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Authors: Sherwood Smith,Dave Trowbridge

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BOOK: The Phoenix in Flight
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She wanted Semion to die, and she wanted to choose the
moment when it happened. She would have liked it to be in the bedroom where she
had been subjected to five years of little deaths, but it would be equally just
if it happened here, in Semion’s private retreat, where he thought himself
safest.

And Cheruld wanted her to save him?
Is evil to win again?
she thought bitterly, stalking into her bedroom and sitting down at her
ancient carved-wood desk.

What had Cheruld said? Eusabian of Dol’jhar. She thought
back to the attack on the Panarchy, when she was a little girl on Rifthaven.
The Dol’jharians were tall, imposing, with strange (some said savage)
customs—everyone had been afraid of them, that much she remembered. Perhaps
that was why Martin, who hated Semion almost as much as she did, wanted Semion
to live. Semion held flag rank in the Navy, and had ships at his command. An
emergency like this would override the unspoken exile the Panarch had imposed
on Semion after the night of Galen’s Enkainion.

All the sons to die, and the Panarch, too, no doubt.

She frowned sightlessly at the desk, thinking of the third
son, Brandon, whom she had met just once, that horrible night of her single
visit to Arthelion. She remembered the pride in Galen’s voice when he talked of
his younger brother’s brilliance, despite there having been some sort of
scandal that had resulted in Brandon’s being removed from the Naval Academy a
few years before.

She pressed her hands over her eyes. In spite of the
terrible pressure of her decision, no, because of it, she retreated into the
glory of memory.

How happily the visit had begun, how loving was Galen’s
pride when he introduced Sara to Brandon. “
Here is my future wife
,” he’d
said. “
Just as our father married our mother, I’ve chosen my own partner
.”
And Brandon had bowed just as one would to a kyriarch, then took her hands, and
said, “
Welcome to the family!”

The Enkainion of an Arkad required Galen to be alone, but
Brandon had postponed his yacht trip so they could have that one evening, just
the three of them. She sighed. The brothers had talked so fast, finishing one
another’s sentences, sometimes launching into song. Sara had joined them or
just listened, as she wished, oh, the freedom of singing when she chose, and
how intently they had listened!

One evening of laughter, talk, and song, until the room
filled with Navy people, and Semion himself was there; the last Sara saw of
Brandon was an honor guard of Marines escorting him back to his yacht.

And then... and then... Sara had tried ever since to
suppress the memory of Semion’s command that she leave them to talk in private
for a moment—a moment that had stretched to five years. Never to say good-bye,
to see Galen’s face or hear his voice again. All she had of him was Semion’s
words, when he came to her cabin on the private yacht that night: “
My
brother, it seems, needs a lesson in the political verities that you seem to
have mastered. How fitting that your lives balance against the other’s
cooperation. We will begin now
...”

Sara did not know what the Panarch had said to Semion
shortly after; she had only felt the result in Semion’s cold, and unrelenting
anger when he was forbidden to return to court.

Sara had heard very little news of the outside world other
than through her secret channel to Martin Cheruld. The bits of gossip about
Brandon she’d garnered reported that he did little but carouse and lose great
sums playing games, as publicly as possible.

Whether true or not, whether Brandon lives or not, he can
do nothing against Semion.

She shook her head, fighting against the tears that burned
her eyes.
lf Galen is dead, then so is life, and joy, and meaning. Yet Martin
wants Semion spared, just to exchange one evil for another? Semion shall
not
live to triumph.

Men’s voices: in the hall, downstairs.

She lifted her head, recognizing in the echoing laughter a
familiar hard edge. Even on retreat, Semion always traveled with half a dozen
formally uniformed officers around him, as well as the swarm of servants. They
are Semion’s dogs
, she thought
.

The servants would no doubt be sweeping the rest of the
house, but they would not step in here unless Semion commanded it. Sara picked
up her quill and dipped it, and began writing random sentences. Since her own
exile here on Narbon she had quickly embraced the aristocratic practice of
penning one’s own letters—how graceful and leisurely! And how extravagant, to
send a piece of paper between star systems! But she wrote no letter now. He
must only see the pose, and would not have time to read over her shoulder.

