Warbreaker Prime: Mythwalker Chapter Seventeen
The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
Devin could smell the camp before he could see it. Whoever was cooking the afternoon meal—probably Den—wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Devin wrinkled his nose as they pushed their way through some brush and into a small clearing. The others followed behind him.
The camp, though relocated, looked very similar to how it had before. It had the same ragged, patched tents, the same smoldering firepit, and the same ragged smattering of unshaven men. The camp was more defensible in this location—it was built up against a short cliff face—but other than that, it looked identical to the old one.
Around the camp, men stood in surprise as Devin’s group appeared. Some of their looks were confused, others excited, and a few were dark—most notably Quin’s. The large bandit leader stood near the cook fire, sampling the smoking pot of stew. His eyes met Devin’s and held them for a long moment, no one in camp daring to speak.
“Quin!” Skeer said with excitement. He rushed forward to clasp the large man on the shoulder. “Quin, we did it. You’ll never guess how it went. We actually got into the Sserin palace and we—”
Quin reached over and, with an almost casual air, smashed his fist into Skeer’s face. The lanky man was thrown backward, his words cutting off as he collapsed to the ground. He groaned for a moment, and then lay still.
Quin didn’t break eye contact with Devin. He walked forward, bandits scurrying out of his way as he approached. He stopped directly in front of Devin. The two were nearly the same height, though Quin was much larger, both in muscle and in fat, than Devin was.
Devin’s instincts cried for him to run away. However, he knew that would be futile—where would he go? Instead, he just stared back at Quin, his body tense as he waited for the large man to make a move.
“You can stay, boy,” Quin said grudgingly.
Devin paused. That wasn’t what he had been expecting.
“I’ll admit I’m impressed,” Quin continued. “Murdering a Kkoloss of the First Sept, especially King Sserin, isn’t an easy task. I don’t know how you did it, but it proves you’re useful. Don’t challenge my authority, and you can stay.”
“I . . . ” Devin said slowly, not certain how to respond. “I thought you saw me as a threat.”
“I do,” Quin said simply. “This is a bandit camp, kid. Every person here is a threat. There probably isn’t a man in this group who wouldn’t slit my throat and take command if he thought he could get away with it.” Quin paused. “You, however, are different. You don’t want to be in control—even I can sense that. So, keep your mouth shut and do what I say.”
Devin stood stunned. “We didn’t kill him, Quin,” he said.
Quin snorted. “I have spies, kid. I know what happened. Don’t try to lie to me—you’re not very good at it.” The large man turned hard eyes over the rest of the group, and they finally fell on Vvenna. He smiled. “What’s this?” he asked. “Spoils?”
“The princess Vvenna,” Devin said. “Betrothed of the Emperor.”
Quin snorted. “I don’t know who sold her to you, son, but you paid too much. This isn’t the princess—she was married to the Emperor yesterday. The entire city is celebrating—there will be good opportunities for us when the lesser Kkoloss leave to return to the mainland.” He continued to stare at Vvenna, his eyes hungry as he looked over her tall, red-haired form. She had wrapped the dirty blanket around her shoulders, but it covered little. Her thin red nightgown still revealed much more than was proper.
“I take that back, kid,” Quin said. “You probably didn’t pay too much.” Then he looked back at Devin. “So, are you with me or not?”
Devin stood indecisively for a moment. What did he want? The large bandit leader had finally accepted him—there would be no more antagonism, no more jealousy. Devin wouldn’t be hated anymore. All he had to do was follow Quin.
“Yes,” Devin whispered quietly.
“Good,” Quin said with a nod. “Bring the woman and get your men something to eat.” With that, the large man turned and walked back toward his tent.
Devin turned slightly, meeting Hine’s eyes. The older man’s expression was flat—even a little disappointed for some reason.
“Hine,” Devin said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “We can stay. I don’t have to fight Quin after all.”
“Great,” Hine said tersely. “Tell that to Skeer.”
“Skeer!” Devin remembered with a curse. He turned and rushed to kneel beside the tall man. With relief, he realized Skeer wasn’t dead.
