In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 2: Into the Mountains

I hated waking up, but at the same time it was like a sensor in my head woke me up the minute false dawn started. False dawn and I am up. For a second I just continued to lie on the floor wrapped in my cocoon of blankets, but I had stuff to do. I had to move.

I untangled myself from the blankets and carefully piled the blankets back on the bed. My host didn’t need to know that I couldn’t stand his beds along with the company in his bar. I armored back up, strapped on excess daggers, and grabbed my sword strapping it on as I left the room.

Darin was waiting for me at the door with a cup of coffee and a piece of bread. He’d been on horse watch, and had obviously gotten everything ready to go. I lifted one eyebrow and he nodded in response to my question.

I moved out of the door toward the stable where the horses were, and Darin walked next to me, “I got everything ready to go. Zentas is already packed. My horse Damaskan is taking Falarin today. He’s feeling better and wants to ride, and I want sleep. Zireana is still recovering and in the wagon, though Kyra says she should be able to move about more soon. Parsa plans to walk, though we’ll see how long she walks for. Lyana is driving the wagon as always, and all the kids will be in it except Tyva, she’s riding her horse Jarclea. Kyra and Chrisin are both riding. Oh, and Chrisin told me to tell you that Varadill should be ride able in a couple days. He says Varadill would probably be best for Falarin if you agree.”

There was an excess person in the yard. There was a horse a person I had never seen before, “Who’s that?”

“Oh, I forgot to mention, the bouncer from the bar last night showed up this morning. I really didn’t expect anyone to show up, but there he was this morning all tacked up and ready to head out with that giant thing he calls a horse.” I stared at the horse Darin was talking about. I hadn’t seen a horse that large before. It was like a mountain of horse stood in front of me, and the average sized man on top of the horse in light leather armor looked like a child. The horse was taller than Gegarat and had the largest bones I had ever seen. I was a goddess of war, and yet this had never really caught my attention before.

I walked up to the horse and man, “What is this creature. I haven’t seen a horse this big before.” I could read that the horse was in his past and that where he came from they were common, but I couldn’t quite tell what they were normally used for or why he had one.

“Jessen’s an eastern plains plow horse. We breed them large so that they can haul huge loads without a problem. Most aren’t trained to riding, but I trained him to be ridden when my father gave him to me when I left home. He was two when I left, and he learned how to be an assassin’s horse as I learned to be an assassin. How did you know about me?”

“I told you the lady goddess talks to me. She was filling me in on the details of the people’s lives in the bar,” I forced myself to smile sweetly at the man even though it went against my nature. I had to control everyone around me. I had convinced this man, but soon I would have to convince the broken remnants of an army and then a city. I had my work cut out for me.

“Come on, everyone ready to move out?” I grabbed my horse from the stable hand holding his reins, shoved my foot into the stirrup and swung up. The stallion danced under me and gave small airs above the ground. I sat calmly shifting my weight to compensate for his movement.

“You cursed that horse with that name. He’s going to kill one of us,” I turned to the speaker and I saw Falarin watching the horse dance. He was eying Zentas as if he expected the horse to suddenly explode.

“Zentas kills our enemies, not us. Zentas is a wonderful horse, and will one day be Zireana’s horse.” I laughed as he gave a powerful kick at a stable boy who was too close to his hind end.

“I’m sure that Zireana will just love to ride your crazy killer,” I think I preferred Falarin injured and not talking.

“Zentas is a great horse. Now let’s move out.” I gave him a steely glare warning him that I was not accepting any more arguments.

Darin rode over toward me on his bay who was probably being one of the calmest horses. “I would suggest to you that you let Zireana use Gegarat and you keep Zentas, but you would probably threaten me with death for saying that.”

I was a goddess and not some human making empty threats! “I wouldn’t make an empty threat. I would either kill you if it was necessary or tell you that that is simply a stupid idea because Gegarat was trained by my own hand to be perfect.” My hand… my memories as a human, my memories of being two in one. It was so strange how they were all me now. The self outside my body could comprehend this, but the self held within my simple mortal shell struggled sometimes with comprehension of what had happened to me. This mind had limitations, and sometimes one of those was wrapping my mind around ideas.

