The Bureau of Fate building is an ugly, bumpy thing in the mountains. It can’t even pick a shape. Seven-sided towers rise tall and wide, around central pillars of stairs and hoists. There are seven such towers, each forty nine stories tall, and you, gentle reader, might think that, Oh, we have a thing going here. Same number of sides and floors, so it’s probably a numerology theme. Pragmatically, seven-sided towers make for a lot of windows, and the bureau is on the firmaments, so the scenery of space itself, Pallas and its neighbors, and all the other stars are worthy of a lot of windows.
The problem is the middle.
All of the interior space between the seven towers is filled with one giant hanger, completely ruining all of views to the inside, and the hanger isn’t even seven sided. It’s square-ish. Why -ish? Because the seven towers are in a vague circle, and the hanger is just sort of shoved in there. Some of the towers stick out of it, some of the hanger walls have to bend to touch the others, It’s mostly shorter than the towers, except where the mountains rise it’s taller, and completely ruins the view.
Finally, well not finally because I’m going to mention the worst thing last but almost-finally, the ceiling leaks because the walls were clearly joined by idiot masons. Competent masons would have made things fit better. The damp gets into the walls, runs down through the stairs, and the basement is basically a dark swamp. Obviously, the dark swamp is where they keep all the paperwork, because only when you truly internalize that thought have you begun to comprehend Fate. My office was in the basement. It smelled of feet.
Personally, that’s the worst thing, but I’ve got to mention the official worst.
The hanger is empty. There’s no reason for it at all.
One of the other interns said he got drunk with his team, and while they were playing That’s My Butt his boss mentioned that while the world was being built, the hanger was a warehouse. The Clockwork Gods stored a lot of the cabling that held the world together before they’d finished the frames. After they’d build the frames, they took the ropes down and threw them back here in a huge jumble. The ropes got so tangled they formed two heaps, and the Clockwork Gods threw them out into space where they got caught on the feet of Canopus. That’s why you can, occasionally, find bits of thread or string if you look in the corners.
So why don’t they take it down? Its roof hangs from the seven towers, and it pulls them together so the towers leak. No one’s used it since the world was made. Just take it down!
There is actual paperwork to get that done, and it’s moving through the Bureau at the speed of bureaucracy.
I’m mortal. I’ve got at most eighty years, and my theoretical children’s children’s children will not see this useless building get removed. And that’s a best case scenario, because if I’m honest, the odds are I’ll die within a week, sans children, and I’ll die knowing this worthless building will still be here.
Forgive me. I have a lot to say about that stupid hanger.
Anyway, the dragons of lightning landed outside the hanger, the giant great-for-dragons hanger which the dragons did not use, and let everyone disembark. The dragons flew off.
I’d lapsed into near catatonia, dreaming of bad architecture, and they carried me off in a stretcher. I’m only peripherally aware of what happened next. It’s like finding out what you did when you were drunk. I might have been there, but that person wasn’t me.
My stretcher was carried to a place, where four people rolled me out of the stretcher into a bed. They must have been Celestials because they held me like I weighed nothing. After that several people cut me out of my clothes. Things were pretty foggy. Someone’s face appeared with lights like extra eyes, and a mask. The Celestials held me still. The doctor checked me over with long, thin fingers. Another doctor appeared, and the two conferred. They departed.
A woman appeared without the headgear, and she poked me too. Her hands felt normal and soft.
“My feet, my feet,” I remember saying and may have been saying for a while.
“No, not yet,” she said.
And she drew a sliver of metal like a bent needle from my body.
I sighed. I had felt nothing.
She pulled another and another. Someone placed a metal basin by her side, and one by one she laid dozens of those arced needles in it. They were coated in blood and dirt, and seemed to come from my hips. Into another basin she tossed wadded up bits of black stuff, and often rinsed her hands with a fluid someone provided.
I felt nothing when she began, but when she finished, I felt better.
She moved toward my feet. She didn’t attend the burns that throbbed and ached. Instead, she started on something else, something like little threads, and pulled black streamers from my body. It was a strange, splotchy network of threads, something like tangled hair, and while she tried to get it in one piece, it often broken in her hands. The tangled hair seemed to go from my ankles to my right arm, and she collected it all to discard it into the basin with the bits of black stuff from before.
After that she addressed my stomach and took out what I only saw as a green light. She tsked and blew on the green light like a soap bubble. It vanished, and several of her assistants smirked.
“That didn’t happen,” said the surgeon, and then, finally, she turned to my feet.
The burns…I cannot describe it. Words like ‘they hurt’ aren’t meaningful.
