Eating Sand of the Glass

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“Their stories were all but identical, from a statistical point of view. Every single one of them. Sixty two percent of the university staff of the main Weguerreguwregerr campus, and a lot of the students and unaffiliated civilians, all went walkabouts considerable distances from their homes. The ones who survived the hyperdilation and consented to be interviewed became the subject of additional scrutiny. It reinforces the notion of a group-shared experience, despite the psychocognition grounding-scaffolds that cross the university subspaces’ length and breadth. Their consensus in common imagery most prominently featured an individual with human features, male and of somewhat-mixed descent. The descriptions almost universally coincide with the features and person of that Being of Old we call Thomas the Librarian.”

-Afterword on the investigations done by Naléli Fenzeen, concerning the mass-interruption at the Bequastish property of the university of Weguerreguwregerr, in the eighth epoch of the twentieth age

She’d had good dreams. She’d had bad dreams. She’d never had one like this, not even since leaving Goskec Tktl.

Ktsn watched the horizon warp and twist, performing unsettling acrobatics across six or seven dimensions as viewed through only the classic spacetime four. Objects scaled in and out, translating across distances and size differences in ways that made her head a bit wobbly. A tree was right there, then it was a hundred kilometers distant and the size of a mountain, then it was small enough to fit into her hand and floating away in the breeze. All manner of life, including some things she could only hesitantly call “alive,” scrambled and bloated and knifed and swam and demented and slept across the plains of the mad place. In the sky towered a celestial luminescence; no sun, but a familiar human finger. Its outline crowned itself in ever-burning fire, wisps and ribbons causing the day to weave in fragments of shadow. Everything smelled of a decaying blue-green, and the sounds of exponential curvatures tried to push her this way and that.

She was walking this unknown land, going… somewhere. Feet sank and swerved at times, less drunk and more tramping across a soil made of gelatin. Oneirological wayfinding at its most unguided.

A glance down sometime in her journey revealed that her hands were sticky and unwieldy, covered in dried glue. The glue served to attach her to long gnarled writing utensils of every sort.

She didn’t feel an urge to free herself from the adhesive; it was more like she accepted the additions because they… belonged there, perhaps.

She abruptly fell, legs giving out, and the world quavered and inverted. Suddenly, she was looking at herself. The other-her’s body splayed on the strange perverse ground, gazing skyward with an eye. Those hands clenched, gripping pages and slabs and flesh and the stuff of stars, faintly shining with some desperate purpose. The hands went from grasping to recording. What the other-her recorded, though, vanished almost as soon as it was made. The sounds of scrawling chisels etching in two hands’ worth of distinct kinds of media seemed to speak words, and those words were also being spoken by the other-her’s lips.

“Dry is the drowning. They will live, those who take on water. They will die, those who stay on bamboo shore. They will be transplanted. Those and you and I are the same.”

The eye watching Ktsn’s rising spirit twisted in its orbit, and a sigh of tired endurance escaped.

“It is ours to neither make nor break but alter in fits of sober whimsy. Creation, no. Destruction, no. Shaping, yes. Above the highest evils, below the lowest goods.”

Then the ground rippled, and – everywhere besides a neat other-her-sized patch – it rose past her astral self into the sky. Either that, or other-her suddenly sank into the world, and she accompanied other-her for the ride. Abruptly a blur manifested above the shrinking rim of the hole, and she diverted her attention to the skyward eye to better examine this new change.

She’d never seen her deity in person, but the abstract glass-on-glass chaos of the sharpened shape above her perfectly matched the depictions of Gegaunli she’d seen since time out of mind. Ill-fitting joints clashed and overlapped, outlines suggestive of slant-ended bone, all gold and cream and dullest blue-gray. Along and beside the amorphous slab of what could be called a head with sufficient artistic liberty, two small networks of painful-bright spiderwebbing osmosed and stretched. They looked down on her, with the interest of a person finding an abandoned animal.

Fret, and cherish, and do not let the world break your bones, nor bury you, daughter.

Below the image of Gegaunli but above the hole, a human head poked over the side while looking at the apparition. Then it too peered down, unpolished features waiting.

Ktsn’s eyes snapped open to find every muscle paralyzed. Skeletal, smooth, mental. She lay there, a sculpture of helpless id.

Her chest unlocked, and into her flooded the breath of God.