The rebel leader groaned, his eyes fluttering open dazedly as Devin felt the side of his head. “Ug,” Skeer mumbled. Then he smiled wanly. “Boy, Quin sure got me good, eh? What a joker. I didn’t even see that one coming.” He laughed quietly, though it sounded more like a cough. His eyes were slightly haunted—haunted, and disappointed, even though he tried to cover the expression with a smile.
There’s more to you than there appears, isn’t there, Skeer, Devin realized. The man wasn’t as dense as he appeared—he knew what had just happened. He just chose to ignore it for some reason.
Skeer groaned, sitting up. “I’ll be fine, Devin,” he assured as Devin helped him to his feet. He wandered over to where several of the bandits were sitting by the fire, and launched into a description of the kidnapping.
Devin walked over to Vvenna, who stood where he had left her at the edge of the camp. She was watching the men with her quiet, unresponsive face. However, for some reason Devin thought he knew what she was feeling.
“No one will hurt you here,” he promised, leading her over to a tree on the north side of the camp. He tied her rope around the tree, then nodded toward a nearby rock, where she could sit herself. He didn’t know why he bothered—it was obvious by now that she wasn’t going to run away. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what else to do with her yet. In addition, he didn’t want to put the camp any more on edge than it already was.
“I’ll find you a tent by the time night falls,” he promised. “Then you can have your privacy.”
She sat for a moment, then she looked up, meeting his eyes, and nodded a slight nod. Despite her reserves, despite her control, there was a slight edge of fear in those eyes.
Devin sighed, turning back toward the camp. Ix stood a short distance away, watching Skeer with concern. As much trouble as the shadowling had mimicking human actions, that seemed to be one emotion he could express naturally. Beside him Voko and Ralan were reservedly serving themselves some of the burned stew. The Skaa man stood near the back of the camp, waiting for orders, and Hine stood brooding, sitting beside the fire with a bowl of stew in his hands.
It felt wrong. Something was wrong with the camp. There was an edge to it, a feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction. It wasn’t just Devin’s friends, either. All of the men looked crestfallen—as if they had lost some monumental opportunity, some opportunity they would never receive again.
Devin walked forward and took a seat beside Hine. What had he done wrong? He didn’t want to fight Quin. He didn’t want to kill, not again.
“They’re bandits,” Devin said.
Hine shrugged, taking a bite of his stew.
“We can still be rebels,” Devin rationalized. “We still have the princess. Our plan was a success and we don’t have to worry about Quin anymore.”
Hine continued to eat.
“If I’d fought Quin, then who would have led the camp?” Devin asked defensively. “Skeer? You know that wouldn’t work. He’s motivated, but he’d get everyone killed. You could lead them, but you’ve said you won’t. They would look to me, Hine. I can’t handle that—I’m not a leader. I’m just Devin.”
I’m just Devin. I’m a man with stolen abilities, a man who has lied to everyone he knows. I can’t lead them. What if they found out? What if they found out what I really am?
“Look,” Hine said quietly.
Devin looked up from his contemplations, following Hine’s nod. A short distance away, Quin had left his tent. The large bandit leader stood on the north side of the camp. Beside Vvenna. He was cutting her loose. As Devin watched, Quin sliced the rope near the princess’s end, leaving her hands bound. He pulled Vvenna to her feet and began to lead her across the camp. Toward his tent.
Spoils. Vvenna’s eyes were quiet, a look of resignation hidden behind her mask. Quin met Devin’s eyes, and there was a warning in them. Just don’t say anything, kid, the expression said. Get yourself some stew, and don’t look this direction. It will all be over in a few minutes, and then I’ll know you’re one of us.
Just don’t do anything.
“When you don’t resist, son,” Hine said softly, “it means you agree.”
Devin sat tensely. Surely someone would say something—surely someone would stop Quin. All of the other bandits were purposefully not looking in the large man’s direction. A few—Voko, Ralan, Meeve, Den, Slet—were looking at Devin.
If I stand now, there’s no going back, Devin realized. I don’t want to lead them. I shouldn’t lead them.
