Justice, it's a kind of

Section/Book One:

Riva: Keep your enemies closest.

Chapter one

One Truth

He woke slowly, wending through a miasma of dreaming and skeins of imagination that his normally disciplined mind should have sheered through with a thought. Cobwebs spun between sleeping and waking were a fragile stuff, this was the essence of steel. Unbreakable fibers wound through his mind, criss-crossed into a net that was flexible yet inviolate. Fancy was for a time more real than truth. Still, he struggled, strived, and for that his effort was rewarded with contradiction.

Thus armed, he struggled to put the pieces together.

He recalled; the scent of forest loam, the feeling of it under his boots. Truth: licking at his very hair, the ocean, scent and sound, and oh so cold. While coherent and fast becoming aware, his body betrayed him, refusing to move, his eyes stayed shut.

Still, it was one point for truth.

"You there!"

He was not permitted to open his eyes, no matter the prompts from the dark. It seemed as if someone has set a digit to each of his eyes, pressed lightly on each lid, childishly forbidding him to wake. The net closed over his awareness, slowly twining and tugging, dragging him under. He whined in his throat, even as he was wheeled close, closer, to the oblivion spawned dark. And while its dreams were intriguing and the loam was cleaner smelling than the sea it was not the place he was.

Perhaps it was a place he was meant to be, a place he had to go. Destiny had taken him in its hands after all; he'd been a pawn as any other, but a valuable one. Such as him knew the value of vivid dreams.

But he wasn't there yet. Needed or not he was here, and here sounded like it was going to become violent if he wasn't permitted to wake.

Thunderous foot falls pounded across wood. Boot slammed against wood drawing close, he'd been trained, knew the subtle variations to the sound. It matched the sensations against his check, grain and a nipping knot. Confirmation and the chill against his scalp encouraged him to try to get up.

A small success, his arms flopped a bit, he half rolled. Still those hands, against his eyes, small fingers pressed against his lids, forbidding sight. Dreams returned, stealing the edges of truth, snatching reality and tossing it to the back for a while.

Smoke filled his nostrils, the scent of burning. His flesh crept, crawled, recalling pain, reliving it. Truth or not, past or present, he didn't know, only dreamed he burned whilst awake. It felt real enough, too real; he thrashed and writhed under the blaze that was not. Wrapped in flames of an unnatural bent, he was forbidden a healing as he was forbidden sight. His mouth moved. Mimed words, recalled and formed the forsaken mouthing of mercy, but the smoke forbade him speech. He choked even as the relentless flames worried on his flesh. It would be over, in moments, skin would peal, fall in dripping sheets, when flesh was but a memory his bones would blacken and burst with an awful sound and it would be over.

He waited, willing it to hurry, willing the life from his body.

And even as he willed, the binds on his body fell away. He thrashed and choked, intrigue long flown. Clammy hands swatted sweat slicked flesh, smashed against unfamiliar, damp clothes.

A world away, beyond his private hell mad and maddening, others watched. Drawn by spectacle, unmoved by weakness, they lingered, amused. Their eyes were embers scattered on inferno, and he hated them all for adding to his blaze.

Then, one spat, words and action. "Belar rot it, another Gods be dammed crazy drunk!"

Back to boards, face to the sun, he felt light he wasn't permitted to see. Eyes still squeezed shut he twisted to the sound behind the voices, at his back. Ocean, pier, water, reprieve.

"Clarn…" Hesitance followed the name, there was something soft to the edgy voice, something… exploitable. "I don't think he's drunk, he looks… sick…"

Choking on air, he managed a few more inches, rolling back, so slow, praying to drown.

Then expected from his homeland, the advice came. "If he's sick than slit his throat and toss him to the sea, if he's well souse him and throw him off my property. Whatever you do, don't waste your time or mine watching him. Just get done with it and get back to work."

Contradiction… he wasn't home, not in his land, never there. None of his people would swear on the name of a God who'd wipe him off the face of the world. Not even if he was mad. He'd seen madness, in his people, in others, inspired it from time to time as needed, and the maddest of the mad of his own would never call on the Bear God for the time of day much less flippantly.

Which meant, wherever he was, he wasn't home.

The feet withdrew, the thunderous ones, and only the embers on his inferno told him he wasn't alone. Didn't matter, none of it, only the water to his back and his squirming retreat to it and the black death under it's cool folds. Softer than the last, hesitant, someone approached, braving hell fire and worse hands reached for him, folding over his shoulder, restraining. He could have cried, unable, he merely hated them for getting in the way. One shake, another, his eyes fluttered open at the touch.

The first thought, his first sight beyond his dream nearly broke him. It squeezed his very heart and caused him to gasp. There was no flame. He did not burn. He woke, like any other man must from a dream. Suddenly, surely.

He was, as he'd suspected, on a pier by water's edge. Shaking from a nightmare so intense that it'd nearly driven him to death, being shaken by a man who just couldn't leave and let be. Salt teased his nostrils, ocean, this other factoid assured, confirming, reaffirming. Nonchalance beyond him, for he shook, was shaking, even as the hand that woke him steadied his bobbing shoulders, he turned. First to his would be savior, filing away the idle details for later. His saviors' eyes were blue, hair was blonde, square face encrusted in a shaggy beard. Aloran; save the glimmer of intelligence about the face, and a hint of generosity shown by actions, housed in the eyes. That alone excluded the hellish races of the Horse People and The Bear's Own, and alluded to a Sendarian upbringing all in one go.

He'd always liked Senders, so gullible, so trusting, as a whole.

