RAZE - a weekly fantasy web serial

RAZE – 031 – Raze’s Destination

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Askuwheteau ascended the steps and I followed, placing my feet in the smooth-worn depressions. Ahead and behind, the conversations became murmurs, discussions in a tongue I did not know, and for a moment my mind sailed back to my youth, to the mountains of Kalughnor and other places. The confusion made a pleasant impression, in fact: even for my age, for all my learning, my experience, my deeds, even for all of that, still I had more to learn. The world, despite the injustices I had suffered and the worse that others had; despite the blood and hatred; the world, with its magnificent spirits and new friends and the woman in raven feathers glowering at my back, with the folk I’d killed and those who would kill me given half a moment of my own failure, was still beautiful. New. There was more to learn, and in that I saw the only glory that matters.

We reached the top and I had the impression of entering the citadel of gods. Sheets of mist, thinner than sight, wrapped about us, and through it loomed the shadows of the green mountains that surrounded us, the black earth and trees bigger than sight. At the apex of the great step pyramid was a council chamber. Beneath a vine-draped, timber roof, three great stone steps surrounded a central speaking floor.Violet flowers floated in basins of water. Attendants poured wine into the emissaries’ clay cups. A bright, cool breeze carried through the open construction and many attendants waited outside on steps of the pyramid. Within, emissaries sat and swayed with eyes closed while others reclined, wrapped in their fine patterned draping robes, while still others stood with their arms folded and skin bared to the cool mist. Black and cloudy gems glinted on leather strings or on worked wires of copper. One seat stood empty but for bunches of flowers, feathers, pots and cloth-wrapped bundles and a glowing stick of resinous incense. 

Conversation at the top ceased, then resumed, as the Council of Emissaries inspected me and Askuwheteau made due speech and introduced us.

The woman in the raven cloak entered behind us and took her seat beside the unoccupied place laden with gifts, where she continued to stare at me. The others raised their hands in greeting or made dismissive moves or spoke a few words. Askuwheteau gestured to me and we sat beside the entryway.

The emissaries took turns at speaking. Their business took some time, and Askuwheteau whispered to me a little while I observed them.

“You’ve been welcomed for today, to this meeting.”

“A meeting! Thrilling!”

“You joke, my friend, but it’s honor enough here that you weren’t turned back into the sea.”

“I hope there will be voting.”

“I’m willing to guess there will be.” He nodded back to the stairway. “I told them we were almost ambushed.”

“And?”

“They took some issue with the fact that we did not see anyone or actually experience an attack.”

“Did you explain,” I asked, “that you and I had displayed the ultimate height of martial ability by wary observance, identification of a threat, and avoidance of conflict?”

“I’m afraid that some of the nuance may have been lost.”

“A pity.”

“Also, you should know that while most of our people speak no language beyond Rowatokon or Hutek, or the customary tongues of their villages, most of the emissaries understand Ularan pretty well.”

“Ah. Dammit.” I nodded and grinned at the nearest old man, who met my eyes and gave me a sour smile and a knowing, curt nod. “I should have thought that.”

“Probably.”

Seconds later, one of the Rowatokon spoke and then her speech turned to Ularan. “We welcome Story-breather Askuwheteau to speak, and we welcome his guest.” We came forward and a few of the emissaries hissed, but the rest batted their hands in the air and called, I guess, for civility. Behind me, a general rustle of movement indicated the observers and courtiers on the steps outside the chamber were trying to gain a little better view. Most of the emissaries sat or stood up. They inspected me while Askuwheteau spoke in Ularan.

“Honored emissaries, my thanks for admitting me to speak before this wise and learned council.”

“Our Story-Breathers’ words are always needed here.” The emissary who spoke was a young man with straight black hair to his waist. “As are the opinions of our only Crade.”

Askuwheteau bowed briefly while the others murmured agreement. “Speaking of the Crade, I bring before you one who should speak for himself. You, I would guess, have heard of him before.” With that, he stepped back and made a sign that I should advance.

I stepped forward and cast my gaze around the wall-less room. The old woman in the raven cloak still stared. Others watched and waited. I noticed Puwotok, standing with the others outside the chamber. The youth who had spoken smiled at me and I was struck by his age, far younger than any other emissary present. Then, as I watched, his black eyes flashed strangely, turning almost silver. The flash was gone, though, a trick of the light, or so I thought.

“My name is Raze,” I said, “although I have been known by many others. It is a long road that has brought me to you, and although I arrived by chance, I have come to Rowatokon with a specific need, a need of knowledge and Rowatokon skill. My task is one that has taken years already, and will take many more ahead. For all I have done and learned and seen, this, this request I make of you, will be part of the greatest journey, the greatest achievement, the life’s purpose, on which I unknowingly began many years ago. There are none but I who know the end of my intent in being here, but if you will aid me, I offer anything that is in my power to give in return.”

The old woman in the raven cloak raised her voice. “What could you provide us that we would want for?”

“I wouldn’t presume, Emissary. You’ll have to ask for what you feel is fair, and I will provide as I am able.”

She stood, half-facing me, mostly facing her fellow emissaries. “And yet you presume to believe that there is something we need from you.” This was met by some amount of hissing and, again, the batting of the air and calls for quiet. I began to see two camps delineated in the council chamber. She went on. “Emissaries, we can gain nothing but pain by allowing this man to remain among us. As we all well know, outsiders always bring ignorance and harm to us, as they always have. We must protect our people.”

I protested. “I’ve no interest in bringing others here, or in telling of what I see.”

“Kiche.” The old woman addressed the young emissary who’d spoken before. “What do you say? What do you see?”

Several of the emissaries pressed closer to him, touched his arms. They spoke and repeated her question and a sound of reverence came over them, but Kiche smiled a thin smile. “I don’t know this man. The legends overshadow the real. My Sight is of no help in this matter.”

So, my eyes had not deceived me earlier, when I saw his eyes flash with light. He was a Sight-Sorcerer. One gifted with the blood of the the Forsaken, the Gods Who Left. A blessing, or a curse, or a stolen power, depending on who you asked. I called such folk dangerous foes and more dangerous allies.

I smiled. With a step forward, I held out my hand. “If your Sight would be aided by touch,” I said, “I offer it. What I claim is true.” It was a calculated risk, but I had some experience.

The others encouraged him to take my arm, to See. His smile remained, but his demeanor shifted, like a blade turning in the light. He did not move. “A simple touch won’t change anything.”

So he was a liar.

His eyes did not stray from mine, but my heart thrilled with battle. I had won. I shrugged, knowing I was poisoning the well, and lowered my hand.

Kiche spoke again to the assembly. “Nevertheless, I agree with Guagom. We do not allow outsiders. It could be a danger, and it has been in the past. With respect to our guest, he should given passage by boat back to Ulara in the morning.”

Askuwheteau stepped forward before I could speak again. “This is the measure of the Rowatokon? That the council will turn away those a Story-breather has brought, despite custom? That we ignore the requests of outsiders based on old fears?”

“We haven’t heard his request,” one old man called from an upper seat. “I want to know why he came here.”

Kiche nodded. Guagom sat, and Askuwheteau nodded to me, and so I told them. “I need a boat that can move without sound.”

“What else?” a woman in a wolfskin asked. “That is not reason to come here. You said that you needed Rowatokon knowledge and skill. For what?”

“It must be piloted by one, but must carry two,” I said. They waited, and I breathed. Here was the turn. “And,” I said, “it must be able to travel down the Last River and into the Gray.”

 


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