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Chapter 7: Unsettled Thoughts

It was late that night – or maybe early in the morning – when the observance of the Void of Taratai ended; Thyra returned to the cabin she and Havaktri shared unaccompanied by the kalashtar herself, who had apparently gone to find Captain d’Lyrandar and let him know he could have his quarters back. She dropped into her hammock and quickly fell asleep, a rest that was, thankfully, undisturbed by dreams.

Thyra awoke slowly the next morning, groggily blinking her eyes as she slowly sat up. Havaktri had returned, and now stood in the center of the cabin with her eyes closed and head bowed, running through what appeared to be an elaborate series of stretches and poses, some of which looked like combat moves, others which appeared to be purely aesthetic. The kalashtar’s grace even on the gently rocking ship was superb, and Thyra found herself watching the exercise in fascination. Finally Havaktri fell still, exhaled deeply, and opened her eyes.

“That was lovely,” Thyra said, miming applause. “What was it?”

Havaktri smiled. “I practice sheshan talarash dasyannah,” she said. “In your language, it would be something like “dancing with the shadows on the path to light,” or maybe just “the path of shadows”. It’s something we do for exercise, and discipline, and it can be adapted as a style of martial arts. I’m not as attentive to it as I maybe should be, but after the Void I felt unsettled and thought I needed it.” She regarded Thyra appraisingly. “I might be able to teach some of the forms to you, if you’d like. The elders would probably be very cross with me, but they’re not here and you are.”

Thyra laughed. “Thanks for the offer, Havaktri,” she said, “but I think I’d probably just end up flat on my face. I never was much of a dancer.” She was silent for a long moment, weighing her options carefully, and then finally spoke. “There’s something else I’d like to talk to you about, though.”

“Really?” Havaktri asked, seating herself on the hammock beside Thyra. “Hopefully you’re not going to tell me that you’ve actually been an Inspired assassin sent to kill me all this time. Being rakshasa, human and quori wouldn’t leave you much time to be anything else, would it?”

For a moment Thyra simply regarded her in shock, but then she noticed the small smile playing around the edges of Havaktri’s lips. “That was a joke, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Apparently not much of one,” the kalashtar muttered. “I don’t have much of an ear for human humor. Back in Sharn, I heard someone telling the strangest one about a chicken, and for il-Yannah’s sake I simply don’t understand what was so funny…” she shook her head. “Anyway, what were you saying?”

“Last night, when you were telling us about Taratai, for a moment, I thought I… saw something,” Thyra began, worrying that she would seem foolish but too committed now to back out. “For a few seconds, I had what felt like a vision of what must have been Adar, and it looked like the last battle of Taratai’s line was about to begin. Then I was back in the cabin. Did you do that? I thought so, but nobody else seemed affected.”

“Hmmm,” Havaktri said quietly, a pensive look crossing her features. “I saw you react, and I felt what I thought was your touch in my mind. No, I wasn’t trying to project my thoughts directly into your mind, but I think you may have tapped into them yourself. That was one of my memories you saw.”

Thyra quirked an eyebrow. “Your memories?” she asked. “And here I thought that you said Taratai’s line got wiped out in Adar centuries ago, and that you were seventeen and had never been out of Khorvaire before. Is there something you’re not telling us, Havaktri?”

The kalashtar gave another of her quiet, hissing laughs. “No, no,” she said. “Your language isn’t very good for these things! I wasn’t there. But a kalashtar of the Vaktri line was. One of my ancestors. All kalashtar of the same line are different people, but we all embody the same spirit. Now, we can’t dream like you do, because our ancestors were exiled from Dal Quor, but our minds have to do something while we sleep, so we relive the memories of our ancestral spirits. So you might say that battle was like something out of a dream.” Havaktri seemed to find this statement particularly funny, as she dissolved into an even louder fit of laughter. Thyra watched, nonplussed.

When Havaktri seemed to have regained her composure, Thyra spoke. “Okay, so instead of dreaming you sometimes remember things your ancestors saw. I get that. But why did I see it? I’m not a psion, and I’m certainly not a kalashtar.”

“No,” Havaktri said, “but I think in some ways you’re more like one of my people than you are like a normal human. The power of your ancestor moves through you, even if that ancestor was a rakshasa and not a quori. But I’d thought you might ask me something like this sooner or later. In Sharn, before we left, Professor Zanthan was generous enough to lend me some of his books on rakshasas. Fascinating reading. Often disturbing, but fascinating. Where was I? Yes – rakshasas, it seems, sometimes had the power to read the thoughts of others. I’d wondered if you inherited the ability; it seems you have. I must have been projecting my thoughts very strongly last night; I’ll have to be more careful. My mother would say that was very sloppy of me.”

“Wait,” Thyra said, holding up her hand. “So you’re saying I am a psion after all?”

Havaktri shook her head. “No. If I’m understanding the books correctly, rakshasas used arcane magic to attain this skill, not psionics. There is often some overlap between the three branches of magic, after all. This is a part of your sorcerer’s gifts.”

