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First Lords Fury, Page 9

Jim Butcher
three, and so on, until every single one of them had gathered in the air around him. The first time he had successfully called the wind furies to him, it had taken him half an hour to accomplish the feat. Since then, he'd cut that time down to about three minutes, and was getting faster, but he still had a considerable way to go.

  He knew when he was ready. The very air around him crawled eerily against his skin, pressing and caressing. Then he opened his eyes, called to the furies in his thoughts, and gathered them into a windstream that swirled and spun, then lifted him gently from the cavern's snowy floor. He guided the furies into lifting him until the soles of his boots were about three feet from the floor, and hovered there, frowning in concentration.

  "Good," Alera said calmly. "Now redirect - and do not forget the windshield this time. "

  Tavi nodded and twisted the angle of the windstream, so that it pressed against him from behind and below, and he began to move slowly across the cavern. The required concentration was enormous, but he made the attempt to split that focus into a separate partition in his thoughts, maintaining the windstream while he focused on forming a shield of solidified air in front of him.

  For a second, he thought it was going to work, and he began to press ahead with more force, to move into speedier flight. But seconds later, his concentration faltered, the wind furies flew apart like so much dandelion fluff, and he plunged down - directly into the center of the thirty-foot pool.

  The shock of the cold of near-freezing water sucked the breath out of his lungs, and he flailed wildly for a second, until he forced himself to use his mind rather than his limbs. He reached out to the furies in the water, gathering them to him in less than a quarter of a minute - he was more adept with watercrafting - and willed them into lifting him from the water and depositing him on the snowy floor of the ice cavern. It did not particularly lessen the bitter, biting pain of the cold, and he lay there shuddering.

  "You continue to improve," Alera said, looking down at him. She considered his half-frozen state calmly. "Technically. "

  "Y-y-you are n-n-not b-b-being h-h-helpful," Tavi stammered through his wracking shivers.

  "Indeed not," Alera said. She adjusted her dress as if it were any other cloth and knelt beside him. "That is something you must understand about me, young Gaius. I may appear in a form similar to yours, but I am not a being of flesh and blood. I do not feel as you do, about any number of things. "

  Tavi tried to focus on a firecrafting that would begin to build up the heat in his body, but there was so little left that it would be a lengthy process, assuming he could manage it at all. He needed an open source of flame to make it simple, but there wasn't one. "W-what d-do y-you m-mean?"

  "Your potential death, for example," she said. "You could freeze to death on this floor, right now. It wouldn't particularly upset me. "

  Tavi thought it a fine thing to keep focusing on his firecrafting. "Wh-why not?"

  She smiled at him and brushed a strand of hair back from his forehead. It crackled, and a few bits of ice fell down over his eyelashes. "All things die, young Gaius," she said. Her eyes went distant for a moment, and she sighed. "All things. And I am old - far, far older than you could comprehend. "

  "H-how o-old?"

  "You have no frame of reference that is useful," she said. "Your mind is exceptionally capable, but even you could scarcely imagine a quantity of one million objects, much less the activity of a million years. I have seen thousands of millions of years, Octavian. In a time such as that, oceans swell and die away. Deserts become green farmlands. Mountains are ground to dust and valleys, and new mountains are born in fire. The earth itself flows like water, great ranges of land spinning and colliding, and the stars themselves spin and reel into new shapes. " She smiled. "It is the great dance, Aleran, and the lifetime of your race is but a beat within a measure. "

  Tavi shivered even harder. That was a good sign, he knew. It meant that more blood was getting to his muscles. They were slowly getting warmer. He kept up the firecrafting.

  "In that time," she said, "I have seen the deaths of many things. Entire species come and go, like the sparks rising from a campfire. Understand, young Gaius. I bear you no ill will. But any given single life is a matter of such insignificance that, honestly, I have trouble telling one of you from the next. "

  "I-if that's true," Tavi said, "th-then wh-why a-are you h-here with me?"

  She gave him a rueful smile. "Perhaps I am indulging a whim. "

  "P-perhaps you aren't t-telling the whole tr-truth. "

  She laughed, a warm sound, and Tavi abruptly felt his heartbeat surge, and his muscles slowly began to unlock. "Clever. It is one of the things that make your kind appealing. " She paused, frowning thoughtfully. "In all my time," she said at last, "no one had ever spoken to me. Until your kind came. " She smiled. "I suppose I enjoy the company. "

  Tavi felt the warmth beginning to gather in his belly as the firecrafting finally gained momentum. Now he'd just have to be careful not to let it build too much. He might be tired of the cold, but he didn't think that setting his intestines on fire would be any more pleasant in the long term. "But i-if I died, would you have anyone to talk to?"

  "It would be bothersome, but I suppose I could find and keep track of some other bloodline. "

  The shuddering finally - finally! - abated. Tavi sat up slowly, and reached up to rake his wet hair back. His fingers felt stiff and partially numb. Bits of ice fell from his hair. He kept the firecrafting going. "Like Aquitainus Attis?" Tavi suggested.

  "Likely," she said, nodding. "He's a great deal more like your predecessor than you are, after all. Though I understand his name is Gaius Aquitainus Attis now. I'm not sure I understand why a legal process would alter his self-identity. "

  Tavi grimaced. "It doesn't. It's meant to alter how everyone else thinks of him. "

  Alera shook her head. "Baffling creatures. It is difficult enough for you to control your own thoughts, much less one another's. "

  Tavi smiled, his lips pressed tightly over his teeth. "How much longer before we'll be able to send them a message and let them know that we're coming?"

  Alera's eyes went distant for a moment before she spoke. "The vord seem to have realized how waterways are used for communications. They are damming many streams and have placed sentry furies to intercept messenger furies within all the major rivers and tributaries. They have almost entirely enveloped the coastlines of the western and southern shores of the continent. As a result, it seems unlikely that it will be possible to form a connection via the waterways until you have advanced several dozen miles inland from the coast, at the very least. "

  Tavi grimaced. "We'll have to send aerial messengers as soon as we're close enough. I assume that the vord know we are coming. "

  "That remains unclear," Alera said. "But it seems a wise assumption to make. Where will you make landfall?"

  "On the northwest coast, near Antillus," Tavi replied. "If the vord are there, we will assist the city's defenders and leave our civilians there before we march inland. "

  "I am sure High Lord Antillus will be filled with pleasure at the notion of tens of thousands of Canim camping on his doorstep," Alera murmured.

  "I'm the First Lord," Tavi said. "Or will be. He'll get over it. "

  "Not if the Canim devour his resources - his food stores, his livestock, his holders. . . "

  Tavi grunted. "We'll leave several crews of leviathan hunters behind us. I'm sure he won't mind if a few dozen miles of his coastline are cleared of the beasts. "

  "And how will you feed your army on the march inland?" Alera asked.

  "I'm working on it," Tavi said. He frowned. "If the vord aren't stopped, all of my species is likely to be destroyed. "

  Alera turned her glittering, shifting gemstone eyes to him. "Yes. "

  "If that happens, who would you talk to?" Tavi asked.

  The expression on her beautiful face was unreadable. "It i
sn't an eventuality that concerns me. " She shook her head. "The vord are, in their way, almost as interesting as your own kind - if far more limited in flexibility of thought. And variety is nonexistent among them, in most senses of the word. They would likely grow quickly tiresome. But. . . " She shrugged. "What will be, will be. "

  "And yet you're helping us," Tavi said. "The training. The information you can provide us. They are invaluable. "

  She bowed her head to him. "It is a far cry from taking action against them. I am helping you, young Gaius. I am not harming them. "

  "A very fine distinction. "

  She shrugged.