Finally in control of the Ascendancy, Titus Quinn has styled himself Regent of the Entire. But his command is fragile. He rules an empire with a technology beyond human understanding; spies lurk in the ancient Magisterium; the Tarig overlords are hamstrung but still malevolent. Worse, his daughter Sen Ni opposes him for control, believing the Earth and its Rose universe must die to sustain the failing Entire.
Taking advantage of these chaotic times, the great foe of the Long War, the Jinda ceb Horat, create a settlement in the Entire. Masters of supreme technology, they maintain a lofty distance from the Entire’s struggle. They agree, however, that the Tarig must return to the fiery Heart of their origins. With the banishment immanent, some Tarig lords rebel, fleeing to hound the edges of Quinn’s reign.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s wife Anzi becomes a hostage and penitent among the Jinda ceb, undergoing alterations that expose their secrets, but may estrange her from her husband. As Quinn moves toward a confrontation with the dark navitar, he learns that the stakes of the conflict go far beyond the Rose versus the Entire--extending to a breathtaking dominance. In this rousing finale to Kenyon’s celebrated quartet, Titus Quinn meets an inevitable destiny, forced at last to make the unthinkable choice for or against the dictates of his heart, for or against the beloved land.
“Kenyon’s saga of ambitious power grabs, black-hearted betrayals, and star-crossed romance draws to a generally satisfying conclusion in this challenging novel [Prince of Storms]... New readers will struggle with the complexities, but the broad themes, exotic setting, and advanced technology are charmingly reminiscent of golden age SF.” --Publishers Weekly
Also by Kay Kenyon
Please enjoy this excerpt from
Prince of Storms
Book Four of The Entire and The Rose
And their mouths will be stopped with silver.
—from the Book of the Drowning Time
SHE SAT ON THE THRONE, insane, but no one blamed her for that. Ghoris was a navitar. Titus Quinn shifted under her unnerving gaze, trying to believe she was a friend. Could a navitar know compassion and loyalty, or only the frazzled mysteries of the Nigh? A frisson of awe crept over him as he looked into her inhuman eyes.
Out the porthole he saw the Sea of Arising, its shining, flat expanse darkened in the distance by the shadow of the Ascendancy.
Quinn glanced at Mo Ti, who sat on the ship keeper’s bench. Mo Ti had cared for Ghoris, but even he could not really understand her, and he was offering no help now. Quinn needed answers; he must frame them so that Ghoris could understand. She looked down at him from her seat on the pilot’s dais.
“War,” Quinn said. “Will it come to that?” War had been massing up against a slim barrier: Titus Quinn’s promise to Sydney that she would rule the Ascendancy. She didn’t. Titus Quinn did. Such was the simple frame of the approaching conflict.
“War not with dirigibles and cannon. But in the Nigh, Ghoris. Have you seen it? In the binds?”
“All die,” Ghoris said with precise enunciation.
The trouble with prophecy was that it might be the answer to the wrong question. Everyone dies. He wanted to know the manner of death.
He tried a different tack. “Tell me about the other navitar.” He had been warned that his daughter’s navitar-advisor, Geng De, could alter future events.
Ghoris nodded, smiling, as though he had finally figured things out. “Twists,” she said. “Twists the threads.”
The cabin darkened. Perhaps they had drifted under the Ascendancy’s footprint—unless fear colored his perceptions. Twists. Was it true, then, that his daughter had forged a bond with a sorcerer? He longed not to believe this. But, as to threads—these he’d seen himself. He’d been on a ship of the Nigh and seen how the navitars—Ghoris, for one—reached into the thin air, bringing the threads of reality into their hands, carving a path through the Nigh and across the light-years, viewing the futures as they went. But never had a navitar tried to twist those futures. Until now. Such power would warp a plain man into something grotesque. Something capable of unnatural evil.
“Does the navitar try or does he succeed?” How did such power come to this wretch? Why, of all navitars, this one, the one who would burn the Rose and restart the terrible engine? Why this one?
Ghoris shrugged her bulky shoulders.
He turned to Mo Ti. “Help me. You’ve lived with her. Ask her.”
Mo Ti shifted on the ship keeper’s bench. “She does not know. She sees only visions. And they have made her mad.” He rose and made for the cabin door. “I will not work against Sen Ni. I do not like her boy-navitar, but I will not work against her.”
Quinn stepped between Mo Ti and the door. “Would she have such a creature around her? One who’d pervert the future?”
“You do not know your own daughter.”
“No. Not with the boy at her side.”
“You do not know what a sentient might do to keep their world alive?”
Under the warrior’s gaze, Quinn forced himself to answer. “She’d do whatever it took.”
“As you should have.” Mo Ti pushed past him, saying as he closed the door, “Find another ship keeper. I am done.” It had been a temporary duty, after Quinn and Mo Ti sent Ghoris’s last ship keeper on a mission to find Su Bei. But Mo Ti didn’t owe Ghoris or Quinn any more time.
Ghoris watched him leave. A smile creased her globular cheeks. “That one will kill you in the end.”
He hardly cared how he would die. But he cared how the Rose would die. If Geng De wove reality, then Quinn would have to stop him.
Alone now with Ghoris in the pilot’s cabin, Quinn’s voice broke: “Will I have to strike my own daughter down?”
“She will fall, oh fall. It is the strong thread.”
His heart cooled. “Find me a future where that isn’t so.” Desperation made him ask.
The navitar gathered her robes about her and slowly rose from her chair. “Traveler, we will go.”
It took him a moment to realize that she meant into the binds.
He’d come here to see what Ghoris knew, and now she was saying, see for yourself. She raised her arms and as she did so the ship jolted. He heard the great funnel at the prow clang as it dropped into feeding position.
Taken by surprise, his guards would no doubt try to stop her, but it was all happening too fast. Ghoris thrust her hands into the membrane over the dais and the ship nosed steeply down. Normal light evaporated from the cabin. They dove into the Nigh. Shouts came from the deck below.
The cabin door opened and one of his Chalin guards staggered in, calling his name.
“We’re diving,” Quinn said. “Sit down. Or fall down.” Already he was fighting off lethargy. He braced himself against the wall. The guard reached out for the support of the bulkhead.
“You must have your vision,” Ghoris crooned. She had dropped back into her seat, dripping with the slime of the Nigh, or appearing to.
Sleep crept in like a slowly closing door, but he thrust a foot into the opening. Stay awake, stay . . . His guard staggered, then slid down the bulkhead, his consciousness drowning in the river.
Ghoris sat in her pilot’s chair, swirling her fingers and staring at them in an unsettling way. “Ah, the future. It comes.”
A gauze fell over his vision and Ghoris faded. At the same time a second and more vivid form stood up beside her. It was also a navitar, red-robed and rotund. The second pilot reached for something. A cane came into his hand, and he leaned heavily on it.
A quiet voice: “I never knew you for a navitar, yet here you are, half awake in the river.”
Quinn recognized that voice from somewhere. The memory was a ripple on water, receding. The boy—that was what he seemed, a boy, by his soft features, his indeterminate sex—looked warily toward the cabin door. He was blind. Or blind to Quinn.
“Yet here you are,” repeated the figure in red. “How strange. And Ghoris, the old hag. I thought she was about done with the Nigh. Not many old navitars. Ever notice?”
Quinn heard himself say, “They drown themselves in the Nigh.” But what were they talking about?
“True.” The young man turned, looking for the source of Quinn’s voice. “Sen Ni finally gave up on you. I predicted you’d betray her.” He brought his cane down savagely on the back of Ghoris’s chair. “And you did.”
Startled by the cane’s blow, Quinn reeled against the bulkhead, feeling half drunk. “Sen Ni gave up . . .”
“On you, Titus Quinn. Let’s have that clear. On you.” He swayed his head from side to side like an animal trying to catch a scent.
The red-robed figure was hunting, his movements strong and fluid, while Quinn was weak, clutching the edge of reality with slipping fingers.
Quinn inched along the bulkhead, using a hand to steady himself, his legs like pillars of cement. It was important to keep moving, to not be in the same place as before. “You are . . . a navitar.”
The young man knifed his cane in Quinn’s direction, turning it. He peered into the air, blind but for the probing cane that was an extension of his hand, his will. “You know me, Titus Quinn. You are in my world now. The river belongs to Geng De, not to you. Isn’t that right, Ghoris?” Geng De glanced in her direction.
