Read The Rift Walker Online

Authors: Clay Griffith,Susan Griffith

The Rift Walker (9 page)

Mamoru noted how quickly her tone of voice changed from a frustrated young woman to one who possessed the firm steel of command.

The maid curtsied while nearly hyperventilating. “Your father. The emperor. He's looking for you. His Majesty came to your chambers. He asked me where you were. He talked to me!”

Adele smiled gently and took the poor girl's hand. “And what did you tell him?”

“I told him…His Majesty…the emperor…I wasn't sure but I thought you had fencing practice with Master Mamoru. Then I ran to tell you.”

“He's coming? He must've heard I tried to see him.” Adele pondered whether this was a visit of consultation or, more likely, of anger. Surely her father wouldn't come personally just to berate her for being impulsive. That's what Lord Kelvin was for. “Did he seem upset?”

“Upset? No.” Zarina paused in confusion, as if the idea of the emperor having human emotions was inconceivable. She gasped. “Why? Could he be upset? Should I not have come?”

“No, no. You did fine. Thank you.”

“Ah, there you are, Adele.”

All three turned to see Emperor Constantine enter. Mamoru and the maid dropped to one knee. Adele rarely saw her father except at state occasions, so it was jarring for her to watch him striding across the practice mat in his splendid uniform. He seemed terribly out of place.

The emperor inclined his head to Mamoru. “I would speak with Ade—with my daughter.”

The samurai bowed deeply. He saluted Adele with his foil, replaced the sword and mask in the wall rack, and walked from the room as the maid genuflected out, never turning her back on the royal pair.

Even before the door closed, the emperor gave a wan smile and reached for Adele's sword. “How was practice today?”

“Not as well as I'd hoped.”

Constantine nodded without meeting his daughter's eyes. “Hmm. Yes. Mamoru is the finest swordsman I've ever seen. Western. Asian. Any style.”

Adele massaged her aching shoulder. “Certainly the best I've seen today.”

“Yes. Quite.” Constantine laughed.

Adele smiled with relief at her father's laughter. It was something she hadn't heard in years, and it was surprisingly boyish. He didn't seem to be on the mission of an executioner. Then there was a long silence as the emperor pretended to be fascinated by the foil's heft and balance. Adele waited patiently, then nervously.

Finally she said, “Your Majesty, is there something you'd like to tell me?”

“There's much, Adele.” He handed the sword back to her. “You know the delay of your wedding cannot go on forever.”

“Yes sir.” She braced herself.

“Two weeks.”

“Two weeks until the wedding?”

“Yes. Senator Clark makes a persuasive case. The campaign season wanes when we can make ground on the vampires. We dare not delay any longer.”

Adele's mind buzzed with arguments. She could make a persuasive case also. She wanted to refuse. Instead she merely said, “I understand.”

Constantine tightened his mouth. “I realize you aren't pleased with this, but I know in time you may learn to tolerate Senator Clark, perhaps even love him.”

Adele snorted with derision. “Neither of those are possible. He wants a wallflower, a doll to play with as he sees fit. I refuse to accommodate him on those terms.”

Constantine remained austere, but not angry. “He has interests of state on his mind. It will keep him very busy.”

“And you think I don't? Equatoria means everything to me, and I'll have to watch that obnoxious martinet run it. He cares only for the war, or rather how Equatoria can benefit America's war aims against the vampires.”

“Perhaps. But the war must come first, and Senator Clark is the best man for that job.”

Adele did not miss his emphasis on gender. Ire bristled within her. “He intends to slaughter the humans in occupied Europe, on the pretext of eliminating the vampires' food supply!”

“Yes, I know.”

“You know?” Adele's face reddened and her fists tightened. “Those humans are not animals! Some of them saved my life. They gave me shelter even though it meant their own deaths. They are eking out a living under horrible conditions! They deserve to be liberated! Not murdered because it's convenient for us.”

“Adele, you do not understand the complications of war. Sacrifices must be made. That is the nature of war. It is for this reason that Equatoria needs a firm man at the helm.”

“You mean a butcher! And you're going to allow him to slaughter innocents in our name!”

“Enough!” Constantine held up a stern hand, his expression rigid, no longer a father, but an emperor. “My decision stands. In time you will understand.”

“At least tell me
you
care about the people of the north?” Adele's voice fell to a harsh whisper.

