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Sesskia’s Diary, part 50

9 Lennitay, very early, maybe just past midnight (continued)

I climbed up on the sill and reached for the brick, tugged on it a little to satisfy myself that it was solid, then sat on the sill with my back to the open air and thought about what to do next. The spymaster had come in this way, but was it just a convenient passthrough, or was there something important about it? It hadn’t exactly been easy to find. I went all the way to the top of the tower, where the passage just went right up to the roof (the underside of the observatory) as if it had once been open to the air and some giant, possibly the same one that had built Colosse, had slapped the observatory over it like capping it off. Then I came back down until I passed “my” window and reached the first of the single brass doors. It was unlocked. I opened it cautiously, then slipped inside.

It hadn’t occurred to me, because I am occasionally stupid, that none of these tower rooms would have windows because they were all on the inside. I had to stop to do the see-in-dark pouvra, and then I was stunned at what I saw: shelves and chests and wardrobes piled high with every imaginable type of fur, all tanned and clean and ready to be turned into clothing. I’ve said before that my expert appraiser’s eye is hampered by my not knowing the value of things in Castavir, so I’ll put everything (and there was much, much more) in my own terms, and to the right buyer, this room would be worth a fortune. Furs aren’t as popular as they once were in Balaen, at least they aren’t as much a symbol of nobility as they used to be, but they’re still the province of the wealthy, and though they’re not as portable a form of wealth as you might like, they’re still valuable. I petted a mink and took a better look around. Definitely a fortune. There were five other exits from the room, all of which led to smaller rooms, all of those rooms filled with ingots of precious metals like bricks for a mad God-Empress’s palace. I released the concealment pouvra and wandered through them in a daze, because I’d never seen that much wealth accumulated in one place. Eventually I had to shut the doors and move on, before my twitching fingers could collect a souvenir.

The part of me that is a master thief would like to describe, in loving detail, the contents of the God-Empress Renatha’s treasury—because that’s what the tower was, seventeen rooms of jewels and precious metals and art and things I couldn’t even put a value on because we don’t care about them in my world. There were coffers of jewels (I love jewels, they’re so portable and everyone wants them) and strings of silver and gold chains and paintings whose frames alone were probably worth a coffer of jewels, and it was so damn hard not to take something, especially now that I know I like jewelry for myself and not just for what it can buy me. But aside from the practicalities, which is that someone like me isn’t likely to have a lot of personal wealth in any form, I wouldn’t put it past the God-Empress to know down to the last two-carat diamond exactly how much treasure she has, and to be able to figure out who walked off with whatever’s missing. Really, this place was not well protected and it wasn’t guarded at all. Unless….

It was at that point that my imagination started running wild about the possibility of th’an that sounded a silent alarm and soldiers with large swords and muskets and mages who could do who knew what kind of martial kathanas, and my heart pounded a little faster for a few beats before I reminded myself that I’d been there for a while, and I’d handled some of the treasure, and if there were silent alarms and martial kathanas, I’d have found out about them by now. Even so, I didn’t linger in any more of the treasure rooms.

I looked through, but did not enter, those brass double doors I’d passed before, and saw only a short hall that made a sharp right turn about five feet from the door. I was planning to come back up and see where it led after I reached the base of the tower, but I changed my mind when I found what was there. More exploration for another time.

But now, the base of the tower. Actually, it wasn’t the base of the tower but the base of the palace below the tower, all seven stories to the ground instead of just the three of the round tower below the observatory. At the end of the curving, descending passage was another brass double door, but this one looked beaten, as if someone had tried to break it down once. It was also locked, as I learned when I pushed on it a little, and then I very nearly became a dead thief for my carelessness, because the person on the other side of the door immediately unlocked it and flung it open. I’d skipped backward a few steps when the door began to open, and I worked the concealment pouvra and pressed myself against the wall, grateful for the pouvra’s protection even though it made it hard for me to feel my fingertips and my toes.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 49

9 Lennitay, very early, maybe just past midnight

More research today. I mean yesterday. Still not enough successes for Master Terrael, so I’m still working on the glass instead of with fire. Though we took a small break in the middle of the morning for me to demonstrate some of the pouvrin, mainly fire and water. I’m getting better at juggling water, which is fun, and this time I did splash Terrael in the face. Just a little. He laughed with everyone else.

I don’t know how much longer it will take before they can do the kathana. I have this horrible feeling they’re waiting on me, which makes me work even harder but makes my work less effective. The mages in charge of tracking what they call “the convergence” (presumably because it sounds less awful than “unavoidable catastrophic destruction”) have stopped saying how long until it gets here, which makes me even more nervous. But, again, that makes me less capable, and my hands start to shake, and then I have to sit in a corner and watch everyone else until I regain control.

It’s interesting to watch Cederic and compare him to Vorantor. Vorantor bustles a lot. He likes to draw people’s attention to what he’s doing, even if what he’s doing is complimenting someone else’s work. Which he does, frequently—gives compliments, I mean. But he’s the sort of person who thinks he’s being a leader because he read somewhere that’s what leaders do.

Cederic, on the other hand, is always quiet and rarely makes comments, but when he does, everyone stops to listen, even people who aren’t involved in whatever he’s talking about. And he does a lot more listening than Vorantor does, and listens with his whole attention—I know this from experience. So when he does give praise, you can see it really matters to the person he’s giving it to. They may listen to Vorantor, because he does most of the talking, but they pay attention to Cederic, especially when he doesn’t say a word. Even Vorantor’s mages give him a kind of respect Vorantor can’t command. It makes me feel proud on behalf of him and the Darssan contingent, even though we’re so much smaller.

I don’t know why I’m going on about this. The exploring I did was far more exciting than writing about stupid Vorantor. Though I have to write about him a little, because I decided I need to spy on him a little more closely, just in case he has any more clandestine meetings. I haven’t told Cederic, because he would definitely object—he still believes Vorantor is his friend, and I know he hates that I sneak around the palace at night. But I think Vorantor is more dangerous than he seems, and I won’t be satisfied until I know why he met with Aselfos. Fortunately, he has a routine he rarely deviates from, in the evenings: he eats dinner with Cederic and some of the other Sais, then all of them go to their common room, which is around the corner from the dining hall, where they sit and talk and have after-dinner drinks. (Our common room is larger, and the conversation is more lively, and there’s more use of th’an for amusement.) Vorantor always retires early, no later than nine o’clock, and goes to sit in the observatory for half an hour, then retires to his room, where he reads for another half hour before going to sleep. I know the last part because I sat concealed in his room last night, watching him. He’s really very dull. He didn’t sneak out later, and he didn’t meet with anyone in the observatory. But his meeting with Aselfos didn’t sound, even what little I heard of it, like a chance encounter or a one-time event, so I’m certain he’ll meet with the man again. Unfortunately, I can’t just follow him around, concealed, waiting for it to happen, so I’ll need to make a better plan. Last night was just to confirm his pattern, so I didn’t spend much time watching him before I got down to my real exploring.

