Guide the journey, O pilot mine; Show the path, O clear-eyed one; Keep me near, O wayfarer; Bring me home, O navitar.
—The Red Book of Prayer
QUINN HAD FALLEN INTO AN EXHAUSTED SLEEP, more like unconsciousness than rest. Tai wakened him gently. “Food,” he said.
Rousing himself, Quinn let the memory of the last hours rush back. He groaned.
“You need to eat,” Tai said, spreading out fried tubers on a clean plate.
He had water too, and Quinn drank it all, wishing for more. His right arm felt like it’d been flayed open, and his left hand, the one that had borne most of his weight on the climb down to the balcony, would hardly close.
“How long have I been out?”
“An hour. It took a long time to find food.” Tai explained that the Mag-isterium was oddly silent, with clerks huddling together in great rooms and few sentients abroad in the corridors. He watched as Quinn ate.
After a time, Tai ventured, “She was trying to kill you. She was, wasn’t she?”
Quinn looked at Tai, wondering how much of a burden to put on the young man. Helice couldn’t have thrown him over the rail. Perhaps it had looked like that, the way they were struggling. He decided on mercy. “She’d been trying to kill me for some time.”
Quinn heaved himself to his feet. “To the plaza, Tai. If you’re coming with me?” Tai nodded. Quinn would watch for Lady Demat there. She was his only hope now. Maybe she could send him through the passage that Helice’s people were using, but going the other way. He didn’t know what was possible, only that he was running blind, trolling for some good fortune, somewhere.
He and Tai made their way up the ramps and stairs of the Magisterium toward the plaza. Watch for me in the plaza, Demat had said. After Ghinamid is dead. Demat needed to handle her own enemies before she would let Quinn handle his.
When they reached the outer door of the Magisterium, the one in the sunken garden, they walked through a packed layer of bird drones, their wings fluttering in useless attempts to rise. The steps to the main level of the Ascendancy were also littered with trembling birds, a black carpet that heaved and quivered. As they ascended the stairs, they heard shouts from the plaza. Scrambling to the top of the steps near the Hall of the Sleeping Lord, they found that the center of the plaza was the stage of a gruesome fight.
Covered in blood, the Sleeping Lord commanded the space. Quinn and Tai stood beside a pillar of the hall and tried to make sense of the scene. There were two individuals still standing in the scene of carnage, like a battlefield, with bodies strewn. One of those standing was Lord Ghinamid; the other a man dressed all in white. The clothes didn’t look like a clerk’s. The man had dark hair. Sickened, Quinn realized it was someone from Earth, crossing over, being murdered. It was an execution. Ghinamid followed the man’s staggering form, hacking at him. He had already taken his arm off. . . . Mortally wounded, the man fell to his knees. The lord drew closer and raised his sword arm. Standing over the man, his helm gleaming, his jacket spackled with blood, Ghinamid brought the sword down on the man’s head, splitting it in two. The body fell, pouring blood onto the paving stones.
Beside Quinn, Tai crumpled, vomiting.
Out of nothingness, another person emerged into the plaza. Dressed all in white, the young man took in the scene of bloodied corpses. He backed up, but nowhere to go.
Tai groaned. “Oh no.”
Ghinamid advanced. Already there were dozens of bodies. It was a massacre, and Quinn had no way to stop them coming.
As Ghinamid strode toward the next sacrifice, Quinn saw something in his peripheral vision. A lone figure standing at the base of the palatine hill, wearing dark green silks and white hair pulled back. It was Anzi. By God, Anzi. Go back, hide, his mind shouted at her.
Anzi had seen him where he stood beside the pillar and was trying to cross to him. Quinn waved her back, but she didn’t acknowledge him.
In the center of the plaza, the cry from a blow. Ghinamid made short work of the murder.
Meanwhile, Anzi darted to the bridge nearest her where a covered roof provided a hiding place. The other gaps in the plaza would not be so easy to cross, and she was getting closer to Ghinamid, who was just pulling back from his killing thrust.
“Tai,” Quinn said, “Find me a weapon. Something long: a knife, a staff.
Anything. Go into the Magisterium. Hurry.”
Tai, looking pale and wretched, caught the urgency in Quinn’s voice, but hesitated. “Are there weapons?”
“I don’t know. Go into the cooking rooms. There will be knives.” Could he wield a knife in his left hand? Yes, maybe clumsily, but even in an unpracticed hand, better than no weapon.
Tai hesitated. “Where will you be, Master Quinn?”
“Here,” Quinn said, still watching the covered bridge, already forgetting about Tai.
Anzi hid in what cover the bridge afforded. Her dark clothing gave some camouflage, but she was inching toward the opening. Quinn put out a hand to restrain her, to keep her from revealing herself; it was just pushing back air, it was pushing against a will that had always taken as much risk as Quinn. Anzi. Stay.
Ghinamid’s attention stayed on the spot where people were materializing, where his victims innocently appeared, perhaps expecting to see Helice with a delegation of Tarig. . . .
