Ventus – Day 35 of 135


Axel tried for the fifth time to stand. “Go to hell!” he muttered. Concentrate, he told himself. Think of a way out of this.

The damned controller kicked him in the ribs. It didn’t hurt much, but there went his equilibrium again. Whatever it was they’d spiked his drink with, it had gotten past his usual immunities, and so far the diagnostic nano hadn’t caught it. Cheap hardware. Never should have bought it from Choronzon.

He had left his sword and dagger in his room, where all his gear was packed for their flight from this place later tonight. Etiquette had prevented him from wearing them to what he’d been told was a simple meeting with Turcaret; they’d known that he’d leave them behind, so it must have been simple for someone to slip in and take them.

He tried to use his radio link to call Calandria. It needed some pretty specific mental commands to operate, and he couldn’t focus well enough to give them. “Damn!”

“Tell me!” insisted the controller. “Why are the Heaven hooks coming for Mason?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Axel.

“The Heaven hooks will take the Mason boy tonight,” said the controller. “I know all about him, though you tried to hide him from me. The Winds have not told me why they want him, though. All they will say is that he threatens ‘thalience’. What does that mean? What is thalience?”

Axel had never heard the word before. He said so. “Who’s really pulling your strings, eh? Tell me that, I’ll tell you what the Winds want with Jordan.”

Turcaret raised the sword, face white. Then he thought better. “If you paid attention to something more than the scullery maids and the location of the better wines, you’d know what’s going on,” said Turcaret. “We’re putting Yuri’s mask in the parade room. He backed the wrong man.”

“You’re in bed with Brendan Sheia?” Axel had to laugh. “You’re an idiot! He’s going down in flames! The queen is going to lose her war and then he’ll be stateless. He hasn’t a prayer of convincing the family he’s the rightful heir. You know that.”

The controller had calmed down. In fact, he looked much too calm now. “Well, Mister Chan, maybe I know something you don’t. Unlike Yuri, we have the backing of the Winds. We know the Truth about them, you see.” Axel was sure Turcaret had put a capital T on Truth. “That the Winds are ultimately destined to be our servants.”

He swung the sword in a bright arc over his head, and brought it down on Axel’s neck.


Jordan was half way to Axel’s room when the new vision began.

He could sense Armiger, somewhere in the back of his mind. He knew the man was still in bed with Megan, but had stoically managed to stay away from them. Armiger’s senses were seductive, dangerously so.

This new thing was something else, another voice or voices. Despite himself, he stopped, bewildered.

He stood in one of the main halls of the manor. He could distinctly hear voices coming from one of the salons. Layered overtop that was a confused jumble of whispers, whose origin he could not place. They seemed to be coming from all around him.

Many of the whispers were in languages he didn’t know; some were in his own. He also caught fragmentary, strange glimpses of things: black sky; the side of a building at night; something that looked like a tiny model of the Boros estate, viewed from above.

He shook his head, trying to remain calm. As he had the last time, he would have to pause now, and damp the visions down, or else he would be unable to get to the safety of Axel’s room. If he was to do that, he would have to find a secluded spot, or Turcaret’s men would find him.

He moved as quietly as he could to the door to the mask room. No one would be here at this hour. As he pushed the door open, he leaned against the stone lintel, and the touch sent an electric sense of awareness into him.

“What–?” He snatched his hand back. The murmuring voices hushed again. They might have been coming from the ranked masks on the wall, but somehow he sensed it was more than that. Still, the vacant eyes of the masks sent a shiver down his spine. He turned his back on them.

Tentatively, Jordan reached out, and touched the stone wall with his fingertips. Again he felt a sense of connection, as though he had stepped from a silent corridor into a bright hall full of people.

“What is this?” he whispered.

The voice was strong this time. I am stone, said the stone wall.


Calandria had visited the kitchens and filled a pair of saddlebags with food. Then she’d gone to the stables and overseen the provisioning of Axel and August’s horses. Leaving at night was bound to cause talk, but hopefully not until morning, when they would be many kilometers away.

When everything was to her liking she went back to her chamber to tell August Ostler he should make ready to travel.

She could tell something was wrong from the bottom of the stairs. The door to their room hung open. Calandria moved silently up the steps, watching for any movement. The room seemed empty, but she saw fresh blood on the floor.

She cursed under her breath and stepped inside. There was no one here. Had Ostler attacked Jordan? The blood was smeared inside the room, but she could see drops of it receding down the hall. Whoever it was that had been hurt, they had left under their own steam, or had been carried.

None of this made any sense, and not knowing the situation alarmed her more than any certainty would have.

She opened her radio link to Axel. “Axel? Where are you?”

There was no answer. Now fully alarmed, She stalked past the discarded blankets by the fireplace, and began stuffing her few possessions into a bag. She scowled down at the beautiful gown she wore; it would be very difficult to ride wearing this confection. Although her instincts told her to run from the room, she paused long enough to shuck the gown and pull on her tough traveling clothes. Then she hefted her bags and turned to go. These few things would have to do.

Where next? “Axel?” Still nothing. He had not activated his transponder, so she couldn’t locate him that way either.

Jordan’s few things lay on his bed, and she eyed them. He had not taken anything with him, a sign that he had not gone willingly.

Axel was supposed to be visiting Turcaret right now. She could go that way, or follow the blood stains to where Jordan might be in danger.

Axel could take care of himself, but Jordan was only here because she had kidnapped and coerced him to be.

Cursing foully, Calandria wrestled her cape into position, threw her bags over her shoulder, and went to follow the blood trail.

As she left the room, a voice emerged from the darkness ahead of her.

“You’re in quite a hurry for an innocent traveler, Lady May.”


Turcaret stared at the place on Yuri’s sword where it had broken cleanly in half.

Axel Chan’s hands were at his throat. He gurgled. Then he rolled to one side, spat, and gasped.

“The sword broke,” whispered Turcaret. “On your neck…”

Axel put his hands under himself and carefully rose to a kneeling position. Then he grabbed the edge of his overturned chair and used it to brace himself as he stood up. He tried to speak, but only a cough came out.

His throat was red and lacerated where Turcaret had hit it with the sword. Little blood flowed; the wound seemed superficial.

Obviously, he had struck the stone floor with the tip of the sword before the rest of the blade had touched Chan’s throat. That must have been what happened.

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