Lies seek the light like Inyx do the steppes.
SYDNEY RAN INTO SLEEP, INTO HER DREAMS, eager to share in the carnage. Dreams were the battlefield, the only arena where the mantis lords were vulnerable. Each night she lay her head down to sleep, to fight. She was no Inyx, could not join the raids of her Deep Ebb army, but her thoughts urged them on. At the head of the Inyx forays was her beloved mount Riod, slicing into the minds of those who slept, sending poison. The worst kind of poison for despots: truth.
The gracious lords have deceived us all. They are not flesh and blood, but wayfarers in bodies of their creation, fearing to live, tethered to their ancestral home, far outside of the Entire. The lords are simulacra, fearing carbon-based life. They do not die or have children. To them, birth is stepping into a form for a time. Until they scurry back to the Heart, where they exist as unholy burning things. Denizens of the Entire, should we venerate such creatures? Should we trust the radiant lords, who can retreat at any time to their true home—the Heart? It is a hellishly burning place where their minds swarm in chaos. Only here in the Entire can a Tarig have a body, a life, and worshippers. Would you be subject to such as that?
The dream took Sydney, as Inyx dreams could, filling her drifting mind with urgent sendings. Then it cast her up, like a wave tosses a shell on a beach. She lay sweating in fear and excitement, sticking to her bedclothes, as the storm moved on. She knew that the same kinds of dreams were harrowing the sleep of sentients throughout the Entire. Each one interpreted the send-
ings in their own dream-logic. Lacking perfect coherence, the dreams still suggested truths, sowed anxieties. All part of her plan, of Mo Ti’s plan: to bring the Inyx herds together in one common force, then use their united dream-sendings in an insurgency of the mind.
Mo Ti’s plan, when he’d brought it to her so long ago, had been simple, breathtaking: Discredit the Tarig. Undermine them. Crush them. And though Mo Ti was at present far away, Sydney executed that plan, joined by Riod, greatest of the hoofed and horned magnificent Inyx. She didn’t know how she would crush the mantis lords. That part was yet to unfold. But it began with a dreamtime rebellion that could penetrate Entirean distances. Each night, a new dream swooped into the minds of sleepers, like a bird landing lightly on a branch, waiting to peck at vital parts.
She sat up, too stimulated to sleep. It was Between Ebb, nearly morning, and Riod would return soon. She rose quickly and dressed, thinking of him, but not too strongly. He shouldn’t be distracted from his work in the fields nearby. There, the herds grazed and dozed, looking harmless, while forging their heart-sight into a sword.
Sydney moved quietly, not wanting to disturb Helice, asleep on the other bed. They shared a tent and compatible ambitions; most ebb-times, they spent hours talking. For the first time in the Entire, Sydney had a woman friend.
As she washed and dressed, she glanced at Helice, thankful for her but also blaming her. Helice had brought word of the cirque. In response, Sydney had no choice but to send Mo Ti to stop her father from using it. To kill him.
The decision sickened her. It was an ugly thing, even if her father had abandoned her and steeped himself in privileges and princedom. How he could have done so, she would never understand. It didn’t matter anymore.
When she drew back the tent flap, she was surprised to find the herd surging from the pastures into camp. Their sendings began to filter to her.
Look up. It comes. Her eyes cut to the sky. Nigh-ward, a shadow cut a crease into the curdling lavender folds of the bright. At great speed, the speck grew.
It could only be one thing.
The camp was in chaos. Tarig strode across the field—by now empty of the dreaming herd—cutting a swath through the encampment. Only three Tarig debarked from the ship. As they approached they looked cumulatively like a tripart fighting machine, tall, taloned, and glinting in the morning bright.
Sydney rushed back into the tent where Helice was hurriedly dressing.
“Leave!” Sydney hissed. If the lords found a Rose woman among them.
. . . “Hide!” Sydney could hear footsteps approaching. But there was no time for Helice to leave. The tent flap flew wide. The lords were here.
