Next morning I was rousted out of bed as 2nd Amitzas dragged the covers off us, half-rolling Gannara and I out onto the floor. “UP! Get up. Spark of the Sun’s Ray, we are leaving. Now. I expect you in armour, up and on your horse in the next two tenths. Slave, assist the Mahid squire.”
He spun on his heel, left the door open, the Mahid squire came running in, so rushed he rattled as he carried my armour. What was going on? What? Even as I tried to wake up, tried to think I was scrambling. Gannara jumped. Are we under attack? What’s going on? Discovered? I didn’t dare dawdle. Gannara pulled straight up to tighten the last strap under my armpit, I had half my hair caught inside the chest and back plates, yanked on my gauntlets as I trotted out to my horse, set my foot in the squire’s hand and managed to settle into the saddle without going all the way over and falling on the other side. I bashed the stupid thing in the nose with my foot when it tried to bite me as I gathered up the reins and looked around.
Gannara stood where he held a pack, with Imperial Book, looking confused. There was no one else gathered. Only 2nd Amitzas standing to one side, a timer held in his hand, the cover flipped open as he looked down into the box through its glass top. “Terrible,” he said. “I was generous with the initial time granted and you have exceeded it. Get down and give me fifty push-ups. This exercise will be repeated randomly until the Spark can be on horse inside a tenth. Good morning, Chip of the Radiant Light. You may do your Ascension practice in armour today, then breakfast. Three tenths.” He flipped the lid shut on his timepiece, nodded and turned his back on us. The Mahid squire went to the the horse’s head and waited for me to dismount so he could lead it away.
Oh. Thrilling. And I got to do Ten Tens in armour. That was crazy. I gathered up the reins, knowing this four-legged shen machine would do its best to act up. It half bucked as I swung off, but I had hold of it and expected it. This time I didn’t end up on my rear on the needle-covered forest floor. I wasn’t awake enough to be angry… I hadn’t caught up with myself yet.
“Slave. Give me that.” I held out my hand for the pack and ran it inside myself. I would have to have the book in the pack at all times. Ten fikken Tens in fikken, shennen armour, with 2nd Amitzas giving himself fikken permission to fikken beat me if I’m less than perfect. And – fik --in front of the girls, too. I was starting to understood why solas swore so much. Then I got down and did my fifty, and ran around under the shadow of the trees to where the Mahid had laid out the floor, to begin my Ten Tens.
“Ailadas, pardon me.” I put my head down on the desk and gently rapped my forehead against it once, twice. The third time, instead of hitting the wood my head thumped against leather. He’d shoved the closed copy of Lives under my head so I hit the softer surface.
“Ahem… Spark… ahem…” I raised my head and stared at him a little blearily. “The Spark has been working very… ahem… very diligently and has an unfortunately severe guardian. Ahem… this one ventures to comment that when toxins are being, ahem, sweated out of the exalted’s body, knowledge cannot be crammed into it as fast as may be, ahem, desired.”
My hands trembled and I couldn’t see straight. Everything kept blurring. I raised my head and argued. “Ailadas, I’ve wasted so much time. I.. I.. “ the yawn forced itself out. “I have to keep on. I have to cram enough knowledge into my head. I have to… I have to…” I put my head back down on the book. I wasn’t sure where my hands and feet were and I was so dizzy and tired. I was so tired. I yawned and tried to lift my head.
The book was a lot softer the second time. It was so nice just to leave my head down. I was dreaming of flying, though I hated the wind that carried me… it held me too hard and hurt. But then the dream got better, the wind softer and wrapped itself around me like the arms of a friend.
I woke up wrapped up in feathers and in Gannara’s arms. His soft breath heated, then cooled the skin of my neck. I was holding onto him as hard as he held onto me. Mother… what is this? He should hate me. My Father made him a slave, tortured him into a shape pleasing to Father… Kurkas. Gave him to me and then wrenched him away and abused him and hurt him and violated him. And I laid a lash across his back. Now he’s clinging to me. I don’t understand. Brother. I’m not a good person. My existence has made your life Hayel. Because of me you were made a slave and abused as no one should be, and here you are, loving me. How strong are Yeolis? How can you? How can you? The clenching in my gut tells me how culpable I am.
My FATHER. Proved to me that my body will betray me every time. I carefully made sure my arm didn’t clench too hard on Gannara. He didn’t deserve to be woken up by my nightmares. I let the tears go down my temples. In the dark, in the unreal portion of the night tears were allowed. I had exhausted myself. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I mustn’t. Balance. I had to find balance somewhere.
The Pages were back pages. There were three issues that Joras had brought back. Obviously the Press hadn’t been smashed. I read every word in the stack, Ailadas letting me do this as part of my lessons. He said it was necessary. The headline of the second copy stared me in the face. "IMPERATOR to DO ASCENSION RITUAL"