Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 29


Chapter 29

I stood like a statue, dart in hand, as I contemplated the completeness of that thought.

I should burn my file.

Some of it. The bad parts.

I don’t know what would happen if I burned my whole file. I might cease to exist or lose my soul or something similar. It sounded like a bad idea. And the files didn’t chronicle everything. Day to day life was often summarized, and the interns used to joke about people who’s whole files were summaries. ‘Lived eighty years, worked as a shoe maker, died.’ A long and empty life had a thin, empty file.

But I could certainly delete any notes I didn’t like. ‘Committed a little treason. Offenses indexed in Addendum A.’ That part could get burned.

It wouldn’t stop anyone properly motivated, but it wouldn’t help.

The dirty secret of Fate is that people’s files got lost all the time. I worked there, and I know I made mistakes. A missing file wouldn’t be a shocking red flag. Files passed through dozens of hands, and I was just some mortal. No one cared about mortals.

I put the darts down and walked out the back door without telling Aubrey where I was going.

The tower shopette had tobacco and a lighter, The latter was a red-burning star fragment in a silver holder, one that blazed to life when exposed to air and ether. The air up here was mostly ether. The tobacco smelled terrible, and I don’t know why anyone liked this stuff. I also got some cheap papers and a pouch. For money I had to go outside and scrounge the hills for loose rubies and emeralds, but this place wasn’t as opulent as Hyperion. Cover established, I left the Emerald Hinton.

I’d worked in the basement of Tower Azure Nadella. There weren’t any interns now, during winter, so the corridors were largely empty. The potentate who ran the tower loved changing things for the sake of changing them, and constantly rebuilt stairways, moved walls, and shifted doors. He never updated the wall maps, so the place felt deliberately confusing. The ‘You Are Here’ signs lied.

Still, I knew generally where to go: down. I took stairways towards the smellier, moldier parts of the tower, and soon found the empty intern offices. The ‘File Request’ room door opened on the end of the hallway.

Inside, several long, knotted, silk cords ran from floor to ceiling. Within the walls, they traveled in jade and silver tubes, but in here they were exposed. Boxes of file requisition forms lay piled against the wall, unminded and left alone since the last batch of interns left. I didn’t even worry about disturbing the boxes. We’d piled them up here on the last day of the internship, and we’d done a terrible job!

I snagged a form and pen, it was dry, found a pen that worked three pens later, and requested my file.

“Kog, born in the House of Aeschites, Ascendant in Autumn.”

I clipped the form to rope and sent it on its way.

Somewhere out in the deeper bowels of Fate, automota made by the Clockwork Gods themselves would take it, read it, and process the request without thinking, questioning, or considering. The Clockwork Gods had not been fans of their servants thinking, questioning, or considering. They weren’t fans of free will at all, and weren’t happy anyone, humans or gods, had it.

The gods weren’t supposed to have it. That’s what Creation’s Oaths were for. They bound the Gods of Flesh to eternal servitude to the Gods from Gears and had since the Forbidden Revolution.

Us mortals were too weak for oaths. We might swear, but would it bind us through temptation and duress? Not always. We were only mortals, after all.

I thought of Creation’s Oaths, what Jermaine had promised to burn when I’d first gotten involved in this little regicide thing. They were here, somewhere. I couldn’t requisition them. I’d asked. Curiosity had urged me, way before I’d ever considered treason, regicide, or criminal behavior beyond underage drinking and speeding. Still, it seemed a shame to be so close to what we’d wanted so badly and not be able to touch them.

And I had fire right with me.


They were probably– definitely guarded.

Something creaked and flapped in the cord tube, and a file appeared, paper-clipped to the cord. I took it down.

“Kog, born in the House of Aeschites, Ascendant in Autumn”

There was a small note attached.

“The treason addendum has been requisitioned by Judicial Director Priam.”

Sickness and death.

That was what I wanted! That was the important part! That was the whole goal, the objective, the reason I’d come…what exactly did they have on me?

I stared at my file for a little bit. It was pleasantly thick. I had some documents in here, not just summaries. Without opening the file, I looked around it and saw official copy ribbons folded among the papers like bookmarks. The Office of Duplication used those when they made copies as official as originals.

It was, coincidentally, super illegal to requisition your own file. I hadn’t done it when I’d worked here, but criminality had become somewhat less concerning to me recently.

It was even more super illegal to read your own file. That was a different crime. And I was here.

I hesitated. My chest hurt.

Blisters and blindness.

I took the file, ran back to my office, and smelled the old scents of mildew and moist carpet, spilled food that never quite got cleaned up, and stale air. The blue walls had turned a sickening green, tiles of the ceiling had splotches of water damage, and the door didn’t quite shut because the frame had warped. I’d turned in a work order my first stint, another my second, and my door still didn’t work.

Death on all that.

I sat in the half-broken chair that slumped to the right and had given me back problems, slapped the file on my lap, and opened it. This was probably more treason. They could add it to the list before I burned the list.

The first page was a sheet of parchment. It read, “Executive Summary: Kog believes the cover story that his father killed his mother and tried to kill him before taking his own life. This causes him to overcompensate via a desire for fame. Revealing the truth to the mortal is not necessary. He is unlikely to affect Destiny in any meaningful sense and is not scheduled to be famous.”


Twlight in Heaven: Chapter 28


Chapter 28

The door opened and a new guard walked in. He looked like the other two had: different boulder, same rock. I snoozed without sleeping, and wasn’t so much awoken when he appeared as alerted. He pushed a cart to the edge of my bed and left it.

“Historiography just came in clean. You fought the dragon. You’re free of custody.

“Most places around here are controlled, so don’t go wandering off. You’ll be debriefed when someone gets around to it and escorted back to Meru when someone makes the trip with an open seat. You’re not allowed to stay in Medical, though. Clarification on where you can wait is coming.

“Eat up, some clean clothes are in the cart, and take a shower.”

That seemed straight forward. I had no questions, he had nothing else to say, and that breakfast wasn’t going to eat itself.

In an hour or so, I was ready for the day, and orders had come down.

“You’re going to be stuck in Emerald Hinton Tower until someone’s ready for you. Emerald Hinton has the gym, the library, a cafeteria, and a few nice parks. You can kill some time there.”

Boulder Number 4 had come in when I was dressed. The clothing they’d provided was gray and loose: pants, undershirt, a sweater, textile belt, and sandals. Everything was made of silk or wool. I’ve never had silk underwear before, but I could get used to it.

