Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 21

The two boys approached the cliff softly in a spirit of reverence and not of stealth. Their risk of detection was no less here than any other earth they tread. Their people had known these cliffs to be magical for years, but only the elder of the boys here truly knew anything of why, and he very little.
At the brink of the vertical stone face the boys paused.
"You must tell me when, Threader."
"I have only a little idea myself, Holder."
They stood looking below toward the floor of the abyss before them. At this time of morning fog lurked, and the bottom could not be seen. Neither of them knew if a river lay at the bottom or not. They had never fallen so far.
Then without warning Threader jerked over the edge calling, "Now!"
Holder barely had time to catch the leader's hand but was soon falling with him. To Holder's sight, this was a suicidal leap, but his faith in Threader and their master told him otherwise.
Threader could see the Gaps. Called "hihms," being the plural of a single "hihm," the Gaps appeared as rapidly fluctuating bubbles with neither shell nor center. They were not vacuums, as though air had lost its place, but voids, tears in the fabric, or otherise ripples in a river, made by the dropping of an immense stone upstream. Threader could never say what they looked like, but when pressed he said it was like having your eye in glass, an unending sea of clarity.
As Threader gained speed, the Gaps became more manageable. With any luck or happy providence he would find one of them before he found the ground, and his gift would save him, and any he pulled along.
Shortly before the mist would have enveloped the boys utterly Threader found his Gap. Racing as fast as gravity would draw him the Gap took shape just below his feet, and then for a moment neither he nor Holder knew anything. Then Holder would awake in a new place, as snapping to from an unplanned sleep. Threader's mind strained under the journey. He traveled through colors, as though they were brushing limbs of trees. He said it was like "falling outside," not in any particular direction, just out. Afterwards he would only have scattered impressions and lingering visions, recollections of meeting beings with too many faces or with too little other than faces, with the faint notion that he had, while away, met a god the sight of which defied words that asked him where he was going.
The landing was narrowly made. The tandem team alighted from that glassy dreamland on the sill from which they had last escaped.
"A dangerous choice, Threader."
"I asked," then he corrected himself without pause, "aimed for the scroll room itself. Sure beats sneaking here with the Guardian's ears on the ground."
"I heard you. You said 'asked,' again. There is a god."
"There is no reason to think there is a god. I speak where I wish to go and go there. Only because there are some gods do we imagine there must be another."
"They say you are in another place while you make your way here, dragging me along."
"They also say that you are to waste no time while we are within his bastions." Threader pointed to the jars and chests they had left.
Holder stepped lightly over to a drawer in a tall chest, withdrawing the slender scroll from which he had been reading when last he and Threader had ventured there.

Thurgod soon passed under the Wild Gate, made when he had learned from Bendu the image of wildness, and forged the watcher which ruled the portcullis. The image of the true wild glowered down at the smith-god, the tension of every beast waiting to spring inscribed in its folding metal. Without a word or a motion the will which Thurgod had forged into it lifted the portcullis, and the smith-god entered the first city.
The Wild Gate opened upon Bendu's Quarter, where the people answered to him. That tract was wide, and though it was called a city there were forests within its walls, or so in Bendu's Quarter.
Bendu's quarter offered little material to Thurgod, but always a trickle of inspiration. From vine was learned chain, and from from branch was learned beam. From wing was learned wing, and from from tooth, saw. But what Thurgod needed was not in Bendu's Quarter.
Deep into the city Bendu's Quarter came to an end, it's wide swath suddenly cut by a gigantic circular way, paved with stone perfectly smooth and without crack, maintained pristine by Endro himself, when business should call him there. Thurgod cut straight across the stone slab, stepping over the grate he had made to the ditch below, where rain would run into the sewer, which was of Itris' design.
It was the genius god whom he saught. Itris, whose mind was broader than that of any other god. She had made the sewer in her mind; Endro had delved it with his command. She had framed the tower in which she lived on paper, and the many lessor gods of clay-baking and wood-cutting had built it. It was the most austere of her designs, a block of brick framed in wooden beams, with dingy clay of brown color just paler than human skin, but it served her purpose.
Thurgod rang upon the door, clanking a knocker which he himself had made, after her design. At the first clang a shutter opened above the door, revealing a glass eye, which shut itself again in an instant. A moment later the door was opened inward, and Thurgod progressed onto a platform and said, "To the Lady."
The platform immediately rose into the air, with a graceful acceleration. Thurgod rushed past windows and balconies as he stood tensely maintaining his balance. With equal grace the ascent ceased, and Thurgod stepped onto a carpeted projection from a more distant balcony. Aesthetics and the use of empty space in pronouncing grandeur were not lost on the genius god when she could see a purpose in them. For the entrance to her private study, nothing else could suffice. Thurgod passed by a dozen golems of pure glass, difficult to spot in that pale blue light which glowed from hallowed crystals which Endro had given Itris as a gift. And then the door into her study opened.
Itris needed no throne room; a throne could not add to the perception of her deity, for any who made eye-contact with her felt their own minds grow small and dim in comparison, though when they walked away they knew they were in fact more capable than ever before. On a plush cushioned stool sat the genius herself, her mind pouring into a book, upon the pages of which were scrawled notes in a letters and organization more efficient than lines, but the pattern of which perhaps none but herself could discern. Her hands were idle on her knees, and not for her bright clothing her entire appearance might have been missed in that dim room.
"Master Smith? I do not recall summoning you. Have you come to learn of me again? Your thirst for knowledge is uncommon."
"Your assumption of knowledge is all too common, Scholar Queen," said Thurgod, smiling.
"Ah, there again I have assumed motive where no motive force was visible. You make me wiser."
The door shut behind Thurgod as he entered the room, carefully avoiding stepping on the tools and rubbish. It was hard to discern the difference when in her study, so many devices beyond comprehension of both mortal and divine littered her private chambers.
"I hope you can make me wiser. I have found a metal that bends neither to my command nor to my hammer."
Itris showed surprise, but said nothing, until Thurgod allowed a protracted silence. "Go on," she said.
"Meldus took me into a cave, and through a crack in the cave into a hall, wherein was a flat space, and then a raised dais."
"Is this the Hall to Bendu that Endro said he was making? It was to be a surprise, Thurgod."
"It is not that hall. While Meldus and I wondered at its common beauty, and its unexpected existence, I smelled Xerphii."
Itris involuntarily closed her book. "Go on."
"No Xerphii appeared, and no challenge was made to us. In worry Meldus broke his body and streamed into the sky, sending Endro to meet me. There we searched out the scent, and found behidn the dais, buried a few feet, a metal which would not break for him, nor be bent by me. Instead, when I had summoned up a hammer, the shaft was bent and head shattered."
"From what was it made, your hammer?"
"Endro summoned up the finest iron ore he knew, and gave it to me pure, unsmelted."
"There are harder things that can be made."
"And my shaft was of my own divine making, and it was bent."
Itris bit her lip. "Certainly something from out of the world, then."
"And it smelt of Xerphii."
"Then we should call it xerphyn, the metal of the Xerphii."
"What is more, Scholar, behold this," and Thurgod showed his right hand in a patch of light from a narrow ceiling window.
"You bleed?"
"The hand that struck the xerphyn is pierced, as though slashed by claw, in many places."
"You must visit Derad and have him heal you. He understands godflesh as well as mortal flesh or the flesh of beasts."
"It hurts no more than to have wrung hard metal. I will attend to that at my own time. The God of Growth need not be disturbed by the Smith-God's pains."
"A wound made by xerphii or xerphyn are both grave. He must learn from this, in case there is another war beyond heaven."

A crash awoke Holder from his reading. A stone spike had whizzed by him and smashed a clay jar behind him into pieces. The same sound woke Threader from his unplanned nap.
"I'm an idiot!" blurted Threader as Holder leapt to him, catching his arm.
"Obviously. Now out the window!" They leapt to the sill and bent to dive out. Holder kicked off the wall, but was brought back by Threader's grasp, as Threader tumbled back into the room. His waist had been grasped in the stone grip of the Guardian.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 20

"In the western foothills, far from this city and far from the Queen, lived a peaceful people. They harvested the crops of the wild trees of that region, a fruit of which I cannot even begin to tell you, and herded cattle. There were among them no rulers, for each house was far from the other, and against one another there was no ill will. Thieving was harder than honest work in those days, so far apart did people live, and also because the wilderlands were not without danger. Though humans did little that was unfair to one another, nature himself was harsh, for he did not care to have humans in that place. The hills were sacred to him; they were to him an art he had made, and to see them sullied with human flesh made him angry.
"Nature sent his manticores down from his sacred slopes, from those temples to him above mist and cloud, and they scoured the hillsides, gobbling goats and sheep, and chasing people into caves or under roofs.
"A certain of the manticore descended upon a lonely lodge, where lived a young man by himself, without wife or child. The beast descended from the sky with a roar, invoking that unutterable name of Nature, which no ear but..." and Thurgod winced, "no ear in this valley can hear in total. The roar was terrible, but the man was brave, and he burst from his lodge with a long spear.
"But this manticore was more terrible than others. His tail was long, and split into three on the end, each spiny spike dripping with greedy venom. From his jaw draped a beard longer than the man in height, advanced by two fangs nearly like tusks."
"Like what?" asked Oorgo.
"Like teeth the size of arms, little one."
Oorgo had learned that perfect balance of fear which makes the story more exciting but does not distract from it.
"The manticore was most beautiful, perfect in each dimension, sullied only by its love of human blood and even, when most enraged, the blood of manticore."
Oorgo gasped a little, as he had learned that the bard enjoyed. He had heard that manticore and yeti were too civilized to eat one another.
"The sight that greeted the man was terrible. Even in the moment it had been on the ground it had slain nine of his animals in the very fold, each now writhing on the ground as the venomous tail slashed about, looking to catch more. In a surge of bravery the man leaped forward, plunging his spear into the flank of the brute, caught unawares, for the lodge of that man was carved into the hill, and few would have seen it even from the ground.
"The manticore whirled about, its tail indiscriminately swatting down a few living animals, which lay still on the ground in petrified fear. The suddenness of the turn caused the man to drop the spear, and he lay sprawled on the floor of the fold, the manticore staring into his own eyes."
"The manticore said, 'Fool! I am a beast of majesty, and you a petty human. Your wound is nothing to me,' and even as it spoke thus one of its tails curled around the weapon, still lodged in its flank, and cracked it off, then dug out the head. The venom expunging from the tail proved a balm to the flank, and its blood ceased quickly.
"Then in a flash the middle tail of the manticore slashed over its own head and struck the man in his foot, pinning it to the ground. The greedy venom rushed in, and slowly seeped from the foot to the ankle, and then towards the knee.
"'Nature will have its way with thee,' growled the beast, and then it launched into flight. The man dragged himself back into the lodge, where he found his own ax and severed his leg just below the knee, just above where the venom had reached.
"In the following dayshe built for himself a false leg so that he might still walk, and tend to the animals. For a year he lived thus, until the leg was no pain to him. For another year he lived, and soon none could have told he had ever fought a manticore. In another year he took a wife, and in another year he had a son. In another year, the manticore returned.
"It was the same noble beast that had come before, and now it had spotted the fold again. When it struck the ground it remembered the lodge, and forgetting the animals it strode towards the door. It could smell the human smell. But before it even reached the door the door was flung open, and the man emerged, holding again a long spear. He said, 'Take the animals and go, or I will spill your blood again.'"
"The beast laughed, 'Was my blood spilt in a time past? I have no fear of you.'"
"'The scar on your left flank belies you, as does the grass which never grows where your life was drained, if even only for a moment.'
"'Shall I flee and be left hungry, because a man pointed a bit of a tree and a stone at me?' it bellowed, bristling its tails.
"'Do not flee hungry, but full, for all the animals may be yours, and you need not fear to spill blood.'
"The beast replied not at all, but turned and in a handful of moments had slain every creature in the fold and devoured it, and then it flew away."
"After five more summers the beast returned, and said, 'Not your animals this time, human. I must bring home human blood. Give me your son.'

