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by Engor

Chapter 54

Xarax could fly quite high, but not high enough to be able to fly above a storm. He needed to find some shelter urgently if he wanted to avoid being blown a considerable distance in the wrong direction. He could have gone back to Djangkou Ling, the island he had left a little while back, but he could also fly on until he reached the trankenn of the Gyalmangs again, since they would logically be heading for the First Trankenn of the Ksantiris: the Noble Lord Delian would want to be the first to pledge allegiance to the new head of House Ksantiri, the Noble Lord Nandak, not least because there was a clear possibility that Nandak would also be promoted to Emperor's Mirror for Dvârinn.

Xarax didn't know much about Nandak, but according to the intelligence he had managed to gather Nandak wasn't just a coarse thug like his brother. However, such rumours as Xarax had heard suggested that Nandak's eagerness to exercise power was not unconnected to his father's untimely demise. It wasn't hard to imagine either that Niil's promotion to the role of Emperor's Privy Councillor might have left his half-brother afraid that their father might decide, as he was entirely within his rights to do, to choose Niil as his heir and successor instead of Nandak. After all, hadn't Ylavan been heard to say more than once that Niil, at least, had something more in his head than fresh air and dreams of power?

The way Yulmir chose to deal with the succession issue was obviously going to have a vital impact on Dvârinn. Xarax did his best to stay out of the politics of the Nine Worlds and never offered advice on the subject unless he was asked for it, but that didn't mean that he didn't have an opinion about it. In this case, if it had been up to him all three Ksantiri sons would have met with a series of unfortunate accidents, thus forcing the Emperor to choose his new Mirror from another House. After all, the Emperor could hardly turn a blind eye to parricide, which had never been acceptable as a means of becoming head of a House, and unless the Emperor made it plain that he disapproved strongly it would set a highly dangerous precedent. Furthermore, whether it was actually true that Ylavan had been murdered or not, the mere fact that Nandak was even suspected of such a thing indicated clearly that people were beginning to doubt the Emperor's power. It was high time to demonstrate that the Guardian of the Nine Worlds was still aware of what was going on in the R'hinz.

But Xarax was under no illusion: Yulmir, in his current guise as Julien, was clearly not sufficiently implacable to deal with things in the forceful way that was needed. Of course Aldegard would do his best to explain it to him, but he would never act in direct opposition to the Emperor's will, not even to save the political balance of the R'hinz. Others had tried to do that sort of thing in the past, and history still demonstrated the disastrous consequences of such action. And some of Xarax's predecessors had also tried to meddle in politics, and every time the result had been the same: the Emperor and his haptir had both died, giving rise to a decade or so of political turmoil. Of course, the Emperor never truly died, because he was able to move instantly to a new body, but it always took a few cycles for him to recover the full use of his powers. In the case of the new haptir, it hatched from an egg fertilised and put into stasis long ago, and each new haptir carried in its genes the powers and instinctive memory it would need to carry out its duties.

As soon as Julien had appeared Xarax had considered ridding Yulmir of that wholly inadequate envelope: even the inevitable delay before the Emperor was fully integrated into a new body seemed preferable to leaving him stuck in this feeble incarnation. The only reason for not killing him immediately was because the circumstances of his disappearance and return called for a proper investigation – and furthermore, Xarax couldn't be sure that this time around the Emperor would be able to move into a waiting clone in the normal way. It seemed to him to be an unacceptable risk which might even have the effect of completing the work of whoever it was that had arranged for the Emperor to disappear in the first place.

Xarax was unshakably loyal to Yulmir: it was actually part of his genetic make-up. Furthermore, he had truly loved him throughout the numerous cycles of their symbiotic relationship, and he was even becoming fond of the diminished version of his friend that was Julien, and he would continue to serve him and protect him with his life. But that in no way detracted from the cold clear-mindedness of his species to fulfil his goals as Emperor's Haptir, and one of his functions was to prevent the Emperor from failing in his duty to preserve the R'hinz.

He changed his heading by a few degrees and flew off in pursuit of the Gyalmang trankenn.

He nearly didn't make it. The storm was moving faster than he had anticipated, and the large four-masted vessel had already been fighting the wind and waves for two hours when Xarax finally collapsed into her rigging. Despite his great stamina, his body wasn't really adapted for dealing with such high winds, and he'd found it immensely difficult to adapt his flying to the appalling conditions. In the end he'd decided to try barely skimming the surface of the water, using the troughs between the massive waves to offer him as much shelter as possible between short hops over the crests, during which he was exposed to the full fury of the storm. Several times he had almost had waves break over him, escaping at the last moment by resorting to the quick bursts of extra speed that his short wings could offer him. But by the time he reached the ship he had used up most of his reserves, and he no longer had the energy to attempt a return journey to the Isabelle. But at least he had made some good progress with his main mission, which was to inform Niil and Aldegard of Julien's return. Sheltered by the darkness of the storm he slipped down into the ship's hold where, hidden amongst the cargo, he allowed himself to fall into a well-deserved sleep while the ship did the work of carrying him closer to his eventual goal.

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