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“THE JINDA CEB ARE COMING HOME.” Cixi had been saying this for an arc of days, and still no one seemed to grasp the point, least of all Geng De.
Next to Cixi, in the burrow of the undercity, Sen Ni stood, lovely and strong. The wavering light of the Nigh limned her silks with silver, gave her a glamour of power. Yet she deferred to the pudgy navitar. “Yes, I’ve seen this,” Geng De said, as though that answered everything. I’ve seen this, I’ve seen that. Cixi was mightily weary of his seeing, though she’d only been with them for forty days. She would have forbidden him to utter it, except that she was no longer the high prefect, as it jolted her to recall.
Sen Ni went to a small table, where she dipped a cloth in water. She dabbed Geng De’s ﬂushed temples. The two of them were backlit by the ﬂoor to ceiling Nigh view port, creating a tableau of cloying devotion.
“Master Geng De,” Cixi said with what sweetness she could muster, a tone, she noted with chagrin, that she had once reserved for the Tarig, “the Jinda ceb Horat can certainly restart the engine. We shall have need of the engine in due time.” There, that was the understatement of the age. A little sarcasm often moved a discussion along.
“Your Brilliance,” Geng De began, using the odious title, “my hands are heavy with threads. The Jinda ceb is not yet one that comes to my hand. Patience. Patience.”
“Perhaps if you reached a little further.”
Sen Ni glanced up, ﬂashing disapproval.
The navitar put a quieting hand on Sen Ni’s arm. “They are not here yet. But the Tarig are.” He closed his eyes for a moment, and even while seated, leaned heavily on his cane.
“The Tarig are the ones that shut down Ahnenhoon,” Cixi answered. “The Tarig will soon be banished to the Heart. Why do they care what happens to our land? They are leaving.”
“Do you say so?”
“My spies say so. Quinn will send them back to their swarm.” She might be deposed from the Magisterium, but some were still devoted to her.
“Lord Inweer is the strand,” Geng De said. “That is the one needing weaving. I pursue his traces.”
Inweer, was it? But Quinn would certainly send home the last of the ruling Five. He didn’t need the Tarig to run the great mechanics and mysteries of the All. The Jinda ceb Horat were the Tarig’s equals. In their own interests, the Jinda ceb—when they ﬁnally arrived, which was imminent, their messages had implied—would run the industries of the Entire, whether the bright, the storm walls, or the mundane matters of trains and ships of the Nigh and cleaning of streets. How convenient for Quinn that the Jinda ceb had lived in accelerated time and had grown so wise. Perhaps in their wisdom they would quickly be rid of him. It was why Sen Ni must establish a bond with them and persuade the creatures to her side.
Creatures. Cixi couldn’t bring herself to think of the Jinda ceb as quite…reputable. They were reported to have taken Chalin form, but they grew their clothes on their backs, like beku. And then there was the matter of their art, also grown on the their backs, if reports were to be believed. And what they actually looked like, before they changed themselves, the Miserable God only knew.
Slowly, and stiﬂing a groan, Geng De rose from his chair. His voice wavered. “I will rest now. The binds asked much of me today. Pardon me if I retire, my sister. High Prefect.”
“But,” Cixi persisted, “Sen Ni must at least make overtures to the Jinda ceb. She will travel to the Inyx sway in any case. The minoral of the Paion is nearby.”
“Jinda ceb Horat,” Geng De corrected. “Paionis the old word, we must remember.”
Oh, he dared to correct her! “But Paion is how the All has thought of them for archons of time. Paion is the face they must overcome if they wish acceptance in the sways. They will need Sen Ni’s support to send sweet dreams of them into the land. Sen Ni should win them over. Before Titus Quinn does.”
The navitar turned to the view port, gazing out as though he saw strands there even without immersion. He did seem to wish to be there rather than here. What did he do for days at a time in that crystal chamber beyond the view port? Weaving, so he said. If it could be believed.
He leaned close to Sen Ni. “Do not reach out to them when they ﬁrst arrive, Sister. Begin the dream war against your father ﬁrst. See your beloved Riod. Make sure he loves you as I do.”
He kissed Sen Ni brieﬂy on the mouth. Ever so brotherly, but Cixi wanted to beat him senseless with his cane.
Sen Ni supported Cixi on her arm as the two of them climbed the passageway up to street level. The underground chamber allowed Geng De to enter the river in secret, rather than in an exposed ship. Her father would be looking for Geng De; they had met in the binds, and Geng De had tried to drive Titus home with threats. It hadn’t worked, as she could have told Geng De if he’d asked her ﬁrst.
Cixi was slow, but stronger than she looked. She had, after all, killed a Tarig lord with her own hands. Stiletto in the eye, Cixi had smirked. Of course he was quite softened up by then….
Cixi said, “The Jinda ceb did not ﬁght for a thousand thousand days to build their house on a mist.”
“Are we a mist, Mother?”
“Yes, dear girl. Mist. The Entire will fade. Geng De spends too much time in the river to notice, perhaps. The Jinda ceb must engage the engine again.”
“Let me think on it.” A great deal of work lay ahead of them, and Geng De was right: The Jinda ceb were not even here yet. Titus should be exposed as a danger to the land. Titus, the man who once had said he had no wish to rule and who now ruled in fact. The pain of that was too fresh to revisit.
Cixi murmured, “When the bear looks upon you the ﬁrst time, he decides if you are meal or master.”