“So then I will make that suggestion. Gegarat has good training and a solid mind. She would take care of a beginner or a less experienced rider. Zentas on the other hand needs a firm and experienced rider who can stay on him and can prevent his tricks.” Darin was keeping his horse just far enough away from Zentas so that the stallion could not easily kick him. He was eyeing the Zentas’s graceful dancing legs as if they were snakes seeking to strike him.

“He’s a light horse though. I need a heavy horse for heavy combat.” Sadly Darin was making sense, and I did enjoy the challenge of riding Zentas…

“You still own Gegarat. And you don’t really need a heavy horse; you don’t need to where as much armor as normal people. Any horse has enough weight to crash through enemy forces. Yes the heavy war horses are heavier, but I think Zentas has proven that he is just as able to tear someone limb to limb as any of the big horses, and not only is he able, he’s willing and happy to.” His logic was flawless.

He was right. Zentas was good at fighting. He did seem to enjoy it even. His light color seemed at odds with his love of killing, but he was a horse of the absence of light. His spirit was darker than Gegarats’, and where Gegarat was a calm and sheathed blade, he was a naked blade always ready to strike.

“Surprisingly, you make sense. I didn’t think you would be able to persuade me, but I do like this horse… He has so much spirit.” It must have been the taint of human attachments that had made me miss the logic behind which horse I should ride. Zentas was perfect for me and I had simply refused to see it. It disgusted me that I had not seen this, that I had allowed old memories of attachment to influence me…

I looked around and noticed that everyone was ready to go. “Alright, let’s head out. It’s time to leave the plains and head into the mountains.”

“You have no clue where you are really heading except for what you have seen in a map.” Damn he was annoying. Would I have to put up with him for much longer? Maybe he would just die. I wouldn’t mind that terribly.

“Do you ever shut up? Have you forgotten I am THE Lady of Darkness? Of course I know where I am going. How dare you doubt me.” Insolent fool.

“I don’t, I just keep for getting you are Zedi now and you don’t like to confide plans in others.” He was still riding next to me. Hopefully he wouldn’t try and insist on scouting with me or I would have to put my foot down.

“Listen here, Dy never liked you, she never even cared for you. In fact she could barely tolerate you. We are the same person. The difference is that Dy could pretend to be human, but I cannot. I speak what’s on my mind and feel no sense of obligation to you. My obligation was to Dy who was actually me, and that obligation is over.”

“What about Dy’s obligation to me? Does it not extend to you since you are one and the same? And I don’t believe you. Dy was starting to feel again. She kissed me.” Damn he was a stubborn son of a bitch.

“Think what you want. Just give me some peace and quiet sometimes.” It was probably for the best that he still thought he could win me over. He was a valuable asset for my plan to bring down the twins, but if he managed to get any more annoying… I might just have to do with one less asset.

Finally he left, but in his place rode up the manipulative child bitch Tyva. “Why do you give him such a hard time? He just wants to help you. It’s not wrong to accept help.”

“Child, when you get older you will understand. Sometimes a girl just doesn’t want to be chased around by a guy and questioned to death.” I had to stay nice to the little girl. I really didn’t want her trying to screw with my mind, and if she was suspicious she might try to heal me. I didn’t know what the twins precious child trying to heal a Lady would do, but I certainly didn’t want to find out.

“Something has changed in you. I can feel it. You have lost something… I think, but it seems impossible, I think you have lost your humanity. The ability to feel and care and have some altruism.” Talve, the girl knew some large words.

I pretended shock, “Why would you think that? I care about people. I wouldn’t be freeing the city of the yoke of the twins if I didn’t.”

“Its all out of revenge isn’t it Lady Zedigrivikonola? All you want is to remember, but they convinced you to destroy your memory. You want revenge don’t you?” The twins must have talked to the girl somehow. Otherwise she wouldn’t know these things.

