Ventus – Day 14 of 135


She led him from the dining hall to another giant room. Though there was no fire, it was just as warm in here, almost too warm. Jordan had seen lights coming on as they entered other rooms, so he was ready when those strangely steady spots of illumination pinioned scattered armchairs and tables. He wasn’t ready for the vista of the walls around them.

“Books!” Castor had a library, but it must amount to a twentieth of this bounty. The ornately decorated wooden shelves rose to three times his height, and they covered all the wall surface. “There must be thousands!”

“Yes,” she said. “A tiny portion of the knowledge of the human race as of one thousand years ago–when Ventus was settled.” She strolled along the shelves, trailing one hand along the spines. “Ah. Try this one.” She pulled a thick volume out. “You can read, can’t you?”

“A little.” The book she handed him was well-made, leather bound and solid. It had a title written in letters he knew, but the words made no sense: Baedeker’s Callisto, it said. He flipped the book open to a random page.

“What language is that?” she asked.

“Not sure…” He puzzled over the text, which was perfectly inscribed. Actually, he recognized a lot of the words, and with a bit of puzzling, he could make out what it said. “It’s a description… of some place where you can eat?”

She looked over his shoulder. “Ah, yes, the Korolev restaurant strip. I don’t think that exists any more, but the city of Korolev does.” She flipped the page for him; Jordan found himself looking at a colorful map of roads and towns, all on a surface strewn with circular formations.

“This is a tourist guide,” said Calandria. “For another world. It’s written in an archaic version of your language. Now, why would the Winds have books? Aren’t they omnipotent and all-knowing?”

“I… don’t know.”

“Books are for human readers,” she said. “As are armchairs, and lamps. This manse was made for you, Jordan. But the makers and maintainers no longer know that.”

He flipped to another page. This one held a photograph, of much better quality than those hanging in Castor’s great hall. It showed a white landscape under a black sky. There was a moon in the sky, but it looked all wrong: orange, banded and huge.

“There is much to the world,” said Calandria May. “And there are many worlds. Come, it’s time we slept.”

Jordan remained awake long after they bedded down in a room opposite the marble washroom. He lay staring at the canopy of the great bed that had swallowed them both. He was afraid to sleep lest he open his eyes in a cold tomb, but also he was aware of a deep current within himself, bringing a change he was not ready to face. The lady had told him a fabulous story, and he wanted none of it. He wanted his home, his work–even Ryman would be good company right now.

He had been stripped of that–and stripped of the only other thing he knew, which was the certain safety of his own mind. And yet he still breathed, and walked and ate. Then who was he? He no longer knew.

There were demonic Winds in the mythology known to Jordan, who gave and took away. In one story he knew, such a creature granted immortality to the generalissimo who craved it–but only after removing his sight and hearing. These Winds often gave and took away, but sometimes they only gave, and the torment of the recipient of the gift took the form of doubt: why should the demon give me this if demons only harm? In some stories, the gift’s recipient came to hate and fear the gift because no harm had come from it, where everything they had heard told them some should. Suspicion ate these people from within.

It was easy to see Calandria May as such a gift-giving Wind. It was clear what she had taken away; at the same time, her words placed Jordan in the middle of a tale so wild and fabulous he could not believe it. But when he closed his eyes they opened in Armiger’s face, and she was the only one who made that experience sensible to him.

He tossed and turned, and also lay at times looking at her. She seemed to sleep like a stone–the sleep of the just? Her ability to sleep soundly was another sign of her arrogance, he felt. But in sleep her features softened, and he told himself that maybe her true character was revealed now, maybe she was gentle at bottom, maybe he could trust her.

She seemed to trust him, for he was neither drugged nor bound tonight. Although, where would he run?

At length, still wide awake and needing to relieve himself, he rolled to the edge of the bed and groped underneath for a chamber pot. There wasn’t one. Maybe it was on her side. He crawled out into surprisingly warm air, and rooted around past her boots. There was no pot under the bed. What did these people do if they had a need, he wondered, then remembered that no actual people lived here.