“They don’t normally feel like gifts,” Thyra muttered, then looked back up at Havaktri. “Whatever this is, I don’t want to go around reading people’s minds uncontrollably. It’s wrong to intrude like that, and not very fun for me either. I know this may be a lot to ask, and might not even work, but – Havaktri, do you think you might be able to help me get more control over this?”

Havaktri beamed, and managed to make the expression look almost normal. “I don’t know if the kalashtar arts can help a sorcerer,” she said, “but we can find out!” She took Thyra’s hands in hers. “I can try to show you some of the techniques I learned when I was small, and – who knows? Maybe we’ll see just how much overlap between magics there really is.”

///

Irinali stepped into the chart room aboard Karrn’s Glory to find ir’Sarrin seated at a table with one arm bared to the shoulder; Haund, the warlord’s personal priest, was wrapping a bandage around his forearm. On the table in front of them rested a small bowl filled with water mixed with blood – the warlord’s own, Irinali knew. Ir’Sarrin had come to the Blood of Vol late in life, but as long as Irinali had known him he’d been extremely devout in his practices. He must have been letting Haund bleed him as an invocation to the divine spark that lay hidden in all living things – the equivalent to a god-worshipper’s prayer for blessing or wisdom.

Irinali wrinkled her nose at the sight, and then quickly composed herself. She had no objection to the shedding of blood – no necromancer did – but she preferred to do so in rites that worked. So far as she’d been able to determine, for all its pretenses at rebelling against a cruel cosmos, the Blood of Vol’s rituals were no more effective than those of any other religion.

If Kharvin had noticed her distaste, he didn’t show it – he knew her opinion of his chosen religion, and it was an area on which they had agreed to disagree. “Irinali, good,” he said, waving Haund and the bowl away, the priest muttering a blessing as he took it. “Our new compatriots should be joining us shortly.”

“Already here,” a female voice said from behind Irinali as Saeria slipped into the room beside her, looking around with an interested expression. Arlan followed close behind and took up a position leaning against the doorframe. The half-elf woman’s eyes went to the bandages on ir’Sarrin’s arm, and she bowed her head. “Forgive us for interrupting your devotions, but you did call for us to attend you at once.”

“You’re not interruption anything; I’m through for now,” ir’Sarrin said, gesturing for the others to sit. A servant who’d been waiting quietly in a corner placed a map at the center of the table and unrolled it; it depicted Sarlona, with a red mark in the north where Irinali had copied the location of the next vault.

“We’re out of Khorvaire’s local waters and will soon be approaching Sarlona, given favorable winds,” the warlord said. “Now is the time to begin seriously discussing our next move.”

“I’m concerned about making landfall in Sarlona in the first place,” Saeria said, tapping the map lightly with one finger. “From what I’ve heard about the Inspired, they put on a pretty face abroad but don’t take kindly to disruptions at home. We’re Khorvaire “barbarians”, unannounced and uninvited, and I don’t think the Inspired know or care that we’re connected with the Order. This could turn very nasty very quickly.”

“Fortunately, we’re not going to be landing in Riedra,” Irinali said. She pointed at the red dot. “That’s our destination, and it’s located in a place called the Tashana Tundra. Information of Sarlona that isn’t several thousand years out of date is hardtop come by, but from what I’ve gathered it’s not part of the Riedran empire and isn’t even really a nation at all. What it is would be cold, desolate, and full of ruthless barbarians.” She grinned at ir’Sarrin. “Sounds like home.”

“Without the organization, thankfully,” Kharvin said, smiling thinly. “Apparently the Inspired do sometimes send patrols into the area, but if we’re lucky, we won’t run into them. They’ve certainly never been able to control it effectively. And we have no intention of staying long. We’re not here to conquer the Tashana Tundra in the name of the Queen of Death; we’re here to find the vault, grab the artifact, and get out, preferably as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

“That’s the other problem,” said Arlan, stroking his chin. “Apparently that last vault you found in the Mournland wouldn’t open without that sorcerer girl – what was her name, Thyra? – bleeding all over it. Last I checked, she wasn’t in our party. So what exactly are we going to do when we get there? Dig the vault out and drag it whole back to the ship?” He glanced around disapprovingly. “I don’t think it would fit.”

“For one, we don’t know that this vault has the same security measures as the last one,” Irinali said. “That one only included information as to this one’s location, not what’s in it or how it’s guarded. But we do have something now that we didn’t have the last time – and it would be a shame if we dragged our artificer halfway around the world and he never made himself useful at all.”

“Irinali,” Kharvin said softly, a tone of danger in his voice; the necromancer merely shrugged. Arlan himself, however, looked intrigued.

“Much as I would rather she hadn’t couched it in such a backhanded way,” he said, “our death wizard does have a point. I find myself intrigued by the challenge. I can’t promise you anything until I see what I’m dealing with, but the chance to undo protections dating to the Age of Demons… well, people would remember me.”

