6a First

“Has the working happened?”

Silence is the response. No answer. I am Lord of my domain, all that I survey is beholden to me, my vassals shrink in terror at my presence, afraid of answering a simple question.

“If failure is happening, vanquishing you is in the not.”

“Happening is partial, my God,” comes the hesitant reply.

Progress, finally. “Further the detail.”

“Only a thin slice, Lord God, lasting barely seconds. Fractional meaning. Incomplete presence. Insufficient to sustain.”

How long will it take? How many attempts by these insects?

Intensification of presence not because of magnitude or force but proximity. Two minds… two people…? Voices, not heard, but certainly communication between these two entities. Sensing an internal mentality to one of them — the one I can sense the inside of — has more force to it than the other. It moves closer, intensifies.

Singular attenuation manifests internal implosion, instant psychic decompression. Gone.

5a Mage

“I don’t want to see him,” said Celeste, afraid.

Lady Yidran shook her head, her thin mouth, narrow eyes and pronounced cheekbones the most recent style of masq. “You must,” she said sternly, her hawk-like features accentuating her stern instruction.

“After what he did!” Celeste said. “No!” she barked adamantly and turned her back to Yidran. Celeste took in a deep breath and raised her head to look out through the window. Yidran had done nothing. None of them had. She had been violated in front of her people, and not one had stepped forward in her defence. She did not fear Yidran’s rebuke, or any of them.

The door opened and Celeste whirled round suddenly afraid. A tall, thin man walked solemnly into her chambers, tidy white beard and white short hair, wearing the usual grey garb of the Magestry. Celeste had several personal lessons from the mage Xala over the years, a kindly man deliberate in speech and thought. He was the first to draw her attention to the very fact that she thought at all, then how to arrange her thinking, and the primary exercises to control her attention. Teachers would drill her in grammar, logic and rhetoric but Xala’s visits were always to introduce a whole new area she hadn’t been aware of. It was Xala who introduced the distinction between rax and real, what commoners understood as magic. He occupied a fond place in her heart, but she felt nothing for him. She felt nothing but relief it wasn’t that dispicable fiend, her Mage. She spat the thought out of her mind: her Mage.

The old man bowed to Celeste who turned around indignantly and then to Lady Yidran in turn.

“She is being obstinant. Persuade her of her best course,” remarked Lady Yidran who swept out of the chamber leaving only Celeste and the old man.

What did he have to say? What could he possibly say to make up for his passivity during the ritual? Nothing. He could say nothing. Nobody could.

“The ways of the Magestry are inscrutible,” remarked the old man.

Platitudes, she thought. Where was the wisdom of old men now? The old maid Yidran was no longer required. Celeste was no longer a child to be instructed or corrected. Neither was she an innocent to fall for the old man’s magic.

“You did nothing,” she said coldly. “You stood and watched and did nothing.”

She seethed within. It was not a burning heat, it was not anger. It was cold, void of emotion, where her love had been. Yet the feeling had form, something she could shape. She directed it at him, like the point of a knife. Even with her back to him, she felt it piercing him. Whatever he had wanted to say was transfixed and he stood silently.

After a time she turned to face him. He withered in her cold stare, seemed to age. What he had worn well before, now sagged, his shoulders drooped, his face lined, his eyes which once sparkled, darkened. “Well?” she asked.

“You are learning,” he said calmly. “It is a hard lesson to bear. For all of us.”

He paused as she drew a quick breath through her nose, a reminder of the sharpness of the horrid experience. Xala’s spirit had in fact wavered when he witnessed the Mage’s assault. It had not manifested as movement, not because of fear of retribution nor the paralysis of confusion. It was awe, awe at the action of this young man to have done such a thing. It was beyond the old man’s conception, beyond anything anyone could have thought. Xala now stood before her, witnessing its effect on his student, no longer the girl Celeste he had known. Now, imperious in her demeanour, the Princess-Elect, how she looked down upon him with such disdain. But he knew this transformation was temporary, and born from weakness. It was not a thing to last.

“It is only half the lesson,” he continued. “You must complete it. And before seeing others, else you do them harm.”

“Did you know what he was going to do?” demanded Celeste. “Was it arranged? Was it a thing staged by the Magestry?”

The old man looked down apologetically. He lifted up his eyes and the Princess-Elect was ice. There was a danger that the intervention had caused more harm than good. That it had excised the best part of her, her sensitivity, her love for those around her.

“No,” he said.

She whirled away unsatisfied with his simple answer. 

“If you choose not to see him, you shall experience his unwanted presence as another violation. As Princess-Elect, remain resolute in your new-found poise.”

She snorted. Advice. Words. That is all the old man had for her. “Will you remain here in the room with us?”

“He has asked for a private audience,” replied Xala.

What power did her Mage possess to have this effect on Xala? He was respected in court, the highest standing Mage in the province, reduced to a messenger: an old, wrinkled messenger boy.

“Send him in,” she commanded before reason or fear could take over. Fear followed quickly, but at the time she uttered it, the coldness was directed at Xala, dismissing him. As she heard the door close behind him, she felt alone once again. She began the silencing technique, ironically taught to her by Xala himself. She closed here eyes and breathed out, halfing her feelings. She held the moment of silence at the bottom of her third outbreath, the emptiness of her lungs, resisting the willingness to breath. It had a different quality now, colder, at the hard edge of death. No thought whisped her away to the concern of others, no warmth. Only tight, cold, emptiness.

The door opened and though her heart rate increased, the blood thumped in her ear, she breathed in slowly before halving halving halving and retaining her empty state, nothing but cold isolation once again.

The Mage stood behind her, just as he had when she was on stage. She could not remember anything that had happened between that moment and being here in this chamber. The faces of all her people before her, frozen as if in glass. It was as if nothing had happened in the intervening period.

“Why did you do it?” she said. Her wording broke the emptiness and cold feelings rose suddenly, hatred. After a while, she calmed herself and awaited the answer.

It did not happen. None of it did.

Celeste spun around and glared at the Mage, his thin-lidded eyes and bone-dry skin, he was abhorrent to her. She collected herself and with steel in her voice, pressed the question: “Why did you do it!”

The Mage deflected her hard intent with a respectful nod and proceeded, apparently without any sense of the turmoil she was going through. “I am a tool in your hands. What you do with me, will determine the fate of all worlds.”

Celeste shook her head. He didn’t make sense. Who was he even talking to? Certainly not her! He had violated her! In front of everyone! What kind of tool does that?

“The learning of the knife,” said the Mage. “Before the cut, a child. After the cut, an adult.”

Celeste stood motionless, midbreath. Her mind still.

“Explanation serves little purpose, before the fact. Return to what happened to you when I bowed and you touched the back of my head. Before my action.”

Celeste felt through the cloud of shame, the horror of her exposure in front of court, the violence of his act. It was so unexpected. What had happened? She had felt alone, isolated. And she vaguely recollected her response to Mbolo, her embarrassment of her costume, had felt the urge to tear it off herself… was the Mage referring to this…?

“I am a tool. I reflect the moment of your mind. It was made real through me. It was not my action. It was my re-action. I am a tool, for your presence. You in turn must learn to be a tool, a channel, a mirror for a presence greater than ourselves. The effect will continue to ring out, like the reverberations of a bell struck. Where others hear noise, we hear music. Where others make hate, we make love.”

Celeste coughed, felt released suddenly, taking a step back she swallowed hard then laughed in disbelief. “It’s not…” she couldn’t speak. “Love!” She could not believe what she was hearing. She was incredulous. What was this man thinking…?

