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23

Why Are the Inhumi Like Us?


"Father?"

I looked up at Hide, half expecting to see the stone walls and smoldering cressets of the guardroom. The desolate wastes of the marsh stretched behind him instead, eerily illuminated by starlight and Green's virescent glow.

"Why did the Vanished People die out here before they did there?"

"On Green you mean?"

"Uh huh. You were looking at it."

"So I was. Because of the depredations of the inhumi."

A breathless voice from the shadows beyond our fire said, "I see I'm just in time," and both horses neighed in fright.

I motioned to Hide. "See to our horses, my son. They'll bolt if they're not well tied."

Jahlee stepped into our circle of light, tossing back long, sorrel-colored hair that was not her own. "Never mind, Hide. I'll stay away from them."

"Go." I motioned to him again, and she snickered.

I said, "You've been close enough to frighten them twice. Why have you come?"

"You know."

I shook my head.

"To complete your son's education."

"I should kill you instead of inviting you to sit down." I listened again-this time to Hide, who was speaking to the horses to quiet them.

"Do you have a needier?"

"If I did, I wouldn't tell you."

"I suppose not. You're not going to kill me. Not really."

I shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps not."

"You care what your gods think, and you know I have a human spirit."

"Stolen."

"I was one of you when we went to that place, that old, rotten city."

Hide rejoined us. "Where the Duko died?"

Jahlee nodded. "They treated him with herbs and things when he needed blood. I told them."

I said, "You are an acknowledged expert, but they cannot have known that."

Hide asked her, "What are you doing here? Are you coming with us?"

She smiled, her heavy, crimson lips tight. "I may."

"All the way to New Viron?"

"Farther, I hope."

"I won't do what you want," I told her flatly, and Hide turned his puzzled expression from me to her and back.

"I'd like to show you Green," Jahlee explained to him. "It's the whorl on which I was born and on which I grew up, just as your father was born and grew up on that little white one he tries to point out to you sometimes."

"The Long Sun Whorl? I've seen it. Can I ask a question, Jahlee, while you're here?" He waited for her nod. "I'd like to ask you and Father both."

"Yes." Her intonation answered a question that Hide had not yet asked, and she favored him with the tight-lipped smile that hid her toothless gums.

"Why did the trooper who'd been watching the cemetery gate beat you? I don't know his name."

"It was Badour." For a moment her eyes watched something far away. "We had a falling-out, Hide. Men and women frequently do. Ask your father about that."

"I doubt that you will, Hide. But if you did, I would tell you that the fallings-out men have with women, and that women have with men, are in no essential way different from the fallings-out that men have with other men, and women with other women. Whenever a man and a woman come to words or blows, fools are quick to attribute it to the differences between the sexes. The sexes differ much less than they wish to believe, and such differences as are real tend less to promote strife than to prevent it."

He nodded slowly.

"The differences between an inhuma such as Jahlee and a human woman-Mora, for example-are far more profound than those between a man and a real woman. Have you ever seen an inhuma's fangs? Or an inhumu's?"

"No, Father." He paused. "I'd like to."

Jahlee told him, "Well, you won't see mine!"

"We human beings have fangs too, in some sense. We usually call them the eyeteeth, because they originate under the tear ducts." I drew back my lips and touched the small, somewhat pointed teeth that go by that name. "It doesn't trouble us when others see them, however. An inhuma's fangs are hollow, like a viper's; but instead of injecting poison as a viper does, an inhuma uses hers to inject her saliva, which keeps your blood from clotting, and then to withdraw the blood. You've been bitten by a leech at some time or other, I'm sure. They were only too common around Lake Limna when I was young; and they are equally common here, and a good deal larger."

Hide nodded again, and gestured toward the marsh. "I was bitten right here. I didn't have a horse then, so I got a man to take me across in his boat." He swallowed and drew a deep breath. "Silk was over here, they said. Over on this side. That was what I'd heard, and I knew you'd gone to look for him, Father. So I thought you might be with him."