“I read your reports, and naturally I do feel for them, if what you documented was accurate.”

“If?” She spat out the word.

“Our objective is to create a future for all those who will be born free people once we are victorious. I foresee no practical way to save the vampire herds without jeopardizing the whole war. As it is, we are late to start and the advantage may swing to the vampires. Drastic measures are called for.”

Adele's throat constricted painfully. Her father seemed to be implicating her in the culling of Europe because of her delaying tactics. “They're not herds. They're people.”

“Semantics. The war strategy is sound. We can't concern ourselves with minor issues.”

“Minor? Clark will run Equatoria into the ground in order to win this war, and he's making decisions that will soil our reputation! Don't you see that? This is wrong, Father. I can't be a party to such a massacre.”

“You won't. Any blood will be on my hands, not yours. You need not worry about these things. Instead, you will maintain your daily schedule.”

“Which is nothing but frivolity and useless parties.”

“Your mother was content enough.”

“You think so, do you?” Adele snapped.

The emperor reared back, but then faltered in his anger, as if his daughter spoke some truth. His mouth drew into a grim line. “If you believe so strongly that there is another way, then sway Clark to another tactic. Trust me, a woman has ways of wresting control even if she never steps foot in a war council.”

Adele's cheeks flamed red at the indecent proposal her own father was dictating. “Is that how Mother…?” But she couldn't finish her thought.

“She had her duties, and you will have yours.”

“Am I to have no say at all in affairs of state?”

“I am emperor and I dictate policy. And Senator Clark will be named commander in chief of allied forces.”

“Father, you can't do this. Please. You can't be this man.”

There was a long pause as the emperor's regretful gaze held her. “I'm sorry, Adele. Every decent man wants to ensure his daughter is safe and happy. I can do neither.” He lifted a hand as if to touch her, but saw her eyes flashing full of anger. He exhaled and dropped his hand to his side, the mantle of emperor settling upon him once more. “The wedding will move forward. You may have free rein over it. Plan it how you will. But in two weeks you will be married and the war will commence. God help us all.”

He turned and strode from the room, leaving Adele trembling with fury in his wake. The princess stood alone, pondering nothing. She couldn't think of what to do next. The world swirled around the room.

Adele slowly placed her feet in position, raised her foil, and came en garde in five.

 

“T
HE DATE IS
set.”

Sir Godfrey Randolph wasn't listening. He was too busy studying his colossal bookshelves. His head swiveled left and right, up and down. Mamoru glanced around the leather club chair, expecting some response to the announcement of the social event of the century. Sir Godfrey posed in a smoking jacket in the flickering gaslight, seemingly perplexed by his own books.

“Did you hear me?” the samurai priest asked. “I said the date for Princess Adele's wedding is set.”

“Hm? Yes. That's nice.”

Mamoru's irritation did not quite make it to his words. “Is there a problem, Sir Godfrey?”

“I'm missing a book.”

Mamoru pursed his lips as solicitously as he could. A misplaced book was hardly momentous enough to overshadow his news. However, Sir Godfrey's library was a significant resource—the finest collection of arcane ephemera and spiritualist writings known to exist. It wouldn't do to mismanage it. The former priest from Java brushed nonexistent lint from his gabardine trousers. “It will turn up.”

The butler appeared at the door. “Your other guests, effendi.”

“Thank you, Majid.”

Two women came into the library. Nzingu the Zulu sorcerer wore a fashionable gown of light magenta with a bustle and high collar. Sanah the Persian was swathed in black from head to toe with only her hennaed hands and her onyx-black eyes showing.

“Ladies!” Sir Godfrey kissed their hands with a charming flourish, as though they had come a great distance instead of just the rooms upstairs where they were staying.

Mamoru bowed to the women.

The Zulu woman vigorously drew off her lace gloves, already tired of her ensemble. “Mamoru, is the news from Alexandria what we expected?”

“No doubt,” Mamoru said. “Princess Adele's wedding date is set for a fortnight hence.”

“Really?” Sir Godfrey exclaimed in surprise. “Two weeks, you say? So soon? Are preparations in place?”

The Japanese man smiled slightly at his comrade's shock. “Many of the more elaborate plans are going by the boards in the interest of alacrity. Foreign dignitaries may not be present in such enormous coveys as the court would have liked. And perhaps there won't be quite so many garish public festivals or displays as originally planned.”

