It was only a decade and a half since the war. It seemed like days ago that Maati had been the librarian of Machi. And yet the white-barked tree that split the road before them, street cobbles shattered and lifted by its roots, hadn't existed then. The ca.n.a.ls he walked past had run clean. There had been no moss on the walls. Udun had been alive, then. The forest and the river were eating the city's remains, and it seemed to have happened in the s.p.a.ce between one breath and the next. Or perhaps the library, the envoys from the Dai-kvo, the long conversations with Cehmai-kvo and Stone-Made-Soft had been part of some other lifetime.
The sound was low and violent - something thras.h.i.+ng against wood or stone. Maati looked around him. The square they'd come to was paved in wide, flat stones, tall gra.s.s a yellow gray at the joints. A ruined fountain with black muck where clear water had been squatted in the center. Idaan's bow was in her hands, an arrow between her fingers.
'What was that?' Maati asked.
Idaan's dark eyes swept over the ruins, and Maati tried to follow her gaze. They might have been houses or businesses or something of both. The sound came again. From his left and ahead. Idaan moved forward cat-quiet, her bow at the ready. Maati stayed behind her, but close. He remembered that he had a blade at his belt and drew it.
The buck was in a small garden with an iron fence overgrown now with flowering ivy. Its side was cut, the fur black with dried blood and flies. The n.o.ble rack of horns was broken on one side, ending in a cruel, jagged stump. As Idaan stepped near, it moved again, las.h.i.+ng out at the fence with its feet, and then hung its head. It was an image of exhaustion and despair.
And its eyes were gray and sightless.
'Poor b.a.s.t.a.r.d,' Idaan said. The buck raised its head, snorting. Maati gripped the handle of his blade, readying himself for something, though he wasn't certain what. Idaan raised her bow with something akin to disgust on her face. The first arrow sunk deep into the neck of the once-proud animal. The buck bellowed and tried to run, fouling itself in the fence, the vines. It slipped to its knees as Idaan sank another arrow into its side. And then a third.
It coughed and went still.
'Well, I think we can say how your little poet girl was planning to get food,' Idaan said, her voice acid. 'Cripple whatever game she came across and then let it beat itself to death. She's quite the hunter.'
She slung the bow back over her shoulder, walking carefully into the trampled garden. Flies rose from the beast in a buzzing cloud. Idaan ignored them, putting her hand on the dead buck's flank.
'It's a waste,' she said. 'If I had rope and the right knife we could at least dress him and eat something fresh tonight. I hate leaving him for the rats and the foxes.'
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