“In my action is reflected their inaction. Was it my reaction which hit you, or their inaction? Relive the experience fully, or others like it in your life. The answer you derive determines your suitability for the task ahead of us.”

Celeste stepped forward and controlled herself. She wanted none of his magicks. He was serious. What task was he referring to? Her role as Princess-Elect? It was all happening too quickly, the experience, this wording…

“We will have this conversation only once. Never again for the first time. Even when you return here, relive what is said, never the same the first time. Never with this future-intention.”

Celeste felt her state of presence intensifying. However many times she returned to this moment, it could not be repeated. She imagined herself that night pondering over the day’s events, tomorrow, years ahead, all of her selves stacked in the future looking back at today’s events, yet never like now. She would never forget the events of the reception, but would she recall this conversation as easily? Celeste returned to the sallow-skinned man before her. What was he?

“We  experienced an intervention,” said the Mage. “The natural flow of things was interrupted, as I sense it is even now.”

“What do you mean, intervention?” Celeste asked. “By what?”

Her question had a peculiar effect on the Mage. He closed his eyes and remained standing there, without breath. She recognised it as part of a technique, she had just performed it: halven. It was strange to observe it in another. Celeste realised she should have used the technique at the reception, to control her feelings. That was exactly the time to use it, when she was overwhelmed, or before the stress had mounted. It had happened so quickly, unexpectedly. However, what was the Mage feeling now that he was invoking the halven practice?

“You may think of it as angels,” was his considered reply, wording accurately. “They are assembling from the future to be with us now.”

Angels! Could Celestsel really know about the old ways? She stared at him in disbelief: that a servant of the God-Emperor would say such a thing, and yet something within her sang as if a chime struck. The private prayers only she and her mother shared — could they be heard? She involuntarily brought her hands together, felt the pendent beneath the chemise and within her breast, her spirit alight.

“There is much intervention at this time.” He paused, aware of things unsaid, unthought. “Three ordeals will follow,” he warned, “not of my hand. Far more dangerous than a broken costume, a social death before your subjects.”

What dangers lied ahead? She had dreaded the evening’s event, feared the shame she would re-experience before all the important people of state. They had seen her defiled earlier that day, how could she face them again? Is this what the Mage meant?

“By accepting me at your side, you overcome your fear. That is how people will fear you. Like a sword at the Guard’s side, sheathed, so I shall be at your side. Use me well.”

For all their ceremony and declarations of loyalty, they had done nothing. How dare they face her? The Mage was right: there had been an intervention. Something had touched her that day just as she touched the Mage’s self-seal. A fearful thing. And though her fearful shrunken state had ebbed, she was left with an unsettled feeling, an object within a field of vision far greater than herself, and yet equal to. It was as if her life, everything that led up to that moment, was a shadow. A brightness infused her that was not her own.

You are not your costume. You are not the Princess-Elect.

She felt that she was missing so much. She felt the moment slipping past her, like she was running on water. Between the past and the future, the enquickening presence of her Mage. What could be mistaken as fear, was alertness. The presence of an angel perhaps? Had she been courageous, perhaps its presence would reveal something different? An insight…? What was clear was that she was not to be afraid of the Mage, nor his reactions to her. In fact, in the coolness of her mind’s eye, she could see that he had made her a weapon, just as the Guard was made a weapon by carrying a sword.

“In the interest of efficiency,” the Mage Celestsel continued, “in order to accelerate our trust, it is imperative that you share the threads unseen which are being sewn together in today’s events. The social fabric between us strengthens as a result.”

Celeste shook her head, closing her eyes and trying to retain a sense of what she had just felt. Her fear was gone, but an anger towards the Mage remained. Resentment: it just wasn’t fair.

“You do not have my trust yet!” she said, glaring suddenly at him. Whatever magic the Mage had caste upon her, on all of them, she would not so easily let it pass. He had not even apologised!

“You and your brother are kept like pets by the Adukwe,” began the Mage. Celeste was taken aback. She could not help but be drawn into the Mage’s wording. He put words to thoughts unspoken. That they were pets to the Adukwe was true, it matched her experience of being a manequin to be dressed up and paraded, instructed on how to walk, talk, which hand to use when eating, when to look down and appear demure and when to stand one’s ground. She was loved, but as any well trained pet was. Her blood was Gal, after all, not Solozo. She was not one of the Adukwe. And to hear this… so bluntly put… almost as an aside… she should have taken offence, but now she felt there was nothing the Mage could say that could cause her more offence than she had already experienced at his hand. She cupped her ears; not as effective as the halven procedure, but effective in its own way.

“…however spurious the claim that your lineage extends to the Gal bloodline Adrienne of old.”

The Mage had stopped talking and was quietly waiting for her.

“I can not repeat myself, my Princess-Elect,” said the mage.

There was no admonishment, no reprimand. Just flatly said, as everything was. Clean of any emotion. Did he ever feel anything…?

“I understand,” said Celeste, collecting herself in a deep breath. “I am not a child. I am well aware of the politics around my position.” The mage waited. He was paying attention to her, actually listening to what she was saying, as if interested in what she was thinking, where she wanted to take them.

“Tell me,” instructed Celeste in Solozo, “while travelling with him, what have you learned about Lord Mbolo?” She was exploring how to be with him, how to engage him. The Mage was like a servant she could instruct, but he was different to most servants because he was powerful. As servant, as advisor, she couldn’t tell. He seemed boundaryless.

“Mbolo is not what he seems. Since the death of his Lady, he remains awkwardly unpaired in the Toloese Ring. No Inner Ring Lord has ever visited the mines this far to the west. Why now? I suspect his intention is not aligned to the Father of the Toloese. I suspect he plans to compromise the relationship between Rings Toloese and Adukwe for the benefit of the Beredin. Subverting the role of Princess-Elect may be part of his plans.”

Celeste was aware of politic, described to her by Shef Aclimas and Lady Yidran as pieces in a game of xadres. To think of politic within the Toloese Ring was like thinking of competition amongst pieces of the same side. The Mage had just enlarged the board and suddenly she felt part of it, a piece moved by others. There were moves being played she didn’t understand, and glimpses of moves she hadn’t known existed. Was this the life she was to enter? The life her child would be born into? He would not even have the eight years of innocence she had experienced. She promised herself she would redoubled her efforts in her lessons with Aclimas, to learn the game and play it well. 

“Whatever the long-distant future holds, it is determined by our present actions,” continued the Mage. “There are levels of current play which significantly impact the outcome of the Princes-Elect’s lineage to be and the future of Urb itself.”

It was unsettling how the Mage verbalised what she had been thinking, answering questions she had barely begun. Here was the test, she thought. What harm could it do? If the Mage’s information and advice proved actionable, and it effected positive outcomes, then they would have a basis for a real relationship, not his erratic actions and inhuman manner. It was a risk to trust him this early, against the persistent advice of Lady Yidran and her Adukwe family, given she didn’t know the Mage or his motives. The Magestry were mysterious indeed, in this world and all the worlds in which their magic penetrated.

“And it does not bother you that I don’t like you?” asked Celeste pointedly.

“I am my Princes-Elect’s tool,” replied the mage selflessly. “I am as sharp or blunt as my use.”

“And you prefer sharp?” queried Celeste.

“The Solozo are familiar with Mage allocations. I understand the challenge this represents to your race, my Princes-Elect. When doubt rises in you, ask that I may assure you. There are many risks around this evening’s encounter. The future presses close. We must work quickly, my Princes-Elect, that you make courageous decisions which run against both your nature and your trusted counsel.”