On the far end of the same wall, another bed’s fabric disturbed itself as its occupant’s body suddenly became a right angle. Unlike her own mattress, which she’d requested be moved directly onto the floor, Eihks sat atop both a stuffed prism and a stout wooden frame, the whole thing adding noticeably to his seated height. It meant that when he rose in the gloom, she was still splayed flat, with eye level being about a quarter meter off the ground, while he towered roughly a meter and a half above that. The thick soft sheets of his bed scrunched in his hand while he blinked and assessed, and she tried to quiet her gasps.

“Bad dream,” he said after a second, dull and ever so slightly lethargic.

He pushed himself closer to the edge, so the dirty clouded moonlight diffused across those asymmetrical hands.

She said nothing.

“I’m not going to ask, but if you want to talk about it, don’t ask – just start talking,” he told the air, averting his gaze. Not pleading or chastising, just a statement.

His torso kinked, leaning sideways, turning a bit, attention shortly redirected. Clearly, the object of his focus was the curtain-filled doorway separating them from the artery of the hall. Not far away, the king’s bedroom lay quiet.

They’d never been expressly told to protect him from anything besides Sandany. If she came down the long distance from her lodgings with the in-palace guard with a fiery step and metal death in her hands, obviously they should step in and do something. Supposing that some half-mad insurgent decided to come for the king’s head, though? He’d quite possibly pass their doorway, and… well, stopping him would just be common sense, then, wouldn’t it?

The difference between the sounds of a Sandany-based danger, and a collection of specialist agents climbing the walls with knives in their teeth, would probably be minimal. Eihks said he had methods of distinguishing them, but – as Goeyren had surely calculated when making the offer – the best and most expedient answer to any potential disturbance of regal slumber or meetings or idle time was decisive application of preventative force.

If they were supposed to try and prevent the king’s murder by his soldier ward, then either they’d be doing their job or they’d be getting good practice for the real deal.

The time, as it happened, was approaching the regular interval when they were expected to check in on Goeyren, and make sure he hadn’t gotten abducted by food-stealing vermin or spontaneously decided he no longer needed their services or something. Probably not enough time to unload her worries.

Plus, given it was the first morning after they’d officially taken up their probably-intentionally-vaguely-stated duties, making a bad impression wouldn’t do them any favors.

“Not just now,” Ktsn said. Not grumpily or thankfully, just a statement.

Her companion wordlessly rose and left, sweeping out into the hall and headed to check in on Goeyren and make sure he hadn’t gotten abducted by food-stealing vermin or spontaneously decided he no longer needed their services or something. It was a little early, but that was preferable to a little late. Ktsn had discovered she liked extrafacetary society’s regimented lockstep divisions of a day’s time. It made planning out what would happen and when a much simpler prospect, despite the double standard of this kingdom’s ten “waters” versus the sixteen “hours” Eihks’s people espoused. She somehow found more time to contemplate the mysteries of the world and get work done under the arrangement.

She shook the feeling back into her legs, rose, and wandered over to the window with the loose clapboard shutters. On the sill, she’d placed a few things. Some rocks, a nicely artistic piece of dead-water she enjoyed just looking at sometimes. At the edge was a whittling that vaguely depicted Tassy according to her memory.

Beside the Tassy simulacrum sat the very first pot she’d used to house a bamboo shoot, still holding that very shoot but removed by many many cuts-and-replantings. It had taken on a strange yellowish hue, plated in husk dry outer layers, stringy and nearly unbreakable without a cutting implement. She held out a single clawed hand next to the thing, comparing the two.

Her character had altered to the point of nigh unrecognizability in many ways but, with the exception of her cerv-mesh and different clothing and other effects, her exterior evidenced far less change than the fat grass stem in her window.

The motion of early morning drew her gaze outside. Lights flickered here and there throughout the city, sheets flapped where they dried on racks or lines. Occasionally the profile of a citizen wandered across the field of vision the little aperture afforded.

Her mind engaged in a pastime she’d recently begun, mentally erasing structures and smoothing excavated terrain to reveal unsullied ground, then imagining how she might utilize such massive space for the benefit of a single macroscopic garden. Plots for food and easily perishable stuff, plots for textiles, plots for study, plots that just looked pretty, plots kept fallow for future use.

It was a bit beautiful, and a bit sad, and when she turned around to pick up writing utensil and writing medium, she found her sheet filling up with suggestions of sketches and snippets of verse seemingly of its own accord. These she tried to minimize, keeping them to the margins. Eventually, she got back to her intended purpose, and started jotting down the fleshless ivory of her mind’s footsteps.

