he had barely fallen asleep before Hesty was shaking his shoulder, and Lavin blinked his eyes open to find sunlight streaming through the flap of the tent. The army was ready to decamp; they were to leave in the morning.

“Sir, wake up sir!” Hesty’s hand shook him again. The motion sent waves of nausea through him, and he cursed, shrugging Hesty off.

“Who would believe morning could come so quickly,” he muttered.

“Sir, it’s not morning!”

For a moment Lavin forgot his whirling senses. Hesty sounded scared. Not nervous, or apprehensive as he’d been in the past before battles. But frightened. Lavin looked up at him.

It was cold enough for Lavin’s breath to frost, but Hesty was sweating. He wasn’t dressed properly, either–he wore a quilted robe around which he’d buckled his rapier.

“Sir, it’s the middle of the night.”

“What are you saying?” It was daylight, anyone could see that.

“Sir, it’s two o’clock in the morning. A new sun appeared, just five minutes ago. The sentries woke me and I came straight here. Sir, the camp is waking up. Panic is spreading.”

“Hand me my uniform.”

He didn’t even have his laces tied up before he heard a relay of shouts coming from the edge of the camp. A faint voice repeated it nearby, then one of his own guard twitched back the flap of the tent and said, “Sir, a small force of men is approaching from the east. There are Winds with them.”

“Thank you.” He stepped in front of the mirror to adjust his hair. “Hesty, go get dressed. I want you to be calm. If anyone asks, don’t admit that you’re surprised by this. In fact, tell your men we arranged for the Winds to bring us this new sun.”

“Yes, sir.” Hesty saluted and left.

Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to deduce which way was down and move his limbs accordingly. Do not lean right. Walk to the tent flap. Good.

He emerged into hot daylight. The sun was at the zenith; he shaded his hand and peered at it. Something odd about it. He squinted, trying to figure out what it was… the sun was smaller than usual.

And square.

He looked away; the spots made his vertigo worse for a few moments.

The sky around the little sun was daylight blue, but it rapidly faded until, at the horizon, it was night-black again. Everything to the horizon was day-lit, but Lavin got the impression that beyond a circle of ten or so kilometers, night still reigned. It was bizarre.

A group of maybe twenty men on horseback, and some odd animals had reached the edge of the encampment. One of the figures had apparently dismounted, and was talking to the sentries there. After a moment, the sentries backed off, and the group moved forward. It was hard to tell what the animals were; at first he’d thought they were mastiffs, but they moved differently. Lavin ordered his camp chair and the banners of his office and titles brought out. He refused to be a supplicant now, after all that had happened, so he sat in the chair. It would have been difficult to remain standing for any length of time anyway.

The group came closer. He recognized the livery on some of the men, but couldn’t really bring himself to think about it, because his attention quickly became fixed on the animals.

They were like cats, but they were the size of bears. And their shoulders were too broad, giving them shallow flat chests. Their hind legs also seemed overlong, crooked up more than one might have expected to aid their walking. They moved quickly and fluidly, though.

But their faces… they had huge, radiant eyes, whiskers and tall nervous ears. Their snouts were long, and fanged, but from the cheekbones up the structure of their skull was almost human. One even had a mane of white hair like a woman’s tresses draped across its shoulders. As they halted four meters away he saw that their pelts were short and fine, and white as snow.

The human riders did not dismount. Indeed, they stared directly ahead, as if they had nothing to say. They were of a comparatively minor House, and he was certain they would not have had the temerity to bother him, on their own.

Lavin cleared his throat. “To whom am I to address myself?”

He was looking at the rider in the lead when he said this, and so it took him a moment to notice the smallest of the animals rising to its hind feet. Lavin turned his attention to it, and gasped.

Standing, the beast had become human–or nearly so. Its mobile joints accommodated both the running posture of a cat and the upright stance of a man. It was difficult to tell gender, but he would have sworn the thing had breasts. Cascades of white hair flowed past its shoulders. It stood easily, as if born to do so, and now he saw it wore a narrow leather sword belt with an epee and some daggers sheathed there.

It blinked its huge eyes at him, and said in a woman’s voice, “Address yourself to this one.”


