# Cloud Nine

“Could I revive within me
her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
that with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air!
That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
and all who would could see them there!
& all should cry, Beware! Beware!”

Once, there was a boy. His mother called him Meno, for that was his name. In his 14th year by the Oriental count, she sent him into the west where he met a man. This is one of their stories.

## Part One. In which a strange adventure begins, and curious manner of beings met, with equally improbable conversations.

— and during the ninth dream he woke up. He was not upset; he had slept well, and the dream disturbed him. It had seemed to him that he was taking lessons with some great master of painting, and he was trying his best to teach him the art of his ancestors. But in the dream, he knew that it was not truly his ancestors, but the teacher’s, and the teacher’s strange ignorance perturbed him so that he could not hold his brush properly but instead trembled and splattered ink all over himself and the paper. The teacher felt terribly disappointed, and seeing the old sage cry, he wanted to run over and hug him, to say it wasn’t your fault, but something in his demeanor halted him in awkward silence. Fortunately that was when he woke up. But the rain continued, and his little tree house was rocked by the wind (He checked for his letter). The storm had not ended yet, and the sky was as viciously grey as ever. It had been three weeks.

He worried about flooding - the tree had grown on the lower part of the ridge, and could easily become a flash flood like the locals had warned him of, so he pressed up the ridge, going straight up the better to avoid any water sloshing into his boots from the side.

Wet boots are very difficult to ever get back into condition; the submersion changes something in them, the leather never quite sets back into how you had it before, and feels funny, like a friend who has changed his ideas completely about some Great Question of Life and is burning with a passion that somewhat alarms you. Things like that can happen to people, and you wonder if the old one is in there somewhere, hoping to get out, but still accepting how things are now (after all, weren’t they the ones who decided to change? And who better to decide?).

On the ridge, he looked across the hills. The sky was lashing and twisting with motes of rain and wind writhing in every possible curve, and some that weren’t. But swirls and eddies sometimes found a pocket of calm where the forces were stable and maintained a sort of equilibrium.

‘If only I could paint it… But the ink would run in the rain.’

He wondered what the master would have made of it, from what unexpected perspective he would have shown it. Maybe he would have portrayed it in green and black ink as a vast tree, swirling, powerful, yet benign, bringing out its misunderstood nature. We rely on rains, and yet excoriate them when they do come: a paradox. Perhaps he could start a religion on that foundation. The central axiom might go: ‘The Way of Paradoxes lead to the truth.’ It was sufficiently clear and yet unclear. People would like that.

A dot loomed on the horizon. A storm cloud perhaps. It continued to shift, showing different facets. His interest was aroused - this was no cloud or thunderstorm. It grew larger, and when he gauged where its shadow fell, the scope dumbfounded him with its enormity, and velocity. Whether mirage or animal or plant, that thing must be at least a half mile in radius! He tried to run but it was too late.

‘Oh, that it were so simple. That I could just utter those words.’
“If they were only words
without strings
they would fly
untethered balloons skyward
If it did not lead to consequences
miles and miles of dominos
they would be set free, easily
But these vowels are not music
They are simply keys
That open more doors than they close
And so no such words shall I utter
And no peace shall you know.”

What should we do with him? He is unknown to us, untrustworthy. We can leave him here, he yet knows nothing of value.

He will stay. What‽ That makes no sense! You talk to me of sense? And why not? You could name your price - amnesty, diarchy, anything in his power to grant. And he has quite a bit. I don’t think you quite realize how revolutionary it is. I will never give it to him. And I know its potential.

“Wake up. Wake up. Wake up! You are tossing. My people say that every moment spent in a bad dream gnaws a year off one’s life, and account rousing out of a nightmare a good omen. We have need of them now.” “A year off one’s life? Then we all should be dead.” “My people also have a saying about that: Death comes only because men accept it as inevitability. A man who truly believes can do anything, for the very world changes with his will.”

Jesting: “A dangerous belief.” “Indeed. But I am Mouton. You are my guest currently. You are?” A pause. “You may call me… Meno.” Meno looked up. He was not in his treehouse as he had hoped, but rather in a bright room, with wide triangular windows out into the blue sky. He must have slept a while for the weather to have become so fair, but it was striking what quality the glass was, and how it seemed to be double-paned. He shivered. His bed was a springy mat on the floor, which seemed to be made out of seamless obsidian, polished until he could see reflections. His host was the oddest part of the spare chamber: he was nothing less than a large, golden fleeced sheep with smooth ink black horns terminating in polished globes.

“You’re a sheep!” “Ram. There is a difference, to us.” “Where am I?” “You will be answered later. Now I take you to the captain.”

The sheep - no, ram he reminded himself - left. He had no choice seemingly but to follow him out into a vast central area. It was strewn with ruins, with crumbling buildings and roads and fountains. Some had entirely disintegrated. The ruins were vaulted with an enormous dome. Why they were preserved he could not tell.

They were old though, and overgrown with vines. The vines were grape, and their fruits were ripening. He tried one. Way too sour! They obviously weren’t quite ready yet.

Meno knelt down to examine the road closer between two wall where it was better preserved. It seemed to be made of white and black strips of stone, which would cunningly cross over and through each other in a random way. What little he could see of the overall pattern was disconcerting to say the least. He followed it as it was certain to lead somewhere, and the sheep (ram!) had vanished, and it was better than foolishly yelling about Mouton!'Mouton! It isn’t very nice to abandon guests like this! Mouton!’.

It led down, towards the center under the large skylight pierced in the roof of the dome. It wound around as it became more intact and beautiful, until it met a perfectly round Greek-style shrine; it was rather like the Parthenon wrapped around itself, and made out of poured marble. But there was one element the Greeks never added: throughout were mirror image sections done in blackest obsidian. And disturbingly, like the path, on the edges the obsidian and marble were confused, melting gently soft into another.

Lost in admiration, Meno did not notice the darkening of the day. The sudden fall of night paused him in his pacing and admiration of the fluid forms of the shrine and environs to wonder what to do.

He entered the shrine at last, desiring to know its functions, its secrets and history. Abruptly, he was hurled to the floor, heavy breathing on the back of his neck paralyzing him with fear. “Who are you? Why do you come? Answer quickly or lose your head!” growled his assailant.

“I never wagered my head, and my name is Meno. I am a guest of Mouton, and under his protection!”

“You have met Mouton? What color, then, is his fleece, and what color his horns?” “His fleece is as golden as Sun-burnished copper. His horns are as black as if they were dipped in ink and rubbed with soft cloth.”

The weight left him. Meno got up and slowly turned around, to spare his back pain. His assailant was - but this didn’t really faze him now, he was getting used to strange things - a black shadow. He blinked in disbelief and looked closer. It was still only a black shadow, a gaping void. He ventured out a trembling hand and reached.

He felt soft fine fur. Now that he looked, he could see the yellow eyes hanging in mid-air, the outline of the feline body against the marble illuminated by the dying light. “You are another Beast. What kind are you?”

It answered, “I am a Lyger, of the Burning Woods as they are called now. You shall call me Etryg.”

“I had heard that the race of big cats was stripe’d wildly, like a candy cane maker who had a hobby of experimenting with new & unthinkable flavors, with stripes of white and red and orange and black. You are not. From what I can’t see, you are blacker than even night, where at least the stars always shine.”

“Why that is so is a story which is mine to tell. You have not earned the right to hear it. Meno, it is now Night, and in the sky, I reign as the Night Guard, just as Mouton is the Day Guard, and reigns in the Day. Follow me. The captain no doubt expects you.”

They passed over woody bridges, climbed spiral staircases, trekked over sandy hillocks, until they came to gardens. It was well-tended, with plants growing luxuriantly.

“What garden is that?” “It is the garden of the Arab Abdul al-Hazred. There is no order to it that I have in a score of years been able to decipher. I wonder sometimes if this random pattern of bushes, trees, ponds, trees and grass was not arranged randomly with the utmost care so that one looking in sees what one expects to see, so that one can seek and ye shall find’.” “And that, what is that?” “That is the garden of Solomon the Wise, in which are encoded the positions of the stars at the moment of the synthesis of the Universal Solvent.”

“What good is it if the garden lives, dies, grows?”

“Did you think the cosmos static?”

“Forgive me, but what is that?”

“That is the shadow of a garden you ken naught. If you were not blinkered in the dimension of time, you might see the performance of the greatest composition of the musician Po No-Chu, which made an entire town a slave to its beauty, upon which occurrence the inhabitants forced Po No-Chu to play without cease until he expired, whereupon that town died of grief that no similarly skilled musician could be brought forth to continue the performance.”

“And -”

“That is the trap Prester John set the Phoenix, in the beginning of the world when all was new. An oracle he slew his nephew in fee to prophesied that he could only live forever if he could trap the Phoenix in a maze that had no walls, that any man could walk out of, and which changed constantly, but it could be designed by no living man. He held a great contest and offered a score of purses of red and green gold, as well as a purse of blue gold, to the man who could devise such a maze. It attracted geniuses and alchemists and shamans from all over world. It brought from Hades no less than Daedalus himself. It is not well known but I have it anciently in my own person that Trickster herself - men may try to tell you that Trickster is male; but they lie. Being born is the greatest trick played on you, and no male could have invented that one - condescended to submit a maze of clouds. Her maze was marvelous indeed, but Daedalus forthwith produced the maze before you, and which included her own in its subtle workings; objects cast shadows as the sun and clouds move; these shadows intersect or not, and form lines and walls which can be walked through - but enough, we are here.”

Indeed, they were. Two stolid oak doors, slightly ajar, with intricate locking wards and gears on the inside visible were set into the wall. They creaked open as Meno entered into a velvet lined study. Piled high on the table were large ancient tomes, on top of which lay strange instruments and curios like a flask of silver liquid which raced about with the slightest movement, and giant thigh bones and fangs. Standing in one corner was a short, rib-high staff of ebony ironwood, incised with runes and a wicked Damascened blade affixed to the top. He moved closer to the books, one of which was propped open facing him. He strained to see in it- the light was no good, and all he could make of it was a picture of a star of some sort. He flipped the page. A strange heraldic shield, quartered with stallions and embossed with the logo of Thurn und Taxis. The next page showed a contraption of tuning forks, in which, if he understood the schematics, the forks revolved in a tube with movable obstacles. The forks would be attached to the revolving axle and striking against the obstacles, beat out a melody. It was like an inverse music box, he thought. Strange, and maybe not altogether practical. He continued leafing through, to be struck with a folio page that held a mass of text, done in a twisting, serpentine, & highly calligraphic red script. It was very difficult to read, but he scrutinized it closely:

On the next page was: a brilliant blue light that flooded the study, changing the color of everything and washing out all shading of light and dark, making him flinch involuntarily in pain and hastily turn the page, to the last one. The light of the star or whatever the image was had blinded him and he staggered backwards and was caught.

“It is rude to go through someone’s books without their knowledge. You’ve heard it said that you are what you eat? More truly, it is that you are what you read. The words are stored in your mind, and after long enough those remnants of ancient minds become your own. Who are you?”

“I’m sorry sir, they just seemed interesting. I’m Meno. But are you the captain? And captain of what?”

“I was studying the lore of the ancients. There is a modern prejudice against old things, a vast towering hubris that anything old is by definition antique and obsolete. Yet the formulation of Greek fire is yet unknown, and organic plastic was discovered centuries ago. Some swords are of unknown metallurgy, and they knew how to make brilliant dyes that would last for centuries. The steam engine was invented by Hero of Alexandria; plastics were an old secret known to da Vinci; and the inventions that perished in the great Library are uncountable. Stop squinting at me, your eyes will recover shortly. You sought for some light, and I fear you got the sun.”

Nemo rubbed his eyes just a little as if in disbelief.

Dryly, he continued. “But to answer your questions, I am Captain Nemo. I captain the proud vessel Cloud Nine on her maiden voyage. And I assure you, it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. I will take you on a tour, if your eyes are much improved.”

