WHEN COMES THE FIRETIDE | PART TWO: EMERGENTS
Chapter Fourteen: Moebius Transformations
The Kestrel Purlieu, Southern border of the Kestrel Pine Barrens
Apex, 2nd Som Justice, month of Foundations 8178
First day of the Vernal Equinox, also known as ReBirth
Conscious or unconscious, the group had casually surrounded her. Gregoire and the Lamane stood before her, Hereth and Atirian to her right, Zakeriel and Revas to her left. Others milled about behind her, undoubtedly soldiers prepared to answer the order of their Commander. J’reth had not yet dared leave the promenade above, watching from a respectful distance, but present nonetheless. As if wrangling a wild animal, the Commander raised his hands and crooned in a soothing voice, lulling her into complacency and calm.
“Let us speak first, then decisions can be made. They are going no where, can do no harm.”
“No harm?!” Khes snarled.
“Mith’erahsh…” Atirian murmured, repeating the same in her mind as he sensed what she was about to threaten, feared what she would do without right or fair warning.
A hand flew up before his face, fingers sprawled like the legs of a leaping spider. “Shall I show you, share with you the harm that has been done?! What a head bounced on stone feels like? What fangs in your shoulder and a blade in one’s gut– counting the minutes to your death feels like whilst battling an epicyon in the pitch black and snow? The weight of that beast on a small Erahs frame? The weight of a Ganroth holding that same small body over an altar by her hair to stare at hundreds of gouged eyes and severed ears and limbs of brethren and Shae FEELS LIKE? DO YOU NEED FEEL THIS TO KNOW HARM?!”
~Mith’erahsh… be calm.~
“I WILL NOT BE CALM!” She spun on Atirian. “HOW CAN YOU?! You have shared this with Zakeriel and I! HOW ARE BOTH OF YOU SO BLOODY CALM?!”
It was Hereth that stepped forward and dipped a head low to whisper, “because they have not lived with the constant threat of powerlessness from the moment womanhood was thrust upon them. Control was always theirs and the threat of it being taken away is a rare thing.”
Khes’ bottom lip quivered as her eyes burned, Hereth’s own as well. “If you need to share, share with me, Khes. Words are enough. I already know the rest.”
The Lamane shook his head and grunted under his breath. “On about this bullpish again. Set you straight with a man afterall didn’t it? Still complainin–”
The force of Zakeriel’s fist into the man’s mouth hurtled him back and over the chair behind him. Osian hit the floor with a wail and a groan, then scrambled as the knight stormed around to stand over him. “One more tellorath word out of you and I won’t stop. Understand me? I don’t care if my father was the bloody god of compassion. You’ve used it up.” The air seered with a hatred that threatened to set fire to every stick of furniture near them. “Respect every person breathing or lose your right to. Your ears working, old man?”
Terrified, the man bobbed his head, holding his bleeding mouth and flinching as Zakeriel stepped over him and faced the others. His eyes fell on Khes and Hereth, holding the latter’s gaze. Pointing over his shoulder, he apologetically stammered, “I’m sorry, did you want to– …I probably should have let you do that.”
“No, that was… beautifully done, actually.” Hereth nodded approval. “Doubt it’ll stick though.”
Zakeriel shrugged, “daily training keeps me and the boys fit. It will eventually sink in.” He glowered over his shoulder again. As Gregoire lightly pat his shoulder to encourage him to move on, Hereth gave the two a sidelong glance then gestured to the upper ward if Khes wanted to walk with them.
Atirian urged her with more than just words. ~Go on Mith’Erahsh. Let the air ease the heat of your ire. The rest of us can speak with Gregoire and Bazl.~
~I am not just letting this go.~
The upper ward was not used for defense as the lower ward. It faced the cliffs, so what little gardening and the few livestock they kept were here. Yahlin must have insisted upon it being at least a little decorative, primroses and other climbing and flowering plants lined the peristyle. Hereth was clever. It had the intended soothing effect, as did the swallows and finches that playfully weaved about in the rafters and bushes. Still forgetting at times that her hair was gone, Khes hung her head to hide as she had always done since childhood. There was no such security.
