Seek you the Hirrin in the Sheltering Path, A finer primacy no sentient hath. To meet the fierce Inyx or most noble Jout, The Long Gaze of Fire you must seek out. Chalin and Ysli together reside In Arm of Heaven and exalted abide. Far travelers roam Laroo and Adda to find, The Bright River holds them, and no lesser kind. The Radiant Arch, the last of the five, Guards nests of the Gond, may you safely arrive.
—Shanty of Five Primacies
SU BEI CURLED INTO THE SAC, abandoning himself to the veil-of-worlds, to the Miserable God and to his own untidy fate. He had no idea how long he and Anzi had been crossing, or what they were crossing. There was no sensation of movement. The sac, holding enough air to sustain them, was both tough and yielding, adjusting to their movements.
They were out of the world, at the mercy of the veil and Bei’s own benighted understanding of how to direct the crossing. His stone well computer had gone dead. Powered by the bright, it had lasted long hours, but now lay useless. Nevertheless he was in a state of high mentation. He had never felt so capable of thought and insight as these last hours. Was this how one died, the mind showered with brilliance at the last?
He and Anzi stared at the walls of their conveyance where visions had been appearing, visions of alien places, far from the Entire. Bei felt sure the scenes were representations of worlds, much like the representations that appeared on the veils-of-worlds.
He looked at Anzi, tucked next to him in the sac. “Anzi, girl. How are you?”
“Master Bei. I’m well. Do you know where we are going?”
“No, girl. We’d have been there by now if my efforts had worked.”
“We are in the Great Sway,” he said trying to be reassuring.
“The Great Sway,” she said, accepting this with equanimity. They whispered, partly because they sat so close, and partly for the awe of what they were looking at. They stared at the scenes coming before them.
Landscapes hove into view, stretched by the curvature of their cell, but clear enough to rivet their attention. If he and Anzi were in the next realm, then these were images—sometimes brief, sometimes lingering—from the third kingdom. They saw cities of organic bone grown from an egg; a single mountain as high as the Ascendancy; an endless chain of creatures hooking nose to tail in a line of migration; a submerged generation ship carrying travelers at the bottom of an ocean. After the first hour they saw yet more.
At the beginning of their crossing, Bei had immediately set to work to study what he was seeing, using the correlates to set data points with reference to the Entire, though it was problematical given that they were not in the Entire. Still, before the stone well gave up, Bei had his theory.
The Entire, he conjectured, might well lie at the conjunction of five kingdoms. Each of the primacies might burrow into a different realm, as this Radiant Arch primacy did into the third kingdom. Another kingdom—so Titus must have thought—would likely be the Heart. He could picture it all as a schema. Five primacies penetrating five realms. Overhead, at the center, the Heart, small, hot, and wicked.
His mind raced. Here was a grand schema that so far surpassed his life’s work that he could hardly contain his excitement. He had begun his cosmography of the Rose fifty thousand days ago, thinking to map that kingdom.
The correlates greatly accelerated his accomplishments, and had it not been for Anzi’s arrival at his reach, he might still be working out that worthy— but woefully minor—map of the darkling universe.
Oh, the girl had been right. The correlates were so much more; the Rose was only one of many.
He calmed himself. His instinct was to rush to inscroll his findings. His reach would be a center of learning; scholars would come from far and wide.
. . . He had to stop short, remembering that his scholar’s reach was gone. And he was adrift.
Still, he had not just one astonishing theory, but two. A corresponding theory to his schema of the kingdoms related to views of the kingdoms.
The veil-of-worlds—and in some analogous way, the sac they were in— reflected scenes from the respective kingdoms because everything that was in the kingdoms, all points within, had corresponding points on the perimeter of that kingdom. It went against logic, but it might well be the case.
He theorized that he and Anzi were not traveling in the next kingdom.
They were traveling on the perimeter, on the surface area, perhaps skimming along the outside of the bubble. Though they might be traveling some real distance, they could not encompass all the worlds and views that they had been vouchsafed on these sac walls. How, then, in this brief excursion, did they see the wonders of so many planetoids, surely separated by vast distances?
