There are only three barriers to reconciliation: The past, the present, and pride.
—Si Rong the Wise
AS AN ENORMOUS HORN BRAYED, the longest parade in the history of the universe surged into the never-ending Way. Out into the fog-drenched streets came the citizens of Rim City, costumed in festive satins, masks, and headdresses. They were dressed for a mixture of veneration and revelry and for most there was no difference. With them came banners, kites, ropes of beads, jars of wine, cymbals, flutes, gongs, and bells, all pressing, banging, blowing, and ringing in general mayhem and the occasional impromptu riff. From more organized enclaves emerged painted floats, carts loaded with children, and caparisoned bekus ridden by as many revelers as could hold on. The massive fog banks that had nested over the lower Rim for so many days dampened few spirits; the bright gnawed at it, tattering it, throwing random scenes into spot-lit dioramas.
Everywhere around the shore, the dwellers of Rim City flooded into the Way. At the third hour of the third phase of day—a time all sentients knew by birthright, there being no clocks in the Entire—the Great Procession formed a complete circle around the sea. To anyone marching in the lower Rim today, it did seem that the line of revelers was never-ending, stretching to the limit of sight in both directions. At the bridges over the Rivers Nigh, the parade crossed over and streamed into the next primacy, with the marchers charged to walk and ride as long as the spirit moved them, with all homes open to those who might require rest before returning home.
One person was missing from the celebrants, but she had the best view of all. On a private balcony of the Ascendancy, the high prefect of the dragon court looked down on the Rim Sway. Cixi couldn’t hear the braying of the processional horn, or even see the procession, except for the silent eruption of fireworks thirty thousand feet below.
It had been on a balcony like this one that, four thousand days ago, a young girl of the Rose had threatened to throw herself over the side. The girl didn’t know what the Entire was; she couldn’t conceive of what the Ascendancy was, much less the floating city or the great sea below. Sydney had looked at these sights, eyes wild. Cixi had coaxed her back, and the girl had come into her arms, clutching her with a ferocity that shocked the high prefect. No one had held Cixi for one hundred thousand days, and it loosened her, showing her that her heart was not dead. The girl and the high prefect began by sharing a secret hatred of the lords; soon they shared a bond very like a mother and daughter. And now Sydney was mistress of a sway. Incredibly, Rim City was celebrating the girl from the Rose grown to womanhood among the Inyx. As Cixi gazed at that portion of the city she could see from the under side of the Magisterium, she felt tears moving through her, though she was far too old to have any water left in her. Thank goodness they didn’t spurt from her eyes. It was destructive of the makeup that took two hours to apply and would astound the functionaries of the Great Within, with its myriad clerks, factors, stewards, sublegates, legates, and preconsuls.
My dear girl, she mouthed through tiny, painted lips, and ordered the tears back down her throat.
In the Way itself, the processional chain was now formed, comprised of billions of inhabitants and their conveyances. No one would be indoors today. For one thing, the lords had decreed that the dwellers celebrate. For another, it was an event no wanted to miss, since becoming a sway was a great event in the history of the city. How anyone could hope to organize or govern such a place was a problem for another day. Rim Sway was an idea that caught on, gave sentients pride—so long as the girl of the Rose changed nothing, raised no new taxes, and got in no one’s way, Rim City was happy to celebrate and drink to her health.
And the lords were watching to make sure they did.
Tarig were about, their tall forms glimpsed here or there, some of them wearing diamond nets on their skulls. Eddies of sentients gave way around them. Merchants and vendors here were used to Tarig presence, living as they did within sight of the Ascendancy, that brilliant mountain hanging above the sea. No event was too strange for Rim City, settled by people who had seen it all. Navitars did the city’s bidding, giving passage to points on the great circumference. There was little that could impress a sentient who lived in this place at this time under the bright.
Nevertheless it was a hell of a party.
And Titus Quinn was in its midst, glad that the parade gave him an excuse to be where he was, glad for the obscuring fog. Joining the crowd of citizens going counterclockwise, as he thought of it, he made his way toward the mansion on the nearest bridge. In the press of revelers, it would take some time to get there. No one would remark that he carried a pack on his back, nor that his face was masked in paint. The Tarig were using the parade to flush him out, of course. And he was using the festivities for cover. So as to who was deceiving whom, it might be argued either way.
He cinched the pack straps more tightly around his shoulders and plunged into the crowd. Just off the square he was passing through stood the God’s Needle he could see from his balcony. It looked like a lighthouse in a New England fogbank. At towers of worship like this sentients sometimes dared ask for the Miserable God’s notice. No one ascended those holy stairs today. Far behind him the flotilla of Adda was mustering for a stately pass over the shoreline. The flock was led by an old behemoth so outsized she barely cleared the ground. Ahead of him, invisible in the fog, the crystal bridge.
