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Hero of Ages The Alloy of Law ALCATRAZ Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens THE WHEEL OF TIME, with Robert Jordan The Gathering Storm Towers of Midnight
INFINITY BLADE AWAKENING
Salt Lake City, Utah
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. INFINITY BLADE: AWAKENING Copyright © 2011 by Chair Entertainment Group, LLC All rights reserved. Cover design by Adam Ford and Donald Mustard Edited by Peter Ahlstrom, Simon Hurley, Geremy Mustard, and Donald Mustard A ChAIR Book Published by ChAIR Entertainment Group, LLC 155 North 400 West, Suite 420 Salt Lake City, UT 84103 www.chairentertainment.com ISBN 978-0-9839430-0-6
Those who did. took advantage.Prologue God’s death didn’t do much to change the lives of the people of Drem’s Maw. In fact. “You’ve always paid your taxes to me. He was flanked on one side by a daeril. Daerils came in many types. and I’ll be your lord. but this one had deep violet skin and arms as thick as tree trunks. speaking to the gathered crowd. . They worked themselves ragged to meet quota. the God King’s blessing. It will be good for you to have a leader who is more local. raising his hands as he stood upon an improvised stage made from two carts. “The God King has no complaint regarding this arrangement. but what could they say? Weallix had daerils and soldiers—and. “There is nothing at all to worry about. a hulking creature that only shallowly resembled a man. supposedly. and I’ve passed them along.” Weallix said. however. “Now I’ll keep them myself.” “What of the God King?” someone called from the nervous crowd. Things had been the same in Drem’s Maw for centuries.” Weallix said.” Weallix continued. most of them didn’t even know their deity had been slain. Members of the crowd grumbled. and were bullied into giving up almost everything they had for the tax collectors.
when we’ve always been able to pick our own leaders before?” “The God King needs not explain his ways to you!” Weallix yelled.A stranger stepped up to the edge of the crowd. Only stumps remained of many of the gargantuan rock formations. where they mined for the precious minerals the God King demanded. “Why make us have a local lord. women. It had a large grinlike opening a hundred yards across at the front. most people—men. trying to peer at his face. and children—wore a helm to protect them from falling bits of rock. however. many were so thick that three men holding hands wouldn’t be able to reach around them. The air tasted wet and smelled of minerals. A hundred enormous chains hung down from the cavern roof. To disobey the God King was death. and thousands of stalactites hung from the ceiling. which was lost in the cowl of his deep hood. “Why now?” one of the braver men called. . The townspeople stilled. The town’s men climbed those chains each day and strapped themselves to the ceiling. The stranger rounded the crowd’s people. their tops bolted to the stone. Most didn’t even dare question. Some people gave him looks. Most dismissed him. he wore his publican’s cap and a rich velvet costume of violet and green. The location of buildings in the town shifted month by month. moving out from beneath where the miners worked. passing between dangling chains with thick black iron links. Drem’s Maw had been built inside a massive cavern. Instead of a helm. Even still.
He pointed toward the front of the crowd. So. and color. “. there can be no questioning my authority. The stranger didn’t shove or push. to the man who had asked the question earlier. There was variety to the inhuman monsters in skin. . the crowd wasn’t pressed together so tightly that he needed to. reaching out and resting his fingers on it. Fallen flower petals—now wilted—still lurked in some cracks and corners. You will remember to whom you belong.assuming he was one of those who had come with Weallix.” Weallix said. grabbing young women from . my lord. others with eyes that burned. . He waved curtly. .” “But. “Wouldn’t you say?” “Yes . “I—” “Questioning again. Woven into that chain were ribbons of blue. yes. He passed one of the thick chains and hesitated. some with claws. “A price must be paid. “Excellent. I see. remnants from the festival that had occurred here a week before. then. where the publican continued explaining his new rules for the town. “Let’s see you beaten and be on with our day. They shoved among the people. Some of the buildings had even been repainted. All for the Feast of the Sacrifice. .” Weallix said. my lord!” the man said. a day that came only once every two decades.” Daerils began to descend upon the townspeople.” Weallix said. of course. They got out of his way as he walked toward the center of the crowd. shape. shrinking down.” the man said.
“Please.their families—including the daughter of the outspoken man. of authority. It was the God King’s own weapon. . The stranger stood there. The townspeople. the daerils. it was a symbol every child in the land was taught to recognize. then raised its sword and swung down at the man. . ripping the sword free and dashing forward. The two fell easily. and swung on it. trying to push the daerils away. cloak trailing behind him. He grabbed one of the chains. The stranger left them gurgling in their own blood. with a distinctive set of three holes in its center . moving with practiced familiarity. sword blocking the daeril’s attack. Long and smooth at the sides. no!” One daeril—lean like a wolf. The stranger moved in an eyeblink. A symbol of power. People pulled back from him in a ring. and Weallix all seemed to notice the stranger for the first time. A clang rang through the cavern. Then they saw the sword. The daeril was so surprised that it could do nothing but gape as the stranger spun the weapon and impaled the creature through the throat. they were simple brutes. with bony knobs on its skin and a face that appeared burned—hissed. These were not the champions of the God King’s palace. and of rulership. That sword. . “No!” the man said. He swept to a pair of daerils who were towing a young woman toward the stage. arm extended.
The daeril’s corpse followed a moment later. Never return. “Out. He waited as the monsters retreated to the edge of the clustered townsfolk. exposing sweaty. then dashed at a full run out of the cavern. pointing. The cavern fell silent. “Daerils!” Weallix cried. The Sacrifice. his daerils falling in around him. As he rose. The daeril looked with befuddlement at the stump of his mace.Weallix started yelling. brownblonde hair and a youthful face. he found the blade at his neck. “Call them off. He raved and ranted. The purpleskinned daeril struck with a thick-headed mace. “Release the people and stand back! Stand back!” The stranger’s hood had fallen behind. The head thumped to the floor of the cart. falling to the ground as he climbed from the cart. calling for his soldiers.” Weallix obeyed in a scramble.” the stranger said in a soft voice. stumbling back as the stranger grabbed a chain and pushed forward. The stranger finally reached up and peeled his helm from his head. Then he raised his blade—dripping with blood from the monsters he’d slain—and pointed toward the mouthlike opening into the town. Weallix tried to leap from the cart. Siris. but fell to his knees as the vehicle shook. but the God King’s weapon—the Infinity Blade itself—flashed in the air. The man who had been sent to die. swinging up and landing with a thump on the wagons. Then he cut off. revealing a silvery helm that covered his entire face. .
” he told the townspeople.“I have returned. .
” And Siris had gone. Hell take me. it was called. a very healthy soup. Siris thought.” Master Hobb said. “we can’t exactly blame him. would suffer the brutality of men like Weallix—who. protected. One family. He wasn’t supposed to be able to win. The Sacrifice. can we? For living. Fenweed. The only way. It tasted like dishwater.” Master Shanna said. just as his father and his grandfather had gone. I mean?” “He went to fight the God King. Siris sat quietly. It was how they fought back. They’d live beneath the oppressive thumb of the God King. They’d pay nearly all they had in tribute. up until his power grab. “Well. A warrior’s soup. holding a small bowl of soup in one hand. One warrior each generation.Chapter One “He wasn’t supposed to win. A family sheltered. and hidden by the people of the land.” Master Renn hissed. Dozens had been sent over the centuries. “We sent him to fight the God King. . hidden. But they would make this one act of rebellion. sent to show that the people of this land were not completely dominated. looking down at his bowl. He wasn’t expected to win. had been only a simple tax collector. The Sacrifice didn’t need to win. always from the same family. Siris could hear them talking in the other room of Renn’s hut.
Being the Sacrifice had dominated everything he’d ever done. Instead. Instead. make the tyrant bleed. Finally.Even I didn’t expect to defeat him. The other room fell silent. His mother and he were among the few in the town who could read. Siris had gone in with the dream that maybe—if he were incredibly lucky—he’d get a single cut on the God King. It was only now beginning to sink in. smiling. He looked down. The Sacrifice had to be literate. then fished a small woodbound book out of his pocket. He hesitated. he’d slain one of the Deathless. He’d imagined exulting in his victory. His mother had given it to him and told him to record his thoughts each night as he traveled to the God King’s castle. I’m alive. Oddly. He hadn’t considered it an arduous requirement. Finally he could figure out who he was—the person he could be when he didn’t have this terrible duty weighing him down. then pointedly set the bowl aside. reading and writing had come . he just felt free. But that was done with. He had dreamed of what might happen if he actually killed the God King. And that means I never have to drink this dreck again! He stood up. I really did it. then the whispers continued. softly enough that he couldn’t hear. but he had allowed himself those dreams. he didn’t feel exultant. He’d imagined triumph. Siris wasn’t certain why—it was merely tradition. celebrations. Siris thought. He hadn’t dared hope.
He hadn’t been able to force himself to do it. then turned to the other elders. bald man with a round face and red ceremonial robes now faded with age. The logbook was empty. I should have gone to her hut first. Siris raised it and turned to the first page. determined to avenge his fathers who had fallen to the God King’s blade. “Siris. “After that. . “I’d assumed she’d be in the town. what it is you intend to do next.” Siris said.” he said. . by proving that—despite what he may think— the world was not completely his. and felt foolish for ignoring his mother’s suggestion. The door opened.” Siris thought for a moment.” “Yes?” “I’m going swimming. . “And . He’d been marching to his death. Not by killing the creature. There.easily to him. master. as it’s midday. Siris had never written in it. . in bold letters. I hate fenweed soup.” She lived outside of the main cavern. Siris’s mother had included a charcoal pencil with the book. “Yes.” Master Renn blinked in surprise. well.” Master Renn said. Master Renn stood at their forefront. “But after that . but by fighting him. I’ve come to a decision. ?” “I’ve given that a lot of thought.” Siris continued. . . “I intend to visit my mother. a short. yes. “I’m going to eat an everberry . “We were wondering . tucking away the book.” Master Renn said. in the open air. he wrote one sentence. and Siris turned to face the town’s elders.
just sneak in and steal his sword. They began shuffling.” “What? Why not!” . “you can’t stay here.” Master Renn glanced at the other elders. “And the others?” Master Renn asked. he thought. where Siris’s armor lay piled.” Master Renn said. “I think they might have been important. Sword against sword. stepping closer. His eyes flickered toward the corner of the small room. uncomfortable. “Everyone says everberry is the best type of pie.” Master Renn said. “Did you really do it? You didn’t . after the ancient ideal. . . Do you realize I’ve never tasted everberry pie? I was always on too strict a diet to eat the pies during feasts. at least.” He rubbed his chin. bundled inside his cloak—which doubled as a pack.” Siris said. “The other six members of the Pantheon? You killed their king.” I hope I like it. but they didn’t look like members of the Pantheon. dismissive—yet surprisingly honest. “Siris. Did you face the others?” “I dueled some captives in the dungeon. commanding. A warrior cannot afford such frivolity. did you?” “What?” Siris said. “What?” Siris demanded. “Siris. The Infinity Blade rested against the pile. The God King’s voice.pie. “Of course not!” The fight flashed in his mind. I’d hate to have spent all of these years envying everyone else for nothing. I didn’t recognize them. It had been an unexpectedly honorable dual.
“Angry at you.” Master Renn said. . son.” Master Renn said. They’d praised him and lauded him. “Everyone knows that.” Siris spat. They spoke of freedom. you have to go. they must not find a town in rebellion. “You’d serve that rat?” “Our best hope now. he thought. Just a week before. I saved you.“They’ll come hunting you. I saved all of you!” “We appreciate that.” He was shouting.” Master Renn said. but they don’t know what to do with it. Dominated. Several of the others didn’t look like they agreed.” “They’ll be angry. You are fools! Children. “They’ll come hunting for that. “Hell take me . now you throw it away! Now .” “Him?” Siris demanded.” He looked toward the sword again. Siris.” Master Hord said.” Master Hord said.” “You’re exiling me?” Siris said. for what you’ve done. placated.” Renn said. When the other gods come searching. “We’ve sent word to Lord Weallix. Siris. he realized. . “you don’t know how to be anything else. “All Deathless covet the Infinity Blade. looking into those hostile eyes. They’d sent him off with a feast and fanfare.” Master Renn said. “For the good of us all.” “We can’t let you remain in the town.” Master Hanna said from behind Renn.” “It is the best way. these people had toasted his bravery. They’re afraid. inviting him back. “is to look cowed. They didn’t want me to win. “You should go quickly. “You’ve been slaves so long. “After all of these centuries. time after time feasting and dreaming.
He hit the log off-center. . but then found his rage evaporating. Frustration. His training let him banish all of that for a moment. then bury the axe into his chest as he fell . . . Anger. Siris growled and swung again. the haft grayed and weathered with time. Siris formed fists.you throw me away!” The elders shied back before his rage. In his mind. . He raised the axe . coming in furiously. “Fine. worn axe. Bash the axe against an opponent’s shield time and time again to throw him off balance. . judging its weight. . Siris lifted up an old. They seemed frightened of him. “Fine. and the axe bounced away. . as he stared at the axe. and tried to ignore the tempest of emotions inside of him. . Hack at the neck.” he snapped. . then step back and strike unexpectedly from the right . He hefted it. as if the wood were stone.” An hour later. then swung it down at a log resting on the stump before him. Its blade was chipped. . moving to pick up his gear. I’ll go. but this time only managed to hack a chip off the side. He couldn’t be angry at them. . He could only pity them. he saw the ways he could use it to win a fight. Terrified. Smash his foe at the knees. using the long haft for additional reach . . Betrayal.
Myan was solid.” “Siris?” a shocked voice asked. as the jog to the river and back fit well with his training. She hurried to him. then? You actually refused to go to the God King’s castle? Oh. raising her hand to her mouth. Now we . “By the seven lords who rule in terror. Her hair was starting to silver. boy! I never thought you’d come to your senses. and her clothing was of the simplest wool. or the balanced boulder outside of town was solid.” he said. She hadn’t been in the hut when he’d arrived a half hour ago. in the same way that an ancient tree stump was solid. He should have known. His mother would know what to do. . His mother.” She trailed off as she saw the object that Siris had set down beside the woodpile. lights in the heavens. It almost seemed to glow in the sunlight. lowering the axe. Fetching water. resting the axe on his shoulder. That task he’d always done for her. He looked up. He hit it off- . She took his arm tenderly. . He’d tried to push that over as a child. You actually did it? You killed him?” Siris swung the axe down again on the log. clutching a bucket of water. stepping with a limp from her fall ten years back. “Mother. “You saw reason. “Hell take me. Myan. “Chopping wood is a lot harder than it looks. The Infinity Blade. A middle-aged woman stood on the pathway up to the forested hut.“Damn. putting down the bucket. he hadn’t been able to shove it an inch. Though it seemed delicate.” Myan whispered. “Siris!” she said.” he said.
that it had been his destiny. He could imagine each one in perfect order. she hadn’t been overt about her displeasure. the most forward of her attempts. Oh. like climbing the tallest mountain in the world. By then. “Those small-minded fools. . He’d never given serious thought to fleeing. They sent me away.” Myan said. Why would they . . “Talk to the elders.” “Sent you away . . . I’m trying to hit it across the grain. For both of them.” he said. And what is that look on your face. . “No. studying him. . Mother. “So you didn’t see reason.” She paused. instead of with the grain.center again. Strange. She hadn’t wanted to undermine what the rest of the town—the rest of the land itself—saw as his destiny and her privilege. It’s the grain. . and . He could kill a man seventeen ways with this axe. pulling his arm from her grip. . Yet he couldn’t chop wood. he thought. That would have been like . “We have to take you to town.” Siris replied. . His mother had never wanted him to go. it had been too late. could feel his body moving through those motions. He’d never had a chance to try. No. my son?” “I’ve been to town. then turning back ten steps from the summit.” she exclaimed. Perhaps she’d sensed. They’re afraid. . But what mother would want her son to go off to certain death? She’d tried to talk him out of it the night before the Feast of the Sacrifice. . “There will be no celebrations. she hadn’t tried to undermine his training. There will be celebrations! Parties! Dancing and . in some way.
” she said.” she whispered. Then perhaps we can talk further. sitting across the table and watching him as he spooned up the last bite. .aren’t they?” “I guess they have reason to be. “You’re not going to let me choose. he thought. but said nothing. Because I needed to show her that I’m alive. He wouldn’t endanger her. “Son. crouching down beside him. But with just his mother . .” Siris said.” “That’s nonsense. Perhaps with the support of the town. Perhaps a greater kindness would have been to stay away.” He looked up. are you?” she said. then? Because I wanted her to know. Her hand tightened on his arm. I’m not going through that again. . He carefully noted in his logbook: I like peach cobbler. then shook his head. Why had he even come to her. at least let me feed you a good meal. putting the axe aside and sitting down on the stump.” He felt immeasurably better with a good meal in his stomach. unfortunately. I’m not sending you away again. No. “How many times did I try to feed you that when you were growing up?” she asked him. His mother hadn’t had any everberries for a pie. People will come looking for me. “Ever the warrior. he’d have stayed. but she’d fixed him some peach cobbler. “Well. “They’re right. He hesitated. Definitely like peach cobbler.
” . “I had hoped that now .” It made him uncomfortable when she talked like that. Even from childhood.” he said. . .” Siris replied. We could make it work. Then he was gone. “You never speak of Father. “The same as you. but the truth was that he’d held himself to them as well.” she said. He looked down at his empty plate. Sometimes I felt less like a mother to you.” It was hard to explain. looking wistful. married in under a month. . So dutiful. Whoever that is. .” “I . “So solemn. Even when you were young. nodding. . . “He did have a sense of purpose. “You always were an odd child. finally .” “I wish I had that still. Siris?” she asked. I could go about being myself. He’d known his duty. . somehow. She had cousins here. . “And you refused every time. an innkeeper.” “Must you go.” she said.” She’d come here to Drem’s Maw in order to get away from her old life. though she’d never really fit in. and more like a . He left me with you. So focused. he’d known. “Isn’t that odd to say? We met like it was a dream. “You could stay. off to be the Sacrifice.“Dozens. Was he the same?” “I didn’t know him long. Neither had he.” she said. then sighed and stood. hide here. The town’s expectations had held him to high standards. even though the townspeople had claimed to be proud of being the ones to raise the Sacrifice.
I suppose.“No. You have fulfilled the dreams of your fathers.” She pulled away and looked up at him. son. “You set your feet on this path. “Don’t despair. “But where will you go?” “I don’t know. and avenged their deaths.” she said more softly.” . gathering the cloak. “Always. “Do you remember what we spoke of.” he said.” she continued. it was still how he felt.” She didn’t seem pleased about that. “You’ve done something wonderful. “You don’t deserve this.” he complained. wrapped like a pack with his armor inside of it.” Foolishness or not. “I can’t make you stay. “Are you at least willing to listen to a little advice?” “From you?” he said.” “I didn’t have a choice. “I’m sorry. taking him by the arms. “So now you need to finish what you began. son.” She rose. taking his hand. She reached over.” “I did finish it.” “That’s foolishness. Siris. I won’t bring this down upon you. It is true.” she said.” He looked down. Something everyone thought impossible. But you did.” she said. “You always have a choice. “I killed the God King! What more could they ask of me?” “It’s no longer about what people are asking of you.” he said. on that night before you left?” “Honor.” “I wished to the lights of heaven that you hadn’t set your feet on this path.
“I’ll pack you food for your trip. he would find the one thing he’d always wanted without realizing it.” He watched her limp away. son. . “Good. he wouldn’t be hunting someone to kill. I’ll do it again. She’s right. He’d find freedom.” she said. I’ve done the impossible once. “you need to do it with all of your heart. Somehow.” She held his eyes. he thought. You have something you didn’t have before. You’ve defeated one of them. They can be beaten. squeezing his arms.” she said. This time his quest would be more personal.“I told you that if you are going to do something. however. This time. Hope. and he nodded slowly.
outside was serenity. hurrying to obey the call of reincarnation. and crossed the room to where a suit of armor stood waiting. He sat up. leaving the air cool and damp. His old set had probably been taken by thieves by now. The swishing of robes in the hallway outside. Soft rain outside. yet exhilarating feeling. He’d been meaning to begin using it—this offered a good chance. That would not do. his Devoted. his eyes opening wide. Thousands of years of life had taught Raidriar many things. It was a feeling he had never wanted to feel again. the height of current design and technology. A few muted beeps from the deadminds that monitored his vital signs. his heart pounding. Yes. The faces of the Deathless were not to be seen by common mortals. . It was a terrifying. The gasp of the dead returning to life. He rose. Inside was chaos. It was the uncontrolled gasp of one who had been without breath for too long. hitting leaves and the quiet rooftop. reaching out to pick up the helm that lay on the nearby table. bare feet upon the smooth bamboo floor. One of the newer sets. Around him floated the serene sounds of his Seventh Temple of Reincarnation. but the most important was to be in control.Chapter Two The God King came awake with a deep gasp.
He checked the wall-mounted deadmind mirror—that mirror would have been called a ‘monitor’ in earlier eras.robbed from his corpse. responding to the seeded legends. They could be confusing to people in this era. He stepped into the armor. Another in a long line of “heroes” come to kill him. That . after the classical ideal. The fight replayed in his mind. He could not suppress a shiver. It reminded him of something he had been long. Died the final death. he thought. that reincarnation had been a success. which lay open and splayed like a corpse on a dissection table. real death. locking into place. killer of gods. the God King had known true fear. like a man tasting a new vintage of wine. The mirror’s information indicated that his new body was functioning normally. He turned it over in his head. this mortal had ended that duel by ramming the God King’s own blade into his chest. one on one. He found that wine bitter. I could have died. For just a moment. A duel. lying stunned at the foot of his throne. An offer to join him refused. It began to fold around him. He had no more in common with that person of old than an acorn had with a mighty oak. Did these mortals understand the honor he did them in granting them such a privilege? Probably not—after all. long ago. but it had been so long that he’d stopped using such terms. . . No . The concept was unfamiliar. that boy had used the Infinity Blade. and that all was well in this particular quarter of his kingdom.
and other aid through careful injections.” he said. they knew the God King was not supposed to have been reincarnated here for some time yet. his footsteps crunching on the bamboo rug. bursts of healing. and class. locking onto his arms. not who could construct the most powerful device to aid them. but the God King was no fool.” the God King said. Mortals were a resource. In clashes between the Deathless. Some Deathless would execute their servants for even this small amount of questioning. torso. one’s own body was the true test. “Activate the deadminds in the temple of Lantimor. “Great master?” asked one of the Devoted. of course—not even a deadmind—and the boosts it gave were minimal. then fell to their knees. waving a gauntleted hand. He slipped on the helm. neck. His Devoted entered in a cluster. When you could not be killed permanently. you found other ways to prove yourself superior. and the armor took account of his vitals. Cool air immediately circulated over his skin. The God King passed them. skill. hands. The Devoted said nothing. They also knew not to demand answers of him. The comfortable familiarity of his armor enveloped him. delivering strength.—no more in common than an acorn had with a temple constructed from that oak. “Has something gone wrong?” “Of course not. Armor that worked like a machine had been abandoned millennia ago. Duels were about finesse. one he had used to great . looking up. The armor itself had no life.