She heard the hard impact of his boots on the polished wood
floor, and smiled.
I’m sorry, Martin. Your news only hardens my resolve.

Semion walked into the room. “This is intriguing, Sara. You
desired a retreat? Alone, or had you someone in mind to share it with?”

Despite the frantic beat of her heart, she managed a steady
voice. “I trust your intervention was successful?”

He gave her a scornful smile. “We found no sign of Rifters
anywhere in that sector. That fool Wortley pays altogether too much attention
to his Highdweller connections. I’ve replaced him with a sensible Downsider.
Jeph Koestler will restore order. There is no need for my supervision.”

One of his hands was already unbuttoning his dark blue tunic
as he advanced into the room, and Sara, unnerved by the approaching climax of
her plans, forced her face to assume the calm expression that had been her only
shield for five years.

Semion’s hard eyes narrowed, and his lips tightened. “What’s
wrong, my dear?”

The hateful distortion of that
my dear
infused her
with angry energy. She smiled straight into his eyes and laid her hands on his
shoulders, pushing him so that his back was now squarely to the monneplat,
which would deliver not drinks but death.

His fingers ran up her sides and started to part her wrapper
as he muttered, “I trust I am not inconveniencing some lucky underling?”

The words rolled over her tongue with a rare, rich taste,
the vintage taste of the wine of vengeance, five years in the aging. “For your
pleasure,” she said: the code words her assassin listened for.

She watched hungrily, drinking in his expression as the
amusement became a mild puzzlement at the unfinished, unexpected sentence. She
heard the faint
spit;
his face reflected surprise and momentary pain,
then his eyes lost all expression and the dead fingers traced down one of her
breasts as he crumpled to the floor.

The assassin parted the tapestry and stood facing her, jac
still in hand. Between Sara and the assassin a thin curl of smoke rose from the
tiny charred pit in Semion’s back, like a sacrifice of incense to an unloving
god. The assassin was a couple of years younger than she, with the empty eyes
of a psychopath, and the pallid face of one who spent his time in darkness and
secret byways unlit by any sun. His eyes slid to the open “V” of her wrapper,
which revealed her flesh in a clear line to her stomach. She made no effort to
close it as she read in his eyes what was going to come next, and what she must
do.

She lifted a hand to brush her hair off her forehead,
smiling vacantly at him, watching lust quicken in his pale eyes as they
followed the shifting movement of her clinging silk gown. She thrust one hip
subtly forward and noted his hand clenching on his jac.

“I’m supposed to kill you, too,” he said, his voice already
getting raw.

“Oh, please,” she murmured, as though reading lines in a bad
wiredream drama. “I’ll do anything.”

His face reflected his thoughts as clearly as if he spoke
aloud. The assassin kept the jac clutched in his hand while he used her, there
on the bed next to the dead body of the Aerenarch. At the end she shut her
eyes, thinking:
the last time.

He stood up and straightened his clothing, and she lay there
watching him, smiling with promise. He stood looking at her as he fingered his
jac, then abruptly sheathed it and turned to the corpse on the floor. She heard
a brief shivery sound terminated by a soft crunch, then the rumple of cloth.
The assassin straightened up and glanced at her with a sated smile, his eyes
manic.

“I’ll be back for you,” he said hoarsely, and slipped out of
the room, a sack dangling from one hand.

Sara lay there until he was gone, then sat up and looked at
the corpse on the floor.

Much as she had hated Semion, the sight of his headless body
shocked her numb with horror.

Galen...
Galen.

The reality of violent death made her reach desperately
across the gulf that separated her from Galen—who must be lying this very
moment in the same slow-stiffening embrace of death.

In the distance the sounds of shouts and jac-fire reached
her, but she had no thoughts to spare for Semion’s satellites. Dry sobs
wrenched her body as she stumbled to her carryall and withdrew an old book and
a tiny perfume vial carved in the shape of a teardrop. Under the book’s cover
was a tiny, hand-painted portrait of Galen. The serene face smiled out at her,
the clear dark eyes looking beyond her into some dimension of unseen poetry,
unheard music. Grief was crumbling the safety of her anger now, and it was
impossible to control the strangling sobs as she carried the portrait into the
bain.