Helice bowed deeply, like a servant.
The one in front had the slightly leaner physique of a female, and affected half-gloves that would not impede her in her fight. This one glanced at Helice, then turned to Sydney.
While the two other Tarig stood somewhat back, the gloved Tarig said, “The Rose child, ah?”
She didn’t like this Tarig. “I’m not of the Rose. I’m of Riod’s sway.”
The lord looked down from a height of seven feet. In Sydney’s ten years of captivity she had seen the Tarig so infrequently that their physical aspect could still intimidate.
The lead Tarig said, “You will use proper address, small girl, lest my cousins take offense.” The other Tarig watched Sydney with black eyes.
“Yes, Bright One.”
“You may call us Lady Anuve.”
“Yes, Lady Anuve,” Sydney made herself say. Her mouth gone dry, Sydney forced herself to breathe. Had they discovered the dreamcasts? Her thoughts raced. Was their rebellion over already? Riod, she thought, presuming he would be reaching out to her mind, Stay far from the tent. You will hear all that transpires. We can’t change what comes now. Be brave, my heart.
“I will dismiss my servant,” Sydney said, waving Helice out of the tent.
The Tarig ignored her as she passed—small, scarred, and bald—hardly a personage.
Lady Anuve flicked out a talon. Snagging a length of Sydney’s hair, she murmured, “Hair the color of soil.” The talon whispered down the side of Sydney’s face. “And eyes to match.” The claw stopped at Sydney’s left eyelid.
Once, long ago, a talon like that had blinded her, as this Tarig lady surely knew.
Sydney, despite her defiant stance, started to shake.
Retracting her talon, Anuve shoved Sydney in the shoulder, pushing her through the tent door into the morning air. There the herd had begun to gather in front of Sydney’s pavilion, among them Adikar the healer, Takko the Laroo, Akay-Wat her Captain of Roamlands, and all their mounts.
Riod stood at the forefront, looming as tall as the Tarig. Tell her this is my sway, and she must speak with me, Riod sent.
“Riod is master here,” Sydney told the Tarig lady. “You should speak with him. I’ll tell you what he says.”
“One hears that riders in this place have bonds with Inyx mounts. Is this so?”
“You will use proper address, or we will kill you.”
“Yes, Bright One.”
Anuve looked at her, calculating. “Do you love this beast, then? So one hears, that the bond is close to love.”
“I have such a bond with Riod, Lady Anuve.”
“Ah.” For the first time Anuve looked at Riod, and then at the mounts behind him. “Send them away, and all their riders.”
“But Riod . . .”
“Riod may stay.”
Riod, beloved, Sydney thought. But he had heard Anuve’s command. He told the gathered Inyx and their riders to move off, out of hearing, out of harm’s way. Akay-Wat, riding Gevka, was among them, looking dismayed.
It reminded Sydney that it had been a long while since she’d spoken with her old Hirrin friend. Sydney concentrated on a reassuring thought, trusting that the mounts would hear her and relay it to the riders.
Helice was on foot, refusing as always to ride her designated mount. She turned to leave, first locking glances with Sydney as though to say, don’t betray me.
When Riod and Sydney were alone among the Tarig, Anuve fixed Sydney with a cold, accusatory stare. “Your eyes have been tampered with.”
Relief flooded over her. They’d come because of her sight, only her sight.
Sydney released the breath she had been holding. She must take exquisite care. Some lies were needful. Others were useless.
“Yes, Bright One,” she finally said. The Tarig were the first who tampered with her sight, and she had tampered back. The mantis lords wanted to spy on the Inyx through her eyes, so they could watch for Titus Quinn.
But then Helice had removed the tampering.
“Now we wish to know how this was done. You will tell me now, small girl, how you took back your sight and also how you knew to take back your sight. Hnn? We are curious to learn these things.”
When Sydney didn’t answer, Anuve said, “It was your father, one assumes. Yes?”
“No. My father never came here, Bright One.”
