Section I: Episode 31
March 15, 2015
The heliometry classroom had an observation bay with huge windows that overlooked the sky and much of the village. Miatysacis and Galavar went there with a listless Boon in tow, under advice from Jeers to return to the Hall of Hale if Boon got worse.
The classroom was empty. Galavar strode right up to the windows like he owned the place, and looked out. The flawless blue sky from earlier in the morning had turned hazy, and the winds were picking up. It was hard to see the wind without knowing what to look for. There were no loose dusts to form brown clouds, for millennia of ceaseless gales had worn away everything of the sort. And there was no verdure to sway, no grasses and no trees. In Ieik it was far too cold, too dry, and too high. But, here and there, were the telltales of the wind. The sound of its crash against the walls was unmistakable. The wind whipped up people's clothes, and fluttered through any hanging laundry. Some of the bridges rocked gently back and forth—seemingly placidly but for knowledge of their immense weight. The wind buffeted signs and lampposts, and drew waves across the surface of Mirus Pond.
"There they are," Galavar said, pointing to pond's near shore where people had gathered for Castings. "No more than two hundred mates by the look of it."
"That's a poor attendance." Miatysacis joined him at the window bay. "I'm sure a few latecomers will straggle in, but, aye, a poor attendance indeed. It's sad."
Castings was one of the most lightly attended services in Ieik anyway. After Recollections, some people liked to be alone. Others simply didn't care for spending so much time outdoors in the cold, even though it was the warmest season of the year. And, naturally, there were a number of mates who didn't see the point in standing on the shores of a pond and throwing scraps of food at the mudaghests in an act of theatrical metaphor.
"I love Castings," Galavar mused.
"It's the most lighthearted hour of a dark day. And the lightest hour too." He pointed up at the sun, so high in the sky that it was nearly out of sight of the big bay windows, casting sunlight only a pace's length into the room. "Besides, who doesn't like feeding the mudaghests?"
The mudaghests, or young spirits, were waterfowl that lived on the pond. They were said to be the manifestation of powerful memories among Ieikili who had died in recent years. They were dwends, the providence of Sourros, emerging into being—and passing out of it—from the mirus itself, the undrinkable clear liquid that filled the pond.
The ceremony of Castings was supposed to symbolize remembrance—the great theme of the Day of the Dawn—and specifically the remembrance of one's own deeds in the past year. These memories would then be consecrated into the scraps of food, and cast out to the living incarnation of memory itself, the mudaghests, as a way of vowing that, in Ieik, memory was respected even though the events of life would fade into history. To cast off one's memories like this was not to abandon them, but to commend them on their journey. In the tongue of the Ieikili there was a saying, "feast the muda," which meant to live well so that the mudaghests would dine well on the Day of the Dawn.
But Galavar enjoyed the service mainly because the mudaghests were fun to watch. They swam around in silly, pointless patterns, and made a strange call that sounded like a delighted groan. They were a wonderful pastime any day of the year, and on the far side of the pond, facing away from the prevailing wind, was an aprice sheltered on three sides, where people could go even in the most inclement weather to sit and watch the little dwends live their inscrutable lives atop their skin of strange silver.
From the look of it, the River Emeritus Ijlyun had already begun the service. When Ijlyun gave speeches he used his whole body. He had the orator's own genius at drawing people in with his embroidered, flamboyant body language. He had been the River for most of Galavar's life, and listening to him had always been a riveting experience. Even now, Galavar could imagine roughly what the River was saying. Certain gestures had certain meanings, and Galavar had come to implicitly know them all.
What a contrast to his predecessor, Koro—now Galavar's philosophy teacher—who barely moved when she spoke and had the voice of a turning page. Galavar had been born under her tenure, but had no memory at all of her public speaking. He couldn't imagine her raising her voice and swishing around like a dancer the way Ijlyun did. But Galavar was sure, even so, that she must have commanded great respect in the role. The Rivers of Ignorance invariably did.
"It's frustrating…" said Galavar.
