The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood #2)


by N.K. Jemisin

1

The Sharer’s Test

There were two hundred and fifty-six places where a man could hide within his own flesh. The soldier dying beneath Hanani’s hands had fled to someplace deep. She had searched his heart and brain and gut, though the soul visited those organs less often than layfolk thought. She had examined his mouth and eyes, the latter with especial care. At last, behind a lobe of his liver, she found his soul’s trail and followed it into a dream of shadowed ruins.

Piles of rubble loomed out of the twilit mists—crumbling structures so titanic that each single brick would dwarf a man, so foreign in design that she could not fathom their purpose. A palace? A temple? Camouflage, regardless. Beneath her feet the dust gleamed, something more than mica: each step displaced a million stars. She took care to put them all back in her wake.

To find the soldier, Hanani would have to first deal with the setting. It was simple enough to will the ruins into order, which she did by crouching to touch the ground. Threads of dreamichor, yellow-bright and gleaming, laced from her fingertips and etched the ground for a moment before vanishing into it. A breath later, the dust skittered up to seal cracked stone; the harbinger of change. Then the earth split and the ground shook as great bricks righted themselves and flew through the air, clattering together to form columns and walls. All around her, had she chosen to watch, the outlines of a monstrous city took shape against the gradient sky. But when the city was whole, she rose and moved on without looking. There was far more important work to be done.

[“This takes longer than it should.”

“The injury is healing.”

“That does no good if he dies.”

“He won’t. She has him. Watch.”]

After first passing a stone archway, Hanani paused and turned back to examine it. The arch was man-height, the only thing of normal proportions in the dreamscape. Beyond the arch lay the same shadows that shrouded all—no. The shadows were thicker here.

Prowling carefully closer, Hanani attempted to step through the archway.

The shadows pressed back.

She imagined illumination.

The shadows grew thicker.

After a moment’s consideration, she summoned pain and fear and rage instead, and wrapped these around herself. The shadows’ resistance melted; the soldier’s soul recognized kindred. Passing through the arch, Hanani found herself in an atrium garden, the kind that should have helped to cool the heart of any home—but this one was dead. She looked around, ducking splintered palms and wilted moontear vines, frowning at a suppurating mess of a flowerbed. Then she spied something beyond it: there at the garden’s heart, curled in a nest of his own sorrow, lay the soldier.

Pausing here, Hanani shifted a fraction of her attention back to the waking realm.

[“Dayu? I’ll need more dreambile soon.”

“Yes, Hanani—Um, I mean, Sharer-Apprentice.”]

That done, Hanani returned to the dream of the hidden garden. The soldier lay with knees drawn up and arms wrapped about himself as if for comfort. In the curve of his body, a gaping wound spilled his intestines into a hole at the nest’s heart. She could see nothing beyond the hole, only that perverse umbilical connecting him to it.

Death, said the air around him.

“Not here, petitioner,” she replied. “These are the shadowlands. There are better places to die.”

He did not move, hungering again for death. Again she demurred. Memory, she offered, to entice him.

Anguish flared up in cold, purple-white wisps, wreathing the area around the nest as a new form coalesced. Another man: older, bearded in the way of those who bore northern blood, also garbed as a soldier but clearly of some higher rank than Hanani’s soldier. A relative? Mentor? Lover? Beloved, whoever he was.

“Gone,” Hanani’s soldier whispered. “Gone without me.”

“May he dwell in Her peace forever,” she said. Extending her hands to either side, she trailed her fingers through the ring of mist. Where she touched, delicate deep red threads blended and pulsed into the white.

[“She uses more dreamblood? She’ll run out at that rate.”

“Then we’ll give her more. The desert scum have nearly cut him in two, man, what do you expect?”]

Hanani’s soldier moaned and curled into a tighter ball as red threads stretched forth from the walls, soaking into his skin. Abruptly the mists flickered, the bearded soldier’s image growing insubstantial as shadows. New scenes formed instead, appearing and overlapping and fading with each breath. A lonely perch atop a wall. Sword practice. A barracks bed. A river barge.

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