Friday, May 15, 2015

Whisper from the Dust: Chapter Two


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The Blood is rising! The economy of History is the economy of Blood. We purchase our lives from Blood. For four hundred years the Temple has bled us and told us that we do not know the truth. But, my friends, we know a little more about Blood and History than they!  

- Pseudonymous

“Welcome, Blooded, to the mystery!” shouted Ryn Batyst.

All the other Blooded cried out in response, a roar that threatened to escape the secluded glade. Rarely had the Blooded been so excited. Del shrank further back into the shadows at the edge of the wood, watching his mentor carefully.

Ryn Batyst was a master blacksmith and a towering mountain of a man. His long, shaggy hair had begun to gray but his shoulders and arms and legs were all still enormous, in keeping with his craft. He lived near his shop in the district known as Markethome – and chaired the Public of Guilds which represented all the legal merchants and artisans in the city. The greatest infiltration the Blooded had ever accomplished was when Ryn had first opened the Wells of the Dead, because he himself was about to come to power.  

He said, of course, that Del had been first. He always pointed to Del. But Del would have been an infant when Batyst first heard the call of the Wells, and he felt little more useful than one now. News of his failure would have surely reached Batyst. And Del dreaded relating the details.  So he skulked in the shadows behind the few dozen Blooded who had been called and waited for the Well to open, hoping that his mentor would not notice him before it did. 

Tonight they had gathered in the valley east of the city, in the foothills of the mountains, near the Profuse River’s fabled source. The springs were believed sacred; the dead abided there regardless. The Wells of the Dead surrounded the city of Ariel, though only the Blooded knew of that necropolis. 

“The time of our exultation is at hand” boomed Batyst. “The age of freedom will soon be here!” Another heightened cry died as Batyst waited for silence, looking out into the diverse faces of the crowd.

And the Blooded were diverse. A smuggler stood in front of Del, his leathers dripping river water and his face blackened with soot after an early job. Ahead of him stood a young scribe employed by the Banker’s Guild, clad in the purple robes of his association – and ahead of him a newly rich merchant from one of the mansions on the Hill. But beside him stood an ancient farmer and his wife from the valley, a poor and placid pair who never spoke to anyone.

Ryn Batyst had all their attention now. “We have seen a wonder. A relic of the Profusion has crashed upon our world! A ship that once spanned stars has come back to us in fire and flame. And I ask you – did it ask the Temple for permission? Did it ask the Historians where to land? No, the grace of the Profusion is wild. It is wild, and it is free.”

The Blooded quieted. They rarely considered anything beyond the city and the valley that surrounded it. But a ship from among the stars had come, crashing far beyond their mundane reality. 

“So it has passed us over. It has gone to the Liberties. Even those who reject all technology have more grace than a city with a Temple! Anything is better than a city corrupted by Historians! But the Libertines will come back, my brothers, my sisters, cmy hildren. For the grace of the Profusion has returned to them - and begun the exaltation of the world!”

Some new Blooded gasped, but Del almost laughed. He and all the older Blooded knew that Ryn predicted the end of the world once every octad or so. But he was telling the truth in other ways, and besides, one of these days he was certain to be right.

“The Libertines will return,” repeated Batyst, “And we will show them that Ariel, too, is a Liberty, the first and last Liberty! And we will take back the wealth of the Historians. We will open its vault and release its treasures to the people. What we have given up in charity and bribes and taxes we will take back!”

From beneath Del’s feet came a slow tingle and buzz. He sighed in relief. The opening of the Wells of the Dead would end the sharp ache that had lived in his skull for nearly three watches now. And he would be the first to answer. He always was. Ryn Batyst insisted. 

            “The Temple,” Ryn was saying, “would make this world weaker by claiming the Profusion for itself. They would lock its light away. But our exaltation is at hand! We are the relics of the world, and we are waking up!”

Del stepped forward, shedding his rough tunic and undyed trousers a he went. The Blooded parted to let him pass.

