The Clockwork Cosmos
The Silent Sphere
A Powderpunk Faerie Tale in Six Parts
Book I of VI
Seven Sons for Seven Sisters
The Chorus speaks:
Come with me to the clockwork cosmos, where natural laws are defaced by the workings of magic and by the machinations of gods and godlings. A sphere no farther across than in our own world would fit within the orbit of Mercury that fleetest of planets. Within this place 14 recalcitrant deities were sent to learn lessons on how to reign over a universe, and outgrow their selfish lusts. In seven suns were placed seven gods, and in seven spheres placed seven goddesses, with the ferryman of death to watch over them.
In this time knights still cling to their lance, and go on quests for their fair ladies ensconced in their towers, but it is a passing age. Instead, younger orders vie for supremacy: new kings, new houses of merchant power, and new men, armed with firearms. Magery of all kinds is loosed on the world: with alchemists mixing subtle compounds, sorcerers and thaumaturges altering the course of events, summoners calling dark and bright spirits, witches using craft to hone the outcomes. Swords are still crossed, but pistols and hackbuts blare in battle, cresting smoke and flash to hurl their shot that rends the flesh.
In this cosmos souls struggle to be born, whether in the smallest living thing, or born in great mortal bodies: dragons, monsters, men, and animals. They strive to give themselves a place in the after life that will weigh upon the fate of the worlds. They count spiritual coin as much as they do the chips of metal that are currency in the breathing world. All is woven with the fights of little godlings, who grow fat on worship of their followers, and give small tokens to those that hold their little faith.
Each sphere dances on a complex weave, around the seven suns, and each season is made by which sun holds the attention of a sphere, and casts his influence to make night and day. At times, at times, at times, a conjunction allows a god and goddess to incarnate, and there engage in orgy of their divine desires. From these unions come the moons that circle round the spheres.
The spheres are close, and by powerful alchemy, ships may sail the ether winds, amongst the creatures that live between them, navigating the swirls and shoals, but only in short leaps, and at very narrow times.
In this cosmos the gods and goddesses chatter, endlessly flirting and hoping to arrange their favored unions at favored times, they have learned little in the epoch that they have spent in this prison.
The story set at the end of these happy pagan times, when many godlings race to serve their many mortal partners, when there is, as yet, a complex balance that no one god or goddess can betray. Darkness has come and gone many times, but only in clashes over the margins of the power. It has been several generations since any cataclysmic war or plague has marred the sunny times of planting, bearing, and reaping, though ambition's thirst is often slaked in blood.
Come with me to the clockwork cosmos, where natural philosophy, rather than natural science, is the basic truth, and stumbling forward are the mortal lives, towards a future as yet unwritten.
The Rhyme of Seven
The Cosmos is a prison,
And sons and sisters locked within,
Locked by outer god,
for commission of sin,
both ordinary and odd.
Once a year around the fixed stars spin,
all the Sons and Sisters locked within.
The suns are fixed, the spheres do wander,
the suns will watch, the spheres will pander.As will and
Eorl the eldest is the high Summer Sun,
Six weeks around his hot embrace,
Six weeks to ripen in his fiery golden face.
Tir is the soft Summer mane,
who brings days of drizzle and gentle rain.
Two weeks is his allotted tour,
fourteen days, not one more.
Kestral calls for harvest days,
four weeks for the stalk and wheat to part ways.
Then four weeks with Darith to spend,
where cold begins, and journeys end.
In spring Hiro first, Alaric next,
Sometimes without winter to spirits vex.
Four weeks with each is all you'll know,
Until another orbit go.
And in the distant is Isir,
six weeks of ice to teach you fear.
And round and round a sphere can go,
because he's hard as every sister knows.
The seven spheres with their moons in tow
are easier to meet, and harder to know,
their moods are different and sublime,
changing with the season and with the time.
Korana of the golden sands and silk oasis
Has but the moon Kohepta to put through paces
Technashirin of the fiendish born,
home of greens and ripened corn.
Eowilonwey and her Lilith child
are home of cities soft and forests wild.
Aliornthia a closer sister is,
With four moons born of her skin,
Matha of the towers,
Inweih of the flowers,
Kendra of the showers,
and sweet Siona, who idles hours.
Tianxian of heaven's mandate,
Two moons Ryka and Weiling are her fate.