But those were soul cells. Raidriar had good ways to keep track of him. . That should have been impossible. How. A tiny smidgen of time. as it displayed a . . child had defeated him. however. A week had passed since his death. including Eves. He was trying to find ways. It was important to have men who would question you and see flaws in your plans. The rain continued outside. The proof was before him. then. had Raidriar himself survived? He confronted this question. the God King wished he could control that. the place where that . Dead. and it gave the God King pause. in the hands of one such as he’d faced. for it galled him that he could not do something so seemingly simple. A particular bit of information scrolled past. High Devoted of this particular temple. he was fond of many of them. That could be disastrous. The sword was working. All three of my captives. he read. Surround yourself with people too afraid to speak.advantage when many of his peers dismissed them out of hand. the one most worrisome to him. so long as you could control them. The eye of the room’s primary deadmind displayed a window into his palace on Lantimor. . It was all about control. It displayed an empty throne room. No matter. and you left yourself to only your own ideas. . and information came up in lists beside it. barely worth noticing—except it meant that the child had had time to escape with the Godkiller. and he felt a thrill at it. They couldn’t be completely gone unless . In fact.
“And set up surveillance on that child. but you are a subtle one. And so. . . and . .profound lack of control. They would surrender their secrets to him. He waited for six hours. . . but not yet at full power. Those moves . He’d been played. Who trained him . and the deadmind mirror displayed an image of him fighting the child in the throne room. “Gather the Seringal. all that had happened was good. even if he hadn’t known it at the time. Perhaps only one more death of the right bloodline. The servants worked.” The Devoted burst into motion. Of course. The God King sat back. In a way. He hated questions. he had come too far to let this plan spiral away from him now. That could be an issue. contemplating. So familiar. he decided he had not been defeated.” he said out loud. sending his Devoted to fetch the most skilled of his knights. he thought. Too many questions. Worker of Secrets. My.” he said. He should have realized this. practically . he thought. he thought idly. as he now had the proof he needed. pondering the recording. seeing another bit of information. “Find me a recording of the moment where I let him defeat me. . This was what the plan had required. ? And then it all locked into place. It was strong enough to kill lesser Deathless. That fight had not gone the way it should have. Ah. Masterfully.
The other Deathless. primarily because he wanted to lay down a new trail for anyone looking for him. buy them off. but now it passed as quickly to him as a single breath. . he could make . His servants located the child. like a nugget of dark iron trapped in the surrounding rocks. He continued down the pathway toward the God King’s palace. to lead them another direction. They’ll still execute me for killing their king. He started the hike down to the castle. he thought. crossing the rocky expanses of his homeland. . It squatted in the cliffs. No. perhaps he should just give it to them. So. Maybe I could . He’d decided that he needed to start here. It stood to reason that they’d begin looking for him here. he needed. This ‘Siris’ was returning to the palace. They wanted the God King’s weapon. The God King laced his fingers. A mortal did not slay a god. a few thoughts playing across his mind. he thought. He could faintly recall when six hours would have felt like a great deal of time to sit and think.motionless. He didn’t want them tracking him to Drem’s Maw. inspecting the child’s path. Siris stepped up onto the edge of a rocky precipice overlooking the God King’s castle. He looked down at the sword he wore in an improvised sheath at his side. instead. if there were daerils still in this place. was he? Why? The God King leaned forward and watched with interest.
and a daeril stepped out. At the base of the cliff. Long of limb. He felt . and he had even been excited by the challenge ahead of him. He remembered walking this long route just over a week before. The rocky path was slippery with pebbles and shale. He stopped and inspected the tree. Why didn’t I ever try it. each footstep electric. older now. He continued forward. with red-orange skin and a skeletal cast to the arms and legs. Siris had once stood on one of those. That might work. The children of Drem’s Maw had done something different with ropes. What is wrong with me. he thought. He’d practiced that.a big show for them of going somewhere other than Drem’s Maw. even once? He reached the side gate to the castle. if you really needed one. He’d never just sat down and swung. Ancient. . he put on his armor. That doom was one he’d come to grips with. he walked with a slower step. so he could practice keeping his balance on unsteady footing. then had several boys push. They’d created swings on the trees outside of the maw. however. He’d been marching to his death. reaching a tree hung with ropes just outside the palace walls. . This time. the daeril had a . continuing forward with clanking steps. then swing it about and attack. A rope could be a weapon. might give his mother some protection. Tie a heavy bit of metal to one end.
master. . “Don’t call me that. I am Strix. “How many of you are there in this place. Let us serve you. The creature didn’t attack. daeril!” “We live to serve you.” The kingdom . “Great master. Siris raised his sword with a sigh. .” Siris said. It jumped forward. “Great master!” the daeril exclaimed. even if this creature were telling the truth. “Greatest lord of all that is powerful and—” “That’s really not any better. and Siris stumbled back. He’d have to fight his way in again. State your purpose. wary.” The daeril fell silent. though he’d only passed this way that one time. . “What am I supposed to do with a kingdom?” Siris said. He’d never be able to stand against the forces of the other gods. . and I obey. “Great master—” Strix began. “Please. . Remain here and rule us.” the daeril began again. Which he found suspect. walking around the daeril—keeping an eye on it—and crossing the bridge to enter the palace’s outer court.” Siris hesitated. “My lord .horrifically twisted face. Do not leave us again. now! The kingdom as well. The court seemed strikingly familiar to him. . you have returned!” “I . stepping up to him. mine? He almost laughed. still?” . The castle is yours. but threw itself at Siris’s feet. it appeared.
. which never made sitting particularly comfortable.” Siris said. making it appear as if out of nothing in a flash of light. master. great master. Every one of them in the castle. So far. and in so doing have become our leader. He inspected the Infinity Blade as he waited. Yes indeed! You have slain our ruler. though he kept the Infinity Blade close. a troll nearly forty years old. not for a moment.“Perhaps two dozen. The blade had some kind of magic that had let the God King summon it.” He didn’t trust these creatures. But perhaps he could use them. Siris sat on the God King’s throne. Bring them to the throne room. What had his mother meant by that? Surely she hadn’t meant to imply that he should take the God King’s place.” “And you will all serve me?” “Yes. Seeing his face unnerved the daerils. master. Finish what you began. “And gather the other daerils. despite a week of tinkering. That seemed a good enough reason to him to keep the helmet off. for now.” “Who led you before I returned?” “Kuuth.” “Send for him. “He is ancient and wise.” Strix said. Siris hadn’t been able to figure out how that magic worked. The God King’s throne wasn’t very comfortable—though Siris was wearing armor. That would be suicide. He’d removed his helm and set his shield to the side.
. It was the answer to one of the riddles from the stories. Please answer this security question: In what kingdom did you first meet the Worker?” So it was a riddle. “Old Jake Mardin. His mother had told him stories of magic mirrors that asked riddles. after the classical ideal. Poking at the thing made it speak. Only then did he remember the little mirror built into the armrest of the throne. “I don’t know it.” “Pass phrase?” Siris said. “I . It was magical.” he said. .Something chirped beside him. The daerils that guarded the castle had all followed the old precepts. which chilled him. “Security question two: What was the name of your first and most trusted Aegis?” Aegis. .” the mirror said politely. He poked at it. they had each shown that much honor. The thing had done . saying the name of the first man who had trained him in the sword. glancing down. “Answer incorrect. Siris jumped. . something following the God King’s death. at the break of the day. “I’d like to know how the God King’s sword works.” Siris said. “What is your command?” it asked.” “Answer pending. . yes?” “Very well. . . “In the kingdom of night and dawn. Horrific and terrible though they had been.” Siris looked up at the shuffling host of daerils—in a variety of shapes and colors—gathering at the back of the room.” “Would you like to retrieve it?” “Um . Please enter the pass phrase. It was a word for a master duelist. a retired soldier.
“I don’t understand that query. beginning a list of things he would try. Something moved in the shadows. turning toward the back of the room. slayer of gods. Siris sat up. once he didn’t have to worry about being hunted. . he thought.” Siris said. where a doorway led to the servants’ quarters. . just tell me how I make the sword come at my will. Honestly.” he whispered. The shadow lumbered forward.” Siris said. couldn’t someone who called himself the God King get a decent cushion? “The deadminds will not speak to you. or as the God King?” “I’m sorry. “I’m sorry. Security question three: How many days passed before your first reincarnation?” “Uh .” The mirror grew black. He’d write that in his book tonight. mirror? Can you tell me how I can be free of all this and live my life?” A rope swing from a tree. The waiting period is one day before the next access attempt. “Your riddles make no sense. “Even better. “Am I supposed to answer as myself.” the mirror said.” He was silent for a moment. “Please.“Answer incorrect.” the mirror said. “Hell take me. . tired-sounding voice.” the mirror said. mirror. leaning back in the horrid throne. “I am not authorized to speak further. five?” “Answer incorrect. “how can I find freedom? Can you answer that for me.” “Damn it. mirror!” he said.” said a deep.
testing the air with its snout. It leaned on a staff as thick as Siris’s leg. and a younger troll helped the elder. and must be instructed.” Siris said. great master.” the troll said. Even stooped with age. They are knowledgeable about some things. The aged one. looking concerned.” . “Yes. walking in a crouch. standing up. I assume?” Siris said. exposing a wicked scar on his shoulder and neck. “Well.” the beast said. a face furrowed with wrinkles that were sharp and distinct—like the scars left by an axe chopping at a tree. “What’s a deadmind?” Siris asked Kuuth. and wore bandages covering its eyes. Siris scooted a little farther away from the mirror. the beast towered a good ten feet tall. White hair fell around the thing’s animal face. “Kuuth. Had the God King used the souls of children themselves to create these things? The legends said that he feasted upon the souls of those who fell to him. Kuuth wore a strange robe that had the right shoulder cut out. great master. with quick steps. “The God King instilled these souls into objects. I summoned you because I hoped you’d be able to answer questions for me. perhaps I won’t need its help. “It is a soul without life. This younger beast moved like an animal.” “Brilliant children. He shivered.entering the light and revealing itself as a massive troll. lumbering forward. but cannot make choices for themselves. had an unexpectedly civilized air. however. The other daerils parted for him. They are like children.
” the ancient troll said. I do not know where.” Kuuth said. Lilendre. He doubted the Worker was real.” Kuuth said. . “I will need allies. then.” “As I feared.” “Fine. Mistress of the End.” “Surely there are rumors.” Siris said. great master. “Where can I find this Worker?” “He is imprisoned. “I know more than most here. “Well . master. sounding confused. And then. . then coughed into his hand.” Siris said. Blight’s Son.” Kuuth said. I met a man in the dungeon who claimed to be my ancestor.” Kuuth said. “The God King spoke of greater evils. but hunting him was a perfect way to start laying down a false trail. Am I to assume that they referred to other members of the Pantheon?” “Perhaps. speaking loudly. I suppose .” “I’m sorry. It is said that nobody knows. . . “Ashimar.” “I’ll start easy then. Others whose names I do not know.“Unlikely. I wish to attack one of the other Deathless. but a cup with two drops instead of one still will not quench a thirst. troll. master. Do you know where I should search for them?” “Master. He said that someone—or something—would come hunting me.” “Surely the Deathless have enemies. the Sorrowmaker. after that. “I know of none. walking down the steps to the throne. Terrovax.” Siris said. “But. there is the Worker of Secrets. Each will be angered by what you have done.” That was a myth even Siris had heard of. “These are not questions I can answer for you. so the other daerils could hear. .
. great master. perhaps that’s what I killed. He’d pried it from the finger of the God King. and also very cruel. . When Siris had taken off the man’s helm.” Kuuth frowned. Perhaps serving the Deathless granted men immortality? Was that why one who had come to kill the God King would instead choose to serve him? Siris knew so little. “This? It’s a healing ring.One who is very powerful. Whom would you suggest?” “Master? This is an odd request. he thought. Perhaps the Killer of Dreams? You travel to the north. in the dungeon. He is not part of the Pantheon. “I believe it had something to do with his ring. he could feel its healing magic tingling on his finger. sitting down. He wasn’t certain what he believed of what that man had said. “I may be able to guess.” “It is the one I make nonetheless. and has of late been very antagonistic to our former master. I have others. Kuuth?” He asked it in a softer voice. . taking out a silvery ring. no longer for the show of the watching daerils. “A Deathless who is close but powerful .” He slipped it on. “Do you know how the God King made the magic of his sword and shield work. to find him.” Siris frowned. taken from the bodies of Aegis I slew. he had found a youthful face beneath it.” Siris fished in his pocket. But then. There were Deathless who weren’t in the Pantheon? Well. there had also been Siris’s ancestor.” Kuuth said. across the ocean.
then extended his hand to the side and attempted to summon fire. . “Bah. . I saw the God King use it to sling fire as well.” “I never saw them. Why?” “I do not know. Do you know anything. A sudden flare of annoyance rose in Siris. then. He immediately took a grip on his frustration and shoved it down. all of his rings save the healing rings had stopped functioning. master. “I do not know that either.” “Why did the sword flash when I slew them. “It somehow let him summon his sword to him. “It can’t do that anymore.” Kuuth said. looking at the . Before I lost my eyes. What were those creatures in the dungeon? They seemed . different from other Aegis I fought. each one had fallen into the Aegis stance and then attacked him. fool creature?” Siris froze. then sniffed the air a few times. Once he’d defeated the God King. Siris reminded himself. and why did the God King have them imprisoned?” He still worried that he’d killed what could have become his allies. Where had that outburst come from? It had been many years since he’d lost his temper. He’s blind.” Kuuth said. “I do not know. Yet. The ancient troll stood quietly.“That one is more useful than the others you found. his mother had trained him to deal with that as a child.” “All right.” “How?” Siris asked.” Siris frowned. It didn’t work.
and I lost.” The great beast tested with his large staff until reaching the steps to the throne. hands clasped before him. “Yes.bandaged eyes. A troll is not meant to reach ages such as I have.” Kuuth said. It is growing difficult to stand in my age. “I put them out. “I don’t. That would stop a younger troll from killing me and taking my honor. well. I was wounded many years ago. great master. Kuuth chuckled. the others . At times.” “What? Why would you do that?” “Among the kavre—that is what we call ourselves. great master. Still. . the most powerful lead. it would have been when your father entered the palace. then settled down quietly. I fought him.” “Blinded myself. And our way. . . to be left to rot. It also made the younger trolls see me as lame and blemished. when . Horrible. “So that my kin would exile me rather than killing me. However.” Siris said. “My wound was great. I wonder at what I did. great master?” Kuuth asked. you see. and I should have been slain by my kin in mercy. rather than to be slain as a rival. as they are marked by the gods.’ Among the kavre. sitting on the lip of the throne dais.” “That’s horrible. the blind and the mute are not to be killed—they are left alone in the wilderness to die. now that I am of this great age. “Thank you.” “What happened to your eyes. “Do you mind if I sit. . though many just call us ‘trolls. Kuuth?” Siris asked.” “So you .
usually when there was news of a warrior of note fighting his way through the wilds. my concerns are not yours.” “He dueled them. “he did not live here.” “Trap? I do not know that I’d say that.” “I’ve noticed that. .” “The other daeril . no groundskeepers. great master. Instead. I wished to speak more softly with you. He only came to the castle on occasion. Perhaps these thoughts will be of use to you. this castle has no servants. shaking a longsnouted head. Like a metal pole set up high to draw the lightning when it comes.” Kuuth said. But a destination . “I have seen many things. But. No maids. this castle was placed here to draw the warriors who sought to kill the God King. or overwhelmed them with his forces. none of the things that are kept by the lesser lords beneath the God King. and I do not wish to make them question. “I would have assumed that the God King would want comforts for the place where he lived. Most of the denizens of this castle do not think about the future. his voice quiet. I have thought many things. . “Ancient.” Siris fell silent. “He could have just used his magic to kill them. he faced them in person.have begun to respect me. “So this place was a trap. he said you were forty years old?” “In another two years.” “You see. . great master.” Siris said.” Siris said. that is what it was.” Kuuth said.” “Very well.” the troll said. .” “Over the years. You see. Why?” “What do you know of the Deathless?” . yes.
. with the God King above them all. They need neither food nor water to live.” Kuuth whispered.” “Yes. It is a terrible and wondrous thing. “But even without a bud. ruling together. the soul of a true Deathless will find a new home. “Crafted by the Worker of Secrets himself.” “Unless.’ a replica of themselves. prepared ahead of time. You have the weapon?” Siris reached to the side.” Siris said.“Not much.” “The God King’s sword.” Siris whispered. Chop them to pieces. Unless . “Below. You mentioned its magic before. “Seven lords. fingers resting on the blade. They are immortal —truly immortal. isn’t he?” “What better creator of a sword that should not be. and have come to see themselves as eternal. . and their soul will seek out a new receptacle to be reborn. Often they are reborn into what the God King called a ‘bud.” Siris said. They do not age. The Deathless have lived for thousands of years. But if one of them were to gain access to a weapon which could finally threaten them . The God King was but one of many who name themselves Deathless. and their bodies heal if wounded.” “But he’s just a myth.” “He’d be a God. “The Infinity Blade. that weapon is designed to slay the Deathless. though that is mostly just the illusion they give to others in the land nearby.” Kuuth said.” “I saw some of those. . Permanently.” “Yes. a sword to kill the unkillable? Great master. . .
“God among gods. realizing the truth.” Siris ran his fingers along the blade. “They will chase me. they’ll probably be allowed to fight one another until one champion remains to fall upon his sword.” Kuuth said. but many are not. Each Aegis or daeril who knows that a mortal slew one of the Deathless. .” “You’re dead too. . Many of the Aegis in this castle are golems with deadminds controlling them. repay the God King and his ilk. looking at the creature’s bandaged eyes. blind .” Kuuth said. then at the gathered daerils at the back of the room. First of immortals. “No need to inspire a panic. The others .” “Hell take me. “I should throw it away. All will likely be destroyed. “Everyone in this castle. the rebel inside of me tells you all of this to perhaps . “Though.” “I’ve lived many years beyond my lifespan. “King among kings. They’ll hunt me.” Kuuth said. My kind were created to die and to kill.” “You see why I needed to whisper this to you.” Kuuth said. “Because you know the secret.” Kuuth said. well. Just in case. They will consider it an honor.” “We are what we were created to be. . Because you’ve done the unthinkable.” “You don’t seem afraid. “You’re all insane.” Siris said.” He raised his head.” He gripped the sword by the hilt. for this.” Siris whispered. “I believe my death will be a nice rest. It is the method commonly granted to skilled Aegis who have acquitted themselves well.” “And they would still hunt you. great master. .
that was tempting. even with daerils.” Siris said. They’d kill him and take the sword.” Kuuth said hesitantly. when put that way. surprised at the answer. He couldn’t remain long in any location where the Deathless knew to find him. we are not so different. Will you stay? Rule here. taking the Infinity Blade. we wish for a place where they are not. Better the pains of hell than living in heaven beneath the Deathless. they claim to rule the earth and the heavens. though the beast couldn’t see him.” Siris nodded. are we?” “No. Why do you say that phrase that you did?” “Hell take me?” “Yes. was suicide. he needed to escape . As frustrated as he was with the townsfolk of Drem’s Maw.” Kuuth smiled. standing up. If he was going to survive.” That . “These Deathless are the gods. “And so. “Great master. make your stand here. Siris considered it for a long moment. And so. We might be able to face the others. “No. but eventually discarded it. “If I may ask a question.” Siris said. the two of us may be able to decipher the secrets of the God King’s deadminds. “It is a saying from my village and the region about. he was coming to understand why he’d been required to leave. I suppose we are not. Making a stand here.” Kuuth said.eyes looking toward the ceiling.” Kuuth said. “But they are the ones who created us this way. when we die. Together. . “as one warrior to another.” “Then I must ask you. .
” Siris proclaimed loudly. . “Your words are wise. .them. gave Siris an immediate sense of regret. But he did have something to show in exchange for that loss: reflexes. Kuuth. however. “That should—” He cut off. . “I will seek out this Killer of Dreams. Freedom . or a youth. starting immediately. He was leaving these creatures to die. he would leave a trail that would not endanger his mother. he’d trained. If he was an enemy of the God King. cocking his head. true. to speak of.” That should do it—his home was to the south. as if hearing something. hitting the ground and ducking into a ball. Siris dodged before he even understood why. He hadn’t played marbles. but it didn’t seem fair.” he said softly. If not. or eaten everberry pies. He may not have had a childhood. Instead. “I’m sorry. “But it is not to be.” Kuuth said. great master. Siris threw himself to the side. Siris hadn’t swung on swings. “Very well. Speaking these words. As a child. then hunt out the true location of the Worker of Secrets. standing. and so if he traveled north. He did this even before his mind registered what he’d heard. They were daerils. You and the other daerils are to remain here and guard my castle. making himself as small a target as possible.” Kuuth lowered his aged head. I will slay him. then he may be an ally to me. A click from behind.
Those would probably be the source of the attack. he let go of his bleeding cheek and scrambled up the steps to the throne. where he’d set his helm and gauntlets. with dark brown leathers underneath. another of the Deathless. stopping the flow of blood. He doubted he had time to grab them. he climbed down from . His shield was on the table a short distance away.Something sliced his cheek. he thought. He remained still. thin sword from the sheath at its side. How many assassins were there? He needed his weapon. He pressed one hand to his cheek. Idiot. pressing up against the stone of the dais. putting it between himself and the windows behind it. He came up from the roll with his back to the God King’s throne. He’d let himself be caught without his helm. flexing his hands and gripping the Infinity Blade. then grabbed the hilt of the Infinity Blade in his unbloodied hand and spun around the side of the throne to assess his enemies. Siris sighed. They had not been pleasant. Instead. perhaps. Sleek and dangerous. Making a quick decision. one that he had come to see as a mark of being in the service of the God King—or. the creature wore a long black coat that came down to its ankles. but they had been effective. A single figure in dark clothing had dropped on a rope from one of the upper windows of the vaulted chamber. The pain was nothing. He’d trained himself to ignore pain with a specific group of exercises that had earned him quite a bit of notoriety in the village. It had the characteristic mask on its face. The creature pulled a long.
