Jasper's next dream was a dream of names, a dream of a voice and the shattered pieces of many half-remembered triumphs, of the voices of servants and of his brethren in the Sun, a dream of empty mansions.
...crane, hungry, watching a lake. There were no fish in the lake, only crane after crane after crane.
...hope that you enjoy this gift, Sarai of the Roseate Fist, that we offer you, Your Glory; she is the best of us, trained for thirty years at the House of Stars and Tears, until at an examination her mastery of the Lily Petal Caressing Hand so shamed the masters of that school that they have closed it for a century, to refine their arts...
---The way to enlightenment is the way of secrets, the way of using what you know to understand what others know not---
...in the silence of the tombs his heart thudded profoundly; with each beat his Caste mark flared and beat back the darkness.
I am sorry to inform you, Master Hhatay, that your sword was shattered as it was brought to you in state, please have...
...she humbly apologizes for the jewel full of dreams...
...cut his head open to let the beauty out, he had to, it was pressing on his skull, the beauty had turned to pain.
...seemed like it passed through me, that the sword was forgotten and only I remained...
...red door slammed and he stood there, unable to understand...why had she closed her door and her...
...it seemed like the air turned to steel...
...cannot do this! You have no right...
Usmed shouted angrily, "Where are the statues? They're late. When their performance is complete, have each of them whipped to dea---
...deep into your heart, and draw forth the sword that burns there...
...the arrow is a bird, make the target its chick...
In the several days that they had been travelling, the heat had not abated, though it had rained. Oh, the way it had rained. The birds still huddled under the shelter of trees, reluctant to take to the air for fear an unseen downpour would pelt them out of the sky.
Now, in the humid heat, Dellano was showing his discomfort, and Mahi-Sura was taking increasingly frequent sojourns into the leafy gloom, and returning with fierce looks and dark streaks on her face, and slitted pupils that shied away from the light of the path. She seemed almost frighteningly energetic to Jasper; her reaction to heat still unnerved him after all the time they had spent together. Dellano's men began to give her a wider and wider berth as they noticed the inhuman energy she carried herself with in the smothering warmth.
"The horses seem to be doing well," Dellano observed to no one in particular. They were, indeed, surprisingly energetic, though not unnaturally so, and none of them had thrown a shoe since the trip began.
"I suppose so," mentioned Jasper. The two men lapsed into silence.
Some time later, Jasper ventured, "You seem to be really confident about where we're going."
"I'm good with maps," Dellano replied. He hadn't opened the ivory case hung from his saddlehorn in some days now.
"Could you teach me a little about it?"
In the dream, he stands with Hhatay, and they practice their weapon forms. Blade and shaft of orichalque sweep great loops around two blades of glass. Around them, it rains in great pearl droplets. Water flies off the tips of their blades.
"They are only things." Clang. Clash.
Whirl. Counter, kick, step. "That's what Sarai said."
"She is wiser by far than I." He does not pause in his motions: parry, step, strike. Now light your movements with will - the Sunlight-Piercing-Clouds Posture flows naturally into the Forest Floor Scattered Shadows Stance - the practice arena fills with light. "Do you know where she is?"
"The papyrus god told me how to follow her." Hhatay raised an eyebrow. Advance, cut, retreat, redouble. "He didn't want to."
Spin. Leap. Dive. "Then perhaps you should have reconsidered your question."\
The heat and the rain had not abated. Dellano had halted the party for a midday break; he was sprawled beneath a tree when a black-and-silver shape appeared out of the woods. "Dellano, can I speak to you?" The blur of scales twisted into Mahi-Sura's generous curves.
Feeling uncomfortably like he had been in this situation before, Dellano stood up. "Of course."
"Do you remember that idol we passed by an hour or so ago? The latticework crocodile?" She shifted uneasily from foot to foot.
"Yes. But you weren't with us at the time. Herb-gathering?" Mahi-Sura nodded at this. "What about the crocodile?"
"You didn't stop to look at it again." Dellano shook his head.
