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Cast in ruin, p.29
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       Cast in Ruin, p.29

           Michelle Sagara
 

  “I owe allegiance to one,” she said. Severn prodded her very gently, and she bit down on the rest of the words that wanted to follow. “Yes.”

  “In this case, you are saying that the whole of the word existed in potential, but the part of it that was not…delivered…remained in the waters of life?”

  “Yes.”

  “As you can see, the situations are gravely different.”

  Yes. It was clear as mud. “Let me get this straight. You think that what happened in the one case I’ve cited happened because the Mother of the Race handled the name. You’re implying that somehow, she split it, and it survived in its sundered state solely because of her.”

  “That is a superficial rendering of what I believe, but yes.”

  “Could Bellusdeo have somehow done the same? Do the Dragons even have a mother of their race?”

  More silence. “I am not comfortable continuing this discussion in the presence of the mortals,” the Arkon finally said. “That includes the Ascendant.”

  But Tiamaris, not the Arkon, was Lord here. “No, Kaylin, we do not.”

  “It is not strictly necessary that she know of this,” the Arkon told Tiamaris. Clearly, the designation of Lord didn’t matter as much to ancient Dragons as it did to Sanabalis.

  “Kaylin,” Tiamaris said, moving slightly away from the Arkon, “when we entered the Tower for the first time, do you remember what waited at the height of the cliffs?”

  She nodded. “An Aerie.”

  “Yes. With words in the ceiling and twisting, dark tunnels that tapered somewhat.”

  It had been one of the few pleasantly surprising things the Tower had chosen to reveal. “You said it reminded you of the Aerie of your childhood.”

  He nodded. “We are not born in our mortal forms; nor are we—as you—born singly.”

  “So…the Dragon form is the form of your birth?”

  “It is.”

  “But—” She suddenly didn’t want to ask any questions while the Arkon was glaring at her. It was Maggaron, surprisingly, who answered.

  “The three Lords here were born as Dragons, in form. They lived, flew, and breathed fire before they attained their true names.”

  Kaylin waited for someone to deny this; no one did. The Barrani babies didn’t apparently wake without a name; clearly, Dragon babies didn’t suffer the same problem. Which brought up the question of why Dragons needed a True Name at all. “Those tunnels—a lot of them were people-size.”

  Tiamaris nodded.

  Maggaron continued, as if blithely unaware of the effect his statements were having. Given Maggaron, he probably was. “When young Dragons are judged fit by their Elders, they must earn their name. They must find it.”

  “What, on their own?”

  “We are not Barrani,” the Arkon said with some heat, and some very real fire for emphasis.

  “What if they don’t happen to find a name?”

  “They will die,” Maggaron replied.

  She didn’t ask how. Instead, she turned to the three Dragon Lords, “When you get your names, you gain your human form?”

  After a long pause, it was once again Maggaron who answered. “They do. They must then learn to walk, to speak, and to interact in the smaller body. It is, by all accounts, onerous.”

  “Why bother, then?”

  “Because without that form, they are little more than beasts, according to Bellusdeo.”

  “Then she gave up the form of her birth?”

  “Ah, no. Bellusdeo said female Dragons were different. They are born—they are hatched—in their human forms. They will learn to walk or crawl as mortals. Their thoughts are quicker, but they are different. In order to attain their own completion, they must survive their childhood. This is more difficult.

  “But when they find their name—for they are set the same task as their clutchmates—they attain their Dragon form.”

  No bloody wonder there were so few Dragons. Kaylin looked to Sanabalis. “Is this true?”

  “…It is a simplification.”

  “But it’s not wrong.”

  “It is not entirely wrong, no.”

  “What happens if the females never find their names?”

  “They are not judged dangerous by the standard of the Dragons,” he replied. “And they are allowed to live.”

  “As mortals?”

  “Very much as mortals—but they are immortal, Kaylin.”

  “How is that even possible if they don’t have a name?”

  “They are, even in the weaker form, Dragons. It is not because of the name that we are immortal.” The Ancients clearly had a very poor sense of design.

  “There is also always the hope that they will find what they lack. As you have often pointed out, they are few.”

  “If I ask where they’re supposed to find those names—”

  “Don’t.”

  She shut up and thought for a minute about the wisdom of directing a question—any question—at the Arkon. But she had to ask. “Arkon, you recognized the name Bellusdeo. You probably recognized the human form, if I think about it.”

  He was silent. He didn’t deny it.

  “Did you travel a lot between worlds in your youth?”

  “I did not. The passage between worlds was considered largely theoretical, even in my youth.”

  “But Bellusdeo—”

  “During one storm—again in my youth—Bellusdeo and a number of the women went missing. Some of the men, as well; they were the guardians of the young. Bellusdeo had not, at that point, found her name; she was to search for it within the year. Shadowstorms hit the Aerie, and many of my kin were…transformed by them. There was much battle and much death. It was assumed by the Elders that she had been destroyed in those battles, but there was some lingering question; no sign of the guardians was found in the aftermath.”

  “You think this is the same Bellusdeo?”

  “I fail to see how it can be; it defies explanation. But yes, Private, that is my belief.”

