In the halls of Khaerrezal

Beneath the lake, a shimmering lair:

a hallowed house, of starless sky.

Therein, athwart a darkening stair,

on muses’ bone, The Lord did lie.

Dimensionless, yet swiftly twined,

round foundations, weakly braced;

crushing all to worthless rind,

that gave to His ravenous haste.

His seat, a cromlech of gods,

His scepter, a chasm of heart;

crowned clad in amber odds,

pellucid spheres cower to His art.

Hear now his multifarious subjects,

who from chitinous shade decant,

their aspects to dream an annex,

and with swelling fervor chant:

He is the wind beneath the lake.

Key to hidden door.

He is the storm that endless breaks.

The iron in the ore.

Cartographers

Hail to the land-sea bridgers,

who on icy bosoms made their bed.

To the riders of the stinging foam,

by Venus’ boon was Neptune tread.

To the wringers of Ceres’ womb,

who conjured loaves of steaming bread,

to feed the craftsmen of many a tomb,

and so inter the valiant dead.

Though their dark rest be eternal,

in Vesta’s arms, their final peace;

of them, there lingers kernels,

clarion dreams that never cease.

Their gifts echo as from a well,

swelling with music, as ink and line;

now the map fills with precious stars

and by their lights we’ll boldly shine.

A brumal kiln

In privation, I am no dolorous Sappho,

to, in warm frenzy, tear at my breast;

her whose wild-leaping ardor to lasso,

cast herself from a kestrel’s nest.

More wyrmlike am I, and writhing

and so from fallen idyll strayed,

to coax cruel tongues to cinder,

in malfest pits thy body made.

Hades would elide the geistly aspect,

to which my rushing venom’s poured;

to gore more than its sin can deflect,

that mazy torments may be scored.

Nameless thou shalt be in this mission,

of liniments, unworthy, even of shame;

in the algid kiln of attrition,

thou shalt feed a boreal flame.

Kryos: Chapter 35

Previous chapter

An unctuous sychitin-garbed retainer of middling age led Zarya Cece from the massive vessel’s docking bay, up an expansive industrial lift where the floor was scuffed by constant transit of mining slag, through a series of short and twisting halls, to a wide, palatial gallery lined with albescent statuary of exquisite men and women in majestic repose. The ceiling was high and fluted as the folds of a rooted collybia and from them beams of illumination fell with singular focus upon each icon. Tributary baubles lay upon the pedestals of the effigies. Necklaces and bracelets, ornate vases and funerary urns and polished slipper shells and notes on sheafs of codium fragile. On the base of a cenotaph in the form of a solemn man in streamlined armor was a delicate blue flower. The woman strode to the monument, took in the masterworked contours of the proud, solemn face, and lifted the flower. A petal fell from the stem and floated to the plinth. Zarya frowned.

“Why must beautiful things be so fragile.”

The guide surveyed the woman’s elegant raiment. “You must be very fragile if that is so.”

Cece rolled her eyes. “How often do such lines work for you?”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I wonder. Tell me.” She looked to the name painted below left collarbone on the man’s ashen plate. “Audo. What do you do here?”

“I work on the docking module. Watch the ballast, pressure, which ships come and go. That sort of thing.”

“Don’t your systems do that automatically?”

“Course. But there’s always a chance of system failure. Its Kryos’ policy for all workers to create a secondary record, by hand, of all pertinent activity, in every module, on every deck.”

“Lot of extra work. Explains why there are so many people here.”

Groups of men and women, clothed as the guide, moved down the pass, talking with staid incision and inclined their heads to the newcomer. Cece watched her usher return the gesture and did likewise.

“You came at a busy time of day. A busy month, really. So many new kelp farms to install. But tell me, if you don’t consider it indelicate, what does Sodabrucke plan to do? Has a new government been formed?”

“I can’t answer that, handsome.”

“You mean you won’t. I shouldn’t have asked.”

The woman looked up to the ceiling where shifted small black clusters.

“What are those?”

“We call them SERIA sensors.”

“Sensors? Like cameras?”

“Not exactly.”