Miatysacis' voice was kindred to him, its inflection more curious than comforting, despite his obvious distress. He liked that about her.
"Jahvoy doesn't deserve to lose his position as the River of Ignorance, Saysh."
"If he abused his authority, maybe he does."
"He didn't. You don't really think so, you do?"
"I don't have an opinion, yet. I want to attend the public hearings. But look what happened to Boon—my friend and your best friend."
"That kind of personal appeal is a fallacy."
"Well, whether or not he's our friend, he's still sick. And let's not forget that people died today."
"Jahvoy didn't hurt anybody. He led us into the unknown. That's noble. It was the unknown that struck us."
"Maybe you still have stars in your eyes from meeting with Jahvoy last night. He's very charismatic, and now that he's taken a personal interest in you—"
"It's not that. I'm thrilled to have his interest, but I'm a viutar—not an insect. I am capable of setting aside my personal feelings to get at the heart of what is wise. That's why I'm not mad at Jahvoy even though Boon is sick. I know Jahvoy would never wish such ill upon anybody."
"I agree with that. I just don't agree with your conclusions. Had it not been for our River's direct actions, three people would not have died this morning, with no expectation that their deaths were upon them. Jahvoy definitely needs to be held accountable for that at referendum. Doesn't he?"
The gathering wind dashed itself steadily against the walls of the Academy now, creating the comforting roar that everyone in Ieik knew like their own name.
Galavar scowled. "Only if the public reinstates him."
"How do you figure that? What's the point of having a vote if the only merit in it is to uphold your will?"
Miatysacis wasn't having it, though—her recoil told him as much—so he continued, "It's more than just Jahvoy himself. People are bloodsuckers. We like to see powerful people fall. We go out of our way to punish them for deeds that go unnoticed among others."
"That's not true here. Look at all the powerful people in Ieik whom we respect, even revere. With power comes accountability. Otherwise, corruption." She shook her head. "When an insect takes a wrong turn, who cares? But when a River does it? That affects us all. It's wise to hold powerful people to a higher standard."
"I think it just pushes the wrong kind of people into power…the smarmy ones who'll say and do anything to look good. Like Beckdos, or Paribtian. The ones who avoid doing anything for bold lest someone have a pot fall on their heads and the River be exiled from the village for it."
"Nobody is going to exile Jahvoy. You're exaggerating. If you have a winning argument you don't need to exaggerate."
"Your book told you that?"
"The Noble Ego, you mean?"
"You quote it all the time nowadays."
"You've been almost jealous of that book ever since I read it."
"No I haven't. I think it's been giving you assertions that you haven't completely thought through yet."
"Isn't that how we learn? We follow in the footsteps of others, and come to understand their path for ourselves? Should I restrict myself to creating ideas only out of pure abstraction? Well?"
"If I dwell inside somebody else's conviction for a while, I'll learn sooner or later what I think about it. If I say something wrong in the meanwhile, correct me. Don't claim that I'm wrong. Correct me. Don't make this about me."
"Then what's your real argument?"
"My argument is that Jahvoy made a logical connection between Sourros' words last night and the history concerning the Viedavie Magus who created the original bell that Ar Nindar was based upon. He led the assembly in what I think was a sensible experiment: 'What if we strike the bell a second time?' He did it at the only occasion that it made sense to do: one of the only days of the year—and the only day in summer—when we already strike the bell anyway. It made sense to strike it twice today."
"I'm not disputing the day. Striking the bell twice at all is what's explicitly forbidden."
"But for reasons lost to time, Saysh. Sometimes a ban is worthwhile and sometimes it isn't."
"It was forbidden by the person who created the original bell. The Viedavie Magus. Surely she knew what she was talking about. She was one of the most powerful artificers who ever lived. She understood her craft extremely well."
Galavar looked around the room restlessly, stacking his thoughts together like a pile of sand, before turning back to look out the windows.