Beyond the Rim Installment 19

Thurgod's face betrayed feeling less readily than most, primarily because it's expressions were nearly void of movement in the upper face. His eyebrows might still move about, and the far regions of his face twitch as though trying to move his eyes emotively, but the expressions did not resolve. Oorgo was shocked at the expression, of extended jaw and knit brows, that was revealed despite the unholy band.
"Stallid, this part that I have repaired by my skill, it belongs to an augury golem, does it not?"
"You know it does. The augury golems were of your design."
Thurgod winced, "I fashioned them, indeed. And they dig very deep, searching for the rarest metal ores. That is why the Sixth Mine is here?"
Where a man might have approached uncomfortably close to the golem, Thurgod did not, but kept his distance of a few paces. "Then why, in the Queen's name, are there men down there? It was so that no men should risk those hot and hateful depths, tunnels and seams that despise mankind and light, that I constructed the augury golems."
"It was ordered that the mining not cease. With the augury golem out of commission I was forced to send worthless men..."
"What? Is it Stallid that is speaking?" Thurgod stepped closer to the silver golem, his nose turned upward, the movement he would make instead of cocking his head when other men squinted to see.
"You know it is."
"Then why do you call them worthless men? I built you to know that... that... that there was not such a thing," said Thurgod, drawing a corner of his nose tense.
"That is what they are called. It is how I know them."
With a sudden motion Thurgod lurched forward, catching the back of the golem's head with his left hand and drawing it down into his shorter forcefully, though with gentleness. Then in an instant he had pulled out the little metal strips again and was carefully investigating their grooves in his hands, and then under his nose. He replaced them carefully and stood Stallid up again.
"Do you remember the day you were fashioned, Stallid?"
"Tell me of it, servant."
"Of course I do not know from where in the ground came my substance. Yet I do remember the heat, as my metal was made hot and fluid, flushed around to take on a shape, though the shape was not mine. And then I arose, still red hot, but solid, and had mind as metal has. I stood before my lady, the great Queen, and there was told my duty. Why do you ask me to tell you this, Master?"
Thurgod's jaw quivered. He asked as though in a dry throat, "Stallid. Has another, besides myself, come and done the work of the smith-god, to change metal by mind? Has another taken out the slats of thought I gave you and changed them?"
"The Queen herself. She has changed me. Why do you ask?"
"Have any died?"
"Any of the," Thurgod mouth moved to spit but his throat to swallow, "worthless men?"
"One has died, as stone gave way above him. Because I knew this would make the Queen angry I sent you the Flying Word requesting a hastier repair."
Thurgod said nothing until he had breathed three times, while the golem stood still with infinite patience. "He was one of the Queen's worthless men, who owe to her a great debt?"
Thurgod breathed once more, then said, "When it rains, Stallid, you must get under a solid cover," and he turned away, Oorgo forgot to walk until the tug on the line that connected him to Thurgod reminded him, and then he bounded ahead.
"Did the golem say that a man died?"
"Yes, he said that." They walked past the squared golem, but it did not move, as Thurgod inhibited it. The two humans passed through the gate.
"One that owed her a great debt?"
"What, child?" Thurgod was recalled from another thought.
"A man who owed her a great debt died?"
"Yes, child."
"I owed her a great debt."
"In her words, child."
Oorgo said nothing, until, "Would I have died?"
"Whether the Queen would have sent a child to the Sixth Mine I cannot know, nor even if she would have known it."
An off-beat breath escaped from Oorgo's nearly heaving chest, and at last Thurgod thought of the mortal beside him.
"It would be better if you made your mind quiet. This is not a thing for you to think."
Oorgo fell sideways, his head flopping into Thurgod's leg. The child did not struggle with his tears.
"There is no need for you to fear today, Oorgo. You have a master who is a god."
"But you can't keep me safe from her, you said it, you said it..." he clutched his arms around Thurgod's knee, and the deity ceased attempts to walk.
"She hates me and my sister and I've said bad things about her and..."
"And she will do nothing about them. Cyllgod is a foolish..." and the Thurgod too collapsed, narrowly missing Oorgo, and they were left there, Thurgod on his knees gasping as he leaned into the child, and the child with his face plunged into the smith god's chest just under his neck.
The two of them knelt there for nearly a minute, the block shaped golem observing without evaluating. At last Thurgod stood up suddenly, and Oorgo leaned again into the god's hip. Thurgod reached down and grasped the side of Oorgo's head. "Now child, it is not good for us to think so. I may not think the true words, and you do not know them. It is best for you to trust me that this is not your fate, and that if it were, it would be well."
"How can it be well?"
"Your question is large. It must be answered while walking."
"I can't walk," said Oorgo, beginning to breathe faster.
"Yes, you can," said the god, "I have seen you, and there is nothing but yourself stopping you."
Oorgo tottered forward, shaking in trepidation.
"Before I answer your question, I will tell you a story."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 18

