I’m a little too busy to be reading to you all this weekend—I’ll let you folks do the work for a change. I did, however, upload a new gaming vid to YouTube if that’s your thing. However, if you just came here for a literary experience, enjoy the below!
CHAPTER II: STAINED HANDS, ACHING HEART
“Mama, what’s that light?” asked Reginus.
“What light?” Octavia had no answer for the golden-brown boy tugging at her hand about the flash in the sky, the ripple of sapphire power that had shot out like lightning from a rod in reverse from one of the towers—the greatest, the Keeper Superior’s tower—in the ring of the Faithful. Eatoth had trembled from its core, and now a shroud of darkness had overtaken the sky. All of the city’s white stone and gold-tinted beauty looked as dull as old bronze, as though it were a moldering ruin. Octavia felt the deepest dread in her heart. What had that been? Along with the other timid denizens paused on the Ramble or gawking from the loggias that bulged onto the street, she stared at the Keeper’s silver tower. Like them, she was waiting for more light, or another shake of the earth—symbols of the divine, she felt. Despite the curious event and its accompanying grim thunderclouds, she approached the others who were filling the street and fretting, and tried to set them at ease with the words of their order: “What She Wills, She Wills.”
Octavia was a Keeper of Words, and thus knew every old phrase and prayer from the era of Teskatekmet and onward. As one who did the busywork of cataloging the histories, mysteries, and sciences of each and every age—the work with which Keepers themselves were too holy to be bothered—she knew much of the world’s workings. In the back of her mind, she searched her knowledge for a similar historical event to explain a flash of power, the tremble, and the suddenly darkened sky.
“What does she Will, Mother?” asked Reginus, who was as curious as his mother.
“I think she Wills for us to get home.”
Octavia’s smile was genuine despite her nerves, though her grip on her son was tight. She wondered about the wisdom in leaving the safety of the towers today. Her husband, Longinus, would be cross with her for having taken a trip into the Ring of the Repentant without telling him, especially if he knew she’d come looking for Amakri trinkets to teach their half-born son about the other side of his heritage.
Longinus had been assigned as guard to those incredible strangers: the Daughter of Fate, the son of Brutus, and the other two powerful men. As he told it, they’d been nothing but a bother to him, especially Morigan and Caenith, with their running off to the Exhibition and causing all kinds of mischief, and she realized that she adored these disruptive beings, even if they’d never met, and even if one of them was the son of a mad Immortal. For Eatoth had needed a shake to its tradition and over-indulgent worship, and these bloodmates had brought with them that change. Again, she’d never speak such heresies aloud, except perhaps to her husband, who entertained her ideas because he loved her so, because he knew where she’d come from—the wilds of Pandemonia. Indeed, he’d done the unthinkable and married an Amakri woman. Her origin was a secret, of course, though they kept few friends, and strangers were naturally hesitant to ask a legionnaire of Longinus’s standing too personal a question.
Taken by sudden nostalgia in a busy street not unlike the one in which she and Longinus had met, she remembered the moment of their meeting. She’d been rifling through the pockets of Eatothians for valuables they’d likely never miss. He’d caught her by the hand, their eyes had met, and his grip had gone from hard to soft; emotion moved across his face like ripples on a lake. Love, lust, then the lighting of a spark, between old tribes and new.
“Mama, please stop squeezing my hand so much.”
Happy memories dissolved, danger swirling in the acid of her stomach, slithering like one of the great rock snakes from the wilds outside these walls. Thinking of walls, she stopped, turned, and gazed at the grand, ever-flowing barricade that protected Eatoth from incursion. A queer noise further cautioned her: another rumble, long and rising in pitch, as if a machine somewhere were grinding unhealthily to an end. And then the wall and the technomagikal power behind it did end. Like hammers of lightning striking the forge of the heavens, flashes of blue power dazzled the sky. People shrieked at the spume rising from the enormous wall, throwing its shade over the city’s highest roofs. People gasped as they saw glints of the tangible copper surface that had been hidden by water for thousands of years, something they’d always thought was crystal and pure magic, but was merely a simple wall. Over the hissing and thundering heavens, next to the fury of nature being unleashed from her long imprisonment, the cracking of that frail man-made barrier was heard as clearly as an egg dropped in a hurricane. Those nearest Octavia screamed in ragged madness as one of the theikispor—a silver egg-shaped carrier of the divine that was flying over the wall—shivered and abruptly dropped into the writhing mess beneath, its impact swallowed by water that frothed and rose.
