Authors: Steven Brust
Tags: #Fantasy - Epic, #Fantasy - General, #Epic, #Taltos; Vlad (Fictitious character) - Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #General, #Fantasy, #Taltos; Vlad (Fictitious character), #Historical, #Fiction, #Fantasy fiction - lcsh
"And some of the Serioli believe that an enemy of their enemy must be their friend." I nodded.
"The gods," she continued, "are forever seeking ways to seal our world, so the Jenoine cannot reach us. And factions among the Serioli keep searching for ways to allow the Jenoine access. And into this conflict come those Serioli who, years ago, crafted those half-living, half-inanimate artifacts called the Great Weapons, each of which is, in one way or another, obviously or not, directed against the gods."
I blinked. "The Great Weapons are - but that doesn't make any sense. Why—? Okay, never mind. Keep going."
"I never said it would be simple."
"Where was I? Ah, yes: the Great Weapons. Jenoine are very hard to kill, Vlad. We know of no poison that works on them, their internal organs are duplicated; they have no spine to sever, and they have an almost perfect natural immunity to the disruptive effects of amorphia. They regenerate when injured, and I have seen them, on more than one occasion, resist even powerful Morganti weapons, as if their very souls are hidden away from their bodies. But this cannot be, because the Great Weapons can kill Jenoine. The Great Weapons are the only reliable way to kill Jenoine - if you can survive long enough to find a way to strike, and if you don't miss and if they fail to defend against it.
"Do you see the contradiction, Vlad? Do you see the irony?"
"Yeah, I'm always good with irony."
"I know. You always have been, even in the days before the Empire I remember that about you."
"Do you see it?"
I nodded. "The Great Weapons were created to destroy the gods, but now they're being used to defend the gods. Cute."
"Yes. We who carry the Great Weapons are the appointed of the gods - even those of us who, like Zungaron—"
"Never mind. Even those of us who have one only by accident and have not the least clue what it is for, or what to do with it. If we defy the gods, by intention or accident, we are likely to find life difficult. And yet, we are the only humans whom the gods have reason to fear, and to hate."
I blinked. "I've never envied you, Sethra. Now I envy you even less." She smiled. "The result," she said, "is that we must look out for each other - the reasons for that should be obvious." I nodded.
"The gods hate our weapons and need us who wield them; the Jenoine fear our weapons and hate the gods. Do you understand?" I nodded again.
"Think back to your own past, Vlad: I know what Aliera told you about your past lives, so consider her words now. Millennia ago, back in the days when we were creating an Empire, though only Zerika knew that we were doing so, the seeds of all of this were planted. Consider those you know of who were once your family, and those who mattered to you in a time too faded in the mist for you to imagine, much less remember. Kieron is now, and remains in the Paths of the Dead awaiting his moment. I, who had some importance in the tribe, am here, watching the Great Weapons, observing the Jenoine, listening to the gods, and trying to see that nothing upsets the balance.
"I think we were all, even then, marked out by the gods. I can't say I like it much, or that you should, but there it is. Now Aliera has been taken, and Morrolan as well. Who could and would take them both?
"A human agency? I wonder if there is anyone who could take two such as Aliera and Morrolan, and hide them from me. But, even if such a person exists, he could not hide them from the Necromancer. If there was a human involvement, then, it was in the service of someone more powerful.
"The gods? An unlikely possibility, but one that cannot be overlooked. I did not overlook it; I have ways of finding out such things, I used them, and I believe the gods have nothing to do with this; indeed, some of them are rather concerned by it. Perhaps a rogue god, and this could still be true, but such a one would have trouble hiding from Trout, who knows the motives of the gods. No, I do not believe it was any of the gods.
"A demon? No, the demons have their own lives, and no concern for our world, except when they are summoned; and that only begs the question of who did the summoning and why?
"The Serioli? I doubt it, because I have never heard of them doing anything of the kind, but I hope it is the Serioli, because if it is not them, then it is the Jenoine. The Jenoine, who wish the weapons to be used against the gods - which, after all, is what they were designed for.