From this point in the West of the city even Oorgo, at his height, could see a fair ways. Because of the elevation of the Way the great road lacked cross-ways, and all traffic moved along its length. Most traffic kept to the outsides, with the center lane reserved for the royal chariots of state. Thurgod and Oorgo kept to the right edge, as foot traffic heading towards the Gate was expected to do. Within a few minutes of starting along the Way, a chariot driven by a servant of Cyllgod and carrying in it one of her demigod agents thundered through the middle of the street.
"Why don't you have a chariot for you, Thurgod?"
"It would be better if you called me Master, child. Others may call me by that name, but you may have a better one."
"But Thurgod's your name. Why can't I call you by your name if everyone else can?"
Thurgod cocked his head once before he got it straight again, but even in that time Oorgo's face went pale. "Because to you the important thing is not that I am called Thurgod, but that I am Master. But I have been a brute and ignored your question. I do not have a chariot because the Queen has not given me one."
"Why can't you have one?"
"Horses are rare, even now."
"But surely a god..."
"There are many gods, have you not seen? Were there not many in the Queen's Court when you went to make your request?"
"But aren't you greater than them?"
"If you want me to answer questions, you must learn to ask them while walking, child."
Oorgo skipped ahead of Thurgod then said again, "But aren't you a greater god than all of them except her?"
"Well, what would make one god greater than another?"
"Being able to do... things!"
Thurgod laughed, and his gait slowed as he did so. "I suppose you mean that I am greater because I can smash metal from one shape to another? Do you think that no one else can do this?"
"And you can make golems! No one else can do that."
"What you say is not strictly true, but nearly enough," he said. As the words left the god's mouth his face might have been seen to wince very briefly, but Oorgo paid no attention, neither did the child see the mirth of the previous question melt completely from the deity's face as he elevated his chin slightly.
"But they can do that thing where they turn into light and fly away. I saw them do it in... what did you call it?"
"Probably the Queen's Court."
"Can you do that?"
"Turn into light? Why would I want to? Light cannot bend metal on this planet."
"What's a planet?"
"It's like a ball of rock very far away up by the stars."
"But can you do it? All of those gods had funny shapes their light came from. Do you have a funny shape inside you?"
"I cannot change into light. And the funny shapes, cores they are called, are only there when a god looks like light."
"How far is it to the Sixth Mine?"
"Long enough that I expect you will ask me that question probably five more times before we get there."
"I wish we had a chariot."
"You might wish it for a moment, child, but from how taught you keep the line I expect you would want to be out of its seat before we got there."
"You said you can see the wheels of the chariots. Are my parents coming here soon?"
"Are your parents made of metal? Or how should I see them?"
"If you could see the wheels..."
"Then how should I know who rides in them? Besides, I cannot see forever. And even did I know I might not tell you that I did."
"I can neither tell you what I know nor why I will not tell it to you."
Oorgo opened his mouth, but Thurgod preempted him, "Nor will I tell you why I will not tell you why I will not tell you, and neither will I be tricked into answering that monosyllabic question again."
"Monosyllabic. It means it only little grunt to say it."
New words slowed down Oorgo. They stuck in his mind as he tried to fill them out with memories and unconscious associations as he had done with all other words. Thurgod did not mind the respite from questioning.
Within a few hours the pair had escaped the Way and then the city proper, descending the winding path which trekked across the steep hillside descending from the capital. The Sixth Mine began down below the ridge, slowly eroding the base of the North Spire, which lay at the north extreme of the Gate. By time they had accomplished only a quarter of the descent Oorgo had grown tired, and rode the rest of the way on the shoulders of the smith god.
At the bottom of the track they were greeted by a stone fence, and in it a gap serving as a gate, guarded by a stone golem with a block shaped head. "State your business here, and show your authorization to enter."
Thurgod set Oorgo down and whispered to him, "The golem asks you a question."
Oorgo just stood, staring at the golem and its curiously squared limbs.
"Why are we here, child?"
"To bring this."
"That is what he wants to know."
Oorgo stepped forward. Somehow this machine was more intimidating even than the butcher or Mister Henlick. "I... I am here to bring this."
The golem looked down at him. This was not a phrase it knew. It did not know how to look at a thing and know what it was. It had been given gate duty because it had grown old, and not useful for swinging a pick. But with a silent command from Thurgod's mind it said, "Good. What is your authorization to enter?"
Oorgo looked back at the god. "What does it mean?"
"It wants to know who says you can be here."
"Thurgod, Master Smith, says I can be here," he repeated to the golem.
This command it understood, and after a moment of searching its own mind for the truth it found that indeed, Thurgod had told it from afar that a small boy would be there that evening.
"You may enter," it said, and then resumed its stature looking out from the gate, as it had stood most of each day for dozens of years.
After they passed it, Oorgo asked Thurgod in a whisper, "Is that golem dumber than the other ones?" He looked behind them to be sure it did not here.
"Yes. It was made for swinging a pick, and blocky stone does not hold wisdom well."
"Why doesn't it mine anymore?"
"A fall chipped its right foot, as may have escaped your notice, but enough to make it unworthy of mine work, where a stumble is very dangerous." Then Thurgod raised his voice, "Sallid! Your master needs you here."
Suddenly a tall golem with metal limbs, covered all over in gears, levers, and sliding joints, turned. Its limbs were spindly, thinner in each part than the crystal golems of Cyllgod's house. It strutted over to the pair, other lessor golems adjusting their routes to avoid his as they moved hither and thither carrying loads.
"How can I serve the Master Smith?" the voice clanked. Unlike other golems of a more solid make, Stallid had no definable exterior shell except for the top and front of his head. Where his mouth was to be, as his face was clearly designed, there was a small aperture into a metal box, the most solid thing about him besides the dome which made the top. What wonders went on within the box to produce speech were known only to Thurgod.
"First, you must meet my new mortal servant, the child Oorgo."
Stallid's metal eyes turned unnaturally towards the boy. With the limited dimension of his skull, he occasionally looked through his own head, in this case rolling his eyes downward to look through where a human would have had a jaw.
Thurgod interrupted the golem's greeting, "Have you been out in the rain, Stallid? This is not how I built you to behave."
"An underground sea, it was then? Have you felt any water lately?"
Stallid's eyes rolled back to look straight at Thurgod, and he knit his brow, "I do not recall meeting water, but is the nature of water that I would forget it. What part of my service is unsatsifactory?"
"You forget to turn your head when you look towards things near you, instead rolling your eyes freely. Humans find that unnerving." Oorgo was clutching Thurgod's leg.
"I am sorry, Master Smith..."
"That is not all, Stallid. You I suppose it was that sent me the Flying Word?"
Oorgo looked up and whispered, "Is that the bug machine with the message?"
Thurgod pointed his face down and said, "Yes," in an undertone.
Stallid responded, "Yes. I had not received a golem part back from you which I desperately needed. I have been forced to great pains without it..."
"You wrote your message on parchment, Stallid."
"Yes, sir. That is how I usually send messages of an official nature."
"You have forgotten, then, that I am the blind god."
"A god, blind?"
Thurgod sighed. "Yes. You must have been in water. You have forgotten to use the metal messages I gave you. Kneel down, Stallid."
Stallid knelt into the dirt without protest, sullying his silver limbs. Thurgod reached into the golems head, then drew out a thin bar of metal, covered all over in tiny grooves. He blew on it, then into the compartment from whence it came, and the rust scraped off.
The smith god replaced the thin bar, and then did this action seven more times on other little bars. At last he replaced the last one and said, "Stand up, Stallid."
The golem stood, and for a moment its eyes flicked about, but never beyond their expected places. It even moved its head down to look at Oorgo, and then back up again. It clanked, "It is good. It is like a haze has been blown away. I see much better now."
"May I leave this part with you and have you replace it, Stallid? I am eager to return home."
Stallid reached down and accepted the golem piece from Oorgo. "Yes, this will be easy. When I have done so, I will tell the men to come up from that mine as the golem returns."
Thurgod had begun to turn when he arrested his own movement. He turned back to Stallid and said, "Repeat that. Are you sure the haze is gone?"
"Yes, and you would know better than I. I said I would bring the men back up from that mine when this golem was ready to return."
Oorgo did not like the expression which Thurgod's metal-marred face took on at that moment.

Beyond the Rim Installment 17

"Now, Oorgo, we must go out of the compound and return to the main thoroughfare. Do you know the way?"
"I think I do, Master."
"Good. The sixth mine is against the Setting Wall; we avoided it when we climbed into the mountains."
"When I explored the little cave high up there, and then told you about the sunset because you could not see it?"
"That is not why you told me about it, but it was that day. Unless you learn to talk while moving your feet we will have to cease talking, if we are to make our transit there and returned before the day grows late. I do not prefer to walk back in darkness."
"Doesn't it all look the same to you?"
"That is a question which I think I am unable to answer honestly, because neither yes nor no speaks the truth. But see here, your feet are still planted. I'll not answer another question until we are out of the gate."
Oorgo bounded, Thurgod feeling the tension increase on the guiding chain increase suddenly, and began to walk. Within another moment Oorgo called, "I'm out of the gate!" then Thurgod heard the sound of his feet pattering along the stone road.
Thurgod grinned as he stepped beyond the door into his walled compound. "You're out but not going far. This chain is for more than my guidance." And immediately there was a thud as Oorgo tripped up, held back by the god's planted feet as the deity dropped the metal latches of his door shut again. "Now we may move forward, boy."
Oorgo ran along excitedly, with Thurgod stomping along his short strides behind him. The line that connected them stayed nearly taught. From its varying direction, Thurgod could tell that Oorgo was running hither and thither across the street, looking down the streets that crossed with theirs.
Thurgod lived on what been the western edge of the city a thousand years ago, but was now surpassed by two more quarters of the city, a distance which the city had grown in the first few centuries of the city's growth, whereupon population growth, except by immigration and forced resettlement, ceased. His home lay within a walled compound - the exterior walls of his home were the walls - all surrounding that inner courtyard in which the messenger machine had landed. His living quarters occupied less than a quarter of this ring, with storage sheds and work chambers forming most of the rest. The gate of his compound faced south, towards that main causeway of a road which ejected from the Rim Gate, which, truthfully called, was merely a door into Cyllgod's castle, for none ever ventured beyond the Rim. The road was more of a causeway because it insisted upon remaining perfectly level, ignoring the fluctuation of terrain, and so was, by time it reached this distance from the Rim Gate, being considerably beyond the tallest foothills, nearly forty feet above Thurgod's home.
What it lacked in practicality, Cyllgod's Way made up in grandeur. Built in an era before Cyllgod's attending demigods had grown proud and lazy, each of its stone was laid by immortal hands which did not tire from lifting, and which might work for five hundred years at one task and not grow weary. Oorgo could hardly help but find a path to it, as the road loomed overall the houses, apartments, and shops which lay between Thurgod's compound and the Way.
On the north side of Thurgod's compound the ground had been worthless before the compound was built. When Thurgod had been established there and had drilled down for water he had discovered a great lake of it, fed by snowmelt draining through the mountainsides and into subterranean rivers. The stories said that he and an army of golems had descended thither, and below the ground built mighty waterworks which provided the moisture for the soil downhill, and thus was established the Smith Farms, a colony of growing food in the valley.
By now they had reached the foot of the Way, and Oorgo had stopped, forgetting in which direction the stairway was located. Thurgod's legs, though, knew the way, Oorgo to guide or no, and he naturally turned to the right, against the way their little road up from his gate, which lay at the end of a north-south road, had veered. Oorgo immediately agreed and came up along Thurgod, this time not running further on.
"So does it all look the same to you?"
Thurgod's mind had been otherwise occupied, but he quickly recalled the topic from which this question sprung. "My eyes see things no differently, but I see different things."
"I thought you didn't see anything."
"Now, child, you know I see some things. Or how else did you think I could make the device you carry far too unsteadily?"
Oorgo unconsciously tightened his left arm. "You can see metal. But metal's the same in the day or the night."
"What men do with metal is different. More knives and, whether you would believe it or not, more coins move around at night than at day."
"Can you see other people's coins?"
"They are all my coins. Every coin with which every thing is bought and for which everything in the Rim is sold was made by my strike, by my mold, or by my golem, and they all bear my seal. I have given them to the Queen's nation, so that it may profit by trade."
"How far can you see?"
"But how far? Can you see the Queen's crown from here?"
"If I stopped to look for it, yes."
"And the rims on the wheels of her chariots, can you see them?"
"If I cared to."
"And the golems with metal heads in other towns, do you see them?"
"There is no golem within the Rim that I do not see."
"Are there golems outside the Rim? I was taught there was nothing outside the Rim?"
Thurgod suddenly sat down and drooped his head. He rubbed his hand against the Band, but then quickly withdrew it.
"Can't you talk about things beyond the rim?"
"No, I can't, Oorgo. It is forbidden."
"Does the Queen not want anyone to know about things past her gate?"
Thurgod fell down flat on the stone pavement, and Oorgo began to cry.
"I am sorry, Master. I am sorry. I..."
Thurgod put up a hand to tell the child to stop, or otherwise to grasp the child's shoulder, but instead ended up palming the boy's face. This, by reason of its strangeness, had the desired affect of ending the child's blubbering. Thurgod stood up, then released the boy's face.
"There is no need to cry for my pain, child. When I chose you I might have known you would have questions on questions, and some I could not answer. I am older than this pain, and fear it not. See, even now it is gone. We must be walking up the stairs"
Before Oorgo could wimper any more he found himself being pulled along by the leading line, and then in another minute he had forgotten the last time he made his master drop down short, though anyone who was the pink lines of tears which had appeared as rapidly as they do for children would have known something had happened amiss.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 16

