The light of your ambition leads you, burning its promises for fuel.
—Hoptat the Seer
“THE BINDS,” THE SHIP KEEPER WARNED FROM THE GALLEY DOOR. “She goes steeply in. Be ready.” Then he disappeared into his galley and his hammock.
Quinn found a seat on a bench. Outside, a bluish light stained the deck and fizzed along the edges of the portholes. On the bridge, Ghoris shouted something incoherent. The ship yawed, dipping the starboard deck. A gout of the Nigh swilled off the porthole. They were headed down, lopsided, into the knots of time. Mo Ti, less accustomed to ships than Quinn, staggered and grabbed a wall for support.
The ship sank deeper, bleeding off the lights. Quinn heard Mo Ti seek his own berth, settling heavily. The vessel, calmer now that it had made its dimensional transition, fell slowly into the depths, thickening the air inside the cabin, bringing a familiar nausea. Quinn stared at the porthole near him. Inside the Nigh was an intermittent, querulous light. Some said the light source was the ship itself, and others, the mind of the observer. They were travelers in space-time, traversing the galactic distances of the Entire the only way common people could, by leave of the navitars—unlikely pilots though they were. No wonder simple people revered them, made of them red-clad prophets, though few ever spoke to a navitar, and none sensibly.
Outside, light ran in slicks on the back of long waves. Sleep beckoned. Quinn pushed it away as thoughts fell like sediment through his mind. Drifting down, drifting deep. Across from him, Mo Ti lay on his bench barely awake, eyes rolling up, his body splayed on its too-small bed.
Quinn tried to focus on the warrior’s face. Devoted to her. Betraying her. Jealous of the new advisor. Spared Quinn’s life. Big enough to kill with a blow of his fist. The body muscular but longing to go to fat. Mo Ti was a eunuch.
“Who gelded you?” Quinn asked, barely able to form words.
A long time later Mo Ti whispered, “The mantis lords cut me.”
Quinn closed his eyes. Here was a sentient who hated the Tarig. It moved him to trust Mo Ti a bit more, that they shared an enemy. He had hoped to find a great flaw in the man; some reason to dismiss the things he’d said. But on this edge of consciousness, Quinn abandoned himself to instinct. Mo Ti had told the truth. Quinn let himself fall into the hole that was waiting for him: Helice’s almost inconceivable plan. She was a demon. Some people had rotted hearts; no saving them. From his first encounter, he’d thought her shriveled and feral. Must learn to trust first insights. It wasn’t racial purity she was after, but intellectual. The new monstrous. Guise: small young woman with sporty smile. He slept.
The dreams, when they came, were all of the Tarig. They were bodiless, waves riding in light, pulses crying out in a shrieking brightness. He followed their essence, tracing pathways of pure thought that converged and separated. Here was Lord Hadenth, half mad, his pathway stuttering, dimpling into a momentary dark fold. Over there, Chiron, her presence swelling and beating like a heart. They had no true form. They chose bodies to suit.
He drifted, just beneath consciousness. On the deck above, Ghoris roared, still strong in her command of the binds: “They ride, ride. See the horned beasts, coming through the air! See who rides the beasts? It is the girl of your loins, Titus. She. She brings the dreams.”
At first all he could see was eddies of fire. But there, a shadow flying above, throwing a silhouette of an Inyx over the deck.
Quinn was burning up. His mouth filled with molten consciousness. The porthole view showed a flying beast, horns curving backward, leading a wingless armada. The shadows passed overhead, sparks shedding from their hooves, hitting the submerged deck like hail.
The ship was moving up, river matter slipping past the portholes. Quinn struggled to sit up. Shaking off his stupor, he crawled over to Mo Ti, who was still unconscious.
He shook the big man. “The dreams,” he croaked, trying to find his voice. “They’re Inyx dreams. Inyx, aren’t they?”
Mo Ti stirred, pawing at the air around him. Quinn moved off, waiting for the big man to come round. From the galley, Quinn heard rattling, signifying that the ship had surfaced and the ship keeper was preparing food. Ghoris would be starving.
