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'And to do that, you would have me - Khai of my own city - abandon Cetani to follow your lead?'

'Yes,' Otah said.

The Khai sat in silence for a long time, then rose. The rustle of his robes as he walked to the window was the only sound. Otah waited as the man looked out over the city. Over Cetani, the city for which this man had killed his brothers, for which he had given up his name. Otah felt the tension in his own back and neck. He was asking this man to abandon everything, to walk away from the only role he had played in his life. Cetani would fall. It would be sacked. Even if everything went perfectly, there might be nothing to rebuild. And what would a Khai be if there was no city left him?

Many years before, Otah had asked another man to do the right thing, even though it would cost him his honor and prestige and the only place he had in the world. Heshai-kvo had refused, and he had died for the decision.

'Most High,' Otah began, but the Khai Cetani held up a hand to stop him without even so much as looking back. Otah could see it in the man's shoulders in the moment the decision was made; they lifted as if a burden had been taken from him.

18.

Even the winter she had pa.s.sed in Yalakeht had not prepared Liat for the fickleness of seasons in the North. Each day now was noticeably shorter than the one before, and even when the afternoons were warm, the sun pressing down benignly on her face, the nights were suddenly bitter. In the gardens, the leaves all lost their green at once, as if by conspiracy. It was unlike the near-imperceptible changes in the summer cities. In Saraykeht, autumn was a slow, lingering thing; the warmth of the world made a long good-bye. Things came faster here, and Liat found the pace disturbing. She was a woman of the South, and abrupt change uneased her.

For instance, she thought as she sipped smoky tea in her apartments, she still imagined herself a businesswoman of Saraykeht. Had anyone asked of her work, she would have spoken of the combing rooms, the warehouses. Had anyone asked of her home, she would have described the seafront of Saraykeht, the scent of the ocean, the babble of a hundred languages. She would have pictured the brick-built house she'd taken over when Amat Kyaan had died, and the little bedroom with its window half-choked with vines. She hadn't seen that city in over a year, and wouldn't go back now before the spring at best.

At best.

At worst, Saraykeht itself might be gone. Or she might not live to see summer again.

The city in which she now pa.s.sed her days was suffering from change as well. Small shrines with images of the vanished andat had begun to appear in the niches between buildings, as if a few flowers and candles could coax them back. The temples had been filled every day by men and women who might not have sat before a priest in years. The beggars singing with boxes at their feet all chose songs about redemption and the return of things lo

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