The mystif covered its face with its hands, but Culus didn’t spare it the rest of her report.
“Two other mystifs survived the purges,” she went on, “until just a year ago. One was murdered here in the chian-cula, while it was healing a child. The other went into the desert—the Dearth are there, at the edge of the First, and the Autarch’s troops don’t like to go so near to the Erasure—but they caught up with it before it reached the tents. They brought its body back and hung it on the gates.”
She stepped down from her chair and approached Pie, who was sobbing now.
“So you see, it may be that you did the right thing for the wrong reasons. If you’d stayed you’d be dead by now.” “Ma’am, I protest,” Thes ‘reh’ ot said. “What would you prefer 1 did?” Culus said. “Add this foolish creature’s blood to the sea already spilt? No. Better we try and turn its taint to our advantage.” Pie looked up, puzzled.
“Perhaps we’ve been too pure. Too predictable. Our stratagems foreseen, our plots easily uncovered. But you’re from another world, mystif, and maybe that makes you potent.’1 She paused for breath. Then she said, “This is my judgment. Take whomsoever you can find among our number and use your tainted ways to murder our enemy. If none will go with you, go alone. But don’t return here, mystif, while the Autarch is still breathing.”
Thes ‘reh’ ot let out a laugh that rang around the chamber. “Perfect!” he said. “Perfect!”
“I’m glad my judgment amuses you,” Culus replied. “Remove yourself, Thes ‘reh’ ot.” He made to protest but she brought forth such a shout he flinched as if struck. “I said, remove yourself!”
The laughter fell from his face. He made a small formal bow, murmuring some chilly words of parting as he did so, and left the chamber. She watched him go.
“We have all become cruel,” she said. “You in your way. Us in ours.” She looked back at Pie ‘oh* pah. “Do you know why he laughed, mystif?”
“Because he thinks your judgment is execution by another name?”
“Yes, that’s precisely what he thinks. And, who knows, perhaps that’s what it is. But this may be the last night of the Dominion, and last things have power tonight they never had before.”
“And I’m a last thing.”
“Yes, you are.”
The mystif nodded. “I understand,” it said. “And it seems just.”
“Good,” she said. Though the trial was over, neither moved. “You have a question?” Culus asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“Better ask it now.”
“Do you know if a shaman called Arae ‘ke’ gei is still alive?”
Culus made a little smile. “I wondered when you’d get to him,” she said. “He was one of the survivors of the Reconciliation, wasn’t he?”
“I didn’t know him that well, but I heard him speak of you. He held on to life long after most people would have given up, because he said you’d come back eventually. He didn’t realize you were bound to your Maestro, of course.”
She said all this disingenuously, but there was a penetrating look in her rheumy eyes throughout.
“Why didn’t you come back, mystif?” she said. “And don’t spin me some story about jurisdiction. You could have slipped your bondage if you’d put your mind to it, especially in the confusion after the failure of the Reconciliation. But you didn’t- You chose to stay with your wretched Sartori, even though members of your own tribe had been victims of his ineptitude.”
“He was a broken man. And I was more than his familiar, I was his friend. How could 1 leave him?”
“That’s not all,” Culus said. She’d been a judge too long to let such simplifications pass unchallenged. “What else, mystif? This is the night of last things, remember. Tell it now or run the risk of not telling it at all.”
“Very well,” said Pie. “I always nurtured the hope that there would be another attempt at Reconciliation. And I wasn’t the only one who nurtured such a hope.”
“Arae ‘ke’ gei indulged it too, huh?”
“Yes, he did.”
“So that’s why he kept your name alive. And himself too, waiting for you to come back.” She shook her head. “Why do you wallow in these fantasies? There’ll be no Reconciliation. If anything, it’ll be the other way about. The Imajica’ll come apart at the seams, and every Dominion will be sealed up in its own little misery.”