Quinn settled himself cross-legged on the floor, waiting for Mo Ti to wake. Ghoris was quiet in her pilot’s chair above. But she’d already told him: Sydney rides the beasts. She brings the dreams. Could the Inyx send their minds so far? Could Sydney ride with them?
Mo Ti roused slowly. He sat on the bunk now, hands on his massive thighs, breathing like a bellows.
“Tell me about the dreams, Mo Ti.”
The giant stared at him from underneath heavy brows. “To each man his own dreams.”
“Except if they’re all the same.”
“Mo Ti’s dreams are different from other men.”
“I don’t think so.” Quinn paused while the ship keeper passed through the cabin, carrying a fragrant tray of food up the companionway. “Did you dream?”
“I think you did. About fire.” When Mo Ti wouldn’t meet his gaze, he ventured, “Everyone’s dreaming of the Tarig. Anzi dreams of them, and I do. Not a coincidence, is it.”
Mo Ti stood, rubbing his great arms. “Mo Ti takes a piss.” He went out to the deck.
Quinn heard the ship keeper talking to Ghoris, urging her to eat. He thought about the visions in the binds; had he really seen the Inyx flying overhead, or was it the navitar’s words that made him imagine it?
Out on the deck, Quinn found the ship riding a sliver of the endless Nigh, a good mile or more off the storm wall. The dark palisade rose hugely into the sky, a storm-clad wall that bordered the river on one side to the limit of sight. Far above, the bright met the wall in a curdle of gravity and shadow. Nothing else rode the river, nor was there any sign of life on the shore.
It was into this river—some version of it—that Quinn had thrown the cirque, letting the river take it, transform it. The threat of the cirque, however, was still as powerful as ever.
He approached Mo Ti, who stared across the river into the colossal stretch of the primacy, whichever primacy this was. They stood side by side for a few minutes.
“You’ve told me part of it. Now tell me the rest, about my daughter.”
The giant regarded him.
Quinn pressed on: “I’m a worried man, Mo Ti. You shouldn’t worry a man with a big weapon.”
Mo Ti noted the change of tactic. “The weapon? But Titus Quinn loves the Entire. So he said.”
“That was before. Before I knew Helice was here with a bigger weapon.” He wondered whether, if he actually had the cirque, this time he would use it. “It’ll distress me to bring down the Entire. But I will.”
Quinn pissed into the river. His stream pierced the river surface and fell deep without seeming to mix. I would use it, he thought. And the conviction made him like himself better.
Moving around the prow for a view of the storm wall, Mo Ti gazed up at the silent, hovering turbulence. “Mo Ti did wonder when you would get your warrior’s balls.”
Quinn joined him at the rail. “I want to know about the dreams. The Inyx aren’t just sharing thoughts among themselves and their riders. It’s spreading beyond.”
Mo Ti cut him a sideways glance. “Show me the chain. I would see this killing bracelet.”
“It’s not with me. Near enough, though.”
Mo Ti gave him a flat stare. “Are you a man who desires power?”
“I’ll do what I have to for the Rose. Then I don’t care.”
A cynical smile exposed the giant’s yellow teeth, big as knuckles. “What man does not wish for power?” Quinn didn’t answer. “Would you take the Ascendancy from the Tarig?”
“If I could.” A new thought broke in. Sydney wanted the power. This was what Mo Ti was asking: was he a rival to Sydney? It almost made him laugh.
His daughter wanted to destroy the Tarig. Perhaps, in the aftermath, she wanted to take the Ascendancy. This is what Mo Ti meant when he said she was a power in the land. Ghoris said his daughter rode the Inyx. All of them. If so, and if they accessed dreams or minds, she might well be a power in the land. Would he stand in her way? Not a chance.
Would you take the Ascendancy from the Tarig? “If she wants it, she’s welcome to it.” It was almost impossible for him to think of an eleven-year-old girl who loved to climb trees and use electronic paints planning to bring down an autocracy. But it wasn’t the disbelief that gave him the sickening stab in his gut. It was the sudden clear view of how little he knew his daughter anymore.