“That is not completely true. I am Zedi, but I am bringing down the city because it has become corrupt, and every time I brought a force to take over the city and restart the system, it ended up the same with me enslaved to the twins under some old agreement I don’t remember making. They like the way of life in the city, and it is wrong. It is wrong that we interfere so much in human’s lives. I want to destroy the city and allow chaos to reign until you humans figure it out. I want to let your species create its own systems and governments, and not to be ruled by gods that only want to play games, because that is what we do. We use humans for our games and our arguments. Child, I do want revenge. I want my memories that I destroyed back. I want the twin’s power broken. Yes I am selfish, but I will be helping the humans.”

The girl laughed, “You cannot deceive me. You don’t care about us. You only care about the war that will ensue afterwards. The chaos caused by the city’s fall will create war, and in times of great war, people pray to you.”

Where was this girl getting all her insight? She wasn’t old enough to draw these conclusions herself, “And so what if I am? I am still freeing humans from the control of the gods. No more dead and crazy hosts created by me because I was disgruntled about having to leave my realm to come down. The only reason I saved Dyrana was somehow I recognized myself in her. “

“And humans are naturally unstable and chaotic? Humans tend toward war?” The girl sounded sad and resigned.

“And war runs your society. Healers would exist without war, but war gives them more work and helps them to make improvements. War drives inventions. The stirrup for a saddle was developed in a foreign land so it is harder to unseat the rider. Metal has become stronger as people work to find better and stronger mixes for armor. War drives the economy.” I loved war. It was the world’s greatest force. A force that changed ideas made people hardier. Hearing someone think war was useless… it just disturbed me. If nothing else, everyone wanted to protect their homes.

The girl was quiet. For a while she simply rode next to me; sometimes glancing over at me. Sometimes it looked like she wanted to say something, but then she never said it. Finally, “We have to tell the others.”

“What?” What did she want to tell the others? I’d told them my plan…

“That you are fully the dark Lady. They must know that they are putting their lives on the line for a woman who doesn’t really about their lives. Because you don’t. You don’t really care about any of us.” She looked so serious, so concerned.

“So I won’t be afraid to use them, what’s wrong with that? I’ll actually get something done. No, they don’t need to know that I am Zedigrivikonola. They can continue along without ever knowing who I am. I have a feeling that humans, for all that they worship me, don’t actually care for me to be hanging around them.”

“Of course they don’t want you hanging around! You are the Lady of death, destruction, and war! Who really wants their lives destroyed? People like peace and security from time to time.” Children shouldn’t have mind powers. They learned too many things long before they ever should.

“And you think I should tell them so they can go running off and not help me?” Did the girl think I was stupid? This was something the twins would love to have happen to me.

“I don’t want you to fail again,” her voice was quieter, but it hit with a much harder punch.

“I didn’t fail in the past! I simply just wanted a change of rulers!” How dare she ever imply that I could fail!

“Was it you intention to just keep witching out who ran the city forever? Do you really want to repeat the whole ‘find a group of fighters and take the city for them to rule’ thing again? Do you want this to be your path for eternity, or do you really want to bring down the city? Do you want to wipe it from this Land so that it can never come back to haunt you again? So that you can be freed from your promise to the twins? I might be the child of the twins, but I am a product of the city. I saw my mother killed. I hate that city, and children don’t always have to support their parents.” Her voice was so fierce and steady, so determined I almost wanted to trust her, but then I remember the past, where the past children had manipulated people’s minds so the transition from one ruler to another was flawless. In the past the children had stopped me.

I didn’t reply to the girl, but she said more, “I know that the children don’t have the greatest track record, but I want to help you. I want to help you. I don’t want you to just assimilate the city again. I am willing to use my powers to hold together this band when revealing who you have become if it is necessary, though I don’t think it will be, and I am willing to use the dark aspect of my power to hurt the enemy minds. I am not the twins, and I do not agree with the methods they have employed. “

I would let her think I excepted her, but I wouldn’t let myself trust her. I would never trust anyone or anything with ties to the twins. “Fine, but we aren’t telling the others.”

She nodded and rode back toward the rest of the group. I was left in peace, and I used the time to think, to work through my memories in the limited form of a human. It was exhausting. I was limitless, and yet the human form limited my ability to think both on Earth and in my non-corporeal form.

