The most exalted of habitations is the Ascendancy. But the longest is Rim City.
—from The Radiant Way
IN THE NEVER-ENDING CITY, Ji Anzi and Titus Quinn finally found a magistrate willing to marry them. In this city of one hundred billion people, they had few friends. One, to be exact: Zhiya. And she was a despised godder, though appearances could be misleading. Anzi knew that Zhiya’s network of contacts sent tendrils throughout Rim City, throughout the Entire.
One of Zhiya’s contacts was this resin-addicted magistrate who lay before them. He was barely conscious, an impoverished legate who lived on the never-ending wharf in a hovel almost too small to hold the three-person wedding party. It wouldn’t do to engage a fully conscious magistrate to officiate. The whole city was looking for Titus and Anzi, backed up by legions of Tarig, and perhaps Titus’s enemies in the Rose as well. He was a man well hated, but beloved of Ji Anzi.
She held his hand now, ready to join their lives. It must be done quickly. With so many searching for them, they might be discovered at any moment. Titus said that marriage was a thing that would bind them now and forever, no matter what happened next. He was, Anzi knew from profound experience, a man who wanted a family. He’d had one. Now he had her, and it seemed he meant to keep her.
The legate had agreed to marry them, but Changjun stunk of resin-laden smoke and was so weak he couldn’t sit up.
Titus turned to the godwoman Zhiya. “He’s half dead.”
Zhiya shrugged. “The less he remembers, the better.”
Anzi looked askance at the magistrate, wondering how she had come to this moment, to marry Titus Quinn in a shack that smelled of drugs and vomit.
The legate reached in the direction of the voices, rasping something unintelligible.
“Certainly,” Zhiya answered him. “Your fee to be paid in resin.” She brought out a small chunk from her pocket, opening her palm to display it. “Yours very soon, honorable Changjun.” Zhiya might serve the God of the Entire, but she was not above drug dealing and treason. Titus trusted the dwarf godwoman with whom he’d forged a friendship on his way to Ahnen-hoon. Anzi took his word for it that Zhiya opposed the lords and supported Titus—a startling betrayal for a high-ranking Venerable.
A spike of laughter from outside reminded Anzi that amid Rim crowds were many who would gladly hand them over to the Tarig. After Ahnenhoon, she and Titus were notorious. But what, Anzi wondered, did people think had happened at Ahnenhoon to make both her and the famous outlaw fugitives? She doubted the realm’s sentients knew the All needed the Rose for burning. She doubted they knew Ahnenhoon was the sight of more than the Long War. Its fortress was the repository for the great engine that was already burning stars, allowing the Tarig to test their plans for further burning.
Looking around the filthy hovel, Anzi wondered if the legate could be roused to conduct the civil ceremony. He was saturated with the drug and had pissed himself. This was not the marriage she had dreamed of. Was it a good idea? They hadn’t had time to think it through. Titus loved her and was taking her for his second wife. Second, if Joanna was still alive. This was doubtful. But for Titus’s sake, she hoped Johanna lived. The burden of her death was something Anzi hoped he would be spared by the God of Misery.
Zhiya checked again at the door—as though she could stop a Tarig from entering. Zhiya was hardly a soldier: barely four feet in height, with a sideways gamboling walk and a persistent disregard for her service to her religious order.
Zhiya smiled at the reeking legate. “Hurry, Excellency,” she crooned, “Marry them and celebrate with the heavenly smoke.”
The legate roused himself onto one elbow, but it was only to reach for the nugget. Zhiya surged forward and shook him by the shoulders. “By the mucking bright . . .” she began. But the man fell back, eyes rolling up. He had passed out.
From just beyond the walls came the sound of the sea splatting against the breakwater. Changjun’s room had a glorious location next to the largest sea in either universe. But then everyone in Rim City had more or less the same location, the city being many thousand of miles long and a stone’s throw wide.
Titus glanced at Zhiya. “Check the street. We’re leaving.”
Zhiya didn’t budge. “I could perform the ceremony.”
Anzi stifled a gasp of dismay. “No. You’re a godwoman. The Miserable God would curse us.” Anzi cast around for another solution. “Find us a priest of the Red Throne.”
Zhiya kicked at the slumbering legate, muttering. “My dear, it’s a charming thought to be helped by a Red priest. Unfortunately, it would get us all killed. But if you get another idea, be sure to keep it to yourself.”
“But,” Anzi continued, unfazed, “the Society of the Red Throne—”
“Believes in the lords, commerce, and the three vows. No, Anzi, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Only three can do the job: a legate, a ship keeper, or a godder.” Motioning toward the comatose legate, Zhiya said, “You’re down to two choices. See any ship keepers?”
Titus looked at Anzi, saying softly, “Let her do it, my love. What more can the Miserable God bring on us?”
Anzi raised an eyebrow. What more could He do? What, besides threaten the Rose universe with extinction? What, besides give Titus a weapon to save the Rose, and then, diabolically, make it a weapon he couldn’t bring himself to use? The cirque he’d brought into the Entire, the small silver chain around his ankle, had proven to be a molecular weapon that would erase not just the Tarig threat but the whole of the Entire. At Ahnen-hoon, as Titus was at the very moment of depositing the weapon at the base of the engine, Titus’s first wife told him to make peace with his God. In this way she let slip that Titus was about to die. That everyone in the Entire was about to die, since the weapon would destroy the Entire. He’d asked her what she knew of the cirque and how she could know. He learned that he’d been tricked by Lord Oventroe to bring a doomsday weapon to Ahnenhoon. Oven-troe, who had inspected the cirque and promised it would take down only the engine.
