The island sleeps and Khalid’s roots spread deep into the island.
He can sense his companions sleeping at the base of his trunk. His spores reach out to touch each of their minds in turn.
“Bertram,” he whispers, his old dwarve’s face appearing in the littles gnome’s dream, “I am growing a ship for you. Its hull will be great gourd, and vines will be its rigging. But it will take time. I see into your heart, Bertram. The library draws you. It will take three weeks, Bertram, to grow your ship. Three weeks to read and learn. And when your journeys are done, the library will be here, still. Goodbye.”
“Ervendio,” he whispers, his old dwarve’s face appearing in the tall elf’s dream, “I am growing a ship for you. Its hull will be great gourd, and vines will be its rigging. But it will take time. I see into your heart, Ervendio. You miss your home and your people, but there is much good you can do on Urth. Follow your quest, but do not forget those who follow you. Guide them with your strength, but also with your compassion. Show them how to be good. Start here, on this island. Tell them of their new Maharaja and teach them love. Goodbye.”
“Proteus,” he whispers, his old dwarve’s face appearing in the big man’s dream, “I am growing a ship for you. Its hull will be great gourd, and vines will be its rigging. But it will take time. I see into your heart, Proteus. It is a tiger’s heart. Take up the key, Proteus. It will hold you to your path, even if your heart grows wild. Goodbye”
“Bea,” he whispers, his old dwarve’s face appearing in the young woman’s dream, “I am growing a ship for you. Its hull will be great gourd, and vines will be its rigging. But it will take time. I see into your heart, Bea. Be kind and patient with her. Yours is a destiny far greater than simple love. There is a wildness in you that frightens me, even as I am now. Your power could shake the very foundations of the Urth. Learn to control it that you might wield it well. Goodbye.”
Jongle and Minja, he senses, are further away. His roots reach out through the jungle. His spores search. He finds them.
But this, he should not interrupt. Instead, his spores reach out. The smells of the jungle seem to grow softer around them, until it is a sweet perfume. The warm air seems to carry on it a melody. Perhaps it is music. Perhaps just the breeze. The sounds and smells speak just below the edge of the senses. They describe gentle nights at home even as they hint at the possibilities of adventure.
Minja slips away into the jungle, leaving only her mask behind. Jongle collects it, puts it on, and lies there on the ground. His nose catches a whiff of a sickly sweet aroma, earthy and pungent, the unmistakable scent of Mushdwarf spores.
“K-Khalid? Is that you?”
“It is, my friend. I…overheard.”
Khalid’s spores drift through the night air for a long moment
“Is it possible, Jongle, that you, too, do not understand? You say that wish her to be free. Perhaps this marriage is its own small prison, loving though it is. She cannot be your balance if you overwhelm her. Perhaps she must find her freedom alone, before she can be with you. Perhaps she will be back, without any need for that mask you hold.”
“Perhaps…” Jongle mutters. “But you know better than anyone that I’m leaving this place, and I can never come back. I’ll probably never see her again. Just like I’ll never see you…”
Jongle lets the spores dance and sputter around him, as the two old friends share tears and a tired laugh that seem to sum up their experiences together, until the spores finally dissipate and there is silence. Jongle gets up and looks around the clearing for the last time.
“G’bye,” he says.
A dense quiet settles around what was once the temple of Maharajah Arijani. It is broken occasionally by atonal plops as strange, spongy forms drop from the great fungal tree that has grown up there.
Over night and into day, these forms pick themselves up from the ground — myconid fungalfolk born from Khalid’s great gift and great sacrifice — and move into the jungle, spreading the word that things have changed in Sri Raji.
A mysterious gourd surfaces in the river near Tvashtri. It will take several weeks for it it grow and ripen into a sea-faring vessel. Until then, the Revengers are free to enjoy their time in Sri Raji as they wish. The jungles — and the settlements — still hold certain dangers, but the threat of Arijani has been vanquished.
