All The Woes Of A World - Part 15
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The fire blazed now, out of control. It fed on itself and grew brighter. Gabriel shook his head and despaired. Turning away from the flames he cast his gaze once more to take in the East and the horizon. A little North of East clouds had appeared and in the ever-increasing light of day took on such colours as became a beauty to behold. He had seen many such beginnings and was saddened beyond melancholy that this was to be his last.
The crowd below him began to stir. Murmurings passed amongst them, mutterings and half-whispers. They too had wondered at the beacon's ignition and the actions of the Winged near to. They needed not to be told or even reassured. They knew already that their time was at hand. Many now moved away from the terminal's entrance and walked silently around the building and down to the water's edge. From this point their view of the horizon was unrestricted for Neptune lay south of the line to the sunrise.
The brilliant colours in the clouds changed slowly, passing from purples and mauves, through reds and pinks until shades of orange and yellow matched the colours of the lightening sky. The very edge of the horizon shone with a mixture of yellow and white and then wavered, rippled, as if some great power was opening a curtain, withdrawing a veil as a prelude to the rising of the sun. Helios itself began to appear above the horizon putting an end to the long awaiting. Gabriel struggled to recall a more brilliant beginning. As did the others, he witnessed the arrival of their destiny, watched the rising of their doom. Here at last and in its entirety, as the whole disc of the sun put a distance between itself and the horizon, came that which for so long had been predicted. Here at last came the mind-numbing finality of Omega Dawn.
As the seconds of time mounted in number, matured and became minutes, the gathering of people both on Charon's Grief and below failed to notice the holding of breath, the paralysing condition and the tension of fear. Helios continued to rise in the sky, its light growing ever-brighter. In the hearts and minds of the Watchers was born the realisation of the possibility that all their travels and preparations had been unnecessary. Each passing second was no longer to be regarded as a second less in the light, but as a second added to their hopes.
Daldareth moved to stand by Gabriel's side. Like Gabriel, he struggled to remember how long after the fact of sunrise Helios had blinked. Like those at the water's edge he began to think that the moment had passed and that Helios would continue to complete its crossing as it had on any 'normal' day.
Optimism began to pass among them. It said many things to them. It spoke even, saying, 'Helios has blinked and we saw it not'. 'Helios did not blink and all is right with the World.' These words and more spread as might a fever until they were more than just thoughts. The people of Angelis began to allow their thoughts to leave their mouths. Added to their optimism came a more tangible form of evidence than the mere passage of time, for now they felt the warmth of the sun on their faces. Helios had risen to the point where it was no longer possible to look directly at it and the Watchers were restless, irritated and angered.
Emotion ebbed and flowed, rose and fell. They knew not whether to rejoice or denounce and said as much. Greater in power than all the others, the feeling, the emotion called 'Rage' reared up and took them all.
"Where are the Scientists now? What worth their predictions?" cried a voice from the waterline.
"Hey! Winged Lord!" yelled another atop of Neptune's Gate. "Send a message for me!"
Lack of years sprang the trap the Winged Michael fell into. "What message would you send?"
"Tell those who brought us here, 'Next Midsummer's Sunrise, I will watch at home!'"
Some applauded. Some even laughed, but it was too late for Michael to answer for the floodgates had been opened.
Another voice was heard amongst the throng. "Hey, Winged! Are you Crossing my home? I have need of Carriage!"
"Drop some seed for me! My chickens are hungry!"
It went on and grew. Gabriel had no power over this any more than he had power over the now well-risen sun. He looked to Daldareth and then to Michael and knew that they held no answers either. To neither one he spoke with a vehemence and evil intent none had heard before.
"Get Par Inos up here now! I'm going to throw him to the Rabble!"
The two Winged left hurriedly, prepared to run the gauntlet of the crowd, just as Brielga alighted on the hill.
"Are predictions having an off day or just the day off?"
"To hell go you and the dung you have for a brain!" snarled Gabriel, turning away from the sun and bringing his attention to bear on that most useless of objects. The beacon was fully aflame and would soon have need of more fuel. Gabriel debated whether or not it should be extinguished or left to die. Flames thin and tall and yellow reached up many feet into the air. Below them, in the heart of the blaze, he could see white-hot embers that preheated the wood above and deposited their ashes to the ground. The wood popped and crackled: dying timbers these, giving each other strange sounds as if speaking words of farewell and prayers for rebirth.
Gabriel's stillness before the beacon allowed his conscious mind to be kidnapped, hypnotised, to the extent that above the words of the kindled wood he heard nothing of the raging crowd. He found this sensation strange and yet pleasant as if the beacon had granted him a measure of escape from the reality he desperately needed to be away from. Beyond his peripheral vision he saw nothing. Beyond the sounds of the flames and the wood he heard nothing. Beyond the immediate vicinity of his aura, his ego, he felt nothing. The heat of the fire became a comfort to him, reddened his face, watered his eyes while his mantle and back felt chill, as if the rage of the Groundlings had materialised as an icy blast on which their hatred could travel. Engulfed in despair he forgot that he had the ability to reach the Heights and be miles from Charon's Grief in but a short time.
