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Mi’Raah 13: Last Vortextual Process

The Trystian Channel was a long stretch of treacherous shoals.  To prevent trade ships rending their hulls or choking the passage, two sandbars on either side of the blue stretch had been built up with white stone to create one bright aisle connecting both isles of Jyst and Tryst.  The crystalline shallows also gifted both kingdoms a view of eachother’s best monuments.  The Trystians welcomed holiday merchants towing light-ferried boats and travelers wading up to their ankles with a gargantuan statue of goddess Opiphia.  She opened one palm to the sun overhead, as if carrying it.  Opiphia was a powerful fertility deity, The One Whom Through All Good Things Must Pass, and so this was an ancient monument to the opposite of whatever we might know–to silly dreamers, rather than a memory of sacrifice, and also to multiplicity and bilateral successes, rather than any singular patriotism when Opiphia was worshipped all through the Known Seas.   Because of its natural shoals and a powerful current successful at putting exploration off for millenia, the sister-isle of Tryst was both the portal to Jyst, and also Jyst’s one portal to all those lesser islands far beyond.  And this was politically true for Tryst’s placement as well.  Other than the Jystians themselves, no one served the High Horse God better than its sister Tryst, regardless of season or trepidation.  She had always been there.

On the Jystian side, a black statue of the horse god Odeon also captured the ages-old role of the twin kingdom.  The obsidian horse stood with muscular conformation in profile, a thick neck straight out and nostrils flared in stone.  Odeon snuffed the female immortal far on the other side of the channel as if she were in heat, like he owned her.  And nobody had ever moved the goddess-statue, built up a screen, started a war, or anything else to oppose Jyst’s opinion of the rest of the world, at its heel.

Not until this very day.

Merchants and pilgrims once skilled at finding threads of silt on which to stroll easily through the channel, were now wading shin-deep in blackened water raised by blasted joints of white rock and gore.  Bright blue light-ferries were upturned, smashed or stolen to be filled with the belongings of shouting emigrants.  Women with babies tied across their backs swatted arms to fight over what their families needed.   Men had their swords or knives drawn constantly.  No child raced ahead to buy saltwater candies from vendors today.  Boys and girls tugged on the ragged garments of their parents and ducked heads every time a cannon on one side or the other of them made skulls, air, sea, and sandy earth below, shake with doomsday vehemence.

Odeon either stretched neck to lash teeth and snatch them back like errant yearlings on the south end, or goddess Opiphia waved in to have them run by her and faster, while the muscles in her other arm shuddered at each cannon-quake.  She could have dropped the north-sun at any moment.   Every turn in the gunfight between ships made Opiphia’s wild hair rock wicked and frazzle worse and so embarrassingly–mortal–for her above those glistening marble shoulders.

A gilded red ship ached as it leaned around at her side, breaking needle-bow against her hip, cracked the stone.  The crew was desperate to maneuver away from enemy fire.  This was the royal Jystian pleasure barge begging mercy a final time, turning so hard and taking water fast on her port side through a black wound.  A proud white Trystian Navy ship appeared next, moving fast from directly behind Opiphia’s one crumbling hip.  It dropped full sails and turned armored side to face the threat and aid its little red kin.  Across the channel, Mi’Raah’s Virtue was forced to move and fix aim again, but Egg of the Goddess was hungry to take advantage of the pause, and the crew yelled back and forth in anticipation of one of its cannons bursting fire-sparked smoke suddenly over the heads of terrified refugees.  Stone Opiphia shook hardest, pursed lips, stretched arm higher and must have held on with her toes.  It was a dead-hit at King Arudelle’s jewel ship, but suddenly the blue water itself began to raise, as if on an angry wave, and lifted Mi’Raah’s Virtue free of the goddess’ screaming-hot defense.  That cannonball rolled, pitched, but passed directly beneath its target in the final moment, through the very arch of the wave’s crest.  Mi’Raah’s Virtue, a black ship roaring laughter as it coasted easily down from the brink of impossible, fired three neat peals back.  One to smash through the mast of the red royal barge, another to pierce the hull of this white Egg of the Goddess with every advantage from that terrible height, and the explosion dismembereds Opiphia herself.  She lost grip of the sun, bent over, and burst her perfect face, first into the shoals.

