Day 36. 64 pages, 30,257 words.
Jadis strode through the ruined and crumbling city. Its gaunt structures towered crookedly on either side of her tall, straight, powerful form as she walked, the buildings seeming to lean in over her protectively and threateningly. The dust into which the city was slowly dissolving was in itself a study in entropy, the drab black of null-attribute shooey collapsing still further into the hard white, the nothingness in solid form that was end-state matter. A metaphor, in this case, but one that could be given life here. If ‘life’ weren’t a laughably inappropriate term.
The silence followed her out of the city, and when the city ended abruptly – in a cresting wave of impossible structures like petrified trees of white stone that reared miles high into the sky’s bleached vault – only the silence remained. Jadis continued out into the flat white wasteland with its oppressive, overhanging red-black sun that stretched across the horizon and seemed to curve up overhead like an encroaching tide. The prominences and surging fountains of matter and radiation from its corona were like the grasping tendrils of some dying leviathan.
Jadis slowed, looked up at the baleful old star for a few moments in greeting, then spread her arms. The ragged and rotting material of her sleeves glistened like scales. A gateway rose up out of the blasted ground, a door outlined in black fire.
A huge form dragged itself into her world, clawing at the edges of the doorway and heaving its bulk through as though climbing out of a vertical pit. The weight of the monster’s dream was alleviated by the fact that this was only a feather-touch, a joining for the sake of communion rather than a complete merging. The Drednanth scraped out onto the ground and hunched, glaring down at Jadis from a single venomous eye.
Kelvin may have taken her Dreamscape form from some long-forgotten alien species with which she had lived, may have amalgamated it from several species, or may have simply grown into a form of her own choosing over the course of aeons. She was huge and shapeless and sluglike, but with a row of great clawed hands in constant movement around her front end where they blended into her mandibles and palps, and above which her great eye blazed.
“Jadis,” she said.
“Kelvin,” Jadis replied.
These were not, obviously, the names they used for each other. Identities and discourse in the Dreamscape were fluid, more pure, did not really require the clumsy concepts necessary in spoken communication. Still, there was the visual metaphor to consider. Each, then, used the names they had been given by their Six Species hosts. Even though in Kelvin’s case, ‘Six Species’ may have been stretching the term a little. Kelvin had last walked the world of flesh several thousand years previously, before the Zhraaki conquest of Aquilar and the forging of the Six Species in the burning crucible of the Wild Empire.
This was the reason Jadis sought her out.
Kelvin’s precise age was unknown. It was possible, although very unlikely, that she was among the eldest of the Drednanth. Most of those ancient monsters were too vast, too ingrained in the Dreamscape to ever really uproot from the Great Ice and take flesh. They could re-enter the world as aki’Drednanth in a litter but could not long remain viable. A single brain, a single self, was no longer something into which they could extrude themselves. However, it was also believed by many that an ancient could continue taking flesh, so long as she carved herself away over the years. Whittle her enormity down and leave only a compact, efficient core. She may not remember everything, may lack a truly rounded and healthy identity, but she could walk among the mortals and interact with them. This, many believed, was what Kelvin did in order to avoid torpor. And Kelvin did not deny it.
This was folklore, or the Drednanth equivalent. Whatever one believed of her age and condition, Kelvin stood above most not only as an authority in folklore, but as one who had walked with legends. Jadis did not consult her lightly.
Kelvin seemed to know this. “So,” she said. “You feel the food in your belly and the air in your lungs. You hunt and run, and roar and kill.”
“As much as I may,” Jadis said in amusement. “The mortals are so skittish.”
“This defines them,” Kelvin agreed. Her gaze shifted over the top of Jadis’s head, to focus on the city in its stately decay behind her. “You mourn still.”
“Forever is a long time.”
“No,” Kelvin said, “it is longer.”
They stood for a time, facing one another across the bared bone of Jadis’s world. The doorway behind Kelvin twisted back into the ground, leaving nothing but the long-dead sun. The huge, shifting monster with the red-black star at her back, and the imposing but comparatively diminutive figure of Jadis with the bleached ribcage of city at hers, formed a rather satisfying tableau even though Jadis was unable to really enjoy it from the inside.
“I have come-” Jadis started.