The Sea of Arising, the center of the radial universe, was the mother sea of all the Nighs. Five rivers flowed out from the sea, down one side of each of the primacies. By its five arms the Nigh held the Entire into a coherent society. One could journey from the nesting forests of the Gond to the Reach at Ahnenhoon; the expanses of the impassible Empty Lands were no impediment; one need only a ship, a navitar, and an adventuresome spirit.
In his stall in the mansion on the bridge, this thought comforted Riod. By merely boarding a vessel he could be in the roamlands in but a few intervals. From his stall next to Sydney’s quarters, he looked down at the disturbing sea. To be suspended over exotic waters made him uneasy and irritable. His hope to lead the great herd into the dream world of the Tarig was slipping from him. The herd circled near each night but could not find him. He had felt diminished from the moment he boarded the navitar’s vessel and worse each day he spent next to the sea. Thus Riod had learned that an Inyx must never be separated from other Inyx. It was not enough to have his beloved rider nearby and his heart connection over distance with his herd mates. It was not nearly enough.
Deng, the Chalin servant assigned to Riod’s care, came in, bearing fragrant grasses and making a new, fresh bed for the massive creature. Then he carefully emptied and refilled Riod’s trough of water, doing everything as he had been instructed. Deng felt uneasy around this mind-snatching creature. He had learned a poem to say over and over that assured he would not leak secrets to Sen Ni’s mount.
In the floors above Riod, the palace of the Mistress of the Sway was largely empty. Most of the staff of Sydney’s residence and offices was gathered with her at the front terrace of the mansion, accepting acclamation from the Great Procession moving past. Sydney, on view by the masses, wore a red satin chemise over slim pants and embroidered slippers. Her hair was pulled back into a cinched band, making it appear as though she had long hair; Anuve had supervised her grooming with care. But Sydney knew her stature in the sway would change the moment her father was in custody. For this reason it was doubly worrisome that Riod was incapable of his nightly spying on the Tarig. He wasn’t recovering from his bad trip by boat, and Sydney’s goal of examining the Tarig weak points at close range was slipping away.
She hoped her father would not try to come to her today. The longer he delayed, the longer Riod would have to recover his strength. And the longer she would have to adjust to the idea that she would betray Quinn to the Tarig. She had told Anuve that she didn’t care. Some days she wasn’t so sure.
Feeling hot and confined by her clothes, Sydney kicked off her slippers to cool her feet. No one would notice that she stood barefoot, and if they did, let them complain.
Down the way came the next pulse of sentients: Here was a dragon, a silk-tented carapace with many feet carrying it along. The whiskered face jumped up at the sound of cymbals, and the bodies carrying the dragon skin danced and stomped. Sydney’s household clapped and threw candies. For a moment, in the din of the parade, Sydney thought of Mo Ti. He should be here to see her in her role as Rim City mistress. In fact, she watched for him, thinking he might find her today. Had her father killed him or merely escaped him? And if the latter, then where was Mo Ti, and why hadn’t he come to her?
A Jout in a puffy costume of yellow and red broke out of the crowd and approached the stairs separating the mansion from the Way. He rushed up the stairs, holding out a gift—a tasseled crown of good craftsmanship, if cheap materials.
Sydney picked up the golden tiara and smiled at the Jout, waving her thanks. But now she had a dilemma: should she presume to wear a crown, even this fake one? She turned to the window at the back, almost hidden from view. There the Lady Anuve watched without being seen. If Sydney declined the crown, then she’d insult the Jout and the merrymakers who surrounded him, half drunk though they were. She had a moment’s pause as she considered whether putting on the crown might signal more of her plans than was terribly wise.
But she placed the tiara on her head. A burst of fireworks fountained into the sky, plowing a hole through the fog. In the dazzle of color streaming down, the crowd spilled up the stairs, trying for a better view. Amid the surge, Sydney noticed a strange person: a grinning and dancing dwarf with long white hair. Barging her way close, the dwarf thrust her stubby hand straight up at Sydney, saying quietly, “Read this in private if you want that crown for real.” She pressed a note into Sydney’s hand.
Then the dwarf laughed and pushed her way back to the procession, as Sydney’s servants hurried to take control of the steps.
The many-legged dragon jumped and pranced, disappearing into the fog. The Jout in the puffy costume cart-wheeled behind it. The parade kept coming.
Tai stood at the base of the bony ladder leading to the belly of the Adda. He’d never ridden an Adda before, but neither had most of the people assembled on the wharf. He was one of thirty handpicked men who would ride the trailing ladders in the procession. It was the best-paying job he’d had in the three weeks since he’d resolved to better himself. Looking at the other riders, he knew why he was chosen: they were all beautiful and young, and like him, they were willing to exploit it. They were all dressed identically in fine green silk with square hats to match. He knew what Bo or Fajan would say: that he was corrupt to be part of a Tarig celebration. But the twelve primals he was paid for looking flash in a parade and riding the tail of an Adda was a fine start to his savings. A man doesn’t go far without money in this world. And he certainly couldn’t cross to the next world with nothing in his pockets.
