Behave prudently to be considered wise; Act with decorum to be thought prominent. Thus you may enjoy the virtues in advance of having attained them.
—from The Twelve Wisdoms
RIM CITY CELEBRATIONS CONTINUED IN THEWAY, now spreading to side streets, squares, wine dens, and homes. Sometimes Sydney thought she heard remnants of the celebration, but confined to her quarters, she was shut off from the city.
With Helice exposed and Sydney blamed, all pretence of Mistress of the Sway had evaporated. Lady Anuve began her punishments by quartering Riod in an outbuilding, separated from Sydney. His sendings still came to her, but weakly, given his sickly state.
The other punishment she had been lucky to survive.
On Sydney’s balcony Anuve had directed two Tarig to lift Sydney onto the railing. Below her, the sea, a thousand-foot drop. One on each side of her, the mantis lords had held her hands, keeping her balanced and facing Anuve, who sat in a nearby chair.
“One trusts the riding of Inyx gives you strong legs. Tell us, small girl. All your plans, each detail.”
The wind off the sea had rippled Sydney’s silks, causing her to shiver. She had never held hands with mantis lords before. Their bony grips were not as tight as she would have liked.
“You may begin.”
Sydney admitted she’d hidden Helice under the guise of the servant, Hei Ling. Admitted that Helice possessed a machine sapient, a piece of technology that seemed to disturb Anuve, by her close questioning on the subject. Sydney could not accurately describe the quantum sapient’s powers, but she knew that at least at one time the mSap had created a nano assembler. Or the nano assembler had created the computer.
Anuve’s aspect darkened. “My cousins tire. Perhaps one of them will rest, ah?” The lord on her right released her hand. Sydney wobbled. The other Tarig provided just enough balance, though his grip was not tight.
Sydney admitted everything. She admitted that Helice had performed a medical procedure on her eyes, removing the Tarig capability to see through her eyes. Their plan to spy on the Inyx thus had failed because of Helice, and Sydney felt a pang for offering to deliver her to her father.
She split her attention between Anuve and the long drop at her back. She was afraid, but loathing steadied her. To Sydney, Anuve was the same as Lord Hadenth who had blinded her. They were all one fiend, mingling their con-sciousnesses in the Heart. She wondered if individual memories of Tarig outlived their bodies. When a Tarig died and the body was not recovered, as was the case with Lord Hadenth, then surely those individual memories were lost. Despite such logic, she preferred to think of Anuve as Hadenth, to keep her hatred fired and her feet steady.
“Why has Titus Quinn not come to you?”
“He might still, Bright One. Maybe he suspected the celebration was a trap. But he’ll come.” He was reliable at showing up when it suited him.
Anuve failed to ask one question, however: What is the Inyx role in the traitorous dreams?
Some things were still secret.
After the questioning on the rail, Sydney had been confined in Riod’s stall. Seeing it empty, she’d had time to worry that he was dead. After several hours the servant Deng had come to give her a blanket and tell her where Riod was. The doors of Riod’s room were locked, but the blanket and the information led her to believe that Anuve would not kill her.
Sydney closed her eyes, remembering the great Adda approaching the balcony with their ladders trailing down. She saw her father sitting opposite her in the belly of the Adda. Things she would have liked to say to him! But the words wouldn’t come, nor was there time. He should have spoken first, but when he asked for forgiveness, his words were of duties to the Earth. She wanted him to tell her why he’d left her. She wanted him to describe how he had been as much of a slave as she, no matter if he wore silks and drank Tarig wine—she knew a slave could be coddled—and how he had tried to come for her, even if he never could have.
Instead, he sat across the gap in the Adda’s belly, saying I can’t forgive myself. I failed you. And then it was all about saving the Rose. He’d give her everything, just help him save the Rose. That was their reunion.
And now he was her ally, she supposed. They shared an enmity toward the Tarig. But did they have an agreement, despite her inability to deliver Helice? And if he was successful in uncovering the Tarig doors home, would he want to keep control? Never mind: Despite all good sense, she had decided to trust him.
A noise at the door. Lady Anuve entered. Her metal skirt hung around her legs like a melted ingot. Her short jacket was a simple but elegant quasi-leather jerkin.
Sydney rose, brushing straw from her clothes.
“Does the stall please you?”
“I’d like it better if Riod was here.”
Fireworks lit up the windows for a moment. Out on a navitar vessel, someone must have set off a display. The celebration would go on for days yet.
Anuve glanced at it too. “The festivities are much more than one anticipated. Rim City celebrates large.”
“Lady, you told them to, I think.”
“Not all Tarig rules are obeyed.”
Well, yes. Was that irony in Anuve’s voice?
Anuve went to the balcony doors and opened them, gazing out at the sea. “Where will the creature Hel Ese go?”
“She has no friends here; perhaps you’ll catch her in the streets.”
Anuve stood very still, letting the conversation lapse. When she turned around, she said, “We will send you home, small girl. We are ready to do so.
