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Infinity Blade: Redemption (Page 6)

Too much metal. Even still, he remembered that day because of its metal surfaces, reflecting his face . . . and his tears.

Regardless, the first Deathless had been created near that time, and not before. Of this he was reasonably certain. The ancient gods of before his time could not have been Deathless.

But knowing that did not stop him from wondering anyway.

A tall figure darkened the doorway. Raidriar turned, bringing his stolen sword to the side as the newcomer entered. It was a daeril with hauntingly hollow features and a skeletal ribcage that protruded from its skin. It did not attack immediately, but made the sign of an offered challenge.

Raidriar smiled. His Devoted, so civilized, had shown less honor than this brute. The Worker and Devoted alike undoubtedly hoped the daerils would ignore such protocols, but this thing had been created by Raidriar himself. It was better than that.

“It will be an honor to slay you,” Raidriar said, pointing his sword at the creature. “I do enjoy inspecting my handiwork now and then.”

He stepped into the proper stance, and the contest began.

CHAPTER SIX

SIRIS RODE in silence.

His horse’s hooves beat a familiar thumping rhythm on the packed earth. A . . . horse. His imprisonment had only been two years. This should not feel so strange for him.

Two years and two thousand lives—many of them very short, a few days at most, a few moments at least. He felt those lives all heaped upon him, like dirt upon a newly buried corpse.

Was he supposed to just move on? Forget the pain, the isolation, the anger? If he had just been Siris, he could almost have done it. But the man he had become in that prison, the Dark Self, was not something so easily forgotten.

“I see you managed to grow more facial hair,” Isa said, riding beside him. “Looks itchy. I’ve always wondered—how do you stuff a beard like that inside a helm? Doesn’t it stick out the breathing holes?”

Siris grunted. They rode through dusty scrubland, broken here and then by plateaus and foothills, with distant mountains behind. He remembered passing through this empty place on his way to the Vault of Tears. It seemed like forever ago.

Isa turned their course along the rim of a large plateau. “Typically,” she said, “it is customary for someone who has been rescued in a dramatic way—such as you just were—to fawn over their rescuer. Joyous exultation and all that.”

Siris rode in silence.

“I can say your part, if you want,” Isa suggested.

He shrugged.

“Very well. ‘Gee golly, thanks for saving me, Isa. I sure am happy you done did that.’”

“‘Done did’?” Siris asked, looking up. “‘Gee golly’?”

“Well, I’m not terribly good at accents in your stupid language, but you’re a farmer boy, aren’t you?”

“No. You know what I am.”

“I do—you’re a hero.”

“That’s not what you said when you first found out I was Deathless.”

“I will admit,” Isa said, “I was surprised.”

“Surprised? You were outraged. Betrayed.” He looked away from her, scanning the hilly scrubland. “I understand. I felt the same way.”

“You are a hero, Whiskers,” she said. She sounded like she was trying to convince them both. “At least, that’s how you’re going to act—because that’s what I’ve made of you.”

He looked at her, frowning. She simply smiled, and then guided her horse into a small canyon.

Siris followed, joining her when she eventually dismounted and stepped up to the far wall of the canyon. She pulled back some scrub brush, revealing a small cavern mouth—a tunnel into the rock. Together, they pulled the dead brush away, making a hole wide enough to bring the horses through.

The inside of the cavern reminded him of growing up in the hills outside a city that had been built within an enormous cavern. This was much smaller, but it smelled like home.

How many lives have I lived? he wondered. My home was not truly my home, no more than a crab’s temporary shell is its home. That’s just a skin to be discarded, once outgrown.

They wound through the tunnel, continuing eastward. Isa got out a rod that glowed like a torch when the top was twisted, but it didn’t let off any heat. One of the wonders of the Deathless, he supposed. Had these things been common to him, once? Why did his kind hoard this sort of knowledge? Wouldn’t life be better for everyone, themselves included, if such wondrous items were part of everyday use?

“What did you mean?” Siris asked. “About you having ‘made’ a hero of me?”

Isa continued through the tunnel without answering. Siris followed, growing annoyed, but stopped moving when he heard a noise. It seemed to becoming from inside the wall. He reached for the sword that Isa had given him, but she waved him down.

Stone ground on stone, and a section of the cavern wall slid back. Scout post, Siris realized, noting the holes in the rock he had mistaken for natural depressions. Someone here could send warning—probably by pulling a string or making some sort of noise that would echo in the cavern—if enemies came through the tunnel.

A youth peeked out of the scout hole. Though the boy wore a sword strapped at his side, he couldn’t have been older than fourteen. He stood up straight and saluted Isa, then glanced at Siris.

“Is it . . . him?” the boy asked.

Isa nodded.

The boy stood up straighter. “I . . . um . . . oh! Sir! Mr. Deathless, sir! I’m Jam.”