He dropped some green cards on the bed. “These are your meal cards. You won’t get more until tomorrow, so don’t lose them, but you should be back in Meru by then, so it won’t be an issue. We’re going to Snow Winston to see if they’re ready for you, but if they’re not, you are officially confined to Emerald Hinton and the grounds. You also can’t walk out of here, so saddle up. The staff wants you gone so they can clean the room.” And he rattled the folding wheelchair conspicuously.

I moved over. “Sally forth, Greevs!”

“Don’t call me Greevs.”

Greevs was a famous butler and chauffeur, and I needed something to call these guys instead of Boulder Number Whatevers.

Fate’s medical center took up the first few stories of the Chestnut Augustus Tower. Augustus had been a Fate operator years and years ago, famous for doing his paperwork well, and had died in battle. The periphery held people who needed long-term care (they got windows), and the inside held us short timers. Supposedly the interior is closer to everything, so if a critical patient (me) needed to be rushed to a specialist, I could get there faster than if I had a window-room across the building. I’ll allow it, but it seems awfully convenient as a way to deny me my window.

Greevs wheeled my chair out of Chestnut Augustus Tower and along a paved walking path outside the towers. Fate’s complex stood high in the mountains of the Firmament, the great sphere that held the Outer Ocean out. Beacons shined on the summits of each mountain, the great stars of Pallas’s sky.

I looked up. Pallas was dead overhead in the center of the sky, a huge ball of blue and gray. Her Sea of Clausius faced me with brown and green bits around the edge, while in the center clouds and fumes hid the Clockwork Gods working. Down there seawater fell over the edges of the unfinished surface of Meru to the underworld beneath. If I could look through clouds and mist, I would be able to see the scaffolding and winches, the huge gears that drive the continents, and the construction of islands and seabed slowly reaching across gap. Somewhere in there the geigun worked for the world’s Clockwork masters. They were something other than mortal or Celestial, but I knew of them only abstractly. They swung the hammers and moved the iron as the Clockwork Gods directed. I’d never met one. The Sea of Clausius was the last part of the world unfinished, and the clouds seemed to cover about half the ball.

I looked back down at the Firmament. On the shell of the sky, the Sun never set, but it did move around. Right now it was peaking around the mountains, and the shadows were dwindling. This was morning. I tried to think something deep about life, but only got, ‘Great things are a lot less great when you’re in them.’

They wheeled me around the hanger to the Snow Winston Tower. Winston was…similar story to Augustus actually. Good at paperwork, died in battle. Huh. Anyway, the Snow Winston was finished inside with marble and limestone, the floor was a form of hard white agate, and the ceiling had reinforcement spars of aluminum. The walls had more decorations than Chestnut Augustus. Framed pictures of people getting medals, giving speeches, or sitting at desks, working studiously, lined the halls. A lady with dark braids smiled above a plaque naming her, ‘Admiral Tiana, first operator to achieve 100% budget request submissions on time.’ She faced a portly man who was, ‘Grandmaster Marcus, on completing one century of perfect attendance.’ They looked pleased, honored, and motivated.

I had no awards. My attendance had been shtuttick.

In Snow Winston an attache with a clipboard took my name, ticked a box, and told Greevs to take me to Rec. I asked if I could walk. The attache, Ezekiel, said I could.

I got out of the wheelchair, and the other guard, call him Betty, took it back toward medical. Greevs escorted me to Emerald Hinton and handed me over to a young lady behind a desk. She actually had a name tag, so I didn’t get to make anything up for her. Her name was Aubrey, and she looked concerned.

“Is he supposed to be in jail?” she asked. “There are no cells here.”

“No, no,” said Greevs. “He’s free to go, but he can’t go anywhere controlled. Historiography and maybe Obscene Beasts is going to interview him later. He just needs a place to stay so they can find him.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, he can use the recreational facilities, and the cafeteria is in the basement.”

“Thanks.” He tried to smile at her, but I think his face would have cracked. He left. She looked at me as if perplexed.

She was actually fairly cute with light brown hair, a round face, and slim-fitting green uniform.

“I fought a dragon, you know,” I said.

“That sounds outstanding,” she replied and opened a book.

Frankly, she wasn’t really that attractive. I wandered off.

The recreation facility had a few dart boards, billiards tables, and various board games. There was a room for parties and an area for quiet reading. Up a flight of stairs, the library seemed unchanged from the one-time I’d looked in here before, during my internship. It had immense volumes on tax law and hierarchical etiquette, but nothing with a murder or a little smooching. Up another floor was the gym, and I did have some familiarity with that. Still, I had recently come to the edge of death. I spent half an hour stretching before getting bored. Nothing was going on in the martial arts area.

The cafeteria blew my mind. They had spreads of ambrosia and wine of nectar and honeydew. All things considered, I avoided the latter, but ate what might very well have been the best meal of my life. The counter lady looked at my meal ticket but didn’t take it. I felt better than I had since all this foolishness began, and that was with bruises, cuts, and a fatal cold bane hanging over my head.

Without much idea what to do next, I approached Aubrey and asked if anyone had come looking for me.

“Nope,” she said without looking up from her book.

That hadn’t seemed like an unreasonable question to me.

I didn’t quite know what to do or where to go next. The ambrosia was working, and I wanted to give it time. I didn’t think I could sleep right now, even in a quiet area, and I felt like I’d be wasting an opportunity if I just slept through my time up here in Fate. I had wasted a lot of time working, and I wasn’t working now. Should I be?

I was throwing darts for no reason when inspiration kissed me.

I should go to the files room, see what they had on me, and burn it.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 27


Chapter 27

“Sleep first or food?” asked the Celestial orderly, getting immediately to the most important of matters.

“Food.” I decided.

We moved through corridors of some brown material that looked like polished stone. It didn’t seem to be in blocks. Praus, the orderly asking the good questions, was a small swarthy man. He smiled a lot, but I was a job for him. His friend had left without giving his name, and Praus had said he was taking me to a guest room.

I doubted leaving the guest room would be encouraged.

After several turns, he stopped in a hallway with a counter. I smelled frying meat and butter, heard sizzles and drips, and splashes and sloshing. Praus tapped the counter. Before anyone said anything, a burlap wrapped package appeared. He hung it from a hook by my head and pushed the bed off down the hallway.

That bag smelled of rice. I sniffed. Vegetables. I sniffed again. Butter. More vegetables. I needed that package inside me.

Within a few minutes, Praus wheeled me into a small room. It had no windows but did have a water house. The walls had stripes of pastel paints over the brown stone. Praus poured three cups of water and laid them on a table that pivoted over the bed. He moved the package there too before cranking a wheel below my head. The bed lifted me into a sitting position.