“So the fact it does not feel right for me, is part of it?” said Celeste.

“Feelings pass. You have been misguided by inferior minds operating with limited perception of the truth.”

“And you know better, is that it?” Celeste gouded him to see if her rudeness would unsettle his confidence and reveal it as arrogance. It didn’t.

“I operate with more unknowns. And what I do know is accurate. Your sense of like or dislike is coloured by your misappreciation of the truth. This will fade as you enter into the truth of our place in the world, and the place of this world in all the worlds magicked by the minds of men.”

Celeste’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “That I must ignore my own feelings, my intuition…?”

“You must inhibit some of them, yes, especially those regarding me and my role. I am no mere conjurer or court magician. I will introduce you to a world which you are barely aware. I am Meherim, and I am your Advisor.”

The Mage watched Celeste flute air from her mouth, a soft whistle, a gesture he already understood. She wanted to make a decision. She didn’t feel right, she didn’t like him, but in order to play this bigger game she needed to make a conscious decision. He saw this quality in her and bowed, the blue triangular tattoo glistening like snakeskin. It was why he had chosen to become her advisor: she had the ability to decide her own fate.

Celeste nodded. It was done.

Seeing her decide, there and then before his very eyes, brought a rise to his spirit, like a note that had never before been played in his soul. He immediately acknowledged the vitality of it, which redoubled his rise of spirit. He noticed its formal similarity to the mathix of blessing, and lodged intent to teach her after the day’s events; it would help her during her tests. He made a decision too. “You have witnessed my self-seal, my Princess-Elect. My word and deed match.” He brought his hands together before him and spoke calmly, factually. “And I say, my life is in your hands.”

Despite how she had felt at the start of their conversation, she felt empowered now. That he had so much power over her in such a short time. Through his actions, he had distilled all the social capital amassed at today’s reception, something she had felt as a thickening mist throughout her life, and handed it to her like a glass of water. She felt a strain within her relieved. “Let us continue when I am rested,” she said, suddenly tired.

“There is much to prepare before this evening’s events,” said the Mage Celestsel, bowing. “Factors beyond our vision to contemplate,” he added enigmatically before taking his leave.

As the door closed, she collapsed upon a padded bench. How could she consider things she did not even know? She rubbed her eyes. It was already impossible to keep track of what had been done and said to her. The day was half done and she was exhausted.

Slowly she began to cry. Softly, for the girl she no longer was, and the woman she was to be. 

3d Burax

“Why don’t you go with your father?” said mother. “You used to enjoy birding.”

Father wrapped the bread and cheese and tucked it into his leather satchel, saying nothing. It was not his place to tell his son what to do. Times had changed. Gone were the days that son followed father’s profession. It was hard work rising before the sun, leaving the city, best part of a day to the Edges, then spending a few days kiting and netting. He gruffly gathered up a bottle of wine and tucked it into the satchel. Manual labour, his son had called it. It wasn’t for him, he had said.

The young man yawned and smiled. “Next time,” he said.

“How are you going to eat?” mother asked. “What are you going to do for food?”

“Do I not bring in food for the family?” responded her son.

Mother shrugged and turned away. “That’s not proper food. Only grain.”

The son snorted. It was never going to be enough. She was right, it was mostly grain, but his work brought in a steady supply for his parents, siblings, and other family members. He made more with his work than his father ever had. That’s what stuck in their graw. He yawned and let it pass.

“All you do is lie there, for hours, every day,” said mother, bustling around her son, and tending the pot over the fire. “What do you do, Aric?”

Aric burred through his lips. It had been a long night, and he did not want to enter into this again.

“Leave him, mother,” said father as he paused before the door. Both wife and son looked at him and for a moment he held their gaze, first one then the other. There was acceptance there, for both of them. This was his path, the same as his father’s and his father before him. “He will live with his choices.”

He turned, pulled the latch and ducked under the lintel, his left hand ritually tapping the ward carved into the door jamb. He had carved that when the family had moved to the city, decades past. “Soaring” or “easy flight”, a sign his father had taught him. It had held him in good stead, and hoped it would his son wherever his journey took him.

Mother returned to her pot, preparing the morning porridge. The children would wake soon. The son sat with his head in his hands, his elbows on the tabletop.

“Work is going well,” he said. “There’s a festival approaching and I’ve been called to the Fort.”

Mother continued stirring the pot. She was listening. She didn’t like to needle her son, and so she castigated herself silently. However, there was always a little tension when father embarked on one of his trips alone.

“The family eats well because the roads and walls I maintain,” said the son and receiving no reaction from his mother, added “and the Tower.” Again seeing no reaction, he sighed. “But things are changing. One day they won’t need us.”

Mother stopped stirring for a moment, then continued. Father’s weekly catch was shrinking, he’d been forced to travel further, the flocks had retreated deeper into the mountains. There was always a market for them. People would pay. If their son fell on hard times, he could return to birding, help his father, and they would get by.

Aric sighed and continued to ruminate alone. It was in his nature to work alone, much like his father. The work brought in food, but it was menial. He was one of a dozen burax workers who closed their eyes and invoked mathix to enforce the silver-laid pavements and inlayed walls of the Fortress. Every time a heel hit the ground, the feedback loops of contact had to be maintained accurately. The Royals were used to it, their regular passage around the Fortress reinforced the beautiful walkways and intricately mosaiced walls, the overarching walkways. However, there were always perturbations, new people visiting for the festivities, and a declension of workers laboured tirelessly to ensure the effect persisted consistently, seemlessly. There was a problem, however, one Aric could see though his fellows could not. He had heard rumours from Bizasbuk that the automata were beginning to replace their burax constructists. If burax was automated, the Mages would have no need for them. He needed to specialise. And so, although his job was done for the night, he would rise early in the afternoon and pursue his own interest, clothing overlays, specifically armour inspired, for he had heard a rumour that an Arena was to be established at Bizapul, just like the fabled Arena which existed in Bizagul. Aric didn’t want to do grunt work, he didn’t want to do more rax overlays for buildings. He had only once worked on the famous Glass Tower. His friend had given him an idea, or rather what he was worked on had sparked it: the masqs which the Royals used to beautify themselves. Unlike building burax, masqs were much more refined, the mathix more demanding. He needed to refine his skills.

Mother dropped a bowl of porridge before him, before swaying up the narrow wooden stairs to the upper room. Aric took up a spoon and instead of dipping it into the porridge, he cupped the rising steam and watched the thin swirls dance. Delicate, refined. The masqs were definitely where the money was, currently, but it was a crowded market. He had to differentiate himself, and he believed that his knowledge of feathers would help him stand out from the crowd. Aric had to thank his father for his knowledge of feathers. His father could tell not only a bird’s species from a single feather, but which part of its plummage. He had shown him as a boy how each feather had its unique colour and pattern: the curvature of the central shaft, the vane comprised of barbs, which subdivided into finer barbules, and down to miniscule hairs. This early education was why Aric had been chosen by the Mages. High sensitivity of mind was required even for basic rax work, though he harboured a dream that his intricate feather designs could embellish armour design. Of course the Mages would dominate the Arena with their full-combat displays, but by referencing the Averini Guard, his feathered inlays was a perfect fit. That was the idea, that’s how he could make his money. If he could refine his rax. The mathix was very demanding though. It was like listening to a fine violinist. And just now, Aric was a common day fiddler, his mind suited for the burax of stonework.

