Deluge of Tears: Twinborn Saga
Chapter 1: Bloodborn Del ran. His breath was short. Sweat dampened his skin. He risked a glance behind him. He didn’t see his pursuer in the shadows thrown off by the street lanterns. The beads woven into the ropes of hair on one side of his head clacked against one another as he sprinted. His lungs pumped like bellows and his thin-soled boots slapped against the pavers. The stillness of the capital Ariade at night made every sound into a beacon. He ran gasping and skidding, grasping brick cornerstones with fingertips to catch his balance as he made a sharp turn. Any other day he would have walked with decorum and straightened his rankbraids. Now, his shattered heart was bleeding out on a marble floor next to fluttering pages and still bodies. His sister’s blood marked his chin and lips, drying on his longcoat in an arc--the kind cast off from a quick and honed blade. He dodged down another street, turning left. The street lanterns were sparse here, the shadows longer. Del was running for his life, and his other half, his twin sister--His mind stuttered upon the last moments they had together: The hiresword had come from behind the Bellows Tapestry, so smoothly, and so casually that the four Scholars hadn't run. Perhaps they even thought to ask if he was lost, a light-armored man misplaced in a Scholar's study. No words. He had spared them no words and not even a moment's pause. His blade appeared in flash, and he cut Lyric and Silence down. The tow-headed male twins cried out in eerily identical voices before they fell and were kicked aside. Scrolls and tablets scattered across the marble tiles, followed soon after by blood. The man was tall but thin, a wraith in a mottled dark longcoat. He wore a sheath harness, the scarred leather crossed his chest and waist. Bracers wrapped his forearms, and there was no veil on his face--a face now burned into Del's memory: close-shorn hair, hollow-cheeked, bright eyes reflecting lantern light. No veil on a hiresword's face and you were never supposed to live to tell the tale. Trick knew this, and Del only realized it a fraction of a moment later, which was usually how things worked with Del and Trick. She was the one who screamed the alarm. The Scholars' servant was already starting to run, the tray of meat tarts and wine halfway from his fingers to the floor. A shortblade flipped end over end, slid into his back, severing his spine. The round silver tray sounded like a gong as it landed, turning like a child's top until the pull of gravity sped the rotation of the edge against the floor, and it clattered to a stop. The slim shadow of a man walked forward through spilled wine even before the tray stilled. The only others left alive in the Scholar's den were Trick and Del. Trick wasn't running. She backed away still facing the assassin and put her palm out toward her brother as if to stop him. Then she made a pushing motion toward him, and the air blurred between them. His sister's Veria pulsed and shocked its way into his blood, bones, and soul. "No, Trickle!" he croaked, even as he heard her essence whisper in his heart, her husky voice echoing, "I have foreseen this.” The voice did not come from Trick, who stood a dozen steps from him, but vibrated from the very marrow of his bones. Deluge Beariu, Twinborn of Oak, bond brother to Trickle Beariu, was undeniably compelled by the last will of his bond sister, her Veria, to shut his mouth and sidle toward the balcony. "There! Stand there and be ready," said the voice of her ghost in Del's mind, even as she still breathed, facing off against the dark man. Del thought of grabbing the candelabra and advancing. The impulse was muted immediately, as his sister's Veria wrapped around him and urged, "No, Del! Attack, and no one but the hiresword leaves this room still breathing." The warning flared through him in less than a blink, as fast as conversations flit by in dreams. To make matters worse, Del heard Trick's real voice in the next moment, as he had never heard her speak to anyone--a guttural, curse-tinged mocking which horrified him: "Pox on your flea bitten mother, you singleborn lowling. She probably rued the day she birthed you, you worthless--" Blood erupted from his sister's body as the man flashed forward, his sword a perfect extension of his body and intention. His body was graceful, but his face was terrifying: lips twisted, teeth off-set and on edge, grinding together in a narrow-eyed rage. The blade sliced upward from Trick's hip, up across her torso, and bisected the roundness of her left shoulder. Before she fell back, she was already swinging a heavy ink blotter up following the line of the swordsman's swing. The man cut at an upward angle with force and power, but at the end of his swing Trick’s improvised weapon slammed into his wrist near the palm, and his hand reflexively opened, sending the blade shooting across the room. It skittered