That seemed to be a question so Meno answered. “They improve. I’ve seen so much strangeness already, and asked so many questions, but did you really say we are on a vessel’, right now as we speak? I was sure this was a palace of some sort like the of the Protector in Viron.” Captain Nemo seemed simultaneously perturbed and amused. Meno took this chance to size the captain up. He was large, almost bear like in proportion and bulk, with sharp green eyes. His black hair was unruly, and whether it was but disdain for the social convention of clean-shaveness or absent-mindedness that caused his scraggly beard, it fitted his demeanor, which was of general wildness and uncanniness. The clothes he wore were of a style Meno had never seen before- the tunic reminded him of students, but it seemed armored and almost military in sensibility. The breeches were entirely different. They were, in a word, indecently comfortable looking.

“Viron you say? How recently are you come?’”A few weeks. Why?" “Nothing. But come, I will show you around.”

They left out the side door Captain Nemo had entered and out onto a balcony. It had on one side enclosed in geometric frames large slabs of glass, and on one side a shaggy wall of vines and trees. They walked and as they did so, Meno noticed that as they did so, the path curved ever so slightly to the right. If it were a circular path, the diameter would have to be gigantic. “Up the stairs.” They stepped off the path and onto a double spiral staircase, which hung straight from the roof without a single apparent pillar giving support to it to keep it from collapsing on itself.

“Is that safe Captain?” “You wanted to see my vessel. And so you shall. All the way up.”

Meno didn’t dare make a bad impression on the Captain so he preceded him up (though the harmonic swaying of the spiral was nerve-wracking, and the bulk of the captain did nothing to dampen the wavering). High they climbed, steps upon steps upon steps, drawing ever closer to the skylight (he noticed that from here he could see the top of the shrine, which was sheathed in greening copper. No sign of Etryg though). The view was remarkable, as was the deep blue of the sky all around. Far off on the other side, he thought he saw more catwalks and botanical collections. They were through the ceiling now (he had been wrong; this was really a colossal greenhouse, not an archaeological dig or any of the more fabulous possibilities he considered). There was a cupola they were ascending into, he noted with relief, side heaving from the many steps.

“999 to be exact. You’ll firm up soon enough, what with having to climb this staircase multiple times a day. Just look up and around.”

Was that grim amusement, Meno wondered as he took the last few steps to the cupola (Trimmed in green and tan, he noticed. It had looked blue as he had gazed up at it.). The first thing that struck him, literally, was the wind. It keeled him over and knocked him headfirst into the railing. His hat was not so lucky; it tumbled, buffeted about, straight into the void.

That was the second thing he noticed- the ground was not there, no firm surface stretched into the distance to break his gaze. The eye pierced downward, for seeming miles, until it hit a vague layer of clouds that grew thicker the farther (but he was on his side, so it was down really.), and opaquely, and mercifully, blocked full comprehension of the height.

“I always love this… Leading visitors to the top, unsuspecting of where they are, and watching the dawning realization and horror. That’s right Meno, you are suspended hundreds of meters up in the air, and if you were to look underneath there is absolutely no support there.”

Meno’s mouth failed to work, and so he continued to gaze on this gigantic hemisphere he was on top of. It was largely made of glass, to nourish the plants and botanical bays, all cut in triangles and pentagons, with a few hexagons to mix it up. Pennants fluttered gaily in the wind from various joints, and small propellers spun lazily at other vertices and larger ones ringed the base of the globe. Half way up was a large, worn metal plate which though he could not see, he felt sure that engraved in was the heraldric Cloud Nine.

“We… should all be dead! This is not possible!” “Then how are you asking that question?” “Don’t toy with me. I don’t believe in magic, so either I’m hallucinating after that thing struck me on the ridge, or there is some trick here you’re not telling me. Tell me which.” “How sure you are that I’ll tell you the truth, and how dogmatic you are in saying there are only two possibilities. It saddens me to see one so young so set in his ways.” “Well?” “Will you listen patiently, as I unfurl the secrets of the cosmos, the fruits of long years of eldritch research, strange and bizarre sacrifices, quaint and forgotten volumes of antique lore, of symbols and mathematickal relationships strange and unfathomable, without any snide or clever interruptions?” “Will it take long?” “It took me twenty years whelp!” “Alright, I’ll listen. At least when you lapse into bombast I can watch the sunset.” “Earthclipse. Don’t use outmoded language and thinking. But anyway, my story begins long ago, when in a history class at Acre Scholarium, my tutor Doctor Hosoph was elaborating on some of the medieval chronicles of Alexandria the Lion, conqueror of the known world. One of the more charming apocryphal stories relates how, as she entered AEgypt and convened all the sages in her new city of

Alexandria, she commanded them to unfurl the mysteries of Urth and sky to her, to show her the wonders left in this land. One Magi arranged that he would do so, if his reward was to be the sum of one piglet, doubled every day for 99 days. Alexanderia, though a World Conqueror (it is fortunate that the prophecy that she would be a great spiritual leader failed or we would not have known the blessings of one civilized land.) was not very good with her maths and agreed to the bargain." “Are you sure? Sounds a lot like the story of how Kundun outwitted the magistrate.” “I said it was apocryphal, false. Next time you interrupt, you’re going over board. As I was saying, the Magi kept his end of his bargain, by lifting Alexandria upon a pillar of hot air, sealed within a tube. This feat caught my imagination, and I had spare time on my hands, so soon I was lifting rats and cats to the roof of my student lodgings and suspending them there. But the one problem that deviled me was the heat always slipped away, and what I had sent into the heavens always came back. One night, experimenting with storing a fire with the sac in which the air was caught, I burned down my dwelling, and most of the scholarium. I had to flee to Viron, which is when I met… But this story is not about him.” “At Viron, at the renowned University there, I began learning maths, and in geometry I learned something that would shake me to my core. It was the properties of a sphere. As a sphere doubles in surface area, it quadruples in volume. That was it.” “What? What by the seven teats of Astarte does that have to do with such gross violations of God’s law as this?” “I don’t suppose you noticed how most of the area in this globe was open and empty? You didn’t notice how many greenhouse windows are set into the walls, to heat up the interior? You drew no lesson from the fact that things can be lifted with hot, or even warm air? I discovered, after I graduated, that if I could build a globe large enough, I could heat the interior modestly and still lift the equivalent of a village.” “Did that actually work?” Meno was aghast. Their very lives were at the mercy of a bunch of hot, nay, warm air? “I think I want off. Now. You may be crazy enough to live in this thing, but me, I’ll take solid ground, where the temperature doesn’t matter.” Nemo turned to him. “It isn’t that simple. We can’t set down.” “What‽ Why not?” “During that freak storm, we were wildly propelled by the wind, and in the heart of the storm, our air cooled, and the low pressures forced us down, where we hit the hill you were on. That’s how you came to be aboard. The damage that rocky hill caused us means that the next time we land will be the last. That’s how it is. Of course, you are perfectly welcome to jump off anytime you please. But remember that we are approximately several thousand meters above the ground, and the hot air in your head will avail you not.” So he was stuck there. But… “Surely you don’t plan to live in the clouds forever! I mean, eventually you’ll run out of something, and it’s pretty lonely up here. You must have some way to repair.”

“Well… We do.” “What is it? How long will it take?” “I really shouldn’t say. It isn’t polite to make requests of your guests.” “Just tell me!” “You might have noticed that Mouton lacks dexterity. Cloven hooves are not conducive to tool using. And Etryg is both very proud and outsized for the repair task. And I am equally large, and my hands no longer have very fine dexterity. So I’m afraid the only person about with the smallness and skills the task requires is… you.” “Oh. Oh. And if I choose not to?” Silence. “Well… I don’t really have a choice. So I should learn some more about this thing. How do you navigate, and keep moving? Heated air just goes straight up.” “We use those propellers you see for small maneuvering. For going somewhere we ride the jet stream. It goes at three hundred kilometers per hour. You could glide a long way in that wind. Maybe forever.” He grew dreamy as he said that. Perhaps it was the elegance of the idea of soaring on a kite forever that held him up there, but it did not hold Meno. He wanted out of the chill, the wind, the oppressive vertigo. He left. A: But who is to say that it is not truly the Butterfly which dreams the Man? You are not the Butterfly to say so! B: No. Better to ask what manner of beast could dream of a Man dreaming a Butterfly and a Butterfly dreaming a Man.’ Part Two. In which Meno makes accommodation with the enigmatic Captain, and adventures ensue. That’s not much of a choice you gave him. Help us or stay here forever. Of course we could always tire of you and… get rid of you, but we are too tactful to say that outright. We need him. I can’t do it alone, and certainly neither you nor Etryg would be any help repairing the hull. So you coerce him into doing it. Did you tell him about the parachutes, or paragliders? … No, I didn’t think so. So tell me, how is coercing by omission superior to doing it directly? Is it more gentlemanly? I hope you are proud of yourself. You certainly

don’t seem like the Man I chose to follow into the clouds. What good are we doing here? What are you doing to atone? Enough! Is a little trust too much to ask? You animals, your minds are not really like ours, no matter what the theogonists say. You can never bring yourself to have a little faith. You’re right. We can’t blindly follow… like sheep. A rasp attacked him, waking him out of sleep. “What!” he sprung up to fight but grappled with some luxuriantly soft fleece. “Oh, Mouton. Don’t do that! You scared me half to death.” “My apologies. But it is Day, and my duty lays claim on you.” “That’s fine Mouton, but first, could you take this letter to Captain Nemo?” “Perhaps. Why did you not give it to him earlier?” “I had strict instructions to make sure it was him. If I carried it on me, then it might have been taken by an impostor.” “Very well. But I warn you, deception is a foul way to start a relationship.”

Me Tarsan, You Jessus, and the Silician never really changed.’

“My name’s Meno. And I’ll see you in the morning.” “Right, right.”

Meno left.

Nemo was now alone. He had met Meno in one of the high platforms, where he kept the carrier pigeon roost and message desk. Absent minded, he fed the pigeons. The boy was a relation, he was sure of it. He was too much like Nemo, too quick-witted and his face was close, & closed. The body not so much, but that could out when he was older. The mind though… Despite the boy’s attempts to hide it, Nemo was sure he had been brought up a deductionist. A dangerous skill. His uncle’ was more probably Meno himself.

But to the letter. What could be so important? It was not from his usual network- they had better, surer ways to send letters. And none else should know of his work, aside from his old enemy… He would have to be careful. He opened it: To mine old friend Nemo (no matter what he may call himself. Indelible stains never wash out- they merely fade away): I write to you not as a jilted wife, a betrayed friend, a loyal citizen; none of these. I write to you as an ally, in a dark time. Make no mistake these are dark times. This is not the Viron you so lustily pursued your passions in the employ of the Autark. Times have worsened. But hear me out; do not say that the citizens brought it onto themselves, that what will be will be, or that it will work itself out in the end. You have a personal stake in it: before you left me, I was pregnant. The bearer of this emissary (if all has not gone foul) is your own seed. The situation is such: The Protector is consolidating power. He has not only not been overthrown as per your predictions (and I regret to say all your positions in the Cog’ have been sold at losses), but he has indeed thrived. Nemo was not much surprised. It’d been no more than a blind gamble- if it failed, he would not be there to bemoan his losses; and conversely, if he’d won, he’d have been able to enjoy his winnings in comfort. It was somewhat like betting on one’s own demise; macabre, but when you came to it entirely rational- if you lose, you have more important things to bemoan than a mere financial loss. In fact, he thought, grimly amused, in a way it was a bet you couldn’t lose. He has been so successful in power because he is stirring up war with Acre. The Cog’ has backed him to the hilt. It is gripped in the throes of speculation and what some whisper are a bubble that needs to be popped. There is some rational basis to its evaluations of the Protector: all of our acolytes and students have been invited’ to work on weapons of war. We know that Acre has not a similar corps of inductionists and deductionists. One of my greatest fears is that the Protector will succeed in irrationally uniting the populace behind him, and that the Cog’ will not suffer any correction, and that we will easily conquer Acre. All other cities will instantly draw the nice and true conclusion: inductionists and deductionists are necessary ingredients of warfare, and those who do not bend theirs to martial pursuits will be judged by that harshest and final judge, battle. This would mean not just the ruin of our grand ideal, but also of many men, and the stability of the land. Wars will be widespread, and countless myriads will fall. Nemo reflected; she was perfectly right. Such inventions as he and a legion of his fellows could come up with would do just that. My request is thus:

It is rumored that you have made some sort of breakthrough. Rest assured, no more is known; those who did have been… silenced. We however understand it to have something to do with transportation. We ask you to come and evacuate us and our apparatus from Viron to some less imperialistic state until such time as the current tyrant is overthrown. Most of the members are amenable, and the few that truly believe in the Protector’s mad schemes are untalented hacks, whose only ability lay in managing and being sycophantic.

