6 Seresstine, continued
But I’m getting sidetracked. I got as close as I dared to the front of the division and took a look at it. It wasn’t a very big division, and I think I miscalculated the number of feet that had made that path. But it was still big enough that, along with those mages, it could take a large chunk out of our forces. Those soldiers had been fortunate that division didn’t have any war wagons, assuming that’s what destroyed the walls at Hasskian. Or maybe they only use them against cities and not people. I don’t know. I decided to assume they weren’t going to change course and flitted forward along their line of travel. Clouds were coming up, covering the sun, and it was starting to get cold—colder, anyway. I had to remind myself not to rush even though I was starting to feel a desire for a fire and a hot drink.
Three flits later I took a look around and saw I’d gone about five hundred feet past a wide, unfamiliar road. I went back to look at it and realized it was that mystery Castaviran highway. It made sense that they’d want the nice wide road to travel along, and since they were cutting west instead of east, it also made sense that they were planning to continue westward. The question was, as before, where was the main army? Because even though I hadn’t gotten that close, I’d only seen two battle mage pennants (interesting, two pennants but only ten mages?) and not the big battle standard or the God-Empress’s personal banner. So this was not the main army.
I looked westward down the road, then eastward. I still don’t think I was breaking my promise to Mattiak by continuing to explore even though I’d found the “invading army” I’d been sent to locate. So I started flitting east. There was no reason to believe I’d find the God-Empress’s army along that road, but as I wrote, it’s a good way to move an army, and I was certain we’d have found it if it were farther west than where I stood.
And my—not even a guess, more like a whim—was right. I found the God-Empress’s army not thirty miles away, camped outside a sizeable Castaviran city. They didn’t seem like they were planning to move any time soon, but I don’t know much about armies except what I’ve observed over the last ten days. But there were the banners, and the big tents, and I stood some distance away, concealed, just in case, and watched them for about an hour, wrestling with myself. Because I was seriously considering breaking my promise to Mattiak, going into the camp, and killing the God-Empress.
I think I could have done it this time.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the world would just be a better place without her in it. Maybe I’m right that her generals would go on fighting even without her leadership, so maybe her death wouldn’t stop the war. But it would have to have some effect. No more focus for worship. No more insane demands.
What stopped me, in the end, was the realization that I didn’t know who would take over after her death. She’s got no heirs, which was why Aselfos could be so confident about being able to rule Castavir in her place. But it would almost certainly mean civil war in Castavir, and that would leave them open to conquest by Balaen. And much as I feel loyalty toward my country—though not much, mostly loyalty to Jeddan and the mages—I don’t want either of these countries subjugating the other.
So I realized it was a bad idea, then felt guilty that deciding this made me feel relieved. I have pouvrin that would make killing the God-Empress easy, not only easy but safer for me than for anyone else. So if I’m the only Balaenic who knows why she’s dangerous, and I have the capability of ridding the world of her, shouldn’t I do it? Even if the idea makes me sick? That’s what I was thinking at the time, at least. After my talk with Mattiak, I changed my mind. About a lot of things.
I eventually worked through all of that and turned around to leave, flitted once—and landed squarely in the middle of a group of Castaviran soldiers. I can’t believe I was so careless. I was also startled, so startled that I waited too long and one of them grabbed me and said, “What the hell are you?”
“None of your business,” I gasped, which sounded stupid then and still sounds stupid now. I wonder if there’s ever a time when that sentence sounds strong and defiant rather than like a whine.
“It’s God’s otherworlder, the one who was going to marry Aselfos!” one of them shouted, which disoriented me further. Not that I expected to be able to identify any of the anonymous soldiers who’d stood guard during that bizarre ceremony, but that anyone in this mass of people could identify me was preposterous.
I went insubstantial and stepped away from my captor, went substantial long enough to say, “Tell your mistress I said hello,” and flitted away. Not very far, because I was breathless from the walk-through-walls pouvra, but far enough that none of those soldiers could reach me before I flitted again. And again. I was thirty miles down the road, back to where I’d started, before stopping to catch my breath. It might have been stupid to let the God-Empress know I was somewhere nearby, but—well, I hadn’t done it on purpose, and being defiant was something she’d expect from me.
I flitted back to our camp, slowly, because I was starting to feel achy—I don’t know if that’s just from the flitting, or from the walking I did, but I figured I had time—and reached the Balaenic Army camp about an hour before sunset. I walked into the command tent without announcing myself and dropped onto a stool, and said, “I could use a drink. Not of water.”
to be continued…