Across the camp, Vvenna’s eyes flickered his direction. Their eyes met for just a brief moment.
It means you agree.
Quin paused, still holding Vvenna by the hands. “Sit back down, kid,” he warned.
“Let her go, Quin,” Devin replied, his voice shaking.
“This is my camp, boy,” Quin said. “Any loot that comes through here goes to me first. After that, the rest of you split the leftovers amongst yourselves. That’s the bandits’ way.”
Devin met Quin’s eyes. “I’m not a bandit, Quin,” Devin said quietly. He smiled slightly to himself. “I am a member of the glorious Eruntu Rebellion. Let her go.”
Quin laughed a deep, mirthful laugh. Then he swiped his hand in a cutting motion. A voice cried out a short distance away. Devin spun to find poor Meeve being held by Selle, Quin’s right-hand man. Selle had a knife to Meeve’s throat.
“If any of the others interfere,” Quin said, swiping his hand toward Hine, Voko, and Ralan, “kill the boy.” The large man pushed Vvenna to the side, then nodded toward Devin. “Well, you want to challenge me, boy? Let’s go, then.”
Devin’s eyes narrowed, watching as four of Quin’s men—four who had never once come to Hine’s practices—pushed their way to Quin’s side. Devin’s friends were forbidden from helping, but Quin put no such restriction on himself.
A crowd was growing as every bandit in the camp left his tent. Most of them stood quietly, their eyes on Quin and Devin. They seemed to know that the outcome of this contest would have a direct bearing on their own lives.
“I don’t want to fight you, Quin,” Devin said truthfully. “But I will not support you.”
Quin ignored him, waving his men forward. All five drew their weapons—swords, for the most part, though somewhere Quin had found himself a massive battle-hammer. Quin held it far too easily.
He does have the Kkell power, Devin realized. He’s a fallen Guard.
And then it began. Quin’s men rushed forward, and Devin dashed to the side, leaping over the firepit, then spinning to face them as he backed away. He instinctively knew that he couldn’t let them surround him.
The five men advanced cautiously, Quin at the back. Devin continued to pull back, trying to watch all of them at once. They fanned out, carefully maneuvering him so that he would get caught without anywhere to retreat. The men watched him with careful eyes, but they still weren’t as wary as they should have been.
They don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into, Devin realized. The only times they had seen him fight was when he had been on raids, times when he had been focused on keeping both himself and his opponent alive long enough for the Kkoloss to get bored with the fight. Quin’s men knew he was good, but they didn’t know the extent of his skill. They thought he was defenseless, unarmed as he was.
Devin felt his back press against a tree—the same tree Vvenna had been tied to. Quin’s men were in for a surprise.
Devin jumped at one of the men. The bandit let out a yelp, swiping his sword with a cry. Devin easily dodged to the side, kicking Vvenna’s rope into the air as he did. Devin snatched the end of the rope as he spun to the side, dodging another strike. The man swung once more, and this time Devin leapt forward. Devin twisted his hands around his opponent’s arms, his motions a blur, then snapped his hands tight, releasing the rope and spinning away. The bandit tried to attack, then paused, his sword slipping awkwardly from his fingers as he realized his hands were tied together.
Devin grabbed the tied bandit, pushing him backward, an action that pulled the rope—still tied to the tree—taut and tripped one of the other men. With a final sweep of his arm, Devin pushed the tied guard to the side, sending him careening maladroitly toward one of his companions. Both ended up in a heap.
A movement flickered in the corner of Devin’s eye. He dodged to the side just as Quin’s hammer flashed downward, smashing into the ground a handspan from Devin. Devin dodged backward, keeping an eye on the other bandits. There was one still standing, and the three that had fallen were picking themselves back up—one cutting their tied companion free.
I don’t want to hurt them, Devin thought with annoyance. But what can I do?
Quin and the standing bandit attacked in unison, and Devin was hard pressed to dodge them both. As he passed, he snapped a hand forward and broke the bandit’s arm. The man cried out, dropping his weapon in pain. The yell sounded guiltily in Devin’s ears.
