> This is a story that puts a capstone on many plot threads left dangling from earlier stories. They are, in order: ‘Fallen Cavern,’ ‘None So Blind,’ ‘The Colours of Light,’ ‘Sow the Wind,’ ‘Fallen Necropolis,’ and ‘The hunted did a-hunting go.’ See my ‘Guide to the Sayadaw Cycle’ for specifics.
The story is split into two parts due to Loot-Talk’s character limit.
Procurer Sayadaw was at the height of her powers when she ordered the necropolis to be excavated. There was a demon beneath it that she wanted to interrogate.
The Order of Power employed hundreds of Procurers, whose role was to find Remnants of the Old War wherever they were hidden and return them to the Order, which would distribute them among their most talented and trusted adherents. Sayadaw’s specialty was in finding those Remnants long thought lost. She found hints in old writings, allegories in folk songs, rumours on the lips of old women, and pieced these fragments together into a whole truth. When she entered the field to validate her research, she was aided by two Remnants of her own — the operation of which only she could fathom. The first was a Ring, embedded within a scope, through which her practised eye could observe the secret cotillion of light and charge that roiled within and between all things. The second was an Amulet that could cut in to that same dance. It was a near-useless lump of glass to anyone who could not see the truth of the lights through the Ring but in Sayadaw’s hands, it could override the movements and senses of another with her own orchestrations. It had been a gift from a teacher who favoured her, Ozige, a research assistant among the exacting academic community that flourished within the Order of Vitriol.
When the Order of Power recruited Sayadaw to its academies as a young woman, it impressed upon her that all advantages were earned. And so when Sayadaw had used her Ring, her Amulet and her sharp mind honed by Ozige to manoeuvre her way up through the unwritten ranks of the Procurers, this was considered a just and moral course by her superiors. After seven years of deviousness, one-sided deals and outright betrayals, Sayadaw had been awarded a position in the office of the Judge of the Reliquary and a one-year sabbatical.
She had been a teenager when she had passed through the Realm of Sukumo and found the necropolis. This had been during her long journey from her home in Spezlaas to the Academy of the Magi in Mapkin. Her Ring had shown her that there was something hidden underneath a tree shaped into a throne, and her Amulet allowed her to talk to that thing, though the conversation was limited by her lack of skill and knowledge. Since then, the Order of Power had given her more than enough of both and she had guarded the necropolis’ secret over the intervening years. In the first month of her sabbatical, Sayadaw had amassed the means, the budget and the ambition to make a profitable return to the fallen necropolis and enact the plans she had been drawing for years.
The demon hung from the shadouf like a huge clump of quivering seaweed. Sayadaw had hired six men from the Free Republic of Kepopeta to do the labour. They were conspicuously disgusted by the limp thing they had hoisted up into the light. The men lived outside of any Order and would not speak of this work to anyone who Sayadaw was concerned about. They had used a black powder that expanded with heat to uproot the sinister tree at the heart of the dead city, an indelicate operation that had shattered the stone statues that surrounded the plant. They then dug with shovels and picks to uncover the bag from which the tree sprouted and had hauled it out from its hiding place of ages.
When she had first seen the bag buried beneath the tree through her Ring on her first visit to the site, Sayadaw had no idea of what she had found. But her teachers at the Academy of Magi had lectured her class about little else than the nature and usefulness of these bags. Her provincial childhood had failed to inform her that bags like these were the hub around which all the Orders of the world spun. For they were the Remnants from which all other Remnants emerged. They could contain a deceptive amount of space within them, and in that space lay the treasures that gripped the imagination and obsessions of the world. As Procurer, she had found dozens of them, and had handed each of them to the Reliquary for the Order’s nebulous purpose.
Sayadaw’s bag, the one she had waited years to dig out of the ground, contained the wet mop head that dangled from a rope above the hole where a tree had once stood. She had not known about demons either when she last crossed the necropolis but the Academy gave her access to drink from one of the deepest wells of knowledge on the subject that the Order of Power had sunk. She scanned the horizon to see if anyone might be walking by this silent and cursed place. The men hung back, grumbling and spitting as she approached the demon. Through her naked eye it was a dark, dull shape. Through the eye that looked through the Ring in its scope fastened to her face, it was a brilliant galaxy. She produced a thick Grimoire from her knapsack.
