The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

by

N. K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Syenite and Alabaster are in their room, having just had their usual daily sex, when they receive a telegram from Yumenes. It says only “REMAIN AT LOCATION. AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS.” Syenite paces around the room—a smaller one than before, as a week has passed since the obelisk appeared and Allia is no longer funding their stay—frustratedly wondering aloud what the telegram means. Alabaster shrugs off her questions and suggests that they at least enjoy themselves while they’re here, and Syenite admits to herself that staying on the coast has been very pleasant.
Even though everything else about their assignment seems to have been upended, Syenite and Alabaster continue to fulfill their responsibilities to the Fulcrum by having sex every day. Syenite doesn’t understand what’s been going on or what the Fulcrum’s intentions are now, but she has at least been allowing herself to enjoy a few mundane pleasures at the seaside.
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Alabaster says that it’s likely the Fulcrum wants Syenite to stay in Allia so that she can meet with geomests and maybe get more business for the Fulcrum in the process. Indeed, geomests and every other kind of scholar have been coming to Allia ever since the obelisk appeared, and many have already interviewed Syenite. The politics of the Fulcrum don’t make sense to her, though, and she’s uneasy that no Guardians have contacted them yet. Early on, Alabaster had warned her not to tell anyone that she can make a connection with the obelisks—not even him. He explained that she is to say that the object rose up on its own when she shifted the coral. Syenite doesn’t understand this extreme secrecy, but she goes along with it.
Alabaster’s explanation makes sense on the surface, but when combined with his earlier warning, it seems that he might be purposefully misdirecting from what he really thinks is going on. His serious warning to Syenite is reminiscent of how he told her that she must speak about the node maintainer. Something about the obelisks is important, and it will be better if Syenite pretends to have nothing to do with it.
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Still frustrated and confused, Syenite says she’s going for a walk. Alabaster invites himself along, though she clearly wants to be alone, as he notes that someone has already tried to kill one of them here in Allia. Syenite remembers his poisoning—she prefers to believe that it was a result of incompetence in the kitchen, or at worst Asael getting back at the man who humiliated her. The two leave the room and walk toward the harbor. The sun is setting, and Allia is beautiful in the golden light. Children play on the beach nearby as Alabaster and Syen stop to admire the view.
Syenite is reluctant to connect the dots, but it now seems likely that Alabaster’s poisoning was related to the presence of the obelisk in the harbor. The dangerous situation is then contrasted with the idyllic setting of the harbor at sunset.
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The obelisk is still hovering over the harbor, and both Alabaster and Syenite can sense it emitting occasional weak pulses of energy. Alabaster suddenly starts acting like he’s bashful and flirting with Syenite, and he uses this as a cover to talk discreetly. She catches on and takes his arm, also realizing that no one else can sess the pulse coming from the obelisk. Alabaster says that something is wrong with it, and that it’s tilted to one side as well. They start walking again, still talking quietly to each other. Syenite notes that people here actually nod to them as they pass—no one in Yumenes would ever acknowledge a rogga.
Alabaster seems to fear that someone could be listening in on them even when no one is nearby, so he fully commits to an act to disguise their true conversation. Even as they discuss something that is seemingly very secret and dangerous, Syenite can’t help but be pleasantly surprised that the people of Allia treat her and Alabaster like actual human beings, even in the most casual way. Alabaster confirms that something is different about this obelisk compared to the amethyst nearby—something is “wrong” with it.
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Alabaster continues, saying that it’s too risky to speak in their room. The Fulcrum is keeping them in Allia because Syenite raised the broken obelisk, and they are surely concerned about controlling the orogene who can control the obelisk. Syenite then realizes that Alabaster can connect with the obelisks as well, and that was what he was doing on the night of the node maintainer’s hot spot and his own poisoning at Allia. Alabaster admits that this is true, but that no one else knows, and Syenite must act like she doesn’t know either.
Syenite now understands a bit more about how Alabaster has been performing such incredible feats of orogeny: he’s able to harness the obelisks’ power. Syenite previously had no idea that the obelisks had anything to do with orogeny, and that seems intentional—especially because Alabaster is now acting like it’s crucial that no one know about their ability to connect with the obelisks.
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Syenite asks why Alabaster is being so cautious about speaking when there’s clearly no one else around. He explains that a skilled orogene can pick up vibrations through a building’s foundations in the earth, and even parse them into words. Syenite feels like this must be impossible, but Alabaster says that he can do it, and Syen herself probably can with more practice. He then notes that most of his children are probably as powerful as he is—and Syen realizes what he’s saying. None of Alabaster’s children were allowed to grow up at the Fulcrum. They were all made into node maintainers, and they have the potential to listen in on any conversation almost anywhere in the Stillness.
The horror of the node maintainers increases even more here, as Alabaster suggests that not only are his lobotomized children forced to quiet earthquakes, but also to spy on anyone within their range using their incredibly sensitive orogeny. This explains Alabaster’s extreme secrecy earlier, and it also reveals another method that the ruling class (whose true identity and nature grows ever more mysterious) uses to keep others in line.
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This revelation horrifies Syenite. Alabaster then tells her that it’s really the Guardians that they have to worry about, not the Fulcrum. Syenite wonders, as she has before, who exactly the Guardians are and who they answer to. Syen and Alabaster have now reached the boardwalk along the edge of the cove. Syenite notices a shirtless man sitting on the railing nearby, first because he is extremely attractive and then because he is staring directly at them—and finally because he is wearing the burgundy uniform of a Guardian. Alabaster whispers that it’s not his Guardian, and then he warns Syenite to not let the Guardian touch her with his bare skin.