Poison. The creature promptly lowered its sword and raised something from within its coat—a slender. awkwardly holding his blade and trying to watch for the creature’s next attack. the potential cost weighed upon him. he felt a deadening of his leg. His skin grew clammy. and healing had a terrible cost. He grunted. then raised its blade. “Oh. he took cover beside the throne dais. he hadn’t cared. He felt a burning on his finger as the magic was expended. It lasted only an eyeblink. inviting the enemy into a duel of honor.” Siris said. Siris thought. and winced. dangerouslooking crossbow. The healing effect was immediate. He had expected the God King to kill him. hell. and when he came out of it. the healing ring glinted on his finger. as if he’d dunked himself into an icy pond in the winter. where the metal armor plates parted. As he did so. and had expert aim. He yanked the small bolt from his thigh. He didn’t use it on his wounded cheek. That was a simple cut. then engaged the ring. In case of an emergency. Now. Siris came up. Here we go. The creature fired. and a shock ran through his body. His foe studied him for a moment. stumbling. Hell take me! He had no choice now. The bolt drilled into Siris’s thigh. flinging himself to the side. his . This was not how a proper duel was supposed to go. Before.the throne dais and fell into the stance of the Aegis.
Siris gritted his teeth. He hated healing. As near as he could figure. each use of the ring took about a half of a year off his life.pains were gone. The assassin was slinking along the side of the dais toward him. He came up beside the table and grabbed his shield. alien his own features seemed. He ducked low and jumped in a roll. Every beast he had faced in the God King’s palace— even the most foul of daerils and most primitive of trolls— had followed the ancient dueling ideals. his hair had grown all the way down to his shoulders. The enemy scuttled away. in that eyeblink. He peeked around the side of the large throne. However. obviously expecting him to be succumbing to the poison. then becoming scarred—they also made him age as long as it would have taken to heal wounds naturally. His fingernails had grown long. The more he did it. the more . taking cover. He raised a hand to his newly grown beard as he glanced at himself in the polished marble of the throne’s dais. . Obviously. The healing rings sped up his body in a twisted way. Though they made him heal quickly—wounds scabbing over. and he now had a beard where previously he’d had none. but Siris was ready. . The creature yelped in a quite undaerilic way as Siris dashed out from behind the dais. he was facing a different kind of evil now. running toward the side of the room. . turning and raising it. The assassin raised its crossbow again.
“So . . .” a feminine voice called from beside the pillar where the assassin had fled. “You’re not dead then, I see.” Her voice had a faint accent that Siris couldn’t place. She said her “eh” sound too long, like it was an “ee” instead, and she punctuated her syllables too much. Siris blinked in surprise, but didn’t reply. He moved across the room back toward the throne dais. It made for good cover. “This is very awkward,” the hidden assassin said, voice echoing in the room. “I’m going to flay that vendor alive; he promised the poison was a three-breather. You’ve taken considerably more than three breaths since I shot you.” Siris reached the base of the dais. “I don’t suppose you’re starting to feel tired?” the voice asked. “Afraid not,” Siris called back. “Weak? Dizzy? A little peckish?” Siris hesitated. “Peckish?” “Sure. You know, like something has pecked you? Isn’t that what the word means?” “It means hungry,” he said flatly. “Damn.” There was a sound coming from one of the back pillars, like the assassin was writing. Taking notes? “Your language is stupid, immortal.” “Wait,” Siris said. “Immortal?” “And might I add,” the voice continued, “that when people speak of awe-inspiring divine powers, spontaneously growing a beard doesn’t really come up. I expected lightning, thunder, earthquakes. Instead I got facial hair. I’m
less than impressed.” Thunder . . . earthquakes . . . immortal? Siris almost laughed. She thought he was the God King!
What else would she think, finding someone sitting in the throne, with the God King’s sword beside him, speaking with a troll?
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding—” Siris began. At that moment, she leaped out from behind her pillar and leveled her crossbow at him again. She’d removed her mask, and he was surprised to see that she was completely human. And she was not unattractive, with long black hair that she kept in a simple ponytail. But her eyes spoiled it. Those were grim and hard. Dangerous. Siris’s hard-won reflexes meant he got the shield up in time to deflect a crossbow bolt; the woman ducked back behind the pillar, her black coat swishing. She’d been trying to lull him with the conversation. “Look,” Siris said. “You’re making a mistake. I—” The door to the room exploded. A massive, hulking thing of sparks and darkness broke its way through the far wall, tossing down chunks of rock. It held a blade as wide as a man’s stride, and its head was capped by a helm that trailed black mist through the eyeslit. “What’s that?” Siris demanded. “You didn’t think I came alone, did you?” the woman called. Great, Siris thought, turning toward this new foe—though
he had to be careful not to put his back to the woman. That would likely earn him a crossbow bolt between the shoulder blades. His armor was good, but she obviously had an enhanced crossbow built to punch through the best steel. The newcomer stepped into the room, the beautiful marble tiles crunching and cracking beneath its feet. Siris was half-afraid the tower floor would fall out from under them. They were at the highest point in the castle, and the drop would be deadly. Most of the daerils fled, though Kuuth retreated to the side of the room. The ancient troll rested on his staff, head cocked to listen. None of the daerils offered to help Siris, despite their willingness to call him “great master.” Siris put himself into an Aegis fighting stance—well, as best he could, while watching two places at once. The machinelike monster took a pair of crunching steps forward, and then another one just like it followed through the hole the first had made, knocking pieces of rock to the ground. Great, Siris thought. He made a snap decision, then attacked forward, intending to try to defeat one of the monsters before he could be overwhelmed. The assassin had been waiting for that move, however, and took a shot at him as he charged. Siris had to lurch to a stop, letting the bolt shoot in front of him, then awkwardly raised his shield to block a blow from the first golem. The monster’s gigantic sword crashed down, hitting hard and sending a shower of sparks from his shield. The shield’s magic held, but just barely. Terrors, he thought, I’d
. He’d trained in the Aegis Forms. One foe in front. Except . how he should fight. the second one charged in from the right. and Siris rolled up just inside the reach of the other. but caught another motion from the corner of his eye.” the girl called at him.” Something about this situation seemed suddenly familiar. He met its blow with his shield. “Did that one kill you?” a feminine voice called. “I’m not the God King!” Siris yelled desperately. . . spraying chips of stone. He leaped to the side in time to dodge yet another crossbow bolt. The second golem was rounding to his right. jumping into a roll. The golem attacked again with a crash. “I’ll be satisfied with one of his minions. one to the back. “You’re downright unaccommodating. I . One on one. each footstep shaking the room. The first golem’s sword smashed into the ground. Siris grunted as he blocked another blow from the golem. Siris cursed. As if he’d done it before. one to the side. At the same time. . She was fast with those reloads.never be able to parry a blow from something like this unaided.” “I’m not one of his minions. Siris felt as if he knew how he should stand. He breathed out. . But he’d never been in a situation like this. Deathless. bringing his sword around to strike.
its runes weren’t glowing. He groaned. It hadn’t recharged yet. but these monsters were strong. flexing his fingers. and the force of the blow hurled him backward. He could barely feel his shield arm. could smell the too-clean. cautiously. His hand brushed the throne as he moved. Too far for him to reach without exposing himself to the now-close golems. Siris growled and his vision returned. His arm felt numb. and he heard a distinct crack. “Ring of Transportation. He’d lost the sword. his vision going black for a moment. he’d have been dead. Siris climbed to his feet. He was lying on the floor before the God King’s throne. particularly with the pain in his hip making it harder for him to walk. The golems were coming at him slowly. Dared he heal again? He glanced at his ring. glancing to the sides. It’s coming. He could feel the ground shaking. and there was a beep from the magical mirror on the armrest. His head rang with pain. Without his armor. stone tiles crunching under their feet. rolling over.Terrors. He cursed. His hip ached where he’d hit the ground. The shield’s magic gave out. No. The sword. moving up the steps toward the throne. That was when he realized both hands were empty. too-sterile air of the God King’s throne room.” the helpful voice said. “fifteenth . Siris hit the marble floor with a grunt. then stumbled backward. Don’t stop. The Infinity Blade rested on the marble floor a short distance away from the throne.
And on the slender figure crouching beside it. Incredibly. both golems stopped paying any attention to him. and the throne exploded into rubble. snatching the Infinity Blade and turning to dash away. running service pack six.generation.” “It can heal too. The room shook. Siris hit hard on the other side of the dais. leaping over the side of the throne’s armrest as one of the golems swung for him. Currently rebuilding injection from ambient compounds. She looked up at Siris and smiled a toothy grin.” the mirror chimed. “This should sell for a bit of gold. running after her. the golem’s sword spraying chunks of metal and rock. “Incorrect password. and instead began charging after the girl. Were they leaving with her? . The beast’s emotionless helm—trailing a blackish smoke from the visor—was fixed on the fallen sword.” Terrors! Siris thought. New injection available in seven minutes. and his hip screamed in pain. Where was the other golem? Why wasn’t it attacking? He found it by following the sound of its footsteps. Siris cursed. Fortunately.” the assassin said. desperate as the golems closed. “Seventh generation.” “Damn you!” Siris sputtered. Please enter the password for activation. . “Rejuvenation sub-specialization. toward the Infinity Blade. . right?” Siris asked. it had turned away from him and was lumbering toward .
scrambling up the rope. They were chasing her. I’ve been played. She was never trying to kill me. almost in a consoling way. She just wanted the sword. “Restarting system . She didn’t ever think I was the God King.” Siris yelled. breaking open a hole. glaring toward the assassin with smoking visors. . damaged . “You couldn’t have killed him. One began beating the wall down with its fist. . apparently. Then she leaped out of the window. “If you think that.” Siris stopped his pained running as the two golems lumbered up to the wall. She reached the window.” she called back. I killed him!” “He’s immortal. “Enemy of my enemy and all that.” “You don’t know what you’re doing!” Siris yelled.” the girl said. “You’re not with them!” Siris yelled. . reaching a rope dangling from the window she’d come in through. “then why in the hell were you trying to attack me?” She couched on the window ledge and looked down at him. causing the ceiling to rain dust. “I’m not the God King. The other golem glanced back at Siris. as if considering finishing him off. She’d stopped grinning. then pulled her rope up behind her. this place was going to come tumbling down on their heads. If they kept bashing holes in the walls. . but now just shrugged. Siris realized. “Routines . .” a voice came from behind. . .No. As did the golems.
But it is the only weapon that can kill them. He’d drawn their attention. he thought. master. “Security protocols reset. security protocols . maybe letting the woman run off with the blade was a good thing. . The default is to spread your . “Please . but words still glowed on its surface. Well. but what cost would he pay for it? Finish what you began. . they might fight over it. . thin bits of metal were hanging free like thick strands of hair. . He would seek freedom. In case I returned. where some long. . Siris glanced at it. The golem’s strike had cracked the mirror. . he thought. . . If she took it to one of the other Deathless.” the voice said.” “Ring activated and attuned to your Q. he felt like a horrible coward. “What would you like to do?” “Activate Transportation Ring. He scrambled up the rubble-strewn steps to the throne.” “How do I use it?” “You must choose a gesture. at least he’d done what he’d wanted. and sparks buzzed at the back.” the throne warbled. Suddenly. Leave him alone.They probably had the place under surveillance. It had been mostly destroyed.P. Then started running. Am I really just going to let it go? He froze in place. The only weapon we could ever use to fight back.I.. . and could now lead it away from Drem’s Maw. Siris touched his palm to it. reset . . . And .
” He glanced at the sword’s hilt. . then attach the anchor disc to something inorganic.” Siris said. then snapped his fingers together. His hands flashed.” the mirror said happily. aren’t I?” “I’m not equipped to answer that question. master. and weights dropped into them. From outside he heard a distinct—and very aggravated— yell of annoyance. “I’m an idiot. he rubbed his thumb across the “anchor disc. “You don’t need to.” “Inorganic?” “Nonliving matter. “Right. stone. or wood that has been dead long enough. then snap them together twice. “Touch it and will it free.three middle fingers apart. You must keep the transportation ring on your finger. Metal. There was a small metal disc there.” he said. stuck as if magnetically to the base of the pommel. holding it in his palm.” Siris raised his hand and took a deep breath. Sweating in anxiety. The God King’s shield fell into one hand. He transferred it to his shield hand. the room shaking as two golems charged him. Performing the summoning will bring one to the other. “How does the transportation thing work?” “A linked ring and disc can summon inorganic material.” the throne’s deadmind said in its helpful voice. Both golems spun on him. the Infinity Blade into the other. He tried to pry it loose.” and it fell loose. hefting the blade and shield.
then . The first golem—the one that had lost its weapon—was staring in stupefaction at its empty hands. The God King’s sword was made of strong material.All right. clearing his mind. The disc hit and stuck. who turned and swung in a tandem attack. narrowly avoiding a blade that crushed into the ground beside him. it cut through the steel. and rammed the Infinity Blade into the knee of the still-armed golem. The first golem swung a sword the size of one of the palace doors. His wounded hip still ached. He hurled himself off the dais. Siris tapped his fingers together twice. ears ringing from the crash. tossing the ring’s metal disc toward the monstrous weapon. but it was starting to recover from its numbness. That blocked the second golem’s swing. Siris skidded on the marble. The blades crashed against one another. He focused only on the fight. Siris ducked forward. going down on his knees and sliding underneath the blade. Siris jumped to the side. It looked up at Siris. he thought. Sparks erupted around the blade as Siris—still in motion —moved past the golem and struck from behind at its other leg. One of the golems’ swords vanished in a flash of light. then appeared before Siris. Its passing stirred his hair. He rounded on the two golems. The golem teetered and dropped with a crash. He came up on his feet. He didn’t try to grab it—the thing was obviously too heavy for him—but he’d positioned himself so that it fell into the air just in front of him. I can work with this.
The monster spun. watching the blade skid away. Siris tossed the disc up toward the thing’s face. The golem turned to go after the blade. pulling the disc free. sparks spraying from its legs. Siris spun. Obviously. The flash of light from the disappearing helm blinded the creature. trying to keep its balance. then dropped forward. It smashed to the floor. then activated the ring. It lurched. Siris jumped. It was trying to move. Siris dodged backward. clockwork neck. The weapon appeared with a flash in his hands as he rammed it into the golem’s thigh. severing the thigh and dropping the beast. Siris ripped the blade out. Siris slammed his blade down through its back. summoning the blade back even as he did. his foot hitting the fallen sword. its primary orders were to recover the weapon. With a quick duck. which stumbled. The gigantic monster loomed above him. Both golems fell still. . It walked in a crouch now. the disc stuck to the golem’s helm. then walked up to the other golem.swung a fist. Grinding sounds from behind gave him warning that the other monster was—incredibly—climbing to its feet. Then he tossed the blade between the golem’s legs. Siris took a deep breath. Siris dodged a fist. and Siris attacked forward. he recovered the transportation disc and attached it to the Infinity Blade. slashing his blade through the thing’s mechanical.
” . Strix yelped. including Strix—the daeril who had first met Siris at the door to the castle. he gripped the Infinity Blade tighter.” “I don’t want the sword. Kuuth and a few daerils were waiting there.” a feminine voice said. “you’re actually quite good at not dying. He hadn’t seen her standing there either. “I’m not giving you this sword. moving out of the way as the assassin stepped into the light. “Over here.” she said. “I’m a good runner. folding her arms and looking at him appraisingly.” she said. He followed the voice. woman. By reflex. “I’ve decided I want you instead. finding her standing in the shadows beside the doorway.” Siris spun toward the window.” she said.” She smiled. “Not anymore. The window was empty. one finger tapping her upper forearm.“You know. “How did you get there?” Siris demanded.
“Great master?” Eves asked from beside the throne. still playing idly with his knife. He played with a knife in one gauntleted hand.” the God King said. speaking with that girl. while his old throne had attuned the ring.” The Devoted fell to his knees. You couldn’t get much from a surface scan. at least. great master. the ledgers had no record of her face. that of a true relative. watching the massive screen that dominated his far wall. Eves. the boy stood in the rubble of the Lantimor throne room. Which one does she serve? His query to his deadmind ledgers had returned no results. He’d scanned the boy’s Q. I don’t understand. there was some information there. Or.I. . Too grand for my mind to comprehend. Who is she? he thought idly. In it. . you needed bloodlines. so much will suddenly make sense .P. . . . bowing his head. The God King moved his other hand across the input pad on his armrest.” “I didn’t want her running off with the blade. She wasn’t Deathless—or if she was. If I’m right about him. Still. Why . He needed some of the boy’s blood to be certain. “Your ways are mysterious and wonderful.Chapter Three The God King lounged on his throne in the upper room of his Seventh Temple of Reincarnation. Curious. “Great master.
The boy and the girl were no longer trying to kill one another.” Isa said. He needed more redundancy there. The Killer of Dreams. The God King’s hand hovered above his input panel. The cameras had to be turned off too. The God King stood up. he shut down and destroyed the entire deadmind system in his old palace. They weren’t the only ones. He pushed the button on his input pad. Pity. The God King could make out no sound. Well. “It’s time to pay a visit to the Worker. those systems actually had been damaged in the fighting. too. then set the fail-safes to destroy the deadminds’ mechanical housings. That one button-push remotely wiped all the memories.The boy was quick-minded. Unfortunate. perhaps? Or Vist? Both coveted the Infinity Blade. When the God King had remotely disabled security on his throne—covering what he’d done by implying damage to the throne had caused the lapsed security—the boy had immediately seen what to do. In doing so. Good thing. “Not as . He hated discovering where he’d been insufficiently prepared. That was just as well. but he had his other means of keeping watch on the boy. the palace systems were completely unrecoverable.” “The Deathless won’t leave you alone.” Twelve knights in black armor fell in behind him as he strode from the room. “Come. better the foe he knew than the foe he did not. the boy had recovered the blade. In moments. She had to be a minion of one of the other Deathless.
” “What makes you think I want a simple life?” “You’re the son of a farmer or something. didn’t you?” Isa sat primly. the washbasin was gold. “Nice lie. Isaline sat beside an enormous tub turning the water on and off. They’ll believe me. despite being immortal. . whiskers.” He raised the razor to his skin.” Siris washed off the razor. Would she take the crossbow to him again? So far she hadn’t. giving no reply. You came here for the sword specifically. His mother would have loved a tub that large. You’ll be free to go back to your simple life. He’d stripped to the waist. “Well. It must be important.” “What do you know about the sword?” Siris replied. “Give it to me. keeping a close eye on her in the mirror’s reflection. It appeared that the God King. I know that someone seems to want that sword badly. “and I’ll spread a rumor that I killed you and took it.long as you have that sword. It comes with the package. and was standing in a bafflingly luxurious bathroom. tapping his razor on the washbasin. The water came out warm. and the polished razors were incredibly sharp. though she’d have used it for washing clothing. “Well?” he asked. “They sent those golems to get it.” Isa replied. had still needed to use the privy.” she said. There was a silver one in the corner. though he did catch her slipping a fine hand mirror into her pouch. The mirror was almost as long as the wall.
Being leered at was an .” “I already tried going back. Of course. Siris. Nobody should look at me like that. She frowned at him. You killed the God King. “Go back to your family and friends. “Don’t you want to be done with this?” she asked. rising. smiling appraisingly to herself. “So you’ve done it. her offer was tempting.” “So you believe me on that now?” he said dryly. “The God King is dead by your hands. don’t you?” He said nothing. “Sure. Where had those impulses come from? “Look.” she continued. he could go make a new life somewhere. At the very least. Perhaps visit his mother occasionally. I should teach her. Go be their hero. . Still. .” he said softly. once he was certain that he wasn’t being hunted. Nobody will think to connect you—and the ones you love back home—to the man who slew the God King and stole his riches. . I’ll take the sword and lay down a false trail.“You have your vengeance. unfamiliar experience.” She was eyeing his chest in the mirror. Congratulations. I— He cut off that line of thought. show her. he thought. You do realize that now every Deathless in the world is going to come hunting you for that blade. He resisted the urge to grab his shirt and throw it on. Why not? You have a bit of a godslayer look to you. to do so he would have to trust this woman—a woman who had tried to kill him. razor frozen at his cheek. strolling toward him.” Isa said. make her bow.
dropping the razor to the basin with a clatter. “Touchy. She smelled of leather and of wax. Isa took a step toward the sword. He would find freedom. as he shaved. would find someplace anonymous to hide. “Looting?” he said. then reached past him—and the sword—to pick up what appeared to be a soap dish made entirely of silver. he told himself. In the end. the only weapon that could fight the Deathless. like an over-arm pack. That made him hesitate. The motion put her close to him. Siris snatched it by reflex.” Isa slung her crossbow over her shoulder—she wore it on a strap. he quietly revised his goals. But I’m not going to take it until I’m certain I’m not damning humankind by giving away our one path to salvation. Close enough that he readied himself to slap her hand if she tried to knife him in the gut. which made him feel like a fool.” she noted. Perhaps delivered it into the hands of someone he trusted to use it to fight. No perfume. but only after he had properly disposed of this weapon. Good smells.” . “Hardly. he needed to be able to face his mother with a clean conscience. Her scent lingered close to him. He’d come to this castle seeking freedom.It would also mean giving away this weapon. hadn’t he? This was a great chance for that. She dropped the dish into her pouch. I do want freedom. So. She stepped back and held the soap dish up to the light. “You’re nothing but a common thief.
it doesn’t look like you’re going to let me take the blade—” “I’ll die before you lay hands on it. I assume. you hadn’t ever left your little town?” “Why would I have needed to?” She just smiled. if you’re lucky.” “There’s always a price.“Then what are you?” Siris asked. You just keep following the river until you reach the cliffs. “I know where everything is —everything—and I can get you wherever you want to go. a twinkle to her eye.” She strode out the door. Keep that in mind as you contemplate sitting here. someone else ends up paying it for you. Siris thought. holding a weapon that everyone wants. Her last words lingered with him. “Wait. “Thing is. “For a price. “A person who gets things done.” she said.” “And I assume that before coming here.” “I don’t doubt that’s true. “Well. In a castle . What a strange woman.” She turned to leave. I’m going to go wait down below until you decide to hire me. How did you find your way to this castle?” “Everyone knows where it is.” she replied. What did you just say?” She looked back at him. in a castle everyone knows how to find. turning and walking toward the exit. “Answer something for me. genuinely curious.” she said. holding the Infinity Blade close.