I worked on the details of my plan. I needed more than just a land hungry mercenary force. I needed someone who wouldn’t care about taking the city, but would want the land and would want the city gone. I needed another city. I needed them to work with me and to want to destroy any evidence that the city of the gods ever existed.

Eventually the sky darkened in its ever continuing cycle of night and day, and I raised my hand to call for a halt. Kyra rode up beside me, “What is it?”

“It’s getting dark and we should set up a camp,” Were the people I rode with such idiots that they didn’t want a camp for the night?

“But this isn’t a very good spot for a camp.” Her voice was plaintive and whiny and grated on my ears.

“We’re heading into the talving mountains! What do you expect? Luxury? We just choose a place at night to camp and camp.” I was containing my rage with these simple humans. I needed them. I didn’t want to kill them simply because they were stupid.

“Well, I was just thinking somewhere with more open area…”

“This isn’t the western rode! We can sleep in the trees. Come on guys! Move! We have a camp to set up for the night unless you plan on riding through the night.” My exasperation might have been getting the best of me.

I could feel Kyra glaring at me as she dismounted from her horse. I let my influence spread across the land around us until I could feel the entire area, and I could tell that no humans were in range.

I jumped off Zentas and managed to avoid Zentas trying to kick me as I got down, but he managed to just barely bite me. The bite came with a magical shock to him though, so I had a feeling he wouldn’t try it again.

I tied Zentas up to a tree, untacked him, and brought him his grain. I carefully hobbled him dodging kicks aimed at me, and then I untied him so that he could forage a little bit. Hobble allowed a horse to move around without being able to run off or kick. I could leave Gegarat without hobbles, but the others I didn’t trust that much.

I could tell Darin was approaching and I sighed with exasperation. He could always bring a good dose of annoyance with him.

“Hey, Zedi, are we going to continue training?” It was a reasonable request. He needed the training…

“Dual swords. We’ll work dual swords for a while.” I preferred a sword and dagger, but dual swords was fun, and I knew that was what Darin was best at. I wanted a slight challenge, and this might give me one.

His face lit up in a giant smile with excitement, “Ok, you know that’s what I’m best at? I’ll give you a challenge this time!”

I laughed at his excitement and confidence, “Maybe.” He didn’t hear me though. He was running over toward his gear.

I walked to my own gear and took off the sword I had strapped around my waist. My own dual swords were already strapped to my back since they were a nice back up if I lost my main sword or dagger while fighting. I even kept a plain black shield strapped to the size of my horse in case I needed it, though I preferred to fight without needing to hide behind a shield.

I looked over toward Darin and watched as he carefully strapped his swords on his back. It surprised me that he chose to ride without them strapped on since he was best at them, but it seemed his years as a guard made him more partial toward carrying the broad sword.

I walked over toward the side of the camp where our gear wasn’t scattered all over the ground, and Darin followed me as I expected he would.

There were four people sitting off to the side just watching. In the waning light I could make out Sandaas talking quietly to Zireana who was propped up against a tree. Not too far away I could see Falarin and Parsa leaning against each other. Neither of the couples would get in our way and it was a good space to practice.

“Let’s do the war dance,” the city that developed dual swords developed them as a part of dancing between partners that translated into fighting. The city had dances for almost everything, and all citizens were required to take dancing lessons once a week till they were twenty. Some took it up as their profession, but most only ever used the dances occasionally for rituals like the death dance and the marriage dance. I personally preferred the dances that were developed to train people for war and actually used the swords well. Some of the dances just waved them around like they weren’t beautiful and efficient weapons made for killing.

“Why not do all the dances from disagreement to war,” Was he crazy? He needed to sleep. Each dance took about thirty minutes. They were training dances meant to exhaust you!

I just stared at him until he started laughing. “You could do it couldn’t you? With all your talving dark power?”

He was referring to the fact that I was the goddess, but thankfully he didn’t just up and announce it to the world. “I could… but you couldn’t, and you wouldn’t be effective tomorrow.”

