“I love her,” Susebron said. “I would have you know this.”
Slowly, Vivenna nodded. She believed him.
To the side, the guards took Vasher around to a changing screen. They obviously wanted to be certain none of his clothing was Awakened. He left a few moments later, wearing a wrap around his waist, but nothing else. His chest was cut and bruised, and Vivenna thought it humiliating that he would only be allowed such simple clothing.
However, he suffered it, walking across the rooftop with an escort. Siri stood in the distance, watching.
She’s changed so much, Vivenna thought, shaking her head. When did she become so regal, with that commanding bearing and ability to keep her hair black? Her little sister, no longer quite as little, seemed to wear the expensive dress well. It fit her. Odd.
Vasher arrived, and Susebron dismissed the guards. Behind him, the jungles extended to the north, toward Idris.
Vasher glanced at Vivenna, and she thought he might tell her to go. However, he finally just turned away from her, looking resigned.
“Who are you?” Susebron asked.
“The one responsible for you getting your tongue cut out,” Vasher said.
Susebron raised an eyebrow.
“My life to me,” Vasher said. “My Breath become my own.”
And he started to glow. Not like a lantern would glow, not as the sun glowed, but with an aura that made colors grow brighter. Vivenna started, eyes opening wide as Vasher increased in size. He adjusted the wrap at his waist, making for his larger size. His chest grew more firm, the muscles bulging, and the hair on his face retreated, leaving him smooth-cheeked.
His hair turned golden. He still bore the cuts to his body, but they seemed inconsequential. He seemed. . .divine.
The God King watched impassively, now looking at a fellow God, a man of his own stature.
“I don’t care if you believe me or not,” Vasher said, his voice sounding more. . .noble. “But I will have you know that I left something here, long ago. A wealth of power that I promised to one day recover. I left instructions for its care, and a charge that it should not be used. The priests, apparently, took this to heart.”
Susebron, surprisingly, bowed his head. “Where have you been?”
“Paying for what I’ve done,” Vasher said. “Or, trying to. Regardless, my presence is unimportant. You have a group of rogue Lifeless.”
“I’m sorry,” the God King said.
Vasher regarded him. Then, he glanced at Vivenna. She nodded her head. “I trust him.”
“It’s not about trust,” Vasher said, turning back to Susebron. “But, either way, I am going to give you something.”
“My army,” Vasher said.
Susebron frowned. “But. . .it just marched away, to attack Idris?”
“No,” Vasher said. “The one I left behind, three hundred years ago. The force by which I forced Hallandren to stop its war.”
“You did that by negotiation.”
Vasher snorted. “You don’t know much about war, do you?”
The God King paused, then shook his head. “No.”
“Well, learn,” Vasher said. “Because I charge you with using this army correctly. Use it to protect, not attack. Only use it in an emergency.”
The God King nodded dumbly.
Vasher glanced at him, then sighed. “Your arms become flesh, your eyes gain sight, your feet learn to step.”
“What?” Susebron asked.
“It’s a Command,” Vasher said. “To Awaken the stone statues in your city. The ones I left behind, and the new ones that have been carved. Go. There should be enough of them in here to fight down that army of Lifeless. After all, the statues are stone. It’s very hard to damage them.”
Susebron nodded again.
“Do better with them than I did,” Vasher said, turning away.
The next day, an army of five thousand stone soldiers charged from the gates of the city, running down the pathway after the Lifeless that had left the day before.
How often did I stand beneath the gaze of those statues, she thought. Never knowing their purpose? Everyone said that Peacegiver had left them behind, as a gift to the people, to remind them not to go to war. She’d always found it strange. A bunch of statues of soldiers, a gift to remind the people that war was terrible?
And yet, they were a kind of gift. The gift that had ended the Manywar.
She turned, glancing at Vasher. He leaned against the city wall beside her, Nightblood in one hand. His form had returned back to that of a regular person, scraggly hair and all.
“What was that first thing you taught me about Awakening?” she asked.
“That we don’t know much?” he said. “That there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Commands that we haven’t discovered yet?”
“That’s the one,” she said, turning to watch the Awakened statues continue their charge. “I think you were right.”
She smiled. Then, she nodded at the statues. “You think they’ll stop the Lifeless?”
