Friday, March 30, 2012

What's Next

I am going to be taking a short break... not quite sure how long... and then I should be moving over to finish 'Kyrus'.  At least that's the plan.

I am also looking into doing a rewrite and putting together Eclipse Court as a set of e books and perhaps doing a print run through Kickstarter if it works out.

There will be at least one more short story here, as part of the Fig posts, because Dave won the comment contest and I will be writing that short for his character.

I have a number of other books started but I shall be giving them their own blogs.  I'll let people here know the links in case they'd like to see.

Take care!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

658 - Epilogue: First Light

Guest Post by Kevin Duane
Goddess... lovely, of earthly, watery, and celestial frame, sepulchral, in a saffron veil arrayed, pleased with dark ghosts that wander through the shade; solitary goddess, hail! The world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, nurse, on mountains wandering, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near."

I close the book on the table before me, move it sideways carefully away from a wine stain.  This is hardly the time for books, at least not this evening.

I sit in the tavern - not the Fig, but rather a lesser relative of the species -- abandoning my good wife and her overly ferocious cat to the tender mercies of the Marble Palace staff, though I am drinking nothing stronger than kaf and my own thoroughly steeped introspection. 

It's been over a bead since I left the Marble Palace, on this first day, of the Forty-Eighth Year of the Present Age, where I somehow managed to weave through the maze of Haians, nurses, guardians, attendants, and an almost limitless number of potential sycophants and hangers-on seeking an audience with the Imperator, whom concerned Haians and medics feel the need to examine and re-examine, even if but to reassure themselves that the Divine Temple as indeed, preserved his life and health.  He is hail, but frail as if risen from a long illness.  Hungry.  Tired.  Scarred.

The sunburst of burn-scar on his chest, where the Ten cauterized deadly venom, will mark him far longer than the wine coloured birth-smudge his father bequeathed.

Now that it is certain he will survive, there seems to be an intense, almost frantic need for anyone even remotely close to a corridor of power to seek out the recuperating ruler and profess their unwavering and undying loyalty and devotion, even contrary to the imperative of celebratory feasting in the square.

The inconveniencing need for rest and recovery of his body seems to be a petty and unnecessary obstruction to this line of well-wishers – a line that extended from as far outside his chambers as his Grandfather and mother, Mahid both, can detain such an opportunistic mob.

How peculiar it must've looked to them, for me to arrive and be escorted past packed numbers directly to his bedside. If I had made note of the offers that were cried out to me to mention their name, pass on commentary for some commercial or political venture, or even kiss the wound in their stead, it would be a long list, but it surely would require me to have put something else in my kaf.

I am thankful that the overall emotion of the populace is one of a festive optimism instead of a doleful mourning. The survival of his ordeal with the Ten Tens would've merely been considered adequate to satisfy the cynical. When it was accompanied by an assassination attempt, I would say it indicated to most of his detractors that the boy did indeed have the makings of a leader if others were so enthusiastic to deprive him of his life for it.

When this act, in turn, was accompanied by a display that many are attributing to divine intervention, and to which I flatly refuse to offer any rational alternative explanation, partly to avoid diminishing the significance of the action, and partly to prevent any curiosity from those who would seek a repeat performance of the Ten’s proof of benevolence.

The boy is well, and will heal. No – not even that – the Imperator is well, and all of Arko will heal. He is no longer a boy, no longer a student under my tutelage. Standing at his bedside, in the surroundings of his friends and family, it brought forward in my mind the realization that I was no longer the tutor of this young master, nor was I even a fellow citizen of the Dominion, but in my role as a citizen within that body, I now looked upon him as the duly appointed leader of all my fellow citizens.

He looked at me, smiled and joked, and tried to hide his temporary frailness. I looked at him, smiled and joked in return, and tried to hide the frailty that I knew I would now carry for the rest of my life. When I suggested he might even have inherited some of his father’s tolerance to poisons, he took the matter as the joke it was intended to be, merely pointing out that I’d phrased it more directly than the dozen others who had already hinted the fact to him.

This ordeal definitely has changed him, if he can dismiss with gentle humor the burden of association that he has always felt in almost any linkage to his father. I see him in a moment of weakness, and I realize when he has recovered from these ordeals, that he will indeed possess a new strength, perhaps a new and fairer temperament – even onto his own opinion of himself.

It is the duty and the responsibility of all tutors to know when their task is complete; only the most compulsive and controlling use education and knowledge as a tether or a bridle, to carry themselves along beyond the grove of academia and into the real world. He has the companionship of family now, and the implementation of an empire to aid him in his tasks. For a moment I wonder if I will ever be this close to him again, save as a waving member of the crowd as he passes by.

I do not mention the other news I have had, while others have helped him prepare himself; many of my academic associates have plowed and plumbed through the archives of the Imperial Library, and several of them, focusing their attentions as is the wont of all unshackled intellectuals, to examining the contents of the Proscribed Archives.

It would seem foolish to do so at this time, when the new leadership has been confirmed – and reconfirmed – by the tangible intervention of the Ten Gods, to let him know of how much his future may be altered by the intervention of an ancient, moribund, singular God.

I have been reading the transcription of a collection of books, all of which seem to revolve around just such a singular mythology. The variations in the meticulous storytelling style indicate a large number of sects and philosophical factions, but these pale significantly to the number of languages in which the texts have been translated.

Philosophically, I find the work to be a collection of confused, misogynistic, paternalistic histories, which warrant a step back and make me realize how little different they are from our own time and place. It does seem awkward however to assign all of the attributes of benevolence and malignancy, of justice and appeasement, of omnipotence and forgiveness, to the actions of a single deity. I smile and think to myself that while nine gods may object to my sitting drinking in this tavern, the approval of the single God converts my presence here to an act of piety.