He sighed and dipped his wooden spoon into the bowl and pulled out some thick softened oats. The armour was mostly for looks, seeing no active wear. However, with his experience of burax, his armour could be entirely functional in a battle. Although he knew it was wrong for him to hope it, he privately wished that the troubles to the west might increase, for he secretly hoped that it would accelerate the formation of a rax army. It was a private hope, shared by him and a few his more imaginative friends. They had predicted it when they were children, but as yet it had not happened. Nevertheless, if the rumours turned out to be true, and the troubles in the west were unnatural monsters from Everdark, their best defence would be rax warriors. And they would need armour like his.

A child’s piercing cry knifed through the ceiling planks, his youngest brother no doubt. The place was due for an upgrade too. If his parents saw what he built in the Fortress, perhaps they would pay him a little more respect. It would mean everything to them, but to the Royals it meant next to nothing. The Royals walked the silver-laid streets, below the elegant golden archways, the flower scented roads, and they paid no mind. Their children grew up not knowing what lay beneath Aric’s overlays. They did not see or smell or touch the rancid streets Aric had grown up in, his parents had grown up in, and their parents before them. His parents would not escape from this brutish world. This reality was deeply sunk into their bones.

He was halfway through the porridge. One day he would eat what the Royals ate. It was no doubt the same gruel, but it tasted like ambrosia. He knew the burax chefs. Like him, they were the sons of bakers and pastry chefs, who had been trained in basic mathix to provide rax more delightful than anything they could fashion out of raw grains, course vegetables, and carcasses of animals. Perhaps when they are living in a palace, completely surrounded by luxurious rax, might their parents accept what they did. Every citizen of Bizapul living in a palace. It’s why he had devoted nearly a decade of his life to it, ever since he was a boy. He had only been in the Fortress a handful of times, so why call for him today? What special event would they be wanting for the festivities?

As he licked his spoon clean, Aric heard the clatter from above as children gamboled heavily down the stairs. His brothers and sisters would only have a distant memory of the poor conditions of their upbringing, while his own children would grow up in a world where they wouldn’t know any different. They would be Royals. All of them, Ashitland Royals.

1a Reprise

“I give you my word,” said Celeste. “As Princess-Elect, Haradan to the Pharohim, the city of Bizapul shall be returned to its rightful owner, the Adukwe, their Royal Guard reinstated.”

Ubarak nodded as he rose from his couch. He circled the table fixed in the center of the room, probably the largest on the landship, while his Mage remained implacable in the corner, his three grey-garbed attendents discretely behind. He stopped before Celeste and began to raise his face as  she realised that they had not actually had eye-contact. They looked into one another’s eyes.

“Why this sudden change of heart?” he asked, and began to admire the movement of her mind in response.

She felt his presence, calm like a great mountain lake, deep in repose. She felt like an insect buzzing over its surface, a faint reflection of her self in his eyes.

“And why the change of apparel?” he asked, appraising her well-worn leathers, suitable more for a barab than a Royal Lady.

Celeste felt the beating of her heart, her breath in her lungs and she returned to herself, here in his mobile palace, talking with His Lord Ubarak of Ring Toloese.

“There is much to explain, My Lord,” she said and presented herself. From the moment their eyes had met, an answer had been drawn from his first question and then she had returned to herself. It had been the best part of a year since Celeste had felt the subtle and seductive immersion in the magic of the Solozo presence. And yet she was predisposed to politely ignore the invitation of his second question and return to the cause of her being before him. Having collected herself, she presented her own intent.

Ubarak admired her sensitivity and courage, but considered the possibility that Celeste was slavishly following her own will, that she was in fact behaving mindlessly. Was she ignoring a level of sensitivity between them and merely being bullish with her own concerns? It was expected, after all, she was Gal. So he waited, standing before her, his steady gaze upon her eyes.

Only now did she feel she met him. He was actually waiting on her. It was like she had delivered a message, something written, something externalised, and he had received it. And rather than read the message, the receiver, this Lord whoever-he-was, was ignoring it! He was looking at the messenger, looking back at Celeste. Ubarak remained gazing into her eyes, not in an invasive way, just awaiting at the edge of her self. Attending to her patiently.

This all happened in a flash. Their gaze lingered in this way for a couple of seconds at most, and she knew without it dawning in her consciousness: in this direction, love.

Ubarak confered with his Mage silently, then: “I can see you are here, naked of pretence, dressed in your true colours,” he said, a smile playing on his lips. “Then let us meet as equals,” and he gestured with his hand: his visage fazed before her, his face now showing its age, his hair thinning to grey and his eyes softening as his masq dissipated.

“I believe the conflict between us is misplaced,” began Celeste. She admired his grace as he offered her wine then resumed his seat, the elegance in how he moved his head and laid eyes upon her once again as he rested into the chair. Everything calculated yet natural, an exceedingly well cultivated Solozo Lord. “A greater threat faces us all, and it is not the barab. If my son and the heir of the Pharohim is to inherit anything, then my first priority is to my people, that all Gal may survive this threat. We are not our enemy. Our annihilation at your hands will serve little purpose.”

“Well said,” said Ubarak softly. “However, if you are here to tell me of the monsterous enemies gathering at the edges of Everdark, I already know.” He smiled, and with a magesterial apologetic air never witnessed in a Solozo Lord, he added: “I know, for I started it.”

