The next day, an army of a thousand stone soldiers charged from the gates of the city, running down the highway after the Lifeless who had left the day before.
Vivenna stood outside the city, leaning against the wall, watching them go.
How often did I stand under the gaze of those D’Denir, she thought, never knowing they were alive, just waiting to be Commanded again? Everyone said that Peacegiver had left the statues behind as a gift to the people, a symbol to remind them not to go to war. She’d always found it strange. A bunch of statues of soldiers, a gift to remind the people that war was terrible?
And yet, they were a gift. The gift that had ended the Manywar.
She turned toward Vasher. He, too, leaned against the city wall, Nightblood in one hand. His body had reverted to its mortal form, scraggly hair and all.
“What was that first thing you taught me about Awakening?” she asked.
“That we don’t know much?” he asked. “That there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Commands that we haven’t discovered yet?”
“That’s the one,” she said, turning to watch the Awakened statues charge into the distance. “I think you were right.”
“You think?” She smiled. “Will they really be able to stop the other army?”
“Probably,” Vasher said, shrugging. “They’ll be fast enough to catch up—the flesh Lifeless won’t be able to march as quickly as ones with stone feet. I’ve seen those things fight before. They’re really tough to beat.”
She nodded. “So my people will be safe.”
“Unless that God King decides to use the Lifeless statues to conquer them.”
She snorted. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a grump, Vasher?”
Finally, Nightblood said. Someone agrees with me!
Vasher scowled. “I’m not a grump,” he said. “I’m just bad with words.”
“Well, that’s it, then,” he said, picking up his pack. “See you around.” With that, he began to walk along the path away from the city.
Vivenna walked up next to him.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Going with you,” she said.
“You’re a princess,” he said. “Stay with that girl who rules Hallandren or go back to Idris and be proclaimed as the heroine who saved them. Either way will give you a happy life.”
“No,” she said. “I don’t think so. Even if my father did take me back, I doubt that I’ll ever be able to live a happy life in either a plush palace or a quiet town.”
“You’ll think differently, after a little time on the road. It’s a difficult life.”
“I know,” she said. “But . . . well, everything I’ve been—everything I was trained to do—has been a lie wrapped in hatred. I don’t want to go back to it. I’m not that person. I don’t want to be.”
“Who are you, then?”
“I don’t know,” she said, nodding toward the horizon. “But I think I’ll find the answer out there.”
They walked for another short time.
“Your family will worry about you,” Vasher finally said.
“They’ll get over it,” she replied.
Finally, he just shrugged. “All right. I don’t really care.”
She smiled. It’s true, she thought. I don’t want to go back. Princess Vivenna was dead. She’d died on the streets of T’Telir. Vivenna the Awakener had no desire to bring her back.
“So,” she asked as they walked along the jungle road, “I can’t figure it out. Which one are you? Kalad, who started the war, or Peacegiver, who ended it?”
He didn’t answer immediately. “It’s odd,” he finally said, “what history does to a man. I guess people couldn’t understand why I suddenly changed. Why I stopped fighting, and why I brought the Phantoms back to seize control of my own kingdom. So they decided I must have been two people. A man can get confused about his identity when things like that happen.”
She grunted in assent. “You’re still Returned, though.”
“Of course I am,” he said.
“Where did you get the Breath?” she asked. “The one a week you need to survive?”
“I carried them with me, on top of the one that makes me Returned. In a lot of ways, Returned aren’t quite what people think they are. They don’t automatically have hundreds or thousands of Breath.”
“They’re of the Fifth Heightening,” Vasher said, interrupting her. “But they don’t get there by the number of Breaths, but by the quality. Returned have a single, powerful Breath. One that takes them all the way to the Fifth Heightening. It’s a divine Breath, you might say. But their body feeds on Breath, like . . .”