Then Hilono-a-oh of sultry seas,
Has five moons about her knees,
Hona, Tula, Ona, Heata, Dira,
Islets still without yet friends.
Finally terrible Midrash that you will learn,
as the place of giant wars,
and souls that burn.
There three moons circle well:
Hecate, Ithira, and one called Hell.
The Cosmos is the shell,
and we are locked within,
but by dance the Gods will tell
that they are the ones imprisoned.
A tower on the surface Eowilonwey, amidst the fir forests of the north, and surrounded by the Sea of Nod. It is locked in an eternal and magical night.
On the surface of Eowilonwey, outside, which faces the Seven Suns and all the stars, there is a tower that is under eternal night, where the Suns themselves are at most orbs, but the distant sky is always clear. It is, of course, magic of an eldritch kind, that keeps the blaring haze away, and scatters almost all the clouds. On the other six worlds, there is no place quite like it, and in it lives an astrologer who has seen more time than any other mortal man, having cheated death at cards thrice upon a time. The tower spire rises 50 meters from the ground as black granite, with a spiraling stair around its outside, and windows that are either too bright to look at, or darker than the darkest night. At the top a platform lies, with a railing round. From outside it is hard to tell what is atop it, but everyone knows that it is the most fiendishly complex orrery ever made, rumored to have a sympathetic element of every Sun, every World, and even all the moons that circle them.
Whether none of the Seven Suns can be seen, or all together at once, it is possible to watch, and observe even the faintest object. And so, though bent with many years, and with a beard that hangs round and round his shoulders, and drags on the tail of his threadbare robes, the keen-eyed tan skinned astrologer is always there found, tinkering with the orrery, which shows the seven worlds looping around the seven suns, in their whirring progression from station to station in the celestial dance – or almost as often staring into the telescope, and scribbling notes with a fine hand on the velvet creamy vellum imported from Aliorntha, the green and ripe sphere from which the softest feathers, leathers, and women come.
There were an array of instruments: the orrery, a very large telescope, several smaller ones, a mechanical clock that tracked the hours, a water-clock that was combined with a fountain, a cage with a mechanical bird, and several other smaller devices of various descriptions. The result is that the air softly clicked, hummed, and spun with the singing of gears, bearings, the ticking of ratchets, the flowing of water, and the variety of bells from each of the instruments. The floor is a curious pattern of tiles, called knot tiles, which never quite seem to repeat, but have a strange cadence and order to them, highlighted by the bright ceramic glaze colors of blues and oranges. Glints of light reflected from the moons and on to the floor shine here and there, creating small five pointed bits of scintillation in the eternal darkness. The tiles are worn, because long in the past he had many visitors.
But the astrologer is long past caring of the comings and goings of people, and their throngs, or even of his machines save the one he is using, instead he cares only to stare beyond the stars, into what lies beyond, and listens to the ether chatter of the gods imprisoned in the seven suns, and the goddesses imprisoned in the seven worlds, and the mewlings of the moons as they grow from birth to adolescence. He listens as the sons within the suns maneuver and flirt to attract the sisters in the spheres, beckoning, enticing, hoping to join with them at the proper conjunction, and, perhaps, there to conceive a deitic soul that could be come a moon.
He listens and then in an instant startles, because Korana has gone silent. She of al-lat, of almond eyes and almond skin. She, the sphere he was born within, on Arafar, the continent that splays like an octagonal star, in the city of Bahir. The city whose eight gates and eight minarets are famed, which sits upon the gate between the outer skin of Korana, and the inner lands were most people live, and thus is one of the great trading ports between the worlds. He knows and loves her ether voice more than any other, and has another memory that is not his, but was left with him.
She falls silent, and his brow furrows. This has never happened, not in his memory, nor in any book he has read that he trusts, nor in the mention of any spirit, dragon, or deity he has heard. He swings the telescope to see her, though she is not far away. He notices nothing amiss, except, perhaps, it is hard to focus. The clarity is not there. But this is common enough, it could be anything, from turbulent nymphs of the air, to more malign influences in the aether between them. But he is concerned, and realizes that he needs more wisdom than is in his charts.
Then he sobs a moment, feeling cut off from his place of birth, and more distant than in all the years since he was within Korana, truly alone. His eye tremors, but his body is too decrepit for tears. Korana is the last spirit in all the worlds that he cared for, save for one human friend he has left.
