Authors: Ken Scholes
Petronus placed the lamp upon the table. “It is a lot to fathom,” he said as he sat. “So many questions.”
The man nodded. “It is a lot. It would take you several lifetimes to know it all.”
The statement gave him pause. “But I don’t have lifetimes, I suspect.”
“No. Neither of us do.”
Petronus leaned forward on the table. “How long
The man’s eyes narrowed, and Petronus knew he was calculating how much of an answer to give. “I won’t leave this ship,” Aver-Tal-Ka said. “You will have weeks. Maybe months.”
“But I will be able to hear the dream and unseal the temple?”
He nodded. “Yes. But I can’t tell you how it works. It lies beyond my knowledge.”
Somehow, Petronus felt the subtext beneath the words, and it raised another question. “These books—they’re based on what you
Aver-Tal-Ka inclined his head slightly. “They are. I’ve populated this construct within the aether with modules of information for you. You are ingesting them through a process familiar to you—reading words upon a printed page—but that is merely a perception.”
And a way for me to pass the time while we wait,
he thought. “For whatever it is you are doing to me.”
the spider answered. “And more details about it are in the volume beneath your left hand.”
Petronus looked down and lifted his hand to see the title. “Restoration.” The word sounded flat in the room.
“Again, a close approximation,” Aver-Tal-Ka said. “You are a descendant of the People; everything that made them who they are exists within you, though aspects have been shunted and tamped, bred away and covered up for many millennia now. Your encounter with the blood of the earth activated some portions of that heritage, but the workers and makers in my own blood will be necessary. They will carry that restoration as far as it can go within you.” Aver-Tal-Ka bowed his head. “Still, it is a temporary change. Ultimately, your body will revert, and you will not be able to sustain that reversion.”
Petronus looked from the spider to the book. “Will it hurt?”
The spider also looked away. “I do not think so. Does it matter?”
He sighed. “No,” he said. “No, it doesn’t.” He would do what he had to do for the light. More than that, he realized. He would do it for Neb.
For the briefest moment, he was carried away from the library to stand outside Sethbert’s tent. It felt like yesterday and yet decades ago, that first day he’d seen Neb there studying the Entrolusian overlord’s security and contemplating revenge. He’d taken the boy under his protection that day, then watched him grow and shine in the midst of the darkness of Windwir’s grave-digging. That same boy had brought him to the moon and was in trouble again. And since Neb was the closest thing Petronus had to a son …
Aver-Tal-Ka whispered, and Petronus started. “You do what a father must do.”
He nodded. “I don’t just serve the light; I serve the boy, too.”
He felt the words rising in his mind. “Good,” Aver-Tal-Ka said. “It will not be long now. The disturbances in the aether are growing. And you are nearly ready.” The man stood, and as he did, Petronus felt that duality again as the cocoon trembled beneath the spider’s twitching legs.
“I am tired now,” the spider said.
Petronus saw it in the slow-blinking black eyes. He glanced back to the book. “I’m fine here. Go rest.”
Aver-Tal-Ka inclined his head and slipped into the shadows.
Petronus was deep into the book, his eyes wide with the wonder of it all, when a loud crash brought him to his feet, heart pounding. It sounded as if some nearby part of the library had collapsed, though Petronus knew that couldn’t be true here in the aether. He took up his lamp and prowled the shelves, aware that something was different but uncertain of exactly what that difference was.
Aver-Tal-Ka’s voice followed his thought.
The Sowing Song has stopped.
Petronus strained for it but heard nothing. The song that had been a part of his background no longer played in the aether. Its absence was disorienting, and it caught him off guard. “What does that mean?”
They have reached the temple.
But it meant more than that, too, and Petronus sensed it beneath the spider’s words. The song that lay waiting for them deep in the Churning Wastes, hidden away until metal ears could hear it and heed it, was gone now. Whatever had been set into motion so long ago was coming to a close, regardless of whether or not they achieved their desired outcome.
There will not be another dream beyond this.
Petronus sat back down to his table and rummaged through the books upon it. He pulled out the one entitled
Origins of the Firsthome Temple Sowing Song
and opened it to the first page.
