Ecliptor first pages

Part Nine: The Hunter

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Chapter Sixty One: A World in Ruins

She lay beside him in the night, half entwined with him. They had pushed the beds together firmly, so that there was no chance of slipping into the crack between them. She was happier than she could remember ever being, physically relaxed and content, linked so closely to Tondorre that she could almost share his mind. Almost. Close enough.

They were together, committed to each other, and would not have to say goodbye. They would be going together —

But not home. Not his home, or her home, or a new home they would build together, but back to the pursuit of her enemy, of their enemy, back to conflict and danger in some strange place.

She could not give it up. No matter how much she wanted to stay here, or anywhere domestic, there was too much invested in her. Her happiness and content became tinged with regret. She could take him home where he could help her run the bookstore. Or she could go with him off on his minor adventures until they found a place that suited them. Or she could accept her responsibility. There wasn’t any question, really.

He pulled back from her a little, just enough so he could see her face. He was as aware of her conflict and uncertainty, as she was of his concern for her, and was subtly anxiousness that he might somehow be at fault. His eyes searched her face and he said, “Are you all right?”

It took her a few seconds to find her answer. “We have to go on.” 

He put his hand on her cheek, then brushed her hair off her forehead. “I know.”

Her happiness became sorrow. “I don’t want to.”

He kissed her forehead, the tip of her nose, her lips. “I know.”

He pulled back again so they could see each other more easily. He was so beautiful. 

“We could die,” she said.

“I know. Once I make up my mind I don’t think about it. It’s part of the deal. But could you go back home now, knowing that there’s another Arkenome out there, doing terrible things to people? It would break you.”

She untangled herself from him and rolled onto her back, then onto her other side. He stayed with her as only a lover could. After three heartbeats he put his hand on her waist. She liked that. He touched her self with his self, and she liked that too, so much that it almost hurt. “It would. I have to go.”

“And I’m going with you. You don’t have to go alone. Whatever happens, I’ll be with you.”

She sat up on the edge of the bed. There was just enough to light let her see the room. She knew that Tondorre was looking at her back, and liking what he saw. Some of it was erotic. Much of it was aesthetic, a masculine appreciation unfamiliar to her. But most of it was affection. She would do almost anything to save him from fear and strangeness and pain, except abandon her obligation. He knew that, and he was with her on that, and he supported her completely.

Everything would be different now. “Come with me,” she said. 

She let herself become aware of the greater reality, timeless, dimensionless, a meaningless context for everything that had meaning. She gave him a subjective moment to perceive it as it was. He didn’t understand it any more than she did, though he had been into it with her. That was okay. She chose a metaphor, something not completely incomprehensible, something they could talk about and work with together.

It was a weave of all that was, long strands and short, twisted, or knotted, or just crossing, or not touching at all. She chose another metaphor, a vast structure of places and the pathways between them, platforms and walkways, with a center and an outside. Or another, a white space plane, the intersection of what was, with what was not. Or a new image, the growing face of a crystal, of a vast but surprisingly not infinite number of crystals, each face the present of a different world. Or it was a sea of possibility, out of which grew the worlds of mundane reality. Looked at this way, she saw that her own world was so close to this one that she could almost reach out and touch it. 

It makes me feel so small, was his unspoken thought.

Everything is small compared to this. Even worlds as vast as yours and mine are mere specks of dust in all of this. But we are a part of the pattern, and worlds like ours give it meaning.

Their perception had nothing to do with the senses. It was all an intellectual construct, a product of the imagination that was, nonetheless, absolutely real. They did not hang in a void. She was sitting on a bed, and he was lying beside her. There was no darkness, no light, no direction, only existence. Time did not flow, it grew, and her perception in the mundane world was only of the growing tip.

Everything was different now. Tondorre was so close that they all but overlapped, sharing awareness, almost sharing thought as they could not do in a mundane reality, even as closely linked as they were. He was sorting things out, keeping her metaphors distinct from each other, finding a way to see that they were all true at the same time. And he could do it, even as he clung to her. 

He wasn’t clinging, he was protecting her. It surprised her, and it pleased her. She was protecting him too, and he knew that. She was the hero, and he was her companion. He was with her, not she with him. In time they would be equally with each other, each with their own strengths, their perceptions, their senses and abilities, protecting each other while she did what she had to do.

Right now what she had to do was find and get to the being called Diapollion, who styled itself the Ecliptor. That was all they knew. They had no hint of what Diapollion was, or where to look for him in the vastness of the greater reality, or which metaphor would serve them best. But they, she, had to start somewhere. 

She thought of the evil she had known, the Arkenomes and the would-be Arkenomes, and the evil beings who did not need or use such appellations. Just plain people most of them, perverted by their cravings or their weaknesses, exploited by a greater power which seemed to have no power of its own in the mundane. It had to seduce and pervert a mortal for it to be its hands. 

She had believed that there was just one Arkenome at a time, but perhaps she had dealt with only the most dangerous at the moment. The thought of a multitude of incompetent Arkenomes, fumbling their way to an evil they could never achieve, was laughable. Tondorre did laugh at it. It had to be just one at a time. That was a severe limitation. But it was like saying a freight locomotive was limited to having only two hundred cars of iron ore, and having to stay on the tracks. If you were standing in front of it as it bore down on you at ninety miles an hour, its limitations were meaningless.

Her guide had never actually touched the physical world. It had touched her mind, ever so lightly, had showed her how to do whatever needed doing. Or at least it had given her hints. How many other people could have been touched in that same way? How many had the same latent abilities? What made her different from all those other people? Even that first fall through her back yard into the cavern of blue flames must have been something she had done herself. If Diapollion was like her guide, then how would she ever find him, or her, or it, except by working through an Arkenome?

She knew of no higher order beings who could help her. Even Gedeon, a far greater being than those paltry authors of evil, could not do what she could, else there would have been no crisis in the wither. She looked for him and felt him, not in one place but in the whole of reality. He wasn’t a creator, he was a guardian, of the principle of life, and of the death which was a part of life. He was helpless against what her enemy was doing.

She pulled back. Gedeon was too vast to be comprehended, and Tondorre had had no experiences to prepare him for such a being. Jeanette showed him where, inside herself, Gedeon had touched her that one time, and how, because of her, Gedeon was aware of him, and offered him, too, what protection he could. It wouldn’t be much.

Where was her guide? What was her guide? Nothing like Gedeon. She was connected to her guide through the black ring, a connection of which she was almost never aware. She could follow that connection back — except that she couldn’t, not now, she was not ready for that. There were secrets she would uncover eventually, but not now.