It was then he ponders, knowing that none of the seven sons care to speak to him, as he flouts their radiance by taking over the tower raised on this peculiar spot, and the six daughters do not deign to notice anyone that the sons will not speak to. So he listens to their chatter and waits. He knows they must know, if she is truly silent. Perhaps that is it, he thinks, it is just some eddy in the ether that carries her words away. But then, as he listens, he notices that she is not called to, nor is their any hanging question or solicitation that implies her presence. No invitation, no plotting for the next conjunction, no recounting of some time by a son when he and she were incarnate, and enjoyed the physical caress of sexual and spiritual union. No wry joke, or witty aside on the other dancers, or the dance.
Then she is silent not only to his ears, but erased from the conversation. His face grows black, and his white beard twitches like a tail. He needs more knowledge, and walks to the rail leaning out and looking. He thinks, perhaps, that a comet is blocking all her influence. This he knows is possible, at least in theory: a truly malign comet could do this, though it never has before.
But such a comet would be a blazon banner, striking a streak across the sky that would make mortals quake. He sees no such thing. What he does realize is that his eyes have failed to focus, and that, in fact, he can see ribbons of darkness around Korana, that look like clouds, but are beyond the ayres of the world he stands on, Eowilonwey, also called Eo for brevity's sake.
And so he thinks, and realizes that it is time to consult with more than mortal sources. Would, he thinks, that he were a summoner, but such is forbidden to any who watch the stars, because the influence could suck the summoner down, or the summoned up. And, if nothing else, he is a creature of order. So he walks to his desk, covered with scrolls and the tools of his trade: fine astrolabes, several clocks in various states of assembly, compasses, rulers, acids, inks, annealing bowls, and picks up a large ring, upon that are so many keys that it is impossible to guess how many. Some are gold and jeweled, others are tiny, many are rusted or tarnished. One small key shines with many colors, and it is this one that he picks.
From there he walks to a gilt cage, where within is a small mechanical sparrow, made of silver and lapis lazuli, with feathers of the finest wrought precious metals of many kinds, and meticulous craftsmanship to form each soft feather in its plumage. Once is was polished, but now has dulled with years, looking all the more valuable for its age. It sits with one leg down, as if roosting. He winds in carefully, and then whispers a message into its ear, that turns the thousand clever gears within, and stores his breath inside a tiny sphere of curious metal. He opens a small door between the wings, shifts the gears about, and tosses the bird into the air. It opens its wings, and takes flight of its own, flapping off into the distance. His old dear friend, a summoner of some renown, will hear it sing his message in his ear, however far he may be. Since it is common for that friend to be wandering the great wood that covers much of this sphere, searching for rare woods that, when burned, will produce the proper smoke to call spirits from the vasty deep, he hopes that it will not be long. But who knows? Sometimes the summoner, means sometimes the summoned, and the bird would have to hover until his return from which ever dark lamented place he abides in.
In this place, where Lilith the moon by some fiendish mirror magic is always mirrored in five places through the sky, days are not counted as in other places. Instead, he trusts the orrery, and a small homunculus who turns a small hour-glass over and over again. He turns to it, and tells it to begin counting from this moment until the sparrow's return. It doffs its tiny velvet cap, and mumbles numbers under its breath.
After that, he then sets down and begins writing several letters, some to people who are important, and others who merely think they are. This is news, and while there are others who listen to the ether as well, they are few, and some are not always generous with what they hear. He sets down the account of what he knows so far, and with a pantograph making copies, he is soon ready to send these off. But he has only one mechanical bird, and not being a summoner, has few spirits at his service – the hourglass homunculus was a gift, you see – he then walks down to the base of the tower. His doorman, one of his only servants, is snoring away, as usual it might be said, and has to be roused. He takes out two small silver coins, and instructs his doorman to make haste to where these can be distributed. The town is two day's ride away, and it is urgent. Or, thinks the astrologer, as urgent as the affairs of mortals can be when speaking of the seven sons and seven sisters.
Then he slowly makes his way back to his observatory, and sits to rest, the flourish of activity has made him tired. He awakens from his slumber sometime later, and begins writing a letter.
