Karavans #3, THE WILD ROAD, was delivered to DAW in June 2010. It has not yet been assigned a publication date, but the announcement of it will be posted on the book homepage as soon as the date is known.
THE WILD ROAD
Three sides of the chamber were hewn out of ruddy rock; the fourth formed the front wall and was built of hand-cut stone stacked and mortared together. It was a squared, large room that might be considered a cell, were it not for its expansiveness; for the lush, hand-loomed carpets on the stone floor; iron candle racks set in each corner; the complex geometric frieze painstakingly chiseled into each wall at top and bottom. The doorway, the single opening into the windowless room, was considerably taller, broader than found in the human world, and markedly not created for human egress. A twisted iron rod, set deeply into the top of either jamb, crossed beneath the lintel and held the weight of a heavy leather curtain pieced together from hides of glossy bronze and deep, rich russet. The curtain was otherwise plain; its adornment lay in the splendid network of scales, running with gold and ruddy with light, as if the curtain were wet.
Fat columns of ocher candles sat in large plates topping each iron rack, spiraling five feet vertically from a tripod base. The wax was not of bees; in Alisanos, something so benign as bees did not exist. Though outside two suns illuminated the deepwood, the chamber carved out of massive vertical cliffs was shadowed save for bright flame dancing upon thick wicks. Candlelight painted the chamber, set into relief the patterns where walls met floor and ceiling. A rich, musky scent permeated the room.
There were no chairs, no stools, no benches. He was not to sit. He was, merely, to wait.
Waiting, for Brodhi, was nigh impossible, in such circumstances as these.
He paced, because he must. His hands were bound before him, but that did not interfere with his pacing. His body would not resort to stillness, even when he wished it. Nor would his mind. It was afire with thoughts, sparking with anger, and altogether unwilling to wait a single moment. But he was trained to anticipate tests, to comprehend that at no time was he completely free of evaluation. And here, here it was far worse than in the human world. This was his own, this world. It was ancestor, progenitor. Alisanos ran in his blood. Alisanos wreathed his bones. It was, all at once, enemy, parent, lover.
It was even his savior, or possibly his death. Depending on the tests.
Ruined, all of it. Undone, utterly. So many human years spent in the human world, accepting the journey, enduring the tests, and yet he was back in Alisanos well before time. He had transgressed. They had the right, the primaries, to declare his journey ended, all the tests failed, and to pronounce sentence upon him. Death was possible, but not likely. Worse, yes; worse than death was entirely possible.
He might be castrated.
Declared a neuter.
Nausea threatened. To deflect it, Brodhi looked around the large chamber, marking details that ordinarily would mean nothing to him. Starkly beautiful, abloom with candlelight. The carpets beneath his booted feet were thick and comfortable. The spiraling iron candleracks pleased the eye with their grace and elegance. The massive candles were hand-etched with care, bearing gilt geometric designs echoing those chiseled into friezes at floor and ceiling. The hide curtain, he knew--though he did not touch it--would warm silkily to his hand, answering his touch. Answering his blood.
This chamber had been cut out of towering ruddy cliffs by the hammers and chisels wielded by neuters; the rugs upon all floors were loomed by neuters; the iron candleracks forged by neuters. The hide curtain, stitched together with flexible fingers, sewn and hung by neuters. All, in this chamber; all, in every chamber, in every dwelling, was made, or maintained, by neuters.
They were good for nothing else, save to serve the primaries.
Rage rose up within him. It heated his skin, deepened its hue; dropped the ruddy scrim over his eyes. Hair tingled on the back of his neck, on his forearms, at his genitals. He would not, could not, be made into a neuter. It was not in him to serve. He was dioscuri, and he would be served. He would one day be a primary, and thus a god.
Brodhi spun around as he heard the steps at the chamber doorway. Antipathy rose within him, so hot, so high, that he could not contain himself, could not keep silent though he had sworn to himself to do so. Rhuan affected him that way much of the time. But these circumstances were significantly more provocative than any prior incidents. “This is your doing. This--”
He would have said more, but he broke off as Karadath stepped through the entryway behind Rhuan. At the Kiba, Brodhi had had no time to reacquaint himself with his sire’s personal power, the sense of incandescent presence that lived in every primary. But in the years of Brodhi’s absence, Karadath had grown in power. Brodhi scented it. He tasted it, as a beast might. Within himself he fought to maintain the pride and arrogance that shaped him, as it shaped all primaries and dioscuris. Before his sire, whom he had not seen in four human years, it was difficult to do so. He felt himself a flicker of flame before a roaring conflagration.