No, not even the portions of this collection the deal with the all too human responses to love and beauty, or the simple act of watching the sunrise, the sun set, and it returning to the place from where it rises again – but there is splendid poetry and wisdom in these words that requires the handiwork of no God at all. It is a frightening old book, drenched in blood and arrogance, but inlaid with priceless gems.

Paradoxically, while the book may be of little use to the understanding of any God, its layout and structure may serve as a key to unlocking innumerable languages that have fallen by the wayside over the ages, the knowledge within them rendered silent through incomprehension. These books may reveal the languages of our past, and give us a sturdier foundation of those eras than we have had.

We have built our civilization on the shoulders of ten Gods; one wonders what the future will be like when it can more accurately rest on the shoulders of billions of ordinary humans, scattered across the world, divided in languages, divided in faiths, and divided in everything but a need to not be alone in the universe around them. Will that foundation be any stronger if we build it with the knowledge of those distant from us in time and in tongue?

But as Katalas the Philosopher said in his ‘Odes’, ‘Hayel’s road is paved with the best and most perfect of intentions.  It is the act that makes the man, not the intent.’  So we shall see, in its own good time, what acts spring out of the eventual revelation of these multi-translated words, under the new Imperator’s sway.

Too much somber thinking like this requires more than a cup of kaf, and the chill breeze that accompanies the opening of the tavern door strokes these old bones as if to offer an invitation for something a little more bracing. It would certainly fit the mood of my fellow taverner's, of my fellow city dwellers, of much of the Empire, and probably half the world tonight.

I fish into my purse and find a gold chain. Unlike the Enchian coins, it bears no flat surface upon which shines the face of some ancient Sun, but that does not stop it from having a value recognized in any tavern the length and breadth of the world. If this chain were but a tenth its size, and the sputtering light of a single greasy candle filled the room, the barmaid could still have nimbly plucked it out of the air as I tossed it to her. My announcement for a round of drinks for the house meets with a heartfelt cheer, and when I am asked to propose a toast, I dedicate it with warmth to our new Reflection of the Divine Sun.

"He has cleverly provided us with confrontation, coronation, and assassination. Let his reign be long and just and prosperous, with never a need for re-election." I pour back the sweet amber-honey warmth, and smile again at those around me.

They drink to you today, Minis. Today they love you, tomorrow they may love you more, or love you less – depending possibly on how much more or less they love themselves. Nonetheless, you are theirs just as they are yours, and all of us together know not what the future will bring.

The barmaid brings me a refill of both kaf and mead, and knows that even though I have only worn away a small portion of that gold, that I shall not seek any change reimbursed, but that I shall share in the company of all here tonight. Trathila will understand.  We shall revel in this time to laugh, and await the dawn to see if truly nothing is new under the sun.


My heartfelt thanks to Kevin Duane for Ailadas's unique point of view. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

657 - To Carry You Home

I am being tortured by the dark face of Muunas but I refuse to go down on my face before such perversions of the Ten. 

I arch back, chest open, and my head back, struggling to breathe. Is there any air here at all? Is this my eternal Hayel? My open eyes light on a single spark of brightness in all this black. There is a fire bird sitting on the highest spire of this black Temple, the only spot of colour in this Hayel of a city. 

As I see it, suddenly also can I hear it. It sings, the blazing red and gold and green tailfeathers swooping down… Kyriala was wearing a Niah feather design in her hair, just like that. For my Ten Tens. A firebird. Kyriala. It is her voice. 

“Ten silver horses, to carry you home…” The simple, ancient lullaby pours over me like warming sunlight and the moon is risen and a herd of silver horses comes galloping down to me. 

“Nasty? Nasty? Who turned you silver?” 

He tosses his head. It’s Nasty -- as if someone took his sooty head and made him white. I fling myself on his back and he, followed by the other nine horses, plunges up into the sky. 

“Carry me home, Nasty. Carry me home to Kyriala and Gannara and Farasha…” Even if I cannot breathe, I can cling. 


He was thrashing now, in my arms. “Minis. Come back to me.” He had not drawn a breath. I’d be able to feel it if he had. “Breathe, Minis. You need to breathe to be alive.”

I was laughing and crying both with fear and relief and hope. The intense crackle of the lightning isolating us was fading. It was thin enough to look like bars of lightning around us rather than a ball. He stiffened and his hands moved. His hands came up to cling to my arms and then he took an enormous breath that shook him all over. Then another. “We’re here Minis.” 

He was breathing. He was alive in my arms, not marble, not stone any longer and the mark on his chest, that was a burned black sunburst had faded from black to raw red, to pink to white; as if it were an old scar, inflicted years ago. His eyes drifted open as if he was just waking from sleep and wandered, flinched shut at the intense light all around us. Then opened again and he looked at me as if to reassure himself that I was truly there, not just something he made up. 

Heedless of what people might think I pulled him up to kiss him, as the lightning and the noise disappeared as if cut off. He kissed me back, and Chevenga’s healer and his healer were both there. They must have just been on the outside of the lightning. “Let us see, let us examine him, Minis…” They began their emergency checking but he was fine. I was weeping harder now, but it was with joy, my gloves… heedless of the embroidery I wiped his face with my gloves, and my own. We were both in tears now. Minis was a little confused still. 

I understood that they needed to check him but I just moved around so that his head was in my lap and he lay stretched flat on the tiles, people all around us. A perfect babble. “What happened?” He said, looking up at me. “No, I feel fine, a little wobbly, but I’m fine, Akminchaer. I’m fine, Kaninjer.” Gan and Fara were here and he said “What am I doing on the Temple floor? Didn’t I do my Ten Tens? I can’t have failed them, I’d be dead.” 

“No, no,” we all told him. “You did them. You’re Imperator.” The Haians wanted him to go to bed for the rest of the day, instead of carving and serving at the feast. He was depleted as if he were recovering from an illness. 