I have become forgetful of little things of late, and you must be even more so, so I am sending me this letter from myself, in hopes that if I have forgotten anything, this letter will serve as sufficient reminder. On the back I copy out the celestial positions from the orrery, and the counting of my clock, so that you will know how long it has been since this letter was written. Of the event that precipitates it, there can be no doubt at all: Korana has gone silent. I hope it is some unique and perfidious part of the complexities of The Dance between The Dancers. I hope it is some malicious influence, or a comet that is black as night and which I cannot see. I hope that it is some event that, even if it is without precedent, is a temporary interloping in the progression of the spheres. But I fear it is not. As our little universe is a hollow sphere, within that the Seven Suns and Seven Spheres are made to imprison the Seven Sons and Seven Sisters, it cannot help but be true that malicious and malign events, even on this scale, are created and intended as a punishment. The great hierophants of the outer gods speak of the endless evil that is possible, and of the torments that reign beyond the skin of the skin, where the dead cling to it, fearing what will happen should they be sucked into the vastness of the outer space. Since they seem to speak from some communication with the outer that I have never quite understood, but can sense when they perform it, you, meaning me, must trust me when I say that this is a grave situation.
Let me then summary the actions that I have taken. I have sent Sparrow to the Summoner, so that he might call forth those with more knowledge than mortals are allowed to remember. I have written a letter expressing the gravest urgency of the situation, and warning all of the hazard to navigation. I am going to set down a trace of the orrery, so that what happens after this will have indelible record. I am writing this letter to you. I have made a careful search for comets, of which I have found none, but will make another. After this, I will ring the tower bell, and it will attract those who are supposed to hear it. Also the homunculus is on a count from this time, so please do not give another instruction, as he is easily confused.
Miraculous Korana that gave birth to us is silent, and it is incumbent that you, meaning me, make all efforts. My head is weary, and I will sleep again after ringing the bell. It is impossible for me to believe that I have taken all necessary steps, so concentrate carefully and rouse what is left of our, meaning my, brain, to the tasks that will further effectuate what is needed.
Jehanjir Al-Akbar, Astrologer
After this he then slowly walked down a small spiral stair through a hole in the floor, and there inside a room of seven windows, that can only be seen out of, not into, there is a vast inverted half sphere, made of bluish porcelain, and a large hammer with that to strike it. It has been a very long time since he could lift the hammer, and so he carefully made a set of gears that would allow him to loose the power in a spring, a spring wound by a waterwheel that catches the occasional rain, and stores the trickling of it. It is rare for him to ring the bell more than once in an ordinary lifetime, and so, this is enough. He has many times thought to improve the mechanism, but a windmill's constant moving would distract him, and as well the spirits of the air, and it is a very long way to the stream itself, as it is behind the rocks, and through the small wood nearby. It would be a great deal of work to erect a second waterwheel, and he had only dallies with plans for it. Too many other things to do with his time, and his limited energy. Ah, to be old again, he thought. Perhaps two hundred would be perfect. But that was a long time ago.
He gently looses the lever, wrapped in polished leather, and warm to his touch, he can feel the small homunculi scatter from it, used, as they are, to sitting and resting, so rarely is it used. There is an observable, though barely observable, darkening of the air, and a flickering of the lantern, as they rush either away from the gears, or about their appointed tasks of turning the coil of the spring into movement. The hammer, wrapped in silk, strikes the bell, and there is not a sound. Not a sound, but a sense, that something has happened. Something wondrous and dreadful all at once. At the same time there is trepidation that shakes the bowels, and a moment of elan. He draws breath, stands up straight, and then straighter, for it is the property of this bell, to give vigor to those the sound is meant for, in proportion to the danger. He is not merely aged, nor even old, he feels young again. The sensation is so striking that he cannot believe. it.
And so, he walks back upstairs, takes out a mirror, polished of platinum and looks into it. Staring back is firm and full flesh, though a bit lined with cares. He is not the ancient astrologer any more, but a man of perhaps, fifty years of age, with only the slightest of gray at his temples, and a short smartly clipped, and still mostly black salt and pepper beard. His cheeks are not hollowed out, though he is still markedly thin. He looks down and sees hands that are still subtle and strong, not claws of arthritis that they were moments before.
This effect sweeps across him, and his mind is shaking in terror, even as his body feels a health and youth that is long forgotten past forgetting. His muscles are tense, but inside he rattles, and shakes, and he runs to the privy because his insides cannot contain his last meal. He does not know which end will rebel first, and spends several minutes vomiting out from his mouth, and then feeling as if his intestines are ready to drop out of his body and down into the abyss. He is about to call for his valet, but realizes that while he is spattered with the consequences of his illness, he is also easily hale enough to clean up his own mess, and thus forgo both the humiliation, and the requirement of explaining what has happened.
