Brand wakes with a jolt, unsure of what startled him. For a moment, terror tries to strangle him, as his mind thrusts forth visions of the tower, the monster, the torture. Reality descends a moment later, and he takes a few shuddering breaths, trying to calm himself.
Sarina is not in the bed beside him.
He sits up. The space she was in is still warm, and as he runs his fingers over that indent in the mattress, the smell of her rises, and he feels his heartbeat start to stutter back down to normalcy.
She is standing at the window, silhouetted in the starlight.
He frowns as he realises that he can still see the stars that should be occluded by her body.
A thrill of fear returns, his heart thumps harder. “Sarina?”
She turns, pale and beautiful in the last rays of moonlight. Her cheeks are wet with tears.
“They’re calling me home, my love,” she says softly. Her voice has an odd cadence to it, a thrum of music not quite heard. “They’re waking up.”
“A moment of your time?”
Faizel glances up from his paperwork, brow crinkling. “Lord Suhuy. Is something wrong?”
Faizel ap Percival is a Veche caravan master. He’s seen more of the endless universe than most shadow lords. He trades in lost things, hidden gifts, forgotten memories, broken gods. The man standing before him is one of the latter: a broken god, fallen from the Gyre and stripped of most of his ancient power, but certainly not lacking in guile. Suhuy has never sought him out before. He’s always just managed to be wherever Faizel happens to be pausing.
Suhuy is trying very hard to be casual. “Your friend. Talion.”
Faizel stiffens. Even for a broken god, he will not give up an ally. “He is gone, Lord Suhuy.” At Suhuy’s concerned expression, he adds, “You saw him last, sir.”
“Can you find him?”
“With all due respect, if he wishes to be found, you can find him yourself.”
Suhuy frowns. His fingers drum against the tabletop, a nervous tic that sets Faizel even further on edge.
“Forgive my peremptory manner, Faizel,” says Suhuy. “I’m concerned.”
“Indeed?” Faizel recognises the tone. It usually precedes a request for help, couched in enough subtlety to make the listener do something potentially inadvantageous.
“Talion came here looking for someone,” says Suhuy. “One of his own kind. I lent him an artefact to help him find that person.”
“I’m glad you were able to help him,” says Faizel. He collects his papers and stands, hoping to finish the conversation before it gets to the part where he agrees to do something stupid.
“Something else heard it.”
Faizel stops. “Heard? Heard what?”
“It might not be safe out there for you just now, Faizel,” says Suhuy. “And if you have a way to contact Talion, you should warn him, too.”
He’s grown used to the darkness. He’s found it a useful tool. A way to gather up all his hatred. There’s nothing to look at but memory, so that’s where he lives. Endlessly replaying his missteps, his mistakes, the wrongs done him. He imagines a multitude of revenges.
One day, there will be a reckoning. And it will be so utterly enormous in its perfection that it will be spoken of for generations.
Then he realises that he sounds just like his father, and he starts over.
He thinks of simple revenges. Petty ones. That’s more his style.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he can hear his father’s voice, nagging and gnawing. With nothing here but blackness, he knows that voice shouldn’t be there, and he rebels at the thought of being manipulated again. He makes for that voice a cage of cold stone and echoing footsteps, and locks it away.
On the battlements of Xau, Mandor approaches his mother carefully. Sawall is not the sort of person you want to give even a hint of sneaking up on. Like his blood sibling the Emperor, Sawall is ancient, puissant, and unpredictable. At present, he is ignoring the vast and breathtaking view before him, instead drawing whorls in the morning dew that gathers atop the wall.
“Why do you care?” asks Sawall.
Mandor stops a few metres from his mother’s right shoulder. He supposes he shouldn’t be surprised that his mother heard him approach, nor that he’s chosen to start the conversation himself. Sawall does so like to be cryptic, and in control.
“Care? About what?”
“So coy?” Sawall turns, leaning back to adopt an insouciant pose against one blue-grey metal wall support.
Mandor’s mother, Gramble Sawall, is one of the oldest creatures still engaged in the observation of the universe. At present, he (and indeed sometimes, she) is affecting a look of middle thirties, slightly androgynous, with wide blue eyes and pouting lips. Mandor wonders how long Sawall spends making himself look so carelessly rumpled.
“I may have given the Emperor an impression that you’re after her job,” says Mandor, attempting to change the subject.
Sawall smiles. “Am I?”
Mandor lifts his shoulders in a very faint shrug.
“You are being more than usually reticent,” says Sawall. “Did Swayvil hit a nerve?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Swayvil thinks we’re of a piece, you and I,” remarks Sawall.
“We have both, in the past, been admonished for our inconvenient affection for blood relations.”
Mandor frowns. “At least mine didn’t cause any deaths,” he says.
“Give it time,” says Sawall darkly. “You can’t delay Swayvil forever.” He lifts a finger, halting Mandor’s response. “And neither can I.”
Mandor bows his head. “Thank you. But…”
“Are you certain you want to ask me questions?”
“No,” says Mandor. “But I think I have to.”
“Whatever happens, whether it falls, or they find a way to save it, there will be a storm.”
Sawall’s gaze remains fixed.
“You want that storm, don’t you? You want to be able to control when and where it hits, and how powerful it is.”
Sawall only smiles.