“You’ve a right to be angry,” Hereth emphatically informed her. “Do not let those penis-bearing dolts try to tell you otherwise. Like my brother, they just don’t want to look at the damage done by such things, take responsibility for their own complacency.”
In a swift draw and twirl of her dagger, Khes severed a rose from a bush as they passed and sheathed the blade without breaking stride. Hereth sniffed and nodded with an expression of admiration. “I think it is doubly hard on people like us, ones so capable at defending ourselves.”
Brushing the petals of the flower along her cheek, the woman’s brow knit. “Atirian insists nothing happened. Aside from her somehow severing our bond, she just knocked me out with her magic. J’reth too. An Old Magic hex that stole my memory. That it was her and Maris everyone saw.”
“Doesn’t matter what anyone says though, does it? You don’t remember, so you won’t ever really know, no matter how much you trust the person who assures you.”
Voice weak and heart pounding, Khes gasped, “yes. Why can’t they understand that?”
“They do not understand why we do not simply accept their word. After all, they know best, they are law, they are the pillars of all society. How dare we doubt or question?” Hereth held out a hand and brushed fingers along the cold stone of the walls within which they lived for so long. “No one drugged me or used magic ON me. I used my gift to escape… every bloody chance I got. I would go as far as my ability was able to take me, travel all of Tybraes if I could. Watched the Avali migrate across the Barrens. Walked the streets of Enoa Vale. Climbed the Fangs. Anywhere I could reach.”
“Someone you knew?”
“Someones… men under my brother’s employ. Two of them still here.” Hereth’s hand recoiled from the wall and they brought them behind their back to clasp tightly. “My meditations were very deep to be able to travel as far as I did. In that vast empty hole of memory, I only know… enough.”
Both fell silent as they meandered the walk until they drew too near where others were working. Stopping, they leaned at the stone rail and Khes stared at the flower she had cut. Tiny insects crawled at the center and the longer she studied it she began to see little knicks, a curled brown edge on a petal. The lovely white blossom looked less and less perfect, less and less beautiful.
“Osian believes because you are with Gregoire–”
“That his boys ‘fixed’ his broken sister.” Hereth lifted their chin. “Blind tello-dkun. Couldn’t make him understand it no matter how much Zakeriel makes him bleed. Can’t beat ignorance and hatred out of people.”
“That wasn’t really about you.”
“I know. He’s a good kid, though… and it is nice to have someone speaking up for a change. I get tired of fighting. Gets too easy to just keep my head down. As easy as it is hard.”
Khes set the flower in front of Hereth. “He knows that.”
“Like I said, good kid.”
Heart heavy and tears balancing on the rims of her eyes, but far too stubborn to fall, Khes leaned against Hereth. Their superior height was almost a surrogate for the nurturing of a parent. “What do I do now?”
“Same thing we always do, girl… fight on. Killing that sorceress bitch won’t change a damn thing, won’t even make you feel better.” Hereth picked up the flower and smelled it. “So many unknowns in the world that are terrifying if we spend too much time thinking about them. Just lump it on that pyre and burn them all.”
Looking down at her, Hereth held her gaze a moment then murmured, “well, he doesn’t really know either, does he? And from what I understand, that woman has threatened him with some pretty nasty stuff in the past. Maybe he’s a bit less of an enemy, bit more of a commiserating victim?”
“I just…” she gripped the stone ledge and pulled against it, bowing forward as she struggled with her conflicting thoughts.
“Every other tellorath thing we thought we knew was wrong, yeah?” Hereth rubbed her back. “What’s the harm in accepting one more? Talk to him. If you were right all along, he’s pretty… leave him a mark to remember his mistakes.”
With a gentle pat on her shoulder, the Shae cleared their throat to draw her attention up before starting away. Lifting her head, Khes spotted J’reth leaning against an arch column on the far side of the cloister. Naturally, he had followed them. Making eye contact, she could see he was waiting for permission to approach. Looking away, she swiped at her eyes, then hopped up to sit on the stone banister.
The Venerate took his time, gave her a moment to collect herself and be at peace. Crossing back under the peristyle, he remained by the arch, a good three paces between them. His respectfulness was surprising given her memories of him. Before her capture he had always been in her personal space, as close to her as he could be at every opportunity. When he just stood saying nothing, she looked to him and muttered, “well…?”
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