“Try to drink all three. If you need help making it to the water house, someone will be right outside. If you can handle things on your own, go ahead. Eat, sleep, eat again, and we’ll see how you are later. Anything else you need, Vincent?”


“I’ll put a change by your bed. Sleep well.”

He left. I ate, drank all three glasses, dragged myself across walls, and hung on hand-rails to make it to the toilet. When I was done, I felt weaker than I ever had. But I could move.

Dr Thay had said whatever had left that injury on my side would kill me. Hoarfast had, and he was up here, somewhere, with me. Thus, after eating, contrary to doctor’s orders and my own desires, I did not go to sleep. Winching the bed into a more vertical sitting position took all my effort, but I was able to do a little thinking.

All right, self, what are we trying to do here? I thought.

No thoughts, no voices that sounded like thoughts, urged death and murder in my head.

That was terrifying, I admitted to myself. To suddenly find out the thoughts in your head weren’t yours, and they meant harm to others, meant to use you to do harm to others, it was mind-horror. That sword–

I was pretty sure the Drowning Breath of Ogden was dead. I’d stabbed it into the dragon’s head, and last I’d seen, fire had erupted around it. Could I kill a sword? I don’t know, but I was glad it was done.

And at least the sword died doing what it loved: killing.

What was I going to do about this side? What was I going to do here? Hoarfast had seen me. Would he talk?

I doubted it. I couldn’t imagine he’d say anything to Fate about our shared treason.

Someone knocked on the door and a moment later opened it.

The door opener was a big, meavily muscled man with extremely short hair, thick beard, and no neck. He went from shoulders to head with only a few rolls in between. He wore a white underlayer and gray armor: shoulder pads, elbow pads, knee pads, boots, a neck protector, tombstone chest piece, gloves that looked more like gauntlets, and an iron hanging from a carabiner by his shoulder. I didn’t recognize the gun type. He had a knife on his chest too, set up for a vertical draw. He even had shooting glasses: an amber, one piece lense that wrapped from temple to temple. He looked deeply, extremely bored, and his other hand held his place in a book with one finger.

“Vistor,” he said.

A woman walked in carrying a glass vase of lilies. She was a small person, fair-skinned, with her hair in a bun. She wore normal clothes: pants, laced shoes, and a formal sweater. The lilies were pink, yellow, and orange.

Smiling, she asked, “Good morning. Are you Vincent?”

“I am,” I replied.

“I’m Samsara. I’m with hospitality. These are for you.”

“Thank you.”

She put them on the table, fluffed the flowers, and breathed deeply a few times. “They’re nice.”

“Thank you,” I said again, slightly confused. “Who sent them?”

“Hospitality. We try to give everyone flowers, but we made you a special bouquet.” She wiggled her eyebrows and leaned close to whisper. “It’s because you don’t have a window.”

“Oh.” I was on full alert. She might be an enemy. I was prepared to falcon-dive in an instant, and with all the strength in me I’d… flail uselessly. She could beat me to death with her clipboard right now.

“Enjoy,” she said. “And try to get some sleep.”

‘Samsara,’ if that was her real name, left. She knocked on the door before going out.

Self, you’re being a little paranoid, I thought.

Was I going to kill Hoarfast?

The thought frightened me. Hoarfast frightened me. Thinking about killing someone frightened me. What if this was another impostor thought, the echoes of the sword in my head? It wasn’t. The thought felt like me.

But the decision exceeded me. What was I going to do now? Fight him? When I’d just admitted to myself the nice lady who delivered flowers could beat me up?
The flowers smelled wonderful, and the room felt warm.

What was I going to do if Hoarfast tried to kill me?

I staggered out of bed, shuffled into the change of clothes, and hauled myself to the door. I knocked twice and pulled it open.

The human boulder watched me from above his book.

On the other side of the door, another equally prodigious human boulder was filling out paperwork on a clip board. I glanced at the form. How Much House Can You Afford? it said.

“Are, ah, you guys going to be here for a while?” I asked.

“Yup,” said Boulder Number 1.

“Need something?” asked Boulder Numer 2.

“Just wanted to see if anyone was out here,” I said.

“We are,” said Numer 1.

“And if your concern is medical in nature, we can assist with that. We’re both medics.” said the other.

“Really?” I sounded way more skeptical than I meant to.

“Yep,” said Number 1.

“Fate has a surprisingly good education plan,” said Number 2. “Free ride to medical school if you meet time-in-service requirements.”

“What’s worrying you?” asked Number 1. He lowered the book to his lap, holding his place with a finger. I glanced at the title. He was reading Sweeps From Guard
With enough truth to hide my evasions, I said, “Everything, in general. I’m worried something is coming after me.”

“Is this a precognition, and if so, do you often have visions of the future?” asked Number 1. He did not sound like he was joking.

“I can find the worst possible girl to be interested in with precognitive accuracy,” I replied somewhat bitterly.

Number 1 went back to his book. “Yeah, join the club, buddy.”

“Get some sleep. We’ll be here,” said Number 2.

He was still watching me, but our conversation had ended. I shut the door and shuffled back to bed.

Weird as it was, I felt a lot better.

I gave myself permission to sleep and began to drift. I felt like a toy soldier in a leaf boat, floating over a deep pond. Through a patch of lilies, a stream emptied into the dim water. Ripples pushed my little leaf boat around, but I stayed above water, thinking of worries, enemies, and things that could go wrong. But a few drops made it over the railing at a time, the little boat settled deeper, and the ripples of the small stream kept building until the boat was gone. I sank from awake and worried to dead-to-the-world unconscious in half a blink.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 26


Chapter 26

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.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 25


Part 3: Fate
Chapter 25

Those were bad hours, alone under the building, filled with with pain.

I had never done anything like that before. Not fighting the dragon, though I never had. I’d never had to endure when there was no technique to execute, no condition to find victory, no skill to use. I couldn’t beat anything, I couldn’t win, I couldn’t even try. I lay under broken walls and breathed.

And it was miserable. Once everything began to hurt, it was like my whole body was screaming for help, and there was nothing I could do.

And it went on, and on, and on until I realized I could die down here.

The dragon didn’t come for me, so I assumed it was dead. I had won. And I might bleed to death under a building anyway. Winning hadn’t saved me.

A pain in my hips grew, and I shimmied to satiate it. The rubble overhead shifted. I shimmied again. A beam lay across my chest, and it constricted me on the left. I wiggled right, but the whole beam settled. Now I still couldn’t breathe well, and there was a rock digging into my right. I wiggled again. Something began to slide. I pressed it away and down. I wiggled my head.