His was the ninth in the line of Adda. Thirty celestial beasts were caparisoned with braided and jeweled rigging, tassels dangling close to their huge eyes, streamers tied to their cartilage ladders that formed the boarding steps. The great creatures floated in a firm line, tethered to the wharf, ready to set sail. Normally confined to riding the prevailing winds, today the Tarig provided a narrow stream of wind to take them along the coast in one direction, and then back along the same route to this staging ground.
Tai looked up at his Adda and found to his consternation that she was looking down at him. He bowed. She blinked, her pearlescent eyelids faintly green, her eyelashes long and coarse.
Shreds of fog obscured the forward line of the Adda where the lead behemoth waited the signal to move. This was Beesha, an old favorite in Rim City, reduced these days to taking sightseers on sea outings, but beloved for her age and size. Tai would have loved to ride that one, but ninth in line was not haggish, either. He hoped to glimpse Sen Ni, she of the Rose, perhaps on her balcony. With luck, she might wave at him.
The Great Procession turned, and as it did, the fog began twisting away, evaporating under the bright.
In her quarters in the mansion, Helice felt dazed. She had only been in the world a few weeks; most of that time had been in the desolate tundra lands of the Inyx. Within a space of two weeks she had come to the center of the universe, almost under the shadow of the Ascendancy, and seen a fabulous city put on a display of grandeur. It was Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year, the Fourth of July—all magnified to Entirean standards.
As she looked out from her balcony, she saw in the distance a line of Adda approaching, the creatures of near mythical proportions that Quinn had described to her once and that had lived in her imagination ever since. She was here. She was standing amid all the glories that were the Entire. She loved it more than she could express. She was giddy with it. Happy, perhaps for the first time in her life. That stopped her. Hadn’t she been happy? Testing savvy, rushing headlong through her doctorate degrees, climbing in the ranks of Minerva? No, never happy. Happiness was what she felt today: life’s infinite possibility.
To make the day perfect, they would capture Titus Quinn. That would effectively remove Quinn from his position as the goddamned Christopher Columbus of the new universe. But even if he didn’t come today, he was irrelevant. He’d drowned the chain in the Nigh. That was the best thing he’d ever done. Maybe she didn’t hate him quite as much as before. Any man who couldn’t kill a whole world . . . but this was where she got into a bit of trouble. She planned to kill the Rose. So that made her a monster by most people’s standards. Until you remembered that the Tarig were bloody well going to burn it with or without Helice Maki. They were, in fact, burning some of it right now, those little beta tests of the big engine, those little flash deaths of stars in a faltering Rose universe. Helping them hurry it up just a tad did not make her responsible for the fact that it was bound to happen.
She checked on the mSap. It was computing away, good little thing. She’d set it to detect electromagnetic spikes in the Ascendancy, thinking they might coincide with Tarig transfer points. But there were such profound turbulences here next to the storm wall that the mSap couldn’t distinguish any pulses from the background fluctuations. Nor was Riod, the pathetic thing, doing any better with his side of it. Strange that a creature so massive should be the only one to sicken in the Nigh, though as to sickening, she had her own health worries. She put a hand to her face. The scabs still festered.
She patted the mSap. Keep going, she urged it. Once she had the transfer points identified, she’d have her security measures against the Tarig. They’d need to actually deal with her and not just dismiss her or kill her.
Replacing a wad of clothes on top of the mSap, she hid it again. The mSap would identify her as a foreigner. So far in the mansion she’d passed as Sydney’s fellow rider Hei Ling; that fiction had to be sustained for a while longer.
The cap she wore to deflect undue notice of her baldness chafed today. She threw it onto her bed and ran a hand over her head, feeling a growth of fuzz. Going to the mirror in the commode, she used a razor to quickly skim herself smooth again. She allowed herself a closer look in the mirror, touching her face where the infection still lingered. It wasn’t getting better. It was worse on her neck, but even her lower jaw now oozed in places. Helice had never been vain, but now she was worried. The burns from her crossing from the Rose had festered despite all the ointments and the ministrations of healers.
Pulling her scarf securely around her neck, she went to join Sydney. Mistress of the Sway against all odds, now the girl wanted to be queen. She hadn’t a clue how unlikely that was. Perhaps Helice would let her keep Rim City, though. Remarkably, they seemed to want the same things. It had been a brilliant stroke to hook up with the girl. So long as she was malleable, Sydney might do well in Helice’s regime.