This time, I used the concealment pouvra immediately and went down the stairs, counting, so I could keep track of where I was with regard to the tower. There are no doors off the Sais’ stairwell, which descends in a series of landings in a sort of tall chimney, and by the time I reached the bottom, I’d determined I was at the floor above the base of the tower. So then I started looking around for a way into the tower, or failing that, a flight of stairs that would take me one story lower where an entrance might reasonably be found.

Part of me wanted something mysterious, so I was a little disappointed when access to the tower was as easy as following the hall off the stairs to a junction and then turning right. That led me to a short double door made of brass that filled the width of the hallway. I used the see-through pouvra to verify that no one was standing immediately behind it, learned that it opened on a hall that curved downward immediately to the right, and went through it—the conventional way, since the walk-through-walls pouvra still makes me nervous.

The curving hallway actually went in both directions, with a gentle slope that suggested it followed the contours of the tower, and wasn’t so dim that I needed the see-in-dark pouvra. I went uphill for a bit and soon found one of the narrow windows on my left, which let in the light of the moon. It looked out over the palace rather than Colosse, which told me that “my” window, or the one that would give me access to the “staircase” to the observatory, was on the opposite side of the tower from here. I continued walking, occasionally passing doors on my right that I itched to explore, but first I wanted to see if I had an exit from this place. All the doors were made of brass like the first, but single rather than double. Once I passed a brass double door on my left that I guessed led to another level of the palace, and I really wanted to explore that one, but I kept going, and my persistence paid off when I reached the final window, looked out, and saw a jutting brick just inches from the top of the window frame.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 45

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)

The alcove to the right of that one, the alcove between it and the mages’ alcove, leads to a warren of more personal sleeping and living quarters, and a big dining room and a kitchen. And it was completely empty. All those bedrooms, unoccupied. The kitchen hadn’t been used in months, at least. I couldn’t tell if this was meant as guest quarters, or as living space for the royal family, but either way it was eerie. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, my instinct is that it’s guest quarters. The royal family has to be protected, and it’s easier to have them all in one place rather than splitting the guards’ efforts—and this definitely didn’t belong to the God-Empress. I don’t know why the palace would have an entire wing for guests and then not have any, but it likely has something to do with the God-Empress’s insanity. I can’t imagine anyone staying here unless she was a hostage. That thought makes me queasy, because every one of the mages is a hostage if the God-Empress decides it’s so.

By this time, it was getting very late, and I was starting to feel tired, so I decided to leave exploring the rest of the alcoves until another time. I have a much better idea of what the palace looks like, even if I didn’t find anything interesting. I don’t know whether to hope that the God-Empress’s quarters are beyond one of the two remaining alcoves or not. Easier if it is, but if not, what a challenge to try to sneak into it!

So I went back to my room, but when I reached the hallway, I decided to take one last look at the…I’m still not sure what it is. An observatory? It’s certainly high enough, though I wonder what anyone could see through that smoked glass. In any case, I figured Vorantor wouldn’t still be there, and I really wanted to see the view for myself.

I was still cautious, approaching it—an overconfident thief is a dead thief, another one of my mottoes—even though I heard nothing, not even snoring from the adjoining chambers. Now that those holes are closed up, my room seems completely soundproof, and these stone walls are thick enough to keep most noises contained. I’m not going to experiment by standing in my room and screaming, certainly. I was almost to the entry when I heard voices—not even voices, just a low cadenced hum that I’ve learned to recognize as what voices sound like at the edge of hearing. I took a look into the observatory and saw that Vorantor was still standing there, at the other side of the room, only this time he wasn’t alone. With my eyes more perfectly adjusted to the dark this time, I could see immediately that the second person was male, shorter than Vorantor, light-haired, and dressed in clothing that looked drab next to Vorantor’s rich robes. Everything about him screamed “thief.” I didn’t even have to think about it; I did the concealment pouvra and began sidling along the circumference of the room, trying to get close enough to make out their words.

Years ago, when I first learned the basics of the see-in-dark pouvra, I tried adapting it to enhance my hearing, but I was never successful. I can’t believe there isn’t a pouvra for that, so I haven’t given up on finding it, but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted it more than I did just then. The trouble with sneaking up on a thief is that she’s, well, a thief—and if she’s any good, she’ll be constantly on the lookout for people doing to her what she’d do to them. The closer I got, the less convinced I was that the stranger was a thief, simply because he lacked the alertness I’d have in his position. But…well, whatever he is, stealth and cunning are definitely some of his tools of the trade, even if he’s never hung by his fingertips off a third-story window ledge while his bare toes grope for purchase on the irregular bricks of a castle wall.

I went as close as I dared and was frustrated to discover that the conversation was nearly over. I suppose it would have been too much for me to coincidentally enter just as they started talking about a key piece of information that only mattered to me. As it was, it left me with more questions instead. The stranger said, “An upset for you, I think.”

Vorantor said, “Cederic pledged his honor, so I’m not worried about him. And he’s never been interested in glory. Everything will go on as it has.”

The stranger said, “No matter what you have to do to ensure that.”

“Exactly,” Vorantor said. “Something I believe you understand.”

The stranger just nodded, then to my surprise walked past Vorantor to the edge of the observatory, where a low wall kept people from simply stepping off and falling, I assumed, to their deaths, slung his leg over the wall and dropped. Vorantor didn’t react, and I heard neither scream nor fatal thud, so I concluded that he was the kind of thief I’d originally thought, and I confirmed this later—well, I don’t want to put this out of order when I’m almost done. A minute after the stranger made his dramatic exit, Vorantor turned and left the observatory, passing very close to me without noticing anything amiss. This is why I don’t wear scent. People forget that there are all sorts of ways to notice a hidden someone that have nothing to do with eyes. I could smell Vorantor just fine; he uses a nice-smelling woody cologne, which is probably the only nice thing about him. I gave him plenty of time to reach his room, then went forward, still concealed, and leaned way out over the wall to see where the stranger had gone.

