Authors: Blake Charlton
“Let's say the kava was doing the speaking.”
“He was the one who would spellwright after smoking opium?”
“You have the damnedest memory for embarrassing things I mention in passing.”
“Drunkenly mention in passing.”
“And didn't he break your heart with that other woman?”
“Three other women.”
“Well, I hope you have to kill him.”
“Me too.” Leandra sighed as she ladled more water on herself. With the soap, she began to lather herself starting with her swollen knees. “Dhru, that smuggler who sold us this godspell, did you notice anythingÂ â¦ familiar about him?”
“What do you mean?”
“I can't shake the sensation that I've seen him somewhere else before, but it doesn't seem possible. Perhaps I have heard him described to me. Did he seem familiar to you at all?”
“He did not,” Dhrun said before pausing. “But I must say again that I don't trust him.”
“Of course we can't trust him; he's a smuggler.”
“No, no. I mean it just seems too implausible that his contacts find us and offer to sell us prophetic texts just when our cause is in its most dire time.”
“And what of his story of the empire preparing for conflict with the league?”
“It sounds a little much to me,” Dhrun said. “Though I suppose it's possible there could be another incident like the Ogun Blockade.” Twenty-two years ago, the empire had placed heavy tariffs on Ixonian traders, and the airships off of the Isles of Ogun had failed to protect the merchants from pirates.
When Ixonian spies discovered that a corrupt air marshal was protecting a small clan of pirates in exchange for half their plunder, the league invaded the Ogun Isles on the pretext of ridding the islands of piracy. The empire took this as a violation of their sovereignty and a yearlong, bloody war was fought over the islands. Eventually the Ixonian fleet and Tagrana, a powerful war goddess capable of transforming unarmed men and women into tigerlike warriors, captured all of the Ogun Isles and blockaded the city, forcing concessions from the empire.
Leandra considered the possibility that some new tension was arising between Ixos and Trillinon. “But ever since the blockade, the empire has tried to avoid all conflict with Ixos. The empress would far rather play her politics on the Spirish boarder with Lorn.”
“Every woman can change her mind, even an empress.”
“True,” Leandra said as she ladled more water over herself.
“To back up for a second,” Dhrun asked, “you are absolutely sure your prophecy about having to kill someone is strong?”
“Yes. If I run, everyone I love will die.”
“But perhaps if you were simply to forget about the whole thing?”
“I doubt it would work, wouldn't be much different from running. Anyway, how could one forget that one is going to become a murderer?”
“Lots of wine?”
Leandra laughed but then asked, “Is there any out there?”
She could hear Dhrun walking about the small rooms. Leandra washed the last of the soap from her body. “No,” Dhrun said at last. “Let me see if there's any in the provisions room.”
“That is kind of you.”
“It would be kind if I didn't plan to drink most of it myself.”
She heard the creaking of the goddess descending the rope ladder. Leandra poured another ladleful of water over her head and then toweled off before slipping into the robes draped over the screen.
Leandra walked onto her deck and saw that most of the kukui lamps were snuffed. Only a single torch burned on the docks. In the pool below the torch, several fish swam languid circles.
Leandra was starting to wonder if her belly pain was subsiding when she heard the rope creak behind her. She turned and saw Dhrun climbing with her two upper arms and holding in her lower right hand a small porcelain bottle, in her lower left two porcelain cups. Leandra smiled. “I really should not drink during a disease flare.”
“You really shouldn't,” Dhrun agreed. “I'll sacrifice myself and drink it all for you.” The goddess held one cup in each lower hand and poured rice wine into them both with her upper right hand. She offered one.
Leandra accepted. “Well, I wouldn't want you to sacrifice too much. And besides, I can't have any bad habitsâ”
“Only full-blown addictions,” Dhrun finished for her in mock boredom. “Now, I can assure you that I haven't put any tetrodotoxin in here.” She raised her cup.
“To friends who never need to poison each other,” Leandra said. They clinked cups in the Southern fashion. Leandra sipped the rice wine. It was a touch oversweet, but still enjoyable. “I'm surprised Alo spends the rupees for provision room wine.”