This would have the advantage of being peaceful. The situation is such that any act of violence could easily be turned by him to major advantage, eliminating whatever rational opposition existed. This would also destroy his military programmes, all of which are predicated on the engineering corps. And it would give a trump to whatever city we retreated to, intimidating him and securing our presence there. We will expect a reply by Whitsunside. Do not reply via mail; Roth & Schild are not to be trusted.

Yours truly, Helena

This was unexpected. It completely invalidated all his plans. He should have seen this coming, all the signs were there; so why didn’t he? He would need a new avenue of attack - he’d have to intervene in events before he was ready. When assaulting an enemy, what did Belisarius recommend? Easy; he recommended attacking however and wherever one was not expected.

Where did the Protector expect him? Viron. So he would avoid Viron for the time being. How did he expect him? The Protector lacked imagination and subtlety. He would expect Nemo to leverage the military advantages of his platform, possibly through artillery and troopers. So he would attack when the defenses were positioned wrong. How? Artillery is geared to function in daylight when targets can be sighted and aim refined to specific targets. You did not attack at night because you would hit your own troops as often as the enemy. So he would arrive at night, and he could have the advantage of absolute surprise if he chose a New Moon night. (But would they think of that too? It could be a truly devastating secret weapon, the use of which opponents might not recognize for years - all would think that the onslaught had infiltrated and begun in a more conventional manner; who could ever see as strange a sight as soldiers dropping out of the sky?)

But first Cloud Nine had to be repaired. And he might need someone to replace him at times - the previous problem of how much of Cloud Nine’s construction Meno would know would turn into a positive asset then.

Enough planning. It was time to start.

‘And so, as we have seen, the Efficient Market' aggregates and subsumes every bit of information relevant to the situation into the single, simple metric of price. Unfortunately, reality is such that markets need only take into account short-term considerations, and riskless profits. It remains to be seen whether any market, ideal or otherwise can properly account for environmental costs and future variables.' -Sammael Gail Morgan,Early Studies in Physiocrat Mechanics’

“M’Lord! Come quick!”

The Protector of the Realm, Guardian of Citizens, Upholder of Equity, Master Trader, otherwise yclept Sammael, glanced at his secretary. “What is it?”

“The Cog! It seems to have gone crazy!” “What do you mean?” “Volatility indices are up 111/123. Volume has tripled. None of the Profess-ors of Rationality can be found.” “And?” “Most of the turmoil is centered around… the Leadership issues.” “Long-term or short? No, it’d be short. Let’s go.” “Sir, all our capital is wrapped up, and none of our allies has enough available to set up a rally. This is a problem: your issue is above de-listing about 20%, but the way the swings are going, you could conceivably be under water for a few days. And then the Ecclesia will have to cast a referendum on you.” “I’m well aware of that. Let us go.”

And with that, the tall but thin leader of Viron left the Gaas and strode down the street to the Cog. The flags and semaphores of the towering building where theCog was currently held in that era could be seen waving even more maniacally than usual. The Cog was an unusual place; possibly unique in all the world, and a major factor in Viron's success. The principle was simple: citizens (foreigners had to use native intermediaries, this ensured that at least some of the funds would stay in Viron) would bargain in a marketplace, attempting to satisfy their greed with easy profit. TheCog dealt almost exclusively in bets; not bets on such triviality and ephemera like whether the Blues or Greens would win the next Hippodrome championship, but rather on bets for and against state policy like going to war, maintaining a standing army, storing grain against a bad harvest… or deposing the current tyrant, an issue which most concerned him. The bets were resolved quite simply; if Viron did well by implementing the policy, the person who bought the bon bet won a sizable return from the nyet holder. And vice versa as apropos. This was not foolproof for people could bank on a poor policy but be rewarded none the less by inertia or pure fortune, but over the long run truth would out.

Sammael himself had won his fortune in middle age when he turned to predicting the future through stargazing and used his knowledge in the Cog to benefit himself and his allies. He still reflected fondly on the day that he examined the night clouds, and reading a bountiful harvest in the stars’ brightness as well, bought a massive stake in the marketplace that Viron should invest more in agriculture (of course, most of his bet money on bon contracts was borrowed, he had needed to, lacking a sizable stake of his own; if he had lost, he would have been utterly ruined. But that was the risk one took).

It had paid off. He later used those allies to advance in position. But for some reason, despite his sound, strong leadership, the Market was rebelling against him, as expressed through a fall of price on contracts for his reelection. He felt a shiver of fear- did the Cog collectively know something none of his own agents had winkled out? Was there some threat over the horizon that he had forgotten about? He tossed his head; no doubt it was his enemies, or a random panic. They did happen.

The great copper doors swung open to admit him. He still commanded respect, he had not been de-listed yet. A wave of whispers raced about the hall, carried on the fetid breath of long-closeted traders and scholars. He noted from the corner of his eye that his arrival precipitated a flurry of selling. Apparently they evaluated his arrival in person as a move of desparation.

“I want you to put our spare money into armaments and warfare. Do it quietly but as quickly as possible. Alert Ruscini as well. If we fail to give him notice he might desert us.”

He pushed his secretary off on his errand and marched to the platform.

Elsewhere, a figure watched. She too whispered to her secretary, “I think Protector contracts are about to go up; it is his style. And we’ve forced his hand so he’ll surely announce the new war. Buy related contracts and be ready to dump all these on my say-so.” “Yes m’m. And our shorts on Leadership?” “You’ve still got them‽ Sell, as you love life!”

And she turned to watch.

Sammael straightened at the podium, and slowly, deliberately gazed around and made eye contact with the more important traders. He waited for silence. The atmosphere had grown tense by the time he opened his mouth to begin his oration:

“My fellow traders! We engage in a noble profession here. We speak on the future here, and make our opinions known. We do not waste breath speaking of what we wish will be, or hope will be, or fear will be.

My friends, for truly that is what you are: we are not like those so-called democracies’ you may find the world over, where masses are swayed by emotion and fallacious appeal to irrationally vote and force things. Given their circumstances, is it any surprise that they go astray? Nor are we like those states where the ignorant, the moronic, the unable are prevented from having any influence in the high art of governing, but are entirely the creatures of the privileged sectors, those rapacious parasites that disregard the greater good, or even their own interests, and allow the veins of that state to clot up with indolence and fat while they wallow in luxury and sloth. We are higher than they, more stable and prosperous. And why is that, friends?

Is it because of our doughty men, our industrious women? Is it because of the faith of our clergy, or the acumen of our scholars? Have we been blessed above all due solely to an accident of land and water?

Surely not; other peoples have their men of renown, their women busier than ants, their ecclesiastics of rectitude, their scholars of great subtlety. Other lands have situations as favorable. There are cities wealthier, cities in far Cathay more exotic and refined; what then separates us from them? It can be fairly argued that indeed we are exceeded in every respect save one!

And that is the Ex Cognition, the Cog. Here all may vote, but only the right will be counted. Here all may make their opinion known, but the delusional and irrational are winnowed out and made bankrupt. Here privileged interests may attempt to curry favor and injust advantages, but if their promises do not manifest, they are punished where it hurts them the most. Here the realistic and inventive, the far-seeing, the clear-eyed, the quick-witted receive their just award. Here you need not be wealthy or well-connected or skilled in rhetoric, exhortation or oratory to engage in your civic duty.

Even those with barely a kopeck of grain to their name may buy and sell with as equal aplomb as Croesus. Other states may crow over their citizens’ equality under the law, but their equality is a sham the more flagrant the louder their boast; here we do not boast of our equality because it is that much more real. We are secure in it, at the mercy of no magistrate or politician. I myself practised here to enrich myself and prepare myself for more civic roles, so I could learn to guide my countrymen aright, through the only true teacher - experience.

But also I learned how to protect my investments. And as Protector, all of Viron is my investment. Disturbing news has recently reached my ears and is reflected in the Cog, that certain of our neighbors (envious of our wealth and sure-footed governance) intend to go e'en so far as to wage war upon us. And so I ask that theCog consider best how to defend the city. Even as I speak, some of our upstanding citizens like Ruscini will be publishing for public subscription new issues on National Security' andMilitary Affairs’. I ask that you buy and sell while considering sagaciously how this will impact all. I regret that I cannot make public for your consideration the full extent of our preparations or knowledge, but rest assured that I will do everything within my power to defeat the evil doers which threaten this great nation."

He spun on his heel to leave. A good speech; he had not faltered and they seemed to receive it well, despite the ill tidings. He supposed it was as the saying went: Gild a crow and a fool eats gladly.’ He wanted to remain to watch the prices rise as the traders rallied around the flag. The prices would rise, he was certain. To not buy in was tantamount to voting for defeat, and a defeat would render contracts worthless. But he had a war to plan.

’It is a fact however that deep down in ourselves, our dreams are never completely effaced, anymore than the stars are when the Sun shines. They continue to shine, as it were, behind our feelings, our thoughts, and our acts. There are facts, and beneath them a substratum of other facts; this is the region we explore. On the strength solely of what we have uncovered, we are suggesting this region needs further exploring.

In these depths it is darker than you think.‘- from ’The Morning of the Magicians’

Meno deliriously whooped in joy; he was still on Cloud Nine but he had discovered something new.He had hooked a springy rope around his middle, woven it into a harness and attached the exceedingly long cord to the mid-point of one side of the dome. Then he climbed to the top and sat on a piece of polished iron he had filched from a workshop (It had caught his eye by looking like a picture he once seen of a sleigh) and molded to his body, so that it resembled nothing so more as a toboggan lacking any runners. He then gently shoved off the peak and would plunge down the precipice, traveling at breathtaking velocities down the side. Soon enough he’d be at the bottom and the cord would bounce him tremendously high in the air, whooping all the while.

He had, it seemed, lost his fear of heights. It was during one such tobogganing session that he had been interrupted by Captain Nemo who shouted: Hallo there boy! Come over here!’ “What for? This is a lot better than anything else I’ve found to do around here, and anyway, I deserve a break from your math lessons and patching the hull!” “Don’t worry! I promise, this won’t be burdensome!” “Well… alright. Will it take long?” Not at all, Nemo replied, as he turned to face the wind. Cloud Nine was by this point passing the terminator line, that sweeping longitude line that demarcates light from day, bright from dark, cold from warm, possible to known. “You know Meno, once I wrote a poem on dawn and dusk. In this cold swift wind it seems a little inappropriate, but there is no time like now. It was not well received- nothing that truly was of me ever was. They complained that it lacked meter and rhyme, imagery, anything that really made it a poem. But it went a little like this:”And in the darkness I see colors. Not for me is that harsh light cast by the lamp Nor either the pulsing of the yellow Sun on the inside of an eyelid That sooths the tired eye. I dream in sparkles, wild loops, chaotic clumps of quavering colors And spratched negative space, with hues undreamt of by light. At night, in the pitch black comforting dark I can with eyes wide shut a seething multitude of things come In glory outlined against the fuligin of night, the color darker than black. If you like your dreams fixed and dry Platonic ideals, bland food, boring ideas, Absolute space, Absolute time Then by all means. Keep the night-light on." “I can see why they wouldn’t like it. Not bad though. Quite a challenge.” “I thought you would. That’s why I dredged it out of my past. But that isn’t why I called you over. Keep watching.”

The two stood on the platform, raised high above the low level sands which stretched far away as the eye could see, even to a low hill range on the horizon that was surrounded with a penumbra of dust and obscuration. The sands themselves were variegated and a pleasure to look upon; they intermingled black and yellow, red and orange, pure white and grey. Stones broke the sinuous monotony, and provided relief. Meno focused.