Then Gan said, “Some kevyalin asshole tried to kill you and the Temple saved your butt.” 

Minis blinked and then smiled up at all of us. “I love you. I love you all. Let me get up. Please, give me your hands. I need to get up. There’s work to do.” 

With our help, he was solid enough on his feet that they put the Imperial robe on him, though we won’t let him go. His mother touched his arm as we helped him up, his Grandfather nodded solemnly at him. All our state visitors were being reassured. I caught Virani-e’s eye and he nodded, just slightly and smiled. 

“The assassin has been caught, Imperator,” Idis said. “The area is secure but I would be just as happy to see You, and the rest of the Imperial family, safe back in the Marble Palace.” I felt the deep breath Minis took, and reveled in how good that felt under my arm. “Thank you, Idiesas. But it seems to me that I am perfectly safe in the Temple itself. Ili…” 

His little brother, his guard having gotten the all clear from Captain Idiesas, ran to us and threw himself at Minis to hug him and rocked the whole knot of us. “You were inside a ball of lightning, Minis! The Temple made all these weird noises… and –“ 

“Shh, Ili yes, thank you. You may tell me all about it when I am lying down. I do think I’ll have to get all of you help me finish my procession back to the Marble Palace. People need to see that I’m all right.” 


I felt unreal, unsettled in my body and the weight of the Imperial robe was actually reassuring. I kept hold of Ky and Gan. Ili had hold of me and then helped me by picking up the bottom edge of the robe so I didn’t have the whole weight of it on me. 

“You did really well, Minis,” Virani-e said. “Everything is going as it should.” He was quoting his healer, Surya. 

Fish and Cream and Riala and all the Dyers were there, just outside at the bottom of the stairs, drumming, and I thought “that really was almost like the drums in the Temple…” and was glad because I remembered something. They were whooping and the whole group of them were dancing in place, the crowd was too thick to do much more. 

I… couldn’t remember anything past the morning preparations. But here I was, anointed, robed, my body feeling insubstantial. People had Imperator’s glass, the Fenjitzae had the glass circlet and the glass things I would have made in my Ten Tens. The crowd was chanting my name again. 

It was a bit like hearing them confirm me in my body. Yes, this is who I was. This was reality. “You need to eat something,” Akminchaer said. “Yes,” Kaninjer added. “And have some water as well.” 

“Thank you. Thank you all.” I felt as though I wanted to prostrate myself to them but I knew I’d be too shaky to get up again. Someone must have let the animals out because Doof came flying ahead of Bella’s enormous woof, but blessedly she landed on Gan’s head rather than mine. I could see Altras, his tail curled around his feet, sitting in the exact centre of the Steel Gate, waiting. 

Doof squawked. “Let’s EAT!”

Monday, March 26, 2012

656 - Guest Post by Karen

A Guest Post from Ivaen Chevenga

Idis, cover him!

Excerpt from the memoirs of Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e, Book XIII
compiled by the Workfast Literary of Yeola-e; Aletheya Athal, editor, Y. 1560

I let myself sink back into the world of the material.  He came into view as the flames shrank down into the floor, sitting on the God’s lap like a human flame.

“Behold, Arko,” the massive voice of the Temple said.  “Our true son.”

Do you believe in yourself now, Minis? 

The crowd raised the chant, Yesterday Minis, today Minis, tomorrow Minis, forever Minis, as he came down, moving liquidly like in a dream.  He went to his knees, pulled there by the chant, like my father had when the people had called him out for the Kiss of the Lake.  Then he went down all the way, into the prostration.  As ever, a sincere one is a striking sight.  I wished I’d thought of it and done it myself, after my Ten Tens; but he was an Arkan, given to expressing himself in Arkan ways.

There was a falter in the chanting, and the Fenjitzae on either side of him both leaned down to him, then someone bellowed, “Gehit!”  A Dyer, I would swear; part of the culture they have wrought for themselves is a certain accent.  There was a big laugh, as Minis got up, laughing himself.

Now he would be anointed, and Narilla began untangling the circlet of glass from his hair, but he was saying something insistently that I could not hear for the din, and then they moved towards the great doors.  I gathered he wanted to be anointed there, where everyone outside could see.  I heard the crowd outside send up a shattering roar as they saw him.  As the Fenjitzae began touching the oil to him, we who were close to him got up as one, to get behind him out when he went.  I was near the head of it, with Kyriala, Inensa and Kall.  Idiesas was an arms-length behind him.  I have it all vivid in my memory, where each person was, as you do when you wonder how things would have been different if someone had been in a slightly different place.

Myself, more than anyone else.  More than anything, I wish I had informally been part of the Honour Guard.  Formality forbade it, of course—I was a visiting head of state and former Imperator—but one can do anything, informally.  I could have been standing by the doors.  But I’d had no way to know beforehand the necessity.  Because a Ten Tens crowd outside is generally unarmed, and my mind had always been on what I was doing inside, I could not know my weapon-sense was blinded from certain angles if I were inside the Temple during a Ten Tens.  I had never had the experience of it being partly useless before in my life.

As I stepped closer to the centre of the golden floor and the outside crowd came into sight, just as the Fenjitzae were lifting the Imperial Robe to lay on his shoulders, a kill-dart not ten paces from the doors and aimed at him flared up all but blinding, appearing as if from around an obstruction, like a sight—I weapon-sensed the edge, then half, then all of the tube—as I moved.  I split off from myself, my mind frozen in asking what, how can that be!?, my body making my voice scream “Minis a dart MOVE Idis cover him!”