“Oh, he doesn't,” Dhrun said. “He hides a personal cache in the back of his bookshelf. Sometimes he even has a bottle of mandana. In any case, I saw he was still on the docks and so liberated this from his quarters.”
Leandra laughed. “Remind me to get something nice for that dear man when we return to the city.”
“I would suggest a gift of two thousand five hundred thirty-two rupees, or he may well burst a blood vessel.”
“Right,” Leandra said with a sigh and turned back to her deck. “Tomorrow is going to be busy.” They drank silently and watched the torchlight reflected on the pool water. The fish carved their erratic circuits near the dock torch.
At last Leandra announced that she would sleep. Dhrun shifted back into his Dhrunarman incarnation and took up guard near the ladder.
Almost the instant Leandra put her head to the pillow, she fell into a dream of a dark seascape with a rolling deck beneath her. The ocean was filled with a whirlpool. A hundred feet above her, a billowing plume of smoke formed from nothing. Holokai and Thaddeus were there, both very angry. Then she was in a Dralish forest, everything so cool and green and the high oak boughs arching above her. Wind in the leaves. She was a child and her father's voice was callingÂ â¦ callingÂ â¦
Leandra woke and the memory of the dream twisted into nothing. She tried to recall but her gut was filled with a sickening, queasy feeling, as if she were terribly worried. The more she tried to remember the dream, the faster it slipped away.
Leandra sat up. The sky above the pool was filled with dappled clouds just barely illuminated with early dawn.
Then Leandra realized that her gut didn't hurt; rather, in an hour, most of her future selves would be frantically worried. It was the prophetic godspell.
Something this morning was going to distress her. Scowling, Leandra rubbed her forehead where she supposed her godspell to be. She might not have bought the text if she had known that it would wake her an hour early every morning.
Dhrun was standing guard, all four arms folded. He hadn't moved since she fell asleep. She wondered what the deity thought about when he became so still.
Leandra flopped back into bed, still irritated at her godspell, hoping to fall back asleep. But after a minute she realized her bladder was uncomfortably full. So, she hauled herself over to the chamber pot and then back to the sheets. But when she was lying still, she found she could not stop wondering about what was going to fill her with such apprehension in less than an hour's time. She tossed and turned for a while longer and then gave up on sleep and walked out to her deck.
The morning was darkening as a fat cloud occluded the sky above the pool. She looked down into the water, a few scattered rain drops were falling. A light, warm tropical rain.
It was high tide now and the torch left on the dock was still burning. Leandra looked down into the pellucid water and was shocked to see a massive, nightmarelike figure slip through the now submarine opening that admitted her catamaran. The creature swam a powerful circle around the pool, causing the surface to churn into small whirlpools and eddies.
Leandra hurried to the rope ladder. “Should I followâ” Dhrun asked before Leandra interrupted. “No, stay here. I'll send for you in a moment.”
She hurried down the ladder and across the boardwalk. By the time she reached the dock, Holokai was already sitting at its edge, wet, humanoid, naked. He was breathing hard but grinning. “Fast, huh?” he said with a grin. “I told you I was feeling strong. I think even more people have been praying for me lately. But, I could eat for three days straight.”
“Poor hunting on the way back?” she asked. Usually Holokai returned from a long swim with a belly full of harbor seal.
He shook his head. “No time. About five miles outside the Cerulean Strait, I circled a few times below an inbound Southern ship. But when I came near the surface, I woke something up. Never felt a presence like that before. Hey, Lea, why don't you tell me next time you send me to surf a tidal wave, huh?” He laughed.
Leandra's belly began to hurt. “What do you mean?”
“You knowÂ â¦ you know how it is. My kind, in my element, I can feel another like me. I don't like getting too close, especially in open water. But maybe that's just me, you know?”
“Holokai,” Leandra interrupted, her patience thinning, “what did you sense out there? Another god?”
His face became thoughtful. “Yeah, like another god. But not another god, I don't think. It's funny, Lea, the presenceÂ â¦ it was likeÂ â¦ likeâ¦”
Leandra's belly began to ache with anxiety. “Did you breech?”