His insight staggered him. Bei surmised that everything in the kingdom had a correspondence on the surface area. The reality inside the bubble was inscribed on the surface, in an isomorphic relationship. This data point on the surface related to that one in the volume, in a complex system of equivalences!
This might well imply that the inside was an illusion, and that only the surface was real. But that was playing loose with his data, and giving vent to imaginations. Still, wasn’t this how great discoveries were made?
He sat back, breathless with his summary. If this was how the Woeful God had designed the Great Sway, then perhaps they owed the deity an apology for hating Him. It was only a theory. But the grandeur! He thought of the first name Anzi had suggested, the Celestial All, and thought that it might not be too flowery, after all.
Bei felt he could now die without curses, except for the maddening awareness that no scholar’s library would be likely to see his thesis. Authorship aside, he would gladly fling his necklace of redstones to a waiting hand. . . .
He looked at Anzi. Though close enough to bend down and touch, she appeared indistinct to him.
“We are separating.”
“Eh?” Looking around him, he saw a seam had formed at a midpoint on their enclosing sac and a thin membrane had grown between them. He punched at it.
“Anzi, poke at it.” He shoved his hand uselessly against it. “Cut it with your knife!”
She did so, but the knife slid away. Looking more closely, Bei could now see what Anzi already had noted, that their bubble was in the process of splitting in two along the plane created by the new membrane.
“No,” Bei whispered. “Take the stone well. Don’t take her . . .” But the splitting proceeded.
Anzi stood up, leaning toward Bei. “Su Bei,” she said, in a tone that he would never forget. “Master.”
“Anzi, Anzi . . .” He forced himself to say: “There are five realms touching the Entire! Six if the Heart is among them. The Entire makes seven.
You must tell someone!”
He saw her face, darkly visible through the thickening wall. She fixed him with an open, full look that left cosmology and realms behind.
“Remember me, Su Bei. Will you remember?”
He had no time to answer. Jiggling and pulling, the bubble calved. Anzi was gone.
After that, he cared less about what he saw. A profound weariness came upon him, and he mourned. He had the sense that he was going somewhere, and that Anzi had been lost, although it might as easily be the other way around.
He dreaded telling Titus this. Perhaps he would never need to do so, because he would be lost among the seven kingdoms.
It would surely be better than explaining to Titus how he’d lost the man’s wife.
Quinn was in darkness. A light clung to his body so that he could see his hands bound in front of him, his hobbled feet. By a faint brush of sound, he perceived movement around him. Oventroe, he hoped.
He guessed he was somewhere in the depths of the Tarig mansions. He had been brought into these subregions of the palatine hill immediately upon his debarking from the Adda. But now they had left him waiting when his need for haste was great. Helice might even now be bringing forth her monstrous plans.
His skin prickled at the term of endearment. It was Chiron’s style. Could this be Chiron returned? The memories of her death would be gone, but any return to the heart before the events at Ahnenhoon might have preserved her memories of Quinn.
A second voice came to him. “My cousins clamor to kill you and be done with it.”
“Well, here I am.” Neither of these voices was Lord Oventroe’s.
The second voice continued, “My cousins are in the streets, saying you must have the garrote. We are content for now. You may speak, ah?”
“I’ve given myself up. Do you want to know why?”
A hiss from the first Tarig. “You have missed us, perhaps.”
“Who shall I address, Bright Lord?”
The first speaker, the one who had called him Titus-een, said, “My cousin is Lord Nehoov, one of the Five.”
“One’s name? Oh, Lady Demat. Of the Five.”
So this lady had assumed Chiron’s empty chair. But Oventroe was not here; either that or he hung back in the dark chamber, not revealing his presence. Perhaps he had not been in residence, though, and was now hurrying home.