His mind began wandering. He considered that the hill he stood on might be renamed 'Winged's Grief', but he could not believe that the townsfolk would stand for it. The Winged were for them the only physical link they had with the forces of authority save for the sudden appearance of Groundling Lord or (more to the point) the Scientist Par Inos.
In the flames before him, Gabriel saw his father, who, on his deathbed, had been elevated to Principality by a Segment of Lords as a reward for his past deeds. Suddenly to be regarded as almost Sovereign he had looked sightlessly at his son and spoken words of encouragement.
"Gabriel, you can do this too."
The words were spoken with his final breath, leaving his son to wonder what he had meant.
The face caught fire but did not burn. Overtaken by the flames and the ashes they had created, his father retreated into the heart of the beacon. In the moment the face vanished from his eyes someone called his name. Yet this was strange for it was not the voice of his father that called him. This voice was of the living and most urgent in its tone.
"Hell and damnation! Gabriel, bloody wake up!"
The voice was Brielga's and trembled with fear. The Arc Angel turned quickly toward the sound and was staggered as his eyes adjusted to the change in the light. Momentarily caught and out of phase with the real world, he strove mightily to understand what it was that so confused him. Brielga could see and clearly. The flames from the beacon reflected in his eyes and exaggerated the look of fear in them. Beyond that and the outline of the Winged all was blackness and drear.
The shock was almost too much for him and the pounding of his heart caused him to clutch at it through the fabric of his shirt. Wide-eyed and wide-mouthed, he stared at all around him, taking in the night sky and the multitude of stars therein. He forced himself to look across the sea to the East. Helios was still there, but was no longer recognisable as the sun that had up to a few moments ago warmed Angelis and given it life.
He had not been told - or if he had, it hadn't registered - he'd just assumed, like the rest of the entire population, that Helios would leave them in complete darkness, groping their way around the planet with all the visual sense of a blind man. He had known there would be starlight, but he failed completely to equate this with the conditions of night. 'And it was never totally dark then, was it?' he asked himself.
A multitude of thoughts and equations, checks and balances rattled around his concussed mind. On the one hand, it was not completely dark, on the other hand, there was more illumination from the stars than anyone had expected. In the same way, Par Inos had given them the impression that Helios would be no more, even though he had said that it would shrink to the size of...well, he had never been sure, but he had been certain that Helios would be the brightest star in the sky. Gabriel could see now where the scientist had been wrong in his estimations. Certainly, Helios the Sun, the Giver of Life, was no more, but it was certainly no mere star.
Brielga turned to take in the sight that Gabriel was so engrossed in. He could see quite well, now that his eyes had left the brilliance of the beacon. He too noted the light of the stars and then he understood. Gabriel was coming to terms with what would now pass for day in the days to come. In the sky and steadily rising with the passage of time, a pale yellow disc glowed gently, pulsing now and then at it settled into its new condition. The sky around it looked somewhat diffused, an almost-glow that was easy to look at as the old sun had never been. The clouds, almost unmoving, took some of the disc's colour and passed by. The sea, still calm and rippling, reflected what light came its way and still sparkled, even though such glitters were only a pathetic parody of what had once been.
Brielga sighed heavily and spoke quietly. "At least we're not completely lightless. It looks nice, but it won't brown our skin much."
Gabriel stared at him and began to laugh. The now silent crowd below the hill and at the water's edge heard him and looked askance. Some recognised the laughter and shook their heads in sadness for it seemed to them that Gabriel, Arc Angel, as about to slip through the cracks of sanity into the unknown realm of madness.
As his laughter died away like babbles from a beck borne on a wing, a cursing scientist, escorted by two Winged, reached the summit of the hill by way of the oft-used winding path that led up from the sandy ground of Neptune's Gate. Inos mistook Gabriel's laughter for hilarity instead of near-madness and spat curses at him also.
"Shut up, Gabriel," he said irreverently. "It's your own fault. You're all the same. None of you take any notice of the little things that make the big things important. You just didn't take time to see things properly, did you?"
Three of the Winged looked dangerously at the scientist, as if they had need to warn him against making rash statements. Brielga moved close to him. "I don't think this is the time for casting challenges. You are not much in favour here!" he hissed, more concerned that a bad reaction from Gabriel would affect them all rather than just a scientist.
"I'm not in favour?" shouted Inos incredulously. "I'm not the one at fault here! You are!"
