The caverns led deeper than any of them had realised, with the nursery and underground village occupying the chambers closest to the surface. As he followed Tarn along rocky paths, through narrow tunnels and across bridges constructed over fast-flowing subterranean rivers, Fenris realised that Aviar must have been preparing for this moment since Aera first arrived and lifted the city into the sky.
Enclosed, source-powered lights embedded into the walls flickered to life as Tarn approached, leaving a trail of illumination to show them the way back to where the others waited in the main chambers with the Avii survivors. Tarn had wanted some time away from all the voices competing for his attention, yet had requested Fenris' company, and so they had both ventured further into the caves, which had been revealed as a warren of twisting paths not represented on any of the Avii maps. Some of the more attuned teachers had wished to accompany them but Tarn had firmly and politely refused their requests.
"When you took me out of the jail cell," Tarn said as they walked, "what were you hoping to achieve?"
It was the question that had pulled at Fenris' attention for months. He'd taken Tarn and Kirya away from Treydolain, driven them into the wilds for reasons that even he had not fully understood at the time, or since. He'd put them in terrible danger, all in the hope that legends and stories he'd been told as a child would reveal themselves to be true: that there would be some salvation beyond the mountains.
That it had all turned out to be true - after a fashion - did nothing to assuage his guilt at acting so rashly. But for all that regret, What, in truth, could he have done differently? If he had not removed Tarn from the jail the boy would instead have been condemned back to the machine rooms, surely prevented from ever escaping again, never able to fulfil the role that had been prepared for him in Aviar.
Kirya, though, was another matter.
They had walked in silence after Tarn's question, Fenris alone in his head with his thoughts. "I'd hoped to make a difference," he said, at last. "I'd hoped to change history. I thought I had a destiny. I thought you had a destiny."
"You were right," Tarn said.
Bodies fell through the air in Fenris' memory; those who did not escape Aviar's unexpected descent. Buildings crumbled as the city collapsed and the splintered down into itself. Their arrival had wrought such devastation: if he had not brought Kirya on the journey, then Aera would still be alive - or, at the very least, would have completed the transferral to Tarn in a more controlled fashion, without the city's destruction and the consequent loss of life.
Which would have left them with the body of Tarn inhabited by a god; the boy would have been gone forever, if what Tarn had told them was accurate.
"Being correct does not make one right," Fenris said softly. "I behaved rashly, arrogantly. Yet, even with the knowledge I have now, if I had to choose between the people of Aviar or you standing before me, still yourself, I don't know what I would choose. And that troubles me greatly."
Tarn reached out and activated a series of lights further into the tunnel. "You should choose the city. There are more people. I'm just me. You have to save the most people."
"That is rational thinking," Fenris said, "and is the course of action I would have chosen previously. My responsibility was to keep the valley safe; to protect its people. Now, I feel conflicted. My thoughts are deeply compromised."
"It's a difficult decision because I'm your friend?"
Fenris smiled, an ache in his chest. "Perhaps that is it, Tarn."
"That's why you would still do anything for Kirya," the boy continued, "even after what she did."
"That wasn't her," Fenris said defensively. "She wasn't in control. You know that - you freed her."
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...