“Now tell me about the dreams.”
They were alone on the deck. Through the porthole Quinn glimpsed the ship keeper setting down a tray of food. Mo Ti stalked the deck, moving around to the port side, looking out again on the land. Quinn followed.
Mo Ti spoke quietly, in that way he had of making you lean a little closer to him to hear. “A story,” he began. While he talked, Mo Ti continued to scan the horizon, watching for pursuit. The man was alert, distrustful of appearances. Perhaps he didn’t understand that they were on board the ultimate stealth vessel.
“A thousand days ago, in one Inyx encampment, Sydney rebelled, saying she would have a free bond with her mount, who was Riod, an Inyx given to mischief and raiding other herds. He was fast and strong, and these qualities Sydney loved. Together they were all for speed and wildness, and each came to love the other, and their bond was free indeed. Soon I joined them on Dis-tanir, and we were four, free-bonded, and calling others to join us. Riod fought Priov for chieftainship of the herd and won. After that, Sydney sent the Hirrin Akay-Wat to the outlying herds urging them to end enslavement of the riders. A great stream of riders and their mounts came into Riod’s encampment. They pledged fealty to Sydney and Riod. The separate Inyx herds joined together, although the lords can never understand it, how voiceless beasts can form a great sway. Or if they do understand, they do not object. The Inyx make excellent war mounts.”
Quinn had known that the Inyx mind powers were highly valued on the battle grounds of Ahnenhoon—even if the species showed no deference to the Tarig.
Mo Ti continued, “Then you attacked the Tarig in their own city, and they knew you were back, looking for the daughter. They thought to keep watch for you through her eyes. They offered to cure the blindness she suffered, and she agreed. You have heard how those seeds bore fruit, how it won my mistress’s heart to the spider. She used her small god to undo what the lords had done, and Sydney was fully sighted, honestly sighted.
“So the sway was filled with the Inyx of many camps, their riders, their hopes for new sight such as Sydney had found. Already Hel Ese is assigned to restoring the power in their eyes, and the mounts do not object, being won over to free bond. The line is long in front of the spider’s tent.
“But each night in the great field, the Inyx were questing. Their powers are small when they act alone. But together, they can cast their thoughts far. Very far. Each night they joined forces to probe the Ascendancy itself, looking for a way to bring it down. They discovered that the Tarig return to a home far away to restore themselves. They do not live as ordinary sentients, but cowardly, shrink back to their home place. At Sydney’s bidding, the Inyx send the image out in dreams, so that all sentients may loathe the false lords.” Mo Ti snorted. “And the Tarig remain ignorant. They do not feel us in their minds, nor do they dream. We may spy as we like and thus Riod does, with the herd’s power. For Sydney’s sake.”
Quinn listened in silent amazement to Mo Ti’s claim of all that his daughter had dared to begin.
The big man went on: “Our aim is to drive the Tarig from their nest. And we may yet claim a victory.” He noted the doubt on Quinn’s face. “There is much you still do not yet know.”
Quinn didn’t move or breathe.
“The Tarig love to say how they descended into form from the Heart and now choose to live in the All. This much they admit. But it is not so noble as they say. They require their land of fire and do not stray far from it. Their visits into body are for a short time or a long time, as the will moves them. No Tarig dies, but returns to his homeland. There, each mixes into the greater like water in a pitcher. Find their entrances to the Heart, their means of returning, and you can control them. If we succeed, your goal also succeeds.”
They mix like water in a pitcher. A stunning discovery, if true. “You know how they return?”
“Not yet.” Mo Ti squinted into the flatness of the primacy, a view so flat that, using a telescope, one could see the opposite storm wall, there being no curvature of this world.
Quinn felt a stirring, a revelation. “The lords don’t die?”
“No, nor are they born.”
“I’ve seen their children.”
“You have not. They are small adults, made dull of mind.”
Small girl floated in the water. She who had wanted a toy boat. This was an imbecile? She had been more subtle than that, hadn’t she? Yet Mo Ti said she was only a Tarig made small and dull. He stared into the midlands of the primacy, letting the thought shed its liberation on him. I never killed a child.