The observatory is at the top of a very fat tower about fifty feet tall, with narrow windows marking out the layout of the interior. Based on the way the windows are arranged, the tower has three stories, and its base is set in one corner of what I’ve come to think of as the “main” palace, which is itself another four stories from the ground. So the observatory is fairly high up, based on those stairs about half a story above the Sais’ wing, though not as high as the God-Empress’s pavilion. From my angle, dangling over the wall, it was immediately obvious that someone had built a staircase from the base of the observatory to the nearest window, which was about ten feet down and three feet to the right of where I was. I say “staircase,” but it was more a series of jutting blocks that offered hand- and footholds so you could reach the window without much—all right, not much effort for someone like me, and a crippling fear of heights would make it almost impossible, and the window wouldn’t admit anyone much larger than the stranger, who wasn’t much taller and broader than I am. But it would be a good way for someone to meet someone else in the observatory without walking past a lot of Sais, who might want to know what that someone was doing there. None of my exploration had led to that tower, which made it even more interesting; it was something somebody wanted kept secret.

I pulled myself back up and went to my room, not even pausing at Cederic’s door. I know he knows th’an he’s never showed me, and that there are all sorts of them that have offensive capabilities, and I’m certain he’d try to take the head off anyone who entered his room at night. And now I’ve written everything down, and I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to make a list of what I need to do in the morning:

  1. Tell Cederic about Vorantor’s well-after-midnight conversation.
  2. Ask him about Kilios. And the eye-color thing. And what happened between him and Vorantor in the God-Empress’s pavilion.
  3. Figure out what’s directly below us in this tower. Yes, I could take the staircase to the window, but allowing myself to be outlined against the sky for a possible enemy to take a swipe at seems like a bad idea. Besides, I don’t want to give away the fact that I know about the staircase if I can help it. It could turn out to be an escape route.
  4. Begin work on the kathana to summon the Codex Tiurindi. As much as I dislike Vorantor, and find working for him distasteful, I’m a little excited to finally witness a kathana that I’m not the focus of.

Sleep, finally.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 44

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)

After dinner I dressed in comfortable clothes (my shirt from the Darssan and some trousers that fitted more closely than I would normally find comfortable, except they were perfect for sneaking around) and waited in the dark until I judged everyone had gone to sleep. Seeing in the dark is a matter of altering the shape of your eyes, more or less, and it can be…not dangerous, exactly, but if you walk into a well-lit room in that state, it blinds you for a while and it hurts like hell. So you have to be careful where you go. Fortunately, I was planning to go places that would be empty of people.

When the moon was finally hovering on the horizon, preparing to set, I slipped out of my room and headed down the hall toward Cederic’s room. I wanted to see where the hallway went. It turned out to end at another set of stairs, this one continuing up, so I followed it and found myself in a round room much like the God-Empress’s pavilion, but with a smoked glass dome for a roof and wind-blasted pillars supporting it, all of it overgrown by some kind of twining vine with fat, five-pointed leaves. The wind had died down somewhat from earlier and the night was cool and refreshing. I almost stepped out into the expanse when I saw that it was already occupied. I ducked back into the doorway—I wasn’t using the concealment pouvra because I didn’t want to get used to it and become careless—and watched for a bit. The person just stood looking out past the pillars, and it took me a while to discover that it was Vorantor. That made me intensely curious about what he was doing, because I was certain he wasn’t there just to admire the view, but I couldn’t exactly walk up to him and strike up a conversation. So after about ten minutes of watching him do nothing, I turned around and went back down the hallway to the other stairs.

I was tempted to stop in and talk to Audryn when I reached their hallway, but I realized in time that if I were caught wandering, and it got me in trouble, she would need to be able to say with conviction that she knew nothing about it. So I kept going. My first stop was the stairway leading to the God-Empress’s pavilion, with the landings that led to the upper levels of the mosaic chamber. As I wrote, there was too little contrast for me to see the design, and that was frustrating, having a failure right at the beginning of the night. I considered climbing back to the pavilion to look at the city from that height, but the memory of how long a climb that was deterred me. So I sat with my legs dangling over the edge of the highest balcony and thought about what to do next. Normally when I’m sneaking through a manor or a castle, I’m looking for the library, or maybe a secret room where the important books are kept, and after that I want to find the treasure room so I can buy the books I can’t steal, but I can’t read the books here, and the mages already have all of them. And I don’t have any need for the treasure, not to mention that if I’m caught with it, the God-Empress (I can’t call her Renatha in these pages, I just can’t) would probably do something fatal to me and everyone I know. Thinking about the God-Empress gave me an idea. It was still dangerous, but in a fun, let’s-see-what-I-can-get-away-with way, and if I was successful, it could benefit me in the long run. So I went to map the boundaries of the God-Empress’s territory.

A manor may belong to a person, but in practice, there are portions of that manor that are the personal rooms of the owner. Places that aren’t secret (though sometimes they’re that), but private. Those are the places a thief has to be especially careful of, because people take intrusions there as more of a violation. Though violating them can be effective, if you’re trying to frighten someone by, to take a hypothetical example, leaving notes in their bedroom that say (again hypothetically) THE WATCHER KNOWS WHAT YOU DID TO YOUR WIFE. Very effective.

I just wanted to know what the God-Empress called her own so I wouldn’t trespass accidentally. I knew some places where her territory wasn’t—the rooms where the Darssan mages were housed, and the Sais’ wing, and our dining hall and the two common areas we gathered in after dinner. Places like the mosaic chamber were probably outside that territory, since too many people use them—I could hear lots of noise coming from it when we passed it on the way to that audience with the God-Empress yesterday, like people passing through it, and I think it’s likely that when we arrived, it was cleared specifically so the Kilios didn’t have to encounter any of the unwashed masses. So I was imagining a map of the palace as I sneaked down to the ground floor. I may not have the most perfect memory for conversation, but I wouldn’t be much of a thief if I couldn’t keep the map of a building I’m infiltrating in my head. There were far too many blank spots, because the palace is huge, and having entered the way we did, I don’t have as good a sense of its footprint, but the whole point of exploring is to learn new things, isn’t it?

