Section I: Episode 25
January 19, 2015
The gangsters stopped a little ways up the trail, clearly blocking it. Testasian imagined how trivial it would be to step onto the grass and walk around them, and for a moment she thought Ilib would actually do it—he was that sort—but instead he held out his left arm to stop her. Who these supposed gangsters were, she had no idea. To her they were just a few more of Ilib's countless enemies. Her mentor took a few last steps toward them, and halted.
"Good afternoon," he told them. "May I help you?"
The leader wore an angry scowl, and barked:
"Did you think you would see the Governor? I'm going to kill you today instead. You killed my master, ruined my career, and caused my family to exile me. I had to turn to the underworld because of you."
"I should have killed you too, yes," Ilib nodded, "but couldn't we settle our dispute some other time?" He gestured toward Testasian. "My friend has business with the Governor as well. It would be rude to delay her."
"R-rude?!" The leader sneered and growled. "Let your lady friend watch your lifeless body bleed into the dirt."
"Would you at least tell me your name again, first? I can't seem to remember it for some reason."
The gangster gave a sharp grunt, and one of his four lackeys drew his sword and charged. It was a poor attack. Whomever this gangster was, he wasn't anywhere near Ilib's skill. Testasian couldn't see her mentor's face, but she imagined he was smiling.
Ilib made it look like stage play. He stepped lightly to his side and evaded the sword attack almost without effort. As the lackey dashed by, Ilib grabbed his head in both hands and snapped the poor mate's neck.
The leader gasped, and swore.
"Why don't you all attack me at once?" Ilib suggested. "It'll be faster."
"All you do is stand there and insult me! I'll take that smirk off your face."
So he was smiling.
The leader gestured for his remaining mates to back off. Then he drew his own sword, from a long, curved scabbard of gold and arjor wood. This was a daopdach, the weapon of a Colla Morjur. Heavy, long indeed, and solid as a boulder. Did it really belong to this disgraced and pathetic mate? Had he stolen it? A warrior should never be beneath her own weapon, but that's what it seemed like to Testasian here.
Ilib must have drawn the same conclusion, because he declined to draw his own sword, and extended his arms for hand combat instead. Another insult. Everything Ilib had done toward this bunch had been an insult of some kind. An awful frown formed on the leader's face, and after a pause he returned his sword to its sheath.
Then it was over. The gangster attacked, a basic punch to the chest meant to feel out Ilib's style, but Ilib simply allowed the blow, seized the gangster's throat, and crushed it. The gangster began to gag immediately, and blood poured out of his mouth. He staggered backward, clawed at his throat, and died.
The remainder of his cohort made exclamations of terror and ran. Ilib watched them pass over the hillside, then turned around. He was still smiling.
"Pardon the interruption," he said. Then he offered his left arm. "Shall we be on our way?"
She took his arm, but as soon as they resumed walking she noticed he was stiff.
"Did he get you?"
"A couple of ribs on my left side. Just bruised, I think. I'm fine." He winced, and his free hand went to his chest.
The day was still beautiful, and Testasian noticed how easy it was for her to relax again. Her good mood had never been far away. The death of a couple of mooks didn't mean much to her. She was more concerned about the Governor's decision. Would he allow Ilib the powers he sought?
"I am getting older, though."
She looked over at him, and he was looking back at her.
"Not like you. You could have taken them all, and suffered no injury of any kind."
"Thank you, Toldeyo."
"It is not a compliment. I merely acknowledge what I know."
As they crested the knoll, the end of the park came into view. Ahead lay the noisy city.
"For many years I have protected you from what I had thought were dangerous circumstances. Only recently did I realize that you could have fought in my place on any of those occasions, and acquitted yourself better. You hid it from me well."
In her surprise she looked at him once more, with wider eyes. He was still looking back at her, still smiling.
"You have it all ahead of you, Testasian."
"When you release me," she told him, "we will take it together, as colleagues."
"I release you."
She stopped. He stopped too, the smile gone. In its place, a look of simple satisfaction.
Around her, the birds, the breeze, the noises of the traffic beyond. The voices of others nearby.
"May I offer one last word as Toldeyo?"
It took a moment for the words to request to register with her. She had already been lost in her imagination, thinking about what she would do with her new status.
Ilib nodded in thanks.
"I know how you feel right now. And you think it'll last forever." He shook his head. "It won't. And, by the time you realize it has faded, you will accept that."
She puzzled at him.
"Why tell me this?"
He scratched his head, then brushed his hand through his long, graying hair.
"You always wanted to know the story of my life."
* * *
The song of the mighty bell Ar Nindar faded, at least enough for Galavar's senses to return to him. That had been a good vision. The clearest yet, the most compelling.
Galavar looked out at the column of light, pouring out of the bore of the Fateful Well and drawing knots in the air before dispersing into a canopy of sparkling light above them. It was a mesmerizing sight.
That torrent of light was called in Ieikili parlance the Will of the People. It was the Power of Sourros, bent to viutari desire. To Galavar it was like looking upon God and seeing only the reflection of himself and Civilization.
The ringing bell quieted further, and Galavar became aware of everyone else stirring around him. What had they seen, he wondered. What had their recollections been?
The River, Jahvoy, rose his voice and all but shouted:
"May the words from the mouths of those long dead, and the emotions that swelled their sparks and gave meaning to their lives, be acceptable to us, their descendents and redeemers."
That was the prayer the River said every year. But then Jahvoy said something new, echoing Sourros' words from the night before:
"What you have seen was a gift from the God of Logic and Wisdom, a vision of the primordial past, before the counting of our years, in the ancient time when the Two Gods dwelt in Relance. What you have beheld was a private moment in lives long, long past. Your vision was for you alone, chosen in God's wisdom to lead you toward a better future than the one our ancestors knew. But now let us depart!" His voice rose; now he was shouting unambiguously. "Let us depart now from the roads of knowing, and be reaved of all clarity, just as God has commanded us!"
Jahvoy nodded to the Cantor, then, who struck the bell again, far more forcefully than he had done before.
Gasps and even a few screams erupted from the assembly. To strike Ar Nindar twice was forbidden. Galavar knew that much, but he didn't know why.
He was about to.
The bell's song roared, unbearable, and Galavar and everyone around him crumpled as the world faded to an opalescent white …
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!