If you do not know your own mind, ask an Inyx.
DURING QUINN’S AND MO TI’S TRANSIT OF THE BINDS, the bright had fallen to Shadow Ebb, yielding a violet sky that made the river a spill of wine.
Bearing a full pail, Mo Ti lumbered down the companionway and went through to the outer deck. He pitched the contents over the side of the ship. When he returned, he set the stinking bucket down and turned to Quinn.
“There is food in the galley.”
“No thanks,” Quinn said. “But noted.”
Ghoris lay moaning on her upper deck, having had a bad time of it, attempting the transit in one swoop from the Arm of Heaven primacy, where Jaq had departed, to the Long Gaze of Fire. The evening was calm except for the distant storm wall, that towering companion to the river. Quinn had been on the River Nigh many times, but this time was startlingly different, given their destination. The Inyx Sway was the place that had eluded him for so long, his daughter’s home. Oddly, though, he’d come here not for Sydney, but for Helice.
Mo Ti moved more easily at his tasks, now that Quinn had properly dressed his wounds—wounds that Mo Ti had taken for Quinn at Ahnenhoon. The man was built like a boulder, and injuries that might kill a smaller man had already begun healing. Now Mo Ti had light duty as ship keeper, doing the navitar’s bidding and her personal care. As bad a duty as this might be at the moment, the ship was the best hiding place for both of them. Mo Ti could never hide his distinctive physical aspect, that was certain. For this reason, until Jaq returned from his assignment, this ship would pick up no passengers.
Mo Ti paused by Quinn’s side at the railing, looking out on the river. He had just given Quinn a detailed description of his last hours in the fortress at Ahnenhoon. That report had included an account of Johanna Quinn’s death. The big man said, “It gave me no pleasure to tell you about your wife.”
“I know that. Thank you.”
“She was no soldier, but she died like the best of them.”
Quinn nodded. Died. He’d guessed she had, but now it was confirmed. After all the bad news Mo Ti had delivered to Quinn, this was the final, awful piece.
Though Mo Ti hadn’t seen Johanna die, he said no one could survive the beating Lord Inweer gave her in the great keep of Ahnenhoon. Of course, Lord Inweer could have healed her if he had wished, but why would he? Johanna had betrayed him.
Mo Ti’s news left Quinn feeling strangely cold and remote. A few weeks ago he had seen Johanna after years of separation. Then, within that same hour, she was dead. He couldn’t put it together. How to feel. Except that he should have died with her. But that wasn’t it, either. Hadn’t he learned by now that he wasn’t going to be excused from the fight? The war still enlisted him, preempted his life.
Except that he had remarried. Despite Anzi’s conviction that she was the second wife, she was no such thing. Johanna had freed him of their vows. There was only one woman in Quinn’s life, Ji Anzi. He missed her terribly, and despite all the good reasons for not knowing where she was, he would gladly, at this moment, picture her as safe. When his thoughts drifted to her, he tried not to guess where she had gone; but he did guess, anyway: perhaps back to her nominal uncle and aunt, Yulin and Suzong?
Mo Ti nodded toward the door. “We are coming in to shore. Ghoris says it is the roamlands.”
They went to the starboard rail, looking out. The shore was straight, the plains behind it shadowed and endless. If Sydney wanted to hide here, he could never find her.
This land had for so long been the object of his yearning. Sydney dwelled in the Inyx Sway; said to be a slave; then rumored to have risen to a high position. Speaking through the telepathic mounts, she had told him clearly not to come. Riod, her mount, would kill him. He steeled himself for her hostility, but in his own mind, he’d never abandoned her. Though he’d slept with a Tarig lady, it had given him no power to refute Tarig edicts. Still, he knew how it looked to the outside world. Some days it looked like that to him as well.
He had practiced what to say. Forgive me, was a start.
Now he had arrived at her shore, but not with any hope to take her home. The purpose of freeing his daughter was long out of date, superceded by what the war required of him and by her own preferences. Well, she was about to see him again, whether she wanted to or not.
From the bridge came a garbled shout. Ghoris. After a moment Quinn heard his name and began to ascend the companionway. He looked to Mo Ti for permission. He was ship keeper now. Mo Ti nodded and followed him up.
Ghoris slumped in exhaustion on her navitar’s dais, watching the door. She beckoned to Quinn, and he approached. The portals were open, letting in a breeze off the primacy, clove-ridden and welcome in the stinking pilot house.
Ghoris pointed to a stool, and Quinn brought it close, sitting next to her.
The navitar’s hair hung disheveled around her shoulders. Directly over her head was a membrane that gave way when she stood up to command the forces of the exotic river. He had seen her do so once, but could hardly remember what he had seen, and much of that was hallucination, he was sure.
She looked at him with beady eyes tucked into folds of fat. “She’s not here.”