My first step was to learn where all the alcoves off the mosaic chamber led. I didn’t get very far last night/this morning because, as I said, the palace is huge, but what I discovered was still a lot. I already knew that one alcove leads to the loenerel’s stopping place, and one leads to all the mages’ living and working quarters and, less directly, to the God-Empress’s cloud-kissing pavilion. The one directly to the right of the loenerel alcove goes to the public areas of the palace, waiting rooms and audience chambers and finally to the God-Empress’s real throne room. The actual, official throne is strangely plain, unadorned except for elaborate carvings, and it’s built to a scale that would accommodate someone fifteen feet tall. The God-Empress probably looks like a child sitting in it, kicking her feet because they wouldn’t reach the ground. The throne room makes up for the throne’s plainness by being lined with mirrors, all of them three feet wide (I used my arm span to measure) and as tall as that imaginary giant, framed in what was probably gilded wood (can’t see colors with the see-in-dark pouvra) decorated with scallops at top and bottom. The floor is marble tiles in contrasting colors, dark and light, and I had to be especially careful not to make any sound walking on them.

I wandered around in these rooms for a bit, admiring their scale and the beauty of the furnishings, which is more refined than my world goes in for. I was going to write that they were more sophisticated, which is true but gives the wrong impression; my world lacks things this world has, mainly with regard to what magic can do, but its cultural development doesn’t lag that far behind Castavir’s. So in my world, the wealthy go in for big, sturdy, unadorned furniture and architecture, which compared to Castavir’s looks rough, but closer examination just shows that it’s different. I don’t think I’m trying to make excuses for my world, either. But I suppose this is another thing that’s irrelevant.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 43

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)

Fortunately, I remembered I was the otherworlder before she had to repeat her instruction. I copied Cederic’s gesture, but said nothing, because I didn’t think she’d actually spoken to me. “You may stand,” the God-Empress said, so I stood and waited. She stared at me, tapping her forefinger against those perfect lips. Eventually, she said, “You appear to be Viravonian.”

“I am not, God-Empress, though I’ve been told there are similarities,” I said.

“And why do you suppose that is?” the God-Empress said.

“I can only guess, God-Empress,” I said, “but I know our worlds were once one, and some of those who in your world are Viravonians are probably in mine as well.” Vorantor was almost in my line of sight, and I saw him close his eyes as if I’d said something wrong, but I had no idea what. Now I know he thought I’d made a mistake in mentioning that our worlds had once been one, but the God-Empress disagreed, because she didn’t lose her temper or order me executed.

What she said was: “And you will prevent the worlds from destroying each other when they are reunited.”

I realized at this point that she was in the habit of asking questions phrased as statements. That was clever, forcing the addressee to own statements she probably didn’t intend to make. “I will assist the mages who will perform this task,” I said.

The God-Empress stood up and came down the stairs. She was taller than me, not by much, but enough that she could grab my chin and tilt my head up to look directly into my eyes. She stared at me, and I tried not to blink, and eventually she released me and went to Cederic and repeated the procedure. “Your eyes are the same,” she said. (I forgot to mention that about a third of the mages at the Darssan have green-gray eyes. Nobody seems to think it’s unusual, so I never remembered to ask about it. I’ve seen a few other people with those eyes in my travels, just not so many in one place.)

“It is a color that indicates a predisposition for magic,” Cederic said, not flinching. I have no idea whether this is true or not. I forgot to ask him, just like I forgot to ask him what Kilios means. I suppose it could be true. It was an explanation the God-Empress liked, because she went back up to her throne and gracefully settled herself on it.

“We welcome the mages of the Darssan,” she said in a louder, carrying voice, “and bid them put themselves under the supervision of the most high priest Denril Vorantor. We will hear their oaths now.”

There was some shuffling behind me, and one by one my friends came forward, bent their knees briefly, and said something I couldn’t understand, they spoke so quietly. It made me furious on Cederic’s behalf. He’d already lost the Darssan, lost his research, and now he’d lost what little was left to him. Kilios or no, this couldn’t be anything but a slap in the face.

Or so I thought. When everyone had gone back to their places behind us, the God-Empress said, “Kilios, will you make common cause with Denril Vorantor and turn your skills to his needs?”

“I will, God-Empress,” Cederic said, his voice entirely neutral.

“Denril Vorantor, make your oath,” the God-Empress said, and damn if Vorantor didn’t cross the pavilion and prostrate himself in front of Cederic, and say, “I accept what you offer and swear to heed your words, Kilios,” and Cederic laid his right hand over Vorantor’s and said, “I give you my skills and will follow where you lead.” The whole thing sounded bizarre; who was making promises to whom? I still have to ask Cederic about that, that and the Kilios thing and about a million other questions, but I keep forgetting.

I wasn’t finished being confused by that when the God-Empress said, “Otherworlder, will you give me the freedom of your name?”

I didn’t have time to indulge my outrage at her asking such a personal thing of me, God-Empress or no. “I, uh…yes?” I said. “My name is Sesskia.”

“And you may call me Renatha,” said the God-Empress, which provoked a reaction from everyone except, naturally, Cederic.

Remembering what Cederic said about gifts, I said, “Thank you, God—Renatha, it is a generous gift I do not deserve,” and she smiled more widely. I think it was a test.

“You will join me presently, and we will learn more of your magic,” the God-Empress said, and that was some kind of signal that the audience was over. Cederic stood, and we all filed out of the pavilion and back down the stairs. Vorantor and his mages didn’t follow us, which was fortunate because as soon as we were back in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, everyone started talking at once, and Cederic had to shush them.

“This changes nothing,” he said. “You will turn your efforts toward assisting Sai Vorantor, because now we have a common goal. Summoning the Codex Tiurindi is of paramount importance. It does not matter to whom you owe allegiance.”

“We owe our allegiance to you, Sai Aleynten,” Terrael said.

“That may be, but I have sworn to aid Sai Vorantor, and I instruct you to do as he says,” said Cederic. “That should satisfy the demands of honor.”

“I don’t like it,” said Jaemis. He’s short and wide and looks more like a wrestler than a mage, but his skill at transmutation kathanas is unmatched by any of his peers.

“Liking it is not the issue,” Cederic said. “And remember that you may be watched at any time. Say nothing that will draw unwanted attention. Now, dinner will be served in two hours, so I suggest you use this time to rest so you will be refreshed for the morning’s work.”

