Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Page a Day: Eleven

            I read until light and sense were gone, my own words running together in my mind. I ate a little food I’d taken from the Well of Faith’s Healing and slept. The next day, I read again. The sun climbed high. The air grew still and hot. The White Swarm persisted around me, paler in the full light of day. I read on. I had not been afraid, then, to throw words upon a page. I had not been frightened enough of anything.  
            At dusk, I stood and stretched. I debated whether or not to take the journal. I did, but tore its blank pages out. Whatever I write now, it will not be in that book. 
            I walked north, with the sun burning the sky above the mountains on my left. I wondered if, as the Temple taught, it was all the machines in the sky that made the sunset orange and violet and green. I walked through my dead lover’s district, a slightly more expensive version of my own. The fires had not claimed so many buildings here. Many were still white – the pure alabaster sheen of river-rock. Did anyone live in them, alone and afraid? We used to say, during the war, that no one knew what happened behind the nightwind. No one ever come back.
            Soon I came to the plaza that marked the northmost extreme of my city’s plateau. Row upon row of figures stood there, in the white mist that was not mist. One of them coughed, or I would not have known they were living men. They were all shorter than myself, and far heavier, with broad shoulders and the thick limbs that suggest heavy musculature. They all wore the white steel armor of what had once been the Faith’s own guard. They blinked and breathed. They all faced north. 
            There, Jerem Cozak stood,  on the brink of the abyss, with his back to all of us, gazing out over the valley which winds around the city. Though he did not turn, he must have heard my approach.
            “There is a fleet,” he said, “a gathering of the starships of the Augers, as Earth has named our enemy. They arrive in one hundred days. The nightwind has warned them of the White Swarm, which is all that could defeat them. So they will come with their canons to destroy this world with energy. And because they themselves have already taken all the ships we ever held, they will succeed.”

Monday, April 29, 2013

Page a Day: Ten

            I did not know where I wanted to go. Instead I wandered the streets, the white cloak of the Swarm trailing all around me. Would they ever leave, or diminish? Each corner I turned, I left a spreading wake of the machines behind, filling the streets like mist. I supposed Jerem Cozak was doing the same. 
            Now I knew that the city was not entirely abandoned. Twice in other districts I passed roaring bonfires in the street. In the rubble of an alley, someone had erected several large tents, though I still saw no one. When I neared a district that had once held mansions, I smelled cooking meat. From the third level of one long and charred tenement came the telltale glow of oil lamps. Thinking of how people might gather for safety in a ruined city, I urged the white Swarm toward that place.
            And when I reached my own quarter, I heard an argument off to my left, behind a ruined shrine. But my own building had collapsed. The tenement that once held the apartment in which I’d lived had mostly gone to rubble. I had rented, of course, from the shriveled old man who lived beside the entry, and cursed him for rapacity. Now he was either dead or infected by the nightwind. Better, I would have thought, if his building had fallen in upon him. Still, I could not wish it.
            I found my ground-level room still mostly intact, with only an inward corner having given way. A few charred rags of my bedroll still lay beneath the window, half-buried in dust and ash. My fireplace had long since been looted for its coals. My pot and kettle and half-table all were gone. I knelt beside the door and dug with my hands. A few fingers down I found an old metal box I had once stolen from the market. The lock gave way when I bashed it with a bit of rubble. Inside I found my journal.
            Once, it would have cost the lives of dozens. Now, no part of my conspiracy matters. Those people, too, are either dead or infected, buried or sent to war on some other world. We failed. Our government, our religion, and all my resistance to them are equally gone, wiped out by an enemy stronger and more merciless than all of us combined. My lover was dead, my leader hanged, my trade destroyed. I laughed to think that I had once belonged to something as dull as the Sower’s Guild.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Page a Day: Nine