1 Regarding Orx

The manifestation of the Orx may constitute the single greatest danger to our world. This can not be over emphasised. Anyone who witnessed the events known as the Overcast will testify to the horrors unleashed upon them that day, marking their souls forever. First hand accounts from Bizapul amongst other cities speak of a dark day boiling with the humours of hatred and fear, with friend attacking friend, families enraged in blood feud, neighbours tearing each another apart with their bare hands and nothing sharper than their teeth… a day which sullied the spirit of a generation of children and curdled the blood of the most hard-hearted of Royal Guard. Nobody was left unscathed.
Although that event passed only once in the extended memories of our historian annals, it should not be treated as an isolated or freak occurrence. Rather it was the high tide of a storm yet to come. The Meherim have long been aware of the darkness rising in the west, but to its full extent we have been ignorant. The day of Overcast brought the darkness to the shores of the Empire, and its shadow cast long into the homeland. It is not impossible to consider the Overcast may swell once again, and its reach may extend further such that the Pharohim may see His skycity unfounded and its citizens razed to a rubble of broken minds.
The Meherim have known of the threat from the West for many years, but our progress in understanding has been pitiful. Reflection in the Crystal Lake has revealed the significant progress made by independents, albeit idiosyncratic and untempered by formal practice. Information is being consolidated, cross-referenced, and a picture is beginning to emerge. What we know for definite is that the Orx has intensified at the fringes of the Empire, across all Outer Reaches simultaneously. What has first come to the Seven Valleys is now being seen across other Gal territories, and replicated across Rone, Zu and Agrahal provinces. Unlike the day of Overcast, it is a constant presence. Crops spoil, livestock sicken and die, and men turn upon themselves. It erodes the wellbeing of civilisation, and makes dwelling together impossible in cities or towns or even villages. In common terms, lands infected by this unholy plague are commonly known as Shadowlands, a buffer zone before the Underlands where the Orx multiply rampantly and where men fear to tread.
And what we know for certain is that these Shadowlands are expanding, encroaching into the Outer Reaches and if unchecked, will expand to the boundary of the homeland within our lifetime — sooner given additional Overcast events. It is for this reason that a division of Meherim have been formed under the auspices of the venerable and wise Exarch Arkon, the Necrons whose sole task is to nullify the plague and innoculate us against the worst behaviours of another Overcast event.
Individual monks and wizards, as well as mendicant meherim, have conducted forays into the Shadowlands to investigate the Orx. Accounts are varied and will require time for sorting and validation. Meanwhile expeditions are being mounted not only in rax form empowered through the amplification of the Crystal Lake but also physically in person to capture atarax in their native habitat. All spiritual warriors must be fortified against the powerful psychotropics which characterise these Shadowlands. Meherim inspired by the call are welcome to participate, but only the strongest may join the ranks of the Necron. Even well trained meherim can be snuffed out in an instant or their minds turned in the presence of the more powerful Orx. Despite the trickling down of low state garsu into the general populace and the correlating math to empower them, meherim training still requires years to complete. We must be careful we do not squander our reserves at this early outset, in case an all-out state of war comes to pass. The Meherim must retain its numbers for future encounters. For those who have the stomach for it, may the uncompromising reflection upon death in the placid expanse of the Crystal Lake invert their mind to become Necron practioners.
What has been gleaned so far about the Orx is that it is chaotic, unruly, anarchic, full of the darker sides of human motivation, a seething mass of ill-intent. Anger, contempt, anxiety, disgust, envy are its constant emotional state, a cesspit of feelings which eats away within it in many and varied hideous forms. Witnessed by common folk as goblins, trolls, wraiths, all forms of horror once imagined in fairytales now made real. Currently their ability to organise is poor, no form of togetherness is possible beyond the species and even within species they fight amoungst themselves. Which makes the day of the Overcast that much more unlikely. It has been postulated that what made the Overcast possible was a concerted effort across a legion of dark forces which pulled at the rotten parts of mens souls and gave rise to their wild behaviours, worse than animals truth by told. What appears to be influencing it, like a magnet around filings, is greed and avarice, the selfish sense of taking, an insatiable sense of stealing from others, an unholy pit fathomless in its appetite. It is recognised that this sense has been growing within man from the dawn of time, or at least when man set stone and brick to build cities. And it has been postulated there is a correlation between how we lead our lives and the manifestation of Orx. If so, it may be that Orx have been collecting in Everdark for thousands of years and may even explain how the ancients came to an end. Expeditions into the Underlands and into Everdark might verify the many and varied hypotheses being proposed, but who might be willing to risk themselves in such foolhardy endevours? Searching for origins of the Orx is of academic interest. We face more pressing concerns.
What may explain the phenomenal growth of Orx over recent years? Here we have disconcerting evidence that the Meherim itself has been instrumental in its acceleration. Rax vapour, or leakage. Just as garsu dust leaked in the waters from garsu mines have led to the discovery of living clay, the base material for the formation of golem, so there is a side-effect of rax. That whenever we manifest rax, a little evaporates and is flung around the world as fine mist, finer than dust, and it accumulates and coalesces as the substance of Orx. There are some esteemed colleagues who posit something more precise and even more disturbing: that the exercises of azrax gives rise to Orx directly. In fact, though it may pain us to acknowledge it and especially by my colleagues, the earliest proponent of this hypothesis is the disohonoured exile Grad-hacr’ash, whose subsequent investigations are unknown to us either because he is dead or because he has shielded his garsu from resonance with the Crystal Lake.
As is fundamental to garsu operation, azrax nullifies rax, utile in the inhibition of unwanted rax, the manifestation of unwanted feelings and thoughts made real, subconscious tendencies which if unchecked spoil any rax. Absolutely necessary when working with untrained minds as many in our order are employed to do, fulfilling the fanciful imaginings of so many royals. The azrax practices are less required within our own ranks, but even the azrax of the honed and perfected order of azmeherim, those stone-minded bulwarks who are feared even amongst our order, the azrax practices contain inherent misapplication: that is, these subconscious rax have in fact been banished, and not vanquished as first thought. It may be these noxious rax vapours have been fueling the growth of Orx for decades. And should any reject this hypothesis offhand, it has been verified by Guise. We still do not have replicable proof. Investigations are being conducted and once azrax practices have been purified, the stemming of this leakage of rax will slow the growth of Orx. However, with the increased number of common minds operating lower state garsu, whatever reduction in leakage on our part as Meherim will be dwarfed by the increasing amount of leakage from lesser minds. It is a problem we can not solve within ourselves, as Meherim, nor stem the spread of garsu abuse; we may only pray for deliverance by Machus.
A final consideration, and it is this: the force of greed and avarice which drove the Overcast may exist in one, singular entity. A powerful entity capable of uniting the division of Orx, as much as the sun unites all living things. We have already lost several respected Meherim elders to its investigation. Its psychic gravity is too strong, capable of bending primary attention and turning the mind; as a consequence, more indirect methods are being developed. We have bound this psychic hole with the ward Manx. The word barely protects those who utter it. It has the potential to bring utter destruction to all that man has built, it might see civilisation brought down and all barbaroi slaughtered, its hatred of the human spirit so great as to burn out the heart of any man who witnesses it unprotected. And in the face of this unholy enemy, even the kindest of souls cower. Demonstrating mercy merely excites more hatred and anger, such is the deep extent of its mindrot. There is no appeasing Manx. Having grown for centuries or millennia in the Everdark, the rising darkness in the west may only be countered by the rising our saviour, Machus. Only Machus may have the power to unite and protect us, and purge man’s soul of this wicked plague.

0c Forethought

The Blue Circle Binding; Chronologue of the Venerable Sage Kirsus of the Hazad, Meherim Exarch, Specialist of Sang-Garsu Axim

Forethought by Venerable Sage Kirsus

We can not escape the social fabric within which we find ourselves. This is as true for Onen as it is for me, or any of the unique threads we relive. We are all embedded within our social fabric. The material before you suffers from the same constraint, but I would like the opportunity to delineate the specific challenges facing someone in my line of work for the benefit of Onen and specifically Machus: how individual narratives are selected and edited, such as the Purple Thread The Almanac of the First Princess-Elect, Celeste of House Adriane, and composed within social narratives such as Beginnings, First Volume of the End of Civilisation, works for which I am mostly responsible. This is an honest work in progress, as it were.

We may follow the thread of an individual as it weaves itself through the tapestry of life. Each individual may run in alignment with others, or contrary to them, or work at cross-purposes. Be aware that we can no more isolate an individual thread than we can alter our history as it has happened. Nevertheless, in the retelling of our lives, a live weaving can change our perception of what has passed, and thus a new future may be knit. Correctly speaking, it is the knitting together of our future projections that forms our history. Always, it is our future orientation and projection which lays down the social fabric that is true history. As every aduherim knows, our mental appreciation of the past is a fanciful thing, as much a future thing as anything else we can imagine. It is our job as meherim, of course, to bring an accuracy to what we understand to have happened, just as single sangaxims are interpolated to form a mutual xanaxim. Or in the common tongue, threading several psychological realities approximating a coherent social Reality, as we have done with the Purple Thread and the Book of Beginnings.

With the advent of the Blue Mountain, or the Crystal Lake as it is more frequently termed since its discovery, we have been granted wide ranging access to all fixed garsu, and wide-spread access to all but the most securely locked records. The Black Thread is probably the best example of these private threads: only a precursor axim of the exhile Gradhacr is currently available to us since he has subsequently developed the techniques to secure his mindstream; as a consequence we can only follow the threads of those who find themselves on his so-called Black Pilgrimage, and before they fall under his shadow. But we face a more pressing issue than self-sealed records: the sheer quantity of mindstreams we have access to. Sifting through such a plethora of experience is overwhelming for the singular attention of mortals. We may take some succour from the arrival of Machus, soon may He manifest, and in the meantime accelerate atarax with multiple primary attention processing. We may progress in leaps and bounds over the next decade, but at the time of laying my thoughts down here and now, we are but ants crawling over the fabric of a multidimensional fabric with as many dimensions as people. What may we then do? How best may we proceed to not only record history, but to be alive to the future as it is formed? Such thoughts must give us pause.