to a halt by the far wall, hilt tickled by the fringe of the Tarnished Tapestry. It was an inconceivable scene that even the warm blood hitting Del's face and robe did not make him blink or flinch. Trickle’s Veria pushed Del back toward the balcony, shouting "Go! Go! Go," aborting Del's urge to run to her. Without any compulsion but his own impotent fury, the hiresword lunged toward Trick who lay bloodied on the smooth marble trying to scramble back. His motions became graceless for the first time, shoulders hunched, pupils framed by the whites of his eyes. He wrapped his hands around her throat. Unable to tear his eyes away, Del’s vision of the horror cut off abruptly as he fell backward off the balcony. His feet compelled by Veria but fixated on his sister’s fate, he was facing the wrong way as he tipped over the ledge. He thrashed into the thicket a story below. His body, like a puppet, rolled to the side, disentangled from the branches, got up, and started sprinting madly away. The Veria had him running still when he felt her die, otherwise he would have turned and run himself straight onto the blade the assassin was just then retrieving. Suddenly the Veria no longer had to push because terror settled into his bones like a prisoner. His vision blackened at the edges and his breath grew harsh in his own ears. "Good, Del. Stay alive. Use the fear," whispered his sister's ghost. Unheard of at their tender age of nineteen, both Del and Trick had been beaded Scholars of the Rhyali Oak Sect for seven years. Each year was marked by a new rankbraid, beaded with awards, fulfilled duty badges, and notations of noble favor. Del’s rankbraids were on the left side of his head for male ranking, and her braids on the right side behind her ear denoting the feminine. Trick always had more beads per braid than Del, which was a source of friendly ribbing between the siblings and amongst the others in the Sect. It took most scribes well into their thirties to reach the rank of Scholar, to pass the tests and win favor. Del was mildly gifted with Pastsight, and Trickle was his more powerful complement, with the gift of Farsight. The prodigies were treated as everyones' younger siblings but with a dash of envy and a hint of awe. Unlike many of the Highborn Sects, Scholars could be bloodborn (which was what Del was now, a blood-splattered bloodborn--a twinborn whose bond sibling was dead) or even singleborn. In an hour, he went from brilliant young twinborn to this shambling mess, running nearly blind, zigzagging through unfamiliar roads with the last vestiges of his sister's soul starting to wick away. "The Fade is starting, Del. I don't have much left." "I don't know what to do now, Trick. I don't know, and--" Del stumbled to a halt and shoved himself into the shadows of the alley. He had run for a time, he did not know how far or how long. The moons came out from behind the clouds and shone down silver and amber light across shifty shingles. The crooked rooflines hinted at Crossing Town, the ramshackle merchant quarter next to the river docks. "--is he still coming?” “He will never stop, not until you are dead. But I cannot Farsight for you now. I'm just Veria." “You are my sister!" Del shouted, oblivious to how he must seem: a young man with blood drying on his lips shouting at the empty air. "Hush that, you ox. You're wasting our time. Now go to the rain barrel over there." In the open moonslight across the main street, a rambling gutter with sides rusted anchors and cracked sides pointed down into a barrel. The repurposed wine cask sat in the eves of the large building, full of rainwater. The still surface reflected the sky and roofline. Del started toward it, but collapsed, the rush of blood a roaring river to his ears. The trembling let-down of adrenaline undid the solidity of his legs. After a few moments with his hands on his knees, he made his way over and stared down at his own ghastly pallor in the mirror of water. He started to reach forward to wash his hands and face, but Trickle, or what remained of her, barked, "Leave it! Take out your quill knife." Numbly, Del dropped his hands and fumbled with the small buttoned sheath at his belt until the flap came undone. He pulled on the long slim handle of his quill knife, which ended in a small convex shaped blade the length of half the pointer finger, a tiny scythe with keen cutting edges on both sides. Across the surface of the small blade, the rippling watermarks of hundreds of layers of pounded, twisted, flattened steel marked a very expensive little utility knife. It was the kind of thing a dreg from Shantyton would bludgeon him for, and live on for months--even hawked at a fraction of the value. He fingered the vim whale ivory of the handle, with patterns of inset boar ivory which was as black as Fliessian ink. "Cut off your rankbraids now. Shear them close. Come now, Del. It'll be easier than sharpening a scale quill. You know