Everyone grumbled, but they all went to their rooms. Cederic and I went back to the Sais’ wing, but he followed me into my room and said, “That was unexpected. Sharing one’s name with the God-Empress means a sort of kinship. You may be unable to avoid being called often to her presence.”

That frightened me. “What can I do?” I said.

“What you always do. Listen. Speak carefully. Be honest when you can and lie well when you cannot. And at worst, you can slip away from her and we will find another solution,” Cederic said.

“Staying hidden from her forever seems impractical,” I said.

He smiled. “This palace has places no one but a ghost can enter,” he said, “and I daresay you can become a ghost when you want.”

“That’s less encouraging than you think it is,” I said.

“We will worry about it when we come to it,” he said. “I will see you at dinner. And please, Sesskia, if you must wander, do it when no one will be watching.”

Which I did. Dinner was uneventful; the God-Empress, naturally, didn’t dine with us, and the dining room seemed reserved for the use of the mages. I sat with Terrael, Audryn, and Sovrin, and Cederic ate with Vorantor and acted exactly as if they were friends. I don’t think I could be friends with anyone who behaved the way Vorantor had. Fortunately no one was asking me to be friends with him.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 42

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)

I followed him back to where the rest of our mages were staying. They had either already received their instructions or knew how to behave without being told, because they fell silently into line behind us. Terrael gave me a look that said he wished he could tell me something, but there was no chance to exchange words. Our white-sheeted procession retraced our earlier steps, and even now it makes me shudder to think of how much we looked as if we were going to a funeral. This was when I memorized the route, which only deviated from our earlier path when we were near the mosaic chamber. Cederic made a sharp turn to the left and we ascended a very long staircase that had landings opening off it at intervals. I guessed (correctly) that these landings led to the upper levels of the mosaic chamber, and filed that information away for later use. I went back, last night, but even with the see-in-dark pouvra there wasn’t enough contrast for me to make out the pattern on the floor. That’s really starting to bother me, not knowing.

We kept going until I was panting and there was a horrible stabbing pain in my side. Even Cederic was breathing heavily. Just as I knew I was going to collapse on the stairs, we went through an arched doorway and into a round…pavilion, I think I should call it, because it was open to the sky on all sides, its domed roof held up by pillars of the same yellow stone as the passageway below. The underside of the dome was painted in an abstract pattern of green and black and orange that was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Hot wind blew across the pavilion, carrying with it the same smell of arid dryness and magic I’d smelled outside my room, and it made all our sheets ripple, revealing the hems of our colorful robes. It was much higher than the roofs of Colosse, so high that it felt as if we were floating above the city and that clouds might drift past my knees at any moment.

The pavilion was already occupied by Vorantor and his mages, though they wore brown sheets rather than white ones. I learned later that the brown sheets designated mages in direct service to the God-Empress, because ours were exchanged for brown ones after this meeting, though I don’t remember saying anything explicitly pledging my service to her. And I remember almost every detail of this conversation. It was too surreal to forget.

Again, Vorantor and his mages were already there, surrounding a dais with ten steps leading up to a golden throne. Tacky, but a standard display of wealth and power. The God-Empress Renatha Torenz sat on the tacky throne, and it seems the one thing no one had bothered to mention is that she’s stunningly beautiful. I have no idea why she’s worried about anyone, male or female, outshining her. She dyes her black hair gold—she was due for another treatment, I could see her roots—and it doesn’t look cheap on her, it looks like she’s wearing a crown of gold, because it was pinned up on top of her head in all these elaborate loops with emerald-tipped pins that were faceted to catch even the indirect light of the pavilion. She wore the same kinds of clothing I was wearing under my sheet, but they were all cloth-of-gold trimmed with emeralds, and around her neck was a choker of more emeralds set in gold bezels, and emerald bracelets—ten or twelve of them on each wrist—glittered like her hairpins. Her perfectly oval face is made more perfect by strong but feminine cheekbones and full lips that didn’t need artifice to be red. And her eyes…they’re dark with long lashes, and I’ve just re-read this and realized I sound as if I’ve fallen in love with her, or at least want to sleep with her, and that’s not it. She has the kind of beauty you just want to look at all day long. I’m not attracted to women, but even if I were I wouldn’t dare think of her in a sexual way. I am so glad I knew in advance that she’s insane, because I might have fallen at her feet and given her anything she wanted otherwise.

Cederic gestured at us to stay where we were and took a few steps forward. “Kilios,” the God-Empress said, and I swear I’m not exaggerating when I say that her voice sounded like a heavenly flute. Honestly, I’m not attracted to her! Just because she seems to be the embodiment of female perfection! And I don’t even feel jealous of her, probably because I know she’s madder than a barrel of ferrets, and who can be jealous of that?

Anyway, Cederic dropped to one knee, though he kept his eyes on the God-Empress, and said, “God-Empress, thank you for your welcome.” He stayed in that position for the whole time we met with her, never wobbling, though there were a few times I think he wanted to leap to his feet and argue with the woman. He really is the most self-controlled person I know.

“You choose to heed my summons now,” she said, and it was obviously both a question and a rebuke.

“The time is right, God-Empress, as I am certain you know, since you in your wisdom renewed your invitation at this exact time,” Cederic said.

“I did, didn’t I,” the God-Empress said with a trilling little laugh. “Come forward, otherworlder.”

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 41

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning

I’ve only had a few hours of sleep, but I want to write everything that’s happened while it’s still fresh in my memory. Especially what I learned from exploring last night.

But first, the God-Empress. I almost don’t know where to begin. So I suppose I’ll start with the clothing, because that was strange. I had about half an hour to play with the jewelry before the men with the clothing came back, with friends, and then I felt as if I were at the center of a fuchsia-scented whirlwind of brocade. Two of the servants began hanging clothes in the wardrobe and putting away all sorts of garments I hadn’t seen before, including underclothing, and then the men left and the women stripped me naked and began dressing me as if I were an infant. I protested loudly, but stopped when they all became hugely apologetic and I learned that this was supposed to be an honor, and that it was a service normally performed only for God-Emperors, and if I rejected it they would all be punished.

