As Hasver’s dark fingers clasped the white-gloved hand of Lady Jiara, her blue wolf eyes peering at him over the rims of her dark spectacles, the Light went quite suddenly out of Hasver’s staff and the man himself; he toppled headfirst to the deck; his new Synth body undamaged by the fall.
Distressed, but not showing it, Takir bent down, rapidly spinning an image of Hasver’s interior into the light. The baby in Jiara’s papoose wailed, and she held it, like a pregnant mother. Roz stood nearby, lengthened and hissing softly. Takir stood with no explanation but a determination that Hasver was alive, but perhaps… absent.
Much as before, Lady Jiara was brought aboard a mission for the Truth. The Aeon Priestess who was part of a heritage of self-proclaimed Salt Witches spoke of her journey from the frigid south. She spoke of dreams of Lord Koshi, and finding him the charge of monsters at the edge of her marsh.
The cotton of evening descended over them as they spoke of their quest. She seemed intrigued but not afraid of a diamond-fisted Gaian king. Perhaps someone who could salinate and strain the Tithe River with her will might prove useful against the Skycrystal wielders?
With great ceremony, she unwrapped a Go set from her pack. She laid the dark stones across from her. Before her, the white. “A bit of a tradition for me to play with a Priest of the Truth when on journeys,” she smiled.
Takir accepted. The bamboo grain of the mat spoke of a thousand thousand moves and the subtle markings of human fingers and the fading of salt. The black pieces were the Truth moving over an uncivilized wasteland. The white pieces were the people, and the numenera, and the lost particles of the 9th World – still expanding over an orderly grid that was not their color.
The Lady was a skillful player of Go. But Takir’s mind saw the world in the board, he saw the Ebon Hall that was itself a metaphor of the Steadfast. He saw a breakpoint, and secret knowledge brimmed inside him. Would he strike the dark beads of the truth into the heart of the white pieces for an adamintine glimpse at the enemy (when did the Truth get enemies?). Would he surround the white with dark borders and feast on an understanding of his own kind?
Darkness bled around the board. Lady Jiara’s smile of loss was wry.
Wisdom bloomed inside Takir. The Amber Monolith was on the move. The Amber Pope was afraid. Death stalked the battlefields of the north. The Skycrystals crushed the automatons serving the truth. Another monolith behind them had just been attacked.
The moment passed. Jiara brought out salted pork. Frund had prepared a stew.
With the oncoming night, came the flood.
The river picked up their tiny boat. The clung. Salt began to blossom all around Jiara. Higher than cliffs they rose. The froth surmounted their boat. The dark world went white. Where had that happened recently?
The baby was crying. Powers happened reflexively.
The world crashed end over end. Something closed around the ship.
The world was made of water.
No sign of Frund.
No sign of Hasver.
No sign of Jiara.
Only Roz, unwrapping herself from around the young boy, who looked more serious and worried than children should.