Thus he deftly steals his way up to the day bed that is on the roof observatory, made of scarlet velvet and embroidered with gold thread in floral designs, and takes out his spare set of clothes that is laid there, and doffs the hose, undertunic, robe, and sandals. He looks at himself in the mirror, and then takes a turban that normally rests on a hook beside his desk. It has been a long time since he could wear it, even the linen would be too heavy, let alone the ruby set in the center of the forehead, whose pin is made of almost unbreakable metal, a sliver of the mattock of a titan. He nestles it smartly on his head, and stares at himself in the mirror.
Truly, he thinks, we are utterly doomed. Never has the bell given such youth. He knows that it will only last as long as the emergency, but he is certain that this is a portent that he is destined to die young. The bell has peeled away centuries, he thinks, that means destiny has taken away whatever years I have left. It is a pity that part of his deal with death, was that he would never again cast his own horoscope. But then, he mused, perhaps it is better to meet ones end unknowing, the way a virgin never knows what awaits her in the marriage bed. Or a groom the morning after.
Or a mortal, enthused by the spirit of a son, does not know what it will mean to watch as his body couples with a mortal woman who is similarly possessed by a sister's spirit, and what violent upheavals in spirit and flesh are possible when sun and sphere truly align. That night is burned upon his brain, and the energy it gave him sustains him still.
Haste fills his work, fixing the myriad problems that have accumulated with the orrery, and his telescopes, and every other piece of equipment. He knows he will need all of them. He then waits and looks out in every direction, hoping to see some trace of coming aid. He swings a small refractor around, and spies across the horizon, which is blocked in many places by stands of firs, but that also looks out over the sea that surrounds his island. It is open water now, because not long before Eowilonwey was dancing with Eorl, the big, bright, yellow sun of High Summer. Thus, right now, while she is taking a chaste and formal turn with Tir, the sphere is still warm with the near embrace that she and Eorl shared. It was a bumpy ride, but the glow was still upon the world.
Just then a meteorite glowed and continued to fall, and he knew almost after the first instant this was meant for him. The bolt grew brighter and closer, and finally floated to a stop. He might have been terrified, except there was a deep and mortal calm upon him, all fear having been wrenched out of his gut. Then it hovered, and in the blue-white glow, he could see a figure like a man, only 3 meters tall, wearing a light white robe, and extending white feathered wings. Around his waist a simple belt that seemed made merely of rope, but was, on second inspection, wound of polished stones, which none the less retained a flexibility. He could see the ripples in marble, and the flecks of mica in the feldspar.
And the spirits face was stern and noble, the spirits flesh was like a dark opal, with eyes like quicksilver, seeming to flow. There was fire that sparked from his wings, and he held a trumpet. And it spoke unto him.
“Fear not. I am sent unto thee by one who loves you.”
“It is a little late for fearing not dread angel. Who has sent you? I know of no one who loves me.”
“She asks not to be named but it is she who told me to come to you, as the only mortal man who might aid her in her hour of need.”
“On Korana, so distantly, I was born., Do you have word of what events have unfolded there?”
“I can only tell you that it is dire, she knew not else.”
“Is this all?”
“No, I have more, from another source, one whose name is not known to you, or to most in this, the prison of the Seven and Seven.”
“An outer god?”
“If you will.”
“Then pour forth what you have, so that your knowledge might become my wisdom.”
“It is so: this is an event that marks a turning in the tide.”
“What have mortal men to do with this? We are beneath ants to even the spirits of power and excellence here. My lords and you lord, are much beyond even the mightiest.”
“And so it is, and thus I come and speak to thee.”
“Why not the dragons of the aether, whose wings are miles long?”
“They would be sense as soon as they fluttered breath of wing.”
“Why not the djinn of many faces, whose reach can stretch from sphere to her moons and turn them?”
"There weighty steps would creak should they even move.”
“Why not the daemons of the abyss, who belch and then consume whole comets?”
“Their stench would poison the aether.”
“So the great spirits who I have not named, would they also be as this?”
“The wyrms and all the others would be to evident in their presence or their absence.”