“But the Great Clark has spoken,” Nzingu said snidely.

“Indeed yes,” Mamoru responded. “The calendar drives.”

The Zulu stalked the rich carpet with a predator's tread that seemed barely contained by her shimmering silk gown. “So we have a wedding. A wedding night. And then a war. What becomes of the husband at that point? Does he join the troops at the front? Or does he stay here to create both tactics and an heir?”

Sir Godfrey cleared his throat with discomfort while Mamoru's expression clearly exposed his dislike of such rude talk about Princess Adele.

“My point is, Mamoru, how much time will you have with the princess after the ceremony?” Nzingu rolled her eyes at the men's prudish attitude and took up a glass filled with Lebanese wine. She was always a bit of an outsider in the cabal, but tonight she seemed perturbed with everyone. She took a deep breath and looked at Mamoru. “The date grows late, don't you agree?”

“I do. I do not know Senator Clark's agenda, but from what I gather, he intends an ambitious schedule of coordinating the war from here and America. So I predict he will be away frequently. Which is what we hoped, and expected. I think we were all favorably impressed with the princess's actions the other night.”

Nzingu downed her wine in a single gulp. “Yes, she blasted a single vampire to death. That's still a far cry from her ultimate goal.”

“Yes, it is.” Mamoru sighed with frustration at his colleague's argumentativeness. “The princess is receptive to training; in fact, she's straining at the bit. The announcement of the wedding has also left her shaken and looking for something on which to focus her mind. As we all struggle to compile our geomancer reports and begin to craft a map of dragon spines and rifts, I will redouble my efforts to shape the princess.”

The Zulu said, “My geomancers have all reported in. I should have the African map compiled within the week.”

“Very commendable,” the Japanese priest replied dryly.

Sanah added, “I convened most of my geomancers in Qom. I have two in China from whom I have no word. But I expect they will succeed. They are excellent scholars and explorers. However, I fear I will be a bit longer than Nzingu in sorting through my notes.”

Sir Godfrey looked up from an inspection of a pile of books in a dark corner. “I have received reports from the American geomancers. Well, most of them. But I've never lost one yet. Unlike my books.” He laughed. “The results are voluminous, but I should be able to manage a capital schema at the end of it.”

Mamoru saw the three members of his cabal looking at him, expecting a report on his network. He preferred to keep his own counsel on that issue, but he couldn't refuse now. “The European cadre has delivered their readings. Save one.”

“Selkirk?” Sanah asked.

“Yes. I haven't made contact with him. But he is not overdue as yet. There are many factors that could account for it—weather, difficulty crossing the Channel.”

Sir Godfrey raised a glass of red wine jauntily. “Should we send that Greyfriar fellow to retrieve him?”

“We don't need to retrieve him,” Mamoru responded seriously. “I feel certain.”

 

“I have not yet had the opportunity to offer congratulations on your coming nuptials, Your Highness,” Mamoru said.

Adele glanced at her teacher with an acerbic squint.

“Or should I instead,” he added, “offer condolences?”

It was a warm night, but the Mediterranean breeze made it pleasant. Alexandria was a late-night city; it prided itself on its bustling cafés and bright clubs. It was close to midnight, yet carriages and hansoms—both horse-drawn and powered, spewing yellow smoke—sped along the Rue de France. Taxis waited everywhere for fares needing conveyance to their next night spot.

Adele was again covered in a long robe and veil, well hidden from curious eyes. Many affluent diners in sidewalk cafés and prominent strollers making the nightly promenade would have known the princess on sight. Very few knew Mamoru, dressed in his best black suit and pearl-grey homburg. His walking stick ticked along the pavement, keeping pace with his grey-spatted shoes. He was undeniably handsome, Adele noted, almost regal. He maneuvered the avenues with comfort.

“This is a surprising turn,” she said while staring into glittering shop windows at jewelry displays as if this were a normal stroll. Couples passed with much hat tipping and fan fluttering. Their blank polite faces caused Adele to abandon her fear of discovery, even though some of the faces were known to her. Lord So-and-So. Lady Somebody. I-Can't-Quite-Recall Pasha.

“I felt we had issues to discuss that were best done away from the prying ears of the court. And I assumed you have no problem slipping away from the palace for an evening.”

“An evening? I could happily slip away for a lifetime.”

