It was while he was climbing out of the wreckage that he saw the shape of things: the way everything had gone, unexpectedly and inexplicably, and how it couldn’t have gone any other way – he had been led about, not tricked but blind, and this was where it had brought him…
He hurled a section of broken timber aside, pulled himself up on a mound of shattered debris. Coughing up water he stood on shaky legs, fought to catch his breath.
Breathe, he told himself.
He did a quick check and found that he was relatively unhurt – cuts and bruises only. Others were not so lucky, he saw: dead men surrounded him. Dead men, or dying.
He tried to piece it together: Merrick, the evling, the storm, the escape. That was Wielding. That was power.
He wondered how long it had been in motion – since the beginning, or Merrick’s first ham-fisted effort? Was it a test, or a lesson? Or neither? He hadn’t believed it before, seeing only an oddity, an aberration. But this…?
He knew now that it had been inevitable, since the moment one had set eyes upon the other. Since then they had been moving in concert, even if they didn’t know it.
It was almost perfect.
He started forward, stumbling over the broken docks. The damage was severe, but they would recover. He would recover. He’d have to fight now, he knew – fight for every street, every corner under his control. Dogheart would be merciless. And the others – they’d sense weakness too. But he would prevail. With them, he knew who he was fighting.
One of his men, an archer, clutched at his leg as he passed, pleading for mercy – he’d been thrown onto a jagged spike of splintered wood, run through. Thaylan gave it to him, quickly and without hesitation – mostly he just wanted the other man to shut up.
He felt that he should be wary of the water but he wasn’t. What had happened before could happen again, but he had to see…
He scrambled onto a shattered quay, jumbled wreckage to add to the rest that choked the harbour. He went in up to his knees, the gentle waves – feeble, really – lapping at his thighs. He looked up into the rain, weakening by the moment; and the storm clouds parting, as if by command.
And far out now in the heart of the harbour and disappearing quickly, the glow of a lantern swaying back and forth, and a voice that drifted to him, faint and mocking:
“You were easy to betray – you inspired no loyalty, only fear. That is all men like you ever have.”
It didn’t matter. He smiled, laughed, and waited for the dawn; another day, and a good one – because something new had come into his world.
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