“You will tell me who it was, and how it was, that your sight came to be restored.” Anuve nodded at one of the other Tarig. He took out a tiny flechette and flung it at Riod, where it stuck into his hide at the shoulder.
Riod shied as Sydney rushed to his side. Grabbing at the barb stuck in Riod’s hide, she tried to pull it out, but the protruding end was too sharp.
Riod staggered, then collapsed into a sitting position, his legs folded under him. He didn’t respond when she touched him or frantically called to him in her mind.
Anuve nodded. “Now you shall tell, yes?”
Sydney barely controlled her fury. “I knew you had my eyes by the way I felt when you looked out of them, my lady. My body rejected your surgeries.”
Anuve regarded her quietly. “Think of another answer, girl of the Rose.”
She flicked a gaze at her two Tarig companions, and they moved away, beginning a search of the camp. She went on. “There have been events at Ahnen-hoon. You will not have heard, we suppose you will say, that your father brought a weapon to our great Repel. Lord Inweer stopped him from using it. The darkling fled. Here, ah?”
Fled. Titus fled. Still alive, then. “No, lady, he isn’t here. Search as you like.” Titus wasn’t dead. Somehow, Mo Ti hadn’t killed him.
The Tarig lady put a finger under Sydney’s chin, tilting it up to lock their gazes. “Your eyes did not repair themselves. You will have some time to think over what you are saying. The Tarig are gracious. We understand sentients have bonds with those called father. But if he is not here now, then you have no reason to deny he was once here. Tell us, and we will spare Riod’s life.”
Riod’s life? Sydney was instantly stricken.
Anuve nodded at Riod. “As he is now, so he remains until I release him from the inhibitor. So he remains until my cousins draw their claws across his neck. By the first hour of Prime of Day. Go to the tent and think carefully.”
Sydney looked at Riod, her emotions in turmoil. Nothing, nothing from Riod. His mind was locked in, his body helpless.
Anuve pushed her toward the tent, and Sydney staggered at the casual strength of the Tarig’s arm. She ducked through the tent flap, standing alone, wild with fear. The bright lit up the cloth pavilion roof as though it were a normal day, as though the day had in store a ride with her mount and the usual pleasure of his company. She sat on her cot a long while before she could even begin to think. The questing, fearful thoughts of the mounts reached out to her, and she formed a thought for them to take: Let me think what to do.
Wait, my friends.
As the bright waxed overhead, Sydney sat on her cot.
The Tarig didn’t know about the herd sendings. All they knew is that Sydney had foiled their attempt to confiscate her sight. All she had to do was give up Helice, to say: Helice came to me for help, having sneaked into the realm. I gave her sanctuary. She fixed my eyes. She has a little machine . . . But Helice had value, almost infinite value. She had the renaissance plan. Of the herd and its riders only Riod and Akay-Wat knew about this, so Sydney diverted her thoughts from the subject quickly.
Sydney walked to her clothing chest and opened it. She took out her best jacket and riding pants. They were white, or nearly white. She changed into them, taking the one item she needed most. She stepped outside.
One of the Tarig stood there, keeping guard. Anuve was nowhere in sight. “I want to be sure Riod is all right,” she said to the lord. “Let me approach him.”
A nod granted her permission. Coming up to Riod, she knelt and whis-
pered to him: “I’ve never been afraid to die, Riod. I love you.” She took out a knife and pressed it to her own throat. She spoke so the Tarig could hear her clearly: “Come near me or my mount, and I will kill myself.”
The Tarig lunged forward. But Lady Anuve shouted out, “Stop. Let her be.”
Anuve came into view, her metal skirt slit to allow her long stride. She approached within ten feet of Sydney and Riod and looked down at them.
After a minute she said, “You will tire of holding up the knife.”
“I’ll do the job before then.”
Anuve stood as still as Riod and watched. Apparently, as Sydney had gambled, they didn’t want her dead.
