Friday, April 12, 2013

XVII. Dominion

Power coursed, bubbling up from the land, strong as ancient stone and just as brittle.  This was blood.  In blood there was iron, iron which progressed through the roundabout cycle of life, from the strange earth which slept under its icy shroud to the living.  And certain blood sang from the depths its tone.  This subliminal song infused the whole of the badlands but grew potent here in the depths, its name was Dominion.
            The Trumpeter felt as light, but it was a radiance which had a very certain gravity, one breathed down by the potent platinum weight of the crown upon his head.  The Regalom swelled his spirit so that he was everything around him, the very kingdom.  All was empire.  His empire.
            From this lofty spire the stone room and its inhabitants seemed simple, soft and plastic. The living were toys and the mighty depths of the grand vault a vast field of clay ready to be set in order.  One action could do these things.  He simply had to speak a word.
            The musician-prince took stock of his objects.  There was a gnarled youth of not more than twenty cycles closest him, too close for the black glass sword he yielded.  By his ashen skin and cobalt hair this thug was an outlander of muddled blood and low wit, though he had the familiar face of an erratic bodyguard.  Lord Trumpet knew him better than the others.
            Those other two were a pair of serfs of different form.  The human was a rude entertainer who’s every motion, smile and word could be discounted as theater.  His only merit was like those certain birds which could mimic the speech and mannerisms of true men, with varying degrees of success.  Every word this man spoke would be a lie and his inclinations would be towards the worst shades of populism.  Jaal could no longer hide in his cloak as his better had torn it to shreds.
            Most regal and fearsome, this last was the beast, an animal.  As a hunting cat she had more use on a coat of arms than in person.  Her mutated coat and teeth and horns had little value in the hunt and as a former royal she presented the dangerous possibility of revolt. 
            The Trumpeter felt the twinge of desire.  They would do as he asked.  He knew the power lay upon his tongue and it would be easy enough to reach out and pluck down the stars.  His word was real.
            “You’ve grown a funny look on your face,” said Jaal casually to this new and tangled lord.
            The Fencer said nothing with words but his features went hard once his friend donned the crown.  Behind those grey eyes cold calculations were at work.
            “I am Lord Trumpet!” exclaimed the musician-prince.  “I should speak first, as loudly as I may.”
            The silver instrument was placed to his lips and he took a deep breath.
            “Now the Trumpet is in charge?” laughed the actor.  “I cannot help but welcome our new sterling dictator.”
            The Hunting Thing also remained silent, her liquid flesh prickling up into a bitter mass of jagged spikes as she backed up, ready for the kill.  Equal in displeasure the Fencer tested the grip on his blade.  He wondered if he had the resolve to do what must be done.
            “As I’m feeling pristine in my new title I’ll allow that familiarity,” nodded the Trumpeter, taking his instrument away from his lips for a moment.  “You might be my jester.”
            If Jaal felt the tension crushing the room his bright smile and perfect posture betrayed none of it.  To one side the Hunting Thing had become yellow eyes in the shadows and to his other the outland swordsman stood coiled and ready to strike.  He felt the pressure in the air, the strange, metaphysical weight which set all their nerves on edge and was certainly a driving factor in the Trumpeter’s crowning.  
            Under this weighted doom the actor stepped forward, closer to his liege, and bowed low with ceremony.  The beast hesitated in its violence and even the Fencer paused to wonder.
            “As my first jest let me present something for consideration,” began Jaal as he unfolded from his bow.  “Of kings and things, magic long gone and riddles unspoken.  Only you can say which is what and how and why.  Setting chaos along straight roads and matching each punishment with a crime.”
            Lord Trumpet grinned, quite unsure of where the monologue was headed but pleased with the journey so far. 
            “But you’ve forgotten something,” Jaal noted, as he paced around the room so that the monarch, much entranced, followed him in this spin.  Quickly he spoke, before the crown could ask the obvious question.  “Why you are here.  Why? Why is that?  What now?  Where to?”
            Strange fire danced in the musician’s eyes as he took in each question and attempted to find meaning amongst the curious nonsense.  Jaal continued, never letting up.
            “Whatever low existence you are fleeing from doesn’t matter much, does it?  You wear the crown now, that is the future.  But there is a place you don’t rule.  Down below, hidden, secret, jealously covered up by cowardly magics.  You stand above it but you don’t rule there, not until you lay your eyes upon it.”
            “Oh yes,” whispered Lord Trumpeter, enrapt.  “The soul, our soul.”
            He twitched and the air sparked.  The ever present blue fog roiled and small arcs of static danced within the azure cloud.  Their room had grown foggy and humid with the strange stuff as it seeped in from fissures and cracks, drops becoming a torrent.
            By now the revolutions caused by the actor’s steps had spun the Trumpeter around several times.  The Fencer stood behind his friend and with a blink could have his blade out and into his poor, power-mad companion.  Part of him noted the creature in the dark, never discounting the Hunting Thing’s caprice or violent tendencies.  With anger in his heart he readied to strike.
            The mad prince spoke too soon for them.  His word was simple, direct, aimed at the heart of his need, his want.  Down it fell into the depths and the stones themselves obeyed.