  Kaylin drew a longer breath. “Then why, exactly, did you expect us to find nine bodies?”

  “Tiamaris, this Tower is secure?”

  Tiamaris glanced at Tara, but nodded.

  “Very well. I will answer your question because it is relevant. Lord Sanabalis said that the female children were allowed to live if they failed to find their name. He speaks truthfully, but not entirely accurately. They were not hunted down; they were not considered a danger to us. Mortals distrusted them; the Barrani would kill them. But they were not of us.”

  At this very moment, Kaylin hated Dragons. She knew it would pass.

  “Bellusdeo and her clutch were different. In a clutch there may be no females; that is most often the case. Clearly, for a clutch to be born at all it requires both parents to possess the life force and will inherent in their names. There is a reason that there are so few clutches, and it is not entirely because of the rarity of female births.

  “The Barrani killed the mothers; it was the reason our wars were so bitter. We would have destroyed their breeding grounds had we been able to find them. Before you point out that they exist in the heart of the City, I must caution you; they do not. They are perceived as existing in such a place by those who have the ability to manipulate what the waters contain. Most Barrani could not even find the Lake.

  “However, on the day of Bellusdeo’s birth, nine were born human. Nine in one clutch. It was seen as a great, great blessing to our kind. Most of the hatchlings are not guarded, and they are not protected. But in the case of these nine, exceptions were made.”

  “Why?”

  “Because of the significance of their number.”

  “All right. I understand that nine girls was very unusual. But you expected to find nine bodies—nine identical bodies. Why?”

  “Because, Kaylin, in some fashion, the nine were linked. The Elders did not understand it.”

  “None of the nine had found their names by the time they vanished?


  “No; they were of an age, almost to the minute. They were all to seek names before they disappeared.”

  She was silent for a bit, mulling over the information she’d received. It was difficult to process it all because some of it still made no sense to her. “What exactly do you mean when you say they were linked?”

  “What I said.” His frown was glacial, but it melted slightly. Probably because of the fire. “If one of the nine was hurt, the other eight were instantly aware of it. If one of the nine was injured, the other eight could take some part of those injuries onto their own bodies. They could speak without speaking, but only among each other; the males born to the clutch weren’t likewise affected.”

  “But they weren’t identical in appearance, were they?”

  His eyes were very orange. “Not at birth, no.”

  “Then—”

  “But as they grew, they were capable of altering their appearance. They did it for fun,” he added, his frown deepening. “It alarmed the Elders, and annoyed a small handful of them, as well. They had names that they were known by, and those names were unique to them—but they often changed names as they learned to alter appearance. It is not an ability that the males of the same clutch had.”

  “Was there ever a clutch of males that were linked in the same way?”

  “Yes. But it happened very, very rarely. It was not well-documented until the girls were born and grew into their powers.”

  “By powers, you mean the link?”

  “That, as well.”

  Kaylin stifled the urge to growl or snarl. “What other powers did they have?”

  “They were capable of speaking to the mirrors of the Ancients. They also did this for fun.”

  “Is it unusual to be able to speak to those mirrors?” Kaylin had done it herself on more than one occasion. She glanced at her exposed arms.

  The Arkon did likewise, but merely raised a brow before he answered her question. “In the fashion they did, yes. They could speak to the rest of our kin with the voice of the mirrors, Private. It was discomfiting. They were also explorers. They liked to sneak out of the Aerie—often at some danger to themselves—to meet mortals. Or Barrani. They weren’t particular at that time.” He hesitated for a long, long moment, and then once again asked Tiamaris if the Tower was secure. He received the same answer as he had the previous time he’d asked and fell silent.

  “It is my suspicion that they could travel.”

  “Pardon?”

  “You’ve met the Norannir who guided his people here. You’ve seen what is preserved in the mirror at the heart of the Palace. You understand what travel, in this case, means.”

  She did. “But if Bellusdeo disappeared in the wake of a Shadowstorm—”

  “Conjecture. But so, too, is my suspicion.”

  “So you think that the seven—eight—bodies are all part of that clutch?”

  He glanced at the corpse that was laid out on the bed, and after a moment, nodded. To Kaylin’s eye, she looked exactly the same as the other seven, although this dress was very dusty.

  “It looks like at least one of them found their name.”

  “It does. But the finding and the taking of the name—as one might expect—was obviously untraditional.”

  “And you think there’s a ninth body waiting for us some where?”

  “I have hope—even if slender—that you will find the ninth alive. The eighth was alive when she arrived here.”

  Kaylin hesitated, and then said, “The eighth asked me to kill her.”

  “Explain.” The word was so sharp it almost cut. Kaylin very carefully explained what had been asked of her.

  “You are certain?”

  “As certain as mortal memory can make me, yes.”

  The Arkon’s frown was like a chiseled crevice. Several of them.

  “From what Maggaron said, and from what you’ve said here, I think I understand what she wanted.”

  “The name?”

  “I…think so. She was very specific about the weapon I was carrying. I think she wanted me to run her through with the sword that Maggaron is holding. I’m not sure what that would do to her, though. I’m not sure if it would return some part of her name to her and make her whole—or if it would simply kill her and release them both.”

