Ventus – Day 83 of 135


One timeless moment he lay in the grip of merciless cold, dozing, waking and shivering, dimly aware that Tamsin had wrapped herself around him; the next, he was painfully wrenched into the cold air by a manacle-like grip on his arm.

Jordan cried out; the stars wheeled around and he hit the ground painfully. A black silhouette loomed over him, and the reek of fresh blood filled his nostrils. His arm tingled where he had been touched.

“You are the are,” said a voice like grating stone.

Tamsin screamed.

Jordan rolled backwards–pebbles embedding themselves in his spine, cold air on his neck–and came to his feet to find himself facing two dark man-shapes outlined against a sky full of aurora light and moving stars. One of the shapes batted at the dark triangle of the stone lean-to, where Tamsin screamed again.

The one in front of him feinted, and he kicked at it. His foot connected with slick skin. The thing grunted, then vomited without bending. Black liquid spattered on the stones.

“Found you rightly,” said the morph. “You are the link. You come with us.”

It lunged and he leapt away. The adrenaline had Jordan seeing visions again, but he was able to press Armiger’s consciousness back. The landscape glowed with mecha, as did the morphs. The one closing with him had three eyes in its ravaged face, and he could see them as radiant orbs in a translucent skull. Its body was full of tangled lines of light, like a complete veinous system for the stuff Calandria had called nanotech.

The thing feinted and then jumped, and this time it had him. They rolled on the cold ground, but it couldn’t get a grip since it was covered with… water? Something darker. For a second it had him pinned and the fingers of its right hand scrabbled in his hair as if looking for a door there; then he sat up past its pressing chest and wrapped his arms around its torso. Jordan yanked while kicking at the dust with his feet, and lost his grip but not before he had come to a crouch and the morph was on its hands and knees.

No time for subtlety. He grabbed a rock the size of his fist and when the thing rounded on him again he cuffed it on the side of the head. It fell back, groaning.


She shrieked again, and he saw her–a dark human-shape in the field of mechal light, clutching a blanket as the other morph dragged her along the ground by one leg.

He staggered his with the rock, then again when it came back for more. The thing didn’t seem to feel any pain. It was going to keep coming, he realized, until it had him or he crippled it. If he could–he’d heard tales of morphs growing new limbs to replace severed ones. At that moment he believed the stories.

Jordan pitched the rock at it, missed, and turned and ran after the other one. There was something wrong with the sky, a swirling in the stars, but he didn’t have time to think about that. He screamed, “Run!” and tackled the other morph.

Tamsin rolled to her feet. “Run where?

“Up the slope! Get on the surface of the desal. Quick!”

Both morphs faced him now. Jordan backed away.

“Give us your light,” said the first morph.

“You shall ascend,” said the second.

Jordan closed his eyes and opened his arms. “Stones, rocks, sand and dust! Hear me!

The earth roared a reply.

Burn!” he cried. “Burn beneath the feet of the morphs!

Then he turned and sprinted up the slope.

Tamsin crouched panting on the smooth white flank of the desal. “What’ll we do?” she said as he put his hand on her shoulder and drew her up.

“If this doesn’t work then I don’t know.” He enfolded her in his arms and watched as the morphs loped toward them.

Suddenly the footsteps of the morphs began sprouting smoke. The morphs stopped walking and one hopped from foot to foot. Very distinctly, Jordan heard the other issue some command in an inhuman tongue. The first sprinted forward, then stopped, confused, and tried to sidestep away. Jordan saw a tongue of flame lick up its calf.

“Come on.” He raced back to the lean-to. They bent to bundle up their meagre supplies, watching the morphs all the while. The first morph, who had not moved, seemed unhurt. It continued to speak in the Wind tongue, and the earth around its feet was no longer smoking.

The second morph’s legs were on fire. As they watched it staggered, fell to its knees in a black cloud. Its hands caught fire when they touched the earth. It scrabbled in the smoke for a few seconds, then fell and began to roll, turning into a fireball as it did.

“Where are the horses?” shouted Tamsin.

“I don’t know. Ka! Where are they?”

There are no horses nearby,” said the little Wind.

“Come on.” Jordan ran around the long slope of the desal. Maybe the horses were on the other side.

“Look at the sky!”

He looked up, and staggered. The sky was a tangle of brilliant lines that were longer towards the horizon, foreshortened directly overhead. A mauve aurora pulsed there.

Tamsin sprinted ahead, wailing. Jordan put his head down and followed.

A low dark shape appeared as they rounded the far side of the desal. The horse was still on its feet, but only because its legs were locked. Its back was swayed and its belly hung low and trembled like a drop of dew about to fall from a leaf. Tamsin and Jordan slowed to a walk as they approached it.

Tamsin made a clucking sound, which normally would have made it prick up its ears. Jordan wasn’t sure which end was which, because it must have lowered its head; in any case, he saw no sign that it had heard her.

He stopped three meters away, when he realized that neither end of the creature had a head any longer.

Tamsin stopped too, and her hand crept to her face as she began to swear, quiet and urgently.

There was a withered thing hanging down one end of it, and a smaller withered thing on the other end. One of those might once have been its neck and head, but all flesh and liquid had been drained from it to fill the swelling belly. The skin had split in a dozen places there, and blood dripped steadily onto the sand under it.

Blood… Jordan raised his hands, and in the strange auroral light saw that they were smeared with dark stains. He sniffed his palms.

“Oh, shit.” He grabbed Tamsin’s shoulder. “Run. Now!”

As she turned away, the belly of what had once been a horse split like an overripe fruit. In a gush of blood and half-digested organs, two newborn morphs slid to the ground.

The four locked legs of the horse now held up nothing but an empty bag of skin, like some bizarre tent over the coughing morphs. One after the other they crawled out of the entrails and steaming offal, and opened new eyes that hunted the darkness until they found Jordan.

He ran. Panic clamored at him, but he knew if he gave in to it now both he and Tamsin would die. The sky was opening, with a light like the coming of dawn. The morphs would keep coming, and he knew they would not be tricked by the burning ground again.

“Ka! Call the desal! We need shelter! Please!”

Tamsin was half-way up the slope of the desal. She seemed intent on getting as high as she could, or maybe she was just running. He followed, trying not to listen to the wet sounds of the morphs coming after him.

When the slope got too steep, Tamsin stopped and fell back, swaying. He reached her side and panted, “There! See that door?” About five meters away, lower on the slope, faint lines formed a square. “We have to get the desal to open it. Ka!”

I shall ask.”

They ran down to the square, and now he could see the morph he had stranded in burning ground earlier had found its way out, and was coming round from the other side. Behind the two new ones had learned to walk, in a manner of speaking, and were closing in as well.

“Ka! Ask now!

I am doing so.

“Stand on it.” He stepped onto the square. They were at quite a height here, and the slope was nearly forty-five degrees. He had to crouch to keep his footing. Tamsin edged down next to him.

“What are we doing?” she said, her voice rising in panic.

“Nothing, I guess,” he said as the first morph stepped onto the square with them.

Then he was falling, and for a second he glimpsed towers of fire standing among the stars, before blackness enfolded them.

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