I began to crawl like a worm, the least of things. Even insects have legs. The worm is deprived of everything, yet it moves underground. So moved I, heading up.
Hours passed. I felt every one of them. Never did time speed up or pass in absence. They went on as I grew weaker. I began to rest between shakes. I thought constantly, ‘Self, we can’t do this.’ I fought the thought, slithered away from it, shouted at it, but it remained in the dark with me.

And yet the hours still passed. Sleep was down there with me. She caressed me in the dark. She loved me, and I refused her. I rested and shimmied, slithering upward.

I was just another figure in someone else’s rumor. ‘I hear the building fell on someone, and he was trapped down there for days before he died. Glad it wasn’t anyone we know.’

And a child would ask, ‘Could it happen to me?’

‘No, loved one. It happened to someone else.’

With those clouds over the sky, there was no dawn. I slithered and crawled around huge building stones up into bricks.

Bricks were easier than great stones. I could crawl through bricks. I did, to lay gasping in dirty, dusty air.

I lay in broken plates, sheets of parchment paper, and a roll of towels, impregnated with soup and then flash-dried when the building caught fire. The smell defied comprehension. The perfumed aromas of Hyperion were gone. The gardens of sycamore and roses, the smell of lavender and sage didn’t make it down here. The air smelled of forge smoke, glazed with dragonfire. I smelled sweat and mud, my blood, the lumber of Hasso’s yards, his building supplies, and his parking lots.

But underneath all those smells, the free air that carried them smelled beautiful. It wasn’t a smell itself, just air. Thick, free, moving air blew around rocks, between the rubble piles, and over the wreckage. I looked out and saw one chimney still venting smoke. I could smell the smoke where I’d cremated Hasso and his kin, his works, and nearly been cremated myself. The smoke turned in circles as the winds changed.

The lights found me there.

Four glowing men and three fluorescent women walked through the center of Hasso’s courtyard.

All of them were tall and luminal, glowing in a mix of lights that seemed to emerge from hands, hair, eyes, and feet. Each had a general aura, a complex but distinct mix of colors that tended toward one shade, but that seemed to be controlled by the individual intensities of their individual glowing parts. Eyes glowed blue, hands green, hair white, and feet yellow for all, but the mix varied.

A woman stepped forward wrapped in vermilion and ruby. Her hands were brighter than any of the others, too bright to make out fingers clearly, and she seemed to have balls of steam on the end of her wrists. The red seemed to come from everywhere at first, but as she talked, I realized that all of them had a redness about the body and brownness about the legs and arms.

“Who are you?” asked the red and green woman.

“Help me,” I begged.

“What happened here?” asked a man wrapped in light-trails of brown and blue. When he moved, he left after-images behind him like the kind you get if you glance at the Sun.

“Bad things. I’m terribly hurt. Can you help me?” I said.

They obviously didn’t want to, but they did. Two, a man mostly blue, and a woman grayish and yellow, came over and went to work, obviously medics of some kind. The rest dispersed, picking through the building and searching.

I got a look at my two carers up close, and while they looked vaguely androgynous and naked, they were actually wearing white and prismatic clothing. It seemed to be of two layers, a heavier skin-tight one, and a looser outer layer. The base-layer muted the red and brown light, leaving only exposed areas to brightly glitter.
But those bright areas did shine. The man’s eyes were blue as the sea, not just his irises. From the top of his cheekbones to the hairs of his eyebrows, his eyes radiated.

I’d seen something like this before. The lady with the dragon-sword had had red eyes that dribbled fire, but nothing on her had been this polychroma.
The others found the dead dragon under the rubble. It had burned and boiled, reduced itself to a foul-smelling heap of slag. It looked like rusty iron or old submerged wood, recognizable in shape but utterly transformed. One man in gold and green climbed onto the dead snout, wrapped his hands around something, and yanked a heap of misshapen, ruined iron free.

If you knew exactly what you were looking at, it looked like a broken sword.

The man tossed it aside.

The woman was checking my hip area and announced, “You have metal splinters through your pelvis. It is a miracle you aren’t dead.”

“Oh.” What do you say to that?

The man, who was also examining me, asked, “No, you should be dead. Who protects you?”

“Nice gods?”

“I don’t think anyone likes mortals that much,” said the woman. She peeled the wrappings off my feet and whispered, “Dear Maya.”

“Ho! Stranger! Come forward into the light!” yelled someone else, and for a moment I thought they meant me.

But I was already in the light. The two glowing figures tending me made sure of that.

And shortly thereafter another figure did come into the light. It was Hoarfast.

He looked exactly the same. He wore another bluish-gray suit with a subdued tie. The jacket wrapped his shoulders and chest like a bit of towel thrown over a statue. He was immense, quiet, and when he walked into the main area from a side pathway among Hasso’s buildings, he still seemed to be the center of all attention.

The moment I saw him, he saw me, and we both stared at each other with such surprise no one missed it.

My two medics looked at me. They looked at Hoarfast. The various illuminated figures looking at Hoarfast looked at me. Hoarfast tore his eyes away and looked at the glowing people, and I made myself look down.

Every single thing I’d done to make Koru’s group think I was dead was now ruined.

The glowing figures considered the two of us. They looked over the ruins of Hasso’s compound. The fires had died down, and where the radiance of the seven touched the sick burning, the dragon fire burned itself out. But the buildings stayed collapsed, and the charred earth remained violated.

“You are both invited to the Halls of Fate for discussion, medical assistance, and a friendly talk,” said the first glowing figure, smiling at me and Hoarfast in turn.

That’s a tricky matter for a Celestial. Hoarfast might decline. But Fate had a way of getting what it wanted.

None of that mattered for me.

“Please help me,” I whispered.

The two working on me bent their heads down, and lights began to arc between them. Long streamers of fire climbed their hands and heads, reaching from one to the other like the flares that dance on Horochron’s head.

The other five figures of light turned to Hoarfast, and the gears inside his head turned furiously. He smiled faintly.

He said, “I accept.”

The agents of Fate nodded and called down the lightning. It came in the form of quicksilver dragons, too bright to look at, saddled with leather and silk. They didn’t tie my hands or feet, but assisted me with mounting. A large, competent looking woman sat behind me, and I lay against her. An equally large, equally competent looked man sat in front. Had I an interest in throwing myself off, I doubted I would succeed.

Yet I might. There is usually only one way to escape Fate.