Everyone in the elite darya semanakraseyeni has been trained, from childhood by Azaila if they were in the School of the Sword, or relentlessly in adulthood by Tyirian, if they joined as adults: when Chevenga gives a fast order for which you can see no reason, obey instantly anyway.  He’s weapon-sensed something.  Thus they all do it instinctively, moving almost at the same time I speak or sign, and any number of lives and limbs have been saved by that speed in my wars.  Krero and Perha were right beside me now, for instance, swords drawn; I’d yelled in Arkan so they didn’t know what else to do, but they knew the tone.

But neither Idiesas nor anyone else in the Blessed of the Sun ever took that training.  Nor did Minis.

He stood still, startled.  Idiesas began to move, but only after the time it took him to think out how I could know and thus why I’d yelled, which was far too long, far more than enough time for the dart to snap out of the tube.  It came, etching along its path like a firebrand on the skin of my soul, straight at Minis’s chest.

Time slowed.  I heard myself yell “Kaninjer go to Minis!”, and I felt, like a sword in my guts, the dart bang to a stop in his flesh.  Now Idiesas, who was in command here, was yelling orders, “Close the doors!  Honour Guard to me!” and grabbing Minis, who staggered back against him.  Everyone’s bodyguards did their duty, Inensa getting between Kyriala and the doors, the Mahid women closing around them, Janirias thrusting Ili behind the feet of the statue of Oas, mine doing their best to keep up with me as I ran toward the doors, pointing.  “Idis it was just one no other he dropped it and ran that way!”  I used my battlefield voice; far louder than the cries of the crowd was a sound half-alive like the scream of a bird and half-metallic like a bell, except it was far more huge than any bird or bell could be, was all through the air instead of coming from any one place, and did not end, quavering between two notes as steadily as a machine.  I realized: it was the Temple.

The air crackled, as I’ve heard it does before lightning strikes; Idiesas laid Minis down just inside the doors and Kyriala slipped Inensa and dashed ahead of me, shrieking his name.  There was something strange about the way Idiesas laid him down, I thought; it was hard to think, suddenly, as if the noise was sending spikes into my mind, which made me want to draw Chirel.  I felt my hair all over rise.  He was locked rigid.  Like a cold corpse.  The reality that he must be dead and my heart’s begging that he not be warred in me.  All my weapon-sense was fading, I realized; I could barely sense Krero and Perha’s blades.  It’s the Temple.  Something told me to look up at the two columns of the great doors.  Around the heads of them there was a sudden glow, like purple-white fire.  Like something living, it gathered itself into one purple-gold bolt of lightning from each column to where Minis lay with Kyriala holding him, and formed a dome of standing lightning-bolts around them.  Saving him, as it saved me from a mortal wound.

What is needed here is calm, though you do not feel it, the wiser voice in me said.  The inside crowd was in pure panic; next they’d be trampling each other.  I held out my arms, yelled to everyone my voice could reach, “It’s all right, he’ll live, he’s being saved, it’s all right!”

Go into the state.  There is one who needs it more than any other.  It was easy, when I had just been in it so deeply.  I had learned how to do it while I had no weapon-sense in a forest near Terera.  “There is not even the thickness of skin, between you and Us.”  Above the dome a tendril of more subtle light, light I only see because I am in the state, forms a silver spiral upward from Minis’s body, its end flying erratically like a confused insect; the further away it flies, the fainter the trail of light joining it to his flesh becomes.  It streaks down, darts straight to me, hovers for a moment on wings like a dragonfly’s, except they are Arkan glass, then alights on my shoulder.  “Chevenga, what is happening?  Where am I?  My chest is burning. You’re here and not here.  The Ten won’t let me out.  Don’t I need to go out?”

It is Minis’s soul.  If he goes out, he is dead.

Of course he is the one who needs calm more than any other.  “No, you need to stay here,” I say evenly, remembering how it was, all those times, for myself.  “You’re safe, don’t worry.  You’ll know exactly where you are going in a moment.”  When the Temple has done what it must do to make his body able to sustain life again, he will be drawn back to it.

I do not hear his words through my ears, but through my mind.  He seems younger, like a child again.  He does not know what is happening.  “Safe? I don’t remember.  Did I do my Ten Tens?  I don’t remember. I remember getting ready this morning, but nothing after that.”

“Yes, you are safe.  Yes, you did them, and the Gods declared you Their true son.  Don’t worry, all is well.  They are right here with us.”  I see other people see him, those who can: Sukala, Narilla, Radas, Soraia.  Some of them have soul words for him, all saying, in their different ways, “Stay.”

“As Ili says, that blows that I can’t remember the greatest religious experience of my life.”  You did not do it for yourself, I want to say; but that subjectiveness is a good sign, a sign that he is still bound to his body.  Flesh alone cares about losing things.  I should speak to him as if he is alive. 

“It’ll come back,” I tell him.  “Healers have ways... think of Surya.”  I was never supposed to remember my stream-test.

What he needs, I see, is the same thing he always needed.  I gather my intent, remembering him as a child in the Mezem, so desperate and so open that in a way he freed me, reminding me that for all my helplessness in chains, my love still had power.  As a man, gaining pride, he lost much of that openness, but now it is back, entire.  I call to the Ten, and to All-Spirit, and will love to him, as vast as it can be when one links oneself to the Divine while loving.

“All right,” he says, in answer to what I said about regaining the memory.  “Look at that lightning ball... it’s amazing.  I think I should go have a look...  Ky’s calling me.”  In forgetting that fleshly life means fear and loss of this freedom, he is drawn back to it by fascination, and love. The curling line of silvery light between him and his body brightens.

“Yes, go.  I’ll talk to you later.”  He will awake to terror; to gird him against it, I intensify the intent of love.

“I love you, Virani-e,” he whispers.