She dropped her wrapper on the floor and stepped down into
the cleansing embrace of the bath, kissing the portrait clutched in one hand
until it glistened wetly with her tears. Then, with her teeth, she unstoppered
the green bottle, brought in case Semion discovered her intention: she had
never once considered that there lay a different intention behind the Poets. A
sharp scent pinched her nostrils and she tipped her head back, swallowing the
contents without letting them touch her tongue.

She flung the bottle aside and her hands closed on both
sides of the portrait as she gazed desperately on it, trying to fill her mind
only with memories of Galen. Behind her ribs fear fluttered; she was cold
despite the warm water bubbling around her. But there was relief, too, that the
woman had told the truth.
There will be no pain,
she had said, and there
wasn’t.

Sara’s gaze flickered away in a spasm, then fixed hard on
the portrait again, but her mind was slipping away from her, and she no longer
noticed what was happening to her body. The painted face melted into Galen’s
features, alive and smiling, the first time he looked on her, the first time
she sang for him, the first time they made love: an effortless swirl of
remembered sound and feeling, then a sudden swoop of motion took her over the
edge of an infinite fall with a barely registered sensation of gratitude.

SIX
ARTHELION

Lenic Deralze was not surprised when Nemo met him at the
adit Brandon had specified in their second exchange of messages. The Arkad dogs
ranged freely throughout the Mandala and the surrounding archipelago, aided and
tracked by the Palace computer, making up a formidably loyal additional layer
of security.

With Nemo at his side, no one would question his presence,
for they would assume that without the dog, no door would open to him, no lift
or transport operate. Unless he had a fairly high-level override, as indeed he
did, courtesy of the Poets.

As the gray walls of the sub-tunnel whizzed past, Deralze
looked down at the dog curled up at his feet and reflected on the history the
animal represented. A thousand years ago Nemo’s eponymic ancestor had saved the
life of the boy Jaspar Arkad, who would become the first Panarch. Was this Nemo
now shepherding the intended assassin of Jaspar’s remote descendant to his
victim, thus closing a millennial circle? Deralze would have answered that
question without hesitation a month ago, before his meeting with the Krysarch
at the spaceport bar. Now he felt less certain.

The transport carrier stopped and hissed open. The lift
opposite opened as the dog approached.

The lift moved more slowly than Deralze remembered. When it
stopped, he took a deep breath and keyed the door, which slid open silently.
Deralze was unprepared for the blow to his emotions when he smelled the
familiar air of the Palace Minor, and saw the same elegant hallways he’d walked
during the years he was Brandon’s bodyguard.

As was traditional on the night of an Arkad’s Enkainion, no
one was about. Still expecting a trap—
there’s nothing like a conspirator on
the watch for conspiracies
—he made his way quickly to Brandon’s suite.

Just short of the door, Nemo stopped and watched as Deralze
approached it.

It didn’t open. The Poets-supplied override wasn’t high
enough for this wing of the palace.


Ghay mahl
,” he said to the dog, the words coming
back to him despite ten years’ absence.

The dog just stood there, his mouth slightly open, his
thickly-furred tail held low and twitching slightly side to side.

Deralze let his breath out, reaching for the calm at the
center of the Ulanshu Disciplines. He wasn’t about to try for his sleeve
weapon, even though the poison slivers it delivered were near-instantaneous in
effect. A dead dog wouldn’t open the door.

He approached the dog. Nemo nosed his crotch, then trotted
past him through the door, which whisked open silently.

No guards or servants were within. Tradition demanded that
Arkads be alone to meditate before making their Enkainion, and again, the heir
before his or her coronation. Brandon’s suite looked unfamiliar without the
usual swarm of valets, dogs and guards, yet it was familiar enough to cause a
tightness in Deralze’s chest.

Nemo trotted toward the bedchamber, looking back at Deralze
as he paused at the door. Deralze followed the dog inside, where a single
figure was outlined beneath the covers. The anger sparked again. Meditation on
a life of Service? Brandon was sound asleep.

BOOK: The Phoenix in Flight
12.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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