“From here Meno, you can see that sand is not static or simple at all. It moves in waves, sleeting waves of slipping and sliding, pushed by the wind far away, compressed and exploded by the temperature swings of the intemperate day of the desert. You hear from the expeditioneers and hunters in the Explorer’s Club about how the howling of the wind, the monotony of the lone level sands’, but I tell you, they are victims of selective thinking, of confusing the levels. Do you understand what I am saying about the waves of sand, water, and air, of why they are things to ponder and reflect on?”

“I think so. Water and sand, and air too all are made of little particles and as such they are the logical starting point to understand them. But that only goes so far right? A single grain or drop is rather boring. And they usually are affected by forces larger then them and far beyond their comprehension. So you have to study those forces and their effects too. All of these form waves of some sort, each having its own unique features. Water transmits force well through waves, but the water doesn’t actually move. Sand is slow and weak, but it shifts enormous amounts of sand in each wave - the sand isn’t just moving cyclically but actually moving. And air has waves that spin off of changes in air densities vortices’ as you name them. I suppose that by analogy, we would want to look at some other thing which can appear in granular form, but usually aggregates in large groups, and is often affected by forces beyond its power or understanding…. Ah.”

" Ah’?"

“You mean humans don’t you.”

“Did I now? What I was really talking about, was that over there.”

“What?”

Meno looked where Nemo pointed. They had been moving swiftly on the night wind, the simoon as Nemo had taught him, which was caused by the fact that the desert, paradoxically enough, lacked any insulating materiel and sand that would readily retain heat, and so often fell below freezing at night. This would cool the air, compressing it, which would create a vacuum. And as the scholar had held, Nature abhors a vacuum.' Air from warmer climes would rush in the empty space. It was such a wind (asucking’ he thought would be more honestly named. But it lacked euphony.) that they were presently riding at a trepidatious velocity. But something was wrong- they were traveling with the wind, and so apparent wind velocity should be zero, or near enough; but in actuality, the apparent velocity seemed fairly close to actual velocity which meant they were accelerating… he craned his head to look; yes, the propellers were going full speed; now that he paid attention, he could make out the high squeak of the axles over the hash noise of the sand.

“The propellers are going… I don’t even know how they are powered. Why are they being used?”

“They work Little Meno, on the principle of falling weights. They are literally being unwound. We are in a hurry because there is somewhere we need to be by mid-day, and we have little time to get there. As you know, we are riding a wind thanks to the chill of night, but remember, there is no free lunch, nor reaction without and equal and opposite re-action. By nightfall, the wind will be going even faster back where it came from. Every moment counts.”

“Whither are we bound, and why?”

“It is a secret, Meno. But our destination is almost in view. Keep watching - I promise it will be worth the wait.”

With a statement like that, Meno squinted even harder, searching for the wonder promised him. With a flare, dawn broke out with a vengeance, lancing through the clouds and revealing all. He could see clearly now, and what he saw made no sense.

He saw a large ball; no, ball was far too demeaning - this was as to a ball as Mount Sumeru was to a castle’s donjon. It was a vast globe, bigger than many mountains’ Meno had seen, a vast orb of metal and rock and sand all con-fused into a single conglomerate and set ponderously rolling. The wonder didn’t cease there. No, as if the unknown architects sought to outdo themselves even further, a thick (this was thick on the scale of the ball. He lacked the adjectives to properly describe a cable of such girth in mundane dimensions) rope was attached to the stripe hollowed around the middle such that it could roll freely without entangling the cord. His mind followed the cord up to the sky where it was inclined. It overtopped even his own vessel, spreading out as it did so. It thinned and appeared to be regularly segmented, and every so often, he seemed to hear a buzz like that of a multitude of people casually going about their everyday lives, apparently utterly unaware that by any right they should be currently have no air to breath and be plunging to the ground to see just how firma terra was!

“Marvelous, is it not? One of the greatest works by the hands of man.”

“No, give me a moment. I still seem to have kept some notion of what is and is not possible stuck in my head somewhere. You have my apologies- Ah! There it went, screaming to the asylum. I suppose you want me to explain it. Intuitively, I think that it is in essence a giant kite which bears aloft a city of lunatics. The metal wheel does not make sense to me, unless they use the desert wind differentials to keep a constant wind under their wings.”

“Excellent! You understood perfectly! We’ll make something of you yet. Now go get Etryg. Meet me in the hangar, and we will prepare to go there.”

‘All honor is essentially concerned with truth. But the truth of the past can only be obscured and never changed, whereas the truth of the future must be forged with a resolute will.’

They had gathered in the hangar, Etryg, Nemo and Meno. Three forlorn figures surrounded by vast shadowy bulks of mechanics. Only Nemo knew the words of power, and magic gestures that might satisfy their arbitrary requirements and put them to the work for which they were suited. That was why he could strut about, on top of the totem-pole while the other two could only stare and fidget uncomfortable. He was flitting about now, his bulk seemingly elfin and unreal, a prop put on to fool his enemies with the image of a man given into to weak pleasures of gluttony. Now he was adjusting some gossamer contrivances of wood and canvass.

“Here, you two, put these on like so. The wings go like this, and the harness fits like that. No! No!, Etryg, you put your forelegs there and the rear there and adjust your tail like so. Come on Etryg, you should be ashamed of yourself. This is not the first time you’ve used a Para Glider before. Now don’t worry Meno. I’ve used these many times before, and as uncertain as the may look, they really are marvelously well designed if I may say so. I designed the harness you know.”

“Oh really? The who thought it up, and designed the wings?”

“A… old friend of mine. But enough of that! Come on, we are close enough to Byblos, we can glide to the base now.”

“But! I don’t know how to work this!”

“Pshaw! It is intuitive, you are born knowing how! Believe me, you are like a grown bird who has never bothered to jump out of the nest before! You’ll do fine.”

And with that, Nemo jumped off the hangar edge, with a line that was attached to Meno, who against his will was dragged out into free fall with Captain Nemo. Nemo angled down, intending to gain some head speed, and then leveled off. Meno, observing this, discovered that the good Captain had been the acme of honesty when he claimed the act of gliding to be quite intuitive; he had no problem imitating the maneuver, and the Captain for his part, noticing Meno’s proficiency, let him loose, to glide his own way to the cleared area above the monstrous Wheel.

They landed, with Etryg not far behind, Nemo executing a graceful three-point landing, Meno an all-point landing, and Etryg.. Well, he was a big cat and no one noticed exactly how he landed for the grace of it.

“Well Meno, this is Byblos. One of the greatest cities in the world, and one of the most elusive. They currently are based in this desert, but as you can work out, tomorrow, who knows? They may well work out a way to go sea-faring. They are a clever folk, with much secret lore.”

“Such as?”

“Well, take this cord or bridge between the land and the sky we stand on now. I’ve done the calculations: no iron, no matter how shaped could possibly handle the tensions inherent in this kite. They must have something else, with tensional strength at least a magnitude higher.”

Later Meno would wonder at how the Captain could retreat into abstraction and intellectual puzzles at a time like this. How could such a man survive? It didn’t seem possible.

“Alright then Meno, I have some things to do, and I’m sure you’ll want to explore this city. Any boy would want to wander around a new city, and a city like this on top of that would be tuna to the cat, as the escaped fish said to its unlucky friend.”

“I wish he wouldn’t talk about fish.”

“Oh stop grumbling Etryg. To listen to you you’d think that no meat whatsoever was being provided for you.”

“Those pigeons may seem substantial to you, but to me they are less than crumbs! Where I come from, those would be scraps for the humans, and if you tried to feed one to a Tyger you would be lucky to escape with your head!”

“Leaving aside the question of where you feasted on fish, I thought you had told me way back when we met that you were a Lyger' not aTyger’. A Freudian slip?”

“Uh… Er! We cats do not slip! Yes, that’s right, cool cats under fire dare not slip. That’s why we have paws and retractable claws, ne? But if you want to know about the fish, that I can tell.”

They were headed uphill (bad word, but none other seemed to fit) alone, having split with Nemo at the last fork in the road. There were about a score of people in sight, the rest block by some tunnel up ahead. They all dressed colorfully, in big billowing skirts, and smooth sleek-looking robes that had deep colors on them, with a secondary pattern embossed in a complementary color. All carried a bag or basket of some sort. Perhaps they were going to market?

“Bazaar?”

“What?”

“Pardon me but you surprised me. Yes, the um, bazaar.”

“Two going up then.”

“Come on Etryg. One place is as good as another in unknown places. You can tell the story on the way up.”

“Very well. It went a little like this: I cannot recollect clearly now, the mists of time have veiled it, but once, in the history of this world-

“Ahem. What is that?”

“Our traditional opening! Our people have traditions, and interrupt the sacred story-telling once again, and you will be holding in your guts with the nearest pot lid!”

“My apologies - pray continue.”

“As I was saying: there took place an incident once I will now relate to you. I cry your pardon for the lies I add, the lies I leave out, the truth I omit, the truth which I wrongfully include. I cry your pardon for the poorness of my tale, for it is the best I can offer, and yet not good enough for you. This is what happened. Once, after I took passage aboard the human Captain Nemo’s sky-vessel, but before I left, we came to a sea. And a sea it was, for he was consumed by curiosity and as the monkey-born ever do, and ever will, he set out to scratch that itch by crossing that sea to see what was on the other side.

The sky said not to, booming out its dissent.

The land said not to, by spoiling our rest with pestilent insects.

The sea said not to, with its wrathful words, flecked with froth & spittle.

The vessel said not to, as it malingered near port.

But we went.

We went for 1 week, 2 week, 3 week, 4 week, 5 & 6 & 7 & 8, and on the ninth week, the birds stopped coming out to us, and I despaired. I went quavering to Nemo, my very muscles devouring themselves in hunger.

“I am not Mouton, to feed on the grass and oats we grow here. Nor am I you, to eat of the fruit of the Tree and thereby gain life. Rather, I am like Tiber, who hunted antelope in the dark of time, and by killing them, broke the cycle of time, giving rise to all, but cursing his progeny to eat only the food they steal and rip out of the very flesh of their comrades. I need meat, captain. I need meat or I will surely die.”

And Nemo looked me full in the face, as if in the inky void he could see the outline of my gaze and read me like one of those books he is everlastingly pouring over, which give him his power, looked at me and said: “Have faith.”

That is what he said. And sorely tested, I slunk away. I did not attack and eat him. We do not account it a shame to be a man-eater, for all is prey if they are lawful and offensive. But I forebore solely because I had made a promise to him. And I keep my promises, nigh unto death. But no further, and I was not yet dying.

I came back the next day. “‘Have faith’? Small comfort to one who is starving to death. Was it not you who taught me to believe things on their merits? Reason tells me not to have faith.”

“What did I tell you to have faith in?”

I was unaccountably ashamed. His words, meaningless as they seemed to be, nevertheless struck deep. I returned the next day.

“Nemo - why are you testing me to destruction? You meant that I should have faith in your abilities to provide, in the chain of reasoning that tells me so, the prior evidence for your competence in acquiring meat. That’s what you meant isn’t it?”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that does make sense.”

Despairing, I limped away as best as my wasted body allowed me. I vowed to return the next day at the same time as ever before, same place, to try to rip out his throat and that way at least get some meat. I had no choice.

I went the next day, but there was no Nemo. He was gone. Gazing around, wondering where he could have went, I noticed something. It had been there all along, and I had ignored it. It was a rod, with some line attached to it. The line had unaccountably fallen overboard, and we were low enough that this strangely long line was immersed in the sea. As I puzzled over this, it began to shake and dance. I worried greatly. It seemed to me that it might have caught on a reef, or other even more bizarre possibilities. I looked for a way to pull it out of the water, but I could not pull the rod from against the force that held it fast.

I sought some way of withdrawing the line. I hit upon an idea - I could pull the line, not the rod! This worked better, but still not enough. Then I noticed that the line itself was fastened to the rod by method of a pully, which I had learned from watching puny Nemo swing about heavy weights (and as much as my blood boils to remember this indignity, myself) with ease. I reasoned that by turning it I could become even more strong, and rip the line loose! That worked. I pulled the line up with the last of my strength, and just as the hunter wearies his prey, I wearied the weight, until, as the sun crossed the sky, singing me with the prolonged heat, it flopped on the deck at last. Shocked was I. It was a large beast, bigger even than I, pulled gasping from the Neptunian depths to my sun-lit vessel. It was strange, and had an offensive odor, which was nevertheless peculiarly gratifying. I saw Nemo lurking in the shadows. He had watched the whole event. I snarled at him that the kill was mine, even if I might not decide to eat it.

