Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVI

Chapter Six

September 26, 440 Y.A.

She locked me in her rooms. She has since said that Batyst told her it was the only way I would possibly resist the siren-song of the Wells of the Dead. After the first night I am not so certain, because if I did not die then it was not for lack of wanting to. I could not possibly have moved. I could not even think. I lay in her bed; if she slept anywhere I did not know it. I knew very little, save that I soon discovered that I would never leave the Blood of History. Rather, it abandoned me instead. If forsook me in spasms and vomitus and wrenching of the gut as well as in that action for which one needs accommodation. Whether the blood expelled was mine or the ancient dead did not matter at the time. I only wanted the pain to end. On the second day after the Blood of History next called me, I went entirely blind.

Occasionally I felt a kind presence, a perpetually warm embrace. Adlasola wept. On the third day she wore white. I saw only in some brief flashes. I thought in images, unable to articulate whole words. Pain etched sketches in my mind.

I walked in darkness absolute. The Blood of History flowed throughout my veins. In the center of the void, I stood alone. I found I stood atop a scaffold. The scaffold burned with black fire, but the dark flames did not consume it. Overhead, a noose dangled, still in the calmness of the void.

The noose was a heatwhip, and it wrapped around the world. Around the scaffold nine jade spheres circled, larger than the world or the scaffold that held it. In the center of each Sphere was an eye that never left the world.

Then the nine jade spheres opened, and from them came nine dark forms, one from each sphere. The demons wore nine jade cloaks over skin striped with intertwining black and red.

The light from the flames and the world and the spheres all streamed into them and did not come out. They had identical faces, the image of a man I had never seen before, gaunt and wasted with blackness crawling over it. Their horns were Profusionist metal. Their faces were human flesh. They had necks and chests of black metal and legs of rock and stone. Their feet were of soft and blackest earth.

Each of the demons had nine arms, and their arms were quickswords, curved and cruel, burning with the jade light they had gathered from the spheres.

The demons exhaled, and their breath blew across the scaffold as the wind of the void, cold and pitiless. As the nine neared the scaffold and the world, a woman rose beneath it, her hair red as the sun meeting the sea. In one hand she held the world. In the other she held a quicksword, burning white and wrapped in a vine from the swamps of Redmarak.

Then she no longer simply stood, but stood astride a mastodon, her skin glowing white as the streets of Ariel. “You will not have this world,” the woman said, white breath streaming from her mouth. When her breath met the demon’s mist, the dark wind retreated. Surrounding her, the white wind made a cloud that covered the world.

She defied the demons eight times. Each time she said, “You will not have this world,” and her voice shook the world and the scaffold and the demons, even the deepest of the darkness. And on the eighth saying, the whiteness covered all.

I woke and did not know what day it was. I grasped Adlasola’s hand until my breath fell in time with hers. She lay down beside me, wrapping me in her arms and cradling my head against her chest. Fever and tears blurred my vision until I could not tell her white dress from my white sheets or the white light that reflected from all the buildings of Ariel. I had not heard her before, but I distinguished her whispers now with that peculiar acuity that comes with illness. Each one lay like a lash against my ears.

“Wake,” she said, “to a freer world, Del Tanich of Ariel. Our Historian Senre lies dead. Kasora, I think, cannot replace him. You said I could earn Ryn’s trust another way.”

Hearing this, I passed into unconsciousness again. Yet by now my fever had broken and all the Blood of History had gone from me; the sleep was the rest of the recovering, and if I had further troubles I do not know them. The Blood of History had gone from me. I lived without its influence, as free as any other wretch of Ariel to live in destitution and relentless desperation.

Whether I would be the same under the rule of the ancient dead within the Blood of History does not matter. I will not serve them. I will not serve anyone, because if I have learned anything from the ancient dead, who lived during the Profusion, it is that service had no part of the grace of that age. They have never served; they will not serve now. Servitude is another construct of the Historians of our time, one which keeps the people docile, and serves the Historians to great effect. I will not further it.