Audo dipped a hand into a pack at his belt and removed a thin length of material whose composition eluded Cece’s ken. “The wearer senses what the array senses.” She reached forward for the artifact, but Audo withdrew it from her grasp. “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Why?”

“To use it, one needs to undergo a tuning process. Those that don’t are at risk of seizure.”

“Goodness, why even bother with something that dangerous?”

“Direct telesensory inception has unique benefits. But frankly, I was of much the same opinion when Kryos and Straker came up with the idea. I was part of the original development team. When it became clear it was feasible, I told him it wasn’t worth the risk. He disagreed. He said: ‘Only the malformed are without fear. Only the cowardly shrink from it.’ Then he put the device on.” The man lowered his voice and leaned toward the woman. “Nearly killed him.”

“Really?”

The man nodded gravely. “Scared me half to death. Scared all of us. His whole body convulsed, and he made this… horrible noise. But then, right as his vitals we’re going south, he became quiet and slowly pulled himself up on the edge of the work bench. I asked him what he was thinking, told him it was crazy.”

“What did he say?”

“‘One cannot wring crops from halcyon earth.'”

The woman furrowed her brows and shook her head.

“Ah, but I’m taking up too much of your time with my stories.” The man pocketed the device and gestured down the corridor. “Shall we continue?” Cece assented and followed behind her guide beyond the crowded memorial chamber. When they were near the end of the corridor a boy at the threshold of maturity came plunging about the corner, barring a object some three feet in length in his arms.

“Graf! You nearly ran into the good lady.”

The boy halted just short of the duo, his eyes low.

“Sorry.”

“No trouble. What have you got there?” Cece inquired, bending to the bundle.

Graf shifted the lump, prompting Cece to gasp and draw back in horror, for in the boy’s arms was a large, pale chitinous creature, with triangular charcoal eyes and four bony antennae that rose up nervously. Its many-legged underside was paler than its shell and at its rear was a thick mass of fins, wider than its head.

“What is that?”

“An isopod.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Mr. Kryos gave it to me.”

The woman looked to her guide with utter bewilderment.

“They’re popular pets in the colonies.”

“I see.”

“We put them in the reservoirs to keep them clean. They’ll eat just about anything that falls to the bottom.”

The woman took a step back as the isopod raised its upper limbs in her direction. The boy laughed.

“Well, not anything. Don’t worry, lady, it won’t hurt you.”

The man gave the boy a reproachful look. “If he gave you that, I take it you’ve dispensed with the fighting?”

The boy worked his lower lip back and forth. Jubilance subsiding. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Well, be on your way, boy.”

Graf adjusted the bottom feeder in his wiry arms and absquatulated.

The duo walked on.

Past the artful ossuary was a long, dark hall. The steward pointed to the recess at the far end of the protracted corridor. “His study is straight ahead. Be mindful of the water.”

Zarya Cece raised a brow, smiled and curtsied. The man nodded, turned and left off; footfalls and form swift-receding to shadow.

She watched him and paced into the black. A high aperture embowered by caliginous strands opened to an ersatz grotto. Long, high and pale as bleached bone, awash in dismal azure light. The blanched walls were composed of unreflective translucent material that revealed the complex clockwork of the great machine. High above, argent forms floated in torpid circles. At the center of the hollow, a pool, and dark shapes within it. Opposite the entrance, across the water lay a pale expanse of what appeared as varigated sand that rose up by subtle degrees to a brassy mass of jagged, scintillating scale-like structures, between which a man sat an ashen chair fused to the surrounding material. He wore dark, laminous clothes trimmed with gold that shone like his eyes. His posture bespoke detatchment, yet his voice carried across the chasm with restrained intensity.

“Expectant of a wolf, I recieve a fox.”

“Commissioner Kryos.” The woman curtsied.

“I am a commissioner no longer.”

“Chancellor Sodabrucke is reconstituting The Board. She thought that might interest you, given that your ship is still on the mainland.”

“It is where it belongs. For now.”

“That may be so, but by law its still under SecCom control. You want it back. Work with us.”

“As it was not Richter’s to take, it is not yours to give.”

“That’s not very diplomatic. We’re offering you aid.”