"Perhaps you should have, Dellano Rift. It turned its head to watch your passing...and I swear on the tattoos that shape me that it did the same to me."
The Warden of Jade was fond of his Convention's semi-private garden. It was a place where he could take shelter from the clamor of Yu-Shan, consult with his verdant secretaries, and simply bask in artistry. The necessity of keeping the Chronicler of Thunders here troubled him. The contamination of her Essence was beginning to be reflected in the garden - the ivory of the pavilion had already begun to yellow and crack, and he was sure that before long the colours of his koi would begin to degrade.
The Chronicler, too, was deeply uncomfortable, and for this the Warden was aggrieved. She had stopped pacing her enclosure; like a tiger growing accustomed to captivity, she had begun to retreat and to try and mark the place as her own, though she noticed it not. "I wish to perform calligraphy," she had declared in the morning, and in the intervening hours she had festooned several columns with scrolls telling instructive tales: The Princess and the Perfect Darkness, The Tale of the Uncrownèd Prince, and crumpled, discarded pieces were scattered in the grass around her. He had watched her write many of these. Single characters, they were: Spear, Quiver, Sword. The Chronicler was an excellent calligrapher.
Many hours had passed when the Warden of Jade was aroused from his musings by a familiar voice cursing his name. The man turned, and flashed a wry smile at his fellow Chosen. "Dirt and Iron, isn't it?" He remarked with a twinkle in his eye. "How is the audit going?"
The younger Sidereal's face flushed with anger. "How did you arrange this? Tell me, or so help me, you will feel the wrath of my superiors."
The Warden's face softened into pity. "Don't worry, son. Some day, you will rise high enough in that self-aggrandized hierarchy known as the Bronze Faction to be able to threaten your own wrath." There was a pause of stony silence before Warden of Jade continued, his voice coloring with Essence. "It was simple, really. I haven't had much to spend my ambrosia on lately, so I gave a whole big heap of it to just the right person. Now you'll be lucky to get out of this without a collar."
Dirt and Iron snorted derisively. "Enough with your sarcasm." He glanced over to where the Chronicler sat beneath a tree, perfectly still, her eyes closed. "Is she sleeping?"
"She might be. Or she could be meditating. I do not presume to understand such a creature." A smirk twitched at the corner of his mouth. "Nor do I presume I could control her."
"That is because you lack vision, old man. My masters are more powerful than you could possibly believe."
At that, Warden of Jade barked a short laugh. "Of course I could, son; I went through training with half of 'em." He lapsed into silence for another long moment as he stared at Allandra. Finally, he turned to face Dirt and Iron head-on.
"Of course, what do I know? I'm just an old man. But tell me this, Dust and Iron--"
"Dirt and Iron," he snapped petulantly.
"Recall with me her iron-willed superiority, her instinctive knowledge that she is a goddess among worms. Her total assurance that she is a deadly machine, chosen by her god for one totality of purpose." He began to walk away, and then paused for a moment-- flashing Dirt and Iron a smile that did not reach his eyes.
"Tell me, son-- when did you give her those memories?"
The Warden walked off, and did not look back to see the look on the younger Sidereal's face-- as if he had suddenly taken ill.
Jasper climbed out of the river - it was much cooler at night - and slipped his boots back on. Still wet, he decided not to put his shirt back on for the moment; he tucked it into his waistband and headed back to camp, where Dellano had built some kind of fire that repelled the area's impressive insect population. The column of blue smoke it produced floated straight up into the overcast sky. Jasper addressed the man on watch.
"I don't know what's wrong with me, I really don't. Every time I get close to a woman, I do something...horrible. I can't believe I said what I did to Mahi-Sura. And she still speaks to me! She is a better woman than I."
The watchman grunted awkwardly.
"Isn't your shift just ending? I can relieve you."
The man stood up and smiled. He didn't speak before disappearing into his tent.
Jasper watched the smoke and the clouds. He had been watching the path. He knew where he was, and what he would do. But first, he had to do something else. Finding a large, flat leaf and a stylus, he crouched beside Mahi-Sura's tent.