Ghosts’ Prey, Chapter Nine, Part Two

Her decision was not a popular one with the Atta, apart from Aril. She had been temporarily deflated by Orrin’s vicious mockery of her but was now proudly walking the temporary camp, celebrating Eris’ fulfilment of her prophecy. A decision would be made, she’d declared. But had she meant Eris’ decision to save the farm-voln that the rest of the Rexakyde had wanted hunted down, or had she meant Eris’ decision to aid the shadow dancer in finding his greening? Either way, Aril could be seen casting haughty glances over the Atta as the Rexakyde mingled with them. Through her white mask of bone paste her green eyes flashed vibrantly as she assured herself of her high new status among the Atta of the ‘chosen one’, Eris.

Eris scoffed. ‘Chosen’?! She rolled her eyes and went back to her work, kneeling down in the dark tilled soil of the farm lands to heal those who had been thrashed about by the shadow dancers. A few broken ribs, bloodied eyes, and twisted limbs were easy enough to repair. Compared to what she had wrought for Thoma and his arm it was easy enough work. The farm-voln were also moving among the Atta, the children bringing them water and food from the farmstead, but their eyes were often on the horizon, looking towards the King’s road and Tralis beyond it. Beloved had been easy to track once he’d gotten beyond the chaos and turmoil of the Atta’s many feet on the earth. He was definitely heading towards Tralis and the thousands of button men there. Soon the Atta would have to go.

For now Eris focussed on urging a knee cap back to where it should lie, while trying to calm the whimpering of the street-voln lad.

“Our guest is causing disquiet.” It was Pierson, crouching down beside her and whispering, while putting a comforting hand on Pav’s shoulder. His eyes looked towards the shadow dancer undulating nearby. Eris had put four Atta to stand guard about it, their arrowheads newly greened with deadly slickness, and it was making no effort to move elsewhere or to attack. But the Atta milling about the boundary stone were tense in its presence. “You can’t really be thinking to help it back to its people? Even if they are alive, what will they do with a creature like that?”

Eris finished the healing she was working on and stood, stretching out muscles weary from crouching down by the hurt. “What the ghosts can do… what I can do… I feel like they must be connected. When I was inside that one, I could control it. We’re… I don’t know… we’re something akin.”

Pierson stood as well, and gestured about them. “Take it from one who’s never felt much love from his kin by blood… your real kin are the people you choose to be family to.”

Eris smiled. “Don’t let Sarai or Callia hear you say that about your own children!”

Pierson reddened. “I didn’t mean that!”

They were interrupted by Nemnir bringing Thoma and Lissy with him. The farm-voln were anxious and looking at the business of the Atta. Eris guessed their concern was not the tall mountain-voln beside them.

“You want to know when the greening will move on?”

“We cannot thank you enough for healing Thoma and for ridding us of the ghosts.” Lissy threw a look at the remaining shadow dancer and his Atta sentinels. “But our neighbours are not so far away that we can risk having woods-voln on our fields.”

“Perhaps we should take up new accommodations? You have a barn, do you not?” said Pierson. The city-voln smirked as Thoma looked at the rogue in horror.

Pierson.” Eris said in a warning voice.

“Peace, good city-voln,” Pierson said, stressing Thoma’s true nature. “I did not mean it. Where are you from?”

Thoma cleared his throat and looked at Lissy. She nodded. Perhaps she had accepted that her farm-voln husband was gone, and that her new husband was who he was.

“Emphon. I remember the first crescent and the sea crashing against the harbour walls. From before a man bought me and took me to a castle lying on a southern road. But all that was city-voln about me was cut away in that place.”

“All that was city-voln? You mean the skulduggery, backstabbing, snobbery, and a strong liking for high stone walls?” Pierson’s grey eyes twinkled.

Thoma shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t remember much about my life then. I must have been a goodly age when they took me away, but even so, all I recall is the damp and cold of the castle.”

“Castle-voln” whispered Eris to Thoma’s dismay.