            So it did.  A thousand tons of strange rock and petrified royal dreams gave way in a splintering cacophony.  Half the chamber fell, Jaal going down with it.
            The Fencer ran to the edge and found the actor cling by one hand.  The man grinned as below him the rocks tumbled in a great void heedless of gravity or structure.  Boulders were broken to atoms and quickly the mass became a boiling sea of potential. 
            Driving his weapon to the hilt into the stone the Fencer pulled Jaal up just in time.  The chaos below erupted upwards.  Together they backed away, watching something new form from the ancient blue rock.
            From this chaos came a kind of order.  The bit and pieces of bluish marble and classic red stone reformed into a mighty stair leading down.  The steps were uneven and expressionistic, gilded with bizarre trappings and fluted detail.  To the swordsman it all seemed so familiar. 
            A slight change in the air and he was turning, drawing, but there was nothing.  His sword still lay driven into the stone a few meters back. 
            He saw the Hunting Thing leap from the shadows.  Her forepaws splayed out to reveal the full measure of her scythe-like claws as they raced towards the addled musician-prince.  Jaal proved closer and faster, tackling the hapless Trumpeter out of the way.   
            The tyrant fell, the crown went loose, rolling over the uneven stone floor.  Jaal and the beast crawled after it, each scrambling for the ultimate prize.  Their hands and paws drew near and each reached out to claim it, but found a cold barrier.
            Hissing and shouting they drew back from Dhala’s horrible chill.  The Fencer removed the sword and used it to pick up the still rolling crown, dropping it into his right hand.
            “I think I will keep this device safe from us for a time,” he decided. 
            The Trumpeter blinked.  There would be no reprisals, all were needed for what lay below.  Strange sounds came, telling that the true power of the vaults was displeased with such exposure.

The thrones came in waves.  Each slanted wall, ceiling and floor produced them.  Towering seats of power rose from the base matter, gaining gold and jewels, lacquered wood, etched stone.  Some were most fantastic, cut from single diamonds and sapphires, composed of poetry, flickering with magic.  Carved, engraved, gilded and etched, they all reached high splendor only to fall back into the rock according to the microcosmal gravity of time set to a liquid rhythm.
            The center seat remained just long enough for their terrible host to rise, then fell away.  It was a blue humanoid several meters in height, all of the same flat plastic azure.  If it weren’t for the singular eye gazing out from its head then anyone seeing the monarch would think it a two dimensional image, something painted on the wall.  With one huge hand it gestured for the women to come closer.
            With the help of their laborers the Duxess Emphyr and Hnah scrambled from their broken doorway, down an embankment of stone, onto the angled floor of the vast room.  Thrones rose and fell as they moved, silently, the only sound being their own breath and the flow of blue which trickled from fissures and cracks above.
            When they arrived each woman bowed low with deference and their servants prostrated themselves as corpses at the blue titan’s feet.
            “I am the Duxess Emphyr,” said the elder woman, “and this is my charge, Princess Hnah of Phelegome.”
            At this point it was common for the highest to reply with their station, but the blue thing simply stood there, its eye unreal and unblinking.  This close they could see that it wasn’t completely whole.  There were seams, gaps in its matter, revealing dark recesses. 
            “Who are you?” asked the Duxess.
            “You know,” replied a voice within each of their heads, and they did know, had known since they stepped within the enchanted halls of the grand vault.  Perhaps since they had been born.  There was a familiarity with this alien thing, like an old and mostly forgotten dream.
            “Dominion,” uttered Emphyr.
            “Invasion,” rumbled the entity.  Its voice was sweet but heavy at the edges.  “Please, sit.”
            The stones obeyed some silent request, forming up lesser chairs for the noble visitors.  Emphyr’s was cut from smoky quartz, sharply angled and massive.  Hnah’s was metallic and smoothly asymmetrical, more of a couch.  Both were smaller and less grand than the pinnacle which caught their host as it sat. 
            Platinum gleams erupted from the floor.  A hulking basket woven sterling, set with squares of multicolored opal, took Dominion up and up, the floor rising in a spectacle of jagged rock.  He looked down from his perch upon his guests. 
            The Duxess was impressed but in the alchemy of her soul all such wonder transformed into desire which she hid behind her fan.  The thing on the grand throne said nothing and silence stretched for long seconds.
            “Your empire lies in ruins,” Emphyr began.  “The kings and things have fallen under hardship and the brutal necessities of Winter.  Few of us remain to keep your charges in order and the land falls to lawlessness, freedom cults and savage outsiders.”
            The lady’s vassals crouched at the base of her seat like dogs, their eyes beaming and hungry.  Hnah wondered at this because she felt uncomfortable tension well up from the seat she had been given.  No matter its beauty her throne felt like a hand which threatened to grasp and squeeze her to jelly.
            Her companion’s words landed strange in her ear.  What they spoke to was a monstrosity, some other agent of the grand vault, and to suddenly arrive and take its hospitality while conspiring with it like some better rang uncanny, and yet…true.  Some aspect of Dominion was familiar to the girl and this made its unblinking presence all that much more terrible.
