Storm wall, hold up the
Storm wall, dark as Rose night,
Storm wall, where none can pass,
Storm wall, always to last.
—a child’s verse
QUINN STOOD OVER THE BODY OF THE FALLEN LORD. He didn’t know how long he stared as the birds settled into a resting swarm, still claiming their prey. He noticed Tai approaching with a flask of water. Quinn drank. He thought of the Tarig watching from their vantage points. What would they do next? Were they solitaires, hoping for his victory, or loyal old guard, ready to complete the destruction of Titus Quinn, the one they’d started on the hill of manses?
As the adrenaline levels fell off, he looked around him, finding that, near the Magisterium, a great crowd of functionaries swelled, staying well back, on the margins of the plaza.
He turned to Tai. No sword would help against those numbers, but he gave the jeweled sword into his keeping.
“Anzi,” he said to Tai. “Where is she?”
“Master Quinn”—he looked at Quinn with something uncomfortably like worship—“she went to the Rose. So she said.” Tai told him what had happened in the moments after Quinn had said goodbye to her and entered the plaza.
Heart sinking, he scanned the plaza in the direction Tai pointed. It was the place where the renaissance people had come through. Had Anzi believed you could cross both ways? Oh, Anzi, Anzi. Why didn’t you ask me . . . why did you rush into the place that could kill you? Did you think you could stop them?
It was true she had disappeared. She had gone into some transition place, but unless Demat had made it possible to traverse both ways, she could have rushed to her death. And had Demat already arranged the doorway to take Quinn home?
If so, he could just follow Anzi now. He took a step or two forward.
It was a plain section of the plaza; it wasn’t even clear exactly where the doomed people had come through or where Anzi had stepped through. Perhaps that spot had a geometric relation to certain features of the plaza. He might have taken careful note of the place if anyone new emerged, but it had been some time since Ghinamid had murdered the last one.
“Tai, where is the door? Where did Anzi leave the plaza?”
“Master Quinn . . . I think . . . somewhere over there”—he waved his hand uncertainly—“I was watching you, not her.”
He drank the last of the flask of water. Tai took it from his hands, acting as his servant, his second. Every joint and corner of his body hurt; his right arm raged in pain and, exhausted, his mind felt sluggish. He could cross over now. If Demat had arranged passage. If.
“Master Quinn? Will the Tarig kill us now?”
“They might. I don’t know, Tai. We wait.”
Quinn made a slow circuit of the bodies, looking at who had been part of the monstrous regime that Helice Maki came to the Entire to install. Some of the bodies were unrecognizable as human. He had been prepared to join them a few moments ago. Instead, he and a flock of birds had killed the Sleeping Lord.
Should he follow Anzi, trying to guess at the exact point she went through? The Tarig still observed him from their high, safe perches. Did they fear him, or were they waiting for direction from the next group of Five? Because the Five were dead, he thought, all except the lord of Ahnenhoon. Others would fill in, and the cycle would perpetuate. The decision of whether to use the crossover point hovered around him, rich with possibility. Everything depended on knowing whether Demat had enabled passage to the Rose—or if Anzi had taken a gamble and perhaps lost.
He found himself looking through the bodies for Lamar Gelde. When Quinn had first agreed to return to the Entire, Lamar had said, Remember that I’m an old man. He’d wanted paradise, the demented old fool. He’d wanted the same thing that everyone wanted in the deepest centers of their being: to live, and live longer than the natural order permitted. Whereas, once you accepted the real order—that you would die like those gone before—you could live your life with the sweet intention to make it matter.
He stood over the body of a woman. She had black hair. Not Anzi, he noted with guilty relief. Cradled in the curl of her chest and stomach lay a very small dead child. He turned away, his heart shrinking, wrung dry.
Joining Tai once again, he waited for the Tarig to stir. He had no idea what came next.
As the waiting stretched on, Tai at last laid the sword on the ground.
Then he drew something from his pocket. “I don’t want this, Master Quinn.
It’s a thing of evil.” He made a gesture that Quinn should take it, a small cylinder with a dull coating.
Quinn took it, bemused.
Tai went on, “Hel Ese called it a finder. She told me to locate the place where I could put a cell of destruction on the tower.” He glanced at Ghinamid’s Tower. Quinn remembered that Demat had told him a small explosion had been set off there.