“Very briefly, just got one eye above the water. Some of those Southern sailor boys like to get brave with harpoons and I'm hungry, yeah, but I'm not that hungry.” He grimaced, maybe remembering the last time he had eaten a sailor.
“But the ship's name, Kai, the thing written in gold leaf on the side of the ship, what did it read?”
Holokai frowned. Reading was not his strong point when his eyes were all black. At last he said, “
The High Queen's Lance
Leandra groaned. Her parents had fallen in love during the political intrigue in the Spirish city of Avel that involved a Spirish airship named the
“Lea, you know what I think the presence was that I felt. It was likeÂ â¦ wellÂ â¦ from what you told me I think it was likeâ¦”
“Like a dragon?” Lea asked.
“Hey, how'd you know?”
Leandra growled a word in two clipped syllables as only an irate adult child can: “Moth-er.”
Nicodemus and the neodemon wearing his daughter's face stared at each other with incomprehension. “Your daughter's face?” the River Thief asked.
“You'reâ¦” Nicodemus stuttered. “You're impersonating her?”
“Leandra Weal? The Warden of Ixos?” the River Thief asked. “She has my face?”
“You have hers.”
The River Thief's eyes narrowed with sudden comprehension. “Soâ¦” All six of her hands tightened around their knives.
Nicodemus dodged just as the neodemon's right uppermost arm flicked back and then forward. Her throwing dagger passed within an inch of his shoulder as he misspelled the last of censoring texts from his mind. The River Thief leapt forward with a three-arm knife thrust. Nicodemus danced back but not before her lowermost knife cut into his hip.
“Stop!” Nicodemus cried and pulled a blasting spell from his stomach. He flicked it at the neodemon's feet with his right hand while using his left to cast a shielding spell on the deck before him.
A wall of protective indigo words shot up to Nicodemus's waist. The River Thief lunged again, this time leading with the kris in her mid-left hand. But Nicodemus ducked below his shielding spell just as his blasting spell detonated. A shockwave momentarily knocked every thought from Nicodemus's mind and set his ears ringing.
In the next instant, he found himself staggering to his feet. Two sailors were charging, knives raised. “Rory!” Nicodemus called as he reached to his hip and pulled free a coruscation of paragraphs that leapt from his skin to form a two-handed textual sword. “Rory, now!”
To Nicodemus's relief and horror, the deck before the charging sailors exploded into an array of razor-thin spikes each five or six feet in length. The giant splinters punched straight into the sailors' legs and bellies.
The night erupted into screams. Nicodemus looked around and saw that every one of the River Thief's sailors had been similarly impaled by a nightmare blossoming of splinters.
A booming crash turned Nicodemus's eyes starboard. His blasting text had knocked the River Thief into the gunnel; there, Rory had made the wood come alive with spikes, one or two of which had pierced the neodemon's side but most had broken harmlessly. Large barklike growths had emerged from the gunnel to envelop three of the neodemon's arms. But the blue-green aura surrounding the River Thief ignited into flames and burned her restraints.
Suddenly, the barge lurched and Nicodemus nearly lost his balance. A fountain of water erupted from the river behind the neodemon as she tore herself free of the barklike bindings.
“Goddess, wait!” Nicodemus yelled. “It doesn't have to be like this!”
The neodemon turned toward him. Her eyes burned with a merciless white light. She advanced, more carefully now. The barge shook again and Nicodemus stumbled. The River Thief danced forward, slashing with first her left middle arm then all of her right arms. Nicodemus met the first slash with his textual sword then jumped back to avoid the other blades. With a yell and downward slash, he severed her right uppermost arm at the elbow.
Shrieking, the neodemon lurched backward. Nicodemus pressed his attack and knocked free another of her knives. He was about to thrust into her gut when she jumped away and fell. A roar of thrashing water erupted from somewhere behind Nicodemus. The barge lurched again.
“Goddess, yield! It doesn't have to be like this!” Nicodemus yelled again.