Anzi made a dash for the next bridge, one bridge away from Quinn.
The awakened lord turned toward her, seeing her completely in the open.
Quinn prayed for another sacrifice to come over from the Rose. Prayed that three would come at once, prayed that the Ascendancy would tip to one side, or the bright would fail. Instead, the worst: Ghinamid rushed toward Anzi, and Anzi, seeing him, and not wanting to lead him to Quinn, ran back to the first bridge.
Quinn moved out from behind the pillar. He didn’t ask himself what the Rose needed of him, or what the trade-offs were. There was no time for distinctions. He called out to Ghinamid, and the lord halted, swerving to look at him.
Ghinamid walked toward him without haste. He wore a helm of metal that protected his neck with flaps of steel. His pants were of metal mesh, and his vest was blood-soaked padded silk. Over his shoulders, a heavy cape was thrown back to reveal enormous shoulders. He was large, even for a Tarig. Perhaps the lord knew who Quinn was. His measured steps seemed to reflect the gravity that he might attach to the killing of the man who had started everything.
At that moment, Quinn heard someone shout out: “Bright Lord.”
Another person had come to the plaza: a figure in black on the periphery near the palatine hill.
Ghinamid stopped, eyeing Quinn, but perhaps undecided which was the more important antagonist.
But this second figure was a Tarig, and was rushing forward. Ghinamid turned to face the newcomer.
The individual moved with long strides, dressed in adamantine black, a suit of armor hugging the body: tall boots, hair sparkling with a diamond cap catching the bright like a halo. It was Demat.
Reaching the covered bridge where Anzi hid, she strode through it, ignoring all distractions.
Now there were three figures on the plaza: Quinn, Ghinamid, and Demat. Quinn understood that he’d be dead now if Demat had not come forward. She was dressed for battle.
As she approached Ghinamid, she raised a weapon, something short that snugged into the palm of her hand. A gun of some sort. She fired. Ghinamid staggered back, swaying for a moment. She fired again, and then again at closer range. The lord went down on one knee.
It gave Demat time to glance at Quinn. She nodded at him, once. She intended to be his savior.
But Ghinamid had recovered. Slowly, he rose to his feet. Demat fired again, but it had no effect. The first shot had doubled him over. Perhaps now he had strengthened his armor. Demat threw the weapon away. She pulled a narrow sword out from a scabbard behind her back.
From the plaza some thirty yards from where Quinn stood, Lord Ghinamid spoke to Demat, his voice like rocks scraping together. “Come to our arms. Mingle with us.”
“Go home, warrior. We are safe here. Go you to the Heart, if you love the congregate state. I do not.”
He shook his head. “Do not remain solitary too long, Chiron. It must ruin you.”
“Let each Tarig decide, my lord.”
“We are all one.”
Demat raised her sword. “Perhaps not this one, ah?”
She looked to the towers of the plaza, the tallest places, and past them to the hill of mansions. Nothing stirred. No phalanx of cousins, no surge of an army such as might come from the loyal Magisterium.
Lady Demat had no army. Not even one.
She advanced on Ghinamid, who stood on the plaza, solid as a bull. Was he weakened by the wound she’d been able to deliver? Quinn fiercely hoped so. He looked back toward the garden, watching in vain for Tai.
Demat circled around Ghinamid. She looked small compared to him. She must not die; that must not happen. He had sold his soul to her, for good reason.
Diving forward like a loaded spring, she lunged for Ghinamid. His sword met her with ease. The lord flashed two quick strokes against her, driving her back. She staggered under the weight of his blows. It gave him time to kill two more travelers who had emerged from the Rose; his sword made a deep path across their chests as they stood clinging to each other. He turned back to Demat, but too late to avoid a hit, marked by a bright spike where she’d pierced his armor, whatever sort it was.
Behind the circling fighters, Anzi emerged from the bridge, edging away from them. The fighters paid her no attention. Then she was racing toward Quinn. He ached at the sight of her. He opened his arms.
She came to him, and they held each other. “My love,” he whispered, “I can’t stay. I have to fight.”
Hearing this, she pulled back, searching his face. “No, he will kill you.”
Her hair was pulled back severely, making her look different. He let himself drink in her face, her presence, but he couldn’t stay. Turning toward the fight in the plaza, he noted that Demat had taken a cut. She pivoted away from Ghinamid, protecting a leg.
“I have to help her.” He saw Anzi’s alarm. It broke his heart that he had found her at this moment, and they had no time, no time at all.
“You have no weapon!”
He looked toward the Magisterium. Where was Tai? Surely in all the Magisterium there was one long blade.
“Then I’ll distract him.”
She moaned. “This can’t be your fight! Why is it yours?”
They both turned at the sound of someone approaching. Tai was racing up the stairs from the Magisterium, bearing a long, slightly curved sword.
He gave it Quinn, who grasped it with relief.