She looked for and found her companions, and those who were nearly her companions and, if she really worked at it, other people whom she had known, all out of context, like a dim photograph of scattered people, but with no background. Some of the people were those who were important to Tondorre in that special way, of which he had been aware only emotionally. She felt his yearning to see them again, and his acceptance that he almost certainly never would.

They were so few of those special people, of whatever kind or degree, compared to the vast but not infinite number of those whom they had never known, corporeal or spiritual. The Ecliptor was among them, but which one? That, of course, was the problem to be solved. But not tonight.

She looked down at Tondorre, rather exotic, attractive to her beyond any meaning of that word. He looked back at her with an expression only she could see, that told her far more than words. She leaned down and kissed him, softly affectionate, only hinting at passion, and he kissed her back the same way. Then she lay down beside him so that her head rested on the hollow of his shoulder.

“Can we actually do this?” he asked. Then, “Can I say that? We?”

“We can say that,” she said. She put her arm across his chest, and let the present reality fade into sleep.


They woke early but did not get up right away. They did not intrude on each other in the water closet. They watched each other dress but they did not stare. Jeanette very much liked to look at Tondorre, and knew that he liked to look at her, and she liked it when he did. 

She watched him shave. He brought a bowl of water into the bedroom, where the light was better, and set it down on a night table. He sat on the bed, took a small package of oiled silk from his kit, unwrapped a bar of soap, wet it, and rubbed it over his cheeks and throat. He held a mirror as big as his palm in one hand, and with the other he used a little straight razor, its blade barely an inch long. When the skin of his cheeks and throat were as smooth as he wanted them to be, he used a small comb on his beard and mustache, then a small scissors to trim off anything that was too long. The whole process took only fifteen minutes or so.

They packed up their things and went down to the main hall. Jeanette had the Tash Griaf on her back, but carried the sword belt and scabbard in her hand.

Sufake Fumumesa was already there, eating breakfast. He looked up as they came in and gestured to the table. Jeanette put the sword under her chair.

“You are leaving, then,” Fumumesa said.

“We are.”

A footman came up and waited beside Tondorre. Tondorre told him, after a brief hesitation, what he would like for breakfast, and Jeanette did the same.

“My family has not come down yet,” Fumumesa said. “I hope you can wait for them.”

“Of course,” Jeanette said, smiling. “We are not in that much of a hurry. It’s just that there are things we have to do.”

“Chasing down evil.”


“Otherwise,” Tondorre said, “I, for one, would certainly enjoy an extended vacation. I could all too easily get used to the attention you have shown us.”

Fumumesa laughed. “You should come back some time when my staff is up to full strength, and our routine is fully settled.”

“I’m sure I would become hopelessly spoiled,” Tondorre said, grinning.

They were finishing when the rest of the family came down. These were Fumumesa’s mother, his wife, and his two sons, who were about eight and twelve years old. Jeanette and Tondorre stayed at the table, talking about their adventures, which Tondorre embellished a bit, and Jeanette understated drastically. Then it was time to leave.

“Before you go, Enidako Tondorre,” Fumumesa said. “You have no sword. May I give you one?”

“That is very kind,” Tondorre said, with a small, formal bow. “I will accept it gladly.”

Fumumesa went to one of the cabinets at the side of the room. Inside, neatly arranged on pegs, were a number of weapons, mostly swords, but some knives, daggers, and even two small bows. “I was quite surprised to discover that Shederote hadn’t stolen any of this. In fact,” he turned to them, “except for those rooms which he converted to, well, whatever it was they were supposed to be, he left the house pretty much intact. I understand,” he turned back to the cabinet, “that he spent a lot of time away.” He took out a sword with a scabbard and belt.

The scabbard was of dark maroon leather. The fittings were of brass and needed polishing. The belt was also maroon, with a brass buckle and black stitching. Tondorre took the scabbard and pulled out the sword. The blade was quite plain, and also needed some polishing. He held it away from Fumumesa, tested its weight, made a few small parrying motions, then took the blade in his left hand, and presented the hilt to Jeanette.

She took it. It was not much heavier than her own, and almost as well balanced. She carefully touched the edge, which was very sharp. She handed it back.

He returned it to its scabbard, then buckled on the belt. “Thank you,” he said to Fumumesa. “It will be put to good use.”

“I am sure it will.”

They said their goodbyes to the family, and thanked Erivamo Vomado for all he and the staff had done. Fumumesa walked with them down to the great front door. A footman opened it for them.

“You have only one horse,” the footman said.

“We will walk,” Jeanette said. “I would not take a horse where we are going.”

“It is my horse,” Tondorre said to Fumumesa. “Consider it a house gift, for your hospitality.”

Fumumesa made the same kind of small, formal bow. “I will take good care of it for you.” Then he made a gesture to the footman, who went toward the gate. “I will never see you again,” he said as they followed, “will I.”

“I don’t think so,” Jeanette said. “If it makes you feel any better, think about the people whom I have gone to help.”

“Of course.”

The footman pushed both halves of the gates, then stepped aside. The gates swung more than half way open, plenty wide enough for Jeanette and Tondorre to pass through side by side. They each shook Fumumesa’s hand, and went out —

— into a place that looked like the pictures Jeanette had seen of bombed out cities. The sky was mostly dark, but shaded to gold and red toward the horizon. 

Tondorre was astonished at the abrupt transition, breathless and speechless, and again at what they were seeing. Brick, concrete, plaster, and less identifiable rubble filled the street. Pieces of building, bits of wall — especially corners  of buildings — stuck up sometimes two, maybe three stories above the ground. No building was intact. The scene was the same behind them where, maybe a mile away — it was hard to say among the ruins — something much taller, jagged and broken, stood against the the orangey sky. 

“What happened here?” he said, not expecting a reply. “It’s — how big is this place?”

“I don’t know,” Jeanette said, answering both questions.

The street wasn’t completely filled with rubble. Smaller stuff had been kicked aside, making a kind of path. There were people here somewhere. She let her senses open up, but she was aware of only the tiny sparks of animals. It was either dawn or sunset. She hoped it was dawn.

Tondorre’s astonishment faded, only to be replaced by apprehension bordering on fear. He held his stick like a sword, ready to strike if he had to. Jeanette touched him with her calmness, but he also felt her dismay at the destruction around them.

She watched him as he slowly turned in place. He was different, but not completely so. His skin was dark, his hair was nearly black, his beard completely black. His face was broad, his forehead high, his chin small. His eyes were wide set, his ears were large and set low. He was broad of shoulder, deep of chest, his torso was short, his legs were long. At least his feet looked more or less like his own. His arms were the right shape, but his hands had only three fingers and a thumb. Despite all this he was still beautiful.

“What — how big is that thing?” he asked. The tall ruin rose three or four floors above anything else near by, maybe six, or seven, or eight stories altogether. 