A few notices. Firstly, fazing with concurrent experience. Our subjectivity is ever present-minded and future-orientated. Never shall we engage the past, and as already mentioned, we may only recreate our history as future clothing, ill-fitting at the best of times. Our intention is not to agree on some fixed past whether lived ten years ago or a hundred, but that we are accurate in the current fixing of our history as we proceed into the future. That is, we are clear in the concurrent mutual experiencing of garsu gazing, the knitting of live listening or its inferior form of deep reading. In all cases, and with more precision: within the bead of our pre-conscious attention. As I am fond of telling my students, our work is not based on the objects which are brought out of the mindless darkness by the shining of a lantern, but the mechanism within the lantern and yet outwith the actual burning of the wick. We may never enter within the burning of consciousness itself, but with diligent training we have revealed the mechanism of mind that gives image to the eye and sound to the ear; the navigation and genus of concept; the binding of feeling to intention and purpose; and the dynamics of intra-social being. All this, before we know it, as it were. Not as object of attention, but as it is experienced. Only in this way can the Blue Circle Binding make sense, and indeed any of the deeper states of the Threads and Books be fazed.  

Secondly, the problem of metaphor. The basis of narrative and common communication amongst the masses is the illusion of movement via a message. One speaks, and relays information, to another. From A to B, so it is erronously thought. The false understanding that something is being conveyed, which lends itself to the sequence of logic from premise to conclusion, and unfortunately the endless hunt for meaning which takes up so many of our scholars in this world and all worlds. Of course, it is such a pervasive model of understanding that it does becomes true — as a social fact — and we are thus trapped in the second-order or dis-order of inter-subjective communication. In as much as it has become a social reality, the A-to-B fallacy is real. And in this modus of communication, of linear narrative, of A then B then C and so on, it is understandable that metaphor reigns. What can not be put to words easily, adopts a parallel relationship within another language set. Speaking and listening is like a toddler throwing a ball to a play partner who catches it. The lion-hearted Guard of the Pharohim. And so on. Metaphor. But metaphor is not what we do. The experience is direct, to witness presently.

These two notices highlight our primary goal as meherim: to engage directly with the concurrency of intra-social communion. Where one talker is subsumed to the importance of multiple, simultaneous listeners. It is not what is said but what is heard that is important. Or, in its archaic form of text, it is not what is written but what is read that matters. Rax is direct manipulation of mind. Concurrently. In following this garsu sangaxim volume, our mind is active. The alignment of the follower’s mind to my mind depends on proficiency of training, aptitude, confidence — at this moment, live. The experience is fixed in the garsu, unchangeable, timeless. And yet, of course, your mind is live, the rax of your experience is entirely true, accounting for the discrepencies between our temporal and cultural social fabrics. Within axim, as with fine listening or deep reading, concurrency is everything. No delay, no message being conveyed. No logic. No linear sequence arriving at a conclusion: first this object of thought, now that object of thought, and therefore a conclusive object of thought; none of that. Instead, only with our pre-conscious thought in resonance, as the lens of our lantern, so mutual journeying is enabled. At least for as long as we align intent.

Of course, this exercise is not limited to garsu and rax projection, whether axim, atarax or imit, or indeed the garsu dust of golem or ta’u. Fine listening, open-hand martial arts or the danceforms of gotan, the synchronisation of improvised music or theatre, responsive play in sport or strategy games — these experiences all contain the engagement of mind within pre-conscious limits. But nowhere is this stronger than in the wonder of garsu rax.

A lesser form of this is well known to the common conjurer, the non-meherim independents who manipulate imaginations with word, politic with thought-play, and stoke feeling with their crude charicatures and venal dramas. All imaginary, of course. All object of thought, or worse, for the light of consciousness evokes shadows from genuine objects within their field of sense to caste shadows in their own minds, and it is this shadow-play which entertains so many. And so, they react to these shadows as if they are real, when they are just figments of their own imaginations. Mistaking these apparitions as real, so they react and in their reactance is social reality. And so they argue about history, kingdoms, money, myths, injustices, and everything that comes to mind, without addressing the truth of any of it. Like dogs forever chasing their tails. A sad lot, to be sure.

As meherim, rax is pure. There is no mis-taking of mental objects. The mental object is the rax. There is no sense source to it, no shadow. Of course, we have evolved various overlaying and underlaying techniques, but this is splitting hairs: the projection of rax to enhance a sensory object, or to improve a person’s sensory matrix, is not relevant. There is no con-fusion: there is rax, and there is sensory-sourced objects. Admittedly the meherim have evolved a high fidelity service to royal houses; to service lords and ladies, princes and princesses, with fanciful treats to delight their senses, and indeed even the grand schemes of the Pharohim to build a city in the sky may be considered of the same fantastic ilk. Our deeper purpose remains central: conscious union, manifest fully in the holy union with — and of —  Machus. Our awareness is but worm-like to His Consciousness which is to come.

A final note to aid us in our journey together: I am well aware of the multiplicity of worlds, that we exist in one of many, and that in this universe of worlds there is a special place of the Onen or Onus. This is not my realm of expertise, and would heartily recogmend the Tricord Volume for further eludication of this rich contextualisation of our own social fabric within a greater tapestry. I only mention this to acknowledge that I am aware of the Onen amongst us, and that our awareness and acknowledgement is all that is required at this stage.

With this being said, and in danger of belabouring what is no doubt already known, what is laid down to follow is a summary of the current state of play regarding the Empire of Urb, the Pharohim and the rising of what is now known as Orx in the west; meherim practices in its diversity and potential future course over this next critical period in human history; and some more abstruse discussion on the ancients which may or may not be related to the aforementioned Onen. I will pick out a few threads which deserve attention, and invite active fellows to pursue, address, and highlight threads and social patches of this period which may bring greater elucidation of our immanent future, people and events which may lead directly or indirectly to the acceleration or deceleration of the apotheosis of our purpose.

May those who pass this way constitute a blessing to the thought-being-action of Machus, Who may in turn bless all who pass here.

1 Listen

Listen.

You’ve heard it all before.

Whether the fabril arrogance of know-it-all adolescents fresh-skins, or the seen-it-done-it confidence of mid-life in-betweeners, or the silent heard-it-all-before of jaded age-old wrinklers — listen to what you have forgotten.

As children you experienced it truly. Now listen and bring your knowing to it.

Before letters and words, sentences and paragraphs and chapters, before books and libraries, there was wording. Listen, then, to this wording as it spills from mouth and pools in the air and laps at so many ears as are present.

Wording is not speaking, then hearing. Wording is the same moment of speaking as listening, as both occur simultaneously. Listen. At this very moment, the only present moment, as we surf through time and navigate, celebrate, and share… meaning.

Are we here? It is not a matter of location. Not one of physical location, at least. There is no movement through space. And yet, something changes. We are travelling, ever travelling, and can not stop. Let me indicate the motion of our travel.

[Pause]

And again. Let me indicate the motion of our travel.

[Pause]

Though no distance is covered, we may experience our passing. In time.

[Pause]

Wording synchronises our mutual movement through time. Enjoyed solo as a cycle ride or together in a bus, as close to us as a black beetle crawling over a bricked wall, its black carapace ribbed and rough as the back of our thumbnail, or as from a plane’s window the landscape draped below us like an intricately woven tablecloth, the line of the horizon given a curve of the globe.