Quinn waited. You could never be quite sure who Ghoris was speaking of. He’d been wrong before.
“She went away. The girl—both girls—passed us in the binds.”
“Sydney? My daughter? And Helice with her?” He took the navitar’s silence for a yes.
Quinn heard Mo Ti utter an oath. The big man wanted Helice disposed of almost as much as Quinn did.
Ghoris tried to shift her considerable bulk in the chair, but gave up on the effort. “Still being the father,” she murmured. “Leave it. Leave it.”
“She’s my daughter. I don’t walk away.”
Her face swelled with anger or pain, he couldn’t tell which. “The good father. You . . . can’t . . . have both.” Her voice became eerily normal. “I told you before.”
It was true, she’d said he had to choose, but he had thought she’d meant choose between the Entire and the Rose. That was when he’d come to the Ascendancy to rescue his daughter and Ghoris had said he had a bigger problem than that. Bigger, it was always going to be bigger than his life, these demands of duty. He waited for her to go on.
“Out there.” Ghoris pointed out the porthole toward the primacy of the Long Gaze of Fire. “Things you need to see. Take a trip. Not by our vessel. See the Paion, yes?”
She didn’t go on. Every word was an effort. She needed to sleep, and for a moment Quinn thought she was asleep, as her head slumped forward. Then she jerked awake. “Go and find something useful.” He tried to ask a question, but she waved him off. “Here’s the place where . . . they used to . . .” She frowned in confusion. “They were here, don’t you see? Have you never thought of them? You can’t see, can you? I talk to deaf men! Jaq, where is Jaq?”
Mo Ti came forward. “You sent him on a mission to Su Bei’s reach. I’m your ship keeper now.”
Ghoris looked at him as though he’d just eaten Jaq. She pointed at him and growled, “We come to shore. Prepare, ship keeper.” Then she snatched Quinn’s hands in hers, in a grip like a wrestler’s. “The Scar, Titus. It’s here. You can go.”
“Ghoris,” he said, knowing she was trying to tell him things, but fearing he would never understand. “I’ve got to find Helice, or she’ll ruin my world. Where is she?”
The navitar murmured, “Where is she or where will she be?”
He frowned, trying to step through the land mines of her conversation. “Where is the place where I’ll find her?”
“Under the sea.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Try harder, Titus Quinn.” When he remained silent, she said: “Paion live nearby. Go to them, under-sentient.” She added, rather unhelpfully, “If you must have daughters, have them. Have more daughters if the one does not suit.”
“Paion live here? Are there Paion among the Inyx, is that what you’re saying?”
Ghoris groaned, but whether in discomfort or frustration he didn’t know.
“Paion were here, and will be. Attend, can’t you? Try, Titus.”
Mo Ti came forward, putting his hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “She must rest. Ask more later.”
Quinn stood, and saw the navitar shake her head wearily. “You were supposed to be so smart.” She closed her eyes.
The two men left her, descending to the lower cabin.
Their mission now seemed pointless, but with the navitar vessel heading in to shore, they went out on deck to watch. Along the strand, shadows bulked—perhaps storage buildings. It hardly mattered, if what Ghoris said was true, the two girls were gone. Quinn watched the shore approach. Passed them in the binds? So they had been here just hours ago.
They came steadily to land. Now he could see the dark shapes resolve themselves into a welcoming party. Inyx. Some fifteen riders sat their mounts in a stolid line. The riders: various sentients including Ysli, Hirrin, and Chalin. The mounts: massive beasts with a double row of horns down their prodigious necks.
Prow funnel tilted up, the ship slid onto the muddy strand, spreading struts to stabilize it, though its draft was not deep. The ship came up a few feet onto the beach and settled.
Quinn asked Mo Ti, “You know them?”
“Mo Ti does.” He nodded at a Hirrin who was dismounting from an Inyx who folded his front legs to help her accomplish the maneuver. “Akay-Wat.”
Mo Ti let down a ramp secured with ropes. He motioned for Quinn to descend.
“You’ll come?” Quinn asked.
“I’ll attend Ghoris first. Guard your thoughts here. They need not know I have confided so much to you. Do not dwell on the dream forays.”
Quinn nodded his agreement and descended the ramp to the flats, avoiding the meandering slicks of Nigh water. When he stood before the Hirrin, she looked at him directly, but not in the way of a blind person. He knew then that she was sighted. No doubt she had been given the same gift as Sydney had. So here would be another friend of Helice.
“I am not a friend,” the Hirrin said by way of greeting.
Quinn was taken aback by the comment that seemed to read his thoughts.
The Hirrin was soft gray, with a long neck and wide nostrils. Her brown eyes gave her a doe-look. He noted her prosthetic leg, one that skewed her stance.
