Story Excerpt Sunday: From Northlight by Deborah J. Ross

NorthlightNorthlight

by Deborah J. Ross

     The people who’d been waiting gathered around Pateros, their voices like the cries of rock-doves. They surrounded him, touching his sleeve and shaking his hand, each one in turn. Then they backed off, lingering. The few still scattered across the plaza began to hurry, to reach Pateros before he was gone. One of them caught my eye, like a raptor-bat in a coop of barnfowl. There was no outward reason he attracted my attention, maybe his dark blue clothes, overly somber by Laurean standards. I saw nothing in his hands.

Suddenly a man in the crowd started yelling and waving his hands. The City Guards rushed between him and Pateros. The gaea-priest waded in, arms lifted, probably chanting something like, “Let me help you to attain cosmic attunement, my child.” The man skittered away, still shouting.

The man in blue kept coming, faster now, right for Pateros. He disappeared into the crowd, working his way inward. But I felt him in my blood, not anything of who he was as a man, but what he was in this place, which was all that mattered. The breaker’s breaker, that’s what he was.

No one else took any notice of him. The Guards were still busy calming the yelling man.

I started yelling, too, some dumbshit like Stop him! or Watch out! and then I was pounding across the pavement, running on fire instead of breath. My riding boots slapped and clattered on the stones. No one heard me above the shouting, milling crowd.

What’s wrong with them? Why can’t they see?

A space opened in the crowd and I spotted him again, the man in blue–standing right next to Pateros.

I needed only a few more moments, but I was still halfway across the plaza. I tried to scream again. The air whizzed by me. I couldn’t get a lungful.

Pateros paused, bending his head toward the blue man as if listening intently. The blue man sidled closer. His right shoulder lifted. Montborne and his aides were already moving, the City Guards elbowing back through the crowd.

I was too damned late and too damned far. There would be no Kardith’s Leap this time.

The blue man twisted, a quick spiraling thrust, and Pateros’s long green robe rippled and jerked.

Pateros fell slowly at first, as if he weighed nothing. Then he crumpled against Montborne, pulling him to the pavement.

Someone screamed, high and light like a wounded pig. The blue man burst from the crowd. I swerved toward him. His teeth made a jagged line. Sweat stained his shirt. He spotted me and started to run. A woman from the crowd grabbed him hard around the hips. He pulled free, but a heavy-shouldered man in a military uniform was right on him and I caught the glint of a drawn knife.

Pateros lay sprawled on his back, cradled in Montborne’s arms. I pushed my way through the onlookers and knelt by his side, still hoping wild and stupid hopes. It was a hurried thrust, a dagger I’d guess, and on the right side, away from the heart. It could have missed a fatal target. It could have. Liver or guts, yes, he’d bleed inside but this was Laurea, Mother damn it, Laurea! There were medicians and a hospital here, and there wasn’t a person here, me included, who wouldn’t empty their veins to have him live.

There’s not enough blood, I thought dazedly.

I caught a glimpse of the dagger–it was a dagger, with a hilt of bone carved norther style. It sat in the center of a spreading red stain like the heart of an aging, blowzy flower.

Why didn’t I start running a moment sooner? Why didn’t anyone else see?

The other Inner Council woman shoved me aside and bent over Pateros. Pale red hair parted along a line of sunburn but I couldn’t see her face. Her movements were quick and deft. She breathed into Pateros’s mouth, and his chest rose and fell as if he were still alive. Then she shifted to pumping on the breastbone over the heart’s great chambers. Montborne took over the breathing. People whispered and held on to each other, as if they could hold on to Pateros, too. The gaea-priest raised his hands, chanting more dumbshit.

He’s gone, he’s gone. I felt this place without him, this vast and terrible place.

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Deborah J. Ross began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with Jaydium and Northlight, (and the omnibus edition, Other Doorways: Early Novels), and short stories in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy and Star Wars: Tales from Jabba’s Palace. Now under her birth name, Ross, she has written an epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield. Her collection Azkhantian Tales, includes four short stories set in that world. Book View Cafe also offers her nonfiction Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life and a number of her stand-alone short stories.

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