Section I: Episode 27
February 1, 2015
It felt like a long time had passed when Galavar finally became aware of his surroundings again. There he sat, in the Amphitheater of the Fateful Well, as though he had never left—which, of course, he never had. His fellow Ieikili were all around him, mostly seated, though some had fallen to the ground. Everyone looked as disoriented as Galavar felt.
The great bell Ar Nindar was still ringing, but it had faded enough so that it no longer drowned out everything else.
"What the bick was that?" Agram said. He was one of those on the ground and was rubbing his temples where he sat. He looked fierce mad.
"Are you all right?" Miatysacis asked.
"I landed on my shoulder. It's fine. But my head is fucking messed up."
"Aye," she said. "What happened?"
Galavar looked over at Boon, who was slouching forward, his face resting in his hands.
Next he looked down upon the torzaykeos, and realized that the River, the High Cantor, and all the Lectors had all crumpled in heaps. Members of the assembly had already gone to help them, and most were in various stages of recovering their wits, but one of them must have fallen badly, for there was blood on the ground around him.
"He rang the bell a second time…" answered Galavar.
"Now we know why it is forbidden," said Boon, still from inside the cocoon of his palms. He laughed once, his usual small laugh of private amusement, but his voice was fragile and small; the mate was clearly shaken.
"I had the most terrible vision," Miatysacis mused. "I was here, all alone, and I couldn't take my mind off the bell, even though—"
"Wait, that's what I saw," said Agram.
"Exactly the same. What about you Boon?"
Galavar replied, "Aye."
Agram got a strange look on his face, and finally said, "The bell isn't supposed to give everyone the same vision. That never happens. The memories Sourros gives us are always so personal. So intimate."
"This wasn't a vision, really," said Miatysacis. "It was…I don't know. A bad dream. It was so lonely…and nothing made sense. I just sat and stared at the bell."
"The bell was calling us home," Boon suggested, finally raising his head, and squinting in the daylight. "It didn't want us to look away."
"And with good cause," Galavar added, "given how frightening it was when I did."
"You did?" Agram asked. "Not me. I couldn't. It was like I was the only person alive, and my only sanity was in that bell. I couldn't get away from it."
"You missed a real terror. I climbed out of the amphitheater and…it was as though the world were melting. Parts of it weren't there. I can't describe it."
"That sounds like it would give me nightmares," Miatysacis replied.
Agram's perturbed look deepened. Clearly there was some thought within him struggling to come into form.
"Mates! Friends!" Jahvoy shouted, trying to raise his voice over the bubbling chatter of the whole assembly. Two people were standing next to him, and he leaned upon one of them for support. "Ushers are coming up row by row. Please report to them if you or anyone around you is injured. And remain here for a few moments while we all gather ourselves and take account."
"I don't know what he expected," Agram said of the River. "What the bick was he thinking?"
"Don't get too upset with him," Galavar said. "It was disturbing, but it was interesting too. How could he have known what would happen?"
"Exactly. What if it had been even worse?"
"We can't look at the world like that. Exploration always requires testing the unknown."
"The River fucked up."
"Becoming accusatory is your way of dealing with unforeseen stress."
Somehow, that didn't quell Agram at all.
"The River of Ignorance has a responsibility for the wellbeing of the people. He can't just gamble on the unknown."
"I'm sure he thought it over carefully."
"I think it was reckless."
"You're probably right," interrupted Miatysacis. Galavar was about to press her, but he looked at her first instead and saw her sharp stare bearing down on him. He nodded in realization; she was trying to stop him from stumbling into an argument. There was no point.
"Fair enough," he conceded. "It was reckless not to tell us first, and ask our consent."
Agram had just opened his mouth to build on the ground that Galavar had ceded when he was interrupted by an outburst of alarm from elsewhere in the assembly. At first it was just a localized din. Then came several cries of exclamation and grief, of an uncertain purpose. Finally the agitation spread outward, and with it the word of what had transpired.
Someone had died.
Then there came another outburst just like it. And another.
Three people had died. There were no signs of injury, no telltales of trouble. But they were dead all the same.
Miatysacis was horrified. "What happened to them?"
"Did they die of loneliness?" Boon wondered.
"No…" Agram shook his head. "It has something to do with the bell."
"Obviously," said Galavar. "What are you thinking?"
"When the bell was struck for the second time, we didn't get the ordinary vision that we were supposed to. But we clearly got some kind of vision. And we remained ourselves instead of stepping into the thoughts of another person like normally happens. Maybe…maybe the people who died had a different experience."
"You're just speculating," said Miatysacis. "Don't. You'll get yourself upset."
"I'm already upset."
"Quiet; the River is talking again."
"Everyone!" Jahvoy's voice was shaky like Boon's. "Everyone. Each year on The Day of the Dawn, the High Cantor strikes Ar Nindar exactly once. With its mighty song, joined with the power of the Will of the People, manifest in the stream of light behind me that emanates from the Fateful Well wherein our God resides, we are given a gift from time beyond memory, and live for a fleeting hour inside the eyes of another Kindred mate. This blink of the past gives us a great deal to reflect upon and disquire, as we do every year.
"But this year, with the words of Sourros rooted deeply in my mind, I conceived that we might strike Ar Nindar a second time. To do so is forbidden by ancient proscription, so ancient that there is no living memory or even a written record of what should happen if it were to be done.
"As you know of me, I reject the premise of ever living in fear of the unknown. Because we possessed no ill knowledge of what might happen upon striking the bell twice, I conceived to try it.
"Because of my decision, we have suffered a needless and horrifying loss. I see now that I was reckless. In acting to defy ignorance, my action itself was ignorant, and shortly I will offer my apology for drawing the good people of Ieik into my scheme.
"First, however, know that my decision was no mere whimsy. In The Annals of the Viedavie Magus, it is written that the powerful artificer Viedavie, who in the Panathar Empire created the original bell upon which Ar Nindar was based, proclaimed 'On the Day of the Dawn you must strike this bell exactly once. Do not strike it twice, lest you lose your way from the Roads of Knowing.'
"As you surely remember, Alknowing Sourros in his words to us last night spoke—"
The High Cantor, Surgesten, quickly intoned a blessing, the blessing of Dalnigdar, indicating that the River was about to recite the Word of God verbatim: "Vrahas Adirhas!"—meaning "Let God's wisdom be told in our wonderment." He did so without interrupting the flow of Jahvoy's speech, for the two mates were well-practiced in their rapport.
yet most of it the Kindred have never trod.
Depart from the roads of knowing
and be reaved of all clarity.
"Imagine my wonderment," Jahvoy continued, "late last night when I discovered this reference, in what is admittedly a most obscure book, to the so-called 'Roads of Knowing.' I toiled into the late hours to learn more, and discovered that in ancient times the Empire used this phrase somewhat commonly, as a poetic way of referring to history itself. And as Sourros proclaimed to us last night—"
Go in these late years and determine the
Relance once thought.
"I came to suppose that his words may truly come from a divine vantage point, for we live in an era that has been preceded by tens of thousands of years. Our year is a late one compared to the countless ones that have come before it.
"It seemed to me that these two things were connected, the legacy of the bell and the words of Sourros. And so I conceived to have Ar Nindar struck twice today, to see what would happen."
"Now we know!" someone angrily shouted from the crowd.
Jahvoy bowed his head.
"Indeed, now we know. I have led three of my fellow citizens to their deaths," he admitted. "I made a mistake that carried a deep price. For that I am genuinely ashamed."
He looked up, then, and his voice took on a hopeful note.
"In Ieik, we adore our exploration of the unknown. We know that our exploring so invites risk, and we try our best to protect ourselves, but then we persevere. It is the nobler way of living.
"Nonetheless I have no right to reject judgment from my peers. I call a referendum in ten days' time to decide what judgment to lay upon me. Until then, I ask that our River Emeritus preside in my place for the remainder of today's ceremonies, and until the referendum."
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!