Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

Excuse me, but getting shot really hurts. It’s unfathomable until you understand. Yes, people get shot and run around, hopped up on adrenaline or anger, but those are simply more powerful things. The shock of taking a round, one round, astounded me.

I got shot in the shoulder, and to keep my arm from jiggling, I had to limp down the road. I felt ridiculous. Half a block away the parking lot fence ended at a narrow alley. On the other side a row of highrises had storefronts on their first floors. I ducked into the alley, limped past boxes, empty moving material, and three rows of hungry plants. When I slumped against the wall, they woke up and sniffed. Fat, gray tongues moved from green lips to taste the air. I could not rest here long.

I checked my arm. It was an in-and-out, with a tiny entry hole in the side and gaping exit wound in back. The bullet had made a right turn somewhere inside my shoulder. My collar-bone hurt across my shoulders. My fore-arm ached down to the elbow. I bled like a waterfall, like my shoulder had a spigot.

It wasn’t a clean, oh-golly-I’ve-been-shot-now-I’ll-fight-on wound. This one wound to one arm made me feel destroyed as a living thing.

Wow, I was in shock. I’d thought that took longer. My teachers had told me that it took a while, and they were not correct, which meant that Northshore–


I stared at my shoulder.

Make bleeding stop.


I took my wet clothes out of the gym-bag, which I’d kept somehow, folded my shirt into a pad, and belted it to the exit wound.

I got distracted because I could see clouds. The sky was full of them.

I took my pants out of the gym-bag, made a long pad, and wrapped my whole shoulder. I tied it down with my socks. I kept fading in and out, getting sleepy, so I popped the half-eaten roll of ambrosia wafers. That woke me up like a bucket of water, and I checked the dressing again, fixing a few loose points.

What was I going to do?

You know what I was going to do.

I got up, and used my right hand to slide my left arm into Aesthus’s sweater’s pocket. It was one of those long, two-opening pockets over my belly. I tucked my arm in there.

Then I checked the sidewalk and didn’t see Osret. I couldn’t see much of anything. The heavy overcast had made an evening out of afternoon, and the streets were grim and quiet. Someone would come for the gunshots, but I had a very small amount of time.

I walked back to the parking lot, didn’t see Osret, went in, checked the space between carriages, and saw Aesthus and Zenjin. They both lay dead, eyes open in expanding pools of blood. The package was gone. The saber was gone. Osret was gone. There were footprints in the blood.

I left.

That was a dumb thing to do, self, but I didn’t waste more time in self criticism. I got out of there without leaving a footprint in the blood, and headed westward, away from the ocean. I thought I recalled a temple to Maya that way, and she took all visitors.



I didn’t make it to Maya’s temple. I finally went down in a grove of cypress trees. They stood like teeth, elegantly sculpted into tall cylinders with pointed tops and rounded bases. All of them had their lower branches trimmed to hide the trunk, and low piles of mulch and tastefully arranged needles helped conceal the vulgarity of a tree rooting in dirt. Several offset lines of them followed a wide road. I was stumbling down the road when I fell over. I crawled away from the road and got somewhere hidden. All around me, silent trees pointed at the sky.

I fell asleep.

My dreams emerged from a peculiar blackness. I definitely dreamt of oblivion for a while. It wasn’t like a normal dream with images, houses like and not-like houses I’ve lived in, people I knew doing things those people would never do. I dreamt of nothing and blackness, an infinite stillness without fear, feeling, or thought.

And then images appeared like stars. They emerged in hints. It began with words my parents used to say, their accents, their sounds. My father had grunted a lot. He communicated with a bunch of ‘hmm’ sounds. My mother sang. My father actually sang pretty well too, and my mother always goaded him into singing more. Sometimes he sang under his breath and she would join the tune, and he looked like she’d caught him at something. And then she smirked, but he wouldn’t stop to let her ‘win’ so they sang a duet in the wagon or under it, where we lived when I was young.

Their voices appeared first in the darkness, and then came sights of the wagon. It was a big, boxy thing on four wheels with two horses. The horses smelled of sweat and animal, but they liked me so long as I approached from the front. The wagon had tall sides and a round top. It had a body of fabric and steel.

In my dream it rained and beat the roof. My parents and I took refuge inside, the horses grazed in the rain, and stars in lanterns filled the wagon with light and warmth. I was very young. My mom still carried me. My parents sang, and in my dreams, I fell asleep.

But inside the dream, the darkness didn’t return. For I dreamed forgotten dreams I’d dreamed as a kid, dreams of animals and plants. I dreamed of birds and goats, and they stepped from the real dreams I’d had, now remembered, to the dream I had under the cypress trees as I lay dying. Horses walked from inside out; fish swam through the air. In the way of dreams, things got fuzzy, and soon I lost the thread of which dream was which. People and characters moved without limits.