             But the machines of the White Swarm were still expanding toward him. They grew thicker with my every breath. “I am a citizen of this city,” I said, “And I do not know you, and we have been attacked. Say who you are, or I’ll think you an invader.”
            The man stopped then, eyeing me in the same way I had done him a moment before – though the haze of machines soon turned paler between us. 
             “You’re lying, ” he said. “We took this city ten years ago, killed everyone the machines could not convert. There’s no resistance left. There’s hardly anyone here at all. The war’s moved on.” He settled his feet in a way that meant he would try to tackle me. “Who are you, really?” he demanded. “Where are you from?”
            But the mist surrounding him, first black, then gray, had now turned white.  
            “I’m the resistance,” I said, just as the machines of the White Swarm, more dense than they had ever been, closed around him. He sat down heavily, sucking in gulps of their white mist. The Faith had done much the same when I had killed him. 
            But I did this man no harm, and saw that he was years younger than myself. He looked up at me confusedly. “What – what’s happening?” he croaked. “What have you done...what’s happening to me?” he asked. His eyes widened in the first signs of panic.
            “You will be sick,” I guessed. “Perhaps for several days. Go where someone can take care of you. When you are well go together to the ruins of the Temple that is now behind you. Others will meet you there.”
            I offered him my hand, and he stood. His eyes told me that he did not understand. Then he turned and weakly ran away.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Page a Day: Eight

            More, there was no smell of waste or food– only the tang of springtime sun and growing plants. Grass spurted through the rubble of the broken street. The wood of the windows of the barracks had rotted.
            Then I understood. Ariel was no city being ravaged. It was a ruin. I had not lost hours or days in that unknown Well. I had lost years. 
            And the grey mist that furled around the crumbling edifices was no fog at all. Or at least not a natural one. It was a skein of the same white that Jerem Cozak had breathed upon my face. It was the White Swarm, brought to the surface in his wake and by his person. And it appeared grey here because it was surrounded by the nightwind.
            I had nearly forgotten that obscenity. It stretched as a shroud of blackness around the ruined Temple, rising as high as the bell towers themselves once had been. The enemy had brought it, of course, with their machines of war and death and the burning of my city. In all Thaeron now, there would be no place where the nightwind wasn’t. 
            Except for where I stood, where only the White Swarm was. I walked forward again, toward the Temple. The Swarm moved with me, billowing around my feet. It still came out upon my breath. The tiny white machines rolled out from the square like fog pulled by some cool breeze. 
            “What is happening here?” someone asked from the darkness.  “Your machines are very strange.” A man approached me through the fog. He was taller than me and heavier, with short dark hair and a broad neck and face and shoulders. He came from behind the nightwind. He was unarmed, wearing only a short tunic and canvas trousers not very different from my own.
            But his size would overcome me if we fought. He stopped out of my reach, still in the nightwind. I cursed myself for leaving my dagger in the sarcophagus.
            “We have not encountered them before,” he said again. “Identify yourself!”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Page a Day: Seven

            He shook his head. “I do not have the answer to your question. What we did does not matter. What matters is who we will become. You will answer it yourself.” He turned to leave.
            “Wait!” I said. “I don’t understand. You don’t talk like the Faith at all.”
            Though Jerem Cozak did not turn back, I thought I saw a smile on the corner of his lips. “Then hope I also do not fight like him.” He walked to the opposite wall and placed the palm of his hand upon it.
            “Where I am going,” he said, “no man can follow. Go to whatever place you will; wait there a night and a day. Do not fear, but send to the Temple anyone you meet. In the cool of the evening, after sunset, meet me at the north precipice. Do not startle those who will be with me.”
            The White Swarm had followed us, billowing around this new room like smoke. I marveled now that there was no blood upon the floor. It was as though my crime had happened centuries ago. When I looked up again, Jerem Cozak was gone. I walked over to the wall and began to climb. 
            And I emerged to stand alone in the great stone plaza that had been the heart and soul of my city. Overhead, the sun tried to shine through a thin morning fog. But I felt suddenly cold, seeing the devastation of my home.  It was Ariel no more.
            The stone streets, once white and fine as ivory, had been burned and blackened. The vault of the Speaking Hall, once the pride of the people, had cracked open. The charred columns of the facade of the Great Barracks supported only the sky. And the many spires and domes of the Temple of the History of the Profusion had collapsed upon themselves.
            Yet no flame burned. The conflagration begun the night of my arrest, when someone fired the Temple, should have taken days or weeks to expire. The night I found my lover dead, I’d lain atop her body listening to screams, orders, the riotous din of urban combat.
            Now there was no soul in sight. No sound broke the peace. I could not even hear a bird.