” Strix said from beside the broken throne. He’d found the yellowfaced daeril poking and prodding at the God King’s broken seat.everyone knows how to find . . . I can understand why Kuuth stayed. then grabbed the gaunt daeril by the throat. Siris rounded the throne and stepped up to the daeril. . . “Great master.” Siris said. I . He walked around the throne. Why . The other Deathless will slaughter you for what you know of the God King’s death. . hauling him up and slamming him back against the remnants of the side of the throne. feet crunching on bits of broken marble. ostensibly trying to fix it. he doesn’t care about life. . . He held the Infinity Blade in his other hand. .” The daeril struggled. . did it?” Siris didn’t reply at first. . “It is so wonderful to see you well. of course I serve you . eyes widening. . “You know that it’s dangerous to be found here. and he tried to gasp for breath. . Strix.” “You are a smart one. he went looking for Strix. a weapon everyone wants . . “Great . . “Master . master . The daeril’s black eyes bugged out. . After a moment of consideration. ?” “Who is it you serve?” The daeril’s eyes grew more panicked. But you? You stayed for a reason. The golems’ attack did not harm you greatly. . Siris tightened his grip. Siris regarded Strix for a moment. .
treelike staff clattered to the floor. . “What. He spun on Strix and drove the Infinity Blade into the stone of the throne. make him agree to remain behind. what we were created . turning. Siris spun without thinking. Where he could be found.” “We serve our master. Traitors! Kill them both! Bring them pain. “It is . “Why . That must have been what the entire conversation had been intended to do. “Hell take me!” Siris yelled. “is going on?” “Do not blame Strix.” “Kuuth. . he sliced through his 15-foot-tall opponent’s stomach. His large. .” Kuuth said in his rumbling voice. . then went down on his knees. Something crunched behind him. Kuuth had tried to get him to stay in the palace. voice growing softer. Siris spun on the quivering daeril beside the throne. to do . He’d been about to smash Siris across the head. warrior. the blind troll. . He’d intended to behead the person sneaking up on him. Kuuth. the Infinity Blade lashing out. Strix shrank down farther. “He did as I instructed him.” Kuuth said. The aged troll gasped in pain. Make them fear.” Siris said.“Who do you serve?” Siris demanded. Make him trust the troll. just beside the creature’s head. warrior. . stumbled back. . . Instead.” Siris bellowed.” “Your master is dead!” Kuuth fell still. The dying troll toppled onto his side. blood dribbling down his waist. .
human. He will reclaim what is his. . The God King is still alive. He will find you.” Strix said. But this is all part of his plan. Siris fled. . I can’t even use it. and Strix laughed. and it’s corrupting me. hatred in his eyes.” Strix said. Where had this bloodthirst come from? The sword. “The God King was preparing it with the souls of your bloodline! He thought killing you would be the last step. “What. cowering. “I don’t know why he let you defeat him. Siris stumbled back.” Siris longed to strike the daeril down. . He. . It’s corrupting me. Mean?” “The Infinity Blade doesn’t work yet. Did. if the sword didn’t work yet . and you will come to learn—as your ancestors learned—the price of defiance!” Clutching the Infinity Blade. Strix rubbed his neck.Siris leaned in. standing up and coughing. He stumbled back farther. . Siris thought. “Flee. He knows where I am. Everything is always part of his plan. But he didn’t kill you. or why he ordered Kuuth to answer your questions. There had been a time he’d fought only when someone challenged him. “He’ll come for you soon. he thought. hell. but he stopped himself. Which meant . Oh. pulling the Infinity Blade from the stone and clutching it. He—” He fell to me.
True to her word, Isa was lounging outside when Siris burst from the castle’s outer court gate. She tucked a book into the pocket of her long coat and slung her crossbow over her shoulder. “So, where are we going?” “The God King is alive,” Siris said, panting. He’d gathered his armor and regrown his shield, though he hadn’t taken the time to don the armor. He had it tied in his cloak, slung over his shoulder, and wore the Infinity Blade at his side in the improvised sheath that didn’t fit it very well. “Well, he is immortal,” Isa said. “People like that have a tendency toward, you know, not dying.” This upended everything. He hadn’t won. He’d failed. “I need to find a way to make the Infinity Blade function,” Siris explained. “It . . .” He stopped. Telling her that the God King had planned to make it work by killing Siris didn’t seem particularly wise. In fact, telling her anything didn’t seem particularly wise. But he was alone, ignorant, and running low on options. Isa seemed to know it, for she was watching him with a sly smile. Siris took a deep breath. “You said you know how to get everywhere. So . . .” “‘Making the Infinity Blade work’ isn’t a place, whiskers.” “I need to find someone to help me. Maybe someone to
take the sword off my hands. Can you find the Worker of Secrets?” Isa froze, and he felt a sliver of satisfaction—through the anxiety—at having finally said something that surprised her. “The Worker of Secrets is a myth,” she said. “Pure fabrication. Nobody fights back against the Deathless. Nobody.” “I did. You seem to have been intending to, in some way.” Isa didn’t respond. “The Worker made the Infinity Blade,” Siris said, though he had gotten that information from Kuuth. Could he trust anything that troll had told him?
The God King told him to answer my questions. Why?
“Yes, it’s said the blade is the Worker’s creation,” Isa replied, which shocked him. She did know about it. Or was she playing along? Terrors, he thought. What am I doing? I can’t handle this. All I know how to do is kill people. It appeared he couldn’t even do that properly. “The Worker of Secrets,” Isa said thoughtfully. “Ancient enemy of the Deathless, trapped in a prison where time does not pass—his punishment for making a forbidden weapon.” “What do you know, Isa?” he said, pointing at her. “What do you really know about all of this?” “Not as much as it seems,” she said lightly. “And certainly not where the Worker is imprisoned, if he even exists.” “You said you can take me anywhere.”
“Anyplace not mythical, whiskers,” she said skeptically, folding her arms. “I think the Worker is probably a rumor spread among the Deathless to cover up the true origins of the Infinity Blade.” “Well, we have to go somewhere,” Siris said, looking back at the castle. It seemed hollow and empty. A throne without a king. “Let’s get moving, for now. I’ll . . . I’ll think about what to do.” Isa shrugged, then started down the path. He followed, hoping he didn’t look as uncertain as he felt.
I’m a child, Siris thought. A child playing at games only the adults understand.
He trudged along the road, his armor heavy in his pack. Isa, it turned out, had a horse—a luxury that nobody in Drem’s Maw had been able to afford. She clomped along the road behind him, humming a tune softly to herself, wearing a narrow hat with a wide brim to keep off the sun. He’d always wanted to ride a horse. What would it be like? He shook his head, trying to force his thoughts away from that path. The world was crumbling. What did horses matter? And yet, a piece of him still struggled to discover itself. He wanted to live, to thrive. He wanted to know things, be things, experience things. He’d always denied himself the slightest bit of pleasure, worried that if he tasted the life of a real person, he’d develop a hunger for it. He’d been right. He’d tasted it now. He was ruined.
. It seemed terribly convenient that she would arrive. “and you walking like that. He also found himself intrigued by the prospect of being that close to her. Go where? Into hiding? He could make his way into the mountains. live off the land .And he was happy for it. perhaps not. Go on alone. what good would it do to hide with the Infinity Blade? Potentially the only weapon humankind had for fighting back against the Deathless? I need to find people who are fighting back. There had been no discussion of price. only. and perhaps get a chance to snatch it. Probably because they both knew her leading him was merely an excuse for her to stay near the Infinity Blade. “You realize that this looks odd. decide not to kill him. alone. The Worker of Secrets. . if he existed. I assume you want to be . . I should ditch her. and now offer to take him wherever he wanted to go. Perhaps Isa would help him achieve that. frowning. “Me riding. Surely something like that existed. Give the sword to them. If not him. It looks unusual.” Isa noted. He looked up at her. what is the word in your language? Inconspicuous?” Was she going to invite him to ride with her? The prospect of being that close to her made him wary. then some other rebellious group.” she explained. would be a place to start. and he glanced at the knives on her belt. he had never learned how to do something like that. . he thought. Beyond that. .
She raised an eyebrow at him. then sighed loudly. but anyone we pass is going to wonder why a woman in simple leathers can afford a guard. looking at him appraisingly. and he tried to quash the emotion. “Merely trying to measure your stupidity. And will probably try again. we need to do something about that sword. whiskers. where I can cover it with a blanket.” she said.” “I don’t suppose you have a fancy dress tucked away in your saddlebags?” Siris asked. I swear there was one. if you want to travel incognito. looking highly amused. he reminded himself. She tried to kill you. “I guess not.” “Wait. that’s it. incognizant?” “Wrong word? In . I don’t look like a merchant—and there are no wares besides—but I’m certainly not going to pass as one of the Devoted or the Favored. What a stupid language. “not with a weapon like that. Anyway. “we need to do something about the sword.” she said. “Assuming you want to travel incognizant.” She made a great show of thinking it over. it would be nice to try riding a horse. . You soldier types . You could be my guard.however.” “You really think I’m that stupid?” She just chuckled.” he said.” “Incognito?” “Yes. this is not very inconspicuous. Still. . “Yes. reaching into her saddlebags. “Guess you’ll just have to let me tie the sword to the saddle up here.
orange. letting it fall as she’d described.” Siris said. Here. “I sewed deathfang spiders into the collar.” “Island?” Siris said. The ground there fell away into a series of gullies. looking at it carefully.” He lifted up the cloak.get knocked upside the head frequently. isn’t it?” Isa asked.” They walked a little farther along the dusty trail. A cloak. yellow. it would have become overgrown long ago.” Isa said. nicer than the one he’d used to pack up his armor. It wasn’t really a road. In another part of the countryside.” she said dryly. nodding to the side. throwing on the cloak. trails of sweat making their way leisurely down the sides of his cheeks. then rose sharply in a ripple that exposed lines of strata shaded red. Who knows how forgetful you might become?” She pulled something out and tossed it to him. Siris trudged along beside the horse.” she said. . “Tie that on. “We live on an island?” “A big one. brown. “I’ve always loved this part of the island. It did an acceptable job of hiding the sword. Maybe it will hide the weapon well enough to turn aside questioning eyes. sounding amused. wary of some kind of trap. “Thanks. let it drape over your left side. “Beautiful?” “The rock formations. “But yes. his armor feeling like bricks on his back. “Just being cautious. there wasn’t enough life to overgrow anything. “Beautiful. where the weather was hot and the terrain was stony.
He didn’t. an attack in the right opening. A dodge at the last moment. “What?” Siris asked. . “Raidriar—you call him the God King—is said to be among the greatest duelists of the Deathless. You could ride from one end to another in about a month. “You don’t understand. whiskers. hand shaking on the hilt of the Infinity Blade.Lantimor certainly isn’t a continent. Thousands upon thousands. Pain like the world crumbling. I’ll show her naive. “In a duel?” “The God King? Yes. Raidriar is thousands of years old. shame like it might consume you. Someone else’s name for where he lived. working the word over in his mouth. You think he hasn’t faced skilled opponents . guilt like a sky of lead . She probably didn’t realize he’d heard. mostly under her breath. He isn’t dead. Really. For all the good it did. trying not to let her words dig at him. I’ll show her what it’s like to know truths.” She shook her head. He was good.” Siris said.” Isa pursed her lips. . Everyone he knew just called it the land or the area. He kept his eyes forward. “Any duel is.” he said.” “It was part luck.” Isa said. “Did you really best him?” Isa asked. The sweat beads on the sides of his face grew larger. He didn’t care if he was naive. He stilled himself. better than any I’d faced. “So naive. Names like that belonged to the Deathless.” “Lantimor.
and on one level. You couldn’t explain the Aegis Forms to someone who didn’t understand. If a man faces me with honor. hit a Deathless with enough destruction. he hadn’t even known that Deathless could restore themselves to life. hand growing tight on the sword hilt.” Isa muttered. then take his sword. Cut off his head while he sleeps. As warriors who followed the ancient ideal. Immortality would make it a whole lot easier to follow the Aegis Forms.” Siris snapped. as he considered it. .” “Might as well have thrown that in the midden heap. When he and the God King had fought. get out before he comes back . They’d set out to kill one another. “That’s where it belongs. the God King had known that he wasn’t fighting for his life. and trained. . they’d shared something. they had hated one another. It wouldn’t kill him.before? He has. He’d known the God King had lived a long time.” Siris said nothing. Hundreds of them—many of them Deathless who have lived. and they’ll need to grow a new body. Hell. . I will return it.” “What? You think I found this sword sitting in the midden heap or something?” “No. Of course . But there had been respect too. . but it might knock him out for a little while. who didn’t want to understand. And you say that you beat him. Before talking to the minions in the castle.” “I fight with the Aegis Forms. as long as he has. “I follow the ancient ideal. But a shot with the crossbow to the back could work. let you steal the blade. but had figured .
But a few of the guards I fought were ordinary men. Which wasn’t really an answer to his question. educational experience. . . Most of the rings stopped working after I killed the God King. “What?” “Did the guards ever use the rings against you?” she asked. though.” Siris said.” he said. . or kept in their pouch. Naive.” she said. You knew all along. she was probably right.” “It wasn’t hard to figure out.” He considered for a moment. “To heal themselves?” “No. who couldn’t fit them on their fingers. . . holding up a hand.” “Huh. no matter how old he was. On the bodies of the guards I fought.” she said absently. “I just kind of . “Actually. did it. “Where did you find it?” “It belonged to the God King. it was hung by a strap around their neck. thoughtful. I’ve got a few of them in my pouch.a sword in the gut would end any man.” “I stumbled upon one of their rebirthing chambers once. “You acted so surprised at my beard. knights or Devoted who served the God King. they didn’t. “It was an . didn’t you?” “I’m good at connecting facts.” Siris said. naturally. That makes sense for the trolls. “I found others. Yes.” “Maybe they didn’t know how to work them. “You didn’t seem surprised to find that he wasn’t truly dead. “You seem to know a lot about them. So. looking at the ring. “Usually when I found one.” she said. where’d you get that healing ring?” Siris snorted.” Siris said.
” Isa frowned. “it’s really good cinnamon bread. “What?” she demanded. I’ve been told I don’t look like the baking type.” He found himself smiling. “No. Exactly the sort of thing he’d never have let himself taste during his . “That’s not what I meant. people do usually assume I’m lying when I speak of baking. “You know something.” he said. “So.” “I’m sure. “I know how to get anywhere.” He said nothing. That was a dignified look of measured contempt. haughtily sitting atop her saddle.” she said. Honestly. “I don’t believe that for a moment. “I know many things. That sounded delicious.” “That was not a glare. looking ahead. I know a really incredible recipe for cinnamon-baked sweetbread.” she said.” He eyed her. you can really bake?” Cinnamon sweetbread.” Siris said.though. don’t you?” Siris said. “I’m telling you.” “Well. I know that you walk like a soldier—with a gait I’ve seen from men who have trained in the military for decades—yet you can’t possibly have that kind of experience yet.” “You did glare at me when I suggested you might have a frilly dress in those packs. But I don’t know anything more about those rings.
“Wow. Oh. “They were quite pricey. “Unfortunately. You are still laughing.years training. two penis? No?” . taking a drink from his canteen. This sort of conundrum necessitates a woman taking a few liberties with her chosen persona.” “I’ll trade you my very nice dictionary—” “—for this sword.” “You . “Actually. Must have cost you a lot. then I’ll relent.” he said. “A pair of them. What a fortunate turn of events!” “Well. I assume?” he asked. . Are you not the one who speaks this language natively?” “Natively. will? So you’ll fix me the bread?” “As much as you can eat. And if this entire line of reasoning is intended to get me to prove myself with an outpouring of cinnamon sweetbread. You are so fond of using the wrong words. looking confused. eh?” Siris asked. You happen to have one. wiping his chin.” She smiled. I’ll throw in a pair of penis. One pen. Price is one sword. “I like to be able to do things for myself. “But apparently not that fluently.” Isa. but are very nice. I see. . I’m persistent. The sword is worth far more than that.” Siris nearly choked. whiskers. Isa looked at him. you certainly are determined. sputtering through the water. look.” she said. pulled two pens out of her saddlebags. frowning. “Nonsense. I also like to eat meals that don’t taste of moldy rat leather.
It had been a shock for Siris to discover that people even in nearby areas dressed quite differently from those he’d known in Drem’s Maw. just knee-length tunics and sandals. turning forward. It was of the ‘step and pull’ variety. Isa checked her crossbow. The newcomers stopped on the road after seeing Isa and Siris. Isa pointed. Their chatter quieted. You say pen in a way that does not sound at all like—” Isa suddenly froze. men in caps and workers’ smocks. No trousers. moving the cloak to cover his arm. or favored. loosening the Infinity Blade in its sheath. They’d be from one of the farming regions to the near west. true to her suggestion. lucky. Siris thought. There were three of them. It wouldn’t be much good if there were a tussle.” “I agree. Isa had a horse—a mark of someone rich. But. the lack of arms . making certain it was covered.” Siris said. “Ahead.” “Hide the sword! Remember what I said!” “I’m not a fool.“I think you. They didn’t seem dangerous. he thought. coming alert. may want to work on your pronunciation there. Isa. What was that? Voices. I think. Siris cut himself off. at least not immediately—he doubted she could get the leverage to cock it from horseback. A small group of people appeared atop a hill on the road ahead of them. uh. Isa slowed her horse and inspected the ragged group. They’re trying to decide what to make of us.
The peasants continued their trek. but hard work in the sun could age men quickly.” “That will be nice. but sharing anything with a stranger was unusual.” the man called.” “Well. Best to be careful. All looked to be of their middle years. then?” Siris asked. dusty wind. The three men had relaxed. and one pulled out a canteen. “And dusty. “You come from the east! What word?” The man’s voice sounded nervous.” one called when the two groups grew near.” Siris laughed. carrying sticks with bundles and walking cautiously. young traveler. taking a sniff of the canteen. “A mortal has been sent to face the God King. It likely held only water. whispering in a solemn tone. travelers. but barely let the water touch his lips.” Siris said.” one of the other men said.” the man said. .” Siris called back. walking up to them. taking the canteen. offering him a drink. then lifting it to his lips. “Tell me . have you come from paying homage?” “Homage?” “To the Sacrifice. “Thank you. “Ho. it is a hot. “Has that come.” one of the men said. mind you. “With a little bit of wind. What word from the west?” “Much of the same.seemed to convince the three that Isa and Siris were not a threat. He made as if he were drinking. “It’s a fine day. “It’s hot.” . . voice growing more calm. “It has.
heard a rumor. If he has not yet been buried. . Turned out that all this time. The God King would not molest them as they stripped off the armor and shield. By tradition.The third man gestured to his bundle. It had always bothered Siris that the God King allowed the harvesting of the armor. but it now made sense. An offering for the Sacrifice’s grave. “I . then buried the fallen hero. and would not interfere with those who came to remove it. where it would be passed on to the next chosen sacrifice. the God King would dump the Sacrifice’s body outside of his castle. The God King had wanted these Sacrifices to continue. All this time. Siris had broken that tradition by not marrying or siring a child before he left. we will see the job done. “But people are always . A hint of resistance against the beast that oppressed them. taxed them nearly to starvation.” Siris said. the people had thought they were showing defiance. We were chosen. worked them. they had been what he needed to make the Infinity Blade work. “Three villages’ worth of spices. Somehow. the legend.” Everyone knew the story. . no corpse to revere? “You did not know it was the time?” one of the men said. Usually his son. The armor would be returned to the Sacrifice’s home city. One or two from each village or town would be sent. even this one little act of rebellion had been controlled by the creature they hated. What would these men do when they found no body to bury.
But I wish you luck.” one of the men offered. Only one Sacrifice comes each generation. and the others that come. that he killed the Sacrifice. Siris watched them go. disturbed.” “Come with us. “I’m sorry. solemn. I have a way of being off-putting to those I just meet.” he said. you .” “It might be the crossbow bolts you shoot at people before introducing yourself. I didn’t believe the time had really come. “He’ll need them. and shook his head. “What will the God King do to them?” “Probably nothing. “You might want to. the men continuing toward the God King’s castle. “You can tell your grandchildren that you saw him.” she said.” They parted ways. He might even toss out a corpse and pretend you never defeated him. Siris thought.speaking of the Sacrifice.” “It has. Another reason for the God King to hunt him. Only I will know the truth.” Siris said. to spread whatever propaganda he decides fits his return. I have other tasks. “Our elders counted the days with extreme care.” she said.” “My accent may have been memorable.” And the tradition will continue. until Isa rode up beside him. “You didn’t join the conversation.” the man said. All three villages agreed. “Besides.” Siris handed back the canteen. “I worry for them.
” she mused. seemed to trouble her. I’ve got six pieces of contraband farshot magics in my saddlebags right now.” That. you’re genuine. . “What is this Sacrifice thing they spoke of?” “You don’t know?” he asked.” “You could try being honest. I’ve been told that my people skills are admirable. “The more honest I am. People don’t trust me. really?” “Can’t make the toorim things work. oddly. “they seem to be. .” she said. Like our discussion about those rings. “No. I’m more than used to it. She sounded sincere. by the way.” .” “An astounding revelation.” she said. He didn’t know that word she used.” “And are you?” “Always.” He glanced at her. “I . cheating them.” “Everyone knows.” “It doesn’t work.” “Actually.” she said.” she said absently. . I really don’t know anything about them. the less they believe me. They assume I’m lying to them.” “Wait.” “It’s all right. But you . shocked as he turned to her. that’s beside the point. . look into not doing that.” she said. “They trusted you right off. “People don’t do that to me.” “Well. or smuggling something. Anyway. “You’re skeptical. “Hell.know.” Siris hesitated. Was it some kind of curse? “You need a magic tube to activate them.
” “One man each generation is chosen to fight the God King.” he said. The girl the town elders had chosen for him had been nice enough. so the new Sacrifice could be chosen from the children there. “Ah yes. They continued on their way.” she said to herself. . “I see. starting to trek down the road again. and found her reading in her dictionary.” She wiped a tear from her eye. No. the Sacrifice marries and has a child before he leaves.” “You’re married then?” “No. I must learn to pronounce that one right. “Damn. . Pens. so he’d backed out of the marriage.“Humor me.” Siris let Isa pick the camping spot for the evening. but Siris hadn’t been able to force himself to marry her. I wish I’d done that one on purpose . still chuckling. exuberant bark. He wanted to be off the roadway. Peens. but otherwise didn’t know . “But—” “Things were different for me. Poor kid.” Siris replied.” he said. “Usually. Yes. “Chosen? How?” “It’s the nearest relative of my family line. Isa suddenly started laughing—a quick.” He hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it. only to leave her a widow one year later. About a half hour later. He glanced at her. His mother had instead sent word to her husband’s family.