Small girl was no child. It mattered, and it didn’t matter. At the time he’d thought she was a child, and he held her face beneath the water. Perhaps there was no reprieve. Still, “Thank you,” he whispered.
The disclosure kept rippling out: The lords don’t die nor are they born. He thought of Lady Chiron. Well and truly dead, he hoped. He said as much to Mo Ti, describing how Chiron had died, with nothing left of her body.
“Riod says the Heart remembers them. Can spit them out, good as before.” Mo Ti’s face showed what he made of such a thing.
Quinn pieced it together. “Then Chiron’s consciousness could come back. Some earlier version of her, kept safe as a . . . memory? . . . in the Heart.”
Mo Ti shrugged. “So Riod thinks. Who knows what the fiends do?”
The ship keeper came out of the cabin. “Food. The pilot’s leavings, if you care for them.”
He nodded thanks to the ship keeper, but they couldn’t eat yet. The Tarig wanted or needed to go home. But where was that home? Was it a physical entity in the Rose? Or might it be a universe unto itself? “Will you find these doorways, Mo Ti? Will Riod?”
“We live in this hope.”
“Maybe I can help. I have a thing that might be useful.” The correlates. In the secrets of how, where, and when the Entire corresponded to the Rose— and perhaps to other universes as well. He turned to the cabin. “Mo Ti, share a meal with me. The ship keeper brought us food.”
“First tell me your scheme.”
“Over a meal.” Thoughts came in a storm of hope. He had not killed a child. He had not. Amid the larger menace, an unguessed-at reprieve.
Mo Ti quirked his mouth into what might pass for a smile. “You think a man can eat after telling his captain’s secrets?”
Quinn smiled back. “Sure.”
They went for the food. And while they ate, Quinn disclosed a few revelations of his own. Mo Ti chewed his dumplings slowly, considering with profound interest Quinn’s claim that if the Heart was another universe, Quinn might just know how to get there.
Jaq the ship keeper plunged his hands in the soapy water, muttering as he cleaned the pilot’s meal plates. A ship keeper’s duty was to see that the ship kept its customs. And having guests in the navitar’s cabin was not customary. He slammed the cleaned utensils in their drawers. Like all ship keepers he deplored departures from ship custom. But there the two of them were, pressing their mundane concerns on her, and she barely able to sit up, keep her caftan on, and remember not to pass gas in company. Not only that, but the fat eunuch and his companion had eaten all the dumplings, and now Jaq had no luncheon except some pickled momo, a gift from three Gond who had a good journey.
He could stand the situation no longer. Drying his hands, he went to the foot of the companionway to see if he could overhear the conversation. The big man stood at the head of the stairs.
“In,” the monster said, cocking his head toward the cabin.
Jaq hastened up the companionway, fearing that Ghoris had taken on one of her fits. But she was sitting up, smock pulled modestly up, with good color back in her face after the meal. He hurried over to the basin to bring a damp towel for her mouth and chin, but she waved him away. Nearby the two passengers stood, none the worse for the passage through the binds, and now waiting expectantly as though he should do more for them than he already had.
The navitar gripped his arm so fiercely he winced. “She will wait.”
“Who will wait?” Her hair hung in slimy ropes around her face. She needed her cleaning up and here they were having conversations.
Ghoris only smirked, but the smaller man took pity on Jaq’s confusion. “You’ll leave the ship for a time, under the navitar’s orders. A short absence, desperately needed.”
“Leave?” Incredulous, Jaq turned to the navitar.
The passenger continued, “We would go. But we’re hunted.” At the monster’s side he looked like a mere upstart. But between the two he was clearly in charge. Jaq paid him closer attention now. The passenger needed him to run an errand. But what had Jaq and his pilot to do with a venture of the worldly world? Ghoris needed him, had needed him for these five thousand days? That could not change.
“You tire of the river, ship keeper,” the navitar said, crisp as you please.
“No, not . . .”