So I mentally said some very rude things about the God-Empress, never mind what Cederic said, and let them wrap me in more layers than I’d ever worn in my life, including a breast band, which they don’t have in my country. I tried one back in the Darssan, but I’m not exactly well-endowed and I decided a good shirt is enough support for me. It felt awkward and strange and I hoped it wasn’t obvious from the way I held my arms that I was wearing it. Then there was a thin thigh-length robe that went over the wide-legged trousers, both of them a beautiful cerulean blue I’d only ever seen on pottery before. After that came a sleeveless tunic made of a multicolored brocade that had tassels hanging from the hem to my knees. If they were allowed to swing free, they would be annoying, but they’re constrained by the over-robe, which is gold velvet that matches the curtains so closely they might have come from the same bolt. It has shorter sleeves than the thin under-robe, so the blue shows, and it fastens only with a single button at the waist, so it’s open over the brocade tunic and some of the tassels are visible. And then they put a white thing like a sheet sewn up the sides over my head, so the whole thing is covered up. I asked what the point was (I was more polite than that) and the gist of their explanation was that the God-Empress expects everyone to dress in their finest court clothing when they wait upon her, but not to outshine her. Hence the white sheet. Insane. Though with a certain logic.

I had to wait a little longer for Cederic to come for me, when the women were done, and it was strange to see him wearing the sheet, which looked a little pink because of the red robe he wore under it. He still managed to look composed instead of ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I looked rumpled. I hadn’t dared look at myself in the mirror. Instead of just beckoning me to come, he entered my room and shut the door behind him, gesturing me to keep silent. He drew th’an on the air, and spots on the walls glowed with amber light. I went with him to look at the nearest one, which was on the left-hand wall, and he indicated I should put my eye up to it. When I did, and my eye focused properly, I realized I could see into the room next to mine! I bit back an outraged complaint, and Cederic smiled, but it was a sort of bitter, resigned smile. Every one of the amber lights indicated a peephole. It was infuriating. Suppose someone had been watching me dress!

Cederic went to my wardrobe and dug into the top drawer, and came up with, to my embarrassment, a pair of undershorts. He removed the drawstring and tore them down the back seam, then into smaller pieces that he rolled up tight and fitted deep into the holes. Then he scribed more th’an, and the amber light flared again, this time giving off the scent of cinnamon. When I looked again, I saw that the cloth was now fused with the stone, completely blocking the holes. Cederic tossed the mutilated undershorts at me, and I set them on fire in midair so they came down in front of the window as nothing but black ash.

“I doubt anyone here knows those holes exist,” Cederic said, “but I thought you might feel more comfortable not worrying that someone might be watching you. Or listening to us.”

“How did you know about them?” I said.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I hypothesized their existence and then proved it in my own chamber. It is, by the way, the fourth door down the hall from yours.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Before we go, what do I need to know about the God-Empress? What should I expect?”

He put his hands behind his back and walked toward the door. “She is predisposed to like you,” he said. “Show her whatever magic she asks for. Whatever she offers you, accept and say it is an honor you do not deserve, but never decline a gift, because she will take it as refusing God’s bounty. You will know when she is pleased with herself; at those moments, admire her without sounding sycophantic. I think you will find that less difficult than it sounds, because the God-Empress is capable of great things. And she is not stupid, whatever else she may be.” He very carefully never uses the word “insane,” not since his conversation with Vorantor. “Above all, do not go out of your way to have contact with her. Every encounter is a chance she might change her mind about your…novelty, and there is the rare possibility that Denril’s insistence that you are needed for the kathana may not be enough to protect you.”

“Is it all right that I’m a little afraid?” I said.

“That shows how sensible you are,” Cederic said. “Now, follow me, and say nothing until you are spoken to.”

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 40

4 Lennitay, evening (continued)

The woman went a short distance down the hallway and stopped at the third door. “Again I apologize for the paucity of your accommodations,” she said, and pushed the door open for me. I went inside and nearly fainted. I have never seen anything so opulent, and I have stood in the King’s own antechamber and wondered which of his treasures I should take first while he slept in the next room. The flagstone floor, identical to that of the hallway outside, was covered with a thick maroon rug like the pelt of a very large, strangely colored bear. Glazed windows, their golden velvet drapes pulled back to admit the morning sun, looked out over the roofs and windows of the patchwork palace. A bed stood in one corner, covered in blankets that matched the rug and the drapes, with enough white pillows that I could have made a bed from them alone; four pillars at its corners supported a gauzy golden curtain that was currently pulled back and tied at each post. A dressing table made of the same mahogany as the bed, mahogany that would have cost a fortune in my world, stood next to a matching wardrobe large enough for me and Audryn and Sovrin to hide in together while we plotted tricks to play on the men. A mirror hung over the dressing table, and I don’t know why that struck me as a far greater luxury than any of the rest of the furniture, but I’ve never had a mirror that wasn’t cracked and certainly not one that could show me my entire body at once, supposing I cared to look.

There were more rugs scattered across the floor, and I went forward to open the wardrobe, because this all felt like a joke the God-Empress wanted to play on the otherworlder woman, and someone might be waiting inside to leap out and startle me. It was empty except for a few drawers and hangers. I didn’t have nearly enough to fill it, which was good—always travel light, that’s one of my many mottoes—but it made me feel awkward, as if they were giving me all of this because they think I’m more important than I am. I hope I’m not more important than I think I am.

“This will be adequate,” I managed to choke out, and the woman bowed and bobbed even more than before.

“Someone will call for you, when it is time for our audience,” Cederic said, and then he abandoned me—well, not really, but the woman closed the door and I was alone amid opulence I’m certain I don’t deserve. On the other hand…it is awfully nice, and the bed looked soft, not that I’d jump on it until I was out of these travel-stained clothes.

I jumped on it anyway. I’m not ashamed.

I practiced locking and unlocking the door with the pouvra—I noticed the woman didn’t give me a key, so it was important I learn to do that—and I took off my boots and jumped on the bed a little more, which is undignified in someone my age, I know, but I couldn’t resist, and then I sat around trying to decide what to do next. I thought about exploring, but I didn’t know when the God-Empress would call for us, and I didn’t want to miss that audience. So I put off exploring until I could do it when no one would expect me to be running around.

This book was nearly discovered when a couple of men entered my room without knocking. I shouted at them and explained at length about my customs (really, what is it about Castavirans that they don’t believe in waiting on an invitation?) and they bowed and groveled until I felt guilty. It turned out they came to measure me for my palace wardrobe. Wardrobe? Yes, wardrobe. Etiquette is very strict here in the palace, and while as I am an otherworlder it’s understood that my mistakes aren’t meant as a slight to the God-Empress, I’m still expected to make an effort. The men had armloads of clothing, most of it the same rich brocades and velvets Vorantor’s mages wear, and if I didn’t know the God-Empress was crazy, this and the mosaics would definitely confirm it, because brocade and velvet in this climate is insane. Even if the palace does have some kind of cooling system.