Oorgo opened his mouth, but before he could say anything Thurgod said, "It would be better if you asked me no more questions of the hammer."
"Is it one of the things you're not allowed to talk about?"
Thurgod was spared the jab of pain by a sudden distraction. A curious sound, a mixture of whirling and whooshing, caught the attention of both master and apprentice. Thurgod proceeded out into the courtyard beyond, with Oorgo coming behind him, still slightly wheezing. His breath was utterly caught when he looked up towards the sound.
A curious device, shaped like a butterfly but with an extra set of wings placed crosswise over the semi-sphere of its body was hovering over the courtyard, slowly descending. It spun about on its own axis even as it flapped its thin, metallic wings.
"This is the work of a master smith, Oorgo," said Thurgod, speaking slightly above his regular volume, to overcome the sound.
The device flew perfectly, though gracelessly and with an increased buzzing noise as it approached to a small half-column that stood in Thurgod's courtyard, capped with metal. Thereupon it landed, and its wings slowed their movement gradually.
"Is it magical, Master?"
"You might call it that, but even the wisest of men would know better. It does not take the word of a god to move this, only the smith craft of one. Perhaps in a dozen lives of men, or in a score, or in a hundred, they will fashion a thing like this." Thurgod gave the underbelly of the machine a twist and it came loose, resembling a basin in his hands. The metal was very thin, and Thurgod held it in his hands very gently. It looked as though even Oorgo might have crushed it in his hands.
"What is it?"
"It is a machine that I made years ago. You must be both young and from a far place to have never heard or seen one of these. These carry the messages of Cyllgod's government."
"Is it a golem?"
"It is less than a golem in intelligence. If a bird struck it while it was in flight, it could not right itself, nor could it tell its master of the problem. Happily, most birds are wiser than to do so."
"Why is it sent to you?"
"That I have yet to gain. Do you read, child?"
"No, but I can count," Oorgo replied.
Thurgod grinned, then grunted, "Yes, I can do the second as well, but on the first I suppose we both struggle. Perhaps I have asked the wrong question. Is there parchment in this carrier, Oorgo?"
The child hopped over and looked inside. "Yes, master, and it has writing on it, and a wax symbol at the bottom."
"Can you describe the symbol to me? Perhaps we will know who has sent this machine to me. Whoever it is is not wise enough to remember that I am the blind god."
"The seal looks like dying moon with a pole coming from its center where the god's grave opens."
"So it is one of the mines. They call that thing a pickax, child. Is there a number below it?"
"There is something that I cannot read. Could that be a number?"
"Tell me what it looks like, and then we'll know."
"It looks like most of a circle."
"Yes, all numbers in this country are that way, child. But which part of the circle?"
"The whole half on the left, and the lower half on the right."
"It is the seal of the Sixth Mine, at the base of the Tranquil Tower on the Queen's Gate. The piece of a golem on which I have been working is from there. Perhaps that is the business for which they write."
"Couldn't you ask the flying bug machine?"
"If it were a golem, I could, but it is not so intelligent."
"But it could see the post. It had to. It landed right there."
"It is made of a smarter metal than anything I have made in your lifetime or that of your father or his father, for as many fathers as are remembered by even his father. But I did not infuse it to be a golem."
"No, child, infuse. It is a different word. It means to put a special thing into another one and change how it works."
"Like yeast in dough?"
"Yes. But it is time to restrain your questions until we start walking. I will fetch the things for travel; the sixth mine is across the city and down to the base of the towers."
Thurgod re-emerged from the living quarters with a pack on his back, carrying ingots of iron, his sight coins, and true currency besides. He also carried a chain of very tiny links which had leather loops on each end. "I will need you to hold an end of this, Oorgo. It is long since I walked this path, and it may have changed. I will tell you where to go, but if I am to get there you must tell me where to step. But first I must get the golem-piece that remains in the forge." The god tossed the chain to the child and strode back into the forge, re-emerging carrying the joint-mechanism in his hand.
"May I carry the golem-piece, Master?" asked Oorgo, as they prepared to step outside.
Thurgod turned immediately and handed it to the child, who was immediately fascinated by the number of movable parts. He began to pull and to twist it this way and that. "You may carry it only if you do not do that with it. It is metal, but thin, and if you change its shape I must forge it all over again. I can undo the clasps and buttons the right way, but not you."
Oorgo accepted the instruction and held it gingerly in his left hand, hanging down at his side, while his right was linked to Thurgod's left arm.

Beyond the Rim Installment 15

Oorgo awoke to the seventh loud clang that echoed into Thurgod's common room. The boy stood up and brushed off the straw that had seeped into his sleeping space, simultaneously rubbing the parts of his body that had grown cold against the ground. Oorgo stepped out the back door of Thurgod's abode and crossed the courtyard outside, heading for the building from which smoke poured. The clang, Oorgo had already learned to guess, came from the chains on the deep well which Thurgod had dug himself. It was not properly a well, feeding in fact from a great underground lake and not merely from groundwater. By a screw-like mechanism, Thurgod could pull up water as much as he needed.
Oorgo pressed lightly on the door, and it swung open. This was what Thurgod called the First Mortals Forge. It was the smallest of his smithies, and so named the First. It was also lightly constructed, with many windows and light doors, so that whatever wind would blow so low in the valley might allow the heat from the forge to dissipate, and there mortals might live. To Thurgod the heat was not pain; it was merely heat. He knew it in every degree and measured it precisely as it related to his smith work, neither fearing it nor withering under its oppression. The Last Forge, the Forge of the God, as it was called in the capital, was for Thurgod alone. There resided machines so heavy and heat so great that only his own stone golems were of any use. And there he could practice his craft undisturbed. In days past he had been known to labor in that chamber for days without ceasing, when he forged his greatest wonders. It had for over a decade now sat locked and cool.
Oorgo had been shown these forges in the first days of his serving Thurgod. Into each of them he had stepped and been shown the machines, made of progressively tougher materials and filled with harder and longer tools.The strongest forges required a great amount of fuel to burn, and so it was impractical to fire one of them up for a routine task. Thurgod was the only golem-maker in the valley, a monopoly enforced by Cyllgod. When not building or repairing golems, Thurgod might be called upon to forge any tool or weapon for a government, and occasionally one of the treasures that Cyllgod gave as gifts to her most valuable supporters. The greatest mark of wealth and prestige was to wear a trinket forged by the smith god.
Thurgod was at work on a small part of a mining golem. One of the living metal joints had gone into disrepair when the golem that used it had swung its pick askew. It was delicate work, but did not require much heat. For this, Thurgod would use the lightest forge. In days past he had had more mortal servants, but for a century now Cyllgod had only allowed him one.
"I am awake, Master."
Thurgod swung his hammer again from the elbow, bending back a red hot beam of the joint.
"That is good. The time for sleep is over, child."
"What will you have me to do?"
"You should pump the bellows so that we may have more heat, and I may focus on the shaping."
Oorgo stepped to the bellows, the upper handle of which was over his head, where he could just reach it. He tossed off the latch that held up the heavy handle, and immediately began to pump the bellows. Thurgod replaced the defective part in the fire with his hand, where it slowly began to redden. When Thurgod placed it there, he would stand motionless waiting at the anvil, his face pointed towards the glowing heat, waiting for it to be ready, while Oorgo continued to strain at the bellows.
Within a few minutes, Oorgo could no longer pull down the upper handle of the large bellows without merely holding onto it and slumping towards the floor. With a whimper his hand fell off the handle and he drooped to the floor. "I cannot pull it anymore, master."
Thurgod did not respond, but merely stretched his right arm over to where the child had stood, and began pumping the bellows with that one hand with twice the speed that Oorgo had managed. The fire blazed yellow and red, imparting its color to the metal. "This is the final round, Oorgo. Recover breath and strength."
"Why do you make me do it?"
"You need to become stronger, child." Thurgod reached into the fire and pulled out the red hot metal, setting it back on the anvil. He released the bellows and took up his hammer, making a few last adjustments to the joint.
"How much stronger?"
Thurgod struck the fastener one last time then set down the hammer. "To answer your question, I need you to come closer."
Oorgo did not understand but did obey. Thurgod's outstretched hand found the top of the boy's head then dropped to his shoulder, sliding down his arm an inch. The god's fingers formed a full ring around the boy's arm. "I would say it must be much stronger. That is the smallest of the bellows, and the way of humans is already on you."
"The what?"
"You are already tired."
"But if you wanted me to do hard work you shouldn't have taken me."
"I did not take you to make you do hard work. I do not dislike hard word. You see that I do it with one hand, and so have I done for ages beyond your count, and I have two hands."
"Then what did you take me here for?" Only by reason of his youth could this question went unasked in the first few days of Oorgo's apprenticeship
"You are an apprentice. For what is an apprentice?"
Oorgo grew nervous. Not understanding a grown-up's statement was regular course; he knew there was usually trouble if he did not understand a question.
"Your father. Why does he make your sister bake? Is it because he cannot?"
"Because she must learn."
"Because she must learn to be a baker. And there is the same for you."
"But he's not my master, he's my father."
"The second is the first and more, as I may be, in time."
Oorgo flattened his lips, nervous again.
"I am sorry, Oorgo. I forget that for children not all things are easily seen."
Oorgo's expression did not change.
"You are my apprentice so that I can make you a master smith."
"But that would take years!"
"I have many of those, and you are a child, so you do, too."
"Why would you want a master smith? You are the smithing god."
"And what if I am not here? Then who to fashion golems to do dangerous work which men cannot?"
"Where would you go?"
"Gods may die. You will have heard that one did."
"Cyllgod killed him."
"Indeed, and the world was worse that he had only ever trained one servant among humans. I will train many, so that smithcraft cannot be lost. Men must shape metal, or they shape nothing at all."
"Master, why is your hammer bent?"
This time Thurgod was silent for a moment. "What do you ask, child?"
"Your hammer. The handle is not straight. It is bent like a circle at the end. Why?"
Thurgod pointed his face at the hammer still resting in his hand. His head jolted to a side and Oorgo back, but Thurgod instantly regained composure. Taking a deep breath the smith god said, "Because I bent it, Oorgo."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 14

"Be quick, Holder. They will know that we have come in again."
"I can only read so quickly and still use the gift, Threader."
"Fine. I hold the torch and hope the guardians don't come down this hallway, while you read in peace."
Holder picked a scroll from the drawer and began to read.