She remained immobile, cocking her head, listening.
“Weaving,” Quinn rasped as he moved away from the cane. “Navitars swear not to. Broken vows.”
The cane slowly came around, following his voice. “Broken vows. Perhaps you’ll not want to dwell too long on that concept. But yes, I’m different than the old woman. I am a child of the Nigh. You should have made friends with us, Quinn.”
In a startling gesture toward the unconscious guard, Geng De swung around and shot a hand forward, grabbing at the empty air. As he did so, the guard toppled sideways, crashing heavily to the floor. At this sound, the navitar sidled down from the dais and moved toward the guard, prodding him with his cane. He looked confused. “Not alone, here. You have helpers, then. I’ll remember his threads. He’ll be mine.”
Quinn was now wedged between Geng De and the dais. He stepped up next to Ghoris.
His proximity seemed to agitate her. “Overflows,” she moaned. “The children swim, their mouths stopped with silver.” She held in her hand a mass of threads, hopelessly tangled.
Geng De saw this and lunged his cane into the mass, dispersing it. Regaining his balance, he spun around and growled. “Where are you? By the deep Nigh, where?”
“Following you,” Quinn whispered. The frame of a portal behind him pushed into his back. “You can’t have it, Geng De.” He couldn’t have the Rose for burning. But hadn’t he settled that already? Ahnenhoon, shut down. Lord—whoever it was, some lord—shut it down. “Can’t have it.”
Geng De thumped his staff along the floor as he searched the cabin, not thinking to look on the dais. “I’ll have it. But that is just the beginning. You won’t want to be here. Leave the Ascendancy. Leave the Entire. I’ll spare you, then.”
Ghoris smirked, now sitting more alert in her chair. “He’d have killed you by now if he could, Titus.”
Geng De pivoted in her direction, nodding at her. “That’s right. I can’t touch his threads. He’s the one rogue strand, or I would have dropped him from the Ascendancy the day he took it from Sen Ni.”
“I’ll never give you the Entire,” Quinn heard himself say. “Or the Rose.”
Geng De turned and looked right at him. He had him, now. Saw him at last. The navitar’s staff seemed to thump on the floor as he approached. Stepping up to the dais, Geng De stalked forward and thrust his cane at Quinn, pinning him against the bulkhead. The cane went through him like a knife through a dream.
Geng De whispered, “What do you . . .” He thrust the cane deeper. “What do you want? Power?”
“No, I’ve never . . .”
Still holding the cane like a spit through Quinn’s heart, he whispered, “That is a lie. You do want power. You’ve had just a taste, and already you’re corrupt.”
“I don’t . . . I’m not . . .”
Geng De smiled. “And don’t even know it, do you?” He lowered his cane, leaning on it, inches away from Quinn’s face. His voice went very soft as though confiding a secret. “As a babe, I fell in the Nigh. They made me a navitar at the age of four. I haven’t had a life, but that will change—change, because of your daughter. I saw Sen Ni in the strands, a pure form, a destiny of beauty, but choked by you unless I weave—weave very well. I’ve sworn to her I will. And if your strand evades me, there are always others.”
“Nooo,” Ghoris moaned.
Geng De glanced at her. “Yes, old woman. Yes.” He said to Quinn, “Your ties of the heart. Oh, I see those, touch those.”
But Quinn would always love who he loved. “You can’t change me.”
“You’re already changing. You should leave before you become something you wouldn’t like.” He shook his head at Quinn’s confusion. “Never mind.” He twiddled his hands in front of his face, staring intently. “Here are your lovely ties, the little threads of the ones you especially like. Nicely visible,
burning hot.” He examined his hand, scanning it as though its movement trailed stories.
Ghoris moaned. It seemed a kind of summons. Geng De murmured, “I’ll take them one by one, until no one is left.” He turned from Quinn and shambled toward Ghoris’s chair. “Move over, hag.”
Stiffly, he lowered himself down, merging with her. As his form faded, his voice hovered for a moment in the cabin. “One by one . . . one by one.”
THE BURNING LORDS
Titus Quinn threatened the Tarig access to their homeland. His control of the Heart augured the end of Tarig reign. But their downfall began with their very birth. The lords were not alive in the normal sense, or so the sentients of the Entire came to believe. Minds that fused in the Heart—the Tarig congregate state—were not true individuals, were not even comprehensible. In the end, the Tarig fell because the Entire despised what the lords were more than what they could do.
—from Annals of a Former Prince
“THE JINDA CEB ARE COMING HOME.” Cixi had been saying this for an arc of days, and still no one seemed to grasp the point, least of all Geng De.
Next to Cixi, in the burrow of the undercity, Sen Ni stood, lovely and strong. The wavering light of the Nigh limned her silks with silver, gave her a glamour of power. Yet she deferred to the pudgy navitar.
“Yes, I’ve seen this,” Geng De said, as though that answered everything. I’ve seen this, I’ve seen that. Cixi was mightily weary of his seeing, though she’d only been with them for forty days. She would have forbidden him to utter it, except that she was no longer the high prefect, as it jolted her to recall.
Sen Ni went to a small table, where she dipped a cloth in water. She dabbed Geng De’s flushed temples. The two of them were backlit by the floor-to-ceiling Nigh view port, creating a tableau of cloying devotion.
“Master Geng De,” Cixi said with what sweetness she could muster, a tone, she noted with chagrin, that she had once reserved for the Tarig, “the Jinda ceb Horat can certainly restart the engine. We shall have need of the engine in due time.” There, that was the understatement of the age. A little sarcasm often moved a discussion along.
“Your Brilliance,” Geng De began, using the odious title, “my hands are heavy with threads. The Jinda ceb is not yet one that comes to my hand. Patience. Patience.”
“Perhaps if you reached a little further.”
Sen Ni glanced up, flashing disapproval.
The navitar put a quieting hand on Sen Ni’s arm. “They are not here yet. But the Tarig are.” He closed his eyes for a moment, and even while seated, leaned heavily on his cane.
“The Tarig are the ones that shut down Ahnenhoon,” Cixi answered. “The Tarig will soon be banished to the Heart. Why do they care what happens to our land? They are leaving.”
“Do you say so?”
“My spies say so. Quinn will send them back to their swarm.” She might be deposed from the Magisterium, but some were still devoted to her.
“Lord Inweer is the strand,” Geng De said. “That is the one needing weaving. I pursue his traces.”
Inweer, was it? But Quinn would certainly send home the last of the ruling Five. He didn’t need the Tarig to run the great mechanics and mysteries of the All. The Jinda ceb Horat were the Tarig’s equals. In their own interests, the Jinda ceb—when they finally arrived, which was imminent, their messages had implied—would run the industries of the Entire, whether the bright, the storm walls, or the mundane matters of trains and ships of the Nigh and cleaning of streets. How convenient for Quinn that the Jinda ceb had lived in accelerated time and had grown so wise. Perhaps in their wisdom they would quickly be rid of him. It was why Sen Ni must establish a bond with them and persuade the creatures to her side.
Creatures. Cixi couldn’t bring herself to think of the Jinda ceb as quite . . . reputable. They were reported to have taken Chalin form, but they grew their clothes on their backs, like beku. And then there was the matter of their art, also grown on the their backs, if reports were to be believed. And what they actually looked like, before they changed themselves, the Miserable God only knew.
Slowly, and stifling a groan, Geng De rose from his chair. His voice wavered. “I will rest now. The binds asked much of me today. Pardon me if I retire, my sister. High Prefect.”
“But,” Cixi persisted, “Sen Ni must at least make overtures to the Jinda ceb. She will travel to the Inyx sway in any case. The minoral of the Paion is nearby.”
“Jinda ceb Horat,” Geng De corrected. “Paion is the old word, we must remember.”
Oh, he dared to correct her! “But Paion is how the All has thought of them for archons of time. Paion is the face they must overcome if they wish acceptance in the sways. They will need Sen Ni’s support to send sweet dreams of them into the land. Sen Ni should win them over. Before Titus Quinn does.”
The navitar turned to the view port, gazing out as though he saw strands there even without immersion. He did seem to wish to be there rather than here. What did he do for days at a time in that crystal chamber beyond the view port? Weaving, so he said. If it could be believed.