As if he would make off with her goods. he’d heard of its type.much about picking a campsite. he’d worried that eventually this one would as well. let alone left the village to wander the wilderness. “We haven’t talked about price yet. passing Isa with the saddlebags. A deadly weapon. His every moment had been needed to train. He was relieved to find that. and then noticed the crossbow sitting in its strap. since the elemental rings had stopped working. though obviously tried to remain nonchalant. Not on top of it. Their camp was at the base of a small hill. well. but hadn’t ever seen one. he went and helped unload the horse. . That woman is about as trusting as .” Siris said. as Siris would have probably chosen. Isa seemed to find that amusing—she had an expectation that people from ‘rural villages’ should be capable trackers and wilderness experts. He’d never even worked the stalactites. Siris shook his head. It still worked. . Leaving Isa for a moment. even though they were away from the castle. “Price?” she asked. It was easy enough to figure it out from a short inspection. lately. he went off to test the transportation ring with the sword. He began to undo the saddle. or with not making them visible from a distance. as I am. Isa walked back a short time later. . pulling off the last saddlebag. Isa eyed it. That might have to do with the small spring Isa had found at the bottom. That confirmed.
“You’re not going to guide me for free.” “So far, there hasn’t been much guiding. You don’t know where you want to go.” “Regardless. You don’t seem the type to provide a service—even a meaningless one—for free.” She looked at him solemnly, and there were no signs of mirth in her voice. “You die. I get the sword.” “That—” “Not if I kill you,” she said. “I mean, my price is this: I’ll be your guide. If you die along the way, the sword is mine. I think you’ll find it a fair price. It doesn’t actually cost you anything.” “Except my life.” “I only take the sword if you die because of some something outside our control,” she said, shrugging. “Losing your life is not a cost.” He rubbed his chin as she went to the horse, slinging her crossbow over her shoulder, then pulling off the saddle. She began scraping at the horse’s coat with a small, handheld tool, which Siris found baffling. He rounded the hill and settled down in the hollow to care for his armor—the leather needed oiling—and later Isa joined him. The two worked in silence, and eventually Siris moved to take up his logbook and begin writing items down. He’d spent a large part of the walk deciding on things he wanted to try.
See the ocean. Play an instrument. Learn to make my way in the woods. Eat cinnamon bread. Play cards.
She’d probably have laughed at him if he’d mentioned he
didn’t know how to play cards. Everyone—even the simplest of men in the town—had played. Not Siris. Isa started a small fire and boiled some water. “Any chance of some of that bread you talked about?” Siris asked. “Do you have sugar, butter, and cinnamon handy?” “I have some jerky and some oatmeal.” He held up a small jar. “And some armor polish.” “I suppose I could try to make something out of those three ingredients . . .” “Uh, no. Thanks.” Isa smiled, and they dined on travel rations. The things tasted like sawdust. Before long, Siris was pulling his blanket over himself—head resting on his armor pack— and closing his eyes. He was exhausted. After fighting those golems, making the discovery that the God King lived, then walking for hours . . . he was worn out, wrung dry. Yet sleep was elusive. The three peasants weren’t the only ones they’d met on the roadway—they’d passed two other groups, and both had spoken of the Sacrifice. Siris had felt . . . dishonest speaking to them. How would they react if they knew that he’d lived, yet had also failed to kill the God King? I could find a way to make the sword work, a piece of his mind whispered. Then go back. Face him in truth. End
The next thought was immediate. Why? Why Siris? He’d
done his part, hadn’t he? Didn’t he deserve freedom? Didn’t he deserve, for once, to play cards? To go swimming? To see the ocean?
Finish what you began. . . .
Time passed as he lay in thought. He didn’t toss or turn; that wasn’t his way. He lay, eyes closed, breathing regularly. As if to coax himself to sleep. Also, there was another reason to be still. One he dearly hoped was unjustified. After about an hour, he heard a soft boot scrape rock. He snapped his eyes open. Isa crouched beside him, crossbow pointed at his neck. Bathed in moonlight, her expression was grim, her eyes hard. He exhaled slowly, regretfully. They exchanged no words; both knew what this was. She reached down for the sword at his side. He tapped his fingers together, then sat up, grabbing his sword in one hand. She pulled the trigger on her crossbow. At least, she tried to. Nothing happened. She moved her finger frantically and backed up, eyes going wide. Siris held something up in the moonlight: the trigger mechanism. He pried the transportation disc off it—he’d attached the disc earlier, when inspecting the crossbow—and tossed the trigger into the night. He’d been expecting it to bring the whole crossbow, but this would work as well. Siris stood in a fluid motion, whipping the Infinity Blade free and leveling it at Isa’s throat. “In my defense,” she said, “I didn’t try to murder you in your sleep. I waited for you to open your eyes first.”
She sat down. I just acted first.” Isa said. She looked up. It was the blasted sword.” he whispered. eyes wide in the moonlight. she would know the price of treason. intolerable woman! He thought. He would— No! he thought to himself with some effort. “But don’t feign the high ground here. eventually. He’d been growing to like her! “Fine. what reason would I have to do that!” She regarded him flatly.“You were planning to take the sword and run. . . Don’t pretend you weren’t planning to do something similar to me one of these nights. tripping on a rock and falling so that he loomed over her. Frustrating. Well. It was doing things to him.” “Do something similar . tossing aside the crossbow. Siris forced himself to slam the Infinity Blade back into its sheath.” He found himself furious. you’d have killed me. Hell take me! “And you damn well don’t pull the trigger by accident. but said nothing more. Isa.” “I—” “You don’t point a crossbow at someone’s throat by accident. . What in the name of the ancient prayers am I going to do with you? He struggled to hold himself from ramming the blade into her chest and being done with it. sounding exhausted.” Siris said coldly. Isa. “And if I woke and tried to stop you. She’d betrayed him! How dare she! He stepped forward and she backed up. He was going to have to find one that fit it better.
Isa let out a long breath. “Are you mad? You think—” “Tie me up at nights. but her hands were shaking. You . “Run me down. Couldn’t she have simply been content with her “price”? She knew things.” she said. “You’re going to stab me as I turn away. . “You can take the horse. Leave. “Take your horse and your things.” she said. She hid her fear well. .” She was rambling. He could force her to— No! Heaven take this cursed blade! “Go. I’ll walk in front. you’re letting me go? And I can take the horse?” Siris said nothing.” .” “What reason could I possibly have to want you around?” “Saydhi. shaken. Not crossbow bolts in the night from people he was starting to trust.” he said to her.” she said. . He could make her speak of them. No chance for betrayal. .” Siris said. . You ride the horse. It was supposed to be faceless enemies. “because I am no thief.” “You’re . having fallen from its ponytail. because I don’t seek death without reason. Much more than she was sharing. But let me stay. I . fought in honorable duels. Her hair was loose. “Let me stay. She seemed baffled. surprised at how ragged his voice was. .” It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No need for trust. as she sat where she had tripped. You can leave. “I’ll give you all of my weapons.
Isa could be leading him into a trap. The only thing of value I have is this blade. tantalizing prospect. But.” Isa said. and she’ll answer a question for you. and I’m not going to deliver it back into the hands of one of the Deathless. that he hadn’t seen before. The Worker of Secrets. but has managed to remain autonomous. She’s an information dealer. “If she deals in information. She loves duels. it will be her. “Saydhi has a standing invitation. a sincerity. Any man who can best her champions wins a boon. It would be right to give it up to him. I’ll have to pay her something dear to get her to give up the location of the Worker.” Siris rubbed the hilt of the Infinity Blade. Did he really want to find the man? If he created this weapon. She’s less powerful than him. “She has lands that border those of the God King. “I don’t have anything to offer this Saydhi. Isa was still watching him. She probably was. This night . Siris thought. Fight your way to her. he’ll know how to use it. He’d fight the Deathless better than I ever could. If anyone knows where the Worker of Secrets is. It could be a lie.” he said.” “You won’t need to.” Siris gripped the blade’s hilt. Siris could find the freedom he craved and do something good in the name of his people. A frankness. there was something in her eyes. It was a tempting.” Isa said.“Excuse me?” “She’s one of the Deathless. hell take him.
” he said. “Fetch your rope.had shaken her. Wouldn’t that make more sense than a convoluted trap? He still wanted to trust her.” . but he was tired! “I’ll sleep on it. He couldn’t fathom why she wouldn’t just run. What was wrong with him? Maybe he should pay more attention to the hateful thoughts the sword seemed to be trying to force on him. blinking. Ancient Prayers. perhaps take the chance to gather reinforcements and hunt him down.
then watched him silently with reddened eyes. rolling over. but remembering the crossbow aimed at his throat banished the emotion. Both had been part of his training.Chapter Five Siris awoke. But even with that training. He kept an eye on Isa. she had suggested the bindings. looking at the sun. Isa. She still lay on the ground where he’d put her. then did his morning sword practices. He was accustomed to resting on hard stone of course. He groaned. Siris sat up. She had decided to stay. rubbing his chin. going through the Aegis Forms one at a time in slow motion. He wouldn’t feel bad for doing the job well. She started awake. He felt a stab of guilt. He’d forced himself to remain awake much of the night. half expecting to find the woman gone. She’d slept as poorly as he had. waiting to see if Isa had some hidden method of escaping the ropes. he was tired. He walked over and untied her. feeling stiff. breathing in and out. who . which was just cresting the horizon. and to going without sleep. He wound the rope. He’d needed to be tough. she obviously hadn’t been able to get it back on. He turned with a start. but with her hands bound behind her back and tied to her ankles. as tough as a man could be. Her blanket had pulled free in the night. That hadn’t been nearly enough sleep.
For some reason. “How easy would that be to fix?” Siris asked.” It seemed a waste to leave the weapon. Finished. The surly brute gave him a glare that seemed to indicate it knew what Siris had done.” Isa said. Packing done. “Tough. finishing tying on his bundle of armor. These beasts are horrid.” “He won’t be carrying me.watched him with a curious expression. Cross ‘riding a horse’ off my list of things to do. he found her observation unnerving. Isa walked back to the camp and spared a glance for the discarded crossbow. Then he fetched the trigger mechanism and stowed both on the horse. “We’d need a specialist.” Siris said. he wiped his brow and stowed the Infinity Blade. walking up behind. he told himself. shaking his hand where the horse had nicked him. Isa snorted and walked over. Siris picked it up and managed to discharge the bolt—it had sat in place all night—by pressing his knife against the catch. gently pushing him aside and redoing the saddle. The thing even tried to bite him a few times. Oddly.” Siris said. . Weren’t horses supposed to be placid grass-eaters? He’d met cave bears with better temperaments.” she said. “He can’t carry all of that and you too. “So we’re both walking?” “I sure as heaven am not getting up on that beast. and then—to be doing something—he started packing the horse. “You’re packing him too heavily. the saddle suddenly seemed loose. and he made more mistakes in the forms than he had in a long while.
to give confirmation to those pursuing him that this was the way he’d gone. Siris swallowed. “They’re heading north. and found that he was indeed traveling this way. She crouched down. coming as if from the God King’s palace. his false trail was working. the thunder of the horses’ hooves growing softer in the distance. Then he’d planned to cut out a different direction. and instead allowed her to tow him and the horse to the side of the hill. he thought. In the direction I told the daerils I’d be going. “Is there a way to get to this other Deathless by going cross-country?” he asked. “Back!” Isa hissed. he hadn’t ever done anything like this before. they would have asked the peasants about him. Hopefully. he heard thunder. watching the road. He’d intended to travel on the road for a while. .” Isa said. grabbing his arm.As he was working. He should have been watching for pursuit. He’d probably stayed on the road too long. He had little doubt they were hunting him. Drawing them away from his home was vital. He barely kept from drawing the sword on her. He and Isa crouched beside the hill for a long time. Well. A group of mounted knights in black stormed down the roadway. Siris’s breath caught in his throat. That was something. he hadn’t realized they’d come after him so quickly. He frowned up at the clear sky.
cautiously rising. horse in tow. However. Over the next few days. It seemed incredible to him that a week or two of walking could change the vegetation so soundly—Isa tried to explain something about a “rain shadow” with the mountains. Isa knew a little-used pass through the heights. He kept close watch on her. When he could. In fact.” She obeyed. striking out. He’d seen wares crafted from it come through Drem’s Maw. whatever that meant. “And you lead the monster. then. though her wrists got rubbed raw. That seemed to be slightly more comfortable. the opportunity to put most of the gear on her animal meant that —rougher though the terrain was—he had a much easier time of it. He actually found himself enjoying the walk. reedlike growths that climbed high into the air. and each morning when she rose her steps were stiff with soreness and cramps caused by the awkward sleeping. that’s probably a very good idea. particularly as the weather took a pleasantly cool turn. It was bamboo. “I assume you want me walking in front?” Siris nodded. She submitted wordlessly.“Saydhi? Yes.” “Let’s move. and the furrowed landscape of rocks and cliffs gave way to more greenery. and they began passing thickets of thin. Not nearly as much as they had . Leaving the roadway made the path more difficult. there is. binding her tightly every night. They didn’t speak much.” he said. but had never seen the plants alive. Siris realized. he tied her to a tree instead. they slowly climbed in elevation.
A few times. She always found fresh water for the camp. Siris tried to spend the time thinking about what to do. “Are they the only ones allowed to have fun?” His reply seemed to disturb her greatly. Then. he decided to try some of them. then returned to lead them a different direction. and found himself very satisfied as he learned to spot good campsites. skeletons peeking through the charred. “That’s a children’s activity. she ranged on ahead. in his book. when he’d still nurtured a glimmer of trust. as he constructed a rope swing and hung it from a branch. Apparently.on that first day. That evening. he kept thinking of things he wanted to add to his list. “Oh?” he said. he took down the swing and used the ropes to bind her. Was all of this—the care she took with . he found himself wondering about her motives. Isa watched him. He tried to learn how she did it. As they left one such location. They continued their hike. He never caught sight of them. though he and Isa did cross a few old camps and the remnants of the occasional caravan. Unfortunately. then swung on it. burned-out remains. he wrote down rope swings as one of the things he definitely enjoyed. Isa proved her competence on more than one occasion. During the traveling. That distracted him. baffled one night. And so.” she said. even when he would have thought it impossible. these highland hills and valleys were populated with a large number of free daerils that roved in bands.
Enormous forests of bamboo spread like green blankets over the rolling hills. then never awake. He no longer wore the cloak. He was surprised the horse could make it up the steep incline. killed by a hidden dagger? Each night. the show of protecting him from roving daerils— just an act? Like her laughter had been on that first day. The Infinity Blade hung in its sheath on his back. He had to be wary not to get too close. Better to hate himself than to die because of another betrayal. They were coming down out of the hills. hating himself as he did so. lest the animal drop a gift down at him. The tall. If anything. . He was increasingly certain that it waited until Siris was close to do its business. Siris followed Isa and the horse up the forested hillside. and the sun was veiled in a sheath of gray clouds. leaving the pass behind them. they hadn’t passed a living soul in days.the camps. the land here was even more lush than before. the beast seemed to have less trouble with it than he did. he tied the bonds tightly. where he’d moved it after getting it caught repeatedly in the underbrush. The air was hot and muggy. her wry friendliness? Could guiding him be a long-term attempt to get him to let his guard down? Would he go to sleep one night. slender plants were almost like the lawn of some gigantic creature—which made Siris and Isa the insects that prowled among the blades of grass.
pulling on grass slick with dew. “The rebirthing chamber I told you about. delivering the minerals to the God King as tribute. . Though the God King still lived. .” “I thought you couldn’t get lost. . toward one of the lower peaks in the mountain range. “What?” he asked. I was lost . sounding distracted. however small. taking a deep breath of the misty air.He practically crawled the last steep distance up to the hilltop.” he said. If he could get the weapon to the Worker of Secrets. they’d find this paradise of growth and life . That victory. If the people of Drem’s Maw knew that just across those mountains. . slaving as they hung from the roof of their cavern and cut the fast-growing stalactites. “It’s up there. On the slopes of that peak. left him wondering. She seemed thoughtful. He didn’t believe that he’d won by accident. He had enough dueling experience to know when someone gave their all. . The ground here smelled alive. smiling. They wouldn’t know. They would live their lives at work. Siris had defeated him in a fair duel. Siris reached the top of the hill and stood up tall. or that the God King had allowed it. touching the hilt of the Infinity Blade. I stumbled upon it by accident. looking up to the right. Could they all be defeated? Could his people actually be freed? He reached over his shoulder. Isa stood atop the hill.” she said. would that start something that truly brought freedom to his people? It was an oddly daunting thought.
“Then we’ll have to decide if you try to sneak in or challenge the guardians. . She was so subdued. we do it with loud declarations and challenges. He didn’t like the idea that honor. Stepping right up. raising an eyebrow. “Keep us in line?” “Sure.” Siris pushed a bamboo branch out of the way. walking beside her. “Have you heard me in my armor?” She nodded. might have become just another tool for the Deathless. She eyed him at the irregularity. announcing you want to fight. It gives them more time to prepare. but he was tired of watching that animal’s backend. That way. Siris joined her. when we rise up.” “What?” “It’s so odd. rather than in his customary place behind. the way you people do things. He missed the way she’d been on that first day.” Isa said.” “Sneak?” he asked. But I still could. then continued on her way down the slope. Professional. There had .” “It’s the path of honor and civilization. “I just . like everything else. The thing was demonspawn for certain.” she said. “A little over a day. back then. quiet —not cold.” “I wonder if that’s one of the ways the Deathless keep you in line.” She shook her head. frowning. “I can’t now. formally. “How much farther?” he asked. They convince everyone that it’s ‘honorable’ to fight one on one. going into it.She didn’t hear the humor in his voice. but giving up no more than she had to. .
heat was rising from the cracks. then looked to the side. they can boil you faster than you can scream for help. “A moment ago. with good reason. “You have to watch yourself around pools of water. you act like a freedom fighter. The other half. didn’t there? “Watch your step. “Isa.to be some things that were beyond their touch. There was a pungent scent to the air and.’ Half the time. and was broken by cracks.” Siris shivered. “You talk about humankind fighting back. before Siris finally found himself asking something he’d been wondering for a while. Siris realized with surprise. you used the word ‘we. stepping away from the cracks. each about as long as his leg. The ground here had grown rocky. If you don’t trust me not to kill you. Which is the truth and which the mask?” “You. He paused. “They’re all over the place out here.” Isa said. you act like an opportunist trying to make off with whatever wealth you can get. some of them grow so hot. why would you trust any answer I give about my true motivations?” . why do you want the Infinity Blade? Really?” She kept walking. don’t trust me not to kill you in your sleep.” Isa said.” he said.” “What kind of answer is that?” “The preemptive kind. They continued on their way in silence for a few minutes.
“It’s getting too wide.” he said.” she said. and she pushed away through the bamboo. then handed him the reins of the horse. so why try? Why not just take care of myself. too regular. kneeling down and inspecting the ground. “What?” “This path. He hesitated. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Well. She cracked just a hint of a smile. where the bamboo was thinner.” “I happen to have a very good voice. And that’s why you betrayed me? Isa started to slow. but the rest of me thinks there’s no point. He joined her atop the rise. He took them.” He stopped himself from asking the next question. Maybe part of me thinks we should fight back. “We’ve come to the area where villages are more common. and we just intersected with the outflow from one of the more well-traveled passes.” she said.She has a point. “Maybe I don’t know which one I am.” She stood up. After a few moments of walking through the bamboo—they were following some kind of game trail—she spoke.” “Someone else uses it?” “Maybe. but didn’t send him back. They made their way toward a higher elevation. scanning the valley before .” “Please tell me that doesn’t mean you’re going to start singing.” he said with a huff. then tied the horse off and followed. There’s no real way to stop them. “I do know. he thought. you know?” “Yeah. maybe I’m just tired of walking in silence.
so that people drifted my way. “They’re gods. A wide.” she said. if it was. I’d also make sure the ‘game trail’ through this area was kept well-cleared and made obvious. then backed them up a ways before cutting around. It didn’t look like anything special. Not that people haven’t tried.” he asked. . I could throw a stone in any direction and have a good chance of hitting some theologian or scholar who thinks he knows the answer. “What else would they be?” .them.” “All right. “I’d do it there. “Well?” he asked. He’d made it abundantly clear he didn’t know much about being a woodsman. where the pathway turns along with the stream toward those two lower ridges. “what are the Deathless?” “I don’t think anyone can answer that for you except the Deathless themselves.” Siris said. pointing.” “What do you think?” She didn’t answer at first.” Siris rubbed his chin. and there were some hills along one side.” she finally said.” She led the way back to the horse. In some of the world’s larger cities. “If I were going to ambush travelers coming this way.” she said. “Isa. He shook his head. . joining her in front again. she wouldn’t have said anything. Was this a trap? But . “Sounds good to me. but shallow stream ran through the middle of it. “It’s not likely. “But I think we should go around.
” “And how to stop aging?” she said skeptically. Maybe it’s like that. and Siris caught what might have been a call for help. “And come back to life when killed?” “In the next town over from ours.“A god wouldn’t have fallen to my blade. “there’s nothing special to them other than knowledge. I—” She was cut off by a scream. He was trained by a doctor before him. The shouting continued. If you have the right information. If they were really gods.” She didn’t reply. like how to make the rings work.” Siris said. “Maybe. . “—The place where I said there might be an ambush?” Isa said. like how to manipulate others. . I advise hanging back to watch. They know things. This man could bring a mother giving birth—and the child—back from what other healers thought was fatal.” Siris said.” Siris didn’t hear the rest of what she said. . “Is that—” Siris began.” he said. “Even if the death wasn’t permanent. you can do what everyone else thinks is a miracle. “There’s more to it than that.” Isa said softly. no mortal could have fought one of them and won. “Yeah. and that doctor by another doctor.” “No. though he caught her giving him a measuring glance. but I suppose you’re going to want to go rush and help the fool who . as he was already charging toward the sound. Both of them spun toward the sound. “there was a very learned doctor. Being Deathless is about more than knowledge. Looks like someone wasn’t smart enough to go around.