I have not been merely thrown from the wagon of my previous life; the wagon has gotten smashed to scrapwood. No longer merely an aspiring academic, no longer a student of craft, but a bodyguard without contract. Had something contributed this much upheaval to my life’s normal order last year, I probably would not be able to function as a thinking reasoning creature under the series of stresses. Now, it is a significant inconvenience to my expectations that still lies well in the realm of acceptable tolerances. Part of this is doubtless stemming from the fact that I do not have to worry about many of the minutiae I would have needed to give my attention – the necessities of tending fields, repairing tools, keeping up with the needs of planting season. Part of it likely comes from removal of some sources of anxiety, such as familial difficulties. But the biggest reasons for my adaptation come from growth in strange new ways, and from the relief of having an ally and like-minded soul.

She considered the other writing she’d put down in the time since arriving on this twin-sun rock. It depicted a journey from uncertainty to curiosity to anticipatory devising. It might otherwise have unnerved her, baring her soul so heavily, but not a single soul in this kingdom – or any of its peers – could make anything of her people’s script.

I find it… liberating in ways I would not have anticipated. Even so, looking back shows lives which I forcibly ended. It is distressing. I do not know if the pain and discomfiture of the prospect will ever lessen. Perhaps I ought to always grieve those actions’ permanent consequences. The best hope, maybe, is to grow strong enough that this strain does not crush me.

Both thumbs steadying the stylus twitched as she slowed down a bit, speed sacrificed for semiotic accuracy.

If I survive, it will probably be because I take to heart this principle: I carry “home” with me.

The writing hand halted. Her ears flicked back.

“This is just fascinating,” said a voice entering the room.

Eihks was ruffling through a stack of papyrus that could have been reduced by three quarters and still stopped a razor-headed arrow.

“Yes?” Ktsn obliged. She cursorily tidied up.

“Fonlat and myself and that Ledwinsōr fellow and a lot of others are neck deep in recreating small-scale models of magic. This place’s characteristics make absolutely fascinating chemical engineering possible. If these people keep from reducing each other to calcium and carbon stains for three or four hundred years, they’ll tinker up some fantastic machinery.”

He waved a sheaf at her.

“Here – covalent bond manipulations. They can simulate arbitrary numbers of electrons as a linear function of a molecule’s size!”

Those eyes flickered. His cheeks stretched, sheepish and self-aware.

“But that’s probably not interesting to you. Long and short of it is: Fonlat’s stories at her mother’s knee give her very sporadic, somewhat useful insights. The suggestion of spatial refractions in freshwater is about as far as they’ve gotten in practical terms, but it’s just a beautiful thing to watch in action. Not that my name is going to appear on any of this research; I’m just-”

Suddenly, he sagged a bit, specifically looking away from her. That something disturbed him wasn’t in question, merely the nature and size of the problem.

“I’m just trying to be a footnote, really.”

He slowly angled his body to look through the same window through which she’d been spying. Those vaguely oval face-apertures darted around, taking in the scenery and seeing none of it. Then he returned to his flesh.


The files went away into his personal effects, somehow avoiding displacing any of his trove of curios.

“It’s coming together nicely,” he said while sinking to the floor, legs crossed.

To the outside observer, he was just sitting there, head bouncing a little as he stared into the endlessness of space. To her, receiving several segments of in-progress creation-and-editing material, he clearly was anything but.

“Tell me what you think of this,” he said, and proffered her another digital payload. Its label designated it as “chase, tentative cut.”

Ktsn had the grasp of manipulating files and managing different tasks and things-to-do with them, but she preferred using a holojector to experience media rather than the playback suites currently encoded in her body thanks to her cerv-mesh’s alterations. He’d provided a small directional device which – according to him – only could be perceived by an observer if they were in a very specific orientation relative to the holojector. Too close, too far, too unexpected of an angle, and the object would give no audiovisual clue that it was busily churning out the equivalent of a false play from an actor’s perspective.

The file she was perusing was that of Eihks’s chase after Sergeant Carline Sandany through the city streets. It swerved and bobbed and hissed under its breath, and the experience of being a passenger at Eihks’s head height, looking straight ahead, grew very slowly less disorienting. She sat and soaked in the other side of the action she’d missed while guarding the king’s person.

She found herself a bit surprised in a few places, seeing that humans evidently still held secrets in reserve. One of the primary examples came when Eihks’s recording swept around a corner, baffled by the cacophony of street life. The recording didn’t precisely mimic his visual capabilities, but it amply demonstrated the unsure and concerned shapes of bystanders congregated in his periphery. Those eyes followed them subtly looking in the direction where Sandany had been presumably headed. Then he sprinted at the side of a building, hurled himself skyward, and yanked himself over the lip of a porch onto a two-meter-plus overhang.