Cradled in the spider’s embrace and hidden within his cocoon while the workers and makers reshaped him, Petronus read long into his imaginary night.
Winters moved quickly through the passages, her shorter legs working hard to keep up with the aide who had been sent for her. She’d not slept much—few had with the dreams becoming more intense. But beyond the dreams, her afternoon with Tertius had played its own part in disrupting her sleep.
By now, she shouldn’t be surprised. He certainly wasn’t the first to come back from the dead. She’d attended his funeral, burying him in the earth following the rituals of her people. But not only had the old Androfrancine not died in his sleep so many years before—he’d actually never been who she’d thought he was.
“Your father permitted my work in secret kin-clave with the Office for the Preservation of the Light,” he had told her as they walked along the silver lake. “He died before that work was done, and when it was time for my departure, I arranged my own demise in much the same manner that Pope Petronus did.”
All to study the Book of Dreaming Kings and the lunar prophecies it contained.
And to study me,
she realized. The notion staggered her. Access to the book was forbidden to outsiders, and there were two millennia of conflict and enmity between the Androfrancines and the Marshfolk to make such an allowance unlikely.
But the metal dream of their mechoservitors at Sanctorum Lux had intersected with the dreams of Shadrus’s line in some way, and so they’d planted their foremost expert on her people’s dreaming in their midst.
“Ultimately,” Tertius had told her, “the preservation of the light required it. Even your father agreed.”
Now, Winters moved through the Beneath Places following after a member of the Gray Guard, heeding a summons from Hebda and Charles. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as she approached a closed metal door and the two soldiers that guarded it.
They opened it for her, and she slipped into a small stone chamber lit with a lamp in the corner despite the soft white light from the lichen that covered the ceiling. Tertius, Hebda, and Charles all sat to one side in plain stools, and in the far corner, the mechoservitor lay stretched out upon a pile of blankets, its jeweled eyes dark.
The three men looked up as she entered, and she took in Charles first. The old man’s eyes were dark-circled from lack of sleep, and his face held new lines of worry. Beside him, Hebda also looked sober, though better rested. Tertius, easily a decade older than Charles, was the only one who smiled. He pointed to the only empty stool.
“Sit with us, Lady Winteria,” he said.
Winters glanced at the mechoservitor, and Hebda must have seen the question forming in her eyes. “Isaak is dreaming now,” the arch-behaviorist said in a quiet voice.
At the sound of the name, her eyes met Charles’s, and she saw the truth of it in them. She couldn’t help the smile that pulled at her lips. “Then he
Charles nodded. “They both do, it seems.”
Tertius’s smile grew wider. “It is amazing,” he said. “It seems that your Homeseeker is responsible for it.” He chuckled and nudged Charles. “Tell her.”
Charles looked at the metal man and then at Hebda before looking back to her. “I still don’t fully understand it, but he reconstructed Isaak after the explosion.”
She studied the silver mechoservitor. It was nothing like the others, taller and more slender in its build. And from everything she knew, the mechoservitors she was more familiar with took months to build. Not even the Androfrancines’ best could do better than that, nor could they attain the level of craftsmanship this new mechanical exhibited. “How is that possible?”
Hebda answered. “We suspect Neb accessed and manipulated the bargaining pool. It reconstructed Isaak using the Watcher as its template.” He looked at the old arch-engineer across from him. “Which means, practically speaking, that both mechoservitors are functional. Isaak is now accessing the Book of Dreaming Kings from the Watcher’s memory.”
Winters blinked at this. “And he’s dreaming it?”
Now Tertius nodded. “He is. Actually, he
been from the start. But he has more control now, along with more awareness. And with the dreamstone nearby, we’re all experiencing those dreams to some extent.”
Winters forced her eyes away from the metal man and back to Tertius. “So he will dream the Final Dream?”
The old man met her gaze. “You both will, Winteria,” he said. “When the time comes, we will row you both out to the stone. It is still a dream made for the line of Shadrus to dream.”
