Chapter Eleven: The Tower of Glass
It was crowded in the place where strands of light stretched between streaked pillars resembling celery stalks, coins stacked askew, twists of licorice, sparklers, frozen lengths of rope. Beings furred, feathered, scaled and tentacled, as well as many sorts of humanoids, were pressed together at the north end of this park threaded with gleaming streams of water gurgling through pools and channels carved into the stone. Bottomless and vast, the chasm yawned beyond them, half flickering blackness, half rainbow mists, strewn with drifting ghostly roadways slipping to and fro. The battlefield stood on the other side, shimmering intermittently, troops and the dust of their conflict moving upon it, though the fighting was now effectively over.
Drawing Merlin’s cloak about my shoulders again, fastening it with the clasp of the silver rose, I reached for Renée’s hand.
“Look,” I said, pointing past where the massive shard of Thelbane thrust into the carnival sky.
We both saw it, the oblong profile of the airship we had been aboard only moments ago. Wing Thing
was tipped on its side, in what looked to be a banking maneuver, as the craft held to the course already set, collision with Thelbane. Yet the vehicle had been more level before — had Maio succeeded, at least in part?
Beside me I felt her hand tighten, heard her say, “There must be a way around.”
Thelbane, ridged and textured in a way suggestive of a tree trunk scaled to reduce Chaos dwellers to insects, had huge tendrils of dense glassy material flowing down its sides which then ran outward from its base in all directions before merging with and vanishing beneath the surrounding water and stone.
“Not around,” I said, taking note of the wedge of open territory between the two nearest roots and taking a step in that direction, “through.”
We started at a jog, but soon were running between the rivulets and pillars. Though we were somewhat worse for the wear we both knew this was the final lap and that knowledge gave us speed. Reaching the archway minutes later, we slowed as we hurried through it.
The underside of Thelbane was a wild, confusing space, like a forest, the abstract pillars gone and supplanted by more of the gleaming roots where streams of water still ran through channels cut in the stone. The root-columns were more than supports, appearing to act almost as membranes — portals opened and closed, beings passing in and out.
In this sheltered zone stood tall flowers, slim trees, massive ferns, great whorls of coral, shelves of lichen reaching above human height, tentacled entities resembling denuded willow trees, arcs of vines wrapped around nothing and festooned with bright chromatic blossoms. The glowing mosses to either side of the paths were for the most part various shades of blue, while the leaves and leaf-like appendages of the taller plant-life seemed to prefer autumnal colors — yellow, yellow-green, ruddy gold — though more familiar greenery deriving from more Earth-like places was also evident.
After passing through an arch on the other side we veered north, and came to the edge. Rather than a sudden drop, the landscape fell in a series of narrow terraces, sinuous zigzags carved into their sides. We stopped and stared up at the flying machine.
Fewer folk here on the western side of the tower, but slowly individuals and then small clutches of bystanders and then en masse they turned from the spectacle to the northeast to look where we were looking.
Her words, “Can you do anything?” were a whisper.
“I can try.”
Up where the winds fought above the abyss, the currents were shifting, the possibilities wide open, the probabilities wild.
With the Jewel of Judgment, one’s will took hold of the stuff of reality in the same way the mind of an initiate of the Pattern would wrap reality around him or her and rework it on a shadow-walk or hellride, except that the effect was amplified by orders of magnitude. As for the Diamond...
The operation of the Diamond was more about an opening up of the possible; where the Jewel was a kind of transmitter, the Diamond functioned more as a receiver. Many futures ran out from this moment, but those at the periphery could probably be discounted, and one clear and shining choice lay somewhere near the center lost amidst all the less desirable outcomes, if one only knew where to look...
The air currents, I could feel them, some roaring into the void even as others billowed out of it, and swirling, I could sense, around Mount Melgem which I now understood in a flash of clarity to very much be the eye of a storm. If certain of those airs circulating about this island in the dark — different bands moving at different speeds and even different directions — were to be nudged just a little toward or away, then the whole system would suffer a disturbance. Could this happen? Well, we were in a place named Chaos...
struck the Tower of Glass.