Pushing aside his disappointment at Oventroe’s absence, he addressed them: “Lord Nehoov, Lady Demat, I brought a weapon to Ahnenhoon. You know about that. I didn’t trust it. Even though I was at the foot of the engine, I withdrew the weapon. I still have it. You can threaten my land, and I can threaten yours. Maybe that’s peace. Is it, Bright Ones?”
Lord Nehoov said, “We found no chain of molecular destruction. You have it elsewhere, perhaps hidden. Perhaps useless.”
“It is elsewhere. With a trusted friend. She can forge its power into one packet, and the Entire will be gone.”
More movement outside the range of light. They were watching him intensely, and he tracked the sounds of their movements.
“Hnn, a trusted friend,” Lord Nehoov mused. “Would it be Hel Ese of the darkling realm?”
“You know better, Bright Lord. We are enemies.”
“Another friend, then. One who would destroy the All of All?”
Nehoov was skeptical that Quinn could have such an accomplice; he’d need convincing. “She knows it’s not everything,” Quinn said. “The Entire never was the whole of it. She’s content that the Rose will live, at least.”
Lord Nehoov said, “She will give the Entire up to ruin? Hnn. One does not credit such a thing.”
“But she will.”
A long silence. They weren’t moved. He would have to say more.
“She’s my wife.”
He heard noises around him. Then silence. It took several moments before he realized that they had left. Anxiety spiked. Was Anzi already in custody? Were they in Anzi’s cell right now, demanding she give over the chain?
Oh, Anzi. He didn’t know how to weigh the two levels of his life. He was a man, he was the last hope of the Rose. He was a husband. Did that matter? A moment ago, he’d had the choice whether to mention the cirque and his wife. She could have been safe from them. So he’d chosen his role.
Never mind doing a good thing. He had to do the great thing, and it made him sick of himself.
His only hope was Lord Oventroe, that he would intervene.
Quinn waited. As he did, there was time to consider who Lady Demat might be; who she might once have been. The voice wasn’t hers, but the cadence was, and the irony. This was a high distraction. Might Chiron and Demat be one and the same? If so, then he had a powerful personal enemy to contend with.
The detonation, when it happened, shook the plaza, sending shudders radiating out to all points of the Ascendancy.
One who saw the unthinkable event was Yinhe of the Long War. He had been crossing a canal, and thus from the center of the arched bridge he had an unobstructed view to Lord Ghinamid’s Tower. First, the piercing squeal, a sound that disrupted the peace of the Bright City like a dragon in a sitting room. Whipping around to face the noise, Yinhe saw a spray of fire and smoke jetting out from the tower. An incandescent glow coursed up the side of the edifice as though reaching for the bright.
He rushed off the bridge, drawing his sword, ready to act the part of the loyal soldier.
A breeze lifted the smoke away, and the Tower of the Sleeping Lord slept again. Yinhe was relieved to see that it yet stood.
As he ran toward the tower, he wondered if the ancient tower was protesting the massacre of a lord. Was the tower sparking in anger that he, Yinhe of the Long War, had raised a military hand against one of the Five?
Unconsciously, he felt for his scroll of pardon. It still resided in his belt, but doubtless the High Prefect Cixi had no rule over the tower and its stony judgment.
He’d had no peace since the murder. Over and again he played it in his mind. The lord’s missing arm. Yinhe had taken it at the shoulder. The high prefect scrambling on the blood-slicked floor. The lord kicking toward Yinhe, the blade on his boot nearly taking his face off. He had never been in a worse fight. He had killed a Tarig. The high prefect had ordered it for reasons he only dimly understood. The lords bled a crimson hue. Since that day, his dreams—despite sharing the universal dreams against the high lords— tended toward blood.
Taking his place at the entrance to the tower, he stood poised if something should exit from inside. He waited long minutes. He expected to see masses of Tarig descend into the plaza. But none did. Taking his attention away from the tower door, he saw some lords standing on the mansion rooftops, looking down. No, hundreds of lords stood on the rooftops, and also on the balconies, avenues, and lookouts. Their dark forms were still, like trees in a sentient forest. He wished they would come forward or show some sign of disarray.
