I nodded. “So we delayed.”
She shook her head. “I stalled for reasons all my own, and they were not good. But that was also when the Swarm had synthesized enough information to propose a plan for the salvation of this world. They tried to tell me, but I didn’t understand. I was sick, and it is very hard for them to think as we do, to use language we can comprehend. The best they can usually do is images, urges, and repetitions of whatever we have heard or thought ourselves. It can seem like insanity. In fact, to us it may be a kind.”
She shook her head again, and laughed. “I didn’t know! At least, not until after I leapt. But I should stop doing that, or people are going to think I’m a one-trick pony. It was stupid, because it should not have been necessary. If I had understood what they wanted when we were in Sepira, we could all have sailed for Kasora together, and beaten them the way Jerem Cozak intended, in a siege. Then the Arks still would have been ours, and fewer would have died.”
“But some would have needed to. Because that is the mark the Arks require. They only awaken for the dead.”
She nodded. “Or only for those who live again, to get to the point of it. Perhaps only those who have sacrificed themselves in battle. The Arks of Kasora sealed themselves when its Healing Well stopped working. Because of course, it did far more than heal, just as it did more for the first Faith.”
“It seems an odd requirement. And odd that the legend excluded something that had actually happened. One would expect adumbration.”
“The Profusion was not like us. People forget that. Humans once expected things quite different from what this world expects, and everyone sees what they expect. As for the requirement, I do not think the Arks of Kasora are the product of entirely human judgment, any more than Healing Wells are. Maybe, any more than the White Swarm is.”
“How many are there?” I asked. “How many like us?”
She shook her head. “Five thousand. Five thousand only, these around us now. Most I led could not be raised. The fire and fall wreaked too much damage on their bodies.”
“But you fell—”
“Into the river, as did these, and the White Swarm slowed my descent. They saved everyone they could. And perhaps – ”
I waited, but she did not continue. “There are five thousand Arks,” I said, “or so the temple taught me. And you saved the Neverborn, and so many more, who did not have to be raised at all.”
“Yes,” She turned and squinted out to sea. “That was the exchange.” She let out her breath. “Well, if you are satisfied, we may begin the ceremony. I think you’ll find it interesting.” She smiled to herself, and I thought she seemed a little sad. “At least I know everyone else will.”
My mind filled with questions. I stopped myself from asking them.
She stood and faced the ocean, and I followed suit. She walked slowly down to the edge of the surf. All the eyes of everyone were upon us, though no one followed. Even Cassan seemed uneasy, as she drew the moment out.
Then she stretched out her hand, palm upward, and raised it toward the sky.
“Where would you hide your fantastic ships of light, if all the world was falling down around you?” she asked, as the waters began to churn. “In the mountains? Beneath a city?”
I knew better than to answer her. Dark shapes like whales lurked just beneath the waves, distorting them as shoals of rocks would.