“Why not homunculi? Are there no nymphs or maenads, triads, or satyrs? What of the million unborn souls whose task it is to run the cosmos?”
“They have no freewill, and can only fleck the flecks of foam from the ocean of time. They cannot wish away what is willed.”
“And of lesser incarnate beings? Would they not be more perfect spies?”
“Only the middle races will do, those who are less, are too little, but those who are even a shade more, are too much. Though, of course, humans are not alone in this, it is they who straddle the perfect balance.”
“But what could I do, or even an army, or all the fleets in all the spheres do?”
“You are commanded thus: voyage to Korana, and make report of what you find there.”
“But you just came from hence, surely your perfect senses know more than I could know.”
“Even now Korana is descending into a shroud of darkened ether, that would drive an angel mad to stare at it.”
“And how could I voyage there?”
“You rang the bell, it sluiced me here to speak to you, and it also calls the aid of others who will be your companions in this geas.”
“And not you?”
“No, I am fading, my time of times is done, and I, as spirit unborn, will vanish as the dew.”
“You gave your existence for this?”
“For my lady, and for the sister that she serves, I do so gladly and with a bright heart, hoping, perhaps, that I will return to the slumber and be allowed to be born in mortal case.”
“It is rare that your kind is this allowed?”
“Rare, but not so rare as gold, nor as common as silver is to you.”
“Is there nothing more?”
The angel pulled forth a bone casing for a scroll, and handed it to Jehanjir.
“This will aid you, but do not open it on any sphere, but only beyond the orbit of any moon.”
“I thank you and take these your gifts. I wish you well in all your hopes.”
With this the glowing orb vanished, leaving only Jehanjir under the sky.
Waiting for his eyes to readjust to the darkness, and then set down the sum of the conversation. He was halfway through, when he chanced to look up from his writing. He could hear a faint whirring sound, and he realized it was the Sparrow, wending its way through the sky towards him. He checked with the homunculus, it has been 1/360 of a sidereal year exactly, since he sent it out. He mentally calculated, that this meant it could have covered half the outer globe. He watched as it came gliding to a stop, and alit on the top of its wicker cage. Its wings stopped, and it stood there for a moment. But then it exploded, with springs and gears and all the workings scattering in all directions, and only then was there a man sitting on the stool where the now crushed cage once sat.
The visitor was extremely tall, though not gigantic, and just barely slender rather than lanky, and wore his 60 years lightly. He was dressed, not in robes, but in pantaloons and a leather jerkin, a fine rapier hanging from a belt. A broad-brimmed hat much of his chiseled features, and this was intentional, as with many of his art, he had sacrificed an eye for a sight into the spirit realm, and disguised this disformity. In his hand was a globe, and from his belt hung the tools of his trade, either naked or in pouches. He blinked, and then looked at the hale figure before him. It was hard to tell his origin among the worlds: his face looked like an amalgam of many times and places, and was slightly, though noticeably, asymmetrical, with long hollowness that made many people feel they had just looked at a cut of meat rather than a steak. His skin could have been tanned, or merely the color of coffee with cream by nature, it was impossible to say whether he lived outdoors or indoors, since he had a roughness about him, but it was not a coarse worn sensation.
“I see the spirit of Jehanjir, but not the body? I did not know you had access to such a glamour.”
“No illusion, but real. The porcelain bell was rung, and this is the result. I am transformed to a younger man. Summoner, meet me as I was when the worlds were younger, when there were two fewer moons, and many fewer fallen souls. What I would like to know, is how you got here.”
The slender man stood up, and looked around, and then examined Jehanjir. His own hair was stringy, and one could tell from careful observation that he was almost bald, but allowed what remained to grow to his shoulders falling in rather stringy waves.
“That was simple, though at some cost to the bird. I wound it with one hand, and set the gears, but with the other I imprisoned myself in a small shell, and when I was sucked in, the bird was free to fly. I had already whispered the counter spell to the bird, and so, it arrived before you, and delivered an almost soundless message: me, in a bottle, as it were.”
“Ingenious. Fiendishly so, old friend.”
They embraced, but as they pulled back the Summoner spoke:
“In my work, it is unhealthy to compare oneself to fiends. They hear well, but listen poorly.”
“Fair enough then, may any fiend listening take it as a compliment to their legendary acumen, and not your comparing yourself to them.”
There was a rumble from the ground, obviously, a fiend had been listening, and the entire tower trembled.
