INTRODUCTION TO TWIN MOONS - THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY
Okay, I thought it might be worth having a little introductory bit for book 2. If you haven't read all of book one, then a little summary is in order. If you have, I might as well give an idea of what to expect here.
Firstly, Book 2 is a little rougher than book 1. I'll be revising it as I go, possibly quite heavily, but even so there are sections which come down to being total chaff and need to go. Hopefully you won't read 'em. Thematically, the story shifts away from the heavy politicking of the first one, and focuses much more on Brianna's mental state and her development in various directions as they travel towards Jaika, not to mention the various foes and obstacles that are trying to prevent the fearsome threesome from getting there. Marcus and Gaula both are developed a lot more deeply, and the relationship between the main characters forms a big crux for how things develop.
All of this means that a lot of the question marks flagged up in book 1 are not answered in book 2. Not even close. A few things are clarified, and even more questions are raised, but most of the answers will be waiting for you at the very end of this tale, probably in book 4 depending on how I split things. So I hope you don't find your patience wearing thin.
Other than that, do read, do enjoy, and do tell me what you think.
For the newcomers!
Book 1 opens with Brianna, a 'Reaper', an assassin essentially government sponsored along with all the rest, getting nearly killed in a duel with the Guild's second in command, an especially deadly and unusual assassin who goes only by the name of Crescent.
During her convalescence she is tended to by Caliban, the Guild's healer who eventually reveals to her that the Guild Master, Jared, has been breaking one of the cardinal laws that their Guild cannot break; they can't kill the members of the Kingdom's other Guilds. He then recruits Brianna to try and find ways to work out what Jared is up to, and also to try and find Crescent, who they determine is the only possible candidate to now lead the Guild.
Brianna is sent by Jared to the Seers Guild with a message for their Master, along with her friend Marcus. She reveals her concerns to him and is quite violently denied by him. The discussion doesn't get far, however, as they are attacked by a group of assassins wearing full-closed armour and wielding distinctive claw weapons. Brianna delivers the message, but only after encountering an unexplained individual who apparently saves her life by revealing the future, before disappearing without another word.
Returning to the Guild, Brianna becomes embroiled in the emotional battle with her other friend Gaula, a member of the gender-shifting Thorassian species, and Marcus' own battle with Mortani, a drawling and sour man who has a real hatred of the three of them. At the same time the pressure mounts to try and find out what Jared is really up to and more importantly to find out where Crescent went.
Eventually, Brianna decides to cut to the chase and infiltrates Jared's rooms, scaling the outside walls of the Guild House to sneak in. There she meets and is effortlessly defeated by the Guild Master, who then asks her who she is working for. Refusing to reveal Caliban's secret, Brianna is only infuriated by Jared's admission that he has been killing the members of other Guilds and that she can do nothing about it, and furthermore that he will not tell her where Crescent has gone. Perhaps most importantly of all, Jared reveals that Brianna now bears a rune; a shape on her body that theoretically confers otherworldly powers, though hers has not done anything that she's noticed to this point.
Brianna, wounded after the battle with Jared, is woken by a tense and seemingly angry Caliban, who demands to know what she told him. Revealing that she told him nothing, she also reveals that she is a runebearer, which sends Caliban into conniptions and he flees from her.
Brianna explains herself to Marcus and Gaula, who eventually come round to her way of thinking and agree to help her seek out Crescent, as it turns out Gaula has an idea of where he might have gone, as he knows where Crescent's hometown is; the distant city of Jaika in the neighbouring Kingdom of Yatar.
Visiting Caliban for final answers, Brianna overhears a conversation with a strange and unnatural voice that terrifies her, and when she faces Caliban with this she learns that the voice belongs to Samindai, Caliban's benefactor who told him of Jared's indiscretions in the first place. Beyond his name, however, he knows nothing.
The group attempt to leave the city, but are attacked by the assassins and forced back to the Guild house after an encounter with the Guards' Guild that nearly results in their detention and likely murder. They are saved by Kaim, Crescent's replacement as the second in command of the Reaper's Guild. They attempt to flee again at night, but while making preparations to escape, Brianna is attacked by the claw-fingered assassins from earlier, sent deliberately and specifically to kill her. She escapes into the city, and the group flee into the barren fields beyond to begin their Southward trek...