“Freedom will fill this valley with fire and with flame. The Historians cannot stop it. The Temple cannot stop it. Because the gifts of the Profusion are our own! We are History's true children. Yes, now we wear the night and whisper, but we are waking up! Our time is nearly here!”

The Well’s sentience probed Del’s mind like an itch. Batyst, as always, had timed his speech perfectly: upon its last lines Del would lean backwards and fall naked into the earth, as the Blood of History preferred. He relaxed and emptied his mind as Batyst roared in the darkness.

            “Blooded, our time is coming, and soon. It is written in the sky! History will call her true children, and we will rule the way the exaltants intended, and bring the Temple of History crashing to the ground!”

The Blooded erupted, cheering and howling. Beneath the soles of Del’s feet the soil separated. The itch inside his brain became a fire.  His feet and ankles and then his legs sank through soil and stone and into Profusionist metal. Taking a deep breath and spreading his arms, he let himself fall backward. The Well of the Dead opened to let him in. He passed through earth and rock and Profusionist metal alike.

Ryn claimed that it was like being born again, and he could not disagree. He fell into the Well's sea of thick red fluid and lay still. He couldn't move. That was why it was better to fall in backwards, arms and legs spread: it was the position the Blood of History most easily supported. He gulped down the Blood, because that was the only way to breathe. The light that let him see the Blood's color was dim, and no one had ever seen its source. 

But this time, he met none of the dead. He shared none of their memories. Instead, he saw someone whom had never lived. He knew that immediately, just as he knew she would not show the past.    

She wore loose white robes, and crimson hair flowed around her face. She lay buried in the earth. A wind blew the soil away, a wind as dark as the emptiness between the stars. It rose around her like a fog, though it did not touch her. Its whisper grew to a roar that he thought would drive him mad. But she rose and stood and walked through it. 

She strode the streets of Ariel. At each step, her breath repelled the black wind. In one hand she held a quicksword, in the other a lightspear. Her steps shook buildings. Above her nine moons circled; she reached up to drag them down. Nine demons followed them, creatures of the void. They stood a third again as tall as any man, and their wings would have spanned a great hall. Their skin matched the black wind that surrounded them, their wings and horns burned with orange flame, and their arms curved into glowing swords.

She breathed out and they drew back. She slit their eyes with the quicksword. She pierced their breasts with the lightspear, and her breath became a white cloud of walking forms. They were veilmen wielding Profusionist machines, and they cleared the demons away. When she reached the fallen moons, she crushed them in her palms.

Around her, white buildings sprang entire from the earth. Their spires reached the stars. Their whiteness matched her breath and skin and robes. The night become a day that would not end. 

            “Come, Del Tanich Ariel,” she said. “Come.”

            She climbed atop the cliffs of the Word of Faith, straddling the Profuse River. The white wind sang beneath her and swept across the world, a roiling whiteness that grew and rose and brightened till it was all he saw.         

He woke pained and dazed on the cot within his room. As usual, he had had to be carried home as though he had been drunk, a ruse the guards had not yet doubted. But the aftermath of the Blood of History was worse than inebriation. In him it induced something like what Historians called a coma, and the longer he stayed in the Blood, the longer it persisted.

He was glad to be awake.

Once, he knew, all the Blooded who entered a particular Well of the Dead must have experienced the same memory, shared the thought and feelings of one, and only one, dead person. Now, whether due to corruption or merely long senescence, visitors who came to a Well often remembered different ancient dead, or could not recall experiencing anything at all.

It was as though the Blood of History was becoming confused or losing its integrity. Sometimes, he knew, some Blooded had even gone in to the Wells of the Dead and not come out. Their bodies were never found. It did not happen often, but it was enough that those who knew of it were terrified. Worse, Ryn had once allowed that it may have been starting to happen more frequently.  

And now one of the Wells of the Dead, or the Blood of History within it, had called him by name.  

