The Elements begin to converge on humanity’s home. For Harry, this is less awesome than he thought it would be. It almost kills him, in fact.
from The Silvergrey Sea
I didn’t trust the Water Man. How could I? I wasn’t in his mind; the link couldn’t be established. The minds of the Ær Elder and the Fire Child were already one with mine. It was on their advice that I had decided not to simply kill him, grab another and wait for the Water Spirit to inhabit it.
It would take too long, argued the Ær Elder. Killing the vessel of the Water Man would be far more difficult than she thought, said the Fire Child.
NOTHING was there, even if the host was lost. It would work, if they could get him to the site and hold him in place long enough. I was advised to do anything necessary to get him to cooperate; if I could keep him pliable long enough, he wouldn’t be wise to the deception until too late for him to back out.
“Follow me,” I said.
“What’s the plan for getting out?”
“We’re not.” He didn’t follow up. The part of me that was relieved warred with the part that worried about his silence. Did he know more than he’d hinted at? I glanced back as we left the dungeon. His face was as unreadable as ever. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Again, I had to fight the urge to strike out at him—kill him. Some part of me was deeply mistrustful. Was it the vehicle, Drago? The Hyboreans weren’t even a footnote in the history of the Pleroma. A backwater with nothing of more than local worth, they stood to gain by the restoration of the shining Empire. None of them should have had a grievance.
I glanced back again as we entered one of the helical moving stairs that infested this place—and caught a glimmer of malevolence from his half-lidded eyes. It died almost immediately, but I couldn’t doubt what I had seen.
There was no way out of Azhure’en that would go unnoticed by the residents.
Well, there was one.
None of them knew of it, though.
Only one Templar-trained would know. For all their generosity in gifting this place to the Order after their own demise, the priest-mages of Atalanté had kept certain bits of it a secret.
But that was for later.
Now, there were the dragons.
An often noticed but never discussed feature of Azhure’en’s architecture was the dragons sprinkled over its many roofs. Only a few of the Hermetists knew what they really were. Fewer knew all of their secrets.
Though not a Hermetist, I did as well.
The classic four legged, two winged shapes were the size of the elephants of Oerth (though considerably sleeker in outline) and looked to be made of alabaster. They moved, though no one ever saw. They crawled over only the roofs of the iteration of the Lodge on Mercurius. They were guardians, but not of Azhure’en. They were a defense against a possible day of return.
They had been repurposed by the Ær Elder.
We wouldn’t need to get to the top of Azhure’en, but we would need to get onto a roof. Ironically, getting fifteen miles up would be easier than getting a few hundred yards up, if one wanted to be outside at the end. The peculiar design of the Mother Lodge had to do with its ultimate purpose, one which necessitated (among many other things) minimizing openings.
There were a few, if one knew where to look. I didn’t, so I guessed.
I guessed wrong—three times.
Before we found our way outside, the alarm was raised. Someone had noticed our absence. I had hoped we’d be done and out before that happened. We were going to have to get creative.
Currently, we were near one of the crossings of a nave, above the third (from the nave) aisle. Over the stone rail to our right was a gulf of dark blue. Translucence, just recognizable as yellow was to our right, at the moment. After a few steps, it changed to red. The transition was a clean sinuous line. We were too close to the material to get a notion of what image it represented. The fact that the window was eight hundred yards high didn’t help, either. The view through the glass (it wasn’t glass, but of the same unidentified substance as the rest of this pile) was of a sky not part of Mercurius. Through a clear pane, it was bright white. The whole atmosphere was brilliant, in fact.
I had a clear view of three dragons on the sloping roof on the other side of the window. At the end of this window, I hoped would be a door that would lead out onto the leads.
The clarion had long since stopped, but I knew the search hadn’t. There might be people on the grounds looking for us, but most would concentrate on the exits. The sheer size of Azhure’en worked in favour of any potential escapee who knew her way around.
Another corner, another dead end. So it seemed.