"This cave is grand, Meldus."
"I knew you would appreciate a giant hollow of stone."
"Do you know, wiser one, how it was made?"
"The will of a being greater than the stone was applied."
"Yes, but how? It was not made by humans, it is too perfect. Was it here when First God made the Earth, or was it the will of Endro himself?"
"I do not think that Endro carved this. He would have said something to us about it, and it is not his way to put holes into the stone in such perfect shape."
"And this, this Meldus. It appears like a dais. Some god has made a seat here."
"I do not know any more of these mysteries, Thurgod. I found a crack and wondered of it, and found this hall, and immediately returned to court, seeking Endro to ask him of it. Finding you there and he gone..."
Thurgod held up his hand and stared at the floor. "It would be better if you were silent."
Meldus ceased from speaking, and looked where Thurgod stared. The smith god closed his eyes, dropped to his knees, and stroked his face along the smooth stone of the floor.
Meldus' form swelled, and the colors that usually rested amongst his pearled body shrieked out in arcs about his body. His voice assumed a ring he could not hold in, "We ousted them an eon past."
Thurgod stroked his left hand along the floor. "There is no metal in this stone for me. I will be of little help."
Meldus floated off of the floor, his form winding together into a tighter column of pearled magnificence. "Their skill of concealment has increased, or I would have shattered a hand of them already."
"I do not think there are five, but you and I know one might be as evil two hands of them. They are each different."
Meldus relaxed, returning to a shape with arms and legs. "I would rupture them each all the same, and then even Itris could not tell which part was from which," and the great god laughed.
"It is metal, Meldus. I can feel it."
"Metal that reeks of Xerphii?"
"I tell you it reminds me of Xeprhii, and I know it like I know metal. It is below us."
"Then Endro must be summoned. You and he are the ones to retrieve it. We must know the answer."
"Perhaps Itris, as well? She would be the one to look at a thing and understand it."
"You are the smith, Thurgod. Do not let your humility demand the time of a god who loves her studies as much as she. If when you have touched it you still do know understand it at once, and I am most mistaken about how your power is, then call upon Itris. I will send for Endro now, and when I am done, go to First God's home, to tell him of this when he returns."
All at once Meldus disintegrated into ten thousand tiny pearls which set off in a stream out of the cavern by way of the cave through which the two gods had come. Thurgod knew that next the great god's form would ascend in a silver and rainbow pinnacle to the sky, from which he would call to Endro.
Indeed the call came swiftly for a minute later, while Thurgod still rubbed his knuckles on the floor seeking the closer call of that metal which he had never felt, and which had never bowed to his stroke upon an anvil, Endro appeared.
Endro was the most human-like of the gods, having neither remarkable beauty nor ugliness to make him noteworthy, and neither strength nor fatness to recommend him. Alone amongst the gods Endro could sift through earth and unrefined metal at will, and he breathed the grains of sand more happily than air. Endro stepped through the wall of the chamber. Endro's speech was initiated by a spew of dust and gravel from his mouth, which scattered on the floor. "I am summoned by Meldus. I would ask if you had carved this cave without my word, but I know better of you, brother."
Endro approached Thurgod, and each at once placed his right hand firmly on the others shoulder and rapped their heads together sharply, then released the other. "My blood that is in you would have told you, and your blood in me would have not allowed it. I have found trail of Xerphii here, and I am aware of a metal I do not know."
Endro stood stiffly. "I know every ore there is, and every cave that is made I know of, before stream can carve it I have seen its bed. Yet here I stand in air I did not allow. Where is the metal? For if there were Xerphii here, we would not so speak."
"I think it is yonder," said Thurgod, pointing towards the couch of stone which rested upon a platform on the further end of the hall, "but I warn you, it resists being known by me, and no metal has ever done so before."
Endro lurched towards the dais, his feet resting happily a few inches below the floor of the hall, and he sloshed his way through it, as humans walk through knee-deep water. Thurgod followed. As he ascended the dais, he dropped again to his knees, but then faced upwards, wincing. "The metal fights back. Perhaps a Xerphii is made of metal?"
"Tell me its place, Thurgod."
"Behind the dais an arm's length of mine, perhaps an arm and a hand."
Endro stepped where Thurgod indicated, then sneered at the floor, and pointing his finger at it the stone gave way as though driven by an augur. As the stone chips flew he said, "How far, Thurgod?"
"If I lay on my face, I would think I could reach it through a hole."
Then suddenly Endro sprawled backward, and his form fell into the stone utterly. He rose again out of it in an instant. "That is no earth which I put there, nor ore that I left to be found!"
But Thurgod was already standing over the hole his brother had bored. At the bottom was a curious stone, like the largest of fruits, pristine in smoothness, yet reticulated in shape. "It looks like one of Itris' drawings of the brain in a human head."
Endro stood over it, "It is altogether evil, and harms me exceedingly." He held his hand in front of him, shaking it as though to make the pain release it.
"The same would have happened had you tried to order the water or the sky to your will. This is not a thing in your domain. The Xerphii answer only to the authority of Meldus and of First God. To the rest of us, we must use our might, or else work the world against them. You cannot come against them with the decree of your power."
"Speak no longer, Thurgod, but smash it by your might then. How should one of them have hidden so long." Endro swished his arm, and through the stone wall away from which he had swung came clattering chunks of ore, the toughest iron of the earth answering the earth god's call.
Thurgod held aloft his left hand, and into it a hammer formed, leaving only the dust of the ores behind, all the iron being taken up. "No forge to soften thee, nor anvil to shape thee, but only my hand to smash thee, Xerphii," he cried, then swung down with all his might.
All the gravel that Endro had made leapt from the floor, and then the shockwave cast Thurgod into the air, tossing head over heels backward through the air until he crashed into the wall of the opposite side of the hall. Endro recoiled into the Earth again.
After a gasp, Thurgod collected himself, and ran back. There was no dent where he had struck it.
"Were it a Xerphii that blow must have crushed its soul, or it is greater than I."
Endro barely showed his face from the wall of the cave. "I loathe all of this. A cave I did not authorize, a metal you did not know. And Thurgod, your hand!"
Thurgod looked at his left hand. In it he still, absentmindedly, clutched the shaft of his hammer, but the head was no where to be seen, its only trace being the sudden kink at the end of the shaft which held no weight. And Thurgod's hand was covered in blood.
"No metal can shed the blood of a god, brother. This is malevolence beyond us!"
Thurgod turned back to Endro, "Then it should have woken, and destroyed us both. I say it is not Xerphii, but an artefact of theirs. A thing they put here, to do some evil we do not yet know."
"Then I will bury it deeper, and let the heart of my earth destroy it forever."
"We will wait on the word of Meldus from First God, Endro. For it was the will of First God that we only meet the Xerphii when he sends us and tells us all we should know. It was his order in ages past."
"No Xerphii have been seen since we were young, Thurgod, and First God may not return until we are old. We must do what we can."
"Then I would wait on wisdom from Meldus or sight from Itris. We must leave it here, and do no more with this cave, until we know its evil rightly from one wiser or more discerning than ourselves."
"You would have me leave this sore within the Earth?"
"It is hard for you brother, and it is hard for me to leave a metal unshaped. But there was a time when things were always this way, when the Xerphii were frequent, before they were ousted at last. Be patient again, and we will wait until the ones who choose well have told us what to do."
Endro stepped back towards the walls of stone. "I am not as foolish as you imagine, Thurgod, for the earth knows good and evil. It is as old as we, and it tells me that it wills to burn this thing."
"The earth is not our master, but you are its, and another is yours. We will wait until they speak."
Endro bowed, "I will not contradict those who speak down to us, but I say that they can only agree with me, and it may be that we wish I had destroyed it sooner." Then the earth god retreated to his stone, and was seen no more. The smith-god returned to the surface and turned towards the city, to return there, seeking Itris.

"It is the story of how Korlythe was made. We have wanted this secret."
"And what of his name? Have we found his true name?"
"No. It is written here as we know it today."
"Blast! And here they come!" The Guardian appeared in the hallway down which Threader watched. It cried out as it spotted the light in the scroll-vault, lurching forward with titanic speed.
"Time for your gift to come of use, Threader."
The two boys ran for the window, Holder dropping the scroll back into the drawer from whence it came. They linked arms as they squeezed through the window, dropping outside of it just below its sill as a slender spike flew just over them.
The Guardian ran to the window, and glowered down, seeing no one.

"Do you still remember the words, Holder?"
"With perfection, as usual."
"Good. Then the Master will be pleased."

