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Cast in ruin, p.28
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       Cast in Ruin, p.28

           Michelle Sagara
 

  Severn caught up with her in the halls, because Tara and Maggaron walked ahead, side by side. Maggaron didn’t sheathe the sword, but then again, he had no sheath for it. She wondered what he did with the sword when he needed to eat. If he needed to eat.

  “Tara doesn’t look happy,” Severn said.

  “I think she’s confused. I just wish her confusion didn’t lead to the Arkon today.” Severn nodded.

  “Do you think Nightshade knew?”

  “No. I’m not entirely certain the Arkon does, either. But the circumstances were—are—strange enough to warrant close inspection. What do you think is happening?”

  “I’m not sure.” She hesitated because she always did when she wasn’t certain. It was a failing she struggled to overcome, and it was helped by the fact that she’d been wrong before when she was certain, and she’d survived that. “His name—the name that the Shadows have—isn’t his. He wasn’t born with it. He came to it by choice and that choice wasn’t entirely his. It’s not like mine,” she added, aware that she hadn’t been born with one, either. “I took mine from the Lake, and I don’t think that would have been possible if I hadn’t been marked already.” She lifted her arms, the marks still visible.

  “What I don’t understand at all is how. It’s not, I’d swear it’s not, the Dragon’s true name. It might be some part of it, but how the hells does that happen? Names are names—they’re alive in some fashion. I don’t think you can lop off a part of one—it’d be like me chopping off an arm and giving it to you, and expecting you to be able to attach and use it.”

  He was silent as they walked, but it was a thoughtful silence. It demanded thought on her part, and she gave it.

  “In the High Court?”

  He nodded.

  “The High Lord.”

  “Yes.”

  “I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

  “No? His name wasn’t complete.”

  I don’t think, she continued, shutting her mouth and opening her thoughts, that we’re supposed to be discussing this here. Tara can probably hear us.

  She can probably hear us anyway. I think it necessary if we’re to understand what’s happening.

  It was true.

  Tell me why you think it’s not the same.

  His name wasn’t complete. He had a name, but—it wasn’t complete…

  Until you completed it.

  Yes.

  But that changed the nature of his name, and that allowed him to free himself from the Shadows who knew it…. Yes. She thought about it. The High Lord—the current High Lord—had failed the test of name that the High Halls demanded of all of its rulers. His name had been revealed to the Shadows over which the High Halls had been constructed. But the High Lord’s name had been only part of the whole rune which had been meant for him at birth; it had been enough to breathe life into his still, infant form—but it had never been the whole of what had been intended for him.

  Kaylin had found the defining stroke, she had pulled it, whole, from the Barrani Lake of Life, and carried it to where he hid, captive by his choice in his own home.

  But that single stroke had always been part of his name. And yet…no one had known. Kaylin herself hadn’t known until she’d approached him. She didn’t understand the genesis of true names. She didn’t understand their purpose, beyond the basics: Immortals required them to live. She could recognize them, but how was it even possible that they could be sundered and still somehow function in parts?

  Severn followed her thoughts; they were a more forceful version of his own at this point.

  What if Bellusdeo was aware of how that might be done in the inverse order? He asked the question at almost the same minute Kaylin did. Neither of them had any answers to give each other.

  She couldn’t give him a name, he continued, not in the way you took yours—but what if this was as close as she could come? The sword is, from everything I’ve seen, part of what he now is. His name is part of hers.

  There’s a difference between the High Lord and Maggaron. I mean, a difference between their names. The High Lord owned it all. The part and the whole. It wasn’t spread between two; it wasn’t given away. Maggaron can’t have a name—but he does. Maggaron was immortal because of it. But…I think he has the name when he has the sword. No, that can’t be it. He and the sword are bound somehow, even when he’s not carrying it. If we could break that, I think he’d be safe.

  And the sword?

  I don’t know. If the sword has a name of its own, it’s not owned by Shadow.