how hard those are to shave down just right." "I can't! How could you even ask me to, Trick? Our whole lives!" "I can and I will ask. Don't make me compel it because I am almost gone, and I don't want our last conversation to be this! I saw something like this, Deluge, and I prepared us, whether or not you knew that's what we were doing. If you want to live, you must do it as a nameless singleborn, for at least a year, and I promise you it will be the hardest thing you have ever done, but you will be alive!" "I don't know what to do without you. Why did you DO that?! We could have gotten away together..." "Farsight, remember? No one would have lived, and--" she hesitated, "--because this was my fault. I brought this on us." From Trickle's Veria, Del felt a great welling of sadness, but underneath that was the same steely determination that had powered their rise from school children to Messengers, to Scribes, and finally to full fledged Scholars. In the presence of that conviction, Del felt even more lost. The Fade took Veria by sunrise after the death of the bond twin, and the more she exerted herself, more she would Fade. "I'm not going to fight you anymore, Trick. I don't want our last hours to be bickering. Come sunrise, I'll be alone forever. But I need an explanation. Tell me. Now." Del looked wearily at his own reflection, high cheek arches and wide round eyes. He imagined the slight shifts which made them differ, the gentler curves of his sister's jaw instead of his square one. In the moonslight, all of his features were in grayscale. He pulled out a single black braid and raised the quill knife, trembling as he laid the tooth of the blade beside his scalp where the tendrils of his hair had been gathered. He hadn’t been without rankbraids since he was twelve years old, blushing as the midwife apprentices, smelling of furminwood and incense, oiled, twisted, and back combed, their soft, gentle hands deft with a familiar task of rubbing and twisting strands of dark hair into soft, locked ropes. Trickle's Veria sent him a parcel of memories and thoughts which told a strange tale altogether: Years ago, her Farsight had given her a glimpse of a world at war, horror upon horror, twin slaughtering twin, genocide, scourges of plagues and famine, rape, and generations of fearborn, marked by their births forever, stunted and twisted and the loss of all true gifts and bloodlines--libraries burning and literacy outlawed by a warlord emperor. He made the cut, a monumental self mutilation against the Decree of Man, punishable by death. The rankbraid fell limply to hang against the back of his hand. Eyes unfocused, absorbing his sister's last testament, he pulled another braid from behind his ear and made another cut. This cut was faster, because he had already sinned against the Oak Sect and all twinborn of rank with the first severed braid. Trickle had seen a certain book in her future memories which had been hunted, every copy burned with extreme prejudice. When she sent an enquiry about a book matching the description just a few days ago (a green leather-bound tome, the length of an adult forearm, slightly narrower, and the depth of a full hand from palm to fingertip, with gold binding and edges, and a sigil of a rampaging theriolf against the old flag of Weylorind), she had received an unusually quick reply the same day from the head librarian. They apologized because the book no longer existed at the Oak Sect library branch, and asked her how she came by the description of that book. She sent a note back saying it was a matter for the Seers to discuss, alluding to her own Farsight gift, which almost certainly forewarned further inquiry. The next day, she had gone to the Hall of Records and requested audience with the Seers to record a Farsight vision, and instead of being admitted, which Del recalled as he had waited in the oddly crowded resting hall with her, they sent a servant to ask her to return another day, as the Seers were extremely overrun with Farsight visions, and they would not be able to record all the visions which had come in yesterday, even by the end of day today! There had never, ever been a line for recording Farsight visions. Del knew because he had paused at the massive oak door frame (intricately carved with bas relief scenes from the greatest visions in recorded history), pressed his slim ink-stained fingers against the smooth grain, and lit the spark inside him. A flood of sensations and images rushed through him. Everything the doorframe had witnessed in its hundreds of years, messengers catching their breath leaning back against the wood, countless singleborn hands, rubbing, cleaning, polishing, and the Scribes and Scholars who had come and gone, as well as Seers, each grouping distinguishable by robe color, rankbraid or lack thereof. Never once had a crowd gathered so large other than the party the Seers threw when the doors opened for the first