In the end, I opened my eyes and saw a man and woman, wrapped in trees and leaves. This was real.

I stared at them. They stared at me. We’d all surprised each other.

The two dryads were leafy people. They wore headdresses of laurel and clothes of ivy. They went barefoot. The woman wore many bracelets of wicker that rattled like windchimes as she moved her arms, and the man a torq of bamboo. They did not appear armed.

I put my hands up to show they were empty and said, “Hey.”

The dryads looked at each other.

“Hey,” said the man.

“How do you feel?” asked the woman.

“Pretty bad,” I said honestly.

“You got shot,” said the man.

I nodded.

“We were worried for you,” she said.

“We didn’t know if you were going to make it,” he added.

“I’m surprised I did,” I said.

They nodded.

The conversation hit a pause. I looked around.

They lived in a partially-underground forest house. Gnarled roots of something that smelled of pine formed a bubble overhead, one perforated with windows as the twisted roots passed from trunk to ground. A dozen windchimes hung from the ceiling, rattling when the tree moved in the wind. The air down here smelled of loam and old wood.

Two holes, doorways without doors, lead to other bubble rooms under the knurled roots of trees. One looked a lot like a kitchen and bath. A stream flowed through one wall to be diverted and split into a dozen lesser waterfalls and tubes. They all drained through a fault in the floor. The other had a bed. It also had some clotheslines, pegs, and several clean but organic shelf-structures. The shelves bent, the frames twisted, and the whole assemblies were packed tight against each other, placed in cunning and space-saving fashion. Her underwear piled on his. His shirts covered hers.

If they were anything like my parents, they were fighting for closet-space by stacking their stuff on each others. They weren’t angry-fighting, I bet, but they were definitely battling to see who’s shirts went on top.

My heart ached remembering my parents. I stuffed it aside. This wasn’t a good time to think about them, it was never a good time to think about them, but I slipped sometimes.

I checked my arm.

I’d been rebandaged. Uncarded cotton had been worked into smooth pads, no stray fibers emerging, and tied over the exit wound. They’d packed it deep in there. The entry wound was small enough they’d stuck a long, pointy leaf over it, one that stuck to the skin. It hurt like madness, and the cotton against the injury had turned reddish black, but there was still fluffy white stuff on top. They’d wrapped everything in some wide leaves and moss, likely for cleanliness.

I really didn’t know what to say. I figured I’d try to be polite.

“Thank you. How am I?”

The man made a face like he was stretching his mouth and stared at the ceiling, and the woman looked away. He sighed. She watched him and waited.

The man said, “You got shot. The shoulder’s pretty bad. Your humerus–” he drew his finger from elbow to shoulder “–-is broken at the joint, and scapula–” he pointed at the back of my shoulder “–is either bruised or fractured. The bullet looks like it bounced off the joint. You lost a lot of blood.

“You’ve got bruises and grip marks on your shoulders, sides, and hips. You had cold burns on your side, your knee was broken and you haven’t been staying off it well enough, multiple bruises in your hands like you’ve been fighting, and that shoulder. Ah, that shoulder.

“We operated, pinned, pegged, and set the bones. After that we cleaned that up, packed your arm, gave you stitches, and stuck you in a splint.” He degenerated into leafy babble, talking about the foliage wrapping my arm. The leaves formed a hard shell, reinforced with tiny vines and a peculiar mixture of moss. Wet and dried, it hardened into a carapace. He talked about stitches. He talked about my hands.

I hadn’t realized how many of the nereids had tried to take a chunk out of me. The dryad doctor drummed his fingers on a table. I tried to look innocent.

After several long seconds wherein the doctor obviously had a lot to say he was sorting through, he made a decision.

“You can imagine my surprise when I found you on my doorstep. Mortals are not allowed within Hyperion.”

I’d been waiting for that, trying to get ahead, and when he asked, I still had no answer. The first thing that floated to the surface in my head was, “Oh, this? Of course. It’s a disguise.”

That stopped him. “Disguise?”

“Yes, yes. You mean the appearance?”


“I’m hiding myself.”

“Then who are you? You have the ears and eyes of a dryad, but not the color.”

“I wouldn’t be holding the disguise well if I told you.”

“What is your name, son?” he asked. He corrected himself. “What shall I call you?”

“Remus. And you?”

He was doctor Lammet and his wife doctor Melia. She was a pediatrician. He worked trauma care.

I’d passed out in an ideal place. Thanks be to Limatra. Or had I been lucky?

Either way, I thanked him. “I appreciate your help. So, in regular terms, how am I doing? I assume I’m going to live?”

He exhaled heavily. “You tell me. Are you going to go pick a fight and open up all your injuries again?”

“Maybe,” I admitted.

