Authors: Chrysoula Tzavelas
© 2016 by Chrysoula Tzavelas
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
for broken relationships: the pain they cause and the future they unlock.
There is a map, a family tree and a character reference available via the Table of Contents.
T’S ALL RIGHT
. We’ll be all right,” the Crown Princess Jerya told her cousin, and held her hand. After hours of rumbling and shaking and terror, the mudflow had finally stilled. The mud lingered, though, pressing against the walls of the Royal Palace. Starset Tower, where Jerya and her cousin sheltered, had been built within her lifetime by one of her brilliant uncles. It endured even as older spires crumbled.
Lightning crackled through the sky, so close she could feel a tingle on her skin and smell the burning air. “We may have to get away from the lightning, though,” she added. “I don’t think our uncle built Starset to resist strikes like that.”
It rained, but the ash from the mountain fell too, mixing with the rain. It looked like black tears. Bleakly, Jerya approved. Her father had died only a few hours ago, along with she didn’t know how many of her people. She and her cousin had used what magic they could to save them, but—
But best to think about their own survival now. The sky could cry; she couldn’t spare the time. “I promise you we’re getting out of here,” she told her cousin. “As soon as my birds come home. As soon as I know.”
Her cousin, an older woman in her thirties, curled around their only lamp and didn’t respond. She hadn’t spoken for hours, ever since the magical barricades she’d erected against the mud had failed.
Jerya stood at the window, anticipating the return of the eidolon birds she’d sent out, and stared at the mud below. Jumbled masonry and uprooted trees drifted slowly, bumping against the dome of the Palace Library and tearing chunks out of the wing of the Palace where her father had lived. North of the river, chunks of rubble drifted on a slowly moving mudflow that grudgingly parted around the towers her uncle had built: all that remained of a once-flourishing quarter of the city. A few smaller buildings remained standing at the edge of the river, darkness oozing inside homes and extruding itself back out windows.
She thought of the dead uncle who had built the towers. He’d be proud, she supposed. Then she wondered what more he might have done if he hadn’t died when she was a child, and if he and her father were together again and she couldn’t think about
anymore either, because the living needed her strength more than the dead needed her grief.
When the mud met the river, it dwindled, as if it had reached its goal. Beyond the river flickered many, many lights, as the evacuated survivors filled the streets of the south city, frightened but alive. She didn’t want to think about those who hadn’t gotten out.
Something fluttered in the darkness and Jerya put out her hand. A ghostly falcon, glowing gem-like even in the ashen twilight, landed on her fingers. It cocked its head at her and melted into her skin. What it had known, she now knew. What it had seen, she now saw.
The lights across the river told only part of the story. Scenes of chaos flashed through her mind’s eye: people struggling to return to the north side of the city and being restrained, people fighting to defend their homes from unexpected houseguests, screaming horses paralyzed by the crush, a brawl in a marketplace. Survivors on rooftops in the north city beyond her field of view, sobbing. And worse things, too, which Jerya absorbed with the rest and filed away to bring out later, when needed. When there was time.
Her eidolon falcon had not found her uncle Yithiere, the last of her father’s brothers, which loomed twice a problem. Yithiere could make an eidolon big enough to carry Jerya and her cousin away from the tower without risking the mud. But Yithiere was also one of the more dangerous members of her family. His magic was as powerful as his portion of the family instabilities. The family madness. If Yithiere decided the mobs of evacuees were a danger to his family, the chaos would become a nightmare. More of a nightmare.
Jerya shaped another bird, turning ashen rain into gleaming silver, and sent it to find another of her cousins. Seandri was no more powerful than she, but he kept calm in a way most of her family couldn’t. He and his Regent could handle Yithiere, but Jerya would have to move her cousin to safety herself.
She knelt beside Shanasee and shook her gently. The other woman didn’t respond. Her skin glistened and her eyes were squeezed tightly shut. Her body was too tense for her to be asleep. Jerya studied her before pulling her into a sitting position. After brief resistance, Shanasee let her.
“Time to walk, Shanasee,” Jerya said, pitching her voice as close to the tones of a Regent as she could. Shanasee moved her legs weakly in response. When her knees bumped the floor, she stopped.
