Siyas exhaled, causing a small cloud to billow in the frozen tundra.
"Interesting," he murmured. "It's cold here. Yes, must be the North. The only question is, how far North? Tastes like Creation still. Nothing wobbly about my breath, it's not trying to eat me so safe to say we're still in Creation. But never mind that, old boy. A better question; am I talking to myself or to an audience?"
"I've known you a few months now, Professor, and I still don't know the answer to that question."
The Sidereal turned and took in his surroundings. Cold. Frozen wasteland, as far as the eye could see. Siyas realized his first impression was false. This wasn't tundra. Sheer ice stretched from horizon to horizon, broken up only by the unevenness of the landscape. Behind him, Siyas saw a trail of footprints leading from where they'd come.
Far ahead, he could see a plateau all by itself. Nothing else to see, geographically speaking. Empty barren landscape filled only by spectacular cliffs that seemed strangely empty of ice. So why were they here?
His crimson eyes shifted to the woman presently standing next to him. She was thickly bundled in furs over sturdy, sensible boots. Still, Siyas could make out a pretty face and a shock of black hair fallen across her forehead. She carried a large, bulky backpack that mostly concealed the bundled daiklave she carried sheathed beneath it. It was almost clever.
"Sorry?" he asked.
"No, I mean I'm sorry I didn't hear you. What did you say?"
"Nothing worth repeating." She sighed, weariness evident in both tone and body. "Come on, Professor. If you want to make it by nightfall, we won't do it standing here."
"Right. Of course. After you?"
"You think I know where we're going?"
Siyas chuckled at the incredulous eyebrows peeking out from beneath the fur-lined hood of her coat. Then he shrugged and started forward. The tracks behind them pointed a straight line ahead after all. Presumably they'd find something before they walked off the edge of the world.
Cold, gusting wind from the Elemental Pole of Air bent their heads. It gave Siyas a chance to inspect himself. Yes, same knee-length fur coat with leggings and good sturdy boots. Mittens covered his hands. Completely dressed against the North indeed. From the unsubsiding warmth of the clothes, he suspected a Ritual of Elemental Empowerment for the extra protection. That was charitable of someone, possibly himself.
Speaking of himself, Siyas patted his waist and came up empty on pockets. Disappointing. Then he realized he carried a pack as well. Perhaps his diary was in there. Time enough for it later, though. In the meantime, the Sidereal took the opportunity of the fierce northern winds to keep his head down and pry open the drawstring-taut gap between mitten and sleeve. Sure enough, Siyas found the Clockwise Cascade girding his left wrist. The elegant starmetal bracelet had a hum to its inner mechanisms he could hear even over these winds. But then, theirs was a long and interesting relationship after all.
He frowned as he took in the display. Siyas tapped the adamant facing, prodding the Cascade to change the complex configuration of orrery-like gears that made up its interior. Then he shook his head and slowed, allowing the woman to catch up.
"Should we have introductions to make when we reach our destination, how should I introduce you?" Siyas said, his tone light and conversational.
"Bryony's fine. Doctor Rue if you must. Not that I expect it to matter."
"Oh? And why's that then?"
"No one will be talking to me. They'll be talking to you. I can't speak Skytongue, remember?" Bryony glanced his way, scowling from beneath her hood. "Though thanks for at least confirming there will be other people when we get there."
"That depends on how you define people, I expect," Siyas said, turning her name over in his mind. Bryony Rue. Eastern? Likely. Could be Tengese but not with her looks nor with that black hair. Her accent was Thorns. Eastern, definitely Eastern. "For that matter, it depends on if you think the Exalted are still people."
"You said 'other people'. In some parts of the world, humans might say people are mortals and that the Exalted are divine and all of that nonsense."
"Do I look like an Immaculate?" she asked.
"Are you trying to?"
"Professor, we spent a month on ship after ship sailing from Nexus up to Malice Bay. That day we spent flying from Icehome to Diamond Hearth on that airship was just enough for everything to get sore before we spent more weeks trudging across all this ice. For the last two days, we've been staring at that plateau ahead at the top of those cliffs. All this time, you've never told me why we've come, only that it's important. I'm trying to keep my spirits up here but being coy with questions isn't winning you smiles right now."
"Diamond Hearth, did you say? Marvelous. Must be post-Usurpation then. Post-Shogunate, come to think of it. Wasn't it found, what, 600 years or so after?"
Bryony came to a stop and just stared at him.
"Have they found Tzatli yet?"