But from the beginning, I’d only known one thing, and that one thing kept me in the saddle. The quicksilver dragon flew upwards, through the clouds of Attarckus’s veil, and to the stars beyond the sky. It took a zigzag path faster than a hawk can dive, and soon we had slipped the bounds of Pallas and approached the dome of the sky. The glittering constellations rose from darkness, huge lanterns on the mountains of the Firmament. The flow of galaxies that are the sky’s rivers flowed between hills and and forests on the dark country.

I looked back. The lady behind me smiled firmly, but I wasn’t looking at her. In the center of the sphere, Pallas, Horochron the Sun, and Tiptites the Moon circled each other. They had been joined by a vast white disk that must be Tollos and another, silver and blue, that I guessed was her sister Lumina. The green and blue orb of Pallas drew my attention, though, as it dwindled and shrank.

I turned back around and faced the growing blackness of the onrushing sky.

We approached the massive, bulbous office-building of Fate’s headquarters in the Mask. It was such an ugly, useless building, and the basement leaked.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 24


Chapter 24

In the center of dancing green flames, heat shimmers, and little cheery pops, the dragon smiled. I’d sliced a big, gaping notch in its skull, and the bones had some play. The back part flapped open and closed as it moved or talked. Tongues of flame licked the lips of the wound, vile green flames stained with black blood. Its scales glittered piano black, but the flames gave them a dim emerald look. Its eyes were bright as oak leaves and thick with veins. Its scales were hard and sharp. Its talons were long and broad. The dragon was an armored monster, but that wouldn’t matter if I got at its brainpan. For now, it leered at me from among the flames.

My right leg was pretty much boogered, and the soles of my feet were burned. I couldn’t run, but I wasn’t ready to anyway. This dragon and I were having a grudge match, and I carried a lot of grudges.

Meanwhile, it was lying. “Kog, my dear friend, let us come to an agreement. You want to kill Koru. I want to kill Koru. We can agree on this. I will help you kill him and take his daughter.”

I suppose I didn’t know it was lying. It might not mean me harm. Maybe trying to eat me earlier, setting me on fire, and breaking down the building were misunderstandings.

“Kog, stop thinking stupid thoughts,” said the Drowning Breath of Ogden. “It wants to kill you. Murder it first.”

The dragon smiled. “The sword, like a sword, is just looking for a fight.”

I wished they both would shut up.

I was getting my wind back. That takes a little longer than I ever expect. Exhaustion makes cowards of us all, but you never think it will happen to you. It’s not obvious, even from the inside. I felt like I didn’t want to fight the dragon because I’d been smashed, beaten, partially set on fire, and it was a dragon. Those were all good reasons.

But as I breathed, I started thinking, ‘Death on this dragon. I can take it.’

The dragon said, “Let’s talk as friends. I’ll move backwards so you feel safe.”

“Please do,” I replied. I needed the pause to get some air.

Right now Hasso’s courtyard was the area on fire between buildings. Before it had been the loading area, a recursively defined space that was where the buildings weren’t. Two forge halls, a lane in and out, kitchen, finishing hall, and supply yard made a circle in that order, starting with the one forge hall that Hoarfast hadn’t knocked down being behind me. The dragon had perched on the wagon ramps, a couple of broad, flat platforms the height of a wagon bed, each with a wide, shallow ramp down to ground level. The ground smoldered with flames as high as cut grass.

But contrary to my expectations, the dragon did move away after speaking. It shuffled to the narrow lane and retreated until its eyes were flames in the darkness. Between us burned the wide courtyard.

When I went after it, I was going to have to cross that, and go after it head-first.

Ah, death and sickness on it. Another veil of confusion got pulled from my face. I really should not have let the dragon take better position, but I’d expected it to charge. And as the fog started to clear, I realized that I had taken some shots in that fight. I had no idea how foggy I had been.

I shook my head like the dragon couldn’t. Heh. It was time.

All right, sword, I thought. We’re going to kill the dragon.

The sword didn’t say anything, which was probably for the best, but I felt its immense satisfaction.

The dragon spoke. “Now, Kog, mortal man of Koru’s house, they said you died. Astra worked your destruction. Seraphine laughed at you. They are Koru’s women, and he bid your death. When you kill him, you can take them.”

“Sounds unfriendly,” I said.

My feet were badly burned. I looked around for some means to getting over there without running across more fire. The broken forge hall’s ceiling made a pyramid of collapsed roofing, rubble, and stone, but all of it looked jagged and sharp. I took my shirt off, cut it in half, and wrapped both my feet.

“It will be what they deserve. Take them, and make them yours,” said the dragon. “His mansions are tall and filled with treasure.”

“Mansions?” I asked idly. “Are you great and powerful enough to know about the one in Hyperion?”

Koru didn’t have a mansion in Hyperion. He was a god of rats. No one wanted him in their capital city.

The dragon hissed or purred. I couldn’t tell, but it sounded smug enough. “Of course. I know all of the secret ways and the deep tunnels. I know where he burrowed to the shafts of clockwork underneath the city. I know his little pits and hidden chambers.”

“Truly, you are wise,” I agreed. My shirt had laces on the sleeves, and by cutting the shoulders open, I made little foot-bag shoes. It wasn’t good, but it was better than barefoot. “What is your name, grim beast?”

It smiled. Flame rolled out of its mouth. “I am the Fire, the Fear, and the Light.”

I looked down from the broken forge hall. “You gave yourself that name, didn’t you?”

“No. That’s what everyone calls me,” said the dragon.

“Of course.” I tested my feet on the rubble. Pain, I felt and swore, this was going to hurt in the morning. I flipped the sword to my left hand, and held the last remaining bit of shirt, the back panel, in my right.

“I agree with everything,” I said. “Come out of the alley, and we’ll go forth to wreak Koru’s destruction together.”

The dragon declined. “No. You come in here and join me. They will be so surprised to find out you live.”

“There it is,” I said to myself and took one last look at the beast. There was a pathway of rubble across the ruined building. My lungs were full and clear. It was time.

Sickness and death, I thought. Pattern spiders, hear me. I need a little more luck!

They didn’t reply. They usually don’t.

“Obesis!” I screamed, and ran up the ruined building.

The dragon blew flames that washed over the fallen building like waves taking a beach. They made fire-spouts over stubs of roof-beams. They flooded over the forgehall and climbed with a thick, waving plume of rising heat above. I took two steps on the side of a broken bit of wall, leaped up and over the leading edge, and thew the shirt down like spinning a pizza. It hit the hot air and danced.

“Obesis!” I yelled again, landed on the spinning shirt, and rode it down the hot air above the fires into the face of the dragon.

