unknown, could be 15 Coloine still
Now that I’ve recovered from the kathana, I’m going to write everything down because, as is often the case, writing helps me stay sane when everything around me is confusion and strangeness. And then I’ll figure out what to do next.
As I wrote, I went to stand where I was the first thing visible to anyone coming through the door. Soldiers entered, silent except for the sound of their boots on the fancy wooden floor. It was eerily like the way they’d made a double file in the circle chamber, just before Vorantor was killed, and I think everyone felt the same way, because the mages all drew in together, into a loose clump near the middle of the room that put them behind me. Cederic came to stand beside me, not touching me, but his presence was a comfort—not enough to dispel all my anxiety, but still a comfort.
For a few seconds more, I held out hope that it was Aselfos, that I’d be able to reason with him or at least threaten him with more of the walk-through-walls pouvra, and then the God-Empress came through the door, and the hard, cruel look on her face dispelled any hope that this might end well for anyone. I tried not to look as despairing as I felt and waited, because I didn’t think I had any chance at tricking or manipulating her with words.
“Sesskia,” the God-Empress said, “you are God’s choice. Do you understand what that means?”
“No, Renatha, I don’t,” I said.
“Your magic is God’s gift, direct from her without need for all this scribbling,” the God-Empress said. “You should have been most high priestess from the beginning.”
“Thank you, Renatha, it is a gift—” I began.
“Do not waste my time, Sesskia, we all know no one deserves my gifts,” the God-Empress said. “And I have been especially generous with you. You are God’s choice. You will stand by God’s side today.”
“I—all right, Renatha,” I said, though I could sense Cederic going tense beside me. “How can I serve God?”
The God-Empress smiled. “We have rebellion,” she said. “There are fools who have chosen to fight against God. My army is going to war, Sesskia, and you will use your magic against the enemy, you and every mage here. Bring what you need, scribblers, and we’ll leave this place now.”
“The convergence is upon us,” Cederic said. “If we do not perform this kathana now, the world will face destruction that will make your battle irrelevant.”
“Your excuses are what’s irrelevant, Cederic Aleynten,” the God-Empress said. “God will not allow her world to be destroyed. Do you really want to disobey God?”
“You must surely have felt the signs of the convergence,” Cederic said. “We need more time.”
The God-Empress turned her mad eyes on me. “You gave me everything in exchange for him,” she said. “Command him. You are God’s choice.”
“No,” I said. “And he wouldn’t obey that command anyway.”
I don’t think anyone’s said no to the God-Empress in her life. For a moment, her eyes went wide and her jaw slack. Then she said, “Take them.”
I was too slow. So were the mages. Before I had time to do more than circle the God-Empress with fire, several of our mages were grabbed by soldiers and pinned against the walls or held tight with knives to their throats or hearts. One of them was Audryn.
Terrael brought his slate up and raised his stubby piece of chalk as if it were one of those sharp knives, and I shouted, “No!” though I had no idea what he intended to do with those unlikely weapons. “Let them go, Renatha,” I said, making the fire blaze hotter.
“Burn me, and my soldiers kill every one of them,” she said with a cruel smile. “You always were the soft one, Sesskia. How you can wield such power and still be so weak baffles me. Command them, or they die.”
I felt weak right then. I could have killed the God-Empress, and ended that threat, but some of our mages would have died before the rest could defend themselves—at the time I didn’t know how effective that defense could be. Maybe I should have killed her. It would have changed everything.
But all those deaths…like I said, I felt weak, unable to condemn people I cared about, especially Audryn, to death. I dismissed the fire and said, “Let them go. We’ll do as you ask,” thinking that we’d find a way out of it, that Cederic would see a solution I didn’t.
Instead, he raised both his hands and began rapidly scribing th’an on the air. Several soldiers screamed and dropped their weapons, their hands turning red like the coals of a blacksmith’s fire. “Get out!” he shouted, and I turned to use the fire-starting pouvra on the rest of the soldiers while some of the mages began to move and others, those holding their boards, began scrawling on them.
A few more soldiers shouted in pain as their skin began to smoke. But there were too many of them, and we were all weary from lack of sleep, and we still weren’t fast enough. Two mages screamed as knives found their mark, more soldiers tackled Cederic and immobilized his hands, and still more soldiers went to block the exit, their swords drawn. More mages went down to those blades, and the rest of us fell back, away from the carnage.
“Stop, stop!” I shouted. “If you kill them all, who will fight for you?”
“I don’t need disobedient priests. God will raise up others,” the God-Empress said. “Your gift tried to fight me, Sesskia. I’m not happy with your inability to control him.” She turned her gaze on Cederic. “Kneel before me, Cederic Aleynten,” she said, and the soldiers holding him kicked his knees so they folded, and he landed on the floor with a grunt. “No, I think you had better bow instead,” she continued, and they forced him to bend until he was prostrate in front of her.
“You gave him to me, Renatha,” I said. “I’m responsible for his actions. It’s me you should punish.”
“Sesskia—” Cederic shouted, and one of the soldiers kicked him in the face, making him cry out at the same time I did.
“I still need you, Sesskia,” the God-Empress said, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. “I don’t need him.” To the soldiers, she said, “Remove his hands.”
“No!” I screamed, and stupidly threw myself at the soldiers, forgetting entirely about pouvrin. One of the men grabbed me and dragged me away, and then I did set him on fire, but he kept hold of me even as he screamed and tried to extinguish the flames. My mind-moving pouvra was too weak to force his hands open. I watched Cederic struggle as the soldiers holding him stretched out his arms, leaving his wrists bare, and another soldier drew his longsword and approached, raising it high for a powerful two-handed stroke. I wrenched myself free—
—and even as I set the man on fire, Cederic’s captors flew backward into a knot of mages, knocking them all down, and he reared up, his eyes wide and panicked, and with a sweeping motion of both hands sent half a dozen soldiers to the ground.
It took me a second or two to realize he hadn’t scribed th’an, that his terror had woken the magic within him and given him his own mind-moving pouvra. I had no idea it could be so powerful, though I guess he’s used to being able to move much heavier things than I can with th’an, and maybe it translates. That thought came later. At the time, though, I reacted by shouting, “Strike back!”
The mages began to move, the soldiers dropped their knives and drew their swords, the God-Empress opened her mouth to give a command, and without stopping to think I grabbed her, bore her to the ground, and worked the concealment pouvra on both of us.
to be continued…