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Petronus

Petronus sat before his small fire and listened to the night around him. Hed ridden the day at a measured pace, not pushing his old horse faster or farther than it needed. Hed finally stopped and made camp


when the sky purpled.


Not far off, a coyote bayed and another joined in. Petronus sipped bitterroot tea with a generous pinch of Holga the Bay Womans herbal bone-ache remedy boiled into it. It washed the old man in warmth deeper than the dancing flames could touch.


He watched the northwest. The smoke had largely dissipated throughout the day. By now, he thought, Rudolfo and Sethbert would both be there with their armies, ready to assist if there was anyone or anything left to help.


Of course, he doubted they would find anything and he suspected he knew why. The longer he thought about it, the more sure the old man became. And each league that carried him closer to Windwir paralleled an inner journey across the landscape of his memory.


Weve found another YZir fragment, Father, Arch-Scholar Ryhan had said during the private portion of the Expeditionary Debriefing.


Petronus was forty years younger then, more of an idealist, but even then hed known the risk. Youre certain?


The arch-scholar sipped his wine, careful not to spill it on the white carpets of Petronuss office. Yes. It is a nearly perfect fragment, with overlap between the Straupheim parchment and the Harston letter. Its only a matter of time before we have the entire text.


Petronus felt his jaw clench. What precautions are you taking?


Were keeping all of the parchments separate. Under lock and guard. Petronus nodded. Good. Theyre not safe even for cataloging and translation.

For now, yes, Ryhan said. But young Charles, that new Acolyte of Mechanics from the Emerald Coasts, thinks hes found a way to power the mechoservitor hes reconstructed using firestones. He says according to Rufellos Notes and Specifications, these mechanicals can be erased after a days work, told in advance what to do and what to say, and given even the most complex instructions.


Petronus had seen the demonstration. Theyd needed a massive furnace to generate the power, but for three minutes, Charles had asked the blocky, sharp-cornered metal man hed built to move his hands, to recite scripture and to answer complex mathematical equations for the Pope and his closest advisors. Another secret they had mined from the days before that they would keep close to their hearts, releasing it to the world when they felt it was ready for the knowledge.


They could read it, the arch-scholar said. Under careful instruction. If Charles is right, a mechoservitor could even be instructed to summarize the text without out reproducing it verbatim.


If all of the parchments were ever found Petronus let the words trail off. He shook his head. Wed do better to just destroy what weve found, Petronus said. Even a metal puppet dances on a human

string.


The look on the arch-scholars face when he said that was the beginning of Petronuss self-inflicted slide away from Androfrancine grace.


Coyote song brought Petronus back from the past. The fire was burning down now and he pushed more wood onto it. His fists went white as he clenched them and looked to the northwest again.


They had found the fragments of Xhum YZirs spell.


And you can get them to do most anything if you know how, Sethbert said. Really?

The Overseer clapped. Servitor, run scroll seven three five.


Something clicked and clanked. Suddenly, the metal man spread his arms and broke into song, his feet moving lightly in a bawdy dance step while he sang, My father and my mother were both Androfrancine brothers or so my aunty Abbot likes to say The song went from raunchy to worse. When it finished, the metal man bowed deeply.


The Lady Jin Li Tam blushed. Given the circumstances of our meeting, she said, I think that was in poor taste.


Sethbert shot her a withering glare, then smiled at Rudolfo. Forgive my consort. She lacks any appreciation for humor.


Rudolfo watched her hands white-knuckling a napkin, his brain suddenly playing out potentials that were coming together. It does seem odd that the Androfrancines would teach their servitors a song of

such color.


She looked up at him. Her eyes held a plea for rescue. Her mouth drew tight. Oh, they didnt teach it that song. I did. Well, my man did.

Your man can create scripts for this magnificent metal man?


Sethbert spooned stew into his mouth, spilling it onto his shirt. He spoke with his mouth full. Certainly. Weve torn this toy of mine apart a dozen times over. We know it inside and out.


Rudolfo took a bite of his own stew, nearly gagging on the strong sea flavor that flooded his mouth, and pushed the bowl aside. Perhaps, he said, youll loan your man to me for a bit.


Sethberts eyes narrowed. Whatever for, Rudolfo?


Rudolfo drained his wineglass, trying to rid his mouth of the briny taste. Well, I seem to have inherited a metal man of my own. I should like to teach him new tricks.


Sethberts face paled slightly, then went red. Really? A metal man of your own?


Absolutely. The sole survivor of Windwir, Im told. Rudolfo clapped his hands and leaped to his feet. But enough talk of toys. There is a beautiful woman here in need of a dance. And Rudolfo shall KRud leoffer her such if youll be so kind as to have your metal man sing something more apropos.