He became serious again, “So you do still care?”

“Why the talve do you keep putting words in my talving mouth? I never said I talving care about you. I said that you wouldn’t be an effective fighter tomorrow, and for all that I am an amazing fighter and could probably take all attackers, someone might slip past my guard.”

He simply raised a single eyebrow, “And you are ever so humble.”

“I don’t need to be humble. Come. Let us dance before I kill you in annoyance.” I drew my two swords and went into the guard position used by the two swords.

His pulled his swords out, and because I was angry I attacked without warning.

“What the talve!” He cried out as I relentlessly moved my wrists and feet in the dance of war.

“Focus and get in step! I don’t have time for people that can’t keep up. This is the war dance. Not the dance of disagreement.” I called out at him as I moved the scripted moves of defense against his weak offense.”

“Come on; hit my sword like you want to kill me! Move those swords faster!”

I move quick and hit hard with my offensive, and after what seemed like a long time he picked up the pattern. Once he was in the pattern it was wonderful. Our feet moved and our wrists twisted swords around with only the slightest of movement from our upper bodies. We danced around each other with our swords moving so fast you could barely see them. The sun set and all the firelight from the campfire danced on the reflective surfaces of our swords making it both harder to focus and easier to see the sword that was coming. A person who didn’t know the war dance could easily die, but we matched each other strike for strike.

I was enjoying myself. I enjoyed the rush of power as each strike connected and the freedom to actually let myself become one with the swords. They became an extension of my body. Eventually we finished with the final move, both swords forming an x at the opponent’s neck. It was the way they said war ended; it killed both sides involved.

At the same time we both withdrew our swords and raised them up in the end of dance salute. Around us applause broke out. I hadn’t even noticed the crowd that had gathered as we danced. What were they doing watching us? Didn’t they have better things to do?

I realized that none of them were clapping for me. They were clapping because Darin, a simple human, had kept up with me. I guess he did deserve it, but it was just a pattern dance. It was nothing fancy. He knew my moves before I ever pulled them, similar to how I knew his before he pulled them.

For a second I felt the human want to attack, to force him to lose to me. I wanted the glory he was getting! I was shocked by my… my jealous human feelings. It must be from the legacy of me being Dyrana. There was a reason that I liked to keep my mortal self separated. I wasn’t that petty, but I was. I was the one who wanted to attack Darin simply because he was getting praise for doing well.

I forced the feelings away from myself. I could change what I felt toward things seeing as I am the Dark Lady. It was a relief not to have that human feeling tainting me. I’d been feeling too much recently.

I walked away, and suddenly I knew that I had just chosen a new path in the future. The path I had just destroyed had me attacking him, and accidentally killing him. I tried not to let my knowledge of the future affect every decision I made, but I was striving to reach a future where humans made it off the planet. I had no love for the creatures we had created in our youth, but we had tied our life energy to their worship of us, and to stay alive they needed to advance and get out of the stasis we had put them into. Yes, we would fall asleep, but if they died we would die. If they lived we would live. It was sad that our lively hood depended on such an insignificant creature.

Out of curiosity I followed a single path of the near infinite paths for just a second, and I saw myself crying. I was screaming with tears streaming down my face. I wrenched myself out of the vision and shuddered. I couldn’t imagine what would put me into the grip of such human feelings. I would never care so much about anything, but I couldn’t swear to the way my human side would feel. I had to figure out a way to wall away these pesky feelings again. Combining with my mortal self seemed to have allowed feelings to seep back into me.

The others came back to the fire, and Lyana spooned gruel out to everyone. I hated the taste of the stuff, but it was nutrition and my mortal body needed it. Lyana gave Darin an extra scoop and congratulated him on holding his own against me. Apparently she didn’t hate Darin anymore. I was just glad I wasn’t the one who would have to eat extra gruel. Darin seemed to actually like the stuff.

I looked around and saw Kyra curled up against Chrisin. I would never fake emotions. Maybe I lacked something, but I would never fake anything I didn’t feel. Zireana was resting against a tree so she didn’t have to hold herself upright. She was laughing about something Sandaas was saying, and she looked to be in a little pain from the laughter. And Sandaas was there comforting her, worried about her.

