Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 6:30 pm

Savant's Blood: Shadow of the Avatar -- Chapter 5

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Try as we might, we can
rarely escape our fate. Still,
some judicious footwork can
stave it off for a time...
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Jharon Ko</DIV>
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<div align="center"><font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 18pt;">Chapter 5<BR>
<font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 16pt;">Precepts and Premonitions</div>
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Wren opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. The well-furnished bed chamber with its marble stonework, fluted ceilings, and flickering candelabras looked unfamiliar. Coverlets of satin and silk had been pulled up to cover her body. The agony of her wounds now felt like a dull ache on her breast and side.

It told Wren one thing and it made her shudder. The flight from Brethren hall had not been a nightmare. Her chest tightened. Grahm, Vulcindra, Tarmagal and Ishtar only knew how many others—

Dead.

She’d survived. At the moment, it seemed no blessing. Cultists now occupied the place she called home. The man she called friend and companion fallen to poison. She owned nothing now but the clothes on her back. Everything she owned of value still sat in a cubby at the Guild.

Wren felt tears trickle down her cheeks in streaks of burning that made her vision go blurry. What did she have left? Revenge? That seemed so petty now. Nothing meant anything anymore. Even if she found Desiray and saved a few lives, their existences would likely be as crushed as hers. The Brethren were shattered.

Wren sat up and pushed the covers back. The clerics had dressed her in a blue shift. The rod-and-hand sigil of Ishtar was prominent over the left breast, the garment probably belonged to one of the priestesses. Taking breaths, she tried to quell the tears. Jharon’s magic could not alleviate the pain of the cruel blow dealt to her and the Brethren. She pulled up the hem of the nightgown and examined her side. Red discolorations marked where her wounds once were. She was well enough to travel with some rest. Well enough to try to do what Grahm asked of her. What then?

It didn’t matter.

She looked around the room. The priestess to whom these chambers belonged obviously lived very well. The surroundings were anything but austere.

The candles didn’t look burned much so she probably hadn’t been unconscious for long. Had the Dagger given up or would they keep after her? Jharon turned away a few, but those would return and tell the others where she’d gone. She’d angered that priest of Set mightily, no telling what lengths he might go to.

She heard footsteps, and snatched up the only weapon in sight, a long hairpin that lay on the bed-table.

Jharon entered the room and stopped, obviously surprised to see her armed. “Still jittery I see.” He shook his head, dusky features tight. Jharon stood well over eighteen hands tall, equal parts warrior, diplomat, and academic. He needed to be big to fill all those roles at the same time; to have a fighting man’s strength, the soothing tones of a persuader, and the penetrating insightful eyes of a scholar. He possessed more than one facet, that’s what attracted her to him when they first met. That and he didn’t condemn her for associating with the guild.

He wore a black tunic and kilt rather than a temple surplice. His long hair lay in a braid over one shoulder. He’d come as a friend and not as a church official.

She put the pin down. It made an inordinately loud clatter on the wood. “I—” Her voice quavered. “I’ve been through a lot.”

Jharon came and sat on the bed. He put his arm around her shoulders. “You’ve been crying.”

Wren nodded. Could she tell him? She’d only begun to force the memories down, to try to insulate herself from them.

“Out on the steps, that rogue said something about the Dagger taking over Guildhall. Have the Brethren fallen?”

She swallowed. “Found a secret way in. Desiray was gone, Vulcindra didn’t know what she was doing. Damn, I tried to get them organized to make an orderly defense. It was a rout—I got captured...” Her voice cracked. “I—” She couldn’t force herself to continue.

“Wren, where’s Grahm?”

It hit her like a stab in the chest. She only shook her head. The words wouldn’t come; not out loud.

Jharon’s face went stony. He hugged her tight. The gesture was like an affirmation of the truth. Grahm was gone. The pain and fear she’d been trying to hold back broke loose in a torrent of sobs. She’d lived a rogue’s life, but she never stole from anyone who couldn’t afford it, nor hurt anyone who wasn’t set on killing her first. Was this retribution for her soiled existence?

Grahm gave his life trying to save her, trying to protect the only way of life they knew.

So unfair.

Jharon embraced her, running his fingers through her hair and talking in a soothing voice. She wasn’t aware of the words, only that he was there and holding her.