Rhuan, not privy to those thoughts, laughed and shook back unbraided hair. “Is it truly my doing? Did I force you to enter Alisanos?”
But Brodhi ignored Rhuan now. He stared at his sire, realizing just how small, how young, he himself was. That he would one day kill Karadath to assume his place seemed impossible, a figment of undisciplined dreams.
He wrenched his thoughts away from that. “Alario is plotting against you.”
Karadath’s expression didn’t change. “Alario is consistent, if nothing else.”
“That is why I came,” Brodhi continued. “To warn you. Not to end my journey precipitously.” He cast a venomous glance at Rhuan, who sat down casually upon the floor and rested his back against a wall with bound hands balanced atop updrawn knees. Ends of loose hair touched the floor. It crossed Brodhi’s mind to wonder how that hair had come to be unbraided. But his attention returned to Karadath. “Punish me as you will . . . I have broken my vow not to return before time. But there is reason for it. Valid reason: I warn you of Alario’s perfidy.”
Karadath said, “What leads you to believe I am in need of such a warning? Alario and I have battled since we were younglings in the creche.”
It was meant to shake Brodhi. He refused to allow it. He was Karadath’s son; Karadath’s dioscuri. He had his own measure of certainty, of entitlement, and employed both to shade his tone. “That may be,” he allowed, “but there is more.” Hands bound, he gestured instead with a jerk of his head, indicating Rhuan. “This weak one poisons us all. Even Alario realizes it. He has decided to take another human woman, to make a dioscuri who is strong, who honors his heritage.” The startlement on Rhuan’s face pleased Brodhi. “Yes, Rhuan. He intends to replace you. That leaves you with two choices: to kill the child, or to challenge the sire.” He bared his teeth briefly in something that was not quite a grin. “ But we know you are capable of neither.”
“And you?” It was Ylarra, stepping through the doorway. Braid ornaments glinted in candlelight. “Of what are you capable, Brodhi?”
“Anything,” he answered promptly, conviction paramount. “Anything at all.”
“Even if it means you return to the human world for another five of their years?” She glanced at Karadath. “It’s the only way, of course. He can’t remain here, or his journey will truly end. That is a result neither of us desires.”
Brodhi was stunned. “You can’t do that. Send me back to the humans? I refuse!”
“You,” Karadath said, “have no say in the matter.” He met Ylarra’s eyes; something passed between them. Complicity, and agreement. “It is a solution.”
“It keeps him intact. It buys him time. And us.”
Karadath’s abrupt grin was unnerving in a man who rarely showed emotion. “So it does.”
Brodhi felt his flesh warm as the membrane dropped over his eyes. Pure, unreasoning instinct took hold of his body. The impulse to challenge was so strong he bit deeply into his bottom lip to distract his mind, to dampen the response that fought for release.
Not yet. Not yet.
He looked away from his sire, stared hard at the floor. Fixed his gaze upon a pattern in the rug and followed it from one end to the other, fighting for self-control.
Karadath’s tone was amused. “You may, if you wish. Here and now.”
Brodhi, lowering his head, forced the words past clamped teeth. “I make no challenge.”
His sire stepped very close to him. They were nearly of a height, but Karadath was a mature male in his prime and his body reflected that. He exuded strength, power, and a terrible grace. “Look at me.”
Brodhi did not.
Brodhi steadfastly stared at the ground, face averted.
Karadath moved again, pressing closer yet. “Challenge me, dioscuri.”
Brodhi’s breath ran ragged. “I make no challenge.”
Karadath closed a hand over Brodhi’s jaw and forced his head up. “See me.”
Brodhi closed his eyes.
Rhuan laughed. “Oh, do try, Brodhi! Then Karadath will kill you, and he, too, must look to sire another dioscuri.”
Brodhi held his tongue and did not meet his sire’s eyes. After a moment Karadath released his jaw and turned away.
“Get up,” Ylarra said. “Get up from there, Rhuan. You have disgraced yourself quite enough.”
Brodhi held his silence as Rhuan contemplated refusing. He saw it the eyes so like his own. But Rhuan rose in silence, and Brodhi realized his own moment of rebellion was ended. His skin cooled, the membrane withdrew. He could meet Karadath’s eyes now, though he did so only briefly.