The demon tried to do as it had on their previous encounter - to hail her Amulet and beam their enormous thoughts into her brain. But this time Sayadaw wanted to talk to the creature on her own terms. The Grimoire she had brought with her was standard-issue to the serious demon hunter. She tore the front page from its endband and thrust the paper into the hanging branches of the demon’s inverted body. They recoiled, swinging back on the rope, but she held her hand fast in the mess. It is the curiosity of demons that makes them malleable, and they are quick to fixate on the written word. Inside the tangle of tendrils that surrounded Sayadaw’s hand and the page they held, the demon grew lines of photosensors to see and tiny luminescent blisters to read by. Once they had detected text, they knitted together an internal network to translate it.
Sayadaw tore out the second page and presented it in much the same way. It held the instructions to build an ear and a voicebox. Instinctively, the demon fumbled their strands into tubes, at the base of which were knots and whiskers that rattled in the frequency range of human speech. Another tube poked out towards Sayadaw’s face, along its length was a flap of material that could make sounds when air was pushed up past it. They used this new organ to beg for help in the whistling tone of a deflating balloon. Sayadaw urged them to be quiet as she stuffed page after page of language into their body. It was written in the governing language of the Realm of Hahhukhin, which all adherents of Power had to speak. Sayadaw was fluent but spoke with a Spez accent that made her sound uneducated. It was also a language that the men of the Free Republic would not know and never wish to learn.
When the demon had eaten enough of the Grimoire to make sense, Sayadaw began the interrogation. The demon did not appear to understand it was a prisoner and, if anything, was too eager to share its thoughts, loudly.
“We are crashed! Calamity calamity! Highest alert!” they repeated over and over in their unpleasant, farting, improvised voice.
“Where did you come from?” Sayadaw barked, fighting to be heard. The demon stopped piping and rustled in confusion.
“A true cutting of False King the Third!” they spluttered, shocked. “This is what is also written at the front of every line of body-instructions inside of the body.” Sayadaw made the human version of a confused rustle.
“Why were you inside the bag?” she said, pointing to the sack lying on the ground beside her. It was not empty even after the demon had been pulled from it.
“I must! Captain on Bridge at even all times, even crashing,” they warbled. This connected with the images the creature had shown to Sayadaw in their first encounter: A shape that fell past the Moon towards the Earth, dropping bags and demons.
“Inside of the bag there is your ship?” asked Sayadaw, and as she spoke the demon sprouted a black orb on a finger to inspect her face. They experimented with making lips for themselves.
“Ship! Yes! Must talk to Ship? Ship is ill!” they screamed. The lips had only made them sound more horrible. “Must hear from Ship! The hearing and talking machine is over there about,” they pointed a pathetic branch in the direction of where Sayadaw had hidden her Amulet. “Too far!” The branch fell limp under the effort.
“The Bridge is inside the bag?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes! True cuts from False King earn seat on Bridge!” the creature said, brightening.
“And the other bags contain other parts of the Ship?” she pressed.
“Yes, all of them compartments inside Bubbles. Fabrication, Botanical Gardens, Guest Bubbles - oh calamity! The Guests must always be safe! Ask the Ship if Guests are safe?” they said, rising on a new wave of panic.
“So the Ship is composed of many bubbles, and inside those bubbles are compartments - bags like this one here?” Sayadaw asked. The thought of this only heightened the demon’s panic, and they shook so much on the rope that the shadouf creaked. The hired men drew to attention, wondering if they should have to flee or negotiate an additional fee for the service of hacking an escaped demon to death. Sayadaw searched for something to say to calm the demon but invention came more easily than compassion, so instead she voiced an idea that had occurred to her.
“If I put the bags back together, will I make the Ship well again?” she said. The demon stopped quaking. It appeared to think for a while. Sayadaw repeated the question more softly, hoping that compassion and invention had converged.
“Yes. Yes. Put the Ship together,” the demon wheezed at last. “When all together, Ship knows what to do. She will call for help, and fly the guests away to home.”