“Yeah, that’s the sort of thing that’s hard for a lot of humans to pull off, but not completely out of the question,” Eihks remarked when she mentioned it. “One benefit of the fact that we’re slimmer and a bit less sturdily built than you.”

Ktsn snorted.

She kept watching, more than a bit impressed when he clashed with Sandany. The quick short geometries of his strikes had a raptorial quality, and the way they evolved over the confrontation indicated his status. She found herself hanging breathlessly onto the proceedings after he pushed her from the building and subdued her with the assistance of gravity. The injuries on his arms and front kept drawing the eye, the sorts of impairing damage she’d need to accommodate with at least two or three days’ consecutive rest after a physician visit, before healing could truly begin.

“It is thoroughly compelling,” she said.

“Yes, well, it’s also questionable how much will make it to the final cut. I think Mr. Seventy-six-centimeters will look favorably on this particular revision, but Ghost Grid Caliber has high standards to which it must adhere. It’s going to need some trimming and explanation of my operating procedure, at the very least.”

He did something, and the display leapt back to the time when he’d clambered up the side of the porch. A hand whipped at the action underway, and he got a bit of a disgusted leer.

“Like that. Yes, I could’ve gone around, and IF I didn’t know the territory (of the city in general, not this specific region) I probably would have done just that. But after a few days running errands in these sorts of liminal neither-rich-nor-poor neighborhoods, patterns start to appear in how the city’s buildings are organized – you learn how some residential areas have walls that require detours. The audience needs some explanation on that score. Descriptions of reasoning.”

He returned to whatever he was doing, and she moved on to other recordings. It fascinated her to no end, looking into this window of his brain, mulling over why it was that he did what he did. She almost felt like making a play or something; this backstage perspective on creative media threw a whole new light on subtext and the essence of producing academic and artistic work. Not merely questions stemming from the material – though she did learn a few tidbits about different genres of magic and certain concepts of “instantiation-deontology compatibilism,” even if she understood less than a tenth on even the remotest level. She gathered a lot of facts on knives and interesting ideas about various trades. She learned that the human foot’s little baby-appendages did some frankly disturbing things.

It was the “why” that confronted her from every angle which started her cranial dynamo spinning, though. Perhaps this could be ascribed to the fact that “why” rarely if ever got a definitive answer. Why the attention to these subjects and not those? Why did he choose to throw in little asides about the philosophy of that “Pjoßtet” person at the strangest of times? Why were certain major swaths of events omitted, like most of the whole journey with Trehal from their initial arrival point to Tienla-Gaphra? They were questions fit for the director of a play, somewhere on a strange wasteland between the factual and the opinion-borne, and it got her brain to sit up and pay attention.

Maybe it was also a sign of some kind.

An especially close-up image of Tassy appeared, still in motion but slowed down drastically.

“What this ‘Tassy’ might be is an answer I still cannot provide with certainty. Ansileph-Paxton class lifeform, maybe? There are some similarities to fungiform biology, obviously animal properties, but from what I understand about the metabolism of this species it might also fit into the biosphere of Ojjij – the planet as well as the facet. The anatomy isn’t exactly like any other taxa in the region, so I’m not quite sure what to make of her.”

Ktsn continued watching. Sometimes her claws rattled, sometimes she sat in silent contemplation, sometimes she repeated a little section multiple times to better grasp its nuances.

“You know,” she eventually said, “I think I have come to a decision.”

She indicated her current recording when Eihks gave her his attention.

“This… I would like to become a fully visible participant in these articles. If there are segments of the Journals where you have excised content to remove me, or had to reframe bits of the production, then please change that and use my likeness and contributions where you see fit.”

“Oh, thank you,” came a sighed near-whisper of happiness and utmost relief.

He slumped backward in the middle, forward in the chest, dangled his head over his spine, and let his feet skew. It was like he was a stone carving and someone took a mallet to his body at nearly every load-bearing plexus.

“Not to complain, but I am glad to not have to worry about that sort of editing restrictions. You can’t just carve out irrelevant bits at the end of your expedition, you need to try and shape your production into a narrative before it’s even completed.”

One hand rolled on its wrist joint, the other clenched and unclenched. Instructive, enigmatic, expressive.

“I’ve had to deal with that kind of situation before. Last time, it resulted in a collection of material I couldn’t use because the bits that got stripped out were also the bits that provided context. The only consistently ‘feasible’ way around that amounts to overlaid narration, and if you do that you might as well scrap the original structure.”