Far below the mansion, on the river, a navitar vessel hung just outside the fogbank. From here the grand celebration looked ghostly, with fountains of skyrockets obscured and smeared by fog. Mo Ti looked up to the pilot house, seeing Ghoris staring out her viewports. Was she watching the Great Procession or some vision in her own head? Hard as she was to judge, he thought that lately she had been sad.
“Jaq,” she had said one day when Mo Ti was bathing her. “Jaq”—and her eyes might have held tears. She missed the ship keeper. Jaq had been sent away by the mistress he loved and served. Mo Ti knew the pain of that. Sydney had sent him to kill her father, to prevent him from using the world-wreaking chain. Mo Ti had not done so, and worried that Sydney might see that as disloyal. Nor was this his only slip. Sydney had also found him withholding intelligence from her; she had unfortunately discovered that Cixi had been the one to send him to protect and advise her. But as high prefect of the Magisterium, Cixi worked in exquisite secrecy, especially among the mind-intruding Inyx. Add to all this, now Mo Ti had gone against Sydney in something she might never forgive. He had told Titus Quinn about the plan to raise the kingdom. He had told Titus Quinn about the Tarig doors home. It was a moment of trust, one that Sydney might never understand. It might do little good to tell her that Quinn had the means—the correlates—to find the doors to the Heart. If Quinn found them first, he said he would deliver the Tarig kingdom to Sydney. She might think Mo Ti a fool, or worse, to believe him.
He looked toward Rim City. The fog was parting, disappearing like soap bubbles left too long in the bowl. Sydney, he thought, as though his heart would burst.
On land the procession turned. The citizens were marching toward something, but the goal did not matter. What was important was to be on the Way at the moment all other city dwellers were. Most could not have said why it thrilled them to circumnavigate the sea; but few would have missed saying “I did the Great Procession on the first day Rim City was a sway.”
A shower of candy hit Quinn as a float passed by. He waved at the acrobats performing their routines on a motorized float. It hummed by, wheelless, suspended a foot above the Way.
Suddenly at his side there appeared an outrageous-looking, very short woman. It took him a beat to realize it was Zhiya.
“By the bright, we are a sway!” she said, in the prearranged signal before disappearing into the oncoming procession. So, Zhiya had gotten the message to Sydney. It settled on him with a jolt that Sydney was nearby. She now held the note he had written in his own hand. He wanted to ask Zhiya: what does she look like? He would soon find out.
He was approaching the crystal bridge. He had been tracking the progress of the line of Adda that were sailing up the shoreline toward the mansion. Through the thinning fog he caught glimpses of the symbionts.
Time to cut down to the Pearl Wharf. Everything now depended on timing, and Zhiya’s man riding the Adda with the purple fringe, the man who was not afraid of heights. Quinn made his way down to the shore, his mind now on nothing but Sydney. Show me that you still love the Earth. Child of the Entire you might be, but Earth is still your birthplace.
And the Great Procession turned.
Firecrackers clapped out a long burst. Even deep in the mansion, Helice could still hear the cacophony of the parade crossing the bridge. She’d promised Sydney that she’d check on Riod, but now that she’d used the time to check on her mSap, she might just let that assignment go. A slight breeze hit her from a side corridor. Her scalp felt it. She’d forgotten her hat.
Turning back, she hurried down to the level of her quarters, just rounding a corner when she saw the Lady Anuve disappearing into the doorway of Helice’s own apartment. She froze. Why would the Tarig bitch be in her room? She mustn’t have time to search, to find the mSap. Helice rushed to the doorway.
It was too late. Anuve knelt beside the mSap, having pushed aside the heap of clothes covering it.
Helice swung back out of the doorway, pulse thudding, mind racing. How to explain the mSap? There was no way to explain it except for what it was. She would have to kill Anuve.
Not damn likely.
Helice found herself in a nearby room, pasted against the wall, panic banishing normal thought from her mind. She had to get the mSap from Anuve. The mSap was her only power in this universe.
She rushed to Sydney’s quarters a few suites down. Empty. Everyone except Helice and Anuve was on the terrace. Helice stood in the doorway and screamed.
Ducking back into Sydney’s room, she tore over to the windows overlooking the sea. She opened the casement and stepped through onto a small lanai, shutting the windows behind her and leaning against the wall. In a moment’s assessment, she had her route planned out. First, she had to get from the lanai to the adjacent servant’s quarters; a window ledge offered footing. She climbed onto it. Helice now stood hundreds of feet above the confluence of the Nigh and the sea with nothing to hang on to. Sidling along, praying Anuve would not look out the windows, she came to Riod’s quarters. The windows were thrown open, blocking her passage. She flung them shut with her feet, crossing in front of Riod as he lay on his pile of straw observing her.
“Stupid, mind-sucking cripple,” she thought murderously. “Die and get it over with.”
