When Namrask has the strength, he uses nonfluid loop cutters to help the Drekhs join their icy tunnels with other habitats. He weaves hollowhot matting to insulate the tunnels, and soon, some places are warm enough to remove a little armor. A clutch of eggs is hatched, and the hatchlings are raised in the warren.
For the first time since he fled the Tangled Shore, Namrask can think of more than his own survival.
Then the warrior Phylaks, a lieutenant of Eramis, comes recruiting.
On the raw ice beneath a black sky, she plays videos of Eramis raising a slab of crystal like a wall; another where she binds a Vex Minotaur in a casket of frost.
"This is the future of all Eliksni. Who among you would wield this power?" she asks.
He keeps his head down.
Namrask looks up, carefully. Phylaks's shock pistol is pressed to his brow. She puts the weapon down between them, a sign of truce, and makes the ireliis bow of respect. "You have the size of an old fighter. Why not come forward?"
He is afraid his voice will fail. It comes out strong, but like another's voice: "I saw what happened the last time Eliksni reached for new power. And the time before that, and the time before that. I will not be part of it."
Shrugging, Phylaks takes up her pistol and walks away. "There are many others who will take your place."
Later, Yriks tries to change his mind, but Namrask refuses again. "Eramis derives authority from her ability to grant this power. She cannot give it to everyone; if she does, her authority is lost," he says. "Has she destroyed Servitors?"
"I think so," Yriks says quietly. "Drekhtalk says that she broke a Servitor during a ritual to give power. To show that the old ways are done."
Will society always be based on violence? Where the basic worker is not the weaver, the farmer, or the healer, but the Drekh: one pistol, one knife, one unit of labor. Employed to steal what it can—the value of a Drekh life.
And Namrask helped make that law.
He rumbles. "She preaches salvation, but she cannot save everyone. She keeps Ether scarce. More than we can get alone, but not as much as we need. It is the way to rule."
"You have a mind for strategy," Yriks observes slyly. "Who were you before you became our empty weaver?"
"Do you know hollowhot's secret?" he asks and abruptly places some on the ground for a chattering little hatchling to play gathering-games without freezing to the ice. "Why it is so valuable as insulation?"
"What is hollowhot's secret, Namrask? Why is it so valuable?" She mocks him.
Namrask shows her one thread of the stuff, end-on, so she can see the little bubbles of vacuum that fill the center.
"There is nothing inside it," he says. "But if you pry too hard, you break the nothing. And then it is useless."