I shook my head.

"Anyway, that's why I went across. I gave him some things I'd brought from home, and he poled us across. It took two days."

"And in the course of them, you were bitten by a leech."

"Yeah, a big blue one. It felt soft and slimy, but it was really tough."

I smiled, or at least I tried to. "That is a surprisingly good description of the inhumi. When you know them as well I do, you'll appreciate the justice of my remark."

Jahlee hissed, "Is this your thanks for my hospitality?"

"Fundamentally, yes. It is always a service to prevent someone from becoming worse than she is already."

"I pulled it off," Hide said, "and the place on my leg bled a lot. The inhumi are like that, isn't that what you're saying? They're like leeches?"

"Much more like them than may at first appear."

"Only they can fly, can't they? That's what everybody says."

I nodded.

"Leeches can't. People can't either, except in a lander or something. But we'd like to." He looked at Jahlee. "Could you show me?"

She shook her head.

"I understand about the teeth, but it must be wonderful to fly. It's not like I'd make fun of you or anything."

"No!"

He turned back to me. "I've seen it, but only when I was a long way away. They look kind of like bats?"

"Somewhat."

"Only their wings don't move real fast, I suppose because they're so much bigger. You saw them up close, I bet, on Green."

"Here too. I know I've mentioned Krait to you. He took wing once when he was close enough for me to touch him, because he was very frightened."

"Of you!" Jahlee spat.

"No. I gave him far too much reason to be afraid of me, but it was not of me that he was afraid at that moment."

Hide asked her, "Can you tell me what that trooper was fighting with you about?"

"I…" She fell silent, darting a glance at me. Her face, the face that she had molded and painted for herself, looked less beautiful than angry in the firelight.

"May I tell him?" I asked. "To help complete his education, as you say. It would be good for him to know."

"You don't know yourself!"

"Of course I do. I saw your trooper. Badour, isn't that what you said his name was? In the Bear Tower, as well as you and your bruises. I'm trying to be polite, you see. I haven't pledged myself to keep that secret."

"Then tell me, Father. It sounds like something I ought to know about. You said so yourself."

"I will, if Jahlee won't-or if she tries to deceive you."

She spat into the fire. "What a fool I was to come here!"

"Then go. No one will hold you here against your will."

"I can fly. I'm not your dog, and I won't do my little trick just because you tell me to, but I can."

"Surely you can. I've never denied it. Like Hide, I envy you that ability."

"I might be able to find a way across this swamp. It would be of service to you."

I shrugged. "Oreb's doing that now. Looking for a way across."

Hide said, "Sometime I want to ask you about him, too."

"Why he looked as he did in the Red Sun Whorl? Because he is more nearly human in spirit than he appears, I suppose, and larger, too."

Hide shook his head. "Why he's with us now. Why he was with you when I first met you. I mean, when they said you wanted to see me and gave me a horse and sent me back. I read some of that book you and Mother wrote. I know you didn't think we did, any of us. But we did."

"I'm flattered."

"He was Silk's bird. That's what you said in there. Silk's pet bird."

Jahlee laughed. She has a good laugh, but I found it unpleasant then. "Haven't you noticed that his bird calls him Silk?"

"I am his owner," I explained to Hide. "I feed him, play with him, and talk to him; therefore he calls me Silk, the name he is accustomed to give his owner. Haven't you noticed that he knows very few names? He calls you 'boy,' and Jahlee 'bad thing.' "

Hide nodded. "He doesn't know a lot of words, but he's really good with those he knows."

Jahlee rose. "Useless! Utterly useless! I flew thirty leagues to offer my friendship and my love. What a fool!"

When she had vanished in the darkness, Hide said, "I wonder where she'll go now? Back to the farm?"