"Thirty years ago, at least." Bryony shook her head and snagged his arm, tugging him forward again. "I'd say you're weirder than usual but-."
"But you're always this weird."
Siyas grinned, at the description and at the undertones of easy warmth in her barbs. Bryony might be unhappy about spending months on the road but she clearly liked him. The Sidereal then considered that thought before peering at her.
"Speaking of weird, I've got this weird ache in the back of my tooth here," Siyas said, tapping the right side of his face as she turned hers towards him. "Fancy a look? I think I might have damaged it."
"Open your mouth." Bryony looked inside as he looked down at her intent, detached expression. "I don't see anything wrong. Hold on. ...No, there's nothing wrong with you at all according to my Flawless Diagnosis Technique. Now stop stalling and let's make some time."
Siyas mumbled something complimentary before taking the lead again. So, she really was a doctor. A Solar doctor for that matter. Thankfully, there was little evidence of romantic intimacy. She cared for him but in the way an old friend or comrade might. Very convenient. Those feelings would cover a multitude of mistakes without adding complications he didn't need.
The North. A Solar. A Doctor.
He stopped in his tracks. When Bryony nearly ran into him and tried to push past, he thrust out an arm and stopped her too. Slowly, he lifted his arm and pointed down at the ground. A thin line in the ice wound its way across the land just shy of the cliffs. They'd almost reached it and he hadn't noticed.
Siyas realized his throat had sealed shut. With effort, he swallowed. Then he coughed out another billow of fog.
"Come along then, mind your step," he said at last, steeling up his courage.
"We've been walking through all this ice for weeks. I know how to watch my footing."
"Do you now. I suppose you do. Except, come to think of it, you don't."
"What was that?" she hissed as he crossed the boundary.
"I said you-careful now, Doctor, I've got you."
"What the hell was that?!?"
Siyas didn't answer her for the moment. It gave his Solar companion that moment to get her bearings and recover from the effect. He needed the same moment for the same reason, and more.
Then he bent down, pulled his mitten off and brushed his hand through the grass. Tall blades of green stroked his palm, stirred by his motion. Unsurprisingly, they didn't bounce back to standing upright but remained bent. Siyas stood, brushed the snow off of his coat and watched it settle. Within moments, it clung like dust to the summer stocks of grass.
"Well, that depends. Do you want to know what it is or do you want to know what it's like?
"I want to know what it is," Bryony asked. She pulled her hood down, revealing a tanned, freckled face.
"Technically, it's the liminal boundary between Creation proper and an asamasaratic region that experienced terminal Tapestry disconnection. That exact drop of pressure, pulse and respiration we both experienced was caused by the wake of a suspended Reality Incursion. Severity 7, or nearabouts to it."
"Would you like to try that again, Professor? I'm a doctor, not a scholar."
"You could try calling me Siyas, you know," the Sidereal said, narrowing his golden eyes.
"You could try using words I actually understand, you know."
"...Fair point. So that's what it is. What it's like is, well, it's tricky. It's like triage. Situational triage. Imagine for a moment that you're on a battlefield, hundreds of people, all very badly hurt. What you do is you sort through them, find the ones you can save quickly and you save as many of those as you can. Those who might live but would require too much work, well..."
"I know what triage is." The Solar's green eyes narrowed as well, then tilted away in introspection. "You're saying someone did this on purpose?"
"Everything you see right now is purposed, yes. Bryony, we're somewhere that was never supposed to be. An age and ages ago, this was part of the Diamond Hills Province. This RBC used to produce crops, herbs, they used to have mines filled with shining jewels ripe for the plucking. Livestock? You couldn't count how many sheep, goats and mammoths used to walk here. Look at those, do you see those?"
"The tall metal spikes?" she asked, following his finger towards a ring of them around the plateau.
"Tall metal spikes, don't you know what those are? A work of genius, those are! Look at the tops. White jade alloy anchoring moonsilver trifilament cabling. Once, these were spread out over half the North, channeling geomantic power on a scale so big they had to invent a new one just to chart it."
As he marveled at seeing Tzatli's power source like this, Bryony just firmed her lips together before saying, "That's odd."
"No, that's not odd. That's amazing! That's fantastic!"
"Not that. I mean the cables."
"Look at the cables."
"What about them?"
"Professor, we're on a flat plain of ice facing a cliff face surrounded by all these metal poles with taut wires in the air."
Siyas chuckled and said, "Perfectly obvious but, please, continue."
