By Rosamund Hodge
29 May 2006
1. They say that Kor and Kima were the first gods, Dusé and Tsuitya their children. When Dusé died, Kima asked every creature in the world to give a drop of blood; for if all the drops were gathered and Dusé bathed in them, he would return to life. But his sister Tsuitya was jealous and desiring. She drank up all the blood to make herself stronger, and there was war in Heaven.
In the end they cast her down. But Dusé never returned.
Aru Cainavon had left the monastery because he could not believe the monks when they said it was wrong to save lives with the sword, and because he would not force them to live at what they considered an unacceptable price. He returned because he believed them when they said they had found the girl who was the Eyes. And for her he was willing to kill, no matter who found it unacceptable.
As it turned out, he didn't make it back in time for the monks to consider his choices anything at all.
He swung his sword, slinging the last Warder's blood off the blade, and turned to the girl for whom the monastery had been destroyed. She was still huddled in the corner of the room, fingers clutching a set of prayer beads.
"Get up," he said. "We need to leave." The harsh scent of smoke was growing stronger; soon the entire monastery would be in flames.
Her wide eyes stared at him through tangled strands of black hair; her breath came in loud, wheezing sobs. He wanted to throw her over his shoulder and run, but she might scream and draw pursuers. Instead he knelt so she could look into his eyes.
"What's your name?" he asked, trying to keep his voice calm.
"San," she whispered. "San Attesakasa. He said—" Her knuckles whitened around the beads.
"My name's Aru." Sweat trickled down the back of his neck; he tried not to think about the approaching flames. "Brother Maron wrote me about you. That's why I'm here. Will you come with me?" He held out a hand.
For another moment she stared at him. Then she reached shakily for his hand.
That night, as they hid in an overgrown hollow, she whispered, "Why do you bother? They broke the Crystal."
Aru stared into the darkness, remembering Brother Maron's mumbling voice as he read the prophecy: For what the Eyes sees when she looks into the Crystal, all men shall see. Therefore let the Eyes look with purity upon truth and justice, that all men may be pure and abide in justice.
"We'll find a way."
She stiffened in his arms. "Brother Maron said he was glad to die for me."
"You are the Eyes. You will save us all."
"Not Brother Maron."
2. They say that when Dusé died, Kima swore no creature would take one breath more than her son, and began to destroy the world. Kor was brave; he fought her and fell. But Tsuitya was clever, and trapped Kima within her magic mirror, never to touch the world again unless someone should speak her secret name.
This meant that Tsuitya had to kill all three thousand thirty-three of Kima's worshippers. The tales of the gods are never pretty.
"You stay here," said Logan. "I'll get food."
San leaned back against the grimy cement wall, grateful for the rest. "All right."
He glanced sidelong at her through shaggy brown bangs. "You're not arguing? Are you sick or something?"
She knew he was worried: usually she protested that she could scavenge just as well as he could, even though he was fourteen and a head taller. But she couldn't tell him that the shard in her ankle was aching worse than usual, loosening her joints and weakening her muscles.
"Tired," she said.
"Good. Keeps you sensible." He gave her shoulder a little push and turned. "I'll be back soon."
And he was gone, footsteps echoing down the alley. San closed her eyes and drew a breath, trying to ignore the oversweet tang of garbage and the metallic stench of pollution. Logan had helped her escape from the Warders and now he was helping her survive on the streets of Cavernaugh. And she couldn't even tell him the truth about why she felt weak. Because then she would have to tell him who the Warders really were, and who she was, and why she had spent the last three years fleeing across worlds and hunting for shards of the Crystal.
Her ankle twitched as the pain flared again. Aru could sense shards; he had put one into her ankle so her could find her if they got separated. But it had been three months, and she was beginning to wonder.
It was only a faint scuffle that made her open her eyes—and she screamed as she saw the black swirl of the Warder's cloak, nightmare vivid against the pale concrete. She dodged away from him, only to be grabbed by another, who twisted her arms behind her back. When she tried to break away, his stiff leather gloves only dug deeper into her skin, and there was nothing she could do but stare at the other Warder's black-masked face.
