Silence followed. Distantly, he could hear the wounded sobbing, and half-demolished walls going to rubble, but he was encircled by a hush that was almost reverential. Somebody dropped to his knees nearby, to tend, he thought, to one of the wounded. Then he heard the hallelujahs the man was uttering and saw his hands reaching up towards him. Another of the crowd followed suit, and then another, as though this scene of their deliverance was a sign they’d been waiting for and a long-suppressed flood of devotion was breaking from each of their hearts.
Sickened, Gentle turned his gaze away from their grateful faces, up the dusty length of Lickerish Street. He had only one ambition now: to find Pie and take comfort from this insanity in the mystif s arms. He broke from his ring of devotees and started up the street, ignoring their clinging hands and cries of adoration. He wanted to berate them for their naivete, but what good would that do? Any pronouncement he made now, however self-deprecatory, would probably be taken as the jotting for some gospel. Instead he kept his silence and picked his way over the stones and corpses, his head down, The hosannas followed him, but he didn’t once acknowledge them, knowing even as he went that his reluctance might seem like divine humility, but unable to escape the trap circumstance had set.
The wasteland at the head of the street was as daunting as ever, but he started across it not caring what fires might come. Its terrors were nothing beside the memory of Huz-zah’s scrap, twitching in the muck, or the hallelujahs he could still hear behind him, raised in ignorance of the fact that he—the savior of Lickerish Street—was also its destroyer, but no less tempting for that.
Every trace of the joy that the vast halls of the chianculi had once seen—no clowns or ponies, but circuses such as any showman in the Fifth would have wept to own—had gone. The echoing halls had become places of mourning and of judgment. Today, the accused was the mystif Pie ‘oh’ pah; its accuser one of the few lawyers in Yzordderrex the Autarch’s purges had left alive, an asthmatic and pinched individual called Thes ‘reh’ ot. He had an audience of two for his prosecution—Pie ‘oh’ pah, and the judge-but he delivered his litany of crimes as if the hall were full to the rafters. The mystif was guilty enough to warrant a dozen executions, he said. It was at very least a traitor and coward, but probably also an informant and a spy. Worse, perhaps, it had abandoned this Dominion for another without the consent of its family or its teachers, denying its people the benefit of its rarity. Had it forgotten in its arrogance that its condition was sacred, and that to prostitute itself in another world (the Fifth, of all places, a mire of unmiracu-lous souls!) was not only a sin upon itself but upon its species? It had gone from this place clean and dared to return debauched and corrupted, bringing a creature of the Fifth with it and then freely confessing that said creature was its husband.
Pie had expected to be met with some recriminations upon return—the memories of Eurhetemec were long, and they clung strongly to tradition as the only contact they had with the First Dominion—but the vehemence of this catalogue was still astonishing. The judge, Culus ‘su’ erai, was a woman of great age but diminished physique, who sat bundled in robes as colorless as her skin, listening to the litany of accusations without once looking at either accuser or accused. When Thes ‘reh’ ot had finished, she offered the mystif the chance to defend itself, and it did what it could.
“I admit I’ve made many errors,” Pie said. “Not least leaving my family—and my people were my family—without telling them where I was going or why. But the simple fact is: I didn’t know. I fully intended to return, after maybe a year or so. I thought it’d be fine to have traveler’s tales to tell. Now, when I finally return, I find there’s nobody to tell them to.”