“I’m Titus Quinn,” he said, putting aside all pretense in this gathering of Inyx.
“Oh, we all know. I am Akay-Wat. We rode hard to get here when we heard you approaching.”
“Thank you,” he said, putting the best face on his reception party.
Akay-Wat nodded at her mount. “This is Gevka.”
He bowed at them both. “I’ve come to talk to my daughter. If she’s here.”
Akay-Wat shook her head on its long neck. “Come at last, oh yes? Come for the daughter, have you?”
He could see where the conversation would go. “I’d see her if I could.”
He allowed himself a moment to survey the other riders and their mounts.
One was a catlike creature who rode upright. He had rarely seen a Laroo up close. Voices pressed on him. No, not voices, thoughts. The mounts snorted and swayed, giving the impression of being mentally active, while remaining in position. Those farther away might not hear all the conversation, but they heard it by relay from Gevka. So he’d been told. Many things about the Inyx were guesses on the part of sentients who’d never seen one.
Akay-Wat said, “She is not here.”
“My daughter . . .”
The Hirrin interrupted him. “Call her Sydney, that is best among us. We are her family, I think.”
When he hesitated to go on, she added, “I am no friend to the Hel Ese woman. Speak freely.”
He looked back at Mo Ti for some support, but he was still with Ghoris.
Turning back to the Hirrin, he said, “And her companion too? Helice is gone also?”
“Yes, and Riod too. Oh dear, gone to the longest city.”
City? The Inyx had no cities . . . And then the thoughts in the minds of the mounts and their riders came flooding into him: she was in Rim City. The Tarig had freed her from banishment. They’d given her a sway. The news brought a spike of hope. Sydney might have her freedom. But Akay-Wat was guarded if not hostile, and he needed backup. “May I ask Mo Ti to join us?”
Akay-Wat nodded. “He is a friend.”
At a gesture from Quinn, Mo Ti descended the ship’s ramp, his duties to Ghoris apparently fulfilled for now. As he came closer, Akay-Wat’s expression changed to one of open relief. She went to Mo Ti, and her long neck stretched forward, allowing her to rest her head on his arm for a moment in a gesture of obvious affection. They spoke in low tones for some time.
When Mo Ti finally approached Quinn, he said, “We will share a campfire.”
The cook fire burned down to embers. They’d prepared a meal for him, and he’d accepted, though it was nothing more than small baked bricks of food. They were nomads, comfortable under the bare sky, living and sleeping. Many of them slept now, the riders flung upon the ground with only a travel pouch for a pillow.
Mo Ti stood, signaling his impatience to be gone. “Ghoris waits,” he said.
Akay-Wat sat on her haunches, apparently sobered by Quinn’s long story of all that had happened to him since first suffering capture in the Entire. Quinn wasn’t sure whether she believed everything, but he hadn’t withheld any of the terrible things he’d done. She listened carefully when he told of going to Lady Chiron’s sleeping chambers, of killing Small Girl, of almost— but fatefully, not quite—rescuing Sydney when he had received permission to travel to the Inyx, back when he was still incognito in the Entire. All that was long ago now—just how long ago could never quite be parsed. A year and a half had passed here. At home, it was longer, if it was not shorter.
He had hesitated to tell Akay-Wat of Helice’s plan to destroy his home. She might be in favor of that. But he told her anyway, subterfuge among the Inyx being pointless. Given Akay-Wat’s hostility to Helice Maki, he thought they were safe.
“Mo Ti,” Quinn said, “stay a moment.”
The big man watched him stonily. Mo Ti’s suggestion was to beat Sydney and Helice to the Rim City and take Helice down on the quay. Quinn was susceptible to Mo Ti’s urgings. But he couldn’t leave yet.
Seeing that Quinn would not soon leave, Mo Ti turned away to thread among the cook fires. He had many friends here, and they accepted him as a rider. Quinn wondered if the big man might choose to stay among the Inyx, waiting for Sydney’s return. But Sydney wasn’t coming back. Even Akay-Wat seemed resigned to that.
Left alone with the Hirrin at the fire pit, Quinn asked, “Have I any hope for her?”
Akay-Wat hooved a stray ember back into the pit. Gevka moved to her side, looming over both of them. The Hirrin nudged Gevka with her nose. Perhaps they conferred privately on what to say.
“Hope is not a bad thing, Akay-Wat thinks.” The Hirrin cut a glance at him. “But Sydney will measure you, as she does everyone. In your case the measure falls short.”
That said it clearly enough.
“Here is a thing to know,” Akay-Wat went on. “When we lived in the barracks, before we had free bond with our mounts, she had a book, yes? I heard her in the ebb, pricking the pages, making her account of the day. All the things the day brought. Or did not bring.”
“Pricking the pages?”
“We were blind.”
That he had momentarily forgotten chagrined him. “Go on, please.”