What is leadership if it is earned simply by killing the man who stood before you? Devin thought with frustration.
The men who had fallen were up again, and all three advanced on him. Quin swung, his hammer whooshing through the air. Devin could feel the wind of its passing on his cheek. The bandits pressed forward, attacking. Devin’s dodges were masterful, but they were not enough. He couldn’t stay away from all four forever.
There has to be another way! Devin though.
His eyes met Quin’s. There was rage in those eyes, anger. If Devin left him alone, he would continue his banditry. He would kill the Guards. He would corrupt the rest of the men, leave them with nothing more to hope for than a life of crime. He would rape Vvenna.
The world spun around Devin, swords flashing on all sides, all missing. In the bright summer air it almost seemed like the weapons were courtiers, their arcing swings flowery bows instead of attacks.
Devin’s hand struck to the side. A man cried out. A sword spun through the air, its blade flashing in the sunlight. Devin caught it and turned, pressing all of his momentum into a graceful spin. The sword came out.
He stopped, one leg braced behind him, his swordhand raised in the air at his side. There was blood on the blade. A second later, Quin’s body fell to the ground. A second after that, Quin’s head dropped to the ground a short distance away.
All was still. A drop of Quin’s blood trailed down Devin’s cheek like a red tear. It is done, Devin thought with sorrow.
A sound came from behind Devin—a footstep accompanied by a curse of anger. Devin reacted a second too late. He shouldn’t have stopped—not with combatants still around. He had assumed that they would stop fighting when Quin died. He turned, his body contorting as he threw himself into a dodge—one he knew wouldn’t work. Just as his mind realized precisely how to strike, it understood when its efforts would not be enough.
Devin turned just in time to see the blade descending. He started to cry out, his body cringing as it anticipated the blow. And then, a dark form appeared in front of him. It moved supernaturally quick, seeming to materialize directly in front of Devin. It was a familiar form, a form with dark skin.
Ix grunted as the blade pierced his chest. The thrust drove straight through the shadowling’s body, the tip of the blade jutting out his back and stopping a few fingerwidths in front of Devin’s face.
Devin fell to the ground, completing his dodge, then rolled to his feet in alarm. Ix stood, his hands clinched in fists, the sword sticking from his chest. There was no blood. Instead, the wound seemed to hiss softly in the quiet air. A black substance seeped from the cut, curling and dissipating in the air like dark smoke.
Living Night, Devin realized with horror.
The bandit in front of Ix backed away in terror, and then he cried out, dashing away toward the forest. He was followed a second later by his three companions and, finally, Selle, who released Meeve and took off.
Ix collapsed. Devin overcame his hesitance and dashed over to the creature’s side. Until that moment he had half convinced himself that Ix wasn’t really a shadowling, that he was really just a man with very dark skin. Now, however, there was no denying it. Devin pushed back Ix’s shirt, exposing the deep wound. The Living Night hissed as it seeped murkily from the cut. Uncertain what to do, Devin pressed his hand against the cut to stanch the wound.
He could feel the Living Night pressing against his palm, he could sense it wiggling into his body, absorbing itself into his skin. He cried out, shivering as he pulled his hand away. The skin on his palm where he had touched the wound had turned dark, like Ix’s skin.
Ix’s eyes were open, but he was staring sightlessly into the sky. He was breathing, but the breaths were shallow.
“Ix!” Devin said as Hine and Voko knelt at his side. “What do I do?”
“I . . . ” Ix said. “I am human. We humans need to be . . . bandaged when we are wounded.”
Devin cursed. Hine had brought his pack and he desperately searched through it, locating a bandage. Hine hefted the Ix’s body up so Devin could tie a bandage around the shadowling’s torso, covering both wounds.
Ix sighed, and his eyes closed. Devin watched anxiously, but the creature’s chest still seemed to be moving. Hine lowered Ix’s comatose body, and Devin regarded it helplessly. There was nothing more he could do.
Devin looked up. Around him, dozens of bandits stood quietly, regarding him with silent expressions. They were looking for something—looking for something from him.