“I love you too, Minis, Imperator, my son-in-spirit.”  He leaps off my shoulder, the glassy buzz of his wings deafening for a moment by my ear, and zips along the light-cord—the life-cord—soaring in an arc over the lightning-dome then diving like a mad winger into the top of it.  I make my material vision fade, intensify my spiritual vision so that I can see through the eye-searing bolts.  He streaks back into his own head through his brow.

My sincere thanks for Karen's Chevenga/Virani-e's point of view.

Friday, March 23, 2012

655 - Are You Our True Son?

“Minis, come back to me.  Minis!”  His body, stiff and cool as a statue in my arms had not changed no matter what words I hurled at the Ten, no matter how I stroked or called or kissed the marble skin of his still face.  I closed my burning, overwhelmed eyes and raised my face to the Temple ceiling above which the highest Selestialis surely still shone.  Though he turn to a still golem in my arms, though he become flame that burns so very close, though he become the airless heat between stars, the fire that burns flesh from bones without light that men can see, still will I cling.

It might be that the city did not hear my oath in the days that were not, to defend my husband.  But surely the Ten did.  Just as he swore to defend me.  Surely the Ten would not let him die at the moment of his triumph?

“The hands of men in the world are the power.  Gods, if They are Gods of creation, must obey Their own rules and cannot touch their creation once set in motion.”  The voice in my head made no sense to me, held fast in a gigantic flaming image of the God’s power on the earthsphere.

“I do not believe that.”

“Temples are not raised by Gods.”

...temples are built by men, the Fenjitza said. “Minis is lost or... something... in this statue of himself and You are... taking the time to argue with me?  May I ask Who I am addressing?”

The voice chuckled and it sounded exactly like the roar around us.  “You would defend your husband?  Sing for him, then.”


I flew into light and end up standing in cold and darkness.  I think it is rough stone beneath my feet. Bare feet.  There is a cold, black valley stretching across my path.  It is full of fog and smoke and even wisps of airless cold.  I hear voices in the fog and in the water running down the cliff on either side of me.

It is an Arko that is all black where the earthly one I know is white.  The lake below is white as milk, as bone, as corpse’s eyes, as white as balls of chalk that leave necrotic smears upon warm flesh.

The bells ringing are not metal, but bones and teeth.  I know I must go down into that dark city, smelling of burning and gangrenous blood, sack and corruption and rot and my feet find the steps down that are razor edged with the teeth of rats.

There is no light here.  The Avenue of Statuary is filled with coarse, vile statues depicting the basest acts that humanity does and is, and tears and shen and blood flow in the gutters and in the washes and the rivers are full of corrupt and pulsing flesh.

My cut and bleeding feet cringe from it all but I force myself through it.  The Presentation Fountains pulse sluggishly with semen and I try to add my own vomit to the evil surrounding me, but I cannot feel my stomach.  I cannot bear to see the Temple behind me in this black place and I wrap my arms around me.

I remember this.  I remember this darkling majesty, where humiliation and death are like fine wine.  Where someone else’s pain is the greatest of pleasures, orgasmic.  Where orgasm is triggered by someone else’s helpless writhings.

I turn to see the Black Temple and find it is as dark as I feared, as dark as some part of me hoped.  As I once was the prince of murder, I could be the Spark of Darkness here.

The Ten were all there.  In hideous mockery of Themselves They wear the Divinely beautiful smiles of blood-drinkers and eaters of the dead.  Lewd. Wanton, from Their overly lush lips to insanely seductive lines of hip or breast or crotch. Lascivious. Even Risae whose pallor stands in contrast with black marble Gods, her lips dripping the blood and pain of those who worshipped this face of her.

“So, are you our True Son?”  It is the silken, deadly persuasive, seductive voice of the One who perverts Muunas’s face.

“If You are truly the Gods of Arko then yes.  I submit.  But if this is what You truly are, fiends in Divine form, then my submission is forced, for I find You vile.”

The brow of the dark Muunas creases and His finger comes down to point at me, and a spear of darkness touches my chest.  My air is gone and I can only shudder in the attempt to scream.


I raised my voice, singing.  I sang ‘Beloved Fortress’ and then ‘Golden Soul’.  In my arms, the statue of Minis began to soften, and tremble and twitch in my hands.  I held tight that he not writhe into the wall of lightning.  I held tight and sang.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

654 - Get the... Interview

“You’re here and not here.  The Ten won’t let me out.  Don’t I need to go out?” It felt like I was buzzing in his ear like an air-dragon.

C’s shoulder was steady in this unsteady, unreal place ... like a rock in the rapids, something to cling to.  He didn’t turn his head to look at me, but he was looking at me, somehow.  “No, you need to stay here,” he says, utterly calmly.  “You’re safe, don’t worry.  You’ll know exactly where you are going in a moment.”

“Safe? I don’t remember.  Did I do my Ten Tens?  I don’t remember. I remember getting ready this morning, but nothing after that.”

The Arkan seer... Soira?  I couldn’t remember, she was staring at me.  She could see me.  Her hands were up over her mouth and she looked from me to the High God and back as if she were praying.  I wanted to tell her she didn’t need to be frightened.  There was nothing to be frightened of, here.

“Yes, you did them, and the Gods declared you Their true son.  Don’t worry, all is well.  They are right here with us.”

Sukala could see me too.  She grinned her ‘boy do you have a lot to learn yet’ and ‘serene, life is a joke’ smile at me.  She didn’t look worried. “Having fun?” she said.  “I think so,” I answered.

The Fenjitza waved at me as if at a falcon that had slipped its jesses, as if to lure me or to tell me not to go anywhere, and she called the Fenjitas’s attention to me.  He gave me a look that was stern but not angry or upset particularly.  Concerned.  Hey, if the Ten let me out of the Temple I bet I’d go straight on to somewhere else... at least I think so.  Um.  Shouldn’t I be more concerned about that?  My body gets concerned, and frightened and does awful things to itself out of fear.  It’s good that there is no fear here, at least not close as a spouse or an alesinas.  When I think about it I can feel faint echoes of fear but that’s almost more rising off other people’s spirits, like a scent of sweat raised by a body burning hot, with fever, with work or with exertion of some kind.

