Phury walked through the glowing white expanse of the Sanctuary, going over to the Scribe Virgin's private entry. He knocked once and he waited, willing a request for an audience.

When the doors opened, he expected the Directrix Amalya to be the one who greeted him, but there was nobody on the other side. The Scribe Virgin's white courtyard was empty save for the birds in their white-blossomed tree.

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The finches and canaries were out of place, and all the more lovely for it. Their colors were bright against their background of white branches and leaves, and hearing their calls, he thought of the number of times Vishous had come over here with one of the fragile things cupped in his palms.

After the Scribe Virgin had given them up for her son, the son had returned them to her.

Phury went over to the fountain and listened to the water fall into its marble basin. He knew when the Scribe Virgin appeared behind him, because the hair on the back of his neck stood up.

"I thought you were going to step down," she said to him. "I saw the path of the Primale unfolding for another's footfalls. You were supposed to just be the transition."

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He looked over his shoulder. "I thought I was going to step down as well. But, no."

Odd, he thought. Beneath the black robes that shielded her face and hands and feet, the glow of her seemed dimmer than he remembered.

She drifted over to her birds. "I would have you greet me properly, Primale."

He bent down low and said the proper words in the Old Language. Also paid her the service of staying in a bow, waiting for her to release him from the supplication.

"Ah, but that is the thing," she murmured. "You have already released yourself. And now you want the same for my Chosen." He opened his mouth, but she cut him off. "You need not explain your reasoning. Think you I know not what is in your head? Even your wizard, as you call him, is known unto me."

Okay, that made him uncomfortable.

"Rise, Phury, son of Ahgony." When he did, she said, "We are all products of our upbringings, Primale. The constructions that result from our choices are laid upon the foundation set by our parents and their parents before them. We are but the next level in the house or paver in the path."

Phury shook his head slowly. "We can choose a different direction. We can move ourselves along a different heading of the compass."

"Of that I am not sure."

"Of that I must be sure... or I'm not going to make anything of this life you've given me."

"Indeed." Her head turned toward her private quarters. "Indeed, Primale."

In the silence that stretched, she seemed saddened, which surprised him. He'd been prepared for a fight. Hell, it was hard not to think of the Scribe Virgin as anything other than an eighteen-wheeler in black robes.

"Tell me, Primale, how do you intend to handle this all?"

"I'm not sure yet. But those who feel more comfortable here can stay. And those who want to venture forth to the far side will find a safe haven with me there."

"You are abandoning this side for good?"

"There is something I need on the far side, something I have to have. But I will be back and forth. It's going to take decades, maybe longer, to change everything. Cormia is going to help."

"And you shall take only her, as a male does?"

"Yes. If the others find mates of their choosing, then I will accept all their female offspring into the traditions of the Chosen and urge Wrath to take their males into the Brotherhood, whether they are born here or on the far side. But I will have only Cormia."

"What of the purity of the blood? The strength that comes of it? Are there to be no standards? The breeding was deliberate, to beget strength from strength. What if a Chosen chooses one not of a Brotherhood line?"

He thought of Qhuinn and Blay. Strong boys who would be stronger males over time. Why shouldn't they be in the Brotherhood?

"It would be up to Wrath. But I would encourage him to accept the worthy regardless of lineage. Courage of heart can make a male taller and stronger than he is physically. Look, the race is failing, and you know it. We're losing ground with every generation, and not just because of the war. The Lessening Society isn't the only thing killing us. The traditions are, too."

The Scribe Virgin drifted over to the fountain.

There was a long, long, long silence.

"I feel as though I have lost," she said softly. "All of you."

"You haven't. Not at all. Be a mother to the race, not a warden, and you will win everything you want. Set us free and watch us thrive."

The sound of the chiming fountain seemed to swell, growing louder, as if catching the drift of her emotions.

Phury looked at the falling water, seeing it catch the light and twinkle like stars. The rainbows in each of the droplets were impossibly beautiful, and as he watched the flashing gems in every fragment of the whole that fell back down, he thought of the Chosen and whatever individual gifts they possessed.

He thought of his Brothers.

He thought of their shellans.

He thought of his beloved.

And he knew the whys of her silence. "You won't lose us. We will never leave you behind and forget you. How could we? You birthed us and squired us and strengthened us. But now... now is our time. Let us go and we will be closer to you than ever before. Let us take the future into our hands and shape it as best we can. Have faith in your creation."

In a rough voice, she said, "Have you the strength for this, Primale? Can you lead the Chosen even after all you have been through? Your life has not been easy, and the road you are contemplating is neither level nor well of surface."

As Phury stood on his one leg and his prosthesis, and thought about the days of his existence, and weighed the mettle of his marrow, he came up with only one reply.

"I'm here, aren't I," he pronounced. "I'm still standing, aren't I. You tell me whether I have the fucking strength or not."

She smiled a little then¡ªthough he couldn't see her face, he knew she smiled.

The Scribe Virgin nodded once. "So be it, then, Primale. So it shall be as you wish."

She turned and disappeared into her private quarters.

Phury exhaled as though someone had pulled a stopper out of his ass.

Holy. Shit.

He'd just blown apart the whole spiritual fabric of the race. As well as its biological one.

Man, if he'd known where the night was going to lead, he'd have had a bowl of Wheaties before getting off that bedding platform.

He turned and headed back to the Sanctuary. First stop would be Cormia; then the two of them would go to the Directrix and¡ª

He froze as he threw open the door.

The grass was green.

The grass was green and the sky was blue...and the daffodils were yellow and the roses were a Crayola rainbow of colors... and the buildings were red and cream and dark blue...

Down below, the Chosen were spilling out of their living quarters, holding their now colorful robes and looking around in excitement and wonder.

Cormia emerged from the Primale temple, her lovely face stunned as she looked around. When she saw him, her hands clamped to her mouth and her eyes started to blink fast.

With a cry, she gathered her gorgeous pale lavender robe and ran toward him, tears streaming down her cheeks.

He caught her as she leaped up to him and held her warm body to his.

"I love you," she choked out. "I love you, I love you... I love you."

In that moment, with the world that was his in transformation, and his shellan safely in his arms, he felt something he never would have imagined.

He finally felt like the hero he had always wanted to be.

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