I shook my head. "Its rightful owners will have reclaimed it by now, I would think." I sighed and tugged at my beard, my head overfilled with thoughts. "You've complained that I don't teach you enough. If I labor to teach you a little about the inhumi now, and perhaps a bit about the Vanished People-you seem very eager to learn about them-will you listen and store it up?"

He raised his hand solemnly. "I swear by all the gods that there are that I'll remember every word."

"Be careful of what you swear to," I told him. "The thought of your failures will haunt you as you grow older.

"About the inhumi first. They love abandoned buildings. You know what happened in the farmhouse in which we slept. The threat of war drove the family out, and Jahlee moved into it almost at once, perhaps that same day. Duko Sfido and I arrived with our troops and found her occupying it. We assumed that she had a right to be there. I identified her unconsciously one night when I heard her voice without seeing her face, which was then that of a toothless old woman and very different indeed from the starved, sensual face I had seen her wear in Gaon."

"They can just do that? Change the way they look?"

"Correct. They mold their features with their fingers, as a sculptor does a piece of clay, and augment their artistry with cosmetics. What I began to say was that whenever you come upon what appears to be an abandoned house-or anything of that kind-and find that it is not really abandoned, that someone is in fact living in it, you should be very suspicious of that person."

"I will be."

"Fine."

Hide stared thoughtfully into the fire for a moment or two. "Couldn't Jahlee come back with a new face, pretending to be someone we didn't know?"

"Certainly, though I flatter myself that I would see through her imposture before long."

"Could I? I mean, isn't there some way I could tell she was a inhuma?"

"No certain way, unless you saw her feeding or flying." I considered the matter. "Be very suspicious of a man with powder on his face, or anything of that kind, and of a woman who wears more powder, more rouge, and more perfume than is customary." Recalling Fava, I added, "Also of a child who wears any at all. Be careful, too, of anyone who appears not to eat, or to eat very little."

"Somebody animals are afraid of," Hide offered. "Jahlee scared our horses, and Oreb doesn't like her."

"Very good. Most of all, be careful of anyone whose fingers seem clumsy, who has never learned to write or says he or she has not, and has difficulty effecting simple repairs, tying knots, or making common objects from wood. Hands are not natural to them, you see; because they are not, their minds never develop in that way as much as ours do. Imagine a baby who had no hands until he was old enough to make crude ones for himself."

"You said they were like leeches." Hide looked thoughtful.

"No doubt I did. Certainly there are marked similarities."

"When Hoof and I were real little we used to play in the pools up above your mill."

"I remember."

"One time we found a really pretty one, that had a lot of pretty little fish in it, and spotted frogs. Green with blue spots, I think." He fell silent, and looked uncomfortable.

"Yes. What about it?"

"Well, while we were looking at them we saw this one leech, a red one. It was pretty big. It was swimming right at one of the frogs, and me and Hoof yelled for it to look out. You know how kids do?"

"Surely."

"Only the frog didn't pay any attention, and just about the time it opened its mouth I figured out that it thought the leech was a fish, and it was going to eat it."

To encourage him, I said, "They can't be eaten, not even by Oreb. I suppose it must be some chemical in their slime."

"Yeah. The frog got it in its mouth and spit it out, and it swam around in back where the frog couldn't get at it, and fastened onto the back of its head. When we came back there was a dead frog, only the leech was gone. What I was thinking of was they don't look enough like fish, not really, to fool us. But that one fooled the frog, he thought it was a little fish, and it probably fooled the fish, too. Jahlee fooled me the same way until you told me. I thought there was two women in the house, an old one and the young one, but they were both her."

I nodded.

"You said they made their hands. Could they make paws instead? Like dog or something?"

"I suppose they could. I've never seen it."

"And could they fool a real dog then?"

"I doubt it."

"You said you were going to tell me a lot about the Vanished People." His voice challenged me.

"I can't have said I'd tell you a great deal, because I don't know a great deal myself. But I will tell you something, and try to make it something that will bear upon the subjects we have been talking about tonight."

