At the top of the wall men scurried about, quickly making repairs. Damien saw them nervously looking east as they worked, as if they could somehow measure the sea’s temper. But smashers didn’t always give warning, and from the looks of the damage ... Damien felt his stomach tighten as they came around the end of the wall, past the first smasher lock. He hated the sea. He hated its power, and its unpredictability. Most of all he hated the limits it had placed on man’s progress, by forcing him to focus on a land-based expansion.
Rozca’s expression was dark as they came around the end of the wall, easing
and her companion ship into the narrow harbor entrance. Damien followed his gaze out into the harbor itself, where broken piers and battered hulls littered the tide. “Shouldn’t have happened,” Rozca muttered. “Not here.”
“You can’t stop a smasher.”
The Captain snorted and jerked his head toward Faraday.
could. Maybe not stop it outright, but keep it from killing. They’ve got alarms up on the cliff there—” he waved a hand toward the bluffs that towered over the harbor, “—that sense a quake far away as Novatlantis, and enough good men praying ‘em to work that they’re damn near perfect. With the watchers up there and sirens all along the coast ... there’s never been a smasher yet that they didn’t know was coming. Get your ships out into deep water if you can, tie up the rest to a special mooring that lets ’em go with the waves, set the locks so the harbor can’t be drained, and then get the vulk out of the way ... maybe they can’t stop ‘em, but they can damned well make ready for ’em. There hasn’t been a ship lost in Faraday since the last lock was built, nearly a hundred years ago.” He gazed out in the harbor, eyes narrowed against the sunset’s glare. Shadowed by his thick brows, his expression seemed doubly dark.
“Not this time,” he muttered. “Vulkin’ Hell, look at the place!”
They had come past the lock and around the sea wall, so that now their view of the harbor was unimpeded. Damien’s hand tightened about the rail as he gazed upon what was once the proudest port of the eastern coast, as he compared it to the harbor from which they had set sail nearly two years ago. Where dozens of sleek piers had jutted out from the shore there were now but a handful, and a good half of those were badly damaged. The shoreline boardwalk had lost whole sections, and with it all the buildings that stood upon it. And the sea—that was filled with debris, enough shards of mast and bits of sail that Damien knew more than one ship had foundered in the rising sea, along with all their passengers.
Tsunami. They were always a danger on this volatile world, and more than once Damien had been on a ship that refused to enter port when the tide was two inches higher or lower than normal, for fear that the dreaded flood waves would follow. But Faraday had made a science of surviving them, and was practiced enough in that art that even the dreaded bore, a towering wall of water whose impact flattened everything in its path, did minimal damage here.
A soft indrawn breath behind him, almost a hiss, made him turn back slightly. It was Tarrant. He was up early—the sun had barely set behind the towering bluffs and its light still filled the sky—but perhaps he had heard the commotion from above and wanted to investigate. Or perhaps he had caught the scent of death, and wondered at its source. He shaded his eyes beneath a gloved hand as he studied the devastation surrounding them, and Damien knew without asking that the strength of the man’s will was reaching down into the sea, trying to tap into the local fae-currents for information.
“The first wave was a bore,” he said at last. “Those which followed were... incidental.”
“You guessing that, or you Know?”
He shook his head slowly, eyes narrowed against the light. “Water’s shallow enough for Working, though barely. I can get a somewhat hazy picture.”
“Rozca says the port had defenses.”
“It did,” he agreed. “They didn’t work.”
“Can you tell why?”
The pale eyes fixed on him. The whites were reddened slightly, burned by the dying sunlight. It was costing him a lot to be up here, Damien realized. “The question may not be
he mused, “but rather,
It took him a minute to realize what Tarrant meant. “Calesta?”
The Hunter nodded. “I would like to think that an act of nature could be just that, no more. But this does seem a bit of a coincidence, doesn’t it? Such devastation to welcome us home. Certainly our enemy would be pleased to make such a statement.”
“But he can’t conjure a tsunami, can he?” When Tarrant didn’t answer, he pressed, “You said that the Iezu only had power over human sensory input. Nothing tangible.”
“So I did. But never doubt the versatility of that power, Reverend Vryce. Or the danger it can pose to those who aren’t prepared for it. Iezu illusion cannot create a real wave ... but it can blind the men whose job it is to detect one, and prevent them from responding to it.”
“You think that’s what happened?”
“I think it’s very possible. I think our enemy would consider it a very appropriate welcome for us. A reminder of his power, as well as proof that he’s monitoring our passage. Yes. Very appropriate indeed.” His expression tightened as he tried once more to access the fae; after several minutes he shook his head in frustration. “Wait until we land, Reverend Vryce. I can tell you more then. Out here ... the fae is too weak.”
Damien tasted the word as the great ship prepared to disgorge its passengers. After eleven months at sea he had almost forgotten what
was like, how it felt and smelled, what it was like to have the ground remain steady beneath your feet. And land without volcanoes, no less. After months in Novatlantis it seemed to him that his very skin stank of sulfur; he wondered if mere soap would ever wash it clean. God, that had been a hellish trip....
“You’ll be going back to Jaggonath,” the Hunter said.
Damien looked up at him sharply. “We have to, don’t we? Karril’s warning—”
“Was to go
Vryce. I have no idea what that phrase means to you.”
It hit him then, suddenly. The one thing he had never dared to ask, in all their months of traveling. The thing he had tried so hard not to think about. “You’re going to the Forest.”
Tarrant nodded. “As you knew I would.”