Octavia knew that staying frozen upon her spot any longer would spell her doom. She was an Amakri by blood and thus had inherited their fleet-footed instincts. She ran with her child, who neither questioned nor protested. Perhaps the tribal blood within him had also been triggered, and as she reached for him, he leapt into her arms like baby to mother ape. She loped toward any sign of safety, shoving stunned fools out of her way. Behind her the city was creaking, and she imagined its ancient bridges swaying like loose strings in the wind. Beneath her, the ground gurgled as if it were a hungry throat, and a chaos of bystanders, gawkers, hair-pullers, and shriekers threatened to swallow them before the earth had a chance. Praying to the Green Mother for guidance, she noted a seemingly solid building from an older era appear on the street. A portico led up into the pillared façade of an ancient building, which had a banner over its arch announcing itself as the Spoiled Goat.
How appropriate, she thought, referring to the baying, senseless creatures wandering about the steps and staring into the cacophony of a city unraveling. They did, indeed, seem like spoiled and brainless goats. Although goats would have had more sense. Bullish, still carrying her child, she threw herself up the steps and through a crowded doorway just as more fools came flooding out. All her supposed kindness and mercy was cruelly shown to be false, for in that moment she thought of saving no one but herself and her son.
Dashing through a door, then a foyer, then a hallway, she emerged in the tavern’s heart, her vision spinning from the adrenaline. She tore around tables and their discarded, steaming lunches to behind the bar, where she hoped a cellar or basement entrance could be found. The oldest buildings, like her own home, had storm-rooms from the time when people still worried about the elements out of habit and hadn’t yet grown complacent under the arkstone’s watch. Praise the Green Mother, who must have led her here, for behind the bar was a metal-banded door, set into the flagstone floor. Whoever was tending the tavern had clearly left to watch the disturbance outside, and there was no one to stop her or her boy. She set him down and they worked together to hoist open the heavy door. A waft of cold mist hit their faces, and they stared for an instant down a ladder that might’ve led to one of the religious purgatories for sinners about which Octavia had often read. It would be cold, damp, and quite unpleasant, though nothing compared to the worst of all disasters that was currently befalling Eatoth. She hesitated.
Crack! Hiss! Boom!
The sounds shook the land like cries of agony being ripped from the throat of the Green Mother—the worst was happening, here and now. If she had any remaining doubt about jumping into the cellar, it vanished with the flurry of shakes, rumbles, and terror storming outside. It was possible they were sealing themselves into a tomb, and yet Reginus, unquestioning, descended the ladder before his mother took the same precarious trip down, slamming shut the hatch and bolting it above her head before joining her son in the dark. There, she sat among crates and fusty piles, holding her child near. However much Doomchaser blood flowed within the lad seemed to be keeping him from crying.
Outside, keening slabs of foaming blue flesh toppled upon the city, wave after wave, one of which crushed the entire building above their heads and tested the seams of their stone prison. The old bones of the cellar resisted, bleeding a bit of dust—for now. It was dire enough for Octavia, once Octavikta of the Doomchasers, a child sent to Eatoth for her lack of scales, to harken back to her roots and sing to her child the songs of his people.
In darkness, he listened to her music, and she to the music of the world collapsing: a vile music that settled gradually into soft percussions. Then it was still, and there was only her voice and a gentle whoosh, as if they were hearing water from a cabin below a ship’s deck. When all seemed as quiet as it could be, she answered the question she knew was burning in his mind.
“Eatoth is gone, my son. Our age of arrogance has ended. What She Wills, She Wills.”
He could not see her expression, but she sounded happy.
All my love,