He snorted. It wasn’t my fault.

“You’re not out of the woods yet,” he said, adding partially to himself, “And I’m not quite sure what to do with you.”

“Medication, words of encouragement, and send me on my way.”

“How about a bill and you stop getting shot?”

“Sorry. Got mugged. No cash.”

“Of course not. This is Hyperion. Which pantheon should I send the bill to?”

“Dr Lammet, I’m in disguise. That’s exactly the sort of thing I can’t talk about!”

He looked at me like he’d just drank poison.

“I’m going to have to file with Saffron Skies, aren’t I?”

Saffron Skies was a bastion of the titan’s government. When you did work for Saffron Skies, you should be proud to wait for your lords. They work on Heaven’s time. This is why we’d tried to kill Mallens.

I smiled ingratiatingly. He didn’t look like I’d ingratiated myself.

“The problem is, Remus, that there are two different medication paths for you. I saw you had ambrosia in your pack, and it will help you. But if you’re mortal, it will also burn out your life. Those are good years you’ll lose. If you’re a spirit or Celestial, your string is long.

“So be honest. This matters. Are you mortal?”

I looked him dead in the eye. “No.”

“And this?” he waved at me generally.

I shrugged and looked innocent.

“Any medical history? Are your parents healthy?”

“They’re dead.”

His ears perked up. “Sorry to hear that. How?”

“Violence,” I said. “It’s not catching.”

“Says the man shot and beat up.”

“Doc, you’re being a little hostile here.”

“Because I’m tried, I’m just tired, of patching people up and seeing you go off and do the exact same dumb things that got you here in the first place. You’re wasting my work, and I don’t appreciate it.”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”

“It always is. Stop getting shot, vessick.”

Vessick doesn’t really translate, but it means what it sounds like.

“Your bedside manner could be improved.”

“Your patient manner is shtuttick!”

Again, exactly what it sounds like.

I shrugged with one shoulder.

He sighed again, said something unfriendly, and went into their kitchen. I heard him going somewhere in there, but the small doorway didn’t show him. Dr Melia didn’t follow him with her eyes.

“You young men,” she said quietly.

I had no reply to that, and she didn’t pursue the matter. She turned her back on me to tidy medical equipment into storage, and we waited for Dr Lammet.

A short pause later, he reappeared with a cotton sack. We went through the contents together. Willow bark, to be chewed, bandages and dressings, to be changed, a pair of extremely nice scissors, ointments, pills, and antiseptics. He even gave me a small mirror.

“Try to have a medical professional change your bandages. They’re mostly on your back, so you won’t be able to see them. But if you do have to do it yourself, use the mirror.”

“Thank you.”

He held up two vials of tiny slices of honeydew bathed in nectar. He didn’t give them over.

“Remus, honey dew is illegal for a mortal. They will catch you. Are you mortal?”

“No,” I said again.

He stared into my eyes for a while before handing the packages over. I put them in the gym-bag with everything else.

Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 12


Chapter 12

I had a moment of peculiar introspection. Maybe not even introspection. Recollection maybe.

Less than an hour ago, I’d considered killing all five of them for the blade. That would have been a bad fight, but I was desperate. Now, I had the sword, they stood to let me take it, but I’d have to pay them nigh everything I had.

Two hundred and fifty thousand sesteres was a lot of money. I told myself not to get wrapped up in comparative value. They had a nice house, probably worth a million or more, and it made the quarter ton I’d offered them look light.

Forget all that. The assassins would have been paid a million, half up front and gone, half on completion. Half-a-million sesteres lay in cases I’d hid around the city, a lot of money, and if this deal walked, I’d walk away with a quarter ton. If I was smart with it, smarter than the idiots I knew or the fool I had been, I could stretch a that a long way. I knew people who knew money. Northshore had a finance department, and I had friends. I could do well.

But I didn’t pay them, with all four drops I’d have more, and I could do much better. That’s the way money works. More is a lot better than what you have.

All the risk was front-loaded. Draw now, kill everyone, leave. It nicely silenced any talking mouths too.

That was what Koru had meant to do to me.

It wasn’t any complicated ethics I thought of. I thought of people: Koru, Astras, Hoarfast, and Seraphine. Seraphine had let them try to kill me. They had done unto me what I considered doing onto these others. There are rules and laws about killing. We had religions like cow turds on a ranch, and some variation of ‘Don’t kill people’ seemed present in all of them. I didn’t care about any of that.

I thought of Koru.

I warned Apseto. “I’m going to point this toward that wall.”

He moved clear but stayed between me and the windows.

I rotated the blade, keeping the tip away from him and avoiding anything that could be interpreted as a slashing motion.