Out of breath, Tai panted, “I stole it from a wall of a prefect. A ceremonial . . .”
Quinn stopped him with a gesture. There was no more time. Turning to Anzi, he said, “Some people hate the Earth, Anzi. Helice did. She’s dead, but her people are coming over. As soon as they do, they’re going to kill the Rose, so their enemies can’t follow them.” He looked at the mayhem proceeding on the plaza. Ghinamid was still slaughtering people coming through, as though fighting Demat was no barrier to efficient execution.
“Demat said she’d help me. Without her, we have no chance.”
Reaching inside his jacket, Quinn brought out the paper on which he had written everything down; everything that Helice had done, everything that had happened since Mo Ti had come to him to say that the spider would abandon the Earth to a very bad death. He thrust the note into her hands.
“Anzi, I wrote it all down. This is all I have to give you, to tell you why.”
“No, Titus . . .”
But he was backing up, moving into the plaza. “I love you forever.”
Then, balancing the weapon in his left hand, he turned from her and raced toward the fight.
Ghinamid caught sight of him, but did not pause in his pursuit of Demat.
Quinn rushed forward to attack from behind, to force Ghinamid to turn his back on Demat. He caught the lady’s glance; there was relief there, and fear, too. His ceremonial sword; his crippled state. How could he help her?
Instantly, he learned that he could not. The lord, sensing a new opponent, spun mightily on his heel, and raising his sword, became a blur of muscle and steel. The weapon circled and took Demat’s head from her shoulders.
Ghinamid roared. The lady crashed to the ground.
The lord held his sword up and turned toward the palatine hill. His voice carried well and far. “Cousins of the Heart! Now come down. We are finished with Tarig blood. Let the Rose die, let it warm us and keep us as we have always been! Come to me.”
It was all ashes now. Oh, Chiron, so nobly dead. Quinn stood on the plaza, exposed. Ghinamid would make short work of him now.
Ghinamid regarded Quinn as he stood awkwardly before the lord, carrying a jeweled sword. “Come to us, Titus Quinn. We have slept too long.
We are awake now. Come.”
Quinn might have harried Ghinamid from one side had Demat still been in the fight. Now he couldn’t win. But did it matter? He couldn’t go over to the Rose now. Demat would have sent him, but she was dead. Renaissance would proceed to its awful conclusion. No one on Earth could know that the Entire was lethal for them, that their enterprise had failed. Now would come the inevitable conclusion.
Quinn faced the Sleeping Lord. Bluffing, pretending he had the same deterrent that Helice had, he said, “We will destroy your door.”
He stood in the middle of the plaza, sweat streaming down his face, the bright spread in a smoldering lid over him. Doggedly, he went on. “We’ll destroy the path to the Heart. Wherever you have a door, wherever you create a door, we’ll destroy it. Your time is over here. You can go back. But you can’t stay.”
He was bluffing. He didn’t have whatever means Helice had devised to threaten the door. It must have been the mSap that she was using to control their door. But he didn’t have her infernal machine sapient. He had nothing except a jeweled sword.
And Ghinamid was a chaotic, unbalanced Tarig, barely capable of thought. He wasn’t deterred. He advanced, sword ready.
Anzi looked at the paper Titus had given her, but it was in English, useless.
She spoke some of the darkling tongue, but had never learned to read it. She tucked the paper into her jacket. “Who are you?” she asked the young man next to her.
“Tai. I helped Master Quinn. But he will die now.” His face betrayed his anguish.
In the plaza, Quinn and Ghinamid seemed to be exchanging words.
Titus should have slipped past Ghinamid and gone over to the Rose. But she’d had no time to suggest this. She knew the door was open—both ways— the Jinda ceb had told her. Now it was her job to stop the destruction of the Rose.
“Tai. You must tell him that I went to help the Rose.”
Anzi and Tai watched helplessly as Titus backed up, staying out of reach of Ghinamid, who stalked him at a leisurely pace.
“Tell the man who is going to die out there . . .” Her face ran with tears.
“Tell him that I crossed to the Rose. If he has a breath left when Ghinamid strikes, tell him. Will you?”
Tai was crying, too. “Yes.”
Clutching the paper, and stuffing it into her tunic, Anzi ran into the plaza. She crossed the distance in a desperate sprint, racing past the two fighters. Her target was plain to her. She’d seen it through the veil as she’d watched with the Jinda ceb at her side. She dashed into the nexus point of the great geometry of the plaza, defined by the orientation of the canals, which were not canals at all, but tunneling channels of power. Lord Nehoov had bound the two worlds together, spatially and temporally. This the Jinda ceb had told her. The doorway drew in the wayfarers, but it could as well serve to send a wayfarer, too.
As she plunged into the center of the transition point, the place where the Jinda ceb had told her a crossing could be made for a few increments more, she breathed a goodbye to Titus. She hadn’t the luxury of hoping she would die, but if she had, she would wish—with all her heart—to die at the very moment that he did.