The clamor brought the daerils up short. he stepped into the shallow river. clattering to the ground as he cut two dozen stalks free. Not much choice now. the water coming up only to his calves. moving to surround Siris. he thought. They had hollow-looking. Siris spun. Could he handle four at once? There was no reason to think that feral daerils would obey the Aegis code of honor. and they turned on him. running toward a group of daerils with pale yellow skin and bony ridges. one sniffing the air. Siris couldn’t see much of him beyond that. The poor wayfarer crawled toward shelter beside some rocks. The daerils were all of the same species. There! he thought. Gripping his blade. almost . sweeping outward with the Infinity Blade. Bamboo rattled against itself. and the others split up. the splashing of those trying to come at him from behind would give vital warning. The traveler wore a brown robe. though they wore crude armor and carried swords. Four daerils. One at the front grunted something. surrounding a solitary figure who had fallen into the shallow water while trying to cross the stream.Chapter Six Siris burst out onto the stony bank of the stream. If he got surrounded. The four daerils prowled toward Siris. They hooted. These grunted and hooted rather than speaking. He could hear splashing downriver.
He slammed the daeril’s sword out of the way. Splashes and hoots. More were coming. The beast moved back in the water. Siris jumped forward and engaged the first one to gain a second or two breather from those coming up behind. There was something there. I’ve never been in this situation before. Great. and the other three moved into the river to attack. and he shook out of the reverie. Siris ripped the sword free and yelled. . If he could just reach it . trying to watch—or at least listen for—all four. . he thought. coming down on the arm of a daeril swinging for him. This one stepped into the river directly in front of Siris. something inside of him. Keep moving. growling. Rustling and hooting came through the bamboo in the distance. as there had been in the castle. Splashes behind. there was a sense of familiarity to this larger fight . keep moving. cries . The daerils attacked. .skeletal faces. spinning on one of the daerils that tried to come at him. though the leader wore armor stained the color of blood. And yet. spinning. Something about his circumstances suddenly struck him as familiar. Siris positioned himself. The cold mountain water was icy on his feet as it seeped through his boots. then rammed his weapon into its chest. The daeril’s blood was red. it looked as if he might follow the ancient ideal after all. Then the leader waved. He couldn’t distinguish them by their features. All of Siris’s training had been focused on single duels. just like that of a person. . when he’d faced the two golems. and for a moment.
The creature was wheezing. “Hell take us.” she said. you’re done .” Isa said. “Damn. . Siris spun. sword through the neck. and Isa cursed.” Siris whispered. her arms around its neck in a choke hold. and she pulled off her coat—it was so wet that it flopped when she moved. A second later. . “If . “could you please stab this thing?” Siris leaped forward and rammed the blade down into the creature’s chest. eight of them broke out into the small clearing. a figure in a long black coat hanging onto its back. where Siris had intentionally left himself open.” Siris said. summoning the God King’s shield in a flash of blue. There was no way to stop the fourth daeril in time. . then struck. The daeril tried to stand.” Siris helped her to her feet. . Instead. She dropped it and let it float away. . The daeril’s eyes opened wide as its sword was blocked by the steel.of rage and pain. he found the daeril splashing and flailing. straining. A third daeril was coming at his side. The hooting of other daerils was growing closer. admiring. That left Siris completely exposed from the back. “Those things are strong. expecting to feel the blow at any moment. fishing out one of the daerils’ fallen swords. kicking at its leg and bringing them both down in a splash of water. The creature struck as Siris snapped his fingers together. “Wow. water pouring over her as she puffed in and out. Siris shoved the beast’s weapon aside. Isa rolled free.
I’m not that handy with a sword.” Siris couldn’t make out much of him. Their hooting had grown agitated. Did we have to fight in the river?” “Felt right at the time. Maybe.” Isa said. “You did. They obviously didn’t like having lost so many members during a simple ambush. of course. So . “I’m going to be really annoyed at you. And cursing your name.” Isa said.” “You aren’t now?” “Too cold to be annoyed yet. only a robed figure cowering behind the rocks. He seems terrified.” “Well.” “You did.” “And I believe I suggested restraint as you charged off like a fool. “That’s something. at least. You can handle the other seven?” . looking at the corpses of the fallen. her teeth chattering as she raised her sword. .” Siris smiled wanly as the newcomers fanned out. a sneer on his lips. I guess I can die happy. . “I don’t think the guy we saved is with them. I can deal with one of these guys. the blood coloring the river.“I believe I warned you that this was a perfect place for an ambush.” Siris said as the daerils closed in. so long as I’m proven right. One of the daerils—the one whose arm he’d cut off—had crawled to the bank. One of the newcomers killed him with a strike to the head. “If it turns out that guy yelling for help was just a means of drawing us in here.
” he said. For a moment. sending a single monster to his knees. could feel the splash of water against his legs as she collapsed. . for they drew back. holding his stomach and coughing blood. Forms with the sword .” “Maybe if someone hadn’t tried to murder me in my sleep . That smile vanished quickly. . . . and he could barely defend himself. They aren’t healthy. . . . They bunch up when they attack with so many together. Siris thought. like a fragment of a memory . They forced him back.” she said. Others still rampaged toward him. The others closed in.” “You keep coming back to that one little slip of mine. Isa fell. .“Yeah. . roared in rage to try to intimidate the daerils. whiskers. the hoots. . . He threw himself into the fray. Siris fell still. “No problem. sure. could see new blood in the stream. used his shield like a bludgeon. . The splashing of clawed feet. . . in my head. fighting. He slammed swords aside. Maybe if someone hadn’t broken my crossbow . But they were careful. He did get one lucky jab in. “You really need to stop holding grudges. . the swinging of swords. I can see it .” He found himself smiling as the daerils came for them.” “Good. Yes . There’s something to that. Isa guarding his back. That seemed to make some of the daerils wary. . I thought we were in trouble. He could hear her grunt. I can see it.
There. The Infinity Blade? he wondered. raising the sword as if by their own volition. he’d trained his body to follow the instincts of a soldier. He snapped his eyes open and spun in a complex sword kata. each move exact. which he’d dropped sometime during the process. His blade struck seven times in rapid succession. and stances until they were second nature. Did those reflexes come from the sword? Isa. then turned—absently noting his shield. each blow precise. He was familiar with fighting by instinct. His arms moved. He shut his eyes. What had that been? The rhythm of the attacks seemed so familiar. he held the Infinity Blade before him in a calm. He seemed to dance with the river itself. The seven strikes had come as if this particular fight—with each daeril in its place—was something he’d practiced time and time again. as if coming awake after a long sleep. grabbing her from the . When he stopped. In his youth. He just had no idea where these particular instincts came from. dropping the weapon. two-handed grip. He took a deep breath. The river flowed at his feet. He cursed.The daerils closed on him. performing practice attacks. jabs. Seven daerilic corpses floated away. feet moving quietly in the water.
out of the water. “I didn’t . There was no mouth.” Siris said. . Not even a living face. and thread I should . oh my. See? Use it.” “You can.” she said. Siris. It—” “Oh my. . It doesn’t work that way. . not good. . She had a gut wound. Siris looked up. .” “I can’t . but her skin was pale. You don’t even have to worry about growing a beard. not good. . I didn’t actually expect you to do it. . pulling the ring off his finger and shoving it onto hers. . when I said you had to fight seven. out of the water. “That is not good. Something metal.” a voice said. The robed figure who had been cowering behind the rocks had un-cowered his way up the bank to inspect his saviors. let us see. . yes. her lips trembling. and the chill water washed the blood from it. You can sense it. His hood had fallen back. oh my. a bad one. It’s easy. and there wasn’t a face in there. not a human face. .nearby water.” “Here.” “Can you help?” Siris asked desperately. “Use the ring.” “How can you not know?” she whispered. Two eyes like blue gemstones regarded him from their place set in a head carved from wood. “Know what?” “I can’t use this. Her eyes were still open. Yes. though the spindly thing spoke. “. . “Must I?” “Yes!” “Bring her over then. Or . well. Heal yourself. still moving.
She looked so pale. He set her on the rocky bank as the creature—a golem of some sort— shucked its robe. and that hand fused to the steel. silvery steel. Siris froze. The creature’s body was turning to thread. . excellent. “Excellent. perhaps one foot tall. “Yes. inspecting the wound with thin fingers. like needles. but had her eyes closed. The creature touched the shield with its wooden hand. yes. yes. “Bring it. revealing a puppetlike body of thin wood. watered-down blood seeping out of the wound. the transformation running up its arm. Then the creature broke its arm free. This transformation ran up its other arm.” the golem said. splintering its entire body. “Your shield. The fracture was precise. waving with the hand that was still wooden. It walked up and prodded Isa’s wound with fingers that were now very fine. transforming and becoming metal. please. Bamboo. She was still breathing. When he returned with the wet shield. Please. with one half of its body made of bunched up thread and the other half made of slender.imagine . the creature was absently reaching out to touch its fallen robe. then arm. I need your shield. . and from the heap of metal emerged a smaller version of the creature. What else could he do? It didn’t seem the time to ask questions.” the creature said.” Siris lifted Isa and splashed through the water to the bank. It cut away the clothing . It’s made of bamboo. Siris thought. unraveled. turning half of its body to metal. Its hand. setting the shield beside Isa.” Siris knelt.” Siris fetched it.
not good. burying its arms—one of silvery metal. “It’s going to be all right. Isa was unconscious by then. Not good. but still breathing. Siris felt helpless.” She grimaced in pain and took a few panting breaths. the fight. the voice now much softer. . Perhaps she’d just been addled by the wound. “Too much of a coincidence. but yes. In just a few minutes. “It was following us. . That thing. I think. Siris. Its fingers were a blur. and the stitches it made incredibly tight and small. That’s why it fell into the ambush.” The creature pushed its way into the wound.” Siris looked at the creature.” it said.” she whispered.” Siris said to Isa. humming to itself. which was working quickly. then tied it off and snipped. It pulled the final stitch tight. “Don’t—” She opened her eyes. “Clean wound. It didn’t catch that we’d split off to go the long way around. The creature began to hum. . whatever it . threading part of its own body through and beginning to sew on the wound. Must be quick! Lots of blood. I hope. . using one spindly finger like a needle. it finished with its work on Isa’s innards and moved to sewing up her outer gash. If she came to . when she came . “It must have been followed us. Good. the other a pile of thread that moved like muscles—into her abdomen. “Hush. Why had she refused to use the healing ring? He slipped it from her finger.near the gash—its fingers were sharp on one side. much work to do. “Cut very sharply.” he said.
rocks ground against one another.” “Which one?” “I have been commanded not to respond to that question.to . then she could use it. Moving her didn’t seem to be a good idea. I do believe that other bands of Q.” the creature said. “What are you?” Siris asked.” “And were you following me?” “. Siris moved to pick her up. but remaining in this place —where the sounds of battle might have drawn attention— was a worse one. Yes. “Thank you.-mutants may inhabit the area. Lowerclass. Siris started as the creature melded into the rock behind it. . . . A second later. “Transubstantive Entity. . “I do. It picked up the robe. . don’t you?” Another pause.P.” The creature inspected its handiwork.I. He could still see its former body where it had melded into the large stone at the thing’s chest. and when it stepped. I obey.” he said. its body transforming to match the stone. It opened gemstone eyes in a vaguely head-shaped stone on its shoulders. then fell backward.” “You serve one of the Deathless. a larger version of it—five feet tall now—ripped free of the ground.” Siris looked down at the unconscious Isa. “Hmmm.” TEL said happily. This is probably not a good place to be having a dialogue. “Oh my. as instructed. creature. now made of river rocks and mud. “TEL.
” “Well what can you tell me?” Siris asked with exasperation. as I have been commanded not to touch that particular item. then—after a moment of hesitation—ran off to get the horse and their supplies. He walked beside Siris. but TEL seemed to be capable of carrying her with a much smoother gait than Siris could manage. the sky blurry with a haze that occasionally dropped a fine misting rain. “I might suggest that you fetch the sword.“If I may suggest. ?” “Uh. though they didn’t travel directly along it. She was unconscious. He hoped that following a harder trail might divert them from trouble. kneeling down and easily lifting Isa.” “Excellent. If you would command me . pick her up.” TEL said happily. walking out into the river and retrieving the Infinity Blade. humming to himself. The foothills of the mountains still rose on either side of them. He summoned his shield to him. Siris shook his head. .” He walked off. still carrying Isa. “I can’t answer that question. so he tried not to worry too much. I am quite well equipped to carry large burdens without growing fatigued. The stream at the center of the valley had grown in size until it was now truly a river. . . “I have been instructed not to speak on the immortality of the Deathless or how they obtained their status.” TEL said. “with a substance of stone. “Many things!” TEL said.” TEL said.
” TEL said.I. “Quantum Identity Pattern. Yours is individual to you. is what you might call your soul. “And it needs to drain enough of them from my .I. but is separate from your physical form.“Indeed.” “That is an extremely simplified way of explaining it. A simpler explanation is in order. I can explain why the sky is blue.” TEL continued. alignment—indeed. my bloodline. sounding displeased.P.—a soul—that manifests their parentage.” “Their what?” “I believe.P. “The deadmind at the God King’s palace spoke of something like that when it attuned me to one of these rings. a person’s physical DNA.I. for example. Or I can list the ingredients in lentil soup. “It speaks nothing of Q.P. The individual quantum signature inherent in every sentient being.” Siris said.” “And it’s related to my ancestors?” “Indeed.. It is similar to. “A person’s descendants will have a Q.” TEL said. it will do. “My knowledge is wide and varied.I. but completely separate from. as related to his or her ancestors.P. when talking about those daerils. “that you lack the proper scientific understanding for this conversation to proceed with specific details.” TEL said. Your Q.” TEL said.” . You mentioned it again. .” “Q. is it? From my bloodline before its powers manifest. I can tell you what time it is in Loher’s Depths right at this moment. I can explain why—” “What’s a ‘Cue Eye Pee’?” Siris cut in.” “So this sword drains souls. . it speaks nothing of science at all! But for an ignorant peasant.
But what is it about my family that is special?” “I’m afraid I cannot answer that question. It was clammy and frigid. touching her hand. created the idea of Sacrifices so that we’d come to him and die by his sword. TEL set her down in a nook beside some rocks. He leaned back against some of the bamboo. and the grain of the wood spread across the stones of his shoulders.” “Indeed. and . He spread out Isa’s coat—which he’d fetched from the river—to catch a few last rays of sunlight and hopefully dry off. the sun was nearly down.” “I didn’t mean it for you. That made him worry again about Isa. “He wanted my bloodline specifically. Time to set up camp.” Siris said. It confirmed a growing suspicion he had that TEL had been sent by the God King to spy on Siris. settling down his rock body. mostly to himself. as it would conflict with my orders. I’m surrounded by people who would betray me if given half a chance. He found a place where some fallen leaves made the ground soft. He knelt beside her. His body collapsed. Siris dealt with the horse—the thing only managed to get one good bite in—and brought back the saddle blanket for Isa. though he was interested to hear that TEL had been ordered not to speak of Siris’s family specifically. He baited us.” Siris said.“The God King was hunting my family. Every step I go. “She’s so cold. the stones becoming chunks of wood. He checked the horizon. He chose the location as best he could.” TEL said.
“A fire would be preferable. couldn’t he? He gathered some wood. but everything was sodden to its innards. but the wood around him was just too wet. He dug in the saddlebags—they were crafted in a way to keep the water out—and came up with some tinder and straw. TEL didn’t seem to mind the rain—and had explained.” TEL added. “I’ve been a fool. Maybe if he held her . or she will likely not survive. though he’d created shelter as best he could by draping a blanket on some bamboo stalks over the fire. which explained why a creature that could craft a body for itself out of stone had cowered before those daerils. that he had no skill in fire building. . . An hour of frustration later.” Siris could make a fire. and the occasional drizzle didn’t help either. He could get something started.” Siris said. TEL sat to the side. . Of course. “Right.” The golem sounded amused.” Siris looked at the unconscious Isa. Neither was fighting. regretfully.” whatever that meant.the puppetlike wooden version of TEL broke from the center of one. “particularly with this dampness. like a wooden statue.” TEL said. It wasn’t “part of his designated parameters. he still didn’t have any fire. feeling completely useless. He knelt in frustration over the makeshift firepit. shaking his head as if at the shame of it. “Flesh bodies are notoriously poor at dealing with extremes in temperature. cracking out of it like a chicken from an egg. “She will need warmth for the night. silent and motionless.
It generated blasts of fire. “TEL. There had to be a way. Then it could draw on that and transport it to you. Fighting the God King. Now. “However. He kept that in the back of his mind—along with a healthy distrust of this creature—but didn’t have time to focus on either right now.” TEL said. Siris thought.” TEL said.” So he knows what it was I did. and something disrupted the source of energy. and—for the first . can you tell me why this ring stopped functioning?” “I would guess.” Siris said.” TEL said. I doubt seriously that anyone else from your town would have been able to perform the Patterns of True Swordsmanship. pulling out a handful of rings.” “That may be true.“For what purpose?” “It wasn’t intentional. you would probably need a similar source of energy to what it creates. it had stopped working soon after he killed the God King. He held one of them up. all those years practicing. That was everything. He fished in his pocket.” “Can I set it to work out here?” “It depends on the ring. “I thought. here I am. “that it was set for local power. Like most of the others. Was Isa’s breathing more shallow? He would find a way out of this. as helpless as a three-year-old when practically anyone else from Drem’s Maw would have been able to start this fire.” Siris turned the ring over in his fingers. one of the very first he had found. “If you wanted to make it function. that only one thing would matter in my life.
oh dear. I’m sorry. it reminded him of the disc that was paired with the ring that summoned the sword. no.” TEL said. “I won’t. Oh. The steam vents. But what . . A piece was designed to come off. Siris thought.” Siris said. do not. “if we had something hot. TEL stood up.time—noticed something on the inside. no. do not. About half the size of his smallest fingernail. That is a bad idea.” TEL noted. do not—” “Fine. He took a deep breath. Isa said they were all around out here. Had he smelled some on the march here from the river? Dared he leave Isa with this thing? “I command you not to harm her. . BAD. then grasped it in his hand. this ring and the transportation one.” He looked right at the horse. and transport it to you. would that not solve our problem in and of itself?” Siris looked down at the metal disc. That was almost a pity. across a hundred and eighty pounds of flesh. Please. They were actually very similar. “I need something hot. “Oh. putting the ring on his other hand. you’ll get a burst of flame. But I’ve got to find something warm to use.” he said to TEL.” Siris said. You don’t have enough heat inside of you to start a fire. he thought. Ninety-eight-point-six. “Might I note. Draw on a similar type of energy. a tiny shard. . but you’ll be dead at the end of it. No. holding up a hand to TEL. “Still not hot enough.
Siris turned back the way they’d gone. The ring made a clicking sound. . he might find a way to control it. . pushing the ring farther onto his finger. It was a difficult run. He felt nothing at first. Siris ducked under the damp blanket stretched between stands of bamboo. then turned and ran back the way he’d come. A half hour later. with relief. He held out his hand. If it remained here. puffing—wheezing—he reached the camp. he felt a faint warmth around his finger.” “As you command. Was he going the right way? What if . The sky was nearly pitch black. though he’d had to call out to TEL to find it. Still. the cracks seemed deep. and the scent of sulfur was strong.” “Stay here. He dropped the metal disc down the one that seemed the deepest. pushing through patches of bamboo and across open meadows.“I wouldn’t have anyway. and started jogging. But what good would that do? If it went to report. It grew dark. These ones were slim. He’d noticed the scent somewhere about halfway through that time. trying to summon the heat. Siris would be discovered. Then. He ran on. and didn’t give off much heat—certainly less than he’d hoped. palm forward. . He knelt beside the firepit.” He almost ordered the thing away. Watch over her. They’d walked some four hours since the river. There! He found the vents tucked up against the side of a rockfall beside a hill.
” Siris wrapped his cloak around himself. rain falling lightly on his head. The golem sat in the rain as well. A blast of flame erupted from his palm. The heat continued for a good count of a hundred before the ring buzzed. . the one Isa had given him on that first day.” “Ah . Its coming was so sudden. He exhaled softly. he almost jerked back. better to dry the wood than turn everything in the camp to ash. her head resting on some wadded-up clothing. The fire blazed forward and covered the entire firepit. Finally. With focus. yes.then buzzed. . Hopefully you didn’t melt the transmittance disc by tossing it into lava! But I suppose those can be replaced. Very clever. flames growing. he took the heat down from an inferno to a careful bake. Steam hissed. and some of it smoldered. “Isa said they were common in this area. Siris had to turn his face away. wood popped. “Some cracks in the ground. . Siris sat back against the rocks. . “You’ll now tell me everything you know about . “Where did you did find a source of such heat?” TEL asked. There wasn’t room under the blanket for him.” TEL said. its energy expended. He nurtured these. He positioned Isa beside it with the blanket over her back. The wood was singed. Siris lowered his hand and looked at what he’d done. and in minutes he had a satisfying fire. what was it you said? The Patterns of True Swordsmanship?” . with the fire and Isa. “Yes.” Siris said.
.” For some reason.” Again. That’s why the God King was hunting us. they are next to useless in a formal twocombatant duel. Mine does. “I can use their machinery. it doesn’t matter. “I am forbidden. I won’t hold myself accountable. doesn’t connect her to the Deathless.I. listening the rain beat softly against the leaves.” TEL said. Siris felt colder.” “So how do I know them?” Siris asked. “Can you answer any questions on this topic?” Siris asked. “The most accomplished art of a warrior. Some Deathless claim it took them centuries of practice to master them. her Q. . because of our heritage. Mortals aren’t supposed to be able to grasp them in their short lifetimes. “I’m a descendant of one of the Deathless. That’s what Isa meant—she can’t use the rings because her soul. “No. aren’t I?” TEL gave no reply.” TEL continued. “I cannot answer that. The Deathless developed them so that one of them could stand against many. TEL gave no reply. I can do things I shouldn’t be able to because of my lineage.P. a unity between sword and body. “They are intended.” TEL said.” “Well. One could argue that the formal duel rose out of so many Deathless being accomplished at the True Patterns. “to be used in fighting multiple opponents of inferior skill. indeed.” Siris was quiet for a time.“They are of ancient date.
When he turned back. she was looking at him. I’m probably part of some illegitimate line. then on her coat. nodding toward the golem. “I guess he does. TEL had tied a bandage there. I . “First.” She sounded skeptical.just because one of my ancestors might have been a monster. When he came back. . The rain had soaked one side.” he said.” “Yes?” There was something to her voice. He started. . But first. “You thirsty?” “Yes. then went off into the bamboo to give her privacy. Siris checked on Isa. “I am resting. something intimate. and to keep the rain from blowing in on her. he thought with a shiver. He hadn’t changed positions in two hours. Wouldn’t that be appropriate? Him killing his own children to make his blasted sword work? The rain eventually let up. who sat in the rain. That shouldn’t be possible. “You should be resting. then grimaced. She blinked. so he switched it around. “Oh.” she said. right.” He fetched a pot for her. “Horribly so.” He blushed. Something soft. nearly dropping the coat. “This is hardly bleeding at all.” “TEL does fine work. which he’d hung on the other side of the fire to dry. I’ve really got to pee. glancing down at her side. looking up at the stars. she was dressed .” she said. which she prodded at.” Maybe the God King’s own line.” Siris said.