They watched but did not come down.
In the plaza, emptiness. Everyone had fled the public spaces; they hid where they could, hid from Paion attack. Or was it an assault from Titus Quinn once again?
The tower was silent. It loomed over him, intact. There was damage just at eye level, where the projectile had pierced. If that was what had happened.
It was very quiet in the heart of the palatine hill. It had always been quiet, Quinn remembered, but not like this. In the time before, brightships had come and gone, their thrusts and breaking a dull but familiar cadence to the day. Voices had arisen in the mansion, the low rumble of Tarig conversation, punctuating the silence like the occasional barking of dogs. But now. So calm and blank.
The lights came up suddenly. A Tarig female swept through a door, charging for him. A net over her close-cropped hair, sparkling. A slit metal skirt, a jeweled vest. She grabbed him by the upper arm, yanking him savagely to his feet. She dragged him from the cell. Now in a corridor, she rushed forward with him in tow, his arm nearly pulled from its socket. He scrambled to keep his feet under him. She must have cut the binds off his ankles, but it happened so suddenly: the lights, the lady rushing toward him, he couldn’t remember. Demat, he guessed.
She hauled him to a place where the corridor widened into a rotunda.
The place was full of Tarig. When they saw him, they muttered deeply, a basso profundo of derision.
The lady dropped him, making sure he fell to his knees.
“This—” the lady said, “—this is the darkling who would take the Entire and all our joy.” The crowd surged toward him. From the floor, he looked up at them. A lord kicked at him, slicing open his cheek. Bleeding now, he put his hands to his cut face, but Demat grabbed him again before others could join in the savaging. She pulled him to his feet; his face was streaming blood.
“No one kills him but the Five,” she said. She stopped in midstride, and held him still for a moment, her nostrils flaring. “No one kills him but me.
Would that be just, Titus-een?”
Oh, it was Chiron.
“Justice looks different where I come from.” Blood came to his tongue.
He spit it out, and inadvertently hit Demat’s vest. It pearled away. No soiling from crimes. The Tarig imperative.
She drove him down corridors and ramps, all downward. The Tarig lords followed, and their rumbling voices sounded like a rock slide behind him.
His thoughts were catching up, thoughts of Anzi. Had she convinced them she had the cirque, and had they put her to the question of its location, and had she refused? What else could enrage them so? If they showed him her body, he would kill Chiron again. It was too much, to always save the Earth, and never grieve, and never care who was lost to him. He was no hsien. Just don’t kill her, he thought, and I’ll be what you want. Even a prince again, and my soul gone then.
A door flew open and Demat pushed him through it into the shattering day. A narrow street deep in glarish light. Along its length, Tarig, in numbers he had never seen before. Solitary creatures, they did not care for congregations, not even of themselves. And why should they? They were all one thing, or almost. It would be like versions of yourself populating your life, mirroring and mocking. They drove him through the narrow street then, with masses of Tarig raising their arms, making them taller yet, creating a canyon of hate.
He smelled smoke in the air. Something large had happened. And he was going to pay for it.
The lords crowded into the street, leaving only a narrow passage for Demat and him. The shock of a cut to his side. Then one to his back. They were clawing him. Pain burst from all his nerves. He felt the cold slap of blood-soaked fabric against his skin. Maybe they would have killed him by now, but Lady Demat moved swiftly through the gauntlet.
A searing gash to his free arm; it dropped to his side, useless.
By the other arm, Demat yanked him close, whispering, “Where is this gondling, your wife? Have you a voice left?”
“I don’t know where she is.”
Filled with relief, his eyes clouded. They didn’t have her. They didn’t have her.
“I don’t know. She left on a navitar vessel. I didn’t want to know.”
Hissing with rage, she pulled him onward, down the street. The cousins were dashing out to strike at him. Little cuts. To make him last. Weak and in shock, he let himself be dragged. At his side, his arm hung uselessly. He looked up at the bright, wondering why it had seemed so right at Ahnenhoon to save it.