He leaned close to Sen Ni. “Do not reach out to them when they first arrive, Sister. Begin the dream war against your father first. See your beloved Riod. Make sure he loves you as I do.”
He kissed Sen Ni briefly on the mouth. Ever so brotherly, but Cixi wanted to beat him senseless with his cane.
Sen Ni supported Cixi on her arm as the two of them climbed the passageway up to street level. The underground chamber allowed Geng De to enter the river in secret, rather than in an exposed ship. Her father would be looking for Geng De; they had met in the binds, and Geng De had tried to drive Titus home with threats. It hadn’t worked, as she could have told Geng De if he’d asked her first.
Cixi was slow, but stronger than she looked. She had, after all, killed a Tarig lord with her own hands. Stiletto in the eye, Cixi had smirked. Of course he was quite softened up by then. . . .
Cixi said, “The Jinda ceb did not fight for a thousand thousand days to build their house on a mist.”
“Are we a mist, Mother?”
“Yes, dear girl. Mist. The Entire will fade. Geng De spends too much time in the river to notice, perhaps. The Jinda ceb must engage the engine again.”
“Let me think on it.” A great deal of work lay ahead of them, and Geng De was right: The Jinda ceb were not even here yet. Titus should be exposed as a danger to the land. Titus, the man who once had said he had no wish to rule and who now ruled in fact. The pain of that was too fresh to revisit.
Cixi murmured, “When the bear looks upon you the first time, he decides if you are meal or master.”
First impressions. Would the Jinda ceb see her as the cowed young daughter of the king?
“Give me time, Mother.” Cixi’s power was still remarkable; she had learned almost every intelligence that had come to Titus in the days since he banished the high prefect. She knew most of what Ji Anzi was teaching Titus about the Jinda ceb: that they had never ridden on the backs of their automatons of war. Those entities had been war creatures, bred for the fight. Cixi had also learned that the Jinda ceb possessed a visionary field called Manifest where they decided civic matters in common. The spies had also reported that the Jinda ceb wanted foremost to come home. And by home they meant the place where they had heretofore been, at the Scar in the Long Gaze of Fire Primacy, where they would reattach their minoral—adrift these many ages. So, in the end, it had been another great Tarig lie that the Scar marked the scene of a Paion incursion and heroic battle. The Tarig had even gone so far as to say they themselves had fought there, as though the fiends would have exposed themselves to danger!
Sen Ni opened the door to the navitar vessel’s lower cabin, a connection obscured from observation by a small pavilion set up to look like a tent that expanded Geng De’s living space. Passing through the empty cabin to the outer deck, Sen Ni noted her guard led by Emar-Vod, standing on the quay.
Cixi looked up as a large shadow fell across the deck. “Couldn’t we go by litter?”
“Beesha makes a gentle ride, Mother.” They needed a quicker route to the summit of the bridge than a litter now that Sen Ni’s popularity made it difficult for her to travel anywhere in Rim City without attracting a crowd.
“Beesha stinks, dear girl, it must be said.”
Even Cixi’s scowling could not constrain Sen Ni’s happiness in being by her side. She recalled that awkward moment a few days ago when she had first called Cixi mother. The old prefect had frozen for a moment, and Sen Ni feared she had made a ghastly error. Then a painfully slow smile stretched Cixi’s lips a fraction. Cixi, she discerned, was pleased.
The great Adda hovered above, and at a signal from her handler, began the descent to the quay, caparisoned with a garland of silver bells and woven tassels. Denizens of the city came running, hoping that Sen Ni might be there, as they saw the old Celestial bearing down on the wharf.
Beesha settled her hanging ladder on the ground with a clatter of cartilage and bells, to the cheers of onlookers. Sen Ni waved to them and called out a name from a face she recognized.
Emar-Vod came forward, steadying the ladder. “A litter might suit one’s dignity,” Cixi muttered. But she took hold of the gristly ladder and climbed one rung. A crippling look warned Emar-Vod away from assisting her.
Sen Ni followed Cixi into the cavity, finding a place next to her, sitting cross-legged on the floor. The high prefect drew out a small box from her sleeve and flipped open the top, taking a dainty sniff to fend off Beesha’s yeasty odor. Sen Ni shook off a sudden annoyance at this show of delicacy. The old woman
had been through a harrowing time. Stripped of her vast powers, humiliated by banishment. It was said that her subprefect Mei Ing had openly celebrated the hour that Cixi had walked out the door of the Magisterium. A short-lived festivity, however, when Titus appointed Yulin’s wife Suzong to the top post.
She cajoled Cixi. “A view of the city from an Adda—such a sight, Mother! You have seen so many wonders, but I am still a girl of the steppes and I love this.”
“Girl of the steppes! Let no one hear such nonsense. Queen of the Entire, I declare it.”
“Look.” Sen Ni lay on her stomach to gaze out the egress cavity. “The sea coming into view, the biggest sea in all the universes.”
Cixi slapped Sen Ni on the shoulder. “Back with you. If anyone should see you peeking out of an Adda hole!”
But Sen Ni paid her no mind. Under them Rim City hove into view with its teeming streets and huddled adobe towers. Her sway. Then up, up, with the great crystal bridge revealed yard by yard, its sparkling undersides built of steeled glass, then the black and viney gardens of her mansion. There, a glimpse of the orphanage Sen Ni had built next to her quarters, and finally the great viewing porch.
Beesha hovered expertly over the veranda. Because of the railing, she could not descend as far as she might, but now servants were there to hand Sen Ni and Cixi down.
“Thank you, Beesha,” Sen Ni sang out to the Celestial, who blinked ponderously and waited for the servants to hoist up sacks of grain.
Even so short a journey filled Sen Ni with a strange euphoria. Or perhaps it was Beesha herself, whose silence and dignity reminded her so strongly of Riod.
Sen Ni leaned on the balustrade, watching Beesha wend away on the prevailing counterclockwise wind. She thought of the winds that way, but it was a darkling term, a thing of the Rose, an artifact of a world that had given her up for dead. She owed nothing to them. If one place must die, why must it be this one?
She looked over the Sea of Arising, the galactic scale ocean, with the arms of Rim City embracing it. The mirror of the sea reflected the bright, a twicebrilliant field. Sandwiched between, the Ascendancy cast a circular shadow on the sea.
Next to her, Cixi stared at the floating city. “Quinn crouches up there in fear,” she murmured. “He has the Entire. And God has noticed him.”
Sen Ni made a warding sign. “But he is king.”
“Mmm. And look what the Woeful God brought upon our last kings.” She tapped her long nails on the railing, indulging a tight smile. “He’s caught a dragon in his embrace. What happens when he lets go?”
The more buried a desire, the more vibrant.
—from The Twelve Wisdoms
DEEP EBB TINGED THE GREAT PLAZA LAVENDER. No Tarig were abroad, nor any other sentient of the Ascendancy. Outside the regent’s pavilion Tai adjusted his ceremonial sword in its sheath and scanned the emptiness between the canals and bridges, assuring himself, despite the guards, that it was safe to go to bed. The Tarig were in their warrens on the Palatine Hill, and the functionaries in their cells of the Magisterium. Still, Tai would not sleep just yet, not until Master Quinn did.
It had been forty days since the Tarig lost the Ascendancy. It was still a tense and confusing time. Add to that, Anzi’s situation. To everyone’s great relief she had managed to come back from the Rose, sent back by—Tai struggled to keep English names straight—Stefan Polich and Caitlin Quinn, who allowed her to enter the terrible pool at Hanford and come home. But then it became clear that before she had stepped into the Rose she had been somewhere else. With the Jinda ceb Horat. The Paion.
Tai entered the central chamber of the pavilion, noting that everyone had retired for the ebb. However, he heard the regent speaking behind the curtain to Anzi, so Titus Quinn did not sleep as yet and still might have need of him.
That was just as well. Tai had a long list of English words to memorize—ocean, newsTide, moon, World Alliance, mSap, hamburger—given him by John Hastings, the man of the Rose, the only survivor from Hel Ese’s plot. John had repented of that crime; still, it was hard to forget what he had done.
A noise behind him. Zhiya stood at the open curtain of her sleeping area. Not dressed as a godder these days, she wore a padded jacket and laced trousers like a soldier. Although only the height of Tai’s breastbone, she still looked formidable.
