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.