Her eyebrows rose. “And you believe it will reach Neb on the moon?”
“Yes,” Hebda said. “Between the stone and the mechoservitor’s obvious affinity for its use, we think there will be sufficient range.”
Tertius leaned forward. “More range, probably, than we want,” he said. “Isaak has already broken every dream tamp we’ve brought within three leagues of him, and when he is turned loose to dream into the stone, there’s no telling how far the dream will reach.” He paused, glancing to the other two before continuing. “It is possible that it will reach every capable dreamer both here and on the moon.”
“We had thought,” Hebda said, “that only the blood-affected—those exposed to blood magicks—could access the aether. But Isaak seems to be proving us wrong.”
“Or proving,” Tertius said, “that the aether accesses
rather than the reverse.”
“Regardless,” Hebda said, “it poses considerable risk for us. The Y’Zirite Blood Guard and their priestesses are accustomed to the aether and have learned how to track the dreamers within it. It is still a relatively new phenomenon for us. Orius is prepared to sacrifice the dreamstone if necessary—
we’ve made contact with Neb. Our engineers are already running the wires and setting the blast bags.”
Winters remembered the wires at the entrance to the Beneath Places there beneath the barn in Kendrick’s Town, and she wondered just how many bags of blast powder it would take to collapse the massive cavern and its solitary black island. “But he will wait until after we’ve reached Neb?”
Hebda nodded. “He says he will wait until the Y’Zirites are upon us.”
For the first time, she heard a bitterness in Tertius’s voice. “That old kin-wolf certainly won’t wait so long as that,” he said.
And as her old tutor spoke, Winters met Charles’s eyes and saw agreement in them. And it made sense—if the Androfrancines couldn’t keep the dreamstone for their own use, burying it was a better option than giving it over to the Y’Zirites. She saw the logic in it, but she also saw the look in Charles’s eyes and heard the tone in Tertius’s voice. The men she sat with were not convinced that Orius had their mission’s success at the center of his scheming.
As if reading her mind, Charles spoke, and his voice was nearly a whisper. “Orius has ambitions beyond the dream,” he said. “He wants the spell.”
Winters felt the words like a blow to her stomach and flinched, her mind’s eye suddenly filled with the ash and bones of Windwir, her nose choked with the smell of its funeral pyre. She tried to find words but could not.
Hebda was silent, his face grim and his eyes far away.
But Tertius broke the silence. “That is not an option,” he said. “Deploying the spell here in the Named Lands would cost us more than it could ever gain.”
Charles shrugged. “According to Petronus’s research, they brought it back for that very purpose. To protect the Named Lands.”
Hebda’s eyes went hard for a moment, and Winters watched him choose his words. “You were a part of that work, Charles.”
“I was not told that it was for military purposes,” Charles said, his own eyes now flashing anger. Then, his shoulders slouched and his head dropped. “But you’re right: I should have known.”
“Those are matters for another day,” Tertius said, a gentle kindness easing into his voice. “Orius has already concurred, albeit reluctantly, that the dream comes first.” He turned to Winters. “Which brings us to your part in this.”
She looked at the metal man again before looking back to her tutor. “What do you want me to do?”
Hebda drew a small phial from his trouser pocket. “We want you to join Isaak in the dreaming. We don’t know exactly how the missing pages from the book will form the Final Dream, but we know it was not meant for him—it was meant for
It was coded into your blood. At least on your father’s side.” She caught Tertius’s sharp glare from the corner of her eye at the mention of her father and watched Hebda falter and recover. “This will put you to sleep and keep you there. We will monitor you in the aether, and at your word, we will wake you both and take you to the dreamstone.”
She looked over at Isaak, stretched out upon the floor, and saw now that they’d made room for her beside him. Winters stretched out a hand to take the phial. She turned it over in her hands. A part of her felt eager to find her way back into the dreams—not the disjointed and violent nightmares she caught glimpses of, but the clear, powerful dreams she’d attributed to heaven’s reach into her. Gradually, she was realizing that heaven may have had less to do with it than she’d been taught. But the dreams were real, and they waited for her.