She stood despite Sethberts glare. In the interest of state relations, she said, I would be honored. They swirled and leaped around the tent as the metal man sang an upbeat number, banging on his metal

chest like a drum. Rudolfos eyes carefully traveled his partner, stealing glances where he could. She had

a slim neck and slim ankles. Her high breasts pushed against her silk shirt, jiggling just ever so slightly as she moved with practiced grace and utter confidence. She was living art and he knew he must have her.


As the song drew to a close, Rudolfo seized her wrist and tapped a quick message into it. A sunrise such as you belongs in the East with me; and I would never call you consort.


She blushed, cast down her eyes, and tapped back a response that did not surprise him at all. Sethbert destroyed the Androfrancines; he means you harm as well.


He nodded, smiled a tight smile, and released her. Thank you, Lady.


Sethbert looked at Rudolfo through narrow eyes, but Rudolfo made a point from that moment forward of looking at the Overseers Lady rather than his host. Dinner passed with excruciating slowness while

banter fell like a city-dwellers footfall on the hunt. Rudolfo noticed that at no point did Sethbert bring up the destruction of Windwir or the metal man his Gypsy Scouts had found.


Sethberts lack of words spoke loudest of all.


Rudolfo wondered if his own did the same.


Neb


Quiet voices woke Neb from his light sleep. He lay still in the wagon, trying hard not to even breathe. The night air was heavy with the smell of smoke mingled with Evergreen.


I heard General OSirus say the Overseer is mad, one voice said. A snort. As if thats anything new.

Do you think its true? Do I think whats true?

A pause. Do you think he destroyed Windwir?


Neb heard the sound of cloth rustling. More likely they destroyed themselves. You know what they say about Androfrancine curiosity. Gods Kriof conly know what they found digging about in the Churning Wastes. Neb heard the soldier draw phlegm down and spit. Probably Old Magick Blood Magick.


For all their obstinacy toward unsanctified children, the Androfrancines did one thing for them very well. One thing that-apart from the wealthiest of the landed and lords-no one else did for their children: They gave them the best education the world could offer.


For as long as he could remember, Neb had spent most of his days in the Great Library, usually under the care of an acolyte assigned to a group of boys as a part of his own education. The Arch-Scholar Rydlis said it best: The path to learning lies in teaching. And the path to teaching lies in answering the questions of a child.


Neb knew this story very well. The Age of Laughing Madness was brought about by Blood Magick. And part of the charter of PAndro Whyms followers-codified hundreds of years after their venerated founder had died, nearly five hundred years since the onset of the Laughing Madness-was to keep both magick and science under a watchful eye. The Rites of Kin-Clave had sprung from that same dark time on the edge of histories, forming a labyrinth of ritual and social expectation that twisted and turned back on itself with all the mystery of the greatest Whymer Mazes. Blood Magick was expressly forbidden. Earth Magick was only tolerated during time of war, and never used by nobility. At least not with their own hands.


It made sense. Blood Magick had felled the only home hed ever had. Such a kind that had not been seen in the Named Lands from the days the Homeseekers had migrated in from the dust storms of the deep south. Such a kind that had not been seen since Xhum YZir, enraged at the murder of his seven sons by PAndro Whym and his Scientist Scholars, had turned the Old World into the Churning Wastes.


Neb wondered if maybe he couldnt speak now because hed been driven mad. But then he wondered if the mad could contemplate their possible insanity.


The soldiers moved off and Neb sat up. Thered be no more sleep for him tonight. The stars overhead were swollen, hanging low and heavy in the hazy sky.


Neb slipped from the wagon and returned to his tent. Inside, he went to the table and selected a pear and a piece of bread. While he chewed the pear, tasting its tart sugar on his tongue, he reflected on the soldiers words.


Gods only know what they found digging about in the Churning Wastes.


He remembered his last visit with his father three or four months ago. Hed just returned from a dig in the Waste and hed brought Neb a square metal coin that shined brightly despite its age. Brother Hebda was excited.


Weve found a good one this time, Neb. A shrine from the time of the YZirite Resurgence. # K Res

N8221;


Neb remembered this from lessons about the Age of Laughing Madness, the five hundred years after the end of the Old World that were marked by chaos, anarchy and a near eighty-percent insanity rate from the earliest days of the apocalypse to the fourth generation of children. There were some who argued that Xhum YZir had built a hidden eighth Cacophonic Death into his spell after it had been shaped and bargained for in the dark places of the world-a last and final blow for one of his favorite wives who had been captured, raped and beaten to death on his last night in seclusion for his spell-making. But the traditionalists insisted that the exaggeration of ancient magicks was already a large enough problem without adding more to it. But both camps agreed that the insanity was prevalent, and that if it werent for the Francines-a monastic movement centered around the intricacies of the human psyche, the patterns

of human (and primate) behavior-humanity would have murdered itself. The YZirite Resurgence was a small sect of survivors whose particular insanity was the worship of House YZir. They celebrated that fallen Moon Wizards children for challenging-and later eradicating-the Scientism Movement that had converted PAndro Whym in his boyhood.