Riod’s voice smashed into her consciousness, though she willed him away from her. Jump. That is the best way for you.
Snarling her contempt, she passed on, scrambling finally onto her own lanai. She peered inside. Anuve was gone, having rushed off to investigate the scream. The mSap was still there.
Moving quickly, Helice jumped into the room and pulled her long scarf from around her neck. She cradled the mSap inside it. Grabbing her hat from the bed, Helice jammed back through the lanai doors, moving away from the window panes. She had the mSap. But no disguise, no money, nowhere to go.
First things first. She had to get down from the bridge.
Deng rushed toward the sound of the scream. He was supposed to be waiting on the Inyx, but instead he’d been lolling next to a window to look at the procession. Clattering down the stairs to the residential quarters, he heard someone rounding the corner to come up. It was a Tarig. He crashed into her.
She lifted him up by his shoulders.
“Did you scream, ah?”
Flabbergasted to be in the grip of a Tarig, he shook his head furiously. “I heard it, Lady.”
She dropped him and, spinning around, strode back down the corridor, darting into rooms, one after the other. Deng was frozen in consternation.
Who could have screamed? And why? The sight of a Tarig slinking and darting in the corridor filled him with a sickening fear. He trailed after Anuve, wanting to flee but understanding he must serve her.
The lady came out of one apartment and stood stock still. She drew a knife out of her waistband. Deng was going to die. She hurled the weapon at him. It landed at his feet, embedded in the floor.
“Find the woman Hei Ling. Search everywhere. Use any means to stop her from leaving.”
“Yes, lady.” He yanked the blade from the floor and went in the opposite direction from Anuve, piss running down his legs.
On the terrace, a team of acrobats passed by on a float. Sydney gripped the note in her fist, but she needed privacy to read it. The dwarf had referred to Sydney’s ambitions. No one knew about those; no one should know.
The acrobats were wildly popular, bringing cries and applause from the onlookers. The servants on the terrace steps clapped gleefully. Anuve had been absent for several minutes from her post at the window. Now was the time. Sydney turned to the nearest attendant. “I will use the washstall.”
She hurried into the foyer and into the nearest washstall. There she read the note; reread it. She leaned over the fountain, sick to her stomach. When the wave of nausea passed, she gripped the basin and looked into the mirror.
He won’t see me like this, she vowed. She splashed water on her face and straightened her hair. A woman in red stared back at her, eyes like dark wells.
Entering the great hall, she looked for Anuve. If the creature had been in view, she might have gone to her, shown her the note. Might have. But didn’t.
She rushed down a back staircase to her apartment. She was going to do this. Stupid, stupid. But this wasn’t just to see her father; he was, for the first time, offering her something. She wanted to consult with Riod, but there wasn’t time.
Rushing into her quarters, she threw open the window to the largest porch on the Ascendancy side of the mansion. She turned to gauge the approach of the Adda. From out of a great bank of fog, a huge beast emerged.
The lead Adda. She strained her eyes into the murk to see the one with the purple tassels. Still back in the line of beasts. She crumpled Titus’s note and threw it over the railing.
The Adda bore down on the crystal bridge.
Tai’s arm was weary from waving. He rode the pliable ladder, having hooked one leg around a cross bar. Holding on with one hand, he shamelessly waved at the citizens gathered along the quay, those who could pull themselves from the procession for a moment to see the great passing of the Adda.
The line of symbionts was riding low, perhaps lower than it ought if it was to pass properly before the mistress’s review up on the bridge. The Adda just in front of his was particularly low, ruining the line of the procession. It was caparisoned in a purple headdress, dangling streamers and elaborate fringe. Now a man was rushing up to that Adda, trying to catch the ladder.
To Tai’s surprise, the green-clad rider in charge of the beast reached down a hand to him, helping him gain purchase on the lowest rung. For an instant, the two men clung to the Adda’s trailing ladder, and then the beast climbed back to position, just as if it were all carefully planned. So, Tai thought: the rider in front thought to give his lover a ride in the fabulous Adda.
For a moment the two men on the purple Adda hung on, then one climbed into the orifice. The remaining rider turned for a moment, looking around him, and met Tai’s gaze.
It felt like a punch in his midsection. Tai stared in a heart-stopping moment of incredulity. It was he. No. It was not. Looking more carefully, it was not. The face was not the same as the pictures . . . but in other ways it was. Tai had gazed so long at the likenesses of Titus Quinn that he knew him by face shape, by expression, by essence. By the Rose, Tai was sure. He found himself moving into a profound bow.
And on the other Adda, Titus Quinn bowed back.