Okay, there you go. That's an off-the-top of my head summary which briefly lists the major players and events of the first book. Hopefully it'll remind anyone who's foggy, and hopefully it'll urge new readers to check over book one to get the proper context for these events.
Now, onto the story. The second part of this tale begins, on fictionpress, on 27th March, 2007... now.
TWIN MOONS – BOOK TWO
THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY
It was the depths of winter, and the kanae fields were barren. But though there was nothing but hard earth around, I remembered well the waving stalks of spring flowers and the honeyed taste of the air as the bees flickered back and forth. I hoped to live to see that sight again. At our back the moon shone across the peaks of mighty Stonefoot, lighting the mountains up in ghostly blue-white, while before us a series of undulating hills began to loom.
Our horses galloped hard down the wide road that led from Kainas before turning into the Southern bend that would lead towards Icatha, or towards Dyra. The Amyta drove noisily onwards to the mother-river, even as we pounded over the enormous, arching bridge of stone that forded it. I saw the flash of ancient writings in the stonework, writings I knew to be of the Aneros, the mountain people who had met their extinction at Jarael's cruel hand, in the war we called The Shattering.
There were newer words carved onto a golden plinth at either end of the bridge which read in the Inkaran: Wa royina ty ti lo stona gahaz an do haddan ganoyz, an ti voorewer nizya shou be, los awda Aneros.
Even in our flight we paused briefly, and I mouthed the words. 'We remember those who carved the stone and bore the hammer, and who forever shall be mourned, the Aneros of old'.
Soon we left the Amyta's winding path as it poured ever on to the SouthWest, and rode hard up into and over the hills. Then, as we crested the highest hill, the descent of which would take beloved Kainas from our eyes, we heard a sound, a high, shrill blowing of a horn. Marcus brought his shadow-black mare to a skidding stop in order to look back. We all looked back at the road we'd travelled already, and traced it back to Kainas' distant, towering gates, which we could see dimly were now opening. The moon waned high above the city.
"And thus our journey begins," Marcus said gloomily. "The oathbreakers three, fleeing to a distant land. Come on," he said forcefully, pulling his horse back round, "let's get a move on unless we want this to turn into a tragedy before it's ready!"
We rode on for the rest of the night, speaking little but thinking much. I couldn't stop thinking about the clawfingers' attack, and Mortani – Mortani of all people! – coming to my rescue. The implications were terrible, and left me deeply disturbed.
Mortani had said that Jared sent him to save my life, and it pushed the bounds of believability to think that Jared ordered Mortani to lie to me and to save my life, if Jared in fact wanted me dead. This then raised another question. Would Jared really order somebody to lie to me, for any reason?
Were I to ask Caliban, the answer would certainly be yes. Perhaps he would even fish out some examples of that very thing in the past. But when I asked myself, I could think only 'no'. I knew Jared to be forthright and honest. If he spoke he was likely telling the truth, and if he had no wish to tell it to you he would not speak at all. In fact, when I had faced him with my allegation, he had immediately admitted to the truth of it.
Caliban had said that there would be a trap awaiting me this night, or he had at least told me to be wary. Sure enough, a trap had sprung. This in itself was not an unlikely thing. Jared had told me, quite flatly, that I would be guarding this terrace the day before, thus giving him ample time to prepare and martial his forces. And yet I could not deny the convenience of Caliban's assertions. He had said that Jared would move against me again, that a trap might appear where escape was offered, and sure enough I had been attacked. But what proof was there that these assassins belonged to Jared? Could they not, conceivably, be Caliban's forces?
And yet...still...I could not think of why Caliban, or this Samindai creature, might want me dead. Was I to suspect those who had being openly helping me on the vague suspicion that they had ulterior motives? Or was I, for now at least, to strike against the snake in the open? It seemed I had chosen the latter. Besides, I gave Jared enough credit to be able to detect someone with such power inside his own Guildhouse. Could the assassins be Samindai's men?
"We might have to leave the road here," Marcus said as he brought his horse up at a crossroads. We stood now in an area of close-grown and unhealthy woodland, with the road stretching off to the South away from the woods, but also splitting to the South East, East, and North West, going deeper into the trees. I did not truly know where we were. I did not believe I had ever been past this way. Under the moonlight the trees seemed old, darkened and weathered, their barks an ashen grey as though they had been set ablaze and yet stayed strong. I could hear the sound of the night animals grunting and growling around us, and wondered if I had heard Marcus right. Our horses were unlikely to find a trip between the trees particularly pleasant. The pain from my ankle had seemingly lessened, though I knew it was perfectly possible that it would return when I set foot on the ground again.