“No. That place cannot make voln. Only Lios can-” he stopped himself. Lios had made everything that he had known in that place, so he saw the logic of her words. “But I would not call myself that. I am what I am now.  A man with a family, just trying to live from the land.”

There was respect in Pierson’s eyes where a moment ago there had been self-mockery. “Eris, we should go. Leave the farm-voln to their lands. We can only bring them more trouble.”

Eris nodded. “We will follow our path back into the Rexakyde woods, before heading back towards-”

She was interrupted by the booming sound she’d only heard in the night before, the great roarers. Pierson squinted to the east, towards Tralis and the source of the sound that echoed out over the fields.

“They’ve made them even bigger.”

“The giant roarers? Milly told me about them.”

“They were large enough to near fit a man inside the lion’s mouth when I saw them, all pointed east in a row. Smoke breathing out of them and fire born from their bellies setting all the horizon alight.” He shivered. “I want to get away from this maddening openness. I’ll take trees over this any day.”

Eris nodded. “Send round word to be ready. We’ll head back to the tree line soon.” She looked about them all. “Where’s Orrin?”

Nemnir’s deeper voice answered. “Left him arguing about the bastard gods with the mad woman.”

Eris nodded and spotted the city-voln in woods-voln leathers talking animatedly with Aril Rexakyde while they both crouched in the shadow of a boundary stone. She excused herself from the others and walked closer to listen in to their argument, using the small measure of woods-voln stealth she had with her wyrd foot to mask her approach.

“Trust me, I spent many years indentured at the library in the temple of Lios in Bara! I could read the Light of Lios before I could bloody well walk! I have catalogued the one thousand, three hundred and twenty seven separate versions, including those that came in multiple volumes, according to six different methodologies! There is nothing about the account of Lios’ conversion of the voln that I do not know! Including this!” He brought out the list of greenings from his pouch, the parchment with its decorations that had interested and disturbed Pierson in equal measure back in Bara. “And I can tell you, my lady, that Eris is nothing alike to that monster!” He put it away again, as though his point was made.

“You can tell me what the parchments say. You can wave old bits of it at me like they’re leaves on twigs. But I’ve got the god’s bone. I’ve got the sight of the bastard gods.” She grabbed at the broken thigh bone hanging at her neck and jabbed it towards him as he’d held the parchment towards her. “And I see her. Now. Then. Next. I see the shape of her future and she is a god. And she will walk this land as Lios did, and she will bring together the volnen!”

“Is that so?” Eris said quietly, startling the two of them as she emerged from behind the boundary stone.

“Eris…” Orrin started, but she held up a hand to stop him.

“Read me the line from the parchment sealed to the list of greenings. The line you read Pierson when we were in your rooms in Bara.”

Orrin nodded and stretched out the frayed lengths. “‘And with the archers, the swordsmen, and the great healers there was also a boy in training and service.’”

“Aril is right Orrin. I will walk this land like Lios did.” She stopped him as he began to protest. “But not as he said he did in the books that you have known so very well for so many years. I’ll be in training and service. Training alongside the rest of the Atta and in service as my mother was as an Atta-Sutith.” She watched both her companions’ faces as she spoke. Aril looked triumphant, as though Eris’ humility only proved her argument. Orrin was more far more thoughtful looking, stroking his beard. He’d been trying to keep it as smart as he’d had it in Bara while living among the trees and had only been partially successful. She wanted to gently yank his head by the growing length of it and to mock him into some sense. Eris smiled as she fought the urge, it would not be a good idea to tease him in front of his new rival, as much as she wanted to see his smile instead of his current frown.

“But stop your chatter now, and get your gear together. We’ll be heading back into the shadows of the woods soon.”

The word ‘shadows’ reminded Aril of the ghost and she looked towards where Atta stood by it. “And that thing?”

“I’ll ask it to come with us.” Ignoring Aril’s shocked face behind the thickness of the bone paste, she walked away from them and towards the guarded shadow dancer. Orrin tried to keep up with her.

