Kayeen left the inn and walked at a fast clip towards the docks. His mind was racing and he needed to get alone. There was too much activity happening there so he chose a street that had warehouses lining each side and headed southeast along it. He continued on until he came to another alley that ended with a rock wall along the water’s edge. This wall was as high as his shoulders and Kayeen climbed up on it and sat down facing out toward the sea.
The young man’s mind was as numb as the fingers that held his cloak tightly against the wind. The cold air blowing in off the water battled to rip open that cloak held in check by frozen fingers. This elemental struggle went unnoticed by Kayeen. His mind was too wrapped up in the battle that raged inside. It had been only a short time since he had bound Damyan and the shock of what exactly he had done to him was just now setting in. Since first picking up his sword he had been reacting to ideas and instincts that he never knew had dwelt inside.
I am a murderer. Kayeen remembered well the shock he had seen in Damyan when he mentioned to the Ranger that first man he had killed. An image of that shocked face was superimposed over another of the unconscious man he had left to die in the frozen north. It was a face of accusation and what he had done back then came back flooding through him in an emotional surge that threatened to overwhelm him. Yes, he had killed again but that second killing was different. There he had been in a kill or be killed situation. That second man had held a knife to his own throat. It was a killing of an evil person in a moment of passion and confusion. The first killing was the deliberate abandonment of a Ranger who was only trying to help.
I am a thief. The sword he was carrying was itself a priceless treasure that must have once belonged to his father. It felt a part of him as much as his arm or leg but he never thought to ask where his dad first got it or why it had been buried all this time. The craftsmanship and the treasure embedded into the sword named it as the property of kings. He was just a jumped up trapper with dreams of being a pirate. He had laid claim to the Blue Spray as his own. Nobody had the strength or the courage to argue his claim, but that did not make it right. The captain and most of the crew still viewed him as a usurper.
I am a runaway. There had been no goodbyes. He had been planning it for months but his parents and his brothers must be devastated. There was no going back, he had seen too much and done too much to ever be content in their small world. He would not go back to frittering his life away in that little forest. Even still, it hurt that he had so abruptly burned that bridge in a fit of anger.
What have I become? Now, on top of everything else, he had forced a man into slavery. Worse than that, a slave might hold on to the hope that he can buy or escape to freedom. A slave might be able to steal a few moments of his own or perform small acts of rebellion to assert his will. Kayeen had just bound a man more tightly than any chain ever could. He had killed one and enslaved another man with Talent. There were certainly others out there. If the Society had survived his parents and what he kept hearing about these Troubles then surely they would be coming for him. The Blue Spray had owners and investors in the trading houses. The more he heard about the houses, the more he feared of having a run in with them. If they knew what he was doing and planning, they would also soon be coming for his head. The more successful he appeared to be, the more complicated his life became.
Kayeen’s old back home in the north was beginning to feel less and less confining and more and more idyllic the more he thought about it. It seemed so peaceful compared to the chaos that was swirling about him in an ever growing torrent. He remembered laughing with his parents and two brothers around the table back home. He remembered the reverence his youngest brother would show when he knelt down each night to say his prayers. As he looked out over the water, Kayeen felt that perhaps it was time to try one of his own.
“Creator, I’ve never been much for prayers. They always seemed like a ritual for me that I didn’t need to bother with. It always seemed I was on the outside looking in. Blood. I don’t even know if You’re real. But if You are, I could use some help right now. Cuz I don’t see a way out of this mess I’m making of things.”
As he was praying, near the docks far to the northeast, a dirty little boy in grimy clothes ran along as fast as he could. Every few steps he would look again over his shoulder to see if he was being chased. He spun around a corner, stopped and peeked his head back the way he had come. Once he was sure he had not been pursued the boy walked back into the alley and through the open door of a nearby warehouse. He began pulling at the tops of the wooden crates along the wall. When he found one loose enough, he pried it open, moved around its contents a bit, and climbed into it pulling the top down behind him.
