Chapter Forty-Five

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"Did you feel that?" Sanna asked, glancing up from stroking Lennox's ears. Her eyes were wide, and bright with worry.

Matta sat very still, hands folded in her lap, and listened.

"Yes," she said quietly. "Yes, I did."

____

Guin hadn't realized just how much she'd been holding inside her own head. Her own heart. Stray thoughts, fragments of impulse, bits and pieces of anger and fear, cruelty and desire. All the tiny slivers of what she tried so hard, every day, not to be.

There were no good people, really. At least, not the whole way through. You built yourself, every day, brick by brick, into what you were--what you, or other people, wanted you to be. And that meant there would be parts left over. The things you didn't use, the pieces you discarded or hid or ignored. But that didn't mean they went away. They collected in the dark corners of your soul like so much detritus. Sometimes you tripped over them. Other times, they buried you alive.

It had never occurred to Guin that she could use them to build a weapon.

The creature with cold, clammy hands and glistening oil-slick skin still held her fast, but its touch had ceased to harm her. After all, it was only made of dead things. The residue of souls fed to the fountain. Guin knew this now. The knowledge flickered in her head, a dark flame, a silent scream.

Somehow, through its touch, the creature had told her its name: Sleeper. That which slumbered in the deep, and took what the fountain demanded.

It told her its name, and begged her to let it die.

So she said yes. She raised the weapon, the darkness that was part of her, and split the creature apart. It dispersed in a blaze of light and stinging air--and with it all the souls it had swallowed over the centuries. They flew wild, drifted, danced; dark flames themselves, memories made of smoke and raincloud. And with them, Guin's nightmares capered.

Evelyn, dead and already rotting, shambled forward on emaciated legs. A giant diseased human heart, pitted and moldering like decaying fruit, beat like a drum in the sky. Indistinct shapes squirmed and festered in shadows of their own making. Her parents, ancient and withered, blind and helpless, grasped at nothing and called her name. Teeth, riddled with gaping gray cavities, studded the earth.

There were more things, things that could hardly be put into words--grotesque parodies of Guin's life, caricatures of her fear, vivid apparitions of death and destruction and helplessness.

Then, in a blink, all of these fragments became one seething, flickering mass. It was alive, and hungry. So Guin told it to go eat its fill.

It rose up into the sky and spread, a storm full of nightmares. It drifted over Alavard, over the palace, blotting out the sun. Then, slowly, reaching out with a thousand grasping arms, it began its descent.

Guin stood up. She was peripherally aware of movement around her, of distant pain, of glass grinding beneath her bare feet. She saw the shape of Zolga, splayed flat on the ground, Kip bent over her--Talon, pressed against the wall, wide-eyed and staring--Mogra and Droom, frozen in place--and Lorn, discarded in the dirt like an unwanted doll, his face contorted in pain and awe.

Guin saw life burning in each of them. They would live.

But there was someone else. Someone unwanted, and dangerous. The empty body of a young god.

Guin looked up. "You."

Thesul dropped down from the roof above and stood before her, his alabaster skin streaked with drying blood. In the haze that had become her sight, he glowed white and red. A scream of color. His face was armed with a sharp grin--but it was brittle. A mask to hide his fear.

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