  She stopped thinking about anything but angry Dragons when Tara stopped outside a set of severe and imposing doors. They were the tallest doors Kaylin had seen in the Tower so far, and they were made of a wood so dark it was almost black. “The doors don’t change appearance to reflect your Lord’s mood, do they?”

  “Yes,” Tara answered, her eyes pretty much the same color as said doors.

  Kaylin never wanted to live in a place where the decor changed to reflect her mood. Then again, it might keep Teela and Tain out on the bad days.

  The doors rolled open. Maggaron looked completely normal when he passed beneath their arch, they were so tall. Tara looked tiny when seen at his side. But although the three Dragon Lords were in their mortal forms, they didn’t look in any way insignificant as they turned, eyes orange-red, toward the open doors.

  Bellusdeo lay on a bed at the room’s far end.

  “What,” the Arkon said sharply, “do you want?” A little puff of smoke accompanied his words, but at least there were no scorch marks on the floor.

  “Not anymore,” Tara said pleasantly to Kaylin. She bowed to the Arkon, who looked slightly confused—and not happy to be so—by her comment. “I am correcting a misapprehension on the part of Kaylin.”

  The Arkon’s brows scrunched together. “My apologies, Lady.”

  “None are required, Arkon. I requested the presence of Corporal Handred and Private Neya; I also requested the presence of Maggaron. It was my desire that they speak with you, not theirs.”

  Because we’re sane, Kaylin thought.

  “Have you discovered anything further?” the Avatar continued, still directing her words to the Arkon; she generally avoided discussions about sanity or insanity with Kaylin.

  “No, Lady. We have been discussing the situation.” And he clearly wasn’t happy with that discussion. “What have you come to ask?”

  She turned to Maggaron. “Please show the Arkon your sword.” Maggaron instantly did as bid; it was hard to tell whether it was due to respect for the Avatar, or for the Dragons. He didn’t hand the sword over, however; he merely approached and held the blade out for the Dragons’ inspection.

  “It is the same sword that Private Neya was carrying,” the Avatar told them all.

  The Arkon raised a brow, but the news didn’t seem to surprise him greatly. The blade, however, caused familiar furrows to develop in his brow. He snorted. This time, there was fire in it.

  “The blade,” Tara said when the Arkon failed to express his annoyance in words, “is some part of the Ascendant’s name.”

  CHAPTER 18

  “I beg your pardon?”

  When Tara repeated her words, the Arkon turned to Tiamaris. Tiamaris looked grim, but said, “She means what she said literally.”

  “I cannot decipher the meaning of her words.”

  “She feels that the sword is physically part of the Ascendant’s name—the name that Private Neya knows, and the name that the Shadows used against him.”

  “The…sword.”

  “That is what she means.” Before the Arkon could speak again, Tiamaris added, “The words make little sense to me on the surface; I merely report what the Tower believes. Tara?”

  “Kaylin will explain.”

  The Arkon’s brows rose in disbelief. When they fell again, they reached new lows. “Private Neya?”

  She glanced at Severn; Severn, however, was studying his boots. “When he’s ho
lding the sword—and only then—the runes on the blade take the shape and form of his name.” She took a deep breath, expelled it—notably without the smoke that seemed to be unhealthily wafting in this room—and continued, figuring it was better to get possible bad news out of the way. “We think that the sword is part of Bellusdeo’s name. Not all of it,” she added quickly.

  “Lord Sanabalis, has your student become notably more erratic or unstable as of late?”

  “No, Arkon.”

  “Has she undergone some type of trauma that causes damage in mortals?”

  “Not to my knowledge, Arkon.”

  Kaylin cleared her throat. Politely. It was Sanabalis who acknowledged her first. “Kaylin, please explain what you mean.”

  “We believe that the woman whose body now resides in this room—for the eighth time—is the human form of the Dragon Bellusdeo.”

  “Bellusdeo?”

  “It’s what the Norannir called her when they were at home.”

  The silence that followed this statement was significant. It wasn’t pretty. “Tara didn’t tell you?” Kaylin finally asked.