"I know you, Vlad: you are uncomfortable with things like causes and reasons, however much you ask for them. And however much you protest, you are and always have been happiest when you had a single task you could accomplish, without worrying about the whys and the consequences. Well, but you asked, and so I answer. Our friends are in danger. And it may be that much else is in danger as well; until we know more, it is impossible to say for certain if this is part of a move against the Empire, but we certainly must be aware of the possibility. You may be able to help ward off a threat to the Empire, you may have the means of helping those who are your friends and mine; it seems to me that you certainly have a duty to try, and I would have told you nothing except that, but you wanted the whole story. The whole story would have taken longer to tell than you expect to live, Easterner, but at least I gave you a piece of it. I hope you're happy."
Once again I had allowed my klava to get cold; once again Tukko appeared and brought me more. All right, so the Jenoine had taken short, cocky Aliera, and tall, arrogant Morrolan, her cousin. I confess that a little part of me was pleased that someone had shown them they weren't as ultimately tough as they acted. But other parts of me couldn't forget that, well, that we'd all saved each other's lives more than once, and that they had both been kind to me when they had no good reason to, and that, however irritating I might find them, we had a lot of history among the three of us, and, though it hurt to admit it, even some affection.
I spent a moment reliving memories that I won't share with you. Preparing and drinking the klava brought me back, at least to the point where I was able to speak. "Of course I'll do what I can, but saving the world just isn't my style, Sethra. I specialize in smaller things: breaking legs, collecting debts, knocking off the occasional squealer. You know, small stuff."
Neither she nor Teldra replied. At length I said, "Okay. What do you need me to do?"
"There is a procedure," she said, "that I believe might work. You must be the one to do it, however."
"Uh ... if I ask why me, will I get an answer lasting less than an hour?"
"Because you have the chain you call Spellbreaker."
"I see. Well, actually, I don't."
"Use Spellbreaker to make contact with Blackwand, then follow the link through one of Morrolan's windows."
"That's it?" I said.
"That's it. Your artifact should be able to connect to the Great Weapon, even across necromantic boundaries, because Blackwand should always be able to sense, at some level, what is happening in those windows. Or so I think. It will either work, or it won't."
"Yeah, I imagine those are the options. The question is, what then? I mean, if it works, what do I do?"
"How can I say what to do, when I don't know where you are going, or what you will find there?"
"You know I don't care much for improvising."
"I know. But you are good at it."
"Thank you so much."
"And you don't rely on sorcery; you have other abilities."
"Great. Once I open up the way, if it works, and I get there, if I do, will I have any help?"
"What about me, Boss?"
"Shut up, Loiosh."
"No," said Sethra. "There will be none to give you."
"I see. I just go in, and improvise. While I'm improvising. what will you be doing?"
"Can you, I don't know, keep an eye on me? Maybe yank me back if I get in over my head?"
"I don't know how. If I can't reach them where they are, 1 don't know how I'd be able to watch you there."
"Uh ... magic?"
"If sorcery worked there, I don't think we'd be having this problem, and I can't think what other magic we might use. Unlike you, I'm not a witch."
"If you'd asked, I could have taught you. But you're saying that witchcraft will still function?"
"It should; that's one reason I wanted you for this."
"Witchcraft is not usually useful—"
"Have you forgotten the Paths of the Dead, Vlad?"
"I've tried to." I had visited the place where the dead hang around like old Dragonlords with no battles to fight except the ones they've already lost, and, even though I was living at the time, I just didn't enjoy the experience enough to dwell on the memory.
She didn't answer. I said, "How about the Necromancer?"
She cocked her head to the side. "That
a thought, Vlad. And not a bad one at that."
"See what a good vacation will do for the creative powers?"
"I'll speak to her."
I ran it through my mind. "Sethra, do you understand what you're asking me to do?"
Yes, of course she did. She was, to begin with, a Dragon; moreover she had led armies. She had no problem ordering people off to get killed - it was a way of life for her.
"Before I go jumping into this, tell me one thing: Do you have any reason to believe I might get out of this alive?"
