Drop a child on the ground and he will fear holding. Drop a child in the Nigh and he will fear nothing.
QUINN DREAMED OF THE PLAINS OF AHNENHOON. Soldiers lay on the open fields, some sleeping and some dead. The slumberers occasionally woke up and tried to rouse their dead compatriots. Because of the number who had died over thousands of years, the recumbent forms covered the wide and shadowed plain. The wind stirred their hair, clothing, tack, and flags. The wind moaned, To no purpose, to no purpose. In his dream-knowledge, Quinn understood that if the Tarig would only give the Paion their home, the war could be over.
He came awake with a start. A noise outside his door. It was Between Ebb, what would have been dawn on Earth. He found his knife in the dark before remembering where he was: in Zhiya’s compound. The sounds here would be her courtesans. Then his visitor announced herself. “Zhiya.”
She came in, bustling past him and throwing open his curtains for the meager ebb-time light. Turning, she said without preamble, “She’s been taken to the Ascendancy. I’m sorry.”
By the distressed look on the godwoman’s face, he knew this was very bad news. “Anzi?”
“No, not Anzi. Worse. Hel Ese gave herself up. She got herself an escort . . . up.” Zhiya raised her eyes to the ceiling.
He swore. “When?”
“Second hour of Prime of Day, so my operatives guess. She went to the
Quay of Heaven, and according to those who saw it, she waited for the Tarig.
They beat her. Then they took her.”
Panic streamed into his veins. Helice had found the Heart. By the Miserable God, she had found it first, she must have. He sat to put on his boots.
Zhiya murmured, “She’s already there, Quinn.”
He swore again, but didn’t slow down. All right, she was there. He’d go after her.
Helice was going to tell the lords that she’d help them burn the Rose.
She was going to tell them that their plan to burn it a little at a time over the next hundred years was a bad one, since the Earth would keep launching assaults. The Tarig wanted to stop assaults; they weren’t used to serious attacks; and they were vulnerable to them. The Entire was fragile.
If the lords wanted to keep it, they had better make their strike once and for all.
Zhiya regarded him. “What do you propose to do? She’s already in the floating city.”
He didn’t respond. She wasn’t going to like his answer.
Zhiya went to the door and ushered in one of her girls. The courtesan Ban entered with a small tray of oba and a few skewers of meat.
Ban opened a small basket filled with steaming dumplings. He nodded to the woman and she left the room flicking a bold glance at him, closing the door behind her.
“I’m going after her, Zhiya. Now, before she has time to establish a relationship with them.”
“Perhaps she already has.”
He shrugged. Then what difference would anything make?
Helice had forced his hand. By the Miserable God, she was in the Ascendancy. The world on this side of the veil was changing. A second Tarig lord had been murdered, and they’d come into Rim City to punish their subjects.
His own daughter had stopped the reprisals. His daughter had stood up to a platoon of Tarig. All this he and Zhiya had heard from her spies who had run back and forth with reports most of the previous day.
The Entire was shifting. Dreams undercut the Tarig. Ahnenhoon had almost come undone, and they had not yet found the man with the lethal cirque. So the Tarig world was tottering. They had maimed it themselves, cutting off the minorals of the Arm of Heaven.
How would they react to Helice’s proposal of a fine, clean end to the Earth?
He put on his jacket. “I’ll let Sydney take credit for my capture. At the bridge.” Zhiya’s compound, in the center of the lower Rim, was within minutes of the crystal bridge.
On his bedside table lay Akay-Wat’s Paion hoop. He picked it up, looking at it for a long moment. “Give this to Anzi. When she comes home.”
Reluctantly, Zhiya took it. “Quinn, think. What good will you do from a Bright City dungeon?”
“They won’t put me away. I’ll be in the middle of it. I always am.” Her droll stare got through to him more than a voiced objection. “I have a contact in high places. Time to call on him.”
She knew whom he meant. “He’s no friend. He’ll use you, as before.”
He ignored her caution. He wasn’t fool enough to think Oventroe a friend, just an enemy with mutual goals.
“Eat something, by the Woeful God.”
He obeyed, taking a skewer and chewing quickly. “Is Lord Oventroe at the Ascendancy?” This lord was his strategy of last resort. Oventroe could silence Helice, and would silence her—for he wanted the Rose preserved, seemingly at any price.
“Yes, in residence. But the Five have changed again. Now one called Lady Demat is among them, replacing Chiron.”
He nodded. There were always four high lords, five including the Sleeping Lord. Now the Tarig chiefs were Nehoov, the longest serving lord next to Ghinamid; Inweer at the Repel of Ahnenhoon; the newcomer, Lady Demat; and Oventroe, friend of the Rose.
Zhiya had turned subdued. “I have a litter waiting in the street.”
He glanced at the hoop that she held. “I don’t know what that thing is.
