Only after she'd returned from the village of Al-Muud did Salit Zehar discover the answer. And the question? It was the question that had vexed all Pangaea since the world began to change last summer.
Salit gripped a devil star. Her last. The six-pointed semisentient knife vibrated in her fist--or maybe it was her own trembling. She ran her tongue tip over her lip and tasted salt and grit and fear.
Rumor said the rocks had bled since the eruption in the Hercynian Sea. Magma surged from the ocean floor over wreckage of the famous Floating Towers. From the sea rose a cineritious caldera. Isle of Pyrber, the High Council called the forsaken place: Emerged from Fire.
In Atlan to the south and Blackblood Cavern below the streets, the smell of sulfur and a haze of ashes choked the air. Winter was approaching, the breadfruit leaves turning gold, and Our Sacred Imperium of Pangaea pondered ever-present death, emerging life, and ineluctable change.
Salit crouched behind a tumble of boulders. The earthshock that had devastated the world last summer--some said the Big Shock prophesied by the Apocalyptists--had dislodged chunks of the granite walls. Rockfalls littered West Ingress, forming crawl spaces like the one where she hid. Scattered torches cast pools of fitful amber light.
A squad of walkabout vigiles marched past her no more than a handbreadth away. Tall, golden-haired magister pures, the vigiles swung golden-skinned faces back and forth, surveilling the ingress with penetrating blue eyes. Imperial weapons dangled from their belts--crossbows, daggers, firebolts. Fine uniforms of indigo-blue flattered bulging muscles in their formidable arms and thighs.
Sweat poured down Salit's neck, sliding in ticklish trails beneath her chameleon cloak. The cloak obeyed her for a change, wrapping its draperies around her. She glanced down at herself and saw a ripple of rock and shadows. A decent camouflaging for once.Cursed vigiles, what are you doing in impure territory? Raiding my people for Atlan Prefecture? Rounding up hostages for Vigilance torturers?
A vigile swung his head around and cocked it, and Salit realized she'd been whispering aloud. So alone. Alone too long since Horan Zehar had died beneath the knife of Lieutenant Captain Regim Deuceman. Too long the journey from Al-Muud to Atlan. Too many days of evading Vigilance, hiding on the cliffs, sleeping on Sausal Beach, before she dared return to Blackblood Cavern, searching for Asif.
A pretty vigile not much older than Salit's seventeen years unfurled a scroll and proceeded to post it. Bang bang bang bang,
four efficient hammer strikes on four iron spikes. A dozen scrolls were tucked beneath her brawny arm. The smallest of the squad, the pretty vigile stood twice as tall as Salit and easily tipped the scales at three stone more.
Salit had always had trouble keeping enough meat on her frail bones. Way
too many days since she'd enjoyed a square meal. Yesterday she had dined on three tiny speckled eggs she'd found in a seabird's nest. She had crunched eggshells in her teeth, swallowed raw yolks, and wished there had been more.
The most regal vigile of the squad wrinkled her slope of a nose and yawned, bored and disdainful. "Hai, my officers," announced this fine specimen of the magister purity, "I cannot bear this vile place another moment. Let's begone. Our young Assayev will post the rest, won't you, officer?"
The vigiles glanced among themselves in the peculiar way people of the purities often did: dreamy-eyed and withdrawn.When the pures look as if they're gone into a trance, they have entered sharemind,
Horan had taught her. We of the impure possess no sharemind. We invoke no Imperial sharemind. We do not dream in the Mind of the World. We possess no sharemind among the purities or among the impure, not even between our bonded ones. We possess no security numbers, no protocol chips, no sharelock chips. But don't despair, my daughter. We may be all alone, each within our own minds, but we are free.
And the question vexing all Pangaea loomed before Salit: If I am impure, and I cannot dream in the Mind of the World, then how could I have appeared in the dream of a famous angel? The eminent Milord Lucyd, whom I've never even met before?
The regal vigile said, "Look lively, Officer Assayev, and watch your back. The impure are nasty little beasts, even those not of the terrorist clans." She made the sign of the Imperial star. "They're the Fallen of Inim, servants of the Supreme Adversary. We should pray for them but we should also be wary."
"Yes, my sergeant," barked the pretty vigile, nearly toppling when she clicked her bootheels.
The vigiles chuckled at their puppy of a colleague. Awareness left their eyes as they entered sharemind again.
Salit frowned, and sorrow coiled around her heart. She had no notion what the pures communicated in their shared consciousness. Or how, exactly. Or what it felt like.
She only knew she was excluded.
"Report to me at Vigilance when you're done, As-sayev," the sergeant vigile said. "I've got a batch of new protocol regulations I need you to post in Allpure Square."
"Yes, my sergeant."
The squad turned and marched up West Ingress toward Marketplace, leaving the pretty vigile to her task.
The vigile glanced imperiously at the rough-hewn walls, searching for a place to post another scroll. She withdrew one from beneath her arm and a handful of spikes from a pouch at her belt. She lazily nailed the scroll to the wall, obeying her orders as if nothing could possibly harm her.
Here, in impure territory.