Shards of stone careened in every direction.  So many blue boats upturned.  People pulling animals and ferrying livelihoods out to the safety of Tryst, cried and fought one another to return to Jyst again.  Towers of Jystian lower cities were already burning, and from here it was also possible to see the remainder of the Black Armada swarmed on the other shores.  Cannons were going so hard in tandem as to suggest their masters had no souls whatever.  The sea walls were being obliterated.  Deep within, penned-up horses of the wealthy could be heard whinnying screams that certain death would finally come. Out here, all the horses of the poor or unlucky were already in the water without the Trystian Channel and its bright stone aisles.  Swollen, drowned bellies with bloodied stick legs laid flat out, to bob and wash ashore.

Syramon was with Thom by then.  They held each other in the crash and rage of Mi’Raah’s Virtue in black-wood and its ivory rival.  The crimson ship which carried the remainder of the Jystian royal family was going down in flames and doomed screaming.  Practically scuttled.  More ships done in Trystian white were coming in from the East, all with silvery metal-lined hulls to cut up the rock shoals.

“We should keep going…” Syramon found he couldn’t even hear his own voice.  Or had he not dared speak hope aloud at all?

Thom was shaken enough already.  A beautiful young man who smiled too much.  Even now, when he slipped down to his knees and had to be yanked back up by the scruff of his neck, water slipped round the edges of clenched teeth.

“Come on.”  Said Syramon, “I didn’t scheme so hard to get you all to myself, for us to lose now.”

“You robbed from Bonnis, once.” Thom coughed, and didn’t finish as well as he hoped, “… cradle-robber.”

They braced themselves, when three women ferrying their children together on a cracked blue barge turned wild bloodshot eyes on them.  Syramon and his lover were standing on top of an old rock, and people were constantly surprised to find their belongings tethered on it.  Thom immediately bent down to reach and help undo so many ropes caught beneath the overhang, but Syramon yelled and prevented him.  One of the children had scrambled down from the raft, seemingly out of nowhere, to put a dinner knife between this stranger and his mother.

“People are no better than animals now, Thom.”

Syramon drew his sword and made it clear they were not easy prey, not here, not ever.  The mothers were eager to sort it out and move on with their babes.  The women soon made it to Jystian shore behind the two men with the rest of the hollering, harried, desperate sea-soaked masses.

“I still think, Thom, that Jyst is safest.  King Arudelle wants this place razed, and so we have to get over there.”

Thom sat down.  Smiled hard, laughed, cried.  “There is no horse god.  There is no fertility goddess with womb round enough to keep us all–Arudelle himself had them blast it apart!”

“No, you don’t understand… Mi’Raah is good.  She knows we’re going there, and so they’re not really attacking Tryst.  The statue was in the way of their navy.  Its the ships they want.”

“Ahaha… I love you.  I knew that I loved you for a reason.  So adorably stupid.  And trusting.  I thank you for coming back for me.  So, we‘re spending this last day together…”

“No, you’re the one–”

“I’m still bleeding, Syra!  Let’s go dig a hole and wait this out.  Let’s tan our skins and join the Beach People!  Standing here, while wanting to be over there, we’re like talking corpses.  Let’s do anything else but trust some vain, silver-headed witch of a woman to keep our souls safe!  King Baeltheon was right to throw Mi’Raah in prison.  In fact, he should have made her worse off than us slaves.”

“If she’d not changed our lives, we would have been on that smoldering red boat, out there.  Do you see it?  Wine at noon in the Trystian High District, remember?  Thom?  Thom, stay on for that!”

Thom shook his head and turned up his smiling gaze, to grant Syramon a kiss.  It lingered in the face of people tearing one another apart, and felt final.  Then a blast nearby, and their satchel blew apart.  Putrid water rolled over that spot then came crashing back.  Syramon was able to lift himself from the water and clamber back on.  But Thom?  He called wild for him.  So many other people were there too, crying, fighting, swimming, drowning.