Monday, August 3, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 13

The door of the bakery rattled on its hinges from repetitive strokes to the outside. Someone was ignoring the knocker, and also ignoring the still blue-grey skies of early morning, untainted by the sun's rise.
The door swung open, and the woman outside nearly knocked on the Durnath patriarch's head before she noticed.
"Lady Thyron! What in the Valley could bring a butcher's wife to my door after I've just got the first loaf in? I haven't forgot an order, have I? Not in a decade..."
"Oh shut up, Durnath. It's the delivery boy..."
Durnath's face fell. "Has he been getting into mischief? I told his family that I didn't want an apprentice and wouldn't take any trouble from one now that I had to..."
"No, not that oaf you brought on. Your son!"
"He's here?" Durnath had nearly jumped out the door when the butcher's wife caught his arm.
"No no no. It's so much better than that!"
Durnath's hard expression accosted her more harshly than any words could have. "Oh? Tell me how it's better than my getting my boy back." Durnath did not waste his breath on yelling. He reached behind himself, preparing to finish tying his apron and get back inside.
"Thurgod, Durnath! Thurgod."
"The Queen, may her reign be glorious, the Queen's golem-maker?"
"Shut up and let me tell you, Durnath. Your boy's apprentice to the smith god!"
Durnath took a step back. "Are you awake, woman? You'd have had to sleep walk many stairs and a street to get here."
"Stop questioning me and let me tell you what's gone on!"
"Please do. But step inside. It is bitter cold still."
The lady thrust past the baker and sat on the first chair she could find, in fact a particularly uncomfortable stool, but she took no notice. "I had a dream this night, Durnath. Not like any dream I've had. It hit me in the middle of the night, while I had been dreaming another thing. It was like I woke up, and stepped outside, just in time to see your boy come running up my stairs, you know, the shortcut I gave him, because I felt sorry..."
"Because you knew no one knew the town's rumors and gossip than the baker's boy. Go on."
"Would you stop interrupting! He was running up my stairs, as though he'd just carried bread out, but instead he was carrying one of those big, metal, wafer coins they use in the capital."
"A boon-coin?"
"Yes! That's what they are. I've been half crazy trying to remember. It's the morning, and all..."
"Yes, it is, and you're in my house before my family's even awake...."
The butcher's wife called out, "Lady Durnath! Mairda! Up you two!"
Durnath raised his eyes to the ceiling, then quickly composed himself as his family appeared on the stairs.
"What are you doing here, Thyron?" yawned Durnath's wife, then awkwardly she covered her mouth.
"I'm trying to tell your fool husband what happened to Oorgo, but he won't stop interrupting me.
Durnath threw up his hands, and as his wife opened her mouth to respond Mairda squeeled, "Is he alright?"
"Alright? He's working for Thurgod now, the smith god. Your son is the apprentice to a god as old as the Queen herself! Her greatest servant!"
"How do you know this?" asked the boy's mother.
"Oh, just stop asking questions and I'll tell you. I just dreamed, not a normal dream, you know, but it felt like I was awake. I dreamed that he was coming up my stairs carrying a boon-coin, the token that grants a favor from the gods, and when I asked him what'd become of him he said, 'While in the capital with Henlick I went to see Cyllgod, but angered her.'"
"He did what?" belched his mother.
"Shut up you all!" bossed Lady Thyron. "'I went to see Cyllgod, but angered her. I found grace with Thurgod, who was seeking a new servant for his forge. Now I am well cared for, but do wish I could see my family again. I must not leave the city, for Cyllgod would not allow it. Take this boon-coin to my parents, that they may come to the capital, and that I may see them again. Tell them at once to bake all the flour for the week, and to transfer their orders down the hill for a week, so that they may come."
Then with a flourish Lady Thyron produced from a pocket an elliptical wafer of metal, engraved on one side with the emblem of Thurgod and the seal of Her Majesty Cyllgod, and on the other, "Passage on Royal Roads and Lodging in the Royal Inns, Until the First Frost."
Durnath's eyes were wide, and as he approached that week's remaining flour he said, "You said you dreamed it. How'd you get the boon-coin?"
"I ran out of the house to tell you the dream, and the town golem was standing in the middle of the road. It held out its hand, and while I nearly fainted away to see it standing away from the gong, it dropped this on the ground."
Durnath dropped the sack of flour on the ground, causing a great chorus of clanks and clinks. He uttered, "It's not flour, Janith. It's not flour."
Durnath's wife flew down the remaining stairs and tore open the bag of flour. Silver coins spread across the floor. "We could eat for weeks on this."
Durnath's eyes were wide. "It's not for eating. We have passage on the Royal Roads and lodging in the Royal Inns. The journey there and back is covered, but the first frost will come in only two weeks at most. We will need a journey-cart."
Janith whispered, "Its the second day of the week. The journey-cart leaves at dawn."
Durnath said, "Then we must be quick. It's at the bottom of the village."
Lady Thyron offered, "You can take my stairs..." but after the boon-coin was out of her hands she could not get one more word of hers to be paid any attention.
She was left with this last instruction, "No doubt you know all our orders. Tell the baker down the hill to take them until we return." Before she was done being told, she already was relishing in the joy it would be to be the only one in town who could explain the mysterious disappearance of the rest of the Durnath family. The rumors!
The Durnath family had gathered what they needed, including all the silver from the flour sack, and left in only two minutes. Lady Thyron was abandoned in their house, and just before she left she had the wit to put out the fire in the fireplace, and finding a few fresh loaves there, she scooped them up and took them home, locking the door of the Durnath bakery behind her.

Beyond the Rim Installment 12

Thurgod awoke from his nightly repose to the small cries of a little child, stifled just moments too late to keep from coming out of its mouth.The deity rolled off his bed of iron and strode to his door, leaning his head against it to listen. From without, in the common room where his apprentice slept, a slight whimpering filtered through the planks of the door.
Thurgod thrust the door open quickly, and the whimpering was cut off immediately.
"I am sorry, child, for startling you. I had forgotten that a sudden movement in the night can scare a child, even when he is at home."
Oorgo said nothing, but huddled under his blanket, though it was summer, and quite warm in the valley.
"Are you ashamed that you were heard to be crying?"
The ball under the blanket curled tighter, but Thurgod could not discern this. The smith god shuffled across the room, lifted up a crate of iron ore which had yet to be smelted, and then set it near where he recalled having placed Oorgo's bed. During all of this, only a few choked sobs escaped from the child.
"I cannot see you, Oorgo, so all I can learn about you is from your hearing and the sight of the gods. I could understand you better if you would speak."
I tiny strained whisper came through the bedding. "I hate this place."
Thurgod breathed deeply through his nose, then asked, "Do you mean this room, this forge, this city, or this valley?" He asked this, though the sight of the gods let him know the first two were false.
"No is an answer to a question I did not ask," said Thurgod. "Do you mean by that that you wish you were still at home? You wish to still carry bread for your father, and listen to stories from the bard?"
The half-way unfettered sob which Thurgod heard next confirmed to him his suspicion.
"I am not a god for healing human hearts, nor am I skilled in setting their minds at ease. That..." but Thurgod could not finish his sentence, and instead toppled from the crate with a thud. This caused Oorgo to finally peak out from his covers.
"What is it, Master? Does the band pain you again?"
"It is the band, Oorgo," said Thurgod, through a strained throat.
"It comes when you nearly say something you have been forbidden to say, doesn't it?"
"This is not a time to talk of my trouble, Oorgo. I am a god, and have seen trouble for a hundred lives of men, and then only begun to see it."
"But you do not see it. You are blind." Oorgo spat,
Thurgod breathed heavily as he righted himself back to the crate and pointed his face towards the bed. "Blindness is the least of my troubles, young one. Do not trouble yourself with the troubles of gods."
"I don't care about the trouble of gods. I hate her."
Thurgod leaned backwards slightly. "You speak that feeling to the only one in this city to which you could and live."
"She can't hurt me if you don't let her. You are a god, too."
"I am a god, but if Cyllgod came against me tonight, I would not live."
Oorgo cowered back into his mattress, his eyes wide. His fear was great enough that Thurgod could see it.
"Yes, Oorgo, you are right to be afraid, and you were right to be sad for the things she has done. But the middle of the night is not the time to be sad. It is the time for sleep."
"I can't not be sad, Master. It hurts."
Thurgod said nothing, knowing that the vault of Oorgo's feelings had only just opened.
"My sister is still not beautiful, and my father will never give me an extra morsel of bread in the morning again. I will never hear a story from the bard, nor ever be given a gift from Henlick. I will..."
Thurgod interrupted him. "Do you know these things are true?"
"How could they not?"
"It could be that one or another of them will hear you are the smith god's apprentice, and come to see you. It could be that," but then Thurgod keeled to his side, only just grasping the crate to prevent another tumble.
Then Oorgo shouted, "And Cyllgod has cursed you to be unable to say things, or to see sunsets, or to see people, or..."
Thurgod had his hand clasped over the boy's mouth before half the sentence could have been heard outside.
"It is not good to speak angrily of Cyllgod. It is not good in the middle of the night; it is not good in the day."
Oorgo drooped his head, now the upper half of his face covered in the palm of Thurgod's hand. He sniffled twice, but still some of his sadness drained into Thurgod's unwavering hand.
After a few more silent moments, Thurgod said, "Now, it is time for you to sleep, Humans need their rest as the earth needs its time under the moon and not the sun."
"I cannot sleep, Master."
"Why not, child? You need it."
"Because I miss them, Master."
Thurgod considered this.
"Can you send for one of them?" the child asked.
"For your father, or your mother, or your sister?"
"Yes," whined Oorgo.
Thurgod kept still and silent for a moment.
"I am sorry, Oorgo. I do not know children well. You teach me things. I will send for your family if I may. But it may be long before they come, and they may not come. And even if I could not, you still must sleep."
"Thank you, Thurgod."
"You should call me Master, child."
Oorgo scrunched down into his bedding, in fact only wearing himself down to the floor through the pile of straw. Thurgod could feel the child's dismay at the rebuke. He turned around and returned closer to the boy, having begun to walk away.
He whispered into Oorgo's ear, "You should call me Master, and not Thurgod, because Thurgod..." but then he bit his own lip sharply and winced, then retired quickly to bed, and Oorgo's dreams were of Cyllgod, angry at his request, and all her servants fleeing from her wrath.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 10