Ylarra drew her knife and sliced Rhuan’s hands free. “It was given to Karadath and me to determine the punishment. It is decided. Resume your journey, both of you. Five additional human years, living among the humans.” She cut the thong at Brodhi’s wrists. “You are not ready,” she told him quietly, “as you have seen. He would kill you in an instant. But when the journey is completed--” A smile flickered briefly, “--perhaps you will be strong enough to bring down your sire and ascend to his place.” Now she looked at Karadath. “Perhaps.”
Brodhi heard in her tone a delicate disbelief. Ylarra favored him, he knew; Ferize had told him so. But in the meantime Ylarra bedded Karadath; could he trust her in anything? Was her suggestion that he return to the human world truly intended to keep him intact? Or was she playing a game with both sire and son?
For a moment, a moment only, he allowed himself the vision: Karadath defeated, himself ascending.
It was sweet, that vision. But also fleeting, banished by the truth of Ylarra’s words. Were he to challenge his sire before his journey was ended, Karadath would indeed kill him in an instant.
Not yet. Not yet. I am not ready.
One day, he would be. And challenge would be made.
% % %
Rhuan, hair unbraided and loose, wrists tied with leather thong, walked with as much pride and dignity as he could dredge up, climbing the shallow steps out of the round, high-sided Kiba pit, prisoner among his own kind. Karadath, who followed him, forbore to touch him now, having tied his wrists before him; the kin-in-kind humans would name uncle wanted no physical contact, as if he believed he might be contaminated.
A corner of Rhuan’s mouth jerked briefly; well, if he were to be sentenced to castration and to become a neuter, Karadath would be contaminated by his nephew’s touch.
The human woman, Audrun, protested such rude removal, shouting that he had more honor in him than any primary. She had courage of the kind most primaries had never seen in humans. But then most humans, in Alisanos, were rendered mindless by the physical alterations beginning in their bodies, by the challenges of remaining alive in a world both alien and dangerous; even, he believed, by the shock of meeting a primary, did they survive long enough to do so. That Audrun was fearful, he knew; but that was yet another element that made her so different. She was afraid, but she confronted the nine hundred and ninety-nine gods who gathered in the Kiba, seated upon carved stone blocks. She confronted, challenged, and demanded of them things they would not do, knowing they would not do them.
Return her children, she asked. Five of them, missing, scattered throughout the deepwood. One, taken by demon.
Walking steadily, aware of Karadath close behind upon the stone-paved pathway, Rhuan broke into a smile. It stretched into a grin. The primaries had refused Audrun her demand. But Brodhi--Brodhi--had brought four of the missing children to the Kiba, and to their mother.
Karadath’s son. Karadath’s last dioscuri. Equally guilty of reentering Alisanos well before time.
Rhuan, walking steadily, laughed aloud.
Oh, it was rich, that knowledge. He knew full well that he himself was considered weak by most of the primaries, if not by all. Alario had made no secret of his disappointment in his last dioscuri. It was ironic, Rhuan felt, that in the human world he had an undeserved and inaccurate reputation for killing, and yet among the primaries he was believed to be too human to challenge Alario’s other dioscuri. In fact, he had killed none of them; they had managed, instead, to kill themselves. None remained but himself.
Karadath, on the other hand, was arrogant with the awareness that Brodhi was markedly promising. Brodhi had, before setting out on his journey, killed two of his dioscuri brothers. Brodhi would, one day, challenge his sire; and if he defeated Karadath, he would ascend to his father’s place. It was expected that one day Brodhi would do so.
But Brodhi, like Rhuan, had come home too soon. Much too soon. And he, like Rhuan, would be punished for it.
The anger that had bolstered her courage, had provided her the words with which to challenge the primaries in their own Kiba, spilled out of Audrun’s body as she climbed the steps. Now there was joy, joy and intense relief, and other emotions too tangled upon themselves to name. The Shoia courier had brought her children to her.
All save one.
But that one, for now, was mourned more quietly than otherwise, because the children she knew best, the children she had raised, were alive, and present.
The courier had been sent away before she could thank him, even as she took Megritte from him into her arms. Darmuth, one of the karavan guides--but seemingly at home in the deepwood, which made her suspicious--murmured something about her children being damaged, but safe for the time being, departed as well. Now carrying Megritte, Audrun told the others--Gillan, Ellica, and Torvic--to stay close as they were bidden to accompany a man whose features, height, and coloring marked him kin to the primaries, though there was a certain softness to his face, as if his skin didn’t fight as tightly as it should. He was braidless, this man, his dark coppery hair cut short at the nape of his neck. It was absent also the ornamentation that was woven through the multiple braids worn by Rhuan--that had been worn by Rhuan, before she undid them and married herself to him--by the courier, and all of the folk called primaries. Without speaking, the braidless man led them away from the Kiba, along a paved footpath, and to huge, spreading tree beside the towering cliffs. A massive stone bench had been placed under the leafy canopy; Audrun had already marked that everything in this place was of a larger scale than in her own world. But then, she had discovered in the Kiba that the primaries themselves were of a larger scale.