Jerya revised her command. “Stand up, Shanasee. Stand up and walk. I’m right here.” This time, pulling heavily on Jerya’s hands, Shanasee stood. Her eyes stayed shut, her head still drooped, but she could walk. Just like Jerya, she’d spent most her life learning to hear the advice of a Regent no matter what state of mind she was in.
Thunder crashed around the tower, so loud that dust streamed from the vaulted ceiling. As the booming faded, a horrible creaking vibrated through Jerya’s boots. The whole tower shook, as if slapped by a giant. Jerya caught Shanasee in her arms as both women tumbled to the floor again, curling around her cousin like she was a child. Emanations of her magic flickered around her, ready to redirect any falling stones. After a moment, when nothing fell, Jerya uncurled and glared fiercely at the wall.
The tower of Starset was in perfect condition but the surrounding spires were not. One of them had just fallen against Starset. Towers weren’t normally designed to withstand things like that, like cities didn’t build with an eye toward giant mudslides.
Shanasee made a small sound and Jerya stood again, pulling Shan to her feet. Shanasee’s face turned toward the flickering lamp, even though her eyes remained closed.
“Yes,” Jerya told her. “We must go. The light won’t last much longer.” She should have brought a magical inscribed light. They lasted weeks. But she hadn’t been thinking clearly, hadn’t thought to spend the time looking for one. She wafted an emanation of power at the lamp and held it aloft that way, so she could guide Shanasee with two hands down the many, many stairs.
Shanasee made another little sound and shook her head violently. Then her legs gave out and she almost collapsed, pulling Jerya down with her.
“No!” said Jerya sharply. “This isn’t how we survive. We keep moving.” She yanked on Shanasee’s wrists and her cousin stumbled forward. Sending the lamp drifting ahead of them, she pulled Shanasee down the stairs and did her best to make sure they didn’t both fall. She couldn’t do anything about the way Shanasee banged into the curving wall over and over again. Her cousin’s terror of the darkness had driven her deeper into herself and it was all Jerya could do just to keep her from collapsing.
Her limited magic infuriated her. If she could make powerful eidolons, like her uncle, she could sling Shanasee across an eidolon mule. If she projected powerful emanations like her younger sister, she could float Shanasee down the stairs. She could float both of them across the mud to the other side of the river.
But Shanasee controlled vast magic. She’d held back the mud for hours despite her terror. Now she was lost, trapped in the darkness inside her head, and reliant on Jerya for her survival. Magic assisted, but in the end Jerya would get them out, not her magic.
They took a break on a landing while Jerya caught her breath and inspected some of Shanasee’s bruises. The light flickered again before she could do much other than verify Shan wasn’t bleeding. Then down they went again, down past the ground floor and into the old catacombs of the Palace of yesteryear. The dark, dusty hallways went all over the city, although she only knew the area immediately under the Palace. A small museum occupied one large chamber, and a promenade led along the many murals painted by previous generations. Couples liked it. But there were deeper levels, and longer arms where almost nobody ever went. Some of those arms stretched all the way to the river, and catacombs exits that weren’t clogged by mud. Jerya had seen a map once. Now she needed to remember it.
They passed by a dusty corridor that led to a staircase down. Jerya’s sister Tiana had wandered in the deepest levels not so long ago, and found a pendant that represented a puzzle that Jerya couldn’t solve until too late: until her father had been murdered, the pendant—and the phantasmagory—destroyed, and her sister caught in the eruption of the mountain nobody ever expected to erupt.
The last thought hurt her more than all the others. She mourned her father, she raged silently about the pendant, but she’d spent her life trying to protect her little sister from the grief that haunted their family. Now, thanks to the phantasmagory pendant being destroyed, she didn’t even know if Tiana still lived. She couldn’t even reach the dreamspace any longer, as if it had never existed.
Shanasee started shaking again as the lamp dimmed. When it went out entirely, she whimpered.
“It’s all right, Shanasee,” Jerya said quickly. “It’s all right. I’m here. We’re all right together. Soon we’ll be out of here and we’ll go and find Cara. Then maybe we’ll find some lunch. Are you hungry? I’m hungry. I’d love a big slice of roast beef about now.” Jerya spoke as quickly and as lightly as she could. She’d never provided the calming Regent chatter before, but if she couldn’t keep Shanasee moving, Jerya would have to abandon her in the dark for a time. After all Shanasee had done for their people that night, the idea horrified Jerya.