"Even now," he said, "I don't know that Jahvoy did the wrong thing. We've been presented with a deeper insight into the bell's power—as well as an incredible mystery. What did I see in my vision? What did Nightlight see in hers?" He thrust a thumb at Boon. "What did Boon see?"
"He told us what he saw."
"I think he lied…probably to cope."
Miatysacis didn't answer at first, but then she tilted her head down at their sleeping friend, who lay sprawled out upon several of the cushions where attending students usually sat.
"I've wondered that myself," she admitted.
Galavar followed the direction of her gaze and eyed Boon, lying there. Normally so robust, Boon looked like a pathetic wreck now. Even asleep and soundless, he looked sick.
When Galavar turned back toward the windows, the sun shone with an incredible glare and the sky glowed white. It sure had turned hazy in a hurry.
"The people who died today…" he said. "I wish I knew what it was they saw."
"So that you could have died too?"
Galavar raised an eyebrow. He hadn't considered that.
"Maybe it was an issue of willpower."
"Thus granting yourself immunity from the fate that befell them, by virtue of your superior spark."
"Some people shine more brightly than others," he snapped back. "Some people can handle more."
"And you're one of them, of course."
"What are you trying—"
"Don't worry, Galavar," she said, smiling. She had scored her point, and now, ever diplomatic, hastened to soothe her opponent. "I agree with you. It's risky business, is all. Everyone likes to think they're the special ones, and that the vast throngs of everybody else are the feeble ruck. Those convictions, when misguided, cause a lot of trouble."
"That's fair," he said hastily, spattering those words out to stop himself from the temptation of arguing a lost point. "Being elite is something one has to earn. It can't just be asserted on hearsay."
"You should speak up at the hearings, Galavar. Say your piece, for the village to consider. I find the unknown tempting. So do most Ieikili. But also I think Jahvoy shouldn't have subjected us to his scheme without telling us first."
"I can't argue with that. It's not enough to justify him not being River anymore, though."
Before he finished his sentence, a tremendous gust of wind struck the windows. They vibrated, and the sound of their crashing against the Academy's ageless walls poured around him.
"That was a good one," Miatysacis said.
"One of the thanaclepes broke loose and got down, I guess. It's getting hazy outside. Must be awfully windy up in the Sheer."
"Jahvoy himself said that what he did was a mistake."
Galavar just stared out at the wind.
Another gust buffeted the windows.
Galavar wanted to say that the River had only been acting diplomatically, trying to defuse people's sudden shock and anger. But Galavar didn't really know that, not for sure, and there was no point in conjecturing it now. Could it be that the River himself, of all people, wouldn't stand with Galavar in this?
"So he did."
Galavar stared down at Mirus Pond, where he could see numerous gusts of wind brushing across the surface of the mirus. The mirus was gray-hued, not blue at all like water.
The mudaghests all were clustered up near the gathering of Ieikili. The actual casting of scraps hadn't begun yet, but the little dwends knew what was coming.
"It was a mistake," Miatysacis said, "and a bad one. The best among us don't need us to defend them when they make a bungle. Their deeds speak for themselves. And when they do make such an awful bungle, they're not the best among us anymore—and maybe never were. I think there are better people for River."
The surface of the pond looked darker than ordinary. It did that sometimes, when the light was hazy. The mirus didn't ripple like water would, either. It cohered very strongly, and only the most powerful gusts would lift it up, in globs rather than a fine spray. It had a way of staining clothes, and tasted awful. Indeed, it was poisonous to drink more than a stray mouthful or two.
"Is that how you'll vote in the referendum?"
She laughed thoughtfully.
"It'll be my first vote."
"Who would have thought that it'd be on such a question?"
If Jahvoy didn't have people like Saysh, he had no chance of remaining in office. What a wrongness. What a bunk. But what could be done?
Galavar could see Ijlyun's robes rippling wildly as the wind blew, and absently smiled at the thought of the River Emeritus bellowing at the top of his lungs to outshine the billowing wind. Ijlyun would win that fight, too. His voice was that strong. Amid the assembly, bits and pieces of apparel flew away. The gusts had come on so suddenly, and must have been taking people by surprise. In Ieik that was inevitable sometimes. A person could be sixty years old and still lose a hat to the wind. No matter how well the lesson was learned, the wind was always wilier.