“You killed it, true, but who was it that taught you? And would you really let all that good meat become worm food?”

He had planned the whole thing! Hear me well Meno, he had planned the whole thing! The cunning of leaf-biters know no limit.

We passed over the sea then, to new cities, but they do not come into this tale. And that Meno was my story about fish. Understand why his mention disquieted me?"

He did.

“That was interesting though. What lesson did you draw from that Etryg?”

“You know as well as I do, little deductionist.”

Meno paused in shock.

“You stink of that clan. Your words and thoughts betray you. But the lesson I drew was to trust no one! Faith is for the slow and dead. Nemo teaches no easy lessons.”

They were drawing near the end of the moving tunnel. The tale had exhausted all that time.

“Exeunt omnia!”

And so they did.

‘All these images From A world Of long ago - What good are they? Pine winds, come- Please blow away These Unforgotten dreams.’ – Shotetsu

“You understand of course, you cannot browse all the archives.” “I expected some restrictions, but which again did you say were open?” “General fiction, the Classics, various historical archives, basic sciences and reasoning, but if you want anything else you’ll have to go through our head Reasoner, Bayes.”

“They are still on papyrus. We haven’t moved all those texts into permanent metal storage.”

“On plates?”

“Surely you noticed? It is one of Byblos’ prides, that we possess the resources and knowledge to transfer all the works we protect here onto imperishable etched metal! We lived in fear of fire, war, famine, riots, floods - all of which are why we fled to the sky. Now, with these metal versions, they can easily outlive us all, instead of decaying so swiftly, with such losses of knowledge and beauty.”

“It is impressive, rods beyond any comparable institution. Byblos is world renowned as the place to go to for knowledge and books. What you just told me confirms me in that opinion.”

The librarian beamed, and visibly preened at the unlooked-for praise.

“But of course! Were they not speaking of Byblos who proverbially said Books to Byblos’? We pride ourselves on being able to provide any knowledge a person needs, as long as that data does not threaten Byblos itself. If you asked for the construction plans, or the composition of our special iron, you’d be out of luck.”

“Alright then.. I’m afraid it might be a challenge even for one such as you.”

Nemo saw that his flattery and challenges weren’t helping anymore, so he stopped beating around the mulberry bush.

“What I seek is some material that is widely available, multi-use, inexpensive, and meets these specifications.”

And with that he showed the librarian some foolscap on which he had worked out the strength requirements he needed.

As the man examined it, another scholar, dressed in green, overlapped with some purple strode by. He had a commanding presence, but his wild eyes and hair drove gazes away. Nemo overheard as he rushed by arguing strenuously with a diminutive man wearing some optical instruments on his nose - -see? As strong as steel! I’ve proven it!"

He turned back still trying to figure out what that fragment meant, when the librarian ceased hmm-ing' andoh-ing’.

“Sorry. Can’t do it. No material can do what you ask. There are certain metals but they wouldn’t work out - too rare.”

“That’s a shame. But may I ask who it was that just passed by now?”

“Him? He is one of the eccentric scholars they keep around out of respect for what they did when younger. His latest flash is a treatise demonstrating how a certain weed, when properly assembled into the right splices and configurations, can be as strong as steel - I mean, iron. Engineering stuff.”

The last said with contempt. Nemo nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should meet with him, then.”

‘A thing of beauty Is a joy forever; Its loveliness will Never fade away…’ - Martin Silenus

“What I have here is a relic from a far away world. Encoded in this gem is the knowledge of a thousand Byblos’, of a thousand alien suns and worlds beyond our ken, encoded in the positions of the very atoms themselves!”

“And what good would that do us? And you lie anyway - who has eyes that could read the very atoms? Mountebank, keep away or you shall have knowledge' of what Tygers do to those who try to cheat them!" "Honorable Sirs! Favor me with your attention as I demonstrate a beast whose utter uniqueness will astound you! Watch as it fills with the energy of the invective I hurl in your general; direction, and then as I compress it" A strange squelching sound came that sounded a little like a tiny shop keeper squeaking "Honorable Sirs! Favor me with your attention as I demonstrate...." Etryg roared at this frivolousness, and while the creature yet echoed it back at him, he snarled, "Are we kept pampered women, to be offered such idle trinkets? Tell me this is a poor jest shopkeep!" "Etryg! Heel! He is just trying to sell you something, I'm sure you didn't mean anything by it! Anyone can tell from looking at you that you are a valiant hunter! I'm also sure that he thought that a thing that emits sound would be useful to a hunter like you!" "How?" "Um... You could use it to mimic the calls of your prey! That way they'd come right to you! Isn't that something any clever skilled hunter could appreciate?" "You may have a point there. Very well, shopkeep. I accept your apology. But I think I should move on now." They moved to the next stall. "You know Etryg, sometimes you are reallu touchy. But look over there! An armorer's shop- he might have something you could use." Privately Meno hoped Etryg would go into the forgery- he really didn't want to have Etryg get into a fight in a public area. He would too much of an advantage in any fight with a human there, and that was to be avoided.Sides, if he can get offended at a slight to his manliness’ in an armory, then it is truly hopeless.”Did you say something Meno?" “Yeah! I said… I hope they have some nice staffs!” “Meno, I have too much respect for you to countenance you getting merely a staff. I insist it at least have a pike head of some variety on it.” Meno didn’t answer. He was sizing up the armory. It was large, and ill-light. What light there was came from the forge where a diminutive man, grizzled balk by heat and with defined muscles and an enormous chest and pair of arms was glowering at them as balefully as the fire. Past hims was a heap of dull slag and metal and a bar. Before him were racks of weapons- crossbows, long bows, rapiers short and thick, long and thin, straight swords, exotic multi-bladed Damascened swords. There were Oriental style spears, with heavy curved blades as heads and tassels of bright horse-hair. There were smooth blades that were bent at an angle, there were swords golden and jeweled. There were a few empty hilts displayed prominently, and Meno had the strangest feeling that buying them would not be a waste of money. There was one sword, long as a staff, straight, with a blood trough and an old inscription, worn to illegibility. He lifted it- the watered steel glamored him- and it felt alive in his hand as the very weight and balance changed in his hand from moment to moment, and position to position. “Boy. That’s not for sale. It was purchased a long time ago, before even my great-grandfather’s time. The owner will come eventually. It’s not for you.” “That sounds like an interesting tale. Would you care to tell?” “I am a blade-smith. Not a wordsmith. Deal in death or life, weapons or armor, or get out.”

Meno forbore and looked at more. There were green trimmed curved hunting bows, and small crossbows that could be wrist-mounted. The daggers were of shocking profusion, that defied description. Meno had heard the philosophers debate about the difficulties of defining what something is’. Now he understood: no one definition could have encompassed the hundreds of unique weapons he saw that were all none the less unmistakably daggers.

But a weapon caught his eye. It was a pole-arm. A very short one. The wood came up to a little above his lower rib-cage, and the blade extended to his shoulder. The blade was curved, and razor-sharp on the outside edge. The front edge sloped backwards and bent inward to form a sort of rectangle, but was curved as well. The back edge was sharpened along half its length, and then smoothed until it was soft metal again.

“It is called a crow-back, an unusual style. Most blades are single bladed, or double-edged. Almost none are one-and-a-half bladed. Notice the staff of wood? That’s ironwood - the hardest and strongest wood there is. Never rots either. But look at the bottom. That’s a cap of steel - late one night I heated the cap up as much as I dared, and pulled that shaft of wood out of the box of ice, and fused the two together. Ah, you want to know what I sealed into it? Many things, but the most important of which was a rare substance called quicksilver - you know what it is? Then you can see why the best weapons exploit its flowing back and forth to aid in the movements of combat. It is an old family specialty, that. You felt it in the other sword when it seemed to move in your hand. But one thing else I put in there: a light wood, obtained from a far away island on the other side of the sea, from the island of Balsa (for which it is named). This balsa wood is known for floating. A boat made out of it will never sink. The balsa’s wood counterweights the ironwood, so that it will not sink. But black ironwood is so heavy and dense, it will not rise either. But better than sinking to the vasty deeps eh? Try it. The height seems to suit you.”

The garrulous bladesmith came to an end as Meno walked over to the cleared area. There was a straw dummy, and he clumsily took a few overhand and sideways chops at it, marveling in the lightness and strength of it, and the feeling of power.

“You have a gift for it. You may buy it from me. As for your friend… may I ask, if he a Lyger?” “Ask me yourself. Yes I am. I am not ashamed of it, I am bigger and stronger than most Tygers. If you wish to insult me do it to my face.” “Cunning Sir, I wanted to make sure. Generations ago, my forefathers forged a suit of armor, so strong that we were enjoined not to allow it to leave Byblos. It was made at the request of a great Lyger, by the name of Paedon. He never returned for it. It is a great suit, thick and blacker than night. Back then we knew how to make soot, soot the color which when bonded to metal becomes blacker than black, the color called fuligin. It is the same color produced when papyrus burns and the wind does not cool the fires. It had fearsome spikes, and large scimitar claws. What foes Paedon intended to fight in it, I do not know, they must have been awesome and terrible foes. Perhaps they were the giants of old, the Nephilim of renown. I will gladly show it, if you will.”

Etryg followed, his eyes dreaming. The armorer opened a cabinet. There it lay in its fell splendor. It was as he had said. It was fuligin, the color of dread, and wrought in rose curves. It was spare and minimal. It was baroque and enveloping.

“Paedon was an ancestor of mine. That is truly what a Hunt looks like. There could be no suit better for me. I can see that it will not squeak. It is too finely forged to do that.”

Looking, Meno yearned. A part of him growled, having woke up. It tried to struggle out, from under all the well-meaning intentions and admonitions against violence. It only wanted to battle, and win gloriously. He wondered whether anyone else ever had that sensation where their mind plotted how best to slay everyone in the room, and no little voice said No!, no memories and plans screamed to hold one’s peace. He was in thrall to the suggestions of the suit; he would decapitate the armorer first, with a lunge forward, since his spear was at ready. Then he would swing around his body, to face point first at Etryg, and charge, unless Etryg did him the favor of springing first, which would impale Etryg on his spear. Then, he would wipe the blade. IF anyone challenged him on the way back, his surprise attacks would surely take care of them… “Meno. Lets go. We have what we want, I my armor, you your spear.” “Before you go…” Etryg turned about to look at the armorer, at his sweating grimy face. He was terrified by the armor, by the apparently empty armor that faced him and rumbled a threat. Somewhere, subconsciously or not, his cells remembered eons of swift death from above, disemboweling from behind; his behind-brain chimpered in fear - this was the Black Death, the Unseen Reaper! “The armor was not paid for by Paedon. You must pay, as he agreed to.” “I honor my debts. Name the price.” “You must go into the Thrax, into the killing fields under the unclouded sun. You must fight. You must win. That is the way of it, how we test our armor, our weapons, our customers. IT is in the highest part of Byblos, past the hierarchs, and past even the ultimates, as was set by the city Fathers. Follow that path up, and you must enter by noon. We have a saying: Matters of life and death should be seen clearly.’ Do that. And you may leave freely.” What choice did Meno have? “We’ll do it.”

“Battles should be fought to be won! When you plan for defeat, you have already lost.” – Largo

The city of Byblos, Meno could now well see, was really not in the shape of the kites he and his brothers used to fly; those were diamond shaped, and flat. Byblos was more truly a tilted-S shape. They were on the top of the S, but the S was stretched out so that it more closely resembled an integral sign, with the rich and powerful on the top of the S, where they would be sheltered and cooled by the bulk of Byblos from the reflected heat of the land below, and the sand-bearing wind. The lower-classes lived on the bottom and on the anchor-rope, where he had seen how they suffered. The winds were brutal, and the scene mentally devastating. The sky was no longer clear. The city was enormous- it extended far above the clouds, into the jet stream. The wind was beyond their reckoning. Clinging to Etryg, whose traction and metal-augmented bulk kept him going forward, Meno could only reflect that this seemed as arduous as a pilgrimage, but he’d never gone on a pilgrimage to death! He said as much to Etryg.