The Water Man saved the day. As he leaned against the window just near the corner, his weight seemed cause a distinct crack! sound. “It moved,” he said, turning and pressing against the spot where he’d been leaning.
It took a frustrating few minutes to figure out how, but part of the window eventually swung out. I felt like hitting myself. It hadn’t occurred to me to look for egress through the windows. There were probably many such places, including the three we’d already rejected. Hours wasted.
There was no visible hinge or anything else joining the section that had swung out to the rest of the window. The glass, which was less than half an inch thick, to my surprise, seemed to be attached at the absolute edge of the join. Looking closer, I could see a small space—it wasn’t attached at all; it floated free seemingly without any support.
We passed quickly through the opening, which was more than large enough to walk through. Pushing it closed left no indication that it had ever been anything other than solid. A little experimentation failed to find a way to open it again. For good or ill, we were committed.
“What now?” Water seemed a bit nervous.
Standing on a roof of slate-like material that sloped away at better than twenty degrees might have been the reason, though I had no trouble keeping my footing. It may have been a dragon that looked in the process of stepping toward us only a few feet away, though it wasn’t moving. Likely, it was the view, for it unsettled me, as well.
Looking up, I expected to see the sky of Mercurius. I saw only a blank, pearlescent white. It had no depth; I didn’t think it was the sky of another world, or any kind of sky at all. The light from it banished all shadow. I couldn’t tell how deep it was. After a while, I realized it must be the inside of the shell that protected Azhure’en. How the light of each world was visible through the windows from farther away than we had been, was a mystery to me and one that I had no time for.
“Come on, Drago.” Together, we approached the stone drake.
This fucking town made no fucking sense. First off, there were no street lights, so when the sun died, I couldn’t see a damn thing. Second, the drunk who so obviously laid out the streets must have been on some kind of hallucinogen as well.
Glyph’s streets were insanely laid out, but they weren’t any crazier than whatever this place was.
I needed my zippo to find a place to crash until sunrise. Continuing in the dark was asking for a painful, possibly crippling accident as I’d likely trip over, walk into, or fall off of something I’d never see.
The yellow flame reflected on a lot of glass across the street. I went through the front door, which I had to put my shoulder to. No alarm. I did find a panel of light switches. Power worked. Good; I was running low on lighter fluid.
I lucked out; it had a full bar.
It looked to have been nice lounge in its day. Come to think, it didn’t look like it had been closed long. Like everything else in this city, it was clean. No dust, no sign of neglect at all. Reminded me of that kids’ story where a kingdom is put into a magical sleep. After helping myself to a shot (okay, four) of a good whiskey, I looked for food. I’d packed rations but waste not &c.
The fridge and freezer were not on, though the lights in the kitchen worked. The food in them looked okay, but I decided not to take a chance. Eventually, I found a pantry stocked with labelled canned food. I got the gas stove working and heated up some chili.
Dinner finished, I grabbed the bottle I’d been sucking on and looked for a bed. The three floors above the restaurant looked to be residential. I had to break down two doors to find a set of stairs going up.
I settled into an empty apartment (having stripped bedding from one that looked occupied) and passed out on a trundle bed. (The rooms of the empty unit were sparsely furnished).
A dreamless sleep (raw spirits will cause that).
Sunlight in my eyes (lack of curtains will cause that).
Extensive cursing (hangover will cause that).
A satisfied sigh (emptying one’s bladder into a convenient toilet bowl will cause that).
The sad character of the flush (the water being off will cause that).
Coffee with a shot of hair-of-the-dog and a bit of leftover chili (cold) and I was ready to continue.
My first cigarette since waking was almost enough to put me in a good mood. The chili burp put me over.
Smiling, I wandered until I saw the building on the hill I was headed for. I began walking. I was determined not to let these crazy streets annoy me; I had all day to get there.