Kayeen felt like he should pray something more but he couldn’t think of what. He picked up a chipped thin rock wedged near the top of the stone wall. With his right hand, he skipped it out across the water while the left came down to settle instinctively on the hilt of his sword. His thumb began rubbing the ruby distractedly while he sought for another stone to skip over the water.
Yes, back home was peaceful, but it was also boring. His parents always treated him with condescension and Avril was a nuisance he was glad to have left behind. Yes, he had taken the Blue Spray for himself but wasn’t everyone the better off for it? Yashin and his crew could make more now through his Talent than they ever could before. Yes, he had killed twice but both times it was a fight he hadn’t started. They hadn’t murdered those men so much as he had killed them in self-defense. If that man had been left unconscious to die in the elements, it was his own fault for being there and acting like he had. And Damyan, where did he get off just waltzing into an inn and making demands? Kayeen hopped off his perch on the rock wall. He sauntered back through the alley and began resolutely heading towards the inn he had left. It was time to get to work. There was a world to conquer.
– – – – –
Nadezha rolled over and opened her eyes with a start. Since the two men had not decided what to do with her in the short time she was out, she woke to find them still leaning over her. She quickly picked herself off the ground in wide-eyed shock and tried to scramble away. There was not much room to back up before running up against the cliff and she edged herself to her feet with her back against it without ever taking her eyes off the two strangers. She still held the sliced rope in one hand and she pulled on it until she came to the severed end. When she noticed how cleanly it had been cut, she threw it down as if it were a poisonous snake. In doing this she noticed blood and dirt on her torn shirt near her right arm but she saw and felt no injury. Her fear grew as realization dawned that she had been healed with magic and she frantically started rubbing the blood-stained shirt.
The young one pulled his cloak around to cover his sword and motioned for his older friend to stay back. Nadezha was on the verge of running and she could tell the older one was half hoping she would. She could imagine his logic in the thought. If they let her go, it might be possible for them to get away without bringing the Drepti down on them. If she went with them, surely her people would follow. Perhaps it was the Creator’s will that she ran into them. He allowed her to become an abomination so that these men might be caught.
“My name is Avril. This is Gavril.”
Nadezha turned to look at the younger one as he introduced himself. She quickly looked away so as not to blush. Something that evil should not be allowed to be so good looking.
“You could not let me die with honor, could you? Were you the one who cut the rope?”
“I was. I’m sorry. I…” Avril realized what he was apologizing for. “No, I’m not sorry. I acted in haste, but I would do the same a thousand times. Life is too precious to be wasted.”
“My life ended when I realized I was cursed,” Nadezha replied. “Like you, I’m an abomination.”
Gavril stepped forward. “All you are is misguided. We’re not…”
The older one cut off as Avril stared daggers at him. “I know little of your people. I have been raised apart from the world. Still, I know what it is like to feel as you do. The whole world believes my parents, good kind people, are an abomination. They even partly believe it themselves. It is a weight that has been heavy on me and my family for as long as I have known.”
“Then why would you not let me die with honor?”
“There is no honor in death.”
“You are a fool. There is a time when allowing yourself to die is the only honorable option.”
The young one tilted his head to one side as though he was honestly considering what she was saying. This knocked her off balance. Her whole life it seemed that nobody had ever truly taken her seriously. She didn’t even take herself seriously most of the time. Anyone of the Zingari would immediately shoot back with their own witty reply, but this boy, this abomination, was giving her words serious thought.
“You’re right. There might be a time when death could serve a greater good, but not when it is taken by your own hand.”
“I suppose that means that you won’t just let me try again, will you?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Nadezha shrugged. “If I go off on my own, I’ll just end up killing myself as soon as I know you won’t be there to rescue me again. I guess that means you need me to lead you to Slobodsky.”
“My name is Nadezha, by the way.”
The older man stood back with folded arms and a frown on his face the entire time. She knew she hadn’t fooled him but was disappointed when he gave her game away to the younger one. “If I think for a second she’s leading us toward her people I’ll tie her up and drag her all the way. You two walk ahead a bit. I’ll stay behind to cover our trail a bit and cover up any breadcrumbs she might try dropping.”