Even though it had been totally peaceful just a little while ago, it looked like a storm was on its way. It seemed to Galavar that the haze was turning so thick that—yes—clouds. Clouds were forming.
"What are you thinking?" she asked him. She loved that question.
He was about to tell her of clouds, but many a time she had pressed him on his answer. What was he really thinking? So he dug and found out.
"They say Sulvajos is at her strongest on the Day of the Dawn. Such a reflective day, and evoking the horrors of history no less. It beckons her. Maybe that's her out there now, in the hazy sky, here to celebrate at the downfall of our River."
"The Goddess of Self…" said Miatysacis.
Sulvajos was a topic of far-flung dread in Ieik, good fodder for spooky stories. Sulvajos hated Sourros for imprisoning her beneath the world, and hated all his works—from the mighty Empire of Panathar to the tiny little Village of Sourros called Ieik. The Ieikili were not ones for superstition, but one of the few that held was, as Miatysacis said,
"They say that storm winds on the Day of the Dawn are the might of Sulvajos, struggling to escape back into the Relance."
Galavar said, "Maybe a touch of her selfishness seeped into the mind of the River today…made him hasty."
"That doesn't sound like you. People develop their own qualities, that's what you always say, Galavar. The Gods don't do it for them."
"I'm just thinking aloud. You asked."
"Ah, but because I asked doesn't mean that I waive the right to spar with you."
"You can try."
The haze was fast turning into genuine clouds now. They formed from seemingly nowhere, and as a whole they appeared stationary even though they were clearly moving fierce swift across the sky. More gusts struck at the windows, and the sunlight faded from the ground at Galavar's feet.
"They might have to conclude the service early if this gets any worse," said Miatysacis.
"I'm not saying that the Goddess of Self is spoiling our River, Saysh. I'm saying that what she symbolizes, perhaps those qualities are what poisoned Jahvoy's thinking."
"It sounds like you're trying to excuse him on account of his mistake not really being his choice."
"You're tenacious, aren't you? I'm not saying that either. You keep hearing things I'm not saying."
"Maybe you are saying them and you don't realize it.
"Just because you have a different view on how the referendum should—"
Boon awoke from his dozing, then.
"That wind…" he moaned.
"Awful, isn't it?" Miatysacis said.
"How are you doing?" Galavar added, without turning away from the gathering storm.
"Been better. What is this?"
"A storm, it would seem." Galavar touched Miatysacis' shoulder and looked her in the eyes. "Let's argue another time. I'm not in the mood today."
She looked at him, and the fight fled from her face.
She went over to check on Boon, who was sitting up and rubbing his temples, still moaning softly. Galavar turned his attention back outside. The view from up here was glorious.
Down at the pond, the surface of the mirus bobbed up and down. Ijlyun stood on a special podium surrounded by the pond on three sides, looking dramatic as he flailed his arms while the waves crashed all around him. His robes—no doubt stained beyond all hope by now—fluttered so violently that by all reckoning they should long have blown away. Many of the people at the front of the congregation, having no need for such bravery, had retreated from the pond's edge. But the service was preserving. The Ieikili were not one to give up for a little bad weather.
Near the River Emeritus, Galavar could make out the gestures of High Cantor Surgesten as he led the assembly in what must have been the dead roar of a song. Galavar knew tempests like these. It would be hard even to hear one's own voice by now. The wind was too strong. Even Ijlyun would be overpowered. In the tradition of the village, there were body gestures for clear communication in instances like these, and Galavar waited for the inevitable signal that would cancel the ceremony and release people to seek haven indoors. By all accounts they should have adjourned already.
Miatysacis was thinking the same thing.
"It must be a sense of camaraderie," she said, as she returned to the windows beside Galavar. "The few who showed up don't want to admit defeat. It's their own way of dealing with the loss." She shook her head. "It's foolish to stay outside in this."