The edge was flecked with stars. They moved inside the steel, floating like dust specks in water. A lighter type of steel, almost milky, made up the cutting surface. The metal body was darker but polished like a mirror. I saw distorted images of myself and the Hemlin cousins. The straight edge was as thick as my pinky finger, and just forward of it ran a groove on both sides. Up and down it dripped shadows, a slow dissipation of darkness into air.

The bottom had a fake stamp, artfully forged. A flower crossed a scepter, and below it stood three runes. No one read runes any more. I didn’t either, but I’d memorized these three: All Things Ending.

Badly-engraved writing on the hilt said, ‘Saber by Hasso, Twenty Fourth of Messidor.’

Hasso had left a maker’s mark on a forgery. I contemplated that for a moment.

“Sleep forever,” I whispered, and the sword glittered. My words ran down the blade like a wave breaking through a tide of phosphorescent algae. Star-fragments sparkled under the fluid of shadow and went still.

I put it down on the table and wrapped it in their table cloth. Anything they hadn’t already seen, I didn’t want them seeing now.

“It’s real. Decide who’s coming. I want to leave Hyperion tonight.”

The room exhaled again.

“’You taking the table cloth?” asked Nurim.

“I’m taking the table cloth.”

“Take the table cloth.”

A number of lower intensity negotiations happened. I said I’d stay away from the table provided no one else came close. They agreed, but Zenjin said he’d cover me. I agreed but wanted him to put the gun away. They hashed out who was coming with me and decided on Zenjin, Osret, and Aesthus. I ate the rest of their bread. That I wouldn’t tell them where the money was didn’t bother them. They expected that. Likewise, I expected their refusal to leave me alone for any reason until they’d been paid.

“That includes using the water house,” said Zenjin, waving his finger. “If you’ve got to drop a package, we’re going to be in the stall with you.”

I nodded. If three of them joined me in a stall, we’d better be really friendly, and we were not that friendly. But none of them were going to go alone.

I thought of them as one entity, the cousins Hemlin. That entity would stay close until paid.

They’d also eaten and snacked. We left Nurim and Apseto, and headed out into the city.

I carried the saber, and Zenjin walked behind me. Osret walked with him. Aesthus took at my left side, and I carried the saber in that hand. Osret had given me a gym-bag for my wet clothes, which was quite clever because now I had a bulky thing in each hands. The saber was too long to fit in the bag.

They weren’t stupid. They’d made a few mistakes, but they were smart people trying to think their way through hard problems with very little warning and no experience. I felt better that I was going to pay them and leave.

The first drop had been a little lending library in the Anentine neighborhood. The Anentines, a collection of insecure new gods that coalesced into a pantheon to stop other people from making fun of them, built immense, empty palaces with tiny backyard houses. They threw a lot of dinner parties, spent fortunes on candles for their unoccupied mansions, and lived in their tiny houses. Most were nature aligned in some way. The little lending library I went to had stood on a small pole mostly engulfed by a wild hedge, an idiotic bit of gardening fashion that I found quite useful. The hedge was no longer wild.

It wasn’t anything. Nor was the lending library. Mallens had stomped it into a hole through the crust of the earth. I saw sandstone and lime, thicker marble, black basalt, and deeper bedrock until vast drive gears loomed underground like hidden shapes.

The cousins Hemlin observed me looking at the crater. Eyes narrowed. Frowns hardened. I did a little mental trig. The library had been in the center of that crater.

“Keep walking,” I said and set off quickly.

I felt the cousins glancing between each other, watching me, looking at the buried hole. I felt like the empty houses hid dozens of watchers. I had to fight down the notion that the Hemlin cousins were going to figure out I had lied about everything and they’d know what I’d done. I kept walking.

The next drop was much simpler. I’d wrapped the package in wax paper, waterproofed it with more, and dropped it into a horse trough. They say the stables of Hyperion are always clean, but this one had some algae growing in it. Rain gutters fed it from the stable’s roof.

The trough was arm-deep, so I dropped the gym-bag, held the wrapped saber, and stuck my arm in. Without words, Aesthus kept a watch, Zenjin watched me, and Osret watched them.

The package was there, but it had gotten stuck. I had to use some muscle. The Hemlins were big guys, and any of them could have done it easier. I didn’t ask, and they didn’t offer.

I yanked it out, took the gym bag, and we ducked into the stable. The horses didn’t care.

“Somebody got a knife?” I asked.

Osret did. “Give me the package. I’ll open it.”

“Just let me use your knife. I’ll open it.”

Glances shot between them. Aesthus nodded. Osret ignored him. Zenjin finally nodded, but Osret refused him too. I really didn’t want to use the saber.

“There could be anything in there,” argued Osret.

“There’s money and my stuff. It’s not weaponry or dangerous, but it’s mine,” I said.