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Wren gazed up into a night-time panorama of swirling colors. She stood at brink of a cliff overlooking an dark ocean. Breakers of liquid ebony crashed on a shore that sparkled like crushed gems. As the waves thundered, she saw stars shining through from their undersides. The smell of flowers and scentwood drifted on a breeze that eddied like the currents of a mountain stream.

I died, didn’t I?

“No, Silly, I did.”

She turned. As she did so, she felt the ripple of clinging fabric. She wore silken robes that winked and sparkled.

“Nice dress.”

“Grahm?”

She looked up to see him standing on a rock above, dressed in his usual green leathers and black boots. The breeze blew the strands of blond hair out of his eyes. He smiled.

“Grahm?” Her heart fluttered and her chest grew tight.

“Just striking a pose for old times sake,” he said. “Memories being more pristine than reality and all that.” He stepped onto the rock next to her.

Wren took the dress in her hand. It felt like woven butterfly wings. She put her arms around him. He felt warm and solid, his heart strong and steady in his chest.

“How?”

Grahm put his hands on her cheeks. “You’re asking me? It’s your dream.” He glanced around. “Ever see anyplace like this outside of a dream?”

She looked around. “No—”

“I commend your imagination though.”

“Grahm, what’s going on!”

He sighed. “Leave it to you to spoil a moment.” Reaching out, he plucked a flower from the air. He smelled it for a moment before tossing it up. The bloom disintegrated into a sparkling dust that drifted away on the breeze. “We’re in your head.”

“What?”

Grahm frowned. “Give me a chance. I’m not used to being dead.”

“But you’re alive!”

He shook his head. “Figuratively.” He paused. “Well, maybe more than that if I accomplish my mission.”

“Mission?”

“My little Myrmigyne, a death in the family and she’s reduced to babbling. Steady yourself. Take a breath.”

She closed her eyes. Took a breath. Then opened them. Grahm remained there, hands on her shoulders, dark eyes glinting. He grinned.

“From the beginning. Some bastard cultist caught me in the back with some Karagal. I expired. You tried to escape. They caught and questioned you, then you escaped to Ishtar’s precincts. Jharon beat the Hades out of the Dagger thieves stupid enough to try him. He put your body back together, and here we are.”

“And?”

Grahm shrugged. “Here I am.”

“To put my mind back together I suppose?”

“You have to admit one doesn’t work too well without the other.” He took her hand and pulled her up the rocks. “Come on, I want to see what else you conjured up.”

They floated along the granite face before drifting over the edge and onto the hem of meadow bordering a forest of whitebark and needleleaf. A rocky brook gurgled nearby where a couple longhorn warily lapped at the water.

“I didn’t know the inside of your head was so pastoral.”

Wren stared around. “Neither did I.”

“Look Wren, we have to do each other a favor.”

She squeezed his hand. If this was a dream, she could live it for a while longer.

He put his other hand on hers. “I’m gone. Let me rest.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s difficult.” His brow knit as he tried to focus. “You’re different from other people. For someone else, I would only be a memory, a shadow, a spirit drifting up to Asgard. Your mind is stronger—” his voice trailed off. “You’re still carrying me with you.”

“Huh?”

He shook her. “Not literally. My essence, what made me Grahm and not some other street-green. That’s why she made a deal with me.”

“Who?”

“Do we need to take another breath?”

Wren felt a cold tingle. Why would he be so evasive?

“I know it sounds stupid, but get on with things. If you get back on track, I might be able to catch up with you later.”

“I don’t—”

“Wren, trust me,” his hands squeezed until her arms hurt. “The best thing you can do for me is to focus ahead. Kill those bastard Dagger if it suits you. Don’t look back. Look for me down the road.”

“This is silly. I can’t—”

He interrupted. “Wren,” his eyes narrowed. “Yes, you can. I made a deal. Don’t make me the fool. Give me a chance to live.”

“You wouldn’t make a deal with—” she wouldn’t say the word.

“Hadespawn? I think not. Consider her a concerned citizen.”

“Of where?”

“Must you know everything? Do you want me to live or not?”

“Yes.” Wren let out a breath. “What should I do though?”

“Survive, be free—grow.”

She scowled. “Grow?”

Grahm chuckled. “Figure of speech.”

“That’s it?”

“Nothing more.” He looked up then back to her eyes. “Well, one other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Kiss me. It’ll have to last me a while.”