Ventus – Day 75 of 135


Marya dreamed about home. Outside her window she could see the gently upcurving landscape of Covenant, her colony cylinder. Sunlight streamed through a thousand lakes and pools, turning the hills and cities into translucent lace and backlighting the spiral of clouds in the center of the cylinder. As always, thousands of winged human figures drifted in the air between her and those clouds.

She walked the deep moss carpets of home. She breathed the warm honeyed air, felt it drift over her limbs finer than any cloth as she passed through room after room of her parents’ apartment. Her family were here, she knew, in other rooms she had yet to reach. Then, in the back of her own bedroom, she found a door she had never seen before.

She waved the door open, and gasped to find herself in a giant library. She recognized paper books, had held a few in her hand as a student, feeling then the tremendous age and dignity of pre-space knowledge. It was this sense of ancient dignity that had driven her to anthropology.

Here were thousand upon thousand of bound books, arrayed in shelves that towered to an invisibly distant ceiling. Marya walked reverently among them.

She stumbled, knocking over a side-table. The echoes of its fall went on and on, almost visibly reaching into every distant crevice between the volumes. When it finally died, she heard a growing rustle, as if the books were rousing from slumber.

A voice spoke. “You’ve done it now.”

“What have I done?” she asked, tremulously.

“You’ve got to make a choice,” said the voice. “You woke us. Now you have to choose whether you want us to become a part of you, as memory; or whether you want us to become people, with whom you can speak.”

She looked up at the towering wisdom, and felt a sudden love for it–as if these books were family. “Oh, please become people,” she said.

But even as Marya spoke she remembered she wasn’t on Covenant any more. She was on Ventus. As grim men with swords stepped out of the walls, she screamed, for she had chosen wrongly.


The sound of Axel cursing woke Marya. She groaned and tried to roll over. Her eyes felt pasted shut, for all that she had slept badly. Her back seemed to have been remade in the shape of the stones she had lain on, and the cold had entered through every chink in the blanket.

Axel was using some language Marya didn’t know, but it was plain he was upset. Too bad; but couldn’t he be quieter about it?

“Damn it, get up, Mounce! She’s gone!”

Marya opened her eyes. Grey clouds had taken over the sky while she slept. The fire was out. She levered himself up on one elbow, fought a wave of dizziness, and blinked at two horses where there should be three. The beasts were staring at Axel wide-eyed.

“She snuck off! I can’t believe this! What a bitch! ‘We’ll talk about it in the morning.’ Ha! She never could trust anything past her own nose. Damn damn damn damn!” He kicked the log he’d sat on last night, then kicked it again twice as hard. “I’ll crack her skull, I’ll, I’ll boil her alive! Damned, arrogant…” he groped for words.

Marya tried to say, “We can probably catch her,” but her voice came out as a croak. Damn this planet! Every bone in her body ached, as if she were a tree slowly freezing up with the onset of winter. And her skin–it itched from the fabric touching her as if a thousand fire ants were biting her.

Axel made a chopping motion with his hand. “To hell with her. We’ll find Jordan. We know where she’s going. She’s going to face down Armiger herself. Of all the arrogant…” Again, he seemed to lose his vocabulary. He switched languages, maybe to disguise the hurt tone that had crept into his voice.

Marya levered herself up. Axel had started jamming things into his pack, pausing now and then to stare down the road. He looked down, muttered, “She never really trusted me,” in an unbelieving tone, and then shook himself.

“All right, Marya,” he said. “Let’s go.”

With an effort, she transcended her discomfort. “Where?” she asked, squinting at him.

“To find Jordan. He’s still running from the Winds, and it’s our fault. The only way he’ll be safe is if we get him off planet.”

How to put this? “Axel… I understand your impulse to help this man. But Calandria’s half-right. We need to do something to attack the larger problem.”

“What larger problem?”

“The Winds.”

He stopped stuffing the pack. “What in hell’s name can we do?”

Marya stretched. “We continue signalling for a ship, you’re right about that. Meanwhile, though, we go back.”

“Back where?”

“To Memnonis. To steal the corpse of this man Turcaret.”


Calandria paused at the crest of a hill and looked back the way she’d come. She felt a vague disquiet, leaving like this.

The feeling raised old memories. She remembered crying for days after overhearing that the children she’d thought her friends, had been hired as her playmates by her wealthy mother. Now she felt the same almost-guilty feeling she used to have when leaving residence parties early and alone, at the Academy. She always reached a point where she could accept no more closeness. Her basic alienation came back to haunt her. When that happened she had to leave, and today she was leaving Axel and Marya. It was not, she told herself, that she was afraid of the Winds; if she were, she would have agreed to his plan to leave Ventus as quickly as possible. No, she had come here for a purpose; her resolve was greater than his, that was all.

She chewed on the reasons for her leaving him as she rode. It was easy to suppose that she was saving Axel and Marya from unnecessary risk. It was also true that every day they left Armiger alone, he moved a step closer to taking over the vast and invisible machine that surrounded her. What it finally came down to, however, was that she and Axel could never work together as a team. Calandria liked to pass like a ghost through the worlds she visited. She was the perfect chameleon, adopting personalities and appearances as they suited her. By tomorrow she would have changed, and no one, possibly not even Axel, would recognize her. This was the right way to do the job she had come to do: by dancing around the edges of the human world, darting in only for the quick surgery that would remove the cancer she had come to kill.

Axel wanted to marry every woman he met, and get drunk with every man. He was probably headed for some inn now, to drown his anger at her in a tankard or two. Well. When they met again it would be apologies all around, she was sure. She would have to plan how to conduct those. She didn’t want to lose Axel’s friendship, after all. Certainly not over their work.

Jordan… Once she killed Armiger, the link, and with it the thing that made the Winds interested in him, would be gone. He would be just a normal man again. And with any luck, he would use what she’d taught him to get rich.

She was doing the right thing.

Her thoughts turned easily to Armiger. How to pursue, how to kill him? Her eyelids flickered; her horse walked on; and Calandria began to drop the Lady May persona, becoming once more the hunter.

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