With the mSap on her back, Helice had to face the building as she inched along the ledge on the outside of the mansion. Keeping her weight pressed forward, her forehead slid along the rough adobe of the mansion’s facade, abrading her already sore face. By the time she got to the end of the building, she was frantic to find solid ground. Already, a Chalin servant had come looking out on one of the balconies; he hadn’t seen her, but it wouldn’t be long before someone did. Reaching the next balcony, she jumped down, sweating and frantic to hide.
She leaned over the railing to look at the bridge beneath her. A great superstructure held up the dwellings and the Way. If there was even as much as a thin girder to walk on, that was her way down. Pulling her cap more securely over her head, she sidled over the railing. Crouching on a plinth at the base of the lanai, she held on and took a closer look at the understructure.
Smooth and glassy. Well, she hadn’t expected stairs.
Shadows approached through the fog. A giant Adda was lumbering down on her. Then she remembered: the parade of gas bags planned for that afternoon.
A noise from above. Someone had opened the door to the lanai. All they need do was look down and they would see her.
“Hnnn,” came a sound from above.
Helice flattened herself on the ledge and craned her neck to look below. Just within reach, she saw a foothold and a handhold to pull herself under the mansion toward a fretwork of supports. She slid her foot in that direction. Bending her body double, she took hold of a strut with one hand, and then with all her remaining strength heaved herself to the new perch. To her profound relief, she heard a door closing above her. Anuve must have retreated inside.
Helice curled herself into a ball. Below her, navitar vessels bobbed on the sea. Someone pointed up at her, shouting. But it was the parade of Adda he noted, not her. A movement over her shoulder caught her attention. A few feet away Helice saw the hanging, cartilaginous ladders of the Adda sweep by.
Deng had found no one in his sweep through the mansion. Other Tarig were searching, the ones that had been hiding out of sight. Unsure what his next move should be, Deng returned to the residential quarter and was about to enter the mistress’s suite when he heard the loud snorting of the Inyx. Diverted, he ran into Riod’s stall and found the beast had hugely defecated in his nest.
Water, came the Inyx’s thought. Deng would clean the straw later, but he took a moment to change the beast’s water.
In the suite next to Riod, Sydney was waiting at the open doors, hoping that Riod could occupy the stable boy who might at any moment come looking in her suite.
The moment was almost upon her. Here came the Adda with the purple fringe, the ladder swinging low. It bore down on her. She lifted her hand, waiting. When it came over the balcony, the huge creature threw a cool shadow over her. A man with a painted face stood high on the ladder, crouching down, reaching out his hand.
Sydney grabbed the ladder as it swept along the balcony floor. She stepped onto it just as it began to rise again to clear the balustrade. She climbed, and the man above her climbed backward, still holding out his hand. He gained the entrance to the cavity, and then she took his hand, and leapt into the Adda’s travel pouch.
The man with the painted face turned to the one other person inside, a man dressed in green silks, and said, “Climb into the sinuses, Yat Pang, I need privacy here.” The man obeyed, but Sydney hardly noticed him leaving. The voice. It was her father’s voice.
The line of Adda completed their pass of the Mistress of the Sway’s mansion and went just a little further than they needed to along this route to find a place to make the huge swing around. Zhiya had bribed the leader of the Adda processional to take his time. Still, Quinn had only a few minutes to see his daughter.
“Sydney,” he said, his voice deadened by the Adda’s fleshy girth. “My face is altered. Do you know me?” Say that you do, he thought, not even knowing exactly what he meant.
She stared at him, wild-eyed.
And he stared at her. She was slender but athletic. She looked not at all like Johanna. Dressed in deep red silks, her face flushed, she looked both beautiful and fierce. Close-cropped dark hair, wide brown eyes. He knew better than to look for welcome in those eyes.
“Please sit,” he said, kneeling on one side of the Adda’s entrance orifice.
After a moment, she sat on her heels on the other side. Through the hole appeared the shoreline of the Sea of Arising, exotic waters foaming against the land. He wanted to reach out across the space between them, but he had no right to touch her.
“I’ve loved you all your life. I still do.”
He saw a shadow of derision cross her face and hurried to say, before she could: “I was a prince of the city, but a hobbled one. I wore their clothes and ate their food, but they kept watch on me, never telling me where you were.
But I lived under their roofs, and took my days from them. I failed to find you. I never forgave myself. It’s the greatest regret of my life, Sydney. That I failed you.”
Sydney’s voice was grown up, a woman’s voice: “I watched for you.” Her face revealed nothing, not the slightest opening.
He knew she had waited for him. He didn’t want to make an excuse, but he forced himself to say the truth: “I went home to tell the Earth that the Tarig will destroy them. I had one chance to go home to deliver that message.
I took it. I had to.”
She was still evaluating his face, tracing the changes. Whether she was disappointed that he looked like someone else, Quinn couldn’t tell. “Heroic,” she said.