“Probably,” Vasher said, shrugging. “They’ll be fast enough to catch up--the Lifeless won’t be able to march as fast as men with stone feet, who can charge through jungles without worrying about falling or getting hurt. And, I’ve seen those things fight before. You can’t hurt them.”
She nodded. “So, my people will be safe.”
“Until that God King decides to use the statues to conquer them,” Vasher said.
She snorted. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a grump, Vasher?”
Finally, Nightblood said. Someone agrees with me!
Vasher scowled. “I’m not a grump,” he said. “I’m just bad with words.”
“Well, that’s it, then,” he said, picking up his pack. “See you around.” With that, he began to walk along the pathway away from the city.
Vivenna walked up next to him.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Going with you,” she said.
“You’re a princess,” he said. “Stay with that girl who rules Hallandren, or go back to Idris and be proclaimed as the one who saved them. Either one will give you a happy life.”
“No,” she said. “I don’t think so. I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to live a happy life in a plush palace or quiet town again.”
He grew silent.
“They’ll worry about you,” he finally said.
“They’ll get over it,” she replied.
Finally, he just shrugged.
“So,” she finally asked as they walked, “I can’t figure it out. Which one are you? Klad, who started the war, or Peacegiver, who ended it?”
He didn’t answer immediately. “It’s odd,” he finally said, “what history does to a man. I guess people couldn’t understand why I’d suddenly changed. Why I stopped conquering, and why I had to bring my armies back to seize control of my own kingdom. So, they decided I was two people. A man can get confused about his identity, with things like that happening.”
She grunted in assent.
“You should have figured out that Returned can change how they look,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow.
“You’ve got Returned blood in you,” he said. “The royal line. Where do you think that ability to change your hair color comes from?”
“Interesting. Does that mean I can change more?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Takes time to learn. Go stroll around the Hallandren Court of the Gods sometime, though. You’ll find that the Gods look exactly as they think they should. The old ones look old, the heroic ones become strong, the ones who think a Goddess should be beautiful become unnaturally voluptuous. It’s all about how they perceive themselves, deep down.”
She nodded, feeling the jungle life around them. They’d recovered Vasher’s cloak, shirt, and trousers, the ones that Denth had originally taken from him. There had been enough Breath in those to split among the two of them and reach the Second Heightening each. It wasn’t as much as she was used to, but it was a fair bit better than nothing.
“So, where are we going, anyway?”
“Ever heard of Kuth and Huth?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. “They were your main rivals in the Manywar.”
“Somebody’s trying to restore them,” he said. “A tyrant of some kind. He’s apparently recruited an old friend of mine.”
“Another one?” she asked.
He shrugged. “There were five of us, after all. Me, Denth, Shashara, Arsteel, and Yesteel.”
“Related to Arsteel?” Vivenna guessed.
“I know. He’s the one who originally figured out how to make Ichor-Alcohol. I hear rumors that he’s got a new form of it. More potent.”
They walked in silence for a time longer.
I’m bored, Nightblood said. Pay attention to me. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk to me.
“Because you’re annoying,” Vasher snapped.
The sword huffed.
“What’s your real name?” Vivenna finally asked.
“My real name?”
“Yes,” she said. “Everyone calls you things. Peacegiver. Klad. Vasher. Talaxin. Is that last one your real name, the name of the scholar?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t remember the time before I Returned.”
“Oh,” she said.
“When I came back, however, I did get a name,” he finally said. “The Cult of Returned--what eventually became the Hallandren Iridescent Tones--found me and kept me alive with Breaths. They gave me a name. I didn’t like it much. Didn’t seem to fit me, considering my temper and all.”
“Well?” she asked. “What was it?”
“Warbreaker the Peaceful,” he finally admitted.
She raised an eyebrow.
“What I can’t figure out,” he said, “is whether that was truly prophetic, or if I’m just trying to live up to it, now that I’ve decided not to ignore it.”
“Does it matter?” she asked.
He walked for a time in silence. “No,” he finally said. “No, I guess it doesn’t. I just wish I knew if there really were something spiritual about the Returns, or if it were all just happenstance.”
“Probably not for us to know.”
“Probably,” he agreed.
“Should have called you Wartlover the ugly,” she finally said.
“Very mature,” he replied, sighing. “You really think that sort of thing is proper for a princess?”
She smiled broadly. “I don’t care,” she said. “And I never have to again.”