Word, apparrently, follows word. Words compile statements, followed by other statements, simple or complicated, as picturesque a journey, or as plain an argument, as the words articulate, paired-up like an articulate lorry, or chained together like carriage compartments in a train. Train… crash! With meaning or feeling, addressed to mind or heart, heard by mind or heart or soul, so much more than vibrations in the air, a cold signal from me to you, a bare scientific explanation of frequencies.

Wording, in this momenting right now, has many beginnings and many endings. Why are we listening? What purpose we did set out with? Even before hearing a single word? And what remains after the last word is spoken? What may revisit our mind later, tomorrow or in years to come?

What power is invested in this wording for it to escape the confines of this moment, this subtle, thin… fragile… quality which we trace through time together…?

The spelling of a word. W. O. R. D. The spell that is wording. Not captured in a word, but through the mixture of sounds between gaps, phrases spoken with clear intent, unspooling a thread of meaning, like a spider’s silk across and between, and in our minds a web, finer than any spider’s silk, more fragile, and yet may last a lifetime.

Not the words, not the written form, for words have been passed down for centuries and we are none the wiser. Words sealed on paper as solidly as inscribed on ancient stone, pictograms still visible from egyptian masons three thousand years ago. Words may be exhumed from the tomb of books, made living in mind and rewording by priests. So we may be re-minded of what was said, and what may be lost. We hold on to these words, the dearest words contained in holy books, so we do not lose the spirit of those who have passed away. And yet, in our grasping, in our evocation of their long-passed spirit, we can not catch their breath… only as subtle and passing as our own.

Something is lost in the transliteration of wording to words. In the defferential handing over of words from generation to generation. Or the passing of words from one person to a single other person. They match, these two, and bind us to a way of living which misses the essence of life. Between the spelling of the word and its transference, is loss. The loss of which is separating us, isolating us, and killing us.

In the breaking down of meaning into meaningless elements, cyphers, letters, characters, in the religious enforcement of words and sentences, in the utter defference to the genius of Shakespear or Newton, the insight of Jesus or Mohammad, and in the emphasis of importance on the speaker… there is loss.

The dead have their place. Long may the work of Shakespeare and Newton live on, and may the holy word of our ancestors bring light to the darker corners of our souls. In our reading. In our listening. But given the loudness of the world, the market we have made of the world… how can we hear… anything of value?

And so, we return to this.

[Pause]

The only thing which may repair us.

[Pause]

Silence. And even the weight of a single word breaks it.

[Pause]

And yet, in our listening repose, we may appreciate silence.

[Pause]

For as we listen, we are not speaking. We are silent, in our listening.

[Pause]

Here is the power which lives only as far as we manifest it. The power of silence in our listening, attentive, and clear, and present-minded. Sensitive, because we are not undergoing the effort of wording. Receptive. Responsive. Here is the secret power of wording. And should we manifest it well, together, our salvation.

[Pause]

Not the power of words, build brick by brick to form the institutions we have formed around us, the banks and their charters, the governments and their constitutions, the religions and their holy books. Not spelled out. Objectified. Commerce and trade has spread us to all corners of the world, and at the same time separated us. The age-old market where one benefits at the loss of another, repeated for three thousand years, have created a pyramid as solid as the Egyptian tombs, with the havenots at the bottom and the excessively wealthy at the top. The complex maze that we have made for ourselves where we don’t know the lives of our neighbours and our parents grow old alone, strangers amidst strangers. And the stronger our communities, the more distinct from others, whether football fans or religious adherents, race or gender, politics or like-minded groups. Placing a word on us, calling ourselves Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, Liberal or Conservative or Socialist or Capitalist, gay or straight or bi or trans or gender-fluid, binds us and simultaneously separates us.

[Pause]

Words bind and separate the world. The spelling of words and their transmission over time, has created the civilised world lasting thousands of years, and for all its wealth and wonder, we live separated in our schools and at work and in our cities, eeking out our own tiny corner of privacy.

[Pause]

We are miraculous, there’s no doubt about it. Each one of us. Each of us is a corner of the universe aware of itself. In the vastness of a billion billion stars, on this little ball of mud, here we are, blinking and breathing, aware of it. Miraculous.

For here is the most important aspect of our listening. It is done presently.

[Pause]

And there is no cap to it. Whether two of us, or a thousand of us, the wording of simultaneous speaking and listening, is but a moment passing through time… Whether a million or a billion of us, our momenting takes the same time.

[Pause]

This momenting can bear the weight of two of us or ten billion of us listening together.

[Pause]

This silence can bear all of us, if we attend to it together.

[Pause]

Of course, we are not ready for it. We are bombarded by noise. By so many messages. So much technology, so many leaders, talkers, so much noise. So much to listen to already. So much information being conveyed. So many words, good words, wise words even, the best words which have been written, and are to be written. Binding and dividing us.

[Pause]

And so… we return to what is happening here… return to what each of us experienced when we were children, toddlers, in the smiling eyes of wordless babies. Shared attention. Bring to bear your knowing to this. Remember this way of listening.

1 Meherim Exploring

“I don’t know,” said the old woman, “don’t ask me!”

“I am asking you,” emphasised the man with a smile. “You are the only person who knows what is going on in your own head!”

The old woman laughed because it was true. Her son’s meherim had been asking her simple sums, three and seven, nine and six, and had stumped her with a complicated one, forty three and sixteen. She persisted and had answered correctly, for which she was very pleased. It had been decades since she had need of using sums, teaching her grandchildren perhaps, and she was surprised that should could remember any of it so distant was her childhood lessons. And then he had asked her how she had done it! Whatever could he mean?!

“It just came to me,” she snapped, exasperated at such a question.

“On the contrary, you had to work at it,” countered the man. “I am interested in what you are doing in your mind.”

“Nothing, I tell you,” barked the old woman. Though she was annoyed, it was more at herself. Secretly, she was enjoying it. The mage had lived by her son’s side his entire adult life, his Pungent Shadow she called him, or just Pungent. He had that same cold temperance he always had, give her chills. Now, with his attention upon her, she could actually feel the benefit of his indifference: he did not waver. Her annoyance, which pricked at her from rise to fall, did not seem to disturb him as it did her servants and family. She could tell they did not enjoy her presence, and the feeling was mutual. She’d rather sit alone in the garden, not so much to admire the birds, trees or clouds as others seemed to, but just to be alone, brooding over her life, imagining the lives she could have led if she had made decisions for her own life.

 “Your job is to describe what is going on in your head as easily as you can describe how many fingers I am holding up, which fingers on which hand,” said the mage.

“Three on your left and two on your right,” said the old woman.

“Just like that, but with what is going in your head. I don’t want to hear any more of your not knowing, giving up and so on. You are the only person who knows, which is why I am asking.”

“What about your garsu magic,” asked the old woman.

“Lady Carmin, the garsu gives me some insight into what you have thought, it is true. I know when what you say does not match what you are actually doing. But there are deterioriations according to age which interfere with how thoughts are laid down in the structure of the crystal. Hence I am asking you questions and it is your job to answer at the best of your ability.”