He saw how this would be. Let her lash out at him, in anger, in sarcasm. It was what had to happen. But there was no time for the father, for the daughter. The Adda would soon be making the turn, and she had to get back to the balcony.
“You don’t have much reason to care for the Earth.”
“For the Rose? No. I don’t remember it. There’ve been too many things . . . here.”
“I’ve come to plead for it in any case.”
A flicker went over her face. Maybe he should have said, I’ve come for you; come home with me. Just to offer it once. But he couldn’t. He was here for the Rose. He saw how he must seem to her: the loyal soldier, the man without feelings. How far that was from the truth she might never understand. He wanted to say, I threw the chain into the Nigh. For you, Sydney. I gave up the Rose, and put it at the mercy of the Tarig.
He didn’t say it; there wasn’t any time.
Outside the orifice, Quinn could see that the Adda were swooping around to retrace their path.
“I know Helice’s plan,” he said. “I want her. She’ll betray you in the end. I know her so well. . . . I don’t expect you to believe me. But I’m going to stop her. Give her to me and I’ll give you something in return. By God, I’ll give you the Tarig.”
An ironic smile. “They belong to you? I didn’t notice that.”
Her words were all measured and controlled. Oddly, amid this momentous discussion, he noticed that she spoke English with an accent. How strange. She spoke English with an Entirean accent. It slashed at him, somehow worse than anything.
She gazed at him with dead-eyed calm. There wouldn’t be any recriminations, then. If she’d been angry, he could have begged her pardon. If she’d been sad, he could have let it cut him. But she had moved past him. There was nothing except to plod on and lay his offer out.
“The Tarig have a tie to the Heart, the place they came from. They return to it, perhaps to replenish themselves. I know they’re altered beings. Pasted on to a living form. I’m going to cut them off from the source.”
“Heroic,” she said again, so cold and modulated.
“My God, don’t you care at all?” It rushed out of him, misdirected and desperate.
“Care?” Sydney’s face tightened, emotion in the corners. “I’d care if I thought you could cut them off. Then I’d care.”
But not about Earth. Not about him. “I have a way. It’s a gift given me from a Tarig lord.”
“One of your friends.”
After a beat he gave up the idea of arguing. “Yes, if that’s how you want to put it. He gave me a key. I’ll use it, and then I’ll bring you to the brink of the Heart and you can do with it what you will.” He watched her as she struggled to believe him. “In return, I want the Earth. I want Helice Maki. I won’t let you burn the Rose, Sydney. I know you’ve suffered. But you can’t help her kill the Rose.”
“The only reason I’m listening to you is that you never used the weapon. You threw it in the river.”
“What makes you think I did?” And how could she know that?
“We just know, that’s all.”
We. His mood fell grim. Helice knew. But by her silence, Sydney would say no more.
She looked out the orifice. The end of the bridge was coming into sight. “Yes, then.” She rose. “You can have her. I’ll trade you. Helice for the Ascendancy.”
She stood on the brink of climbing down. She laughed, and she was bright and beautiful when she did. “I can’t believe I’d trust you.” Shaking her head, she crouched down, watching for her chance to descend.
“Mo Ti,” he began, and her eyes flashed at hearing his name. “Mo Ti begs you to return him to service.”
“Why should he hesitate?”
“He told me about Helice’s plan—and, because I guessed the dreams of the Tarig were your doing, he told me of your plans as well. He’s won me as your ally. If you’ll have me.”
“Mo Ti told you,” she said. It sounded almost like an Eastern European accent. It made him sick that she was losing her hold on English. But it couldn’t matter, it didn’t matter.
“He may not return to service.”
There, she had cut off Mo Ti, too.
“It might be hard to trust him anymore,” she continued. “After he’s been with you.” She was casual with these cuts. She was an expert.
She looked closely at him. “They changed your eyes.” He nodded, numb. “You don’t look like yourself anymore.”
“I hope I’m changed.” That got a small reaction from her. But there was one thing more he had to say: “The Tarig lord. Lord Inweer. A few days ago he killed your mother.”
She stared at him, still no expression.
“He beat her to death when he discovered she tried to help me destroy the engine at Ahnenhoon.” She had a right to know that Johanna was dead.
“You knew there is an engine?”
Sydney nodded, then looked down through the opening. Glancing back at him, she asked, “Are you coming with me, then? To take Helice?”
“Yes. Let me go first. I’ll help you down”
“I don’t need help.” She descended.
They were coming in to the mansion. Quinn called up to Yat Pang in the Adda’s sinus cavity. “We’re ready!”
Yat Pang swung himself down. Sydney was already jumping from the ladder. Quinn scrambled down after her. The Adda was already rising to clear the balcony. Quinn grabbed onto Yat Pang, helping him jump safely.
They were on a large stone balcony, and the procession of Adda was sweeping by, returning to their staging ground.
