The world is silver now.

Silver, the light is
rushing like sunlight on ripples
on the surface of pure crystal water running freely

Water


Water

 

“No. No! Stop it! I can’t—”

The breath seems to be sucked from his lungs. A remembered terror suffocates him again; the sensation of falling and rising at the same time, and that horrible pressure in his chest.

A warm, comforting voice washes over him as he fights the panic; all is water and light and chaos.

“Stay calm, Dax. You’re not drowning. Stay calm. Breathe with me.”

He breathes. The knowledge he can still breathe cuts the panic.

 

Silver?
No, the light is sharper, keener, the light
Glinting on the edge of a blade drawn under a chilly spring dawn

Or a feather

A single steel feather, shed and falling under moonlight.

The world changes around him, as
Wind rushes upward, upward.

Up—

* * *

The light became crystalline and swelled before Dax in a bright, grey wash. He gasped for breath—then gasped again as icy rain spattered across his shoulders and the back of his neck. Without thinking he fumbled for the umbrella.

Aeslin stepped forward at his shoulder. “There,” he said, sounding tired. His uniform was already darkening in the wet. “I still remember the way.”

The umbrella sprang open. Dax huddled beneath it, as the raindrops beat a thunderous tattoo on the fabric just over his head. “Thank you,” he said, conscious he was soaked in the rain of another world, breathing alien air. “Back there, I was beginning to…”

“Don’t thank me yet,” said Aeslin. He pointed ahead of them. “I have, after all, brought you to this place. Look.”

Dax looked.

The two of them were standing on the parapet of a stone tower, built of thick slate-coloured blocks and washed with rain. Water poured off the edges, which had long been worn smooth by its passing. And as he looked at where the water was pouring, Dax understood why he was so cold: the tower was at least a hundred feet tall, resting on the edge of a long, deep valley where a once-magnificent city had been carved from cliff and peak and hollow…

Forgetting the umbrella, Dax took a step forward, gaping at the sight. There were long avenues flanked with graceful columns, arches and cathedrals, palaces and long-drowned gardens. Its towers had been cast down. On the horizon, a peak of the mountainside had been sheared cleanly off to crash into the ruined beauty below. A strange light seemed to hang over it all as the torrential rain poured endlessly down.

This wasn’t Nones; not a crumbling concrete metropolis filled with dust. This had been… this…

Now, look up.

A cold, sick feeling grew in Dax’s gut, about that strange light. Slowly, he drew the umbrella back, and peeked up at the sky. Cold rain ran down his cheeks to pool under his collar.

The sky was wrong.

Storm clouds stirred sulkily against each other, a slow and inelegant shouldering. But behind them was a cold bronzed light, scattered thickly behind them like the sky had been split open. As the clouds moved, Dax caught glimpses of… fragments, high above, if the word ‘fragment’ could apply to shards the size of a world. Once, moonlight had gleamed down on this place. But the moon that had cast it was broken. It was scattered across the sky in a nimbus of dust and light.

Dax swallowed. Now he could see beyond this valley and the lands beyond it. There was no break in the rain. From horizon to horizon, everything was drowning, or drowned.

“This is Marchion,” he finally said. His voice was harsh above the driving rain.

“Yes,” replied Tobias Aeslin. “That was what many people called this world. The city below us was one of nine great centres of learning, and healing.” He stared down at the desolation with water running out of his hair. Dax moved the umbrella to cover him. Aeslin barely seemed to notice.

“Once there were scholars here,” Aeslin went on, “men and women of genius. Many of the high arts were studied here. Some, the scholars created. The Greater Form of Harmony was one. They perfected mnemonic healing here; cybernetic surgery; the Upper and Lower Means of Gating.”

Dax wasn’t sure if he’d heard correctly. He was beginning to really understand what Athellus had meant by ‘rain like static’. “Did you say, cybernetic surgery?”

“Yes,” said Aeslin. “Their religion was based upon its theories and principles, in fact. Many underwent conversions, and returned to humanity with what you or I would call religious experiences.” He laughed softly. “The surgeon-priests who lived here created their machines as you or I would tend a garden. They wrote their code like koans. Not for Marchion the brute force of the Zodiac Engines. Here, creation was wedded to wisdom, to care and devotion…”

Water gushed down the side of the tower, flickering in the splintered moonlight.

“So what happened?” asked Dax.

Aeslin simply looked at him. “Do you not know what happened here, Dax?” he asked, very gently.

Dax turned away from those solemn dark eyes. But the destroyed world below them; the rain; the splintered moon overhead; those things could not be turned away from. And he knew what they meant.

“Come with me,” said Aeslin, moving carefully on the slick, weatherworn stone, hundreds of feet up. “This will not be easy. But there’s one more thing I need you to see.”

 

 

 

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