“Nowhere near as big as it once was.” Her voice was something like a cat’s purr vocalized. “Before whatever happened here knocked it down.”

“I’ve never seen anything so tall. How could they possibly —?” He heard his own voice, and looked at Jeanette. He was so startled by her changed appearance that he took an involuntary step backwards.

“It’s me,” she said gently, her voice lower than ever.

“I know, but — You told me about this. I didn’t really understand.”

“You might feel a little clumsy at first.”

He looked to the left, then to the right, then back to Jeanette. “Ah, okay.” He glanced around again. “Ah, where are we?”

“I don’t know. This wasn’t my intention. I think we’ve been sidetracked.”

He reached up to touch his own face, even as she was speaking. He stared at her, comparing what he saw with what his fingers felt.

She smiled at him. Then she kissed him, and he kissed her back. “It doesn’t really matter does it,” she said.

“It’s so strange.” He searched her face, different and familiar at the same time. “You’re still you.”

“And you’re still you, too.” She kissed him again. “Wherever I go, I look like the people I’m supposed to help. My size stays the same — conservation of mass, I guess. I keep my clothes, and they always fit. And I keep my weapons. I have no idea how that works. But our changed appearance doesn’t change who we are.”

He looked at her a moment longer, then around at the ruins again. “So, ahh, why are we here?”

“There’s something for me to do. For us to do. But not right here. Whenever I’ve gone to some other world, I’ve always arrived somewhere that’s not exactly where I’m supposed to be. Sometimes I feel that it’s my enemy trying to divert me, sometimes I don’t. We’ll know where we really supposed be when we get there.”

He looked around again. This wasn’t he adventure he was expecting. It wasn’t what she had been expecting either. He was distressed, and angry, just as she was. He felt helpless, too, but he didn’t share her barely suppressed feelings of guilt and failure. That was what was hurting her most. That was where she would really need his help. “All right, so where do we go now?”

“In the direction we were going when we got here.”

“Um, okay. Um.” He looked around. “I’m glad we’ve had breakfast. Now, what do we do about, um —”

She laughed. “We improvise.” Which they did, each going to a different part of the ruins.

Jeanette finished first. When Tondorre came back she realized, for the first time, that his wound would never completely heal, that he would have a noticeable limp for the rest of his life, even on level ground. “Does it hurt you?”

“Not much. It was a bad cut. I was bracing myself to have to use crutches. That surgeon was very good. But … do you heal this fast?”

“I do. Mostly. I still have scars.”

“On your face. On your side. And those faint marks on your hip and leg. Okay. Don’t worry about it, I can live with it. It’s just that my leg doesn’t work quite the way it used to.” He tapped his stick on the ground. “More for balance than for support.”

They walked, shoulders nearly touching, until they came to a cross street, which was less well cleared of rubble. “I really don’t understand all this,” he said. They went on. 

The sky on their right got brighter, and the colors of dawn began to fade. The cleared path, after another block, made a curve around a huge pile of broken masonry, where a large corner building had once stood. “This is all concrete, isn’t it,” he said. The cross street on their left was well traveled, the way ahead was less so now. “Do you know where we’re going?”

“I know we’re going the right way, but I just don’t know where we’ll wind up.”

They went on another block or so. He said, “This place is huge. The streets are so wide.”

“We’ve seen only a small part of it. It’s many times bigger than any city you’ve known, though it was probably nothing special here.” 

They went on for several more blocks, came to where another street angled off it to the right, and went that way. “There’s no smell of decay,” he said. “This happened a long time ago.”

“Some years I’d guess. But not generations, or thousands of years, like some of the other places I’ve been.” 

He glanced at her, trying to imagine what those places must have been like, but he said nothing. She had told stories. He was beginning to understand that they were real.

There was a tiny sound off to the right, of rubble grating under a foot. They stopped and looked that way. The sun was just coming up and shone in their eyes. The source of the sound was in deep shadow. Tondorre moved his stick from his right hand to his left.

“Don’t draw until you have to,” Jeanette said softly. She felt sparks of life, but what there was could have been just large animals. She let her arms hang loose. Tondorre leaned on his stick with both hands, his right hand on top, so that he could draw his sword if he had to.

There was only silence for a long moment, then the sound came again, from several different places this time. Then a small piece of concrete came flying through the air toward Tondorre’s face. He was about to duck when Jeanette reached out and caught it, just before it hit him and, in the same motion, threw it back. Somebody scrambled in the shadows. The bit of concrete hit the rubble and bounced away.

Her instant reaction surprised him, though it shouldn’t have by now. “Will I learn how to do things like that?”

She smiled, but kept her eyes on the rubble. “I think you will. Give it some time. You’re just a beginner.”

“Well, I’ve been traveling for — ahh — no, you’re right. It feels like I’m starting all over again, almost.”

There were more sounds and whispers now. Then out of the shadows, from gaps and holes and collapsed windows, came three, five, eight small people. Each of them carried a piece of pipe. Their faces were obscured by the light of the sun rising behind them. It wasn’t by accident.

“They’re children,” Tondorre said softly. He didn’t like thinking that he might have to defend himself.

The children spread out as they came. They were nearly a head shorter than Jeanette, no more than ten or twelve years old. Their clothes were makeshift, their hair was finger-combed, their faces were not all that dirty, but their expressions were determined and dangerous. They spread out further, to make a circle around them. 

Jeanette drew her sword while they were still some fifteen feet away. She kept it pointed at the ground, but it glinted in the morning light and the children stopped. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will defend myself, and I will kill you if I have to.” She twisted the blade slightly, so that the light caught it at different angles. The reflections struck the children’s faces. 

Tondorre leaned more comfortably on his stick. He was enjoying her command of the situation, but he kept himself ready to strike at anything, at any moment, with stick, and with sword if necessary.

“Wha’d’you want here?” one of the children asked. There were five boys and three girls, not that easy to tell apart.

“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Jeanette said. “Usually I’m supposed to go someplace before something like this happens.” She waved her left hand at the ruined city around them. 

It came to her all at once. Her dismay was so sharp that it hurt. If she was supposed to have prevented this, she was too late. 

Her distress was so sharp that Tondorre could feel it without trying to, and it hurt him too. He didn’t say anything, but he tried to reassure her with a thought. His own dismay made it difficult.

“What ’r’ you,” another child asked, “some kinda hero?”

“I’m supposed to be,” she was too late, “but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

“Yeah’ll bet,” another child said.

She pushed the thought of failure away. “Do you run this town, or just this street?” 

Tondorre tried to give her strength, but the question of what they were going to do now distracted him, and made him less effective than he wanted to be. Why were they even here?

“This part of it,” a girl was saying.

“Were any of you alive when this happened?” Jeanette asked.