Thoughts from the herd fell on her like rain. Come back, mistress. If Riod’s time has come, he goes bravely. Sydney. Come back. Mistress. And, amid the cacophony of anonymous thoughts, Akay-Wat’s impassioned plea: Give them the Rose woman, Akay-Wat begs you. Stay with us, oh stay . . .
Sydney found she wasn’t afraid. Once she had decided to die, the rest was—if not easy—at least peaceful. She let her mind go blank, beyond emotion or logic.
Sometime during this profound calm, the camp stirred around her.
Sydney hardly registered the movements. The heart-sendings grew stronger, more difficult to ignore. At last, reluctantly, she came back to full presence.
Insistent thoughts came pulsing to her from the herd: A brightship comes.
Sydney moved slightly. Turning toward Riod, she saw him still immobile. Where the flechette was stuck into him, a trickle of blood had dried, forming a red crack down his side.
After a time, a new Tarig strode into view. The lord stood next to Anuve, taller, more commanding.
The newcomer and Anuve were speaking, but they kept their voices out of hearing range. The other two Tarig were also joining in, as though there were no difference in standing among them. The conference ended.
The new Tarig approached Sydney. He crouched next to her in that way Tarig had of appearing all knees and elbows, inspiring her expression, mantis lords.
“Do you know this Tarig lord, young girl?” he asked.
She shook her head, unable to summon the spit to speak.
“Lord Inweer. One has come from Ahnenhoon. You know Ahnenhoon?”
“At Ahnenhoon, Johanna was our companion. You have before you that lord. Do you understand?”
Again, she nodded. “Stay back,” she croaked. Though, in truth he was close enough now that he could easily grab the knife. He was also close enough that she could stab him in the eye, the best way to kill a Tarig.
“Your father was here, and he must have had means to return your normal sight. One can forgive you this small treason. Do not lie to us, and this lord will help you.”
“Riod . . .” Sydney whispered. “Remove Riod’s barb, and we can talk, Bright Lord.” She looked into his implacable face and found herself saying, though she hated to say it, “Please.”
Lord Inweer stood up and yanked the barb from Riod’s side. Flecks of blood spun off it as he flung it away.
Riod’s chest expanded, grabbing air.
Sydney whispered, summoning the required lie: “My father fixed my eyes. Then he left, Bright Lord.”
“Ah. That is a good answer. Where did he go?”
“He would not tell me.”
Inweer watched her. Then he did something Tarig never did. He blinked.
It made his face look almost human. “We will tell you of your mother, now.
Johanna is dead. One could not save her. She helped her husband when he came against the great engine. My cousin killed her for this crime. We buried her at Ahnenhoon.”
Dead. Sydney felt a pang at the news. Her mother had been dead to her for a long while—but now she was dead in truth. The news hit her with some force. How strange that recently she had sent Sydney a scroll with a moving image of herself. There were times, deep in the ebb, when Sydney looked at that image and wondered about her mother. Now, she would never know more.
Inweer went on, “This lord held her in regard.”
This was the lord she had so despised, the one her mother had been living with as mistress of his household and of his bed. She had hated them both.
Now he was going to help her. She felt numb with all that was happening.
Riod, she thought passionately. Johanna is dead.
Riod’s awakening mind sent: I am here. Always here, best rider.
Inweer had no part of their private heart-sendings. He watched them as though he knew they were talking, though. “One has the power to raise you up, small girl. This lord will do so for the sake of Johanna. You will ask no questions, but accept all conditions.”
“And Riod will be safe, my lord?”
“You may keep your beast. One has no interest in his fate.”
She lowered her hand. She couldn’t drop the knife because her fingers were frozen in their grip. Inweer pried her fingers open and took the weapon.
He said, his voice very deep and soft, “She asked for you, pleaded for your safety. This we granted, giving you leave to rise up among the Inyx. Now you will need further protection from cousins who find you distasteful. You will have a position. It will mean you must leave this sway. Do you agree?”
At her side, Riod trembled, coming to full alert. She touched him. My heart.
