Ventus – Day 120 of 135



Hesty’s voice came to Lavin from a long way away. The voice represented the distant past, a time of hope he could no longer comprehend. The present was an unending cycle of misery that would end only with death. Nothing mattered except that pain.

He had lain here under a canopy, unable to move, for days now. He knew the official story was that vertigo had laid him low, but the truth was much more simple. Lavin’s heart had died, and he no longer wanted to live.


With difficulty he turned his head. Hesty stood over him, his face revolving in a direction opposite to everything else. Lavin retched.

“How are you feeling, sir?”

What a laughable question. Lavin wanted to close his eyes and vanish into his misery again, but to his surprise Hesty sat down cross-legged next to him and whispered, “We need you, sir.”

Lavin looked at him closely for the first time. Hesty’s face was lined with care, and his hair unkempt. It looked like he hadn’t slept in days–not surprising in the circumstances.

“What…” Lavin was surprised at his own voice, which was hoarse and feeble. “What is happening?”

Hesty let out a great sigh. “We’ve been getting word from back home along the semaphore lines. Apparently the Winds are marching everywhere. They’ve obliterated cities, sir! The skies are full of swans and Heaven hooks, and in some places the cities’ gates are closed because morphs are snatching travellers off the roads. Rivers have dried up. It’s insane!

“The priests here are in a panic. The Winds… the Winds are not what they thought…” To Lavin’s great surprise, Hesty shuddered.

“Sir, they’re using us, then they’re going to kill us. I’m sure of it. So are some of the others, but not the field commanders. The men have faith in the Winds, but… a lot more of them were secretly sympathetic to Galas than we thought. There’s rumors that the Winds are angry with us over her death. Overall, the rank and file believe we’re on some just crusade dictated by the Winds. But really we’re marching to our deaths, and a lot of them have guessed.”

“Yes.” Lavin swallowed. “Yes, we are.” His mind was wonderfully clear all of a sudden. He could picture the entire situation in his mind–everything save the object of the Winds’ wrath, which lay somewhere on or about the Titans’ Gates.

His negligence had brought them to this, too, he was sure. Galas had been right in everything she’d said. He should have fought at her side. Instead he had laid the groundwork for a holocaust.

Hesty sat there for a while, dejected. Lavin stared at him, thinking of all the men who had fought under him, some of whom he had ordered to their deaths. They had trusted him–and thousands still placed their faith in him alone.

He might deserve to die–but they did not.

Lavin managed to lever himself up on one elbow. “Bring me some water,” he commanded. When Hesty gave it to him, he drank eagerly, suddenly realizing that he might have allowed himself to die of thirst in his grief. Suicide by neglect.

He hated Hesty for reminding him of his duty. Scowling, he said, “The Winds will destroy us when we’ve served our purpose. We need to know what that purpose is.”

“They won’t speak to me,” said Hesty. “The basts consider you the commander. In your absence they’ve been giving the orders.”

Lavin was stunned. He had assumed that the army would be well commanded in his absence. He’d had no idea that the Winds had taken over directly.

“I… I will talk to them,” he heard himself say.

Hesty looked at him, hope visible in his face.

“Knowing when they intend to discard us is only the first part, Hesty. We need to act when that moment comes–or before it comes. We need to escape them.”

“But how?” Hesty gestured at the evidence all around them of the omnipotence of the Winds.

“The basts will not be a problem. We can shoot them. The swans are terrifying, but I’m not convinced they can do much on the ground. And the Heaven hooks… well, I have an idea about them.”

Hesty grinned. “I knew you would, sir.”

Lavin groaned. “Go get the engineers. I need something made, and we have very little time.”

With sudden energy Hesty leapt to his feet and snapped a salute. “Yes, sir!” He sped out of the tent.

Lavin lay there for a while, staring at the canvas overhead. His mind was utterly empty. Finally, he groaned and stood up.