"I think not," I said. "Icatha is to the South, still, we could make it there by dawn. Our pursuers haven't caught up to us yet," I said with a look behind us.
"They will," Marcus said with the kind of firmity that came with experience. "We do not want to try and outrun them, Brianna."
"They think we are going to Dyra, though," I pointed out. "To get there we'd have to take the East road. They won't be anywhere near us."
"I see what Marcus is saying," Gaula said, looking around him slowly. To me the darkness was heavy, but I knew to him this place would be lit up clearly, every detail as visible as though the sun hung high overhead. His eyes shimmered as he looked past me at something, paused, and moved on. "Jared knows where we are going, correct?" I swore. I had forgotten about that. If Mortani knew, Jared almost certainly knew. "Exactly," Gaula replied drily, "and he's no fool. He knows we won't go through Dyra, and he'll have put the guards on the right track."
"I guessed," I hissed irritably.
"Exactly," Marcus said, "which means I lean towards unhorsing and camping here for the night. We'll get to see where our pursuers go, too. That will give us an idea of what to expect at Icatha."
"But we need to cross the Omauy before they block it off!" I said with a worried tone.
Marcus nodded grimly. The Omauy was the Mother River to which the Amyta flowed before it completed its path to the sea. The river Omauy was bridged many times along its banks, but if we were unable to pass at Icatha it would be unlikely that we would pass at all.
"I will get us across," Gaula said flatly, in a tone that did not expect disagreement. "Regardless of their preperations."
Gaula's head suddenly snapped around to look back in the direction we had come from. "The hunters come," he said urgently. "What do we do?"
"Unhorse, now!" Marcus cried, leaping dextrously from the saddle and slipping free of his cloak. He had it rolled up and tied to the saddle before I had even touched my feet to the dust and winced as my ankle pulsed. "Gaula, give me your horse and take up position by the side of the road. I'll get him to safety. You'll find us easily enough, right?"
"Naturally," Gaula said, handing over the reins and stroking his horse's mane briefly before leaping up to catch an errant tree branch and haul himself up into its heights.
"Get over here, Brianna!" Marcus shouted at me as I finally rolled my cloak out of the way. The chill began to return to my rune, and I rolled my eyes miserably. Twice in one night... this was rapidly becoming ridiculous. All of a sudden I wished to sleep, in the vain hope that by doing so I would banish this day to the past and that tomorrow would be better. But there was one more trial to overcome before that was a possibility.
The distant thunder of horses began to trickle into my ears, and I stopped for a second, looking back up the road as though I could see them already.
"What are you doing?" Gaula hissed from above. "Move it!"
I shook my head and limped after Marcus, who had moved into the trees with depressing ease, guiding the horses skillfully between the trunks. I hoped that Patch wouldn't argue with his treatment, and patted his flank as I moved underneath the branches. Immediately, a low hanging branch hit him square on the head.
He bucked and snapped it off with a savage kick from his front legs, nearly hitting me as he did. I cried out and pulled back on the reins, apologising profusely.
"By all that's holy!" Marcus roared as the sound of approaching hooves grew louder. "Get those horses and lead them further into the trees, and if you make a mistake this time I'll drown you in the Amyta!" He appeared at my side and got in close to Patch, began coaxing the horse down as the noise of battering hooves grew louder, closer.
I limp-hopped to the other horses and led them on the 'path' Marcus had intended. The only way I knew where to go was by the horses' facing, a clever route that cut at a swirling diagonal past the trees and curved deeper into them so that it would require our enemies to stop and look closely indeed for us. I led the horses hurriedly on, ducking their heads under any offending branches. The pounding hooves grew louder, and louder, so that the ground beneath me seemed to shake. How many had they sent after us?
I paused, and Marcus caught up to me. As I was about to go on, he shook his head. "Take his reins, he's okay now, and we're going nowhere until they've moved on. Get him to lie down."
The five of us lay down on the grassy earth, hoping it would be enough to conceal us from our pursuers. The road was partially hidden from us, we could merely see shapes riding near, a flickering light at their head, no doubt a lantern. I hoped that Gaula had hidden himself well; the riders would surely look up.