“All life is a pilgrimage to the grave.” “Can you see this Thrax yet?” “Yes. It is a grim building, taller than Cloud Nine, a citadel of death. There is the cheering of insanity there, and many in those crowds. The smell of blood and ink are vivid. It is the shadow of this city.” “Shadow?” “Yes. You humans never can accept the things that are. Tygers have no problems being cruel murderers at night, and playing tenderly with our cubs in the day. We accept our shadows, not judging them. But every human has another side, like a coin; and like that coin, we are stamped by that other side. One defines the other, and the other defines the first.” “What then starts it? Which one comes first?” “You don’t want to know. Every city has a night side, and a day side. Nemo sees the day side, as well as Mouton. I am the Night Guard, and we are now in the very night itself, the night of the sky and the night of the city. During Day, all can see and so everyone follows the rules. At Night, who can see? Who can judge? Be aware Nemo, here people will do what they want. Think of it like a valve- the juices must flow somewhere in this city of reason and knowledge.” “So Night is bad then. Well, good luck.”

Etryg laughed; a pitiful thing against the wind.

“You need that luck too! Did you pay for your spear? But look, we go through that door.” The wind was howling strangely. “Etryg, are you sure that all of the wind was wind, not screaming?” “Etryg?”

It is curious to note the symbolism these authors engage in unawares; was Eschenbach initiated in the Alembic mysteries, that he should postulate their doctrines? Did our author understand the full ramifications of his chosen words, of his ideas? He said, “We think we create our symbols. In reality, they create us. We are shaped by their hard edges…” Think on this, you scholars.’

Cloud Nine was missing most of her crew; Mouton had returned early with supplies and parts, and Nemo was ingressing, to talk with Mouton. “They have yet to return Mouton?” “Yes. And you, were you successful?” “Perhaps. I am not sure yet. There were no good solutions, but there was one possibility. We will need to travel east however.” “East? Captain, you realize that Viron is directly east of our current location? And the prevailing winds are such that we have essentially no steering?” “Mouton! Calm down, chew some cud.” “That’s cows, and you know damn well that what calms me down is having my fur brushed.” “Besides, we probably can pass by Viron.” “Couldn’t we pass by Cart-hadash, or Sion, or maybe even Tyre instead?” “… No, I don’t think so.”

Nemo paced around ruminating. Where had Etryg and Meno gone to? He had told them to be back by noon, been quite specific. And it was far past noon, and he couldn’t spy them in his glass anywhere in the open areas of Byblos. Perhaps they had got in trouble; Meno was still young, and Etryg was, well, Etryg. “Mouton, I think those dunderheads have gotten in trouble. We might have to bail them out of it. Charge your fur. I’m getting my stuff.” And soon Cloud Nine was missing all her crew.

Special knowledge can be a terrible disadvantage if it leads you too far along a path you cannot explain. – Mentat admonition

“You are not the first foreigners to come here, nor shall you be the last. I will explain. From your appearance, you have been caught in the oldest shyster’s trap of Byblos.” “Caught? We came willingly.” “Does not the fish eagerly eat the fly? Does not the oxen enjoy the grain? I will explain: whichever armorer or merchant you purchased your equipage from, he will surely be in the crowds tonight to watch his gladiators.” “We are free beasts!” “Not any more. Under this city’s laws, you have identified yourselves as his by entering here before noon, and wearing his products. You poor fools, if you had entered after the sun peaked, you would be free beasts, and lawfully allowed to back out. But you did not and thus you find yourselves in the quarantine of Thrax.” “Etryg- if what he says is true, we’ve been made slaves!” “I’ve heard it said that humans promulgate the abominable legal and religious doctrine of ignorance is no excuse’, but never did I think to find myself entrapped thus! But stranger tell me, there must be some way we can win our freedom?” “Etryg: We must win tonight. That armorer never actually lied to us, I think- he simply omitted certain things.” “Newcomers, introduce yourselves.” “Very well. I am Meno, formerly of Viron, now of the vessel Cloud Nine, commanded by the famed Captain Nemo. I am the first son of Helena, and am trained in the mysteries of the sub rosas, in the Deductionist Guild.” “I am Etryg the Lyger. I come from the Burning Forest of Wood Deepings, beyond the wastes of Caldehan. I too have taken passage on the Cloud Nine. I wear the armor of my ancestor Paedon, and in it I will conquer!”

The occupants of the long cell looked at each other. Most were humans, but a few were bestial; there was a centaur with a bow, a unicorn, also a Lion, as well as what seemed a Fox…

“You there! Who are you?” “I am Jonas the Tanuki. I am not a fox. I specialize in illusion and was merely trying out another form.”

The previous speaker arose. He was a thin wiry man, dusky of skin, and with burning eyes. He had no apparent weapons, although his robe could have concealed an armory.

“By the sun, we have many hours to pass until the main events we are being saved for occur. I suggest we pass them by telling tales, as the Princes of Serendip did in a similar position. Stories are for taking one’s mind off the circumstances, and what better time than this?” “I second that.”

The Horse reared up.

“I will tell the first tale.” “That is generous of you.”

Said the Horse: “This moment, this word. Listen:

Once, a long, long time ago, or far, far away, Horses ruled the earth. All was ours, and we saw all of it, galloping swiftly with Sister Wind, and we were happy. But one day, a new creature came around. It was a pitiful thing with only two legs, and as slow as an ant. We called them Man, and felt sorry for them. However, one day a Horse and a Man coupled. The Horse conceived, and a hybrid was borne from the virtue of that spring by which they coupled. It survived, multiplied and with the men used their cunning and extra arms to sweep us from the sweet plains of clover. And now we Horses are few in number. We live in the mountains, where bows and cleverness do not count for as much, and the grass is tough and hardy."

The Centaur rose as the Horse fell.

“Forgive my half-brethren. Horses are not much given to prolixity, and his story was swift and sorrowful. My tale will be more satisfying, I promise.”

He moved to stand in the halo of the Sun.

“Once, in the cities of Man, there was a certain bow-wright. This was not the same one that had his work done for him by grateful pixies, nor was this the one who ascended to the clouds, nor he who slept for a full 150 years. This was a different one.

By happenstance, one day as he was preparing a finished bow for carving and decoration, flies were buzzing around his stinky cheese and boar meat sandwich. Angrily, he swung his bow (which was unstrung at the time , and so was flat like a stave) and smashed them all flat. He noticed that he had smashed nine, and in celebration of this rare feat, inscribed Nine at a Blow’ onto his bow. This bow was eventually delivered to the King, who had commissioned it.

He also made a belt from this phrase as he felt it was somewhat catchy. He thought no more of it until several weeks later he was approached by a messenger. The King Morpheus desperately requests your presence! The city depend upont!“’

Needless to say, the bow-wright obeyed the summons. In the presence of the King, he bowed and listened to Royal Decree.

‘You are well known to Us for a great feat: slaying Nine Vermicious Giants at a single stroke! Our city is threatened by a Giant who like all his kind demands a virgin each and every fortnight! You must vanquish this monster, and receive our eternal gratitude.’ But...'But nothing! We need you!’ And with that he was dumped out the city gates. He got up nearly paralyzed with the fear of being within a hundred wheels of a Fearsome Vermicious Giant, and thus, the only way he could act was like a bold saucy hero.

“Ah! My fortnightly tribute!”

The Bow-wright turned.

“What? You are no virgin, or if you are you are an insultingly ugly one. But wait what’s this? Nine at a Blow’? Ah, woe me! They’ve sent a famed monster slayer to kill me!”

It was deeply fortunate for the bow-wright that his tongue was too slow to interrupt the Giant and correct his misunderstanding of what his belt referred to, because it gave his mind a chance to catch up and exploit the Giant’s haste.

“That’s right! And if you are not careful, I’ll knock you into a thousand pieces and punt them to Istanbul! One giant is like a warm up for me! If you were nine regular giants, or one gigantic giant nine times that of a regular one then I might bother to do battle with you, but I’m feeling generous right now.” “Please! Spare me! I’m not actually a Giant. I’m really a raccoon, who has cast the illusion of being a Giant to get something.” “Why did you ask for so many virgins then?”

He was genuinely puzzled - after all, what could a raccoon want a bunch of human females for?

“Well… if I asked for the nuts that was all I was really after, the people would know right away I wasn’t a real giant because not Giant would want nuts over virgins. So I figured that if I asked for females like giants usually do, I could sell them in another town and buy my nuts that way.”

The bow-wright was stuck. He didn’t want to kill the raccoon since he hadn’t killed anyone, and was only after some nuts, but at the same time he couldn’t go back without a victory; the King had rather strongly implied that either he or the Giant were to die.

“Raccoon, could you cast an illusion of you and I engaged in a fierce battle, and me ultimately winning, but you calling to your family to avenge your death?” “I don’t have any family but yes, I probably could… Clever.”

And so, the towns people watched their bow-wright manfully and skillfully slay the Marauding Rampaging Giant, and witnessed the Giant’s dying appeal for revenge to the entirety of his foul extended clan. And every week, or fortnight or month, the newly minted hero would slay an even uglier, even fiercer monster before an admiring audience. No man was more acclaimed in that city than was that bow-wright. Eventually he took the hand of the King’s daughter in marriage and was wealthy and happy. And no one took note of how he would regularly buy large sacks of the finest imported nuts and some ale and disappear into the forest. And every one lived happily ever after."

The centaur concluded: “Our children always like this story, of how a lowly raccoon and bow-wright trick everyone.”

The tanuki spoke up.

“I think I should take a turn now, although I fear that the Centaur’s tale will make mine seem like a disappointment.”

He slunk back into the center shadow.

“This is a true story. There is no Tanuki illusion in it. Every word I tell as truthfully as I may, although I cannot tell all sooth.”

“This is a story of life and death. All stories are. To tell it, I open up my veins for you, a Pelican for my words. But this is a hard thing to do, I cannot bear it, I do not tell the words I believe in my heart; there is a glint in my eye as I jest, I mock, I disbelieve as I say it - you and I know the joke being played on the story, but it doesn’t.”

“But what am I saying? I believe this story, every word of it happened the way I say it did. What glint in my eye? My eyes merely water from the smoke. But I say it anyway. Listen to my story.”

“Once, once, there was a Fox. He was like every Fox, and loved to play tricks, and mess with people. His name was Reynald the Bushy, on account of the bristly nature of his tail. He was a very good trickster, better even than me, or any tanuki I’ve heard of. He could cast illusions with facility, twist words like dough till you found you had agreed to precisely what you had resolved not to do. One never knew for sure just what was true or false when he was around.

But one day he grew bored and went into the city. He was plotting mischief, and over a tankard of ginger ale at the inn (he had from boredom switched all the labels on the bottles; a high-born person unexpectedly got rotgut whiskey instead of the grape wine they were expecting, another expecting milk would instead be chugging down hot spiced rum. Many other drinks were far less palatable. That was just that Fox’s way; he was so mischievous that he did things as a matter of course. Strange events followed in his wake.). As Pandemonium materialized in that Inn due to men blaming each other for switching and spiking their drinks, he conceived of an amusing two-pronged plan.

He would go to the palace and play a monumental prank to get even for his shameful treatment; this is another story of Reynald:

Once he had crashed a ball, and as the Herald announced the coming of Reynald the trickster, Reynald the Clever, Reynald the Fox of Foxes, make way for Reynald the Bushy!’ the princess scornfully exclaimed aloud: “Why, he’s nothing but a mangy fox with nasty teeth! Put him out!” For those offenses, he vowed a vengeance. But not just any vengeance - why simply destroy their homes when Reynald could set their hearts afire with a prank that would make them the butt of jokes from here to eternity?

And the time had come to rectify this cosmic imbalance. Reynald stole off to his mossy den, to prepare the magicks that would be necessary to pull off his audacious plan, compounding rare earths and musks, as well as frogs and spices. Soon he had a fearsome perfume that stupefied all and made them suggestible to his illusions.