Galavar laughed, suddenly. "They're going to throw the scraps of food and it'll blow right back into their faces." He laughed again at the thought of it.
"It was sunny just a trice ago. I've never seen the sky darken so quickly." She cut herself off suddenly, then pointed to the distance. "Look at that!" Galavar followed her line and saw that one of the buildings over to the west was losing its roof.
Now the flow of the wind against the Academy was fierce and constant, and the gusts were downright terrible.
"It sounds like our dream," Boon said from behind them, still lying on the cushions.
"The wind, you mean?" Galavar clucked his tongue. "All wind sounds the same when it's strong enough."
"It's bad, Galavar. Bad wind."
"Boon…" he said, "I didn't hear any wind in my vision until I climbed out of the—"
Another gust struck, this one so hard that the windows rattled in place.
"Would you look at that," Miatysacis exclaimed. "It's trying to kill us."
Down at the pond, the castings actually began. Galavar did a double take, unable to believe it. Little white flecks of food flew from many a coiled arm. People really were giving it their very best try in the face of the gale. And Galavar was right: Some of it flew right back into the crowd, pelting people unceremoniously. He saw some of them recoil. But other bits of food made it onto the edge of Mirus Pond, and the mudaghests began to rush the shore hungrily.
But they didn't go for the scraps of food.
Above, veins of fire took hold in the clouds. They were a deep, fiery orange, with black and red fringes.
"Nefarus clouds!" Galavar shouted, though it only came out as a gurgling whisper.
He had never seen them so strong or pure in his whole life. They caught fire at once, turning the sky a deep orange with their glow.
"Oh my God."
Heavy balls of flame poured out from them, plummeting straight for the village.
"The mudaghests!" Miatysacis shouted.
Galavar looked down and saw them.
Down at the pond, one by one, the mudaghests' tiny aven bodies swelled to enormous size—bigger than a viutar, grotesque in dimension, with long necks and formless breasts. They rose up out of the mirus like silver appendages, and Galavar and Miatysacis could only look on in horror.
One of them descended upon Ijlyun, and completely enveloped him there on his podium. In the same moment no less than a dozen other mudaghests devoured members of the assembly likewise. Galavar gasped, and beside him Miatysacis cursed.
"What's happening?" asked Boon.
The mudaghests didn't linger but fell like puddles, flowing down from their prey and breaking apart in huge spatters. There was Ijlyun, still standing, his white robes now completely gray, everything about him gray. At first Galavar was relieved, but then he realized that the River wasn't moving. His whole body, even his flowing robes, were frozen in place like stone. So it was with everyone whom the mudaghests had struck.
Fire rained down on the village. Every ball of flame was as big around as a house. Most of the buildings in Ieik were clay and stone; there was nothing to ignite; but the flames were so large that they crushed some buildings outright, and so hot that fire took hold anyway. As they struck they made deep, pure booms that easily rose out above the roaring wind. The sound of it was hard to compare to anything he knew.
Down at the pond the assembly was in pandemonium. Whether from the mudghests or the meteors, people were fleeing from the pond in every direction.
They hadn't gone far when, all at once, some great, invisible hand struck down every last one of them in a single swoop, flinging them without pity to the ground.
No, it wasn't a hand but a gust of wind, and as it dragged across the surface of Ieik it took off roofs, collapsed bridges, even brought down walls. He could see it clearly for the destruction it wrought.
"It's going to hit here," he said.
"Get away from these windows!" Miatysacis shouted, turning away and pulling Galavar back, diving them both onto the cushions beside Boon.
She didn't have time to finish yelling when the gust struck the Academy. The whole building lurched, and for an instant Galavar believed it was collapsing upon him. But the Academy held its footing, and even the windows didn't break. They were made of sterner stuff.
Galavar clambered to his feet and back to the windows in time to see the first devastation from the fires. One of the wooden bridges was catching on fire, as were numerous collapsed buildings.
