Read Cast In Courtlight Online

Authors: Michelle Sagara

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Adult, #Dragons, #Epic, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy

Cast In Courtlight (29 page)

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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She swallowed. She had never asked him how
he
felt. Because it hadn’t mattered. And it shouldn’t matter now; he’d
murdered
them. But her throat had that peculiar tightness that spoke of trapped water, and she could barely breathe for the tightness, because with breath would come tears.

By your choice, you shall be known.

This had been his choice. And she had judged him by it.

It came to Kaylin as she followed Severn that she couldn’t see what he saw. She had seen the rune, and touched it, and it had vanished; he had seen nothing. Now she saw the halls, the stairs, the odd root-bindings that made the roof. But his odd movements, the way he slid to the side here or there, implied that he saw something different.

He teetered. He stopped again, leaning on walls. She could see his face over the slump of Steffi’s shoulders, her hair tangled and matted with dried blood, and she had to bite her lip. His face – oh, his
face
. For a moment, she could read everything in its lines. She couldn’t look away, he did, and when she could see him again, he was stiff resolve. More walking. The halls stretched on from the stairs into a different sort of light than the light that lit the walls above. Here, it was almost moonlight. The time for ferals. Death in the fiefs.

And Severn walked on.

Ferals, she thought, would smell blood. Ferals would come; they already had.

She had her daggers ready, and she listened and watched because Severn couldn’t. Perhaps because fighting would be a relief, no ferals came to interrupt this funereal procession, this silence.

Finally, Severn came to a stop. He staggered, and his knees buckled. He hit the dirt awkwardly. And it was dirt; no cold, icy stone. But the ground was hard, she thought. She didn’t touch it. Instead, she watched over the girls while Severn turned away.

When he turned back, he carried not a blade but a shovel. Where it had come from, she didn’t know; that it was magic, she didn’t doubt. But neither of these seemed to be strange to her. She watched, and bore witness, to his pain and his determination.

He began to dig. Hours passed, or so it felt. She had no like shovel to help him. Just daggers, and daggers wouldn’t help. They wouldn’t expand the earthen bed. They wouldn’t deepen it, or make it long enough that it could hold, in the end, the two things precious enough to work for.

She hadn’t buried her mother. Her eyes were watering. She could have pretended it was something other than tears; would have told anyone who watched that some of the flying dirt had lodged in her eye. Tears were weakness. But to herself? No lies, here.

Just Severn and her girls.

He lifted Steffi first, and brushed the hair from her forehead. And then he
kissed
her forehead, all the while whispering something she could not hear. Prayer was useful then; she never wanted to hear it.

He laid Steffi down in the grave, and then turned to Jade, who had been so difficult in her own way. Hard to love, wary to trust, plain and often sullen. But he held her more tightly. He didn’t kiss her forehead because she had never liked to be kissed or touched much.

He laid her, gently, beside Steffi, arranging them with care so that they would never have to be alone. And then he knelt again, as if he had no further strength, and he stayed by the edge of the grave for a long time.

Almost longer than Kaylin could bear.

She tried to take the shovel in her hands, but her hands passed through it. She tried again, and again, she was reminded that she was simply an observer here. She couldn’t help in any way.

It’s not for him
, she told herself in something very like fury and yet very different.
It’s for them
. But no one was listening.

Severn finally rose. There was blood on his hands and on his shoulders, on his chest, on his face; their blood. He didn’t seem to be aware of it. He lifted the shovel, and she saw that his hands were blistered. And that he clearly didn’t notice, or didn’t care.

He began to shovel the dirt back over them, like a blanket. She looked at his hands, at the growing dirt that covered Steffi and Jade, at the pointed end of the shovel. At anything but his face. And when he finished, he sat again, the point of the shovel buried in the hard earth, his hand upon its handle. He said nothing. What could he say? he rose at last, and turned back the way he’d come.

She was there.

His eyes rounded perceptibly.

By your choice
, she thought.