Vasher nodded. “Nightblood only needs it when he’s drawn. Returned feed off their Breath once a week. So if you don’t give them one, they essentially eat themselves—devouring their one single Breath. Killing them. However, if you give them extra Breath, on top of their single divine one, they’ll feed off those each week.”
“So the Hallandren gods could be fed more than one,” Vivenna said. “They could have a stock of Breaths, a buffer to keep them alive if one couldn’t be provided.”
Vasher nodded. “Wouldn’t make them as dependent on their religion to care for them, though.”
“That’s a cynical way of looking at it.”
“So you’re going to burn up a Breath every week,” she said. “Reducing our stock?”
He nodded. “I used to have thousands of Breath. I ate all of those.”
“Thousands? But it would take you years and years to . . .” She trailed off. He’d been alive for over three hundred years. If he absorbed fifty Breaths a year, that was thousands of Breaths. “You’re an expensive guy to keep around,” she noted. “How do you keep yourself from looking like a Returned? And why don’t you die when you give away your Breaths?”
“Those are my secrets,” he said, not looking at her. “Though you should have figured out that Returned can change their forms.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You’ve got Returned blood in you,” he said. “The royal line. Where do you think that ability to change your hair color comes from?”
“Does that mean I can change more than just my hair?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Takes time to learn. Go stroll around the Hallandren Court of Gods sometime, though. You’ll find that the gods look exactly as they think they should. The old ones look old, the heroic ones become strong, the ones who think a beautiful goddess should be well endowed become unnaturally voluptuous. It’s all about how they perceive themselves.”
And this is how you perceive yourself, Vasher? she thought, curious. As the scraggly man, rough and unkempt?
She said nothing of that; she just walked on, her life sense letting her feel the jungle around them. They’d recovered Vasher’s cloak, shirt, and trousers—the ones that Denth had originally taken from him. There had been enough Breath in those to split between the two of them and get them each to the Second Heightening. It wasn’t as much as she was used to, but it was a fair bit better than nothing.
“So where are we going, anyway?”
“Ever heard of Kuth and Huth?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. “They were your main rivals in the Manywar.”
“Somebody’s trying to restore them,” he said. “A tyrant of some kind. He’s apparently recruited an old friend of mine.”
“Another one?” she asked.
He shrugged. “There were five of us. Me, Denth, Shashara, Arsteel, and Yesteel. It looks like Yesteel has resurfaced, finally.”
“He’s related to Arsteel?” Vivenna guessed.
“I know. He’s the one who originally figured out how to make ichor-alcohol. I hear rumors that he’s got a new form of it. More potent.”
They walked in silence for a time longer.
I’m bored, Nightblood said. Pay attention to me. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk to me?
“Because you’re annoying,” Vasher snapped.
The sword huffed.
“What’s your real name?” Vivenna finally asked.
“My real name?” Vasher asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Everyone calls you things. Peacegiver. Kalad. Vasher. Talaxin. Is that last one your real name, the name of the scholar?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t remember the time before I Returned.”
“Oh,” she said.
“When I came back, however, I did get a name,” he finally said. “The Cult of Returned—those who eventually founded the Hallandren Iridescent Tones—found me and kept me alive with Breaths. They gave me a name. I didn’t like it much. Didn’t seem to fit me.”
“Well?” she asked. “What was it?”
“Warbreaker the Peaceful,” he finally admitted.
She raised an eyebrow.
“What I can’t figure out,” he said, “is whether that was truly prophetic, or if I’m just trying to live up to it.”
“Does it matter?” she asked.
He walked for a time in silence. “No,” he finally said. “No, I guess it doesn’t. I just wish I knew if there is really something spiritual about the Returns, or if it’s all just cosmic happenstance.”
“Probably not for us to know.”
“Probably,” he agreed.
“Should have called you Wartlover the Ugly,” she finally said.
“Very mature,” he replied. “You really think those sorts of comments are proper for a princess?”
She smiled broadly. “I don’t care,” she said. “And I never have to again.”