Nadezha felt the heat rising to her face. The other one, Avril, at first looked confused and then there was a noticeable dawning of realization. How could he possibly be so innocent? He turned toward her with an openly hurt look and said, “You would go with us only to make sure that the White Knives would follow?”
She was ashamed of her unwillingness to meet his eyes as she nodded yes. He is evil. It doesn’t matter how innocent and naïve he seems to be. He… is… evil.
Avril took his cloak off and wrapped it around her when he saw her shivering. It was so warm. “I guess we’ll just have to hope the Creator can change your mind before our time runs out.”
They began to move southward and Nadezha continued to repeat the mantra in her head in an effort to silence her growing doubts. He is evil. He is…
– – – – –
“Sir, there’s someone at the door.”
“What? At this hour? Send them away.”
“Sir, its a guardsman from Takino. He says it’s urgent. Threatened to take out your door guards if we don’t let him through.”
“From Takino? Well, what is it that Mati wants us to know? Let him through.”
Krushev put down the book he had been reading and hefted his massive bulk up out of the padded chair. With a pained look on his face and a hand on his lower back, he waddled into the parlor. Almost at the same time, a man came into the room from another door led by Krushev’s steward and trailed by two of his guards. This man was wearing the traditional red and black of a city guard. He still had his katana strapped to his back and was still wearing his leather boots. He had the wearied look of one who had ridden fast and hard. Krushev’s curiosity was piqued. What had brought the man with such urgency that he forgot all proprieties?
“I am sorry for the intrusion, Overseer, but my captain ordered me to come to you with all haste.”
“Well, what is it that Mati wants me to know?”
If the guard was surprised at Krushev using his captain’s familiar name he didn’t show it. He answered, “Urnov has called a meeting of the houses in Takino. Apparently his ship, Blue Spray has been taken over and some of the crew murdered. Beyond that, the man who has led this mutiny has the Talent. A young Ranger met him at the Broken Nail. There was some sort of confrontation at the inn and now the Ranger is captured. Either that or he has been turned. Stories conflict”
Krushev leaned back in his chair to process this information. His shifting caused the poor chair to groan in protest but he paid it no mind. Some of what was said he knew. He knew that there was a man on the Blue Spray with the Talent. He had sent Foglaid after him. If this was not the man from the Prophesy then he was to be reeled in before he became useless. If he was the Prophesied…
Krushev had guessed that the Ranger had been pursuing him as well. The plan was for Foglaid to force a confrontation and for one of the two to die. In the worst case scenario, there would be one more thing with which to smear those with magic. At best, the Ranger would have died and Krushev would have strong chords tied to the other one. This mutiny and the fact that the boy was now with the Ranger was news to him. Soon Foglaid should be sending another message his way. The man was the worst coward he had ever seen. But he was an effective coward. More than once Krushev suspected that Foglaid’s apparent cowardice was mostly an act. If so, the man was a very good actor.
“So Urnov has called for the houses there to meet on these issues? He must not like losing the Blue Spray. Isn’t his second son the captain? Did Mati know what they are planning?”
“If so he didn’t tell me. He planned to attend the meeting himself.”
“Well, I’m sure he’ll send word at its conclusion.” The comment was meant for a command. The guard recognized it as such but had the tact not to say anything.
“I’ll begin composing a response to give to your captain. My steward will have food brought to you. Unfortunately, I must ask you to return to the city within the hour.” The guardsman bowed in acknowledgment and followed the two house guards out the door. The steward remained.
“Write a message to Aatzaz. Pass along what we have heard tonight. Also, where is Dahlia? I think she might be needed here.”
“Sir, Aatzaz has Dahlia in Artois snagging a couple boys.”
“The archer and his friend? They will have to wait. If she has them, she can drop them off with Acharn on her way up. If not, she is to ignore them for the time being. Send a message to her to that effect. Include that in your message to Aatzaz as well. It must rankle him that he has invested so much time in Tsyon and now it appears that the Prophesy is coming into play right here in our little corner of the world.