“Well,” I said, “bring on the chameleonic apes.”
He shook his head. “You do not want that. They hunt leviathans.”
I raised my eyebrows. I could not imagine. “I thought you were born in Ariel.”
He shrugged. “Benefits of a Temple education. But most of these creatures are known everywhere by legend.”
We got back to poling. I noticed that we moved more cautiously. I felt sad all of a sudden, the way we inched our way along, bringing up the dead. Or were they? The language Nogilian had used concerned preservation only. The poet and the politician had seemed very well kept indeed. Perhaps there was some kind of stasis technology on this world? I remembered that the cache that held those two had been immediately beneath the cache that had once healed the ailing of an entire city. That would be a way to do it. Shove the critical, exotic cases downstairs while the cache sentience got to working on an answer. Revive them when it’s time to get their shot. Maybe. I had hibernated my way out here. Stasis would not be far off from that.
I turned to Ash. “What do you normally do with these vents?” I couldn’t figure why you’d put stasis in a swamp. “They for mass burials or cursed lovers or something?”
He pursed his lips, shook his head. “You’d have to ask Ki, or one of your new captains. But I have never heard them used for anything. Likely, if the Profusion ever meant them for a purpose, it has been lost, like much upon this world.”
Ki, right. There were other things I needed to be doing. The afternoon proceeded quietly. The men we pulled sat unspeaking in the boats, though I did see that they occasionally helped to aid another up from the depths. There were no more leviathans or bloodfish, as I learned the swarms were called. I reflected on Ash’s tone. Had there been a little bit, when referring to others of my staff? I decided I was bored and wasting time. I had the men return to grid A1, and leave me on our new home island.
First of a whole potential archipelago, as a matter of fact. I did not know how long we’d be staying. Nor did I know how many we’d receive, though I saw Ki was already at it. She had the men felling trees to make bridges to the other islands. No one wanted to do any more wading than they had to, a truth I understood. But I was astounded to see black and silver armor working together so soon.
I conveyed my surprise to Ki.
“Oh,” she said, “it’s not so great as all that. They were all soldiers. The real division’s between those who did and did not fight. The armored ones resent commands from staff.” She gestured to her own tunic. “We stick out.”
I stood there on the sandy soil and closed my eyes and cursed. Of course. I’d expected staff to be a neutral presence mediating the camp’s natural division. Instead, both sides were turning against it. Elmy, it’s never the problems you think you see coming.
“Ash,” I said. He came. “Have the men start pulling armor from the dead, the ones we can’t revive. Then have the staff from Ariel start training. We’ll all need it soon enough anyway.” A second thought struck. “Get me one, too. White if you can find it.” The Guardian of this swamp had died somewhere.
Ki frowned when he’d gone. “That only elides the issue. Our faces are already known.”
“I expect Nogilian to be persuasive.” I’d left him in charge of my section of the great swamp revival. I sighed. My glumness persisted. “Till then, make sure staff gets their hands dirty with something. Doesn’t matter what.” After a beat I added, “I’ll be inside my tent. I need some time. Ash will see to things.”
I hadn’t slept the last two nights, what with all our preparations and departure. Ki did not protest. Ash insisted. I walked over and pulled aside the flap and hurled myself down. I was glad of the cloth netting Ash had thought to install. The biting bugs had gotten beyond annoying.