I woke in a rage at dawn and did not go to market. Rather, I stood and found that I was strong and thought only of Batyst. Ryn Batyst, to whom I was no longer responsible. Ryn the master, Ryn the guide, Ryn who had been like my father, as father I had never had. Ryn whom I owe everything, whose expectations for me have been silently my own. For while I have never believed that I was meant to lead the Blooded and overthrow the Temple, I did once believe that I was special, that I was chosen, that I was in some valuable way unique. His errors have somehow become my own.

But if the Blood of History has taught me anything, it is that many other minds, even twisted by isolation and union and madness, are more profound and insightful and complicated than my own. My intelligence, which all concede to be my greatest virtue, has been surpassed and applied countless upon countless times, a number of iterations truly beyond measure. So that even if Batyst were correct about me, I would still be wrong about myself. I’ll not let him make her wrong as well.

I trotted across the Flats and the Market at a clip that pushed more timid pedestrians aside; I reached Smithstreet in half an hour. That is what the district of Ryn Batyst is called, though the chandlers and metallurgists also makes their shops and houses there, on the eastern edge of the plateau. Of all the Blooded, he’s the only one that everyone knows where he lives, a position which I now realize puts him in some vulnerability. Everyone knows his hours, too: the Public of Guilds never meets with the Faith before nine o’ clock, and Batyst, master of his own shop, considers smithing entirely an evening trade. At his level of expertise, he does only custom orders, and those entirely of his own choosing.

But I was no longer subject to such mastery; I threw open his door and burst into his chambers without so much as knocking. He was sitting at a great wooden desk, carved from one of the valley’s more ancient trees, working at some papers, doubtless for his guild. He turned his head at my commotion but did not appear surprised; this enraged me even more.

“You made her an assassin!” I spat, not caring whoever might have heard.

He removed his spectacles – I was surprised to find that he would need them, as physically vital as he otherwise appears to be – and laid them on the table, turning in his wooden chair to face me.

“She wanted to prove her loyalty,” he said. “She needed little prodding.”

I stepped toward him; I clenched my fist. “But she did need some.” Even my anger was an imitation of his own, and a pale remake at that. He only cradled his great chin on a greater fist and spoke in utterly confident tones.

“Did you notice the Orchids, Del, as you ran over here? They are still above. Kasora has taken the Shuni Plateau in a brutal, unprovoked and utterly unsanctioned attack. The land of faith will never be the same. The former High Historian Salaan has survived his illness, and arrived here yesterday. He’ll replace Senre now. On his advice the Faith sends ships to Nesechia to block what has now become the rebellion of the southern continent and likely the beginning of the next great war.”

I stepped toward him again. “That has nothing to do with her. I’m not certain it even has anything to do with us.”

“I did not finish. In the midst of all this furor, Del, the Historian Salaan found time to request a supplement of Whites to assist the Greens in their prosecutions of those who affront the Temple – and the Faith of Thaeron granted it. I have lived all my life with one eminent Historian in Ariel. I could not accept that there would soon be two.”

“You knew the High Historian would live?”

He leaned back in his chair, raising his hand in that manner that suggests equivocation. “No, but I know our Faith better than he knows himself. I knew what he would choose should Salaan survive. And I could not reach quietly outside this city. So, I pursued the one Historian that finally had come within our reach.”

“And got one who seems worse instead. Senre was weakened by his own problems. He never displayed that kind of energy. Salaan sounds like a whirlwind.”

Batyst dropped both hands to his lap. “He has the most self-command of any person I have ever met. He will be very hard to defeat. But for twenty years, I have been building the palace of our freedom. And there is only one way to do that, Del: one stone at a time. But the perpetual postponement of our perfect palace means only that it is already here. It is simply incomplete.”

I stepped toward him a third time. “So you went to her, a girl.”

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