It looked like a folded controller. He pushed the ends of it, and it opened.
On its surface, a touch pad. Tai’s intake of breath showed his surprise.
“Did she say its purpose?”
“Yes, to find the tower.”
Quinn’s thoughts circled, trying to find a landing. “But it’s for something else as well,” he murmured. “The inside is for something else.”
“She said for me to keep it; she might want it back.”
He felt as though Tai had punched him in the chest. She might want it back. In his left hand, the hand where, from this time forward, he would hold important items, he held a possibly very interesting item. She might want it back. When she came to the Ascendancy, Helice wouldn’t have wanted anything on her person. The Tarig would have taken it. But Tai, her erstwhile accomplice, might safely keep it.
Quinn closed the controller, and it rolled up into a small cylinder again. “Tell me how it worked.”
“I held it and walked through the plaza. When the machine grew warm, I knew it was the right place to put the . . . what she called the cell.”
Tai looked up, staring across the plaza. Tarig were moving in mass down from the palatine hill onto the plaza.
Quinn unfolded the device again. It lay in his palm.
Tai picked up his sword as the Tarig advanced.
“Put it down, Tai.” Swords were useless now. He looked up at the bright, letting its light warm his face for a moment. The gods are good after all, he thought. “Tai,” he said, letting a smile come to his face, “you’ve just saved us from a bad end.” It was so much more than that, but there was no time to explain. Tarig streamed off the hill of manses, and a lord was separating from the pack and coming forward.
Tai looked confused. “I? Saved? But . . .”
Quinn stopped him midsentence. Tarig were streaming onto the plaza, hundreds of them, in their shimmering skirts and vests. They stopped some fifty yards away. The lord who would speak for them came closer. He bore an air of easy authority, and something else; maybe curiosity.
Quinn held up the controller. “Stay back.” The lord stopped.
Holding the device in his hand where the lord could see it, he went on.
“I hold sway over the door to your home, my lord. Just as Helice did.”
“Perhaps,” the lord answered. “You seem to have sway over the flying drones and our stricken lord.” He gestured around him.
“You’re finished here, my lord. I’m desperate, and I won’t argue. Don’t give me cause to worry.”
The lord regarded him and the device in his hand. “We are Lord Inweer.”
That gave Quinn pause. It was Lord Inweer’s brightship, then, that had come over the plaza as he’d fought Ghinamid. Inweer from Ahnenhoon. “We can parlay, then.”
“We wish to,” the Tarig said, deep and slow.
“I’m not in a very good frame of mind. You killed my wife. You threatened to kill the Rose. I could take revenge now. Maybe I will. If I destroy the door, does it strand you here?” During this speech, Tai had begun trembling hard. “Steady,” Quinn murmured.
Inweer hadn’t moved. “Perhaps we do not care.”
“I think you care. I think you’re afraid if I kill the connection to the Heart, you’ll lose your nice solitaire lives. Maybe the destruction will take the Entire with it.” He wondered for a brief flash how Helice could have risked that. But she had been willing to risk everything and All.
“That is surely a reason for talking, Titus Quinn.” He gestured with a hand. “May I approach?”
“Not too close.”
Inweer came within ten feet, regarding Quinn with as much scrutiny as Quinn, in his turn, focused on the lord.
“You and the woman Hel Ese worked together, ah?”
“No. But I have her controller.”
“You need not have fought Lord Ghinamid, had you that power.”
Quinn brought Tai forward from the position he’d taken just behind Quinn’s shoulder. “This young man didn’t know what Helice had given him.
He kept it for her. The controller came to me too late to help with Ghinamid.” The edges of the plaza were teeming with every sentient who lived in the city, above and below the plaza. The center of the stage was Quinn’s upraised hand holding the device that could destroy the transit point.
“So, Lord Inweer, here’s how we begin: I can activate the mSap from a distance.” He hadn’t those commands just yet, but the lord couldn’t know that.
Inweer watched him, utterly still. “We detected the controller from our manses above. We thought you had it in on your person. But it was this other sentient who had it.” Inweer turned his gaze on Tai, a darker gaze, and one that made the young man shrink back. “If we thought you bore only a sword, we would not have watched your fight uncaring.” His gaze came back to Quinn. “We are ready, Titus Quinn. Speak to us. Let us parlay.”
