Alabaster and Syenite have now been in Meov for three days. Syen still hasn’t learned any of the language, which is called Eturpic, and Alabaster has convinced her that they can’t return to the Stillness. As they walk together on one of the cliff-tops one day, he argues that it would be suicidal to return to the Fulcrum without knowing exactly why the Guardians are trying to kill them. Syen also realizes that everyone probably already thinks that they’re dead, destroyed in the massive eruption that used to be Allia.
In a society that is as brutal to orogenes as the Stillness—and particularly the Fulcrum within it—Alabaster suggests that he and Syenite will find true freedom from oppression only through death. The fact that no one knows they survived Allia’s eruption should then offer them freedom that they would never be able to achieve on the continent.
Alabaster seems delighted to finally be free of the Fulcrum, even if it means staying on Meov. He assures Syenite that neither of their Guardians can find them unless they manage to get near enough, and that back on the Stillness, he and Syen are surely wanted criminals, with one or the other made out to be the new Misalem. Syen realizes that he’s right, as the destruction at Allia contradicts everything that the Fulcrum is supposed to offer, so the orogenes of the Fulcrum will need to make them scapegoats or else risk being murdered by mobs themselves.
Syenite and Alabaster’s supposed deaths allow them to make a hard break from the Fulcrum, something they would never be able to do otherwise. The Fulcrum’s way is essentially respectability politics—as described in the quotation at the end of Chapter 4—which relies on its oppressed minority always exhibiting their best behavior and then demonizing those who go against the status quo.
Syenite still feels guilty, though—she can now sess further than before, oddly, and so can appreciate just how terrible things are in Allia. The broken obelisk has seemingly buried itself all the way down into the earth’s mantle, leaving a gaping hole of magma behind that has destroyed everything. Because of this, Syenite feels especially angered by Alabaster’s apparent joy. He again assures her that their Guardians can’t track them, because of whatever he did to his and because when Syen’s orogeny was negated, her Guardian lost his connection to her until he touches her again.
It’s suggested that Syenite’s orogeny has grown stronger after connecting to the obelisk. Meanwhile, Alabaster is bitter toward the world, and so he sees the deaths at Allia as collateral damage, but Syen still considers those people valuable, no matter how much they might have hated orogenes or been complicit in an evil system. Alabaster implies that Schaffa has finally lost his connection to Damaya (now Syenite).
Syen continues to be angry, and Alabaster then reminds her how many times they’ve had sex even though neither of them wanted to. Her rage grows, forming a torus of ice that Alabaster immediately blots out with his own. He apologizes and says that he was just trying to make a point, but Syen already knows what it is—that roggas are slaves with no control over even their own bodies. She feels like she hates Alabaster because he gives voice to these terrible truths—truths that every orogene at the Fulcrum chooses to ignore so that they might remain comfortable and safe.
The reality of life for orogenes is essentially horrifying and hopeless, so Syenite still prefers to avoid this reality as much as she can in order to maintain her sanity and humanity. She knows that Alabaster is right, but she also feels that acknowledging the whole terrible truth at all times would rob her of any chance of happiness or satisfaction in the present moment.
Glaring at each other but then walking together again, Syenite and Alabaster head back down to the village, where a large ship called the Clalsu arrived two days previously. Its captain, Innon, is technically second-in-command to the headman, Harlas, but he is clearly a leader and beloved by all. A huge, dark man with an outsized personality, Innon is a “feral” orogene like Harlas, and Syen feels herself entirely confused by him.
Meov’s society is arranged in an entirely different way than the rest of the Stillness. Not only are orogenes respected and valued, but there are seemingly no other strict castes or predefined roles for people.
As Syenite and Alabaster enter Meov’s caverns, they can immediately hear Innon’s booming voice where everyone has gathered for their evening meal. He greets them both and loudly invites them to sit by him—he is a huge man, with his hair in braids and wearing garish clothing. Syenite can’t help smiling as they join him. As he continues to talk, Syen thinks about what is confusing about Innon—he clearly desires her, but he also seems to want Alabaster, who appears to be interested in Innon as well. After flirting with both of them, Innon launches into a story in Eturpic, dramatically telling the tale using his entire body.