Bertram was aware of some tension between Minja and Jongle, he had tried to assure her that they would seek a peaceful solution. The Revengers, he was afraid, we’re not very good diplomats. He was appalled by their behavior before the maharaja. God or not, they did not know proper etiquette, and did not respect Bertram enough to speak on their behalf. Minja was right, many times Bertram felt ridiculed by the Revengers. Jongle and Khalid had conspired to steal from him; he heard their stifled laughs when he stumbled in the thick of the fight with the maharaja’s shadow.
If Proteus couldn’t trust Bertram to handle himself, would he trust his advice pertaining to the key?
He was most upset about Khalid. Khalid had made a great sacrifice, and Bertram wondered if he would ever know his friend again as he was when they first met. He wondered if Khalid would be able to hold on to his memories, or if he would eventually succumb to the stripping away of his identity and lose himself. Was the maharaja not too different from Khalid when he began his rule here?
Khalid felt he was doing them a favor, using his newfound influence to make incredible things—a ship, a fungal palace, and a new wing of the library? Bertram felt that Khalid’s decision to keep the island’s population isolated was a mistake. He wanted there to be an exchange of ideas here with the people of Grudgewood. "Khalid, there is forgotten knowledge in the University. Maths, forgotten languages, taxonomy of unknown species, medical remedies. Much was lost in the Great Disaster, technology which could make lives better back home. Allow these libraries to be linked and exchange knowledge. Help me find the lost scholar and send him to Grudgewood.
Help me lift the veil that exists in the minds of those whom the Gods have manipulated.
“Do you think it was fair what Psilofyr did to you? Do you think you were free to choose? I don’t. It’s unfair to expect a mortal to behave as a fungus! It’s not right! And to punish you with this fate! Oh Khalid…” Bertram moaned as his lip quivered. He put his hand on the giant stalk before him and leaned into it.
The ancient gods were known for their vanity; taking mortals as their children. Both Psilofyr and Kali experimented with making sentients in their own image. Now, what old rivalries would be reignited? Would Psilofyr’s exile of Khalid be enough punishment for Kali? Or was this just to be an extension of a larger war that was pulling in old gods and new?
Bertram left Khalid to go back to the Great University and study. He transcribed what he could translate with Billie’s help into notes for the Hall of Records. There was more knowledge here than he had time to disseminate, which is why it was so important to him that the scholars had help to study and compare notes. The people of Sri Raji would likely experience a great deal of shock with the recent transformation of the island. Bertram want to be sure there were adequate answers for those that sought them. It was more than he could have given Minja, three thousand years of history at their fingertips at the blink of an eye. What they keep? What would they reject? Bertram didn’t know if Khalid was prepared to deal with these questions. Would Sidrathi go along with the continued isolation he had secretly fought to overcome? Would the Ajiht accept a God that bore no resemblance to themselves? These questions lingered with Bertram as he studied. He was hoping the answers were here, in the library. Instead he was met with endless records of the maharaja’s land and mineral wealth.
“What am I missing here?” Bertram sunk down into his chair and looked up at birds flying between the m shelves far above his desk. The words on the page before him twisted into a jumbled mass. He was getting tired.
He had never taken much stock in divination, but hadn’t everything in that fortune teller’s reading come true? Bertram stared at the loose leaves at the bottom of his cup of tea.
Lost in the tea leaves, Bertram doesn’t hear the shuffling feet behind him, the soft moan, or even the quiet thud of a knee hitting the floor. It’s not until the young man coughs that Paqi — soot-covered, emaciated, nearly-dead Paqi — gets Bertram’s attention.
“S-sorry I’m late, sir — ran into a spot of t-trouble — oh!”
Paqi stumbles to the floor of the Great Library and collapses, one small dusty time tumbling out of his hands. The cover is inscribed in the Sri Raji script still impenetrable to Bertram, but as the pages fall open Bertram recognizes some characters and words — the language of magic being recognizable in any script.