There was a loud shout, and a chorus of whinnies indicated that our pursuers had come to a stop. There was silence then, in which I looked to Marcus' narrow, hard eyes for explanation. He hadn't expected them to stop, it was clear. My eyes widened as I heard the unmistakable sound of a sword been drawn at speed from a scabbard, audible even over the snuffling of horses. Our own steeds, mercifully, remained quiet.
Another shout rang out, and the horses slowly started up again, soon rising quickly to a gallop that passed by us. It seemed that they'd taken the East road. We waited until the noise had receded into the distance, then Marcus let out a long breath and rolled over onto his back, staring up into the starry sky. "Why?" He asked, as if directing the question at the stars themselves. "Why did you make her incompetent right now?"
I took on a hurt look. "The branch hit him, I didn't see!"
Marcus laughed. "It's alright, I know you haven't been out and about for a while, so I shouldn't expect much of you. But blood and sand, woman, my heart nearly stopped when that horse went off!"
There was a rustle in the trees above us, and Gaula dropped easily out of them, right beside his horse. "They're gone," he said simply. Marcus made a slow motion of lifting an imaginary bow, nocking an imaginary arrow, taking aim, and shooting Gaula in the head. Gaula smiled. "They went east, which you'll also know. They seem to think we're heading for Dyra."
"What did they say?" Marcus asked.
"Ty yars da niy," Gaula said.
I smiled. "Yes we are."
Gaula raised an eyebrow curiously.
"'They're not here'," I provided, and he was finally able to laugh at the joke.
Marcus flopped onto his back; he looked tired. "I love it when things go my way. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Come on, then, let's find a spot to camp. I'm tired and hungry," he said simply, and I agreed entirely. My ankle desired rest.
We roused ourselves and the horses, then scraped our way into the very centre of the wood, where we found a patch that was obviously pretending to be a clearing. The ground here was grassless and there was a distinct gap in the trees, but this was certainly no idyllic, wide clearing with a mound in the centre around which we could share our tales and enjoy some song and music. Already I felt a weight on my soul, as I thought about the words that were surely being said about us back in Kainas.
"Are you alright, Brianna?" Gaula asked as he tied his horse to one of the nearby trees. "You look alarmed."
"No, I'm alright," I said dismissively. "I was just thinking about something."
"Terrible habit!" Marcus called from within the treeline surrounding us. "Causes all kinds of trouble. I suggest you grow out of it pretty quick young lady," he said in a mockingly wise tone as he returned with a collection of sticks and leaves. He frowned, then sighed. "Under the circumstances I'd rather not make a fire, but it's winter. If it turns cold in the night, we'll be in trouble. Those horsemen ought to be the only party sent out this evening, in this direction at least. We'll make a fire," he said, concluding his internal argument.
Soon, with our horses tied and the fire blazing, we were sat down in a loose, tight circle, our backs resting against one tree or another. A half-eaten loaf of bread was sitting on a cloth on the floor, with dried meats and fruit around it. Each of us bore our own waterskin, though I felt that only I bore the saddlesores, shifting uncomfortably in the warm glow.
"Well," Marcus said, swallowing down another chunk of bread, "here we are. We're finally out of Kainas, finally on our journey, and finally on our way."
"Those last two are the same thing," I pointed out.
"Pedantry will be the death of thee," Marcus replied, pointing sternly with a finger. "And you're already in the bad books for trying to knock your horse out," he said. I pouted. "Just kidding!"
"Tomorrow we head for Icatha?" Gaula asked, popping a handful of raisins into his mouth and washing them down with a drink from his waterskin.
"Probably," Marcus nodded. "If our friends from Kainas are heading to Dyra, they'll probably get there by daybreak at the speed they're going. How many were there, by the way?"
"Twenty or so," Gaula said. "Strange thing is they didn't look like they were Guild men."
"How so?" Marcus asked.
"I don't know," Gaula said. "They just didn't. They bore a standard, which I don't think any of the guilds ever do. They seemed unusually heavily armed, too. I saw four lancers and ten crossbows in their party."
"Sounds like part of the army," Marcus said, then cocked his head appreciatively. "Well, at least they're taking us seriously."
They laughed and joked about it. I didn't see the funny side. I wondered if Marcus knew what it felt like to be hunted, he spoke about it with such relaxation, coming up with the most farcical situations in which we could be caught, and equally ridiculous solutions to our imaginary problem. For his part, Gaula just fed the flames with the occasional strange addition, until finally they began to tire of their talk.