First impressions. Would the Jinda ceb see her as the cowed young daughter of the king?
“Give me time, Mother.” Cixi’s power was still remarkable; she had learned almost every intelligence that had come to Titus in the days since he banished the high prefect. She knew most of what Ji Anzi was teaching Titus about the Jinda ceb: that they had never ridden on the backs of their automatons of war. Those entities had been war creatures, bred for the ﬁght. Cixi had also learned that the Jinda ceb possessed a visionary ﬁeld called Manifest where they decided civic matters in common. The spies had also reported that the Jinda ceb wanted foremost to come home. And by home they meant the place where they had heretofore been, at the Scar in the Long Gaze of Fire Primacy, where they would reattach their minoral—adrift these many ages. So, in the end, it had been another great Tarig lie that the Scar marked the scene of a Paion incursion and heroic battle. The Tarig had even gone so far as to say they themselves had fought there, as though the ﬁends would have exposed themselves to danger!
Sen Ni opened the door to the navitar vessel’s lower cabin, a connection obscured from observation by a small pavilion set up to look like a tent that expanded Geng De’s living space. Passing through the empty cabin to the outer deck, Sen Ni noted her guard led by EmarVod, standing on the quay.
Cixi looked up as a large shadow fell across the deck. “Couldn’t we go by litter?”
“Beesha makes a gentle ride, Mother.” They needed a quicker route to the summit of the bridge than a litter now that Sen Ni’s popularity made it difficult for her to travel anywhere in Rim City without attracting a crowd.
“Beesha stinks, dear girl, it must be said.”
Even Cixi’s scowling could not constrain Sen Ni’s happiness in being by her side. She recalled that awkward moment a few days ago when she had ﬁrst called Cixi mother. The old prefect had frozen for a moment, and Sen Ni feared she had made a ghastly error. Then a painfully slow smile stretched Cixi’s lips a fraction. Cixi, she discerned, was pleased.
The great Adda hovered above, and at a signal from her handler, began the descent to the quay, caparisoned with a garland of silver bells and woven tassels. Denizens of the city came running, hoping that Sen Ni might be there, as they saw the old Celestial bearing down on the wharf.
Beesha settled her hanging ladder on the ground with a clatter of cartilage and bells, to the cheers of onlookers. Sen Ni waved to them and called out a name from a face she recognized.
EmarVod came forward, steadying the ladder. “A litter might suit one’s dignity,” Cixi muttered. But she took hold of the gristly ladder and climbed one rung. A crippling look warned EmarVod away from assisting her.
Sen Ni followed Cixi into the cavity, ﬁnding a place next to her, sitting crosslegged on the ﬂoor. The high prefect drew out a small box from her sleeve and ﬂipped open the top, taking a dainty sniff to fend off Beesha’s yeasty odor. Sen Ni shook off a sudden annoyance at this show of delicacy. The old woman had been through a harrowing time. Stripped of her vast powers, humiliated by banishment. It was said that her subprefect Mei Ing had openly celebrated the hour that Cixi had walked out the door of the Magisterium. A shortlived festivity, however, when Titus appointed Yulin’s wife Suzong to the top post. She cajoled Cixi. “A view of the city from an Adda—such a sight, Mother! You have seen so many wonders, but I am still a girl of the steppes and I love this.”
“Girl of the steppes! Let no one hear such nonsense. Queen of the Entire, I declare it.”
“Look.” Sen Ni lay on her stomach to gaze out the egress cavity. “The sea coming into view, the biggest sea in all the universes.”
Cixi slapped Sen Ni on the shoulder. “Back with you. If anyone should see you peeking out of an Adda hole!”
But Sen Ni paid her no mind. Under them Rim City hove into view with its teeming streets and huddled adobe towers. Her sway. Then up, up, with the great crystal bridge revealed yard by yard, its sparkling undersides built of steeled glass, then the black and viney gardens of her mansion. There, a glimpse of the orphanage Sen Ni had built next to her quarters, and ﬁnally the great viewing porch. Beesha hovered expertly over the veranda. Because of the railing, she could not descend as far as she might, but now servants were there to hand Sen Ni and Cixi down.
“Thank you, Beesha,” Sen Ni sang out to the Celestial, who blinked ponderously and waited for the servants to hoist up sacks of grain. Even so short a journey ﬁlled Sen Ni with a strange euphoria. Or perhaps it was Beesha herself, whose silence and dignity reminded her so strongly of Riod.
Sen Ni leaned on the balustrade, watching Beesha wend away on the prevailing counterclockwise wind. She thought of the winds that way, but it was a darkling term, a thing of the Rose, an artifact of a world that had given her up for dead. She owed nothing to them. If one place must die, why must it be this one?
She looked over the Sea of Arising, the galactic scale ocean, with the arms of Rim City embracing it. The mirror of the sea reflected the bright, a twicebrilliant ﬁeld. Sandwiched between, the Ascendancy cast a circular shadow on the sea.
Next to her, Cixi stared at the ﬂoating city. “Quinn crouches up there in fear,” she murmured. “He has the Entire. And God has noticed him.”
Sen Ni made a warding sign. “But he is king.”
“Mmm. And look what the Woeful God brought upon our last kings.” She tapped her long nails on the railing, indulging a tight smile. “He’s caught a dragon in his embrace. What happens when he lets go?”
Copyright © 2010 by Kay Kenyon
Art copyright © 2010 by Stephan Martiniere
Prince of Storms comes out in paperback from Pyr Books today!