It was nearly noon and hot. He had missed the morning’s profit. He felt ill. The Blood was unnatural, and the body did not like it. Sometimes, he was sick for an entire day. Perhaps this too was the long degradation of the Blood in time.

He was slow getting dressed. His head ached, and he had no appetite, though he should have been ravenous. Yet he put on the gray tunic and trousers he had washed and dried the day before, picked up his heavy sacks of seeds and stepped out the door, into the whitewashed light of Ariel.

As he walked, the glare off the buildings made his head hurt even more, as did the boisterous crowd, most of whom were brawny quarrymen or ironmongers returning to work. So he was surprised when he met again the stranger he had first encountered only the day before. 

            “Have you heard, brother?” the baker with hair like straw asked, as Del was bending over to pick up his sacks after a rest. He squinted and looked around. Sweat poured over his eyes and he could not see much more than the broad fa├žades of Ariel’s low white buildings, none of which rose above three levels, lest any surpass any part of the Temple. 

“Heard what?” he asked, as he began walking again.

The baker followed. “Anything! That our starship crashed in the Fackablest and that the Faith has asked Dovan Santu to look for it. Any of it?”

Del smiled. “Well, it sounds like you have already heard everything yourself. How can I add anything to that?”

“Ha! I suppose you're right. But you said the other night that you weren’t with the Temple. And I see your scars by daylight now. So, friend, why all these sacks? What poor trade do you haul upon your back?”

Del showed him his talisman on its pocket-chain. “There’s no smock or cloak for us.”

“Sowers’ Guild, then?” he said. “A small but venerable brotherhood.” He looked again at Del’s sacks. “You take the remnants from the barge?”

Del nodded. They were nearly at the Market now. “Every Fourday it comes for the farmers in the valley,” he said, “massive as a field itself. Seeds from Sepira, Nogilia, Nesechia – everywhere that’s fertile. We take the leavings for a nominal price. Then we hump the sacks to home and on to Market. Nearly everyone has some kind of garden on their roof, and some seeds are good for eating, or relieve sickness or pain.”

When they turned the next corner, Del saw at last the endless bizarre of booths and stalls and established shops that was the Market - and winced against a suden wind. Crushed more finely near the Market than elsewhere, the white stone of Ariel’s streets became in summer the dusty cloud that covered every mountebank, charlatan, and honest man who barked a ware. The particles worked their way onto every cotton shift, twill shirt, fine silk chemise or makeshift woolen trouser that any poor hand had sewn, not to mention the tomatoes, plums, artichokes, cauliflower, potatoes, honeydew, durians and strawberries that came from his seeds – or the breads, pies, cakes, and spiceloaves produced by his new acquaintance. 

“I rent from Gurloes,” he said, “and sell under his protection.” 

The baker grunted. “You’ll be to the east then,” he said, “by the chandler’s row. You’re in your eighth year?”

As they walked, Del readjusted the burden of his sacks. “The Temple saw to my apprenticeship when I turned sixteen. They said that people trust me, and I’ve always been able to keep a ledger.” 

“Well, the Historians are good for that,” the baker said. “Four more years, you’ll take an apprentice of your own. Good business, those. Customers know that you’re established. You’ll do alright.”

Del stopped. They had reached his booth. He stepped inside, and he held out his hand.

“Profusion keep you,” he said.

            The baker nodded and shook it. “Its grace saves us all.”

Soon Del was opening his sacks and pulling out the smaller bags of seeds within them. He had just placed the first of these on his counter when he felt a warm hand upon his own.

He looked up and found himself beholding the bright, green eyes of Adlasola Oso, half-hidden by strands of her scarlet hair, which had been caught in another breeze.

“A cup of sunflowers,” she said, “for my garden.” Then she leaned closer, smelling of soap and fresh linen. Her face was pale and very smooth. She whispered, “I seek the Blood of History. They say you know the way.”

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