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"What good is godhood?" Lightsong whispered.
Silence. Lanterns flickered on either side of the small chamber. Nobody had cleaned up Blushweaver's body, though they had left a couple of priests and Lifeless behind to watch Lightsong. They still needed him, should it turn out that he'd lied about the Command phrases.
"What?" Llarimar finally asked.
"What good is it?" Lightsong said. "We aren't gods. Gods don't die like that. A little cut. Not even as wide as my palm."
"I'm sorry," Llarimar said. "She was a good woman, even among gods."
"She wasn't a god," Lightsong said. "None of us are. Those dreams are lies, if they led me to this. I've always known the truth, but nobody pays attention to what I say. Shouldn't they listen to the one they worship? Particularly if he's telling you not to worship him?"
"I . . ." Llarimar seemed at a loss for words.
"They should have seen," Lightsong hissed. "They should have seen the truth about me! An idiot. Not a god, but a scribe. A silly little scribe who was allowed to play god for a few years! A coward."
"You're no coward," Llarimar said.
"I couldn't save her," Lightsong said. "I couldn't do anything. I just sat there and screamed. Maybe if I'd been more brave, I'd have joined with her and taken control of the armies. But I hesitated. And now she's dead."
"You were a scribe," Llarimar said quietly to the damp air. "And you were one of the best men I'd ever known. You were my brother."
Lightsong looked up.
Llarimar stared out through the bars, staring at one of the flickering lanterns hanging from the stark stone wall. "I was a priest, even then. I worked in the palace of Kindwinds the Honest. I saw how he lied to play political games. The longer I stayed in that palace, the more my faith waned."
He fell silent for a moment, then he looked up. "And then you died. Died rescuing my daughter. That's the girl you see in your visions, Lightsong. The description is perfect. She was your favorite niece. Still would be, I assume. If you hadn't . . ." He shook his head. "When we found you dead, I lost hope. I was going to resign my position. I knelt above your body, weeping. And then, the Colors started to glow. You lifted your head, body changing, getting larger, muscles growing stronger.
"I knew it at that moment. I knew that if a man like you were chosen to Return-a man who had died to save another-then the Iridescent Tones were real. The visions were real. And the gods were real. You gave me back my faith, Stennimar."
He met Lightsong's eyes. "You are a god. To me, at least. It doesn't matter how easily you can be killed, how much Breath you have, or how you look. It has to do with who you are and what you mean."
There is fighting at the front gates, Your Excellency," the bloodied soldier said. "The insurgents are fighting each other there. We . . . we might be able to get out."
Siri felt a stab of relief. Finally, something going right.
Treledees turned toward her. "If we can get into the city, the people will rally around their God King. We should be safe there."
"Where did they get so many Lifeless?" Siri asked.
Treledees shook his head. They had paused in a room near the front of the palace, desperate, yet unsure. Breaking through the Pahn Kahl fortification of the Court of Gods was bound to be difficult.
She looked up at Susebron. His priests treated him like a child-they gave him respect, but they obviously gave no thought to ask his opinion. For his part, he stood, hand on her shoulder. She saw thoughts and ideas working behind those eyes of his, but there was nothing for him to write on to tell her.
"Vessel," Treledees said, drawing her attention. "You need to know something."
She looked at him.
"I hesitate to mention this," Treledees said, "as you are not a priest. But . . . if you survive and we do not . . ."
"Speak it," she commanded.
"You cannot bear the God King a child," he said. "Like all Returned, he is unable to sire children. We have not yet learned how the First Returned managed to have a child all those years ago. In fact . . ."
"You don't even think he did," she said. "You think the royal line is a fabrication." Of course the priests dispute the record of the royal line coming from the first Returned, she thought. They wouldn't want to give credibility to Idris's claim to the throne.
He flushed. "It's what people believe that matters. Regardless, we . . . have a child . . ."
"Yes," Siri said. "A Returned child you are going to make the next God King."
He looked at her, shocked. "You know?"
"You're planning to kill him, aren't you?" she hissed. "Take Susebron's Breath and leave him dead!"
"Colors, no!" Treledees said, shocked. "How-how could you think? No, we'd never do such a thing! Vessel, the God King needs only give away the treasure of Breaths he holds, investing them into the next God King, and then he can live the rest of his life-so long as he should desire-in peace. We change God Kings whenever an infant Returns. It is our sign that the previous God King has done his duty, and should be allowed to live the rest of his life without bearing his terrible burdens."
Siri looked at him skeptically. "That's foolish, Treledees. If the God King gives away his Breath, he will die."
"No, there is a way," the priest said.
