In Yanjing, to fall is to lose face.
When Xiyun falls, his face is crushed.
Crane watches it happen; the small man dropping, hitting the thick, beautiful glass world he constructed. The glass is safe, but that mage doesn't move. Ulra gently turns him over, and even her worryingly faded eyes can see the sunken cheek, the nose that needs a new word to describe it, and the expression of complete, unexpected pain. The man, who had been given his working name for his endurance and the quiet strength of stone, lies helpless on the former count's lavishly spelled floor. When Crane grips Xiyun's arm in a desperate attempt to get him upright, the very new Dedicate feels bones shift under his fingers.
The broken man sobs. It sounds pitiful, and horribly wrong, coming from the lips of a legend. The younger man feels something break. Resolve.
The others watch, pausing in their work. There are four of them. Ulra Stormborn; the Seer. A dark haired, quiet Novice with surprisingly steady hands. First Dedicate Elmbrook; of fevered ambitions and passionate hopes. And Rosethorn.
Their work is revolutionary. It is meant to change the world.
Not one of them could diagnose an illness, until it gave up trying to be subtle.
Xiyun Mountainstrider dies of the breakbone fever in 1027. A wealth of knowledge, power and the key to the survival of countless other members of humanity burned away with a fragile, splintered body.
Crane does not attend the funeral. He is in his workroom, half blinded by heavy sunlight through the glass panes, and his hands are stained blue with ink--no matter how much he wipes them, or the quality of the soap.
He has to write everything down. All the work, all the important words that are already fading from memory as the crematorium smoke curls in the sky. Xiyun was one of the best healers in the world. The other five trusted him. Crane knows better, now. Humanity can be bought and sold. It will be born, and it will die, with little care for any worthy ambition. With no understanding of the importance of the Great Scheme of Things. Xiyun is irreplaceable. Dreams of human essences, without his skill, will remain just that, and nothing of any practical worth. Three years gone, and a thousand hopes wasted.
But Crane still writes Xiyun's words down, while they are still remembered.
He writes, and he laughs a little. A hollow sound.
He is entrusting another's words to his hands. He wonders why he bothers, as he can see the deceit in trusting himself.
The glass is safe. It's a shame nothing else is.