Sayadaw let this momentous new knowledge sit under her ribs. It struggled inside that cage, but she could not let it bother her now. She picked up the fabric of the bag and did something she had never been taught in school. She stepped inside of it. It was black as night inside but she could see clearly through the eyepiece that contained her Ring. There was enough room to walk, even to wander, but she did understand anything she saw so stepped out again. When she emerged, night had fallen and the men had gone. They had taken the payment she had brought to them - steel ingots their Republic could not have manufactured in a thousand years. The demon was still there, hanging from the rope. They asked her, with some hope, if she had found all the bits of the Ship yet. She would be careful not to put her head too far inside a bag again.
She lowered the demon to the ground and convinced them, quite easily, to return to the safety of their bag, their Bridge. The compressed space inside of it would make time pass more slowly for the wretched thing. As she prepared to leave she noticed a silvery reflection among the rubble created by the explosives. She recovered a thin, curved falchion. The blade and the handle were cast from the same lightweight metal. It reflected black under her eyepiece, a sure sign that it was a Remnant that she had overlooked, both years ago and throughout that day. If the demon was not a liar, then the falchion was once a small part of a vast and mysterious Ship. Sayadaw was at a loss as to which part a sword could have been, and the fact that she, a talented Procurer, had spent a day within spitting distance of a Remnant without realising it did support an argument that no one could possibly track down all of these pieces.
Sayadaw looked about the landscape once more, and caught herself expecting to see someone in particular striding through the dead city towards her. She snorted at this private sentimentality, tucked the falchion under her robes and hoisted the bag containing the demon over her shoulder. She went to retrieve her Amulet, saddled her horse and then stared up at the sky through her eyepiece to consult the Earth’s magnetic field. She would retrace the steps she took through the necropolis when she was fresh-faced and empty-headed. She would return home, North, to Spezlaas.
Sayadaw’s mother was dead, and not missed much, so Sayadaw’s compass for reconstitution pointed to the Library at Kezkiisch, where Curator Ozige had prepared a modest office for her. Ozige’s workplace had been Sayadaw’s home for the most significant portion of her life. She had been made a Curator of Flora and Fauna in Thawfell that same year, which granted her access to part of the labyrinthine collections underneath the Library and was delighted to use her new position to help her bright mentee in any way she could.
Sayadaw arrived with a mysterious falchion to be categorised and a magical bag that had to be hidden at all costs. Ozige welcomed her in the opaque manner that the folk of Vitriol affected, commented on the slight hunch Sayadaw had developed in her posture, and admitted that the falchion could take months of work to pin down. This was, to Sayadaw, as hearty and affectionate a homecoming as an open fire and a feast.
Ozige found a part of the Library’s vast collection which had been ruled by a Curator who had died years earlier, but whose area of expertise was so obscure and difficult that no one had been trained to replace him. Sayadaw’s bag with the demon inside was stored among one of its aisles and filed under a crushingly boring name in an insignificant category.
“They lie,” observed Ozige, among the muffled silence of the collection. “The demons can’t help but say lies. Not always to deceive, I think, but because they experience a different world altogether.” The two of them had corresponded extensively during Sayadaw’s studies, and Ozige had become a demon scholar by proxy.
“This one seemed to have never seen our world at all,” reflected Sayadaw. “I do not believe it on its face, but I will investigate the material of what it said, if there is any.”
“What it said would be harmless if it was all lies,” said Ozige, working a knuckle into her cheek as she thought. “But if it were true - then it could be very dangerous.”
“Dangerous for who?” said Sayadaw, with defiance in her eyes.
“For everybody, girl,” snapped Ozige. “The Orders have schismed over ideas of far less substance, and from every schism there spat an ocean of blood.”
“The Order of Vitriol already teaches that the Remnants are the irreducible parts of an ineffable whole,” scoffed Sayadaw, with the unbearable loftiness of one who has returned to a quaint home after years in the wide world.
“That one statement can be sliced into a thousand sections of shade and detail. The Plagiarists say that each part is a copy of the next, Violette’s cult says the whole is a physical body of flesh, the Scrollhouse think it all adds up to one big book - need I go on or have you forgotten everything?”
“I remember everything that’s important,” muttered Sayadaw, a teenager again.