“She keeps the book with her always. It is the list of her days. You are in the list, Akay-Wat thinks. Oh yes. As—this you must remember—when we had word you stole all the brightships. As when Sydney asked Riod to watch the bright, waiting for one of those ships to come into our skies to bear her home.”
Quinn’s eyes felt hot as he stared at the coals.
“‘The bright,’ she would say to her mount. ‘Do you see anything, Riod? Look again.’”
The words cut him, somewhere deep enough that he could bear it.
“Through our mounts, we all saw her lift her face to the bright, waiting, waiting. Mo Ti told her, ‘He is not coming,’ and she nearly killed him for it. Not for saying you would not come, but for saying out loud that she cared.”
The embers fell, darkening. “You wonder what else is in the book? Akay-Wat wonders too; wonders what Sydney said about this Hirrin. Once she called me a good captain. That I will always remember.” After a long pause she said, “She took the book with her. Still using pin pricks, so no one else can read it. Still saying who did what and why.”
If she meant to give him hope, she did so begrudgingly. But it was true there was more to come, and Sydney, along with many others, would be taking his measure. He didn’t know if that was comforting, or not.
Mo Ti loomed over them. He never spoke much, and didn’t need to now, either. He wanted to be under way.
Quinn rose, thanking Akay-Wat and Gevka for the meal. Standing so close to an Inyx made a strong impression. He could not imagine how it would be to ride one. His shoulders did not reach even to the animal’s back.
He turned to the Hirrin. “The navitar said there are—or were—Paion here. Do Paion ride with you, Akay-Wat?”
She looked at him, her eyes large in surprise. “No one has ever seen a Paion.”
“So I thought.”
“Once they fought near here. Did the navitar mean the great battle?”
Quinn was puzzled. He’d been told the Paion always attacked at Ahnen-hoon, never elsewhere.
“Once,” Akay-Wat said, “the Paion fell upon the Entire nearby in great numbers and the Tarig themselves came to repel them. Their entrance point is marked by the Scar.” She turned down-primacy, nodding her head. “Many Paion were slaughtered, and even the Tarig died, or they laid down their minds in dead corpses and picked them up again, later.” She swiped a quick glance at him to see if he’d dreamed such things. “So it is said.”
“The lords do not die,” Quinn murmured. “I’ve heard that, too.”
Akay-Wat gave out a puff of air through her lips that passed for a sigh. “Oh, but they do not live, and that is more shameful.”
“And the Paion?”
The Hirrin gazed down-primacy again. “There is only a great scar on the storm wall. It has been there since ancient times, many archons. But no Paion anymore. Akay-Wat has been to and fro across the primacy.
Blind, though, Quinn inadvertently thought.
Instantly a thought came into his mind: The riders see through Inyx eyes.
Even a Gond is not so ignorant.
Apologies, Quinn thought, as hard as he could, but whether Akay-Wat’s mount heard him, he didn’t know.
“Akay-Wat, have the Inyx ever read a Paion’s mind? Inyx often are recruited to the Long War.”
She turned to her mount to let him answer.
The thought came eerily clear: Yes. Their thoughts are all on conquest.
The Hirrin went to her pack, drawing something out with her prehensile lips. She cocked her head, and Quinn understood he was to take the object.
It was a small hoop with a handle, like a miniature sports racket with the strings missing. Quinn studied the worn metal of the thing. Along the perimeter were intricate but faint designs, almost invisible.
“Akay-Wat was Sydney’s captain, her messenger to the herds across the steppe. In the journeys I once found the Scar, yes? Too close, you are in danger of the storm wall. But at a distance, my mount kicked up this object.” She added, “It is no Inyx thing, nor Jout, nor any thing the riders have ever seen.”
Paion thing, Gevka sent.
“Perhaps,” Akay-Wat mused out loud.
Quinn thought again about Ghoris urging him to go to the Scar, but from Gevka’s mind came the image of many days’ travel, and he knew he didn’t have that long.
“Does it have any use that you’ve discovered?”
“No. The middle of it is empty, lost.” She still hadn’t taken the hoop.
Mo Ti was waiting.
Akay-Wat kept Quinn in her steady brown gaze. “Navitars know things, yes? Perhaps you are meant to keep it. So you have not come to the Inyx Sway for nothing.”
He looked into those enormous eyes, eyes that, these days at least, seemed to see more than most. “Thank you, Akay-Wat. But it’s already been for something.” He tried to give the artifact back, but she made no move to accept it.
“Give my greeting to Sydney, Titus Quinn. You will?”
He promised, knowing that the day would not be far off when he saw his daughter again. He was certain now. Amendments were needed to the book of pin pricks. He clutched the gift of the small metal hoop and then he and Mo Ti made their way back to the vessel, a black hump against the darkened river.