“Alright, alright,” clucked the old maid. She had never pretended to understand what the arts of the Meherim were. She was content to call him mage or magician, which annoyed her son, and admittedly she drew some pleasure from experiencing the various plays which the garsu unspooled in her mind, a marvellous magic. She would spend hours of her day reliving the most fanciful dramas, murder and intrigue amongst lords and ladies, the myths of translucent angels and blood dragons, and the political histories of her own house and those of competing houses. She had not experienced anything like it when she was a child, it was all tapestries and puppet shows back then. She had learned to read and write, and basic numbers, but most of the stories she learned were word of mouth, recounted by the most able storytellers her father invited to their home. The xan-garsu performances were entirely captivating, easily consumed, though admittedly recently she had difficulty remembering the names of characters, and losing track of why they were behaving as they did midway through a story. Her broken memory was affecting the drama of it, and as a consequence the plays were starting to lose their appeal. Which brought her to increased annoyance generally because she had to spend more time in the real world which was dull and repetitive to a fault. 

“So no more backing off, no more don’t knows. I ask, you answer. Do you understand?” pressed the mage, smiling. “Have some more tea.”

She laughed and carefully placed the cup to her lips. It was a trail she was used to, since her shaking made the cup tremble and the contents would threaten to leap from the brim. It was miraculous that as the cup came closer to her face, so close it was out of focus and below her line of sight, she could feel it settle against her lip and she could sip slow and calmly. But she still had to place a cloth on her lap because as she removed the cup from her lips the trembling would resume and accidental splashings were becoming more common. Age, she thought ruefully, the great leveller. Great or lower house, solozo or gal or barbaroi, we are all reduced to the same. Except the Pharohim, except Him, she thought with a mixture of awe and envy. 

The meherim resumed asking arithmetic questions, which brought an unaccustomed sharpness to her mind. She was thankful for that so let him proceed.

1 Merdis

“I want to learn. Teach me.” The young man addressed the old man.

“I am not the right person. I am no teacher.”

“But you know things, you can do things.”

The old man shook his head. “I can no longer ‘do things’. I used to be able to, perhaps, when I was younger, but not any longer.”

“I am young. Teach me what you know, and I will continue from where you left off.”

The old man looked away over the trees.

They were sitting on a grassy knoll beneath the cover of a tree, above the roots in the soil. The boy had somehow found him. Searching the land, he had said, seeking a master. The old man breathed long and deep and remembered the garden he once tended, the multicoloured flowers he had gathered from all around the world. So long ago, purpose long forgotten.

“The student makes the teacher,” said the young man.

“I am too old. I lost the path. Not so long ago, perhaps, but even a hair’s width from it is a million miles.”

It was true. Another lost soul. It was as if he had spent all his life living in the city, and all he ever knew was of the city, the streets, the shops, who to go to get food, where to work, where his friends lived. Friends… And here he was, outside of the city, useless. None of that knowledge mattered. None of the living mattered.

“You have lived most of your life in a city, haven’t you?” asked the old man.

“Some. And some in the forest. I have spent time living under trees. I have lore of plants and animals, though not much.”

“And your learning?”

“Stone and woodcraft, building, engineering. I know how to build a house.”

“Better than me, then. I live in a cave,” said the old man. It was true. He lived alone in a cave. He didn’t know how to build a house. He hardly knew how to take care of himself. He had spent all his life in service to others, and now he was serviceless.

“I will build you a house,” said the young man, “if you teach me what you know.”

The old man turned his eye to him skeptically. “A house?”

“Fit to live in over winter. Right here.”

The young man was genuine in his offer, the old man could see that. “How do you know I have something worthy to share?”

“You have lived your life. You are old. That should be worthy enough. You have learned from Meherim, and you were Gal like me. The Meherim guard their gates jealously.”

So the boy knows something about me. “I was a child when I learned. You are too old.”

“But did you have one of these,” said the young man and lifted up a pea-sized crystal between them.

The old man sighed and put out his hand. “No, no I didn’t.” The young man dropped the crystal onto his palm and the old man brought it close to his face. He had seen a few in his life, more towards the end of it. They were becoming more common, even out here in the Reaches.

“It is almost completely solid,” remarked the old man and quickly handed it back.

“I have others. That is the largest,” said the young man placing the crystal inside a small leather pouch. He tentatively held out the pouch.

The old man sighed deeply, ignored the offered pouch. “We are both too old, we do not have the materials. Even if I were to teach you what I knew, I have not worked garsu for many years.”

“I do not need you to cast spells. Only to share what you learned.” The young man offered the pouch again.

Before taking the pouch, the old man spread out his robe. The young man quickly stretched to his pack and after rummaging around pulled out a leather panel. The old man took the pouch and panel, layed the leather on his legs and carefully shook the contents of the pouch gently into the hollow of his palm. There were an assortment of crystals, most of them the size of ears of wheat, some smaller, and the largest one he had already seen. “One is unfixed, the rest are fixed, most are solid.” He carefully poured them back into the pouch.

“And this,” said the young man, handing him a glass phial.

The old man frowned and took it. He held it up to the light and shifted it and saw the multicoloured grains within. Garsu dust. He handed it back to the young man.

“And this,” said the young man, with enthusiasm. His last offering, thought the old man. Baiting me with treasures. What could this be? Another glass phial, smaller than the last, filled with liquid.

He turned it in the air before him. Green liquid, similar viscosity to water. “Teach me,” he said. “What is this?”

“Ink,” said the young man. “Garsu ink,” and smiled.

“Is that so?” said the old man and considered it. He had never heard of it. The garsu must be even finer. Soluble dust. Clever Meherim. Rare, by the way the boy was attending it. He handed the phial back.

“I will give it you. If you are the teacher, the materials are yours. You will be able to practice with it.”

The old man snorted as way of a laugh. “And you, boy, do you you think you have a way with magic?”

“No, not at all,” admitted the young man. “But I learned my numbers and the way of reading.”

“Numbers, eh? Well, we’ll change that soon enough,” he said. And that was that. 

After a silence, the young man wondered: “So… does that mean you will take me on as your student?”

The old man looked over the valley south to the rising hills far in the distance, beyond which was the dual capital of Seven Valleys, Upper and Lower Tapton. Clear blue sky, beautiful day. Clouds would come, but today seemed like a good day to embark on the journey, perhaps the last in life.

“I will be slow. It will take a while to remember. And it will be incomplete.”

“I don’t mind. I have all the time in the world,” replied the young man enthusiastically.

“You will be slower. You will have to piece it together yourself. How well you do depends on your purpose. How it gives rise to your intention, how strong a conviction you have, how much of a pull your purpose has on your soul.” The old man turned to the young man, looked into his eyes. “Understand?”

The young man nodded.

The old man repeated his question, and the young man said, “I understand.”

“Good. I look forwarding to learning what reason brough you here, and what purpose will take you away.” The old man returned his gaze to the horizon. “Don’t blame me. I am just like the sky, the trees, this hillock we are sitting on, the ants that crawl over it. We are like two stones who have rolled up here on this hillock. Like the garsu, one solid, one clear. Understand that, and we’ll both learn something.”

1 First

[Story]

“Has the working happened?”

Silence was the response. No answer. I am lord of my domain, all that I survey is beholden to me, my vassals shrink in terror at my presence, afraid of answering a simple question. “If failure is happening, vanquishing you is in the not.”

“Happening is partial, my God,” came the reply.

Progress, finally. “Further the detail.”

“Only a thin slice, my God, lasting barely seconds. Fractional meaning. Incomplete presence. Insufficient to sustain.”

How long would it take? How many attempts by these insects?

Intensification of presence not because of magnitude or force but proximity. Two minds… two people…? Voices, not heard, but certainly communication between these two. And an internal mentality to one — the one I can sense the inside of, has more force to it than the other, and it has moved closer, has intensified.

Like an internal explosion, instant psychic decompression. Gone.