” she said. That is. “Easier to get it from you. You could have let those creatures kill me.” She smiled. even though you were unarmed.” he said. I’d hate to assume someone incompetent could manage that. so you’re forgiven. “Or even while you’re awake. He sat down across from her. “But if you die and I can’t do anything to prevent that.and sitting up by the fire.” “And you won’t try to steal the blade while I’m sleeping?” “I won’t. “No.” he said. Saving my life negates an attempt on it.” He held out his hand beside the fire. “I doubt they knew what it was worth.” “Steal from a pack of wild slaughter daerils?” she said.” She paused. When they went to sleep. then shook it. “You came to help when I was fighting in the river. “You almost killed me twice. She paused. and you’re sly enough. I’m still taking the sword.” “You have quite the opinion of my skills.” she said. toward her. assuming I can get a promise from you.” “It’s out of regard for my own. all right?” “All right. warming her hands. . you’d have had that sword and been on your way in under a span. “The fact remains. “I’m hoping I don’t need the rope treatment tonight.” “Fair enough.” He snorted.” he said. “that you didn’t have to rush in to help me. You did. then stolen the blade from them. Better you than one of the Deathless. No more trying to kill me.
” “I will. Be sure to get some sleep.” he said. “You too.” she said with a yawn. rising to go fetch some more wood. He proceeded to stay up the entire night making sure the fire kept going and she remained warm. “We’re less than a day’s hike from Saydhi’s estate.” he said. whiskers. You’ll need your strength tomorrow.“Get some sleep. .
munching on some foliage on the other side of their camp. if he failed. “You’re not going to tell me. “Well?” he said. . Besides. . “Jousting would require riding one of those things. it would mean his life—and he wanted to make sure Isa was well enough to reclaim the Infinity Blade if things went poorly. However. they’d carefully moved to a location that was more secure.” she said. She licked her lips. “Pshaw. “Don’t be an idiot. then tossed in another pinch of spices. are you?” he said. didn’t I?” “As soundly as if you’d brought a salad fork to a jousting match. sitting across the fire from her. “The secret is patience. like cooking. . A few days back. He would go eventually. He hadn’t lost his resolve. lifting the spoon to her lips. I just failed that one. So far.Chapter Seven “The real secret to good cooking . ?” Siris asked. “Is . held up a finger.” He eyed her horse. he wanted to attempt a few things on his list. he was .” Isa said. She took a sip. . They hadn’t spoken of the fact that Siris continued to stay in camp with Isa. as opposed to going to fight Saydhi’s champions.” “Huh.” he said.” She smiled.
” She said it frankly. sipping the soup. “Horses. Makes sense to me. “Stupid language. You just have to know how to treat them.” she said. Pure evil.” “In . .” he said. insatiated? Insociated? A word that means you say stupid things and are never likely to change. though she blushed.confident that one was going to move to the list of things he did not enjoy. I tell you. I considered—for just a moment—using the disc on him. “I saw him eat a baby once.” “Well. whiskers. More than you and I have. “No?” she said. I mean.” “The same could be said of a persistent rash. I’m pretty sure he has a heart made of iron. TEL indicated he didn’t have enough heat in him for it to work. “Not a word in your silly language?” “It’s a word. “But it doesn’t mean what you think it does. “You were going to draw the heat from my horse to start a fire?” “Yeah.” he said. . crying types. blood as cold as a mountain snow. “You know.” She raised an eyebrow. “We’ve been through a lot together.” “I’d have killed you.” He raised an eyebrow.” she said.” She shook her head.” “Nams?” she said with a start.” Siris added. It .” “I’m sure I knew one. Nams and I. A sweet giggling one. “And not even one of the loud. “They’re not so bad.” “I don’t think we have word for that. “You’re insulated.
Many.” She grinned.doesn’t have enough words. “Sometimes. Siris of the Lost Whiskers.” “I’m beginning to wish you hadn’t learned that particular word. I couldn’t eat the good foods. taking the bowl. but slowly. . because everyone was watching. many. it built upon itself.” “Nonsense. Once I started. They’d insist on doing it.” “I watch you every morning. working until you sweat. We have seventeen different ways of saying a person is no longer hungry. I can’t explain it. getting out bowls and dishing out the soup. Nobody would let me do common things. it’s what I am.” “Sounds complicated. Did you not spend twenty years practicing with the sword? All to achieve a single important goal? That is patience.” he said. like wash clothing.” she said. with that sword. “You are a patient man.” “I’m not sure it was. That is not the mark of an impatient man. At a feast. It’s as natural to me as breathing. continuing to breathe is a tough enough prospect. many. You just have to be patient. You wouldn’t call a man patient for reaching the ‘milestone’ of continuing to breathe for twenty years straight. I needed to train.” “I train because it .” “How many words does your language have?” “Many.” She grimaced at her bandage.” “I don’t know. Getting a sword though the stomach wasn’t the sort of thing you just . Always. . “I only did all of that because it was expected of me. Keep training. The wound was healing.
he . How did she do that? It was just boiled leaves and chopped-up bamboo shoots. Well. They .” He fingered the Infinity Blade. It’s why the God King was interested in my bloodline. “We haven’t discussed.” “What?” “It’s said that long ago.” he said. He took a sip. No children. . . the Deathless slaughtered everyone who was related to them. That’s why I can use the rings.” she whispered. He looked down at the God King’s ring on his finger.” he said.shrugged off. It was fantastic. It might .” “It’s all right. He was interested in your bloodline? Why?” “I haven’t mentioned it. Whatever the reason. . He frowned at her. “I figured it out. . when they first seized power. steal their immortality. . buckled at his side. Isa followed his glance. Unless you were Siris. . “Some say that the children of a particular Deathless can challenge them. “what I said.” she said. it might be that my family is the reason for his entire dominance of this area. “But I’m pretty certain he set up the system of Sacrifices. It’s why he treated people with such tyranny—to encourage my bloodline to come fight him. there’s an unspoken rule among them.” “This changes everything. that means I’m probably not related to the God King.” “Wait.” she explained. About the ring . “Deathless rarely have children. stirring his soup.” “You did?” “I must be of the lineage of one of the Deathless.
Siris faced the option of either destroying the little golem or putting him to use. A panicked sense that felt Isa knew too much. Too frequently. Instincts. These things weren’t really thoughts. had shrunk down to about three feet tall. The conversation hit a lull. But if TEL was a spy. Though. TEL had turned himself into dark cloth using Isa’s coat. particularly after Isa had warned him that the Deathless had ways of communicating over great distances. one of the Dark Thoughts—as he’d started to think of them—crept into the back of his mind. He fought this one down. then bowed. the nearby bamboo stalks rustled. As he was finishing his last bites of soup. he already knew the most important fact about Siris—namely where he was. until a small form slipped out of the forest. He succeeded in getting one of my ancestors to join him. to fear him. hand on sword. It took orders from Siris—so long as those orders didn’t violate previous commands. They came to him frequently these days. TEL had ignored orders to “go away” and “stop . Impulses. That relieved him. that she needed to be taught to hold her tongue. The golem entered the clearing of their camp. He’d not have kept us around if we could threaten him. Siris didn’t trust the thing. He immediately stood. He tried to get me to join him.thought. and in doing so. They were more basic than that. He still had gemstone eyes.
” He didn’t feel like destroying the thing.” “Is that a brave front. It hadn’t done anything against him. In her condition. well. and it is as the Lady Isa says. They’ll spread out. . “We can’t forage out here forever. not overtly. “The pathway is easy. Still. it made him feel better to have her there to try. Assuming he won.” “Can you make it?” Siris asked. . “You need to go eventually. she probably wouldn’t be able to recover the Infinity Blade if he fell. they’d probably make their way back here for the night before striking out for the Worker’s prison.” TEL said in a voice that was faintly reminiscent of rustling cloth. “Well?” Siris asked. He just . “Riding? Shouldn’t be a problem.” Isa said. “I watched the sentries for three hours and seventeen minutes. Even the first champion is quite skilled. Four champions. looking up at the sky. Assuming she kept . and eventually those knights hunting you will realize they’ve lost our trail. At least someone other than TEL would have a shot at the blade.” Siris rubbed the pommel of the Infinity Blade.” They didn’t break down camp. Assuming this Saydhi even knew the information he wanted. I saw one of them slay a petitioner. or is it the truth?” “Both?” He took a deep breath. which still held to its overcast gloom. “Let’s go then.following me. and this direction—through the passes—is a natural place to search. he couldn’t.
. A few moments later. with its healing and teleportation powers.her word and told him.” . turning green. and wearing more than one of the rings caused them to interfere with one another. Those were a lot of assumptions. The black cloth unraveled. . You risked triggering the wrong ability. even though I stabbed him with it. a solemn group passing through dew-wetted stalks of bamboo.” She raised an eyebrow at him from horseback. and Siris would prefer not to start himself on fire when trying to heal. Siris would rather have the healing anyway. and TEL mostly confirmed. The blade needed to drink the souls of people related to my bloodline in order to activate. That’s why the God King lived. .” Isa said speculatively as she rode. and plants sprouted. then dropped. He leaped up onto the horse’s rump. . it might have to do with that sword.” He walked around a moss-covered stump. “Yeah. It does. smacking the thing in the face when it tried to bite him. “Whiskers . TEL crawled free. . now the size and shape of a small cat made entirely of leaves. “I . the disc he’d dropped into the vent must have melted. uh . Siris wore the God King’s ring. His fire ring had stopped working. TEL walked over. Siris helped Isa onto the horse. . then settled back. They set out. “So the God King was hunting your family. learned something from the minions in the castle. but this was the best option they had.
looking toward her.” He turned the silvery blade. “Hell take me.” he said. her and— He froze in place.” “Then the God King—” “No. it glistened in a beam of filtered sunlight. and slay a god?” “I did it once.” “So . “The daerils in the place. my only relative is my mother.” Her smile faded. You don’t have any estranged brothers that just happen to be evil. I slew my ancestor. do you? It would be terribly convenient. “The sword might be active after all.” Well. a man who claimed to be one of my ancestors. Isa. I went into the palace dungeons.” “So I don’t know.” Siris turned. fight your way to. . “So all we need to do is hunt the God King down and kill him again.” he whispered. “Now that is interesting. slamming the sword back into . I met a man who served the God King. After beating him. whiskers. “Great. and TEL poked a green. catlike head out from behind her. pulling free the Infinity Blade. leaf-ears perking up. . as if proud of having pulled the secret from him. How hard can it be to locate. they said the God King felt only one more soul was needed. she just grinned in a self-satisfied way.” “I know. that might have been enough.Instead of looking betrayed that he’d withheld the information from her.” she said.” He laughed. Isa pulled up. “I meant that jokingly. “No.
“that what you are doing is more than noble enough. “It was death. . and give him back his sword.” She grinned. It’s like .” she whispered. “So I don’t know. Fight the God King. And if you manage that. Well. Nobody could ask more of you. He still didn’t know what to make of her. I’d like to live a little. I was the Sacrifice.its makeshift sheath and continuing on. I lost my entire childhood. like I knew there was an enormous race in front of me. and that was it. Does that make sense?” “More than you could possibly imagine. “An end. yes. fingering the pommel of the Infinity Blade. “These last few weeks. You shall find this Worker. “I feel like my entire life has been controlled.” She moved the horse up beside him. they’ve taken that finish line from me. Want to bring freedom to your people? Well. listening. now you’ve got to fight him again. Oh. I trained. like a drowning man struggling to hold his head above water. you’re going to be fighting every moment of your life. . And maybe hundreds of other Deathless nobody has told you about.” she said. after which I could rest. Isa. just for myself. and someone has stolen my prize away. I should use it.” he continued. This sword is a lead weight at my side. you’ve got an entire Pantheon to worry about. but there was also a finish line. . She seemed to like it that way. I focused everything I had on facing the God King. “I think. He glanced at her. And you know what? Part of the reason I could do that was because I saw an end. but at least I knew exactly what I had to do. but I’m exhausted. you won.
” “Thanks.” Siris got a good look at Saydhi’s estates as they wound their way down around the side of a ridge. she’ll summon her current high champion. If he falls. He took a deep breath.” He eyed her.” “Supposedly. just streams. Defeat him. it appeared that this Deathless preferred sprawling estates with ornamental gardens. He’d feel less nervous if he could remember how he’d performed that True Pattern sword dance. “If she keeps her word. I shall then take the sword and sell it for a mountain of gold. “I fight my way there. Saydhi will probably watch from a distance to see if you’re entertaining enough. and that no Deathless claims it.“And if you die instead. One building stood out: an open-sided structure in the center of the gardens. I’ll just try to live.” “Sure. There were practically no walls. “I’ll make sure the Dark Barrower himself comes to take your soul. Instead of a castle. If you are. it will draw her attention and alert the other champions. though. and the occasional peaked building. pointing. stands of bamboo.” “Supposedly.” Isa admitted. “I’ll use it to throw you one hell of funeral party. and you get your answer. “You challenge the guard at the pathway in.” Isa said. I assume?” he said. His instincts—ones he hadn’t realized he had— . Make things boring. yes.” she promised solemnly.
” he eventually said. Did you realize that you were saying—” “Shut up. As they rode.” Isa raised an eyebrow at him as he unloaded his armor. He shouldn’t need that today. “Oh. “being turned into a golem. “I don’t recall. Then. their skill. he found himself increasingly nervous. and how they were surrounding you.” she said. She did lean down from horseback and rest her hand on his . and the one to use depended specifically on the number of attackers.” He met her eyes to let her know he was serious. Using the right form could end them all in a series of perfected strikes. “That’s what I am. stopping. “You wait here. I won’t have you joining. “These battles are one on one.” TEL said.” Isa said.” “I’m aware that you don’t need to do as I ask. at least. he’d assumed he knew the fight’s result. Using the wrong one meant leaving yourself wide open to multiple attackers. as he’d been expecting. He didn’t get an eye roll.” “Hey. instructed to obey your every command.whispered that the True Patterns were extraordinarily varied. “All right.” Siris said.” Siris said. My honor won’t allow it. These should be duels after the ancient ideal.” “I thought I was here to help. strapping on his left forearm guard.” “But not to interfere. “But you’re in no condition to fight. more so than when facing the God King.
. though she didn’t seem pleased about it. “You think that will work?” . . I die. not good. . It’s not about mercy or ruthlessness. but an implication that he can follow both. What will he do? The golem left.” Siris said.” she said. you’d just get yourself killed trying to grab it.shoulder. I need my cloak. I might be able to get you out before they finish you.” Siris said. then turned back and raised an eyebrow at Siris as he finished putting on his armor. If I fall. “If they recognize it for what it is.” “You wouldn’t be fast enough. “I need to rest for a bit before attempting this. If they don’t. “You’ll wait until I return?” TEL asked. “TEL.” “And the blade . also. Siris thought.” The golem fidgeted.” “Fighting won’t get it for you. “The Aegis Forms all include finishing strikes. it will be much easier for you to take by slipping in quietly. I’m afraid. “Of course. It was time to see how far he could push the creature’s subservience.” “All right.” Two conflicting commands.” “Your . . This is not good. “If you do fall.” he said.” Isa watched him go. cloak?” “I left it at the camp. “Oh. He probably realized that Siris had left the cloak intentionally. Not good at all . . it’s just how things are done. . muttering to himself. These are duels to the death.
This was where he excelled. Maybe if something goes wrong. . He stepped up.” She smiled wanly. This was familiar.” he said. “The Deathless have all the luck. toward a serene pathway of moss and overgrown stones. This time. He pulled on his helm. But I don’t trust that thing. armor clanking. “Yeah?” “I’ll try to sneak in after you.” “Don’t get yourself killed.” He marched out of the woods. belligerence. and I’d rather it be gone while I do this. . if he dropped it. Isa. I haven’t really lost anything.” “It’s a deal. he’d be able to get it back with speed. The duel began. You don’t need luck.” “Selective stupidity. “Wish me luck?” She shook her head. slender and lithe. that sounds like me. “Siris?” Isa said. I’ll be watching. He breathed the stuffy air inside the metal shell. Siris held his blade up in the posture of one requesting a formal duel. He did up the final straps at the side of his breastplate. and a bit of selective stupidity. Yes . whiskers. “I’ll promise that if you’ll do the same. . then tossed the sheath aside before attaching the transportation disc to the hilt of the blade.” He unsheathed the Infinity Blade. then. causing Siris to release a breath of relief. A daeril guard stood there. I can .“If it doesn’t. then pulled on his gauntlets and nodded toward her. . . The monster fell into a familiar stance. You need obstinance. They always have.
It had begun to drizzle again.” a feminine voice said from the building. stepping out into the dampened sunlight. It was a thing of beauty. The open-sided building was just ahead. he wore little armor.” Siris called. or he might have been a daeril. He could see someone sitting in the shadows there. He’d never before realized that a building could be a work of art. During such moments. set in a garden with bridges spanning ponds and slow streams. “I have come for my boon. The sky was dark with gloom and melancholy. He cherished that focus. he didn’t worry or wonder. then stepped from the pathway out into the open gardens. Siris breathed in and out inside his helm for a moment. a shield turning aside attacks. leaving his thick chest—bulging with both fat and muscle—bare. warrior. It began moving. The champion was a hulking brute who was almost big enough to be a troll. He could fight and seek the solace of a spinning blade. in a cushioned chair. dropping the beast like the others before him. with ornate carvings and subtle colors. he’d managed to forget all else—all but the duels. He might have been human beneath that evil silver mask. Either way. A larger figure stood beside the chair.Siris yanked his sword free of the chest of the last of the guards. “I seek the champion of Saydhi. For a time. .” “A little early to be making demands.
Insolent grub. shaking the building as he landed. a slim woman with a golden mask. hiding her face after the way of the Deathless and their servants.” Siris said harshly. Siris brushed past the dying creature. Siris attacked into the creature. The champion raised a huge machete-like sword and leaped down the steps. Siris battered aside the champion’s weapon. with a barrage of blows. then whipped it out. Choosing “champions” like this encourages these grubs to think themselves special. trying to . The champion started immediately. They use our fighting forms. Her armor gleamed with gold and straps of black leather. moving by instinct. but they are not worthy. Siris thought. Three quick blows. The skin split like water parting before a slimfish. We shouldn’t give them privileged positions. spinning it around back to the ready position.” said the woman under the pavilion. then slid the Infinity Blade forward. Time for the real challenge. Pathetic.Siris raised his blade. her voice curious. warrior?” He could see her better now. forcing Siris back. Siris pushed the blade in up almost to its hilt. Siris thought. “I have come for my boon. “Who taught you the Aegis Forms. The champion collapsed without a grunt. Raidriar was a fool. bleeding out on the pathway. “Impressive. Saydhi is a fool.
pedestrian?” she said. power.” “Something so . “The place once known as Saranthia. Riches. .” “A question.” she said. Those Dark Thoughts—they seemed like they’d consume him. rising and walking around him in a circle. The sword. women.control the tempest within him. “Whose child are you? Which immortal’s blood do you have in your veins?” “Answer my question.” she added. She recognizes it.” “Very well. “But you won’t. Even behind the shield. then climb the mountains to the north. Saydhi’s hand instead let loose a jet of fire. And. her armor clinking faintly. eyes narrowing. . Inspecting him. slay them. “I wish a question answered. of course. find glory in battle. You could duel my challengers. I treat my champions well. “What great mystery does your small mind ponder?” “Where can I find the prison that holds the Worker of Secrets?” The woman froze. the heat was nearly . His calmness was gone.” “The Vault of Tears. Siris raised his shield to parry the knife he assumed would be thrown. there would be other rewards.” she said with a sigh.” Her eyes flickered toward Siris’s hand. Take a ship due west until you strike land. raising an arm. You could find him there. She looked toward him. “You could be my new champion.
The thoughts made him miscalculate. The Deathless held it for a moment. He forced himself to raise his sword and made the sign of one offering a challenge. forcing him to keep his distance. The metal on his side grew so hot it scorched his skin. She removed a tall. He could almost hear it humming. He rounded her as she swung the polearm out. where her armor joined. Not as good as the God King had been— but Siris was wounded this time. and he thought he caught a sign of guilt in her posture. Siris was ready. Driving him to kill. his shield steaming. to take this woman’s domain as his own. The sword in his hand began to glow softly. despite the burning at his side. and his slice took only a small cut—a spray of blood—from the weak point at her side. He stumbled backward.overwhelming. slender pole from its place beside her throne. Siris felt as if he was going to suffocate within his armor. turning his head and gasping for fresh air. The flames stopped and he turned back toward her. driving him to dominate. He threw himself into the duel. She was good. giving no other warning. then attacked. and his shield didn’t completely block the flames. after the ancient ideal. She lowered her hand. golden blade affixed to one end. insidious. The weapon had a long. trying to focus despite the Dark Thoughts within. He tried to come in from the side. And there were those thoughts. .
. “I wonder whom to test the sword on. his fingernails curled in his gauntlets. like the ones he’d used. Raidriar himself. he stood— —and in a fluid motion. in the sensation of sudden motion. She gasped. then charring. He had simply grown accustomed to his foes not having that advantage. Siris attacked. His hair grew. He activated his ring. . He knew she had a ring. his skin searing. His heartbeat. but you can’t . smelling the acrid smell of his own burning flesh. His armor instantly became an oven. . Siris screamed.Saydhi backed away. “No . . and the pain vanished. perhaps? He thinks he can saunter in here whenever—” Siris stopped listening. fast as a drumbeat. right under the breastplate. He should have prepared for it. letting out a burst of fire. The fire took him in the chest. She raised her polearm in one hand and—ring recharged—turned her other palm at him. dropping to his knees. She stared at that sword. “Is it true?” she whispered.” He ripped the blade free and stepped back. His breathing. he rammed the Infinity Blade up into her chest. driven by the Dark Thoughts. The healing came in a rush of energy and new skin. There was a tremor to her voice. She chuckled. lowering her hand. and his mind was not clear. he could see her eyes behind the mask. As she stepped to him. like a thundering river. It crusted against the metal intended to protect him. the sword . in and out.
so using it as a key had been rational. and desperate. I’ve killed another. hoping for another mirror that could answer his questions. with a familiar shape carved into its front. she was quite pretty. He froze. Placing the Infinity Blade into it. in case other Deathless —or guards—came. Had her answer about the Worker been truth. carrying a chill wind that blew through his faceplate. There had been one similar to this in the dungeon of the God King’s castle.glowing with a pulsing flash that matched the one coming from Saydhi’s own body. however. It built. That had made sense—the God King possessed the only Infinity Blade. like a concentrated bonfire. he did see something that he hadn’t noticed before. It had also been effective. That strike hadn’t been part of the forms. just to be certain. guttural. . Siris fell to his knees. so he checked her throne. to an extent. No signs of life. like a key. He didn’t find one. he thought. His armor still felt hot enough to burn him. then burst out of her in an explosion of light. though not as badly as it had before. had opened a pathway to the dungeons. open-walled building. then rose. Behind the throne. He didn’t want to remain too long. it had been brutal. Underneath her mask. gasping for breath in the quiet. He shook his head. For now he seemed alone. She collapsed. A few leaves blew past. A small stone obelisk. then checked on the fallen Deathless. or was that a lie? He stumbled to his feet.
