Tonight would tell, Jude promised herself. Tonight she’d find some way to intercept Quaisoir as she went to meet her angel-dispatching lover, and before another day had gone by Jude would know whether she’d been brought from the Fifth to be a sister or a scapegoat.
GENTLE DID AS HE’D PROMISED PIE, and stayed with Huzzah at the cafe where they’d breakfasted until the comet’s arc took it behind the mountain and the light of day gave way to twilight. Doing so tried not only his patience but his nerve, because as the afternoon wore on the unrest from the lower Kesparates spread up through the streets, and it became increasingly apparent that the establishment would stand in the middle of a battlefield by evening. Party by party, the customers vacated their tables as the sound of rioting and gunfire crept closer. A slow rain of smuts began to fall, spiraling from a sky which was intermittently darkened now by smoke rising from the burning Kesparates.
As the first wounded began to be carried up the street, indicating that the field of action was now very near, the owners of several nearby shops gathered in the cafe for a short council, debating, presumably, the best way to defend their property. It ended in accusation, the insults an education to both Gentle and Huzzah. Two of the owners returned with weapons a few minutes later, at which point the manager, who introduced himself as Bunyan Blew, asked Gentle if he and his daughter didn’t have a home to go to. Gentle replied that they had promised to meet somebody here earlier in the day, and they would be most obliged if they could remain until their friend arrived.
“I remember you,” Blew replied. “You came in this morning, didn’t you, with a woman?” “That’s who we’re waiting for.” “She put me in mind of somebody I used to know,” Blew said. “I hope she’s safe out there.” “So do we,” Gentle replied.
“You’d better stay then. But you’ll have to lend me a hand barricading the place.”
Bunyan explained that he’d known this was going to happen sooner or later and was prepared for the eventuality. There were timbers to nail over the windows, and a supply of small arms should the mob try to loot his shelves.
In fact, his precautions proved unnecessary. The street became a conduit for ferrying the wounded army from the combat zone, which was moving up the hill one street east of the cafe. There were two nerve-racking hours, however, when the din of shouting and gunfire was coming from all compass points, and the bottles on Slew’s shelves tinkled every time the ground shook, which was often. One of the shopkeepers who’d left in high dudgeon earlier came beating at the door during this siege, and stumbled over the threshold with blood streaming from his head and tales of destruction from his mouth. The army had called up heavy artillery in the last hour, he reported, and it had practically leveled the harbor and rendered the causeway impassable, thereby effectively sealing the city. This was all part of the Autarch’s plan, he said. Why else were whole neighborhoods being allowed to burn unchecked? The Autarch was leaving the city to consume its own citizens, knowing the conflagration would not be able to break the palace walls.
“He’s going to let the mob destroy the city,” the man went on, “and he doesn’t care what happens to us in the meantime. Selfish bastard! We’re all going to burn, and he’s not going to lift a finger to help us!”
This scenario certainly fitted the facts. When, at Gentle’s suggestion, they went up onto the roof to get a better view of the situation, it seemed to be exactly as described. The ocean was obliterated by a wall of smoke climbing from the embers of the harbor; further flame-shot columns rose from two dozen neighborhoods, near and far; and through the dirty heat coming off the Oke T’Noon’s pyre the causeway was just visible, its rubble damming the delta. Clogged by smoke, the comet shed a diminished light on the city, and even that was fading as the long twilight deepened.