Then came the yawn of water raising up.  Syramon saw aquamarine foam whorling and standing as if it always had legs beneath its blue skirt.  He cleared water from his eyes and recognized black death herself, Mi’Raah’s Virtue riding that very wave.  Her masthead was a woman he also knew, silver hair painted on and flowing down on either side of the hull.  The ship’s bow parted her hair, even as she was used to wearing it.

“Blow it up.  I know that you can reach it from here.”  Syramon heard when the thing was leaning dangerously over his own head, and there was nowhere he could go and not be beneath it.  Was this Arudelle, himself, speaking?

“The Trystian Navy has engaged us, as you desired.  My King, it is enough.”

“Don’t the gods punish hubris?  Baeltheon wouldn’t send out the women and children from the city, it’s his loss.” Arudelle seized her jaw.  Syramon could see the split in her lip.  Nothing, compared to Thom’s stab-wound.  “Who do you love more, Mi’Raah?  Me?  The comfort of a real, warm, breathing man, or the stinking unwashed masses?”

“There are innocents–some are my friends, as well as with the Beach People, you know that.”

“Innocents?  Who is innocent here, not you.  Is lying and scheming what a person does, with their friends?  You’re mad and then some, to think you’ve been above all this, for all this bloodied time!  You’re as vile as me, you made yourself that way–stop simpering!  There isn’t a choice to make here, you condemned yourself long ago.  So go on, indulge!”

Mi’Raah raised hands over her head.  Syramon flattened against his rock, feeling as slimy and pathetic as a bug, on the verge of being crushed.  Had a smile flickered there, at the edge of her lip?  On the cheek Arudelle kissed?  The boat raised higher on its column of water, they were harder to see.  But two delicate fists definitely raised overhead to cover the white sun.  Mi’Raah could have been mocking all the empty promises of stone Opiphia herself.

It was necessary for Mi’Raah to gaze down, as she worked her conjuring.  And so, she did see Syramon, as the ship continued to ascend.  His life did pass before her eyes.

That she would trade one love for another all this time, think herself better. Syramon breathed, “But I believed you…”  Then the weight and proof of ten thousand chill needles speared through Syramon, and washed away all survivors on that wailing, grimy beach.

In that final explosion of water, Odeon’s black statue broke at the legs and the remainder of the Jystian sea-wall blew apart.  Then, the roiling column of water twisted, to face Mi’Raah’s Virtue and its cannons toward the remainder of the Trystian navy.  These were white specks.

That night, while the real pirates of the Black Armada relieved their hungry, lusty, and greedy passions all over Jyst’s southern-end, all the while ringing bells and bidding any repentant converts to Mi’Raah and her Sea-worship to show their faith by presenting free silver, the Palace on the northernmost reach of the island could only wait, arm itself and watch.  The remainder of Arudelle’s crew went down to the beach for a final redemptive act.

When Mi’Raah walked into the cave with Commodore Arudelle the Conqueror, she was greeted with bells and the children ran to her.  Arudelle looked over the tired men, and pulled Mi’Raah’s hand into his grasp.  His personal crew of tamed-pirates began to pass out bread, fish and wine.

“What do you expect, Arudelle?  They’ve been waiting three days for us, and when you finally did arrive with that divine black-flag of wrath raised high up in the crow’s nest, it was heedless destruction brought onto their doorstep.  Exactly what the skull and crossbones has always promised no matter how you dress it up in silver hair, sweet words, and prophecy.”

“But still, I’m playing the savior.  You’re my High Priestess.  We told them to stay in the caves and be safe from it until I properly arrived.  Even if they did have a scout watching, they would have seen you raise sea waves to make our ships like winged raptors against the royal navies of two kingdoms.  The sea wall all round the island was finally obliterated, here in the south, by the dragon fury of our swift cannons.  All those high-class people who oppressed them are living under a salty flood now, heh, in Davey Jones’s own locker!  Why are they so low and hungry-looking, then?  Are they ungrateful?  You didn’t do as good a job of converting them to my cause, maybe.”