“How could the bell have done this?”
“It is the great bell made on the sphere of Tianxian, in the great castle of Baojing. A whole city of bones were ground to make it.”
“How could a thing built of such slaughter be good?”
“You do not know the tale? I thought I had told you.”
“No, you did not.”
“The city was slaughtered, but their souls still bound to their bodies. By giving their bones in sacrifice, the departed gained great spiritual wealth for their afterlife, rather than underneath as imprisoned ghouls. By sacrificing, and giving the greater necromancer Jain-Lo Wang the power to defeat the evil, they went on. The bell rings with the might of a city of the dead. It is a greater artifact than any I have.”
“I say again, I am merely clever, it is you who are ingenious.”
“This tower, and this bell, are not of my workmanship.”
“But it is you who have the means to control them.”
“Perhaps I have a turn or two that bends things to my will.”
“A turn or two. So, the bell cares nothing for me, I am as aged as ever, and feeling it in my bones. I, unlike you, have never been enthused, and if I were, I doubt I would have had your courage to then bet death on a single turn of the cards. What am I here for?”
“I need you to summon some spirit from the ether who might be able to tell us more of Koran’s falling silent. We need to mount an expedition and report on what we find.”
“We? I am not to leave this sphere without permission from Eowilonwey herself, and she's not speaking to me.”
“I mean we in the broader sense.”
“You mean, 'we, not you.' Oh for the nuances of an older tongue.”
“We can use the Elder, my friend, if you have improved your use of it since last we met.”
“A turn or two with some older spirits has done me some good.” He winked and smiled.
His friend gently slipped to a language that was before languages, and they conversed in that high speech that was used to lay the course of the cosmos. It is a slow and ponderous tongue, exact beyond exact, and it took them the better part of a day to decide how best to proceed. Jehanjir would cast a horoscope, and select from those who he had cast at their birth, while the summoner would call forth an ether nymph he knew, and ask for a boon of knowledge. In return for what, he did not say, but nymphs have voracious appetites, and of many kinds.
After some time of casting, Jehanjir grumbled.
“I thought I would be going on this expedition, however, it is clear I am not.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I am able to cast the course of part of it, which means that I am not involved in the voyage.”
“Perhaps you are to remain here.”
“So, it seems. And what of your efforts?”
“I am ready any time, in contrast to most of my ilk, I carry all I need, and lithe gossamer skill substitutes for weight ingredients.” And by ilk he meant exactly that: summoners cease to use their name, and are called merely 'Summoner' ever after.
Jehanjir nodded, and Summoner took out a small fine-grained powder, he traced off a lazy magic circle, that was none the less closer than others could make even with a compass, and inscribed in it a pentagram. The summoning pentangle thus formed he used the grains to write a series of complex characters around the outside, and then traced around this another circle. With a flourish he tossed out a spark – a wholly natural one from a bit of phosphorus – and the entire inscribed circle burst up into flames. For a moment, it seemed to vanish, but then, very slowly a greenish glow began to fade into appearance, it grew steadily, until it was as bright as a gas lantern. The glow pulsated from barely perceptible to bright at an irregular interval after that.
Just as slowly a figure began to form in the center, it was like a man, but much taller and squashed in by the sides of the circle uncomfortably, much as if it had been poured into a tall glass.
The face was grotesque on its own terms: much like a comedy mask filled out with flesh and given huge teeth, with a bulbous nose and large grimacing cheeks. At top the bald head were horns that were the color of ivory, as were the claws on the feet and hands. In fact, there were four hands, pressed against the sides of the circle. The body was immensely muscled, and the skin was a blood ochre red. Squashed against the circle was a pair of oversized testicles and a large penis that had a distinct hook at its fleshy end. Heat and moisture exuded off of the spirit, and a mist flowed off the circle as a result, forming itself into a cloud over the entire observatory, and filling the air with a thick fog that spilled out over the edges of the observatory.
The spirit spoke, its bass voice resonant with scorn. “You, again.”
“Until you get a life, I have certain, privileges, Zireal.”
“Or you get an afterlife.”
“I'm sure you'll be happy to arrange that, but, I think you know, at the moment my spiritual balance is quite positive, my life, consisting as it does, of making preter-life difficult for nasty, naughty, spirits like yourself.”
It grimaced and bucked against the sides of the circle.
