Karesh Ni: Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

For all that she had me over a barrel, I got something else out of it. I got land. Baronness Alyssa offered me a small manor house within Kageran proper. Manse Plachar filled about a quarter of one of Kageran’s round city blocks, with a shared private well in the center. It needed some work. The roof leaked, and there were mice in the walls. But a complete refurbishment was only a mark or so, even for an eighteen room mansion with a summer kitchen. Manse Plachar came with a title as well, and I would be Lady Elegy of Kageran.

It’s not a high title, but it’s the first step above.

So I sat on a boat in the middle of the lake, waiting for moonrise. The Sun would rise swiftly behind the waning Moon, but for now the sky held nothing but stars. It was bitterly cold. The Baroness’s office had been chilly; this was a compound hell. Wind blowing down the Aph valley carried all the Doon’s chill. There was no snow, but a fine sleet of dust and sand from the uplands stung my face. Waves beat away from the wind, pulling my boat elsewhere.

I was wrapped up in every blanket I could carry. Every few minutes I would unwrap myself enough to pull the oars and row back to the point Alyssa had prescribed west of the dead center of the lake. Then I swam back under my blankets and sulked. No one could see me sulking. The sky was clear. Alyssa should be stilling that wind, not watching me.

But just in case she was watching, I said some mean things about her. This was her fault.

Why don’t powerful sorcerers ever build their temples of evil on beaches? Warm beaches? Beaches where I can drink something in a coconut mug? You’re powerful sorcerers! Do warm things!

The wind gusted, I rowed back to position, and the air was so cold my face hurt. My hands ached where they weren’t numb. People do freeze to death on the water in winter. This could kill me, I realized, and not in the whiny, I-don’t-want-to-be-here way. There’s risking death for a job, but this wasn’t really the job yet. This was sitting in a boat on a nigh-frozen lake in winter, waiting for a sorceress to kill the damn wind.

You know, this just wasn’t worth it. I could cut the contract and be done. Her job was to stop the wind, and I wasn’t going to die because my employer couldn’t stop a wind from breaking up reflections–

The wind died, like a switch was flipped, and the lake-surface flattened into glass.

My boat stopped rocking. I lost all sense of time.

In the east, the trees of the Arsae rose black against a star-speckled sky. Here and there a star would peek through, twinkling as leaves blocked it, but the forest-ocean looked like a low shadow crouching on the horizon. That great thicket by the Three Sisters where ghosthearts rose high above the rest stood unusually dark, unusually tall.

The moon peaked through the thicket. The water lay flat as a mirror and the air dead still. I waited. A thin sliver of moon broke above the treetops, a bit of crescent only, and that meant soon it would be dawn.

In the lake’s surface, the reflection of the moon looked startlingly bright. Prepared as I was for sorcery, it looked mystical. But the night was dark, the trees below the moon blocked the stars, and the water was thick with silt from the mountains. I couldn’t be sure.

The moon kept rising. Its reflection brightened, I tried to discount what I saw as optics and perspective, but the reflection brightened further until the moon in the lake and the moon in the sky hurt my eyes. I blinked and glanced away.

I looked back, and the reflection was rising out of the water. A rash of bubbles set the surface foaming, and a low, white rock with a mooring pin stuck up.

I rowed once, and the boat slid through water. I winced at every wooden creak and the hint of splashing in my wake. Nothing else made a noise.

The prow bumped the rock with a solid, mundane ‘thump.’

I reached out, caught the mooring pin, and stepped from boat to rock. Up close it was white marble, veined with something translucent like quartz. The moonlight hitting the side cast rainbows thought it. I tied off the rowboat.

The moon rose further, and with it rose the platform. My rock rose on a crescent of other stones, all white and crystalline. They reached around a pool of water, the boat at the center. Every new block in the crescent appeared below the one before, and soon the boat was in the center of a small lagoon of white blocks, apparently standing unsupported in the center of the lake. The stones were as still as the water.