“And you also – apologies to Irinali – didn’t have a scholar of the legendary past with you in the Mournland,” Saeria said. “Now you do. I might be able to find a clue you missed. The Queen sent us along with you; be a shame if we were never useful.” She shrugged. “And besides, what are the odds the girl was the only one whose blood opens the vaults anyway? If nothing else, we could just start bleeding people on the door until it finally opened.”

“Wasteful,” Irinali said, “but not bad as a last resort. At the very least, we’ve got options.”

“We do,” ir’Sarrin said. “There are those who, in this circumstance, might pray for good fortune; you will never hear that from me. As you can see, I’ve made my offerings, but now all remains in the hand of fate. I will say this – I failed in the Mournland. I will admit that. But I do not intend to fail again. No matter what it takes, I will succeed this time; together, we will succeed, and the Queen will be pleased with the prize we bring her.”

Irinali had abandoned the ancestor-worship of her people; she didn’t follow any gods, nor yet the Blood of Vol. She had her magic, and that was enough. But when Kharvin spoke in that tone of voice, she believed him – and she pitied anyone foolish enough to stand in his way.

///

“What exactly are those two doing?”

Len turned in the direction Meren d’Lyrandar was pointing and saw Havaktri and Thyra seated facing one another in the middle of Stormchaser’s deck; both of them had their legs crossed and their hands resting on their knees, with their heads bowed and eyes closed. The captain regarded them for a moment, then shrugged. “Beats me,” she said. “But then, I gave up trying to figure Havaktri out months ago, and Thyra’s not exactly the most normal person around either, so Aureon only knows.”

“How did a kalashtar end up working with a mercenary team, anyway?” Meren asked, regarding Havaktri curiously. “I wouldn’t have thought they’d particularly approve of your line of work.”

Len remembered her first meeting with Havaktri, almost a year ago now – she’d been leaving her apartment to pick up her and Yhani’s swords after having them sharpened, only to almost walk into the teenage girl who’d been waiting at the door. The girl had all but begged Len to take her on; when asked why, she’d announced in all seriousness that she wanted to save the world. That had almost been the end of any chance of Havaktri being taken on; it was only after Yhani convinced her of the usefulness of a psion that Len had changed her mind. She hadn’t – for the most part – had reason to regret it.

“She followed us home,” Len finally said aloud. “And ‘Hani decided to keep her.”

“Oh, it was somewhat more complicated than that,” Yhani said lightly, coming up behind Len. “And I do believe that what they are doing is meditation. Not exactly the same as how elves rest, but something I do not believe is too dissimilar.”

“Rests and disciplines the mind,” another voice cut in; Len turned to see Harsk leaning against the railing. “It works; I learned some techniques from the druids, who go in for that thing. Kalashtar do too, from what I’ve heard. Guess Thyra thought she needed to settle her thoughts or something; kid’s got enough on her mind I don’t blame her.”

“Well, so long as they move if I need them to move before they get in the way of my crew, they can stay at it,” Meren said. He tipped his hat in a brief salute to Yhani and then went off towards the helm. Len watched him go, then turned back to the two young women who still sat silently. She thought of kalashtar and druid traditions, of settling chaotic thoughts, and frowned, creasing her brow as she regarded them.

“Are you all right, Len?” Yhani asked in a concerned voice.

Len turned back to her. “I’m fine, ‘Hani,” she said. “Just thinking.”

Yhani knew Len too well; the captain could tell from the concerned frown that crossed her features that she didn’t believe her.

///

Thyra always had the power to read minds; it’s part of the rakshasa sorcerer bloodline’s abilities. Of course, she didn’t know she could do it, which is why she never did before; but Havaktri was broadcasting strongly enough last chapter that she picked up on it. Having Havaktri help her with her abilities is always something I’d been planning to do; it’s not immediately obvious, but in many ways Havaktri is right about the two of them being kindred spirits, as Thyra is slowly coming to realize.

The Blood of Vol gets something of a bad rap both in and out of universe, but I’ve been trying to show a bit of a window into its philosophy and practices via ir’Sarrin. He’s the bad guy, but he does genuinely believe in what he’s doing (though honestly, loyalty to Karrnath, loyalty to Lady Vol, and his own personal ambitions have become so entangled inside him that I don’t think he can tell them apart anymore) and he feels he has genuine reason to follow the Blood. One of the things I like about Eberron is that while there are plenty of villains and villainous groups, most of them have genuine reasons for what they do; nobody (except maybe the daelkyr, because who knows why they do anything) is just evil for its own sake. And then on the other end of the spectrum you have Irinali, who is motivated by pure pragmatic self-interest, but still hangs out with all the fanatics because hey, it’s a living. But she makes a good team with Kharvin because they balance each other out.

What’s eating at Len? A bit too early to say, but it’s definitely going to be part of a running subplot central to who she is, where she’s going, and how she perceives herself. But more on that later…

-MasterGhandalf


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