As he emerged from under the canopy he could hear a deep roaring, like continual thunder. Men were shouting and pointing, and the basts were racing as one to the great doors on the underside of the moon. Lavin followed their gazes upward.

A brilliant light glowed through the tessellated skin of the vagabond moon. The sun itself made only a diffuse, if bright, glow. This light was sharp enough that he had to look away after a second; and it moved, traversing the sky from south to north.

So far the ranked men on the parade ground had held formation, so Lavin had no difficulty crossing the floor to where the basts and a few stray men had gathered. The great doors were located at about the 15th degree of floor angle. From here only a sliver of sky was visible, and a great deal of dizzying ground far below. Lavin caught a glimpse of rushing pine trees far below, then fixed his gaze on the rolling mountains at the top of the door.

Something like a tiny blue-white sun hove into view, dropping and visibly slowing as it went. Shadows radiated away from it, and he was sure it was the source of the rumbling.

The small sun went behind an angle of mountainside, silhouetting the trees along its spine. After a few seconds the light went out. The rumbling went on for a long time, gradually dying down to stray echoes.

More miracles. Lavin shook his head in disgust, and went to take command of his men.


“What was that?” Tamsin blinked at the spot where the little sun had set. Doubtless she had the same spots before her eyes as Jordan.

“Mediation?” He had come to rely on the geophysical Winds as advisors in the past few days. Where once he had wondered or decided that curiosity was futile, now when Jordan had a question–any question at all–he asked. Often, Mediation answered.

“That was a starship from the new Diadem fleet,” said Ka. “But it should not be here. The fleet has been sent to engage the Galactics.”

“Fleet? Galactics?” This was all news to Jordan. Obviously he had been asking the wrong questions.

He and Tamsin had just entered the valley below the Titans’ Gates. They had changed mounts regularly, and come to this place more quickly than Jordan had expected. Their animal entourage was spread out for a kilometer on each side, watching for morphs or other, even more dangerous things that Mediation said the swans were dropping here and there. Jordan had fully expected the vagabond moons converging on this spot to seek him out, and had been surprised when the vanguard of the giant spheres began to settle beyond the ridge behind them. Mediation had reported that they were disgorging an army of humans and horses; Jordan had no doubt that this was Parliament’s army, but had they come to guarantee Galas’ death or were they serving the Winds now? Mediation did not know.

The Heaven hooks seemed wary of approaching the Titans’ Gates directly. Those that had not landed hung high in the atmosphere, some kilometers back. They might be able to spot Jordan’s party from there–but there was no sign that they had.

Armiger and the queen were halfway up the ancient steps that zig-zagged up the Titans’ Gates. Tiny buildings were visible very high on the flanks of the grey peaks. According to Tamsin this was a monastery, a place Galas had visited many times before. This was where the general and the queen expected to make their stand.

Jordan had different plans. He knew the Gates were honeycombed with passages and chambers used by the Winds. There were many entrances to these passages, but Armiger and Galas had not approached any as yet. Jordan had ordered the entrances nearest them opened; hopefully they would see one and head for it. He had told Mediation to send a guide out of the mountain to fetch them, but the nearest creatures that could speak were deep inside the mountain. It would take a while for one of them to reach the surface.

Jordan had been about to send Ka to act as guide for Armiger and Galas, but this starship was a new and unknown factor. So far it seemed like the general and queen would reach the monastery without trouble, and he could easily use the inner passages of the Gates to catch up to them there.

He decided. He pointed to a hawk that was part of their entourage. It sat patiently on a branch some distance ahead, waiting for them. “Ka, go take a ride on that hawk. I want you to investigate the ship that just landed. Mediation, are there any entrances to the Gates near that spot? Yes? Then let’s head that way. We can enter the mountain from there.”

Tamsin scowled. “I don’t like the idea of going underground again.”

“This time will be different,” he said. He didn’t add that she would probably find it no less frightening than the desal highway. He had visited the inside of the mountain, in Vision, and knew that it was not a place where humans had been meant to go.

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