“Must this be so uncomfortable?”
“I think we both remember what you can do given even the smallest freedom of movement.”
There was a deep tiger growl in response.
“Make this quick.”
“In a hurry, as usual, I see.” The Summoner sighed.
Another growl. “Make this quick.”
“Korana has gone silent. I am going to ask you how this has affected your tasks.”
“Her sphere blocks the ether, and it is pulling all near it in. There have been no collisions as of yet of anything endowed with spirit, soul, or sentience, but it is a matter of time. The dragons hover in a ring around her, watching. But nothing that has gone in, has come out, and not one word has been breathed in the ether of it by any of the Sons, or Sisters. They avoid it, for the moment, as a topic.”
“But surely they know.”
“Their silence is profoundly deafening, and the terror oozes out across space. Yes, they know, and they know others know.”
“Have you heard anything that they whisper?”
“Those are blocked to me, but we all can feel they are happening.”
“I believe that they have agreed that Isir will take Korana around him, far out of the way of the rest of the dance.”
“No winter until this is over?”
“The opposite, all the spheres will be strung like pearls, locked in frozen darkness, orbiting around Isir alone.”
“Is this your belief? Or a rumor?”
“It was done before, several times, but for different reasons.”
“A conflict, between the dragons and the Seven Sons. It was foolish, and many suffered for it. You should remember that, from your preter-life.”
The Summoner gazed into the distance, as if pulling a memory from beyond the veil, for as such he was. He took a brief breath in.
“That was when we righted the worlds.”
“That was our task, yes. It had its virtues. Now, let me go, please.”
“Since you ask so nicely.”
“You had a name once, if you let me cast it you would remember so much more easily.”
“Prefer the living Lethe, to the preter-living Styx.”
The Summoner traced the lock, that would prevent any revenge for the summoning. It was not ornately phrase, but, instead, had a brute simplicity that came from raw power and excellence. He lit this on fire, it vanished in a sulfur laden burn, and with that came to glow. Then the characters began to spin around the original magic circle, gradually contracting until the carved the circle in half. The circle, once violated vanished, and with it, its occupant, but slowly, leaving behind a white shadow that none the less, seemed darker than all around it.
Jehanjir had hidden his eyes, not wanting to absorb the forbidden, to him, knowledge, but, of course, heard all.
Jehanjir had hidden his eyes, not wanting to absorb the forbidden, to him, knowledge, but, of course, heard all.
“My friend, who or what is that?
The Summoner smiled. “In preter-life, before I was born as I am, I was his wife as an ether fiend, We swept the orbits of the world of the debris that they trail behind.”
“Yes. There are reasons why souls give up such power and excellence of being effreet or djinn, or angel, or fiend, in order to be encased in mortal flesh. But listen to me Jehanjir. Listen well. I do not fear death. I have a tun of spiritual treasure, and many friends. When I go on I will pay the fare to the sphere of stars, and live well among others who share my art. You are forbidden knowledge of those who keep the gates, but they and I are old companions. You, however, have only the spiritual coin that you had on the day you played cards with death. It is a meagre handful, without even the single golden coin to take you from the sphere upon which you die. Either you will be dragged bellow, or wander as an unquiet undead. You need to go, however you go, you need this quest, for it will make your afterlife.”
The astrologer sighed.
“I wish I could, but my going would mean that the future would be unknown.”
“Cast it without you, and ask yourself whether you could live with that result for all eternity, that you ran from the turn of an unfriendly card.”
Jehanjir frowned, and returned to his casting. The Summoner called forth lesser winged spirits, and sent for the people who Jehanjir selected, there were far to many to go, and some way of winnowing would have to be found.
Then, after some hours of this, Jehanjir stopped.
“I am an old fool in a new bottle.” This declaration prompted the summoner to look up from a glass of wine that he had poured.
“There is a point beyond that I cannot cast. Clearly, I think, you are meant to imprison me, place me on the ship, so that we can escape from this world without detection.”
“And then break you out?”
“You are not going.”
“I knew that. I could not elude the notice of a dragon thrice sleeping and deeply drunk, however sated on his mate he might be. I must remain here.”
“And you are right, master summoner, I must go.”
“Yes. This is your quest, for which you were born too soon.”
“It is good to be young again. Perhaps it would be a pity to waste it on being old.”
They set back to tasks, and waited for the coming of the applicants for the quest.