I don’t deserve to lead them, Devin thought with frustration. But, a part of his mind warned, if you don’t, another Quin will appear. Men do what they see those they respect do—Hine’s words.
Devin stood to face the men.
“This is no longer a camp of bandits,” Devin said. “Those of you who wish otherwise are now free to go. Those who stay will join me in a rebellion against the Kkoloss—a real one this time. We probably won’t win. We’ll probably get hunted down and slaughtered.” His eyes sought out Quin’s motionless form, lying bloodied on the ground. Then he turned back to the men, speaking in a louder voice. “But we will fight. We won’t fight for survival, and we won’t fight for Kkoloss pleasure. We will fight for what is right. We will resist, for if we don’t resist, that means we support things as they stand.”
Siri awoke to a slight shaking. She rolled over, groaning tiredly. Unfortunately, the movement placed her cheek against something hard and uncomfortable. Slowly, she came back into wakefulness and her eyes fluttered open. Everything was wrong. It was purple. The walls shone lavender, the silks were plum lined with silver, and sheets around her were a very soft shade of violet. She wasn’t at home. She was in the Emperor’s palace, lying on the bed in her quarters.
She sighed, sitting up. Sitting beside her on the bed was a stack of books—the ones she had requested from Slels. Siri frowned, rubbing the side of her face. Sleeping on the hard books had left a print on her cheek.
I’d forgotten, she thought. There was a reason I never joined Vvenna with her studies. Those books are so dull I bet even the priests have trouble staying awake while reading them.
Of course, she had justification—she hadn’t exactly spent a restful night lying on the Emperor’s floor. She’d tried to stay awake while studying, but . . . well, she had enough trouble doing that when she wasn’t tired.
“My lady?” a quiet voice asked.
Siri looked to the side, noting the handmaiden who had awakened her. The girl was virtually indistinguishable from the others—thin, dark hair, and mouselike. “Yes?” Siri asked.
“I apologize, My Lady. But it’s time.”
“Already?” Siri asked with surprise. She checked the clock on the wall, noting the time. The girl was right—it was already six. It would take the handmaidens several hours to prepare Siri, and she had to be at the Emperor’s rooms by eight.
“Very well,” Siri said, trying to imitate Vvenna’s quiet but forceful voice. She rose, allowing the handmaidens to lead her to the bath chamber.
Will it be tonight? Siri wondered. Was that first night just to give me a sense of his power? Will he finally act as he is required to?
However, she knew from the previous day’s experience that worrying would only put her on edge. So instead she tried to remember the things she had read earlier in the day. Unfortunately, that proved difficult—she hadn’t really paid as much attention as she should have.
The handmaidens carried her down into the warm bathwater, scented steam rising around her, and began to scrub. Most of the books were basically lists—lists of things to do in certain situations. The higher one was in the social status, the more inherent Ssu one had. But because of that inherent Ssu, high rank also brought with it many requirements—many specific to only the highest Septs.
The books droned on and on, listing the ways people of certain ranks could earn beneficial Ssu or damning Ki-Ssu. Siri couldn’t believe the minute things that were mentioned—everything from thinking Hess’s name in the wrong context, to building one’s home with uneven dimensions, to pointing with the wrong finger. Siri knew many of the rules, but the majority of them she had never heard of—of course, most of those applied only to the priesthood.
Of which you’re technically now a part, Siri reminded herself. Vvenna had been required to memorize those books, to learn every specific detail—from how many inches long an Imperial dress’s sleeves had to be to the exact number of verses in the Praises Vas Hess. There was so much information, as a matter of fact, that it suddenly made sense to Siri why Vvenna’s life had been so rigid. She’d needed the practice.
Unfortunately, none of the books had answered the questions Siri had always wondered about. She leaned back in the water, letting several handmaidens scrub her hair. She knew what Ssu and Ki-Ssu were—or, at least, she understood what they did, and that was enough. However, no matter how many times she had heard the doctrine preached, she was always left with several annoying questions. Who was the Mythwalker? What was the Demon God? What exactly was the Living Night? She knew it had something to do with darkness and evil—everyone knew that. It was the opposite of Hess’s glory, which was manifest in the Kkell powers. But what was it really? The stories claimed it could be used to take over a person’s body, to choke out their soul and leave darkness in its place, but the books—and the sermons—said little about it beyond condemning it for its evil.