“Just barely,” the tallest boy said.

“I wasn’t,” another boy, not the smallest, said.

“I’d like to talk to someone who could tell me about it,” Jeanette said.

The children exchanged glances but didn’t say anything.

Tondorre stilled his thoughts and asked, “Are there any older people?”

“Not many any more,” one of the boys said.

“Do you see them very often?”

“Yeah, somebody’s gotta feed’m.”

“What do you hunt?”


“Yeah,” another child said, “there’s rats and dogs and cats and like that.”

“Sometimes we can get brownies and grays and red-tails.”

“Birds?” Tondorre asked.

“Yeah, what else?”

“Blackwings too,” another child said.

“What about things like, ah, vegetables and fruit?”

“There’s others ‘at go outa town,” the middle sized girl said. She sat down on a piece of brick wall.

“Yer not from here, are ya,” the smallest boy said.

“From way off that way,” Tondorre said, pointing.

“Didja come pas’the tower?” another boy asked.

He looked back at the tall ruin. “That thing? No, we didn’t. What’s there?”

“Some old folks,” the tallest girl said. “Or there used to be. They try to keep us away. Killed Lemmy a year ago. We don’t go there any more.”

“We go around,” one of the boys said.

“Why do you go that way?” Tondorre asked.

“There’s water in the green place. You didn’t come through there?”

“No, we didn’t.”

His calm and comfortable conversation suggested to Jeanette that he had more than a little experience with children this age. She liked that, but she said, “Look at us. Our clothes fit, they’re not whatever we happened to find lying around. Where we come from, there’s water in every house, like there used to be here.” She was too late. “You could get meat and vegetables from people who did the hunting and growing for you. It’s a long way away from here.”

“Yeah,” one of the boys said, “I seen pichures ‘a people wearing whole clothes. Not like yours, though.”

“Have you ever heard of someone called the Arkenome?”

Again they exchanged glances, only this time there was fear and anger in their faces.

“We heard of ’im,” the tallest boy said. “What’s he to you?”

“We’ve come to kill him.”

“He’s gone,” the tallest girl said. “It was him ‘at made all this happen. Then he went away.”

She was too late.


The children led them along an almost invisible side path, to stairs going down to a nearly intact cellar. There were four people sitting on scavenged and makeshift chairs and beds, their clothes just as makeshift as those of the children. There were two youngish men, heavily bearded, their hair tied back. One was missing his left arm below the elbow. The other sat staring at a blank place on the wall. A woman in her early forties sat to one side. There was a piece of cloth wrapped over her eyes, but she turned to face the children as they came in. An older man, anywhere between sixty and eighty, without legs from above the knees, sat back on some cushions on the bed. The place smelled unclean, but not foul. Light came from two small windows high in one wall. There was a closed door on the far side. The children went in while Jeanette and Tondorre hung back.

“Hey,” the one-armed man said, “wha’ja find?”

“Us,” Jeanette said from the doorway. Her words startled everybody except the staring man, who just took one large breath.

“And who are you?” the old man cried out.

“You’re not from here,” the one-armed man said. He stood from the box on which he had been sitting.

“A’course they’re not,” the old man said, “look’a their clothes.”

The blind woman kept her face turned toward Jeanette. Tondorre kept his attention on the one-armed man.

“May we come in?” Jeanette asked.

“We ain’t got nothin’” the one-armed man said.

“I don’t want anything. Just to talk for a minute.”

“What’re those, swords?” He had been looking at Jeanette’s chest and crotch. Under the circumstances, she couldn’t really blame him. As long as he didn’t try anything. She didn’t want to have to kill him.

“They’re swords,” Tondorre said. He changed his grip on the stick in his left hand.

The blind woman turned her face to him. “How many?” she asked.

“Just two of’m,” the tallest boy said. “We found’m out onna tower road.”

The staring man took a long, slow breath.

“So where’s the rest’a your people?” the old man asked.

“We’re all there is,” Jeanette said. The one-armed man smiled with obvious intent. He was eight or nine inches taller than she, sturdily built, and he was a survivor. “Do you want to lose the other arm?” she asked him softly. She made no gesture to her sword, but her tone was enough. He scowled and turned away.

“Zebby!” the blind woman snapped. “What’cha doin’? Behave yourself.”

“Sorry, Meggo,” Zebby said. He sat back down on his box. Tondorre relaxed and crossed his arms and held his stick less aggressively.

“C’m’on in then,” Meggo said to Jeanette. “Wha’d’ya wanna talk about?”

“About what happened here,” Jeanette said. 

“What’a’ya crazy?” Zebby shouted. “Where were you when the war happened?”

“Someplace else.”

“Shit.” He turned his face to his own part of the wall.

“It was a war,” the old man said. “It was crazy. Everybody fighting everybody else. Bombs and guns and rockets.” His voice broke. “And then he took all the metal and went away.”

He couldn’t really mean that. “What about the pipes the children carry?” Jeanette asked.

“We found them after he left,” one of the boys said. “He didn’t go crawling through the ruins.”

“The Arkenome.”

“Yeah,” Zebby said to the wall in front of him. “The Arkenome.” It was a dirty word.

“When did this happen?” Tondorre asked.

“This guy,” Meggo said, “big guy, fair, handsome, a little younger’n me, came about, oh, twelve years ago I guess. To Doghill, not here. He was very popular. Everybody liked him. You look back on it now and you wonder, what was he doin’? He had no job, he didn’t hold office, he was just — everybody knew him. He was in all the papers, videos, what he said. I saw him myself once. Think back on it and it gives me chills, how could we think he was anything but evil. By the time we figured it out, the war was almost over. That would be nine years ago. Then he got his people to collect all the iron and aluminum and copper and other metal, if it wasn’t buried too deep. Then he left.”

The staring man took another slow, deep breath.

Jeanette had to take a deep breath of her own. “Did he have a name?”

“LeShaw,” the old man said. “Nobody could say it right, it just sounded like that. LeShaw. Le. Shaw.”


They did not stay long. There wasn’t any point. Jeanette had lots of questions, but she didn’t ask them, and Tondorre had none. They found their way back to the tower road.

“This isn’t the same as what Shiloret was doing is it.” Tondorre said.

“Not at all.” She was empty. She was helpless. Why was she here?

Tondorre kept his arm around her shoulders as they walked toward the tall ruin, and occasionally gave her a light squeeze, but he didn’t interrupt her thoughts. She knew he believed in her, but she had to work through this herself.

The sun rose higher, the day got brighter, and Jeanette’s mood slowly improved. They stopped twice so that Tondorre could flex and rest his leg and, without the sound of their footsteps, they heard small animals moving somewhere in the rubble. Once they saw a bird, and once they heard one singing. If there were other children out hunting, they didn’t show themselves.

