Table of Contents
Thus begins Chapter Four: Transitions
â€œSo, let me get this straight. Nia â€“ our frightened little doe â€“ is actually a fragment of an awe-inspiringly powerful Primordial creature.â€ Khory collapsed backwards, lying on a reed mat. â€œIâ€™m out. One too many surprises for today.â€
Sirrim nodded slowly, still looking off into the underbrush where Nia, and then moments later Kieran, had run. â€œIt has certainly been an exciting time. What were the chances, I wonderâ€¦â€
â€œShould we go after them?â€ From where he was lying, Khory looked up, and then glanced over to the village. The huraka had sped off, promising to return within the hour, giving the group time to sort out their â€˜internal problemsâ€™, and leaving Khory, Elena, and Sirrim alone on the beach.
â€œNo.â€ Elena shook her head. She was also lying down, although she was doing so roughly two feet in the air, and she looked glum. â€œThis is something that Kieran has to sort out with Nia, I think. Sheâ€™s not dangerous, is she?â€ The last question was directed at Sirrim, who shrugged.
â€œHell if I know.â€ He frowned thoughtfully. â€œI havenâ€™t seen Nia in over thirty years, and sheâ€™s nothing like she was then. Time has changed her, I think, and for the better. Once, she would never have cared what he thought of her.â€
There was a pause, as Khory and Elena glanced at each other. Finally, Khory was the one who broke it. â€œThirtyâ€¦ years? She doesnâ€™t look that old.â€
â€œThe Splinters of Mokrelus do not age.â€ Sirrim shrugged again, smiling at the mortalsâ€™ confusion. â€œShe is whatever age he wanted her to be when he sent her about her task.â€
â€œAnd what task was that?â€ Elena considered Sirrimâ€™s words, her face unreadable.
â€œFor thatâ€¦ you would have to ask her.â€
Nia sat on the banks of the river, one hand running in its water. She stared into her reflection as though willing it to life, and when she heard the twig snapping behind her, she nearly leapt out of her skin.
Kieran was standing there, his hands up reassuringly. â€œEasy. Just me. I want to talk.â€
â€œRight.â€ Nia sat back down, looking away from him. â€œTalk. Soâ€¦ now you know.â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t see me again, donâ€™t worry.â€ Niaâ€™s voice choked on the last word, but she pressed on. â€œI justâ€¦ I didnâ€™t mean toâ€¦â€
â€œHey.â€ Kieran sat down next to her, looking over at her. She refused to meet his eyes, instead staring at the river. â€œBack on Gemmelâ€™s Reach, the other Dynasts mentioned a third member who they thought I killed â€“ but I didnâ€™t. And they mentioned the river. That was you, wasnâ€™t it?â€ Nia nodded slowly, and Kieran smiled. â€œWell, then. I owe you my life. Thank you.â€
There was a thunderstruck pause before Nia lifted her head to stare at him. â€œThank you? After Iâ€¦ after you learnâ€¦ what?â€
â€œWell, I would have died if those Dynasts had attacked me together. You put yourself in danger for me.â€ Kieran patted Nia on the shoulder as she stared at him in shock. â€œAnd I didnâ€™t thank you at the time. Sorry.â€
â€œIâ€™ve put you in terrible danger!â€ Nia burst into tears, turning away again. â€œWhy are you being soâ€¦ nice??â€
â€œOh, come on. Let me be the judge of how much danger Iâ€™m in. You think Mokrelus still has it in for me?â€
â€œThe Lover Clad In The Raiment of Tears and all of her servants are searching for me. If they find you with me, theyâ€™ll probably destroy you.â€
Kieranâ€™s smile dropped away, and he considered that statement. â€œOkay, yeah, maybe that qualifies. Still. What kind of a friend walks off when heâ€™s needed most, huh?â€
Nia gaped again, and finally found her voice, disbelief tinting it with shades of hope and fear. â€œFriends. Kieran, Iâ€™ve lied to you. I killed you.â€
â€œMokrelus killed me. Actually, technically, he killed someone else who happened to have my Essence. Anyway, it wasnâ€™t you.â€ Kieran paused, reaching over to brush a stray lock of hair out of Niaâ€™s eyes. â€œNia, youâ€™re our friend. Youâ€™ve risked your life to help us more than once, and I trust you. What happened in another Age doesnâ€™t matter now, does it?â€
â€œYouâ€™re something else, Kieran.â€ Nia shook her head. â€œBut what if you die again? What if the Lover kills you?â€
â€œSheâ€™ll have to wait in line.â€ Nia raised an eyebrow, and Kieran chuckled. â€œThereâ€™s a bit of spirit. Look, there is one thing that I remember. Mokrelus didnâ€™t have it in for the Exalted on principle. Has that changed?â€
â€œNo.â€ Nia shook her head. â€œNot unless a lot has happened while I was gone. The Loverâ€¦ I discovered something that she didnâ€™t want me to know, so she used her necromancy to stop my communions with Father. But she couldnâ€™t kill me, or my knowledge would return to him, so she trapped me down there in the darkness.â€ She paused, and shuddered. â€œI didnâ€™t think I would ever be free, Kieran.â€
â€œWell, then. If we arenâ€™t enemies by nature, and we arenâ€™t enemies by allegiance, we can still be friends.â€ Kieran stood, and held out his hand. â€œCome on, Nia. Letâ€™s head back to the others.â€
She looked up at him wonderingly. â€œAre you sure?â€
She took his hand gingerly, and he pulled her to her feet. Together, they walked back through the underbrush.