The airship was knocked downward sharply, swinging away, veering behind the tower, then coming back into view as Maio seemed to steer the thing back out over the abyss. Wing Thing
was on a corkscrew-like trajectory, moving clockwise from the perspective of the onlookers in the Courts and in a rapid descent.
The Diamond receded into the background, the nows fanned out before me fell away, not altogether gone but relegated to the edge of things.
The tower. Random’s machine had clipped the tower rather than hitting it head on. A scar was visible on the western side, almost directly above us. While the exterior of the structure resembled glass, it was obviously made of something stronger.
“Come on,” I urged, as the ship banked to the left.
I don’t know what I was going to say because it changed when I saw her face, the uncertain light of the Courts caught in the unshed tears she was fighting to hold back. So I simply pointed.
The city laid out upon the Lake of Sleep approached Thelbane most closely here where luminous channels bordered by floating paths led off to the outermost parks, where buildings slid and turned.
“He overflew this area on the first pass — it’s the best spot to make an emergency landing.”
She stumbled a little as I pulled her along. Then we were running. Then we stopped.
rounded the tower, coming in low, turbofans in reverse and whining as the black bulk of its blended-wing body passed overhead.
We watched the ship hit the water and vanish.
Walls of the lake’s fluid — possibly water, possibly something else — rolled impressively outward from the point of impact. It seemed obvious the walkways to either side of the channel would be rocked by the force of the waves, and perhaps parts farther off might be affected. Instead, as the waves neared the boundaries between the lake and the things it supported, they subsided to become gentle ripples as though dampened by some unguessed property or mechanism.
then burst through the surface. Another great spray flew out from where the ship had emerged, and again the waves surged forth mightily, only to swiftly diminish as they ran up toward boardwalks and buildings. The vehicle was carried forward by its momentum, skimming above the surface, but slowed as it approached a shining walkway, apparently in response to the same mysterious agency maintaining the calm on Lake Haylish.
We were running again and soon reached the airship where it rested at a corner of the canal. I jumped onto the wing overhanging the boardwalk and made my way up to the topside hatch, which I undogged and raised open. I was about to straighten up to run back down the wing to help Renée up onto it. Turning my head, though, I saw her standing right behind me.
“Wait here,” I said, as I swung my legs over and began climbing down, “Depending on the shape he’s in, I may need to pass him up to you.”
“You have five minutes before I come down myself,” she warned me.
Then down I went.
The ship still had power. The spokes in floor and ceiling were glowing, though weakly. Light from the city fell through the viewplates upon the interior.
And there he was.
He had had the good sense to strap himself in, but was slumped forward. Blood streamed from a nasty gash on his forehead. When I reached him, I felt for a pulse, found it, then bound his wound with strips torn from my shirt, staunching the bleeding somewhat. Checking him for other damage, I discovered his right arm was broken. Swearing continuously, I went aft, returning with two struts yanked from one of the bunks, which I used for a hastily crafted splint.
Arranging things as best as I could, I ducked under his belly, got him over my shoulders, made my way to the ladder and began climbing. I did not get very far before I had to shift things around, slowly working Maio into position where I could get him up near the hatch, getting banged up myself in my efforts to avoid subjecting him to further harm.
“Hold on! I’ve got him!”
Renée took his arms, and, gripping his belt, I stepped down to a lower rung to push while she pulled.
We had help, as I took note of paws and tentacles assisting her, then saw him lifted away. Soon I was up on top of the ship with them. Can’t say I was at all surprised she and I were grabbed straightaway and marched toward Thelbane.
“Where have they taken him?”
Taking a quick gander, I saw no sign of Maio, but suspected the purposeful knot somewhat ahead of us might include her father.
“To receive medical treatment,” I answered, failing to add that medical care would in short order be followed by some intense interrogation.
But she would figure that out once she was being interrogated herself.
An honor guard of bird-like beings with feline faces in glowing green mail was waiting in the cathedral-like space beneath Thelbane. They attended a tall queen.
