Ventus – Day 129 of 135

At that moment a voice spoke in Jordan’s mind. It had some of the qualities of the voices of the Winds; there was an impression of great strength there, and the sort of calmness borne of great age. From its first words, however, Jordan knew this was no Wind.

Stop now. You will cease this petty assault. There is nothing you can do to me. Reconcile yourselves to being devoured, because it will happen to you within the day.

The door stopped moving–half open. Daylight flooded in around it, revealing the utilitarian antechamber they had come to. It was about four meters on a side, its walls of rock. Some ancient bones were piled in one corner. The door itself was carefully shaped to appear like part of the mountainside; bits of moss had broken off and fallen inside as it opened. It was attached to a curved arm that ended in the ceiling; the door opened inward and up.

Jordan ran up to the thick stone slab and hauled frantically on it. It didn’t move. He closed his eyes and focussed his concentration. The door wouldn’t listen to him, and there were no mecha on it that he could compel.

Axel wrapped his arms around the valve as well. “Bah! Damned ancient technology. I guess it’s not even self-repairing.”

“That’s not the problem. Axel, we have to get this door open.” Jordan had a sick feeling that they were too late. He suppressed it angrily. They had to keep going.

“Get behind me,” said Axel. He unclipped something from his belt.

You have done well, servant. Your reward will be to merge with me, at a higher level of consciousness than you knew before. You can participate in the redesign of this world.

Jordan stepped back into the hallway with the women. Axel put up one hand as if to ward off the sun, and levelled what looked like a half-melted version of a flintlock pistol at the hinge of the door. A flash of blinding light made Jordan step back. When the flash didn’t cease but settled into a hot hissing presence, he turned his back and groped further into the corridor.

Let us make heat now. I need more energy.

There was a loud crash and the light ended. “Damn,” muttered Axel, “I’m nearly out of charge.”

Jordan turned to see sunlight streaming in through a thick haze of smoke. The room smelled like a smithy. Coughing, Axel hopped over the fallen door and outside. The woman Marya followed him immediately.

Tamsin was by his side. “Ready?” she said.

“No.” They stepped out into the false day–and pandemonium.

Jordan stood on a slope above the southern plateau of the north Gate. Hundreds of men were running around below shouting. About half of them looked like soldiers; the rest were the monks Jordan had seen through Armiger’s eyes. Although they were yelling, Jordan couldn’t hear what anyone was saying over the long, continuous rolls of thunder that filled the air.

He grabbed Axel by the shoulder. “What’s happening?”

Axel pointed. “Maybe we’d better get back inside.”

Jordan looked up.

Coils of light were falling from the sky.

For a second or two he couldn’t figure out what he was seeing. From the zenith to the horizon, long glowing threadlike shapes one after another faded into view, moved gently down the sky leaving red trails like blood, then faded from view again–or else touched the earth, where great white blooms of light appeared. As he watched, a brilliant shimmering rope appeared almost directly overhead, grew for seconds into a bright starred tangle like a falling rope, then suddenly found perspective as a giant flaming branch-like shape that plummeted out of sight behind the mountain. The whole sky lit up with a blue-white flash, and the ground under Jordan shook. Then the sound came round the mountain, and he lost his footing.

He tumbled head over heels down the slope, and landed about a meter from Axel. He sat up, bruised and half-deafened. Tamsin was next to him in seconds, offering her hand. With a grimace Jordan took it and stood.

“What the hell is all this?” shouted Axel. His words seemed strangely muffled to Jordan.

“It’s the swans!” shouted Marya. “The Diadem swans are attacking!”

Jordan’s heart sank. “Not attacking. They’re falling.”

“Falling? But why… the fleet?”

“No.” It took a few seconds for Jordan to orient himself. The valley was this way, the saddle between the two peaks over there. And if you walked far enough, Mediation had told him, you’d be able to see the ocean over there…

“This way!” He started running without waiting for the others. Men were huddling behind rocks; they were digging holes, standing with their backs to the cliff, anything to find shelter.

He saw the parapet where he knew Armiger had been standing. There was the general, slumped against the stones, looking downward. Jordan steeled him to ignore the falling sky, and ran to him.

“Armiger!” He didn’t turn, so Jordan put a hand on his shoulder. It didn’t feel like flesh under his fingers, more like wood.

Armiger’s eyes were tightly closed, and a grimace twisted his face. His hands were knotted tightly on the parapet.

“Armiger! It’s Jordan! I’m here. Tell me what to do.”

Armiger’s lips moved. Jordan couldn’t hear what he was saying, so he closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt his own lips form the word, “Nothing.

“Then it’s true!” He shook the general by the shoulders. “You were a resurrection seed all along.”

“I thought I was the seed,” murmured Armiger. “But He didn’t trust me that far. I wasn’t the seed; he planted the seed where he knew I wouldn’t find it.”

The others had arrived. They stood with their shoulders hunched, except the Voice who stared into the sky with appraising curiosity. Jordan sat up and looked out over the parapet.

The floor of the valley was visible in gaps between towering shafts of smoke like the trunks of a giant forest. Fire raged from a hundred sources. The geodesic shards of the vagabond moons poked out of flame and smoke here and there; as he watched one toppled over, sending a ripple out through the forest fire.

Something made of red-hot blades squatted at the center of a blackened hectare of ground. Thin beams of light flicked out of it every few seconds, incinerating the few remaining trees nearby. Heat-haze made the thing shimmer like an hallucination. It must be at least as big as Castor’s manor.

“3340,” said Armiger. Jordan looked down at him. The general lay staring at the roiling sky. “It only took Him minutes to crack the codes of the Winds. He is able to command them now. He’s ordered the swans to commit suicide.”

“Can’t you stop him?” Jordan knew the answer even as he spoke. Armiger shook his head.

Tamsin knelt by them. “What about the desals? Can’t they do anything?”

“It’s paralyzed Mediation somehow too.” Jordan instinctively ducked as another explosion sounded somewhere nearby. “That’s why the door stopped moving before.”

“That’s it then,” said Axel. “It’s up to the fleet. They’re going to nuke this entire continent to make sure they get 3340. If we’d only gotten to the ship.”

Jordan stood up. “Armiger, is that red thing down there 3340?”

The general glanced at him. “Yes.”

“He’s very hot. Like a fire. Is that all there is to him?”

“For now. He’s growing fast. He’s hot because he needs energy…” Armiger drifted off again, eyes fixed on nothing.

Jordan leaned on the parapet. “Let me try something.”

“What are you doing?” asked Axel.

“I was worried that we’d have nothing to bargain with, between the Winds and Armiger,” said Jordan. “So while we were on our way to the mountain, I took some steps.”

“What steps?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute. Just don’t disturb me for a bit. Okay?”

Axel stood with his hands in his pockets, scowling at the ground. Marya stood wide-eyed, her hand to her mouth. The Voice returned Jordan’s gaze calmly. And Tamsin, who was obviously scared, smiled and gestured to Jordan as if to say, “Go on.”

Jordan turned, closed his eyes, and fell into Vision.

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