All they ever said was that the Mythwalker would come, and that he would defeat the Demon God. But that meant that the Demon God would come again, didn’t it? The Demon God was supposed to be trapped forever, locked in the prison with no key.
Locked beneath the Imperial palace. Reflexively, Siri’s eyes flashed downward as the handmaidens led her from the tub, and she shivered both from the cold air and the realization. The Demon God was down there somewhere, locked in an Amberite prison beneath the palace. It was a creature with only one purpose—to send the world into chaotic destruction, to create a wasteland from all life. And Siri was living right on top of its prison.
It was a chilling realization. Always before, the Demon God had been a horror, but a horror removed from everyday experience. Now the problem was far more immediate. Her home was the Demon God’s keyless tomb.
The Mythwalker must come. The words were repeated over and over in the sermons, and Siri had seen them several times in her readings.
I need to pay more attention, she decided as the women began to dry her hair and paint her nails. She didn’t like not knowing what it was that lurked beneath the palace. Besides, it wasn’t like she had anything else to do with her time.
Eventually, the women finished their ministrations, working quietly as always. Several times Siri was tempted to try and draw them into conversation, but she held herself back. Vvenna would have endured the preparations in silence, so Siri had to as well. Maintaining Posture certainly did make life boring.
Slels arrived a quarter-hour before eight. He looked her over with discriminating eyes, nodding to himself. She wore a different dress than the day before. Both were regal and flowing, but this day’s had silver embroidery and was made of soft velvet as opposed to silk.
“I enjoyed my studies, Slels,” Siri said as she inspected herself in the mirror. “Thank you for your aid.” Her handmaidens busied themselves, making certain that her train lay flat and her long sleeves melded properly with the rest of the gown.
“I exist simply to serve, My Lady,” Slels mumbled distractedly, looking down at his ledger. “Come, we do not want to be late. Punctuality is the soul of order.”
The previous day’s events were repeated exactly, Siri making the trek through the hallways, sweeping forward like a giant violet wave of velvet. Slels and the handmaidens followed quietly behind. At exactly eight, Slels opened the giant Amberite-encrusted doors and gestured for her to enter.
The fire burned high, but still it barely illuminated the Emperor’s dark form. Her heart beating, Siri bowed herself to the ground and waited.
And, once again, the Emperor watched quietly, his eyes dark pits in the darkness, until Siri finally fell asleep.
Devin dug Quin’s grave himself. Others offered to help, but he sent them back to camp. This was something he felt he needed to do by himself.
It was a long, difficult process, especially since the only shovel in the camp had a splintery, broken handle. No matter where he chose to dig, he kept running into roots. However, several hours later, he finished a shallow pit and climbed out. He regarded the hole silently for a moment, feeling the dirt and grime covering his body. Then he dumped Quin’s corpse into the hole and began to fill it back in.
What had he done wrong? He had tried everything he could think of to placate the large man. And, in the end, he had succeeded—only to find that he had unwittingly backed himself into another corner. He had been forced to fight Quin anyway. He starkly remembered his promise to Hine—that he would find a way to solve the problem without one of them ending up dead. He had failed.
It’s this cursed skill, Devin thought, dumping a shovelfull of dirt into the hole. Everybody expects more from me than I can fulfill. They see that I’m a wonderful swordsman and they assume that I’m so many things else as well. But I’m not.
Unfortunately, everything considered, Devin was still in charge. He had unwillingly taken control of the camp. Now that he’d killed Quin, no one else would even think of claiming leadership. They would do what he said, and they would expect him to know what he was doing.
He filled in the last of the dirt and then sighed, leaning on the shovel and regarding the crude barrow. He felt he should say a prayer, but he wasn’t sure what to say.