Syenite has been primarily concerned with the Fulcrum and her own standing there, but Alabaster tells her that the Guardians are the real enemy—and at that moment, one appears. The complexities of the Stillness’s hierarchies remain a mystery to Syenite (and to the reader), but each new revelation brings her closer to the truth. Alabaster’s warning about the Guardian’s touch is more new, sinister information.
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Alabaster greets the Guardian, who jumps down from the railing and introduces himself as Edki Guardian Warrant. Edki knows both of their names, and comments on how busy they’ve been here in Allia. Syenite notices Alabaster tensing up beside her. Edki scornfully comments on Alabaster’s work with the obelisk. Angry that she’s being condescended to even now—as people assume Alabaster must have done everything—Syen says that she was the one who did the job. She immediately realizes that this was a mistake, as Alabaster hisses. She feels him drive his power straight down into the earth, even to the magma beneath the earth’s crust, clearly preparing to fight the Guardian.
The only other Guardian in the novel thus far has been Schaffa, and Edki seems far more arrogant and antagonistic than Schaffa was. Syenite finally lets her resentment get the better of her and tries to claim credit for what really was her work—but this only means that she is the Guardian’s new target for assassination. She has no idea what is going on, as everything that she’s been taught tells her to obey Guardians without question. But now, she watches her mentor prepare to use his orogeny to fight the Guardian that has confronted them.
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Edki mentions Alabaster’s old Guardian, Leshet, and says that they have found her and need to talk about what Alabaster did to her. Syenite then notices that Edki is now holding a short, stubby black “glassknife.” Syenite starts to speak, but suddenly Alabaster knocks her to the ground. She gets up angrily to see that Alabaster is on the ground as well, choking for breath and trying to scream, though no sound comes out. Edki stands over him, taunting him for miscalculating and thinking that he would attack Syenite rather than Alabaster himself, and Syen notices with horror that the Guardian has a look of pure delight on his face. She also sees what is wrong with Alabaster—the short knife is buried in his shoulder.
The Guardians use of the glassknife makes clear that they have more tools at their disposal than just knowledge and fighting skill, and they’ve have grown far more powerful than in the days of Shemshena. The joyful smile on Edki’s face feels especially evil to Syenite, as Alabaster’s power is immediately negated, and the Guardian seems to rejoice in his suffering. Schaffa portrayed Guardians as having no choice but to control orogenes, but Edki’s demeanor suggests that exerting this control is also something that the Guardians enjoy.
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Edki know draws another knife, this one long and thin and familiar to Syenite. She backs away and tries to use her orogeny, but suddenly realizes that she cannot. She has heard rumors about this, that Guardians can mute an orogenes’ power, and that some are specially trained only to hunt down rogue orogenes. Syen feels sure that Edki is one of these, and he’s about to kill her now. Syen speaks, trying to delay the inevitable, but also remembering that it is “her duty to die, if he wills it.” But then she feels that “this is not right.” Edki lunges with the knife.
The long knife recalls the blade that Schaffa held against Damaya’s side while he broke her hand, offering another hint that the novel’s three protagonists might all be the same person at different stages of her life. Schaffa’s lesson—that she is to obey Guardians without questions—challenges Syenite’s own sense of morality and justice here. And ultimately, justice wins out in her heart. No matter what she has been taught, she suddenly feels that the system in which she lives is fundamentally “not right.”
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Time seems to stop. Syenite still cannot sess anything, and she can see Alabaster convulsing in agony nearby. Suddenly she becomes incredibly angry, feeling that it’s not her duty to obey the Guardians at all, because what they do is fundamentally immoral. Then her attention turns to the nearby garnet obelisk. With Edki’s knife still traveling toward her heart, Syenite sees Alabaster silently warn her against what she is about to do, but Syenite’s rage and sense of injustice takes over and she feels herself drawn back into the obelisk.
In conflict with the existing culture of oppression is Syenite’s personal anger and sense of justice, which finally overcomes the conditioning she has received from the Guardians’ in a moment when she is attacked unjustly by one of those Guardians. This passage is especially cinematic, as one piece of the action takes place in slow-motion while Syenite sends all her anger and orogeny into the nearby obelisk, seeking power to undo the great injustice that she sees before her.
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Related Quotes
This time Syenite feels like she is not in control of the obelisk at all, and as she passes through its broken parts, she herself feels shattered and screams in agony. Finally, she stops, hovering before the stone eater trapped in the garnet—all while her physical body is still lying on the boardwalk, about to be stabbed. The stone eater looks like a young man made of marble, but he’s cracked all the way through. “Are you all right?” Syenite wonders, though she is sure that the stone eater is dead. But suddenly, the stone eater moves—it looks at her and says, “I’m fine. Thank you for asking.” Then, the obelisk shatters.
Syenite suffers great pain in order to destroy her enemy, whom she sees as the face of the entire corrupt system that she must live in. At the same time, even in the midst of her suffering, she finds empathy and humanity, speaking to the stone eater without pretensions and asking if he is okay. This rather surreal moment is revealed to have major repercussions later in the Broken Earth trilogy.
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