“All right.” I said to Virani-e.  “As Ili says ‘that blows’ that I can’t remember the greatest religious experience of my life!”

“It’ll come back,” Virani-e said.  “Healers have ways... think of Surya.”He wasn’t there but I was sure that if he were he’d be seeing me too.

“All right.  Hey, look at that lightning ball... it’s amazing.  I really think I should go have a look. Ky’s calling me.”

“Yes, go.  I’ll talk to you later.”  There was this sense of being surrounded by love like I was still a water-lion swimming in it; a vastness and an all-encompassing feeling.  It was like being loved by something so big that I was a tiny seed in a wheat field to It, but I was known as myself at the same time - and loved for being myself.

“I love you, Virani-e.”

“I love you too, Minis.  Imperator.  My son-in-spirit.”

That made me wiggle with embarrassment but bask in it too as I flipped over, off his shoulder and my glass wings zipped me up to this wall made out of lightning bolts.  I wasn’t frightened at all and dove into it and everything went even more strange.


Exerpt from Intharas’s Journal:

We were right at the bottom of the Temple steps with a perfect view.  A naked as a fikken baby new, squeaky-scorched clean Imperator who’s just been through one of the most shen-eating fikken dangerous rites in all Arko is standing there, grinning like he’s a madman – as well he should – and been declared that the pup did it.  The Temple itself says he’s the one the dog-mothering Ten want and there’s Shefenkas yelling as he steps out onto this side of the Temple columns that there is a dart and there’s this bright red, killing-feathered dart standing in Minis’s chest.

I’ve seen enough venomous darts in my day that it was kind of obvious.  I’d never heard of anybody surviving one of those.   

Guard Captain Idiesas is already moving sparked by Shefenkas’s bellow I’m sure, bulls past the Fenjitzae, knocking them aside like feather-weighted ten-pins, drags the kid inside and lays him down and that’s when the shen really started spraying off the high-speed cart wheels. 

The Temple is making this roaring, shrieking noise and it was like crabbed tendrils of light poured up the columns on either side of the Temple door and then there’s lightning flying everywhere.  I just saw the trailing edge of the Imperatrix’s sleeve where it was burned off as the Imperator was enclosed in a ball of lightning fed from the Temple columns.

Damiana’s noteboard hit the ground, though to her credit her more valuable pen did not.

Roras is droning in an undertone, as he keeps scribbling... a rumble of curses almost a monotone in my ear. “... dog mother of the fikken Ten just when we thought things were going to settle down some to something approaching normal the fikken, shennen, kevyalin, dog nosed relative of a diseased knot-camel and a flea-ridden, sun-addled, viper bitten, water-brained child of siblings shoots the new Imperator and thinks he’s going to fikken, shennen, get fikken praised...” Roras had a way to go before he mastered the fine art of invective but he was certainly working on it, and with an international flair too.

The kid... I still won’t admit I like him.  He’s an Aan.  It’s one of my religions to not like Aans.  The noise ws overwhelming and a bit like having a thunderstorm right on top of you, or a ten of  empty beer wagon towed by a score of draft horses each roll just past your head.  Don’t ask me how I know how that sounds. The kid, with a poisoned dart in his chest, had just been taken over by the Temple.  No one can reach through... Hayel no one can even see through the brightness just inside the Temple doors.  There’s drops of gold flying from the edges of the ball of lightning as things melt.

“Boss, how do I describe that?!” She’s gotten her noteboard back and in hand.

“First rule of breaking news:  write what you see.  EVERYBODY can see this; so it’s not like they’ll have trouble believing you.  Hayel, if they don’t read it tomorrow, half of ‘em will convince themselves they didn’t see it.”

“Lightning out of a column, boss?  Balled up on the tile like a snarl of lightning yarn with the Imperator and Imperatrix inside?”

“We get fifty or sixty reports of balled-up lightning a year.   And . . . have you ever heard the myth of Tesselas’ Coils?”

An aside from Roras “A man driven insane by Risae... learned how to call lightning... that was what the lightning tower was supposed to be, instead of killing all the fools who piled their broken mechanisms around the bottom. Some say his name was Iklas Tesselas.”

“Roras, you’re fikken fired for stealing my barnacle-encrusted gem of a story.”

“Thank you, Boss,” says he but kept writing, looking up and writing again.

The pup, damn her eyes, was still just standing there. “But... yes boss.”  She said just as I open my mouth to give her a gentle admonishment.  She looked mulish but started writing again, finally.

“I’m not saying this is the same thing, and neither should you, but if the man was inspired by Risae, then it’s easily possible the Temple’s version can do something a madman couldn’t.”

“Boss, as much as I’d like to stay and watch this,” Roras says.  “I figure I need to find out if the assassin survived the mob.”

“Fik, I forgot all about him.  Yes.  Go. The dyed whelp can write about lightning striking Aan; she’ll love the chance to wax poetic.”  She sniffed, making her glass nose ornament jingle but didn’t look up from her board.

This was truly unlike me.  Clean, sober, upright. Quiet.  Like I was fikken struck by shennen lightning.

The dart, coming out of the crowd just as the Imperial robe was about to be placed on Aan, was as shocking as lightning.  After all of the turmoil, after all of the ‘Imperator by Conquest’ and then the ‘Imperatrix Who Got Voted Out’ and the election and the Regency... who knows up from down from fikken sideways?  And if it was the Unomas behind this, who knew that crazy, self-named garbage eating dogsboy would go this far?  Would dare this much? If it was him at all.