Oreb swooped to a landing on the handle of my staff, which lay across my legs. "Bird back! Bad thing!"

"Never mind. Did you find a way in which we can take our horses through the marsh? Or around it?"

"Bird find." He ruffled his feathers and spread his wings to make himself appear larger. "Come bird!"

"Not now. We must sleep. We will be very grateful, though, if you'll guide us in the morning."

Hide said, "Now I suppose you'll want to go to bed, and I'll never get to hear what you were going to tell me."

I shook my head, listening to the uneasy motions of the horses I had just mentioned to Oreb.

"Then tell me now." To give weight to his words, he added wood to our fire.

"I've told you that the depredations of the inhumi drove the Vanished People from Blue."

He nodded.

"Have you seen them? I mean the Vanished People; I know you've seen the inhumi only from a distance, save for Jahlee."

"No, never. People say you have. They say you talk to them and all that. I don't see how you could if they're really gone."

I sighed. "I grow tired of hearing what people say. Which people were these, and how did they know?"

"Colonel Sfido. I don't know how he knew. He was trying to find out things from me, anyway. He wanted to know how you did it, but I couldn't tell him."

"He had heard rumors from the mercenaries, I imagine, and from our troopers."

"Donna Mora said so, too. When we were all in the Bear Tower? She said, 'Your father talks to the Vanished People and calls them his neighbors, and whisks us off to other whorls in the blink of an eye. But you don't know a thing about all that, do you?' She was teasing me, sort of. I said I really didn't, and she laughed. I liked her, and she can't be a whole lot older than I am."

"She is younger. Two years younger at least."

Hide stared at me and shook his head.

"If you won't believe me about Mora, whom you've seen and talked to and shared food with, why should you believe me about the Vanished People, whom you have never seen?"

Oreb championed him, croaking, "Good boy."

"Yes, he is. But he is skeptical and credulous by turns, as young men usually are, and very often skeptical of the truth and credulous of half truths and outright fabrications. Mora is substantially your junior, Hide, as I said; and if you could have seen her a month ago, you would have no doubt of it. May I burden you more? You may be as skeptical as you desire, yet it is the truth just the same."

"All right. What is it?"

"Adolescents are simply those people who haven't as yet chosen between childhood and adulthood. For as long as anyone tries to hold on to the advantages of childhood-the freedom from responsibility, principally-while seeking to lay claim to the best parts of adulthood, such as independence, he is an adolescent."

Hide stared at the flames and said nothing.

"Eventually most people choose to be adults, or are forced into it. A very few retreat into childhood and never leave it again. A larger number remain adolescents for life."

"I-" He paused and swallowed. "You mean Donna Mora grew up just by saying so?"

"Of course not. She couldn't, because no one can. She has married, and not to seek a new father-as so many young women do-but to become a full partner with Eco. She's become a new leader for the people of Blanko by the only possible means: that of offering her leadership when leadership was needed."

"You taught her all that?"

"No. I counseled her once or twice. So did Fava, I'm sure. So did her father. But what she's done, she's done herself, because she's the only person who could possibly do it."

"You don't think I'm grown up yet. An adult."

"I think that you are trying very hard to become one, and that you will soon succeed." I tried to make my voice, which I know is nearly as harsh as Oreb's, more gentle. "There must have been a time when Mora, too, was trying very hard to make herself an adult, though neither of us witnessed it. She was riding north then, or imprisoned by the Soldese."

"I've got to think about this, Father. I will tonight."

"Good."

"Can I ask about you? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"Certainly. Adulthood was forced on me, in some sense, when I came to our quarter from the schola; but the change really occurred in the tunnels, when we were fighting the Trivigauntis and trying to reach the lander. My father had stayed behind in Viron – I'm sure I've told you this."

"Some of it. Go on."

"But your grandmother was there, and my younger brothers and sisters. So was your mother."