Without the lamp, the darkness in the catacombs bothered her. Jerya didn’t mind the dark like Shanasee did, but enough darkness had a weight all its own: stifling and hungry. The catacombs were usually empty and safe; abandoned only as centuries of floodwaters changed the shape of the rest of the city. Once she might have made a game of walking them blind, but that scared her now. What if the mud was seeping down from somewhere above? She wouldn’t even see it coming until she’d walked into it.
Holding Shanasee close, she projected an emanation ahead to feel the walls on either side. It was a cousin to touch: she could feel the solidity, the stoniness of the architecture. She stared at the faintly glimmering emanation, easily visible to her without any light. Those not of the Blood couldn’t see emanations nearly as well, if at all.
Jerya concentrated. With a rush of dizziness, she sent many emanations crawling over every surface they touched. When she opened her eyes, she could see what she’d already sensed: the catacombs for some distance ahead of her and a little behind her lit up as if rivulets of glowing water spilled over each plane.
“Come on,” she whispered to Shanasee, and started forward. The magic took some effort, just as physically supporting Shanasee took some effort, but staying still in the dark wasn’t an option. If the eidolon falcon she’d sent to her cousin Seandri returned with assistance, it wouldn’t be too soon. Until that point, they had to keep going.
Something rumbled ahead of them, vibrating underfoot. The emanations shivered in a ticklish way, but she didn’t laugh. Rumbling could be never be good when you were in an ancient hallway with an incalculable amount of stone and mud over your head. Tugging Shanasee after her, she hurried on. She had to know exactly what had happened before she could decide what to do next.
They hadn’t far to go. The masonry changed ahead and at the seam the stone ceiling of the old hall slumped against the floor, bringing the structure above down with it. A tangle of splinters and gravel and paving stones surrounded the enormous slab of fallen ceiling. Viscous black mud dripped down on top of the debris heap.
They couldn’t move past it. Even if Jerya could navigate around it, or shift it out of the way, she didn’t trust the rest of the hallway beyond. But instead of turning around, she stared at the black mud, illuminated by her emanation and the faintest hint of light from above.
“Look at that, Shanasee,” she said, remembering that she’d meant to keep talking to other woman. “Look at that mud. It’s even getting down here. If we let it, it’s going to seep all the way to the museum and destroy everything there.”
Shanasee started to shake again. Jerya shook her head and squeezed her cousin’s hand. “Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen.” She studied the debris around the great slab, before using an emanation to lift a chunk of wood and jam it into the gap through which the mud oozed. The light from above vanished, but the mud stopped too.
“There,” Jerya said in satisfaction. But Shanasee kept shuddering, even when Jerya put her arms around her. “All will be right. I’ll
it be all right. We just have to get out of here—”
The fragmentary remains of the eidolon bird Jerya had sent to find her other cousin flickered through the stone. The shards of power didn’t rest elegantly on her hand, but flew straight at her head, passing directly to her mind. Because the eidolon had been destroyed, she only caught fragments of what it had seen. Fragments, but important, terrifying ones.
The bird had found Seandri, but Seandri was far too busy to even notice. Jant, eldest of the family and Shanasee’s father, fought to return to the palace. He’d inhabited the Palace like a hermit crab in a very large shell for most of his life. He’d wouldn’t have evacuated if Seandri hadn’t carried him out at Shanasee’s request. Now he was desperate to return, because Jerya and Shanasee hadn’t emerged, and because his whole life was in the Palace.
Normally an old man wouldn’t be hard for a young man like Seandri to restrain. But Jant had been using family magic for more than half a century and he was throwing all he knew at Seandri in an attempt to break away. The last image captured before a stray emanation had destroyed the bird was Seandri raising a ring of dust around them as Jant’s fox eidolon snapped at Seandri’s stag.
No. The very last image was the face of a terrified evacuee girl, backing away from the conflict.
Jerya cursed and gave up on comforting Shanasee. “I dragged you into this, and I’ll drag you out again if I have to, so
, Shanasee!” She tugged her back the way they’d came, back to an intersection and another possible exit.