Oh, yes, he had known it. On some deep, buried level where you hid knowledge you didn’t want to deal with. Only now it was out in the open. The Hunter would go to his Forest. Of course. And Damien would return to Jaggonath. Of course. Each of them to test out his domain, each one to ascertain what damage their Iezu enemy had wreaked in their absence. Each one alone, their alliance of two years divided.... It should have pleased him, to be rid of the Hunter at last. It didn’t.
“You think it’s wise?” he asked quietly.
“I think it’s unavoidable. Would you help me bring order to the Forest? Your soul would never survive that kind of trial. Yet the Forest is my power base; I must see it secure before I can concentrate elsewhere.” A faint smile touched his lips. “And you can hardly present me to your Patriarch, can you? It seems in both our interests that we separate for a time.”
“For a time,” Damien agreed. It was a question.
The cool, clean profile was still; the silver eyes studied the harbor in silence. At last he said, “We have a common enemy. Given his power, and his stated intentions ... we would be foolish not to pool our resources.”
“Yeah.” Damien leaned heavily against the rail. “Only the adjective I was thinking of was
Tarrant looked down at him. And for an instant, just an instant, Damien thought he saw a flicker of fear behind that measureless gaze. A flaw in the perfect arrogance.
“Just so,” he whispered. “Just so.”
. Shiny, like drops of blood.
White pills. Powder-soft, bitter on the tongue.
Black pills. Velvet glass, a kiss of oblivion.
Andrys laid them out on the hotel dresser, tiny bottles that glittered in the lamplight. His hands, he noticed, were shaking. The air seemed uncomfortably warm.
Easy, Andri. Steady now. You’re almost there.
Five days on the road. Not an easy journey, for one who had rarely left his home county. Not an easy task, to go among strangers where one’s name was unknown and one’s heritage meant nothing and the name of the county that had given one birth was just a mark on the map, no more or less meaningful than any other.
He had never loved Merentha, nor had he hated it. Those terms implied strong emotion, and in truth he had pretty much taken his home county for granted. It was there; the Tarrant estate was located within its borders; his family had once ruled the place. But now that he had left, he found there was an emptiness within him that no wine could dispel. He felt lost in the eastern cities, and sometimes when the night was dark and strange sounds and scents surrounded him he felt that if he just relaxed, if he just closed his eyes and let go, the strangeness of it all would carry him away. Until he was no more than a sigh on this foreign breeze, a whisper of lost hope fading out into the night.
Sometimes he would pray to Calesta, as one would pray to a god. Sometimes the demon answered. Then dreams of vengeance would flood his soul, forcing out the loneliness. Dreams of hate so powerful, so driving, that his body shook for hours even after they had ended, and his mind was numb for what seemed like a small eternity afterward. Those dreams... they were pain and ecstacy almost beyond bearing, a catharsis so terrifying and so necessary that on the nights when Calesta did not answer him he wept, helpless and hopeless as a lost child. The dreams were all he had now. The hate was all that was holding him together.
That and the drugs.
Alcohol to numb the fear, to ease the pain of remembering. Cerebus for the madness within him, the beast that must have outlet now and then or it would swallow him whole. Slowtime for visions of color and music in a world washed gray by sorrow. And blackout—blessed blackout—little black pills for a taste of oblivion, for shadows of death to fold about him like a cocoon, shutting out all the pain and the beauty and the hope and the fear—shutting it all out, every last bit of that agony called
Long enough for him to rest. Long enough for him to sleep. Blackout for the coward within him, afraid to go on living but more afraid to die.
He stared at the tiny bottles, tempted by their contents. He had come to Jaggonath in the late afternoon, had taken a room and eaten a meager meal and cleaned off the dirt of the road as well as he was able. Now... his fingers closed about the bottle of black pills and he shut his eyes, as though mere physical proximity might somehow transfer its contents into him. But not yet. Not now. There was still time to scout out the city before nightfall, to get his bearings for the morrow’s work. He owed himself that much, didn’t he? Regretfully he released the small bottle, leaving it beside its brethren.
he promised it.
It was a vast city, a crowded city, filled with sights and sounds and smells almost beyond bearing. Its undercurrent was a tide of anxiety which he could taste on his lips as he braved the crowded streets, trying to make his way as the locals did, without touching. Cobblestoned streets splashed with mud offered uncertain footing, but at least they were clean; he knew cities where the awkward contraptions used to catch horse droppings weren’t required by law, and the smell of those was something that defied description. Here, thanks to a strange combination of civil tolerance and legal regulation there were no aging drunks cowering in doorways, no wide-eyed cerebums twitching their way along the sidewalk as they dreamed their mad dreams of chaos and depravity, not even a wild-haired prophet or two to cry out their warnings of doom and destruction while handing out advertising circulars for the nearest pagan temple. It all existed, here as elsewhere, but in Jaggonath it was shut away behind closed doors. And for that Andrys Tarrant was infinitely grateful.
He soon came to the silver district, so named for the metal that best reflected the sun’s white brilliance. Warded windows were filled with treasures, worked in that metal and others: yellow and pink gold, copper and bronze, and the sun-metals: silver, white gold, platinum, polished steel, others. He didn’t know the names of all of them and often couldn’t tell them apart; when Betrise used to bring out her prize serving utensils, worked in five different white metals, he used to shake his head in amazement that anyone would spend a small fortune to purchase such a thing.
Not that money had been an issue in those days, of course. The first Neocount had seen to that by sinking his wealth into investments that tripled in value before anyone could manage the legal contortions required to get at it. If Andrys had thought about it then, he might have believed that the man was trying to provide for his abandoned son by assuring wealth for his progeny. Now it just seemed like a cruel joke. Money couldn’t bring his family back, could it? Money couldn’t make this nightmare end. But it did pay for drugs and liquor and occasionally—when he required that kind of cold, impersonal convenience—it paid for women.