I, too, peered into the flames, remembering. I had not seen our quarter burn, having been aboard the Trivigaunti airship at that terrible time; but it seemed to me that I saw it then: old shiprock buildings that glowed with heat and crumbled, and troopers and soldiers clashing in the ruins.

"Go on," Hide repeated.

"When we reached Blue, my mother wanted to treat me as a child again, and my younger brothers and sisters wanted me to be one of them, as I had been in the Whorl. So Nettle and I left them, and got Patera Remora to marry us. You have aunts and uncles and cousins that you have scarcely seen, as you must know."

"Sure. And you and Mother moved out to the Lizard to get away from them."

"We went there, yes. Not for that purpose. I wanted to build the mill, which meant I had to have a good fall of water in a place to which the logs could be floated. I also had to have unclaimed land, since we couldn't afford to buy any. If I'd known how hard it was going to be…" I shrugged.

"Why'd you want to know if I'd seen the Vanished People? Are you going to show them to me?"

I had not thought of it and had to consider. "If I can, yes. But I wondered how human they appeared to you, if you had seen them. When I have, their faces have always been in shadow. That may not be true for everyone."

"Aren't they people like us, only four arms and four legs?"

"I doubt very much that they looked exactly as we do, Hide. No doubt the Outsider made them from the dust of this whorl, just as he formed us from the dust of the Short Sun Whorl-that is what it says in the Chrasmologic Writings, and it's proven by the fact that the human body returns to dust in death-but there could be little point in creating us in one place and creating us again in another. Besides, the dust of that whorl can scarcely be identical to the dust of this one."

I was silent after that, thinking of our night in the Bear Tower, where Mora had mentioned the Neighbors and Rigoglio had died. Doubtless I was only staring into our fire as I had before; but I seemed to see the Old Court again, dark, cold, and sinister, so far below the little window of the little room the Bear Leaders had assigned to Hide and me. Across it stood the torturer's tower, against which even the Bear Leaders had warned me, a lander huge and sleek still although black with age and missing a few plates. To one side, the Witches' Keep (as it was called), yet more decayed. To the other, the Red Tower, ocher with rust. On Blue as on Green, we would have called all three landers. They were thought of as buildings on the Red Sun Whorl, and had accumulated accretions of masonry, dwarfish growths of brick and stone as hallowed by time now as the landers themselves.

I had died in a room not very different from the room I occupied there, in just such a lander, and the memory of death returned to me with a poignancy I have seldom felt. I looked up at the stars then, which were brighter then than they had been by day, and more numerous; but I could not find Green there, or Blue, or the Whorl, or even the constellations Nettle and I used to see when Sinew was small and we spread a blanket on the beach and sat side by side there long after sunset, her hand in mine as we stared up at the stars.

Hide spoke and I looked up, although I had not understood him.

"I wondered what you were thinking about, Father."

"About Duko Rigoglio's death in the lander."

Hide nodded. "You looked so sad."

"Good Silk!" Oreb declared.

"Aren't you going to tell me anything else about the Vanished People tonight?"

"Not until you consider what I've said about them already."

"I think I have."

I was weary, at that stage of weariness in which one tells oneself that one will lie down for a moment, but not to sleep. "As you wish."

"There was something I wanted to ask about. A lot of them, really. You said the Vanished People probably don't look much like us."

"I suppose I did."

"Only the inhumi look almost exactly like us. They do to us, I mean, just like that red leech I told about looked like a fish to the frogs."

I said nothing.

"Well, they can shape their faces to look right. You said that yourself. They paint them, too, like women do. Only they talk like us, too, and it seems to me sometimes like they even think like us. Jahlee did, I mean. She got mad at us exactly like a real woman would."

"Go on."

His eyes opened a trifle wider. "You mean you want me to ask you questions?"

"No. I mean that I want you to reason for yourself, Hide. It's good for you, and for the whorl."

