Dan’s door was kept locked night and day. Food was brought three time a day by a rotating staff of nervous-looking kyrie. They would unlock the door, edge inside, and then exit quickly, as if they were afraid Dan might attack them. Apparently his scene in the hall outside had not gone unnoticed.
Occasionally, Aviir, the kyrie whom Vydar had sent, would accompany the food, and stay to talk with Dan. After the first few days, Dan determined to ask her why his door was kept locked.
When he asked her, Aviir ran both hands over her hair, sweeping it away from her face. “It’s because you’re new,” she sighed. “You aren’t ready for everything which is out there. It’s far better if—”
“I am ready,” Dan interrupted. “I’ve been ready for awhile.” He rested his gloves on the table and leaned forward. “I don’t like being locked up, Aviir.”
Aviir looked at him out of tired eyes. “You aren’t ready,” she repeated. “Once the shock of where you are dies off, then you’ll be let out.”
“Shock?” Dan repeated, almost laughing. He sat back. “I’ve seen it all. I told you of SR.”
Aviir smiled weakly. “Your ‘SR’ is not like the real world, Dan.”
Dan crossed his metal gloves, feeling the plates flex and slide against each other. “It’s based on it though. How different can it really be? I’m over the ‘shock’, Aviir. Let me out.”
“You will be let out,” Aviir said, a slight edge to her voice. “Vydar has summoned thousands. We know when people are ready to be let out.”
For a moment they looked at each other.
“When can I see Vydar?” Dan asked, changing the topic.
“Vydar is busy,” Aviir said. Dan thought it sounded automatic.
“I need to go back, Aviir,” Dan said, leaning back in his chair slightly. “I can’t stay here.”
“You will go back when the war is over,” Aviir said. “You know this.”
“Because Vydar said so?” Dan asked, leaning forwards. “I don’t trust Vydar, Aviir. I need to convince him to send me back. And I need you to tell me how to do that.”
Aviir glared at him – something she rarely did. “Neither you nor I is going to convince Vydar of anything. You’ve been summoned. You’re staying. At the end of the war, you will be sent back.”
Dan was silent.
Avirr changed tack under his gaze. “Vydar needs you,” she said. “We all do. We can’t win this war without you.”
“I don’t care about Vydar’s war,” Dan said, the words harsher than he had expected. “I don’t care about Vydar, or this land, or it’s problems. They aren’t my problems.”
Avirr regarded him reproachfully.
“I’m leaving, Aviir,” Dan said. “Neither you nor your Vydar can stop me. And if he won’t help me, then maybe the other Valkyrie will.”
It was Aviir’s turn to laugh, in a wilted sort of way. “Why would they help you?” she asked. “Vydar’s the one who summoned you, and he’s been gracious enough to offer to send you back at the end of the war. What makes you think the other Valkyrie would be more generous than Vydar?”
“This isn’t generosity,” Dan said quietly. However, he didn’t go further. The last few times he had spoken ill of Vydar, Aviir had left. He still wanted to get more out of her. “What about other ways back?” he said.
“Other ways?” Aviir echoed. “There are no other ways. The Valkyrie are the only ones who can send you back.”
“No,” Dan said dismissively, ignoring Aviir’s look. “I was told there was no way out once before, and that was a lie. There’s always a way out.”
“There isn’t,” Aviir said, a trace of annoyance in her voice now. “Trust me, if there was, others would have found it by now.”
Dan glared at her. “Why are you hiding this from me?”
“What? I’m hiding nothing. There’s no other way back, Dan. Did you hear me? No other way.”
Dan was silent, but continued to gaze at her. He didn’t believe her for a second.
After a moment, Aviir stood. “I’ll be back,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow you’ll listen to what I say.”
Dan let her leave. She exited the room, closed the door – perhaps a bit harder than usual – and Dan heard the lock slide into place.
“I doubt it,” he muttered to himself.
The news of Dan’s displeasure with Vydar must have spread, because nearly three weeks after he had been summoned, an unfamiliar kyrie entered his room. She introduced herself as Felda, and said she had heard of his feelings towards the Valkyrie.
Dan smelled a trap. “So?” he asked. “Why are you here?”
Dan was sitting at the table, and Felda stepped forward so that she was across from him. “I’m here,” she said, “to free you from Vydar. I’m here to help you escape him.”
Dan was curious now. “Why?” he asked.
Felda spoke in a rush, anger coloring her voice. “Because he’s a possessive Valkyrie of extremes.” She paused and composed herself. “Not many see him for who he is, but if you do, we would like you to join us.”
“I hardly know him,” Dan pointed out.
“You know enough,” Felda said. “You know he’s summoned you here with no regard to your own life. But there’s more you don’t know.”
Dan was silent, inviting her to go on.
“Vydar is possessive, incredibly possessive. He has to be in control over everything, and if he’s not… well there’s nothing he won’t do. That’s why we – me and my allies – are against him. He’s too extreme. If someone is in his way, he will do anything to get rid of them. He’s imprisoned people just because they stood up to him, and even executed those who wouldn’t keep quiet. He’s changed sides in this war twice, only because his allies wouldn’t do what he wanted. He’s even entertained the massacre of hundreds of prisoners of war, simply to make a point. He’s not worthy to be a Valkyrie.”
Dan knew enough to be cautious, but he agreed with what Felda was saying. He didn’t know much about Vydar, but what he did know matched up with how she described him.