Mi’Raah put her other free hand on a hip and glared.

“What in three-infernos does that look mean?”

“It means you’ve been around pirates for too long Arudelle.  Because, clearly, there is a difference between pirates and the nobility of mortals.  Death is death.  It’s awful to look at, no matter what side you’re on.”

“And there’s bound to be another great difference between immortals and mortals, if you really do believe you can keep defying me like this, in public.” was his harsh whisper back.

“Fine then.  The pecking order goes, Immortals first, then mortals, animals and fish, then monsters and the slimy nightmare-demons of a guilty conscience, and lastly of all, pirates.”

“As for Kings?  What dare you say about your King Arudelle?”

“Now you’re no longer a pirate?  Fine then.  When Kings can force people to believe…  Oh, well someone like you is lower than all of that.  My hands are only bloodied because you forced them into the wound.”

Arudelle half-laughed and licked tongue against his molars.  “There is something I’ve never told you before, about your own self.  Mi’Raah, your conceit also suits to grip the vice I’ve put round your neck.  Immortals are just as prone to tragedy, wrongdoing, desperation–and therefore, faith, as mortals are.  No, listen to me closely.  Someday you will see it, how I never gambled to lose you in the first place.  When you fervently believe your hands will always be clean, then of course I can get you to do whatever I want.  Immortals can do great, good things, even sweep away their own evil works, correct?  That is what you see.  But I am the rider, I am the one guiding this thing, free of blinders.  Woman, you are just as cruel as you are compassionate.  Yes, certainly, you have guilt too.  I’ve been working it on both ends.  I’ll be glad when you finally let out all that hot air, dear, and meet me on my level–and yes, it is a rank shared with pirates, slithering liars, and the adulterers.  None of us is better than any of us.  Suffering will always be suffering.  Penetrable, sharp.” She looked away, and he yanked her closer, by the arm. “Don’t you dare disagree.  I am getting completely irritated with you these days.  Suffering cannot be escaped, only dealt with.  We both chose to be predators, doling out what we can‘t take.  I saw the old man on that rock you were making eyes at before the final blast.  How could I have ever missed it?  Some friend of yours?  Somebody you needed to romance behind my back?  Well you were glad to murder him in cold blood.”

She shut her eyes.  “You are the biggest idiot of this age, Arudelle, if you think so little of it.  Of course that hurts me–”

“I need you, Mi’Raah.  Accept that we are alike and meant to be together in this last way.  Terrible things are going to happen.  You will help me, you can’t shirk from it.  You’ve done it before anyways.  I know you remember.  To the Wild Tribes, back on my island.  And to my own men.  Trying to convince us that you were a goddess so that we’d be blindsighted while you took aim.   But one of us, just one precious mortal man could see what you really are.”

“You are just using my guilt against me.”

“I do not have to, when this is a fact–she cannot be saved who can never be redeemed.  You killed and you lied and you stole and you liked it, as much as I ever have.  Now, I am the one in control of that monstrous fury, all finely woman-shaped.  So, do as I have said, and deal with these…”  That would be Arudelle’s whispered point, for now, when he could not be seen striking her.  And they’d gone on long enough.  He then announced, “Children of the Sea!  You have done well, and proven your faith.  Look how pleased and free your goddess is.”

Mi’Raah brought forth a little smile for their exhausted adulations, but it departed just as quickly.

“And the High Priestess also has a final message for you, before we battle the evil King Baeltheon himself tomorrow.”

Mi’Raah said, “As High Priestess, my virtue can never come into question.  The touch of any mortal would lessen my profound appearance as someone above and intangible.” here, she threw off Arudelle’s hand.  “Now then, as for the morning and what it will bring to those who believe…”

It was a lyrical translation of Arudelle’s battle plan.  They were to engage any resistance–most likely from their heretic neighbors–in the streets, before sunrise.  Arudelle’s pirates would help arm them, but the truest believers, the native footsoldiers would swell the ranks.  Before the coming of Mi’Raah, any Jystian could have mounted up at a moment’s notice on his horse to form a natural cavalry against them.  But, that had all been dismantled.