The extent of the destruction was depressing. Ninety percent of the people must have died, maybe more. How had the survivors been able to hang on? The staring man had responded, sometimes, but only with a breath. The children were reinventing everything. The others? Neither she nor Tondorre wanted to think about it.

She was too late. “I spent too much time at Fumumesa’s house.”

“You don’t know that,” Tondorre said. “Didn’t you say that time works differently in different worlds?”

“Maybe if I’d come here as soon as I defeated Shiloret —”

“You don’t even know where here is. If you had left then, would you have come here? Or would you have gone somewhere else? And where is the Arkenome now, whoever he is? Should you be there? How can you tell?” He put his hands on her shoulders, made her look at him, and let her feel his confidence in her. “This is not your fault. It’s his fault. Maybe he was doing this while you were fighting Shiloret. Maybe that was Shiloret’s job, to distract you for a while. Would you have sacrificed my world for this one? And what about your own world, if you hadn’t saved that golden child-thing?”

Her guilt and uncertainty were so deep, that it wasn’t easy to encourage her with just a thought. He put his arms around her and held her. She let him, then she leaned her head against his shoulder and put her arms around him. It was comforting to both of them. Tondorre was right, and Jeanette knew he was right, but there was an aching hollow he couldn’t touch. The extent of the Arkenome’s destruction was overwhelming. “I used to wonder whether I was on the right side,” she said. “Maybe the people I was hurting and killing were the innocent ones. I always had some reason to argue myself out of that.”

“And now you don’t have to doubt any more.”

“— no.”

“When you left my world, you left people happy and alive. When LeShaw left this world, he left death and destruction.”

She let go of him, took a step back, and searched his face. “I’ve seen a lot of things to make me think I was doing the right thing. That golden creature for example. But …”

“There can be no answers for what we should have done, or what we could have done. We need to decide what to do now.”

“I want to talk to the people in the tower. If there are any left. They kill children. They will have a very different view of what happened here. Maybe I can learn something from that.”


It took them less than an hour to get to where a side path branched off the main way, and could turn toward the ruins of the tower, a little more than two blocks away. It looked from there as if it had once occupied the whole block on which it stood, as had others near it, which were now just huge piles of rubble. It’s front face, on the right side of the street, was intact for six stories, with parts of it going up two stories more. The whole back half of the building had fallen in, its rubble two stories deep around the base. 

“Is there anybody there?” Tondorre asked.

“It’s too far away to tell,” Jeanette said. “Let’s just walk by and see what happens.”

“If they have weapons like the thing in your pouch,” Tondorre said, “or even just bows, they could shoot us from the windows.”

She thought about her predecessors. For them, doing what she suggested had proved to be the wrong choice. “I think I would know it if somebody looked out and saw us. I’ll know more when we get closer.”

She opened her senses, in case there were other ambushers in the rubble around them. Tondorre kept his hand on her arm to guide her. She felt only the tiny glimmers of animals. 

They stopped at the first cross street, impassible in either direction, so that he could rest his leg. “Are you all right?” she asked him.

“What I want,” he said, sitting down on a slab of concrete, “is a big stuffed chair and a glass of brandy. Can you give me a minute?”

“As much as you want.”

There was no one in the rubble on either side, or farther along the street toward the tower. She sat down beside him, put her arm around him, and leaned against him, letting him feel her confidence in him as she felt his in her. Despite his distress, and uncertainty, and confusion about what he had experienced since leaving Sufake House, he was glad he was with her. After a while he was ready to go on.

They were almost at the near corner of the tower, sticking up anomalously and alone, when she became aware of people in what was left of it. She couldn’t tell how many, but there was somebody on the ground floor and several on higher floors. Tondorre couldn’t feel them, but if he shut out everything else, he became aware of them through her.

“This is all so strange,” he said, looking around at the ruined city. “I thought I would get used to being here, but I feel like nothing is real.”

“I felt like that the first time. And the second, a little less. Maybe we should get out of sight and wait for a while. After all this time, an hour or more isn’t going to make any difference.”

“No, let’s find out who’s here. Then maybe we can take a longer rest.”

The path went past the intersection, then curved away from the center of the street and ended at the building entrance. It wasn’t used often, there were just a few scuffs in the dust. The people who lived here had to have another way in.

“Can you tell any better who’s there?” he asked.

“Two down here I think,“ she pointed at the near corner. “Several more about half way up. One — no, two near the top. Maybe they’re all asleep. I don’t feel much activity.”

“This late in the morning?”

“What reason do they have to get up early?”

“They’ve got to get their food from somewhere. Either they hunt it themselves —”

“Or they send children out for it. Maybe that’s it.”

There were no bird or animal sounds, and no sounds came from the tower. There was no distinguishing smell. All the windows on the ground floor had been covered over from the inside, with fabric or cardboard or wood, as had many of those higher up. There was no glass in any of the other windows.

They went to the building’s entrance. The double door had once been glass, but was now just two empty wooden frames. Beyond it was a lobby, like that for an office building, rather than for a hotel or apartments. There was a small reception desk in the middle, two closed doors on each side, and open elevator shafts at the back, their metal doors and cables taken away, along with the elevators themselves probably, and all the rest of the metal in the world. How could he possibly have done that? The floor was tile, gray and green, and was mostly clear of debris. The only light came from the entrance.

The first doors on right and left had once been half glass, which had been replaced with cardboard carefully wedged into place. The farther doors on both sides were solid. A door to the left of the elevators had the remains of a sign above it, which had probably once read “stairs.” The floor there, and in front of the other solid door, was less dusty than elsewhere, but there were signs of traffic in front of the near doors as well.

There was somebody beyond the door on the right, but some distance from it. She went to it and put her hand on the knob. It was not locked. She turned it. There was no response. She pulled it open. There was a darkened room on the other side, devoid of furniture. The windows on the right, at the front of the building, were poorly covered with pieces of wood. There was a door on the far side. They went quietly to it. Whoever was beyond it was still some distance away, and had not moved.

The second room was also quite dark, and also empty, but there was a smell here like burned plastic. Tondorre sniffed a couple times, but he did not say anything. 

There was one more door. There could be only one more room, they were nearly at the corner of the building. She touched the knob, and someone on the other side reacted, just a little bit. Tondorre stood to one side, hefting his stick. She pulled the door open, ready to move quickly if she had to.

She didn’t have to. The corner room wasn’t quite as dark. There were gaps in the wood covering the windows. It looked as though it had been ripped from hollow doors. There was a desk and chair in the middle, a rack of clothes on the left, and a pile of mattresses in the outside corner, under the windows. On this, under several blankets, were two people, wrapped up in each other. Opening the door had penetrated their sleep, but had not awakened them. Jeanette and Tondorre backed away, shut the door quietly, and went back the way they had come, closing the doors after them.