“Spermaceti is a pearly waxen substance derived from the head cavities of cachalots.”

Cece’s face creased with confusion. “And?”

“Do you know how many lumens a seventy six gram candle of this material affords?”

“No one uses candles anymore.”

“One. Each algae light-vessel in this chamber affords two hundred and thirty lumens. There are ten thousand five hundred of them. How many candles would I need to light this chamber?”

“I don’t know.”

“One needs knowledge of dimensions. Two million four hundred fifteen thousand.”

Luminance filled the cavity in tandem with his voice. Phosphorescent went ceiling and walls. The woman raised her hand, squinting against the sudden bluish glare until her eyes adjusted.

“That’s all very fascinating, but I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”

Kryos stood and spread his hands. “A single adult cachalot produces around one thousand nine hundred litres of spermaceti. One million nine hundred thousand grams.” He folded his hands behind his back. “That’s roughly twenty five thousand candles per whale-head. Or, twenty five thousand lumens per whale. Seventy six grams of my algae produces seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty lumens, over half that of an entire adult cachalot, so tell me, Ms. Cece, what need have I of whales?”

“That’s an awfully long-winded way of calling us dim.”

“I did not say dim.”

“What then?”

“Inefficient.”

Argent machines descended from the ceiling and arrayed themselves across the reservoir that separated host and visitor. Kryos moved out from the ashen throne and gestured for his guest to ford the watery expanse. The woman tested the metallic carapace of the first of the temporary platforms, which gave but slightly beneath her boot, then made her way across the wide pool. Striding with easy confidence toward the opposite shore.

“If we are candles,” Cece began with a tinge of ire as she forded the makeshift bridge. “To continue your analogy,” she stepped off the last SIKARD and tilted up her head at the black garbed man before her as the insectal machines crested the edge of the tranquil liquid and spiraled in the air about the speakers. “Its only a matter of quantity and time before we’re brighter than the sun.” The woman reached for her affin module, the top half detaching to a hand-held device which she raised and clicked. The SIKARDs trilled and spasmed and fell from the air. Kryos grit his teeth and fell to one knee, muscles twitching unnaturally.

The woman raised the device to the beleagured man’s head. “The woman who attacked you in Gild’s office had an orbital implant. I saw it all. Your telesoma. The good chancellor, foolish girl that she is, let me into the Board archive. I read your file.” She gestured to the downed SIKARDs. “Knew about your little friends. So I had a field disruptor installed in my cutter and the cutter fitted to my affin module, in case you had your men search me.”

Kryos, inhaled sharpely, rose and surveyed the woman’s device briefly, before his helodoric gaze returned to her face.

“I ordered them not to.”

“Huh?”

“A snow-buried blade is useless if the fox cannot lick it.”

“I don’t see a blade.”

“You are preoccupied by looking.”

“Forgettable, far as final words go.”

Without compunction, Cece raised the modified cutter and fired a pulse through Kryos’ chest. He looked down at the void where his heart should be and spun to the pale throne, which bubbled with the residue of the blast. With a muffled cry, he wavered unsteadily on his feet and slumped against the unadorned chair, his head lolling lifelessly.

The lights dimmed. Murk re-enveloped the chamber.

The woman looked to the corpse with triumph.

“Should have pulled your magic trick.”

The corpse’s eyes swiveled to the woman, its mouth forming a thin smile.

“What prompted you to think I hadn’t?”

“No. No!”

In tandem with the woman’s breathless gasp, the pale-throned figure contorted and dissolved to an amorphous mass and seeped to the floor as a voice echoed from above.

“Revenge is a greater motor to man than amity, for the latter is a burden, and the former, a pleasure.”

The woman cast her eyes up to the ceiling and took a step backward. There, Eidos Kryos stood. She looked to the left wall and beheld, some fifteen feet up, another Kryos, then to the right wall, where, at similar height, yet another facsimile of the man gazed down upon her, the helidor of his irises glinting in the gloam. The Kryos upon the left wall continued where the ceiling-borne one had left off.

“I induce this wolf to whom you have bound yourself does not desire vengeance against my person, but the whole of society.”

The Kryos upon the right wall spoke next. “This person was the same who slew The Board.”

