Ventus – Day 96 of 135


Armiger rolled over, gasping. His human body was nearly dead again. He had seen the microwaves from the woman’s weapon, a blinding corona that had burst inside his body like a sun. His cells were in chaos; the nanotech skein of his real body was broken and burned. Another blast and he would have been incapacitated; three or four more and the damage would have been too much to recover from.

His human eyes could not see, but he sensed Megan above him. “My soldier,” she whispered, as she drew him into her arms.

He reached out with his other senses. His attacker had been subdued; two soldiers sat on her back now as she struggled vainly. Her weapon lay neglected under smoking wood panels that it had blown from the wall.

The woman’s voice carried suddenly. She had stopped struggling. “This man tried to kill the queen,” she said. Her voice was calm, liquid, as convincing as any orator’s. With his nanotech’s sensors, Armiger could see that she lay facing him. Her eyes were open, searching out his. Her face was a mask.

A deeper sound reached his senses. Armiger cursed weakly. “Help me up,” he said to Megan.

“No, you’re hurt, don’t move.”

“They’re here,” he said. “The Winds. We have to get out of here.”

“Oh–but you can’t move!”

“I can. Help me!” She helped him up and he stood, blind and bent, above the woman who had attacked him. When he felt strong enough, he knelt and gathered up the weapon his mysterious attacker had used on him. He felt the Galactic workmanship immediately. This woman was from the Archipelago, doubtless a mercenary sent to pick off stragglers such as himself from 3340’s force.

“Sir!” A soldier saluted. “What shall we do with her, sir?”

“Bind her in chains of iron,” he said. “But strike her unconscious first.”


He staggered into the antechamber, leaning heavily on Megan. “Where did they go?” he hissed.


“The queen, and General Lavin.”

“This way. Please, you must rest.”

“No! There is a secret way out. He has taken her to it. We must follow.”

Thunder grumbled beyond the windows–but he knew there were no clouds in the sky. “The siege is nearly over,” he said. “Maybe no one will survive. We have to hurry.”


Jordan had ordered Ka to transfer its visual sensorium to him. The little Wind was high over the walls now, fluttering doggedly in the direction of the keep. Jordan held tightly to Tamsin’s hand, trying to remember that he was really still sitting on the sand, and not suspended impossibly high in the air.

He could make out all kinds of fascinating details if he looked closely–ladders being raised here, the whizzing thread of steam-cannon missiles wavering in the air. Sounds drifted up to him: hissing, shouts, sharp impacts, clash of steel. But to look closely was to invite vertigo; he preferred to keep his eyes fixed on the row of windows that was their goal.

He could hear Tamsin muttering above him. “I hope the swans kill you all,” she said. “Every last one of you.” The sound of her voice chilled him; it held rage and hate such as he’d never heard before. He almost let go of her hand, but she was his lifeline, and she still clutched his fingers tightly. Her rage was not directed at him.

He had made Ka look upward once, and instantly regretted it. The sky faded from blue at the horizon, to emerald, to purest gold at the zenith. Cupped in that roseate glow was a lowering spiral of fine, glowing threads. A sound was coming from those threads, a kind of song sung by inhuman tongues.

It took all his will power to remain seated here in the sand, while the swans fell at him. But Ka was only meters from the tower now. Jordan mentally urged him forward, and held his breath until the little Wind finally soared in through an open casement, and hovered inside the queen’s chambers.

“Find her!” he commanded. Ka began to flit from room to room, and Jordan found himself swaying in sympathy as his visual field ducked and swooped from corridor to room and back.

He could see the duennas, and soldiers; people were weeping and running about. There was no sign of the queen. He couldn’t make out what was going on until a single word leapt out of the tumult:


Jordan opened his eyes in surprise. “What is it?” asked Tamsin.

“Something’s happened. The queen’s gone.”

“Now what?”

“I must find Armiger.” He closed his eyes again.


“Bind her wrists, Enneas.” Lavin stepped back. “Your majesty, we are leaving now. You may walk, or we will drag you.” They stood in the catacombs. Galas’ eyes were dark pools in the light from Enneas’ lantern.

The thief fumbled with the bindings. “Excuse me, majesty,” he said. He seemed overawed. Lavin realized he had assumed Lavin would fail. The thought made him laugh.

“What are you laughing at?” demanded Galas. “Is my humiliation so comforting to you?”

All Lavin’s joy shrivelled. “Galas– I… I would never laugh at you, nor hold you in contempt. You are my dearest ideal and the only woman I have ever loved. Your pride and anger will never let you admit the favor I’ve done for you, but listen–we have time as we walk back to discuss terms. Our terms, not the terms of Royalty versus Parliament.”

“What do you mean? Ah, that hurts!”

“Sorry, your majesty.”

“Lead on, Enneas.” The thief walked ahead, lantern raised. Lavin picked up a second lantern, leaned close to Galas, and whispered, “I mean that I am, and always have been, your servant. Don’t you understand the situation? I am the commander of the army that controls your nation, and I am your most loyal servant. This is the moment I have worked for ever since I took charge of the war against you. I am yours, my army is yours, all the resources of Parliament are at our command. All we need do is deceive them as to your capitulation while we rebuild the Royalist power base in secret. You will be queen again, Galas!”

She stopped. “Lavin, you amaze me.”

“Thank you, your highness.”

Please raise your hands, general,” said a voice behind them.

Armiger stepped into the glow of Lavin’s lantern. He stood in a painful crouch, but his hands didn’t waver as they pointed the alien weapon at Lavin.

The fluttering rage that he had so carefully kept at bay overcame Lavin. He drew his sword and leaped at Armiger with a cry.

Armiger fired–not at Lavin but over his head. The narrow passage rocked to the concussion, and the ceiling fell in on him.

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