Gillan, she had already noted, limped badly. Ellica clutched a small sapling wrapped in homespun skirts against her breasts. Audrun wanted badly to know what had happened to them while they were lost in the deepwood, but there would be time to ask them about such things later. For now, the only thing that mattered was that all of them were safe.
And Davyn, Davyn was not in Alisanos! “Thank the Mother,” she murmured; yet there was a portion of her that, selfishly, wished he were.
Now, the man left them. He said nothing, merely made a gesture she recognized as a request--or a command--that they remain here.
Meggie, no longer infant or toddler, was heavy, and Audrun too weary and worn to continue carrying her no matter how much she wished to. She leaned down and settled Megritte on the stone bench, then turned and put out her arms to the others. As one, they engulfed her, Torvic in tears, Gillan laughing brokenly in relief and release, and Ellica, still clutching her sapling as if it were an infant, rested her head against Audrun’s shoulder. There wasn’t room enough in her arms to hug each at once, but she did her best. All of them were in tears, even herself, but no shame, no shame in it. She brushed hair out of their faces, briefly cradled their cheeks, gloried in a tactile reaffirmation. They were filthy, thin, faces gaunt beneath the grime, clothing torn and stained, but they were whole. Whole and alive, and no longer missing, no longer lost in the deepwood.
“Thank the Mother,” she repeated.
Tears rose, stung, spilled. Cradling the heads of her children one by one, Audrun kissed each of them on cheeks and brows, then turned back to Megritte. She sank down upon the bench, gathered Meggie close, and began the efforts needed to bring order to tangled blond hair. Her own needed tending as well, but this she would rather do.
Torvic found room on the other side of the bench next to her, so that she was between her two youngest, while Gillan hobbled to a wide shelf of stone and collapsed upon it, hissing in pain. Ellica sat down upon the earth, taking care to cradle the sapling and its rootball in her lap. Her manner was, Audrun realized, akin to her own when she tended an infant. To see it in her daughter, who had no child, struck her as odd; odder still to see that her charge was a tree, not a child. Ellica’s tears had dried, and now she wore an expression of serenity, as if she drew strength from the sapling.
Audrun caught movement from the corner of her eye and looked up from Meggie’s head. She registered braids and ornamentation; clean, sharp features, severity of expression; and a form incontestably a woman’s. Rhuan had named her Ylarra.
Ylarra halted before them. She looked at each of the children individually, as if she evaluated them. Then she looked at Audrun. “The challenge has been accepted. We shall make you this road through Alisanos. Until there is a place for you upon it, you shall remain here.”
Audrun could not curtail the bitterness in her tone. “As prisoners.”
“We do not keep prisoners,” the woman replied. “Those who are our enemies, we kill. But you have taken yourself a dioscuri as husband, and there are obligations in such things. Thus you and your young will remain as guests until there is a place for you on the road.”
Audrun had denied it several times within the confines of the Kiba, before the assembled primaries. She denied it again, save this time with neither anger nor rancor. This time she maintained self-control and spoke calmly. “You heard me before, in the Kiba. Let me say this again, since it appears you have not yet grasped the meat of the matter: I did not marry Rhuan. I unbraided his hair to cleanse his wounds. I have a husband, a human husband, in the human world.”
Ylarra’s smile was thin. She was a tall, elegant, powerful woman, larger than many men in the human world, but no less feminine for it. A light kindled in brown eyes. Amusement, Audrun believed; and an arrogance so plain as to overwhelm a human. But Audrun refused to be overwhelmed. She is a woman. Not a god; demon, perhaps.
But no, not demon. Were she to attach that label to the woman, she attached it also to Rhuan. And that she refused to do.
“Believe as you will,” Ylarra said. “But here you are subject to our customs.”
Audrun realized that she should be afraid. She was meant to be afraid. It was true she was apprehensive, but that emotion was as nothing compared to the others that informed her words. She was wife and mother; such responsibilities superseded fear. “And if I refuse to abide by your customs?”