  “They were not to be disturbed,” Tara replied when the Dragons all swiveled to look at her. “Is it a name with which you are familiar?”

  “No,” Tiamaris replied. He glanced at Sanabalis, who also shook his head. The Arkon was both still and silent.

  “Private,” Sanabalis said curtly, “please fill us in on the results of the day’s investigation.”

  Kaylin, who had so desperately wanted to avoid mention of the memory crystal in the Arkon’s very good hearing, swallowed air and did as Sanabalis had all but ordered. True to form, the Arkon’s eyes darkened a shade when she mentioned where the memory crystal now was; Sanabalis, however, promised he would see to its safe return. It only barely mollified a Dragon who was already in a foul temper to begin with.

  Through it all, she was bookended by Maggaron and Severn, who watched the Dragons warily, but with obvious respect.

  “Maggaron was the last person to see Bellusdeo as a Dragon.”

  “You are certain?”

  “No, of course I’m not certain. It’s conjecture at this point; I’m not sure we have the resources for more than that. We can’t go back to their world, and even if we could, we don’t know what we’re looking for beyond Gold Dragon.”

  “Gold.”

  Kaylin nodded. “Maggaron was willing to go to the Records room in the Tower. I wanted him to see the image of the woman we’ve now got eight bodies for, and Tara offered to show him; the mirror recorded both his reactions and some of his memories. I believe Tara has captured the image of both forms of Bellusdeo in her personal Records. They both came from the Ascendant.”

  The Arkon turned to Tiamaris, who nodded gravely. “Please,” he said to the Avatar, although it clearly took effort. “Show us.”

  Tara walked over to the mirror that adorned the room. In shape and size it was similar to the mirror in the Hawklord’s Tower; it was, however, far more ornate. The frame had clearly been crafted by a man with an obsession for detail, and it appeared, to Kaylin’s eye, to be made of polished silver. She lifted a hand and passed it across the mirror’s surface; it rippled in response, as if it were water, but vertical.

  When the mirror stilled, it was no longer reflective, and the image it showed, framed by perfect silver, was that of the great, golden Dragon before which Maggaron had all but abased himself.

  “Ascendant,” the Arkon said, although he didn’t take his eyes off the image, “this is the Dragon to whom you owe your allegiance?”

  He stared at the Dragon, and Kaylin came to the rescue. Listen through me, she told him, hating it.

  You are certain, Chosen?

  Yes. I’m not going to repeat every single word you say just so the Arkon can understand it; it’s my head he’ll bite off. She did, however, repeat the one question the Arkon had asked. She felt Maggaron as a pressing, sudden presence in the back of her mind and curled her fingernails into her palms to stop from swearing. It helped that he didn’t feel entirely comfortable being there, either.

  If I…look…I can find the words to speak to your Arkon, and you will not have to speak on my behalf.

  Do it.

  “Yes, Arkon.”

  The Arkon didn’t even blink at the sound of Maggaron’s voice. “And the body on the bed—is it her human form?”

  “Yes, Arkon.”

  “You are certain?”

  “I am certain.” He opened his mouth as if to say more, and shut it.

  “Tell me about this sword that you carry.”

  “These swords are the symbol—and the strength—of the Ascendants,” he replied slowly. “This sword is mine. It is what defines me as Ascendant. I had never been parted from it until I met the Chosen and she took my name.”

  “But according to the Chosen, it’s not your name that she took.”

  Maggaron’s brows rose. “It is.”

  This is why Kaylin hated magic.

  “According to the Chosen,” the Arkon continued, as if Maggaron hadn’t spoken, “the name is part of Bellusdeo’s name.”

  Maggaron was silent. Kaylin gave him a look, which he failed to interpret because he failed—deliberately—to see it. “Maggaron,” she whispered.

  “I am forbidden to speak of it,” he told the Arkon.

  Not this again.

  You are Chosen. He is not. You found her; she spoke to you. He did not.