Thurgod punctured the mountain side with heavy strokes. In each hand he held a one-sided pick, tools of his own making. No mortal had the strength to plunge those spikes directly into the face of a mountain, into sheer rock. A dozen feet further in and he would be, doubtless, into some passage within Cyllgod's castle, carved from the mountain centuries ago. Instead, Thurgod ascended the outside of her towers, looking for some little shelf thereon to rest.
His pupil followed behind him, connected to Thurgod by a chain. Twice already the chain had saved the child's life, as following in the footholds that Thurgod carved was nearly impossible for so small a body. Thurgod did not appear as large as the other deities, giants among the humans. Indeed his stature was rather shorter than grown men, though he was much thicker. In every dimension other than his height Thurgod out did all but the true giants - men whose people had lived in the mountains for centuries, and from the pinnacles of stone learned to be large. There was no tree in Cyllgod's kingdom with a trunk like his arms, though, in fairness, the tree's of Cyllgod's kingdoms tended to be slender and tall.
"Child, where is the shelf you spotted?"
"You are nearly there, Master. It is just over your head, and you will feel the ledge."
Thurgod had taken Oorgo out to the edge of the capital that nestled adjacent to the mountain, and there had begun an ascent which he had not dared in some time. Oorgo had spotted the shelf from far below with the sight of a young human, and Thurgod managed the ascent.
A few strokes more and Thurgod did feel the edge of the shelf. He tucked the pick which his right hand had held into his belt, then drew little round bits of metal, like coins but without inscription, from a pouch that hung beside the pick. Of these he gathered a fistful, then asked, "Does it grow wider to the left or to the right?"
"To the right, Master."
Thurgod threw the coins against the mountainside, and most of them bounced off of it, cascading or falling straight down the many fathoms of air between them and the ground. One fell near Oorgo's hand, and letting go of his handhold on the stone he caught it, and the chain saved his life for a third time.
A few of the coins remained on the shelf which Oorgo had seen from below. It was in fact the mouth of a cave, from whence water, pouring and trickling for millenia, had carved a smooth surface. It was precisely at that altitude that the rock of the mountain changed, with a softer stone above, and thus the uneven erosion had produced not a tube or a sluice, but a delta of slick stone.
Thurgod pointed his head towards the shelf, his smith-mind sensing where each bit of metal had gone, and guessing, from the pattern of the coins, where he could safely walk. He lumbered over to the center of the space, the chain dragging along the edge as Oorgo remained below.
"If you want to get up, child, you must try to climb the chain."
Oorgo did not hesitate a moment, but began tugging on the chain with all his might, only to lift himself a hand breath, which he immediately lost as his arms went limp.
"Master, I can't climb the chain."
"Why are you unable?"
"I can't do it. I'm too heavy."
Thurgod sat down, looking in the direction he remembered the sun would set, his back against the mountain face that rimmed the kingdom of Cyllgod. "Are you a fat child, more suited to roll than to walk?"
Oorgo continued to strain at the task of climbing, now kicking his feet in vain against the rock. "No."
"Then it is not that you are too heavy. Then you are the right weight for a boy."
"I have never climbed a mountain before."
"Was there not a first time that you went down the hill with your father's bread, and came back up again? There was a first time you breathed as well. We do many things for a first time."
Oorgo stopped his efforts and hung there in the harness, his face held tight against the rock by the pressure of the chain. "Please, Master, let me up."
"I will not do that unless you tell me why I must do it, and not yourself."
"I am not strong enough."
Thurgod nodded, though Oorgo could not see him. Then he began to reel in the chain effortlessly. As Oorgo's form emerged over the ledge, the smith-god said, "You are not strong enough. I am strong enough. You will learn from me to be strong. Until then, it is my strength that will have to do."
Oorgo clambered over beside Thurgod. "You could have just pulled me over. Now I'm hurt." and he showed Thurgod the bruises already forming on his knees from having kicked at the stone. "I bruised my legs on the rock."
"Why did you do that, Oorgo, kick at the stone?"
"I was was trying to climb, Master."
"Have you ever climbed by kicking, except in water?"
Oorgo looked at the deity, puzzled, but Thurgod did not detect it.
"How can one climb in water?"
Thurgod answered, "Have you ever climbed by kicking?"
"No, Master."
"Then why did you kick now?"
Oorgo sat still, unable to keep up with the questioning. Then Thurgod smiled, "You have learned enough. When you are not strong enough, it is best to ask for help from one who is strong enough, then later to work on becoming strong."
Oorgo answered, "Yes, Master."
"It is the time to be quiet, now, child. Sit back against the rock, and look out."
"What am I looking for, Master?"
"You are not looking for anything. Look only, and see. What do you see?"
"I see the whole valley."
"Do you see anything else?"
"I see also the sky."
"What does the sky look like?" Thurgod pointed his blind face away from the mountain face.
"The sun is just above the Rim, Master."
"Then we must wait."
Thurgod settled his back against the mountain face, his face pointing straight up the cliff above him.
"May I explore the cave, Master?"
"Yes, for a short while."
Oorgo bounded away, into the narrow cave. Thurgod neither moved nor spoke for half of an hour, listening to the intermittent cries and inarticulate chatter which the boy poured forth on his own little adventure.
"Oorgo, it is the best time for you to come back now," called Thurgod from the place of his repose.
Oorgo worked his way back through the cave.
"It is time for you too look out over the valley. What do you see?"
"The sun is just behind the Rim, Master."
"What do you see?"
"The sky is filled with colors."
"Can you tell me all of their names? Can you tell me where every streak and cloud is struck?"
"There is a purple stripe, and an orange stripe, and a yellow patch, and a red streak, and... Master there are too many colors to tell you."
"How would you describe it, Oorgo?"
Oorgo studdered. He hated to remember that Thurgod was blind, and that he could not see this sunset, a clearer sunset than Oorgo had ever seen from the valley floor, or even from the foothills in which his family lived.
"It is beautiful, Master."
"Yes, Oorgo. Beauty is a thing doing just as..." then Thurgod winced so hard he nearly banged his head into the rock face."
"Master, what is wrong?"
Thurgod pointed his face back out towards the open sky. "This is beauty, Oorgo. You would do well to remember it." Then Thurgod stood up and grabbed his picks, preparing to descend.
"Master, why are you blind? Where did you get that band?"
Thurgod paused, freezing his motion halfway through a step. He answered, "It was given me by Cyllgod, child."
"Is Cyllgod a kind god, child?"
"No, she is not."
"And how do you come to say that, little one?"
"Because she would not make my sister beautiful, and because she keeps you from seeing sunsets."
Thurgod nodded and swallowed. "Today's lesson is over. We must climb down and then you must sleep. The bellows are for you tomorrow."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 9

Thurgod nodded and set his jaw. He pointed his face toward the attending golem. "I have chosen. Take the stronger one back to his place, and tell Cyllgod that I have taken my servant."
The golem lumbered towards Triannin, who did not move to resist, but only glowered at Thurgod. Thurgod turned towards him and said, "I have not the power to take from Cyllgod all her slaves. I hope that you grow. Your sacrifice for your people was noble; it will not go unrewarded."
Triannin spat as the golem clasped his shoulder with its cold, crystalline fingers. "There is neither god nor principle that rewards the good deeds of men. We hope only for retribution."
"It is good for you that I have ordered the golem to be silent about our meeting, or he may have reported your words to Cyllgod."
As the golem propelled Triannin from the chamber, through the tunnel that rested under Cyllgod's throne, Triannin called back, "Someday she will hear of it from me, if I am ever to be avenged."
Thurgod looked towards Oorgo again, whose thin wrists were clasped in metal bonds. The smith-god knelt down and grasped them, feeling the metal. "I never forged bonds so small, but they will hear me nonetheless. Break." Instantly the bonds rusted through, flaking away to leave a small pile of dust.
"Do you feel the metal because you cannot see it?"
"I am the god for things of metal. I can see it without eyes, but there is more to be learned from the metal by touching. You will learn these things from me as well as a mortal may learn them, Oorgo. Now we must leave, for you must begin to learn today." He took Oorgo lightly by the arm and led him out of the chamber, through the door opposite Cyllgod's chamber. Thurgod had seen the carving of these halls, and knew the way out the gate quickly. He passed several of the white golems, and to each he only pointed his face and they let him pass.
"How do you see these halls? How do you see at all? You have a metal band across your eyes. Is it glass?"
"It is not glass. My eyes do not see as yours do. Instead I only know, and must proceed without sight. I saw these halls the day after they were carved, and I do not forget, because I am a god."
"You saw the halls? Have you always had the metal band?"
"I am glad that you have not forgotten to be a child while in Cyllgod's prisons. How long were you made to wait?"
"I never saw the sun after I asked her to make my sister beautiful, and," but Oorgo was interrupted.
"You will see the sun shortly. It will be more pleasant than her luminous crystals, for it was not given me to make gems more brilliant than the sun."
"You make gems? And can you make my sister beautiful, since you're a god?"
"You must have been a lovely child, well liked by grown men, if you feel so comfortable in speaking so voluminously to a god."
"So vol-... what?"
"So much."
"Do I talk too much?"
"Too much for most, but not for me."
"Can you make my sister beautiful?"
"Your sister may not need to be made beautiful, and I cannot do that."
"But you are a god?"
"I am a god for smith work. I make things that are useful from metal and stone."
The two passed out of the highest gate into Cyllgod's mountain castle, unquestioned by the white gate-keeping golem. There the sun struck them strongly and Oorgo blinked strongly. The brightness was intensified by the pure white stairway that stretched from that gate and spiraled down to the city below. This stair was a more direct means for lesser gods and greater humans to come to Cyllgod's council room. Oorgo had entered far below.
The momentary distraction caused many of Oorgo's previous topics of interest to slip from his mind. "We are coming out in a different place than I came in."
"Where you came in does not matter now. I am taking you to my smithy by the road that I know. We must go down the stairs to get there." Thurgod released the boy's hand.
Oorgo leaped down the first few stairs, and then fell neatly on his face in the next attempted jump. Thurgod only continued to descend the stairs, though even for him there were too many, and he descended two of them with each step. Oorgo got up without a thought of injury and said to the back of Thurgod's head, "Will I ever see my family again?"
Thurgod brought both his feet to rest on the landing where had just stepped, as the stairs turned in their spiral. "I am not a god of the future; I do not know."
"But will you let me see them?"
"I am not like Cyllgod. I do not prevent others from seeing anything." He lifted his hand and felt the railing of the stairs, then continued to descend.
"Will you take me home? Will you..."
"I will not take you home. I have come to make you my servant, not to return you elsewhere."
"But I want to see them again." Oorgo jumped down and got in front of Thurgod.
"There are many things which I want to see again, but I..." then Thurgod crumpled over, barely avoiding the boy as he fell on his side. Oorgo did not know what to do, and only stood wide-eyed.
Thurgod got on all fours, panting for breath, before he stood up. "There is a god greater than I, Oorgo, and she does not permit such things. I may not leave this city. I may not see the sun. And I may not allow my one servant, the only human she gives to help me, to leave the capital either."
Oorgo frowned. Before he knew it, though, he was bounding down the glistening stairs trying to keep up with the descending stride of the red-fleshed smith god.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 8