Zhiya nodded toward the master’s suite. “Is he retired for the ebb?”
“Yes. You wish to see him?”
“Is she with him?”
Zhiya smirked. “Of course. Where else would his wife be at this hour?” She nodded at him, a perfunctory good ebb, and closed her curtain.
Tai glanced at the regent’s quarters. Zhiya wanted to know if Master Quinn and Ji Anzi were still sleeping together. Well, they would do what moved them. Tai hoped the regent was moved to pleasure his wife. She did not look unattractive, considering the shocking revelation that she had lived among the Jinda ceb Horat for five thousand days. Because of this, she was now older than her husband. Still attractive, yes, but not aged with the restraint of the Entire, where lives were long. Love, however, would overcome such things, would it not?
He glanced at the curtain. Surely it was past time for talking.
Quinn watched as Anzi sat at the writing desk working on her letter. It was very late, but he wished not to disturb her if, as now, she seemed to be finding the words that had eluded her. Propped up on the bed, pillows behind him, he enjoyed her company, even if she was preoccupied.
“Husband, how shall I say regret? One is regretful, or I regret? Is I regret too obvious, too direct?” She stared at her scroll, frowning, although when she finished it, how would she send it to the Jinda ceb?
“You know their ways, my love.” He had his own worries, worries he’d hoped to put aside so late in the ebb. With Anzi preoccupied, he considered the bizarre meeting with Geng De, and the boy navitar’s threats. To weave the world. Could it be done? The future altered by design? Zhiya had warned him; her own mother swore it was true. But Jin Yi was half mad, like all navitars.
“But how to say it?” Anzi persisted, still worrying her verbs.
“I would say unintended consequences. If there were any.” Anzi had told him that she didn’t know if her manner of departing the Jinda ceb had caused offense. She guessed that it had. She wanted to cement relations with the Jinda ceb when they arrived. It would not be helpful if she had offended them.
Over the last days he had been learning about Anzi’s exile among the Jinda ceb Horat. They had saved her life by retrieving her from the void. But time passed differently in their universe, and she had endured a long and poignant separation from her world and from him. The story of her time among them had spooled out over the days since their reunion. For himself, the lapsed time was almost impossible to imagine—fourteen years. How much worse it must be for her . . . but she accepted it bravely. She would
have perished, otherwise, like Su Bei.
There had hardly been enough time to let all this sink in. There were other adjustments, too: his wounds, healing slowly and perhaps imperfectly; holding the Tarig at bay. And always on his mind these last weeks, his brother’s death, reported by Anzi. Killed by a man who was like an uncle to him. Lamar . . . God, how deeply the world had changed.
“Come to bed, Anzi.”
“Yes.” She continued to write.
And then there was the Rose and its politics, and the near impossibility of communicating with them. Unless the Jinda ceb, when they came, could help him. And if he could communicate with Earth, what could be said in a message, and to whom should it be directed? It seemed no matter how he tried to sort it that he was on his own.
“Anzi, leave off. Come to bed.”
“In a moment.” With her back to him, her emerald green silk robe brought out the startling white of her arms and neck. He watched her as she bowed her head over her work, exposing the nape of her neck. Anzi’s hair was very short now, a concession she’d made to fit in better with the Jinda ceb among whom she had lived so long. It made her look especially beautiful, in the way of a handsome forty- or fifty-year-old woman. But time-in-years meant little. The Entire had no years, and who knew how to calculate the passage of time in the universe of the Jinda ceb?
“If one could do over what cannot be undone,” Anzi murmured, biting the tip of her stylus. She bent to her writing.
It was too much. He sprang from the bed. “No. You did it for the Rose.” They had been over and over what happened with her Jinda ceb teacher just before they sent her home. Who knew how the Jinda ceb really felt? “They’re asking too much.”
Still seated, she looked up at him, stylus in hand. “They haven’t asked anything of me. We haven’t spoken. This is just in case.”
The thought came to him that by this late ebb letter she was avoiding being with him. She felt inadequate. Though he’d said you are beautiful to me a hundred times, she sometimes pointedly turned her face from him.
She turned back to the desk. He snapped up her scroll, holding it away from her.
Anger flashed in her eyes, he noted with satisfaction. At last a real emotion. The polite dance of what could be said, what could be trusted—it made him crazy. You haven’t changed in my sight. But, as with the letter, was that too direct?
Relenting, he put the scroll in her hand, touching her wrist as he did so. Her skin was cool, and he suddenly wanted her.
She saw that in him. “Put out the light.”
She bent to the lamp to darken it, but he came between her and the light. He took her by the hand and led her to the sleeping platform, laying her down on the covers, taking the scroll from her.
“Bring down the curtain,” she whispered.
He lowered one of the cloths tied up near the post. Shadow fell over them. He pulled the robe from her shoulders, using his good arm, since the other barely responded. With his good left hand he traced the line of her neck, the hollow at her throat, her heavy, perfect breasts.
Voices outside. It sounded like Zhiya and Tai talking. Anzi propped herself up on her elbows. “Your work calls you.”
“It can wait.” He loosed the low slip she wore over her hips, and it fell into a puddle around her.
The voices continued. Anzi said, “Let me ask Tai.”
“Dressed like this?” He pushed her back, and she let him, sprawling beneath him.
But she turned her face away. “Perhaps Mei Ing comes to call.”
Mei Ing? The vacuous subprefect? “Let her wait, then.”
“But she would be a worthy wife, Titus. Your own age.”
“Mei Ing is of no interest to me. You are. Especially now, woman. Can you stop talking?”
She smiled, but her eyes were still earnest. “I am too old to bear children.”
That gave him pause. “Fourteen years, Anzi.” Jinda ceb years he wanted to say, as though that made the time passage of even less account. “Five thousand days. You are not too old. But if you were, have I ever said I wanted children?” God knew he had not done well in that arena and wasn’t sure he would
ever try it again.
Anzi pulled her robe around her and rolled over until she could sit up and face him. “I am happy to be second wife, truly.”
Happy would not be the word he would use to describe her. “You are my first wife. My only wife.”
“If not a wife, a concubine. She could soothe you.”
“No, Anzi. Enough.”
He pulled her across the bed and stopped her words with his mouth. Grasping her close, he managed to pull off her robe and throw it from the bed. A faint perfume came to him from the folds of the vanished robe, and more, the musk of her. He ran his hand between her legs, hearing her caught breath softly in his ear. The pulse of his blood came into his skin, his belly, his sex.
“Titus,” she whispered.
Her hand came around him, bringing an unbearable and sweet pressure, an acute hunger. Do not speak, he urged her silently. And she didn’t. He knelt between her raised knees. Pulling her hips forward, his full length went into her, and he paused, breathless.
He leaned back enough to look at her face. She was everything he wanted, everything. When she would have said something, he shook his head, whispering, “Silently.”
She moved on him, making their connection long and short, deep and shallow. He heard her gasping against his throat as he bent over her. “Shhh,”he said, forbidding her even that articulation. He meant to have their union in holy silence, and it made them all the more pent up with the waiting release. Leaning on his elbows, he began his own rhythm—with just enough strength at the elbows to hold him above her, and no weakness lower than that. The tent filled with the pulse of their lovemaking.
When she could bear it no more, she arched her back, shuddering, letting go, the only sound her contorted breaths. Then his own release, churning from him, silent too, as he had demanded of her.
They were still. Metered by the curtain, the lamp shed a glow on them, burnishing sweat-drenched skin. Outside, the pavilion had gone deeply quiet.
They lay unspeaking, afraid to break the compact: I won’t say. And you won’t hear. Without words, we are saved.
Honorable Jinda ceb Horat and Most Beautiful Ones.
I came among you, a foreigner. Lost in the great void, I found rescue among you. You knew the pain of separation and abandonment in the void, and mercifully brought me to a saving ground. For that I give you humble thanks.
Then I was a stranger in the cocreation of your great people. I did not speak your language or sit in Manifest. You did not know my heart, nor I yours. To learn, I asked for the tutelage of Nistoth, and as a Beautiful One, he accepted me, making me a member of those he instructed. For this I thank him with great fervor.
