Cast in Ruin, p.10Michelle Sagara
“Not the storm. But the Shadows have gone nuts in the last couple of days.”
“Since the People arrived?”
“Is that what they’re called hereabouts?”
“Nah. We call them the Norannir.”
“It’s what they call themselves.” Morse grinned. “It’s more or less what they call anyone who isn’t a Shadow, and we adopted it. The other Imperial guy—”
“Sanabalis.” When Severn cleared his throat, Kaylin added, “Lord Sanabalis.”
“He’s attempting to learn some of their language, and attempting to at least teach their kids some of ours. The kids pick it up faster.”
“What else have the Norannir been doing?”
“Anything. I mean anything they’re asked to do, if we can make it clear. But…they’re not afraid of the Shadow. They hate it, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t fear it. They don’t fear the Ferals, either; they make camp beside the damn border, and they watch.” She grimaced. “Truth is, they make the streets safer just by living there.
“But our people? They’re fuckin’ mice. They scatter at the sight of the Norannir.”
“Big surprise. They were generally smart enough to scatter at the sight of you, and you weren’t eight feet tall and wielding an ax they probably couldn’t lift on a good day.”
Morse was willing to concede this, but only barely. “I wanted them to be afraid. I was a threat. Avoiding me? Made sense. But avoiding the Norannir makes none.”
Clearly, life in Tiamaris—the fief, not the Dragon—agreed with Morse; she’d never cared much whether people made sense before.
“They’ll stay if the Lady’s with them, though. They love her more than they fear the Norannir.”
“We can probably work with that.”
Tara, who had been walking in silence toward the Tower—with the odd stop to look at dirt or grass—turned to look at Kaylin. She raised a brow to make clear she’d heard the words and wanted details. “The Norannir are going to be living in the fief. They may make their way out in ones and twos—I did, Severn did—but this is where most of them are going to stay. The rest of the People who already live here don’t have much choice, and even if they thought they did, they wouldn’t say anything.
“But they trust you now.” In truth, it had taken much, much less time for that trust to build than Kaylin would have guessed. “If they trust you enough that they’re willing to risk their lives in the presence of the strangers, we can work with that. We can make the strangers seem less, well, strange.”
“How?” Morse demanded.
“I don’t know how much time Tara has, but…these language lessons. Sanabalis has a good idea once in a while; he’s trying to teach the kids. What if we do it in the other direction?”
“We teach the human kids the Norannir language. Tara can be there to help. It doesn’t have to be much, and it doesn’t have to be useful right away. But the kids’ll spend time with the Norannir, and anything that doesn’t terrify kids…”
“Who’s going to volunteer their kids?”
Kaylin said, “I don’t know. But we won’t be the ones asking—Tara will. Besides, not all the kids have living parents. Offer them a meal and they’ll come.” Morse nodded and they both looked at Tara.
Tara, however, looked ahead to the Tower. “Come,” she said quietly. “You asked me about the sword.”
“You said you didn’t—”
“I don’t. I don’t, but I can—in the words of the fief—guess.”
The Tower doors still boasted no door wards, and this, more than anything else, made it instantly feel like home. Or as much a home as a rising pillar of white stone, surrounded by carrot, beet, and potato gardens could ever be. The doors rolled inward as Tara approached them, but many, many of the fancier buildings in the City had doors that did that, as well. Here, she bowed to Maggaron.
“You will be safe within,” she told him.
“What I see—”
“You will be safe. You cannot harm me. And if I do not wish you to leave, you will remain within the Tower for the rest of your natural existence.”
He didn’t find this as off-putting as Kaylin might have were she in his shoes. Instead, he nodded. “I have no weapon to offer,” he added, as if this made sense. Clearly, to the Norannir, it did. Tara nodded.
Kaylin, on the other hand, said, “This sword—”
“It is yours,” was his grave reply.
“Yes, I got that. But—did it happen to come with a sheath?”
His brows, which were pale, rose in an arch that almost touched his hairline.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
Maggaron looked to Tara; Tara said nothing. Together, they entered the Tower, shadowed by Morse. Kaylin and Severn pulled up the rear.
As Towers went, this one—at least in the front—was stable. The foyer looked the same as it had any other time Kaylin had crossed the threshold, and the long wide halls still looked as if a Dragon in native form could comfortably maneuver them. The doors were doubled, and wide, where they could be seen at all. Given the changing nature of Castle Nightshade, this brought Kaylin some comfort.
Maggaron had no difficulty entering the doors; nor did he find the halls themselves in any way cramped or confining.
“Where are we going?” Kaylin asked when Tara opened the doors that led into the main—or what Kaylin assumed was the main—halls.
“To the mirror,” was the quiet reply.
Kaylin managed to hide a grimace, in large part because Tara had already turned and begun to walk away. The mirror within the Tower wasn’t an actual mirror; it was a small pool whose still water was reflective. Kaylin’s previous experience with said mirror hadn’t exactly been comforting.