"That is supposed to be impossible."
"Not at all. Think about it. The God King has two sources of Breath. One is his innate, divine Breath-that which makes him Returned. The other is the Breath given to him as the treasure of Peacegiver, fifty thousand Breaths strong. That he could use as any Awakener could, as long as he is careful about the Commands he uses. He could also survive quite easily as a Returned without it. Any of the other gods could do the same, should they gain Breath beyond the one a week which sustains them. They'd consume them at a rate of one a week, of course, but they could stockpile them and use the extras in the meantime."
"You keep them from realizing that, though," Siri said.
"Not keep specifically," the priest said, looking away. "It does not arise. Why would the Returned care about Awakening? They have everything they need."
"Except knowledge," Siri said. "You keep them in ignorance. I'm surprised you didn't cut out all their tongues to hide your precious secrets."
Treledees looked back at her, expression hardening. "You judge us still. We do what we do because it is what we must, Vessel. The power he holds in that Treasure-fifty thousand Breaths-could destroy kingdoms. It is too great a weapon; we were charged as our sole, divine mission to keep it safe and not let it be used. If Kalad's army ever returns from where it was exiled, we-"
A sound came from a nearby room. Treledees looked, concerned, and Susebron's grip on Siri's shoulder tightened.
She looked up, concerned. "Treledees," she said. "I need to know. How? How can Susebron give away his Breath? He can speak no Command!"
Treledees was interrupted by a group of Lifeless bursting through the doorway to their left. Treledees yelled for her to flee, but another group of the creatures came through the other way. Siri cursed, grabbing Susebron's hand, pulling him toward yet another doorway. She pulled it open.
Bluefingers stood on the other side. He looked into her eyes, face grim. Lifeless stood behind him.
Siri felt a stab of terror, backing away. Sounds of fighting came from behind her, but she was too focused on the Lifeless stepping around Bluefingers toward her and Susebron. The God King cried out, a tongueless, wordless groan of anger.
And then the priests were there. They threw themselves in front of the Lifeless, trying to beat them back, trying desperately to protect their God King. Siri clung to her husband in the ruddy room, watching as the priests were slaughtered by emotionless warriors with grey faces. Priest after priest jumped in the way, some with weapons, others simply waving their arms in a hopeless attack.
She saw Treledees grit his teeth, terror showing in his eyes as he ran forward, trying to attack a Lifeless. He died like the others. His secrets died with him.
The Lifeless stepped over the corpses. Susebron pushed Siri behind him, arms shaking as he backed them toward a wall, facing down the bloodied monsters. The Lifeless finally stopped, and Bluefingers walked around them, looking past Susebron toward her.
"And now, Vessel, I believe we were going somewhere."
* * *
"I'M SORRY, MISS," the guard said, holding up a hand. "All access to the Court of Gods is forbidden."
Vivenna ground her teeth. "This is unacceptable," she said. "I'm to report to the goddess Allmother at once! Can't you see how many Breaths I hold? I'm not someone you can just turn away!"
The guards remained firm. There were a good two dozen of them at the gates, stopping anyone who tried to enter. Vivenna turned away. Whatever Vasher had done inside the night before, he'd apparently caused quite a stir. People clustered around the gateway to the court, demanding answers, asking if something was wrong. Vivenna made her way back through them, leaving the gates behind.
Go to the side, Nightblood said. Vasher never asks if he can enter. He just goes in.
Vivenna glanced at the side of the plateau. There was a short rocky ledge running around the outside of the wall. With the guards so distracted by the people wanting in . . .
She slipped to the side. It was early in the morning yet, the sun not having crested the eastern mountains. There were guards on the wall above-she could feel them with her life sense-but she was below their angle of view as long as they looked outward. She might be able to sneak by them.
She waited until one patrol had passed, then Awakened one of the tapestries. "Lift me," she said, dropping a drained handkerchief. The tapestry twisted into the air, wrapping around her, the top end still attached to the wall. Like a muscular arm, it lifted her up, twisting and depositing her atop the wall. She glanced around, recovering her breath. To the side, some distance away, a group of guards was pointing at her.
You're not any better at this than Vasher is, Nightblood noted. You people can't sneak at all! Yesteel would be so disappointed in you.
She cursed, Awakened the tapestry again and had it lower her into the court. She recovered her breath, then took off running across the grassy lawn. Few people were about, but that only made her stand out even more.
The palace, Nightblood said. Go there.
That was where she was going. However, the longer she held the sword, the more she understood that it said whatever came to its steely mind, whether or not its comments were relevant. It was like a child, speaking or asking questions without inhibition.
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