They speak, so far as I can tell, no less than six languages simultaneously. And I don’t mean like pretentious polyglots. That’s consecutive, in series. The Niskivim can’t help but speak six tongues in parallel. It’s a hard thing to listen to. It’s easiest, by far, if you only understand one of the languages they’re speaking to you. I mean, sure you’ll miss the nuance, but at least you’ll be able to find your way out of the sentence.
Today, though, it appeared there would not be much talking anyway. Suriel hovered in the forest just at the edge of my vision. It occurred to me that this was my second day without sleep. I soon had all the other boats launching. I’d left the grid with the island for myself and my makework staff. Meanwhile, Suriel flicked at the edge of my vision, flashing from place to place. He flashed back and repeated the sequence. I’d always suspected they could play with space like that. I sighed. Yeah, yeah, buddy, I hear you. I’m on my way.
I’ll probably never know why Suriel has taken such interest in me. Maybe because I led the forces for which twenty-nine of his kin had given their own lives. Maybe because Ship is right, and a combination of circumstance and character have conspired to place me in the path of historically significant events. Suriel has never said, or much responded to interrogation.
My own personal Niskivim. I clambered up into the boat. Naturally, the man fallen in white armor had not expired on our island. All aboard, we poled after Suriel, letting the current propel me and my crew. The poles were mostly for steering this close to the main channel. Suriel led on though the drowned forest. I knew without asking that the others did not see him. Mist everywhere, and I couldn’t tell if it came from the water or from me. There were trees as thick as houses. The water rippled, and I remembered Ash’s leviathans and worse. The birds and bugs went crazy overhead.
When I saw rubble sticking out of the water, I figured we were close. When Suriel stopped, flaring like the sun, I supposed that was it. I suggested a redirection. The place was what looked to be the courtyard of a fallen, broken city. The poles indicated a very solid bottom. The water, when I ordered everyone out, came up to my thighs. I walked over to the center, where the mist was so dense that it could not have been natural. To the others, I’m sure I disappeared. Suriel sure had.
So I stepped on him before I saw him. I reached down and pulled up what turned out to be a hand. Gauntleted in white. I’ll be damned. I dropped it and groped around for what seemed a chestpiece. I pulled up. The warrior fallen in white armor was simply very heavy. It was all I could do to hold his chest and head above the water. My feet sunk into the mud.
Some of the others were coming over, having heard my splashing stop. Go for the dramatic, I thought. I kissed him. I sure as hell didn’t know what else to do. I hadn’t put everything together yet.
The man fallen in white armor was young and handsome and preserved in an expression of almost perfect serenity. His skin was light brown in tone and I tried to remember what that meant upon this world. I jumped when his eyes opened. And I let go. So he was falling back into the water just when he took his first panicked breath. His eyes, I saw as he fell, were the color of almonds. I’d read about someone like that.
He splashed around until he got himself half-upright, kind of kneeling at my feet. He reached out and used one of my legs for support. He vomited out more water than I thought he should have. Then I finally got it. There was only one kind of soldier that wore white armor on this world. A circle of peers of such rank that no higher standing had been possible.
“Guardian Dovan Santu,” I said. It was a fifty-fifty shot.
He shook his head, wiping the spittle from his mouth. “Nogilian,” he said, “is the only name I’m not too dead to answer to.”