Vertigo and exhaustion combined to make the next events seem more like a dream than real. Lavin had a parlay table and chairs brought; the white Wind twitched its tail aside and sat down opposite him. It smelled faintly of heather and fur. The hands it laid on the table top had solid, calloused heels, and the fingers seemed naturally clenched. It had to splay them in a stretch to make them limber.

“Why have you come?” asked Lavin. Everything he said seemed obtuse; he was off-balance and knew it, but there was nothing he could do about that.

“We have come to command,” said the Wind. Lavin’s heart sank.

“We seek the pathology that calls itself Armiger. You will assist us in this.”

Armiger is with the queen. “I don’t see how we can–“

“Your army will march where we direct. We will provide daylight for as long as necessary. You will begin your march immediately. In addition, this one will take a force of cavalry to range ahead. We must locate the pathology. It is a threat.”

“Yes, your…” Lavin had no idea how to address this thing. “Your Honour.” That sounded wrong, but he was damned if he would call it your highness.

Something about what the thing had just said–“Are you proposing that we march nonstop? Day and night?”

“Yes. That is why we have provided you sunlight for the journey.”

“We can’t do that! We’re not prepared for a forced march. The men will suffer–“

“That is not our concern. We need your army in place in case the pathology compromises the local mecha. Also because of where it is headed.”

“Where?” His own scouts had reported that a small party had vanished in the desert to the southwest. There were caravan routes that Galas might know of that led across the sands to the mountains of the coast.

“Provide a map,” ordered the thing. Lavin snapped his fingers, and one was brought.

The white Wind glanced over the vellum appraisingly, then darted a clawed finger at a familiar landmark. “We are here. The pathology departed in this direction… It may be headed here. We cannot permit it to arrive, and compromise the mecha or desals there.”

Lavin looked at the name under the Wind’s pointing claw. The Titan’s Gates.

“That’s a thousand kilometers from here! We don’t have the resources for a march like that! If we march into the desert now, we won’t reach the Gates. Marching without break, without water or food, we’ll all be dead in a week.” He sat back and folded his arms. “Kill us all now. I won’t command my men to march themselves to death.”

The Wind hissed. “You will not die. We will provide sustenance along the way. And we will move parts of your army in relay. We cannot move all, so some must march.”

“Move my army? In relays?” Lavin shook his head–a mistake. As the world spun, he said, “What madness are you talking about?”

The Wind bunched its hand into a fist, shredding the map. “Look! Do not disbelieve this one! That is how we will relay your men. That is how you will be fed.” It stood, knocking its chair over, and pointed at the sky.

Six horizontal crescents, their tops lit by the square sun far above, hung outside the pyramid of blue sky. He hadn’t noticed the vagabond moons before, what with everything else going on. He swore under his breath.

“Part of your army will rest as it is carried ahead. At the drop point you will meet it, and supplies will also be provided. Some of those who have marched will then embark for the next leg. In this way you will march from here to the Titan’s Gates without stopping.”

In one day. One endless day. Lavin slumped back, stunned.

“Our own army will meet you there.”

“Your army?” With every word it spoke, the Wind became more terrifying.

“The pathology has already begun to infect the mecha and geosphere. If it conquers the desalination nexus it will have an almost impregnable fortress.”

The Wind stepped away from the table. “That is all. You have your orders.”

“I understand. And we will obey. But…”

“What?” Its tail twitched as it rounded on him. Lavin shrank back despite himself.

What will you do with Galas? But it would not even understand the question if he asked it.

Lavin watched it walk away, his mind a blank. The impossible was happening, and what was worse, he knew that the next days would so far exceed what had just occurred, that in future times he might not even remember this one conversation.

The Wind gestured at its mounted comrades and they all turned to leave.

Hesty was saying something. Lavin couldn’t make out the words, but the man was pointing at the sky, where one of the vagabond moons had begun to loom large, a lozenge of its surface now in direct sunlight.

The white Wind had been frightening, but also oddly familiar. Lavin stared after her as she and the others departed, wracking his brains to find a memory. He had heard her voice before, and recently… No, it was gone.

He sighed, and turned to Hesty. “I see it, man. Go prepare your men. Tell them the Winds have brought the moons here at my request. There is one adventure left for us, it seems.”

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