His face showed them a man almost mortally wounded. There was more than just pride at stake here and he knew it, knew it well enough to want to avoid losing face. He pushed past Brielga and evaded Daldareth's attempt to restrain him. Face to face with Arc Angel he continued his tirade.
"You will talk to me, Winged!"
Gabriel eyed the Groundling with murder on his mind. "Be silent, Groundling. You are close to being given to those who waited."
"I will not!" Inos hurled his words at Gabriel as one might hurl a stone. "You came to me while I worked in Persephone. You saw me working. Not once did you inquire of my interest. No! You were too concerned with what I might do for you. Now you are paying for you lack of good manners. If you'd only taken a moment to understand the whole of reality instead of what concerns only you, you would have asked of my interests. See should see and understand that before you sought me out, before you asked of me, I was near to completing what is known as an Advancement Table." Inos' voice suddenly softened in tone, considering it better to discontinue his scolding manner. Besides, the other Winged, Michael, Daldareth and Brielga had moved closer now, better to hear his words.
"The planet moves around the sun, but its distance from the sun is not constant. It varies and that is what gives us our seasons."
Brielga was want to correct him, remind him that the past tense would be more correct. He was grateful however, that he suddenly found the strength to hold his tongue.
"When we first observed the solar interruption, one of the readings we took was the time from the rising of the sun up until the interruption. Unknown to you, I made several such readings. Persephone is North of the equatorial division and so of course is everything North of it. In this hemisphere, up to this day, we've been moving into the Summer of our year. The days have been getting longer. Indeed, Midsummer's Day is almost upon us and from then the days will become shorter. In truth, they will only be minutes shorter, but the fact remains unchanged. This phenomenon, if you will, has caused the day to begin earlier with each passing. So the point is, my foolish Winged, the time between the fact of the Dawn and the fact of the Solar Interruption has up until this day grown longer.
"Without this information you assumed incorrectly that the 'Blink' of our sun occurred at precisely the same length of time after the dawn as it was in the beginning. So of course, after ignoring the dawn each day and busying yourselves with other matters it is small wonder that you expected Helios to fade sooner than it did.
"So, my friends...," Inos' tone became one of rebuke, "...it is clear in my mind that had you bothered to take what others do into consideration you would not have left yourselves open to...to this...farce. I am not to blame for this debacle, you are! My advancement work would have shown you at precisely what time our sun would have, indeed did, retreat!"
Inos moved away from them a pace or two, certain that he would no longer be verbally abused. "I leave you now that I may return to my interests. I will permit no further questions of what has been and will be no more. As far as I'm concerned, you can spend what time you have left mating with the beasts." As he began his return to Neptune's Gate he stabbed once more at their embarrassment. "And before you ask, they are all in tethers in the weald, over there!"
With these words he pointed to the land north of the terminus and was gone.
There was anger no more among the people about the transit tube terminus. It had, quite simply, been replaced by fear. The diminishing of the sun had, they realised, set the seal on their planet's existence, a seal that stated Angelis must die. Although constant for many days, the flow of people arriving at Neptune's Gate was beginning to ebb like the waves of a lowering tide. Now only small bands of travellers, escapees, were to be seen on the paths to the West and South of Charon. This of course meant that the number of those seeking salvation in the vicinity of the terminus lessened giving those who tended there a respite of sorts. The Winged Michael expected soon the announcement that Neptune had no more room and was want to close the Gate and disconnect the transit tube. Of this there was no sign, yet, but it worried him none the less. The sun had for all intents and purposes, died, but this was not allowed to halt the important work of preparation and supply of the floating city. Neptune's Gate still received electricity transmitted from the nuclear power project at Sun's Home. Evidence of this of course came in the form of light emitted from the receiver-towers erected around the area, the irregularly placed portable units along the pathway edges and the lamp-lit houses of Charon itself.
The beasts were fewer in number. Skilled hands had butchered them for their meat and sent cartloads of raw flesh down toward the terminus where further transit awaited it. What was left of the once considerable herd seemed strangely calm, as though the continuous twilight signified night and the need for rest.
The Winged Sere observed the scene as he circled high above. His tired eyes picked out no one of importance save for a Winged atop of Charon's Grief who flexed his wings in recognition and returned his attention to the tending of the beacon. His messages had at least to be passed to a Lord or a Lady, he reminded himself, but hoped that he might also find here Brielga. If that was so he would endeavour to pass a healing moment with him, for it would surely be a shameful thing indeed to die without peace between them.