We were ushered into the circle of open space around her.
Lifted from her shoulders by an errant breeze from the abyss, her dark hair was long now, confined by the spiky circle of silver on her brow. Hues of blue and yellow chased and washed over each other as they rippled through her garment as if she were clothed in a sunlit waterfall.
“Hello, Dara,” I said.
She was gesturing toward someone, momentarily distracted, when a dark bird descended and alighted upon my left shoulder.
“Prince Corwin...” she began.
“You have a raven on your shoulder.”
“Oh,” I said, genuinely disappointed, “well, I’ll admit it would work better if it were a black dove, or at least a crow.”
“Really? And why is that?”
She did not pay me much heed, however, as she had already moved on to studying Renée.
The ring of onlookers stirred and made way as someone familiar was brought forward by two of Dara’s half-bird minions to stand beside us. Ribbons of orange armor belted his red clothing, but he had been relieved of any weapons. More or less human, with a long narrow face and mobile pointy ears, while his hands were bound behind him he was otherwise unrestrained.
Her interest in Renée momentarily lost, Dara ran her critical gaze over our friend.
“Coyote, where is your master?”
He chuckled, and gave her a sidelong look.
“You are trying to make a joke; I like that. Everyone knows — and you do, too — that I have no master.”
“Only because you cannot master yourself,” was the sharp retort.
“The self cannot ever truly be mastered,” Coyote acknowledged, smiling, “and what a boring world if it could be.”
“Then you are never bored, are you?”
“You two,” I interjected, coughing politely, “need to make out.”
Something was happening behind us.
Citizens of Chaos parted like grass before a strong wind. Through the gap thus created floated a platform with low rails woven of flowers, attended by a retinue of minotaurs. Alone upon this gliding stage was a woman robed in yellows and reds, her cloak green and literally flowing behind her as though levitated by the same force which upheld her drifting dais, robe and cloak casting bright flashes from gems, glass and gold.
To one side of the space: Dara and her anti-sphinx entourage. To the other side: the mystery lady accompanied by her bull-men.
Dara signaled her cat-birds, who at once hopped forward.
The other lady of Chaos raised a beringed hand, and everything stopped.
“What right do you imagine you are exercising on behalf of Sawall by your presence here?”
As she spoke, her minotaurs advanced till they were a dozen yards away, about the same distance as the winged cats.
Dara drew herself up, standing a little taller, her banter with Coyote forgotten.
“I bring more than my battle birds, and have more than one house behind me. I am here for my prize.”
Something touched my calf, possibly Merlin’s cloak, ignored by me as the tension in the air rose, as the space became more claustrophobic. But I could not take my eyes off her, she of the emeralds and the rubies. Her platform having drawn nearer with the advance of her minotaurs, she was more visible now, wearing a wreath of lilies wrought of diamonds, mother-of-pearl and pale gold. Likewise, the rail enclosing the suspended altar resembled a chain of poppies and was encrusted with precious stones glowing red, purple and green. And wherever the platform went, the people bowed before her.
“Any prize you believe you see in this place,” said the lady, “belongs to Thelbane. You have my leave to depart.”
The anti-sphinxes, Dara’s battle birds, took a single step forward.
The minotaurs, brandishing double-bitted axes, also moved closer.
The air was charged with impending violence, and the lady of lilies and poppies raised her hand imperiously—
“I volunteer myself,” Coyote proclaimed loudly, “to go with the Lady Sawall if she is permitted to leave in peace.”
Tension still hung between the two opposing forces. Grips shifted on weapons, feet shuffled, breath steamed from the nostrils of the minotaurs, the armor of the anti-sphinxes glinted...
“Will you?” asked the mistress of the minotaurs, “will you go if Coyote is released to you?”
“I should say,” Coyote added, “that I know things about Imryss, Havgan, and other subjects, which could prove...useful.”
The adversaries eyed each other, regarded each other across a distance of sixty feet or so.
But at last Dara nodded, and Coyote walked to where the feline bird things waited and was escorted away.