“It would be best,” the primary said, “that you do not. We have no obligations to a human who is not--by our customs--married to a dioscuri. And we do not guest humans here, in the heart of our people.”
No threat colored her tone, no promise of punishment. A handful of words spoken quietly, evenly, with no trace of emotion. But Audrun felt it. Audrun understood. So long as she was believed to be Rhuan’s wife, sealed by Alisani customs, she and her children would be safe.
“You will be looked after,” Ylarra continued. “A neuter will be assigned, and a private chamber with certain amenities.”
Rhuan had said time ran differently in Alisanos. “For how long must we remain?”
“As I have said: until there is a place for you upon the road. This--karavansary.” Dismissal was implicit as Ylarra began to turn away.
“Wait!” Audrun wished to jump up from the bench, but she could not bear to let go of Torvic and Megritte. “Wait,” she repeated, and was gratified when the woman turned back. “You say until the road is built. But how long will that take?”
Scorn underlay the woman’s tone. “Always time, with you. How long this? How long that?” A gesture waved the question of time away. “And the answer is what, in Alisanos, the answer always is: that which is made here is completed when it is completed.”
Yet again Audrun forestalled her departure. “Are we . . . will we be safe from the poison while we’re here?”
Ylarra’s brows rose. “The ‘poison’?”
“The wild magic,” Audrun answered. “Rhuan called it a poison.”
“There is no poison here.” The primary smiled. “Only power.”
Audrun would not allow the woman to escape questioning. “Rhuan said it would change us. That we could never go home because of what it would do to us.” She steadied her voice. “If you can make this road, surely you can see us safely home. We are as yet unchanged. Wouldn’t you prefer to have us gone, we humans? Then your home would be uncorrupted.”
“Home?” Ylarra echoed. “Go home to the human world?” Braid ornamentation glinted in the light of double suns suspended above the tree, above the cliffs. “They would shun you, your folk. Is that what you want?”
Abruptly, Audrun recalled the old man, the ragged stranger in the tent settlement, who had come up to the wagon. She recalled his clawed, scaled hands. He had begged for her aid, had begged to return to Alisanos, because he was no longer welcome in the human world.
But Audrun was adamant. “Before the change begins.” She stretched out a hand and displayed it, wishing she could still the minute trembling. “See? Nothing. I am human. My children are human. There is no poison in us. Show us the way . . . take us to the border between your world and mine, and we will go.”
Ylarra said, “Ask your eldest.”
As the primary intended, Audrun instantly wanted to look at Gillan. But she would not so so. Not before the woman.
Ylarra smiled and turned away. Audrun waited tensely until the woman was gone. Then she looked at Gillan, asking without words. Asking with her eyes.
All of the color leeched out of his face. Wordlessly, he peeled back his homespun pant-leg, stripped away the bindings, and showed her the discolored flesh, the terrible patchwork of demon-scaled skin.
Already, it began.
Too late, too late, too late. Chilled flesh rose on her bones. Grief engulfed her chest, yet she shed no tears. Not before the children. She was all they had to trust, until their father came.
But inside, Audrun wept: For what they might have become; for what they once had been.
As Ylarra pronounced sentence in the Kiba, Rhuan’s heart leaped. It was so like the primaries, he realized, to assume that denying him their presence was a punishment, when in fact it was what he would have requested, given leave to do so. He realized, too, that Darmuth, the demon who reported his journey’s progress to the primaries, had told them nothing of Rhuan’s heart, the half human heart that longed to live among his mother’s people for the balance of his life. That was unexpected. Darmuth owed loyalty to the primaries; his task was to stay with his charge and monitor his doings in the human world, then divulge those doings to the primaries from time to time. As were all dioscuri, Rhuan was expected, at the completion of his journey--providing the primaries found him worthy--to challenge his sire so that he might ascend to Alario’s place, were Alario defeated. He fully expected to be found unworthy to challenge his sire, but he was still dioscuri; a successful completion of the journey would buy him a boon nonethless, and before any challenge might be mounted. It was that boon he strived for, not the chance to challenge his sire: the opportunity to inform the primaries he was departing Alisanos forever.
He might have lost the opportunity altogether, had the primaries decided his early return to Alisanos was worthy of castration. He had come close, Rhuan knew. Closer than was comfortable, were one a male.
It was a gift, this sentence. Five additional human years he would inhabit the human world. A new journey begun among humans he knew, humans he valued, humans he counted as friends.