He never thought, though, in his thousand some years he'd owe one anything. And he owed this one something, whether it was thanks, or gold (not Red Gold though, if that was the coin he was to dole poison would be gentler by far), or a dagger to the back so this would remain quiet, he wasn't sure.

He didn't like the uncertainty, didn't trust himself to speak, so twisted his expression into what he hope would be taken as a grateful smile he turned his back on the ocean and struggled to stand. Falling over himself to help, the Sendarian man slung an arm under his companion's shoulders, and this would be savior served as support for a while.

Good thing he did, good thing he was strong, with enough Cherek blood to be strong enough to hold a limp man up.

For what was behind was beyond, beyond and beckoning, and unspeakably horrid.

Slate skies, slate stone, all the color of ash. Blocky and imposing, it rose, squat yet soaring, it stooped below storm prone skies. Hovering, hoarding, the most precious of treasures, the most cursed of lines. Home of contradiction, birth proclaiming a downfall, those of the highest house, the throne of this desolate span held light, brought blindness, death, despair.

Blood fled his checks, his scars felt hollowed out, and he nearly whimpered. Only training prevented that. Still, it wasn't enough to save all his dignity, for his legs buckled, his mouth went dry.

Fire than this? Too much, surely this was too much.

Besides him, beyond, would be saint prattled on and on. In the habit of little men he talked of little things. Work and weather, utterly neutral, utterly boring, totally worthless, definitely annoying. Even through this pall of terror, it seemed he was more than capable of being annoyed.

Knife, he'd decided, would be the way to deal with this one. One stroke to the heart and they'd be quits. Still, something was owed, he'd make it quick and clean, and all those little concerns, those frivolous things that so guided this man's route in life would fall away.

"Riva's something else, isn't it?" The Sender prattled, oblivious to the thoughts of the man at his side. "I've never been here myself, but the master thought there'd be more business here than back home."

"And what'd your name and trade, good sir?"

Perhaps he'd leave a note; it would be considerate of the man's family, if he had any. A safeguard of the macabre bent; just in case the gulls and lobsters made the body unrecognizable before the authorities could fish it out of the harbor.

After all, he owed this man something for his generosity, and that was as generous as he'd ever been.

"I make boats." A flush suffused the man's checks. "And my name's Vic, yourself?"

Stilling thoughts about daggers, the woken dreamer considered his situation with utmost care. Play his hand right, and if Necessity were smiling he might be able to get off this blasted rock at a discount.


"Ash, an honor, and what's your trade, sir?"

He hadn't said that! Not Ash! That was a Westerner's name, and a stupid one at that! Feminine about its edges, frivolous to the core. He refrained from correcting, wondered instead at contradiction. He'd heard himself say his name, (well one of his names, one of many) but this other had heard it different.

He doubted the confusion was something as simple as accent.

"I'm…" Truth teased his tongue, he swallowed it hurriedly. Then, fearing what would come out, but knowing silence could be incriminating, he dared a lie. "I'm a... well I was a caravan guard. I'm between jobs right now."

Curiosity twisted the man's expressive face and the obvious questions sprung to the fore. There were no traders trails to wander on an island, the sea could scarcely be patrolled a foot or on horse, why would one such as that be doing here? Licking his lips, feigning embarrassment, he let his eyes cant off to the side. In truth, while the other looked awkward (after all, one did not pry, it was a sin, a flaw in sobriety, propriety, the Senders self-made God if man was meant to make Gods) one hand, his free hand, slithered over clothes he could not recall purchasing. Yet they fit perfectly, fitted yet were not outfitted with what mattered most. No knife surfaced at search, so he broke off his efforts. Set his mind to weaving a tale, he'd woven them often enough after all.

"I've… family here, distant but…"

We've known each other too long to act like this boy…. Get over here Garion!

"Well, estranged." He smiled a grimace more than a smile, as were all his smiles. "But blood is blood."

You've been a mother to the boy; I've been his father, watching from afar. Between the two of us…

"I… guess I just want to check up on them… him… before I take the next job."

Watch your tongue, Polgara.

"You never know what could happen." He sighed, thinking of the knife he wasn't wearing it, missing it dreadfully. The sound was mournful enough to match his words, emphasize them just so. "It's a risky line of work, and I want to see how he's come along at his own trade."

His throat closed, smoke recalled but not relived. Thank the Dragon God for that much. Impulsive, perhaps it was the ghost of Arendish blood that was harbored in the souls of all Sendarians the man shifted his grip, smiled, though there were weaknesses sliding form the edges of this... Vic's… eyes.

"You're a good man." Voice choked, with tears and other sentimental senile born drivel, the Sender smiled. "And it's an honor to know you, Ash."

His smiles all looked like grimaces, it was his people's way, still he struggled to ease the bitter out of it least this fool get suspicious. Left with nothing to say, save tripe, he indulged and closed the conversation for now.

"Thank you, Vic."

Thus, with that closing he set his mind to other tasks. Considered Riva's city before him, and cursed the sea at his back. He was trapped for now, and would have to live with it.

Silence unsettled the little minded, and Vic was one of those despite it all. A cough, than a tentative thought that bordered on rude, very unSendarish that. "Those… nightmares of yours… you have them often?"

Clearly the man was more Alorn than Sendar, a shame.

"No, it's the first time." Asharak paused, considered, then threw out a bone to satiate the other man's curiosity. "I think I slept walked to the pier, nothing else makes sense save that."

"It must have been scary."

"Hardly. I've seen and done worse."

And out of all the day, that was the one truth.