“You have come to ask me about the Children of Jathan,” Kelvin said with a slow rattle of forelimbs.
“I have?” Jadis asked cautiously.
Kelvin’s rattling became positively amused. “When I last walked among mortals as aki’Drednanth,” she said, “a lost set of sleeper pods from a Molran Fleet Worldship had been found. This was on the Worldship called Gadrion Char, but the pods were not native to that ship. They had ended up there, it was said, after a series of chaotic exchanges as the Fleet fled from the Core, and then encountered the humans of Earth, and then wandered back into the stars when they were denied their homecoming. Over the millennia, as new ships were made and old ones died, the pods were broken up and scattered. One arc was found on the Gadrion Char, hidden away in a greatvault. Only one of the children sleeping in the arc of pods was successfully awakened. If you could say it was successful.”
“Tían,” Jadis said.
“Yes. The unfortunate creature was plagued by more than just medical issues. The demons of millennia clawed at her soul. Her body grew ancient, and her mind dissolved into the Gnang, long before her time.”
“The children I have found would seem to be the same,” Jadis agreed. “They were awakened by a subtler and more advanced sciencrraft, yet only three have retained awareness. They have been brought to a cruel maturity by the medicines and processes, but they are stable – for now. They are beyond my craft, I think, which is why I have come to you.”
“Yes,” Kelvin said, “it may be that they are beyond mine as well. I would take the flesh – this is the only way a mortal might be aided, I think; they require that connection – but I have many thousands of years to wait. Perhaps more. My crimes have been many.”
She said this in amusement as well, and Jadis smiled. Kelvin was in no way a noteworthy transgressor in Drednanth terms, but she had made decisions – both in her last acts as aki’Drednanth and in her philosophies since – that placed her in a position unlikely to be granted a place among mortals anytime soon. This was simply the way of things. There were many Drednanth, and competition for aki’Drednanth lifetimes was fierce.
“I will do what I may,” Jadis said. “But I am a maker of weapons. I may fail these … Children of Jathan?”
“This was the name given to the sleepers,” Kelvin said, “in my time. The pod from which Tían came was part of a set, and researchers pieced together that the total set – some three or four hundred children – came from a group called the Children of Jathan. I translate very roughly, of course. Jathan may have been a name for a region or an institution, rather than any single Molran.”
“Jathan remains an institute to this day,” Jadis remarked.
“Ah, the Carbuncle that flies above Ogrehome,” Kelvin said. “It is indeed a venerable establishment, and I believe the two – Jathan’s Carbuncle, the Children of Jathan – originate from the same deep history. When those children were put to sleep, I believe, they were separated from the rest of the sleeping population. I believe they came from a special group, perhaps a school or some other kind of academy of learning, that was attempting to give Molren the same abilities the aki’Drednanth were given.”
“An experiment into telepathic development?” Jadis asked, troubled.
“Perhaps. We do not know, because so much of the Fleet was lost. The sleepers slept for too long, and their unique minds broke under the weight of years,” her tone was weary and regretful. “If you have found another segment of the Children of Jathan’s pod complement, then it confirms a theory I have long held. That the Fleet, at some point of its history, knew these sleepers were important – and divided them up among as many Worldships and other vessels as they could, so that some of them might survive.”
Jadis nodded. “I will see that they are protected. And I will guide them as best I can. I was called, I think, because of some of my other research and successes. Also because the group that has awakened these children is one that operates outside of Six Species law.”
Kelvin laughed. “Six Species law is such a cumbersome thing,” she said. “But so very bright-eyed and earnest. Not unlike a Bonshoon child, one might say.”
“One would never stoop,” Jadis said.
Kelvin laughed again, then grew reflective. “I will not be able to help directly,” she said, “but I may be able to find someone in a better position to assist you. I will speak to you again.”
Kelvin backed into the doorway as it reared open once again, and vanished with a final flail of dark, jagged limbs. Jadis watched the churning, ominous bole of the sun for a time, bringing her disquiet under control and digesting what she had learned from the strange Drednanth mythologist. And wondering how much of it she would be able to apply to her charges in Happy Gretchen’s cho’gule.
Finally she sighed, turned her back on the sun and gazed longingly at the corpse of the city splayed before her.
Kelvin was right. Forever was longer.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.