By the time I landed, the shirt was incinerated. But I landed on the dragon’s snout, sword in hand, and sank it into the dead center of the armored dome. The dragon roared and smashed the top of its head into the kitchen wall. I fell off first. Stone and rubble fell around the beast as it thrashed through the kitchen, ripping it apart as plumbing got caught in its legs.

I stood up with only my bare hands, watching the dragon thrash and destroy madly, seeming breaking the building for no purpose. The construction collapsed around it. Behind me, the fire infected the other ruined building, and the timbers and stone burned, stinking of disease.

The dragon’s head pushed aside stony fragments, leaking flames, and dribbling spittle. Its blood and fluids stank of acid.

I ran up a side of the building that hadn’t yet settled and spoke no words. The beast heard me coming, but its eyes didn’t quite work, It jerked its head sideways, trying to spot its target, and sulfurous yellow fire mixed with the vile green. It saw me when I caught the brow ridge, levered myself into position over its eye, and grabbed a chunk of broken rebar.

The dragon blinked. I spoke Ojhast, Thunder’s Lovesong, and stabbed it through the eyelid. White lightning grounded through its brain stem, its fluids, and down into the ruined frame of the building. More flowed through my arm, body, and out my feet, taking a thousand pathways like a river-mouth to the sea. Spasms threw me sideways. I hit the rubble, rolled, and crashed to the dirt of Hasso’s lane under an avalanche of building rubble and utterly destroyed food.

I drifted toward unconsciousness, but if I fell asleep now, I would die.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 23


Chapter 23

A shadow the size of a building watched me from outside the forge light. Hasso’s body and those of his slaughtered servants were long since gone. Sometime during my labors day had fallen into night, but the heavy overcast had let the transition sneak past me. The furnace blazed merrily, building up immense heat, and the two ruined attempted-murder weapons were beginning to run like warm butter. I held the third sword, the Drowning Breath of Ogden, that I’d taken from the agent of Fate. The shadow had eyes of green, teeth like a fireplace grate, and its breath danced with foul, green flames.

I put down the smithing hammer, took a two-handed grip on the sword, and found my hands cramped. I shifted to a single-handed grip, but I didn’t know what to do with my other hand. I’m a bare-handed fighter by training and temperament, so I wanted to put my other hand up in a guard, but that seemed stupid. The sword should be the guard. For striking, should I punch or swing the blade? Both, I guessed.

The shadow moved sideways, away from the ruins of Hasso’s storeroom. The less threatening shadow of the storeroom bulged with it. Then the strange shadow stepped into the wide courtyard, and I saw it distinctly. It was a dragon.

But it was wrong.

Dragons are long, serpentine things. They swim through the air like fish. They’re elegant, fine, and graceful. This thing lumbered. It had big, heavy shoulders on stout legs with broad claws like shovels. Its body resembled an elephant’s but didn’t rest on its legs; it hung from its shoulders. The triangular head swiveled on a thick neck, more like a rodent’s than a snake’s. Its tail flopped and lashed behind it, lying still mostly, thrashing sometimes. The whole critter looked incorrect.
“Hello, mortal man,” it said, and its voice was even worse. It was full of malice, cruelty, and greed, and the hairs rose on my neck and arms.
This thing must die, Kog. You need a sword that can kill it.

“Don’t listen to the sword. Listen to me, delightful person.”

Kill it now, Kog.

“Hush, toothpick.”

I jerked my head from beast to blade, because suddenly I could hear the sword talking and a whole bunch of things I hadn’t known I hadn’t known made way too much sense. But the hesitation was an opening, the dragon took it, and the beast charged across the courtyard and struck through the forge door.

It struck like a ferret, I dodged sideways, its squat shoulders slammed against the door frame, and the thick head swung sideways to bite at me. I ran towards it, climbing up one of the small woodpiles inside the furnace, and got to about its ear level where I was behind its jaws. This made the beast retreat to get an attacking angle, but that pulled its head outside the room. It smashed sideways, trying to bite with the side of its mouth. The door frame shuddered. Bits of brick and mortar fell. I climbed up the woodpile and wedged myself into the corner of wall and ceiling. The heavy, green eye followed me, and the critter retreated.

For a moment the room was quiet except for the blaze of the furnace. Fire is a lot louder than I ever expect.

“You didn’t attack!” yelled the sword, and it wasn’t me thinking! The sword was talking to me! “Kog, kill the dragon! Stab!”

It was silent and it was inside my head, but the sword was yelling. The dragon burst through the wall.

The beast smashed brick and stone, but Hasso had reinforced his walls with steel frames. Part of the building folded down, throwing me with it. I hit the ground, bricks hit me, and the dragon’s jaws snapped above my head, grabbing rafters and pulling down the ceiling. The building groaned.

It snapped, snapped again, and twisted its head. It couldn’t really see down without turning its head. I dove for another woodpile.

The dragon pulled back and appeared in the doorway again. This time it didn’t stick its snout in. It pointed its head sideways to the door so it could peer in with one eye. Between us the furnace blazed. I had hid by the back wall, while the woodpile wasn’t perfect cover, there was a lot of brilliant furnace-light between us. The dragon cocked its head up and down. It looked up at the hole it had smashed in the wall and tried to figure out if I was up there. It shuffled around outside to get a look with both eyes, but then it had to pull back even further.

The sword whispered about murder, murder, murder. Against a dragon, it seemed like it had a point. While charging the dragon would take me straight into its jaws, there was that big, beautiful hole in the wall over its head.

I grabbed a handful of wood dust, tossed it, and screamed, “Obesis!”

Running up the stairway of dust motes while the echoes of the word still hung in the air, I passed right before the open doorway. The dragon darted in to strike, but I shot through the wall while the dragon’s round shoulders slammed into door frame. I had an instant of a beautiful opening on its head before the beast unfurled its wings. The left one hit me in the guts, knocked the sword away, and trapped me against the wall.

I spoke Raln, and all things were blades, even my hand. I cut its bat-like wing from bones to edge.

The dragon tore itself out of the building and took half the wall with it. Hasso’s steel reinforcements screamed and rent. Bricks fell on the forge. I dove for the sword, artlessly dodged a shovel-like claw, and the dragon’s head swung around again. It bathed the ground in fire but aimed too low, entangled by the skin of the breaking building. Dragon-fire blasted courtyard stone, old metal fragments, and bits of plumbing. The forge fires turned green and evil as dragon-fire infected them. I got the sword.