They had fled Ahnenhoon, he and Anzi, with the job undone, the engine still churning. But they were forced to leave Johanna behind. She had no doubt been caught at the foot of the engine, the place she was forbidden to be. No doubt it all came out, eventually, what she was there for.
A saving grace was that Johanna would be forced to reveal that Titus had the overwhelming weapon. That he left with it. It could still destroy the Tarig land. Therefore the lords did not dare to simply cross over to the Rose and kill the Earth to forestall future aggression. The lords would most certainly do so if not restrained by this most useful deterrent: the cirque in Titus’s possession.
But the problem was he had thrown the cirque away.
Titus said again, “Let her do the ceremony, Anzi.”
He looked at her with such longing it nearly stopped her breath. Anzi slid a glance at the godwoman, considering whether she could bear to be married by a godder.
Zhiya blurted, “You think I want to do it? If you ask me, Titus should marry me. I’ve lusted after him from the first day I saw him.” She shrugged apologetically at Titus’s bride-to-be.
Titus was still focused on Anzi. “Marry me, Ji Anzi, and let the Miserable God do his worst.”
At the blasphemy, she raised two fingers to her left eye. “Beloved, never say it.”
“Someone has to stand up to him.”
Anzi turned to Zhiya. “Yes, then,” she whispered. “You’re not so despised a godder as most.”
Zhiya sighed. “By God’s balls, a fine compliment. But shall we get on with this?”
“Yes, Venerable,” Anzi said, almost inaudible. “Bless us.” She closed her eyes, unable to meet Zhiya’s gaze.
Without preamble, the godwoman muttered the blessing. Anzi heard it in a blur of resin smoke and adrenaline . . . counter of sins, creator of misery . . . do not look on this paltry couple, do not bring thine eye to their small, mean, and plodding lives . . .
“Anzi,” Titus said at last, nudging her from a sickening reverie. He drew her into his arms, whispering, “My great love. My wife.”
“Is it over?” she asked.
“Yes,” Zhiya snapped. “Many days of bliss to you both.” She peeked out the door. “We’ll raise a toast at the whorehouse.” She ducked an apology to Anzi. “My side business, but they do know how to have a party.”
“Titus,” Anzi said. He paused, waiting for her to go on. “Have you thought what will happen if they catch us?”
He nodded. “Yes. They won’t catch us.”
“But, if they do?”
Zhiya sighed. “The longer we stay here the more chance there is that they will catch you. Go now. Talk later.”
Anzi fixed Zhiya with her gaze. “No. There is no later.”
Titus grew wary. “What is it?”
“It’s the chain. It’s gone. Lying at the bottom of the Nigh.” The chain as a deterrent was the only chance left for the Rose, and Titus knew that as well as she did. He just didn’t want to admit what it meant. “If we separate, and one of us is caught, we can claim the device is with the other person.” She saw him resisting this idea. “The chain still has power—if they believe we have it. They’ll be afraid to move against the Earth if they think I’ll open the links and let out the plague. Or you will.”
“Pardon, but I think yes.”
Zhiya rolled her eyes. “What a fine beginning to marital harmony.”
Ignoring her, Titus said, “No. If we’re caught we’ll just say we gave it to someone for safekeeping.”
“But who would that be? Among all the sentients of the Entire, who loves the Rose? Only you and I. The lords would suspect us.”
“Anzi,” he pleaded. “No, I don’t like it.”
“I might choose to go without your agreement.”
They looked at each other for a long moment. Titus was processing this. He had already heard the wisdom of what she said. She thought he’d already decided, but was postponing saying so.
She went to his arms. “My love,” she whispered. They held each other.
Anzi pushed away finally. “Wait for me, Titus.”
He held her at arms’ length. “I hate this. Go, if you think best. But don’t pretend to have the cirque. I can’t ask it of you. I won’t.”
“No. Don’t ask.” He was always wanting to do the right thing. He had done so many awful things that he weighed small things too hard because they were easier to grasp. This was a small thing.
When he saw her resolve, he said, “Come home to me.”
Zhiya regarded the leave taking with growing impatience. “Where will you go, girl?”
“To a far primacy. Somewhere you can’t guess.”
Zhiya flicked her gaze at Titus. “I’ll put her on a vessel, then.”
He nodded. After a pause he said, “Give us one hour alone.”
The godwoman smirked. “What? Here?” She noted the unconscious legate sprawled on the only bed. “You don’t have the luxury of an hour.”
“Give us some goddamn time, Zhiya.”
Anzi put a hand on his arm, getting his attention. “We’ll have our time.”
It was something she was not quite ready to believe, but she said it anyway, her heart cooling. She lifted her hood and yanked it forward, moving to the door.
Titus intercepted her at the door, pulling the hood back. Cupping her face, he kissed her in a way that instantly heated her.
She pressed him away at last. “The Chalin never say farewell. I won’t say it now.”
“No,” he agreed. “Protect yourself first. Promise me.”
“First before what?”
Zhiya took Anzi’s arm. “Pull that hood over your head, and let’s get out of here.” She cut a reassuring look at Titus, but Anzi could not look at him again.
She and Zhiya slipped through the door.
Once out in the street, the godwoman hurried alongside Anzi toward the wharf, where a navitar vessel might be found. “You have no more intention of putting yourself first than I do of going celibate. You are an impressive liar, Ji Anzi.”
Anzi nodded under her hood. “Thank you, Venerable.”