“Do you suppose they live there,” Tondorre asked, “or were just taking advantage of the moment?”

“There was no kitchen, no water closet.”

“More like camping out.”

“Maybe it’s their honeymoon.” She wanted a honeymoon. Tondorre wanted a honeymoon. They would have to find a place where they could be alone for a while.

The lobby was as they had left it. The people upstairs were still there. They went quietly to the stairwell. It was totally dark inside. 

Jeanette took her flashlight out of the pouch, covered the lens with one hand, and slowly twisted it until the light came on. It was like magic to Tondorre, but said nothing. She let a thin beam of light escape from her glowing red fingers and shone it on the steps. They were clear of dust in the middle, and there was no rubbish at the sides. “The people two flights up are mostly toward what’s left of the back of the building.”

“I can’t feel a thing,” Tondorre said. “I wish I could.”

She focused on him, forgetting the people in the tower. He turned his attention to her in the same way. They needed practice. Right now, even with Jeanette to help him, they could feel either each other, or everybody else — he not at all clearly — but not both at the same time. They took some time to become more sure of each other before reaching out for the other people again. They were not flames or sparks, just vaguenesses, smudges in space. None of them had even the potential to be a companion. Tondorre paid more attention to how he was perceiving them, rather than to what he was perceiving. After a while they came back to themselves, and let each other go.

They went up two flights and stopped by the stairwell door. She put away her flashlight and slowly eased the door open.

The hallway on the other side went to both right and left, and elled toward the back of the building at both ends. Light came from around the els, and from open doors on the near side. The people were at the back, toward the right.

They went into the hallway and closed the door behind them. They went to the right and looked through the open doors they passed. There were bedrooms made up with salvaged furniture. There was a lived-in smell, but no stink of waste. Without water, what did they do for laundry or toilets?

The hallway past the corner was bright because, about a hundred feet farther on, the rest of the building was gone. But that was where the people were.

“I don’t feel any danger here,” Tondorre said, almost in a whisper. He was relying on his own natural senses and experience, not on anything like Jeanette’s ability.

“Neither do I. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gentle with intruders.”

“I wouldn’t be.”

There was only blue sky beyond the end of the hallway. Another open door on the right, at the outside of the building, was a workroom of some sort. The doors on the left, in the windowless central block, were mostly closed, but one showed what might once have been cubicle office space, now used for storage.

“I’ve seen this kind of thing before,” Jeanette said softly, “people living in the ruins, making the best they could of a new life.”

They came to the broken end of the hallway. The floor extended a few yards beyond the remains of the side walls. It had been covered with soil, ahead and to right and left. There were a variety of such vegetable crops as could thrive here. Night soil would be fermented well away from the inhabited areas, maybe right at the top of the tower, then brought back as fertilizer. The broken edge of the next floor up was back a few feet, the remains of its walls even farther back, and that was where the rest of the people were. 

The four people on this floor were working near the front, where racks for drying the food had been set up against what remained of an inner wall. They were wearing scavenged clothes, rather cleaner than those the other people had worn, and in better repair. The two men, both somewhere in their mid thirties to mid forties, were as heavily bearded as the others, and like them had their hair tied back. Their hard life had aged them. One of the women was about the same age, the other was quite a bit younger, about fifteen Jeanette guessed, but by no means a child any more. There wouldn’t be time for that now.

Jeanette and Tondorre watched until one of the men looked up and saw them. He hissed and the other three looked up. They were not so much frightened as startled and angry, but the anger gave way to apprehension as they saw more clearly their clothes, their stature, and their weapons.

“Forgive us for intruding,” Jeanette said, and felt the people upstairs responding to her voice. “We’re hoping you can help us.”

“Who are you?” the man said, and, “What do you want?” the older woman said at the same time.

Tondorre was standing against the door jamb just behind her, with his arms crossed, outwardly calm but focusing on her, lending her courage? confidence? strength? She said, “I’m Zanat Digatho. This is Enido Tandari. We came to kill someone who calls himself the Arkenome, but I understand we’re rather too late.”

“You are that,” the other man said. “He’s been gone these nine years. You should have come before he ruined everything.”

“I wish I had,” Jeanette said, desperately wishing that she had, “but there have been others before him, and I was busy with one of them, and then his agent.” She looked out over the ruins which extended as far as she could see. Here and there were other slightly taller stumps of buildings, but not many. She was too late…. “I usually get to the Arkenome before he destroys everything. My timing was badly off, which could have been his agent’s doing.”

“You’re not making much sense,” the woman said.

“I suppose not. I know the Arkenome is no longer here, and it’s really his master I’m looking for. I talked to some people up the road —”

“The crazies,” the girl said. “Were they awful?”

“Yes,” Tondorre said, “they were, actually.”

“But why?”

“Why were we talking to them? We were, ah, captured, as it were, by a group of children, who thought they could stone us into submission. Digatho convinced them to take us to some adults. They were rather pitiful, really.”

“I don’t doubt it,” the first man said.

Maybe a dozen men and women, and two very small children, were looking down at them by now, from the floor above. “We should talk inside,” an older man called down.

“What about Patisa and Gordo?” a woman asked anxiously. “Did you see anybody downstairs?”

“We did,” Jeanette said, a little calmer now. “They were sleeping. We didn’t disturb them.”

“Thank you.” She spoke to one of the small children, about five years old. “Go downstairs and tell them to come up. Knock on the door first!” The child disappeared.

“Why don’t you come inside,” the man who had first noticed them said. “My name is Stevo. This is Renagar,” gesturing to the other man. “Maris,” the woman. “And Doria,” the girl. “Let’s go this way.” He gestured to the other hallway.

“Your clothes are very strange,” the girl said.

“Doria,” Maris said, “be polite.”

They were taken into what had once been a board room, and was still pretty much set up that way, but with more chairs brought from other offices. 

The people upstairs came down. Someone brought in a tray of assorted glasses. Another brought mismatched pitchers of water. “Time for a break anyway,” she said. Another brought in bowls of cut raw vegetables. Jeanette and Tondorre were invited to sit. Jeannette did, but Tondorre stood behind her chair with his arms crossed. He was making a deliberate gesture, and he was enjoying himself. She was the only person he felt he could follow.

The people, about thirty of them, were curious and cautious. The youngest were infants, the oldest in their early sixties. There were no teenagers. “They’re off hunting,” someone said. “They’ve got the energy and aggression.”

“So,” one man said, “did you come by saucer or flying carpet.” Or words which amounted to the same thing.