Arudelle interrupted, smiling, “And now, I give especial thanks to the faithful, for seeing to the animals being drowned.”

“Were they?  Arudelle, That’s hideous!  What kind of toothy ingrate predator would indulge such savage cruelty–”

“From where you were, you didn’t notice that it wasn’t all human or carcass-blood in the water?  Some scientist.  Heh.  High Priestess scientist, let’s finish up, please.”

Mi’Raah pressed palms to her hairline, took one breath and then another.  Hard to look over them now, these happy followers now turned into butchers.  And they had come to this, having been raised to think of their horses as children of the black stallion god.

She told them next, that Baeltheon would most likely put up the most resistance at the palace itself.  His army would bolster what was left of the sea-wall and make it as best a fortress they could, until reinforcements from the other kingdoms came.  “But no soul here should hold any fear, that King Baeltheon will be helped by accomplices from across the sea.  The sister kingdom of Tryst has had its navy defeated today on the shoals, a very sword-arm of theirs ripped off then carterized as fast, as if by steam.” she’d lost them,  “…And that was in Arudelle’s plan as well.  So the remainder of the islands in the Known Seas will stay far and away.  Baeltheon will fail tomorrow, or starve.”

They bowed and prayed to her.  Mi’Raah turned to go, and found that Arudelle had already left.  A small relief passed over her, that it seemed he had never been there in the first place.  And, if they really were her own people, she might bring them into a circle now and conspire against all this red-foam crashing down…

Until Arudelle yelled her name, and the lead between them tightened fast.  Mi’Raah took one final sniff at the Beach Dancers in their plight, then moved on.

The peytral is a horse’s breastplate.  That of the black stallion god was broad and windswept, ignited with the red power of the Flesh Forge.  The Flesh Forge was that sacred pact between man and the power of what a horse could do, its heat, its fast, its way of being loud, angry and ferocious but sure, envied of all the other animals for being loved most by man and crafted by him.

This morning, gsirls threw leis of blooms torn up from their gardens, praised the Odeon-thing for its beauty.  And when boys grew up to catch women one day, then of course their horses were bred for beauty too and the feminine violently responded.  As for the Holy Riders, they kept backs erect turned heads swiftly from the innocents screaming in the crowd, to face bleak sunrise in a clotted file.  Capes billowed and flushed over the backs of so many pure-bred.  Militial shouts were made, calling and recalling like lonely birds coming back home hungry.  Screams that King Baeltheon’s life be blessed, that the angry soul of Prince Bonnis even rise, to serve him in battle, that the god Odeon do what he had made himself for, and crush the skulls of pirates beneath black thundering hooves.

Champron was also edged in something like a dragon’s horns.  Black iron ridges burnished and stylized so well by artisans that wherever the helmet crested, it glowed like real coal.  Horses around him breathed, shook out their necks when they felt the courage of the crowd give way to hysteria.  As the army descended south beyond Jyr Equus and those temples to pass over high ground by the first set of flooded districts, the multitude was more impoverished.  Odeon’s criniere stayed an arch, like the knight-piece ever in the nightmares of the victim and the penitent, dragged into Baeltheon’s palace to beg mercy.

Covering the horse god’s back was his sweating King of Jyst afraid to look away from the immortal animal’s sharpened spade ears that never flitted in all the cacophony.  King Baeltheon’s bended knees rode the swell of Odeon’s flanchard on both sides of his flank.  Tied off, clipped tail swept easy and straight, like the bow of a ship backing out from shore into the cruel, unknown beyond of a sea-voyage.  Croupiere was flanged in red horns and shards like burning shark’s teeth.  When Odeon kicked hindlegs–and he would be breaking bones, exactly according to legend–it was as if the monster had two heads.  There, was the wisened spear, leading.  Here, was the maw of the animal, so many red tongues coiled and two black fangs ready to lash, puncture and take you.