"Oh, yes, certainly," she said. "I have a high regard for your skills."
"Ah. My skills. Well, that's reassuring."
"Don't underestimate yourself, Vlad."
Anything else I said would sound self-pitying, so I shut up; but Teldra said, "I will go along." Sethra and I looked at her. She had said it as if she were announcing the wine she intended to serve with dinner.
"Teldra," said Sethra at last. "I am not certain you are qualified for this mission."
"Perhaps I am not," she said. "But I am not quite as helpless as you, perhaps, believe I am."
"Nevertheless," said Sethra. "This is the kind of activity that Vlad is trained for" - this, by the way, was news to me -
"and you are not."
"Are you certain of that, Lady?" said Teldra. "I speak not of Vlad's training, but perhaps with what lies before us, my talents would not be useless."
"I see," said Sechra slowly, considering her words. Sethra had obviously picked up some meaning that had escaped me entirely "Yes, you may be right after all."
I said, "Sethra, would you mind explaining this to me? I think I'm missing something."
"Yes, 1 believe you are." said Sethra.
"It is difficult to explain," said Teldra. "But, if you wish—"
"I'm changing my mind about explanations," I said. "Just tell me if I need to know."
"You don't need to know," said Sethra.
Teldra said, "And then?"
"Yes, you ought to go along."
"Then let us begin at once," she said.
"No," I said.
"Is there a reason to wait, Vlad, or is it that you need time to gather your nerve."
"No, my nerve is far too scattered for mere time to gather it. But if I'm going to go off and get killed I'm going to finish my Verra-be-damned klava first. Now please give me some peace to enjoy it." Sethra smiled. "Do you know, Vlad, whatever happens to
you, you do certainly remain yourself."
"That's good. I haven't had as much practice being me as you have being you. But does that mean I get to finish my klava?"
"By all means," said Sethra. "While you do so, I'll attempt to reach the Necromancer." Sethra's face went blank and I stopped watching her, because it is rude to watch the face of someone having a psychic conversation with another, and it was hard for me to be rude while Lady Teldra was sitting there. I drank klava. It really was very good.
"The Necromancer," said Sethra presently, "will be there, and will attempt to monitor the proceedings, but she cannot guarantee her success."
I grunted and drank the rest of my klava. I enjoyed it. I remain grateful that they permitted it. Sethra still seemed to be amused. I could not, of course, guess what Teldra was thinking. "Okay," I said at last. "I'm done. Let's go get killed. Is everybody ready?"
Sethra shrugged. "For now, I have nothing to do."
"The teleport," I said. "I'm a little out of practice."
"Very well, I think I can manage that." I hid the two specimens of Phoenix Stone, one gold and one black, in their box, and once more I felt naked, but I was too frightened by the idea of the Jenoine to let a little thing like the Jhereg worry me unduly. Isn't it funny how the tiniest change in circumstances can alter all of your priorities?
"Oh, sure, Boss. Couldn't
"Ready," I told Sethra. Teldra stood next to me, and Sethra, without, so far as I could tell, so much as furrowing her brow, caused the sitting to room to vanish, and the courtyard of Castle Black to appear around me. I felt like saying hello to it; I had a lot of memories tied up in that place, and not all of them were even bad. It was big, and it was a castle, and it was made all of black marble shot through with veins of silver, and it floated a mile or so in the air, and no one except me thought there was anything strange about that. I guess you could say similar things about Morrolan, if you wanted to return to an earlier theme. I replaced the cord about my neck.
"I propose," I said, "that we head straight up the Tower and do this, or at least attempt it, because I don't want to give myself time to think about it."
"Very well," said Teldra.
The familiar doors opened to us as we approached them. I said, "Are you not frightened at all?"
"Would you rather I were, Vlad?"
"Good question. I'm not sure."
In and up and around and about; and add a few more prepositions to the mix, and eventually we were climbing the narrow metal staircase up to Morrolan's Tower. I'd been there before. It was not one of the places I missed.
"There ought to be a guardian here," I said.