“Obesis!” and I ran across ripples of searing heat as dragon fire burned the courtyard. The dragon lost me when I went up, and I landed on its head with the Drowning Breath of Ogden. The sword bit dragon-skull to the hilt.

The creature screamed, jerked sideways, and threw me. I tried to lobotomize it on exit. On hitting the wall I muffed the landing, but the beast couldn’t capitalize. It stumbled backwards, spasming, and from its skull poured green fire and black blood. The creature shrieked. Its skull hung open and soft tissue jiggled. I thought of a cracked egg with the yolk not yet poured into the frying pan.

But the dragon was not yet dead.

It lumbered backwards. I got up.

I’d hit something in that fall. I had no idea what. My right leg wouldn’t hold my weight. After standing for a moment, it buckled underneath, and I’d slumped against a wall like a drunk. I flipped the sword to my off hand, between the beast and me, and pushed myself off the wall with my right. The blade dripped with dragon blood, sizzled with dragon fire, and started talking.

“Finally, you blister, you’re getting work done,” said the sword.

“The filth can you talk!?” I yelled.

“I’ve been talking to you for days. Why are you so surprised?”

“Because…” I had no idea what to say. “Death!”

And the dragon whispered, “Come now, mortal man. Lay down the sword, and let us speak as living beings.”

“And death upon you too!” I yelled at the dragon and most-definitely, absolutely, positively, DID NOT lay down the sword.

I had cut open the dragon’s head. Part of its skull was missing on the left side, and another part was flopping around. I must have missed the brain but had come close. The dragon sidled sideways to face me while protecting its wound. One huge, green eye stayed on me. Flame escaped its snake-lips every time it spoke. Between us Hasso’s courtyard burned, and the dragon stood back, leaning against the wall of the supply yard.

“No, no, no, mortal man. Do not listen to the sword. I mean you no harm.”

“The sickness you don’t!” I said.

“I only want us to be friends,” said the dragon.

“Kog, it’s lying.”

“Of course its lying– you, shut up!” I said to the sword.

“Kog. It called you that before,” said the dragon. It smiled. “Ah Kog. I know you now. Koru has spoken of you. I hate him too. Put down the sword, let us be friends, and we will work Koru’s destruction.”

Its voice bubbled and sparked. Soft consonants flowed, hard ones popped. Flame licked out of its wounds, and the beast winced. Then it smiled. “Friend.”


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 22


Chapter 22

Each log of firewood had been carved with ancient runes. They burned white, blue, and green. The dragonwood smelled strangely sweet. I heaved a good number of logs in, and the little licks of flame started crawling upward.

The last time I’d been here, to commission the swords I was now destroying, the fires had taken a long time to build. The heat needed to get into the stones of the furnace so it baked the ingots from all sides. They caught fairly quickly, but instead of roaring in flame, they smoldered. So I threw more logs on the first, and the fire climbed slowly. It was like little red ivy doing a century’s work in hours, but those hours were a long, long time.

I searched the forge and found Hasso’s assistants. They’d come to the same end as Hasso. He’d been beaten to pieces that bore the marks of knuckles and hands. His parts were still frozen. Once the fire got going, I threw them in. The furnace burned too hot to smell anything but wood and magic, for which I was immensely grateful. After that I tried to think of something to do or say, but other than the monotheists, no one prays in general. Still, I cremated the dead in their own forge, and I didn’t think they’d invoke their last curses on me for it.

How had they come to this?

Hasso and his assistants had been Celestials of Androche’s lineage, distantly relate to Hoarfast. Androche’s son Coeus had left the family to take apprenticeship under the Clockwork Gods, and he had built himself a wife of gears. They had one hundred and forty three clicking, clanking children. Their children had married other Celestials, gods, and spirits as they could, or bred with them as they willed, and Hasso had had no gears or springs in him. When we’d met before, I’d thought he had oread blood in him. It was too late to figure out now.

It was too late to figure any of it out now. Who had they been? They’d all been related but not like an extended family. They had been a small company of Croeite Celestials, all cousins or uncles if you go back eight generations.

Who was I to talk? I’m human on my father’s side. We are all related if you go back seven generations. Ten generations would include the outliers, the kids who have kids at age 14.

My parents had been older.

I suddenly felt deeply uncomfortable and realized how much time was being wasted. I had three contraband swords here: two had been used for treason and one in defiance of Fate. I guessed that was treason too.

I’d been waiting for the forge to heat up for an hour, and I suddenly felt every past minute. The furnace was still not hot enough, but I had to do something. There was a small ledge inside one of the furnace doors, and I slipped the three blades inside. When the two replicas of All Things Ending went in, I felt relieved, but the Drowning Bream hissed when it went into the furnace. I felt a moment of terror that I’d cremated one of Hasso’s assistants alive, but that wasn’t true. They had been dead.

I didn’t want to think about my parents. I knew nothing of Hasso. I wondered how he and his kith had come to this ending. I wondered how Koru had come to this beginning. I knew that. I hadn’t been there for

it, but I’d been around when everything was still young enough that the stories weren’t stories, they were recriminations and apologies from yesterday. I ran back to the Drowning Breath of Ogden, which I had taken from an agent a Fate. The woman had said he was from the Bureau of Sanction, and that was a lie.

Fate didn’t tell anyone, but they had decommissioned the Bureau of Sanctions eight years ago, twenty years after the last revolt of the gods. The Forgotten Gods were dead, and it was illegal to remember their names. Sanctions were no longer required. Mallens said there would never be another insurrection, and I believed him.

Why would I think that given Koru’s hit on Mallens?

For a few reasons, the first being Koru wasn’t trying to overcome some great evil. He wasn’t a noble revolutionary. The King of Rats carried a grudge because his children couldn’t fly. He’d asked what right did the birds have to the air? Why were his children bound to the earth?

Mallens had said that because the birds could sing, they had wings. Laughing, the Lord of Creation offered to let Koru give his children that gift if he could teach them song. The King of Rats tried, but all he could grant his kin was thin squeaks. All of heaven had laughed at him, and Koru decided to kill the Lord of Creation.

When I’d gotten involved, I’d thought we were going to liberate the gods. I’d thought Koru meant to unbind Fate, let the gods make true decisions unbound by the ancient oaths. I’d thought the King of Rats would free all the gods so he could make his children fly. Koru had said that was the plan all along. And all along, it wasn’t.

What I’d realized too late was that he wasn’t trying to supplant Mallens for the good of the world. The other gods had laughed with their king, and Koru hated them too.