“I’ll just open it–”

“Don’t do that,” said Aesthus, for the first time sounded tired and short. “If it’s booby-trapped, I want it to go off on him.”

Osret froze. “Is it booby trapped?”

“Of course not.”

I didn’t even fake lie. They weren’t going to believe anything I said anyway.

Unhappily, Osret gave me a stubby pocket knife. I’d sealed the package well, so I had to scrape sealing-wax aside. Zenjin moved out at an angle, standing by a tack rack, and drew that piece of his again. He kept it down, but I was getting quite tired of the way he went for it everytime something happened.

Maybe he’d just bought it.

I put the box on the ground so everyone could see it, squatted, and opened the wooden box. It had a sliding lid, the outside of which was damp. Inside, packed in cedar shavings, rolls of silver coins lay in wax rolls. Each coin bore Mallens’s seven-pointed crown, the points capped with glittering fragments of real stars, and the edges rippled with alloyed adamant. Each coin was worth five thousand sesteres, and I’d packed five rolls of five.

Without uttering a word, I gave all five rolls to Osret.

He unrolled one, inspected the coins, and gave them to Aesthus. The two of them went through each coin. Zenjin watched, and I could see his shoulders clench. He kept leaning forward when they picked up a silver piece and held it to the faint light of the stable. But he stayed cautious, back, and tried to look everywhere at once. Osret offered him a roll of money. He declined to keep both hands on the gun.

The package also had four wax-paper rolls of ambrosia. I took one out, opened it so they could see what it was, and offered them a wafer. It had dried out. They declined. I popped one, chewed and swallowed, and hid the rolls in my clothing or in the gym-bag.

I took out four sets of passage documents and hid them in the gym-bag. The package also had a tiny idol of Limatra, the Autumn Goddess of Good Luck and Found Wealth. She was four inches tall, standing, with one hand out, two others clasped, and one loose at her side. The loose one was a hidden switch for a spring-loaded blade. I showed her as well before putting the idol in a pocket.

The package also had a dead rat. I hadn’t put it there, and it worried me immensely. I threw it to a hungry plant, which woke up long enough to eat the rodent corpse. On a hunch, I threw the plant the box too, as well as the wax paper and as much wax as I could scrape off the ground.

“That was one twenty five. Of the next package, I will give you one hundred and twenty five, and our business will be done. Do we all agree?” I asked.

“Yeah. Let’s go,” said Aesthus.

We left. Our walk was a little easier, significantly less tense. Payment breeds loyalty, and while they gave me no loyalty, I had bought a little trust. I popped a few more ambrosia wafers.

Ambrosia’s the stuff. If you want to really put on mass, you lift heavy, eat ambrosia, train, eat ambrosia, and lift heavy again, all in the same day. You can get huge, and you don’t get the aches and pains of low-lifting. I used to do strength circuits every morning, four hours of combat in the afternoon, pop ambrosia, do it again, and sleep like bliss. I hadn’t worked out hard in a couple of weeks as that assassination thing had been taking up my time, but the ambrosia did its work. I was feeling better than ever.

The next drop point was a similairly waxed package, hidden in the dirt under some flowers. They formed a small garden, not two feet wide, that ringed a large flower-shaped fountain, one that spouted like pedals. It was a little park, mostly out of the way, and not exactly hidden but not easily seen either. I had worried about this one, because the dryads who tended such gardens could easily have found it. They hadn’t.

I took the package, the four of us dipped into a parking area, and hid between two carriages. The carriage horses, mules, goats, lions, or whatever had been stabled elsewhere, and the leading harnesses stripped. The carriages were tall, four-wheeled things, capable of carrying four important passengers in comfort and perhaps half a dozen servants on varying benches, platforms, and fold-away chairs. Not only was the carriage yard concealed by a tall wall, through with there was only one gate, but no one in that direction could see us through the carriage anyway.

I held the package up so everyone could see it too was thoroughly wrapped in wax paper. I asked for the knife, and Osret refused.

“No. I’m opening that one. I don’t know what your game is, but you’re up to something. Give it to me.”

Sickness take me, I should have given it to him and left. But there was ambrosia, and I needed it. There was an idol of Arya who hid secrets, and I thought I might keep her around. So I stayed for a bunch of stuff when I could have just given them the box and ran.

He took out his knife to cut it open and stopped. “Would you back up a little bit? You’re in my space.”

I wasn’t—well, I was in his space, but the space between the carriages wasn’t that big. I backed up.

“And you,” Osret said to Zenjin, who’d pulled his Puritan again. “Watch him.”

“I am watching him!”

“Not enough! Watch him like the Sun. Point the gun at him or something. He got a little loose last time he opened one of these.”

“Oh, blisters on you,” snorted Zenjin. He glared at me.

Aesthus looked like he wanted to avoid an argument, so he took a step away too.