Jeanette smiled. “We walked. How did the Arkenome come?”

“Who knows,” a woman said. “One day he was here, talking to people, in the news, saying things that made sense to some people.”

“No matter where you were,” an older man said, “he always seemed to represent your group, your religion, your party, or whatever. Different views got more different. People grew apart. By the time some of us realized that LeShaw was whipping up every group, playing no favorites, firing everybody up against everybody else, it was too late. Civil wars are always terrible.”

“And then he was gone,” another man said. “And those of us who were left realized that we had all been doing his work for him — collecting his metal, putting down his opposition, and there was nothing left.”

“So we blamed each other,” the older man said, “and fought again. We all did. Only the youngest children escaped the hatred.”

“Are there other groups like this?” Jeanette asked.

“Sure,” a woman in her twenties said. She had a baby in her lap, and a four-year-old by her side. “Scattered here and there. We know where we are. We leave each other alone. Or help out if we can.”

“Why do you stay in the city?” Tondorre asked. “You could grow more in the country, couldn’t you?”

“Some people do,” a younger man said. “But it’s hard to find shelter. The crazies are more dangerous out there. You met a bunch of them, didn’t you?”

“Yes, up the street.”

“All cripples and children,” the young man went on. “They’re harmless.”

“They said you killed someone named Lemmy.”

“We did,” a woman said. “He came into our building at night to steal food. When we tried to chase him away, he attacked Noris with a piece of pipe, broke her arm. We couldn’t subdue him, he wouldn’t give up. Big kid, about fourteen. Really wild.”

“How do you know about the Arkenome?” a man asked.

“I have been fighting his predecessors. I’ve killed a few.” A lot of good it had done.

“Is he from another planet?” an older boy asked.

“Another world, yes, but not a planet orbiting your star.” How much these people had lost…. “You know about other planets?”

“We’ll lose it all eventually,” an older woman said. “The books are all gone, most of them. We destroyed them ourselves.”

So much lost, so much suffering, the death, the struggle, the desolation. Her sense of failure almost overwhelmed her. Her hand on the table shook, her hand in her lap clenched into a fist. Tondorre put a hand on her shoulder, distressed at her distress. The people looked on, surprised, concerned.

“I should have been here,” she said, her voice low and harsh.

“It’s not your fault,” Tondorre said, firmly but gently.

“Maybe if I’d come sooner.” The horror was a physical thing. She raised one hand to her forehead, to cover her eyes.

“It wasn’t your choice,” Tondorre said. He put his other hand on her other shoulder, and held them both, and made himself be calm so he could pass it on to her.

She shouldn’t feel guilty. Tondorre was right. She knew that, but still …

The people were quiet. There was some movement, some whispers.

Tondorre, still holding her shoulders, focused himself completely on her, helping her push aside her black thoughts, helping her find some calm and acceptance. She fought his help for a moment, then stopped resisting it. The dark emotions didn’t go away, but their affect on her was diminished. She would have to deal with them later. She welcomed his help at last, felt herself getting stronger again, and he let her go.

“You accept us without much question,” he said.

“Why not?” A man answered. “After what we’ve been through? None of it makes any sense. The demagogue, the wars, the theft of almost all our metal … Even though we helped his people collect it, how did he get it away? It was a science fiction nightmare, but worse than anything Kippering or Stovey ever wrote. The most pessimistic dystopians never came up with anything as bad as that. Aliens and meteors and things far away in time and space, but never an Arkenome who could so completely turn everybody against everybody else.”

“We’ve had a lot of time to think about it,” a woman who had spoken before said. “We’ve stopped asking questions, for the most part. There aren’t any answers. We’ll never regain what we’ve lost. The resources are gone.”

Jeanette felt a touch on her arm and looked down. A child next to her was offering her a piece of soft cloth. She took it and wiped her face. “I’m surprised you didn’t kill me at once.”

“Why should we?” the older man asked.

“A stranger from another world? The last one didn’t do you any favors.”

“You are not the same,” Stevo, who had first spoken to her, said. “LeShaw was smiling, happy, talkative, friendly, always the good friend. If you had come on like that, trying to sell us a solution to all our problems, like a used car salesman, you wouldn’t have lived more than a few minutes. But you’re not like that.”

Jeanette put the cloth down on the table and sat back in her chair. She kept her eyes lowered. She couldn’t look at these people. It wasn’t true, but she still felt as though she had let them down. “I wish there was something I could do to help.” She had been given their appearance, wasn’t she supposed to help them?

“I don’t think there is,” the woman with the children said. “But if you’re looking for the Arkenome, you’re too late. What will you do now?”

“I don’t know. I never do.” Tondorre put a hand on her shoulder again. “I just go somewhere and do what I can. This is the first time I’ve ever seen what could happen if I don’t stop his destruction. So soon afterward at least.” 

“It’s been nine years,” the man who had spoken of science fiction said. “How could you possibly catch up with him, even if you can walk through dimensions?”

“Time isn’t the same in all worlds. A day here might be a year somewhere else, or a second in another place.”

“Which is why,” Tondorre said, “you cannot hold yourself responsible for what happened here.”

“I know.”

Two teenage boys came in, carrying a dead dog, a dead cat or something like it, several rats, and a couple birds. One of the adults took them aside immediately, and spoke to them intensely in near whispers. They kept staring at Jeanette. She looked back at them, strong, warrior types, but not wild. This world would not descend into complete savagery.

“I was hoping,” Jeanette said to the people in general, “that you could tell me something about this LeShaw, so I could track him down and stop him from doing this to anybody else.”

“There isn’t a lot to say,” the older man said. “I’ve seen him, heard him speak, even believed him for a while. But he looked just like us, as you do. Sounded just like us. We had no clue where he came from, and couldn’t guess where he went.”

“Did he stay in one place?” Jeanette asked. “Or did he move around?”

“Oh, he traveled,” a man said. “He was always talking to people — crowds, presidents, church leaders, the media. No one ever saw him on an airplane, though, or on a train.”

“That sounds like him.”

“Like teleportation, I guess,” the science fiction reader said, “but nobody ever saw him do it.”

“Did he have a special companion? Someone who may have kept in the background, perhaps, or was especially scary?”

“Not that I ever heard,” a man said. “Oh, he had a retinue, but I don’t think any of them were special the way he was, or you and Mr. Tandari are.”

“That’s reassuring,” Tondorre said. “— isn’t it?”

“It means,” Jeanette said, “that he doesn’t have someone like Shiloret to help him, which is good. But he can travel by himself, which is not good. Where was he when he left?” she asked. “I mean, in what part of the world?”

“The last anybody saw him,” a younger man said, “as far as we know, was right here in Cheldano.”