Still holding on to his arm, Ghoris drew him down to look into her rheumy eyes. “That’s the story you’ll tell on your long journey. Everyone likes a good story, even lying ones, so long as it’s true somewhere.”
Jaq would have marveled at this long speech from his navitar except that he could not get past the words long journey.
“I’m going on a journey?” The ship rocked at anchor, a motion he barely felt, so long had he been on the river. He could not imagine the life of the un-Nigh and had no intention of ever leaving the pilot’s side, especially not for these mere passengers.
“Here is a nice story,” Ghoris said, smirking again. “This man is the one everyone wants. Looking here. Looking there. But Titus Quinn is right here. Husband of Johanna, she at the center of it all. She misses him, except she can’t remember him.” She shrugged. “All stories are true somewhere.”
Jaq gaped. Titus Quinn?
“Was it necessary to tell him so much?” the one designated as Titus Quinn asked.
But the question was too much for Ghoris, and she began picking at her shift, finally deciding to haul it closer to her face to clean her chin.
The monster said, “Give him his task.” He pressed his hand to his side as though he were in pain, and sat heavily on a bench.
Jaq could only stare at Titus Quinn. He didn’t look like a man who could kill a grown Tarig and straddle the brightships. He looked like a passable soldier of Ahnenhoon: fit and lean, but no general. But if his navitar had said so, it was true.
Titus Quinn nodded at him. “You’ll go to Na Jing in the Shulen Wielding, Jaq. From there up the minoral to the reach, where you’ll meet a scholar and give him a message. As I said, we’d go ourselves, but we’re hunted. With luck and good winds, you could be home to the Nigh in a couple of arcs.”
Twenty days to cross the primacy and travel up the minoral and back again? Nay, more like forty days, or one hundred days, what with intransigent bekus and the haphazard migrations of the floating grain-eaters. It made him sick to even think of traveling by Adda, by the huge Celestials. And what would the pilot do without him? He asked that.
“Mo Ti will be her keeper,” the monster said.
Jaq stood, hands at his sides, shaking his head. Titus Quinn. A great journey. He looked to his navitar, but she had already forgotten him, staring out the window at the Sheltering Path primacy, the God-blighted primacy where no one ever went. The pilot had dismissed him, sending him as a messenger.
“The big man is unwell,” he noted, hoping he was too ailing to be ship keeper.
The monster snorted. “The wound needs only rest and less talk.”
Jaq stood before them, resigned and stunned. “What is the message?”
“To use the correlates to find the doors to the Heart.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No,” Titus Quinn said. “But the message is for a scholar. His name is Su Bei. He’ll understand. Tell him: The lords travel to and from the Heart. We need to control those doors. And Su Bei must identify the locations.”
The lords travel back to the Heart from whence they came? Jaq tried to grasp this. He could not, and clearly they weren’t going to explain things to him, explain treason. He beseeched the navitar with a look.
Ghoris stared out the window, insensible. His navitar had commanded him to undertake a journey for Titus Quinn. How was this any business of his navitar and himself? Still, Ghoris refused to look at him. He saw how it would be; he must go. They had told him secrets. He was part of it now.
“Who is Su Bei?”
Titus Quinn, the great fugitive, appeared to relax somewhat. Jaq had not noticed until now how tense he had been. “A friend of mine from the old days. A scholar who taught me the Lucent tongue. I gave the correlates into his keeping. Can you remember the message?”
Reluctantly, Jaq repeated it. And then again, until he got it right.
“Tell him to find me in Rim City in the company of the godwoman Zhiya.”
Now Jaq knew it all: Quinn’s location, his plans, his knowledge of something called the correlates. Jaq could go to the Tarig and tell where the fugitive was. But then the lords would throw his pilot in the great river, and she would sink like a boulder. That he could not bear.
As he left the bridge with Titus Quinn, he reflected on the fact that Ghoris didn’t even know his name, had never known it. Ship keeper she had always called him. He looked back at her, hoping to at least hear that fond term.
An unaccustomed and labored smile drifted across her face. She lifted a hand in farewell.