Vanjit's voice spoke a single word - the last of the binding - at the same time as all the layered echoes, a dozen voices speaking as one. The world itself chimed, pandemonium resolving into a single harmonious chord. The room was only a room again. When Maati stood, he could hear the hem of his robe whispering against the stone. Vanjit sat where she had been, her head bowed. No new form stood before her. It should have been there.
She's failed, Maati thought. It hasn't worked, and she's paid the price of it.
The others were on their feet, but he took a pose that commanded them to remain where they were. This was his. However bad it was, it was his. His belly twisted as he walked toward her corpse. He had seen the price a failed binding exacted: always different, always fatal. And yet Vanjit's ribs rose and fell, still breathing.
'Vanjit-kya?' he said, his voice no more than a murmur.
The girl s.h.i.+fted, turned her head, and looked up at him. Her eyes were bright with joy. In her lap, something squirmed. Maati saw the round, soft flesh, the tubby, half-formed hands and feet, a toothless mouth, and black eyes full of empty rage. Except for the eyes, it could have been a human baby.
'He's come,' Vanjit said. 'Look, Maati-kvo. We've done it. He's here.'
As if freed from silence by the poet's words, Clarity-of-Sight opened its tiny throat and wailed.
Kiyan-kya- I look at how long I carried the world, or thought I did, and I wonder how many times we have to learn the same lessons. Until we remember them, I suppose. It isn't that I've stopped worrying. The G.o.ds all know I crawl into my bed at night half-tempted to call for reports from Sinja and Danat and Ashua. Even if I had them dragged into my chambers to recount everything they'd seen and done, how would it change things? Would I need less sleep? Would I be able to remake the world through raw will like a poet? I'm only a man, however fancy the robes they put me in. I'm not more suited to lead a war fleet or root out a conspiracy or win a young girl's love than any of them.
Why is it so hard for me to believe that someone besides myself might be competent? Or did I fear that letting go of any one part would mean everything would fall away?
No, love. Idaan was right. I have been punis.h.i.+ng myself all this time for not saving the people I cared for most. I think some nights that I will never stop mourning you.
Otah's pen hung in the cool night air, the bra.s.s nib just above the paper. The night breeze smelled of the sea and the city, rich and heavy as an over
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