Ryel didn’t pay a lot of attention to the way up through the tube, out of the temple, and up to the surface. She let her mind fall back into a trance of nearly complete inactivity, while her body committed all resources to her legs and arms. She made it to the surface: she did remember breaking the surface, somehow emerging from a silvery world to a black one, a heavy cold world to one as thin as space. Hands, the dwarf’s hands, pulled her up with some help from her, up a rope, over the rail, onto the deck.
She breathed and breathed and breathed. She was aware of talk near her but she made no attempt to comprehend it. Presently, sated with oxygen, that wonderful intoxicant, Ryel looked up and saw Arkmar grinning at her, his bald head fringed with soaking wet hair.
“Damn you,” she said, “you saved me again.”
“You saved me first,” he said with another laugh.
“Elena saved us both.”
“You saved me,” said Elena from the rail, where she and Ali leaned. They had been talking, like married folk might about how their child was doing in her lessons. Ali smiled at Ryel, then at Elena, proudly.
“What about the—?” Ryel began.
“It’s all in your bag,” said Arkmar. “And lookie what I picked up down there.” He was holding up another cylinder like the one Ryel had gotten off the asshole priest, but this one had a right-angle bend in it, not like a pipe but with a sharp angle, as if the tube had been cut at a slant and the two pieces welded back together after a half-turn rotation.
Before Ryel could react to what he held, the dwarf palmed it again and slipped it back into her bag. Elena came over and knelt down close on the other side. “I think you need to rest before you get any more answers to your many questions,” said the redhead.
“Okay, fine,” said Ryel, closing her eyes. “Put me in bed.”
“As you say,” said Ali from somewhere above. Then Ryel was in his arms, but not the way she had originally thought she would be: she was lifted, her wet head tucked against the captain’s shoulder, and carried, and she did not wake again until well into the next morning.
Ryel woke in what turned out to be midmorning, stretched and fell out of her hammock onto Arkmar, who had stowed his hammock and was sitting on the floor arranging their loot. The dwarf got himself out from under the elf, amiably, and spread the loot out for her inspection.
There was what they already had: pieces of that cursed ruby, the coppery key, the shiny little coin—of what, palladium? Iridium? It didn’t quite look like platinum. There were twelve coins of silver. There was the cylinder, and now its companion, which Arkmar had been trying to fit together one way or another.
There was also a small pile of jewels: pearls, garnets, amethysts, beryl stones, turquoises and tourmalines, which turned out to be all part of one necklace. And there was a substantial sack, open to reveal a substantial amount of gold, in nugget form.
Ryel picked herself up. She was wearing her underwear: her wet outer clothes hung on hooks around the walls. She found an empty bit of floor and managed to sit.
“Good morning,” said Arkmar. “Fancy a necklace?”
She picked it up and had a look. “No,” she said, holding it away and then gingerly depositing it, “I’m not one for jewelry. That’s for selling in Baharna.”
“I concur,” said the dwarf. “It’s got a bad feel to me.” He held up the two bronze-like cylinder pieces. “What do you think?”
“If there are seventeen, and I don’t know why there wouldn’t be, it’s a lovely two to a power of two plus one prime, then there’s no reason these two should fit together.”
“But it’s supposed to fit together. You know this?”
“It’s supposed to fit together,” said Ryel carefully, still weighing her annoyingly durable doubts about him, “but in several different ways. Still—!”
They exchanged a long look. “And Elena knows this?” asked Arkmar.
“I wonder what Elena knows,” said Ryel, standing up and picking through her bag for fresh clothes.
“I wonder what you know,” said Ryel. They were lying, clothed only in a sheet, in a huge comfortable bed in the forecastle of the Storm Queen, the Moon shining in the bank of little square windows.
“I know,” said Elena, “that you were the one I was waiting for.”
“That’s terribly flattering. And what do you know about what I’m doing?”
“Less than you,” said Elena with a little laugh.
“I doubt that,” said Ryel. “So, how does this work from here? For you, I mean? You helped me find something on my list. Now you get to be a Mistress Time Technician? How do you prove you did it? Or do they just know?”
“There’s a whole process. Magic parchment. Two witnesses. Care to sign?” Elena rolled over to reach a board on the window sill. She turned and sat naked, facing Ryel, holding out the board. There was a sparkling quill on it, and a somewhat sparkly parchment.
We the undersigned, it said in bold black print, bear witness that Elena of Eleis, journey-woman fifth class, has retrieved __________ in successful completion of the sixth and final task of her test for admission to Mastery in the Junior Grade. The blank was filled, in red a bit too light to be blood, with the word piece. At the bottom, there were two places for signatures, and one was filled in with six dwarf runes: ARKMAR.
“Okay,” said Ryel, sitting up too, taking the board. “I’ll sign. But you have to tell me a couple of things first.”
“So that machine of yours—your invention?”
“My proud invention. That was Task One and Four and I already used it in Task Five, and this was Task Six.”
“It converts sexual energy into magic?”
“That’s basically right,” said Elena. “But it’s not just sexual. There has to be real passion there.” She reached out her hand to Ryel’s cheek, then down to her shoulder and then gave a lingering, light caress to the side of Ryel’s small left breast. “It matters that I love you.”
“You only just met me,” said Ryel, suddenly blushing.
“But you’d used it before?”
They both looked beyond Ryel, where the Captain lay unconscious, breathing softly, his naked and quite enticing derriere half exposed. Ryel, hardly even thinking, pulled the sheet the rest of the way off. They both giggled.
“Oh yes,” said Elena. “I had already perfected it.”
“Well,” said Ryel, “Ali certainly is a reliable energy source.”
“Mmm, you know that as well as I do, elf maid.”
“Okay,” said Ryel, signing her name in sparkly red ink. “Now you send this thing off in an envelope to Headquarters?”
“Sure,” said Elena. “And they send me my wrench by return of post.”
“Ah,” said Ryel, not sure if Elena was serious. “So where do you go now? You’re not leaving him behind, are you?”
“No! No, no, no. Give up a reliable energy source? And a pleasurable one too? I can do all my time teching from here, Ryel. A boat on the seas of Dream? And the captain of my heart? What more could a time tech want?”
Ryel reclined on her elbows, gazing off to sea. Elena lay down again on her side facing the elf. “Elena,” she said, “tomorrow we’re in Baharna. I know I have something on my list here, and the next thing may be on beyond, or wherever, I don’t know. I—!” She smiled.
“You’ll need the Storm Queen again,” said Elena. “We’ll take you to the Moon if that’s where you have to go. You know we can make that voyage.”
“I thought you might,” said Ryel. “So what do I do? Whistle? Go stand on the beach with my thumb out?”
“Just dream of me,” said Elena, lying back. How well she knew how beautiful she was: here where the beautiful was often good and the good was rather often beautiful. “Dream of me, a dream within a dream.” She closed her eyes.
“I can do that,” said Ryel, gazing out at the Moon.