Ventus – Day 118 of 135


Armiger and Galas stood on a shoulder of land in the foothills of the coastal mountains. They were gazing out at the plains below. It was night–or at least, it was behind them. The plains were in day.

“How can we fight power like that?” murmured Galas. From here, the full extent of the daylit square was visible. They were just outside its western edge, but it was moving, slowly, in their direction. A cluster of vagabond moons shone bright silver high in the vast tapering cube of glowing air.

“There,” said Armiger, pointing. Squinting where he pointed, she made out a low cloud of dust hugging the eastern end of the square.

“What is it?”

“An army, marching. It would seem Parliament still pursues you.”

His voice was neutral–bland, even. He had been like this ever since Megan’s death–withdrawn, but as strong-willed as ever. He had ridden them hard for the past several days. Galas had been afraid that if she showed an instant’s weakness–if she gave him even an inkling that she couldn’t keep up–he would abandon her. It wasn’t that he no longer cared about her, he just seemed so completely focussed on his goal that the present moment had no reality for him.

Recognizing this in him brought a chill to her heart; she had been that way once, and not just for a day or a week. As they rode, Galas spent long hours withdrawn herself, remembering her youth after the death of her mother, for the first time seeing it from the outside, as if hearing about someone else’s tragic past. She did not like what the objectivity revealed.

They rode and rode through grassland dotted with small forests, hour after hour until she lay draped in the saddle, her thighs and lower back a blaze of pain, sure that she would slide off the saddle with the horse’s next step. At some point during that odyssey they had left the plains behind, and now they were scarcely a day’s ride from the Titans’ Peaks.

She spared a glance behind her. Treetops jabbed above the crest of the plateau where they camped, and beyond them mauve cut out shapes she had at first mistaken for storm clouds shone pearly in the reflected light from the plain. The foothills ended in a huge, knotted pair of snow-capped peaks with a deep notch separating them. Lower peaks receded to the south and south, becoming more rounded and lower as they went.

She knew this twin mountain, had spent time there listening to the subterranean roaring of the desals at work. She had never imagined she would see the Titans’ Gates in the light of a Wind-made day.

“We are trapped.” She said it fatalistically.

Armiger waved negligently at the shining plains. “We needn’t fear the humans. They won’t be able to scale the Gates, unless they’re riding in the moons themselves. As to the Winds–well, making day in the night like that is a pretty minor trick.”

Minor? Can you do it?”

“Not from here. It’s trivial if you’re in orbit.” He shaded his eyes again.

“Armiger.” He didn’t seem to notice her, until she reached out and put a hand on his arm. When he finally turned to face her, she said, “Why have we come here?”

When he didn’t answer immediately she said, “We’ve been riding for days. We’ve barely even spoken. I confess for a time I was content just to be escaping–escaping anything, and everything. But the truth is, I’m sore, stiff and weary beyond belief. If you gave me no good answer as to where we’re going or why, I’d just as soon lie down and wait for those things to find me.”

He smiled slightly and briefly. “I find it hard to talk about it. Not because of any emotional thing… no, it’s because 3340, who gave me the impulse to begin with, made me to be reluctant. Do you understand the concept of conditioning?”

She smiled ironically. “You ask Queen Galas that?”

“All right, then. I’ve been conditioned not to talk about it. But I no longer work for 3340…” He glanced over at her quickly, as if startled by something–or afraid.

Interesting, she thought. “Who do you work for now, Armiger?” she asked quietly.

“One question at a time. You asked why we were here. Look.” With a sweep of his arm he indicated the fang-tooths of the Titans’ Gates. “Even before I met Jordan Mason I thought this place might hold the key. It is the nexus of physical power for the western end of the continent. Here the desals have their power plants and desalination stacks. This is their interface with the Winds of the ocean, who are incredibly strong as well. This is the transfer point for hundreds of underground highways, and there are giant data stores and genetic stockpiles buried deep within the mountains. You probably never got a hint of that when you were here–it’s all well hidden.”

She shook her head. “One time a local priest took me on a tour around the lip of a vast pit. He said it was bottomless. A hot wind comes up out of it, and you can hear a sound like constant thunder coming out of the depths. I found it disturbing. I never went back.”

“Yet it was the desals who spoke to you. They reached out to do so. According to Mason, they wish to serve, and they are the enemy of those.” He gestured to the vagabond moons. “We will make them our allies. The Titans’ Gates are a fortress, and you and I are about to experience our second siege, my queen.”

She hugged herself against a sudden chill. “Don’t call me that. I brought my people low.” Angry and grief-stricken, she turned and started to walk back to their camp. The horses were visible in the firelight; both were looking in her direction. “And what are you going to do with the world once you’ve got it?” she shouted back to Armiger. “How will you succeed where I failed?”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)