Akay-Wat’s mount kicked it up in the sand. They think it’s Paion.”
“It looks like a child’s toy.”
“I keep thinking it’s a mirror with the glass missing.” He was postponing leaving when he should be rushing. It was time to go. “You’ll help Anzi, if something happens?”
Quinn paused. “I want her to know that . . .” He stopped. That what, that despite walking deliberately into the Bright City, he truly cared for her?
“Tell her that I wish . . .” Damn it to hell.
Zhiya coughed, covering the moment when Quinn had run out of words.
“As though I even know where she is.”
“She knows to find you. She can find the Venerable Zhiya.”
“I do live large,” Zhiya said, trying to rally her mood. “I’ll watch for her.”
“I love her. But I don’t think I get to.”
“No,” Zhiya agreed. She walked him to the door. “Go, and do the thing you have to. We’ll do the same.”
She put a hand on his arm. “Mother wants to say goodbye.”
“I’ve delayed too long.”
“Please. She’s agitated, awake. It doesn’t happen often.”
He followed her into the hall and down a long corridor to a parlor where Zhiya had a bed set up.
The last time Quinn had seen Zhiya’s mother, she had been in the dirigible, the Most Venerable’s airship heading for the Nigh. He remembered her poor, distorted face, and her expression when she learned he was going to Ahnenhoon.
Zhiya led him to the sickbed. The woman lay on spotless silks, her hair combed out on a pillow. As to the rest, it was ghastly. Her skin, though smooth, had sagged dramatically away from the center of her face, almost flowing onto the pillow. Her eyes, elongated and large, had slid to either side of a hatchet-shaped face. Her mouth had closed to a small hole.
She was that rare creature, an old navitar.
Most navitars chose to walk into the Nigh when they were beyond their piloting work. They knew what awaited them otherwise. Why had Zhiya’s mother chosen this? Zhiya held her mother’s hand, a small cup of flesh that no longer had fingers. Surely the Tarig could have rewarded her service on the Nigh with something better. But the lords didn’t want old navitars around; who knew what capabilities they might accrue.
Her eyes had been closed, and she now opened then. Strange how her eyelids fit perfectly, even over these distorted orbs. “Titus,” she whispered.
“The city of the lords, Madame.”
The line of her lips moved as though it remembered the old shapes of words, but the utterances were forced through the small remaining slit.
“Time, time comes.” Her voice, barely a whisper.
“I hope, not too late.”
She closed her eyes. Zhiya put her hand on her mother’s brow, murmuring something to her. She bent low to her mother’s lips, because the old woman was speaking again, a sound like mewling.
Zhiya stood up, frowning. “She says a baby fell in the river.”
He blinked. “A baby?”
Zhiya looked down. Her mother’s eyes were open again, pleading with her daughter to interpret. “She wants you to know that you have to protect yourself. From the child.”
The litter was waiting for him; he mustn’t stay. “What is she talking about, Zhiya? What child?”
“A grown child, I think. Mother gets times confused. She’s talked about this child before. I didn’t know the child was your enemy.”
“Name? What’s this person’s name? A Chalin?”
Zhiya’s mother struggled to speak. “He is—” her mouth worked, but nothing came out. Finally, from deep in her throat came the croak: “—a navitar.”
There was no time to try to learn the name. Perhaps she didn’t know it.
“Thank you, lady, I’ll watch for him.” He turned to go, but her hand shot out from its position on the bedcovers and grabbed his arm, holding it in a soft cuff.
“Navitar weaves,” she mewled. Too weak to say more, she closed her eyes and appeared to sleep.
With this strangely mauled word, weaves, still on his mind, Quinn bid Zhiya goodbye.
In the street outside, he took a seat in the litter. Her strongest and fastest servants bore him quickly away.
A hot calm lay over the city. In the deserted Way, the bearers avoided piles of refuse and hulks of burned-out carts. Down a side street to the sea, Quinn glimpsed a blur of cleaning fabbers foaming through the street. Soon all would be tidy again.
Amid this eerie peace, his mind went to his hoped-for meeting with Oventroe—somehow the lord would arrange to see him alone—but plans slipped away. Nothing held up against the thought that he was giving himself up. His long flight from the Tarig would presently end.
Before he’d met with Sydney in the Adda, he’d hoped that he could restrain the lords with the idea that he possessed world-shattering military nan. That Anzi had it, and would use it if any threat to the Rose loomed. But Helice would put a doubt into his lie. Sydney had told him that both she and Helice knew he had no chain. A navitar had seen him throw the cirque away—seen in that sense navitars had of knowing realities.
So he’d lost his primary deterrent. Then his new strategy, to find the doors, failed. He’d set Su Bei on that quest, making it a contest between an old man with the correlates and a young woman with an mSap. Every day he’d hoped to hear from Bei, but the truth was, he didn’t even know if Bei had received his message.