But the moon kept rising, and more rocks appeared underwater within the circle. They faded into view down there among the reflections of the stars, a long, spiral stairway that sank into the reflected sky. I looked east. The sickle moon was now fully above the trees, and in the water, the stairway descended up into the sky.

I walked down to the lowest part of the crescent to rise above the Hyades. Underwater the landing at the head of the stairs bridged the gap in the arc. Here the stairway that seemed to descend through the reflection of the sky rose to its highest/lowest point. The first step was right before my feet, underwater.

Do you have any idea how cold that water was going to be?

I’m really not very brave. I thought about dying, freezing to death feet first, if I stepped off the dock and onto the stairway. That’s how Alyssa said I could climb to the Karash Ni, the Silver City. But I didn’t have much time, for the Sun was closely chasing the Moon and would soon wipe the reflections and the stairway from the lake as it wiped the stars from the sky. To get to the Silver City, I had to step onto the stairway, go down into the water, while the Moon reflected. I had to start before dawn.

Back in the office, Satre had come back from his snit and reluctantly agreed with her.

“It’s not that hard,” he’d said. “It’s all downstairs, anyway.”

He’d sounded like my father. On the landing I paused, took out a small honeyed pastry called a ‘flat’, and had a snack.


I was born outside Indianapolis, Indiana and have exactly zero memories of it. Apparently I lived in Columbus, Ohio until I was one. But I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia in a big family, six kids, and remember it well.

I don’t know what small families are like, but big families are wondrously intense and you sort of want to murder someone. Everyone is in your business. For us this was partially because our house was so small that brothers or sisters had to be in your business. They had nowhere else to go! The parents had no money and worked odd hours, so the only thing they spent on us was time. Sometimes I wondered if they should have had such a big family when they struggled financially and realized they just really liked kids.

The parents liked messing with us. My father told outrageous lies, and my mother enjoyed having someone with her. I asked her about it growing up.

She said, “I wanted to matter. I don’t remember who won the Academy Award when I turned eight, and I don’t recall who took the Nobel Prize. I remember the president because I had to memorize him and the VP for class, but they’re just names and pictures on a wall. But I know my mother liked to cook chicken and beans, and she seasoned them with garlic. I remember my father coming home and making me take off his boots in the evening. His fingers had been run over long ago, and the way he wore his laces they ratcheted tight over the day until he couldn’t remove them at night. When I was in school I thought about trying to become a celebrity or a politician, but they only touch people superficially. I wanted to matter to someone so they would never forget me. So we had you.” And she touched my head. I was nine, she was thirty four, and she was always the most beautiful woman on Earth with black hair and a quiet smile.

“Do I have to?” I asked her. “Be a Mom and not a famous person?”

“No, sweetie. You don’t. You can if you want to, but you can be a politician, or scientist, or businesswoman, or anything you want. You can be both. Just be the best person you can be.”

Then I asked my dad why he had kids.

“Tax breaks,” he replied.

Even at nine, the peak of believing everything my father said, I had a feeling that wasn’t true.

“I don’t think you had kids for taxes, Dad!” I told him.

“We haven’t made a profit yet, but next year you’ll be old enough for the salt mines!” He wiggled his bushy eyebrows. “And we may sell your spare kidney on the black market. You have two!”

My father had the worst of all social diseases: he thought he was really funny.

My mother liked to cook with one of us kids at a time. The kitchen was tiny, and she didn’t want fighting around hot stoves and ovens. She liked our questions, she liked answering, and she liked to pat my head or touch my back while I was doing something tricky.

Dad could cook, and Mom once told me that he’d cooked for her when they’d dated, but he enjoyed stirring the pot of a great fighting mass of kids, all of us arguing and yelling, so to him fell the setting of the table with one kid, the clearing of the table with another, washing the dishes with a few more, and innumerable cleaning tasks, limited only by the number of children he could foist them off on.

