Shayris plunged down another corridor past a group of Ulmish guards, who she pointedly ignored.
Not stopping to ask for help? Van inquired.
That vampire worked here, or appeared to work here or copied someone who worked here–it doesn’t matter, they’ll know her and not me! Shayris thought. And stop distracting me!
All these two-tone signs in their strange scripts could probably tell her how to find everything from an armory to an escape route, but damned if Shayris could read the things.
Ironic, as they’re written in a language which, on another world, just about everyone can.
How does that not break the Pact? Shayris demanded.
In 100% of all timelines, you die before that information becomes available, Van said reasonably. By extension, telling you that doesn’t give you advantages. You’d sound absolutely insane staggering out of here screeching “Ulmish is just English!” and be treated accordingly. The Pact isn’t about removing options, but enforcing fair play. Admittedly, those two things are not so different as we deities like to pretend.
And how many of my potential deaths are in the next few minutes? Shayris asked, ducking into a gap between two sets of pipes. There came a crash from the hall behind her and a pale blur zipped past in the corridor she’d just left.
I can tell you if you really want, but I think you’re better off not knowing that, Van said. Shayris didn’t disagree. Is there a timeline where I do? Oh, to hells with this timeline nonsense already!
Crashes and shouting echoed from further up the corridor; walking on, Shayris came suddenly to a frothing stream of chill water from a hatch at the top of a ladder. A sea-snake made eye contact on its way down, as did a few small fish.
Sea-snakes aren’t deepwater animals, Shayris thought. If they’re being sucked into the fort, it must be breached right up at the waterline. Van was pointedly silent. Somewhere deep below, she heard a metal howl and series of deep booms–and something that sounded like distorted thunder.
Is that where the Inquisitor went? Van’s silence sharpened.
Shayris steeled herself and clambered up the ladder. A sudden surge in the current blasted her in the face, but sailors who lost their grip when the sea struck them were also called corpses. Thankfully, she reached the top without any sea-life clinging to her face, though she did watch a mortified squid tumble below.
I nudged that one. Just a little, so it didn’t grapple your neck. Van said.
Oh, wonderful, such a grand help you are. Why don’t you use your infinite power to kill the vampire trying to kill me? Shayris demanded.
Because she’s a sapient being with her own agency and it violates the Pact for me to circumvent it, Van said. No matter how much I like you.
So you primarily exist to feed me information I can’t use anyway and stop me becoming a courier to cephalopods, Shayris jibed.
I also created Canno in its entirety, but I understand that enabling you to be born so a vampire could kill you probably won’t score me points.
Score you points? Shayris asked. She crept through foamy water with tangles of seaweed that wrapped her feet. She almost asked Van if there was a timeline in which some venomous thing beneath the surface killed her, but that was another of those questions she didn’t want answered.
Oh, I was mortal once, Van said as it were nothing. It’s a turn of phrase popular when I grew up.
But… you’re the Overgod, Shayris protested. You just said you created Canno. How can you have existed before?
Who said anything about being mortal on Canno? Van asked. Enough chatter for now, though.
With their conversation dead, Shayris could focus on the sounds of the dying Sea-Fort: the peculiar high-pitched sounds which must be warnings of some kind, the flashing and flickering lights, the distant shouting of soldiers and civilians trying to save their home. From time to time a group of six to eight Ulmish soldiers plunged down this corridor or that, many carrying odd cylinders with knobs and tapered spouts at the end of long steel tubes.
The proper term will be “Squad” again in six hundred years, though it won’t enter broad use for another two hundred, Van said.
I thank you, omnipotent one, for the useless fact.
Force of habit, Van said. No one seemed to be paying any attention to Shayris until the precise instant a group of Ulmish soldiers spotted her, their leader barked orders, and they leveled crossbows at her. Shayris threw herself aside and into a sprint down a near corridor. Quarrels clacked off the walls just behind her and shattered a light she’d wanted so she could see the stairs she hurtled down.
I’m only surprised it took Miss Knifeguts that long to set the garrison on me, Shayris griped. She glanced at her knife, still bound by dripping cloth-strips in her right hand. Oh, fucksakes, this makes me look like a crazy woman, doesn’t it?
Oh, extremely, Van agreed.
Shayris’ breath gave out all at once, and she looked for a place to hide. Shipboard life built strong limbs but poor runners. She spotted a wide panel in one of the corridor walls and pulled it open.
The inside was filled to the brim with pipes. “Oh, of course!” Shayris snapped. Behind her she heard a single word barked in Ulmish; she pivoted behind the panel while crossbows twanged. Three bolts skimmed off the panel at odd angles, two skittered across the water beside her, and…
…why was her right arm numb? Why did she feel she’d just been kicked in the gut? Shayris looked at two neat punctures in the panel and two corresponding iron shafts. The one in her arm barely trickled, she just couldn’t move the damn thing.
Bright red spurted past the one in her gut.
“Huh,” Shayris said. She laughed within, toppling backward. Why would that flimsy panel stop them when breastplates don’t?
Keep your eyes open, Shayris! Van ordered. If you close them, you won’t open them again!
Answer me honestly, Overgod. Is there any way off the Grey Plains? She grew cold and faint, barely able to feel her own shakes, and closed her eyes.
Van was quiet briefly. Of course there is. What kind of ass would I be to condemn people permanently for being unwilling to worship… well, worship in general, honestly.
What is it? Shayris asked.
Decide you’re ready to move on, and move on, Van said. You’ve done no wrongs worth punishing. The Grey Plains are only a prison for sinners–and yelling at your cat a few times or occasionally overeating aren’t fucking sins. The only people who will tell you otherwise are ones who want to control you.
No prayers needed?
No prayers, Van agreed. I always hated that idea–rewarding people for spouting words with nary an action in sight.
How long do I have? Shayris asked.
Thirteen seconds, Van answered.
Does that damned Inquisitor win, at least? Shayris asked.
Van laughed. Him? He hardly does otherwise, and this is never one of those times.
And then Shayris chuckled, and went still.