"Speaking of being hunted," Gaula said.
"At great length," Marcus concluded with another drink from his waterskin.
Gaula waved him off and turned to me, "what happened back at the Guild house?"
I sighed, and recounted my tale. Where I had perhaps slightly exaggerated my tale when recounting how I delivered the letter to Lyandra, I put no gloss on this. Warryn deserved better. My friends' brows first furrowed, then actively dropped when I told them of Warryn's death. Gaula looked extremely upset, while Marcus topped his waterskin then savagely threw it against the trunk of the tree opposite, arcing it over the fire with ease. Their attentions leapt back up, however, when I mentioned Mortani's appearance, and that he claimed to have been sent by Jared. Neither attempted to interrupt me as I went on, recounting my flight to the portcullis, my desperate fight and killing of one of the claw fingered assassins, and my eventual escape from the Compound. I brushed over my grief and terror when I saw the burning warehouse, though I think they knew regardless.
"Vilax," Gaula muttered, in a manner which suggested it was a curse.
"I don't believe this," Marcus said with an angry shake of his head. "Crescent goes crazy, then Warryn gets killed; Hidala's going to start feeling lonely. She'll be our oldest member now. Probably expecting to get run over by a horse tomorrow or something," he muttered, his words nearly light-hearted but his voice terribly hard. He was angry, and rightly so. "I'd say 'someone is going to die for this', but I'd be a bit late, wouldn't I?" He punched the earth, then shook his hand painfully. "Gaula, throw me my waterskin," he said. Gaula did, and Marcus then threw it even harder, at the same tree he had aimed it at before. This time he missed, and it sailed off into the night, landing with a quiet rustle in the dark while his face fell.
Gaula watched it go, then turned back to him. "Want me to go and get it?" Marcus nodded dumbly and looked away.
"It's my fault," I said in a small voice. Marcus turned to look at me, and I raised my teary eyes to look at him. "It was me they were after, me they were sent to kill, and me they killed Warryn over," I said dismally, then looked down at the blazing logs of the fire. "I just wish I knew why."
"It isn't your fault, Brianna," Marcus replied softly, as Gaula started rustling about in the undergrowth. "It's just bad timing. Really bad timing."
"I suppose The Twins decided he had run his course," I said as though I hadn't heard him. "But that doesn't make me feel any better about it. I still feel that if I hadn't been there, Warryn would still be alive."
"There is little point in feeling guilty over it," Gaula said as he returned to the fire, tossing the waterskin back to Marcus, who caught and quickly unbottled it to take a drink. "Far better to avenge his death instead, rather than allow it to halt you in your path. After all, do we not worship Spathi? Do we all not lie down in Her shadow eventually?"
I smiled. "You're right. But at no point does that say I have to like it. Warryn could still have done great service to the guild, could still have bolstered it in the days to come," I said, tone and heart still leaning hard towards the bleak. At least, I thought, my rune was leaving me be, and the fire kept the night chill away.
"I imagine that was the point," Marcus said darkly. "I think someone's after more than just Jared's scalp."
"Or maybe Warryn knew about Jared's actions, too," Gaula offered. "And so Jared sought to solve two problems with one blow. It strikes me as his kind of thinking."
"That's also a possibility," Marcus agreed. "I wonder how many people in the Guild actually have an idea of what's going on?"
"With the influx of rookies, not many," I said. "As it stands we have about half of the original guild still around, desperately training the new recruits and trying to bear up the strain for their lost brothers. If any of them had or have suspicions, they're not going to have the time to act on them or investigate further. But Warryn might have found out. He was always very sharp," I whispered, remembering the times he had taught me when I was moving through the Training Chambers, when he had helped me sharpen my senses, and when he had taught me to climb, and I remembered his death, stabbed then slit, and slain. Such a life, ended so quickly, so suddenly.
But that was our way, unchanged since time immemorial.
We talked then of old times, times we all had spent with Warryn. He had always been wise and helpful, always there when needed. Through this speech we managed to quell our united grief and shock at his passing, to dull the painful blade of loss which threatened to remind us of the slaughter only a month ago. I felt, as I curled up in my bedding, that we all slept with the solid intention of avenging Warryn, one way or another.