He stole out of the woods and approached the cross roads, where a beggar boy was searching for dropped grain and plying his trade amongst the few travelers.

“Golly!” “Insignificant crumb, inform the plenipotentiary of this scrubby land that the marvelous, munificent, splendiforous, and awesome Marquis de Mahabarat hast come to claim the ravishing Princess Sophia as his bride! Flee now in abject terror!” The beggar boy did so, thinking that he saw a Prince robed in splendor, with scores of sumptuously arrayed elephants and attendants, and marvels like fakirs, and scholars and ulama, and Dancers of the Veil- all in fact, that the little boy dreamed of as he scratched out his meager existence.

Reynald soon approached the gate.

“Send news of and make way for the astounding, manly, exalted and exultant Marquis de Mahabarat, else his strong right arm shall reach forth and shake this very barbican to choking dust and minute rubble!”

And so great was the suasion of his powers and so great were the Guards’ fears that they did tremble and it did seem to them that a Prince too handsome and luminous to gaze arightly upon made the Gate tremble so that it threatened to collapse to dust and rubble. And they opened the Gate.

“Merchants! Yield treasure in tribute to your new liege, who e’en now comes to lay sovereignty over all his valor can command, and to lay claim to his chosen bride the Ravishing Princess Sophia!”

And the merchants did so, thinking they saw a Calif, resplendent and corpulent, negligently spilling gold and looking over his locked account books. And the way was cleared for Reynald to go to the Castle.

The drawbridge was down, and a honor guard stood arrayed. All had gone to Reynald’s plan, and he sauntered rather slowly up the aisle, to make sure that his magic had a chance to take hold.

“Your Majesty! The King of the Realm awaits you in his throne room, with all due pomp! I will escort you there post-haste if you will!”

The castellan bowed deeply, as did the Herald. Both bethought themselves that finally a true royal had come for their Princess, who if truth be told, was in danger of becoming a spinster.

The twain led the procession, spiraling up the conch-style staircase into the grand receiving hall.

“Presenting, the most eligible royal bachelor in all the East lands, his solar sacred splendor, the most gentlemanly and pulchritudinous majesty the mighty and not misguided Marquis de Mahabarat!”

“Your Majesty; Long have I traveled, across boiling deserts, and freezing seas, battling against legions of minute Giant foemen intent on halting my progress! Single-handedly I took on the Basilisks and amphisbaena, the dactyls and anapests, the Meters and German Gerunds, the Ana-Pests, and the Lunatics as well as the dreaded Cri-de-tics to see, nay, to but glimpse, nay to but be near, nay, to but be on the same Urth as the heavenly beauty, the glory of which language quails and fails, the sole purpose to this creation that which you slightingly call the lovely Princess Sophia’! To be blunt, for it is but an otherwise terminal disease of the coeur which so dreadfully ails me, I seek your fair daughters hand in marriage. If you deny me, as I am too obviously unworthy, I will seek solace in the next world. But if you by some fluke, some irrational madness, bestow your treasure on this scum lower than your boot heel, lower even than the marble you tread upon, than I will in the main take her back to my palace and discuss what manner of ceremony will do justice to our heavenly conjunction!”

The King was well-pleased with this peroration. He liked cleverly spoken young men, even if he couldn’t quite scan the sense of the statement. Besides, here was someone who actually seemed to want his petulant, childish daughter. Good riddance! There was the matter of the dowry, but perhaps he could manage to make that go away…

“Hoom. Well, I must say your retinue is fair, as is your mien and demeanor, but as you are an unknown to me, with no one to vouch for your character or fidelity, I must test you. I apologize, but foreigners and especially foreigners who will soon be as close as blood, should be of known purity; our merchants test gold in a crucible, and accept nothing that yields slag. So, following their lead, I should test the gold in you. Tell me, if you had to forfeit a dowry, and even the right to inherit any of my possessions, then would you still be burning with passion for my daughter?”

“I would burn until the stars over lake Patagonia guttered out, and the mountains wore down into valleys, and the rivers ceased to flow, and our race extinct and forgotten. I would cleave to her seven times that, seven times seven times that! I am sincere!”

“Very well. If she should consent after you court her in your own palace, then she is yours.”

Smiling, Reynald bowed, and led away the bewildered Princess. She had never actually expected her Shining Prince, but against all hope, here he was! Glee bubbled over, and she exclaimed as they passed the city limits (somehow ignoring the fact that she was walking, instead of lying on a palfry as she would have thought, “So what wonders do you possess? Any horses? I just love horses! And frozen ices are marvelously delicious! Do you any of those?”

“My dear, my sweet, my beloved, I have ices of rare flavor and sugars nearly as sweet as your own self. My servants and adventurers have obtained kumquats, Quamnuts, palmkums, quampalms, even qualia as well as the legendary quatkums, which many have denied the very epistemological status or logical possibility thereof. Notwithstanding all that, appertaining to fruits of paradise, my lands possess in abundance the multi-scented fruits and nuts that those fruits spring forth; for my cheri, these fruits are of such virtue that they grow even in bare air, so that as one holds them, they bear their burdens straight into the waiting hand.”

“Oh! But these forests are scary. Will we be soon there?”

“My dear, this very eventuality I foresaw in my wisdom many many years. If we were to go by foot or horse as commoners do, we would be traveling many years to my homeland, and months more to my capital, and so large is that capital and so great the throng of supplicants and people there, it would take us several weeks to simply pass into the city to the palace, and so large and sumptuous is that palace which I caused to have been built solely for thy pleasure that it would take several days to arrive at our matrimonial suite. But behold! These are no ordinary stallions or palfreys we ride upon, but horses wearing thousand-league boots! We will be there in a trice.”

“You’re right! I can see the land flashing by, faster than thought! How could I not have noticed it before? But tell me more of your land.”

Reynald continued to amuse her with small talk and the most outrageous boasts and lies he could conceive; all this was to distract her from the forest they were travel ling in. “Sophie, my cherished one, I must go and defend our caravan.”

“But Reynald, won’t you get dirty and have to deal with commoners? That’s not at all fit for you. Send a servant or someone else.”

“But it is no insult for a great Prince to battle the commoners and win of course? Fortunately, there are some raiders who never learned proper respect, and I am here to teach them that proper respect for you!”

Here Reynald sneaked off ahead of her, to the tanuki-home in the center of the forest. He rapped on the front-door, to bring out Homme.

“Homme! Open up, tis me Reynald! I have something to tell you.”

“Really. And why should I pay attention to anything the infamous, notorious scoundrel and trickster Reynald says? I’ve not been tricked yet by you, and I don’t intend to start now. Doubtless you have a bucket of mud suspended above the door even now.”

“Honestly -”

“Did your mother ever teach you what that word even means?”

“You can’t blame me for not having a mother!”

“Then who was I visiting just last month?”

“Well… That’s not the point! The point is that a while ago you did me a favor, distracting that hunter about to capture me, and I can’t stand owing anybody anything, so I’m here to repay the favor.”

“Hmm. And how?”

“Well, I was in town a little bit past, and while snooping in the palace I heard King Morpheus give orders to the effect that since you apparently had stolen all the gold in the Treasury, and left some presents' in exchange, at a rate he felt was simply unfair and downright theft, that you were to be spied upon pursuant to the goal that you be...resolved’.”

“Well! I didn’t steal the gold, that guard did, but try telling that to them! They’d never believe a dirty tricky tanuki' overgood old honest Gillet’ or whatever. My thanks, Reynald. Your warning amply repays the debt. It seems I did not only you but also myself a good turn when I drummed upon my scrotum to distract that hunter about to shoot you. I better go take a look around to make sure they haven’t prepared any nasty surprises for me.” “Any time, Homme, I’m just glad to be of service to you. I’ll be off then.” Reynald, satisfied that Homme was gone from his home, snuck back to Sophia, making sure that she was still heading along the path to Homme’s. She was. Soon they arrived in their final destination: a pleasant, if dirty, and shady vale. He led her down to the derisive hoot of the owls (which she conceived to be a band of brass and trumpets triumphantly heralding her coming to the eager citizens) and into the hollowed-out tree stump. “My sweet delicacy, we have arrived. Feast your eyes upon the splendor of my domain!” Reynald made a sweeping gesture encompassing the mud-insulated walls. “What bright and gilded walls! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much platinum-chased gold in one place ever!” “Examine the floor!” “Solid slabs of diamond! I can’t even imagine how large the diamonds your people must mine to produce these tiles must be!” “All in my kingdom is shining and glorious. But there is one small problem…” “Whatever is that, Dear? Is it about me?” “In a way.” Now Sophia was deeply flustered. Perhaps she was not good enough for this place! Perhaps they would exclude her, and she would be unpopular forever! Her lip began to quiver. “Please don’t cry! It is merely that your clothes and makeup unfairly diminish your beauty- indeed, their ugliness and mundanity actively militate against your radiance.” “Oh. I should change then?”

She felt reassured; had not everyone always told her how beautiful she was? And yet they never gave her the cosmetics and dresses that could do justice to her! They must have been mean and jealous, hateful creatures, not like her darling Prince. “Here- here is a dress. And over there in the pots is some makeup, put it on first. I’ll wait outside.” Reynald paused to make sure that she was doing it in the right order, and went outside. At that time, Homme the tanuki was coming back, and so Reynald snuck away through the brush, to a concealed spot just within earshot. Homme was humming and talking to himself as he went back to his tree- house. “Dum, de dum, de de dum, Dume de Dum, de dum de dum de dum… Strange that I should not find any traces of any scouts for King Morpheus around, but perhaps they have not yet arrived- friend Reynald often doesn’t know his own speed. I’ll go have a snack and think what to do next.” Reynald pricked his ear. The glamor on Princess Sophia would be wearing off now, but she wouldn’t have noticed the change in her circumstances just yet. Humans were easily manipulated since they had so much mental inertia. But no matter how much she had, the sight of a giant, gross tanuki striding in would shock her awares of the mud she had slathered on her face and hair, and the uncomfortable bark pants she was wearing. “EEK!” There she went. “Get away! My daddy’s a powerful king, and I’m gonna get married to the Marquis de Mahabarat too, an’ you don’t watch out, they’ll cut you to pieces!” “Human, please leave my dwelling. I mean no harm.” “You’re a filthy tanuki aren’t you‽ I bet you tricked me here so you could satiate your filthy outsized lusts! No harm’!” “What? I intended nothing of the sort-! Hey come back here!” “So you did ensorcel me! Let me go!” “You’re out of your mind human! Fine! Leave!” It was even better than Reynald could have hoped- their mutual misunderstanding was making them enemies. The Princess would be humiliated beyond words at having to walk bare-footed, wearing bark, covered in mud, and tricked out of a dream marriage. She would of course blame not her own foolishness and gullibility but rather the nearest offending agent. Who Reynald had carefully arranged to be the tanuki Homme. It was diabolically clever- only Homme could had a chance of piecing the prank together, and he would soon be busy fighting off the royal’s revenge he thought was already coming to him, which this was the initial manifestation of! It was a wondrously self-fulfilling prophecy. Even better, Homme would see Reynald as having been truthful- Homme did indeed find a royal spy sneaking about his home, sneaking through his things…

It was only too perfect. Reynald’s one worry was that he might not be able to top himself the next time, and so have lived through the best moments of his life. It is a terrible thing to outlive one’s greatness, he thought, as he trotted home. You have to sit around like old men did, reminiscing, bored out of your skull, envying your previous self. What could be worse? We foxes have a saying, he thought, that there is a curse that such suffer from: May you have too much time on your hands!' Some hours later, he went back to the pub. It wasn't quite repaired yet, but he made one of the drunks think he was covered with snakes, and sat on the only clean stool in the place. "Bar-keep- gimme some ginger ale and news." "We don't got no ginger ale. Some sarsaparilla though." "Why don't you... look again?" "Err... Why here's some! I though all the casks were smashed last night. Guess not." Reynald gratefully lapped up the drink as the bar-keep unfolded his tale, and reflected that this bar-keep must not get to talk back to his customers much. Or talk civilly, even. "Well, let's see... The big story goinground is that arf a day ago, this morning, the Princess Sophia, you know her? Well, I was in the marketplace myself, and I saw her with my own eyes come running up the road to the castle, sobbing her reddened eyes out, clad in nothing but some bark! With some nasty mud smeared on her face to boot! It was the funniest and sorriest sight I ever did see, beating even that guy who tripped on the long central stairway on the hill, and slipped and fell down it for two solid minutes." “But that’s not all. Even earlier this morning, the great mugwump Marquis de Mahabarat, who my customers claim is very well-known for his wealth and handsomeness, arrived in our town! Amazing, but how about this? He came here to court the Princess! So she went with him of course, and the next anyone knows she’s bawling back to Daddy to get revenge on who humiliated her, to try to live it down, I guess- she never will of course, and by extension he never will either. But I didn’t say that.” “What’s the explanation? Well, that tanuki out in the neck of woods yonder, the one who stole the treasury a while ago seems to have taken into his head to perform some lark. I guess this was it. If I could meet him and shake his paw for that awfully clever thing what he did, I’d probably give him all the ginger ale I’ve got.”