The Holy Riders and the royal army finished their march to the fortress wall.  Echelons of gray, sunbleached castle towers rose behind them.  Every tiny flag they had, was flying today.  King Baeltheon cleared throat, and lowered rattling lance.  His animal, Odeon, did not blink.  It would cause the horse to miss precious moments of destruction, and so the stallion was crafted so that he did not have to.

Ahead of them was a field pocked by ruins of the kingdom.  Odeon snorted and tossed his head-in-horns once.  He and the mounts of the Holy Riders were the last living horses of the god-made breed.  Across the first row of ruined houses, Arudelle was sure to be on a white stallion done in silver Sirenian wings.  A frightening jester’s mask was his helmet.  The ruddy cheeks blushed in painful caricature of what comedy really was.  He was able to fit an eyepatch over one of the wet, glass eyeballs in his crown.  Big flat painted teeth shaded silver eyebrows.

Mi’Raah was not beside Arudelle.  She was far down the line, in bright chariot with driver, and a cluster of guard.  Pirate King Arudelle the Conqueror might have loved laughter as he did faith and its ability to dismantle and intimidate, but he wasn‘t beholden to it.  He was no true romantic.  Arudelle intended to win this, and kept his sorceress away from himself, where she could be best protected while fighting.  Next, this mad foreign Pirate King opened his mouth to speech for a long dramatic while.  Odeon lifted tail and shat through the whole thing.

Jystian soldiers screamed and laughed.  Arudelle grit real, tiny teeth.  He gave up the performance and cussed his charge.  Whatever raggedy animals belonging to the Beach People charged up the hill with him, frightened over upturned rocks and at the enemy.  Odeon whinnied and all his children reared up with him, flashing golden hooves in time.  Then earth-break as they brought back down at once, to gallop directly into it.

Who fights harder?  The ones who truly believe, or the ones who don’t belong?  This was the test.  Arudelle had detached himself.  He wielded and slit blade with a cold eye to see whether the throats of those who loved a living, breathing horse god tore faster.  He wondered if the prayers he knew they were uttering, but could not allow himself to feel, would actually mend the bone?  Odeon was only a horse, he decided, but suffering would always be suffering.

The horses on his side weren’t any good, but that was what Arudelle wanted, for the ragged Jystians and the rapscallions from his fleet to break that first charge, and safely let his real fighters in.  As he took in the scene and shouted direction, Arudelle eventually saw a woman-rider in red enemy armor.  Now, if this was the very bald-headed one… an outcast and a believer… how would she die?  What a deft killer she was.  The moment Arudelle got his curiosity quelled, was the same instant his white stallion decided to break free of fighting and draw near her mare.

“Dumb, damned animal…”

Arudelle was forced to clash swords.  She was a Holy Rider, he saw, and then he guessed their unique skills just as quickly.  Her horse, the fragrant mare, was doing most of the work, pushing the rider hard through her lunges, making up for the power she didn’t have over the enemy.  No bridle was used.  Her mouth opened to make gentle commands as she kept the war-mare’s pace.  Arudelle found himself smiling.  What fun play, to see the superiority of the god-breed, up close.  When he was done admiring it, Arudelle stood in the saddle, raised both hands on sword, and came down across the back of her neck as she passed alongside him through another failed joust.  Her armor took the best of it.  “And you somehow survived even that, as well as my Mi’Raah and the prisons.  You would be Rider Koriandra?”

She lay there, dazed.  Her horse attempted to stand over her, and whatever was terribly wrong with the Sirenian horse breed that Arudelle longed to correct, motivated his own white mount to try and raise up over the mare, right on the battlefield.

“Damn, you again, animal!”

It was enough for her to regain her senses.  The woman gasped for air, and threw off her dented helmet.  She had a set of earrings, and lots of ebon hair.  This was not their inside woman after all, whatever that might mean to Mi’Raah and himself now.