“I know you killed the prisoners there. It fit perfectly. The voice . “That will not work. even with the change. What is happening? he thought. hell. Siris snapped his fingers together again.But this obelisk also had the imprint of the Infinity Blade on it. What would it open? What secrets would he— The obelisk dropped sharply into the ground.” The God King strolled past—Siris could see where he’d come from. nothing made sense.” the God King noted. he knew that voice. The creature wore new armor. What was it really? Did all of the Deathless have these obelisks—and if so. Desperate. Siris recognized him. a doorway that had risen up from the grass beside the building.” Siris spun. Not to mention Archarin. Suddenly. “Yes. Reacting quickly. shaped somewhat like he’d worn before.” a voice said speculatively. Siris snapped his three fingers together to summon the blade back. Oh. which is a pity. He was a useful servant. Nothing happened. “You opened the pathway to my dungeons. The God King stood behind him. “You don’t think . and it was in Saydhi’s gardens. But when? He hesitated. slipping the Infinity Blade into the ‘keyhole’ of the obelisk. “I thought you might fall for that. then stepped forward. could they open them? He raised a gauntleted hand to his helm. almost organic in feel.” the God King said. . . I’ve been lied to at some point along the way.
surrounding the building. “I’d hand them out to those who pleased me. I’ve been using my ring to listen in.” “Oh.” He looked at Siris.” “I . Quite useful. You sought out my lineage. You were using him as a spy?” “The transgolem?” the God King asked.” Siris said. Pity. these are. “Though I’m more and more certain that you do not. “No. I know what you are. A group of knights in black strode out.” the God King said. “I do believe she was planning on taking the sword and betraying me.” The God King prodded at Saydhi’s body with his foot. .” “Of course you did. I suppose you did me a favor by killing her. The God King was here. and so they fought for my favor. shaking his head. amused. “No lies. a smile to his voice.” A large portion of the ground cracked near the building. I do wish I knew who sent that transgolem to spy on you. TEL. “Excellent listening devices. One . Why do you think I gave them to my minions?” Siris felt cold. “So you do live.we’d create a means of teleportation without creating a means of blocking it as well? The transportation ring will not work as long as the sword is properly shielded. and a rectangular chamber rose from beneath. “I never thought one of my foes would actually be able to use them. never knowing that their prizes were the means by which I took care they wouldn’t betray me.” Siris struggled to make sense of what was happening.” the God King continued. You know what I am. .
sword raised. Ausar?” He pulled the blade back to strike. Never you.” “And I do believe that was the only time in your awful life you ever showed honor to another. who couldn’t back up any farther without hitting the knights. She shouldn’t have been there. “What of honor?” Siris demanded. . “Thank you for returning this to me. She lied! Siris thought.” “Give me a sword. walking up to Siris. a dark figure crawled along the top of a low landscaping wall.” “What? I fought you with honor.” the God King said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. “But not you.carried a cloth-wrapped bundle over to the God King. who reached into it and took out the Infinity Blade. She carried her crossbow. both in horror and incredulity.” he said to Siris. It wasn’t that hard to fix after all! He laughed. “There are some I give honor. . The God King hesitated.” The God King spoke softly.” The God King chuckled. I don’t think I’ll put myself into that position again.” The God King stepped down from the building. Siris spotted something moving on the other side of the court. Ausar. “I’ve been worried about its safety. What did you do to yourself. “Duel me!” “I think not. Isa. Behind the knights. surprised me. “You really don’t. I killed you with honor. None of the guards saw her.” Siris said. raising the blade so that the tip touched Siris’s neck. do you? Ironic. they were focused on him. You . voice growing cold. . last time.
and pulled the trigger. streaking across the garden between the knights. It hit Siris directly in the forehead. . It probably won’t even stop him.Isa lowered her crossbow at the God King’s back. It— She turned the bow fractionally. It won’t kill him. The bolt flew. It won’t work. Siris thought. so it pointed past the God King.
” the God King said. “We leave. turning and pointing. The assassin had a horse. great master?” one of his knights said. suddenly feeling exposed. though people still tried. An assassination attempt on him was meaningless. The God King froze. A dark figure was already dashing down the pathway out of the gardens. Burn the body. “It is just a husk.Chapter Eight Ausar’s body jerked with a sudden snap.” He walked into the lift as his knights obeyed his orders and secured the area. he heard hoofbeats. An assassin? Had that bolt been meant for him? He gestured. That had not been part of his plan. “What of this. defensible border. The God King growled. In the near distance. now. and three of his knights charged after the assassin. He strode toward the lift that would take him down into the undercomplex of Saydhi’s estates. then toppled back to the ground. The God King was disquieted. Too much had gone wrong lately. It was nearly impossible to create a good. “You may take the armor as a prize—and recover my ring for me. Saydhi had left her estates far too open by living in gardens like this. “What is this!” he roared.” he said. kicking at Ausar’s fallen body. He’d deliberately kept the people of this island from knowing the .
So long as they thought they could kill him. I’d . Isa sat in the corner. No. on the floor. You were one of them. counting to myself. really. viscous goo dripping from his chin. an assassination attempt wasn’t what disquieted him. “I’m one of them.” “I sat there for hours.” she said. He raised a trembling hand to feel his cheek. Siris awoke with a deep gasp. Not at him. That it had been meant for the target it had struck.” he whispered.true nature of the Deathless. I sat there. What worried him. I knew it. He sat up with a jerk. was the chance that the bolt hadn’t been meant for him. “Damnation. something liquid and gel-like sliding from his naked torso. someone had known to kill Ausar before the God King could strike with the Infinity Blade. that first night. as the lift began to lower. And that meant someone understood far more than they should. staring straight ahead. He was sitting a metal tub in a dark room. “I watched your chest go up and down. It was the uncontrolled gasp of one who had been without breath for too long. they’d focus their rebellion on assassins and warriors sent to challenge him. If that were the case. Terrified. “I watched you.” a voice whispered. He turned to the side. which was lit only by a few flickering red lights. The gasp of the dead returning to life. He breathed in and out. her knees up and her dark coat spread on the metallic floor around her. I’d seen you use one of their rings. Not at anything.
” Siris whispered. . Too perfect to be completely human. . You were lying to me. “I didn’t think it a betrayal.” Isa whispered. my fears won. since you had obviously lied to me.” he said. . “You’ve probably lived thousands of years. .” “I was frozen. . then wiped goo from his face. raising his hands to his head. What was I to do? Should I act upon the lies I knew you held close. . “Watching you lie there. or on the honesty I saw in your eyes? It was not an easy choice. “I’ve lied to myself too.” He closed his eyes. I thought. Pretending honesty. . apparently. Obviously .” She looked up and met his eyes across the small chamber. . I knew I should strike you down. This can not be possible.heard you claim to have killed the God King with his own sword. . it can’t be true . In the depth of the night. Why else would one of the Deathless act as if he were a mortal?” “I didn’t know. “Do you really not remember anything?” she asked. You fought like a god. a creature from another time. “I . take the sword. groaning. Hell take me . “And yet. pretending kindness. “you’d been kind to me. like a .” Siris coughed. . You were making sport of me.” “All I know is my own life. spouting all of that nonsense about a Sacrifice. “Growing up in Drem’s .” she said. You fought like one of them. A warrior cannot learn such skill in one lifetime.” He blinked. trying to get some of the gunk out of his mouth. growing quieter.
By childhood.” She mocks me. By his twentieth year. . .” She raised an eyebrow. he’d have been named a duelmaster in any major city. “A depth to them. They had whispered that Siris was too good. That he learned too quickly. .” he protested. Memories from his childhood. . too perfect to be completely human anymore .” he whispered. . you fought like a god . Sudden flashes of arrogance. An awareness blossomed in him. Those thoughts weren’t external. “It was corrupting me. .Maw. . A real part of him. . . “I’m just a person. being told I was the Sacrifice.” “The Infinity Blade. to defeat the Deathless. a regular person. Kill her. . “That’s what I used to .” “You don’t fight like one. Seeking the God King. “Why would a weapon built to free mankind.” He took a deep breath. corrupt the one using it?” “I . he’d been able to fight as well as any of them. “That’s who I was .” she said. in and out. a . . . Veterans who had left the God King’s service and come to train the Sacrifice. . change to you. opening his eyes. By his teenage years. They were a part of him.” He tried to banish the thoughts that came next. he had been good enough to defeat the God King. “I’ve seen something in your eyes. occasionally. Hell take me.
. copies of himself. He hesitated. Oh . He didn’t want them. He began pushing the goo from his body as best he could. I didn’t know if the rebirth would work with the clothing on. “It would have. . waiting for him. fully armored. . He banished those memories by reflex.” she said. keeping the large. I peeled off what clothing was left.” “It looked a lot like this. Verity . with a few of these tubs full of goo in them. and didn’t even have the decency to blush. then climbed out on the side opposite her. He had . who kept himself isolated. “That’s all I could find.” Siris wished he had a towel. who acted like he ruled everyone.” he said. He didn’t want to know anything of that man. Hated him. Your own clothing was burned. I had to haul what was left of you here. . waist-high tub between the two of them for some modesty’s sake. the one who thought the Dark Thoughts. One of them. He hated them. Damn Avrians. He hated who he had been.” He could almost remember it. The chamber was all metal. then realized he was completely naked. I saw the God King’s rebirthing chamber. You were badly burned. “Who are you?” Isa asked. “I wish I knew. .” It was a lie. . The man who hated all things. Siris shook his head and started to climb out of the tank. . “My clothing?” She nodded toward a pedestal beside the tank. The God King had named him Ausar. No.be. “I think there’s a hose beside the tub.” “I don’t know if you saw what you think you did.
Gathering you was not a pleasant experience—for me. . “On the mountainside?” “Yes. “And I didn’t know if a crossbow bolt would stop him. I do that. “I won’t even mention the chase I had to go through to get away from his minions. Kill you with the blade. Well. who carried you here.” she said.” .” she said. water gushing out over his arm. “You should be grateful. It took a couple of weeks. However. I assumed that some of the facts I’d heard were true. The tub repaired your corpse and started it breathing again.” “You broke your promise. they’d burned your corpse. you know. . well. . if your corpse is placed in one of these things. . Father always said it was a bad habit.” “You’d have preferred the alternative?” she snapped. . disturbed. I didn’t know what to think any longer.She was right. She’d killed him to save him. but all of this was coming at him so quickly.” Siris froze. “I assume we’re in the chamber you visited that once?” he asked. or for Nams. “He was going to kill you. the soul will seek it instead. He should have realized it before. You killed me. “I knew I couldn’t fight through to you. and your soul returned. If you’d been left alone. . I gambled. “This place seemed the best choice.” He continued washing. what I thought . When I finally got back. your soul would have sought out a new body. I knew . The water was cold. I didn’t know if you were .
“You said your ancestors fought the God King. “You’ve been waiting here with me for weeks?” She said nothing. .“Weeks?” he said. Have you considered that you didn’t have a father or a grandfather? At least. . the Sacrifice . You weren’t born.” she said. “That your father. your grandfather. so he finished washing and started dressing. Something big. Siris. I think the God King’s minions left them behind.” Isa said.” he said.” Isa said. staring forward again. I remember it. I’m . I don’t know how to explain that. “I need armor. “I just . He was stunned by the coldness he saw in her eyes.” “I . “Saydhi’s guards. Isa sat in silence.” She shrugged. As he was stomping on the boots.” Questions for another time. “Something in there is a lie. if you did.” He nodded. they’ve been dead for thousands upon thousands of years?” “But . “I took it from one of the champions you killed. . “Isa . .” “I grew up as a child.” “You might be able to take some off one of the fallen daerils. went to fight and died. She wasn’t the only one. then looked to her. . Siris affixed the sword’s sheath to his belt. . A sword. This entire experience seemed to have disturbed her greatly. . Siris. Isa slid something across the floor toward him. .” she said softly. . . “You’re one of them.
You can disappear. Isa regarded that hand. He wanted to overthrow you. and influence. .having trouble with this. . now.” he began again. No responsibilities. . He held out his hand.” Siris said firmly. “Isa . Finally. “I won’t let myself be. She was right.” “And what would you give the Worker?” she asked. I know where to find the Worker of Secrets. So why go? “You wanted freedom. “What will you do?” she asked. and he doesn’t know where to find you—if he even cared to. lands. I think he won’t bother. He could escape. the Dark Thoughts said. No expectations. “He created a weapon to kill the Deathless. You’re free.” The realization hit him like a clap of thunder. she turned away. “You can’t deliver him the Infinity Blade. the God King has his weapon back. live his life. Siris. focusing on Deathless with armies. Well. “Will you come with me?” he found himself asking. Siris.” She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered visibly. She looked sick.” “But he’s your enemy. One of them. “Before she died. . He was a monster. knuckles white. . Shemsta macorabi natornith na . then looked up at his eyes.” she said.” “I’m not one of them. He found himself gripping the side of the reincarnation tub. Saydhi answered my question. She knows too much about you. Kill her.
Siris. .” she said. and faint sunlight shone into the metallic tunnel. stronger than ever. that’s where I need to be. . walking down the hallway. “I came for the Infinity Blade. .” he said.” She stood in the doorway. . Everything I’ve been. I’m not myself . “Isa. Everything that I am . I’m sorry. . That’s . . “All right. “I release you from your oath.” “I’m still me. and she left him.” she said. he thought. he admitted. right now. “It’s a promise.” She walked toward the exit. “If when we meet next. I know that’s not fair. He tried to say otherwise to Isa. The Dark Thoughts prowled inside of him. then lay back. if I’ve become one of them. truly . She paused. Isa. Don’t you think I have better things to do?” He smiled. He heard a door open. I want you to do what you need to.” he said. but .” “My oath?” “Not to kill me. it’s complicated. “I’m going to follow after it. “I’ve killed you once already. “You’re one of them. and he hoped for a wisecrack. .” He felt cold. Siris sat down on the steel floor.” she said.“I don’t know what I think. . Something like. . but the words wouldn’t come out. “Are you completely?” Not completely. No jokes came. . .” “Are you?” she asked.
but she locked the door! I hid outside for weeks. so bad! Oh.” Siris said. bad. I could not get small enough to slip in. didn’t I?” “Oh.” Siris said in a commanding voice. terrible day!” “TEL. His home wasn’t his real home. It’s me. They showed fragments of a life—a very. “. Soon he recognized it. quivering.” the golem said. “Master. but he could see them now. Oh dear!” TEL scrambled into the small cavelike room. then he looked at the tub and screeched in what sounded like horror. . His mother wasn’t really his mother. bad. He froze as he saw Siris. Before my memories went away. “I am your master. returning? He heard a voice. I followed her here. He stood up. If this was true. a thing no longer truly human. Those hadn’t been there before he’d died. I ordered you to watch over me. hopeful. The little golem fell to his knees. very bad. bad! Oh dear. “Bad. “Stop!” The golem fell silent. Isa. then he was ancient. Shadows within his memory. “The Deathless you spy for. aren’t I. this is bad. very long life— that he’d led. . He could remember some things. Sounds came at the doorway. I tried! I tried. He wore his stick body and robe. I’m supposed to destroy the body! Orders! My commands! You must be reborn as a child! Oh. . fragments. getting closer. blue gemstone eyes searching about nervously.is a lie.
Dead. so wrong! You .” Siris said. . does it? The realization was surreal. master! Each rebirth. and to think herself married to the former Sacrifice—just as you ordered! I made her move to a new town where she would not be known. I brought you as a baby to young women. I tried. perhaps. It was of good make. But this is wrong.” “Tell me about my births as a child. as Isa suggested.She locked the door each time she went out. “Terrible memories. . master.” Siris said softly. the armor would be gruesome to recover. “You will speak to me. He’d need armor. I tried. . . will have memories . so many things no longer had a cost.” The golem hushed. That doesn’t really matter anymore. Terrible. he’d likely end up . “I did as commanded. I promise. If he did that. She watched for me. . If the God King had left the bodies. terrible. “TEL. Was this how the Deathless felt? If he couldn’t die . .” he said. before?” . . Hell take me. Detached from himself. feeling numb. he thought. he could recover some from the fallen Aegis he had killed in the gardens below. The golem whimpered.” “I know. finding you a home so you could grow up from childhood! I altered the woman’s memory to think you her son. He looked over the sword Isa had found him. The Dark Thoughts within seemed pleased. . “Who was I.” Siris said. but not as gruesome as going into combat without it.
“I am commanded not to speak of that,” TEL said. “Commanded.” “But I am the one who commanded you. I now rescind that command.” “Not possible, not possible,” TEL said. “You said I cannot. I will not.” Siris sighed. Fine. I can work on that one later. “Who was the one who claimed to be my ancestor, the one I killed in the chamber beneath the God King’s palace? Did slaying him truly awaken the Infinity Blade?” “It did, master.” “But he wasn’t really my ancestor,” Siris said, frowning. “He couldn’t have been. If this is all true . . . I have no ancestors. At least, not any that would still be alive.” “I . . .” “Speak,” Siris commanded, finding that a voice of authority came to him easily, but unexpectedly. “He was your son, master,” TEL said, cringing. “Sometimes, you did not fight the God King. Sometimes, some generations, I could not change enough memories to make you the Sacrifice. Other times, you refused to come. That man . . . he was a child of yours, during a generation when you married, grew old, and had children. That one was chosen as the Sacrifice in your stead. He joined the God King instead of fighting him.” Siris blinked in surprise. Hell take me . . . I was married? Had children? How many times? He didn’t remember any of it, not specifics, but he suddenly felt empty.
“Dying and being reborn in one of these vats, rather than as a child,” he said. “It returns my memories?” “Brings the terrible memories!” TEL said. “Oh, it shouldn’t have happened like this. They must be wiped away, master. If we wipe away your memories each time, have you born as a child, it will keep them away. But now . . .” “It will grow worse?” he said grimly. “Much worse,” TEL said softly. “Each rebirth will make it worse. You will become him again, master. HIM.” So there was a cost. A terrible one. If the Dark Thoughts, the shadow upon his mind, were who he had been, and if dying would return him to that . . . Well, that seemed worse than dying and not reawakening. “I’ll be certain not to die again, then,” he said. He hesitated. “But if I do, TEL, you are to bring me here. To be reborn, with my memories.” “Master,” TEL whispered. “Better to become a child again. Much, much better.” It was tempting. He could banish all of this. Would that not be freedom? But if that was the case . . . “Why the Sacrifice, TEL?” he asked. “There wasn’t one, at first, master,” TEL said. “You’ve always hated Raidriar, and I think you responded to his search for someone to use in activating the Infinity Blade. You went to fight him in one of your generations, and he took note of you, thought you were a child of one of the other Deathless. “He created the Sacrifice, the entire tradition. And you . . . you often wanted to go fight him, and when I didn’t make
you the Sacrifice, you’d declare yourself to be the one who had to fight him. It seemed best to just start making you, and others around you, think you were the son of the former Sacrifice. People had started to remark on the similarity in your features, you see . . .” So most of those champions who had fought the God King, they had been Siris. Each time, him again, in a different life. He could just vaguely remember. Coming to the God King’s palace, falling while fighting him. Time and time again. He shivered at those fragments of memories. The God King didn’t know, Siris thought. He had located
what he thought was the bloodline of a Deathless. He must have discovered the truth only recently.
So many lives. So many failures. But I could run, Siris thought, standing in that quiet steel cavern. His womb. I could be free. I have enough of my
old memory to be aware, but not so much that I’m corrupted. It was perfect. A chance to live a life free from
obligations. And if he did that, he left the God King with incredible power. A weapon, finally active, that could kill other Deathless. Siris left his people, his mother, in bondage. He stood for a long time, eyes closed, breathing in and out. Hand on the hilt of his sword.
Finish what you began. . . .
He was in a perfect position to run, but he was also in a perfect position to fight. A man who had the powers of the Deathless, but the mind, passions, and honor of a common
at least. even if he didn’t remember. Saving the world.” He shoved the Dark Thoughts away. I command it of you. TEL falling into place beside him. “If I die. Did he really have honor? All through his childhood. “Will you do it. With my memories. TEL?” The golem whimpered.man.” “I will obey. you will bring me back here to be reborn.” Siris said.” he said. And then we will find a way to fight back. striding forward. . “I will free him. Apparently he would hold to some of his former commands. What would he do with that choice? He opened his eyes. but there was leeway with others. he’d probably already done everything on the list a hundred times over. that was something he was certain he’d never done. his life had been set out for him. Honor. “We are going to locate the Worker of Secrets. “TEL. He now realized that these last few weeks had been the first chances he’d had to choose for himself. For now. . But because he chose to. though . For the time being. the list he’d written in his logbook would wait.” Not because it was meant to be. “TEL. The truth was.” the golem whispered. .
and among the best covers to grace a project of mine. Bert Lewis. and everyone at Epic Games. The cover art by Adam Ford and Donald Mustard is brilliant. As always. Infinity Blade is their story. Scott Stoddard. The layout is all his doing. Brandon Campos. Simon Hurley. Donald and Geremy Mustard were the ones who envisioned the first game and gave me the seeds of the story that became this book. Michael Low. Orlando Barrowes. for her excellent publicity and marketing help. and are downright wonderful chaps. They have had a lot of input into how it has turned out. thanks for reading. Finally. obviously. John Farnsworth. was at his best on this book— working long hours not just wearing the hat of a copyeditor. Scott Bowen. . Donald's wife. would not even exist without the folks at ChAIR Entertainment.Acknowledgments This project. No less useful is Laura Mustard. Josh Andersen. many thanks to the people at ChAIR. My assistant. Nathan Trewartha. Jim Brown. the infused Peter Ahlstrom. but doing continuity and content editing as well. who is a pretty mean editor himself. and I've merely climbed on for the ride. Most notably.
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