Well, as you can hear in any tale, Reynald had a terrible liking for ginger ale. He hung around that portion of the world solely for the remarkable ginger ale they brewed, and this offer was simply too much to resist.

“Well, between you and me, that tanuki was framed.” “Really? How would you know?” “Because I was the one who did the whole thing.” “Come off it. I’ve heard enough sloppy drunk stories to know one when I hear it. Finish yer ale and move on out.” “No, really, watch!”

Reynald dropped his disguise to reveal himself in all his foxiness.

“Reynald the Bushy!” “That’s right. And it was my prank which humiliated the king and princess. So… how about that ale you were talking about?”

Here the tanuki stopped his long tale. Half his audience had fallen asleep.

“Go on, finish your tale.” “Very well Meno. After Reynald improvidently boasted of his accomplishment to the bartender, the bartender, who got his ginger which he brewed his ale with from Homme the Tanuki, told the tanuki what he had heard. Both went before the King, cleared Homme’s name, and counseled that a trap be set in the castle for Reynald, since they predicted that he would come to gloat. He did come to gloat, and was dumped deep into the dungeons of the castle where a fire awaited him. Somehow Reynald managed to escape from that furnace, but he was badly burned and didn’t stay in that land for very long. And that is how there came to be black foxes.”

The tanuki sat back down, and all were silent as they watched the sun fall, and the crowd rise.

# TODO

This part of the story will go thus. Meno will tell his tale, a simple tale of a boy, like the ones Severian tells. The speakers will enter into the arena and be slaughtered by the Shrike.

the tanuki leapt out, and began casting his illusions on the Shrike. Soon, he too was gone.

the horse entered the ring, and charged. No more was the horse seen by them.

the centaur circumspectly appeared. The noise of his battle rang on for a time, and then ceased.

Etryg and Meno entered, and saw:

Afearful was he, a gleaming bird statute of lead. Heavy was each tine, of fearful stolidity each limb and feather. The entire aspect of its being spoke of machinery moving with the certainty of celestial orbits; who can contend with the stars?

Astill was he, not a flange moved, not a drop fell on the incarnadine sands but it fell languidly in its natural course.

Asenselessly was he, for to have emotion one must have sensed something, and there was nothing but fearful perfection in the joint of this being. Perfection alone is a terrible thing, for there is no joy of accomplishment; there is only fear for those who can feel. Nothing else is left in the future but failure.

Around all swept the black basalt wings of the stadium, and the quivering spectators. Was it their bloodlust that animated this place? Was witnessing this, being here for this truly real event the earnest desire of their life?

And did they move? Neither moved, as they looked at the Shrike. And neither spoke, and neither moved, and neither did the other. The black sky above with faint stars, the worn stone of the stands, the outlandish dress of the voyeurs, the silent rasp of the sand, the imperceptible movements of air and vapor… nothing intruded on the perfect silence. The young boy with his new weapon; the Tyger in old armor; and the Shrike looking towards eternity.

Meno and Etryg turned around and walked out the gate. The Shrike did not move, and if the crowd roared after them, they did not hear it.

The reason the damned cannot leave their abode is because they refuse to.

“Each of us is privileged with a peculiar vantage point in history, as a result of our unique birth order, raising and education, and our experiences. Why then do we see so little that is new?” – Questions of the Artist

“The Ones Who Walk Towards Acre”

In the dusk, a tradesman dressed entirely in fuligin walked slowly through the lanes of that bright city. The many citizens gave him a berth, but not a wide one: death was a necessary craft too.

He entered the great hall in the center of the Mortaestrum, itself the center of the city. It was a cavernous hall, filled with art gifted by citizens, and consummate skill in stonework and all the arts of adornment were not least lavished on it than the objects within; in a city of beautiful buildings, the Mortaestrum was unique.

To one side of him were suspended cylinders. And each hung at a different height, held by oiled cords leading away into the depths. And upon each cylinder was inscribed a name. The merchant looked at one marked ‘Sammael’. A man he had never met, and never would.

Into one of the holes by that particular cylinder, he dropped several heavy gold coins. Some time after their clinkings ceased to echo, the cylinder hoisted ever so slightly. Into the other hole he dropped a pouch containing: a parchment note listing a particular date, a fat coin in fee, and a stout lock.

He noted that the cylinder was noble silver where others were base bronze. To those knowledgeable in his profession, this spoke silently of days past; of old words being written on old papers, of old men conferring in even older buildings, and blind numbers senselessly increasing - the reward for the assassination would be redoubled by the Council.

Nothing would happen now. All that had happened was that some pieces of metal had innocently lifted other metal; nothing more. And that pouch would lie there in the dark for an unknowable span of days, and nothing would happen then, either. It is a mysterious trait of this world that the slightest cipher or symbol of which one is utterly ignorant can determine the days of one’s life.

But the tradesman knew that this is how it would work, when that span of emptiness should come to an end: he knew that one day a messenger would come galloping up to the crowded gates of the city. The courier would be dusty all over from the stone roads, and weary from the haste of his travel, and he would beg to speak with the Council on a matter of some urgency, and to them deliver his message: that the one known as Sammael of Viron had died, had been cut down by the blade of a rogue on such and such a day.

And the Council and Magistrates would listen, and would go down into the depths to one door (locked doubly) and another (yet to be triply). Simultaneously they would take the keys entrusted them on their oath of office, and they would unlock the locks of the first door and open the contents whereof. The one correct ‘prediction’ of the date would be selected and the enclosed lock would seal the vault containing the reward. The magistrates and councilors would remove their own locks from that vault, allowing only the happy predictor the blood money. Through judicious use of an intermediary (the merchant of death), the predictor could make his prediction, pay the fee, and collect the reward while remaining unknown to all save one.

This custom had evolved over the ages and was their one great trick, whereby like a porcupine, they could remain prosperous and secure through the long years. They could not but be: the drifting scum of the world were at need their invisible army, for such rabble knew they had but to predict the day of death of the opposing general - or sovereign or miscreant official - and they would surely receive their reward. In a thousand years, not once had a predictor gone unpaid; Acre’s reputation for honesty was without peer.

The wise men of that city had devised the practice when it became apparent to them that the endless clashes of armies on battlefields led to no lasting conclusion, nor did they extirpate the roots of the conflicts. Rather, they merely wasted the blood and treasure of the people. It was clear to them that those rulers led their people into death and iniquity, while remaining untouched themselves, lounging in comfort and luxury amidst the most crushing defeat.

It was better that a few die before their time than the many. It was better that a little wealth go to the evil than much; better that conflicts be ended dishonorably once and for all, than fought honorably time and again; and better that peace be ill-bought than bought honestly at too high a price to be borne. So they thought.

And the unfortunate tradesman - for such as he was: by lot, he and his were chosen for life - concluded his business and turned his slow steps homeward. Perchance there he would dream of a man he had never met, and never would. Or perhaps he would dream of the many lives ended. It is certain he would not dream of those spared.

“I will tell my tale briefly. I never was a wordsmith, or glib and eloquent with my tongue. I can only hope that the truth of the story will compensate for its lack of art.”

The shadow shifted on its haunches. It seemed to be casting its head and mind even further back into the darkness. “Long ago, and far away my tale began, like all do. That goes without saying, since tales of the near and recent are not considered as such. But far away, I once was with two friends. Or more truly, one good close friend, and an other.”

“We had gone hunting, in one of the approved places. We were enjoying it greatly, and doing well. The game were plentiful, and not chary of the scent of humans. All was well, until, as we were crossing a tempestuous mountain river on the back of an immense pine which had been struck down by the Great Blue Sky, we fell in by reason of the trunk giving way. We all survived; it was not the chill of Winter that could kill us, but Fall. But most of our possessions disappeared- our horses, our meat and preserves, our heavy clothes and sundry other items. We still had our weapons and shelter so we immediately turned around, and tried to make it back to our People.”

“But we had gone farther than we thought. Much farther. Days we traveled, foot-sore, eating our meager supplies of food. There were no game, nor any plants to eat in all the land. There seemed to be a cruse on the land, and it which gave so bountifully previously, shut up its stores and supplies. The weather harshened and the Sky frowned angrily at us. We hungered and weakened, I especially.

“Soon, I was too ill to walk, and spent my time listlessly being carried, sunk in my fevered dreaming. I will not bore you with my ravings and imaginings, since I do not clearly recollect them; although it might be that my memory is un-impaired and it is the thoughts which simply no longer make sense to me. But my friend listened to them as he bore me patiently, for he thought me touched by the Sky-madness and that an oracle might be heard from me. I hope that is what he thought. That way I might forgive him someday.

“But one morning, I was woken by him. He lifted a steaming bowl of broth to my lips, and forced me to drink and eat. The savor of that dish aroused my hunger and restored some strength to me, and I gulped the rest down without assistance, though it burn me. Ravenously, I ate the second dish proffered, and the third, until my belly full, I had an empty mouth to ask questions. `Has our luck finally changed? What animal did you manage to bring down?’ He averted his face from me. I then knew fear. I looked around- the other was not anywhere to be seen. He could have gone hunting, or be napping just on the other side of the hill I told myself, but my chill heart knew the truth; my dear friend had slain the other in the extremity of our need and used the corpse as meat. And I had gladly fed on it.

“That night we looked warily at each other. He seemed like a frightened rabbit to me, unsure of whether his old friend was really a fellow rabbit like he claimed to be, or really a fox getting ready to spring. I regarded him in the same matter, for I too knew the myths of our People, passed down from the Great Blue Sky. In the morning, I felt no different, other than more energetic.

“We hiked on, and the land started to look more alive, and a little familiar. We encamped late that night, and as I laid down, I happened to glance at my hands. They had turned ursine, with large claws. In terror I inspected the other. It too was a paw with claws and my feet as well. I could see the change racing throughout me: the fur, the lengthening snout and muzzle, the teeth changing into something more suitable for ripping and rending. It was then I knew for sure: I had become a wendigo, a fierce forest demon that no warrior can hope to prevail, that disappears into shadows, moves as quick as memory, lives on the flesh of people. A sudden hunger overtook me and became me, and I leaped over to my friends bed, swifter than any arrow and ripped out his throat. I then eviscerated his belly, and began to feed.

“From then on, I have lived as a wendigo, cut off from my people. I did not choose this, I was innocent of any ill-intentions or malice when I committed the sin for which I am punished so, and yet there can be no forgiveness. I must live as a wendigo or not at all. There is no choice there for me. But I was moral, and still am. I have vowed to atone for all the lives I had to take to survive; and yet, and yet…”

He sighed and paused. “There are so many!”

The rabbi Juda once spoke thus: “God made all things that are and did not the things that are not. Truly is he great.

Hear, O Israel! Suppose God had named not ‘head of the [new] year’ (Rosh Hashanah) but ‘tail of the [old] year’. What then? "

“Then would the gates of time be reversed, and the people of the New look back to the joys of the Old; and still all would be the same as before. It is worthy of adoration; for as I have said, God is great.”

Good names:

lemma teru-teru asward Mika