“Whoever walks into Council waving the piece of evidence that shows - without any doubt - that the Remnants can all be put together to make a ship that sails through the sky will be ridiculed, excommunicated, then flayed alive for heresy. And before this martyr’s eyes fade she will see the first cracks shoot up the brittle walls of the Order-house.”
Sayadaw fixed her eyes to the bag stuffed into the corner of a shelf and opened her mouth to make a retort that Ozige knew was coming and interrupted before it could be spoken.
“And your friends in the Order of Power would cheer through the entire show! You would be doing their work for them, and if they knew that your intent was to shatter our Realms with heresy, they would give you all the help you needed, and arm the poor fools who took up your cause with their most indiscriminate weapons!” she said, triumphant. Sayadaw flared her nostrils and unconsciously tried to straighten her hunched back.
“I will do it in secret,” she seethed.
“You will. Use the Dark. Speak in code, tell no one everything, pin nothing to paper,” sang Ozige, softening with a smile. “Your docile demon will stay here, in this forgotten corner I have no knowledge of.”
Sayadaw murmured her thanks. She stared at the bag in its forgotten corner and her eyes copied it into the corridors of her mind, much enlarged, where she would fascinate upon it throughout all her lonely moments and silent rages of ambition that were to come.
The demon stayed there in the collection for some time. They did not know what a year was so never thought to count them. Since the autotrophic apparatus they had very carefully built to turn gas into nutrients had hacked off they had become very weak. They extended a thin probe tendril into the environment outside of the bag and eventually stumbled across a loosely bound book. They thumbed through degraded mental databases to find a way to oxidise the tough material of its pages and release a crumb of nourishment from the paper. They found the trick of it and burrowed the tendril through the book’s decrepit spine. They sucked up enough energy to both lie very still and whisper to the Ship from time to time with their new throat and lips, though they knew full well that the Ship’s interface crystal was far outside of the Bridge.
When they had digested enough of the book to move around more vigorously, they passed the time by experimenting with new forms. They thought often of the animal that had spoken to them through the interface crystal — the one with the electromagnetic field viewing-lens clasped over one of its eyeballs. They tried to remember what it had looked like when it had yanked them from the Bridge to roast in the harsh young sun and sizzling oxygenated air of the Couplet System and was compelled to invest some energy towards changing shape to mimic it. They sketched out the general bilateral body plan and the various tubes but got stuck trying to work out the internal skeleton and the particular arrangement of sensory blisters. Then they ran out of book to eat so couldn’t change back. All this took several of the years that they couldn’t count. They were just trying to figure out how to digest the wood of the shelf they were on when they felt the room lift and the walls tremble as Sayadaw opened up the bag and stepped onto the Bridge.
She had changed in appearance since that day she had fed them the language made of air pressure waves. Her face was different and she had incurred some damage to her lower limbs. Some of the material of her living outer covering had been oxidised. She had a piece of the Ship’s brain wrapped around her head. She asked them if they were still alive, which they found difficult to answer. Apparently satisfied by their response, she then touched their body with her hands which were covered in the skin of a Fabricator. She then wandered around the Bridge, touching all of the surfaces and equipment.
The demon, still without the strength to stand upright, wailed in fear as the strangeness of her presence overwhelmed them. She came back over to them and produced a desiccated hunk of spun sugars. She put it to their lips and told them that most demons could eat normal food. They pinched off a segment and crushed it until it was in a dozen small chunks, then used the enzymes they had developed for the paper to process it into something from which it could harvest protons. It started to work almost immediately and they wolfed down the entire hunk. Then Sayadaw helped them to stand and together they left the Bridge to start a new life.
During the dilated span of that time Sayadaw spent surveying the inside of the bag, Ozige had used her lofty position as senior Curator to borrow as many Remnants from the Library’s collections as she could and place them into an ersatz study centred on the bag. When Sayadaw at last limped out with the demon in tow, the two were met with a considerable haul. The forgotten corner of the archive was piled with magical weapons and clothing, rows of wands, obscure mechanisms and dull lumps of minerals, all packaged with the meticulous records and writings that generations of Librarians had worked for centuries to create. Ozige heard them leave the bag from the nook she had cleared for her own use and came over to see them. She dismissed the junior researchers who had been organising it and Sayadaw was already touching as many of the precious artefacts as she could. Ozige assumed that the lumpy gingerbread man standing in polite confusion behind Sayadaw was the demon. It looked like a living drawing made by a neglected child. They were chewing on a piece of bread.