He had Inweer’s attention. His body began to feel light, as though he’d been carrying something immeasurably heavy and had just set it down.
“Bring me a chair. If I fall down, I’m likely to activate the thing by mistake. I’d hate to see that happen, but I’m tired after my dance with your king.” It was a rude statement, but he didn’t care. A little offense was in order. Maybe quite a bit, eventually. He took a profoundly deep breath to clear his head. He was bluffing. Best to remember that.
“And send them away.” Quinn waved at the crowd of Tarig. “One of you is enough, ah?”
He turned to Tai. “Stay by me. Are you up to this?”
“Yes, Master Quinn. I am up to it.”
Meanwhile Inweer toed his boot into the plaza, tracing a circle. Up from the hot surface of the ground came a bud, then a round bench. The lord stepped back from it, giving Quinn space to come forward.
Quinn moved to the newly formed bench and sat, with Tai moving with him, taking a position just in back of him. Quinn clutched to the controller like he’d hung on to the handholds he’d used to climb down the face of the Magisterium.
The lord extruded another bench and sat across from him. It was a calming move, bringing the Tarig down to Quinn’s level.
“You will shut down the machine at Ahnenhoon. It’s over, that part of fueling the Entire is over.”
It was too simple, but it was still the right answer. “Do it now. Take a brightship down there and kill it.”
Inweer’s attention crooked to one side, where a group of legates was approaching. Cixi, with an entourage.
Her timing couldn’t be worse. “Keep her well back. She can wait.”
With a wave of his hand, Inweer stopped her progress. Without missing a beat, he said, “We do not need a brightship, nor to go to Ahnenhoon to cease its functioning.”
To Quinn’s relief, Cixi and her minions retreated to the perimeter.
Doubtless the old dragon still had a few power moves up her silken sleeve.
“Do it however you do it. Now, Lord Inweer. You understand it’s all I care about at this moment. It’s all you should care about.”
“One understands. The Rose is your home. The Heart is ours. We preserve them both, ah?” He pointed a closed fist at the Tower of Ghinamid, until the sound of a profound, low chime flooded down, stinging Quinn’s ears. The lords on the edge of the plaza turned to look in that direction, as did Cixi and her minions waiting on the other edge. The waves of sound fled outward into the air, into the world. The birds that had been rustling over Lord Ghinamid’s body rose into the air, speckling the plaza with their exodus.
Inweer nodded. “It is done.”
Just like that? Shadows came and went as the drones collected into a pattern above, then knifed away to the palatine hill, to their hidden roosts.
He didn’t know whether Inweer had just done something with a flick of his hand that Quinn himself had spent all his energy over hundreds of days trying to accomplish. He had no choice but to assume for now that Inweer had shut down Ahnenhoon.
Off to the side, a sudden movement. A man appeared, one of the white-robed travelers. So, they were still coming.
Quinn said to Inweer, “Tie him up. Bind everyone who comes through.”
The lord regarded him with what, again, Quinn took for curiosity. “Your own people?”
“Bind his hands and watch him, Lord Inweer. There will be others.”
Inweer ordered it done, speaking so low Quinn wondered how the other Tarig could hear him. One of them came forward, and as the terrified man backed up, staring wildly at the bodies, the Tarig grabbed him and forced him to his knees.
Quinn didn’t recognize him. There was no time for him at the moment.
“The engine. It’s shut down?”
Seated across from him, Inweer placed his hands on his knees. “As it should have been, long ago. We brought this calamity to ourselves with Ahnenhoon. Johanna instructed us so. For as much as one listens to women.”
“She is dead?”
“She took her last glimpse of the Entire in my arms.”
“I should put an end to this place right now,” Quinn murmured.
“Talk instead. Fewer will die that way.”
Quinn’s fingers rested on the touch pad. The lavender gloaming of Deep Ebb had begun to give way to Between Ebb. A morning, of sorts.
He regarded Lord Inweer, wondering if, even with Quinn’s threats, the lord might be playing an elaborate charade, or whether it was well and truly over. He looked down at the controller. With time he would figure out how to access its systems. For now, unfortunately, he was bluffing.
But one thing was true: At this moment, seated on a bench in the plaza of the gods, he controlled the Ascendancy.