The woman rider tried to re-mount when, without her horse, there was no advantage.  Arudelle struggled to get in close–but not that very close as his idiot stallion wanted.  She forced her mare around, and sent mighty clash of sword up to unseat Arudelle.  He brought down a hard parry that, this time, forced her in the midst of getting back on the horse, and to her knees.  He could not swing and hit again, for his crazed horse.  Arudelle’s chill unconcern turned to heat, the real hurt of all he was lacking and why Jyst and its better steeds were needed so badly.  Fool to come over here across the battlefield, from a place of reckless temptation to get the woman, or was it because of her?  Fool to cross the Sea, to leave his home and his real wife.  Fool to have believed in getting strong enough, to murder belief.  Being a badder king than pirates, even.  Striking their hornets’ nest at its heart after living under their greedy regime, daring to even take their ships and cross those waters, go into Jyst herself, into the stronger, better empire, and destroy her.  You’ll lose your life over one damned woman!

Arudelle yelled, wrestled his stallion’s neck back as far as he dared–wanting to break it with all his might–and with a vision of his own burning city and, yes, forgotten Euginnia now before his eyes… Together, he and his horse trampled the woman warrior.  Her bereft mare, determined to guard the rider’s body even past instinct and to the last, was forced over the edge of the ruined sea wall, and off the cliff.

Arudelle sweated and breathed, then moved his horse back round late to have three more mounted Jystians suddenly coming down on him, with lances raised.  The impact was enough to force the silver-headed man from his saddle and rend through his plate armor, thrice.

They raised Arudelle up on three poles, thus.  Stabbed in clear air, lifted above his stupid-bred white stallion.

The pirate in plumed helmet driving Mi’Raah’s fancy war-machine yelled out and drove hard to meet the scene.  He squeezed her wrist, when she failed to stir, begged some saving action.  But Mi’Raah could only hear the ripped-wild whinnying of the black horse god raise up above the noise of fighting.  It pierced worst.  It was laughter.

“Mi’Raah…” Arudelle smiled and said, as he lost control of himself and twisted, “You know, that I cannot die.”

Could he not?  Or, did he dare her to try and help it?  Mi’Raah stepped down from the chariot, as a fourth Jystian ran in and began to hack at the legs of Arudelle’s white steed.  She looked into Arudelle’s eyes and knew that he was dead.  She saw the bow of his head finally, the charm of his sneer give out.  The bloodied hands released their fists.  The soldiers relaxed their hold and began to bring him down.  His corpse waved like a flag in diminishing wind.

She startled backward, believing him alive, even now.  Mi’Raah cupped a hand over her mouth, turned from the sight of gored Arudelle and fell to her knees, shocked beyond time and place.  Perhaps also, beyond reason?  A final vortextual process coming on… No, impossible.  He was gone just now, but she believed him living and that was enough to effect her.  And then also, that he would never tell her again that it was her fault, that she had no choice.  Not because he was so powerful, when he could have always just died.  But it was because Arudelle always held the leash and she would just sit and sit and wear the collar… Or, what if he was right, and she was only now seeing?  If that were only always the way then–No, worse.  More terrible than that… The enslavement was but a kernel, and here was the proof of so many things being different.  Life was not a chaos, or some riddle.  It had always been mathematical.

“If she cannot be saved,
unless she is first redeemed,
And belief may be belief
But suffering will always be suffering,
If mortals are equal to immortals,
In all the evil and good they choose to do…”

Mi’Raah did see the Jystian soldiers now encroaching upon her as well.   She felt less terrified, for her life, than never reaching what that answer might be.  She was aware, somewhere beyond herself, that her dazzling chariot had gone, long ago.  But the problem of belief itself was finally presented and clearly.  And its proof so near, the answer just here, that great big secret almost resolved.  Ahead was the keyhole.  In her hand, was that key.  If a is equal to b and b equal to c… then?

What was the damned answer?  How does the prose end?


Chapters
1, Mi’raah’s Virtue :: 2, The Dancing Beaches :: 3, On His High Horse :: 4, Off His High Horse :: 5, Bottled Message :: 6, Horse Huntress :: 7, Rider Koriandra :: 8, Oh No He Di’int :: 9, Talking Horses :: 10, That Damned Bottle Again :: 11, Believing is Seeing :: 12, A Choice Between Two Lovers :: 13, Last Vortextual Process :: 14, End of the Prose

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