Hoom. A whelp scribbles away, while the veteran newshound snoops the scoop on some dart-wielding poop. What remains for an old writer to do, but wait and see?  I raised my own note board.  “Talk to the Fenjitzae... after... whatever... is he alive in there?  If he is get the commode-scouring, scum lapping, smegma spewing interview.


Kafiras Loren:  senior writer for the Donkey’s Mouth focusing on subjects of interest to upper-caste women – scribbled almost illegible notes.

“Imperial Mother, steadfast and trained as only the women of the Mahid can be, was seen attempting to protect the Imperatrix but was thwarted by the woman herself as she evaded the Imperial Mother’s reaching grasp to fling herself into danger at her husband’s side.

Inensa Mahid stands, apparently calm, gazing upon the lightning wall separating her from her holy charge and from her son, as close to protecting the Imperatrix as is allowed by the Ten.

Meanwhile, the Imperatrix remains at the Imperator’s side, seemingly trapped but unharmed inside the - damn, is that lightning? Fire?  a dome of crackling light? - whatever it is that is struck repeatedly by the lightning arcing from the temple columns.  The noise is deafening even at this one’s distance, like the very world’s fabric is being ripped at impossible volumes, to the detriment of anyone’s ability to hear what is going on closer to the stricken Imperator.

The Imperial Pharmacist has moved to her back, a white column in his robes, as unmoving as his daughter as they wait to see the results of the Temple’s unprecedented activity, while the Coronet Regal elect is nowhere in evidence, whisked off to some place of safety at the first sign of attack on his elder brother...”

My sincere thanks to Karen for Chevenga's part in the first half. Tip o' the hat to Minis's father in spirit.

Thanks to Toast for Intharas's point of view and to Cap for Kafiras's.  Hat tip to the reporters of Arko! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

653 - A Flea in Mikas's Beard

I’m running... scuttling through a gigantic forest of golden trees growing thick enough that I cannot see through them very far.  A gigantic pink pillar bends the trees down and I run away but my way is blocked and the trees are bent down so I am caught and pressed under them and then pinched up between the gigantic squishy pink pillars.

I am raised out of the forest of gold and I can see this eye... it is as large as half the sky.  “You are really getting up my nose, boy,” a voice rumbles. 

I protest, “This time it wasn’t ME!” and there is enormous laughter.

“True.” But I am still flicked away, from a fingernail the size of a the edge of presentation square.  I was... I was a flea... in Mikas’s beard.  Mikas doesn't have a beard... oh, I didn't want to think where Mikas had thick hair...

I tumble and then I find out I have wings.  Where did wings come from?  I stretch what were my arms and soar through the new glass networks in the Marble Palace and float like dust in the sunlight streaming through the enormous windows.

“Playtime is over, boy.”

This voice is more stern than Mikas’s.  I look up and turn on my back and stretch my wings and say “No.”

I’m a water-lion turned into an air-dragon.  My wings zip and crackle and make sizzling noises as I dart through the air.

A massive jar comes down over me.  “Sometimes, Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, spirits are annoying and... as My Husband says ‘A pain in the ass!’  Pay attention!  You’re flitting about as if there is nothing to worry about, nothing to assess.  Nothing to weigh!  You are zipping about the Temple as if there is not a care in the world!”

“Mother of Cutters.  Blood Goddess.”  I buzz and snap and howl the words somehow out of my insect mouth.  “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

An enormous sigh.  “Mortals.”  The glass jar raises and I am allowed to zip on.

A Hand snatches me out of the air but I melt into tears that pour out onto the floor in shame and fear and I am mopped up and wrung out.  “Stop that!”  I am a standing wave a thing of sound and suddenly I understand what my music master said when he admonished me to ‘be the music.’

I am a pure tone that rings through the air, through the Temple.  If I rise high enough I shall escape the confines of this place.  I shall rise to the real throne of the Ten.  Not this shallow and empty representation, this shadow of what is truth.  I echo back from the walls, from the ceiling, from the floor.  The door is blocked with disharmony... a shattering sound over and over again, that disrupts the wave that I am.
I cannot escape.  I cannot get out.  But how may a note, a song, a hymn be restrained?

There is a song that I am part of.  A glass harmony.  The inhaled breath of the Highest God.  I tumble and whirl and do not know up from down from sideways.  What was I doing?  Where am I?

There... is... a... reason... for me to... stay... myself.  The urge to spread myself onto the world like a spirit buttering of the earthsphere – I giggle at that image, it is so like Ili...






My mother... I ... don’t know her well enough.  My grandfather.  I would miss them.

What is happening?  I hurt... I’m not hurting... I hurt... 

Something is going on and my thoughts are being disrupted.  How?  Why?

I flit over and land on Virani-e’s shoulder.  “Chevenga.  Where am I?  What’s happening? My chest is on fire.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

652 - If You Die On Me...

My brother was just finished his Ten Tens and I was jumping up and down and cheering when I heard Virani-e yell that there was a dart.  Some asshole in the crowd shot Minis.  Jia went a funny colour and the Temple started making this noise.

As Idiesas grabbed Minis and dragged him into the Temple, my security captain Janirias, grabbed me right up off the ground and stuffed me into a stone niche right behind Oas and put his big, armoured back towards me, sword drawn. He didn't need Idiesas's orders, he knew what to do.

So did I. I couldn’t see anything that was going on as Jia and I got down onto the floor like we’re supposed to, but then I could see between Jan’s greaves and boots. There's Sereniteers running the way Virani-e pointed. People yelling.

There was this cage of lightning, almost a bubble just inside the Temple doors, full of light and haze and fire and lightning and the whole building was shaking, like there was an earthquake and lightning kept sticking its fingers down from the tops of the front two Temple columns into that.  Wasn’t that where Idiesas had put Minis down?