Anyway, they made me put on everything, and some things they discarded and others they fitted to me, and there was one long-skirted dress with full sleeves, made of linen, that they said was a pattern for my other dresses. Since they’d already fitted me with ten robes of varying lengths and trousers with wide legs like divided skirts, I’m not sure how many more dresses I need. At least they’re nothing I’d want to carry with me, because there’s no way I could manage that lot.

While I was being fitted, another servant came in with my bag and began putting my things away. Good thing I keep this diary on me, though I had to undress for some of the fittings and it was tricky keeping it hidden inside my discarded clothes. It’s too bad I’ve never had to do anything like that before. Hahahaha. This servant kept looking at me as if thinking “why does the otherworlder have so little?” and then he left and came back when the fitting was almost done with a box filled with all sorts of things: hairbrush and comb and hair clips, soaps and lotions, a file for my nails, and—this really shocked me—a flat box filled with jewelry. Not fake jewelry. They go in for cabochons rather than faceted stones, and they use more semiprecious stones like agates and jaspers, but the workmanship is incredible and some of the filigree work is far beyond anything my world has produced. And they just gave it to me. No one’s ever given me jewelry before; I’ve always had to steal it, and of course I never kept any of it because it was far more valuable in trade for books. It still shocks me.

I should stop if I want any time for exploring tonight. I didn’t realize how late it was. Cederic just came in to say good night. He also said, “I would tell you not to wander, but I realize that would be pointless,” and he’s right, because there’s no way I’m not going to investigate this palace. But I’ll have to write about that tomorrow. That, and seeing the God-Empress this afternoon. It was nothing like I expected.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 39

4 Lennitay, evening (continued)

It wasn’t completely dark, just really dim by comparison to the blindingly white buildings outside. The loenerel slid to a halt, though the collenna’s thumping continued, more quietly now that it wasn’t pulling anything, and Vorantor (we were all sitting in a couple of the senets filled with rows of seats) stood and went forward to the door, which is a thing that is hinged in the middle so it folds on itself, and opened it. It was almost like a ceremony, he and his mages looked so solemn, and they all remained seated while Cederic and our mages and I stepped out past Vorantor and into the chamber beyond. It was narrow, almost like a corridor, and low-ceilinged, and its shape looked as if it had been designed specifically for the loenerel. Cederic immediately began walking forward, which is to say toward the front of the loenerel, without waiting for Vorantor to catch up. We all followed him, me at the end of our little procession that had to go single file because the room (tunnel?) was that narrow. I kept close to Kaurin, who was immediately in front of me, and I would have held on to her robe if I’d dared, because the whole thing made me claustrophobic in a way the Darssan had not, even when I felt most oppressed by the weight of the mountain hanging over my head.

We came to a pair of double doors at the end of the tunnel, and Cederic pushed them open as if he had a perfect right to be here. I wished I had a good excuse to push past everyone and stand next to him, to have some idea of what to expect based on how he felt, but I guessed by how abruptly he was doing things, how rapidly he was moving, that he was trying to control his anger. I don’t blame him for being angry. Now that we were actually in the palace (or, rather, I assumed we were in the palace and not just wherever the loenerel could be stowed) it was nearly impossible not to remember why we were here, and the manner of our being brought here. I don’t think Cederic told any of our mages, the ones who came with us, what threats Vorantor had made—not something they needed to be burdened with, in my opinion, and not something they could do anything about. And I imagine all of them knew better than I did what kind of danger the God-Empress presented.

The double doors opened on a space even larger and taller than the cavern in the Darssan, and far more opulent. The walls were tiled with mosaics depicting all kinds of heroic deeds, again in colors that reminded me of jewels—a hero slaying a giant, another wrestling with a dragon, yet another holding back the tide from a city on the edge of the ocean. It took me a minute to work out what was wrong with the pictures, and then I couldn’t stop noticing it. All the mosaics appeared to be the work of a single hand, which was impressive—it must have taken a lifetime to create them, based on the size of the room—but the heroes’ faces had been put in by someone far less gifted, and they were all the same woman’s face. No doubt what had happened there, and whose face adorned each mosaic. If I hadn’t already been convinced of the God-Empress’s self-aggrandizing lunacy, this would have done it.

The floor was tiled with larger tesserae in gold and copper, making a pattern far too large for me to make out. Maybe if I could find a way up to the upper levels—there were four of them, all with balconies that had nothing but a single protective rail keeping an observer from plummeting to a painful, skull-cracking death. I saw no stairs, but five dark openings spaced evenly around the room separated the mosaics from one another, the one we’d entered by making a sixth. The room was completely empty except for us. Cederic walked toward the center of the room—no, I’m certain that, since he’s Sai Aleynten, it was the exact center of the room, and now I can say that out of admiration and not annoyance—and stood with his arms folded across his chest, waiting. After a minute or two in which the rest of us became increasingly nervous and fidgety, a woman emerged from the dark opening directly ahead of us, walking rapidly, her hand closed in a fist over her throat. She managed to bow, a sort of rapid bobbing of her head, as she walked, and as she neared us I could tell she was terrified and trying not to show it. “We apologize, Kilios, a thousand apologies. Someone was meant to meet you—Kilios, please forgive—”

“We require accommodations and the wherewithal to wash after our long journey,” Cederic said. His cold tone of voice made me shiver. The woman bobbed even more rapidly and waved her hands in the direction of one of the other alcoves. Cederic allowed her to precede him; everyone else followed in a line, with me again at the rear.

Now that I know that the palace has been built and rebuilt over the years, with sections being shut off and others rediscovered (literally; there have been rooms no one even remembered until a God-Emperor’s building project uncovered them), I can understand why the woman led us in such a circuitous route. I’ve had years of experience in remembering my way out of homes and castles made to thwart thieves like me, and even I couldn’t remember the path we took. I’ll have to do some exploring later tonight. At the time, I thought she was trying to confuse us, possibly in retribution for how rude Cederic was. But the servants here all seem thoroughly cowed, and while I don’t know why they called Cederic Kilios, and I still don’t know what it means, they definitely venerate him. And they’re uncomfortably terrified around me. I have yet to make one of them look me in the eye. How that reconciles with my suspicion that someone is spying on us, I don’t know, except that it’s unlikely all the God-Empress’s servants are this spineless.