Osret crouched down but shifted the box to his knife hand. He put his other hand on the bottom. I looked away for a split second at Zenjin, who was almost flagging me with the Puritan, and noticed some movement in Osret’s hands. I looked back.

With gun in his other hand, the one concealed underneath the package, Osret shot Zenjin twice in the chest. Something banged like sledgehammers on steel and blew Zenjin’s ribcage out his back.

Aesthus screamed, and Osret shot him too.

I bolted from the carriages and ran for the road.

Osret ran around the other side, tracked me across the parking-lot with his holdout gun, and sent rounds after me. Two missed.

The third did not.

For a holdout gun, that thing kicked like a horse.

He got me in the shoulder, I dropped and skidded on my face, and Osret walked me down. The saber fell a dozen yards away.

Before shooting, he said, “Sorry, Remus. I don’t know who you are and don’t care. If it makes you feel better, I don’t think you’re a bad guy. But I can’t have people knowing what happened here.”

Glory, I wish I had that forged sword. It was right there. But Osret was closer, and he drew a bead.

I flicked the hidden switch on the idol of Limatra, the spring-loaded blade shot out, and stabbed him through the center of the forehead. Luck was with me. He blasted wide, emptying his cylinder into the wall by the saber.

But I wasn’t there. I’d gone the other way, out the gate, and fled the parking lot. Everything was wasted, and I still didn’t have the sword.



Karesh Ni is the sequel to Bloodharvest. It’s comparatively ‘Modern Day’ in Pallas.

Twilight in Heaven is in the dawn ages. It’s part of my Silmarillion.

Karesh Ni: Chapter 7

Previous Chapters

Chapter 7

The front doors looked like the outside thirds of an oval shoved together. They were round and tall, and came together at a point. On either side hung a lantern on a silver cord, glowing with red, blue, and white light as if many different fires were confined to one small vessel of glass. Inside the floor was polished, and yet my feet could tell where the floor was smooth marble and where it was slicker quartz. But it was warm, and my breath no longer steamed. My hostess had me lead to another office, one with frosted glass walls and a glass roof, two floors up from the entryway to the building. She dismissed the guards at the door.

“Are you sure?” asked one of the guards when she told them they could leave us alone.

“Yes. You hospitallers may go,” she said.

“If she tries to escape?” asked the guard, a hospitaller apparently.

My real captor looked at me, the glass walls, the star-filled sky above, and back to him. “She can try.”

That ended their conversation. The guards left. She sat behind her desk and looked me up and down. Without taking off the ribbon, I couldn’t sit down. She put her knuckles to her lips like she was punched herself in the mouth very gently and sighed.

“Would you mind, please?” I asked. I held my hands out to her.

She stared at my hands, either lost in thought, cold and numb, or something else. I couldn’t tell. Suddenly she reached out and caught the ribbons with one index finger and pulled. The ribbons fell off.

When I was younger and had assumed serial killers would play a much larger part in my life, I’d learned to get out of handcuffs and ropes. I hadn’t started working on these yet, but I’d poked at them. I figured they were doable but tricky. They were not loose pieces of ribbon. They should not come off with a one-finger pull.

She got up, walked around the desk, and pulled the ribbon off my ankles the same way. Taking both, she returned to her seat while I transferred my coats to a hook on one wall. She looked at the binding, looked at me, and her face told me nothing. Her hands shuffled the ribbons back and forth as if she’d forgetten they were there.

“To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” she asked.

“Astrologamage Elegy.”

“Astrologamage?” she repeated in a voice that didn’t imply she wanted a response.

I took off my first three jackets, left the last one on, and hung my various clothing, bags, sacks, and gear against the wall. I sat down. The room was pleasant and warm, brightly lit with more lanterns. They cast the same multi-hued glow. There were no drafts.

Like a frozen ship breaking out of the ice, my brain took a while to get back to that point.

She had lanterns and no drafts.

I looked around the room: no fireplaces, no vents, no holes in the ceiling. The room was warm and dry. There were no smoke trails on the glass, and the clean marble didn’t have soot trails. I stared at a lantern and saw twinkling white lights behind glass.

“You use stars in your lanterns?” I asked.

“Welcome to Whitefire,” said the woman, opening her hands to display her empty white desk and bright office. “The name means starlight, and we’re rather familiar with it. Now Astrologamage, star-sage, drawer of horoscopes, and reader of the future, why have you come to Karesh Ni?”

“I’m here to see Amon Tim,” I said.

“But you have not come to Hierophant Amon Tim, you have come to Eparch Tel Viv. Why do you wish to speak to the Hierophant?”

And that was the real question. I had actually thought about this, but my cold, confused brain wasn’t working. I had that feeling where I knew I knew something and couldn’t say it.