Franci Byot, the posthumous founder of the Francines, though older than Whym, was influenced by the early days of the same Scientism Movement. Fragments of Whym and BYots correspondence largely led to the sects working together, and eventually becoming the Androfrancines.


So Neb understood why his father had been so excited about the find. A YZirite shrine would have a small library-usually two or three carefully packed jars of parchment. And sometimes mummified martyrs bearing the mark of House YZir burned over their heart.

He turned the coin over in his hand, looking at the image stamped into its surface. Who is it? he asked. Let me see it. His father took the coin and studied it. The third son, Vas YZir, he said after a

moment. He was the Wizard King of Aelys. Around them the Orphans Park was quiet, as the other

children were in their classrooms. Brother Hebda always pulled him out of class when he came to visit, and the teachers never minded. He leaned over on the bench, holding the coin in the palm of his hand and pointing to it. If you look closely, you can see the etching around his left eye-and if you look even


closer, you can see that the left eye is actually carved out of nightstone. They said it made him able to see into the Unseen World to make pacts for his Blood Magick. Brother Hebda handed it over.


Neb took it, held it to the light until he could see the dark eye. Thank you, Brother Hebda.


His father nodded. Youre welcome. His voice lowered and he looked around. Do you want to know what else we found?


Neb nodded.


The arch-scholar didnt let me get too close to it, but buried in the back, behind the shrine figure, they found a Rufello lockbox.


Neb felt his eyes go wide. Really?


Brother Hebda nodded. They did. And it was entirely intact.


Neb had caught glimpses of the mechoservitors Brother Charles, the arch-engineer, had reconstructed from Rufellos Book of Specifications. They were kept in stalls in the lower parts of the library, but once, during a research trip in the care of an acolyte, hed caught a glimpse of one. It clanked when it walked, steam hissing from its exhaust grate as it moved. It stood about three spans high and it was bulkier than the metal men from the days before PAndro Whym and Xhum YZir. Still, it was close enough to the drawings that Neb could see the similarities. Neb watched it select a book and slip back into one of the librarys many disguised elevators.


Do you think it may have some of his drawings inside? Aiedos Rufello was one of Nebs favorite figures from Old World history. His work was old when PAndro Whym was a boy, and hed given his life to understanding the scientific mysteries of the First World.


Unlikely, his father said. You know why. Show me how well theyve trained you in that school of yours.


Neb studied the coin, digging in his memory. He found what he was looking for and looked up with a grin. Because the YZirites would have no interest in preserving Rufellos science-based work. Xhum YZir saw the Scientism Movement as a threat against his magick, and later, some of its scattered followers murdered his seven sons.


Exactly, his father said, a proud smile spreading across his face. But isnt it interesting that all those years later, whoever built the shrine used Rufellos science-based work to protect something they had hidden there.


Why would they do that? It had to be important to them, Neb thought.


Brother Hebda shrugged. It couldve been an aberrant Gospel or perhaps part of the Lesser Spell Codex. Regardless, they had me race it back here under a full complement of Gray Guard Elite. We rode day and night; we even magicked our horses for silence. One of the mechoservitors is going to cipher its lock code, but I doubt whats inside will ever be announced.


Neb frowned. I wish Id been there. This was one of the digs hed applied to attend as an intern.


His father nodded. Someday theyll approve your grant. Patience is the heart of art and science alike,

he said, qu K1; Somoting a passage from the Whymer Bible. I hope so.


Brother Hebda slipped his arm around Nebs shoulders. He rarely touched the boy, and Neb thought maybe it was harder to be a parent than an Androfrancine. But now, he pulled Neb close and squeezed his shoulders together with his thick arm. Give it time, Neb. And if it doesnt happen in the next year or two, it wont matter. I may not have any sway with your headmaster, but I do know a few archeologists that owe me a favor. Once youve reached your majority, we wont need the headmasters leave. Ill arrange something. He grinned. It may not be very glamorous, though.

For a moment, Neb felt like his father might actually love him. He smiled. Thanks, Brother Hebda. Setting down the pear, Neb felt a stab of loss at the memory. That numb, hollow feeling still licked at the

edges of him, but at the core, he felt the twisting of a hot knife.


He would never see Brother Hebda again. There would be no more chats in the park in the shadow of the Orphanage. That first time hed put his arm around him was the last time. And there would be no assignment with him in the Churning Wastes.


Neb tried to push his grief aside, but it pushed back. And he could not stop the tears when they arrived.


Rudolfo | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | Jin Li Tam