He had seen Charon on his way along the coast. His course had been plotted days past. He should follow the coast, north to Neptune's Gate. Charon lay inland. Seen from the air it was too far, he thought, to qualify for his attention. Besides, with Neptune's Gate so close at hand, it would be impossible for its people not to know of his arrival, shrinking sun or not. But it seemed obvious that only Groundlings worked below him. His letters were not for them. But then Charon was big enough to have a tavern, he reasoned as he dipped to his left, directing himself out of his anticlockwise spiral and West of South. So be it. Charon now lay directly ahead. He paused his wing-beats. Gravity took hold and drew him down until he was slow enough to stall as he found the town's square. By tilting his wings to the vertical his flight characteristics changed dramatically, almost halting his forward momentum. By bringing his body to the upright position, he became as a huge sail in the face of the wind and dropped gently to the ground.
Sere surprised himself at the ease with which he had alighted. For him not the first time he had stumbled after an exhausting Crossing. Yet the pleasure he found at his arrival in one piece was negated as he realised that the tavern was in darkness and therefore closed. There were of course lights in other windows, but a choice had now to be made.
He allowed his choice to become that decided by nature. He was right-handed and naturally moved off to the right. Unbeknown to him, the house he chose was that belonging to the Lady Io. The unadorned door and its frame told him nothing of its owners. This was not important, he decided. The essential thing was to be guided by the right person. If the occupants were Groundlings beneath nobility, so be it. At least they might give him direction.
For a moment, as he waited for an answer to his knock, he found himself in conflict again. Should he have alighted at the Gate and consulted with Michael or was he doing the right thing by coming to Charon? His answer came in the form of a response to his knocking for the Lady Io was soon before him, questioning his reason for being there.
"I am Sere, from the Southlands. Would you direct me to a Lord or Lady, or yet another Winged? I carry message of importance."
The Lady smiled her welcome and showed him into her house. He found himself surprised at how bright the interior seemed and blinked to clear his ruined night vision. The Lady shut the door to the square and passed him by that she might show him a chair near the fireplace. He declined this, saying "Your fire is most pleasing, but I must complete my journey..."
The Lady stood before him and with formality said, "I am the Lady Io Mars-Sariel. Your messages, I think, might be for me."
She didn't outstretch her hand. To do so would have been impolite. Sere's left hand sought the inner pocket of his quilted jerkin. The sheets of script he retrieved he passed directly to the Lady.
"Accept these, my reasons for Crossing," he said stiffly.
"I release you from your Crossing. I accept these messages." She spoke then without the formal word, the language of the Court and said, "Will you wait for replies?"
"I have no instructions of that. There may be nothing for you to send."
"Then you must rest awhile," she said, taking a seat at the table. "I will organise a meal for you." She laid the script out before her, smoothed their creases with the edges of her hands. She looked up at him as he changed his mind and took a chair near the fire. "Do you know what is written here?" she asked as she broke the seals.
"No, My Lady. I don't. I was led to believe that they had importance, but were not important."
"Meaning?" she asked, aware of the formality with which he had answered.
"Things to be taken into consideration and things you could live without hearing. If I arrived here, all well and good. If not? No matter. For you they will change nothing."
As Sere spoke the Lady began to read, her attention drifting from the Winged to the script. She read with care, with an intensity that allowed her not to misinterpret a word or phrase. Twice read, the pages she placed face down to her left and weighted them with a small wine glass.
"You may find pleasure in the fact that you do not bring me bad news," she smiled. "A sadness has left me, but I have to bring them to the Lady Sarah Callisto-Wingsdown for they will surely put her mind at rest."
"May I ask how so?" ventured the Winged.
Lady Io rose from the table, the cloth of her dress swishing against the table's edge. The script remained where she had left it. "Poseidon rises," she said simply.
Sere laughed short and sharp. "Has risen!" he corrected. "I could have told you that," he said with irony and disrespect. "I should have guessed. There was no chance that they would heed the Lady Sarah's warnings whilst she was there."
"Nevertheless, it has happened and it will please her to know. Many more might be saved than was at first thought."
Sere questioned her words with a look. "Then they have not mentioned the Bargains?"
Lady Io answered in kind, "What bargains?"
"I cannot believe they talked not of this," said Sere flatly.
Nervous now, he wondered how far he could go. He was in the Northlands now and they hadn't hacked wings off for centuries, had they?
The Lady returned to the table, retrieved the script, passed it to Sere.
"Read with your eyes."
"I was not suggesting that you lie," he said defensively. "I would have thought that this was too important?...no...sensitive to omit." His quick eyes scanned the script, not reading, no more than looking for key words. "They all have the breath of dogs. These say nothing!"
He cursed again and tested the waters for his own safety. Would they believe him? And not just the Lady Io. If she had Lord Mars for a father she was a very powerful Lady.
"Of what do you speak?"
"You are the Daughter of Lord Mars?" Lady Io nodded in reply. "I have no wish to end my life here and now."
"My father is dead. His name has no power here now." Her voice carried a neutral tone; words repeated a thousand times before had lost their emotion. "Fear not. Your life is not forfeit if the truth you tell."
(Continued in Part 16)
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