Dad– I never really got a handle on Dad. Dad was far more entertained by us than Mom was. He had a bit of distance which let him observe us as pawns on a chessboard or maybe more like dogs at a park. He was immensely invested in all of us, and he enjoyed everything that went on regarding us. He liked driving us on errands because he would put someone in the front seat and talk, sometimes about economics, often the back-stabbing politics of tenure, the history of technology, or equally intensely our little struggles. He loved us, loved putting time into us, and equally loved bothering us: deep down, bone deep irritating his children. He once snuck into my room at night and unlaced all of my shoes.

Why would anyone ever do that? I just assumed it was one of the brothers, but maybe my sister because we were fighting at the time, and only years later he’d admitted it was him.

“Why?” I’d asked, astounded beyond words. I truly felt flabbergasted.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I just wanted to see what you’d do.”

Coming from Earth to Pallas is a story for another time. I can’t go back. I don’t think about the trip much, but I think about Mom and Dad, the world I lived in, and the differences between them. They don’t have flats on Earth but Pallas doesn’t have sugar like Earth. Nothing here is as sweet. Food-wise, I mean. There’s no food here as sweet.


But eating finishes a pastry quickly, and then I had sticky fingers and was still scared. If I stepped into the water, and that reflection of stairs was just a reflection, I’d splash right through. That would kill me. Even if I climbed out immediately, out here, on the lake, in the cold, I would die. I had blankets in the boat nearby, but I didn’t think they would matter.

But some horrible part of my brain said, You could make it. Those blankets are right over there. Even if you fall into the water, you can jump right out, wrap yourself in blankets, and you’ll be fine.

You could even quit, said my brain. Right then. If those stairs aren’t real and you fall into water, Alyssa hired you under false pretenses, and you could quit the job immediately. Take your money and go. First you just need to take that one step.

And every other part of me said, don’t do it! but that one terrible part of my brain said, just try.

I whined a little and stepped into the lake.

My foot landed on a dry marble stair. I knew where the water level should be, but inside the stone crescent the water was so clear I couldn’t see the lake at all. My foot stayed dry. I stepped off the landing and took the next step. Then I took another. Soon I was grumbling and muttering to myself, walking down a helix of stairs that descended towards stars and clouds. Behind and above, the crescent of white stone hung just like a moon in the star-speckled sky. A few revolutions down, the stone crescent was the sickle moon, hanging in a star-speckled sky, and the night-wrapped expanse of Pallas lay below.

To the east lay the dark Arsae, the great tree ocean between the elven homelands and goblin nations. To the west rose jagged mountains. The Doon, the great mountains on the north of Tenemerrair, looked like rumpled laundry thrown over big dogs. The glaciers looked white and cold, the valleys between them dark and deep, and tiny, ribbons of silver water appeared and disappeared between peaks. North and south, the mountains met the trees in a folding line. I knew that the mountains pushed east to the north and far up there the great goblinmounts rose, but I was making stuff up if I told myself I could see them. To the south, the sharp border cut hard west, and I could see peaks abutting the blackness. Further south, and I might be making up details because I knew they were there, I thought I saw the floodplains of Nar, maybe the dun grasslands of the Horned Lords to the west and the gentler trees of the Solange to the east.

Directly below me hung the Silver City. My helix of stairs danced with its match, another white marble stairway that rose from Karash Ni. That stairway rose to the black part of the moon, the shadow within the crescent. Between them ran a long gold cable, thick as a building, made of braided gold cords, themselves made of twisted gold strands. Throught the middle of it ran something white and red. If I leaned over the inside railing, I saw the stairs spiral together until vanishing at a distant point, the gold cable running through the center. If I looked outside, Pallas spread out like a misty map with dawn rising in the distance.

I stopped to appreciate the view, cold be damned, and stayed still long enough to see the world slide by. The Silver City remained a fixed point, but the ground beneath it slid east. Soon we passed the blotch of the Hyades to hang over ice-capped ripples. The mountains looked so tiny and mild. A long, thin cloud slithered by. The city stayed perfectly still as the world walked past underneath.

I wasn’t on Earth any more and hadn’t been for a long time.

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