Shall I kill him? Riod sent.
“No, Riod,” she said aloud. “Lord Inweer can help us.” The lord was waiting for her reply. “Where will I go, Bright Lord?”
“We have considered the idea that the Chalin Sway should be yours. The master of that sway can be dismissed. You may do well there. In return, you will entrap your father the next time he appears before you. That is the condition. He cannot be loose in the Entire. We do not discuss this or compromise. Ah?”
Well, that was easy to agree to. “Yes, my lord.”
Satisfied, Inweer rose from his crouch and conferred with the other Tarig.
Riod pulled his front legs under him, lumbering up, front first, then back. He dipped his head down to allow Sydney to hold on to his fore horns.
Then he lifted his head, and Sydney rose up using his strength.
Someone approached them from the ranks of the riders who had been gathering at a distance. Takko the Laroo brought Riod a pan of water and Sydney a cup. He nodded at her, his face conveying relief. Sydney felt her skin crack at the effort of smiling.
The Tarig group turned to Sydney and Riod at last. Anuve spoke, “We like not the idea of the Chalin sway. It is too much to give, and it has its master, Zai Gan.” Anuve and Inweer exchanged glances like cuts. Surely she could not overrule Lord Inweer, who was, after all, one of the ruling Five.
“We have in mind, however, that small girl might go to Rim City. She can be magister of that city.”
Sydney was not dead. No, and she was being given a great prize, instead.
Numb, she could only listen.
Anuve regarded her. “It may suit our purposes. She may prove herself a loyal sentient.”
Rim City. At the foot of the Ascendancy. “Wherever you send me, Bright Ones, I have to bring Riod.” Sydney blurted it out, then saw how the Tarig regarded this interruption. They stared at her with expressions that silenced her.
Inweer said, “Take two or three companions, then.” He turned to Anuve.
“She will need loyalty around her.”
Anuve said nothing; Inweer outranked her. Sydney’s thoughts were giddy. Rim City was said to encircle the Sea of Arising, so it was within spitting distance of the Ascendancy. Oh, Riod. Oh, Mo Ti, she thought.
Inweer went on, “We would have her be mistress of a sway. Thus we will invest Rim City as a sway. It shows the Bright Realm that she has earned our respect. It shows that she is pardoned for her Rose birthing. It is well to pardon from time to time.” He nodded. “One concurs with you, Lady Anuve.
She will go to Rim Sway. It is a place no one else could want and no master of a sway need be cast down.”
Anuve fixed Sydney with a black look. “And you will bring Titus Quinn to us?”
Sydney nodded. “Yes. He’ll come, Bright One.”
Anuve growled, “He tends to slip away.”
“I’ll help you, my lady.”
“The daughter helps to snare the father? Even a father who helped her realign her sight?”
“Yes, my lady.” They had no clue what her relationship with Titus was.
That when he was a prince of the city, he had left her to her enslavement among the Inyx before she had found Riod to champion her. He had let the lords blind her. And he had lived like a king.
Lord Inweer was eager to be on his way and took his leave. Sydney and Anuve watched him stride back to his ship. He must feel satisfaction, Sydney thought, that he’d done a favor for Johanna. Now she was left with the aftertaste of accepting a favor from him. As the brightship slipped silently into its ascent path, Anuve murmured, “We must wonder how the lord gives credence to you.”
“The bright lady must know I do not love my father.”
“Do not all children love their parents?”
“Not all, Lady Anuve.”
“This will favor our purpose, Rose child.”
The phrase grated. “I am not a Rose child, my lady.”
The gloved hand came back and across Sydney’s face, sending her staggering backward. “You are what we say you are, ah?”
Sydney regained her footing and nodded, shrugging the pain of the blow away.
Anuve persisted, “We say you are a decoy.”
I am your death. Sydney smiled. The Tarig had learned that humans smiled. They just hadn’t learned all the reasons why.