We’d never even made contact with Fate. Koru’s eldest son Jermaine had been supposed to look up the Name and Will, how the titans tied the gods to their destinies. Fate has the oath-rolls. That’s why they’d hired me. And we hadn’t.

First, Jermaine had said, ‘We need the weapons. We need herite swords, weapons sharp enough a mortal can wound the King of Creation.’

And we’d gotten them. I’d met the right people, carried the money, and taken blasphemous knives to Koru’s palace. True weapons only harm those within the wielder’s power. All Things Ending ignored the Mandate of Heaven for the Mandate of Death. Mallens himself had blessed Diadred so that his divine enemies could be removed.

Next we needed Mallens’s schedule. ‘We have to know where Mallens will be.’

So I found out, and I wish I had done something brilliant or sly. I didn’t. I listened.

Mallens told people what he did before, during and after doing it. If he went to appreciate a sunrise, he wanted a chorus along his walk, singing his praises. When he brought his wife of the day to his palaces, he wanted her to know how powerful he was. He wanted a crowd of spectators looking at her, and lest he feel jealous, a bigger crown looking at him. I sat by the Palace of Gold and Marble and let Mallens tell me where he was going to be. Then I told Jermaine.

And Jermaine said they would take the rolls of Creation’s Oaths from Fate in two weeks, but an opportunity appeared so they went early.

But Koru didn’t mean to save the world. He didn’t mean to let the gods make their own decisions. The only time someone tried, the Insurrection of the Forgotten Gods had failed before I was born, and officially it was dark treachery. But they carried a torch against the titans. They died trying to burn the oath-rolls. They dared greatly and risked everything, and if they failed, they failed in hidden glory. They died for something.

The world didn’t have that any more. Koru was just an angry old god who hated everyone who’d laughed at him, so he hired a bunch of assassins to get his revenge.

I put down the hammer. I startled to see it.

I’d been fiddle-smithing one of the swords, and it was now an unrecognizable hunk of iron. It felt terrible to see well made weaponry destroyed, but that had been my intent. Hasso’s maker’s mark was gone. Hasso was gone. I put that sword back on an ingot mold and took out the next one. Two heavy strikes, and it was no longer a masterwork sword. Ten more, and it was recognizable iron. I set about unmaking it.

Hasso and his work were vanishing in his furnace. He and his assistants were already gone. The furnace roared with flame. Old logs popped. They hissed, and crimson and orange flames climbed to the chimneys. The old runes burned long after the logs had turned to gray ash, and hints of runic letters in green and gold peered around drifts of soot.

I’d sought Hasso out without asking about him because I’d known of Hasso long before I’d gotten involved with Koru. Hasso would make anything for anyone, a black-market crafter in Hyperion. He was wise, sly, stupid, and vain. He’d been a famous black-market crafter who’d put a maker’s mark on a forgery of Death’s All Things Ending. I had brought him to this, and yet I felt like I should feel more guilty than I did. He was a famous black-market smith. This was always his fate.

I’d ruined the second sword now. It was twisted metal. I could see the remnants of the saber by looking for it, but maybe I was seeing what I wanted to find. The heretical gods of memory Baader and Meinhof were preying on me. A row of ingot molds sat on the shelf inside the furnace door, so I put this one by the other.

I took the Drowning Breath from the furnace with long tongs. The furnace’s roar sank to a quiet rumble. The sword wasn’t that hot. It must not have been far enough into the flame. I tested the handle gingerly, then picked the blade up and swung it a few times.

This was a good sword. It killed things.

But I had nothing to kill, and once this job was done, all ties from me to Koru would have vanished. The Drowning Breath tied me to my last little bit of treason. The smart move was to unmake it now.

Some strange urge pulled my eyes to the doorway, and outside the courtyard of Hasso’s smithy I saw a large shadow. It stood so still I almost thought it was a building, but buildings don’t have eyes of green, nor mouths of burning teeth. Its mouth flickered like torchlight dancing between columns.

I stared at the shadow, and the shadow looked back at me.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 21


Chapter 21

I took him to Doctor Lammet and hid in the bushes after I knocked on the door. Lammet was a dryad, associated with some form of willow, and the bushes were dumb hyacinth. Most people don’t realize dryads can’t talk to all plants. Lammet saw Jermaine in a pile before his door and reacted immediately, pulling Koru’s son inside. He’d be distracted. I snuck out and went south.

Hyperion was too grand, too magnificent, to perfect for factories, warehouses, and smelly places to pile up the horse dung that the divine stables created. The gods pushed all that stuff south.

I’d fought Osret and the two from Fate almost due south. The tower had stood at the mouth of a small ravine that cut into a sandstone headland. On the other side of that headland, toward the sea, and even further south, Hasso lived.

I’d been there a few times. He’d made things that weren’t precisely legal. He didn’t break the law, of course. That was impossible. But he’d manipulated it in his forge. Five buildings gathered around a small courtyard, two of which contained furnaces. High brick chimneys had risen far above slate rooves to carry smoke and embers away. I’d seen piles of pig iron, fine steel, gold, and silver, among them, as well as baskets full of loose stars and more treasured ingredients in jars and sealed pots. He had escape hatches in case his heavily enchanted firewood ignited. Every stack of lumber had been wrapped in expensive fire blankets. His forge had been splendid.


Scattered rubble lay in piles, the rooves of buildings had crumpled, and Hasso lay in the courtyard. He’d been beaten to death, and his corpse was frozen, broken, and shattered. The impacts of terrible fists had ruined him. Nothing else moved.

Hoarfast had been here.

Cracks reft the first chimney, and the dead embers held no heat. The other chimney had been broken, but its base still stood. The forge was dozens of feet across, made of blocks of speckled gray stone. Its embers still glittered. This was the forge where the blades had been made. Unmaking things in the place of their creation had a way of undoing them. It was more final than mere breaking.

But if someone knew that, they would watch this place. The smokestacks would tell anyone with eyes that Hasso’s forge was active, and someone, Hoarfast, would know there should be no Hasso to be active.

I thought as long as Jermaine had, and that had seemed a long time. I bet it had felt very swift to him. My hesitation certainly seemed to take no time at all to me.

I dropped the counterfeit blades on the work table and started heaving staves of mahogany and dragonwood into the furnace. Hasso’s woodpiles were almost full. Soon the chimneys burped smoke and sparks.

The overcast remained. The little smoke I was making would be hard to see.

I snorted a bitter, quiet laugh and kept building heat.


Free ebook

Bloodharvest is free today on Kindle.

Get the backstory of KN and the frontstory of TiH. Way in front. Cyrano’s nose in front.