The first thing that came to mind was, “I’m looking for the previous hierophant, Kyria.”

Tel Viv rolled her lips around like she was tasting my words. “Why?”

“I threw her numbers, and she’s at the peak of my ascending fortune. The Treasure Chest favors her.”

“Bad news, girl. She’s dead.”

“My horoscope says she’s not.”

“We fed her to a dragon.”

“I believe.”

She didn’t really shake her head, just cocked it to the side like a half-shake. “Good luck.”

Our weird half-argument ground to a halt.

“Why did you ask for Amon Tim if you’re looking for Kyria?” asked the eparch.

“He is the hierophant. She was. He might be able to help me.”

Tel Viv gave that little half-shake again.

She sounded confident. She also wasn’t overcome with sadness. Alyssa had said Amon Tim and his eparchs, and Tel Viv called herself an eparch, had deposed Kyria. Also, just now, the eparch had said, ‘we fed’ of Kyria’s death.

“Why did you–” I wasn’t quite sure how to finish. I blinked a few times. If I could just start thinking, she was saying things I needed to know!

Tel Viv answered anyway. “Treason. Consorting with dark powers. Murder. If you want specifics, she summoned the dragon, we turned it away, and summoning dragons tends to end with someone getting eaten. Someone happened to be her and she deserved it.”

After a few seconds she continued, “You’re rather openly associating yourself with a dead traitor.”

And she jumped ahead of me. I hate the cold.

“I’m not associated with her yet!” I said quickly and just as quickly added, “Or at all if she’s dead. I can’t associate with her if she’s dead. I had no idea about any of this.”

Tel Viv looked at the ceiling. “Yes, I’m getting that impression. Well, Astrologomage, your astrology seems to be as useful as one would expect. I doubt the dead traitor is going to bring anyone to the Treasure Chest, or ascend through your Treasure Chest, or whatever. As a practical matter, I don’t think you’ll find anything you want here. We are the true followers of starlight, and you’re not impressing me much. There is no fortune here for an astrologer.”


She thought I was too incompetent to be a traitor, which was good, I guess?

No, it was definitely bad. It was bad and better at the same time.

“In fact, unless you happen to be a wheat merchant, I think there’s really nothing for you here at all.”

I stared at her like a dog confronting a doorknob until the logjam of my thoughts cleared. “I just sold a contract of ten cargos of winter wheat to the Truis of Kageran.”

Tel Viv stared at me so blankly I think sheer incomprehension blocked her. She obviously thought I was lying, lying so badly she couldn’t believe it.

I kept going. “The buyer is House Ossaria of Elvenhome. The Celephians cleared the contract. Strike price is confidential. Baroness Alyssa and her consort Satre witnessed it. I have the contract in my bag.”

After several more long seconds Eparch Tel Viv said, “Show me, please.”

Because obviously, obviously I was lying. Obviously!

Except I went into my bag, pulled out the contract, and showed her. I even showed her the deposit receipt the Gesphains gave me when I deposited my loot. Satre had escorted me and insigned the receipt too. I don’t think he really trusted me, and I definitely believed he didn’t like this whole operation. Putting his stamp on the contract probably gave him a feeling of agency. But none the less, I had all the paperwork, and I hadn’t forged any of it.

Tel Viv couldn’t believe it or me. She kept shaking her head and unblinking like she was fighting sleep.

While she was staring at this incomprehensible truth, I scooted forward so I could put my hands on her desk. The chair complained when I dragged it.

“Tell me,” I said. “Do you need wheat?”

kawasaki W800

Retro style includes elements of picking the best aesthetics of history, something that’s completely plausible even without nostalgia. There is some good design in the past. But retro mechanicals are nonsensical. Drum brakes have no purpose in the modern world.

Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 11


Chapter 11

How expensive was their house?

It was a nice house. They had space. The couches didn’t butt up against the walls. They had artistically arranged chairs. Glass lamps rose over the softer chairs for reading, and bookshelves stood between the windows.

I read a few titles with big print: The History of Modern Airship Racing, Paint the Sky: The Gods of Dawn, and Lumina and Beauty.

I bet the cousins hadn’t read any of them but thought they impressed ladies.

The Hemlin cousins returned. Nurim had brought a plate with him, moshu fruit and a cracker, and he finally sat down. I mentally gave him two minutes before he got up.

“We have a counter offer,” said Aesthus. He paused. The rest of them watched me.

I waved him on.

“Five hundred thousand, but we’ll kick you back a hundred thousand.”

I opened my mouth, closed it, and exhaled the breath I’d taken to reply.

“You’re not paying us,” said Aesthus. He wore a hint of a smirk. “Your customer is. I won’t give you a receipt, but you can tell them the price was half a ton.”

I said, “Now that’s very interesting.”

They were a lot smarter than I had given them credit for.