He saw the daggers in her hands. He saw her expression. He simply waited. And from the ceiling that should have been sky, the tendril of one great root eased itself out of the mass and dropped to the ground, planting itself beside the bodies. Had it been nearer the grave, she would have chopped at it in fury. Even though she could see the words written across it like a bright banner.

Shapes shifted, runes becoming different runes, and then becoming letters, until they were in Elantran and Barrani, a jumbled mix of languages ill suited to each other.

What is your will, now?
the words said.

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

You know. And now you have seen what you did not see, and more. What is your choice?

She said nothing. Severn did not seem to notice the root, although he must have heard her answer the shifting lines that appeared across its width in a band.

“I think,” she said quietly, “that he’s suffered enough.” Words she could never have imagined she would say seven years ago.

Severn frowned; it was the look that stole over his face when he was concentrating. “You buried them,” she said to him.

He nodded. Stiff and guarded now, his expression neutral.

“Where?”

He shrugged. “Does it matter?”

Her turn to nod.

“Why? They’re still dead. I killed them.”

“I want to go there.” She hadn’t, until she spoke. Or hadn’t realized it. But she
did
. And only Severn could take her.

She lifted a hand and touched his face; the tips of her fingers traced the scar he’d taken in a feral fight when they had both been young. To her surprise, he flinched, and she let her hand drop away. But the root had thickened, and the writing was now glowing a faint luminescent blue. Severn’s frown made it clear that he was, at last, aware of where they actually were; the past receded. But it would never let him go. She understood that now.

She had a better chance of escaping.

Yes
, the root said.
You do. You were the Chosen, and you failed
.

“I couldn’t save them,” she whispered.

That was not your duty.

She understood then, and she did drive a dagger into the words of the root. Light sparked as metal hit wood; it did not even scar the surface.

“They
were
my duty!” she said savagely. “I promised – ”

Your duty, Chosen, was to preserve the balance and the power. You failed. And this one was standing in your shadow. He understood what you failed to understand.

He took the burden upon himself. He killed them. He was not Chosen; he had no power. He has endured what you should have endured because you did not have the strength to do what must be done.

But
it
should have been your hand
.

“I was a child!”

Ignorance is not an excuse. It is a fact, like any other. You wished him dead because he could do what you could not.

Choose.

But she had already chosen. Severn was a Hawk, not a Wolf.

Choose.

She snarled in Leontine. Had she fangs and claws, she would have ripped the root from its mooring and
eaten
the damn thing, just to shut it up. It was a favored Leontine threat. But she had neither.

She looked up, met Severn’s eyes; he wavered in the frame of her vision. She said, “I want to see them.”

He said nothing.

Her voice thickened. “Severn – ”

But he shook his head. “I chose,” he said harshly. “I killed them. Not you, Kaylin. You could never have done it.” He believed it. Why wouldn’t he? He had known her better than anyone; it was true.

Oh, she had hated him. Hate froze in her, hard and cold; it lost all life in that moment. “You saved the world,” she told him. And this time, she meant it. She wanted to weep.

“What kind of a world,” was his bitter reply, “did I save, that could demand this?”

“Our kind,” she answered. She touched his face slowly, and this time, he didn’t stop her. Instead, he lowered his head into her hand. She’d dropped the dagger, but it hadn’t made much sound; it was caught in the folds of her skirt. The other one joined it. She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew his head down, and she held him for a long, long time.

Hating, at last, not Severn, but Kaylin.

He is yours
, the root said, the words writing themselves in a flurry of motion and metamorphosis.
Because he bears your burden. Understand what is offered. Understand that ignorance will not save you
.

And she said, “I’ll take him. We had each other, once, and we only had each other.” She paused and added, “The world is still worth saving.” Barely. But barely would do.

Then
climb
, the words said. You
have passed
through
the first door
.

Chapter Fourteen

“Easy for you to say,” Kaylin murmured.