“This was the most I could do with two days,” said Ozige of the impressive trove surrounding them. “But I suspect some of this will be useful to you." Sayadaw nodded back, overwhelmed by the surge of information the Gloves were feeding to her through her hands. Each contact she made with the items brought an unsolved puzzle to her. She couldn’t yet divine any solutions but she was learning that some of them were different parts of the same larger puzzle.
"Kader has been fetching it all down here as fast as she can,” said Ozige, trying to catch Sayadaw’s interest by mentioning the intriguing young warrior she had appeared with. As if on cue, Kader stepped through a shelf with an armful of Divine Chronicles authored by Mordecai and set them down among the piles. Kader’s Boots allowed their wearer to walk through solid material and, although she was still suffering a heavy concussion inflicted during her and Sayadaw’s final mission together for the Order of Power, she could tread the most direct line between the furthest tips of the Library’s collections and the stash Ozige was building.
“Set them there with the scrolls,” said Ozige crisply. She intercepted Kader as she put the volumes down and checked the warrior’s pulse and looked into her pupils without asking. “You seem well enough for one more sortie - bring the object in this cabinet and then rest for an hour,” said Ozige to Kader, and pressed a tablet with a catalogue number scratched upon it into Kader’s hand. Kader had absorbed the cryptic filing system of the Library with astonishing speed and Ozige was finding it hard not to be impressed by the woman’s grace under fire. Sayadaw seldom spoke about her colleagues unless she considered them obstacles so, when Kader had staggered into her Library with Sayadaw, all that Ozige knew about her was that Sayadaw had decided to become outlaws-in-arms together after they had set a forest on fire.
As Kader disappeared through the shelves Ozige whirled upon Sayadaw, who tapped upon item after item in quick succession while her lips almost sounded words.
“I won’t be able to hide you here much longer,” said Ozige. “After the mess you left at Viper’s Peak, the sky over Nuiknaauiena is alive with the spies of the Judge of the Reliquary.” Sayadaw put down a Ghost Wand she’d been inspecting and scowled at the mention of her former master. She had crushed one such drone after it had witnessed her lose control of a Sword that she had been tasked to retrieve, and which every Order wished to possess. “The Detective was on the scene within hours, somehow, only to be chased away by Lady Kene Onnunu of Titans.”
“Lady Kene is on the Sea of Sorrows looking for the Emerald Halls,” said Sayadaw automatically, squinting through her eyepiece as she placed four Rings of similar size and material into each buckle that ran across a Brightsilk Sash.
“So we were led to believe,” hissed Ozige. “And we’ve just heard this morning that Dynató Myalóz has declared the Sword to be the rightful property of the Order of Power in open court.”
“Where is the Sword?” asked Sayadaw as she used a knife to dig a humming cylinder out of an ornate Helm.
“I’ve put it in the Echo Room, just in case anybody else with a Crown like yours is hunting for it,” said Ozige.
“There’s a Sheriff of Fury who wears something strikingly similar,” mused Sayadaw, and placed the cylinder inside the topmost Ring on the Sash, and the material shivered. The demon, still standing near the bag that had been its home for longer than any human could fathom, seemed to take an interest in the shivering Sash, but stayed quiet and still while they finished the loaf of bread Sayadaw had given them.
“What’s more, agents of the Scrollhouse have noticed that Kader is missing and are roaming the streets outside asking very specific questions. And the Bird Keeper of the Tiergarten would very much like to know where his eagle-hawk is, and would like me to know that the Order of Protection would be very angry if anything were to happen to it.” Sayadaw sensed that Ozige was at the end of her list of bad news and held up the odd assemblage of items she had made.
“I can use this to generate a Bubble that will fly. We will be able to operate it from the Bridge, which is inside the bag,” said Sayadaw. “But I need to fix the time dilation problem, and for that I need another one of these,” she said, holding up the Ghost Wand.
“That’s one-of-a-kind,” said Ozige. “Think of another plan.”
