He turned and led me through shifting sprays of the White Swarm and curving crests of buildings toward the southwest corner of the city. As we walked, I noticed that wind tattered the edges of both his cloud and his body, as though he was not quite solid. When we arrived at a small building, just beneath the wall, he stopped before a small building, he stopped and waved his hand. A door opened. We stood together for a moment outside. Within, it was dark, but the White Swarm poured from us soon glowed gently, and showed a staircase that led down. I started when I saw that the spiraling stairs were jade.
“Into the old city,” he said. “The fire did not burn deep. In that we were quite fortunate.”
I waited for him, but he soon waved me forward. “This journey is for you, and you go places I will not. But greet in my name the one whom you will meet.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, then laughed at myself. I stepped onto the staircase. When I turned, Jerem Cozak had already gone.
I shrugged and took the stairs as quickly as I safely could. The White Swarm lit my way, pouring glowing out in my breath and following me down the stair, but never thickly enough to impair my vision. I wondered if the White Swarm would eventually overcome these machines, too, or leave them as they were. Something told me the walls would all be white someday. I went down to about the eighth level, and remembered that Kasora once held vast reserves for when it was besieged. I would later learn that many of the levels between had been empty since the war between the cities.
The staircase ended before a square door in the manner of the old city. It opened when I approached, swinging on metal hinges. Within stood the man who had been second in rank to Cassan Vala. He looked much as he had when I had seen him in Sepira, though he wore no armor, only a blue silk shirt and trousers like my own. He nodded when our eyes met.
“Jerem Cozak greets you, Nogilian” I said.
“He and all his friends are welcome here, spearman. I feel strange not wearing armor. But everyone seems to agree that I have fought enough. Neither of them will let me go on. So for me the war is over. I will keep this city when the rest of you are gone.”
I nodded, surprised that he had answered so many questions I had not thought to ask. Perhaps I should have followed him, but then would I truly have been needed? I could sense that many men would follow him, not because he was a mystery, but because he was such an easy man to know. That way of being is far more rare and pleasing.
“All his friends, you say. But I came down these stairs alone. He says that everyone else has gone on ahead. Is that so?”
He nodded. “It is. He waited for you, and for the other few who had not woken yet. Will you follow me?”
I nodded and said of course I would, wondering that he had been second in command, and someone else first. Even in the midst of the argument at Sepira I had thought him a fine leader, and a warrior great even in his sadness.
And as I thought of that, I realized it was gone from him. I remembered how I had felt after Nesechia, and then during this siege, and understood. Valor itself can destroy a man, if it is virtue for such horrors. If such had happened to Nogilian, Jerem Cozak was right to release him.
We walked a long way down a dim corridor. We passed no doors, and turned only once, toward what I imagined must be the very center of the city. He felt no need to say anything while we walked, and neither did I. When we stopped, it was before a simple door much like the one that had marked the bottom of the stairwell. Yet to this one Nogilian placed his hand, and the door swung wide.