Even though the Jinda ceb were kind, I missed my husband and my land. Time was a slow dance for my husband. We did not know what would happen to him, though you graciously allowed me to view him in his different world. I looked in upon him and I could barely perceive that he moved. He looked still as stone, but that was wrong. He did move, like a seed moves in the soil toward germination, he advanced toward his terrible fate. Thousands of days passed for me, during which time I suffered to know what would become of him. I looked every day, each time seeing a different position for him. He was moving toward things we could not know.
When I finally saw that the Tarig meant to kill my husband, having him in prison, and Lord Ghinamid risen from his bier, I feared the death of the last hope of the Rose (that dark and splendid realm). I begged Nistoth to intervene though it would be an aggression, and not properly shared in Manifest. I urged the Beautiful One to haste. The Rose will die. My husband will die. Bring me into the Entire, I pleaded, and for the love the Beautiful One bore me, he carried me over.
I do not know what effect this had in Manifest. I do not know if my departure was seen as ill considered. If there were unintended consequences I wish to express my deep remorse. I owed you nothing but honor and to submit to instruction as I had asked. I value every day I spent in the artistry of your lives, though it was an ache in my heart to be far from home.
I did not say good-bye. My hope was to see my Jinda ceb friends again when you came home to the Entire. By my husband’s decree, that will be soon.
I look forward with joy to seeing Nistoth again and my many Jinda ceb friends. I will be at your disposal to help you, if someone so unworthy as I can have anything to offer your most honorable selves.
With his advisors, Quinn listened to the messenger’s report.
“It was as quiet as an Adda floating to ground. As gentle as a curtain opening.” The sturdy Jout spoke with a poetic sensibility. But the subject was cosmic geography: the minoral of the Jinda ceb brought into conjunction with the Entire.
The Jout had finished his description of the great reconnection of the lost minoral of the Paion, although he had only witnessed the opening of the Scar to reveal the new minoral behind. He was a godder, it appeared. All of Zhiya’s operatives were godders or had pretended to be. This one wore a white sash as evidence of his calling.
Quinn sat on a bench in the main room of the command tent. His occupation force—such as it was—looked like a camp. Some might wish for him to have formal quarters.
Zhiya was one. She hated the title he’d adopted. But: “Regent,” she said, this being a council meeting, “the Jinda ceb may need a protective force near their minoral. They’re hated. An incident wouldn’t be helpful.”
“They beat back the Tarig for a thousand thousand days.” Quinn thought the Jinda ceb could take care of themselves.
Tai stood by, wearing his jeweled sword as always and with active scrolls in case something needed recording.
Anzi sat serene and warmer toward him today, if he judged aright. Thinking of her tangled in green silk robes sent a flash of desire through him.
Ci Dehai sat in the fifth chair. He had chosen to swear an oath to the regent of the Entire. Quinn trusted this decision, though Ci Dehai’s ravaged half-face could not be read and although swearing to Quinn put him directly against the Entire. The general of the Long War had answered, That is a war for another day. Quinn accepted the statement at face value. If it comes to war, you may decide again, General. Ci Dehai had bowed, the bargain struck.
Quinn glanced at Anzi. She responded to Zhiya: “Let us ask the Jinda ceb when they arrive. They may want no reminders of wartime.”
A delegation of Jinda ceb would control and stabilize all the mechanics and physics of the Entire, as the Tarig had once done. So they would be tech masters. Without the Jinda ceb, he could never send the Tarig back to the Heart—where they were going as soon as might be arranged. They were already massed at the Ascendancy, every one of them, having been summoned home by Ghinamid before the fight that felled the Sleeping Lord. As far as Quinn knew, they sat up in their manses in that quasi sleep they used to alleviate boredom. They did not stir out, under his threat of using the mSap to close their door home once and for all.
Sometimes Lord Inweer came onto his balcony to gaze out. He was a true Tarig individual, or as close to one as a Tarig got. Those like him called themselves solitaires, who preferred never to mix with the general swarm in what the Lady Demat had called their congregate state. It gave Quinn pause, the thought of forcing the solitaires back to that primeval pool. But they had all—all of them—planned to burn the Rose. Banishment was a merciful punishment.
After the messenger left, Ci Dehai spoke. “Where will we billet the Jinda ceb representatives when they arrive at the Ascendancy?”
After a pause in which Quinn gave no opinion, Anzi offered hers. “The plaza. To keep some distance between them and the Tarig.”
Zhiya said, “So long as they are not next to us.”
“The farther away, the more exposed to a raid,” Ci Dehai countered.
“My godders do not like the Paion.”
Ci Dehai muttered, “A soldier does not have to like the company he gets.”
“My godders are not soldiers.”
Quinn held up a hand. “Ask your operatives, Zhiya, how they can best protect the Jinda ceb when they arrive. Report back to me.”
A brief nod as she cut a glance at the general. “We have all lost those we love to these creatures.”
Quinn sighed. So much for the peace of the Entire. How, by the Miserable God, had he arrived at this place, holding the Tarig at bay, changing the geography of minorals, inviting an ancient enemy home? The Rose, Anzi always reminded him. We have done it all for the Rose. Otherwise, husband, would
we not be in a far sway, finding peace in each other’s arms? That must have been in the first days after her return, before she decided that, next to him, she looked old.
“Without the Jinda ceb,” Quinn went on, “the Entire will roll up like a rug. Tell this to your godders, Zhiya, and make sure they understand. We need the Jinda ceb, or the Tarig will have to stay and keep things running. I may be the regent, but I’m not a lord and never said I was.”
Zhiya said, “We’re putting the All in the hands of those we hardly know.”
What choice did they have? Compared with the Tarig, the Jinda ceb were vastly preferable, at least from Anzi’s reports. They had rescued her when she had drifted between branes. Quinn was very predisposed to think well of them.
Quinn put iron in his voice. “Nevertheless, Zhiya, the Jinda ceb will take charge.”
“Regent,” she said, evenly enough.
“When the representatives arrive,” Anzi said, “I should greet them. It is best if they see a face they know. If they send a Beautiful One, then Titus, in respect you must come forward to see that individual.”
“Not without a guard,” Zhiya said.
Quinn shook his head. “No guards.”
“If they wish to kill us,” Anzi said, “they don’t need proximity.”
“If they were strong, they would have won the Long War,” Ci Dehai said.
Anzi sighed. “They were afraid that the Entire would . . . roll up like a rug. They kept their war small. We should never forget their restraint.”
Quinn declared, “I’ll meet any Beautiful Ones personally, without a guard.”
He looked around at his emergency council. Protocols with the Jinda ceb were the least of their issues.
There was Sydney, who wanted to preserve the Entire at any cost. Her goal would doubtless be to restart the engine at Ahnenhoon. To do so she needed either the Tarig or the Jinda ceb. He meant to banish the one and persuade the other. If either could be done.
There was also Geng De’s claim to weave the future against him. Zhiya especially took this seriously. Because it was a navitar’s vision—her mother’s—she gave this idea more credence than he did. Despite Zhiya’s mother, despite the mutterings of Ghoris, Quinn doubted anyone could direct the
future, or reach out to constrain a person’s will. Nevertheless, Zhiya had her operatives busy in Rim City, watching everything Sydney, Cixi, and Geng De did. So far, Sydney’s plans were impenetrable.
“We should arrest Geng De,” Zhiya said, matching his thoughts.
“We’re not strong enough even if they had given us provocation.”
“You have the brightships.”
And he could fly them, too. That had been John Hastings’s first assignment, to figure out how to pilot them. Using the mSap, it had not taken long.
Ci Dehai said, “We could bring the army from Ahnenhoon. My forces would overwhelm the Rim City compound.”
Quinn wouldn’t hear of an attack on the crystal bridge. “We have no proof.”
Ci Dehai countered, “No intelligence is ever perfect. With the stakes so high, strike first.”
“No,” Quinn said. He gazed at each one, locking his decision in.
Ci Dehai muttered, “The army has nothing to do. An idle force goes soft.”
“Not a reason for war.”
Zhiya snorted. “We have every reason.”
“We’ll do nothing until the Jinda ceb arrive,” Quinn said. He looked at each of them. For the first time it occurred to him that any one of them might be influenced by Geng De. Geng De might want a precipitous action to incite the Entire against him or even to influence the Jinda ceb by showing him as aggressor.
