Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust V

I still remember the night of my first Blooding.

“What is this?” I had asked Ryn Batyst; we sat on the ground atop one of the Wells of the Dead after I had come out. I was wet and cold, skin covered with slime and shivering in the darkness. “What is happening to us?” Somehow, the Blood of History arranges it so that he is always present when someone is incepted – even those, like myself, who do so alone, though of course I did not know it yet. So far, Batyst had not even given me his name.

“It began more than a thousand years ago,” Ryn replied, his voice deep and resonant. It was a stranger’s voice just then, though I would come to know it better than my own. “Before the War of the Faith, before the wars between the cities. Before the collapse of the Profusion itself. The Blood of History is of the Profusion. When humanity lived scattered through the stars in perpetual exaltation. It was no static time, but a dynamic one. Humanity ascended to ever-higher levels of complexity and capability.”

“And immortality,” I said, remembering my instruction; in that time I was still quite pious. Ryn appeared to me as a darkness within darkness; I was afraid of him, because I feared everything then.

“No,” Ryn replied again, “that is another lie from the Temple. Human life in the Profusion could only be prolonged. The gift of artifice, the gift of machines, gave humans nearly everything they could imagine. But it could not defeat death.”

“But the woman I met in there, in that place,” I said, pointing to the Well, the first Well of the Dead I had ever entered, “She lived during the Profusion.”
Batyst looked at me for a very long time, and I know now that he concealed astonishment. I had just given him the second sign of my election, that I would remember the Blood of History as he did.

“Finally,” he said, “on Thaeron, on this very world, a few humans gave up preserving their bodies. They focused instead on transforming their minds. Since they could not escape death, they would transcend it. So the Profusion created new machines that allowed the people share one another’s memories. To step into each other’s souls. Like nothing else in the universe, these machines worked with flesh instead of electrical components. And they functioned like a living brain.”

I sat dumbly upon the earth; I was still very much disoriented, and my clothes were a mess, their dampness making me nervous and impatient. “Is that what all the red gel was? What whispered in my head?”

If Ryn heard my question, he ignored it. “But they were not a mind for the living. They were a mind of the dead, that remembered everyone who died. The people named it the Blood of History. It was that color and held the memories of those who were interred. They placed the Blood in the Wells of the Dead that surrounded their city. And they gave their tombs the ability to lure other humans into them.”

“And to incorporate the memories of the living,” I guessed, and Ryn started at me again, his face impassive. I had, I now know, just spoken the third sign the Blood of History had given him. What the first one was, I doubt he’ll ever let me know.

“Then the city became isolated in these mountains and collapsed, either during the Profusion or after it, during the wars between the cities and the time without time. The machines of the Blood of History slept through all of it, just as they slept through the time of the first Faith and the four hundred years after it, as this city Ariel grew up among them unknowing. And they slept as the later Faiths and the Historians came to see Ariel as the center of the world, and to conduct here all of its affairs.”

Ryn smiled – that was by far the most pleasant aspect of this very serious man. He smiled, and you knew that he held the kind of joy that could destroy people, that it was an aspect of his power.

“They slept, Del, until one night a blacksmith went walking in the valley because he could not sleep. And then they called him in.”

“You woke them up?” I asked, because that was the only part of his speech that did not have the cadences of ritual.

This time Ryn did not look at me so long, but laughed for the first of many times. “No, Del” he said, “I did not wake them up. But they did awaken me.”

I had said, eyes wide, “I still feel it, the exaltation. I felt so alive in there!”

Ryn Batyst shook his head. “No, Blooded. Those are only chemicals, an unfortunate component of the Blood. Even the Temple uses similar ones in incense, though in smaller quantities. And you will be quite ill afterward. When I talk about waking up, I am talking about being born again. I am talking about seeing the Profusion as it actually occurred. I am talking about knowing how to live. Mere moments of the Profusion contain more truth than a thousand years of Temple dogma. And those are the miracles, Del. Those are the revelations that are going to shape this world anew.”

Now it was I who shook my head. “But I don’t remember anything.”

Batyst looked long and hard into my eyes, and held my wrists so that I could not look away. “You will, Del. No one else has until tonight – no one else but me, ever. But you will, and you will remember more than anyone.”

At this I laughed. “How do you know that?”

He smiled gently. “I know that, Del, because not all knowledge is kept in archives, in dusty vaults beneath some Temple. I know because the Blood of History told me so.”

I could find no response to this. Ryn stood to go, then stopped.

“There is something else,” he said. “I need to warn you. The Blood of History requires sacrifice. It has been too long isolated. It needs our strength if we are all to continue. It doesn’t happen very often, perhaps once a year. But sometimes a Blooded goes into a Well of the Dead and does not come out. It gives no warning, but we all believe the process is quite painless. There is no body later.”

That was the not the first time I learned this lesson, and it will not be the last. The human mind is not capable of comprehending the indifference with which machinery regards our individual mentality.

Yet last night I trusted myself to them again, and into a Well of the Dead I fell.

The experience, of course, cannot be described – except to say that it must be like being born. Inside a Well of the Dead, you fall into an ocean of thick red fluid; it feels boundless because you cannot move. That is why you fall into it backwards, in the manner of the executed – it is the most comfortable position the Blood of History supports, if comfort actually applies in that place. The Blood holds you and supports you and does not let you breathe of your own accord. Rather, it subdues you until you take it in and it can infiltrate your lungs; the Blood of History is quite safe enough to breathe. You know that it is red because the Wells of the Dead, when woken, provide their own illumination. Then begin the recollections.

They are usually quite like dreams, only more vivid than you have ever known, and the dead whom you are about to dream approaches you in your mind and introduces his or her self. And a person’s memories in full contain more information from all the senses than one can possibly experience. To live someone else’s life as though it were one’s own quite surpasses the limitations of our language; perhaps that is the beginning of the corruption that affects all the Blooded now.

But this time I did not dream. This time I did not remember anyone else’s past, and I did not meet any ancient dead. Rather, I met someone who I knew immediately had never lived; I saw and felt and smelled the future. I met the world’s salvation.

She wore loose white robes, and crimson hair flowed around her face. She lay buried in the earth.

A wind blew the soil away, a wind as dark as the emptiness between the stars. It rose around her like a fog, though it did not touch her. Its whisper grew to a roar that I thought would drive me mad. But she rose and stood and walked through it as though it were a summer breeze.

She strode the streets of Ariel. At each step, her breath repelled the black wind. In one hand she held a quicksword, in the other a starspear. Her steps shook buildings. Her starspear burned to pierce the blackness. Her quicksword sliced the darkness as though it were but paper.

Above her nine moons circled; she reached up to drag them down. Nine demons followed them, creatures of the void. They stood a third as tall as any man, and their wings would have spanned any room. Their skin matched the black wind that surrounded them; it had been their breath. Their wings and horns burned with black flame, and their arms became curving, glowing swords.

She breathed and they drew back. She slit their eyes. She pierced their breasts. Around her, her breath became a white cloud. The cloud solidified into walking forms, veilmen and Profusionist machines. She called them her army and they cleared the demons away. When she reached the fallen moons, she crushed them in her palms.

Around her, white buildings sprang entire from the earth. Their spires reached the stars. Their whiteness matched her breath and skin and robes. The night become a day brighter than any other, and promised not to end.

“Come, Del Tanich of Ariel,” she said.

She climbed atop the cliffs of the Word of Faith, straddling the Profuse River. The white swarm sang beneath her, and the white city swept across the world, a roiling whiteness that grew and rose and brightened till it was all I saw.

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