  It wasn’t, apparently, just magic that she was going to hate today. “We can’t confirm our suspicions,” Kaylin told the Arkon through slightly clenched teeth. “But I believe, given everything, that some part of Bellusdeo exists in the sword itself. Some part of her name is what gives the Ascendant his…extended life. It’s not his name in the traditional sense of true names; it is demonstrably enough to control his actions.”

  She hesitated. “When the sword came to me, Maggaron said it was mine. It’s not. It’s still linked to him—and I think it will be until his death.” She turned to the Ascendant and added, “Just in case we’re not clear, your death isn’t an option we’re considering.”

  “Chosen, I have considered—”

  “Don’t. If I truly hold your name, I’ll use it to prevent your suicide.”

  “Have you considered what the sword requires?”

  “Not until this afternoon, and I am considering it now, got it? Don’t do anything stupid.” She turned back to the Arkon. “Mortals don’t have names that can be taken, learned, known; they can’t be changed or mutated. I think—and I could be entirely wrong—that the purpose of the Ascendants was to be sheath to the sword itself. His presence protected her actions and her power. His was the body controlled by Shadow; he controlled the sword, but the Shadows didn’t. Maybe they couldn’t.”

  The Arkon blinked. “I will accept that that was the intent, given what little we know of the history of the Norannir. Intent, however, is not ability. What you’ve described should not be possible without the death of the Dragon—at the very least.”

  “Why?”

  “When we speak of True Names to mortals, we often use the analogy of the soul or spirit. It is an inadequate analogy because there has never been proof that that soul exists. There is more than enough proof that the Names do. Nonetheless, when making this comparison, one conclusion can be drawn that we can both agree on: souls do not exist in two places at once.”

  “I don’t see how the Dragon’s death changes that.”

  “If the Dragon dies, the word is no longer encumbered, and if someone could find it, it is possible they could dissect it, breaking it down, in the end, to its base parts.”

  Kaylin glanced at Maggaron, and then at Severn. Severn raised a brow, only that.

  “It’s been done at least once,” she finally said, grateful for the utter lack of Barrani in the Tower. “Once, that I know of, but I’ve got only twenty years of experience, and no one immortal ever counts that as significant.”

&
nbsp; “There is a reason for that. Twenty years is not significant. What are you claiming, Private?”

  “I don’t know how Dragons are given their names. I don’t know how Dragons are born, if it comes to that—it’s not covered in racial integration classes, and everyone shuts up like a bank the minute I ask. Barrani births aren’t covered in any of those classes, either, but I do know how the Barrani receive their names, and by extension their lives. The names are chosen for them, and the names are delivered to them. In one case, the name that was chosen was only partially birthed. It existed as a known entity—one that could be learned and controlled—in its partial form. It was a word, with a distinct meaning. It was not, however, the complete name that had been chosen.”

  Silence.

  “I will not insult you by asking how you know this,” the Arkon finally said. Turning to Sanabalis, he added, “Do you believe her?”

  Someone else was going to have to explain insults to the Arkon, who in this case was obviously not clear on the concept.

  Sanabalis was stroking his beard, something he did when deep in thought. Or annoyed. In this case, it was probably both. “Yes,” he finally said. “She is a Lord of the High Court, and she clearly has some influence with the Consort.”

  “Had,” was the bitter, mumbled reply. Kaylin had not returned to Court since the disastrous argument with said Consort; she wasn’t sure how welcome she’d be, and being thrown out of Barrani digs wasn’t high on her list of personal ambitions.

  “Regardless, Arkon, yes.”

  The Arkon frowned; the silence was sulfurous. But the frown failed to produce either rage or fire, and after another long pause, his expression suddenly sharpened. “Tell me, Private—the Barrani who achieved this supposed splitting of the whole of a name—was it someone intimately acquainted with the choosing of names?”

  “I’m trying hard not to answer the questions that will get me executed for treason,” she replied tartly.

  “Failure to answer this question at this time will probably have the same result; you merely have a choice of whom you commit treason against. It is never wise to owe allegiance to two Lords.”

 
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