Already, Sydney’s mind was on Rim City. Oh Mo Ti, she thought. In that far city she would finally take on her new name that Mo Ti had devised for her: Sen Ni, to give her darkling name a Chalin style.
One step closer to raising the kingdom, one without Tarig lords and ladies.
Kay Kenyon 45
The camp was in a state of watchful brooding. The news spread quickly that Sydney was going to Rim City and that Riod would go with her. The shock of these revelations hit hard. Knots of riders stood talking in low tones, fearful of drawing the attention of the Tarig still in camp.
Helice stood in one of these groups, listening hard, trying to grasp what had happened, though her language skills were still imperfect. The riders didn’t despise her as much as before, since many had accepted her surgery to restore their vision. Blind riders might have been the fashion once; no longer.
Helice had ingratiated herself with the riders, but her refusal to bond with a mount kept her an outsider.
That wouldn’t matter anymore. She was going to Rim City. She’d be among that select group Sydney brought with her, no doubt about that. The girl needed her. For renaissance. One couldn’t think about that subject among the horse-beasts, though. She turned the thought aside.
She looked around her, trying to guess which of the nearby Inyx might be probing her mind. She disciplined herself to not dwell on certain matters.
The beasts could pick up thoughts, but only with effort and only if the thoughts were strong and well formed. Helice kept her mind skittering over her plans, touching on them and darting away. But even if the Inyx glimpsed her intentions, what could they do? She had been more or less honest with Sydney. Their goals were compatible, at least for a while.
As plodding as the Inyx were, even they could grasp the significance of Sydney moving to Rim City. There, Riod would be close enough to the Tarig home base to fine-tune their dream probes to greater effect. There were still pieces of intelligence Sydney and Helice needed. Rim City was a perfect base camp for the final assault. The riders said that the city was under the very shadow of the Ascendancy. Perfect.
Though the day was hot, Helice pulled her scarf up around her neck. She was self-conscious about the infection that had taken hold in her burns. The injuries she’d sustained from the rough passage into the Entire hadn’t healed well. Just when she thought she might be getting better, the burns on her neck and chin began to fester. The mSap’s medical knowledge was equal to any possessed by Earth’s finest physicians, but the tissue sample she’d analyzed yielded a culprit bacterium unknown to Rose medicine. To find a pharmaceutical treatment, she needed a laboratory, test subjects . . . it would mean weeks, even months of painstaking work.
Certainly the camp healer with her local remedies was of no help. Maybe Rim City would have better doctors, although she couldn’t afford close scrutiny. She didn’t know what medical technologies the Entire had, but it was a disturbing possibility that a physician might notice she was a little . . .
different. Chalin were human, or seemed to be. Who knew, though, if their physiologies were exactly the same?
No time to worry. Helice was buoyed by the prospect of being at the center of things. She had always savored being at the locus of events, decisions, and power. Not because she wanted power for herself—that was a side benefit—but because it meant working at the top of her game, using all the neurons the gene lottery bestowed. There was no better thing.
She wasn’t without sympathy for those who couldn’t think on her level.
She was well aware that most people would view such sympathy as condescension. In a culturally correct world, everyone was equal in some cosmic sense. The problem with cosmic sense was its fuzziness. It led to illogical conclusions such as that people deserved to be kept warm, fed, and entertained by virtue of being human. And if such humans had been able to take a suitable role in contributing to society, she would have been in favor of tithes for the mentally disadvantaged. However, these days there were so few suitable occupations. Nan bots built and maintained physical structures; AI-powered services of all kinds performed humble tasks. The unfortunate majority, with their average intelligence—hovering within fifteen to twenty points of one hundred and wickedly called dreds by some—led lives stuffed with virtual entertainments. Truly a circus maximus of the latter-day Roman Empire.
Well, they could live as they wished, of course. But the problem was— and here is where it affected Helice and her circle—they were yoking the intellectually gifted to their little cart.
That state of affairs was coming to an end.
Well, there was a bit more coming to an end, but it would be best not to dwell on it in front of the Inyx.