After he finishes vomiting, Zully becomes aware that he can control his own lips. “What are we standing on?”

“This is the Celestial Firmament, Zully, the great black basal barrier that separates the Mother Countries from the endless maw which is the Pelagic Sea beyond.”

“It feels like it’s made of charcoal.” He bends over, tries to break off a piece, and instead succeeds only in making his hand sooty.

“Over the side she goes.” Ol-Rasta points to the wide and gaping hole in the Firmament. “Through here. Just toss her, she’ll be fine. The catatonia will wear off in a few minutes.”

Zully knows at least the basics of cosmology. “But the Smelter of Souls –!”

“The Smelter will only appear if and when the Dark attempts to leave the Mother Countries. We all carry the Dark within us; it’s all the bad ideas that took root when we were young. Vera here is different. She could come or go as she pleased, if she could get up here. She doesn’t have the Dark inside her.”

Zully recognizes his role. He waits patiently for Ol-Rasta to explain further, then braces himself for the inevitable Domination. “What?” he hears himself say.

“Of course she still has, you know, selfish thoughts and whatnot. But they’re not part of the Dark. She is, essentially, a throwback to the pre-Landing verrik, although I used mostly sibeccai parts.”

The unconscious woman doesn’t look anything like a sibeccai. “What now?” he’s obliged to ask.

“We toss her through mere minutes before the vanguard of the Council of War or whomever the Most High thinks can stop me gets here. That is, now.”

Zully obliges her, for how can he not, so ensorcelled? He hucks Vera off the Celestial Firmament and watches as she tumbles rapidly out of sight.

“Just my own little ‘fuck you’ to the Most High. I can’t leave the Mother Countries myself; I’m swimming in the Dark. But I made someone who could.”

“What now?” Zully asks. He notices, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he uses cadence and tone identical to the last time’s.

“Now we flee before the Most High’s lackeys, my esteemed colleagues, turn us to cinders.”

Zully looks around. A charcoal plain stretching to the horizon, studded with the occasional column of light. “I don’t see them,” he says dully.

“Bah. They’ll be coming. I’ll be going now. One day, I will come back.”

“Eh?”

“I will come back. I’m not going far.

“I am going to hide in the Five Men War. If I get within range of the temporal slack, they won’t dare follow me in. Once inside the event, I should be able to end it in a few seconds of subjective time, which is to say before 1600. Yadd Island will detonate in, oh, let’s say 1505. That’s what, three human generations? At most. Might be only two. It took the Most High over three centuries to form and assume power the first time; I’m sure I’ll beat it. Then it’ll just be me and the Five Men and whoever’s come to power in the intervening time, and we’ll soon get everything sorted out.

“And you only are escaped alone to tell Living Memory. You can tell them all of this. They can’t do anything about it.”

THIS IS ZULLY’S VERSION OF THE TRUTH

FIN


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