“Your legs are too damn long. Wait up!”

Eris reddened a bit, knowing that her greater stride was the result of the wyrdness within her that she’d put to work to make her taller. She turned her worry that he’d figure it out into a ribbing. “You need to learn to stride faster city-voln short arse, or you’ll never keep up with the woods-voln you travel with!”

His indignant response was lost as they reached the shadow dancer, and the creature’s strange smoke like shifting form took away the priest’s voice. Eris stood before the creature and held out her hands in the gesture for peace.

“Eris.” The thing said out of a mouth that appeared within its chaos.

“It knows your name?!” Orrin whispered, concerned.

“Perhaps it heard it.” But she suspected something had been shared between them when she’d been floating within it, controlling it but also sharing in its shape.

“Eris.” It said again, and pulled the parts of itself together to shape the woods-voln boy it had made before. Its edges still flowed and changed as they watched it, but it was smaller and more vulnerable looking like this. At least she thought so, until she met its black eyes and recognised Harl’s face.

“How do you know that face?!” She asked, shocked. Was it from her memories? Had it gleaned the angles of Harl’s face from her?!

Turmoil bubbled within it, before settling again. “I don’t know… I remember, I forget… I forget again…”

“It speaks nonsense. Madness.” Orrin said, folding his arms. “But… Is that the boy from the Light of Lios?” Orrin had been there at the tavern that night, a witness to the fight that had brought the Gyreblack boy and her within sight of each other. When she’d wanted him murdered. She pushed down rising anger. It wasn’t Harl. It was a copy.

“You can wear other faces.”

“Maybe. But I like this one for now.” The creature said, pulling more of its flowing body into the shape of the boy, until it almost looked solid and normal, wearing soft city-voln clothes. Where his dirty white shirt was open and where his sleeves were rolled up, she could see bands of darker skin. Just like she had once had around th ankle and foot Harl had cut from her. The wyrd within her.

“We are kin?” She asked.

It looked at his arms, tracing the darker skin with a curious fingertip. “Maybe.”

“Do you have other kin? Your greening? From before the castle.”

It hissed at the word ‘castle’, and it was a monstrous noise, reminding them that it wasn’t voln. Not entirely, not any more. She looked closer at its eyes. Completely black, no hint of woods-voln green. Maybe Pierson was right. Maybe they wouldn’t want this creature back.

“Do you remember where they are?”

It looked about, taking in all the four directions. “Maybe.”

“The creature doesn’t know anything.” One of the Atta standing guard said. He was a Diarnilys who’d come to join them even after the story of the death of Verla had been brought back to their camp. Others had travelled with him, Eris remembered. Some had been concerned they sought revenge for Verla. But they’d been as trustworthy as any other Atta. “It’s not even a woods-voln anymore. It’s not like us.”

‘Harl’ turned to look at the Diarnilys, its head moving slightly as he took in the older man. A shiver ran through it as it corrected some of the aspects of its new body. The city-voln clothes it must have seen in Eris’ memory of Harl were replaced with woods-voln leathers and those disturbing black eyes were replaced by the brilliant green she remembered above her as she struggled against Harl’s weight and the sword in his hand. Her own hand went to the hilt of her new sword, fear welling inside her. But when ‘Harl’ looked towards her, she let go of the sword.

“Is this better?”

She swallowed, nervous suddenly, before she reclaimed her courage. She straightened her back and raised her chin as she had seen Aril do as she strutted about the camp.

“You will travel with us and we will seek the memories you need to return you to your people. But do not think because you were the face of Ha-… a woods-voln that we will forget what you really are. Remain as his vanguard” She said to the four woods-voln around the shadow dancer, and turned to leave.

“Thank you. The others scare me.” The creature said quietly out of ‘Harl’s’ mouth.

She gripped the hilt of her sword again as she started to give commands to move off back across the fields and into the woods, her hand paling with the force of it.

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