  “Both?”

  “She and Maggaron. I don’t understand why he has a True Name at all, but I do understand that his name is some part of hers, and it sustains him.”

  It sustains us both, Chosen.

  Kaylin looked around the room. Her eyes met Maggaron’s—they weren’t a livid orange, so it was almost reflexive—and stopped there. “Was that the sword?”

  He nodded, his eyes wet with unshed tears. “I am not to let you sheathe her again.”

  “I won’t try. Did she hear what we were saying?”

  “She heard what I heard, and I,” he added, “heard what you heard.”

  Kaylin sometimes talked to walls—usually rudely. This was the first time she’d ever deliberately tried to talk to a sword’s blade.

  I am not Bellusdeo, the sword said.

  “But you’re a part of her, somehow?”

  Silence.

  “If I kill her while wielding you, what happens to you?”

  I do not know.

  “What happens to her?”

  I do not know.

  “Fine. What happens to Maggaron?”

  The blade rippled, sheen of steel giving way—briefly—to something vastly less metallic. It was disturbing. Almost as disturbing as the Arkon’s demand that she relate—clearly—what was being said.

  “That is forbidden,” Maggaron told him. He said it as respectfully as one could possibly say words of that nature to an angry Dragon.

  The sword snickered and Kaylin realized she’d heard that voice before. Once before. “What will become of Maggaron?” she repeated.

  The sword’s light rippled again. Clearly, this wasn’t a question she—or it—wanted to hear.

  Maggaron said, “It doesn’t matter.”

  “No. It doesn’t matter to you. It matters to me—”

  “Why?” He demanded. His eyes shaded to a familiar blue.

  “And it matters to the sword,” she continued, unwilling to get into that argument in front of the Dragon Lords. If the sword wanted to have that argument, it was fine; the Dragons couldn’t hear most of it.

  She turned her attention to the blade again. “What did you mean? How does his name sustain you?”

  This was apparently a better question to ask. He bears the brunt of discovery, not I. Where we go, the risk of discovery has always been high.

  “How?”

  Chosen, we do not know. But in the heart of Ravellon lies one who can read the whole of what is written—even our most secret selves. One of my kin discovered this, to our lasting regret. We could not engage the enemy without becoming the enemy.

  We being the Dragons?

  The sword fell silent.

  “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend; I don’t understand the connection.”

  “It’s not the connection,” Maggaron said gently. “The sword is part of me, but it is a distinct entity. Where it came from, how it was forged or birthed—it doesn’t matter. It is not a limb or an appendage; it exists.” He frowned; clearly, the sword could focus its voice when it chose. “A child—if you ever bear one—will be part of you; without you, it cannot exist. But once it is birthed, once it is free of you, that dependency slowly changes; it becomes a thing separate from you, but influenced in all ways by its birth.

  “Thus it is with the sword. The sword is part of me,” he added. “But it is also not me. When my name fell to our enemy, the sword was trapped within me, but the enemy could not reach her. I could,” he added bitterly, “but in the end, I could not change her.”

  “She was your weapon when you were assaulting our borders,” Kaylin pointed out.

  “Yes.”

  “I’m thinking that th
at wasn’t in her plans of action before you were discovered.”

  “She is my sword. No,” he added, voice dropping. “She was. I was not all of what she is; she was not all of what I am—but we are bound.” He was starting to get frustrated; Kaylin could sympathize. “Bellusdeo understood the danger. But she also understood our need for her. The Dragons convened their great Council, and in the end, they created the Ascendants. For our sake,” he added. “For the sake of the People.”

  “Then the numbers of the Dragons decreased as the numbers of the Ascendants grew?”

  He nodded. “It was not widely known,” he added. “The Elders would never have accepted such a sacrifice if it were.” He lowered the sword slowly. Had it been in Kaylin’s hands, it would have hit the ground when she tried to lift it.

  To the sword she said, “What would you have me do? Aside from never put you in a sheath again, I mean. Bellusdeo has asked me to kill her—while wielding you. I can do it, but I have some reservations. If you don’t know what will happen to either you or Maggaron, what do you want me to do?”

  The pause that followed was so long, Kaylin almost gave up on getting an answer. But the sword finally said, Kill her. It wasn’t the answer Kaylin wanted; it was the answer she’d expected.

  “Chosen.” Maggaron lifted the sword. “I can do as she asks.”

  But Tara shook her head. “It is not safe for you to leave the Tower, Maggaron.”

  “The Chosen has my name,” he countered.

  “She has. But she has shown a strong unwillingness to use it to contain you. If your life is in danger, she will do so—but only in the case that it is immediately obvious to her what the danger is. The Shadows are capable of great subtlety, at need.”

  The line of his shoulders sank and he turned to Kaylin, dropping to one knee—which brought their eyes to about the same level. “Chosen,” he said, his voice lower. “I have no right to ask, but I ask it. Please. Let me go where you go. Let me do what must be done.”

  “I—”

  “It is the last thing I can do for either my sword or my Lady. I will accept any consequence; I will welcome any control you exert. I will warn you—”

  “You cannot warn her if you are under someone else’s control.”

 
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