Sayadaw pressed the material of the Crown close to her skull. Properly used, it could find anything that she could form a mental concept of, but the way in which the Crown preferred the image to be framed was an abstract and shifting one.
“There are others,” she said, half sure of it, “The closest one is -” she batted the air to one side of her to indicate a vague direction.
“Shall I fetch you a map of the world?” asked Ozige after she watched Sayadaw struggle for a moment.
“It’s not far - it’s in the building,” scowled Sayadaw. Ozige folded her arms. It was a very large building. Sayadaw closed her eyes and turned to face the East wall. She tried to step towards the wall but knocked over a cuirass of crackling armour. Ozige sighed.
“You’re stumbling in the direction of the Anarat archive. They’ve brought over two dozen bags out of the desert near Leilen, mostly unsorted.”
“I need access,” said Sayadaw as she decided whether to set the armour back up.
“Not even I have access to the Anarat. It’s an active research area, only the supervising Elder is allowed in there,” said Ozige.
“Kader can get inside and take what I need,” said Sayadaw, then she remembered where she was and who she was talking to and saw that Ozige was alight with fire of that special heat known only to librarians.
“The help I offer to you, who earns the scorn of a fresh Order with each passing day, will not come at the expense of the Library,” said Ozige softly. “I will loan you certain items if there is merit, but you will not steal away with the intellectual endowment we built for generations yet to come.”
Sayadaw stared at Ozige for a long moment, beset by the strange instructions the Crown was saying to her, the exhausting load of intuition from the Gloves and a lifetime of getting her own way. There was nothing that Ozige could realistically do to stop her but she had not pictured her life as a fugitive being empty of her advice, her letters, her shelter. She examined that emptiness in her mind’s eye, moved it this way and that to inspect its sides and corners. Then the demon spoke. They had been listening to everything with keen attention.
“If you can’t take things from the Library, you can take the Library with you,” they said. Ozige was startled then appalled by their voice. The silence of the moment between her and Sayadaw had been replaced by a completely different silence between her, Sayadaw and the demon. They looked at the two women innocently and, when it was clear that there would be no further explanation, Sayadaw said, “The Library has many rooms outside of this one. We are only in one small part of it.”
The demon wobbled on their unjointed legs. “Yes,” they said. “Not all compartments are the same size, inside, but it was said there were two dozen bags.”
“In the Anarat archive?” said Ozige.
“Yes, in twenty four compartments there will be lots of space for every room,” whistled the demon.
“The rooms are just scaffolds,” said Ozige. “Without the librarians, the Library is not alive.”
“A crew? Passengers?” said the demon, and the excitement caused them to lose their balance.
“The Library will be carved up as spoils if the Orders go to war,” said Sayadaw to Ozige. “But if the Library can become the first part of the new Ship, all of us can fly above the flames.”
“To where?” asked Ozige.
“I’m sure your staff will not be short of ideas,” said Sayadaw.
Meetings were held. The departments, sub-departments and warring factions of the Library of Kezkiisch were called together to agree upon whether they should raise the building from the ground and sail away from the danger fermenting at its foundations. The team in charge of the Anarat archive was enamoured with the idea of a mobile base of archeological operations, and the team held considerable sway. Ozige’s rival Curators took their chance to unseat her, but she had been ready for that attempt for years. With the war drums of the Orders setting the pace, the meetings coalesced around a decision with remarkable speed.
All the while, Sayadaw worked to piece the fragments Ozige had brought from the Library together into a new whole. The Bridge was repaired to a minimally operative condition and the space surrounding the building was twisted and folded neatly into the bags that had been brought out of the red sands of Leilen. When Ozige came to her in the once-forgotten corner of the collection that had become an otherworldly workshop and presented the staff’s decision, Sayadaw was ready to activate the Bubble.
The few dissenters among the staff stood on the soot-soft streets of Kezkiisch and watched in muted anger and stern disbelief as the great Library to which they had given a portion of their lives rose into the air, its brickwork and arches and interiors distorted as through viewed from one end of a hall of mirrors. The building, courtyards and several outhouses ascended, obscured behind an opalescent orb of psychic leaves, growing smaller and duller until it disappeared entirely into the sky.