“Tomorrow,” said Jerem Cozak, “they may decide to build the city differently, or I may instruct them to.” Then, when he caught me looking at the strange rainbow again: “Yes, that is them, too, though I think it may be too much. But they say they are paying tribute. They will not say to what, though I think our ally might have learned.”
It seemed strange to me that there was anything the White Swarm would not tell him. “It is all so beautiful,” I said.
He shook his head. “Yes, but I did not wait to show you something beautiful.” He led me between two buildings, one of which was like a spiral cut in half. On the other side the space opened into a simple circular plaza, on which sat nine metallic frames, shaped like long, thin seeds and black as the color of the void between the stars. Though they were very long, perhaps thirty paces, they were not much taller than a man standing.
“So we will remember,” he said, “what awaited us here.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
He waved a hand toward them. “These were spikeships, or needleships, as they were once called both. Our ally arrived in one. But they come from Black Orchids, the large spheres that once besieged our world before its fall. Do you remember?”
I nodded my head. He went on.
“Nine ships, one for each khrall. Faster than the Orchids, they came ahead. They brought with them the shockpikes that killed your mastodon, and mine. They filled these ships with them. They brought them specifically for that purpose. But these ships are how they arrived first, and why we were all deceived. Perhaps we will never know how.”
I nodded. “The fire,” I said. “Why was there one? You never answered, though you yourself asked the question. And I did not think to ask it at the time.”
“I did not either, for I never saw the flames. But our ally lead twenty five thousand men over the cliffs above, to their certain deaths. Their valkyries fell upon the city as a barrage, and their explosions began a conflagration that reduced all the buildings of Kasora to slag. The armed host waiting to trap us was entirely destroyed.”
“Better, then, that we were immune to fire.”
He laughed again, then sobered. “Just so, though it did not save everyone.”
“Were the khrall destroyed?”
He shook his head. “They are harder to kill than that. But they were certainly dismayed. They needed that army to defeat us on the ground. And they realized, at the end, that that was exactly what they needed to do. But because of her they failed, and lost everything, and left.”
“Why?” I asked. “I don’t understand. I see no one hurry, and the city is remade. But is there not a fleet of Black Orchids still coming to rain down death upon this world? And if our ally did find the lightships, when why did she sacrifice herself to save us, when she could have taken this city from above? Last, if she did not find them, as I’m guessing she did not, why are you so glad? What exactly has happened here?”
He smiled again. “Just so! Now you ask the right questions! But they are so many I cannot answer them myself. Come, I would show you something else.”