The mere fact I was snow-jobbing them something fierce didn’t diminish that. In fact, it meant they might be able to see through my plans if I gave them time. I had too many lies. The structure of them was flimsy. These cousins would start pushing, testing, and if they pushed too hard on anything, the whole structure would come falling down.

I had a moment. Call it clarity, caution, or cowardice, I suddenly understood that while I was winning right now, I could lose very quickly.

“Three hundred, same kickback,” I said.

“No,” blurted Apseto.

Aesthus shook his head. “No. We need more than that.” He spoke as if Apseto hadn’t.

Apseto nodded.

That wasn’t a counter-offer, but I’d done the same thing when Zenjin had asked ten million.

I was winning. Take the saber and run, self.

What number were they thinking of?

I’d gone forty two thousand for no particular reason. They probably wanted at least forty two each. That meant two ten. No self respecting grifter would lower his own bribe, so I had to add one twenty five. Round up.

I said, “Three fifty, but mine is one twenty five.”

This time Apesto didn’t speak. Neither did any of the rest. They looked to Aesthus, who watched me like a card player.

I looked away, ate something, but when I finished, Aesthus was still thinking. I locked eyes with him and waited. It became a challenge. He wouldn’t look away, nor would I, and I didn’t know what out he was looking for. After several seconds, his pride wouldn’t let him blink.

I’d made this mistake before. I’d gotten into a contest with someone, a contest I didn’t need to win, but the strain of it grew weighty in my mind. A throw-away fight became a matter of pride. I locked eyes with the Celestial, born of the line of Tollos, sister of Mallens, Lord of Creation, and tested him. He didn’t look away; he invested in our challenge.

His cousins did not interrupt.

But he had to win.

“Three seventy five,” he said. He flicked his fingers between us. “Same, same.”

I looked away.

Nurim was eating moshu. Moshu are soft little fruit with a shell like a walnut. The fruit inside has about the consistency and sweetness of an apple. Normally people open them with a nut cracker, and the skill is breaking the shell without squishing the fruit. People who eat moshu with sticky fingers look childish.

Nurim saw me looking and put down his cracker. He took out a knife. Tapping a fruit against the plate to show me the shell hadn’t gone stale, and without holding it, he sliced the fruit open cleanly with the knife. He didn’t touch it at all, merely drew the blade long-ways across it.

That was, in all honestly, simply astounding knifework. He was doing it to show off, but I was impressed.

“You laughed when I said there were five of us,” said Zenjin quietly. “You think you can win. Maybe. But not as easily as you think you will.”

Self, let them win. Get the blade, destroy it, be done.

I made sure there were no misunderstandings. “The price is three hundred and seventy five thousand sesteres, and you will pay me one hundred and twenty five thousand sesteres of that.”

Aesthus nodded. “Agreed.”

I nodded. “Done.”

The room exhaled.

“Do you want to shake on it?” Aesthus asked.

“No.” I shook my head. “But we have a deal. The money is hidden a few places through the city. I’ll need to collect it. Does one of you want to come with me and bring the saber?”

“Yes. Does the blade have a name, other than saber?”

“You don’t need to worry about that. That sword, that one right there, is the one I want.” I pointed at it. “But I want to inspect it. Now.”

They all exchanged glances.

There were five of them, but I’d be holding the weapon. That was a sword for the killing of gods. They didn’t know exactly what it was, but they knew enough.

But I wasn’t going to go any farther and find out that by some unimaginable coincidence, this wasn’t the right weapon.

“Go ahead,” said Aesthus. “Right now.”

All five of them got ready. Zenjin drew the Puritan, laid a finger along the slide, but held it down, pointed at the floor. Nurim stood up with the knife. Osret moved around to the other side, and Apseto shifted so he stood between me and the windows. We’d drawn the blinds when we came in. Aesthus waited by the foyer. He looked ready to run, but for safety or for a gun, I didn’t know.

I got up, moving slowly, and lifted the blade from the table. The room breathed again, inhaling after its previous sigh. This breath it held.

There were five of them, but I had a blade made to kill the Lord of Creation. I could take them.


Style Sheets

My style sheets consist mainly of spellings and weird little in-world grammatical rules. In the real world, the US military capitalizes the nomenclature for servicemembers in their field, so the Army has Soldiers, Navy Sailors, etc. While generically soldiers can be servicemembers in any military, one would never call a Sailor a soldier, regardless of the general correctness of it.

I guess you might if you were looking to start a fight or just be a jerk. I do see things that like in news from time to time, and it always gives the impression the writer has no idea what they’re talking about.

But that’s what style sheets are for, because I never keep it all straight.

I just realized I use two different spellings for Tollos on my style sheets, which makes me very, very sad. It’s double-l Tollos now, baby!