She reached down and began doing something around my right foot. I had to see. I sat up just a little, and a man didn’t quite stop me as much as immobilized me with my head just above my stomach. The attendants said meaningless reassuring things. My feet were ruins. They were black and gray. They were gone.
The surgeon got her fingers under the ruinous burns as if she was putting her fingers under a tight glove and slowly, carefully, meticulously pealed the burn off. It came loose in one floppy chunk like a gruesome sock. She tossed it in the discard basin.
I could see my unharmed foot. I could see my toes, toenails, the little hairs on my toes, and the tiny wrinkles in my toe-knuckles. My foot was completely fine. She had pulled the whole injury off, and it had come away like paint dried into a crust. I went from one kind of shock to another and watched her do it again. She just pealed the wound off. My foot had been burned to a nub, and she just removed the wound away like it was a mark on unbothered skin.
In moments, my feet were fine, and she went between the toes, checking for athlete’s foot. Her fingers were cold.
And she just wiped my injuries away.
When someone gave her a sponge, she wiped burns off my arms, leaving pale, pink skin. She wiped cuts off my face and hands. With a gentle but business-like manner, she removed remnants of dozens of impalements to my hips and lower stomach, where she’d removed the little needles. She was kind, compassionate, and caring, but this was very clearly her job. The procedure didn’t take too long, but would have been half as long if she hadn’t washed her hands repeatedly in a blue and silver basin.
While poking my side, she said, “That one you’ve had for a while.”
I was lying still, a little embarrassed to be naked around a bunch of people. Her question gave me something to do, so I asked, “Which one?”
“The cold burn,” she answered. “Right here.”
She poked me where Hoarfast had struck me several days ago.
She glanced up to meet my gaze.
“What happened here?” she asked.
There was absolutely nothing I could say to explain that. I didn’t have anything prepared. I was way too far off my footing to make something up. I stared at her like a dog confronting a doorknob.
“Hurts,” I said. This was somewhat true. It ached a little, but I’d forgotten about it with all my other pains.
She looked away, back at my side.
“I can draw my own conclusions,” she said suddenly.
And they all went back to processing me.
The surgeon went over me again with fingers and eyes. She poked, prodded, and explored. Her attendants and nurses wiped, bathed, and washed me down to make her inspection easier. They lathed and dried me, but finally provided a modesty towel. When she completed her inspection again, she washed her hands for the twentieth or so time and waved a dry, slightly raisined finger in front of my nose.
“I left some of the bruising. Bruises are tricky, and where nothing is broken, it’s far better you heal on your own. Likewise, some of the non-serious cuts I left alone. I got most of your lichtenberg scars, but you invoked that. You will bear some remnant of it for all your life. Your feet are fine. Your hands are fine. You have lost a lot of blood, and the best remedy for that is sleep and food. Pasta, rice, beans, and vegetables.” She waved her finger at me. “Lots of colors in the vegetables. The more colors the better.”
“Regarding your burn–” she paused to think “—it’s called a bane. It’s like a curse. It will fade slowly, but it will fade. Within a month or two it will be gone. In the mean time, avoid anything cold. Don’t play in the snow, don’t go outside without a coat, don’t drink anything with ice in it.”
“Why?” I asked. Everything was getting a bit much, and I was feeling foggy again.
She thought again. There were a lot of other people in the room with us. Assistants took care of equipment. Nurses pulled a blanket to my chest. Several assistants filled out paperwork. None of them seemed to be paying attention.
People were paying attention to me again, and my methods of becoming famous had not improved.
“You know how you got that,” said the doctor-lady. “You may not know what it was, but someone decided to kill you. I bet you know who.
“Cold banes are rare. Usually I see fire or lightning, but…” She obviously thought something and kept it to herself. “Cold will kill you, young man. Very quickly. Things that should never harm you, a brisk morning when you forget a coat, will make you injured or ill. True cold, like a snowball, a fall on ice, or whatever gave you that bruise in the first place, will bring you swiftly to a sure death.”
I asked, “And you can’t remove it?”
“Who cursed you?”
“Eh,” I stammered. “It’s foggy.”
“Ah.” She did not look convinced. “The bane will fade on its own. Every day, your body burns it away, and without a trigger, it poses you no harm. If we remove it suddenly, there is a chance it will activate. What’s your name, young man?”
“Vincent Rashak,” I replied. It was an Unnish name. I could pass for Unnish.
“Vincent, I’m Doctor Thay. I hope to see you again, just not like this. Get some sleep.” She patted my head like I was a dog, and two orderlies wheeled my bed out.