Sparing me a last thoughtful glance, Dara swung away abruptly to march through the crowd, her cat-headed battle birds in her wake.
“So now you are my prize, Lord Corwin.”
It was the first time she had even appeared to be looking in my direction. As she spoke, the platform drew closer, then settled on the ground before us. She gestured with her hand — a section of the rail slid aside — then beckoned to us with a crooked finger.
“Prize,” I asked, “or prisoner?”
“That depends on you.”
Feeling the same disturbance down by my calf which I had earlier ignored, I finally looked down to see what it was. The white cat, the cat from Tir-na Nog’th, rubbed herself against my boot again, then jumped up onto the platform.
Renée followed the cat, and then, after I looked back along the way we had come, toward the city on the lake, wondering what would become of Wing Thing
, wondering how it went with Maio, I joined them on the flying carpet.
The rail closed, the platform rose.
With a small motion of her hand, she guided the palanquin northeast, toward where the walls of Thelbane were one with the cliffs of Melgem and the gap between the Courts and Shadow was narrowest.
As we slowly slipped toward the brink, I inquired, “Who are you?”
She offered her reply without turning.
“Falikwen of Thelbane.”
The name rang a bell somewhere. Had she been among those who had attended dad’s funeral? Probably, as most Chaos dignitaries had. Could she have been among those brought to Amber for the treaty negotiations? Doubtful. The delegation from Chaos had been small and, perfunctory as my participation had been, I was sure I would have remembered.
Turning her head slightly to her left, she addressed Renée.
“And what do they call you, child?”
“What?” Renée croaked weakly.
“I asked for your name.”
“Me? I’m Renée...Renée Maio...I just want to go home.”
“And where is that?”
She didn’t answer, perhaps overwhelmed by all the experiences she had been propelled through, by her father’s ordeal aboard Wing Thing
, by the prospect growing before us.
So I spoke into the silence, volunteering, “She is from a great city of an Earth strong in science, far from here.”
Half-turning, so I could see her frown of disapproval, Falikwen marveled, “What deficiency causes the two of you to have so much trouble with names? Of what city do you speak?”
I managed to respond with, “New—” but then the palanquin stopped and I did, too.
The columns supporting the tower had retreated to either side as our vehicle had progressed on its course, so that we had drifted through a wide plaza before stopping just before the drop. Beyond the token barrier of bejeweled poppies there was...nothing. Just space. Peering over the edge of the Grand Canyon might provide a dizzying thrill; this was more like falling into the sky, like wondering how secure one’s tether to the spacecraft is when confronted with infinity.
A feeling beyond vertigo took me, a certainty that I would fall into the abyss mixed in equal measure with doubt and confusion over whether to step into it would constitute a fall at all. Strung across the space between the Courts and the shores of Shadow were pale twisting bridges drawn to one side or the other, beings moving indistinctly upon them — filmies, the floating bridges were called — as if gravity were absent there. What happened to people and things claimed by the void? For a brief moment, I was a prisoner of that thought.
“—York,” I finished quietly, as though voicing an afterthought.
The filmies parted like the Red Sea for Moses, pushed to either side as an empty zone opened in the unplumbed deep lying between the Tower of Glass and the battle plain at the end of all the worlds. Something was moving down there within the boiling, streaming colors, something boundless and black, spiraling and unspooling and rising.
There was a sudden flapping, quite nearby, followed by a dark shape launching itself into the air before us — the raven taking off, soaring out over the abyss before swinging back in our direction to pass overhead and back into the park beneath Thelbane.
Meanwhile, flying creatures rose and dipped over the plain. Fire and smoke flickered and swirled there, fallen combatants lay there. A whirlwind of wings and limp bodies boiled toward us across the mottled landscape. The fires, smokes, bodies and wings swept toward the chasm, then surged into it, a wave washing into the maw of the maelstrom.
The black immensity unfolded itself, coils rotating and winding beneath the long, widening triangular mouth of geographic proportions, a mouth opening in what seemed a genuine desire to touch both Melgem and the plain at the same time. The colossal mouth was full of blue and red fires, as though a mountain had opened to reveal the magma within.