Siris glanced at Isa. Behind him, his horse snorted and tugged against the reins. Jam blushed, then fished out an apple, which he tossed to the floor awkwardly, then saluted again. “Sorry, Mr. Deathless, sir! Grummers likes his apples.”

“I see,” Siris said as the horse crunched the apple.

“I’ll tell the others!” Jam said, then scrambled down the tunnel. He soon started yelling. “He’s here! She found him! He’s here!”

“What did you tell them about me?” Siris demanded of Isa.

“The truth,” Isa said. “With some extra . . . extrapolation.”

“‘Extrapolation’?”

She tugged on her horse, continuing. He joined her, the tunnel having widened to the point their horses could walk side by side.

“I thought you were dead,” she said softly. “Killed for good by the Weapon. Then the God King returned . . . but worse. In the past, he’s always kept order—too much order for my tastes, but structure can be a good thing.

“Well, that stopped. He let thugs take over cities, allowed chaos to reign. He seemed angry—like he just wanted everything to burn. I hadn’t thought the world could get worse than the tyranny of his Pantheon in days past, but it could. It did.”

“I’m sorry,” Siris said. “It was my failure that led to this.” That wouldn’t have been the real God King, but an impostor of some sort, sent by the Worker. “What did you do?”

“I fled, of course,” she said, blushing. “Left the God King’s lands, found a safe, free city ruled by a lesser Deathless and her cabal. Good taverns in Lastport. I got a job with an information dealer.”

“That’s what I’d have expected from you. There’s no shame in it.”

“No honor either,” she said softly, then shrugged. “News kept coming in of Raidriar’s lands, bad news. It seemed to be spreading all over, infecting lands nearby. I thought of you, and what might have happened to you . . . so I started telling stories. About you—the Deathless who had fought for us, the Deathless raised by a human mother. The Deathless who had died trying to free men from tyranny.”

She glanced at him. “I made up a few doozies, I’m afraid. Really great stuff. You’re the substance of legends now, Siris. I figured you wouldn’t mind, being dead and all.”

“Not so dead after all.”

“Yeah. I was shocked when the stories started to come back to me changed. They spread faster than an autumn cough, Siris—people were telling them all across the land. They latched onto the stories about you. They were all waiting for something to believe in.

“When the stories returned to me, they’d changed to include the promise that you were going to come back. I guess it fits the trope, you know? The returning hero? Nobody from the old stories ever really dies. There’s always another story. It got me thinking. Had I fled too quickly? Had I given up too easily? So I started to dig. I found what had really happened to you. I started to tell stories of your imprisonment too, and people came to me. Well, one thing led to another . . .”

Ahead, light in the cavern indicated an opening. Indeed, the tunnel ended, revealing a small valley and an entire town nestled between hills. People flooded from log buildings. Barracks, by the look of how many of the men carried swords strapped to their waists.

There were hundreds of people here. All coming to see Siris, calling that “he” had arrived.

“You started a rebellion?” Siris asked, looking to Isa. “In my name?”

“Yeah.”

“You started a rebellion!”

“All right, yes, you don’t have to rub it in.” She grimaced. “Against my better judgment, I took charge. Somebody had to. The idiots were getting themselves strung up, making a ruckus but accomplishing nothing. They needed focus, someone to bring together the malcontents from all the villages, organize them. I figured since I was the fool who started those stories, I should be the one to keep the rebels from getting themselves killed.”

She looked at the oncoming crowd. “Honestly, they don’t have much in the way of wit.” She hesitated. “Heart though . . . they’ve got a whole lot of that, Siris. That they do.”

Siris felt a sense of grimness as he watched the people approach, looking at him with awe, hesitance, expectation. Why should this adoration bother him? He’d been raised as the Sacrifice. He was accustomed to notoriety.

Except . . .

The Dark Self—it knew what to do with followers.

Siris had never been trained for leadership. He was a solitary warrior, a Sacrifice sent to fight and to die. The only part of him that knew anything about leading others was that buried part, those instincts he didn’t fully understand.

It responded to the devotion these rebels showed him.

“Well done,” he said to Isa, then smiled proudly at those who had come. “Well done.”

DEVIATION

THE FIFTH

THE RAIN had grown worse by the time Uriel reached his car. It pounded him as he worked to get the door open, briefcase in one hand, umbrella in the other. He climbed in, the car starting on its own. The two-seater vehicle was intended primarily for commuting. Practical. The numbers made sense.

Adram didn’t drive a practical car. He drove a car that growled when you started it. He bragged about it frequently, talking about how he worked on it himself, tweaking the engine. It didn’t even drive itself—it was old, and considered a classic. That made it exempt from the legislation requiring all cars to have a self-driving mode in case of emergency.

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