The woman brought us through some narrow passages that smelled damp, which I thought was strange given how arid Colosse is in general. Then we went up a fairly steep ramp into a wider corridor made of yellow bricks twice the size of my head, lined with doors on both sides. The doors were made of the same metal the ones in the Darssan were, and none of them had locks, which made me less nervous than if they had locks that could only be locked from the outside, but not by much. The woman, bowing again (she’d stopped briefly while we were in the narrow corridor), opened the first door and said, “Please accept the God-Empress’s hospitality during your stay,” and beckoned to Sovrin, who was at the head of the line, to enter. Sovrin glanced at Cederic, who nodded just a tiny bit, and she went into the room and closed the door. I just had time to wonder how they’d get our things to us when the woman moved on to the next door and repeated the ritual for Jaemis. Ultimately, everyone got a room to him- or herself, until it was just me and Cederic left with the woman. Cederic still looked like a statue. I probably looked confused. The woman went through a doorway at the end of the corridor, where there were stairs leading up, and said, as we climbed and climbed, “Otherworlder, we have nothing that befits your status, I hope you will forgive our inhospitality, we will put you in the wing with the Sais, I hope that is acceptable,” and we came out of the stairwell into a long, broad hallway paved with giant gray flagstones that had a roof open to the outside, made of metal grilles that made diamond patterns of shadow and light on the floor. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the wasteland, but the air was very dry and smelled of dust and, more distantly, of magic. Doors more widely spaced than the ones where my friends had been housed, these made of new, planed wood and bearing shining steel plates with locks by the doorknobs, stood along both walls of the corridor. I wanted to run down the hall and see what was at the other end, but that would probably have given the servant woman a heart attack, so I decided to save that for later. I have a lot of plans for later.

to be continued

Sesskia’s Diary, part 38

4 Lennitay, evening

This is how paranoid I am: There is a perfect little niche in the wall of my bedroom, behind the headboard of my bed, that my book fits into exactly. And that’s why I’m not using it. I’d bet hard money, if I had any, that someone in the palace knows every single hidey-hole there is in every single room, and I’d bet even more of that nonexistent money that someone’s searched my room since we arrived this morning. So I continue to keep my book and pencil on my person, and keep it under my pillow at night, because it’s the last thing I have of my world and losing it would devastate me.

Colosse isn’t as big as I imagined, smaller than Venetry, probably, and not as sprawling as Thalessa, but it’s impressive in a way neither of them ever dreamed of being. I don’t know if it’s how white the walls are, or how all the lines and angles are so exact, but it looks so clean I wonder that anyone can bear to live in it. Audryn, who comes from Colosse, says that no animals are allowed within its city limits, as per orders of the God-Empress. (I’ve decided to start calling her that even in the privacy of this book, so I won’t slip up when I’m speaking of her or, horribly, to her.) So there’s no shit in the streets and no smells of warm animal bodies. What kind of stink the humans make is something I haven’t discovered, as the loenerel came straight through the city and inside the palace to unload us, so I’ve only seen a little of Colosse so far and nothing up close. But I saw lots of people walking, and some riding in bearer-borne chairs that in my world would only be used by the very wealthy, and there were some little wheeled carts that fit two passengers while a third person pulled it. Audryn also said that machines like very small versions of the collenna are becoming popular among the upper classes, but their th’an are so small and intricate it takes a lot of practice to learn how to operate one. I’m guessing the God-Empress has one of her own, but big enough that someone can drive her around in it. It fits what little I know of her.

What else did I observe about Colosse: it sits athwart what Castavirans call the Coell River but in my world is the Myrnala. (I think it’s Coell, with the long ‘o’, but some people pronounce it as ‘call’, and I’m going with Audryn’s pronunciation, since she’s actually from here). The loenerel crossed it at one point, and it was the strangest feeling, because the Myrnala is so much greener and slower and it bears no resemblance to the Coell; I only know the two are the same, or at least in the same place, because I saw it on the overlapping maps. This whole region is much drier and hotter than the corresponding places in my world, particularly that wasteland surrounding the Darssan, which in my world is nothing but grassy plains and a few very unwelcoming settlements. If Colosse is always this arid, the seasons might not even correspond. We ought to be heading into fall, by my reckoning—I’ll have to ask Audryn or someone what time of year this is. Either way, I’m not changing the dates in this book.

I feel as if I keep getting distracted. Well, Colosse was a distraction, a distraction from worrying about the God-Empress and what Vorantor might want from me and whether or not Cederic would be able to prove himself right. It might not be as big as Venetry, but it’s still pretty damn big, and blindingly white in the sun because they surface all their buildings with white plaster or white marble, depending on the wealth of the owner. The roofs are like jewels in the sun, all different colors that don’t come from paint but from this huge variety of slate that either comes from the nearby mines or is imported from elsewhere. I learned that the color of a roof represents some kind of religious allegiance. They all worship the same God, but their God has so many traits that people here adopt one and let it define their lives. For example, someone might value Truth above all else, and they’d put a blue roof on their home and be known for always seeking for truth, however uncomfortable that might be. Not that someone who valued Strength couldn’t be trusted to be truthful, and a seeker for Truth might not always be totally honest, it’s just that Strength or Truth would be what drives that person. And it’s still true that you can count on an adherent of a particular virtue to behave in certain ways, because they see that virtue as an important aspect of who they are. To me, it seems a little like bragging about how truthful or strong or generous you are, but Audryn also implied that someone not adhering to the principles of their adopted virtue can be charged with impiety in front of the God-Empress, who probably doesn’t appreciate people treating her (as avatar of their God) with such disrespect. One more reason not to declare one’s allegiance, I’d think.

Anyway, what with the colored roofs, Colosse looks like a pile of gems snuggled up against the banks of the river, but with the white walls and the wide, paved roads that are perfectly regular, it also looks a little like a model city, something built by a giant and left behind when she went home for supper. Even though I could see all the foot traffic, the loenerel is nearly soundproof and what noise it lets pass is muffled by the noise of its wheels and the thumping of the collenna, and the silence made the city seem even more like a toy, with people being made to move by that giant’s pouvra. It was almost a relief to roll through the big, square opening in the side of the palace and into the darkness beyond.

to be continued