Go, if you will.”
Sydney stared at her. What was she saying?
“We do not lie to you. The Earth is your home place. One can send you there. But if you choose not to go, you may remain here as Mistress of Rim Sway. The condition is that you do not house fugitives or behave as a witless child from the furthest primacy. You must rule the sway in our behalf and with honor.”
“Bright Lady, why would you send me home?”
“Hnn. Perhaps we tire of you.” Anuve tilted her head, watching her carefully. “You create disorder about you, as does your father.” Her expression hardened, if that was possible in such a spare face. “But this is not our primary motive. There is the matter of terrible dreams.
“In our perfection, we do not dream, but sleep in perfect calm. However, one’s stewards and trusted counselors dream. Thus we know of things dreamt of. It is peculiar to us that when you sleep things come into your minds unbidden. Is that not an unwelcome intrusion?”
Voice steady, Sydney answered, “We are accustomed to it.”
“But these dreams are different, so we are told. One wonders if this may be some ingenious scheme of the Paion.”
“I do not know, Bright Lady.”
“The dreams are constructed so as to make the Tarig appear, how would one say—evil? You dream thus, ah?”
“The dreams say that Tarig do not live as other sentients. That the gracious lords persecute the dwellers of the land, casting them, for example, into needless war at Ahnenhoon. You believe this, Sen Ni?”
Making an appearance of some candor, she answered, “I have wondered.”
“So must others wonder. It is for this reason that we will free you.”
Sydney was not following; the tension of the last hours had used up her reserves. She concentrated very hard as Anuve continued.
“The realm is tending against us. We like not to be seen thus, we who have been radiant lords for archons of time. Some days ago you, along with mother and father, came to us as intruders. As was our right, we kept you from spilling our secrets to the Rose. Now, however, the Rose has come into knowledge of the Entire. This cannot be undone. Therefore there is no harm for you to go home. And we wish for our subjects to know you have this freedom. If you choose to stay, it may offer a proof that you prefer us to the Rose.”
Propaganda. They wanted her for propaganda. But, amazingly, it was still an offer of freedom, no matter which one she chose.
“We have caused you to suffer from time to time. But now is a different time. If you stay, you will be as free as any sentient.” She lowered her already bass voice even further. “Now answer: Do you wish to go home?”
To Sydney’s chagrin, she found her throat tightening, her eyes swimming. After all these years, she could return to the Earth? It was unthinkable to cry in front of a Tarig. She concentrated on being a stone.
“Do not answer with what you believe one wishes to hear.”
Sydney thought of all the days when, as a child, she had dreamed of home and longed for it. Gradually her dreams became larger. But still: Earth. The word possessed a power that greatly surprised her. As to home, it had a different meaning. She might have lingered over this vital question. But she didn’t need to.
Anuve turned her head to the side, fixing her with that awful one-sided Tarig stare. “No to what?”
“No to leaving. I will stay.”
Anuve paused, absorbing this. Perhaps this was the lady’s chance to redeem her failure in the matter of Titus Quinn. Sydney didn’t care.
“In all truth you prefer to remain?”
Oh, yes. Even if just a rider in the roamlands. Even if just alone with Riod on the steppe. And if, at the feet of the Ascendancy, they wanted to give her a sway, still yes. She knew where home was: under the bright.
Sydney nodded her confirmation. There was no going back to a home that she’d already forgotten and where Riod couldn’t follow. And there was still the kingdom to raise.
Anuve almost smiled. “My cousins will be surprised.” Giving Sydney another moment to change her mind, she finally led her out of the stall and into the mansion’s precincts.
As they passed into the corridor, Sydney thought she detected Riod’s ghostly sigh of relief.
Quinn was alone in the city. Crowds still pressed into the Way, jostling and raucous. He moved clockwise against the current, knowing from Riod which direction down the underside of the bridge Helice had taken. Knifing through the throng, he watched. She was short: an advantage in a crowd. To conceal her dark hair, her head would be covered. Two other markers: a deeply scarred neck—surely covered up—and, less easy to conceal, she would be carrying something large.
He quelled the urge to run. She could be walking to avoid drawing attention, or holed up somewhere along this route. If she had found a place to hide, he would never find her. His only chance was to search in the Way, to locate her before she found shelter.
Down a side street he saw a wharf. A navitar vessel loaded passengers at the dock, and he turned down that corridor but stopped at the view of a Tarig inspecting passengers. Inconspicuously, he reversed his course. Helice wouldn’t take passage; she wanted to be close to the Ascendancy to detect the Heart doors. Mo Ti had revealed this. Control the doors, control the Tarig.
Unfortunately she was in the best position to find them. She had the mSap, and if it was a fully functioning one, it possessed nearly limitless computing power. In the hands of a brilliant machine sapient engineer like Helice Maki, it was the queen of chess pieces.