Tara raised a brow, as if she could hear the thought; given who she was and where they were, she probably could. “I think you will find the visit less exciting this time,” she offered.
“You are unusual, so there is always the possibility that something entirely unforeseen could occur.”
“This has something to do with the sword?”
“No. Not directly.”
“No. I find him curious,” Tara added, “because it is clear to me that he is not immortal; it is clear, as well, that he has a true name. These two things should not be able to coexist.”
Kaylin cleared her throat.
Tara raised a brow. “I am aware of your claims, Kaylin. I am aware of what you carry. I am not yet aware of how it affects either you, or the name itself; nor am I certain whether or not the name can be used against you, as true names can otherwise be used.
“But in the case of this man, the name can be so used; it is part of him.”
“You can tell that just by looking?”
“Never mind.” Kaylin turned to Maggaron and said, “Mejrah called you Ascendant. What does that mean?”
It was his turn to look confused. “You do not understand what an Ascendant is? But you—you are Chosen.”
“I’m what passes for Chosen in this world. And in this world, until a few weeks ago, there were no Norannir. And no Ascendants, either.”
“I do not understand.”
Join the club, Kaylin thought. “The Norannir now live in a world that’s mostly populated by people like me. Or like my companion, Corporal Handred.”
“There aren’t so many Dragons as all that,” Kaylin replied. “One of them is the Lord of this fief. I think there are five Dragons in total; one of those five is Emperor, so he’d be considered the Lord of the fief I live in. Which is not this one.”
“And this Tower? Is it not yours?”
“No, it is definitively not mine. It’s the home of Lord Tiamaris—the one with the large wings, the long neck, and the impressive set of teeth.” Pausin
“Our stories of our own home are best told by the elder: she is the keeper of our tales.” He had stopped walking, but so had Tara, and she’d tilted her chin in that particular way that meant she was paying attention.
Kaylin watched his expression as she asked her next question. “The Norannir clearly hadn’t seen Dragons before they came here. They were really…uncomfortable…about their transformation to and from Dragon form the first time they saw it—they thought the Dragons might be Shadows.
“But you saw Tiamaris and recognized him. Maggaron, you knew Dragons.”
Tara approached the closed double doors at the hall’s end. They were exactly as Kaylin remembered them, as was the rest of the hall. They rolled open into a room that was also familiar: runes glowed on the walls, separated by standing pillars; these pillars surrounded a shallow, circular pool of water that was absolutely still.
Maggaron hesitated, still pinned by Kaylin’s gaze. At length he turned and followed where Tara led. He hadn’t answered the question; Kaylin knew it was because he would have lied. Which made no sense. “Maggaron—”
“If you want an answer I am sworn not to give, you have the option of forcing it from me.”
She cursed briefly, and in Barrani. This cheered her up; she was going to have so much fun at the office with that word.
They entered the room, Severn pulling up the rear, and the doors rolled quietly—but not ominously—shut behind them. Every part of this building was in some way part of Tara; it was her physical form, her body. Sanabalis might not understand why the citizens of the fief didn’t fear the Avatar, but Kaylin did; Tara, at her most terrifying, stood against things that had demonstrably killed—or worse—people’s neighbors in the past few months. While people had famously short memories, they weren’t that short.
“Kaylin?” Tara asked.
She lifted the sword that was still entirely without a scabbard.
Tara frowned. “Do you wish me to take it? You don’t mind?”
Something about the way she asked the question caused an answering frown across Kaylin’s lips. “Should I?” She held the weapon out. It was, absent runes, a sword. It looked decently forged, decently put together; the hilt was fancier than Kaylin would have ideally liked, because fancy hilts were a total pain in the butt to keep clean.
Tara held out a hand, and Kaylin put the sword’s hilt—not the blade, as Maggaron had done—into her palm. Tara was watching her face closely. “You feel…nothing?”
“I don’t know. I would have said, had I been asked, that you must.” She turned to Maggaron. “You gave her this blade.”
He nodded, and then his glance bounced off her gaze and landed somewhere on the wall just past her shoulder. “I did.”
“Did you not feel its pull?”
He was silent.
Tara frowned again. She lifted the sword, examining the runes along the blade as if she were reading a letter.
“What do they say?” Kaylin asked her.
Tara was silent, absorbed in her inspection. When she spoke again, it was to the Norannir. “Could you have given her this blade at all if your name were entirely your own?”
He grimaced. “I do not know, Lady. The blades call us when we are finished our training and we are taken to the spire of ascension. If we are not called, we go no further, although many who have failed the test of sword have gone on to lead, and lead well.”
“When you say call, what do you mean? Do the swords literally speak?” This question, Kaylin could have asked. She hadn’t, but she was interested in the answer.
His answer was quiet, and long in coming. “Yes,” he finally said.
Kaylin glanced at the blade that now rested in Tara’s hand. “It didn’t speak to me,” she told the Avatar. “It changed shape, but it didn’t speak.”