He looked back at the shores of the pond. Lots of the people remained down where they had fallen. Some had risen and were running again, scattering away. A few stopped to help others, but it seemed foolhardy to Galavar.
And it was only a sideshow to the meteor storm.
"Get away from there," Miatysacis said again.
"No, come here and look at this. The nefarus—"
Another gust struck the Academy, shaking the building again and cutting him off. As he staggered backward, he looked up and spotted a fireball coming straight at him.
He stared into it, mesmerized. Vaguely he was aware of Miatysacis rushing alongside him, pulling him, but it was pointless to flee. An instant later, the fiery meteor struck the Academy head-on.
Fire washed down the windows from above, pouring like water. In this part of the building they were on the top floor, and the crash of the fireball onto the roof caused the hand-carved wooden ceiling panels to collapse down around them, along with what seemed like pieces of the roof itself. Delicate astronomical equipment tumbled over to an unruly demise. Books flew from their shelves, and cabinets turned upside down from their hinges and spilled to the floor.
The din was incredible, outside the realm of believing, and the building shook so hard that Galavar and Miatysacis fell down with everything else.
For an instant, the fire outside was so bright that it swallowed the sunlight entirely, turning their little piece of the world a hot orange and then pure white.
A great voice began to speak, bigger than any person, bigger than the whole village:
I MOCK YOU.
That was all it said.
But the words hurt. There was pain in every one of them, and he knew, Galavar knew that it wasn't from some injury in his fall. It came from the words themselves. They gnashed at him like fever aches. For a moment, they even blacked him unconscious.
The next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground, hugging Miatysacis' whole body. Behind her, the view outside was everywhere fire and smoke, and he could smell something acrid, like ammonia.
"That was…that has to have been the Goddess," said Galavar.
"You've got to stop entreating the Gods!" she joked, not in humor but sheer panic.
"What do we do?"
"It's the fucking end of the village, Galavar! We die!"
But then the storm fell silent. The profound words that had hung so heavily just a moment ago seemed long distant, though the aching lingered.
Everything grew eerily still.
At first they waited with bated breath. Then they looked around. Nothing in the heliometry classroom itself seemed to be on fire. The heroic windows were still intact.
"Those glaziers don't mess around," she said. Galavar looked at her strangely, then realized she was in shock.
"Listen to that," he said. "The gusts are dying down."
Galavar rolled onto his hands and knees and looked outside.
"And look! The clouds are burning away. Sourros is dispelling the storm!"
Overhead, the nefarus clouds collapsed immediately, their veins of fire fading into mere mist, and then the clouds themselves imploded, leaving only the heavy haze behind.
The rain of meteors ceased, with some of the fireballs burning out before they even reached the ground. Unlit, they looked like heaps of rubble.
In the streets below, people were still running about wildly, except now it wasn't just those who had gathered at the pond for Castings. All the village was in chaos.
Galavar counted at least twelve fires, but these too subsided into nothingness, though their continued to smoke.
"The storm is over. We need to help."
"The Academy might be on fire," she said weakly, shaking herself. "We need to rescue ourselves. Then we can help."
That was when Galavar saw Boon, lying stretched out on the cushions in a weird, contorted position.
"What happened to him?!"
Miatysacis looked over at Boon, and her mouth opened, but she didn't say anything.
"Boon?" Galavar asked.
"Urgh…" said Boon, clutching his head. His body was tensed up like a board. "It's bad."
"The bell…" he said. "The bell is ringing."
"It's like the dream."
Galavar strained his ear and, sure enough, so loud he was surprised he hadn't heard it until this moment, Ar Nindar was ringing again.
"A fireball must have struck it. Look. There's smoke coming up from the Fateful Well."
When he looked, though, Galavar's eyes went back to Mirus Pond instead.
The mudaghests had returned to their normal, docile selves, floating on the pond like nothing had happened. The waves in the mirus had stopped.
And, at shore's edge, Ijlyun still stood there on his podium, no longer the River Emeritus but a tiny bastion of stone.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!