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06.24.2012 , 11:41 PM |
Rites of Passage
: Imperial Agent Wynston. ~1100 words. Spoilers for the Agent’s Voss plotline.
Wynston dismissed his friends before he entered his local contact Bas-Ton’s teahouse. His mission wasn’t going well. An old enemy, tipped off by Hunter, had tracked Wynston down and killed Bas-Ton. Wynston had finally shaken the guy off, but he was no closer to getting the mysterious Voss carvings the Star Cabal had had business with than when he first touched down on Voss.
When the Chiss entered the teahouse he saw Bas-Ton’s daughter Yana-Ton, his son Phi-Ton, and his brother Therod-Ton. The three Voss were engrossed in conversation about Bas-Ton’s recent kidnapping.
“Perhaps it is destined,” said Phi-Ton.
“The Mystics haven’t spoken,” said Yana-Ton.
“Not to us. We may hope,” said Phi-Ton, but his tone was hopeless.
Wynston entered the middle of the teahouse’s space and waited.
Therod-Ton noticed and took several steps toward him. “Outsider. Where is my brother?”
The Imperial spy who despised you all, the one who just got killed serving my mission?
“I did everything I could, but it was too late. He died thinking of his family.” End tact, begin utility. “He was also…helping me with something. With his dying breath, he told me to go to you.”
Yana-Ton frowned a little. “You were Bas-Ton’s friend. This is your time to mourn.”
Therod-Ton motioned for her to be quiet. “You would see the Nightmare Lands,” he told Wynston. “Bas-Ton asked about the sacred carvings. The carvings are protected heritage. Only a Voss may study them.”
Damn you people. You’re beautiful, but I bet even the Ascendancy wasn’t this difficult.
“Please, there must be a way. Bas-Ton thought you could show me.”
“Bas-Ton prized your friendship,” Therod-Ton said hesitantly. “We must honor that. Only Voss see the carvings…you must be Voss.” He seemed to come to a decision, nodded. “Become one of our family.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
“Nothing would please me more. I think Bas-Ton would say the same.”
Therod-Ton turned to his niece. “Yana-Ton. Are you willing?”
“I am,” said Yana-Ton in her soft voice. “Bas-Ton was to choose my husband,” she explained. “He never did.”
“Join our family in marriage,” she said calmly.
“Is that the only…you don’t have to do this,” he said, and kicked himself for saying it.
Remember the mission, man. You use people all the time.
“Not for me or for your father,” he said anyway.
“It isn’t real,” she said simply.
“We mourn later,” said Therod-Ton, just as if the previous exchange had settled something. “Make preparations. Go to the Sacred Flame in the city. You will be married today. You will see the carvings of the Nightmare Lands. Bas-Ton’s wishes, fulfilled.”
Great, that’ll make one person in this setup satisfied.
Or two, if I get the answers I need.
That was the thought that got him moving.
The Sacred Flame was a tall gracious building done out in crimson and gold. Anywhere else in the galaxy Wynston would’ve called it gaudy; here in the warm brilliance of Voss it seemed to fit.
He kept analyzing, predicting. He couldn’t help it. She would be married. Publicly, legally. He doubted this culture had divorce. She would be damaged goods. Denied a real husband, denied children. Stars only knew what social status and job opportunities would be out of her reach because of him. The years would come and go, his jobs would fade and blend into each other, and she would stay, alone, carrying the consequences of this one night.
The mission, man.
She didn’t hesitate. I’ve wrecked a lot of innocence, but I’ve never ruined a flower quite like this.
Vector leaned in as they entered. “We’ve never seen a Voss wedding. It should be an experience.”
“I am astonished I don’t even have to pay to see this circus,” said Kaliyo.
“Don’t screw this up for us,” Wynston told her.
“With Voss? You can keep the screwing,” said Kaliyo.
Yana-Ton greeted them in a broad echoing room with a big glowing square in the middle of it. She seemed…happy, though those speckled blue eyes were hard for even Wynston to read. “A veil is for women when a family member is lost,” she said. “But what we do today defies custom. No veil is right.”
I thought the point was to avoid defying custom? That’s why I’m going Voss? Never mind.
“You’re too beautiful to hide anyway.” Laying it on: Never a bad move.
Yana-Ton handed him a scroll. “Our oaths. Read, and I will begin.”
The ritual itself made precisely as much sense as anything else Voss: a large number of assertions that came out of nowhere and connected to nothing. But he promised to walk with the Voss to their destiny, walk before the flame, and do a great deal of other walking. No. Sense. Whatsoever. The glowing ritual stone had some neat flame effects when they started their ritual waving near it. That was interesting.
“So long as prophecy allows,” said Yana-Ton, “we are one. Only the word of a Mystic will break our bond.”
This whole immeasurably costly move. She’s doing it without hesitation, because she thinks it’s right.
It won’t be for nothing. I promise.
For the first time, a little uncertainty clouded her expression. “The ritual is now over, except for the Rite of Ardor. We don’t need to participate.”
“Rite of Ardor?”
“A Voss’s passions are suppressed until marriage. This first night awakens them, creates a bond between husband and wife. If you wish to see the rite through…I would be with you.”
Please stop telling me how significant this is for you.
But Wynston let Yana-Ton lead him away. Kaliyo restrained herself to a low whistle as they passed out of the hall. The newlyweds went to an upstairs room within the Sacred Flame and locked the door behind them.
Sumptuous furnishings, again in crimson and gold. A million opportunities for listening devices, concealed weapons; no viable escape route but the door. His habitual security check came up very displeased.
That, and the sheer discomfort of his thoughts, deprived him of his usual calm. “Yana-Ton…it was courageous of you to do this.”
“I did what must be done. My father’s wishes must be fulfilled. This is my duty.”
“I have to leave, after I’ve studied the carvings. You know that.”
“For what it’s worth…what I’m seeking out there, if I find it, and I think I will…it will save lives. Millions of them. People you and I will never know, but they’ll be safe because of what you gave up today.”
She regarded him blankly. After a moment she said, very softly, “Thank you.”
He forced himself to smile. He came closer to her, reaching up to touch her cheek. “Just so we understand one another. No matter what else happens, Yana-Ton, what happens next is real.”
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