Chapter 2

|| O my eggs! O my whims, more precious than my eyes, dearer than my tongue! Eat my story, take it into your bodies. Grow your egg-teeth. Crack your shells. Choose. ||


Two forms move above the Dreaming City, curving between the pressures of gravity and desire.

Riven turns long, streaming whiskers and mane behind her, sunset golds draping themselves across her sides. In response, Taranis's bare hide sprouts carp scales in gleaming blue. His wings recede as his mane grows.

He twists around Riven, neck on neck for a moment, before he slips ahead through the mists of Divalia.

There's a wish on the wind. A mind far below, dreaming of a change to the world. Taranis noses toward it.

One of Mara's Awoken sits under the vault of a broken geode. He dreams, looking out over the shifting mists. Ambition is woven through his thoughts, a wish for a more comfortable home. One shaped like a memory, with a parent in the Distributary making sesame pastries soaked in honey. Too sweet, too sticky, but beloved.

Riven crouches like a gargoyle on the cliff above as Taranis spirals down to meet him. They speak. They learn one another's names: Taranis. Gwilym.

A tripod-legged silver tray with a teapot and plate settles beside them.

Taranis, curled into a catlike form, sits with Gwilym. A few crumbs land on his side. A few tears.

Gwilym rises when the sun slips to the edge of the fabricated horizon. He holds out a hand in thanks and startles when Taranis grows a thumb to clasp it.

"No wonder you're so small," Riven says, when Taranis has wound his way back up the cliff to her. It's barely a mouthful, filling one small desire without grasping for more. Not much more than a sip.

"It's enough for me," says Taranis.

"It's foolish," Riven snarls with all the force available to her. A strong, well-fed Ahamkara in the heart of her power. A king enthroned.

"I'm a fool."

The tip of Taranis's tail reaches for Riven's. They twine together. She doesn't shake it off.

—-

Riven prowls through the grove. It thrills Taranis to see her here, to feel her will pushing at its borders.

His nest has been potential life. It was missing this: active life. The pressures of will and desire. The chance to choose more.

"May I show you my nest, O Riven, O creator of a city of pearls, O shaper of souls?"

Riven shutters her eyes with great plates of bone. "That mode of speech is unworthy, O foolish companion mine."

But naming without claim suits Taranis. It's an argument he and Riven will never settle. He will call her O beloved, O master artisan, without ever appending the "mine," and she will forever call him her fool.

"Riven, then. I'd show you my grove as you showed me your city."

They walk the stone pathways softened by moss. They climb through flowers, and condensation from the damp air rolls down their necks. Taranis guides Riven to the heart of his nest. He watches her stride through it, taking the lead.

"I've seen the things Mara's brother brought back from this place. They didn't smell of your nest."

"His ambitions don't suit my palate."

The prince and his partner hadn't approached Taranis's nest on their journey. Taranis had made sure of it.

Riven's will causes eddies in the fabric of Taranis's home. It begins to grow around her into more of a place of mystery, a place of dangers for the unwary. Taranis rests his jaw on his forelimbs, watching, nudging her will with his own when her changes grow too vast. He wants this. His home is still his own.

Riven circles back to Taranis, who is sprawled in a patch of grass. She sits on him resentfully.

"You are singularly unlike any Ahamkara I've met. I am astonished you're still alive." Riven grows heavier. Taranis snorts into the grass as his body presses into it.

"Hasn't your time with the Awoken changed you? We both made the choices our homes gave us."

"You're less than you could be."

Taranis settles more firmly into the grass. "I'm myself. That is the end of my ambition."

"Your brain has shrunk with your stomach." Riven presses her claws into Taranis's spine. Her voices thrum together in frustration. "We will build here. Together. If you won't let yourself grow, then we will make something that does."

And they do.

The language of secrets and desire passes between them as they build. Mysteries bury themselves in the grass. The grove grows wilder, paths sprawling out to meet Riven's nest in the Dreaming City.

Alight with creation, Taranis says, "There's one more thing I want to make with you."

He does not stop to lay out a contract. This is no bargain, with each Ahamkara giving precisely what is owed and no more, in fear of being devoured by their own partner. There are no clauses to whittle down. Taranis doesn't hold back.

Instead he gives himself as a gift, and Riven gives herself to him in return. Together, they make something new.

Taranis unspools his own cells into embryos, pulling from his lungs and heart and blood, taking the initiator's role, that of the dam. In response, Riven kindles them, feeding Taranis a sire's strength for the task. Together, they spin will and memory into shells to house the embryos, their future whims.

A great gamble. And a solidified future.

The two of them and their clutch, a new generation of Ahamkara raised in the Dreaming City and the Black Garden. To one day be as they wish.

What other Ahamkara had created life like this? With generosity and affection, with teeth unbared and voice unspilled? If any had, Taranis never met them, nor heard their story.

Taranis sprawls out against the cool stone and moss of his nest, exhausted. Riven stands by him, inspecting their eggs with cool, critical eyes.

Their first gift to their whims is existence.