Oh, Hess, he thought. Let him pass into Paradise. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he did try to keep order. Or, at least, he did a far better job than I do.
“You’ve learned two very difficult things today, son,” a voice said behind him.
Devin turned slightly, watching as Hine approached. The aging warrior stared down at the grave.
“What lessons do you mean?” Devin asked.
“That no matter what goal you seek,” Hine said, “killing is the wrong answer.”
Devin closed his eyes, his guilt rising angrily in his chest. “And the second lesson?” he whispered hollowly.
Hine paused. “That sometimes, you don’t have any other choice. You’ll spend the rest of your life trying to reconcile those two facts, Devin.”
Devin opened his eyes, turning to look at Hine. “Have you ever found a way?” Devin asked.
Hine shook his head. “No,” he replied. “But I’ve been trying for a very long time.”
Devin sighed, nodding slowly. Then he bowed his head one last time before Quin’s tomb, and turned back toward the camp. He could see a line of men standing quietly at the edge of the tents, watching him with quiet eyes.
“I’ll lead them to their deaths, Hine,” Devin said.
“So would the Kkoloss,” Hine pointed out. “At least you’ll feel guilty about it. Come on, no use complaining now.”
Devin nodded. If you have to do something, you might as well do your best. His father’s words surfaced again in his memory. Except . . .
Devin paused. Could his mother have lied to him? The only way for Devin to have as much Kkell power as he did was if his father had been Kkoloss.
Impossible, Devin deiced. Talla wouldn’t lie to me. A bastard Kkoloss-Eruntu child must have existed somewhere in his ancestry, but it didn’t have to be his father. Devin’s Kkoloss blood was probably very thin—King Sserin had just happened to kill everyone with a higher Sept than Devin. That had to be it. Besides, if Devin had been a direct descendant of a Kkoloss, wouldn’t he have had some Kkell power when he was growing up? He wouldn’t have been average—he would have excelled.
No, Devin was still mostly Eruntu. He had the hair of an Eruntu, and he had been raised as one. The thought gave him a measure of relief, and he stepped a little more firmly as he walked into camp.
The men stood watching him. There were a little over two dozen of them—they looked hopeful, but uncertain.
“What do we do, sir?” one of them—Den—asked.
What do we do? Devin thought. “Prepare to break camp,” he announced.
The men mumbled to themselves, looking somewhat disappointed. They had just gotten done moving the camp—they didn’t look forward to doing so again.
“Selle and the others ran off,” Devin reminded. “If they decide to betray us, they could lead the Kkoloss here by midnight. Our rebellion would be over before it was a day old. Don’t forget—we’ve kidnapped the Emperor’s bride. We’re likely to be very unpopular people in the capital right now.”
The mumbling lessened as the men noticed the logic behind his words, and after that they began to move quickly, breaking down tents and gathering up personal items. Devin watched them work, slightly surprised—despite everything—that they were actually willing to do what he said.
A short distance away, Vvenna sat on a rock near where Quin had left her. She watched him and the camp in her unexpressive way. However, Devin could tell she had been shaken greatly by what had happened earlier. There was an edge to her motions—she moved her head too quickly at sounds, and she held her hands firmly in her lap, as if to keep them from shaking.
She’s strong, Devin thought. I don’t know if I could go through what she just did. Hess—I’m whining about leading a group of men who want to do what I say. How would I react to everything she’s been through?
He snorted to himself, Vvenna’s troubles suddenly putting his own in perspective. He walked through the camp and approached Vvenna, purposefully making his steps slow and non-threatening. Her eyes fell on him, and then followed him as he approached. He knelt beside her rock, putting himself at eye level with her.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “But we’re going to have to walk some more.”
She didn’t respond at first. After a moment, she met his eyes. “You stopped him,” she said with an even voice. “Why? You want to keep the spoils for yourself?”
Devin snorted. “Hess, no,” he said. “Taller women intimidate me. I made you a promise. I don’t intend to hurt you, or let anyone else hurt you. I kidnapped you—you’re my responsibility now.”
The princess mulled over his words. “You didn’t have such qualms when you slaughtered House Kkeris, Eruntu,” she accused.