The stolid white golem dragged Oorgo along silently, the boys' heels slipping along the smooth stone floor. The small boy uttered many half-sentences and pleas, with occasional demands. The golem did not know how to hear him, nor was he aware that the small child was struggling to keep pace. It had been instructed to take him to Cyllgod, and to Cyllgod he would go. The white golems were not used to children; many of them had never encountered one. It may have been that the escorting golem had not perceived that he was escorting a person; a child may have appeared more like an animal or package to him.
Suddenly the golem stopped, but did not release the hand which Oorgo had offered to him a few minutes ago. Oorgo continued to beg him to release it, pleading that the stony grasp was crushing his fingers. At last the golem responded. "Silence!" its voice grated.
Oorgo looked through the doorway where he had been stopped. He was looking into a semi-circular chamber, with a wide flat floor before tiers of seating, like an amphitheater. The seats were obstructed by a large throne which lay in the midst of them, directly in line with the tunnel that led to the room. Many of the seats were occupied by demigods, nobles under Cyllgod. They could be told by their colored appearance and greater than mortal size. Under the foot of the throne the tunnel continued, as though never interrupted by a room.
Before that throne, on his knees and held down by two white golems, was a slender man. Heeding the golem's orders Oorgo stopped speaking, and listened to the words the man was saying.
"Great Cyllgod, I am come to petition a boon from thee."
"As do all mortals that appear before me. Indeed, I should think that to lay eyes upon the great queen in her own court would be boon enough."
"And more than enough, great Cyllgod!" the mortal panted, "Yet no payment in all the world could ever earn such a sight, nor any boon beyond that. Still I must hope to make a request of thee."
"Speak it now, mortal. Your words are smooth enough to warrant being heard further."
"Cyllgod, tell my half-brother to divide the inheritance of my family with me. We are both sons of our father's blood, he by a better woman, yet I am wiser than he, and to see all which my ancestors have accrued wasted by his indolence and foolishness would be a waste of her majesty's resources."
Cyllgod smiled. "Return to your house. The entire inheritance will be yours, mortal."
"The entirety?" the wonder of receiving all his father's wealth caused the man to forget his smooth words.
Cyllgod was raising her hand to dismiss them. "Yes, all your family owns."
The golems hoisted the man up. "How shall it be? I should not want to have to manage them."
Cyllgod shook her hand, motioning him along. "You are a selfish beast, to think you would use your position to cheat the truth of your origin. For no part of that inheritance was owed to you. You will have no family to which to return, and you may have all they leave behind."
The man's body froze, even as he was carried out by the golems. Cyllgod feigned a frown. "In the future, mortal, waste your smooth words on someone else."
The pair of golems disappeared under the foot of the throne, as an inarticulate cry rang out from their burden. Immediately the golem carrying Oorgo shoved him along inside.
Cyllgod's confusion to see a single golem carrying a child into the court was evident. "Golem? How come you bearing a human child to this room, alone?" All those who came to Cyllgod's court were to be accompanied by two golems. It was not that she feared the child, but that she wanted to know how her golem's programming may have gone awry.
The golem's mouth grated. "Human child? I brought the package that I was bidden by the gatekeeper to carry to you."
Cyllgod sneered. "Take this child away, then go to the chief smith and have him fix your mind. You must be brought up to the level of understanding of the attendants, for I know that they know a human child from a package. And then see to it that the gatekeeper is upgraded as well."
The golem did not move. "Great Cyllgod, Mistress of Stones, he has paid the price to speak to you."
Cyllgod stared for a moment, then rolled her eyes, "How you can call it 'he' and not know it to be human I am unsure. I will have Thurgod teach me more of golemcraft someday. Tell me, child, how did you come to pay the price of audience with your god?"
Oorgo answered plainly, as he had always answered adults. "Henlick gave me the gold coin," and then he recounted, with several other proper names, of how he had been brought to the capital so that he might see its glory, and of how he had escaped his guardians and run to the castle, then paid the price of gold to speak with Cyllgod.
Cyllgod moved not at all throughout the tale, and responded to none of it. "You are fortunate, child. A gold coin is the cost of giving a gift to the great goddess, and not the price of speaking with her. My golems did not know you were a person, or they would have turned you away at the door. But since you are here, I will hear your request, for I show mercy as I choose."
Recalling how the man had spoken to her, Oorgo said, "Great Cyllgod, I heard from the bard of your great power, and how of old you slew the green god that would have ruled us all with a fierce tyranny, and that you can work miracles with the flick of your finger." Cyllgod smiled, her hue changing to a lighter blue.
"So I came to ask from you a miracle. I know you can do it."
Cyllgod cocked her head, and leaned forward, interested. "What miracle do you wish to see? Would you see your own likeness carved out of stone because I told the stone to look like you?"
Oorgo swallowed, trying to imagine the miracle, and why anyone might want it done. "No, Great Cyllgod. I came to ask you to make my sister beautiful."
The goddess froze halfway on her return to the back of her seat, not quite managing to straighten her neck. "And why would you ask that miracle of me?"
"The bard told me also that you are the goddess of beauty..."
Cyllgod ejected from her throne, hovering in the air above it. "Everyone out!" The lessor deities which sat in the seats around her dropped their humanoid forms and raced out of either tunnel, flying over Oorgo's head as bolts of light stringing from curiously shaped cores. The golem which had brought Oorgo inside moved not at all, reacting to none of it.
Cyllgod floated down before Oorgo, then hissed to him as he color saturated to a ashen blue. "Neither you nor any other shall ever say that of me again."
Oorgo protested, "But you are beautiful..." though her current form was completely unappealing. Her left arm had become a flap of pure light fluttering as though it were blown by a great wind coming from her heart, and her hair began to do the same.
"I am beautiful and I am powerful, and I shall be known for the latter! Golem! Forget your other assignments. To the dungeon with this one. You indeed were right, he was a package sent to me, and he owes me a great debt, which he shall never repay."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 7

That evening Oorgo went out into the street for the hour of relaxation that was afforded him most days. Up one terrace of the hill there lived an old man who never left the street, living on what would be given him. In the last hour of the evening he would often be found, telling a story to the children of the village. Mairda typically accompanied Oorgo, but had retired as early as she was allowed on this evening, so Oorgo went alone. He ran with the haste with which he always moved when out of doors, this time because he hoped not to miss the beginning of the old man's tale.
He was not disappointed. How the elder kept from ever telling the same stories was the man's secret; most believed he made them up during the day while he sat, and told them in the evening, but they never contradicted one another, though the same character arose many times.
This evening the man told the story of the struggle between two of the gods, Cyllgod, the Great Queen, and a rival. Cyllgod proved the stronger, dragging her enemy to the moon and smashing him there, and that was why the moon was not smooth any more, but full of holes. A small child interrupted the man, "What did they look like, the great gods?"
"The gods can take on many appearances, or take on none at all if they prefer. In such form they fought through the space that lies betwixt us and the night's lantern, shapeless but not empty."
"But when they were on the land, and when they walked among humans. What then?"
"The green god whom our great Queen crushed often walked about in shape like a human, but either charcoal black or otherwise, when his power was strong, like a chunk of cloudy ice, ribboned in colors." The children comprehended little of this picture, but in each of their minds the imagination formed an appropriately grandiose image.
"And Cyllgod appeared as a beautiful woman. That was her principal strength, back then, that she was beautiful."
"Has that strength shrunk?" asked a child. "I saw her once, on a parade..."
The old man looked in every direction and spat, "No! Not even a little. She is most beautiful. Now children, that is the story. Our great Queen, Cyllgod, smashed her enemy with little effort and no assistance, carrying him away to the night's lantern so that we need never fear him. Now run along."
This had been a shorter story than ever. Oorgo knew Cyllgod to be great and powerful, but to learn that she was also beautiful, and even the goddess of beauty itself, his marveling at her only increased. As the children scattered, Oorgo asked quietly, "Sir?"
"What?" the old man whipped his head in the direction of the child's voice.
"The gods. Can they do anything?"
"Cyllgod the Queen can do as she pleases. She works miracles with the flick of her finger," he said, loudly, looking every way.
"Thank you, mister," he said, and tossed the old man the small brown coin he was told to give him each week. The old man heard the clink on the ground and blinked fiercely, then processed what had been said to him.
"Ah, yes, of course. I mean you're welcome. Now run along."
Oorgo bounced to his feet and scampered away as he always did. As he lurched around the turn of the terrace he heard above him a heavy clank, followed by another, like footsteps. Oorgo hastened his pace, if that were at all possible. Someone, somewhere in the village, had committed a crime, and the town golem had been awoken to track the criminal down. The golem was old, and poor at completing only its mission. It often crashed through the edges of buildings, or in zealous pursuit leapt from one terrace to another, crushing the paving stones. Still, the golem was how Cyllgod protected the village from threats.
Oorgo happily pressed through his home door and went immediately for the stairs up into the family living space. He then climbed the stairs quietly and plopped onto the bed of mountain hay on which he had always slept.

The next morning Oorgo awoke as the town gong was rung, the most peaceful of the golem's duties. The sound would ring twice, then echo off the mountains side and be heard again. Oorgo had grown accustom to waking at the first ring, and being downstairs ready to work by the last echo.
He found on the the table already a small loaf, still warm from the oven. Father always rose earlier and had loaves on the table for each. Oorgo took a deep bite into his while the final echo rang, and he heard his mother yawn loudly upstairs. Mairda was beginning to descend, looking already weary as though she had not slept, when Oorgo's second bite encountered something hard. His father never let something pollute the dough. Oorgo looked in and saw the golden edge of a coin sticking back out. Just as he opened his mouth to say something his father looked at him sternly and said, "Finish your breakfast while you carry this loaf to the Quonin house. I heard they had unexpected company arrive, and they will need a fresh loaf for the day."
Father had never returned to Oorgo a tip he had received before, nor had he ever told the boy to deliver while eating. Oorgo understood quickly what he was told to do, and only after leaving the house did he figure out why.
Visions of what he might do with that golden coin began to impress themselves on the boy's mind even as he passed down the street towards the Quonin house. A single gold coin was worth more than some of the whole orders for bread his father received; only the rich and generous Henlick could have afforded to pass on such a gift to a small boy. Henlick dealt in yeti and manticore fur, alongside the usual fur of goats, bears, and lions. The capital had a rich demand for each of these, as they were the preferred drapery of Cyllgod, and, by extension, all her most loyal, and wealthy, subjects. Even for the rich, a gold coin was worth, at the least, a small favor to a child.
Then from nowhere, a truly spurious idea struck Oorgo's mind. He knew the chance might never come, but if it did, it would be worth the saving. Tucking the coin into his little pocket, Oorgo rushed ahead to deliver the surprise loaf to the Quonin house. He knocked on the door lightly, knowing himself to be unexpected. The door was flung open by a flustered looking man, who upon seeing a fresh loaf in Oorgo's arms opened his eyes wide. Oorgo recited, "The compliments of my father, in case you were in need."
The man smiled, "Can always trust your father to pull through for a man in a pinch! Tell him his thanks will come on the next order."
Oorgo skipped away, thoughts distracted by a wonderful chance.