Sesskia’s Diary, part 148

7 Nevrine, continued (continued)

I went to find Jeddan, who’d managed to subdue four of the guards. I told him I was impressed and he rolled his eyes. “Somebody really did believe these Castavirans were too weak and afraid to fight back,” he said. “I hardly needed the concealment pouvra to get close enough to choke them unconscious. Are you ready for your part?”

“Are you sure it’s safe, with three guards still out there?” I said.

“There’s nothing more I can do,” he said. “The last one made some noise, and when the next sentry went past, he looked a lot more alert. They’ll have to take their chances.”

I nodded and went to find Liskesstis. She was waiting at the door of her tent, peering out into the snow. “This is not the best weather,” she said, “but it’s not snowing heavily anymore and I think in a few hours it will be clear.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I said. “If you can’t find that town, you’ll wander until you freeze to death.”

“Better than die in captivity,” she said, “and we’ll have a guide.” She moved her fingers, stiffly, and did it again, and then a globe of red light about an inch across hovered level with her nose. “It should lead us to our destination,” she said, “if those who know this area are capable of using it. I’m not entirely certain it will work, but it’s a better chance than we had before.”

“Did you teach Cederic that?” I asked on a whim. “The writing on air?”

She laughed. “He taught me,” she said, “some eight years ago, in exchange for some knowledge I gave him. The key to certain kathanas he needed to master to become Kilios. Why are you not with him?”

“We were separated during the convergence,” I said, “but I’ll find him, or he’ll find me. I’m certain of it.”

“I wish I could tell you where he is,” she said, “but the location kathanas no longer work, no doubt because of how the convergence brought the physical worlds together; the magic…you could say a location kathana recognizes the world around it and identifies a person within that landscape, and of course much has changed now. But don’t worry about it. Cederic Aleynten is stubborn and has never given up on a problem before he’s solved it.”

“I know,” I said, and saluted her the Castaviran way. “You’ll know when to move. Good luck.”

I went back to join my “soldiers” and said, “Take your places around the tent. They probably won’t think to grab their weapons. And remember, don’t shoot. Unless it’s your life or theirs.” Then I took a deep breath and summoned fire in a great swoop, spiraling around the tent from the ground to its many peaks.

Shouts and screams spilled out of the door, followed by guards who came up short when they discovered how many rifles were pointed at them. “Drop to the ground,” I shouted, “or we shoot.”

A couple hit the ground immediately. One looked like he was thinking about going back into the tent, but men were still spilling out of it and tangling themselves with the ones on the ground. “On the ground!” I shouted, and poured more fire into the conflagration.

Then one of the guards, who was either less drunk or had more presence of mind than his comrades, raised his rifle, and without thinking I bent my will to the shape of the walk-through-walls pouvra and saw it fall through his hands, making him scream and fall backwards into the fire. I took a few steps forward in shock, grabbed his feet and dragged him to relative safety, then told the Castavirans, “Tie them up, securely, and let’s put them inside that tent over there.”

By the time we were finished with that, Jeddan arrived and said, “They’re moving. Your men need to come now.”

A steady trail of Castavirans was exiting by way of a new hole in the fence that had Jeddan’s work stamped on it, literally, because I could see the shape of his boot where he’d kicked the so-called wall down. I saw two soldiers wriggling in their bonds just inside the wall. “Where’s the third?” I said.

Jeddan looked grim. “He got away,” he said.

“Then they need to move more quickly,” I said, taking a few steps toward the line. Jeddan put a hand on my arm.

“He didn’t get far,” he said. “I…killed him. Accidentally. Went through him, and he just spasmed and fell down. I didn’t know it could do that.”

“Time to think about it later,” I said. “Where’s the body?”

“I hid it where no one will find it until the spring thaw,” he said. “Are we done here?”

He sounded weary, and sad, and I wished I knew what to tell him that would comfort him. I remembered what he’d said to me the night I killed the bandit, and said, “You’re not a killer. You couldn’t bear the thought of these people being left here to die and you made me see the truth of that. If you didn’t care about people, it wouldn’t matter to you what happened to that guard. Right now, that doesn’t feel like comfort, but eventually it will. You showed me that too.”

He glanced down at me in the darkness, and said, “I think we should go,” so we trudged back around the camp, leaving that line of Castaviran refugees behind. Liskesstis was right, the weather was starting to clear, but only Jeddan’s ability to find his way outdoors kept us on the track leading back to the road, and the city, and then Debressken and the Royal Road. Then we kept on walking until we found a place to camp that was well off the highway, and fell unconscious for maybe ten hours. We ate, and walked, and made camp again, and after writing all that I feel as wrung out as if I’d experienced it a second time.

I keep seeing that line of travelers, stretched out like ants following a sugar trail, their heads bent against the snow. I don’t know if we sent them off to their deaths or not. I realize it was their decision, and it was a risk they wanted to take. I know we couldn’t have just left them there without finding out if there was something we could do to help. If they don’t make it…I shouldn’t feel responsible, but I do. I guess it’s because I feel their fates are tangled up with mine now, and I wish I could go with them, to help along that journey. I think that’s what I feel guilty about—that Jeddan and I started them on that path, then couldn’t follow it to the end.

I need to sleep again. We’re about six days’ journey from Venetry now, unless something else happens to slow us down. I just want to get this over with. Talking about Cederic with Liskesstis has just made me miss him more. Venetry, report to the king—oh, damn it, he’s summoning mages, he won’t want to let us go. Report to the king, sneak away, and go east to Colosse, which Cederic’s probably already left, looking for me. We might go across this new world and back fifty times and never find each other.

I’m going to sleep now, and pray the true God everything looks better in the morning. Jeddan hasn’t said anything since we left the Castavirans but what’s necessary to set up camp. I hope he’s coming to terms with that death. I hope I’m doing the right thing by not making him talk about it. I’m so glad I’m not alone on this journey.