They dressed like death because they believed the one they hunted was the death of worlds. But now their hunt was over because she was about to die, and as the Warder raised his sword, all San could think was how stupid she'd been, to stop watching for even a second—
And blood spurted from his chest as he fell, Aru standing behind him. The other Warder barely had a chance to move before he was dead as well. Aru slung the blood off his sword with the same graceful motion San had seen a hundred times before, and she realized that she was trembling. Then she flung herself at him, and he pulled her against his chest.
"Are you all right?" His voice was cool, but his arm was tight around her.
She nodded. "I thought—"
She pulled away from Aru and saw Logan standing at the end of the alley, eyes wide. She'd never stayed in a world long enough to lose a friend before.
"Where are you really from?"
Truth felt strange on her lips. "Another world." She heard Aru inhale sharply, and she looked up. "They already know we were here, and we're leaving—"
"He has a shard," said Aru.
Logan's eyes flicked to Aru in his blood-spattered trench coat. "Shard?"
"From the Crystal—" The story tangled on her tongue. "It wouldn't look like a shard, but it would be something crystal that never gets scratched."
Without looking away from her, Logan reached inside his shirt and pulled out a pendant on a chain. "You mean this?"
"Yes." She stepped towards him. "Please. We need it."
After a moment, Logan's eyelids slid low again. "Only if you take me with you."
3. They say that Kor and Kima knew the world was doomed to die only a year after its creation; but if they sacrificed their infant son Dusé, they could buy another three thousand thirty-three years. Their daughter fought them and failed, and so the world lives.
Tsuitya died believing life was not worth such a price. Yet it certainly cannot be bought for less. For afterwards Kor and Kima found the world might live forever if, at the end of the its allotted time, Tsuitya were to give her life willingly. But she has nothing left to give.
San leaned her forehead against the train window. A mottled tapestry of greens flashed by: lacy-leafed trees, hair-fine grass, the tanglement of bushes and vines.
"Every single world." Logan slouched in his seat, one knee drawn up almost to his chin. "You always think it's the best one yet. Don't you ever get tired of them?"
She grinned at him. "You like them too, don't you?"
"What's your favorite?"
"Anywhere that's not Cavernaugh." He paused. "Do you miss your home world?"
Fire and smoke. Brother Maron's wrinkled hands. Sunlight on the floor of her mother's house, before the monks had found her. "A bit."
For a few moments there was no sound but the rhythmic rattle of the train. Then he asked quietly, "So what's your favorite thing?"
Canals in Cresca. Golden skies and airships in Vaen. Dragon-masked crowds at the Musakki street festivals. The endless ocean of Skyre. Gleaming white cliff cities in Usasu. The grimy streets of Faralos, with garlic, flayed rabbits, and fresh fruit hanging side by side in the market. The Scarandene spring she was watching now.
4. They say that when Dusé died, Kima sought the consent of every living creature to die as well; for if she could obtain it, they would all be reborn with him into a deathless world. Tsuitya disagreed. They do not say why.
Most of the Warders had been distracted by the explosions, but there were still plenty of them as Logan and Skadi pounded through the corridors. As he fought, Logan caught glimpses of Skadi beside him, her sword moving as smoothly and swiftly as Aru's. He couldn't hear her, but he knew she was mouthing Shehai war-chants, prayers for the souls she killed.
Aru thought she was she was the most honorable creature to walk the earth; Logan thought she was plain crazy. But Aru wasn't there now, and Logan was thankful for her sword.
"This way," said Skadi, making a sharp turn. Logan was also thankful for her sense of direction; he would have lost his way in the labyrinthine base a long time ago.
The door, when they found it, was of scuffed and dented metal. Skadi took out a lock-pick. "I can have it open in a moment."
Logan took a step back. "We don't have a moment," he said, and kicked the door in.
The Oracle sprawled dead and bloody across the floor, with San crouched beside her.
Logan crossed the room in two strides and grabbed San's wrist. "Come on. Aru's wounded, and there are more coming."
She let him pull her arm up without rising. "Crystal's gone."
"Doesn't matter. It was bait."
"We've been chasing the wrong shards?" demanded Skadi.
San looked up with unevenly dilated eyes. "My destiny's not to save anything. Destiny broke, before the worlds, before the gods. The Crystal was only to make us walk through worlds, to see them all from the inside, because I have to see them from the outside. And when I see them, destiny will be whole. Because all but one will die."
Logan caught her as she crumpled.