He had almost grown used to this place. There was nothing threatening in this room, and the gauze draped over their covers guaranteed their safety. Still, he wasn’t about to venture out of the room without it. The washroom was right across the hall. No harm would come to Lady May if he walked across and back carrying the gauze; he would be able to watch the doorway from the washroom. Gently, he drew the gauze off the bed and folded it once around himself. Then he padded to the doorway and peeked out.

Nothing. Quickly he hurried across to the marble room and felt about in the dark for the toilet. He pissed hurriedly, feeling exposed the way one does in the woods.

He heard a faint gasp. He frowned and turned to look to the doorway, and as he did Calandria May screamed.

“No no no!” He ran out into the hall, but stopped in the doorway to the bedroom. A thing was on the bed, and its great golden limbs bounced from the canopy and down again as it tried to stab Lady May. She was holding onto the yellow blades at the end of the thing’s arms, and was raised and flung down repeatedly as it tried to get past her hands to stab her. Blood ran black down her wrists, and from her throat. She was still screaming.

Jordan stood frozen in horror. It could not have crept past him as he stood in the lavatory, he would have seen or heard it. That meant it had been in the room all along, either on top of the canopy, or… under the bed.

He backed away. He had the gauze–he could make a break for it now, and nothing in this place could touch him. If Lady May wasn’t dead she would be in moments. He could escape.

And run until he had to sleep? And then to awake with Armiger in his tomb? What, now, could he escape to?

One of the golden thing’s legs was right at the edge of the bed. Jordan tried to shout–it came out as a choking sound–and running forward, he kicked at that leg. The thing lost balance and toppled past him onto the floor.

It rose in a flurry of hissing, whirring limbs. He expected it to attack him but it didn’t, instead moving around him to remount the bed.

“No!” He dove onto the bed, raising the gauze above himself. Terrified, staring into glass curves and white metal, he still heard Lady May moving behind him. “The sheet,” she croaked.

The mechal thing’s arm struck past him. It lifted Calandria May and tossed her across the room in one motion as though she weighed nothing. She broke an ornate side-table in her fall, and skidded on into the wall. The thing went after her.

Before it reached her she was on her feet, eyes and teeth glinting in the faint light from the window. “Bastard!” she hissed, and Jordan didn’t know whether she meant it, or him for abandoning her to it.

It struck at her but she ducked out of the way and came up with a piece of the table, which she swung like a club. She hit it and the bit of table shattered. The mechal killer fell back.

“The sheet!” she screamed. Jordan leaped off the bed and ran to her. They hunkered down under the thin stuff. It seemed a suicidal maneuver to Jordan, like closing one’s eyes to danger. But the golden thing paused, glass globes whirling this way and that. And then it reached down and picked up part of the ruined table–and another part, and more, piling wooden flinders in its arms. It was cleaning up.

Lady May groaned and slumped against the wall. Jordan took her hands and opened them, expecting to see her cut to the bone, and her tendons severed. She had numerous long thin gashes on her palms and up her wrists, but nothing very deep. And the wound in her throat was also shallow; it had nearly stopped bleeding, though the thin shirt she had worn to bed was soaked.

“How–?” Jordan snatched his hand back from the examination. She opened her eyes and smiled faintly at him.

“No bruises, no deep cuts. I know. I wear armor, Jordan, but under my skin, not over it. I can’t be cut deeply. And in my blood is a substance that goes rigid for an instant if it is shocked. Getting thrown across the room is… nothing.” She coughed. “Almost nothing.”

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

She stared at the golden creature which was tidying up the bed now in a fussy manner. “Actually, yes, let’s.”

They gathered their shoes and clothes from under the bed. As they staggered out of the room she said, “Next time you have to go, use the chamber pot.”

He started to protest that there hadn’t been one, then thought of the golden thing hiding under the bed. Incongruously, the image of it putting the chamber pot into his groping fingers came to mind. To his own horror, Jordan chuckled, and wonder of wonders so did she, and then they were both laughing out loud, and it felt good.

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