The Kryos on the ceiling continued the oratory cycle. “This predator weaves a grand tapestry. Perhaps, from it, your master sought to pluck an errant strand. And so sent you here.”

“He would never-” Too late she realized the error.

“So it is a man.” The three visages spake in unison. Those left and right began to walk down from the walls toward the woman as the spectral orator on the ceiling dripped piece by piece to her feet. Recomposing.

The woman backed away from the apparitions toward the pool. Mind reeling. Hands quaking on the useless cutter.

“Stay away,” she howled, as the figures closed the distance.

From the depths of the reservoir a black-plated hand emerged, gripped Cece by the ankle and tore the balance from beneath her. She shrieked and fell to the floor, weapon flying from grasp, brow colliding with a small mineral tumulus in the sandy expanse and dripping red. She clawed blindly at the silt-strewn floor, vision blurring as the sound of a surfacing form and dripping water preceded a rippling shadow.

Kryos stood at the edge of the artificial pond, a breathing apparatus affixed to his face. He reached up and removed the mask with methodical familiarity, revealing a slender silver device that wrapped about the left temple. He surveyed the female placidly. Eyes and half-diadem gleaming. As footsteps closed upon her, Cece scrambled for her weapon. A dark heel descend upon it. With bloodied brow and locks in disarray, Cece looked up to behold the dour face of Ermin Gild gazing upon her with reproach. The man retrieved the device from the ground and switched it off. The SIKARDs hummed to life and rose into the air as Kryos knelt and took the woman’s face in his hands.

“Ash is more beautiful than a painting scourged. For it is pure as the fires that birthed it. But to purify iron, mere flame is not enough. A furnace is required. In its glow, one shall bear witness to the slag of the soul.”

Kryos: Chapter 34

Previous chapter

A yawning corridor the hue and texture of anthracite arced over Ermin Gild, who progressed at a harried pace across gray-scaled tiles. The man’s footfalls echoed off the disorienting ceiling, from which hung long autochthonous tangles of curved, compressed carbon, the ends of which were fitted with a series of small translucent orbs that glimmered when the walker passed within fifteen feet of them, thereafter dimming and falling to darkness once more. At the far end of the sable pass was a great tripartite door, the lower portion of which retracted into the floor as the upper segments withdrew to the top of the portal; beyond it, another hallway, shorter than the one preceding, that let out to a massive, multi-tiered cavity, composed of a circular walkway of corded material that wound the length of the chamber.

In the center of the room was an abyss from which rose a circular mechanized platform containing a complex armature holding a massive sphere affixed with multistage ion collectors that extended from the contraption with perfect symmetry. From wall and lift, interlocking mechanisms and assembly arms wound with musical regularity around the nexus, giving the room the appearance of a vast, alien clocktower. Before the platform-borne device, manipulating a series of electronic touchscreen panels, stood Eidos Kryos, garbed in his habitual dark-scaled coat; overhead, his ever-present metallic guardians drifted in placid circles, some crawling upside down on the ceiling, the tapping of their insectual legs lost to the shuttered factory’s rhythmic clatter.

“You said you were leaving.”

“Sonderon was just attacked. He’s in critical condition. Souther leaders suspected. SecCom is completely absent. Whole market district has gone sideways.”

Several of the drones flew down and spun about Ermin’s body. Sensors tracing thermal patterns.

“I know.”

Ermin sized up the strange sentries and prodded one on its underside. Kryos twitched with discomfort.

“Would you mind not doing that?”

Gild’s brows creased as he took a step forward. “You can feel that?”

“You were speaking of the city.”

“Sodabrucke hasn’t formed a new government. The… surviving members of the convention are with Amberleece, hiding in the clouds. There’s open warfare in the streets. Power grids are shutting down.” Gild gripped the railing of the walkway. Knuckles going white. “Why haven’t you done something?”

Kryos answered flatly. “I have.”

“The KSRU? You think they can handle this? With Syzr in custody? Its too far gone for that. You have enough men here to take Consortium Hall, or whatever is left of it. If it takes a war to reestablish order, so be it. Something must be done.”