He shoved the thought away, not wanting to believe such things were possible.
Nevertheless, the thought hovered.
Adopt no customs of foreign climes, lest you become a stranger in your own sway.
—from Admonitions for Travelers
BELLS CLANGED AND THREE-STRINGED INSTRUMENTS WHINED as the tenth course of dinner came around. Unless it was the fifteenth course. Sen Ni hadn’t kept count, having been satiated hours ago.
“I can’t eat another thing,” she whispered to Cixi as another platter made its way toward the head table.
“Her favorite dish,” Cixi murmured to the servant. “A large helping.” And once more Sen Ni’s plate was full. “Give no insult, dear girl. You can purge later.”
Cixi was in her element, officiating among clamoring servants, bestowing nods upon magistrates who’d come expressly to see her, and also to see the mistress, and of course to gape at Geng De, a personage of great curiosity, said to be Sen Ni’s religious tutor. Lover, even.
The room stank of incense and sharp, spicy food. As it should: the mistress of the sway—the quite new sway, the sway that had never been a sway before—was embarking on a journey of great distance. Rumor had it that it would take three navitar vessels to carry her silks as well as presents for her
favorite barbarian, Riod of the Inyx. The undertaking became an excuse for festivities, if Rim City needed a reason for a party, which it normally would not, except that dark times had befallen the city, the scene of riots and the Tarig quelling. All the more reason to be happy if circumstance allowed.
On Sen Ni’s other side, Geng De had fallen asleep. He had gamely partaken of the feast and listened carefully to the Red Throne priests’ Admonitions for Travelers, but now, at the late hour, had closed his eyes.
Sen Ni rose from her place. “The wash stall, Mother.”
She made her escape through the crowd of merchants, officials, and hangers-on. Followed by Emar-Vod and another Hirrin guard, Sen Ni passed from the dining hall into the cool corridor, making straight for the wash stall so that no one would intercept her.
In the Entire, bathrooms were very large and the various apparatuses for washing and relieving functions were extensive. All Sen Ni’s wash stalls had mirrors—an innovation. She splashed water on her face and dried herself, noting with annoyance her hair arrangement, a tangle of knots at the back of
her neck along with colorful spiked tassels protruding. Riod would hardly recognize her when she went home.
No, Riod knew her by her heart, so it hardly mattered that she looked like a mandarin princess who couldn’t sit a tall chair much less an Inyx. Silks so fine they wouldn’t survive an hour’s ride under the bright . . .
Oh, Riod, my heart. Look what has happened. The Tarig felled. We found their weakness, the place they cross over. You found it, Riod. And my father used it to own the Entire. Look at me, a princess in silks. Presiding over platters of food . . . She yanked at the knots in her hair, throwing the tassels in the waste channel, and ran her hands through her hair, freeing it.
By the time she got to her gardens, Emar-Vod had taken the correct measure of her mood, and held well back.
Kicking off her shoes, Sen Ni walked barefoot on the soft ground cover, releasing a pungent scent of cloves. From between the trees came a glimmer of the sea, never far from sight on this great bridge over the Nigh. The orphanage lay beyond the garden, its scalloped roofs graceful against the Twilight Ebb sky. Geng De had urged her to start the home. Cynically, he was all for the public gesture; she had taken his measure early on. As a babe, he had fallen in the Nigh and came out minus a heart, but with a talent for weaving. A terrible trade. Yet she called him her brother because she needed his powers, now that her father had betrayed her, as Geng De had predicted he would.
In moments of clarity she knew that it wasn’t father against daughter—a question merely of who would rule. It was about which world would survive. The Rose was vast and endowed with mass and sustaining economies of physics; the Entire was constructed, and would need resources from the Rose
to sustain itself. The darklings should by rights share resources, but they would not. Even if they might claim they would, who would trust the Rose not to send a killing nan to eliminate a competitor? For this reason Helice Maki’s proposition to have it all burn immediately had been the Entire’s only true safety. But Helice was dead. And not only that, but Ahnenhoon was shut down. Soon, when Riod told the people what was at stake and how Titus Quinn had doomed them, the Entire would rise up and drive him off his throne.
Given the justice of this cause, it seemed diabolically unfair that Titus was the one rogue strand, the one sentient whom Geng De couldn’t grasp in his hands. Why did heaven bestow such protection on Titus Quinn? Geng De was working very hard to tame that rogue strand, she knew.
Approaching the garden gazebo, she glimpsed a shock of white hair in the bushes nearby. A very small child bent over a ball and, laughing, threw it up in the air. It bounced onto the ground cover, where the child raced to fetch it.
He was so young that he still ran like he would fall over any minute. Dressed in a long tunic with his hair cropped close, he was too focused on the ball to notice Sen Ni’s approach. He squatted down to pick up the ball once more, and then tossed it with a heave of his arm. She watched him, finally
ascending the gazebo stairs to take a seat on the bench inside.
With jerky strides the boy pursued the ball into a tangle of vines. Once found, the ball flew out of the boy’s hands again. This time it landed in the gazebo, rolling under the bench. He spun around, looking.
“Tiejun!” came a voice in the distance. “Tiejun!”
Now the boy saw Sen Ni, and at the same time, the ball that had come to rest near her feet.
Sen Ni picked up the ball and held it out to him. “Here it is.”
The child stood soldier-still, considering her. Then he took a step toward the gazebo, his face suggesting that this interloper was something of a thief.
She rolled the ball across the floor toward him.
Just as he was about to pounce on it, a servant burst into the clearing, spying her quarry. “Tiejun! You are so bad a child!” She stalked forward and swept him up.
She noticed a woman in the gazebo. “Oh! Is that you, Yali?” Then, seeing her mistake, she quickly bowed. “Mistress, pardon!”
“No harm. Tiejun was entertaining me.”
The servant misjudged Sen Ni’s mood, hastening to explain. “He ran and we tried to find him, but he wouldn’t sleep . . . and this ball, we’ve had no end of trouble with the ball and then—”
Sen Ni stopped her with a wave. “Your name?”
“Well then, Ling, let him run free when you can. The children should play as much as possible, yes?” Sen Ni approached the nurse and child, holding out the toy. “Here, Tiejun. But bedtime now. Tomorrow, throwing again.”
The boy took the ball, not smiling, but eyes more forgiving now that she had not kept his prize.
That’s right, small boy. Do not trust too easily.
“My sister.” A voice from behind.
Geng De had come into the clearing. “Here is a small party, escaped from the larger one.”
“Yes,” Sen Ni said. “We’ve been throwing a ball.”
On hearing the word ball, Tiejun thrust his fat fists in the air, holding the ball in two hands.
“Sen Ni is good to give you the ball, young one.” Geng De flicked a glance at Ling. “Is she not?”
“Yes, Master Navitar.” Ling’s demeanor was now all formality, with two personages catching her in the errant duty of containing Tiejun.
“It was your mistress who made the orphanage and bid the children come. Remember to tell those you see.” He turned to Tiejun. “Can you say ‘Sen Ni’?”
The boy solemnly stared. “Sen Ni,” Geng De repeated.
“He has few words yet, Master,” Ling said.
“Oh? I am not used to children. Do they not talk from the start? I did. But no matter; it was the Nigh that taught me.”
Sen Ni waved Ling away, and the two figures disappeared into the shadows of the garden.
“The people love you for the children’s sake,” Geng De said, watching Tiejun and the nurse depart.
“That’s not why I wanted the orphanage.”
“It’s why I thought of it.”
The youngsters’ parents had been slaughtered by the lords in the midst of the city. Some of them fell before their own children’s eyes. “You have no heart, Geng De.”
“No. Is it good to have one?” He sounded like he wanted to know.
It gave her pause. “I’m not sure.” When had having a heart ever given her anything but the most exquisite pain?
Oh Riod, she thought. Tomorrow’s journey would take her to him. If things could be as they had been—on the steppe with her one true friend—she would gladly give up the crystal bridge, the people’s love. The coming war.
The old Jout had seen villainy in his day, but never murder. Now four citizens lay in their own blood on the Ascendancy’s hangar floor, struck down by Tarig lords.
Breund felt sickened and angry, and though he was old and no great personage, he spat out at the nearest lord, “These deaths will be remembered.” The lord’s hand came up, claws extruded.