I took my time. Despite the urgency of my task, I found myself enjoying the day. It was warm and breezy. The city was old and well cared for. It had many points of interest, some of which I spent time exploring. As the day wore on, I found I was actually getting close to my destination.
From my current vantage it still looked like a building in the same style as the Mother Lodge. I’d never known of a chapterhouse of the Order that wasn’t a cube, so I suspected it might not be connected to the Hermetists. Still seemed damn peculiar that it was so like it. I wondered if one inspired the other and, if so, which way the inspiration went.
I had to climb a rather sharp incline as I approached the enclosure that surrounded the structure. It was a wall of mortared stone, at least I thought it was. When I got to it, the stones themselves were smooth and shone. I thought they might be some kind of metal.
I circled almost halfway around the wall before finding a break that allowed access to the grounds on which the building stood.
I couldn’t cross the threshold.
Nothing appeared to be in the way, but the closer I got to the arch under which I must pass, the more effort it took. Were it not for the lack of wind, I’d’ve though a breeze was blowing strong enough to arrest my progress. I stood half a step from the arch feeling no force on me at all. I reached out a hand—no resistance. I lit a cigarette—no problem getting either the zippo or my smoke alight. What the hell?
I had a clear view of the side of the building. It was shaped like a cross. One of the arms of that cross ended close to me, on my left. Steps up led to (I could just see) large double doors of metal. Above, below a peaked roof, was a large round window. The side of the main part had two rows of windows, the larger ones higher and farther away. A maze of stone arches and spires forested a smaller sloped roof against the main structure. The side of the arm near me was similarly constructed. At the point on the peaked roofs where the crossing was, a spire stood. Way to my right, two more spires flanked what I assumed was the main entrance.
Over the next twenty minutes, I made several more attempts to pass under the arch. I was just on the point of leaving (the sun was going down again), when something pushed me forward.
I fell to the cobbles inside the gate amid the end of the world.
Sounding like the screams of the damned, a wind from hell tried to pull me off my face. I managed to hold on to my hat, but it was a struggle. Grabbing the fedora off my head, a stuffed it into an inside pocket and rolled over. Black and deep blue clouds spun widdershins above the building. At the heart of the storm was a point of red-gold light, throwing white sparks.
I looked back through the arch, but could see nothing but storm clouds—not even the ground.
Crawling back, I discovered two things. The city seemed to have disappeared and I could not get back out. I had a view almost straight down from where I crouched, Seeing the storm below me was queasy-making. I withdrew. I had to get inside.
Taking a chance, I got on hands and knees and set out for the nearest door. I soon found myself crawling like a crab, belly on the ground. I managed to get up a dozen steps and climbed slowly to my feet, leaning against the worn wood doors.
The doorway formed a lee, where the worst of the wind couldn’t enter.
I straightened myself as best I could and tried the double door. Much to my surprise, the left one opened relatively easily. I ducked inside and pulled it closed.
The silence roared in my ears. I sank to the floor and just panted for a few seconds, eyes closed. Once my heart rate descended past humming-bird, I began to hear the storm again, faintly.
The interior was gloomy; not surprising considering the maelstrom outside. The windows were miniatures of the ones gracing Azhure’en (so I head heard). They seemed rather poorer in execution, as well. I didn’t recognize any of the images depicted.
No point laying about. I stood, lit up, and began wandering. The nave was not surprising. At the end to my right must be the main entrance. I made a note to check it before I left. I had no idea when or how I’d be able to leave, but ever hopeful. Ahead of me looked the same as behind. To my left—was a pale blue light.
It obscured what I assumed must be the point of this building. Perhaps the light was the point, but I couldn’t see what caused it. It looked like a frosted, spiky snowball about nine feet across and it floated between the floor and the arched roof thirty feet above. I hoped it would prove to be worth the visit to this planet. I was getting bored and frightened of this whole place. I was past the point where I cared whether or not I found my child.
Never, never, never, give reality a set up like that.
“Father,” from the ball of blue-white.