“Can I see them, then? We marched all the way from Ariel together.”
“I’m afraid you have missed everyone. They have all gone on ahead.”
“Everyone?” I asked. “Gone ahead where?”
He laughed, then, a rich melodious sound. It occurred to me I had not heard him laugh in a very long time, since the hidden valley of the mastodons. “I finally understand. All this time I have been trying to solve the riddle of you, too. You ask the right questions, but simply ask them in the wrong order.” He stood, and the cloud, the bright white heart of the Swarm now, shifted around him and through him.
“What do you mean?”
He looked down at me and smiled. “The right question now is: why was there a fire? Our ally is no longer with us to explain. Will you come outside with me?”
I answered that of course I would. I would always go anywhere with him. He reached out and waved his hand, and part of the building slid away, like sand blowing in the wind. When it had gone, a doorway remained. I gasped a little, astonished, but then followed him through it into the warm light of a very fine day. The sun shone golden in the azure and turquoise sky above.
And then I gasped again, for I saw something I had never seen before: high overhead and to the east where the River Kasora fell in its great cascade, against the grey backdrop of the mountain shone a rainbow. But it bore a pallet not witnessed in nature: gold and green and blue, all braided together, the colors moving as though they themselves were a cascade.
But I marveled also at the city, which had been entirely transformed. Gone were the jade buildings crawling with nightwind that I had watched for the seven days of the siege. In their place were facades and streets of purer white even than the famed stones of Ariel, and I saw at once that these, too, were made of the White Swarm. And where the buildings of jade had been cut square or to sharp angles, these buildings were smooth and curved, flowing into one another like the waves of the ocean. And if the buildings were like the waves, the White Swarm was like the spray of the sea spitting and swirling between them.