“Leave him be.” Lord Inweer had moved between Breund and the other lord. “He is mine.”
The claws retracted. “Kill him yourself, then.”
Breund steeled himself, though his petaled skin would make him hard to kill with mere claws. Lord Inweer resented him, he felt sure. Constantly at the lord’s side, ready to report any irregularities. But Inweer made no move.
Across the hangar, Tarig crowded into the brightships. Just the solitaires, of course. The ones who feared the Heart.
The lord who had threatened him said, “We must all leave at once. Choose your ship, Cousin.”
Lord Inweer’s deep voice came softly. “But all these ships are going to the same place. Therefore there is no difference among them.”
“No, my lord, we will separate. We will spread out.”
“Still. The brightships will fall from the sky.” Lord Inweer surveyed the five ships, adding, “Each one.”
“Ah? That never fell from the sky before?”
“A manner of speaking, Cousin. But you will all perish. Where can you go? We are hated, blamed for the Long War, despised for our very selves. Better to stay.”
Breund allowed a deep breath to fill his chest. Lord Inweer would stay. Breund would keep his prisoner. The regent had chosen a congregant of the Red Throne to watch over Lord Inweer, and it would not redound to the society’s credit should he fail.
The other Tarig stared blackly. “Titus Quinn will force us back to the Heart. We will lose our particularity. You are one of us, Cousin. You wish to reform in the fire?”
“One does not wish it, but Titus Quinn can reprieve. He needs us.”
“He does not. He will have the Jinda ceb Horat. You are foolish, Cousin. With our lesser cousins, you will walk into the fire.” He turned and strode toward the nearest brightship.
Lord Inweer watched as the lord leapt through the open access hatch of the ship. The gap closed behind him. Inweer murmured, “Your regent will not banish this bright lord, Breund. Do not fear losing your post.”
Breund had never asked to be the lord’s keeper and did not, in fact, fear losing his position so much as his good name.
A shimmer overhead. The shield above the hangar had evaporated. Without pause, the brightships leaped from their berths, rushing into the air like a flock of dragons. In perfect synchronicity, they shot out at angles, separating toward what might be their destinations in the five primacies. But who knew the Tarig mind? Surely not Breund, a retired merchant, an elder of the Red Throne, a common sentient who never knew the Ascendancy until the change of power came upon them.
He watched as the brightships vanished into the bright. What could they hope to do, these solitaires? Who would they rule, or where would they find mansions to contain them? Titus Quinn would pursue them. Oh, but now all the ships were gone. Perhaps, when the Jinda ceb came, they would build new ones.
The lord gestured toward the nearest doorway, flicking his wrist in a casual gesture. “Make your report, Breund.”
“First we look to the wounded.” Breund kneeled down beside the nearest guard.
“When a Tarig means to kill, success is usual.”
The lord might be right, but Breund knelt to his task, by each of the four guards. The solitaires had dispatched all of them with a stroke to each throat. So close to the bright, the bloody floor shimmered in its glare.
“Remain here, Lord Inweer,” Breund said. He left with what haste his old legs could muster. He would be the bearer of dark news, indeed: The solitaires fled. And toward what machinations?
They fought, Titus Quinn and Lord Hadenth, a match that could have but one outcome, being a human against a Tarig. Titus had a knife; the lord, boot blades and extruded claws. But the Tarig had ridden a brightship through the silver fire of the sky. His skin was gone, and the last scraps of his mind. Titus closed for the kill. But the lord, still proud, turned and walked into the embrace of the storm wall.
—from Annals of a Former Prince
IN DEEP EBB, Quinn moved among a contingent of guards across the plaza, making for the hill of mansions.
At his side Zhiya said, “Let me take stock of the hangar. No need for you to come among them.”
“If they wish me dead, easily done.” Four hundred eighty lords remained.
“Why hand them the knife, my dear?”
He didn’t believe these Tarig posed a danger. They still feared the mSap. He could activate it and destroy their door home. They wanted to go home, now that it was inevitable, now that, he suspected, they no longer cared about staying—the whole charade being over: the radiant land, the gracious lords, the patriotic war.
Zhiya said, “The worst is, they took the brightships.”
He nodded. A major blunder that they had let the brightships get away.
Zhiya’s guards, twenty strong, clattered in full weaponry behind him. Her ready force of supposed godders provided him with bodyguards if not a fighting force. They crossed two plaza bridges and began climbing the steps, now moving double-file, Quinn and Zhiya in the lead.
“Send Ci Dehai to Ahnenhoon,” Zhiya said, “to stand watch over it.”
He had thought that he should send the general. But it did little good to hold the fortress when the engine could be activated remotely. Had the solitaires that power? He thought that they did.
But why would the solitaires want to restart Ahnenhoon? The game was over for them. They would now be a small, despised fragment of the Tarig elite. They could not, even with all their powers, hope to control the population unless by the consent of the masses. Ahnenhoon was likely safe from them; they had fled for their lives, as simple as that. And yet it was safest to order Ahnenhoon reduced to rubble.
“What happens if I take Ahnenhoon down? Dismantle the engine.” They ascended past the terrace where he had once hidden with Lady Demat when Ghinamid was on the hunt. Then, a few steps more, and off to the left lay the garden of the child he’d known only by the term of endearment Small Girl. His history was all here, woven into the adobe stone of the mansions where he had been prince, fugitive, prisoner. They went past the mansion of Chiron, climbing.
“I could have the army take it apart. Rebuilding might be impossible for a handful of lords.”
“Time to do it, Titus.”
But taking away the thing that fueled the Entire might paint Quinn as an enemy of the Entire. “Sentients might see it as the Entire’s death sentence. They might favor Sen Ni.”
“Then she takes control. But without Ahnenhoon’s engine, she is declawed. Tear it down, I say.”
They entered the hangar. Empty of ships, as he had known; but still, a shock. Twenty-three solitaires had escaped, all of them except Inweer, who waited in the shadows against the distant wall. The enormous shelter with its wedge-shaped ship bays was a lonely and bloody scene. Zhiya went forward, kneeling by the nearest body.
Breund came forward. “Master Regent, Inweer is still here.”
“Thank you, Breund. Did Lord Inweer raise a hand against these guards?”
“Or threaten you?”
“No, Master Regent.”
Well, then. Inweer would live to see another day. Quinn turned to a guard. “Take the bodies away, please. See to the place.” The guard left to summon workers.
Zhiya crouched by a Chalin woman, stocky and older. “Her name was Weng.”
“The last to die at the hands of the Tarig. I’m sorry, Zhiya.”
Zhiya’s long braid had fallen over her shoulder, dipping onto the floor, where it wicked up blood. “The last?” She looked toward the edge of the hangar where the ships had launched. “It will be the last when they all swim in the fire.”
Quinn walked over to the lip of the hangar, very close to the edge. Below, the spires and roofs of the lords’ mansions, and beyond, the glare of the Sea of Arising. Above, the dome of the silver sky. It was as though he stood in a void, with a few floating houses at his feet, habitations of creatures he could
not understand although he had spent long years among them.
Breund came to his side again. “Lord Inweer asks to join you, Regent.”
Quinn stared at the roofs below. Little specks of black littered the roofs and pinnacles. Bird drones. Stopped in place, encrustations on the roof tiles. He wanted no flying spies, though he could have used some to warn him of this disaster.
“He may come.”
Breund glanced at the precipitous fall. “Will you have a guard, Regent?”
“Let him come.”
Breund ducked away.
He had driven the solitaires to this escape. They, of all the Tarig, were averse to the undifferentiated consciousness of the Heart. He should have banished them first, not waited like this. He could have demanded their Tarig cousins send them home. But how to tell which were solitaires and which were not? And, further reason to wait, of all the Tarig he might have trusted the solitaires to protect the Entire’s functions, its arts and devices that bloody well kept it humming. Why should the others care who had their homeland and for whom the Entire had only been a diversion? So he’d delayed, and given them time to conspire.
He heard Lord Inweer’s approach. “Where did they go?” Quinn asked him without turning.
“To hide.” Inweer moved next to him, gazing out also. “They did not tell me where they would go; perhaps they do not know.”
No apology. Well, Inweer took no responsibility for this, Quinn guessed.
“They might go to live in another cosmos.” He snaked a look at Inweer. “Or they might shore up the engine at Ahnenhoon.”