“Right,” Jeanette said. “And that’s why I’m here instead of somewhere else.” She felt a thrill, like just before opening a door to a stranger when the power is out. “And where was that, toward the park, or past the crazies?”

“Why, ah, at the Dorevor Building, at the other end of the street. That’s where we get together with other groups like ours from time to time. Leave messages.”

“Exactly,” Tondorre said. “That was the way we were going when the children attacked us. They took us to where the cripples live. They told us about you so we came here, but we were going in the right direction the first time.”

“You want to go there?” one of the teenagers said. He was about eighteen, so he would have lived through most of the wars.

“I do,” Jeanette said. “The clue I need to find LeShaw is there.”

“Right,” the other boy said. He was a year younger. “We can take you there. The kids won’t bother us. Is that all right?” he asked his elders.

“It is,” the older woman said, “but be careful coming back. The crazies,” she explained to Jeanette, “get riled up if too many people come by. They’re not as helpless as they look.”

“And the kids hit whatever they throw at,” the older boy said.

“They threw a rock at me,” Tondorre said. “Digatho caught it and threw it back at them. They didn’t like our swords either.”

“It’s not the going there,” Jeanette said, “it’s the coming back. We won’t be coming with them.”

“Right,” Tondorre said, “you’re right.”


The two teenagers were quite taken with Jeanette, who was not only small and feminine and cute, but was also obviously a hardened warrior. They were respectful of Tondorre, despite his being smaller and slighter than they, and who needed a stick to help walk. They asked questions about their adventures, and answered questions about their lives, and how they had survived and adjusted.

They came to the place where the crazies lived. No sounds came from the rubble, but Jeanette knew they were being watched. She spoke, just a bit more loudly than normal, and said, “These are my friends. They’ll be coming back without me. Leave them alone. I wouldn’t let them hurt you. Okay?”

A small voice called back from somewhere off in the broken brick and concrete, “Okay.”

“Thank you,” Jeanette said, and they went on.

The Dorevor Building was another half hour past the crazies. It had taken less damage than the surrounding buildings, and the first two floors were nearly intact. Cleared paths approached it from right and left, and from around in back.

“Why doesn’t anybody live here?” Jeanette asked.

“You can’t grow anything,” Derin, the older boy said.

“There’s always somebody here, though,” Rafe, the younger boy said. “Each of the communities sends someone every couple days. It’s how we get news to each other. We’ll just stick around until tomorrow. Falisa will be relieved then.”

There were no doors. If they had been metal, they had been taken away with all the rest. Sowing the fields with salt. But the small lobby was easily protected, and beyond that was a larger foyer. 

A dozen men and women were sitting around a small fire in the middle, in chairs brought in from other places. It was the first fire Jeanette had seen, and was the only source of light. This was ceremonial, not functional. Wood must not be easy to find, and if you could use it for shelter or tools, you wouldn’t want to burn it. With so little wood for cooking, these people would have to eat a lot of their meat raw, or at least very rare. They had few or no knives, maybe they cut things with broken glass. There was plenty of that.  A table to one side held the food that each of the representatives had brought. There were crystal carafes of water. Jeanette wondered where the toilet facilities were.

Derin and Rafe made quick introductions. The representatives of the communities of Cheldano were cautious and curious, but accepted the explanations without skepticism. They had all lived through the long war, and had seen things that made the mere presence of strangers in outlandish dress little cause for concern. 

“I understand,” Jeanette said, “that the last time anybody saw LeShaw, he was in this building.”

“That’s right,” one of the men said. “I was here. He came in with his retinue, all smiling and sympathetic. The upper floors hadn’t collapsed yet, and we still had oil lamps. He hadn’t come here to see anybody here, I think he was just curious because the building was still standing. We hadn’t quite figured out yet that he was the cause of all the death and destruction, but we were no longer completely under his spell. Except for his lackeys, of course. We found some of them later, wandering around, half crazy. Some of them are still alive somewhere. He just looked at us, and smiled in that winning way of his, and said, ‘Well, very interesting.’ Then he left. That was all. Nothing profound. He just left. The war ran down after that. No weapons. No food. And people were too busy dying of starvation and disease to fight any more. Are you going to kill him?”

“If I can find him,” Jeanette said. “Where did he go?”

“I don’t know. He just walked out.”

“It may not matter. He was here and, even after all this time, he may have left a trace.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it. Where was he standing when he said, ‘very interesting?’”

“Right where you are.”

A sick thrill run up her spine, echoed in Tondorre behind her. LeShaw had succeeded as an Arkenome, when all the others she had met had failed, even Empa Tethicho in the long run. There must have been others who had succeeded too, of course. Had his existence overlapped Empa Tethicho’s? It didn’t matter. “Tandari,” she said. “Stay by me.”

He stood on her left and put his arm around her, his hand on her shoulder.

She opened up her awareness, not to the whole of the greater reality, but to the details of the fabric of this one. It took a moment to figure out how to do that, but once she did, she knew at once that her enemy had been here, just a foot or so to the right and behind her. This was really why she was here. She focused on that trace, like the faintest lattice extending all over this world, and saw that there were two places — not actually directions — where it went out to the greater reality. This was something new. The more faded part of it, as it were, was where he had come here. The stronger part was where he had left. 

Tondorre had a connection with her, in that special way her other companions had, and he was standing beside her, with his hand on her shoulder, a physical connection. He was able to perceive, through her, LeShaw’s trace in the same way she did. He had been with her long enough that he wasn’t as surprised as he might have been. What mild surprise he felt quickly became excitement and determination, which she was now feeling, almost as strongly as he. She saw, through distracted eyes, the people looking at her.

The trace which LeShaw had left behind was faint, but every time she had gone into the greater reality, she had become more sensitive to it’s texture, and thus to even subtle disturbances to that texture. Even her own. She did not have to go outside to follow his trace. She felt it, going along streets now filled with rubble, to a place, a small park perhaps, or a traffic circle, or a city square, or something. And then the trace changed direction, as it were. LeShaw had rotated into another dimension. He was so far ahead of her it made her sick.

“He’s not going to get away,” Tondorre said softly.

“No he’s not. We can follow him before I get a call. And we will get him.”

The people were watching her intently, knowing that they were going to witness something strange. She smiled at them and said, “You will live. Your world is irrevocably changed, but you will live and grow. I’ve seen it before. Eventually, this time will be just a myth that no one will believe. And that is as it should be.” She looked at Derin and Rafe. “Thank your people for me.” They nodded but said nothing. “Are you ready?” she asked Tondorre.

He squeezed her shoulder. “I am. I guess. I’m afraid.”

“So am I.” 

Slowly, so that the people could see her do it, she turned away from this world, into the greater reality, found the thread of LeShaw’s passage, and followed it.



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