Was everyone here finding themselves coupled? What was it that made people migrate toward one another out of a strange feeling they called love. Lyana finished serving gruel and went to sit of with Ollarin. Parsa and Falarin had fallen asleep against each other. Tyva was playing a game with Nyltar and Gonar. She was the only one who wasn’t really paired, but the boys seemed enamored of her. Darin was over there playing with them. It was some slapping game where they were trying to get each other out.

I was the only one alone. It was my responsibility to watch out for these people and protect them, but I would also eventually lead them into battle. Lyana would stay away from the battle with the children. Zireana would fight even though she didn’t feel one-hundred percent because she wanted to fight beside Sandaas.

Suddenly I didn’t feel like sitting there and watching the people around me. I stood up and went over to check on Gegarat and Zentas. Gegarat would foal any day now and it was a good thing we were keeping the pace slow for her. She gently nuzzled me as I scratched her neck. Zentas on the other hand tried to bite me as I approached. I smacked him and walked away.

I walked into the forest, and suddenly I realized that there was a presence next to me in the plane of existence where the gods were and where my other half was.

Zedi, I figured I could talk to you now. It was Zac. What did he want now?

How is having to feel a little bit working out for you? You lived so long without any humanity. I laughed. It was a good thing no one was around me in the human plane. They would probably think I was crazy.

It’s annoying having to feel things. It’s a good thing that I realized I was feeling and controlled it. Otherwise your voice would have been dead. I was feeling smug that I had controlled my feelings. Sarg these human feelings!

I believe that’s controlling impulses. You are still feeling. I can hear it in your voice. He knew how to read me too well. Or maybe I just wasn’t hiding these annoying feelings well enough.

At least I don’t feel attraction or attachment. Otherwise what must be done would be hard. He was the one who had pointed out how bad the twins were to me. Previously I had just disliked the politics in the city, but now I saw the root of the problem.

The future isn’t set in stone. You know the paths just as well as I do. It is not impossible for you to form attachments. One moment he wanted me to love him and the next he wanted me to stay the Ice Queen.

Make up your mind. Do you want me to love you or hate you?

Are you teasing me? Oh my, the great and serious Lady of death and darkness is teasing me! Now he reminded me of Darin when Darin was at his most annoying.

I don’t want you to turn off your emotions completely again. I prefer you this way to the cold calculating Lady you had become. His voice was quiet and serious.

I can’t swear to anything. I do see the necessity of destroying the twins. That is all I can promise; that I will do everything in my power to stop them.

And I will have my mortal half who is helping you do everything in his power to assist you. Well I already knew that. He was the one who pointed out to me that the twins needed destroying. He hadn’t done everything though…

Give your mortal half power. I will train him in it. Another person with fighting power would be useful.

Fine. I will give it to him while he sleeps tonight.

“Zedi? You out here somewhere?” Speak of the devil it was Darin himself coming to find me.

“I’m over here Darin.” Turned to look at him as Zac’s presence left the vicinity of mine in the other plane.

“Tyva was worried about you. She wanted me to come and find you.” I frowned, why would she worry about me? She knew I was the dark Lady. He continued, “She said something about feelings were affecting you.”

I hated that that girl could get into anyone’s head. She was warning me that she knew what I had felt after the dance of war.

“Come on Darin. We should get back to the others.” He had no idea what was going on. He probably thought that her reference to me feeling was that I was feeling attachment and that I liked him again. He was simply a pawn in this game, and a slight amount of pity for him welled up before I squashed it. Everyone was a pawn in some game or another. I had been a pawn in the twin’s game.

He looked confused, “Don’t worry about it, Tyva was sending me a message. I am still Zedi.”

He shook his head, “I had hoped…”

“I figured. But no.” I grabbed his arm and dragged him back toward the camp before he asked anymore questions. “Come on. We should sleep while we can.”

He stopped dragging his heals and silently followed me back to the camp where I quickly lay down and let my mortal body drift away into sleep.

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