He clutched his knife close to him. He would kill her in the street. No more hesitation. Although he should learn the location of the Rose engine from her before she died, he wouldn’t pause for that. He couldn’t trust anything she told him at knife point, anyway.
He moved on, scanning, his senses alert for Helice, for the essence of Helice: small, dark, and vicious.
He’d had one chance to catch her off guard. Now he’d driven her to ground.
Much as he hated to think it, this might be the time to call upon his one great unused resource: Lord Oventroe, the one who claimed he wanted to preserve the Rose. The lord was devious and secretive, and Quinn still raged in his heart over his lies about the cirque; his claims that the chain had merely limited destructive powers. By this lie, he’d almost manipulated Quinn into destroying the Entire. So that it would have Quinn’s signature on it. So that the lord could be blameless among his cousins. Oventroe was not merely a friend of the Rose, he was a fierce partisan on behalf of the Rose. Why, was the question.
Without knowing the answer, he couldn’t get help from Oventroe. And Su Bei. Where was he? Did he labor at his reach, searching for the Heart?
Even if he’d had success, the scholar would likely arrive too late, unless Bei was on the way at this moment.
There was no help; only himself. He paused, heart racing. He hadn’t eaten for hours.
A foodery across the Way. His feet went in that direction, where he found an empty seat. He sat, bought food.
It was difficult to grasp that he had just seen his daughter. His new daughter. The one who had grown up beautiful and wild and cold. She had moved past him. In that, she was like her mother: Find your own life, Titus, Johanna had said. I have.
Johanna’s face morphed into Sydney’s: Heroic, his daughter said with that look of contempt.
After all the years of separation, it was ugly. After their shredded lives, he got a twist of a smile. I can’t believe I’d trust you.
In the Way, the late floats lumbered by. A beku adorned with headdresses, bells. A contingent of Red Throne parishioners—banners showing a fat, misshapen navitar looking beatific. Well, Quinn himself had touched the mystery of the navitars and would have knelt to one right now if he thought a Nigh pilot could provide answers.
The plate before him was empty. He didn’t recall eating.
In the street, a phalanx of Jouts marched by, their scales shining in the full bright, now freed of the low clouds that earlier had ghosted over the city.
He barely saw the Jouts. Instead: Sydney looked into his eyes and said, simply: I watched for you. That was the worst thing she had said.
On the other side of the marching Jouts, a green silk hat, just visible over the marchers; a glimpse of someone carrying a backpack.
He took a long drink of water. His muscles ached from the long shinny down the rope.
In another instant, he jumped up. The table clattered over, spilling plates.
Quinn rushed out the door, finding himself in the middle of the Jout formation. A woman carrying something on her back. Where was she? He couldn’t see the green hat amid the marchers. He reached into his short coat and pulled the knife. Ramming his way through the Jouts, he found Helice—it must be her—kneeling on the pavement, adjusting a makeshift sling on her back.
Now to kill her. Don’t think about it. He drew back the knife.
She turned in that instant. Yes, Helice. Incredibly, she had a gun. She fired.
He was on his back in the street, sprawling among heavy feet, dancing out of his way. After a few moments pain kicked him, hard and insistent.
She’d got him point-blank. Where was she—amid the feet and the robes of the marchers—was she coming in to finish him off?
He dragged himself to the nearest wall, intending to stand if he could, to draw his knife before she came back at him . . . where was his knife?
A man dressed in a long sleeveless coat crouched down beside him.
“What happened? Fireworks went awry?”
“Yes. Help me stand.” The stranger did, putting Quinn’s arm over his shoulder.
Quinn looked for Helice. There she was, lurking just a few paces off, gun hidden in the folds of her pants. The man was between them.
She walked toward him, raising her weapon.
Quinn’s helper saw blood seeping out of the wound. Alarmed, he turned toward the street, calling, “Tarig!”
The shout froze Helice in place. Immediately, she backed up and disappeared into the crowd.
Turning back to Quinn, the man said, “We’ll get you healing.”
“No need for Tarig assistance,” Quinn managed to say. “But I thank you.”
“Nonsense, you are bleeding. Be assured, I am of the Red Society and will help you.”
Quinn watched for Helice, but she was gone. “By the Navitar’s Mind, will you do me a service?” At the invocation, the man nodded. “Find Zhiya of the godders. Ask her to come. I have no ill will against the gracious lords.”
Through a haze of pain, he forced himself to make up: “My father fell to their hands for his crimes. . . . I fear them still. You understand?”
A nod. The Red looked askance at the blood on Quinn’s jacket. “You will need a healer.”
“Find Zhiya for me and I will bless you.”
The Red hesitated, not liking the situation, but at last he agreed and turned away to his promised task.
After a time, Quinn decided he was too exposed in the Way. He managed to walk, very slowly, to a side street. Within a few steps the crowd thinned.
Leaning against a wall, he slid down into a sitting position.
By the time Zhiya came, a pink froth was collecting at his lips. A hit to his lung, then. Helice had proven herself a terrible shot.