Severn drew back and looked at her. He could see her face. He gently unwound her arms, and took another step back. He could see her skirt. The latter made him wince. “The daggers,” he said.

“I can clean them.”

“You can’t sew with them.”

“There is that. Do you think it’s obvious?”

“Two gaping slashes and some blood?”

She grimaced. Took a step back and hit the broad root. It was still there.

Severn frowned at it. “We’re going to have a bit of trouble getting past that,” he said at last.

“I’m not sure we’re supposed to.” She placed her hands around the great root, and got dirt under her fingernails. Again. The words hadn’t changed any further, and they no longer glowed. “I think we’re supposed to shinny up the damn thing.”

“To where?”

She raised a brow. “Someplace that isn’t here.”

“I’ll go first.”

“The hell you will.” She added after a moment, “I’m going to need a bit of a push.”

He laughed. Bracing himself, he intertwined his hands, and she put a shoe in them. He lifted her, and she caught root, and then a series of roots. She began to push them aside, and they fell away as if they were only barely lodged in some unseen surface.

“Is there a hole?”

“Not much of one. But I think we can push ourselves through this mess, if that’s any help.”

He nodded, and she came down. When he stood again, she was sitting on his shoulders. She began to work, pushing small tendrils to one side or the other around the trunk of the large root; it seemed to travel straight up now, instead of across the roof.

She nodded an okay, which he couldn’t see; she smacked herself on the side of the head, and told him that she was about to let go. Which, in this case, meant clamber up his shoulders, standing on them as she tried to find purchase along the single vertical root.

She managed to do this; dirt was all of her vision for a minute, and dirt was not her favorite thing to inhale. But the smell of it was clean and new, and she contented herself with that. She edged up, and up again, and then her face broke surface, as if the earth were a river that moved slowly and imperceptibly, carrying life with it.

She could see something that looked like moonlight – the red moon was full; the bright moon must be hidden by something in the distance. She could see something that looked like grass at the level of her eye, and having been on the end of a few losing fights, was both familiar and uncomfortable with the view. She reached out, grabbed a handful of said grass, and pulled it up in an attempt to drag herself forward. Which was stupid, because she was sitting between the V formed by the exterior roots of a tree. A really, really tall tree.

She grabbed the exposed roots instead, and felt a familiar – and unwelcome – tingle that traveled up her palms. Which, given the lack of a warning mark, was a tad annoying. She pulled herself up and let go as quickly as possible.

Severn was a bit slower to follow, but not by much. He had height, and he had always been better at climbing than she had; he could find purchase on almost vertical walls in cracks that she would have sworn wouldn’t aid a mouse.

“Where are we?” he asked her.

It was a perfectly reasonable question, and because it was, she was also annoyed. Being reasonable when the world wasn’t reasonable wasn’t always a gift to the person on the receiving end. But, being a Hawk, she let her eyes acclimatize themselves to the faint light. “I think we’re in a garden. Well, with walls. And pointy things on the top of the walls.”

“Heads on the spikes?”

“I can’t see them that well.”

He shrugged, brushing dirt from his tunic. The dirt that had lodged in his mail would have to wait.

“Garden,” he said after another minute. “With flower beds.”

The way he said the word made her stiffen. Or cringe. Severn was, like Kaylin, not a big fan of cultivated plants that couldn’t also be eaten. This meant that he only noticed the wrong kind. As if to underscore this, he lifted a hand and pointed.

Around the great tree, in a careful circle that was bounded on either side by low rocks, were white plants with four petals; they were open, and their golden hearts were exposed. Even in the moonlight, Kaylin could identify those flowers. Lethe.

She groaned. “If they are Lethe flowers – ”

“They are.”

“No one’s harvesting them. Not here.” The dirt that clung to her dress was sort of embedded. She didn’t even bother to try to remove it. Instead, she touched the trailing weight of Sanabalis’s medallion. The dirt there was easier to brush aside. “I could maybe try burning them – ”

“Don’t even think it,” he snapped.

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
3.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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