time nearly two centuries previous, and no glut of visions had ever crowded the resting hall like they had that day, and all the gathered twinborn of different rank and station had looked uneasy. Del himself must have looked uneasy, but he snuffed his spark of gift as it took him back to the oak plank's carving, and installation, and back further to the tree being cut into planks, and the oak tree's long and glorious multi-century life before being felled by loggers. Trick hadn't told Del her visions as it was trained rigorously into the Farsight gifted that they only report or discuss visions to the Seers at the Hall of Records, but he could tell it was something disturbing. He squeezed her hand between both of his as the singleborn servant led Trickle to the scroll and quill where each of the Farsighted had made their mark to be called back for recording. Trickle put her mark down, and they had left. That had been yesterday. Now Deluge was cutting the last two of his beaded rankbraids free of his skull, their tangled, backcombed lengths made each into its own soft mass, a thin rope of human hair which had bound him to his rank and sect, and had declared him one of the voting and governing body, allowing him entrance to every familiar place, and proving his identity for travel and leisure and a hundred thousand other privileges he took for granted every day. Now like decapitated snakes, the weight of the braids and beads hung limp in his hands. His scalp itched and twinged, the short shorn hairs felt strange to his palm as he smoothed them back. Following the instructions of his sister's Veria, he started to cut handfuls of hair away, close to the scalp, his quill knife having no problems cutting strand after strand, so close to his ear that the sound of each hair being severed rang gently, almost like a hundred tiny chimes. Looking down into the rain barrel, he saw a stranger. With his hair cut short in uneven hanks, rankbraids absent, he looked like a vagabond, like a singleborn. His square jaw unsoftened by long strands, Del looked rawboned, rakish even. Turning to the side, he examined the spots where his braids used to hang from and spotted the seven twisted gathers where the hair had grown accustomed to their shape. He rubbed at the hair there, and the fuzzed ends did not lay flat. "You don't have time. Tear a strip from your jerkin and tie around your head. The hiresword still hunts you. Be quick. Off with the longcoat. The belt. The leather is too fine, see the tooled fancy markings? Turn the belt inside out, plain side out. You'll have to sell it, or trade it all." Del moved with economy, following his sister's instructions, using the quill knife to aid in cutting his long jerkin, leaving a tattered edge instead of the artisan crafted lace, which was now rolled up around his temples, knotted at the nape of his neck. Trick decided his boots were too fine, so he scraped the smooth leather against the bricks of the nearby building until it looked ragged all over, and turned the long overhanging flaps inside out, tucking the supple leather against his shins, all the way down to the ankle, revealing rougher leather with less sheen. His longcoat was a dead giveaway, so he turned it inside out, and wrapped and belted it into a bundle, making sure the plain side of the belt faced out. Trick kept him moving, constantly evaluating and changing details. No time for tears. When all the preparations were done, there was a pile of silken hair, which Trick told Del to straighten out and bind together to sell, and his seven rankbraids, which Trick cursed about and wondered if he should burn. They both decided, for many reasons that he should roll them in a strip of torn jerkin and tuck deep into the folded under flap of his boot leather, invisible even to a cursory glance into his boots. All told, the preparations had taken less than a quarter candle. A completely different young man crouched down into the dark corners of the street and scooped up dark silt which collected in the gaps between paving stones and rubbed it into his hands, face hair, shirt, and trousers. The dirt disguised the ink stains on his fingers. He picked up his longcoat, bundled into what resembled a shanty dreg's makeshift duffle, and slung it over his shoulder as he had seen countless lowborn do in the markets where classes mingled. There were five full candles to burn before sunrise, and he and what remained of his sister set a quick pace toward the docks. Looking up at the majestic Tower of Gant, the white marble gleaming in the moonslight, Del orienting against the dark range of the Rhyali Mountains. The harbor of Ariade was the third point of that triangle. Del made his way through the streets until he started to smell the sea on the breeze. One of the two moons was skating low, her light silver and luminous, while her golden brother remained higher in the sky, shining relentlessly, lighting his way.