Sara Douglass
Starman: Book Three of the Axis Trilogy

Axis cupped her face in his hands. Stars! How difficult this was to say, but how desperately it needed to be said. They might not have much longer together, and Axis could not shake his growing premonition of doom.

“Azhure, you know how much I love you.”

Azhure smiled. “You do not need to tell me, Axis, I –”

“Shush, beloved, and listen to what I say to you now. There is a second, far more important reason why I want StarDrifter to accompany you to the Island of Mist and Memory. StarDrifter and I may have had our differences and our envies, but he is my father, and I love and trust him. Azhure, each day I feel a sense of doom growing stronger and stronger within me. No! Listen to me. I do not know if I can defeat this force that masses to the north. This morning we both saw its size, strength and effectiveness. If I cannot master my powers before we meet, then I fear that we will be defeated.”

“No, Axis!” Azhure breathed in horror, her eyes wide, but he carried on relentlessly.

“Azhure, as enchanting as they are, my powers are pitifully ineffective for what I ride to meet. I could hardly touch the small Skraeling force that Gorgrael sent down the WildDog Plains, and the force I now go to meet is five thousand times that size.”

“Axis!” Azhure moaned desperately, hating the shadow of defeat in his eyes. “You have Belial and Magariz and Ho’Demi and the Strike Force –”

Axis laughed harshly. “They will fight just as bravely and they will die just as quickly as Jorge did, Azhure. Now, if anything happens to me in the north, if I fail –”

“Then I will have no further reason to live!”

His hands tightened about her face. “No! You must go on living, for my sake and for our children’s sake and for the sake of Tencendor.”

He paused, and what he said next he said only with the greatest difficulty and between clenched teeth. “Azhure, if I die, then let StarDrifter love and support you. He loves you, you are both SunSoar so you will be happy together, and he will be a good father to my children.”

“No!” Azhure cried, striking his chest with a clenched fist, trying to twist out of his hands.

But Axis was far stronger, and he held her firmly. “Yes, yes and yes! You will need advice and help and strength and love, and StarDrifter can give you all of these. Azhure, listen to me,” he said, grinding the words out now. “If I die then seek refuge in Coroleas. There you will be safe. There you can plan for the future – whatever that might be.”

Azhure wept, not because Axis had planned for the future should he die, but because of the defeat she heard in his voice. Axis expected to die!

After a moment Axis gathered her close, and they stood gently rocking under the shadows of the moon for a very long time, the waters of Grail Lake lapping a hundred paces below their feet.

11 The Repository of the Gods (#ulink_d6dea51e-2670-5736-a177-ad8923396aac)

That night the five gathered on the deserted northern shore of Grail Lake: Jack, the senior among them, Zeherah, Ogden, Veremund and Yr.

Yr, who was to visit the Repository of the Gods.

She was the first, and the others envied her, feared for her, and mourned with her. But she was the youngest, the strongest and the most vital, so it was fitting that she go first. She would have the furthest to travel and yet would have the best chance of reaching her destination.

They stood in a line, using rarely touched reserves of power to cloak their activities so that they would not be disturbed.

Jack waited until the moon floated fat and powerful above them. “It is time,” he said, and the others sighed.

“Time,” Yr echoed softly.

“Time,” said a melodious voice behind them, and the five turned to see who spoke.

Yr’s eyes filled with tears, honoured and gratified that the Prophet should wish to witness her sacrifice.

He stood there in his full glory, such as none – not even Jack – had seen him before. He had assumed his Icarii wings, and they could see that the Prophet was an Icarii Enchanter of such power and magnitude that he would humble all those who sought to oppose him.

He was almost indistinguishable from the moonlight, for he wore a close-fitting silver suit that seemed to have been moulded to his body. It was of a material such as the five had never seen before, a closely woven, silvery grey, with glints of blue in its creases and curves that flashed whenever he moved. Behind him glowed great silver wings.

The five bowed to him, and the Prophet himself bowed and acknowledged their service. They had done well, better than he could ever have expected, and his violet eyes were moist with gratitude.

He nodded slightly at Jack – it was time to begin.

“Friend and sister Yr,” Jack said, his voice as gentle as the waves that lapped at their feet, his hands folded before him. “There are few words that need to be said at this time. Our entire service has been for this point, which will, in turn, lead us to the final conflagration. We have all served as best we could. We have watched and waited and, since the Prophecy began to walk, we have guided. We have served to the best of our ability.”

For some time they were all silent, the Prophet standing slightly behind them.

“I would like to speak some words,” Yr finally said. “I harbour a myriad of regrets,” she began, her eyes on the moonlight as it skittered across the waters of Grail Lake. “A myriad.”

None of the others, and certainly not the Prophet, begrudged Yr her regrets.

“A myriad,” she said yet again, almost inaudibly. “I have enjoyed life in this OverWorld, although at times it has been petty and irritating. But I have made friends, friends whom I will now have to leave. Friends whom I may have no chance to farewell as they deserve. Friends whom I will miss and who will miss me.”

The others watched, their eyes shining with unshed tears. They shared her regret. They had never, never thought to have made friends on their journey.

“I have even learned to love a little,” Yr said. “I shall miss Hesketh, and I regret that in the morning he will wake and I will not be there, and he will never know where I have gone. I fear that he will mourn me for a very long time and that he will spend the rest of his life wondering why I left like I did. Wondering if I was well or in need of help.”

Her mouth trembled. “It is unfair to him to end it this way with no explanations and no goodbyes.”

The others listened and watched.

Yr took a deep breath, and its unsteadiness betrayed her emotion and fear. “I will miss my health most of all,” she whispered.

Jack kissed her gently. “Be at peace, sister Yr. You will be the first among us to share the mysteries of the ancient gods of the stars.”

The other three then stepped forward, kissing her and murmuring words of farewell. Tears streamed unashamedly down Ogden’s and Veremund’s cheeks. They would all see her again, but she would be changed and would continue to change – she would never again be the Yr they had known and loved for so long.

Finally the Prophet came forward, his silvery brilliance making them all blink. He rested his hands gently on Yr’s shoulders and kissed her on the mouth.

“You will be beloved always for the sacrifice you now make,” he said. “And you will always rest in my heart. I could not have asked for better than you.”

Yr smiled at him, tears slipping down her cheeks, but they were tears of joy rather than sadness.

“Yr.” He smiled, and her breath caught at his beauty. “Yr, tonight you will discover one of the great mysteries of Grail Lake but you will need courage and fortitude to do so. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Prophet, I am ready.”

He lifted one hand and ran it through her pale blond hair. “You will need my strength and my breath for the journey you are now about to undertake, Yr.”

Then he leaned forward and kissed her again, powerfully.

When he stepped back Yr’s tears had dried and she looked vigorous and certain.

“I have loved each of you,” she said, then she walked to the water’s edge.

She slipped out of her gown and stood naked for a few moments, letting the light of the moon wash over her. Then she raised both arms above her head, stretching her entire body and spreading her fingers in supplication. “Sister Moon,” she cried, her voice joyful, “show me the path to the Repository of the Gods!”