"I've gone about as far as I can already. It seems to me like the Vanished People were a lot stronger and smarter than we are. That's what everybody says. So if they were different from us, and the inhumi are so much like us, they ought to have been able to tell the difference pretty easy. So how could the inhumi do so much harm to them? Do you know, Father?"

I asked, "Why are the inhumi like us?"

"Why do I think they are, you mean? Well, Jahlee is, and you said they were. Watching out for people in old buildings and all that. If they had tails or something, we could just watch out for those."

"Not why you think it-you think it because it is true. Why is it true?"

He looked baffled.

"In Gaon – forgive me if I have mentioned this before-men who hunt wallowers weave a wallower out of wicker, and cover it with a wallower's skin."

"You didn't. I don't think so, anyway."

"Then I mention it now."

"You mean they look like us so they can hunt us."

I shook my head. "I mean that they become like us so that they can hunt us. The leech you saw in the pool above our mill looked like a small fish to the frogs, you said."

"Yeah. I think so."

"Suppose it had been unable to swim."

He was silent; then, "They really do make themselves just like we are. That's what you're saying. Only they couldn't do it if they didn't have us to copy. You're smiling."

"I am. I'd scarcely hoped to take you this far without violating an oath, which I will not do. I commanded more than twenty inhumi in Gaon, Hide. We were at war with Han, and I found them extremely useful, both as spies and as assassins; the spells I'm supposed to have cast there were little more than their activities behind our enemy's line. But when I left: the city by boat afterward, they tried to kill me."

"Why?"

"Because they were afraid I wouldn't keep the oath that I had sworn to your brother. He told me something in confidence that they believe might harm them greatly if it became widely known. I would probably violate my oath if I agreed; but I doubt that it-"

"Bad thing!"

"Yes. Certainly, Oreb."

"If they tried to kill you, I think you ought to tell everybody."

"For safety's sake, you mean."

Hide nodded.

"I won't secure my safety at the price of my honor. There have been times when I've longed for death, and even now I have no great fear of it.

There's never been a time when I've longed for dishonor."

He nodded again, slowly. "I was going to say this isn't about the Vanished People. Only I have a feeling it is, that you'll tie it up someday."

"I'll tie it up, as you put it, right now. You said that the Vanished People were wiser and stronger than we are, which is certainly true. You also said that the inhumi become like us, not merely in appearance but in speech, thought, and action, in order to prey upon us. That is true, too. They cannot make themselves precisely like us in every regard, of course. Their legs are never as strong as ours, a weakness that they sometimes disguise as old age, as Patera Quetzal did. Nettle and I have mentioned Patera Quetzal often in your hearing, I believe."

"Sure."

"He made himself so much like an elderly augur that he became head of the Chapter in Viron. For thirty or forty years he deceived everyone, and if he had not been shot, he might be deceiving us yet.

His counterfeit of a human being, though not perfect, was exceedingly good. Wouldn't you agree?"

"It sure sounds like it."

"Since we know that the inhumi preyed upon the Neighbors-the Vanished People, as we call them here-with great success, it seems reasonable that they could counterfeit them at least as well as they counterfeit us, and very plausibly better. Will you agree to that as well?"

Hide shook his head. "I don't see why it should be better."

"Think of the two whorls as they were thousand and thousands of years ago. The Vanished People were here on Blue, the inhumi on Green, where they preyed upon the great beasts in its jungles. They exterminated the Vanished People, Hide, or very nearly-that's why they vanished. Why didn't they exterminate the beasts on Green long before?"

"They wouldn't have had anything to eat."

"True. Did they have the intelligence to think of that? Without human beings to imitate?"

"I see. They were just animals, too. Big flying leeches. You're smiling again. You know, I like it."

"So do I. Eventually the Vanished People found some means of crossing the abyss to Green. Perhaps they built landers of their own-I believe that they must have. They went there, and the inhumi, too, became both powerful and wise, so powerful and so knowing that they hunted the Vanished People almost to extinction. The strengths of the Vanished People became their enemies' strengths, you see. They tried in their desperation to become stronger still, to know more and more and more, and succeeded, and were doomed by that success."