Syenite is baffled by and attracted to Innon and the total freedom of his existence, bearing none of the shame and fear that she learned at the Fulcrum or through a lifetime of stonelore indoctrination. He is free and proud to be an orogene, and this sense of freedom extends to his sexuality as well, as he is open in his desires and seems to feel no shame in them. This is an alien idea to Syen, but she is immediately drawn to it.
Alabaster translates Innon’s story some for Syenite, and finally asks her directly if she wants Innon for herself. She asks him if he wants Innon, and Alabaster asks if she would really back off if he asked her to. When she is silent, Alabaster leaves the story circle. When Innon’s tale is over, Syen leaves to go find Alabaster. He’s in their shared room, sitting on the floor in the dark. Syen snaps at him, and he finally asks her if she ever just wants to be a human being. Syen responds that roggas aren’t human, and Alabaster fiercely says that they are—their classification as non-human is just a justification for the way people treat them.
Alabaster starts to open up emotionally more to Syenite, though she is still prickly toward him. He has been worn down by so much trauma that he just wants to feel like a full human being. This emotional low point then leads him to state directly what they both know but that has been denied to them their whole lives—the fact that orogenes really are human beings, and that other people label them monsters just so they can justify continuing to treat them poorly.
Syenite says that Alabaster can have Innon if he wants him. Alabaster recognizes that Syen wants Innon too, but he says that he can’t be as unselfish as she is. Sadly, he tells her that it’s been so long—and she knows that he means since he had a lover that he really wanted. Syen asks if Alabaster wants her to go get Innon for him, and after a long while he nods and thanks her.
Syenite knows that she can handle being alone for a little longer, but Alabaster’s loneliness is truly breaking him. She continues to be outwardly standoffish with him, but her actions show how much she really cares.
Syenite leaves and finds her way to Innon, who leans against the wall beside her. She quickly admits that she likes Innon, but she says that she’s here on Alabaster’s behalf. Innon asks if they mean to share him, which throws Syen off until Innon shrugs away the suggestion. He tells Syen that she is a good friend, and the stronger of the two—Alabaster has been broken and is barely holding himself together, he says, while Syen is bruised but still intact. Innon then kisses her and promises that he will look out for her, and he leaves to go find Alabaster.
Syen has never considered the kind of relationship that Innon casually assumes would be an option, as she has never experienced the freedom that Innon takes for granted. Innon is clearly very emotionally intelligent, as he recognizes both Alabaster’s brokenness and Syen’s reluctant strength in giving up her own desires for the sake of her friend and mentor.
Syenite stands looking out at the sea, now that her bedroom is occupied. She remembers one of Meov’s women explaining to her that they all survive only because of orogenes. The woman then suggested that Alabaster and Syenite should have a baby and give it to Meov so that they don’t have to steal one from the mainland. Syenite doesn’t like this idea, but she does prefer it to their child becoming a node maintainer.
Meov values and elevates its orogenes, but it still does treat them like something “other” to be used. This is a less harmful system than the Stillness, but it still means a subtle kind of dehumanization that Syenite now recognizes.
After a few hours, Syenite goes back into her room where she can hear Alabaster crying very quietly. She passes through the curtain that’s been put up for privacy and sees Innon holding the weeping Alabaster, both of them naked and clearly having just had sex. Innon beckons to her, and to her surprise Syenite finds herself undressing and getting into bed with them as Innon continues to hold Alabaster. Eventually she falls asleep beside them until the next morning, when she wakes up, vomits, and realizes that she is pregnant.
Syenite opens up here too, becoming vulnerable with both Alabaster and Innon at a moment when Alabaster is at his most fragile. In the relative safety of Meov, Syenite can let herself find her humanity once again. This kind of new life is then made literal with the realization of her pregnancy. The Fulcrum’s plans for her to bear Alabaster’s child have come to fruition, but now it seems possible that the child will actually escape the Fulcrum’s grasp.