On one of the Adda, Tai turned around to keep the people on the balcony in sight. They disappeared into the mansion. By the bright, he had just seen the Mistress of the Sway and Titus Quinn. He thought he had seen them.
Other green-clad Adda tenders were also staring curiously at the scene of people climbing and descending the purple Adda’s ladder. But none of them would realize what they had just witnessed.
Tai had been in the presence of Titus Quinn. He’d seen him help his daughter into the Adda and come back with her to her mansion. It was, at the very least, a conspiracy. And at its most significant, it was a glimpse of the passionate world that would one day be his: a world of heroes. Well, one thing he knew for sure. He wouldn’t be able to question the tender of the Adda with the purple fringe. That man had debarked onto the balcony.
His heart expanding in his chest, Tai didn’t long worry about that missed opportunity. He had seen Sen Ni. He had seen Titus Quinn. It was enough for one day.
On the great understructure of the bridge, blood dripped from Helice’s hands, making her progress slippery and slow. She straddled a glass strut and, hunkered over, pulled herself along it, pressing with her hands lest she move too fast. The strut sloped down. The understructure of the bridge was smooth and empty except at the sides, where an enclosed trough conveyed what Helice imagined was waste water down to the bridge’s footings on land.
The crystal edges of the trough tore at her fingers. She let herself rest when it became apparent no one was following her. She held on to a cross piece that joined the trough, hugging it. Halfway down now, she was closer to the confluence of sea and river, and could pick out individuals on navitar vessels. There was little reason to be on a vessel when the action was in the great Way, but one boat lingered. On its deck stood a massive Chalin man.
This one she knew. It was Mo Ti. He wasn’t looking at her, but rather straight up to the pinnacle of the bridge. Then the ugly suspicion came to her, that Mo Ti and Quinn had formed an alliance. Against all likelihood, Mo Ti the faithful had become Mo Ti the traitor. Because who could he be waiting for other than Titus Quinn? Her soul darkened at the thought that Mo Ti had told Quinn secrets. Her secrets. Oh, the damage done, if Quinn knew! She carefully made her way around the cross-fret and straddled the trough once more, pulling herself along.
In the mansion the servants turned in unison as Lady Anuve burst out the doors and onto the terrace. Her face was terrible to look at. Everyone went to their knees.
“You will find her,” she said in her low, even voice. “Now.”
“Who, Bright One?” one of them managed to say.
“Sen Ni, your mistress.”
The servant turned in the direction of the stairs. Sen Ni stood at her post, stopped in the action of throwing candy to the crowds. “Bright One?” she said. She kept her face calm, despite her desperate circumstance. Titus Quinn was on the premises. Helice, however, was long gone. This dark news had come to her as soon as she had led Quinn and his servant into Riod’s stall to hide. She’d hoped to lure Helice to the stall, but those plans quickly collapsed. Riod was waiting with the news that Anuve had found Helice’s little machine and had been stalking Helice through the mansion. Helice had fled.
Sydney watched as Lady Anuve strode toward her, raking the environs with a quick gaze. “You are here, ah?”
“And your servant Hei Ling?”
“I sent her to check on Riod. He’s been ill.”
“And left your post as well, hnn? Some time absent, so we are told.”
“Yes, I threw up my morning meal. Too much candy. Or excitement.”
Anuve paused for a moment, then rushed back into the mansion.
In his stall, questing his mind into Sydney’s, Riod heard the exchange between her and the Tarig female. He turned now to Titus Quinn and his helper. She comes. The fiend called Anuve.
Quinn knew he’d failed. Helice was gone. And she had taken with her that very useful tool: an mSap.
“Riod, where has Helice gone?”
She is hiding. Amid the city.
She is there, with everyone in the Way.
Yat Pang was already opening a pack, pulling out the repelling rope. He opened the window off Riod’s stall and scanned the outside balconies. “Now,” he said. Yat Pang secured a loop around the railing.
Quinn went to the balcony door and turned back to look at Riod. “Thank you for caring for her when I couldn’t.”
She is Riod’s heart.
Quinn heard this with a mixture of gratitude and envy. He nodded at Sydney’s great protector. Then he motioned for Yat Pang to go first.
“Riod, can you sever the knot on the rope? Let the rope drop over when I’m down?”
Quickly checking for anyone out on the porches, Quinn slipped to the railing. He noted the ship beneath him and Mo Ti holding the end of the rope, stabilizing it. Yat Pang was almost down. Quinn climbed over the rail, grasping the rope. He prayed Riod would untie it, erasing the evidence of their route. Down he went in a controlled slide, the rope jammed between his boots.
As Quinn reached the deck, Mo Ti signaled Ghoris to put the craft under way. The rope fell down next to the ship, coiling into the silver waters.