Thursday, July 15, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIV

Exhausted, I blew out the last coals of his torch and we stood there together in the ancient darkness. “You’re manipulative,” I said.

“We have all encountered forces more powerful than ourselves.” He did not sound surprised.

I quieted the scroll to sleep. “Whatever you want from me, it does not matter. I do not have it. And I will not give it.”

“Again and again I’ve told you: this is not about you. It certainly is not about me.”

“The Blood of History is broken, and the ancient dead are lunatics. They don’t have any wisdom; all they have is memory! I wish this world would remember that those are not the same.”

“I’ve been waiting the last twenty years for you to find a better way.”

I snorted. “I never, ever will! I’m just an orphan. There is no way. Adlasola is correct: we are a laughingstock. We cavort in the woods and abuse certain decaying substances and make plans and never accomplish anything. It’s ridiculous.”

“The Historians would not persecute a joke.”

“They’re the joke, but we’re the punchline. Here we are, the chosen one led by visions to a secret place and all we get is dust because dust is what we are. How can you not get it? Are you actually so pompous?” I laughed, a little cruelly. I realized I had been thinking about this for a very long time.

“Don’t you see: the Historians didn’t always satisfy themselves with little electric tablets. Do you think the ones whose cruelty destroyed half the world delighted in literature? No! They were doing what we are doing: being driven mad by the Blood of History! By the time the first Faith came around, it didn’t matter what skill he had – the Historians were such witless despairing cravens that a whole world of them couldn’t beat him. And now we want to take their place! That’s the punchline!”

If Batyst had any temper beyond his perpetual rage against the Temple, he did not show it now. Instead he reached out – how he found my right arm in the darkness I do not know – and closed my hand more tightly around the scroll. I felt it hum awake.

“I forget how young you are,” he said sadly. “You do not know that nothing can be accomplished unless you yourself decide to do it. Everything else is just denying the power that life has given you. And that is the worst manipulation at all. But I am waiting for you, Del. All the Blooded are.”

I swore. “I don’t have any powers. I don’t! So I can play with histories – any apprentice can!”

“And you open Wells and remember the Blood of History. And I suspect that if someone placed a quicksword in your hand it would sing to life. But I’m talking about more fundamental forces than those. I’m talking about your humanity.”

I stepped back. “Wait – what? You think I’m—that’s absurd. All that’s just speculation.”

Batyst nodded in the darkness. “An omnifex – yes, one who can wield all Profusionist technologies. The first since the first Faith himself ended the wars between the cities. And it does matter what powers he had. It matters what each of us carries. You do not know yourself because you do not let anyone else know you. And you do not even care for yourself because you have no care for others. But I will be waiting for you even after you say what you came with me to say.”

I willed the little scroll silent, watching its little letters fade like the torch before it had. “I’m forsaking the Blood of History,” I said.

“You risk torment and death.”

“But I already am! And you said we all do, if we are doing it right.”

He laughed a little in the darkness, and I was glad of it. “Well. I admit I did not anticipate that you would choose this way.”

I shook my head. “It’s not a direction. Do you know the parable? ‘Where do you want to go, they asked the young man. Away from here, he replied.’”

Ryn breathed deeply, inhaling the same great lungful of air he had inhaled before. “We will see, Del Tanich, we will see. You have my blessing. And now I must ask you to forgive me.”

A cold shiver passed over me: perhaps in the darkness the coldness of the Unknown Well had begun to seep through my clothes and skin, or perhaps the same intuition which had finally revealed to me the truth of the history of our own Historians was still working ahead of my logical mind. At any rate, it was with dread that I asked,

“Forgive you for what?” I asked.

There were several still moments stretching through the utter blackness, and I thought that I had never before known Batyst to find anything difficult to say.

“There is another Blooding tonight,” he began, “at a Well just at the bottom of the southeastern corner of the plateau. I know because the Wells of the Dead tell me the time and location of each Blooding the day before it will occur. But I did not trust the girl Adlasola and sent her to this one. If the Well of the Dead will open to her she is to be let inside; if it is not she is to administered some of the collected Blood – even if it must be forced upon her.”

I did not reply. Though Ryn waited for some response. Instead I frantically asked the Unknown and the Healing Well for exit, s Batyst must have known I would. “I’m sorry, Del,” he said. “I said I did not trust her, but in truth I did not trust you. I was wrong. Do as you see fit.”

If I ever managed to summon a reply, it was hidden and suffocated by the Profusionist metal through which I passed in my departure. I scrambled up the walls like a madman as soon as the sentiences returned their acquiescence. As for Ryn Batyst, he must have left those Wells of his own time, some moment before the dawn when the patrols were not scheduled to be near. I have not seen him since.

I was not myself so cautious. I nearly stumbled into the hands of a guard who was crossing the square on his patrol. He was so surprised to see someone scrambling up from the Healing Well beneath his feet that he nearly fell over backward trying to grab me and push me away simultaneously. By the time he opened his mouth to shout ‘Halt!’ I was three paces gone. An urchin such as I had been soon enough learns to run. Learns or gets beaten or gets arrested and then beaten by the Guards.

Green or White, they say the colors do not matter. But everyone knows the Whites don’t run after you unless you’re somebody special, some ganglord or sadist who can inflict real damage. The Whites have inherited from their Faith certain lackadaisical policies concerning petty crime. Ariel, after all, is the city of the people, and people are seldom anyone particularly upright. Whites also get paid the same no matter how many people they arrest.

The Greens, however, have their pay supplemented by fines and confiscations. They’ll chase you if you so much as look at them, never mind if they catch you emerging in the middle of the night from a sacred site that has been closed for a generation. Consequently, they’re in much better physical condition.

The guard who I tripped up, of course, wore armor the very shade of the jade the Temple’s cast in. His alarm brought the sound of three more footsteps as I turned north, then cut east back a connecting alley. I jumped atop some crates and scampered through a doorway I knew was always left open, the balcony of a goldsmith I’d once sold petunias to when I used to do deliveries.

Like I said, nearly everyone in Ariel’s a gardener. A set of stairs on the other side of the balcony led up toward the roof. I vaulted up them just as the cries of the Greens below took on certain confused tones. Their hue and cry woke half the neighborhood.

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