Third Gift

|| O eggs, O little cells! If nothing else, if you let this memory pass with no other exegesis, learn this: you were loved. ||

Taranis and Riven scatter their eggs across spacetime, giving them life to look on and grow near. From his grove, a nursery once more, Taranis broods on them. He takes on avian characteristics, letting feathers grow along a snakelike body. He fluffs himself up in his nest to spin new dreams for their clutch. He hums with pride, and his eggs chime along with him.

When he was born, Taranis had hatched out in the cold, nothing but his shell to sustain him. But their eggs, he vows, will have more. They will have a surfeit. They will know the names of their forebears, dam and sire both.

"If I'd known eggs would have settled you down so much, I'd have proposed it myself long ago," says Riven, their sire. Her voice is distant and comes to him with the energy of her city, moving like cold water over gleaming stone. A sure sign that she is at work with her queen.

"Between death and life, you chose life." Taranis, his voice plain as it is, makes sure his smugness carries all the way to the Dreaming City.

"I could still kill you."

In perfect security, Taranis says, "But you won't."

Riven's laugh is that of a pride of lions.


Riven's voice faintly reaches across space to Taranis.

"Don't come to the Dreaming City. Stay in your nest."

Taranis rouses. "Too busy at your work today?"

"Lightbearers are hunting Ahamkara. The Awoken are helping."

Taranis stands. "They won't hurt me. Maybe I can talk sense into them." He lets the strands bringing their minds together fall from his grasp.

"Listen to me," Riven presses.

The Dreaming City boils with activity, violent desires rising within its citizens. They load weapons. They make plans. Taranis recoils from their dreams.

Riven's power is leashed. She roars through her bars:

"You colossal fool, leave or I'll bite your throat open!"

Taranis does not leave.

The queen of the city stands in a hall. She is surrounded by her people and crates of weapons ready to be distributed to allies outside the Reef. Taranis avoids them all, tracking the scent of other Ahamkara.

He finds Azirim alone in a glade of luminous reeds, worrying at a piece of quartz.

Azirim's shape is spiked today, sharp with defenses. His voice is far more sour than usual. "You missed the crowd. Guess your nest was just too far to make it in time."

Spikes grow along Taranis's own spine, edging his wings. "And you waited."

"Yeah, I wanted to let you know." Azirim's jaw drops into a smile. "You're tight with the lady of the house. But it won't save you, and it won't save her. You're both just fish in the barrel now."

"My partners won't return death for generosity."

"You think that now. Me, I'll welcome it. I'll live forever as bones. I'll eat life. I'll eat worlds. You just watch me from that nice rose garden of yours."

Azirim's laugh is the last part of him to fade from the glade.


Taranis scuttles along the wainscotting, a swift mouse-shape. Boots thump past him, tracking mud and urgency along the tiles. Wishes push at Taranis, for success, for safety, for the thrill of the hunt.

Taranis searches for an Awoken he knows. A partner once dealt with in fairness.

Gwilym is in his room tying back his long hair, bright silver against the deep blue of his hands. There is a bag on a hook by the door, a knife tucked inside, its edge whetted.

Gwilym's muddled desires fill the room with a heavy steam.

Behind him, Taranis lets himself grow from mouse to cat—the shape Gwilym knew him in.

"Will you join the hunt, O companion?"

Gwilym jumps. His hand leaps to his heart, clutching the heavy fabric of his jacket.

"You shouldn't be here."

"I shouldn't visit a partner?" Taranis's long tail twitches.

"Azirim killed the last partner I had. Walked her and the rest of her Corsair squad right off a cliff. The Dreaming City can't afford more losses to the Ahamkara."

Gwilym's voice is that of a man convincing himself.

"Azirim is not all of us."

Gwilym raises his voice in alarm, and a tall Corsair quickly barrels through the door.

Taranis makes it out in the window in dragonfly form, just out of reach of the gloved hand snatching for him.


"O love, you were right."

"I'm always right."

"If all we are is teeth and all they are is claws, what world are we dreaming into existence together?" Taranis's wings cover his face. The soft breezes of the grove don't touch him.

"A world of teeth and claws." Many of Riven's voices are bitter, but none are surprised.

The eggs are so delicate that they make no ripples at all in the fabric of reality. They're curled-up potential, fragile within crystal will. Hard to make. Easy to shatter.

"We'll build for ourselves, and even when we're bones, we'll sing to our children."

Riven reaches out with a thread of a thought. A secret overheard in the palace between Uldren, Mara's brother, and Jolyon Till, his Rachis. It feels like raspberries and quartz. It smells like the Divalian Mists. A fine secret to share and never speak out loud. Taranis unfolds himself from under his wings, and they weave it together into something grander.

Together, Riven and Taranis weave more secrets; for their children, for the joys of creation, for outwitting any future seekers.

The voices of their fellow Ahamkara change slowly from the thrum of the living to the echo of the dead. Their bones whisper to powerful minds. A scale off Eao's shoulder eventually rattles in the pocket of Riven's mechanical acquaintance. Azirim's skull and spine lie in wait for a victim.

The living voices recede till Riven and Taranis are the only ones left, speaking across the empty distance.

Until Taranis calls for Riven and she does not answer.

And the chime of their eggs falls almost silent.

The Witch

Category: Ahamkara


Second Gift

Category: Book: Gifts and Bargains

Last Bargain

Thetis Brave

Category: Riven


The Severance

Category: Queen Mara Sov


The Unclaimed Lightbearer

Category: Prince Uldren Sov

Through the Gate