“If they do, let me prevent them.”
So this was his leverage. “What do you want, my lord?”
“My true life.”
It gave Quinn pause to hear the lord state a humble wish to live. Add to that, Inweer no longer affected the twisted pronouns. Maybe this was one way that he asserted his new individualism. Behind them, Quinn heard the arrival of attendants who came to take charge of the bodies. It reminded him of all that the lords had done against him and those he loved.
Perhaps Inweer guessed these thoughts. He said, “We lose our particularity in the congregate state. It is a horror to those who have kept separate these thousands of days. Perhaps you will grant a reprieve, ah?”
“Do you ask for all of them, or only yourself?”
“In your place, I would banish them. Twenty-three Tarig is a force. One is not.”
Quinn turned to look at Inweer at last. He stepped back a pace so that he did not have to look up at such an angle. “You can’t go free.”
“I wish to be free.”
“No, my lord. Your crimes . . . I can’t, I won’t pardon them.” Inweer had been at Ahnenhoon, the one charged with keeping the machine ready.
Inweer countered, “You do not know the Jinda ceb Horat. You will be at their mercy, for the disciplines required to preserve things.”
“It’s their home. They’ll preserve things.”
“But perhaps not the Rose.”
That was the ugly thought that was never far from his mind. That the Jinda ceb would solve the resource issues by the easiest course just as the Tarig had.
“In that case you and I, Lord Inweer, can’t prevent them.” Inweer would have to offer more than policing of Ahnenhoon.
“There is Johanna, though,” Inweer said.
A gust of wind scoured into the hangar, taking with it the remains of the conversation. Irrelevantly, Quinn remembered that since the brightships had just flown, the force field that kept the hangar protected would still be suppressed.
“Johanna,” Quinn said, low and wary.
“Her story is different than you know.”
The lord stood under the scalding bright, his skin glinting bronze, impervious. Quinn felt an urge to back the lord against the lip of the hangar. To see him fall.
“Tell me, by the Miserable God.”
Breund and the attendants approached with queries written in their expressions.
“Leave us!” Quinn snapped. He turned to Inweer, struggling for control.
The lord narrowed his eyes at this display of temper, and said, more conciliatory, “I sent her to safety. I gave out that she was buried at Ahnenhoon where she fell. The Five had to be placated, and she was a traitor to my cousins. For myself, I understood her.”
Quinn tried to understand what he was hearing. Johanna’s death. A lie. Relief moved through him, strong and fresh. She had not deserved what she got when he’d left her to the Tarig revenge. He remembered that terrible hour at Ahnenhoon: He had had the nan, and it was leaking, and he had to give it to the Nigh before it destroyed the plains of Ahnenhoon, and everything with it. So he fled and Johanna lay dying. Mo Ti reported her dead.
“Where is she?”
“That knowledge is, you understand, my last advantage.” Inweer went on, “I am a lord of the Tarig consensus. I am a part of the Tarig will that created the Entire. Now I have become less, a separate being, a particular entity. I do not know what I am, altogether. But I will not give up Johanna’s truth
without an advantage. You would do the same, against me. Give me the honor of a bargain.”
Quinn moved to the very lip of the hangar, trying to catch another breath of wind, but it was all calm and hot. “Is she well? Is she free?”
“She is as free as one could devise. Her wounds are healed.”
“What is the bargain?”
“Leave me free for a thousand days. Then learn her fate.”
Quinn turned back to the lord, letting bitterness come into his voice. “A thousand days? Not a long life, for a lord of the Tarig consensus.”
“After a thousand days say whether I am a danger or not. If not, let me stay.”
Quinn waved Breund forward, eager for a practical problem to resolve. “What?” he asked Breund.
“Regent, the attendants need the shield back, to make active the cleaning devices that will do for the stains.”
Bloodstains. The molecular cleansing of the Ascendancy might not work with the shield gone, lest the function somehow interfere with ships coming or going. Well, why didn’t they trigger the dome in that case? Then he realized that he stood too near the edge for the shield to be safely activated.
“Yes, Breund, activate it.” Moving back from the edge, he approached Inweer. “A thousand days is too long.” The lord was begging for his life. It seemed pathetic that Inweer had fallen so far. “Go back to your quarters, my lord. Give us respect for our dead.” He walked away, heading back through the hangar, leaving them all to their duties. Overhead the shield fell over the place in a soft buzz and a waver of light.
He went down the outside steps alone, waving off the guards, thinking, Johanna is still alive.
Lord Inweer was using her once again.
“When the Jinda ceb come, Titus, let them heal your arm.” Anzi murmured this as they sat together in bed reading scrolls that Tai said needed their attention. She stroked his forearm, where a deep scar made a furrow.
“I may not need that arm.” He smiled at her, trying to make light of the infirmity, the one he kept in penance. Penance for killing the Tarig child, for drowning that being who was no child at all but who always would be mixed up in his mind with another child he had betrayed. His own.
“We have need of everything,” Anzi said. Every advantage, she thought, every strength. For what was coming. When the Jinda ceb arrived, she would persuade them to safeguard the Rose. She knew them and was their friend. Especially, she was Nistoth’s friend. She would never forget his kindness in
delivering her into the fray when the Ascendancy was coming apart and she feared for the loss of her husband and the Rose. Had he not acted quickly, she might have been too late; had he stopped to consult Manifest, it all would have been too late.
Outside, Deep Ebb brought silence to the plaza, the only sound the soft passage of water through the nearest canal.
Titus passed a scroll to her, saying absently, “The list of senior functionaries that Suzong proposes to keep in the Magisterium.”
Evening was the only time they were alone to talk, and though she hated for him to lose a quiet moment, still, she said, “Do you trust him?”
He put down his scroll. “Inweer? Trust—I wouldn’t say trust.”
“What would you say?”
But Titus had no answer, staring at the tent wall as though hoping for a clue written there.
Anzi’s heart sank. He couldn’t be thinking of letting Inweer remain. Who had more reason to hate Titus, to hate the change of regime? “Then send him home.”
“He didn’t run with the solitaires.”
Strangely, Titus was softening by the hour to Inweer’s proposal. Why? Was it Johanna? Inweer had said she was free and well. What more did Titus need to know on the subject of Johanna? But Anzi knew very well what more he might need. Anzi had met Johanna. Defiant, brave, beautiful. Young.
She put down Suzong’s scroll and turned to her husband. “He might want to appear trustworthy, only to turn on us later.” When Titus didn’t answer, she offered a compromise, “Pardon him if you must, but keep him under control in the Ascendancy.”
“Why do you fear him so, Anzi?”
“Why do you favor him?”
At the sharpening tone of the conversation, they both paused. They were on the edge of things Anzi did not wish to speak of. Johanna’s return, for one.
Perhaps it was best if she did return, if it was what Titus wanted. It was beneath Anzi to quibble about the status of a woman who had suffered so much, and for whose fate Anzi was originally responsible. And while Anzi was content for him to take other lovers, Johanna was different. Somehow different.
Titus laid his work aside. “You may be right, Anzi. Let me think on it.” He kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll walk out.”
She wanted to go with him, but he was walking out to be alone. So the conversation had separated them further, and she had not even said the worst things.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“And I you. Desperately and forever. Be sure of that.”
But she wasn’t sure. They had been separated for so long. She was no longer young—a thing Titus claimed made no difference. But was she the same Anzi who he had loved before? She would become that Anzi again, if she knew how. But the passage of time and her stay among the Jinda ceb had changed her subtly, in ways she could never untangle. He no longer knew her. How could he love her, then? His protestations did little to reassure her.
It would be like him to say the honorable thing.
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
Design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
Kay Kenyon, nominated for the Philip K. Dick and the John W. Campbell awards, began her writing career in Duluth, MN as a copywriter for radio and TV. She is the author of nine sf/f novels including Bright of the Sky, A World Too Near, and City Without End. Recent short stories appeared in Fast Forward 2 and The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Vol. Two. Her work has been translated into French, Russian, Spanish and Czech. When not writing, she encourages newcomers to the field through workshops, a writing e-newsletter, and a conference in eastern Washington State, Write on the River, of which she is chair. She lives in Wenatchee, WA with her husband. Visit her online at http://www.kaykenyon.com/