The bodies of the slain, borne aloft by the wyverns, rained down into the jaws of the monster. They fell and fell and fell. And as they fell, the light from the fires within grew brighter and began rolling out across the intervening distance, obscuring the exploding colors of the depths.
As the waves of ghastly light fell upon us, a different sort of wave overtook me.
Glancing at Renée, there was something on her face which I recognized within myself: horror. For me, though, there was something more. There was remorse, and even a feeling which might well be dubbed shame.
No one should misunderstand, however. Tens of thousands — perhaps more — had given their all under my command, and over the centuries hundreds of thousands more had died opposing those I led. Death and I were no strangers. But here, what was it? Here, death appeared needlessly greedy and cruel. Here, I feared, was death for its own sake.
As the bodies fell into the gullet of the Beast, I felt sickened.
“This is...” Renée said, “...that
“What,” I finally managed, “...what the hell is that?”
We were a couple paces behind our benefactor, in deference to her obvious status here. She turned to face us, and it was the first time we had gotten a good look at her.
Her hair was long, falling to her waist, pale and red and brown and wild, and her bright and steady gaze seemed to hold starlight captive within it. Though not much more than five feet in height, she carried herself with great confidence, as one of formidable stature. The golden diadem of interwoven lilies, encrusted with diamonds, inlaid with pearl, the cloak a lush green with emeralds scattered throughout the material, a liberal distribution of ruby, carnelian and garnet visible in her gown — these only enhanced the authority she clearly wielded. Whoever she might be, small as she was, she was a power in this place.
“This is the teind.”
“It’s a tribute,” Renée said, “like the seven youths and seven maidens. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” Falikwen agreed, “you understand.”
She reached out then to take Renée’s hand, which she lifted up so that the ring upon it sparkled in the unusual illumination of the Courts and the abyss, the gemstone that was the eye of the serpent sending forth violet rays.
“As you should, being a child of Chaos.”
Behind her, the rain of bodies had ceased. The cloud of wyverns hovered over the abyss. The jaws of the monster were closing, its head twisting above the bulk of its undefined form, filling the expanse.
Its enormous eye regarded us.
Intense, disturbing purple light streamed out of it and also seemed to pour into it, so that a mesmerizing swirling effect was created. There was something beyond the visible operating, almost a magnetic power working its will upon those in range, holding us in thrall.
The lady drew Renée forward, turned toward the vast form so terrifyingly close. She held up Renée’s hand.
My own will had left me, my awareness of my body became a distant thing, my mind had gone adrift.
Falikwen’s voice rang out.
“O, Great Serpent, behold! Your daughters stand before you!”
My eye was drawn to Falikwen’s hand, where I now saw among her rings one nearly identical to that which Renée bore — a serpent, tail in mouth, whose single eye was a stone of purple hue.
“Leviathan, thou hast feasted.”
The center of the eye was black, somehow bright, and it hurt to look upon it.
“Striker in the Dark, thou hast been paid.”
Darkness for a moment, as the eyelid covered the crackling iridescence of the indigo sun, as the Beast blinked.
The cat jumped up on my shoulder, rubbed her face against my jaw, then reached her paw down to pull the Diamond to where it entered my field of vision.
“Go, lie down in the darkness, Lord Who Lies.”
For me, the spell was broken. My body returned to me, and my mind. A shiver ran through me, I shook myself.
She turned toward me. Renée did, too.
Though I had asked the question before, I felt I hadn’t really gotten an answer, so I decided to ask it again.
“Who are you?”
“I am Falikwen, last of the House of Barimen, Mistress of Thelbane, Queen of the Courts of Chaos.”
The palanquin drew away from the abyss as the black shape fell back into the depths. I turned around. We were sliding toward one of the columns, where a wide doorway waited.
From behind me, I heard the queen say, “Welcome to my house.”
END OF BOOK TWO
Copyright © 2017 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved