Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIX

I sighed. “We would overthrow the Temple,” I said. “We would slaughter all the Order of the Children of History in Ariel, and burn the Temple of the History to the ground. We would not leave one jade stone atop another.”

She looked to see that I was serious, then quite unapologetically laughed. “Ha! Del, they are priests and tax collectors all in one! Of course you want to kill them. Every mother in the Flats, I think, has a knife hidden in her skirts, just waiting for an opportunity! But this perhaps is only what everyone tells themselves. Nothing ever happens.”

I scowled. “You think we are afraid? Pseudonymous has been building our campaign for twenty years! There are hundreds of us, soon a thousand, and any one of us would give our lives to see that Temple come burning down. We’ve infiltrated the People’s Public of Guilds, and –”

“Wait, did you say Pseudonymous? The propagandist?” She clapped her hands and I drew her close, to stifle the sound. “I adore his broadsides! ‘Revelation is revolution’ and ‘Murder is their mortar’ and ‘Beware despair.’ I have to meet him! But I asked what you’d done, not who you were. And I think you didn’t say anything.”

I stopped her utterly; we had neared the thicket anyway. “It’s not an adventure,” I flared. “It will kill you, and you won’t be happy until it does, because that’s the way it works! I shouldn’t have brought you. It was stupid and selfish. You’ll endanger us – and the Temple was looking for you already! No. Don’t follow. Stay here. Hide in the bushes until I go in, then go back along the shore alone and up the stairs and forget everything you saw. Because you’re never coming back.”

Her face wanted to crumple in the way that women’s sometimes do, but she held it back with a steel set to her jaw and eyes flashed brightly in the moonlight. “Idiot!” she whispered, fierce. “The Historians found me the day before I came to you – that was why I did it! And I didn’t tell them anything because I didn’t know. I was still just following rumors!”

I motioned her to silence, but she continued. “I think the Temple flatters you. You perhaps have not done anything. The Historians are fine, the Temple is fine. The taxes, I think, are doing just fine as well. No one’s been kidnapped or extorted, you haven’t even tried to bribe the veilmen over to your side. Perhaps your revolution will be dull.”

“Adlasola, listen – it’s not a game! Historians will die, and the Temple will come down.”
She snorted. “I think perhaps it won’t. Perhaps you are those people who plan forever and give speeches and have meetings and never accomplish anything whatsoever. I think that makes you worse, because your rhetoric only encourages the Historians to oppress us more.”

I pushed her down before I turned away; I had heard more Blooded coming. I walked over to where those who’d already come stood in a circle in the center of the wood – there was barely even a clearing here, only a small space a span or so across where the trees had failed to grow, and ferns and grasses had come up. I could hear other Blooded picking their way through the woods behind me; I prayed that Adlasola stayed well hidden. Sensing my presence, the call of the Well of the Dead faded to mere anticipation, another trick that Ryn uses to magnificent effect.

But he didn’t say anything to the rest. Instead, Ryn turned to face me from the near the center, his face showing that he had quite expected me. “Del,” he said, “We need –”

Whatever he was about to say, I did not hear it then. Instead, a shrill cry cut the quiet.

“Guards!” Adlasola screamed, from precisely where we had last spoken, Torches flared just outside the clearing, someone was almost entirely upon us. “The Green Guard!”

Batyst eyes shot wide as he glanced around the clearing.

“Run, Blooded! To the river! Swim for the other side!”

And there indeed was our escape. Not thinking that we would dare the strong currents, the Green Guard, the Temple’s own independent police, had failed to surrounded the copse of woods entirely. The way to the river was quite clear.

With everyone else, I ran, thinking constantly of Adlasola. I could not call her name, or the guards would know to look for her. And the only danger she had brought tonight had been that upon herself. They would have been nearly upon her when she called out, only a pace or two away in the darkness, torches still unlit.

But I could not turn; the crowd of the Blooded pressed shoulder to shoulder to the river as the guards tried to close their trap around us. I tripped over rocks. Branches scratched my face and bitter fear burned my mouth and throat. Dead, I thought, dead if any of us are caught.

But the first of us reached the river’s edge, splashing into it. On either side burned the torches of the guards, pressing, their torches weaving spots of orange like fireflies at night. The first cold waters of the river soaked through my shoes.

Then some gap between the rocks on the shore grabbed my foot and wrenched all balance from me. I fell so quickly I could not use my hands to stop. M y head hit a patch of that shell rock that is common to the shoreline, and the whole dark world bloomed with color. I was uncertain at first what had happened; I was quite dazed. I rolled over on my back. I saw strange things, and decided to lay down there in the cool water, where perhaps the guards would fail to see me.

But, dear reader, a great broad hand reached to grab my shoulder picked me up as though I were a smallish sack of seed. It forced my shoulder against some great broad side, and I knew immediately who held me. Ryn Batyst’s great hand always grabbed my shoulder so, and I have been with him through the many depths of night. My feet barely touched the sand again before we reached water deep enough to swim. With all the rest of the Blooded, we swam together for the western shore, though he half-carried me.

Ryn laughed midstroke. “Their armor,” he said. “They can’t follow us. They’ll have to run back for the boats. They’ll be a watch just getting back.”

I wanted to laugh, too. It was that ridiculousness one feels whenever great danger has passed one over. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to flirt, I wanted to run for three straight days, but that was only my body speaking. My mind was quite distracted, as I fear it always will be now.

For, dear reader, when that stone had tripped me and I had turned over on the shoreside sand, I had looked up for a moment into the night, and I’d seen the leafy tops of the summer trees, and I’d seen the stars on a cloudless night, and I’d seen the loathsome blackness of the void.

But in the midst of those heavens, which must surely hold all the wonder and horrors of the gods, I also saw: three great spheres, round and large as moons. They were no satellites, not natural ones at least. They were not relics; their lights shone and blinked as brightly as those of the sentient torches in our city, and even from so far I could see the jade haze of their energy shrouds warding them against disaster. The spheres did not burn, because they did not fall from orbit. They did not fall, because those ships were crewed.

Thus I became the first person, so far as I know, to see the great change that has come to Thaeron. For the first time in a thousand thousand years, our world is not alone.

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