Monday, October 25, 2010

367 - Acid, Metal and Rust

If someone had said, even a few moons ago, that having Joras Mahid at my back would make me less nervous, I would have laughed in his face.  He was exactly as he should be, on my left and back out of the way should I draw the Imperial sword.  I had to have it.  In the satchel slung over my shoulder was another book, wrapped in Temple silver… they would see the silver and not dare open it – if I were stunned and searched.  If it all fell in the fire.  Which it probably would.  I had to expect that our plan was going to fall straight to Hayel, but until it did, I would act as if it would not.  ‘Plans… even good ones… rarely survive contact with the enemy.’
Joras had kept up his regular reports to 2nd Amitzas, pretending the faithful hound.  Having him at my back made it less likely the unsworn would just stun-dart me and cart me in to lay at 2nd Amitzas’s feet, like a duck faithfully retrieved.
Kaneka and the others were spread out in the dark, careful of the sneakers they knew would be in the bushes.  I didn’t know where they were.  Frogs groaned and trilled in the grass and trees along the road.  The ditches were full of water and tall reeds and I could smell water everywhere. Behind them cypress loomed black against a gray sky, the road white as salt under the bright moon.
Some of the trilling frogs were not green, I knew, and wore dark-worker armour.  I was in the middle of the road, obvious as if I had a city lantern floating over my head and a big fat target painted upon my torso.
It was a warm night and I strolled as though wandering down the Avenue in the shadow of Lion’s Bridge… it would be up to the Mahid to make contact with me.  I was tense as a bow-string on an over-strung bow, and trying not to show it.  When we’d been a malas or two back and about to proceed on our own, Joras… in his fessas guise had caught my elbow and dared to say – equal to equal as if I was Minakas.  ‘If ‘t hits te fire, kid, go straight inna ditch, mind.  Yeh won’ drown in an inch or even waist-deep muck an’ leave the rabid tah us.”  Of course he was repeating Kaneka’s instructions in his fessas accent.
I’d grinned and answered him the same way. “Heh, yeh kaina, ye’ll keep m’ glass from meltin’!”  He’d looked startled and then grinned at me.  “Ser… Minis… Exalted…”  The fessas crumbled away from his stone face underneath.  “May this one request?”
“May you request something of me?  Yes, Joras.”  It was a faint whisper in the moonlight.
“Would the exalted one… once he succeeds in reaching the women, to order them to surrender…”  He was assuming a great deal.  I waited.  “I… give the exalted another name to command… Elsha… my wife.”  I had assumed he was not married.  He had not been married when I left… so 2nd Amitzas must have done it.  “Tell her… as her husband I wish her to obey… and not die.”  I stared at him, in the dark.  He actually cared?  I had never seen a sign that he even had a wife, much less cared whether she lived or died.  Elsha… I vaguely remembered her, one of the matched set of women perfectly gowned, perfect hair.  “Thank you, Joras for the information.”  And Kaneka had whistled and sent us out onto the road and begun walking.  I will try, I'd whispered.
It was funny.  I was using techniques that 2nd Amitzas had taught me in his knuckle-knee’n-switch school of bruises, to hide the fact I was leading the Empire to find him.  My gut might be screeching and clawing my spine and lungs and heart but I could walk as though I was going to The Golden Thigh for a glass of wine and a boy, my escort ghosting behind me.
Aside from keeping my guts down and not vomiting from tension, waiting for the Mahid watchers wherever they were… to be reassured we were not followed, it was pretty boring.  The road was not perfectly straight.  We had just climbed a hill and turned a fairly sharp corner, the ditches had sunk to almost nothing and the overhanging canopy of trees made it very dark over the road just ahead.
Frogs trilling had given away to crickets and night birds.  Joras heard something or spotted something and hissed lightly to warn me.  I stopped on the road and waited in a patch of moonlight.  With one hand on my sword, I was certain I cut a martial enough figure.  

I had considered wearing a coat of chain under my shirt but that would not stop a dart and would slow me down.  All that was between me and the night was a heavy silk shirt.  Chevenga had given me one of his.  The feeling of the silk was supportive and I drew a deep breath.  Joras had his tube out, scanning.
A rabbit screech in the underbrush as something caught and killed it… probably one of the Yeolis.  Soundlessly as spirits, as if black fog drifted up from the road and solidified two Mahid stood in front of me just on the edge of the shadow.  I could just see their faces, white against the darkness and recognized them as 2nd Iakobas and 3rd Amitzas.  

“Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” Iakobas said quietly.  I nodded, stopped myself from making the Yeol chalk sign, just in time, my heart hammering – if anything – louder in my ears.
“2nd Iakobas.” I said.  I was startled to hear how much my voice sounded like my father’s in my ears.  “3rd Amitzas as well.  A good escort.”
“We honour the Spark, of course,” Iakobas said, just as Joras made to step around me, to shield me, and I dodged back, the huff of a dart-tube out of the dark.  The acrid sting of a dart in and through my cheek, into my tongue, even as I flung my head… too late… in a futile attempt to avoid.  My mouth flooded with the taste of acid, metal and rust.


  1. You are hereby dubbed 'Terrible Twisted Teaser' for extending the suspense.

  2. ooooohhhh you are going to hate me then...