"The cables aren't anchored into the cliff," Bryony said, pointing upwards at the moonsilver wires that came to abrupt end above the line in the land separating grass from ice. "What are they anchored to? It's like it's...frozen."
"It is. Well, it's not exactly. It's not from the cold anyway."
That's when Bryony realized what he'd noticed from the moment they'd entered; how unearthly quiet everything was. No wind, no sound at all but theirs. Bryony's luminous green eyes turned towards Siyas. There. Unfamiliar as this situation was, unfamiliar as she was, this Sidereal had seen that expression on countless faces. It was equal parts confused fear and amazed wonder mixed with a faith laid naked and bare before him. A faith in him, a trust that he'd sort it all out.
"Professor, what happened here?" she whispered.
"The Great Contagion. It was a dark time, as I'm sure you've heard. Millions dead and dying. The Fair Folk marched on us, intent on wiping us all out, a full million of them, give or take a color or a letter or two."
"Maybe a million and orange. They like orange, you know. Doesn't rhyme with anything. They think that's hilarious. Which it is, really, if you think like the Fair Folk. Which you don't. Sorry, am I rambling?"
"I can't really tell anymore," Bryony said, sounding as numb as she looked.
"Right. Sorry. Suppose we should get on with it, now that we're here."
Siyas looked up at the cliffs, familiar cliffs now that he was this close to them. He bent his head to conceal a look of anguish he couldn't suppress. Nodding firmly, the Chosen of Journeys mastered himself, reached out his hand, and placed it on the side of the cliff face.
Then he pulled the entire plateau down to ground level.
A tremendous roar of rock filled the air. The cliffs sank down and down, still moving on their own from the momentum of his shove. Bryony's startled cry vanished beneath the cacophony of it. He caught the lip of the top before it passed too far, slowed its descent and finally stopped it at ground level.
Stretched out before them was an enormous valley. Green grass filled his field of vision. Farms dotted the landscape below, linked together by a handful of simple roads. All paths led to the small city at the valley's heart, of course. It gleamed in the pale Northern sunset from outside.
"That's impossible," Bryony said, astonishment wiping away all other emotion.
"It is, isn't it," Siyas said agreeably. "I mean, that much sheer rock beneath all those farmlands must weigh millions and billions of tons. The city alone would sink a hundred ships if you balanced it across their backs."
"Because there's a rule that connects the concept of cliffs with the concepts of climbing and falling. A plateau weighs a million tons because it's supposed to, because somewhere there's a rule that looks at rocks, looks at a volume of rocks and says they should be about this heavy. Only those rules aren't here anymore. They haven't been for centuries. We cut them away to keep out the Great Contagion, in a desperate attempt to save the lives of the people who lived here."
"Triage," she said, grasping the only sensible thing in that much scale. "So it's here because of you?"
"I cut Nacre away from the Tapestry, Bryony," Siyas said, no longer able to hide the old pain. "I cut it away to save it from a world I thought was dying. Only I was too late. The Great Contagion had already got in. Sooner or later, we reconnected all the places we cut away back to the Loom of Fate but not here. I don't know why, exactly, but I think I can guess. It's because I was born here. It's because I couldn't let Nacre, my homeland, die."
"Professor..." Her gloved hand closed over his shoulder. She cared. And if he didn't know her like she obviously knew him, it didn't make the gesture any less touching. "Professor, you must know it's too late. That was seven hundred years ago. Even if there were still people here, the incubation rate is..."
"Ah. Figured it out have you?" he asked, as fresh astonishment eroded the rest of what she intended to say.
"Professor, you can't really mean there's still people here, can you? The same people? No one's aged a day in all that time? Those cables in the air, they're not just frozen, they're frozen in time!
"Time's just another rule. One that doesn't work here."
"Then what are we doing here?"
The Chosen of Journeys turned his back on Nacre and faced his Solar companion. Bryony looked stark, strict in her frost-bitten furs against a backdrop of twilight tundra beyond. So little life here. So little chance. What had he been thinking? What could possibly have led him to gamble all their lives like this? Why now?
"I can guess," Siyas said at last. "You see, there weren't Solars in the days of the Great Contagion, Bryony. All the wonders we were capable of, oh, you should have seen our proud triumphs but they couldn't compare to yours. It took more than seven hundred years but, finally, miracles have returned to Creation. I brought you here to save them, Doctor. You have to. You're the only one who can."
Last edited by Epiphany
on 23 Jun 2012, 02:37, edited 2 times in total.
: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.Kailan
: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.My Novels
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