Mamoru reached into his waistcoat and drew out a thin gold chain. As he held it up, Adele saw a crystal pendant, a talisman, like the one he had given her before her ill-fated trip to France. The one she had lost to the vampires.

“I would like you to have this,” he said.

“Oh, thank you.” Adele took it eagerly and felt her hand tingle. She studied its sharp bluish edges. “I feel it. And I taste it. Ice.”

The samurai smiled. “Excellent. That crystal is from far to the Arctic north. You are experiencing its nature. As do the best geomancers.”

Rather than peppering Mamoru with questions, Adele stayed quiet, inviting him to fill the silence.

He continued, “All humans are geomancers, to some very limited extent. We live on the earth. But most cannot access that knowledge, except perhaps through corollary activities such as prayer or meditation. Vampires have this same connection to the earth, but on an infinitely more sensitive level.” Mamoru enfolded her hand that held the crystal with his own. “Geomancy gives us knowledge and weapons to affect vampires. It serves as a focus to assault their heightened senses. Those few with the skills still require tools to manipulate that knowledge. Botany. Crystallography and mineralogy. Chemistry and prayer. These are all paths to awareness and control. Geomancy is not some ancient method of divination. We do not throw sand in the air and study how it falls for a key to the future. We seek to understand and codify the rules that will make these disparate practices into a unified and predictable science. There are a number of us who can already wield this knowledge and power definitely.”

Adele asked, “Like your man Selkirk whom I met in London? Won't you tell me about him?”

Mamoru tipped his hat brim to a passing couple. “Selkirk is one of my geomancers. I have a collection of these specialists around the world.”

“He could make himself invisible to vampires.”

“Yes. A few are such extraordinary adepts, they don't just feel the power of the Earth, they manipulate it. Like saints or mystics of old. Selkirk is the best I've seen. He can use the spines to shield himself from vampire senses.”

“Spines? The dragon spines? You mean ley lines?”

“What the old British culture called ley lines are known by many names. In the East, we called them dragon spines. It is the web of the earth. They are proof of the power of creation. My geomancers are mapping the spines and particularly the locations where spines intersect. These intersections are called rifts, and they are places of extraordinary power and sensitivity. Many of these rifts are marked with stone circles from ancient times when our ancestors were more attuned to the earth's power and used it against the great evil of the vampires, or whatever name they called it in their particular locations. Spirits. Ghosts. Djinns. Monsters. All spring from vampires.”

“So Selkirk can only hide from vampires on a ley line or a rift?”

“Yes.” Mamoru chuckled. “His geomancy is prodigious, but compared to yours, it's nothing. You will walk the rifts like no one else on Earth.”

“I will?” Adele stared at her teacher. He was hypnotic. His eyes were clear; his voice was steady. She put a hand to her damp forehead.

“You have nothing to fear,” he said softly. “Your education will proceed at your pace.”

Excitement surged in her chest. With so much in her life out of her control—both the wedding and Gareth—she craved a path she could follow on her own. She wanted to build something of her own making. This was the knowledge she wanted. This was a key to everything in the world. She didn't know how, but she knew it was so.

Mamoru continued, “This is a secret. Between us. We cannot bear for it to become known. Tell no one. Not your brother. Not your maid. Not your cat. The court would not smile on this education.”

“Of course.”

Mamoru gave a tight bow. “Your mother would be very proud.”

“My mother?” Adele's voice caught.

“I taught her too. She was a most excellent student. A gifted geomancer.”

She asked, “And my father?”

“Alas, no. He is of the steel-and-steam school, a consummate technocrat. A magnificent man to be sure, but his vision does not extend to what he considers to be occult knowledge. I have some of your mother's papers and notes. I'll bring them to you.”

“Why didn't you tell me any of this before?”

“You weren't ready. Or so I thought. But I am convinced there is nothing for which you are not ready. Now, what do you know of the Soma?” Mamoru asked as he again touched his hat brim with soft grey gloves to a passing dowager.

Adele was preoccupied by thoughts of her mother treading, in some way, the same path she was on. She barely heard his question. “Soma? That's what they used to call Karnak Square. Where Alexander the Great was supposedly buried. So my mother had great skill in geomancy?”

“She did, yes. But that is not the topic for tonight. If you will give me your attention for now, I will tell you about your mother's studies in the future. Now, the Soma. Yes, Alexander was buried here, although his body may have been taken elsewhere later. Or it may still remain under our feet somewhere.”

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