5. Kor, Kima, Dusé, Tsuitya. In every world the gods have the same names, and in every world they follow different paths. But there are four other things that never change: destiny, choice, death, price. So they enact every possible story, but the outcome—in essence—never changes.
As soon as San was conscious, she demanded to see Aru. She didn't cry when she saw him lying still and pale; she brushed a few strands of hair off his forehead, then sat down beside his bed to wait. Logan paused in the doorway, then went downstairs.
Skadi was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs, her pale braids as neat as if she had never been in a battle. For a few moments they looked at each other in silence.
"Did you really mean what you said back there?" Logan asked abruptly.
"We have to consider it. You think she will?" Skadi jerked her head towards the stairs. "If she lives, a million worlds will die."
"So we should what?" Logan stepped off the final stair. "Slit her throat for the good of mankind? Is that your kind of honor?"
"I don't want to hurt her. But you know what the Oracle said. If we don't kill her, sooner or later she will see. And if she will not choose, all worlds will die instead of all but one." Skadi's voice was clipped. With Aru unconscious, she seemed to feel she had to be the ruthless one. "If San is to live, she must choose."
"That's not an acceptable solution!"
"Then nothing's acceptable. Those are the only choices."
He remembered the rattle of a train, the outside world reduced to green flashes.
"Nothing," said Logan, "is the least acceptable thing."
6. There is a place where they do not say anything at all; a place between places, between worlds, between possibilities. Where no one speaks and (more importantly) no one sees. If even one person could see into the place of myriad places, the three thousand thirty-three infinities, there would be only one.
One thing is certain in every possibility. Eyes will come.
"You know what she's going to destroy!" Skadi yelled as she attacked Logan. "You've seen the worlds—how can you not care?"
Logan blocked her sword without answering. "Go!" he yelled at San, throwing a kick that Skadi barely dodged. Warders ran in through the doorway. "Just go!"
Where? thought San, closing her eyes. And opened them on a hallway from the monastery, shadowy and panelled in dark wood.
"Don't look back." A girl stood before her in gray rags, her hair the color of clotted blood. "Dusé looked, and you know what happened."
"Tsuitya," San breathed.
"In a metaphorical fashion." Tsuitya began to walk down the hallway. "The story's complete. All you must do . . . is choose which story."
San followed, passing doors on either side. She felt a terrible certainty that the hallway was crumbling away behind her, revealing something she did not dare comprehend.
"I won't choose any story that makes people die," she said.
"Then everyone will die."
"You never chose your parents' choices." Creator, Protector, Destroyer—Tsuitya's story was different in every world, but she was always the rebel god.
"Of course, everything I tell you is a lie. Unless you make it true."
"I can't make anything true."
"Think of all the tales you've heard. They can't all be true. All the worlds you've seen. They can't all be real."
"What if there is something that's true in all worlds?"
The hallway ended in a wooden, brass-knobbed door exactly like all the others. Tsuitya turned. Her pupils had swallowed up her eyes. "Refusal is a choice. Open and choose."
San laid a hand on the knob, shutting her eyes. In every story in every world, the gods had disputed death and lost.
But they had always tried to bargain with it.
"What do you choose?"
The voice came from all around her. San's pulse was in her throat.
"What is not in any of your stories," she said.
"Then what do you choose?"
"Everything." And she flung the door wide—
As she spun around to look back.
7. Once before time, there was decreed a prophecy and a destiny and a choice. One would come who must choose which world would live while the others died. And a stupid little girl wanted to save
Of course she did have to lose her eyes.
What kind of story do you think this is?
3,033. San heard Logan shift and exhale uneasily. "Skadi turned on the Warders as soon as you vanished. She saved my life. Now she's taking care of Aru. I think she's sorry. Sort of."
She shrugged. "I would have killed me, if I were her." Skadi couldn't let the worlds die and Logan couldn't let her kill an innocent. They were both right and both wrong.
He laid an arm over her shoulders. "What happened?"
"I found something else to look at."
Logan tensed, and she knew he was looking at the bandage over her eyes. "Why—"
"I'm only allowed to see one thing. Ever."
His voice was low, turned away. "I'm sorry. I wanted . . ."
Someday she might rage against her blindness. But not today.
"All I want," she said, "is to go to every single place I cannot see."
Silence. "You'll need someone to keep you from tripping."
"I know," she said. "I hope you don't mind."