His litter sped past an old Ysli woman sweeping rubbish from her storefront, where the street cleaners had not yet reached. She waved her broom at the conveyance and screeched, “It should be clean!” Perhaps she thought the fabbers would always arrive. Strange, how unthinkable change was in a city, in a universe, that had not changed for ten thousand years.
The bearers sped up the ramp of the crystal bridge. He would see Sydney at any moment. Beyond what lay before him with the Tarig was the keen awareness that his daughter was just inside those crystal doors.
Quinn sent the bearers away. Standing in front of the mansion, he looked for a twelve-year-old girl. Despite all he knew, he looked for that child. He’d spent so many years remembering her that way, it was hard now to think of the beautiful, harsh young woman he’d seen here.
He stood in front of the steps leading to the mansion. It was not as imposing as Yulin’s palace, but grand enough. Formed from both clear and opaque crystal, it gathered light and reshed it on those about to enter. The portico surrounding the recessed door bore delicate tracery. If he looked close enough, he knew it would be Lucent words from the books favored by the
Lords: their admonitions, pronouncements, and lies. The three vows always made good decoration: Withhold the Knowledge of the Entire from the non-Entire. Impose the Peace of the Entire. Extend the Reach of the Entire. In his years here, he’d learned what those vows meant, and what they hid.
Hirrin guards near the door eyed him warily, and one of them moved forward to meet him on the stairs. “Servants enter at the side door.” When Quinn didn’t respond, the guard said, “Have you matters here?”
“I would see the mistress.”
“A matter concerning the city’s troubles?”
Quinn plunged in, revealing it all. “Tell Sen Ni that her father has come.”
Another Hirrin came through the central doors. The others turned to this one. The guard who had first spoken said, “He says he is Sen Ni’s father, Emar-Vad.”
The new Hirrin flattened his ears. “You are Titus Quinn?”
Quinn confirmed it. “Before telling a lord, please let Sen Ni know I’m here.”
“Escort him,” the Hirrin told his associates, and then Quinn was flanked on three sides by guards. They ascended the steps until they stood before the doors of the mansion. There they bound his hands. They brought him just inside the door, where the lead guard now hurried off.
A minute passed, and then another. Quinn thought that Sydney was some distance into the mansion, and it would take a moment to bring her.
But Tarig were closer. Two lords approached from down the corridor.
After being told the situation, they took custody. He was made to kneel.
One of the lords crouched down beside him. “Prove you are he. You do not look like the one we seek.”
Zhiya’s surgeon had altered him, but it was easy to prove who he was. He could cite a thousand details unknown to any but the Tarig and he. “I know that the Lady Chiron was burned to death at Ahnenhoon by her own Hirrin servant.”
The lord hissed at this recitation. “She gave you many privileges.”
“I was her pet. An animal you keep for your amusement.”
Even in that stark face Quinn saw that he was having difficulty restraining himself. The Tarig said, “You will amuse us, be sure.”
A rush of footsteps to one side drew his attention. Sydney ran into the hall. Seeing the group, she slowed and walked up to them with dignity. Wearing bright orange, she looked startling in this pale hall among the silver-clad Tarig and the plain brown Hirrin.
She wore her hair pulled back, a severe look, perhaps regal. Her eyes were made up in the Chalin style. “Titus,” she said.
He had this small gift to give her, that he would give himself up here. He hoped it would serve her purposes, give her credibility with the Tarig, for however long she needed to deceive them. “I’m here, Sydney. Sen Ni, if you prefer.”
“I prefer.” She stood there, uncertain, looking down at him as he knelt.
Her voice wavered until she brought it under control. “You must have had surgeries on your face, then, if you are who you say you are.” There, she’d covered that detail, for the sake of the listening Tarig.
“Why did you come?”
He had an answer ready for this question. “I was sent by the Rose. I’m ready to talk.” It could delay things to claim he had something to say. He needed delay. Anything to sow doubt around Helice. “I hope you can restrain these minor lords. They make me nervous.”
“I don’t command them.” She glanced up at the Tarig, but it was clear she didn’t fear them. She had faced down worse than these. “They can kill you later, perhaps, after you have given your messages from the Rose.”
Ugly words. Part of her act, he hoped.
“You’ll take him to the Ascendancy,” she told the Tarig, who were preparing to do just that. “But I don’t want a brightship in Rim City. It could cause panic.”
“We have done with panic.”
“Then take him by Adda.”
She looked at a servant. “Prepare an Adda to come for the prisoner.” The Hirrin left at her bidding.
“Most Adda do not rise so high,” one of the Tarig said.
Sydney raised her chin, staring at the creature. “Some do. I’ve seen them.”