Elbows raised his torso, and his neck flopped over so an ear rested on his shoulder.

Years of records as a steamboat captain, now catalogued and put aside, and the best use for it all is little spurts of pastiche spice with a few short parts here and there in other publications… as tone-setting material. It was that, or betraying the confidence of my crew and several business contacts.”

His tongue slid out from between his teeth and dangled there. The sight wasn’t one she’d witnessed often, and it still struck her as both funny and a touch disturbing.

“You were a steamboat captain?”

Some fingers rippled with faux mysticism.

“I’ve been many things. The moral of the story goes like so: the just desserts of meddling are meddling and more meddling. Careful when you decide to protect something, because it might mean the only way to keep a clear conscience is shutting it behind a bricked-up door.”

A sudden thought. It wasn’t the kind of fear that made her clench her hands fit to perforate her palms; closer to palpitation. It was serious, though, and like many of the truly upsetting things that had happened since that long ago message in the skies above Goskec Tktl, was made doubly perturbing because she’d never had thoughts exactly like this before.

Was Eihks offering her encouragement and support simply as a means to improve or add drama to his creations?

If she’d had that thought a year ago, it would have been both irrelevant and complete nonsense. Now, artistic manufactured real-life plotlines, created solely for public appearances, fit into the category of “believable” more easily.

She put that thought aside, though it actually required a little effort. It wasn’t worthy.

He didn’t help with his next statement, though.

“This release is going to be… a big deal. A really big deal.”

“Because of me?” she asked. Her tone had little spines clothing it.

“You, me. Us.”

He laughed a bit, and it startled her.

“I’m going to have to show you some of my more recent installments sometime. It’s not terribly out of the ordinary, but we two together are going to be something amazing.”

Several minutes quietly passed, with outdoor noises on one side of her and indoor noises on another and internal noises on a third. She rolled words around in her hands and in her mind. She made an effort to walk her thoughts back, confirm the erroneous nature of her momentary lapse in opinion.

“You mentioned that you… lost your memories, or something, when you… died.”

He filled the empty air with little whimsical finger acrobatics rather than open his trap.

“Do you really not remember anything from before then?” she asked.

“Not unless you count secondhand reproductions and my own personal records. The only real way to describe it is to make comparisons with waking up one day and losing all your own recollections, then getting history lessons that focus on you and your mistakes.”

She thought of the errors of her youth.

She thought of the strife and struggle and triumph, winning the game of attrition against her own farm and unforgiving nature.

She thought of Cursog.

She thought of the joys and sorrows of family gatherings under a roof ringing with sounds of busy life.

“Are you glad?”

That stopped him. He shut up for a long, long time, and stacked his hands on his belly.

“I think I’m still figuring that out,” he declared. It sounded like it surprised him.

After slowly rubbing it up his face, his hand went into the hair halo he cultivated – or perhaps tolerated.

“Ktsn,” he began. “There’s something you will want to know.”

He turned, hands palm-to-palm in front of him, pointed in her direction. His mouth became a knife.

“A while back, I told you that I learned something that you could safely ignore for the time being.”

A pause. His head turned, lines breeding across his features, and his hands wilted. His eyes looked like they focused on something through the walls.

“… uh, huh.”

He looked back at her, calming, brooding in the eyes and mouth.

Ktsn suddenly got a tingling feeling all the way through her center.

“You see, someone who I think wanted to remain secret for the time being sent me a message, and I think the intention-”

He stopped again, this time pushing himself to his feet, then stridently storming over to the door. He brushed out into the hall.

“Beasts eat me, what in…?”

Ktsn followed after, ears twitching. They both peered down in the direction away from the king’s rooms, similarly puzzled for different reasons.

She felt pretty sure she was hearing the same thing that had caught his attention. In the distance, down some sluicing-twisting hallway, she could swear – if not for the fact that they didn’t exist here – three or four ledhuk competed for mates in the height of rutting season. The vocalizations were rough and extremely graphic despite the gentling distance. In between, sounds of clashes of hard objects against other hard objects added more foreboding to the unseen painting.

When a man came sprinting across the perpendicular of the junction at the end of the hall, followed closely by two guards, followed a bit less closely by a pack of semi-armored thugs, the human next to Ktsn growled.

“Someone, somewhere, has an excellent sense of timing,” she said.

He looked down at her, the side of his lip dropping in consternation.

“That sounds like a joke. I’m so very sorry that I’ve been rubbing off on you.”

Then: “Come on, if this isn’t trouble brewing then I don’t know what is.”

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