“Our interests would be better served on our own,” Felda continued, “or under one who knows where to draw the line. I don’t think you want to be his slave. I think you want to get out, and I can help you.”
Dan was about to agree, and ask what Felda had in mind, when the door opened, and Aviir came in. Felda whirled around, and for a moment the two kyrie stared at each other.
“Guard!” Aviir called behind her shoulder. Neither she nor Felda moved.
“Trying to convert another?” Aviir asked, stepping into the room.
“Trying to show him the true colors of the reckless fool you serve,” Felda spat.
“He is neither reckless nor a fool,” Aviir said calmly. “And,” she added as a kyrie soldier appeared in the doorway, “you may now leave. I recall the captain of the guard banishing you from entering the Citadel quite clearly. Make sure she leaves,” she added to the guard. The guard nodded, grasped Felda under the arm, and escorted her out of the room. Aviir closed the door behind them.
“What did she tell you?” Aviir asked wearily, approaching the table.
Dan saw no harm in telling her. He had no way to know if Felda had spoken the truth; the least he could do was hear Aviir’s side of things. He told her everything Felda had told him, and then asked her if it was true.
“No,” Aviir said. “At least not all of it.”
Dan was surprised she hadn’t just denied it all. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, you first have to understand where she’s coming from,” Aviir said. “Back when the war started, Felda’s parents were followers of a kyrie called Kelad. Kelad, like nearly everyone else at the time, wanted Vydar’s wellspring for himself. You remember how I told you Vydar started this war on the side of Utgar?”
Dan nodded. Aviir had told him several days ago.
“Well,” Aviir continued, “Kelad learned that both Einar and Vydar were intending to betray Utgar and join the alliance. I don’t know how he found out, because it was a well-guarded secret, but timing was critical. Both Vydar and Einar had soldiers mixed in with Utgar’s who needed to be extracted without raising suspicion. Kelad found out what they were planning, and realized he could blackmail Vydar into relinquishing the wellspring.”
“What happened?” Dan asked.
“Kelad knew he couldn’t just walk into Vydar’s audience chamber and tell him what he knew; Vydar would imprison him without a second thought. He needed some sort of leverage. So he decided to tell one other person what he had found out, with instructions that if anything happened to him, that he would then tell everyone, and the secret would get out. That way, silencing him would not solve the problem, meaning Vydar would have to listen to him. It was a good plan, and might have changed a lot in the war. Unfortunately for Kelad, he put his faith in the wrong person.
“He had entrusted the secret to a wounded samurai of Einar’s, called Takuya Imai. Takuya held no rank, was discharged from service because of his wound, and was generally unhappy with his lot in life. Kelad thought he would be perfect, as he was virtually invisible to all those around him. Takuya had other ideas.
“The instant Kelad told him what he knew, Takuya went straight to Einar and told him the whole story. Einar apprehended Kelad before he ever reached Vydar, and for his loyalty, Takuya was made the commander of a forward outpost. Kelad was turned over to Vydar, who had him executed for conspiracy and treason. Most of his followers were rounded up, but a few, like Felda, remain, skulking in the shadows, trying to stir up trouble for Vydar.”
Dan leaned back in his chair. “So you think I should ignore her then?” he asked. He wanted to see what Aviir’s reply would be.
Aviir took her time in answering. “No,” she finally said. “She was right: Vydar can be extreme at times, but he’s not as she paints him. There’s only one thing you have to understand about Vydar, and that is that keeping his people safe is the only thing he cares about. The only thing. Yes, he can be extreme, but you have to understand the reason why.”
Dan looked at her dubiously. “Extreme is still extreme,” he said.
Aviir sighed. “Do you know why he joined Utgar at the start of the war?” she asked.
Dan shook his head.
“Everyone expected him to join Jandar and Ullar. Ullar especially believed this. Ullar had been trying to claim Anund for years before the wellsprings were discovered, and now that he had a wellspring, the regional governors were bowing to his control one by one. Vydar saw Ullar’s rule as oppressive; Ullar treated Anund like a conquered territory, not part of his own land. So when Vydar found his wellspring and Ullar tried to take it, Vydar stopped him. He had the people of Anund behind him, but Ullar was far more powerful. So, to protect his people, Vydar did the only thing he could do: he called on Utgar for aid.
“Utgar gladly flooded Anund with marro, probably thinking that when it was all over, he would claim Vydar’s wellspring for himself. That never happened. The occupying marro began contaminating the rivers and lakes of Anund with their filth, and Vydar’s people grew sick from the contamination. When Utgar refused to remove the marro, Vydar turned again, this time with Einar, joined the alliance, and drove the marro from Anund by force. Ullar still wanted Anund as his own, but since Vydar now had an army of his own, Ullar had to respect his wishes.”
Aviir stood. “That’s why he’s extreme, Dan,” she said. “His people are threatened from all sides, and he’s vowed to do anything to keep them safe. He doesn’t care about land or glory or riches. He cares only about his people. In this war very few things are certain, so the fact that Vydar’s loyalty to Anund has never wavered, means something. It’s something we can hold onto. And in a war like this, people need something to hold onto.
“Believe Felda if you will. Some dislike the extremes Vydar goes to. But you can never say that he’s selfish. He’s probably the most selfless kyrie I’ve ever met.”
And with that, Aviir left the room, leaving Dan to evaluate her words for himself.
Dan still didn’t like Vydar, but if what Aviir had said was true, he at least understood where he was coming from. He knew he would do absolutely anything to get to Heleer, for example. That, at least, Dan could understand.