            “There has been no true power for eight thousand and sixteen of your years,” replied the unheard voice.  “You are but a pretender who holds a few spare atoms of royal blood in your muddied veins.”
            The blue cloud above roiled with its thoughts.  Her metallic tattoos had gone cold with its first word and as it spoke she shivered.  At first she thought this to be a natural reaction to an unnatural force, but now she felt each syllable ring through her along those metal lines.  It was the cloud which carried its thoughts and her gilding was fine circuitry to conduct its will.
            “Control is a word,” it continued in its alien fashion.  “Nobility is a word.  Power is more.  It lies behind words, pushing them along.  Power can do anything.  The rest is clay.  Power shapes.”
            “In each of you flows the blue blood through which I speak, and though you are faded successors your matter will be enough.  Noble seas lie ice-locked and frozen in time where the grand scar of the badlands weeps its blood, slowly dying across eons.  It is enough.”
            Hnah wondered and the thing responded.
            “What am I?” it asked for her, responding to her unsaid question.  Her chill grew and she shivered.  “The last high king wore a royal vestment like no other, a coating of what some call Magician’s Clay and others name strange matter.  It protected the ruler, invisibly reacting to each and every outside threat according to a complex weave of contingencies.”         
            “When the traitors’ spells fell and their demons sang dark eulogy into the cold bowels of Nysul this armor reacted.  For all their thousands and nightmares and fire and lightning it changed and grew, forming materials sublime and unheard of, reflecting back those destructive energies whilst feeding off the more choice vibrations.  The Lattice rang like a bell and between this play of power a chaos spell was born, and so was I, again.”
            Hnah felt herself drawn into the creature telling the story.  Its hollows were inviting, as if she could crawl into the narrative and join it at an intimate level. 
            She looked over.  There the Duxess sat upon her throne with decorum and reverence.  If she had a reaction to this then it was hidden behind her fan which she kept splayed out across her face, her eyes rising above it as smoked amber enigmas.
            “Mayfly spell lived but a moment but with its breath it evaporated men and monsters, drove kings mad and vanished gilded palaces from memory.  As its death-sigh hushed the badlands the survivors were already eager in their contrition.”
            “Every last remaining stone they reduced to powder.  The foundations were ripped up until only the bare, primitive riverbed remained.  There the magus Crow worked his sealing magic and it echoed through the unplumbed labyrinth beneath their feet.  Walls of black force trimmed with adamantine wards closed over the wondrous treasures of the last high king.  In their cowardice and fear they walled off their birthrights.  Here I remain, growing the realm beneath the feet of day.”
            “I am Dominion, worn by the last of Nysul.  When the cataclysm fell I awoke in reaction to fulfill my duty.  I made Sawar safe for his eventual return.  The once great will be once more.  Time is the ultimate revolutionary.”
            At this the thing gestured around at the cavern, the labyrinth, the realm of Nysul.  Its reach was grand, all-encompassing.  Silence punctuated its telling like a state execution.
            “Where is your crown?” asked the Duxess from behind her fan.
            “Taken,” grumbled the thing in their blood.  “Outlanders with cold magic froze me for a time.  They cursed me with nightmares.”
            “We know them,” continued Emphyr.  “We hate them.”
            “Join me,” it said to their bones.
            The Duxess removed her fan to reveal joy.  She raced down her thrown and clawed up the cliff upon which it sat, too impatient to wait for its slow descent. 
            In her thrashing she lost herself.  The noble superior who Hnah so admired became a wild creature, tearing away her fine vestments when they impeded her progress and cutting her manicured hands bloody on the jagged, newborn stone.
            “I’ve brought you a bride,” she declared upon reaching the top.  Beside the blue titan she seemed a child. 
            It was then that Hnah realized her part in all her better’s calculations.  She was no ally to the renewed Duxess but a prize to be doled out for indulgences, a piece of meat for the giraffes.  Just as her father had sent her out as a pawn in his paranoid games of power so too was she reduced to an object by Emphyr’s renegade lust. 
            The etched princess grew hot as she stood.  It coursed through her blood and the voice of the thing lost part of its gravity.
            “Excellent,” stated Dominion.  “She may join us.  Enter me and find your true high king.”
            Pale and lovely the Duxess pawed at her goal.  All the years of house arrest, of puppet rule fell away as she crept upon the blue flesh.
            At its side she discovered an opening large enough for a man to slip in.  First one foot entered, then an arm, then her whole body vanished inside the enchanted matter.  She laughed.
            Suddenly the entrance sealed shut and Hnah could hear her companion’s voice through the same medium as Dominion.  The Duxess screamed within her bones.
            Pure terror erupted as the blue matter did the same to her as it did its old master.  It devoured her, absorbed her, so that no other harm might befall one of such noble blood.  She became locked in blue.             
            Hnah fled, the Duxess’s servants close with her, their spell broken.  If they screamed there was no memory of it as it took many minutes for the cries and thoughts of the once-great Emphyr to dissolve fully into that which ruled.
            “Stop!” it commanded time and again but it had lost its crown.

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