Tara examined the sword once more. After a pause she spoke, and the word traveled down Kaylin’s spine as if it had been hissed in her ear. The sword’s runes began to glow, the color shifting from pale blue to a white gold that was hard to look at for long. Tara’s eyes, when she looked up, were literal stone, which happened when she forgot to maintain their appearance. The rest of her face looked normal. “Tara, what do the runes say?”
Tara was silent for a long moment, scrutinizing the blade’s flat. At length she said, “I cannot read them. I cannot see them clearly, Kaylin. I can sense that they are there, no more. The sword—it did not speak to you.”
“No. Should it have?”
“But it took a shape that you could more easily wield. Maggaron, did the sword speak to you?”
“No, not upon your ascension. Today. In the streets of the heartlands.”
Once again, he turned away. “Yes, Lady.”
“When? I apologize if this is uncomfortable,” she added. The words were not gently spoken.
“When she spoke my name,” was the soft reply. “When the Chosen spoke my name, the sword spoke to me.” He started to speak, stopped, and turned away completely, but his expression was so wounded Kaylin reached out and caught Tara’s shoulder, pulling her back.
Tara, eyes still marbled stone with no whites, no pupils, and no irises, frowned. “If we do not understand the nature of the weapon’s interaction with this man, we will not understand the weapon itself.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kaylin said, pitching her voice as low as possible. “I think we can guess at the answer to at least that question.”
Tara hesitated, and then color returned to her eyes as they lost that disturbing appearance of carved rock. “Can I ask him what the last thing the sword said was?”
Kaylin, looking at the blade, could also guess the answer. “I think—I think the sword told him to give it to—to someone else.”
“To give it, Chosen, to you,” was the soft reply. “I have not heard her voice for so long—” He shook himself then. “She must be speaking to you; her shape is now yours. You cannot hear her?”
“Have you tried?”
“Well, no. It’s a sword—I didn’t expect it to try to hold a conversation.”
He appeared to be genuinely scandalized; it made him look younger. “Please—try. She has a voice, and if you hear it once—” his voice broke, but this time he continued “—you will hear it until you fall.”
“As you did.”
“As I did.”
“And you can’t hear her now?” It was hard, to give a sword a gender.
“No, Chosen. She is no longer mine, and I—I am no longer hers.”
Tara, mindful of Kaylin’s words, said, “But you carried her into the Shadow, and she absorbed some of what you absorbed.”
“And you’re certain the sword is both whole and safe?”
“Safe? She is as you see her.”
“Safe to use. Uncorrupted.”
“She cannot be corrupted.” There was no doubt at all in his words.
Kaylin lifted a hand. “She might not be corruptible,” she pointed out, “but the fact is you used her to cleave great chunks of ground to open a crevice that passed beneath the borders here. It doesn’t matter if she can’t be changed if you can use her at the command of Shadows.”
He said nothing.
“I will not speak of it further unless you force the words from me,” he replied. “But she is—as she always was—blameless. I could not cast her away; the weakness was mine. She is now in your hands. Mejrah knows; take her to Mejrah and she will begin to teach you.”
Tara shook her head. “I do not like this,” she finally said.
“Or the connection between the sword and the bearer. There is something that is not quite right here.” She turned to Kaylin. “I suggest that you do not wie
Kaylin shrugged. “I’m not great with a sword, anyway. Do you want to keep it for now?”
Tara hesitated again, and then nodded. She carried the sword to the still, and untouched, surface of the mirror, and lowered it gently toward the water. The mirror’s surface began to ripple. Tara spoke slowly as she held the sword—Kaylin couldn’t understand a word of the speech. But the rhythm of the words implied ritual, not conversation.
The water began to rise, and the Avatar frowned. She spoke again, and this time the cadence was different—but Kaylin saw no images reflected in the water’s surface; there was too much turbulence. “Tara?”
Tara frowned. She shifted her grip on the hilt and brought it down into the water in one sudden rush of movement. The water parted. Anywhere where the sword’s edge was, it wasn’t.
“Tara, the water’s not supposed to do that, is it?”
“It is not entirely water, and as you have apparently surmised, no.”
“You weren’t going to leave it in the water, were you?”
“No, Kaylin. But I wished to access information about the runes on the blade itself.”
“I cannot access any information relevant to this weapon at all. The mirror does not…see it…clearly.”
Kaylin wasn’t certain how mirrors—of any kind—“saw.” It wasn’t one of the technical details explained in Magical Theory 101; if it had been, she’d probably have paid a lot more attention. But as a student in that particular class, she’d been expected to accept as incontrovertible truth whatever the teacher laid down as “fact.”
What she’d taken out of the class, however, was basic: when magic was working properly, things were fine. When magic broke down—like, say, carriage joists—things went downhill very quickly, and not in entirely predictable ways. “Maybe we shouldn’t try.”
Tara lifted a brow. “Perhaps. But I find the sword disturbing. I am aware of the ways in which weapons were imbued with magic; with the oldest of magics, the enchantments were not entirely predictable. Even so, there is something about this blade that is strange. I will keep it for the moment.”
Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes