Section I: Episode 28
February 18, 2015
The River Emeritus, Ijlyun, who had led Ieik for twelve years before Jahvoy become River, decided to conclude the Service of Recollections and call an hour's recess. This was very unusual; the custom was for Recollections to lead directly into the Ceremony of Castings, but it was, after all, an extraordinary day.
Many people were still dizzy or emotionally disturbed from their visions, and others were distraught over the senseless deaths of their peers. Plenty more were just plain upset at everything that had happened. Some offered a defense of Jahvoy's decision to strike the bell of Ar Nindar a second time, and it was frequently remarked that exploring the unknown carries risks—to which the inevitable rejoinder was that subjecting others to risk without their consent or even their awareness was a different sort of deed than knowingly taking such risk upon oneself.
Galavar wasn't especially interested in the arguments. He and his friends climbed the steps of the terraced amphitheater, with a heavy mood hanging between the four of them. Agram was upset to the point of anger. Boon was very quiet, apparently one of those disturbed by his vision. Miatysacis was fidgety, but otherwise all right, though Agram's seething temper and Boon's uncharacteristic dumbstruckedness clearly wore at her. Galavar alone felt untroubled by the morning's events, and what occupied his mind was curiosity at the things he had seen. What was the true power of the bell? Had he truly stepped into the Other World, if only in his mind? Who was the angel that had appeared before him there?
His closest concession to distress was a concern for Jahvoy. Since their meeting last night, Galavar had come to like the young River very well, and held him guiltless. Three people had died, yes, but by nobody's intention, and in return something incredible had happened.
As they climbed the last of the steps and emerged back from the Fateful Well into their cozy village, Galavar breathed a sigh of relief to see that everything was in its place.
"I want to go to the library," said Agram. "I should have gone this morning like I wanted."
Miatysacis gave him a sidelong look. "I'm surprised you're still interested in helping Galavar with his project for the River."
Agram just grumbled.
"Let's eat first," Galavar suggested. "We can head back to the Academy, and visit the library afterward."
"I'm going now."
"Fine," said Miatysacis, "but you'll still have to walk with us."
Agram grumbled again, and said nothing more.
The wind had picked up, whipping around in everyone's hair and clothes, and drowning out the footfalls of their silent walk. Others would surely have called it cold, but among the Ieikili this was noontide at the height of summer, and nearly as close to pleasant as their lonely worldtop village ever came. The sun shone brightly high overhead and the sky was a flawless deep blue.
"It's times like these," mused Galavar, "that I wonder if Sourros really does know the future."
Only Miatysacis bothered to acknowledge him.
"It does seem needless for three people to die and the rest of us to get such a bad trip."
"And for Jahvoy to get himself in so much trouble for doing what I think was the right thing."
"You think so?"
"He's the River. We chose him to be the River because he's wise. And…if I had known what Jahvoy knew, I think I would have tried striking the bell a second time too."
"Without telling anyone?"
"What difference would it have made? Who would have thought that the visions would kill someone? The Recollections are beautiful and touching. I don't remember them ever causing physical harm to anyone."
"The bell is dangerous. It's so powerful. We all knew that."
"We can't live in fear of powerful instruments. We can either learn how to master them, or rip them up and never dare again."
"I don't suppose you'd volunteer to be one of the people who died as a consequence of that power," she mused.
"No I wouldn't. Nor would I ask anyone else to volunteer. But that's the thing about exploration. We didn't know. Now we do."
"You're probably right, Galavar." She shook her head, then rubbed the side of it. "But I don't think I'm in the mood to acknowledge it today. And…you might feel differently if it had been me who died."
"I'd be more upset than I am…but I don't think I'd feel any differently about Jahvoy's decision."
At lunch a strange thing happened. The three of them, sans Agram, had returned to the Academy's refectory for another meal of tasteless creamseed butter on noticeably more stale flatbread. Others had joined them, and they had taken to comparing their visions. Each person had experienced roughly the same beginning: waking up to find themselves all alone in the Fateful Well with an irresistible urge to fixate on the bell Ar Nindar. But as more of them told their stories, it became clear that Galavar had experienced something very different. Whereas the others had remained spellbound by Ar Nindar, Galavar had resisted its compelling power and climbed out of the amphitheater.
The strange thing was that Nightlight, the bodybuilder who had beaten him yesterday, had experienced almost exactly the same series of events. When Galavar said that he had fought the urge and planted a simple command in his mind to leave the Well, Nightlight had stopped him to say that it had been the same for her. But the real surprise was that, upon emerging from the Well, she had seen exactly the same broken landscape that Galavar had witnessed, with its missing pieces and yellow-black haze. And she had seen the angel.
"What was all that?" she asked, her face deeply crinkled as she wracked her wits.
"I think it was the Other World," said Galavar.
"What else could it be?"
"It doesn't have to 'be' anything," Miatysacis suggested. "The vision could have been some kind of mass hallucination."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Do you suppose the people who died did something differently in their visions?" asked Nightlight.
"That could well be," Galavar answered. "But what?"
"Maybe they climbed out of the Well like we did…left behind the bell's protective power…and did something wrong."
"Maybe they stepped into that haze," said Galavar.
"Maybe that angel didn't appear for them," said Miatysacis. "Both of you say that you got pushed back into the Well from his power. What if that hadn't happened?"
"I probably would have kept on exploring."
"Me too," said Nightlight. "Maybe he saved us." She crinkled her face even harder. "He said something to me, about going back to the bell and being safe."
"To me too, now that you mention it."
"So that was probably it. The others, one way or not, didn't return."
"And never woke up."
Boon, who had been sitting quietly all along, rose to his feet.
"I need to go," he said. "All of this talk is just making me feel worse. I need a nap. I'm tired."
"Boon," said Galavar, "did you leave the Fateful Well too? In your vision?"
"No," he said, and left the table.
Galavar and Miatysacis exchanged glances.
"I think he's lying," she said. "He never lies, but I think he's lying now."
"I think you're right."
Nightlight asked, "What are you going to do?"
"I think we need to talk to somebody. Maybe the Healer."
"I'm concerned about him going to sleep like this," Nightlight said.
And with that, the three of them rose from the table, with several more friends in tow, and gave a short chase to catch up with Boon. He hadn't gotten very far.
"Boon," Galavar said, "we think you should go see the Healer. You're not acting well."
Boon stopped in his tracked, and appeared to think about it. It looked like a strain for him.
"Maybe you're right."
"Did you leave the Fateful Well in your vision?"
Boon didn't answer, so Galavar asked again: "Did you?"
But he still didn't answer.
"Come on," Miatysacis said to him, taking his arm. "Let's go see the Healer."
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!