I wasn’t sure but I could see Idiesas on the other side, he's yelling orders still, I think, but can't hear him.  It was a giant ball of lightning just inside the doors of the Temple.

I could just see out the open doors, past the bubble and outside the crowd were mostly on the ground too as the alarm keep keening and the columns hummed and crackled and roared as they made more lightning. Things shook and thundered.

There were some people who hadn't just fallen down in shock at the noise. Some were kind of running but I couldn't see more than a lot of people moving. Outside, through the open doors, I could see one guy still on his feet, it looked like he was trying to run away.  The crowd all around him were piling on the guy.  Maybe he was the one who darted Minis?  I hoped so.

I wasn’t crying but it was so bright from all the lightning snakes my eyes were watering making everything blurry.

The awful shrieking alarm noise stopped, but there were still the hum of the lightnings all around the inside of that flaming cage thing where Minis was.  My ears were ringing still in the sudden quiet even though Jia had wrapped himself around my head.

The Fenjitzae and all the dekinae and priests were all just helping each other up and picking up the Imperial robe and all the stuff they'd dropped, if they fell down when the lightning started. 

Idiesas, with his sword out, Akminchaer and the visiting Haian, Zinchaer were all at the cage of lightning and Virani-e and Kallijas and Gannara... there were people all around, but the Temple wouldn’t let them in.

Idiesas waved, I think he shouted but my ears were ringing and there were a whole bunch of Sereniteers coming from across Presentation Square at a run to support the ones near the Temple and the crowd handed the limp body of the guy they'd grabbed over to the Sereniteers so they could drag him off to the Marble Palace.

The Temple still wasn’t letting anybody in with Minis. It was a ball of light and lightning and there were splashes of melted gold from where the fire fingers had touched tiles all around it. Ky was in there too.  Mama Selinae please protect my sister-by -marriage. Big brother, you shen-knot, if you die on me I’ll be pissed.

Monday, March 19, 2012

651 - Come Back to Us

I flung my gloves over my ears as the Temple started making this agonizing shriek, loud enough to freeze everyone where they stood.   

Almost everyone.  Minis froze as though struck by lightning and Idiesas, already moving, shoved past the Fenjitzae, the Imperial robe falling to one side with a clatter, grabbed Minis and dragged him bodily back through the doors of the Temple. Virani-e was shouting, "Just one dart he's dropped it he's THAT WAY!"

Idiesas was yelling orders, even as he moved Minis back, but my husband moved as though he were a solid statue, not a body, his arms and hands frozen, half raised, and when Idiesas laid him down on the stone he went down stiff and he ‘clicked’ as he was laid flat.

I saw all that, heard all that, even as I ducked under Inensa’s protective hand.  Jorasa had the baby and dodged the other way. The Mahid girls had closed around us and were getting us back, away from the dart-shooter or shooters, into the Temple.  I wanted to go that direction anyway but not away from Mins. Someone, Idiesas and Chevenga and Kallijas and half a dozen others were calling for a healer, yelling orders.

Not for nothing had I trained with the girls in the faib bowl even though they were trying to protect me.  They weren’t going to keep me from Minis.  I’d ducked under Inensa’s hand and turned sideways, flung myself skidding past Jorasas’s knees and then up and over to my husband’s body.

And that was when everybody went still as though cast in glass.

The noise from the Temple went up and up and down and down till Minis’s stiff body and I were jouncing up and down on the tiles and people were falling over and there was this high, thin note that was like a lance of lighting.  I couldn’t tell if it were from all Ten Gods or just one but from inside the Temple this lance of wiggling light reached out and touched the tip of the dart in Minis’s chest.

It spread out over his chest, the black lines following what I assumed were veins and my hands jumped and shuddered on him and my heart thudded in my chest and I screamed at the Gods “You aren’t driving me away!”  I closed my hands on his arms hard and clung. He was hard, like a statue, not breathing, not warm.  Rigid.  In the wild light of the fire from Selestialis his hair stood out all around his head, like mine.

There was a lot of screaming and shrieking and orders going on outside and near us but no healers coming and I looked up and found that the Temple had somehow shut us away from everyone.  There was a cage of fingers of lightning reaching from the top of two pillars, closing us in. I could feel the quivering light all around me and the crackle as fingers of light joined to make a bright wall, so bright my eyes were full of tears.

Temple was touching, touching, touching Minis with fingers of lightning inside here with us. Our hair stood on end, puffed out all around but I refused to let go of my husband.  “Heal him, oh Ten, I plead.  Save him!”

Idiesas was just outside the bright, dangerous fingers of God. He was all right enough that he was gesturing outside.  He’d pulled Minis into the Temple and the Temple had put a shell around us.  There was scorched and burned and melted gold tile all around us, the edges of my dress and my sleeves but Minis was cool as marble.  Still as ice.

The dart was gone, evaporated but the blackness of the lightning tracing along his pale skin I could see.  “Selinae, Mother, help, let me help!”

I don’t know if She answered me but I pulled my crackling, distended hair down and wrapped it around his stiff body in an echo of Her holiness.  “Mother help us.”  My own hair stung my hands as I wrapped him in it.

I was strong enough to pull his rigid body into my arms, all with the Temple lightning playing over him and over me.  I quivered and shook and caught my breath and felt as if I were on fire and jumping and shivering, but I would not let him go.  “Risae, Mikas, Anae... mother of darkness take this darkness, as Aitza I plead with you, Oka Goddess, cleanse this most insidious of poisons, the darkness of death.”

His face was still.  His lips were pale as marble.  We sat, encased in fire, with haze of light all around us making it very hard to see anyone outside. Inside the crackling thunder of the lightning the noise from outside was strange and muffled.

I kissed his still, marble lips, willing warmth and softness and life into them, even as they sucked the heat out of mine.  “Come back to me, Minis.  Come back to us.”