“After the Northern Gateway was discovered, two fighters — a man and a woman — were posted on every mile in both directions it stretched.” (Fleets 90:1)
“If I have rejected penance, then this is punishment,” Wendy whispered mostly to herself.
Marθia sat on the chair next to Wendy North. Patre sat across from both of them. Marθia was playing with the cuticles on her nails. Patre was slouched on the chair with his eyes closed.
“Punishment from whom, Wendy?” Marθia asked?
Wendy shook her head. “Fate. The Four. Who knows, really?”
“The Four are a myth propagated by the Templars to solidify their rule,” Patre said without opening his eyes.
Wendy shook her head, “I know, but sometimes I doubt even my doubts.”
“We can send a group of men, maybe two, to find him,” Marθia said.
Wendy shook her head again, “We cannot spare fighters. They will probably die anyway. Hazel is dead. I can accept that.”
Patre, pragmatic as always, inserted, “we cannot know that for certain.”
“That is not necessarily true,” Marθia affirmed taking Patre’s side for once.
“No, he is dead. He is as good as dead. Even in the South, they do not fight the Yaras unless it is absolutely necessary. And never in the open.” Wendy shook her head and repeated, “never in the open. It is suicide.”
Marθia and Patre were quiet. They had nothing to add.
“Have I made a mistake?” Wendy asked?
Marθia stayed quiet. Patre calculated.
Patre finally broke the silence, “No. Mistakes, yes, of course. We all make mistakes. Have you had a serious lapse of judgment? No. Your brother was a menace to society. He needed to be eliminated. He would have led Indigo down a dangerous path. The point of the revolution was to enfranchise people not to move their representation south, to Avanna.”
“No, not all of that.”
Marθia said, “yes.”
Patre’s gaze shifted to Marθia. He was lost.
Wendy North grabbed her forehead. “I had to do it. I couldn’t.”
“It was still a mistake,” Marθia said.
“I couldn’t let him distract me. There was — is — work to be done. I couldn’t put everything aside. Everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Plus, there was the matter of Danil. He would feel betrayed.”
“Where is your husband now?” Marθia prompted.
“He,” Wendy couldn’t finish. She didn’t know where her husband had been for days. She had been dealing with the fog and the transition. They had an argument. She had ordered him out of her sight. He left and didn’t return and, frankly, Wendy was glad. She hadn’t thought about Danil since.
“Exactly,” Marθia shook her head, “you were willing to upend society and work against sacred writings and law to achieve what the nation needed, but you were not willing to break with tradition, because of what? Political position? Clout?”
Wendy knew that Marθia was right. She let her continue.
“Now it is too late. You made your decision. It was the wrong decision. I let you figure it out, but I won’t let it cripple you. You need to let Hazel go. You need to release him into the fog because there is nothing you can do for him or, at this point, he for you. Indigo is at the intersection of death from the north and south and you have thrust yourself at the center of it all, so — remember that.” Marθia was looking straight at Wendy as she finished.
Wendy had been looking past Marθia. She was letting the words bathe her in raw truth. It was why she kept Marθia close to her. It centered her. It was not what she wanted to hear — far from it. And, yet, it was the causality of her actions. Wendy nodded as she refocused on Marθia nodded back.
Patre had been silent throughout the exchange. He knew Marθia was right but he never appreciated when Marθia spoke to Wendy in that fashion.
A knock on the door surprised them. It was late but much too early for Johan to be back already.
Marθia stood up and opened the door. Reader Caian walked into the room as Marθia backed away from the door.
When he was inside he looked directly at Wendy but said, “close the door Marθia.”
Patre immediately stood up, “we were just leaving,” he said pointing at Marθia.
Still looking directly at Wendy, the Reader said, “no stay, both of you, but close the door. All three of you need to hear what I am about to say.”
Wendy gestured for the Reader to sit.
“No, I will stand,” the Reader said.
Patre sat down once more and Marθia closed the door and returned to her chair.
Wendy closed her eyes and left them closed for a moment longer than she had intended. She was beginning to feel exhausted.
“Another prescription Reader Caian?” She asked.
“The conclave has ended in total chaos.”
Wendy opened her eyes and stared at the Reader. This was news.
The Reader continued, “Ney Kiel just sent out a message.”
“How did he contact you?” Patre asked.
“Never mind that. The Southern Polestar self-destructed. The Cadmium network is suffering intermittent outages. We don’t know exactly what the Polestar does but we think it serves as a sort of node. A connection point between the different temples. With their Polestar destroyed, the whole network has been experiencing serious failures. The message Ney Kiel sent out was odd, broken. He spoke about,” the Reader paused unsure how to continue, “about, human sacrifice.”
Wendy’s eyes widened, “It is late Reader, are you sure you heard right?”
“Yes, that part was clear. There is to be a human sacrifice. It is the daughter of the Templars. Apparently, the Southern Templars had broken the law and intermarried. They are dead. Their daughter is the only Templar left in the South. I don’t think the South has voted on the rejection. For all intent and purposes, she is the Templar. The sole Templar of the Southern Isle. He spoke about sacrificing her, but then the transmission cut off.”
Wendy shook her head in disbelieve, “this is not what the movement stands for. Human sacrifice was banned by a Conclave and set into law by a Cadmium Command. I thought Commands cannot be undone. This doesn’t make any sense.”
“There is more, my Ladyship,” The Reader looked worried, “the Cadmium network failed but shortly after it booted up a woman was speaking. I didn’t understand; she was barely audible. I thought I heard something but it doesn’t — didn’t — make sense. But right before the transmission failed again she typed it. She sent it through, here.”
Wendy took the bracelet the speaker offered her. On the tiny blue screen, two words glowed: Jiù zhû. Wendy handed the bracelet back to the Reader.
Wendy stood up, “honestly, Reader Caian, we have bigger issues than a random text. It appears once. Once, Reader. Just once, in the whole massive writings of The Gatherings.”
Patre stood up also, “this is bigger than Indigo Wendy. It is bigger than us. It is time we started connecting the threads. The Yaras are mentioned in the writings and so are the Yameni. There is some truth in the writings.”
“Sure, but a savior?”
The Reader stroked his short beard slowly, “but a Jiù zhû would change things. It lines up with this strange Dark Night spreading across the seas. It also signals we are out, beyond The Gatherings. The writings say, ‘the Dark Night spreads out rising with the Jiù zhû and, only then, will new writings be added to this book.’ Wars have been fought on the meaning of those words. If they prophecy is true, then we must protect this girl.
Wendy shook her head, “what does it mean for us, then? We are too far north and, right now, between the Yaras and the Yameni.”
“We have to send our troops south,” the Reader interrupted Wendy.
“South? Are you insane?”
“It might be our only option.”