Demanding directions as he went, usually from wounded men, Gentle took several hours to get from the hosannas of Lickerish Street to the mystif s Kesparate, during which period the city’s decline into chaos quickened, so that he went half expecting that the streets of straight houses and blossom-clad trees would be ashes and rubble by the time he arrived. But when he finally came to the city-within-a-city he found it untouched by looters or demolishers, either because they knew there was little of worth to them here or— more likely—because the lingering superstition about a people who’d once occupied the Unbeheld’s Dominion kept them from doing their worst.
Entering, he went first to the chiancula, prepared to do whatever was necessary—threaten, beg, cajole—in order to be returned into the mystif s company. The chiancula and all the adjacent buildings were deserted, however, so he began a systematic search of the streets. They, like the chiancula, were empty, and as his desperation grew his discretion fled, until he was shouting Pie’s name to the empty streets like a midnight drunkard.
Eventually, these tactics earned him a response. One of the quartet who’d appeared to offer such chilly welcome when he’d first come here appeared: the mustached young man. His robes were not held between his teeth this time, and when he spoke he deigned to do so in English. But the lethal ribbon still fluttered in his hands, its threat undisguised.“You came back,” he said.
“Where’s the girl child?”
“Dead. Where’s Pie?”
“You seem different.”
“I am. Where’s Pie?”
“Not here.” “Where then?”
“The mystif s gone up to the palace,” the man replied. “Why?”
“That was the judgment upon it.” “Just to go?” Gentle said, taking a step towards the man. “There must have been more to-it than that.”
Though the silk sword protected the man, Gentle came with a burden of power that beggared his own, and sensing this he answered less obliquely.
“The judgment was that it kill the Autarch,” he said. “So it’s been sent up there alone?” “No. It took some of our tribe with it and left a few of us to guard the Kesparate.”
“How long ago since they went?” “Not very long. But you won’t get into the palace. Neither will they. It’s suicide.”
Gentle didn’t linger to argue but headed back towards the entrance, leaving the man to guard the blossoms and the empty streets. As he approached the gate, however, he saw that two individuals, a man and a woman, had just entered and were looking his way. Both were naked from the waist up, their throats painted with the blue triple stripe he remembered from the siege at the harbor, marking them as members of the Dearth. At his approach, both acknowledged him by putting palm to palm and inclining their heads. The woman was half as big again as her companion, her body a glorious machine, her head—shaved but for a ponytail—set on a neck wider than her cranium and, like her arms and belly, so elaborately muscled the merest twitch was a spectacle.
“I said he’d be here!” she told the world. “I don’t know what you want,” he said, “but I can’t supply it.”
“You are John Furie Zacharias?”
“Then you have to come. Please. Father Athanasius sent us to find you. We heard what happened on Lickerish Street, and we knew it had to be you. I’m Nikaetomaas,” the woman said. “This is Roccus Dado. We’ve been waiting for you since Estabrook arrived.”
“Estabrook?” said Gentle. There was a man he hadn’t given a thought to in many a month. “How do you know him?”
“We found him in the street. We thought he was the one. But he wasn’t. He knew nothing.”
“And you think I do?” Gentle said, exasperated. “Let me tell you, I know fuck-all! I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m not your man.”
“That’s what Father Athanasius said. He said you were in ignorance—”
“Well, he was right.”
“But you married the mystif.”
“So what?” said Gentle. “I love it, and I don’t care who knows it.”
“We realize that,” Nikaetomaas said, as though nothing could have been plainer. “That’s how we tracked you.”