Devin shook his head. “You seem like a bright woman, Vvenna,” he challenged. “You’ve seen our group. The Eruntu Rebellion is a collection of about thirty unaccomplished bandits. Do you really think we could have slaughtered that many Kkoloss?”
“You used poison,” she said.
“Poison?” Devin asked. “Where would we get enough poison to drug an entire House? We can barely feed ourselves.”
Vvenna sat for a moment, studying him. She didn’t believe him—he could see that much in her eyes. But she was willing to consider what he was saying.
“Who, then?” she demanded.
“Your own king, princess,” Devin informed. “King Dunn and Prince Sarn are your murderers.”
“You lie,” Vvenna informed coldly.
Devin shook his head. “They brought in a secretly recruited group of Eruntu from the mainland. I was in that group, princess. They didn’t train us or give us time to take the Kkell oath—they just marched us directly to the Holy Isle. I’m not certain what happened next—I got thrown into the dungeons for not reacting quickly enough to Prince Sarn’s order that I execute some Skaa. But from those dungeons, I saw Dunn and Sarn massacre the entirety of the Kkeris royal line.”
“Impossible,” Vvenna said. “Why would they do such a thing?”
Devin shrugged. “Skeer thinks they wanted the Kkeris Kkell power for themselves.”
Vvenna paused, her eyes widening slightly. Devin frowned—he had expected her denials to continue. Why would this one comment surprise her when the others were men with rejection?
Vvenna whispered something—a few words Devin barely caught. They brought a chill to his spine.
“Mythwalker Seavistris,” Vvenna whispered.
“What?” Devin asked sharply.
Vvenna looked up, her eyes focusing on him. Her lips became a simple line, and she sat still, as if she hadn’t said a thing.
“You said Mythwalker Seavistris,” Devin accused. “What does it mean?”
Vvenna regarded him for a moment. “It is the Holy Tongue,” she said. “The ancient tongue, from before the rise of the Demon God. It is Ki-Ssu for an Eruntu to speak it.”
“What does it mean, princess?” Devin repeated.
She paused. “The Mythwalker must come,” she said finally.
The shaking began. Devin gritted his teeth—he wanted it this time, wanted it desperately. He gripped the edge of Vvenna’s rock tightly in his hand as the seizure shook his body. When it subsided, he knew the Holy Tongue.
Sulevin Mass, Devin thought, remembering the words from his dream of a wasteland. Serve me. The Mythwalker comes. Oh, Hess . . . what is going on?
He rose, leaving a confused Vvenna behind. The camp’s tents were already down, and men were scurrying in every direction. To his right, Voko and Ralan were discussing which direction would be most likely to hold a suitable camp, and Hine was directing the packing of supplies.
Serve me. Suddenly, Devin’s eyes fell on Ix. The shadowling lay on a cot near the south end of camp. Devin approached, looking down at the dark-skinned creature. Ix lay peacefully, his eyes closed, his hands clasped in front of him. Was it coincidence that a creature of the Demon God had found its way to Devin’s company? It couldn’t be. Ix had saved his life. Could he trust the creature? Had it been sent to try and win him to the side of chaos, the side of destruction? Why did the Demon God even care about Devin, anyway?
Ix’s eyes snapped open.
Despite himself, Devin jumped back with a yelp.
Ix looked over at him. “Friend Devin,” he whispered, waving covertly with his hand for Devin to approach.
Devin paused for a moment, then did as requested, stepping forward on hesitant feet.
“Friend Devin,” Ix whispered. “As a human, I need to remain wounded for a time before I recover from such a massive injury. How long do you think I will lie here unconscious?”
Devin frowned. “Um, I’m not certain,” he said. “Three or four days, maybe?”
“Ah, good,” Ix said. “I will see you in three and a half days.” With that, the shadowling closed his eyes and went back to being motionless.
Devin shook his head. Shadowlings ran with men, Kkoloss princess got captured by Eruntu, fish flew through the air, and strange beasts walked the forests. He should never have left the orchards.