A World Without
by Aimee Ogden
All Knights die alone. Sveth-ban-Ara knows this. But the knowledge has sharp edges, and
it wounds her anyway.
She fills her mind with the mantra even as the sweaty air of the marketplace fills her
mouth, her lungs, the narrow spaces inside her armor. Her shadow falls short and thick upon the
street's jagged stones; the sun has not yet reached the height of its climb across the sky. In Sveth-ban-Ara's homeland, she would often wake with the rime of frost on boots left outside the door.
But it is not the sweat on her brow or the humid breath on her neck that troubles her now. Stares
hang on her armor, on the heavy sword that looms over her shoulder. It's been a long time since
the city of Yinar has seen a Morningstar Knight. Not every eye turns her way, not every brow
folds in dismay. But it only takes one rancid fish to spoil the take. Some of them look afraid.
Good. Fear is the only reasonable choice, when a god turns.
She should have had a daughter. The thought arrives unbidden and intrusive, as familiar
things often do. If she had a daughter, she would not be so alone now, and after--no. She has
come to Yinar in search of endings, not to crawl again through the broken glass of might-have-been.
At a crossroads, she pauses to take the new street's measure. Her sword and her services
will go unneeded until tomorrow morning, at the earliest. She knows this in her bones, with the
same gnawing certainty that brought her to Yinar to put her blade and her life between the city
and its doom. There is no other Knight left to hear that call. She should have had a daughter--
A pebble strikes Sveth-ban-Ara's cheekbone and snaps her head around. She does not fall,
nor stagger, but blood weeps to the ground between her feet. She looks up. Half a dozen youths
cluster around their leader, who stands head and shoulders above the rest. A half-god, that one,
with his height, the green marbled veins in his pale skin. She wonders if it is his father's name
that she will whisper to her sword tonight while they sit together in vigil. But no, perhaps not:
this one is too fair, too lithe of limb. Whatever godhead spawned him is long buried in the earth
or under the waves. When his eyes catch hers, he calls out, "Yinar needs no Morningstar, not
while we are blessed by the light of Damal!"
He doesn't know the shape of the shadow that will fall across this city. He can't know, nor
begin to guess at its depth and darkness. Few ever do, in all the lands that Sveth-ban-Ara has
crossed. No one wants to believe that their own god could bring them harm, that their deity too
could stare long enough into the mirror of mortality to shatter his sanity. These things happen far
away, to other people in distant places. Stories are just stories, until you see them come true.
It is what it is. There is no law to compel belief. That is what the Knights are for.
Sveth-ban-Ara turns her head, and her body follows. More pebbles rattle against the back
of her helmet and armor, but do no more harm. Neither do the taunts. The half-god is not one of
sport or war, she thinks. Perhaps he is the half-god of paper art, or sweet raisin wine. Sveth-ban-Ara licks her lips and tastes old copper and salt.