Quinn marveled that she could speak in this manner, and wondered what power she had over them. Perhaps her quelling of the riots made her useful to them.
She turned back to him, softening her voice. “They’ve found Helice.” She made sure he heard that piece of information.
“I know.” Now they understood each other. Helice was pressing her agenda forward; and Quinn would do anything to stop her.
Heads turned to look in the direction of someone approaching. A man in a red caftan hurried toward them. Rotund and bland, he came to Sydney’s side with the air of someone accustomed to privilege. His face was strangely unformed, with a small nose and mouth, almost like a child’s, though he was Sydney’s height.
As the newcomer bent close to whisper to Sydney, she leaned toward him, sharing a private moment. They whispered together, giving the impression that they knew each other well. It stirred a pang of jealousy in him.
Belatedly, he realized this person must be a navitar.
At that moment the Hirrin called Emar-Vad approached, and Sydney left the group to confer with him on the other side of the hall.
As she did so, the navitar spoke to one of the Tarig. His voice was high and smooth as he said, “You should kill him before he escapes again. It would solve a lot of problems. I predict he will escape. You definitely should kill him.”
“Hnn.” The Tarig considered Quinn.
He was still kneeling. Sydney rejoined the group. “We know of an Adda that can journey high. Emar-Vad will arrange it.”
The navitar bowed, “Well done, Mistress. No brightships, then. Well done.”
She glanced at him, pleased.
A Tarig pulled Quinn to his feet in a lunge of effortless power. The Tarig said, “First a ride by Adda. It may amuse us to see you fall from the beast, ah?” Quinn had goaded the lord. Perhaps not wise. The Tarig lord nearest him guided him forcibly out the door.
Out on the broad porch of the mansion, Quinn was made to wait. A small group of Hirrin servants had gathered to watch, but Sydney wasn’t in their midst. After what felt like an hour, he saw an Adda in the distance, winding its way slowly toward them in the slight breeze. Next to him, the Tarig lords stood like pillars.
It took a long time for the creature to tack to the verandah.
Sydney went to her apartments, shutting Geng De out in the hall. Perhaps he’d been right that she mustn’t seem to care for her father, but she still wanted to be alone right now.
Her apartment looked toward the sea, not the primacy, and so she couldn’t observe the proceedings on the verandah where they waited to convey her father to the Ascendancy.
She paced, trying to discharge her agitation. Ever since Helice had given herself up yesterday, Sydney had been vulnerable. Helice knew all her plans.
The woman’s ambitions could easily push Sydney aside. Would Helice expose her and the dream insurgency? It was a dark conjecture, but she could do nothing to prevent it. They weren’t friends. Any early hopes for that were long dispelled. They had used each other when convenient. Now, Sydney doubted Helice saw much convenience in it, but perhaps she was preoccupied.
Walking the perimeter of the room, Sydney noticed how empty it was.
The bed was, in the Tarig custom, in the center of the room. A carved chest at the foot of the bed contained her folded wardrobe, her book of pinpricks, a scroll with a likeness of her mother, and little else. Sydney owned almost nothing. Her life had focused on beings who were loyal to her, who loved her.
In her mind there was no difference between loyalty and love. Riod. Akay-Wat. Mo Ti. Cixi.
She paced. There was another name to add to that list. Who was it? Stopping, she considered. Wasn’t it the man she had just turned over to the mantis lords?
Oh God, she thought, thinking in English. I gave him to them.
She wandered to the doors to the balcony, and threw them open, walking into the pale light of Early Day. No, she hadn’t given him over. He’d done that to himself. But she saw herself telling the lords they could have him.
The Tarig listened to her; she had helped them control a mob; she acted the part of their Mistress of the Sway. They wanted to show themselves gracious, and she helped them to do so.
How had it come to her, this being in the mansions of the enemy? When Riod was here to spy on them, she’d had a reason. What was her reason now?
What was anything now except a corrupt and sickening dance?
A shadow passed over her.
The Adda. Its trailing membranes almost touched her head. It moved beyond the balcony, slowly floating over the edge of the sea. Titus was on board. The ladder from its orifice hung down, beckoning her. But the creature was already rising in the sky, puffing out its bladders until it rounded into a floating moon.
I think you loved me, Titus. It was never that you didn’t love me. It was that you couldn’t meet my proofs. You couldn’t be pure enough. You couldn’t be with me when Priov whipped me in the dorms, when Hadenth used his claws on me, when I had to trap my own food though I couldn’t see it, and when the riders told me you ate off crystal plates. But I think you would have traded places with me.
Perhaps the Adda would turn around. Perhaps the lords would say to each other, we must take all the Quinns, not just the father. Let them be here together as the prisoners they once were. Let them start over again, and see if it can be different.
But the Adda rose and rose higher.
She watched a long while until the Adda was merely a speck in the sky, like a planet far away.