With Ilona, who was more.
And it was time that she knew it. Time she knew him.
Alario knelt by the shaded streamlet, leaning down to scoop water with one broad hand into his mouth. But drinking, but rinsing his mouth, was not enough to wash away the bitter taste of annoyance--not regret; regret suggested weakness--and the acknowledgment that he had acted hastily, far too hastily; that he had, in a brief but overwhelming moment of fury, undone all his plans.
The edges of the streamlet were choked by groundcover aprickle with hair-thin, hollow thorns, pale-to-invisible barbs that insinuated themselves through one’s clothing into flesh. Disturbed, the thorn-guarded heart of the plant fed poison into the barbs, injecting the flesh of anyone--demon, beast, or even wayward human--with killing venom.
But Alario was a primary, and more powerful than most. Where he knelt, groundcover bent itself away, withdrawing from him in something akin to obeisance.
Quite against expectations, his mind fed him a vision of the woman. The human woman, who was all.
Infuriated, as angry as he had ever been in all of his many years, he had hurled her against the steep wooden steps of her wagon. In the instant her body struck, the moment the bones of her fragile human neck snapped, he regretted his actions, regretted his anger.
No. No, not regret; again not regret. Primaries had no regrets.
He merely wished it undone.
Alario, kneeling, nodded. Wished it undone. That was acceptable.
Self-control, even in the midst of unalloyed instinct, was paramount among the primaries. But he had allowed the woman to rouse his anger, to kindle fury and the unreasoning instinct to destroy. Wished it undone, indeed; she offered everything he needed to defeat Karadath, to destroy his brother’s get. To replace the weakness that was Rhuan.
His first human diascara, Rhuan’s mother, had never angered him. She was compliant, subservient in the months leading to the birth of the male get. Realization kindled: perhaps that was why Rhuan was a failure. The dam had been too meek. Temperament mattered.
He had taken a human woman, that particular human woman, because her scent was correct. Her pheromones appealed. She would give him, he was certain, a sound dioscuri, offspring that was strong enough to one day kill his sire.
Rhuan, he knew, could do no such thing. Worse: Rhuan had no desire to do such a thing.
Temperament was all.
The other woman, called a hand-reader by superstitous humans, was neither compliant nor subservient. That was why he
had, in fury, flung her against her wagon. And thus, in the doing of it, ruined his plans for a new dioscuri worthy of the title.
The war within was ancient, formed of blood, bone, instinct; of the drive to sire get that was stronger. And yet everything in the primary cried out to survive, to destroy every threat. Unthinking, unreasoning instinct: to survive as long as possible. And yet also to sire that which could kill its progenitor, or be relegated to the position of neuter, his manhood cut away.
Neuters, Alario recalled, discussed what was, they claimed, cognitive dissonance. How was it possible, they asked, that a male could be so driven to sire his own death? But they were neuters. The very act of amputating testicles forever excised the powerful imperative that shaped a primary.
The seed in Rhuan’s testicles, if any indeed existed, was dead. How else could one explain his wish to live among the humans; to be a human? A neuter in name, if not in fact.
Alario needed another. Another human woman. One who was not compliant, not subservient. One like the hand-reader, but with a distinct advantage: one who was alive.
He nodded. And then as the demon leaped from the shadows, Alario effortlessly caught the scaled neck in one broad hand. He closed on the throat. Squeezed. In a frenzy, the demon attempted to twist free, to double up hind legs and rake through clothing at flesh, but Alario swatted away those legs and claws with his free hand. He felt the snap in his right palm, the sudden cessation of movement as the demon’s body went lax, and threw it aside easily. He rose, smiling; a small, inconsequential demon, foolish enough to believe it might attack a primary with impunity. Now the dead demon made but a small pile of meat in the shadows beneath the trees, mostly hidden by spike-leafed brush. Others would come to feast upon its remains, of course. Nothing would be left but a scattering of bones, unless they, too, were eaten.
Alario examined his hands. No blood. He remained unsoiled. That, too, brought a smile--and then it faded. He stood quite still, very still, listening to his body, giving understanding over to his senses. They knew, the body knew, when the mind did not. It guided every primary.
That woman, the hand-reader, had appealed far more than Rhuan’s mother. He wished it undone, her death.
He wished it undone.
Was he not a primary, to wish a thing and thus gain it?
Fierce joy rose up in his body. Alario smiled, baring white teeth in the coppery tint of his face, his indisputibly beautiful predator’s face.