I thought then of the bestial men I had been shown in the Bear Tower, men who had surrendered their humanity, haunted by guilt or despair. Our omophagist had been caged with them; and when he had seen them, and understood what they were, he had striven to speak.

"Father?"

"Yes, my son?"

"Could they, the inhumi, wipe us out too?"

"Of course."

"Then we should have killed Jahlee."

I shook my head to clear it of the cages and the stench. "That would not prevent it."

"It would help!"

"It would not. If anything, it would do more harm. Never forget, Hide, that what we are the inhumi quickly become. Jahlee was an ally in Gaon, and a friend at the farmhouse. She had fought for me and slain my foes, and learned their secrets too, so that she might meet me with them in the garden or whisper them at the window of my bedroom. Suppose that I were to wait until her back was to me, draw the long sharp blade I have not got, and plunge it into her back."

"I wish you had!"

"You would not, if you had seen and heard it. Her terrible scream ringing over this silent, desolate marsh. The hideous, misshapen thing writhing and bleeding at your feet that just a moment before had appeared to be a lovely woman. Try to imagine all that. Can you?"

He said nothing.

"You would have battered her head with the butt of your slug gun then, trying to end her agony. Her wig would have fallen from her head, and her eyes-her eyes, Hide-would roll up to you while she begged for her life, saying please, oh, please, Hide. Mercy for your mother's sake. Mercy! We were friends, I would have lain with you in the Bear Tower if only you had come to me. You know it's true! Spare my life, Hide!"

"No talk!" Oreb commanded.

I spoke again anyway. "You would have struck all the harder, smashing her toothless, blood-drinking mouth with the butt of your slug gun; but you would never be able to forget those eyes, which would return to stare at you-and at me, as well-in the small hours of many nights. When you were as old as I am, you would still see her eyes."

Reluctantly, he nodded.

"And a hundred years from now, every inhumi in the whorl would be a little harder, a little more cruel and proud, because of what we did here tonight. Remember-what we are, they must become."

"All right."

"When the war in Gaon was just about over, I freed my inhumi from their service – Jahlee among them. Why do you think I did that?"

He shrugged uncomfortably. "You didn't need them anymore."

"I could have found a great many uses for them. Believe me, I thought of many. I could have conquered the towns downriver and founded an empire. I could have used them to consolidate my hold on Han, and to tighten my grip upon Gaon. Nettle sent you and your twin to look for me, not so long ago?"

Hide nodded.

"I could have sent my inhumi to fetch all three of you to Gaon, where we would have become the ruling family, the sort of thing that Inclito's family is clearly becoming in Blanko; and when I died, you and your brother would have fought to the death for my throne.

"I rejected those possibilities and surrendered the throne the people of Gaon had given me instead, in part because I know what happened to the Neighbors, or believe I do-because I know that their towers still stretch to the damp skies of Green, when their cities here have crumbled into nameless hills."

I waited for him to speak; he only stared at me, open mouthed but wordless.

"On Green, the Vanished People had done what I had done in Gaon, Hide. They had made the inhumi serve them; and as time passed they had become more and more dependent upon their servants, servants whom they permitted to come here to feed, and perhaps carried here to feed. I myself had allowed my own inhumi to feed upon the blood of the people of Han, you see. It was war, I told myself, and the Man of Han would surely have done the same to us; but I had set my foot upon that path, and I was determined to leave it."

"What happened when all the Vanished People here were dead?" Hide asked in a strangled voice.

"I'm not sure it ever occurred," I told him. "A very few may have survived; a very few may survive here still. But a time came-I doubt that it was more than a few hundred years in coming-when it was no longer worthwhile for the inhumi to come here."

"What happened then?"

"I think you know," I told him, and wished him a good night.



* * * | In Green`s Jungles | 24 Sinews Village



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