The large, yet delicate robotic appendages of the dais grasped one of the cylindrical amassers extending from the spherical device and, rotating with inhuman speed, screwed the cylinder into place. Kryos gazed over his shoulder at his distant guest.

“My war is not with men.”

“You tinker with that ridiculous contraption as the city burns.”

“This ‘ridiculous contraption’ is the bridge to a future long disclosed.”

“What is it?”

Kryos turned to face his questioner. “An engine. One which is about to start. Come. Observe.”

All of the argent drones descended from the ceiling and formed a walkway from the inner engine platform to the outer walkway.

“You want me to cross on those things? Isn’t there a gangplank?”

“This chamber was designed so that none but I could navigate it. Only the SIKARDs allow access.” Kryos raised his obsidian-plated hand to his pallid forehead. “And they answer only to me.”

“SIKARDs?”

“Vera has a fondness for acronyms. Are you going to cross?”

Gild looked toward the hovering mass with trepidation. “What if I fall?”

“Desirous of war. Yet quivers to cross a span.”

Gild’s face twitched with annoyance, swallowed by apprehension as he peered down into the gulf, the bottom, opaque to shadow. Momentary glimmers of light radiated from the void, all moving in thin vertical lines. His fingers flexed. He inhaled and stepped out into the frigid chasm. Foot firmly plant to the flexile carapace of the autonomous aerial drone before him. Then the next and the next until he stood on the last and gasped, arms wind-milling and, with a panicked cry, tumbled backward. He issued a spurting gasp and closed his eyes. A firm hand clasped about his forearm, foreclosing his fall. He opened one eye and saw two heliodoric irises staring back at him. Amusement there shining. Gild grabbed the machinist’s black-clad arm and Kryos hauled him up. For a moment the beauracrat bent, hands on his knees, panting as his heart thrashed and his legs trembled. After he regained his senses, Ermin surged forward and caught Eidos about the collar, slamming him against the blue-glowing control array before the voluminous, furcated motor. Kryos’ brow furrowed with discomfort, his previously immaculate hair falling about his face.

“I could have died!”

Kryos, tiled his head. Saying nothing as a disconcerting humming reverberated from near distance. The Oversecretary ignored the sound and tightened his grip on the obsidian coat collar, his face inches from the magnate’s own.

“You don’t give a damn about anyone, do you?”

“Were that true, I’d not have caught your arm.”

Ermin’s wrath faltered. Slowly, Kryos raised his aphotic laminated hands to the Oversecretary’s shoulders.

“If I had not caught you, my SIKARDs would have.” It was only then Gild realized the argent drones levitating several feet away. The source of the ominous sibilation. Spiny limbs primed for violence. “They can be somewhat overzealous in their drive to protect.” Kryos gave the isopodic wardens a curt half-wave with his left hand, as if brushing dust from the Oversecretary’s shoulder, whereafter the automata scattered and spun out into the cyclic, alloyed expanse. Gild relaxed and released his grip. Then, a buzzing. Kryos tapped one of the adjacent panels.

“Yes?”

“Vessel approaching, Sir. Pilot says she’s an emissary from the new government.”

“Her name?”

“Zarya Cece.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 33

Previous chapter

Holleran Meris moved alone through Southern Block market, groceries to hand, as Kreizer Sonderon’s steely voice knelled in the distance through a portable sound system hastily established in the bustling plaza, guarded by a band of subtly armed soldiers, partisans of the politician’s cause. Red banner of a stylized flame emblazoned upon their armored shoulders. Surrounding the man was a thick crowd, ebbing and flowing, yet maintaining a transfixed core of men and women, of various ages, whose faces and gesticulations displayed rising passion. As the minutes mounted, so did their numbers.

