Chapter 12. Progress (Part 1)

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"Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone." —Jorge Luis Borges


From high in the air, the besieged raven fell limply down to the brick pavement of Central Plaza. It landed with a splash in the dreamtea solution which now covered the square. Even if the animal had somehow survived the fall, there was no chance it still held either Thlowdyn or Isala. The five remaining birds circled overhead a moment and then flew silently northward.

The stone platform had partly collapsed from the damage done to its walls, but Adelaide, Pierre, and the weeping "Azama" vessel remained on the stage, unsure of what to do next. The Plaza was soaking wet from end to end, and it reeked of fish and sulfur. Some of the Shadows milling about seemed excited to be rid of their Yili masters, but most just looked confused, as if wondering whether the Zenith's overthrow really justified such a mess.

"Did we win?" Adelaide asked her father.

Pierre surveyed the scene, squinting to make better sense of it all. "I... believe so," he said at last. He allowed a smile to play faintly at the corners of his mouth, but only for a moment. Isala had been a cruel dictator, and he was most definitely glad to be rid of her, but it was a bittersweet victory. She had, after all, been a mother to him once.

There was still the matter of the frightened, injured young woman who had until moments ago been serving as Zenith Azama, self-proclaimed ruler of United Ozghard. Her true name, she supposed, was Zebra. This wasn't the name given to her at birth, but it was the only name she could remember, so it would have to do. She'd known no other life besides waiting patiently in her closet and then serving as a vessel for Isala whenever she happened to be chosen. Pierre helped Zebra to her feet, and they carefully descended the stairs in search of medical attention.

Adelaide went with them, taking on the arduous task of convincing onlookers that they were merely pawns of Isala, not politicians at all. A majority of the City dwellers they met seemed unable to accept the idea that Pierre was not—and in fact had never been—their legitimate ruler. For these people at least, he was still the all-powerful Wizard of Ozghard. The chaotic events of the morning had only cemented his greatness in their eyes.

Sloshing through the inch or so of liquid that still covered the Plaza, the trio made their way to a pavilion on the far side of the Plaza. It was being used as temporary hospital to treat the war wounded. Despite all the commotion, there weren't many new injuries this morning, so Zebra and Pierre were able to get stitched up and bandaged fairly quickly. None of their wounds were actually life-threatening, painful though they were.

Adelaide took the opportunity to lie down on a free cot beside her father's. She was exhausted from being up half the night reviewing Ada's plan in order to make certain she wouldn't forget anything. And when she finally did get in bed, she was simply too nervous to catch more than a few fitful naps. As Pierre was being treated, devoted followers began to gather round, watching him intently as if they expected another speech.

"These people!" Pierre muttered to Adelaide, not much caring if he were overheard. "Haven't they heard enough speeches by now?" But Adelaide was already fast asleep.

When the last bandage was applied, the medic stepped away, leaving Pierre to face the crowd alone. Feeling that it would be rude to disappoint them, he rose reluctantly to his feet and gave a few sheepish nods in various directions. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, however, a rumbling vibration shook the Plaza—gently at first, and then with enough force to rattle the surgical tools on the medic's wheeled cart.

From the maintenance shaft near Cloolo Fountain, several long, crimson tentacles began to emerge. They snaked in all directions, splashing around with apparent delight in the dreamtea solution as they went. The air grew heavier, the rancid stench more pungent. Sounds of alarm and panic rose from frightened Ozgharders, gradually overlapping and meshing into a single collective scream of terror.

Silence, commanded a familiar but utterly alien voice. And at once, all Ozghard fell silent.

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