Saturday, July 10, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XII

Ryn gasped, and I knew that the gap, though of course not physical, was opening. Then my own feet sunk and I had only time to wonder if the Healing Well would have preferred we enter naked, or if that was solely the prerogative of the Blood of History. The hard white stone of Ariel softened, and it parted like sand to let us pass. The wail of the Healing Well inside my mind was no less heard than any call of the Wells of the Dead. We have often talked, Ryn and I, about whether or not the minds of the Wells are sentient, or simply reactive in the way of the minds of valkyries and quickswords and shrouds and all the other equipment and weaponry the veilmen have. It certainly feels as though a mind, strange and alien, were welcoming you to a house where you most emphatically do not belong.

Whatever it is or was, the mind of the Healing Well had parted the stone of the street to let us pass. It is not at all difficult to remember to hold one’s breath while one passes through stone and, even, the walls of the Well itself, which must be harder than any metal when firm, as no one has been able to open one without its own consent. Still, it took too long. The Healing Well was further beneath the surface of Ariel than one might have supposed, perhaps five meters – most of the Wells of the Dead lie just beneath the soil. And one is never ready for the drop from the ceiling of a Well unto its floor. I doubt that even the veilmen, who must enter one every time they change or recharge their weapons, can be prepared for every time they drop three meters unto a floor harder than cement, after passing through supposedly solid earth. It is no better for us Blooded to find our fluid sudden there, though it is our purpose.

Batyst and I were certainly startled to come out of the earth and to land, unprepared, on the floor of an utterly empty Well. I hit the floor and rolled in utter darkness. Ryn grunted and cursed at his own rough landing. The Healing Well was supposed to have been filled with great white light, though it had dimmed in years past, as a sign of its decay. But this Well held no light at all, not even after I had woken it. Sighing, we both struggled to our feet.

“Ryn, I – ” I stopped when I heard his great brown robes rustling and the striking of a flint against its steel. A few moments more, and Ryn Batyst stood in the glow of two primitive torches, rags soaked in oil and wrapped around heavy sticks he must have taken from the woods. He stepped over and I took the one he proffered.

“I could have carried my own, at least” I said.

“Do you see, Del, why I brought you here?” he asked.

Slowly, I walked around the Healing Well’s interior. As with many Wells, it was not very large: four strides and four again and again carried me all the way around its unbroken silver walls. Only the Wells of the veilmen in Nogilia and Nesechia are reported to be quite large, capacious enough to hold rank on rank of armor suits and vehicles. But though this Well had once held the wounded body of the first Faith, it could have held little else. In its center I spied markings that might once have been an elaborated circle.

“Not for anything the Healing Well has to offer, I guess.”

“You underestimate yourself. Do you realize what you’ve done! For four decades everyone has tried to wake this Well! The Historians, the Guardians, I myself have tried to wake it! And now you come and open it in the time of a few short breaths. You, who are not supposed to be able to manipulate machines at all. You who are too poor of birth to orchestrate the lowest Temple service. You, who deny what the mind of the ancient dead would say about you!”

I snorted, half- laughing. “But they were just trying to open it in all the wrong ways. It’s not a pet. It’s not something that obeys. I only treated it the way the Wells of the Dead are treated. I asked it if I could enter. It’s nothing you couldn’t have done, if you had but thought of it. And I don’t even know why I did.”

Batyst raised an eyebrow. “Did you?” He chewed a lip. “Yes, that might have worked. But I did not think of it. And you did. And the Well did respond to you. It would never have answered me.”

“What? Why not? You wake the Wells of the Dead more certainly than anyone. Those machines call you the most of all. Why would the Healing Well be any different?”

“Because the Wells of the Dead hold something of living flesh. But the Healing Well is entirely of artifice, a Well of the machines. It is not the same at all.”

I paced in the darkness, the firelight flickering. “But I am the same, I am the same as you. You failed the tests as certainly as I did, though perhaps less times. I was exposed to machines of each kind, history and weaponry and transport. None of them did anything at all. I’m common – a guildsman, nothing more.”

Ryn grinned like the sun again and held out his hand. In the dying torchlight I couldn’t see exactly what he held. He held it a little higher. ‘Take it, Del. It’s of no use to me.”

I reached out and took and almost could not believe. It was a history of the Profusion, a slate of metal no thicker than a piece of paper and almost as flexible, though only a third the size. And in my hand its letters hummed instantaneously to life, glowing in lines of green text whose characters were utterly unfamiliar to me.

“How?” I asked, shaking, “This is from the Temple. How did you get this? How could anyone?”

Ryn nodded. “When you were being tested. The Historians were quite preoccupied by their charade. Everyone knows they bring up histories from the vaults brought here from Kasora. Senre would never content himself in such dank places. So I looked around his desk. Security is always minimal that time of day, when they’re shriving the confessors.”

I sat on the floor, uneasy, and leaned back against the wall. “I wonder if I haven’t recovered from my fever yet. Why, though? Why bring me here just to read this?”

“Because it was a guess. Because I knew that you would have to experience in order to believe regardless. And I overheard Senre before he came to bless the Public of Guilds, talking with his apprentice about trying to open the Healing Well again. I had to see if they might find anything. And, of course, I had to help you hear.”

I gazed at the slim glyphs of text, wondering how the Historians had ever learned the language. My eyes were blurring, and I felt myself smiling foolishly. “But how, Ryn, how can I do this? I should not be able. No one like me should be able.”

Batyst sat beside me, his shoulder against my own as I tried to manipulate the history into speaking my own language, “Del, what if I told you that the Historians have been lying to the world about what makes that world possible. What if I told you that every time a child steps into the Temple to take the test, its outcome is already determined by some trick of the Historians. What if I told you that the Historians systematically exclude those adepts with more talent than themselves, and this is the reason for Thaeron’s long and slow decline. What if I told you that you could have been a Historian the very first day the Historians took you in their care?”

I sat in the darkness for a while, letting my mind go clear again. The goodness was too much to be conceived. The Historians had rejected me not because of my unknown parentage but because of my undeniable talent. I could have trained with them from the first day, and worked to lift up the people of Ariel from a position of real power, rather than always ineffectually scheming to undo it. Then from the darkness came an answering presence, and I exalted, and rolled up the history and tucked it inside my sleeve. I had read enough. I stood.

“Then I would say, Ryn, that the Historians wanted to open up the Healing Well again because they’re looking for something. I would say that they’ve read that there might be another Well in Ariel, a Well in which no one has ever been, and that they look for it because in that Well lies something that could save this world from its destruction, and the Orchids have made them more frightened than they’ve ever been.”

I paused, listening, strengthening the connection my mind had made. “And I would say, Ryn, that that Well is calling us right now, because it is right beneath us, but that the Historians will never open it because they do not know the right question.”

Then Ryn stood up beside me, and we let our torches fall, and we walked together into the center of the Well and what had once been a quite purposive circle. I wondered if the first Faith had seen it, and my mind asked another question of the darkness. With keen intellect the darkness answered, and we sank again through that substance that is harder than any metal, the floor of a Well of the Profusion, and into quite another Well entirely.

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