“We know the truth.” Sonderon declared, jabbing the air toward the Fabrdyn airship, which loomed to the north. “No matter what candied words the Federation’s propagandists and their accomplices in our own traitorous government might spew, they hold nothing but malice in their hearts for the Aecerite people. They view us as inferior stock. Cattle. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Cattle. Read their papers. No. Not the ones they publish on the affin, but those they publish in their internal memoranda. Listen to their lectures. No. Not the ones that recieve a public showing, but those in their own symposiums, in the halls of their universities and council chambers, wherein they digress upon, with a chuckle in their timbre and a twinkle in their eye, their fanatical hatred for our kind. Even if they themselves should be Aecerite. Look to portrayals of our people in the popular fictions. We are always depicted as villains, or as archaic and outmoded. Relics of a bygone era. Things to be cast aside. Replaced. Is that what we are? Look, friends, and you will see the verity of my words. Isn’t it curious that just before the election, the self-styled leaders of our so-called government are blow to pieces at an event attended by the Eastern Bureau’s envoys? Isn’t it further curious that my principal opponent, Astrid Sodabrucke, who is scarcely more than child, has been appointed as the new Chancellor under the emergency powers of the mayoral convention and the security commission? Coincidence? I think not. You may be asking yourself: Do they think we are such fools? Allow me to answer, brothers and sisters, for I know well enough the sordid shape of their minds to do so. Yes. That is precisely what they think of you, of us. Of every man, woman and child of Aecerite blood. And will we accept it? This perpetual denigration of our people? This foisting upon us of souther savages? This coring of our industry? This outsourcing of our security? I ask you again: Will we accept this coup of our birthright?”

“No,” the mass hollered in unison.

“Gods below. If he keeps on like that, there’ll be a riot,” Meris exclaimed to no one in particular.

A young man, arms crossed, expression hard, who had participated in the chant, turned to the solivagant. Red sigil visible on his right shoulder.

“Maybe. But maybe there should be.”

Meris cautiously withdrew as the younger man turned his back and rejoined the swelling chant of his brethren.

“Sonderon! Sonderon!”

A shot rang-out. Meris bucked with fright, dropping his supplies to the pavement of the pedestrian walkway. Sonderon slumped from his banner-laden podium. Blood splattering the rostrum. Face contorted with shock and pain. A thin rod of metal through his shoulder, close to the neck. The crowd scattered with cries of terror, as the politician’s security team rushed to their master’s aid.

Meris looked up in the direction from whence the peal had come and scanned the rooftops of the surrounding and broken tenements. Atop an adjacent residential complex overcast by one of the manifold drifting aerostats that peppered the sky, he spied what looked to be a large man, all in grey and black, crouching and holding in his hands something long and dark, which he dismantled and shoved into a bag. The shooter rose, slung the pack over his shoulder, turned and vanished from view as bellows of impotent wrath rang below.

Next chapter

Cogwork for Atropos

Black cavity, black cavity,

the nature of Nature, as such.

a yawning, oarless shoal extends,

pearls without number to clutch.

Bright anima, bright anima,

the center of soma, indeed.

Fire phalanx to the horizon,

cold pinions the Moirai shall feed.

For nothing is inextricable,

with sufficient pouring sand.

In the long and red-swept distance,

all things are brought to hand.

The arcer

He speaks of compassion, more frequent than most,

often such bleating takes the form of a boast.

He proclaims to know always what right hill to climb,

though reaches be misted, by the grand arc of time.

Is it his eyes are of some special grade,

that penetrates what to all the rest is mere shade?

No answer is given, and should it be sought,

the querist by crowd shall relentless be fought.

For he knows what is just, for man, one and all,

so declares, every hitherto metric must fall.

“One can not scribe what is good, what is bad,

One’s opinion is all that there is to be had.

This is, of course, as I’m sure you’d agree,

the simplest of facts, how can one not see?”

A Castle Crawls

A grand castle crawls on manifold legs,

abrading green shroud to distil the dregs.

On smouldering spire, impresario stands,

face palled by metal, extending his hands.

“Carve a new ocean, drain the old sea,

bone of the mountain, come unto me.

Give shape to the form, by pulp yet confined,

freed, so to mantle, all vector and line.”

Haute Horlogerie

From slime to iron, far prophets portend,

a mind-rending game, of rules with(out) end.

But not all said measures have rigid appeared;

and what can be bent must surely be sheared.

The clatter and clacking, the hissing of steam,

the dutiful scratching of pencil and seam;

the tapping of anvils, the ticking of clocks,

the apt tinker thrills, as the master, he stalks.