Saturday, July 3, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust X

Chapter Four

September 2, 440 Y.A.

“What happened?” I asked when I awoke. The room I found myself in was plain and simple, but different from the stone flats in Ariel; these walls were wooden planks stained dark, as was all the furniture I saw, though that was only the bed itself, a small table of the kind best used for playing cards, and the chair in which sat my master, Ryn Batyst. I don’t know that the room could have fit another soul.

“Where am I?” I asked again – and, when I noted the dimness of the light washing through the room’s wood-framed window, “What time is it?”

Ryn nodded. “We were worried: not everyone lives through river fugue, and your head took enough of a blow to cause real damage. But now you wake, in the last hour of the afternoon. The sun is setting.”

I guessed, then, and half-sat up. “The farmer and his wife?”

“Heru and Triske. You must learn all the names, Del. No one else knows anyone. That is for our safety. But the Blooded will depend on you.”

My vision swam when I tried to shake my head, and I was nearly sick. “All I do is fail. I failed the examination. I brought an un-Blooded to our meeting, and couldn’t even escape on my own when she brought the Greens upon us.”

Batyst raised his eyes to meet my own; he had been looking at the floor – lost, I suppose, within his own thoughts even as he answered my questions. “To infiltrate the Temple always was unlikely; what happened was exactly what I expected,” he said. “The girl was a surprise, but she warned us that the guards were coming. We would not have known. We should have taken the smuggler’s gate rather than the stair. We drew attention to ourselves. But the Greens did not catch anyone. We have all dispersed or returned to the city. The Blooded are safe.”

“But the call of the Well of the Dead,” I said. “It stopped.” When I realized that my arms could not hold my upper body above the bed any longer, I fell back, exhausted.

Ryn smiled. “Each day we learn anew. Now we know that either the Wells of the Dead are not unconcerned for us, or that the Blood is not as indifferent as we suppose.”

“Where is she?” I asked. “What were those ships, those spheres? Are they still there?”

“She is safe. I thought you would know about the ships. You have spent far more time with the Historians than I. The whole world is talking about them. And I doubt that they will go away as soon as we might like.”

I closed my eyes and thought. “They are Orchids,” I said. “the greatest engines of the Profusion. The gods gave them to humanity so that they might leave the Earth, and when all the worlds had been colonized, the Profusion used them first against the heretics, then in the long losing wars against the winds of the void. They were thought utterly destroyed.”

“Nine of them now circle our own world.”

“The Profusion is beginning anew, then. Other humans have come to trade and talk with us, and we have much to learn. They can be our allies, our friends.”

“No,” Batyst shook his head. “Friends seldom come in force. And I do not feel the grace of the Profusion being restored. True, Historian Senre did say their shrouds matched the colors of the shield worlds, of our ancient sister planets beside the nearest stars.”

“Then that’s why the Faith went up to the Needles, because he had heard that they were coming. The Needles must be observatories! It wasn’t about that relic ship at all. But that means the Needles knew those ships were coming, and their veilmen told the Faith. But why didn’t he tell us that? Why didn’t you know? Have the crews of the Orchids said anything? And how has all this happened since last night?”

Batyst reached over and grasped my shoulder. “Rest, Del,” he said. “You’ve been ill for three days. I’ve met with the Public of Guilds and returned. You are still recovering, though it seems the Blood has perhaps helped you fight the river virus. But the concerns of the world are too big for all of us. What is not too big for us is that through all of this there has been good news. No, not good news – great news.”

I stopped staring at the ceiling and turned to look at him. “Three days? I’ve missed the payment, then. I’ve lost my stall. I’ll be demoted in the guild. It’ll be months before I can afford another one.”

Now Batyst reached up and covered my eyes with his palm. “Rest, Del Tanich of Ariel. I’ve spoken with your guild and loaned you money from my account. You’ll have a booth to sell your seeds. But that is not important. What is important is that the High Historian Salaan, the great Head of all the Order of the Children of History, has washed up, even more ill than you. on friendly Sepiran shores. The Guardian there reports that he is on death’s own door.”

Instead of risking the nausea of shaking my head again, this time I merely sighed. “But what has that to do with us? Even if he dies, another Historian will just replace him. Senre, probably, and someone worse will just come here to take his place.”

Ryn’s laughter boomed through the little room. “No, Del, no one will replace Salaan. Because someone already has! He has been exiled, without due procedure. It was a palace revolution in Kasora that’s kept it silent. A rogue power sits in the Jade Temple now. But our Senre already contests their authority. He’s sent couriers to every city and Temple on this continent. The Order of the Historians is crumbling. Their house fights against itself— just as we prepare to strike it down.”

With a grin that held all the confidence of a sun, Batyst stood up and put his hand upon my shoulder, “ Rest, Del,” he said softly. “You’re going to need it.” With that, and with his typical resounding stride, he left.

And I shall admit, dear reader, I did sleep more soundly for knowledge of the High Historian. Batyst and I have both thought much on the effects of our insurrection, whenever it succeeds, and how the Order of History itself would respond. Now it seemed that they might not be able to.

When I woke again, it was morning and I felt quite well. I ate whole bowls of Heru’s simple and splendid soup before spending the rest of the day strolling through Triske’s broad fields. The earth was soft and rich and I wondered if perhaps there might be business in selling that to people in the city, right alongside my seeds. Every gardener in Ariel complains of the soil they must dig up from their basements. But how in the grace of the Profusion would I ever convince a farmer to sacrifice even a gram of it?

Then I chanced to look at the sky and chastised myself for such concerns: five of the Orchids, large as they were, still showed during the day, the dark black of their sides not quite absorbing all the sun that chanced to strike them. They’ve said nothing, Heru assured me.

She also related the Faith’s full statement on the issue: we will await further developments. Whereas the Orchids have taken no action against Thaeron itself, we will take no action beyond calling the Guardian to double their patrols. Whereas recent activity within particular Needles coincides with the orbital proximity of an Orchid ship, and whereas the crews of the Orchids remain silent and inactive, we have reason to believe that the Needles themselves possess significant defensive capabilities. On them all Thaeron will rely. Such is the thinking of our elected bureaucrat.

It was nightfall and I was still considering all of this – and wondering how I could discreetly return to the city, and sitting down to write these pages – when a great knock pounded my door. I knew it instantly, as kind Triske had but tapped gently when he came with my breakfast, and as I’d heard Ryn’s knock so many times upon my own door in Ariel. He is the only Blooded, too, who knows where each Blooded lives. The rest of us are left with the chance knowledge of friendship and association – and more than one of us has been surprised to see a tavern chum pass naked through the earth and into the Blood’s particular bliss. I suppose he will tell me these things, too, whenever he believes I’m ready.

But he came in as though I were in my own room, with the bravado and sincerity of an autumn squall, and I noted that that first chill of that season had descended on Ariel. Soon I will change over to selling winter seeds, those that do with less light and warmth in the year-round gardens. Though those sell more cheaply, I have always preferred the autumn of the year. That is the season that feels most like living to me, as we all of us inhabit that time when our summer’s grace can only be remembered on certain afternoons, and when the nights tell us of darkness and death to come. The Feasts of Present Days in the fall of the year have always been my favorites, though they remind everyone what will happen when the Historians, machines, and histories all fade into collapse or obsolescence, as inevitably they must.

“Come now, Del!” boomed Batyst. “The revolution will be joyous! We should be, too.”

“She said it would be boring, if we’re the ones who do it.” I snorted.

He raised his eyebrows at this, but said nothing. Instead he walked over beside the window to stand with his back toward me and said, “I want you to come with me, Del.”

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